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The financial services industry is one of the industries that has been most impacted by digital disruption, and 2018 saw numerous significant trends and developments.

Here are six that are of the most importance to financial services decision-makers and marketers heading into 2019.

1. Financial institutions are focusing on customer experience, data-driven marketing and personalisation

Given the fierce competition that established financial services companies have faced from upstarts, it’s not surprising that marketers in the industry are placing a lot of emphasis on things that will help them win new customers and retain and expand relationships with existing customers – customer experience, data-driven marketing and personalisation.

28% of the nearly 700 senior industry leaders polled by Econsultancy and Adobe as part of Econsultancy’s 2018 Digital Trends in Financial Services report indicated that optimisation of customer experience was the “single most exciting opportunity” in 2018 – compared with just 18% of industry leaders in other industries.

A similar dynamic was apparent when it came to the second and third biggest opportunities cited, data-driven marketing and personalisation. 23% of those polled pointed to data-driven marketing as a top priority in 2018, compared to 15% in other industries, and 37% pointed to personalisation, compared to 23% in other industries.

Digital Intelligence Briefing: 2018 Digital Trends in Financial Services

2. Open Banking has become a reality

Open Banking rules that require regulated banks to let customers share their financial data with authorised third-party providers through APIs officially went into effect this year, creating new opportunities for fintech upstarts like Anorak, an independent insurance advisor, to create innovative experiences that can help them win customers.

At the same time, Open Banking has created an imperative for established banks to invest in their own experiences lest third parties woo their customers. To that end, a number of major banks, including HSBC, Lloyds and RBS, are working on money management apps that can help their customers track their spending and budget more effectively.

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3. A “rebundling” trend is emerging

The fintech boom has been driven in part by consumers’ willingness to unbundle the financial services they need, but in 2018, even fintechs started making moves to expand their relationships with customers by offering broader suites of services. In other words, a “rebundling” trend emerged.

The latest example of this trend: fintech brokerage firm Robinhood last week announced that it will launch a free checking and savings product that it says will pay a whopping 3% interest on deposits.

While the company has since been forced to reverse course after questions were raised about the viability of insuring the product, the announcement serves as evidence that some of fintech’s brightest stars are increasingly looking to leverage their positions in the market to expand into new parts of the financial services sector.

How fintech brokerage firm Robinhood built a billion dollar business

4. Established banks are moving to create their own challenger brands

Not to be done by challenger banks like Monzo, in 2018 some major banks started working on their own challenger brands. For example, RBS is planning to launch a mobile-only bank, with the goal of moving 1m of its NatWest customers over to the new offering.

When the initiative was first reported earlier this year, an RBS spokesperson told Forbes, “Our industry is changing rapidly and therefore we need to keep pace with this by launching new approaches to better serve our customers” – and added, “we’re focused on using automation and technology to deliver a more efficient banking experience that better reflects the changing way our customers now bank.”

RBS is not alone. HSBC is also reportedly working on its own challenger bank project that will target SMEs in the UK.

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5. Banks and fintechs are cozying up to each other

While there’s no doubt that established financial services firms are being impacted by fintech rivals, it would be incorrect to assume that entrenched companies and upstarts are enemies. To the contrary, established banks and fintechs are increasingly teaming up.

This was likely driven in part by growing interest in the so-called marketplace model. Under this model, established banks and fintechs create marketplaces in which their customers can discover and acquire financial services products offered by trusted third parties.

6. Cryptocurrencies have crashed

After rapidly skyrocketing to new heights in December 2017, many believed that cryptocurrencies would become a mainstream force in 2018. But in January, the price of major cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum started dropping and have ended the year with precipitous declines that have called into question their long-term viability.

Arguably, one of the biggest headwinds for cryptocurrencies in 2018 was the increasingly apparent fact that they are not being embraced in any big way in commerce. While some retailers now accept cryptocurrency payments, according to research published by Chainalysis, the amount of Bitcoin received by merchant services supporting the cryptocurrency was far lower in 2018 than in 2017.

The possible reasons for this include extreme volatility and the fact that despite the fact cryptocurrencies have been positioned as cheaper and faster alternatives to mainstream payment networks, they are actually sometimes more expensive and slower.

While nobody knows what the future holds for cryptocurrencies, it is important to note that the blockchain technology behind cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin is still of interest and potential utility to the financial industry, and major players like Goldman Sachs and J.P. Morgan are still exploring its applications.

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