UK’s MarketFinance secures $383M to fuel its online loans platform for SMBs

Small and medium businesses regularly face cashflow problems. But if that’s an already-inconvenient predicament, it has been exacerbated to the breaking point for too many during the Covid-19 pandemic. Now, a UK startup called MarketFinance — which has built a loans platform to help SMBs stay afloat through those leaner times — is announcing a big funding infusion of £280 million ($383 million) as it gears up for a new wave of lending requests.

“It’s a good time to lend, at the start of the economic cycle,” CEO and founder Anil Stocker said in an interview.

The funding is coming mostly in the form of debt — money loaned to MarketFinance to in turn loan out to its customers as an approved partner of the UK government’s Recovery Loan Scheme; and £10 million ($14 million) of it is equity that MarketInvoice will be using to continue enhancing its platform.

Italian bank Intesa Sanpaolo S.p.A. and an unnamed “global investment firm” are providing the debt, while the equity portion is being led by Black River Ventures (which has also backed Marqeta, Upgrade, Coursera and Digital Ocean) with participation from existing backer, Barclays Bank PLC. Barclays is a strategic investor: MarketFinance powers the bank’s online SMB loans service. Other investors in the startup include Northzone.

We understand that the company’s valuation is somewhere in the region of under $500 million, but more than $250 million, although officially it is not disclosing any numbers.

Stocker said that MarketFinance has been profitable since 2018, one reason why it’s didn’t give up much equity in this current tranche of funding.

“We are building a sustainable business, and the equity we did raise was to unlock better debt at better prices,” he said. “It can help to post more equity on the balance sheet.” He said the money will be “going into our reserves” and used for new product development, marketing and to continue building out its API connectivity.

That last development is important: it taps into the big wave of “embedded finance” plays we are seeing today, where third parties offer, on their own platforms, loans to customers — with the loan product powered by MarketFinance, similar to what Barclays does currently. The range of companies tapping into this is potentially as vast as the internet itself. The promise of embedded finance is that any online brand that already does business with SMEs could potentially offer those SMEs loans to… do more business together.

MarketFinance began life several years ago as MarketInvoice, with its basic business model focused on providing short-term loans to a given SMB against the value of its unpaid invoices — a practice typically described as invoice finance. The idea at the time was to solve the most immediate cashflow issue faced by SMBs by leveraging the thing (unpaid invoices, which typically would eventually get paid, just not immediately) that caused the cashflow issue in the first place.

A lot of the financing that SMBs get against invoices, though, is mainly in the realm of working capital, helping companies make payroll and pay their own monthly bills. But Stocker said that over time, the startup could see a larger opportunity in providing financing that was of bigger sums and covered more ambitious business expansion goals. That was two years ago, and MarketInvoice rebranded accordingly to MarketFinance. (It still very much offers the invoice-based product.)

The timing turned out to be fortuitous, even if the reason definitely has not been lucky: Covid-19 came along and completely overturned how much of the world works. SMEs have been at the thin edge of that wedge not least because of those cashflow issues and the fact that they simply are less geared to diversification and pivoting due to shifting market forces because of their size.

This presented a big opportunity for MarketInvoice, it turned out.

Stocker said that the early part of the Covid-19 pandemic saw the bulk of loans being taken out to manage business interruptions due to Covid-19. Interruptions could mean business closures, or they could mean simply customers no longer coming as they did before, and so on. “The big theme was frictionless access to funding,” he said, using technology to better and more quickly assess applications digitally with “no meetings with bank managers” and reducing the response time to days from the typical 4-6 weeks that SMBs would have traditionally expected.

If last year was more about “panicking, shoring up or pivoting,” in Stocker’s words, “now what we’re seeing are a bunch of them struggling with supply chain issues, Brexit exacerbations and labor shortages. It’s really hard for them to manage all that.”

He said that the number of loan applications has been through the roof, so no shortage of demand. He estimates that monthly loan requests have been as high as $500 million, a huge sum for one small startup in the UK. It’s selective in what it lends: “We choose to support those we thought will return the money,” he said.

#api, #bank, #barclays, #ceo, #corporate-finance, #coursera, #digital-ocean, #economy, #embedded-finance, #europe, #finance, #funding, #invoice, #loans, #marketfinance, #marketinvoice, #marqeta, #money, #partner, #short-term-loans, #startup-company, #uk-government, #united-kingdom

TrueLayer nabs $130M at a $1B+ valuation as open banking rises as a viable option to card networks

Open banking — a disruptive technology that seeks to bypass the dominance of card networks and other traditional financial rails by letting banks open their systems directly to developers (and new services) by way of APIs — continues to gain ground in the world of financial services. As a mark of that traction, a startup playing a central role in open banking applications is announcing a big round of funding with a milestone valuation.

TrueLayer, which provides technology for developers to enable a range of open-banking-based services has raised $130 million in a funding round that values the London-based startup at over $1 billion.

Tiger Global Management is leading the round, and notably, payments juggernaut Stripe is also participating.

Open Banking is a relatively new area in the world of fintech — the UK was an early adopter in 2018, Europe then signed on, and it looks like we are now seeing more movements that the U.S. may soon also join the party — and TrueLayer is considered a pioneer in the space.

The vast majority of transactions in the world today are still made using card rails or more antiquated banking infrastructure, but the opportunity with open banking is to build a completely new infrastructure that works more efficiently, and might come with less (or no) fees for those using it, with the perennial API promise: all by way of few lines of code.

“We had a vision that finance should be opened up, and we are actively woking to remove the frictions that exist between intermediaries,” said CEO Francesco Simoneschi, who co-founded the company with Luca Martinetti (who is now the CTO), in an interview. “We want a financial system that works for everyone, but that hasn’t been the case up to now. The opportunity emerged five years ago, when open banking came into law in the UK and then elsewhere, to go after the most impressive oligopoly: the card networks and everything that revolves around them. Now, we can easily say that open banking is becoming a viable alternative to that.”

It seems that the world of finance and commerce is slowly catching on, and so the funding is coming on the heels of some strong growth for the company.

Services that TrueLayer currently include payments, payouts, user account information and user verification; while end users range from neobanks, crypto startups, and wealth management apps through to e-commerce companies, marketplaces and gaming platforms.

And the startup says it now has “millions” of consumers making open banking transactions enabled by TrueLayer’s technology, and some 10,000 developers are building services based on open banking standards. TrueLayer so far this year has doubled its customer base, picking up some key customers like Cazoo to enable open-banking based payments for cars; and it has processed “billions” of dollars in payments, with payment volume growing 400%, and payment up 800%.

The plan is to use the funding to invest in building out that business further — specifically to extend its payments network to more regions (and more banks getting integrated into that network), as well as to bring on more customers using open banking services for more regular, recurring transactions.

“The shift to alternative payment methods is accelerating with the global growth of online commerce, and we believe TrueLayer will play a central role in making these payment methods more accessible,” said Alex Cook, partner, Tiger Global, in a statement. “We’re excited to partner with Francesco, Luca and the TrueLayer team as they help customers increase conversion and continue to grow the network.”

Notably, Stripe is not a strategic investor in TrueLayer at the moment, just a financial one. That is to say, it has yet to integrate open banking into its own payments infrastructure.

But you can imagine how it would be interested in it as part of the bigger mix of options for its customers, and potentially also to build its own standalone financial rails that well and truly compete with those provided by the card networks (which are such a close part of what Stripe does that its earliest web design was based on the physical card, and even its name is a reference to the stripe on the back of them.

There are other providers of open banking connectivity in the market today — Plaid out of the U.S. is one notable name — but Simoneschi believes that Stripe and TrueLayer on the same page as companies.

“We share a profound belief that progress comes through the eyes of developers so it’s about delivering the tools they need to use,” he he said. “We are in a very complementary space.”

#api, #bank, #banking, #ceo, #cto, #europe, #finance, #financial-services, #funding, #london, #mobile-payments, #money, #online-banking, #online-commerce, #online-payments, #open-banking, #partner, #payment, #payments-infrastructure, #payments-network, #stripe, #tiger-global-management, #truelayer, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #web-applications

Airwallex raises $200M at a $4B valuation to double down on business banking

Business, now more than ever before, is going digital, and today a startup that’s building a vertically integrated solution to meet business banking needs is announcing a big round of funding to tap into the opportunity. Airwallex — which provides business banking services both directly to businesses themselves, as well as via a set of APIs that power other companies’ fintech products — has raised $200 million, a Series E round of funding that values the Australian startup at $4 billion.

Lone Pine Capital is leading the round, with new backers G Squared and Vetamer Capital Management, and previous backers 1835i Ventures (formerly ANZi), DST Global, Salesforce Ventures and Sequoia Capital China, also participating.

The funding brings the total raised by Airwallex — which has head offices in Hong Kong and Melbourne, Australia — to date to $700 million, including a $100 million injection that closed out its Series D just six months ago.

Airwallex will be using the funding both to continue investing in its product and technology, as well as to continue its geographical expansion and to focus on some larger business targets. The company has started to make some headway into Europe and the UK and that will be one big focus, along with the U.S.

The quick succession of funding, and that rising valuation, underscore Airwallex’s traction to date around what CEO and co-founder Jack Zhang describes as a vertically integrated strategy.

That involves two parts. First, Airwallex has built all the infrastructure for the business banking services that it provides directly to businesses with a focus on small and medium enterprise customers. Second, it has packaged up that infrastructure into a set of APIs that a variety of other companies use to provide financial services directly to their customers without needing to build those services themselves — the so-called “embedded finance” approach.

“We want to own the whole ecosystem,” Zhang said to me. “We want to be like the Apple of business finance.”

That seems to be working out so far for Airwallex. Revenues were up almost 150% for the first half of 2021 compared to a year before, with the company processing more than US$20 billion for a global client portfolio that has quadrupled in size. In addition to tens of thousands of SMEs, it also, via APIs, powers financial services for other companies like GOAT, Papaya Global and Stake.

Airwallex got its start like many of the strongest startups do: it was built to solve a problem that the founders encountered themselves. In the case of Airwallex, Zhang tells me he had actually been working on a previous start-up idea. He wanted to build the “Blue Bottle Coffee” of Asia out of Hong Kong, and it involved buying and importing a lot of different materials, packaging and of course coffee from all around the world.

“We found that making payments as a small business was slow and expensive,” he said, since it involved banks in different countries and different banking systems, manual efforts to transfer money between them and many days to clear the payments. “But that was also my background — payments and trading — and so I decided that it was a much more fascinating problem for me to work on and resolve.”

Eventually one of his co-founders in the coffee effort came along, with the four co-founders of Airwallex ultimately including Zhang, along with Xijing Dai, Lucy Liu and Max Li.

It was 2014, and Airwallex got attention from VCs early on in part for being in the right place at the right time. A wave of startups building financial services for SMBs were definitely gaining ground in North America and Europe, filling a long-neglected hole in the technology universe, but there was almost nothing of the sort in the Asia Pacific region, and in those earlier days solutions were highly regionalized.

