Swiss fintech sector makes some noise

The dance is familiar but the tune is somewhat different: the Swiss regulator is battling hard to keep up with the dynamic changes being brought about by new technology. © Keystone / Gaetan Bally

Our regular analysis of developments in the world of fintech and Crypto Nation.

This content was published on September 20, 2019 - 17:00

The number of Swiss fintech start-ups leapt 62% to reach 356 last year, according to an academic study of the sector. So why did the Swiss National Bank last month say: “Although there have been significant developments in certain segments, the entry of such players into the market has thus far been relatively modest”?

The SNB is talking about the actual impact these fintechs have had on the Swiss financial sector thus far. Or in other words, how much has changed as a result of new financial technology? Not a huge amount so far, the SNB concludes.

But the central bank does not rule out a greater impact in future, even to the point that fintechs could usher in a new phase of consolidation in the traditional banking sector. What’s needed is for the floodgates to open on new consumer banking habits. People take time to trust their money to new technology.

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The Swiss Fintech Fair, arranged by Swiss Finance Startups in Zurich this week, was another demonstration that the Swiss fintech scene is growing and buzzing. More than 700 visitors and some 50 fintech companies attended the event.

One of the dominant themes is that fintech start-ups are not pushing innovation by themselves. The event was co-sponsored by UBS and the Swiss Bankers Association and heavily featured the topic of cooperation between newcomers and incumbents. business correspondent Matthew Allen takes a deep dive into the impact of emerging financial technology.

This might be reflected in the fact that many Swiss fintechs focus on providing services to established financial players rather than direct to the consumer. But there are certainly enough disruptors about to catch the wave pf changed consumer sentiment when it comes about in Switzerland.

And as Patrick Barnert, founder of regtech firm Qumram that was sold to a US tech company in 2017, said: there’s more to life than the Swiss market. “Stop running after the same five clients in Switzerland. That’s not repeatable business. Start internationalising faster.”

On my radar:

If you haven’t heard of Facebook’s Libra stablecoin yet, you’re probably living on a different planet. Country after country has poured cold water on the project as a “destabilising” problem they would rather not have. Switzerland is also cautious, but more open than others to Libra. 

I know that lots of fintechs are trying to make contact with Libra for potential partnerships. I was even called by an executive of an Asian stock market the other week: “Libra is here to stay whether you like it or not,” he said. “It’s better to cooperate than top fight it.”

I sat down with former UBS CEO Peter Wuffli this week to ask him why he has joined the world of crypto banking with Sygnum. One key takeaway (story to be published soon) is that DLT may not have averted the financial crisis a decade ago, but it might have helped alleviate some of the worst effects of the crash - particularly for UBS.

Follow me on Twitter @matthewallen40

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