How Virtual Reality, Big Data, and the Blockchain Are Changing Proptech

How are the big trends in fintech like virtual reality, the blockchain, and big data analytics dictating trends in proptech?

It is worth keeping in mind that trends in proptech are controlled by the same forces that drive trends in other parts of technology such as fintech. So when it comes to goals like improving the customer experience, in proptech this means making it easier for customers and investors to search for properties that are appropriate to them and ensuring that the customer’s financing needs are met with as little friction and cost as possible. We could also add the importance of a process that is clear and transparent, so that both property seller and property buyer/investor feel equally informed at each step.

Consider also, as my colleague Julie Muhn pointed out, that some of what is most exciting in the proptech world in 2017 is not necessarily fintech. One of the areas of almost unanimous prognostication was the prediction that technologies like virtual reality and augmented reality would become a larger part of proptech . The range of adoption of VR and augmented reality technologies in real estate and property technology is wide – from a cardboard shade wrapped around a VR-enabled Samsung smartphone to vertigo-inducing immersive environments produced by boutique design firms. This variation represents a real interest in the technology, however, and opens up an entirely new way for properties to be marketed to, and even built for, prospective buyers.

Virtual Reality

Taking a close look at VR in proptech, the main use case of the technology is to provide virtual walkthroughs of both existing and to-be-developed properties. In addition to offering a more engaging experience for prospective property consumers and investors, VR and augmented reality can save design, development, and construction costs via “virtual refits.” Other potential uses of VR and augmented reality include real estate advertising that is detectable by wearable technology or smartphones.

One company in this space is ArcMedia, a U.K.-based design firm that works with upscale property developers. Interviewed by proptech analyst James Dearsley, ArcMedia managing director, Ben Bancroft, discussed the connection between VR and proptech, saying:

Virtual reality is an excellent tool for property developers to demonstrate their product to prospective customers before a hole has even been dug in the ground. Visualizing unbuilt spaces is something ArcMedia has been doing for 14 years, and the advent of this new generation of VR hardware means we can display those spaces in a more immersive and engaging way than ever before.

Bancroft is optimistic about the role VR will play in proptech, suggesting that both the technology and the “output quality” are at a good level. He is hopeful that while the technology may appear to be a high-end “indulgence,” that it will eventually enter the “everyday psyche” of the average property buyer. “What starts at the luxury end of the market usually creates demand in the mass market,” he said, “and businesses will respond when there is consumer expectation for the product.”

Other interesting companies working on VR and augmented reality for the proptech market include a pair of American companies, Circle Visions and Matterport.

Read more:

  • Virtual Reality: How Tech is Changing the Way You Buy and Sell a Home – NerdWallet
  • Virtual Reality in Real Estate – James Dearsley.com
  • Here Are Four Ways Mixed Reality Will Impact CRE Going Forward – Bisnow
  • What will PropTech look like in 2017? Hear from the industry’s pioneers – LendInvest Blog

Big Brains and Big Data

The use of big data and big data analytics in proptech is more ubiquitous than virtual and augmented reality technology. Using big data, geolocation, mapping, and machine learning to present prospective property consumers and investors with the most relevant and attractive offerings is a fundamental way big data technologies are making the process more efficient. Big data is also linked strongly to artificial intelligence – increasingly vital in analyzing mass and/or unstructured data – and machine learning – a chief consumer of big data. And all three are playing a greater role in everything from asset value analysis and trend forecasting to due diligence and contract review.

Almost anyone who has looked to buy or invest in property in the past year or two has likely taken advantage of proptech’s embrace of big data. Examples range from searching for a new home via the Zillow’s and Trulia’s of the world to comparing financing options with a solution like Blend (FS16) or on a platform like Sindeo (FF16), to the more sophisticated applications of companies like Envestnet | Yodlee (FE17) and its Mortgage Asset Verification solution, and Experian (FF16) and its mortgage affordability platform.

Other interesting companies in this area are firms like Geophy, which bills itself as “real estate meets big data.” Geophy aims to improve transparency in the property market by developing a global platform of objective, independent real estate information. Urban Intelligence provides property planning information including search and mapping for U.K. property developers.

Read more: 

Proptech and the Blockchain

By the end of the 21st century, everything will better with a little Blockchain in it. But between now and then, there remain skeptical voices uncertain of the degree to which blockchain technology will disrupt any given industry – and proptech is no exception.

Compared to virtual reality and big data analytics, the role of blockchain technology in proptech is much more controversial. While some suggest that any significant use of the blockchain in real estate technology is several years away, others see opportunities to improve loan origination and execution, increase ownership transparency, and enhance transaction security and integrity via the smart contracts and distributed ledgers of blockchain technology. Writing about blockchain technology and mortgages, Pamela Johnston and Tim Davis of PwC note origination, fulfillment, settlement flows, servicing, and the secondary market as the areas where the technology holds the most promise. “We think blockchain could be relevant at every stage,” the two write.

Much of the interesting innovation around blockchain and real estate is happening at the level of government partnering with financial institutions, institutional technology organizations, or fintechs. The Eastern European republic of Georgia announced at the beginning of the year that it was introducing a blockchain-based platform to better store real estate documents. The nation is working with bitcoin mining company, Bitfury. Sweden also announced a similar blockchain-oriented land registry system that will begin testing this month. Sweden is working with blockchain startup ChromaWay. Also recently we learned that the Bank of China (Hong Kong) and HSBC are working together to build a blockchain for sharing mortgage valuation information.

