Good vibrations

 

Former banker David Reiling says it’s perfectly possible for financial institutions to do well by doing good. Tom Dickinson joins him on the road to digital Damascus


I recently had a conversation with a representative of a fintech at a networking event that descended into us joyfully trading fintech clichés.

It was perhaps a reflection of the hard slog that corporate networking events can be sometimes, or maybe my sarcastic mood was a product of hearing words like ‘seamless’ and ‘disrupt’ one too many times.

Fintech can easily become so lost in hyperbole that you forget its goal should be solving problems and disrupting common practice.

At face value, David Reiling’s book Fintech4Good appears to follow the industry’s trend for excessive language. However, Reiling’s point that fintech is addressing real problems for ordinary people is argued coherently and with concrete examples.

Reiling certainly has the qualifications to comment on this shift in thinking in financial services. He began his career in banking in California, before working with his father at a chartered bank that would become Sunrise Banks, at which he is now CEO and a director.

Sunrise Bank is partnered with various fintechs to empower people at the community level. As one of the first public benefit corporations in Minnesota, Reiling tells us that Sunrise Banks is an organisation that is ‘empowering everyone to achieve financial wellness’. As such, it is part of the paradigm shift among financial services, that (in his words) demonstrates ‘doing well and doing good are no longer mutually exclusive’.

Reiling’s book is an exploration of this premise, promoting the message of fintech as a real force for positive change, challenging the shareholder-focussed, risk-averse nature of financial services organisations in the past.

He demonstrates the point with five case studies of fintechs, ranging from Peanut Butter, an organisation helping individuals escape from the financial shackles of student loans, to Nova Credit, which helps immigrants to the US overcome the credit history issue. Reiling provides an insight into the problems these organisations address that is engaging and relatable.

The founders of each of those that Reiling references have often experienced these problems firsthand and this emphasises the change in culture that is finally addressing a common issue: a disconnect betweenservice and those who need it.

Reiling throws in a good few statistics along the way, tethering us to each point. When exploring the crisis of payday loans, for example, he notes that there are more payday loan franchises than there are branches of McDonald’s in the United States.

Reiling concludes by saying that the organisations he references have inspired him to ‘change the way we do business’. It might come across as idealistic and even a tad preachy, but why not?

The financial issues that Reiling explores at a human level are compelling and his arguments for real change and growth are rock-solid. If Reiling is another of those overused descriptors, a ‘fintech evangelist’, then I’m a believer.

Fintech4Good: 5 Stories About Changing The World With Groundbreaking Technology by David Reiling is published in the Kindle version by Engine4Good Publishing. Great for: Restoring faith in the humanity of bankers. Best read: When the fintech hyperbole gets too much. Good read rating: ★★★★★

 

 


This article was published in The Fintech Finance Magazine: Issue #12, Page 90.

Author: Yash Hirani

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