From there it was a no-brainer that starting with cross-border payments, the first thing Airwallex tackled, would soon grow into a wider suite of banking services involving payments and other cross-border banking services.

“In last 6 years, we’ve built more than 50 bank integrations and now offer payments 95 countries payments through a partner network,” he added, with 43 of those offering real-time transactions. From that, it moved on the bank accounts and “other primitive stuff” with card issuance and more, he said, eventually building an end-to-end payment stack. 

Airwallex has tens of thousands of customers using its financial services directly, and they make up about 40% of its revenues today. The rest is the interesting turn the company decided to take to expand its business.

Airwallex had built all of its technology from the ground up itself, and it found that — given the wave of new companies looking for more ways to engage customers and become their one-stop shop — there was an opportunity to package that tech up in a set of APIs and sell that on to a different set of customers, those who also provided services for small businesses. That part of the business now accounts for 60% of Airwallex’s business, Zhang said, and is growing faster in terms of revenues. (The SMB business is growing faster in terms of customers, he said.)

A lot of embedded finance startups that base their business around building tech to power other businesses tend to stay arm’s length from offering financial services directly to consumers. The explanation I have heard is that they do not wish to compete against their customers. Zhang said that Airwallex takes a different approach, by being selective about the customers they partner with, so that the financial services they offer would never be the kind that would not be in direct competition. The GOAT marketplace for sneakers, or Papaya Global’s HR platform are classic examples of this.

However, as Airwallex continues to grow, you can’t help but wonder whether one of those partners might like to gobble up all of Airwallex and take on some of that service provision role itself. In that context, it’s very interesting to see Salesforce Ventures returning to invest even more in the company in this round, given how widely the company has expanded from its early roots in software for salespeople into a massive platform providing a huge range of cloud services to help people run their businesses.

For now, it’s been the combination of its unique roots in Asia Pacific, plus its vertical approach of building its tech from the ground up, plus its retail acumen that has impressed investors and may well see Airwallex stay independent and grow for some time to come.

“Airwallex has a clear competitive advantage in the digital payments market,” said David Craver, MD at Lone Pine Capital, in a statement. “Its unique Asia-Pacific roots, coupled with its innovative infrastructure, products and services, speak volumes about the business’ global growth opportunities and its impressive expansion in the competitive payment providers space. We are excited to invest in Airwallex at this dynamic time, and look forward to helping drive the company’s expansion and success worldwide.”

#airwallex, #articles, #asia, #asia-pacific, #australia, #bank, #banking, #blue-bottle-coffee, #cloud-services, #dst-global, #economy, #embedded-finance, #enterprise, #europe, #finance, #financial-services, #funding, #goat, #hr, #lone-pine-capital, #melbourne, #north-america, #papaya-global, #salesforce, #salesforce-ventures, #sequoia-capital-china, #series-d, #startup-company, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #veem

‘Thin file’ loans startup Koyo closes $50M Series A led by Force Over Mass

Koyo, a fintech startup using open banking to offer loans to people with poor credit histories, has closed a Series A funding round of $50m in debt and equity led by Force Over Mass, with participation from existing investors Forward Partners, Frontline Ventures and Seedcamp. New investors in Koyo include Force Over Mass, Matt Robinson (founder of GoCardless, founder of Nested), and angel investors from the banking and lending sectors.  It last raised $4.9 million in 2019. With many sectors of the population having racked up debts during the pandemic, Koyo is likely to benefit from this underclass of consumer, normally rejected by the main loans companies.

The startup says it uses Open Banking data (bank transactions), rather than credit agency scores to underwrite risk for lending to consumers. In other words, it looks at how customers spend their money on a day-to-day basis, rather than what a credit agency says about them. The idea is to offer attractive rates and cheaper borrowing to a usually underserved market, usually known as ‘thin file’ customers (short or no credit history) or ‘near prime’ customers. The near-prime market equates to c13-15m people in the UK.

Thomas Olszewski, Koyo’s founder and a former VC with Frontline Ventures in London and Cavalry Ventures in Berlin, said in a statement: “Koyo launched at the start of the global pandemic and has proven that innovative use of open banking data results in better risk decisioning and ultimately has enabled us to grow the business during one of the toughest economic times the UK has faced. I’m proud to have continued to give many people in the UK access to competitively priced credit, during a time where most traditional lenders were quick to scale back their lending.”

Filip Coen, Force Over Mass partner, said, “We invest in companies that combine transformational technology with strong business models, and Koyo indexed strongly in both of those departments. Koyo has built a first-class foundation over the last 18 months of operation, and we’re excited to be part of its future”.

#bank, #banking, #berlin, #cavalry-ventures, #economy, #europe, #fintech-startup, #forward-partners, #founder, #frontline-ventures, #gocardless, #koyo, #london, #massachusetts, #matt-robinson, #nested, #open-banking, #seedcamp, #tc, #united-kingdom

Lessons from COVID: Flexible funding is a must for alternative lenders

Rachael runs a bakery in New York. She set up shop in 2010 with her personal savings and contributions from family and friends, and the business has grown. But Rachael now needs additional financing to open another store. So how does she finance her expansion plans?

Because of stringent requirements, extensive application processes and long turnaround times, small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) like Rachael’s bakery seldom qualify for traditional bank loans. That’s when alternative lenders — who offer short and easy applications, flexible underwriting and quick turnaround times — come to the rescue.

Alternative lending is any lending that occurs outside of a conventional financial institution. These kinds of lenders offer different types of loans such as lines of credit, microloans and equipment financing, and they use technology to process and underwrite applications quickly. However, given their flexible requirements, they usually charge higher interest rates than traditional lenders.

Securitization is another cost-effective option for raising debt. Lenders can pool the loans they have extended and segregate them into tranches based on credit risk, principal amount and time period.

But how do these lenders raise funds to bridge the financing gap for SMBs?

As with all businesses, these firms have two major sources of capital: equity and debt. Alternative lenders typically raise equity funding from venture capital, private equity firms or IPOs, and their debt capital is typically raised from sources such as traditional asset-based bank lending, corporate debt and securitizations.

According to Naren Nayak, SVP and treasurer of Credibly, equity generally constitutes 5% to 25% of capital for alternative lenders, while debt can be between 75% and 95%. “A third source of capital or funding is also available to alternative lenders — whole loan sales — whereby the loans (or merchant cash advance receivables) are sold to institutions on a forward flow basis. This is a “balance-sheet light” funding solution and an efficient way to transfer credit risk for lenders,” he said.

Let’s take a look at each of these options in detail.

Funding sources for alternative lenders.

Image Credits: FischerJordan

Equity capital

Venture capital or private equity funding is one of the major sources of financing for alternative lenders. The alternative lending industry is said to be a “gold mine” for venture capital investments. While it is difficult for such companies to receive credit from traditional banks because of their stringent requirements in the initial stages, once the founders have shown a commitment by investing their own money, VC and PE firms usually step in.

However, VC and PE firms can be expensive sources of capital — their investment dilutes the ownership and control in the company. Plus, obtaining venture capital is a long, involved and competitive process.

Alternative lenders that have achieved good growth rates and scaled their operations have another option: An IPO lets them quickly raise large amounts of money while providing a lucrative exit for early investors.

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Apple launches a new iOS app, ‘Siri Speech Study,’ to gather feedback for Siri improvements

Apple recently began a research study designed to collect speech data from study participants. Earlier this month, the company launched a new iOS app called “Siri Speech Study” on the App Store, which allows participants who have opted in to share their voice requests and other feedback with Apple. The app is available in a number of worldwide markets but does not register on the App Store’s charts, including under the “Utilities” category where it’s published.

According to data from Sensor Tower, the iOS app first launched on August 9 and was updated to a new version on August 18. It’s currently available in the U.S., Canada, Germany, France, Hong Kong, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, and Taiwan — an indication of the study’s global reach. However, the app will not appear when searching the App Store by keyword or when browsing through the list of Apple’s published apps.

The Siri Speech Study app itself offers little information about the study’s specific goals, nor does it explain how someone could become a participant. Instead, it only provides a link to a fairly standard license agreement and a screen where a participant would enter their ID number to get started.

Reached for comment, Apple told TechCrunch the app is only being used for Siri product improvements, by offering a way for participants to share feedback directly with Apple. The company also explained people have to be invited to the study — there’s not a way for consumers to sign up to join.

Image Credits: App Store screenshot

The app is only one of many ways Apple is working to improve Siri.

In the past, Apple had tried to learn more about Siri’s mistakes by sending some small portion of consumers’ voice recordings to contractors for manual grading and review. But a whistleblower alerted media outlet The Guardian that the process had allowed them to listen in on confidential details at times. Apple shortly thereafter made manual review an opt-in process and brought audio grading in-house. This type of consumer data collection continues, but has a different aim that what a research study would involve.

Unlike this broader, more generalized data collection, a focus group-like study allows Apple to better understand Siri’s mistakes because it combines the collected data with human feedback. With the Siri Speech Study app, participants provide explicit feedback on per request basis, Apple said. For instance, if Siri misheard a question, users could explain what they were trying to ask. If Siri was triggered when the user hadn’t said “Hey Siri,” that could be noted. Or if Siri on HomePod misidentified the speaker in a multi-person household, the participant could note that, too.

Another differentiator is that none of the participants’ data is being automatically shared with Apple. Rather, users can see a list of the Siri requests they’ve made and then select which to send to Apple with their feedback. Apple also noted no user information is collected or used in the app, except the data directly provided by participants.

WWDC 2021 on device privacy

Image Credits: Apple WWDC 2021

Apple understands that an intelligent virtual assistant that understands you is a competitive advantage.

This year, the company scooped up ex-Google A.I. scientist Samy Bengio to help make Siri a stronger rival to Google Assistant, whose advanced capabilities are often a key selling point for Android devices. In the home, meanwhile, Alexa-powered smart speakers are dominating the U.S. market and compete with Google in the global landscape, outside China. Apple’s HomePod has a long way to go to catch up.

But despite the rapid progress in voice-based computing in recent years, virtual assistants can still have a hard time understanding certain types of speech. Earlier this year, for example, Apple said it would use a bank of audio clips from podcasts where users had stuttered to help it improve its understanding of this kind of speech pattern. Assistants can also stumble when there are multiple devices in a home that are listening for voice commands from across several rooms. And assistants can mess up when trying to differentiate between different family members’ voices or when trying to understand a child’s voice.

In other words, there are still many avenues a speech study could pursue over time, even if these aren’t its current focus.

That Apple is running a Siri speech study isn’t necessarily new. The company has historically run evaluations and studies like this in some form. But it’s less common to find Apple’s studies published directly on the App Store.

Though Apple could have published the app through the enterprise distribution process to keep it more under wraps, it chose to use its public marketplace. This more closely follows the App Store’s rules, as the research study is not an internally-facing app meant only for Apple employees.

Still, it’s not likely consumers will stumble across the app and be confused — the Siri Speech Study app is hidden from discovery. You have to have the app’s direct link to find it. (Good thing we’re nosy!)

