“Fintech”: in search of a legal definition

by Carlos Goettenauer (PhD Candidate at University of Brasília)

During the last decade, the term “fintech” gained popularity and became a topic of discussion among market agents and financial regulators all around the world. The term’s origin, however, can be traced to the early 1990s, when Citigroup established the “Financial Services Technology Consortium”[1]. As with any other nascent buzzword, its meaning remains a subject of debate and controversy among many social actors. Market agents tend to associate the term “fintech” with innovations on financial systems and on so-called “market disruptions”, linking it to other common Silicon Valley tropes, such as “disintermediation” and “consumer-empowerment”. On the other hand, financial industry incumbents, and even its regulators, may wish to broaden the meaning of the term “fintech”, in order to fit all sorts of technological innovation under its umbrella. Considering its many possible meanings, it is time we ask whether there is space for a legal definition of “fintech”.

The law often plays a major role in reducing polysemy in contested expressions. Legal predictability and normative stability require terms to be precisely defined and agreed upon. This way, a legal definition (or even a statutory definition) of “fintech” would aid authorities in grounding their regulatory efforts, thus producing a more stable and predictable legal environment for both entrants and incumbents.

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