When we discuss the changing landscape of the financial industry, we generally settle into the narrative of us versus them. Of old, stodgy financial incumbents versus the young, fintech upstarts. But Caribou Honig, founding partner of QED Investors, thinks we need to rewrite that script.
Addressing the crowd last week at the Tradestreaming Money Conference, the venture investor encouraged industry professionals to pay more attention to the positioning of technology firms like Facebook, Amazon, PayPal, and Google as they move deeper into financial services.
To prove his point, Honig analyzed attendance rates at this year’s Money 20/20 conference in Las Vegas. Held in late October, this event attracts over ten thousand attendees from all over the world interested in the intersection of technology and finance. This year was no exception, but when you drill down to see who actually walked the floor of the Venetian, it turns out that the technology firms outnumbered staple brands, like Equifax, JPMorgan, Synchrony, and Bank of America.
So, why are technology firms eyeing financial services? Honig suggested four possible reasons. The first is that they operate at gigascale. Having a franchise of 1 billion consumers is table stakes for firms like Google and Facebook. Next, they really get the mobile experience. For firms like Alibaba and Amazon, the smartphone is core to their DNA and strategy. Tech companies also produce a huge data wake, providing richer, more universal data sets. These companies know a ton about their users and have the cutting edge analytics to make actionable insights. Lastly, tech firms have the right mindset to compete in today’s financial services industry.
“Technology firms have learned to ask ‘what’s possible?’ rather than respond ‘we haven’t done it that way before,” he said.
If Honig is right, then that means the industry needs to start paying more attention to the threat that technology firms represent. Incumbents should be closely studying what these firms are doing. By pointing to other industries impacted by the deflationary pressure of technology, Honigh predicts that existing revenue pools will decline as costs fall. This creative destruction creates an opportunity for the largest players.
Honig, who’s invested in high flying fintech firms like Avant, GreenSky, and Credit Karma, thinks startups represent a petri dish for experimentation and a lifeline for large banks. Incumbents should monitor the scrappy group for good ideas. It’s ultimately the pairing of the startups and incumbents, however, that can light the path forward for the industry.
“Incumbents can, and should, collaborate with the fintech startups to counter the looming threat posed by Tech Titans,” he said.