#android, #app-store, #apple, #apple-inc, #apps, #artificial-intelligence, #assistant, #bank, #canada, #france, #germany, #google, #google-assistant, #google-now, #homekit, #homepod, #india, #ireland, #italy, #itunes, #japan, #mexico, #new-zealand, #sensor-tower, #siri, #smart-speaker, #software, #speaker, #taiwan, #the-guardian, #united-states, #virtual-assistant

Wannabe ‘social bank’ Kroo swerves VCs to raise a $24.5M Series A from HNWs

Launched in February 2018, Kroo, the London-based consumer-facing fintech raised some seed funding last year for its prepaid card service which claims to offer more ‘social features’ in its drive towards offering full-blown banking services. Kroo’s pitch is that it removes friction from financial interactions with friends and family, and throws in some environmental initiatives as well, such as tree planting.

It’s now raised $24.5 million (£17.7 million) in a Series A funding round led by Rudy Karsan, a high-net-worth tech entrepreneur and founder of Karlani Capital. Kroo will use the funding in its drive towards a full banking license in early 2022.

The fund-raising is fairly unusual for a fintech startup that aspires to become a bank, given the lack of an institutional investor. However, this will give it a lot more freedom as it heads towards bank status next year.

Kroo currently offers a prepaid debit card plus an app to track personal and social finances, such as the ability to create payment groups with friends, track spending, and split and pay bills, removing the usual awkwardness around such things.

The company has also pledged to donate a percentage of profits to social causes, and launched a tree-planting referral scheme, so that every time a customer refers a friend, Kroo plants 20 trees.

Kroo CEO Andrea de Gottardo

Kroo CEO Andrea de Gottardo

CEO Andrea de Gottardo (pictured), who joined Kroo as Chief Risk Officer in 2018, said: “We want to build the world’s greatest social bank: a bank dedicated to its customers and to the world we live in. We’re going to do more than just work with Kroo customers to improve their relationship with money and provide them with access to fair loans. We’re going to offer them ways to actively take part in making our world a better place, like carbon offsetting and a tree-planting referral program.”

Karsan said: “The reason I’m excited about Kroo is that it has a concrete opportunity to dramatically change the way people feel about their bank, for good. Kroo has an exceptionally talented management team and a nimble tech stack that will enable the continuous delivery of banking features customers really care about.”

Speaking to me over a call, de Gottardo added: “We have raised, including the series A, over £30 million through high net worth individuals and syndicated investors. So we still haven’t done an institutional round. That was a choice.”

He elaborated: “We’re lucky enough to have Rudy Karsan, a high net worth, and an extremely supportive pool of investors that keep following on in the rounds. It was our intention get up to a Series A without any institutions, and to be free of the pressure from VC. It’s now highly likely we will go institutional for a Series B round.”

#bank, #banking, #ceo, #economy, #europe, #finance, #financial-services, #financial-technology, #fintech-startup, #ing-group, #london, #money, #tc

Crypto infra startup Fireblocks raises $310M, triples valuation to $2.2B

Fireblocks, an infrastructure provider for digital assets, has raised $310 million in a Series D round of funding that tripled the company’s valuation to $2.2 billion in just over five months.

Sequoia Capital, Stripes and Spark Capital co-led Fireblocks’ latest round, which also included participation from Coatue, DRW VC  and SCB 10X – the venture arm of Thailand’s oldest bank – and Siam Commercial Bank. The latter is the third global bank to invest in Fireblocks in addition to the Bank of New York (BNY) Mellon and SVB Capital. 

In February, the New York-based startup raised $133 million in a Series C round at a $700 million valuation. The latest financing brings Fireblocks’ total raised since its 2018 inception to $489 million. And as for Fireblocks’ valuation boost, the growth correlates with its increase in customers and ARR this year, according to CEO and co-founder Michael Shaulov. 

Since January, Fireblocks has seen its customer base increase to about 500 compared to 150 in January. Its ARR (annual recurring revenue) is also up – by 350% so far in 2021 compared to 2020. Last year, ARR rose by 450% compared to 2019.

“We expect to end the year up 500%,” Shaulov said. “We’ve already adjusted our revenue predictions for 2021 three times.”

Put simply, Fireblocks aims to offer financial institutions an all-in-one platform to run a digital asset business, providing them with infrastructure to store, transfer and issue digital assets. In particular, Fireblocks provides custody to institutional investors and has secured the transfer of over $1 trillion in digital assets over time. 

Fireblocks launched out of stealth mode in June of 2019 and has since opened offices in the United Kingdom, Israel, Hong Kong, Singapore, France and the DACH region. Today, it has over 500 financial institutions as customers – a mix of businesses that already support crypto and digital assets and those that are considering entering the space. Customers include global banks, crypto-native exchanges, lending desks, hedge funds, OTC desks as well as companies such as Revolut, BlockFi, Celsius, PrimeTrust, Galaxy Digital, Genesis Trading, crypto.com and eToro among others. 

Of those 500 institutions, Fireblocks is working with 70 banks that are looking to join the cryptocurrency space, and start platforming their infrastructure, according to Shaulov. Siam Commercial bank, for example, is using the company’s infrastructure to transform into a blockchain-based bank.

“Our platform creates highly secure wallets for cryptocurrencies and digital assets, where institutions can store their funds or their customer funds, and also get security insurance,” he said.

Fireblocks’ issuance and tokenization platform allows for the creation of asset-backed tokens.

“We handle all the security or compliance, all the policies and workflows,” Shaulov said. “Basically all the complicated stuff you need to do as a business when you want to start working with this new technology. So it’s a bit like ‘Shopify for crypto.’ ”

Sequoia Partner Ravi Gupta is naturally bullish on the company, describing Fireblocks as “the leading back-end infrastructure for crypto products.”

“The team has the potential to build a large, enduring business serving crypto-native companies, consumer fintech companies, and traditional financial institutions alike,” he told TechCrunch. “Their growth has been tremendous, and the quality of their product and customer sentiment are remarkable.”

Image Credits: Left to right: Fireblocks co-founders Idan Ofrat, Michael Shaulov and Pavel Berengoltz / Fireblocks

Fireblocks has also started to see businesses outside of what would be identified as fintech or finance show interest in its platform such as e-commerce websites that are looking to create NFTs on the back of their merchandise. 

The Fireblocks platform, Shaulov said, helps spread the expansion of digital asset use cases beyond bitcoin into payments, gaming, NFTs, digital securities and “ultimately allows any business to become a digital asset business.”

What that means is that Fireblocks’ technology can be white labeled for crypto custody offerings, “so that new and established financial institutions can implement direct custody on their own without having to rely on third parties,” the company says.

Shaulov emphasizes Fireblocks’ commitment to staying an independent company after a wave of consolidation in the space. Earlier this year, PayPal announced its plans to acquire Curv, a cryptocurrency startup based in Tel Aviv, Israel. Then in early May, bitcoin-focused Galaxy Digital Holdings Ltd. said it agreed to buy BitGo Inc. for $1.2 billion in cash and stock in the first $1 billion deal in the cryptocurrency industry.

“Consolidation can be painful for clients,” he told TechCrunch. “It’s Important for us that we stay independent and that’s part of the purpose of this round.

The company will also use the funds to increase its engineering and customer success operations, and expand geographically, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region.  

“Fireblocks provides the most secure and flexible platform for a wide range of customer needs,” said Sequoia’s Gupta. “It uses world-class multi-party computation technology to secure digital assets in storage and in transit, and has the most flexible platform with controls for product teams to be able to build on and manage Fireblocks effectively.”

#articles, #asia-pacific, #bank, #bitcoin, #blockchain, #blockfi, #celsius, #coatue, #cryptocurrencies, #cryptocurrency, #curv, #decentralization, #digital-currencies, #etoro, #finance, #financial-technology, #fireblocks, #france, #funding, #fundings-exits, #galaxy-digital, #israel, #money, #new-york, #paypal, #ravi-gupta, #recent-funding, #revolut, #saas, #sequoia, #sequoia-capital, #shopify, #singapore, #spark-capital, #startups, #stripes, #svb-capital, #tel-aviv, #thailand, #united-kingdom, #venture-capital

Ex-Plaid employees raise $30M for Stytch, an API-first passwordless authentication platform

There are far fewer annoying things than managing one’s passwords.

There are a bunch of companies out there to help you attempt to do that. And there’s also a number of companies that want to go a step further and eliminate the password completely.

One such company, Stytch, just raised $30 million in a Series A round of funding as it launches out of beta with its API-first passwordless authentication platform.

The round caught our attention for a couple of reasons.

For one, this is the same startup that just months earlier announced it had raised a $6.25 million seed round led by Benchmark with participation from Index Ventures and a number of angels including Plaid co-founder William Hockey. That round was speculated to have valued the new company at a staggering $200 million (although that was never confirmed), and was actually raised last summer around the time of Stytch’s founding, but only announced this year. Other angels that have backed the company include Figma co-founder and CEO Dylan Field, Very Good Security co-founder Mahmoud Abdelkader, startup advisor Elad Gil and early Stripe employee and Cocoon co-founder Amber Feng.

Also notable about this round is that Stytch was founded by two former Plaid employees, Reed McGinley-Stempel (CEO) and Julianna Lamb (CTO), who built user authentication features that “millions” use to connect their bank accounts to apps like Venmo, Coinbase and Robinhood. The company was founded on the premise that passwords are no longer secure, and make companies easy targets for hackers and expose them to account takeover risk.

Lamb says that as she and McGinley-Stempel worked together at Plaid on user authentication, they realized how frustrating it is to build sign-up and login flows.

“In addition to it being complicated, it’s resource intensive and error-prone to build in house,” she told TechCrunch. “The other thing that really frustrated us was that the core building blocks that all companies use for authentication had really significant security and conversion issues. It struck us that the web has improved in so many ways over the past few decades, but authentication is still stuck in the 1990s.”

Thrive Capital led the Series A, which also included participation from Coatue Management and existing backers Benchmark and Index. The company declined to reveal its new valuation, although sources say only that it is “north of $200 million.”

Stytch claims that it simplifies the authentication process by giving developers and users the “tools and infrastructure to incorporate passwordless authentication methods into modern applications.”

Specifically, the team is creating “simple” APIs and SDKs (software development kits) that the founders say allow “any company to boost user onboarding and retention by removing passwords from their application, while improving security and saving significant engineering time in the process.”

Image Credits: Stytch

In its first year of operation, Stytch released its product in beta to more than 350 developers who have added passwordless features such as email magic links, SMS and WhatsApp passcodes and one-click user invitations into their user onboarding and authentication login flows. As mentioned above, Stytch launched out of beta this week to make all of the features publicly available in conjunction with the funding announcement. 

“What we found is that it makes more sense to be more flexible with developers,” Lamb told TechCrunch. “The thing that even surprised us about the API-first approach is that we now also have a handful of Fortune 500 companies using the product and the primary reasoning from their standpoint was one of the simplicity of getting set up on the platform. It took them an hour rather than the multiple months they sometimes spend with other providers. There is also the direct API piece where it’s just a much more flexible way to think about workflows in onboarding or login.”

