Is India’s BNPL 2.0 set to disrupt B2B?

Both as a term and as a financial product, “buy now, pay later” has become mainstream in the past few years. BNPL has evolved to assume various forms today, from small-ticket offerings by fintechs on consumer checkout platforms and marketplaces, to closed-loop products offered on marketplaces such as Amazon Pay Later (which they are now extending for outside use as well). You can also see some variants offered by companies that want to expand the scope of consumption and consumer credit.

Globally, BNPL has seen the most growth in the consumer segment and has driven retail consumption and lending over the past few years. Consumer BNPL offerings are a good alternative to credit cards, especially for people who do not have a credit history and can’t get credit from banks. That said, a specific vertical of BNPL products is gaining traction — one targeted toward small and medium enterprises (SMEs). This new vertical is known as “SME BNPL.”

BNPL can be particularly useful when flow-based underwriting or transaction-based underwriting is used to offer credit to small businesses.

B2B commerce in India is moving online

E-commerce has seen tremendous growth in India over the past decade. Skyrocketing smartphone and internet penetration led to rapid growth in e-commerce across large cities and smaller towns alike. Consumer credit has also taken off in parallel as credit cards and digital lending spurred credit-based consumption across offline and online stores.

However, the large B2B supply chain enabling the burgeoning retail market was plagued by bottlenecks and inefficiencies because it involved a plethora of intermediaries and streamlining became a big problem. A number of tech players responded by organizing the previously disorganized B2B commerce market at various touch points, inserting convenience, pricing and easier product access through tech-enabled logistics and a modern supply chain.

Online B2B and B2C penetration in India in 2019

Image Credits: Redseer

India’s B2B e-commerce space has developed rapidly since 2020. Small businesses have moved from using paper to smartphone apps for running a significant part of their day-to-day business, leading to widespread disruption in how businesses transact today. The COVID-19 pandemic also forced small businesses, which were earlier using physical means to procure goods and services, to try new and online models to conduct their affairs.

Graph depicting growth of India's B2B retail market

Image Credits: Redseer

Moreover, the Indian government’s widespread promotion of an instant payments system in the form of the Unified Payments Interface (UPI) has changed how people send money to each other or pay merchants for their goods and services. The next step for solving the digital B2B puzzle is to embed credit inside every transaction and invoice.

Investments in online B2B in india 2016-19

Image Credits: Redseer

If we compare online B2B transactions to the offline world, there is only one missing link: The terms offered to small businesses by their supplier/distributor or vendor. Businesses, unlike consumers, must buy goods and services to eventually trade them, or add value and sell to consumers or others down the value chain. This process is not immediate and has a certain time cycle attached.

The longer sales cycle means many small businesses require credit payment terms when buying inventory. As B2B commerce scales and grows through digital means, a BNPL product that caters to the needs of SMEs can support their growth and alleviate the burden on their cash flows.

How does consumer BNPL differ from SME BNPL?

An SME BNPL product is a purchase financing product for small businesses transacting with suppliers, distributors, aggregator platforms or B2B marketplaces.

#asia, #bnpl, #column, #e-commerce, #ec-column, #ec-fintech, #ec-india, #ec-indian-subcontinent, #finance, #india, #online-lending, #online-shopping, #retail, #small-business, #startups, #supply-chain, #tc

Anatomy of a SPAC: Inside Better.com’s ambitious plans

When executives at online mortgage company Better.com decided to take their company public earlier this year, they elected not to go the traditional IPO route or direct listing. Instead, Better will hit the public markets by merging with blank-check company Aurora Acquisition Corp in a SPAC deal that values it at $7.7 billion.

While the stock performance of post-merger SPAC companies has been shaky at best this year, the team at Better believed they were getting a preferable deal through their combination with Aurora (and additional investment by SoftBank) than if they decided to pitch bankers and institutional investors through a traditional IPO roadshow.

“When an investment bank signs up to sell your stock to the public, there’s no guarantee of a price or no certainty of execution,” said Better CEO Vishal Garg. “We just were not confident that the investment bankers were going to be able to execute.”

You can hardly blame Better’s leadership for that lack of confidence. In the past year, two other online mortgage lenders — Rocket Companies and loanDepot — were listed through traditional IPOs that priced below range due to lackluster demand from institutional investors.

The same thing happened to real estate brokerage Compass, which lowered its target range on the day of its IPO and has seen its stock price continue to slide since going public.

“A traditional public offering makes sense for a story that your traditional investment banker can understand and categorize,” Garg said. “If you can be easily categorized as an enterprise SaaS company or a payments company, then a public offering makes sense.”

But the team at Better has bigger ambitions than just being seen as a mortgage lender and compared with other financial services companies. With mortgage lending at its core, Better has added a number of additional products and services, including realtors, title insurance and homeowners insurance.

In the second half of this year, Better plans to begin offering home services and improvement loans, and eventually will expand to other finance and insurance products like personal, auto and student loans, as well as life and disability insurance.

“We aren’t so easily categorized,” Garg said.

Making mortgages cheaper, faster and easier

Like many digital disruptors seeking to upend established industries, Better was borne out of one person seeking to solve a problem for himself. Sometime around 2012 Vishal Garg, founding partner of One Zero Capital and founder of the online student lending company MyRichUncle, was hoping to buy his “dream home” but got hung up during the process of securing a mortgage and lost out on the bidding to a buyer who could close the deal faster.

