Sep
09
2021
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Nuula raises $120M to build out a financial services ‘super app’ aimed at SMBs

A Canadian startup called Nuula that is aiming to build a super app to provide a range of financial services to small and medium businesses has closed $120 million of funding, money that it will use to fuel the launch of its app and first product, a line of credit for its users.

The money is coming in the form of $20 million in equity from Edison Partners, and a $100 million credit facility from funds managed by the Credit Group of Ares Management Corporation.

The Nuula app has been in a limited beta since June of this year. The plan is to open it up to general availability soon, while also gradually bringing in more services, some built directly by Nuula itself but many others following an embedded finance strategy: business banking, for example, will be a service provided by a third party and integrated closely into the Nuula app to be launched early in 2022. Alongside that, the startup will also be making liberal use of APIs to bring in other white-label services, such as B2B and customer-focused payment services, starting first in the U.S. and then expanding to Canada and the U.K. before expanding further into countries across Europe.

Current products include cash flow forecasting, personal and business credit score monitoring, and customer sentiment tracking; and monitoring of other critical metrics including financial, payments and e-commerce data are all on the roadmap.

“We’re building tools to work in a complementary fashion in the app,” CEO Mark Ruddock said in an interview. “Today, businesses can project if they are likely to run out of money, and monitor their credit scores. We keep an eye on customers and what they are saying in real time. We think it’s necessary to surface for SMBs the metrics that they might have needed to get from multiple apps, all in one place.”

Nuula was originally a side-project at BFS, a company that focused on small business lending, where the company started to look at the idea of how to better leverage data to build out a wider set of services addressing the same segment of the market. BFS grew to be a substantial business in its own right (and it had raised its own money to that end, to the tune of $184 million from Edison and Honeywell). Over time, it became apparent to management that the data aspect, and this concept of a super app, would be key to how to grow the business, and so it pivoted and rebranded earlier this year, launching the beta of the app after that.

Nuula’s ambitions fall within a bigger trend in the market. Small and medium enterprises have shaped up to be a huge business opportunity in the world of fintech in the last several years. Long ignored in favor of building solutions either for the giant consumer market, or the lucrative large enterprise sector, SMBs have proven that they want and are willing to invest in better and newer technology to run their businesses, and that’s leading to a rush of startups and bigger tech companies bringing services to the market to cater to that.

Super apps are also a big area of interest in the world of fintech, although up to now a lot of what we’ve heard about in that area has been aimed at consumers — just the kind of innovation rut that Nuula is trying to get moving.

“Despite the growth in services addressing the SMB sector, overall it still lacks innovation compared to consumer or enterprise services,” Ruddock said. “We thought there was some opportunity to bring new thinking to the space. We see this as the app that SMBs will want to use everyday, because we’ll provide useful tools, insights and capital to power their businesses.”

Nuula’s priority to build the data services that connect all of this together is very much in keeping with how a lot of neobanks are also developing services and investing in what they see as their unique selling point. The theory goes like this: banking services are, at the end of the day, the same everywhere you go, and therefore commoditized, and so the more unique value-added for companies will come from innovating with more interesting algorithms and other data-based insights and analytics to give more power to their users to make the best use of what they have at their disposal.

It will not be alone in addressing that market. Others building fintech for SMBs include Selina, ANNA, Amex’s Kabbage (an early mover in using big data to help loan money to SMBs and build other financial services for them), Novo, Atom Bank, Xepelin and Liberis, biggies like Stripe, Square and PayPal, and many others.

The credit product that Nuula has built so far is a taster of how it hopes to be a useful tool for SMBs, not just another place to get money or manage it. It’s not a direct loaning service, but rather something that is closely linked to monitoring a customers’ incomings and outgoings and only prompts a credit line (which directly links into the users’ account, wherever it is) when it appears that it might be needed.

“Innovations in financial technology have largely democratized who can become the next big player in small business finance,” added Gary Golding, General Partner, Edison Partners. “By combining critical financial performance tools and insights into a single interface, Nuula represents a new class of financial services technology for small business, and we are excited by the potential of the firm.”

“We are excited to be working with Nuula as they build a unique financial services resource for small businesses and entrepreneurs,” said Jeffrey Kramer, Partner and Head of ABS in the Alternative Credit strategy of the Ares Credit Group, in a statement. “The evolution of financial technology continues to open opportunities for innovation and the emergence of new industry participants. We look forward to seeing Nuula’s experienced team of technologists, data scientists and financial service veterans bring a new generation of small business financial services solutions to market.”

