Fintech firms led by 2008 veterans: What can we learn from the last recession?

By Aisling Finn on Tuesday 31 March 2020

Alternative LendingDigital BankingSavings and Investment

As the world faces the next global economic downturn, AltFi caught up with some of fintechs 2008 veterans to see what they learnt from the 2008 financial crisis.

Fintech firms led by 2008 veterans: What can we learn from the last recession?
Image source: Co-founders of OakNorth Rishi Khosla OBE and Joel Perlman

The past few weeks have seen an unprecedented level of economic turmoil which many have likened to that of the 2008 financial crisis.

It has been over a decade now since the last recession and while we may not be fully on our way to recession, we are heading in that direction.

As the economy tries to steady itself, AltFi took a look around to find fintech firms that were founded by some of the industry’s 2008 veterans. 

Starling

Digital banking giant, Starling Bank was founded by a 2008 veteran Anne Boden.

She has decades of experience in finance and after the crisis was drafted in to help the Allied Irish Banks (AIB) to turn its fortunes after it was nearly wiped out as a result of the recession.

In 2008 Boden was Executive Vice President Europe, Transaction Banking for ABN AMRO Bank but was hired in the depths of the crisis by Royal Bank of Scotland in 2009 as Head of Global Transaction Services, EMEA. 

In 2014 Boden founded Starling after recognising that technology could help to transform the way people managed their finances and plug the gaps that many traditional banks hadn’t yet filled.

On what lessons can be learnt from the last financial slump, Boden told AltFi: “The important thing to remember when you come out of a crisis is to realise that the next crisis is going to be different from the last.”

“It is so very easy to become fixated on what has just happened and over correct but be blind to what could happen in the future,” she added.

LendInvest

Alternative property lender, LendInvest was officially launched in 2013 by former CEO and executive chairman Christian Faes and current chief investment officer Ian Thomas.

LendInvest was previously known as Montello, which was the initial brainchild of Faes and Thomas and was founded in 2008.

Faes initially trained as a lawyer and has worked at Clifford Chance and as in-house counsel at Deutsche Bank and his partner, Ian Thomas is a chartered surveyor.

Since 2008 investors have plugged £2.8bn into the company to help users build and renovate homes across the country.

Recently Faes stepped down as CEO and handed fellow industry veteran Rod Lockhart, who is also a chartered surveyor, the reigns to the company.

Previously Lockhart was a Senior Director at commercial real estate and investment firm CBRE, where he worked in a variety of roles including providing UK pension funds with direct and indirect investment advice.

On what lessons can be learnt from 2008, CEO Rod Lockhart told AltFi: "LendInvest was born out of an opportunity that our founders spotted as a direct result of the 2008 crash.” 

“Every challenge brings its own opportunities; but, as LendInvest experience shows, it all comes down to how open and prepared you are to identify them, position yourself to capitalise on them and move fast to own them.”

"It's important to remember that this is a very different crisis to 2008. This time everyone is in it together, facing the same massive hurdles. Fintechs have a great history over the last few years of working together to create the best customer experience possible,” he added.

Revolut

Revolut, although not founded until 2015, is also a product of the 2008 financial crisis.

The founder and CEO of Revolut, Nikolay Storonsky was a junior derivatives trader at investment bank Lehman Brothers that collapsed as a result of the last recession.

In a blog post on Revolut’s website, Storonsky details how his time at the doomed investment bank gave birth to fintech: “Many of Lehman Brothers’ top employees who left in the aftermath of its collapse decided to start their own businesses.” 

“A generation of entrepreneurs rose from the ashes, but many were disillusioned with the financial system.”

Revolut is now one of Europe’s highest valued fintechs, following a $500m Series D funding round the digital banking service is now worth $5.5bn.  

OakNorth

SME alternative lender OakNorth was founded by LSE classmates and serial entrepreneurs Rishi Khosla OBE and Joel Perlman in 2015.

Before founding OakNorth, the two industry veterans founded Copal Amba, a research company for investment banks, know called Moody's Analytics Knowledge Services, in 2009.

Senior managing director, Joel Perlman told AltFi: “The lesson for us from the 2008 financial crisis was that in a crisis there are also opportunities, and we were able to not just survive, but thrive during that period.”

“There will be many businesses that were strong, profitable, healthy businesses before the pandemic which will now be struggling to survive. We are trying to find ways to support these businesses and help them through this extremely difficult time.”

Perlman added that this economic downturn could be a learning curve for future generations, “We want to look back on this and know that as a society, we came together to support one another, to help the vulnerable, and to protect SMEs.”

The SME-focussed banking service has since lent over £4bn in loans so small businesses and had pre-tax profits of £65.9m in 2019 and still remains the only UK digital bank to have turned a profit.

Square

Square was founded by Twitter’s CEO Jack Dorsey and entrepreneur and expert glassblower—this is relevant I promise—Jim McKelvey in 2009.

Their aim was to make it easier for SMEs to process payments after Dorsey was unable to pay McKelvey for some glass goods as the McKelvey couldn’t accept credit cards at his studio.

The pair then set out trying to find a way to cut out the middle man, and in turn the huge credit card fees, to allow SMEs to make credit card payments. 

Dorsey realised that because of the 2008 financial crisis “more and more of a microscope [was] being placed on the industry by Washington,” and he was able to offer a more transparent option for smaller businesses to trade with.

Over a decade on, Square has over 15m active users and made $4.71bn in net revenue in 2019 alone. 

Slack

While this last entry definitely isn’t fintech, it was also a product of the 2008 financial crisis and will be a service that most of us will have become much more familiar with over the last few weeks.

Slack Technologies was founded in 2009 in Vancouver, Canada largely by the team that founded picture sharing website Flickr. 

CEO and co-founder of Slack, and Flickr, Stewart Butterfield recently went viral on Twitter after sharing an insight into the company as, like many others, it shifted to remote working to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

The office organisational tool saw a huge jump in traffic as more and more offices began to work from home across the globe.

Butterfield wrote: “For us as a company, however, the shift is dramatic. In each of Q3 and Q4, we added around 5,000 net new paid customers.” 

“By last Tuesday, halfway through Q1, we had added 7,000. Yesterday, a week later, we crossed the 9,000 mark. Average messages sent per day per user is up 20%.”

So, now the question must be asked: if fintech was born out of the last financial crisis, what will come out of this current period of economic turmoil?

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