Digital Dollars and E-Euros: The Case for National Digital Currencies

India is the latest country to announce that it is looking into development of a national digital currency – or what’s known in the industry as a Central Bank Issued Currency (CBDC). In recent weeks and months, we’ve heard news of a growing number of central banks investigating the pros and cons of digitizing their money supply. Japan announced last week that it is considering the advantage of a “digital yen.” The Central Bank of the Bahamas is also examining the issue, as is, ahem, North Korea. Tunisia made fintech headlines last fall when a Russian news agency reported the country had digitized its currency. But Tunisian authorities have since denied the story.

The case for digitizing national currencies includes the idea that, at a minimum, central banks need to keep up with – if not get ahead of – the trend toward the digitization of money. More constructively, central bank-issued digital currencies (CBDC) could provide significant benefits in terms of reducing the costs and risks to the payments system and, according to a 2018 report from the IMF, “could help encourage financial inclusion.”

However as the report makes clear, there are a wide variety of risks associated with CBDCs – the most immediate of which may be a simple lack of demand. The IMF’s Christine Lagarde made the point a few years ago in her address subtitled “The Case for New Digital Currency,” delivered at the Singapore Fintech Festival. The same “winds of change” that are driving central bankers to consider digitizing the money supply are also stimulating innovation in other forms of payment and value-storage. Any digital currency issued by a central bank still would have to compete with digital payment and value-storage offerings from the private sector.

In some ways, this is the most interesting consideration in the debate over digital currencies. Issues of safety and anonymity remain paramount, and themes like regional specificity remind us that what works for one geography may not work for another. But it is increasingly easier to imagine a world in which digital national currencies exist than it is to imagine a world in which they do not.

For more on the national digital currency movement around the world, check out Stephen O’Neal’s in-depth examination of the topic in Cointelegraph from the summer of 2018. O’Neal divided the world of state-issued currencies into the Adopters, the Rejectors, the Experimenters, and the Researchers. Note that Tunisia, as reported above, is no longer in the Adopters category, however the country’s central bank did note that it is “exploring” digital payment options including CBDC.

Additionally, some of the countries that have rejected national digital currencies have appeared to reconsider in recent years. A report from last fall suggested that private bankers and lenders in Germany, for example, have expressed interest in a form of “digital central bank money.”


This week on the Finovate blog we celebrated the second birthday of PSD2 in Europe, and highlighted the advances Israeli startup and Finovate Best of Show winner Voca.ai has made in deploying voice AI in customer service. We also previewed our upcoming FinovateEurope Venture Capital All Stars presentation on fintech investment trends in Europe.

Here is our weekly look at fintech around the world.

Asia-Pacific

  • Contour, a blockchain-based trade finance platform headquartered in Singapore, announces investment of undisclosed size from Standard Chartered.
  • Malaysian cross-border payments company Tranglo integrates with Ripple.
  • Digital-only banks may be coming to Thailand as the country’s central bank considers offering digital banking licenses.

Sub-Saharan Africa

  • South African fintech Oyi launches prepaid medical savings card.
  • Inlaks, a Nigeria-based ICT infrastructure solutions provider, introduces new line of “ultramodern” ATMs that feature the ability to access customer service via a live video connection.
  • FinTech4U Accelerator names the five Zambian fintechs that will join its program this month.

Central and Eastern Europe

  • Leading browser provider Opera acquires Estonian banking-as-a-service startup Pocosys.
  • German fintech Heidelpay is on the hunt for acquisition opportunities and is considering an IPO.
  • EU Startups features Cashpresso in its look at top Austrian startups to watch in 2020.

Middle East and Northern Africa

  • Arab News features Nosaibah Alrajhi, founder of Shariah-compliant P2P lending platform Forus, scheduled to go live in Saudi Arabia later this year.
  • Al Khaleej Bank of Sudan to deploy Path Solution’s core banking iMAL platform.
  • The Central Bank of Egypt completes eKYC pilot.