Jul
23
2021
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Paystand banks $50M to make B2B payments cashless and with no fees

It’s pretty easy for individuals to send money back and forth, and there are lots of cash apps from which to choose. On the commercial side, however, one business trying to send $100,000 the same way is not as easy.

Paystand wants to change that. The Scotts Valley, California-based company is using cloud technology and the Ethereum blockchain as the engine for its Paystand Bank Network that enables business-to-business payments with zero fees.

The company raised $50 million Series C funding led by NewView Capital, with participation from SoftBank’s SB Opportunity Fund and King River Capital. This brings the company’s total funding to $85 million, Paystand co-founder and CEO Jeremy Almond told TechCrunch.

During the 2008 economic downturn, Almond’s family lost their home. He decided to go back to graduate school and did his thesis on how commercial banking could be better and how digital transformation would be the answer. Gleaning his company vision from the enterprise side, Almond said what Venmo does for consumers, Paystand does for commercial transactions between mid-market and enterprise customers.

“Revenue is the lifeblood of a business, and money has become software, yet everything is in the cloud except for revenue,” he added.

He estimates that almost half of enterprise payments still involve a paper check, while fintech bets heavily on cards that come with 2% to 3% transaction fees, which Almond said is untenable when a business is routinely sending $100,000 invoices. Paystand is charging a flat monthly rate rather than a fee per transaction.

Paystand’s platform. Image Credits: Paystand

On the consumer side, companies like Square and Stripe were among the first wave of companies predominantly focused on accounts payable and then building business process software on top of an existing infrastructure.

Paystand’s view of the world is that the accounts receivables side is harder and why there aren’t many competitors. This is why Paystand is surfing the next wave of fintech, driven by blockchain and decentralized finance, to transform the $125 trillion B2B payment industry by offering an autonomous, cashless and feeless payment network that will be an alternative to cards, Almond said.

Customers using Paystand over a three-year period are able to yield average benefits like 50% savings on the cost of receivables and $850,000 savings on transaction fees. The company is seeing a 200% increase in monthly network payment value and customers grew two-fold in the past year.

The company said it will use the new funding to continue to grow the business by investing in open infrastructure. Specifically, Almond would like to reboot digital finance, starting with B2B payments, and reimagine the entire CFO stack.

“I’ve wanted something like this to exist for 20 years,” Almond said. “Sometimes it is the unsexy areas that can have the biggest impacts.”

As part of the investment, Jazmin Medina, principal at NewView Capital, will join Paystand’s board. She told TechCrunch that while the venture firm is a generalist, it is rooted in fintech and fintech infrastructure.

She also agrees with Almond that the B2B payments space is lagging in terms of innovation and has “strong conviction” in what Almond is doing to help mid-market companies proactively manage their cash needs.

“There is a wide blue ocean of the payment industry, and all of these companies have to be entirely digital to stay competitive,” Medina added. “There is a glaring hole if your revenue is holding you back because you are not digital. That is why the time is now.”

 

Jul
14
2021
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Railsbank raises $70M to build out its fintech-as-a-service platform

Financial services as a service — where entities like neobanks, retailers and others can create and sell their own financial products by way of a few lines of code and APIs — has been one of the bigger trends in the world of fintech in recent years, with embedded finance on its way to being a $7.2 trillion market by 2030, according to a forecast from Bain Capital. Now, one of the companies building and providing those APIs is announcing some growth funding to expand.

Railsbank, which builds APIs for banking, payment cards and credit products for use by fintechs but also a wide range of other kinds of businesses, has raised $70 million in new equity funding, money that the London startup plans to use to continue growing internationally and to add more features to its product set.

“Our mission is to reinvent, unbundle and democratise access to the complex, opaque and byzantine 70-year-old credit card market, which is worth $4 trillion in the U.S. alone,” Nigel Verdon, CEO and co-founder of Railsbank, told TechCrunch in an interview last year. Verdon is a repeat entrepreneur, with one of his previous companies being Currency Cloud.

Railsbank not disclosing its valuation, but Verdon hints that it is in the high hundreds of millions and close to $1 billion.

“As a policy, we rarely talk about valuation as we prefer to talk about customers,” he told TechCrunch today. “Valuation is a very inward-facing and self-centered metric. Saying that, near-unicorn would best describe us today.”

