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New Political Economy
ISSN: 1356-3467 (Print) 1469-9923 (Online) Journal homepage: https://www.tandfonline.com/loi/cnpe20
The Platform Political Economy of FinTech:
Reintermediation, Consolidation and
Paul Langley & Andrew Leyshon
To cite this article: Paul Langley & Andrew Leyshon (2020): The Platform Political Economy
of FinTech: Reintermediation, Consolidation and Capitalisation, New Political Economy, DOI:
To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/13563467.2020.1766432
Published online: 20 May 2020.
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The Platform Political Economy of FinTech: Reintermediation,
Consolidation and Capitalisation
and Andrew Leyshon
Department of Geography, Durham University, Durham, UK;
School of Geography, University of Nottingham,
‘FinTech’is the digital sector of retail money and ﬁnance widely
proclaimed to be transforming banking in the global North and ‘banking
the unbanked’in the global South. This paper develops a perspective for
critically understanding FinTech as a platform political economy that is
marked by three distinctive and related processes: reintermediation,
consolidation, and capitalisation. Through experimentation with the
platform business model and building on the digital infrastructures and
data ﬂows of the broader platform ecosystem, a constellation of
organisations –including start-ups, early-career ﬁrms, BigTech
companies and incumbent banks –are engaged in processes of
platform reintermediation. Changing the bases of competition in retail
money and ﬁnancial markets and encouraging oligopoly and even
monopoly, the reintermediation processes of FinTech are presently
manifest in strong tendencies towards platform consolidation. The
imagined potential of FinTech has also triggered intensive processes of
capitalisation, with platforms receiving signiﬁcant prospective
investment by venture capital, private equity funds, banks and BigTech
FinTech; platform capitalism;
‘FinTech’is the recognised descriptor for an emergent and diverse sector of digital retail monetary
and ﬁnancial services. It is the object of media hype (e.g. Economist 2017, Hancock et al. 2018), a
focus for national ﬁnancial policymaking and regulation (National Economic Council 2017, HM Treas-
ury 2018, Brainard 2020), and is enthusiastically promoted within global development programmes
(e.g. Alliance for Financial Inclusion 2018, World Bank and the International Monetary Fund 2018).
FinTech has also generated a burgeoning academic-practitioner literature, emanating mainly from
business schools, industry commentators and consultancy ﬁrms (e.g. Delaporte et al. 2016,, pwc
2017 Blakstad and Allen 2018, Gupta and Tham 2018). Combined, this work maps a rapidly evolving
landscape, identiﬁes active business models, and ascertains the challenges that might limit future
expansion. Invoking the well-worn Silicon Valley tropes of ‘disruption’,‘distintermediation’and
‘democratisation’that are ubiquitous in digital economy discourse, prevailing and powerful media,
policy and academic-practitioner accounts of FinTech typically emphasise how consumer-empower-
ing technological innovations are not only transforming banking in the global North, but also
‘banking the unbanked’in the global South.
© 2020 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group
CONTACT Paul Langley firstname.lastname@example.org Department of Geography, Durham University, Lower Mountjoy,
South Road, Durham DH1 3LE, UK @_paullangley
NEW POLITICAL ECONOMY
A rapidly growing body of social science research is exploring the main domains of FinTech
business. This work has mainly focused on digital and mobile payments (e.g. Maurer 2012,
O’Dwyer 2015,2019, Kremers and Brassett 2017), cryptocurrencies and distributed ledger technol-
ogies (e.g. Golumbia 2016, Tapscott and Tapscott 2016, Parkin 2019), asset management and
‘robo-advising’(Haberly et al. 2019), and crowdfunding and peer-to-peer (P2P) lending (Langley
2016, Gray and Zhang 2017, Langley and Leyshon 2017a, Clarke 2019). Research is also interrogating
the FinTech sector more broadly, making connections with wider-ranging developments, including
technological transformations underway across wholesale and retail ﬁnance (Campbell-Verduyn
et al. 2017, Bernards and Campbell-Verduyn 2019), and continuity and change in the ‘developmental
states’of China and East Asia (Gruin 2019, Gruin and Knaack 2020, Rethel and Thurbon 2019). In
addition, FinTech is being researched by social scientists concerned with revised global development
agendas that prioritise ‘ﬁnancial inclusion’at the ‘bottom of the pyramid’(BoP), and which serve to
extend the frontiers of neoliberal ﬁnancialised capitalism in the global South (Mader 2016,2018,
Aitken 2017, Gabor and Brooks 2017, Langevin 2019, Bernards 2019a,2019b).
