Banks need to recognize FinTech startups as opportunities, not threats
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30 November 2015Stephen Greer
Fintech is booming. In 2013, according to a report by Accenture and CB Insights, total investment into FinTech was just less than $4 billion. By 2014 it ballooned to more than $12 billion globally, with 750 deals. Many are claiming the death of traditional banks, but I'm not sure these claims have merit. Banks are surely slow to move with trends, but the barriers to entry act to partially insulate the industry from rapid disintermediation. Yet neither can institutions continue without any change to the operating model. Banks will need to adapt to new behavioral patterns and trends in technology. Success for banks will require a change in mindset. They need to start looking at FinTech startups as an opportunity, not a threat. Many banks have already started acting, and it’s time for fast followers to get on board and employ a few of the following strategies: Partnering with startups The easiest and most accessible way of engaging new startups is through partnership. From a technological perspective, the evolution of technology deployment has made it easier than ever for banks to engage in strategic partnerships. This can be as simple as an agreement between entities to drive referrals or route website traffic (e.g. Santander UK with Funding Circle and Union Bank with Lending Club) to more complicated engagements where new services are plugged into a banks’ existing digital banking platform through APIs. Fidor Bank in Germany has architected its own completely open platform, allowing it to plug in new innovative offerings and enable customers to take full advantage of emerging services. Acquiring FinTech The main benefit of acquisition is that these companies are largely already established. The company has a culture that has been shown to be successful, and there is an existing base of customers from which to grow. Often the injection of new capital by the buyer can give a startup the resources needed to flourish. The risk is that as these offerings are brought closer to the parent company, the legacy processes and functions bleed into the new acquisition, hampering growth and essentially killing the viability of the product. The acquisition of Simple by BBVA Compass is one of the most visible acquisitions in recent years. It remains to be seen how the two businesses come together, and what role Simple will play in the larger BBVA vision, but the deal offers an example for other banks to follow. Launching venture capital business units A number of institutions are establishing venture funds to actively invest in startups from the beginning. Most notable is BBVA Ventures, which has already invested in companies like FreeMonee, SumUp, and Radius, and which plans on spending more than $100 million on new projects over the next year. In October 2015, Santander InnoVentures $4 million in the block chain payments startup Ripple Labs, also investing in MyCheck, Cyanogen, and iZettle. HSBC has said that it will start a venture fund with up to $200 million in investments. Wells Fargo, Citibank, and others in the US have also started going down this path, both starting funds of around $100 million within the Silicon Valley. While this is a good way to get deep into emerging disruptors, it’s also relatively prohibitive, and all but the top banks are going to find this route difficult. Every year more and more startup companies are launched; a strategy for innovation and cooperation with these challengers would be remiss without understanding the landscape. With this in mind, Celent is beginning a series of quarterly reports that will profile 7-10 startup companies, providing some analysis about the business model and opportunity for financial institutions. Look for the report series Innovation Quarterly: The Latest in Fintech Innovation to kick off in Q4 2015.