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Tracking fintech, banking & financial services innovations since 1994
Railz, an API developer that helps connect financial institutions and fintechs with their customers’ accounting information in real-time, has secured an investment of $12 million. The Series A round, led by Nyca Partners, takes the Toronto, Ontario, Canada-based company’s total funding to more than $15 million.
“While there are many players who focus on collecting data across various accounting packages, the challenge of understanding what the data actually means, and how to categorize it, continues to be a major hurdle for the users of this information,” Railz CEO Sohaib Zahid said. “Railz’s data normalization solution, coupled with our insights and analytics engine, is the secret sauce that can address this challenge – and tackle it more accurately and quickly than any other service offering in market.”
Also participating in the Series A were Vestigo Ventures, Susa Ventures, Plug and Play, N49P, Hack VC, Global Founders Capital, and Entrée Capital. The company plans to use the new capital to add more talent to its sales and engineering teams.
Railz offers a single API that integrates with all major, SME-oriented accounting platforms to enable on-demand access to financial transactions, analytics, and insights. The fast, low-cost, accounting-data-as-a-service solution gives small businesses the ability to be better served by financial institutions by giving them an easier, less cumbersome way to share their critical financial information.
“Businesses use accounting software as a single source of truth to record the financial health of their company,” Nyca Partner Jeremy Solomon said. “Sharing this data with another party is currently a manual process that is slow, expensive, and error-prone.”
With just a few lines of code, Railz claims that it can get customers up and running with its technology in less than a day. The company’s real-time financial analytics and insights offer risk scoring and fraud identification, in addition to standardized accounting entries that use a universal format for easier modeling and reporting. Founded in the summer of 2020, Railz says its customers have benefitted from up to a 53% reduction in costs and a 75% reduction in fraud.
How have financial services companies coped with the rising challenge of cybercrime in the Work From Anywhere era? We caught up with Tamas Kadar, co-founder and CEO of SEON, a cybersecurity startup based in Hungary, to learn how the company – featured in Forbes’ Hottest Young Startups in Europe – helps firms meet regulatory obligations and better defend themselves against fraud.
Tell us about SEON. When was the company founded and what problem was the company founded to solve?
Tamas Kadar: Founded in 2017, SEON was born out of necessity. Prior to its launch, co-founder Bence Jendruszak and I owned a budding crypto exchange, which was repeatedly hit by instances of fraud. We urgently needed a solution that would help us resolve the problem, but found that there were none on the market suitable for our business structure.
The problem was that most anti-fraud solutions in the industry had long integration times, lengthy contracts, and different packages for different sized businesses. We needed a solution that was more flexible and could be integrated and functional almost immediately. So we took matters into our own hands and developed a solution that would meet these needs. This later became SEON.
SEON’s services remove the barriers to fraud prevention that many companies face today. The solution can be integrated into business structures in minutes – a far cry from the usual weeks it takes for many mainstream solutions. It is suitable for businesses of any size, has a free trial period, and works on a rolling monthly contract, meaning that businesses can cancel and take up our services without being bound by long contracts – much like a Netflix for fraud prevention.
What in your background gave you the confidence to tackle this challenge?
Kadar: Having studied Deep Info Comms at the elite Corvinus University, where Bence studied General Management, we both had the knowledge needed to get SEON off the ground. It was there that I learned about the fraud tactics being used to get around the latest fraud prevention strategies. Having this insight, along with my technical know-how and Bence’s managerial skills, we had the confidence to move forwards with SEON.
It was clear that there were some pain points in the fraud prevention industry that needed addressing. We felt that we were the right people to do so.
Who are your primary customers in financial services and how do their needs differ from those of your customers in other industries?
Kadar: Neo banks, traditional banks, PSPs, buy now pay later (BNPL) and other fraud tech companies, account for about 25% SEON’s portfolio. The rest is made up of a whole range of different industries, including some of the most high-risk. Other sectors we serve include iGaming, eSports, cryptocurrencies and online trading, and travel.
The services we provide to financial institutions differ from others as they focus more on regulatory compliance, reducing cost when it comes to Know Your Customer (KYC) checks, and preventing money laundering. We also protect account openings, reduce customer acquisition costs, decrease bonus abuse, and flag fraudulent merchants using stolen credit cards.
By contrast, other industries use us to protect themselves against fraudulent activity such as account takeover, while we mitigate chargebacks for ecommerce merchants. We also prevent fraud surrounding ticketing in the airline industry.
Tell us a little bit about the technology behind your solution. What are the most effective tools for combating cybercrime?
Kadar: SEON has a number of solutions that are highly beneficial for helping businesses prevent fraud, including the SEON Sense Platform and Intelligence Tool. We draw on data from across the internet to establish customers’ digital footprints, weaning out false accounts and actively preventing fraudulent transactions from taking place.
Driven by transactional data, the SEON Sense Platform provides a comprehensive end-to-end solution for fraud managers that can be tailored to the individual needs of a company.
Meanwhile, our Intelligence Tool increases fraud detection accuracy with just one click. Users can simply enter an email address, IP address, phone number or location into the browser extension to get background information, which then enables fraud managers to see complete user profiles and flag suspected fraudulent ones. As a result, companies can detect fake accounts with ease.
These solutions address a number of problems in the fraud prevention industry. They can be integrated via a Google Chrome link or API within minutes, and as they work in entirely in the back-end, there are no added layers of friction for consumers.
In addition, our solution acts as a marker for the move away from the industries overreliance on artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) alone. AI and ML are often seen as a magic pill that will solve all of a business’ fraud woes and are left to resolve issues without the proper supervision. This impacts reportability because it isn’t always easy to establish the reason for certain decisions that a solution has made. Instead, our solutions are based on a supervised learning approach, giving fraud managers the information needed to make effective decisions.
How has COVID-19 impacted your company and its customers? What are your biggest takeaways from the experience?
Kadar: The flexibility of our solution has meant that we have been able to easily adapt to changes imposed by the pandemic. One of the largest changes we’ve seen in terms of fraud is the amount that is taking place. Many businesses moved into the online space in order to survive lockdowns and social distancing measures. The problem is that online fraud grows in line with online activity, so the amount of fraud that is taking place there has rapidly grown. As a result, our main focus has been on industries that have felt these changes the most – especially high-risk industries such as iGaming and eSports.
The solutions developed by SEON have made an enormous impact on the way our customers can manage, monitor, and mitigate fraudulent activity. Key to our ability to provide such solutions has been our open lines of communication with our customers. It’s important that newly digitised businesses understand that fraud prevention is an evolving practice and their feedback is vital to its success.
For example, our customers know they are encouraged to contact us whenever something changes within their business, be that a release of a new software update or simply a realisation that their customers often use other social registries that we haven’t been monitoring. With this knowledge, we can quickly begin developing new lines of defence.
What is the most important thing about the technology scene in Hungary that many people outside of the area might be surprised to learn?
Kadar: Setting up SEON wasn’t all plain sailing. Bias can often hamper the growth of startups outside of traditional European hubs such as London and Munich, meaning it’s difficult for businesses to secure the investment needed in order to scale.
This is especially true for Central Europe. Bence and I found this out the hard way. When getting SEON off the ground, we found that many European investors were skeptical when it came to startups from Central and Eastern Europe.
Still, we see launching SEON in Hungary as not only a blessing, but an advantage when it came to creating a unique product that the fraud prevention industry was desperately in need of. Being outside a typical startup hub has resulted in the company being more creative, more agile and, contrary to many seed level businesses, more resilient.
Establishing SEON in Hungary also greatly reduced our outgoings, allowing us to use the initial investment we secured to grow. This is because the talent pool in Eastern Europe met the needs of the business. It’s naturally abundant in people with mathematics, computer science, and AI-based skills, which has provided us with the human capital necessary to develop and maintain our fraud solution, without initially having to set up offices elsewhere.
You recently received a major investment – the biggest Series A round in Hungarian history. How important was this funding and what will it enable SEON to do?
Kadar: As part of the funding round, which was led by leading European early-stage investor Creandum, we secured €10 million (USD 12 million) in series A investment. This is a pivotal point in our company’s growth and will drive us in our mission to democratize fraud prevention by removing the barriers that many companies face.
With the investment, we plan to expand our presence in the U.S. and U.K., with the aim of having our London headquarters account for more than 30% of our revenue. We will also be shortly announcing the launch of our new U.S. office, along with our plans for the region.
In all, this investment will take our company to the next level, enabling us to not only better serve our existing customers but also provide our services to even more businesses across the globe.
Here is our look at fintech innovation around the world.
FinDEVr, our conference series dedicated to developers in fintech and financial services, is back. We’re saving the final day of FinovateSpring this year to shine a light on the role that developers continue to play in building and applying the technologies that keep fintech at the cutting edge.
