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

0

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

0

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

0

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

0

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. 

#api, #articles, #bank, #banking-as-a-service, #canada, #diversity, #economy, #fdic, #finance, #financial-services, #financial-technology, #finix, #fintech, #founder, #funding, #fundings-exits, #google, #greenlight, #head, #lightspeed-venture-partners, #marqeta, #mastercard, #peter-hazlehurst, #player, #plexo-capital, #recent-funding, #richie-serna, #san-francisco, #startup, #startups, #uber, #venture-capital

0

Belvo, LatAm’s answer to Plaid, raises $43M to scale its API for financial services

Belvo, a Latin American startup which has built an open finance API platform, announced today it has raised $43 million in a Series A round of funding.

A mix of Silicon Valley and Latin American-based VC firms and angels participated in the financing including Future Positive, Kibo Ventures, FJ Labs, Kaszek, MAYA Capital, Venture Friends, Rappi co-founder and president Sebastián Mejía (Rappi), Harsh Sinha, CTO of Wise (formerly Transferwise) and Nubank CEO and founder David Vélez.

Citing Crunchbase data, Belvo believes the round represents the largest series A ever raised by a Latin American fintech. In May 2020, Belvo raised a $10 million seed round co-led by Silicon Valley’s Founders Fund and Argentina’s Kaszek.

Belvo aims to work with leading fintechs in Latin America, spanning across verticals like the neobanks, credit providers and personal finance products Latin Americans use every day.

The startup’s goal with its developer-first API platform that can be used to access and interpret end-user financial data is to build better, more efficient and more inclusive financial products in Latin America. Developers of popular neobank apps, credit providers and personal finance tools use Belvo’s API to connect bank accounts to their apps to unlock the power of open banking.

As TechCrunch Senior Editor Alex Wilhelm explained in this piece last year, Belvo might be considered similar to U.S.-based Plaid, but more attuned to the Latin American market so it can take in a more diverse set of data to better meet the needs of the various markets it serves. 

So while Belvo’s goals are “similar to the overarching goal[s] of Plaid,” co-founder and co-CEO Pablo Viguera told TechCrunch that Belvo is not merely building a banking API business hoping to connect apps to financial accounts. Instead, Belvo wants to build a finance API, which takes in more information than is normally collected by such systems. Latin America is massively underbanked and unbanked so the more data from more sources, the better.

“In essence, we’re pushing for similar outcomes [as Plaid] in terms of when you think about open banking or open finance,” Viguera said. “We’re working to democratize access to financial data and empower end users to port that data, and share that data with whoever they want.”

The company operates under the premise that just because a significant number of the region’s population is underbanked doesn’t mean that they aren’t still financially active. Belvo’s goal is to link all sorts of accounts together. For example, Viguera told TechCrunch that some gig-economy companies in Latin America are issuing their own cards that allow workers to cash out at small local shops. In time, all those transactions are data that could be linked up using Belvo, casting a far wider net than what we’re used to domestically.

The company’s work to connect banks and non-banks together is key to the company’s goal of allowing “any fintech or any developer to access and interpret user financial data,” according to Viguera.

Viguera and co-CEO Oriol Tintoré founded in May of 2019, and was part of Y Combinator’s Winter 2020 batch. Since launching its platform last year, the company says it has built a customer base of over 60 companies across Mexico, Brazil and Colombia, handling millions of monthly API calls. 

This is important because as Alex noted last year, similar to other players in the API-space, Belvo charges for each API call that its customers use (in this sense, it has a model similar to Twilio’s). 

Image Credits: Co-founders and co-CEOs Oriol Tintore and Pablo Viguera / Belvo

Also, over the past year, Belvo says it expanded its API coverage to over 40 financial institutions, which gives companies the ability to connect to over 90% of personal and business bank accounts in LatAm, as well as to tax authorities (such as the SAT in Mexico) and gig economy platforms.

“Essentially we take unstructured financial data , which an individual might have outside of a bank such as integrations we have with gig economy platforms such as Uber and Rappi. We can take a driver’s information from their Uber app, which is kind of built like a bank app and turn it into meaningful bank-like info which third parties can leverage to make assessments as if it’s data coming from a bank,” Viguera explained.

The startup plans to use its new capital to scale its product offering, continue expanding its geographic footprint and double its current headcount of 70. Specifically, Belvo plans to hire more than 50 engineers in Mexico and Brazil by year’s end. It currently has offices in Mexico City, São Paulo, and Barcelona. The company also aims to  launch its bank-to-bank payment initiation offering in Mexico and Brazil.

Belvo currently operates in Mexico, Colombia and Brazil. 

But it’s seeing “a lot of opportunity” in other markets in Latin America, especially in Chile, Peru and Argentina, Viguera told TechCrunch. “In due course, we will look to pursue expansion there.” 

Fred Blackford, founding partner of Future Positive, believes Belvo represents a “truly transformational opportunity for the region’s financial sector.”

Nicolás Szekasy, co-founder and managing partner of Kaszek, noted that demand for financial services in Latin America is growing at an exponential rate .

“Belvo is developing the infrastructure that will enable both the larger institutions and the emerging generation of younger players to successfully deploy their solutions,” he said. “ Oriol, Pablo, and the Belvo team have been leading the development of a sophisticated platform that resolves very complex technical challenges, and the company’s exponential growth reflects how it is delivering a product that fits perfectly with the requirements of the market.” 

#alex-wilhelm, #api, #argentina, #bank, #banking, #barcelona, #belvo, #brazil, #ceo, #chile, #co-ceo, #colombia, #cto, #david-velez, #driver, #editor, #finance, #financial-services, #fj-labs, #founders-fund, #funding, #fundings-exits, #kaszek, #kibo-ventures, #latin-america, #mexico, #mexico-city, #nubank, #online-food-ordering, #open-banking, #open-finance, #peru, #rappi, #recent-funding, #sao-paulo, #startup, #startups, #tc, #technology, #twilio, #uber, #vc, #venture-capital, #wise, #y-combinator

0

Wayflyer raises $76M to provide ‘revenue-based’ financing to e-commerce merchants

Wayflyer, a revenue-based financing platform for e-commerce merchants, has raised $76 million in a Series A funding round led by Left Lane Capital.

“Partners” of DST Global, QED Investors, Speedinvest and Zinal Growth — the family office of Guillaume Pousaz (founder of Checkout.com) — also put money in the round. The raise comes just after Wayflyer raised $100 million in debt funding to support its cash advance product, and 14 months after the Dublin, Ireland-based startup launched its first product.

With an e-commerce boom fueled by the COVID-19 pandemic, Wayflyer is the latest in a group of startups focused on the space that has attracted investor interest as of late. The company aims to help e-commerce merchants “unlock growth” by giving them access to working capital (from $10,000 up to $20 million) so they can improve cash flow and drive sales. For example, more cash can help these merchants do things like buy more inventory in bulk so they can meet customer demand and save money. 

In a nutshell, Wayflyer uses analytics and sends merchants cash to make inventory purchases or investments in their business. Those merchants then repay Wayflyer using a percentage of their revenue until the money is paid back (plus a fee charged for the cash advance). So essentially, the merchants are using their revenue to get financing, hence the term revenue-based financing. The advantage, Wayflyer says, is that companies make repayments as a percentage of their sales. So if they have a slow month, they will pay back less. So, there’s more flexibility involved than with other mechanisms such as traditional bank loans.

Co-founder Aidan Corbett believes that in a crowded space, Wayflyer’s use of big data gives it an edge over competitors.

Corbett and former VC Jack Pierse spun Wayflyer out of a marketing analytics company that Corbett had also started, called Conjura, in September 2019.

“Jack came to me and said, ‘You should stop using our marketing analytics engine to do these big enterprise SaaS solutions, and instead use them to underwrite e-commerce businesses for short-term finance,’ ” Corbett recalls.

And so he did.

