Innovation in a Time of Crisis: A Conversation with Upgrade’s Renaud Laplanche

What are the challenges of launching a challenger bank in today’s environment? What do these neobanks offer that traditional banks do not? And what will the path forward look like for these newcomers in terms of disruption versus collaboration with both incumbent financial services companies, as well as fintechs?

We caught up with Renaud Laplanche, co-founder and CEO of Upgrade. The San Francisco, California-based neobank, which recently announced a major fundraising, was founded in 2016 and specializes in offering credit solutions rather than savings products to mainstream consumers.

We talked with Renaud about what makes Upgrade different from other challenger banks and what the company has in store for the second half of 2020. We also drew upon his experience as the founder and CEO of LendingClub to discuss the challenges of fintech innovation in times of crisis.


Finovate: Most founders would consider themselves lucky to be responsible for bringing one company to unicorn status. With Upgrade’s most recent fundraising, we can now say that you’ve brought two companies to this level. How big of a deal was the June investment for the company? 

Renaud Laplanche: Thank you, David, that was a big deal indeed. Reaching a billion-dollar valuation in just three years was an amazing achievement from the team, but more importantly we secured the backing of a formidable ally with Santander Group, a top 10 global bank, leading the round. We have been growing at a triple-digit rate in the last 12 months, and recently hit $100 million revenue run rate, so we would certainly have commanded a higher valuation from a growth-stage VC fund, but the strategic value of Santander was key to us. We believe this is the first time a top 10 global bank backs a neobank, which is a very positive development for the fintech industry as a whole as it shows that the largest banks in the world see tremendous value in fintech product innovation. 

Finovate: One of the aspects about Upgrade that has attracted special attention is the idea of being a neobank “with credit at its heart.” What does that mean and why pursue this route? 

Laplanche: Credit represents 70% of banks’ revenue in the U.S. and globally, and obtaining credit is often the number one reason consumers seek a bank relationship to start with. So credit is an essential component of any bank, and particularly a neobank that doesn’t benefit from a branch network and must establish trust and loyalty through other means. A credit relationship achieves that very purpose. 

Our ability to deliver a mobile banking experience offering payments and deposit capabilities coupled with loans and credit cards at scale makes us unique in the neobank space. Credit is difficult to scale because it requires billions of dollars of capital, which means either a very large balance sheet and a capital-intensive model that doesn’t generally fit with a fintech framework, or outsourcing that balance sheet to investors, which itself requires a long track record of credit performance. Building the underwriting and servicing infrastructure to handle billions of dollars of credit is also challenging. 

We started offering credit products in 2017, and have built the necessary track record, underwriting and servicing infrastructure, delivered billions of dollars of credit to consumers and are now about to roll out our full mobile banking experience. 

Finovate: What are the signature offerings from Upgrade? How many users are taking advantage of them and what kind of growth has the company experienced so far? 

Laplanche: Our signature offering is Upgrade Card, a credit card that delivers the low cost and responsible credit of installment lending through millions of points of sale. Instead of turning charges into a never-ending revolving balance like traditional credit cards, Upgrade Card turns each monthly balance into an installment plan that consumers pay down in monthly equal installments over 1 to 5 years. This approach encourages the discipline of paying the balance down every month, and eventually lowers the cost of credit for consumers. 

Since launching in 2017, we have delivered over $3 billion in credit through both cards and loans. We launched Upgrade Card in October of 2019 and already passed half a billion dollars in annual origination run rate. Even through the crisis over the last several months we continued to record 20%+ monthly growth. 

Finovate: One of the investors in Upgrade said that they were excited to support the company in its “next stage of growth.” What does that next stage look like? What are the goals, for example, over the balance of 2020? 

Laplanche: We are doubling down on the existing strategy and will be using the new capital to fuel the continued rapid growth of Upgrade Card and launch Upgrade Banking, a full suite of mobile banking products and services. Overall we expect to add approximately $2.5 billion in credit origination this year, and launch what we believe to be the most innovative mobile banking product for mainstream consumers. 

Finovate: What has the impact of the global health crisis had on Upgrade – both in terms of your relationships with customers and partners, as well as how Upgrade itself may have had to adjust internally to adapt to the “New Normal”? 

Laplanche: With many bank branches being closed over the last few months, a lot of consumers have turned to online banking. This was generally a small adjustment to the “millennial” population, but a much bigger adjustment to the generations that grew up in a world of in-person banking. The COVID-19 crisis accelerated the digitalization of financial services, and gave many consumers an opportunity to discover online banking and online credit for the first time. I believe the corresponding changes in consumer behavior are here to stay. 

The crisis also caused us to re-prioritize some of our product development, including the introduction of a contactless version and a mobile-payment version of Upgrade Card in April of 2020, several months ahead of the planned release date. Both features have helped our customers avoid surface contacts during in-store checkouts.

Internally, we made the decision early on to allow all of our San Francisco and Montreal employees to work from home. Everyone has stepped up to the challenge and we’ve seen no loss of productivity as a result. 

Finovate: You co-founded LendingClub shortly before the Great Financial Crisis and managed to steer the company through that challenge to great success. Some people have compared our current situation – with the COVID-19 pandemic and growing social unrest worldwide – to that previous crisis environment. From the point of view of someone who has led a fintech company through a major crisis, what advice do you have for fintech entrepreneurs in terms of dealing with this one? 

Laplanche: There are similarities and differences between the two situations. The economic crisis caused by COVID-19 is a lot more severe in terms of job losses, and came in more abruptly than the 2008 financial crisis. But the financial health of the U.S. consumer, the banking system and the overall economy immediately prior to the crisis was a lot better than in 2008. The monetary and fiscal policy response has also been stronger, and so far more effective this time around. It is still hard to know the exact economic and social impact of the pandemic, as so much is still in play.

That being said, some parts of the 2008 playbook remain relevant: cut costs early, conserve cash, raise more cash if you can, and always assume the downturn will be longer and more painful than initial estimates would have you believe. A prudent approach is generally rewarded in the early phase of a downturn. There will likely be opportunities toward the end of the downturn and early phases of the recovery, but these opportunities will only be available to those who weathered the storm in the first place.


Photo by schach100 from Pexels

MyLife’s Jeff Tinsley on Creating a “Reputation Score” and the Future of Personal Data

MyLife’s Jeff Tinsley on Creating a “Reputation Score” and the Future of Personal Data

It’s the FraudTech day of the Finovate Fintech Halftime Review, and we welcome Jeff Tinsley, CEO of MyLife to talk fraud management and prevention and how MyLife can be used by financial institutions to educate and add value for their consumers.

David Penn, our own Finovate Analyst, asks what sort of things go into creating a Reputation Score, and how MyLife protects people from fraud?

Watch the full interview.

Find out more about MyLife and get in touch with Tim (timp@mylife-inc.com) for any questions or partnership inquiries.

