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The Front Page of Global Fintech

The largest fintech community in the world. Subscribe to our newsletter to stay up to date on the latest in news opinions, and all things financial technology.

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Signals: Why is there so much idea recycling in fintech?

Signals: Why is there so much idea recycling in fintech?

Once or twice a quarter, for the last half-decade, I’ve opened my inbox to the same email: “I’d like you to invest in my new app, a financial advisor that will put people’s money on autopilot.”

This email has come from 50 or so different people, working on 50 or so different solutions. There are many variations on the theme. Sometimes it’s called a ‘financial health’ or ‘literacy’ app, sometimes it’s a budgeting tool, sometimes it’s an AI financial advisor, sometimes it’s a ‘wealth management autopilot’, etc.

The basic product construct boils down to a few key ingredients:

  1. Link all your accounts and transactions in one place,
  2. See trends and insights in the dashboard,
  3. Set goals (investment goals, spending goals, debt repayment goals…),
  4. And, often: Let the autopilot manage your money for you.

In theory, this is a great product!

I would love to go through life knowing that my money is being managed for me, and occasionally gleaning insights from my financial habits that help me get smarter about money management.

So why are 4 or 5 new companies started every year trying to do some version of this?

In fintech, the answer is frequently this: The obvious product ideas haven’t worked yet because there are deeper problems to be solved first.

That reality helps explain why, in the last decade of fintech, many of the biggest outcomes have been from infrastructure providers like Plaid or Stripe. Why so many ‘obvious’ ideas are tried over and over again. And why we still don’t have the killer personal finance app. 

Idea recycling is endemic throughout fintech. People try to build the same products over and over, year after year. That doesn’t mean that the product ideas are bad! Eventually, someone will build something that has failed many times before in the right way, at the right time, with the right team, and the right market, and it will finally work.

But to build the breakout version of the product that finally works, you have to study the history of the product and understand why it didn’t work before.

Failing to do that is one of the most common failure modes in fintech.