Finance touches nearly every aspect of consumers’ lives, yet some major components of the space remain antiquated, at best imposing an improved user experience onto an interior that remains rooted in less-than-equal policies. Injecting modernity into finances and truly opening up the industry to more democratic practices will involve examining broken business models, pulling them apart to restructure them for the Information Age, says Leslie Campisi, CMO of venture investment and advisory firm Anthemis Group and editor of its media outlet Hacking Finance.
Ahead of her appearance on the upcoming ‘Democratizing Finance‘ panel discussion, taking place April 2 at Anomaly in New York City, Campisi spoke to PSFK about what she hopes to share, explaining where the finance space is moving, its potential for a fairer future and how the content Hacking Finance curates helps support a democratic industry by voicing the work of today’s diverse creators and innovators.
PSFK: What are some of the trends you’ve noticed in the finance space, regarding where innovation is heading and what consumers are demanding for their financial experiences?
Leslie: The idea that financial experiences are separate from other consumer experiences will increasingly become out of date. We are moving into the era of embedded finance, where financial products will be seamlessly integrated into other things—and by “things,” I mean, in some cases, literal things.
Let me give an example: A company called Flo Technologies sells an IoT-enabled hardware device that, once installed on a homeowner’s plumbing line, can detect tiny water leaks before they turn into crazy, home-ruining surprises. What does this have to do with finance? Well, water damage is so common that it drives up your—and therefore everyone’s—home insurance policy premiums. So, while on the face of it, Flo sells a consumer device, a “thing,” what it’s really selling is protection against damage, a kind of insurance.
That’s one example of how finance will increasingly become embedded into products. But sometimes finance will invisibly embed itself into a more digital experience or customer journey. Think about the role Braintree plays in allowing transactions to happen inside commonly used apps—ride sharing, for example. Imagine how that experience would feel if you hailed the car in one app, left it to open another app to complete the payment and then had to return to the first app to track your ride. Because the financial aspect is embedded in a single user experience, the transaction is frictionless and almost imperceptible.
We’ll see many more consumer-facing brands embed finance into experiences this way—not just payments but also lending and insurance. And not just inside apps, but in lots of other environments, too.
Could you explain the work that you do at Hacking Finance, and how that intersects with the above?
Our mission at Hacking Finance is to stretch the definition of what finance is and who gets to be a part of it. We see finance as the nervous system of society, whose flow touches and empowers everything it touches. Yet it’s often treated—by those working inside it, as well as those who write and think about it—more like The Church of Finance. You’re not supposed to question finance’s rules or rigid power structures, just trust them. And for a lot of us, that’s a big turnoff. So many talented people self-select out of working in financial services, perpetuating its insular nature—at a time when the industry needs outside innovators and collaborators the most.
Hacking Finance’s job is to chip away at the old, Industrial Age paradigm of financial services by asking questions and telling stories that represent what it could be. Can finance be colorful? Queer? Who gets to be a banker? A VC? Is immigration a financial topic? Is asteroid mining? Skateboarding? We cover topics that stretch readers’ perceptions of what they think financial services is while also paying close attention to who we feature, and who writes about them.
There’s so, so much more to say about finance beyond how the markets are doing or how to balance your budget. And there’s a building wave of hidden innovation happening inside the current financial services industry that never gets its fair share of attention.
So the idea of “embedded finance” that we see coming to life in companies like Flo is proof of our thesis: that finance is inherently intersectional and needs to be treated, and talked about, as such.
This NY Fintech Week panel is titled “Democratizing Finance.” What does democratizing finance mean to you, and how does Hacking Finance fit into it?
If finance is going to move from the Industrial Age to the Information Age, it’s got to democratize. By that I mean, if the Industrial Age signature is hierarchies and command-and-control power structures, the Information Age is all about self-organized networks and ecosystems.
Too often what is perceived as innovation in the financial services sector is lipstick on a pig. Creating a better user experience on top of a broken Industrial Age business model that exploits users for profit is not innovative. True innovation in finance happens when the broken business models are examined, pulled apart, and rebuilt.
