‘We’re a disruptor’ has become an extremely familiar refrain. It sometimes seems that everyone starting a new tech company wants to be known as disruptive, or ‘changing the narrative’. In fact, alongside ‘revolutionary’, the term has almost become a PR buzzword which makes journalists wince every time they see it. Of course, there are companies that are genuinely disruptive and much has been made of how Uber, Apple and Amazon, in particular, have fundamentally changed their industries. However, despite its cool factor, the term ‘disruptor’ may well only be a label and, worse than that, potentially a hindrance to businesses.
When the fintech industry really started to boom way back in 2010, companies were often marketed as disruptive, threatening to change the paradigm at major financial institutions and force them to adapt or die. This naturally meant the institutions were under pressure and looking at ways to fight back against, rather than collaborate with, the new generation. This fear hasn’t subsided. A 2018 executive survey found that nearly 80% of top executives were worried that their firms were at risk of disruption and displacement from highly agile, data-driven competitors.
But it needn’t be this way. A large number of so-called disruptors could just as easily be called ‘enablers’. In many cases, rather than truly revolutionising an industry, new technology actually streamlines and improves it. Every industry needs to reinvent or refresh itself periodically, and the rapid advanced in technology can make this happen—it’s just a case of finding the people and organisations who can embrace this change and make it happen. The fintech boom has provided no shortage of potential partners to help traditional companies reinvent themselves.
And this should work both ways. Establishing a start-up can be a risky path to take with very little guarantee of success. Many cannot survive on venture capital alone, especially while customer growth is slow in competitive markets. They may really need partnerships with the incumbents just as much as the old guard needs their new ways to evolve.
Rather than lazily describing a new regulatory-tech company as ‘disruptive’, perhaps by branding and positioning it as an ‘enabler that will revitalise a company that is struggling with legacy systems and new regulations’, suddenly a potential partnership is more attractive for the incumbents.
In fact, more than 75% of fast-growing fintech executives have said they are looking to partner with traditional firms, compared to just 18% who say that they are out to compete with them. For the venerable Wall Street and City institutions, it might not actually be the case that smaller companies are barbarians at the gate, so much as potentially welcome guests.
This is where an understanding of messaging and branding becomes crucial for any company, especially a start-up looking to secure partners and investors. Branding yourself as attacking an industry may gain cool points with some venture capitalists and the tech press. However, if you’re one of the 75% looking to work together, promoting yourself as a helpful enabler of the industry and its customers might open the door faster than threatening to knock it down.
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