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The 10 most innovative finance companies of 2021

Whether reducing friction for investors or helping consumers climb out of debt, these companies set the standard for creative solutions in finance.

The 10 most innovative finance companies of 2021
[Icon: Assignment Studios]
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Many of this year’s finance honorees are tackling the sector’s thorniest infrastructure challenges, from banking and foreign exchange to payments and trading. They are laying the foundation for a digital-first financial system that has the potential to benefit both consumers and markets.

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1. Marqeta

For creating the toolbox for virtual credit cards for Chase, Square, Uber, and more

Founded in 2010, Marqeta has played the long game of building modern infrastructure for credit card issuing. Now everyone from Square to JPMorgan Chase to Uber uses Marqeta’s platform, which supports the issuance of “tokenized” cards that can be deployed in real time, via digital wallets (for example, Marqeta can issue a virtual card to cover the cost of car repairs, moments after an insurer approves a claim). Backers include Goldman, Visa, and Mastercard; the company is reportedly planning to IPO a $10 billion valuation.

2. Fast

For building the express checkout lane for e-commerce sites

Fast‘s flagship product, Fast Checkout, is designed to make e-commerce more accessible to shoppers with little to no tech savvy. For the customer who tends to abandon their cart after getting lost in a downward spiral of password-reset confusion, Fast Checkout provides a one-click solution, now available at more than 60,000 merchants in 40 countries. Payments unicorn Stripe led the company’s $20 million Series A in March.

3. Varo Money

For becoming the first digital bank to actually get a full-service charter

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Neobanks are a dime-a-dozen these days, but most opt to partner with a traditional bank in order to gain access to a legal charter. Not Varo. Founded in 2015, the digital-only bank is the first consumer fintech to be granted a full-service bank charter by Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, which over time will give it better economics and greater flexibility to innovate. So far, Varo has attracted over 2 million accounts.

4. Tally

For helping consumers pay off their debt faster with it automated app

Tally has built a debt management service in the form of an automated app. After users scan in their credit cards, Tally helps them prioritize payments, pay bills on time, and ultimately get out of debt. And the product works: on average, Tally customers pay off their debt 10 years faster. The company is currently managing over $1 billion in consumer debt.

5. Sequoia Capital

For being in the center of the action

In a single week in September, Sequoia had three portfolio companies go public: Snowflake, Unity, and SumoLogic. In December, two more long-term bets paid off, with the DoorDash and Airbnb IPOs. Outcomes like these are the residue of moves the firm has made for nearly its entire 49-year history to help the next generation of founders succeed. Most recently, Sequoia has created courses, workshops, and even a founder app for seasoned leaders to mentor earlier-stage startups. Why simply try to pick winners, when you can play a central role in shaping them? This is how Sequoia gets stronger.

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6. Apex Clearing

For enabling the mobile investing revolution, notably fractional share trading

Mobile-first trading platforms like Public.com and Webull share one thing in common on their back-ends: Apex, a digital custody and clearing engine. Apex makes the process of signing up for a trading account fast and easy; 75% of the investors who rely on it for custody are millennials. Last July, the company adjusted its API to better accommodate fractional share trading, giving younger investors with modest budgets a chance to own high-flying stocks like Amazon and Tesla.

7. Dv01

For soothing lending markets via its transparent analytics on spending

During the first three months of the pandemic, 22 million Americans lost their jobs—and many fell behind on their loan payments. Dv01, a data and analytics platform for lending markets, helped alternative lenders keep tabs on consumer behavior and continue to issue credit during the pandemic months. With transparent, timely data like Dv01’s, markets can prevent short-term chaos from veering toward financial crisis. The company’s data platform encompasses roughly 90% of the online lending market; to date, it has facilitated nearly 600 securitizations.

8. AngelList Venture

For giving VCs their own agile platform to raise funds continuously and publicly

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In February of last year, AngelList Introduced Rolling Funds, a product that allows fund managers to, for the first time ever, fundraise publicly and continuously under the SEC 506c guideline. Accredited investors can subscribe to these always-on funds on a quarterly basis, fundamentally changing the vintage-based dynamics that have dominated the venture world for decades. Amid spirited VC debate over the model, 70 Rolling Funds were created using AngelList between February and September. Now we’ll see how they perform.

9. AZA

For facilitating intra-Africa trade with its continent-spanning currency market

AZA, formerly BitPesa, provides currency trading solutions to businesses in Africa. Founded in 2013 to serve Kenya’s “Silicon Savannah,” AZA serves as a direct market-maker for African currencies, eliminating the need for costly intermediary trades, often involving the USD, and allowing businesses to circumvent a fragmented financial system prone to downtime. The company is now managing over $1 billion in annual transactions.

10. Halo Investing

For democratizing defined outcome investing for mass-market savers, not just millionaires

In a moment of high market volatility, many investors—particularly those nearing retirement—are looking for sure bets. But defined outcome investing has traditionally required a minimum commitment of $1 million, making it inaccessible. Enter Halo, which has created technology that allows financial advisors to customize structured products to investor preferences around exposure, maturity, and payout, on a cost basis that mass-market savers can afford.