Some of Finovate’s most illustrious alums have, in fact, been alums of FinDEVr. Among those at the top of the list are innovators like Plaid. The company, nearly acquired by Visa for more than $5 billion last year, was a big part of one of our earliest FinDEVr events in 2014 where it introduced its “API for Financial Infrastructure” to fintech audiences.
FinDEVr has also served as a platform for innovative fintechs not just from outside of Silicon Valley, but from outside the U.S., as well. An excellent example of this kind of FinDEVr alum is Nubank. Making its FinDEVr debut at our first developers conference on the east coast, FinDEVr New York, in 2016, the Brazilian financial services startup has grown into a major regional neobank and the biggest fintech in Latin America with more than 34 million customers.
For this year’s return, FinDEVr will feature a quintet (or more!) of innovative companies that are busying building tomorrow’s fintech today. Each company will provide both a TECHTalk and an informative workshop to dive deeper into the enabling technologies being discussed. Take a look at our current line-up below, as well as the topics we’ll be talking about.
Connecting Siloed Financial Data: Open Banking’s Impact on the Financial Experience
Join Finicity as they explore the implications of an open financial ecosystem, shifting control to consumers, what the impact is for technologists and developers, and how open banking is being leveraged to improve financial literacy and inclusion. Finicity will follow this with a workshop on how to leverage the power of open banking with a hands-on introduction to their platform. Learn more.
The Tango: Operationalizing Predictive Models, an Engineering and Data Science Collaboration
Instnt will examine the different workflows followed by data science and engineering and discuss why they must come together in the deployment and maintenance of application models. The conversation will be followed by a workshop on rapid feature development and analysis in the identity verification space. Learn more.
Simplifying the complex with an innovative tech stack
LoanPro’s TECHTalk will discuss the importance of a modern and secure technology stack that is cloud-based, uses a configuration first approach, and maintains security throughout the process. LoanPro will follow up with a workshop on how to connect with and build loans via LoanPro’s API in less than 90 minutes. Learn more.
Data for sustainability
What is the relationship between data, sustainability, and financial services? In their TECHTalk Ecolytiq will discuss how their Sustainability-as-a-Service model helps ensure that financial institutions have access to relevant, contextual information at the right time. After the presentation, Ecolytiq will lead a conversation on how to ethically manage different data assets, and how to integrate them into the decision-making process. Learn more.
Scalable fintech product development
How can product development teams keep up with the rapid pace of fintech product adoption while remaining efficient and keeping costs down? Praxent’s TECHTalk will examine this challenge in greater detail and highlight ways to resolve productivity challenges. The workshop afterward will feature best practices for identifying bottlenecks in the development process and how to accurately benchmark your team’s progress. Learn more.
We caught up with Taylor Burton, co-founder of Till Financial, one of the many companies that are innovating in the youth financial wellness space. The Massachusetts-based startup, launched in 2018, introduced its free, collaborative family banking platform this spring. At the same time, Till secured $5 million in funding in a round led by Afore Capital – which is where our conversation begins.
You’ve just secured a significant investment. What does the funding mean for Till?
Taylor Burton: It means an increased ability to positively impact the trajectory of kids as they prepare for launch. The group of investors that we assembled share our vision for how collaborative family banking should look—we are excited to continue to add more supporters as we scale our platform.
We are thrilled to have the support of like-minded investors including Elysian Park Ventures, Pivotal Ventures with Magnify Ventures, Afore Capital, Luge Capital, Alpine Meridian Ventures, The Gramercy Fund, SM Ventures (the family office of the founders/CEOs of Stadium Goods) and Lightspeed Venture Partners’ Scout Fund. Also participating were angel investors such as the founders of fintech Petal, the founders of alcohol marketplace Drizly, the president of Transactis, and the president of 1800Flowers.
We will be adding to our high-quality team in all areas that support our customers through their journey on Till. Marketing that provides the content to help families have the first “real” conversation about money. Development to accelerate our vision of what our product can be, plus integrate all the great ideas coming out of the Till user community. And customer success to ensure that a Till family is maximizing its experience on the platform.
How does Till help empower children to become smarter spenders?
Burton: Till is designed to encourage open and honest discussions between parents and their kids. The goal is to help kids learn by doing and to gain confidence in spending decisions. We do this in the following ways:
The right tools: Till equips kids with their own bank account, digital and physical debit cards, and goal-based savings tools.
