With 23 VC-backed unicorns worth a combined $75bn in the fintech bubble, some companies are thriving while others are experiencing growing pains.
In 2016, venture capital-backed fintech companies the world over raised $12.7bn across 836 deals. While a staggering amount, this figure marked a step down from the highs of 2015, when fears of a fintech bubble neared a similar peak.
Last year may have seen a 13pc decrease in VC investment streaming into fintech, but it was still a good year for financial technology as all forms continued to attract investors, from payments, blockchain and lending, to the newer breakouts of insurtech and wealthtech.
All told, fintech’s growth has been tremendous, with investment in the area more than quadrupling from $3.1bn in 2013, not to mention that high of $14.6bn in 2015.
Mo’ money, mo’ mythical creatures
Of course, as investment flows into fintech, so follows the birth of many unicorns.
VC data analysts CB Insights fastidiously tracks all the thriving companies predicted for billion-dollar exits (ie companies valued at $1bn-plus, including whisper valuations). This list of 191 companies to watch includes 23 fintechs with a cumulative valuation of $75.31bn.
Out of these 23 unicorns, 11 are based in the US, five in Europe and seven in Asia (though this listing does not rank the financial affiliates of China’s Alibaba and JD.com, last valued at $60bn and $7.1bn, respectively).
From disrupters to the disrupted, with great scale comes shifting perspectives. Those start-ups built on lending and insurance have been particularly affected by economic and even political changes over the past year, and it remains to be seen how many of these vaunted unicorns will survive.
Previously known as Lufax, Lu.com is number one, with a valuation of $18.5bn. Already China’s biggest P2P lender, the Shanghai company is reportedly launching a wealth management platform this year. Its $1.2bn Series B round in 2016 was one of the top fintech deals of the year and investors include Ping An Insurance and Bank of China.
California-headquartered Stripe’s latest funding round ($150m Series D in 2016) brought the payments company’s valuation to $9.2bn. Founded in 2010 by Irish brothers John and Patrick Collison, Stripe is one of the fastest-growing tech companies in Silicon Valley, with investment from Peter Thiel, Elon Musk and Sequoia Capital, to name a few.
Zhong An Insurance
Shanghai-based Zhong An Insurance rounds out the top three with an $8bn valuation. This internet-only insurer sold 5.8bn policies – some of them quite unusual – to 460m customers in its first three years. Last month, Reuters reported that Zhong An is preparing to sell off up to 10pc of its business ahead of an IPO in China.
Paytm, the flagship product of One97 Communications, is India’s largest digital goods and m-commerce platform. It is also a leading payment-solutions provider for merchants through its semi-closed wallet. One97 has enjoyed many large funding injections, bringing its value to $4.8bn (though speculation is mounting that a significant SoftBank investment might kick that up a notch).
San Francisco’s innovative loans company, Social Finance (better known as SoFi), connects students and alumni through a dedicated lending pool and an original social community. Since forming in 2011, SoFi has ratcheted up a list of more than 20 investors – including a 10-figure funding round– reaching a valuation of $4bn.
Credit Karma promises its users a permanently free credit monitoring and personal finance management service. Valued at $3.5bn, the secret to this San Francisco company’s profits is that it is paid to recommend financial products to its customer base and, with more than 60m people signed up and sharing their financial details, that’s quite the marketplace.
New York’s Oscar Health – valued at $2.7bn – built its health insurance offering around the Obama-era Affordable Care Act and now, co-founder and CEO Mario Schlosser claims the government owes them $200m. Meanwhile, the company faces further disruption from President Donald Trump’s promise to repeal and replace the ACA – though co-founder Joshua Kushner certainly has some friends in the White House.
Valued at $2.4bn with a HQ in Texas, Mozido operates in the financial inclusion area of banking, servicing around 2bn people in the world who own a mobile phone but not a bank account. However, the company was branded fintech’s Theranos last year and founder Michael Liberty pleaded guilty to making illegal campaign contributions.
Dutch e-payments company Adyen has been running since 2006 and is now valued at $2.3bn. Headquartered in Amsterdam, Adyen focuses on single-click, single-page payments for almost every format, from credit cards to bitcoin. Its customers are some of the biggest names in tech, including Uber, Netflix, Etsy and Spotify.
