The origin of the term “fintech” is difficult to pinpoint; only very recently has it become an accepted label for one of the hottest segments of the technology market. The availability of high-performance computing and low-cost distribution channels is attracting a steady stream of entrepreneurs with ideas for improving, if not revolutionizing, financial products and processes — and investors are in hot pursuit.
Institutional Investor’s first Fintech Finance 35 ranking turns a spotlight on the financiers who are abetting this flowering of innovation. They include deal makers at various stages of the investment cycle and facilitators of the incubating, mentoring and capital-raising ecosystems that accelerate promising financial start-ups’ paths to commercialization.
According to one global tally, by consulting firm Accenture, fintech investment tripled in 2014, to $12.2 billion, its growth rate dwarfing the 63 percent for venture capital overall. Research firm CB Insights estimates that fintech’s share of total venture capital activity quadrupled between 2008 and 2014, to 12 percent.
That’s the big picture. Here we present perspectives on the boom through the lenses of some of its leading players. (To account for firms’ partnership structures, a total of 41 individuals are recognized.) Opinions and investment theses vary, as does the approach of a traditional venture fund manager compared with that of a corporate strategic investor. But all share a conviction that fintech is here to stay and an enthusiasm for the work, which neither begins nor ends when checks are issued. Venture capitalists typically meet with hundreds of prospects over the course of a year before making a relatively small handful of bets, and through board seats or other types of advisory relationships they provide ongoing guidance, often drawing from extensive industry experience.
On that score, James Robinson III rises above all others. Ranked No. 1 with his son James IV — they are two of the three co-founders of RRE Ventures — he was chairman and CEO of American Express Co. for 16 years before establishing one of New York’s venerable venture capital firms. “I’m just an old goat,” says the elder Robinson, self-effacingly crediting other RRE partners for, over the past two decades, assembling and managing seven funds that comprise one of the most extensive fintech portfolios. But the octogenarian is plenty busy: He is a director of online lenders Avant and OnDeck Capital and blockchain start-up Chain, among others.
At the bottom of the age range is 27-year-old Janos Barberis (No. 35), founder and CEO of FinTech Hong Kong, a regional hub for start-ups, funders and other ecosystem constituents. Yet Barberis is no newbie, having written a law school thesis on peer-to-peer lending and worked for a U.K. “challenger bank.” He is also part of a geographical subplot, as Hong Kong, Singapore (Vladislav Solodkiy, No. 25) and London (Lawrence Wintermeyer, No. 34) vie to dislodge New York (Maria Gotsch, No. 11) from its current perch as fintech’s global capital.
The Fintech Finance 35 ranking was compiled by Institutional Investor editors and staff, with nominations and input from industry participants and experts. The evaluation criteria included individual achievements and leadership at the respective firms, influence in the community at large, and the size, reputation and impact of the respective funds and institutions in the financial technology industry — particularly in the current wave of fintech financing.
The Fintech Finance 35 was compiled under the direction of Senior Contributing Editor Jeffrey Kutler. Individual profiles were written by Kutler; Asia Bureau Chief Allen T. Cheng; Senior Writers Frances Denmark, Julie Segal and Aaron Timms; Research Staff Writer Jess Delaney; Senior Contributing Writer Katie Gilbert; Associate Editor Kaitlin Ugolik; and Editor Michael Peltz.