John Collins has been a radio reporter, a staffer in the U.S. Senate and a policy
and external affairs expert at Coinbase and the American Bankers Association. Now, he runs the U.S. office for Red Flag Consulting, helps lead the digital finance center at Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center and — along with Meghan Wallace, a former advisor to Gov. Jack Markell — recently launched First State Fintech Lab, a nonprofit dedicated to fostering fintech in Delaware through innovative public/private partnerships, education and strengthening workforce diversity.
Q: Delaware has a strong history in the financial sector — how might that apply going forward with fintech?
John Collins: Delaware has a lot of amazingly positive attributes. It’s got a nimble government, it’s got excellent internet connectivity and speed. It has a rich history in banking and financial services and corporate services, which makes it really attractive. It has a fairly low cost of living. It sits on the Eastern Seaboard, so you can easily get to New York or Washington or Boston, and Delaware is uniquely positioned to take advantage of this next generation of financial services, in the same way that [we] took advantage of the generation of financial services that came with credit card banks.
Q: What is fintech?
JC: We’re kind of at this new point in financial services — and it goes beyond just blockchain, it goes beyond cryptocurrency — it has to do with the internet itself and, in particular, mobile computing. That is what’s driven the fintech revolution. It’s the ability to access financial services directly and quickly and personally in a way that just wasn’t possible before. Fintech has a pretty simple definition: it’s financial services that are delivered through technology.
Q: How does Delaware stack up on this, compared to other jurisdictions?
JC: Delaware is uniquely positioned. There are a lot of places that are competing for fintech companies to set up shop, whether it be a compliance operation or a headquarters or a customer service center. You have banks that are competing in some cases with non-bank fintechs, in some cases they’re working with them, in some cases they’re building their own applications and innovation incubators. There’s a lot of activity, and there’s no reason why Delaware shouldn’t be able to do what it’s done many times in the past, which is take advantage of a quickly moving industry evolution.
Q: How might fintech alter the marketplace?
JC: One of the things that financial technology brings is access to capital for people who otherwise would not have it or seek it out. If you are a minority or you are in an underserved population or you are a woman, and you don’t feel confident walking into a bank necessarily because you think that you might be turned down, you might not seek out capital. What has been found on platforms that do lending and other sorts of financial services is that those communities access them at a much higher rate than they do traditional financial services in part because they’re able to do it via an application where they won’t feel the in-person rejection. I really do believe fintech has the ability to provide economic independence, access to capital for underserved communities.
Q: How do you think Delaware will fare, overall, with regard to fintech?
JC: Because of the global nature of this stuff, anyone with an internet connection can start building things. That could be in Mumbai, it could be in London, it could be in Seoul, it could be in Wilmington. That makes for a highly competitive environment, but it also should be empowering for us to realize that we are on equal footing with everyone in the world. We can compete, and we have what it takes to compete.