Guide to North American Fintech Hotspots; Covering Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco

The US sits atop the global fintech market, outperforming rivals on several metrics. North America is the biggest fintech market, boasting close to 9,000 fintechs (8,775) – more than Europe, Africa and the Middle East put together (7,385) and almost twice as many as Asia Pacific (4,765), according to industry figures.

The US also boasts some of the biggest fintech valuations: Stripe is valued at $36bn; Robinhood ($11.2bn) and Coinbase ($8bn) while fintech investment across the U.S. reached a record high of nearly $60bn in 2019.

US hubs etched on the fintech landscape

San Francisco, New York and Atlanta are among those US hubs firmly etched on the fintech landscape, bolstered by a strong tech community; competitive landscape, a plentiful talent pool, and sometimes helpful regulation.

In these fintech hubs, companies are leading across fintechs of all categories: healthtech, insurtech, payments, wealth management, banking and crypto.

For instance, Atlanta is known as “Transaction Alley” on account of its dominance of the payment processing sector and an eye-watering 70 per cent of U.S. transactions take place across the state of Georgia.

Covid-19, meanwhile, has helped fintechs in these hubs gain market share, as investors have rewarded software-based tech companies while cities in Texas and Florida are also emerging as newer fintech hubs,

Here, the Fintech Times looks at some of the top fintech hubs in the US.

San Francisco Bay Area

San Francisco Bay Area is a mecca for startups and innovators wanting to mimic the success of unicorns like Stripe, Credit Karma and Coinbase.

Nine of the ten biggest fintech companies in the US are based in the region (Stripe, Chime, Plaid, SoFi, Credit Karma, Ripple, Coinbase, Opendoor and Robinhood).

Fintechs in the region span fintechs of all hue, from crypto (Coinbase) to insurance (SoFi) to credit monitoring (Credit Karma) to real estate (Opendoor) to payments (Stripe).

San Francisco Bay Area is a fintech ecosystem, home to accelerators and incubators from the likes of Deutsche Bank and Wells Fargo; trade associations like City Innovate and San Francisco Department of Commerce; as well as hosting global renowned events like Blockchain Expo North America.

Meanwhile, the entrepreneurs of tomorrow flock to the Fintech Club at Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, which showcases industry sectors like blockchain and payments.

Case study: Varo

Alex Woie, head of strategic communications, says the neobank is based on the area largely because of the “talent pool” and “access to capital”.

Varo is located near to traditional banks, like Charles Schwab and Wells Fargo. Woie said: ‘We have benefited immensely from being within this financial services hub- particularly from a talent perspective.”

On affordable rent space, Woie says Covid-19 has had a “fairly profound” impact on real estate prices for prime locations. “Many major employers are continuing to grow in the Bay Area, but with more flexible arrangements, which may not require the same ramp-up in space as before.”

One advantage to being located in the Bay Area, says Woie, is “benefiting from meetups and networking events” while the principal downside is the cost of acquiring talent and office space.

New York

Like San Francisco, New York is a thriving fintech hub, spanning digital wealth, crypto, lending and B2B fintech, amongst other areas.

New York has also been dubbed the “insurtech capital of the world”, due to the cluster of insurance companies, investors and tech talent in the area. Leading the insurance charge in New York are Lemonade and Oscar while other notable fintechs based in New York include Betterment (robo-advising), Forter (fraud protection), Petal (credit) and Stash (micro-investing).

Incubators and accelerators in New York include TechStars and Citi Innovation Labs while NYU and Columbia Business School offer courses in financial services.

The city’s strict regulation of cryptocurrency seems to be softening, with the June announcement that conditional “Bitlicenses” could be issued to startups partnered with licensed entities. Paypal was the first to receive a conditional Bitlicense in October.

Case study: Lemonade

A spokesperson for Lemonade said it opted to be based in New York as it wanted to work “hand in glove” with New York regulators and the state legal system, which it cites as being “one of the most exacting” in the world.

“We wanted to push ourselves to get licensed in such a strict state so that we would be able to replicate the licensing process in other states nationwide,” the spokesperson added.

Los Angeles

A hotbed of entrepreneurial talent, diversity of cultures, a penchant for relationship building and comparatively cheaper rents have made Los Angeles fertile ground for fintechs.

Conscious consumerism fintech Aspiration and Tala, a fintech that offers loans to the underserved communities, are part of LA’s venture capital and startup ecosystem. Experts say that LA has all the advantages to grow into a national, and even international, fintech hub.

Speaking to the Los Angeles Business Journal, co-founder of LA-based Aspiration Andrei Cherny set out the company benefits from being located beyond Silicon Valley, citing LA’s top-quality customer experience and relationship building as key factors.

Some LA-based fintechs benefit from being based near to UCLA where they get top talent from while a further attraction to the city is that rents in western Los Angeles tend to be cheaper than San Francisco.

Case study: HMBradley

Zach Bruhnke, CEO, cites LA’s “good weather” and “laid-back environment” as pull factors. On office space in LA, he says it is “relatively expensive” compared to most of the US but cheap compared to San Francisco and New York City.

Bruhnke also says he has personally benefitted from supportive infrastructure in Los Angeles. “I’ve been a beneficiary of watching the ecosystem grow here,” he adds. On any downsides to LA, Bruhnke says: “I think generally the taxes are very high in California and that is starting to drive a lot of people in our industry out of state. I could see a world where some (or even most) of our team ends up in places like Nashville or Austin where things seem to be very much up and coming.”


It was nicknamed “The Hub” in the 19th century, but Boston’s moniker seems especially fitting today in light of its thriving fintech ecosystem.

It has grown into a centre of financial innovation thanks to its cluster of banks, venture capital firms, and – most of all – colleges. The city is home to Boston and Northeastern University, and enclosed by the “Brainpower Triangle” of Tufts, MIT, and Harvard.

Boston also boasts substantial infrastructure to support fintechs. The IDEA Lab, for example, is a student-led venture accelerator which claims to have launched 65 startups.

A number of the city’s fintechs are aimed at the student population, including EverTrue (fundraising) and Flywire (payments). It is also the home of Toast, the restaurant management startup valued at $5 billion.

Case study: Flywire

According to a Flywire spokeswoman, Boston provides a “deep talent pool” which is “largely the outcome of the numerous top-tier colleges and universities in the city.”

“Our CEO [Mike Massaro] often speaks to many universities and their students about life at a high-growth fintech”, she added, calling it a “wonderful way to grow our brand.”

The company has also benefitted from the city’s fintech infrastructure, as an alumnus of the startup accelerator MassChallenge.


Payments companies are central to Chicago’s prominence as a fintech hub, powered by the likes of Braintree, Keyo and Raise.

Chicago also boasts major financial exchanges including the Chicago Stock Exchange and the Chicago Board Options Exchange while the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago is also located in the Windy City.

Chicago has an active Accelerator scene and one big lure for budding entrepreneurs is the Polsky Exchange, an innovation incubator, which is affiliated to the University of Chicago.

Case study: Raise

A Raise spokesperson said the fintech benefited from being located close to many of its partners.

“The proximity has enabled deeper collaboration and strategic partnerships, as we can meet in person (pre-Covid) to craft out plans.”

The spokesperson adds: “Chicago has a very healthy startup scene, between organisations like 1871 and Bulletin. We attend frequent networking events and have made both commercial connections as well as networking connections.”

On the downsides to Chicago, the spokesperson says: “I think there’s a reality for any startup not based in California or New York in that investors still sit on the coasts.

“Before Covid, that meant hopping on a plane for investor or board meetings. With that being said, given the entire world has built a new normal with remote collaboration, I don’t see this being an issue going forward.”

Additional reporting by Benedict Smith

The 101 on the African Continental Free Trade Agreement – AfCFTA

Africa presents a wealth of opportunities for its citizens and for those interested in doing business in the continent. In particular, the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) will play a significant role in fostering trade and investment amongst African member nations.


Free Trade Agreements Such As The Former NAFTA (now USMCA) have made headlines the past few years

Free Trade Agreements Such As The Former NAFTA (now USMCA) have made headlines the past few years

Free Trade Agreements Such As The Former NAFTA (now USMCA) has made headlines over the past few years IMAGE SOURCE GETTY

To understand the context of not just AfCFTA but free trade agreements in general is important. Why is this significant?

