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Brett King on the Promise of Digital Banking

Brett King Talking
Brett King Talking
Photo courtesy of Brett King.

Brett King is a futurist and co-founder of MOVEN, a mobile banking startup. King was inducted into the Fintech Hall of Fame in 2020 for his contributions to the fintech and digital banking industries, which include his radio show and six books on the future of banking. We asked for his insights on the basics and the future of digital banking.

What’s your advice for consumers nervous about digital banking?

Most of your banking today is digital behind the scenes and it has been for many years. We started using technology to modernize banking way back in the 1950s with the first bank mainframes. Every time we introduce new technology into banking, we make it safer and easier for customers to use. Mobile wallets, for example, are magnitudes safer than a plastic card with a magnetic stripe on it. But if you’re uncertain, start with something simple like using PayPal or putting your card in your phone’s wallet.

At the introduction of the internet and smartphones many people feel apprehensive at first, but today can’t imagine their lives without them. The same is true for digital banking.

Many banks have customers with different comfort levels regarding fintech. How can they balance different, and often competing, needs?

I think it depends somewhat on what geography you are in. Today in China, 75% of the population uses fintech daily. The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated our reliance on digital to do basic banking with branches closed due to concerns, and we now see that most consumers who have had to use digital for the first time are quite happy with it. So for banks, the question is how to ensure that the quality of service and relationship is consistent across both digital and physical.

The fastest-growing banks and financial institutions globally are all fintechs or tech-fin now, so ultimately banks will have to go digital to compete. For customers it’s critical they build out this technology with customers in mind, instead of just copying what a startup has done, for example.

How has the pandemic changed the way that consumers think about and engage with banks?

In the U.S. we’ve seen a big shift to digital, but it’s benefited two groups of the banking space: namely large traditional (incumbent) banks and the challenger bank startups. In 2019, pre-pandemic, digital accounted for 66% of new bank account openings.

Where there are significant differences is in the way fintechs build relationships with their customers via digital. Every day challenger banks are communicating via channels like social media, email, and in-app notifications, about how to save money, how to budget during COVID-19, gigging economy work opportunities, and so forth. Challenger banks have won much praise from their customers for this cadence.

What will banking look like in ten years?

In 10 years, we’ll be living with smart bank accounts that help us manage our money every day. Most of your interactions will be automagically processed and handled by your personal AI built into your smartphone, smart glasses, smart car, and smart home. The fundamental thing your bank account will do in 10 years that it doesn’t do today is help you actively manage and save your money. You won’t have a physical bank account — no card, no passbook, no paper, and for most of the population, no physical cash.

You’ll choose a bank in 10 years by how smart the bank account is and how it molds itself to your financial life. You won’t go to a bank to get a bank account. You won’t sign a piece of paper. Banks will still be around and there will be a few branches, but they’ll mostly be for high-net worth customers to use or for customer support for big banking brands. Banking will essentially be an ecosystem that combines surviving banks, technology giants, and fintechs with specialist capabilities.

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