A lot has changed since PayPal opened its virtual doors for business in 1998.
While in 1998 PayPal was one of few, if any, companies digging into how technology could play a role in finance, today FinTech has become a buzzword used thousands of times a day across Twitter, TechCrunch, and Forbes.
In fact, in December 2015, Forbes estimated that there are more than 6,500 FinTech companies worldwide.
In addition to gaining acceptance from the biggest venture capital firms and millions of individual investors and businesses, FinTech companies are now forcing traditional banks, financial institutions, and financial services firms to adapt, adopt, and march to a new tune.
CB Insights reports that six banking giants — Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan, Morgan Stanley, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, and Citigroup — are investing vaults of money into more than 30 FinTech companies across a broad spectrum of the industry.
Why Big Banks Are “Embracing” FinTech
Technology has as much power to kill as it does to give new life. For every benefit, there is a drawback. The rise of Amazon meant bankruptcy for thousands of bookstores. Similarly, travel agents have floundered since the advent of Kayak and Travelocity.
While technology is leading to financial services innovations like mobile payments, crowdfunding, and asset allocation, it’s also developing new ways of delivering services traditionally handled by banks at a fraction of the cost. TIME cautions that banks should be afraid of the FinTech boom.
Furthermore, many banks continue to struggle with worsening reputations as corrupt, slow-moving behemoths (movies like the Big Short do not help). FinTech only perpetuates this reputation, serving as a refreshing, tech-enabled contrast to the Internet 1.0 of big banks.
To recoup recent losses, salvage reputations, and mitigate the FinTech threat, banks are beginning to acquire FinTech companies (in addition to cost-cutting strategies such as charging more for low-margin services and closing branches).
Recent, notable acquisitions include Capital One’s purchase of Level Money app and Blackrock’s acquisition of FutureAdvisor.
Are Banks Really Threatened?
Like music and book publishing industries before it, the financial services sector is experiencing a wave of technological innovation that is sure to change the way people relate to their money.
This is not a temporal situation where the market will correct itself once it reaches a magical threshold of oversupply. Rather, it’s a permanent and ever-growing reality.
Technology is driving innovation in the financial services markets, and that said innovation is being led by startups.
Only a fool, however, would count the banks out. In 20 years, they may not look the same, but there will still be banks, and they will be as enmeshed in the technology of the day as FinTech startups are now.
With the five largest banks controlling nearly $15 trillion, FinTech’s $12.4 billion in venture capital investment last year barely makes a dent.