Innovation in the Face of Invasion: Flying the Flag of Ukrainian Fintech

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has sent shockwaves around the world – and the fintech industry has not been immune to the reverberations. As Axios noted last week, fintechs such as money transfer giant Wise and financial services company Brex have limited or halted fund transfers altogether to Russia and Ukraine. The reasons given for the service changes have varied, with some organizations emphasizing solidarity with Ukraine and others citing operational challenges. But the fact remains that the Russian invasion of Ukraine has forced many fintechs, in Europe especially, into scramble mode is impossible to deny.

The crisis in Ukraine also has brought renewed interest in the role of cryptocurrencies. As economic sanctions – including the expulsion of a number of Russian banks from global financial messaging service SWIFT – take their toll on the Russian economy, the idea that Russia and the country’s elites could turn to cryptocurrencies to limit the financial damage may be edging from possibility to probability. The Ukrainian government has asked cryptocurrency exchanges to freeze the accounts of Russians and Belarusians and, at this point, it appears that some of the world’s biggest cryptocurrency exchanges are moving in that direction.

Ukrainian fintechs are also committing their technology and talent to the cause of defending their country from Russian aggression. For one, the country’s leading neobank Monobank is accepting SEPA transfers to help fund the Ukrainian army, and announced that it has raised more than 11 million Ukrainian hryvnia ($395,830) to date.

That said, one of the biggest concerns from Ukrainian tech companies in general and fintech companies in specific is panic from these companies’ customers. TechUkraine’s Nataly Veremeeva urged clients of Ukrainian firms to maintain their relationships, noting that the income from these partnerships helps support both the Ukrainian economy and the Ukrainian military. Importantly, the fact that Ukraine has been under threat from Russia for nearly a decade has helped Ukrainian companies develop a resiliency that is being brought to bear today, Veremeeva explained.

This point was underscored by Senka Hadzimuratovic, spokesperson for one of the more famous Ukraine-founded tech companies, Grammarly. Backup communications and temporarily transferring certain critical business responsibilities to Grammarly team members living outside of the country have been among the precautions taken by the company.

Ivan Kaunov, Head of Growth and co-founder of, a Ukraine-based financial management app for SMEs, spoke for many of his fellow Ukrainians late last week. “Today Russia (has) invaded Ukraine. All our teammates (are) in safe places, We, as a nation, unite(d) and ready to resist.”

A brief primer on fintech in Ukraine

There is a wide variety of fintech companies in the Ukraine. These firms range from neobanks like Monobank, a five year old financial institution with more than four million customers, to payments companies like IBox and EasyPay, to financial services technology companies like Neofin and Wallet Factory, to cryptocurrency exchanges like Kuna. One way to get a broad cross-section of the country’s fintech sector is via the Ukrainian Association of Fintech and Innovation Companies (UAFIC). The organization, founded in 2018, is a membership-based NGO designed to support the development of Ukraine’s fintech industry. Approximately 66% of the association’s members are fintechs, with another 14% representing IT companies and MFOs, and banks making up 6%.

Last fall, the UAFIC announced a collaboration with leading financial sector associations in Ukraine- including the Independent Association of Banks of Ukraine (NABU), the Association of Financial Institutions, the All-Ukrainian Association of Credit Unions, and the Insurance Business Association. The goal of the alliance is to help design legislation to support the development of open banking and payment services in the country.

“Recently, fintech companies and banks have realized that working on the basis of OpenBanking technologies is much more profitable than competing with each other,” UAFIC Board Chairman Rostislav Duke said. “The financial ecosystemn is receiving new signals of openness and willingness to cooperate and partner in the market. Our work will promote greater access to information for all financial market participants.”

Another way to learn more about the Ukraine fintech industry is via TechUkraine, a platform dedicated to supporting the country’s technology ecosystem. A spin-off from the Export Strategy of Ukraine for ICT Sector, TechUkraine is geared toward encouraging what Director Veremeeva called “a great story of government and business working together to achieve a truly significant goal – Ukraine (as) an innovation-driven, universally recognized tech destination that delivers high value for the global economy.”

Photo by Katie Godowski from Pexels

BNPL Consolidates: Zip to Buy Sezzle
  • Consolidation in the Buy now, pay later (BNPL) industry continues as Zip agrees to acquire competitor Sezzle.
  • The deal values Sezzle at $355 million.
  • After the acquisition is finalized, Sezzle will rebrand to Zip and the company’s CEO Charlie Youakim will lead Zip’s U.S. business.

Buy now, pay later (BNPL) player Zip (formerly known as Quadpay) is acquiring Sezzle in a deal that values Sezzle at $355 million.

Zip CEO and co-founder Larry Diamond expects the deal will help Zip scale up its operations. “Combining with Sezzle positions us as a leading global BNPL provider and prioritizes our ability to win in the important U.S. market.”

Following the deal, Zip’s customer base will increase from 9.9 million to 13.3 million and the number of merchant partners will grow from 82,000 to 129,000. Additionally, The Financial Review estimates that Zip’s total transaction volume will rise from $8 billion to $10.4 billion, and that almost $6.5 billion of this will be from U.S. users.

After the deal closes, Sezzle will rebrand as Zip and the company’s CEO Charlie Youakim will lead Zip’s U.S. business. “I believe the transaction will position us to win in the U.S. and globally,” Youakim said.

Today’s announcement is yet another indication of consolidation in the increasingly-crowded BNPL space. Industry giant Afterpay sold to Block (formerly Square) on February 2nd. And on February 17th, digital payments firm Latitude agreed to acquire Humm’s BNPL operations.

Australia-based Zip was founded in 2013, seven years before BNPL took off as an alternative payment method. Zip is publicly traded on the Australian Stock Exchange (ASK) under the ticker ZIP. The company allows users to split their purchase into four installments over the course of six weeks. With Zip’s app, shoppers use their Zip Virtual Card to pay for their purchase in installments anywhere that Visa is accepted, both online and in-store.

Similarly, Sezzle allows shoppers to use their Sezzle Virtual Card to pay for purchases in four installments over the course of six weeks. The company also offers a long-term financing tool in partnership with Ally and Sezzle Up, an alternative credit solution that helps shoppers build their credit.

Minnesota-based Sezzle was founded in 2016 and went public on the ASK in 2019 under the ticker SZL. At the time, Sezzle said it opted to list on the ASX instead of in U.S. markets because, prior to 2020, the BNPL model was more commonplace in Australia, given that Afterpay, a major player in the BNPL arena, is headquartered in Melbourne.

Photo by Jessica Lewis on Unsplash

Who’s demoing at FinovateSpring 2022? See Buddy, Solve Finance, Engage People and More Demo their Latest Innovations

Latest agenda | Speaker lineup | Who attends? | Register

FinovateSpring, the West Coast’s premier fintech showcase, is returning in-person to San Francisco!

Fintech’s biggest innovators have been working harder than ever during the pandemic. So the quality of companies demoing their latest innovations is higher than ever. And they can’t wait to show you their latest technologies live from the Finovate stage.

They’ll have just 7 minutes to show you what they can do. Make sure you’re there to see it for yourself!

Here’s a look at who’s demoing so far:

Learn more about how their technology can help you spot opportunities for growth in your organization and run with that potential. And discover how you can meet these organizations face-to-face at their booths.

The demoers will zero in on these themes accelerating the transition to a new era of fintech:

Impacts from a new reality drive the need for an enhanced digital identity framework

Since digital payments are becoming increasingly popular, users are perhaps more vulnerable to cybersecurity attacks than ever before. The answer to this increased risk? A self-sovereign identity (SSI)—especially for the financial services sector.

What is Digital Identity? Why is it important?

First, we need to understand what a digital identity is.

A digital identity is simply a collection of electronically stored features associated with a uniquely identifiable individual. Examples can include usernames and passwords, date of birth, and electronic transactions.

Typically, we establish multiple digital identities, including creating new accounts for each service provider we enroll with, or through third-party login mechanisms like Facebook (although these are generally considered insecure for financial services).

Summarily, we establish a new account for each new sensitive service we sign up for. Consider two problems:

  1. We create several identities with multiple providers, all different but each representing the same person—all of which are vulnerable to identity theft with no easy or standard way to verify them.
  2. We have no way of knowing when our identity is used, by whom, or when/if to revoke consent to the usage of that particular identity.

A self-sovereign identity (SSI) can help solve these problems. An SSI is a lifetime portable identity for any person, organization, or thing that does not depend on any centralized authority and can never be taken away.

The shift towards virtual: principal drivers toward a more secure digital identity

Over the duration of the pandemic, it became clear that digital identity became of paramount importance as an answer to ever-present security issues, and amplified them – especially for the financial services sector.

Concerns at the forefront of this industry participants include:

  • What current challenges are digital identity frameworks facing, and what might be on the horizon?
  • Why has the need for a new digital identity model emerged, and how might a solution to it take form?

Many companies were unprepared for the necessary changes in procedures and infrastructure associated with the wide acceptance of remote work.

Network providers were challenged by an unprecedented rising demand of traffic, and many service providers had difficulty anticipating and enabling the corresponding client increase.

