Thousands of miles removed from the world's great financial centers, Los Angeles has nurtured a community of developers and entrepreneurs experimenting with new notions at the intersection of finance and tech.
LA's enthusiastic and growing fintech circuit has produced some remarkable new ideas and successful startups in payments, lending, crowdfunding, cryptocurrency and more. Here are a few mainstays, big players and up-and-comers you should know going in.
What they do: Tala creates products to help those in emerging markets build credit, save money and access loans.
How it's changing fintech: Any person with a smartphone can access the Tala app and, with the use of over 10,000 data points, Tala builds a new kind of credit score even if the user has no formal banking history.
What they do: Born out of the belief that today’s credit system is unfair, Zest Finance has created a platform to help companies make better credit decisions and enhance transparency. Zest’s platform, ZAML, approves potential borrowers overlooked by other systems while providing expert underwriting services to companies worldwide.
What they do: Swell Investing is a platform that allows users to invest in companies and portfolios that are addressing global challenges.
How it's changing fintech: Swell offers portfolios of environmentally-friendly companies that focus on everything from renewable energy to zero waste. The Santa Monica company helps users invest in their future, as well as, the earth’s.
What they do: Sherman Oaks-based FloQast automates accounting processes for mid-market clients. It has raised $6.5M for its work in 2016 alone.
How it's changing fintech: Just because those clients are mid-market doesn't mean you haven't heard of them. Satisfied FloQast customers include GrubHub, Indeed and the Golden State Warriors. The company is known for its highly driven internal culture and for inspiring accountants to think like entrepreneurs.
What they do: Smarkets is a leading betting exchange platform for events like sports and politics. With offices in London, Los Angeles and Malta, the Smarkets team takes pride in supporting honest trading practices.
How it's changing fintech: Smarkets is reimagining one of the oldest industries and pastimes through their secure proprietary platform.
What they do: Fair is an automotive fintech company helping users of its mobile app finance their car purchases while staying on budget.
How it's changing fintech: Fair is transforming the car-buying experience. The app lets users receive approval and set up payments for a vehicle all on their phone — all they need is a license and a bank account.
What they do: Albert is a free digital financial advisor that collects a user's financial records, provides easy-to-follow suggestions and helps users take action without leaving the app.
How it's changing fintech: In a crowded market for personal finance applications, Albert is quickly building a reputation for usability and practicality. In less than a year, it has raised a seed round, exhibited at the 500 Startups Demo Day and built a significant profile in the fintech world.
What they do: Earny is a digital haggler — it checks receipts for all of a user's online transactions and requests refunds if a better deal was available. After it's set up, it requires no further user action, making it perfect for bashful negotiators and those too busy to comparison-shop.
How it's changing fintech: While it is currently focused on online retail, Earny's team plans to expand into travel, insurance and other areas. A $1.2M in seed funding should help make that happen.
How it's changing fintech: Spring Labs uses blockchain’s power of transparency and real-time data ledger technology to enable information sharing between financial institutions. The smooth sharing of information helps financial institutions reduce costs and approve credit transactions quicker.
What they do: BLX Group provides compliance consulting, investment and financial advisory services. The company specifically advises governments and nonprofit entities, with additional offices in Dallas, Denver, Tampa and Boston.
How it's changing fintech: BLX Group helps to offer both investment and regulatory advice to help the public and nonprofit sectors invest their time and money wisely.
What they do: Acorns is a smartphone app that quietly scrapes spare change from purchases into a personal investment portfolio. It's a near-effortless way to sock away some cash for the future.
How it's changing fintech: Acorns is one of a growing number of innovative, LA-based personal finance companies making global names for themselves. A recent investment from PayPal indicates that Acorns is making its novel approach to small-scale investing well known.
What they do: AutoGravity is a digital platform providing car shoppers with multiple automotive financing options before they head out to the dealership.
How it's changing fintech: AutoGravity connects buyers to local dealers and lenders, and offers an online credit application. Users choose their lender and rate before stepping foot on the car lot.
What they do: Unlike Acorns, which deals with small investing, StockShield works with bigger figures. The company's Equity Protection Trust helps insulate larger investors from risk and odious Black Swans.
How it's changing fintech: For those still shaken by the global financial wipeout of the late-2000s, StockShield's rewarding but risk-averse approach is likely to influence retirement planning for decades to come.
What they do: Patch of Land brings peer-to-peer lending and the ethics of crowdfunding to LA's wild and wacky real estate market. Founder Josh Fritton harnessed the power of crowdfunding and collaboration to revitalize the city's run-down neighborhoods and has succeeded beyond his initial hopes.
How it's changing fintech: Inside of a decade, Los Angeles went from a catastrophic real estate collapse into the throes of a serious housing crunch. Patch of Land provides an example of how to do good and prosper under such changing and challenging circumstances.
