2022 was a big year for the fintech industry, albeit not necessarily in the way that sector stakeholders wanted it to be.
That doesn’t mean it was all bad. Some companies recorded record funding rounds, acquired new users and cemented their reputations as innovative disruptors of the status quo.
However, if the headlines are anything to go by, fintech founders fortunate to enjoy a modicum of success in 2022 were in the minority. The innovators and distributors of financial services faced an onslaught of challenges last year.
Those ranged from finding the money tap drying up, enduring the harsh winds of the cryptocurrency winter, seeing companies collapse or friends lose their jobs in mass-layoffs – and we haven’t even mentioned the tsunami of scandals sweeping across the industry.
From the FTX collapse to the Wirecard scandal going to court, there was no shortage of stories to rock the fintech industry in 2022.
With 2023 well underway, Verdict is looking back on some of the biggest stories affecting the fintech industry in 2022.
Funding dried out for fintech in 2022
Several factors caused the market uncertainty. These included the pandemic, Russia’s war in Ukraine, the energy price crisis, the Federal Reserve hiking interest rates for the first time in years, and the looming global threat of another recession. All these factors contributed to making investing in new projects a perilous prospect. Fintech backers reacted as would be expected – they downsized their bets on startups.
Investors turning off the money tap was a big break from their modus operandi in the years leading up to 2022.
Investors had poured $79.7bn into the fintech industry across 1,698 deals in 2016, according to data accessed from research firm GlobalData on January 3, 2022. The number of venture financing, equity offering, private equity and debt offering deals increased over the following years. Backers injected $261.7bn into the fintech industry across 2,923 deals in 2021.
Then 2022 arrived. Financial services innovators who’d spent the past decade enjoying a steady flow of easy money found themselves struggling to top up their coffers. Last year, the global industry only secured $89.5bn in new capital across 1,819 deals.
The volatile markets and the end of cheap money triggered a wave of mass-layoffs in the fintech industry in 2022. Several companies collapsed as a result of these harsh market conditions. We'll talk about some of those further down in this report. Similar bloodbaths happened across the wider tech industry as well.
Online mortgage lender Better.com has come to personify these layoffs for two reasons: it was one of the first fintech firms to start firing employees in droves in 2022 and because those layoffs were allegedly incredibly mismanaged.
TechCrunch's Mary Ann Azevedo played a key role in reporting about just how bad things were getting at the fintech firm, breaking several of the stories that highlighted just how poorly managed the layoffs were.
Things had rumbled on underneath the surface at the company for months at the start of 2022. Things had been particularly bad after CEO Vishal Garg had laid off 900 people in a later-leaked Zoom call. The people were laid off in December 2021.
Several executives resigned after a public backlash to how Better.com handled those layoffs, Forbes reported.
In a leaked video meeting that occurred directly after the mass-sacking, Garg said that some of the terminated roles had been for redundant roles. He also admitted that the company was burning money fast.
"We made $250m last year, and you know what, we probably pissed away $200m," he said in the video.
Employees who weren't sacked were so unhappy with how Garg had conducted himself and the layoffs that they were leaving in droves in January 2022.
Then the manure hit the fan in March. The company laid off "just over 3,000" of its then roughly 8,000-employee strong workforce, Azevedo reported in another scoop.
In the months that followed, the company was also accused of mishandling unemployment for sacked workers and for laying off people on maternity leave.
Sources also alleged to TechCrunch that Better.com was firing workers in small batches to avoid breaking the law. The regulation in question, the WARN Act, would've mandated Better.com to pay out 90 days' severance if it fired 250 or more employees in one go.
Sources accused the company of actively trying to sidestep the law by firing people in smaller batches.
Better.com has denied trying to sidestep the law and any other wrongdoing.
Then, in August, TechCrunch broke the news that the company was moving through a fourth round of mass-layoffs within the scope of nine months. Over 250 employees were said to have been fired in the last round.
Better.com said that the layoffs were made to insulate the company against the harsh market conditions.