Nearly 65% of users reuse passwords across accounts, which can pose major security threats and breach liabilities, according to a study conducted by Google. Also, many people struggle with remembering passwords and the password reset process can be so frustrating that many users just give up on the account.

This can negatively impact businesses that rely on e-commerce sites, who lose customers over that frustration.

Thrive’s Gaurav Ahuja, who is taking a seat on Stytch’s board with the funding round, believes that the startup’s product is specifically designed for improving sign-up conversion and user retention, and its customizable front end tools help companies get started “quickly.”

He said his firm talked to many developers who used it and saw “how impressed they were with the company’s best-in-class API docs and speed to go live.”

Over the past several years we’ve seen that most authentication systems are both outdated and pose a security risk to users,” Ahuja told TechCrunch via email. “Stytch is addressing both of these issues head on.”

The new capital will be used to roll out more authentication options, including biometrics, WebAuthn, OAuth logins, QR codes and push notification login. The company also plans to launch additional user infrastructure features and to build out session management and advanced fraud detection solutions. Stytch also aims to hire 20 people by year’s end.

Stytch is not the only company out to kill the password. Boston-based Transmit Security in June raised a massive $543 million in Series A funding in what was believed to be the largest Series A investment in cybersecurity history and one of the highest valuations for a bootstrapped company. Microsoft has announced plans to make Windows 10 password-free, and Apple recently previewed Passkeys in iCloud Keychain, a method of passwordless authentication powered by WebAuth.

 

#access-control, #api, #bank, #coinbase, #computer-security, #cryptography, #funding, #fundings-exits, #password, #plaid, #recent-funding, #secret-double-octopus, #security, #sms, #startups, #stytch, #tc, #thrive-capital, #venmo, #venture-capital, #william-hockey

WebOps platform Pantheon raises $100M from SoftBank Vision Fund

WebOps SaaS platform Pantheon, which started out as a Drupal and WordPress hosting service many years ago, today announced that it has raised a $100 million Series E round solely funded by the Softbank Vision Fund. With this round, Pantheon has now reached unicorn status, with a valuation of over $1 billion.

Pantheon co-founder and CEO Zack Rosen told me that the company wasn’t under any pressure to raise. “It really just helps us accelerate everything that we’re doing,” he said. “We didn’t need the funding. We had plenty of cash in the bank. We were planning to raise in a year or two years down the road. But we have a lot of conviction in and where this industry is going and our customers’ needs are pretty apparent, so we just used this as an opportunity to pull things in by six months to a year and accelerate all the things that were already on our operational plans for the company.”

Image Credits: Pantheon

As Rosen noted, the role of company websites has changed quite a bit since Pantheon launched almost a dozen years ago. While originally, they were mostly about brand building and having a publishing channel, these days, they are directly tied to revenue. “The majority of buying decisions get made before anyone talks to a customer these days,” Rosen said. “All the research is getting done — hopefully — on your company’s website. Any link in an advertisement or link in an email is going to route that customer back to the website. That’s your most important digital product. And so marketers are really starting to think about it like that.”

So while hosting and publishing may be solved problems, driving revenue through a company’s website — and measuring that — is where Pantheon sees a lot of opportunities going forward. Though at the core of the company’s offering, of course, is still its serverless hosting platform and developers remain its core audience. But it’s the collaboration between the marketing teams and developers that is driving a lot of what the company is now investing in. “In order to deliver a best-in-class digital experience — and be able to iterate it every single day and work with designers and developers and website owners and project managers — you need a system of record for that work. You need a solid workflow for those teams,” Rosen noted.

Companies, he argues, are looking for a solid SaaS platform that provides them with those workflows, in addition to the high-performance hosting, CDNs and everything else that is now table stakes for hosting websites. “[Teams] want to stop thinking about this stuff,” he said. “They just want a partner — like any other SaaS application, whether it’s Stripe, Twilio or Salesforce. They just want it to work and not to worry about it. And then, once you have that taken care of, then you can move up into the things that really drive the outcomes these teams care about.”

As for raising from the SoftBank Vision Fund, which features the likes of ByteDance, Perch, Redis Labs, Slack and Arm among its investments (and, infamously, WeWork), Rosen said that Pantheon had its choice of firms, but at the end of the day, SoftBank’s team turned out to be “huge believers in this category,” he said, and could help Pantheon reach the scale it needs to define the WebOps category.

“Digital transformation has accelerated the movement to the cloud for essential business infrastructure. By automating workflows and do-it-yourself with its SaaS offering, we believe Pantheon’s leading platform is transforming how modern website experiences are created,” said Vikas Parekh, Partner at SoftBank Investment Advisers. “We are excited to partner with Zack and the Pantheon team to support their ambition of helping organizations embrace a new and better way of building websites that deliver results.”

#as-a-service, #bank, #club-penguin, #computing, #drupal, #pantheon, #partner, #redis-labs, #saas, #salesforce, #serverless-computing, #softbank-vision-fund, #software, #software-as-a-service, #stripe, #tc, #technology, #twilio, #wework, #wordpress, #zack

The Accellion data breach continues to get messier

Morgan Stanley has joined the growing list of Accellion hack victims — more than six months after attackers first breached the vendor’s 20-year-old file-sharing product. 

The investment banking firm — which is no stranger to data breaches — confirmed in a letter this week that attackers stole personal information belonging to its customers by hacking into the Accellion FTA server of its third-party vendor, Guidehouse. In a letter sent to those affected, first reported by Bleeping Computer, Morgan Stanley admitted that threat actors stole an unknown number of documents containing customers’ addresses and Social Security numbers.

The documents were encrypted, but the letter said that the hackers also obtained the decryption key, though Morgan Stanley said the files did not contain passwords that could be used to access customers’ financial accounts.

“The protection of client data is of the utmost importance and is something we take very seriously,” a Morgan Stanley spokesperson told TechCrunch. “We are in close contact with Guidehouse and are taking steps to mitigate potential risks to clients.”

Just days before news of the Morgan Stanley data breach came to light, an Arkansas-based healthcare provider confirmed it had also suffered a data breach as a result of the Accellion attack. Just weeks before that, so did UC Berkely. While data breaches tend to grow past initially reported figures, the fact that organizations are still coming out as Accellion victims more than six months later shows that the business software provider still hasn’t managed to get a handle on it. 

The cyberattack was first uncovered on December 23, and Accellion initially claimed the FTA vulnerability was patched within 72 hours before it was later forced to explain that new vulnerabilities were discovered. Accellion’s next (and final) update came in March, when the company claimed that all known FTA vulnerabilities — which authorities say were exploited by the FIN11 and the Clop ransomware gang — have been remediated.

But incident responders said Accellion’s response to the incident wasn’t as smooth as the company let on, claiming the company was slow to raise the alarm in regards to the potential danger to FTA customers.

The Reserve Bank of New Zealand, for example, raised concerns about the timeliness of alerts it received from Accellion. In a statement, the bank said it was reliant on Accellion to alert it to any vulnerabilities in the system — but never received any warnings in December or January.

“In this instance, their notifications to us did not leave their system and hence did not reach the Reserve Bank in advance of the breach. We received no advance warning,” said RBNZ governor Adrian Orr.

This, according to a discovery made by KPMG International, was due to the fact that the email tool used by Accellion failed to work: “Software updates to address the issue were released by the vendor in December 2020 soon after it discovered the vulnerability. The email tool used by the vendor, however, failed to send the email notifications and consequently the Bank was not notified until 6 January 2021,” the KPMG’s assessment said. 

“We have not sighted evidence that the vendor informed the Bank that the System vulnerability was being actively exploited at other customers. This information, if provided in a timely manner is highly likely to have significantly influenced key decisions that were being made by the Bank at the time.”

In March, back when it was releasing updates about the ongoing breach, Accellion was keen to emphasize that it was planning to retire the 20-year-old FTA product in April and that it had been working for three years to transition clients onto its new platform, Kiteworks. A press release from the company in May says 75% of Accellion customers have already migrated to Kiteworks, a figure that also highlights the fact that 25% are still clinging to its now-retired FTA product. 

This, along with Accellion now taking a more hands-off approach to the incident, means that the list of victims could keep growing. It’s currently unclear how many the attack has claimed so far, though recent tallies put the list at around 300. This list includes Qualys, Bombardier, Shell, Singtel, the University of Colorado, the University of California, Transport for New South Wales, Office of the Washington State Auditor, grocery giant Kroger and law firm Jones Day.

“When a patch is issued for software that has been actively exploited, simply patching the software and moving on isn’t the best path,” Tim Mackey, principal security strategist at the Synopsys Cybersecurity Research Center, told TechCrunch. “Since the goal of patch management is protecting systems from compromise, patch management strategies should include reviews for indications of previous compromise.”

Accellion declined to comment.

#accellion, #arkansas, #bank, #business-software, #california, #colorado, #computer-security, #computing, #data-breach, #governor, #healthcare, #information-technology, #investment-banking, #kroger, #law, #morgan-stanley, #qualys, #security, #security-breaches, #singtel, #spokesperson, #synopsys, #transport, #university-of-california

Homebrew leads Z1’s effort to bring digital banking to Latin America’s teens

Z1, a Sao Paulo-based digital bank aimed at Latin American GenZers, has raised $2.5 million in a round led by U.S.-based Homebrew.

A number of other investors also participated in the financing including Clocktower Ventures, Mantis – the VC firm owned by The Chainsmokers, Goodwater, Gaingels, Soma Capital and Rebel Fund. Notably, Mantis has also backed Step, a teen-focused fintech based in the U.S., and Goodwater has also invested in Greenlight, which too has a similar offering as Z1.

Z1 participated in Y Combinator’s Winter ‘21 batch earlier this year, and at the time got $125,000 in funding from the accelerator. Maya Capital led its $700,000 seed round in March of 2020.

Put simply, Z1 is a digital bank app built for teenagers and young adults. The company was founded on the notion that by using its app and linked prepaid card, Brazilian and Latin American teenagers can become more financially independent.

João Pedro Thompson and Thiago Achatz started the company in late 2019 and soon after,  Mateus Craveiro and Sophie Secaf joined as co-founders. In its early days, Z1 is focused on Brazil but the startup has plans to expand into other countries in Latin America over time.

“Z1 is what we’re building to be the go to bank of the next generation, and not just be a digital bank for teens,” Achatz told TechCrunch. “We want to grow with him and one day, be the biggest bank in Brazil and LatAm.” 

Thompson agrees. 

“We’re acquiring users really early and creating brand loyalty with the intention of being their bank for life,” he said. “We will still meet their needs as they grow into adulthood.”

Image Credits: Z1

While Z1’s offering is not completely unlike that of Greenlight here in the U.S. the founders agree that its products have been adapted more to the Brazil-specific cultural and market situation.

For example, points out Thompson, most teenagers in Brazil use cash because they don’t have access to other financial services, whether they be traditional or digital.

