How far can the freelance revolution stretch? We’ve seen the expansion of independent professionalism extend broadly and deeply to traditional roles, and take a bite into unexpected creative areas through Patreon and a number of global fine art and antique marketplaces. Might an elite service like I banking and M&A support be a new ground zero for freelance entrepreneurship? The answer is yes, and the platform is Fintalent. But first a bit of context.
I banks have a PR problem (more on that later) but their role is an important one; they provide business with access to finance. Economies rely on enterprises having access to investment, and I banks provide that service. For example, electric car manufacturer Tesla raised $738 million by selling stock – aided by six of the biggest investment banks in the world.
History tells us the first bankers were Sumerian and Indian merchants trading in commodities and supported their markets by making loans to farmers and traders. China was close behind, sometime around 2000 BC. The modern global banking system was invented in Italy by the Medicis of Florence in the 14th century. Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena has been operating continuously since 1472. Banking expanded across Europe by the 16th century and widespread by the 18th century.
I banks emerged in the US during the Civil War when London banking houses expanded into “Wall Street” and raised syndicated funds for the war effort. Some of the most famous US investment banks were created then, some of which operate until this day, such as JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs.
I banking often gets a bad rap. Commentators and politicians opine that these institutions don’t create real value for the economy, just a lot of money for the bankers. Tom Wolfe, the author, skewered I banking in his best-selling book, The Bonfire of the Vanities. The value of an I bank is its extensive investor network, and the ability to offer M&A financing. But, critics point out that bankers focus on their own short-term benefit, or their investors. The selling of sub-prime mortgage derivatives precipitating the Great Recession of 2007-8 is a frequently mentioned example. Investment banks were more interested in making quick money than selling high-quality products. Some claim they still are.
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A new type of deal shop has emerged in the few decades: M&A boutiques that avoid traditional I banking conflicts, and deliver advisory services without the mixed motives that trouble I banks. But, M&A boutiques have their own challenge: they are incented to close deals even if the deal really makes strategic or financial sense.
Seeing these challenges, Ömer Güven, the CEO and co-founder of Fintalent, determined to build a different kind of M&A shop, one based on highly expert finance industry freelancers. He believed a company could flourish by offering on-demand in-house M&A staff with significant expertise, an objective and transparent service model, and a considerably lower price point.
Ömer noticed the equivalent trend in other professions – diplomacy, medicine, surgery, accounting, legal – where freelancing has established a firm foothold and was growing, for example, independent management consulting platforms like Riverflex in the Netherlands, Talmix in the UK, Comatch and Expertpowerhouse in Germany, OMS and Sneakers + Jackets in France, Outsized and Worksome in the Nordics, Ravenry in Singapore and Cognisium in Australia. He noticed that lawyers were attracted to freelancing through platforms like FreelanceForLaw in the US, interim executives were working with Ferovalo, a platform in Finland, and finance clients were depending on expert networks like Inex.one for specific company and industry insights.
What would a freelance M&A advisory need to compete against boutique mid-market firms that were its natural competition? Ömer knew it required top quality experts. It would focus on less well served but sophisticated investors; for example, family offices, investor networks, private equity firms and hedge funds that are experienced enough to operate in partnership with this platform and do deals more cost efficiently, rather than paying a large risk premium for support. It would have to be good at building and preserving service oriented partnerships, thinking longer term. It would be technologically up to date to stay on top of its activities and priorities, and to ensure its platform members were well represented. Güven assumed it would get its start in Europe or the US, but had ample opportunity to expand geographically both in clients and talent. Its cost structure and avoidance of the typically high costs of setting up a fullstack I banking or M&A shop would be a natural advantage in growth.
Ömer and his partner began to build this platform in 2019 – they called it Fintalent – after committing to realize this untapped opportunity. After early career success as group head of M&A at Fram Skandinavien AB, a Nasdaq listed company, and deal experience at Warburg and Belgrano in Germany, his vision was was to disrupt M&A by bringing a gig mindset to high finance. He built Fintalent to gain three advantages:
- The ability to attract great people to finance freelancing. As he talked with colleagues in the I banking and M&A business, Ömer saw an opening to give Millenials and GenZ finance specialists a better quality of life through freelancing, compared with the experiences of young associates in high pressure firms like Goldman Sachs (a recent NYT article described the life of I bank associates this way: “The analysts rated their job satisfaction as two out of 10 and said they were unlikely to stay at Goldman in six months if working conditions remained the same. In addition to the long hours, the analysts cited unrealistic deadlines, being ignored in meetings and micromanagement as major sources of stress.”). As he put it, “I didn’t have to persuade many people. When we kicked off Fintalent, we received almost 200 applications immediately with great profiles.”
- Providing a better experience to clients. He believed it was possible to provide a better, more convenient and flexible, and – most importantly – a more transparent and collaborative way of doing M&A business, particularly on the sell side.
- A better experience for significantly less cost. And, for sophisticated investors, he recognized the ability to bring together a team of experts that could lower the high cost charged by traditional firms.
In short, Ömer saw the potential to, as he put it, “disrupt the advisory industry and get rid of the excessive overhead costs that come with traditional M&A and strategy consultancies while offering the same quality of tier-1 talent within 48 hours.”
Over the past year, Fintalent has made meaningful strides in accomplishing its vision. The platform now includes 700 experienced finance and strategy specialists in a variety of fields, and Ömer expects the platform will continue to grow significantly over the next 2-3 years. Fintalent now offers top quality finance and strategy professionals with experience in the best investment, M&A, and strategy shops, and equivalent expertise and problem solving to bulge bracket firms at a significantly lower price point. Clients continue to join in Europe and elsewhere from Fintalent’s home office in Liechtenstein and operations in London. The platform currently lists clients from MENA, US, Norway, Australia, Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Ghana, Liechtenstein, and Japan. As Ömer put it, “The problem that we’ve solved for our clients – both corporates and investors – is objectivity, corporate governance and transparency. Furthermore, we make those top investment bankers accessible to everyone (every corporate, mid-market firms and younger companies) that usually could not or don’t want to pay outrageous M&A fees.”
Recent Fintalent engagements include the following:
- A middle market private equity firm came to Fintalent to scale up their investment team by adding two seasoned private equity and ESG analysts of the Fintalent network. These professionals supported the due diligence process on a several target company investments
- A Fortune 200 company hired two Fintalent experts to conduct market research in collaboration with the company’s in-house Corporate Finance and Strategy Team.
- A family office in Switzerland has recently hired Fintalent to advise their investment professionals on future M&A
Early success has been helpful to Fintalent in a number of ways. Investors are interested in investing in the growth of Fintalent, and suggesting a variety of ways that they will increase their work with the platform. Early success has led to greater confidence in the platform as a competitor in its niche. And, the platform continues to attract top talent in a variety of specialist areas, including strategy, M&A, private equity, venture capital, investment management and innovative financing.
What’s the future of Fintalent? Here’s what Ömer points out: “We’ve just launched a new client dashboard giving us – and our clients – a complete view of the freelancers working on each project, where we stand in the assignment, and a full knowledge of what’s left to do, by when, and by whom, to ensure success. We’re also strengthening our platform talent in the M&A legal field and other areas. Even though we are invitation only, there is strong interest by both senior and mid-level finance experts who are eager to work as full- or part-time freelancers. And, as we grow, we’re adding to our advisory board with top global experts.”
Viva la revolution!