FinTech: We’re just getting started

Global FinTech investment in 2017 was unprecedented with $16.6B of capital (+20% compared to 2016) deployed across 1,128 deals. Despite this, some have argued that FinTech’s days are numbered and that it is less clear how much opportunity still remains for future innovation. Proponents of this line of thought argue that most traditional financial services have already been unbundled and that large startups that dominate areas like payments, lending, and investing have even begun to re-bundle services. Moreover, despite the uptick in investment into the sector, the early-stage portion of overall financing dropped to a 5-year low which has further supported the belief that most of the innovation in FinTech has already happened.

At Matrix, we believe that we are still in the early innings of the financial services disruption. While FinTech startups have done very well in the last decade, there is still room for more great companies to be built. As a follow-up to our previous article where we introduced the Matrix FinTech Index, we have put together a corollary to that piece where we specify 7 tailwinds that have powered FinTech innovation for the last 10 years, discuss key drivers for future innovation, and identify the subcategories we believe are most promising.

Review of 7 important tailwinds for innovation in FinTech the last 10 years

  • Mobile has been leveraged as an enabler: Companies like Squareleveraged mobile as a way to reduce the cost of doing business for merchants by allowing for new features like secure payments via mobile applications.
  • The financial crisis created unmet demand: Incumbent’s unwillingness to lend to credit poor individuals and high-risk SMBs created a window of opportunity for companies like Lending Club and OnDeck to fulfill this unmet demand.
  • The payments infrastructure opened up to developers: APIs and developer tools made available by companies like Braintree and Stripeallowed developers to integrate payment processing into their websites without the need to maintain a merchant account.
  • Online banking penetration unlocked important customer data: Deeper penetration of online banking has made it possible for companies like Yodlee to allow users to see all their banking information on one screen and others like Credit Karma to provide credit monitoring services.
  • Core financial services have been unbundled: Many sub-segments traditionally handled solely by the banks have been unbundled. For example, SoFi is helping with borrowing, Xoom with money transfers and Mint with financial management.
  • The cloud provided a new distribution channel to serve SMBs: Companies like Kabbage, which provides loans to SMBs, can now justify serving lower life time value customers like SMBs due to the lower customer acquisition costs associated with the cloud.
  • Digital disintermediation provided greater value to consumers: Companies like WealthfrontBetterment and Robinhood all reduce the fees charged by brokerages and traditional investment managers providing greater alpha to retail investors.

Key drivers for innovation in the next 10 years

Many of these 7 trends will continue to play a role in FinTech innovation moving forward. But we have identified 3 additional drivers for innovation in FinTech going forward.

1. Incumbent failures are really coming into focus.

Traditional financial institutions are anachronistic. They serve their customers with antiquated products and are often slow to innovate due to both their size and regulatory burdens. Moreover, financial products have historically not been customer-centric, as banks devote most of their resources to optimizing their data and analysis and boosting their bottom line. Consequently, incumbents in financial services have largely failed to meet the needs of consumers, and the emergence of FinTech has put their shortcomings under the spotlight.

Figure 1

While financial services as an industry has been notorious for low consumer trust levels, consumer trust has plunged even further in the wake of fraud, scandals, and data breaches (e.g. Wells Fargo and Equifax). Additionally, poor customer experience has left consumers with limited loyalty to their financial services providers.

2. Millennials are emerging as the new source of spending power.

Millennials are the largest generation in American history consisting of over 70 million people born between 1980 and 2000. Millennials are digital-first users who grew up distrustful of banks and are generally more inclined to try FinTech applications. Furthermore, while traditional financial services has focused on large pools of wealth characteristic of older generations, FinTech innovation is making financial services and products much more accessible to younger generations.

Figure 2

3. Due to the transition of profit pools, incumbents are going to become a lot more acquisitive in the coming months.

Incumbents have begun to acquire FinTech companies as a means to compete against innovative startups and other acquisitive incumbents. Many of the acquisitions so far have been centered around automation of basic tasks. In the last 5 years, 18 FinTech startups have been acquired by banks, with 8 acquisitions occurring since the beginning of 2017. We believe that there is much more opportunity and incentive to acquire — especially for technologies that go beyond automation.

