The biggest silver lining in periods of economic turmoil—such that we are in right now, despite what the stock market may tell you—is that they often lead to significant innovation.
This is true for most major economic depressions and recessions in U.S. history. General Motors (NYSE: GM) was founded less than a year after the Panic of 1907, a crisis so severe it led to the creation of the Federal Reserve. The first Publix grocery store was opened in 1930, less than a year into The Great Depression.
More recently, the dotcom bubble burst gave way to Web 2.0 companies like Skype, Facebook Inc (NASDAQ: FB), and YouTube, three companies that would all grow to be worth over $1 billion.
In each of these cases, entrepreneurs either identified a shift in consumer behavior that was already beginning to take shape (automobiles in the 1910s and supermarkets in the 1930s) or harnessed emerging technology for new purposes (video chatting, streaming, and social media in the 2000s).
And though the world is still in a state of flux thanks to the global pandemic, we’re already starting to see how this crisis is changing the way we work and spend. Remote work has made enterprise software and communication tools like Slack Technologies Inc (NYSE: WORK), Zoom Video Communications (NASDAQ: ZM), and Asana even more indispensable than they were before. On the consumer front, e-commerce spending is expected to reach an all-time high this year.
In this regard, financial services are no different than how every other industry is in flux right now. Everything about financial services is changing before our eyes—from how we bank, to how we invest and spend money. Just like the last financial crisis in 2008, fintech is going to pull it all forward.
The Great Recession And The Birth Of Modern Fintech
While the technological disruption of financial services was well underway by the time The Great Recession destroyed a decade’s worth of wealth, the economic and regulatory upheaval of that period gave way to a fintech boom that is still being felt today.
For example, the collapse of several large financial institutions and drying up of credit gave the nascent digital lending industry a shot in the arm. Today, alternative lenders like Kabbage, Affirm, and SoFi are among the leaders of an industry that some estimates have pegged is as large as $100 billion. S&P Global estimates the loan originations at the top digital lenders grew approximately 72% annually between 2014-2019.
Meanwhile, distaste over how traditional banks and Wall Street firms had played a role in the financial crisis led to a host of new financial services providers that focused on democratizing access to the market. Among those was Robinhood, which ushered in the commission-free trading business model that has since been replicated by the major retail brokerage firms and low-fee banks like Chime, NuBank, and Aspiration.
The JOBS Act, passed in 2012, and Regulation A, passed in 2015, also enabled smaller private companies to raise money from public investors, giving birth to the entirely new industry of equity crowdfunding and companies like WeFunder and StartEngine.
And then there are the poster children of fintech—payments apps Venmo and Square Inc (NYSE: SQ)—which enabled payments in the early days of smartphones and have since exploded into multi-billion dollar financial services.
Fintech In A Post-COVID World
If the modern fintech industry was essentially born out of the last major economic recession, the obvious next question is what kind of impact will the COVID-19 pandemic have on the industry? Here are some ideas for the types of companies that could thrive in a post-pandemic world.
Companies That Enable Digital Payments And Spending
Companies That Put An Emphasis On Data Privacy
Companies That Find New Markets Online
Crises can breed innovation, but that innovation can also expose gaps and opportunities unseen in the existing business models. New technologies create the need for other new technologies, and new services need to find ways to reach consumers who may not know to look for them.
Companies that can fill these gaps can position themselves as key cogs in the marketplace.
Square, for example, started as a company that facilitated cashless and mobile payments. But that created a need for new services as more and more merchants built up e-commerce operations. Now, the company provides small businesses with everything from marketing and payroll solutions to loans with the caveat that everything is done as frictionless as possible. This ease of integrations has made Square an often critical partner to businesses during the pandemic.
Other firms have taken it upon themselves to fill in the gaps by connecting financial services around the globe. JP Morgan Chase & Co.’s (NYSE: JPM) Interbank Information Network is a good example. Since its launch in 2017, the initiative has connected more than 415 institutions across 78 countries to facilitate cross-border payments.
Even Financial is another example. According to its founder, the company was created due to the rise of application programming interfaces. APIs, interfaces that allow multiple pieces of software to communicate, created a new opportunity in financial services to deliver a better user experience.
“As the financial services industry focused on consumer experience, it became increasingly reliant on technologies like APIs that enable speed and convenience,” said Even Founder and CEO Phill Rosen. “On one hand, consumers were searching for financial services such as loans, and banks and other companies were trying to reach these same consumers, but there was nothing to facilitate that process beyond static ads and traditional lead aggregators. We built Even to fill that gap.”
Our “new normal” from the pandemic has created a unique opportunity for financial services to define what the “new normal” is within banking and finance. The economic shockwave from COVID-19 created a situation where there are suddenly many more people in need of services like credit and loans, while at the same time shifting the way firms interact with their clients. The innovation from fintech can help us navigate this changing environment.
“Fintech’s potential to help counter the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and support the eventual economic recovery is large but cannot be taken for granted,” wrote the International Monetary Fund in a July whitepaper. “Fintech is proving to be a useful tool in ensuring access to financial services and helping deliver governments’ support measures.”
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