As a point of comparison data from PitchBook noted that the company was valued at just under $200 million in its last round at the end of last year (we reported on it here).

This latest round is being led by Anthos Capital, a previous backer of the company, with Central Capital, Cohen and Company, and Chris Adelsbach’s fund Outrun Ventures, as well as other unnamed previous backers also participating. Central Capital is a strategic investor: It’s the VC arm of the largest privately held bank in Indonesia, while Cohen and Company is the founder of Bancorp. Those backers speak to where Railsbank is targeting its services and who is interested in potentially working with it.

Banking as a service, and other financial products as a service, has become one of the most significant building blocks not just in the world of fintech, but in financial services overall. As with Twilio or Sinch in communications, or Stripe in payments, the idea here is that financial specialists have built out the complicated infrastructure and partnerships that underpin a product like a credit card, or a banking account.

This is then packaged up in a service that can be integrated into another one by way of an API, and the small amount of code needed to add it to another platform. In turn, that API can be used not just by another financial services company that is consumer- or business-facing, but by any kind of company that sees offering a financial product as part of a bigger customer service and loyalty play. That could mean a retailer offering its own-brand credit card, but also a “neobank” that is building a slick front end with great customer service and personalization, without needing to build the now-commoditized banking infrastructure underneath it to run it.

Railsbank is far from being the only company that has identified and built around this concept. Other big players include Rapyd, which raised a big round at a $2.5 billion valuation earlier this year; Unit, which also has been picking up funding and growing; FintechOS, which really does what its name says; and the startup 10x was even built for incumbent players to also have access to lighter fintech as a service.

Railsbank believes its distinct from many of its would-be competitors in part because it has built a lot of its own infrastructure from the ground up (hence the “rails” in its name), “bypassing” legacy players, in contrast to others that are built as software that still ultimately runs on top of stacks (and inefficiencies) of those older providers. This also means that it is regulated as a financial institution.

Railsbank is also in the business of making some acquisitions in order to grow its business, for example acquiring the U.K. business of German fintech Wirecard when it was crashing due to financial malpractices. And it doesn’t build everything from scratch: Earlier this year it also partnered with Plaid to embed some of its services within Railsbank’s.

Railsbank does not disclose a full list of customer names but has case studies on a number of smaller clients that speak to just how widely proliferated financial services are today. They include GoSolo, Kyshi and SimpledCard.

“The market has evolved so rapidly since we founded the world’s first BaaS business, the Bancorp,” noted Betsy Cohen, chairman of Fintech Masala and founder of Bancorp, in a statement. “As we move into the $7 trillion embedded finance market, it has been great watching Railsbank’s growth story. With this investment, it’s a privilege to continue to be part of the journey with a global leader like Railsbank.”

May
25
2021
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UK’s Paysend raises $125M at a $700M+ valuation to expand its all-in-one payments platform

With more people than ever before going online to pay for things and pay each other, startups that are building the infrastructure that enables these actions continue to get a lot of attention.

In the latest development, Paysend, a fintech that has built a mobile-based payments platform — which currently offers international money transfers, global accounts, and business banking and e-commerce for SMBs — has picked up some money of its own. The London-based startup has closed a round of $125 million, a sizable Series B that the company’s CEO and founder Ronnie Millar said it will be using to continue expanding its business geographically, to hire more people, and to continue building more fintech products.

The funding is being led by One Peak, with Infravia Growth Capital, Hermes GPE, previous backer Plug and Play and others participating.

Millar said Paysend is not disclosing valuation today but described it as a “substantial kick-up” and “a great step forward in our position ahead toward unicorn status.”

From what I understand though, the company was valued at $160 million in its previous round, and its core metrics have gone up 4.5x. Doing some basic math, that gives the company a valuation of around $720 million, a figure that a source close to the company did not dispute when I brought it up.

Something that likely caught investors’ attention is that Paysend has grown to the size it is today — it currently has 3.7 million consumer customers using its transfer and global account services, and 17,000 small business customers, and is now available in 110 receiving countries — in less than four years and $50 million in funding.

There are a couple of notable things about Paysend and its position in the market today, the first being the competitive landscape.

On paper, Paysend appears to offer many of the same features as a number of other fintechs: money transfer, global payments, and banking and e-commerce services for smaller businesses are all well-trodden areas with companies like Wise (formerly “TransferWise”), PayPal, Revolut, and so many others also providing either all or a range of these services.