Across this research, moreover, social scientists are beginning to oﬀer analytical perspectives that
provide a counterpoint to the prevailing and powerful accounts of FinTech. Drawing on critical litera-
ture apprehending the digital economy more broadly, these perspectives serve to highlight two
facets of FinTech crucial to understanding its dynamics and pathologies. The ﬁrst is the use of tech-
niques of data aggregation and algorithmic analysis to extract value from users and their data trails
(O’Dwyer 2015,2019, Gabor and Brooks 2017, Langevin 2019, Sadowski 2019,Bernards 2019a,
2019b). Pivotal to the digital economies of ‘surveillance capitalism’(Zuboﬀ2019), data ﬁgures
strongly but somewhat diﬀerently in FinTech. Transaction data produced by digital and mobile pay-
ments is aggregated and monetised by FinTech ﬁrms, going beyond a revenue model based solely on
fees levied on user transactions (Maurer and Swartz 2015). Combined with other contextual data,
transaction data is mobilised in retail ﬁnance for market segmentation (i.e. classifying customers
for advertising and sales purposes) and credit risk analysis (i.e. developing tailored credit products
and risk management tools) (O’Dwyer 2019). Indeed, transactional, geo-spatial, telecommunication
and social media data are combined by FinTech ﬁrms to produce new kinds of ‘proxy’credit risk
data (Aitken 2017). This is signiﬁcant, given claims that such proxies can render visible roughly 40
percent of the global adult population (∼1.7 billion people) who are currently ‘unbanked’and lack
credit histories and scores (Realini and Metha 2015, World Bank 2017). Promises of transaction
data-derived ﬁnancial inclusion often garner support in developing countries from state agencies
seeking to advance the surveillance and taxation of their populations (Jain and Gabor 2020).
Second, perspectives oﬀered by social scientists stress how the FinTech industry deploys infra-
structures of digital technology and wireless telecommunication to connect with users, often in con-
junction with longer-standing payment and ﬁnancial architectures (Maurer 2012, Bernards and
Campbell-Verduyn 2019,O’Dwyer 2019). Grandiose and spectacular claims about FinTech are punc-
tured with reference to the mundane and ‘backgrounded’operations of assembled socio-technical
systems (Bernards and Campbell-Verduyn 2019, p. 783), and emphasis is placed on the ways in
which these infrastructures frame monetary and ﬁnancial relations to create new opportunities
and vulnerabilities for users (e.g. Rodima-Taylor and Grimes 2019). Indeed, Clarke (2019, p. 866)
draws attention to the tendency for governmental programmes to present the kinds of ﬁnancial
service products now oﬀered by FinTech as ‘part of the basic “infrastructures”of contemporary
societies’. Justifying the development of products for marginal customers, this discourse makes it
possible for the FinTech sector to ‘proﬁt at the expense of people who become increasingly indebted’
(Clarke 2019, p. 866).
This paper aims to extend existing social science research by developing a perspective for critically
understanding FinTech as a platform political economy; that is, as a political economy which is always
already constituted through the logics and logistics of platforms (Guyer 2016). In doing so, we will
broadly situate the understanding of FinTech within analyses of the digital economy as a ‘platform
economy’(Bratton 2015, Kenney and Zysman 2018,2020, van Dijck et al. 2019) and as ‘platform
2P. LANGLEY AND A. LEYSHON
capitalism’(Pasquale 2016, Srnicek 2016, Sadowski 2020). Although the notion of ‘platform’is cer-
tainly present in social science research on FinTech (e.g. Maurer 2015, Clarke 2019,O’Dwyer 2019),
it rarely provides the conceptual entry point (cf. Hendrikse et al. 2018). As Haberly et al. (2019,
168) observe in their study of asset management as one line of FinTech business, ‘for all of the ana-
lyses of the impact of new technologies in ﬁnance; and of the digital platform economy outside of
ﬁnance; there has not been a systematic evaluation of the impact of the digital platform model’.
Here we develop a perspective for understanding the political economy of FinTech as produced
by organisational leverage of ‘the platform’in retail money and ﬁnance. This perspective is directly
informed by our wider work that –by combining insights from heterodox political economy, cultural
economy and science and technology studies (STS) –theorises ‘platform capitalism’as the rise of a
distinctive and powerful mode of capitalist intermediation made possible by a host of socio-technical
achievements (Langley and Leyshon 2017a,2017b). It emphasises experimentation with the platform
business model underway throughout the FinTech sector, a model of capitalist enterprise that brings
together relatively well-established economic and socio-technical practices to create a new inter-
mediary logic of data-rich accumulation. It also stresses how the political economy of FinTech oper-
ates through ‘the stack’, a logistical assemblage of digital infrastructures and data ﬂows that is
enclosed and controlled by BigTech platforms and which broadly comprises the ‘platform ecosystem’
(Bratton 2015, van Dijck et al. 2019).
Understanding FinTech as a platform political economy serves to foreground its commercial and
institutional conﬁguration, and thereby re-orientates critical analysis of the constitutive role of data
and digital infrastructures in its operations. Once it is analysed from this perspective, we will also
show how FinTech is marked by processes of platform political economy that confound evangelical
claims that it disintermedates, disrupts and democratises retail money and ﬁnance. We identify and
elaborate upon the distinct and related processes of reintermediation, consolidation and capitalisa-
tion that are shaping the FinTech sector and its consequences for retail money and ﬁnance, but which
currently remain relatively under-researched.
The remainder of the paper is organised into three sections. The ﬁrst introduces FinTech and
further develops our perspective. The second addresses, in turn, the processes of reintermediation,
consolidation and capitalisation that are underway in the platform political economy of FinTech.