What they do: FastPay is a digital business providing specialized lines of credit to other digital businesses and is an avenue for startups to get loans without all the waiting and nail-biting.
How it's changing fintech: Tech entrepreneurs and other digital denizens need to move fast, which sometimes requires the sort of quick cash infusion that may cause traditional lenders to balk. FastPay makes assessments in as little as 48 hours and can provide the dollars to keep businesses humming along.
What they do: Wipit deals in mobile payments for the unbanked and underbanked, serving smartphone users who might otherwise be left behind.
How it's changing fintech: Wipit makes the SaaS magic behind the Boost Mobile Wallet. Other high-profile partnerships include H&R Block and Euronet Worldwide. As the world embraces digital wallets, its focus on less well-networked users makes it a strong global contender.
What they do: Born at Cornell University but now headquartered in Los Angeles, ProducePay provides payment solutions in the world of produce, applying fintech innovation to farming fresh food.
How it's changing fintech: California has a massive agricultural economy, and its farmers must cover many of their expenses out of pocket as they wait to get paid for their goods. ProducePay illustrates how tech-savvy payment platforms can help those in one of civilization's oldest sectors.
What they do: Green Dot Corp. operates one of the most well-established networks around for prepaid financial services and reloads. It has spent almost two decades building strong relationships with big-name retailers like Walgreens, CVS, Walmart and 7-Eleven.
How it's changing fintech: Green Dot Corp. has been one of LA's fintech heavyweights for many years, and continues to expand its network and its mission of consumer empowerment.
What they do: Providing "fashion for your finances," CARD.com offers decorated payment cards in a variety of styles, from high art to pop culture.
How it's changing fintech: CARD.com's prepaid plastic can make an eye-catching impression at the register. Along with Dali and Kahlo classics, as well as tributes to beloved franchises such as Star Trek and The X Files, it also gets unique designs from its user base. It's looking sharp with $18.6M in funding.
What they do: FlashFunders is a powerful online equity funding platform designed for startups by a startup. Companies can raise money for free, while small investors can buy in at as little as $1K.
How it's changing fintech: FlashFunders functions as a fundraising platform, broker-dealer and securities law firm, all in one place. It is perfectly poised to help small businesses capitalize on increasingly democratized investment.
What they do: Crowdfunder is a fundraising platform and social network with its eye on serious entrepreneurs. With a successful fundraising engine and celebrity users, It has proved more popular than even its team expected.
How it's changing fintech: Crowdfunder is expanding from user contributions into debt- and equity-based crowdfunding, changing the nature of its business as it evolves. It is highly engaged with government regulatory activity and helped influence JOBS Act legislation.
What they do: Formerly known as Virtual Piggy, Oink is a prominent personal finance app for children and young adults. It helps younger users develop financial literacy under the watchful eyes of a parent or guardian.
How it's changing fintech: Oink has been a tremendous fundraising success story, pulling down $36.32M in just a few years. It instills lifelong financial savvy in users who will be digitally shopping for decades to come.
What they do: Divy is a community-minded app, helping users educate themselves about the inner workings of the stock market. Its interns lobbied the company to grant early access to campus financial clubs at UCLA and UCSB, providing it a savvy and eager base of beta testers early on.
How it's changing fintech: Divy is brand new, high-minded and highly ambitious. With new iPhone updates emerging weekly and an Android version on the way, it is ready to make a splash with users just starting to plan their financial futures.
What they do: Float has created an app that helps users manage their line of credit, which they can be approved for through the app. The interface allows users to manage and spend straight from their smartphone.
How it's changing fintech: Financial processes aren't typically described as expedient, but Float users can download the app, apply and spend within 180 seconds.
What they do: Developed by LA-based entrepreneur Joe Bayen, who felt that college students weren't taught enough about proper credit protocols, Lenny gamifies credit cards, teaching good habits while helping millennials build their credit scores.
How it's changing fintech: For some time, students found themselves graduating college with no credit history. By using Lenny, they can start building their credit history while learning correct financial decisions in the process.
What they do: Freelancers know the pain of planning for tax season, especially when they're aware of the potential tax breaks that they are missing out on. Levee has created an app that helps contractors and freelancers categorize their various costs to help when it's time to file taxes.
How it's changing fintech: Levee not only helps users categorize spending, it also makes them aware of potential tax loopholes they are eligible for.
What they do: Founded in 2009 in the depths of a recession, Happy Money uses gamification and behavioral psychology to help its users pay off their credit card debt and put their financial house in order.
How it's changing fintech: Revolving credit card debt is a $935.6 billion dollar problem in the U.S., and shady debt-consolidation services often pour gasoline on the fire. By contrast, Payoff.com is geared toward long-term financial self-improvement, giving debt-racked users guidance and encouragement when they most need it.