Over the past month, we documented the upside opportunity for Google, Facebook, and Amazon to build financial services products, following in the footsteps of their Chinese counterparts Baidu, Tencent and Alibaba. This week, we highlight the three biggest roadblocks we see for these companies to become vertically-integrated players versus platforms– Regulation, Compliance and Culture.
Can you imagine Google drug testing their 75,000 employees?
Banking and payment is largely regulated by the OCC which has an extensive list of types, there are a few alternatives for banking regulation such as a Thrift. Investing is largely regulated by the SEC, while lending, real estate and insurance are regulated on a state by state basis. Outside of the application time, review process and process/procedures required to be in place– the decision to be regulated requires careful consideration. All aspects of employee behavior, conduct as well as business practices become subject to regulatory audit.
Can you imagine the CFO telling analysts that Facebook’s new bank will have a 5% cost of compliance?
Banks spend billions of dollars a year on compliance and risk control staff. While banks’ overall headcounts have shrunk considerably since 2007, compliance spending has more than doubled. This trend shows no signs of slowing down, with costs around risk and compliance expected to double again by 2022.
For the largest banks, compliance represents 3% of non-interest expenses. For smaller banks with less assets, compliance takes up close to 9% of costs. Even if Google, Facebook and Amazon build technology to automate most compliance and legal processes, they will still need to hire a couple thousand compliance officers, a huge hit to their bottom line.
For tech companies, the dollar cost of becoming a bank is nothing compared to the drag on their fast-moving culture and product development. These companies are already viciously competing to build the best messaging platforms, cloud storage, and digital advertising, to name a few. Becoming a regulated financial institution would put a speed limit on many of these projects, and suffocate their culture of asking for forgiveness rather than permission.
Lessons from FinTechs
Many of the most successful fintech startups reached critical mass without becoming financial institutions: think PayPal or Square. Acquiring a banking license takes at least 2 years, and these firms got a head start by avoiding it all together. Last year, British fintech Mondo opted to become a full-fledged bank, a transition that required them to raise an additional £20 million in funding.
While the OCC proposed a “fintech charter” that would streamline this process for growing startups, state governments sued, making slow, expensive banking licenses the only option for the foreseeable future. It’s no wonder most tech companies are opting out.
The Platform Path
While a financial license might be too much of a drag on their culture, we see an alternative path for Google, Facebook, and Amazon finance: the platform play. By building financial products that are compatible with today’s leading financial institutions, tech titans can capture the additional screen time of personal finance, without slowing down their agile, user-focused culture.
Previously in this series: