In 2015, the number of FinTech Unicorns grew to 48 startups and counting, becoming one of the most talked-about topics in the industry. What – and more importantly who – are these billion dollar success stories?
A Brief History of FinTech
Cast your mind back, if you will, to the latter part of the 20th century.
The Internet, as we knew it then, was an almost entirely different beast from the one that has become such an integral part of life in the 2000s. The noisy, teeth-grind inducing screech of dial-up was quickly being silenced by mass access to affordable broadband, and startups from across the globe were actively seeking new ways to turn this fairly recent technology into a sustainable enterprise.
Out of the Dot Com Bubble: A Financial Technology Milestone
Image source: Flickr Creative Commons
Some did OK, many did not. The Dot-Com Bubble came, saw, and ultimately imploded in spectacular fashion, leaving many casualties and very few survivors.
Yet through it all, there was at least one company that emerged still intact, a company that would continue on into the 21st century and become not just successful, but an integral part of the modern company. That company is PayPal, now a household name with over 179 million active accounts worldwide.
Image source: Wikimedia Commons
It’s probably fair to say that PayPal’s December 1998 launch in Palo Alto, California remains a key milestone in the financial technology sector, allowing both engineers and entrepreneurs alike to glimpse at just what was possible. Surely a huge upsurge in the number of new FinTech startups and investors would be coming right on the tail of PayPal’s success.
Innovation Behind Closed Doors
For the best part of the next decade, innovation in the melding together of finance and technology became a topic of conversation kept alive by few but its most ardent champions, the zeitgeist of the time leading to a groundswell of investment in entertainment, communications and social.
Was that it then? Had FinTech peaked?
Not quite. Whilst the rest of the world were looking elsewhere, financial technology investors hung out in the background, ploughing their resources into a range of new FinTech startups, whilst long-tenured cornerstones of the industry such as Misys (founded in 1979) continued to develop solutions tailored to an ever-evolving economy.
Then, from seemingly out of nowhere, FinTech investment became not just a hot topic, but the hot topic. It was 2015, just shy of two decades since PayPal sprung up and changed the game, and suddenly, those who followed in the company’s footsteps were reaping rewards of their own.
The number of unicorns (predominantly software-focussed startups valued at over $1 billion) in the industry exploded, with almost 50 financial technology companies surpassing the billion dollar benchmark, an impressive 36 more hot on their tail and increasing numbers of investment management firms looking at how they two could get a piece of one of the decade’s fastest growing industries.
Who’s at the top?
According to Finovate.com, Lufax, the finance lending marketplace based in China is currently the biggest FinTech success story, valued at $9.6 billion in July 2015.
On the face of it, this shouldn’t come as much of a surprise when you consider that almost a third of those top 48 FinTech unicorns are in the business of lending, with US credit comparison site LendingClub topping $5 billion and a slewer of ‘smaller unicorns’ such as One97 and small business funding service Biz2Credit hovering around the $2 billion mark.
In fact, only Payment-based startups boast more entries in Finovate.com’s list, with a total of 15 unicorns collectively valued at $23.85 billion.
Where do we go from here?
Make no mistake, these are certainly impressive numbers, though if current market trends are anything to go by, we can only expect to see more investment in FinTech startups over the coming year, FinTech50 founds Julie Lake and Nicky Cotter hinting that the next big move may well be for industry innovators to join forces, bringing together the separate worlds of lending, payments, insurance and software-as-a-service to ‘deliver a cohesive service all in one convenient place.’
Whether such collaboration proves profitable is something only time will ultimately tell, though if there’s one thing we can be sure of, it’s that we won’t be waiting the best part of another two decades to witness the next stage in the evolution of the financial technology sector.
Article was written by Eve Tyler copywriter and short story author. After completing a BA in English Literature at the University of California Davis, she went on to obtain an MA in Creative & Life Writing at Goldsmiths College in London.