ITSCREDIT’s João Pinto on the Digital Lending Opportunity

ITSCREDIT CEO João Pinto

We recently spoke with ITSCREDIT CEO João Pinto. Founded in 2018, ITSCREDIT is a spinoff from ITSECTOR and is a fairly new player in the digital lending space. The Portugal-based company focuses on placing the consumer in control of the lending experience by making the entire process digital.

In this interview, Pinto talks to us about the digital lending opportunity, how his company fits into the current state of this fintech subsector, and what we can expect to see next.


Finovate: There is a wide range of borrowers out there– some who may not be comfortable on digital channels and others who are digital natives. How does ITSCREDIT adapt to this variety?

João Pinto: The main focus of ITSCREDIT is to evolve the lending process so that different types of customers can perform all lending origination actions using online channels. Our aim is that the customers can perform all origination operations online with minimum data input. We do this by retrieving necessary application information from various systems (personal data, financial data, and so on). Our approach to digital lending is to provide processes that are intuitive, attractive, simple, and fast in an online environment to revamp many of the bureaucracies often associated with traveling to the banks’ physical branches.

The customer can access the ITSCREDIT platform via online channels, such as mobile and internet. ITSCREDIT provides interfaces for other channels, as well, such as branch, contact center, and backoffice, which all have access to the client and their application process. This means that the client can start an application in any channel and get information or advice and can continue the process in any other channel. This way, more traditional users that are not as comfortable using digital channels can use traditional channels either in an isolated way, or– more interestingly– in a combined way. The multi-channel approach offers them full control of their application.

Finovate: How does ITSCREDIT underwrite credit risk and how does that approach differ from incumbent players?

Pinto: The ITSCREDIT platform contains four main modules: Flowcredit (Loan Origination), Calculators, Risk Analysis, Scoring, and Collections. Each can operate in isolation or can be combined in any way. Also, the platform is open so that implementations can use as much data as is available in order to have a more complete view of customers and their financials. We believe this is a huge strength of the platform. It allows banks to garner richer information for the risk analysis from both individuals and corporations (through Risk Analysis and Scoring modules), and also makes data available from credit applications processes (through Flowcredit).

In many situations our clients have, in the past, invested heavily in building their credit application analysis. The Flowcredit module easily integrates with such systems and then adds additional information and rules to make underwriting even more accurate and tailored to suit the financial institution needs.

Finovate: Tell us about the role that open banking plays in ITSCREDIT.

Pinto: As we mentioned previously, one of our strengths is that the ITSCREDIT platform is open so that implementations can use as much data as is available in order to have a more complete view of customers and their financials. In this scenario, open banking is a key element. It not only makes much more data available from different players, but also makes integrations much easier.

On the other hand, our platform is based on a services architecture, so that it exposes services that can be consumed by third party entities. For example, the use of calculators and loan origination components can easily be used in different commerce sites and therefore originate completely new lines of business for the institutions. For example, a travel agent can have a payment method on their website for their clients based on a personal loan.

Finovate: Looking broadly at the credit and lending industry as a whole, what changes do you anticipate 2020 will bring?

Pinto: In the past years we have seen financial institutions start to approach digital lending for their clients. This journey is still in its early stages, with few institutions providing such functionalities for a few products. We are sure, though, that in 2020 we’ll see more institutions adopting full digital lending with simpler models more adequate to their clients needs. The launch of PSD2 in Europe and other Open Banking initiatives around the world make it much easier to obtain personal and financial data from credit applicants and therefore make the loan origination simpler and faster.

The other area that we foresee a great expansion is through a space we refer to as dPOS (digital Point-of-Sale). A dPOS enables merchants to provide payment methods for their ecommerce platforms with digital lending, providing lower rates on credit cards for end customers and a lower cost and even extra income for merchants.

Finovate: What’s next on the horizon for ITSCREDIT?

Pinto: ITSCREDIT is a spin-off that will be 2 years old in May. We already have 13 clients on three continents: North America, Europe, and Africa. Our journey on the commercial side is to present the advantages of our solutions to more institutions and get more implementations.

In terms of product evolutions, we are enhancing the digital lending capabilities and models and launching new versions in 2020 for brokers and merchants.

Overall, our big aim is to position ourselves as a world-class player for credit solutions, providing innovative and modern solutions for our customers to help them differentiate from their competitors and become more efficient with higher loan volumes.


You can watch ITSCREDIT demo its latest technology on stage at FinovateEurope next month. Register now to save your seat!

If you’re interested in demoing on the FinovateEurope stage this year, reach out to heather@finovate.com or take a look at our event page for more details.

banqUP, PSD2, and the Future of Open Banking in Europe

With Finovate making its debut on the European continent just over a month from now, we thought it was a good time to catch up with one of the major fintech innovators in the region, banqUP.

The company, headquartered in Belgium and “proudly developed in Poland,” demonstrated its small business banking platform at FinovateEurope 2017. We reached out to company CEO and founder Krzysztof Pulkiewicz to talk about banqUP’s latest accomplishments in open banking, as well as what the landscape for fintech innovation is like inside and outside the CEE region.

Finovate: The most recent news from banqUP is the news of your AIS license from the Polish Financial Supervision Authority. What does this license enable and how important was this development to your company?

Krzysztof Pulkiewicz: It allows us to broaden our reach and gain new clients. We have been working with a number of banks but now, with our newly gained license, we have the possibility to work both with banks and other entities that can gain access to the opportunities provided by open banking thanks to our solutions.

Finovate: You also recently announced that the company will focus fully on its B2B2C open banking platform. Can you tell us a little bit about the thinking behind this decision?

Pulkiewicz: For banqUP, the main reasons of moving from an idea of a fintech bank to a platform integrating banking APIs were challenges related to the acquisition of customers, especially on mature digital banking markets like Poland. There were also several limitations like opening accounts in polish zloty. On the other hand, we were already closely working with banks interested in our technology. We have seen that a number of our partners were interested in our open banking solutions. We have been working in a sort of a schizophrenic environment – both working with banks and building our own bank as well.

Multibanking was a core element of banqUP fintech bank from day one, and we have decided to focus on this aspect of the platform. We knew that sticking to what we are really good at – technology and data analytics – will be working for us. And it proved true.

banqUp’s platform adds new functionality such as analytics and data enrichment in addition to data aggregation.

Finovate: In line with this, the company has decided to launch a TPP-as-a-Service business line. Why do this and how large are the opportunities there?

Pulkiewicz: This is something we have been thinking about since we have started considering open banking. Multibanking solutions are the beginning of the open banking ecosystem, but we are sure that what the future brings, are the new ideas and products that will come from PSD2. There are many companies that do not consider getting their TPP licenses, as it is not a core of their business.  However, they are willing to use the information provided by the banking system, and our solution is created for such partners.

The number of inquiries we are getting from prospective partners is really astonishing – and these are both new companies and major players from different industries. 

Finovate: You mentioned in an email that you plan to open the next generation of your platform to the public early next year. Can you give us a preview of what’s new and what to expect – as well as any update on the timeline?