To me, the fact that any one company relatively off the tech radar can grow to the size that it has speaks about the opportunity in the market for more than just one or two, or maybe five, dominant players.

Considering just remittances alone, the WorldBank in April said that flows just to low- and middle-income countries stood at $540 million last year, and that was with a dip in volumes due to COVID-19. The cut that companies like Paysend make in providing services to send money is, of course, significantly smaller than that — business models include commission charges, flat fees or making money off exchange rates; Paysend charges £1 per transfer in the U.K. More than that, the overall volumes, and the opportunity to build more services for that audience, are why we’re likely to see a lot of companies with ambitions to serve that market.

Services for small businesses, and tapping into the opportunity to provide more e-commerce tools at a time when more business and sales are being conducted online, is similarly crowded but also massive.

Indeed, Paysend points out that there is still a lot of growing and evolution left to do. Citing McKinsey research, it notes that some 70% of international payments are currently still cash-to-cash, with fees averaging up to 5.2% per transaction, and timing taking up to an hour each for sender and recipient to complete transfers. (Paysend claims it can cut fees by up to 60%.)

This brings us to the second point about Paysend: How it’s built its services. The fintech world today leans heavily on APIs: Companies that are knitting together a lot of complexity and packaging it into APIs that are used by others who bypass needing to build those tools themselves, instead integrating them and adding better user experience and responsive personalization around them. Paysend is a little different from these, with a vertically integrated approach, having itself built everything that it uses from the ground up.

Millar — a Scottish repeat entrepreneur (his previous company Paywizard, which has rebranded to Singula, is a specialist in pay-TV subscriber management) — notes that Paysend has built both its processing and acquiring facilities. “Because we have built everything in-house it lets us see what the consumer needs and uses, and to deliver that at a lower cost basis,” he said. “It’s much more cost-efficient and we pass that savings on to the consumer. We designed our technology to be in complete control of it. It’s the most profitable approach, too, from a business point of view.”

That being said, he confirmed that Paysend itself is not yet profitable, but investors believe it’s making the right moves to get there. To be clear, Paysend actually does partner with other companies, including those providing APIs, to improve its services. In April, Plaid and Paysend announced they were working together to power open banking transfers, reducing the time to initiate and receive money.

“We are excited by Paysend’s enormous growth potential in a massive market, benefiting from a rapid acceleration in the adoption of digital payments,” said Humbert de Liedekerke, managing partner at One Peak Partners, in a statement. “In particular, we are seeing strong opportunities as Paysend moves beyond consumers to serve business customers and expands its international footprint to address a growing need for fast, easy and low-cost cross-border digital payments. Paysend has built an exceptional payment platform by maintaining an unwavering focus on its customers and constantly innovating. We are excited to back the entire Paysend team in their next phase of explosive growth.”

Apr
20
2021
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FintechOS nabs $60M for a low-code approach to modernizing legacy banking and insurance services

“Challenger” startups in banking and insurance have upended their industries, and picked up significant business, by building more customer-friendly tools and services — more personalized, easier to access and usually competitively priced — than those typically provided by their bigger, incumbent rivals. Now, a startup out of Romania that is building tools to help the incumbents respond with better services of their own is announcing a significant round of funding as its business grows.

FintechOS, which has built a low-code platform aimed at larger (older) banking and insurance companies to help them build new services and analytics on top of and around their existing infrastructure, has raised €51 million ($61.5 million at today’s rates, but $60 million at the time of the deal closing) in a Series B round of funding.

FintechOS’s opportunity has been to target the wave of incumbents in the insurance and banking industries that have been slowly watching as newer players like Lemonade (in insurance) and a huge plethora of challenger banks (Revolut, N26, Monzo and many others) are swooping in and picking up customers, especially among younger demographics, while they have been unable to respond mostly because their infrastructure is too old and big. Turning a huge ship around, as we have seen, is no small task — a situation that has become only more apparent in the last year of pandemic living and the big shift to digital interactions that resulted from it.

“When we launched FintechOS in 2017, we could already see existing solutions to digital transformation would struggle to deliver tangible results. By contrast, our unique approach has quickly inspired a sea-change in how financial institutions address digitization and engage with their customers,” said Teodor Blidarus, co-founder and CEO at FintechOS, in a statement. “Events over the last year have only increased pressure on our industry to evolve and as a result we’re seeing growing demand for our powerful platforms. Our latest round of funding will help us grow at the pace needed to improve outcomes for financial institutions and their customers globally.”

