Over the past several years, financial technology -- or fintech, for short -- started a revolution of sorts in what some consider a stodgy industry. Online-only banks with no branches, digital payment systems, and person-to-person (P2P) payment apps are just a few of the ways that technology is changing the way consumers handled their money.
That hasn't gone unnoticed by some of the biggest names in the financial services industry, and rather than reinvent the wheel, some are spending hefty sums to acquire the talent and technology that sought to disrupt them in the first place.
While there are many to choose from, let's look at three recent events that provide proof positive that fintech is entering the mainstream.
Visa acquires Plaid
In mid-January, credit card behemoth Visa (V 2.25%) announced that it signed a definitive agreement to acquire privately-held Plaid for $5.3 billion. Plaid's technology is accepted by more than 11,000 financial institutions and offers a convenient way for consumers to share their financial information with a variety of apps. The platform uses a host of measures to ensure customers' data is secure, including end-to-end encryption, strong multi-factor authentication, and robust monitoring.
When a new user sets up a PayPal Venmo account -- which lets users share money via its mobile app -- it's Plaid's platform that safely establishes the connection to the customer's bank account. Visa said that one in four people with a U.S. bank account had used Plaid to make the connection, amounting to more than 200 million user accounts.
Intuit acquires Credit Karma
On Monday, Intuit (INTU 2.45%) confirmed rumors that it would acquire fintech start-up Credit Karma in a deal valued at $7.1 billion. Intuit is the name behind such well-known softwares as accounting mainstay QuickBooks, tax-filing kingpin TurboTax, and budget-planning and tracking tool Mint.
Credit Karma is a personal finance company that offers consumers free access to their credit score, helps them file taxes, and shop for loans, savings accounts, and credit cards. It boasts "the largest engaged member base in consumer digital finance with more than 100 million members, with 37 million monthly active users." The user base has nearly tripled over the previous five years, while its platform hosts more than 100 financial service providers.
Morgan Stanley acquires E*Trade Financial
Just last week, Wall Street bigwig Morgan Stanley (MS 1.73%) announced that it would acquire E*Trade, a pioneer in the online brokerage industry, in an all-stock deal valued at $13 billion. E*Trade brings its online trading platform, along with 5.2 million individual investor accounts and $360 billion under management, including $56 billion in low-interest deposit accounts. E*Trade was one of the original online brokers, helping to popularize stock investing for the masses.
E*Trade's direct-to-consumer model will complement Morgan Stanley's own, while helping to scale the big banks' wealth management business.
The evolution of fintech has been achieving its goal of democratizing financial services, and as my Foolish colleague Matt Cochrane wrote, "making it cheaper and more convenient than ever for the average person to perform basic financial tasks." Each of the acquired companies has done just that, helping connect apps to bank accounts, taking the mystery out of credit monitoring, and kicking off the rush to individual stock ownership.
The financial services industry has been ripe for disruption, and each of the acquired companies was an agent of change.
Like the old saying goes, "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em."