The notions of commerce, currency, and credit are nothing new. For centuries, we’ve found ways to barter, borrow, and repay one another through the exchange of goods, services, or credit. Exchange aside, every form of currency has an assigned value agreed upon by the individuals or organizations participating in the transaction.
Need a house or a plot of land? Everything had a price. Back then, we offered what we had…like goats, cows, or crops. In modern times and with the development of currency, we have turned to coins, paper, plastic, and other forms of credit to define the values of our exchanges.
If we begin to think about the evolution of commerce in the context of innovation, we simultaneously begin to wonder, ‘What’s next?’
As the COO of a fast-moving fintech company, I look to innovation to answer this fundamental question. It will always be top-of-mind for me, in order to ensure that our business is at the forefront of innovation when it comes to contemplating the many ways Americans — particularly those in the small business community — think about and gain access to commerce, currency, and credit.
Today, small businesses are faced with an unfavorable choice when considering taking on additional capital: curb their instinct to innovate and grow, or encumber themselves with debt. While the growth of small businesses will help our economy thrive, we can’t increase our ability to provide funding to small businesses by maintaining the status quo. So how do we inject businesses with funds, without ultimately harming that growth and innovation? I suggest several ways: decrease our industry’s approval time and simplify the process; provide customized offers and understand the uniqueness of each business through the implementation of artificial intelligence and advanced technology, and restore the innate integrity and trust from the nascent days of commerce.
Here are three topline factors that will drive commerce, currency, and credit — and what’s next:
If we look at the transition in the consumer payments industry as a leading indicator, we think about the emergence of fast-pay apps like Zelle, Venmo, or Apple Pay, one thing is clear: convenience is king. Even if it costs the consumer a dollar or two, it beats the basic, but now outdated steps of writing a check, (purchasing and) putting a stamp on the envelope, putting it in the mail, and making sure the mail person gets it on time. Certainly, checks have a role to play in the exchange of money — and perhaps always will — but fast cash apps represent the shift.
If we examine the ways that small businesses have historically gained access to capital, what were once nothing more than hard-copy applications followed up by mountains of paperwork issued by traditional banks that required waiting weeks or even months to hear of an approval, is rapidly evolving into what is now a full-fledged industry dedicated to providing capital in mere days or even hours —with companies in industries ranging from online retailers to credit card processors, and more, working to deliver working capital in the near speed it takes to complete an ATM transaction. Just as odd as dropping a goat off today to pay for a good or service would seem, so too will be the long timeframe to secure small business capital via a long arduous process. We are quickly moving to a couple of button clicks on your cell phone and capital will be delivered into your business account.
When discussing my philosophy about our business, three words colleagues often hear me use are “channel of choice.” They refer to finding our customers by identifying who they are, where they are, and what is their preferred method of communication; and of course, delivering superior user experience.
Which “channel of choice” will appeal to the busy mom-and-pop shop owner who calls us from her landline in search of new ways to gain access to capital for a new storefront facade; or to the construction company that does most of its business and banking online and prefers to be reached via the web; or, to the 20-something app developer who likes to do his business with a simple click on his phone?
Our success is contingent upon creating an appropriate environment and successful strategy for each of our customers, all of whom have varying degrees of means and preferences to interact with us. While mobile interactions will continue the trend to dominate in preference, there will likely always be a need to handle interactions with just a simple phone call. And delivering an intentional experience with all of those channels in mind will become the new normal
Over the past few years, the vulnerability of data, privacy, and information security systems has been exposed. As we move into a more digital environment where every piece of data is at your finger times, it’s incumbent upon us in the alternative financial services industry to evaluate the ways we protect the vast information we hold in similar ways customers expected traditional banks to hold and secure their deposits. The phrase “data is the new currency” is quickly becoming reality and expectations of security from those who provide us that information will be just as high as dropping of a deposit to your local bank. As mountains of information continue to become available, it will become a focus for all to consider how we store that information just as a bank locks up its currency in a vault.
Herk Christie is the Chief Operating Officer of Expansion Capital Group, a business dedicated to serving American small businesses, by providing access to capital and other resources, so they can grow and achieve their definition of success. Since its inception, ECG has provided approximately $400 million in capital to over 12,000 small businesses nationwide.