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We generally think of healthcare workers, grocery store employees, delivery drivers, and other essential workers as the main heroes of the coronavirus public health crisis. However, there’s one company worth mentioning that has risen to “hero” status for small businesses across the U.S.
That company, Lendio, has been serving small businesses since it launched in 2011 by matching small businesses in need of funding with lenders. After the coronavirus hit and the U.S. Small Business Administration passed the CARES Act and Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), Lendio became a critical resource for merchants across the nation.
After seeing the mass confusion around different types of relief programs and their application requirements, Lendio quickly created a COVID-19 Relief hub on its website to educate business owners, help them apply for funding, and match them with one of its 300 lender partners.
Since April, Lendio has facilitated $8 billion in PPP loan approvals. The company has also helped more than 100,000 small businesses receive approval for PPP loans of an average size of $73,000. This is a massive increase in production for the Utah-based company which, prior to PPP, had facilitated $2 billion in loan approvals since it began operations nine years ago.
The 100,000+ PPP applications Lendio facilitated offered the company a large amount of data (and insight) into the applicants. The company published an analysis of that data last week. Here are some of the findings:
States in the Pacific region received 25% of PPP approvals, while those in the Mountain region received only 9%.
States in the Northeast and Pacific regions saw the highest average loan size ($80,518 and $79,507, respectively). The average loan size is lowest in the South Atlantic ($64,064).
Women business owners made up 32% of applicants.
Businesses in urban areas received 30% of the loans applied for, while suburban businesses received 28%, and rural received 39%.
As for what business owners can expect next, just as with the virus itself, the battle has not been won. “I think the next big market mover is going to be the realization that the PPP program actually had an enormous impact,” Sanders Morris Harris CEO George Ball in an interview with Yahoo Finance. “It worked. It kept the patient alive. But the half-life of the forgivable loans to small businesses comes up pretty soon, comes up mid-July to August.”
Today is Canada Day, which commemorates the date in 1867 when three provinces – Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and the Canada Province (now known as Ontario and Quebec) – united to form a single nation. And while the global public health crisis may limit the holiday’s typical parades, cook-outs, fireworks demonstrations, and concerts, rest assured that Canadians all over the world will find a way to celebrate what is colloquially – if a bit inaccurately – referred to as “Canada’s birthday.”
With this in mind, the Finovate blog sends a hearty “Happy Canada Day!” to the dozens of Canadian fintechs that have demonstrated their innovative solutions at our conferences over the past decade-plus.
“The ten companies selected for the fifth year of FIS’ Accelerator program bring a wealth of promising ideas and technologies,” FIS Chief Growth Officer Asif Ramji said. “We look forward to working with these firms to bring their ideas to life.”
Joining Stratyfy in the program are:
Seven of the companies in the cohort have headquarters in the United States. Of the others, Sequretek is based in Mumbai, India; Silot in Singapore; and Surfly in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. And after four years in operation, the accelerator, in partnership with The Venture Center, will conduct its fifth program virtually due to the challenges of the global public health crisis.
In addition to being entirely virtual, this year’s program will run for 18 weeks instead of the usual 12 weeks to allow for increased mentoring and training time. The program will culminate with a Demo Day technology presentation on October 14th. Participating startups will also receive a monetary investment; the amount was not disclosed.
Executive Director for The Venture Center, Wayne Miller, pointed to the program’s success in empowering startup companies and helping improve access to financial services and technology. “With our partners at FIS and the State of Arkansas, we’re honored to be a part of bringing cutting-edge technologies to the places and people who need them, particularly in this moment of monumental technological advancement,” Miller said.
The news comes in the wake of Strayfy’s announcement of a new strategic partnership with Innovesta Technologies. The two companies are collaborating on a machine learning solution that will help businesses better measure the risk of and opportunity in non-public companies. The partnership combines Stratyfy’s decision engine and advanced machine learning technology with Innovesta’s comprehensive data assets to deliver real-time insights into the forces that impact business performance.
“Models built from historical data offer little help during an unprecedented health and economic crisis like the current global pandemic,” Stratyfy co-founder and CEO Laura Kornhauser said when the partnership was announced in May. “Achieving an inclusive global financial recovery requires robust risk management strategies, and those strategies necessitate an understanding of the unique challenges being faced by every business. Stratyfy’s decision management solutions will leverage Innovesta’s trustworthy data to directly address this need.”
