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What is fintech? | Fortune Education



The feeling about a more cashless society may differ drastically depending on who you ask. 

While it does make it more difficult to tip the pizza delivery person at the door or to buy Girl Scout Cookies, it can other times make the grocery story check out process a lot quicker. Moreover, many young adults especially don’t use cash at all. The flip side to that reality is that some individuals grow up not knowing the difference between a nickel and dime. 

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Regardless, the integration of technology into financial services is definitely music to the ears of those working in financial technology, known colloquially as fintech.

The field is continuing to revolutionize the intersection of business and technology, says Kathleen DeRose, clinical associate professor of finance at New York University’s Stern School of Business.

“Fintech comes with intellectual, commercial, and social promises: to advance our understanding of how finance works, to develop improved business models, and to democratize financial services,” explains DeRose, who is also the academic director for NYU’s master of science in Fintech program.

With our world continuing to embed itself with technology, fintech is expected to only follow suit in its growth. But what exactly is the field of fintech? Fortune has you covered.

What is fintech?

Fintech is the application of technology to the world of finance, largely for the delivery of services and products to customers.

Jimmie Lenz, director of the master of engineering in FinTech at Duke University, notes that fintech helps to enable access to financial services for everyone, facilitates innovation, and allows other fields, like AI, to solve difficult problems in finance.

The field is focused on five financial intermediary functions: payments, remittances, capital allocation, insurance, and markets, DeRose adds. The developments are enabled by both classic technology adoption like data, computing power and speed, mobile networks as well as novel fintech enabling technologies like machine learning and AI, platform network effects, and blockchains.

What are some of the top fintech companies?

According to McKinsey, fintech industry revenues are expected to grow nearly three times faster than the traditional banking sector between 2023 and 2028.

And while it can be difficult to necessarily classify one company as a fintech company versus it being a financial or technology company, Fortune has put together a sliver of companies on the Fortune 500 with inherently large stakes in the world of fintech.

Company Fortune 500 ranking Revenue
Visa 137 $29.31 billion
PayPal 148 $27.52 billion
Mastercard 177 $22.24 billion
Block 234 $17.53 billion
Discover Financial Services 273 $15.20 billion
Intuit 321 $12.73 billion
Some of the top fintech companies, by Fortune 500 rank.
Visa $29.31 billion
137
PayPal $27.52 billion
148
Mastercard $22.24 billion
177
Block $17.53 billion
234
Discover Financial Services $15.20 billion
273
Intuit $12.73 billion
321

What skills are needed to succeed in fintech?

DeRose and Lenz both agree one of the keys to be successful in fintech is to simply be curious and ask a lot of questions.

“So much change is afoot in fintech that keeping pace with it is the biggest challenge and opportunity; an advanced degree is a great way to get and stay up-to-date, and even to leapfrog to the next level,” DeRose says.

Above all, an applied education—versus simply theoretical—is important to be able to truly land a job and be ready for work on day 1 of an opportunity, Lenz says—adding that some useful skill areas include:

  • Programming and software engineering
  • AI and machine learning
  • Statistics and probability 

“With increasingly ‘embedded finance,’ fintech activities are omnipresent in everyday life, from new ways of making purchases on credit, new cross-border international payments systems, fresh ways to tokenize and trade illiquid securities, to new data and analytics driven sports-betting businesses,” DeRose notes.

Where can you learn fintech?

It may prove difficult to find a university without any sort of undergraduate- or graduate-level coursework focused on fintech. For those who are especially interested in the field, there are bachelor-level majors and minors as well as advanced programs solely focused on fintech.

A degree program may teach you the foundations of finance as well as more modern developments into modeling, data analytics, machine learning, and beyond.

Duke and NYU are two top schools that offer master’s degrees focused on fintech. Others, like Seton Hall, Wake Forest, or UConn, also offer programs in the subject.

For those who aren’t ready for that level of commitment, there are also a variety of fintech certification programs that may prove useful—especially if you already have financial knowledge and are seeking to upskill. For example, on Coursera, schools like the University of Pennsylvania and University of Michigan offer programs teaching about blockchain, risk management, and more.



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