Is the Karvy scam the knockout punch to the fintech boom?

Waking up to the unearthing of a 2,000 crore scam at Karvy Stock Broking was precisely the sort of news fintech entrepreneurs and investors did not need. Ironically, this news would flash within a few hours of Andreessen Horowitz’s Anish Acharya and Seema Amble publishing a brilliant discussion on Does Zero Fee Trading Pay Off. Seema and Anish share their views on the impact that a start-up like Robinhood brought to an age-old business-like Chares Schwab and whether zero-fee trading can make money, or will it eventually lead to the demise of the incumbent.

To give you some context:

On October 1st, Charles Schwab announced that they would no longer charge any trading fees or commissions to their customers. On the day of the announcement, their stock fell 15% as the news spooked investors as to how the move would affect profitability. However, the investors had their fears allayed as a mid-November article said that the brokerage saw a surge in new account openings. The news led to a stunning rebound in the stock as it surged almost 50% from the bottom!

The incumbent’s response to a disruptor was to copy their strategy and transform their own business! It led to a win-win situation for them as Schwab earned new business, increased assets under management, revenues, and their investors have become more prosperous. The incumbent’s move to recognize that way of doing business had changed speaks volumes to the sort of culture that must exist at the upper echelons of Schwab.

Unfortunately, I cannot say the same for the business houses in India. Their shady business tactics, lack of ethics, and underhand dealings have cast a shadow on their industries and as a result of that, on the newcomers.

It is a known fact that the IL&FS fiasco cast doubt on the entire NBFC space and led to an exodus of top-tier professionals. The pressure intensified as a host of top-tier NBFCs defaulted on their obligations leading to an almost blanket freeze in lending or investing to companies in this sector – including start-ups, which were the hardest hit.

Now, this Karvy fiasco will cast doubts in the minds of customers of start-ups like Groww, PayTM Money, and many others that are attempting to disrupt the investment space. I estimate that we are a few months away from the same freeze in funding investing tech that was witnessed in lending tech this year.  All I can tell fintech founders is that they must conserve resources. A cold hard winter is setting in on their space.

Only the fittest will survive, but they must endure.

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