Fintech has hit a bottom after valuation plunge, execs and VCs say

Fintech has hit a bottom after valuation plunge, execs and VCs say

Long gone are the days when venture capital was flowing into fintech startups with bold ideas — and little to show in terms of business metrics and fundamentals.

Bloomberg | Getty Images

AMSTERDAM — The financial technology industry is embracing a new normal — with some industry executives and investors believing the sector has reached a “bottom.”

Executives and investors at the Money20/20 event in Amsterdam last week told CNBC that valuations have corrected from unsustainable highs from the industry’s heyday in 2020 and 2021.

Long gone are the days when venture capital was flowing into startups with bold ideas and little to show in terms of business metrics and fundamentals.

Iana Dimitrova, CEO of embedded finance startup OpenPayd, told CNBC in an interview at the firm’s booth that the market has “recalibrated.”

Embedded finance refers to the trend of technology companies selling financial services software to other companies — even if those companies don’t offer financial products themselves.

“Value is now ascribed to businesses that manage to prove there is a solid use case, solid business model,” Dimitrova told CNBC.

“That is recognised by the market, because three, four years ago, that was not necessarily the case anymore, with crazy ideas of domination and hundreds of millions of dollars in VC funding.”

Iana Dimitrova, CEO of OpenPayd, talking onstage at Web Summit in Lisbon, Portugal.

Horacio Villalobos | Getty Images

“I think the market is now more sensible,” she added.

Lighter footfall, talks happen on the fringes 

Around the show floor of the RAI conference venue last week, banks, payment companies and big technology firms showed off their wares, hoping to reignite conversations with prospective clients after a tough few years for the sector.

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Many attendees CNBC spoke with mentioned that the conference hall was a lot lighter in terms of conferencegoers and the pitter-patter of delegates flocking to various stands and booths around the RAI.

Many of the most productive conversations, some attendees CNBC spoke with say, actually happened on the fringes of the event — at bars, restaurants and even boat parties held around Amsterdam once the day on the show floor was over.

In 2021, global fintech funding reached an all-time peak of $238.9 billion, according to KPMG. Companies such as Block, Affirm, Klarna, and Revolut had hit seismically high multibillion-dollar valuations.

But by 2022, investment levels sank sharply and fintechs globally raised just $164.1 billion. In 2023, funding sank even further to $113.7 billion, a five-year low.

Have we reached the bottom?

That’s despite the massive growth of many companies. 

The bruising impact of higher interest rates means that, for even the hottest and fastest-growing players, funding is either hard to come by — or being offered at a lower prices than before.

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Nium, the Singaporean payments unicorn, said in an announcement Wednesday that its valuation had fallen to $1.4 billion in a new $50 million funding round.

Prajit Nanu, CEO of Nium, told CNBC that investors have at times been too distracted with artificial intelligence to pay attention to innovative products and growth stories happening in the world of fintech.

“Investors are now in the AI mindset,” he told CNBC. “Like, whatever it costs. I want in on AI. They’re going to burn a lot of money.”

Nanu added that the trend mimics the “craziness” fintech saw in terms of frothy valuations in 2020 and 2021.

Today, he believes we have now reached a “bottom” when it comes to fintech market values.

“I believe that this is the lowest end of the fintech cycle,” Nanu said, adding that “this is the right time to make it in fintech.”

Consolidation will be key moving forward, Nanu said, adding that Nium is eyeing several startups for acquisition opportunities.

OpenPayd’s Dimitrova said she isn’t considering tapping external investors for fundraising at the moment.

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But, she said, if OpenPayd were to look to accelerate its annual recurring revenue past the $100 million mark, venture capital investment would come more firmly under consideration.

Crypto comeback?

Crypto also made something of a comeback in terms of hype and interest at this year’s event.

Dotted around the RAI venue were stands from some of the industry’s major players. Ripple, Fireblocks, Token8 and BVNK, a crypto-focused payments firm, all had a big presence with notable booths around.

CoinW, a crypto exchange endorsed by Italian soccer star Andrea Pirlo, had advertising flowing through a bridge connecting two of the main halls of the conference.

Fintech execs and investors CNBC spoke with at this year’s edition of Money20/20 said they’re finally seeing a real use case for cryptocurrencies after years of bulls touting them as the future of finance.

Despite the huge promise of AI around changing how we manage our money, for instance, “there’s no new AI for moving money,” according to James Black, partner at VC firm IVP — in other words, AI isn’t changing the infrastructure behind payments. 

However, stablecoins, tokens that match the value of real-world assets like the U.S. dollar, he said, are changing the game.

“We’ve seen the crypto wave, and I do think that stablecoins is the next wave of crypto that will gain more mass adoption,” Black said.

“If you think about the most exciting payment rails, you have real-time payments — I think that’s exciting, too. And it fits in with stablecoins.”

Charles McManus, CEO of ClearBank, speaks at the Innovate Finance Global Summit in April 2023.

Chris Ratcliffe | Bloomberg | Getty Images

ClearBank, the U.K. embedded finance startup, is working on launching a stablecoin underpinned by the British pound that it is expecting to receive a provisional blessing from the Bank of England soon.

Emma Hagen, CEO of ClearBank, and Charles McManus, the firm’s chair, told CNBC at its booth at Money20/20 that the stablecoin it’s working on would be sufficiently backed by a matching number of reserves.

“We’re in the early days as we learn with our partners,” Hagen told CNBC. “It’s about doing it in a way that gives people that trust and safety that there is going to be practical issuance.”

ClearBank is also working with other crypto companies on offering the ability to earn high yield on uninvested cash, McManus said.

He declined to disclose the identity of which firm, or firms, ClearBank was in talks with.

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