Founded in 2016, Stratyfy is headquartered in New York City. The company was named one of the world’s 100 most promising startups to watch last year by CNBC.
Facial recognition may be the hottest form of biometric authentication. But it’s far from the only – or even the most effective – biometric authentication method for all instances. In fact, as far as Redrock Biometrics is concerned, a superior alternative may lie in the palm of your hand.
“The PalmID solution far outperforms competitive touchless technologies, such as facial recognition, in terms of accuracy and reliability,” Redrock Biometrics co-founder Hua Yang said in a statement announcing the company’s latest partnership a few weeks ago. “It is the best available solution for touchless identity management, authentication and security.”
Founded in 2015 and headquartered in San Francisco, California, Redrock Biometrics is the developer of PalmID, a palm-scanning authentication solution that provides accurate, robust, no-additional-hardware-required biometric authentication via camera-bearing devices – ranging from smartphone, tablets, and laptops, to payment terminals (including ATMs), IOT devices, and even cars.
And at a time of social distancing and a preference for as much contact-free activity as possible, authentication technologies like PalmID are likely to be seen as increasingly attractive options. Add to this the challenge of face-based authentication in a world of mask-wearing employees and consumers, and the case for palm-based authentication becomes all the more compelling.
Identity management solution provider Q5id is the latest company to deploy Redrock Biometrics’ technology. Q5id, based in Beaverton, Oregon, announced last month that it would integrate PalmID into its biometric enrollment and authentication solutions. Q5id works with institutions in multiple verticals, including financial services, telecommunications, education, and e-commerce, to provide identity verification services via multi-factor authentication, live video, and active voice authentication. The fact that palm-scanning technologies are particularly hard to fool, according to Q5id chairman and CEO Steve Larson, is one of the reasons why the company partnered with Redrock. The solution’s high accuracy rate – and lack of a hardware requirement (compared to fingerprint scanners, for example) were additional selling points for the technology.
Redrock Biometrics’ PalmID works with both standard RGB and infrared cameras. The company notes that from a distance of approximately six inches, the average smartphone, laptop, or ATM camera can capture a good quality image of the unique skin patterns of the users palm. The captured image then undergoes a two-step process. First, the PalmID Capture Module uses machine learning technology to convert the RGB video input stream into a palm image that is ready for authentication. Second, the PalmID Matching Module, in real-time, matches the captured image against stored references. The technology uses proprietary algorithms to test images against large databases of palm images to prevent false positives.
PalmID has also been deployed recently to help provide an identity verification solution for mass transit and payments. The company partnered with FalconPro Technology in May, adding its PalmID software to a FalconPro camera module to create a simultaneous palm print and palm vein image capture. The goal is to create a large-scale authentication solution; pilot projects using the technology will be conducted in both the payments and public transit industries, according to FalconPro Technology CEO Xun You. FalconPro is a founding member of the Chinese Automatic Fare Collection System Association, and provides QR-code based digital ticketing systems for rail systems throughout China. The company sees its partnership with Redrock as potentially enabling it to “expand (its) product offering beyond barcode technology.”
Also this year, Redrock Biometrics forged a partnership with passwordless authentication solution provider HYPR, which will add the company’s PalmID technology to its platform. Redrock has also waived the license fee for its PalmID software for all essential businesses using the technology during the global public health crisis.
“COVID-19 quarantine made us acutely aware that touching devices represents a threat to our lives,” Redrock co-founder Lenny Kontsevich said. “People become touch-phobic and their faces are covered by masks, which creates a need for a touchless palm solution.”
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.
We caught up with Uri Rivner, co-founder and Chief Cyber Officer of BioCatch, a leading cybersecurity firm that provides behavior-based authentication and threat detection solutions to banks, e-commerce platforms, as well as mobile and web applications.
We wanted to learn how the company, founded in 2011 and headquartered in Israel and New York, has fared in the wake of its major $145 million spring fundraising. We also wanted to hear about the new cybersecurity environment brought on by the global public health crisis and what BioCatch is doing to help institutions manage this challenge.
Finovate: You are one of the founders of BioCatch, and your current role with the company is Chief Cyber Officer? What does this role entail within the company?
