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欧洲经济不景气,硅谷银行却看上了这个国家

Jennifer Baljko 2019年11月17日

硅谷银行正在积极向北欧地区扩张。这一地区也成了很多创新技术和生命科学公司的诞生地。

丹麦哥本哈根的新港,港内停泊着很多帆船,岸边是17世纪的老建筑和沿海步道。图片来源:Getty Images/Mint Images RF

自从20世纪80年代以来,硅谷银行就一直是初创公司和科技创业者贷款的首选银行。现在,这家银行即将进军一个商业贷款非常廉价甚至是负利率的地方——哥本哈根。

硅谷银行的总部位于加州的圣克拉拉。成立35年来,它曾经向爱彼迎(Airbnb)、Fitbit和Pinterest等3万家公司提供过资金。现在,它正在积极向北欧地区扩张。这一地区也成为了很多创新技术和生命科学公司的诞生地。

在这个地区,创业资本的成本很低廉,银行也很乐意放贷,因此,哥本哈根在创业者眼中,简直成了一个Bug式的存在。这与欧洲宏观经济放缓甚至陷入负利率有很大关系。

硅谷银行的欧洲、中东及非洲业务负责人兼英国分行行长埃琳·普拉茨带着加州阳光一般的乐观,展望了硅谷银行在欧洲的发展前景。

她表示:“我们相信,未来5到10年,丹麦和邻近的北欧地区将比过去5到10年更加令人兴奋。总体上看,我们认为科技的创新速度将超过其他行业的发展速度。而且现在其他银行和公司可能都在向国内看,但是我们却在寻找更多的扩张途径。”

作为一家美国银行,硅谷银行进军丹麦,也受到了当地企业和投资者的鼓励。它作为一家能够提供从融资、借贷到咨询、网络、推广的全方位服务的银行,填补了一个本地银行难以填补的空白。

或许是由于严格的监管机制,或许是由于在承担风险上较为保守,总之,传统的欧洲银行相对来说不太愿意投资那些有可能实现高增长,但也有可能亏损的公司。不过随着各大银行都在追逐更高的投资回报率,这种情况也开始出现转变。

不过,对于硅谷银行这样一个对资本回报比较有耐心的专业投资机构来说,它在丹麦是有足够的机会的。硅谷银行是硅谷银行金融集团的一部分,它很重视一家公司的增长潜力,而不是只关注某家公司的资产情况和偿债能力。它的运作方式也更像一家传统的贷款机构,主要是通过各轮融资和融资间隙,对真正有需要的公司提供资金。

反转借贷模式

瑞银证券研究(UBS Equity Research)的常务董事兼中型银行和抵押贷款金融业务高级分析师布罗克·范德里特指出,初创公司的资本需求往往与传统企业不同,特别是那些扩张得十分迅速的公司。在这些初创公司快速地由一个增长阶段迈向下一个增长阶段的过程中,能否真实了解这些公司的经营状况,是一门很独特的技巧,而且并非所有的传统银行都已经掌握了这种技巧。他还点名表示,硅谷银行对初创公司各个阶段的转型(从早期股本和风投阶段,到制定现金管理制度、增加员工、扩大全球影响力,以及设定关键的营收和盈利目标等)都有深入的了解。

“其他大银行也具备这样的知识,但它们并没有倾注太多精力。很多银行经常是以贷款开路,然后再用它来建立关系。而在硅谷银行,这个过程可能是反过来的。”

很多初创公司也注意到了这一点。

虽然硅谷很看好北欧地区的前景,但欧洲的金融机构目前却正在受到各种不确定性因素的困扰。很多欧洲银行——包括丹麦的一些银行,其商业贷款和抵押贷款的利率都是极低的。面临经济增长放缓、存款利率进入“负利率”时代等不利因素,以及新兴金融科技公司的强势围剿,这些欧洲银行也急需找到能够刺激营收的新办法。

可以肯定的是,凭借多币种账户和跨国换汇服务等工具,像TransferWise和eBury这样的金融科技公司已经在与硅谷银行等专业金融服务机构同台竞技了,而且他们的这些工具对那些具有全球视野的增长型公司很有吸引力。要说这些颠覆者在哪个领域还有不足,那就是他们的关系网络还相对有限,帮助年轻公司建立和发展新市场的能力还有所欠缺。

丹麦独角兽

从风投的角度看,斯堪的纳维亚地区是欧洲顶级的商业孵化中心之一,足以与英国、德国、法国鼎足相争。该地区也不缺乏前途无量的“独角兽”公司——自从21世纪初以来,该地区已经诞生了12家“独角兽”,总价值达690亿美元。

据丹麦的国有投资基金Vækstfonden的报告显示,去年,丹麦全国共计拉到了6亿多欧元的风投资本,较2017年增长了2亿欧元。(而在同一时间段里,美国的风险融资总额达到1300亿美元。)

外国金融公司在这里设立分支机构也是比较方便的,这里与欧洲大陆的其他国家相比,在程序上少了很多繁文缛节。尤其是在丹麦不需要办理贷款许可证,使得硅谷银行这样的新进者可以避开昂贵且耗时的行政许可程序,迅速设立机构、开展业务。

Vækstfonden的首席执行官罗尔夫·卡加尔佳德对《财富》杂志表示,实际上,Vækstfonden公司甚至主动游说硅谷银行来该地区开拓市场。最主要的原因并非钱的问题,众所周知,丹麦人不差钱,而且在丹麦,找钱很便宜。“主要原因,是因为这家银行以及它背后的硅谷银行金融集团已经成功地建立了一个全球性的关系网络。”

国际关系网络

在过去的几十年里,硅谷银行的业务早已跨越了美国本土。丹麦是该集团继中国、爱尔兰、以色列、德国和英国后的第六大市场。硅谷银行已经服务了北欧地区的30多家公司,主要是通过它在美国和英国的分支机构,这也使得北欧公司更容易进入英美等市场进行经营。

硅谷银行还因为乐于帮助初创企业开拓新市场,而在创业者中建立了良好的口碑。比如以色列的Airobotics公司和纽约的Datadog公司,都是在硅谷银行的帮助下,近年来才得以深耕欧洲市场。丹麦的点评平台TrustPilot在2017年从硅谷银行拿到了2000万美元的融资,用于扩展该公司的业务。该公司的财务总监汉诺·达姆告诉《财富》杂志,今年早些时候,该公司开展E轮融资时,曾经联系过硅谷银行,希望对那笔2000万美元的融资的剩余贷款进行重组,以便腾出资金用于其他项目。“他们能够提供各种融资选择,而且他们向公司借贷时给予的一些条件,是传统银行没有办法提供的。”达姆表示。

Siteimprove是一家云软件供应商,该公司表示,在它的海外发展和实现盈利的过程中,硅谷银行给了它很大的帮助。Siteimprove成立于2003年,目前已经拥有13家海外办事处,在明尼阿波利斯拥有200名员工。凭着从硅谷银行拉来的资金,该公司在哥本哈根总部建立了一个研发中心,里面有130名员工。

Siteimprove的财务总监马丁·瓦格纳表示:“这家银行为我们提供了急需的投资,帮助像我们这样的非美国的公司参与全球竞争。”

这也进一步证明了在风险投资界,并不是所有的钱都是一样的钱。(财富中文网)

译者:朴成奎

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 Vækstfonden, 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 Vækstfonden actually lobbied SVB to come to the region, its CEO Rolf Kjærgaard, 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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