A $130M crypto quant nets big returns as options boom


Forget Elon Musk tweets, regulatory missives and Bitcoin’s energy consumption.

To hedge fund manager Shiliang Tang, the biggest crypto story this year is taking place in the shadows: An options market that’s booming and shaking up digital-currency trading along the way.

At his $130 million fund LedgerPrime, filled with Wall Street converts from the likes of Virtu Financial Inc. and Cantor Fitzgerald LP, Tang is minting money trading derivatives on virtual tokens.

The Bank of America Corp. and UBS Group AG alum is making markets in options and running systematic strategies like price arbitrage and momentum across exchanges. The reward: a 78% return this year in his flagship fund.

“The opportunity seemed larger given the inefficiencies,” said the chief investment officer in an interview from Miami. “There’s so much innovation and new products being launched in crypto.”

Derivatives Boom

Image by Bloomberg Mercury

Fed by relentless demand for leverage and hedging strategies, the crypto derivatives complex is getting bigger, ever-more liquid and increasingly influential. With Bitcoin still up around 250% over the past year despite heart-stopping swings and the recent downslide, new venues of speculation from decentralized finance to futures contracts have exploded to meet the insatiable appetite to trade.

Consider the options market. An average $1.4 billion in notional amount changed hands every day last month at the largest options exchange Deribit, a nearly 13-fold jump from 2020. Open interest in Bitcoin contracts now totals $7 billion.

And a growing cohort of money managers and retail traders are selling crypto options for yield — a common strategy in mainstream assets and a sign the industry is growing up fast.

Options change hands on the CME, the largest derivatives exchange in the world, in addition to more specialized venues like Binance, Huobi and LedgerPrime’s sister company, LedgerX. Even Goldman Sachs Group Inc. is mulling a move into Ether derivatives.

Glorified Casino

To critics, it’s all a glorified, largely unregulated casino with little real-world utility that could easily come crashing down — with Chinese regulatory curbs the latest threat.

Yet in Tang’s telling, the industry bears similarities to his old stomping grounds on Wall Street, with tried-and-tested systematic strategies in stocks and bonds gaining popularity in the world of virtual currencies. Like traditional market-makers, Tang’s firm posts bid and ask quotes on options venues and makes money from the spread, which tends to be wider in more volatile assets.

Still, this is crypto, of course — a wild west. Liquidations can happen before a trader has the chance to top up collateral. And there’s no central clearing house, so LedgerPrime needs to manage its positions at every venue individually. All this helps explain why Bitcoin slid precipitously last month.

“It’s not like they’ll slowly liquidate your positions — they basically just market sell or market buy your leveraged positions and blast through the book,” Tang said, referring to the exchanges.

Image by Bloomberg Mercury

For many, the mania is part of the appeal. New products appear so quickly that even as one inefficiency narrows, another soon materializes across one of the hundreds of exchanges out there. And all these opportunities are drawing a more professional crowd, with institutional investors representing some 80% of flows on Deribit.

A hot trend right now is selling options for yield in a wager that crypto price swings will be lower than the market has priced in. Since that’s akin to earning premiums on an insurance policy, it can be hugely profitable — and risky — with an asset like Bitcoin.

The token’s one-month implied volatility, a key variable in option pricing, trades around 100 and soared to as high as 165 in last month’s wipeout, according to Deribit. The S&P 500 equivalent right now? Around 20.

Selling crypto options is proving especially lucrative as returns diminish in trades like the spot-futures basis.

“In the absence of interesting yields for these alternatives, option strategies become more relevant,” said Deribit chief commercial officer Luuk Strijers.

The upshot of all this is that option volumes are getting big enough to sway spot prices. Dealers like LedgerPrime buy underlying tokens to hedge their own exposure — adding momentum to both rallies and retreats in what’s known as a gamma squeeze.

Tang’s tip: Watch spot moves around 4 a.m. in New York every Friday, when most options contracts expire.

“Option flow can definitely drive some of the shorter-term price action,” Tang said. “Longer-term, it’s still supply and demand.”

–Justina Lee, Bloomberg Mercury


Complying With SEWA’s Digital Transformation Programme, Mashreq Bank Announce New Digital Platform


A fully secured, encrypted and automated customer deposit refund platform has been created by Mashreq Bank, a financial institution in the UAE. This marks the completion of a major digital transformation programme for the Sharjah Electricity Water and Gas Authority (SEWA), with Mashreq’s platform forming a part of SEWA’s comprehensive digitisation strategy.

The new digital platform removes the need for customers to wait for the issuance of manual cheques to receive a refund for their deposits. In addition, Mashreq has customised an API interface for SEWA that allows for its internal systems to digitally synchronise in real-time with Mashreq.

Explaining the impact of Mashreq’s digital transformation at SEWA, Joel Van Dusen, Senior Executive Vice President – Group Head CIBG Mashreq said, “Mashreq has a proud history of developing customised digital services for governmental organisations that have the capacity to transform life for customers, citizens and the private sector. The unique API interface and virtual private network gateway (VPN) between Mashreq and SEWA ensures that the digital journey for SEWA customers is as secure as it is convenient.”

Mashreq’s deployment of a VPN serves to ‘whitelist’ SEWA’s internet protocol (IP) address, which provides the payment process with an additional layer of security. The API connectivity provides SEWA with the required encryption and security, automated payment instructions, credit confirmation status, auto reconciliation and any refund or reversals.

Speaking on behalf of SEWA, Maryam Abdulrahman Ali, Finance and Accounts Manager explained how, “The significance of this deal is amplified by the timing and execution of the implementation of a sophisticated digital program in the midst of a pandemic and its associated challenges. Mashreq’s delivery of a bespoke, highly secure digital platform that creates efficiencies and conveniences across the customer journey, is an important step forward in SEWA’s overall digital transformation.”

SEWA, which is a public sector utility company established by an Amiri Decree on March 29, 1995, is fully committed to supporting the UAE’s critical vision towards becoming a cashless society and is one of the first governmental bodies to embrace API technology in public sector customer payment solutions.

  • Francis is a junior journalist with a BA in Classical Civilization, he has a specialist interest in North and South America.


Insurtech Market Set To Be Disrupted by Digital Innovation in 2021; According to ICON


Digitisation is expected to disrupt the traditional life insurance sector in 2021; as Millennials and GenX embrace financial protection and ‘embedded insurance’ products.

This is according to the technology investment bank ICON Corporate Finance, which recently secured £5 million Series A funding for innovative Insurtech start-up Anorak.

ICON believes that embedded insurance services will pressure established insurance providers to innovate or partner, or face losing out to the digital disruptors of tech, health, life, property and casualty , pet, and financial services. It predicts an abundance of funding rounds and acquisitions as a result.

ICON expects an uptick in deal activity throughout 2021 as consumer attitudes to life insurance shift. “We are already seeing unicorns in the Life space (privately held start-up company valued at over $1 billion) and that’s set to continue,” says Nicky Cotter Head of fintech M&A at ICON.

Embedded insurance is the digital first delivery of insurance within the purchase of a product or service, and is designed to enhance the customer’s buying experience. Across financial services, digital disruptors enable every company to offer online payments. With Klarna for example, every company can utilise a buy-now-pay-later solution, and with insurtechs, every company can offer Life or P&C insurance.

In a market where life insurance has been ‘sold’ rather than ‘bought’, Anorak enables mass market customers to receive affordable, relevant, and personalised insurance advice. The £5 million fundraise will enable expansion of both its distribution network and advice platform that provides automated and ongoing assessment of users’ financial vulnerability and cover requirements throughout their life. It is currently the only platform to provide a seamless omnichannel experience that also allows users the option to speak to expert advisers.

David Vanek, CEO, Anorak David Vanek, CEO, Anorak
David Vanek, CEO, Anorak

Speaking on the functional capabilties of the Anorak platform, David Vanek, the company’s CEO & co-founder, said, “Our regulated automated insurance advice platform can be integrated into existing partners’ eco-systems so that people can access ‘whole of market’ life insurance recommendations while using everyday services such as digital banks, online mortgage brokers, investment platforms, digital money management service and challenger banks.”

ICON’s Nicky Cotter added, “Technology and innovation are reshaping the future of the insurance industry and demand for tech solutions has never been higher. There are still too many ways that insurance companies are difficult to do business with so finding ways to combine digital data with analytics can deliver powerful client experiences that are personalised, predictive, and proactive – which is a gamechanger for the industry.”

With an estimated 9 million families in  the UK currently living at risk of financial catastrophe following the loss of a breadwinner, 53% of the population have yet to secure life cover, whilst 50% of mortgages remain unprotected. The influence of the pandemic has exaccebated the woes of a nation, and has facilitated an increased desire to protect financial futures. This is where insurtech solutions, such as those offered by Anorak, are set to step in.