As the apocryphal founding story goes, there were few options available for someone looking to apply for and secure a mortgage online — or even get a mortgage pre-approval letter. So Garg set out to build it.

“The original vision was to make the process of going from being a renter to a homeowner. cheaper, faster and easier,” Garg said. “We built a product that let you get a pre-approval letter online in five minutes, instead of five days or five weeks.”

According to Sarah Pierce, who joined the company as one of its first 30 employees and now runs all sales and operations, Better was able to fulfill the goal of getting approved for a mortgage faster by using its technology to assess borrower risk.

#better-mortgage, #better-com, #ec-fintech, #ec-real-estate-and-proptech, #finance, #housing, #mortgages, #real-estate, #spac, #tc

All the reasons why you should launch a credit or debit card

Over the previous two or three years we’ve seen an explosion of new debit and credit card products come to market from consumer and B2B fintech startups, as well as companies that we might not traditionally think of as players in the financial services industry.

On the consumer side, that means companies like Venmo or PayPal offering debit cards as a new way for users to spend funds in their accounts. In the B2B space, the availability of corporate card issuing by startups like Brex and Ramp has ushered in new expense and spend management options. And then there is the growth of branded credit and debit cards among brands and sports teams.

But if your company somehow hasn’t yet found its way to launch a debit or credit card, we have good news: It’s easier than ever to do so and there’s actual money to be made. Just know that if you do, you’ve got plenty of competition and that actual customer usage will probably depend on how sticky your service is and how valuable the rewards are that you offer to your most active users.

To learn more about launching a card product, TechCrunch spoke with executives from Marqeta, Expensify, Synctera and Cardless about the pros and cons of launching a card product. So without further ado, here are all the reasons you should think about doing so, and one big reason why you might not want to.

Because it’s (relatively) easy

Probably the biggest reason we’ve seen so many new fintech and non-fintech companies rush to offer debit and credit cards to customers is simply that it’s easier than ever for them to do so. The launch and success of businesses like Marqeta has made card issuance by API developer friendly, which lowered the barrier to entry significantly over the last half-decade.

“The reason why this is happening is because the ‘fintech 1.0 infrastructure’ has succeeded,” Salman Syed, Marqeta’s SVP and GM of North America, said. “When you’ve got companies like [ours] out there, it’s just gotten a lot easier to be able to put a card product out.”

While noting that there have been good options for card issuance and payment processing for at least the last five or six years, Expensify Chief Operating Officer Anu Muralidharan said that a proliferation of technical resources for other pieces of fintech infrastructure has made the process of greenlighting a card offering much easier over the years.

#banking, #business-intelligence, #cardless, #credit-card, #debit-cards, #ec-column, #ec-fintech, #expensify, #finance, #financial-services, #financial-technology, #fintech-infrastructure, #fintech-startup, #marqeta, #mastercard, #mobile-payments, #online-payments, #payment-processing, #payment-processor, #payments, #startups, #synctera, #tc

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Funding sources for alternative lenders.

Image Credits: FischerJordan

Equity capital

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

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

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

#bank, #bluevine, #column, #corporate-finance, #credit, #ec-column, #ec-fintech, #finance, #forward, #funding, #kabbage, #lendingclub, #loans, #money, #new-york, #ondeck, #online-lending, #startups, #united-states, #vc, #venture-capital, #venture-capital-investments

Israel’s maturing fintech ecosystem may soon create global disruptors

“Even with its vast local talent, it seems Israel still has many hurdles to overcome in order to become a global fintech hub. [ … ] Having that said, I don’t believe any of these obstacles will prevent Israel from generating disruptive global fintech startups that will become game-changing businesses.”

I wrote that back in 2018, when I was determined to answer whether Israel had the potential to become a global fintech hub. Suffice to say, this prediction from three years ago has become a reality.

In 2019, Israeli fintech startups raised over $1.8 billion; in 2020, they were said to have raised $1.48 billion despite the pandemic. Just in the first quarter of 2021, Israeli fintech startups raised $1.1 billion, according to IVC Research Center and Meitar Law Offices.

It’s then no surprise that Israel now boasts over a dozen fintech unicorns in sectors such as payments, insurtech, lending, banking and more, some of which reached the desired status just in the beginning of 2021 —  like Melio and Papaya Global, which raised $110 million and $100 million, respectively.

Over the years I’ve been fortunate to invest (both as a venture capitalist and personally) in successful early-stage fintech companies in the U.S., Israel and emerging markets  —  Alloy, Eave, MoneyLion, Migo, Unit, AcroCharge and more.

The major shifts and growth of fintech globally over these years has been largely due to advanced AI-based technologies, heightened regulatory scrutiny, a more innovative and adaptive approach among financial institutions to build partnerships with fintechs, and, of course, the COVID pandemic, which forced consumers to transact digitally.

The pandemic pushed fintechs to become essential for business survival, acting as the main contributor of the rapid migration to digital payments.

So what is it about Israeli-founded fintech startups that stand out from their scaling neighbors across the pond? Israeli founders first and foremost have brought to the table a distinct perspective and understanding of where the gaps exist within their respective focus industries —  whether it was Hippo and Lemonade in the world of property and casualty insurance, Rapyd and Melio in the world of business-to-business payments, or Earnix and Personetics in the world of banking data and analytics.