“We just had our heads down and started repurposing the platform for it to be an underwriting platform,” Corbett said. It launched in April 2020, doing about $600,000 in advances at the time. In March of 2021, Wayflyer did about $36 million in advances.

“So, it’s been a pretty aggressive kind of growth,” Corbett said.

Over the past six months alone, the company has seen its business grow 290% as it has deployed over $150 million of funding across 10 markets with a focus on the U.S., the United Kingdom and Australia. About 75% of its customers are U.S. based.

Wayflyer plans to use its new capital toward product development and global expansion with the goal of entering “multiple” new markets in the coming months. The company recently opened a sales office in Atlanta, and also has locations in the U.K., the Netherlands and Spain.

To Corbett, the company’s offering is more compelling than buy now, pay later solutions for consumers for example, in that it is funding the merchant directly and able to add services on top of that.

“There’s a lot more opportunity for companies like ourselves to differentiate because essentially, we focus on the merchants. And when we underwrite the merchant by getting data from the merchant, there’s a lot of additional services that you can put in on top,” Corbett explained. “Whereas with buy now, pay later, you get information on the consumer, and there’s not as much room to add additional services on top.”

For example, if a business requests an advance and either is not approved for one, or doesn’t choose to take it, Wayflyer’s analytics platform is free to anybody who signs up to help them optimize their marketing spend.

“This is a critical driver of value for e-commerce businesses. If you can’t acquire customers at a reasonable price, you’re not going to be around very long. And a lot of early-stage e-commerce businesses struggle with that,” Corbett said.

It also can pair up a merchant with a marketing analytics “specialist” to analyze its marketing performance or an inventory “specialist” to look at the current terms and price a business is getting from a supplier.

“Our focus from the very beginning is really supporting the merchants, not just providing them with working capital,” Corbett said.  

Another way the company claims to be different is in how it deploys funds. As mentioned above, merchants can pay the money back at varied terms, depending on how sales are going. The company makes money by charging a principal on advances, and then a “remittance rate” on revenues until the total amount is paid back.

“We tend to be more flexible than competition in this way,” Corbett said. “Also, some competitors will pay invoices on merchants’ behalf or give them a pre-charged card to use on advertising spend,” Corbett said. “We always give cash into a merchant’s account.” 

Wayflyer recently inked an agreement with Adobe Commerce, a partnership it said would provide a new channel to further amplify its growth with the goal of funding 8,000 e-commerce businesses in the first year of the partnership.

For his part, Left Lane Capital Partner Dan Ahrens said that his firm was impressed by Wayflyer’s “nuanced understanding of what will drive value for their clients.”

“The team’s focus, specialization, and deep analytical expertise within the e-commerce market also drives superior underwriting,” he told TechCrunch. “Their explosive growth has not come about by taking on undue risk. We are big believers that their underwriting will only improve with scale, and that Wayflyer will be able to compound its competitive advantages over time.”

As mentioned, this is an increasingly crowded space. Earlier this month, Settle announced it had raised $15 million in a Series A funding round led by Kleiner Perkins to give e-commerce and consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies access to non-dilutive capital.

#adobe, #atlanta, #australia, #bank, #checkout-com, #distribution, #dst-global, #dublin, #e-commerce, #ecommerce, #economy, #finance, #funding, #fundings-exits, #guillaume-pousaz, #ireland, #kleiner-perkins, #left-lane-capital, #merchant, #netherlands, #qed-investors, #recent-funding, #spain, #startup, #startups, #tc, #underwriting, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #wayflyer

0

Visa takes a swipe in fintech, builds new online marketplace

The relationships between banks and fintechs are multi-faceted.

In some cases, they partner. In many cases, they compete. In other cases, one acquires or invests in the other.

Well, today, an announcement by global payments giant Visa is aimed at helping facilitate banks and fintechs’ ability to work together.

Specifically, Visa said today it has expanded its Visa Fintech Partner Connect, a program designed to help financial institutions quickly connect with a “vetted and curated” set of technology providers. 

I talked with Terry Angelos, senior vice president and global head of fintech at Visa, to understand just exactly what that means.

“Global fintech investment last year was $105 billion,” Angelos said. “There were about 2,861 deals in venture, PE and M&A. So literally over $100 billion is going into fintech, which is more than the combined tech budgets of every bank in the U.S. As a result, a lot of innovation that is occurring in fintech is funded by venture dollars. We’re trying to bring that innovation to our clients, whether they are banks, processors or other fintechs.”

The program initially launched in Europe in November of 2020, and now is available in the U.S., Asia Pacific, Latin American and CEMEA (Central Europe, Middle East and Africa). Visa has worked to identify fintechs that can help banks and financial institutions (that are clients of Visa’s) as well as other fintechs “create digital-first experiences, without the cost and complexity of building the back-end technology in-house.

Local teams will run programs in the respective regions, and vet and manage partners in the following categories: account opening, data aggregation, analytics and security, customer engagement and new cardholder services and operations and compliance.

So far, Visa has identified about 60 partners that offer a range of technologies — from back-office functions to new front-end services, according to Angelos. Those partners include Alloy, Jumio, Argyle, Fidel, FirstSource, TravelBank, Canopy, Hummingbird and Unit21, among others. Twenty-four are located in the U.S.

“So much of fintech focus and coverage is about disrupting existing banks. Everyone is trying to disrupt everyone, including fintechs like PayPal,” Angelos told TechCrunch. “Venture numbers are certainly very large. What we’re realizing is there is a significant opportunity to pair up a lot of venture-backed companies with our existing clients. It runs a little bit against us versus them approach you typically hear about.”

Visa clients can get in touch with program partners via the Visa Partner website and get benefits such as reduced implementation fees and pricing discounts. 

“The Fintech Connect program is about both helping to identify and curate interesting fintech companies and then create a favorable commercial partnership for our clients so they can engage with these Fintech Connect partners,” Angelos said.

So, what does Visa gain from all this?

“Our goal is that all of our clients are in a position to build better digital experiences for their consumers,” he told TechCrunch. “We would love it if every bank had the latest tools in order to onboard clients and build digital experiences.”

One of its partners, for example, is virtual card startup Extend. 

“There are fintechs that provide this today such as TripActions, Ramp and Divvy,” Angelos points out. “But what Visa is doing is looking at ‘How can we enable our banking clients to do something similar?’ So we’re bringing innovation into our ecosystem so that anyone can take advantage.”

It can also help companies such as TripActions, Ramp or Divvy with other complementary technologies for security posture, for example.

“The net beneficiary is to hopefully move more spending onto those rails,” Angelos said. “For example, if you look at B2B spend, there’s about $120 trillion of it annually. We believe about $20 trillion of that is card eligible. Today, Visa captures about $1 trillion of that. So, another $19 trillion is available for Visa to capture through our partners if our banks and fintechs can build these kinds of solutions to enable B2B payments.”

To be clear, Visa also invests in startups from time to time. But this initiative is distinct from those efforts, although a couple of its partners have been recipients of funding from Visa.

#africa, #asia-pacific, #bank, #banking, #central-europe, #europe, #fidel, #finance, #financial-technology, #fintech, #jumio, #middle-east, #money, #payment-cards, #payments, #paypal, #ramp, #startup, #startups, #tc, #travelbank, #tripactions, #united-states, #visa

0

Blockchain startup Propy plans first-ever auction of a real apartment as a collectible NFT

We previously wrote about Propy using blockchain technology to smooth real-world real estate sales by introducing the concept of smart contracts. Propy was the first blockchain startup to make that work. Now the company is pushing the boundaries again, by auctioning a real apartment as an NFT. Although one might want to brush this aside as a stunt, the event is designed to make the point that it could well be done legally. And, by golly, they are going to try.

The auction will be of the NFT attached to a modern, brand new, one-bedroom apartment in Kiev, Ukraine, that Propy previously made history with by making it the first-ever level blockchain-based real estate sale.

