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As technology is increasingly integrated into many industries’ operations, financial technology, better know as fintech firms, are frequently at the forefront of this trend. UK-based companies are among the global fintech leaders, making up 10 percent of the worldwide fintech market share.
For perspective, UK-based fintechs received $11.6bn of investment dollars in 2021. This figure represents almost half of all European fintech investment receipts during the year. In other words, UK fintechs are certainly a force to be reckoned with.
Why UK-Based Fintechs Have Increased in Prominence
The UK’s roster of fintechs is well positioned for success. First, these innovative financial companies (often startups) are fortunate to enjoy proximity to the City of London. This world-class financial center is known for its technology-rich financial services industry.
In addition, the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) serves as a model for other regulatory bodies across the globe. The FCA embraces new technologies and regularly engages in transparent interactions with fintechs focused on innovative ways of doing business.
Finally, British consumers are known for being “early adopters” in the financial innovation arena. To illustrate, forward-thinking UK residents quickly embraced emerging mobile banking and payments technologies.
Taken together, these advantages make the UK a highly desirable place to launch and grow a fintech company. This distinction applies to B2B technology providers along with fintechs that serve the consumer market.
Zilch CEO Philip Belamant Spotlights Fintechs’ and Investors’ Symbiotic Relationship
In the highly competitive fintech industry, certain companies have become known as the “cream of the crop.” Philip Belamant is CEO and Co-Founder of Zilch, a rapidly growing payments provider that has made its mark in the “Buy Now, Pay Later” (or BNPL) space.
Zilch has enjoyed an exceptional growth trajectory, vaulting from series A to double-unicorn status in a mere 14 months making it, at the time, the fastest-ever European company to do so.
Belamant explains how the UK’s favorable high-tech business environment has been instrumental in meeting fintechs’ and investors’ needs.
“A symbiotic relationship between investors and entrepreneurs has been crucial to this success. Venture capital and growth equity firms look at the UK as a place in which to find and invest in cutting-edge fintech businesses with huge growth potential, abetted by their proximity to the City of London and British consumers’ willingness to adopt new financial technologies.
“Fintech founders see the UK as the perfect place to launch a new business, with readily available access to funding and guidance from sophisticated investors who have supported multiple other success stories.
“This ‘virtuous circle’ dynamic – promising businesses attract funding, which in turn attracts promising businesses, and so on – has driven investment into UK fintech companies to record highs,” Belamant remarks.
Economic Conditions Have Spurred Investors to Rethink Their Strategies
In 2021, however, investors took note of changing economic influences that together signaled a more challenging investment environment.
Philip Belamant details the three key factors that led to investors’ decision to review their investment targets. “The perfect storm of rising interest rates, inflationary pressures, and falling public company valuations – most notably in the tech sector – triggered a reset in thinking.”
“Now, investors in privately owned UK and European FinTech companies are less willing to continue subsidizing aggressive growth plans. Instead, they want to see evidence that your product is monetizable, that your margins are sustainable and that your USP [or unique selling proposition] is more than just being bigger than your other, equally commodified competitors.”
How Zilch’s Fundraise Dynamics Have Changed
For perspective, Philip Belamant contrasts Zilch’s two most recent fundraises: the first one from November 2021 and the second one from June 2022. “Coming to either side of the market volatility of early 2022, these two fundraises provide a window into how investors’ attitudes towards fintech businesses have, and continue to, change.
“Last year, our customer acquisition rates were front and center of our pitch to investors. We had reached a million customers two months earlier, just over a year since our launch. We were on our way to two million customers only four months later. We were lining up [for] a U.S. launch in the spring. The potential for further rapid growth in customer numbers was fundamental to achieving a double-unicorn valuation.
“This summer, the conversations were significantly different. Investors were more focused on how frequently our existing customers use the product, how long before each payment made by a consumer translates into profit, and how sustainable is the revenue pool that we’re fishing in.
“Without the right answers, we would not have been able to buck the industry trend and maintain a stable $2bn valuation. Those questions are, therefore, a useful indicator of what fintech businesses can now expect investors to focus on,” Belamant emphasizes.
