By Ethen Yao, Head of Innovation and Intellectual Properties, Blast.com
Ethen, can you please tell the Risk Insights readers a little bit about yourself and what your current professional focus is?
I started my career in corporate America like most traditional college graduates, but I quickly realized that my passion is new product innovations and entrepreneurship. I helped to jump start a several successful financial technology companies, and right now I’m scaling Blast’s innovation efforts. The concept of gamified finance has been attempted for years from the top down. With the advent of esports and gaming becoming mainstream, we believe now it is the time to go after the concept once and for all.
What, for you, are the benefits of attending a conference like the ‘X-Tech 2019 Convention’? What can attendees expect to learn from your session?
The benefit to attend conferences and conventions like X-Tech is to hear other industry experts share their opinions on the current financial innovation landscape, to see what other products are being developed, and to meet fellow innovators and leaders of the industry.
We see new financial technology products being introduced almost every day, whether if its old concepts with new user interfaces like Robinhood to Zecco Trading, or bringing a product to an underserved market like Acorns for investments. Many products we see today are evolutionary rather than revolutionary. We want to understand what innovative disruption truly is and its impact to the greater financial landscape.
In your opinion, how can we look to effectively disrupt the disrupters?
We saw how consolidated industries were first disrupted by the likes of AirBnB, as they were most vulnerable to disruption because they have lost natural competition that kept them lean and customer focused. In order to disrupt the disrupters, I see to innovations and technology as the answer. If we look beyond the hype of Bitcoin and Ethereum and look into the actual utility of blockchain technology, it has to completely disrupt longstanding companies and institutions throughout the world. This becomes more relevant when we look at the likes of sharing economy disrupters, like AirBnB, the distributed ledger that is the blockchain is well-suited to take over the types of transactions that happen within these services. I foresee blockchain technology will create more efficient and effective decentralized versions of these services in the near future.
How can FinTechs and Bank providers alike make the most of this current landscape?
Many analysts say we are approaching peak FinTech with the current financial services landscape, with sky high valuations and overwhelming variety of product offerings. We see startups along with incumbents each defining their own niche within the ecosystem. Whether you want a goal-based savings app that utilizes IFTTT technology to save $5 every time you check your Twitter account, or a prize-linked savings account offered by a traditional institution, there is almost something for everyone.
What are the key challenges of balancing innovation and exposure and have you got any advice for your peers?
Innovation is iterative. If we think of innovation as inventing the next big thing, it can be quite intimidating, and difficult to achieve commercial viability. If we look at the companies that have disrupted the market in the recent past, Facebook, Uber, Robinhood, etc. they are all iterative improvements over their predecessors. Thinking of innovation as iterative on ideas which are being regularly re-evaluated and enhanced upon reduces the intimidation aspect and reduces cost. The smaller the change the more dynamically and quickly an organization can learn and adapt. This reduces cost of innovation and risks associated.
Looking ahead, how do you see the technology and innovation space evolving?
We see the broadening of FinTech, for example, AirBnB is actually a massive FinTech company, they have a separate payments arm that processes billions of dollars of payments both domestically and cross border. The definition of FinTech is also expanding, because we’re talking about as fundamental as money and currency, but people are looking at the big market opportunities that exists inside the FinTech landscape and how archaic some of the platforms today that are serving customers.
We also asked Ethen some informal questions…
What three items would you take with you if you were stranded on a desert island?
Sun Screen, beach towel and some cool looking shades. When life gives you lemons, order the lobster tail.
If you had not taken the career route to become a financial risk professional, what would you be doing right now?
With the high growth of esports and gaming becoming mainstream, if I had not taken the current entrepreneurial career path, I would have committed to a brief career as a professional esports athlete. In the early days of competitive video gaming, I was proven as an international competitive level gaming talent. As Blast combines both finance and gaming together, it gives an positive personal finance outlet to the older millennials who grew up on video games.
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
The highlight of my career must be the opportunity to build exciting new innovative product with the amazing team I am working with now at Blast. For the first time in my life, I believe I am building a truly meaningful product that can change the lives of millions of millennials and it is well worth the time and personal sacrifices to make the dream come true.