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Monetization of a marketplace in the financial industry - Make your idea profitable!

Marketplaces are on the rise! A digital marketplace is an online platform, where different third-parties connect and supply and demand can be matched. This supply/demand can be a specific product or service, but can also facilitate a full customer journey, by matching products and services of multiple vendors for each step of the journey (e.g. a customer journey of going on holiday can include flight tickets, travel insurance, hotel reservation, car rental…​).

Marketplaces are however not new. Newspapers, shopping malls, auction places, travel agencies…​ have been creating marketplaces for centuries. The revolution of the internet allows however to scale-out a digital marketplace exponentially, while keeping costs relatively flat and make it 24/7 available across the whole world.

Digital marketplaces are however not all success stories. Less than 10 percent of start-up digital marketplaces will become profitable.
This poor success rate is mainly caused by 3 factors:

  • Fierce competition: competition in this business is huge, e.g. in the peer-to-peer lending space in the UK alone there are over 100 different platforms (cfr. http://www.p2pmoney.co.uk/companies.htm).

  • Difficult to achieve critical mass: a marketplace platform (like a social network) is all about achieving critical mass. Once you have the critical mass, the network effect attracts automatically more market participants (e.g. higher number of consumers attracts more producers and vice versa).

  • Difficult to monetize a marketplace: in the B2C space customers are typically not willing to pay for the services provided by a marketplace (being used to impressive digital services like Facebook, Twitter, Google…​ at no costs), while in the B2B space there is a willingness to pay, but volumes (as often niche services) are often too small to become really profitable. Furthermore, monetization can be very fragile. As a digital marketplace usually intermediates between a producer and a consumer, it is often difficult to avoid these parties taking direct contact and thus eliminating the marketplace in the fee-generating transaction.

In the banking and insurance sector these threats are no different. FinTechs are flooding the market with new digital platforms and marketplaces, which try to disrupt the traditional financial services industry. In response to this evolution, the incumbents also setup new platforms to compete with these disruptors, which leads to even more competition in the space. Nonetheless while in several other industries a consolidation to a few international marketplaces has already taken place (Amazon, eBay, Uber, Lift, Deliveroo…​), marketplaces in the financial sector are still very local and immature, providing enormous opportunities for innovative offers.

Each of the above pitfalls for becoming profitable with a digital marketplace can be addressed:

  • Create a competitive proposition

    • Excellent customer service, i.e. fluent user experience, good technical performance, high availability…​

    • Excellent security

    • Clear governance conditions protecting intellectual property and privacy

    • Competitive and dynamic pricing (e.g. increase pricing when peak demand, discount pricing in periods of low demand, adapt pricing based on customer segmentation…​)

    • Personalized services and products, adapted real-time to the customer needs

    • …​

  • Achieve critical mass fast via significant initial investments:

    • Aggressive investment to build out the marketplace as quickly as possible (short time to market-fit)

    • Aggressive marketing to attract initial market participants

    • Free offerings or heavy discounting to attract initial customers (offer capabilities for free for a fixed term or limited usage)

    • Partner up with players in the market, with large established customer base (e.g. bank, telecom player…​)

  • Find an appropriate way for monetizing the marketplace

A marketplace can be monetized in different ways (and of course any hybrid model is also possible):

  • Charge producers

  • Charge consumers

  • Monetize through a 3rd party, i.e. typically income gained through featured ads, affiliate deals, data monetization (= selling collected marketing data) or cross-selling opportunities.

When charging producers or consumers different models exist as well:

  • Revenue-based model: the marketplace is paid a percentage of the revenue/profit the producer/consumer makes. A typical example is to identify the potential savings for a customer by offering cheaper services/products and taking a percentage of the savings for the customer. This is an example of a revenue sharing or pay-by-performance monetization model.

