The FinovateSpring Takeover

Photo by Jose Rago on Unsplash

Last week would have been the week of FinovateSpring. However, instead of being in to San Francisco to gather in person, the majority of the world remains at home. 

FinovateSpring has been rescheduled and re-named to FinovateWest for 2020 and will take place this coming November. To commemorate our original dates, we curated a week of analysis and insights for our blog readers offering updates and ideas about the future of fintech and conducting business during the coronavirus. All of the content is collated it into this eMagazine. It felt good to connect with leading industry players, pick their brains and hear how businesses are adapting.

We also gave a major sneak peek of the new digital demo format you can expect to see at our all-digital events this year.

Read on and enjoy!

COVID-19 and Fintech’s Venture Capital Crunch

Photo by Marta Branco from Pexels

How has COVID-19 impacted fintech funding in the first half of 2020?

Writing about fintech funding in the first quarter of 2020, CB Insights painted a bleak picture of how the global health crisis and its economic effects have put a pall on VC investment in fintech around the world. 

“Worst first quarter for funding since 2017…” “Worst first quarter for deal volume since 2016 …” Across the globe, venture capital investors were on the retreat with only Europe showing significant quarter over quarter growth – thanks largely to the $500 million investment secured by Revolut.

And as the appetite for risk waned, so did interest in smaller fintech startups. CB Insights noted that early stage startups were among the hardest hit in the first quarter, with this subset of companies falling to a nine-quarter low in funding and a 13-quarter low in deal volume.

The struggles of the first quarter of 2020 – when the lockdowns, shelter-in-place, and quarantines were implemented – had reduced much of economic activity to a trickle. With Q2 all but wrapped up – and countries around the world beginning, some more tentatively than others, to reopen their economies – are venture capital investors proving more ready to return to the table?

What were expectations for 2020?

Although VC investment in fintech was down modestly from 2018, last year featured more than enough fundraising to give fintech observers confidence that 2020 could still be a strong year. Again, using CB Insights’ figures, fintech investment pulled back to $33.9 billion in 2019 from $40.8 billion in 2018, with deal volume easing to 1,912 deals in 2019 from 2,049 deals in 2018. Early stage investment declined from a peak in Q1 2018, en route to the 13-quarter low noted above. But investment in more mature startups, Series B and beyond, was strong, with deal volumes reaching their highest levels in five years.

Articles like “Fintech Startups Got All the VC Love in 2019” were also indicative of the general optimism fintech observers felt headed into 2020. Major merger and acquisition deals like Add to this the enthusiasm engendered by major merger and acquisition deals like Fiserv and First Data, and Worldpay and FIS added to the enthusiasm. When combined with the rise of digital banking and regtech, and the addition of 12 new fintech unicorns in the U.S., the conclusions reached by KPMG late last year in its Pulse of Fintech report for the second half of 2019 seemed perfectly sound.

“Fintech investment is well-positioned to grow in 2020,” the report noted, “particularly with the growing proliferation of fintech hubs globally, not to mention the ever-widening scope of fintech offerings.”

How have these expectations played out? Who has benefitted most? 

While fintech VC funding in the first half of the year has struggled, there are signs that this slowdown may be a function of trends that began before the pandemic hit. The second quarter – when quarantines were the case in much if not most countries – did not lack for big fintech deals; Stripe’s $600 million extension of its Series G round in April rivals the $500 million raised by Revolut in February. Micro investment platform Stash scored $112 million in funding in April, as well. Payments company Marqeta announced a $150 million investment – and $4.3 billion valuation – in May. 

Similarly, did COVID-19 cause or merely accelerate a growing VC preference for larger, more established companies over the early stage startups? KPMG was among those who predicted that 2020 would see “frothy speculative deals … increasingly replaced by high-conviction deals focused on companies with proven business models and paths to profitability or access to capabilities in adjacent areas of interest.” This view was shared in February, before the challenge of the global public health crisis had become incorporated fully by many analysts (and not just fintech). Since then, we have seen this play out in the form of new lows in deal volume and deal value for seed and Series A fintechs mentioned above.

When risk appetites are modest, it is understandable that the riskier, early stage startups will be those most likely to suffer. This so far has proven to be the case this year, as investment preferences continue a trend toward relatively more established companies. The fact that this shift had been anticipated by analysts, pre-COVID, suggests this trend is likely to endure in the near term.

Has there been significant geographic variation? Why?

As mentioned above, the only area to see significant VC investment gains in their fintech sector was Europe. In all other regions – Asia, North and South America, Australia, and Africa – both deals value and deal volume were down in the first quarter of 2020.

