Why Is It So Hard to Scale Fintech Startups? It’s a Secret.

© Can Stock Photo Inc. / Hootie2710Why are fintech startups different from other tech startups?

Many people would answer regulations, and that’s certainly part of the story. Banks want fintech to be regulated to level the playing field, and fintech companies want regulation to make working with banks easier.

But at the Empire Startups Fintech Conference earlier this week, another theme emerged: fintech startups rarely go viral. Most startups want to scale fast and spread virally, from friend to friend. This is part of the startup ethos, but it’s a hard sell in fintech.

The idea was first brought up by SigFig CEO Mike Sha. “For consumers, dealing with money is not a fun thing,” he said. “Therefore money matters are not viral.” The idea was echoed on the insurtech panel by CoverHound CEO Rory Joyce. People don’t talk to their friends about money.

Fintech apps rarely go viral because people don’t enjoy money, and they don’t talk about money, and are particularly reticent about money problems. A cover story in The Atlantic called “The Secret Shame of the Middle Class” asserts that people are more likely to talk about sexual problems than credit card problems.

People are secretive about money, and money problems. That doesn’t lend itself to sharing apps with friends. There are exceptions. Venmo and Robinhood both seem to have attained success among younger users. But many other apps may be intensely useful, and may not be shared among friends because, well, it’s a secret.

Serena Torielli, founder and managing partner of the Milan-based investor social network AdviseOnly, disagrees.

There are social networks for bankers, and there are advice portals for consumers such as Phroogal. But paying down a debt is never going to be as fun as playing a game, and this presents a challenge for all fintechs.

It’s another reason why it makes sense for fintech startups to partner with banks. Banks have customers. Those customers have pain points. There are startups addressing those pain points. They only need to be connected, and it may not happen on Facebook, or in a text message exchange between friends.

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