Globally, free trade agreements have played a strong role in the international trade and investment ecosystem, particularly the rise of globalisation in its current form. Free Trade Agreements are plentiful and there are those who have an economic and political union (i.e. the European Union (EU)) or those with a regional intergovernmental political and economic union (i.e. the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) consisting of: Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE)).

Despite the challenges in the global economy and increase in nationalism (i.e. President Donald Trump), the President-elect Joe Biden most likely will begin a new chapter in international collaboration and partnerships. Despite an environment of increased nationalism, free trade agreements in the past few years were signed and/or implemented, including the likes of the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement between Canada and the EU – commonly known by its acronym CETA – as well as The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) which are 15 countries (China, Australia, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea alongside members of the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) that include the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand.

There is of course the renegotiated former North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between the United States, Canada and Mexico to its current form, the United States Mexico Canada Agreement (USMCA). And of course the United Kingdom, whom in a Brexit world has or will sign agreements with Japan, Canada – to name a few. With respect to Africa, the UK recently signed one with Kenya last November.


AfCFTA will begin January 2021 and one of its forecasted benefits is it will lift 30 million Africans out of extreme poverty

AfCFTA will begin January 2021 and one of its forecasted benefits is it will lift 30 million Africans out of extreme poverty

AfCFTA will begin January 2021 and one of its forecasted benefits is it will lift 30 million Africans out of extreme poverty IMAGE SOURCE GETTY

Africa is a vast continent with different languages and cultures, even within a country itself the diversity is tremendous. According to United Nations estimates, the continent is home to over 1.3 billion people. From the islands of Mauritius to Western Africa to Northern Africa such as Tunisia and Egypt to the southern tipping point of Africa, South Africa, the continent has various levels of their own economic development. Therefore, a free trade agreement such as AfCFTA can help foster and promote further economic trade and investment between member African nations.

According to the African Union, trading under the AfCFTA that was originally planned for the first of July 2020 got delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic; it will now begin in January 2021. How can this benefit the member African countries? From a high-level overview, the World Bank highlights that the 55 member nations with their populations of over 1.3 billion people would have a combined gross domestic product (GDP) $3.4 trillion.

The World Bank report, The African Continental Free Trade Area: Economic and Distributional Effects, further highlights other benefits. First, extreme poverty would decrease across the continent as a result of AfCFTA, where it is estimated that 30 million Africans would be lifted out of extreme poverty; it would boost the incomes of almost 68 million other Africans living less than $5.50 a day. In terms of being lifted from extreme poverty, West Africa potentially would see the biggest decline of 12 million Africans (over a third of the total for all of Africa), following Central Africa with 9.3 million Africans then Eastern Africa at 4.8 million and Southern Africa at 3.9 million.

A key aim for free trade agreements globally is the reduction of bureaucracy to help facilitate trade between member countries and this applies as well to AfCFTA. The same report also highlights that of  the estimated $450 billion in income gains from AfCFTA by 2035 (this would be a gain of 7 per cent), $292 billion would come from stronger trade facilitation. As mentioned, it would be a result of reduced red tape with streamlined and simplified customs.

Other benefits include that AfCFTA will increase Africa’s exports by $560 billion, which would come mostly from manufacturing. In addition, it is predicted it will spur larger wage gains for women (at 10.5 per cent) than for men (at 9.9 per cent). Also, it is estimated that AfCFTA will boost wages for both skilled and unskilled workers—10.3 per cent for unskilled workers, and 9.8 per cent for skilled workers.


AfCFTA has the opportunity to help accelerate the fintech sector in Africa

AfCFTA has the opportunity to help accelerate the fintech sector in Africa

AfCFTA has the opportunity to help accelerate the fintech sector in Africa IMAGE SOURCE GETTY

As highlighted previously with the predicted benefits of AfCFTA and showing that Africa, similar to the rest of the world with their own economic and political free trade agreements, the question amongst many is how can highly-skilled industries such as fintech, wider tech and even the financial services industry benefit from AfCFTA? It remains to be seen how that will come into play, given that the launch date of the free trade agreement is in January 2021. Nevertheless, it provides the AfCFTA Secretariat, and the member states the following basic considerations:

Fostering Innovation and Talent – The continent overall has a high proportion of youths and historically, particularly in highly skilled professions, often immigrated abroad to countries such as the United States or the UK or France. Sectors like fintech and wider tech need aspiring entrepreneurs and scientists to help continue bringing home-grown products and solutions that are made and developed in the African continent. The continent is home to some of the brightest fintech solutions, for instance that is known on a global scale like MPesa and Paystack and various smaller yet of equal innovative products. The implemented AfCFTA should continue and morph to help foster the talent and innovation with member states.

Harmonising legislation – fintech and tech in general often brings with it certain requirements where it needs a licence and other means to operate. For an integrated AfCFTA, potentially fintech could benefit if regulations where harmonised amongst member states. It could make it easier for fintech and tech entrepreneurs to do business amongst other member states, particularly in the expansion and foreign direct investment (FDI) stage.

Access to finance and other support mechanisms – potentially a more open border relationship could also set the foundation for more open opportunities for finance. Not unique to Africa but a global challenge is often entrepreneurs face is access to finance – whether it be from banks to government grants. Potentially AfCFTA could help banks and challenger banks reach out cross border easier and also stimulate more government grants and loans to future entrepreneurs. The top ten largest banks in the African continent, as researched by The FinTech Times, have a total of $600 billion (based on assets) which include banks such as Standard Bank (South Africa), Absa Bank (South Africa), National Bank of Egypt and Zenith Bank (Nigeria)- to name a few.

Much remains to be seen, especially in the longer term to see how AfCFTA develops and whether it becomes more economically and politically integrated such as that of the EU. In fintech in particular in terms of economic development and integration, AfCFTA could provide thought leadership in a unified African approach to further accelerate the sector, which like the rest of the world in a pre and particularly in a COVID-19 has boosted the likes of paytech, insurtech and artificial intelligence (AI).

Nevertheless, given the sheer size of Africa and the 55 member states, AfCFTA truly is an exciting time in terms of fostering international trade and investment.

Envestnet Goes Aussie on Open Banking; BNPL Consolidates in the Americas

One of the more interesting questions during a recent FinovateWest Digital panel on challenger banks asked: how important are partnerships to these digital newcomers? This week, one answer to that question came in the form of an announcement from Australia’s self-described “smartbank” – 86 400 – that it was teaming up with one of the global leaders in data aggregation and insights: Envestnet | Yodlee.

“The average Australians’ financial world can be very complex, with numerous accounts for numerous products across different financial institutions,” 86 400 CIO Brian Parker explained. “By partnering with Envestnet | Yodlee, we’ve given our customers the ability to see all their accounts in one place, delivering a better view of their financial lives and helping them take control of their money.”

Founded in 2017 and backed by Cuscal, Australia’s largest independent payments company, 86 400 offers no fee banking; card, mobile, and smartwatch-based payments; and competitive interest rates for both savers and borrowers. Via mobile app, 86 400 customers can easily monitor and manage their finances, functionality that will be significantly enhanced via the smartbank’s new relationship with Envestnet | Yodlee.

“Consumers don’t have to wait for Open Banking to access and use their own data,” Envestnet | Yodlee ANZ Country Manager Tim Poskitt said. “Envestnet | Yodlee’s data aggregation enables consumers to link their financial accounts with tools and products that deliver better financial outcomes. That’s what 86 400’s products provide.”

86 400, which takes its name from the total number of seconds in a 24 hour day, has forged partnerships in recent months with mortgage brokers like Mortgage Choice and Connective. Headquartered in Sydney, New South Wales, 86 400 won Best in Class at Australia’s International Good Design Awards. Robert Bell is CEO.

Maybe it is true, as fintech observer and wit Ron Shevlin suggested on Twitter recently, that the credit card issuers have to be scratching their heads a bit with the sudden popularity of the Buy Now Pay Later ecommerce craze-turned-trend. But as Homer Simpson famously put it, “we’re not succumbing to mass hysteria. We’re just jumping on the bandwagon.”

The latest news from the BNPL bandwagon features U.S. buy now pay later company Affirm, which announced that it would acquire Canadian BNPL outfit PayBright for $264 million (C$340 million).

“We built PayBright with the mission of making the everyday commerce experience simply better for Canadians,” company President and CEO Wayne Pommen said. “Partnering with Affirm gives us the opportunity to deliver on that promise on a much larger scale.” Pommen added that he was “delighted” at the opportunity to take “Buy Now Pay Later to the next level in Canada.”

