How Digital Identity Tech Helps Businesses Fight Deepfakes and Battle Bots

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Digital identity technology plays an increasingly large role in financial services, and the current global public health crisis has accelerated this trend.

We spoke with Dean Nicolls, VP of Marketing for Jumio, to learn what the digital identity innovator is doing to help banks and other enterprises leverage this technology for their businesses. We also take a look at how the technology has been deployed to help deal with with coronavirus pandemic.


Finovate: Jumio announced that it is providing free identity verification services for organizations involved in COVID-19 relief. Which organizations qualify and why is Jumio launching this effort?

Dean Nicolls: Jumio launched Jumio Go for Good in March 2020 to help organizations involved in relief and assistance during this global health crisis quickly and accurately identity proof their patients, students and workers to ensure critical services can be delivered and trusted. Powered by AI, Jumio Go provides enterprises with a real-time, secure and reliable way to verify remote users, ensuring the person enrolling or logging in is who they claim to be online. 

Jumio Go is becoming increasingly important in helping organizations across a wide range of industries reliably onboard and serve a number of important use cases (e.g., new account onboarding, fraud detection, AML/KYC compliance), where verification speed is critical. With Jumio Go, identity verification decisions are rendered in seconds, not minutes or hours, which translates to significantly higher conversions, lower fraud rates, and improved customer satisfaction.

Through September 30, 2020, Jumio will provide free identity verification services via its AI-powered, fully automated solution, Jumio Go, to any qualifying organization directly involved in helping with COVID-19 relief including (but not limited to): healthcare, online learning, and the general population.

Finovate: What services are included in this offering?

Nicolls: Jumio Go For Good is powered by Jumio Go, the only fully automated digital identity verification solution on the market capable of defending against bots, advanced spoofing attacks and sophisticated deepfakes, which are often leveraged for fraud.

By leveraging AI, Jumio Go works to prohibit bad actors from fabricating online accounts. As deepfakes, bots, and sophisticated spoofing attacks continue to rise, Jumio has integrated certified liveness detection to detect when photos, videos or even realistic 3D masks are used instead of actual selfies to create online accounts. Additionally, Jumio Go provides organizations with a real-time, secure, and reliable way to authenticate remote users, ensuring the person enrolling into a new service is who they claim to be in the real world. 

Finovate: Identity verification has become an issue for small businesses seeking COVID-19 relief-related funding. What is the specific problem these businesses are facing and how can digital identity verification solutions help?

Nicolls: Small businesses across America are feeling the financial stress from shelter-in-place restrictions that have millions of people taking refuge from the outbreak by staying at home and working remotely. Recent changes have brought about a new question for the financial industry: how can lenders properly evaluate small businesses when they can’t physically walk into their office? For reference, SBA lenders are those who work with the Small Business Administration and provide financial assistance to small businesses through government-backed loans. The implementation of online identity verification solutions helps SBA lenders vet small business owners to ensure they follow compliance mandates (KYC/AML) by verifying their digital identities. Instead of requiring small-business owners to visit a local branch office, they can verify their online identity from the safety of their home, allowing lenders to effectively manage the influx of requests, and small-business owners the peace of mind knowing they’re being supported at this time.

In the future, identity verification solutions will become crucial for SBA lenders to establish trust remotely with an increasing number of remote users who simply do not want to visit a branch office. Jumio Go verifies government-issued IDs and ensures that the individual in the selfie matches the picture on the ID. A biometric-based approach to authentication helps expedite onboarding while also deterring  fraud by as much as 90%.

As the number of SBA lenders continues to increase, online identity verification will rapidly become a vital competitive advantage in terms of quickly distributing capital to small-business owners and nonprofits on the front lines, while also preventing cyberattacks.

Finovate: What are the key technologies behind identity verification solutions such as those offered by Jumio? AI? Advanced machine learning? What capabilities do these technologies enable that would not be possible otherwise?

Nicolls: Jumio launched Jumio Go, the company’s first real-time, fully automated identity verification solution, in November 2019. It is designed to remove friction from the user onboarding process, while preventing online identity fraud and meeting AML and KYC compliance mandates. Jumio leverages the power of informed AI and equips modern enterprises with instant online identity verification that delivers a simple and intuitive experience for good customers. 

There are three critical ingredients to informed AI:

  • Data Breadth: Jumio has verified 250 million digital identities to date. This gives Jumio a big leg-up in developing smarter algorithms. Not only is the data set very large, but it’s also very deep. Jumio’s database has seen large volumes of each one of the more than 3,500 ID document types/subtypes from more than 200 countries and territories.
  • Ground Truth: Jumio has leveraged supervised AI from the very beginning. This means Jumio employs identity verification experts who tag every identity verification based on an analysis of the security features and physical characteristics of an ID and selfie. These verification experts have spent thousands of hours reviewing and verifying government-issued IDs from all over the world which helps train our algorithms and make them iteratively smarter. 
  • Production Data: Jumio’s AI algorithms are trained on real-world production data, not purchased data sets. Jumio AI models are trained on images of ID documents and selfies where the images may be blurry, dimly lit, or have excessive glare which means our models are more robust and scalable than models trained on perfectly captured photos. This also helps us avoid bias since the data has been tagged by trained verification experts. 

