featured above: the “fishbowl panelists:” Harald Schottenloher, Finance and Sales at Bettervest, Chris Bartz, Venture Partner at Finleap, Joana Breidenbach, co-founder of Betterplace and the Betterplace Lab, Pola Vainer, founder of Greenclick, moderators Sanika Hufeland of the Institute for Social Banking & Jan Bohnhorst of Save to Change with Impact Hub Berlin Co-founder Leon Reiner in between them.
Guest post by Impact Hub member Tom Bley
It is not often that the words “Conscious” and “FinTech” appear in the same sentence. The burgeoning FinTech industry in Germany tends to innovate on themes along the lines of efficiency and transparency. Baking social purpose and responsibility into the core business on the other hand is happening only on the fringes. At the same time, there is a lively community of social entrepreneurs, who are all about making the world a better place, but the cliché is that they are far removed from profit motives and financial scaling. It appears that an attempt of cross-pollination between startups in the social and financial sectors could be fruitful.
The newly inaugurated meetup Conscious FinTech Berlin brought together a combination of players from both worlds, with the intent to explore links, opportunities and challenges. In a packed room at Impact Hub Berlin, an audience of 60 learned that social impact means different things to different people. It can be argued that FinTech create social impact by improving the services of finance intermediaries: speedier transactions, reduced fees, more transparency about money flows. This enables customers to do more with their money. Following this line of reasoning, it is up to the owners of the money to use it in a conscious fashion. This is finance as an enabler, as a means to an undefined end.
An opposing view is that this paradigm of financial institutions as value-agnostic enablers falls short of the need of the world, of making the world work for everyone, including the underprivileged. Following this view, more responsibility should be placed on the financial technology providers for working towards a more ethical and inclusive financing system. Think Bitcoin revolution and obsolescent banks.
How to reconcile these perspectives? It would be desirable to foster collaboration between social entrepreneurs and financial technology entrepreneurs, without causing a “bloody revolution”, as one of the panelists quipped.
The argument that finance should make the world work better for all people seemed to resonate among participants. What could be concrete action items to facilitate this? One suggestion that was made in the discussion was to define a set of values that enable identification and promotion of “conscious FinTech (as opposed to “mainstream FinTech”). However, this raises the problem of measuring “consciousness” or “impact”. Imperfections and gaps in measuring systems mean that using quantitative evaluation as a yardstick for social impact would miss critical aspects. This would render such endeavours ultimately unconscious.
It is comforting to note that the dinosaurs of the finance industry have recognized the need to put more emphasis on ethical operations in order to be attractive to the next generation of customers. My take-away from this debate is that more fruits could be harvested from continuous exchange of ideas between the social enterprise (not to forget social banking) and the FinTech sector, through challenges of each other views, while appreciating cultural and ideological differences. May it lead to a reduction of the gaps and a broadening of worldviews.
Photo credits: Matthias Rademacher & Johannes Pröhl