A cashless transaction in Ghent, Belgium.
A cashless transaction in Ghent, Belgium.
Guillaume Maujean

-OpEd-

PARIS — The year is 2050. Cash has disappeared. People now pay for their purchases with their smartphones. And as in so many other sectors, Apple and Google are the big winners — along with Microsoft, who makes a small chip, which people implant under their skin to use as an electronic wallet.

For online purchases, there's no avoiding Amazon and Alibaba, given how attractive their payment facilities look. As for insurance, Facebook is the place to go. Mention on your wall that you're not feeling well, and the excellent health-coverage offers will start pouring in!

The digital giants are imposing their mark on the banking world.

Of course, this is all fictional. But the so-called GAFA companies — Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon — and their Chinese equivalents are increasingly laying their cards on the table. The use of Apple Pay is spreading worldwide. Amazon is considering offering bank accounts. Alibaba's finance arm is already worth more than $100 billion.

Slowly but surely, the digital giants are imposing their mark on the banking world. While they haven't attacked the fortress point-blank, they're placing their pawns (like in the game, "Go,") to surround their opponents — in payment services, loans, digital wallets, simple savings offers and money transfers. Soon they'll be present in all financial services, from small checking accounts to big real estate loans.

Banks have weapons to defend themselves, starting with their expertise, as one cannot simply turn into a banker within a few months. There is also the trust factor to consider, we don't give our money over to just any third party. Additionally, there are still very protective regulations in the banking sector.

But the GAFA giants also pack some strong ammunition: Mountains of cash to invest in new technologies, an unparalleled frequency of contacts with their customers (every month, 10 million French people use Google to search for financial products) and, above all, their gold mine of personal data.

In just a few years, the web titans have become our most intimate companions. They already know everything about our tastes, our habits, our movements, our friends. As such, they're well placed to anticipate, identify and process our major financial decisions.

Tomorrow, they will be able to tell you when you need a loan, or offer you ultra-personalized insurance — at the exact moment when you need it. The threat to traditional players is a serious one. They would be wrong to wait until 2050 to react.

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