One interesting event to keep an eye on is the Blockchain Accelerator for Mortgage Lending launched by consulting firm, Synechron, last September. The program is one of six the consulting and technology services provider is sponsoring, all designed to “leverage Synechron’s deep domain expertise in financial services and high-end software engineering to dramatically speed time-to-market for blockchain initiatives.”

Read more:

Business image created by Jannoon028 – Freepik.com

Fintech Trending: Blockchain Building Blocks for 2017

Photo via Good Free Photos
Photo via Good Free Photos

What blockchain trends from 2016 are worth watching for follow-through in 2017? Here are five blockchain players to keep an eye on as the new year begins.

IBM: Something Old, Something New, Something Blue

It is remarkable that a company that is more than 100 years old (“International Business Machines”) is one of the leading innovators when it comes to the blockchain. But IBM (FD16) began 2016 by introducing its strategy to offer cloud-based products and services for business via blockchain technology. IBM’s “blockchain-as-a-service” strategy incorporates many of the company’s core technology projects including its Watson Internet of Things platform and its development lab, Bluemix Garage – as well as its core IT system for global banks, IBM z System. IBM’s blockchain strategy also includes its participation in the open source, Linux-driven Hyperledger Project (demonstrated at FinDEVr). Just this week, a commodity trading and agribusiness software provider, The Seam, that has “cleared or processed” $7 billion, announced it would be joining IBM’s blockchain consortium.

Blockchain_IBM

IBM is not the only major technology company to pursue the blockchain-as-a-service model. Microsoft, which launched a blockchain sandbox in October 2015, partnered with Ethereum collective, ConsenSys to give its enterprise clients access to an Ethereum blockchain-as-a-service network. This will enable business users of Microsoft’s Azure to easily build and deploy “private and semi-private or consortium blockchain networks.” Note also that Microsoft partnered with AMIS to launch Asia’s first blockchain consortium in December.

That said, IBM distinguishes itself from Microsoft’s efforts by being fairly IBM-centric in its offering. Jerry Cuomo, IBM VP of blockchain technology, told CoinDesk: “What we’re doing is we’re picking a specific fabric and a specific point of view. We’re not interested in any fabric,” Cuomo explained, “we’re interested in one that can support business applications. We’re a bit more opinionated on what fabric is needed.”

International Business Machines, indeed.

And when it comes to ascertaining the appetite for blockchain, IBM has done its homework. In a survey of 200 banks, IBM learned that 65% of respondents “plan to have projects in production” in the next three years. Areas of focus include clearing and settlement, wholesale payments, equity and debt issuance, and reference data. Respondents to a different survey of 200 global FIs revealed that 14% planned to deploy commercial blockchain products in 2017.

Ripple Rolls On with Big Investment, New CEO

Among blockchain startups, Ripple (FS13) has been a key player in helping FIs leverage its technology to build blockchain networks. The company announced a partnership with leading corporate Nordic bank SEB late in 2016 to build an “internal, closed blockchain” that will enable the bank to transfer money in real time between accounts in New York and Stockholm. Ripple is also involved in India’s Axis Bank and it plans to use Ripple’s network for real-time settlement of cross-border transactions.

Blockchain_Ripple

2016 was a major year for Ripple. The company announced a number of new additions – including Santander, UBS, CIBC, and Standard Chartered – to its global network. Ripple’s network now includes 15 of the top 50 global banks as well as “10 banks in commercial deal phases, and over 30 bank pilots completed.” Ripple’s digital currency, XRP, was part of blockchain consortium, R3’s 12-bank cross-border payments trial in October. The company picked up $55 million in Series B funding in September, taking Ripple’s total capital to more than $93 million. Ripple also appointed a new CEO, Brad Garlinghouse, who has previously served as the company’s president and COO.

“The continued growth of the Ripple network represents a major endorsement of our open approach to connecting the world’s bank and their customers,” Ripple co-founder and former CEO Chris Larsen said. Larsen, who will transition to the role of Ripple chairman of the board at the beginning of 2017, added: “Together we are building a modern payments system to enable new economic opportunities and the seamless flow of value around the world.”

R3: Are Blockchain-Curious Banks Stronger Together?

One way to measure the progress of blockchain technology is by keeping track of the comings (and goings) of members of R3, the world’s largest blockchain-based cooperative. Founded in 2014 and with more than 70 of the world’s largest FIs onboard, R3 is designed to conduct research on and promote the use of blockchain technology in financial services. R3’s biggest contribution to date is Corda, an open-source distributed ledger platform that, while maintaining many of the characteristics of blockchain technology, is not – technically speaking – a blockchain.

Blockchain_R3

Unfortunately, many of the headlines R3 made in 2016 involved a handful of founding members – including Morgan Stanley, Santander, and Goldman Sachs – leaving the cooperative. Specific reasons for leaving the group were typically not provided, though each bank made it clear that the decision was not a reflection on their interest in blockchain technology. Many observers have speculated that the timing of the departures was related to issues surrounding R3’s fundraising efforts, as well as concerns about the growth of the cooperative itself (currently at more than 70 members). Speaking to the departures at Disrupt London in December, R3 founder and CEO David Rutter pointed to the difficulty of “meet(ing) everyone’s criteria” in an organization the size of R3. To the fundraising concerns, Rutter affirmed R3’s “very good progress” toward completing a $150 million funding round.

Beyond the Banks: Card Companies, Payments and Blockchain

One interesting place to keep an eye on for blockchain-related developments in 2017 is among non-bank financial players like the card companies. Visa (FD14), for example, unveiled a blockchain based payments platform, Visa B2B Connect, in partnership with Chain (FD15) in 2016. The technology, designed to provide “near real-time transactions” for high value international payments, will undergo testing this year.