ICON utlisied its expertise in insurtech software and fundraising to introduce insurance and lifetech software, that focussed on VC and CVCs from across Asia, Europe and the US, to Anorak’s leadership team. It positioned the company as a future global software leader in the lifetech insurance sector. ICON supported Anorak with financial modelling, the preparation of an investment deck, and investor interaction that led to a successful investment round with Tier 1 VCs, CVCs and super angels.

Anorak’s fundraising was led by Outward VC, with Triple Point Ventures, and existing investor Kamet Ventures; formerly Axa’s incubation fund. It was backed by angel investors including Nic Kohler, former CEO of Hollard Insurance; Paul Evans, Chairman of Allianz plc and board member of BUPA and Swiss Re Europe; Charlie Delingpole, CEO and founder of ComplyAdvantage; and Will Neale, founder of Fonix and Grabyo.

Chris Dyson, Partner in the corporate team at law firm Ashfords LLP and adviser to Anorak, comments, “The insurtech market is evolving rapidly. Anorak’s success is a great example of eagerly-anticipated innovation and the opportunity available for the best insurtech businesses to work alongside other disruptive fintech companies, improving customer experience and accessibility.”

  • Tyler is a Fintech Junior Journalist with specific interests in Online Banking and emerging AI technologies. He began his career writing with a plethora of national and international publications.


Shrap Finish Trail Run in Bournemouth, Launching Two Real Life Trials as Part of Access To Cash


A new ‘change card and app’ service by British start-up Shrap has just started real life trials – with the first two pilots now underway Rochford in Essex and Denny in Scotland as part of Community Access to Cash Pilots. The pilots will run until the end of September.

Shrap aims to make cash more efficient and convenient by removing the need for coins – including low domination coins – many of which are only used once, representing huge waste and inefficiency. Shrap is just one of a select group of providers tackling the challenges facing cash. It has seen significant demand for the service both in the UK and internationally, and plans to roll out nationwide later in 2021.

With a significant reduction in cash use – particularly during the covid-19 pandemic – the cost of maintaining the infrastructure to sort, transport and distribute cash has become unsustainable.

Shrap hopes to help ease the burden on the UK’s cash infrastructure by removing the need for low-denomination coins in particular – many of which are only used once, representing huge waste and inefficiency.

Shrap’s service has been designed to replicate the way coins work, but without the overheads. When using cash in a shop, the business can give change onto a Shrap card. Customers can store their change on the card – or Shrap’s mobile app – and make small payments to shops and friends, anonymously and for free.

There is no need to provide any personal details, and there is no charge for using the service. Shrap is regulated by the FCA and makes money by earning interest on the money it holds.

Following a successful trial in Bournemouth, England, Shrap was chosen for the Access to Cash initiative as one of a select group of solution providers tackling the various challenges facing cash. The Shrap service will also start a further trial shortly in Millisle, Northern Ireland.

The independent Access to Cash Review in 2019 found that a large proportion of people continue to rely on cash. For businesses, however, the rising costs and inconvenience of handling cash have led many to seek alternatives.

“One of the biggest risks to cash is its continued acceptance by businesses, and the biggest driver of cash acceptance is the cost and hassle of handling it” said Natalie Ceeney CBE, Chair of the Community Access to Cash Pilots.

“We are excited to be working with Shrap across several communities, trialling an innovative solution that enables businesses to continue accepting cash but without the expense and hassle of handling coins. Removing the need for coins in a cash transaction is another step to help us keep cash sustainable.”

“We respect that many people value coins, but are realistic about the fact that cash is under greater threat than ever before – and that it must evolve to compete with digital payment methods”, said Shrap CEO and co-founder, Chris Forero-Slee.

“We believe that people have the right to choose how they pay one another, without fees and privacy concerns. For this reason, we strongly support the future of cash, but it must be cost-effective to be sustainable.

Our digital alternative to coins delivers significant efficiency gains while maintaining what is good about coins: free to use, accessible to all, and they don’t require your personal data. Crucially, Shrap removes inefficiencies and safety concerns that threaten to undermine cash as a whole.”

  • Francis is a junior journalist with a BA in Classical Civilization, he has a specialist interest in North and South America.


TISAtech: Simple, Accessible, Transparent – Ensuring a Competitive and Global Future for UK Fintech


The Kalifa Review called for an ecosystem of support for innovation within financial services to which we are seeing a great response UK wide from many stakeholders, all of whom will be vital in ensuring a competitive UK fintech environment. 

TISAtech is a new generation digital marketplace connecting Financial Institutions with FinTechs to facilitate the accelerated partnering and adoption of transformational digital solutions. With an increasing need to streamline business processes, generate new revenue opportunities and consistently meet the ever-evolving demands of the regulators, TISAtech has been designed to help financial institutions throughout the industry source, implement and manage innovative technology solutions. With over 20 years of experience in the field of finance, Gary Bond is the CEO of TISAtech. 

When discussing the topic of the Kalifa Review and what UK fintechs must do to remain competitive and go global, Bond had this to say:

Gary Bond - CEO at TISAtechGary Bond - CEO at TISAtech
Gary Bond – CEO at TISAtech

Ron Kalifa, in his review of UK fintech, called it “a permanent, technological revolution, that is changing the way we do finance.” The resulting review of UK fintech is a landmark document for the UK financial services industry, and the implementation of its five recommendations will be vital to ensure the “permanent, technological revolution” maintains momentum. It is, without doubt, a step-change in the Government’s approach to fintech, and the industry has rightly greeted its publication with acclaim. 

However, calls for an “international action plan for fintech” are, in our view, insufficient: too often, enterprising fintechs with clear potential for long-term success have been let down by the gatekeeping that still exists within financial services. Whether its regulatory, financial or even immigration barriers that fintechs encounter when seeking access to or from the UK, a comprehensive framework is needed to ensure competitiveness for the industry. The visa problems raised by the Kalifa Review are in many ways the simplest to resolve: the review rightly calls for the creation of a new visa stream that will guarantee continued access for UK fintechs to international talent.

A global fintech space

For UK fintech to succeed, it must be part of an interconnected, global space. The Kalifa Review emphasises the importance of fintech to the UK economy as a whole; but it cannot thrive in isolation. A comprehensive and interlaced network of companies that can access expertise and services across borders will be key to accelerating innovation in UK financial services. This is why, at TISAtech, we have been working closely with international institutions to promote fintech bridges, technical and regulatory facilitation agreements with important partners such as the EU, the UAE and Israel. 

To create that fluid, interconnected space, we need to agree on how we assess the readiness of fintechs. Providing a pathway to cross-border service provision will be crucial. Therefore, to support a global UK fintech industry, perhaps the most important recommendation in the review is the call for an international fintech standard. If implemented, it would give confidence that enterprising fintechs can rapidly port their technology across borders and regulatory spheres, enabling a prospective buyer to compare the capabilities of a fintech from Soweto with one from Shoreditch in a consistent standardised manner.

On the regulatory side, we have already seen an important shift in approach in the UK, with the FCA’s scalable regulatory sandbox being a vital development. The FCA are already on the front foot: encouraging innovation, granting initial permissions and extending regulatory approvals until the applicant becomes an established financial service provider. 

Ensuring cross-border access

For many fintech businesses, access to market is a key priority alongside shortening of the sales cycle. Onboarding processes for medium and large organisations are time-consuming and labour-intensive, with regulatory barriers exacerbating already steep access requirements. The entire onboarding stage may take up to an unsustainable total of 30 months. Without streamlining this stage, fintechs will struggle to grow against the established, incumbent players in the industry. 

Enterprise readiness accreditation against a common global assessment standard, can help both clients and fintechs to accelerate trust formation and address regulatory concerns at the beginning of relationship saving time and money for all parties. 

This international fintech exchange could in a single platform assess the sustainability of a fintech business, advise on the readiness of a product to port across regulatory spheres and provide introductions to buy-side organisations across borders, accelerating what is now a highly complex process. The ultimate result would be to increase competition from new, entrepreneurial fintech operations and boost the health of the entire sector. 

That is why, with our partner The Disruption House, TISAtech has been working to develop a streamlined assessment process for fintechs. With grading according to BSI standard, we are working to develop a platform that will rapidly assess, list and suggest counterparties to UK and international fintech businesses. A similar system could be scaled globally with an international agreement on standards. The publication of the Kalifa Review is the perfect moment to call for such standardisation, and we look forward to working with governments across the globe to facilitate this process. 

Ensuring the success of UK fintech

The Kalifa Review calls for an ecosystem of support for innovation within financial services to which we are seeing a great response UK wide from many stakeholders, all of whom will be vital in ensuring a competitive UK fintech environment. 

But without international cooperation and an agreed, global standard we risk siloing progress and limiting the potential of the financial services sector to develop. We need to build a simple, accessible and transparent international fintech ecosystem that facilitates an international exchange of funding, skills and expertise if the “permanent revolution” in financial services is to continue, creating jobs and value in our economies. 

  • Francis is a junior journalist with a BA in Classical Civilization, he has a specialist interest in North and South America.


