The Silicon Valley Bank fallout has only just begun

After the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank last week, many companies and entrepreneurs have fled to – at least perceived – safety. That means the biggest banks got more deposits: JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Citigroup and Wells Fargo.

“Everyone is asking, ‘Where should we bank? Where is it safe to bank?'” Ryan Gilbert, founder of Launchpad Capital, told Silicon Valley Business Journal. “If you think you’re banking with the safest bank in your ecosystem, and they disappeared overnight, do you realize it’s impossible to predict an earthquake.” He moved his account to Chase.

“Where should we bank? Where can I bank safely?”

Startups like Brex, Mercury and Meow have also benefited. Brex specializes in business credit cards; Meow, by letting people earn interest on government bonds, among other things. (Meow also gives people accounts at BNY Mellon Pershing, another major bank.) “We’ve been inundated with inbounds and we’ve been working nonstop,” Meow CEO Brandon Arvanaghi told me in a phone interview. These are not just startups or SVB customers, although that was the first wave, he says.

“Everyone is starting to think about counterparty risk,” says Arvanaghi, which is the risk that someone you’re contracting with won’t keep the deal. For example, if a bank fails, the FDIC is not obligated to honor its loan agreements. In the case of SVB, the bank has also said it will honor its debt obligations – no certainty a week ago! – and even makes new loans.

Some companies put capital in multiple banks to hedge their bets. But that’s not exactly ideal either. Banks tend to pay more attention to customers who have a lot of money in their accounts, said Matt Cohen, a VC at Ripple Ventures in Toronto. In addition, it is too difficult to spread payroll over multiple accounts.

Long-term results are difficult to determine here. SVB will probably be sold in whole or in part, but probably not to a major bank. Cohen told me he worries that the losers in all of this will be regional banks and that when the dust settles, the big banks will only have gotten bigger.

“We don’t know how many of the big banks want the startups to come to them.”

What that means for the startup economy is unclear. Startups look different from other companies because they generally burn capital – there is usually a heavy injection of cash when the account is opened, which gradually decreases. Mature companies, on the other hand, receive more money. And SVB was more willing to work with startups than most other banks. “We don’t know how many of the big banks want the corporate start-ups,” said Arjun Kapur, the co-founder of Forecast Labs.

Kapur told me he expects more caution in startups and more tightening. Startups have already been cutting costs in response to the craziness that has plagued the economy over the past year – it might make sense to expect companies to cut back on marketing, among other things, until everyone knows what’s really going on going to happen.

That could also lead to more layoffs, says Tanner Hackett, the CEO of Counterpart Insurance, which offers insurance to small businesses. If companies struggle to secure new rounds of funding or access new debt in the wave of SVB bankruptcy, there will be more urgency to find a path to profitability, he told me. He expects companies to manage their money conservatively.

Then there is the issue of the Federal Reserve. The Fed has aggressively raised interest rates to try and control inflation. The collapse of SVB, along with crypto banks Silvergate and Signature, could stop the Fed from raising interest rates any further – or at least slow the rate at which rates go up.

Meanwhile, the VCs bicker

The Fed was also the regulator for Silicon Valley Bank, a job where it appears to have failed, former Fed Governor Daniel Tarullo told Bloomberg. It’s not clear how much of what happened at SVB can be attributed to a 2018 rule change that relaxed requirements for regional banks, though the Fed is investigating itself and will issue a report in May.

“We must have humility and conduct a careful and thorough review of how we have overseen and regulated this firm,” Michael Barr, who will lead the review of the Fed’s actions, said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the VCs bicker. A statement from 600 VC firms called the bank run “deeply disappointing” and encouraged portfolio companies to resume banking with SVB.

Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund infamously told his companies to get their money’s worth, and while it wasn’t the only company encouraging withdrawals, Founders Fund partner Trae Stephens seemed to confirm that the group had a significant influence on the bank run. Rumors are also circulating that Thiel deliberately made a bet against SVB. That’s probably why someone at Founders Fund approached Axios about damage control: someone – I can’t imagine who! – wanted everyone to know that Thiel was not part of that decision.

Anyway, the blame game continues steadily, because it wasn’t just Founders Fund that stabbed SVB. “It is further speculated that both Sequoia and a16z subsequently followed Thiel’s lead in urging their portfolio companies to get their money out of SVB as soon as possible,” William Cohan wrote in Puck. “There are also reports that as early as December, Fred Wilson, the dean of the New York venture capital industry at Union Square Ventures, began telling his portfolio companies to flee SVB.”

The instability may not be over yet. Now Credit Suisse is looking shaky – and while it’s not a financial institution as concentrated on the tech world as SVB, it’s big enough to cause a stir all over the world of money. The Swiss central bank has said it will provide liquidity if needed, but nerves generally appear to be raw in the banking world. A problem with bank runs? They can generate more bank runs.

“I would like to formally thank my colleagues in the venture community, whose outstanding leadership has sparked a run on deposits at Silicon Valley Bank over the past 48 hours, ultimately toppling one of the most important institutions in our ecosystem,” said Brad Svrluga, a seed investor, on Twitter. “The ultimate failure was the hysterical social media push from VCs that undermined our shared ecosystem. It has been a stunning failure of leadership.

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