The World of Fintech Will Never Be the Same

How 2020 helped shape the next wave of innovation in financial technology.
Written by Colin Hanner
June 22, 2021Updated: June 22, 2021

Though we’re still too close to the events of 2020 to know exactly how it will be recorded, the year will arguably go down in history as one of the most pivotal in our lives. 

And for the world of finance and insurance, 2020 may be the year that paved the way for the future of the industries. Companies, some forced to move their in-person operations online — and at scale — were met with a quandary: How can we shift this online without skipping a beat for our users and customers? 

From mid-June to mid-August 2020, nearly 1,400 fintech firms across 169 jurisdictions reported more growth than the same period in 2019, according to a joint study by the World Bank and others. Firms surveyed in North American markets saw a 21 percent increase in growth. 

Stavvy pivoted back to its original goal of providing remote notarizations for mortgage closings after noticing a gap in the market when the pandemic hit. Crypto-focused Algorand responded to increased demand in digital payments, supply-chain tracking and more through additional product launches, resources and programs. 

When the Paycheck Protection Program rolled out, Numerated helped banks administer the funds digitally. And for the insurance communication provider Hi Marley, the adoption of its platform by more carriers enabled more seamless two-way communication. 

Below, Built In Boston connected with leaders at these four companies to see how they responded to the challenges of the past year and how their adaptations will become the standard in years to come. 

 

Josh Feinblum
Co-Founder

What they do: Stavvy enables remote mortgage closings for homeowners and homebuyers. In May, the company closed on a $40 million Series A

 

What changed for your business and industry in 2020, and how much of that was driven by the global pandemic and the impacts that had on consumer behavior?

When Stavvy started a couple of years ago, only one to two states allowed for remote online notarizations, and efforts to accelerate this at the federal level and across other states were moving slowly. Today, nearly 70 percent of states now allow it, and we have bipartisan legislation pending at the federal level. During the pandemic, almost every jurisdiction permitted some form of remote notarization; it's difficult to envision this pace of progress absent the pandemic.

How did you adapt your product to address these shifting trends? 

Stavvy initially pivoted away from technology that enabled remote transactions and instead focused on making it easier, safer and more efficient for banks to order title and settlement work. When the impacts of the pandemic became apparent, we became very focused on how we could take the talent we had assembled to help society with some of the complex challenges that faced it. During that exploration, many states in the Northeast and beyond started authorizing various forms of remote notarization that had never existed before. Because of this new approach, there were no other software vendors that could support the novel requirements presented to notaries, so we pivoted back to our initial idea and fulfilled those requirements within a few weeks.
 

When the impacts of the pandemic became apparent, we became very focused on how we could take the talent we had assembled to help society.”

 

Looking ahead, what lasting effects do you think 2020 will have on your business and industry? And how do you plan to be part of this next wave of fintech innovation?

We’ve experienced many moving stories of people going through significant transactions and facing extraordinary challenges along the way due to public health measures. We’ve helped people complete real estate transactions from hospital beds, execute transactions enabling them to avoid foreclosure in minutes instead of weeks, and many other scenarios like this. It’s unlikely that consumers who have experienced transactions done in this new way are going to return to paper. Perhaps more importantly, there are times when the old way made already stressful experiences substantially more challenging, if not impossible. Our plan is simple: We want to enable people going through some of their most defining moments to focus on those moments, not cumbersome processes.

 

Paul Riegle
Chief Product Officer

What they do: Algorand’s transactions platform and decentralized digital currency aim to bridge the gap between the worlds of decentralized and traditional finance. 

 

What changed for your business and industry in 2020, and how much of that was driven by the global pandemic and the impacts that had on consumer behavior?

Last year was an exciting year of explosive growth across the blockchain and crypto industries — especially given the backdrop of the pandemic, which accelerated digital payment usage and demanded a more inclusive economic participation model. Developers, organizations and even countries increasingly began to appreciate the tremendous efficiencies gained from blockchain technology. Algorand’s developer-friendly resources enabled developers and startups to dig in and acquire the skills necessary to build decentralized applications and learn how to use blockchain to tap into the expanding digital economy. 

In 2020, a convergence of decentralized and traditional finance began, driven by advancements in foundational technology and increased adoption of blockchain. Those building on Algorand are creating new business models, starting new companies with new offerings, and reimagining how legacy financial systems can be modernized with blockchain. We expect this shift to continue and adoption to increase as we head into 2021 and beyond. 

How did you adapt your product to address these shifting trends? 

Many key trends emerged to which Algorand had to respond. They included increased use of digital payments, direct retail investor engagement with markets, a growing need for cross-border payments, the liquidity of tokenized assets, supply-chain tracking and security, and environmental impact analysis.

Algorand was uniquely positioned to provide a platform for organizations to adopt and leverage the benefits of blockchain. With a best-in-class team and technology, Algorand rapidly executed additional product launches, protocol upgrades, new marketing programs and developer resources to welcome users to the growing ecosystem of new offerings. 
 

Blockchain is energizing the next wave of financial innovation.”


Looking ahead, what lasting effects do you think 2020 will have on your business and industry? And how do you plan to be part of this next wave of fintech innovation?

Algorand has found itself at the intersection of new and traditional business models. Blockchain is energizing the next wave of financial innovation by empowering organizations across decentralized finance, traditional finance and governmental segments. With a high-performing foundational blockchain designed for the future of finance, Algorand is helping democratize participation, provide significant efficiency and introduce new economic realities in the financial industry. Algorand is setting the example for how blockchain will be part of the next wave of fintech innovation, as displayed by the many use-cases built on Algorand that are thriving by using next-generation technology. 

