2016 was a bad year for most prognosticators. As such, we’re bringing a humble attitude to the table for our nine predictions for 2017. After all, we could be right on the call, and wrong on it materializing within the next 365 days. Conversely, we could be wrong on our underlying assumption, but predict correctly thanks to a so-called ‘slop shot’ (i.e., a lucky shot in pool). So, with that in mind, let’s play nine-ball.
1. Enterprise to shine. In 2016, even some of the highest flying consumer fintechs (and their backers) discovered that delivering innovative financial services at scale is extremely tough to do. But fintech is hardly on the downswing. In fact, we expect to see levitation for those B-to-B and B-to-B-to-C start-ups making steady progress in data and analytics, investment research, robo, banking and regtech solutions. Most of these companies are not destined for unicorn status, but several half-fin/half-tech Minotaurs of sorts are well positioned to command healthy eight- and nine-figure valuations as incumbents, boosted by more sanguine shareholders and friendlier regulators, eye acquisitions and partnerships to boost their innovation game.
2. Small business will be beautiful. Whether it’s providing merchants with new loyalty solutions or offering better financing options, HR tools or easy-to-use insurance products to everyday businesses, there’s likely to be increased fintech enthusiasm for serving America’s SMBs. We also think credit unions, community banks and other modest-sized financial institutions will become more aggressive in amping up partnerships with marketplace lending services and payments solutions providers so as to offer fresher offerings to their end customers.
3. Micro will be even prettier. While we don’t foresee doom for Facebook, Google and big publishers, we are predicting/hoping to see modest progress made by a handful of start-ups challenging the existing advertisement-based publishing model through blockchain-powered micropayment solutions. We have nothing against advertising, but despite ad blocking innovations, it seems like overly intrusive, data-hogging ad formats that hold your screen hostage have persisted. We’re also bullish on another micro: microinsurance. Whether it’s geared to the developing world or to affluent sharing economy consumers in the US and Europe, usage-based insurance that provides coverage at the tap of a smartphone looks ready to rise next year.
4. A better year for old fashioned stock picking. Rising interest rates, likely multiple Fed rate hikes, divergent central bank policies, unpredictable fiscal policies, presidential Twitter bullying of individual corporations... This is the (favorable) backdrop that will provide fundamental equity managers the chance to prove their worth in 2017. We think a larger share of them will outperform the S&P 500, Russell 2000 and other widely used benchmarks vs. previous years. In turn, active managers will secure much needed oxygen in their struggle against the rising tide of indexed-based products. However, a year doesn’t make a trend, and we expect passive investment products and the stronger roboadvisor platforms to continue to roll onwards.
5. The beginning of the end for long lines. Using radio frequency identification technology, machine learning and sensors to liberate shoppers from lines at the grocery store sounds like a great, practical use for those technologies. And who better than Amazon, which will soon open its first Amazon Go store, to create another breakthrough in commerce? Assuming the company’s Just Walk Out technology works well in Amazon Go’s maiden store, we expect an increase in the number of Amazon Go locations and similar offerings from the likes of WalMart/Sam’s Club and others.
6. The ‘dirty’ side of Bitcoin will boost alternatives. Last year, one expert calculated that mining a single Bitcoin used about the same amount of electricity required to power more than 1.5 American households for a day. That’s a key point to consider now that the Ethereum community is expected to hard fork to a proof of stake (POS) protocol at some point in 2017. As compared to a proof of work protocol (POW), a POS protocol requires far less computational power and is open to a wider set of participants. If the switch is executed successfully, the digital currency world could see the makings of a scalable, more energy-efficient alternative to Bitcoin’s electricity-guzzling mining process.
7. The year of the non-millennial apps. If you were born in the US in 1890, you’d be considered an old geezer if you lived long enough to blow out your 46th birthday candle. Fortunately, lifespans have improved dramatically since the Naughty Nineties. In fact, according to HealthGrove, today’s average 38 year-old, sandwich generation female is going to live another 44 years (at least), many of which will be ones where she’ll have money to spend, banking to do, insurance to buy and investments to make. We think/hope that 2017 is the year in which consumer-driven fintech entrepreneurs do the math and put more focus on the over-34 crowd.
8. Beyond NYCAL. Although New York and California will continue to lead, several other US cities will demonstrate that financial innovation is no longer just a New York-California thing. Start-ups in the ABC cities (i.e. Atlanta, Austin, Baltimore/DC, Boston, Charlotte, Chicago) and elsewhere will continue to make steady progress. But the key for entrepreneurs in these cities will be to exploit inherent advantages. Boston start-ups, for example, are poised to show national leadership in InvesTech on the back of its sizable asset management industry; Atlanta’s Transaction Alley will fuel payments and cybersecurity start-ups; and Chicago’s deep-dish trading community will give rise to innovation focused on the futures, options and commodities markets.
9. Fintech imperialism. Thus far, fintech has been defined as subsector of the greater technology space, or alternatively, a subset of the financial industry. Regardless of how you characterize it, though, it’s clear to us that things work differently in this space because the business of money innovation is different than, say, the business of creating clever emojis or a piece of industry-agnostic software. That differentiated thinking (which helped fuel the ongoing successes of the PayPal mafia) is needed to infuse other industries including the healthcare, education and government/smart cities sectors. We think 2017 will be a year in which experienced financial innovation executives surface in unexpected places.