Impacts of the pandemic on the consumer side were also immediate, including both quantifiable and behavioral elements. Already an established trend, the virtual consumption model has only accelerated in momentum, based on convenience, health perception/protection, and regulatory mandates. Fortunately, other businesses, with a less physical transaction model, were able to pivot and capitalize through an expanded e-commerce presence as a survival tactic.

Corresponding to these behaviors was the shift away from physical payments and cash, driven by these same tactical and strategic factors. Consider tangible and observational elements that included:

  • Significantly smaller proportion of payments being made in-person as isolation kept people at home.
  • Customers are being advised to avoid cash for hygienic reasons and many businesses now discourage cash—or are reluctant to accept it.
  • Contactless cards and digital wallets seeing a spike in usage—reinforced by the preferred usage habits of newer generations. In the UK, for example, cash usage decreased by 50%.

Initiatives underway in some countries encourage the wider acceptance of a completely digital currency based on blockchain technology.

These observed phenomena are not only present in well-developed countries, but exist globally, including those with less established economies. In these countries, telcos witnessed the biggest increase in usage, given the reliance on systems like M-Pesa. Many people in these countries are migrating directly from cash to mobile payments without ever owning a physical payment card.

The rise of cybercrime and contributing factors

Virtual transactions can be the target of another global growing trend: digital fraud and identity theft.

While the impact on individuals might be exhibiting a decline over the last two years, it is still sizable. According to the Identity Theft Resource Center, 300,562,519 individuals were impacted by publicly reported data breaches in 2020.

data breach year over year totals
Source: Identity Theft Resource Center 2020 Data Breach Report

Cyber criminals are less interested in theft of consumer personal information, with a notable uptick in activities targeting lucrative businesses through stolen credentials such as logins and passwords.

Ransomware and phishing attacks require less effort, are largely automated, and generate payouts that are much higher than taking over the accounts of individuals. One ransomware attack can generate as much revenue in minutes as hundreds of individual identity theft attempts over months or years. The Identity Theft Resource Center also reports that the average ransomware payout was greater than $233,000 per event in the fourth quarter of 2020.

Among the possible factors contributing to this rapid increase:

  • Customer vulnerabilities are exposed as they are forced to new payment methods and asked to rely on and trust third parties.
  • Confidence levels have been driven lower and social anxiety is higher, making individuals more susceptible to social engineering attacks as they turn to these channels.
  • Increased competition has compelled banks into a cost-cutting situation, where mitigating these categories of attacks mandates an additional technical (and technology investment) challenge. This also implies that there will be an increase in long-term investment in fraud detection.
  • As more and more services are moved online (in the form of e-commerce) and more businesses take advantage of embedded finance, a larger online perimeter is established in which malicious users can “play”—including offering more opportunities for attackers to build synthetic profiles from several data breaches, which are then utilized by applying illegally for a loan or for a credit card.

Regulatory impacts and their contribution towards the establishment of digital identity

Regulations across the financial services industry and in other sectors are pushing the innovation edge by necessity. While US-based entities are adhering to an enhanced regulatory framework, these mandates are particularly applicable in Europe, where there is necessary compliance with enacted standards (such as the General Data Protection Regulation—commonly known as GDPR—and the Payment Service Providers Directive 2—referred to as PSD2. A clear need for a true and persistent digital identity as a solution to the ancillary—and sometimes unforeseen—challenges that have arisen. While these challenges point to the need for secure digital identity, Yet, in practice, we have already exposed ourselves unknowingly.

In the physical world, we’ve adopted standard and verifiable practices for obtaining and maintaining permanent identity-related documentation, such as a passport or driver’s license. Either of these documents are accepted globally as identification medium and they are trusted as such.

Can’t we replicate a parallel solution in the digital world as well?

Introducing Self Sovereign Identity (SSI)

Self-sovereign identity (SSI) is a term used to describe the digital movement that recognizes an individual should own and control their identity without the intervening administrative authorities.

Let’s start with identifying some of the acronyms used:

  • SSI: Self-Sovereign Identity
  • DID: Decentralized Identifiers
  • SSO: Self Sovereign OpenId Connect (not to be confused with Single Sign-On)

SSI is a “lifetime portable identity for any person, organization, or thing that does not depend on any centralized authority and can never be taken away.”

To understand our perspective as applied to these concepts, we’ll examine the three main models for identity management.

  • Centralized Identity or “siloed” identity is the simplest of the three models. An organization issues the digital credential to individuals or allows them to create it for themselves. Trust between the individual and the issuer is typically established through the use of shared private information: usually in the form of a username and password and sometimes additional information such as a PIN or security questions. Occasionally this information is augmented with additional factors such as physical tokens or biometrics.
  • Federated identity or IDP relationship model adds a third-party company or consortium, acting as an “identity provider” (IDP) between the individual and the issuer or service the individual is attempting to access. The IDP issues the digital credential, providing a single sign-on experience with the IDP that can seamlessly be used elsewhere—reducing the number of separate credentials a consumer needs to maintain.
    • A common example of the IDP model is “social login” on the web using Facebook, Google or other social IDs to access a third-party service. With social login, one of these tech giants serves as the IDP, but this option is acceptable only in lower-trust environments (such as e-commerce) and not in a high-trust one such as banking.
  • Self-sovereign identity (SSI) is a two-party relationship model, with no third party coming between the individual and the issuer. SSI begins with a digital “wallet” that contains digital credentials. It acts like a physical wallet where a consumer carries credentials issued by others, such as a passport or driver’s license.

The four basic flows and elements involved in this model, consisting of:

  1. Decentralized IDentifiers: you will likely have multiple DIDs according to which issuer you identify from. Each one will give you a lifetime encrypted private channel with another person, organization, or other entity. You will use it not just to prove your identity, but to exchange verifiable digital credentials and aid in its simplicity and security: there will be no central registration authority, as every DID is registered directly on a blockchain or distributed network.
  2. Decentralized Key Management System: a proposed open standard for managing the private keys you need for DIDs, which includes robust, highly usable key recovery. DKMS key recovery supports both offline recovery (“paper wallet”) and social recovery (“trustee”) methods.
  3. DID Auth: a simple standard way for a DID owner to authenticate by proving control of a private key.
  4. Verifiable credentials: the format for interoperable, cryptographically-verifiable digital credentials being defined by the W3C Verifiable Claims Working Group.

Using SSI in the real world

Sean Brown, Program Director, IBM Security, presented a real-world use case at the 2020 Data Center World Conference. He examined how our fictional person, “Alice”, leveraging her newly acquired college degree, can swiftly apply to a new job at Acme Corporation, and subsequently apply for a loan, while continuously maintaining complete control and management over her identity.

Upon graduation, Alice is issued a transcript (DID Auth) which she can use to apply for employment. Alice stores these credentials in her digital wallet (DKMS) which resides in a distributed ledger.

  1. Alice presents credentials from her wallet when she needs to prove her identity in a peer-to-peer interaction.
  2. Acme Corp uses decentralized identifiers and verifiable credentials (DID) from the distributed ledger to perform identity verifications to greatly simplify processing, and upon successful employment, issues a job certificate.

The same flow happens where Alice applies for a loan, leveraging her newly acquired job verifiable credentials.

  1. Alice presents a job certificate and other necessary information to her prospective bank.
  2. The bank verifies the criteria for authenticity and accuracy via the distributed ledger and is able to issue an account certificate to Alice.

As these events transpire, Alice will accumulate several DIDs according to which Peer she is identifying with (in this example Acme or her Bank), and each Peer will release a new DID upon successful authentication and processing.

Most importantly, the distributed ledger component guarantees the greatly more efficient and unforgeable format of authentication verification.

One last relevant element is the fact that Alice will disclose only the elements of her DID that are relevant to that specific interaction (for example, she might decide not to share her GPA with the bank when applying for the loan) because she has full control over it.

Where to go with SSI

In each instance where identity verification is part of a more complex process, there can be a drastic reduction in processing duration and increased effectiveness.

Consumers will benefit in instances such as loan processing (with accompanying credit check verification) or when establishing a new bank account or a new internet contract (with identity and residency manual verification).

Service providers may benefit, as they will be able to minimize fraudulent account creation and simultaneously protect both parties from phishing attacks.

These advantages are not limited to business enterprises, as most services provided by public administration could be potentially moved online (assuming the procedure behind the web interface has been automated).

Additionally, these practices have the potential to open access to financial services for those presently not in possession of bank accounts (without the need to sign up for a full-fledged account). As an example, we refer to one of the first success cases of SSI to appear in the news: MyCash Money selects Onfido to power remittance services in Singapore and Malaysia with trusted identity verification.

Concluding remarks

Whether driven by new realities in consumer behavior that might become permanent, or taken in response to regulatory issues which hope to enhance security and limit fraudulent activity, the concept of robust digital identity has deservedly risen in importance.

The critical element and functionality of SSI revolve around Digital Identity Management, which typically is under the control of an identity platform—an example of which is Red Hat Single Sign-On.

To explore a case study example of how Red Hat’s Single Sign-On (SSO) technology utilized an access-based identity repository in conjunction with our OpenShift product to solve a complex customer problem, we’d invite you to explore here.

About the Author:
Luca Ferrari, Principal Solution Architect, Red Hat
Luca Ferrari is a Senior Specialist Solution Architect at Red Hat focusing on Adapting legacy support systems for the digital era.

