4 Hurdles Every Fintech Startup Must Overcome
Free Book Preview Money-Smart Solopreneur
Fintech, or financial technology, refers to the application of innovative technology solutions within the financial-services industry. Even if you’re not familiar with fintech, most of us have used services like PayPal or Cash App, which fall into the mobile wallet and payments category.
These technological solutions are mostly developed by startup companies that offer their services to established firms. And as Statista notes, "This comes in line with an increasing number of people using a mobile banking app, particularly amongst young people." Fintech is bringing seismic changes to banking and finance, affording an opportunity for prospective entrepreneurs to enter a previously untouchable space. But if only it were that easy.
Author and Vested CEO Daniel P. Simon knows this all too well. I was able to get a sneak peek at his upcoming book, The Money Hackers: How a Group of Misfits Took on Wall Street and Changed Finance Forever, in which he chronicles how fintech’s major players had to overcome key challenges to find success. This includes Ken Lin of Credit Karma, who almost saw his company shut down by the credit bureaus that he needed to make his product work.
In a recent interview, Simon and l discussed the four hurdles that every fintech startup must overcome to survive.
1. Navigating the U.S. regulatory market
Following the rules of the road laid out by regulators is critical to a fintech startup’s success, but founders should do so in a way that best fits their organization. “This could mean working directly with regulators or engaging parties like community banks to help you go through the proper channels to obtain assets like licensing,” advises Simon.
For example, Renaud Laplanche made the wise decision of not going it alone when launching Lending Club. He engaged regulators rather than working around them and hoping for the best. The mobile-banking company N26 took a similar approach by partnering with regional banks to assist with obtaining proper licensing.
2. Launching before the product is ready
Maybe you’ve been self-funding and working on your product for years, are a stickler for meeting self-imposed deadlines or are feeling the pressure from over-eager investors. I always advise against arbitrarily picking, and then stubbornly sticking with, launch dates, especially in a highly regulated industry.
Software and cloud-based tech products, in particular, offer creators the flexibility to make critical updates and fixes after they’re out on the market, making them prime candidates for premature launches. This is a big mistake, especially if you’ve begun talking to media about your product before you should. Reporters are skeptical about startups in general. Sowing doubt will only guarantee they’ll be less receptive in the future.
If investors are putting pressure on you to launch, be open and honest with your communication. Chances are, they will thank you later. It’s far more preferable o push back a launch than go to market and end up in hot water.
3. Your concept might change
Founders, particularly in new or emerging technologies, need to be prepared to change their business model or product according to demand. Renaud Laplanche thought that he was creating a credit card for kids, but after finding initial success, he raised the eyebrows of hedge funds and other investors who started to take an interest. Then, he pivoted from the original concept to create products for those investors. Had Renauld not made this transition, Lending Club might not have received the institutional capital that allowed them to think bigger and achieve more.
“Start with one idea, but don’t be narrow-minded about what your platform or company can be and accomplish,” says Simon. Renauld also found that people working in the cash economy and outside of the traditional banking structure were a target market of Credit Karma’s as well. He moved to accommodate this new audience and found success.
4. The integral role of partnerships
If your goal is to leverage fintech to disrupt an industry, expect pushback. In the early days of Credit Karma, founder Ken Li engaged credit bureaus to provide credit data to its users, powering the company’s offering. After reading an article that detailed how Credit Karma was giving away credit scores for free, one of the bureaus moved to terminate its contract with the company, out of fear that not doing so might damage their relationships with existing partners, many of whom charged consumers for credit scores. Credit Karma was on the brink of shutting down, but Lin was able to convince the bureau to reverse its decision and remain a partner.
“If you want to change an industry like insurance, do not expect the insurance industry to sit passively by while you disrupt," Simon cautions. "They will use every tool in their arsenal to push back if they feel threatened."
The overall takeaway here is to be smart, adjust and choose whether you want to be confrontational or partner with those who might be affected by your disruption. It’s usually better to have allies than enemies, and it takes a lot of work to get a fintech product up and running with an infrastructure that makes seamlessness a reality.