Our conceptual and analytical intervention intends to provoke further, in-depth research into the
strategies and practices of FinTech platforms. Our method here is therefore to interrogate media,
policy and academic-practitioner accounts of FinTech and the platform economy that provide for
the business knowledge of FinTech platforms. The third and ﬁnal part of the paper oﬀers some con-
The portmanteau of ‘FinTech’originates from a project called ‘Financial Services Technology Con-
sortium’started by Citigroup in the early 1990s. Today, in its broadest applications, the term
draws attention to the role of information technologies in global wholesale and retail ﬁnance
since at least the nineteenth-century (e.g. Buckley et al. 2016). FinTech is normally applied
more narrowly, referring to technological changes underway in retail ﬁnance since the 1950s
(Rubini 2017, pp. 2–3), and especially the emergence of a distinct sector of retail money and
ﬁnance after the 2008 global ﬁnancial crisis (e.g. Blakstad and Allen 2018, p. 4). Largely based
around telecommunication and digital technologies and ‘big data’, the contemporary FinTech
sector is accessed by users through mobile networks and smartphone applications linked to
FinTech is also often categorised into several more-or-less discrete digital retail monetary and
ﬁnancial services. Book-length introductions, for example, often feature chapters dedicated to
each category of services (e.g. Flynt 2016), which typically also appears as inseperable from a particu-
lar ‘group of companies that are introducing innovation into ﬁnancial services through the use of
NEW POLITICAL ECONOMY 3
modern technologies’(Rubini 2017, p. 1). As the United Kingdom’s HM Treasury (2018, p. 3) put it, ‘The
term “FinTech”is used interchangeably to describe both technology-driven innovation across
ﬁnancial services and to pick out a speciﬁc group of ﬁrms that combine innovative business
models with technology to enable, enhance, and disrupt the ﬁnancial services sector’. Narrated in
this way, FinTech includes: online and mobile monetary payments denominated in sovereign curren-
cies (e.g. PayPal, Braintree); bitcoin and other cryptocurrency exchanges (e.g. Bitpay, Coinbase);
online-only banks and banking apps (e.g. Atom, Monzo); crowdfunding (e.g. Kickstarter, Crowdfun-
der) and peer-to-peer (P2P) lending (e.g. Zopa, Lending Club); investment, saving and ﬁnancial plan-
ning, such as ‘robo-advisors’(e.g. Wealthfront, Betterment), automated saving apps (e.g. Digit, Dyme),
and interfaces and dashboards for money management (e.g. Mint, Money Dashboard); and, online
lending to diﬀerent and diﬀerentiated market segments, such as small- and medium-sized businesses
(SMEs) (e.g. Kabbage, OnDeck), low- or high-risk consumers (e.g. LendUp, Borro), and payday bor-
rowers (e.g. SafetyNet). An array of business-to-business (B2B) FinTech ﬁrms also service the industry,
concentrating on data aggregation and algorithmic analytics (e.g. Cigniﬁ, DemystData), applications
of blockchain and other distributed ledger technologies (e.g. Peernova, Mirror), and user experience
(UX) and user interface (UI) design (e.g. UXDA).
Specialist and ostensibly innovative FinTech ﬁrms are platforms; that is, they largely correspond to a
distinct mode of capitalist enterprise that aggregates and analyses data and deploys digital infra-
structures in order to extract value from intermediation. Paraphrasing from Wood and Monahan’s
(2019, p. 1) account of the diﬀerence between ‘platform surveillance’and ‘surveillance capitalism’
(cf. Zuboﬀ2019), our point is not just that FinTech (like contemporary surveillance) ‘happens to be
facilitated by platforms’. Rather, over the last decade or so, the political economy of FinTech has
been fuelled by the ex poste rationalisation of ‘the platform’as the business model for the global
digital economy (Langley and Leyshon 2017b, pp. 20–3). It is through this model that ‘more
sectors, ﬁrms, startups, app developers, and investors mobilise’around ‘one plausible version of infor-
mation capitalism’(Zuboﬀ2019: location 256 [Kindle edition]). As leading advocates of the platform
business model Parker et al. (2016, p. 278) put it, ‘the bankers have heard the message that is spread-
ing through one industry after another’, and, across the FinTech sector, ‘they are looking to the plat-
form model as the chief disruptive mechanism’.
During the dot.com boom of the 1990s, platform enterprises (e.g. social media companies, online
market exchanges) often developed without a clear commercial rationale (Feng et al. 2001, van Dijck
2013, Kenney and Zysman 2020). In contrast, the FinTech sector has gained traction amidst burgeon-
ing business knowledge and ‘how to’guides about the platform model, not to mention the backing
the model has received from venture capital and other investors (see below). Key features of the
model include, for example: so-called socio-technical ‘layers’(infrastructure, data, users) (Choudary
2015); the potential to rapidly ‘scale up’to market dominance with limited investment in ﬁxed
capital and other assets (Parker et al. 2016, Kenney and Zysman 2018); and, promising revenue strat-
egies which increasingly centre on value extraction from monetising combinations of user data with
‘platform ready’external web data (Helmond 2015).