The NFT created by Propy will, it says, transfers real ownership of the property. Just in case you haven;t been paying attention, NFTs, or Non-Fungible Tokens, are cryptographic ‘tokens’ that represent a unique asset — such as a piece of art, music, or other collectibles — and certify ownership digitally. NFTs have set the crypto-world alight with their potential to be applied to just about anything, including a work of art by Banksy which was then burnt.

Once someone has won the NFT of the apartment at auction, the NFT will include access to the ownership transfer paperwork; a digital artwork NFT by a popular Kiev graffiti artist, Chizz (a physical painting of the digital artwork is painted on a wall of the apartment)’ and the apartment pictures. But obviously, the apartment is the main asset here. 


The auction itself will happen over a 24hr period with the initial listing starting at $20,000. Details for the NFT sale are available here and will be updated with any new information as the auction proceeds.

The apartment in question is currently owned by Michael Arrington, founder of this very news site, and now a Crypto investor with Arrington XRP Capital.

Investors in Propy – which says it has so far processed $1bn worth of transactions via its platform – include Arrington himself and Tim Draper, former founder of DFJ.

Natalia Karayaneva, CEO of Propy said: “This NFT will go down in history. For Propy it is a major milestone in leveraging the promise of blockchain technology and non-fungible tokens (NFT) to achieve ‘self-driving’ real estate transactions and real estate participation in the decentralized finance economy.”

Here’s how this is all going to work: Arrington has signed legal papers designed by Propy’s lawyers for the NFT to transfer ownership to a future buyer. Propy then conducts the NFT auction and receives payment in cryptocurrency. The winner in the auction becomes the owner within a minute, after filling out KYC details.

The Kiev property is owned by a USA-based entity, and when the auction completes, the new owner of the NFT becomes the owner of the entity and thus the property itself. This process is repeated every time the NFT attached to the property is resold. 

In an interview with me, Karayaneva said: “We were brainstorming and this appeared to be a natural development of our white paper of 2017. And in fact, many things we transact, real estate, via property, we are actually already kind of doing NF T’s, but with our unique smart contracts. But now the NFT concept provides a different approach, where a property can be transferred between two wallets, peer to peer.”

“Thus we do not need to change the name of the owner in the land registry. And this applies to many countries, as well as the United States. This model will work for the United States, and overall, there is this notion of buying real estate via LLC in the United States to preserve the privacy of the owner.”

Over the same call, Arrington added: “Coming at this from a crypto angle, we’ve seen what happens how DeFi gets plugged into credit markets. If I have an NFT or any DeFI asset I can then borrow against it, without a middleman. Right now, if I have a real piece of real estate, there is no way for me to borrow against it, without a middleman, because I have to go through a bank and get a mortgage or whatever. And it’s also the friction all of the costs in terms of speed and how long it takes.”

“If we can find a way to plug real estate and other real-world assets into DeFi, I think that the amount of credit that can be created around that is in the trillions, eventually. And so I think that has to happen. The questions around this are legal and regulatory… The legal stuff around this is tough, and so Propy has done a lot of work with that. But if they do, I think that the idea of an NFT representation of a real-world asset purely from the point of view of ease of trade and ease of access to credit markets is a big idea.”

#arrington-xrp-capital, #articles, #auction, #bank, #blockchains, #ceo, #crypto-art, #cryptocurrencies, #cryptography, #decentralization, #decentralized-finance, #dfj, #ethereum, #europe, #founder, #michael-arrington, #peer-to-peer, #propy, #real-estate, #smart-contract, #tc, #tim-draper, #ukraine, #united-states

0

Chile-based Kredito raises $4M to help businesses get loans

In the last few months, we’ve seen an explosion in funding for consumer banking startups in Latin America, all eager to reinvent traditional banking in the region. However, the business banking space seems like it’s also undergoing some changes.

Today, Chile-based Kredito announced a $4 million pre-seed round. The company focuses on generating loans for small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs). 

“What we see is that in our sector people have a bank account but don’t have access to credit,” said Sebastian Robles, co-founder and CEO of Kredito.

Robles explained that in Chile, when you open a business bank account, you don’t get a credit or debit card attached to it, so entrepreneurs usually have to use their personal cards.

“Ninety percent of our customers don’t have access to credit with their bank (but they have a bank account) and thanks to the power of AI they can have access to working capital for the first time,” added Robles.

By using an AI algorithm to underwrite the loans in real time, Kredito does all the heavy lifting and then connects the SMBs with a traditional bank that loans out the money.

“We use proprietary algorithms and alternative data to evaluate credit risk more inclusively than traditional banks,” the company said in a statement. This approach speeds up the process of getting a loan, which traditionally has taken weeks or months to complete.

While in beta, the company used data from more than 10,000 SMBs to train their AI models.

Kredito makes money by serving as lead generation for the traditional banks and charging them a small percentage for each loan they bring in.

In addition to its loan service, Kredito is also developing a debit card product that will be available in the next couple of months. Like other fintechs in the region, the company’s strategy is to launch individual financial products one at a time without having to apply to be a full bank.

“Being a bank is too expensive, so we use pieces of the ecosystem instead,” Robles told TechCrunch.

Kredito launched in March of this year and today the company has more than 2,000 active SMBs on the platform. 

In addition to offering new products, the company is very focused on offering optimal customer service, which is an area that traditional banks are lacking.  

“To open a bank account for our startup was more painful than raising our angel funds, and despite having $4 million in the bank, I still don’t have a line of credit for Kredito,” Robles said.

Investors in the round include a private VC fund from Maurice Khamis and Family, Link Capital Partners, partners from Patio Group, Karim Fajardin and other family offices focused on VC and fintech.

#artificial-intelligence, #bank, #banking, #chile, #debit-card, #economy, #finance, #financial-services, #fintech, #karim-fajardin, #kredito, #latin-america, #link-capital-partners, #maurice-khamis, #patio-group, #recent-funding, #startups, #tc

0

WalletsClub wants to be the ‘Visa for e-wallets’ across the world

Digital payments are going mainstream around the world. By the end of 2020, there were more than 300 mobile money providers with over 100,000 active users, according to a report published by GSMA, an industry association for mobile network operators. Altogether, over 300 million mobile money accounts were active every month around the world.

Mobile money providers — more commonly known as e-wallets — are used to transfer money, pay and receive payments through mobile phones without the need for a traditional bank. They are useful so long as they enjoy wide adoption and a strong network effect. But even a popular service like Ant Groups’s Alipay, which has over one billion annual users, is practically unusable outside China due to its low penetration in most countries.

The problem is there is no interoperability between most wallets as there is between traditional banks, suggested Xue Zhixiang, who worked on the basic infrastructure for Alibaba’s cloud unit and Alipay before starting WalletsClub.

Registered in Hong Kong in 2019 with a small operational team in mainland China, WalletsClub sets its sights on becoming the Visa for digital wallets, making money transfers possible between the world’s hundreds of electronic money services.

“We are like a clearinghouse for digital wallets,” said Xue, the company’s CEO.

A clearing system is an intermediary for two parties engaged in a financial transaction. It’s designed to ensure the efficiency and security of a transfer by validating the availability of the funds and logging the transfer between two transacting parties. Payments can be sent and received in real-time using WalletsClub, Xue claimed, and its technology is based on the “ISO 20022” standard, a common language for financial institutions to exchange data across the globe.

In other words, WalletsClub is going after the hundreds of e-wallets around the world rather than individual end-users. Its vision is to let people pay with any mobile wallet anywhere as long as the sender’s service provider or financial institution and the receiver’s equivalent services are members of WalletsClub, similar to how Visa and Mastercard process credit cards issued by different banks that are in their networks. The company plans to monetize by charging a flat fee per transaction.

By adding interoperability to electronic wallets, even small, regional players can thrive because they gain compatibility wherever a clearing system is in place.

Instead of challenging the traditional financial system, WalletsClub wants to provide a way for unbanked individuals to easily move money around through digital wallets, which are easier to obtain than a bank account. A big demand will come from overseas migrant workers who need to send money back to their home countries, such as the millions of Southeast Asian workers abroad.

