Newly minted MDs at Morgan Stanley and Bank of America; unpacking Visa’s $5.3 billion Plaid buy

Only 90-some-odd days until next bank-earnings season!

The trifecta of JPMorgan, Wells Fargo, and Citi in one day, followed by the rest of the Wall Street crowd reporting in the days after, meant a week of early mornings for financial journalists. That’s OK, though, since we also get to have some fun parsing testy exchanges on analyst calls – this is, after all, a world where “thanks for that” often means quite the opposite, and “let me try that question again” is basically the webinar version of an all-out brawl.

All of that verbal wrangling is part of a quest for “colour” – in non-earnings-world speak, that’s anything to help decipher the rush of numbers and vague explanations banks throw at you. Luckily, our reporters are always talking to insiders to do just that.

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Alex Morrell explained what’s behind a much-welcomed surge in bond-trading revenue across Wall Street. It sure seems like a great time to be an agency mortgage trader – insiders say JPMorgan led the pack there – but it may be a short-lived party.

Morgan Stanley is normally among the last to report when it comes to big-bank earnings, but earlier in the week Alex was quick to nab all the names (here’s the list) of its 2020 MD promotes. It’s a smaller class than recent years – understandable given the 1,500 layoffs the bank announced in December. Oh, and Alex also got the names of the new crop of Bank of America sales and trading MDs, and broke news on a big FICC overhaul there.

Dakin Campbell has been covering Goldman Sachs’ huge transformation under CEO David Solomon. Goldman execs told analysts to hang on until the bank’s first-ever investor day for the real juicy stuff on its five-year plan. But as Dakin noted, Solomon did unveil key details this week about transitioning the bank’s private-investing platform to be more reliant on outside money.

To segue out of publicly-traded firms and into the startup space, Bradley Saacks noted that BlackRock CEO Larry Fink is “proud” that analytics platform Aladdin is close to topping $US1 billion in revenue, a threshold he says only 3% of tech startups beat. Turns out, the one big secret to startup success that nobody’s telling you is being attached to the world’s largest asset manager. (BlackRock also just blew past a mind-boggling $US7 trillion in assets.)

That brings us to a call that caught everyone off-guard – this one was for the card folks after Visa announced it would buy buzzy fintech Plaid for $US5.3 billion. And as Dan DeFrancesco pointed out, Visa CEO Al Kelly made what might seem like a passing comment that actually has huge implications for the web of financial players that will interact with a Visa-owned Plaid.

Not everyone’s racing to snap up fintechs, though. As Rebecca Ungarino reported, Merrill Lynch has zero plans to buy a robo-adviser. That thinking highlights how standalone wealth-tech firms may be in a tricky spot as legacy players invest in their own tech. Meanwhile, new startups in the space have ground nearly to a halt.

Long reads below, including a deep dive on how exactly pricing algorithms for iBuyers like SoftBank-backed Opendoor work; Jamie Dimon’s argument for why JPMorgan should really be thought of (and valued like) a subscription service; and why KKR is looking in unlikely places to invest in tech companies.

Have a great weekend,


Insiders explain how iBuyers like SoftBank-backed Opendoor mix algorithms and human decision-making to flip houses

iBuyers, companies that purchase homes with almost instant all-cash offers, renovate and quickly resell them, were born in 2014 in the heat and sun of Phoenix, Arizona.

SoftBank-backed Opendoor, now valued at $US3.8 billion, first started purchasing homes in Phoenix that December.

By 2015, competitor Offerpad was also buying and flipping homes in Phoenix. The iBuyer model has continued to grow, with established real-estate listing players like Redfin and Zillow entering the fray. There are now active iBuyer markets in almost every region of the US, and even some international regions.

While iBuyers have tested new markets, Phoenix’s lack of seasonality, an active local economy and housing market, and largely new housing stock has made it the iBuyer capital.


WeWork convinced a sceptical SEC to let it use a wonky metric that tested accounting rules. Here are 58 pages of letters showing how the coworking company changed the agency’s mind.

Business Insider obtained 58 pages of correspondence between the SEC and WeWork about the coworking company’s IPO filing and questions or concerns the agency had about the document.

One crucial piece of the back-and-forth centered on the company’s use of a non-GAAP financial metric.

The SEC originally asked WeWork to “remove disclosure of this measure throughout your registration statement.”

After pushback from WeWork’s lawyers, including a former chief of the same SEC division asking the company to scrap the metric, the agency relented and allowed the company to continue using the metric after it made some changes.


Jamie Dimon makes renewed pitch for JPMorgan to be valued like a subscription service – and it shows how Wall Street is trying to echo Big Tech

Jamie Dimon may have just a tiny bit of tech envy.

The JPMorgan Chase CEO sounded a familiar note on Tuesday on a call with journalists when he casually compared his bank to competitors in Silicon Valley. Answering a question about whether the bank’s stellar performance has driven its stock price as high as it will go, Dimon said one aspect of its revenue – much of it being very stable – is similar to a subscription-based model.


A KKR exec explained how private equity is looking in unlikely places to invest in tech companies

Private equity firm KKR just raised $US2.2 billion to invest in fast-growing tech companies and it will now hunt for deals in regions far beyond Silicon Valley.

Dave Welsh, a KKR exec leading its technology media and telecom growth equity unit, said that it would seek investments in areas such as Florida, the greater Washington, D.C., area and Atlanta, as well as the Rocky Mountain region in Colorado and other regions throughout the Midwest.

The willingness to go far and wide points to how competition for the best investments across the private equity spectrum is getting stiffer, and more PE firms are getting creative with how they deploy their capital – seeking smaller, including minority, investments.


Charles Schwab just pulled the plug on a nearly $US100 billion program where rival firms paid to sell ETFs

The broker wars have uncovered some complicated alliances, and it’s not always clear who’s friend or foe.

Discount broker Charles Schwab just shuttered a nearly $US100 billion program where it sold products from third-party asset management giants like State Street, JPMorgan Asset Management, and BlackRock.

The wealth management and brokerage firm said in its fourth-quarter earnings results on Thursday that it discontinued the program, called Schwab ETF OneSource, “as a result of the elimination of online trading commissions for US and Canadian-listed ETFs.”

The move, completed in the fourth quarter, highlights the tough reality the money-management industry has found itself in following the major brokerages’ decisions to remove online trading fees for stocks and ETFs late last year.


Credit Karma has been pegged as a 2020 IPO likely, but its CEO is more focused on developing new products as the $US4 billion fintech does more than just free credit scores

Credit Karma, long known for its free credit scores, launched as something of a marketing firm, connecting its users with credit cards and loans and getting paid by the banks that offered those products.

But today, it’s one of Silicon Valley’s hottest fintechs, with a $US4 billion valuation and 100 million users. And its audience has grown fast. The 13-year-old company added 75 million users in the last five years alone and says 1 in 2 millennials are on the platform.

Reports from the Wall Street Journal and CNBC have pegged Credit Karma as a 2020 IPO candidate, though its CEO has said he sees listing as a means, not an end, and is more focused on launching new products than going public soon. Credit Karma has indicated it is profitable according to past media reports.

As Credit Karma looks to do more than free credit scores, it’s also eyeing the next cohort of spenders – Gen Z.