Digital-Only Banks Continue To Swipe Millennial Customers; deVere Group Survey Finds


More than half of millennials are happy to switch to, or have already switched, to a digital-only bank; reveals the latest data from the independent financial advisory deVere Group.

The results from the poll, which quizzed 550+ clients born between 1980 and 1996, highlighted how 59% of those surveyed already exclusively use digital banking services, or are planning to make the switch to do so within the next year.

The respondents are clients who currently reside in North America, the UK, Asia, Africa, the Middle East, East Asia, Australasia, and Latin America.

Nigel Green, CEO and Founder, deVere Group Nigel Green, CEO and Founder, deVere Group
Nigel Green, CEO and Founder, deVere Group

Of the poll’s findings, Nigel Green, deVere Group CEO and founder, comments, “This is more bad news for traditional banks, which seem to have been in a perpetual game of ‘catch-up’ in recent years amid evolving customer expectations, regulatory requirements and tech advances. The poll’s findings are a big deal for old-school banks. Why? Two reasons: first, millennials because they’re the fastest-growing cohort of clients; and second, because they are becoming the beneficiaries of the Greatest Transfer of Wealth in history.”

According to some estimates, $68 trillion in wealth is to be passed down from the baby boomers – the wealthiest generation ever – to their children and other heirs (millennials) over the next few decades.

“Millennials have grown up on technology. They are ‘digital natives,’” continues Nigel. “They’ve been influenced by the enormous surge in tech as they came into adulthood – which came around the same time of the global financial crash that hit in 2008. Against this backdrop, they seemingly became comfortable using fintech to help them access, manage and use their money rather than using a traditional bank.”

Indeed, according to a Facebook white paper entitled “Millennials + money: The unfiltered journey,” 92% of millennials distrust banks and many view them as an unreliable source of information.

“Mobile-first millennials expect easy, immediate access and control of their finances in the palm of their hand. They demand to be able to transfer money and pay bills in one tap or swipe. They want to be able to review their spending habits, be offered guidance, and have real-time access,” adds Nigel.

“In most cases, ‘too big to fail’ traditional banks are struggling to keep pace with the tech innovations that are now driving shifting customer expectations. Legacy technologies and clunky business models are presenting considerable transformation challenges.”

As well as the on-the-go convenience, control, and flexibility that digital-only banks offer, clients are also attracted by their green credentials.

Last year, the deVere CEO noted, “Individuals and companies are increasingly embracing and expecting green, paperless banking. This is partly fuelled by the pressing need for us all to drastically reduce waste and better protect the environment – something the pandemic and issues such as raging wildfires has collectively focused minds on – but also because a paperless system is, typically, a more convenient and efficient one.”

“Traditional banks have a long way to go to catch-up with tech-driven challenger banks and fintech firms, which are intrinsically much greener and are leading the charge to a paperless future.”

Nigel concludes with “Mobile-first millennials’ world view, in many regards, has been shaped by tech. It’s natural that they turn to fintech instead of a banking system that they perceive as outdated and/or untrustworthy.”

  • Tyler is a Fintech Junior Journalist with specific interests in Online Banking and emerging AI technologies. He began his career writing with a plethora of national and international publications.


Open Banking Expo Awards Announces the Finalists


Open Banking Expo has announced that the shortlist for its inaugural Awards ceremony has been released and is now live on the Open Banking Expo Awards website. More than 90 financial institutions, fintechs and Open Banking pioneers across the globe are featured on the list.

Open Banking Expo co-founder, Kelly Stanley, said: “I’d like to thank everyone who submitted their entries. The quality and volume of submissions blew us away; the judging panel will have a difficult job in deciding who the winners will be! We are looking forward to revealing them at the ceremony in July.”

The Open Banking Expo Awards will take place virtually during Fintech Week London on 15th July at 16:00 BST. 

The launch partners of the Open Banking Expo Awards are Crif and Equifax. It will celebrate the innovators, disruptors and visionaries across the globe who have been at the forefront of the Open Banking revolution.

The shortlist in full can be found here. 

Sara Costantini, managing director of CRIF, said: “CRIF is delighted to be a launch partner for the inaugural Open Banking Expo Awards and to be part of this Open Banking and Open Finance community. We are proud to align our brand with the companies and individuals that are the driving force behind Open Banking and Open Finance across the globe, and we would like to congratulate all the shortlisted candidates and wish them the best of luck.”

Emma Steeley, CEO at AccountScore, an Equifax company said:  “It’s clear from the quality of the awards shortlist that the industry as a whole is embracing Open Banking innovation. We strongly believe in the power of transaction data to help organisations transform how they make decisions about their customers, so we are delighted to be involved in the Open Banking Expo Awards”   

To view more information about the Awards and to register for a virtual ticket click here.

  • Polly is a journalist, content creator and general opinion holder from North Wales. She has written for a number of publications, usually hovering around the topics of fintech, tech, lifestyle and body positivity.


Mastercard Report Finds UK and Nordics Lead Open Banking in Europe


According to a new report by Mastercard, which conducted in-depth research into how prepared European countries are to embrace the open banking ecosystem, the Nordic countries have been crowned best placed to take advantage of it, together with the UK.

Open banking is fast becoming a worldwide phenomenon. It empowers consumers and businesses to take control of their financial data and their financial futures while stimulating competition and innovation among financial service providers. The report – Open Banking Readiness Index: The Future of Open Banking in Europe – found the Nordics’ and UK’s digital infrastructures ensure the countries are very well-placed to allow widespread use of this concept:

  • Households with internet access: 95% Denmark; 98% Norway; 96% Sweden; 96% UK

  • Per cent of mobile phones which are smartphones: 88% Denmark; 95% Norway; 79% Sweden; 83% UK

  • Proportion of 14-76 year olds using digital banking: 91% Denmark; 95% Norway; 84% Sweden; 88% UK

The UK is building a world-leading open banking digital ecosystem with its own framework and API standard. According to The Open Banking Implementation Entity (OBIE), which was set up by the UK Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) in 2016 to deliver Open Banking, around 294 fintech companies and payment service providers have joined the open banking ecosystem in the UK, of which 102 have live offerings in the market.

The pan-Nordic collaborative models and P27 initiative aid the region’s open banking readiness and most of the big Nordic Banks have an open banking strategy, with Nordea Group and DNB Bank among Europe’s frontrunners. Norway also has digital customer identification services such BankIDs and Invidem, which add security by proving an individual is who they claim to be and are strong examples of how the Nordic countries are leading the way.

Jim Wadsworth, Senior Vice President for Open Banking, Mastercard, said: “By taking advantage of pan-European developments such as PSD2, all European banks are progressing towards a full open banking environment, but it is clear the UK and Nordics are leading the way with high consumer readiness and a number of solutions already live.

“There are varying approaches across the continent and to ensure that all European markets can take advantage of the opportunities that open banking presents, we need greater standardisation. Mastercard Open Banking Connect provides a universal connection to financial institutions’ open banking functionality, providing third parties with scale, resilience and speed.”

Banking solutions live in the UK include allowing customers to view balances and transactions from other institutions on a single screen, and personal finance management apps such as Cleo, Plum and Moneybox, which help people budget and save more easily. By early 2021, more than 3 million UK consumers and businesses used open banking enabled products to manage their finances, access credit and make payments. Payments API volume in the UK increased by more than 70% between Q1 2021 vs Q4 2020.

The Nordic countries are also well placed for open banking in terms of consumer readiness as Norway boasts the highest internet penetration, with 98% of households connected. And, at present, the UK Open Banking model does not include a digital ID authentication service scheme and domestic KYC utility services (such as the Nordic BankIDs and Invidem solutions).

The report also highlights the key differences in how countries are approaching open banking:

· France, Italy, Spain – open banking is being used as a vehicle for digital transformation in domestic payment ecosystems.

· Germany – a collaborative approach, specific to Germany, is being taken for the development of open banking.

· Denmark, Norway, Sweden – the Nordic collaborative models and P27 initiative include open banking to deliver a cross-country system.

· Poland, Hungary – open banking is being used as vehicle for leapfrogging away from legacy banking infrastructures.

  • Polly is a journalist, content creator and general opinion holder from North Wales. She has written for a number of publications, usually hovering around the topics of fintech, tech, lifestyle and body positivity.


A Wallet to Freedom


Let’s look at some activity in in the crypto wallet space for the last two, three months. Earlier this month, Jack Dorsey tweeted that Square is considering developing a crypto hardware wallet that would give users greater control over how they store and spend their bitcoin. French hardware wallet startup Ledger has raised a $380 million Series C funding round bringing the company’s valuation to $1.5 billion; In March ImToken, the crypto wallet developer, announced it raised $30 million in Series B funding; Blockset, the blockchain infrastructure platform for enterprises by BRD, announced early access to its wallet-as-a-service today, providing a white-label solution that gives clients the ability to launch wallets; In April, Exodus, the creator of a popular non-custodial crypto wallet, raised $60 million by selling stock in the company and accepting as payment bitcoin, ethereum, and USDC stablecoin; In March, Coinbase announced that it acquired Cipher Browser, a mobile browser and Ethereum wallet provider; Last but not least, Binance has confirmed that it has acquired Trust Wallet, a mobile Ethereum wallet. Cryptocurrencies have been capturing the attention of investors and users alike, largely driven by their steep increase in value. As a result, the demand for crypto wallets in on the rise. Crypto wallets are interfaces to protocols and services, that enable consumers and merchants to unlock the value of the $1.5+ trillion in digital assets currently held in cryptocurrencies.