Just where is that next level? PayBright currently has more than 7,000 retailer partners around the world, including companies like Samsung, Wayfair, and Oakley. And competition in the Canadian BNPL space has intensified of late; Australian BNPL rival Afterpay announced its expansion to the country in August.

Here is our look at fintech around the world.

Latin America and the Caribbean

  • BNamericas interviews Ruben Galindo, CEO of Mexican fintech CapitalTech on how the company has managed to serve its customers during the pandemic.
  • A partnership between FacePhi and Peruvian fintech TuSueldoYa will help businesses better manage cash advances during the COVID-19 crisis.
  • IBS Intelligence highlights four Mexican fintechs that are “transforming the financial sector”: Credijusto, Konfio, Clip, and Albo.


  • Lightnet, a Singapore-based company that leverages blockchain technology to power its remittance offering, announces partnership with Siam Commercial Bank.
  • P2P lending marketplace Rai Capital goes live in Cambodia.
  • The Philippine Central Bank recognizes digital banks as a new bank category as part of a new regulatory framework.

Sub-Saharan Africa

  • A rare look at the evolving fintech ecocsystem in Cameroon.
  • Telkom, a telecommunications company based in South Africa, goes live with its digital wallet that enables WhatsApp based P2P mobile payments.
  • Nigerian payment infrastructure solution provider Airopay introduces a new digital payment app.

Central and Eastern Europe

  • Paysera expands to Albania, opening offices in the capital city of Tirana.
  • Polish fintech ZEN announces strategic partnership with Mastercard; goes live in 32 European markets.
  • U.K.-based cashless payment solution provider DiPocket chooses Lithuania for its office in the CEE region.

Middle East and Northern Africa

  • Emirates NBD introduces next-generation global corporate banking platform businessONLINE.
  • New report highlights Riyadh and Bahrain among “top fintech ecosystems to watch.”
  • Kuwait-based banking technology service provider VeriTech partners with Norway’s Zwipe to meet growing demand for contactless payments in the Middle East.

Central and Southern Asia

  • India-based cryptocurrency investment platform CoinSwitch Kuber announces plans for early December launch.
  • Fintech Futures takes a look at Indian challenger bank Finwego, which specializes in lending in the private school education space.
  • Swedish biometric company Fingerprint Cards teams up with Indian smartcard manufacturer M-Tech Innovations to launch contactless cards in India.

Photo by Ben Mack from Pexels

Revolut Business launches affordable acquiring solution for European businesses

Revolut Business launched its acquiring solution at Web Summit 2020, enabling businesses in 13 European countries to accept card payments online directly into their account. The off-the-shelf product will form part of Revolut Business’ starter pack, an end-to-end solution to help companies manage everything in one place, according to a press release.

Revolut’s move into acquiring is a competitive one with market incumbents Stripe and Adyen. Business customers can take advantage of low fees and competitive rates, with a 1.3% fee for U.K. and EEA consumer cards and a 2.8% fee for all other cards.

Customers can choose paid plans with the Revolut Business acquiring system and receive a set number of free U.K. and EEA card payment acceptances every month at no additional cost.

Revolut Business helps businesses accept payments online problem-free, using the company’s checkout plugins, or they can use the customizable widget and merchant API to build their own checkout experience.

The new acquiring functionality enables businesses to request payments from anyone anywhere in the world, without the need for a website or online store by using a secure payment link that can be shared with customers. Funds can be converted to another currency at the interbank rate if necessary and save on foreign exchange rates.

Revolut Business account customers will benefit from seeing payments settled the next day, allowing for quick access to business funds and improved cashflow.

“Payments sit at the core of any business, so we have crafted a solution that meets not only their business account demands but also their payment acceptance requirements,” Nik Storonsky, CEO and founder at Revolut, said in the release.

Top 20 banks struggle with mobile account opening

Not everyone can open a bank account on their phone just yet. According to recent data from the biometric technology firm iProov, only 65% of the banks in the study offered account opening through a mobile app. The report examined “20 of the largest retail banks in the U.S. by asset size.” “Customers want some […]

2020 in Review: Did Bitcoin Leave Adolescence?

Though the global pandemic has brought disruption to many industries the world over, the popularity of cryptocurrencies, particularly Bitcoin, has reached an all-time high. 

Someone who knows a thing or two about this is Shane Neagle, the Editor in Chief of The Tokenist. He is an avid supporter of Bitcoin and decentralised finance (DeFi). Shane first learned about Bitcoin while studying philosophy and has since become fascinated by the way technology can positively impact finance — and the world.

While this year has been a horrible time for so many, things look bright for Bitcoin. Here, Shane discusses some of Bitcoin’s highlights throughout 2020. 

Shane Neagle, Editor in Chief, The Tokenist

As we leave the turbulent 2020 behind us, capturing Bitcoin’s milestones tells us much about the monetary state of the world — and Bitcoin’s future positioning.

Leaving Bitcoin’s weekly fluctuations aside, its dominance among cryptocurrencies continues to rise, with over 60% crypto market share. Ethereum may be the go-to blockchain for DeFi protocols, but it holds a fraction of Bitcoin’s market share at 11%. By the year’s end, we may end up with 80% Bitcoin dominance.

This trend mirrors a well-established phenomenon in psychology known as choice overload. If there are dozens of choices available, people tend to prioritise the most familiar one. Some may say that other altcoins are better designed with greater privacy features, such as Monero (XMR), but Bitcoin’s primacy is firmly entrenched in being the first cryptocurrency that started it all. Therefore, it had the longest time to capture the headlines to the point of becoming synonymous with the term “cryptocurrency”.

Hodlers and Wholecoiners

As people grow more accustomed to Bitcoin’s price fluctuations, the clutch of panic loses its grip. In other words, despite average data literacy remaining low, people have learned how to incorporate Bitcoin’s volatility when reading financial charts — and avoid the emotional chaos.

For this reason, the year 2020 saw a record increase of hodlers – people who hold onto Bitcoins, as opposed to selling. Moreover, whales are seeing this year as a major opportunity to accumulate more BTC. Since its halving, the number of whales – holding over 1,000 BTC – surged by 2%.

Overall, wholecoiners – accounts with 1 BTC or more – now comprise 95% of all Bitcoin addresses. In USD terms, this means that wholecoiners hold $301 billion in BTC, while less-than-1BTC accounts hold just $16 billion worth of Bitcoins.

Institutional Adoption Followed by Retail Adoption Rate

Envisioned as a separate financial ecosystem, cryptocurrencies have no infrastructure other than the internet. This plays a critical role in propelling Bitcoin as a store of value – digital gold. Therefore, it is likely that the unprecedented increase in money supply by the Federal Reserve to stave off a market crash in March caused a renewed interest in Bitcoin.

Coming out of the 2008 Financial Crisis, people’s trust in banking had already eroded, as shown in this comparative Bitcoin adoption survey. Only those over the age of 65 have shown increased trust in banks since.

Image Credit: The Tokenist

Now, even some of the largest previously-bailed-out banks, such as JPMorgan Chase, openly admit that Bitcoin may supplant gold as a store of value. Considering that younger generations are far more receptive to virtual assets than physical, this is a realistic scenario which could unfold. Certainly, Bitcoin rises above gold as it doesn’t have to deal with complex operations and costs related to mining, transportation, and security — at least not in the same manner as physical gold.

Accordingly, Bitcoin adoption is rising across the globe, and the asset’s value has increased by 166% in 2020 alone. Countries affected by failed economic policies or sanctions, from Argentina and Venezuela to Lebanon and Iran, are experiencing great adoption growth. In turn, institutional investors are following through:

  • PayPal and Venmo
  • Square
  • Microstrategy
  • Mode Global Holdings
  • Stone Ridge Asset Management

Either integrating Bitcoin as a payment method or as a treasury reserve asset, these major Fintech companies and investment firms have embraced Bitcoin in 2020.

Bitcoin Moving Forward

During 2020, Bitcoin broke a strong multi-year $12k price resistance in August, soon followed by breaking the $14k resistance in November. However, even in the initial stage of Bitcoin’s latest bull run, spurred by PayPal’s announcement of crypto integration, there is a noticeable lull in social media activity – previously one of the main drivers of Bitcoin’s price.

Image Credit: Google Trends, worldwide interest overtime for ‘Bitcoin’.

If we compare Google Trend’s interest overtime for the last five years, we can clearly see spikes in lockstep with Bitcoin’s price surges.

