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歐洲經濟不景氣,硅谷銀行卻看上了這個國家

Jennifer Baljko 2019年11月17日

硅谷銀行正在積極向北歐地區擴張。這一地區也成了很多創新技術和生命科學公司的誕生地。

丹麥哥本哈根的新港,港內停泊著很多帆船,岸邊是17世紀的老建筑和沿海步道。圖片來源:Getty Images/Mint Images RF

自從20世紀80年代以來,硅谷銀行就一直是初創公司和科技創業者貸款的首選銀行。現在,這家銀行即將進軍一個商業貸款非常廉價甚至是負利率的地方——哥本哈根。

硅谷銀行的總部位于加州的圣克拉拉。成立35年來,它曾經向愛彼迎(Airbnb)、Fitbit和Pinterest等3萬家公司提供過資金。現在,它正在積極向北歐地區擴張。這一地區也成為了很多創新技術和生命科學公司的誕生地。

在這個地區,創業資本的成本很低廉,銀行也很樂意放貸,因此,哥本哈根在創業者眼中,簡直成了一個Bug式的存在。這與歐洲宏觀經濟放緩甚至陷入負利率有很大關系。

硅谷銀行的歐洲、中東及非洲業務負責人兼英國分行行長埃琳·普拉茨帶著加州陽光一般的樂觀,展望了硅谷銀行在歐洲的發展前景。

她表示:“我們相信,未來5到10年,丹麥和鄰近的北歐地區將比過去5到10年更加令人興奮。總體上看,我們認為科技的創新速度將超過其他行業的發展速度。而且現在其他銀行和公司可能都在向國內看,但是我們卻在尋找更多的擴張途徑。”

作為一家美國銀行,硅谷銀行進軍丹麥,也受到了當地企業和投資者的鼓勵。它作為一家能夠提供從融資、借貸到咨詢、網絡、推廣的全方位服務的銀行,填補了一個本地銀行難以填補的空白。

或許是由于嚴格的監管機制,或許是由于在承擔風險上較為保守,總之,傳統的歐洲銀行相對來說不太愿意投資那些有可能實現高增長,但也有可能虧損的公司。不過隨著各大銀行都在追逐更高的投資回報率,這種情況也開始出現轉變。

不過,對于硅谷銀行這樣一個對資本回報比較有耐心的專業投資機構來說,它在丹麥是有足夠的機會的。硅谷銀行是硅谷銀行金融集團的一部分,它很重視一家公司的增長潛力,而不是只關注某家公司的資產情況和償債能力。它的運作方式也更像一家傳統的貸款機構,主要是通過各輪融資和融資間隙,對真正有需要的公司提供資金。

反轉借貸模式

瑞銀證券研究(UBS Equity Research)的常務董事兼中型銀行和抵押貸款金融業務高級分析師布羅克·范德里特指出,初創公司的資本需求往往與傳統企業不同,特別是那些擴張得十分迅速的公司。在這些初創公司快速地由一個增長階段邁向下一個增長階段的過程中,能否真實了解這些公司的經營狀況,是一門很獨特的技巧,而且并非所有的傳統銀行都已經掌握了這種技巧。他還點名表示,硅谷銀行對初創公司各個階段的轉型(從早期股本和風投階段,到制定現金管理制度、增加員工、擴大全球影響力,以及設定關鍵的營收和盈利目標等)都有深入的了解。

“其他大銀行也具備這樣的知識,但它們并沒有傾注太多精力。很多銀行經常是以貸款開路,然后再用它來建立關系。而在硅谷銀行,這個過程可能是反過來的。”

很多初創公司也注意到了這一點。

雖然硅谷很看好北歐地區的前景,但歐洲的金融機構目前卻正在受到各種不確定性因素的困擾。很多歐洲銀行——包括丹麥的一些銀行,其商業貸款和抵押貸款的利率都是極低的。面臨經濟增長放緩、存款利率進入“負利率”時代等不利因素,以及新興金融科技公司的強勢圍剿,這些歐洲銀行也急需找到能夠刺激營收的新辦法。

可以肯定的是,憑借多幣種賬戶和跨國換匯服務等工具,像TransferWise和eBury這樣的金融科技公司已經在與硅谷銀行等專業金融服務機構同臺競技了,而且他們的這些工具對那些具有全球視野的增長型公司很有吸引力。要說這些顛覆者在哪個領域還有不足,那就是他們的關系網絡還相對有限,幫助年輕公司建立和發展新市場的能力還有所欠缺。