(It is not the only one. Others out of Europe in the space of bringing new tools to incumbent banks to help them make more modern and competitive products include 10x, Thought Machine, Temenos, Mambu and many more.)

The Series B round of funding is being led by Draper Esprit, with Earlybird, Gapminder Ventures, Launchub and OTB Ventures (which all participated in its Series A in December 2019) also participating. There are other backers in the round that are not being disclosed at this time, the startup added. FintechOS is also not disclosing its valuation. The company, based out of Bucharest, has raised just under $80 million to date.

FintechOS is active today in the U.K. and Europe — where it has been growing at a CAGR of 200% and says its services touch “millions” of people, with some of its key customers including the likes of banking giants Societe Generale and IdeaBank and international insurance brokers Howden. The plan will be to continue investing in those markets, as well as expanding internationally.

And it will be adding more services. Today, the banking platform is designed to help banks launch more retail services for consumers and small and medium business customers, and for insurance companies to build new health, life and general insurance products (there are a lot of synergies in how insurance and financial services companies have been built over the years, and so it’s a natural couplet when it comes to building tools for those industries).

In the financial sector, FintechOS lets banks build in new digital onboarding flows, credit cards and loan products, savings and mortgage products. Insurance products include new approaches to generating and handling quotes, customer onboarding and management and claims automation — which may well bring FintechOS into closer contact and collaboration with the most successful startup to come out of its home country to date, the RPA juggernaut UiPath. In all cases, it helps stitch together data from a bank’s own systems with more modern tooling, and to link that up with yet more modern tools to help process that data more easily.

This is “low code,” but it typically means that the company needs to work with third parties to enable all of this. Partners include the likes of integrators and other global services technicians, such as Microsoft, Deloitte, CapGemini, KPMG and so on. (And the founders of the startup themselves come from consulting backgrounds so they well understand the role these companies play in the process of bringing technology into big businesses.)

FintechOS is tapping into a couple of very big trends that have arguably been the biggest in the financial and related insurance industries.

The first of these is the fact that core services around things like credit/loans, current deposits and savings are not just very complex to build but actually have largely become commoditized — similar to digital payments — and so packaging them up and turning them into services that can be integrated by way of an API makes them more easily accessed without the heavy lifting needed to build them from scratch. This lets companies focus instead on customer service or building more interesting tools around those basic services to customise them (for example AI-based personalization). Disintermediating basic functions from the services built around them is arguably a bigger trend, but it has been especially prevalent in enterprise, which has long been a slow-moving space when it comes to innovation in the back-end, and the front-end.

The second of these is the big swing toward using no-code and low-code tools to empower more people within organizations to get stuck in when they can see something not working as efficiently as it could, and building the workflows themselves to improve that. This also applies to trying out and testing new products — again something that typically has not been done in financial and insurance services but can now be possible with low-code and no-code tools.

“Not only is our technology helping financial institutions become customer centric, but it’s also helping them provide products and services to more people and businesses,” said Sergiu Negut, the other co-founder who is FintechOS’s CFO and COO, in a separate statement. “With so many markets still underserved, the ability to tailor offerings to a segment of one offers the opportunity to increase financial inclusion and adheres to our ideal that easy access to financial services is essential. We’re delighted to be working with investors who share our views on how fintech should be transforming the financial services industry.”

Notably, Draper Esprit also has backed Thought Machine, another big player in the world of fintech that is taking some of the learnings and models that have helped new entrants disrupt incumbents, and is packaging them up as services for incumbents, too. It takes a different approach to doing this, not using low-code but smart contracts, which could be one reason why the VC doesn’t see the investments as conflict of interest. They are also tackling an enormous market, and so at least for now there is room for them, and many others in the space, such as 10x, Temenos, Mambu, Rapyd and many others.

“When we met Teo and Sergiu, we were immediately convinced of their vision: a data led, end-to-end platform, facilitated with a low-code/no-code infrastructure,” Vinoth Jayakumar, partner at Draper Esprit, said in a statement. “Incumbent financial services firms have cost-to-income ratios up to 90%, so we see a huge and increasing need for infrastructure software that allows digitisation at speed, ease and lower cost. Draper Esprit builds enduring partnerships; with the team at FintechOS we hope to build an enduring fintech company that will dramatically change financial services experiences for people all over the world.”

 

 

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.

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