Image Credit: CoinMarketCap

The absence of one in the latest BTC price surges tells us that 2020 is the year in which Bitcoin greatly broadened its footprint. With the Federal Reserve interventions, DeFi explosion, institutional investors, and matured users pushing Bitcoin’s sails, Bitcoin has expanded the space in which it exerts major price momentum.

2020 was a remarkable year for Bitcoin. While we can never truly know what the future holds, 2021 doesn’t look bad either.

With Rainforest Mode, Mogo Uses Gamification to Help Consumers Save Money and The Planet

Mogo’s new ‘Rainforest Mode’ includes the sounds and visuals of the Amazon Rainforest and is designed to evoke a calming, zen-like atmosphere, aimed at helping users be more mindful of their spending to not only reduce their carbon impact but also to become more in control of their spending to achieve better financial health.

Mogo, a Vancouver-based Fintech company that offers solutions to help consumers maintain good financial health, released its new feature to enable users to join the fight against climate change. ‘Rainforest Mode,’ which mimics the sights and sounds of the Amazon rainforest, brings Mogo’s carbon offsetting project called MogoSpend, to MogoCard, the company’s pre-paid debit card.

“Financial stress continues to be one of the biggest stressors for Canadians, while climate change remains one of the biggest long-term challenges we all face. Our goal with the MogoCard was to design a solution that helps consumers get control of the most important part of their financial game, spending, while also helping to solve climate change,” says David Feller, Mogo’s Founder & CEO. “Given more than 50% of Canadians carry credit card debt, moving away from credit card spending to a product that only lets you spend what you load is the first step toward gaining control of your finances.”

Launched in July, MogoSpend is the first product of its kind. It’s designed to help Canadians improve their financial health and the health of the planet through better spending control and automatic carbon offsetting. Mogo’s goal is to help Canadians get to zero debt and a zero carbon footprint. Carbon offsetting is a process where the damage caused by releasing CO2 is effectively reduced by doing other things that remove CO2, such as planting trees.

Mogo has partnered with Vancouver-based Offsetters, a company specializing in helping companies go green, including managing offsetting projects. The current project supported by Mogo is a certified REDD+ initiative focused on protecting the Amazon Rainforest, one of the largest absorbers of CO2 on the planet today, from deforestation.

“Canadians spend more than $900 billion annually in cash, debit, and credit card payments, and this is increasing as more and more people and businesses go cashless,” says Greg Feller, Mogo’s President. “As our members adopt MogoSpend – and we bring new members into the Mogo account – we hope we can help them achieve a net-zero carbon footprint and, collectively, make a meaningful impact on carbon reduction.”

The MogoCard and Rainforest Mode are free to all Canadians and available by downloading the Mogo app. In addition to these products and features, the Mogo app offers members free identity fraud protection, free credit score monitoring, and a simple way to buy and sell bitcoin. Mogo is the only FINTRAC regulated and publicly traded Canadian company on both the TSX and NASDAQ to offer Canadians this full-suite of products.

  • Managing Editor, North America at The Fintech Times

DueDil Adds Continuous Updates to KYB Platform to Aid Regulatory Compliance

London-based RegTech DueDil has announced it is enhancing its Know Your Business (KYB) platform with Continuous Updates product.

Regulatory compliance remains a fundamental challenge for banks, fintechs and insurance companies, and with the regulatory landscape constantly evolving, it is becoming increasingly important for companies to stay on top of changes to their portfolios.

The uncertainty caused by the pandemic has impacted both SMEs and large enterprises. Many are suffering financially and undergoing major change as a result. For banks, fintechs and insurance companies, having a real-time view of these changes is critical to continue to support these SMEs while remaining compliant on an ongoing basis.

Traditionally, banks and insurers would contact customers to ask them to provide accurate and updated information. This manual way of doing things is prone to human error, inaccuracies and missed changes as it is heavily reliant on clients providing the right information, at the right time.

DueDil’s new Continuous Updates product solves these challenges by providing the functionality for clients to get a complete view of all company changes on a daily basis. This means banks, fintechs and insurance companies stay on top of changes to their book in real-time, reduce their exposure to customer and regulatory risk as well as ensuring business development and client engagement opportunities are not missed.

Denis Dorval, COO at DueDil, said: “Established players are experiencing skyrocketing costs in keeping up with changes to their book of business. And challengers are caught up with elevating costs to maintain their books in check with their compliance and risk obligations after onboarding new clients. This release marks the formal launch of our Continuous Update capability. Clients will now be able to track changes to companies automatically and view in an instant potential risk in their portfolio. As a cloud-native KYB for Life platform, our customers can expect to see regular, continuous enrichment of this functionality as we progress.”

The DueDil Business Information Graph (B.I.G.) ingests billions of data points a day and surfaces more than 270 million connections between companies, directors and shareholders. The DueDil API provides a window into the B.I.G. at a single point in time, and the addition of Continuous Updates means clients can now learn about any changes to the B.I.G. within 24 hours.

HungerRush acquires OrdrAI’s AI-driven text message ordering solution

HungerRush has acquired OrdrAI, a text and voice ordering provider for the restaurant industry, giving HungerRush Restaurant Management System the ability to utilize Artificial Intelligence-driven order texting, according to a press release.

The appeal of OrdrAI is its conversational AI which, by using the SMA function of a mobile device, can accurately understand orders placed by customers. This technology uses a combination of natural language processing and real-time quality control, providing restaurant patrons a fast, reliable and safe customer experience.

The OrdrAI text-to-order solution features AI-driven interpretation of text orders; a secondary confirmation process to clarify order accuracy; seamless system integration with POS, menus, pricing, delivery zones, payments and rewards; streamlined checkout process with multiple payment options through digital ordering channels and continuous learning to provide order accuracy.

“We are excited to welcome the OrdrAI team and augment our restaurant management platform with integrated voice and text message ordering,” Perry Turbes, CEO of HungerRush said in the release. “We are committed to providing innovative multi-channel digital ordering technologies to restaurant owners so they can own their business data and customer relationships, ensuring the best experience for their guests.”

The text-to-order feature will be available with the HungerRush Restaurant Management System or as an optional add-on for existing customers.

Upserve Acquired by Lightspeed in $430 Million Deal

Restaurant payments and analytics innovator Upserve is the latest company to be acquired by point of sale (POS) and ecommerce solutions firm Lightspeed.

The $430 million purchase was announced earlier this week, marking Lightspeed’s 10th acquisition since it was founded in 2005. The deal comes on the heels of Lightspeed’s November purchase of ShopKeep that is anticipated to close for $440 million.

“Lightspeed is quickly emerging as a world-leading commerce platform for SMBs and partnering with them to deliver data-based insights through a single digital hub was a natural choice,” said Upserve CEO Sheryl Hoskins. “Together we look forward to empowering North American restaurateurs to deliver superior guest experiences and make them wildly successful.”

Lightspeed anticipates the acquisition will accelerate product innovation and boost its analytics commerce platform. The company’s purchase of Upserve will also help Lightspeed reach an additional 7,000 U.S.-based clients in the hospitality industry.

Originally founded under the name Swipely in 2009, the company rebranded to Upserve in 2016 to reflect the company’s focus on the restaurant industry.

Upserve has raised a total of $40.5 million from 14 investors, including Greylock and Vista Equity Partners. From October 2019 to October 2020, the company recorded approximately $40 million in revenue.

Photo by Petr Sevcovic on Unsplash

New EPA Report Challenges Industry To Do More in Helping the Unbanked and Underserved

The Emerging Payments Association (EPA) which promotes collaboration and innovation across payments, recently published new insight that explores some of the issues that young and elderly age-groups in the UK face when it comes to accessing financial services. The research, which was published on the day that England was released from its second lockdown, also highlights some of the inclusivity initiatives and solutions that are currently offered by Fintechs to address these issues.

According to the Financial Inclusion Commission, the UK has over a million individuals without a bank account. There is a much larger section of the population which is underserved and a disproportionate amount are 16-24 or over 65. The experience of the unbanked and the underserved has been further aggravated in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and its subsequent lockdowns. When the UK entered COVID-19, it had a low resilience in savings, insurance, affordable credit and financial capabilities, and since the pandemic started further inequalities and the potential of a real credit and debt crisis looms as we head into the Christmas period. The EPA’s Project Inclusion team set out to inspire more action to help these consumer groups at-risk.

