New York is one of the world's great tech innovation hubs and is arguably the most powerful city in finance. Entrepreneurs collaborate with a financial sector steeped in centuries-old traditions, creating an ongoing boom in innovation for consumers, employers, merchants, and anyone else concerned with cash.
Inspired by veteran companies such as LearnVest and receiving mentorship from programs such as the Fintech Innovation Lab, fintech startups in NYC are shaking up lending, trading, investment management, personal finance, and even cyptocurrency analysis.
Here are some of the most prominent leaders in NYC fintech, along with a few upstarts worth keeping an eye on.
What they do: From the people who helped build Paypal and Skype comes Transferwise, a company that enables users to send money to other currencies with real exchange rates and no fees.
How it's changing fintech: Transferwise saves users up to 90% and allows them to dodge the fees that come with transferring money through banks or Western Union.
What they do: Venmo is a mobile app that allows users to quickly and safely send and receive money with friends, family or any other Venmo user.
How it's changing fintech: Acquired by Braintree in 2012, Venmo makes “IOUs” a thing of the past. The app enables those without mobile banking capabilities to sync their bank accounts, debit or credit cards and share payments with anyone.
What they do: Bond Street Marketplace gives smaller businesses simple, transparent, and fair access to loans. Using technology, data, and design, it presents a friendlier loan application experience and takes as little as a week to provide startups with the cash they need to survive and grow.
How it's changing fintech: Headed by two finance veterans and a former engineer at Venmo, Bond Street is in a unique position to transform the world of small business investment and to grow the larger economy. It aims to create a loan experience for startups that is less like an FBI interrogation and more like two founders talking shop. The company recently formed a partnership with Front Desk and received a $9.25M vote of confidence from investors of its own.
What they do: CB Insights uses software to mine data for a variety of industries, including finance to predict technology trends and aid companies in strategic planning.
How it's changing fintech: The startup enables economic development firms and investment banks to build target lists, pinpoint growing industries, identify future clients and predict emerging trends. With funding from the National Science Foundation and venture capital investors, CB Insights believes decisions should be based on more than the “three Gs,” (Google searches, gut instincts and guys with MBAs).
What they do: Artivest is an investment platform that allows registered investment advisors to access private equity and hedge funds.
How it's changing fintech: The startup streamlines communication between advisors and clients, and allows access to an array of research materials from a single login. Artivest's technology is used by 150 advisory firms representing more than $500 billion in assets under management.
What they do: Big money meets big data at Quovo, an investment insights company that gathers a mindblowing array of financial information in one smart, simple, visually intriguing platform.
How it's changing fintech: There's going to be a lot more financial data out there before there is less. A bright future awaits firms who know how to crunch it and can bring younger, less sophisticated investors into the financial world. With a $3.8M investment round in 2015, look for Quovo to be a leader in this exploding field for years to come.
What they do: According to its stated mission, LearnVest exists "to make financial planning affordable, accessible, and even delightful." Its journey starts with three simple goals: manage debt, save money for emergencies, and retire comfortably. Customized planning and coaching are offered to help users expand from there.
How it's changing fintech: Founded in 2007, LearnVest was an early entrant to the personal investment boom. Even after being acquired by Northwestern Mutual in 2015, it remains one of the highest-profile and most influential players on the NYC fintech scene. We also made it a key component of keeping our 2016 New Year's resolutions—gym memberships and smoothie-makers aren't cheap.
What they do: Seedinvest is a platform that brings together investors and startups through the power of crowdfunding. With a network of more than 17,000 accredited investors, it handles seed, early-stage, later-stage, and equity crowdfunding rounds in sectors including hardware, software, healthtech, fintech, and even cutting-edge fields such as robotics and virtual reality.
How it's changing fintech: The Seedinvest process is as simple as it can be: join for free, browse deals, do your homework, and invest. At a $25,000 minimum, you can be a small-scale VC using only your smartphone. Seedinvest was on the front lines to pass the JOBS Act and works hard to democratize the investment market while keeping it exciting and secure. And if that's not impressive enough, even Mark Cuban uses it.