Meanwhile, Mastercard (F14; FD14) has responded to its rival’s challenge by adding blockchain-based APIs to its app developer’s platform, MasterCard Developers. The APIs include a Blockchain Core API, a Smart Contracts API, and a Fast Pay Network API. Mastercard says its APIs, among other things, will help developers build tools to take counterparty risk and costs from transaction flow, as well as improve processing audibility and client privacy.

Is a Bull Market in Bitcoin a Boon for the Blockchain?

With bitcoin closing 2016 with a return to its highest level in years, it is little surprise the cryptocurrency is finding its way into the hearts and minds of investors seeking uncorrelated assets to diversify their portfolios. In “Bitcoin Investing: Where Wall Street and Silicon Valley Meet,” Chris Burniske and Adam White make the case for bitcoin as an asset class for long-term investors based on the currency’s declining volatility, reward-vs-risk, and lack of correlation with most other markets including gold, U.S. real estate, and U.S. equities since 2011. Whether growing interest in bitcoin ends up contributing to (or at least correlating with) increased interest in the technology that makes the digital currency possible will be one of the big questions of 2017, as well.

Fintech Trending: The API-ification of Banks

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It’s a developer’s world and we just live in it. Application programming interfaces (APIs) are not new to banking, but they are certainly becoming more accepted. It’s a trend we’ve seen across the financial services industry, and even incumbent players are getting into the game. Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve seen a stack of news indicating the demand for APIs is alive and well. Peruse online and hard-copy publications and you’ll find a lot of support for developers: see Citigroup’s launch of its developer hub; Dwolla’s (FS 2015) shift in focus from consumer app to becoming a platform; and the launch of Monitise’s (FF 2007) FINkit platform.

This is the end of the banks vs. startups era. Banks are now leveraging startups to help them compete against other financial institutions. The reason comes down to simple economics. In general, it is more efficient for a company to focus on its core competency and outsource supporting aspects of its product or service. (For a deeper dive into this concept, check out this episode of Freakanomics Radio.) J.P. Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon explained it best when he said, “There is stuff we don’t want to do, or can’t do, but now more than ever there is somebody else who can do it—and probably well. In order to take advantage of that, there has to be collaboration on both sides.”

Digging even further, this collaboration between banks and startups is also leading to a global trend of banks deepening their product lineup by offering a wider range of products and services. This new variety of offerings extends beyond the traditional scope of serving a client’s basic financial needs. Finextra recently covered a McKinsey study that explored how banks are beginning to offer fringe services that fall within the realm of insurance, retail services, and small business products such as bookkeeping and expense-tracking platforms.

screen-shot-2016-11-17-at-9-22-52-amUSAA positions itself as a one-stop-shop for clients’ holiday needs.

By plugging in third-party APIs to their website, banks can create a holistic ecosystem consumers will consult to fulfill multiple needs. By becoming a platform that offers consumers a range of services, banks can make themselves a go-to website or app and stay top-of-mind when clients are looking to purchase insurance, plan their taxes, search for travel deals, or buy a car. USAA exemplifies one-stop shopping fulfillment with its website’s tagline: “Do all your holiday shopping right here.”

Fintech Trending: Making Fintech Great Again?

trump_image

For fintech followers, one of the most interesting things about President-elect Donald Trump is the fact that his most prominent Silicon Valley supporter was and is Peter Thiel, the self-described “conservative libertarian” co-founder of Finovate alum, PayPal.

Good evening. I’m Peter Thiel. I build companies and I’m supporting people who are building new things, from social networks to rocket ships. I’m not a politician. But neither is Donald Trump. He is a builder, and it’s time to rebuild America.

PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel addressed delegates at the Republican National Convention in the summer of 2016.

Where I work in Silicon Valley, it’s hard to see where America has gone wrong. My industry has made a lot of progress in computers and in software, and, of course, it’s made a lot of money. But Silicon Valley is a small place. Drive out to Sacramento, or even just across the bridge to Oakland, and you won’t see the same prosperity.

Thiel’s relationship with Trump has only intensified since the election. The PayPal co-founder has joined the President-elect’s transition team and is rumored to be under consideration for a position within the administration. That said, for better or worse, fintech probably will not be a focus of the Trump administration, Thiel support notwithstanding.

“Better or worse” is the question on everyone’s mind. For some, the comparisons between a Trump victory and the Brexit vote in the U.K. suggested a near-term, “wait-and-see” pullback in fintech investment. For others a Trump administration would mean labor shortages and potential brain-drain as a stricter immigration policy worked its way through the workforce. Note that Trump’s nominee for attorney general, Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, has supported legislation that would reduce the number of H-1B visas by more than 20%. And now that we know that the Trump presidency will be accompanied by a Republican Senate and House of Representatives, broader regulatory changes—reform or repeal of Dodd-Frank, the return of Glass-Steagall—are also poised to present challenges for fintechs across the industry.

So which fintechs seem best positioned to take advantage of the kind of policy changes we can expect from a Trump administration? Lenders in general and alternative lenders like student-loan facilitators are among the most likely winners. From increases in interest rates to regulatory relief to renewed competition from the private sector, the landscape for lenders is the one most likely to change based on policies that are most likely to be enacted. Writing for S&P Global Market Intelligence, Eric Turner explains:

With already strong brands and copious amounts of borrower data, digital lenders in this space could see an increase in originations if the federal government exits the student-loan business. While these lenders have historically focused on refinancing student debt, largely because of the inability to compete with government rates and guarantees, the door may now be open to a broader array of products including direct origination.

