Scaling fintech start-ups is increasingly important as incumbents look to them for innovation

Søren Ameland Bligaard

By Søren Ameland Bligaard


Large incumbent financial firms are on the hunt for innovation, and they’re increasingly looking at FinTechs as the answer. More incumbents are investing in and partnering with FinTechs, and actively supporting their scaling journeys.

This is particularly important as wider investment in FinTechs is skyrocketing, helping start-ups mature rapidly to a point where they pose serious competition to incumbents.

Over the past five years, the amount invested in Danish FinTechs has, on average, doubled each year.[1] Between 1 January and 9 December 2021, Danish-founded FinTechs received just over €1bn in investments.[2] And we see similar trends across the Nordic countries.

Yet incumbent financial institutions face a serious challenge when investing in or partnering with FinTechs – there must be a shift in mindset to fully understand the challenges of scaling up. While large incumbents have established processes and governance, scale-ups need to be able to adapt continuously, a contrast that can make it difficult for the two to work together.

That’s why we partnered with Copenhagen FinTech to investigate the secrets to success – to find out how to scale a FinTech start-up.

Building your FinTech to scale

The resulting report, Building your FinTech to scale, describes first-hand experiences from within the FinTech ecosystem.

It puts forward three concrete recommendations that will help FinTech start-ups, and especially scale-ups, grow.

We based these recommendations on quantitative responses from more than 80 FinTechs and interviews with FinTech experts and CxOs, including some from FinTech unicorns.[3]

The survey results highlight some interesting views about how FinTech start-ups experience the challenge of scaling their businesses:

  • 98% say they have an ambition to scale.
  • 82% say they have a clear roadmap.
  • 62% say they have the necessary competencies.
  • 37% say they have a global network to assist them in scaling.

It’s hardly surprising that almost all FinTechs have an ambition to scale up. As one CEO put it: “It is not a question of whether we should scale up but when.” However, fewer than two-thirds of respondents say they have the necessary competencies to deliver on this ambition. And little more than one-third said they have a global network to support their scaling journey.

Figure – Sum of investments in Danish FinTechs (in EUR million)

It takes a lot of effort, and sometimes a bit of luck, to scale a FinTech start-up. But it is possible. Using the insights of people who have successfully scaled a FinTech uncovered in our study, we’ve derived three concrete recommendations for scaling a FinTech:

1. Develop your roadmap

Create a clear roadmap to get to your vision of a scaled business and adjust it as the business and world change.

It’s not just your product or platform that should be scalable. You need to think about how you can scale your entire business model, organisation, technology and compliance function. You’ll also need to make tough decisions when prioritising speed and scalability. It often takes longer to build a fully scalable business, but time-to-market can be more important as you can get ahead of the competition and add scalability later.

As one of our interviewees, a FinTech specialist, said: “Scaling a FinTech is a constant trade-off between time-to-market and building a high-quality scalable product.”

2. Attract the right skills

Access international competencies and adjust your organisation continuously.

The skills and competencies your FinTech needs will change and evolve over time, and the leaders who were successful in the initial growth won’t necessarily be the ones with the skills to scale your business. As one CEO of a FinTech told us: “You should replace the majority of your management team every two to three years when scaling.”

It’s not just within management that the requirements change as the FinTech grows. During the scaling phase, your FinTech needs people who can create order out of chaos and contribute with structure and process. Furthermore, you often need to hire specialists over generalists as your FinTech grows.

It’s thought-provoking that only 62% of the interviewed FinTechs believe they have the necessary skills to scale their business. One solution to this problem is to look at international skills markets where there might be experienced professionals and less competition.

3. Build your network

Surround yourself with the right people who can give you access to international advisors and capital.

Only 37% of participating FinTechs said they have a global network to help them scale their business. A broad and valuable international network doesn’t come easy, which is why you need to invest time in identifying the right people and building a relationship with them. Some of them could be on your board as well, but it’s important to know why you want a board and agree on what the board can and can’t be used for.

The requirements of your board of directors will also change over time, which is why it’s important to evaluate the composition and distribution of roles continuously. For example, the largest investor shouldn’t automatically become the chair.

Building your FinTech to scale will take hard work

Achieving scale isn’t a natural by-product of creating a great FinTech. It takes hard work. Whether you’re looking to scale your own start-up or are an incumbent looking for a FinTech partner to provide scalable innovation, it will be crucial to think carefully about the scaling roadmap, skills and network. Only with the right preparation and people will it be possible to successfully scale a FinTech.

[1] Danish fintechs are defined as those with a Danish founder. Their current headquarter may be located abroad.

[2] Data from 1 Jan to 9 Dec 2021.

[3] A unicorn is a privately held start-up company valued at over $1 billion.

About the authors

Søren Ameland Bligaard
Søren Ameland Bligaard PA fintech and financial services expert

Explore more

Contact the team

We look forward to hearing from you.

Get actionable insight straight to your inbox via our monthly newsletter.