Top fintech unicorns vs financial institutions

The top fintech unicorn valuations are not that far from the top bank ones

top fintech unicorns
Credit: Pixabay

In this article, we compare the top fintech unicorns (private companies) with the top financial institutions (public companies), in terms of valuation. (Unicorns are start-ups that do not have established financial records, with market valuations or estimated valuations of $1 billion or more.)

Top fintech unicorns

As of February 2022, the top five fintech companies are Stripe ($95 billion, US), Klarna ($45.6 billion, Sweden), ($40 billion, UK), Revolut ($33 billion, UK) and FTX ($32 billion, Bahamas), according to CB Insights. They are digital payment services providers (the first three), a banking services provider and a cryptocurrency exchange, respectively.

Klarna was founded in 2005 in Stockholm by Sebastian Siemiatkowski, Niklas Adalberth and Victor Jacobsson. It provides payment services, managing store claims and customer payments. It is well known as a ‘Buy now, pay later’ (BNPL) service provider, offering customers credit. was founded in 2009 in Singapore under the name Opus Payments by Guillaume Pousaz from Switzerland. In 2012, Opus Payments was renamed and moved to London. It now processes payments for Netflix, Coinbase and others.

Revolut was founded in 2015 in London by, interestingly, Nikolay Storonsky from Russia and Vlad Yatsenko from Ukraine. It has an EU banking license in Lithuania. But operates as an e-money institution in the UK, i.e. it is not covered by the FSCS. Last year, Revolut applied for a UK banking licence.

Wise, formally known as Transferwise, a UK-based fintech specialising in cross-border payments, was removed from the list when listed on the LSE in July 2021 with a market capitalisation of $11 billion.

Top financial institutions

To put these valuations in perspective, as of December 2021, the top 5 financial institutions by market capitalisation were US bank JPMorgan Chase (US, $468 billion), Bank of America (US, 364 billion), Industrial & Commercial Bank of China (China, $245.5 billion), China Merchants Bank (China, $193.8 billion) and Wells Fargo (US, 191.3 billion), according to Statista.

The highest-ranked UK bank was HSBC (14th, $122 billion) – so only $30 billion more than Stripe! ($30 billion is not peanuts, but we are talking in relative terms.)

Note that the value of a business and its market capitalisation are not the same, but market capitalisation can be considered a proxy of business value. (The market capitalisation, or market cap, of a business is calculated by multiplying its share price by its total number of shares outstanding.)

Final thoughts

Public (listed) businesses – market cap is not the amount the business would cost to acquire in a merger transaction. An acquiring company usually pays an acquisition premium (or control premium) to close a deal. It also includes the synergy created from the acquisition. There is no rule on premium. Many acquiring companies pay 20-30% of value, some pay close to 50%. But it is rare to see 50% or above.

Private business – similarly, the value in lists such as the one compiled by CB Insights is not necessarily the amount the business would cost to acquire in a merger transaction. If HSBC wants to acquire Stripe, it may have to pay more than its own market cap.

To calculate the price of acquiring a business outright there are many methods. Usually, a combination is used. Which depends on the business stage and whether is private or public.

In both private and public business valuations, Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) factors should now also be included.


To learn how we can help aspiring fintech unicorns or other businesses with valuation and funding for their specific stage and more:

Core and custom services


Mauro Tortone

View posts by Mauro Tortone
Mauro advises financial services, technology and mobility businesses and leads the Strategy & Finance practice. His expertise is in strategic change, capital markets and more. Mauro has over 25 years of experience working with banks such as UBS and Deutsche Bank, smaller financials, fintechs and others across Europe, the US and Asia. He sat on the CISI Corporate Finance Forum Committee for ten years and is passionate about sustainability.
Scroll to top