Ilias Louis Hatzis is the founder and CEO at Kryptonio wallet.
Kryptonio is the safest crypto wallet. Read why you want Kryptonio and download it.

Wallets are critical infrastructure for cryptocurrencies. Every crypto behavior, whether buying or selling crypto, hodling crypto, sending crypto, staking crypto, relies on wallets in some way. Given their importance, over $1 billion of funding has gone to crypto wallet businesses to date, like Ledger ($380M), Blockchain ($300M), BRD ($55M), and Abra ($47M).

A cryptocurrency wallet is a secure digital gateway for users to see and transfer their digital currencies. Each crypto wallet has a public address, which can be thought of a bit like a mailbox, with the private key used to unlock the box. A user accesses and spends funds associated with a given address through the corresponding private key. Private keys are stored in crypto wallets, more similar to keychains than to traditional wallets. To be able to use any cryptocurrency for transactions, users are required to set up a cryptocurrency wallet first.

According to their preferences and expertise, users can choose among different types of crypto wallets. To name a few, hardware wallets are similar to USB drives, while desktop, mobile and web wallets are all software applications running on computers, smartphones or provided as a web service. Because private keys grant access to funds, the choice among wallets comes with strings attached in terms of privacy and security. Often wallets are custodial, which means storage and custody are offered as a service by a third party. This is the case of custodial exchanges, such as Coinbase. Alternatively, more skilled users want to retain sole custody of their private keys and use non-custodial wallets, also known as self-hosted or unhosted wallets.

Juniper predicts that the number of people using digital wallets will reach nearly 4 billion, by 2024. According to Statista, 73 million users have been reportedly using wallets for digital transactions, as of May 18, 2021. The number continues to grow as new blockchain wallets and cryptocurrencies are introduced to the market. It is estimated that the global user base of all cryptocurrencies increased by nearly 200 percent between 2018 and 2021.Trading in cryptocurrency is relatively easy compared to other assets. You can begin to trade just by signing up for various wallets on the market. There are different types of wallet apps, that support different cryptocurrencies, each with its own advantages, such as levels of security and accessibility. As of February 2021, there were at least 82 cryptocurrency wallets available (Cryptowisser, 2021). Among the most popular is Coinbase with 639,885 daily active users (DAUs) as of January 2021 (Airnow, 2021).

While wallets on centralized exchanges are really simple to use, the increasing number of crypto hacks have pushed businesses and individuals to non-custodial wallets. A report by the University of Cambridge says that 73% of the wallets do not save or control the private keys and 12% of the wallets let the users decide whether they wish the server to control their keys. It is expected even more users will move to non-custodial wallets, as more simplified approaches become available, that make it easy for users to recover their wallet.

Taking responsibility with a non-custodial wallet confers obvious benefits. For one thing, users are less likely to be hacked. As crypto price and adoption continue to grow, hackers will continue to focus on services with high concentrations of crypto. In 2020 alone, there were billions of dollars stolen during cryptocurrency heists. Storing assets on a big custodial provider, users are are risk of getting caught up in a data breach.

A lot of research and work is being done right now to design better wallet UX. For anyone that has ever written down seed phrases and private keys and stored them in a secret location, they understand that we need a lot more than a piece of paper, to make sure our money is safe. Non-custodial wallets need to become simpler and streamline user experience without compromizing security. They need to provide a simple banking-like experience, while maintaining custody and safety.

The future of crypto wallets is about the ability to provide well-integrated connections to every digital asset and financial service, focused on user experience and security. There will be many versions of wallets that hold various cryptocurrencies. But, unless you’re a digital native, the whole crypto experience feels scary. Most wallets lack the friendliness needed for the market to grow and achieve mass adoption. The first wallet to provide a name based public addresses, like a twitter handle, will get a big share of the market. Simplification of the user experience is the future of crypto wallets. While, crypto wallets can be a bit confusing to new users, riding the learning curve is worth it given the role wallets play in providing users with more financial freedom and economic opportunity.


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Super Apps: Is DeFi Blockchain the Key to Their Expansion?


“For every application, a platform that has been built and successfully serves its users for a certain purpose. The next quest is how to make your application a necessity in the users’ lives. At this pivoting point, a lot of businesses and platforms turn to the “super app” strategy.

In this article, MinhTam Nguyen, Ops Manager at ShuttleOne shares her thoughts on super apps, and whether defi Blockchain is the key to their expansion. 

MinhTam Nguyen, Ops Manager at ShuttleOne

2021- the era of working from home, the boom of digital applications for every possible need for the human being. Many digital companies grew massively during this time of social distancing and remote work. Businesses are adopting and digitizing themselves at the fastest rate we have ever seen. Digitalization is finally happening.

But most importantly, what’s next for businesses after digitising themselves?

For every application, a platform that has been built and successfully serves its users in a certain purpose. The next quest is how to make your application a necessity in the users’ lives.

At this pivoting point, a lot of businesses and platforms turn to the “super app” strategy.

The idea for a super app is that users can use a single platform for everything (or most things) that they need, which results in a high recurring usage and activity and a viable ecosystem within the app.

In Southeast Asia, useful platforms such as Grab or Gojek, started with one main usage: ride-hailing. Once they reach a certain user volume, the apps expand to multi-service platforms where users can order food delivery, package delivery or even as a payment solution to restaurants and stores.

The super app strategy

The super app strategy appeals to both sides of the platform, the developers and their users. Developers continuously increase the impact and constantly grow their platform to its highest market potential, while users can enjoy the convenience of using a single platform for their needs. Not only appealing for Consumers, B2B applications can also study the strategy and adapt themselves.

Imagine if you are a software marketplace that helps corporations find the best suite software for their needs. Once the client finds the software, they will proceed with the procurement and implementation process. Most of the time, the following steps take place outside of the platform where the client and the software reach a deal, the client wire the money to start the project. What is the biggest hurdle that affects a buying decision for anything? Money, how much and how fast they can pay. What if you, the software marketplace, can remove this hurdle out of the equation for your clients? How fast can we speed up the buying decision when money is not the problem?

Looking at the successful cases of “super app”, Wechat and Alibaba in China, or Grab and Gojek in South East Asia, we can find a common theme: the key to make an app become highly recurring and extremely useful for their users is to remove the rigid payment through seamless solutions. If you go to any Chinese consumer target stores, the most popular payment methods are Alipay and Wechat. Grab is also trying to push GrabPay as a standard payment method in its markets. Super apps also can take a step further and remove the cashflow hurdle for its users by offering loans and credit. In China, Alipay and Wechat dominate the market, the applications also offer microloans to its users to borrow small amounts to pay for food delivery or hotel booking on its app.

So how does a software marketplace, or any other applications, can adapt the “super app” strategy? When a client faces a capital or cash flow issue during the buying process, sometimes they need to find solutions outside of the marketplace, like looking for government grants or bank loans. Sometimes, if the issue needs complicated solutions to solve, the deal mostly falls through. What if they can apply for such grants and loans directly on your application so that there are no delays in getting the deal?

The idea of a super app makes sense and appealing, but yet, there are few applications that have reached the state of a “super app”.

The missing key: Why all platforms aspire to be the next super app, but few can make it?

If we look at Gojek and Grab, both start as ride hailing apps from the start and aim to become super apps. However, the result is much different for them.

In Indonesia, it is safe to say that Gojek is a super app here, but outside of Indonesia, it is not. A Gojek user in Singapore cannot pay for Gojek services while travelling to Indonesia. The inability to extend payments across markets due to payment fragmentation in the region made Gojek unable to become the super app outside of its home country.

Grab, on the other, can let users pay for services without a limit on geography. A user can pay for services in Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines and Indonesia without a problem. Instead of relying on integration with third-party payment, Grab took the issue into their hands and built up their own financial services and payment system.

Removing the hurdles in payment and cash flow increases user experiences and as a result makes people willing to use more services offered by the platform. But to become a super app where users can use multiple services with you, it is often needed by the platform to take the payment and financial solutions upon themselves.

The reason not many applications and platforms can apply the super app strategy is money, as building your own financial services requires capital. A lot of them.

Blockchain technology may be the answer for the super app race

Up until now, building a super app is a playing field for “big boys” only. Grab, Alibaba or Wechat all became unicorns before building their own financial services.

That is before blockchain technology. Continuously being praised as the innovation that will change the financial infrastructure for the better. Blockchain is giving people and companies access to financial services that they can never get before.