Bank Automation Summit 2022: 3 key themes for exploration

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — This week, the Bank Automation Summit goes live for the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. What can attendees expect? The following are three key themes that will form the backdrop of nearly all the sessions planned for the event, which starts Tuesday, March 1, at 1 p.m. ET. […]

U.S. bans transactions with Russian Central Bank, Wealth Fund

President Joe Biden’s administration on Monday banned U.S. people and companies from doing business with the Bank of Russia, the Russian National Wealth Fund and the Ministry of Finance.

The moves by the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control will “effectively immobilize” any Russian central bank assets held in the U.S. or by U.S. nationals, according to a Treasury department statement.

The U.S. also announced new penalties on a key Russian sovereign wealth fund, the Russian Direct Investment Fund, and its Chief Executive Officer, Kirill Aleksandrovich Dmitriev, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The announcements marked the latest blow in the West’s financial retaliation against Russia following Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and are designed to shake an already staggering Russian financial system.

“The unprecedented action we are taking today will significantly limit Russia’s ability to use assets to finance its destabilizing activities, and target the funds Putin and his inner circle depend on to enable his invasion of Ukraine,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in a statement.

The U.S. and EU blocks on the Russian central bank’s assets will immobilize nearly half of Putin’s warchest, according to a Treasury spokeswoman. Roughly 13% of the central bank’s reserves are held in China, she said.

Putin’s warchest is an estimated $630 billion in reserves, the officials said, and the measures are aimed at blocking his ability to sell those to mitigate financial pressure domestically.

Russia’s own data published in January shows that $100 billion of the reserves were held in U.S. dollars as of June.

The U.S. separately issued a license allowing certain energy transactions with the central bank, a carve-out a senior administration official said is aimed at minimizing the fallout in Europe and energy markets. It will take time for Russian institutions to figure out how to segregate energy transactions from other measures, the official said.

Finalizing banks cut off from SWIFT

The U.S. is continuing to work with European Union partners to finalize the list of banks that will be cut off from the SWIFT system, a second senior administration official said. The list of banks will be finalized by the EU because SWIFT is under Belgian authority.

U.S. officials are monitoring Belarus’s role in the Russian invasion, and that country will also face further consequences if it continues to aid and abet Russia, one of the officials said.

Read more: Russia Erects Financial Defenses to Shield Economy From Curbs

The moves came two days after the U.S., U.K., Canada and the EU said they would block major Russian banks from SWIFT, take steps to stop Russia’s central bank from rescuing the nation’s economy and move to seize Russian oligarchs’ yachts and residences in the West.

The U.K. Treasury said earlier Monday it will act immediately to stop people and companies doing businesses with the Bank of Russia, the Russian National Wealth Fund and the Ministry of Finance.

The moves to isolate Russia from the global economy came after an initial round of penalties failed to persuade Putin to withdraw his forces from Ukraine.

The Bank of Russia acted quickly to shield the nation’s $1.5 trillion economy from the sweeping penalties, more than doubling its key interest rate to 20%, the highest in almost two decades, and imposing some controls on the flow of capital.

Facing the risk of a bank run, a rapid sell-off in assets and the steepest depreciation in the ruble since 1998, policy makers banned brokers from selling securities held by foreigners starting Monday on the Moscow Exchange.

Even before the new sanctions have taken effect, the Russian financial system has buckled under their weight.

The ruble continued to plunge against the dollar, with the currency losing a third of its value in offshore markets at one point Monday, hitting an all-time low of 109 per dollar in Moscow.

The announcements came as a Ukrainian delegation led by the defense minister began talks with Russian officials. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has voiced skepticism that the talks, taking place on the country’s border with Belarus, would yield results but said he was willing to try if it meant any chance of peace.

The European Union over the weekend closed its airspace to Russian aircraft and announced it would fund weapons purchases for the first time to aid Ukraine.

BP Plc on Sunday moved to dump its nearly 20% stake in the Russian oil giant Rosneft PJSC. By joining the worldwide effort to kneecap Russia’s economy, the British company could take a financial hit of as much as $25 billion. While the move came amid pressure from the U.K. government, it showed how far Western powers are willing to go in punishing the Kremlin.

Putin ordered Russia’s nuclear forces on high alert following the sanctions, which he called an act of Russian aggression. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on ABC’s “This Week” the move was part of a pattern of Putin “manufacturing threats that don’t exist in order to justify further aggression.”

The United Nations Security Council called for a rare emergency session of the General Assembly to discuss Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The session is set to be held Monday.

Carry1st Completes $20million Series A Funding Round To Expand Gaming Content Portfolio

Avenir and Google partook in a Series A funding round led by Andreessen Horowitz for Carry1st, the African mobile games publisher. The round saw $20million raised and will go towards expanding its content portfolio; growing its product, engineering, and growth teams.

A number of prominent angel investors participated in the round, including Grammy winner and renowned crypto investor Nas, and founders of Chipper Cash, Sky Mavis, and Yield Guild Games. In addition, investors from Carry1st’s May 2021 Series A are backing the company again, namely Riot Games, Konvoy Ventures, Raine Ventures, and TTV Capital.

On the back of 96 per cent month revenue growth, Carry1st will also use the additional capital to acquire tens of millions of new users. Notably, Carry1st is expanding into game co-development, working with leading game studios on original concepts, and developing the infrastructure to support play-to-earn gaming.

“We’re excited to partner with this world-class group of investors who, in addition to capital, bring expertise across gaming, fintech, and web3,” said Cordel Robbin-Coker, Co-Founder and CEO of Carry1st. “In 2021 we launched multiple games and digital commerce solutions achieving really strong growth. Together we can accelerate this growth and achieve our goal of becoming the leading consumer internet company in the region.”

Africa is the next major growth market, driven by rapidly increasing technology adoption among the continent’s 1.1 billion millennials and Gen-Zers. A report released in 2021 from Newzoo and Carry1st, showed that the number of gamers in Sub-Saharan Africa is set to increase by 275 per cent over 10 years, leading to a 728 per cent increase in revenue. Carry1st has positioned itself to be the conduit for international and local mobile game companies to profitably serve these consumers.

Carry1st provides a full-stack publishing solution, handling user acquisition, live operations, community management, and monetisation for its partners. The company enhances monetisation in the region through its embedded payments solution and online marketplace for virtual goods, which allows underbanked customers to pay for content in their preferred way.

Andreessen Horowitz General Partner David Haber adds: “We are delighted to be making our first investment in an Africa-headquartered company in Carry1st, a next-generation mobile games and fintech platform. We see immense opportunity for the company to mirror outstanding successes we’ve seen in markets like India, China, and Southeast Asia. We couldn’t be more thrilled to partner with founders Cordel, Lucy, Tino, and the Carry1st team on their mission to build the Garena of Africa.”

The company recently partnered with online payments pioneers PayPal, to enable people across Africa to easily and securely purchase virtual goods – such as Tinder subscriptions, mobile data, and gaming currency – on the Carry1st Shop. Consumers can pay via a range of local payment options including crypto, mobile money, and bank transfers.

Carry1st has signed publishing deals for seven games from a number of leading studios including Tilting Point, publisher of Nickelodeon’s SpongeBob: Krusty Cook-Off, which Carry1st recently launched in Africa. Other gaming partners include CrazyLabs, a world-leading casual and hyper-casual mobile games developer and publisher and Sweden’s Raketspel, a studio that has over 120 million downloads across its portfolio.

The company, founded by Cordel Robbin-Coker (CEO), Lucy Hoffman (COO), and Tinotenda Mundangepfupfu (CTO), employs a team of 37 people across 18 countries, including mobile gaming veterans hailing from Rovio, Socialpoint, Ubisoft, and Wargaming.

Nitin Gajria, Managing Director for Google in Africa, adds: “We’re thrilled to partner with Carry1st to unlock the mobile gaming industry in Africa and support the team as they scale solutions to the hundreds of millions of new consumers coming online for the first time.”

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

Kalgera Finds Over 1 in 5 Brits Have Been a Victim of Financial Fraud

More than a fifth of British adults have been tricked out of money by financial fraudsters, losing on average £1,002, according to new research by Kalgera.

This rises to £1,523 for people who have a carer while those aged 25-34 lose the most at £1,355. Of those who have lost money, 3% have lost £10,000 or more.

Despite this week marking one year since the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) issued guidance for banks and building societies to protect vulnerable customers, who are often more susceptible to scammers, financial vulnerability has risen. The FCA guidance has been designed to help financial institutions better understand the needs of vulnerable customers to enable them to make any necessary changes to ensure they are treated fairly.

But the Cost of Living crisis is only going to increase the levels of vulnerability, according to Kalgera, an AI powered platform designed to help banks and financial institutions identify and protect vulnerable customers from financial harm. The research it commissioned found that a staggering two in five (21%) respondents self-identify as financially vulnerable.

The pandemic, coupled with a hike in the cost of living, has taken its toll on the physical, mental and financial health of the nation with 17% of Brits admitting they don’t think through financial decisions as well as they did before the Covid-19 pandemic and 21% say they are struggling financially.