Uri Rivner: I was actually head of new technologies at security giant RSA when, in 2011, a foreign state hacked into RSA. It was one of the most famous hacking incidents in history, and following that I was on the look for new technologies that can help the industry against cyber attacks and online fraud. BioCatch, then a very young company, came to us at RSA to present the tech, which sounded really sci-fi. I was impressed and introduced them to industry players who all said that if this was working as advertised, this is a game-changing technology.
At some point the founders of BioCatch asked me to join as a co-founder and help them build the business. I joined mid-2012 as VP of Cyber Strategy. My current role as Chief Cyber Officer is to identify new cybercrime business problems the technology can address, and provide internal and external thought leadership on the role of behavioral biometrics in digital transformation and fighting online fraud.
Finovate: When we last shared BioCatch news with our readers, it was in April on the heels of the company’s $145 million fundraising. How big of a moment was that for BioCatch?
Rivner: It was a major milestone. A vote of confidence that showed us how well the market appreciates what we have accomplished. We’ve taken a scientific field in cognitive studies, something that was working in the lab, and made it extremely practical for use in solving the biggest issues in online fraud across dozens of banks, credit card issuers and companies outside the financial sector, protecting over 100 million online and mobile users. We’ve tackled issues that were initially deemed impossible to solve. And we’ve done all of that with very happy customers and a highly scalable product. It was a proud moment, but at the same time also a commitment to work very hard to justify the trust of our new investors!
Finovate: What has BioCatch been up to in the weeks since then – specifically, how has the COVID-19 crisis impacted the work your company does?
Rivner: Our team has shifted to a work from home model; it was done quite efficiently, and we experienced no issues in continuing to serve customers. We run in the cloud, and there was no interruption to the service. The customers also moved to the same mode of operation.
Finovate: Let’s talk about some of the new security challenges that have developed during the pandemic. It seems like there are fraud “hotspots” everywhere: COVID aid/relief fraud, the security issues of Work From Home, and the potential for identity crime in any track and trace program. Can you talk a little about the cybersecurity landscape in the era of COVID-19?
Rivner: If I had to pick one community that is definitely going to thrive during a global virus outbreak, it’s online fraudsters. They have a golden opportunity to scale their operations while entire companies move their fraud operations and analytics teams to a work from home model, which is not an easy process for, say, a major bank. Here are some of the trends to watch for:
American taxpayers get a direct deposit to their bank account using the information included in the last tax return they filed. If they haven’t filed a tax return for 2019 yet, it’s then a race with the fraudsters, who will try to beat them to it and provide a falsified tax return including a bank account that they control. This means the stimulus deposit will go to the bad guys. There are many people who do not file tax returns and go to a website where their information is validated and a check is sent to their address. That’s an easy venue for identity thieves who can obtain full identity records for all U.S. citizens in the dark web. Fraudsters are also impersonating small businesses to apply for stimulus loans using similar methods. In short, it’s a fraudster’s heaven.
Account Opening Fraud
The most scalable fraud operation is opening credit card or personal loan accounts. All you need is to buy a bigger list of stolen identity records, and have a team of people opening accounts in other people’s names. Identity theft is reported to sky-rocket, and it can be quite dangerous, especially if it’s a new digital service that is launching these days. If a new digital service is targeted by a massive campaign, there will be more fraud applications than real applications – that’s disastrous. Traditional defenses such as checking KYC (know your customer) data and device recognition no longer hold, and new technologies such as behavioral biometrics are used to stop such fraud campaigns and reduce false rejections due to high security bars.
Corona Tracker Rogue Apps
Cyber space is teeming with coronavirus scams. The most dangerous scams are the ones that manage to trick users into downloading rogue apps onto their mobile device. They’ll look like useful tools that alert you when a coronavirus carrier is in your immediate vicinity or providing CDC-approved virus contagion maps. But, in reality, they’re after your mobile banking app and mobile e-commerce purchases.
Social Engineering… From ‘Your Bank’
“Hey, we’re your bank, and wanted to reach out! The branch is closed, so we’re the friendly help desk. We’ve noticed some issues in your account, and would like to help you sort it out. Can you please install this utility to help us run some tests remotely?” You know the rest of this story.
Finovate: Earlier this year you were part of a conference presentation that highlighted the importance of machine learning and AI in fighting fraud. What about these enabling technologies is so beneficial when it comes to cybersecurity?