Figure 3

5 subcategories we are most excited about

Ultimately we believe the incumbents will continue to lose ground to the FinTechs and that there is plenty of opportunity for entrepreneurs to build enduring companies in the sector. Great companies will certainly be built across the entire financial services industry, but here are a few sub-categories within FinTech that we think are particularly exciting:

  • Payments: Even with all the innovation to date in payments, there continue to be pain points throughout the category and many customer demographics remain underserved. In order to be successful in this category, new entrants will need to build on-top of existing payment rails, serve large TAMs and go after new use cases.
  • Investing / wealth management: Despite recent innovation by players like WealthfrontBettermentRobinhood and others, wealth management remains dominated by the incumbents. This reality makes the category a ripe one for entrepreneurs as there are large TAMs, poor customer experiences and a new generation (i.e. millennials) that have unmet needs. Success here will require intuitive design, low fees and efficient customer acquisition.
  • Infrastructure Apps: Financial institutions suffer from bloated cost structures in the middle and back office for tasks like fraud/ risk management, collections, invoice management and customer support. There’s an opportunity for entrepreneurs to provide software tools that reduce costs and allow for more efficient work flows if they can manage the lengthy sales cycles and procurement processes.
  • SMB tools: Companies like Gusto and Namely, have begun to serve SMBs in areas like payroll and benefits administration. Even so, SMBs remain largely underserved compared to larger enterprises. FinTech companies that can acquire SMBs efficiently and provide enterprise-level experiences will be able to generate enough value to their customers to create large outcomes.
  • B2B Lending tools: On the consumer side, lending has become pretty crowded with some of the winners already declared. But on the enterprise side, the category is very ripe. The opportunity for entrepreneurs is in leveraging data at cloud scale combined with advances in machine learning to allow enterprises to better assess borrower risk and drive higher yield.

The author would like to thank Sreyas Misra for his contributions to this piece.

Revolutionizing wealth management with Jon Stein, Founder & CEO of Betterment

In this fourth episode of Focus on the Founder, Jon Stein, Co-founder & CEO of Betterment joins us to discuss his career journey, experience starting Betterment while in business school and thoughts on wealth management and investing more broadly.

Jon Stein (Founder & CEO, Betterment)

Achieving Personalization At-Scale

Betterment is a robo-advisor platform that provides investment advice and wealth management at a low price point. The wealth management space is fiercely competitive. Startups like Betterment, Wealthfront, and Robinhood as well as incumbents like Vanguard and Schwab have all entered the space, competing to provide personalized, low-cost advice to consumers.

Since Betterment launched in 2010, their assets under management have grown rapidly, reaching almost $12 billion earlier this month. During this conversation, Jon discusses his experiences growing Betterment, and how Betterment has succeeded in such a competitive environment through truly putting the customer first. As always, you can find the full podcast episode on SoundCloudiTunes, and Google Play.


Key Thoughts from Jon on…

The reasons behind founding Betterment:

While working for the First Manhattan Consulting Group, Jon advised some of the world’s largest banks and brokerages. In the process, Jon gained an insider’s perspective on how banks operate and serve their customers. His product-development engagements with banks typically involved working on the key aspects of their products such as default rates and internal transfer pricing. Notably, these larger players paid almost no attention to their customers during the product-development process, as they focused much more on optimizing their data and existing flows, which Jon found perplexing. While working in Australia, Jon encountered user-centric financial products not available in the US at the time, such as the mortgage-offset account which combines a traditional mortgage and deposit account.

These experiences helped frame the problem that Betterment aims to solve — that “the old way of managing money is broken.” Investment management should be held to a higher standard — one which focuses far more on consumers.

Building a team:

Jon committed to starting Betterment before starting his MBA at Columbia Business School. In the early days, building Betterment was a two-fold challenge — building the actual product and navigating the regulatory challenges of being an investment advisor.

