Grant Easterbrook is a fintech consultant based in Amsterdam. He also co-founded Dream Forward, which was acquired in 2020.
More posts by this contributor
This article follows a piece I wrote that looked at six fintech ideas from the first decade of fintech that failed to go mainstream – algorithm-based buy/sell/hold advice, trade mimicking, P2P lending, P2P insurance, on-demand insurance, and standalone financial planning apps. But there’s more to the story. Given the intense interest in the fintech sector, it’s worth examining three more concepts that initially seemed promising, but largely failed to change the financial services industry.
Before diving in, it is important to once again first define how we are categorizing “failure.” This article is not focused on highlighting the demise of individual high-profile fintech startups or various failed fintech initiatives undertaken by large corporations (such as BloombergBlack or UBS’ SmarthWealth).
These ideas rolled out with hype and momentum, but they ultimately failed to change the way the average person manages their money.
Rather, this piece will focus on fintech ideas that received some degree of initial hype and momentum, but ultimately failed to change the way the average person manages their money. So, with those caveats, here are three more fintech concepts from the last ten years of fintech that did not succeed.
Independent financial advisor search and matchmaking tools
In the early 2010s, approximately 15 firms launched an online search or matchmaking service designed to help individuals find a financial advisor that best met their needs. The traditional approach to financial advice – where wealthy individuals usually find an advisor through friends, family, or a local financial advisor’s proactive sales outreach – lags behind modern online product search trends. Every day, consumers shop online and pour over user reviews. The logic behind this early wave of startups was that the experience of finding a financial advisor should mimic the way consumers look for other products and services online.
Financial advisor matchmaking startups generally took one of two approaches. The first approach was to offer a search tool that let users find local financial advisors based on parameters such as assets under management, experience, rating, gender, etc. Here’s an example of a financial advisor’s profile on the now-defunct financial advisor search tool Tippybob.
The second approach was to offer an online financial advisor matchmaking service. Prospects were asked to enter basic information about their income, age, assets, needs, etc. and the firm would introduce them to a local financial advisor who was selected as a personalized fit for their needs.
As of 2023, there are still a few independent sites (such as Smart Asset and Zoe Financial) offering some kind of financial advisor matchmaking tool. And of course, Googling “financial advisors in my area” will yield paid ad placements. In general, however, independent financial advisor search and matchmaking tools failed to go mainstream. Most wealthy individuals still find their financial advisor via traditional methods rather than relying on web-based approaches.
This idea failed to catch on for two reasons. First, these startups were unable to overcome the difficulty of building a two-sided network for a product with a slow sales cycle. Advisors didn’t want to join these matchmaking services unless there’s a large number of users on the platform. Without a significant number of advisors on the platform, however, these services struggled to attract users. This chicken-or-the-egg problem was compounded by the very slow sales cycle of financial advice.
Secondly, financial advice is fundamentally different from other types of goods and services sold online. There are potentially massive negative consequences if a consumer chooses the wrong financial advisor and they receive bad investment advice. Ordering a pizza or a pair of shoes online does not carry the same level of risk.
Consumers who would like to work with a financial advisor seem inclined to only want to hire someone with whom they have a high level of personal trust. Thus, the financial advisor business model has proven resilient to disruption by online product search and comparison services that have upended so many other industries.