Finovate: Where is adoption of identity verification technology most robust? Are there industries where the technology would be especially valuable, but adoption rates have been slower than expected? If so, which industries and what challenges to adoption are they facing?

Nicolls: Traditional banks have been surprisingly slow to adopt online identity verification and take digital transformation seriously. When you’re talking about traditional banks, there are numerous divisions including retail banking, private banking (for high net worth individuals), business banking and brokerage accounts. While all banks need to comply with KYC/AML checks when new accounts are created and have defined customer identification programs (CIP) in place, the methods they employ to establish a consumer’s digital identity are varied. Many traditional banks leverage non-documentary approaches to corroborate identity and this often involves pinging third-party databases or credit bureaus based on self-reported information from the consumer (e.g., name, address and date of birth). 

Unfortunately, these methods are not overly reliable. In fact, Gartner recommends that identity proofing solutions that rely on shared secret verification, such as out-of-wallet knowledge questions, or memorable personal data, be phased out. The concept of high-memorability, low-availability data has become archaic since the rise of social media and the subsequent plethora of breached data available through underground organizations. By requiring a picture of a government-issued ID, and pairing it with a corroborating selfie (which should include an element of liveness detection), banks can have much higher levels of identity assurance than traditional approaches and can deter as much as 90% of attempted fraud.

Finovate: Lastly, are there any upcoming announcements or initiatives coming in the next few weeks that we should be looking out for?

Nicolls: Jumio is launching a new suite of address services that can be used to validate and corroborate addresses with independent, third-party sources. Historically, Jumio has only relied on the ID document itself and a corroborating selfie as the fraud signals. Jumio Address Services actually consist of two distinct services:  

  • Jumio Address Validation: Determines if the address extracted from a government-issued ID (e.g., passport, driver’s license, ID card) exists in the real world.
  • Jumio Proof of Residence: Checks to see if the person being verified actually lives at the physical address extracted from their ID document. In the U.S., if the user moved, we would return whether the address provided matches the most recent address on file.

With these new add-on features, customers can use this data as additional fraud signals that help enterprises know if the person creating a new account is in fact who they claim to be. These services will be sold with our current identity verification solutions to provide a more holistic picture of an online user. 


Founded in 2010 and headquartered in Palo Alto, California, Jumio has been a Finovate alum since its debut at FinovateFall in 2013. In the company’s most recent appearance on the Finovate stage at FinovateAsia in 2018, Jumio demonstrated how its Netverify Identity Verification solution used liveness detection to prove an individual’s physical “presence” at the moment of the transaction.

Fintech, Financial Services and the Case for 5G

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

The Digital Identity Infrastructure and What it Has to do with Fintech

The last decade brought about a lot of discussion around digital identity. Dozens of security companies created new solutions to help banks authenticate their user’s identity and verify their personal information. Throughout the years, those authentication methods have evolved from comparing a simple selfie with a picture of a driver’s license, to tracking how a user navigates a web page, to assessing their online footprint.

Lately, however, the topic of conversation has shifted from authenticating digital identities to creating a digital identity infrastructure. But what exactly is a digital identity infrastructure and why is it important in fintech?

What is digital identity infrastructure?

Digital identity infrastructure is the set of processes a company has in place to verify users’ digital identities and manage their access. This infrastructure is especially important for banks and fintechs who host their information in the cloud, are frequently increasing the amount and types of information gathered, and are often times moving fast.

Why is digital identity infrastructure important in fintech?

This is where identity infrastructure comes into play– it helps companies scale faster and more simply. Creating a methodology around identity verification helps organizations leave behind a siloed approach in favor of a more holistic methodology that is consistent with the framework of the rest of the company.

What does the industry have to say?

David Birch, a well-known thought leader in the fintech industry, talked to us about digital identity last year at FinovateEurope. He laid out a handful of ideas on the subject, including his thoughts on creating identities for non-human objects such as robots. Some of the topics Birch discussed include:

  • The need to develop a framework around digital identity, including its definition
  • How banks should be responsible for developing the infrastructure around identity
  • There will be a future where robots will need passports

You can catch the full interview below.

Birch takes the stage at FinovateEurope next month to discuss how digital identities will be a game changer in the war against financial crime. He will also speak on a panel discussing which new technologies will transform financial crime and what an enterprise-wide financial crime risk assessment should look like.

Still need your ticket to FinovateEurope? Book now and we’ll see you in Berlin on February 11 through 13. If you register before this Friday, you can save up to £1,000.

2020’s Fintech Micro Trends

‘Tis the season for every fintech news outlet to cite industry predictions for 2020. And while it’s helpful to know that AI is still the biggest trend since PFM, and that the bank of the future will get ahead by focusing on the customer, sometimes the best way to gauge new trends is to think on a smaller scale.

Examining these micro trends helps keep a finger on the pulse of what’s about to take off in fintech and cuts the noise of the glaringly obvious ideas that dominate headlines. Here’s a look at a few of those trends.

Workplace training and compliance

These types of solutions have two main drivers, new technology and new regulation. Both of these factors continue to move at a fast pace throughout financial services.

Solutions such as Horizn help employers train their employees to use new consumer-facing technology so that they are ready to answer questions from end clients. By using gamification and leaderboards, Horizn encourages employees to increase their knowledge about new tools and offerings. Similarly, Launchfire’s Lemonade is an interactive, game-based simulation approach to workplace learning and helps employees not only learn skills they need to share with their customers but also familiarize themselves with compliance regulations.