Within FinTech, ﬁrms specialising in payments and crowdfunding and P2P lending correspond
particularly strongly with the platform business model: they intermediate multi-sided ‘connections’
and relations between users and coordinate the network eﬀects of ‘connectivity’(Srnicek 2016,p.
45). Start-ups providing online-only banking, investment, ﬁnancial planning or loans, meanwhile,
are typically business-to-consumer (B2C) platforms, or two-sided aggregator platforms that
connect users with product and service providers (e.g. banks, non-bank lenders) that partner with
the platform. While rates of formation appear to have slowed somewhat in North America and
Europe, by December 2019, Crunchbase, a widely recognised industry database, recorded a global
population of over 13,000 FinTech platforms.
4P. LANGLEY AND A. LEYSHON
Platform business experiments in FinTech extend well beyond start-ups and early-career ﬁrms,
however. Incumbent institutions in both the information and telecommunications (ICTs) and
ﬁnancial services industries are also leveraging the platform business model. Major incumbent
banks in the global North are now signiﬁcant actors, ‘seeking combinations of old and new business
models’to reinvent their internal data systems and online business channels (Hendrikse et al. 2018,p.
161). Banks are integrating legacy hardware and software systems into platforms. This may be geared
towards ‘open innovation’and ‘ecosystem’approaches that, facilitated by Application Programmable
Interfaces (APIs) and characteristic of the Apple business model, centre on FinTech ﬁrms harvesting
data and building applications on bank platforms (Hendrikse et al. 2018). Indeed, such an approach is
being encouraged by ‘open banking’regulations in the European Union and UK in particular (Efra
2019). To enable their in-house change programmes, however, banks are strategically engaging
with FinTech start-ups in other ways, including partnerships, minority investments, and acquisitions.
BigTech and the Platform Ecosystem
BigTech companies now also oﬀer FinTech platforms to their users, and/or have formed separate
FinTech business arms or made strategic investments in FinTech partners (Moeller 2018). This
includes the ‘Big Four’of Google (Alphabet), Apple, Facebook and Amazon (GAFA) in the global
North (Galloway 2017), and Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent (BAT) in China. The GAFA BigTechs all
oﬀer payment platforms to their users, for example, such as Google Pay, Apple Pay and Amazon
Pay, while 1.5 billion Facebook users can make payments via Messenger. Meanwhile, the growth
of FinTech in China has been largely driven by the expansionary strategies of BAT (Economist
2017, Wang and Doan 2018). Indeed, the FinTech platforms of Alibaba and Tencent are arguably
the most signiﬁcant globally. Chinese consumers top EY’s(2019) Global FinTech Adoption Index,
and mobile payment transactions by value ($790 billion) in China in 2016 were 11 times greater
than in the United States (Smith 2018). In 2014, Alibaba consolidated its FinTech operations into a
spin-oﬀcompany, Ant Financial, which operates China’s most popular mobile payment platform
(Alipay), and oﬀers a host of digital banking, investment, lending and insurance services. Meanwhile,
Tencent’s WeChat messaging app oﬀers a range of transfer and payment functions to its 890 million
users (Chandler 2017).
The FinTech sector is also reliant, more broadly, on telecommunication and digital infrastructures
that are largely enclosed and controlled by telecom giants and BigTech platforms (O’Dwyer 2015,
Sadowski 2020). FinTech in Africa is, for example, increasingly running on the telecommunication
systems and ‘feature phones’of Chinese corporations (Pilling 2019). In the global North, meanwhile,
FinTech is a platform political economy made possible by the integration and operation of the six
layers of what Bratton (2015) describes as The Stack (i.e. ‘Earth’,‘Cloud’,‘City’,‘Address’,‘Interface’,
‘User’). For a number of emergent digital economy sectors –news media, urban transportation,
healthcare, and education –GAFA and BAT have evolved into the ‘infrastructural platforms’of ‘the
platform ecosystem’(van Dijck et al. 2019). BigTech platforms, in short, provide the highly centralised
infrastructures upon which the ‘sectoral platforms’of FinTech are built and organised.
For specialist FinTech platforms, hardware and software have increasingly become ﬁxed costs
rather than capital investments (Kenney and Zysman 2018). Combined with the B2B ‘oﬀ-the-shelf’
services of white label platform providers and UX and UI designers, this has signiﬁcantly lowered
the barriers to market entry for start-ups. Accordingly, FinTech platforms are often described as
‘tech stacks’(e.g. Gupta and Tham 2018), integrated assemblages of infrastructural elements
drawn from the platform ecosystem. The ‘back-end’of the tech stack of FinTech platforms is what
makes an app or a website run. Invisible to users, it includes cloud computing services (e.g.
