Banks Play Growing Role in Funding Fintech

By August 22, 2016Bitcoin Business
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Fintech is reaching a new level of maturity, and it is showing in the money backing it.

The technology movement that promised to displace — or at least challenge — the norms of banking is moving beyond the garage stage and is being taken seriously, but investors are getting choosier, too.

The $2.5 billion in venture capital investments in the second quarter were nearly half of what they were in the first quarter and a year earlier, according to a report issued Wednesday by KPMG and CB Insights titled "The Pulse of Fintech."

Here are a few takeaways from the report, along with commentary from leaders in the sector.

The Drop

Given the strong first quarter, 2016 is still on track to top the $14.6 billion raised last year. Yet CB Insights and KPMG say the second-quarter drop is a mix of macroeconomic issues and sector-specific growing pains.

"Given global market uncertainties associated with the U.K. Brexit vote and its initial impact, the approaching U.S. presidential election, ongoing concerns about valuations and significant headwinds in the marketplace lending space, it was not surprising to see VC investors taking a pause, particularly from making significant fintech mega-deals," wrote the leaders of the KPMG fintech practice leaders in the report.

Additionally, others say that although venture capital investors remain fixated on fintech, they are tightening their standards. "VC has become more realistic about what to expect from startups, it seems," said Manuel Silva, a partner at Santander InnoVentures. "Investment goes to companies that share a similar vision, understand how to execute on their business plan and manage resources adequately,"

Matt Wong, a senior analyst at CB Insights, agreed.

"We are definitely seeing venture capital paying closer attention to plans. There is more scrutiny," Wong said.

Wong also noted that a lack of exit avenues — such as initial public offerings or acquisitions — might be clogging the system. Essentially, VCs might be waiting to read the tea leaves on a major cash-out.

The Suits Save the Day

While venture capital investments are down, the share of the pie coming from corporate venture capital sources, such as those funded by banks, increased to the highest point since CB Insights began tracking such corporate investments, Wong said.

From the second quarter of 2015 through the first quarter of this year, the money coming from corporates was less than 25% of the total. In the second quarter of this year, that figure increased to almost a third.

Both supply and demand could be fueling that, observers say. More banks are funneling money to fintech as they look for potential strategic advantages. For instance, Santander recently added $100 million to the fund it began in 2014.

"There is more money available from corporate VCs," Silva said. "Firms that might find less receptiveness with traditional VC funds are also appreciating more what corporate VCs bring to the table."

With 11 fintech investments between the second quarter of last year and this year, Goldman Sachs is the most active bank investor. Santander and Citigroup follow with seven investments each.

David Sica, a principal at Nyca Partners, the third-most-active venture capital firm globally according to the KPMG/CB Insights study, says the increased involvement from corporate investors speaks to the evolution of fintech.

"Two years ago the dialogue was very much about bank replacements," Sica said. "For bitcoin, robos, marketplace lenders it was about 'the new place you're going to bank,' 'the replacement,' 'the-bank-killer.' Now the market is interested in newer types of products [and] how they can partner with banks to deliver that. You're also seeing a very different attitude from the banking side. They're paying attention, knowledgeable about areas, allocating to make venture investments with the intent of partnering and building products with these new companies."

Fat in the Middle

It is tough out there for new entrants. The study found that seed capital deals as a percentage of the total deals hit a five-quarter low with 29%. In previous quarters, it had ranged from 32% to 35%.

Silva said that decline likely related to the increased focus on "companies that are more proven."

"In fintech, 'proven' doesn't just mean the ability to generate revenue," he said. "It also means understanding the unique challenges of the financial services industry: understanding sales cycles, having the right processes, or having a sound regulatory strategy. Industry experience matters."

The flip side of that, Wong said, is that more investors are eyeing early-stage companies. For instance, he noted that the microinvesting platform Stash announced Wednesday it had raised $9.25 million in series A funding, about six months after it announced $3 million in seed funding. Both rounds were led by Goodwater Capital, Valar Ventures and Entrée Capital.

"It shows that certain early-stage fintech companies still have the ability to raise capital relatively quickly," Wong said.

Sica said that early-stage interest is still strong because there are entrepreneurs and investors eyeing the space. But later-stage investments are increasingly prevalent because "these themes have played out," he said.

"We know who's going to be around in a few years and we know who's not," Sica said. "The way I personally view it is you'll have a few big brands created out of this fintech boom. They'll be the exception to the rule. The majority of the others will find partnerships with financial institutions or insurance companies."

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