This second piece of Launchfire’s offering– the compliance training– is key because it is increasingly evolving. This is due in part to employees expecting a more interactive training experience and partially because new technology is driving regulation to change at an increasingly fast pace. Christina Luttrell, COO of IDology highlighted this in a discussion about Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which took effect in 2018; and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), which will begin enforcement on the first of next year.

“According to IDology’s Annual Fraud Report, 28% believe CCPA compliance will be more burdensome than GDPR,” Luttrell said. “If GDPR is an indicator of how CCPA will unfold, then businesses need to consider how criminals can and will exploit subject access requests.” With regard to CCPA specifically, there is a lot at stake for non-compliance. “With consumers being able to sue, the compliance risk is enormous,” Luttrell added.

Debt management

Debt management, specifically student loan assistance platforms, have already started to take off. Players such as Tuition.io, Student Loan Genius, and CommonBond offer workplace benefits that enable employers to contribute to their employees’ student loan debt repayment efforts.

Direct-to-consumer debt repayment apps such as Qoins, which allows users to contribute their spare change from everyday purchases toward their debt, and Changed, which uses the same “spare change” concept but is focused on student loan repayment, are less common.

The coming year will bring even more of these types of solutions, especially as third party applications become more commonplace in financial services.

While there won’t be a huge wave of new players in the debt management space (again, we’re thinking micro trends!), it’s likely that existing players will launch new solutions to help consumers manage not only their student loan debt, but also mortgages and personal loans.

Philanthropic tech

We first saw an emergence of philanthropic fintech around 2012 when Billhighway launched fundraising technology and CafeGive, which has since shuttered, powered multiple financial institutions’ community-focused giving promotions.

Newer examples of philanthropic technology include Betterment’s donation feature and Meniga’s collaboration with the UN that allows users to donate their cash-back rewards to fight climate change. Additionally, Radius (recently acquired by Kabbage) launched its Data for Good campaign to help the company’s employees and customers give back to their communities, and Revolut launched a charitable giving feature. And there are even fintechs devoted entirely to charitable giving, including Place2Give, Sustainably, and Pinkaloo.

Could charitable donations via “feel good fintech” begin to take the place of tax deductible donations – especially in the U.S. – in 2020? Philanthropic fintech is also partially driven by the convenience economy. For example, instead of sitting down to make a yearly donation to their favorite charity, consumers can support the organization on a regular basis through the deduction of their “spare change” on everyday purchases or investments.

Banks Shift to Automation in 2020

The financial services industry is ripe for Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and Business Process Management (BPM) technologies. Organizations in this field have many tasks that can be– and even should be– automated.

Many banks already have successful implementations of these technologies in place. But with the dawn of a new decade, what’s next? We posed the question to AI Foundry’s Director of Product Management, Arvind Jagannath, who helped us uncover the future of RPA and BPM.

Finovate: What are some key developments in RPA and BPM we can look forward to in 2020?

Arvind Jagannath: RPA will play a key role in automating processes in legacy systems. It will have a lot of momentum in industries like retail and finance that are trying to achieve digital transformation because it can automate repetitive processes in their legacy applications.

Most companies view this kind of automation as a key to integrating new technologies and improving their business process. RPA will evolve into a gateway for adopting higher-level, modern technologies.

Finovate: Tell us about that evolution.

Jagannath: Finance, retail and online shopping all have processes that can be easily automated, such as data entry, button clicks, task routing, etc. For these processes, RPA can provide substantial savings in time and cost. Now, imagine you can amplify these gains by using cognitive technologies such as voice recognition, OCR, and AI…this can be a game-changer for many companies.

For example, voice recognition is now increasingly used to provide a more “conversational” flow for gathering initial caller information, just as a support person would do. All of this information can be used to drive the back-end processes that are automated by RPA, such as creating a support ticket and routing it to the right department.

In mortgages, document recognition technologies can quickly scan data from uploaded borrower documents and immediately provide feedback on the validity of the document or ask for additional information. This creates a powerful, real-time feedback loop that can cut days and possibly weeks out of the loan origination process.

Finovate: What does this mean for fintech’s strong partnership ecosystem?

Jagannath: Process automation tools are becoming more sophisticated, and traditional system integrators are taking notice. Large firms like IBM and SAP are realizing they need to partner with or acquire smaller, specialized RPA companies. So now there is an opportunity for collaborating and partnering to create a “smart” RPA eco-system.

A “smart” RPA eco-system combines process automation and AI to orchestrate the appropriate handoffs of tasks between humans and systems to automate processes across a value network.

For example, imagine automating the processing of a homeowner’s property insurance claim where the adjuster pulls data from many disparate systems to make a determination. In a smart RPA eco-system, robots can easily interweave with the adjuster to perform many tasks such as manual registering of the claim, scheduling the next available adjuster, tracking completion of the damage assessment, and proposing an equitable determination.

Finovate: What advice can you offer financial services companies looking to get started with RPA and BPA?

Jagannath: You first need to figure out how to automate your processes, and then start using cognitive technologies to get all the benefits out of RPA and higher-level cognitive AI. RPA becomes a gateway to adopting AI. So, RPA is helping build the ramp for AI to get adopted.

