As Founder & CEO of Paris FinTech Forum, Laurent Nizri has seen a remarkable metamorphosis of the industry over the past five years. Here, he reflects on where it’s come from… and where it’s going.
28 January 2016 was the first edition of Paris FinTech Forum. We were one of the first truly global events to launch in the industry. From the outset, even though we were a much smaller event than we are today, we were able to attract several future unicorns onstage. The CEOs and founders of N26, Revolut, Monzo, Qonto, Ledger, Iwoca, GoCardless, Lydia, and many more, took part in our first event.
At the time, Paris FinTech Forum was only a one-day event. Our speakers did already include both the incumbents and fintechs, but the discussion between them was much less open than it is today, possibly partly due to the fact that few of the fintechs had been able to achieve real success with customers and investors. None of the companies mentioned above had raised more than a couple of million euros at the time.
Then fintech started attracting investments (albeit small compared to today’s figures). Not long after that, we started seeing the first digital success stories, in retail banking and payments, with sizable customer adoption and usage figures. In some cases, the huge expectations from the business-to-consumer (B2C) models did not materialise and therefore many new players pivoted to different ones closer to technology providers – sometimes with good results. Many actors did remain in the direct-to-consumer market, but only a few in each market attracted most of the investments and media attention. As a result, we are seeing an increasing number of players in the B2B/B2B2C (business-to-business/business-to-business-to consumer) markets – businesses like platform providers or application programming interface (API) vendors are so numerous that some of us are beginning to doubt how they will all find sustainable traction in the coming years. However, they are here today, and they bring real innovation to the table. These businesses are based across the globe and are quite well funded to face their ambitious objectives. Only the coming years will tell us who will succeed.
During the last five years, we have also seen the ups and downs of the initial coin offerings (ICOs), the difficulties faced by insurtech and investment/wealth management startups in trying to find success at the same pace as retail banking challengers, especially in Europe, and the rise of regtech in response to the never-ending complexity of financial regulations across the world. Importantly, we should not forget that, in some emerging markets, fintech did truly improve the lives of many people, addressing the inadequacy of existing financial services infrastructure, with new players directly filling the void left by the banks – as was underlined by Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund at the time, on our stage in 2019.
What was the DNA of our forum from the outset – cooperation between incumbents and new players – has now become a shared objective all over the world in 2020. All incumbent players are now trying to find the best way to work with fintechs to transform their businesses. So many incubators/accelerators/hubs have appeared to support the growth of fintech startups , that it is not rare to find the same startup present in several of them at the same time. But first strains in this approach are appearing, as the magic recipe to get startups and corporates to collaborate successfully has proven to be hard to find. We are increasingly seeing some big banks or insurers looking more at Big Tech for cooperation than to fintechs.
If you look at mainstream media, fintechs are everywhere: in ads online, in publications, on TV or in the subways and editorial articles, which seems to suggest that they have already won the battle to transform the financial industry. Then there is the endless list of fintech conferences, from which you’d think everything has already changed. Many of us, seasoned actors in the space, learned the hard way, in 2001, that when everybody buys, you should sell. With fintech, are we at a tipping point where a small number of winners will take it all (like Google and Amazon in their day) and all the others will disappear without anyone really noticing?
I do not have a crystal ball, but what I do see is still a huge will for transformation in the financial services industry – even by historical players that realise they need to change. I believe we are now entering the second phase of that so-called fintech revolution: the Fin&Tech Phase. We will see a profound transformation commence in core financial industry systems, while, at the same time, some key areas in the end-user markets will continue to be disrupted by key players as long as they have access to funds to fuel their growth. Journalists, social media addicts and (some) conference organisers will continue to have intense focus on artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain or some other latest buzztech. In the meantime, the majority of the professional industry players will work hard, be it the myriad of fintechs or the well-established incumbent banks and financial institutions to transform the future of our industry for real.
So, to get back to the question: is this the end of fintech or just the beginning? The latter ,of course! The caterpillar’s time is over. Soon will be the time of the butterflies. How long will that take? No one can say exactly, but we know it will be much more than it takes for an influencer to write a few tweets or a talented entrepreneur to raise hundreds of millions.
You may have noticed that, unlike the previous four editions, we do not announce the next show at the back of this magazine,. So, is the end or just the beginning for Paris FinTech Forum also?
With the tremendous support of the fintech community, we built, in a few years, what is considered by many to be the most exclusive, and one of the best, global events for digital finance and fintech. The fintech industry has changed a lot in five years. We are an independent team of a few people; we do not want to join the cohort of events organised all over the world just to make money around the hype. Paris FinTech Forum must stay meaningful and useful to the community it has served since day one. We have never seen as much interest as we have for this fifth edition: be it requests to speak, sponsor interest or ticket sales, we have broken all our records! Three hundred-plus CEOs on stage from all over the world and all verticals, incumbents and fintechs; more than 2,600 attendees of 75 nationalities; exhibition space sold out since the summer… We want to build on this success; to think about the future and the needs of the industry… and come back with a new concept that is able to support fintech and digital finance innovation for many years to come.
To do that, we want to keep all options open, and to work with all of you on what the next edition should be. Perhaps it will be the same concept, or, indeed, another. The same venue, or not. The same time of year, or a different season. The same frequency or different? Let’s work together to build it. If you have an idea on the subject and want to discuss it, contact me at email@example.com.
It was a pleasure and an honour helping fintech growth for the last five years. Stay tuned, we’ll be back!
“I always look forward to the Pitch Stage at PFF – it’s one of the best showcases for what’s new in fintech, how the thinking in the industry is evolving, and covers everything from wealth and investment to corporate and crypto. It’s a fast-paced, intense mini-master class in all things fintech, and can’t be missed if you’re at the Forum