M&A is the New IPO

For years, startups have resisted going public; avoiding IPOs. At the same time, merger and acquisition (M&A) activity is at an all-time high. We’re taking a look at why startups are increasingly taking the M&A exit route over listing publicly, and why it’s a good thing (for fintech, anyway).

IPOs down, M&A up

According to Quartz, the average age of publicly listed companies in the U.S. has increased from 12 years old to 20 years old since 1997. During that same time period, the number of American firms publicly listed in the U.S. shrank from 7,500 to 3,618. Echoing those findings, the Harvard Business Review reports that the number of publicly listed companies has declined by almost 50% since 1996, when the number peaked.

On the Finovate blog, we’ve covered 17 M&A deals so far this year. Compare that to last year, when we covered 46 merger and acquisition deals; and 2017, when we covered 29 mergers and acquisitions; and 2016’s total of 26. In the same vein, KPMG reports that the number of global M&A deals in fintech soared to more than 120 in the first quarter of 2018, totaling $22 billion. This is due primarily to consolidation of key segments. Large exits so far this year include TSYS and IDology — with eToro, InComm, Envestnet, and SumUp all having made major acquisitions.

Why not IPO?

Here are a few reasons why becoming acquired is more appetizing than going public:

  • There’s no shortage of VC funding (yet)
  • A grow-fast-and-get-acquired strategy is easier than a strategy to IPO, which requires long-term profitability planning
  • Mergers and acquisitions are less costly than IPOs; underwriting and registration costs for IPOs add up to an average of 14% of the funds raised
  • IPOs have a bad track record. The public markets have been tough environments for OnDeck and Lending Club, which both went public in 2014.
  • IPOs are time consuming– taking anywhere from six to nine months  to complete– and can take management’s focus away from business operations until the IPO is finalized.

Fintech hold outs

There are plenty of fintechs that would make good IPO candidates who are waiting to go public. Many of these companies have been in the industry for a decade or longer, and some have valuations upwards of $1 billion.

Take personal finance company SoFi, for example, a San Francisco-based company that’s valued at $4.3 billion. In February, CEO Anthony Noto told Barron’s that the company isn’t planning an IPO for this year, though Noto said that the company’s long-term goal is to go public. This comes after former CEO Michael Cagney said the company would likely go public in 2018 or 2019.

Payroll and HR innovator Gusto is valued at $2 billion. The company, also headquartered in San Francisco, has a different view on going public. In fact, Gusto Founder and CEO Josh Reeves said that it isn’t the company’s end goal. “There are pros and cons to being a public company, and we believe that today, the benefits of Gusto staying private outweigh the benefits of being public,” Reeves said. “An IPO isn’t our end-goal; instead, it’s creating a world where work empowers a better life. We currently serve more than 1% of all employers in the U.S., which is an accomplishment we’re incredibly proud of, but we realize we still have a lot more work to do. Building Gusto to its full potential is a multi-decade mission for me.”

Founded in 2009, Atlanta-based Kabbage has been an alternative source of small business financing for almost 10 years. In an interview with Inc., Kathryn Petralia, Kabbage co-founder and president said, “An IPO is a huge distraction. It’s not just any fundraising event, it’s a really, really complicated transparent fundraising event that brings with it a lot of extra work– forever.” Regarding potential timing on taking Kabbage public, Petralia said, “There’s going to be a time for that, I suspect. But right now… it just doesn’t make sense.”

And in an interview with TechCrunch last year, Betterment CEO Jon Stein told the interviewer that going public is “something that we want to ultimately do.” He added, “we continue to drive towards it, and I believe we’re in a great position. We’re audited, we have an amazing finance team, we’ve got great risk management, security processes… all of those things that companies that are preparing to IPO ought to be doing.”

Good for fintech

So why is the M&A exit route beneficial over an IPO for the fintech industry? First, it keeps the fintech company loyal to its acquirer instead of shareholders. By focusing on an acquiring firm’s or bank’s bottom line instead of its own, fintechs are contributing to the bigger picture of banking.

