- Customers’ expectations of banks have radically changed with the arrival of the internet : the banking relationship must now be functional 24 hours a day, mobile, hyper personalized (relevant recommendations in real time and at the best quality/price ratio).
- New decentralized technologies such as blockchain challenge the very notion of financial intermediary. At the same time,
they exponentially multiply the number of digital assets to be managed and the infrastructure needs (security, storage, legal compliance, trading etc.).
Financial institutions have launched a vast digital transformation project to reduce their costs, make their processes more agile and reposition their offers in line with customer needs. The main advanced technologies used are (in decreasing order of priority according to a PWC study) : data analysis tools, cell phone platforms, artificial intelligence, cyber-security and identity management through biometric recognition, robotic process automation, blockchain and the cloud.
Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT) such as blockchain will enable the digitization of countless assets, especially financial assets (e.g., ownership title, credits or currencies).
Strenghts & Weaknesses
The Swiss financial center is the largest in continental Europe with two cities in the Global Financial Centers Index GFCI’s top 15 (Zurich and Geneva). Its banks and insurance companies are globally active (UBS, CreditSuisse, Zurich Insurance) and SIX Group is the third largest stock exchange infrastructure group in Europe behind Euronext and London Stock Exchange/Borsa Italia. Switzerland is the world leader in cross-border private banking : more than a quarter (market share 27.5%) of the world’s cross-border assets under management are managed in Switzerland. Total assets under management at banks in Switzerland amounted to CHF 7,291.8 billion at the end of 2017. It is therefore no coincidence that two IT leaders in core banking (Avaloq, acquired by NEC for $ 2.2 billion in 2020, and Temenos, valued at CHF 9 billion on the stock exchange) originate in Switzerland.
The Blockchain is a high-potential market because it requires skills that have historically been present in Switzerland : a reputation based on trust, technical expertise in fintech, proximity to financial players and an adapted legal framework. Regulatory innovation is critical to create the right conditions for the emergence of these new services. Politicians as well as the Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority (FINMA) have understood this. Numerous amendments to Swiss law have been adopted in this direction (e.g., new DLT regulations from February 2021). Switzerland has become a major home for blockbuster companies. The “ Crypto Valley ” in Zug in the Zurich region is known worldwide for its crypto-currency start-ups. It is home to the headquarters of numerous start-ups from abroad (Cardano, DFINITY, Cosmos Network and Polkadot) or from Switzerland (Ethereum Foundation). The fintech ecosystem includes more than 300 start-ups active across the entire value chain of the financial sector, including insurance (wefox), payments (SwissPay), data analysis (Apiax), asset management (True Wealth), lending platforms (Tradeplus24), participatory financing (Loanboox), information portals (Hypoguide), blockchain applications (Sygnum Bank, Custodigit), transactional platforms (AlgoTrader), online banking accounts (FlowBank, neon) and bank security (Exeon, NetGuardian).
The fintech ecosystem has failed to produce leaders in consumer finance (B2C). The major European success stories are in London (Revolut, Checkout.com), Berlin (N26), Amsterdam (Adyen) or Stockholm (Klarna). The lack of massive investments in venture capital is certainly a reason. The lack of B2C culture and experience in large internet platforms is also a reason. The emergence of a Swiss fintech unicorn in B2C is of course possible and desirable but I assume that the best fintech opportunities in Switzerland will be in the B2B segments and the deeptech technologies underlying the financial infrastructure, following their excellent historical track record.
Financial institutions are in a race against time to keep up with the very fast pace of innovation imposed by new fintech entrants. 88% of traditional bankers around the world believe that fintechs pose a threat to their business (PWC survey). The danger for banks comes not only from start-ups (e.g., N26 or Revolut), but also and especially from large non-banking high-tech companies, such as Apple, Amazon or social media (Facebook), which are starting to offer financial services to their users.
- Fintech leader in continental Europe, top five worldwide
- Eight companies valued at more than CHF 1 billion