This field includes businesses that create technology that makes traditional banking and brokerage more efficient as well as those that create new markets, services and even currencies.
Partners at venture capital firms such as Andreessen Horowitz and Foundation Capital like to say the big banks have failed to innovate and are ripe for disruption by start-ups.
Now I wouldn't be shorting the big bank stocks, especially well-run banks such as Wells Fargo(WFC) - Get Report that do a great job at acquiring customers, have a storied brand, and cross-sell so well.
But those venture capitalists are right to be excited about the promise in FinTech. Of course, they have a vested interest in the start-ups winning out. It seems that some start-ups have done very well, but it also seems that the ones that stall can still succeed if they build brands and a reputation for innovation that acquirers find valuable.
Last month, FutureAdvisor, an online provider of personalized financial advice and information and a competitor to Betterment, was acquired for $152 million by BlackRock(BLK) - Get Report , a large investment management firm with a market capitalization of more than $$49 billion. The venture capital investors behind FutureAdvisor did well (with even those who came in late and put money in at the $48 million valuation in 2014 tripling their money), but the real winner was BlackRock, which acquired a retail distribution business and brand that resonates with millennial investors.
But who will really break out? Stripe, a company that allows businesses and individuals to accept payments over the Internet, has built a formidable business through its brilliant engineering, clear business model (it takes a cut of payments processed via its application programming interface, or API) and its focus on software developers vs. merchants.
Although PayPal(PYPL) - Get Report , which was spun out from eBay(EBAY) - Get Report can grow revenues, some observers think its stock price will be constrained unless it proves it can innovate and grow like Stripe, which operates with a fraction of the number of employees that PayPal has.
Besides payments, what about marketplace lenders such as LendingClub (LC) - Get Report ? It's true that this stock has fallen dramatically since the levels it saw in the wake of its initial public offering. But its recent levels near $13 aren't that far from the IPO price of $15. What's more, the company's earnings report last month didn't reveal bad news; trends are positive. What's been pressuring the stock lower are concerns about competition, as others enter the category (including Goldman Sachs(GS) - Get Reportearlier this year), and skepticism about its ability to "break out."
Some investors may fail to understand exactly what LendingClub does, however. It's a peer-to-peer lending platform that connects borrowers and lenders, and the lenders can include private individuals -- anyone basically. Some see Lending Club as a being akin to LendingTree(TREE) - Get Report , which connects borrowers seeking loans with more traditional lenders such as banks. (LendingTree's motto is "When Banks Compete, You Win.") But LendingTree is essentially using technology to connect two players in the traditional lending process, while LendingClub essentially eliminates one of the traditional parties in lending: the banks. That makes LendingClub more of a disruptive company, and comparing these two companies misses the mark. It's best to stand with Morgan Stanley analyst Smittipon Srethapramote, who last month set a target price of $24 (up 85% from the current price) for Lending Club.
Investing in technology or growth stocks takes an appetite for volatility and an ability to ride out waves of investor sentiment, but investors would be wise to look beyond the short-term price of Lending Club to see the longer-term opportunity this company and others in the FinTech industry have.
This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no direct positions in the stocks mentioned.