AI Foundry most recently appeared on the Finovate stage last year at FinovateFall. The company demonstrated its Agile Mortgages solution, which brings key efficiencies to the loan origination process.

Looking Beyond Funding at Fintech in MENA

Fintech is a global game, so why don’t we always hear about all of the global players? The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, for example is often overlooked when it comes to fintech.

The Milken Institute, a non-profit think tank, recently looked beyond the borders of the U.S., Europe, and Asia to better understand the state of fintech in MENA– specifically in the UAE and Bahrain. The findings come in the Milken Institute’s recent report The Rise of FinTech in the Middle East: An Analysis of the Emergence of Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.

The publication reports that the region receives only 1% of all VC fintech investment across the globe. But considering funding numbers alone paints a different picture than looking at fintech activity as a whole in the region. Looking beyond funding numbers, the report details the state of fintech in the region, its challenges, and what to watch.

MENA’s fintech pulse

Just getting started

It may be true that the rest of the globe receives 99% of all VC fintech investment, but the UAE and Bahrain are just getting started. Policymakers began forming fintech-specific initiatives in 2017 and, with only a couple of years of development, there is still plenty of time for the countries to grow the depth and breadth of fintech in the region.

Potential clients

The MENA region has around 450 million residents, an ample population to support a wide range of fintech initiatives. What’s more, half of all residents are under 25 years old and more likely to be tech savvy, having grown up with technology touching almost every aspect of their lives.

Geographical advantages

MENA acts as a gateway to neighboring Asia, which has two positive aspects. First, it is ripe with potential fintech partners. Second, Asia has a large population of financially underserved residents in need of the types of alternative financial services fintechs offer.

Growth

The region’s fintech sector is growing at a 30% compounded annual growth rate. By 2022, it is estimated that 465 fintechs in the region will garner $2+ billion in annual funding, a 25x improvement when compared to the $80 million in funding fintechs brought in in 2017.

What to watch

Milken’s report states that the following fintech subsectors are emerging regularly throughout the MENA region:

  • Payments
  • Remittances
  • Insurtech
  • Lending
  • Regtech
  • Digital banking
  • Crowdfunding
  • Blockchain
  • Cryptocurrency

And of that list, payments dominate. The fintech scene in MENA is comprised of 85% payments, money transfers, and remittances companies. This, the report details, is fueled by the prevalence of mobile devices and internet connectivity.

Challenges

Lack of local talent

As with many regions across the globe, MENA struggles to find local talent with specialized fintech expertise. Perhaps exacerbating the issue, the region’s major growth sectors such as traditional financial services, oil, and healthcare attract many of the experts from the talent pool.

Regulation

Again, MENA startups are not unique in their struggle with regulation. However, in its report, Milken pointed out that MENA fintechs often face extreme regulatory hurdles that outshadow typical regulatory challenges in their number and complexity. Examples include Visa requirements, licensing fees, quotas for employee hiring, and square footage requirements.

Cost of doing business

Regulation is just one aspect that adds to the cost of doing business in the region. Other factors are a high cost of living, licensing, and work visa costs.


For a more complete picture of the state of fintech in the region I highly recommend reading the full report. And to see MENA’s newest technology demoed live, and to hear from the most renowned industry leaders in fintech in the region, be sure to check out FinovateMiddleEast, taking place on November 20 and 21 in Dubai. Tickets are still available.

The Race is On in the High Interest Savings Game

I had a laugh this morning when I scanned my banking transactions and saw a credit of $0.01. The transaction description read Interest Paid. This is common, of course, as average savings account APY totals just 0.09%.

As fintechs seek to gain consumers’ trust, attention, and their deposits, some have launched high interest earning accounts to lure them in. Plenty of banks already offer such accounts, and now fintechs have decided its time to follow suit. Here’s a run-down of the players in the game thus far:

MaxMyInterest

  • Launched in 2013
  • Checking product launched September 2019
  • APY: 2.28% on savings, 1% on checking
  • The fine print: MaxMyInterest was one of the first fintechs to start playing the high interest savings game, and built its entire business model around the concept. Membership for either savings, checking or both costs 8 basis points per year. Accountholders with balances over $10,000 will be reimbursed for up to $200 per year by Max’s banking partner, Radius Bank. Outside of the membership fee there are no fees and no minimum balance requirements.

Simple

  • Launched September 2018
  • APY: 2.02%
  • The fine print: Requires a minimum balance of $2,000

WealthFront

  • Launched February 2019
  • APY: 2.57% at launch, currently 2.07%
  • The fine print: After the Federal Reserve cut its benchmark rate twice WealthFront dropped the APY to 2.32% and then again to 2.07%. The account minimum is $1 and Wealthfront does not charge monthly fees.

T-Mobile in partnership with Bank Mobile

  • Launched April 2019
  • APY: 4%
  • The fine print: Accounts with balances up to $3,000 earn 4% APY, accounts with balances over that threshold earn 1% APY. There are no fees or minimum balance requirements but account holders must deposit at least $200 per month into the account to earn 4% APY.

Betterment

  • Launched July 2019
  • APY: 2.69% at launch, currently 1.79%
  • The fine print: When Betterment launched the account in July, it advertised that users could earn up to 2.69% APY until the end of this year, after which will drop to 2.43%. The company also noted that the interest is subject to change, which it did– two week after launch. The company dropped its APY to 1.79% in response to the Federal Reserve dropping the benchmark rate. Users who sign up for the company’s debit card can earn 2.04%. The account has a minimum balance of $10 and does not charge monthly fees.

