Consumers Want Tech Firms to Take On the Banks

  • Survey shows many in U.S. would trust Amazon with their money
  • Consultant predicts ‘Darwinian battle between banks and tech’
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Here’s another reason banks should fear the likes of Amazon.com Inc.: A new survey shows consumers are eager to see technology titans take on finance.

Nearly 60 percent of U.S. bank customers are willing to try a financial product from tech firms they already use, according to a survey conducted by consultant Bain & Co. For younger respondents, the interest was especially high. About 73 percent of people age 18 to 34 said they would try a tech firm’s credit card, deposit account, investment or mortgage.

“They’re saying if you come up with an experience as simple and easy as my shopping experience is with Amazon, I’m ready to do that now,” Gerard du Toit, a Bain partner and co-author of the report, said in an interview. “We’ve seen this happen already in China, where it’s common for people to do many of their banking activities through WeChat and Alipay and players like that.”

Bain’s study drew on a survey of 133,171 people in 22 countries, showing attitudes vary widely. Well over 80 percent of respondents living in India and China said they’re open to trying new financial offers from tech companies -- more than double the acceptance rate in France, which ranked most reticent.

While tech juggernauts including Amazon, Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Facebook Inc. are already expanding in the U.S. into areas such as payments or lending, they aren’t amassing deposits. That’s because federal laws prevents companies from combining commercial ventures with fully fledged banks.

Read more: The many ways Amazon and others could storm the gates of finance

Instead, du Toit predicts, banks will partner with Amazon and others. Lenders would manufacture financial products, and tech giants would serve as distribution and servicing channels. In other words, what Amazon already does with consumer goods.

Yet because distribution accounts for two-thirds of banking profits, according to a McKinsey & Co. report, banks may not love being relegated to mere factories for mortgages and credit cards.

And because Amazon wouldn’t have to pay to lure customers -- it already has millions of them -- it could afford to set up digital accounts without “all the nuisance fees and relatively high minimum balances” that lenders impose, du Toit said. That would appeal to young consumers who are most likely to try new things, he said.

It helps that Amazon is well regarded by consumers. Asked to rank the trustworthiness of financial and tech institutions, survey respondents typically listed banks highest, followed by PayPal Holdings Inc. and Amazon. Apple, Google and Microsoft Corp. came next, beating social media.

“It’s just a matter of time before we see the big tech players enter retail banking in the U.S.,” du Toit said. “You’re going to see a Darwinian battle between banks and tech firms, and some surprising combinations on how they get to market.”

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