Turner cites SoFi’s decision to leave the direct market for MBA student loans and the company’s ill-fated return to and re-exit from that market, as the kind of opportunity that alternative lenders may circle back to. He notes that the Republican platform for 2016 states that the “federal government should not be in the business of originating student loans.”

trump_historical_image

“The United States Senate, A.D. 1850” by Peter F. Rothermel

The outlook is less certain for other aspects of fintech. How would digital payments companies fare in a world with a weakened, or nonexistent, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). Changes in the fiduciary responsibility of investment advisers might have presented a challenge for some robo-advisors (and an opportunity for some technologists) were we facing a Clinton administration. But with Trump—and advisers like Anthony Scaramucci—a move in the opposite direction seems more likely.

If lenders have something to look forward to over the next four years, are there areas of fintech with something to lose? A broader concern is that Republican opposition to “net neutrality” could change the incentive structure around open-source development in a way that could hurt innovation. Writing in American Banker, John Adams saw the potential of a significant impact from a shift in policy away from the “open internet.”

The stakes are particularly high for fintech firms, a large portion of which rely on open-source development or technology toolkits that decentralize innovation, allowing businesses to become payment companies with minimal coding. A significant amount of money has already poured into this market, notably PayPal’s transformative $800 million acquisition of Braintree, the development platform used by Uber, Airbnb, OpenTable and TaskRabbit.

In other words, without an open internet, there would be no Uber.

This goes beyond the kind of “Technophobe in Chief” remark from the wits at GeekWire, and worries over Trump’s feud with Amazon’s Jeff Bezos. Instead, it reminds us that any changes Washington brings to fintech will have as much to do with Republican control of Congress—and, barring an epic filibuster fight, a sympathetic Supreme Court, as well—as they do with having Donald Trump in the White House. Even without a specific agenda for fintech, the policies long sought by the GOP are more likely to have an effect on the opportunities for alt lenders, the responsibilities of robo-advisers, and the environment for open development and innovation, than the policies of the President-elect.

Fintech Trending: Australia and the Road to Fintech in Asia

australia_newzealand_flagsFinovateAsia 2016 is right around the corner. Be sure to visit our registration page and pick up your tickets today. We look forward to seeing you next week, 8 November, as Finovate returns to Asia.

When we talk about financial technology in Asia, we typically turn to places like Singapore, widely regarded to be the fintech “hub” of the region, or to Japan, with its advanced consumer economy (and increased participation in fintech events in the West, like Finovate and FinDEVr, or to China which was recognized by H2 Ventures and KPMG in their 2016 Fintech 100 report as follows:

China now tops the global ranks—swithin three years, China’s fintech ventures have gone from only one company included in the top Established 50 rankings in 2014, to this year China featuring four of the top five companies and eight of the top 50.

This includes Ant Financial, formerly known as Alipay, which as the world’s largest third-party payment platform, is the #1 company in the report, as well as Qudian, a Beijing-based student micro lender, ranked #2.

But there’s a reason why analysts refer to the area as the Asia-Pacific region, and part of that reason is the presence of countries like Australia and New Zealand which, while very much a part of the Asian financial ecosystem, are often overlooked in discussions about the growth of fintech in the area.

Turning back to the H2 Ventures/KPMG report, we see that of the top 100 companies highlighted, while 14 are from Asia, 1o are from Australia and New Zealand. This compares well with the U.K., a long-standing global fintech center, that landed 12 companies in the top 100. These companies include:

  • #14 Xero (F11; FD14) – New Zealand
  • #31 Prospa – Australia
  • #43 Tyro – Australia
  • #50 SocietyOne (F12) – Australia

As well as emerging stars:

  • AfterPay – Australia
  • Bright – Australia
  • Data Republic – Australia
  • HashChing – Australia
  • Identitii (F16) – Australia
  • springy – Australia

Australian and New Zealand fintech companies are clearly punching above their weight. As one illustration noted by Let’s Talk Payments, in December 2015, 5% of Australian fintech startups raised capital. Yet that 5% represented 14% of all capital raised by fintechs in December. Compare this to the United Kingdom where 15% of fintechs received investment dollars in December 2015, yet the amount raised was 11% of the total for that month. It is no surprise that China stands out as the true overachiever, with only 2% of Chinese companies raising capital in last December, but those companies represented 17% of all financing raised.

The takeaway here is more than a call for FinovateDownUnder—although that’s an intriguing idea. It suggests that more attention paid to Australia—as both a developing fintech nation in its own right, as well as a way for Western companies, technical talent, and capital to begin making its way eastward—could be well-rewarded.

See also:

  • 9 Australian companies have made it to the latest global Fintech 100 – Business Insider Australia
  • Australian FinTech Firms Recognized as World Leaders in FinTech – Cryptocoins News
  • Australian fintech founders recognized as world leaders next to tech giants Stripe, Xero and Square – Startup Smart
  • CBA takes pop-up innovation lab on a tour of Australia – Finextra

Our friends from Down Under

This discussion of Australia and New Zealand merits a reminder of how many innovators from Down Under are alums of our Finovate and FinDEVr conferences. In addition to those mentioned above, here’s a quick look at some of our more recent Australian and New Zealander alums:

Fintech Trending: RegTech Reality Check, Blockchain Bandwagon, and IBM’s New Wallet

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Hat, courtesy of Alloy, a customer-onboarding specialist that debuted at FinDEVr in October.