Green Dot

  • Launched August 2019
  • APY: 3%
  • The fine print: Interest, which is paid on a maximum of $10,000, is held in a separate account that the consumer is unable to access until the account anniversary. The high yield savings accounts must be opened in tandem with Green Dot’s Unlimited Cash Back account, which pays customers a 3% cash-back bonus on all online and in-app purchases. The account charges a $7.95 monthly fee if consumer’s purchases (excluding mobile bill payments, ATM withdrawals, and ACH transactions) are less than $1,000.

Coinbase

  • Launched October 2019
  • APY: 1.25%
  • The fine print: Coinbase’s offering is set up as a rewards structure, not as an interest earning account. U.S.-based Coinbase customers earn a 1.25% APY reward on the amount of USD Coin (USDC) they hold in Coinbase. The reward is paid out in USDC, not U.S. currency. The offer is not available to accountholders in New York.

Credit Karma

  • Launched October 2019
  • APY: 2.03%
  • The fine print: There are no fees and no minimum balance requirements. A maximum balance of $5,000,000 and transfer limits apply.

Robinhood

  • Launched October 2019
  • APY: 2.05%
  • The fine print: The percentage is paid as a part of Robinhood’s Cash Management offering, a program that moves users’ uninvested cash to partner banks.

M&A is the New IPO

For years, startups have resisted going public; avoiding IPOs. At the same time, merger and acquisition (M&A) activity is at an all-time high. We’re taking a look at why startups are increasingly taking the M&A exit route over listing publicly, and why it’s a good thing (for fintech, anyway).

IPOs down, M&A up

According to Quartz, the average age of publicly listed companies in the U.S. has increased from 12 years old to 20 years old since 1997. During that same time period, the number of American firms publicly listed in the U.S. shrank from 7,500 to 3,618. Echoing those findings, the Harvard Business Review reports that the number of publicly listed companies has declined by almost 50% since 1996, when the number peaked.

On the Finovate blog, we’ve covered 17 M&A deals so far this year. Compare that to last year, when we covered 46 merger and acquisition deals; and 2017, when we covered 29 mergers and acquisitions; and 2016’s total of 26. In the same vein, KPMG reports that the number of global M&A deals in fintech soared to more than 120 in the first quarter of 2018, totaling $22 billion. This is due primarily to consolidation of key segments. Large exits so far this year include TSYS and IDology — with eToro, InComm, Envestnet, and SumUp all having made major acquisitions.

Why not IPO?

Here are a few reasons why becoming acquired is more appetizing than going public:

  • There’s no shortage of VC funding (yet)
  • A grow-fast-and-get-acquired strategy is easier than a strategy to IPO, which requires long-term profitability planning
  • Mergers and acquisitions are less costly than IPOs; underwriting and registration costs for IPOs add up to an average of 14% of the funds raised
  • IPOs have a bad track record. The public markets have been tough environments for OnDeck and Lending Club, which both went public in 2014.
  • IPOs are time consuming– taking anywhere from six to nine months  to complete– and can take management’s focus away from business operations until the IPO is finalized.

Fintech hold outs

There are plenty of fintechs that would make good IPO candidates who are waiting to go public. Many of these companies have been in the industry for a decade or longer, and some have valuations upwards of $1 billion.

Take personal finance company SoFi, for example, a San Francisco-based company that’s valued at $4.3 billion. In February, CEO Anthony Noto told Barron’s that the company isn’t planning an IPO for this year, though Noto said that the company’s long-term goal is to go public. This comes after former CEO Michael Cagney said the company would likely go public in 2018 or 2019.

Payroll and HR innovator Gusto is valued at $2 billion. The company, also headquartered in San Francisco, has a different view on going public. In fact, Gusto Founder and CEO Josh Reeves said that it isn’t the company’s end goal. “There are pros and cons to being a public company, and we believe that today, the benefits of Gusto staying private outweigh the benefits of being public,” Reeves said. “An IPO isn’t our end-goal; instead, it’s creating a world where work empowers a better life. We currently serve more than 1% of all employers in the U.S., which is an accomplishment we’re incredibly proud of, but we realize we still have a lot more work to do. Building Gusto to its full potential is a multi-decade mission for me.”

Founded in 2009, Atlanta-based Kabbage has been an alternative source of small business financing for almost 10 years. In an interview with Inc., Kathryn Petralia, Kabbage co-founder and president said, “An IPO is a huge distraction. It’s not just any fundraising event, it’s a really, really complicated transparent fundraising event that brings with it a lot of extra work– forever.” Regarding potential timing on taking Kabbage public, Petralia said, “There’s going to be a time for that, I suspect. But right now… it just doesn’t make sense.”

And in an interview with TechCrunch last year, Betterment CEO Jon Stein told the interviewer that going public is “something that we want to ultimately do.” He added, “we continue to drive towards it, and I believe we’re in a great position. We’re audited, we have an amazing finance team, we’ve got great risk management, security processes… all of those things that companies that are preparing to IPO ought to be doing.”

