May
13
2020
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UK’s ANNA raises $21M for its SMB-focused business account and tax app

Small and medium businesses and sole-traders account for the vast majority of businesses globally, 99.9% of all enterprises in the UK alone. And while the existence millions of separate companies, with their individual demands, speaks of a fragmented market, together they still represent a lot of opportunity. Today, a UK fintech startup looking to capitalise on that is announcing a round of growth funding to enter Europe after onboarding 20,000 customers in its home country.

ANNA, a mobile-first banking, tax accounting and financial service assistant aimed at small and medium businesses and freelancers, has closed a $21 million round of investment from a single investor, the ABHH Group, the sometimes controversial owner of Alfa Bank in Russia, the Amsterdam Trade Bank in the Netherlands, and other businesses.

The investment is a strategic one: ANNA will be using the funding to expand for the first time outside of the UK into Europe, and CEO Edouard Panteleev said that effort will be built on Amsterdam Trade Bank’s rails. He confirmed that the investment values ANNA at $110 million, and the founders keep control of 40% of the company in the deal.

The fundraising started before COVID-19 really picked up speed, but its chilling effect on the economy has also had a direct impact on the very businesses that ANNA targets as customers: some have seen drastic reductions in commercial activity, and some have shuttered their businesses altogether.

Despite this, the situation hasn’t changed measurably for ANNA, Panteleev said.

“Covid-19 hasn’t impacted us so far. We are designed as a digital business, and so working from home was a completely normal shift for us to make,” he said, but added that when it comes to the customers, “Yes, we have seen that our customers’ incoming payments are quite affected, with 15-30% decrease in the volume of customer payments.” The firm belief that ANNA and investors have, however, is that business will bounce back, and ANNA wants to make sure it’s in a strong position when it does.

ANNA is an acronym for “Absolutely No Nonsense Admin” and that explains the gist of what it aims to do: it provides an all-in-one service for smaller enterprises that lets them run a business account to make and receive payments, along with software for invoicing, accounting and managing taxes that is run through a chat interface to assist you and automate some of the functions (like invoice tracking). ANNA also offers additional services, such as connecting you to a live accountant during tax season.

ANNA is part of a wave of fintech startups that have cropped up in the last several years specifically targeting SMEs .

It used to be the case that SMEs and freelancers were drastically underserved in the world of financial services: their business, even collectively, is not as lucrative as accounts from larger enterprises, and therefore there was little innovation or attention paid to how to improve their experience or offerings, and so whatever traditional banks had to offer was what they got.

All that changed with the rise of “fintech” as a salient category: ever-smarter smartphones and app usage are now ubiquitous, broadband is inexpensive and also widespread, cloud and other technology has turbo charged what people can do on their devices, and people are just more digitally savvy. A wave of startups have taken advantage of all that to develop fintech services catering to SMEs, which also has meant competition from the likes of Monzo, Revolut, Tide, and  now even offerings from high street banks like NatWest.

Panteleev believes ANNA’s product stands separate from these. “We offer more of a financial assistant to users, rather than just moving their money, and it’s also a different business case, because we look at what a user needs more holistically,” he said. Pricing is also a little different: businesses with monthly income of less than $500 can use ANNA for free. It then goes up on a sliding scale to a maximum of £19.90 per month, for those with monthly income between £20,000 and £500,000.

Panteleev — who co-founded the company with Andrey Pachay, Boris Dyakonov, Daljit Singh, Nikita Filippov, and Slava Akulov — is a repeat entrepreneur, having founded two other banking startups in Russia with Dyakonov that are still going, Knopka (Russian for button), and Totchka (Russian for dot). These are older and more established: Totchka for example has some 500,000 users, but Panteleev has said that there are no plans to try to bring ANNA into the Russian market, nor take these other companies international.

For ABHH, the attraction of investing in this particular startup was probably two-fold. The businesses have Russian DNA in common, making for potentially a better cultural fit, but also it is yet another example of a legacy, large bank tapping into a smaller and more fleet-of-foot startup to address a market sector that the bigger company might be more challenged to do alone.

“I’m looking forward to embarking on this exciting journey together,” said Alan Vaksman, member of the supervisory board at Amsterdam Trade Bank and future chairman of ANNA, in a statement. “At this moment most SMEs find themselves in a challenging situation, however, once the pandemic comes to an end, there will be a very clear realisation that neither corporates nor family businesses can afford to run most operational processes manually. Tech services and platforms, like ANNA, are in for some dynamic times ahead.”

Jan
16
2020
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Visa’s Plaid acquisition shows a shifting financial services landscape

When Visa bought Plaid this week for $5.3 billion, a figure that was twice its private valuation, it was a clear signal that traditional financial services companies are looking for ways to modernize their approach to business.