Amazon Web Services (AWS), Alibaba Cloud) and data analytics (e.g. Google Analytics), which can
be combined and purchased from a single BigTech provider (e.g. Microsoft Azure and Microsoft
Azure Data Analytics). Search engines, app stores, and identiﬁcation services taken from the platform
ecosystem are also critical to Fintech platforms. Meanwhile, the apps and interfaces that comprise the
NEW POLITICAL ECONOMY 5
‘front-end’of the tech stack of FinTech platforms utilise Java or CSS programming code, often com-
piled from open source repositories maintained by BigTech (e.g. Bootstrap, AngularJS, ReactJS, Mate-
rialize). BigTech companies are important to the political economy of FinTech as platform providers of
retail monetary and ﬁnance services, then, but the constitutive signiﬁcance of the BigTech platform
ecosystem to the FinTech sector goes much, much deeper.
Processes of Platform Political Economy
Foregrounding the platform business model and platform ecosystem is key to a perspective that
explicitly attends to the political-economic dynamics of FinTech. A perspective that understands
FinTech as a platform political economy also draws attention to processes of reintermediation, con-
solidation, and capitalisation. These processes are yet to feature strongly in social science research,
even though they are presently shaping the development of the FinTech sector and its consequences
for retail money and ﬁnance.
In the global North, FinTech is widely held to be ‘disintermediating’retail money and ﬁnance. Taken
to its conclusion, distintermediation could render banking intermediaries as mere clearing houses for
business undertaken elsewhere (Joyce 2019). Consider, for example, Blakstad and Allen’s(2018, pp.
4–9) account of what they call the FinTech Revolution. Prior to the global ﬁnancial crisis, a ‘bloated’
corporate banking industry dominated retail ﬁnance and paid little attention to consumers.
However, chastened by the crisis and emboldened by participation in the wider digital economy, con-
sumers demanded ‘greater transparency and accountability’in ﬁnancial services and ‘a fragmented,
app-based and partially gamiﬁed interface with their service providers’. In this rendition of the distin-
termediation narrative, banking intermediation is rendered outmoded by consumers, and the emer-
gence of FinTech platforms as the new intermediaries of retail money and ﬁnance is obscured.
A core feature of the platform business model is the intermediation of multi- and two-sided
markets (Gawer 2014). Start-ups, BigTechs, banks and other incumbent institutions experimenting
with this model in the FinTech sector are seeking to ‘reintermediate’(not disintermediate) retail mon-
etary and ﬁnancial relations. Financial intermediation typically entails the reduction of transaction
and/or information costs (type 1) and the creation of liquidity (type 2), and attempts at transformation
are better understood as acts of reintermedation rather than disintermedation (French and Leyshon
2004). Contemporary platform reintermediation by FinTech ﬁrms primarily centres on type 1 forms of
intermediation, but as ﬁrms scale they are also able to undertake type 2 intermediation. Indeed, what
Erturk and Solari (2007) describe as the ‘reinvention’of retail banking from the 1980s –with fees and
charges for products and services overtaking earnings from interest rate spreads –actually provides
the favourable institutional, social and economic conditions of possibility for platform reintermeda-
tion. Fees and charges have increasingly become a core source of banking revenues, accounting for
65 percent of after-tax-proﬁts in global retail banking in 2016 (McKinsey 2016). As FinTechs undertake
platform reintermediation, they are partly taking their cue from a transformation in which the for-
merly vertically integrated retail ﬁnancial services of banks have already been unbundled (and re-
bundled) to generate product sales.
Viewed against the backdrop of the longer standing reintermediation of retail money and ﬁnance,
FinTech platform reintermediation is distinctive nonetheless. For so-called ‘unbanked’populations of
‘ﬁnancial nomads’in the global South (Realini and Metha 2015), FinTech enterprises might appear to
deliver ﬁnancial inclusion by providing users with monetary and ﬁnancial services for the ﬁrst time.
Here, however, platform reintermediation actually displaces and transforms informal (i.e. non-market)
monetary and ﬁnancial relations (O’Dwyer 2015, Rodima-Taylor and Grimes 2019). In the global
North, where incumbent banks are continuing to shrink branch networks in favour of online ‘business
channels’(Tiessen 2015), platform reintermediation by online-only and app-based banks certainly
6P. LANGLEY AND A. LEYSHON
includes promises of ease of access and reduced transaction costs. But when online banking is the
new normal, FinTech reintermedation is also as much about engineering ‘frictionless’platform infra-
structures for more eﬀective and appealing user transactions –so-called UX and UI design –as it is
about oﬀering lower fees and charges or better interest rates than the major banks (Ash et al. 2018).
FinTech platform reintermediation is also an important departure from reintermedation processes
centred on information costs. Platforms play a similar informational role to banks and non-banking
ﬁnancial intermediaries in the global North when they charge fees, for example, for establishing
the trust necessary to process a payment between users, conducting basic due diligence on the
SMEs that they list for P2P loans, and assessing the creditworthiness of consumers for loans
ﬁnanced by their partners. However, platform reintermedation is not merely a matter of extracting
‘direct rent’in the form of fees and charges, but also turns on extracting ‘indirect rent’by accruing
user data and combining and analysing it with metadata (O’Dwyer 2015, Sadowski 2020). The role
of information in intermediation is transformed when it is regarded as data and as a resource and
source of value, not as a cost to others that is reduced and managed (for a fee or charge) on their
behalf. This novel data-driven and data-derived feature of platform reintermedation is pronounced
in mobile and digital payments, where business models increasingly concentrate on the monetisation
of transactions data to be used or sold for supply chain operations, market segmentation and/or
credit risk analysis (O’Dwyer 2019). But data-derived reintermedation by platforms elsewhere in
the FinTech sector –from robo-advice on investment portfolios to loans to consumers excluded or
underserved by incumbent institutions –is also variously grounded in claims to discover consumer
needs, oﬀer better tailored products, and provide for improved analysis of credit risks.
