The Brandeis GPS blog

Insights on online learning, tips for finding balance, and news and updates from Brandeis GPS

Month: July 2017

Can mono-solution providers survive?

By Mike Storiale

When FinTech began its ascent, single-solution providers opened the door to expertise and simplicity rarely brought to the table by traditional banks. Solutions designed to meet unique needs created excitement from consumers and investors alike.

Throughout the industry, experts discussed the need for an open architecture from banks and FinTechs to empower customers to build a set of financial solutions that worked best for them. As the industry matured, however, it became apparent that a more rudimentary problem was holding FinTechs back – a balanced business model.

Over the past 25 years, we’ve witnessed the rise and fall of innovative companies that created a single solution with little diversification. The dot-com crash in the early 2000’s was full of well-intentioned problem-solvers who built great organizations, but lacked the contingency plan a balanced product offering affords. They were flying high without a net.

Customers Are Finicky

The mono-solution business model that most FinTechs chose excited customers who could relate to specific problems they felt their banks were not solving. When early entrants offered a better way to send money and alternative lending options, as well as simpler checking accounts, they seemed attractive in an industry that traditionally ignored outcries from its customers for better products.

Moreover, customers had often been plagued with the decision fatigue that came with traditional banks’ offerings of multiple variations of each product, few of which fit anyone perfectly.

But while consumers were willing to try new products that FinTechs brought to the table, they remained reluctant to leave the mainstream banking system for a new financial lifestyle. For banks, this gave them the opportunity to win customers back as they developed complementing products to compete with the innovators creeping in on their space.

Even though research showed that few consumers ever felt “warm” with their bank, often ranking them just slightly less hated than airlines and cable companies, it was difficult to leave the one-stop-shop that was completely intertwined with their everyday lives. Though cobbling your perfect financial offering together sounds utopian, for most consumers it was simply more work than they were willing to take on.

A Risky Model

While the boon of the early years may make some think otherwise, FinTech is not immune to typical business risks. One of the core rules of business is to diversify your product offering to protect yourself, though when we begin new technology ventures, we often believe that we will be able to succeed on a single solution. FinTech’s rise began during a time filled with historically low interest rates, massive changes in regulation, and a consumer base willing to try new things.

While this opened the door for success, it also meant that it mattered less if a start-up’s balance sheet was diversified enough to withstand market fluctuations, because fluctuations simply weren’t happening. Solutions that focused on lending to consumers outside of the traditional market didn’t have to experience the risks of a volatile rate environment. As the inevitable becomes reality, however, speculation circulates as to whether an unbalanced offering can withstand the storms the financial industry often faces.

In addition to market risks, the gap is narrowing in the “tortoise and the hare” race between FinTechs and Bank’s. Even the smallest banks have begun investing money into innovation, while the ones with significant capital have started entire technology hubs and enacted strategies to acquire their biggest tech challengers.

Although big banks continue to face regulatory scrutiny of their core business model, they have evolved and learned how to innovate, catching up in the race to grab customers with products that differentiate themselves. At the same time, FinTechs are finding it difficult to maintain the minimal regulatory oversight that enabled the rapid growth seen in the early years of innovation.

Last month, SoFi filed the paperwork to obtain an industrial bank charter, opening the door for the online lender to offer the same core banking services as its mega-bank counterparts. SoFi’s bold step is not the approach taken by all FinTechs, but many continue to look for partnerships with more full-service financial companies to ensure revenues continue to flow, even if their core business falls out of favor.

The Tipping Point

The outlook for the next five years in FinTech growth may closely trend with the growth in new bank charters. While de novo bank growth stalled after 2008, the up-tick in 2015 and 2016 highlights start-ups that believe they can become successful hybrid organizations; part bank, part FinTech.

Still, taking the hybrid path isn’t without its own challenges. Stringent capital requirements, intense regulatory oversight, and the difficulty of growing a balanced product mix can make it unattractive for entrepreneurs and investors alike.

Mono-solution providers should evaluate the future of their revenue stream to determine if diversification can help mitigate their risks in a changing market.  If they are able to take their innovation into new, multi-service arenas, we can expect to see unprecedented growth in the industry.

Mike Storiale is an Adjunct Professor in the Digital Innovation for FinTech program at Brandeis University Graduate Professional Studies. He teaches a graduate course on the global economy and the emergence of FinTech. 

“What’s an instructional designer?”

By Lance Eaton

That’s always the first question I get when I tell people that I am an instructional designer (an ID for those of us “in the know”).

It all started when I was 6 years old, and my dad asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I peered up into his face and said with an earnest seriousness that no child should muster, “I want to be an instructional designer.”

Ok, that’s a lie. In my career as an instructional designer, I’ve never met anyone who wanted to become one when they grew up. In fact, many of them, like me, stumbled onto this career and realized they’d come into their calling — and that people would pay them to do something they rather enjoy!

Probably a year before I became an ID, I couldn’t tell you what an ID was. “Ummm…they design instruction?” In 2011, I was teaching full-time as a part-time instructor (or as I called it, the adjunct shuffle), patching together 6-8 courses a semester at six different institutions. Technology was my saving grace in that it helped me implement different and interesting projects without completely losing my mind (or my students’ papers). As a result of some of that work, I was soon asked to present on how I was using blogs, social media and other technology to enhance learning. When an ID position opened up at North Shore Community College, I was encouraged to apply given my skill set both with teaching and learning with technology, but also for my ability to effectively explain this work to colleagues. The rest is, as they say, history (ok, there’s a few more pieces to it, but this is the abbreviated blog-version!).

Helping instructors think about technology and pedagogy is the essence of instructional design. Eventually, I developed a succinct answer to the question above: “I work with instructors to develop online and hybrid courses or utilize other technology in pedagogically sound ways that maximizes learning and minimizes frustration for learners and instructors as much as possible.”

But even that description often needs further explanation. In comparison to the physical classroom, online instructors and students are thousands of hours behind when it comes to experience. Instructors have vast quantities of implicit knowledge about what works and doesn’t work in the physical classroom as a result of their own education, their teaching experience, and disciplinary expertise. However, that implicit knowledge needs to be made explicit in the online environment so that both instructor and student can succeed. This is where IDs come in; helping instructors figure out exactly how they can be effective in this new learning environment. It’s a rewarding opportunity — I get to meet different instructors with unique approaches to teaching and learning that I am then able to share with other instructors for consideration as they make their journeys into the online learning experience.

So with that, I’d like to say that I’m really excited to land at Brandeis GPS with some amazing colleagues and fantastic instructors. I look forward to learning and growing, which, as quintessential life-long learners, is something ID folk love to do.

Lance Eaton is an instructional designer at Brandeis University Graduate Professional Studies. His previous work includes working at North Community College and Regis College as instructional designer. He is currently working on his PhD in Higher Education from University of Massachusetts, Boston.

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