  • Commission model: a percentage of every transaction that takes place on the marketplace is charged. This is the most popular monetization model, as it is the most scalable and solves the chicken-or-the-egg problem, i.e. as users only pay once a transaction is done, it bothers them less if the marketplace doesn’t have a critical mass yet. The main challenge of this model is the ability of producers/consumers to match on the marketplace, but take the transaction offline to avoid the commission. This can be avoided by tedious audit rules (e.g. not allowed to post or exchange phone numbers or email addresses on the platform), but these are difficult to enforce and reduce usability of the platform. Instead the platform should provide a number of value-added services (e.g. invoicing services, insurance services, tracking services…​), making it more profitable and convenient for both parties to transact via the platform, even when considering the commission.
    Even though this model seems easy, there are still dozens of decisions to take when choosing for this model:

    • Type of transaction fee:

      • Selling or sales fees

      • Bidding fees for auction marketplaces

      • Lead fees (pay to view the details or an individual deal)

      • …​

    • Type of payment of the commission:

      • Direct payment: parties pay directly to each other and marketplace invoices on a regular basis the calculated commission

      • Aggregated payment: parties pay to the marketplace and marketplace pays out the other parties on a regular basis

      • Split payment: the payment is automatically split in 2 payments, i.e. payment to other party and payment to the platform for the commission

    • Fee calculation:

      • Flat fee or percentage on the transaction or a mix of both

      • Global fee for whole marketplace or different per category or per party

    • Evolution of the fee: the model of the fee calculation will likely evolve over time. A new marketplace will typically work with a percentage-based global fee across the marketplace, but after scaling and consolidation will likely evolve to a more complex pricing strategy.

  • Membership/Subscription Model: in this model parties pay a monthly or yearly fee for a certain set of features (cfr. LinkedIn Premium Subscription model). The main advantage of this model are the recurring revenues, but at the flip side this model requires a strong convincing of users to buy a membership. Especially for a young marketplace, it might be hard to convince new users to pay, without the assurance of finding value on the platform. To resolve this issue, the freemium model is often used. In this model, the core offering of the platform is free, but users have to pay for the premium offering (or sometimes the platform offers a free trial and becomes paying after that). Idea is to hook users via the free model, after which they will be willing to pay a subscription fee. Biggest hurdle with this freemium model is the tendency to have a huge user base of non-paying (often occasional) users, compared to a small percentage of paying users. The effort and costs spent on the non-paying users should be carefully monitored.
    Also, for this model a number of decisions are required:

    • 1 pricing plan or foresee different plans with different features

    • Options to switch between different plans (continuous, min. X months in between…​)

    • Incentives when paying for longer periods at once (e.g. 15% discount for yearly plan versus monthly plan)

    • A one-time fee (sign up, registration or onboarding fee) can also be considered under this membership model. Potentially even with the possibility to act as an equity-partner for the marketplace.

  • Sponsored products/services: this model allows producers to pay for a sponsored listing, which appears more visual (e.g. always on top of overview screens) on the marketplace. It is a very flexible monetization strategy, which also scales well, but may negatively affect your customers' experience

  • Listing or publishing fees: this model asks a producer to pay directly a fee for the listing they place (even if no transaction done yet on the listing). Like for the commission model, the fee can be a flat fee or percentage on the listing value and can be a global fee or different per category or per party. The model can be interesting when supply contains a large number of items, on which rarely a transaction gets done.

  • In the future, micro-payments might give even more options (e.g. paying a fraction of a euro for each view on an item). When feasibility for micro-payments has been resolved, this could even more enlarge the scala of options a marketplace can choose from for their monetization strategy.

    It should also not be forgotten that - especially in the financial services industry - not every marketplace should be directly profitable (i.e. can be indirectly). Marketplaces in which incumbent players of the financial industry are involved, sometimes don’t need to be profitable, when there are other gains for the founding party/parties:

    • Increase revenues for the founder(s) by synergies (i.e. synergies of selling other products/services)

    • Attracting more customers

    • Improving customer relation, thus improving customer retention for the founder(s)

    • Branding as innovative company

    • Work together for cost reduction

    From the above described models it should be clear, that there is ¨no "one size fits all" approach. The major marketplaces successfully combine two or more monetization models. For example, Amazon successfully uses the commission and subscription models, and Etsy takes a listing fee and a percentage from the transaction (= commission model).

    The starting point for a monetization strategy should however always be a simulation of the value-creation of the platform for the producer and consumer. Once you have a clear view on what value the marketplace creates for a producer/consumer, it becomes much easier to determine a pricing strategy, which allows all parties (producers, consumers and the marketplace itself) to gain from using the platform.

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Joris Lochy

Joris Lochy

Product Manager

Monizze

Member since

05 Apr 2017

Location

Brussels

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37

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This post is from a series of posts in the group:

Innovation in Financial Services

A discussion of trends in innovation management within financial institutions, and the key processes, technology and cultural shifts driving innovation.


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