“We offer an account where they can deposit money, cash out money via an instant payment system in Brazil or spend through a prepaid credit card,” he said. “Most sites don’t accept debit cards so this is a big step compared to what teens already have.”

Part of the company’s use for the capital is to make its product more robust so they can do things like save money for big purchases such as an iPhone and earn interest on their accounts.

Another big difference between Brazil and the U.S., the company believes, is that many parents in general in Latin America haven’t had a true financial education that they can pass down to their kids.

“We’re not top down like Greenlight,” Achatz said. “That approach doesn’t make sense in Latin America. Here, many are independent from an early age and already work whether it’s through a microbusiness, a side job or selling things on Instagram. They’re much more self-taught and the income they earn is often outside of their parents.”

Z1 has grown 30% per week and 200% per month since launch, spending “very little” on marketing and relying mostly on word-of-mouth. For example, the company is following the lead of its U.S. counterparts and turning to TikTok to spread the word about its offering. 

“Step has around 200,000 followers on TikTok, and we have a little under half of that,” the company says. “We’re well-positioned in terms of branding.”

For lead investor Homebrew, the opportunity to educate and provide financial services to Gen Z in Latin America is even more exciting than the opportunity in the US., notes partner Satya Patel.

Over one third of LatAm Gen Z’ers have a “side hustle,” generating their own income independent from their parents, he said.

“While millennials grew up during an economic boom, Gen Z grew up during recessions – 3 in Brazil over the last decade – and wants to become financially independent as soon as possible. They’re becoming economically educated and active much earlier than previous generations,” Patel added.

He also believes the desire to transact online, for gaming and entertainment in particular, creates a groundswell of GenZ demand in Brazil for credit card and digital payments products.

#apps, #bank, #brazil, #clocktower-ventures, #computing, #credit-card, #digital-bank, #finance, #financial-services, #funding, #fundings-exits, #greenlight, #homebrew, #iphone, #latin-america, #recent-funding, #sao-paulo, #satya-patel, #software, #soma-capital, #startups, #tc, #tiktok, #united-states, #venture-capital, #y-combinator, #z1

The Chime banking app has been closing accounts, not returning money

A dollar floats in a museum-style plastic display case.

Enlarge / Putting the dollar in the box is easy—but getting it back out can sometimes be a months-long ordeal. (credit: PM Images)

Chime is a banking application which serves millions of users—but it’s not actually a bank. And it racked up an unusually large number of consumer protection cases over the last year—920 complaints at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and thousands at the Better Business Bureau. The majority of the CFPB complaints regard forced account closure—accounts closed against a consumer’s will without immediately refunding the consumer’s account balance in the process.

Unexpected account closures

Only 197 of the 920 complaints against Chime at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau are tagged as involving a “closed account”—but as ProPublica reports, the CFPB complaints are inconsistently labeled, and details of many of the other 723 complaints involve forcible closures also. (By contrast, industry behemoth Wells Fargo has only 317 CFPB complaints tagged “closed account” over the same time period—and Marcus, a Goldman Sachs owned online bank with 4 million customers, has only seven.)

Although opening a Chime account is quick and easy—the app is straightforward, and the creation process requires no credit check and is done in minutes—account closures may happen just as rapidly. ProPublica recounts multiple similar stories of Chime customers who received cryptic emails stating, “Following a recent review of your Spending Account, we regret to inform you that we have made the decision to end our relationship with you at this time.”

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#bank, #banking, #chime, #fintech, #neobank, #neobanking, #tech

White label fintech platform Toqio secures $9.4M Seed led by Seaya and Speedinvest

The upside of the Open Banking regulations which have swept jurisdictions like the UK and the EU is that many more challenger banks have appeared. The headache for either incumbent banks or for upstart startups is the very proliferation of these new banks and financial tech products. But as we know, in gold rushes, the people selling the picks and shovels usually win. Thus, startups have turned their attention, not to launching full-stack banks, but to full-stack platforms that other people can launch their fintech startups and products upon.

The latest to join this brigade is Toqio, a fintech platform with a white label digital finance SaaS that allows anyone to launch a new fintech product.

The London-based startup has now secured an €8M / $9.4M seed round of funding led by Seaya Ventures and Speedinvest, with SIX FinTech Ventures participating.

Founded in 2019 by Eduardo Martínez and Michael Galvin, the teams behind Toqio previously built a small business SaaS startup, Geniac, which was acquired by Grant Thornton.

Eduardo Martínez, co-Founder and CEO, of Toqio, said: “Businesses and banks are looking to innovate in the FinTech sector, but to date, they have had to create and maintain complex software solutions to do this. This has also kept smaller niche businesses out of the market. We don’t want FinTech to end up like banking just with a new set of big incumbents trying to take control of financial services. We want to level the playing field.”

Toqio says its customers get access to pre-built products to create applications that can go to market quickly. Products include digital banking, card, and financing solutions, and a marketplace, aimed at financial institutions, FinTech startups, banks, and corporate brands.

Headquartered in London and Madrid, Toqio says it already has customers across Europe, including new Spanish bank Crealsa, business banking service Wamo in Malta, and alternative business lender Just Cash Flow in the UK.

Aristotelis Xenofontos, Principal at Seaya Ventures, said: ”We have spent many years following the Embedded Finance space and finally found the missing piece, a seamless enabler that glues everything together. Toqio is a truly end-to-end platform that provides a complete plug-and-play bank and allows any organization to offer a full suite of digital financial services in a rapid, painless, future-proof, and low-cost way.”

Stefan Klestil, General Partner at Speedinvest, added: “We’ve seen the rise of neo-banks, the change of regulations across multiple markets, and now we’re starting to see traditional businesses and big brands looking to embed financial products within their existing offerings. Financial services are going to change and expand at an unprecedented rate, and Toqio will be instrumental in enabling it.”

#articles, #bank, #banking, #digital-banking, #europe, #european-union, #finance, #financial-services, #financial-technology, #general-partner, #geniac, #london, #madrid, #malta, #money, #open-banking, #seaya-ventures, #speedinvest, #tc, #united-kingdom

Tom Blomfield takes first board post at Generation Home, after leaving Monzo and Angel investing

Following on from mid-June when first-time buyer mortgage lending startup Generation Home raised a $30.4m Series A round and a £300m loan facility from NatWest, it’s now adding to its board.

Although known for becoming an Angel investor since leaving Monzo, the challenger bank startup he co-founded, Tom Blomfield hasn’t joined any startup boards.

That changes today with the news that he is joining Generation Home.

The startup launched last year with radically a different model for home buying – effectively allowing relatives to become co-equity holders in the properties their children bought, and go along for the ride.

Generation Home founder and CEO Will Rice says the platform, therefore, unlocks far larger amounts of capital from ‘the bank of mum and dad’ than normally happens when money is loaned or gifted to the next generation.

The UK property problem is acute. According to the English Housing Survey 2020, the average U.K. renter spends 35% of their income on rent compared with 18% for homeowners paying a mortgage. High rents inhibit their ability to save and house price inflation locks more people out of homeownership.

Using Generation Home, parents can contribute deposits as an equity loan. Generation Home then takes responsibility for the repayment of funds to the parents upon a sale of the property or remortgage. Repayment of the loan can also be triggered once the homeowner’s equity in the property reaches a pre-agreed level, and the value of the loan can reflect changes in the house price. Plus the loan can be converted into a gift at any time, through the Generation Home platform.

Speaking to TechCrunch about his move to join the board, Blomfield said: “I met Will last year and what really excites me was the product. I think it’s so relevant, and it hasn’t really been covered in the mainstream press much. The problem with first-time buyers, trying to get a mortgage, is that they almost invariably rely on help from their parents or sometimes their friends to help. I’ve had experience with this and a lot of people actually mean it as a loan and they intend to get that money back. But mortgage lenders make you sign a piece of paper saying this is an absolute gift. So hundreds of thousands of parents around the country are basically committing a – well-intentioned – fraud to help their kids get on the property ladder. So what I loved about the Generation Home product is that they’ve got this new legal structure where parents can effectively lend that money towards the deposit, but it’s structured as a loan if they want it to be. They have the right to get their money back eventually without having to lie. So that’s one thing that really really attracted me to the company. It’s just so so relevant to everyone, and people are just kind of blind to this problem.”

I asked him if he thinks there’s a “Monzofication” of FinTech business models in FinTech, as suggested by the success of Monzo’s model, where the user is put front and centre?

“There’s certainly a lot in common between what we do at Monzo and what Generation Home is trying to do. Big mortgage lenders focus on the mortgage product and the customer is like an inconvenience. As a customer you have to fit with whatever the mortgage provider will offer you and it’s totally inflexible. It’s very similar with Monzo – we tried to flip it around, and focus on what customers really want and care about every day. Simple stuff like notifications when you spend money or alerts before you go into overdraft – those are now commonplace and they weren’t, five, six years ago. I think Generation Home is doing the same thing which is focusing on the stuff that customers really, really care about, and then providing that flexibility and more features to meet their needs, rather than just raming everyone into the straitjacket of what a mortgage is doing,” he said.

#bank, #ceo, #europe, #finance, #financial-services, #loans, #money, #monzo, #mortgage, #tc, #tom-blomfield, #united-kingdom

How WesternUnion is fighting back against fintech startups

The saying goes that, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” That may or may not be true, but at least one “old dog” is working hard to disprove that saying.

Western Union has been operating in the cross-border payments space for nearly 150 years (yes, you read that right – 150 years) and today, globally, it serves almost 150 million customers – representing senders and receivers.

In recent years, a number of fintech startups have emerged to challenge Western Union in the massive space – from Wise (formerly TransferWise) to Remitly to WorldRemit. But the payments giant seems up for the challenge and has been investing heavily in its digital operations in an attempt to beat fintechs at their own game

As we all know, the COVID-19 pandemic led to a massive acceleration of the trend of all things moving to digital in nearly all industries. Money transfer was no exception. In 2020, Western Union benefited from that acceleration. Its overall digital money transfer revenues – including WU.com and its digital partnership business – climbed by 38% to more than $850 million, up from over $600 million in 2019. 

Speaking of WU.com, the company’s online transactions site, it saw a nearly 30% gain in annual active customers to 8.6 million. 

This year, the company recently projected that its digital money transfer revenues are on track to exceed $1 billion in 2021 after first-quarter revenue growth of 45% to a new quarterly high of $242 million.

Today, Western Union claims to hold the largest cross-border, digital, peer-to-peer payments network in terms of scale, revenue and channels.

The emphasis on beefing up its digital operations – an initiative that actually began in the second half of 2019, according to the company – and expanding those digital offerings to more countries led to Western Union’s overall business profile shifting over the past 15 months. 

Digital channels in 2020 made up 29% of transactions and 20% of revenue for the company’s consumer-to-consumer (C2C) business, up from 16% and 14%, respectively, in 2019.

Western Union also “open sourced” its platform to third-party financial institutions in a move it says is a “step towards creating an end-to-end payments processing hub.”

TechCrunch talked with Shelly Swanback, Western Union’s president of product and platform, about the company’s digital strategy and what’s next beyond payments for the company (hint: it involves banking products). 

