AN AIR OF hype habitually surrounds the founders of startups and their venture-capital backers: everyone is an evangelist for their latest project. But even allowing for that zeal, something astonishing is going on in fintech. Much more money is pouring into it than usual. In the second quarter of the year alone it attracted $34bn in venture-capital funding, a record, reckons CB Insights, a data provider (see chart 1). One in every five dollars invested by venture capital this year has gone into fintech.
Deals are also proceeding at a frenetic pace. PitchBook, another data firm, reckons that venture-capital firms have together sold $70bn-worth of stakes in fintech startups so far this year, nearly twice as much as in the whole of 2020, itself a bumper year (see chart 2). These included 32 public listings, a first. Fintechs took part in 372 mergers and acquisitions in the first quarter, including 21 of $1bn or more.
In the past few weeks Visa, a credit-card firm, has paid €1.8bn ($2.1bn) for Tink, a Swedish payments platform. JPMorgan Chase, America’s largest bank, has said it will buy OpenInvest, which provides sustainable-investment tools—its third fintech acquisition in six months. Upstarts, such as Raisin and Deposit Solutions, two German platforms that link banks with savers, are merging. Others are going public. On July 7th a listing in London valued Wise, a money-transfer firm, at $11bn. Other recent or planned multi-billion initial public offerings (IPOs) include that of Marqeta (a debit-card firm), Robinhood (a no-fee broker) and SoFi (an online lender).
This blizzard of activity reflects demand from investors as they hunt for juicy returns and as the digital surge in finance takes off. But it also reveals something more profound. Once the insurgents of finance, fintech firms are becoming part of the establishment.
The current investment boom has several novel features beyond its scale. For a start, it is increasingly focused on the biggest firms, says Xavier Bindel of JPMorgan. Smaller me-toos and startups with business models that have struggled during the pandemic are no longer in favour. The first quarter of 2021 saw the most funding rounds ever for private fintech startups valued above $100m; the median round raised $10m, a quarter more than in the same period last year.
The location of activity has changed, too. Five years ago the fintech story centred on America and China. Today, Europe is catching up. A funding round in June valued Klarna, a Swedish “buy now, pay later” startup, at $46bn, making it the world’s second-most valuable private fintech firm. Revolut, a London-based neobank, is reportedly in talks to raise up to $1bn, which would value it at $30bn. Firms in Latin America and Asia, especially when led by Stanford-educated or Silicon-Valley-trained founders, have become magnets for investors. Nubank, Brazil’s biggest digital-only bank, for instance, is worth $30bn.
The craze also extends beyond payments. A surge in savings in rich countries in the past year has boosted so-called “wealth-tech” startups, such as online brokers and investment advisers. Insurance-tech firms received $1.8bn through 82 deals globally in the first quarter of this year. Lending has proved trickier to disrupt—perhaps owing to regulators’ firmer grip on this area of finance—except when it crosses over into payments, as illustrated by the rise of Klarna and its rivals.
This broadening out points to one explanation for the explosion in funding: the huge growth in the market for fintech offerings during the pandemic. Consumers and companies adjusted with rapidity and ease to the closure of bank branches and shops and the resulting digitisation of commerce and finance. Many of their new habits are likely to stick.
Factors specific to fintech are also behind the big bang. Most of today’s fintech stars are not overnight successes but were set up in the early 2010s. Since then their user numbers have swollen to the many millions and they are nearing profitability. These have become big enough to appear on the radar screens of late-stage venture-capital and private-equity firms, such as America-based TCV (which has backed Trade Republic, a German variant of Robinhood), Japan’s SoftBank (a recent investor in Klarna) and Sweden’s EQT (which backed Mollie, a Dutch payments firm, last month).
Moreover, some institutional investors—such as asset managers (BlackRock), sovereign-wealth funds (Singapore’s GIC) and pension funds (Canada’s Pension Plan Investment Board)—have made a lot of money by snapping up shares in big tech firms in recent years. These are now trying to gain an edge by investing in promising startups before they go public.
The huge cheques from these investors come just as fintech firms are looking to write the next chapter. Most startups were created to “unbundle” finance: to carve out niches where they could offer a better service than the banks. Now, however, most successful firms are rebundling, adding new products in a bid to become platforms. Acquisitions provide a handy shortcut; their high valuations mean the big firms can often snap up smaller ones on the cheap by swapping equity.
Stripe, the most valuable private fintech firm in the West, is a good example of the sector’s coming of age. It was set up a decade ago to help firms accept payments online. Now worth $95bn, it also offers services ranging from tax planning to fraud prevention. That breadth was partly achieved through acquisitions; since October it has bought three other firms.
A similar logic animates credit-card giants, which are trying to hedge against innovations in online payments; and the banks, which see fintech as a way to plug gaps in their digital offerings, cut costs, and diversify away from lending. Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan are bringing lots of smaller acquisitions under the umbrella of new, versatile consumer apps. As a consequence, the distinction between fintech and traditional banking could eventually blur, predicts Nik Milanovic of Google Pay, the tech firm’s payments arm.
Swipe right All this splurging and merging also carries risks. One is that the hefty prices paid for fintechs prove unjustified. Visa is buying Tink at a price that is 60 times the startup’s annual revenue; Wise is valued at around 20 times its revenues and 285 times its profits. Banks in particular may find out about promising fintech firms only once they are too expensive.
