Guide to the Differences Between Fintech vs Banks

By Janet Siroto · May 20, 2024 · 9 minute read

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Guide to the Differences Between Fintech vs Banks

Fintech refers to companies that use new technologies vs. traditional methods in order to deliver financial services. The name is derived from the words “financial’ and “technology,” and the combination has certainly caught on, with 80% of Americans saying they use some form of technology to manage their money.

Read on to learn more about fintech and how it impacts the role of traditional banking.

Key Points

•   Fintech companies utilize modern technologies to offer enhanced financial services, contrasting traditional banking methods.

•   North America and Asia, particularly China and Singapore, are leading regions in fintech innovation due to favorable conditions.

•   Fintech innovations are disrupting traditional banking by offering services like mobile banking and AI, pushing banks to adapt.

•   Traditional banks are regulated and insured, providing a sense of security for customers, which fintech may lack.

•   Fintechs offer convenience and broader reach through digital platforms, unlike banks that may have physical branch limitations.

What Is Fintech?

As briefly noted above, fintech refers to using technology in money management. There are various kinds of fintech, from services that protect your finances online to apps that transfer money. Typically, these services can make it quicker, easier, and more secure to wrangle your finances.

What Types of Fintech Succeed

The fintech enterprises that usually get the most attention (and the most investment money) are the ones that are specifically designed to be a threat to traditional banks.

The hope is that these startups can bring more flexible and faster service, and make traditional banking a more acceptable and even enjoyable experience. There are also fintech businesses that specialize in tracking spending, rounding up your payments to help you save, and simplify money transfers (think of PayPal, for instance).

Where Is Fintech Concentrated?

North America produces the most fintech startups (thank Silicon Valley), with Asia, particularly China, coming in at a close second. Singapore is another major player in Asia and on the global stage, thanks to tax benefits, government assistance, and access to regional markets.

Fintech As Disruptor

Fintech has been chipping away at the formerly sturdy foundation of traditional banks. Mobile banking innovation, artificial intelligence, and other tech tools are leading the disruption parade for brick-and-mortar banks. Many of these traditional banks are working to adopt new services and expand their offerings to stay competitive.

Post-COVID, fintech investment boomed considerably, as people sought remote ways to manage and move their money. In the last year or so, however, KPMG data shows considerable slowing of investment as many technologies have become established as basic services.

💡 Quick Tip: Typically, checking accounts don’t earn interest. However, some accounts do, and online banks are more likely than brick-and-mortar banks to offer you the best rates.

Is Fintech Going to Overtake Traditional Banks?

Gartner, a global research and advisory firm, has said that banking as a service (BaaS) will hit mainstream adoption within the next year or two, as banking is transformed by digital technology.

Traditional banks face a risk of failure if they continue to maintain 20th-century business and operating models, but many are adapting and incorporating new technologies.

Banks have been closing branches as people can perform more functions online or via mobile apps. In one recent year, almost 3,000 branches closed nationally. This pace may continue as financial management becomes more digitized.

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How Traditional Banks Work

Next in considering fintech vs. banks, take a closer look at traditional banks. These financial institutions usually focus on their business priorities and client services, rather than how to streamline, digitize, and accelerate their business. For retail banks, they may offer checking and savings accounts, home loans, and other services that help in day-to-day money management.

In pursuing these functions, banks are regulated by national or central banks. This can promote a feeling of security, knowing there are guidelines that banks must follow. Fintechs, however, may not be subject to review and regulation in this way.

Also, banks are typically insured by either the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), and credit unions are covered by the National Credit Union Administration, or NCUA. This can give customers the knowledge that, in the very rare occurrence of a financial institution failing, they are covered for $250,000 per account holder, per account ownership category, per insured institution.

Also, traditional banks provide personalized service. You can go to a branch and discuss your needs or concerns with a customer service rep. You can have that human contact that can be hard to find with some fintech companies.

One last point: Banks typically have a smaller reach than fintech. For instance, a mobile security app could be in a majority of mobile devices across the country. But you might actually keep your money with a local bank that only has a couple of branches.

Fintechs vs Banks

Here’s a little more detail on how fintech vs. banks compare.

Similarities

Both banks and fintech can play a role in the typical person’s financial life. They may allow people to securely store, spend, and save money. They can service to enable transactions, whether paying a friend back for your share of dinner or securing a car loan.

They also each work to meet a consumer need and make finances easier to manage and help customers grow their wealth.

Both traditional banks and fintech can play a key role in both personal banking and the overall economy.

Differences

That said, there are considerable differences. Banks typically hold and lend money, while fintech may simply accelerate a process, make it more convenient, or otherwise enhance its accessibility.

Banks tend to have financial regulations in place, while fintech often does not.

Another point of difference between banks and fintech: Banks traditionally have brick-and-mortar locations and in-person support. For that reason, they may have more limited reach or only operate in a given region.