Sean Owen, Jon’s roommate at the time, provided much of the early engineering expertise. Sean was a software engineer at Google who studied computer science at Harvard, and built the back-end of Betterment while Jon worked on the front-end. Jon eventually met Eli Broverman during a weekly poker game. Eli, who was then a securities attorney, provided the legal expertise and helped Jon navigate through complex regulatory landscape. Sean and Eli’s skillsets were diverse and congruent with the early challenges that Jon needed to solve.

The fundraising journey:

Betterment launched at TechCrunch Disrupt in 2010, where they competed against 500+ entrants, many of which had already raised some amount of funding. Betterment went on to win the competition, giving him crucial exposure to customers and investors. Immediately following the competition, Betterment signed up 400 new customers, who helped drive Betterment’s initial organic growth by way of referrals. The boost in credibility from the event made it easier to hire new employees, and helped Betterment rapidly grow from what was at the time a four-person team.

Just as important, preparing for the Disrupt presentation helped Jon and his team internalize their story and understand how to best pitch the idea. A month following the TechCrunch competition, Jon was able to raise $3 million from Bessemer Venture Partners.

How Betterment puts customers first:

Since the initial investment from Bessemer, Betterment has secured $275 million in funding and has grown significantly in employee count and AUM. In this period of growth, Jon doubled down on the theme of bringing the voice of the customer into every interaction. This focus has helped Betterment withstand the test of time and compete effectively against a host of startups and incumbents offering similar services.

Private Robo-Advisors in the Wealth-Technology Category

Source: CB Insights

Betterment puts the customer first by:

1. Personalizing advice

Betterment’s vision is to provide excellent financial guidance that is easy to understand and available to everyone. Betterment is unique in that it offers a spectrum of interaction-types: customers who prefer human interaction can receive hybrid-robo solutions through Betterment’s unlimited text messaging and premium telephone access services. By prioritizing the education of their end-user, Betterment offers a suite of solutions to improve consumer-access to financial markets.

2. Building trust

Financial services as an industry has historically had a low NPS. Betterment strives to build trust with its customers as both an ethical obligation and a means of differentiation. In addition to investment advice, Betterment publishes scores of articles helping consumers understand their personal finances, navigate through tax reform, and manage their expenses. Betterment also has no holdings of their own; thus, they eliminate many of the conflicts of interest present in most banks.

3. Combining responsibility with wealth creation

Betterment offers a way for consumers to hold well-diversified portfolios that are also socially responsible through their socially responsible investing (SRI) portfolio. Social responsibility doesn’t just afford Betterment an additional dimension of personalization; it also reflects well on their brand as an ethical investment advisor.

The future of investment management:

In this bull market, massive amounts of capital have been pushed into indices and ETFs, which represent a little over 10% of the global equity market capitalization. In fact, these indices and ETFs, spearheaded by firms like BlackRock and Vanguard, have outperformed an overwhelming majority of hedge funds.

Net flows into U.S.-based passively managed funds and out of active funds in the first half of each year

Source: Bloomberg, ICI

Jon explains that Betterment is here to stay even in increasingly likely bear market scenarios, as the same principles of minimizing cost and managing tax burdens that currently power Betterment’s platform still apply during downturns. Through careful risk-management, alternative investment strategies, and optimizing customer behavior to prevent market panic, Betterment aims not only to protect its customers in bear markets but also provide them competitive returns.

Bringing financial services to emerging markets with Shivani Siroya the Founder and CEO of Tala

In the third episode of Focus on the Founder, I sat down with Shivani Siroya, the Founder and CEO of Tala. Shivani’s background comprises a unique mix of experiences in global health at the UN Population Fund and traditional investment banking at Credit Suisse, UBS, and Citi. In 2012, Shivani started Tala, then known as InVenture, to address some of the economic challenges she observed in Africa and Asia while working for the UN.

