The World Economic Forum has today released results of a study on how the fintech industry has been impacted by COVID-19. Since the onset of the pandemic, the fintech industry has seen increased growth. In 2020, firms saw an average rise of 13% compared to 11% growth in previous years. The expansion of transactions was noticeably higher in countries with strict lockdown measures, where growth was 50% higher, compared to firms who were operating in countries with looser measures. Though the highest gains were seen in the digital payments sector, nearly all fintech services saw increased growth. Digital lending was the only service that did not see increased growth.
“It’s clear COVID-19 has disrupted the global economy with lasting implications for corporates and consumers,” said Matthew Blake, Head of Financial and Monetary Systems, World Economic Forum. “Despite this challenging backdrop, fintechs have proven resilient and adaptable: contributing to pandemic relief efforts, adjusting operations and offerings to serve vulnerable market segments, like micro, small and medium-sized businesses, while posting year-over-year growth across most regions.”
Despite this growth, many fintech firms are in a deteriorating financial position, with over half of survey respondents reporting a negative impact on their capital reserves and mixed views for future funding. The Global COVID-19 Fintech Market Rapid Assessment report, which the Forum has launched in collaboration with the Cambridge Centre for Alternative Finance (CCAF) and the World Bank, explores these trends in depth, examining both financial and policy effects on the fintech industry during COVID-19.
Fintech trends during COVID-19 lockdowns
On average, fintech firms in economies with stricter lockdown measures saw 50% higher transaction growth than economies whose governments applied looser measures. Firms in the markets with the strictest lockdowns saw 15% growth in their transactions compared to 10% growth in countries with the fewer restrictions.
Transaction volumes and number of transactions under low, medium and high COVID-19 lockdown stringencies (above image)
These trends were also seen in fintech employment in these economies. Fintechs in countries with more lockdown restrictions reported an average of 10% increase in full-time employees, while fintechs in economies with fewer lockdown restrictions actually saw their full-time staff decrease by 19%.
Launch of new products and services and changes to existing ones
Fintechs have responded to the COVID-19 pandemic by implementing changes to their existing products, services and policies. Two-thirds of surveyed firms reported making two or more changes to their products or services in response to COVID-19, and 30% reported being in the process of doing so. The most prevalent changes across all fintech sectors were fee or commission reductions and waivers, changes to qualification, and onboarding criteria and payment easements.
Fintechs have also launched a range of new products and services in response to the pandemic. Some 60% of surveyed firms reported launching a new product or service in response to COVID-19, with a further 32% reporting that they were in the process of doing so.
The most prevalent new change for digital payments firms was the development and deployment of additional payments channels (introduced by 38% of firms), for digital lending it was value-added non-financial services (e.g., information services; introduced by 35% of firms) and, for digital capital raising it was hosting COVID-19-specific funding campaigns (introduced by 35% of firms).
Despite significant willingness, fintech involvement in relief remains limited
To date, fintech involvement in the delivery of COVID-19-related relief is limited, despite significant willingness by firms. More than a third of surveyed firms reported a willingness to participate in the delivery of one or more COVID-19-related relief measures or schemes.
“This study reveals a global FinTech industry that has been largely resilient in spite of COVID-19. Nonetheless, its growth must be interpreted with nuance and in the context of unevenness, and the opportunities for the industry should be juxtaposed with the challenges it faces,” said Bryan Zhang, Co-Founder and Executive Director of the Cambridge Centre for Alternative Finance.
While this demonstrates strong interest, the participation rates of fintech firms in relief schemes ranged between 7% for NGO-led measures to 13% for government job-retention measures. Fintech firms were most likely to indicate interest to participate in the delivery of industry-led relief measures (32% of firms), government match-funding schemes (32%), and government-bases stimulus funding to MSMEs (30%).
“Fintech has shown its potential to close gaps in the delivery of financial services to households and firms in emerging markets and developing economies,” said Caroline Freund, World Bank Global Director for Finance, Competitiveness and Innovation. “This survey shows how the fintech industry is adapting to the pandemic and offers insights for regulators and policymakers seeking to promote innovation and reap the benefits of fintech, while managing risks to consumers, investors, financial stability, and integrity.”
The report was based on survey responses from 1,385 fintech firms in 169 countries. The survey was carried out by CCAF, the World Bank and the World Economic Forum.
“Covid-19 is accelerating change in how people interact with financial services, which has led to unprecedented demand from developing countries to progress their transition to secure and inclusive digital finance. Whilst it is encouraging to see the growth reported by FinTechs in the study, there are also cautionary indicators that some firms are suffering a deterioration in their financial position and are concerned over their ability to raise capital in the future. This is something that the FinTech community should be mindful of given the significant economic opportunities that FinTech presents,” said James Duddridge MP, the UK’s Minister for Africa at the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO).