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Tracking fintech, banking & financial services innovations since 1994
Much of the technology world is puzzling over Microsoft’s moves toward a purchase of popular and controversial social media app TikTok. But more discerning observers may spend more time considering the ramifications of Apple’s $100 million acquisition of Mobeewave.
Based in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, Mobeewave enables contactless payment acceptance simply by tapping enabled smartphones (or credit cards) to another enabled device. Mobeewave’s app leverages NFC (near field communications) technology, a feature that has been on the iPhone since 2014, and could allow the devices to be more effectively used by merchants to process in-person payments. This spring, the company introduced its latest contactless payment solution, Mobeewave Limitless, that provides the varied authentication, regulatory controls, and Cardholder Verification Method (CVM) standards required by regulators in North America, Europe, and APAC when it comes to supporting high value contactless transactions.
As such, the acquisition puts Apple in competition with Square, which has been a leading innovator in providing merchants with a hardware/software combination to enable smartphone and tablet payment processing. The option of a hardware-free alternative – sans dongles and readers – could make Apple an instant player in the small business payments space.
Typically tight-lipped about its acquisitions, Apple said in a statement that it “buys smaller technology companies from time to time and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans.” We do know that Mobeewave’s team will be retained and will continue to operate out of its Montreal headquarters.
One thing that’s especially interesting about the acquisition is that Mobeewave had agreed last fall to integrate its contactless payments technology into Samsung mobile devices, and had expected to deploy the solution worldwide this year. Samsung is also an investor in Mobeewave, having played a leading role in the Canadian company’s Series B round in January. Mobeewave has raised a total of $26.6 million in funding.
ZenBusiness, an Austin, Texas-based company that specializes in serving micro-businesses, announced late last week that it has closed its first acquisition. The company has purchased fintech platform Joust in a move that will bring Joust’s business banking features to the ZenBusiness platform, and enable the firm to re-launch as ZenBusiness Money later this year.
The terms of the acquisition were not disclosed.
CEO and co-founder of ZenBusiness Ross Buhrdorf called the acquisition an opportunity to extend its “mission to provide the nation’s 57 million micro-businesses with exceptional and friendly tools that simplify the process of forming and running their business.” Founded in 2015, ZenBusiness helps entrepreneurs complete the necessary filing and paperwork to ensure compliant formation of their business, and provides a variety of additional services – from identity theft protection and business management tools – to help micro-businesses grow and expand.
Also based in Austin, Texas, Joust offers merchant services and business banking for entrepreneurs, freelancers, and the self-employed. The company, which merged with LoanDolphin earlier this year to scale mortgage reverse auctions, was a finalist at the 2020 SXSW Innovation Awards, and raised $11 million in funding prior to its acquisition by ZenBusiness. Joust was launched in 2017.
“We believe all entrepreneurs should have access to the same banking services reserved for large companies,” former CEO and Joust co-founder Lamine Zarrad said. “By bringing our financial tools to the ZenBusiness platform, we will quickly scale up and empower even the smallest businesses by simplifying and strengthening their daily operations while protecting their interests.”
ZenBusiness has raised $19.5 million in funding from 11 investors including Greycroft and Lerer Hippeau. The company was featured last December by The Jeruslem Post in its look at the top seven business formation services in the U.S.
Village Capital has unveiled the names of the 12 companies that will participate in its Finance Forward Latin America 2020 accelerator program. The incoming cohort will get five weeks of training to help them improve their business models and tailor their solutions for the current demands of the marketplace. The top two peer-selected startups will be eligible to receive $50,000 each in grant funding from program partner MetLife Foundation. Startups ranked third to fifth each will receive $16,000 in grant funding.
What do the 12 startups chosen – from an applicant pool of more than 140 – suggest about the state of fintech innovation in Latin America?
First of all, in some ways, the geographic distribution of companies is representative of what we see in terms of fintech’s strength in the region. Mexico has three representatives, Argentina has two, and Brazil and Chile both have one. Perhaps more surprising is the representation from Colombian fintech, with the country bringing five startups to the program.
