Fintech, Financial Services and the Case for 5G

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There were more than a few provocative presentations at FinovateAsia last fall. And Celent’s Dan Latimore was the man responsible for delivering one of them. Latimore, who is Senior Vice President of Celent’s Banking group, weighed in on a topic that is increasingly on the minds of technology analysts inside and out of fintech: the impact of 5G (which stands for “fifth generation wireless”) on financial services.

“Banks need to think about the implications of being able to access really heavy compute power remotely and centrally, whether it’s over the cloud or on premises,” he said during his presentation on 5G late last year. “What that does is turn every device into a thin client- which will have some very interesting implications.”

Dan Latimore returns to the Finovate stage next month in Berlin for FinovateEurope. He will host an afternoon interactive Q&A session titled What’s Hot: Money Disrupt on February 11, and later will share his views on “What’s Hot & What’s Not in Fintech” as part of our Analyst Insight showcase on February 12. Check out our FinovateEurope conference page for more details.

Calling 5G “something banks aren’t even thinking about,” Latimore said, “we believe the effects of 5G are going to be subtle and profound over time.” He dared indulge the “superhighway” metaphor – previously coined to describe the rise of the Internet in the late 1990s – to compare the potential of 5G with its predecessor technology 4G (to say nothing of the “dirt road” that was 3G). Relative to 3G, he noted, 5G’s “fiber over the air” approach represents a 26,000x improvement in speed, as well as major improvements in capacity and latency (“the time it takes for the stimulus to create a response”).

For reference, the first commercial 3G networks were introduced in 2000. The first commercial 4G networks were introduced less than ten years later in 2009.

While it is generally (though not universally) acknowledged that 5G will represent major opportunities for innovation in a variety of industries – from entertainment to autonomous vehicles to the Internet of Things (IoT) – many observers have overlooked the potential impact of 5G on financial services. Because 5G will enable mobile devices to serve as thin clients which can simply “point back” to the backend server, Latimore explained, banks will be able to leverage massive computing power to provide everything from centralized updates and better contextual advice to personalized interfaces on ATMs.

To this point, Latimore indicated that 5G would be one of the key avenues toward a post-smartphone future, as well. “Don’t forget about wearables,” he warned, “because that’s now a thin client that can be a much more viable way for people to interact with their bank, probably activated by voice.”

Check out more from Dan Latimore on 5G, including the shift from hardware spend to data spend, how institutions can negotiate the transition from 4G to 5G, the potential for new security challenges, and more. Celent subscribers can access his report. To see his presentations live next month at FinovateEurope, visit our registration page and pick up your ticket today.


Demo spots for FinovateEurope are still available! If you’re a fintech company with innovative, problem-solving technology, FinovateEurope is your opportunity to show the world!

Contact our Event Team today for more information on how to join us on stage as a demoing company at FinovateEurope next month in Berlin!

Visa’s Tap to Phone Brings Contactless Payments to mPOS

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With Visa’s Tap to Phone app arriving pre-installed on the new, enterprise grade smartphone from Samsung, a broad range of merchants will have access to yet another way to accept payments from customers. The solution works with any Android smartphone and enables everyone from microbusiness owners to retail sales professionals to make on-the-spot transactions with customers without relying additional hardware.

Visa’s Tap to Phone technology enables consumers to make payments in seconds by tapping their contactless payment card – or smartphone or smartwatch – against the vendor’s Tap-to-Phone enabled smartphone. And because it is built on an EMV chip transaction, Tap to Phone is able to generate the same dynamic security for transactions as a traditional terminal does, ensuring both parties that the transaction is secure.

Visa notes that its Tap to Phone technology is currently being piloted in more than nine markets, including in Canada, the U.K, Ukraine, Turkey, Costa Rica, and Malaysia. Additional pilots are scheduled for Poland, Australia and a few other countries “over the next several months.”

Samsung has selected its Galaxy XCover Pro enterprise smartphone to be integrated with Visa’s Tap to Phone technology. The company expects the combination to be valuable in a variety of verticals both within and beyond ecommerce, such as logistics and healthcare.