That’s what democratized finance looks like—startups whose products help to break down Industrial Age thinking. Take Rally Rd., for example. They’re not just about investing in hot cars (though I visited the Lamborghini in their retail space on Lafayette Street and totally swooned!).
Rally Rd. takes a high-performing asset class that the everyday retail investor has historically been locked out of—high-end collectibles—and makes it accessible. Kindur helps people approaching retirement age calculate how much money they’ll need to retire, and when they should start decumulating their assets, by stitching together information that has to date been siloed and virtually inaccessible, thanks in no small part to the financial, insurance and government institutions that would prefer to keep it that way. And Messari does the same by bringing transparency and a central source of truth to the crypto world, where standards have been sorely lacking.
How does Hacking Finance help democratize finance? By democratizing who tells, and who is featured, in stories about finance. And by bringing “democratizers” to finance.
What role does design play in the realm of finances, and particularly in the consumer experience? What, ideally, should good design do in transforming and improving that experience?
Good design in financial services respects the user’s humanity and autonomy versus exploiting it. That’s good design in its most all-encompassing sense: from the design of the business model, to the design of the company itself, to the design of its marketing initiatives, as well as the design of the actual product or service users interact with.
You have a curated selection of articles on your site as well as in a weekly and monthly newsletter. How do you decide what content to feature? What are consumers demanding in terms of topics and interests?
For us, it’s always about stretching the definition. Has this person written about finance before? No? Good. Does this look like a traditional financial services topic? No. Even better. We’re trying to find and play with the edge, or the intersection of finance and [x], where [x] is an adjacent sector like government, healthcare, education, technology, media, design, entrepreneurship…you get the idea.
Our audience is composed of people who are part of the tribe of innovators working inside financial services, as well as people from the outside we’ve wooed by making financial topics approachable and, we hope, less naff. We bring these two groups together in a collective conversation online and also in person. (We hosted an event on May Day last year featuring finance and literary people talking about labor and capital which was pretty fun/weird.)
While a lot of our content is far out, idea-driven stuff, people love stories about people. Our Pivot department is popular, as is High Tech, Low Life, a series of first-person essays written by a cyberpunk-adjacent investor. Our readers also go nuts for Carlota Perez, and rightly so. We have a lengthy profile of Carlota in our print magazine detailing her career arc from West Village architecture student, to Venezuelan civil servant, to her current status as cult academic icon. A good way to get a taste of what we’re into is to subscribe to our weekly anti-roundup, If You Read One Thing, where we pick a single article on the internet we think is worth reading every Friday.
What are some of the key points you hope to share on Anomaly’s ‘Democratizing Finance’ panel?
I hope we can start to paint a picture of what “democratized finance” looks like for those skeptical that innovation happening inside financial services can bring forth a better, shared future. And I’d love to turn on designers, creatives and entrepreneurs who don’t currently work in finance to the opportunity that exists here for them to make a mark. It’s huge. Like, huuuuuge. And you don’t have to check your conscience at the door to do it.
What does Hacking Finance see happening 1-2 years out? What’s to come for the finance space in the Information Age, based on what you’re observing now?
The intersection of finance and geopolitics is an area to watch. The U.S. presidential election cycle, the Brexit outcome (assuming there is one), as well as how climate concerns overlay geopolitics and finance…all of this is interesting to us at a macro level.
In addition to following the rise of embedded finance, we are interested in longevity as a theme. What are the implications for finance as people live longer? Stay in jobs longer? Need their assets to stretch further?
To be honest, though, Hacking Finance is interested in looking backward as much as ahead. Re-earthing lost lessons from the past is an evergreen interest of ours, as is looking way further than 1-2 years out. We’ll leave the traditional business publications to handle the next few tomorrows.
For more from Leslie, come hear her speak on a panel of finance pioneers, hosted by Anomaly, Hacking Finance and PSFK as part of New York Fintech Week. The conversation will feature startups and thinkers designing solutions to make finance fairer, more accessible and more inclusive, and will take place this upcoming April 2 at Anomaly. Tickets are free!
Lead image: stock photos from Flamingo Images/Shutterstock