What they do: TradeBlock is a new sort of international currency analysis company with a special focus on bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.
How it's changing fintech: With a position on the financial mountaintop that is NYC, TradeBlock is in a unique position to make sense of an exciting and rapidly changing landscape, giving old-school financial pros the information and tools they need to make sense of it all.
What they do: The fast-growing Betterment aims to democratize investment for those who want to make extra cash or plan for retirement (and may not wear suits to work). Its fill-in-the-blank UX is about as simple as an investment platform can get.
How it's changing fintech: Betterment aims to build a portfolio designed to achieve optimal returns at every level of risk. That's certainly ambitious, but it seems to be working. Betterment relies on an array of tech-savvy strategies, including automation, and promises 4.30% higher returns than a typical DIY investor can expect. Currently, according to its own figures, over 150,000 customers invest $4 billion with Betterment.
What they do: Axial is an online business development platform, as well as a social network of sorts, that focuses on anyone who runs, advises, acquires, or finances private companies. Founded in 2009, it is now the largest hub of its kind.
How it's changing fintech: With the volume and geographic disparity of promising private companies and their potential partners—to say nothing of the significant workloads they face day-to-day— leveraging social networking in this space is a no-brainer. Axial is focused around the entire process from (virtual) handshake to closed deal, and has built a network of over 20,000 professionals.
What they do: Before there was Bond Street, there was OnDeck. Since 2007, OnDeck's friendly B2B platform has been helping smaller, tech-savvy businesses get loans approved more quickly than any traditional bank is able to.
How it's changing fintech: After raising $208M in funding through a dark recession and going public in 2014, OnDeck is indisputably among the original giants in NYC fintech—one of the legacy companies that helped make the city's fintech boom a thing. Its legion of successful offspring owe it a debt, so to speak.
What they do: New Yorkers love dining out, but they know a lot of their fellow citizens don't have the means to satisfy their own hunger quite so easily. Spare is an iOS app that rounds up local food and drink bills to the nearest dollar and scrapes off the change to fight hunger in the city. It partners with local charities and merchants, who provide incentives to its most generous users, such as a free cocktail to customers who donate three times a month.
How it's changing fintech: With mobile finance apps becoming pervasive, more users are paying closer attention to their receipts—and more startups will begin to look for new ways to help spread the wealth when they can. Spare co-founder Andra Tomsa took on that challenge early, reaching out to local tech leaders and pivoting before ultimately figuring out a system that feeds thousands of hungry New Yorkers. Look for her generous can-do spirit to be highly influential as mobile finance matures.
What they do: Debitize is a breakthrough personal finance management tool that goes beyond even the whiz-bang analytics of Mint and the like in helping consumers spend responsibly. It essentially transforms credit cards into debit cards. Frequent flier miles and other benefits accrue as usual, but Debitize automatically backs up every plastic purchase with real money from your checking account, making sure your balance is paid in full each month.
How it's changing fintech: Even if our dads warned us to never spend money we don't have, a lot of us do anyway. According to 2015 Federal Reserve statistics, Americans carry a whopping total of $935.6 billion in revolving credit card debt, and some of us know all too well how that can chip away at our finances, opportunities and lives over time. More than any other existing consumer financial product, Debitize has the potential to transform the lives of individuals who struggle the most with their money.
What they do: If you can't say anything nice about predatory lenders, just thank them for inspiring Bread. With its network of merchants and friendly one-stop consumer interface, Bread allows consumers to set up monthly payment plans for much-needed provisions, emphasizing speed, transparency, and dignity for those in need.
