FinTech startups were originally perceived as a significant threat to banks of all sizes. Today, we’re talking about “coopetition” between banks and fintechs. Why is that? Let’s start by winding back the clock just two years.

A 2015 Goldman Sachs research report estimated that $4.7 trillion out of $13.7 trillion in traditional financial services revenue was at risk due to new fintech entrants in the lending, wealth management and payments space. Similarly, a McKinsey report, The Fight for the Customer: Global Banking Annual Review 2015, suggested that as much as 40 percent of revenues and up to 60 percent of the profits in retail banking businesses (consumer finance, mortgages, small-business lending, retail payments and wealth management) were at risk due to dwindling margins and competition from fintech startups targeting origination and sales, the customer-facing side of the bank.

The advantage of fintech startups was their ability to offer higher quality solutions at a lower cost with dramatically enhanced consumer experience, innovative ways of assessing risk and a strategy for profiting on the growing popularity of mobile payments with millennials. As a result, the early wave of fintech startups, such as PayPal, Adyen, Stripe and Square, had tremendous success in gaining market traction and inflating valuations.

Early fintech success led to thousands of promising ventures gradually crowding the space and attracting the attention of industry stakeholders. In the last two years, financial services professionals, with decades of experience, have flipped fintech startups’ perceived threat into an opportunity, which kick-started the phase of collaborative initiatives.

Despite tremendous financial success of the fintech industry globally, startups find it difficult to succeed on their own. Matthaeus Sielecki, head of working capital advisory, financial technology at Deutsche Bank, noted in his article for LTP that despite having developed customer-focused, innovative solutions, startups lacked crucial ingredients to scale their product into a viable product or service. Startups lacked access to processing infrastructure, global industry reach and regulatory expertise, and many came without understanding customer behavior in the financial service sector.

Traditionally, community banks have not had many choices for technology innovation outside of their core banking provider. A March 2016 article on website suggestedthat economic growth and predictions regarding interest rates are felt acutely by smaller institutions. Since smaller banks focus more on interest-sensitive products such as mortgages, prolonged low rates by the Federal Reserve hurt them disproportionately. Working cooperatively with fintech startups present community banks with an opportunity to achieve rapid gains in cost-efficiency, operational efficiency and new product offerings.

All of these factors combined led to the understanding between banks and fintech companies about the value of mutually beneficial work that would bring together the strengths of each party. As a result, banks have contributed significantly to the establishment of accelerators, incubators, innovation labs and other collaborative initiatives with fintech startups. In addition, forward-thinking governments have invested resources and efforts to launch Regulatory Sandboxes to facilitate a relationship between the traditional sector and fintech startups.

In a 2016 survey, more than half of regional and community bank respondents (54 percent) and fintech respondents (58 percent) indicated that they see each other as potential partners. Moreover, the same survey suggests that 86 percent of community and regional banks believe it to be absolutely essential to partner with a fintech company.

CNBC noted that the ability to outsource functions, such as customer acquisition, to startups means smaller banks have more clients to pursue. This enables smaller banks to tap into revenue that previously would have been inaccessible due to distribution, geographic or technical limitations. Advances like cloud technology, APIs, blockchain, InsurTech, RegTech and partnerships with online lending companies are in focus right now as they offer the most return on investment for all banks, large and small. For example, community banks can lower their costs by integrating a RegTech solution for compliance rather than hiring consulting firms or employing whole departments.

Examples of partnerships include Cross River Bank in Teaneck, New Jersey, which works closely with marketplace lenders to originate loans for borrowers who apply via online platforms. CBW Bank in Weir, Kansas, is another notable example. According to an August 2016 article on the website, over the last few years, the 124-year-old bank has become a secret weapon for fintech companies, which rely on both its technology and status as a state-chartered bank to build their own businesses.

For regional and community banks, enhanced mobile capabilities and lower capital and operating costs are seen as the benefits of collaborating with fintechs. For fintechs, market credibility and access to customers are seen as the main benefits to partnering with banks. The unlikely journey of fintech startups going from foe to friend will make the financial services sector one of the most interesting businesses to be a part of in the next decade.

Elena Mesropyan