Rivner: My lecture talked about how Sherlock Holmes managed in A Case of Identity to identify an imposter based on a dozen or so “features” related to the typewriter they used to type love letters. Machine Learning can instantly look at thousands of features, resulting in an extremely accurate model that predicts fraud and can adapt itself when cyber criminals change their strategy. At BioCatch we have over 2,000 such features – and not even good old Sherlock could have managed that many in his identity model!
An important consideration though is that some machine learning models are a black box and don’t really provide insights into why a certain action is risky. BioCatch, for example, uses Explainable AI models to make sure customers can get the reasons why a score was high, as well as many negative and positive behavioral factors observed during a session.
Finovate: What can we expect from BioCatch over the balance of 2020? Has the global health crisis made it more difficult to have visibility into the second half of the year?
Rivner: Fraud isn’t going away and, in fact, we anticipate a surge in account takeover activity as criminals scale up their cash-out operations. They already have the data they need to steal more money, but they need to scale their infrastructure. Think of mule accounts for moving money out of victim’s account. The crisis makes it easy to recruit mules in work-from-home scams, and to open bogus bank accounts to which stolen money can be moved. Right now criminals are busy doing just that, preparing for a big wave of attacks that is likely to focus on real-time payments such as the relatively new Zelle infrastructure in the U.S., or similar services elsewhere. So demand for a frictionless control that stops fraud and highlights genuine behavior is going to increase.
Wealthfront has been around the proverbial fintech block a few times. The San Francisco-based wealthtech company launched near the dawn of fintech under the name KaChing in 2008 and demoed its investment platform at the second-ever Finovate conference in 2009.
Given its time in the space, Wealthfront is well-positioned during this pandemic. The legacy fintech benefits from a strong customer base, name recognition, and profitability. So when the pandemic hit and many firms were struggling with customer service or the transition of working from home, Wealthfront didn’t miss a beat.
Its secret weapon? Scalability. As Wealthfront’s client base has grown to almost 400,000 users, the company has relied on automation to ensure a high-quality customer experience. “Automation has been a key product principle at Wealthfront from day one,” said Wealthfront Founder and Chief Strategy Officer Dan Carroll in a blog post. “If we can’t automate a service, we won’t build it. When a client needs to email or call us, we consider that a failure in our product and work to build an automated solution.”
Instead of customer service representatives, Wealthfront refers to its team members as Product Specialists. The 12-person team is comprised of licensed financial advisors who are each responsible for fielding client questions and tracking and relaying customer feedback to the company’s product development team. Using these techniques, Wealthfront has been able to scale to 30,000 clients per specialist.
And while some banks were closing down call centers and struggling with customer hold times ranging from 30 minutes to three hours, Wealthfront’s team of 12 Product Specialists weren’t overburdened. To get ahead of the projected spike in client inquiries, the team moved to individual remote work settings and composed a list of questions they anticipated from customers. With the help of the company’s content team, the specialists deployed in-app pop-ups that offered answers to potential questions and provided advice to help clients navigate volatile markets and the CARES Act.
So what’s next for Wealthfront? “While banks grapple with something as basic as streamlining customer service, we’re working on the future of financial services — something we call Self-Driving Money,” Carroll said. The new product will automate users’ recurring transactions including billpay, savings, and goals. “Our ultimate vision is to optimize your money across spending, savings, and investments, putting it all to work effortlessly.”
A global product and pricing solution provider for banks, Zafin finished 2019 with a new Salesforce integration and began this year with a major change at the top: adding financial services veteran Venkataraman Balasubramanian (known informally as “Bala”) as the company’s new Chief Technology Officer.
Balasubramanian arrived at the Toronto, Ontario, Canada-based company at a time of major innovation in the financial services industry – as well as a time of significant disruption in the everyday lives of people all over the world due to the coronavirus pandemic. How is Zafin helping banks and other financial institutions cope with the current environment? How do some of the most compelling technology innovations of our time – from advanced machine learning and AI to the blockchain and Big Data – give innovators the tools they need to find new solutions to old – and new – problems? We talk with “Bala” about all this and more in our latest Finovate Alumni profile.
Finovate: You have only been at Zafin for a month or two. How are you finding your new position? Any surprises?
