On 2021’s 100 Fastest-Growing Companies list, finance outpaces tech with one-third of the winners
On Wall Street, growth has long been reserved for some of the edgiest, most quickly expanding, and often tech-based companies. Think of any startups founded in the past 20 years that have come to dominate corporate America and daily life through cloud computing, e-commerce, or social media. Yet Wall Street itself upended convention during the COVID-19 pandemic, as the financial sector—including banks, trading shops, and lenders—grew to account for one-third of the companies included in Fortune’s latest 100 Fastest-Growing Companies list.
At the top of this year’s rankings is little-known Atlanticus Holdings. Founded in 1996, the Atlanta-based company, which was previously named CompuCredit, is a self-described “full credit-as-a-service provider” whose business has boomed as of late, thanks in part to its work helping retailers and other companies offer their customers point-of-sale financing. In other words, the company is involved in the “buy now, pay later” space, which has dominated headlines in 2021 and drawn interest from the likes of Square and Goldman Sachs. Over the past three years, Atlanticus has seen its revenues grow 69% on an annual basis, earnings per share jump 114%, and total returns to its investors skyrocket 168% (a list-topping figure).
Other financial companies that appear on this year’s list are investment bank B. Riley Financial (No. 2), speedy trading firm Virtu Financial (No. 32), and a number of community banks from across the country. The financial sector had the largest representation in the rankings with 33 companies, its second-highest total ever and a sizable jump from last year’s 24. The only year over the past 25 years when more financial companies made the list was 2017, when 35 did. (To be eligible for our annual list, companies must trade on a U.S. stock exchange and report results in U.S. dollars. For the full methodology, click here.)
Just two years ago, it was the technology sector leading the way, with 32 companies on the list. Today, tech has 19. Many of those are the very same names that have long been associated with growth among investors, including Amazon (No. 30), Salesforce (No. 37), and Netflix (No. 40). And though companies that made the list from the tech sector posted an average three-year annual earnings-per-share growth rate of 56%—the second lowest amount among the sectors represented in this year’s list—total returns among the fastest-growing tech companies far surpassed those in other sectors at 50% over the past three years.
California was the leading home to the newest class of Fortune's fastest-growing companies, with 20 members hailing from the Golden State. Northern California, including the hotbed of innovative and fast-growing companies that is Silicon Valley, was home to the majority of the state’s fastest-growing companies. Unlike last year’s list, though, Southern California has a sizable presence this time around with the entrances of B. Riley, The Trade Desk (No. 6), and Staar Surgical (No. 14) on the list. San Diego–based Neurocrine Biosciences (No. 15) posted the biggest earnings-per-share growth rate over the past three years.
Outside California, New York was home to the most companies on this year’s list at 10, including Etsy (No. 5), which has seen its earnings per share grow at an annual rate of 53% over the past three years. Following New York were Massachusetts, where nine companies on the list are headquartered, and Texas, where eight are based. The highest-ranked company located outside the U.S. was Kazakhstan-based Freedom Holding (No. 13).
While there were plenty of newcomers to Fortune's Fastest-Growing Companies (41 in total), the list was rife with long-tenured members, many of whom, like No. 90 Facebook and No. 40 Netflix, hail from the Valley.
Facebook now holds the longest streak on the list, having made an appearance for seven straight years. It has slipped, though—Facebook held the No. 52 spot a year ago. Whether Facebook can make it to eight years in a row largely will hinge on it addressing the swirl of questions that have bubbled up in recent months about its business and internal workings, including how it can keep the youngest social media users on its sites and continue to grow at a clip comparable to other up-and-coming social media platforms.
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See which companies made Fortune’s 2021 100 Fastest-Growing Companies list.