Additionally, M&As tend to stimulate collaborative projects that benefit both financial services clients as well as end customers. Ultimately, working with tangential players in the market helps foster innovation.

How Fintech is Disrupting the Modern Workplace

From the way payroll and benefits are administered to the nature of work itself, fintech innovation is helping build the 21st century workplace.

Will “pay day” be a thing of the past? How long until companies across the country are competing on the basis of their ability to help you pay off your student loans?

Technology has done much to change the nature of work in recent years. The same can be said for specific areas like financial technology. Here’s a look at how fintech innovations are making their own contributions to the 21st century “office”.

Getting Paid

Many of us work because we enjoy what we do. But whether you consider getting paid a top priority or just a perk, who wouldn’t love the flexibility of being able to get income when you need the money most – rather than on an arbitrary, twice a month schedule?

Companies like Gusto are among those making this possibility a reality. This summer, the payroll, benefits, and HR technology company introduced Flexible Pay, a new solution that enables employees to get paid on a date other than their employer’s standard pay date. Calling bi-weekly pay schedules a “relic” of the days when payroll taxes were calculated manually, Gusto co-founder and CEO Joshua Reeves has set out to prove that “with modern technology, employees shouldn’t have to wait weeks to get paid.”

The New Workspace

Even the word “telecommute” sounds more like something from a bygone time rather than the way a growing number of Americans are “going to work”. But the reality of remote employment for a growing number of people is here and fintech companies have both encouraged and participated in this trend. “Millennials simply don’t feel they need to be in the office, or at their desk, to get a job done — especially since the evolution of technology has made portability very possible,” Demetrios Gianniris, a director at MG Engineering, wrote for Forbes.com earlier this year in a post called The Millennial Arrival and the Evolution of the Modern Workplace.

To this end, innovations in mobile technology and messaging (consider Eltropy’s innovations in providing secure, compliant communications via popular messaging apps) have helped accelerate the revolution in remote work. There are also fintechs removing friction from some of the more mundane aspects of working outside the office. Expensify, for example, has partnered with Uber to make it easier for workers who use the ride-sharing service to separate business from personal expenses. And speaking of expenses, the tools offered by companies like Ondot empower workers to make necessary purchases while ensuring control and accountability for managers and employers.

Doing the Work

The flip side of the convenience that technologies like chatbots and IVR provide is that, for a growing number of financial professionals, these technologies are virtually co-workers. As machine learning and AI become increasingly commonplace, workers are more likely to rely on interacting with processes than communicating with people when it comes to getting their daily tasks done.

For financial advisors, fintechs are developing a wide variety of tools to make it easier for them to communicate with customers, and build highly personalized investment portfolios and financial plans. Onist, which announced a partnership with Quovo this summer, enables financial advisors to set up a virtual family office to facilitate collaboration between advisors and clients.

Technology also promises to make it easier for workers to leverage the work of other workers more effectively. One of the key insights of New York-based WorkFusion was the way a combination of machine learning and crowdsourcing of human talent could enable smaller businesses to “punch above their weight” when it comes to managing data. The company has since leveraged this technology to produce the first integrated RPA (robot process automation) and cognitive automation platform: Smart Process Automation (SPA) currently deployed in verticals including financial services, healthcare, and insurance.

Managing the Gains

Fintechs are in the lead when it comes to helping workers make better financial decisions. A firm like DoubleNet Pay helps employees manage cash flow by automating their billpay and savings obligations and coordinating payouts around paydays. Wealthucate, a financial wellness specialist out of San Jose, California, provides an automated financial wellness program that helps businesses enhance their own offerings. Wealthucate’s solution leverages gamification and personalization to increase the participation rate in benefit programs and help companies better explain their benefit offerings.

Among the more interesting ways that fintechs are helping workers manage their money is the approach by Student Loan Genius. This company enlists employers in the fight to help Millennial workers in particular pay off their student loans while simultaneously investing in their own employer-based retirement plan as soon as possible.

