It’s a massive market with €2 trillion in potential in Germany alone. That’s about how much money sits in German online savings accounts and fixed-term deposits. And like many industries in today’s digital world, competition for these deposits is being shaken up by financial-technology firms (fintechs) looking to get a piece of the action.
Two of these firms have agreed to merge their operations, potentially creating a new major player in the online-banking sphere. Hamburg-based Deposit Solutions on Thursday agreed to acquire Berlin-based Savedo, the companies confirmed to Handelsblatt. Both insisted it was a friendly takeover.
Neither Savedo nor Deposit Solutions is a bank in itself. Rather they act as intermediaries that allow savers to park their money in higher interest-bearing accounts across the European Union, which has been working hard over the past few years to unify regulations across national banking sectors. That matters for Germans more than most – a nation of savers with among the lowest interest rates in Europe. A one-year fixed term deposit will net you just 0.21 percent per year on average, according to Frankfurt consultants FMH.
“Deposit Solutions in particular is growing very strongly ... That’s where it makes strategic sense to acquire a competitor.”
The biggest player in the field is Weltsparen, a similar intermediary portal that currently has more than 85,000 customers with close to €4 billion in deposits across 34 European banks. With the merger, Deposit Solutions will become their chief rival, with around 80,000 customers and around €2.5 billion in deposits and partnerships with 28 banks.
Fintechs like Deposit Solutions are still relatively small players in the broader finance world, which is why such mergers among them have been pretty rare. Sven Korchinowski, a partner at the consulting firm KPMG, says startups need to reach a certain size before merging operations really makes sense. One of the few headline-grabbing mergers in the past couple years was British online lender Circle acquiring Zencap, a product of the startup incubator Rocket Internet, one of Berlin’s biggest companies.
With a market of €2 trillion in savings, the potential is clearly there. FMH Chief Max Herbst says online interest rate shopping portals have slowly established themselves as a reliable and trustworthy options for savers. “Deposit Solutions in particular is growing very strongly at the moment. That’s where it makes strategic sense to acquire a competitor,” said Friederike Stradtmann, a consultant with Accenture Strategy.
For small players hoping to stick around for the long haul, the trick is also to work with traditional banks rather than against them. That’s where Deposit Solutions may have an edge over its bigger rival Weltsparen. Since its founding in 2011, the Hamburg-based company has offered its services to banks directly. Deposit Solutions created an “open-banking solution” for banks to allow their customers to move savings to partners abroad through their online banking portal. Banks like it because it’s a way to give their clients an option to earn more interest, without losing them altogether. The customer doesn’t even sign a contract with the bank abroad – it’s all handled via their home bank.
The product has gained some high-profile backing. Among its 20 partners is Deutsche Bank – albeit only through its Maxblue subsidiary – as well as Fidelity’s German subsidiary FFB. Tim Sievers, CEO and founder of Deposit Solutions, told Handelsblatt he’s optimistic this kind of partnership to become the “market standard.”
Welstparen has caught on to the competition and offers a similar service for banks, though in the case of Weltsparen the customer still deals directly with the foreign bank, too. Its CEO and founder Tamas Georgadze told Handelsblatt that a “top 10 Europe-wide bank” will be added to its list of partners in September, together with three other financial providers. The market share of such fintechs may still be small, but it’s still shaping up to be a hard-fought battle.
Katharina Schneider covers finance and startups for Handelsblatt in Frankfurt. Christopher Cermak adapted this story for Handelsblatt Global. To contact the authors: Schneider@handelsblatt.com and Cermak@handelsblatt.com