WalletsClub is potentially encroaching on the territory of a few players. Expatriate workers sending money home currently revert to longstanding remittance services like Western Union or MoneyGram, which have large networks of “agent” locations where users go send or collect money. In 2018, Alipay began allowing users in Hong Kong to send money to GCash accounts in the Philippines, but “the focus of Ant Group is payments rather than remittance,” Xue observed.

In 2019, money sent home from diaspora workers became the largest source of external financing in low- and middle-income countries excluding China, according to World Bank data. The money flows amounted to over $500 billion and surpassed the levels of foreign direct investment in these regions.

The other type of business that a clearinghouse for mobile wallets could threaten is cross-border payment aggregators, which save merchants from having to integrate with various digital payment methods.

The biggest challenge for the nascent startup is to establish trust with clients. At this stage, WalletsClub in talks with electronic money services founded by Chinese entrepreneurs in Hong Kong, Singapore and Canada. Chinese-made wallets are especially plentiful in emerging markets, thanks to these founders’ learning from China’s fintech boom over the decade. Many of them found it hard to compete with behemoths like Tencent and Ant, let alone China’s tightening regulations around fintech.

“If we reach 20 members and have several hundreds of transactions between every pair of members on a daily basis, we are basically profitable,” said Xue, adding that the goal is to onboard a dozen customers by this year.

#alibaba, #alibaba-group, #alipay, #ant-group, #asia, #bank, #canada, #china, #digital-currencies, #digital-wallet, #finance, #mastercard, #mobile-payment, #mobile-phones, #money, #moneygram, #online-payments, #philippines, #singapore, #tc, #visa, #western-union, #world-bank

0

Uncapped, which provides upfront revenue to digital companies, raises $80M in funding

Buzzy US startup Pipe — which claims to be the “Nasdaq for revenue” — has just raised $250 million at a $2 billion valuation? The secret for the hype? It gives SaaS companies a way to get their revenue upfront, by “pairing them with investors on a marketplace that pays a discounted rate for the annual value of those contracts”, as my colleague Mary Ann Azevedo so eloquently put it.

Virtually the same model is about to hit Europe in various guises, and the newest of the crop will be Uncapped, a London-based startup that plans to extend the model not just to SaaS companies but also to the booming sector of E-commerce.

It’s now raised an $80 million combined funding round of debt and equity to launch a suite of banking services tailored to the needs of this new wave of tech-driven companies. The round was led by Lakestar. Uncapped’s previous investors include All Iron Ventures, White Star Capital, Global Founders Capital, and Mouro Capital.

The company plans to use the cash to move into the banking space, with new products and services. Last year, the company began issuing Visa cards.

Founded in 2019, Uncapped is positioned as an alternative to traditional debt financing and venture capital, providing companies with growth finance for a flat fee which goes down to 6%, and fast-released capital. Businesses repay the capital as they make revenue. There is no set repayment and no compounding interest, equity, or personal guarantees. There are even no credit checks or business plans required.

Uncapped arrives at an opportune moment. The pandemic has led to an e-commerce boom, but the sector requires much more capital than existing VCs can provide. Legacy banks don’t ‘get’ new entrepreneurs. Neo Banks are trying to provide it, but can still be slow.

Piotr Pisarz, Co-Founder of Uncapped, said: “Digital companies are innovating and evolving faster than ever before, but their legacy banking providers are not keeping up with the pace. We want to help digital entrepreneurs with quick access to funding, insights that help their business grow, rewards they actually care about, and modern integrations that will save them time and money.”

“The reality is that legacy banks don’t really understand the needs of digital entrepreneurs, and their dated infrastructure is not up to the standards required to help their business grow. So it’s no surprise that 82% of business owners say they are unhappy with their bank,” Asher Ismail, Co-Founder of Uncapped, added.

Nicolas Brand, Partner at Lakestar, said: “The composition of our economies is changing, with digital native businesses contributing an ever-increasing share to overall GDP. Uncapped uses real-time data provided by its clients across APIs to offer bespoke credit and other novel banking services.”

#articles, #bank, #banking, #business, #co-founder, #corporate-finance, #e-commerce, #economy, #entrepreneurship, #europe, #finance, #financial-services, #global-founders-capital, #london, #mary-ann-azevedo, #mouro-capital, #private-equity, #real-time-data, #startup-company, #tc, #uncapped, #venture-capital, #white-star-capital

0

Amount raises $99M at a $1B+ valuation to help banks better compete with fintechs

Amount, a company that provides technology to banks and financial institutions, has raised $99 million in a Series D funding round at a valuation of just over $1 billion.

WestCap, a growth equity firm founded by ex-Airbnb and Blackstone CFO Laurence Tosi, led the round. Hanaco Ventures, Goldman Sachs, Invus Opportunities and Barclays Principal Investments also participated.

Notably, the investment comes just over five months after Amount raised $86 million in a Series C round led by Goldman Sachs Growth at a valuation of $686 million. (The original raise was $81 million, but Barclays Principal Investments invested $5 million as part of a second close of the Series C round). And that round came just three months after the Chicago-based startup quietly raised $58 million in a Series B round in March. The latest funding brings Amount’s total capital raised to $243 million since it spun off from Avant — an online lender that has raised over $600 million in equity — in January of 2020.

So, what kind of technology does Amount provide? 

In simple terms, Amount’s mission is to help financial institutions “go digital in months — not years” and thus, better compete with fintech rivals. The company formed just before the pandemic hit. But as we have all seen, demand for the type of technology Amount has developed has only increased exponentially this year and last.

CEO Adam Hughes says Amount was spun out of Avant to provide enterprise software built specifically for the banking industry. It partners with banks and financial institutions to “rapidly digitize their financial infrastructure and compete in the retail lending and buy now, pay later sectors,” Hughes told TechCrunch.

Specifically, the 400-person company has built what it describes as “battle-tested” retail banking and point-of-sale technology that it claims accelerates digital transformation for financial institutions. The goal is to give those institutions a way to offer “a secure and seamless digital customer and merchant experience” that leverages Amount’s verification and analytics capabilities. 

Image Credits: Amount

HSBC, TD Bank, Regions, Banco Popular and Avant (of course) are among the 10 banks that use Amount’s technology in an effort to simplify their transition to digital financial services. Recently, Barclays US Consumer Bank became one of the first major banks to offer installment point-of-sale options, giving merchants the ability to “white label” POS payments under their own brand (using Amount’s technology).

The pandemic dramatically accelerated banks’ interest in further digitizing the retail lending experience and offering additional buy now, pay later financing options with the rise of e-commerce,” Hughes, former president and COO at Avant, told TechCrunch. “Banks are facing significant disruption risk from fintech competitors, so an Amount partnership can deliver a world-class digital experience with significant go-to-market advantages.”

Also, he points out, consumers’ digital expectations have changed as a result of the forced digital adoption during the pandemic, with bank branches and stores closing and more banking done and more goods and services being purchased online.

Amount delivers retail banking experiences via a variety of channels and a point-of-sale financing product suite, as well as features such as fraud prevention, verification, decisioning engines and account management.

Overall, Amount clients include financial institutions collectively managing nearly $2 trillion in U.S. assets and servicing more than 50 million U.S. customers, according to the company.

Hughes declined to provide any details regarding the company’s financials, saying only that Amount “performed well” as a standalone company in 2020 and that the company is expecting “significant” year-over-year revenue growth in 2021.

Amount plans to use its new capital to further accelerate R&D by investing in its technology and products. It also will be eyeing some acquisitions.

“We see a lot of interesting technology we could layer onto our platform to unlock new asset classes, and acquisition opportunities that would allow us to bring additional features to our platform,” Hughes told TechCrunch.

Avant itself made its first acquisition earlier this year when it picked up Zero Financial, news that TechCrunch covered here.

Kevin Marcus, partner at WestCap, said his firm invested in Amount based on the belief that banks and other financial institutions have “a point-in-time opportunity to democratize access to traditional financial products by accelerating modernization efforts.”

