What Venture Capitalists Predict in the World of Fintech

April 27th, 2017

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Fintech is no longer the enemy of banking. While much of the talk among fintech companies just a year or two ago was that they wanted to disrupt the dinosaurs of banking, now the tone has changed, said several speakers at the FinXTech Annual Summit Wednesday in New York City.

“I’ve seen a slight change in the business model, where it’s now about —How can we partner with the banks?’’’ said Jim Hale, the founding partner of FTV Capital, a venture capital firm. “The tone has changed.”

The event gathered more than 200 entrepreneurs and bankers together to discuss partnerships, financial technology and trends. Hale was one of several venture capitalists at the conference giving his perspective on future trends in financial technology and the challenges of partnering with banks.

In fact, many of the biggest banks, some of them in attendance, such as Wells Fargo & Co. and Citigroup, have started venture capital arms to invest in fintech startups, so they can learn and influence the direction of future technology.

The most active banks investing in fintech startups are Banco Santander, Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, Mizuho Financial Group and JPMorgan Chase & Co., according to a new report from CBInsights, which tracks financial technology investments globally.

The report said global venture capital funding and deal activity fell slightly in the first quarter compared to a year ago, but rose compared to the fourth quarter of 2016, a trend that venture capitalist Ryan Gilbert, a partner at Propel Venture Partners, said was likely the result of uncertainty brought on by Brexit and the U.S. presidential election.

There were 226 venture-backed investments in financial technology companies globally in the first quarter of 2017, receiving $2.7 billion in funding, compared to 256 investments and $4.9 billion in the first quarter of 2016, according to CBInsights. In the U.S., there were 90 deals financed in the first quarter with $1.1 billion in cash, compared to 137 in the first quarter of last year at $1.8 billion.

Hale estimated that 90 percent of fintech companies focus directly on consumers, but he is more interested in funding solutions that solve the back-office problems and infrastructure needs of banks. He is also interested in solutions that manage data quicker, faster and cheaper than current solutions do.

Gregg Schoenberg, the founder of Westcott Capital, said he sees opportunity to make asset management more efficient, since the cost structure in these organizations is high. Banks also have a tremendous amount of data on their customers and could use that more effectively. Few other industries are required by law to collect as much data on their customers as banks are, which have to meet know-your-customer and anti-money laundering mandates, he said.

For examples of how technology can create more efficient processes, banks might look to successful companies such as Domino’s Pizza, which has a high stock price not based on the quality of its pizza, but by its distribution system, Schoenberg said. The company has a robotics division and 17 different ways to order a pizza, he added.

Gilbert is looking to invest in emerging technologies such as voice recognition and artificial intelligence, enabling capabilities like having conversations anytime with your “banker” in the form of a chat bot, for example.

“That’s really rethink and rebuild,” he said. Gilbert is often more excited about innovation happening outside the U.S., such as Singapore, a country with a lot of wealth and a stable, central regulator, and where banks are using chat bots and voice recognition software.

In the U.S., there are more hurdles, and multiple regulatory bodies for the banking industry, including federal and state agencies. Just yesterday, the Conference of State Bank Supervisors sued the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency over the latter’s proposal to regulate fintech firms.

Still, Gilbert is not pessimistic. “Now is not the time to give up,’’ he said in an interview yesterday. “We have 5,800 banks and there are a lot of opportunities to turn these institutions into great things. Technology is developing at such a rapid pace. The best is yet to come.”

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Naomi Snyder is the editor for Bank Directoran information resource for directors and officers of financial companies. You can follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/naomisnyder or get connected on LinkedIn.