Checking In on Big Tech in Banking
February 13, 2024
By: Tyler Brown
Checking In on Big Tech in Banking
Tech giants’ presence in financial services is taking shape. For a long time, the industry looked at such companies as a single enemy, with little nuance provided to their ambitions. But as their strategies grow clearer through their actions, it is becoming easier to determine who exactly is playing where, and what that means for the rest of the market.
Apple, for instance, is expanding in consumer finance, while Google is both chasing Apple but also turning to ecommerce. Amazon, meanwhile, is expanding its formidable “bank” for small businesses. X and Meta have made their own moves in financial services, as well, albeit with a seemingly narrower scope (so far). All of these efforts are diverse, with their own implications, and as such, they’re worth considering separately.
To that end, we took a look at exactly what each of these companies has been up to lately — and where they might be headed:
Apple is the preeminent tech company in consumer finance. Apple Pay has grown from its release in 2014 to an estimated 51.5 million users. It has also seen success with embedded financial products — Apple Card had more than 12 million customers as of last month, and Apple Savings had deposits of $10 billion in August. In October, it entered the buy now, pay later (BNPL) space with the general release of Apple Pay Later. It does face a few headwinds: Antitrust action may limit Apple’s control over its ecosystem and Apple Pay’s dominance, and it’s struggled publicly in its relationship with Goldman Sachs. However, provided it can overcome these hurdles, Apple stands to expand its influence over consumers’ financial lives, posing a clear threat to anyone in that business.
In consumer finance, Google is trying to compete with Apple — its latest major addition to Google Pay was a pilot BNPL program announced in December, 2 months after Apple Pay Later became available to all. But Google Pay trails Apple Wallet’s user base by about 40% with its estimated 30.7 million users. Moreover, the company’s plans to expand within embedded banking fizzled when Google Plex was canceled. Its aspirations in financial services may find greater success in another area, however: social commerce. The company has partnered with Shopify for YouTube integration, and it may grow further by embedding its payment products in properties like Google Maps and Google Shopping.
Amazon’s interest in financial services has been focused on business customers and marketplace sellers, with products that include credit cards, merchant services, and lines of credit. That makes sense — third-party seller services were a $140 billion business for Amazon in 2023. The company supports the growth of its marketplace platform by lending to sellers using financing partners. Partners include SellersFi (announced about 2 weeks ago); Lendistry; Parafin; and Goldman Sachs. Between them, they offer term loans, business lines of credit, and merchant cash advances. A healthy seller ecosystem is its own reward, so Amazon will likely continue to direct its financial services ambitions there.
X’s financial services aspirations are tied to Elon Musk’s vision for a super app platform that has a rich-enough feature set to replace a bank account. To that end, X has been securing money transmitter licenses, but little else related to a consumer finance offering has surfaced. Last April, X (then Twitter) partnered with eToro to expand access to real-time trading data and let users click through to eToro’s investment platform. X may someday have a coherent strategy for financial services, but it will likely be a long wait.
Since Meta sunset its Libra project by selling assets to partner bank Silvergate (which met its end in March 2023 because of its involvement in crypto), the company has had no projects in financial services with such a high profile. It continues to offer MetaPay, its online checkout and peer-to-peer (P2P) payments service, and Meta embeds payments in Instagram. There reportedly are plans for MetaPay to become a wallet for the metaverse, and if the metaverse plays out in some form, the company’s scale sets it up to be a leader. But with its public pivot to artificial intelligence (AI), it’s not clear what will come of that or when.
Tech companies’ wide ambitions in financial services justifiably make bankers (and other industry participants) nervous. They’re competing against customer experiences (and budgets) that are hard to match. But understanding what these companies are trying to do is key. Not one of these businesses is looking to serve up financial services just because they want to dominate that sector; they are doing so in service of a bigger strategy. Even Apple, perhaps the most obvious competitive threat, is using banking to make its broader ecosystem stickier. Grasping the motivations behind their ambitions is the first step to seeing how they may impact your own business and competitive positioning.