What is a ‘fintech’? Competing definitions agree that it is an innovative company using technology to disrupt financial services.

EY notes it can be startups and new entrants but also scale-ups, maturing firms and even non-financial firms. KPMG says fintechs are using technology to “change how financial services are offered”.

These ASX small caps may not be considered as fintechs or want to think of themselves as such, but all have radical models or are unique in a certain way.

One of these is the National Stock Exchange (ASX: NSX) that wants to be a competitor to the ASX.

Could it be a home for fintechs? The NSX’s head of business development, Andrew Musgrave, told Stockhead earlier this month that is what the NSX is aiming for.

Read More: Sign of the times: The NSX is now going after fintechs

Unique managers

Digital banks are another innovation and one listed one is Kina Securities (ASX: KPL). But the difference is that the bank is located in PNG and has sought to be the most dynamic, progressive and accessible financial services company.

In addition to retail banking it offers wealth management and stockbroking services.

Australian Ethical Investing (ASX: AEF) is another industry disruptor that offers “ethical investments”. It claims over 40,000 members and $3 billion under management – an amount five times higher than 10 years ago.

But even if your business model is not unique, minor distinguishing traits can make a difference.

ASF Group (ASX: AFA) may seem like another financial firm but it claims to be “a creator and facilitator of cross-border investments, trade and technology transfers between China, the UK, Europe and Australia”.

It engages in venture capital, property development and investment banking.

While plenty of investment banks are doing it tough, such as Deutsche Bank, Moelis Australia (ASX: MOE) is highly profitable. It has put much of its asset management resources into the real estate and REIT markets at a time other banks focused on the equity or fixed income markets.

This difference has paid off; it made a $39 million profit in the 2018 calendar year.

Not dead yet?

One of the surprise performers in this sector is a firm many thought they’d never hear from again. Bill Ireland-founded Mariner Financial Group (ASX: MCX) went bust during the GFC.

But to this very day it is still listed and is up 80 per cent.

While this week’s quarterly left it with just $14,000 in the bank, earlier this month it raised $2.4 million to repay debt.

The company’s passive income has come from a real estate joint venture but its most recently half-yearly report stated the board was searching for other opportunities.