Fintech companies: Resist the buzzword craze

It’s hard to read a business magazine or website today and not be inundated with news and commentary about the fintech industry.  Understandably so, as it’s among the fastest growing sectors worldwide and it’s creating real change in the way consumers and businesses access financial services.

If you’re not close to fintech circles, you’ve likely at least noticed terms like artificial intelligence, cryptocurrency, blockchain or machine learning being discussed, even in casual “water cooler” conversations.  And if you’re like most people, you probably have a limited understanding of what some of these terms mean, and even less of an understanding of how they are being used in “real life.”

In my nearly quarter of a century in the marketing and public relations industry, I’ve seen firsthand how quickly buzzwords and jargon can permeate new and rapidly growing sectors.  This invariably creates confusion and can send an unintentional message that it’s just an empty and fleeting fad.

History repeats itself

Think back to the mid-90’s when the internet arrived and one of the most common directives from the corporate suite was to develop an “internet strategy,” even though most at the time had no idea what that really meant (even the esteemed Bryant Gumbel).

Or think back to the late 90’s when virtually everyone you met at a cocktail party claimed to work for the next great “dot com.”  If you were like me, you had such fatigue from hearing about yet another dot com, you immediately tuned out before they had a chance to tell you what they actually did.

Or to the early 2000’s when you couldn’t go a minute without hearing about “Web 2.0”;  or even just a few years ago when “big data” was referenced so often it led to a call to stop using the term.

You get the point.  Somewhere along the way, entrepreneurs and marketers decided that using a bunch of fancy words, rather than plain English, was an effective communications strategy.

Tell me what you really do

I recently attended Fintech Generations, the Southeast’s premier fintech conference. It was a great event and I was glad that the companies and speakers went far beyond the jargon and had real conversations about how the industry is impacting the business world today.

However, I was soon reminded of the importance of  clear and meaningful messaging thanks to Jordan Bettman of Radian Capital, a growth stage fund that has invested in some of fintech’s biggest success stories.  During a panel discussion, he commented that when a startup vaguely begins a pitch with terms like AI, blockchain or machine learning – without getting to the heart of what they do – he tunes out and gets a sense that it’s just a “technology looking for a problem” versus the alternative.

This one comment crystallizes the trap that too many companies in emerging industries fall into. It’s far more effective to develop clear, authentic and relevant language about your business…language that proves value and relevance to your audiences versus an attempt to fit into the latest trend.

When considering your fintech communications strategy, consider the following:

  1. Remember that many intelligent and successful people you speak with (investors, prospects, influencers) are confused, or even turned off, by meaningless jargon.
  2. Develop an initial “elevator pitch” that is understood by all; let it build from there and drill down to more technical language if appropriate for the audience.
  3. Focus less on what broad category you fit into, and more on the business problem you solve.

You’re more than just another buzzword after all.



Mike Trainor
Author: Mike Trainor
Mike Trainor is our Vice President.

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