17 Inspiring Fintech TED Talks

This article is part of a series. To discover more inspiring TED Talks covering a variety of industries and technologies, be sure to check out our round ups for Coding, Data, or Cybersecurity.

The merging of finance and technology certainly isn’t new. But the term “fintech” is a 21st-century construct that has sent society racing into a new world of money, banking, and commerce.

Banks, companies, and entrepreneurs are turning fintech applications into new ways to save, spend, and loan money. They’re even creating new forms of money. But what are the implications of all this change? Are we headed toward a democratized financial system? Are we creating new ethical dilemmas?

In this collection of videos from TED, a nonprofit organization devoted to sharing ideas, unique thinkers from around the world share their perspectives on the power of fintech. Scroll on for 17 must-watch fintech TED Talks.

1. Why Is the Fintech Revolution Happening Now?

Following the 2008 worldwide financial crisis, banks were occupied with fines and new regulations that didn’t leave much time for innovation. Programmers and creative thinkers filled that void, and a new financial model began to take shape.

Henri Arslanian, a global cryptocurrency expert and entrepreneur, argues that fintech firms are creating consumer-based alternatives to banks and financial companies. Now, he says, business schools and universities need to follow.

2. Blockchain’s Transformative Ability

Bettina Warburg, a blockchain researcher, explains the basics of the blockchain and how it will radically transform the economy. Warburg says that blockchain will decentralize the economy, eliminating the need for banks and big financial institutions and allowing people to trade currency more directly.

Warburg delivers an easy-to-understand explanation of blockchain and how it continues a familiar human story: “As humans, we find ways to reduce uncertainty about one another so that we can exchange value,” she says.

3. Fintech’s Positive Impact on the World

Startups resemble surfers, Spiros Margaris argues. Surfers take risks — leaps of faith, if you will — to ride the perfect wave. Startups do the same, especially those in fintech, whose leaps of faith involve trying to overcome long-established financial institutions.

Margaris, a venture capitalist and expert in fintech and insurtech, says fintech entrepreneurs will ride the wave above those institutions. Their creations offer more streamlined, customer-focused solutions.

They also bring banking options to people who live in places without banks. Unsure about banking with an organization like Facebook? It’s coming, Margaris says.

4. Opening the Door to Loans for Everyone

Shivani Siroya discusses a breakthrough — one that helps people obtain business loans without credit history or even a bank account.

Siroya’s company, Tala, developed a smartphone lending app using data beyond credit scores to determine whether people are loan-eligible. It measures trustworthiness using mobile app data, helping people build the trust required to obtain a loan. In emerging markets with more than one billion smartphones, the Tala app is opening opportunities to loan candidates who banks might otherwise dismiss.

5. Kids Are Building the Banks of the Future

In his TED Talk, Chris Skinner quotes Bill Gates in saying, “We need banking but we don’t need banks anymore.” Skinner, an author and commentator on finance and fintech, says Gates was misguided; banks store money with trust and are the most regulated industry in the world, and they have a necessary place.

But banks were built to collect and distribute paper, and the future of currency is digital. How do banks traverse that chasm? The financial services industry is relying, in large part, on young coders.

6. Paving the Way to a New Era

How new is fintech? Emilie Allaert contends that it was born in 1967 with the introduction of the ATM. Not an example of fintech? “That’s because you’re used to it,” she says.

Allaert, project lead for the Luxembourg Blockchain Lab, says the difference with fintech today is its pace, reach, and impact within the financial services industry. This disruption is creating an exchange with fewer intermediaries and more transparent transactions.

7. COVID-19 and Fintech

Dan Schulman, the CEO of PayPal, says that changes born from the pandemic (such as contactless payments) will continue but argues that society should take it a step further. Schulman wants financial institutions to leverage smartphones to address financial health for people around the world.

“How do we make sure that people have the ability to have some wherewithal to create savings to withstand some kind of financial shock to the system?” Schulman asks. “I do think that mobile phones will be the way that this occurs and will be very inclusive going forward. Really, you have all the power of a bank branch in the palm of your hands.”

8. How Mobile Phones Are Driving Financial Inclusion

Maria Skara, a sustainability consultant, researched financial services in Kenya and found that fintech is changing the lives of ordinary people as well as those in finance. Smartphones are the reason.

With a widely available app, Kenyans can text money to merchants, landlords, or friends and family. The app also helps people get loans to expand their businesses. People in Western countries use technology differently than people in economically developing nations where, Skara says, “It has the power to drastically improve their lives.”

9. What Is an ICO?

What’s the digital currency equivalent of an initial public offering (IPO)? It’s the initial coin offering (ICO), in which startups offer investors cryptocurrency tokens as shares in their companies. Ashwini Anburajan says this will open investment opportunities to more startups.