Shivani Siroya (Founder & CEO, Tala)
Tala as a Solution to a Global Problem
Tala is a mobile-technology startup based in Santa Monica, CA that enables underserved people in emerging markets to access conventional financial services. Targeting an estimated population of 2 billion people, Tala’s smartphone-lending app delivers credit to borrowers with little-to-no financial history by using thousands of mobile data points to calculate an alternative credit score. The company has already disbursed over $225M in credit via 4.6 million microloans to borrowers across East Africa and the Philippines, and has plans to expand into Latin America and Southeast Asia.
Percentage of population (% ages 15+) with bank accounts, by country
Figure 1
In this conversation, Shivani discusses her experience growing Tala and the challenges and opportunities of bringing financial services to the underserved. YYou can find the full podcast episode on SoundCloudiTunes, and Google Play.

Key Thoughts from Shivani on the…

Reasons behind founding Tala:

Shivani created Tala to solve a real problem. While at the United Nations Population Fund, she helped develop costing models and conducted thousands of interviews across multiple countries in Africa and Asia. Over this period, she witnessed the same problem occur: large populations of responsible, hard-working people who were unable to take out a loan due to lack of any financial history. Her decision felt “almost unconscious” simply because this was a huge problem that someone had to solve.

Creation of a new market:

Because Tala attracts customers that are largely not covered by credit bureaus and lack access to traditional banking, Shivani explains that Tala’s Total Addressable Market (TAM) is about 2x that of a traditional lending company. Furthermore, by allowing borrowers to register with their smartphone and receive credit in a matter of minutes, Tala’s transformative user experience takes advantage of rapidly rising smartphone usage in emerging markets.

A Projected Upsurge in Smartphone Ownership in Emerging Markets

Figure 2

When choosing early adopter regions, Tala takes into account factors like political infrastructure, regulatory concerns and currency fluctuations — in addition to smartphone penetration.

Benefits and challenges of leading a distributed team:

Tala employs 165 people divided across three offices in Santa Monica, Manila and Nairobi. Because Tala has a global vision and is a customer-centric company, Shivani explains that Tala is required to have a distributed team to stay close to the customer. Hiring both engineers and customer-facing employees across all locations, Tala is able to track and serve the needs of an incredibly diverse user base. Proximity has proven especially critical to acquiring customers in close-knit communities. While Tala’s primary acquisition channel is digital (e.g. Facebook, Google AdWords, and Twitter), their organic traffic has been largely driven by referrals, radio, comment boards, and offline campaigns. Thus, a distributed team-structure has helped Tala achieve above 90% month-over-month growth in loan origination across all markets.

Leading a distributed team does not come without challenges. Research has found that distributed teams often suffer from communication barriers, differential knowledge bases, and inconsistent value systems. To overcome these hurdles, Shivani has:

  1. Instituted a core-set of founding principles that pervades across all three offices
  2. Required that all employees contribute to user research and be transparent about customer insights
  3. Conducted all final-round interviews to ensure a common cultural thread between all hires
  4. Made office managers travel quarterly to the other company locations

Split between balance-sheet and marketplace lending:

When Tala enters a new market, the company lends off of its own balance sheet as they gather customer data and develop and localize their credit models. As data is gathered and Tala’s models become more predictive, Tala moves more toward lending from a debt facility backed by traditional institutional investors and high net worth individuals.

Data-driven approach to Loan Financing:

Tala collects 10,000+ different data-points from a user’s smartphone to calculate an alternative credit score. Users are debriefed on how their data is utilized and can limit how much they share with Tala by toggling privacy options by data-category.

Shivani argues that tracking metrics as varied as financial transactions, social network diversity, and relationship stability, paint a more complete picture of a borrower’s riskiness compared to traditional credit-score inputs. Moreover, while some microfinancing options have been known to offer exploitative interest rates, Tala carefully customizes loan sizes and terms to their customer’s financial needs and risk tolerances. In addition, Tala differentiates on the speed dimension — approvals are instant, and most customers receive credit in less than 5 minutes. As a result, Tala has kept their repayment rates above 90 percent, and more than 95% of Tala’s first-time borrowers return for additional loans.

In addition to individual-level factors, Tala also considers macro-effects such as unemployment rates, purchasing power, GDP, and political instability.