Central and Southern Asia

  • A digital rupee? That’s the proposal from India’s National Institute for Smart Government (NISG).
  • Fintechs are not the only ones disrupting financial services in India. Increasingly, smartphone brands are getting into the act.
  • Indian fintech startup Mera Cashier raises $250,000 in seed funding.

Latin America and the Caribbean

  • Softbank strikes again! The Japanese firm has led a $125 million Series B round for Mexico’s AlphaCredit.
  • Americas Quarterly looks at ways that fintech can become “a priority” in Latin America.
  • Olivia, a Brazilian financial wellness app, raises $5 million in funding from BV (formerly Banco Votorantim).

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

Top image designed by Freepik

Here’s How Far We’ve Come with Voice AI in Customer Service

When it comes to customer service, even in-person interactions can be unpleasant. And doing business over the phone is usually markedly worse, especially if there is a bot involved.

There is one fintech fighting that stereotype, however. Voca.ai offers a virtual call center agent tailored to the financial services industry. And you won’t find the company referring to this virtual agent as a bot. Instead, Voca.ai uses terms such as “empathetic,” “smart,” and “human-friendly” to describe its virtual agent Voca.

Advancements

Voca implements an AI that has been trained by listening to an organization’s recordings of successful agents. Voca not only imitates the representatives’ responses, it also uses a human-sounding cadence and adds pauses and filler words such as “um.” The use case in the video below depicts a collections scenario. Other possible applications for Voca include lead generation, customer qualification, appointment scheduling, cross-selling, and customer retention.

Voca’s collections agent in the video sounds remarkably human, especially with such a common name, Sarah. Sarah pauses in all the right places, has sympathetic intonations, and understands David, her client, even when he doesn’t use proper English.

All of this is part of Voca.ai’s secret sauce. The company’s virtual agent leverages information from the call such as speech rhythm, tone, and the speed of the conversation to identify the customer’s intent and emotion. As the call progresses, the virtual agent can even pick up on clues that indicate that what the customer is saying is different from what they actually mean.

What’s lacking

Because of common fraud tactics such as phishing, society has been trained to never offer personal information over an incoming phone call. Figuring out a way for the customer to authenticate themselves without compromising their identity is a major hurdle here. In fact, this is such an enigma that digital identity is one of the biggest topics in fintech, and one that will persist.

Maintaining human cadence is a second item that needs to be considered here. This isn’t obvious in the demo above, but if you watch the company’s demo at FinovateSpring last year (which won Best of Show), you may notice an awkward pause before each answer. For some, the moment of silence may be just long enough to wonder if the caller understood their answer. This could cause them to repeat themselves and result in the voice agent and the customer talking over each other in an awkward exchange.

Despite the challenges present in voice-powered customer service, Voca.ai has created a powerful tool. Voice has come a long way in reducing friction for not only financial services companies, but also their clients. Additionally, the new adaptations of voice have created a more human-like experience, which is something many consumers crave in today’s digital era.

FinovateSpring Best of Show Winners Announced

It’s been great to be back in the city by the bay!

After two days of live fintech demos, the attendees of FinovateSpring here in San Francisco have made their selections as to which fintech products, services, and solutions were interesting, impressive, and innovative enough to earn one of our coveted Best of Show awards.

From solutions to help consumers better access credit to technologies that bolster the fight against fraud to “Is this @#$% real?!” demonstrations of AI-powered agents that sound – and feel – as real as any human, this year’s Best of Show winners are truly in a class of their own.

Arkose Labs for its technology that solves multi-million dollar fraud problems for the world’s most targeted businesses with zero impact to user conversion. Video.

Blytzpay for its text-to-pay solution that makes billing and communication simple, streamlined, and secure, while providing flexibility to pay by card, check, or cash. Video.

BlueRush for Individeo, an interactive and personalized video platform for financial institutions to drive online sales success. Video.

Everplans for its solution that helps advisors create better interactions, establish new connections, strengthen relationships, and gain introductions to heirs. Video.

Glia (formerly SaleMove) for its technology that creates digital-first moments that simplify and transform communication between companies and their customers using messaging, video/voice, co-browsing, and AI. Video.