Venkataraman Balasubramanian: It has been an incredible first few months for me here at Zafin. First and foremost, I find myself in the midst of a very talented group of people: engineers, business and technical analysts, a robust management team, and a very dedicated client success team. The depth of these teams is a testament to the value our clients see in our products.
Counter-intuitive yet brilliant has been the approach our management team has taken during these very trying times: to continue to bring in strong talent that will put us in a strong position coming out of this period of economic uncertainty.
Zafin was among the first to move to protect our employees by requiring all to work remotely. Our employees have access to extra “care days” for this year as a benefit. Recognition that the safety and well-being of our team is paramount to our client success is unusual to see in a business our size and one we continue to focus on.
Finovate: You have more than 35 years of experience in financial services and information technology. What attracted you to Zafin?
Balasubramanian: Digital was here to stay even before our current crisis. It is now even more so cemented in our everyday lives. This aspect of digital, however, goes far beyond the creation of experiences into the digitization of entire workflows — propositions that resonate in this context with a cloud-first service architecture, enabled by artificial intelligence and machine learning.
The implementation of such a system typically requires truly digital fintech partners (such as Zafin) and services integration (SI) partners. Having spent considerable time with SI partners in my prior roles, I felt that the timing is appropriate to work with a specific digital enabler. Zafin provided that opportunity in that its solution truly enables a digital transformation of the customer experience across the entire customer relationship and banks’ business lines.
Finovate: What are some of the things you are most eager to accomplish in your first year as CTO?
Balasubramanian: We are a cloud-based solution today, and I would like for us to be a multi-cloud solution in a manner that is unique. We are currently defining that framework, and I hope to get it to completion during the year.
In the era of digital transformation, core systems transformation will progress considerably. To that end, I expect to work with both existing core providers and transformational core providers to enable a “Bank-in-a-Box,” with a modernized core and externalized cross-product layers that enable product, pricing, and billing functionalities. Further, we will look to incorporate AI/ML capabilities into our solution to create proactive end-user interfaces.
Finovate: What are some of the most significant changes in the banking industry going on right now and what role is Zafin playing to help banks and other financial institutions successfully navigate these changes?
Balasubramanian: COVID-19 has redefined life as we know it, and financial services are no exception. Whether it is social distancing, phased restarts of the economy, or just the uncertainty that this virus has created, it has made us all think about the experiences we want in our everyday lives. Naturally, this means digitizing many facets of those experiences.
We want payments to be contactless and frictionless. We want highly relevant products and offers that seek to simplify our lives. From a banking perspective, Zafin works with banks to digitize the product lifecycle and its applicability to pricing and billing by injecting the customer and relationship context. We also enable banks with a cross-product layer that allows the centralization of product variants across the various systems. These are fundamental building blocks as a bank strives to digitize customer journeys.
Finovate: There are a number of enabling technologies that are helping drive innovation in fintech right now: AI, Big Data, blockchain, machine learning, and so on. Which technologies do you believe are being leveraged most effectively in the industry and how?
Balasubramanian: Each of these enabling technologies is at various stages of maturity, depending on the use case. Blockchain has great applicability not merely as a decentralized ledger, but also in immutability. Yet, that set of applications has some adoption in capital markets and not quite yet in other facets of the industry. Community creation has been a major impediment to its success.
Big Data, AI and ML have a slightly more nuanced twist: These require a considerable upfront investment in terms of data and infrastructure, hypothesis creation, testing and validation to produce a result. This will likely only be valuable if it is integrated into the delivery system — otherwise, it may turn out to be nothing more than an interesting experiment.
As these technologies and usage mature, they will prove more valuable. The discontinuity that the current situation creates allows for value systems to be re-arranged, and, in so doing, I believe many more interesting use cases will be discovered.
Finovate: Tell us more about how the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting Zafin and the work it does? How is it impacting you and your work, having just arrived at the company?
Balasubramanian: If there was one major surprise for me that I didn’t answer in the very first question, it is this. We were among the first companies to transition our entire workforce to a remote setup. We rapidly implemented technologies to enhance internal collaboration and client communication. Working remotely may have impeded my own ability to get to know my team personally (as I would have typically done), but given the circumstances, our transition has been about as seamless as it could have been.
In some cases, COVID-19 has accelerated banks’ plans for digital transformation. Based on the volume and nature of conversations we’re having with banks and partners, if anything, the interest in and demand for what we offer has only increased over the past few months.