The profile of VC fintech investment in Europe so far this year was boosted by the $500 million raised by Revolut in Q1. Fintech is in many ways a favorite sector of the European venture capitalists; fintech has lead all others as a destination for VC investment for the past 6+ years. But there was no big Revolut/Stripe level investment in Europe in Q2, although there were a number of smaller deals in firms like U.K. ID verification company Onfido ($100 million) and Germany-based stock trading app TradeRepublic ($62 million) in April. U.K. challenger bank Monzo is also reportedly working to raise capital, as well.

One interesting development on the international fintech funding front is the continued rise of India relative to China. As reported in our weekly Finovate Global column last week, fintech investment in India bested fintech investment in China by a significant margin of more than $50 million. Indian fintechs racked in more than $330 million in funding while their Chinese counterparts raised “approximately $270 million” in capital. Deal volume in India also surpassed deal volume in China in Q1 by 37 to 26. GlobalData, the firm that conducted the analysis, credited the overall cooling of VC investment enthusiasm as disproportionately benefitting India relative to China. 

Interestingly, early stage startups were the preference of Indian investors, compared to a focus on more established fintech firms in China, where the fintech industry is arguably both more advanced and more COVID-sensitive, at least in terms of headline risk.

What are the best projections for H2 2020 and beyond?

The analysts at CB Insights have suggested that we could see a “fintech M&A” spree in the second half of the year. This would mean a resumption of a trend toward consolidation in many areas of fintech that was pronounced in 2019 and at the beginning of this year. They highlight the deals involving Plaid and Credit Karma, SoFi’s acquisition of Galileo and LendingClub’s acquisition of Radius Bank. This is another trend that could be accelerated as part of the industry’s response to the coronavirus, as hardships for some companies become opportunities for others. 

Most fintech analysts remain relatively positive about the industry and its capacity to continue to attract VC money during and after the pandemic. In its report on the fintech and the coronavirus – The Future of Disruptive and Enabling Financial Technology Post CV-19 – Finch Capital sees opportunities for lenders, and for both “agents of digitalization” and digitalization’s newest beneficiaries in mortgage and insurance. Enabling technologies like AI and critical services like cybersecurity and KYC are also likely to continue to fuel innovation and investment in fintech. Interestingly, those industries the report sees as “under pressure” – challenger banks, wealth management, and payments – are among those at the foundation of traditional fintech. This may suggest more disruption – and perhaps more consolidation – ahead for incumbents in these areas once we emerge on the other side of the current crisis.

The Not-So-Secret Secret to Getting Innovation Right

In the midst of the myriad challenges COVID-19 has thrown up for financial institutions and the people and businesses they serve, the crisis is also propeling innovation forward, proving the worth of past technological investments, and shifting the view of digital initiatives from a ‘nice-to-have’ to a ‘need-to-have’, particularly in a time of social distancing.

Against this backdrop of crisis-galvanized change, senior content producer Laura Maxwell-Bernier caught up with Sunayna Tuteja, Head of Digital Assets and Blockchain at TD Ameritrade, to talk about how she is seeing this play out, and how financial institutions should approach digital transformation to ensure relevance in the ‘new normal’.

We are also delighted to announce that Sunayna will be expanding on the themes covered in our conversation at FinovateFall in September, where she will look at the next phase of this trajectory, how changed consumer behaviors will drive further change, and what role technology will have as the dust settles.

Laura Maxwell-Bernier: Crises like COVID-19 have historically shown us how quickly technology can go from a nice-to-have to a real necessity for consumers. How are you seeing this play out in the context of COVID-19?

Sunayna Tuteja: Innovation often gains traction in times of turbulence. We are certainly witnessing that play out at massive and magnified levels in the context of COVID-19. Technologies and trends that were already in motion reached escape velocity – in scale and speed of both investment and adoption accelerating in the span of weeks vs. years. Examples include tele-medicine, online learning, and omni-channel commerce. The necessity of solving a pain point combined with a sense of urgency is activating laser-focused action that otherwise might be slowed down by inertia. In short, digital transformation is now a matter of business resiliency, representing an ultimate shift from “nice-to-have” to “need-to-have”. 

Perhaps my favorite example is the Supreme Court of the United Sates (SCOTUS), an institution steeped in tradition which until recently conducted all oral arguments in person, behind closed doors and without cameras present. They too have had to adapt and transform. Last week the SCOTUS moved to hearing arguments via tele-conference, and also opened it to the public to listen in real time. While the new format may lack the usual pomp & circumstance, it ushers in an era of transparency & inclusivity. It’s a joy to witness this epic transition. Necessity is the mother of invention, or in this case adoption!  

LMB: What similarities are you seeing in the way financial services organizations are responding to COVID to how they responded after the 2008 financial crisis? What lessons should we be drawing from this in our planning for the longer-term repercussions of COVID?