“The Samsung Galaxy XCover Pro is a robust retail POS platform for a true retail digital transformation,” Visa’s Head of Seller Solutions Mary Kay Bowman said. “Its applications for businesses such as healthcare, airlines, and restaurants are a great example of how Visa together with Samsung can democratize access to payment experiences that consumers increasingly expect, no matter where they are.”

Samsung has demonstrated its technology on the Finovate stage, teaming up with Fiserv to provide biometric authentication for the payment giant’s Commercial Center: Security solution at FinovateFall 2018. Visa participated in our developers conference, FinDEVr Silicon Valley in 2014, discussing “The Future of Commerce” and introducing its API-less, Visa Checkout integration solution.

Mastercard Leverages AR to Offer Virtual Tour of Card Rewards

Starting in Q2 of this year, Mastercard customers will be able to get a new, “augmented” understanding of the benefits and rewards available to them as cardholders. The augmented reality app, announced by Mastercard late last week, will offer cardholders a virtual tour of three different portals representing Mastercard’s three reward categories: Experiences, Everyday Value, and Peace of Mind.

Each category inside Mastercard’s augmented reality environment has its own appearance: a home setting for Everyday Value, for example, and a spa for Peace of Mind. Within each portal is a virtual room with various benefits denoted with representative symbols and avatars (i.e, tapping on a golf club image generates a pop-up option to explore Mastercard’s Priceless Golf benefits).

Mastercard chief marketing and communications officer Raja Rajamannar put the app in the broader context of the company’s ongoing efforts to provide more engaging, interactive experiences. “At Mastercard, we’re using our technology and solutions to deliver multi-sensory experiences for consumers every day – whether they’re shopping, taking transit, or exploring the card benefits they care about,” Rajamannar said.

AR as a marketing solution for fintechs is a use case familiar to Finovate audiences. Alums ranging from ebankIT (and its parent company, ITSector) to Fiserv has demonstrated how they have leveraged AR to deliver compelling marketing content to customers.

Augmented reality in fintech will featured in a keynote address at FinovateEurope in Berlin next month. When Will AR & VR Become Meaningful Tools in Customer Engagement? will be held on Tuesday, February 11 on the Future Tech Industry Stage.

On Finovate.com

2020: A Breakout Year for Fintech in Emerging Markets? – From major investments in fintechs in Latin America and Africa to the challenger banking “space race” in Singapore, 2020 could turn out to be a breakout year for fintech in many growing economies around the world.

8 Banks You’ll Compete with If You Offer More Than 2% on Savings – Banks are facing an increased number of competitors these days. Not only are traditional banks vying for customer deposits, but fintechs and challenger banks want part of their funds, as well.

China Says 你好 to American Express – The People’s Bank of China (PBOC), China’s Central Bank, announced it has accepted an application from American Express (AmEx) that expressed the company’s intention to operate in China.

Future Banking: Creating an Incumbent Challenger – Finovate talks with Ronit Ghose, global head of banks research and co-head of the fintech theme group at Citi about the future of challenger banks and why some shouldn’t be calling themselves a “fintech” at all.

Treasury Management Innovator HighRadius Earns Unicorn Status – HighRadius, a company that offers AI-powered order-to-cash and treasury management solutions, announced today that it has raised $125 million in Series B funding. The investment boosts the Houston, Texas-based firm’s valuation to $1 billion, earning it the status as one of the first new fintech unicorns of 2020.

Sprint and Wirecard to Deliver the Internet of Payments – Telecommunications giant Sprint and German financial services provider Wirecard announced they are teaming up to deliver the Internet of Payments.

Influencers as Innovation: Fintechs Turn to the Famous in Bid to Boost Visibility – As Snoop Dogg celebrates his first anniversary as a high-profile Klarna shareholder and RDC announces that it has hired a network of social media influencers to help promote its new digital banking app, it’s clear that firms are all-in when it comes to using celebrity to showcase everything fintech.

banqUP, PSD2, and the Future of Open Banking in Europe – We reached out to banqUP CEO and founder Krzysztof Pulkiewicz to talk about the company’s latest accomplishments in open banking, as well as what the landscape for fintech innovation is like inside and outside the CEE region.