Let’s take a look on how blockchain will be the major components for the super app strategy:

  1.   Solving the payment issue

Gojek faces the payment issue when they intend to expand their services to various markets. Users in one market cannot seamlessly pay for the service when travelling to another country. The reason for this difficulty is the fragmentation of payment services in Asia. Unless using regional payment platforms, Gojek needs to onboard a local remittance vendor for each market.

Blockchain remittance is a financial solution that removes the rigidness in relying on central systems, exchanges or banks for payment. Instead of relying on its own resources to build a payment network, applications can adapt blockchain payment which can be accepted and paid anywhere and in any currencies. It is secure, fast, low fee and innovative for cross-border payments, especially for platforms servicing in multiple markets.

Blockchain remittance solutions such as Circle, Stellar Lumens or Coins.ph allow users to send and spend money in an instant and are available for platforms to adopt as their native payment solution.

  1.   Solving the cash flow issue

Advance, credit or loans are well-known methods to acquire a paying client. The decision-making process is one step faster for the client when they do not need to worry about coming up with the money at the time of purchase. That is why credit cards are a widely popular payment method for consumer applications.

However, not all clients can get access to financial services. There are almost 80% of consumers and 65% of SMEs businesses are not getting access to financial services such as loans and credit. If your potential paying customer needs a loan to buy your service and gets rejected by the banks, chances are the deal is gone.

Decentralized finance (DeFi), a solution implementing blockchain technology, solves this issue by removing the gatekeepers and middlemen and connecting the ones in need of borrowing directly with the ones with capital power.

As a platform becomes a super app, the next step is to offer credit and loans for the potential paying customer to remove cash flow rigidness. Using DeFi infrastructure, platforms can start offering credit to their users, while the capital requirements for platforms to offer loans service is removed.

Many platforms have adapted the DeFi solution to offer loans and credit to their users in their own ecosystem. GeTS, a B2B cross-border trade platform available globally, offers financing services to their users in cross-border purchases for trade cargo, e-commerce products and even management software. A B2C grocery platform in South East Asia, HappyFresh, offers microloans solution to its drivers as part of the incentives participating in the platform, using DeFi infrastructure. 

More super apps are coming

Blockchain-based financial solutions such as remittance and DeFi could potentially level the playing field for platforms to become multi-services solutions for its users. By removing the resources required in infrastructure and capital, applications that successfully remove payment and cash flow rigid using these new innovative solutions in their own way will create high recurring users and viable ecosystems.

The need for multi-services within one application has become essential in the age of online convenience. Applications that are fast to adapt to the rising needs of its users will rise and become the next super app. 

  • Polly is a journalist, content creator and general opinion holder from North Wales. She has written for a number of publications, usually hovering around the topics of fintech, tech, lifestyle and body positivity.


Emburse Expand Global Payment Capabilities Through Emburse Pay – B2B Payments


Emburse, a global leader in expense management and accounts payable automation, have announced the launch of Emburse Pay – B2B Payments, delivering strategic spend management for corporate accounts payable teams. Emburse Pay – B2B Payments provides an integrated payables solution for teams to easily manage and track the entire invoice approval and payment process.

Emburse Pay – B2B Payments will allow organisations to save time, lower costs, increase efficiency and enhance the user experience. Finance teams can more easily track and confirm receipt of payments, reducing potential delays and friction with vendors. Reducing the need to print and mail physical checks by leveraging payments technology such as cards and ACH enables organisations to maintain better control of the payment process and timing and manage spend strategically. In addition, the ability to rapidly process invoices, coupled with the ability to pay in one system, enables organisations to optimise cash flow and take advantage of rebates and discounts.

“Adding Emburse Pay – B2B Payments to Chrome River Invoice was a natural next step for us. After seeing the benefits of increased efficiency and error-free payment processing, we were excited to roll out B2B Payments and complete the AP lifecycle in an automated fashion,” said Marissa Navarro, controller at Mitchell Silberberg and Knupp LLP.

“Despite the massive push toward digital transformation during the pandemic, most organisations continue to pay vendors using physical checks. In addition to it being an incredibly inefficient and error-prone process, finance teams are missing out on huge cost-saving opportunities through early payment discounts and card rebates,” said Rajeev Subramanyam, general manager of Emburse Pay. “Our Emburse Pay suite of solutions was designed to streamline what has traditionally been a time-consuming and inefficient process – manually reconciling corporate payments. In B2B Payments, we have taken what has traditionally been a very cumbersome process and integrated it into our AP solutions’ workflow.”

WEX, a global financial technology services provider, is the launch partner on Emburse Pay – B2B Payments. WEX will provide comprehensive virtual card, check and ACH services, which are seamlessly integrated into Emburse’s AP solutions.

“Partnerships are key to WEX’s strategy, and we are thrilled to collaborate with Emburse to bring this new offering to market,” said Jay Dearborn, president of corporate payments at WEX Inc. “In a recent WEX survey, 42% of executives identified modernising technology and platforms as their post-pandemic priority. Emburse understands the importance of investing in digitisation as it aims to enhance seamless customer experiences across ACH, check, or virtual card payments.”

Emburse Pay – B2B Payments is currently available for Emburse Chrome River Invoice customers, and will be available for additional Emburse customers in the coming months.

  • Francis is a junior journalist with a BA in Classical Civilization, he has a specialist interest in North and South America.


Buy Now Pay Later – Paving the Way for Financial Recovery Across Multiple Industries


Buy Now Pay Later (BNPL) has grown tremendously since the start of 2020. As a result of the pandemic, many industries have adopted BNPL as a way of enabling consumers to spend comfortably and at will in financially uncertain times. Though it must be used with caution and rationale, or consumers will find themselves having to cut back on essentials in order to pay back what they owe, BNPL does have its benefits.

Prior to the breakout of the pandemic, 21% of users had missed BNPL payments, with one in five people saying they had to cut back on essentials, including meals, to make payments on time. This figure only increased as more and more people lost their jobs and income. However, when used responsibly, BNPL has enabled a revival for suffering industries as consumers feel able to pay for services and items they would not have felt comfortable paying for otherwise.

When one first thinks of BNPL, it is likely they think of a retail setting, as companies like ASOS have been able to use services from the likes of Klarna, which has seen a higher buying rate than companies that do not offer the option – SimilarWeb found that those who did offer Klarna or Afterpay had an average conversion rate of 5% vs 2.4% for those websites that did not.

Travel industry

The travel industry was one of the worst hit in 2020. Countries closing the borders to tourists meant airlines suffered, with US passenger airlines incurring $5.5billion in pre-tax losses in Q1 2021, amassing huge debts to avoid bankruptcy. Airlines did not suffer alone though – companies relying on tourists for income suffered immensely. In the UK, there were 96% less visits from abroad in Q2 2020; the UK was not alone in this drop in visitors as airline departures from the US fell by 71.5%, affecting not online the airlines, but those that relied on their fliers.

As restrictions have been lifted, the travel industry has been able to capitalise on people’s desires to go on holiday using Buy Now Pay Later. Uplift, the Buy Now Pay Later platform has been key in enabling the revival of the travel industry. Southwest Airlines were the latest major airline to partner with Uplift, as they joined 15 other airline partners in April, including Aeromexico, Air Canada, Alaska Airlines, Azul Brazilian Airlines, Frontier Airlines and Porter Airlines. Uplift already had an existing partnership with Southwest Vacations and is now expanding that relationship through existing payment rails already in place with Universal Air Travel Plan (UATP); which is a payment solution owned by the world’s leading airlines of which Southwest is a shareholder and Issuer. Uplift’s exclusive partnership with UATP enables fast, secure, and cost-effective payment settlement for airlines, offering BNPL options for Southwest flights.

“Southwest Customers are eager to fly again, and our expanding partnership with Uplift will help open up the possibilities of affordable travel to even more people, just in time for the summer vacation season and beyond,” said Jonathan Clarkson, Managing Director of Loyalty, Partnerships, and Products for Southwest Airlines. “Customer loyalty is extremely important to Southwest Airlines, making Uplift a great partner to help support our business objectives.”

Uplift is not the only BNPL company aiding the travel industry’s revival. Fly Now Pay Later is another company that offers finance (from as little as 0% APR) to holidaymakers, who can make repayments in affordable scheduled instalments. Its merchant partnerships range from SME travel operators to leading operators like Malaysian AirlinesLastminute.com and TravelUp.

Driven by the success of its direct-to-consumer app, checkout integrated solution and the rapidly expanding Buy Now Pay Later sector, Fly Now Pay Later are aiming to create over $1billion of enterprise value in the next 18 months. The company’s CEO, Jasper Dykes, said “The last 12 months have been an unprecedented period for the commercial travel sector with the worst slow down ever recorded in history. While we’re not out of the woods, there are glimmers of hope. After more than a year of being in our homes, people are itching to dust off their suitcases globally. The recovery of travel is likely to be gradual, but when it happens, we hope that by giving people the freedom to book a trip and pay at a pace that works for them, will help spur reservations.