Village Capital notes that the selected startups also reflect impressive gender diversity, with more than 80% of the participating companies having one or more female founders. The accelerator also credited the more than 40% of these companies that are innovating “outside major fintech hubs.”
The startups are involved in a wide range of fintech focus areas – from debt management and credit services to e-commerce, “buy now pay later” solutions. Many of these firms offer innovations that are particularly geared toward un- and under-banked populations. Among the more interesting startups in this category are Fundefir, a Colombia startup that specializes in bringing credit and insurance to the underbanked, and Quipu Market, also based in Colombia, which offers an e-commerce marketplace that enables informal microbusinesses to buy and sell locally using community tokens rather than cash.
Village Capital’s accelerator program features the support of PayPal and Moody’s, as well as MetLife Foundation. Since its launch in 2009, Village Capital has worked with more than 1,000 early stage entrepreneurs via its accelerator programs.
“The coronavirus pandemic has had devastating financial effects on low-income populations in Latin America,” Regional Manager for Village Capital Daniel Cossio said. “Now more than ever, tech-driven innovation can be at the forefront of helping small businesses stay afloat, families manage their income, and the region embark on what is bound to be a challenging recovery.”
Some of the more recent research on fintech in Latin America includes this February report from CB Insights, which helps provide context for the expectations many analysts had for the region at the end of 2019. For insights since the COVID-19 crisis, the May discussion published by Latin America Reports shows how fintech has played a “stabilizing” role in helping businesses and individuals cope with the economic and social impact of the pandemic.
Here is our weekly look at fintech around the world.
It’s been a good year for Varo Money. The company became the preferred destination for clients leaving Moven this spring, when the fintech announced that it was pivoting away from consumer banking in favor of a focus on its financial wellness technology.
Today we learn that one of Varo’s biggest goals for 2020 – earning a national bank charter – has been fulfilled. The San Francisco, California-based company has been granted a charter by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, and has earned regulatory approvals from both the FDIC and the Federal Reserve, making it now set to launch Varo Bank N.A. Varo is the first consumer-facing, U.S. fintech to accomplish this achievement.
“2020 has been challenging for many of us across the country and has highlighted, once again, how the traditional financial system is not meeting the needs of hardworking, everyday Americans,” Varo Money co-founder and CEO Colin Walsh said. “The ability to operate as a full-service national bank gives Varo more freedom to deliver the kind of innovation and allyship that many Americans have never had from their bank before.”
Launched in 2015, Varo Money offers consumers a digital banking alternative including a savings account with an initial APY of 1.21%, and a checking account that comes with a VISA debit card, and early payday for customers that sign up for direct deposit. Varo’s mobile banking app enables users to check up on their accounts and balances, make transfers and mobile check deposits, monitor incoming and outgoing transactions, and more. The company charges no hidden or overdraft fees for its service, and deposits are FDIC-insured up to $250,000.
Bank charter in hand, Varo will soon be able to offer a broader range of products and services including credit cards, joint accounts, and certificates of deposit.
A partnership between Nutmeg and TrueLayer will bring the benefits of open banking to the U.K. wealth management business for the first time. The online investment platform announced that it will leverage TrueLayer’s financial APIs to enable its customers to make faster, more secure payments to their accounts online or from their mobile device.
“The payments industry is still dominated by card payments, but bank transfers are the best and fastest way to get money into a Nutmeg account and therefore into the market,” Nutmeg Chief Operating Officer Matt Gatrell said. Unfortunately, he explained, the lack of a quality user experience has made customer reluctant to use this option. “With this in mind,” Gatrell said, “Nutmeg has worked with TrueLayer to launch Open Banking payments for customers – reducing a lengthy user process to just a couple of taps.”
Courtesy of the new partnership, all users will need to do is login to their bank, and confirm the payment to their Nutmeg account to make additions to their investments. Nutmeg said this will enable investors to get their money into the market quicker, and boasts that it is the first wealth manager in the U.K. to offer this account funding option, which TrueLayer CEO and co-founder Francesco Simoneschi called “the killer use case for Open Banking.”
Simoneschi explained: “Simplifying and speeding up processes such as payments makes a tangible difference to consumers. It helps them to have much more control and choice with their finances. This is a fundamental goal of Open Banking and another step forward in its wider adoption.”
Nutmeg has bigger plans for leveraging Open Banking than just bank transfers. In a blog post at the company’s website, Nutmeg Product Manager Charlie Masters noted that open banking has helped incentivize the company’s integrations with companies like Yolt, Emma, and MoneyDashboard earlier this year. “We see these new financial products as a great opportunity to improve the customer experience,” Masters wrote.
Founded in 2011 and headquartered in London, U.K., Nutmeg has been a Finovate alum for more than eight years. With more than $153 million in funding raised, the company includes Goldman Sachs, Armada Investment AG, Convoy Global Holdings, Taipei Fubon Bank, and Pentech Ventures among its investors.
If deal-making is a sign of the health of an industry, then the fintech business – global public health crisis notwithstanding – may be doing better than some suspect.
The latest signs of hi-life from the nexus of finance and technology comes from the news released after hours on Tuesday that Enova International – an online financial services company that provides financing to non-prime borrowers and small businesses – has agreed to acquireOnDeck in a deal valued at $90 million.
“This strategic transaction, which brings together two FinTech leaders, is a great opportunity for customers, employees, and shareholders of both companies,” Enova CEO David Fisher said. “Together, our companies will be stronger because of the complementary strengths and synergies of our businesses.”
Fisher highlighted both OnDeck’s online SME lending business as well as its ODX bank platform as being able to increase Enova’s “scale and resources” and drive continued growth in the company’s portfolio. Enova has nearly seven million customers worldwide and has provided more than $20 billion in loans and financing since its inception in 2004.
Of the $90 million total deal value, $8 million will be paid in cash. OnDeck shareholders will get $0.12 per share in cash and 0.092 shares of Enova stock for each share of OnDeck they own. The deal is based on the implied price of OnDeck shares of $1.38, a 90.4% premium on its closing price of $0.73 per share on Monday, July 27. Enova’s Fisher will lead the combined company, with OnDeck CEO Noah Breslow assuming the role of Vice Chairman and taking a seat on the company’s management team.
Breslow expressed pride in the progress OnDeck has made since its founding in 2006, pointing to the $13+ billion in financing the company has provided small businesses over the past decade-and-a-half or so. He said the acquisition was “the right path forward for customers, employees, and shareholders” and posited that the combined entity would be an even more effective online lender and a more powerful ally to small businesses.
The acquisition has been approved by the boards of directors from both Enova and OnDeck, and is expected to close later this year.
For those who may find North Carolina an atypical location for some of the country’s most innovative fintech companies, recall that many of these fintechs are benefitting from the proximity of the famous Research Triangle. This area of the state includes three universities – Duke University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and North Carolina State University, and has had a reputation as a technology hotspot since the 1950s. Hall of Fame caliber technology firms from IBM to Cisco Systems to Red Hat have made “The Triangle” their home over the years, solidifying the region’s high-tech reputation and helping attract new generations of entrepreneurs and technologists.
Recently we learned of big news from one of the members of this new generation. Cognitect, which provides engineering and software development talent and technology to clients in industries ranging from health and science to fintech, announced that it has agreed to be acquired by long-time client Nubank, a financial institution based in Brazil.
Cognitect founder and President Stuart Halloway called the company’s relationship with Nubank “a spectacular success story” for its two signature offerings: Clojure – Cognitect’s general purpose programming language – and Datomic – the company’s transactional database. Nubank currently has 600 Clojure developers, running 2.5 million lines of Clojure code in 500 microservices on 2000+ Datomic servers. “Cognitect has been there every step of the way, helping Nubank’s developers translate Clojure’s ideas into business agility,” Halloway wrote at the company’s blog.
The acquisition, according to Halloway, will pave the way for bigger teams for both Clojure and Datomic – technologies Finovate fans were first introduced to via our FinDEVr developers conference in 2016. In that presentation – and in the company’s return to the FinDEVr stage the following year – the Durham, North Carolina-based company demonstrated how its solutions enable companies to have more control over and insight into their data – including the ability to conduct analytics on real-time information without hindering performance.