Fintech and the Work of the Future

It may be only a matter of time before we are able to watch the real-time flow of micropayments into our accounts or a be a part of a workforce in which most of us have both a robot supervisor and a robot subordinate. In any event, it is clear that whatever innovations the workplace of the future holds, fintech companies will be very much a part of making them happen.

Top image designed by Freepik

Using Your Data to Stay Alive

Earlier this year we published a post titled Data or Die that describes the ways firms can leverage their data. Collecting data is hard, analyzing data is hard, but dying is simply not an option. So how do financial services companies stay alive?

In a recent report by McKinsey, authors Peter Bisson, Bryce Hall, Brian McCarthy, and Khaled Rifai set out to learn how companies who are successful at leveraging data analytics are able to do so at scale. The team surveyed 1,000 companies with more than $1 billion in revenue that operated in 13 sectors and across 12 geographic locations to learn the tricks to winning at data analytics.

As it turns out, successfully leveraging data analytics across an organization isn’t easy. In fact, only 8% of the companies in the survey thrived in this area.McKinsey found nine strategies the top performers use to outperform their peers:

  1. Obtain a strong, unified commitment from all levels of management: 61% have executive leadership that is aligned on an analytics vision and strategy
  2. Increase investment in analytics: 65% spend more than 25% of their IT budget on analytics
  3. Develop a clear data strategy with strong governance: 67% have a clear strategy to support their analytics program
  4. Use sophisticated analytics methodologies: 63% have a clear methodology for model development, insight interpretation, and new deployment
  5. Possess analytics expertise and hire talent that does, too: 89% employ more than 25 data and analytics professionals per 1,000 full time employees
  6. Create cross-functional, agile teams: 58% have models that revolve around multi-skilled teams
  7. Prioritize decision-making: 55% prioritized the top areas in which to embed analytics
  8. Establish decision-making rights and responsibilities: 58% establish decision-making accountability
  9. Empower front lines to make analytics-driven decisions: 57% make decisions quickly and continually refine their approach

While these numbers are convincing, not all of the most successful companies in the study abide by these categories. In fact, based on the numbers above, these only held true for an average of 67% of the top performers. The one area where there seemed to be more consensus may, however, be worth paying attention to. That is, successful companies have data analytics experts already on their team and they focus on hiring talent that is skilled in this area, as well.

Overall, McKinsey advised firms to “conquer the last mile” of their analytics journey by starting with… the last mile:

“Most companies start their analytics journey with data; they determine what they have and figure out where it can be applied. Almost by definition, that approach will limit analytics’ impact. To achieve analytics at scale, companies should work in the opposite direction. They should start by identifying the decision-making processes they could improve to generate additional value in the context of the company’s business strategy and then work backward to determine what type of data insights are required to influence these decisions and how the company can supply them.”

Now that McKinsey has shown you where to start, fintechs can help by showing you how. There are numerous fintechs who specialize in leveraging data across organizations. Below are nine companies across three categories:


  • GoodData offers an insights platform-as-a-service that provides data management and analytics to improve the operational decision-making process for employees, users, and partners. The company enables users to build standalone or embedded analytic apps that pull data from multiple sources.
  • Race Data leverages customer data and turns it into market intelligence. By looking at consumer behavior, the company builds personalized engagements with the brand. The company offers a fintech platform built specifically to help community banks have more meaningful conversations with their customers.
  • Red Zebra Analytics creates loyalty and engagement solutions for retail and bank customers. The tools leverage analytics to monitor and predict customer behavior and to serve as an incentive for customers to return to the bank’s online and mobile banking channels.
Above: GoodData’s process for transforming raw data into actionable predictions and recommendations

Business intelligence

  • Ephesoft offers a document capture and analytics platform that automatically extracts data. Using machine learning, the company puts that data to work to improve business processes such as invoicing, mortgage approvals, compliance checks, and insurance claims.
  • Hyper Anna aims to democratize data by offering an AI-powered data analyst that firms can interact with using natural language. The assistant writes code, analyzes data, creates charts, and answers questions about key business drivers.

