Looking for an investment opportunity? Consider a company serving the underbanked.

Companies focusing on consumers with low to moderate incomes in the areas of financial technology and specialty lending were the subject of equity investments, IPOs and acquisitions with a combined value of $5.2 billion in capital over a one-year period, according to a new study.

Sponsored by Morgan Stanley and authored by the Center for Financial Services and Core Innovation Capital, the study tracked investment banking transactions between July 2012 and June 2013. Companies focusing on consumers with low to moderate incomes were involved in a total of 85 investment banking transactions during that time period, broken down by the authors into three categories: specialty credit, payments and other financial technology.

Specialty credit includes transactions like small-dollar loans, small-business loans, private student loans and subprime auto loans, and constituted 42 percent of the total activity. Next, the category of payments made up 33 percent of the transactions, with prepaid cards, remittance and bill pay. The last catchall category, other financial technology, filled out the remaining 25 percent of transactions with personal financial management tools, alternate data analysis and savings products.

Of the 85 total transactions, the vast majority – 71 – were equity investments. The remaining activity consisted of three IPOs and 11 acquisitions. Private equity was involved in 84 percent of all the transactions, totaling $947 million of investments.

Because the study was the first by the authors on the topic, they told American Banker that they were attempting to define the market and could not determine if the activity was an increase or decrease from recent years.

“This is a space we are newly defining,” Arjan Schutte, the founder and managing partner at Core, a $50 million venture capital fund that focuses on the underbanked market, told the publication. “Take payments for instance. Payments overall have been heating up for years now. We are drawing a new circle in a Venn diagram across various types of companies that serve a similar customer base.”

Why it matters: The study may educate the financial services industry about the potential profit from investing in the underbanked market. “We believe in a market-based system,” Rob Levy, director of research for the CFSI, told American Banker. “The [financial services] industry doesn’t understand or value this market and that’s why we did the study – to explain the need.”