Despite the FCA guidance, the scale of the problem appears to have increased – and 39% of people say they are fearful, anxious or concerned that they will be targeted by a scammer. This rises to almost two thirds (67%) for those who have a carer. More than half of UK adults don’t think banks and building societies do enough to help customers who are financially vulnerable, rising to 68% of those who have a carer while 29% don’t know where to get advice, rising to 53% for those who have a carer.

Dr. Dexter Penn, Founder of Kalgera, said: “In the year since the FCA issued guidance for banks and building societies to better protect vulnerable customers it has become clear that the problem has worsened because of the pandemic, rising living costs and opportunistic fraudsters. Most of us know someone who has been targeted by fraudsters; the frequency of more sophisticated scam approaches has rapidly increased as the majority of payments are now digital and cashless.

Added to this, the increase in people using digital services such as online banking – some for the first time – has created more opportunities for fraudsters. More than 4 in 10 (41%) people say they have been targeted by a would-be fraudster since the beginning of the first lockdown (March 2020).

Worryingly, 28% of people admit they don’t feel entirely confident or safe using online banking services while a quarter (26%) have bought something after seeing a sale or promotion on social media or via an unsolicited text or email from a brand unknown to them.

“There is concern that we will see a rapid increase in the number of people experiencing financial vulnerability, which leaves people more susceptible to becoming a victim of financial fraud. To reverse this trend, industries, including finance, technology and healthcare, need to come together to improve the way we detect the drivers of vulnerability and intervene before people are tricked into parting with their hard-earned money,” added Dr Penn.

  • 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.

Terra Virtua: We’re Headed Towards the Metaverse – What Does That Mean?

The concept of the metaverse has accelerated massively since Facebook rebranded itself as Meta, encompassing all its affiliated companies. This allowed many to view the digital reality as something more outside of its gaming context. But what does this really mean and how will companies respond?

In a career spanning decades, Jawad Ashraf has been at the forefront of innovation in emerging technology. Having pioneered software development in industry and enterprise, he’s been a driving force in the early adoption of progressive technology. As CEO and co-founder of Terra Virtua, he’s an industry leader in NFTs, blockchain and the metaverse.  

Speaking to The Fintech Times, Ashraf analyses what the metaverse is at its core and how it will develop: 

Jawad Ashraf, CEO & CO-Founder of Terra VirtuaJawad Ashraf, CEO & CO-Founder of Terra Virtua
Jawad Ashraf, CEO and CO-Founder of Terra Virtua

The metaverse dominates news headlines and conversations, and in recent times interest has skyrocketed. Companies such as Meta (previously Facebook) and Microsoft, alongside brands like Disney and Manchester City Football Club are jumping on this latest tech trend, that allows users to play, work and socialise in virtual environments. But many questions still surround this emerging industry and technology.

What is the metaverse?

When thinking about the metaverse, it’s important not to think about it as a singular entity, but a series of virtual spaces that will overlap each other. An interconnected network of metaverses, which will enable new experiences, communities, opportunities to learn, places to game and much more. Virtual spaces which will grant the ability to experience more than we can in the real world, enhanced and unrestricted by physical limitations.

In many ways, the metaverse is an evolution of connected networks like the internet. However, it is important to remember that many metaverse projects are still in the trial-and-error phase. What we will see is successful projects and failures, as the metaverse’s true purpose is defined. We’re at a point where projects are blazing a trail into the metaverse, and hopefully we’ll soon be able to fully experience what it has to offer.

How does the metaverse work?

Despite a growing understanding of what the metaverse is, and more brands and individuals working out how they can get involved – we aren’t quite there yet. Currently, there are some isolated examples of companies building the infrastructure that could become metaverses. Think Meta, its rebrand from Facebook and Virtual Reality (VR) programme; and games like Fortnite and Roblox, with avatars (virtual characters that represent users), their own economies and live events that allow users to go beyond gaming.

The great thing about the metaverse is that there will be no set boundaries for what each virtual world might look like and how to access them. For now, users access the metaverse through their avatars. However, you can’t take your avatars and digital assets with you wherever you go, to use in another world or metaverse, and you can’t freely move between virtual places.

Once fully formed, the metaverse will be more like a network of virtual worlds. You’ll be able to move through connected virtual environments seamlessly, using fully immersive VR that overcomes the barriers of glass screens and heavy headsets. What’s more, in the future, we’re expecting it to be a far more immersive experience, blurring the boundaries between the real and virtual world.

What can you do in the metaverse?

One day, you’ll be able to do almost everything you can do in the real world in the metaverse. Only you’ll have all the benefits of the virtual world – convenience, enhancement, everything at your fingertips, without physical barriers such as geography – with the capability to interact with others and the environment as deeply as you can in the real world.

In the meantime, there are a number of experiences already available to us in the metaverse. These include:

  • Entertainment: From socialising with your friends, to attending virtual concerts and weddings.
  • Virtual Property: People are increasingly interested in climbing the virtual property ladder through NFTs and purchasing homes, land, events, space and even yachts.
  • Gaming: Some users are gaming not only to make friends, but to make money via play-to-earn games such as Nitro League and Axie Infinity.
  • Working: Increasingly, workplaces are investing in VR headsets, allowing employees to get together in virtual workspaces and new starters to be on-boarded.
  • Learning: Platforms are reinventing virtual education, offering interactive and immersive educational experiences through VR and AR.

Are you ready player one?

We’re at the start of something big and we’ve still got a way to go until we truly see what the metaverse can offer. There is still much to be built, and many key decisions to be made – including how it will be regulated; how it will affect and be affected by real world events and restrictions; and what exactly it will offer us.

The movie Ready Player One is the perfect example of what we want to achieve in the metaverse, but we need to avoid potential pitfalls – we need to make sure there is a layer of regulation and protection especially when it comes to identify, anonymity and data retention.

The metaverse will create a big societal shift, we are truly stepping into a space that has never been explored before, there will need to be rules to ensure everyone is made to feel welcome and can enjoy everything the metaverse has to offer.

About Terra Virtua:

Launched in 2017, Terra Virtua is a digital collectibles platform built on sustainable blockchain technology. Which offers immersive collectible, gaming and social experiences, through NFTs, and provides a gateway to the metaverse.

Jawad Ashraf, CEO and CO-Founder of Terra Virtua:

China’s crypto ban extends to a wider range of crypto-based activities

In September 2021, the People’s Bank of China and nine other Chinese government authorities jointly released the Circular on Further Preventing and Handling the Risks Concerning Speculation in Virtual Currency Trading. Together with another official notice to stamp out cryptocurrency mining, cryptocurrency-based mining and other crypto-related activities in China are set to be tightly regulated. 

See this alert from our China fintech team which summarises some of the recent related regulatory developments and discusses several hot topics such as NFTs and China’s Digital Yuan Plan.

Payments Evolution: New Buy Now Pay Later Fintech is Upending the Retail Sector

The UK retail sector is undergoing a revolution in consumer behaviour, leaving many merchants with stark choices to make about their business models. Two years of the global pandemic and its associated restrictions on movement have turbocharged a seismic structural shift from in-store to online shopping.

Fuelling this trend even further have been recent innovations in financial technology that make it easier and more convenient for retail consumers to purchase the items they need. The sheer pace of change has put players in the retail and payments landscape under pressure to adapt and offer greater flexibility, and checkout finance has emerged as a key transformation in the sector.

Rob Fernandes is Chief Product Officer of Deko, the leading retail finance ecosystem. His experience includes twenty years in payments and fintech, leading product strategy across a number of businesses as well as advising many others including Wepay, Vocalink, Nexi, Paysafe, Natwest Tyl, Yoyo Wallet and Tink. 

Here he shares his thoughts on how new BNPL fintech is upending the retail sector.

Going beyond mainstream BNPL

With the UK’s e-commerce market forecast to be worth £264bn by 2024, a 37% increase on 2020 levels, the significance of checkout finance will only continue to grow. Yet the one-size-fits-all approach used by many buy now pay later (BNPL) brands has its limitations. Early BNPL offerings in the UK boosted conversion rates using simple, single lender products. But, despite their rapid growth, demand in the market has evolved across different sectors and basket sizes and it is now possible to further optimise acceptance for long-term success.

While there have been innovations in consumer experiences that have increased checkout impact for merchants, less focus has been given to boosting flexibility and coverage of financial products to address different consumers and their purchase goals. Nor has there been enough attention paid to accelerating the integration of these solutions, broadening sector reach, and making everything available through one platform.

Mainstream BNPL products are already going beyond the limitations of traditional cash and credit cards – spending via this method in the UK is forecast to rise from £9.6 billion in 2020 to £26.4 billion in 2024. Checkout finance products are increasingly expected as standard; already almost 9.5 million UK consumers avoid retailers that do not offer BNPL at checkout and nearly a fifth of UK adults now use BNPL services once a month.

The next stage of innovation will include platforms that aggregate both short-term BNPL and higher value and longer-term monthly instalment finance. They will also operate across a wide spectrum of risk appetites with a panel of lenders including prime and near-prime underwriters, and credit providers covering different sector demands. This will mean far fewer abandoned baskets and more sales – helping merchants make the most of their e-commerce capabilities.

Catering for all basket sizes

In the UK, some 41% of consumers have abandoned a transaction during the online checkout process, while 24% have walked away from a purchase in physical stores. A Barclaycard survey also found that, on average, British shoppers abandon £30 in online shopping baskets per month. A lack of payment options is a leading reason for this, with research showing that close to 10 million Britons chose not to buy from merchants that don’t offer alternative payment methods at checkout.

