FinTech, BigTech, and the Future of Banks

Banks are unique financial institutions in that they combine the production of liquid claims—that is, demand deposits—with loans. Though banks can replicate most of what FinTech firms can do, FinTech firms benefit from an uneven playing field in that they are less regulated than banks. The uneven playing field enables nonbank FinTech firms to challenge banks in specific product areas where success is not tied to what makes banks unique—namely, their deposit-gathering abilities and the potential for synergies with borrowers provided by deposits. And although banks’ responses to FinTech have also been hampered by their legacy IT systems and by internal frictions inherent in large diversified firms, FinTech’s narrow product offerings and lack of established “franchises” appear to put clear limits on Fintech’s ability to displace banks. 

Unlike Fintech, however, BigTech firms have some advantages that banks will find it harder to replicate, and so they present a much stronger challenge to established banks in two main areas: consumer finance and loans to small firms. And FinTech as well as BigTech are contributing to a trend in which banks are losing a comparative advantage that has derived from having more immediate access to information about parties seeking credit. The extent to which banks succeed in warding off such threats will depend on (1) their ability to make effective—and possibly even better—use of the same information technology now being used by its new competitors, and (2) their success in realizing economies of scale and scope that their nonbank competitors will find hard to match.