The report, All aboard: The role of the Fintech industry in solving the problems of financial exclusion,
was compiled from interviews with a range of stakeholders including banks and payments organisations, consulting organisations, Fintechs, independent industry bodies, social and community interest organisation and consumers. These included subject matter experts from Fintechs and charity organisations, who are playing their part by offering solutions to financially excluded demographics, to consumers at either end of the ‘age-spectrum’ of 16-24 through to those aged 65 and over, who often miss out on the benefits that financial services can bring.

The interviews explore a multitude of factors that contribute to financial inclusion amongst the young and the elderly, deep-diving into:

  • Digital skills
  • Access to banking
  • Personal circumstances
  • Low financial awareness
  • Lack of understanding of the needs of these consumer groups by the industry.

The findings, sponsored by the EPA’s founding benefactor, Mastercard, also highlight the crucial role Fintechs can have to improve the lives of these groups, such as offering an open banking solution or developing more customer-centric products and services. One such service that was recently announced was free cashback at convenience stores to help with the ever-cashless UK society. The report demonstrates that Fintechs are often leading through customer-focused innovations.

Tony Craddock, Director General of the Emerging Payments Association, commented: “The industry is changing fast. Innovation is everywhere. But we are still leaving people behind. And that’s not right. I believe this collaborative piece of work will inspire us into action so that in time, everyone has access to the payment services they deserve.”

Josh Berle, Business Development Director, Mastercard, and Lead of EPA Project Inclusion, added: “Mastercard is delighted to support EPA’s Project Inclusion and thrilled to have helped produce this new report, which is full of rich takeaways on improving inclusion for all types of users at risk and particularly the youngest and older age groups. Promoting financial inclusion is key part of Mastercard’s ethos to do well by doing good and we will continue our work with EPA to do precisely that.”

EPA’s Project Inclusion aims to drive industry activity to address financial exclusion and to provide clarity on fintech innovations and solutions that reduce financial exclusion. This report is part of Project Inclusion’s work programme, seeking to highlight examples of best practice by payment firms and by encouraging others to think and reflect on how they can support these groups at risk of exclusion.

  • Gina is a FinTech journalist (BA, MA) who works across broadcast and print. She has written for most national newspapers and started her career in BBC local radio.

Blackhawk Network launches Pay4It payments solutions suite

Blackhawk Network has introduced Pay4It suite of global solutions for merchants and retailers connecting the physical and digital payments landscape. The suite provides a seamless, omnichannel payment experience for consumers and can also bring more revenue, new customer acquisition channels and increased loyalty for partners, according to a press release.

The solutions address key pain points in payments and help to expand the customer’s payment of choice. The suite connects cash and digital payments giving the customer the ability to add cash to digital wallets or mobile apps; giving customers access through digital wallets and an omnichannel checkout; enhancing mobile payments POS and helps brands increase revenue and expands channels for digital gift cards.

“The Pay4It suite emphasizes how the power of payments can help our partners create true engagement and added value for their customers,” said Helena Mao, VP of global product strategy at Blackhawk Network in the release. “Businesses know they must invest in their digital platforms and ensure payment option parity across their physical and digital channels, while also delivering a seamless, truly omnichannel experience. It’s exciting to support our partners to meet this moment.”

Ant, Grab win Singapore digital bank licenses along with Sea

Ant Group Co. and a venture led by Grab Holdings Ltd. won licenses to run digital banks in Singapore, paving the way for the technology giants to expand their financial services in the Southeast Asian hub.

Ant Group headquarters in Hangzhou, in China’s eastern Zhejiang province. Photographer: STR/AFP/Getty Images

Sea Ltd. is also among the four winners announced Friday by the Monetary Authority of Singapore after almost a year of deliberation. A consortium involving China’s Greenland Financial Holdings Group Co. is the other successful candidate.

Singapore joins the U.K. and Hong Kong in opening up its banking system to purely digital entrants, as it seeks to inject innovation and competition into a market dominated by traditional lenders. The permits are coveted given the city’s status as a rapidly growing wealth management center and a gateway to Southeast Asia, where the digital lending market is expected to quadruple in five years.

“Following a very competitive digital banking license process in Hong Kong recently, digital banks in Singapore will now be one of the first to capitalize on the booming Southeast Asia market,” said Mark Robinson, technology sector lead partner for Asia Pacific at Herbert Smith Freehills in Singapore. “Other countries in the region will follow suit, including Malaysia, as financial services continue on the path to further liberalization and greater digitization.”

Four Winners

NameDigital Bank Category
Sea entityFull
Greenland Financial consortiumWholesale
Ant-owned entityWholesale

Digital full banks will be allowed to take deposits and provide banking services to both retail and corporate customers. Digital wholesale banks can only target small and medium-sized businesses and other non-consumer segments. They are expected to start operating from early 2022, MAS said.

“MAS applied a rigorous, merit-based process to select a strong slate of digital banks,” Managing Director Ravi Menon said in a statement. “We expect them to thrive alongside the incumbent banks and raise the industry’s bar in delivering quality financial services, particularly for currently underserved businesses and individuals.”

MAS said it decided to award licenses to two wholesale applicants which met its expectations and were demonstrably stronger across the criteria. MAS had previously said it would give as many as three wholesale licenses.

As the digital wholesale banks “are introduced as a pilot, MAS will review whether to grant more of such licenses in the future,” it said. The authority also said it had taken into consideration the impact of Covid-19 on the business plans and projections of applicants.

Fresh Competition

The entrants will provide fresh competition for lenders such as DBS Group Holdings Ltd. While more than 90% of Singapore’s adult population have bank accounts, the newcomers are likely to target segments including unsecured personal loans, as well as small and medium-sized firms that may not have good access to financing.

For Ant, the successful bid may lessen the pain it’s experiencing in its home market of China after a series of regulatory clampdowns derailed its much anticipated initial share sale. The company co-founded by billionaire Jack Ma faces a slim chance of reviving its IPO in 2021 as China overhauls rules governing the fintech industry, according to regulatory officials familiar with the matter.

“Although Ant Group has recently faced challenges in China around their techfin approach to the market, they are one of the most experienced companies in this space,” said Zennon Kapron, who runs independent research firm Kapronasia. “It will be interesting to see if they are able to accomplish the same in Singapore.”

MAS Unswayed

Menon said last month that MAS wouldn’t be deterred by crackdowns abroad, with the U.S. also scrutinizing Chinese firms. “Regulatory tightening that’s happening in China will not have an impact on the digital banks here,” he said in an interview.

“Over the years, Ant Group has accumulated substantial experience and proven success, especially in China where we work with partner financial institutions to serve the needs of SMEs,” Ant said in a statement. “We look forward to building stronger and deeper collaborations with all participants in the financial services industry in Singapore.”

Grab is teaming up with Singapore Telecommunications Ltd. on its digital bank, through a majority-owned venture. Founded in 2012 by Anthony Tan and Hooi Ling Tan as a taxi-hailing service, Grab has been providing certain financial services to consumers and merchants for more than a year. It’s broadened its offerings with products including fixed-income funds from Fullerton Fund Management and UOB Asset Management.

Anthony Tan said in a statement that Grab and Singtel’s combined experience will help build Singapore’s next-generation digital bank. Singtel CEO-designate Yuen Kuan Moon said the two companies can make banking “more accessible and intuitive.”

Sea, worth about $90 billion, is the most valuable company in Southeast Asia. Singaporean Forrest Li, born in China, founded the online gaming company in the city-state in 2009 before taking it public in New York in 2017, by which point it had added an e-commerce platform, Shopee.

Greenland Financial is the investment arm of Chinese state-owned real estate developer Greenland. Its consortium includes Linklogis Hong Kong Ltd. and Beijing Co-operative Equity Investment Fund Management Co.

The announcement comes days before the government kicks off its Singapore Fintech Festival, one of the year’s biggest state-sponsored conferences.

—Chanyaporn Chanjaroen (Bloomberg)

—Yoolim Lee (Bloomberg)

With assistance from Jun Luo.

Provenir Partners With Gini Finance for Turkey Expansion

Provenir, risk decisioning and data analytics software company, has announced a new partnership with Istanbul-based consultancy firm, Gini Finance, to support further market expansion in Turkey.

The partnership will empower Turkish banks, fintechs and financial services organisations to incorporate decisioning software in a bid to propel their move to digitise customer onboarding and enhance their credit risk processes.