Pulkiewicz: Our main focus is on what we call “open banking building blocks.” We are extending our platform with best-in-class API and SDK that will offer effective integration capabilities for developers. On the functional level, we are adding new functionalities on top of data aggregation (analytics, data quality management, and data enrichment) as well as provide and expand on all the components that can support different businesses in connecting to the open-banking world (consent lifecycle management, data streaming, combining PSD2 APIs with other data sources). We know that data aggregation and payment initiation is just a starting point and we are positioning our platform as a one-stop shop for open banking.

The team from banqUP during their live demonstration at FinovateEurope 2017.

Finovate: BanqUp operates in both CEE and non-CEE Europe – Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, and Bulgaria on the one hand, Belgium and Ireland on the other. Are there categorical differences between working with financial institutions in Central Europe compared to Western Europe? Are attitudes toward open banking the same or different?

Pulkiewicz: The ecosystems differ, but the main distinction we see is not between Central and Western Europe, but between individual countries. Ireland’s ecosystem, for example, is very open. It is not only a reaction to the British banking regulations that have been the basis for PSD2 and had an effect on Ireland, but also the number of fintech companies from the U.K. and Ireland that had quickly started working with banks as they have opened. Poland’s banks have been working on many innovative banking tech projects, and banks have implemented many solutions of their own, making their ecosystems quite closed. When you look at Hungary, it was very fast with opening its own data – with eight out of 10 of the biggest banks in the country providing their API access in March of 2019, well before the final implementation of PSD2 in June. The central bank of the country has also created a fintech cooperation strategy. The differences here do not come from geographical divisions, but from the local ecosystems.

Finovate: In addition to the platform enhancements expected in 2020, are there any other announcements you can preview? New partners, new investors, new markets?

Pulkiewicz: We are definitely planning to expand to new markets – mostly focusing on the CEE region. We have a number of really promising talks with new, large partners, but we cannot really disclose any names at this moment. When it comes to investors – we have been very proud we have managed to come to this moment without any external support, but we are now also looking for strategic partnerships and alliances.

Blockchain-Based Payments and Rebooting the Financial System

Paystand CEO Jeremy Almond knows a thing or two about business payments. Since co-founding the company in 2013, Almond has implemented numerous improvements to the company’s payments engine, taking full advantage of the blockchain.

Among Paystand’s most recent debuts are the company’s 2018 launch of a blockchain that ensures payment, storing an immutable record of every transaction the company processes. Earlier this year, Paystand launched the Assurety-as-a-Service API that leverages the company’s blockchain to prevent fraud. Paystand also unveiled Automated Receivables, a tool that leverages the blockchain to automate invoice collection.

Almond is a 15-year veteran of the tech industry, having served as a serial entrepreneur, startup advisor, and occasional investor. Almond helped co-found Paystand in 2013 and has since been at the helm of the company as CEO. We caught up with him in an interview earlier this month.

Finovate: What is Paystand and how does it differ from other online payment gateways?

Jeremy Almond: Paystand is a commercial payments platform that automates the entire cash cycle, from invoicing to reconciliation, to make payments an easy, effortless experience.

Today’s financial system is plagued by costly fees, inefficiencies, and paper-driven processes. We believe this broken system is holding businesses back, so we created Paystand to eliminate fees and build the payment framework for the digital era.

Much the same way that Netflix came along and completely re-thought consumption of media or how Tesla has come to market with not just a new vehicle but a business model and mission focused on energy independence, Paystand differentiates itself with its Payments-as-a-Service model. The outdated, inefficient, fee-based approach to commercial payments and money movement no longer makes sense. Instead of taking a cut from every customer sale, our customers pay a flat monthly rate to use our payment software. Essentially, it is unlimited “consumption” for payments with predictable costs. This means that as our customers’ businesses grow, their profits increase instead of their fees.

We’ve also built the most complete digital payment network available to businesses. Using the Paystand Bank Network, customers can move money electronically without paying any fees. It’s the industry’s first zero-cost rail, and the easiest way for businesses to get paid today. It’s also the only blockchain-based payments infrastructure that has been tested at scale with millions of transactions and enterprise volume.

Finovate: You’re a startup investor yourself. How does that influence how you’ve built Paystand?

Almond: Most venture-backed startups fail, especially the high-potential ones. Everyone is hungry to find the next Uber or Facebook, so it’s easier than ever to start a company and get funded. But building a startup that lasts isn’t easy. I think many founders underestimate that and end up spending their time and resources chasing quick exits and unicorn status.

That’s why we do things completely different at Paystand. We’re focused on building a sustainable business that solves real, meaningful problems. There’s a certain business pacing you have to keep up to attract the right investors and gather momentum around your vision. So driving that kind of sustainable growth is our top priority.

Over time, I believe we’re going to see a shift away from companies constantly raising equity to this sustainable growth approach. If you look at the market today, especially after Zoom’s IPO, there’s a real appetite for businesses with a clear path to profitability.

In many ways, being an investor has been an advantage to building Paystand.

Finovate: Tell us about Paystand’s new Fintech Advisory Council launched earlier this year. What was the impetus for this?

Almond: The need for the Fintech Advisory Council really came from our growth. We’ve nearly tripled our revenue this year, which is more than an 8x increase since raising our Series A round. So we built the advisory council to help us scale our product innovation and better meet this demand.

We didn’t make the appointments lightly. These are people who are literally the top of the top for financial services and B2B fintech. CheckFree founder Pete Kight, for example, made it possible to pay bills online with your bank account. Other advisors include the former president of Bill.com and the former president of PayPal. Having these pioneers on our side, guiding us, is going to be a massive value ad as we build the next chapter in commercial finance.

This is a huge mission we’re talking about — rebooting the financial system. Our Fintech Advisory Council is going to help us make that happen.

Finovate: Paystand recently surpassed 100,000 businesses using its platform. What new features does Paystand have in the works to garner its next 100,000 users?

Almond: Although we recently surpassed 100,000 businesses using the platform, we know we’re still just scratching the surface. There are over 6 million B2B companies in the United States alone. And 18 trillion dollars still moves between businesses via paper check every year in this country. That’s a staggering figure. Those businesses need a modern payment solution that doesn’t penalize growth via more and higher fees. So, we’re focused on continuing to deliver the best payment solutions to that market with our core payment platform. We plan on deepening our integrations and relationships with core systems of record like NetSuite to further provide seamless automation of accounts receivable workflows.

At the same time, we’re continuing to build innovative products to enable automation and reduce friction for the entire downstream network involved in payments. We recently launched Autopilot, our receivables automation product that helps companies reduce DSO, decrease late payments, and improve the customer payment experience. And our newly launched Payment Portal gives all of their downstream payers an intuitive interface to view their payments, payer history, and access our payment platform.

Every day, more businesses are making the shift to a more open, inclusive commercial payments infrastructure and are rejecting the outdated, fee-based model that no longer makes sense. We’re proud to help them on their journey.

Saving for What Matters: A Q&A with INSPIRAVE Founder and CEO Om Kundu

From a renewed focus on holistic financial wellness to the way technologies like predictive analytics can improve financial decision-making, the personal finance management (PFM) space has enjoyed a renaissance in recent years.

