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Business Commentary In the battle between fintechs and banks, consumers are the winner

Colleen Johnston is group head, direct channels, technology, marketing and corporate & public affairs at TD Bank Group.

Over the past several months, I've participated in several debates and discussions on the emergence of digital banking. The question I hear most often is, "Who will win, banks or financial technology companies?"

It's true, there is change. Enormous change. Even disruptive change. However, this question is simply the wrong one. It's not about which of us will come out on top – the winner in the digital economy will be (and should be) the customer.

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The digital transformation of business has enormous potential for financial services, and for all consumers who are hungry for new experiences and enhanced convenience. But in this new digital world, the customer will win only if the debate shifts from one of rivalry – between banks and fintechs – to one of opportunity – for the market and for customers. The new killer app in banking isn't just a piece of software, but an elevated customer experience that is pro-active, personal and convenient.

This hasn't stopped some industry observers from having a field day trying to predict the future of banking and, predictably, pitting banks against fintechs. Much of the fintech narrative in the public arena has been focused on the potential for an Uber-like disruption of the banking industry. It makes for great headlines, but it misses a number of important points.

First, the underlying need for financial services isn't changing. North Americans will continue to purchase houses, fund education, save for retirement and invest in their businesses. Customers generally don't want to be disrupted. They want more ways to engage with us, to seek our advice, to transform their aspirations into reality.

Second, banks aren't new to change. We've always focused on and embraced transformation and progress. Throughout TD's history, we've moved with purpose to meet customer demand: from ATMs to telephone banking in more than 150 languages, and from online platforms to mobile. Even our decision to open on Sundays was about shifting our business model to meet customer need. As digital becomes a key platform for service delivery, and the pace of change accelerates, we are moving with a new sense of urgency and purpose to continue to adapt, adjust and innovate.

Finally, we see the urgency and the need to adapt, and it has motivated us to accelerate our own transformation. The new fintech pressure has sharpened our focus and allowed us to marshal our efforts. Fintechs have a lot to teach us – and we are listening, learning and using their momentum to drive our own change agenda.

Simply put, the risk, as we see it, is not in being disrupted. It's in not being able to move quickly enough to grow, serve and capture new potential. It's the kind of pressure we embrace, and the kind of challenge to which we always rise.

There is no question our industry must adapt, evolve and, ultimately, collaborate to deliver for the customer. Banks and fintechs are helping to shape a new future in financial services and a new future for millions of people across North America, and around the world. Let's end the "us versus them" narrative and get down to work. Let's focus on what we all need to do, collectively, to help customers do more and do it more efficiently than before.

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