“There are tens of thousands of people who have families around the world who need a frictionless way to finance their flights. By removing financial boundaries, we hope to open the post-covid-19 world for travellers and reconnect people with their friends and families around the globe.

“Since launch, we have been on a mission to make travel more accessible and affordable for more people, by providing payment flexibility at the click of a button. Our proprietary platform has been designed to make instantaneous credit decisions – providing highly tailored and digestible payment options to consumers traditionally underserved by existing credit institutions.”

Health Industry

The health industry has been severely impacted by Covid-19. Due to the nature of the virus many people have not been able to get the treatments they have needed as doctors (globally, not just in the US) have had to help patients suffering from Covid. As the impact of the pandemic becomes more manageable, doctors have been able to see patients regarding other issues.

All healthcare in the US is private, meaning those needing it must pay out of pocket or through insurance. This creates an issue for many patients as for many, paying in one bulk sum is not a viable option. One company tackling this $400billion issue is Jasper. Jasper are a start-up, building a product for private practices to use that offers patients at point of care payment solutions, including buy now pay later, but also creates an accessible and easy checkout experience for patients.

Jasper’s most appealing feature comes in the form of its payment plans. Care Now Pay Later is a payment plan formulated by the Jasper team and the private office, which enables patients to pay at 0% interest rate for procedures under $500. Care Now Pay Later does not have to worry about HIPPA as Jasper do not ask what the specific medical/dental procedure. Simply being aware that it is being used for a procedure in a healthcare setting allows Jasper to not worry about HIPPA. They are still HIPPA compliant as well as all of their technology in case anything of the sort comes up as a concern. For bigger and more expensive procedures, Jasper have created a platform using a waterfall model, meaning that patients are provided with over 20 different lenders providing reasonable loan rates after filling out a form. A person can have a credit rating of 560 and still be eligible to get in touch with the lenders, and compared to putting the payment on their credit card, users are given a much better rate through the Jasper app.

When speaking to The Fintech Times, Muriel Chen, Jasper’s CEO discussed how customers were delighted with the app, as it had enabled them to receive a loan at a reasonable rate of 9.5%, and meant they did not need to open a new medical credit card, which would lead to a mid to high APR interest if the monthly fee could not be paid back.

Chen went on to discuss how Jasper have entered dentistry: “One of the great applications of buy now, pay later is being able to use the service for things like teeth cleaning. Teeth cleaning is a great way for offices to see what higher cost procedures patients may need. Being able to pay for the cleaning in smaller sums with 0% interest means patients are not left paying huge amounts in interest for the smaller procedures, alongside the bigger ones.”

BNPL Abroad

BNPLs most common use in the UK and the US is in retail, with consumers trying out items before buying them, treating their homes as their own changing rooms. Companies like Klarna have boomed – in its latest funding round, Klarna amassed $639 million. The round was led by SoftBank’s Vision Fund 2, with additional participation from existing investors Adit Ventures, Honeycomb Asset Management and WestCap Group, to support international expansion and further capture global retail growth.

Klarna has not been the only company to jump on the BNPL hype train, as globally, various companies have tailored their products to geographical locations. In MEA, Spotii have become the first Shop Now Pay Later in the region bringing the same deferred payment scheme offline and in the store exclusive to their merchants. In MEA, customers have been found to enjoy both shopping online and in-store, so Spotii have created a service that tailors to both. Spotii’s service enables the customer to pay for 25% of the purchase costs and take the goods in-store, then they make another 25% payment either every other week or every month, with no hidden costs, fees, or charges. If the store isn’t on Spotii they can get in touch with Spotii and join its network.

CEO of Spotii, Anuscha Iqbal said, “In this region, cash has always been king, but we saw that changing, and the pandemic has fast-tracked everyone’s increasing use, and reliance on, card and online payments. Building on this, we want to simplify online purchases.”

In South America, dLocal have created a BNPL service for Brazilians to capitalise on the 54% of those surveyed that said they bought eCommerce using a payment plan. This was done through a partnership with Dinie.

Rodrigo Sanchez Prandi, VP Product at dLocal, said: “At dLocal, we are innovators at heart and our goal is to bridge the payments innovation gap between developed countries and emerging economies and Dinie shares that ambition with us.

“Dinie is complementing dLocal’s hyper-local Brazilian payments solutions with capital accessibility to SMEs to pay for higher-value business purchases and invest in their growth via improved technology and digital marketing. We enable global merchants to unlock new revenues and get paid upfront, frictionless and risk-free.”

  • Francis is a junior journalist with a BA in Classical Civilization, he has a specialist interest in North and South America.


Amazon Aims For Fintech Disruption With Innovation Lab in Dubai’s DIFC


Amazon Payment Services has opened its first fintech lab in the heart of Dubai’s financial and fintech centre – the DIFC Innovation Hub – to drive innovation in payment services. 

The Amazon Fintech Lab will support new programmes, ideas and increase knowledge on the digital payments and fintech sectors worldwide.

It will also host networking, mentorship, roundtables, workshops, keynote speakers and research around the
topics of digital services, fintech and the global tech arena.

Omar Soudodi, managing director of Amazon Payment Services, says: “Through the Amazon Fintech Lab, we work with innovators and visionaries to turn exciting new ideas and concepts into transformational and disruptive forces in fintech.”

“The Lab also brings likeminded entrepreneurs and start-ups together with new and existing business partners to cultivate innovation in the fintech and digital services arena, supported by Amazon’s global expertise on new products and services, and knowledge sessions on topics related to the payments sector.”

During the launch of the DIFC Innovation Hub in May, HH Sheikh Maktoum bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, deputy ruler of Dubai and president of the Dubai International Financial Centre, paid a visit to the Amazon Fintech Lab. The DIFC Innovation Hub is the region’s largest environment aimed at fostering the startup community to drive the future of finance and future economies in the region.

“We welcome Amazon Payment Services’ first fintech lab in the world at the Innovation Hub in DIFC,” said Arif Amiri, CEO of DIFC Authority. “By choosing DIFC, Amazon has the ideal platform to grow given they are now part of the Middle East, Africa and South Asia’s largest and comprehensive financial, technology and innovation ecosystem. We are looking forward to working together to drive the future of finance.”


Nuapay: Looking to the West – The Global Real-Time Payments Opportunity


2020 was the year of digitisation. The pandemic acted as a catalyst in every industry in bringing about the need for the latest tech. The financial industry was no different. Whilst cryptocurrency has seen a huge increase in interest, Open Banking has also quietly been garnering growth. The issue with Open Banking is, like with cryptocurrencies, few consumers truly understand the full scope of it. Whilst its adoption has been successful in the UK, the same cannot be said for the US… yet.

As Director of Nuapay UK, Nick Raper oversees the sales, marketing and product teams and is responsible for spearheading the company’s growth particularly within the Open Banking space. Prior to joining Nuapay, Raperwas the Principal at A.T. Kearney‘s London office. Working globally, he led projects predominantly across the financial services and energy sectors. This was following his tenure as Strategy Director for American Express‘ international business.

Looking to the West, Raper discusses the global real-time payments opportunity in North America:

Nick Raper, Director at Nuapay UKNick Raper, Director at Nuapay UK
Nick Raper, Director at Nuapay UK

Much like the rise of cryptocurrencies, few consumers truly understand the full scope of what Open Banking offers. Arguably, though, that’s not a concern if the services and benefits of using Open Banking are made readily available to end-users. 

And that is exactly what we’ve been seeing in the UK of late. Adoption of real-time, account-to-account payments has been rising at a rapid pace, with merchants and consumers alike benefitting from a world of Open Banking-powered frictionless, low-cost, instant, and secure payments. 

Leading with infrastructure

The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) implemented Open Banking to expedite the UK’s Open Banking capabilities and increase competition in the finance services market. Now, considerable market focus is on fintechs, such as Nuapay and Trustly, facilitating real-time payments and the potential value to merchants and customers alike from these solutions. And progress is being made, the Open Banking Implementation Entity (OBIE) announced that in February 2021, for the first time in a calendar month, more than 1 million Open Banking payments were processed in the UK. 

It is now expected that there will be increased attention focusing on the global rollout of Open Banking, particularly in markets like the US. 

The challenges at bay

The US Open Banking market is unlike any other. As the biggest financial services market in the world, it has the most to gain from innovation and new solutions. Yet it presents a complex regulatory environment, with varying government agencies and state-level involvement and a general aversion to strong regulation. The lack of regulation has created little pressure or incentives to encourage the banks to embrace open APIs. Despite this, the US has made great progress in developing its Open Banking offerings, and the US is host to some of the market leaders in Open Banking such as Plaid, Finicity, and MX

With little to no real-time payments infrastructure or regulatory oversight, Open Banking-based payments have not yet emerged as a truly competitive alternative to today’s payment methods in North America. This is despite significant demand in the market for alternatives, as merchants and payment providers look to avoid the particularly high costs of existing solutions in the US.