Fraud protection

  • Guardian Analytics uses data on banking clients’ behavior to detect and prevent banking fraud. The company creates a unique ID for each user by analyzing how they interact with their device and the bank’s website.
  • NuData Security identifies users based on data gathered from their online interactions. By leveraging four layers of intelligence (pictured right); passive biometric verification, behavioral trust consortium, behavioral analytics, and device intelligence; the company can identify and prevent fraud.
  • ID Analytics maintains an ID Network, a database of cross-industry consumer behavioral data, that offers an assessment of consumer creditworthiness and risk. The ID Network is composed of consumer data contributed from the company’s clients.
  • ThetaRay’s analytics platform enables clients to detect anomalous behavior across a large data set of transactions. Once an anomaly is detected, the bank can migrate the transaction to protect against loss.

You Don’t Need an Innovation Lab

We’re living in an era where major banks and financial services companies have their own in-house innovation labs. Major players who are generally thought of as too clunky to operate hip, fast-moving, tech-adopting divisions are getting in on the game. The list of financial services companies who have launched labs in the past ten years is a long one.

Banks such as Capital One, Citi, Visa, Chase, BBVA, DBS Bank, Fidelity, JP Morgan Chase, Deutsche Bank, FIS, and Lloyds have all launched their own fintech labs. Some banks, such as USAA, even have member labs, where the bank’s customers can opt to test out new services before they’re released, and offer feedback.

Even non-banks are starting labs of their own. At FinovateSpring last year, NCR showcased a lab-grown technology that leverages virtual reality to offer ATM servicing help. And earlier this year, business commerce platform Tradeshift launched an innovation lab to leverage new enabling technologies. The result of these labs are often beneficial and have led to multiple, successful product launches. In fact, Many products pitched from the Finovate stage started out as projects from a lab.

The photo above shows off Standard Bank’s innovation lab, from the Financial Brand’s article titled Peek Inside 7 of The Banking World’s Coolest Innovation Labs. As the article suggests, it’s cool. But do you really need a place that looks like a daycare to create and launch new services for your members? Smaller FIs may argue that they can’t– they are already strained for resources and aren’t able to move fast enough to bring a product to market before technology changes. So how can small banks compete?

Room to fail

Create room in your culture to fail. If all of a bank’s or a fintech’s employees are afraid to fail, none will be willing to take on the risk of suggesting or trying new things. When you remove the fear of failure and replace it with an incentive to test new ideas, you’ll be surprised how the culture shifts.

Start small

Fintech innovation doesn’t necessarily mean creating the next mind-reading IoT device that automatically optimizes your investments and doubles as a mobile wallet. Instead of being intimidated by fintech vaporware, think about a spreadsheet or a process that your team dreads. What move can you take to change that process? Maybe you can make it more efficient adding productivity-enhancing technologies to automate or digitize more tedious, time-consuming parts of the process. Or perhaps some portions of the process are no longer necessary, and the simplification is the innovation. Sometimes, starting small is starting tiny.

Use your size as an advantage

The advantage of creating change in a small credit union or community financial institution is the small size, which translates to small scale. When you want to implement a fintech initiative as a smaller FI, you can get your entire organization on board. Big banks can’t do that. If 100% of a bank or credit union is excited about the change and willing to push the new initiative, things can happen a lot faster.

Fintech for Your New Year’s Resolutions

Make a New Year’s Resolution for 2018? While fintech can’t help you lose weight (yet!), there are plenty of players to help you achieve your financial resolutions. So here are a few specific financial goals you might have set for 2018 – along with the fintech innovators who can help you achieve them.

 Save more

After feeling the burn of holiday spending, many people are planning to buckle down and increase their savings in the new year.