Emphasis on community: A child can easily set up a goal on the app that they can use to start saving toward and give family members (such as grandparents, other family members or community members) the opportunity to help pitch in. This gives members of the child’s network an opportunity to support them towards their goals. After all, it takes a village, and Till helps facilitate that.
Visualizing financial responsibility: Kids can also set up recurring payments for different ongoing responsibilities or subscription services that will get them used to the concept of paying bills on a timely basis.
That being said, along with teaching kids valuable saving habits, we want to be advocates for kids to feel empowered in their spending decisions just as much, if not more. Parents and the traditional legacy banking options tend to focus mostly on a child’s savings. At Till, we believe that we need to prioritize preparing kids to be smarter spenders, while supporting them through savings and investing. On our platform, kids learn to spend with intention and purpose, while parents gain confidence and trust based on transparency and accountability.
What is unique about the method that Till Financial uses?
Burton: One unique part of the app are the financial agreements which allow kids to have greater agency and responsibility over their money. Parents can create agreements and tasks that encourage kids/teens to understand the value of every dollar. By visualizing the financial responsibility of earning every allowance, they are able to be active participants in their financial journeys.
Additionally, as families are more spread out over time, Till reinforces the impact of community by leveraging family, friends, and members of their close networks to help the child reach their financial goals. Till also offers merchant partners curated with kids’ interests in mind. As we continue to grow, we will have more opportunities to add on to this list and provide kids with more incentives.
How does Till make money?
Burton: Till aims to be “first in wallet” and “only in wallet,” unlike other card offerings targeted at adults fighting to be “top of wallet.” Till captures value (revenue) when we deliver value to our customers. Unlike other legacy banks—and even some early digital ones that often time charge monthly or subscription fees—Till is free to all consumers, making us accessible to all users.
Till earns revenue in three ways: We earn an interchange fee (like all debit/credit cards) for facilitating the transaction between our users on vendors. There are also affiliate fees. We want our user’s dollars to go farther. We are negotiating both broad and proprietary relationships with the vendors that our kids spend with each day. Our kids get access to discounts and exclusive access and we get a percentage when the kid does choose to make a purchase. Everyone’s a winner: the kids receive a steeper discount on items that they were already planning to buy, while the merchant gains a new customer.
Lastly, there’s origination. Consumers’ needs change over time and our ability to create the best outcomes for our families depends on focus. It is not Till’s intention to be a kid’s forever bank, just their first bank. With that in mind a Till kid should be treated with the respect that they have earned on our platform for positive financial decisions at launch. When the time comes for kids to leave the house and strike out on their own, Till introduces them to our launch offers market. There, they can receive preferential treatment on loans, credit cards, and adult debit/checking. The adult financial institution gets a better, more valuable client; our consumer receives the advantages they deserve for being of sound financial mind; and Till receives an origination fee.
How important are partnerships to Till’s business plan?
Burton: Till’s merchant and venture partners are interwoven into our business plan to seamlessly offer kids/teens and their families the best resources to develop responsible spending habits. As Till continues to expand their merchant partnerships, kids will have greater access to exclusive offers that they can use on items that they are already planning to purchase. These key partners include top tier brands that kids already shop at such as Adidas, Stadium Goods, and Dick’s Sporting Goods. And, of course, we also believe that the partnerships with our investors are a key component of the continued success of Till. We want our investors to share the same mission of empowering the next generation of economic actors.
What in your background gave you the confidence to tackle this challenge?
Burton: For starters, all three of us co-founders are dads and we’ve all had our share of financial awakenings whether with our kids or ourselves personally. That being said, Till is not just for us, but for the 50 million families that know there is a better way to raise a family; where financial conversations are collaborative not confrontational, and where all of our kids are better prepared for the modern economy.
On the company-building front, the founding team brings together everything needed to build a valued and valuable company. I bring expertise in direct-to-consumer products in a heavily regulated market (Drizly and alcohol delivery), coupled with innovation success in payments rails and merchant partners integration (PayPal and card-linked offers). Tom (Pincince) came to me with this idea after selling his third company. This serial entrepreneur has built a career by finding gaps and opportunities created by market movements and technology changes. And then Brian (Chemel), a multi-time technical founder equipped to marry the best of the old and the new to build a secure and scalable infrastructure backing a delightful and engaging user experience.
Looking back on 2020, what is your biggest professional takeaway?
