It’s been almost ten years since our last financial crisis was caused by banks that were too big to fail. However, Bloomberg is warning that the next collapse will be tied to Silicon Valley rather than Wall Street. Over the last ten years the government has tightened regulations on Wall Street to ensure that we won’t find ourselves in the same situation that occurred in 2008. However, there has also been a revolution in the world finance by startup companies incorporating new technologies.
While most people are aware of the new regulations that have been placed on the too-big-to-fail banks. It is now nearly impossible to get a small business loan, and even refinancing a mortgage on your home requires massive amounts of documentation that can take you weeks or months to put together. However, not many people are aware of just how large and diverse Fintech companies have become.
While Fintech has entered the world of factoring, its reach extends well beyond factoring into all other arenas of finance. There are Fintech companies that give out business loans, do crowd funding, give computer generated advice, and there are even virtual currencies such as Bitcoin.
The main issue with these new Fintech companies is that unlike the institutions that existed prior to the crash, these new businesses have no oversight. Not only has the government avoided regulating the industry, but the very idea of Fintech implies that there aren’t humans making the credit decisions, instead decisions are made based on complex algorithms that are hosted on internet servers. Without any human input going into financial decisions, it is quite possible that businesses may learn how to manipulate the systems and receive funding that they shouldn’t qualify for.
Of course the biggest threat to the industry is hackers, who have been breaking into systems and stealing sensitive information at an incredible rate recently. In fact, it was just announced today that Whole Foods’ restaurants had been hacked and credit card information had been stolen. The world of Fintech has already been attacked. In 2014 a security breach put Mt. Gox, the world’s largest Bitcoin exchange at the time, out of business and cost Bitcoin owners $3.5 billion in today’s dollars. To make matters worse, the security breach apparently happened in 2011 and went unnoticed for three years.
While there is no clear cut solution to the problems presented by Fintech, the fact is, Fintech has had an incredible impact on the world of finance over the last ten years. Furthermore, while many Fintech companies have come and gone, overall as an industry, it doesn’t look like Fintech is going to slow down any time soon.
UPDATE: Breaking News
Former Securities Exchange Commission Chairman Arthur Levitt spoke out yesterday at the Economist’s Finance Disrupted conference in New York. At the conference he stated, “Fintechs tend to march to their own rules. It’s a new industry with lots of failures and lots of spectacular successes. But regulation is often kind of background music, and the prevalence of scandal and mismanagement and aggressiveness is part of the backwash of innovation. Hardly a day goes by where there isn’t a recording of some scandal or another”
At the same conference, Scott Sanborn, CEO of Lending Club said “We do need to take responsibility in [Silicon Valley] where there is a mentality of growth at all costs, and if you don’t have the right checks in place, the right kind of board in place, and plenty of people with audit and risk experience that are providing the right kind of governance, you can have problems.”