Stacey Edgar’s phone was blowing up on Thursday.
“Text, Slack, Twitter, all of them were going nuts. It started early in the day on Thursday, and I just kept getting texts from fellow founders,” explained Edgar, founder of Venteur, an insurtech based in San Francisco, and a longtime customer of Silicon Valley Bank. “I got emails from investors, and basically all of them said, ‘Pull money out, now.’”
She had realized that there was a problem that morning when she tried to log into her account. and it was all locked.
“That's a terrible way as a business owner to find out that something's going on,” she said.
Meanwhile, executives at Unest, a fintech focused on investment accounts for kids, were abuzz in the same sort of conversations, and they made a last minute transfer of some of their funds — enough to ensure they’d meet payroll that week — to accounts elsewhere, said Chief Operating Officer Mike Doniger.
When Edgar tried to take the funds out of Venteur’s SVB account, though, she was an hour too late, and she was one of many.
It took the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.’s announcement that uninsured funds would be guaranteed for the chatter across her messaging platforms to stop.
While the FDIC’s decision to back uninsured funds brought relief, tensions haven’t totally subsided. Atomic CEO David Dindi told Banking Dive that, upon hearing the news that deposits exceeding $250,000 were indeed safe, his team “felt a sense of relief and happiness.” But Doniger explained he continues to monitor the news, and his concern that there may be a ripple effect.
To stay or to go?
Unest moved its funds to First Republic, and is in the process of establishing relationships with other banking partners. Adam Struck, a fintech investor with more than 75 portfolio companies, moved his funds to JPMorgan and Morgan Stanley, the latter of which he’d already had a relationship with.
Dindi had proactively transferred Atomic’s assets to its own platform, of which Bank of New York Mellon is the underlying custodian; and since Thursday, he’s helped other founders transfer millions of dollars in assets to BNY.
Doniger’s decision to move to First Republic was largely related to already established accounts there, which allowed the funds to move quickly
“Adding additional relationships and diversifying is the prudent thing to do to ensure we have options available in case there are other emergencies and access to our funds when needed,” Doniger said.
He said he believes, however, that the biggest beneficiaries of the situation were big banks, including JPMorgan, Citi, Wells Fargo and Bank of America.
Struck mirrored the same sentiments, which he called “unfortunate.”
“The regional banks exist for a reason, specialized banks exist for a reason,” Struck said.
Edgar, however, is staying put for now. SVB has been “very communicative” since Monday, she said, and the personal touch that the bank has always offered continues to set it apart from its peers. The personal touch was even still there on Thursday and Friday, she said, from her main point-of-contact, even if they didn’t have all the answers.
“I feel pretty good about the bank at the moment,” she said on SVB. “Also, one of the things in terms of moving to another bank, I want to spend a little bit more time than I did doing diligence. We’re being very thoughtful about what's our overall risk management strategy as it pertains to treasury management.”
Edgar was lucky enough to have diversified her cash before SBV’s collapse, not because she expected its downfall but because, she said, her coming-of-age at the London School of Economics was during the 2008 financial crises, and some of her practices are due to the paranoia built from that era. Additionally, she wanted to segregate operational funds and product funds.
“There's also some narrative also [around how] more CEOs should have diversified their cash, and I'm fortunate that we did, but it's not your main focus as a business. Your main focus is to go deliver for your clients, deliver for your investors in terms of returns, and that's an unnecessary burden [and] an unrealistic expectation to place on most CEOs,” Edgar said.
According to Doniger, lack of diversification among fintechs wasn’t due to naivety but rather a requirement from SVB.
“SVB has helped us grow over time, with venture debt being a part of our relationship with them and as part of that agreement we were asked to move cash, operations, billing and credit cards to the bank,” he said.
The majority of Unest’s accounts, including its operating account, were held at SVB.