丹麥獨角獸

從風投的角度看,斯堪的納維亞地區是歐洲頂級的商業孵化中心之一,足以與英國、德國、法國鼎足相爭。該地區也不缺乏前途無量的“獨角獸”公司——自從21世紀初以來,該地區已經誕生了12家“獨角獸”,總價值達690億美元。

據丹麥的國有投資基金V?kstfonden的報告顯示,去年,丹麥全國共計拉到了6億多歐元的風投資本,較2017年增長了2億歐元。(而在同一時間段里,美國的風險融資總額達到1300億美元。)

外國金融公司在這里設立分支機構也是比較方便的,這里與歐洲大陸的其他國家相比,在程序上少了很多繁文縟節。尤其是在丹麥不需要辦理貸款許可證,使得硅谷銀行這樣的新進者可以避開昂貴且耗時的行政許可程序,迅速設立機構、開展業務。

V?kstfonden的首席執行官羅爾夫·卡加爾佳德對《財富》雜志表示,實際上,V?kstfonden公司甚至主動游說硅谷銀行來該地區開拓市場。最主要的原因并非錢的問題,眾所周知,丹麥人不差錢,而且在丹麥,找錢很便宜。“主要原因,是因為這家銀行以及它背后的硅谷銀行金融集團已經成功地建立了一個全球性的關系網絡。”

國際關系網絡

在過去的幾十年里,硅谷銀行的業務早已跨越了美國本土。丹麥是該集團繼中國、愛爾蘭、以色列、德國和英國后的第六大市場。硅谷銀行已經服務了北歐地區的30多家公司,主要是通過它在美國和英國的分支機構,這也使得北歐公司更容易進入英美等市場進行經營。

硅谷銀行還因為樂于幫助初創企業開拓新市場,而在創業者中建立了良好的口碑。比如以色列的Airobotics公司和紐約的Datadog公司,都是在硅谷銀行的幫助下,近年來才得以深耕歐洲市場。丹麥的點評平臺TrustPilot在2017年從硅谷銀行拿到了2000萬美元的融資,用于擴展該公司的業務。該公司的財務總監漢諾·達姆告訴《財富》雜志,今年早些時候,該公司開展E輪融資時,曾經聯系過硅谷銀行,希望對那筆2000萬美元的融資的剩余貸款進行重組,以便騰出資金用于其他項目。“他們能夠提供各種融資選擇,而且他們向公司借貸時給予的一些條件,是傳統銀行沒有辦法提供的。”達姆表示。

Siteimprove是一家云軟件供應商,該公司表示,在它的海外發展和實現盈利的過程中,硅谷銀行給了它很大的幫助。Siteimprove成立于2003年,目前已經擁有13家海外辦事處,在明尼阿波利斯擁有200名員工。憑著從硅谷銀行拉來的資金,該公司在哥本哈根總部建立了一個研發中心,里面有130名員工。

Siteimprove的財務總監馬丁·瓦格納表示:“這家銀行為我們提供了急需的投資,幫助像我們這樣的非美國的公司參與全球競爭。”

這也進一步證明了在風險投資界,并不是所有的錢都是一樣的錢。(財富中文網)

譯者:樸成奎

Silicon Valley Bank, a go-to bank for startups and tech hopefuls since the 1980s, is heading to the land of cheap business loans and negative interest rates: Copenhagen.

The Santa Clara, Calif. bank, which has bankrolled Airbnb, Fitbit, Pinterest and 30,000 other companies in its 35-year history, is expanding its footprint to the Nordic region, a flourishing hub of innovative technology and life sciences companies.

It’s also a region where start-up capital is cheap and banks have become eager lenders, an effect—some would call it a bug—of Europe’s plunge into negative interest rates as the wider economy slows.

Erin Platts, SVB’s head of Europe, Middle East and Africa, and president of the U.K. branch, assesses the bank’s prospects with a dose of sunny California optimism.

“We believe the next five to ten years in Denmark and the surrounding Nordic region will be even more exciting than the last five to ten years,” she said. “Generally, we believe innovation will continue to outperform other sectors. And, while other banks and companies may be looking inward, we are looking for more ways to expand.”

The U.S. bank’s entry, which was encouraged by Danish companies and investors, is seen as filling a kind of multifaceted funding-lending-consulting-networking-cheerleading gap that traditional local banks have a hard time closing.

