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Women-focused wealthtech firm Ellevest unveiled its newest offering today. The company, which was founded by former Merrill Lynch CEO and former Citigroup CFO Sallie Krawcheck, has expanded its online investing platform to launch banking services.
“At Ellevest, our mission is to get more money in the hands of women+ — because we know that everyone deserves the opportunity to build wealth, and that nothing bad happens when women have more money,” the company announced in a blog post. “Today, we’re launching the first-of-its-kind money membership designed to get more money in the hands of women+.”
The new banking services are available with an Ellevest membership, which ranges from $1 per month for the Essential plan to $5 per month for the Plus plan, and $9 per month for the Executive plan. All membership options include banking services, investing opportunities, and educational resources. Other services include personalized retirement recommendations and multi-goal investment accounts.
Members can access two accounts– one for spending and one for saving. The checking account comes with a World Debit Mastercard connected to an FDIC-insured account. The accounts boast no hidden fees, no minimum balance requirements, no transfer fees, no overdraft fees, and ATM fee reimbursements.
In the competitive world of challenger banks, none of these features stand out. However, Ellevest has created a bit of a cult following with its women-focused approach and content generation. The company has 180,000 followers on Instagram, which is 10x the number of followers that BBVA-owned Simple has, and more than Revolut, Monzo, and N26.
Ellevest’s gender-filtered approach further differentiates it when it comes to investing. The company’s personalized investment portfolio “includes a gender-aware investment algorithm that factors in important realities like pay gaps, career breaks, and average lifespans.”
Today’s announcement isn’t the first time a wealthtech platform has broadened its offerings to become a challenger bank. Betterment, Wealthfront, SoFi, M1 Finance, and Personal Capital all offer online-only checking accounts.
Ellevest was founded in 2014 and is headquartered in New York. The company has raised $77.6 million.
The following is a guest post by Natalie Myshkina, Strategic Business Development, FSI at Adobe.
Like many industries and businesses right now, financial organizations in banking are finalizing and implementing business continuity/contingency plans as well as enabling all employees to work from home. At the same time, they are diligently working to meet changing client needs and building new ways to serve clients. Beyond the operational actions underway, banks and capital markets need to start developing medium- and longer-term plans to address each element of financial, risk, and regulatory compliance, and create new environments to support the business in fully digital settings.
In late 2019, an Arizent survey commissioned by the Credit Union Journal and American Banker reported that only 30 percent of organizations have a digital first, enterprise-wide strategy and readiness. Other organizations are still in the middle or beginning of the digital transformation of their businesses.
While most organizations have business continuity plans, they have been heavily tested over the last few weeks. I’d like to highlight a few operational steps that are essential to consider now for banks:
Transparency and trust Continue to adjust a communication plan to quickly liaise with employees, customers, business partners, regulators, investors, and vendors. Keeping close communications with customers and other stakeholders creates the opportunity to strengthen the relationship.
Operating model Implement a dynamic, scalable, and flexible operating model to ensure business continuity in any scenario. For example, in the case of temporary closures, branches need to quickly train branch employees to provide online help or assist the call center in serving clients.
Remote services and capabilities Many enterprise organizations have an extensive set of workflow tools, document management tools, document collaboration, and electronic signature solutions in place, but they are not fully utilized. For example, one department in the organization may fully embrace digital documents and electronic signatures, while another department keeps receiving and sending snail mail. The solution here would be to review best practices and tools across the organization, understand the full capabilities of available solutions, and offer them to unit managers to utilize as immediate solutions.
Digital project prioritization Conduct project prioritization exercises, and speed up projects related to offering digital products and services (client onboarding, product enrollment, etc.) or operational inefficiencies. If possible, speed up time-to-market or release solutions with limited/partial functionality or limited integration points.
Organizational culture Communicating and fostering the culture that maintains employee morale is becoming extremely important, and it can be done in different forms: through top-down communication and leaders acting as role models, by encouraging grassroots initiatives, by providing platforms for team collaboration, creating virtual watercoolers, etc.
Peer communications Be in close contact with industry groups for information to get best practices and requests to obtain waivers from regulators if required.
The coronavirus pandemic is already leading to major changes in how customers manage their finances and how financial organizations support their customers. Next we would be seeing activities related to meeting changing client needs due to financial stress, supporting client activities in digital channels, rapid digitalization in commercial and corporate banking, and more.
Here are a few notable areas financial organizations should address:
Proactively address new customer needs To operate in the new environment, banks would need to rapidly meet different client needs and serve them in ways outside the norm. Scalable solutions to process and approve requests for forbearance, mortgage holidays, deferred loan repayments, etc. would need to be implemented quickly as well as quickly scale up the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) via the SBA program.
Branchless banking and self-service options in digital channel Due to the temporary closing of branches and reduced ATM availability and usage, the branchless banking or virtual branches idea is becoming more popular. As many interactions move online, expect to see more and more consumers want to use self-service tools on the web and in their mobile devices.
Rapid digitalization and digital service accessibility across all customer lifecycles stages For many organizations, their digital transformations began with onboarding new clients. But often we see that many other client touchpoints in the customer lifecycle are not fully digitized, and some require manual/paper steps. In the new environment, most of the client-initiated activities would be done on digital platforms. Automation is essential to provide clients with fast service and a consistent experience while keeping cost-effective operating model in place.
Expending successful digitalization of customer touchpoints beyond retail banking Over the last few years, we have seen substantial efforts and budgets spent on elevating customer experiences and moving clients to digital platforms. This has been done for many reasons, one of them was a demand from a digitally native consumer to have a better experience and the competition coming from neobanks (aka digital-only banks).
Commercial and corporate banks were behind this trend partially because the lack of these drivers and the complexity of the processes. In the new reality, we would be seeing a lot of rapid digitalization of customer-facing and internal activities in commercial/corporate banking and capital markets.
Data use, extraction and manipulation Going forward, the ability to extract and process data from multiple documents will be essential to manage risks and to create cost-conscious processes. Immediately, we could see requests for solutions to process documents to feed systems assessing portfolio health in stressed markets, or complete search thought legal documents.
Adaption of cloud solutions As financial services organizations have been behind the curve in the cloud solution adaption, this situation will trigger a revisit of internal policies and expedite further cloud adoption for both client-facing and internal solutions to improve efficiencies, eliminating the need for a larger security and maintenance staff, and creating cost-effective, scalable environments.
During these trying times, banks can best serve their clients by delivering products and services for business continuity today while working on business resilience for the future. Industry experts predict that the current situation will accelerate the digital transformation in the industry over the a short period of time. That time starts now.
Blockchain payment solutions company Rippleannounced this week it has signed Banco Rendimento to RippleNet Cloud. The addition of the Brazil-based bank marks the first bank to leverage Ripple’s cloud-based solution.
This news comes a year-and-a-half after Banco Rendimento joined RippleNet in 2019. “Migrating our payment infrastructure to RippleNet Cloud allows us to provide our customers with a best-in-class experience,” said Banco Rendimento FX Superintendent Jacques Zylbergeld. “Customers can now enjoy more transparency and easier navigation for both submitting payments and trading. RippleNet also allows us access to global partners, offering a standardized solution, and ensuring the integration and onboarding processes are seamless.”
Banco Rendimento considers itself a pioneer in the international payments space and is working to grow the payments ecosystem with high quality, fair cost solutions. With the implementation of RippleNet Cloud, the bank expects it will increase payment volumes by the first quarter of next year.
RippleNet is Ripple’s global payment network that connects 300+ financial institutions worldwide to enable faster, lower-cost payments. Currently, two dozen non-bank financial services companies, including Azimo, MoneyMatch, iRemit, Usend / Pontual, MoneyGram, and Viamericas, are clients of Ripple’s cloud service. And the customer list is increasing. Ripple reported that in the first quarter of this year, 81% of new RippleNet customers opted for cloud deployment and and 30% of all RippleNet payments are now being sent and/or received through RippleNet Cloud.
Earlier this year, Ripple announced that Azimo, in partnership with Thailand’s Siam Commercial bank (SCB), began leveraging RippleNet to launch instant cross-border payments from Europe to Thailand.
Ripple has offices in San Francisco, Washington D.C., New York, London, Mumbai, Singapore, São Paulo, Reykjavik and Dubai, and counts more than 300 customers around the world. The company’s payments network operates in 45+ countries across six continents. Ripple was founded in 2012 and has since amassed $294 million across 13 rounds of funding. Chris Larsen is founder and CEO.
Credit Sesame made the move to acquire STACK, a Canada-based challenger bank, today. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
The announcement comes three months after Credit Sesame unveiledSesame Cash, a digital bank account powered by STACK. After a successful pilot in March, Credit Sesame began a widespread rollout of Sesame Cash in mid-May. Since then, the company has onboarded more than 200,000 users to the new service. Now, as Credit Sesame reports, “the demand continues to surge with thousands of new accounts per day…”
Today’s acquisition will also help Credit Sesame expand geographically. The company’s financial management services will be available within STACK’s platform. The move into Canada marks Credit Sesame’s first step toward international expansion.
“Together with STACK, we are combining the power of smart banking and AI-driven credit management to create a new kind of personal finance,” said Credit Sesame CEO and Founder Adrian Nazari. “How much cash you have, and how and when you use your cash, have a big impact on your credit. Adding cash management to our credit platform was a natural next step to better help consumers manage their overall financial health, and it creates a unique benefit for our consumers and financial partners.”
The Sesame Cash account is aimed at underserved users and individuals living paycheck-to-paycheck. Some of the features include free daily credit score refreshes, cash rewards for improving credit, early payday, and real-time transaction notifications. The account comes with a Mastercard debit card that offers Mastercard Zero Liability protection, direct deposit, the ability to freeze or unfreeze the debit card in-app, and more.
Credit Sesame, which most recently demoed at FinovateSpring 2015, plans to launch more features, including a smart billpay service, transaction roundups to save or pay down debt, rewards programs, and credit-building opportunities. The company plans to reveal these offerings “over the next few months.”
Former STACK CEO Miro Pavletic is now Credit Sesame’s General Manager of Canadian and International Business. STACK’s former COO Nicolas Dinh and former CPO Ranjit Sarai have transitioned to serve within Credit Sesame’s banking services. STACK’s Canada-based employees will work out of Toronto, Canada-based STACK offices.
I feel the need to start this piece with a disclaimer: Racial bias and gender bias are two completely different issues. Both women and people of color, however, face stereotypes and suffer from wage discrimination. And though the battles are different, some of the tools used in the fight are the same.
While both women in fintech and ethnic diversity in fintech efforts have been around for half a decade, the women in fintech crusade has managed to gain a fair amount of momentum. There are now hundreds of passionate activists that promote women in fintech.
Even though the tech industry as a whole has a long way to go to achieve gender equality, the truth is that we have even further to go until we reach parity for black and brown workers. The following graph from Information is Beautiful shows the employee breakdown by ethnicity and gender at top tech companies in 2017.
The message is that the technology community has a lot of work to do. Each of us– not only as companies, but also as individuals– has a responsibility to take concrete action to help elevate ethnic diversity within our industry.
The movement to promote women has already begun to successfully create change and growth in the fintech industry. Here are a few things that are working for gender diversity that we can use to further promote ethnic diversity.
Organized member associations
While it can be difficult to know where to start, perhaps begin with a simple action such as following more black and brown voices on social media to hear perspectives you might not otherwise hear. You can also become a member of an existing organization, such as Blacks in Technology, or simply donate to the cause. Small actions will add up and change begins with individuals.
Facebook-owned messaging giant WhatsApp announced today that users in Brazil can now send payments within its app.
The digital payments capabilities, powered by Facebook Pay, will allow users to send P2P payments to friends for no fee. The app also facilitates payments between WhatsApp users and businesses, but charges the business a 3.99% transaction fee.
With 120 million monthly active WhatsApp users, Brazil seems to have cut in line in front of India, which counts 400 million monthly active WhatsApp users, for the payments service. However, according to TechCrunch, WhatsApp has had difficulty sorting through regulations in India.