  • Dyme
    Dyme offers an automated savings platform. The text-based app not only reminds users to save, it also automatically moves money from their checking account to their savings.
  • Meniga
    Meniga’s personal financial management (PFM) platform makes it easy for users to track their goals and inspires them to mitigate their spending habits to reach their goals on time.
  • Qapital
    Another PFM app, Qapital offers a visual way for users to see the progress of their savings goals.

Buy a house

Interest rates are on the rise, so if you’re looking to buy a home there’s no better time than the present.

  • Blend
    Blend helps put an end to the “document volleyball” that often occurs in the home buying process. Blend’s online portal offers secure and compliant document transmission and communication channels that help buyers, lenders, and agents stay on track.
  • Sindeo
    Sindeo’s platform offers users access to more than 1,000 loan programs and guidance from mortgage advisors. The company’s QuickStart program helps users complete a loan application and receive a pre-qualification letter in under 10 minutes.
  • Unison
    Unison Home Ownership Investors contributes up to half of the buyer’s down payment, lowering their monthly payments and helping them to avoid paying mortgage insurance. When the term of the loan is up or the buyer decides to sell their home, Unison claims a portion of the home’s appreciation.

Organize your retirement

It seems as if there is always something to be done when it comes to retirement funds– rollovers, maximize returns, minimize fees, optimize diversification…. Fortunately, wealth tech is one area of fintech where there are seemingly endless firms to help.

  • Wealthfront
    Wealthfront is one of the largest players in the wealth tech space. The company offers retirement and college savings plans, and allows users to borrow against their portfolios.
  • Blooom
    With transparent advice and low fees, Blooom has an algorithmic approach to investing that aims to maximize 401(k) returns.
  • Nutmeg
    U.K.-based Nutmeg algorithmically manages users’ ISA’s pensions, and general investments for less of a fee than a traditional investment advisor.
  • Scalable Capital
    U.K.-based Scalable Capital uses a technology-based approach to make wealth management available to everyone.

For a more complete list and analysis of players in the B2C wealth tech space, check out our previous coverage.

Pay down student loans

For many millennials, the burden of student loans is getting in the way of starting a family, buying a house, and even saving for retirement. Paying down loans faster has the potential to open up more opportunities.

  • Tuition.io
    While it’s not a B2C play, Tuition.io enables employers to offer a workplace benefit that assists employees by making contributions to their student loan payments.
  • Student Loan Genius
    Student Loan Genius follows a similar model to Tuition.io (though they might say it’s the other way around).
  • Personetics
    Personetics Act leverages AI to notify banks which of their clients have student loans and can pay the off faster. The technology finds unused funds that can be applied toward the balance and automatically pays down student loans on the client’s behalf.

Maximize your tax benefits

Whether you’re doing your personal taxes or trying to balance sales tax for your small business, these tools can help you get a head start on this annual task.

  • Xero
    Founded in 2006, Xero is a long-standing cloud accounting players for small businesses. XeroTax helps businesses to prepare, review and lodge returns for individual, partnership, company, trust, SMSF, FBT and activity statements.
  • Credit Karma
    Starting last year, Credit Karma began offering tax preparation and filing service for the 2017 tax year. Unlike many self-service tax preparation services, Credit Karma’s is free. And –bonus– the company partnered with American Express this year to offer an advance on your refund.
  • Avalara
    Similar to Xero, Avalara is focused on small businesses. The Seattle-based startup helps companies with VAT automation, as well as plan, manage, and prepare sales and use tax.

Give more

Looking for some extra karma this year? Here are some fintechs that can help boost charitable giving.

  • Betterment
    Yes, Betterment is a wealth management company and not a pure-play tax startup. However, last year the company announced a charitable giving feature that allows customers to donate shares from taxable accounts to charitable organizations.
  • Place2Give
    Canada-based Place2Give is a one-stop shop where users can search for and donate to North American charities.
  • Sustainably
    Sustainably is like Acorns for charitable giving. The U.K.-based company automates donations to users’ selected charities by rounding up their purchases to the nearest £1, making micro-donations.