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Protocol | Fintech

SoFi makes big bet on Galileo

It's agreed to purchase the fintech backbone company for $1.2 billion.

Closeup of an unrecognizable person using her phone to scan and pay a bill on a card machine at a cafe during the day.

Banking is going mobile, and SoFi wants to be a bigger part of the revolution.

Photo: PeopleImages via Getty Images

SoFi has come a long way from refinancing student loans.

The company announced today that it's buying Galileo Financial Technologies, a company that specializes in financial services APIs, for $1.2 billion. It's a move that will likely help SoFi solidify its plans to become a modern bank.

Galileo offers APIs for a range of fintech products, like issuing credit and debit cards, creating bank accounts, and bill payment software. Its services are used by several buzzy neobanks and fintech companies, like Monzo, Chime, Varo and TransferWise. SoFi's Money product, a debit account with perks like no ATM fees and cash back on purchases, is built on top of Galileo's APIs. The conversations that began the partnership eventually led to talk of an acquisition.

Buying Galileo will allow SoFi to save on the fees it was paying the company to run its services, but also allow it to potentially operate in other countries. SoFi only offers its services in the U.S., whereas Galileo has customers in the U.K. and Canada — in theory, Galileo will be able to offer white-labeled SoFi products to its overseas customers as well.

Whether this move will pay off for SoFi remains to be seen, but it's a big bet that aims to deliver on the company's goal of becoming a bank that matches the way young people, and many others, live today. When the company launched its mobile-only checking account in 2018, it was clearly targeted at millennials who didn't see the need to visit a bank to make deposits or check the mail to pay bills.

SoFi started out refinancing student loans, then moved on to personal loans and mortgages before diving into debit accounts. It's since moved on to investing in stocks and crypto, selling insurance, and credit monitoring, and now has over 1 million customers, SoFi told Protocol. Tying all those services into one app where people can manage their finances is an appealing prospect — if it works out.

There are challenges — internal and external — that the company will need to weather if it's to succeed. SoFi endured claims of a toxic workplace and sexual harassment, removing co-founder Mike Cagney as CEO in 2018 and replacing him with former Twitter COO/CFO Anthony Noto. Back in November, Noto said, "It's safe to say our culture is still forming" — he'll have to keep pushing an open and productive work environment if the company is to build on its successes to date. SoFi has also had to spend a lot to acquire many of the customers it has, dropping hundreds of millions of dollars on advertising campaigns; that's a strategy that can only last for so long before the money dries up.

Then there's the armada of other neobanks looking to home in on the same segment of the population that SoFi is going after — and increasingly, they're coming in from overseas. Meanwhile, more-established players are trying to consolidate their positions. Companies like Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo have banded together to create Zelle, a peer-to-peer payments product similar to PayPal, Square's Cash or Venmo. Traditional banks are also upping their mobile game: Bank of America redesigned its app in late 2019, and Goldman Sachs is going after mobile-savvy consumers with its Marcus savings and loans product and its partnership with Apple on the Apple Card.

There are so many companies going after the same slice of the pie now that standing out in a crowded marketplace, especially one that has to combat the apathy people feel about swapping over something like a bank account, makes this a tough bet for SoFi, or any other neobank.

Even with all the disruption that the coronavirus pandemic has caused so far in 2020, the fintech market has also seen some big consolidations. Just this year, Visa bought Plaid, another fintech back-end system for $5.3 billion, and Intuit picked up Credit Karma for $7.1 billion. It's part of a larger recent trend of fintech startups getting scooped up that may well leave move space for neobanks to operate in, according to experts Protocol recently spoke with — that is, of course, unless the big banks continue to step up their game and move to where the world is going.
Protocol | Policy

Senate infrastructure bill: Who’s winning and losing in tech?

The $1 trillion bill covers everything from cyber to electric vehicles. But who's best positioned to seize the opportunity?

The $1 trillion infrastructure bill includes $550 billion in new spending.

Photo: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

There's a little something — and in some cases, a lotta something — for everyone in the bipartisan infrastructure bill that's currently getting hammered out in the Senate.

The $1 trillion bill includes $550 billion in new spending, of which tens of billions of dollars will go toward broadband expansion, low-income internet subsidies, electric vehicle investments, charging stations, cybersecurity and more. The outpouring of federal funding gives anyone from telecom giants to device manufacturers a lot to like.

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Issie Lapowsky

Issie Lapowsky ( @issielapowsky) is Protocol's chief correspondent, covering the intersection of technology, politics, and national affairs. She also oversees Protocol's fellowship program. Previously, she was a senior writer at Wired, where she covered the 2016 election and the Facebook beat in its aftermath. Prior to that, Issie worked as a staff writer for Inc. magazine, writing about small business and entrepreneurship. She has also worked as an on-air contributor for CBS News and taught a graduate-level course at New York University's Center for Publishing on how tech giants have affected publishing.