This is even more compelling given that many of these Israeli founders did not grow within financial services, but rather recognized those gaps, built their know-how around the industry (in some cases by hiring or partnering with industry experts and advisers during their ideation phase, strengthening their knowledge and validation), then sought to build more innovative and customer-focused solutions than most financial institutions can offer.

Having this in mind, it is becoming clearer that the Israeli fintech industry has slowly transitioned into a mature ecosystem with a combination of local talent, which now has expertise from a multitude of local fintechs that have scaled to success; a more global network of banking and insurance partners that have recognized the Israeli fintech disruptors; and the smart fintech -focused venture capital to go along with it. It’s a combination that will continue to set up Israeli fintech founders for success.

In addition, a major contributor to the fintech industry comes from the technological side. It is never enough to reach unicorn status with just the tech on the back end.

What most likely differentiates Israeli fintech from other ecosystems is the strong technological barriers and infrastructure built from the ground up, which then, of course, leads to the ability to be more customized, compliant, secured, etc. If I had to bet on where I believe Israeli fintech startups could become market leaders, I’d go with the following.

Voice-based transactions

Voice technologies have come a long way over the years; where once you knew you were talking to a robot, now financial institutions and applications offer a fully automated experience that sounds and feels just like a company employee.

Israel has shown growing success in the world of voice tech, with companies like Gong.io providing insights for remote sales teams; Bonobo (acquired by Salesforce) offering insights from customer support calls, texts and other interactions; and Voca.ai (acquired by Snapchat) offering an automated support agent to replace the huge costs of maintaining call centers.

#artificial-intelligence, #banking, #column, #ec-column, #ec-fintech, #finance, #financial-services, #financial-technology, #israel, #machine-learning, #natural-language-processing, #open-banking, #tc

Ramp and Brex draw diverging market plans with M&A strategies

Earlier today, spend management startup Ramp said it has raised a $300 million Series C that valued it $3.9 billion. It also said it was acquiring Buyer, a “negotiation-as-a-service” platform that it believes will help customers save money on purchases and SaaS products.

The round and deal were announced just a week after competitor Brex shared news of its own acquisition — the $50 million purchase of Israeli fintech startup Weav. That deal was made after Brex’s founders invested in Weav, which offers a “universal API for commerce platforms”.

From a high level, all of the recent deal-making in corporate cards and spend management shows that it’s not enough to just help companies track what employees are expensing these days. As the market matures and feature sets begin to converge, the players are seeking to differentiate themselves from the competition.

But the point of interest here is these deals can tell us where both companies think they can provide and extract the most value from the market.

These differences come atop another layer of divergence between the two companies: While Brex has instituted a paid software tier of its service, Ramp has not.

Earning more by spending less

Let’s start with Ramp. Launched in 2019, the company is a relative newcomer in the spend management category. But by all accounts, it’s producing some impressive growth numbers. As our colleague Mary Ann Azevedo wrote this morning:

Since the beginning of 2021, the company says it has seen its number of cardholders on its platform increase by 5x, with more than 2,000 businesses currently using Ramp as their “primary spend management solution.” The transaction volume on its corporate cards has tripled since April, when its last raise was announced. And, impressively, Ramp has seen its transaction volume increase year over year by 1,000%, according to CEO and co-founder Eric Glyman.

Ramp’s focus has always been on helping its customers save money: It touts a 1.5% cashback reward for all purchases made through its cards, and says its dashboard helps businesses identify duplicitous subscriptions and license redundancies. Ramp also alerts customers when they can save money on annual vs. monthly subscriptions, which it says has led many customers to do away with established T&E platforms like Concur or Expensify.

All told, the company claims that the average customer saves 3.3% per year on expenses after switching to its platform — and all that is before it brings Buyer into the fold.

#airbase, #api, #brex, #concur, #corporate-spend, #e-commerce, #ec-fintech, #ec-news-analysis, #enterprise, #finance, #financial-services, #fintech-startup, #fundings-exits, #ma, #mergers-and-acquisitions, #paypal, #ramp, #startups, #stripe, #weav

What does Brazil’s new receivables regulation mean for fintechs?

Something strange is afoot in Brazil, and it promises great changes for how merchants get paid.

This the story of one regulator, the Brazilian Central Bank, and how it has taken center stage in creating a framework that will have far-reaching effects across merchants and fintechs in this fast-growing Latin American nation.

But first, some background: Unlike in the rest of the world, when a credit card is used for payment in Brazil, the merchant does not receive the funds owed to them all at once. Instead, nearly 50% of card sales are completed in monthly installments, leaving the sellers to manage a difficult cash flow process.

The most common solution for merchants is that they end up selling the remaining receivable at a discount — taking less than they are owed — in order to get their money sooner. And we’re not talking about a small-volume market: Some R$2 trillion (Brazilian Reais) in card transactions were processed in 2020.

This compelling new regulatory framework brings new opportunities for many players willing to participate in receivables discounting operations.

Here’s what this looks like in practice: Let’s say Maria purchases a few articles of clothing from retailer Clothing Incorporated. When paying via her credit card at checkout, Maria can choose to pay in two to 12 installments. Maria decides to pay the balance of R$620 over six installments.

While Maria is happy with the products in hand, Clothing Incorporated is without the full payment — and for small merchants in particular, the difficulties associated with limited working capital can be acute. Clothing Incorporated can either wait the full six months to be paid, receiving payments from their merchant acquirer each month until they are paid in full, or they can choose to dramatically discount the amount they are owed and not have to wait the six months.

