In some respects, the finance industry may not seem like a prime candidate for technological innovation. After all, banks have been around for thousands of years. And nowadays, they are highly regulated, making it difficult to facilitate innovation. Traditional banks provide a relatively narrow set of commoditized products and services, leaving little room for introducing new offerings.

Yet, despite this, the finance industry today is actually a case study in innovative technology solutions. Realizing that their competitors are innovating and market being disrupted they’ll lose ground if they don’t keep up, finance companies of all types – from startups to large, established banks – are investing aggressively in technology to help win more customers and cater to evolving customer expectations.

Let’s take a look at some examples of innovation in the finance industry that shows how technology can be used as a tool for maintaining a competitive advantage in constantly changing markets.

Why finance needs technological innovation

Before looking at the real-world examples, let’s consider some of the complex challenges financial institutions are aiming to solve.

One is the fact that their customers’ needs and wants are changing. We live in a digital-first world, and customers expect financial institutions to adapt for that world by allowing them to do everything online.

At the same time, there is a push toward what you might call “democratization” in the finance industry. 2008 was a springboard for a lot innovation to begin occurring in the industry, combined with the advent of decentralized finance and as-a-service products, underline the passion consumers feel today to escape a world where a handful of large banks dominate the industry. In other words, customers want more choice and flexibility.

Technological innovation in action: Five examples

Here’s a look at how financial institutions in all the different major subsegments are responding to these challenges by developing innovative technology solutions.

Borderless banking from Wise

Traditionally, moving money across political borders is expensive. Banks charge high fees for cross-border transfers. And on top of this, transfers can take several days, leading to a poor customer experience.

Wise, a U.K.-based company, has embraced technology as a means of eliminating the friction that traditionally hampered cross-border payments. By providing a Web interface where consumers can quickly and easily transfer money across borders, Wise enables a much more positive customer experience for cross-border transactions. Wise also places a priority on transparency by ensuring that customers know exactly which exchange rates they’ll pay. This strategy caters to expectations that finance should not be such a heavy-handed, top-down industry.

Arnie aligns investment with ideology

Traditionally, employees who want to put money in a retirement account choose from a set of generic index funds. They have little control over exactly what they’re investing in – which means they may end up putting money into companies whose missions they don’t support for ethical or ideological reasons.

Arnie aims to change this by providing a set of 401k investment options that companies can tailor to fit their missions and their employees’ priorities. Using the service, employers can offer retirement funds geared toward renewable energy, for example. It’s another example of how financial institutions are adapting to a world where consumers expect a democratized finance experience.

Bringing high-touch financial services to the masses

In the past, hands-on investment advice was only available to people of means. If you wanted dedicated, tailored wealth-management services, you needed a pretty hefty investment portfolio. Everyone else was stuck trying to figure out how to manage their money on their own, because it wasn’t profitable for banks to offer high-touch services to lower net-worth clients.

A lineup of finance startups – such as Wealthfront and Nutmeg – are changing this formula by using technology to automate wealth management services. The result is asset allocation guidance, investment advice and even tax minimization strategies that are available to everyone regardless of income.

The peer-to-peer finance revolution

What if you could borrow money directly from other ordinary consumers, instead of having to rely on large, centralized banks to approve you for a loan?

With sites like LendingClub and LendingTree, you can. These businesses enable peer-to-peer finance, allowing people who want to borrow money to connect to people willing to loan it to them. Think Airbnb or Uber, but for finance.

And it isn’t always for developed nations that this type of finance occurs. International focused companies like Kiva, a microfinance company and a Cisco supported charity, can start off with loans as little as $5 to help individuals meet their small business needs. With majority of these loans going to women it is a feel good story and possibly life-changing.

Transforming insurance with instant everything and a social conscious

Many people claim insurance is a necessary evil and that is just what Lemonade, an American insurance company, claims. Therefore its mission is to transform insurance from a necessary evil into a social good. Its major technological innovation is the claim payment process is instantaneous.

They really lean into artificial intelligence and chatbots for instant everything. Maya, the company’s chatbot, guides buyers through the claims or insurance quoting process. They promote how fast it is to get insured and receive claims. And where they also differentiate themselves is they treat premiums as your money so they work with customers to give leftover funds (“premiums”) to charities.

Innovative technology solutions help finance evolve

What all of these initiatives have in common is that they are leveraging technology to drive innovation in an industry that, historically, was not exactly known for being quick to evolve or adapt.

In doing so, they are building much better customer experiences and bringing finance into the twenty-first century. They are creating transparency, enabling decentralized interactions and giving consumers more choice – all while ensuring a competitive edge for the financial institutions that embrace technological innovation. This is opposed to sitting on their laurels and hoping they can somehow ignore the modern, digitized world.

See how we’re embracing new technologies by making bold bets at Cisco Emerging Tech and Incubation.


Wayne Cuervo

Director of Innovation

Cisco Canada