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Why fintech is 'recession-proof' in times of crisis, according to Milken Institute's fintech director

Even if the US economy falls into a recession, fintech is primed to move ahead, said Milken Institute's fintech director Nicole Valentine.

"I look at fintech as recession-proof, and when I say recession-proof, I mean that fintech is not going to stop its movement," Valentine told Yahoo Finance at the 2023 Milken Global Conference. "In down cycles, fintech startups figured out how to get lean. They figured out how to get smarter and build more quality into their product, and that's what it's about. It's about quality. It's not always about size."

Of course, not everything has been rosy for fintech this year — the sector was roiled by Silicon Valley Bank's collapse. Even some of fintech's biggest names, such as Affirm (AFRM), have been hit by the difficult macroeconomic environment and rising interest rates.

"Obviously, as the Fed figures out how to combat inflation, it changes our cost of capital," Affirm CEO Max Levchin recently told Yahoo Finance Live (video above). "As the Fed changed rates quite dramatically, it had a real impact on our [loan-to-cost ratio]."

"We have a tremendous amount of consumer and merchant demand," Levchin added. "There will be short-term disruptions from capital, from other places. But, ultimately, this is a great business [and] seems to be performing really well."

Still, as tech trends continue to spin out — such as AI's leap into public consciousness — fintech is uniquely situated to keep up. Valentine specifically pointed to the rise of generative AI as an opportunity for fintech, even in a recession.

Milken Institute Fintech Director Nicole Valentine moderates Unlocking Bitcoin: The Transformation of a Nascent Industry during the Reuters hosted MOMENTUM event in Austin, Texas, U.S., October 11, 2022.  REUTERS/Spencer Selvidge
Milken Institute Fintech Director Nicole Valentine moderates during a MOMENTUM event in Austin, Texas, U.S., on October 11, 2022. REUTERS/Spencer Selvidge

"Fintech is always building on top of new technology," she said. "So when we talk about generative AI, [when] we talk about blockchain, that's how fintech keeps moving through cycles. It doesn't stop the builders."

Valentine said that, even if the macro climate remains difficult, fintech is set up to press on.

"Fintech isn't scared of a crisis," she said. "A crisis for fintech is just another opportunity to figure out what's next. How are they going to reach their customer? How are they going to deliver value? And how are they going to get sticky in a moment like this?"

Allie Garfinkle is a Senior Tech Reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter at @agarfinks and on LinkedIn.

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