Let’s say Clothing Incorporated merchant acquirer is ExMarko — instead of receiving R$620 over six months (net of any merchant discount rates), they could receive R$520 within days after the purchase, with ExMarko pocketing the rest when it comes in. This comes at a steep cost of doing business to the merchant, with an implied annualized interest rate that sometimes can reach  ~70% — for a risk-free operation, since the acquirer is only liquidating earlier its own obligation to pay the merchant.

#brazil, #column, #credit-card, #ec-brazil, #ec-column, #ec-fintech, #ecommerce, #finance, #latin-america, #merchant-services, #payments, #quona-capital, #startups

Why fintechs are buying up legacy financial services companies

Oh, how the tables have turned.

It used to be that if you were a fintech startup or, for lack of a better term, a digitally native financial services business, you might be eyeing an acquisition from an incumbent in the industry.

It used to be that if you were a fintech startup or, for lack of a better term, a digitally native financial services business, you might be eyeing an acquisition from an incumbent in the industry.

But lately, fintech upstarts are the ones doing the acquiring. Over just the last year or so, we’ve seen:

So what’s going on here? Why are fintechs now acquiring legacy financial services businesses, instead of the other way around?

#banking, #ec-fintech, #figure-technologies, #fin-vc, #finance, #financial-services, #financial-technology, #fintech-startup, #golden-pacific-bancorp, #jiko, #lendingclub, #logan-allin, #ma, #money, #radius-bank, #sofi, #startups, #tc

Regulations can define the best places to build and invest

Market timing  —  how relevant an idea is to the current state and direction of a market  —  is the most important factor in determining the durability of that idea.

Several inputs inform market timing: The skew of consumer preferences in response to a pandemic. The price of goods for a resource that is finite and becoming scarce. The creation of a novel algorithmic or genetic technique that enlarges the potential of what can be streamlined, repaired and built.

But market timing is also defined by a less discussed area that is born not in capital markets but in the public sector  —  the regulatory landscape  —  namely, the decisions of government, the broader legal system and its combined level of scrutiny toward a particular subject.

We can understand the successes and challenges of several valuable companies today based on their combustion with the regulatory landscape.

We can understand the successes and challenges of several valuable companies today based on their combustion with the regulatory landscape, and perhaps also use it as an optic to see what areas represent unique opportunities for new companies to start and scale.

Looking back: The value in regulatory gray areas

“The tech comes in and moves faster than regulatory regimes do, or can control it,” Uber co-founder and former CEO Travis Kalanick said at The Aspen Institute in 2013.

The brash statement downplayed that the regulatory landscape had, in fact, driven a number of pivotal outcomes for the company up to that event. It changed its name from UberCab to Uber after receiving a cease-and-desist order in its first market, California. Several early employees left because of the startup’s regulatory challenges and iconoclastic ethos. It shut down its taxi service in New York after just a month of operations, and then in early 2013 received its lifeline in the city after being approved through a pilot program.

Fast forward to the present, and Uber has a market cap of about $82 billion, with the ousted Kalanick having a personal net worth in the neighborhood of $2.8 billion.

Still, even at its scale, many of its most important questions on growth centered around how favorably the regulatory landscape would treat its category. Most recently, this came with the U.K. Supreme Court ruling that Uber drivers could not be classified as independent contractors.

The regulatory fabric has had similar leverage over other sharing-economy companies. In October 2014, for example, Airbnb’s business model became viable in San Francisco when Mayor Ed Lee legalized short-term rentals. In November 2015, Proposition F in the city aimed to restrict short-term rentals like Airbnb, and the startup spent millions in advertisements to mobilize voters in opposition.

Airbnb’s current market cap stands at $92 billion, and its CEO, Brian Chesky, has an estimated net worth over $11 billion. Like Uber, its regulatory tribulations continue, most recently being fined and judged to owe $9.6 million to the city of Paris.

The stories of these two companies and others in the sharing economy space demonstrate the value that the regulatory fabric can add or subtract from a company’s wealth, but also underscore the value  —  for founding teams, early employees, investors and customers  —  of navigating the gray areas.

Looking around: The data economy

The present regulatory fabric has precipitated market timing for ideas in a number of categories. Solutions that enable data privacy, like BigID, and ones that embed data privacy into larger customer value propositions, like Blotout, are on streamlined growth tailwinds from the GDPR in Europe and their inspired analogs in the U.S.

#airbnb, #column, #ec-column, #ec-enterprise-health, #ec-fintech, #ec-food-climate-and-sustainability, #policy, #regulatory-compliance, #tc, #uber

Financial firms should leverage machine learning to make anomaly detection easier

Anomaly detection is one of the more difficult and underserved operational areas in the asset-servicing sector of financial institutions. Broadly speaking, a true anomaly is one that deviates from the norm of the expected or the familiar. Anomalies can be the result of incompetence, maliciousness, system errors, accidents or the product of shifts in the underlying structure of day-to-day processes.

For the financial services industry, detecting anomalies is critical, as they may be indicative of illegal activities such as fraud, identity theft, network intrusion, account takeover or money laundering, which may result in undesired outcomes for both the institution and the individual.

There are different ways to address the challenge of anomaly detection, including supervised and unsupervised learning.

Detecting outlier data, or anomalies according to historic data patterns and trends can enrich a financial institution’s operational team by increasing their understanding and preparedness.