Good for fintech

So why is the M&A exit route beneficial over an IPO for the fintech industry? First, it keeps the fintech company loyal to its acquirer instead of shareholders. By focusing on an acquiring firm’s or bank’s bottom line instead of its own, fintechs are contributing to the bigger picture of banking.

Additionally, M&As tend to stimulate collaborative projects that benefit both financial services clients as well as end customers. Ultimately, working with tangential players in the market helps foster innovation.

How Fintech is Disrupting the Modern Workplace

From the way payroll and benefits are administered to the nature of work itself, fintech innovation is helping build the 21st century workplace.

Will “pay day” be a thing of the past? How long until companies across the country are competing on the basis of their ability to help you pay off your student loans?

Technology has done much to change the nature of work in recent years. The same can be said for specific areas like financial technology. Here’s a look at how fintech innovations are making their own contributions to the 21st century “office”.

Getting Paid

Many of us work because we enjoy what we do. But whether you consider getting paid a top priority or just a perk, who wouldn’t love the flexibility of being able to get income when you need the money most – rather than on an arbitrary, twice a month schedule?

Companies like Gusto are among those making this possibility a reality. This summer, the payroll, benefits, and HR technology company introduced Flexible Pay, a new solution that enables employees to get paid on a date other than their employer’s standard pay date. Calling bi-weekly pay schedules a “relic” of the days when payroll taxes were calculated manually, Gusto co-founder and CEO Joshua Reeves has set out to prove that “with modern technology, employees shouldn’t have to wait weeks to get paid.”

The New Workspace

Even the word “telecommute” sounds more like something from a bygone time rather than the way a growing number of Americans are “going to work”. But the reality of remote employment for a growing number of people is here and fintech companies have both encouraged and participated in this trend. “Millennials simply don’t feel they need to be in the office, or at their desk, to get a job done — especially since the evolution of technology has made portability very possible,” Demetrios Gianniris, a director at MG Engineering, wrote for Forbes.com earlier this year in a post called The Millennial Arrival and the Evolution of the Modern Workplace.

To this end, innovations in mobile technology and messaging (consider Eltropy’s innovations in providing secure, compliant communications via popular messaging apps) have helped accelerate the revolution in remote work. There are also fintechs removing friction from some of the more mundane aspects of working outside the office. Expensify, for example, has partnered with Uber to make it easier for workers who use the ride-sharing service to separate business from personal expenses. And speaking of expenses, the tools offered by companies like Ondot empower workers to make necessary purchases while ensuring control and accountability for managers and employers.

Doing the Work

The flip side of the convenience that technologies like chatbots and IVR provide is that, for a growing number of financial professionals, these technologies are virtually co-workers. As machine learning and AI become increasingly commonplace, workers are more likely to rely on interacting with processes than communicating with people when it comes to getting their daily tasks done.

For financial advisors, fintechs are developing a wide variety of tools to make it easier for them to communicate with customers, and build highly personalized investment portfolios and financial plans. Onist, which announced a partnership with Quovo this summer, enables financial advisors to set up a virtual family office to facilitate collaboration between advisors and clients.

Technology also promises to make it easier for workers to leverage the work of other workers more effectively. One of the key insights of New York-based WorkFusion was the way a combination of machine learning and crowdsourcing of human talent could enable smaller businesses to “punch above their weight” when it comes to managing data. The company has since leveraged this technology to produce the first integrated RPA (robot process automation) and cognitive automation platform: Smart Process Automation (SPA) currently deployed in verticals including financial services, healthcare, and insurance.

Managing the Gains

Fintechs are in the lead when it comes to helping workers make better financial decisions. A firm like DoubleNet Pay helps employees manage cash flow by automating their billpay and savings obligations and coordinating payouts around paydays. Wealthucate, a financial wellness specialist out of San Jose, California, provides an automated financial wellness program that helps businesses enhance their own offerings. Wealthucate’s solution leverages gamification and personalization to increase the participation rate in benefit programs and help companies better explain their benefit offerings.

Among the more interesting ways that fintechs are helping workers manage their money is the approach by Student Loan Genius. This company enlists employers in the fight to help Millennial workers in particular pay off their student loans while simultaneously investing in their own employer-based retirement plan as soon as possible.

Fintech and the Work of the Future

It may be only a matter of time before we are able to watch the real-time flow of micropayments into our accounts or a be a part of a workforce in which most of us have both a robot supervisor and a robot subordinate. In any event, it is clear that whatever innovations the workplace of the future holds, fintech companies will be very much a part of making them happen.

Image designed by Freepik

Using Your Data to Stay Alive

Earlier this year we published a post titled Data or Die that describes the ways firms can leverage their data. Collecting data is hard, analyzing data is hard, but dying is simply not an option. So how do financial services companies stay alive?

In a recent report by McKinsey, authors Peter Bisson, Bryce Hall, Brian McCarthy, and Khaled Rifai set out to learn how companies who are successful at leveraging data analytics are able to do so at scale. The team surveyed 1,000 companies with more than $1 billion in revenue that operated in 13 sectors and across 12 geographic locations to learn the tricks to winning at data analytics.

