What would happen if Google was to found a “Google Bank”?

GoogleBankWhy it could be worthwhile to look at the banking world over the rim of one’s tea-cup

Most likely the music industry would have never dreamt of Apple becoming their biggest competitor. In a similar vein established mail order businesses had never imagined that the auction house Ebay and the book store Amazon would suddenly pull the rug from under their feet. And the camera manufacturers of this world carefully watched each other’s every move but obviously lost sight of the digital competition. For Kodak this ended deadly.

But how about today’s banks? What would happen if an industry outsider would enter the banking industry and would pose a serious competition for the established players?  For instance, what would happen if Google would decide to setup a bank?

First of all it should be noted that the necessary cash is available. With approximately 60 billion US Dollar Google has a pile of cash at its disposal that is waiting to be assigned to a specified use. The entry hurdle cash is thus negligible. One could even go as far to say that Google could easily absorb a total write-off in case the banking venture should fail.

Moreover, cost advantages may arise through the technology leadership that Google possesses. Incumbent banks regularly struggle with IT legacy systems that had often been built in the eighties of the previous century. These core banking systems had not only been developed in programming languages which are hardly known these days any longer, but they are based on a process oriented approach which is antiquated given today’s object oriented program codes. Merely keeping those systems alive already eats up a fair share of the entire IT budget of many banks. Google would not have these legacy problems. Google could build a new bank based on the latest IT technology on a green field or – to be more precise – in a green cloud.

But does Google have the necessary reputation to do banking? Conventional wisdom has it that banks should be serious, conservative, maybe even a little bit outmoded. At first glance this notion does not sit well with a playful service provider whose corporate identity was coined by the colours of Lego bricks and that grew large in the Internet. At closer inspection, however, one can observe that already today clients entrust Google with almost any information. The trust in Google appears to be boundless as far was data is concerned. Why should that be different in money matters? 

But what about Google’s potential clients? Who would entrust a Google Bank with his or her money? In this context it must be noted that as of today Google has already more than 400 million clients with user accounts that source various products and services from Google, from email accounts over translation or navigation services to hardware such as the Google tablet. The list is almost open-ended. If only a fraction of these clients would become clients of a Google Bank it would mean millions.

To put it at its simplest the business model of Google consists of collecting, condensing and editing data in a user-friendly fashion. Google has honed this model to perfection. Should Google now decide to offer banking services we could also expect to see this type of sophistication in banking. As an extreme case Google could for example scan the mail box of a client (as is already happening today). If there are any indications that the client may want to purchase a house, Google could proactively offer a mortgage to this client. Google has the potential to reveal client needs and to make corresponding offers even before the client is clear on his or her need himself or herself.

Last but not least Google has an outstanding reputation as an employer. When it comes to winning employees for a new Google Bank, Google could easily keep up with incumbent banks – at least as far as the under 35 year olds are concerned. As the banking industry’s neophyte Google could differentiate itself from the alleged causers of the financial crisis. It is safe to assume that Google could fight the war for talent from a vantage point.  

If the preconditions are so favorable for Google why has Google then not long entered the banking industry? A plausible explanation could be that Google still considers the banking sector as too unattractive. But this could change soon as Google has already made first steps towards banking with the Google Wallet and by obtaining a license as an Electronic Money Institution. This leaves incumbent banks with two options in the meantime: one could be entering a partnership with Google and forming an alliance with the technology giant. The second option would be to swiftly whip finances into shape, to polish up the image of the bank, to increase the customer base, to improve client service and to enhance the relationship with the employees – quite simply to be geared to Google in these matters.

Hence, when looking at the own position in the banking industry, it could be worthwhile to get one’s bearings not solely by looking at the other competitors in the banking business. Looking at the banking world over the rim of one’s tea-cup could thus be a valuable exercise.


Note from the author:

This is the English translation of a German post that was published on the Swiss financial blog ‘Inside Paradeplatz’ on 04 March 2015. Due to numerous feedback on the German post, manifold requests of non-German speakers to translate the text, but also due to the fact that I attended some utmost inspiring presentations by Patrick Warnking and Sandra Emme of Google Switzerland in the meantime, I decided to also publish the English version of this post.


Dr. Patrick Schüffel, A.Dip.C., M.I.B., Dipl.-Kfm.
Adjunct Professsor
Haute école de gestion Fribourg
Chemin du Musée 4
CH-1700 Fribourg
patrick.schueffel@hefr.ch, www.heg-fr.ch

Luxembourg is on a FinTech Journey

PwC Press Release, 21 April 2016

According to the PwC Luxembourg Report, the Grand Duchy is an emerging FinTech innovation hub

FinTech, a game-changing alloy of technology and finance, blends innovation-focused technology companies with traditional financial sector players. The merger of these two different business approaches, the tech and the traditional one, is the bedrock of the future financial sector landscape. Luxembourg, with its modern financial institutions, is well positioned to take reigns of the FinTech revolution.

