Financial API provider Brick is building the infrastructure for open banking in Southeast Asia

The adoption of financial apps is surging in Southeast Asian markets like Indonesia, the region’s most populous country. Founded by fintech veterans last year, Brick develops APIs that make it easier for tech companies to add identity verification and access financial data from their users. It is currently partnered with Indonesia’s seven largest banks, covering more than 90% of the country’s bank accounts, and plans to expand into all Southeast Asia countries.

More than three-fourths of Southeast Asia’s population is unbanked or underbanked, meaning that don’t have a bank account or access to traditional lending services. Brick will serve them as well, with products like mobile wallet and telcos APIs that are currently in beta and slated for launch next quarter.

The startup, which is now used by 250 developers and 35 tech companies, announced today it has raised new seed round. The amount of funding was undisclosed. Investors include investment firms Better Tomorrow Ventures, PT Prasetia Dwidharma, 1982 Ventures, Antler and Rally Cap Ventures, and angel backers like TrueLayer chief operating officer Shefali Roy, Cred chief executive officer Kunal Shah, Modalku CEO Reynold Wijaya, Carousell CEO Quek Siu Rui, and the founders of Nium, Xfers, Aspire, BukuWarung, ZenRooms and CareemPay.

Brick was founded in 2020 by chief executive officer Gavin Tan, an early employee at Aspire, a neobank for small- to mid-sized businesses, and chief technology Deepak Malhotra, previously co-founder of Indian neobank Slice and a former PayPal engineer.

Brick’s APIs have been deployed by personal financial management, cloud accounting, lending, wealth management and neobank apps, and Tan told TechCrunch it also sees use cases in verticals like savings, stock trading and financial planning.

Tan said he began thinking of launching Brick while working at high-growth fintech startups in Southeast Asia, including Aspire, and encountering a lack of infrastructure that slowed product development.

“Without unified APIs like those provided by Brick, fintech developers have to spend months figuring out commercials, navigating differing tech standards and navigating differing data standards, before they are able to launch their app,” Tan said.

A diagram showing Brick's financial API offerings

A diagram showing Brick’s financial API offerings

 

Brick and other fintechs have benefited from strong support from Indonesian regulators. For example, Bank Indonesia published open banking API standards in 2020.

Tan said the standards “represents concrete government recognition of open banking principles, including consumer ownership of data and the necessity of their consent to transfer and use that data (which Tan describes as “a core principle that all our products adhere to”) and establishing a common language for banks and fintechs that enables the adoption of embedded finance. It also laid out implementation timelines for open APIs, beginning with payment initiation APIs in 2021, which Brick will launch later this year.

Brick works closely with Bank Indonesia and Indonesia’s Financial Services Authority and is participating in Bank Rakyat Indonesia’s Sembrani Wira accelerator program.

The most obvious comparison for Brick is to Plaid, the financial API provider that helped enable the adoption of open banking and open finance in the United States, Canada and European countries. A key difference, however, is that Plaid serves markets where the majority of people have a bank account.

On the other hand, “in Southeast Asia, only 25% of adults regularly use a bank account,” Tan said. “For the 75% unbanked and underbanked adults, their data resides in alternative financial data sources.” To tap into that market, Brick is building APIs for alternative financial data sources, like mobile wallets, telcos, utility providers, e-commerce platforms, social security and tax offices.

The company is currently focused on product launches in Indonesia, and plans to start expanding into other high-growth fintech markets, including Singapore, the Philippines and Vietnam, later this year.

#asia, #brick, #financial-api, #fintech, #fundings-exits, #indonesia, #open-banking, #open-finance, #southeast-asia, #startups, #tc

0

Mono, a startup that wants to build Plaid for Africa, gets backing from Y Combinator

Prakhar Singh and ex-Paystack employee Abdul Hassan have known each other for seven years, building different tech products individually and collectively along the way.

Before joining Paystack in 2018, Hassan co-founded OyaPay, a payments startup the year before. After leaving the Stripe-owned company in 2019, he launched a data startup called Voyance where Singh, who had already exited one of his products — Transferpay.ng, an offline payments startup — was a software engineer.

Last June, the duo started working on Mono, a project that would allow companies to access their customers’ financial accounts in Nigeria.

By streamlining various data in a single API, companies and third-party developers can retrieve vital information like account statements, real-time balance, historical transactions, income, expense and account owner identification. Of course, this isn’t without users’ consent as they are required to login with their internet or mobile login credentials before any transaction takes place.

Following a series of tests and iterations, Mono launched its beta version in August, with Hassan as CEO and Singh as CTO. A month later, the startup closed a $500,000 pre-seed investment from early-stage investors like Lateral Capital, Ventures Platform, Golden Palm Investments and Rally Cap. It was one of the notable pre-seed rounds on the continent because of the length of time it took from launch to funding, a trait other API fintech startups in the region share, albeit with significantly longer timelines.  

In a region where more than half of the population is either unbanked or underbanked, these open finance players are trying to improve financial inclusion on the continent. Open finance thrives on the notion that with access to a financial ecosystem via open APIs and new routes to move money, access financial information and make borrowing decisions, the barriers and costs of entry for the unbanked and underbanked might come down. 

However, for Hassan, Mono’s play overlaps open finance and open banking. Although the two terminologies portray what these African startups want to accomplish, the CEO believes that they are subject to regulation from the government and apex financial institutions. Mono is a data company playing in the fintech space, he says.

Prakhar Singh (CTO) and Abdul Hassan (CEO)

He likened Mono to how Google was in its early days when it started with a simple mission to organize the world’s information and make it accessible. Decades later with enormous data, Google has metamorphosed into an internet giant playing in a plethora of sectors.

“If you ask me, I’ll say we don’t see ourselves entirely in open banking or finance,” he told TechCrunch. “Today, we’re concerned about how we can get data from different sources and aggregate into a database where businesses can get access to them with our users’ consent. Down the line, we can use this data for different use cases and solve various problems.”

Mono has already secured partnerships with more than 16 financial institutions in Nigeria and has a little over a hundred businesses like Carbon, Renmoney, Flutterwave and Indicina using its platform. They process about 5 million datasets per hour, the CEO claims.

These clients are mainly lending companies with a few others in proptech and health tech, which allow users to pay for their services in installments. But there are plans to diversify this clientele. One such way will be to improve onboarding processes on applications through its one-click signup feature.

From a user’s perspective, here’s how it works when considering two savings applications: Users submit their KYC to the first savings app. But for one reason or the other, maybe due to a better interest rate, some users switch to a second savings app.

However, there’s a little hassle in that a second KYC is needed for this process. What Mono has done with the one-click signup feature is to let users transfer their data from the first app to the second without repeating the process. And to that end, Mono has partnered with two of Nigeria’s leading savings and investment platforms to roll out the service. 

“First, we’ve enabled companies with a new infrastructure that allows them to get access to customers’ financial accounts and understand their history before giving them loans or any financial service. Now, we think with the new generation of companies coming up in Africa, Mono will be the one to power their onboarding processes,” Hassan remarks on the platform’s offerings.

Image Credits: Mono

For any investor, Mono’s sticky features, coupled with explosive growth, looks too good of an opportunity to pass on. Today, the six-month-old startup announced that it has been accepted into Y Combinator’s Winter 2021 batch. It will receive $125,000 in seed funding with an opportunity to receive follow-up investment after graduating in March. The startup also joins 39 other African startups per YC data which have passed through the accelerator since 2009.

Getting into the accelerator helps Mono with one of its biggest challenges. According to Hassan, Mono has come across users who are still skeptical to input their internet banking details on the platform due to personal experiences with online fraud in the country.

“To date, we’ve been focusing on building, and I think we’ve gotten to a stage where we’re seeing some people not wanting to use their internet banking on Mono.” But with YC’s backing and a conscious offline marketing plan afterwards, the founder thinks Mono’s credibility can get a lift.

At Paystack, where Hassan was a product manager, he was privileged to experience firsthand the company’s innovation and growth before it was acquired by Stripe last year. He says he learned the ropes of product development and management, and hiring — lessons that have stuck with him to Mono, a company now with 13 staff across Nigeria and India.

The plan for Mono is to be a global company and getting into YC provides the perfect opportunity to do so. The company is also planning an imminent pan-African expansion to Ghana and Kenya, and from all indication, Mono might execute one if not the two before the end of Q1. Setting the company up for expansion and the hiring spree that comes with it will require capital, so a seed round is in the works to facilitate the whole process.