In the way of security, WhatsApp requires a 6-digit PIN or fingerprint to authenticate transactions. WhatsApp is working with Banco do Brasil, Nubank, and Sicredi to accept Visa and Mastercard debit or credit cards. Latin America’s largest payment systems company, Cielo, was chosen to be the payments processor.
There is no word on further international expansion for WhatsApp’s in-app payment capabilities.
CNBC reported today that Quicken Loans is planning to go public this year. Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, Credit Suisse and JPMorgan are helping manage the deal.
Founded in 1985 by Dan Gilbert, Quicken Loans has risen to the ranks of the largest mortgage lender in the U.S. It’s unclear what the company will be priced. However, as CNN explained, “The targeted valuation is still being decided, but it is likely in the tens of billions of dollars… That would imply a multi-billion-dollar IPO, one of the largest – if not the largest – this year.”
The spike in mortgage refinances has been beneficial to the Michigan-based company. In April, Quicken Loans experienced the biggest month in its history, closing $21 billion in mortgages.
There is no official word on when (or if) the IPO will take place, but CNBC reports the offering could take place as early as next month.
In some parts of the globe, cities are slowly relaxing their social distancing guidelines. Businesses are beginning to open up and residents are once again venturing out to offices and into storefronts.
Some tech companies have made the move to become remote-first, keeping employees out of physical offices for the foreseeable future. Banks, however, face regulatory scrutiny over communication and documentation, and can’t allow their employees to work from home as easily.
So as many begin to let their guard down, where do a bank’s responsibilities lie in regard to maintaining a safe, virus-free work environment and branch location?
As with everything, the buck stops with the banks’ leadership. They are responsible for not only heeding guidelines from their local and federal governments, but also for understanding concerns of their customers and employees. To answer the question in the title, no, banks don’t necessarily need a chief medical officer. They do, however, need to appoint a person or a group responsible for creating safety measures around their branch and workplace.
The first step in doing this (aside from abiding by governmental guidelines) is to listen to the concerns of customers and of employees. While some may be ready to show up to the office or branch with minimum precaution, others may request increased social distancing in the office and curbside services at the branch.
Listening to these concerns will offer a clearer picture of next steps and a timeline. Options include offering individual cubicles separated by plexiglass, monitoring employee temperatures, increasing cleaning frequency to once-a-day, limiting the number of employees in the office and rotating work-from-home schedules, limiting customer numbers in the branch, requiring face masks, increasing sick leave for employees, etc.
If a requirement such as taking temperatures at the door arises that no one on the team feels comfortable with, hire an outside medical specialist. And if all of the new protocols seem completely overwhelming, banks should consider bringing on a consultant to help with things like deep cleaning protocols, updated health and safety plans, and emergency response plans.
Would it hurt to hire a Chief Medical Officer? Certainly not. But by listening to employees and clients and applying some creativity, banks can come up with a workable solution that helps both employees and customers feel safe.
Symbiotic relationships, like the way bees help flowers pollinate while harvesting nectar to feed their colonies, can be found all over nature. They are also quite common in fintech.
The latest example of fintech symbiosis is today’s partnership between Amazon and Goldman Sachs. CNN reported this morning that Amazon revealed a lending program for U.S.-based small businesses that sell on its platform.
Goldman’s Marcus will offer revolving credit lines of up to $1 million. The loans will carry an annual interest rate of 6.99% to 20.99%. Minimum payments are due on a two-week cycle and if borrowers don’t use at least 30% of the funds, they are charged a maintenance fee.
Interestingly, the new offering will compete with Amazon’s existing small business lending product, which it launched with Bank of America in early 2018. According to CNN, last year Amazon loaned more than $1 billion to 14,000 sellers.
Goldman, which will service the lines of credit, will underwrite the loans using merchant data collected by Amazon (if the seller agrees to share their data). As CNN pointed out, this is a rare move by Amazon, which, “has kept a tight rein on its small business lending program, using algorithms and closely guarded sales data to determine who could use a loan.”
The data sharing doesn’t extend past lending opportunities, however. Goldman will only use seller data for lines of credit and will not use it to cross-sell other products or services. Additionally, Amazon won’t be able to access the data that Goldman collects from prospective borrowers.