We caught up with Om Kundu, founder and CEO of social savings network INSPIRAVE, to find out what his company has been doing to help the average person leverage relationships with friends and family to save smarter. Headquartered in New York City, INSPIRAVE demonstrated its platform at FinovateFall 2016.

Finovate: Among the big news from INSPIRAVE this fall was the fact that you were recently issued a patent. What was the patent for and what does it mean for the company going forward?

Kundu: By combining intelligently planned direct deposits with social gifting and the best savings offers, we have combined the power of three separate solutions of social discovery, savings, and fulfillment into one. This enables INSPIRAVE to be a relentless advocate, and maintain our users’ best interest in mind at every step. INSPIRAVE empowers users to travel from Point-A to Point-B not only by increasing the value of their existing principal, but also by reducing the price-point of their chosen goal whenever possible as part of a thoughtfully orchestrated plan that does not stop until the goal is fulfilled without the risk of credit turning into debt.

Our most recently issued patent is part of a series of filed patents that we expect to be issued internationally. What you see today is V 1.0 of the roadmap (image below) we are furthering for an end-to-end, iTunes-like ecosystem to fundamentally realign retail financial services, commerce and goal-fulfillment. In its simplest form, the systems and methods of the inventions are inspiring users on a journey to fulfill the goals that matter the most to them by setting funds aside over time to make a purchase you may not have afforded otherwise.

The fact that our INSPIRAVE patent has been cited by some of the world’s leading institutions spanning across the Americas (Bank of America) and China (FUZAMEI Tech) should speak for itself on our proprietary technology’s far-reaching scope and scale. The issuance of the patent is a testament to INSPIRAVE having pioneered social savings as much as social commerce.

Looking ahead as part of our roadmap, INSPIRAVE users and partners will benefit from technologies enabling smart contracts for co-ownership/co-access of the merchandise being saved up for. They will also power our SaveAway Pay-It-Forward Scores™, through which we have further aligned incentives for people saving towards their goals and their friends-and-family who have the option — but not the obligation — to contribute. 

Finovate: A lot of fintech companies are getting involved in financial wellness, moving beyond PFM. For those who are new to INSPIRAVE, how does your solution differ from other savings-oriented platforms on the market?

Kundu: Far too many solutions in the market today induce more (impulse) spending to qualify for what is often the mirage of saving (i.e., credit card cash-back rewards, or rounding-up a fraction of what you spend into saving). Instead of resuscitating the dying saving muscle, they end up putting the spending muscle on further steroids. Included in these is seemingly “convenient” point-of-sale financing, including those you pay in installments festered with egregious interest rates with credit, that far too often translates into debt.

Yet other card-linked solutions throw advertised offers at you based on your past transactions, which often end up encouraging frivolous purchases and overspending. At a time when the debt crisis is upon us (over $1 trillion in credit card debt alone), we absolutely can and must do better than what retail financial services and commerce often is today: impulsive, punitive, and asocial.

INSPIRAVE stands for that more perfect union – one that aligns fulfillment of goals by users to that of our retail partners who equally benefit from customers, sales, and positive impact they would not have had otherwise. Our singular focus is on helping you “save more, faster,” to fulfill the purchase-goals that matter most, and help you avoid the distractions of the frivolous purchases that don’t.

The result? Even while INSPIRAVE is devoid of advertising, our powerful model is free for end-users (unlike many existing solutions which charge fees for their savings service.)!

Our INSPIRAVE user research indicates in no uncertain terms that “saving for saving’s sake” or saving limited to monetary goals — which is what many solutions today in the market provide — is not intrinsically fulfilling for people. Beyond numerical goals, our goal should be to fulfill experiential goals — i.e., having the purchase-goals that matter the most to us and the people around us delivered at your door.

Finovate: As a social savings network, users of the platform are also critical to the network effect of community-building. Are you seeing these effects in the beta testing of the platform that you are currently doing?

Kundu: INSPIRAVE’s social foundation is borne out in no uncertain terms with over 90% of our users referring other users to the platform. The INSPIRAVE platform’s latest release adds social and direct messaging capabilities making it extraordinarily easy for users to selectively engage their “friends that count” (in contrast to the more public “friend count” or crowd) on purchase decisions.

By cultivating a community of “friends that count,” users not only benefit from social nudges that help them make better purchase-decisions, but also equally increase the likelihood of benefiting from social gifting in the form of monetary contributions from those very same friends. Beyond taking advantage of access to our private beta, our SaveAway program empowers users to recommend their own favorite brands and retailers to join our network. This is making SaveAway a truly democratized marketplace that is equally accessible by well-regarded brands big and small.

Rather than the zero-sum game of getting consumers to “buy more stuff,” INSPIRAVE empowers users to “save more, faster” in ways that enable them to focus on the big purchases that matter most which they wouldn’t have afforded otherwise. In so doing, our SaveAway platform equally unlocks a wholly new channel of underserved customers and sales that expands the total addressable market for retail and financial institutions.

Finovate: How important are partnerships to building the INSPIRAVE community and brand? Who are the other players in fintech that you have synergies with or with whom you might collaborate?

Kundu: Our noteworthy partners run the gamut from Microsoft — which has inducted us into their “Microsoft for Startups” program for The Top Startups in the World — to Stripe, as well as leading e-commerce destinations and retailers including eBay and Best Buy. Given the volume of recent partner inquiries, we are focused on the ones most aligned with our progressive vision. Looking ahead, you can expect to see more of INSPIRAVE’s solutions directly embedded in the retail and e-commerce platforms of our partners.

Finovate: Can you tell us a little about the team you’ve put together and who’ve helped the company get to where it is today?

Kundu: From interns and hires straight out of universities such as Cornell, RIT, Carnegie Mellon, et.al. to senior executives in our board, the common attribute that stands out among them all is this: the courage and the tenacity to solve for tough — and hitherto unsolved — problems. Each one is resolutely focused on alleviating the pain that hundreds of millions are living with, manifest in the staggering amount of consumer debt and gaping holes in financial wellness that get in the way of fulfilling the big goals that truly matter.

George Anderson, Founder of Ninth Wave on Keeping Up with Fintech

The following interview is with George Anderson, CEO and founder of Ninth Wave, a Gold Sponsor of FinovateFall.


In the run-up to FinovateFall, we interviewed George Anderson, CEO and founder of Ninth Wave (formerly Enterprise Engineering) to get the scoop on how the company keeps up with ever-changing trends in fintech.

In addition to serving as an expert on information management and technology to solve business problems, Anderson has authored several books and articles on enterprise architecture, relational database design, internet development, and high performance computing. He has 25 years of experience working with leading banks and technology companies in the development of emerging information systems.

Finovate: You founded Ninth Wave (originally Enterprise Engineering Inc.) in 1995. How has the company’s focus shifted to help financial institutions serve clients when customer expectations are changing faster than ever?

George Anderson: I spend a tremendous amount of time with Ninth Wave customers. It is critical to clearly understand the challenges they are facing in a constantly evolving market. This allows Ninth Wave to advance its platform, remain leading edge, and provide constant and ongoing value.