ING’s Katana Becomes a Standalone Fintech – Dutch financial services corporation ING announced today it is spinning off Katana into its own entity called Katana Labs. As a part of its move to independence, Katana has closed $3.9 million in funding, half of which ING contributed “to enable further growth and to pave the way for an independent future for Katana.”

Finovate Podcast Episode 21: Romeo Maione, Launchfire – New Year and a new episode of the Finovate Podcast! Romeo Maione, Director of Business Solutions, Lemonade by Launchfire, joins host Greg Palmer to discuss marketing through training, and why the U.S. could be falling behind on digital adoption.

Bankjoy and Zogo Finance Team Up to Onboard and Educate Gen Z CustomersBankjoy and Zogo Finance are betting that helping credit unions and community banks educate their members rather than “sell” to them is the key to better engagement for CUs and better financial health for consumers.

The Digital Identity Infrastructure and What it Has to do with Fintech – The last decade brought about a lot of discussion around digital identity. Dozens of security companies created new solutions to help banks authenticate their user’s identity and verify their personal information.

Proptech Advances in Latin America As Loft Raises $175 Million in New Investment – The $175 million in Series C funding raised by Latin American digital real estate platform Loft this week offers an insight into how proptech is providing new investment opportunities within the emerging markets of countries like Brazil and Mexico.

Nebula Merges with Open Lending, Forming a New Publicly Traded Company – Lending solutions provider Open Lending has agreed to merge with Nebula Acquisition Corporation, an acquisition company sponsored by True Wind Capital.

Alumni News

  • DAVO Technologies partners with restaurant management platform Toast.
  • Clearview Federal Credit Union partners with Insuritas to launch an insurance agency.
  • Forbes highlights Meniga’s comeback.
  • BNP Paribas Securities Services extends contract with Temenos.
  • Signicat appoints Johan Tjarnberg as new Chairman and Asger Hattel as new CEO.
  • Standard Chartered rolls out public portal for cross-border payments tracking.
  • JKOPAY taps InComm to make its QR code and barcode payments processor technology accepted at retailers across Japan.
  • Flywire announces expansion plans.
  • PayActiv appoints David Reidy as Chief Legal Officer.
  • Personal Capital ranked number 3 on list of Top 100 Registered Investment Advisors of 2019 by assets.
  • Fiserv Starts New Year with Pair of New Credit Union Partners.

2020: A Breakout Year for Fintech in Emerging Markets?

Will 2020 be the year of emerging markets fintech? From major investments in fintechs in Latin America and Africa to the challenger banking “space race” in Singapore, 2020 could turn out to be a breakout year for fintech in many growing economies around the world.

And while attention is deservedly shifting to exciting news in fintech in countries like Mexico, Brazil, and Nigeria, it is also worth considering which regions might have interesting fintech developments which, while flying under the radar now, could end up dominating international fintech headlines by mid-year.

With this in mind, we turn to Europe in general and the Central and Eastern Europe region in specific. Here’s a look at our conversation with Krzysztof Pulkiewicz, founder and CEO of the Belgian-based and “proudly developed in Poland” fintech innovator banqUP. We talked with Pulkiewicz on the latest developments with his company, as well as his outlook on open banking and the differences between business inside and outside the CEE.

This week on Finovate.com we also featured news about American Express and China, looked at the new partnership between Ripple and Thailand’s biggest bank, and reported on a nine-figure investment in a Latin American real estate marketplace.

Here is our weekly look at fintech around the world.

Middle East and Northern Africa

  • Ziraat Participation Bank, headquartered in Sudan, to deploy the iMAL Islamic core banking system from Path Solutions.
  • Emirates NBD announces completion of the third phase of its core banking systems upgrade.
  • Abu Dhabi Investment Office leads Series A funding round for blockchain-based regtech firm, Securrency.

