Financial technology is no longer a complicated, boring niche reserved to a small group of tech titans in Silicon Valley. It has become a rapid-growth sector in the tech industry - one that isn't losing steam.
Now popularly known as fintech, it generally refers to new ventures that are applying technology to solve a problem in the financial industry. The problems these innovators are solving have trended around creating a better customer experience whether in budgeting and banking, lending, purchasing, wealth management, or funds transfer.
While many companies in this sector flew under the radar for several years, they're now starting to gain mass appeal in the mainstream. The industry has leveled up in a sense with some savvy fintechs developing APIs (application programming interfaces) that are connecting the dots between various players in the financial services ecosystem, allowing them to collaborate in ways that previously didn't seem possible.
Here is a look at six making waves in the industry and reshaping the relationship and experience consumers and businesses have with the financial services sector.
Robo-advisor might sound like a villain out of Terminator, but it's actually an online wealth-management service that applies automation and algorithm-based technology to portfolio management advice. One fintech making a name for itself in robo-advisory is Apex Clearing, an online clearing firm. Other fintechs have glommed onto the company's suite of APIs to enable their users to enter, review, and settle account transfers between financial institutions.
Apex's API is now being used by other notable fintechs like Wealthfront, Betterment, Robinhood, Stash, and Personal Capital. And it has enabled them to give their users a complete online and paperless experience, standardize transfer procedures, reduce operating costs, and speed transaction settlements. This fintech made a name for itself early on by adapting quickly to the evolving needs in the digital advice space.
Fidor Bank is an all-digital bank based in Germany that launched in 2009 in an effort to re-establish the lost confidence consumers had in banking. The founders did so with customer-focused services and by empowering customers to have a voice in the bank's decision-making processes. As a result, it's since been labeled as one of the most innovative banks and has received numerous awards for its disruptive, transparent approach to banking and its fintech activity.
They further clinched their place in the industry with fidorOS, their suite of white-label, API-enabled application modules for digital banking. Through their database of more than 40 APIs, they're allowing banks and fintechs to build apps on top of their systems.
Developing this infrastructure has helped secure Fidor's longevity in the industry. Countless fintechs and banks are now relying on Fidor APIs for things like banking, payment processing, card and user management, sign-on and identification, loyalty and rewards management, money transfer, lending, and the list goes on.
Xignite was created for sourcing and integrating real-time market data into apps and devices geared towards wealth management. This Silicon Valley startup has helped ignite fintech innovation by enabling its more than 1,000 financial services clients to provide trade data - pricing and volume on stocks, bonds, options, or futures - and corporate earnings information to the end user.
Xignite currently has more than 43 APIs used by notable fintechs like Betterment, Wealthfront, Yodlee and Personal Capital. Major financial institutions and exchanges such as NASDAQ, NYSE Technologies, and Direct Edge are also using the company's private data distribution solution.
In a nutshell, Plaid enables applications to sync with their users' bank accounts to track and manage their budgets, and transfer funds. Plaid's API essentially serves as the connecter between banks and fintechs, and it's currently being used by several popular brands like Venmo, Gusto, TransferWise, Charity Water, Venmo, Gusto, TransferWise, Charity Water, Robinhood, and Level Money.
For example, Robinhood, a stock-trading app, uses Plaid's ACH (automated clearing house) authentication to verify a user's account ownership, check balances, and facilitate the funds transfer. Similarly, Gusto uses Plaid's ACH functionality to power its payroll direct deposit service. Beyond ACH, other fintechs like Level Money are using Plaid to aggregate and clean data from the user's various bank accounts and adding helpful context to help them budget and manage their money.
When Dwolla first came on the scene it was focused on getting customers to use its mobile app to pay businesses. They quickly realized it was their ACH API that was really making waves. Now fintechs are using Dwolla's API to enable peer-to-peer funds transfer between various banks. They took it a step further, white labeling their payment integration and now fintechs like Kill Bill deploying Dwolla into their native platforms to facilitate payments.
SPARROW started in the military space and has expanded into e-commerce, education, travel, medical, and other sectors with its payment technology. The company has since developed a series of open APIs for managing one-time and recurring ACH, automate tokenization, e-commerce, mobile payment processing, and secure redirect payments.
Of course, there are a handful of the long-time players like Square, PayPal, Google, and Apple that are continuing to revolutionize the financial services industry. Established banks like Deutsche Bank and Barclays have also embraced the API revolution, hosting hack-a-thons to encourage innovators to build new fintechs using their APIs.
The moral of the story? If you're looking to break into the fintech space, keep in mind there are two sides of the equation: those building the infrastructure and those leveraging it to reshape the user experience. And there's plenty of room for innovation in both.