Either because of rigid regulatory structures or a more conservative stance on risk-taking, traditional European banks have relatively shallow funding portfolios when it comes to potential high-growth, loss-making companies. This is beginning to change as the banks cast about for higher returns on invested capital.

Still, there’s enough of an opening for specialist investors like SVB with a track record of being more patient with the returns on the capital they lend. Instead of pegging funding to a company’s balance sheet and ability to pay back a loan, SVB, which is part of SVB Financial Group, values a firm’s growth potential. It also operates more like a traditional lender in that it makes money available to startups when they need it, during and between funding rounds.

Flipping the lending model

The capital needs of startups, particularly those scaling rapidly, differ from more traditional businesses. Understanding how these companies operate as they quickly move from one growth stage to the next is a unique strength that not all traditional banks have yet mastered, says Brock Vandervliet, executive director and senior analyst covering mid-cap banks and mortgage finance at UBS Equity Research. He singled out SVB as one that understands companies’ transitions as they go from landing early equity and VC investments, to setting up cash management systems, increasing staff, extending global reach and setting revenue and profitability milestones.

“That knowledge exists in other large banks, but they don’t make it a dedicated effort. What banks usually do is lead with the lending and use that to build the relationship. At Silicon Valley Bank, this process can be reversed,” added Vandervliet.

Startups notice this.

SVB’s bullish Scandinavian outlook comes at a time when that of European financial institution’s is shaded with uncertainty. European banks, including some in Denmark, are offering ultra-cheap interest rates on business loans and mortgages, and they are hard-pressed to find new ways to stimulate revenue in the grip of slowing economic growth, loss-making deposits, and competition from emerging fintech players.

To be sure, fintechs like TransferWise and eBury are competing on much of the same turf as SVB and other specialist financial services firms by offering the tools—multi-currency accounts and international money transfer services —that appeal to growing businesses with global aspirations. If there’s an area where these disruptors fall short, however, it’s with their relatively limited networking reach and knowhow of helping young companies set up and grow in new markets.

Danish unicorns

Scandinavia is one of Europe’s top-tier business-incubation hubs alongside the U.K., Germany and France in terms of venture capital investment. And, there’s the unicorn factor—the region has created twelve unicorns since the early 2000s, with a combined value of $69 billion.

Last year in Denmark, VCs invested more than 600 million euros in 2018, a 200 million-euro increase from 2017, according to a report from V?kstfonden, the Danish state’s investment fund. (In the United States, VC funding topped $130 billion during the same period.)

Non-Danish finance firms setting up shop here find a relatively laid back approach to business regulations, which features considerably less red tape than they’d find in other continental European countries. Notably, Denmark doesn’t require a lending license, which allows new entrants like SVB to sidestep an expensive, time-consuming administrative permissions process and quickly set up shop.

The V?kstfonden actually lobbied SVB to come to the region, its CEO Rolf Kj?rgaard, told Fortune. The main draw wasn’t the money. The Danes already have that. And it’s cheap. “It’s the global connectivity that they, the bank and SVB Financial Group, have built up so successfully.”

International connections

For the last couple of decades, SVB has been extending beyond its U.S. base. Denmark is the group’s sixth market after China, Ireland, Israel, Germany and the U.K. SVB already serves about 30 Nordic companies, primarily through its U.S. and U.K. branches, which give Nordic companies an easier route to enter and operate in those markets.

SVB has earned a reputation among entrepreneurs for helping startups push into new markets, from Israel’s Airobotics to New York-based Datadog, which, with SVB’s help, has been expanding deeper into Europe in recent years. Denmark’s TrustPilot, a reviews platform, secured $20 million in funding from SVB in 2017, money it used to help it expand its business. Hanno Damm, the chief financial officer at TrustPilot, told Fortune that when it landed a Series E funding round earlier this year, they contacted SVB about restructuring what remained of the original $20 million credit facility to free up the funds for other projects. “They are able to offer financing options and lend to companies under terms that more traditional banks are not able to provide,” said Damm.

Siteimprove, meanwhile, credits SVB with helping it grow overseas and become profitable. Founded in 2003, the cloud-based software provider now has 13 international offices, including 200 employees in Minneapolis. With capital raised from SVB, the cloud-based software provider built a development center at its Copenhagen headquarters, home to 130 employees.

“The bank offers much-needed investments that help non-U.S. technology companies compete globally,” said Martin Wagner, chief financial officer at Siteimprove.

Further proof that in venture funding, not all money is the same.

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