Burton: We learned to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. COVID-19 impacted people’s businesses differently and when you layer in a fundraise and being an early stage start up, that can either make you or break you. In our case I think it really codified our commitment to our mission and vision and has ultimately put us in the position we are in now.
What can we expect from Till over the balance of 2021 and beyond?
Burton: Our first job is to become an integral part of millions of families’ every day financial activities. We do this by building an engaging platform that delivers both economic and social value. Along the way you will see Till add features that help parents and kids understand where they are on a financial journey and how their decisions can be rewarded by access to opportunities, experiences, and offerings. We are here to serve our users who are already helping us set priorities and guide us to new features and functionality. We are already getting requests for collaborative investing and philanthropic giving features, for example.
We are thinking big because the market is massive– there are currently 50 million pre-banked kids in the U.S. and yet, the average middle-class family in America spends $284,570 per child by age 18. At Till, we believe kids are a major economic force, as $18 billion per year is given by parents to children in the form of an allowance (mostly as cash). We recognize that they are influencers on larger family decisions, such as cars, vacations, etc. By putting the spending power back into the hands of young people, we want to be the driving force that replaces awkward family conversations about money with real actions and experiential learning.
A new challenger bank launched this week with the goal of serving the needs of Latin American consumers in the U.S. Built on Galileo’s payment processing platform, Miami, Florida-based Fortú is dedicated to providing culturally-contextual financial and banking services to the country’s growing Latino and Hispanic populations.
Fortú co-founders Charles Yim and Apoio Doca bring a combination of Big Tech savvy and global neobanking experience to the task of better serving the 22% of Hispanic adults who, according to the Federal Reserve, are underbanked. Yim is a former Amazon Web Services and Google executive with a background in business development and partnerships. Doca helped build a pre-smartphone era digital bank based in Brazil called Lemon Bank that was acquired by Banco do Brasil.
The Fortú team features both first and second generation immigrants with family ties to many of the largest Spanish-speaking countries in Latin America. Together they bring this experience to the cause of helping others negotiate the unique challenges many Latinos and Hispanics face when banking in the U.S.
“Compared to other demographics, Latinos in the U.S. are more likely to live in multigenerational and multilingual households, with a significant percentage needing to send regular cross-border remittances, leading to an over-reliance on non-bank financial services,” Doca said. He added that financial barriers for Latinos and Hispanics can range broadly from a lack of non-English language services to more mundane annoyances like the tendency to randomly truncate Latino names – many of which do not fit within the 24-character embossing standard used by most financial institutions.
Fortú offers a digital bank account that can be opened without needing a social security number; a Mastercard debit card; fast, no-hidden-fee international transfers (courtesy of a partnership with Finovate alum Wise), as well as the ability to deposit cash at more than 100,000 retail locations like CVS and Walmart, and make free cash withdrawals at more than 55,000 Allpoint ATM locations.
“By creating products to answer the needs of Latinos, who are more likely than the general population to be under- and unbanked, Fortú has set itself apart from other neobanks, while transforming financial wellness for the Latino community,” Galileo CEO Clay Wilkes said.
Fortú has raised $5 million in funding from Valar Ventures and other investors. The fintech’s banking services are provided by LendingClub Bank.
In the age of “diamond-handed” growth investors and message board stock jockeys, does anyone even analyze stocks any more?
Israel-based online stock research firm TipRanks is betting that the answer is “yes.” The company, which offers solutions that enable investors to quickly analyze stock market data and the performance of market analysts, secured a $77 million investment in a round led by technology group Prytek last month. The funding will help the nine-year old fintech take advantage of the surging interest in trading and investing by retail customers.
TipRanks leverages Natural Language Processing technology to review and analyze data from a wide variety of sources including analyst forecasts, financial bloggers, insider activity, news sentiment, and both the collective wisdom of individual investors on the platform as well as the actual investments by top hedge fund managers. A two-time Finovate Best of Show winner, TipRanks offers quantitative tools like its Smart Score for stocks and its Star Ranking System for analysts to allow investors to quickly assess a stock’s prospects or the value of a given analyst’s opinion.
“In addition to being the only company that ranks analysts based on their performance rather than the prestige of the bank they work for, we are the only company that makes aggregated analyst ratings available to retail investors,” TipRanks co-Founder and CEO Uri Gruenbaum said. “We analyze all finance-related news, corporate filings, analyst research, and social media to provide retail investors with the same level of information that only institutional investors can afford. By doing so, we enable retail investors to make data-driven investment decisions.”
