Silicon Valley Bank collapse was ‘Lehman moment for technology,’ top Goldman Sachs dealmaker says

Finance

An employee gets into his car after arriving to work to a shuttered Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) headquarters on March 10, 2023 in Santa Clara, California.
Justin Sullivan | Getty Images News | Getty Images

The collapse of Silicon Valley Bank was a “Lehman moment” for the technology industry, according to a top Goldman Sachs dealmaker.

Cliff Marriott, co-head of technology, media and telecoms in Europe for the investment banking division of Goldman Sachs, said that the March 10 shutdown of SVB was “pretty stressful,” as the lender’s clientele scrambled to figure out how they would make payroll.

“That first weekend was a little bit like the Lehman moment for technology and it was really more operational for those companies,” Marriott told CNBC’s Arjun Kharpal.

“They needed access to capital. A lot of their balances were on SVB. And, secondly, SVB was propelling and making a lot of their payments for payroll to pay their employees.”

Founded in 1983, SVB was considered a reliable source of funding for tech startups and venture capital firms. A subsidiary of SVB Financial Group, the California-based commercial lender was, at one point, the 16th biggest bank in the U.S. and the largest in Silicon Valley by deposits.

SVB was taken over by the U.S. government after its clientele of venture capitalists and tech startups withdrew billions from their accounts. Many VCs had advised portfolio companies to pull funds on the back of fears that the lender may crumble.

SVB Financial Group’s holdings — assets such as U.S. Treasury bills and government-backed mortgage securities that were viewed as safe — were hit by the Fed’s aggressive interest rate hikes, and their value dropped dramatically.

Earlier this month, the firm revealed it had sold $21 billion worth of its securities at a roughly $1.8 billion loss and said it needed to raise $2.25 billion to meet clients’ withdrawal needs and fund new lending.

The future of SVB remains uncertain, even though deposits were ultimately backstopped by the government and SVB’s government-appointed CEO attempted to reassure clients that the bank remained open for business.

Marriott said that there is “still a big question mark regarding what bank or firm or set of firms is going to replace SVB in terms of providing those utility-like services for technology, giving them bank accounts, allowing them to make payroll, holding their cash balances.”

The SVB collapse has also raised questions over the potential consequences for other banks, with SVB being far from the only lender that has come under strain. Swiss investment banking titan Credit Suisse was rescued by its main rival UBS in a government-backed, cut-price deal last week.

Marriott also addressed tech IPOs and their outlook for 2023. Europe’s tech IPO market has been largely closed due to a confluence of market pressures, including higher interest rates, which make the future cashflows of high-growth tech companies less attractive.

Marriott said that he would have been more optimistic about a recovery in tech IPO activity two weeks ago.

“I’m still hopeful that we’ll see tech IPO activity in 2023. And if we don’t, I think 2024 will be a big year for tech IPOs,” Marriott said.

“I think what we’ll see is the more established profitable companies come first, so the easier to understand business models, profitable companies, before we see the really highly valued profit or negative profit companies that we saw in 2021.”

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