 

#africa, #finance, #financial-inclusion, #fintech, #mono, #open-banking, #open-finance, #startups, #y-combinator

0

Singapore-based open finance startup Finantier gets backing from Y Combinator

Being “underbanked” doesn’t mean that someone lacks access to financial services. Instead, it often means they don’t have traditional bank accounts or credit cards. But in markets like Indonesia, many still use digital wallets or e-commerce platforms, creating alternative sources of user data that can help them secure working capital and other financial tools. Finantier, a Singapore-based open finance startup, wants to streamline that data with a single API that gives financial services access to user data, with their consent. It also includes machine learning-based analytics to enable credit scoring and KYC verifications.

Currently in beta mode with more than 20 clients, Finantier is busy getting ready to officially launch. It announced today that it has been accepted into Y Combinator’s Winter 2021 startup batch. The startup also also recently raised an undisclosed amount of pre-seed funding led by East Ventures, with participation from AC Ventures, Genesia Ventures, Two Culture Capital and other investors.

Finantier was founded earlier this year by Diego Rojas, Keng Low and Edwin Kusuma, all of whom have experience building products for fintech companies, with the mission of enabling open finance in emerging markets.

Open finance grew out of open banking, the same framework that Plaid and Tink are built on. Meant to give people more control over their financial data instead of keeping it siloed within banks and other institutions, users can decide to grant apps or websites secure access to information from their online accounts, including bank accounts, credit cards and digital wallets. Open banking refers mainly to payment accounts, while open finance, Finantier’s specialty, covers a larger gamut of services, including business lending, mortgages and insurance underwriting.

While Finantier is focusing first on Singapore and Indonesia, it plans to expand into other countries and become a global fintech company like Plaid. It’s already eyeing Vietnam and the Philippines and has established partnerships in Brussels.

Before launching Finantier, Rojas worked on products for peer-to-peer lending platforms Lending Club and Dianrong, and served as chief technology officer for several fintech startups in Southeast Asia. He realized that many companies struggled to integrate with other platforms and fetch data from banks, or purchase data from different providers.

“People are discussing open banking, embedded finance and so on,” Rojas, Finantier’s chief executive officer, told TechCrunch. “But those are the building blocks of something bigger, which is open finance. Particularly in a region like Southeast Asia, where about 60% to 70% of adults are unbanked or underbanked, we believe in helping consumers and businesses leverage the data that they have in multiple platforms. It definitely doesn’t need to be a bank account, it could be in a digital wallet, e-commerce platform or other service providers.”

What this means for consumers is that even if someone doesn’t have a credit card, they can still establish creditworthiness: for example, by sharing data from completed transactions on e-commerce platforms. Gig economy workers can access more financial services and deals by giving data about their daily rides or other types of work they do through different apps.

Building Southeast Asia’s financial infrastructure

Other open banking startups focused on Southeast Asia include Brankas and Brick. Rojas said Finantier differentiates by specializing on open finance, and creating infrastructure for financial institutions to build more services for end users.

The benefit of open finance for financial institutions is that they can create products for more consumers and find more opportunities for revenue sharing models. In Southeast Asia, this also means reaching more people who are underbanked, or otherwise lack access to financial services.

While taking part in Y Combinator’s accelerator program, Finantier will also be participating in the Indonesia Financial Service Authority’s regulatory sandbox. Once it completes the program, it will be able to partner with more fintech companies in Indonesia, including bigger institutions.

There are 139 million adults in Indonesia who are underbanked or unbanked, said East Ventures co-founder and managing partner Wilson Cuaca.

The investment firm, which focuses on Indonesia, conducts an annual survey called the East Ventures Digital Competitiveness Index, and found that financial exclusion was where one of the largest divides existed. There significant gaps in between the number of financial services available in heavily-populated islands like Java, where Jakarta is located, and other islands in the archipelago.

To promote financial inclusion and alleviate the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the government has set a goal for 10 million micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) to go digital by the end of the year. There are currently about 8 Indonesian million MSMEs that sell online, representing just 13% of MSMEs in the country.

“Providing equal access to financial services will create multiplier effects to the Indonesian economy,” Cuaca told TechCrunch about East Ventures’ decision to back Finantier. “Currently, hundreds of companies work with their own unique solutions to bring financial services to more people. We believe Finantier will help them offer more products and services to this underserved section of the population.”

 

#asia, #finantier, #fintech, #fundings-exits, #indonesia, #open-banking, #open-finance, #singapore, #southeast-asia, #startups, #tc

0