The dream of RegTech is alive at Finovate

Deloitte recently asked what we should make of regtech in a new report titled, “RegTech is the new FinTech: How agile regulatory technology is helping firms better understand and manage their risks.” To the extent that regtech represents technologies, strategies, and solutions designed to help firms better meet regulatory obligations, remain compliant, and/or secure their processes, there may be less new here than meets the eye. Compared to insurtech, regtech firms have been prominent players in the fintech firmament for years.

To its credit, Deloitte is aware of the “old-is-new-again” aspect of regtech. The report notes that “while the name is new, the marriage of technology and regulation to address regulatory challenges has existed for some time with varying degrees of success.”

Indeed. Consider companies like Gremln (F14), which demonstrated a social media platform specifically for regulated industries, and Finect (F13), which unveiled a compliant communication platform for financial professionals. Qumram (F16) provides software that helps ensure complaint communication by recording digital interactions from web, social, and mobile channels.

My Virtual Strongbox (F14) introduced the kind of secure document-storage technology that can help FIs better manage customer documentation. Global Debt Registry, another F14 presenter, provides compliance and risk-management solutions to the account-management industry. OutsideIQ (F16) enables FIs to uncover regulatory risk using a combination of machine learning and human analysis. FundAmerica (F15), arguably one of the most explicitly regtech companies to demo at Finovate, provides crowdfunding platforms with APIs for a wide variety of “mission-critical, back-end regulatory requirements.”

Additionally, there are a sizeable number of credit risk analysis innovators such as QCR (F15), CreditHQ (F16), and FICO (FD16); companies like Avalara (FD15) that help merchants recognize and satisfy sales-tax requirements (or by that token, even a VATBox (F15) that helps recover VAT fees for international travelers); and cloud-based auditing technologies like those available from Auvenir (F16), whose identity as a fintech company was a topic of our deliberations.

And all of this is to say nothing of the even larger number of security and authentication specialists whose technologies—at least by Deloitte’s definition—can be considered regtech. Note that Deloitte’s Ireland-based rundown of regtech companies includes Finovate alum Trustev (F14), whose online ID-verification technology is very much in the same category as dozens of other security, authentication, verification, anti-fraud innovators.

The question as to whether regtech as a “thing” (as the millennials say) can be separated from the broader fintech discussion is likely more of a marketing decision than anything else. Clearly regtech has the ranks; the issue is to what degree does distinguishing them as a type of innovator apart from the larger fintech world make it easier for these companies to attract top talent, develop necessary solutions, and raise the capital to drive and grow their businesses. From the perspective of fintech in general—and Finovate/FinDEVr in specific—we’re happier having regtech innovating from “inside the tent,” as opposed to being outside the tent trying to find a way in.

See also:

Blockchain bandwagon

Two more major players jumped on the blockchain bandwagon. IBM (FD16) showed its Hyperledger at FinDEVr last week and Visa (FD14) announced its cross-border payment system built on blockchain-like distributed ledgers, an apparent challenge to Swift. The technology is powered by Chain (FD15) which counts Visa, Capital One (FD15) and Citibank as investors. According to Javelin Strategy, banks will invest $1 billion this year in blockchain initiatives.

Mobile payments gets another huge player

Speaking of IBM, one of the more surprising announcements at Money2020 was the launch of IBM Pay, a private-label mobile payments and POS system. Details are sketchy, but in the IBM video below, it appears to be a Starbucks-like QR code system. It’s part of IBM’s Watson Commerce initiative.

Fintech Trending: Look Who’s Chasing Venmo, Student Loan Servicing Falls Short

VenmoImage

A look at the trending topics of the past two weeks, co-authored by Finovate’s research analysts David Penn and Julie Schicktanz.

Payments

Venmo competition heats up
We’ve lately noticed more P2P payment app competitors trickle in. They have Braintree-owned Venmo’s (FD2016; F2013) millennial-focused social components stamped all over them:

  1. Founded by former N26 employees, Cookies launched this week to offer Germany-based users a free P2P payment solution. The simple UI has a messaging platform for senders and recipients to engage with, and it allows people to include emojis with their payments (Cookies calls them paymojis). Some paymojis have special powers, for example, a lightning bolt that allows users to send the money faster. Unlike Venmo (more like Square Cash), users do not maintain a balance on Cookies; instead, Cookies connects directly to a user’s bank account.
  2. Tilt originally began as a crowdfunding platform but launched P2P payments functionality this week. While the user interface is very Venmo-esque with emojis, gifs and a social feed, Tilt has a few differences. Aside from being based on a crowdfunding model where users pool money for weekend road trips and pizza nights, Tilt lists fundraising campaigns in its social feed and is available outside the U.S. Tilt has already launched in the U.K., Canada, and Australia.
  3. Our last Fintech Trending post described the growth of P2P payment service clearXchange, which scored Fiserv (F2016) as a distribution partner and added MasterCard Send debit cardholders to its client base. The Wall Street Journal reported this week that clearXchange is rebranding to Zelle in October to step up its competition with Venmo. While there is no word yet on UI and UX specifics such as emojis with special powers, gifs, and social feeds, there have been a few questions about the name Zelle, which Urban Dictionary defines as “a girl who is attractive and intelligent.”

New mobile payments methods are everywhere (and that’s not a good thing)

Last week, CVS joined a group of other retailers, banks, technology providers and payment services companies to launch its own mobile wallet. With the launch, the pharmacy intends to streamline the use of its rewards points with point-of-sale (POS) payments, but what it may actually be doing is adding yet another wet log to the slow-burning, mobile POS-payments fire.