Another risk is that competition and innovation are stifled. Founders of startups that have been acquired often leave at the end of their “vesting” period—the minimum amount of time they must stick around for before they can sell their shares, usually one to three years. The culture that allowed a firm to thrive could then wither. Fintechs bought by banks in particular could struggle: after a deal, cultures can clash; customers often leave. Most neobanks acquired by old ones, such as Simple (bought by BBVA, a Spanish bank), have been either shut down or sold.
Nevertheless, one thing seems clear. Fintechs are inexorably gaining critical mass: their value has risen to $1.1trn, equivalent to 10% of the value of the global banking and payments industry, and up from 4% in 2018. Prices may be stretched today and some firms may flop, but in the long run it seems likely that this share will only rise further.
Guardian Capital Group has signed a deal to acquire a 60% majority interest in the Ontario-based private wealth manager Rae & Lipskie Investment Counsel (The RaeLipskie Partnership).
Financial terms of the agreement were not disclosed. The deal is expected to close in the third quarter of this year, subject to regulatory approvals.
Current employees of The RaeLipskie Partnership will retain the remaining 40% ownership interest in the firm. It has assets under management (AuM) of over C$1.1 bn.
Guardian president and CEO George Mavroudis said: “We’re delighted to partner with such a well-respected firm and management team as we continue to grow our presence in the private client wealth space.
“This transaction will add over $1bn in assets under management to our Private Wealth segment and further extend our regional coverage in key markets.”
The RaeLipskie Partnership president and COO Brian Lipskie added: “Like Guardian, we have always believed in serving our clients with a customer-first and community-based approach to everything we do. We look forward to continuing to do so, but with the added strength and stability that comes from partnering with Guardian.”
Founded in 1962, Toronto-based Guardian specialises in wealth and investment management.
The firm provides a range of investment management solutions to institutional and private wealth clients through its subsidiaries and offers wealth management services to financial advisors in its national mutual fund dealer, securities dealer and insurance distribution network.
As of 31 March 2022, the firm had C$53.1bn of assets under management and C$30.5bn of assets under administration. It also managed a proprietary investment portfolio with a fair market value of C$741m at end of this March.
Toronto-based investment bank Origin Merchant Partners is expanding into the U.S. market by acquiring Chicago-based InterOcean Advisors, creating a firm with more than 40 bankers in five cities.
Origin and InterOcean advise mid-sized public and private companies on mergers, acquisitions and raising capital, and are among a number of boutique investment dealers created in recent years by veterans of larger banks or professional services firms. The two employee-owned firms worked together on a number of cross-border transactions prior to merging.
“We are excited to join forces with InterOcean,” Jim Meloche, Origin’s managing partner, said in a press release. “With its deal and sector expertise, coupled with an extensive network of industry and capital provider relationships, the InterOcean team will enable us to better serve our US and Canadian clients across a range of sectors.”
Two former leaders of Ernst & Young’s corporate finance team for automotive, building products and other industrial clients – Bill Doepke and Bob Wujtowicz – founded InterOcean in 2006. They named the firm after a Chicago business newspaper launched in the 1800s with a “pro-American industry stance” that became a touchstone publication for readers across the U.S. Midwest. Both founders are joining the merged firm.
Going forward, the company will be known as Origin, with offices in Toronto, Montreal, Chicago, Atlanta and Denver. The two investment banks did not release financial terms of the transaction.
Last year, Origin welcomed veteran investment banker Darren Williams as a principal in its Toronto office. He also began his career at E&Y, then went on to become an adviser to industrial companies and leader of the team that covers the sector for Origin. Mr. Williams said: “The combination of our capabilities will expand on the benefits we bring to our industrials clients, deepening our talent pool and growing our network of key relationships in the sector.”
Over the past two years – during the COVID-19 pandemic – Origin and InterOcean have completed more than 25 transactions, advising entrepreneurs and companies on divestitures, acquisitions and capital raising.
Boutique advisory firms such as Origin have successfully pitched their services as conflict-free alternative to bank-owned investment dealers, which earn fees from lending and underwriting equity offerings along with providing advice on transactions. A number of Origin’s founders started their careers at the investment banking arm of CIBC, then moved to independent dealers.
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Investment platform Qooore, which touts itself as a social investment platform for Gen Z, has rebranded as Qure.Finance.
Subsequently, the firm also launched paper trading in its iOS app to allow users to carry out risk-free trades based on insights from “finfluencers”.
Qure.Finance will also allow users to practice trading approximately 10,000 securities, including US stocks and ETFs, as well as more than 20 cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin and Ethereum.
The firm will provide each user with $100,000 in virtual money that they can be used to make simulated trades on its app based on real-life market quotes.
The move is expected to help users enhance their trading skills without risking their money or paying fees.
Qure.Finance CEO Igor Sheremet said that paper trading will help to enhance both the financial literacy and trading skills of the community.
Sheremet said: “Today marks a new chapter in our company’s development, as we launch paper trading under our new brand name.
“Thanks to paper trading, our users will not only be able to receive trading insights from leading content creators, but also test them out in real life, free of charge, with no financial risks attached – all within a sleek and user-friendly interface.
“We are making investing solutions more accessible to everyone, regardless of their level of skills or financial resources.”
The company plans to paper trading functionality for Android users in the coming months.
The San Francisco-based firm was founded in 2020 to provide social-media style trading insights from global financial influencers to young investors.
This April, women-focused robo advisory platform Ellevest secured an investment of $53m in a Series B funding round to expand its offerings and product solutions.
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