Anburajan, an entrepreneur and writer, was part of an ICO involving 30 companies that raised startup capital by issuing digital currency tied to the value of their services. Anburajan said this unique offering represented more money, more investors, and more possibilities for startups. “We have only just begun to imagine what democratizing access to capital will do.”

10. Is Bitcoin the Best Money Invented?

Societies have traded things of value — gold, salt, even cattle — for centuries. But what constitutes value? Jad Mubaslat cites four characteristics: durability, divisibility, transferability, and scarcity.

That could make Bitcoin the best kind of money ever invented. Mubaslat, who works for a crypto asset brokerage in Bahrain, says Bitcoin has all four characteristics. It’s also inherently democratic — anyone with internet access can buy or sell Bitcoin, and any programmer can contribute to its development. Mubaslat offers an intriguing look at the future of currency.

11. Fintech and Trust

Why has technology made us trust people, companies, and ideas we don’t know at a time when public trust in banks, government, and churches is eroding? Rachel Botsman asks this question as an Oxford Trust Fellow and expert on trust in the digital world. Botsman discusses the “trust ladders” that companies have to climb to earn their customers’ trust. That’s particularly true in finance. What trust level did you have when you entered your credit card details online for the first time?

“What we cannot deny is that the way trust flows through society is changing, and it’s creating this big shift away from the 20th century, that was defined by institutional trust, towards the 21st century that will be fueled by distributed trust,” Botsman says. “Trust is no longer top-down. It’s being unbundled and inverted.”

12. Cryptocurrency: Hype Vs. Fact

“Who here fears cryptocurrency?” Anca Pop asks at the beginning of her TED Talk. She then proceeds to not only demystify the digital currency, but also to explain why it might replace fiat currency (e.g., government-issued currency that is not backed by a commodity such as gold). .

Pop, a cybersecurity consultant and cryptocurrency advisor, says that cryptocurrency is actually a “smarter” form of money. It’s easy to transfer and, because each transaction is recorded permanently, it’s more transparent and secure.

Pop cuts through the myths and misunderstandings surrounding cryptocurrency and gives a compelling look at the currency’s past, present, and future.

13. Deepmind and the Future of Finance

Google Deepmind is an artificial intelligence project that Google says “could be one of humanity’s most useful inventions.” Matthew Dixon, an applied mathematician working in algorithmic finance, wants to see it employed in his field.

Dixon says that financial services normally are clandestine and private, whereas technology companies usually operate with more transparency. By bringing machine learning into finance, we will not only make money accessible to more people, but also might be able to better predict the future of financial markets — potentially preventing fraud and crashes.

14. Reinventing the Wheel With Fintech

Jenna Huey Ching says fintech is “recreating the wheel” of banking and the financial services industry. For instance, because of fintech, people can open bank accounts without ever visiting a bank. All they need is a mobile phone with facial recognition software.

Ching, CEO and founder of a cybersecurity firm, also addresses some of the reluctance people might have conducting financial transactions that way. She explains that fintech gives more people access to financial services and is more open and collaborative than the system we know today. She also discusses the concept of “techfin,” or technology companies branching into finance. You may be banking on Facebook soon, she says.

15. What Is Your Bank Doing With Your Money?

Your money really doesn’t belong to you, according to Gregory Klumov. It belongs to your bank, which loans and invests it to make money for itself. Klumonov, CEO and co-founder of STASIS, says that the process is inherently opaque.

The blockchain, however, can be used to quantify our trust in financial institutions, so we give money only to those institutions we trust. How? By creating a digital record of every transaction, blockchain lowers the possibility of fraud or theft. Ultimately, Klumov says, cryptocurrency is far easier to trace than cash, creating “the most transparent public financial ledger.”

16. Origins of the NFT

Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) have become popular digital investments, but just a few years ago they were head-scratching concepts. Roham Gharegozlou, CEO of Dapper Labs, was among the originators. Dapper Labs created a video game called CryptoKitties, in which players collect and breed digital cats. Its rise in popularity helped to bring NFTs into the mainstream.

In this TED Talk, Gharegozlou explains blockchain breakthroughs that allow people to buy, sell, and trade digital goods. In the process, he illustrates how the concept of ownership is evolving.

17. Freedom and Blockchain

Anne Connelly, a faculty member at the Canadian think tank Singularity University, recalls how she paid employees while working in African relief centers — with cash. Imagine humanitarian field workers carrying bags of cash across fields and towns; through military checkpoints and war zones. They put their lives on the line.

But with cryptocurrency and blockchain, humanitarian organizations can pay local workers via text. Connelly explores how Bitcoin, and other forms of digital money, can help deliver both freedom and safety to people in economically developing countries.

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