Skip to main content
Image placeholder title

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- In the years since the financial crisis, big banks led by Goldman Sachs (GS) - Get Goldman Sachs Group, Inc. (GS) Report , Bank of America (BAC) - Get Bank of America Corp Report and Capital One Financial (COF) - Get Capital One Financial Corporation Report have been far more focused on selling assets than making acquisitions.

Lately, however, that's begun to change. The country's largest financial institution have started making investments, or at least considering them, and the focus in most cases is on technology.

One prominent example involves Goldman, Bank of America, and several other large Wall Street players trying to create an instant messaging platform to compete with Bloomberg, possibly through the acquisition of a company called Perzo. And last week, a tech design firm called Adaptive Path announced it would be sold to Capital One.

Arjun Sethi, partner at consulting firm A.T. Kearney, says interest in tech-focused acquisitions among financial institutions has increased dramatically in the past 12-18 months.

"Clients are coming out to us and saying 'Hey, how do we enhance our technology and digital capabilities?'" he says. Sethi sees a "blurring between the traditional banking capability and what a technology services organization might provide."

TheStreet Recommends

Mobile payments are clearly a hot area where banks are beginning to show serious interest. As this recent report in The New York Times demonstrates, financial companies are falling all over themselves trying to get a bit of the excitement generated by companies like Apple (AAPL) - Get Apple Inc. (AAPL) Report  that know a thing or two about creating buzz. 

The recent IPO of Alibaba (BABA) - Get Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. Sponsored ADR Report with its mobile payments platform, Alipay, have added to the hype, which is likely what provided the push for eBay (EBAY) - Get eBay Inc. Report to spin off PayPal, according to a recent report from Barclays analyst Darrin Peller.

"We suspect that industry dynamics around Apple Pay's recent announcement, Alipay's efforts, and other ecommerce/mobile entrants have increased eBay's impetus for this restructuring," Peller wrote.

As banks scramble to keep up, look for them to continue to look for technology investments. Given that many banks are still rebuilding capital and investors are likely to be skeptical of big deals, they are trying to take more of a venture capital approach.

One example of this is Citigroup's (C) - Get Citigroup Inc. Report "mobile challenge," a contest it has sponsored to try to spur innovation among developers of mobile payments technologies.

The stakes couldn't be higher for financial companies, as innovations like Apple Pay and Google (GOOG) - Get Alphabet Inc. Class C Report  Wallet, despite all their fluffy talk of partnerships, are widely understood as shots across the bow of the banking industry.

Follow @dan_freed

Disclosure: TheStreet's editorial policy prohibits staff editors, reporters and analysts from holding positions in any individual stocks.