Invest Sou Sou for its smart social banking account designed to help community banks cultivate low-cost deposits and credit-ready borrowers in a secure and cost-efficient way. Video.

Neener Analytics for its regulatory compliant social media analytics platform that delivers specific individual risk outcomes for thin-file, no-file, and credit-challenged consumers. Video.

Voca AI for its smart, human, and empathetic virtual call center agent for financial institutions and service providers. Video.

A thousand thanks to all our demoing companies, our sponsors and partners, and, most importantly, our awesome attendees whose passion and enthusiasm for fintech innovation makes our events all the more engaging and entertaining. We’ll see you next year!

Notes on methodology:
1. Only audience members NOT associated with demoing companies were eligible to vote. Finovate employees did not vote.
2. Attendees were encouraged to note their favorites during each day. At the end of the last demo, they chose their three favorites.
3. The exact written instructions given to attendees: “Please rate (the companies) on the basis of demo quality and potential impact of the innovation demoed.”
4. The eight companies appearing on the highest percentage of submitted ballots were named “Best of Show.”
5. Go here for a list of previous Best of Show winners through 2014. Best of Show winners from our 2015 through 2018 conferences are below:
FinovateEurope 2015
FinovateSpring 2015
FinovateFall 2015
FinovateEurope 2016
FinovateSpring 2016
FinovateFall 2016
FinovateAsia 2016
FinovateEurope 2017
FinovateSpring 2017
FinovateFall 2017
FinovateAsia 2017
FinovateMiddleEast 2018
FinovateEurope 2018
FinovateSpring 2018
FinovateFall 2018
FinovateAsia 2018
FinovateAfrica 2018
FinovateEurope 2019

FinovateSpring Sneak Peek: Voca AI

A look at the companies demoing live at FinovateSpring on May 8 through 10, 2019 in San Francisco, California. Register today and save your spot.

Voca.ai has created a smart, human and empathetic virtual call-center agent for financial institutions that helps banks, lenders and insurers increase revenue while reducing operational costs.

Features

  • Human-like speech
  • AI and Machine Learning-based optimization
  • Emotional and intent detection that is instantly scalable

Why it’s great

Voca is the call-center agent you’ve always dreamed of. Voca can handle over 80% of all call and contact center interactions so your agents can focus on what’s really important to your business.

Presenters

Einav Itamar, Co-founder and CEO
Itamar is a serial tech entrepreneur with vast experience in AI and Big Data. He is founder of Corrigon, which was acquired by eBay.
LinkedIn

Danny Ruchman, VP of R&D
Ruchman has 20 years of experience in R&D. He is a former director at eXelate, which was acquired by Nielsen.
LinkedIn

LendingFront, Veridium, Voca.ai Join Mastercard’s Start Path

LendingFront, Veridium, and Voca.ai are three of the seven companies recently selected to participate in Mastercard’s startup engagement program, Start Path. The accelerator program works with startups from a variety of fields ranging from banking and biometrics to data intelligence and security. Participating companies will access Mastercard’s worldwide ecosystem and leverage their new relationship with Mastercard and its customers to expand into new markets.

“After searching around its presence in 210 geographies and beyond,” a statement from Mastercard Start Path read, “Mastercard and seven startups are descending upon Dublin this week to ignite their collaboration.”

Start Path begins with a kick-off event that helps the program administrators get to know the companies, define goals and introduce startups to Mastercard’s partners, as well as future channels and customers. The majority of the program consists of a six-month virtual engagement that companies participate in from their home location.

Upon successful completion of the Start Path program, companies that have produced what the program referred to as “tangible value” for Mastercard’s partners will be eligible for potential strategic investment.

“The diverse technologies comprising the latest Start Path wave is a snapshot of the nearly 10,000 startups and fintechs connected to Start Path since its founding in 2014,” the program announcement noted. “It also shows how, through Mastercard Labs, we partner successfully to explore new technologies, accelerate new concepts and deliver transformative growth and change to the commerce landscape.”

The full roster of companies also includes Fligoo, mfarmPay, Monsoon CreditTech, and Segasec.

