What is the impact of FinTech in Belgium?

That was the core topic of the second edition of the Fintech Belgium Summit. The summit is organised by FinTech Belgium, the first and biggest Belgian community of ‘fintechies’. With more than 40 Belgian start-ups and scale-ups at their foundation, this bottom-up sector initiative keeps rattling the FinTech cage. 550 participants − including Vlerick Masters and MBA students − attended the summit, which was sponsored by B-Hive, a new ecosystem, launched in 2017 with the support of the government, banks, insurance companies and Fintech Belgium.

“Both local and international best practices were showcased and executives from competitive environments shared unusually frank testimonials about working in banking and insurance,” says Tine Holvoet, researcher and FinTech expert at Vlerick Business School. “In this summit, we saw less buzz and more analytics, problem solving, detailed processes… Clearly, the industry is maturing.”

Tine Holvoet - Vlerick Business School
Tine Holvoet (Vlerick Business School) and Reynald Lemeire (Anais Digital) during the FinTech Belgium Summit

Tine opened the track on Societal Impact with a provocative speech, in which she conveyed the following message:

FinTech FuturesJust imagine FinTech Futures: not just loading or updating, but upgrading financial services. Stay with me: an update and an upgrade are not the same − they’re not even in the same league, an upgrade is a whole different ball game. If updating means wearing a different suit, upgrading entails a mind shift. Upgrading is far beyond digitized products and digital services, it’s mastering your future perspective and living it: doing it not merely as a developer or manager, but also as a user, a citizen, as a human being.

Since 2008, the world’s biggest banks have spent more than $300 billion on fines, compensating for their abundance of regulatory failings. Moreover, they’ve spent another $200 billion on consultancy, reinventing the role of the bank. In the meantime, cross-industrial competitors raised funding to enter financial services – do you remember Ant Financial’s $4.5 billion round in 2016? Cash was burnt, agendas were set and bitcoins were bought. And now, people are gathering in fintech conferences?! Is this really what you need? Massage your brain. Did you do well? Can you do great? Or did you do nothing at all and will you be the one fired in the next major lay-off? We’ve got some reasons to be suspicious of the fintech hurray messages.

Do you need more numbers? Only 12% of 15-year-olds are considered financially literate, but nevertheless, we grant them mobile phone credits, online bank accounts and numerous retail apps. What about grownups? All studies conclude what everybody already knows: nobody reads the lengthy terms and conditions to use a free service. Let me share one research project’s outcome, just to pitch for all studies: 73% of university students agreed to give up their first-born child when they agreed to terms and conditions whilst signing up for a free app. If it’s a free service, you’re the product. Right? Agree. Happy doom!

Now, techies and fintech ninjas, what can we offer? What else can we do but contribute to the next innovation sprint or hackathon? Are we sharp-eyed, vigilant leaders? Are we aware of new technological options and ever-conscious about both their positive as well as negative effects? We must identify real needs in a real-time world. Can we become voyagers and team up to make the best ideas tangible? Are we willing to enter the ‘learn’ and ‘unlearn’ cycle? What about 5, 10, 20 years from now?

I invite you to walk with courageous fintech entrepreneurs, tell them how your company can support them. I received my bonus for 2017; most of you are bankers – did you? Imagine: we can spend it on Koalect or LITA.co for radical inclusive and U-centric fintech products such as Otly! (free bank for children, run by parents), Friendly Score (credit score for people with limited credit history – important for inclusion of migrants) or WorldRemit (easy, fast, cheap, worldwide money transfer). How can we support financial literacy and social inclusion with everything we have, as citizens, users, developers, fans of better products and higher services? 

Brecht Hanssens, currently working for a Belgian FinTech start-up, co-organised this successful FinTech conference. Brecht obtained a Masters in International Management and Strategy at Vlerick Business School, graduating in 2017. When he opted for the FinTech boot camp last spring, he had no idea of the immense impact this would have on his future career. “During those intensive three weeks, I met my current employer, Toon Vanagt, founder of Data.be (FinTech) and Lex.be (LegalTech),” Brecht explains.

Brecht Hanssens with Data.be team
The Data.be / Lex.be team at the FinTech Belgium Summit. From left to right: Eric Rodriguez, Brecht Hanssens, Toon Vanagt, Katia Maddens, Christoph Evers and Stan Jagiello.

“FinTech is an interesting field because of the speed of innovation in recent years. Rapidly changing consumer expectations and regulations breed new FinTech start-ups every day. Before going to Vlerick, I worked in a bank, so I know the day-to-day problems. There are considerable margins for improvement in the sector.

“I was happy to learn that my new boss, on top of running multiple companies, is also a board member of FinTech Belgium. He was the master of ceremonies at the summit. During hours of prepping the guest speakers via Skype, I was a fly on the wall learning about the key players in the industry. This peek behind the scenes strengthens my belief in the disruption that is coming to the financial industry. Even though incumbents are starting to work with FinTechs more and more, I personally don’t think the sense of urgency is high enough.

“The Fintech Belgium Summit presented the perfect opportunity to discover the latest trends in FinTech, network with peers, get to know interesting start-ups, and finally understand what a blockchain is. The FinTech world is still small, but it’s growing. Vlerick’s efforts − such as the FinTech boot camp − and the growing FinTech Belgium community are proof of this. In conclusion, I would like to repeat Tine Holvoet’s invitation: ‘I invite you to walk with courageous FinTech entrepreneurs’. That’s what I’m doing, and I can highly recommend it!”

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