With the sharp rise in living costs due to inflation unlikely to slow down in the near future, many customers are reluctant to spend one-off sums of money on certain purchases. This doesn’t merely affect sales in smaller price ranges such as beauty or fashion, but can impact merchants who offer services like online education, healthcare, or home improvement. Providing finance options for a range of basket sizes is imperative to support the businesses underpinning the UK economy.

Deko’s technology matches customers with a marketplace of lenders during the purchase journey, increasing the approval rate of applications for finance at checkout and giving consumers the best chance of securing the goods or services they want. By guaranteeing the best match between consumers, merchants and lenders, merchants can gain an average increase in sales of almost 30%. With its proven plugins, the platform can also be installed into existing infrastructure in as little as 24 hours, ensuring minimal disruption to merchants’ business operations while delivering the finance tools their customers need online and in-store.

The next wave in payments innovation is here

It is clear that the upward trend driven by a convergence in online retail and fintech is accelerating, and the payments industry is alive with innovation. Checkout finance represents a permanent shift in the way in which both retailers and customers view payments based on choice and flexibility. But new platforms are going a step further – simultaneously optimising customer experience and coverage and acceptance too. Checkout finance aggregation can take this payments evolution to the next level, offering tailored, conversion-focused solutions to retailers and consumers alike.

About the company: Deko is a multi-product, multi-lender retail finance ecosystem focused on expanding access to retail finance for lenders, merchants and customers.

Will crypto help Russia get around sanctions and Swift ban? No!

Russia launched an all-out attack on Ukraine this Thursday, changing the face of Europe forever. Since every day is marked with new sanctions against Russia, the latest was on Saturday when key Russian banks were banned from the Swift financial system. The ban from Swift is sometimes called “the nuclear option,” and would curtail Russian banks’ access to foreign liquidity in the form of the world’s major currencies such as dollars, euros, or yen. While it did not happen in the past, Russia was threatened with a Swift expulsion in 2014 when it annexed Crimea. It would be naive to think that the threat didn’t prompt Russia to examine all the possible what-ifs in preparation for such a scenario and develop its own alternatives to counter a future expulsion from Swift. Russia has one of the largest foreign currency and gold reserves in the world. They were the fourth largest behind China, Japan, and Switzerland at the end of 2020, with $600+ billion in foreign currencies and gold. The Central Bank of Russia developed its own Swift equivalent, SPFS, which is used by around 400 institutions, mostly banks, and it only works within Russia. SPFS is extremely limited, it’s only operational during weekday working hours and its messages are limited to 20 kilobytes in size. But there have been reports to integrate the network with payment systems in China and India and expand it to countries like Turkey and Iran. Russia has also been working on its own central bank digital currency (CBDC) in an effort to give its domestic banks international liquidity should expulsion from Swift ever materialized.  Now there’s talk of Russia using crypto as an escape route to circumvent sanctions. Is this realistic and how would that even work?

Ilias Louis Hatzis is the founder and CEO at Kryptonio wallet.

There are lots of networks out there for transactions and payments today. There are also many new contenders emerging from the fintech world.

A number of countries, including China, Russia, and Iran, have taken steps to limit their dependence on the dollar and have even been working to establish alternative payment systems. China has created its own Cross-Border Interbank Payment System (CIPS).

The US threatened to lock China out of the dollar system if it failed to follow UN sanctions on North Korea. In 2012, with the help of an EU directive, Swift blocked Iran, to contain its nuclear program.

Removing Russia from Swift would certainly cripple its economy, but it’s no magic bullet. There are alternative ways to operate outside of Swift, and it’s important to stay focused on the money, not the messaging system.

The US government is increasingly aware of the potential for cryptocurrencies to lessen the impact of sanctions and is stepping up its scrutiny of digital assets.

For thirteen years now, we’ve had bitcoin, an open technology that has more computing power behind it, on a decentralized basis, than any open source project in history.

Russia may be able to alleviate some of the pains from the sanctions with cryptocurrencies. But, evading sanctions isn’t as simple as it sounds, given the crypto market’s volatility and advanced tools to track crypto. A few days ago, Laura Shin published an article about a powerful de-mixing tool that uncovered the identity of Ethereum’s 2016 DAO hacker. Also, if Russia was to adopt bitcoin, it could threaten the already battered ruble.

Theoretically, it could lessen the impact of the sanctions by turning to bitcoin mining. This is a path that Iran followed, another oil producer. Iran has a surplus of energy it can’t export, so it’s using it to power bitcoin mining, which consumes electricity and rewards miners with bitcoin.

A 2021 report from Elliptic revealed that Iran’s power company disclosed that up to 600 MW of electricity was used by bitcoin miners.  The report estimates that Iran-based miners account for approximately 4.5% of all bitcoin mining, which translates to annualized revenue of close to $1 billion. To some degree, this allows Iran to circumvent trade embargoes and use the revenues from cryptocurrencies to buy imports.

Could Russia use crypto to reduce the impact of sanctions? It will certainly try to reduce the pain using crypto.

A Bloomberg report says that Russians own about 12% of the total global crypto holdings.

The Bank of Russia is accelerating efforts on developing a CBDC. According to a white paper published by the bank, trials are expected to begin in January. In the second stage of trials, expected by mid-2022, the Bank of Russia is expected to invite non-banking partners such as exchanges and credit institutions to the network.

On February 18, Russia’s ministry of finance introduced a cryptocurrency bill in parliament, pushing forward to legalize crypto investments and hinting that Russians will be allowed to mine cryptocurrencies like bitcoin, but banning their use for payments.

We are entering a new world, in which the dollar is eventually going to lose its global dominance, yet I don’t see a contender (ruble, yuan, etc.) becoming the world’s next global reserve currency.

Bitcoin will be the money in the future. So, the next best option to being the country that issues and distributes the global reserve currency is to be the most advanced country and holder of the global reserve currency that no one controls.

Countries that prepare and attain a large ownership stake, build mining operations, and support pro-bitcoin activities, will have a significant advantage in this new world.

What is abundantly clear is that Putin and Russia have had eight years to figure out how to circumvent this very sanction and have gamed it out extensively. I don’t think we are going to see crypto replace Swift as a way around sanctions, despite what everyone seems to be suggesting. We will see Russia positioning in a crypto land grab for the post-dollar era.

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The ‘Tyl by CIBC’ Payment Service To Arrive in Canada by the End of the Year

The ‘Tyl by CIBC’ payments system is due to come to Canada later this year thanks to the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce’s (CIBC) partnership with Pollinate

The introduction of the ‘Tyl by CIBC’ service will allow entrepreneurs to receive payments in-person and online, whilst also providing transaction insights through a central interface. The service is expected to debut on the Canadian market later this year.

Laura Dottori-Attanasio, Group Head, Personal and Business Banking, CIBCLaura Dottori-Attanasio, Group Head, Personal and Business Banking, CIBC
Laura Dottori-Attanasio

“Tyl by CIBC is a strategic investment in our commitment to helping Canadian business owners achieve their ambitions through modern, digital technology, and the best of data-led insights, payments, and banking services through one simple and intuitive platform,” said Laura Dottori-Attanasio, Group Head, Personal and Business Banking, CIBC. “Canada has over one million small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), and our new platform will meet their changing needs as we emerge from the pandemic and focus on growth.”

Tyl is a cloud-based digital-first platform for SMEs that enables safe and secure payments acceptance, provides easy point-of-sale technology, and helps users administer loyalty programmes. The platform will also offer integration into CIBC business banking services.

Under the partnership, CIBC is making a strategic financial investment in Pollinate, joining Insight Partners, NatWest, National Australia Bank, Mastercard, Fiserv and EFM Asset Management with an ownership stake in the company and its growing business. CIBC’s partnership with Pollinate will give Canadian businesses access to the Tyl platform, which is being used successfully in other global markets, and is generating a strong, positive response from owners by helping them run and grow their business.

Alastair Lukies CBE, Founder and CEO, PollinateAlastair Lukies CBE, Founder and CEO, Pollinate
Alastair Lukies CBE

“Banks are in a unique position to be able to connect directly with both merchants and consumers, and we are honoured to be the partner of choice for CIBC and bring the Tyl platform to Canada,” said Alastair Lukies CBE, Founder and CEO, Pollinate. “We’ve seen first-hand the positive response from business owners to our platform in a number of countries around the world, and we’re excited that Canadian business owners will soon have the tools and insights to help their businesses thrive.”

  • 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.

CellPoint Digital: What the Video Game Industry Can Learn From Payments

With seamless transactions forming the cornerstone of modern gaming systems, the process of paying for a game remains well behind what we’d expect from the ability of modern paytech systems. 

Mark Patrick, Global Head of Payments at CellPoint DigitalMark Patrick, Global Head of Payments at CellPoint Digital
Mark Patrick

The variability of paytech within gaming remains far behind the variability of the games themselves. For one, cross-border purchasing remains a particular challenge, with some payment processes being unable to align themselves with international capabilities. 

This stunted area is an area that’s widely discussed here by Mark Patrick, Global Head of Payments at CellPoint Digital. Patrick investigates stalling gaming payments, whilst putting forward a payment solution that could work for everyone. 