With Plaid, Visa picks up a modern set of developer APIs that work behind the scenes to facilitate the movement of money. Those APIs should help Visa create more streamlined experiences (both at home and inside other companies’ offerings), build on its existing strengths and allow it to do more than it could have before, alone.

But don’t take our word for it. To get under the hood of the Visa-Plaid deal and understand it from a number of perspectives, TechCrunch got in touch with analysts focused on the space and investors who had put money into the erstwhile startup.

Nov
08
2019
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Alpaca nabs $6M for stocks API so anyone can build a Robinhood

Stock trading app Robinhood is valued at $7.6 billion, but it only operates in the U.S. Freshly funded fintech startup Alpaca does the dirty work so developers worldwide can launch their own competitors to that investing unicorn. Like the Stripe of stocks, Alpaca’s API handles the banking, security and regulatory complexity, allowing other startups to quickly build brokerage apps on top for free. It has already crossed $1 billion in transactions within a year of launch.

The potential to power the backend of a new generation of fintech apps has attracted a $6 million Series A round for Alpaca led by Spark Capital . Instead of charging developers, Alpaca earns its money through payment for order flow, interest on cash deposits and margin lending, much like Robinhood.

“I want to make sure that people even outside the U.S. have access” to a way of building wealth that’s historically only “available to rich people” Alpaca co-founder and CEO Yoshi Yokokawa tells me.

Alpaca co-founder and CEO Yoshi Yokokawa

Hailing from Japan, Yokokawa followed his friends into the investment banking industry, where he worked at Lehman Brothers until its collapse. After his grandmother got sick, he moved into day-trading for three years and realized “all the broker dealer business tools were pretty bad.” But when he heard of Robinhood in 2013 and saw it actually catering to users’ needs, he thought, “I need to be involved in this new transformation” of fintech.

Yokokawa ended up first building a business selling deep learning AI to banks and trading firms in the foreign exchange market. Watching clients struggle to quickly integrate new technology revealed the lack of available developer tools. By 2017, he was pivoting the business and applying for FINRA approval. Alpaca launched in late 2018, letting developers paste in code to let their users buy and sell securities.

Now international developers and small hedge funds are building atop the Alpaca API so they don’t have to reinvent the underlying infrastructure themselves right away. Alpaca works with clearing broker NTC, and then marks up margin trading while earning interest and payment for order flow. It also offers products like AlpacaForecast, with short-term predictions of stock prices, AlpacaRadar for detecting price swings and its MarketStore financial database server.

AlpacaForecast

The $6 million from Spark Capital, Social Leverage, Portag3, Fathom Capital and Zillionize adds to $5.8 million in previous funding from investors, including Y Combinator. The startup plans to spend the cash on hiring to handle partnerships with bigger businesses, supporting its developer community and ensuring compliance.

One major question is whether fintech businesses that start to grow atop Alpaca and drive its revenues will try to declare independence and later invest in their own technology stack. There’s the additional risk of a security breach that might scare away clients.

Alpaca’s top competitor, Interactive Brokers, offers trading APIs, but other services as well that distract it from fostering a robust developer community, Yokokawa tells me. Alpaca focuses on providing great documentation, open-source contribution and SDKs in different languages that make it more developer-friendly. It will also have to watch out for other fintech services startups like DriveWealth and well-funded Galileo.

There’s a big opportunity to capitalize on the race to integrate stock trading into other finance apps to drive stickiness because it’s a consistent, voluntary behavior rather than a chore or something only done a few times a year. Lender SoFi and point-of-sale system Square both recently became broker dealers as well, and Yokokawa predicts more and more apps will push into the space.

Why would we need so many stock trading apps? “Every single person is involved with money, so the market is huge. Instead of one-player takes all, there will be different players that can all do well,” Yokokawa tells me. “Like banks and investment banks co-exist, it will never be that Bank of America takes 80% of the pie. I think differentiation will be on customer acquisition, and operations management efficiency.”

The co-founder’s biggest concern is keeping up with all the new opportunities in financial services, from cash management and cryptocurrency that Robinhood already deals in, to security token offerings and fractional investing. Yokokawa says, “I need to make sure I’m on top of everything and that we’re executing with the right timing so we don’t lose.”

The CEO hopes that Alpaca will one day power broader access to the U.S. stock market back in Japan, noting that if a modern nation still lags behind in fintech, the rest of the world surely fares even worse. “I want to connect this asset class to as many people as possible on the earth.”

Jul
24
2019
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Revolut tweaks business accounts with new pricing structure

Fintech startup Revolut announced changes to its business accounts this week. The good news is that if you were thinking about trying Revolut for your business needs, it’s now cheaper to get started. But there are some limits.

While Revolut is better known for its regular consumer accounts that let you receive, send and spend money all around the world, the company has been offering launched business accounts for a couple of years.

The main advantage of Revolut for Business is that you can hold multiple currencies. If you work with clients or suppliers in other countries, you can exchange money and send it to your partners directly from Revolut’s interface.

The company also lets you issue prepaid corporate cards and track expenses. Revolut for Business also has an API so you can automate payments and connect with third-party services, such as Xero, Slack and Zapier.

None of this is changing today. Revolut is mostly tweaking the pricing structure.

Previously, you had to pay £25 per month to access the service with a £100,000 top-up limit per month. Bigger companies had to pay more to raise that ceiling.

Now, Revolut is moving a bit more toward a software-as-a-service approach. Instead of making you pay more to receive and hold more money, you pay more as your team gets bigger and you use Revolut for Business more intensively.

The basic plan is free with two team members, five free local transfers per month and 0.4% in foreign exchange fees. If you want to add more team members or initiate more transfers, you pay some small fees.

If you were paying £25 before, you can now top up as much money as you want in your Revolut account, but there are some limits when it comes to team members (10), local transfers (100 per month) and international transfers (10 per month, interbank exchange rate up to £10,000).

Once again, going over the limits doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to change to a new plan. You’ll pay £0.20 per extra local transfer, £3 per extra international transfer, etc.

Here’s a full breakdown of the new plans:

Screen Shot 2019 07 24 at 7.35.45 PM

If you’re a freelancer, there’s now a free plan. You’ll pay 0.4% on foreign exchange and £3 per international transfer, but there’s no top-up limit anymore.

Similarly, the old £7 plan for freelancers has been replaced by a new £7 plan that removes the limit on inbound transfers but adds some limits on transfers.

It’s good news if you’re a small customer. But if you vastly exceed the transfer limit in one of the categories, you might pay more than before. With this change, the company wanted to make Revolut for Business more accessible instead of making small customers subsidize bigger customers with high entry pricing.

Existing customers can switch to a new plan starting today. Revolut plans to switch everyone to the new plans on October 1st, 2019.

Revolut for Business 2

May
30
2019
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Fintech and clean tech? An odd couple or a perfect marriage?

The Valley’s rocky history with clean tech investing has been well-documented.

Startups focused on non-emitting generation resources were once lauded as the next big cash cow, but the sector’s hype quickly got away from reality.

Complex underlying science, severe capital intensity, slow-moving customers, and high-cost business models outside the comfort zones of typical venture capital, ultimately caused a swath of venture-backed companies and investors in the clean tech boom to fall flat.

Yet, decarbonization and sustainability are issues that only seem to grow more dire and more galvanizing for founders and investors by the day, and more company builders are searching for new ways to promote environmental resilience.

While funding for clean tech startups can be hard to find nowadays, over time we’ve seen clean tech startups shift down the stack away from hardware-focused generation plays towards vertical-focused downstream software.

A far cry from past waves of venture-backed energy startups, the downstream clean tech companies offered more familiar technology with more familiar business models, geared towards more recognizable verticals and end users. Now, investors from less traditional clean tech backgrounds are coming out of the woodworks to take a swing at the energy space.

An emerging group of non-traditional investors getting involved in the clean energy space are those traditionally focused on fintech, such as New York and Europe based venture firm Anthemis — a financial services-focused team that recently sat down with our fintech contributor Gregg Schoenberg and I (check out the full meat of the conversation on Extra Crunch).

The tie between clean tech startups and fintech investors may seem tenuous at first thought. However, financial services has long played a significant role in the energy sector and is now becoming a more common end customer for energy startups focused on operations, management and analytics platforms, thus creating real opportunity for fintech investors to offer differentiated value.

Finance powering the world?

Though the conversation around energy resources and decarbonization often focuses on politics, a significant portion of decisions made in the energy generation business is driven by pure economics — Is it cheaper to run X resource relative to resources Y and Z at a given point in time? Based on bid prices for Request for Proposals (RFPs) in a specific market and the cost-competitiveness of certain resources, will a developer be able to hit their targeted rate of return if they build, buy or operate a certain type of generation asset?

Alternative generation sources like wind, solid oxide fuel cells, or large-scale or even rooftop solar have reached more competitive cost levels – in many parts of the US, wind and solar are in fact often the cheapest form of generation for power providers to run.

Thus as renewable resources have grown more cost competitive, more, infrastructure developers, and other new entrants have been emptying their wallets to buy up or build renewable assets like large scale solar or wind farms, with the American Council on Renewable Energy even forecasting cumulative private investment in renewable energy possibly reaching up to $1 trillion in the US by 2030.

A major and swelling set of renewable energy sources are now led by financial types looking for tools and platforms to better understand the operating and financial performance of their assets, in order to better maximize their return profile in an increasingly competitive marketplace.