Central and Southern Asia

  • Netherlands-based payments company PayU acquires majority stake in Indian fintech PaySense, plans to merge company with Indian consumer lender LazyPay.
  • Royal Bank of India announces new rules to enable companies to participate in remote customer onboarding.
  • Two U.K.-based credit unions, Voyager Alliance CU and Retail CU, go live on TCS Bancs, a core banking solution from Indian technology company Tata Consultancy Services.

Latin America and the Caribbean

  • IBM partners with Argentina’s Chamber of Fintech to support digital transformation projects in the country’s fintech and banking sector.
  • Central Bank of the Bahamas to launch digital version of its currency.
  • Business Insider calls Mexico “a top neobank market to watch in 2020.”

Asia-Pacific

  • What trade war? China unveils new regulations that make it easier for foreign lenders to access the Chinese market.
  • Horizons Ventures leads Series A+ round for Hong Kong-based financial data and analytics provider MioTech.
  • Lightnet, a Thailand-based blockchain company operating in the remittance market, has raised more than $31 million in new funding.

Sub-Saharan Africa

  • fin24 features OkGo.live, The People’s Fund, Isiduli, and a non-profit, blockchain pilot program in its look at four South African fintechs to watch in 2020.
  • Chipper Cash, a U.S.-based fintech that offers no fee, mobile P2P services in six African countries, raises $6 million in funding.
  • Ventureburn lists 10 ways Africa’s fintech sector boomed in 2019.

Central and Eastern Europe

  • Qonto, a challenger bank for SMEs launched in France two years ago, announces expansion to Germany.
  • Lithuania’s biggest postal service provider extends cooperation agreement with payment card authorization firm Ashburn International.
  • Insurance software solution provider Sapiens International acquires German-based insurtech firm, sum.cumo.

As Finovate goes increasingly global, so does our coverage of financial technology. Finovate Global is our weekly look at fintech innovation in developing economies in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Latin America, and Central and Eastern Europe.

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Siam Commercial Bank Taps Ripple for Cross-Border Payments

Thailand’s biggest bank by assets, Siam Commercial Bank (SCB), announced it has partnered with blockchain solutions company Ripple. SCB will leverage Ripple’s RippleNet to power the cross-border payment offering in its mobile app, SCB Easy for the app’s 9+ million users.

RippleNet is Ripple’s global payment network that works across 40+ currencies and consists of more than 200 financial institutions. Because RippleNet leverages the blockchain, users are able to track funds, delivery time, and status.

“It is so difficult to send and receive money today. People must physically go to a bank branch, fill out long and complicated forms and wait for payments to be received—with no transparency,” said SCB’s SVP of Commercial Banking, Arthit Sriumporn. “With our service, their loved ones from abroad can transfer payment and receive money immediately.”

SCB is also working with Ripple and EMVCo to add a QR code-based payment solution to SCB Easy. Once complete, the QR codes will enable users to make payments without using the local currency.

This isn’t SCB’s first partnership with Ripple. The bank first partnered with Ripple in 2018 when it became the first financial institution using RippleNet to pilot multi-hop, a tool that enables banks to settle frictionless payments on behalf of other banks in the network.

Ripple has offices in San Francisco, New York, London, Luxembourg, Mumbai, Singapore, Sydney, and Brazil. Ripple recently closed $200 million in a Series C round, bringing the company’s total funding to $321 million and boosting its valuation to $10 billion.

8 Banks You’ll Compete with if You Offer More Than 2% on Savings

Banks are facing an increased number of competitors these days. Not only are traditional banks vying for customer deposits, but fintechs and challenger banks want part of their funds, as well.

The average U.S. savings rate is just 0.09% APY, so any amount banks can offer beyond that is a differentiator. However, some banks have gone all out and are offering more than 2% interest. The highest APY we saw totaled a whopping 6.17%.

Here are the 8 financial institutions (listed in alphabetical order) we found that are offering accounts currently paying more than 2% interest:

BrioDirect

2.1% APY with a minimum balance of $25

Digital Federal Credit Union

6.17% APY on first $1,000 with a minimum balance of $5

Elements Financial

New accountholders can earn 2.1% APY for one year on a minimum of $2,500 that has been transferred from another financial institution.

