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SoFi, SPACs, and the Power of Social Capital

First things first: congratulations to SoFi. The financial services platform has earned a $8.65 billion post-money valuation after agreeing to a merger with Social Capital Hedosophia Holdings, a publicly traded special purpose acquisition company or SPAC that specializes in consumer-focused fintech businesses.

Now, what in the world is a SPAC? And why would merging with one be a sound route to the public markets?

A SPAC is pretty much as described. It is a corporation that is built specifically to buy other corporations. A SPAC, which has no other business operations, works by raising money via an initial public offering, and then using that capital to acquire other companies. These entities are taking advantage of the contemporary interest in the IPO market, leveraging demand for new companies – mostly in technology – into demand for firms betting on the ability to know which among these companies are longer-term winners.

The decision to merge with Social Capital – and to pursue this new route to going public – says a lot about the company initially known as “Social Finance” when it was founded almost ten years ago.

“SoFi is on a mission to help people achieve financial independence to realize their ambitions,” company CEO Anthony Noto said. “Our ecosystem of products, rewards, and membership benefits all work together to help our members get their money right.”

By giving its members a one-stop-digital-shop for financial services such as consumer financing, investments, and insurance, SoFi is well-positioned to take advantage of what Noto called “the secular acceleration in digital first financial services offerings.”

This momentum is in evidence within SoFi’s own ecosystem, as well. Social Capital founder and CEO Chamath Palihapitiya noted the “acceleration of cross-buying by existing SoFi members” as creating “a virtual cycle of compounding growth, diversified revenue, and high profitability.”

Speaking on CNBC, Palihapitiya compared SoFi favorably to Amazon and said that the company best represented the kind of banking solutions people want most. From its origins as a student loan refinancing company to its current incarnation as a diversified financial services platform, SoFi reported more than $200 million in total net revenue in Q3 2020 and is on pace generate $1 billion of estimated adjusted net revenue this year. Noto will continue as CEO of SoFi post-merger.

The deal comes just months after SoFi earned “preliminary, conditional approval” from the U.S. Comptroller of the Currency for a national bank charter. A bank charter, the company noted in the merger announcement, would lower the cost of funds and “further support SoFi’s growth.” In an interview with Yahoo! Finance, Noto explained that this was key to having the ability to provide lower interest rates to consumers and would drive innovations like SoFi Money, the company’s cash management account.

Another plum in the purchase is Galileo, a leading provider of customer-facing and backend technology infrastructure services for financial services providers that SoFi acquired last April. There are 50 million accounts on the platform.

From SoFi’s perspective, “deal certainty” was one of the reasons why the company took advantage of the SPAC route to the public markets rather than a traditional IPO. Palihapitiya is a veteran of the nascent SPAC craze, having taken a number of companies, including Virgin Galactic Holdings in 2019, public in this fashion.

Founded in 2011, the San Francisco, California-based company participated in our developers conference, FinDEVr New York 2017. At the event, SoFi teamed up with data platform Quovo to demonstrate their innovations in providing secure authentication for bank accounts. SoFi currently has more than 1.8 million members and has raised $2.5 billion in funding to date.