The fintech market continues to grow at a fast pace. Apart from the booming digital payments sector, it is also in the midst of taking over traditional banking activities such as lending. This move makes sense, because payment providers tend to know their customers well, which makes them suitable for lending – as opposed to banks, which often see a new loan applicant for the first time. “Fintech is gradually consuming many of the banks’ juicy pockets, including cross border payments (FX), lending and deposits,” says Robeco Global Fintech Equities co-portfolio manager Patrick Lemmens.
This explosive growth has different drivers in various parts of the world. “In developed markets, fintech is driven by the transition from cash to plastic and then on to digital payments,” explains the co-portfolio manager Patrick Lemmens. In parts of Europe, some countries are still long way away from becoming fully digital. “In Italy, it is still 80% cash,” Lemmens says.
Thus, in the developed economies, this transition is driven not by the GDP growth per se, but by a move to online consumption, which in turn promotes online payments. “GDP in the developed world is not growing so fast, but digital payments are.” In the emerging markets, however, the driver is the underlying economic growth with people transitioning from low-income to middle-income status. Riding the wave of financial inclusion, new payment forms in Asia have developed from the get-go, and cash-related infrastructure such as ATMs is less and less available.
“It is almost impossible to pay with cash in countries like China,” says Lemmens. Payments with mobile phones are so widespread there that “the worst thing that can happen to you in China is that your mobile phone dies.”
The need to increase payments volume and boost the IT stack is driving the current wave of acquisitions in developed and emerging markets alike. “M&A offers companies a scale advantage,” explains Lemmens. Earlier this year, large US payments company FIS acquired payments firm Worldplay, while Fiserv acquired another significant market player, First Data. Global Payment bought Total System Services. Lemmens believes that this M&A wave will continue, and the next wave will happen in Europe. Here, markets were fragmented until recently but will face a consolidation on the European level.
In emerging markets, the digital payments conglomerates have already emerged and the landscape is dominated by a few major players.
“Smaller players find it harder to compete with government payments systems such as UPI,” explains Lemmens. UPI, or Unified Payments Interface, is an instant payments system, also available as an app, which was developed in India in order to facilitate bank transactions.
In addition, the leading Chinese players are actively building stakes in other Asian payments companies, in order to be able to serve both Chinese and non-Chinese customers.
The new growth opportunity within the fintech sector will come from B2B players or enablers. They include all the players that provide tools or infrastructure – be it software, payments terminals or cybersecurity services – to digital payments companies. Because the fintech market is growing so fast and depends on these players for basic tools, such B2B players are not affected by the macro climate, believes Lemmens. “They tend to be recession-proof, because their customer base cannot afford to delay investments any longer.”
Such ecosystem enablers serve banks, insurance companies and asset management companies, as well as fintech companies that are new arrivals to the market. This is driving M&A between such enablers and larger financial players.
Ecosystem enablers in the fintech market are still in the early stages and will follow the development of the digital payments segment. While digital payments firms will still offer substantial growth and investment opportunity in the next five to ten years, “identifying the winners among B2B players is something we will focus on in the next couple of years as that will offer us new and additional investment opportunities,” says Lemmens.