Penetration of crypto-currencies and blockchain in the developing world:

Shivani explains that while the markets in which Tala is involved have not experienced much penetration by cryptocurrencies, Tala has started to investigate crypto as a means of currency exchange and moving capital. Furthermore, Shivani envisions that blockchain might play a crucial role in allowing Tala’s users to transition from a country-specific to a global financial identity.

 

The Rise of FinTech: Introducing the Matrix FinTech Index

The full overview of the Matrix FinTech Index is available on TechCrunch here.


Over the course of the last few years, FinTech as a category has really taken off. Five years ago the term ‘FinTech’ was not something most people had heard of other than a few early players in the startup ecosystem.

Today, FinTech is ubiquitous. In fact, the term has become synonymous with innovation in financial services — it’s hard to imagine a world without PaypalVenmoSquare and many others. The Google Trends chart below describes this explosion in FinTech interest best.

Definition: Matrix considers “FinTechs” to be (a) technology-first companies that leverage software to compete with traditional financial services institutions (e.g. banks, credit card networks, insurers, etc.) in the delivery of traditional financial services (e.g. lending, payments, investing, etc.) or (b) software tools that better enable traditional finance functions (e.g. accounting, point-of-sales systems, payments, etc.)


Methodology and Results

With an eye towards tracking the progress of disruption in the financial services space, we’re excited to release the Matrix U.S. FinTech Index today.

This market-cap weighted index tracks the progress of a portfolio of the 10 leading public FinTech companies over the course of the last year (beginning in December of 2016). For comparison, we have also included another portfolio of the 10 largest financial services incumbents (companies like JP Morgan, Visa and American Express) as well as the S&P 500 index.

As seen below, the Matrix FinTech Index shows a clear win for the FinTechs, who have collectively delivered 89% returns in the last 12 months. This is 60 percentage points higher than the 29% returns delivered by the incumbent portfolio and well above the S&P 500 Index.


Additional Data Now Available

Our hope in the coming months is to provide periodic updates to this Index. In addition, we are releasing a data package that anyone can download here that has a range of other helpful information on both the FinTechs and the incumbents. More specifically, the package includes:

  1. Market cap and stock price data over the last year for the companies in the index
  2. Comp sheets that include financial metrics on the public companies
  3. Summary data on private FinTech companies valued at over $1B

Finally, this index is dynamic — we fully anticipate that it will be tweaked and refined in the coming months. Please feel free to send us your thoughts and feedback as we refine the process and methodology.

Both Sides of the Table with Ashley Johnson the CFO/COO of Wealthfront (episode 2)

In this second episode of Focus on the Founder, I sat down with Ashley Johnson the COO/ CFO of Wealthfront. Ashley has a really interesting career as both an investor and operator. The first part of her career was spent largely as an investor at Morgan Stanley and then at General Atlantic, where she sourced investments in ServiceSource and RenRen. Both of these companies are now publicly traded. Ashley then ended up joining ServiceSource, where she held the CFO and CCO roles, before joining Wealthfront as COO/ CFO.

Ashley F Johnson CFO COO Wealthfront

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Wealthfront’s Growth Trajectory

Wealthfront has been on a very solid growth trajectory since its founding nearly a decade ago. The rob-advisor, which was founded by Andy Rachleff and Dan Carroll in 2008, now manages over $7B in AUM and has well over 100,000 accounts. And they are very well funded, having raised a total of $130M with a valuation (from 2014) of $700M.

Wealthfront AUM.JPG

During this conversation, Ashley discusses: the arc of her career, her initial priorities as the new CFO at Wealthfront back in 2015, the recruiting strategies the company employs and much more. The full podcast episode is available on SoundCloud, iTunes & Google Play.

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Key Thoughts from Ashley on the…

Qualities she was looking for in potential investment opportunities

Two of Ashley’s more notable investments were ServiceSource and RenRen. In both cases the companies’ combined three key elements that she (and General Atlantic) really valued in potential investment opportunities: (1) extremely passionate founders, (2) clear product-market fit and (3) a highly defensible business model with high gross margins.