Nubank’s relationship with Cognitect in general and Clojure and Datomic in specific stems from the Brazilian neobank’s decision to use those technologies to provide a data infrastructure for its microservices platform. The result, for Nubank’s customers, has been greater clarity and complete history on transactions, as well as insight into the origins of suspicious cyber incidents or problems with data.
“Because we use Clojure and Datomic, we’ve built a tool that has already moved beyond what many of our competitors do, and our speed of innovation – new features, continuous deploys – increases with every passing day,” Nubank CTO and cofounder Edward Wible said in a statement. Founded in 2013, Sao Paulo-based Nubank is Latin America’s largest fintech with more than 20 million customers. Cognitect is the firm’s second acquisition of the year, having purchased software engineering company Plataformatec in January.
Going forward, Cognitect will benefit from the continued leadership in its Clojure and Datomic teams, and the company itself will remain a U.S. C corporation. Datomic customers will continue to receive professional services from Cognitect, though the company expects to transition away from general consulting development. Customers also will likely get the next Datomic feature “a bit sooner” Halloway added, pledging to users that “the resources behind (their) software are greater than ever before.”
The investment will help the company to continue its international expansion – including the addition of new hires in the APAC region, the U.S., and in Australia. The company also plans to use the funding to fuel development of new products and functionalities, including a new payments solution.
“The prospect of transitioning to cloud native technology is now at the forefront of every major bank’s roadmap,” ThoughtMachine CEO Paul Taylor said. “Plans have been hastened in the wake of regulatory pressure, economic uncertainty, and the need to manage cost-income ratios.”
Thought Machine’s signature offering, Vault, is a modern, cloud-native core banking system designed for financial institutions burdened with legacy technology. Demonstrated at the company’s Finovate debut at FinovateEurope in 2018, Vault provides a secure, fast, and reliable end-to-end banking system that manages users, accounts, savings, loans, mortgages, smart contracts, and other financial products and services. By leveraging APIs and a microservice architecture, Vault is able to provide financial institutions with all the functionality necessary for bank operations. Currently geared toward retail and small business banking, the company plans to add both commercial banking and private wealth services “in the future.”
Named to the Tech Nation Future Fifty in March, and joining the Mastercard Start Path Programme in May, Thought Machine announced in June that its Vault platform was compatible with all major cloud infrastructure providers including Google Cloud Platform, Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, and IBM Cloud. Founded in 2014 and headquartered in London, Thought Machine includes Atom Bank and Lloyds Banking Group among its partners.
To steal a line from Rob Base and DJ EZ Rock, when it comes to innovation in fintech, it takes two to make a thing go right. Whether the “thing” is an end-to-end digital transformation or creating the technology infrastructure to enable firms to build and market their own innovations, collaboration and partnership with fintechs increasingly seems to be the path that the most forward-looking banks and other financial institutions are pursuing.
With this in mind, here’s a look at some of the more interesting recent partnership announcements over the past month – with an eye toward what these collaborations might be saying about the near-term future of fintech.
DBS Bank: Headquartered in Singapore. Total assets of $420 billion (SGD 579 billion) in 2019. Largest bank in Southeast Asia. Operates in 18 markets around the world.
Objective: The new build will allow the bank to develop “transformative intelligent applications” and to bring those solutions to market faster.
Orange: Telecommunications corporation headquartered in Paris, France. Fourth largest telecom in Europe and one of the ten largest in the world with 26 million customers. Total assets of $124 billion (€106 billion) and revenues of $49 billion (€42 billion) as of 2019.
Objective: Partnership will bring savings and micro credit services to underserved customers in Cote d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, Mali, and Senegal.
Lloyds Banking Group Headquartered in London, U.K., Lloyds is the country’s largest digital bank with 16.9 million active customers online and 11.5 million on mobile. Founded in 1765, the bank currently has total assets of more than $1 billion (£833 billion).
Project: Along with partners Google Cloud and Microsoft, Form3 will help the U.K.-based bank “investigate and develop” a cloud-payments-as-a-service platform.