Fintech Investors Increasingly Scrutinize Two Key Areas
In late 2022, many fintech companies (especially those on the consumer-facing side) find themselves under exceptional scrutiny. Philip Belamant details two key areas of investor concern.
The Nature of Customer Relationships
“Firstly, what is the nature of your relationship with your customer base? It’s all well and good to have reached millions of customers, but these numbers can be deceiving. Do you own the relationship with those customers, or are you reliant on other companies to refer them back to your product? Are you offering them a unique proposition to which they are loyal, or are they constantly on the brink of jumping ship to a competitor who offers the same commodified service?
“The more longstanding and traditional operators in the Buy Now Pay Later space find themselves on the horns of this particular dilemma. If their biggest retailer partners choose to put a different BNPL provider’s button on their checkout page, a chunk of their customer base disappears overnight. The biggest operators have suffered a dramatic fall in valuations in recent months, in no small part for that reason,” he says.
Monetizable Products and Sustainable Margins
Philip Belamant says fintech investors are also increasingly concerned about their return on investment. Stated another way, the investors are focused on their own bottom lines.
“The second area of increased investor scrutiny is whether a company’s product is monetizable and its margins sustainable. When we spoke to our investors over the summer, they placed much greater emphasis on the net transaction margin of the purchases made by our customer and our path to profitability.
“Any fintech business seeking to raise more capital will need to have answers to these exact questions. It will, of course, do them no harm at all to be recording strong growth at the same time. But that will no longer be enough. Customer loyalty and commercial viability are increasingly front of mind for private fintech investors,” Belamant emphasizes.
Philip Belamant Details Zilch’s Path Forward
Zilch’s Philip Belamant is clearly aware of the company’s (and the industry’s) ongoing challenges. Not surprisingly, he has already laid out a navigable roadmap for the company’s continued forward progress. First, Zilch continues to build exceptional customer loyalty. In fact, Zilch’s many daily users have helped the app to far outpace its competitors in this regard.
Belamant says investors have noticed Zilch customers’ remarkable utilization behaviors. “That shows the increased attention to customer loyalty and utilization rates, rather than focusing solely on raw customer growth.
“Similarly, they [the investors] ascribed real value to us, having already reached net transaction margin profitability for our most mature customer cohorts, with an aim to emulate this across the entire business by next year. That underlines the value of a demonstrable path to profit,” he explains.
Zilch’s Multifaceted Growth Platform
Belamant also says that Zilch’s synchronized growth platform sidesteps many of the conflicts that plague traditional BNPL firms. “Finally, we were able to lay out the benefits of a platform that combines payments and commerce and thereby generates revenues from marchants’ marketing budgets. [These budgets] are projected to climb to c.$1 trillion annually within the next two years.
“This demonstrates that we won’t be fighting over a shrinking pie in the future – unlike, for instance, companies that rely on merchants’ payment processing budgets, which are set to be squeezed further.
“Growth, of course, remains critically important. But, for the UK’s FinTech businesses, it is no longer sufficient. Going forward, the winners in this market will be those who can chart a course that is equal parts high-growth and commercially sustainable,” Belamant concludes.
About Philip Belamant
Philip Belamant is an accomplished South African serial entrepreneur with several well-regarded payments businesses under his belt. He has received several accolades and recognitions for his entrepreneurial spirit and innovative approach to business, including a recent EY “Entrepreneur of the Year 2022” award.
Belamant began his entrepreneurial journey in South Africa’s emerging financial services market. Specifically, Belamant launched profitable electronic payments systems in a region lacking in digital infrastructure. He overcame these challenges by piggybacking the company’s offerings atop existing services platforms.
Today, Philip Belamant is the CEO and Co-Founder of Zilch, a London-based fintech that continues to experience remarkable growth. Zilch continues to revolutionize the consumer payments and financial services industry.
In May 2022, Zilch entered the massive United States marketplace. Zilch’s notable market launch offered proof of the company’s global growth strategy. This double-unicorn fintech likely has European, Asian, and other key markets within its rapidly expanding sights.
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