Plaid launches in the U.K., setting the stage for more fintech companies to expand abroad

Key Points
  • Plaid, which links one-quarter of all U.S. bank accounts to fintech apps, announces its U.K. debut.
  • “We’re talking about launching a full international strategy,” CEO Zach Perret tells CNBC. “Our hope is that it becomes easier for fintech firms to go international.”
  • The company, valued at $2.7 billion, connects bank accounts to apps like Venmo, Robinhood, Coinbase and Acorns.
  • By operating in the U.K. and more countries down the road, Plaid is laying the groundwork for U.S. fintech companies to expand abroad, Perret says.
Plaid co-founders William Hockey and Zach Perret. 
Source: Plaid

Fintech start-up Plaid is revving up its global expansion, which should enable the popular apps it powers to do the same.

After launching in Canada last year, the venture-capital-backed company announced its U.K. launch on Wednesday. Plaid's CEO and co-founder Zach Perret said its presence abroad will make it easier for consumers to connect to U.K.-based fintech apps and for American financial start-ups to expand abroad.

"We're not just talking about launching in the U.K. here, we're talking about launching a full international strategy," Perret told CNBC in a phone interview. "Our hope is that it becomes easier for fintech firms to go international."

Plaid, recently valued at $2.7 billion, already connects U.S. bank accounts to apps like Venmo, Robinhood, Coinbase and Acorns. The firm will bring the same capabilities — including account funding and fast authentication — to British start-ups. The U.K. was an obvious next step, Perret said, thanks to an existing and "incredibly vibrant fintech ecosystem."

So-called challenger banks have thrived in the U.K. under tech-friendly regulation.The Competition and Markets Authority made it easier for these start-ups to enter the retail banking market after 2008, allowing new banks like Revolut to exceed a billion-dollar valuation. Like Revolut, European fintech start-ups Monzo and N26 also have all earned "unicorns" status with valuations topping the $1 billion threshold. All three announced plans to establish U.S. operations this year. Perret said the goal is to provide fintechs with similar "global ambitions" a "fully inclusive platform that covers the U.S. and Canada."

"There's also a lot of growth in China — the eventual plan to expand further internationally," Perret said.

In order to link bank accounts with Venmo and others, these fintech applications rely on a protocol known as application programming interface. Plaid's APIs have attracted investments from the venture arms of Goldman Sachs, Citigroup and American Express. Some say they have helped accelerate the growth of the entire payment sector over the past five years. Other notable backers include Andreessen Horowitz, Index Ventures, NEA, CapitalG — the venture arm of Google — and Kleiner Perkins.

Last year, one-quarter of all Americans with bank accounts used Plaid to connect to a fintech app, up from 13% in 2017, the company said. In January, the start-up raised $250 million at a $2.7 billion valuation and added former Kleiner Perkins partner and infamous tech investor Mary Meeker to its board.

Disclosure: NBCUniversal and Comcast Ventures are investors in Acorns.