It is often claimed that FinTech ‘new market entrants’are ‘disrupting’the dominance of banks and
other incumbent providers, increasing competition in retail monetary and ﬁnancial services in the
global North (e.g. Flynt 2016). Developments in the US market for personal loans would seem to
support these claims, for example (Siegfried 2019). For policymakers and regulators in the global
North confronted by ‘too big to fail’incumbents, FinTech represents an opportunity to increase
competition in ﬁnancial services. In the UK, for example, HM Treasury (2018, pp. 2–3) considers
Fintech to be ‘a fantastic example of how competition can be a force for good’, where ‘govern-
ment, and regulators, have an important role to play in removing barriers to entry and growth,
particularly for innovative ﬁrms’. If harnessed correctly to maintain ‘consumer safety’(Brainard
2020), regulators hope FinTech disruption could deliver renewed competitiveness to retail
markets for money and ﬁnance.
From a platform political economy perspective, equating the rise of FinTech with a wave of
competition-enhancing disruption in existing markets for retail money and ﬁnance is problematic.
Processes of consolidation rather than competition characterise FinTech because, fundamentally,
successful platform reintermedation turns on transforming and monopolising new market struc-
tures of retail money and ﬁnance. As Parker et al. (2016, p. 210 original emphasis) argue, compe-
tition in platform economies proceeds on the basis that ‘ﬁrms that understand how platforms
work can …remake markets, not just respond to them’. Crucially, multi-sided platforms must
have strong ‘demand economies of scale’or ‘network eﬀects’: for users, the beneﬁts of a platform
increase as a function of the total number of users (Cusumano et al. 2019). The primary initial stra-
tegic objective for those experimenting with the platform business model in FinTech is thus to
rapidly recruit and retain user populations and their data, to ‘leverage network eﬀects’by
Ultimately, the consequence of these processes could be that FinTech replaces existing retail
money and ﬁnance markets with newly structured and platformed arrangements that have mono-
polistic and oligopolistic tendencies. ‘BigTech-FinTech’platforms are already acknowledged by
some commentators to be the main threat to ‘too-big-to-fail’banks (McKinsey 2016, McWaters
NEW POLITICAL ECONOMY 7
and Galaski 2017). However, we would caution against assuming that retail money and ﬁnance is
only a BigTech banking license away from being captured (Delaporte et al. 2016). It is not necess-
arily in the interests of BigTech platforms to fully enter the banking industry due to the level of
compliance and political and regulatory oversight that would follow (Moeller 2018). Indeed, amid
political unease about the power of large digital platforms, the hostile reaction to Facebook’s 2019
plans to create its own cryptocurrency (‘Libra’) illustrates that BigTech ﬁrms may face enhanced
scrutiny and concerted political opposition as they seek regulatory approval for new ﬁnancial pro-
ducts and services.
We would want to stress, then, the variegated processes of FinTech platform consolidation pre-
sently underway across diﬀerent markets and spaces. Centred on and around both BigTech compa-
nies and powerful incumbents, these processes of platform consolidation are having considerable
impacts on the organisation of retail money and ﬁnance. In China, for example, BAT companies dom-
inate FinTech by oﬀering services to their vast populations of digital consumers and social media
users. They have taken advantage of the ‘unique ability’of platforms ‘to link together and consolidate
multiple network eﬀects’(Srnicek 2016, p. 95), rapidly scaling up the FinTech side of their business.
Mobile payments provided the bridgehead for the move by Alibaba and Tencent into FinTech, a
multi-sided market line of business in which network eﬀects are especially strong. Subsequent expan-
sion has seen the introduction of ‘complementary products’to their captured user populations, ‘build
[ing] up ecosystems of goods and services that close oﬀcompetitors’(Srnicek 2016, p. 96). In 2013, for
instance, Alibaba launched Yu’ebao, enabling e-shoppers to transfer dormant cash from their
payment account on Alipay into a mutual fund investment account with rates of return above
those available from bank deposit accounts. By 2017, Yu’ebao had US$165 billion dollars of assets
under management (AUM), and had become the world’s largest money market mutual fund
(Wang and Doan 2018).
FinTech platforms operated by ICT and banking incumbents are also the focal point for processes
of consolidation. In Kenya, for example, the transformation of M-Pesa from a mobile payments plat-
form owned by incumbent telecoms giants into ‘a platform for ﬁnancial inclusion’is well underway
(Ndung’u2018, p. 37). Meanwhile, in North America and Europe in particular, and as we noted above,
banks are building on their own economies of scale and scope by experimenting with the platform
model. As a result,
FinTech has evolved from startups that want to take on and beat incumbents, to a broader ecosystem of diﬀerent
businesses looking in many cases for partnerships. FinTech startups don’t just need capital, they need customers.