The capital General Atlantic provided then went towards very specific uses that accelerated growth and allowed for great outcomes. In the case of ServiceSource, the capital went to building out a sales team. In the case of RenRen, the capital injection was used to do a number of small acquisitions.

Areas where she was able to add value as an investor

The key value General Atlantic was able to bring to ServiceSource was expertise in understanding how to build out a really strong Sales team. This included bringing Jim Madden, a global leader in inside sales, customer success and growth, onto the board of the company.

At RenRen, the company’s leadership in China was able to benefit from the lessons learned by General Atlantic’s knowledge of the US social media market. General Atlantic was also able to help RenRen navigate regulatory hurdles — namely ensuring licenses were current with the various ministries in China, which provided the company with a big competitive advantage over other early players in the space.

Transition from investor to operator

Ashley compares the transition as going from an individual sport (investing) to a team sport (operating). One of the first lessons she learned, while trying to determine sales comp as ServiceSource (which she joined after General Atlantic’s investment) is that you can’t operate in a vacuum when running a business as you might be able to do to do as an investor. Instead, you need to apply a 360 degree approach around communication across teams. Otherwise the outcome, as she experienced first hand (and elaborates on in the podcast), isn’t great.

Key priorities for her when she first assumed the CFO role at Wealthfront

When Ashley joined Wealthfront in 2015, the company had just blown by $1B in AUM and was growing quickly but lacked the key processes and structures of a more mature company. Her first order of business was to build out a team for the finance organization. The second priority was to turn their venture funding ($100M on the balance sheet at that point) into a strategic asset and put in real structures in place around how to think through the uses of that cash and how to best allocate it across the organization.

Recruiting during periods of rapid growth

At Wealthfront, recruiting is viewed as a strategic function and they have invested heavily in building out a strong internal recruiting team. When evaluating candidates, the #1 most important criteria is excitement and passion for the Wealthfront mission.

The five operating principles they have maintained at Wealthfront, enabling them to maintain a strong culture during this period of hyper-growth, include:

1. Work with a sense of urgency

2. Ensure that decisions, even if tough, are made quickly

3. Debate and disagree initially but commit to a single path in the end

4. When disagreeing, do so respectfully

5. Always assume the best intent

Competing with the incumbents in wealth management

Wealthfront knows that it can always be outspent by the incumbents from a paid-marketing perspective. Moreover, one of the key metrics they look to adhere to is a 2-year payback period, which makes excessive marketing impossible. Instead they focus on leveraging millennial’s disdain for the incumbent brands, a superior product and a better overall customer experience to win against the incumbents.

Cryptocurrency market and Wealthfront’s position from a product perspective

If you’re hoping to add bitcoin to your Wealthfront portfolio, you will be waiting for quite some time. While many of Wealthfront’s customers are invested in crypto currencies, the firm is largely bearish on these assets in the long run. So don’t expect any exposure to crypto currencies from them anytime soon.

The gender gap in saving and investing

Women, especially in the 18–33 demographic, are less likely to save and invest than their male counterparts. In fact, Ashley wrote an article in Fortune a few years back encouraging more women to start taking saving seriously.

Her belief is that the lower savings rate is driven by 3 components: (1) lack of awareness, (2) lower confidence in finance related topics and (3) patronizing messaging in the industry. Wealthfront aims to be more inclusive by making their messaging universally relatable and accessible.

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The conversation we had around Wealthfront and FinTech more broadly was certainly enriched by Ashley’s wealth of experiences on both sides of the table. A big thank you to Ashley for joining us — we look forward to seeing what’s in store from Wealthfront in the coming year. Happy listening!

Announcing our new Podcast Series ‘Focus on the Founder’ with our first guest – Ryan Williams of Cadre

Over the years, we’ve heard from our founders here at Matrix that some of the best learning opportunities they’ve had has come from 1:1 conversations with other entrepreneurs. And while there is no shortage of resources for entrepreneurs (including content we have built at Viewpoints and forEntrepreneurs), there are very few public forums where successful founders and operators speak candidly about their career journeys and discuss what has/ has not worked for them as they’ve scaled their businesses.

