In our previous article about neobanks, we looked at how this relatively new business model disrupted the banking segment, with a specific focus on their entry into the investments and wealth management scene. The main proponent of their success has been their focus on growth, which is a common strategy that tech companies use during their startup years. In short, they use investor money raised through funding rounds to support their growth. As a result, even the big European names struggle to turn a profit or at least break even. Extremely competitive pricing strategies and huge marketing costs (as part of their growth strategy) and sub-optimal product penetration are some of the main factors that stand in the way of profitability for these players.
It appears that some neobanks might have to shift to profitability sooner than they have expected. The negative impact of the pandemic, increasing pressure from investors and nearing target scale are all pushing them to shift from growth toward self-sufficiency and profits as some strategies are beginning to coalesce:
- Finding a niche segment and offering a more personalised service that incumbents simply cannot provide
- Price optimisation, e.g., cutting back on hooks, increasing automation or introducing premium plans or other exclusive services
- Expanding into more profitable areas
Expanding into investments or asset and wealth management services can prove to be an excellent tool for neobanks to generate profit and maintain a steady growth of monthly active users and, as we discussed in our previous post, this seems to be quite a popular path that neobanks are stepping on, therefore it is worth taking a closer look at.
There is no denying that investment and trading apps have been a huge success during the pandemic. A new generation of small investors flooded the market last year, mainly through investment platforms such as Robinhood and Stash. For instance, the time spent on Robinhood’s trading platform increased by 183% during the pandemic, which generated $682 million in payment-for-order-flow revenue in 2020, a 514% increase year-on-year. And it seems like neobanks are also trying to capitalise on this trend. Revolut already added limited trading capabilities to its app: users can buy and sell selected stocks, cryptocurrencies and commodities (what is considered by the company to be one of their most profitable product launches as of late). German Bitwala targets cryptocurrency investors, offering trading fees as low as 1% and earning interest on Bitcoin investments. With the crypto market’s surge in 2020, Bitwala is now the third largest neobank in Germany and is currently operating at a profit.
Investments have clearly captured the attention and resources of neobanks, and wealth management services have also become a part of this trend. An apparent advantage of wealth management services is that they promise a relatively stable revenue from clients that is not exposed to user activity and seasonality as opposed to, for example, exchange-related services with their usual holiday downtimes. This sort of stability is a very strong reason for neobanks to enter the digital wealth management segment. They have the data about their customers’ spending habits that they can utilise to develop personalised products. All in all, with their current resources and knowledge, neobanks are well positioned to attract digital investors.
Based on emerging trends, an increasing number of neobanks are indeed entering the wealth management scene as well as investments. SoFi, for example, originally launched as a loan comparison and debt refinance tool that grew into a company offering all kinds of personal financial services. By continuously collecting and operating with customer data and feedback, they have developed a set of complementary financial offerings (loans, investments, insurance, wealth management, banking) and transformed themselves into a comprehensive financial platform serving a broad spectrum of customer needs.
As it currently stands, neobanks and other fintechs have a huge opportunity to bring about a similar digital transformation in the wealth management scene to what took place in banking, and by capturing this new, tech-savvy generation of investors that entered the market recently, these players could very well shape the future of the wealth management industry.
Stay tuned for the next entry in our article series, in which we will look at the difficulties and opportunities incumbents face as opposed to neobanks.