At the same time, incumbents need new approaches to drive change and deliver innovation. (pwc 2017,p.1)
For those articulating business strategies in platform political economies, such partnership-based
consolidation is crucial to successfully reintermediating and transforming markets. As Parker et al.
(2016, p. 211) put it, a platform enterprise ‘no longer needs to seize every opportunity on its own’
and ‘can purse only the best opportunities while helping ecosystem partners seize the others’.
pwc (2017) found that globally, by 2017, 45 percent of banks had partnerships with FinTech ﬁrms,
up from 32 percent in 2016, while 82 percent of incumbents surveyed stated that they would be
increasing their links to FinTechs.
A further and related process of platform political economy is also shaping the development of the
FinTech sector and its consequences for retail monetary and ﬁnancial order. A signiﬁcant and integral
feature of platform capitalism is that digital platforms are highly capitalised by investors (Srnicek
2016, Langley and Leyshon 2017b, Kenney and Zysman 2018). During the decade or so between
the global ﬁnancial crisis and the present ﬁnancial dislocations of the Covid-19 pandemic, platform
capitalisation took place in a low interest-rate and unconventional monetary policy environment
which was manifest, more broadly, in rising corporate indebtedness and increased investor appetite
8P. LANGLEY AND A. LEYSHON
for risk (IMF 2019). Cheap money and risk-embracing investors were drawn to platforms by the rela-
tively coherent and powerful framing of the future possibilities of the digital economy provided by
the platform business model, and the demonstration of ‘powerful platform eﬀects’on existing market
structures by BigTech giants (Waters et al. 2018).
Processes of platform capitalisation have been extensive in FinTech. Relative to other emerging
digital economic sectors, FinTech appears to be particularly conducive to the progressive promises
of new technology and the application of big data analytics (e.g. advanced machine learning) (cf.
Rubini 2017, Geiger 2020). FinTech also seems to have especially promising revenue prospects,
not least because of retrenchment by re-regulated retail banks during the recent decade (Christo-
phers et al. 2017) Currently, the FinTech sector accounts for the greatest share of 400 or so ‘unicorns’:
that is, globally, there are more privately-owned FinTech ﬁrms valued at over US$1 billion than there
are similar ﬁrms in any other sector (Stalder and Miller 2018).
Popular and prevailing accounts of FinTech tend to regard the scale of investment in the sector as
a kind of vote of conﬁdence, an indication of its likely future success in transforming retail money and
ﬁnance and ‘banking the unbanked’. Rubini (2017, p. 5), for example, details the boom in investment
in FinTech start-ups, such that, from 2015 to 2017, global investment amounted to US$122 billion,
with the lion’s share in 2017 split roughly equally between the US and Asia (Hardin 2017). The ﬁrst
half of 2018 saw a further US$57.9 billion worth of investment in FinTech. As Rubini (2017,p.4)
has it, the ‘start-ups that received funding are hungry and ambitious and want to disrupt the
banking sector’. We would suggest, in contrast, that the capitalisation of FinTech platforms is actually
a dynamic and diverse process that is variously intersecting and supporting the processes of platform
reintermediation and consolidation.
Globally, VC investment in FinTech platforms has featured successively larger rounds of funding
for smaller numbers of ﬁrms. Evidenced by the growing number of FinTech unicorns, this is a
common feature of the cycle of VC investment because fund portfolios are expected to contain
only a minority of investments that will ultimately pay-oﬀafter ﬁve to 10 years (so-called ‘home
runs’) (Feng 2001). But it is especially pronounced for digital economy ﬁrms, as it is widely accepted
that their investment costs are likely to be much greater than revenues for longer periods as they
attempt to scale up to secure positions of strength in radically restructured markets. Related,
private equity and other later-stage investors have become more prominent backers of FinTech
ﬁrms (Sarch et al. 2018). Srnicek (2016, p. 88) neatly describes the processes that capitalise on the
promise of monopolistic and oligopolistic futures for platform reintermediation as ‘VC welfare’,not
least because rounds of equity investment maintain platforms as they seek to establish proﬁtability
and overcome incumbents.
Two further features of FinTech platform capitalisation have also sustained the sector in ways that
intersect with processes of platform consolidation. First, in contrast with the dot.com era, it has
become widely accepted that the so-called ‘liquidity event’(when early-stage investment is
cashed-out) is not necessarily an IPO. The liquidity event for FinTech start-ups is more likely to be
an acquisition, especially by an incumbent ﬁnancial institution, ICT company or BigTech platform.