LendingFront demonstrated its Small Business Platform at FinovateFall 2016. Founded in 2015 and headquartered in New York City, the company offers an automated lending platform that consolidates processes typically conducted by disparate systems. The technology features application workflow for loan processing, a data engine, decision engine, offer screens, documentation and booking functionality, as well as servicing. LendingFront raised $4 million in Series A funding at the beginning of the year.

Massachusetts-based identity and access management solution provider Veridium demonstrated its VeridiumID with 4Fingers Touchless ID technology at FinovateEurope 2017. Earlier this month, the company unveiled its InMotion solution that leverages user behavior analytics to help secure online identities and prevent cyberfraud. Also this spring, Veridium partnered with Blue Turtle Technologies to drive adoption of biometric technology in Africa.

Best of Show winner Voca.ai demonstrated its intelligent virtual agent for call centers at FinovateEurope 2019 in February. It was the second Best of Show win for the company, which made its Finovate debut at FinovateAsia last fall. Founded in 2017 and headquartered in Herzliya, Israel, the company’s technology provides a flexible, natural-sounding, automated human voice system that improves customer satisfaction, and helps businesses convert and qualify more leads.

Finovate Alumni News

On Finovate.com

  • LendingFront, Veridium, Voca.ai Join Mastercard’s Start Path.

Around the web

  • Kinetica releases active analytics platform to simplify architecture and deliver analytical applications at scale
  • Tango Card partners with StatementGames to deliver e-gift cards as a redemption option for StatementGames players.
  • Larky wins big at Finastra’s Innovation Challenge

This post will be updated throughout the day as news and developments emerge. You can also follow all the alumni news headlines on the Finovate Twitter account.

FinovateEurope Demo Videos Are Live!

Just in time for your weekend viewing, the demo videos from FinovateEurope 2019 are now available for free in our video archives.

Whether you joined us in London at the Tobacco Dock last month, or will be watching the show for the first time, we think you’ll enjoy our high quality videos of each company that took the stage.

As a sampler, here are the demo videos from the eight companies that won Best of Show awards at FinovateEurope this year.

CREALOGIX

Dorsum

Glia (formerly SaleMove)

iProov

Launchfire

PayKey

Voca.ai

W.UP

FinovateEurope Best of Show Winners Announced

The votes have been tallied and the people have spoken! Here are the winners of our Best of Show awards for FinovateEurope 2019.

CREALOGIX for its TimeWarp insights platform that enables banking customers to simulate various scenarios in their financial lives. Video.

Dorsum for its My Wealth solution for hybrid advisory processes in wealth management. Video.

Glia (formerly SaleMove) for its technology that creates digital-first moments that simplify and transform communications between businesses and their customers.  Video.

iProov for its solutions that assure the genuine presence of your user by leveraging controlled illumination with uniquely powerful anti-spoofing. Video.

Launchfire for its leadership in game-based employee and customer engagement for financial institutions. Video.

PayKey for its technology that bridges the gap between banks and social apps with a unique smartphone keyboard that enables frictionless access to key banking services. Video.

Voca.ai for its intelligent virtual assistant for call centers that enables businesses to reach their customers at scale with a personal, human touch. Video.

W.UP for its technology that transforms the way banks generate digital revenue and interact with clients through AI-powered experiences. Video.


Notes on methodology:
1. Only audience members NOT associated with demoing companies were eligible to vote. Finovate employees did not vote.
2. Attendees were encouraged to note their favorites during each day. At the end of the last demo, they chose their three favorites.
3. The exact written instructions given to attendees: “Please rate (the companies) on the basis of demo quality and potential impact of the innovation demoed.”
4. The eight companies appearing on the highest percentage of submitted ballots were named “Best of Show.”
5. Go here for a list of previous Best of Show winners through 2014. Best of Show winners from our 2015 through 2018 conferences are below:
FinovateEurope 2015
FinovateSpring 2015
FinovateFall 2015
FinovateEurope 2016
FinovateSpring 2016
FinovateFall 2016
FinovateAsia 2016
FinovateEurope 2017
FinovateSpring 2017
FinovateFall 2017
FinovateAsia 2017
FinovateMiddleEast 2018
FinovateEurope 2018
FinovateSpring 2018
FinovateFall 2018
FinovateAsia 2018
FinovateAfrica 2018

FinovateEurope Sneak Peek: Voca.AI

A look at the companies demoing live at FinovateEurope on February 12 through 14, 2019 in London, U.K. Register today and save your spot.