The investment takes TipRanks’ total funding to $80 million. The company will use the new capital to add to its workforce, having experienced a significant jump in demand for its solutions in 2020. TipRanks noted that it has more than four million monthly users in the wake of a 3x boost for its subscription-based services last year. Gruenbaum added that TipRanks also plans to expand its research coverage to include other asset classes and markets such as cryptocurrencies and exchange-traded funds (ETFs).
The new partnership will also give TipRanks access to Prytek’s tools and datasets which bring greater transparency to online investment advisory. Founded in 2017, Prytek is an Israel-based multinational technology group that specializes in investing in new technologies and delivering managing services to companies in financial services and other verticals via its Business Operating Platform-as-a-Service model (BOPaaS).
Of all the trends accelerated by the global pandemic, enhancing customer engagement may be both the most critical and the most enduring as we transition toward a post-COVID world. In the latest edition of his Finovate Podcast, host Greg Palmer talks with Crayon Data founder and CEO Suresh Shankar about his takeaways from 2020 and what he expects from fintechs and their customers in 2021.
Shankar founded Crayon Data, a big data/AI startup, in 2012. The Singapore-based company helps businesses succeed by leveraging enterprise data to create digital-first customer experiences. Crayon’s flagship platform, maya.ai, enables businesses to boost revenues, reach inactive customers, and cut down on time and effort on low-ROI marketing campaigns – all by delivering highly relevant, highly personalized digital experiences to customers without compromising privacy. Crayon Data made its Finovate debut at FinovateEurope last year.
The Finovate Podcast is also a great source for 30,000 ft high observations on both the fintech landscape as well as the broader terrain of technological innovation. Greg Palmer’s recent conversation with futurist Nancy Giordano delves into what she calls the “Productivity Revolution” and its implications for fintech and financial services.
“There was a way we approached building the industrial era of the 20th century and prior that now no longer holds up and we have to have a really different way of thinking as we move into the future. ‘Leadering’ (the title of her new book) is the contrast to ‘leadership’. It’s a verb that’s dynamic and inclusive and caring and allows us to build the future that we really want to build … It sounds lofty, but it’s actually pretty practical.”
A guest lecturer at Singularity University, a ten-year TEDx curator, founder of Play Big Inc. consultancy, and one of the premier female futurists in the world, Giordano consistently underscores the role of the individual in times of rapid change and disruption. Her new book, Leadering: The Ways Visionary Leaders Play Bigger, connects the rise of innovative technologies with changing societal expectations to give individuals insight into what it takes to create human-centered solutions and long-term value.
In a round led by Meritech and Greylock, Canada-based fintech Wealthsimple has secured $610 million (C$750 million) in funding. The investment takes the online brokerage’s total capital to more than $1 billion, more than triples the company’s most recent valuation to $4 billion, and represents one of the largest financings for a Canadian technology company to date.
“Seven years ago, we launched Wealthsimple with just four people and a mission that many thought was naive: use technology and innovation to revolutionize the finance industry so every Canadian could achieve financial freedom, no matter who they are or how much money they have,” Wealthsimple co-founder and CEO Mike Katchen wrote on the company’s blog this morning. “I’m happy to say that our mission doesn’t seem quite so naive anymore.”
Also participating in the round were DST Global, Sagard, Iconiq, Dragoneer, TCV, iNovia, Allianz X, Base 10, Redpoint, STEADFAST, Alkeon, TSV, and Plus Capital. A host of Canadian celebrities were also involved in the funding, including actors Ryan Reynolds and Michael J. Fox; athletes Kelly Olynyk, Dwight Powell, and Patrick Marleau; and singer Drake.
Since its inception in 2014, Wealthsimple has grown into a firm with more than two million users who enjoy commission-free stock trading, automated investing, as well as access to cryptocurrencies and tax services. This spring, the company introduced its cash app, which enables Canadians to send and receive cash “in seconds.” Free and requiring no minimum balance to use, Wealthsimple Cash has been likened to Venmo, a popular cash app in the U.S. The app currently has daily spending limits of $5,000 a day and $20,000 a month; Wealthsimple said that this is significantly more generous than what is available through the big banks.