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

TC: Let’s start out by hearing how the COVID-19 pandemic impacted your business, and what kinds of steps you took as a company to adapt?

Swanback: As COVID started playing out, just like any other company, I thought ‘What do we need to do to rally around our customers because our customers who rely on retail locations may not be able to get to their retail location as the COVID lockdowns started happening?’

One of the things we learned from that experience is this notion of everyday innovation. Innovation isn’t always blockchain or some emerging technology. Sometimes the best innovation is just about innovating every day with the products and services that you have. 

For example, we had some places in the world where we actually needed to figure out how we could do home delivery of cash. Delivering cash is different than delivering pizza as you can imagine, as there are a whole lot of regulatory items and security items. We very quickly figured out how we can deliver cash in Sri Lanka and Nepal, Jordan and some other places across the world. 

Another example lies in addressing how some folks were just a little intimidated by digital technology. I thought, ‘What if we set up a video digital location we called it where people could call in and do a video call with us and we could help them with their money transfer?’ It turned out that there actually wasn’t as much customer demand for that as we might have thought. 

But the great news — and this is a good lesson, I think, for many organizations — is what we actually did there in terms of KYC (Know Your Customer), which is a big thing in the financial services industry. So, all the technology we set up for this digital location for customers to upload their documents electronically and not have to be in front of an agent, we’re using today, just in a different way.

TC: I know Western Union has touted the fact that it has such a strong physical presence in so many locations actually benefits the growth of its digital operations as well as an expansion into other offerings beyond payments. Can you elaborate on that?

Swanback: The success and acceleration that we’re having in our digital business and of course the quarterly results are great, and we want to continue to do that. But for me, what’s most exciting is just the solid foundation and the basis gives us to build toward this idea of having a more meaningful account-based relationship with our customers and ability to offer them more than just money transfer. 

We have the fortune of having a trusted brand that’s known globally and trusted for something that’s very near and dear to our customers. What we’re hearing from our customers is they would trust us to provide additional services. So one of the things that we’re beginning to put plans in place for, and beginning to do some market tests on, is building an ecosystem or building a marketplace if you will. It will all be catered around the 270 million migrants across the world and really connecting them to each other, connecting them to their families and connecting them to merchants who want to sell them goods or provide them services that are very culturally relevant to them,  either where they happen to be living and working or providing them services back home to their families. 

Later in the fall, we’re going to be launching our first market test in Europe. We’re going to be offering a bank account, debit card, and multi-currency accounts tied of course into our money transfer services, as well as a few other things as we get closer to the market launch. But this really is our first test around providing a more comprehensive set of services.

TC: You recently announced a tie-up with Google Pay and some others. What is the significance of those partnerships?

Swanback: We want to be able to offer our cross-border capabilities and platform in more of a co-branded or white-label fashion, so that we can reach those customers that might still prefer to just be a customer of a bank. As an example, we recently announced that Google Pay users can log in to their app and can do cross-border transfers.

I think that’s an important part of our strategy– going after the direct relationship with customers and at the same time being able to offer our platform to others who already have a direct relationship with our customer. This is also part of our whole technology modernization right now of course. We’re very, very strong in the C2C segment, but the way we’re going about our technology modernization is one that provides us optionality to continue to expand in other segments  – whether it be consumer to business or business to consumer, or even business to business.

TC: Tell me more about this “modernization.”

Swanback: Like many financial organizations and many existing global organizations, part of our massive technology modernization program is moving to the cloud. So we were well on our way from migrating many of our applications to an AWS Cloud Platform. We’re pretty excited about the progress that we’re making there.

Also, over the last 12 to 18 months, we’ve migrated a good portion of our customer agent transactions, like the core of our data, to Snowflake. We;’ve mined 33 data warehouses, and we’ve got 20 petabytes of data in the cloud. And so, that in itself is just this is just the starting point. We’re modernizing our apps on top of this data foundation and really starting to use artificial intelligence and machine learning. But we’re not using it in the back end processes like many other organizations who were using it for operational interactions with our customers. We’re using it in the front office. For example, we launched a telephone money transfer product where a customer talks to a virtual assistant and it’s 100% digitized. It’s actually one of the best customer experiences we’ve seen.

#artificial-intelligence, #aws, #bank, #banking, #business, #cross-border-payments, #debit-card, #e-commerce, #economy, #europe, #finance, #google, #jordan, #machine-learning, #marketing, #nepal, #online-shopping, #payments, #payments-network, #peer-to-peer, #president, #remitly, #sri-lanka, #supply-chain-management, #tc, #virtual-assistant, #western-union, #worldremit

Kaszek Ventures leads a $15 million round in Chilean asset management startup, Fintual

Like other financial sectors in Latin America, the retail investing space is getting a facelift by local tech startups that are cashing in on the untapped potential for democratizing asset management in the region. One of those startups is Chilean-based Fintual, which today announced a $15 million round led by Kaszek Ventures, the largest fund in Latin America.

Fintual is an automated passive investment platform that allows the average person in Chile or Mexico to invest in mutual funds containing ETFs (Exchange Traded Funds), investment vehicles that aren’t as well known, or as readily accessible in Latin America.

“The idea that got to me was that we were allowing people to invest in the long term, we enable them to invest in instruments they didn’t have access to before,” said Pedro Pineda, co-founder and CEO of Fintual.

Before starting Fintual in 2018 with his three co-founders, Pineda was an astronomer and an entrepreneur, who built and sold a Groupon copycat company in Chile called “Queremos Descuentos” (We Want Discounts) for just over $1 million when he was 28. 

After the exit, he admits he was a bit lost in life. 

“One day I decided that I wanted to do only the things that I wanted to do and with the people I wanted to do it with,” he said.

He traveled for a couple of years, and learned to code, among other things, until Omar Larré, Fintual’s current CIO, presented him with the idea for the business. 

Larré had been a portfolio manager at Banco Itau, Brazil’s biggest bank by total assets, and he saw the gap in the market: investing was not set up for the average person. The annual fees were too high, the minimum amount required to invest was too high, and there was a penalty when you removed your money. Additionally, the transaction takes a certain amount of financial know-how that most people don’t possess.

For Pineda, disrupting the financial sector also seemed like a lot of fun, he thought.

“I liked the idea of challenging the financial banks, and you can’t do that without technology. We have this super tool that my parents didn’t have, and you can disrupt an entire industry,” Pineda told TechCrunch.

While traditional mutual funds in Chile and Mexico charge up to 6.45% and 5% annually, Fintual charges 1% annually of assets managed. Additionally, Fintual doesn’t require a minimum investment nor a minimum amount of time invested, and users can take their money out any time with no penalties. 

“It’s different than the U.S.; we invest way less than you do; by a factor of 10 maybe,” Pineda said, comparing the investment rate in Chile.

In 2018, the company was accepted into Y Combinator and became the first Chilean startup to go through the prestigious accelerator. It has been growing exponentially ever since and today it serves 57,000 clients in Chile and Mexico.

Below is a table that shows their growth including money managed and percent growth each year since launch.

Assets Under Management (USD)* Annual Growth
May 2018              1.2 M
May 2019              12.9 M 1075%
May 2020               87.6 M 679%
May 2021               480.7 m 548%

    *Each figure corresponds to the end of each month.

The current raise will be used to grow the company’s operations in Mexico, expand to other countries — namely Colombia and Peru — and grow its tech team. 

In addition to Kaszek, other investors to date include YC, ALLVP, and angel investors such as Plaid’s CTO, Jean-Denis Greze, and Cornershop’s founder Oskar Hjertonsson. To date, the company has raised about $15.2 million.

Fintual’s impressive growth speaks for itself, but Kaszek’s co-founder and managing partner, Nicolas Szekasy, said the fund has been following Fintual since its early days, and he was impressed with the niche market the team identified and even more impressed with the user experience the company had developed which has, in turn, fueled its growth.

#apps, #asset-management, #bank, #chile, #colombia, #cto, #finance, #funding, #fundings-exits, #groupon, #investment, #investment-fund, #kaszek-ventures, #latin-america, #mexico, #mutual-funds, #peru, #plaid, #startup-company, #startups, #united-states, #venture-capital, #y-combinator

Drata raises $25M Series A to expand its security compliance platform

Security compliance is precisely three things: incredibly boring, time consuming, and entirely necessary to run a business in the modern age. Compliance isn’t going away, but startups like Drata are making it slightly easier to bear.

Drata helps companies get their SOC 2 compliance quicker by using automation. SOC 2 is a certification used to show that a company can store customer data in the cloud securely, but the process is notoriously complex and can take months to complete — and you have to do it all over again every year. That’s particularly burdensome for startups and smaller firms.

Drata says it can get companies SOC 2-compliant faster and keep them in compliance for longer by integrating with popular business tools and cloud services to get a better picture of a company’s security posture.

Now with a new round of $25 million at Series A in the bank, Drata said it’s expanding its compliance platform to also include ISO 27001, another core security standard used all over the world to help companies protect their systems and safeguard data.

The round landed six months after its $3.2 million seed round in January, and was led by GGV Capital, with participation from Silicon Valley CISO Investors, Okta Ventures, Cowboy Ventures, Leaders Fund, and SV Angel.

Drata CEO and co-founder Adam Markowitz told TechCrunch that the company is growing on average 100% month-over-month since it launched out of stealth and is serving hundreds of customers, including three-person startups to publicly traded companies.

The startup joins several other companies in the compliance space. Secureframe raised $18 million at Series A in March to offer SOC 2 and ISO 27001 certifications. Strike Graph raised a $3.9 million seed round last year to help companies automate security audits and get FedRamp certification needed to provide technology to the federal government. And, Startup Battlefield participant Osano in 2019 raised $5.4 million at Series A to build out its risk and compliance platform.

Related funding news:

#adam-markowitz, #bank, #boston, #cloud-services, #computing, #cowboy-ventures, #federal-government, #finance, #ggv-capital, #gv, #investment, #leaders-fund, #okta-ventures, #security, #startup-company, #techcrunch

Fintech startup TreasurySpring raises $10M for platform giving online access to Fixed-term-funds

Fixed-term-funds (FTFs) have historically been a bank-to-bank market. FTF products allow for investing into some of the safest assets including, UK Government bonds, US Government bonds and highly-rated corporations. They allow holders of large amounts of cash (such as charities, private funds, family offices etc) to reduce and diversify their risk, but also increasing returns.

TreasurySpring is a fintech startup that is aiming to opening up access to this area of financial markets, by creating a Fixed-Term Fund platform. It’s now raised a $10 million Series A investment round co-led by MMC Ventures and Anthemis Group. Existing investors, including ETFS Capital, participated, taking the total its raised to $15 million.

TreasurySpring says its FTF platform gives holders of large cash balances online access to a menu of proprietary cash investments on a daily basis. This gives them access to an asset class that is usually only available to major financial institutions.

