Boston Fintech Week Builds a Virtual Bridge to the Future

The Show Must Go On… Boston Fintech Week Builds a Virtual Bridge to the Future of Fintech

By Sarah Biller, Co-Founder of FinTech Sandbox and Member of Mass Fintech Hub

For the benefit of the global fintech community that has three times come together for Boston FinTech Week, FinTech Sandbox held the 2021 event — our 4th — virtually between September 28th to October 1. Not only did the show go on, but it was bigger, broader, and better. 

Boston FinTech Week 2021 served as a bridge to a new stage of fintech as we move out of the pandemic. This year’s theme “Financial Services for Anyone, Anytime, Anywhere,” with a clear emphasis on sustainable and inclusive finance. Noteworthy speakers included: Abby Johnson, Chairman and CEO of Fidelity, Jimmy Chen, Founder and CEO of Propel, and Silvio Micali, founder of Algorand and professor at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory.

Two big ideas emerged from Boston FinTech Week:

  1. Tomorrow’s financial services sector won’t look like we thought it would. Entrepreneurs are envisioning and building toward an industry that is open, transparent, decentralized, and everywhere.
  2. Ensuring that the future of financial services is sustainable and inclusive is motivating the best and boldest entrepreneurs at both fintech startups and incumbent financial services firms.

Here is just some of what we heard ….

  1. It was best of times. It was the worst of times. (Sorry, Charles.)

FinTech entrepreneurs and innovative institutions streamlined their lending processes during Covid to meet their customers where they are. For example: Jimmy Chen told us how Propel created an app that gives Americans access to their food stamp accounts so they can plan their meals ahead, spend their money correctly, and make sure it lasts.

Remedying the drivers of the financial services accessibility gap, which include everything from a lack of trust based on prior experience to poorly written terms and conditions, remains a pressing need if we are to build financial security for everyone.

  • Fintech will play a role in mitigating the effects of climate change.

We heard repeatedly you can never think too big as a fintech entrepreneur. Katherine Collins, Head of Sustainable Investing at Putnam Investments, discussed the role of capital markets investors in driving environmental, social, or governance outcomes.

With climate change increasing our vulnerability, innovative insurance solutions are required to mitigate its impact. Entrepreneur Jeff McAulay of Energetic Insurance and others on the parametric insurance panel discussed how we can make renewable energy projects economically viable, enabling small and midsized businesses more resilient in the face of climate change, and the data required to do so.

  • Education is an essential part of financial access and financial success.

Several of our fireside chats, panels, and community partner events focused on the importance of education in several aspects.

Small business owners often aren’t experts in finance and consumers need unbiased guidance to achieve financial security. This includes information on credit building, understanding terms and conditions, budgeting, buying the right insurance, etc. 

Monit CEO, Stephen Dowd, spoke with Eastern Bank’s Chief Digital Officer Ashley Nagle Elknanian on bank’s emerging abilities to help their customers link historically disparate datasets to analyze and anticipate when they are likely to experience cash flow shortfalls giving them enough time to act.

  • Fintech’s future will be built on the principle of ‘community’

We are all keenly aware that Covid accelerated changes in the way we live and work and revealed where we need further innovation in financial services. The next cycle of innovation is pushing financial services toward working for anyone, anytime, anywhere (hence our theme).

For example, insurance companies and insurtech entrepreneurs are expanding their product capabilities, making them more flexible and “portable” to meet the needs of the self-employed and of gig workers. 

We saw that it was possible to make venture capital available to people we’d never met in person. 

There’s an opportunity (and I hope we seize it!) for fintech to lead the charge on diversity and inclusion. As Sallie Krawchek, Co-founder and CEO of Ellevest, said in her fireside chat, “New team members need to be not a culture fit, but a culture-add.”

  • DeFi can resolve the asymmetrical relationships in financial services

Decentralization matters to the future of financial services, which is why this year we devoted a whole day to the topic. Programmable digital assets and securities are making access to capital easier, cheaper, and faster, and making aspects of financial services more transparent. This new order of business is opening opportunities for innovators and industry incumbents alike.

  • A concluding thought for the future…

As Abby Johnson said during her fireside chat on the final day of this edition of Boston FinTech Week, “Have faith in humanity. Look at the data and facts, but don’t forget your intuition.”

FinTech Sandboxthe host of Boston FinTech Week, is a nonprofit making data and infrastructure  available to early-stage fintech startups at no cost. Since launching more than six years ago, FinTech Sandbox has accepted over 240 startups into its program.