Wealthsimple’s investment news comes as the Toronto, Ontario-based fintech pivots to pursue new opportunities in the Canadian market (the company sold its U.S. investment advisory business to Betterment in March). During the investing mini-mania surrounding Robinhood and shares of Gamestop earlier this year, investors in Canada were weighing in by making Wealthsimple’s trading app the number one app on Canada’s Apple App Store and on Google Play. This ratings boost was accompanied by a 50% gain in sign-ups and a 2x increase in trading volume. The environment created by the global pandemic, according to Wealthsimple’s Katchen, played a significant role in the company’s growth; 18% of the country’s new brokerage accounts in the first half of 2020 were opened on Wealthsimple’s platform.
Like a growing number of fintechs, Wealthsimple also plans to extend its offerings to include cash, checking, insurance, and mortgage products with the goal of becoming the customer’s “primary financial institution“. The company initially earned its unicorn status in October, after securing an investment of $93 million (C$114 million). Power Corporation of Canada is the company’s majority shareholder, with a 43% of the company post-financing.
From U.K.-based Standard Chartered to Germany’s Deutsche Bank, banks around the world are adapting to the post-COVID world with fewer branches. In separate announcements only a few days a part, two of the globe’s bigger banking presences (Standard Chartered is the 44th biggest bank in the world by total assets; Deutsche Bank is ranked 21st) have signaled that hybrid workplaces will join digital transformation as defining aspects of banking operations in the future.
Standard Chartered’s announcement comes as the firm reports better-than-expected profits for the first quarter. The bank plans to reduce the size of its branch network to 400 – and move to a hybrid remote working setup – as part of a cost-cutting maneuver. Standard Chartered also announced that it will look to automation to “enable the re-shaping of the workforce.” Standard Chartered has a strong presence in Asia, Africa, and the MENA.
As for Deutsche Bank, company CEO Christian Sewing cited fewer branch customers and a growing preference for digital options among the reasons driving the move toward a hybrid model. Deutsche Bank expects to close 150 Deutsche Bank and Postbank branches this year with an additional 50 Postbank branches to be closed in 2022. At the same time, the company said it will introduce a hybrid workplace model for its employees that will allow them to work remotely up to three days a week.
Hybrid workplaces aren’t the only things that financial services workers will be getting used to in 2021. If the new employee training initiative from Spain-based BBVA is any indication, bank workers may find themselves being reskilled and upskilled just by playing a game.
BBVA has announced a new global reskilling and upskilling experience, The Camp, that is designed to enhance the employability of its professional workers. Part of BBVA’s learning model, Campus BBVA, the new experience focuses on 14 strategic skills that are taught using a digital, gamified environment in which the workers are the primary actors who determine their own development.
“The challenge of ensuring the survival of organizations entails adapting and being flexible enough for teams to be able to navigate this uncertainty and constantly incorporate the skills that are needed to promote the strategy,” Global Head of Learning at BBVA Pilar Concejo said.
Each of the 14 strategic skills has a different training itinerary. And each itinerary has three levels of specialization that uses a mountain-climbing analogy to assess the employee’s progress. Starting out as a metaphorical hiker, the employee advances from the valley (basic level) to the mountain (intermediate level), earning status as an “explorer.” Successfully advancing from the mountain to the summit (expert level) gives the employee the rank of “alpnist” – the highest level of specialization in the knowledge category.
“Gamification is a very important element at Campus BBVA, and now also at The Camp, as it allows us to design experiences in which employees feel much more identified and increase their level of commitment to the learning process,” Concejo said. “In the end, we try to ensure that the employee is motivated enough to move forward with their development in a continuous and sustainable manner over time.”
Here is our weekly look at fintech innovation around the world.
“We have built a world-class financial technology partner ecosystem which our clients can tap into as they build a future-proof bank,” Thought Machine CEO Paul Taylor explained. “The firms we choose to partner with are those that have built meaningful, ultra-reliable products that ultimately improve the banking experience for customers. We look forward to working with Wise to bring its industry-leading payments solution to many more financial institutions, and customers, around the world.”
To ensure cross-system interoperability, Thought Machine and Wise have built an integration layer that cuts down on the amount of development work needed to plug into Wise’s API by as much as 60%. The partnership is a response to the growing demand for faster, more affordable, and transparent multi-currency banking, and comes amid a broadening trend away from reliance on legacy core banking technology and traditional correspondent banking networks.
