On the Edge of the Fintech Innovation

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The fintech sector has exploded over the past couple of years as regulations fall more into line with consumer demand for how financial services are delivered and managed. New technologies like blockchain, AI and machine learning have enabled startups to challenge incumbent financial institutions across all areas of the industry. Two fintech trends that are looking to reshape finance are decentralized finance (DeFi) and robotic process automation (RPA). Both trends aim to reduce costs, improve efficiency and expand access to financial services globally.

DeFi refers to financial applications built on decentralized blockchain networks, without relying on traditional intermediaries like banks and brokerages. One of the most hyped areas within DeFi is decentralized exchanges (DEXs), which allow peer-to-peer trading of cryptocurrencies and other digital assets. DEXs run on algorithms encoded into smart contracts, eliminating the need for trusted third parties to facilitate trades. This helps address vulnerabilities that contributed to the Mt. Gox breach and other exchange hacks. 

Leading DEXs like Uniswap and PancakeSwap have already processed billions in trading volume. But critics argue that the technology remains too complex for mainstream adoption. There is huge potential with decentralized models to make finance more resilient and transparent, but founders have more work to do on the user experience side before it crosses fully to consumers.

Bardya Ziaian, Toronto-based entrepreneur, is the CEO of SITTU Group, a fintech think tank that provides advisory services to blockchain startups looking to scale their platforms. He understands firsthand the challenges of balancing disruptive technology with user-friendly design from founding multiple fintech companies over his career. This includes Virtual Brokers, an online discount brokerage that simplified stock trading and investing for retail consumers, a company that has worked to do exactly that and bridge the gap to consumers who may not be fully comfortable with fintech. 

While DeFi focuses on disintermediation, RPA employs automation to improve the efficiency of existing financial processes. RPA tools use AI and machine learning to emulate human actions that today require manual work, such as data entry, trade execution and transaction reconciliation. This software robot workforce augments rather than replaces employees, allowing them to focus on higher judgement tasks.

According to McKinsey, early adopters of RPA at banks and insurers are already achieving ROI of 200-300% due to dramatic productivity gains. Marcus by Goldman Sachs relies on RPA bots to process personal loan applications, reducing approval time from 60 minutes to just 10 minutes. And UBS uses over 500 bots to facilitate everything from trade settlement to financial risk monitoring.

Incumbents are aggressively adopting RPA to improve customer experience and reduce operating costs. Startups also leverage RPA for minimizing back-office headcount and maintaining lean operations as they scale, making automation a table stake for all players in finance including several of Bardya Ziaian’s businesses past and present, not just large institutions.

While DeFi and RPA represent two distinct approaches, both are contributing to the broader digitization and modernization of financial services. Each trend on its own has limitations, but together they epitomize the potential for technology to expand access, improve reliability and unlock new sources of value across finance.

There are several other trends shifting things in favour of fintech startups and entrepreneurs. For example, open banking uses APIs that allow third-party developers to build applications and services around financial data. This enables greater transparency and integration.

One of the most important changes has been AI fraud detection – machine learning algorithms that identify fraudulent transactions and suspicious activities in real-time, such as with credit card purchases or insurance claims.

Many companies are also integrating some level of blockchain identity or digital IDs stored on blockchain that prevent identity theft and allows users to control their personal data.  

While these innovations sound highly complex, the most promising fintech startups find ways to simplify the user experience and solve real pain points for businesses or consumers. Bardya Ziaian has said that the companies that become breakout successes are those that can demystify the technology for mainstream users. Superior tech means nothing without solving real problems for customers.

This customer-centric view aligns with his approach at SITTU Group, where he helps founders design award-winning products that balance technical depth with intuitive interfaces. It’s also what drove the success of disruptive platforms he’s founded, which made capital markets technology more accessible. 

The hidden challenges that come up frequently  in translating bleeding edge technology into easy-to-use applications is sometimes overlooked by those not operating on the frontlines of fintech innovation. But user experience remains the key bottleneck for turning hype into real-world value. Companies that can simplify complexity for human consumer stakeholders will be the ones positioned to lead the next wave of financial progress