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What is 'Fintech'

Fintech is a portmanteau of financial technology that describes an emerging financial services sector in the 21st century. Originally, the term applied to technology applied to the back-end of established consumer and trade financial institutions. Since the end of the first decade of the 21st century, the term has expanded to include any technological innovation in the financial sector, including innovations in financial literacy and education, retail banking, investment and even crypto-currencies like bitcoin.

BREAKING DOWN 'Fintech'

The term financial technology can apply to any innovation in how people transact business, from the invention of money to double-entry bookkeeping. Since the internet revolution and the mobile internet revolution, however, financial technology has grown explosively, and fintech, which originally referred to computer technology applied to the back office of banks or trading firms, now describes a broad variety of technological interventions into personal and commercial finance.

Fintech's Expanding Horizons

Already technological innovation has up-ended 20th century ways of trading and banking. The mobile-only stock trading app Robinhood charges no fees for trades, and peer-to-peer lending sites like Prosper and Lending Club promise to reduce rates by opening up competition for loans to broad market forces. Technologies being designed that should reach fruition by 2020 include mobile banking, mobile trading on commodities exchanges, digital wallets (like Apple (AAPL) and Google's (GOOG) developing mobile wallet systems), financial advisory and robo-advisor sites like LearnVest and Betterment, and all-in-one money management tools like Mint and Level.

New Tech in Fintech

In the olden days, individuals and institutions used the invisible hand of the market – represented by the signaling function of price – to make financial decisions. New technologies, like machine learning, predictive behavioral analytics and data-driven marketing, will take the guess work and hocus pocus out of financial decisions. "Learning" apps will not only learn the habits of users, often hidden to themselves, but will engage users in learning games to make their automatic, unconscious spending and saving decisions better. On the back end, improved data analytics will help institutional clients further refine their investment decisions and open new opportunities for financial innovation.

Fintech Users

Who uses fintech? There are four broad categories: 1) B2B for banks and 2) their business clients; and 3) B2C for small businesses and 4) consumers. Trends toward mobile banking, increased information, data and more accurate analytics and decentralization of access will create opportunities for all four groups to interact in heretofore unprecedented ways.

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