The issue lies in part with low consumer interest and adoption; it’s still faster to swipe (or insert) your credit card than to take out and unlock your phone, open an app, and try to convince the cashier it is a legitimate way to pay. Also at fault is the large, fragmented number of suppliers. We’ve lost count, but here’s a partial list:

  • Apple Pay
  • Android Pay
  • Cake Pay
  • CVS Pay
  • Walmart Pay
  • MasterPass
  • Samsung Pay
  • Wells Fargo Wallet
  • Chase Pay
  • Starbucks
  • Capital One Wallet

Other news in the payments space

  • UnionPay’s mobile payments launched in Canada. The China-based payments network is the third largest in the world (following Visa and Mastercard). The launch enables Canadian cardholders to use UnionPay’s QuickPass EMV cards or app to pay at participating merchants.
  • Visa (FD2014; F2010) is in discussions with Nigerian banks to roll out mVisa, its QR code-based mobile payments service, by the end of this year. Consumers will be able to use their smartphone or feature phone to pay for goods with merchants, send domestic P2P payments, and access cash.
  • Apple expands carrier billing to Taiwan and Switzerland. The Taiwanese carrier is EasTone and while there’s no word yet on the carrier in Switzerland, it is expected to be Swisscom. This expands Apple’s carrier-billing partnerships, already operating in Germany and Russia, to four countries.

A big deal in ATMs gets a second look

Diebold (F2014) finalized its merger with German ATM maker Wincor Nixdorf last week, a deal that combined two of the largest three ATM companies. The deal closed for $1.8 billion and makes Diebold Nixdorf the world’s largest ATM company, claiming a third of the worldwide market.

Days after unveiling the newly formed entity, the ATM giant is facing an “in-depth merger investigation” from the U.K. Competition and Markets Authority. The agency said that it is concerned the deal will reduce the number of companies supplying ATMs in the U.K. The companies have until April 26, 2017, to “offer undertaking to address competition concerns.”

This further highlights the opportunity for disruption in the ATM space, a realm where companies such as Liqpay (F2013) have showed off solutions that allow cardholders to use their smartphones for a contact-less way to withdraw cash from ATMs.

Lending

Making Sense of Student Loan Debt—notwithstanding Bernie Sanders’ promises of free college tuition for all, the challenge of student loan debt isn’t going away anytime soon. Unfortunately, a recent report from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) suggests that loan servicers are a part of the problem, at least when it comes to income-driven repayment plans.

As reported in PYMNTS.com, much of the problem is bureaucratic, with “delays and rejections” that can expose student borrowers to greater interest, penalties, or even lost eligibility. “Student Loan servicers continue to fall short when it comes to helping borrowers address $1.3 trillion in student debt,” CFPB Director Richard Cordray said in a statement. “It’s time servicers focus more effectively on processing applications for income-driven repayment plans properly.”

And the CPFB is focused on more than just the student loan servicers. Wells Fargo was slapped with a $3.6 million fine this week for “illegal fees … and [depriving] others of critical information needed to effectively manage their student loan accounts,” according to Cordray. Wells Fargo said that it has already made changes to the processes criticized by the CPFB in its consent order.

It’s impossible to read about student loan debt in the headlines and not think of Student Loan Genius (F2016), which made its Finovate debut this spring. The company empowers employers to help millennial workers in particular pay off their student loan debts faster. This not only helps reduce what is often an onerous debt load (especially relative to the income of the average recent college graduate), but also enables young workers to start saving better.

Development

Make Room for Dev—Google (FD2016 ; F2011) is the latest major technology company dedicating major square footage to support collaboration between “local and international developers and startups.” Writing in the Google Developers Blog, Global Lead Roy Glasberg revealed that more than 14,000 square feet at 301 Howard Street would be the home of a variety of dev-friendly events ranging from Google Developer Group meetings to Tech Talks. The new facility will also host Google’s equity-free, three-month accelerator for emerging market startups, LaunchPad Accelerator.

Earlier this summer, IBM (F2016) announced the opening of its developer space, Bluemix Garage, in New York City. The New York garage, IBM’s sixth, will be hosted by developer networking and education organization, Galvanize. In the U.K., Allied London announced a new fintech co-work space called “The Vault” that will occupy 20,000 square feet in Manchester’s business neighborhood. Meanwhile in Germany, ING-DiBa announced its sponsorship of the latest fintech hub in Frankfurt.

Meanwhile in Asia, PayPal (FD2014; F2012) announced this week the opening of an innovation lab in Singapore, its first such lab outside the U.S. The lab joins PayPal’s other Indo-Asia Pacific innovation lab in Chennai, India, and will be focused on improving productivity among SMEs in the food and beverage industry. We also learned this week that the Monetary Authority of Singapore is setting up a fintech innovation lab, Looking Glass @ MAS1 in that country.

  • “Google Developers to open a startup space in San Francisco” – Google Developers Blog
  • “IBM Opens Bluemix Garage in New York City” – Finovate
  • Allied London unveils fintech startup “Vault” in Manchester – Manchester Evening News
  • ING-DiBa backs new Frankfurt fintech hub – Finextra
  • PayPal opens Innovation Lab in Singapore for next generation fintech – Deal Street Asia
  • Singapore’s MAS gets in on the fintech innovation lab game – Tech in Asia
  • Fintech Groups Will Unite into Global Hubs – Fortune

Life in the blockchain

Swiss-based UBS announced a year ago its work on a virtual currency—Utility Settlement Coin—to facilitate faster transaction settlement. This week, UBS announced it has joined forces with Deutsche Bank, Santander, BNY Mellon, and ICAP to convince central banks to agree to a commercial launch by 2018. Competition for this digital currency include Citigroup’s Citicoin, Goldman Sachs’ SETLcoin, and a similar, yet-unnamed, offering from JPMorgan.

