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Wall Street to Exiting Fintechs: Show Us the Profits

What does the fintech landscape look like for startups in 2020? Among all the forecasts and predictions we’ve been reading and re-reading, is reporting from the Wall Street Journal that suggests that fintech startups seeking successful exits may face tougher challenges in 2020 than in 2019.

As the Journal’s Yuliya Chernova reports, in 2019, only three U.S.-based, VC-backed, fintech startups went public: Bill.com, Oportum, and Sezzle – two of which are Finovate alums. Even so, this tops the previous year’s total of two such firms: EverQuote and Green Sky.

“Venture investors value startups on growth, but Wall Street wants to see profits,” Chernova begins. She goes on to note how observers and analysts alike are citing the failure of WeWork and the stock struggles of newly-public companies like Uber and Lyft as indications that the affection – and capital – that VCs poured into these tech innovators may not be shared by an increasingly cynical Wall Street investing community.

As Finovate Senior Research Analyst Julie Muhn noted in a post titled “M&A is the New IPO,” last summer, there are a wealth of reasons why fintechs have found successful exits more challenging at this end of the decade. She wrote that between the availability of VC funding, and M&A opportunities on the one hand, and the cost and “bad track record” of fintech IPOs on the other, a growing number of fintechs are figuring out that it is often better to saddle up with a fellow traveler than to try and “go it alone” in the public markets.

Writing in the Digital Banking Report, publisher Jim Marous summed it up: “(W)hy would successful fintechs, who appear to have a bottomless pit of funding at their disposal, subject themselves to the massive scrutiny that comes from going public? Fintech firms don’t see a slowdown of the funding fire hose and have no desire to lose control of their vision.”

Just to get a sense of the flow from that “funding fire hose,” CB Insights reported in December that fintech startups last year raked in more than $24 billion in funding through Q3 of 2019. This represents a gain of 500% since 2014. The firm’s Global Fintech Report Q3 2019, highlights the record-setting fundraising by Southeast Asian fintechs, and notes that the $12.9 billion raised by U.S. fintechs through Q3 2019 had already topped the previous year’s full-year tally of $12.5 billion. European fintechs similarly outperformed, bringing in $5.1 billion in VC funding through Q3 2019 compared to $3.8 billion in all of 2018.

And for those who feel as if this fintech funding flow is evidence of an unsustainable bubble rather than healthy – if not vigorous – growth, fintech analyst and Forbes senior contributor Ron Shevlin suggests looking closer.

“Ignore the pessimistic view,” he wrote. “Dismissing opportunities for further fintech investment is short-sighted … The margin opportunity in banking today isn’t necessarily coming up with a ‘better’ bank, but instead, helping to improve banks profitability. Opportunities for fintech startups abound within banks.”‘

For a look at the recent capital-raising accomplishments of our own Finovate alums, check out our year-end feature, Finovate Alums Raise More than $3 Billion in 2019.