Patrick’s expertise is in cross-border payments. He has developed and implemented strategies and solutions for fintech start-ups and global payment powerhouses such as Mastercard, Visa/Cybersource and Ingenico. His current mission is to execute a global payment strategy for CellPoint Digital that will continue to disrupt the traditional value chain and deliver a step-change in the industry.
THE video game industry is one of the largest and most lucrative sectors around, bringing in $162.32billion in 2020 alone. Yet, payments technology within the gaming space still lags behind its contemporaries. While retailers who sell video games, both specialists like GAME and broader eCommerce stores like Amazon, offer a wide range of alternative payment methods (APMs) and can manage cross-border payments, the direct platforms for purchasing video games vary wildly in terms of the options available.

As we’ve seen in other verticals, both airlines and retail, in particular, the customer user experience (UX) is greatly improved when they are allowed to make a payment in the way that’s most comfortable for them, whether that be in the same currency or an APM of their choice. While the gaming sector may be thriving, its store checkouts need improvement, and the best way to improve is to learn what it can from other sectors.

Meeting the minimum requirements

There are several small online platforms where customers can buy video games directly, and we don’t mean retail stores (although technically they could fall under that umbrella). In the gaming industry, there are several systems that customers play games on and each of these has its own eCommerce store, sometimes multiple. Each of the three leading consoles (Nintendo Switch, PS5 and Xbox Series) have their own bespoke stores accessible through the system, as do both Android and iOS devices.

For PC gaming, there are far more options available which come in two varieties: launchers (STEAM, Epic Game Store) and browser-based stores (GOG, Humble Store). Depending on the marketplace, the number of payment options available is limited.

If we look at Nintendo’s eShop, its store for buying digital Nintendo Switch titles, the options for payments are very limited. It accepts debit and credit cards, its own pre-paid gift cards, and allows users to connect to PayPal to take payments. These options are available on every single store, regardless of platform and store type. Unfortunately, that is where it ends for Nintendo’s proprietary platform.

The PlayStation and Xbox stores are only marginally better. They both allow for mobile payments directly from providers (like EE and Vodafone) in certain regions, and Xbox takes direct debit in Germany only, but that is the extent of its offerings. All three of the major gaming platforms offer very limited payment options for its customers, and this extends to the browser versions of their stores.

The Apple Store and Google Play Store (as well as the Galaxy Store) don’t fare much better, but they do allow for use of their own Apple and Samsung wallets respectively. All three of the major gaming platforms do offer bespoke wallets of their own, but these are also limited. Going back to the eShop, when making a payment you can either pay the exact amount of a purchase, or you can upload funds to a virtual wallet. These funds can currently only be uploaded in predetermined chunks (£5, £10 and £20) which are too general to help with the very specific pricing that may arise when making multiple game purchases.

Cross-border purchasing

On the opposite end of the spectrum, browser-based eCommerce platforms are massively varied, accepting all the previously mentioned payment methods, but with the addition of things like AliPay, Amazon Payments, YooMoney and more. The Humble Store even accepts Buy Now, Pay Later with Klarna (although, this is only for US customers right now). STEAM and the Epic Games Store don’t have quite as many options, but they still have plenty. Most notably, the use of multiple currencies.

Where applicable, many of these stores will offer the price of games in local currency, with GOG covering the most regions (43 unique currencies, and if a currency is missing, it will default to dollars instead). For these stores, it is a simple press of a button to switch from one currency to another. Unfortunately, this standard isn’t found everywhere.

While the console and mobile stores do have the option for customers to purchase from different regions, this often involves making or setting your shopping account to that region and even then, payments are ‘region-locked’.

On the Nintendo Switch eShop, for example, if you wanted to purchase a game from the Japanese store then you would need to first purchase a pre-paid card, as UK debit/credit cards will not work. Even then, the pre-paid card needs to be from Japan as these are ‘region-locked’ as well. In some cases, the PayPal option is cross-border but, it isn’t available in every country.

Clearly the payments process needs updating, and some steps have been made towards this. A UK card does work in other European countries, as well as in South America and sometimes Australia. Meanwhile, a US card will work on the Mexican and Canadian stores, so some level of cross-border payments are taking place. But to reach the level that this industry should be striving towards, consumers should be allowed to buy a game from any region they want, with their own local currency and payment methods.

The multi-acquirer solution

In order to allow for multiple new payment methods, as well as purchases from different countries with local payment methods, the video game industry’s best choice would be to adopt a multi-acquirer strategy. According to a study in 2021 by ACI, over 60 per cent of merchants already have such a strategy in place but adoption has been dependent on the sector and region they operate in. What is universal though, is the benefits this solution brings to merchants.

A multi-acquirer strategy is one in which a merchant holds accounts with more than one acquirer and so can send a transaction to the best acquirer for the method of payment being used. In the case of allowing for cross-border payments and the use of local currencies, what this means is that the merchant can host acquirers from each region in one solution and give each region’s store access to all acquirers. So, if a UK account is used on the Japanese store, it is still processed by the UK acquirer. This strategy also works for alternative payment methods, ensuring the best acquirer for the job every time.

This is only one of many benefits that the video game industry can ensure from moving to a multi-acquirer strategy. For merchants who accept payments in one currency while accepting settlements in another, the cost of processing those transactions can be prohibitively high.

In many cases, processing transactions cross-border can result in incremental costs of as much as one per cent. Intelligent routing of transactions using a combination of payment types and processors can also drive the overall transaction cost down, while increasing the likelihood of obtaining an authorisation.

There is also, of course, an increase in sales as consumers are no longer restricted when purchasing games from other regions, ones that may be exclusive or released early there. With a Payment Orchestration Platform forming the bedrock of a multi-acquirer strategy, merchants can use a custom-designed solution to manage multiple payment service providers (PSP) and more easily achieve compliance with payments regulations across multiple regions.

By developing a multi-acquirer strategy, video game companies and merchants can plug into different acquirers across the globe and allow for more payment options on their digital storefronts. This is a feature that has been seen across several sectors already with proven results on improving the user experience and as the gaming industry continues to be one of the most recurring sectors for payment transactions it is important that it follows suit.

News & Views Podcast | Episode 68: Esports, Cybersecurity in Singapore & Facial Recognition

On this weeks episode of News & Views, The Fintech Times POdcast team speak on Esports, the future of Cybersecurity in Singapore through educational programs and Facial Recognition.

The UK’s Biggest Banks Are Desperately Seeking New Risk and Compliance Talent

Fancy a job in risk and compliance? Well now’s your time to shine; according to a new report. 

Following an unprecedented year of regulatory initiatives with only more to come, UK banks are currently advertising record numbers of risk and compliance jobs.

This is according to the latest research of global recruiters Morgan McKinley and data analysts Vacancysoft, which highlights how UK banks sought 8,750 risk and compliance (R&C) specialists in 2021, representing a 98.9 per cent year-on-year (YoY) increase and a 67.3 per cent increase on pre-pandemic levels.

Jobs rose further in 2022 with banks publishing 850 R&C vacancies in January, 87.6 per cent more than the same month in 2019. Overall banking vacancies, meanwhile, hit an all-time monthly high of 2,990 new jobs — breaking the previous record, set in October 2021, by 3.1 per cent.

Ben Harris, Associate Director, Head of Governance, Compliance, IA and Risk Management, Morgan McKinleyBen Harris, Associate Director, Head of Governance, Compliance, IA and Risk Management, Morgan McKinley
Ben Harris

“The start of 2022 saw a dramatic improvement in risk, compliance and financial crime recruitment. Hiring for permanent risk and compliance professionals was busy at the end of 2021 and showed no signs of slowing down — to the backdrop of what people called ‘The Great Resignation‘ and the post-pandemic bounce-back predicted for financial services,” explains Ben Harris, Associate Director, Head of Governance, Compliance, IA and Risk Management, Morgan McKinley.

“With the easing of coronavirus measures banks, having made significant cuts to their staff, needed the talent to join their teams again. The recruitment market is candidate-led, with job-seekers in 2022 being offered multiple options. In addition, the onset of bonus season will flood the market with talent that wasn’t previously looking, requiring institutions to move quickly on offering roles.”

Credit analyst and KYC compliance roles experience the fastest growth

Out of specialist roles within R&C, functions focusing solely on compliance have made up the bulk of all hiring since at least 2019, totalling nearly 1,800 jobs in 2021. This accounts for nearly a third of all the R&C roles available, and represents an uptick of 57.4 per cent YoY.

The most notable surges in recruitment, however, were for KYC compliance and credit analysts, with hiring levels up 192.7 per cent and 560 per cent YoY, respectively. Vacancies for KYC specialists were found to be the most resilient in 2020 — the first year of the pandemic — with numbers up 21.7 per cent YoY while hiring for other R&C functions floundered.

Who’s employing who?

Citi finished 2021 as the dominant hirer of R&C specialists in the UK, publishing nearly 920 vacancies, a rise of 84.7 per cent YoY and 470.2 per cent higher than pre-pandemic levels. Jobs at Santander were up 185.8 per cent YoY, whilst being up 82.3 per cent from 2019. JPMorgan, second in 2021, recorded nearly 500 new R&C jobs.