When the COVID-19 crisis crippled societies last year, the collective worldwide race for a cure among medical researchers put a spotlight on the immense power of big data analysis and how sharing among disparate agencies can save lives.

The critical need to exchange information among hundreds of international agencies or departments can be tough to pull off, especially if it's medical, financial or cybersecurity information that is highly protected by regulatory guardrails.

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James Daly
James Daly has a deep knowledge of creating brand voice identity, including understanding various audiences and targeting messaging accordingly. He enjoys commissioning, editing, writing, and business development, particularly in launching new ventures and building passionate audiences. Daly has led teams large and small to multiple awards and quantifiable success through a strategy built on teamwork, passion, fact-checking, intelligence, analytics, and audience growth while meeting budget goals and production deadlines in fast-paced environments. Daly is the Editorial Director of 2030 Media and a contributor at Wired.
Protocol | Workplace

Silicon Valley has a new recruitment strategy: The four-day workweek

Everything you need to know about how tech companies are beta testing the 32-hour week.

Since the onset of COVID-19, more companies have begun to explore shortened workweeks.

Photo: Matteo Colombo/Getty Images

At software company Wildbit, most employees are logged off on Fridays. That's not going to change anytime soon.

To Natalie Nagele, the company's co-founder and CEO, a full five days of work doesn't necessarily mean the company will get more stuff done. She pointed to computer science professor Cal Newport's book, "Deep Work," which explains how a person's ability to complete meaningful work cuts off after just about four hours. That book, Nagele told Protocol, inspired the company to move to a four-day workweek back in 2017.

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Sarah Roach

Sarah Roach is a reporter and producer at Protocol (@sarahroach_) where she contributes to Source Code, Protocol's daily newsletter. She is a recent graduate of George Washington University, where she studied journalism and mass communication and criminal justice. She previously worked for two years as editor in chief of her school's independent newspaper, The GW Hatchet.

Power

The game industry comes back down to Earth after its pandemic boom

Game company earnings reports this week show a decline from last year's big profits.

The game industry is slowing down as it struggles to maintain last year's record growth.

Photo: Cyril Marcilhacy/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The video game industry is finally slowing down. After a year of unprecedented and explosive growth due to the COVID-19 pandemic, big game publishers and hardware makers are starting to see profits dip from their 2020 highs and other signs of a return to normalcy.

This week alone, Sony and Nintendo both posted substantial drops in profit compared to this time a year ago, with Sony's operating income down more than 40% and Nintendo's down 17%. Grand Theft Auto maker Take-Two Interactive saw a dip in revenue and said its forecast for the rest of the fiscal year would not match last year's growth, while EA posted a revenue bump but an operating income decline of more than 43% compared to this time a year ago. Ubisoft, which reported earnings last month, saw its sales and bookings this past quarter drop by 14% and 21%, respectively, when compared to a year ago.

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Nick Statt
Nick Statt is Protocol's video game reporter. Prior to joining Protocol, he was news editor at The Verge covering the gaming industry, mobile apps and antitrust out of San Francisco, in addition to managing coverage of Silicon Valley tech giants and startups. He now resides in Rochester, New York, home of the garbage plate and, completely coincidentally, the World Video Game Hall of Fame. He can be reached at nstatt@protocol.com.

Allocations wants to make it easier to invest in startups as a group

Now valued at $100 million, it's emerging from stealth to challenge Carta and Assure in the SPV market.

Kingsley Advani, CEO of Allocations, wants to make it easier to form SPVs.

Photo: Allocations

Software is eating the world, including the venture industry. Carta and Assure have made it easier than ever for people to band together on deals. AngelList's venture arm debuted new ways to create rolling funds. But the latest startup to challenge the incumbents in the space is Allocations, a Miami-based startup that's making it easy to create and close special purpose vehicles, or SPVs, in hours.

"If you look at Pinduoduo and group shopping, SPVs are group investing," said Kingsley Advani, Allocations' founder and CEO. Instead of one investor having to cough up millions, multiple people can write smaller checks in an SPV and invest as a cohort. It's a trend that's taken off in 2021 as investors compete to get into hot startups.

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Biz Carson

Biz Carson ( @bizcarson) is a San Francisco-based reporter at Protocol, covering Silicon Valley with a focus on startups and venture capital. Previously, she reported for Forbes and was co-editor of Forbes Next Billion-Dollar Startups list. Before that, she worked for Business Insider, Gigaom, and Wired and started her career as a newspaper designer for Gannett.

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