Objective: The collaboration, which also includes a minority equity stake in Form3, will simplify Lloyd’s payment capabilities and support enhanced data and new overlay services.
Banca Ifis: Specialty commercial and corporate banking firm for SMEs headquartered in Venice, Italy. The firm has more than 130,000 retail clients in the country, and online funding and deposits totaling more than $4.7 billion (€4 billion).
Objective: Raisin’s customers in Germany will gain access to deposit solutions available from Banca Ifis. The collaboration will enable German customers to take advantage of relatively higher interest rates available in Italy.
Other fintech/financial institution partnerships of note this month:
Alternative bank Revolut announced late last week that TSG Consumer Partners is the latest investor to join its Series D round. The $80 million investment from the VC firm takes the London, U.K.-based company’s total for the current round to $580 million. Revolut noted that its estimated $5.5 billion valuation in February remains the same.
Company founder and CEO Nikolay Storonsky told Silicon Republic that the additional funding was an instance of TSG Consumer Partners making an offer the company could not refuse. He said that Revolut was not seeking additional funding when the opportunity from TSG developed. “TSG approached us with an exciting proposition to work together,” Storonsky said, adding that the VC firm’s track record of working with “some of the most successful and innovative consumer companies in recent years” was a major plus for the partnership. TSG Consumer Partners has funded companies like BrewDog, Smashbox Cosmetics, and Vitamin Water.
With more than 12 million customers around the world, Revolut offers consumers a variety of banking and personal financial services including a digital bank account with PFM tools, P2P payments, and interbank exchange rate currency exchange. The accounts also come with a prepaid debit card, early payday for direct deposit customers, and stock trading tools.
A report earlier this year from PwC highlighted the “changing competitive landscape” for fintech and banking in Nigeria. For those looking to learn more about both the growing impact of technology in financial services in one of the major countries in Africa, as well as the challenge created by COVID-19, PwC’s review provides an comprehensive overview.
The report also concludes with nine recommendations the analysts believe would encourage continued growth in Nigeria’s fintech ecosystem. These recommendations range from making it easier to invest in fintech companies to encouraging partnerships and “strengthen(ing) the synergy between banks and FinTech players” in a mutually beneficial way.
Financial inclusion is a huge part of both the challenge of – and the opportunity for – fintech in Nigeria. The report notes that more than 30 million adult Nigerians do not have or use either formal or informal financial services products or solutions. This represents more than a third of the country’s adult population. And while the report points out that mobile money operators have been among the businesses to help bring more financial services to the underbanked, there are some fintechs that have taken up the cause of financial inclusion, as well. A trio of these companies are highlighted below:
Bankly is a cash digitization and savings platform that caters to Nigeria’s unbanked. The company provides a digital wallet that is secure, convenient, and accessible, and all users require in order to open an account is a phone number. Bankly leverages more than 2,000 agents across 29 of the country’s 36 states to scale the company’s offering.
In operation for just over a year, Bankly has already picked up recognition from the 2019 Innovating Justice Awards sponsored by the Hague Institute for the Innovation of Law. The company has also participated in the GreenHouse Capital accelerator program. Tomilola Adejana (CEO) and Fredrick Adams are co-founders.
Covr Branchless offers banks, insurance companies, and government agencies a suite of applications that enable them to leverage cloud, GPS, and mobile channels to conduct a wide variety of financial processes. Account opening, instant debit card linking, cash withdrawals, fund transfer, billpay, KYC validation and loan origination are among the operations enabled by Covr’s technology.
Covr is owned by Advancio Interactive, a Nigerian technology company focused on sustainable financial access that was founded by Olufisayo Oludare (Managing Director). Covr won Advancio first place at the Startup Istanbul Challenge in the fall of 2017, only the second Africa-based startup to do so.
FairMoney is a online micro lender that provides instant loans from N1,500 to N500,000 (approximately $4 to $1,300), with average loans of about N12,000 ($33-$35). Using the company’s Android mobile app, prospective borrowers apply for financing by answering a few questions and providing some basic financial information. The app analyzes this information – as well as the borrowers geolocation and other factors – to make a loan offer in a matter of minutes.