Tuteja: An imperative for institutions (private and public) to innovate is the rapidly closing delta between novelty and necessity. It wasn’t that long ago that the notion of banking and trading on your mobile device was unfathomable – mobile phones were for playing Candy Crush and Angry Birds!  But within a matter of years, driven by a shift in consumer behaviors and expectations plus the rise of Fintech, incumbents have had to evolve and for many, the nice-to-have digital venues are now need-to-have primary on-ramps to attract, engage and retain consumers. Ergo, shocks like the global financial crisis and COVID-19 further reinforce and validate that tapping into the power of nascent yet powerful technologies to break down barriers and create next generation products/client experiences must be an evergreen endeavor. You need to maintain a persistent and pervasive focus on client-centric innovation to keep up with and surpass the evolving expectations and norms. 

At TD Ameritrade, we saw this thesis come to fruition as we embarked on transitioning our employees to work from home in a matter of 10 days whilst serving millions of clients during tumultuous market conditions. The firm’s steady investments over the years in capabilities like cloud, Artificial Intelligence, messaging, mobile etc. enabled a speedy and smart transition.

LMB: What implications do you see this crisis having for the rate of adoption of digital assets – stablecoins, CBDCs and the like?

Tuteja: Digital assets are uniquely qualified for these present times. Be it as an investment vehicle akin to bitcoin’s value proposition of ‘digital gold’ or the prospect of modernizing payments, remittances, money movement or banking the unbanked/underbanked driven via stablecoins, digital wallets and CBDCs, the opportunities abound. It’s fertile ground for projects in the digital assets space, including DeFi efforts currently focused on solving these important problems. Again, this momentum is driven by heightened need as we reimagine and reconfigure our day-to-day norms in the time of/after COVID. For example: In my role leading emerging tech and partnerships, I had the opportunity to work with several Asia Tech firms in China. As someone who needs her daily dose of Starbucks, it was always amusing when I tried to pay for my drink with cash or credit card. In a society that has adopted end-to-end digital payments driven by digital wallets embedded within messaging apps like WeChat, the notion of a cash or physical credit card interaction could not be more antiquated. While the proliferation of digital wallets and QR codes have been slow to gain momentum in the U.S., current circumstances may mark a significant shift as consumers are more conscious and concerned about what they touch and who touches their card.

In this new world order, businesses will have to strike a balance between efficiency and resiliency, and as business leaders we must deliver a compounding and comparative advantage to our constituents – customers, employees, and the communities we serve. All of which will enable a good deal of change management and digital transformation to ensure long-lasting relevance. Yet in these times of hyper-change, innovation guided by the voice of the customer is always in vogue.

The confluence of these developments combined with the current macro environment garner an important inflection point in the proliferation of this nascent technology & asset class. It is therefore incumbent on the institutions that consumers know and trust, to lead with prudence and pragmatism in addressing this growing demand from consumers for education and access to digital assets, and continue the journey of bringing Wall Street to Main Street.

LMB: What does the path forward for digital transformation look like as a whole, and what do you anticipate the long-term effects on technology adoption being?

Tuteja: I’ve long maintained that anything that can be digitized will be digitized, it’s a matter of timing and led by the consumer, with technology as the enabler vs. the driver of change. An evergreen approach is key because the timing and pace of adoption is often influenced by external factors as we are witnessing at the moment. I’m reminded of examples like Webvan and Pets.com, which are often cited as failures of the dot.com bubble. Yet their contemporaries, Instacart and Chewy.com, are gaining tremendous adoption today. As an organization, you don’t want be caught off guard and unprepared, hence a persistent evaluation of the evolving consumer needs combined with a “perpetual beta” mindset in deploying new technologies is critical.

While starting with the technology can be alluring, it can lead to “shiny object syndrome” and innovation theater without much value for the end constituents. The not-so-secret secret sauce is an obsession with customer-focused innovation. A myopic focus on solving gnarly problems to deliver meaningful value by breaking down barriers that enable consumers to take charge of their financial future with confidence. If that’s powered by blockchain and AI, great, but the tech ought be secondary to the problem statement. The litmus test we apply is: What is the problem we are solving? Why is this problem worth solving? And why are we or is this tech uniquely qualified to solve this problem? It’s always better to be solving the hard problems and shipping pain-killers vs. vitamins. A strong anchor to the problem statement is also useful in maintaining focus on investing in, experimenting with and operationalizing new capabilities while averting the trappings of fads or fear of missing out.

In this new world order, businesses will have to strike a balance between efficiency and resiliency, which will enable a good deal of change management and digital transformation to ensure long-lasting relevance. Yet in these times of hyper-change, innovation guided by the voice of the customer is always in vogue.

A Journey to Purposeful Fin(tech)

The following is a guest post written by Theo Lau, Founder of Unconventional Ventures, Public Speaker, Writer, Podcast Host of One Vision.

