For some time now, there has been growing chatter throughout the American consumer tech space about the emergence of so-called “super apps.” More narrowly, within the financial field, app makers are competing to create an umbrella app that allows users to execute a comprehensive assortment of banking and investing activities within one interface.

As Vaidik Trivedi of Dive/Wire notes Square, PayPal and Google are all “racing to create ‘super apps’ with an array of digital financial services.” Yet it is not only the incumbents or established players who are looking to create an all-encompassing financial services app. Startups are also vying to create a dominant financial super app, with M1 Finance even trademarking the phrase ‘The Finance Super App.’

This screenshot shows M1 Finance's homepage
Public Site M1 Finance Homepage

To that end, CI recently published a Brokerage Startup Landscape report (Broker Monitor subscription required) that examines high-level trends within the financial services startup market. A major takeaway from the report is that ambitious startups creating full-fledged super apps are poised to become significant threats to incumbent brokerages.

This introductory post in a forthcoming blog series on financial super apps will briefly define the term and provide a brief history of super app development. Future blog posts will spotlight specific firms seeking to establish themselves as financial super apps, focusing on the variety of features and business models these startups are developing.

To begin, what is a super app? The term refers to an app that features a wide array of proprietary and/or third-party services across multiple industries and verticals that allow users to accomplish most, if not all, of their daily mobile activity without leaving the app. As Amit Mallick and Sai Debashis write in an Accenture blog post “A super-app is an umbrella app that offers a full ecosystem of services shaped around users’ everyday lifestyle needs, using one integrated interface or platform.”

The concept of the super app originally emerged out of China, where, as Jason Mikula notes, most people access the internet through their mobile devices. The mobile-first landscape of Asia served as a natural breeding ground for super apps as they proved to be a convenient and efficient way for people to conduct their everyday online activities.

Alipay—founded in 2004 as a subsidiary of Alibaba by Ant Group, in order to facilitate online purchases—represents an initial attempt to create a super app. It primarily provides financial services, allowing for e-commerce payments, deposit accounts, credit and debit accounts and wealth management, but it also integrates services like food delivery and ride hailing, among other functions.

This screenshot shows Alipay's homepage
Public Site Alipay Homepage

WeChat Pay, which currently has over 900 million monthly users, was established a few years later in 2013 as an expansion of the popular WeChat social messaging platform. WeChat Pay now includes many of the same financial services as Alipay, in addition to its original messaging services. It enables peer-to-peer payment, credit purchases and the ordering of goods and services among other capabilities.

This screenshot shows the WeChat homepage
Public Site WeChat Pay Homepage

Grab, which launched in Malaysia in 2012, represents another of the pioneering Asian super apps. It began as a ride hailing app and has grown to allow its 187 million users to conduct financial transactions and order an array of services beyond hailing taxis.

This screenshot shows the Grab public site download app page
Public Site Grab Download App Page

These financial super apps have inspired copycats in the United States. In the next installment of this blog series, we will narrow our focus to examine two highly aggressive startups looking to establish a true financial super app within the U.S. market: Cash App and M1 Finance. For more on the investing space, see our Insights section. And learn more about how our research services can help your organization.