Competing With Banks Won’t Fund Your Fintech Startup

Startups set on competing with banks and larger incumbents may not be the most attractive companies, at least according to those looking to fund them.

For companies like growth equity firm Centana Growth Partners, the priority is investing in companies that are growing to service the existing financial services ecosystem (rather than supplant it), according to partner and co-founder Ben Cukier.

“There are three areas we look at—the non-balance sheet side of financial services, fintech, and enterprise technology that sells into banks,” Cukier told Bank Innovation, adding that the firm is typically committing between $5 and $30 million to these companies.

The firm, which today announced the close of its first fund for the oversubscribed amount of $250 million, is currently investing in companies like the insurtech One Inc, as well as Jumio—the company behind the technology powering HSBC’s recent “selfie” tool, currently available to United Kingdom consumers.

The equity firm is looking for companies that have enterprise partners, i.e. banks, according to Cukier, which is a far cry away from what one might call the standalone “Silicon Valley” approach of many startups.

The banks, Centana is betting, are still going to stick around for a good while longer—making those standalone startups less likely to be under consideration when it comes to equity funding, if not venture funding.

“There’s been chatter like that—talk of startups toppling the entire banking sector—for way more than the 20 years that we’ve been involved in this category,” Eric Byunn, co-founder and partner at Centana, told Bank Innovation. “And here we are—we went through the global financial crisis, and the U.S. banking sector is at least as dominant, if not more dominant, than it’s ever been before. So…we have the benefit of history that says that the banking system is highly unlikely to go away, and that the big banks are highly unlikely to go away.”

It’s also worth noting that big banks and incumbents, according to Cukier, still have all of the money and the capital, which is why Centana will continue to invest in fintech companies demonstrating strong enterprise skills.

“We came to this area 20 years ago and still have the same idea—that the financial institutions that are here today are going to continue to be here,” said Cukier. “So, we’re generally not going to look at those companies that are going to take that moonshoot—unlikely to happen. What we like to say is that we invest in workhorses, not unicorns.”

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