As much as we hope for the return to what we knew as “normal”, we are also certain that a new normal will emerge. And we think we are well prepared for that.
If auto manufacturers can make ventilators, and whiskey distilleries churn out hand sanitizer, then why can’t skiptracers be deployed to help put the “trace” in “contact tracing”?
“There’s an entire industry of seasoned skiptracing investigators that are out of work while debt collection is on hold,” President and CEO of masterQueue John Lewis wrote recently on his company’s LinkedIn page. Introducing his firm as a skiptracing platform used for contact tracing in debt collection, Lewis explained that when it comes to the “trace” component of the “test and trace” strategy to combat the spread of the coronavirus, masterQueue is your huckleberry.
“Many states are advertising the hiring of thousands of people to do the work these people are trained to do, and it should be done in a secure platform that’s turnkey and already built as this needs to happen now,” Lewis wrote, “with workflow automation, integrated click-to-dial recording with QA, regulatory compliance rule tracking and data privacy pieces built-in.”
“If you are a state that is interested in leveraging the experience of people who do this for a living,” he concluded, “let’s talk.”
Skiptracing is the art – and science – of finding an individual who is trying to avoid being found. The phrase itself refers to the slang term for fleeing a given area without leaving a trace: “to skip town.” Those who employ the services of professional skip tracers range from debt collectors and bail bonds agents to lawyers, journalists, and even members of law enforcement.
As you might guess, skiptracing involves accumulating, managing, and analyzing what can become massive volumes of information. Much of this data comes from incomplete or untraditional sources. But all of it needs to be verified, reviewed, and synthesized in order for skip tracers to gain actionable insights on their subjects.
masterQueue is a web-based solution that automates the skiptracing and collections process. The platform enables users to gather and organize publicly-available customer data, and integrate relevant state, Federal, and data privacy rules in order to remain compliant. Finally, masterQueue tracks loan portfolio, customer, account, employee, third-party vendor, and data provider metrics to provide robust reporting and audit functionality.
“If there are three things you remember from what I talk with you today about, it’s three words: gather, organize, and track,” masterQueue’s Lewis told Finovate audiences in New York last fall. “Think about it in terms of data. We launched out masterQueue platform at Finovate in the spring of 2011 to be able to help debt collection (companies) find anyone they needed to find and in order to do that you need to gather, organize, and track data.”
Traditional methods in the debt collections business are especially problematic not only because of the large volumes of data to be collected, but also because of new data privacy laws that mandate how data must be handled. This has been overlooked in some of the media discussions over contact tracing in the context of COVID-19. But for masterQueue, these concerns are central – and on-going. At FinovateFall Lewis explained how, years ago, one efficient strategy of information collection – leveraging road cameras to identify the missing vehicle of a delinquent borrower instead of engaging in an outdated, time-consuming plow through paper records – was undermined by the arrival of new regulations from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. He highlighted the importance of innovation in the regtech space in the face of the latest shift in the regulatory sands – the California Consumer Privacy Act – and reminded attendees of the cost of getting it wrong.
“From $22 million against Google to $5 billion against Facebook tells you the stakes involved in data privacy,” Lewis noted, comparing the penalty assessed against Google by the FTC in 2012 with the fines levied against Facebook by the E.U. just six years later.
In recent years, masterQueue has scored seed funding after being self-funded by its founders and a pair of strategic Angel investors for the first years of its existence. The amount of the investment was not disclosed, but the capital did enable the company to add to both its workforce and to its top line. “This (funding) allows us to double staff and increase our year over year Q1 revenue from 2018 to 2019 by eight percent,” masterQueue co-founder and CFO Perla Lewis said.
In addition to working with some of the largest financial institutions in the U.S., the company recently has forged strategic partnerships with firms like PassTime a leading GPS solution provider, and expanded its relationship with PAR North America, a business division of KAR Auction Services. Founded in 2011, masterQueue is headquartered in El Dorado Hills, California.
It’s no secret that small businesses have been struggling to secure funds with the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). Banks have wrestled not only to determine eligibility but also with the clumsy online application process.
