Mastercard’s incoming CEO lays out why the card giant is spending $825 million to buy financial-data startup Finicity as the industry looks toward growing open banking

By | 24th June, 2020

  • Mastercard announced plans to acquire financial data startup Finicity for $825 million on Tuesday.
  • The deal will help Mastercard grow it’s open-banking platform, which launched in Europe last year.
  • Finicity’s data-sharing platform enables banks, fintechs, and lenders to access financial data for credit decision-making and real-time payment authentications.
  • Earlier this year, Visa announced plans to acquire data startup Plaid for $5.3 billion, which focuses on enabling startups like Betterment and Venmo to tap into consumers’ bank accounts.

Mastercard is set to acquire a startup specializing in financial data as US banks and fintechs alike look toward growing open banking, which gives customers more control over how their bank, credit card and savings data are shared.

The payment processor entered into an agreement Tuesday to acquire Finicity for $825 million. It marks the second major deal between an incumbent in the space and a fintech. In January, rival Visa announced its plans to acquire buzzy data startup Plaid for $5.3 billion.

Both deals show the entire industry’s ongoing efforts towards open banking.

The basic idea of open banking is sharing customers’ financial data electronically and securely, but only under conditions that users approve. The rise of personal finance apps over the past decade has put a spotlight on the space, as fintechs and lenders want to link into consumers’ bank accounts to get financial information.

Finicity partners with banks, fintechs, and lenders to create a standard for consumer-consented financial data access. Its existing partners include Bank of America, Brex, Experian, and Rocket Mortgage — all of which plug into Finicity’s platform to access their users’ data.

“Finicity is a company that’s always been very stakeholder centric,” Michael Miebach, president and CEO-elect at Mastercard, told Business Insider.

“They cater to the banks on one side, trying to help the banks make better credit decisions,” Miebach said, “but they’re also helping the fintechs on the other side by driving better customer stickiness to provide insights into accounts of access.”

The acquisition, which is expected to close by the end of the year, has the potential to earn Finicity investors an additional $160 million if “performance targets are met,” according to a statement.

Finicity’s data-sharing platform specializes in credit and payments

Based in Salt Lake City, Finicity was founded in 1999 and has raised nearly $80 million to-date from investors, the majority of which has come in recent years as the focus on open banking has surged.

Finicity’s tech will be integrated into Mastercard’s existing open-banking platform, which it launched in Europe last year, where neobanks such as Revolut, Monzo and N26 have seen significant adoption.

Miebach acknowledged that part of the motivation for the deal was to extend into North America.

But he added that Finicity’s focus on credit-related data and real-time payments also made it an attractive partner for the card network.

“Finicity very specifically brings credit-related use cases and real-time payment account verifications use cases as well,” said Miebach. “As a company that’s been in real-time account payments for years, this is a really welcome addition that fits nicely into what we do.”

In the US, the private sector is driving data sharing standards

Open banking, while not a new concept, is still coming into form in the US.

In Europe, standards for open banking are more mature thanks to established legislation from regulators. In the US, consumers were guaranteed a right to electronically access their financial data as part of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act. But standards for how that data is shared have largely come out of the private sector.

“[Finicity] has been a leading voice in the industry saying that open banking should follow a particular standard,” Miebach said.

Establishing permission-based APIs in financial data sharing is the starting point, Miebach said.  But setting industry-wide standards is key going forward.

“We really don’t want to be in a world where two or three years from now, we’re still doing screen scraping,” Miebach said, referring to the practice of taking a snapshot of a clients’ data when they log in with their bank’s username and password.

Financial data came into the spotlight in early 2020 after JPMorgan Chase announced fintechs would need to access customer accounts via Chase-issued tokens as opposed to using their passwords, which allows the bank greater control over customers’ information, as first reported by the Financial Times.

A few weeks later, in the call announcing Visa’s planned acquisition of Plaid, Al Kelly, the payment giant’s chairman and CEO, acknowledged some financial firms “would prefer Plaid operate differently in some cases.”

In February, Zach Perret, the CEO and cofounder of Plaid, told Business Insider a focus of the startup was working with big banks to put controls in place around customers’ data.

Both Plaid and Finicity are members of the Financial Data Exchange (FDX), an industry-wide group that sets API-driven standards for financial data sharing. Its members include players like American Express, Citi, FICO, and Wells Fargo.

“The journey that they are on, and they’re going to be on with us going forward, is going to get us to an even better world in terms of protecting consumer data,” Miebach said. “Not a world where you have to trade off a better consumer experience where you have to be looser on data.”