Fitness Bank

Members earn 2.20% APY on a minimum balance of $100 if they walk 12,500 steps or more per day (or 10,000 steps per day for those age 65 or older) as calculated on their fitness tracker.

GreenDot

Users earn 3% APY, which is paid on a maximum of $10,000 and is held in a separate account that the consumer is unable to access until the account anniversary. The high yield savings account must be opened in tandem with Green Dot’s Unlimited Cash Back account, which pays customers a 3% cash-back bonus on all online and in-app purchases. The account charges a $7.95 monthly fee if a consumer’s purchases (excluding mobile bill payments, ATM withdrawals, and ACH transactions) are less than $1,000.

T-Mobile Money

Users earn 4% APY on balances of $3,000 or less. Any amount over the $3,000 threshold earns 1% APY. There is no minimum balance requirement but account holders must deposit at least $200 per month into the account to earn 4% APY.

TotalDirectBank

2.1% APY on balances of at least $5,000 and no more than $500,000.

Vio Bank

2.02% APY with a minimum deposit of $100


Many of these financial institutions are able to offer higher-than-average rates by keeping their operating costs low. In most cases, the lower operating cost is the result of being an online-only bank. However, two of the banks listed above (Digital Federal Credit Union and Elements Financial) have physical branch locations, as well.

Another aspect that helps with offering high interest is setting appropriate limitations. Interestingly, the two banks on this list that have branch locations (re: higher operating costs) are the two with the most stringent restrictions on their savings accounts. Setting up appropriate limits on account earnings can make banks’ offerings look attractive without costing too much. Conversely, too many restrictions will frustrate consumers and, perhaps worse, compromise trust.

Fiserv Starts New Year with Pair of New Credit Union Partners

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It’s a new year and a new decade, but Fiserv – which topped fintech headlines in 2019 with its massive, $22 billion merger acquisition of First Data – has hit the ground running in 2020. The Brookfield, Wisconsin-based payments giant announced this week that it is teaming up with Verve and Superior Choice, two Wisconsin-area credit unions with a combined membership of more than 95,000 members and more than $1 billion in assets.

The collaboration means that half of all the credit unions in Wisconsin with more than $1 billion in assets use Fiserv technology for core account processing. The company’s core account processing solution, DNA, enables FIs to deliver personalized services with more relevant product offerings by leveraging a unified, global view of member relationships. Both Verve and Superior Choice will also take advantage of additional integrated solutions from Fiserv such as enterprise content management, item processing, wire transfer, and financial accounting.

“Our aim is to make every experience at every credit union we work with matter – and that aligns directly with Verve’s strategic vision,” Fiserv EVP and senior group president Byron Vielehr said. “The strong retail and commercial functionality of DNA helps growth-minded credit unions meet member needs for new services and allows their employees to interact and deliver meaningful experiences in a frictionless way.”

Fiserv most recently demonstrated its technology on the Finovate stage in 2018, collaborating with Samsung and its biometric authentication technology. Its 2019 acquisition of First Data (also a Finovate alum), which was completed in July, made Fiserv one of the biggest payments and financial technology providers in the world. When the deal was announced, the company pledged to invest “an incremental $500 million” over the next five years to build on its leadership position in the industry, as well as leverage First Data’s distribution network to expand more meaningfully outside the United States.

Verve was founded in 1937 as Wisconsin Axle Credit Union. The company merged with two other credit unions in 2014 to form Verve, which today has more than $1.2 billion in assets, more than 66,000 members, and 21 locations. With 29,000+ members and more than $488 million in assets, Superior Choice Credit Union was founded in 1932.

In addition to the partnership news with Verve and Superior Choice, Fiserv also announced today that Landmark Credit Union ($4.3 billion in assets and 350,000+ members) was expanding its relationship with the global payments company by choosing to deploy Fiserv’s DNA as its new core account processing platform.

