New unicorn Thought Machine could be a threat to established core banking players

The news: Thought Machine, which offers cloud-based core banking technology, has achieved unicorn status, with a valuation exceeding $1 billion. The provider’s valuation grew in connection with its $200 million Series C round.

More on this: Investors in the UK-based company now include the venture capital arms of JPMorgan Chase and Standard Chartered, with which it already had relationships.

  • The provider teamed up with JPMorgan to help launch its UK digital-only bank and to cover its US retail core banking network.
  • Standard Chartered’s Alex Manson, who runs its SC Ventures unit, said that Thought Machine is providing core services for its digital banks in both Hong Kong and Singapore.
  • The company also counts Lloyds—it led its Series A round and is part of the new one— and SEB as clients and investors.

Thought Machine said it will use its proceeds to continue building out Vault, its core banking product. Vault is presently available for retail and small business banking, but the provider intends to add support for commercial banking and private wealth, per the product’s landing page.

The company also intends to fund expansion into new markets, along with bolstering its existing presences.

Why it could succeed: Thought Machine’s product, designed for agility, should get the attention of banks that are dissatisfied with their current options—and gives the company a shot at becoming a formidable core banking player.

Vault is designed to help banks by:

  • Scaling quickly based on customer volumes.
  • Assuming software and hardware upgrades.
  • Giving banks a choice in functionality.
  • Encrypting and ringfencing banks’ data.

Some of the company’s investors have touted its technology. For example, Hans Morris, a representative from investor Nyca Partners, cited it as why Thought Machine has emerged as “the top choice for tier one banks looking to upgrade their core architecture.”

Along with its selling points and resources, the company poses a competitive threat to established core banking vendors FIS—which counts BMO Harris and Fifth Third Bank as clients—and Fiserv, which serves 98 of the top 100 US banks ranked by American Banker.

  • In general, per findings from Cornerstone Advisors, incumbents are vulnerable due to financial institutions’ “Big Frustrations,” citing their speed and pace of making improvements as the top gripe, at 56%.
  • Thought Machine’s digital track record with banks such as JPMorgan and Standard Chartered could prompt more incumbents to consider it as an alternative. To fend it off, the core banking providers must address their clients’ concerns.