2020 did not turn out the way we expected. With a tsunami of megadeals being announced in the first few weeks of the year, many predicted that it would yet be another banner year for fintech funding and M&A activities.

Then came the pandemic. And the economy came crashing down like Jenga blocks.

As COVID-19 has destabilized pretty much every aspect of our lives – companies big and small are preparing themselves for the long-term impact of the extended shutdown and economic downturn. With jobless claims hitting unprecedented levels, what do consumers need the most? How will financial services react and what roles do fintechs play?

Does the world need (yet) another metal credit card or another investing app? Do we really want to talk to our virtual assistant to figure out how much money we spent at Starbucks last month?

A new normal – and a different world

The U.S. unemployment rate hit 14.7 percent this month — a devastation not seen since the Great Depression. According to MarketWatch , “as many as 43 million new jobless claims have been filed since the pandemic began in mid-March, using unadjusted figures. That is one of every four people in the U.S. labor force.”

Goldman Sachs projected that the unemployment rate in the second quarter could hit 25%.

The health crisis has laid bare the structural inequalities that we face in the society, for those who are poor, non-white, women, and gig workers. According to the Washington Post , “20 percent of Hispanic adults and 16 percent of blacks report being laid off or furloughed since the outbreak began, compared with 11 percent of whites and 12 percent of workers of other races.”

Unsurprisingly, 70 percent of the people in line at a food bank had never been in a food line in their lives, according to Feeding America, the largest US hunger relief organization.

With so many who have yet to recover from the Great Recession, the added stress from the current downturn is unthinkable. How do we begin to think about recovery, when so many are in need? How do we build not only financial value, but also economic value? How do we, as an industry, put our focus back on the human experience? It is time to refocus on what matters.

Back to the basics

Give cash – fast

First and foremost, we need to get money in the hands of those who need it the most. Propel, a New York-based fintech startup and maker of Fresh EBT app, widely used by millions of SNAP households, is doing exactly just that. In partnership with non-profit GiveDirectly, the team delivers $1000 direct cash to 100,000 low income families in dire need of assistance amid the
COVID-19 pandemic. Meanwhile, Citizens Bank of Edmond, a community bank in Oklahoma, and Chime, a challenger bank, have both offered consumers early access to government relief.

Expand digital offerings

With more than half the world’s population in some form of lockdown, online and mobile banking adoption has increased dramatically for both incumbents and challengers. My favorite story is the one from PayPal, who reported that people over 50 were the company’s fastest growingsegment from March to April.

At a time when consumers are looking for safer and more convenient options to bank – this is the perfect opportunity to double-down and expand digital footprint.

  1. Be where your customers are. Engage with them via digital channels; augment capabilities of conversation interface and leverage online communities to share information and provide assistance.
  2. Create self-help or “how to” guides to walk users through different features of the digital offerings. And keep in mind accessibility needs – ensure that the design is inclusive of the demographics you are serving.
  3. Put yourself in your customers’ shoes. What information would they be looking for and what services would they need the most? Do they know what bills will be due – and if they would have sufficient funds to cover the expenses?

When deploying new digital solutions, design the experience around the end user – your customer – by having a deep understanding on what they want to be able to do with their money, not by what your legacy processes have dictated.

Improve long term financial security

While COVID has accelerated the move towards digital, financial institutions have the opportunity to become heroes in helping consumers tackle financial challenges and achieve long term financial well-being, beyond managing day-to-day transactions.

According to estimates by TransUnion, nearly 15 million credit card accounts and almost three million auto loans are in “financial hardship” programs. Using insights drawn from consumers’ financial activities, financial institutions can work with them to find best possible solutions to
navigate the outstanding debt. Fintechs such as BillShark can also be employed to help bank consumers trim monthly subscriptions.

Now is the time to help consumers better understand their full financial picture, and offer guidance on next steps forward – beyond offering insights on past behavior. Take into account their life stage, not age – and the financial obligations they have.

Another untapped opportunity is financial caregiving for loved ones. With older adults being physically isolated at homes, adult children need ways to help their parents manage finances. But beyond paying bills, consumers can leverage fintech solutions such as those offered by Eversafe, which can analyze activities across financial institutions and help protect their assets
from financial exploitation.

(You are) Always on my mind

It is as much the title of a song from Pet Shop Boys, as it is what firms should be telling their customers. As the saying goes: Actions speak louder than words. How companies treat their employees and their customers during moments of crisis speak volume – to their true values.

Now is the time for incumbents to partner with fintechs and offer the best-in-class solutions for consumers – as we slowly emerge from the crisis and navigate towards an uncertain future. We must turn our focus back at the core of what financial services is about: It is time for purposeful fintech – one that uses technology to do good – and serve the true needs of the society – beyond a shiny user interface.