Global fintech and funding innovation ecosystem

Fintech: The Fourth Platform

Forbes | Matthew Harris | Nov 22, 2019

digital money 1 - Fintech: The Fourth PlatformThis is part two of a two-part essay diving into the future of fintech. Read part one.

In part one of this essay, I discussed how fintech was moving from being a business model unto itself, to being an ingredient used in other technology businesses. This is what we refer to as the “fourth platform,” joining internet, cloud and mobile in the modern technology stack. In this essay, we will discuss why this is happening and offer some early examples.

Benefits of embedded financial services

When you look at the benefits of this embedded financial services model, the first point is obvious: as a technology founder, you’re already going through the hard work of acquiring customers, and as a result you have created the opportunity for a zero customer acquisition cost cross-sell. But the opportunity goes well beyond that basic business logic.

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Having these financial functions integrated with software enables new functionality, leveraging the persistent connection to move beyond transactions to relationships. We’ve already been trained to conduct financial transactions inside of software applications (think payments inside of Uber), so if you’re utilizing software to run your business, using that same software to get paid and make payments is logical and more natural than going to your financial institution to do so. These relationships are data-rich, which leads to smarter cross-sell, prequalification and massive risk reduction. The monetization opportunities are not only large, but actually meaningfully larger than the original software opportunity.

Integrated payments

As with most financial innovation, the first subsector to evolve is payments. When you look at payment card volume in the United States, for example, eight percent of it has migrated to what we call integrated payments, that is, merchant payments that are sold and managed through software companies as opposed to traditional payments companies. That portion is growing at two times the rate of the overall market, and analysts estimate it will hit 40 percent in the medium term. Why?

Take Shopify, a $36 billion software company that helps small businesses get online and setup e-commerce sites. You could think of it as shopping cart software. But at this point in time, the majority of its revenue comes from payments and that proportion is increasing. If you look at its website, you can see our thesis in action: zero CAC natural cross-sell, instant set up (most payments companies have to underwrite their merchants for risk, which takes time and hassle), novel functionality integrating settlement process and data into existing workflow, and then obviously additional revenue/enhanced monetization.

There are similar stories at many of our own portfolio companies. When we invested in AvidXchange four years ago, it was a majority software company, but by next year it will be 80 percent payments. Zelis Healthcare, which recently combined with RedCard Payments to form the next-generation leader in healthcare payments optimization, will similarly scale from almost entirely software to nearly a majority payments revenue in the next few years. We recently invested in Finix, the leading company enabling software companies to become payments companies.

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In certain segments, the innovation has come in waves. For example, take the rental payment market, which started with old school payments companies like FirstData, then progressed with Fintech 1.0 player, ClickPay, and now to the fully-embedded model, Cozy. However, our bet is that companies like SmartRent represent the next generation, with an even deeper integration.

SmartRent sells and installs home automation hardware into rental buildings, and uses that as a methodology for getting widespread and persistent connectivity to tenants in the form of its app. This year, it will incorporate rent payment into the app, and as soon as next year will sell renters insurance. SmartRent is the logical evolution of insurtech companies like Lemonade — zero CAC, integrated into its own smart lock and leak detection system for a persistent data-rich connection and novel functionality, and with excellent incremental monetization.

Integrated lending

Within lending, we’re starting to see some early examples of embedded fintech. For example, we've seen the rapid rise of the payroll advance lenders. This type of loan recognizes that workers are paid in arrears, and have a balance of worked hours that can represent, in effect, collateral for a loan. This began with the 1.0 versions, like Dave, which finds borrowers through marketing channels and attempts to underwrite their hours worked algorithmically. This has quickly evolved to where modern software-driven payroll companies like Gusto can offer this functionality through their employer’s customers, reducing CAC to zero, increasing data-richness and validity through their ownership of the payroll system, and adding another leg of monetization.

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Our portfolio company Wisetack provides an API-driven infrastructure for software companies to add point of sale lending to their offerings without becoming lenders themselves. Lambda School, ostensibly an edtech company, has leveraged an innovative financing product called an ISA, creating unprecedented alignment between the school and its students. If SoFi is a classic Fintech 1.0 company (digital student lending!), Lambda is an early example of a technology company leveraging fintech as a platform.

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NCFA Jan 2018 resize - Fintech: The Fourth Platform The National Crowdfunding & Fintech Association (NCFA Canada) is a financial innovation ecosystem that provides education, market intelligence, industry stewardship, networking and funding opportunities and services to thousands of community members and works closely with industry, government, partners and affiliates to create a vibrant and innovative fintech and funding industry in Canada. Decentralized and distributed, NCFA is engaged with global stakeholders and helps incubate projects and investment in fintech, alternative finance, crowdfunding, peer-to-peer finance, payments, digital assets and tokens, blockchain, cryptocurrency, regtech, and insurtech sectors. Join Canada's Fintech & Funding Community today FREE! Or become a contributing member and get perks. For more information, please visit:

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