Is Softbank’s Vision Fund… Out of Ideas?

Providing capital to another capital provider is all part of the grand strategy, argues one analyst.

Masayoshi Son, chairman and chief executive officer of SoftBank Group. (Akio Kon/Bloomberg)

Masayoshi Son, chairman and chief executive officer of SoftBank Group.

(Akio Kon/Bloomberg)

Softbank’s $100 billion Vision Fund surprised some industry watchers this week, when news broke of its $800 million investment in Greensill Capital.

Vastly large checks are the venture capital fund’s norm; writing them to another investment outfit is not.

Greensill Capital is a London-based nonbank provider of working capital, and announced the deal Monday. Vision Fund, raised by Japanese telecommunications company Softbank, had previously focused its capital on the biotechnology and internet sectors, typically in late-stage growth companies.

Rather than indicating a pivot, one analyst argues that the Greensill play aligns with established strategy. The way he sees it, Vision Fund is taking advantage of a growing gap in the financial services market by investing in a tech-focused lender serving small and mid-size companies.

“I would look at the Greensill investment as a tech investment,” EquityZen analyst Adam Augusiak-Boro told Institutional Investor in an interview Monday. “I wouldn’t think of it as a path to investing in a traditional financial firm.”

The investment will help build out technology to accurately underwrite working capital loans, according to Augusiak-Boro. Greensill has also recently expanded into Brazil, and said the $800 million will accelerate those plans and its entry into enter countries, such as China and India.

Vision Fund is not Greensill’s first investor. General Atlantic was the first institution to back the company, which it did in 2018. This latest deal does not change the existing partnership with General Atlantic, according to the announcement.

To Augusiak-Boro, the Greensill deal signals that Softbank is taking the lending industry seriously. It follows a $250 million investment in Kabbage, another lending provider for small businesses, inked in 2017. “In capital financing, the big traditional banks may provide working capital loans to a select group of large clients,” Augusiak-Boro said. “There are a number of small businesses that cannot find that financing.”

As for what’s next for the Vision Fund, the analyst plans to watch how Uber and other tech-oriented initial public offerings fare in coming weeks. Uber shares, which began trading Friday, slid rapidly. They were trading about 10 percent lower than the IPO price as of late Tuesday afternoon.

“If we continue to see these down IPOs, is this later stage growth equity capital really smart money?” he posited. “Or should companies be going public earlier and give the investing public the chance to get in there?”