As it turns out, successfully leveraging data analytics across an organization isn’t easy. In fact, only 8% of the companies in the survey thrived in this area.McKinsey found nine strategies the top performers use to outperform their peers:

  1. Obtain a strong, unified commitment from all levels of management: 61% have executive leadership that is aligned on an analytics vision and strategy
  2. Increase investment in analytics: 65% spend more than 25% of their IT budget on analytics
  3. Develop a clear data strategy with strong governance: 67% have a clear strategy to support their analytics program
  4. Use sophisticated analytics methodologies: 63% have a clear methodology for model development, insight interpretation, and new deployment
  5. Possess analytics expertise and hire talent that does, too: 89% employ more than 25 data and analytics professionals per 1,000 full time employees
  6. Create cross-functional, agile teams: 58% have models that revolve around multi-skilled teams
  7. Prioritize decision-making: 55% prioritized the top areas in which to embed analytics
  8. Establish decision-making rights and responsibilities: 58% establish decision-making accountability
  9. Empower front lines to make analytics-driven decisions: 57% make decisions quickly and continually refine their approach

While these numbers are convincing, not all of the most successful companies in the study abide by these categories. In fact, based on the numbers above, these only held true for an average of 67% of the top performers. The one area where there seemed to be more consensus may, however, be worth paying attention to. That is, successful companies have data analytics experts already on their team and they focus on hiring talent that is skilled in this area, as well.

Overall, McKinsey advised firms to “conquer the last mile” of their analytics journey by starting with… the last mile:

“Most companies start their analytics journey with data; they determine what they have and figure out where it can be applied. Almost by definition, that approach will limit analytics’ impact. To achieve analytics at scale, companies should work in the opposite direction. They should start by identifying the decision-making processes they could improve to generate additional value in the context of the company’s business strategy and then work backward to determine what type of data insights are required to influence these decisions and how the company can supply them.”

Now that McKinsey has shown you where to start, fintechs can help by showing you how. There are numerous fintechs who specialize in leveraging data across organizations. Below are nine companies across three categories:

Marketing

  • GoodData offers an insights platform-as-a-service that provides data management and analytics to improve the operational decision-making process for employees, users, and partners. The company enables users to build standalone or embedded analytic apps that pull data from multiple sources.
  • Race Data leverages customer data and turns it into market intelligence. By looking at consumer behavior, the company builds personalized engagements with the brand. The company offers a fintech platform built specifically to help community banks have more meaningful conversations with their customers.
  • Red Zebra Analytics creates loyalty and engagement solutions for retail and bank customers. The tools leverage analytics to monitor and predict customer behavior and to serve as an incentive for customers to return to the bank’s online and mobile banking channels.
Above: GoodData’s process for transforming raw data into actionable predictions and recommendations

Business intelligence

  • Ephesoft offers a document capture and analytics platform that automatically extracts data. Using machine learning, the company puts that data to work to improve business processes such as invoicing, mortgage approvals, compliance checks, and insurance claims.
  • Hyper Anna aims to democratize data by offering an AI-powered data analyst that firms can interact with using natural language. The assistant writes code, analyzes data, creates charts, and answers questions about key business drivers.

Fraud protection

  • Guardian Analytics uses data on banking clients’ behavior to detect and prevent banking fraud. The company creates a unique ID for each user by analyzing how they interact with their device and the bank’s website.
  • NuData Security identifies users based on data gathered from their online interactions. By leveraging four layers of intelligence (pictured right); passive biometric verification, behavioral trust consortium, behavioral analytics, and device intelligence; the company can identify and prevent fraud.
  • ID Analytics maintains an ID Network, a database of cross-industry consumer behavioral data, that offers an assessment of consumer creditworthiness and risk. The ID Network is composed of consumer data contributed from the company’s clients.
  • ThetaRay’s analytics platform enables clients to detect anomalous behavior across a large data set of transactions. Once an anomaly is detected, the bank can migrate the transaction to protect against loss.

You Don’t Need an Innovation Lab

We’re living in an era where major banks and financial services companies have their own in-house innovation labs. Major players who are generally thought of as too clunky to operate hip, fast-moving, tech-adopting divisions are getting in on the game. The list of financial services companies who have launched labs in the past ten years is a long one.

Banks such as Capital One, Citi, Visa, Chase, BBVA, DBS Bank, Fidelity, JP Morgan Chase, Deutsche Bank, FIS, and Lloyds have all launched their own fintech labs. Some banks, such as USAA, even have member labs, where the bank’s customers can opt to test out new services before they’re released, and offer feedback.

Even non-banks are starting labs of their own. At FinovateSpring last year, NCR showcased a lab-grown technology that leverages virtual reality to offer ATM servicing help. And earlier this year, business commerce platform Tradeshift launched an innovation lab to leverage new enabling technologies. The result of these labs are often beneficial and have led to multiple, successful product launches. In fact, Many products pitched from the Finovate stage started out as projects from a lab.

The photo above shows off Standard Bank’s innovation lab, from the Financial Brand’s article titled Peek Inside 7 of The Banking World’s Coolest Innovation Labs. As the article suggests, it’s cool. But do you really need a place that looks like a daycare to create and launch new services for your members? Smaller FIs may argue that they can’t– they are already strained for resources and aren’t able to move fast enough to bring a product to market before technology changes. So how can small banks compete?

Room to fail

Create room in your culture to fail. If all of a bank’s or a fintech’s employees are afraid to fail, none will be willing to take on the risk of suggesting or trying new things. When you remove the fear of failure and replace it with an incentive to test new ideas, you’ll be surprised how the culture shifts.