Fintech Trending: Alt-Lending Woes, Asia Grows and Everbank Exits

A look at the trending topics of the past two weeks.

Trending highest: No Lush Life for Alt Lenders

LushLIfe_Coltrane_albumcoverIf unanimously positive perceptions are the hallmark of a bubble, then rest assured that the alt-lending market has moved past that stage. For every headline-grabbing C-level departure at Lending Club (F09)—CEO Renaud Laplanche stepping down in June, CFO Carrie Dolan announcing her resignation in August—there are successes: Prosper (F09) revealed its plan to sell $5 billion in loans to a group of private investors over the next two years; small business lender OnDeck (F12) surpassed earnings expectations despite its second consecutive quarterly loss and reported year-over-year quarterly revenue gains, as well as a year-over-year increase in loans under management of 47%.

So if there’s no bubble in the alt-lending part of the fintech universe, should we fear a bust? Diverging fortunes among these companies is a good sign. The more the fates of alternative lenders are linked to the decisions of individual corporate leaders, their business plans, and their customers rather than investing trends among venture capitalists (or hedge funds in the case of alt lenders gone public), the better. Looking at the P2P lending market in the U.K., LendInvest CEO Christian Faes told Business Insider, “Over the next few years, the businesses that can prove they can make a profit will be the ones [still] around in another ten years, making a lasting impact on finance.” In other words, just like any other business.

For Lending Club, the challenge is diversifying away from “fickle funding sources.” In addition to Prosper’s $5 billion move, Social Finance went so far as to launch a hedge fund, the $15 million SoFi Credit Opportunities Fund, to purchase its loans as well as those of its competitors.

  • OnDeck Loan Originations (And Loan Loss Provisions) Soar – PYMNTS.com
  • OnDeck Defends Strategy After $17.9 Million Loss – American Banker
  • Online Lenders Have a Tough Job Ahead – Wall Street Journal
  • The U.K.’s historically low interest rate could benefit alternative lenders – Business Insider
  • Lending Club’s latest results tell us a lot about the online credit business model – FT Alphaville

Other trending topics

Fintech Advances in Asia
While investors have been bullish on the tech scene in Asia for some time, a slew of new reports appeared this month. TechCrunch recently reported that in 2015 and the first half of 2016, fintech accounted for 21% of all VC funding in Southeast Asia. In a recent blog post, Trulioo (F15) said that fintech startups in Asia garnered $4.5 billion in 2015, triple what European fintech firms received during the same period. Recent developments include:

It’s no coincidence that Finovate is returning to Asia now to bring the innovators together in one place. Join us November 8, 2017, in Hong Kong for FinovateAsia 2016 as we showcase the latest and greatest.

Blockchain Developer, UNICEF Wants YOU!
The United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund is looking for a developer interested in using blockchain technology to help “solve the problems of the developing world.” Interested parties can find out more about the position here. And if the combination of blockchain and the developing world sounds familiar, it may be because you’re thinking of recent Finovate Best of Show winner BanQu (F16) which has developed a blockchain-based identity platform that promotes financial inclusion and empowerment among the underbanked, including refugee populations.

Hello, It’s Me: Voice Auth Comes to Barclays
Barclays adds instant voice authentication for all 12 million retail customers, ending 30 years of maneuvering through tedious telephone prompts and redundant authentication questions. – Bank Innovations

Everbank’s Awesome Exit
1990s digital banking pioneer Everbank exits for $2.5 billion in sale to TIAA. After PayPal (F12), this is the most successful fintech company to come out of the original 1990s dot-com era. – PYMNTS.com

Mastercard on the Move
Early Warning’s clearXchange saw some growth as of late. Mastercard, which announced this week that its Mastercard Send U.S. debit cardholders can send and receive money through the clearXchange network. Fiserv (F16) will also become a distribution partner for clearXchange, leveraging the partnership to provide a turnkey solution for banks.

Speaking of Mastercard, the company is looking at the newly announced partnership between PayPal and Visa (FD14), with an eye toward striking a similar deal. Finextra talked with Mastercard CEO Singh Banga who said it will be “important for Mastercard to provide something in addition to what Visa’s offered” as Mastercard “doesn’t have as much to offer PayPal” as Visa did because it has fewer consumers.

Azimo Goes Social
London-based Azimo (F13) took a step toward facilitating P2P payments by launching money transfers via Facebook Messenger. Interestingly, the transfer is initiated within the Azimo app (via Facebook integration) and completed in Facebook Messenger.

Insurance for Everything
Insurance startup investors are betting big that the smartphone platform allows a new breed of insurance products to flourish, so-called insurance on demand. The classic example is an alert when arriving at the airport asking if you would like to buy travel insurance. But the bigger market automobile/motorcycle policies are offering coverage only when you are using the vehicle. Our Insurance for Everything example of the week? On-demand insurance for your drone courtesy of Verifly. – Techcrunch

Also keeping our eyes on …

  • On August 2, 2016, Bitcoin dropped 20% after $70M worth of bitcoin (around 12,000 BTC) was stolen from Bitfinex exchange. The company is now offering a reward of up to $3.6 million for the recovery of the digital currency. Bitfinex said it has taken “significant steps” to improve its security, and resumed trading on its platform on Thursday, August 10. – TechCrunch
  • The U.K.’s FCA has granted app-only bank Mondo a banking license, thereby joining the ranks of neobanks Atom Bank, Tandem, and Starling. – The Financial Times
  • “An Interview with the Inventor of the Credit Card Chip Reader” – The New Yorker
  • “The Dawn of the Virtual Assistant” – The New York Times

Parentheticals after a company name refer to the year of their most recent Finovate or FinDEVr conference appearance (F = Finovate, FD = FinDEVr).

