Finance companies are not always linked with digital innovation in the way that, say, social media or technology companies are. However, digital innovation is affecting the industry, from venerable investment banks to blockchain developers.
Goldman Sachs: Into a Digital Lending Platform
The #1 company on Fast Company’s financial sector list is a highly venerable, highly traditional investment bank. At least until now, when it’s enlarging its business strategy.
Its innovations are twofold. One, it’s branching into consumer lending. Goldman was, for many years, associated with funding for established American companies, not with retail business.
Two, it’s branching into the digital space with a lending platform, Marcus, targeted at letting consumers manage debt more effectively by making loan rates more affordable. Goldman is also offering retail consumers savings accounts with no minimum balance penalties.
Digit: Saving Money, Digitally
Digit, a money-saving app, is #2 on the list. Digit examines a user’s bank accounts and analyzes the spending patterns to determine the amount of money that can be safely spared. (The company has an overdraft protection policy in place, for nervous consumers.) It then transfers that amount to a no-minimum savings account under Digit’s aegis. Users can transfer this money to their financial institutions at any time. Every three months, users get 0.20% interest.
Digit is popular. Over $350 million has been placed in Digit accounts since February 2015. It’s an example of digital banking innovation, which is turning increasingly to mobile apps.
IEX: Leveling the Trading and Investing Fields
The #3 financial innovator deals not with debt or savings, but with stock exchange trading. IEX, which opened in 2016, is the thirteenth stock exchange established in the U.S. It levels the field for trading speed for high-frequency computer-based trading, by providing a technological method that ensures computer trading machines “place trades at the same rate as other players,” according to Fast Company. The net result? All traders should get an equal shot.
Right now, the company’s market share is 1.95%. It plans to start letting firms list on the IEX exchange this year. Fast Company reports that multiple firms are interested in IEX because of the issues involved in competing with high-frequency trading.
Ethereum: Decentralizing Blockchain
Number 4 on the list of financial innovators is a blockchain-based platform that is decentralized. It enables the creation and execution of smart contracts using Ether as a currency. Ether is somewhat analogous to bitcoin, but instead of being related to a financial value like bitcoin is, Ether’s value is computing power. Ethereum’s network allows anyone to develop programs.
Because of its open network, larger companies like Microsoft and Deloitte have been very interested. The former, for example, created the Ethereum Consortium Blockchain Network on Azure last year.
At least one of the apps created on Ethereum’s network, DAO, has been hacked. Although this has caused concern in the blockchain community, Ethereum is still an innovator attracting attention.
Innovation in the financial sector continues at an accelerated pace. Stay tuned.