This snapshot of the report represents who the top 20 companies hiring for R&C are:

Morgan McKinley R&C Jobs UKMorgan McKinley R&C Jobs UK
Top 20 companies, professional R&C vacancies in banking, UK, 2019-2022

Vacancies at Nationwide saw the biggest YoY surge out of all 20 banks, with R&C hiring levels up 608.7 per cent YoY and 81.1 per cent from 2019. The smallest rise was at Deutsche Bank, where recruitment grew by only 12.8 per cent YoY.

“There has been a general increase in salaries across risk disciplines as demand for specific skill sets increases, leading to average pay increases of 20 to 25 per cent, and even higher in some cases,” Harris continues. “We have also noted some very aggressive counteroffers, as firms do all they can to hang onto key talent. We expect this trend to certainly continue well into the second half of 2022.”

  • 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.

InDebted: A Global Fintech’s Experience of the Four-Day Working Week

After experiencing first-hand the shortcomings of traditional collection agencies, Australia-based InDebted’s CEO and Founder, Josh Foreman, envisioned a better way with a product-led solution that is changing the world of consumer debt recovery for good. 

Josh Foreman, CEO and Founder of InDebtedJosh Foreman, CEO and Founder of InDebted
Josh Foreman

Foreman is a self-professed engineering nerd, with a background in computer science and a love for building great products and turning these products into companies. Using data science and digital communication, InDebted is placing the experience of people in debt at the centre of the process, rather than the amount they owe – disrupting a global industry to improve overall financial wellbeing, providing real support and real options to people at the time when they need it most. 

Here Foreman explains how his fintech successfully implemented the four-day working week, and discusses the lessons he learnt from doing so. 
NOWADAYS, it feels like you are never too far away from a discussion about the future of work. The pandemic has led to an explosion in the adoption of new working practices, whether that be a shift to hybrid working, working from anywhere, or even trialling new initiatives like the four-day working week.

We are all invested in the follow-up from the pandemic, how companies navigate shifting work patterns, as well as the demand for flexibility. The Great Resignation and subsequent ‘War for  Talent’ has further lifted the lid on the need for companies to adapt to the changing needs of workers, in tandem with new customer demands.

Employees are no longer content with a traditional nine to five, five days a week, and lengthy commutes. With the pandemic bringing about innovation in this space, the time for sitting on the fence has passed. Those who have not taken the opportunity to adapt face being left behind.

Our own path at InDebted has always started with questioning what has been done in the past and finding a better way for everyone. It’s this approach that truly sets us apart from traditional debt collectors. We have embraced technology and personalisation to improve outcomes for consumers, and we have sought to do the same for our employees.

We see the four-day working week as an opportunity to get the job done in a new way for our 250 employees, located across 11 countries while supporting their wellbeing. We see this flexibility as a key pillar in turbocharging InDebted’s growth, while maintaining our customer-centricity.

Our Story: How InDebted Implemented the Four-Day Working Week

In 2021, InDebted launched the four-day working week with an opt-in pilot programme for select teams in the business. This enabled us to monitor feedback during manager check-ins and see how this scheme would impact productivity across the business.

Following this trial period, we took a phased approach to transition our teams to this new way of working. This enabled us to take into consideration each teams’ unique needs, adjust hiring requirements, and address any issues with team goals so that no member of the company was worried about this move.

Our project management team further facilitated a comprehensive review and discussion with each department to carefully plan the transition to a four-day workweek company-wide.

During this period, we encouraged everyone to utilise asynchronous working tools for collaboration and more efficient ways of working. Meetings have become less part of the day – a sigh of relief for those experiencing Zoom fatigue – and when they did occur, calls were more focussed. We also hired additional resources to smooth the transition for teams like IT and customer service where there is an obvious need for an always-on 24/7 service.

The Evaluation: What We Learned From Implementing the Four-Day Working Week

Since implementing this programme across the company, the four-day working week has boosted our performance and supported our international expansion.

Since implementing our four day work week in September 2021, our headcount has grown by 71 new employees. As the business scales into new and global markets, the shortened working week has had a tangible impact on our talent acquisition in a highly competitive candidate market.

Following the launch of the initiative, there were more applicants for open roles in the first 45 days than the preceding four and a half months, with our average number of applicants increasing by 283 per cent. The four-day working week is a key differentiating factor for those that choose to come work with us.

With shorter work weeks, employees are given roughly 416 hours back every year to disconnect, take care of themselves and their families, and pursue passions outside of the office.

There have been amazing stories of how employees are using their extra day, whether that be volunteering for organisations fighting against climate change, starting up their own side hustles, or just being able to have more time with family. In our January pulse survey, 97 per cent of employees said that the four-day working week positively impacts their wellbeing.

Our Learnings: Advice if You’re Considering the Transition

When implementing a radical new workplace initiative, uptake has to come from leadership.

Leaders in the business need to set the precedent,  advocating for their team members to take their Fridays off and setting realistic expectations for the rest of the business to plan their weeks and manage their workload.

Transparency, communication, and visibility are important to ensuring the success of this scheme and will determine whether your business can make a success of it. Having the right tools in place that support asynchronous communication, collaboration and efficiency have been critical to the success of this rollout at InDebted. Getting this right has been vital to ensuring that our clients and consumers receive first-class service.

For InDebted, the four-day working week is just the start as we aim to create a winning formula for the future of work that works for both our employees and our customers. We don’t sit on our hands when it comes to supporting our team members,  and the results for the business and consumers from this initiative speak for themselves; higher retention; better and quicker recruitment; improved productivity whilst maintaining a high-quality, 24/7 customer service; and employee wellbeing ratings going through the roof.

As we expand into new territories, the bold steps we take to support our employees enables us to attract the best fintech talent in the market, benefitting our clients and customers alike.

The business succeeds when our employees succeed – the four-day working week embodies this.

  • 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.

Standard Chartered Partners with IATA to Launch Airline Industry Payments Platform IATA Pay in India

Standard Chartered has announced it has partnered with the International Air Transport Association (IATA) to launch IATA Pay in India. IATA Pay, which is already available in several European markets, is an airline industry payment platform that brings optionality, convenience and an enhanced experience to consumers when purchasing tickets directly from participating airlines. The service leverages the Unified Payment Interface (UPI), a domestic real-time payments scheme in India, thereby enabling consumers to instantly pay for airline tickets from their bank accounts.

In addition to existing payment options such as credit cards, IATA Pay will be a new payment option that enables participating airlines to offer instant payment options such as UPI Scan & Pay and UPI Collect (Request to Pay). This new service will not only help participating airlines avoid bilateral integrations with multiple service providers, it also eliminates the need to pay an acquiring fee to card acquirers.

IATA Pay in India is powered by Standard Chartered’s Straight2Bank Pay, a payment platform that helps online merchants digitalise collections via multiple payment options through a single global connectivity.

Philip Panaino, Global Head of Cash, Transaction Banking at Standard Chartered, said: “We are proud to partner with IATA in launching this new service for the aviation industry in India. IATA Pay reflects our commitment and focus in driving payment innovation and building solutions that are not just fit-for-purpose, but also deliver value to all participants in our clients’ ecosystem. This new service will simplify the payment process for the consumers, streamline the collection and settlement process for airlines, as well as enable IATA to provide an industry-wide e-commerce solution”.

Javier Orejas, IATA’s Global Head of Banking & IATA Pay, said: “We remain steadfast in our commitment to simplify the payment process and drive enhanced experience for airlines and air travellers. As the industry rebounds in the post-COVID world, innovative and cost-effective solutions have become more significant than ever. IATA Pay underpins our focus on leveraging open banking and real-time payment solutions that will serve as a cost-effective alternative to conventional payment methods and bring efficiency to how money is collected and settled”.

The launch of IATA Pay builds on Standard Chartered and IATA’s existing partnership to co-create an industry-wide payment solution. In 2021, the two organisations launched IATA EasyPay in India, a pay-as-you-go payment solution that streamlines the ticketing and settlement process among IATA-affiliated travel agents, member airlines and IATA.

Following the launch in India, Standard Chartered will be supporting the rollout of IATA Pay in other markets.

  • 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.

Expo 2020 Dubai: The Fintech Landscape of the UK

As The Fintech Times tours various countries around the world at Expo 2020 Dubai the spotlight now is on the UK economy and in particular how fintech has helped shaped it in recent memory.

Highlighting artificial intelligence (AI) and the space sector, the United Kingdom (UK’s) pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai’s theme is ‘Innovating for a Shared Future’. Based in the Opportunity District at Expo, the UK Pavilion is inspired by one of Stephen Hawking’s final projects, ‘Breakthrough Message;’ according to its website the UK Pavilion invites people to consider what message visitors would communicate to express themselves as a planet should we one day encounter other advanced civilisations in space.

The UK Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai SOURCE EXPO 2020 DUBAIThe UK Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai SOURCE EXPO 2020 DUBAI
The UK Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai IMAGE SOURCE EXPO 2020 DUBAI

The UK pavilion has been a very popular pavilion, attracting visitors from across the world and also the more famous Brits – including visits from Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and a performance from Coldplay. British culture, innovations and other technologies have been on display throughout their various means at Expo 2020 Dubai.

