We asked Bruce Wallace, chief digital officer of Silicon Valley Bank, whether a fintech bubble is brewing.
Seldom can you have a conversation these days about fintech without the “bubble” question popping up.
Here’s my take: The bubble might be the wrong metaphor to describe the current fintech environment. A bubble leaves the strong impression that it is going to burst and everything deflates. We appear to be in a slightly different cycle with the new fintech models.
Fintech, in fact, has been around for more than a decade and over the years has seen a modest amount of venture investments. However, since 2014, fintech venture investment has grown 3x, driven by a new wave of virtualization of financial services by technology companies. At the same time, we have seen a decline of consumer confidence in the traditional providers following the financial crisis.
What’s different now? The new fintech technology startups are now mostly selling their solutions directly to consumers and businesses instead of selling to the traditional FI channel.
The increased efficiencies are changing customer expectations and shaping the future of financial services.
What happens in 2016 will determine longer-term valuations of the new fintech business models. Over the next 12 to 15 months, as recent and upcoming exits play out, we’ll likely get better insights into which new business models are overvalued, poised to grow into their valuations over time or prepped for mass-market disruption.
At Silicon Valley Bank, we are paying close attention to the different fintech models, venture capital investments and exits.
• Valuations: Among the fintech startups, there are about 35 unicorns (valued at $1 billion or higher) and another 35 or so at the $500 million-$1 billion level. Payments companies and alternative or marketplace lenders account for about two-thirds of these unicorns.
• VC investment level: Although a major portion of fintech investment dollars have been targeted at lending and consumer payments models, we see other major fintech sectors gaining more investments and traction, including insurance, personal financial management, retail investment platforms and commercial cross border payments.
SVB took a survey of 100 participants at our November Fintech Mashup event in New York City and the majority of respondents (55 percent) said that financial technology companies are funded appropriately. In fact, only 17 percent believed that it is currently over-funded.
• Exits: Many commentators already have tried to define the future by looking at a small number of exits, notably the IPOs of Lending Club, OnDeck and Square. If you at look at the fintech IPO landscape compared to other disruptive models, we are in the very early days. Again, it will take another year or two to get an appropriate sample to determine the valuation market for these new fintech models.
However, crystal balls are cloudy, in part because fintech cannot escape the macro forces that drive overall VC investment and public market trends. Still, we believe that even with a potential slowdown in venture investing, the overall industry will continue to garner a significant amount of attention for several reasons:
• The size of the market is simply massive. Global financial services are a multi-trillion dollar market. The rapid virtualization of these services through technology is having a profound effect. In the not-so-distant future, seeing consumers going to online P2P marketplace platforms for their credit needs and leveraging robo-advisor software for investment advice might become the norm instead of visiting a local branch.
• Assessing the fintech disruption models that are gaining traction, common themes are emerging. The new models are focused on removing friction from legacy processes, providing 24/7 access without logistical limitations, near real-time decisions, and most importantly, a new level of refreshing transparency for customers. This is fundamentally changing customers’ expectations of financial services.
The new wave of fintech models is only in the early stage, but it carries the potential to redefine the entire ecosystem of global financial services, creating new technology solutions that might forever change the financial services landscape. 2016 will be a pivotal year to watch how the fintech revolution evolves.
Bruce Wallace was named chief digital officer of Silicon Valley Bank in November 2015. From 2011-2015, he served as the bank’s chief operations officer.