The challenge of detecting anomalies

Anomaly detection presents a unique challenge for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, the financial services industry has seen an increase in the volume and complexity of data in recent years. In addition, a large emphasis has been placed on the quality of data, turning it into a way to measure the health of an institution.

To make matters more complicated, anomaly detection requires the prediction of something that has not been seen before or prepared for. The increase in data and the fact that it is constantly changing exacerbates the challenge further.

Leveraging machine learning

There are different ways to address the challenge of anomaly detection, including supervised and unsupervised learning.

#anomaly-detection, #artificial-intelligence, #artificial-neural-networks, #column, #data-security, #ec-column, #ec-enterprise-applications, #ec-fintech, #finance, #machine-learning, #startups, #unsupervised-learning

Checkout is the key to frictionless B2B e-commerce

The COVID-19 pandemic cemented e-commerce into everyone’s daily habits in 2020, and as we look ahead, B2B e-commerce is quickly becoming the next frontier for founders and investors.

Businesses have shifted online, and the emergence of B2B marketplaces and e-commerce infrastructure is fueling a new wave of growth that’s estimated to reach $3.6 trillion in annual gross merchandise value (GMV) by 2024.

But one major component remains missing from the stack: checkout, which has the opportunity to be the ultimate enabler for B2B e-commerce more broadly.

The challenge of B2B e-commerce

Historically, B2B e-commerce has been held back by deeply entrenched behaviors and a lack of cloud-based infrastructure. While the market is quickly evolving, there are nuances to B2B purchases that make the path to purchase more complex than in consumer e-commerce. Broadly speaking, these constraints fall into three buckets:

Payments: PayPal unlocked the early days of consumer e-commerce, and Stripe’s ease of integrating card payments has powered the last decade. But in B2B, the challenge has always been that sellers don’t want to pay a 3% surcharge — so much so that they’d rather suffer through the pain of physical checks and accounts payable. In 2018, 60% of B2B payment flows were conducted via checks, and the persistence of non-digital payments has been a major bottleneck to e-commerce.

Permissions: Most B2B transactions go through contracting and procurement, which requires multiple parties to sign off on each transaction. This creates friction in the path to purchase, as the seller can’t tell if the buyer is authorized. Rather than being able to hit buy, buyers often need to fill out a form so a sales person can get in touch. This can slow the transaction from seconds to weeks.

Credit: The majority of B2B transactions are completed on some form of credit, be it working capital loans, factoring, or in the form of days payable. Credit applications are typically completed on paper forms (or at best hosted PDFs) that armies of people at internal credit departments review. For context, there are over 1,000 employees at John Deere with “credit” in their job descriptions. This costs a lot and results in sensitive information being shared on paper documents, which further slows the transaction.

The net result of these constraints is the inability to make instant online purchases, like we’re used to as consumers. It’s a combination of fintech problems that require a platform rather than a series of point solutions.

Why is checkout the answer?

While the term “checkout” may not seem particularly novel, modern checkout is a distinctly new category in fintech combining digital payments, identity, fraud, credit and much more. It creates a powerful network, the type that can not only build trust but enable one-click transactions at scale.

#api, #column, #e-commerce, #ec-column, #ec-fintech, #ecommerce, #finance, #financial-services, #klarna, #online-payments, #payments, #payments-infrastructure, #rapyd, #resolve, #rho, #tillit

How we built an AI unicorn in 6 years

Today, Tractable is worth $1 billion. Our AI is used by millions of people across the world to recover faster from road accidents, and it also helps recycle as many cars as Tesla puts on the road.

And yet six years ago, Tractable was just me and Raz (Razvan Ranca, CTO), two college grads coding in a basement. Here’s how we did it, and what we learned along the way.

Build upon a fresh technological breakthrough

In 2013, I was fortunate to get into artificial intelligence (more specifically, deep learning) six months before it blew up internationally. It started when I took a course on Coursera called “Machine learning with neural networks” by Geoffrey Hinton. It was like being love struck. Back then, to me AI was science fiction, like “The Terminator.”

Narrowly focusing on a branch of applied science that was undergoing a paradigm shift which hadn’t yet reached the business world changed everything.

But an article in the tech press said the academic field was amid a resurgence. As a result of 100x larger training data sets and 100x higher compute power becoming available by reprogramming GPUs (graphics cards), a huge leap in predictive performance had been attained in image classification a year earlier. This meant computers were starting to be able to understand what’s in an image — like humans do.

The next step was getting this technology into the real world. While at university — Imperial College London — teaming up with much more skilled people, we built a plant recognition app with deep learning. We walked our professor through Hyde Park, watching him take photos of flowers with the app and laughing from joy as the AI recognized the right plant species. This had previously been impossible.

I started spending every spare moment on image classification with deep learning. Still, no one was talking about it in the news — even Imperial’s computer vision lab wasn’t yet on it! I felt like I was in on a revolutionary secret.

Looking back, narrowly focusing on a branch of applied science undergoing a breakthrough paradigm shift that hadn’t yet reached the business world changed everything.

Search for complementary co-founders who will become your best friends

I’d previously been rejected from Entrepreneur First (EF), one of the world’s best incubators, for not knowing anything about tech. Having changed that, I applied again.

The last interview was a hackathon, where I met Raz. He was doing machine learning research at Cambridge, had topped EF’s technical test, and published papers on reconstructing shredded documents and on poker bots that could detect bluffs. His bare-bones webpage read: “I seek data-driven solutions to currently intractable problems.” Now that had a ring to it (and where we’d get the name for Tractable).