Chris Kneen, Senior Vice President EMEA at Provenir said: “Turkey is a dynamic and connected market, with a vibrant and well-resourced fintech landscape that is driving the digitalisation of products and addressing the obstacle of financial inclusion. The banks are collaborating more and more with fintechs and our advanced technology can play a huge role in supporting them on their digital transformation journey.”

“Partnering with Gini Finance is a big step in being able to widen our support to the sector and make data, rich insight and real-time risk decisioning more accessible to the emerging ecosystem. Gini Finance have a strong track record in Turkey, unrivalled experience in the banking space, and we are delighted to announce this exciting partnership.”

Mehmet Bozacioglu, Managing Director at Gini Finance said, “After over a decade of implementing decision support systems to almost every financial services organisation in Turkey, we know that data preparation and risk model deployment is tremendously important to these businesses. Provenir, a global vendor for decision support systems, brings to the Turkish market one of the most innovative tools in this space, that will empower banks to give better credit decisions. Its powerful platform delivers fast data integration and can operationalise machine learning models. We, with a local technical team, have already completed successful implementations with a leading bank in Turkey and are looking forward to connecting with more organisations in the future through this exciting partnership.”

Creating Financial Services For African Retailers

The African continent as a whole presents strong opportunities for its retailers, particularly in financial services.

Karen Adie is Director - Merchant Services at TradeDepot

Karen Adie is Director - Merchant Services at TradeDepot

Karen Adie is Director – Merchant Services at TradeDepot

Karen Adie, Director – Merchant Services at TradeDepot shares her insights. She started off her career at Goldman Sachs as a Technology Analyst and has worked in various capacities at several tech startups in Nigeria. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science from the University of Nottingham and a Master’s degree in Management from Cranfield University, both in the UK. Her areas of expertise include project strategy and management, design thinking, digital and social media marketing.

Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest rate of female business owners globally. The majority of these female entrepreneurs are in informal retail which makes up 95% of the retail structure serving over 1.2 billion consumers across the continent. Unfortunately, one of the biggest barriers faced by these entrepreneurs is that they are unable to access financial services that will help them scale their businesses, increase their turnover and ultimately earn a living beyond subsistence. These retailers often need fast and flexible loans but the existing mix of microfinance banks and co-operative societies can be complicated, fragmented and inaccessible for those who need these services the most. 

Global goods manufacturers like Nestle, Unilever, Procter & Gamble and the likes are dependent on these small retailers who play a critical role in the supply chain in Africa. These small businesses offer a thriving distribution network and without their support, suppliers are restricted to a limited number of large grocery chains that are not patronised by the mass market. 

With many parts of Africa being quite patriarchal, women’s access to financial services is disproportionately low. According to the World Bank, only 37% of women on the continent have bank accounts. High interest rates by financial institutions and collateral requirements for loans are also major issues that make it difficult for these small retailers to expand their businesses. On the flip side, some women due to low financial literacy, fear of failure and a high aversion for risk limit themselves by not applying for credit and would rather struggle unnecessarily to make more money.

The opportunity presented by COVID-19

In countries like Nigeria, small retailers are the backbone of the economy; the local neighborhood shop in a short period of time reaches more customers than the large grocery store. The restrictions on movement as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic has also presented an opportunity for these retailers to increase turnover as people are spending more time at home and need greater access to food and other essential goods. Unfortunately, without additional financial support, they are at the risk of losing potential customers due to reduced or limited stock availability. 

In times like these, the need for capital to expand is paramount. Take Osato for example, who is the owner of a small retail shop in Lagos, Nigeria. She started the business from the savings she made selling mobile phone airtime and loves selling goods to her customers. She had dreams to increase her stock and open more shops but could not do so due to financial constraints. She would have ordinarily applied for a loan from her local bank but she does not have the collateral or high credit rating needed to get a loan. This is where technology is making a difference, making it easier for businesses like Osato’s to access the funds they need to fulfil their dreams. 

Technology is making a difference

With the rise of technology enabled retail solutions, the power now lies in the hands of the retailers. Goods from the supplier can be ordered by the shop owner on an online platform with quantity and type specifications from the comfort of her shop. This is then delivered either on credit or paid for immediately. Retailers can also leverage their trading relationship with e-commerce companies to access the inventory they need even when they may not be able to pay for it immediately. Some e-commerce businesses also provide inventory management to the retailers and sales trends to the suppliers. It is a win-win for all the parties involved.

The importance of financial literacy

Another way retailers are supported is through business loans with little or no interest that can be repaid within a specified timeframe. In today’s complex and rapidly changing credit market, financial literacy, especially for women and girls, is important for small businesses to expand and scale their operations. Arming these small businesses that make up 95% of the African retail ecosystem with financial literacy skills helps them make informed decisions overall and position them to build better and more durable businesses. 

For such a large and economically viable market, the African retail scene lacks access to financial services that promote inclusion. These retailers have long been the backbone of the African economy but have been overlooked for far too long. By addressing the challenges that hold them back, we are not only addressing a longstanding issue but we will also be setting up the economy of the continent for greater success and prosperity.

ReceiptHero Secures €2 Million Seed Investment

It’s been a grand week for Finland’s ReceiptHero. The company announced a few days ago that it was teaming up with SEB Kort to have its digital receipt functionality integrated into SEB Kort’s corporate card, Eurocard. Then, we learned that ReceiptHero had inked a deal with fellow Finovate alum ETRONIKA that will enable the launch of the first e-receipt solution in the Baltic region. The new offering will allow ETRONIKA’s business customers to use their KASU retail network management system and ReceiptHero’s technology to issue digital receipts to their customers.

“ETRONIKA has built a truly modern retail chain management and POS product and we are thrilled to be partnering on a wider partnership that allows us the initial steps of building out the Baltic ecosystem.” ReceiptHero CEO Joel Ojala said.

Today comes more news from the Finland-based fintech. Courtesy of an investment from VC Lifeline Ventures, Superhero Capital, and Vidici Ventures of Sweden, ReceiptHero has picked up $2.43 million (€2 million) in seed funding.

“We’re making some real strides now with merchants and potential bank partners,” Ojala said. “We’ve hit an inflection point where banks understand the potential of digital receipts and value for their customers. For merchants they feel safe with ReceiptHero protecting their customer data and payment information.”

Growing interest in ReceiptHero’s technology, which transmits digital receipts from merchants directly to customer banking or account apps, comes as Finland’s government has decreed that digital receipts will be mandatory by 2025. Finland launched a digital receipt pilot project in 2019 that saw more than 50,000 state workers shopping exclusively with merchants using ReceiptHero’s platform.

ReceiptHero made its Finovate debut earlier this year at FinovateEurope in Berlin. Headquartered in Helsinki, the company is also partnered with Nordea, integrating its technology with the bank’s Nordea Wallet offering at the beginning of last year. Other recent ReceiptHero partners include SKJ Systems, Diebold Nixdorf, and global IT system integrator CGI.

Photo by Engin Akyurt from Pexels

How to streamline payables for the back-end of business

Accounts payable is a necessary point of improvement for companies wanting to take their business further, yet it’s often the last area to be streamlined. Rob Israch, CMO at Tipalti shares his insight on what companies should be doing to continue growth.

Back in 2010, technology was nowhere near where we are now when it comes to handling payments. Although industry was looking for ways to streamline, many processes were still far from being automated. What many companies were looking for was a way to save time and costs and they needed a system that could help them with both.

“Businesses have not taken accounts payable seriously as a point of improvement. The status quo has been to hire more people to pay more people. And while technology has existed for some pain points, such as invoice workflows, overwhelmingly, the tools have been bandages to treat a larger problem. But now in the age of digital transactions, a global service and supply chain, and remote work companies are scrambling to automate AP as a holistic process. That includes supplier management, tax compliance, financial controls, and auditable electronic payments in addition to invoice and purchase order automation,” said Rob Israch, CMO at Tipalti

Israch’s company knew an automated payables solution could save companies time and costs over the manual supplier payment processes many companies had used for years.

“We wanted to create a platform that automated this complicated problem [of payments] and save digital networks time and help them avoid hiring additional payments staff. We discovered more industries beyond digital networks could benefit from our technology. Whether it has an invoice-based workflow or a digital business model, every growing company needs an intelligent, holistic approach to eliminate payables friction,” Israch said.

The invoice side of payments

In the past, payable solutions generally started from the payments side of things rather than the invoice side. But Israch’s company had a different idea of how to move forward.