Our vision is a world where everyone creates and exchanges value efficiently, transparently and securely. We are focused on thinking beyond what exists today and finding solutions that will have the biggest impact tomorrow. Our team represents the best and brightest across cryptography, economics, computer science and mathematics, and we are fully dedicated to continuing to produce the technology that the future of finance will require.

 

Adam Kenney
Chief Product Officer

What they do: Numerated is a digital lending and sales platform for banks.

 

What changed for your business and industry in 2020, and how much of that was driven by the global pandemic and the impacts that had on consumer behavior?

The need to get funding into the hands of small businesses through the Paycheck Protection Program was a huge driver of our business growth and changed a lot about who we were in 2020. It had a meaningful effect on our customers, small businesses and their operators because the pandemic meant that they couldn't get at that funding through traditional means. It was a very different situation and a very different program in terms of how PPP was administered. And so overnight it forced businesses to be working in a digital fashion that they otherwise may not have chosen to do. Fortunately, we were able to quickly enable our platform to support the process.

I think it says something about our CEO Dan O’Malley, the leadership team and Numerated — they saw the opportunity to help. When most were focused on safely closing their doors, Numerated had the strategic vision to see that this was a really big deal. Even while the legislation was still being passed around the Senate, we were reengineering our platform such that we were able to help hundreds of thousands of small businesses get the funding they desperately needed.

How did you adapt your product to address these shifting trends? 

First, Numerated wouldn’t have been able to successfully adapt our product if it weren’t for our strong teams and our culture. Our passion to help our customers and the small businesses they support, coupled with our care for each other, enabled us to turn our remote work into a positive. We often reflect on the reality that we would not have been able to accomplish nearly as much if we were all in the office at the time. 

In terms of how we adapted our product to address the shifting trends, I would say first and most meaningful is the emphasis we put on trying to build the best front-end experience for business banking and to do it as quickly as we could. Recognizing that business owners were not going to be walking into branches and it wasn’t going to be the bankers interacting with our system as the primary means of getting something through the process, we had to very quickly make sure that we had the best-self service experience in the market so that businesses could get through the PPP process as easily and effectively as possible.
 

Really, there’s no going back. People are not only comfortable leveraging tech-enabled processes, but they expect it.”


Looking ahead, what lasting effects do you think 2020 will have on your business and industry? And how do you plan to be part of this next wave of fintech innovation?

Really, there’s no going back. People are not only comfortable leveraging tech-enabled processes, but they expect it. The convenience that was present and available due to the pandemic was real, and it made interacting with banks more streamlined than it had been. Once you realize and experience that as a user, your expectations have shifted, and they've shifted very meaningfully. That's what we've expected since the beginning of Numerated, but it happened very quickly because of the pandemic. So we're poised to help our customers through that next level of transition. Every banking experience needs to be like it was in the pandemic. 

In our world of small business and commercial banking, so much was focused on PPP in the last year, but now it's about being able to provide that same ease of use and efficiency in every business banking interaction. And that is what Numerated has always been good at. So, looking ahead, we’re not only poised to help the 140 lenders that we've supported through the last year but all of the other banks that are out there committing to an easier, more efficient business banking experience.

 

Hugh Allen
Product Research Manager

What they do: Hi Marley provides a platform for insurers to better communicate with their clients.

 

What changed for your business and industry in 2020, and how much of that was driven by the global pandemic and the impacts that had on consumer behavior?

For Hi Marley, 2020 was our biggest growth year yet. Our property and casualty insurance carrier customers sought out the capability to bring lovable communications into their conversations with policyholders. The goal was to cut through the digital noise from the pandemic and interact with customers directly via two-way text, bypassing reasons to download yet another mobile app or complete yet another web form. Carriers’ willingness to pilot the Hi Marley platform was definitely improved by the overall digital skill increase the pandemic brought on.

The pandemic also converted our sales and onboarding training process from in-person to virtual. Although we missed collaborating with our customers face-to-face, the team quickly adapted to the changing environment. We take pride that our intuitive insurance-focused communication platform is easy to assimilate into insurance carriers’ digital and customer-focused experiences. By offering best-in-class communication, carriers lowered operational costs and increased customer loyalty and satisfaction.

How did you adapt your product to address these shifting trends?

With the introduction of Marley Insights in 2021, we gave carriers real-time data through best-in-class visual dashboards embedded in a purpose-built application. The data helps carriers understand employee and customer adoption, identify high-impact moments, and see how best to communicate and understand the Hi Marley impact with the end user. 

Increasing the engagement platform to include high quality vendors is at the top of Hi Marley’s list for the near term. We know that bringing communications into one support thread for a claimant or policyholder will be valuable to carriers and surprise and delight end users. We’ve started by focusing on claims vendors supporting rental cars, glass replacement, total loss and payment. In parallel, Hi Marley continues to advance our integrations with the most popular insurance subsystems. The result will reduce claims cycle times, increase opportunities for communication automation and more all while getting the repaired vehicle back to the claimant quicker.
 

The lasting effects of 2020 will ensure that our success will be built on an unrelenting customer focus.”


Looking ahead, what lasting effects do you think 2020 will have on your business and industry? And how do you plan to be part of this next wave of fintech innovation?

We believe that making insurance lovable will take collaboration across the entire industry ecosystem. We will continue to expand horizontal and vertical partnerships with other fintech and insurtech companies to provide enjoyable conversations to our end users. Hi Marley is the platform for engagement, and the lasting effects of 2020 will ensure that our success will be built on an unrelenting customer focus. Lovable insurance cannot be developed in a silo but culminates from a network effect.

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