Adapting to change: rising FinTech awareness in Luxembourg

With its vibrant ecosystem of financial institutions, technology companies, R&D centres, and a highly diversified and specialised economy, Luxembourg is an emerging FinTech innovation hub. “The country already provides factual support to innovation by encouraging private and public funding, and by building up a true start-up support ecosystem: the government put FinTech as one of the six key domains of the Digital Lëtzebuerg Strategy launched in 2014, aimed at turning Luxembourg into a digital nation, and mandated Jeremy Rifkin to examine and advise on how the Grand Duchy can leverage its FinTech potential” says Gregory Weber, FinTech Leader at PwC Luxembourg.

The Grand Duchy provides an attractive ecosystem not only for FinTech companies, but for business in general. Adding its innovative and responsive regulatory environment, Luxembourg is the epitome of a FinTech aware business environment. Local market players seem to perfectly understand that by embracing the FinTech business model, the Grand Duchy is on the right path to further strengthen its recognition and reputation among investors, clients and the start-up community.

Internet, mobility, social networking and the rise of price comparison websites have changed the game over the past decade and have created a new generation of customers who demand simplicity, speed and convenience in their interactions with financial providers and even with their peers” highlights Gregory Weber. Traditional market players have started adapting to new market demands. The need to meet changing customer expectations with new offerings (resulting in an increased focus on the client experience) is top-of-mind for 86% of Luxembourg respondents when asked about the most important impact of FinTech on their business.

Business at risk: 26% of the traditional financial sector in Luxembourg may be lost to FinTechs

According to the survey, nearly all (94%) respondents from the traditional financial industry believe that part of their business is at risk of being lost to standalone FinTech companies. Incumbents believe that more than a fourth part (26%) of their business could be at risk due to further development of FinTech, though FinTech companies anticipate that they will be able to take over only 10% of incumbents’ business (compared to 33% globally). “In this regard, the asset & wealth management industry is feeling particular pressure from FinTech companies” adds Gregory Weber.

On the other hand, insurers in Luxembourg may be underestimating the threat posed by FinTech with an estimated share of business at risk of only 10%, compared to 21% for global insurance participants.

However, not only are traditional financial industry providers concerned about losing part of their business to FinTechs, they are also aware that their ways of working and product offerings will be challenged and possibly transformed.

Blockchain: high on the agenda in Luxembourg, but still underexplored

Blockchain represents the next evolutionary jump in business process optimization technology. If blockchain gains wider acceptance, it could lead to significant changes in back-office roles, as ownership could be transferred without the need for intermediaries and reconciliations would disappear once there is a shared ledger that all parties agree on. “In Luxembourg, the majority of respondents (60%) recognises blockchain’s importance and is much more willing to respond to blockchain when compared to global respondents (except for asset & wealth managers). However, none of the respondents declares being extremely familiar with the technology. Only 17% believes being very familiar with it while one in five Luxembourg industry players is not familiar with blockchain at all” highlights Gregory Weber.

The ability to collaborate, at both a strategic and business level, with a few key partners could soon become a competitive advantage of Luxembourg financial industry.

How is the Luxembourg financial sector dealing with FinTechs?

Almost half (44%) of Luxembourg financial sector players believes that FinTech is integrated at the heart of their corporate strategies. However, more than 50% either does not have a fully aligned corporate FinTech strategy or FinTech does not have any role or impact within the strategic corporate agenda.  There is no clear industry-wide trend in terms of how traditional players deal and engage with FinTechs. More than a third (34%) engages in joint partnerships with FinTech companies, 31% buys and sell services to FinTech companies, 14% rebrands purchased FinTech services (white-labelling), 14% launches their own FinTech subsidiaries, one in ten establishes start-up programs to incubate FinTech companies and 7% sets up venture funds to fund FinTech companies. Surprisingly, 21% of Luxembourg participants does not deal with FinTech at all. When both parties (traditional financial and FinTech companies) are asked about the biggest impediments when dealing with one another, incumbents name regulatory uncertainty (68%), IT security (45%) and differences in operational processes (45%). FinTechs, on the other hand, are mostly concerned about different management culture when dealing with incumbents (67% of respondents) and IT security (50%) is also a concern.

While the responses from Luxembourg participants are generally aligned with the global ones, the required financial investments for Luxembourg FinTechs when dealing with traditional financial companies (50%) clearly stand out. Globally, this issue is FinTechs’ smallest concern, raised only by 28% of survey participants.

FinTech is re-shaping the financial sector at such a pace that those players that stay behind today might not even recognise the sector in five years. With their potential, Luxembourg players, however, have all the capabilities to stay at the heart of the FinTech revolution. The golden rule: start embracing FinTech now” concludes Gregory Weber.


Legend:Gregory Weber, FinTech Leader PwC Luxembourg – Nicolas Mackel, CEO Luxembourg for Finance – Jonathan Prince, Co-Founder Digicash Payments SA – Romain Godard, Partner PwC Strategy& – Patrick Schüffel, COO, Saxo Bank AG – Nasir Zubairi, Entrepreneur/Investor

Notes to Editors:

About the report :

The 2016 PwC Global FinTech Survey gathers the view of 544 respondents from 46 countries, principally Chief Executive Officers (CEOs), Heads of Innovation, Chief Information Officers (CIOs) and top management involved in digital and technological transformation, distributed among five regions.

The Luxembourg-focused cut was based on the responses of 36 respondents from the financial industry’s major market players.

For a copy of the report and to see the full results, please visit www.pwc.lu