Hi 5! The five fintech stories we’re following this week

  • Few fintech startups go after the retail client
  • Why Umpqua Bank launched a podcast

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Hi 5! The five fintech stories we’re following this week

Partnerships pave the way for fintech adoption

If last year’s story was all about disruption, this year continues to be about how large financial institutions, especially banks, are partnering with upstart fintechs. UBS and SigFig are doing just that for the firm’s asset management clients. “We realized that we wanted to partner with a player who was leading in the industry in the space, who had the ability to adapt rapidly, to prototype rapidly and to launch incremental capabilities in really short timeframes,” said Rich Steinmeier, head of emerging affluent and the Wealth Advice Center for UBS.

There’s another trend going on, as well. Banks are appointing fintech czars to help spearhead such activities at their institutions. JPM just brought on Alex Sion, the cofounder of challenger bank, Moven.

I also contend that, instead of looking like he got caught with his hand in his customers’ cookie jars, Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf could have countered the grilling by Senator Warren at a congressional committee by describing all his firm’s investments and activity in fintech. He didn’t do that and he’s now $41m lighter.

Maybe highlighting investments in consumer technology wouldn’t have helped anyway. ‘Good guy’ payday lender, LendUp, just got slapped for price gouging its customers. Et tu, Brute? Yep.

Financial technology is growing

The global fintech landscape now includes over 1000 companies. These firms, which include startups and incumbents, have collectively raised over $105 billion in total funding and are worth nearly $870 billion in current value, according to an upcoming report.

Many of the startups, like those in asset management and banking, still need to prove their models. The only fintech sector that appears to be working right now is payments. The numbers are there to back it up, too. According to a report by consultancy Boston Consulting Group, bank payment revenues hit $1.1 trillion in 2015, accounting for nearly 30% of banking revenues. By 2025, they are projected to reach nearly $2 trillion, a compound annual growth rate of 6.0%. The growth engines will be transaction-related revenues (an estimated 40% of the total) and account revenues (34%).

Blockchain as an opportunity and a disaster

Another week goes by and another massive blockchain hack happens. These exploits are happening so frequently that we’ve come to expect them. The most recent hack of the Ethereum network has gone pretty much unnoticed by mainstream media.

Of course, blockchain heralds massive change in the financial markets, introducing, what some pundits call, the Internet of Value. But, how to put this, we’re really, really far away from that. Banks are still just kind of testing things out. Until we’re able to make it cheaper and less cumbersome to use Bitcoin and its associated technologies, it’s still a heck of a lot easier to just plain ol’ wire money, for example.

The struggle over the retail client

Sure, as this year’s contestants and winners at Finovate demonstrate, few fintechs are focused on B2C anymore. Even if they started out targeting end customers, most have since pivoted to become B2B players, choosing instead to partner with banks or investment firms who already own the customer relationship.

Indeed, marketplace lending used to champion the end investor when it was known in a former incarnation as peer to peer lending. But now, some are lamenting the death of the individual investor in the space.

One company still making a go at the retail space is Robinhood, a free trading app that’s seen a lot of excitement around its product and model. One of the questions looming over the firm was exactly how it intended to monetize its userbase. The company used to talk nebulously about float and margin interest but it never really rang true. Well, the startup launched a subscription model, which will give Robinhood Premium subscribers the ability to trade on margin, among other things.

Personally, I don’t think this ends well for users. Free trading is like giving addicts free drugs. At least the friction in the usual transaction is somewhat limiting. Give an addict free drugs and the ability to keep a running tab and, well, that’s just a disaster waiting to happen.

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