Technology

Are mortgages the new ‘fin tech’ frontier?

As global investment in financial technology spikes, startups eye opportunities in mortgage, financial services industries

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With global investment in financial technology — or “fin tech,” as it has come to be known — more than tripling in the last five years, are financial startups eyeing potential investment in the mortgage and real estate financial services industries?

The answer depends on how you ask, but most people familiar with the trend at least recognize the possibility.

Fin tech companies leverage software to provide financial services. Generally speaking, fin tech companies are startups founded with the intention of “disrupting” incumbent financial systems and corporations that may not rely on software. Notable fin tech companies include Fidelity National Information Services, PayPal, Square and Stripe.

According to a recent report by venture capital and angel investment database CB Insights, 2013 saw private fin tech companies raise nearly $3 billion, or more than triple the $930 million invested globally in fin tech in 2008. Fueled by changing consumer behaviors, technology and regulations, venture capitalists are investing in technologies such as peer-to-peer loan marketplaces, mobile payments and big data tools for capital markets, the report said.

But it remains to be seen if any of these startups will begin to focus on mortgage lending and related financial services, said Anand Sanwal, CEO and co-founder of CB Insights.

“I think some of these fin tech startups who are focused on lending may eventually get into mortgages as they try to become more of full-service providers,” Sanwal told Inman. “But since many are already tackling large lending markets already, they may choose to focus on their initial verticals before starting to diversify and try new markets.”

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Guerric de Ternay, an investor and founder of BoostCompanies.com, a website that advises newbie investors, said the financial collapse of 2008 — in which the real estate bubble played a huge role — defined a new area for finance, and some fin tech startups took advantage of the resulting limited access to credit and banking capital.

I think some of these fin tech startups who are focused on lending may eventually get into mortgages as they try to become more of full-service providers." - Anand Sanwal, CEO and co-founder of CB Insights

“The tech industry did not need more to understand that the financial world offered enormous areas of opportunity,” said de Ternay. “Startups began to imagine how to disrupt financial services traditional banks provide. They also took advantage of a positive ecosystem that made it easier to start a company. They started to apply disintermediation to consumer credit and business credit. Most of them do a simple job. They connect buyers and sellers through peer-to-peer lending marketplaces.”

Governments started supporting fin tech because they do not succeed to make banks lend money to finance mortgage or business projects, he noted.

“One of their best competitive advantages is that they do not have the same balance sheet risk that traditional lenders might have,” de Ternay said.

Some are speculating that Google, perhaps the largest fin tech of all, may be first to test the waters. According to the global search engine, Google Trends shows that search interest in mortgage loans is almost as high as interest in credit cards, and much higher still than in car insurance. Last month, Google launched a mortgage calculator in its search results, and some predict it may follow up with a mortgage rate search function from participating mortgage lenders.

Other analysts have noted that despite the upsurge in fin tech, mortgage lending has seen little startup activity.

“There are good reasons for this,” said Rob Moffat, principal at Balderton Capital in London. “These are hard markets to go after, requiring lots of capital, and where customer acquisition costs are paid back over years or decades, not months. But there should be opportunities for smart entrepreneurs,” he added.

Email Amy Swinderman.