Anthemis’ Williams: Fintechs in a race to become customers’ primary financial provider

Jillian Williams

The road to growth for consumer fintech companies is taking a platform-based route, with single-offering companies increasingly taking on a family of additional services to lock in customers.

Founded in 2010, London- and New York-based venture firm Anthemis Group focuses on early-stage and Series A fintech investments. Its total deployed capital amounts to more than $190 million across all vehicles, including its venture fund, balance sheet and corporate investment partnerships. Its portfolio includes mobile banking firm Moven, personal finance app Qapital, robo-adviser Betterment and B2B payments provider Bento for Business.

Jillian Williams, investment principal, has worked at Anthemis since 2016. She is responsible for overseeing 14 companies in Anthemis’ portfolio of more than 90 firms, and is a board observer for seven of them, including B2B digital mortgage software developer Maxwell and digital retirement planning platform Kindur.

Williams spoke to Bank Innovation about the evolution of consumer-facing fintech companies as subject areas become competitive and offerings increasingly become commoditized.

What are some of the biggest forces shaping consumer fintech today?
We’re definitely seeing the rebundling [of products and services] in how everyone is trying to “own the customer”. Owning the customer means owning the savings and checking accounts. You see a lot of the robo-advisers trying to get into checking accounts, and there’s a rise in the number of challenger banks in the U.S. Most of the challenger banks are targeting the older end of the [millennial] age group, but others like Current are targeting a younger generation. People in the U.S. [typically] don’t change their banks so, if you can acquire [customers] at a young age, you can own the customer relationship.

Once a company owns the customer relationship in a banking or personal finance context, is the goal to just “set it and forget it” or is there something else at play here?
When customers interact with their financial institution, they don’t want to think about their finances. People don’t want to go look at Mint and see where they’re spending their money; it’s about how can they change their habits overall.

What we are thinking about is embedded finance. It’s when financial services [tools] are happening in the background and helping people achieved a means to an end [automatically], and you don’t need to interact with your bank. For example, using an app that helps you save for that iPhone and lets you buy it within the same app.

What’s your take on challenger banks?
I don’t think they’ll necessarily take market share from [traditional] banks, but they’re targeting people that are underserved by the banks. The winners will be the ones that have the best costumer experience. Until recently, the target customer has been on the higher end of the [millennial] spectrum that tops out at age 30, but there’s still the opportunity around a younger demographic, Generation Z. Many [challenger banks] will find it hard to differentiate themselves so some will not exist or some sort of consolidation will happen.

Where does the growth of the challengers leave the incumbents?
Big bank acquisitions of the digital [challenger] banks will be driven by customer acquisition. While challenger banks obviously have fewer customers, startups have engagement – and there’s a case for a bank like JPMorgan Chase to acquire one of those.

What trend, in your opinion, is overhyped?
It’s not necessarily overhyped, but one area where a lot of companies aren’t necessarily solving in the right way is the payback space for student loans. They’re targeting the typical personal finance model – round up and pay back your student loan – but there’s such a broader issue with student loans. You need to have an impact by starting earlier in the chain, like when students are applying to college.