Not all fintechs offer in-person support, and you may find varying degrees of support by phone, email, and chat. They may, however, have a broader reach since they aren’t limited by location.

Here’s how this information looks in chart form:

Traditional Banks vs Fintech

Similarities

Differences

Both deal with financial transactionsBanks focus on transactional, saving, and lending needs of customers; fintech may focus on other aspects, such as mobile app security
Both aim to improve customers’ money management Banks are heavily regulated; fintechs may not be regulated at all
Banks often provide in-person customer support, but fintechs may not
Banks may have more limited reach than some fintechs

3 of the Latest Fintech Trends

Here are some of the latest trends in fintech:

1. Digital-Only Banks

Influenced by mobile banking, banks with no brick-and-mortar branches are increasing in popularity and acceptance. This year, almost 400 million people are projected to use their services. These banks can be as regulated, insured, and secure as traditional banks, but they often allow for easier, on-the-go mobile management. Because they don’t have branches and the subsequent expenses related to those, they can often pass the savings on to their clients with higher interest rates on accounts, for example.

2. Artificial intelligence (AI)

AI tech can automate data analysis, saving time, money and drudgery. It’s also used to create chatbots to assist in customer service and robo-advisors to help with investing. AI can also help detect fraud by monitoring patterns of customer behavior.

3. Biometric Technologies

Biometric technologies can provide ways to authenticate and protect financial and other digital transactions. Facial recognition is one option; voiceprints and fingerprints may also be used. This kind of technology can make logging into an app or conducting a transaction easier, faster, and more secure. It can help fight bank fraud.

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Fintech Rising In Developing Countries

In the developing world, not everybody has access to a bank account or a traditional banking system. Fintech banking alternatives can deliver solutions. For example, parts of Africa lack traditional banking infrastructure. For this reason, according to the World Economic Forum, Africa is the world leader in mobile and digital banking.

Mobile phone companies often allow customers to transfer cash-convertible phone credits to each other, too. These phone credits act as a digital medium of exchange — the payment structure and its support fintech is the mobile phone network itself.

Traditional Banks Are Seeing The Future and Feeling The Pain

Traditional financial services are paying close attention. Consumers, especially younger ones, are expecting more technology and personalization when it comes to their financial services. A growing group of entrepreneurs and startups are answering the call.

Many traditional financial institutions are adopting digital and mobile tools to serve their customers’ needs and make the user experience more nimble. This collaboration between traditional banks and fintech could help banks stay relevant.

How Traditional Banks Are Responding

Most traditional banks got with the program at least on a basic level. They know to offer mobile apps, electronic online bill payment, and other digital services. They’re also experimenting with fintech such as voice adaption to pay bills and to make transfers. The challenge remains in keeping these programs safe, fresh, and user-friendly when fintech innovation is happening at such a swift pace.

At least for now, banks may retain the advantage of recognizable brands and large customer bases, particularly older clients who have grown up doing business with human tellers in brick-and-mortar locations.

What they still haven’t completely mastered are faster transaction times, lower costs and a better customer experience. Also, younger generations have grown up using tools like online-only banks, Venmo, and the like, so it may be hard to convince them to bank with a brick-and-mortar institution.

The Need for The Best of Both Fintech and Traditional Banks

As you may have thought, a collaboration between traditional and online banks and fintech services could promise consumers the best of both worlds. Just as you can shop online or stop into a brick-and-mortar store, you may want to do your daily money management via an app but stop into a branch to meet with a loan officer to discuss the different types of mortgages when you are shopping for a home.

The prospect of having the best of both worlds, and having these two types of businesses work to solve customer pain points and enhance their wealth, is an exciting one.

Traditional Banks Are Keeping More of Your Money

While traditional banks continue to attempt to adjust to the digital age, they’re likely not giving customers a break financially. Typically, they pay less in interest when you keep your money with them than, say, online-only banks, or have more requirements (such as loftier minimum deposits and balances) to earn higher rates. Typically, banks make more money when they pay lower interest rates vs. the competition.

An example: Currently, traditional savings account interest rates are averaging 0.47% in March 2024, according to the FDIC. Online banks, however, may pay between 4.00% and 5.36% or even higher.

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FAQ

What is the difference between a bank and a fintech?

Traditional banks are highly regulated, have brick-and-mortar locations with in-person customer service, and may be limited in their range. They usually offer ways for consumers to save, spend, and borrow. Fintechs can be digital or mobile services, and may focus on just one aspect of finances, such as securing apps.

Why is fintech better than traditional banks?

If a fintech is an online-only bank, it may be more convenient to use and offer higher interest rates on deposits, since it doesn’t have to spend money on brick-and-mortar locations.

Is fintech the future of banking?

Fintech is contributing to the future of banking, but traditional banking, with its regulations and customer service, will likely still have a place in many people’s financial lives in the future.


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