In 2018, for example, there were eight liquidity events in the US FinTech sector worth over
$US100 million, six of which were acquisitions of this kind (Stalder and Miller 2018). Second, in
China in particular, it is important to note that a signiﬁcant share of VC investments in the FinTech
sector have not been made by traditional VC funds, but by the Corporate Venture Capital (CVC)
arms of BigTechs. BigTech is thus investing in FinTech platforms through CVC, as well as through
in-house programmes and acquisitions funded via their balance sheets (Waters et al. 2018). The
rise of CVC is not exclusive to China: CVC funds (such as Google Ventures) account for roughly ﬁve
percent of total VC investment in the US. But CVC is especially important to Chinese venture invest-
ment (Yang 2019), with the CVC arms of Alibaba and Tencent specialising in technology investments
and accounting for 40–50 percent of the total (Sender 2018). The FinTech investments of the CVC arm
of Alibaba include, for example, Paytm, the leading payments platform in India.
NEW POLITICAL ECONOMY 9
The emergence and growth of FinTech is registering amongst social scientists. A burgeoning body
of research has started to oﬀer critical perspectives, challenging the prevailing and powerful ima-
ginaries that presently animate the industry. Such critical perspectives tend to emphasise how
FinTech is constituted through data aggregation and analysis and reliant upon telecommunica-
tions and digital technology infrastructures. Our aim in this paper, in contrast, has been to
develop a perspective for critically understanding the political-economic dynamics and tendencies
of FinTech, a perspective that explicitly speciﬁes how FinTech is constituted as a platform political
economy. This is not to deny the undoubted importance of data and infrastructures to the oper-
ations of FinTech, but rather to situate these facets of FinTech in the sector’s novel and rapidly
evolving commercial and institutional settings. Placing the platform business model and platform
ecosystem front-and-centre provides for a fresh perspective on the role of data and digital infra-
structures in the workings of FinTech. Existing critical research certainly points to the importance
of data aggregation and algorithms for the business of FinTech, but the promises and practices of
data need to be understood in the context of experimentation with the platform as a model of
capitalist intermediary enterprise. Equally, existing research highlights the socio-technical and
infrastructural character of FinTech, but omits how its ‘tech stacks’are built on the platform eco-
system which is largely enclosed and controlled by BigTech.
We certainly hope that the intervention made here will provoke further research into the platform
political economy of FinTech, especially in the form of detailed analytical case studies of FinTech plat-
forms. Given the constraints of a paper of this kind, we have necessarily only been able to very brieﬂy
discuss a few speciﬁc and illustrative examples. Our intervention may also further encourage and
deepen the analysis of the development of platform political economies beyond the FinTech
sector, such as the allied ‘InsurTech’sector and the sectors that provide the focus for van Dijck
et al. (2019) and Fields (2019). Attending to the constitutive signiﬁcance of the platform business
model and platform ecosystem, such research should also be attuned to the distinct and related pro-
cesses of reintermediation, consolidation and capitalisation that we have shown here to be shaping
the FinTech sector and its consequences for retail money and ﬁnance. These processes are relatively
under-researched by social scientists of FinTech, despite the ways in which they confound the power-
ful claims to disintermedation, disruption and so on that are usually made on the sector’s behalf.
Interrogating speciﬁc instantiations of the platform business model and ‘tech stacks’built on the
platform ecosystem, analytical studies of FinTech platforms also need to pay particular attention to
processes of platform political economy. Start-ups and early-career FinTechs, BigTech companies and
ICT and banking incumbents alike are all engaged in processes of platform reintermediation. Rather
than enhance competition in existing retail money and ﬁnancial markets, platform reintermediation
seeks to produce new market structures that will secure new oligopolistic and monopolistic positions.
FinTech enterprises are thereby conducting their business strategies and operations amid intense
processes of platform consolidation increasingly dominated by BigTech ﬁrms and incumbents. Plat-
forms are also in the grip of processes of prospective capitalisation that, over the decade running up
to the presently unfolding Covid-19 pandemic at least, have variously selected and sustained those
FinTech platforms deemed worthy of further and greater volumes of investment.
No potential conﬂict of interest was reported by the author(s).
Notes on Contributors
Paul Langley is Professor of Economic Geography at Durham University, UK. His publications include Liquidity lost (Oxford
University Press, 2015), The everyday life of global ﬁnance (Oxford University Press, 2008), and World ﬁnancial orders
10 P. LANGLEY AND A. LEYSHON
(Routledge, 2002). His present research focuses on the emergence and stabilisation of new forms of ﬁnance in the wake
of the global ﬁnancial crisis, including ‘FinTech’,‘green ﬁnance’, and ‘social ﬁnance’.
Andrew Leyshon is Professor of Economic Geography at University of Nottingham, UK. His publications include Money
and ﬁnance after the crisis, co-edited with Brett Christophers and GeoﬀMann (Blackwell-Wiley, 2017), Reformatted:
code, networks and the transformation of the music industry (Oxford University Press, 2014), Alternative economic
spaces, with Roger Lee and Colin Williams (Sage, 2003), and Money/Space, with Nigel Thrift (Routledge 1997). His
present research focuses on crowdfunding and the platform economy.
Paul Langley http://orcid.org/0000-0002-1924-7711
Andrew Leyshon http://orcid.org/0000-0003-0822-1441
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