How it's changing fintech: It isn't a bank, it isn't a credit card, and it definitely isn't a payday loan—it's a new sort of platform that treats financially challenged consumers with class, while providing merchants a means of working with them that is mutually beneficial for both parties. Although the overall economy has perked up in recent years, many still struggle from no fault of their own, and Bread's mission is more important than ever. In November 2015, investors agreed to the tune of a $14.3M Series A, a huge payday even by NYC fintech standards.
What they do: Fast-growing Fundera provides a marketplace for small-business loans. It works with a group of hand-picked and rigorously screened vendors, giving borrowers a safe place to comparison-shop and apply.
How it's changing fintech: Fundera emphasizes efficiency and transparency on both sides, and serves as a safe entry point into the world of "alternative lending" for frazzled new entrepreneurs. It's gotten big by thinking small. “We’re not interested in having 1,000 lenders,” said Fundera Head of Content Meredith Wood. “We just want the best in each product class.” It brings startup values into a tricky new world, and the model has proved so alluring that Fundera made our list of the top 50 NYC startups to watch.
What they do: Trusted Insight brings the power of social sharing and peer networking to the investment sector. Its platform is designed to help finance professionals cultivate selective peer networks, perform streamlined due diligence, and explore career opportunities.
How it's changing fintech: Trusted Insight provides a range of membership options for all career stages, from a $99/month professional option to a full-access $999/month elite package for major players. It affirms New York's status as a global point of connection and full-service on-ramp for the entire financial sector, including its most tech-savvy young pros.
What they do: Many, many denizens of the tech startup world know the frustration of trading illiquid equity for cash. EquityZen brings together such employees and investors seeking access to valuable pre-IPO shares. It aims to maximize opportunity and minimize frustration and risk for shareholders, investors, and companies alike.
How they're changing fintech: EquityZen's booming success (including a $3.5M funding round in 2015) hasn't slowed its commitment to improving its own ecosystem - the company isn't too busy to travel the world attending relevant events, or even field public inquiries on the popular Q&A platform Quora.
What they do: Founded with a mission to fundamentally alter the banking process and a credo that "you shouldn't have to pay money to spend your own money," Moven is one of the most sophisticated personal finance products around. It comes with a bank account, a debit card, and a multifaceted suite of monitoring tools, helping customers keep track of their spending habits, while removing frustration and fees along the way.
How it's changing fintech: Mobile banking is ubiquitous, and Moven is poised to do it with more speed and sophistication than established banking giants can dream of. It is aggressively challenging out-of-date practices, and had time after an impressive $12M investment round last year to throw a pretty sweet-looking holiday party. Who said finance has to be dull?
What they do: Thinknum monitors information on companies and markets to facilitate data-driven investment. Want to know what kind of day your favorite company had, or who's primed to benefit from political shakeups in faraway towns? Thinknum will tell you, with user-friendly charts and animations.
How it's changing fintech: Thinknum products provide tech-savvy young bankers with access to the sort of crucial financial models that old pros developed behind the scenes, facilitating more collaborative evaluations with a nod to open-source repositories such as GitHub. In an era of continuing speed and uncertainty, it's easy to see the promise in this approach.
What they do: OpenFin provides HTML5 runtime technology based on Google's Chromium open-source project, and is specifically tailored to the needs of the financial industry.
How it's changing fintech: The financial world has salivated over this sort of out-of-the-box container solution for decades. Now that it's working with some of the world's top banks and trading platforms, and pulling down over $10M in investment cash, it's obvious that creative coders have a lot of value to companies that don't have the time to build this sort of product in-house.
What they do: Although it may seem as though no one carries cash anymore, anyone who's frequented enough businesses knows that accepting iOS, Android, or even plastic credit card payments can be a challenge when the right software and hardware isn't in place. CardFlight helps integrate mobile payments for real-world commerce with a range of products, from developer tools to turnkey solutions.
How it's changing fintech: With a tight focus on all things point-of-sale, CardFlight provides merchants with the technology they need to accept POS mobile payments, enabling them to march boldly and safely into a cash-free future.