That is why we are excited to announce ‘Focus on the Founder’ – a podcast series that will do exactly what it sounds like—bring the focus back on the founder. In the coming months, we will be releasing a series of episodes where we ask successful founders and operators questions about their journey into entrepreneurship, how they’ve gone about making critical decisions (e.g. hiring, fundraising, etc.) and what they would do differently looking back.

The initial focus will be on founders and senior execs in FinTech—though this may evolve over time. We will keep the episodes short, informal and frank. The very first episode is with Ryan Williams the CEO and co-founder of Cadre. You can find the podcast episode on SoundCloud, iTunes & Google Play.

In this episode you will learn about…

  • How Ryan went from selling headbands at age 13 to flipping houses in college to launching Cadre. Or as he puts it “Headbands to Houses to High Rises”
  • When the real “Aha” moment came for Ryan that led him to believe that there was a big opportunity in real estate technology
  • What Ryan believes is the single most important characteristic behind the success of companies like Amazon, Airbnb and Fidelity and how Cadre has embraced that characteristic
  • How Ryan works with his investors and the value they have provided to him beyond the obvious capital injection
  • The crucial metrics and KPIs that Cadre tracks and measures
  • What other areas Ryan is excited about and would explore if he were not building Cadre…hint some of them are pretty controversial in the venture world today

Money 2020: 12 lessons from this year’s conference

Earlier this week I attended Money2020 in Las Vegas. In just over 5 years, Money2020 has become the leading industry conference for everything to do with FinTech. It’s a jam-packed but valuable 4 days of expert panels, startup pitches, networking events and keynotes from industry leaders. I was there for just under 24 hours, which meant the experience was even more of a blur. This post is my attempt to capture twelve of the biggest learnings from the conference.

Lesson 1: Money is still the #1 biggest stressor for most Americans, understandably so. Dan Wernikoff from Intuit was one of the keynote speakers Tuesday morning and some of the data points he surfaced on consumer behaviors around money are sobering:

  1. 44% of Americans cannot come up with $400 for an emergency.
  2. 49% of Mint users spend more than they make.
  3. Intuit customers on average paid $1,700 a year in interest.

Lesson 2: Most financial institutions are not adequately meeting the needs of their customers. Despite the potential opportunity created by the high stress around money, banks and other financial institutions really struggle to provide the experience their customers need. This is in part because most financial institutions are product centric not customer centric. The result has been notoriously low NPS scores and a disenchanted end user. Even more alarmingly, most customers of the leading banking brands distrust their banks:

Capture

Lesson 3: Among an already pretty unhappy customer base, millennials are the most disenfranchised of all. As Philippe Dintrans, Chief Digital Officer at Cognizant put it, most financial institutions are totally missing the mark with millennials. That is in part because millennials exhibit fundamentally different behaviors than earlier generations around things like savings. 63% of millennials are focused on saving towards desired life goals (e.g. getting out of student debt, purchasing a home, etc.) as compared to 45% of gen Xers and baby boomers. 55% of gen Xers and baby boomers are focused on developing savings towards retirement, where only 37% of millennials are planning for retirement

Lesson 4: FinTech startups have capitalized on the failures of incumbents by addressing specific pain-points with carefully designed products. The examples are smattered across financial services but a few examples that stand-out:

  • Wealth management was traditionally a confusing and fee-heavy landscape to navigate. Betterment created a beautiful and educational product that reduced fees and enabled a better user experience.
  • Peer-to-peer money transfers traditionally required a manual process that took days and trips to the bank. Venmo made it simple, quick and fun to do P2P payments.
  • SMBs used to have to use clunky check-out payment methods that locked them into a set location and required back-end processing to reconcile the books. Stripe enabled any merchant anywhere to accept payments with ease using an iPad.
  • Applying for, managing and refinancing loans was historically a painful process for most students. SoFi provided students with an easy way to apply for and refinance their loans all with the promise of a lower interest rate.