The move makes Amazon the latest third party on Goldman’s list of partners for its Marcus brand, which caters to a younger and generally less wealthy client base. Furthermore, the partnership accelerates the bank’s mission to make Marcus a banking-as-a-service provider for third parties. Marcus’ existing partners include Apple, JetBlue, Intuit, and AARP.
The following is a guest post by Jake Rheude, Vice President of Marketing for order fulfillment companyRed Stag Fulfillment.
Fintech has dramatically shifted the way people and enterprises use and move money, and that’s increasingly impacting the world of ecommerce. While logistics is typically thought of a sloth when it comes to adopting innovative technologies, fintech may be a unique case because of the savings it generates, protection it offers, and where demands for adoption come from now.
The landscape is changing, and ecommerce is shifting in significant ways that are important to learn. If you’re in fintech, here are some major opportunities for your next solution.
Validation and KYC compliance
There’s a growing call for ecommerce brands and marketplaces to start focusing on better know your customer (KYC) compliance and services. Online payment fraud continues to rise and the European Payments Council notes that threats are demonstrating a greater degree of professionalism of cybercriminals.
Ecommerce companies are tantalizing targets as they grow larger or when it’s discovered that they lack significant security measures. KYC validation provides a very early deterrent by help collect and verify specific user information — from face IDs and credit card numbers to requirements to use only a verified current address.
It’s a security measure that ecommerce companies are happy to adopt. The lane for fintechs to work here is facilitating KYC programs (and even related AML regulatory checks) within their offering. In a growing number of cases, KYC is baked into fintech solutions, easing the burden on ecommerce and providing greater protection while also making it more of an industry standard.
Stores are looking beyond borders
Ecommerce makes more goods available to more people, regardless of where the company or the customer are. Early fintech helped establish the pathway that ecommerce-focused solutions are taking now.
SWIFT gpi (global payments initiative) made it easier for banks to manage and trace these payments. In early 2019, SWIFT announced a specific gpi link for ecommerce that included plans to use R3’s blockchain technology.
While much of the focus is on support bank payments and activities, this shift provides a unique opportunity for large ecommerce brands as well as those near country borders. When this or similar platforms become available, a company may not need a presence in another country to expand its reach there. Fast, affordable payment management could make it easier for ecommerce companies to work with a variety of payment providers for both their interactions with customers as well as supply chain partners.
One of the more exciting fintech innovations for ecommerce companies is coming to stores near you. A well-known example comes from the Oxxo convenience stores in Mexico. More than half of Mexico’s shopping population lack bank accounts, but they still want to shop online. So, they make a purchase from select online merchants and then go to their nearby Oxxo store and pay for the products they selected. Someone who only has physical cash and no bank account is able to buy goods only sold online.
It’s a “low-tech” solution that takes innovative fintechs to pursue. It’s also an extremely rich opportunity. According to 2017 data, there are about 1.7 billion unbanked adults in the world. There’s a good chance, however, that this group overlaps with the ever-growing number of Internet users (about 4.54 billion as of January 2020).
We know about two-thirds own a phone, so as these consumers shift to smartphones and gain access, there’s a big place for fintechs to support ecommerce growth.
Better behind-the-scenes payments
Ecommerce relies heavily on the logistics sector and these both interest with fintech at multiple locations for every sale. The problem with all the financial movement of payments, insurance, product handoffs, etc., is that there’s a lot of opportunity for receipts and bills to go missing. Sometimes it is accidental, other times fraud.
Fintech services that aim to automate payment processing during handoffs can protect everyone. This potential is growing with the adoption of more supply chain DLT offers. Ecommerce companies are part of this when their fulfillment partners, suppliers, and manufacturers join such blockchains.
This cost-reduction and risk mitigation is often felt most by the carrier. The move into ecommerce is likely going to be driven by these carriers and logistics partners.
APIs will shape the future
In many emerging fintechs, as well as regtech (regulatory technology), the API dominates the way information is collected, used, shared, and reported. They simplify the way banks and fintechs interact with each other as well as how ecommerce companies manage payments and budgets.
