The vertical integration of SoFi has the core entry point right!

sofi

There is a question that beckons for an answer.

In this fluid world, owning the customer is the challenge.

Each individual is managing a balance sheet, e.g. assets and liabilities.

Serving which side of the balance sheet, will prove to be the best entry point to develop a long lasting relationship with the end-customer?

Tech-enabled financial services are not a dream anymore. From telcos, to internet providers, to social networks, they can all aspire to offer financial type of services. Starting with basic personal financial management tools (PFM), to transactions services, all the way to investments. Most PFM and transaction related services are already very low margin services and heading to zero. The remaining higher margin services are further down the value chain and mainly related to investments. Despite the fact that margins in some segment of investment services, are being squeezed from low cost online offerings (robo-advisors), there are still substantial margins that remain. Even though they are decreasing also, they don’t seem to be heading to zero.

Markets are efficient but the time needed to reach this equilibrium type of state, is uncertain. Technology is altering the investment segment of financial markets and creating havoc for financial advisors and asset managers alike.

Seems like there is a new segmentation being formed in the investment segment of the market, with one part of it being cannibalized and another part not. But the latter one, has no other option but to redefine its value proposition and is being pushed towards some kind of Vertical Integration.

At the same time, we have to admit that technology has not been able to sweep the unadvised assets, still sitting around despite the negative deposit rates in most of the world and despite the old-fashioned vault keeping services that deposit taking institutions offer. We have been pointing to this fact,

The Unadvised Assets, and the quarterly data that we collect show no significant change in the “Lazy Cash” figures.

(Read Oh, the things you could do with the enormous Cash pile!). That covers the asset side of most balance sheets of individuals.

On the other side of the balance sheet, there are our liabilities or our debt. This is the part that actually weighs more than saving and investing. From a more holistic perspective, the debt side of our balance sheet is heavily defining our decision making, our life-style and is more sticky. Debt decisions and debt management, affect much more our life. They not only are typically, larger in size, both absolute and percentage wise, but our life is much more sensitive to these factors.

In other words,

allocating capital and managing the risk on the debt side of our balance sheet is larger, more complex, and determines whether we reach our goals or how far away do we end up. This is primarily where we all need advice (human, bionic, hybrid) in the first place, and subsequently in the investment segment of our finances.

Incumbents and Fintechs, for the most part, have got this order of priorities wrong!

Incumbents have a long history of silos between business units, segmentation by product areas, and very low cross-selling rates. The large ones are struggling with the daunting task of integration, platformification, or a holistic approach to the existing large customer base.

Lets watch and see, whether Marcus for example, the consumer lending innovation from Goldman Sachs truly succeeds in destigmatizing personal debt (check out Will Goldman become a verb? Watch the Marcus ads!)? And then, in an invisible way, manages to simplify your first mortgage. And create a full stack for the customer, by integrating their deposit taking offering, their debt offering and management, and their investment capabilities.

On the Fintech side, will it be Betterment which is investing its recent large (for the robo space) funding round into the investment segment of our financial needs, that will invisibly move from its current Home improvement loan offering in certain states, to a full fledged mortgage offering?

Or will it be SoFi, who is investing its ten fold recent funding, into the mortgage segment already, that will easily move into the investment robo-offering later?

SoFi has been growing through the refinancing part of the value chain starting from student loans. From that same niche, they have been growing for more than 3yrs, their mortgage business. In other words, they have been advising their customers on how to manage their debt, from student loans to mortgages! In November, SoFi announced a partnership with Fannie Mae and a new offering, the Student Loan Payoff ReFi.

With SoFi’s new offering, the Student Loan Payoff ReFi, homeowners will have the ability to refinance mortgages at a lower rate and pay down the balance of an existing student loan. With its cash-out refinance student loan payoff plan, SoFi will pay down the student loan by disbursing payment directly to the servicer of the student debt. SoFi is a Fannie Mae approved seller servicer. Source

 This is not just another offering that is cheaper and faster. This is about parents who have co-signed student loans, that will be able to free up their digital assets. It is also about homeowners that manage student debt, being able to optimize the way they manage their capital and risk.

While the headlines are focused on the Zenbanx acquisition (covered in SoFi buying Zenbanx either signals the first Mega NeoBank or a unicorn losing the plot), what is really happening is

the creation of a platform business that is about managing both sides of the balance sheet for retail customers, that has been built around the core business of advising retail on the debt side.

SoFi is a business innovator because it has the priorities right in building a successful business to serve retail customers.

SoFi has realized early on, that the value lies in managing the debt side of the balance sheet for retail customers.

Daily Fintech Advisers provides strategic consulting to organizations with business and investment interests in Fintech & operates the Fintech Genome P2P Knowledge Network. Efi Pylarinou is a Digital Wealth Management thought leader.

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