Voca is a human-friendly virtual agent that powers contact centers to improve their revenue, efficiency, and customer experience.

Features

  • Learns how to negotiate and handle objections
  • Identifies emotions and responds with empathy
  • Feels incredibly human

Why it’s great
Reach your customers at scale with a personal, human touch.

Presenter

Einav Itamar, CEO and Co-Founder
Itamar is an experienced AI entrepreneur and a technological leader. He served as the co-founder of Corrigon, which was acquired by eBay.
LinkedIn

 

Finovate Alumni News

On Finovate.com

  • Women in Fintech: “Pursuing Growth and Pursuing Profits Are Not Mutually Exclusive.”
  • New Threats, New Solutions: BioCatch Joins Anti-Vishing Fight.

Around the web

  • Clinc partners with Ford to bring voice recognition to its automobiles.
  • B2B digital marketing executive Nicky Senyard joins Voleo’s board of directors.
  • CSO Online reviews enterprise email security platform GreatHorn.
  • Coinbase offers cross-border wire transfer service to high-volume customers to help them fund their accounts.

This post will be updated throughout the day as news and developments emerge. You can also follow all the alumni news headlines on the Finovate Twitter account.

FinovateAsia Best of Show Winners Announced

Congratulations to the trio of companies that earned Best of Show honors from our FinovateAsia 2018 audience. This year’s selections reflect two key themes in fintech: the importance of enabling banks with the resources they need to empower SMEs to better serve their customers, and the rise of intelligent virtual assistants to improve efficiency and enhance the customer experience.

Arival Bank for its ArivalOS digital banking platform that integrates a full suite of third party fintech products tailored for SMEs, including bank accounts, money transfers, debit cards, mPOS, factoring, and lending. Video.

 

Avaloq for its platform that provides seamless access to fintech solutions via a “double marketplace” that brings the app store concept to banking. Video.

Voca.ai for its human-friendly, virtual intelligent agent for financial services call centers that helps drive lead generation, cross-sales, notifications, scheduling, and more. Video.

To see all the demo videos from FinovateAsia 2018, visit our video archives.


Notes on methodology:
1. Only audience members NOT associated with demoing companies were eligible to vote. Finovate employees did not vote.
2. Attendees were encouraged to note their favorites during each day. At the end of the last demo, they chose their three favorites.
3. The exact written instructions given to attendees: “Please rate (the companies) on the basis of demo quality and potential impact of the innovation demoed.”
4. The three companies appearing on the highest percentage of submitted ballots were named “Best of Show.”
5. Go here for a list of previous Best of Show winners through 2014. Best of Show winners from our 2015 through 2018 conferences are below:
FinovateEurope 2015
FinovateSpring 2015
FinovateFall 2015
FinovateEurope 2016
FinovateSpring 2016
FinovateFall 2016
FinovateAsia 2016
FinovateEurope 2017
FinovateSpring 2017
FinovateFall 2017
FinovateAsia 2017
FinovateMiddleEast 2018
FinovateEurope 2018
FinovateSpring 2018
FinovateFall 2018

Finovate Alumni News

On Finovate.com

  • Klarna Rakes in $20 Million in Fall Funding Round

Around the web

  • Entrust Datacard named Employer of Excellence.
  • Ayondo expands B2B offering in Asia with a new white label deal.
  • Tradeshift appoints Silicon Valley veteran as its First CLO, CCO.
  • eToro cuts crypto costs to support mass adoption.
  • Roostify announces bidirectional integration with Ellie Mae’s Encompass digital mortgage solution.

This post will be updated throughout the day as news and developments emerge. You can also follow all the alumni news headlines on the Finovate Twitter account.