That hackathon, we coded all night. The morning after, he and I knew something special was happening between us. We moved in together and would spend years side by side, 24/7, from waking up to Pantera in the morning to coding marathons at night.

But we also wouldn’t have got where we are without Adrien (Cohen, president), who joined as our third co-founder right after our seed round. Adrien had previously co-founded Lazada, an online supermarket in South East Asia like Amazon and Alibaba, which sold to Alibaba for $1.5 billion. Adrien would teach us how to build a business, inspire trust and hire world-class talent.

Find potential customers early so you can work out market fit

Tractable started at EF with a head start — a paying customer. Our first use case was … plastic pipe welds.

It was as glamorous as it sounds. Pipes that carry water and natural gas to your home are made of plastic. They’re connected by welds (melt the two plastic ends, connect them, let them cool down and solidify again as one). Image classification AI could visually check people’s weld setups to ensure good quality. Most of all, it was real-world value for breakthrough AI.

And yet in the end, they — our only paying customer — stopped working with us, just as we were raising our first round of funding. That was rough. Luckily, the number of pipe weld inspections was too small a market to interest investors, so we explored other use cases — utilities, geology, dermatology and medical imaging.

#ai, #artificial-intelligence, #column, #cybernetics, #ec-column, #ec-enterprise-applications, #ec-fintech, #ec-how-to, #enterprise, #insurance, #insurtech, #machine-learning, #startups

Outdoorsy co-founders detail how they expanded the sharing economy to RVs

Jen Young and Jeff Cavins were sitting in a beige conference room at a downtown Vancouver hotel, wasting away under fluorescent lights, an endless PowerPoint and a pair of sad Styrofoam cups of coffee between them. Young was there on a marketing contract. Cavins was a board member. They shared one of those looks that only couples can understand. It said: There’s got to be something better than this.

With 40 years of running technology companies under Cavins’ belt and a successful ad agency career under Young’s, the two decided to craft a business around their shared passion of being out in nature. When they realized there are more than 20 million recreational vehicles all across the U.S., most of which are used only a handful of days, they saw an opportunity. They asked themselves: How do we create memorable outdoor experiences and make them available to everybody?

For seven months, the couple traveled across the U.S. to do market research on travelers and RV owners to form the basis of their company.

The sharing economy of Uber, Lyft and Airbnb had already laid the groundwork. Why not open it up to RVs?

In 2014, Young and Cavins invested their life savings into Outdoorsy, sold their homes and jumped into an Airstream Eddie Bauer trailer. For seven months, the couple traveled across the U.S. to do market research on travelers and RV owners to form the basis of their company.

In June, Outdoorsy raised $90 million in a Series D led by ADAR1 Partners, as well as an additional $30 million in debt financing from Pacific Western Bank. The money will be used in large part to accelerate the growth of Outdoorsy’s insurtech business, Roamly. In the same month, the company announced a partnership with glamping company Collective Retreats to expand its outdoor offerings.

The following interview, part of an ongoing series with founders who are building transportation companies, has been edited for length and clarity. 

You’ve taken a personal approach to your business, spending months in the research phase actually living in an RV and interviewing RV owners and their families around the country. How do you think that’s shaped your business?

Jen Young: When we lived on the road, we had to experience that customer experience every day for hundreds of days. So this is where we were able to pick up and identify what the biggest pain points were on the renter and the owner side and start tackling those first.

For example, we understood what was most important from an insurance perspective because we could hear the voices of renters and owners — they consider these things their babies in many cases.

The owners that are more entrepreneurial-minded, they consider them more of a business asset, but both of them want to know, “What am I going to get for liability insurance? Comp and collision? Interior damage?” The detailed list of those things became the beginning of the product roadmap, as well as itemizing what things have to occur for a good guest experience.

In what ways have you had to pivot your model based on how people have used your platform? 

Cavins: One of the things we learned is most renters don’t want to drive these things, so owners started to do delivery, which became very popular on our platform. Sixty percent of all owners now will just deliver and set up for you so you can arrive at your campsite and everything’s just done. Your chairs are out, your barbecue is out, your awning is out and maybe a bottle of champagne in your fridge for you.

When Jen and I were traveling last year, we saw that most of the American landscape of campgrounds and campsites were overbooked. People couldn’t get their reservations closed the way that you would expect in a world of technologically evolved industries, and we thought there had to be something better in terms of the customer experience for camping, which really catalyzed our investment in glamping company Collective Retreats.

#automotive, #car-sharing, #ec-fintech, #ec-mobility-software, #ec-united-states, #jeff-cavins, #jen-young, #outdoorsy, #rv-rental, #startups, #transportation

Where is suptech heading?

Technology plays a huge role in nearly every aspect of financial services today. As the world moved online, tools and infrastructure to help people manage their money and make payments have burgeoned the world over in the past decade.

With much of the finance world now leveraging technology to conduct business, predict trends and deliver services, financial services regulators are also developing new technologies to monitor markets, supervise financial institutions and conduct other administrative activities. The emergence of purpose-built technologies to facilitate regulator oversight has, over the past few years, garnered its own moniker of supervisory technology, or suptech.