Cryptocurrency winter kicked off in full
One of the biggest fintech stories of 2022 was the so-called crypto winter. The crypto crash echoed the turmoil of the overall fintech industry in several ways.
The decentralised finance industry has been around for over a decade. Ever since the illusive bitcoin founder Satoshi Nakamoto first penned the white paper that laid the groundwork for the industry at the height of the 2008 financial meltdown, cryptocurrency enthusiasts have looked for ways to create an alternative to centralised finance run by governments. Their efforts have amounted to a long string of booms and busts.
However, in 2020 crypto evangelists sermonising the advent of a new decentralised paradigm seemed to be proven right. As the pandemic swept across the globe, people flocked to digital assets.
Whether they did it because of the assumption that bitcoin was a safe haven asset akin to gold, or simply out of lockdown boredom, doesn't really matter. The result was the same: over the next two years the price of cryptocurrencies soared to heights never seen before. Bitcoin reached a record valuation of over $68,700 in November 2021.
Financial industry gatekeepers seemingly agreed that something was going on. Traditional players with a history of being reluctant to embrace digital dosh, such as JP Morgan, started to introduce cryptocurrency services. So did companies like payment processing paragon PayPal and neobank Revolut.
At the same time, funding into these assets skyrocketed. In 2021, investors injected over $52.1bn into the blockchain industry across 1,222 venture financing, equity offering, private equity and debt offering deals, according to research and analytics firm GlobalData.
The data was extracted on December 16. Blockchain is the technology underlining cryptocurrencies.
However, the figures of 2022 are more solemn. The industry has secured $23.6bn this year across 1,306 deals.
The drought in funding mirrored the collapse of the overall crypto market. The market has lost two thirds of its value since November 2021. That's about $2tn in value for those keeping count.
Cryptocurrencies crashing and funding into digital asset ventures drying up in 2022 can be partly attributed to the same collection of factors that has slowed down the tech industry in general: volatile markets, the threat of a recession, high interest rates and the end of the pandemic.
Experts Verdict has spoken with expect the crypto crash to continue well into 2023. The industry's volatility, the implosion of a number of key players – such as FTX, Celsius and BlockFi – and the plummeting stocks of companies like Coinbase, are expected to give regulators the ammunition needed to clamp down hard on the industry.
So while the industry has suffered in 2022, the crypto crash will continue to be one of the biggest stories in fintech for the foreseeable future.
The FTX scandal rocked the fintech industry in 2022
Market watchers liked FTX. They saw in it not only the world's second largest crypto exchange after Binance, but they also believed that its founder was someone they could trust to provide expert insights about the future of the industry.
Sam Bankman-Fried, or SBF, was seen as the grown-up in a room full of crypto bros. His hefty donations to and willingness to share his thoughts with Democratic politicians made him the go-to source when they looked for insights into how to regulate the industry.
So when the company imploded in November, it sent shock waves across not just the cryptocurrency realm, but also through the hallways of Capitol Hill.
The unfolding collapse of FTX kicked off on November 2 when CoinDesk published an exclusive report revealing key balance sheet details of SBF’s Alameda Research trading firm. The numbers showed that the firm had invested heavily in the FTX exchange’s FTT token.
The report set off a chain of events that culminated in November with FTX filing for bankruptcy. Authorities in the Bahamas, where FTX was headquartered, arrested SBF in December. He was then extracted to the US.
The US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) accused him of "orchestrating a scheme to defraud equity investors". US prosecutors in Manhattan have also brought out eight criminal counts against SBF. The SEC has also levied similar charges against other executives involved in the alleged fraud.
SBF has pleaded not guilty.
The scope of FTX's alleged wrongdoings is still being unveiled by prosecutors and journalists. However, it's already clear that the collapse of the exchange has had an impact beyond FTX.
Companies connected with FTX also suffered as a result of the company's collapse. FTX had acquired Japanese crypto exchange Liquid earlier in 2022 and, following the November bankruptcy, disabled all fiat and crypto withdrawals on its platforms. BlockFi, another exchange, filed for bankruptcy on November 28 after reporting "significant exposure to FTX".