One such cost is interchange fees, which are set by the card schemes and charged to merchants every time a customer uses a credit or debit card to make a purchase. Already high, a further increase in Visa and Mastercard credit card fees is also expected to take effect next year, although the Justice Department is currently investigating whether Visa is engaging in anticompetitive practices toward merchants.

Another obstacle is chargeback fees, which for merchants in the US means lost revenue, plus also paying the significant fees associated with processing chargebacks. In the US, these costs continue to increase and are yet to be addressed by regulators. Chargeback fees can range from anywhere between  , but merchants stand to lose two to three times the transaction amount due to operational costs. 

With Open Banking, processing fees of any kind are significantly lower, as payments avoid card networks altogether. Payments are authenticated directly between consumers and their banks, meaning merchants can avoid any chargebacks generated due to fraud or an inability to capture funds, and the consumer never needs to hand over their banking details or passwords – resulting in further security benefits. 

With this in mind, you can begin to understand why developers and entrepreneurs state-side have been waiting on real-time payments infrastructure. 

Change is coming

Though the US market introduced real-time payments infrastructure much later than other technologically similar markets, it’s set to see significant uptake soon, with two schemes now live and a third underway. The Clearing House and Zelle are the two schemes enabling fund transfers and real-time payments that are already in place. The third network, FedNow, comes from the Federal Reserve, and will enable real-time payments for banks of all sizes. To date, these payment schemes have seen only a small portion of total transactions, but ACI is forecasting this to grow at more than 42% per annum over the next 5 years. 

The turn-on and acceleration of instant payment schemes such as FedNow will see another round of product investment to develop more merchant-focused solutions. Once the market has merchant buy-in, consumer awareness will increase, helping to make the benefits more tangible, leading almost certainly to growth in demand. Equally, we will likely see increased interest from international players entering the US to take advantage of the growing market. EML Payments recently acquired Nuapay (pending regulatory approval) and intends to expand its Open Banking platform to North America.

A global network is in sight 

Throughout the markets where real-time and account-to-account payments infrastructure has been prioritised, significant progress is being made both in terms of the technology’s adoption and education on its benefits. As we begin to see similar developments in the US, the prospect of a global, real-time payments landscape becomes significantly more tangible. 

It won’t be picture perfect immediately, and there will be kinks to iron out along the way, but the benefits for all providers in the ecosystem are strong to provide a more competitive, fast, and secure payment alternative for merchants and consumers. 

  • Francis is a junior journalist with a BA in Classical Civilization, he has a specialist interest in North and South America.


Biometric Payment Platform FinGo Partner With Mastercard


FinGo, the fintech behind the world’s first biometric identity authentication and payments platform, has entered a strategic partnership with Mastercard. The new agreement will significantly expand the company’s global reach, opening up access to a global network of acquirers and millions of merchants worldwide.

The partnership gives FinGo access to the white labelled Mastercard Payment Gateway Services (MPGS) enabling the FinGo to grow its footprint for payment services across Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, Asia Pacific, Australia, and North America.

As part of the partnership, FinGo will be integrating the MPGS tokenisation service to securely store personal data associated with any transactions, which allows registered users to make payments by scanning their unique finger vein pattern. With digital payments on the rise and an increased focus on security for both consumers and vendors, biometric authentication will make payments simpler, quicker and more secure.

The collaboration comes as FinGo continues to augment its technology for non-payment applications. The platform is also used for age verification, identity and membership and loyalty schemes, giving users the ability to register their vein pattern once, facilitating the use of vein ID in a variety of other settings.

Simon Binns, FinGo’s Chief Commercial Officer, commented: “Our partnership with MPGS will allow us to bring biometric payments to a much wider global audience and accelerate our expansion particularly within MENA, which is one of our key strategic regions. With MPGS integrated, we are able to access hundreds of acquirers, and in turn, millions of merchants, to help them make payment transactions as simple and frictionless as possible.

“We’re delighted that MPGS recognises the added value and potential of FinGo, and fully shares our commitment towards making payments accessible for all by embracing biometric identity technology. You don’t need a card or smartphone to pay with FinGo as point of purchase.”

Keith Douglas, Executive Vice President, Payment Gateway Services: “FinGo’s focus on identity-enabled transactions and the work the team is doing in biometric applications will add to the checkout choice vendors can offer their customers. We look forward to working with the team to bring more safe, simple and smart ways to pay.”

Over the last 12 months, FinGo has adapted its solutions to integrate with covid-support services, including secure contact tracing within hospitality settings and verification of employee covid test results within the care industry. The company is also in talks with policymakers over the use of FinGo and vein ID for vaccine certification.

The technology is also currently being assessed for use in national and regional identity schemes. In Cairo, FinGo is working with the Egyptian government to apply biometric technology across their healthcare, food subsidy and housing programmes; and in Greater Manchester, Mayor Andy Burnham initiated a working group to explore using Vein ID biometrics for the region’s transport, education and healthcare networks.

  • Francis is a junior journalist with a BA in Classical Civilization, he has a specialist interest in North and South America.


Paysafe: Are We Reaching a Tipping Point for Crypto as a Payment Method?


The value of cryptocurrencies has fluctuated nonstop over the pandemic. They have, for the most part, grown immensely in popularity, with 29% of all consumers, in a survey conducted by Skrill, saying that they are more familiar with crypto than 12 months ago. 47% of all consumers say they don’t know enough about cryptocurrencies to use them for payments currently and 24% would like to invest in crypto but don’t know which ones to buy.

With momentous events in crypto taking place like Elon Musk accepting Bitcoin as a viable payment option for Tesla, and then proceeding to reject it once more, and El Salvador announcing it made Bitcoin legal tender – these events and more all beg the question: are we reaching a tipping point for crypto as a payment method?

Rossen Yordanov is the Consumer Senior VP at Skrill and NETELLER. Yordanov oversees consumer business for Paysafe’s digital wallets, Skrill and NETELLER, with a focus on driving the mainstream adoption of these services globally, striving towards a vision where the boundaries between payments, remittances, spending and personal finance are no more.

When discussing the question on crypto as a viable payment method, Yordanov said this:

Rossen Yordanov, Consumer Senior VP at Skrill & NETELLERRossen Yordanov, Consumer Senior VP at Skrill & NETELLER
Rossen Yordanov, Consumer Senior VP at Skrill and NETELLER

The resurgence of cryptocurrencies to the top of the news agenda has been one of the defining trends in fintech of the past six months.

This, of course, has been driven in part by the rise in the value of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. The profits crypto investors have seen recently has piqued the interest of others looking to get into trading, and this is driving momentum for crypto awareness as a whole.

But it isn’t only crypto’s worth as an asset that is generating headlines. For years we’ve been waiting to see when digital currencies would reach their full potential as a payment method as well as a store of value. And, despite the continued wild fluctuations in the value of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies throughout 2021, there are signs that this may be the year we see progress.

For example, El Salvador has recently passed legislation establishing Bitcoin as legal tender, which is a first for the industry. More nations in Latin America are also indicating interest and will potentially follow suit.

Businesses are also beginning to publicise that accepting cryptocurrencies is in their future, which is contributing to its promotion as a viable payment method. In the UK, the country’s most expensive property has recently gone on the market for £175million, and the developer has said that will accept Bitcoin as a payment. Amazon and Starbucks are just some of the other examples of retail giants that are accepting crypto payments in some form.

But is widespread acceptance of crypto payments on the horizon? The answer to that question begins with consumer demand.

Consumers want more payment methods generally

One factor that has opened the door to a rapid growth in crypto payments is increased consumer demand for alternative payments generally. In April 2021 we commissioned a survey of 8,000 consumers in the US, UK, Canada, Italy, Germany, Austria, and Bulgaria, and a key takeaway from the research is that the digital payments landscape is shifting significantly.

This was true before covid-19, but there is little doubt that the pandemic has accelerated the trend. Overall, 86% of consumers told us that their online payments habits had changed during covid-19, with alternative payment methods such as digital wallets and direct bank transfers being among the most popular. Almost a quarter (23%) of consumers said that they used a digital wallet for the first time.

And this change looks set to be irreversible. Over a third (38%) of consumers are more familiar with alternative online payment methods to credit and debit cards now than they were before the covid-19 pandemic and close to a third (31%) say that they are more likely to use alternative payment methods now than in the future.

Where does crypto fit into the picture today?

During the same recent research we asked consumers about their experiences using cryptocurrencies as a payment method. The data showed significant rapid growth.

Overall, 9% of consumers told us that they had used cryptocurrencies to make a payment in the past month, and of these 97% said that they had used this payment method for the first time within the past 12 months. The majority (59%) of these new crypto consumers said that they were now using crypto to pay frequently and 44% said this was now their preferred payment method. Consumers aged 25-44 are the significant driving force behind crypto adoption, with 13% of 25-34-year-olds and 14% of 35-44-year-olds using crypto for payments in the past month.

Are we on the cusp of mainstream adoption?