“Amount is the market leader in powering that change,” he said. “Through its best-in-class products, Amount enables financial institutions to enhance and elevate the banking experience for their end customers and maintain a key competitive advantage in the marketplace.”

#airbnb, #amount, #avant, #bank, #banking, #barclays, #blackstone, #chicago, #e-commerce, #economy, #enterprise-software, #finance, #financial-infrastructure, #financial-services, #financial-technology, #fintech, #funding, #fundings-exits, #goldman-sachs, #hanaco-ventures, #hsbc, #ing-group, #invus-group, #laurence-tosi, #market-leader, #money, #recent-funding, #retail-banking, #startup, #startups, #united-states, #venture-capital, #westcap

0

This founder raised millions to build Fair, a neobank for immigrants

Fair, a multilingual digital bank and financial services platform, is launching to the public after raising $20 million in 40 days earlier this year.

Founder Khalid Parekh raised the capital primarily from the very demographic that Houston-based Fair aims to serve: from a group consisting of a number of immigrants, many of whom were first-time investors.

“There was not a single check from a VC or bank or from a family office,” Parekh told TechCrunch. “Ninety percent of our investors are minorities or are immigrants like myself that believed in the concept of Fair.”

One could say that it’s also fitting that Fair’s headquarters are in Houston, which at the time of the last census was the most ethnically diverse city in the United States.

Parekh is not your traditional fintech founder. He doesn’t have banking or financial services experience, although he does have experience founding and running a successful company: AMSYS Group, which is valued at nearly $350 million. His mission with Fair is largely personal. Upon arriving in the U.S. from India with just $100 in his pocket 22 years ago, he struggled to not only get a loan but also to open a bank account. 

Image Credits: Founder and CEO Khalid Parekh / Fair

“I was an engineer by background, but was very confused with the American banking system. There is not a lot of help for immigrants who don’t understand it well,” Parekh recalls. “My biggest challenge was sending money back home. There was just a lack of welcome.”

In 2020, he used his own cash to build out the technology behind Fair, which is designed to be an option to those who are new to the country, have no credit or need access to interest-free loans. Fair operates with Coastal Community Bank as its sponsor bank. Parekh’s goal with Fair is to provide “ethical, transparent banking” – to anyone – via a membership model that eliminates all banking fees. Members can pay a one-time membership fee of $99 (paid in full or in installments) to have access to all of Fair’s online banking and financial services.

“Another challenge that I saw is that there were hardly any options for insurance and retirement services for immigrants and low-income people,” Parekh said. “All big institutions catered to people with a lot of money. But we want to create an institution where we are fair to everybody, regardless of religion, race, color, net worth or how much is in their bank account. We want everyone to be treated the same.”

Over the past year, the nation has seen a surge of neobanks emerge aimed at specific demographics, including Greenwood, First Boulevard and Cheese. Welcome Technologies is also aimed at serving the immigrant population. 

Fair aims to differentiate itself, according to Parekh, by offering interest-free lending, as well as the ability to invest, get insurance and plan for retirement in one platform that is available in English, Arabic and Spanish (with more languages to come). Ultimately, his goal in Fair is to help address the “longstanding racial income inequalities and widening wealth disparities in the U.S.” He won’t get a salary for his role as CEO.

Among Fair’s features are free international transfer, early access to paycheck funds, “instant, interest-free” microloans — essentially buy now, pay later at the register — an annual dividend account, debit card accounts for kids and interest-free loans for home, auto and business that are equity-based. Those equity-based loans are Sharia compliant, meaning that it’s not kosher to take interest. They also comply with Jewish law.

Instead, if a member wants to buy a home, they can put 20% down, and Fair will provide 80% via an LLC, of which the member and bank will be co-owners.

“The members will have the option of buying out our shares on whatever schedule they wish,” Parekh said.

In partnership with Avibra, Fair is offering free supplemental life, accident medical and AD&D insurance to all members as part of its banking services.

Fair aims to practice socially responsible investing (SRI), an approach to investing that reduces exposure to companies that are deemed to have a negative social impact. The fintech also practices ESG investing, which measures the sustainability of an investment and its overall impact in three specific categories: environmental, social and corporate governance. And, it’s also working with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and World Relief, and will donate 2.5% of profits to refugee missions globally, as well as racial economic empowerment initiatives.

Among Fair’s advisors are Manolo Sánchez, a director at Fannie Mae and Stewart Information Systems and former chair & CEO of BBVA Compass, and Samuel Golden, managing director at management consulting firm Alvarez & Marsal and founder of A&M’s Financial Industry practice.

#apps, #bank, #banking, #diversity, #economy, #engineer, #fair, #finance, #financial-services, #fintech, #funding, #fundings-exits, #houston, #india, #ing-group, #money, #neobank, #online-banking, #recent-funding, #startup, #startups, #tc, #united-states

0

alt.bank, Brazil’s latest fintech targeting the unbanked, raises $5.5M

It looks like everyone and their mother is trying to reinvent the Brazilian banking system. Earlier this year we wrote about Nubank’s $400 million Series G, last month there was the PicPay IPO filing and today, alt.bank, a Brazilian neobank, announced a $5.5 million Series A led by Union Square Ventures (USV).

It’s no secret that the Brazilian banking system has been poised for disruption, considering the sector’s little attention to customer service and exorbitant fee structure that’s left most Brazilians unbanked, and alt.bank is just the latest company trying to take home a piece of the pie.

Following Nubank’s strategy of launching a bank with colors that are very un-bank-like, signaling that they do things differently, alt.bank similarly launched its first financial product in 2019 — a fluorescent-yellow debit card which the locals have endearingly dubbed, “o amarelinho,” meaning, “the little yellow card.”

The company, founded by serial entrepreneur Brad Liebman, follows the founder’s $480 million exit of Simply Business, which was acquired by U.S. insurance giant Travelers in 2017.

Unlike many fintechs, alt.bank has a strong social mission and pays commissions for referrals that last for the customer’s lifetime. 

“Most fintechs just help wealthy people get wealthier, so I thought let’s do something with a social mission,” Liebman told TechCrunch in an interview.

To drive home the mission, and really target the unbanked, Liebman and his team of 80 employees have designed an app that can be used by the illiterate. Instead of words, users can follow color-coded prompts to complete a transaction. The company also plans to launch credit products soon.

According to the company, close to a million people have downloaded the android app since launch, but Liebman declined to disclose how many active users the company actually has.

Today, the company’s core offerings include the debit card, a prepaid credit card, Pix (similar to Zelle), a savings account and even telemedicine visits via a partnership with Dr. Consulta, a network of healthcare clinics throughout the country. The prepaid credit card is key because online stores in Brazil don’t accept debit card purchases.

In addition to the perk of ongoing commissions, alt.bank has also partnered with three major drugstores, allowing their users to get 5-30% off any item at the stores, including medication.

While the company is based in São Paulo and São Carlos, Liebman and his family are currently based in London due to regulations around the pandemic.

The investment in alt.bank marks USV’s first investment in South America, solidifying a trend by other major U.S. investors such as Sequoia who only in the last several years have started looking to LatAm for deals.

“The bar was high for our first investment in South America,” said Union Square Ventures partner John Buttrick. “The combination of the alt.bank business model and world-class management team enticed us to expand our geographic focus to help build the leading digital bank targeting the 100 million Brazilians who are currently being neglected by traditional lenders,” he added in a statement. 

 

#android, #apps, #bank, #banking, #brazil, #credit-card, #debit-card, #finance, #financial-services, #funding, #fundings-exits, #mobile, #nubank, #online-stores, #payments, #recent-funding, #sao-paulo, #serial-entrepreneur, #south-america, #startups, #unbanked, #union-square-ventures

0

Google Pay update adds grocery offers, transit expansions, and spending insights

Following November’s overhaul of Google Pay, which saw the service expanding into personal finance, the company today is rolling out a new set of features aimed at making Google Pay more a part of its users’ everyday lives. With an update, Google Pay will now include new options for grocery savings, paying for public transit, and categorizing their spending.

