July 3, 2021 / VOLUME NO. 164
Shaq Attacks Fintech

Shaquille O’Neal credits a strategy he learned from Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos with quadrupling the basketball legend’s net worth.

“When I do business, it’s never about the monetary aspect,” O’Neal told The Wall Street Journal in 2019. “It’s about changing people’s lives.”

His investments include a long-time stake in Alphabet, from its early Google days; Papa John’s International, where he serves as a director; and the fitness company Beachbody, which he and a team of investors took public earlier this week. He also owns various franchises, including Papa John’s and Krispy Kreme Doughnuts.

Bezos' advice indirectly led O’Neal to invest in a fintech company called Steady in 2018. Put simply, Steady helps more than 2.5 million users earn money, averaging an extra $5,500 a year.

“I want to help people live out their dreams, help them gain financial freedom and help them with financial literacy,” O’Neal said at a virtual event earlier this month. He added that while he’s never worked an hourly job or even drafted a resume — the star Louisiana State University player was drafted by the Orlando Magic in 1992, when he was just 20 years old — O’Neal knows how important it is to be able to pay for a vacation, afford care for a sick relative or just make ends meet. “That used to be my mom, that used to be my dad, that used to be my aunts and my uncles,” he explained.   

The financial industry has devoted significant resources to financial education and personal financial management. More recently, financial institutions such as Fifth Third Bancorp started giving customers early access to their paychecks. 

While those tools can help, they don’t solve the income side of the equation. 

But earning more money does, notes Alex Johnson, director of fintech research at Cornerstone Advisors. Americans face a number of options to do just that, from remote work to freelancing and side gigs. “But how do you go about doing that? [And] how do banks help with that process?” he says. Identifying ways to help customers earn extra income — like Steady — could be a big opportunity for financial institutions.

“Customers need more money, and banks and fintech companies historically have fought over getting the money customers already have more so than helping them generate new money,” Johnson says. Despite the proliferation of fintech competitors, direct deposit relationships have primarily stayed with banks — but the barriers to switching are coming down, he adds. “If I was a bank, I’d be thinking about, ‘How do I give customers more proactive reasons for choosing to keep their direct deposits with me?’”

• Emily McCormick, vice president of research
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