After seeing how both banks and businesses were grappling with the application process, digital transformation expert MX stepped in to help. Days after the PPP went live, MX developed and launched a free, open-sourced loan application portal that allows banks and credit unions to offer their SMB clients a way to apply for a PPP loan on their own. By removing one step of the process, the new portal also eliminates the need for banks to manually re-enter the SMBs’ loan applications and ultimately drops the application time from 30 minutes to 30 seconds.
In an interview with Yahoo! Finance (below) MX CEO Ryan Caldwell described how MX’s tool levels the playing field and help smaller banks compete with larger banks in bringing home PPP funds for SMB clients.
This tool sparked the attention of Citizens Bank of Edmond, an Oklahoma-based bank with $260 million in assets. The bank has a front-row seat to the struggle of applying for PPP loans and teamed up with MX to create a self-serve application portal for its small business customers. Citizens Bank is one of 50 financial institutions leveraging MX’s SBA loan portal tool.
“Entrepreneurs and small businesses across the country are struggling due to the devastating impact of COVID-19 and it’s critical that we get stimulus funds into their hands as soon as possible,” said MX CTO and Co-Founder Brandon Dewitt. “Together with Citizens Bank of Edmond, we’re able to speed up the loan application process by providing small business owners with a self-service portal to apply for PPP loans, and providing loan officers a way to quickly approve and automatically submit applications for thousands of small business owners.”
After the money fueling the PPP loans dried up about a week ago, the program’s coffers were refilled yesterday morning with $310 billion in new funds to help keep small businesses afloat. “Speeding up the loan application process for small businesses can mean the difference between these businesses surviving and thriving or closing their doors and laying off employees,” said Jill Castilla, President and CEO of Citizens Bank of Edmond. Castilla emphasized that MX’s portal prepared Citizens Bank to ready its operations and give its SMB clients a leg up. “By partnering with MX, we’ve been able to launch the new SBA portal for round two of stimulus funds, ensuring that our small business customers have the best possible experience as they apply for and get approved for crucial stimulus funds.”
Caldwell expects this second wave of PPP funding will bring banks 10x more loan applications than they saw in the first round. He made it clear that the banks that will be best prepared to serve their customers with this new tranche of PPP funds will be the ones that are putting data to use by aggregating business’ financial data– even without a prior banking relationship– in order to understand their risk. “Banks are realizing that not having access to that data already built into their platform not only limits them on a daily basis but surely limits them in a crisis like this,” Caldwell said.
MX is a longtime Finovate veteran, having won Best of Show for seven of its demos, including one for the company’s most recent appearance at FinovateFall 2019. Check out the award-winning demo below:
The coronavirus pandemic has accelerated many technology trends that were already in place. The growing reliance on digital communication is one of many examples of technologies whose value we may have taken for granted and are once again re-appreciating. This is especially true for businesses that have not kept up with innovations in digital communications that now find themselves, due to the COVID-19 crisis, furiously trying to get their digital communications game up to speed.
For companies leveraging email as their communications channel of choice – out of preference or necessity – ensuring that their message is welcome, received, and engaged is key to making the email channel worthwhile and effective.
SparkPost, which celebrated the fifth anniversary of the launch of its cloud-based solution earlier this month, is one of the companies innovating in the email delivery and analytics space. Facilitator of more than a third of all B2C and B2B email, and featuring partners like SoFi and Salary.com, SparkPost offers a platform that leverages more than a trillion, worldwide data signals to increase email engagement and inbox placement.
And as the company recently recognized, the ability of institutions and organizations to rely on the effectiveness of their communications strategies is all the more important in times of crisis. SparkPost’s John Landsman, Manager of Research Analytics, discussed the challenge in a blog post last month.
“During this dire global health emergency, organizations in virtually every industry have been communicating with their stakeholders via email and have done so with urgency and precision,” Landsman wrote. He highlighted email’s unique feature-set as a channel: the ability to quickly target specific audiences with customized content – including multi-media content – and to be able to accurately and immediately measure engagement. “In all, the email channel is perfectly suited to the rapidly evolving communication needs of a public crisis,” he noted.
Landsman referenced the surge in traffic on its own platform as an example of the explosion in email activity in recent months. Weekly volumes climbed from 3,600 campaigns in mid-February to 40,000+ campaigns a month later. The activity review also showed differences in read rates by sector (Transportation at the top; Financial institutions somewhere in the middle; Credit cards at the bottom). In a companion post, the SparkPost VP of Customer Success shared a set of best practices for companies looking to optimize their email communication strategy during a crisis. “While crisis communications are stressful to produce,” she wrote, “you can make a huge difference in how your company is perceived by sending valuable and relevant information during a tough time.”