Through partnerships with Safeway and Target, Google Pay users will now be able to browse their store’s weekly circulars that showcase the latest deals. Safeway is bringing over 500 stores to the Google Pay platform, and Target stores nationwide will offer a similar feature. Google Pay users will be able to favorite the recommended deals for later access. And soon, Google Pay will notify you of the weekly deals when you’re near a participating store, if location is enabled.

Image Credits: Google

Another update expands Google Pay’s transit features, which already today support buying and using transit tickets across over 80 cities in the U.S. New additions arriving soon now include major markets, Chicago and the San Francisco Bay Area. This follows Apple Pay’s recently added and much welcomed support for the Bay Area’s Clipper card. The company is also integrating with Token Transit to expand transit support to smaller towns across the U.S.

Soon, the Google Pay app will also allow Android users to access transit tickets from the app’s homescreen through a “Ride Transit” shortcut. They can then purchase, add, or top up the balance on transit cards. Once purchased, you’ll be able to hold up your transit card to a reader — or show a visual ticket in the case there’s no reader.

The final feature is designed for those using Google Pay for managing their finances. With last year’s revamp, Google partnered with 11 banks to launch a new kind of bank account it called Plex. A competitor to the growing number of mobile-only digital banks, Google’s app serves as the front-end to the accounts which are actually hosted by the partner banks, like Citi and Stanford Federal Credit Union.

As a part of that experience, Google Pay users will now gain better access into their spending behavior, balances, bills, and more via an “Insights” tab. Here, you’ll be able to see what your balance is, what bills are coming due, get alerts about larger transactions, and tracking spending by either category or business. As Google is now automatically categorizing transactions, that means you’ll be able to search for general terms (like “food”) as well as by specific business names (like “Burger King”), Google explains.

Image Credits: Google

These features are a part of Google’s plan to use the payments app to gain access more data on users, who can then be targeted with offers from Google Pay partners.

When the redesigned app launched, users were asked to opt in to personalization features which could help the app show users better, more relevant deals. While Google says it’s not providing your data directly to these third-party brands and retailers, the app provides a conduit for those businesses to reach potential customers at a time when the tracking industry is in upheaval over Apple’s privacy changes. Google ability to help brands reach consumers through Google Pay could prove to be a valuable service, if the is able to grow its user base, and encourage more to opt in to the personalization features.

To make that happen, you can expect Google Pay to roll out more useful or “must have” features in the weeks to come.

#android, #apple-pay, #bank, #chicago, #finance, #google, #google-pay, #mobile-payments, #online-payments, #personal-finance, #safeway, #target, #united-states

0

How Shopify aims to level the playing field with its machine learning-driven model of lending

Shopify is widely known for giving independent merchants a platform to start, run, market and manage their businesses.

But over the past 5 years, the company has been steadily growing another part of its own business: Shopify Capital. Through this arm, the Canadian commerce giant revealed today that it has provided $2 billion in funding to tens of thousands of entrepreneurs.

Besides being a cool milestone, how it works is interesting. Merchants don’t necessarily have to apply for loans. Shopify’s machine learning models identify eligible merchants based on their previous sales history and store performance, according to Solmaz Shahalizadeh, vice president of data science and engineering, commerce intelligence at Shopify. If a merchant accepts a pre-approved offer, they can generally receive funding in 2 to 5 business days.

While the milestone is significant, I was especially intrigued by the model by which Shopify lends money to its merchants. 

It is intentional about using machine learning and AI “to make sure offers are based on factors different from any other in the financial industry,” Shahalizadeh said. “We don’t ask for a business plan. Our models see the business performance and it’s potential and makes an offer based on that.”

“We use 70 million data points to understand larger trends across the platform for merchants, and can see they are growing before they even can so we can preemptively offer them,” she added.

Kaz Nejatian, vice president of merchant services at Shopify, emphasizes that Shopify Capital does not lend in the manner of traditional banks by charging interest on loans.

“Our funding is designed to work off sales. If you don’t sell anything, we don’t get paid back until you make sales,” Nejatian said. “It’s a highly merchant aligned form of funding designed to fund the type of people banks and VCs won’t fund.”

The company’s model also aims to eliminate any biases that exist in the current financial system, when it comes to educational background, ethnicity, race or gender, he added.

For Nejatian, it’s also personal. His mother is a Shopify merchant who herself struggled with getting capital herself last year.

“Our goal is to reduce barriers to entrepreneurship by offering access to funds,” he said.

As part of that effort, Shopify Capital has increased the maximum amount of funding to $2 million. Previously, it granted funds ranging from $200 to $1 million.

Shopify offers two types of funding – merchant cash advances and loans. Shopify Capital charges a fixed fee (factor rate) on its financings.

On a merchant cash advance for example, it purchases $10,000 of a merchant’s future receivables in exchange for a promise to remit $10,900 of their future sales. The $900 is the amount it charges for the financing, and is repaid by a merchant’s daily remittances on days they make sales.

On its loans, it also applies a similar fixed fee to get a total repayment number, which is repaid via daily payments and milestone payments.

Simply put, the fixed fee that it charges is how Shopify earns money in exchange for funding our merchants. This fee, plus the amount advanced, are returned to the company over the life of a financing via daily remittance payments.

Says the company: “By charging a fixed fee, a merchant is able to understand exactly how much they’ll be expected to repay, before they take financing from Shopify Capital. These amounts don’t change over the life of a financing.”

Over time, Shopify plans to continually improve the machine learning algorithm behind Capital, making its predictive model “even smarter,” Shahalizadeh said. 

“Our model allows us to predict merchants’ minimum sales with 90% accuracy while helping us make more proactive, pre-qualified offers as quickly as possible,” she added.

Shopify merchant Steven Borrelli, Founder of CUTS, says that when he was looking for funding as a newer business, he ran into the challenge of most traditional banks and lenders wanting to see that he had been in business for several years.

CUTS started with getting $2,000 in funding from Shopify Capital. Over the last three years, it has grown into a business with sales “in the tens of millions.”

“We found Shopify Capital to be so valuable that we’ve returned for 10 rounds of funding. Our most recent round of Shopify Capital was $1 million,” he said. “So far we’ve used the funding for expanding our product line and growing our inventory.”

#artificial-intelligence, #bank, #ecommerce, #finance, #machine-learning, #merchant-services, #online-lending, #publishing, #shopify

0

Alchemy raises $80M at a $505M valuation to be the ‘AWS for blockchain’

Blockchain developer platform Alchemy announced today it has raised $80 million in a Series B round of funding led by Coatue and Addition, Lee Fixel’s new fund. The company previously raised a total of $15.5 million, so the latest financing brings its total raised to $95.5 million since it launched in 2017.

The latest round caught our attention for a few reasons.

First, the company, which describes itself as the backend technology behind the blockchain industry, went from public launch to a $505 million valuation in a matter of just eight months. During that time, Alchemy says it powered over $30 billion in transactions for tens of millions of users all over the world. Second, the startup says it also already powering the majority of the NFT industry.

And finally, its investors in the round include a high-profile mix of institutions and individuals such as DFJ Growth, K5 Global, the Chainsmokers, actor Jared Leto and the Glazer family (owners of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Manchester United). They joined existing backers including Yahoo co-founder and former CEO Jerry Yang, Pantera Capital, Coinbase, SignalFire, Samsung, Stanford University, Google chairman and Stanford University President John L. Hennessy, Charles Schwab, LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman and others.

Sources with inside knowledge of Alchemy’s operations tell TechCrunch that the company has already grown its business more than eightfold since it signed the Series B term sheet. They also said Alchemy had over $300 million of investor demand wanting to enter the round and is being inbounded to do another financing at “many times” the current valuation.

TechCrunch talked with Alchemy co-founders Nikil Viswanathan (CEO) and Joe Lau (CTO) about the raise and their passion for the startup’s mission was clear. As is its explosive growth.