Therefore, fintech-focused venture firms with financial service pedigrees, like Anthemis, now find themselves in pole position when it comes to understanding clean tech startup customers, how they make purchase decisions, and what they’re looking for in a product.

In certain cases, fintech firms can even offer significant insight into shaping the efficacy of a product offering. For example, Anthemis portfolio company kWh Analytics provides a risk management and analytics platform for solar investors and operators that helps break down production, financial analysis, and portfolio performance.

For platforms like kWh analytics, fintech-focused firms can better understand the value proposition offered and help platforms understand how their technology can mechanically influence rates of return or otherwise.

The financial service customers for clean energy-related platforms extends past just private equity firms. Platforms have been and are being built around energy trading, renewable energy financing (think financing for rooftop solar) or the surrounding insurance market for assets.

When speaking with several of Anthemis’ clean tech portfolio companies, founders emphasized the value of having a fintech investor on board that not only knows the customer in these cases, but that also has a deep understanding of the broader financial ecosystem that surrounds energy assets.

Founders and firms seem to be realizing that various arms of financial services are playing growing roles when it comes to the development and access to clean energy resources.

By offering platforms and surrounding infrastructure that can improve the ease of operations for the growing number of finance-driven operators or can improve the actual financial performance of energy resources, companies can influence the fight for environmental sustainability by accelerating the development and adoption of cleaner resources.

Ultimately, a massive number of energy decisions are made by financial services firms and fintech firms may often times know the customers and products of downstream clean-tech startups more than most.  And while the financial services sector has often been labeled as dirty by some, the vital role it can play in the future of sustainable energy offers the industry a real chance to clean up its image.

Mar
26
2019
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Hong Kong-based fintech startup Qupital raises $15M Series A to expand in mainland China

Qupital, a fintech startup that bills itself as Hong Kong’s largest trade financing platform for SMEs, has closed a $15 million Series A led by CreditEase FinTech Investment Fund (CEFIF), with participation from returning investors Alibaba Hong Kong Entrepreneurs Fund and MindWorks Ventures, both participants in its seed round. To date, Qupital has raised $17 million, including a seed round two years ago, and will use its latest funding to expand its supply chain financing products, launch in mainland Chinese cities and hire more people for its tech development and risk management teams.

CreditEase, which provides loans and other financial services for SMEs in China, will act as a strategic investor, aiding with Qupital’s geographic expansion. Existing investor Alibaba has already helped Qupital reach small businesses on its platform. Qupital will open branches in Chinese cities, including Shanghai, Hangzhou, Guangzhou and Shenzhen, along with setting up a new technology center in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macau Greater Bay Area for talent and tech development. In total, it will hire about 100 people for its Hong Kong office this year.

Founded in 2016, Qupital offers lending for SMEs that frequently have cash flow issues because they are in a cycle of waiting for invoices to be paid. Qupital’s loans cover most of the value of an invoice, then matches that with investors and funders who cover the cash with the expectation of a return. The company makes money by charging SMEs a service fee that is a fixed percentage of the total invoice value and then a discount fee, and taking a percentage of net gains made by investors.

Qupital has now processed 8,000 trades, totaling HKD $2 billion in value. It won’t disclose how many SMEs it has worked with, but co-founder and chairman Andy Chan says that number is in the hundreds.

Chan tells TechCrunch that in China, Qupital will not compete directly against traditional financial institutions, because it focuses on financing the Hong Kong business entities of Chinese companies in U.S. and Hong Kong currency, instead of onshore renminbi. It also will target SMEs underserved by traditional lenders, by using alternative data sources to determine their creditworthiness.

In a prepared statement, CEFIF managing director Dennis Cong said, “The growing volume of SME and cross-border trading drives a huge demand for alternative financing for SME’s who are underserved in the market and opportunities for investors to earn a decent risk-adjusted return. We look forward to working with Qupital to broaden its source of capital base and create unparalleled investment opportunities for CreditEase.”

Feb
11
2016
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BBVA Shuts In-House Venture Arm, Pours $250M Into New Fintech VC Propel Venture Partners

rocket chalkboard BBVA — the Spanish banking giant that acquired Simple in the U.S. and last year made a $67 million investment in still-stealth mobile-only bank Atom in the UK — is changing up how it plans to invest in fintech startups in the future.
The company is shutting down its in-house venture arm, BBVA Ventures; and it is taking BBVA Ventures’ portfolio, the $100 million fund it had… Read More

Apr
22
2015
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German Online Loans Platform Smava Raises $16M

euros Here comes some more funding for a European financial tech company specialising in online loans. Germany’s Smava — a peer-to-peer lending platform where investors provide the funds to loan money to borrowers — has raised $16 million in funding led by Phenomen Ventures, along with existing investors Earlybird and Neuhaus Partners. Phenomen’s track record in… Read More

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