Has Europe’s Fintech Scene Left the US at the Starting Line?

Monzo’s recent launch in the US came as no surprise. The UK’s digital banks have been evolving aggressively, growing rapidly and responding to changing consumer demands – international expansion was inevitable.

Digital banks raised over $1.1bn in fresh funding throughout 2018 in Britain, a figure that is set to be dwarfed if the current pace of growth continues to demand the attention of investors. Claudio Alvarez, Partner at GP Bullhound, explains for Finance Monthly.

Europe is truly leading the fintech charge, accounting for roughly a third of global fundraising deals in 2019, up from only 15% in the fourth quarter of 2018 according to our data. These are digital firms raising globally significant levels of capital. Adyen, the Dutch payment system, is now one of the frontrunners to become Europe’s first titan, valued at over $50bn. Europe has become a breeding ground for businesses that can go on to challenge US tech dominance, and it is fintech where we will find most success. Europe’s unique capacity for incubating disruptors is a phenomenal trend to have emerged over the past few years.

It’s true, European culture has always been more open to contactless and cashless, in contrast the US, where legislation and the existing banking infrastructure make adopting new technologies in banking slower and more convoluted. Europe has been able to take an early lead, while the US remains fixed on dollar bills.

As the ecosystem evolves, borders will become less relevant and markets more integrated, allowing the big players based in Europe to expand into further geographies with greater ease. European success garners the growth, momentum and trust needed to brave new regions and cultures. Monzo won’t be alone in the US for long.

As the ecosystem evolves, borders will become less relevant and markets more integrated, allowing the big players based in Europe to expand into further geographies with greater ease.

Whilst the Americans’ slow start has allowed European start-ups to become global players, it’s also true that the regulatory environment has distracted the European big banks and opened up the space for innovative and disruptive newcomers. While PSD2 has eaten up the resources of the incumbents, the likes of Monzo and Revolut have focused on consumer experience, product development and fundraising. The result? Newcomers are able to solve problems that older institutions simply don’t have the capacity to address.

However, a word of warning: traditional bricks and mortar banks aren’t dead yet. For one, digital banks will still need to justify the enormous valuations they’ve secured recently, and will have only proved their worth if, in 3 to 5 years’ time, they have managed to persuade consumers to transfer their primary accounts to them, which would allow digital banks to effectively execute on their financial marketplace strategies

Meanwhile, traditional banking institutions have a plethora of options to fend off the fintech threat and most are developing apps and systems that mimic those created by the digital counterparts. Innovation isn’t going to come from internal teams – it needs to be a priority for the old players and they need to invest in third party solutions to excel as truly functional digital platforms in a timely manner. In the first instance, the traditional banks will need to solve the issues that pushed consumers towards the fintechs and secondly, work on attracting consumers to stay by offering, and bettering, the services that make fintech’s most attractive.

Competition breeds innovation. For the fintech ecosystem as a whole, this new need for advancement is only good news – a rising tide lifts all ships. As traditional banks try to innovate and keep pace, we’ll see them investing in other verticals in the fintech market. Banks’ global total IT spend is forecast to reach $297bn by 2021, with cloud-based core banking platforms taking centre stage. Digital banking may have been the first firing pistol, but the knock-on effect of the fintech revolution is being felt across the board.

The fintech boom shows no sign of bust, market confidence is riding high and will continue supporting rapid growth. The aggressive advance of digital banks has opened doors for a whole host of fintech innovation – from cloud-based banking platforms to innovation in the payments sector. The number of verticals that sit within financial services creates a plethora of opportunity for ambitious and bullish fintechs to seize the day.


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