“We realized that in order for space to thrive and build to its full potential, we needed to build a developer platform layer for blockchain,” Viswanathan told TechCrunch.

Alchemy’s goal is to be the starting place for developers considering to build a product on top of a blockchain or mainstream blockchain applications. Its developer platform aims to remove the complexity and costs of building infrastructure while improving applications through “necessary” developer tools.

The startup powers a range of transactions across nearly every blockchain vertical, including financial institutions, exchanges, billion-dollar decentralized finance projects and multinational organizations such as UNICEF. It has also quickly become the technology behind every major NFT platform, including Makersplace, OpenSea, Nifty Gateway, SuperRare and CryptoPunks.  

“Every time you open DoorDash, you’re using Amazon’s infrastructure,” Lau said. “Every time you interact with an NFT, you’re using Alchemy. It’s being powered by Alchemy underneath the hood.”

While the pair would not provide hard revenue figures, the company – which operates as a SaaS business – says it increased its revenue by 600% in 2020.

For inside players, Alchemy’s efforts are paving the way for the whole industry. 

“The cryptoeconomy is innovating faster than any technological movement that came before it, and Alchemy has been a key driver of that,” said Coinbase President and COO Emilie Choi. “Alchemy enables developers to build the rich ecosystem of applications necessary for mainstream blockchain adoption.”

Pantera Capital’s Paul Veradittakit describes Alchemy as “the Amazon Web Services (AWS) of the blockchain industry” that is “enabling the vision of a decentralized web.”

“While in Web 2.0, Microsoft, Apple and AWS are three of the most valuable companies in the world because they are the developer platform powering the computer and internet industries, Alchemy is primed to do the same for the blockchain,” he said.

The company believes the comparison to AWS is fair, noting that: “Just as AWS provides the platform that powers Uber, Netflix and much of the technology industry, Alchemy powers infrastructure for many large players in the blockchain industry.”

Alchemy plans to use its new capital to expand its developer platform to new blockchains, fuel global expansion and to open new offices in the U.S. and globally. The startup is based in San Francisco and is planning to open an office in New York.  

“We are going to use the funds to support new chains with our developer platform,” Viswanathan said. “We also expect to 5x the team this year.”

But to be clear, Alchemy prides itself on being lean and mean.

“We just went from 14 to 22 employees,” Lau said. “We have intentionally wanted to keep the team as small as possible.”

The blockchain space has been the subject of increased investor interest as of late.

In March, BlockFi, which describes itself a financial services company for crypto market investors, announced it had closed on a massive $350 million Series D funding that valued it at $3 billion. Also last month, Chainalysis, a blockchain analysis company, revealed the close of $100 million in Series D financing, which doubled its valuation to over $2 billion.

#alchemy, #amazon, #amazon-web-services, #apple, #articles, #bank, #bitcoin, #blockchain, #ceo, #chairman, #charles-schwab, #co-founder, #coinbase, #computing, #cryptocurrencies, #cryptocurrency, #cto, #decentralization, #dfj-growth, #doordash, #driver, #emilie-choi, #funding, #fundings-exits, #google, #jared-leto, #jerry-yang, #linkedin, #manchester-united, #microsoft, #netflix, #new-york, #nikil-viswanathan, #pantera-capital, #president, #recent-funding, #reid-hoffman, #saas, #samsung, #san-francisco, #stanford-university, #startup, #startups, #tc, #technology, #uber, #united-states, #venture-capital, #yahoo

0

Brazil’s Positive Ventures closes on $10M fund for impact investing

Positive Ventures, a Sao Paulo-based venture firm, has secured $10 million for its latest fund.

Positive Ventures has raised the capital from an impressive list of LPs including investor Luis Stuhlberger, founding partner of Verde Asset Management and Cândido Bracher, former chairman and CEO of Itaú-Unibanco, Brazil’s largest bank.

The Brazilian venture firm’s self-described mission is to “invest in startups where every dollar of revenue is also delivering environmental or social impact.”

I spoke with co-founder and co-CEO Fabio Kestenbaum who emphasized the importance of such an investment strategy in a country like Brazil that has had its share of corruption over the years. (Kestenbaum co-founded the firm with Andrea Oliveira and Bruna Constantino.

Positive Ventures prides itself on being guided by the United Nations as part of its Global Compact initiative. It also has a top tier B Impact Score, meaning as a B Corp. that makes impact part of its core strategy, it’s doing pretty darn good.

The firm’s sweet spot is early-stage — Seed and Series A — ventures “that can deliver outsized impact and financial return,” according to Kestenbaum. Its average investment size is $500,000, but the firm can go up to $1.5 million in follow-on rounds. 

Positive Ventures seeks to back impact-oriented early-stage companies “building breakthrough solutions to tackle massive challenges related to inequality and climate change.”

Partner and CIO Murilo Johas Menezes is based out of the Bay Area and leads the firm’s offshore strategy and investments in companies.

Investments

Positive Ventures is sector agnostic but keeps three impact megatrends in mind when sourcing deals: 

  • Planetary Boundaries, such as recycling, carbon, sustainable systems
  • Social Resilience, such as financial services, credit, workforce upskilling and 
  • Institutional Voids, focused on emerging economies’ most pressing challenges such as education, health and rising technologies.

“If you want to bring private capital to the game to help address social and environmental challenges, we have to reward this capital,” Kestenbaum told me in a previous interview. “As such, we recognize that we have to invest in good businesses that can provide financial returns as well.”So far, Positive Ventures has backed five companies from its new fund.

One of its first investments, Labi Exames, went on to become a “yardstick for fighting Covid in Brazil,” Kestenbaum said, by delivering a fair-priced and quality alternative to test millions of uninsured low-income families in vulnerable communities.

Another portfolio company, Labi, helped support companies in reopening safely by continually testing their workforce. 

“This hybrid value proposition made Labi the most admired health tech in Brazil and resulted in MRR growth beyond 600%, accelerating their Series B, which will happen in the upcoming months,” Kestenbuam noted.

Another cornerstone investment for Positive Ventures was Slang, an AI-driven app to challenge the English illiteracy in Latin America backed by Chamath Palihapitiya of Social Capital and Mexico’s AllVP. 

“Less than 3% of Brazilians speak English with proficiency, and such a void hammers their chances to get a decent job and improve income,” Kestenbau said. “The same happens in all LATAM’s countries.”

Positive Ventures recently went on to close its largest investment thus far — in Provi, a B-Certified fintech providing education-driven loans to enable upskilling and employability for LATAM’s workforce, starting in Brazil. The company’s mission is to revolutionize education by delivering hassle-free and impact-oriented credit.      

Provi has pioneered income-share agreements (ISAs) in the region and already generated over $30 million in credit, most of which will go toward technology and healthcare courses.

Next up for Positive Ventures is a $30 million growth fund.

#artificial-intelligence, #b-corp, #bank, #brazil, #chamath-palihapitiya, #cio, #financial-services, #funding, #healthcare, #impact-investing, #itau, #latin-america, #mexico, #sao-paulo, #social-impact, #startups, #united-nations, #venture-capital

0

Mobile bank Current raises $220 million Series D, triples valuation to $2.2B

U.S.-based challenger bank Current, which has now grown to nearly 3 million users, announced this morning it has raised a $220 million round of Series D funding, led by new investor Andreessen Horowitz (a16z). The funding swiftly follows Current’s $131 million Series C at the end of last year, at which point the company had doubled its user base over just six months to over 2 million users.

As a result of the new roud, the fintech company has roughly tripled its valuation in five months’ time to $2.2 billion.

Other participants in the round include returning investors Tiger Global Management, TQ Ventures (the fund managed by media executive Scooter Braun), Avenir, Sapphire Ventures, Foundation Capital, Wellington Management and EXPA. David George, who led the round with a16z, will become a Current board member.