As a platform provider, Ninth Wave must maintain its deep business and technology expertise through continuous communication with our clients. Having founded and run a tech company for 23+ years, I know that contributing to the client’s bottom line is key to success across volatile financial cycles.

Our clients are premier, sophisticated Fortune 500 firms who are ahead of the curve – investing in top talent and the development / acquisition of innovative solutions. As a trusted partner, we have to ensure we are offering a platform that aligns with their requirements and capabilities.

Lastly, by spending so much time with customers, you can anticipate trends and meet customer expectations much faster than they could reasonably expect you to. We are focused on exceeding our clients’ expectations every day.

Finovate: Ninth Wave’s corporate mantra is – “If you’re not moving ahead, you are falling behind!” Tell us about key processes you use to keep the company pushing forward in an industry moving faster than ever.

Anderson: Ninth Wave is a company that has a unique culture of passion about everything we do. This passion for excellent client service, continuous learning, deep expertise, employee engagement and being best-in-class has been the driver that has differentiated us and has us leading the competition.

We hire top talent who thrive in a fast-paced, complex and ever-changing environment. The mixture of collaboration, curiosity, client focus along with the desire to win have been the fuel that powers our creation of new products and make the Ninth Wave platform the preferred solution for our clients.

Our associates are immersed in the financial industry and emerging technologies through learning forums, advisory sessions, client interactions and brainstorming with both Ninth Wave and industry peers. The goal is to align the technology we deliver with the business strategy of our clients to be relevant today and in the future.

Finovate: Ninth Wave has multiple Fortune 500 clients. What is your strategy for capturing and keeping such high-profile clients?

Anderson: The Ninth Wave team has unparalleled experience with Fortune 500 clients. We understand their jobs from the inside, we understand their challenges and the pressure they are up against every day. Given this experience, there is no learning curve for us when we walk in the door. Odds are, we have fixed their problem or addressed their opportunity for one of their peers. We are often told that we cover in one meeting what takes others weeks to do.

We are also in a great position to tell our clients about how they stack up against their competition. What gaps do they have? What is their edge? Their differentiation? Perhaps even more importantly, what are their opportunities for time-to-market for competitive advantage? And what are others doing to leap frog them?

Finovate: Ninth Wave offers a range of products, from data aggregation tools to tax form data. What’s next on the horizon?

Anderson: We believe there is tremendous room for improvement in the financial data ecosystem. The world between banks and consumers is still filled with inefficiencies and cyber risks. Consumers are focused on data access and custom views and are often unaware of the dangers that currently exist.

Already at the next point on the horizon, Ninth Wave is now launching advanced solutions for fintech connectivity that deliver the control and security required by financial institutions and consumers while streamlining the integration of fintech applications.

After this? Ninth Wave is developing a unique and compelling new technology that truly offers business value and best-in-class services. These revolutionary innovations will simplify and provide full transparency to replace the opaque and often fragmented current environments.

Ninth Wave will continue to focus on providing unparalleled connectivity to unlock data for authorized and secure delivery for financial institutions. We will keep you posted as we finalize the reveal date.

CEO Interview: Jumio’s Stephen Stuut

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A few weeks ago, we sent some questions to Jumio CEO Stephen Stuut (pictured). The digital ID-verification company he runs made headlines a little over a month ago with news that it had raised $15 million from its new owner, Centana Growth Partners. A Best of Show winner from FinovateEurope 2015, Jumio fell on challenging times this spring when it filed for Chapter 11 protection. Stuut, who took the helm at Jumio in May jumio_stephenstuut2015, struck a positive tone, saying that the “restructuring process will allow us to strengthen the company’s financial structure and extend our leadership position in ID verification.”

So far so good. In addition to its recent funding, Jumio has forged ID verification and KYC/AML partnerships with companies ranging from European online gaming operator, Tipico; to the Paris-based mobile scooter-sharing network, Cityscoot; to Spanish crypto-currency specialist Krypto Commerce—all in the past few months alone. Combined with Jumio’s summer announcement that it has completed more than 30 million ID verifications, and it looks like the comeback trail for Jumio is clear.

Here’s what CEO Stuut had to say about his company, its current initiatives, and what we can expect from the Palo Alto-based security specialist in the months and years to come.


Finovate: Where will ID scanning and technologies like FaceMatch make the biggest impact in terms of replacing passwords and security codes?

Stephen Stuut: With the rise of online and mobile transactions, the growth of banking transactions like mobile account opening, money transfer, and bitcoin, and the rapid adoption of shared services, individuals are at greater risk to protect their security, and companies are further challenged to provide processes that will both build trust with their customers, while ensuring safety and security by helping reduce fraud.

Multifactor-authentication methods are missing the mark; the use of a password or security code is not a secure enough way to verify an individual is in fact the owner of the account. Passwords and codes passed via mobile devices can be hacked, and there is no proof that the mobile device is in the possession of the owner.

A recent report from the National Institute of Standards and Technology referred to this process as insecure because the phone may not be in possession of the number and the SMS may be interrupted.

However, for a better approach, utilizing a combination of one or two government-issued IDs, with live photo and facial recognition, companies can ensure that an ID is valid and the person in possession of the ID is in fact the genuine ID owner.

Finovate: As much as most people hate passwords, they are a fairly embedded part of online and mobile culture. What will it take to start moving people away from passwords and toward these new technologies in significant numbers?

Stuut: To enable these markets to foster, regulations are being put in place that force compliance with KYC (know your customer) and address AML. These issues are driving the need for more robust ID-verification models that move beyond common passwords and security codes to more robust verification like ID scanning with Face Match.

Finovate: What is unique about Jumio’s approach to ID verification?

Stuut: Jumio replaces laborious and unreliable systems including knowledge-based authentication (KBA), inferred verification, and in-person verification by untrained individuals. The Jumio technology platform is industry-leading, providing computer vision technology, and face-match with human ID experts. This process provides the optimal combination of accuracy and user convenience while providing KYC requirements.

In addition, Jumio is PCI Level 1 compliant and regularly conducts security audits, vulnerability scans and penetration tests to ensure compliance with security best practices and standards. To ensure our security remains PCI compliant year after year, we have a yearly on-site validation assessment by a Quality Security Assessor (QSA).

Finovate: What are the advantages to working in so many different verticals—from financial services to travel to online gaming—beyond the opportunities for growing the company?

Stuut: Our work with companies in varying verticals has led to many opportunities for Jumio, but this opportunity, most notably and arguably most importantly, has allowed us to transform a more robust solution.

As varying industries seek ID-verification solutions to aid their business processes, success via these technologies may look different. For example, many of Jumio’s customers in the travel vertical use our ID-verification solution to deliver great mobile customer experiences with mobile check-in. Conversely, Jumio customers in the financial services vertical utilize our solution to help verify customer identity while also improving remote account-opening completion rates.

