What is Silicon Valley Bank?
What was Silicon Valley Bank to the world of startups and venture capital? Practically everything.
Conceived over a poker game between two of its founders nearly 40 years ago, the firm grew into the single most critical financial institution for the nascent tech scene, serving half of all venture-backed companies in the US and 44% of the venture-backed technology and health-care companies that went public last year. And its offerings were vast — ranging from standard checking accounts, to VC investment, to loans, to currency risk management.
The bank says on its own website: “There are many ways to describe us. ‘Bank’ is just one.”
As the world starts to assess the fallout of the biggest bank collapse since the 2008 financial crisis, here are the various ways the bank of Silicon Valley stretched its tentacles around the tech industry and beyond.
SVB’s most obvious services involved traditional banking. It offered the usual checking accounts, credit cards and money market accounts with up to 4.5% annual percentage yield. The firm also helped merchants accept payments for sales, issue invoices, manage subscriptions and establish recurring billing.
An Investor’s Investor
One crucial fact to keep in mind as SVB’s failure ripples across industries is that the bank was an investor in its own right. The company’s venture capital and credit investment arm has directly invested in several fund managers and portfolio companies for more than 20 years. The firms that have benefited from its money include: Sequoia Capital, Accel, Kleiner Perkins, Ribbit Capital, Spark Capital and Greylock.
The bank’s global fund loan banking book was comprised of 56% of loans to venture capital and private equity firms as of the end of last year. How that will affect VC firms themselves is unclear.
SVB was a pioneer of what is known as venture debt, a type of loan offered by banks and nonbank lenders specifically designed for early-stage, high-growth companies with VC backing. The vast majority of VC-backed companies now raise debt at some point from banks such as SVB. Among its other lending solutions were mortgage lending, private stock-based lending and partner lines of credit for companies. Its lending services extended to a host of nonprofits including charter schools, private colleges and mission-based organizations.
A Wealth Manager
In addition to being a lender for startups, SVB also took care of their executives, providing private banking and wealth management services including financial and tax planning and home equity lines of credit.
A Financial Adviser
The bank’s securities division caters to healthcare and tech-focused companies with services including M&A advisory, equity and debt capital markets, proprietary research and sales and trading. The company features a list on its website of more than 1,000 transactions it has been involved in — including as joint bookrunner, exclusive financial adviser and sole placement agent. It has long prided itself in being a one-stop shop for startups from launch, to seed feeding, to venture rounds, to major acquisitions and IPOs. “You won’t outgrow SVB,” the bank says on its website.
Once a startup is a part of the SVB “ecosystem,” it gains access to a host of events that bring together investors, other founders and people in the startup scene. For decades, it was hard to find a major startup event that SVB wasn’t a sponsor of — one of its many efforts that so deeply embedded the bank into the very fabric of startup world that some founders felt compelled to do business with the firm.
Sarika Bajaj, chief executive officer of early-stage startup Refiberd, said she chose SVB to reinforce the legitimacy of her business. “Everyone was like, ‘Oh you want to do SVB, otherwise people are sketched out if you don’t,’” she said.
A Winery Backer
One very California-centric role that SVB played: Serving as the top financial services provider to premium wine producers, mostly in Napa Valley, Sonoma County and Central Coast regions, but also in the Pacific Northwest.
A Foreign Exchange Risk Hedger
Among the lesser known services the bank offered was managing currency risk for companies that do business internationally. SVB boasted that it could hedge against volatility across more than 90 currencies with teams that cater specifically to private equity funds, seed and venture capital, late- and early-stage tech and health care firms.
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