Founded in Stockholm back in 2005, Klarna established itself early on as a rather unique fintech company within the realm of e-payments. In 2016, the company grew into the US and attracted major international clients such as Spotify, Disney, Samsung and Asos. Its current valuation stands at $2.3bn.
Zenefits is a cloud HR automation platform for payroll and benefits such as health insurance. However, the company – valued at $2bn – has hit some snags of late, with the departure of its founding CEO and now a $1.2m fine for allowing unlicensed employees to sell insurance, and failing to implement adequate compliance controls and employee training.
GreenSky was established in 2006 with its headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia. Valued at $2bn, the company partners with merchants in sectors such as home improvement, retail and healthcare, offering loans to customers. Co-founder David Zalik told Bloomberg last year that his goal is to reach $20bn in loans by 2020.
Chicago lender Avant uses advanced algorithms and machine learning to personalise the lending process, aiming to make it easier for customers to borrow money, entirely online. Last year, the $2bn company suffered layoffs and scaled back its plans following an accounting scandal at its competitor, Lending Club, which rippled throughout the industry.
Peer-to-peer lender Prosper Marketplace facilitated more than $9bn in unsecured personal loans through its online platform this past decade. The company itself is valued at $1.9bn and CEO David Kimball is on a mission in 2017 to grow loan values and return Prosper to profitability.
Chinese payment platform Lakala has set plans in motion for a listing on the ChiNext stock market, though its application – filed in February – is still under review by the regulator. Valued at $1.6bn, Lakala was among the first third-party payments services licensed in China and holds 3pc market share against dominant competitors Alipay and Tenpay.
P2P money transfer service TransferWise is headquartered in London but is planning a move following Brexit. CEO and co-founder Taavet Hinrikus told Reuters that the $1.1bn company is scouting for a new European office to open by March 2019, the expected end of the UK’s separation from the EU.
The most recent addition to this list is Switzerland’s Avaloq Group, valued at $1.01bn as of March this year, thanks to just one investor: Warburg Pincus. Avaloq’s flagship product, Avaloq Banking Suite, is an integrated IT platform for banks and wealth managers. Daniel Zilberman, head of Europe at Warburg Pincus, foresees an IPO in the next three to five years.
London-based peer-to-peer lender Funding Circle has 12 investors including Accel Partners and Index Ventures, all adding up to a $1bn valuation. Targeting small businesses, the company aims to accelerate economic growth through its marketplace of accredited investors. Starting the year strong, Funding Circle recently added $100m in equity investment to its coffers.
China Rapid Finance
China Rapid Finance is about to be the second Chinese online lender to opt for a US IPO, expected today (24 April). Valued at $1bn at the time of writing, this peer-to-peer micro-lending exchange expects to raise in the region of $105m to $115m when it lists on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol XRF.
Last month, $1bn automated funding platform Kabbage announced plans for a European HQ in Dublin, following a €50m investment from the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund, a State body controlled and managed by the National Treasury Management Agency. This followed an earlier debt financing round of $500m and an announcement that the Atlanta-based company is in talks to raise equity funding for potential acquisitions.
Billion-dollar company Gusto has accrued a lengthy list of investors including Google Ventures, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, and entrepreneurs Aaron Levie and Alexis Ohanian. Formerly known as ZenPayroll, the company’s payroll service is built to be quick, painless and accessible on any device and, as such, has become responsible for ‘paying’ plenty of Silicon Valley’s staff.
Rong360, a search and comparison engine for loans and other financial products, has a string of investors including Jack Ma’s Yunfeng Capital, Sequoia Capital China and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. This billion-dollar Chinese fintech works with more than 10,000 banks and financial institutions, and could be on track for a US IPO due to hurdles at home.
Though last on the list, U51.com (also known as 51Xinyongka) saw one of the top 20 global VC-backed fintech deals of the year in 2016, bringing its valuation to the unicorn-defining $1bn. Based in Hangzhou, China, U51.com is an app for managing credit card bills and other financial services, as well as online loan applications. Investors include Chinese e-commerce juggernaut JD.com.
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Updated, 25 April 2017 at 6.38pm: This article has been amended following clarification from Funding Circle on its recent investment.