“We had to solve the biggest gap in a company’s operating finances: the transaction from business to the bank. It’s a harder problem to solve when dealing with regulators, international bank transfers, currency conversion, and reconciliation,” Israch said.

By solving the payments core problem and developing around it, the company created a more holistic automation solution that covered the variety of aspects of the payables process.

“And it’s designed to do so at scale, allowing for thousands of domestic and global transactions to be executed and managed from a single point and with minimal user intervention,” Israch said.

Israch explained that with the company’s platform large blue-chip banks and payment processors can send funds to 190 countries through 120 local currencies using six payment methods. Companies can remit payment to thousands of partners or suppliers, regardless of the country or the payment method used, through a single portal instead of using multiple banks and payment gateways.

Performance-to-pay models

As the company matured, the industries that needed such a payments system grew as well. One of the industries, gaming, offered a true niche market for a payments system.

“Gaming is a microcosm of the real-world economy. You have earnings, labor, digital goods, advertising, marketing, influencers, athletes, artists, entertainment — you name it. What’s unique is that it’s global, digital, and transactional. These are the core qualities in which payables automation thrives and is a natural fit. More industries, specifically the gig economy and online marketplaces, are becoming very similar to gaming in that they are performance-to-pay models,” said Israch.

The company works with any company that has a sizable payables issue and its client list includes Amazon Twitch, Roku, Seeking Alpha, Twitter, GoDaddy, Zola and Foursquare.

“We launched a monetization app for developers, addressing all phases of app monetization payout from developer registration, tax and regulatory compliance, and payment method selection to developer funds disbursement and payment status communications to its developers,” said Israch. “Platforms like StartApp help facilitate performance-to-pay instructions from in-game advertising. They determine how much to pay someone and when. We use that data to process the payment and manage the communication with developers, alert them of issues, and gather their bank account details and tax forms. We provide payment processing to reward streamers garnering audiences for their content.”

Unicorns in waiting

But like so many companies, once the pandemic hit, Israch and his team had to learn how to navigate for their customers as well as their staff.

“We’re getting used to living on Zoom and Slack without the camaraderie of in-person communications, but business-wise, other than some industries that have been devastated by COVID-19 like travel and tourism, we’ve maintained a moderate growth trajectory across our customer base,” said Israch.

“Our greatest achievements have been our customer wins. We have a 98% retention rate. We’re foundational. Some [clients] are large customers, but most are midsize, high-velocity companies. They are ‘unicorns in waiting'” said Israch.

This Week in Fintech ending 4th December 2020

Yes, we are in December, 2020 is nearly over! This week our experts brought you the following insights based on their experience as investors, entrepreneurs & executives.

To continue receiving This Week in Fintech, you can either become a paying Member for $143 per year (and receive all our content in addition to this weekly summary) by clicking here.  If you just want to receive This Week in Fintech for free, you will need to fill in this form

Your Editor is Bernard Lunn. He is also the CEO of Daily Fintech and author of The Blockchain Economy and occasional opinion columnist.

Monday Ilias Hatzis our Greece-based crypto entrepreneur (Founder & CEO at Mercato Blockchain Corporation AG and Weekly Columnist at Daily Fintech) @iliashatzis wrote Delaying the inevitable by regulating self-custody wallets

In a tweet on Thanksgiving day, Tim Armstrong, CEO at Coinbase, posted that US Secretary of Treasury, Steven Mnuchin, is rumored to be working on a law to regulate self-hosted crypto wallets. Supposedly he’s rushing to wrap and deliver this law before the end of Donald Trump’s term of office on January 20, 2021. The proposed regulation will require exchanges to verify the identity of users who use self-hosted wallets, before a withdrawal could be sent to their self-hosted wallet. According, to John Bolton’s book, the former National Security Advisor claims that Trump told Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in May 2018, to “go after Bitcoin”. Well, as expected the news triggered a lot of concern, and the price of bitcoin dropped by $3,000, before it rebounded above $18k. While the announcement of such regulation may have a short-term negative impact on prices, the long-term outcome doesn’t change, because bitcoin is linked to a new frontier, the digitization of money and value. In response the Blockchain Association released “Self-Hosted Wallets and the Future of Free Societies – A Guide for Policymakers”, a new report presenting policy options for self-hosted wallets to regulators. Coin Center published “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Unhosted Wallets”, an expert opinion by Jai Ramaswamy (formerly the head of the Department of Justice’s Anti-Money Laundering division), also defending non-custodial crypto wallets. Both the Blockchain Association and Ramaswamy agree that AML is needed but for on/off ramps for fiat to crypto and vice versa. The essence of cryptocurrencies like bitcoin is that they allow anyone to have custody privacy and control over their digital assets. If US regulators did go down this path, they would be fighting against open source wallets and open source currencies, a difficult thing to do on many different levels.

Editor note: If this rumour proves true, Bitcoin will have reached the “then they fight you” phase.

Bernard Lunn, CEO of Daily Fintech and author of The Blockchain Economy wrote:Equity Crowdfunding Part 2: Innovation from two world’s colliding

The equity crowdfunding market is consolidating (see Part 1). That does not signal the end of disruptive innovation. The wild unregulated Crypto ICO world is colliding with the now more established equity crowdfunding market.

Editor note: Read this for insight into the future of equity crowdfunding, ICO and STO.


Tuesday Efi Pylarinou @efipm our Swiss-based Fintech Adviser,  founder of Efi Pylarinou Advisory and a Fintech/Blockchain influencer – No.3 influencer in the finance sector by Refinitiv Global Social Media 2019 wrote Fintech investors should look for value beyond re-bundling enablers

On the one-hour train ride to Zurich for the annual SICTIC Fintech event that will be held at Trust square, with only the speakers physically present, I focused on reflecting on the Swiss Fintech landscape.

Swisscom maps the startups on a monthly basis and reported in early November 375 startups with 5 new additions.

Editor note: Efi takes a wide angle look at the Swiss Fintech startup ecosystem of B2B enablers via API, open source and rebundlers serving end user markets

Wednesday Alan Scott Managing Director EMEA at 24 Exchange @Alan_SmartMoney wrote Stablecoin News for the week ending Wednesday 2 December 2020.

This weekly snapshot is the news that matters in the Stablecoin market.



Rintu Patnaik, an Insurtech expert based in India, wrote: State of the Cyber Insurance Market

Beginning 2016, a spate of cyber incidents affected global businesses, drawing unprecedented attention to this peril. From NotPetya to WannaCry, ransomware and malware attacks created havoc for businesses, causing huge losses. These attacks proved to be globally contagious, infecting organizations across tens of countries.

Editor note: This is a hot market with cyber premiums in the US rising 11% in 2019 to $2.26 billion.

Christian Dreyer @x3er, our Swiss based CFA who focusses on how XBRL changes our world wrote:XBRL News from Threadneedle Street and Indonesia with SPACs

Editor note: This weekly snapshot is the news that matters in the XBRL market.


Friday Howard Tolman, a well-known banker, technologist and entrepreneur in London, wrote: Alt Lending for week ended 4 December 2020

Editor note: This weekly snapshot is the news that matters in the Alt Lending market.


To continue receiving ‘This Week in Fintech’, the weekly recap of our articles, you will need to fill this form to give us consent to send this to you. Please note that Daily Fintech requires your organizational email address (e.g. corporate, educational or government) and your LinkedIn URL. This information is required for subscribers who want ‘This Week in Fintech’ for free. If you prefer to not provide this information, you can still receive all our content by becoming a paying member.

Unlimint Launches Local Acquiring Services in Mexico

Unlimint furthers its goal to bridge the gap between consumers and e-commerce businesses in Mexico by launching local acquiring services in the region.

Founded in 2009 and now employing more than 300 people across 14 international offices, Unlimint first entered the Mexican e-commerce market in 2019 and is one of the region’s key fintech players.

Unlimint’s acquiring services will now give merchants in Mexico access to a raft of new features, including the ability to offer instalment payments with local payment cards and the acceptance of alternative methods, like cash-based payments and bank transfers, through an all-in-one easy-access business interface.

This allows Unlimint to now cover 95% of local payment methods in Mexico, in a country where 63% of the population are unbanked and only half of e-commerce transactions are made using a debit or credit card, while the remaining are performed via local convenient stores like OXXO, 7 eleven, and Walmart.