Future Banking: Creating an ‘Incumbent Challenger’

Finovate talks with Ronit Ghose, global head of banks research and co-head of the fintech theme group at Citi about the future of challenger banks and why some shouldn’t be calling themselves a “fintech” at all.

Finovate: How would you define the different types of challenger bank that exist today, and what are the key differentiating factors between them?

Ronit Ghose: Challenger banks are designed around the digital revolution and are able to leverage data insights via advanced technology stacks. I’d say there are three types of challenger banks that have emerged:

  • The first are standalone challenger banks, which are primarily Fintech companies leveraging technology and data to streamline retail banking by offering better convenience and pricing.
  • The second are incumbent-led challenger banks, started within legacy banks through investment in technology and by creating new digital-only banks.
  • Finally, we’re seeing BigTech-led challenger banks who can use their vast networks to acquire customers quickly as they branch out into financial services.

Finovate: Interesting! So, we’ve seen many incumbent banks attempt to set up their own challenger banks – how successful has this been, what lessons should others learn, and how can banks make their back end look more like a digitally-native company’s?

Ghose: Over the past five years or so, especially since 2016 through 2017, incumbent banks have moved from ignoring or mocking the new entrants to engaging with them and giving them the best testimonial possible: They have begun copying them by setting up their own new businesses. While the results have been mixed, the success or failure of incumbents in this field could be characterized using three factors: markets, technology and operating model or culture.

So in most cases, incumbent banks launch a challenger bank in a market where they are already active; albeit they use their new proposition to better target a specific segment, such as millennials or digitally-savvy customers. With regards to technology, in the past 12 to 18 months incumbent banks appear to be moving to consider more disruptive technology and business model approaches, and to attempt to actually build new brands or businesses “like a startup”. If you aren’t doing new tech, then stop calling yourself challenger or fintech. ‎

Finally, we have to consider bank employee incentives, training, and formation are the human capital equivalent of a fixed income instrument. By contrast, fintech founders work and their employees are growth equity to the bank employees’ fixed coupon bond. In the language of financial instruments, can banks become convertibles not just bonds? ‎

Finovate: Moving away from challenger banks to other new market entrants, to what extent do incumbent banks fear big technology companies over fintechs?

Ghose: The emergence of BigTech has led to heightened competition in the financial services sector. I think the challenge BigTech poses for incumbent and standalone challenger banks is daunting, given the absence of any cost drag from legacy information technology (IT) systems and underused branch networks (common problems for banks) and their natural advantage in customer acquisition owing to their high user engagement models.

One of the most prominent of these is in Korea, where popular social messaging app Kakao Talk launched a digital-only bank in 2017, acquiring two million customers in a short span of just two weeks from launch date. Similarly in China, challenger banks such as WeBank, backed by Tencent, respectively, have seen strong user growth following their launch in 2015.

The experiences of Korea and China are successful examples of internet companies venturing into banking. There are many lessons to be learned from this. Firstly, incumbent banks should not be overly complacent with their existing customer base – the speed of customer acquisition could be much faster through digital channels than the traditional distribution channels. Secondly, internet giants have a clear edge in certain areas of banking, especially around payments and mobile money. Finally, there are opportunities to cross-sell and scale to other products.

Finovate: So there’s potential for a lot of change and upheaval then. What will the bank of the future be characterized by?

Ghose: Legacy banks often have data that is stuck in multiple silos supported by core banking technology that was literally built in the era of black and white television. Manual intervention is high, which slows down operating speed, reduces flexibility, increases costs, and ultimately degrades efficiency and experience. Creating an incumbent challenger sounds like an oxymoron, but as legacy banks recognize the threat that new entrants into banking are posing to revenue and customers, they need to reinvent themselves and reimagine banking. This involves legacy banks partnering with technology companies to create effective joint ventures as well as moving into more disruptive technology and business models to transform themselves into digital competitors. By creating their own Bank X, we believe some legacy banks can transform themselves from slow moving caterpillars to agile butterflies.