In terms of fintech, there was a recent high-level fintech delegation of a dozen companies that visited the United Arab Emirates (UAE) as part of the Mayor of London’s International Business Programme by London & Partners (L&P), which I had the privilege to be a part of (L&P is the Mayor of London’s Trade and Investment promotional agency that highlights London as a great place to do business, study and visit). This included a reception at the UK Pavillion where the UK delegates had the opportunity to meet various people in the fintech ecosystem in the region.

Why, is the UK considered a leader in fintech?

London is a leading financial and commercial hub London is a leading financial and commercial hub
London is a leading global financial and commercial hub – over 2100 fintechs can be found in the capital and largest city of the UK IMAGE SOURCE GETTY

It is no surprise that much of the activity and leadership of fintech is centred in London. In fact, London, already a global financial and commercial hub across various sectors also has fintech to its long list. Globally, for instance, the UK is home to over 2,100 fintechs – this is more than any other city in the world. And within these are some of the most iconic and recognised fintech companies – from the likes of Starling Bank to Revolut to Rapyd to –  the list in many ways is almost a who’s who in fintech.

As a whole, venture-capital firms invested $4.57billion in UK-based fintech companies in 2020, the second most country behind the United States at shy of $20billion ($19.6billion) – this was according to growth platform Tech Nation’s annual report on the tech sector in the UK. During the first half of last year, according to the UK’s Digital Economy Council, UK tech companies raised more than $18billion worth of venture-capital funding.

The country has a unique proposition. For example, it attracts talent from across the world, which for many in the fintech and wider digital sector often find that talent search is a major hurdle. Also, the country has a very much forward-thinking approach. This has been seen for instance with open banking as a whole, in particular with the Open Banking Implementation Entity (OBIE), which was created by the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA). Its access to capital is also helpful for any startup and other more advanced small and medium enterprises (SMEs). Also, being one of the world’s undisputed leading financial hubs certainly helps. To add, the regulation in the country is world-renowned, which can be seen with the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) taking an active role through engaging with banks and new fintech companies on consumer-focused solutions. Some of its successes include a world-class regulatory sandbox.

As stated on the City of London’s The Global City website: “This ideal environment has put the UK at the cutting-edge of fintech innovation – from peer-to-peer lending, to challenger banks, cyber, insurtech, regtech, AI, paytech, tech for good, and blockchain.”

The UK is definitely planning to keep its leadership position. For instance, there is The Fintech Strategic Review, which was commissioned by John Glen, Economic Secretary to the Treasury (commonly known as the Kalifa Review due to Ron Kalifa’s, former Worldpay CEO, lead on it). This was designed to inform the UK Government thinking on fintech ahead of the previous March 2021 Budget. Its main outcome is a five-point strategy that aims to keep Great Britain at the top of the global fintech league tables.

While most of the fintech activity is in London there are other clusters that can be found across the rest of the UK While most of the fintech activity is in London there are other clusters that can be found across the rest of the UK
While most of the fintech activity is in London there are other clusters that can be found across the rest of the UK (pictured is Manchester) – IMAGE SOURCE GETTY

To note, although London has two-thirds of fintechs in the UK, there are other fintech activities and ecosystems beyond the capital city. Deloitte analysed the fintech landscape and across the UK, 25 clusters of fintechs were identified. Among those, 10 were high growth fintechs: a London superhub, three established clusters and six emerging fintech clusters. However, as mentioned, the rest of the country has its other pockets of clusters of fintech activity including cities such as Birmingham, Manchester, Glasgow, Belfast – to name a few.

Louise Brett, the UK and NSE Financial Services Innovation and Fintech Lead Partner at DeloitteLouise Brett, the UK and NSE Financial Services Innovation and Fintech Lead Partner at Deloitte
Louise Brett

To follow, at UK Fintech Week last year, at a panel about the UK fintech industry, Louise Brett, the UK and NSE Financial Services Innovation and Fintech Lead Partner at Deloitte, said while commenting on the current state of affairs: “There are roughly 2,500 fintechs operating across the UK, a third of these are outside London. There’s a lot of growth that’s coming outside of London, and if we could connect it, the benefits could really be exponential. Where is that growth? It’s in Cardiff, in Birmingham, in Edinburgh, and in Belfast.

“What we established is that there are 10 high-growth clusters of fintech. The data from the last 20 years suggests that we’ve seen these clusters grow by 16 per cent; when compared to SME growth of 1.3 per cent, and they’re clustering around areas of specialism that are driving that growth, and the 50,000 new jobs we can expect to see in the next three years.”

While looking at across the rest of the world’ many look up to the UK and its leadership stance in the fintech industry. Having seen it develop in its modern form myself after the global financial crisis recovery, it is no secret as to why the country remains to be a best practice for many other places around the world to follow. Despite the UK’s own challenges (such as Brexit or other difficulties), fintech and the wider digital economy will see it play a role in not only the UK’s but wider global economy.

  • Executive Economic Development Advisor (Emerging Markets) | Contributor

  • 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.

Crezco: The Anniversary of the Kalifa Review

Ralph Rogge, CEO & Co-Founder of Crezco, a free open banking payment solution designed for online invoice payments, shares his thoughts on the anniversary of the Kalifa Fintech Review.

Ralph Rogge, CEO & Co-Founder of CrezcoRalph Rogge, CEO & Co-Founder of Crezco
Ralph Rogge, CEO & Co-Founder of Crezco

The free movement of labour within the EU ended on 31 December 2020. Two months later on the 26th of February 2021, a report commissioned by the Chancellor was published setting the scene and strategy for fintech in the UK.

The Kalifa Review, written by the ex-CEO of payment giant Worldpay, Ron Kalifa contained 106 pages — made up of a five-point plan of key recommendations and 15 sub-recommendations on investment in the UK fintech sector, was widely welcomed. The Kalifa Review contained actions for government, regulators and for industry, focused on five key areas: policy and regulation, skills, international, national and investment.

For those trying to build the next Worldpay (or better, Stripe), it was comforting to read Whitehall wasn’t solely interested in fisheries and immigration. We should strive for a more diverse economy, both by sector and geography, but we should not underappreciate the value and opportunity fintech presents to the UK’s future and economy. This is our comparative advantage, and we’d be fools not to play to our strengths. For decades, arguably centuries, we’ve been pioneers in financial innovation, looking after the unbanked, increasing access to affordable loans, preventing financial fraud and reducing reliance on high-street incumbents, while creating jobs and skilled labourers. Why quit now?

The report isn’t revolutionary. It doesn’t need to be, because our track record in building a strong fintech ecosystem is positive. But we can not rest on our laurels or past successes. We must continue to innovate and evolve with progress, highlighting key areas of focus for the Government, such as policy and regulation, skills, and investment. It is easier to suggest something than it is to implement it. Words are cheap, but actions require focus and determination. To the sceptic, this could be merely political rhetoric and meaningless words, after all, these suggestions were written by a corporate operator but implementation rests with the political establishment.

Do not despair… yet. The fact that this report was commissioned is positive. The rest of the world may have caught up with Open Banking, and we may have been overtaken by some countries, but we are making progress here too (please, don’t stop!). The recently proposed changes to the 90-day re-authorisation requirement of using Open Banking data is a great example of continued progress. Likewise, the Government’s continued recognition of the value of the R&D Tax Credit scheme and expanding inclusion to cover cloud computing and data costs, two essential components of technological innovation. Rising awareness to move regulation from being prescriptive to principled based will allow for more adaptive innovation while ensuring regulatory requirements are the “right size” for each respective business.

Arguably the foundations here were placed long before the Kalifa report was published and the tangible actions deriving from this specific report are hard to locate. There is a lot of talk about Open Finance, which is great, but ask anybody running an Open Banking company and they will tell you how much work is left to be done. Between the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), the Payment System Regulator (PSR) and the Open Banking Implementation Entity (OBIE), it remains unclear how the original Open Banking mandate will continue to be regulated going forward and to what degree. There appears to be neither a carrot nor a stick holding the original CMA9 banks accountable. We must not behave like impatient children wanting to start on new projects while leaving prior projects un-finished. Ideas are easy, execution is not.

The reduced access to the EU market (consumers and labourers) has undoubtedly increased short-term friction, costs and uncertainty. A small start-up like ours has seen our headcount unnecessarily increase abroad, costs risen by hundreds of thousands of pounds per annum, and hours spent on administrative tasks have doubled. Opportunistic markets in the EU, such as the Netherlands, Lithuania and Ireland, have sensed an opportunity and are looking to build the next fintech centre of Europe. Previously they would never have stood a chance, but there is a very real and lucrative opportunity now. If we do not want the next Revolut and Wise to be built abroad, we must ensure that the UK (now unshackled from the bureaucracy of the Continent), continues to lead the way in fintech. This isn’t about raising awareness or recommendations, but action. The Ron Kalifa report may be a great five-year strategy plan, but who is taking control now?

About the company

Crezco is a business-to-business open banking payments provider. Crezco is integrated with more than 300 banks and 400m bank accounts across the EU and UK, more than any other open banking payment API provider. Crezco makes B2B invoice payments as frictionless as card payments but without the associated costs. The company is integrated with more than 300 banks and 400m bank accounts across the EU and UK, more than any other open banking payment API provider.

  • 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.