2023: A Retrospective Look at Fintech Wins and Blunders

As 2023 comes to a close, we’re here to look back at the biggest fintech stories of the year. In April, Apple shared that Apple Card customers in the U.S. could open a savings account and earn interest through an Apple savings account, as reported by Romain Dillet. Another one of our most read stories of the year also involved a financial services giant rather than a startup. X1, which offers an income-based credit card with rewards, had raised a total of $62 million in venture-backed funding. Why X1 in particular over the many other credit card startups out there?

As we near the end of 2023, let’s reflect on the most talked-about fintech stories of the year. The collapse of Silicon Valley Bank sent ripples through the industry, allowing startups like Brex, Arc, and Mercury to step in to fill the void. The aftermath of this event continues to unfold, affecting all industries, as well as founders and investors.

Ironically enough, one of the biggest stories of 2023 involved a tech giant, rather than a startup. Apple made headlines in April when they announced that US Apple card customers could open a savings account and earn interest through their Apple savings account. This partnership with Goldman Sachs offered a competitive APY of 4.15%, but by the end of the year, the collaboration had fallen apart, leaving the door open for a new partner.

Not all of our top stories involved startups. In fact, one of the most read articles was about Mastercard’s CFO addressing the issues with India’s UPI. While the payment rail facilitates billions of transactions each month, it has caused financial strain for ecosystem participants, highlighting tensions within the mobile payments industry.

In a major milestone, China’s two dominant mobile payment solutions, WeChat Pay and Alipay, opened up to foreign users in July. This meant that travelers could now pay at Chinese retailers using their foreign credit cards, a massive step in promoting cashless transactions in the country. Previously, this was only possible for those with a local bank account, making it difficult for short-term visitors to adapt.

The news of credit card giant Visa acquiring Brazilian payments startup Pismo for $1 billion rocked the fintech world in late June. This was expected to be one of the largest M&A deals of the year, showcasing the surge of interest from global investors in the Latin American region. Pismo, which was not actively seeking to be acquired, was eventually snatched up by Visa, giving the entire region a major boost.

Slope, a B2B payments platform for enterprise companies, also made headlines this year after closing a $30 million Series A round. With participation from notable investors like OpenAI’s Sam Altman, Slope utilizes AI-driven tools for efficient payment processes, including order-to-cash workflow automation.

Sometimes, the biggest stories are the ones where things go wrong. In an attempt at damage control, Carta’s CEO Henry Ward emailed customers in October, pointing them towards a Medium post to address the negative press surrounding the company. However, this move only brought more attention to the numerous problems plaguing the company. This also caught the eye of one of Carta’s investors, who found the CEO’s decision to address the issue “weird.”

In a surprising turn of events, Robinhood announced in June that they were acquiring X1, a no-fee credit card startup, for $95 million in cash. X1 had raised over $62 million in venture funding and was planning to launch a new trading platform that allowed cardholders to use reward points to buy stocks. This bold move caught the attention of many, including Robinhood’s CEO.

The launch of a new venture firm, Vesey Ventures, by three female former managing directors of Amex Ventures also made waves this year. With a $78 million debut fund, the trio plans to invest in early-stage fintech startups, building on their experience with investments like Plaid, Stripe, Melio, and Trulioo at Amex.

In a move that seemed unlikely to many, digital mortgage lender Better.com finally went public in August through a long-awaited SPAC. The company’s executive team knew their stock wouldn’t perform well, but they moved forward with the decision for various reasons. As of December 20, the stock was trading at a mere 63 cents.

In mid-May, reports came out that the founders of Indian fintech ZestMoney had resigned from the company. Their innovative underwriting process, which allowed them to provide loans to first-time internet customers, had drawn support from high-profile investors like Goldman Sachs. Unfortunately, their search for a buyer proved unsuccessful, and by December, ZestMoney was forced to shut down. The startup had raised over $130 million in their eight-year journey with backers that included PayU, Quona, Zip, Omidyar Network, and Ribbit Capital.

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Zara Khan

Zara Khan is a seasoned investigative journalist with a focus on social justice issues. She has won numerous awards for her groundbreaking reporting and has a reputation for fearlessly exposing wrongdoing.

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