Founded in 2016 by Kevin Cook (CEO), Matthew Longhurst and James Skillen, Cook said in a statement: “Following a break-out 12 months in which we increased AUM by 10x, we wanted to bring in the best possible investment partners to support our ambitious growth plans. We have long admired both Anthemis Group and MMC, so I am delighted that they co-led the round and we are excited to work with Sean, Ollie and their respective teams, as we move into the next phase of our journey to redefine cash investment and front-office treasury.”

Given the current low and negative interest rates and an uncertain global financial outlook, TreasurySpring says its platform is likely to appeal as an alternative to traditional bank deposits and money market funds. It says it’s now issued more than $9B of FTFs to a client base which includes FTSE 100 and other listed companies, fund managers, large private companies, charities, and family offices.

Yann Ranchere, partner at Anthemis Group said: “With its ambitious and mission-driven team, TreaurySpring is opening the traditional money market industry to a whole new pool of participants.”

Oliver Richards, partner at MMC Ventures added: “Having worked with the team at TreasurySpring for the last two years, we have absolute confidence in their ability to deliver on their unique vision to level the playing field in cash investing and short-term funding, through a platform that not only brings value to its clients and issuers but also enhances the diversification and systemic stability of the money markets as a whole.”

Does TreasurySpring have any direct competitors? The compay sdays not. That said, bank deposits and money market funds are still the only tools available to most holders of large cash balances, so the banks and asset managers that offer these products are competitors, “to an extent” admits the firm. Howeverr, they are also “collaborators in many instances.”

Cook said: “Adoption of the platform is being driven by a realisation that the risks and returns of the traditional [deposit and MMF] options are becoming ever less attractive, whilst building out the infrastructure to do anything else is complex, cumbersome, time consuming and expensive.”

#bank, #bond, #ceo, #economy, #europe, #finance, #fintech-startup, #investment, #mmc-ventures, #money, #ollie, #partner, #tc, #uk-government, #us-government

Fintech giant Klarna raises $639M at a $45.6B valuation amid ‘massive momentum’ in the US

Just over three months after its last funding round, European fintech giant Klarna is announcing today that it has raised another $639 million at a staggering post-money valuation of $45.6 billion.

Rumors swirled in recent weeks that Klarna had raised more money at a valuation north of $40 billion. But the Swedish buy now, pay later behemoth and upstart bank declined to comment until now.

SoftBank’s Vision Fund 2 led the latest round, which also included participation from existing investors Adit Ventures, Honeycomb Asset Management and WestCap Group. The new valuation represents a 47.3% increase over Klarna’s post-money valuation of $31 billion in early March, when it raised $1 billion, and a 330% increase over its $10.6 billion valuation at the time of its $650 million raise last September. Previous backers include Sequoia Capital, SilverLake, Dragoneer and Ant Group, among others.

The latest financing cements 16-year-old Klarna’s position as the highest-valued private fintech in Europe.

In an exclusive interview with TechCrunch, Klarna CEO and founder Sebastian Siemiatkowski said the company has seen explosive growth in the U.S. and plans to use its new capital in part to continue to grow there and globally.

In particular, over the past year, the fintech has seen “massive momentum” in the country, with more than 18 million American consumers now using Klarna, he said. That’s up from 10 million at the end of last year’s third quarter, and up 118% year over year. Klara is now live with 24 of the top 100 U.S. retailers, which it says is “more than any of its competitors.”

Overall, Klarna is live in 20 markets, has more than 90 million global active users and more than 2 million transactions a day conducted on its platform. The company’s momentum can be seen in its impressive financial results. In the first quarter, Klarna notched $18.1 billion in volume compared to $9.9 billion in the prior year first quarter. In all of 2020, it processed $53 billion in volume. To put that into context; Affirm’s financial report in May projected it would process $8.04 billion in volume for the entire fiscal year of 2021 and Afterpay is projecting $16 billion in volume for its entire fiscal year. 

March 2021 also represented a record month for global shopping volume with $6.9 billion of purchases made through the Klarna platform.

Meanwhile, in 2020, Klara hit over a billion in revenue. While the company was profitable for its first 14 years of life, it has not been profitable the last two, according to Siemiatkowski, and that’s been by design.

“We’ve scaled up so massively in investments in our growth and technology, but running on a loss is very odd for us,” he told TechCrunch. “We will get back to profitability soon.”

Klarna has entered six new markets this year alone, including New Zealand and France, where it just launched this week. It is planning to expand into a number of new markets this year. The company has about 4,000 employees with several hundred in the U.S. in markets such as New York and Los Angeles. It also has offices in Stockholm, London, Manchester, Berlin, Madrid and Amsterdam. 

While Klarna is partnered with over 250,000 retailers around the world (including Macy’s, Ikea, Nike, Saks), its buy now, pay later feature is also available direct to consumers via its shopping app. This means that consumers can use Klarna’s app to pay immediately or later, as well as manage spending and view available balances. They can also do things like initiate refunds, track deliveries and get price-drop notifications.

“Our shopping browser allows users to use Klarna everywhere,” Siemiatkowski said. “No one else is offering that, and are rather limited to integrating with merchants.”

Image Credits: Klarna

Other things the company plans to do with its new capital is focus on acquisitions, particularly acqui-hires, according to Siemiatkowski. According to Crunchbase, the company has made nine known acquisitions over time — most recently picking up Los Gatos-based content creation services provider Toplooks.ai.

“We’re the market leader in this space and we want to find new partners that want to support us in this,” Siemiatkowski told TechCrunch. “That gives us better prerequisites to be successful going forward. Now we have more cash and money available to invest further in the long term.”

Klarna has long been rumored to be going public via a direct listing. Siemiatkowski said that the company in many ways already acts like a public company in that it offers stock to all its employees, and reports financials — giving the impression that the company is not in a hurry to go the public route.

“We report quarterly to national authorities and are a fully regulated bank so do all the things you expect to see from public companies such as risk control and compliance,” he told TechCrunch. “We’re reaching a point for it to be a natural evolution for the company to IPO. But we’re not preparing to IPO anytime soon.”

At the time of its last funding round, Klarna announced its GiveOne initiative to support planet health. With this round, the company is again giving 1% of the equity raised back to the planet.

Naturally, its investors are bullish on what the company is doing and its market position. Yanni Pipilis, managing partner for SoftBank Investment Advisers, said the company’s growth isfounded on a deep understanding of how the purchasing behaviors of consumers are changing,” an evolution SoftBank believes is only accelerating. 

Eric Munson, founder and CIO of Adit Ventures, said his firm believes the “best is yet to come as Klarna multiplies their addressable market through global expansion.” 

For Siemiatkowski, what Klarna is trying to achieve is to compete with the $1 trillion-plus credit card industry.

We really see right now all the signs are there. True competition is coming to this space, this decade,” he said. “This is an opportunity to genuinely disrupt the retail banking space.”

 

#amsterdam, #ant-group, #apps, #bank, #berlin, #bnpl, #buy-now-pay-later, #europe, #finance, #fintech, #france, #funding, #fundings-exits, #ikea, #klarna, #london, #los-angeles, #macys, #madrid, #manchester, #market-leader, #money, #new-york, #new-zealand, #nike, #payments, #recent-funding, #sebastian-siemiatkowski, #sequoia-capital, #softbank-investment-advisers, #softbank-vision-fund-2, #stockholm, #united-states, #venture-capital

Kafene raises $14M to offer buy now, pay later to the subprime consumer

The buy now, pay later frenzy isn’t going anywhere as more consumers seek alternatives to credit cards to fund purchases.

And those purchases aren’t exclusive to luxuries such as Pelotons (ahem, Affirm) or jewelry someone might be treating themselves to online. A new fintech company is out to help consumers finance big-ticket items that are considered more “must have” than “nice to have.” And it’s just raised $14 million in Series A funding to help it advance on that goal.

Neal Desai (former CFO of Octane Lending) and James Schuler (who participated in Y Combinator’s accelerator program as a high schooler) founded New York City-based Kafene in July 2019. The pair’s goal is to promote financial inclusion by meeting the needs of what it describes as the “consumers that are left behind by traditional lenders.”

More specifically, Kafene is focused on helping consumers with credit scores below 650 purchase retail items such as furniture, appliances and electronics with its buy now, pay later (BNPL) model. Consider it an “Affirm for the subprime,” says Desai.

Global Founders Capital and Third Prime Ventures co-led the round, which also included participation from Valar, Company.co, Hermann Capital, Gaingels, Republic Labs, Uncorrelated Ventures and FJ labs.

“Historically, if you could access credit, you could go to the bank or use a credit card,” Third Prime’s Wes Barton told TechCrunch. “But if you had some unexpected expense, and had to miss a payment with the bank, there would be repercussions and you could fall into a debt trap.”

Kafene’s “flexible ownership” model is designed to not let that happen to a consumer. If for some reason, someone has to forfeit on a payment, Kafene comes to pick up the item and the customer is no longer under obligation to pay for it moving forward.

The way it works is that Kafene buys the product from a merchant on a consumers’ behalf and rents it back to them over 12 months. If they make all payments, they own the item. If they make them earlier, they get a “significant” discount, and if they can’t, Kafene reclaims the item and takes the loan loss.

Image Credits: Kafene

It’s a modern take on Rent-A-Center, which charges more money for inferior products, Desai believes.

“This is also a superior product to credit cards, and the size of that market is massive,” Barton said. “We want to take a huge chunk of credit card business in time, and give consumers the flexibility to quit at any point in time, and fly free, if you will.”

Such flexibility, Kafene claims, helps promote financial inclusion by giving a wider range of consumers options to alternative forms of credit at the point of sale.

It also helps people boost their credit scores, according to Desai, because if they buy out of the loan earlier than the 12-month term, their credit score goes up because Kafene reports them as a positive payer.

“In any situation where they don’t steal the item, their credit score improves,” he said. “Even if they end up returning it because they can’t afford it. In the long run, they can have a better credit score to qualify for a traditional loan product.”

Kafene rolled out a beta of its financing product in December of 2019 and then had to pause in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The company essentially “hibernated” from March to June 2020 and re-launched out of beta last July.

By October, Kafene stopped all enrollment with merchants because it had more demand that it could handle — largely fueled by more people being financially strained due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In March 2021, the company was handling about $2 million a month in merchandise volume.

With its new capital, Kafene plans to significantly scale its existing lease-to-own financing business nationally, as well as to launch a direct-to-consumer virtual lease card.

#bank, #bnpl, #buy-now, #credit, #credit-card, #credit-score, #debt, #economy, #electronics, #finance, #fintech, #forward, #global-founders-capital, #kafene, #money, #new-york-city, #pay-later, #personal-finance, #recent-funding, #startup, #startups, #third-prime-ventures, #uncorrelated-ventures, #venture-capital, #y-combinator

Jeeves emerges from stealth with $131M in debt and equity and a16z as a lead investor

Jeeves, which is building an “all-in-one expense management platform” for global startups, is emerging from stealth today with $131 million in total funding, including $31 million in equity and $100 million in debt financing. 

The $31 million in equity consists of a new $26 million Series A and a previously unannounced $5 million seed round.