Because Jumio is focused on meeting the requirements and regulations of specific verticals, each industry benefits from the added expertise gained across these major markets. As a result both our platform and our customers have immensely benefited. Instead of a solution that is adequately built to address needs in one industry, Jumio’s solution is built to meet the needs of varying verticals, allowing for a more robust solution.

Finovate: You’ve been on the job as CEO for Jumio for just over a year. What accomplishments in this time are you most proud of and what do you hope most to accomplish in your second year?

Stuut: Over this past year I have been exceptionally proud to work with the talented individuals across the Jumio organization. Our team of highly skilled developers and seasoned executive team have been leading the industry, delivering on our vision of the next generation of digital ID-verification solutions.

The team is delivering great success and we recently closed out Q2 2016 with a greater than 65% growth in recurring revenue year-over-year, and a record 30 million transactions completed to date. Jumio’s customer base continues to expand, closing more deals than at any other time in company history, with Q2 2016 resulting in a more than 50% increase in deals year-over-year. This high momentum has been fueled by continued growth across every aspect of its business.

In addition, in August of 2016, Jumio continued its momentum, securing a $15 million round of financing from Centana Growth Partners LP and Millennium Technology Value Partners. The investment will enable us to continue to lead the digital ID verification space, aggressively expand sales and marketing, and accelerate product development and international expansion.


Check out Jumio’s Best of Show demonstration from FinovateEurope 2015.

CEO Interview: Aire.io’s Aneesh Varma

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We recently caught up with Aneesh Varma, founder and CEO of Aire.io, for an interview. Varma launched the London-based company in 2014 to help thin-file customers qualify for essential financial products.

He graduated from Lehigh University as an engineer with a secondary degree in quantitative finance, and in 2014 was nominated as the European Commission’s Entrepreneur of the Year.


Finovate: What is Aire doing that its competitors are not?

Varma: At Aire, we don’t focus on competitors. We instead are focused on building the best product based on our core principles of what we would like to see in the world.

One such core principle at Aire is to go beyond just the data, and understand the story of the applicant. Many companies these days get carried away by big data—throwing 20,000 data points at the problem. But in reality it can lead to situations such as Ben Bernanke not being able to re-mortgage when he changed jobs. The ‘data’ was changing jobs; the ‘story,’ however, was still that he had a strong income.

At Aire, our research has been focussed on leveraging artificial intelligence and the cognitive sciences to evaluate more meaningful and deeper data. Understanding the individuality of each applicant and not relying on population-based statistics.

All of our personal data comes directly from the user—via our virtual interview, done in an adaptive interface. It’s like having a human underwriter to interview every applicant, but automated, so we can run it at scale with real-time scoring.

This is really powerful, as the Aire process can score anyone without any dependency on external data. This is especially important as we expand into new geographies.

AireMultichannelAire’s multichannel application form

Finovate: What is the biggest challenge Aire faces in achieving its goal of offering fair access to finance?

Varma: The work we are doing at Aire is really personal to us. In many ways, we have ourselves been victims of the cracks in the current system of credit scores. We know what it means to be financially excluded. It’s really tough.

Our work is to onboard more lenders who share the same ethos as Aire about ensuring people aren’t getting marginalized just because they don’t fit into the standard boxes.

We know the Aire product works. Over the last few months, we have been able to observe empirical evidence data of our performance, and it is really phenomenal how we can boost acceptance up to 14% while still ensuring over 90% of candidates get through our process.

It’s a changing world. More and more of us are going to be self-employed, become freelancers and or migrate to other countries. We shouldn’t be left out.

Finovate: How do you engage with developers?

Varma: Ours is a startup with a purpose. We are solving a real problem—and, in fact, a really hard problem. There is no hype to our work. It is pure performance which is why we have to carefully leverage technology, research and human emotions to build a great product.

This attracts a very particular type of people who genuinely care about making an impact with their work. This really has become part of the DNA of our company.

For most of us in the team, this is our second or even third startup. And we constantly trying to optimize on everything we have done in the past. Most importantly, we focus on culture and hiring the right people.

We have a very rigorous hiring process over six stages. But once someone gets through that, we provide one of the most exciting work environments in London. You are surrounded by leading experts in each field and get to learn from them. And even teach them a few tricks! Perhaps a reason why we are attracting some great minds to join us on this journey (and a place on the European breakout list via Scott Sage).

Finovate: What’s on the horizon for Aire in 2016?

Varma: The biggest push now is to take our product to more people, in more markets. North America is next on the horizon, and we are launching there shortly. The emerging markets are also relevant, and we are starting to prepare the groundwork there.

Naturally, ongoing research is very important to improve our product. We continue to invest in research across the various fields that will enhance our offering for new markets, including fellowships with our partner universities. Ultimately, there are going to be multiple versions of how we end up delivering our scoring product to consumers.

And other than that, it’s about focussing on hiring great people. This problem we set out to solve requires not just engineers and scientists, but people across various disciplines. We have baked that into our culture as a company. So a major part of my role ends up looking at how to bring together various people to collaborate as we invent new dimensions to our product.

At FinovateEurope 2015, he debuted the Aire Credit API which enables lenders to use Aire to check credit for a thin-file client.

CEO Interview: Nexmo’s Tony Jamous

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Nexmo is a global cloud communications platform company providing communication APIs and SDKs for voice, text, messaging, phone verification, and chat-app connectivity.

At FinDEVr San Francisco 2015, Nexmo showed how its APIs and SDKs help companies such as Expedia, Zipcar, and Viber increase security, decrease fraud, and protect user identity—without compromising the user experience. To dig a bit deeper, we recently spoke with the San Francisco-based company’s CEO, Tony Jamous.

To dig a bit deeper, we recently spoke with the San Francisco-based company’s CEO, Tony Jamous. Prior to founding Nexmo in 2010, Jamous worked at Paymo, which was acquired by BOKU in 2009.

In his interview, Jamous spoke with us about the inspiration for Nexmo, the company’s competitive advantages, and its challenges.


Finovate: What was the impetus behind creating Nexmo?TonyJamous

Jamous: Nexmo was created to reduce the barriers to entry for developers to innovate with communication technologies and enable scalable and global high-quality communication infrastructure. Imagine how hard it would have been for Airbnb, one of our global customers, to individually connect to more than 200 carrier networks using arcane telecommunications protocols.

Early on, we were obsessed with building networks and investing in cloud technologies to sustain quality of network as our customers scaled their businesses. Nexmo uniquely connects our customers’ traffic as closely to carriers as is physically possible to reduce message and call latency. We also measure quality feedback for every transaction and adapt how each message or voice call is being routed in real time to continually improve overall quality.


Finovate: Your solutions are used in a number of industries. What is unique about the communications and fraud problems in the financial services sector?

Jamous: The phone number has emerged in recent years as a user-friendly way to identify and authenticate real people. Our APIs, especially Verify (pictured below) and Number Insight, are designed to enable financial services players to easily embed two (or more) factor authentication, and gather data on the phone number during the transaction. These tools enable financial service providers to reduce fraud without the need to gain expertise in teleco rules and regulations.