Lesson 5: Barriers to entry have never been lower to starting a FinTech business. It’s not just that the cost of starting a business in tech has been dramatically reduced (which has been well documented). In FinTech, there are also important industry-specific enablers allowing startups to enter and compete with the incumbents:

  • Insurgents don’t need a large balance sheet to open business. For example, marketplaces like LendingClub and Prosper connect borrowers and lenders without underwriting any of the loans.
  • Regulatory hurdles, for almost every sub-category within FinTech (with the exception of Blockchain / crypto assets), have been removed thanks to early pioneers like PayPal.
  • Platforms and developer tools like Stripe and Shopify have reduced development costs and time-to-market dramatically enabling SMB merchants to sell with the same ease as larger enterprises.

Lesson 6: Large and enduring companies have been and will continue to be built in FinTech. In two decades, PayPal, the “original” FinTech startup has reached a market cap of $84B. By comparison AMEX, which was founded a 167 years ago, has a market cap of $82B. Many more enduring companies will be built in FinTech in the years to come.

Capture 2

Lesson 7: There is no shortage of venture money. As of today there are 36 FinTech unicorns globally – that number represents 17% of the total share of unicorns. The venture market has realized the breadth of opportunity in FinTech and more money has poured into FinTech than ever before. In 2008, the number of FinTech companies funded was just over 200. In 2016, the number of FinTech companies receiving venture capital exceeded 5,000. In the same time period, venture funding from a dollar perspective climbed from <$1B to close to $60B.

Lesson 8: Great companies are being built across categories. With this increase in FinTech funding, great new companies are being built and entire sub-categories, from payments to insurance, are being served in new ways. Some of the really big winners of today either didn’t exist or were in their infancy 10 years ago. A few examples include publicly traded companies (LendingClub, Square, etc.), unicorns (Stripe, Sofi, GreenSky, CreditKarma, AvidXchange, Gusto, etc,) and several others that are well on their way (Betterment, Affirm, Plaid, etc.)

Lesson 9: Many think that the big area of opportunity for FinTech is in Blockchain/ crypto assets but that may not necessarily be true. Blockchain/ crypto assets are certainly getting all the attention right now but there are plenty of other areas that are just as interesting on both the B2C and B2B sides of the table. Some areas that are particularly exciting include:

  • Consumer: (1) personal financial management, (2) insurance, (3) real estate and (4) investing / wealth management
  • Enterprise: (1) institutional investing, (2) infrastructure apps, (3) SMB tools, (4) commercial insurance and (5) security & fraud detection

Lesson 10: Blockchain – lots of noise but few clear signals. Bitcoin today is trading at $5,500+ per coin and the total market cap of all cryptocurrencies is $170B. ICOs meanwhile have raised $8B in 2017 to-date. In the midst of this some things are clearer than others. What is clear today is that crypto assets have a definite use case as a store of value. What’s less clear is how we get from there to the end goal of software with no central operator, which is the big promise behind blockchain. The big advantage to blockchain, as Adam Ludwin from Chain put it, is “censorship resistance” (access is unfettered and transactions are unstoppable) but we have yet to see killer applications that can cannibalize existing practices.

Lesson 11: It’s not all about the U.S. ~1/3 of today’s FinTech unicorns are outside the U.S. (Asia + Europe). U.S. FinTech companies can likely learn a bit from their peers in other geographies. Behavioral and cultural differences certainly exist but there are a few clear examples of this that came up during one of the payment-focused panels. For example, in China, WeChat is using messaging capability to allow social payments. Stan Chudnovsky, the Head of Product for Facebook’s Messenger, revealed during one of the payments sessions that Facebook is developing this and expects it to be a key use case in the next 18-24 months. But in this space we are certainly followers not leaders.

Lesson 12: The FinTech community grows more vibrant and robust each year. Money 2020 was founded 5 years ago and since its launch then has grown into the leading FinTech conference globally. There are now 11,000+ attendees, more than 1,700 CEOs & Presidents and 85 countries represented. Still a lot of opportunity ahead but the numbers speak clearly to the vibrancy and enthusiasm in the community. Many thanks to the founders of Money2020 Anil Aggarwal, Simran Aggarwal and Jonathan Weiner for another great conference. Looking forward to next year!