Andreessen Horowitz (a16z) led the Series A funding, which also included participation from YC Continuity Fund, Jaguar Ventures, Urban Innovation Fund, Uncorrelated Ventures, Clocktower Ventures, Stanford University, 9 Yards Capital and BlockFi Ventures.

A high-profile group of angel investors also put money in the round, including NFL wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald and the founders of five LatAm unicorns — Nubank CEO David Velez, Kavak CEO Carlos Garcia, Rappi co-founder Sebastian Mejia, Bitso CEO Daniel Vogel and Loft CEO Florian Hagenbuch. Justo’s Ricardo Weder also participated in this round and Plaid co-founder William Hockey put money in the $5 million seed funding that closed in 2020 after the company completed the YC Summer 2020 batch.

The “fully remote” Jeeves describes itself as the first “cross country, cross currency” expense management platform. The startup’s offering is currently live in Mexico — its largest market — as well as Colombia, Canada and the U.S., and is currently beta testing in Brazil and Chile. 

Dileep Thazhmon and Sherwin Gandhi founded Jeeves last year under the premise that startups have traditionally had to rely on financial infrastructure that is local and country-specific. For example, a company with employees in Mexico and Colombia would require multiple vendors to cover its finance function in each country — a corporate card in Mexico and one in Colombia and another vendor for cross-border payments.

Image Credits: Left to right: Jeeves co-founders Dileep Thazhmon and Sherwin Gandhi

Jeeves claims that by using its platform, any company can spin up their finance function “in minutes” and get access to 30 days of credit on a true corporate card, noncard payment rails, as well as cross-border payments. Customers can also pay back in multiple currencies, reducing FX (foreign transaction) fees.

“We’re building an all-in-one expense management platform for startups in LatAm and global markets — cash, corporate cards, cross-border — all run on our own infrastructure,” Thazhmon said. 

“We’re really building two things — an infrastructure layer that sits across banking institutions in different countries. And then on top of that, we’re building the customer-, or end user-facing app,” he added. “What gives us the ability to launch in countries much quicker is that we own part of that stack ourselves, versus what most fintechs would do, which is plug into a third-party provider in that region.” 

Image Credits: Jeeves

Indeed, the company has seen rapid early growth. Since launching its private beta last October, Jeeves says it has grown its transaction volume (GTV) by 200x and increased revenue by 900% (albeit from a small base). In May alone, Jeeves says it processed more transaction volume than the entire year to date, and more than doubled its customer base. It says that “hundreds of companies,” including Bitso, Belvo, Justo, Runa, Worky, Zinboe, RobinFood and Muncher, “actively” use Jeeves to manage their local and international spend. On top of that, it says, the startup has a waitlist of more than 5,000 companies — which is part of why the company sought to raise debt and equity.

The shift to remote work globally due to the COVID-19 pandemic has played a large role in why Jeeves has seen so much demand, according to Thazhmon.

“Every company is now becoming a global company, and the service to employees in two different countries requires two different systems,” he said. “And then someone’s got to reconcile that system at the end of the month. This has been a big reason why we’re growing so fast.”

One of Jeeves’ biggest accomplishments so far, Thazhmon said, has been receiving approval to issue cards from its own credit BIN (bank identification number) in Mexico. It can also run SPEI payments directly on its infrastructure. (SPEI is a system developed and operated by Banco de México that allows the general public to make electronic payments.)

“This gives us a lot of flexibility and allows us to offer a truly unique product to our customers,” said Thazhmon, who previously co-founded PowerInbox, a
Battery Ventures-backed MarTech company that he says grew to $40 million in annual revenue in three years.

Jeeves says it will use the fresh capital to onboard new companies to the platform from its waitlist, scale its infrastructure to cover more countries and currencies as well as do some hiring and expand its product line.

A16z General Partner Angela Strange, who is joining Jeeves’ board as part of the investment, is extremely bullish on the startup’s potential.

Strange says she met Thazhmon about a year ago and was immediately intrigued.

“Not only were they working to provide the financial operating system within a country, starting in Mexico, they were designing their software platform to scale across multiple countries,” she said. “Finally — a multicountry/currency expense management & payouts platform, where increasingly companies have employees and operations in multiple countries from the start and can use a single company to manage their financials.”

Strange, who has been investing in Latin America for the past few years, notes that most companies in the region are unable to get a corporate credit card.

“That’s only the tip of the iceberg,” she told TechCrunch. “It’s cumbersome for companies to make bank to bank payouts, handle wires, and they usually also have expenses in the U.S. (and often other countries) so there is also FX. And they manage multiple bank accounts. Not only is paying hard, reconciliation on the backend takes weeks.”

As such, Strange said, with every country having their own bank transfer system, rules around who can issue a credit card, approved payment processors, currencies and bank accounts — payments and expense management across countries can be complex.

Jeeves, according to Strange, “gets as close to the networks/payment rails as possible” since it has its own issuing credit BIN versus needing to connect through legacy players.

Providing an orchestration layer on top of all the rails gives Jeeves the ability “to handle all the payment and reconciliation complexity” so “their customers don’t have to think about it,” she added.

 

#a16z, #andreessen-horowitz, #andressen-horowitz, #angela-strange, #apps, #bank, #banking, #bitso, #brazil, #canada, #chile, #clocktower-ventures, #colombia, #credit-card, #daniel-vogel, #david-velez, #expense-management, #finance, #financial-infrastructure, #financial-services, #funding, #fundings-exits, #jaguar-ventures, #jeeves, #latin-america, #mexico, #money, #national-football-league, #nfl, #nubank, #online-payments, #operating-system, #payment-card, #payments, #profile, #rappi, #recent-funding, #runa, #software-platform, #stanford-university, #startup, #startups, #tc, #uncorrelated-ventures, #united-states, #urban-innovation-fund, #venture-capital, #william-hockey

Synctera raises $33M Series A to pair fintechs with banks

Synctera, which aims to serve as a matchmaker for community banks and fintechs, has raised $33 million in a Series A round of funding led by Fin VC.

The raise comes just under six months after the fintech raised $12.4 million in a seed round of funding.

New investors Mastercard and Gaingels also participated in the latest round, which included follow-on investments from Lightspeed Venture Partners, Diagram Ventures, SciFi Ventures and Scribble Ventures. Several angel investors put money in the Series A including Omri Dahan, Marqeta’s Chief Revenue Officer, Feedzai Chairman and CEO Nuno Sebastiao and Greenlight co-founder and CEO Tim Sheehan. 

Alongside the Series A, Synctera is also announcing its commitment to the new Cap Table Coalition – which includes funding from Gaingels, Neythri Futures Fund, Plexo Capital and over 20 angels – alongside other startups by allocating 10% of all funding rounds to “traditionally marginalized,” or underrepresented, investors via an SPV. (Fellow fintech Finix led the initiative earlier this year before forming this coalition but more on that later).

“This has exposed us to find great folks who we otherwise might not have known,” said Synctera’s co-founder and CEO Peter Hazlehurst. “That’s why we pledge to reserve 10% of this round and all future rounds to diverse investors.”

In a nutshell, San Francisco-based Synctera has developed a platform designed to help facilitate partnership banking. It was founded on the premise that some community banks and credit unions are actually turning down deals with young fintechs because the relationships can be too complicated or time-consuming to manage. Synctera’s goal is to connect community banks and fintechs to streamline the process with its “Banking-as-a-Service” (BaaS) platform.

TechCrunch recently caught up with Hazlehurst, who most recently served as former head of Uber Money and previously also led development of Google Wallet and products related to its payments system.

Put simply, Synctera wants to make it easier for community banks and fintechs to partner with each other. It examines banks’ needs and then sets them up with a fintech that is best suited to meet those needs. It claims to “do the work for both parties,” managing the partnership from its back-end platform, while dealing with issues like regulatory compliance, which can be a deterrent for some companies. The process of managing, reconciling and billing banks can result in “a lot of operational overhead and complexity,” according to the company.

The company says it’s built a “diverse” marketplace of banks and fintech companies so that it can apply a “personalized touch to each match” and make sure that the parties “align on geography, brand ethos, and desired business goals.”

So far, Synctera has signed three banks with plans to sign on three more this month. The startup has already paired Coastal Community Bank – a local bank serving the greater Puget Sound community – with One, a new digital banking platform, and Ellevest, a new fintech. 

By using Synctera’s platform, the company claims, banks can more freely allow their fintech counterparts to offer FDIC-insured mobile checking, debit cards, savings accounts or innovations in payments to their prospective customers, the company claims. They can also make more money doing so, Hazlehurst said, by bringing in more revenue beyond interchange fees.

“Like most small businesses, community banks have been hit hard by COVID-19,” he added. “We hope to further diversify community banks’ revenue streams.”

Banks can also more easily manage multiple relationships with various fintechs as the companies agree to adopt Synctera’s tech stack, the company claims.

“We build a single dashboard for a bank, so there’s a consolidated position across all fintechs,” Hazlehurst told me at the time of the company’s last raise. “It’s all about visibility for the bank.”

Currently Synctera has about 50 employees, including about two dozen engineers, most of whom are located in Canada, Hazlehurst said. The company plans to ramp up to 160 employees by year’s end with a focus on engineering, sales, marketing and customer success staff.

Looking ahead, Hazlehurst predicts that the fourth quarter will be “all about support for small business fintechs.”

“We want to create a neobank for gig economy workers, and want to add lending as a service,” he said. “But our next big phase is to onboard a lot of fintechs, and learn from them.”

Logan Allin, managing general partner and founder at Fin VC, believes that Banking-as-a-Service in general will transform legacy national and regional banks, credit unions, fintecs, corporate tech and retailers alike “as these players either seek to vertically integrate financial services or accelerate their digitization process.”

Synctera, he adds, has taken an approach with its tech stack that allows for integration with legacy community banks and their respective cores. This, Allin believes, will help ensure a “cloud native and scalable model” and made it an attractive investment. (Fin VC has also backed the likes of other fintechs such as Pipe and SoFi).

“Synctera’s peers are simply abstracting bank cores and serving as ‘API wrappers’ in a kludgy short-term approach and having come from the legacy bank and modern fintech worlds, we recognized that these players had not built sufficiently strong bridges across the ecosystem,” Allin told TechCrunch.

For his part, Finix Founder Richie Serna is thrilled that other startups are following his lead in the pledge to make their cap tables more diverse.

“After Finix announced our special purpose vehicle for Black and Latinx investors, the response was overwhelmingly positive,” he told TechCrunch. “Startups in every sector and at every stage have asked us how to recreate our SPV. In response, we started the Cap Table Coalition to make it as easy as possible for more high-growth startups, like Synctera, to take control over their cap tables,” said Richie Serna, CEO and co-founder of Finix. “We see this as an inflection point that will completely upend how the VC world functions.”

Meanwhile, Synctera is not the only player trying to help banks and fintechs forge partnerships. Last week, TechCrunch reported on Visa said it has expanded its Visa Fintech Partner Connect program, which is designed to help financial institutions quickly connect with a “vetted and curated” set of technology providers. 

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