NexmoVerify


Finovate: What is the most creative solution you’ve seen a financial services company build using a Nexmo API?

Jamous: Bitcoin platforms have been driving innovation in fraud prevention at a faster rate than any other segment within the fintech space, and Nexmo works with many of the leading bitcoin companies.

To secure your bitcoins from theft, enabling phone-number two-factor authentication with the Nexmo Verify SDK or API is strongly recommended. This involves sending a one-time password (OTP) to a user over a separate communication channel (SMS or voice) rather than the IP channel (internet) used by the bitcoin exchange or wallet. Aside from sending payments, phone-number verification can also be required for registration, login, resetting passwords and authenticating changes made to your [specific] bitcoin exchange or wallet account. Bitcoin theft might be irreversible, but you can prevent it with an extra layer of protection using Nexmo’s Verify API or Verify SDK.


Finovate: What are the biggest challenges for Nexmo?

Jamous: Nexmo has reached a phase in which we need to both scale the business and improve operational efficiency, all while keeping a priority on customer-facing teams and tools. We have a long journey ahead, which will be both challenging and exciting for the team.


Nexmo will demo what’s new with its Verify SDK at FinovateEurope on 9/10 February in London. Tickets are selling fast; register today to secure your seat.

Redesigning the Value Chain: Q&A with Michiel Schipper of Topicus

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Topicus demonstrated its Force Business Lending solution in February at FinovateEurope 2015. The technology is a straight-through business process platform for loan origination for SMEs and corporate businesses.

The idea was to help companies not able to take advantage of more sophisticated BPM solutions such as the self-serve loan origination technology that Topicus demonstrated in its Finovate debut the previous year.

“Our internal processes are not really ready for self-service, yet,” Topicus Managing Director Michiel Schipper said, quoting from queries about his company’s technology. “What’s your solution for that?”

The solution, Force Business Lending, is a financial business process engine built specifically for the needs of lending institutions. The platform “knows” financial products, their structures and pricing, and provides fully automated ratings, dynamic pricing, and the ability to customize policy rules and other lending criteria.

We exchanged e-mails with Schipper earlier this year to find out what Topicus has been working on since its FinovateEurope appearance. We also wanted to know what to expect from the Netherlands-based, cloud-banking software specialist in the second half of 2015.

Finovate: You mentioned at FinovateEurope 2015 that your second appearance at Finovate was largely influenced by comments you received at your first appearance. What was that feedback and how did you take it to heart?

MichielSchipper_TopicusMichiel Schipper: During our first appearance, we showcased a solution where medium-sized enterprises could build their own financing solution from the bank’s assortment. Visitors to our booth told us that they’d love to be able to provide that service, but their mid-office ICT systems and processes would not cope. Therefore, we decided to take a step back and showcase our mid-office solution for loan origination and review that was servicing last year’s portal.

Finovate: Your company’s mission is described as “redesigning the business lending value chain.” Can you tell us a little more about that? What is the problem with business lending right now as you see it?

Schipper: It’s a very in-transparent marketplace for SMEs and mid-corps to be in right now. The traditional role of the banker taking time to challenge the business plans and financial health of his clients is disappearing. And the bank is no longer a one-stop shop for finance. Who is going to help the client find the right solutions for financing growth? Who is monitoring his financial health and acting as a true stakeholder?

New intermediaries, innovative accountants, and smart ICT will need to fill this gap. We believe that the crowd could play a role here as well.

At Topicus, we have been redesigning the value chain by equipping accountants and intermediaries with Basel-II ratings and instruments, software to play “what-if” scenarios for financing solutions, and stacked finance products.

Finovate: This year you demoed the Force Financial Business Process Management (FBPM) solution. How was the reception and how does FBPM differ from other BPM platforms?

Schipper: The most important discriminator is that traditional BPM platforms with a rule engine lack the product dimension. Our system knows about financial products, acceptance criteria, qualitative and quantitative risk assessment, risk-based pricing, etc. The process will adapt itself depending on which products are part of, say, a potential credit agreement. This results in a shorter time-to-market and a roadmap that has a strong focus on the financial industry.

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Pictured: Force Business Lending provides a credit risk rating based on the financial data provided, displaying the risk profile in an easy, read-at-a-glance format.

Finovate: What were some of the biggest technical challenges when it came to developing the FBPM solution?

Schipper: The sheer complexity of the business-lending domain. Our aim is to achieve a very high level of automation, or Straight Through Processing. This requires that all aspects of business lending are specified. Most banks still work with paper product sheets, a simple data-entry system for the mid-office, Word templates for the credit proposal, and manual data entry on the back-ends. Harvesting the requirements for Force Business Lending was and is more complex than the mortgage domain.

Finovate: Thinking about user interface and experience for a moment. What does the business user want that is different from what the average individual technology user wants in terms of UI/UX?

Schipper: A professional user wants a lot of information and many buttons on a single screen, because he will quickly learn where to glance to find the info he needs. This results in screens that seem ugly and hard to use at a first glance, but reduce the need to flip back and forward across pages. Casual users need more explanation, canned customer journeys, and something pretty to look at to keep them going. Therefore, casual users and professional users should never have to share screens.

Finovate: More players are getting into the market for developing financial models for SMEs. What is your edge?

Schipper: Our domain is slowly moving from traditional statistical models based on finances to big data and risk assessment. Creating a risk model based on big data and open systems is not very hard any more. The hard part is enabling banks and risk departments to take those steps, as well. Our software embraces the traditional risk models that are still leading today, and allows banks to add qualitative scorecards and external data sources into the equation. The underlying data can be used not only as input for traditional statistical analysis to create a better risk model, but also for correlation discovery methods. We enable change through evolution.

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From left: Topicus Head of Business Lending Jamie Burink; Managing Director Michiel Schipper.

Finovate: What fintech innovations are people talking the most about in the Netherlands?

Schipper: That would probably be crowdfunding, with blockchain technology coming in second. We currently have around forty crowdfunding platforms, which seems too much. It is impossible to identify which platforms will survive, so it’s a real immature market.

Finovate: What are your growth goals? Is European expansion a major priority? What about the U.S. or Asia?

Schipper: We are currently working with Gartner to take our next steps in internationalization. The U.S., Middle East, and Northern Europe are the regions we are focusing on. International expansion for our mortgage and business lending propositions is a major priority within the organization. In fact, this receives higher priority than starting new verticals like software for pensions or insurances.

Finovate: What can we expect from Topicus in the second half of 2015?

Schipper: Expect a lot of highlights from Topicus this year. The two most important ones are:

  • We are launching our software for crowdfunding, which is based on our fund broker software. It will have all the Force BPM magic built in, as well, so crowdfunding platforms can scale incredibly well with products of all levels of complexity. Crowdfunding a mortgage with automatic execution of all applicable rules and directives can be done against low operational costs, even down to automated arrears processes. We are looking into combining consumer crowdfunding with business crowdfunding to create crowdfunding funds that investors of all sizes can invest in.
  • Another highlight is the launch of Force Business Lending as-a-Service, which should enable small funds to reach SMEs through a professional process. These funds now lack a go-to market option, and remain unused. This would really open up the non-banking finance market in the Netherlands and change the business-lending value-chain again.

