Goldman's Bogus Journey to Retail Fintech

Brands are funny things. They are hard to create, and expensive to boot. You need about $100 million to create a financial services brand with the consumer, not to mention the maintenance cost. And then when it's built, the reputation can get away from you. Only so much can be done to manage how people respond to what you put out into the world. Brands also have to adjust to the shifting sand of cultural change underneath them.

Which brings us to Goldman Sachs, infamously dubbed (by an angry populist Rolling Stone article post the 2008 financial crisis) as a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.  Of course, Goldman is also one of the most competitive investment banks in the history of finance. When it gets into a market, it tends to win. In the past, most of its markets were institutional -- for asset managers, family offices, hedge funds and endowments. From derivatives to capital markets to wealth management, the Goldman brand stood for prestige and exclusivity. But that's not cool any more.

Today, Goldman runs the digital lender Marcus which has issued $3 billion of loans, just bought Adam Dell's personal finance app Clarity Money, is partnering with Apple on a retail credit card, and is jumping head first into crypto trading. Let's trace the trends. Apple has democratized the miniaturized personal computer, empowering the masses to leverage technology. Fintechs like Lending Club and Mint popped open the gates of Wall Street to help regular people get credit, information, financial literacy and planning. Crypto assets intend to decentralize the very manufacture of money and financial products, from the intermediary to the end user. Populism, anarchism, chaos.

So while many are dissecting whether Apple+Goldman is better than Apple+Barclays, or whether Jamie Dimon will walk back his Bitcoin words now that his biggest competitor is in the game -- we sit back in wonder. This is Goldman Sachs. And they are in at the ground retail level, following the generational shift to Millennials whose values reflect a different world -- not wealth of assets, but experiences, convenience, connectivity and globalization. Instead of prestige, it's technology, Fintech and crypto.