Last week CB Insights released this really interesting report titled, Everything You Need To Know About What Amazon Is Doing in Financial Services. While Amazon has already made some moves in fintech is a huge amount of speculation as to what they will do next. This report covers both what Amazon has done and also speculates as to where they might be going.
The report provides an in depth look at the moves Amazon has made in payments, lending, the new Amazon Cash program and also takes a look at how the company has been developing fintech programs internationally.
Amazon Cash For The Unbanked Consumer
While I was most interested in the lending section before I get to that I want to talk about Amazon Cash. I have paid little attention to this product since it launched in April 2017 but the more I think about it the more I see a product that could move the needle for the unbanked in this country and possibly around the world.
Simply put Amazon Cash bridges the offline and online worlds by allowing anyone to shop on Amazon with cash. The way they do this is through partners like Western Union, MoneyGram and Coinstar. Consumers can bring in cash and deposit it into an Amazon “account”. They can then shop on Amazon and use this balance on this account to pay for Amazon products.
It doesn’t take much imagination to see where Amazon could take this. By the simple addition of a debit card, Amazon could move the unbanked into a quasi bank account that could be used at places beyond Amazon. Many surveys have said how much the public trusts Amazon and they could really make a difference for financial inclusion by developing this product.
Amazon Lending: Lots of Potential But Not Much Activity So Far
When it comes to lending I have been following developments at Amazon closely for some time. To be honest, I am a little underwhelmed by what they have accomplished thus far in the lending space.
They have had a small business lending operation since 2011 and much fanfare was made about the $3 billion they have loaned through June 2017. But that doesn’t even put them in the top three online small business lenders in that time period. OnDeck, Kabbage and CAN Capital all loaned more.
To be fair Amazon is not trying to be a general purpose lender. Their SMB lending operation is targeted solely at Amazon marketplace sellers as a way to help them grow their business so they will sell more products on Amazon. It is not clear they have a desire to do more than that.
Amazon is also moving into credit cards for consumers. They have several credit and debit cards available today, many targeted towards their Prime customers in an effort to develop more loyalty. But they are showing signs of also wanting to become a major player in their customers’ everyday spending which happens outside of Amazon.
Amazon India: A Blueprint For The Rest of the World?
Amazon has had a major focus on India for some time now. A little known fact is that the majority of Amazon’s fintech equity investments and M&A has been focused on India. They have done seven fintech deals to date there, more than they have done in the US. Earlier this year, they made a $22 million investment into the small business lending platform Capital Float.
The most interesting news out of India is something that came out earlier this month. Amazon launched a new lending experiment that may end up being a blueprint for other geographies. In the US Amazon has partnered with Bank of America to provide the funding for their small business loans. In India they are using a marketplace with five participants, both banks and non-banks.
Even though it easily could it appears that Amazon does not want to be a balance sheet lender. They want others to take the credit risk and a marketplace is a way to help their customers get the best loan deal. If they bring this concept to other countries it could be a game changer for online small business lending.
What’s Next For Amazon?
Much has been written speculating about what Amazon’s next move might be in financial services. There have been many rumors and the CB Insights report actually details many of them.
The general consensus among the articles I have read, including the CB Insights report, is that Amazon does not want to become the JPMorgan Chase of the 21st century. What they really want is to increase participation with both buyers and sellers on the Amazon platform. They want to reduce friction points and one of the major causes of friction is finance.
While it is fun to speculate about what Amazon might do it is more important to keep up to date with what they are actually doing. I expect them to continue to become a more significant force in fintech for many years to come. They could end up rewriting the rules of financial services as they have done to many other industries.