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‘I don’t need to be objective’: Inside the bull market in fintech newsletters

  • More fintech newsletters are popping up.
  • With more newsletters comes more room for new opinions and perspectives.
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‘I don’t need to be objective’: Inside the bull market in fintech newsletters

As media consumption becomes increasingly fast-paced, newsletters are getting more popular. The New York Times and the Washington Post each offer over 70 different newsletters to subscribe to. 21% of U.S. respondents said they use emailed news, according to Reuters Institute’s Digital News Report for 2020. Globally, this number is at 16%. While this may not seem like such a significant data point, it’s important to note that those falling within this percentage tended to show more interest in news in general, making them good targets for publications.

Newsletters’ newfound trendiness is best illustrated through Substack, a publishing platform kickstarted in 2017 that makes it very easy to manage a newsletter. Today, the platform has over 250,000 paid subscribers. Newsletter creators on the platform make money through subscriptions. The top ten publishers on Substack make around $7 million altogether. The platform increased its revenue by 60% three months into the pandemic. 

More journalists and reporters are leaving their jobs at popular publications to make their money through newsletter subscriptions. This is happening in fintech and financial services, as well. 

The growth of fintech, the money moving into the space, the new companies being formed and older ones IPOing are bringing new interest, and consequently, new voices and perspectives. In this way, newsletters are a natural fit for delving into topics in the field.

James Ledbetter, an award-winning finance journalist with over 20 years’ experience has written for big-name publications like Reuters. He was also the editor-in-chief at Inc. He recently left his job as chief content officer at Sequoia Capital to launch his own newsletter. By writing on this platform, he feels he now has the chance to express his views in a way he couldn’t before.

“One great aspect of the newsletter is being free to express opinions,” said Ledbetter. “I don’t feel any particular need to be objective in the way that the mainstream outlets define that term.”

His newsletter, called FIN, tracks the progress technology is making in changing the way people transfer money.

“Every transaction is being transformed by this technology,” said Ledbetter. “And we’re at a very, very early stage. So I’m trying to capture that motion.”

Ledbetter recently started charging $9 a month for FIN subscriptions.

Another newsletter to mention here is Fintech Takes. Alex Johnson, the publisher of Fintech Takes, currently works as a director of portfolio marketing at FICO, an analytics company that helps businesses make better credit decisions. His role at the company involves researching core markets and hypothesizing how they will evolve.

For Johnson, the idea of a fintech newsletter came about as a way to broaden his own understanding of the subject matter.

“The amount of news in the fintech space was becoming overwhelming and I needed some type of forcing function for consuming that news, analyzing it, and pulling out the most interesting trends and observations,” said Johnson. “Writing regularly about fintech is, in my opinion, one of the best ways to understand it.”

Each edition of Fintech Takes contains what Johnson calls a ‘long take’ and a ‘short take’. In the short take, Johnson summarizes three news stories in financial services he finds interesting and gives his perspective on them. In the long take, he provides a deep dive into a particular subject relevant to the financial industry. 

“I try to find the thing that doesn’t make sense; the assumption or belief or argument that most people take for granted, but that doesn’t sound quite right to me,” said Johnson. “Then I write about it until it does make sense.”

Johnson doesn’t shy away from including his own voice and opinion in his newsletter. “Tactically speaking (but not tactfully speaking) — most banks are going to suck at embedded finance,” reads one line. “Unicorns are boring,” reads another.

“We’ve always had great people writing about finance and technology, but the number and diversity of people wanting to add their perspective is exploding right now and new tools like Substack are making it even easier to join the conversation,” said Johnson.

Newsletters are giving fintech writers a chance to provide their own thoughts and opinions about what’s happening in the industry. And establishing a voice in fintech could be a key component to marking your territory as an expert in the field.

Lex Sokolin is the writer behind the newsletter The Fintech Blueprint. The newsletter covers topics like challenger banks, blockchain and crypto assets, and AI. Back in 2016, Sokolin joined the equity research firm Autonomous Research, which was acquired by Alliance Bernstein, to start their fintech practice. The move led to Sokolin focusing on more financial topics through his writing.

“This switched my focus from digital wealth to all the financial verticals — capital markets, payments, insurance, banking,” said Sokolin. “It also helped me broaden out to the larger platform shifts beyond raw digitization, and into artificial intelligence, blockchain, and augmented reality as those apply to finance.”

For Sokolin, the newsletter came as a continuation of this switch. It gave him a chance to focus on a variety of fintech-related topics, as opposed to just one. And this in turn has helped him emphasize his authority in the field. For him, that’s one of the biggest reasons why newsletters are flourishing in fintech.

“People are waking up to the value of a professional personal brand on LinkedIn and of a following,” said Sokolin. “As companies turn from closed profit makers to open communities, it is more important than ever to develop a voice. Also, it works — and successful strategies get copied.”

Today, the Fintech Blueprint is the first result that pops up after typing ‘fintech’ into Substack’s search bar.

Newsletters are also allowing for a more global conversation. Alessandro Ravanetti, a fintech content writer and digital strategist based in Barcelona, started his newsletter in March, 2019. Rather than doing it from scratch, he partnered with the Techstars Startup Digest newsletter to create a newsletter focusing on fintech.

“With almost 10 years working in the industry, before as a founder and then as a freelance writer and copywriter, I thought to have the necessary experience to deliver something valuable for people interested in the topic,” said Ravanetti. 

His newsletter provides an overview of fintech news, focusing on things like trends, acquisitions, funding rounds and product launches. He also includes podcast interviews and twitter threads he finds interesting. So far, the newsletter has 86 issues and over 4000 subscribers. 

Marcel Van Oost is another newsletter creator residing outside the U.S. Based in Amsterdam, Van Oost is an independent commentator on fintech and an early stage investor and advisor for fintechs and challenger banks. He offers four different newsletters on his site.

Van Oost describes his newsletters as “a summary of the best and most relevant news and insights from the fintech space. This can be articles, podcasts and some of my own articles.”  

The growth of fintech newsletters could be an arrow pointing to the growth of fintech in general. 

“Fintech is hot,” said Van Oost. “And I think more people and companies see the benefit of building a brand through content and email marketing.” 

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