Interest in suptech is proliferating across the globe thanks to a diverse set of prudential and conduct regulators. A sampling of regulators developing suptech include the FDIC, CFPB, FINRA and Federal Reserve in the U.S.; the U.K.’s FCA and Bank of England; the National Bank of Rwanda in Africa; as well as the ASIC, HKMA and MAS in Asia. Several “super regulators” are also engaged in suptech efforts such as the Bank of International Settlements, the Financial Stability Board and the World Bank.

The strides in suptech demonstrate that creative thinking coupled with experimentation and scalable, easily accessible technologies are jump-starting a new approach to regulation.

In this post, we’ll examine a few core suptech use cases, consider its future and explore the challenges facing regulators as the market matures. The uses are diverse, so we’ll focus on three key areas: regulatory reporting, machine-readable regulation, and market and conduct oversight.

A quick general note: Nearly every financial services regulator is engaged in some type of suptech activity and the use cases discussed in this article are intended as a sample, not a comprehensive list.

But what exactly is suptech?

As a preliminary matter, we should quickly survey a few definitions of suptech to frame our understanding. Both the World Bank and BIS have offered definitions that provide useful outlines for this discussion. The World Bank states that suptech “refers to the use of technology to facilitate and enhance supervisory processes from the perspective of supervisory authorities.” It’s a little circular, but helpful.

The BIS defines suptech as “the use of technology for regulatory, supervisory and oversight purposes.” This is a similarly loose definition that describes the broader scope better.

Regardless of differences on the margins, the “sup” in these suptech definitions acknowledges the primacy of the idea that regulators’ objectives are to oversee the conduct, structure, and health of the financial system. Suptech technologies facilitate related regulatory supervision and enforcement processes.

Regulatory reporting

Regulatory reporting refers to a broad swath of activities such as financial firms providing trading data to regulatory authorities and regulators’ analysis of financial data or corporate information to determine the projected health or potential risks facing an institution or the market.

The MAS and FDIC are incorporating transactional and financial data reported by firms as a means to assess their financial viability. The MAS, in conjunction with BIS, has run tech sprints soliciting new ideas relating to regulatory reporting, while the FDIC has “a regulatory reporting solution that would allow ‘on-demand’ monitoring of banks as opposed to being constrained by ‘point-in-time’ reporting. This project is particularly targeted at smaller, community banks that provide only aggregated data on their financial health on a quarterly basis.”

The HKMA recently outlined its three-year plan for the development of suptech, which includes developing an approach to “network analysis.” The HKMA will analyze reporting data related to corporate shareholding and financial exposure to bring them “to life as network diagrams, so that the relationships between different entities become more apparent. Greater transparency of the connections and dependencies between banks and their customers will enable HKMA supervisors to detect early warning signals within the entire credit network.”

These reporting initiatives touch on a theme regulators have continuously struggled with: How to regulate markets and firms based on a reactive approach to historical data. Regulation and enforcement are often retrospective activities — examining past behavior and data to decide how to sanction an organization or develop a regulatory framework to govern a particular type of activity or financial product. This can result in an approach to regulation too rooted in past failures, which might lack the flexibility to anticipate or adapt to emerging risks or financial products.

#artificial-intelligence, #asic, #bis, #cfpb, #column, #ec-column, #ec-fintech, #fdic, #finance, #financial-regulation, #financial-services, #finra, #government, #machine-learning, #natural-language-processing, #regtech, #regulatory-compliance, #startups, #suptech

How Robinhood’s explosive growth rate came to be

This afternoon Robinhood filed to go public. TechCrunch’s first look at its results can be found here. Now that we’ve done a first dig, we can take the time to dive into the company’s filing more deeply.

Robinhood’s IPO has long been anticipated not only because there are billions of dollars in capital riding on its impending liquidity, but also because the company became something of a poster child for the savings and investing boom that 2020 saw and the COVID-19 pandemic helped engender.

The consumer trading service’s products became so popular and enmeshed in popular culture thanks to both the “stonks” movement and the larger GameStop brouhaha, that the company’s public offering carries much more weight than that of a more regular venture-backed entity. Robinhood has fans, haters, and many an observer in Congress.

Regardless of all that, today we are digging into the company’s business and financial results. So, if you want to better understand how Robinhood makes money, and how profitable or not it really is, this is for you.

We will start with a more in-depth look at growth and profitability, pivot to learning about the company’s revenue makeup, discuss a risk factor or two, and close on its decision to offer some of its own shares to its users. Let’s go!

Inside Robinhood’s growth engine

Before we get into the how of Robinhood’s growth, let’s discuss how big the company has become.

The fintech unicorn’s revenue grew from $277.5 million in 2019 to $958.8 million in 2020, which works out to growth of around 245%. Robinhood expanded even more quickly in the first quarter of 2021, scaling from year-ago revenue of $127.6 million to $522.2 million, a gain of around 309%.

Those are numbers that we frankly do not see often amongst companies going public; 300% growth is a pre-Series A metric, usually.

#dogecoin, #ec-fintech, #finance, #fundings-exits, #gamestop, #revenue, #robinhood, #short-selling, #startups, #tc

a16z’s new $2.2B fund won’t just bet on the crypto future, it will defend it

The big news in tech this morning is a new a16z cryptocurrency-focused fund totaling some $2.2 billion. The new investment vehicle is worth around four times what the company’s preceding crypto fund — its second — was worth.

Andreessen’s wager on cryptocurrency is only accelerating over time as the investing house raises larger funds focused on the market with less time between them.


The Exchange explores startups, markets and money. Read it every morning on Extra Crunch or get The Exchange newsletter every Saturday.