“Our localised acquiring solution allows us to take our Mexican customers on a frictionless journey to the “tomorrow” of global payments. A tomorrow where they can offer their clients the ability to pay how and where they want, whether upfront or in instalments, all without having to sign new agreements with acquirers.”, said Kirill Evstratov, CEO of Unlimint. “We developed an adaptive ecosystem that is capable of processing and managing several different regions at once with all their merchants, regulations, technical differences and accounting. Our clients will be able to accept both cards and APMs, and offer instalment payments with local payment cards through an all-in-one easy access business interface.”

60% of e-commerce purchases in LATAM are currently paid for using an instalment plan. The support of regionally dominant local cards, on the other hand, in comparison to international cards, can increase approval ratio and minimise fees.

Andrey Novikov, LATAM Regional Lead at Unlimint, said: “The launch of a localised acquiring solution here in Mexico is a major step for our team. It allows us to offer our merchants a solution that was created with their specific market challenges in mind – is more cost-efficient and is simply more convenient. Now we are truly ready to take over Mexico’s e-commerce market, offer our merchants an answer to their everyday payment pains and help them to be ‘ready for tomorrow’.”

Machine Learning: View From the Top Featuring SmartStream

There are plenty of defining years in the history books, and as 2020 draws to a close, it’s almost certain that the global pandemic will ensure that this year is featured prominently. With events cancelled, launches delayed, and country-wide lockdowns, the way we work has changed forever. Still, for financial technology and surrounding industries, this was also a year of challenge and opportunity. 

This December, The Fintech Times is asking industry leaders for their ‘View from the Top’ to gain an insight into the decisions behind the last 12-months. Today, we’re speaking to Haytham Kaddoura, the CEO of SmartStream Technologies Group. Kaddoura has over 20 years of experience in investment advisory, asset management, corporate restructuring, strategy formulation and execution for boards of some of the most prominent corporations across the GCC and the greater Middle East and North Africa region.

Here Kaddoura is interviewed by Chris Skinner, in his role as guest editor for The Fintech Times, about artificial intelligence, knowledge sharing and the future of fintech

How do you see fintech affecting the transaction lifecycle and where do you see the sweet spots?

Fintech is at the core of a lot of the developments in the trade posting world today. Whether you’re looking at a piece of best execution management, cash and liquidity and other collateral management or corporate action; banks and regulators are increasingly looking for greater transparency, much more timely availability of information and fintech is at the heart of it. It’s quite different from what we used to see five to seven years ago.

With artificial intelligence-enabled technology now we’re effectively pushing the boundary on where fintech used to be important to more strategic and more critical decision-making areas of financial institutions.

There’s lots of chatter about artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, blockchain, and cryptocurrencies. How do you see these technologies developing?

I think it is the next best thing to sliced bread that has affected the industry. Three to four years ago everybody was talking about AI, blockchain and machine learning, but it wasn’t anything solid. It was a new concept and new theory that looked nice on paper, but there were very few entities that actually had products out there or that could really utilise this technology. Since then, the impact of AI on understanding masses of data and analysing it and enabling institutions to process the massive volumes of data very quickly is so valuable. For example, using predictive analytics – in terms of looking at trends in payment and treasury operations – has a massive influence on every bank’s decision-making capabilities today. Aside from creating efficiency, cutting costs and having met the requirements for regulatory reporting, the impact of AI in this very short period of time has had massive impact and we are only seeing the tip of the iceberg. As AI starts to roll out in different entities and different functions, it will have significant impact and great value for different stakeholders, whether it’s the shareholders, the regulators or us as consumers.

JPMorgan Chase is investing in blockchain and other technologies and has highlighted the long-term potential of distributed ledger technology (DLT). But would you agree that, currently, the best developments are from the outside community that services the banks?

Yes, 100%. What I’ve seen with a lot of our clients, is that they were very trigger happy – many institutions jumped on the idea of investing in new technologies, they set up innovation labs and allocated quite significant budgets to deal with it. With all due respect, a lot of these have failed in handling critical areas. You have to leave AI to the experts.

In the reconciliation space, where we operate, we work closely with both innovation teams and the institutions. It’s the difference between surgically tackling an issue and putting a Band-Aid on it. So, when you enable artificial intelligence ina thought process, it is completely different to putting a generic solution on top of a problem. What we do, is embed AI in what we provide. And, I should think that a lot of the fintech providers are in the same situation. It’s completely different than building a shell around a solution.

In a recent blog I wrote – Build or Buy to Build and Die – I highlighted how specialist companies were offering open APIs and interfaces to banks that could provide them with beautiful code to transact and do things that the bank just couldn’t do five to 10 years ago. In areas, such as open banking and payment, we’ve seen a big impact but less so in the capital market space. What’s your observations?

We still have the old value of tried and tested. So, when your building expertise is for something you’ve seen across multiple institutions, it does add value to any one institution that tries to newly dive into a process. What we’ve seen across Asia, the US, the UK and other European markets, is that every time you are able to transfer knowledge, it is much better than when a particular financial institution looks at it from their own particular window. There’s tremendous value in synergy and knowledge sharing and that’s certainly one of the key value propositions that global fintech providers bring to the table. It is surprising and somewhat mindboggling that even in today’s world, when you talk to a Tier 1 institution in New York and then you talk to the same institution in Europe, there’s very little sharing of knowledge. You’d think that things would be discussed more on a global front. But unfortunately, the institution is still heavily driven by local geographically constrained operations. We bring value to a normalised process across the globe within an institution. Unlike, say, a bank or an institution, we’ve done this for so long and we’ve seen everything. And, with our history, we’ve built with that in mind, and we’re ready for it – empowering a whole new way of thinking, new capabilities, new way of doing things.

Goldman Sachs has reportedly shrunk its trading floor in the last 12 years from hundreds to a few. With less traders, there’s also less need for management, so we are now seeing highly lean organisations going from investing $12 in humans and $1 in technology to eventually switching the other way around. Do you see that as a bleak prospect for most people’s jobs and futures?

Well, we’ve seen this many, many times before. When newspapers started getting published online, it didn’t kill their processes like it was initially feared. I think people get skilled and they get geared up for other areas. Let’s not forget, millennials are increasingly looking for a relaxed working environment. They want to have a healthier life-work balance more than our generation. So, the odds of having somebody doing a 12 to 15-hour shift is going to diminish as we progress. And, that’s what technology these days is enabling; giving people a stronger work-life load. But at the same time, there’ll be new avenues that are going to open up where people will be more smartly utilised. And, you’re also discounting expansion. Your argument is predicated that if I’m working smarter and more efficiently and more streamlined then my side stays the same side. You’re not saying, well, I’m doing better, then why wouldn’t I grow more? You know, nature abhors a vacuum. I would see more people relying on technology more because we can service more.

When you’re looking over the next cycle horizon of what’s coming downstream with technology, what are the top things that are on your agenda?

For us and others in general, we’ve barely scratched the surface of the capabilities of artificial intelligence, and machine learning will be an even hotter topic in the next couple of years. There are a lot of other new technologies coming up. I don’t know the situation with neural computing but there’s a lot of talk about it these days and neural networks. But technology is advancing every day and fintech space is just trying to keep pace. At the end of the day, the aim is to make operations much more efficient and institutions more capable in meeting client-to-client needs. Every day the march towards excellence is relentless. Without sounding brass, 100 years ago when somebody made the best wagon wheel, Ford then didn’t say, I love these wagon wheel makers, I have to stop making cars. Things are redeployed. Maybe it goes into research, maybe it goes to the personal relationship and the real logging of the work that technology now does better, faster, cheaper. That’s left to the computers or our solutions and the people doing what they’re good at, which is relating to people. It’s just like robots assembling cars instead of allowing people to get repetitive injury, as they used to say 50 years ago. This is the way of the world at the departures board.

The growing automation of corporate actions processing has left some CFOs and COOs concerned at the dilution of their power base and fearful that automation is inferior to human team administration. Is it difficult politically to get people to vote for Christmas if they are a turkey?

Yes, 100% but at the same time, regulators are not making it easy today. The impatience that regulators have with human error is quite strong, given that we have the technologies to overcome the need for any human to be involved. We have jurisdictions where regulators are mandating specific solutions for the fintech organisation that’s providing us. And this is what we expect to see if somebody decides to make or to do the same reports on Excel and there is an error, guess who is going to lose their job. The question is that, 10 years is a long time, can we afford not to do something now?