Learn more about Topicus and its Force Business Lending platform in the company’s demo video from FinovateEurope 2015.

Interview with CurrencyTransfer.com Co-founder Daniel Abrahams

currencytransferLogoNew-thumb-200x34-11771-thumb-150x25-12284If there is one of area where innovation—and venture capital investment—is most abundant, it may be international money transfers.

Whether it is the worker abroad looking for the best and safest way to send money back home, or the enterprise trying to find the best rates for converting thousands of dollars every day, the challenge of moving money across borders safely and efficiently is a growing one.

CurrencyTransfer.com is one of the pioneers. Founded in 2013 and headquartered in London, CurrencyTransfer.com works to bring about the same competitive pricing to small- and medium-sized businesses as that experienced regularly by large corporations.

SMEs trading up to £200 million annually can take advantage of CurrencyTransfer.com’s forex price-feed aggregator and execution platform, gaining access to competitive international payment quotes from a variety of providers all in one place.

We exchanged emails with Daniel Abrahams, CurrencyTransfer.com co-founder and managing director, to learn more about the company and its unique role in the money-transfer industry. His responses are below.

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Finovate: You’ve earned some great press heading into into the end of 2014. What have you been doing that’s been attracting so much positive attention.

Daniel Abrahams: For a start, CurrencyTransfer.com is doing something different. We’re not a bank, we’re not a broker, nor are we a P2P matcher. We’ve built the world’s first online marketplace for international payments, saving businesses up to 85% in hidden fees. Thinking differently runs through everything we do, and this is certainly capturing the imagination of both journalists and end-users alike.

At the capital markets level, FTSE 100 companies have the basic right to get live, multiple-price feeds. We simple try to democratize this down to the everyday SME, deserving of the same access as the big guys.

Finovate: Where did the idea for CurrencyTransfer.com come from?

Abrahams: Personal pain. My co-founder and I were getting ripped off on our own currency exchange when traveling around Europe and living in Australia. We were shocked at hidden fees; namely, profit built into the exchange rate by banks and bureaus.

My co-founder Stevan and I also observed other verticals closely. In any industry where there is inefficiency, we see marketplaces disrupt. Whether it is the way we book flights, hotels, taxis—the list goes on. In such a huge, opaque industry, we spotted a real opportunity to bring transparency and efficiency.

Finovate: There are a variety of players in the currency-transfer space. How do you distinguish yourself from the rest of the pack?

Abrahams: It’s a hot space that has attracted a significant amount of VC funding over the past 24 months. I see distinct layers in the currency-transfer space, rather than any “winner-takes-all” scenarios. Some focus on cracking remittance, others 100% pure play digital private clients.

While we do onboard private clients, there is a minimum trade size and our sweet spot is regular business foreign exchange. We actively trade and onboard companies with many millions of pounds worth of FX exposure annually. The average transaction size is in excess of £25,000 and rising the whole time. These customers have very regular foreign-exchange exposure and often use our platform for more than just a basic spot-transfer.

We offer anything from same-day spot, up to 12-month forward, and whilst all transfers are booked online, we also offer a more managed service through in-house currency experts. For larger companies—our sweet spot—we learned they need and often want to have a trusted specialist on the other end of the phone.

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Daniel Abrahams, managing director and co-founder; Stevan Litobac, technical director and co-founder; and Aviva Tabachnik, partnerships executive, demoed at FinovateEurope 2014.

Finovate: What are some of the biggest challenges on the technology side, in terms of building a platform that works well for users?

Abrahams: Marketplaces are notoriously tough to build. Building out a reliable system—one that works reliably across multiple external API systems—can be challenging as you have to amalgamate various different formats of data coming in from these providers.

The second biggest challenge is optimizing the speed of service across these providers when the customers are getting quotes.

Finovate: You’ve talked about building the world’s first multibroker KYC form. Tell us more about this project and why it’s such as big deal.

Abrahams: At CurrencyTransfer.com, we let customers set up a payment, aggregate LIVE rates, and book transfers—all within our web or mobile environment. This sounds easier to execute than it is.

For customers to get a live, bookable quote from non-bank FX suppliers, they need to be onboarded for compliance and anti-money laundering. When [creating the architecture for] our product, we realized we needed to onboard our customers with multiple providers in one hit. It would make no sense to fill in 5+ forms, then come back to our environment. You would lose stickiness and get quickly frustrated with the product and process. As a result, we coupled neat-tech with engaging with the various stakeholders behind the scenes to make this a reality for our customers.

Clients now never need fill out multiple forms, call up multiple brokers for an inaccurate and time-consuming rate-quote. Everything happens in one venue.

Finovate: Are you in the process of raising funds? If so, how is it going? What are some of the things that are impressing investors the most?

Abrahams: Yes. We’re looking to aggressively grow both side of the marketplace in 2015, and want to hit ambitious milestones we’ve set for ourselves. FinovateEurope was a great platform for announcing CurrencyTransfer.com, and as a result we’ve had a lot of inbound interest from both traditional VCs and, would you believe it, funds set up by banks. Investors like our fresh approach to the deep problem we’re tackling, the tech, and momentum we’ve built without raising a single penny of outside funding to date.

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Finovate: You spend time in both London and Tel Aviv. How do you compare the two cities in terms of being fertile ground for fintech innovation.

Abrahams: We think we’re well set, marrying two of the best startup ecosystems in the world. Both are regularly seeing success stories and have growing fintech activity. London is certainly more mature when it comes to fintech, boasting more employees in the space than either New York or Silicon Valley.

In Israel, we’re seeing significant companies including, among others: Payoneer, eToro, and BillGuard to name a few. Budding entrepreneurs are looking at these successful companies, and are constantly looking at ways to cut costs or deliver better user experience than banks or legacy businesses. Bank Leumi, Citigroup, and Hapoalim are looking at ways to engage with startups through hackathons and accelerator programs. Innovative bitcoin startups are popping up the whole time.

At CurrencyTransfer.com, we organize a monthly FinTech Aviv, which brings together the smartest minds in the Israeli fintech ecosystem.

Finovate: You had an interesting column on the relationship between banks and startups. Overall, your outlook seemed very positive for both banks and fintech startups. Why do you think that the relationship between banks and startups is more mutually beneficial than we are sometimes led to believe (with the focus often on “disruption”)?

Abrahams: Banks are very good at certain things, and with the greatest respect, suck at others. Startups get UI/UX, and how to deliver a best-in-class customer experience. Startups want to push all boundaries with cost saving and product, but are not the smartest when it comes to the regulatory landscape and the intricacies of holding client funds. As such, I truly believe where there is a match (and there isn’t always), banks and startups will continue to lean on each other to revolutionize finance.

At CurrencyTransfer.com, we’re an open and democratic marketplace, and whilst cutting excessive bank fees by up to 85%, we are more than happy to engage with banks.