Today, API use is somewhat limited, and most ecommerce merchants won’t think much about it beyond if a payment API integrates with their platform or not. However, this is likely the area of most impact for our future, even if we can’t see what that will be. It’s likely to be beyond simply moving to the cloud.
One possibility will be their ability to connect fintech and ecommerce companies in a way that customers don’t see a difference. Right now, if you shop on Amazon, you might get an offer like saving 10% by opening up an Amazon-branded credit card. API innovations could allow any ecommerce company, of any size, to offer the same based on user data.
Imagine instant (digital) point-of-sale consumer loans and financing, loyalty programs that work across merchant categories, mobile wallet integration, and more.
What might be the biggest fintech revolution, and one we hope to see, is easing ecommerce company requirements. Adopting a platform API might be all a company needs to do now to get continual access to the latest security updates and payment options when the fintechs that build these innovations join the API community.
APIs already run significant warehouse and fulfillment operations, meaning there’s a goldmine of data to be leveraged for everyone at the table, if fintechs make it easy for ecommerce companies.
Budgeting and financial comparison platform Status recently made a tweak to its business model. Company Founder and CEO Majd Maksad recently sent an email to users saying that the company launched a premium membership option.
The app will still offer free access but the premium membership unlocks advanced features and the ability to earn cash rewards for simply using the app. Interestingly, the premium membership will be income-based. Maksad explained, “The app remains free for everyone– but depending on your income, you may be asked to make a contribution to access the Premium features and rewards. You can choose your own contribution amount based on what you think is fair.”
Users can choose contribution levels ranging from $1 per month to $20 per month. However, if the user opts to contribute $1 or $2 per month, they receive a message saying, “A little goes a long way. Please consider contributing $3 or more.”
The premium option unlocks most of the features users were previously enjoying for free. In the screenshot below, the yellow locks in the sidebar show the features behind the paywall.
Status noted that it didn’t take lightly the decision to add a fee. However, the company said that the additional revenue is “crucial” for it to develop new features. “Any contribution you choose to make will also help us continue serving lower income members for free,” Maksad added.
Status’ main business model relies on referral partnerships with companies including Airbnb, AllState, Liberty Mutual, Betterment, VSP, and Haven Life. However, with the VC funding forecast looking bleak, the company probably realized it needed an alternative way to generate capital in order to stay afloat and invest more into the product.
Not that we didn’t see it coming, but the National Bureau of Economic Research officially declared yesterday that the U.S. entered into a recession in February.
With the market volatility over the past few months, many investors have attempted to assess how the changes will impact their retirement plans. Seeing the need to offer peace amid uncertainty, Personal Capital made a move last month to help investors prepare their portfolios for the worst.
The company added a new tool, Recession Simulator, to its dashboard. The feature helps its U.S. users illustrate the effects that historical recessions would have on their portfolio. Currently the Recession Simulator allows users to mimic returns of the DotCom crash of 2000 and the Financial Crisis of 2008.
“With uncertainty around the market’s performance and overall economy, we want to continue to be a catalyst for providing individuals the necessary tools and insights to best position themselves to reach their financial goals under volatile market conditions,” said Personal Capital EVP for Advisory Service, Kyle Ryan.
The retirement dashboard also incorporates expected return and volatility, annual savings, income events, spending goals, retirement spending, social security, and tax rules for taxable, tax-deferred, and tax-free investment accounts. My favorite aspect of Personal Capital’s retirement tool is that it allows users to generate different scenarios to simulate retirement income under multiple circumstances. It helps users to easily compare situations such as: What if there is a recession every 10 years? What if I sell my rental property at age 50? What if I pay for a child’s tuition?
The new Recession Simulator tool is the result of a company-wide hackathon, and according to Personal Capital’s recent survey, it comes at a good time. The survey found that around 40% of people indicating they were planning to retire within the next 10 years have decided to delay their retirement. It also uncovered that around 77% of the respondents who are at least 10 years away from retirement expressed some concern about COVID-19’s impact on their retirement goals.
A Finovate alum since 2011, Personal Capital has amassed $12.3 billion in assets under management since it was founded in 2009. The company has 24,000 investment clients across the U.S. and 2.5 million registered users of its free financial planning tools.