Fintech, startups and Ukraine rule at subdued but diverse MWC 2022

MWC 2022 Oral B fintech startups
Also, toothbrushes. Image credit: Tony Poulos

MWC 2022 has survived COVID, and has returned as a more diverse show with startups and fintech becoming the main attraction.

We probably expected that post-COVID, we would have a more normal opening of MWC 2022. The COVID situation is easier, and apart from the face masks, it’s not much different from the pre-pandemic era. However, as you would expect, the Ukraine situation definitely has had an impact and at the very least is on everyone’s minds. The GSMA said over the weekend that it has banned Russian companies from exhibiting at the show. But it hasn’t been totally clear what all the restrictions are, and whether Russian companies still participate.

Unsurprisingly, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine comes up in many discussions. Many companies have made announcements that they support Ukraine and  the Ukrainian people while also stepping out from Russian businesses. It also puts people to think how the invasion will change this quite globally connected world we have had since the end of the Cold War. At the same time, social media, mobile phones and communications technology have enabled people to see the reality in Ukraine and help local people to coordinate activities.

The show itself feels like a comeback. There are approximately 60,000 visitors, 1,500 exhibitors and 1,000 speakers this year at MWC 2022. That’s certainly less than the almost 100,000 visitors we saw in 2019, but it is a significant number nonetheless. We can probably conclude COVID didn’t kill MWC.

At the same time the show itself is also changing. The 4YFN startup event was moved to the same venue as the main event, which is very good for MWC – new startups bring new and fascinating innovations to the table, while the traditional carriers, network/hardware vendors and system integrators have more of the usual offerings and messages. It seems like the target audience of those legacy companies is getting smaller, when the new companies and innovations are the ones attracting new visitors.

Fintech has come to MWC 2022

Fintech is one of the new areas at MWC 2022. True, there have been some fintech companies here for a few years now, but it is becoming one of the main features in the show. Discussions at MWC 2022 on the first day especially tried to summarize the current phase of the fintech industry. Keynotes and panels included banks, investors and fintech startups.

The latest statistics also show fintech as a whole is entering a more mature era. Fintech startup investments are shifting from early phase investments to scale-up company investments. The pandemic has also been a factor in accelerating the fintech sector. In particular, payment solutions have seen growing demand, from contactless card payments and payments for new web services to new financing services such as ‘buy now, pay later’.

One speaker suggested that we are actually now in the third phase of fintech. The first was the Paypal phase to make payments, then we came to the TransferWise phase for targeted finance services. Both of these phases involved quite narrow solutions and unbundled finance services. Now we go to the third phase, which is more about bundling several fintech services together. In this way, new fintech companies start to be more like banks with many services, but necessarily regulated banks.

Open banking has been in discussions for several years, especially since PSD2. Many banks have had challenges to offer proper APIs for open banking via their legacy IT systems. But it looks like we are seeing development in this area, and now it is really possible to build new services on the bank’s interfaces.

Crypto and blockchain are of course an important part of fintech discussions. They still divide opinions. No one denies they will become important, but the question is more about whether the current crypto and blockchain solutions are something that will last and really change the world. And another important question: what are the use cases and business models that make these technologies really relevant?

Fintech is just one example of how MWC is now much more than a traditional mobile device and network show. It has definitely made the show more relevant to new people. You can see and feel it – five or ten years ago, it was mainly mobile technology people, but the audience this year is noticeably different. We will cover more areas of MWC 2022 during the coming days.

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