China Says 你好 to American Express

The People’s Bank of China (PBOC), China’s Central Bank, announced it has accepted an application from American Express (AmEx) that expressed the company’s intention to operate in China.

Reuters reported that the PBOC announced the receipt of AmEx’s application via a WeChat post on Wednesday. The bank, however, did not disclose information about the approval timeline.

This follows the PBOC’s approval in November of 2018 for AmEx to clear card payments in partnership with China’s LianLian Pay to process payments in Yuan. This week’s announcement also makes AmEx the first U.S. card network company to gain access into the China market. In order to commence operations, however, AmEx still needs final approval from the PBOC.

China is beginning to open up its credit card payments market to foreign players after restricting access. For the past ten years, foreign payment card companies could only tap into China’s credit card market via partnership with state-run UnionPay.

Visa and Mastercard are expected to follow suit to claim their stake in China’s $27 trillion market.

Traditional players aren’t the only ones eyeing the China opportunity. Last October PayPal gained controlling interest in China-based GoPay. The move granted PayPal a license to offer online payment services in China, making it the first foreign company to be granted such license.

Influencers as Innovation: Fintechs Turn to the Famous in Bid to Boost Visibility

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Expensify’s 2019 Super Bowl advertisement – Expensify Th!$ – featuring Adam Scott and rap star 2Chainz – was not the first time a fintech leveraged the shine from pop culture to illuminate itself.

But as Snoop Dogg celebrates his first anniversary as a high-profile Klarna shareholder and RDC announces that it has hired a network of social media influencers to help promote its new digital banking app, it’s clear that firms are all-in when it comes to using celebrity to showcase everything fintech – from expense management to pay-later ecommerce solutions. Alec Baldwin, who has become one of pop culture’s more potent pitchmen, was recently enlisted by eToro to help boost its CopyTrader marketing campaign.

The financial world has been as much a fan of celebrity as a customer engagement tool as any other industry with brands to build. Today, Mastercard announced that it was working with Swedish singer Nadine Randle to produce a song that “integrates the payment giant’s ‘sonic brand.” The company’s ‘sonic brand’ identity itself is the fruit of a partnership between Linkin Park co-founder Mike Shinoda, who developed the score last year.

And from the local sports hero to the homecoming veteran, credit unions and community banks have long leveraged the willingness of regional-minded stars and celebrities to “give back” to the communities and neighborhoods they grew up in.

But as fintechs increasingly partner with and compete with these and other financial institutions – and take advantage of new forms of celebrity such as social media influencers – they are increasingly taking a page from the FI marketing playbooks when it comes to using star power to shine a light on the work they do.

Expensify CEO and founder David Barrett highlighted the way his company’s technology would make it easier for talents like 2Chainz to “make the most epic music video ever” in his Expensify Th!$ ad. But he also told Fast Company at the time that even though Expensify had the “strongest brand” in the expense management game, and was the fastest-growing such firm with the biggest customer base, “virtually nobody in the world knows who we are.”

The celebrity approach to marketing is not without its detractors. In a post at Medium.com last year, Millennium Management COO Ajay Nagpal noted data from the 2018 Sprout Social Index that suggested that consumers are more likely to buy a product or service recommended by a friend than a celebrity. Moreover, Nagpal raised an interesting question as to whether or not the star endorsement of a brand in fashion, for example, would have the same impact as the same star’s endorsement of a brand in wealth management or tax planning.

Perhaps it depends on the star. Last fall, Finovate audiences were treated to a surprise appearance from noted Canadian investor and star of the reality show Shark Tank, Kevin O’Leary, who provided an on-stage, end-of-demo endorsement of Bambu’s Beanstox investing solution. And it’s a good bet that “Mr. Wonderful” is likely to be a more powerful advocate for white- label, B2B robo advisory technology than he might be for, say, leggings …

Additionally, as Director of Brand Strategy at Weber Marketing Group John Mathes wrote for The Financial Brand, even the best celebrity branding works better over time rather than as a one-off. Calling the practice “borrowed interest,” Mathes warned that while carefully targeted star power can produce positive results “brand building is usually a slow process. It takes time. It’s not a single campaign or gimmick.”