Fintech Trending: Germany Grows, Pokemon Goes, PayPal Partners

PokemonGo_videoimage

Today we unveil our fintech trends column, a look at trending topics of the past week or two, compiled by the Finovate research team.


Trending highest: Pokemon Go

Our inaugural post leads with the Pokemon Go phenomenon which has fintech innovators rethinking their strategies around not just mobile, but the power of gamification, location-based marketing, and the diversity of data, as well.

Sberbank (F16) was clever enough to offer free accident insurance for distraction-prone Pokemon Go players. But the Russian-based bank has bigger plans to engage potential customers via the game, including bonuses for players who catch Pokemon in a Sberbank branch. Sberbank also plans to use lures to help drive traffic to its locations, an initiative already underway at CenterState Bank in Florida. Read our take on the technology, and its potential as a marketing tool for FIs.

It comes as no surprise that fintech’s foremost futurist, Brett King, makes the most far-reaching case in favor of a connection between Pokemon Go and fintech. Calling the game “a glimpse into how very different the world of banking, investing, and financial advice will be in 10 year’s time,” the Moven (F16) CEO and author of Augmented: Life in the Smart Lane tells The Financial Brand’s Jim Marous: “(Pokemon Go) illustrates why banking is no longer a place you go, but something you do—on a phone, in AR, and as a person lives their life.”

Other quality Pokemon posts:

  • Lessons Pokemon Go Can Teach the Banking Industry – The Financial Brand
  • Is Pokemon Go the Killer App for Location-Based Marketing – AdvertisingAge
  • Urban gamification: can Pokemon transform our public spaces – The Guardian
  • Pokemon Go Is Inspiring Small Retailers. So Has Augmented Reality Gone Mainstream? – AdWeek
  • Pokemon Go has reinvented the power of data – IT Pro Portal
  • Capture your business spend: no Pokeball needed – TradeShift blog


Other trending topics

Brexit a Boon for German Fintechs?
With the strong fundraising performance of Germany’s fintech startups in late June, and news this week that Peter Thiel took a $3.5 million stake in Cologne-based nextmarkets, London’s position as Europe’s fintech capital may be weakening. And Germany seems to be the likeliest beneficiary.

  • Brexit spurs London startups to investigate Berlin move – Reuters
  • ‘Over a hundred’ London startups have asked to relocate to Berlin since Brexit – International Business Times
  • Berlin bids to replace London as post-Brexit fintech capital – Financial Times

Nasdaq Fintech Index Goes Live
You know Wall Street loves you when they render your likeness in an index. This week, Nasdaq launched its Fintex Index which tracks the performance of 49 fintech companies including 17 Finovate/FinDEVr alums. The index of publicly traded fintechs excludes banks and is limited to companies that “mainly sell financial services,” are not brick-and-mortar based, and generate revenues from fees rather than interest.

A Week in the Blockchain
While in Florida, a judge ruled that Bitcoin isn’t money, the EU commission made a step fostering the cryptocurrency, proposing the creation of a central database that keeps a record of bitcoin users. With the new measure, the executive arm of the EU aims to prevent the use of the currency to fund terrorists.

Mastercard Accentuates the Digital
Mastercard (F14) enhanced Masterpass, allowing consumers to make in-store payments at 5 million brick-and-mortar stores. The company rebranded its logo with a lowercase ‘c’ to focus less on a physical card and more on a digital wallet. One week later the company purchased a majority stake in U.K.-based VocaLink for $1.14 billion, giving Mastercard a potentially larger role in the overall U.K. payments universe.

Pump Up the Visa Volume
Visa (F10) and PayPal (F12, FD16) partnered, putting to bed a long-standing conflict. PayPal will encourage users to make Visa their preferred payment method. And more importantly, PayPal will stop steering Visa cardholders to pay via ACH bank transfer, increasing the transaction volume sent to Visa and its card-issuing banks. In turn, Visa is adding PayPal to its Visa Digital Enablement Platform, allowing consumers to use PayPal mobile wallet at the physical POS at major retailers. PayPal has been trying to engage consumers with physical POS payments since 2012, when it first introduced its pay-by-phone-number at Home Depot.

More Fintech Companies Choose Chatbots
This ongoing trend saw new entrants with Polly Portfolio (F16) launching a chatbot, along with MyKAI and YouInvest. Additionally, text-based savings service Dyme (F15) launched the first prototype of its Facebook Messenger Bankbot.

We’re also keeping our eyes on:

  • Amazon partnered with Wells Fargo to offer a 0.50% discount on student loans for Amazon Prime members
  • Square adds same-day bank deposits for merchants. While relatively pricey, adding 1% of the transaction amount to the processing cost, it’s a simple way to improve cash flow for certain businesses.
  • Cambridge Savings Bank partnered with SigFig (F11) to become one of the first U.S. banks to offer a robo-adviser investment service.

Parentheticals after a company name refer to the year of their most recent Finovate or FinDEVr conference appearance (F = Finovate, FD = FinDEVr),