The future of money

17 Aug 2016

  • New thinking
  • Technology

The brightest minds focus on the future of money.

In the not too distant future, the big four banks will be jostling for attention alongside a new breed of digital-only financial providers that are able to move at light speed, powered by the latest in technological advances and a lack of legacy infrastructure. Artificial intelligence will replace your accountant. You’ll take out a mortgage without so much as shaking hands with a bank manager, while the concept of a wallet in your pocket will seem quaint as biometrics take over as the preferred method of transacting.

And Australia could well be leading the charge in all of this. Matt Boss, Managing Director, Products & Marketing at ANZ says that Australia is already further in front than other major markets when it comes to contactless payments. He says: “If you do an apples to apples comparison of Australia, the US and the UK, Australia is ahead. Yet if you go to markets that have the ability to skip many of the steps we need to go through, there's scope for those markets to be much more advanced.”

Finance experts are looking to emerging markets without our decades of banking infrastructure to see how quickly the latest advances in the space can spread. Nicki Kenyon, VP Marketing APAC for Visa says countries such as Myanmar are the ones to watch. She says: “Banks are now considering how to leapfrog the legacy banking system and create new ways of enabling people to save and transact. So speed to market is potentially going to be faster.”

On Aussie soil, consumers are making the banks’ efforts to roll out new tech worthwhile. Boss says everyone from millennials to 90-year-olds are taking up the opportunity to use Apple Pay and Android Pay with ANZ, the first major bank in Australia to provide both mobile-based payment options. “In the month of April when we rolled Apple Pay out we saw more than a 20% increase in new customers opening a transaction, checking or deposit account,” says Boss. “These are new customers, joining the bank. We've also seen dormant or passive customers become re-engaged. We've certainly seen a halo effect of sentiment in regards to the brand.”

Given the success of mobile payments, biometric-based payment options won’t be far off.

The results of the Visa Biometric Payments study released in July and conducted by market research firm Populus found two in three European consumers are keen to use biometric technology when making payments.

“It won't just be physical items that we have with us like a mobile phone, but our fingerprints or an eye retina scan will be our unique identifier that legitimises a payment,” says Visa’s Kenyon. “These things are being tested and are working. How far off they are depends on infrastructure, systems and people. The technology is there, but it will be a question of how quickly people are going to be comfortable adopting these new forms of tech, whether it’s banks, telecommunication companies or the bigger ecosystem that enables infrastructure to change.”

If the concept of biometric payments isn’t futuristic enough for you, there’s always cryptocurrency. A form of digital currency said to be completely secure without relying on traditional banking to determine its value, Bitcoin is the most widely known example. Bitcoin has been around for many years but has largely been associated with the fringes of online gaming. Joseph Toh, Head of Strategy & Innovation at Credit Suisse, says people’s changing attitudes to money and technology mean it’s likely to become more mainstream. He says: “With the emergence of all these different mediums of value, whether it's cryptocurrency or other forms of exchange, what society views as the norm in regards to money today, will change. People's behaviours have already changed. People's views of trust have already changed. You can go and live in Bali right now, transact there, exchange value there, on a cryptocurrency or Bitcoin.”

Toh believes cryptocurrency ties to the broader future trend of decentralised banking and people’s growing distrust in government. Given the recent financial events in countries such as Greece where citizens were denied access to the money in their bank accounts, Toh predicts a resurgence of interest in cryptocurrency. 

“Naturally, governments and central banks will be fearful of these currencies,” says Toh. “They don't really understand what it is and what the real impact to society is. If you look at how governments operate today, that's a means and mechanism of control as well. It's not just trust, it's also about control.”

While cryptocurrency goes to the extreme end of disrupting the banking system, other players are working within more established channels to take on the big banks. In the UK, two start-ups are attempting to position themselves as the Google or Facebook of the banking space. In April, Atom became Britain's first digital-only bank with another outfit, Mondo, hot on its heels. When asked if he’s keeping an eye on such enterprises, Boss says yes, yet he feels focusing on how existing financial organisations will be disrupted by these start-ups misses a trick. “The question we ask ourselves is what industries do we want to disrupt?” says Boss. “We need to play a much more offensive game than defence. What more can we be doing for customers? What pain points can we remove?”

Visa’s Kenyon comes at this from another angle while working to the same end result. She says: “We don't see it as disruption, we see it as change. We see it as progress. We have a choice to either be disrupted or be part of that change and be part of that progress. Organisationally, we are adapting internally to partner with companies that maybe five years ago we would have considered competitors. How can we, together, make the ecosystem better for people? It's a very different paradigm shift.”

From the outset, businesses such as Atom and Mondo look to be flipping the script on financial management. While traditional banks are often focused on helping people to spend money, the newer start-ups are determined to help us save.

Boss says: “When you ask people about money, you get all sorts of words come up from choice, freedom and privilege to stress, worry, status. It's one of those words that invokes very positive or very negative emotions, even sometimes in the same instance. People aren't necessarily as prepared or educated on what to do with their money and what's best for them.”

With independent finance management tools entering the space such as Mint.com, a free web-based service for US and Canadian citizens that allows them to track all of their transactions through a single interface, Boss sees the future of money, particularly in the banking sector as being about helping people to make better decisions. “That's a responsibility banks need to take up more,” he says. It’s a pretty noble mission for a bank to have.

“Possibly,” says Boss, “but it's certainly what I believe.”

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