The impact of celebrity and influencers on the visibility of and engagement with fintech remains to be seen. But maybe more to the point, the fact that a growing number of fintechs are adopting the same approach to brand-boosting as their peers and rivals in the rest of the financial world may be a positive sign for the fintech industry in and of itself.

Treasury Management Innovator HighRadius Earns Unicorn Status

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HighRadius, a company that offers AI-powered order-to-cash and treasury management solutions, announced today that it has raised $125 million in Series B funding. The investment boosts the Houston, Texas-based firm’s valuation to $1 billion, earning it the status as one of the first new fintech unicorns of 2020.

The round was led by Iconiq Capital, and featured participation from Citi Ventures and Susquehanna Growth Equity. Iconiq Capital partner Will Griffith praised the way HighRadius’ platform had improved the efficiency of accounts receivable and treasury teams, and put the company’s accomplishments in the broader context of other innovative firms in its portfolio. “Digital transformation is increasingly a CFO priority,” Griffith said, calling HighRadius’s platform “game-changing.”

HighRadius’ integrated receivables technology optimizes accounts receivables operations by combining all receivable and payment modules into a single, unified business process. The company’s treasury management technology provides treasury departments with greater visibility into cash operations – including cash levels – and automates reconciliation. Founded in 2006, the company, which includes Citi and Bank of America Merrill Lynch among its clients, has processed more than $1.3 trillion in transactions via its AI-enabled platform.

“Today marks an important milestone for HighRadius and we’re thrilled to have ICONIQ join us in our vision to modernize the Order to Cash space,” HighRadius founder and CEO Sashi Narahari said. He pledged to build the company “into a self-sustaining, long-term category leader.”

Earlier this year, HighRadius partnered with London-based, e-payments company PPRO to give merchants a broader range of options to accept payments from buyers. The combined offering will allow for the discovery and support of local payment methods (LPMs) in key locations, and is designed to help merchant clients keep up with the increasing diversity of payment options around the world.

This spring, the company unveiled its Collection Agency Data Exchange solution which enables customers using HighRadius Collections Cloud to electronically send accounts and invoices to a trio of third-party collection agencies directly from the HighRadius platform. HighRadius began the year with the launch of its order-to-cash digital assistant, Freeda, and a partnership with the Media Financial Management Association to provide credit management automation for the organization’s subsidiary credit association, BCCA.

Sprint and Wirecard to Deliver the Internet of Payments

Telecommunications giant Sprint and German financial services provider Wirecard announced they are teaming up to deliver the Internet of Payments.

Under the agreement, Sprint will integrate Wirecard’s commerce solutions into its Curiosity Internet of Things (IoT) platform. Essentially, the two will embed payment capabilities into IoT deployments.

Sprint’s Curiosity IoT combines Curiosity Core, a virtualized IoT network, with Curiosity OS, an IoT operating system. The project will be piloted in the retail sector where the two will work together to “deliver the retail experience of the future” by enabling a connected purchasing experience.

“This opens up many commercial opportunities, and also delivers an unparalleled commerce solution for our global clients and their customers,” said Ivo Rook, Sprint’s senior vice president of IoT and product development. “As IoT becomes even more central to how enterprises run, we look forward to identifying new opportunities and use cases for these technologies. The growing internet of things will lead to new and innovative transactions, like directly between devices, and this collaboration will power such use cases.”

IoT has a wide range of applications in the payments space. With IoT, consumers can move beyond traditional payment devices and instead pay using wearables, their car, and voice-enabled devices such as Alexa. In many settings these types of payment methods are already possible but they are not widespread.

Georg von Waldenfels, executive vice president of group business development at Wirecard said that the collaboration will help Wirecard “meet a growing demand for commerce without barriers.” Waldenfels added that teaming up with Sprint is a “significant step toward developing the shopping experience of the future.”

This isn’t Sprint’s first foray in the IoT space with a fintech. In 2018, the company partnered with Dynamics to launch the Wallet Card, an IoT connected, battery-powered payment card.