Large banks have left lending to small and medium-sized companies to fintech and technology groups. But now they have to realize that their new competitors have grown up. Dirk Elsner on the upward mobility of the new financial companies.
What is Fintech?
Clayton M. Christensen, who unfortunately died in January, is known to be the father of a classic in management literature: “The Innovator’s Dilemma“. In it, the Harvard professor worked out the thesis that well-run companies prefer to concentrate on the upper end of their markets. There the volumes are large and the margins high. Christensen calls this the “click-in principle” or “upward migration”. Accordingly, companies force entry into high-end markets rather than investing in the low-end area. The lower end is more characterized by price wars and low margins. Managers would find it difficult to find plausible arguments for entering new, poorly defined low-end markets with initially low-profit prospects and possibly even high levels of uncertainty.
Christensen’s approach can be used to explain the observation in the financial sector that many financial institutions do not want to fight for small and new markets with the young fintech. According to Christensen, this can be disadvantageous if such disruptive innovations are underestimated. Today relatively young financial service providers such as Paypal, Wirecard, and Adyen have established themselves, whose valuations are now in the double and triple-digit billion range.
Small start-ups started crowdfunding and P2P lending around the 2010s. Because there were only low returns and the risk of bad investments was high, it was not attractive for established companies to gain resources and budgets in this environment. As a result, banks’ energy was concentrated on customers and products with higher volumes and margins, such as financing business with large companies.
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Fintechs are mobile upwards
The past few years have already indicated the innovators’ dilemma associated with the snap-in principle. While established financial houses are not downward mobile according to Christensen’s thesis, the fintech is certainly upward mobile and work their way upwards from the lower end of their markets.
Let’s stay with the financing for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). When the term fintech did not yet exist, it was only possible to obtain loans of up to 25,000 euros via marketplace lending. Via marketplace lender, often referred to as peer-to-peer financing (= P2P lending), a private individual was able to take out a loan through several other people or institutional investors. Small companies would only receive funds if the founder took out a personal loan in this way.
The segment was unattractive for many banks. According to a study by the management consultancy Barkow Consulting, SME loans for banks show a structural weakness in earnings because the return on equity is on average 2.1 percent lower than the cost of equity. Higher loan volumes and large capital market financing were interesting for banks. Here, the high manual processing work was also distributed over large amounts of financing and even reduced the incentive to process digitization at low average costs.
Over the next few years, institutional investors initially discovered small P2P loans as a lucrative asset class. In large numbers and highly automated, they promised high risk-adjusted interest rates. The high inflow of funds in turn motivated the credit marketplaces to expand credit volumes and target groups. Increasingly high loan amounts could be raised through digitized processes via the loan fintech, which soon also discovered companies as a target group.
The young companies are becoming more professional
Today, crowdfunding platforms like Exporo finance several million commercial properties. The now listed Frankfurt Fintech Creditshelf finances companies with up to 5 million euros. Companies like Crosslend or Acatus bundle claims from small and medium-sized companies and make them fit for the capital market. Platforms such as Compeon, Lendico, Fincompare, Finmatch, and Auxmoney have discovered companies as borrowers, with some of them not acting as lenders but acting as intermediaries.
The examples show how fintech companies are becoming increasingly professional and have cut their way out of a niche with digitized processes into higher market segments and do not stand still here.