What they do: Onevest's original mission is to democratize the startup investment in anticipation of the JOBS Act - Title III, which will bring non-accredited investors into the mix for entrepreneurs. But accredited and even very traditional investors are curious about the startup landscape. In tribute to a simplified approach, Onevest's ecosystem has swollen to 15,000 investors and 80,000 entrepreneurs already.
How it's changing fintech: Challenging the Confucian dictum that "the man who chases two rabbits catches neither," Onevest has had wild success courting startups and investors alike by providing specially designed communities for both, while streamlining the system for all. It has gained accolades throughout the financial press and many imitators to come.
What they do: True to its name, Openfolio brings the power of networks and the wisdom of crowds to the often confusing and intimidating world of personal investing. Download the iOS app and track your 401K, IRA, and personal accounts against the rest of its 60,000-strong community with no shared numbers or security concerns.
How it's changing fintech: A thriving peer community can help demystify the rough patches and expose opportunities that individuals might not catch wind of on their own. As the landscape opens up for younger, less hardened, more connected investors, who tend to be particularly drawn to tech startups, expect platforms such as Openfolio to gain prominence.
What they do: Even as paper checks have gone the way of the town circular, sending and accepting electronic payments can still be a hassle for everyone involved, whether because of delays, fees, or other issues. Zipmark aims to make sending and receiving digital payments as secure, transparent, and inexpensive as possible on both sides, starting at 50 cents per transaction.
How it's changing fintech: Zipmark is only as strong as its merchant network, so look for it to invest much of its $3.5M in seed funding into courting new vendors. Already in 2016, the company has unlocked Zipmark Embed with organization enrollment, making it easier for merchants to integrate the technology with existing infrastructure and bring us all closer to a cashless tomorrow.
What they do: Payfone's suite of identification services cuts some of the friction out of identity verification for merchants and customers alike. Its tech is backed by American Express, Bank of America, Verizon Wireless, and other traditional businesses that demand a lot of security with their convenience.
How it's changing fintech: The proliferation of mobile payment technology has fewer customers opening accounts at their local branches. After all, why make the trip when there's an app for that? Well, some consumers may be frustrated by old-school authentication methods such as two-factor authentication and one-time passwords, although financial companies still need these to know whom they're dealing with, and there's always the risk of identity theft and lag time while getting it sorted out. Payfone's job is to remove as much of that friction as possible while maintaining strict trust for all parties.
What they do: PayPerks is a web-based financial services firm focused specifically on low- to middle-income consumers. It offers financial management services to help them stay on track and sweepstakes to add a pinch of excitement.
How they're changing fintech: While many flourish in the digital economy, those in the lower brackets may worry about falling through the cracks. The good news? Most have smartphones of their own, along with services such as PayPerks to address their specific needs. With access to the right tools, a rising tide can lift all boats.
What they do: TruMid describes itself as "a revolutionary electronic trading marketplace for corporate bonds," but don't worry, its team has a combined 100 years of experience selling and buying, so they're not going to do anything too crazy. Its deep relationships have helped it build a strong community devoted to real liquidity and open access.
How it's changing fintech: An "all-to-all" platform, TruMid allows buy-side and sell-side users to work with each other securely. It is a relatively new company with a strong mission: to create enough liquidity and access to alter credit markets forever. After two hugely successful funding rounds, investors are eager to see where it's headed.
What they do: Commonbond is a marketplace that reduces the costs of student loans for borrowers and cuts investors in on the action. It can save borrowers more than $14,000 over the life of a loan, making it much easier for skilled and talented grads to take on the risk of moving into, say, the fintech startup world.
How it's changing fintech: Many tech professionals have long regarded student loans as an inevitable hassle akin to litter or finding cheap Manhattan parking. Commonbond has reaped great rewards—including a $35M investment round in 2015—by challenging a fusty establishment and helping students in need through its Pencils of Promise partnership. When the frustrations are so notorious and the stakes are so high, expect many more to follow its model.