But what makes the company especially interesting is the fact that it is working to launch a challenger bank. FairMoney raised $11 million in Series A funding last fall for this purpose and plans to expand its offerings to include current and savings accounts.
Here is our weekly look at fintech around the world.
Central and Southern Asia
Reserve Bank of India (RBI) encourages government to incentivize the use of QR code transactions and promotes the adoption of open, interoperable standards.
Amazon to offer car and motorcycle insurance in India courtesy of partnership with Acko General Insurance.
National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI) facilitates recurring payments with its new UPI AutoPay feature.
Latin America and the Caribbean
Brazil’s Central Bank reverses course to authorize payments system involving WhatsApp.
Payscout teams up with Brazilian fintech Rede Celer to grow its payments business in the country.
Partnership between FacePhi and Naranja X will help bring biometric recognition technology to digital onboarding processes for firms in Argentina.
Finovate: Ant Group’s Double IPO Listing Shuns U.S. Exchanges.
Trulioobrings its GlobalGateway identity verification technology to customers in Vietnam.
Crowdfund Insider takes a look at the impact of COVID-19 on fintech lending platforms in Indonesia.
Telco Orange and bancassurance company NSIA team up to launch Orange Bank Africa to serve underbanked communities in Abidjan and Cote d’Ivoire.
Vodacom partners with Ant Financial Services Group to bring Alipay services to South Africa.
Uganda-based digital cross-border money transfer startup Eversend raises $1 million via an oversubscribed Seeders crowdfunding campaign.
Central and Eastern Europe
Germany’s Scalable Capitallands $460 million valuation with new $58 million funding round.
Russian bank Tinkoffunveils new functionalities for its financial and lifestyle services voice assistant Oleg.
EstateGuru, a P2P lending platform based in Estonia, launches a new payment service in partnership with Lemonway.
Middle East and Northern Africa
Oman’s BankDhofar extends partnership with Diebold Nixdorf to improve the customer experience of its ATM network. Bank Nizwa, also based in Oman, announced an extension of its digital payments partnership with Mastercard.
Turkey-based online payments platform Mobilexpress secures $2 million in Series A funding.
Spotii, an e-commerce technology provider based in the UAE, unveils new deferred payment option.
Palo Alto, California-based insurtech Hippo Enterprises has locked in $150 million in new financing and earned a valuation of $1.5 billion. The Series E round featured participation from new investors Dragoneer and Ribbit Capital as well as existing investors Felicis Ventures and Iconiq Capital.
This week’s investment takes the company’s total capital to $359 million.
Hippo will use the funds to expand in the U.S., and to help cover the costs of its acquisition of Spinnaker Insurance, which the company bought last month. According to reporting in BuiltinAustin, Hippo’s expansion plans include building a “new, 310-person campus in Austin.” Company Chief Insurance Officer Rick McCathron credited both the city’s “strong insurance presence” and central time zone positioning as enhancements to Hippo’s ability to serve customers across the U.S.
The funding comes amid a flurry of activity in the insurtech space. On the acquisition front, insurtech company Assurance IO was purchased by Prudential Financial in a deal valued at $2.35 billion. We also learned this week that technology titan Amazon is entering the insurtech business in India. And earlier this month, one of the more widely known insurtechs, Lemonade, went public, earning a $3 billion market cap on its first day of trading.
Hippo, led by CEO Assaf Wand, is planning an IPO of its own as well. Wand said that the terms of the offering had been determined before Lemonade’s IPO, but the onset of the global health crisis forestalled the company’s plans.
Founded in 2015, Hippo currently offers home insurance in 29 states in the U.S. including California, Texas, Illinois, and New Jersey. The company leverages automation to enhance the process of applying for and getting an insurance quote in less than 60 seconds. Hippo also uses machine learning and smart home devices to enable customers to stay updated on liability issues. The enabling technologies also provide consumers with preventative maintenance tips that will help them resolve small issues with their homes before they become major insurance claims.