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June 26, 2024

Global Fintech 2024: Prudence, profits and growth

It can be easy to forget what the financial services landscape looked like two decades ago, before fintechs emerged to dramatically reconfigure banking and transacting.

In the ensuing 20 years, many individual fintechs have come and gone. Others have become integral components of financial services, but the true lasting legacy of fintech is the staggering impact on our day-to-day lives and our financial systems.

QED and Boston Consulting Group collaborated on a follow-up to the 2023 report to examine the nine trends influencing the evolution of fintech, the four major themes of today's fintech landscape and five calls to action. And there is so much more room for growth.

Click here to download the full report

With the advent of game-changing technologies such as GenAI and with still billions of unbanked and underbanked individuals worldwide, we reaffirm our forecast from last year’s report: we are still only in the second chapter of a longer story and fintech has vast untapped potential.

But the rules of the game are changing. The current funding chill, once passed, will leave in its wake an environment in which fintechs must invoke a different set of capabilities to succeed and thrive. Prudence—the ability to avoid adding risk to the financial system—will be as important as the ability to generate profitable growth. The prize, and the rewards for customers, will be as significant as ever, but the path to success will be markedly more difficult.

We spoke to more than 60 global fintech CEOs and investors to understand their views on the future of the sector. Combined with our own experience in the industry, these perspectives inform this report. We see nine distinct trends shaping the current fintech landscape, some new, some long-standing. Coming out of these underlying trends, we see four major themes that fintechs and incumbent banks will need to confront given that these themes are of growing and critical importance for the sector. Finally, we will explore five imperatives for players in the new fintech ecosystem that has begun to emerge.

Click here to read the press release

We are entering a world where the recipe for success for fintechs has more ingredients: prudence as table stakes, profitable unit economics, and robust customer growth. This shift has implications for all fintechs, particularly as they emerge from a funding winter hungry for investment.

For fintechs targeting an IPO, the path has become more complex: investors are still looking for that fintech magic—elegant solutions to pain points still all too prevalent in financial services—but they also want a clearer, almost granular, narrative on how a company plans to achieve long-term profitable growth. For all fintechs, public and private, and for the banks that compete with them, a firm grasp on cost and revenue levers will be a necessity.

We also believe that the future will see greater levels of cooperation and partnership between fintechs and incumbent banks—the opportunities for mutually beneficial alignment are just too numerous and potentially rewarding. In a world where embedded finance, connected commerce, and all the shades in between become norms, well-developed muscles in partnership and compliance will be just as important as skills in innovation, technology, and marketing.

The fintech landscape is flush with success stories across the globe. In India and Brazil, we are seeing perhaps a vision of the future in their DPI models—one in which regulators walk a fine line by encouraging and fostering innovation while protecting consumers. We see banks finally finding an effective and value-adding way of leveraging their customer data through connected commerce. And in GenAI, we see an almost custom-made productivity lever that may be enough to keep some fintechs in the game long enough to find their footing.

The truly seminal use cases for GenAI in financial services have yet to play out in full, but make no mistake – AI is here to stay. - Nigel Morris, QED Investors Managing Partner

Four Major Themes Shaping the Fintech Sector 

The last couple of years may have brought the high-flying fintech sector back to earth. However, a streamlined and newly focused set of companies will now emerge, and they—and incumbents—will confront four major themes: 

Embedded finance will be a $320 billion market by 2030. The small and medium-size business (SMB) segment will account for about half ($150 billion); the consumer segment—already humming with activity and adoption in payments, lending, and insurance—will be worth $120 billion in revenue by 2030; and the enterprise segment will reach $50 billion in revenue.

Established fintechs will continue to reap the lion’s share of the near-term benefits, while larger, more established banks will claim a growing share over time. 

Connected commerce is poised for liftoff. Connected commerce is emerging as a long-awaited killer app for banks, creating a new revenue stream, increasing customer loyalty, and enabling banks to offer a marketing channel for their SMB and enterprise customers. Using granular customer data, banks surface hypertailored ads to their customers; merchants then pay the bank based on either attributable sales or traffic.

As core revenue streams continue to come under pressure, and as deposits risk becoming commoditized in a higher-yield environment, connected commerce hints at a future model for banks.

Open banking will have a modest impact on banking but a greater one on advertising. We believe that open banking will continue to be relevant but is unlikely to change the basis of competition in consumer banking. In countries where open banking has had significant time to mature, no killer use case has emerged to drive customer switching. Of course, this is not to say that open banking will have no impact.

But revenue pools in the connectivity layer will remain modest, with value accruing to the ultimate use-case providers that leverage open banking infrastructure. In advertising, access to transaction-level data will enable more timely and targeted personal offers. 

GenAI will be a game-changer now for productivity, with product innovation to follow. GenAI is already delivering tangible productivity gains in financial services. For GenAI in fintech, given that its digital-first cost structures are heavily weighted toward areas where the technology is delivering huge gains—coding, customer support, and digital marketing—the impact is likely to be even more pronounced in the near term.

The use of GenAI in product innovation will lag its uses for productivity—but we expect it to follow.

Where Does Fintech Go from Here? 

In a fintech landscape being reshaped by major themes, we see five calls to action for stakeholders in the fintech ecosystem: 

Prudence: Risk and Compliance as Competitive Advantage. The current regulatory environment, along with the growing opportunity for strong bank-fintech partnerships, is increasing the critical importance of risk and compliance readiness. For fintechs, this demands an end-to-end view of compliance—preemptively assessing applicable regulations and proactively implementing industry-grade guidelines and controls. For banks, the call to action is to reinforce their existing compliance strengths and oversight of their fintech partners. 

Profits: A Call for Fintechs to Improve EBITDA by More Than 25 Percentage Points. Only 33 of the 70 largest public fintechs were profitable in 2023, and top-quartile players in terms of EBITDA outpaced bottom-quartile firms by roughly 25 percentage points in 2023 in all cost categories. These figures speak to a significant opportunity for tangible cost savings industry-wide.

To improve EBITDA by more than 25 percentage points, fintechs must build a scalable cost structure that will deliver compounding returns as the organizations continue to grow.

Growth: Journey to IPO (or Strategic Sale) and Beyond. As interest rates moderate, we expect IPOs—along with strategic sales and other M&A activity—to take off. But many fintechs have made the IPO leap only to see their stock prices drop by as much as 40% to 80% from initial listing.

As they prepare for IPO, fintechs must tell a comprehensive equity story about how they will attract users at sustainable costs, grow profitably, and meet increasing regulatory requirements. They also need to achieve enough scale, operational stability, and predictability to justify the costs and scrutiny that come with going public. 

Growth: Retail Banks As Digital Engagement Platforms. To provide a counterweight to fintechs that embed financial services into nonbanking journeys, banks can continue to develop their own commerce sites, where they can leverage their vast data on customer needs and behavior. Notably, many connected commerce platforms will succeed or fail on the quality of partnerships between banks, fintechs, and merchants. 

Growth: Government Support for Comprehensive and Integrated Digital Public Infrastructure. Governments, especially in emerging markets, that implement a three-part DPI ecosystem—composed of digital ID, payments, and data exchange layers—have broadened access to financial services, spurring innovation and ultimately benefiting the public. Many countries have tried to emulate the success of the two leading players: India’s UPI and Brazil’s Pix.

However, isolated implementations of point solutions for digital identity or real-time payments systems do not suffice to foster widespread adoption. Where DPI has worked, governments have set out the broad vision for the infrastructure and established protocols and nudges for adoption by the private sector.