To license or not to license – are we asking the question?

In 2017, SME challenger bank OakNorth first came to the attention of Daily Fintech readers in a post from Bernard titled ‘Can challenger banks break the massive bank concentration in the UK?’.

Since then the bank has achieved some significant milestones, many of which have come to light in the press in the past few months. For starters, the bank has lent more than £2.5 billion to UK small businesses since 2015, and trebled its pre-tax profits in the past year, bringing in £33.9m in 2018.

Not bad going, and possibly why Softbank led a £440 million round into the fintech, which was announced back in February.

The company isn’t shy about expansion – who would be if you were making bank like they are. Oaknorth now plans to broaden its lending tentacles into the US. But rather than compete head to head with US banks, it wants to deploy its origination software, powered by its subsidiary OakNorth AI.

It’s very clever, and begs the question many of us in various corners of the world are thinking when it comes to challenger banking.

Is a license really worth it?

As more and more licensees for hire crop up to service the challenger banking space, and licensing is disconnected from platforms and technology, the value in owning the entire stack does need to be questioned. It’s counter to the way many investors and founders think – the ‘own it all’ mentality is strong and pervasive. In many instances it has been proven to work well and be a true value creator. But times are changing, and founders should continuously ask ‘why’ they are pursuing a certain product journey. In some instances, the vanity of being ‘full stack’ can be hard to shake.

In Australia, Up, a consumer facing digital banking brand born out of Ferocia, a financial software development business, has taken the front-end route. The interface leverages an existing banking license from Bendigo and Adelaide bank.

From a marketing and customer acquisition perspective, not having a license doesn’t seem to be preventing the company from acquiring customers. Many neobanks are hot on their footsteps, but most of them have had the added hurdle of overcoming licensing. Will it be worth it compared to time to market?

That, of course, is the multimillion dollar question many investors will be wondering.

Daily Fintech Advisers provides strategic consulting to organizations with business and investment interests in Fintech. Jessica Ellerm is a thought leader specializing in Small Business and the Gig Economy and is the CEO and Co-Founder of Zuper, a new superannuation startup in Australia.

I have no positions or commercial relationships with the companies or people mentioned. I am not receiving compensation for this post.

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