Fintech Startups - Coopetition or Competition? Business Models Are Shifting.

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30 November 2012
Jacob Jegher
I spend a fair bit of time analyzing and following the fintech startup scene. I've met and interacted with numerous startups over the years, as well as through industry events like Finovate and Innotribe. I frequently get very excited by their potential, and what they can bring to the industry. I admire the founders of these firms as they attempt to make their mark in an age old, highly regulated industry, that is slowly but surely adapting to the popularity of digital channels. Is there a killer fintech startup business model? Here are a handful of models out there that I invite you to weigh in on:
  1. Should startups go after consumers/businesses directly? This is the most popular model, with most firms taking this type of approach. Examples include Square, Simple, PayPal, etc. It's also one of the hardest models as it's quite difficult for a newly minted organization to establish a brand and build critical mass on its own.
  2. Can startups be successful at enabling others in addition to going after their core market? This is becoming an increasingly popular model as startups seek out new streams of revenue. It's particularly popular in the payment space as it allows for a potentially increasing stream of transactional revenue. This is done by offering something like an SDK that others can build on. Examples include card.io, Stripe, etc.
  3. Is the name of the game to simply use financial institutions as a distribution channel? Some startups take this route right out of the gate (e.g. MineralTree, Cardlytics, etc.), while others pivot to this model (e.g. Social Money, Bill.com, etc.). Finally there are startups that simply fall back on this model once they realize that they have been unsuccessful in models 1 or 2. While it sounds great to use a bank as a distribution channel, it can be a frustrating experience given the very long sales cycles typically encountered with financial institutions. Burning cash while attempting to close a deal with a bank can be a tough pill to swallow.
  4. Can a startup have it all by tackling all three of of the models ? It's possible but it can also spread a business, particularly a newer one, dangerously thin
Finally, what does all of this mean for financial institutions? How do they get involved in industry disruption? Celent firmly believes that banks should dedicate efforts towards not only innovation, but disruption. It's a necessary part of competing, and has to be led and sponsored by senior management. Most banks need at least a handful of projects that are disruptive - that's no easy task since managing technology and culture change is never a quick fix. What do you think? How should startups approach the market? How can banks play a meaningful role in the digital world?

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