It’s not hard to see why a16z is so enthused about the crypto market; its investments into trading house Coinbase paid off handsomely this year when the unicorn direct listed at a huge valuation premium to its previous worth. Why not put more capital into a startup cohort that was recently immensely lucrative?

But the venture capital group is up to a bit more than just writing new checks. We can tell that much from the firm’s short post announcing its new fund. Mix in a recent interview with a16z co-founder Marc Andreessen concerning the American regulatory environment, and we can understand that the firm is not simply planning a flurry of new deals.

Defending the future of crypto

The headline figure of $2.2 billion in capital available for crypto projects is driving headlines this morning, but the dollar figure should not be a surprise. There’s essentially infinite money in the market for name-brand venture capital firms today, it appears, and with a16z’s recent Coinbase win, I doubt it was monstrously difficult for the firm to compile a new, larger crypto-focused vehicle.

#a16z, #bitcoin, #coinbase, #cryptocurrencies, #ec-fintech, #ethereum, #finance, #tc, #the-exchange, #venture-capital

The Nubank EC-1

Brazil is a country riven with economic contradictions. It has one of the largest and most profitable banking industries in Latin America, and is among the world’s most developed financial markets. Financial transactions that would take days to process in the United States through ACH happen instantaneously in Brazil. This sophistication, however, masks a backward state of affairs plagued by appalling customer service, exorbitant fees and lack of banking access for many.

The country’s financial system is volatile and often leaves its citizens with few or no alternatives. According to an HBS case study, “in December 2018 the interest rate in Brazil for corporate loans was 52.3%, for consumer loans it was 120.0% and for credit card indebtedness it was 272.42%.” Those rates are many multiples higher compared to figures in neighboring countries.

Brazil’s banking system is a massive market, and one ill-served by incumbents. If someone could thread the needle of product development, strategy and political horse trading required to build a bank in a country where it is nearly impossible for foreigners to own or invest in a bank, it would be one of the great startup and economic success stories of this century.

Nubank is on its way to realizing that objective. Its story is one of unmitigated success, even by the standards of our EC-1 series on high-flying companies and their hard-learned lessons. Just last week, this Brazilian credit card and banking fintech raised a $750 million round led by Berkshire Hathaway at a $30 billion valuation, becoming one of the most valuable startups in the world. It has 40 million users across Brazil, as well as Mexico and Colombia.

Yet, it’s a startup with a CEO and co-founder who isn’t Brazilian, didn’t speak the local language of Portuguese, hadn’t started a company before, and didn’t really know a lot about banking to begin with. This is a story of how raw execution, a “faster, faster” mentality and a fanaticism for making customer experience as enjoyable as a trip to Disney World can completely change the history of an industry — and country — forever.

Our lead writer for this EC-1 is Marcella McCarthy. McCarthy, who spent significant time in Brazil growing up and is trilingual in English, Spanish and Portuguese, has been covering the LatAm and Miami ecosystems for TechCrunch with an eye to the disruption underway in these interconnected regions. The lead editor for this package was Danny Crichton, the assistant editor was Ram Iyer, the copy editor was Richard Dal Porto, and illustrations were drawn by Nigel Sussman.

Nubank had no say in the content of this analysis and did not get advance access to it. McCarthy has no financial ties to Nubank or other conflicts of interest to disclose.

The Nubank EC-1 comprises four main articles numbering 9,200 words and a reading time of 37 minutes. Here’s what’s in the bank:

We’re always iterating on the EC-1 format. If you have questions, comments or ideas, please send an email to TechCrunch Managing Editor Danny Crichton at danny@techcrunch.com.

#banking, #brazil, #credit-card, #david-velez, #ec-brazil, #ec-fintech, #ec-latin-america-and-caribbean, #ec-1, #finance, #latin-america, #nubank, #nubank-ec-1, #startups

How contrarian hires and a pitch deck started Nubank’s $30 billion fintech empire

For most startups, the hardest early challenge is identifying a market and a product to serve it. That wasn’t the case for Nubank CEO David Velez, who understood the massive potential for success if he could break into Latin America’s most valuable economy with even a moderately modern banking offering.

Instead, the challenge was how to rebuild the concept of a bank in a country where banking is widely hated, all while the incumbents heavily entrenched with the state worked to block every move.

Nubank knew its market and geography, and through tenacious fundraising, inventive marketing and product development, and a series of contrarian hires, Velez and his team stripped bare the morass of Brazilian banking to build one of the world’s great fintech companies.

The challenge was how to rebuild the concept of a bank in a country where banking is widely hated, all while the incumbents heavily entrenched with the state worked to block every move.

In the first part of this EC-1, I’ll look at how Velez brought his skills and experience to bear on this market, how Nubank was founded in 2013, and how the team brought a Californian rather than Brazilian vibe to their first office on — no joke — California Street, in a neighborhood called Brooklin in the city of São Paulo.

The makings of an entrepreneur

The idea of being his own boss was ingrained in Velez from his earliest days in Colombia, where he grew up in an entrepreneurial family, with a father who owned a button factory. “I heard from my dad over and over again that you need to start your own company,” Velez said.

But years would pass and Velez still had no idea what he wanted to do. To “kill time,” and also to surround himself with entrepreneurial energy, Velez attended Stanford University — partially financed by the sale of some livestock — and then worked as an analyst at Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley before switching to venture capital at General Atlantic and Sequoia.