Stifel Financial Corp. (SF) - Get Stifel Financial Corp. Report , the brokerage firm, is joining the investment-banking frenzy over startups developing the next generation of gizmos and other technology for financial companies.

Stifel's bank-focused brokerage unit, Keefe, Bruyette & Woods, said in a press release this week that it had added at least five investment bankers in San Francisco, New York and London to focus on financial technology, or "fintech" in industry shorthand. According to the firm, it has advised on $2.8 billion of mergers in the fintech space and has underwritten some $2 billion of public securities offerings.

The expansion comes just three years after KBW's own analysts noted in a report that investment in the arena had tripled in the mid 1990s to more than $10 billion a year. Startups are targeting things like credit cards and payments, consumer lending, insurance, wealth management and even commercial lending.

"We think the pace is accelerating," KBW CEO Thomas Michaud said in a phone interview. "The epicenter of a banking relationship for a consumer used to be the branch. Now it's the phone."

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KBW's index of stocks poised to benefit from the trend has climbed 32% in the past year, nearly triple the gains over that period in the Standard & Poor's 500 Index of large U.S. stocks. The index includes big payments-oriented firms like Visa Inc. (V) - Get Visa Inc. Class A Report and Mastercard Inc. (MA) - Get Mastercard Inc. (MA) Report as well as disrupters like Square Inc. (SQ) - Get Square, Inc. Class A Report , the credit-card processing interface that can be used with smartphones and tablets.

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It's the race to develop the bank of the future, drawing in venture-capital and private-equity firms along with the research-and-development arms of the biggest banks, including JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM) - Get JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM) Report , Bank of America Corp. (BAC) - Get Bank of America Corp Report , Wells Fargo & Co. (WFC) - Get Wells Fargo & Company Report and Citigroup Inc. (C) - Get Citigroup Inc. Report . The investment bankers, for their part, are looking to arrange mergers, manage stock offerings and set up partnerships between the banks and the technology companies.

"This industry is raising an incredible amount of capital," Michaud said.

In February, KBW co-advised Silvergate Capital Corp., owner of a bank in the San Diego area, on a private placement of common stock. The deal generated gross proceeds of $114 million, to be used to "continue making investments in technology and people that will improve efficiency and productivity," according to a press release at the time.