What is fintech?

fintech firms
fintech firms

Fintechs are companies that rely primarily on technology and cloud services—and less so on physical locations—to provide financial services to customers.

These days, you’re almost more likely to see the inside of a bank branch in an old movie than you are in real life. But take a look at your phone: there are probably at least two money apps on your home screen—maybe more. According to McKinsey research, this is just one sign of a new era in payments. What’s one major development behind this shift? Short word, big concept: fintech.

Fintechs—short for financial technology—are companies that rely primarily on technology to conduct fundamental functions provided by financial services, affecting how users store, save, borrow, invest, move, pay, and protect money. Most fintechs were launched after 2000, have raised funding since 2010, and have not yet reached maturity. They make it not only possible but also easy to move money between accounts, people, countries, and organizations. There’s no typical fintech company: fintechs include start-ups, growth companies, banks, nonbank financial institutions, and even cross-sector firms. Examples range from peer-to-peer payment services such as Venmo and Zelle to automated portfolio managers and stock- or cryptocurrency-trading apps such as Robinhood and Coinbase.

Fintech came to prominence around 2010, primarily in the payments space. Square, for instance, which was founded in 2009, enabled small companies or sellers to accept credit cards via a mobile device. Today, fintech disruptions have expanded to every corner of finance—even areas once assumed to be safe from digital threat. Fintech is spreading fast: in the United States, for example, almost one in two consumers in 2021 used a fintech product—primarily peer-to-peer payment products and nonbank money transfers. Fintechs also raised record capital in the second half of the 2010s: venture capital funding grew from $19.4 billion in 2015 to $33.3 billion in 2020.