When we ask consumers about their outlook on the future of cryptocurrencies, an even more positive picture emerges. Digital currencies have certainly infiltrated public consciousness in the past year, with 29% of all consumers saying that they are more familiar with crypto than 12 months ago. And when we asked consumers which cryptocurrencies they recognised, only 16% of consumers couldn’t identify any at all.

And overall they are buoyant on crypto’s future as both an investment and a payment method. Lack of understanding is still a barrier to growth (47% of all consumers say they don’t know enough about cryptocurrencies to use them for payments currently and 24% would like to invest in crypto but don’t know which ones to buy).

However, despite this, currently 23% of consumers think crypto payments will be mainstream in the next 12 months, and 27% think crypto is the future of payments. So there is a lot of reason to believe that the future s bright.

Looking ahead

The pitfalls of crypto as a payment method haven’t gone away. The major cryptocurrencies are very volatile, meaning it can still be difficult to understand the value you are paying for something even though there are some stable coins pegged to major fiat currencies that travel on crypto rails and are not volatile. And they are still too confusing to understand for many consumers. The UX for both consumers and merchants needs development, and regulation make play a role yet. But these don’t necessarily mean we are a long way from mass adoption, as both consumers and businesses appear increasingly positive on crypto payments.

  • Francis is a junior journalist with a BA in Classical Civilization, he has a specialist interest in North and South America.


Remote Working Creates Catalyst for Cyberattacks; Atlas VPN Data Finds


A staggering 78% of businesses across the world experienced an increase in the volume of cyberattacks because of a shift towards remote working – according to recently released data by Atlas VPN.

Even though social media platforms are flooded with news of companies proudly presenting the fact that they are permanently shifting to a remote-work environment, they usually do not mention the fact that the pivot has created major issues for their security.

Unpatched personal devices, erratic employee behaviour, and inadequately protected home networks create many loopholes for threat actors to exploit.

In June 2021, Carbon Black, a company that provides workload protection services, surveyed 3,542 CIOs, CTOs, and CISOs from various industries and 14 different countries to uncover if WFH (work from home) resulted in an increase in cyberattacks.

Carbon Black Infographic

Carbon Black Infographic

The study shows that a whopping 96% of enterprises in France saw a significant increase in the number of attacks due to the shift to a WFH environment.

The second most affected country is Australia, where 89% of cybersecurity professionals reported that attacks increased due to employees working remotely. The United Kingdom and Japan share third and fourth place, with 86% of respondents stating that they noticed a significant jump in cyber threats in the past year.

As many as 84% of businesses in Saudi Arabia, 83% in the Netherlands, 82% in Singapore, and 80% in the United Arab Emirates said that attacks jumped substantially. Canada is in line with the global average, where 78% of enterprises reported a growth in the cyberattack volume.

Interestingly, the United States is at the lower side of the scale, with 63% of cybersecurity professionals reporting an increase in cyber threats in the past year.

In addition, 79% of respondents noticed that attacks had become more sophisticated. Meaning, hackers are willing to spend more time creating targeted attacks. These attacks aim to disarm specific security measures the target company has in place.

Perhaps even more shocking is the fact that the companies that had a cyberattack reported having an average of 2.35 breaches per year. These were not minor leaks either. In 80% of the breaches, the incident was material, which means that it was significant and was reported to regulators or the incident response (IR) team.

This data is in line with earlier reports, which highlighted how over 5 billion personal records were leaked in Q1 of 2021, whilst 37 billion data records leaked in 2020, a growth of 140% year-over-year.

  • Tyler is a Fintech Junior Journalist with specific interests in Online Banking and emerging AI technologies. He began his career writing with a plethora of national and international publications.


Pico Steps Into Prosperous APAC Markets With Shanghai Launch


To continue extending the reach of its globally comprehensive technology solutions, the financial technology provider Pico has formed a wholly foreign-owned enterprise (WFOE), called British Commercial Pico Information Technology Co. Ltd.

Through its new entity, which is based in Shanghai, Pico can support firms seeking to access this important liquidity location. As China’s markets continue to open up to foreign institutional investors, many top global banks, funds, and trading firms are seeking to increase their presence in the region that is home to some of the largest exchanges in the world.

Located within proximity to the Shanghai Stock Exchange (SSE) data center and alternative trading locations in Shanghai, Pico’s operation is supported by local engineering and data centre management expertise. Initially, Pico will provide proximity hosting and fulfillment services in Shanghai and Shenzhen for non-exchange members, as well as market data via its colocation facility in the Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing Limited (HKEX) data centre. Pico has already built out and is operating network and infrastructure in Shanghai and Shenzhen for one of the select numbers of foreign investors allowed to trade within the Shanghai Stock Exchange (SSE) and the Shenzhen Stock Exchange (SZSE) colocations.

Roland Hamann, Chief Technology Officer and Head of APAC, PicoRoland Hamann, Chief Technology Officer and Head of APAC, Pico
Roland Hamann, Chief Technology Officer and Head of APAC, Pico

“We are excited to embark on this important phase in our growth. Launching in China marks a significant milestone for Pico, further extending our capabilities to support clients accessing the Chinese market,” comments Roland Hamann, Chief Technology Officer and Head of APAC at Pico. “Pico has invested heavily in building a comprehensive global offering and we look forward to replicating our success in China supporting clients to rapidly access these markets and liquidity sources.”

Pico has established comprehensive connectivity and venue presence across APAC serving electronic trading participants, all supported by local teams. Pico grew its APAC footprint in 2020 with new colocations in Taiwan and the Republic of Korea and expanded further in Japan, offering ultra-low latency access to the JPX colocation ecosystem. Pico also added market data from Shanghai Stock Exchange and Shenzhen Stock Exchange to its market coverage.

Pico’s 47-strong data centre presence traverses all key global market centres in the Americas, Europe, and Asia along with mission-critical exchange connectivity. Its resilient proprietary network, PicoNetTM is a globally comprehensive, low-latency, and fully redundant network interconnecting all major financial data centres around the world with access to major public cloud providers. The combination of Pico’s global infrastructure and data services with its analytics and machine intelligence solution Corvil Analytics, ensures clients are equipped with cutting-edge solutions to meet ever-changing market conditions.

  • Tyler is a Fintech Junior Journalist with specific interests in Online Banking and emerging AI technologies. He began his career writing with a plethora of national and international publications.


FIS Partner With C3 AI To Develop New Regulatory Solutions Using AI for the Financial Industry


To help capital markets firms tap into the power of their organisational data to increase efficiency and better manage regulatory compliance and risk, fintech FIS (NYSE: FIS) has announced that it has partnered with C3 AI (NYSE: AI) to develop new series of regulatory solutions using the latest AI. 

The AML Compliance Hub leverages C3 AI’s advanced machine learning technology, combined with the deep financial industry domain expertise of FIS, to dramatically improve the efficiency of financial crime detection. Designed to help capital markets firms fight the increasing threat of financial crime, the machine learning-based platform aggregates and analyses client data across disparate systems to enhance AML and KYC processes, improving decision-making and reducing false-positive alerts.

“As an early adopter of AI technology in our solutions, FIS is accelerating our investment in machine learning to help our clients better take advantage of the vast amount of structured and unstructured data within their systems,” said Nasser Khodri, Head of Capital Markets at FIS. “From cost savings through AI-powered automation to enhanced decisioning and analysis, AI offers great promise for forward-looking financial institutions that want to tap into their data for competitive advantage.”

Recent research from the FIS Readiness Report shows that 78% of capital markets firms plan to invest in AI in 2021 to advance their strategic goals.

“We predict that AI will increasingly be a vital tool for capital markets firms in a wide range of use cases and applications,” said Sidhartha Dash, research director at Chartis Research. “AI has significant potential in the fight against financial crime through its ability to aggregate data and apply learnings from past events to automate decisioning. The technology also has great potential in streamlining workflows and cutting costs associated with onerous, manual data review processes.”

The FIS Compliance Hub provides a dashboard view where users can view reports and receive alerts as to key risk drivers, suspicious activity, and AML scoring. By reducing false positives, organisations can focus on true threats that require dedicated attention and timely action.

“Money laundering and other illegal activities are dynamic, fast-moving challenges for the financial services sector, and the data necessary to identify financial crimes are segregated across numerous disparate systems,” said Ed Abbo, president and chief technical officer at C3 AI. “Existing rules-based detection systems generate an excessive stream of false positives that require costly and inefficient manual review and increase the risk of missed investigations. By leveraging C3 AI’s advanced capabilities to unify and analyse all relevant data using machine learning, The FIS AML Compliance Hub is a next-gen solution that can accurately identify, prioritise, and report suspicious activity, while simultaneously reducing the number of false positives.”

The partnership with C3 AI is reflective of FIS’ focus on partnering with innovative companies to accelerate its ability to deliver disruptive new technologies and solutions into the market.

  • Francis is a junior journalist with a BA in Classical Civilization, he has a specialist interest in North and South America.