Regulators are also circling the wreckage. Several industry watchers have predicted that market watchdogs are vying to police the crypto industry more harshly in the future.
For SEC chair Gary Gensler the case has provided ample opportunity to double down on his crusade to bring cryptocurrencies under the purview of the market watchdog.
"Until crypto platforms comply with time-tested securities laws, risks to investors will persist," he said in December. "It remains a priority of the SEC to use all of our available tools to bring the industry into compliance."
Nirvana Money closed just weeks after its launch
In late November, fintech startup Nirvana Money announced that it would be shutting down operations just weeks after its launch at the Money20/202 conference. At the time, the company boasted that its credit card would "radically simplify money for middle-income earners."
However, the tone changed dramatically just a few weeks later. Anyone venturing onto the Nirvana Money website in late November was met by a message saying that the service was being discontinued and that all accounts would be closed by December 1, 2022.
On LinkedIn, CEO Bill Harris blamed the market for the fintech firm's failure.
"It's primarily the economic outlook," Harris said. "We've got a great concept and a stellar team, but as a credit company lending to the lower end of the credit spectrum into a recessionary environment with interest rates spiking – and all the means for cost of funds. Unfortunately, that's a formula for a sunnier day. Very disappointed, but the right decision."
Revolut becoming Europe's most valuable tech company
UK neobank Revolut claimed the title of being Europe’s most valuable startup in December. Its claim to the crown was more a testament to the volatile nature of the fintech industry in 2022, than anything else.
Revolut had been duking it out with the payments company and buy-now-pay-later (BNPL) venture Klarna for years about being the continent’s most valuable privately run venture. At the start of 2022, Revolut held third place.
However, things changed in 2022. As mentioned earlier, last year was brutal for fintech firms across the globe. Markets became more volatile and, as a result, investors have tightened their purse strings.
Similarly, Checkout.com had achieved a $40bn valuation in January 2022 after securing a $1bn Series D funding round. That made it Europe's most valuable private tech company when Klarna lost its big valuation.
Checkout.com lost the title to Revolut in December after the payment company slashed its internal valuation down to $11bn.
Revolut won the crown by default, in other words. The UK challenger bank joined the tridecacorn club on the back of a $800m funding round in July 2021 that pushed its valuation past the $33bn mark.
However, winning by default doesn't negate from the fact that Revolut seems to be doing well. Contrary to many other fintech firms, the neobank continued to hire new staff in 2022. It also secured new users and continued its expansion into the States.
That being said, Revolut has delayed the publication of its results for 2021 several time last year. The company has said it will now publish its result in 2023 and claims that it is profitable.
Wirecard scandal goes to court
The Wirecard scandal is one of the biggest fintech scandals ever. If you were hanging around the fintech space in 2020, you couldn't miss it. The German payment processing firm had enjoyed acclaim as one of the nation's leading blue chip companies.
However, a scandal rocked Wirecard two years ago. The company was accused of being a billion dollar scam.
The Financial Times had long probed the business about a proposed €250m hole in its balance sheets. Wirecard denied any wrongdoing.
After years of reporting, the FT revealed that the company's profits had been fraudulently inflated and that customers listed in documents provided to its auditor didn't exist.
In December, the former CEO Markus Braun, who has been in custody since his arrest in 2020, went on trial to face charges against him. Those charges included fraud and market manipulation.
Two other managers of the former blue chip company faced similar charges. They could face up to 15 years in jail if found guilty.
Braun has denied embezzling money from Wirecard and has accused others of running the illegal activities behind his back.
Wirecard's demise embarrassed the German establishment as its failure to adequately police the firm meant that the alleged multi-billion fraud went on for years.
A sentence isn't expected until 2024.
Following the collapse of Wirecard, other companies have stepped in to buy parts of the immolated business. Identity verification company IDnow has, for instance, carved Wirecard Communication Services from the remains of disgraced German payment processing behemoth.
GlobalData is the parent company of Verdict and its sister publications.