For many fintechs, the obvious barrier to competition has always been the banking incumbents, who in the past have religiously denied access to financial infrastructure, or used regulation as a weapon in the fight to prevent fintech startups gaining a foothold in the market.
But the sands are shifting, incredibly fast. Today, a new and much more pervasive (and hard to manage) threat is emerging – big tech. Recent actions by Facebook and Google are evidence of this, and demonstrate both are not afraid of wading into the waters of anti-competitive behaviour, ironically using a similar playbook and tactics to those employed by their incumbent predecessors.
This week it was announced that Google had decided to ban personal loan apps in the Play store that require compensation in full in 60 days. Whether you like short term lenders or not, there can be no disagreement that this action by Google is extraordinary, effectively cutting off one of the largest distribution channels available to these online lenders.
Surely these businesses, which fall under the remit of financial regulators, ought to be the arbiter of whether these businesses can or can’t distribute their product, not Google?
It’s not just Google that’s showing signs of considering themselves judge, jury and executioner when it comes to startups. This week news came out that Facebook had blocked products from Australian social media marketing startup Stackla, a local IPO hopeful, across both Facebook and Instagram. The technology giant cited improper use of data. Whether this is the case or not (as Stackla argues), both of these examples highlight the risk of building businesses reliant on digital channels operated by Facebook and Google. In an era where both of these tech giants effectively own the highways of the internet, what startup has a business model that isn’t highly reliant on both?
With both companies teasing with financial innovation themselves, is it only a matter of time before other fintechs are in the firing line, with policy and ‘morals’ providing cover for the tech giants anti-competitive behaviour? Finally, if regulation is impotent when it comes to protecting online lenders against big tech, who’s really in charge?
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 commercial relationship with the companies or people mentioned. I am not receiving compensation for this post.
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