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The week in fintech: Square stock sells off on longtime CFO's departure

This recap features updates on bank technology, payments, online lending and other news in the U.S. financial technology space. Send tips, ideas and chatter to rachel.stone@spglobal.com. For other recent fintech news, click here.

After more than six years, the CFO of one of the nation's most prominent fintech companies is set to depart in December.

Square Inc. announced after market hours Oct. 10 that CFO Sarah Friar, who has held the position since 2012, would be leaving to become CEO at Nextdoor.com Inc., a private social network platform for neighborhoods. After the announcement, Square's stock plunged more than 15% following the news before recovering slightly.

Nomura Instinet analyst Dan Dolev called the selloff an "overblown reaction" and said Friar's departure is "unlikely to disrupt the innovation engine" driving the fintech company. In September, the analyst wrote that Square deserved a place among the so-called FANG stocks because it has the capacity to dominate the payments industry the same way Facebook Inc., Amazon.com Inc., Netflix Inc. and Alphabet Inc.-owned Google disrupted their own industries.

In an interview, Dolev said the reaction was likely due in part to Friar's prominent role in face-to-face meetings with investors. Mizuho Securities USA analyst Thomas McCrohan called Friar "the key instrumental force" that built Square's credibility within the investment community. She led Square through its initial public offering in 2015 and has since overseen the company's expansion outside of the U.S. and its move into the e-commerce business.

"However, we view Square's human capital advantage as extending beyond a single person, and consider the firm's innovative culture as the key contributing factor toward shareholder value creation long term," McCrohan wrote in an Oct. 11 note. The analyst did lower his price target, noting that Friar's departure "introduces some incremental risk."

CEO Jack Dorsey, who also holds the reins at Twitter Inc., called Friar "a multidimensional leader" and acknowledged that running a company was one of Friar's lifelong ambitions.

"I've said for some time that our goal is to build an organization that is not dependent upon any one person," Dorsey wrote to Square employees. The search for Friar's replacement will be led by David Viniar, an independent director and former Goldman Sachs Group Inc. CFO, Dorsey said in his email.

The stock reaction was the latest hit in a multi-week decline for the fintech company. Square shares closed Oct. 12 at $73.97, down about 26.9% since its all-time high at $101.15 on Oct. 1. The selloff in Square stock has coincided with a larger tech selloff and a marketwide slump.

Even with Friar's departure, Dolev said Square's business has not fundamentally changed. He expects Square to post up to 70% growth when it reports third-quarter earnings in November, adding that its stock has outperformed other technology and payments stocks since going public.

"It's the early days of what could be a broader disruption of the ecosystem," Dolev said. "The story is not only not over, but it's probably just beginning."

SNL Image

In cryptocurrency news, the SEC obtained an emergency court order to halt a planned initial coin offering that backers allegedly falsely claimed was approved by the regulator. The order also stops sales in an ongoing pre-ICO by Blockvest LLC, which allegedly falsely claimed its offering received regulatory approval from various agencies, including the SEC. The complaint charges Blockvest and its founder, Reginald Ringgold III, with violating the anti-fraud and securities registration provisions of the federal securities laws.

Rain Financial expects to launch its licensed cryptocurrency exchange, which could be the first regulated cryptocurrency exchange in the Persian Gulf, in early 2019, CoinDesk reported. It plans to offer a brokerage for retail cryptocurrency investors as well as an institutional platform. After developing for a year in the Central Bank of Bahrain fintech sandbox, the exchange is hoping to differentiate itself from Dubai-based incumbent cryptocurrency exchange BitOasis Technologies FZE.

Elsewhere in fintech, Synchrony Financial and J. C. Penney Co. Inc. extended their nearly 20-year strategic partnership this week. The announcement came two months after Walmart Inc. ended its co-branded card deal with Synchrony. Walmart and JCPenny are two of Synchrony's five largest retail card partners, according to its most recent annual filing. There was concern following Walmart's departure that other partners could follow.

From Oct. 5 to Oct. 12, the SNL U.S. Financial Technology index fell 4.72%.

A recent report from S&P Global Market Intelligence explores how banks and insurers are embracing fintech innovation. The report looks at recent trends and provides outlooks for the insurtech, digital lending, digital investment management, digital banking, payments and distributed ledger technology sectors. Click here to read the report.