Start small

Fintech innovation doesn’t necessarily mean creating the next mind-reading IoT device that automatically optimizes your investments and doubles as a mobile wallet. Instead of being intimidated by fintech vaporware, think about a spreadsheet or a process that your team dreads. What move can you take to change that process? Maybe you can make it more efficient adding productivity-enhancing technologies to automate or digitize more tedious, time-consuming parts of the process. Or perhaps some portions of the process are no longer necessary, and the simplification is the innovation. Sometimes, starting small is starting tiny.

Use your size as an advantage

The advantage of creating change in a small credit union or community financial institution is the small size, which translates to small scale. When you want to implement a fintech initiative as a smaller FI, you can get your entire organization on board. Big banks can’t do that. If 100% of a bank or credit union is excited about the change and willing to push the new initiative, things can happen a lot faster.

Fintech for Your New Year’s Resolutions

Make a New Year’s Resolution for 2018? While fintech can’t help you lose weight (yet!), there are plenty of players to help you achieve your financial resolutions. So here are a few specific financial goals you might have set for 2018 – along with the fintech innovators who can help you achieve them.

 Save more

After feeling the burn of holiday spending, many people are planning to buckle down and increase their savings in the new year.

  • Dyme
    Dyme offers an automated savings platform. The text-based app not only reminds users to save, it also automatically moves money from their checking account to their savings.
  • Meniga
    Meniga’s personal financial management (PFM) platform makes it easy for users to track their goals and inspires them to mitigate their spending habits to reach their goals on time.
  • Qapital
    Another PFM app, Qapital offers a visual way for users to see the progress of their savings goals.

Buy a house

Interest rates are on the rise, so if you’re looking to buy a home there’s no better time than the present.

  • Blend
    Blend helps put an end to the “document volleyball” that often occurs in the home buying process. Blend’s online portal offers secure and compliant document transmission and communication channels that help buyers, lenders, and agents stay on track.
  • Sindeo
    Sindeo’s platform offers users access to more than 1,000 loan programs and guidance from mortgage advisors. The company’s QuickStart program helps users complete a loan application and receive a pre-qualification letter in under 10 minutes.
  • Unison
    Unison Home Ownership Investors contributes up to half of the buyer’s down payment, lowering their monthly payments and helping them to avoid paying mortgage insurance. When the term of the loan is up or the buyer decides to sell their home, Unison claims a portion of the home’s appreciation.

Organize your retirement

It seems as if there is always something to be done when it comes to retirement funds– rollovers, maximize returns, minimize fees, optimize diversification…. Fortunately, wealth tech is one area of fintech where there are seemingly endless firms to help.

  • Wealthfront
    Wealthfront is one of the largest players in the wealth tech space. The company offers retirement and college savings plans, and allows users to borrow against their portfolios.
  • Blooom
    With transparent advice and low fees, Blooom has an algorithmic approach to investing that aims to maximize 401(k) returns.
  • Nutmeg
    U.K.-based Nutmeg algorithmically manages users’ ISA’s pensions, and general investments for less of a fee than a traditional investment advisor.
  • Scalable Capital
    U.K.-based Scalable Capital uses a technology-based approach to make wealth management available to everyone.

For a more complete list and analysis of players in the B2C wealth tech space, check out our previous coverage.

Pay down student loans

For many millennials, the burden of student loans is getting in the way of starting a family, buying a house, and even saving for retirement. Paying down loans faster has the potential to open up more opportunities.

  • Tuition.io
    While it’s not a B2C play, Tuition.io enables employers to offer a workplace benefit that assists employees by making contributions to their student loan payments.
  • Student Loan Genius
    Student Loan Genius follows a similar model to Tuition.io (though they might say it’s the other way around).
  • Personetics
    Personetics Act leverages AI to notify banks which of their clients have student loans and can pay the off faster. The technology finds unused funds that can be applied toward the balance and automatically pays down student loans on the client’s behalf.

Maximize your tax benefits

Whether you’re doing your personal taxes or trying to balance sales tax for your small business, these tools can help you get a head start on this annual task.

  • Xero
    Founded in 2006, Xero is a long-standing cloud accounting players for small businesses. XeroTax helps businesses to prepare, review and lodge returns for individual, partnership, company, trust, SMSF, FBT and activity statements.
  • Credit Karma
    Starting last year, Credit Karma began offering tax preparation and filing service for the 2017 tax year. Unlike many self-service tax preparation services, Credit Karma’s is free. And –bonus– the company partnered with American Express this year to offer an advance on your refund.
  • Avalara
    Similar to Xero, Avalara is focused on small businesses. The Seattle-based startup helps companies with VAT automation, as well as plan, manage, and prepare sales and use tax.

Give more

Looking for some extra karma this year? Here are some fintechs that can help boost charitable giving.

  • Betterment
    Yes, Betterment is a wealth management company and not a pure-play tax startup. However, last year the company announced a charitable giving feature that allows customers to donate shares from taxable accounts to charitable organizations.
  • Place2Give
    Canada-based Place2Give is a one-stop shop where users can search for and donate to North American charities.
  • Sustainably
    Sustainably is like Acorns for charitable giving. The U.K.-based company automates donations to users’ selected charities by rounding up their purchases to the nearest £1, making micro-donations.