“Though the internet has transformed much of the economy, the global banking system has lagged behind and moving money internationally has remained slow, difficult, and expensive for most,” Wise Platform & Wise Business Managing Director Stuart Gregory said. “Our mission is to change this 一 a goal we share with Thought Machine. Our integration today makes it quicker and easier for financial institutions and banks to enable faster and cheaper payments for their customers and brings us one step closer to our mission of building money without borders.”
Wise is actually the second money transfer company that Thought Machine has teamed up with in the first half of 2021. In February, the company announced that it was working with TransferGo, who will use Thought Machine’s Vault to provide advanced platform capabilities that will enhance the customer experience. The company also recently forged partnerships with German software engineering company GFT to launch challenger bank BankLiteX, and with full-stack fintech solution provider Vacuumlabs, which leveraged ThoughtMachine’s Vault to power a virtual bank in Hong Kong. An alum of FinovateEurope, London-based Thought Machine has raised more than $148 million in funding.
A Finovate alum since 2013, Wise moves more than $6 billion every month, saving its 10 million customers $1.5 billion in hidden fees every year. Rebranding as Wise in February, the company unveiled its product roadmap earlier this month, highlighting new initiatives in customer experience, spending and cards, expansion, small business services, and security. The company offers a multi-currency account that enables individual users to take advantage of real exchange rates in more than 50 international currencies. Wise Business provides payment services including invoice payments, debit cards, P2P payments, and cash management to more than 400 businesses. The firm includes companies ranging from fellow Finovate alum Xero to challenger bank N26 among its customers.
Our all-digital spring fintech conference is right around the corner. Here’s a look at some of the luminaries who will be sharing their insights at this year’s FinovateSpring, May 10 through May 13.
Seven in Seven
For years, we’ve put our demoing companies to the seven-minute test. Now its our experts’ turn on the clock. Our Seven in Seven main stage session on Tuesday, May 11, gives seven analysts, innovators, and executives seven minutes each to share their insights into the most critical issues facing banks and fintechs in 2021 and beyond.
Looking for a 30,000 foot view of the fintech landscape? Our mainstage, keynote addresses examine the terrain.
The Pandemic’s Lasting Impact on Financial Services and What Comes Next
The pandemic pushed financial services companies to innovate and accelerate their digital transformations overnight. Hitting the industry’s reset button has created growing pains and increased competition for some and opportunities for others, including new customers and partnerships– but what does this mean for the future of banking?
Melissa Manne, Marcus by Goldman Sachs – Session – Bio
Enabling a Data-Driven Enterprise
To streamline and automate compliance activities, leading firms are now implementing an enterprise data fabric to bring together data from across the enterprise, reducing manual effort, increasing accuracy, lowering latencies, and simplifying operations.
In this session we will present a subset of the research findings, describe what top analysts are calling “the future of data management,” and how it is being used to streamline both compliance initiatives and accelerate strategic business initiatives at top financial services firms.
“Our mission is to help improve the financial futures of the next generation and we’re thrilled to have such a massive vote of confidence from investors, especially during Financial Literacy Month,” Step CEO and founder CJ MacDonald said. “Thirty-eight percent of teens say they lack the financial resources needed to achieve financial independence and this is a problem Step is well positioned to help solve as we educate millions of households every day.”
The round was led by General Catalyst and featured participation from an exceptionally diverse group of existing investors. This roster included Coatue, Stripe, Charli D’Amelio, The Chainsmokers’ Mantis VC, Will Smith’s Dreamers VC, Jeffrey Katzenberg’s firm WndrCo, actor Jared Leto, Franklin Templeton and NBA All-Star Stephen Curry. The investment takes Step’s total funding to more than $175 million.
In the time since Step launched in September of 2020, the company has amassed more than 1.5 million users of its financial wellness app. Step gives users a free, FDIC insured bank account, a secured spending card, and access to a P2P payments platform that enables users to send and receive money instantly. With 88% of the company’s users saying that Step is their first bank account, the platform claims that it is the only banking platform that enables youth to build a positive credit history before they reach 18 years old.
“For too long, conversations about money –– specifically how to manage it –– have been avoided despite what a critical role they play in shaping the future of the next generation,” actor, musician, and serial tech investor Jared Leto said. “Over twenty years ago, I set out to tackle this problem by starting a company in the space, so I’m excited to see Step addressing the financial literacy crisis head on with game-changing technology built to help young people learn about money in their digitally native environments.”
Step is headquartered in San Francisco, California, and was co-founded by MacDonald and Alexey Kalinichenko. The company’s financial solutions are backed by bank partner Evolve Bank & Trust.