The COVID crisis comes as SparkPost looks back on the work the company has done since launching its cloud solution and emerging from its previous incarnation as on-premises, enterprise-grade email server, Message Systems. Today the company has 6,000 customers and facilitates almost 40% of the world’s commercial email to the tune of 6+ trillion emails a year. And perhaps most critically, SparkPost’s platform gives them access to a robust collection of email intelligence data. This is what enabled the company to combine email delivery and email analytics in a new offering, Signals. This product leverages email intelligence data and machine learning models to anticipate potential recipient engagement issues before the emails are sent.
The anniversary also marks a significant shift at the top as SparkPost founder George Schlossnagle transitions from Chief Technical Officer to Chief Evangelist to make way for CPO Charlie Reverte’s promotion to CTO. “This amazing team has given me time to reflect on both what I enjoy and where I can add the most value,” Schlossnagle wrote at the company blog earlier this month. “I’m very excited to announce Charlie as our new CTO.”
SparkPost has raised more than $93 million in equity funding from investors including NewSpring Capital, LLR Partners, and Hercules Capital. Headquartered in Columbia, Maryland, the company demonstrated the Signals feature of its platform at FinovateSpring (this year, FinovateWest) last May.
COVID-19 has rewritten so many rules about the economy. It is now more difficult than ever to underwrite risk and ultimately understand if a consumer will pay back their loan.
The Wall Street Journal reported late last month that many lenders have implemented stricter lending requirements because of this challenge. In some ways, this is necessary for banks to protect themselves. However, the more stringent standards also create hardships for consumers who could really use some extra cash right now.
Policymakers have intervened to encourage banks to loosen their lending standards to meet consumer needs during this time. Banks are being told not to pay attention to credit as much as they used to and to not collect more than a year’s worth of data for underwriting.
“There is significant pressure by the Small Business Administration to make unsupported loans,” said career banker and author Richard Lawless. “Banks are being told, ‘don’t pay attention to bad credit.’ This will result in loan losses of 10%, or more. All of which amounts to the new CDC guidance for banks, ‘don’t wear you mask, don’t wash your hands, touch everything, and gather in large groups. It’s okay, the government has got your back.'”
Fortunately, non-traditional underwriting models have been gaining popularity in the fintech space. Many of these models don’t rely on a borrower’s financial standing, but instead pull data from alternative sources such as social media. Two things fueling this recent explosion include the availability of more data and the advanced expertise of AI.
California-based Neener Analytics relies on both of these aspects– the abundance of data as well as AI– for its risk outcome predictor. The company offers businesses an “automated psychologist” that tells companies the likelihood that a prospective borrower will pay back a loan. Unlike the way many companies analyze creditworthiness, Neener Analytics doesn’t look at whether or not the consumer’s financial situation is in good shape. “The question isn’t can they pay us back– that’s easy to figure out,” said CEO Jeff LoCastro during his demo at FinovateSpring 2019. “The question is will they.”
The company places a lot of weight on what it considers small data and human data. Regarding the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on consumer credit scores, LoCastro said, “The market is going to be hit with a tidal wave of newly undecisionable consumers: consumers who on a Monday were a good bet, but by Friday will suddenly be unacceptable. They missed payments because of a global COVID shut-down…not because they are a bad risk; this is a health crisis, not a financial one. But the big data algorithms can’t account for that… Only small data can see beyond COVID; only through small data is the consumer still a distinctive individual human being endowed by a unique matrix of conditions and domains that manifests in binary outcomes.”
To help businesses underwrite risk in this new environment, Neener Analytics’ tool turns to social media. With over 70% accuracy, this “automated psychologist” tool can be summoned via a one-click decisioning tool or a chatbot dubbed ARIA. Both methods eliminate the need for lenders to ask more questions on loan applications, which often leads to abandonment.
“We all know sometimes bad things happen to good people,” added LoCastro. “The only way to bridge this is through human data . . . not through more underwhelming historical, transactional, or relational approaches. With Neener Analytics, consumers who were a good bet on Monday . . . will still be a good bet on Friday.”