Fintech Is The Forgotten Network Card To Play

Brexit has delivered a win. There, I said it. Now, before you all head off to lobby on my behalf for a co-anchor slot on GB News with the Moggster, Bad Enoch and the Rishibot, there’s a distinct possibility I could be clutching at correlation rather than causation. However, the numbers – for a change – are real. According to KPMG’s bi-annual report, Pulse of Fintech, last year was a tough year for global fintech with funding levels hitting a 6 year low. The UK did not escape the bear market as its $12.3 billion of new investment represented a 34% drop. But….the UK remains, by far, the capital of European fintech and ranks second globally behind Silicon Valley. For global context (and Nigel Farage cartwheels), UK-based fintechs attracted more funding in 2023 than France, Germany, China, Brazil, India and Canada combined. That feels like winning to me but also prompted thought on networks and London’s global positioning in the financial ecosystem.

London is blessed with an enormous talent and innovation pool thanks to centuries of being the dominant global financial centre and a time zone which straddles the Americas and Asia. This global positioning means there is a bigger and more realistic point to be made than Brexit. It is striking to me that when a country is in the middle of a political, institutional and trading meltdown there is a sub-sector of economic activity which defies the gloom. Fintech might have suffered investment flight in 2023 but the resilience of UK fintech in the midst of a national mental health event points to the recovery of a structural story we have written about many times before.

It’s a network story but it has had to play second-fiddle to two much ‘hotter’ networks in recent times. Social network platforms (quasi-relationship processors!) are now bigger than sovereign nations – billions spend hours of screen time with Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Tik Tok etc. And yes, Meta may have picked the wrong name but its share price is at all-time-highs. Also, this week we got another blow-out pulse-check on the hottest network story of recent times; Nvidia’s leading role and 400% y-o-y growth in supplying AI-capable chips for data centres. The computer/digital processor network now lives in the cloud powered by a rapidly growing network of data centres operated by Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Apple etc. However, this week we were reminded that the global financial network is the biggest beast of all and still searching for next-generation financial processing. In the vast field of fintech covering regulation, cybersecurity, analytics, flashboy trading, execution algos, insurtech and blockchain the Big Daddy of them all is payments, call it financial processing.  And this week, we saw some big payments developments.

First, US bank Capital One announced it is buying Discover Financial Services in a $35 billion deal. At first glance this looks like Discover’s credit cards were the target and, indeed, the combined card operation would create the No.1 US credit card company, passing out JP Morgan and Citigroup. But, no, what caught my eye is that Discover also operates a payments network. Furthermore, Capital One CEO, Richard Fairbank, said that by adding Discover, he could start building “a payments network that can compete with the largest payments networks and payments companies,” a reference to Visa and Mastercard, which dominate the industry. To put the card deal in context, the $35 billion deal is not even a tenth of Visa’s $550 billion market value which is fast catching up on Nasdaq poster-child, Tesla. It’s not just traditional banks like Capital One eying up payments networks. Closer to home, there was an interesting private deal announced.

UK digital bank, Monzo, is reported by the FT to be close to completing a £350m funding round with a £4 billion valuation. So far, so unremarkable. After a bit more reading, two things struck a chord. First, little Monzo now has a whopping 9 million customers, with 2 million coming aboard in 2023. That’s quite the banking network build and I wasn’t the only one intrigued. Apparently, the lead investor in this round is Google’s very own investment wing, CapitalG. Note Monzo is a banking service which includes payment processing but guess who is the processor behind Monzo? Stripe. And, Stripe wasn’t the only hot payments fintech I was reading about this week.

When Mario Gabriele of the Generalist newsletter flags a disruptor company I usually pay attention. This week he did a deep dive on Australian payments fintech, Airwallex. It’s not in Stripe’s league – they raised $6.5 billion in 2023 –  but Airwallex has just raised $160m at a $5.6 billion valuation supported by 100,000 corporate customers (including SHEIN, Qantas, Canva) generating $80 billion of annual volume and $400m in revenues. The service offers payouts in 150 countries in 46 currencies, is executed by a couple of clicks and costs markedly less than traditional financial institutions. Once again, the issue of costs and tolls charged by traditional financial intermediaries looks like a key ‘win’ for fintech disruptors, and even traditional banks like Capital One. Check out the words of their own CEO, Fairbank (perfect name when you think about it);


“Owning a network allows us to deal more directly with merchants rather than a network intermediary…..We create more value for merchants, small businesses and consumers and capture the additional economics from vertical integration.”


That network word seems important. Arguably, there already exists a disruptive network and it’s already worth a trillion dollars. Yes, the blockchain-powered cryptocurrency, Bitcoin, traded back to the $50,000 mark in recent weeks and put the total value of the currency at $1 trillion. Of course, the recent decision of US regulators to allow funds (ETFs) invested in Bitcoin to trade on public exchanges like the NYSE is a further validation for this particular ecosystem. However, Bitcoin’s connectivity to the merchants, consumers and businesses which Fairbank covets is still very limited. What is not in doubt is the size of the global digital payments market which is, per Statista, going to exceed $15 trillion by 2027. The good news for fintech disruptors and start-ups is that reducing the “tolls” on these money flows can be a quicker route to profits than other sectors.

In Europe, just two of the ten most valuable venture capital (VC) backed companies are making profits. Interestingly, both are fintechs –  Revolut(neobank) and SumUp (mobile merchant payment hardware). Clearly, route-to-profitability is an increasing focus of investors as higher interest rates bring tighter funding conditions. However, investor interest in payments networks appears strikingly robust. Check out the following recent funding deals:

  • UK-based Kriya secures £50m funding boost to supercharge B2B payments revolution – TechNews 180
  • Valar Ventures backs Berlin fintech, Monite, with $6 million – CB Insights
  • Colombian payments startup, Bold, secures $50m in Series C funding, led by General Atlantic – HUBFX
  • Payment orchestrator, Navro, raises $14m Series A from Bain Capital and Motive Partners – Dealroom


The truth is that payments funding has ‘only’ seen a 30% fall in funding activity compared to wider fintech funding collapses of 50-70%. So, perhaps my Brexit blurt was too impetuous and the stronger logic attaches to London’s critical positioning in the payments ecosystem. There goes my GB News career but I’d rather you keep an eye on the forgotten third giant network – payments. And, now you know there are 15 trillion reasons why.

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