Current began its life as a teen debit card controlled by parents, but later expanded to offer personal checking accounts powered by the same underlying banking technology. Like a range of modern-day “neobanks,” or digital banks, the Current app offers a baseline of standard features like free overdrafts, no minimum balance requirements, faster direct deposits, instant spending notifications, banking insights, free ATMs, check deposits using your phone’s camera and more. It also last year launched a points rewards program in an effort to better differentiate its service from the growing number of competitors and became one of the first banks to transfer the early round of stimulus payments during the pandemic.

These days, Current is partnering with creators, like the recently announced MrBeast (aka Jimmy Donaldson), who said last week on his YouTube channel that he will personally send $1 to every 100,000 people who sign up using his Creator code. MrBeast is also an investor.

Like other fintechs in its same space, Current has benefitted from the younger generation’s adoption of mobile banking apps instead of larger, traditional banks, who they feel don’t serve their interests. Its average customer age is 27, for example. Digital banks can keep costs down by not having to pay for the overhead of brick-and-mortar locations, allowing them to roll out benefits like reduced or zero account fees and other consumer-friendly protections.

Current today continues to offer teen banking, in a challenger to mobile banking app Step, which has also leveraged social media influencers to get the word out with a younger demographic. But Step today is appealing to the 13 to 18-year old crowd directly, offering banking services and a secured card. Current, meanwhile, targets its service to the parents.

Its teen account costs $36 per year, while personal checking is available both as a free and premium ($4.99/mo) service. The company in the past has said its primary focus is the over 130 million Americans who live paycheck to paycheck.

Current says the new funds will be used to grow the company and its member base as it expands it range of banking products. One key area of new investment will be cryptocurrency, it says.

“This new generation of customers doesn’t want to bank in physical branches,” said a16z’s David George, in a statement. “We believe there will be a shift in the next 10 years to mobile and consumer-focused banking services powered by innovation in technology, and with Current’s exceptional growth over the past year, they’ve clearly demonstrated they’re at the forefront of this trend. Their product is among the best in the market, and they have proven an ability to reach customers who previously were unserved or underserved by traditional banks,” he said.

#andreessen-horowitz, #bank, #banking, #challenger-bank, #current, #finance, #funding, #mobile, #mobile-banking, #mobile-payments, #money, #tc

0

China’s e-commerce giant JD.com starts paying some staff in digital yuan

China’s plan to introduce its digital currency is getting a lot of help from its tech conglomerates. JD.com, a major Chinese online retailer that competes with Alibaba, said Monday that it has started paying some staff in digital yuan, the virtual version of the country’s physical currency.

China has been busy experimenting with digital currency over the past few months. In October, Shenzhen, a southern city known for its progressive economic policies, doled out 10 million yuan worth of digital currency to 500,000 residents, who could then use the money to shop at certain online and offline retailers.

Several other large Chinese cities have followed Shenzhen’s suit. The residents in these regions has to apply through selected banks to start receiving and paying by digital yuan.

The electronic yuan initiative is a collective effort involving China’s regulators, commercial banks and technology solution providers. At first glance, the scheme still mimics how physical yuan is circulating at the moment; under the direction of the central bank, the six major commercial banks in China, including ICBC, distribute the digital yuan to smaller banks and a web of tech solution providers, who could help bring more use cases to the new electronic money.

For example, JD.com partnered up with the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) to deposit the digital income. The online retailer has become one of the first organizations in China to pay wages in electronic yuan; in August, some government workers in the eastern city of Suzhou also began getting paid in the digital money.

Across the board, China’s major tech companies have actively participated in the buildout of the digital yuan ecosystem, which will help the central government better track money flows.

Aside from JD.com, video streaming platform Bilibili, on-demand services provider Meituan and ride-hailing app Didi have also begun accepting digital yuan for user purchases. Gaming and social networking giant Tencent became one of the “digital yuan operators” and will take part in the design, R&D and operational work of the electronic money. Jack Ma’s Ant Group, which is undergoing a major overhaul following a stalled IPO, has also joined hands with the central bank to work on building out the infrastructure to move money digitally. Huawei, the telecom equipment titan, debutted a wallet on one of its smartphone models that allows users to spend digital yuan instantaneously even if the device is offline.

#alibaba, #ant-group, #asia, #bank, #bilibili, #central-bank, #china, #digital-currency, #digital-yuan, #finance, #huawei, #jd-com, #relational-database, #tc, #yuan

0

Window Snyder’s new startup Thistle Technologies raises $2.5M seed to secure IoT devices

The Internet of Things has a security problem. The past decade has seen wave after wave of new internet-connected devices, from sensors through to webcams and smart home tech, often manufactured in bulk but with little — if any — consideration to security. Worse, many device manufacturers make no effort to fix security flaws, while others simply leave out the software update mechanisms needed to deliver patches altogether.

That sets up an entire swath of insecure and unpatchable devices to fail, and destined to be thrown out when they break down or are invariably hacked.

Security veteran Window Snyder thinks there is a better way. Her new startup, Thistle Technologies, is backed with $2.5 million in seed funding from True Ventures with the goal of helping IoT manufacturers reliably and securely deliver software updates to their devices.

Snyder founded Thistle last year, and named it after the flowering plant with sharp prickles designed to deter animals from eating them. “It’s a defense mechanism,” Snyder told TechCrunch, a name that’s fitting for a defensive technology company. The startup aims to help device manufacturers without the personnel or resources to integrate update mechanisms into their device’s software in order to receive security updates and better defend against security threats.

“We’re building the means so that they don’t have to do it themselves. They want to spend the time building customer-facing features anyway,” said Snyder. Prior to founding Thistle, Snyder worked in senior cybersecurity positions at Apple, Intel, and Microsoft, and also served as chief security officer at Mozilla, Square, and Fastly.

Thistle lands on the security scene at a time when IoT needs it most. Botnet operators are known to scan the internet for devices with weak default passwords and hijack their internet connections to pummel victims with floods of internet traffic, knocking entire websites and networks offline. In 2016, a record-breaking distributed denial-of-service attack launched by the Mirai botnet on internet infrastructure giant Dyn knocked some of the biggest websites — Shopify, SoundCloud, Spotify, Twitter — offline for hours. Mirai had ensnared thousands of IoT devices into its network at the time of the attack.

Other malicious hackers target IoT devices as a way to get a foot into a victim’s network, allowing them to launch attacks or plant malware from the inside.

Since device manufacturers have done little to solve their security problems among themselves, lawmakers are looking at legislating to curb some of the more egregious security mistakes made by default manufacturers, like using default — and often unchangeable — passwords and selling devices with no way to deliver security updates.

California paved the way after passing an IoT security law in 2018, with the U.K. following shortly after in 2019. The U.S. has no federal law governing basic IoT security standards.

Snyder said the push to introduce IoT cybersecurity laws could be “an easy way for folks to get into compliance” without having to hire fleets of security engineers. Having an update mechanism in place also helps to keeps the IoT devices around for longer — potentially for years longer — simply by being able to push fixes and new features.

“To build the infrastructure that’s going to allow you to continue to make those devices resilient and deliver new functionality through software, that’s an incredible opportunity for these device manufacturers. And so I’m building a security infrastructure company to support that security needs,” she said.

With the seed round in the bank, Snyder said the company is focused on hiring device and back-end engineers, product managers, and building new partnerships with device manufacturers.

Phil Black, co-founder of True Ventures — Thistle’s seed round investor — described the company as “an astute and natural next step in security technologies.” He added: “Window has so many of the qualities we look for in founders. She has deep domain expertise, is highly respected within the security community, and she’s driven by a deep passion to evolve her industry.”

#apple, #bank, #botnet, #california, #co-founder, #computer-security, #computing, #cybercrime, #cyberwarfare, #dyn, #fastly, #intel, #internet-of-things, #internet-traffic, #malware, #microsoft, #mirai, #science-and-technology, #security, #shopify, #soundcloud, #spotify, #startups, #technology, #true-ventures, #united-kingdom, #united-states

0