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

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

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

US hubs etched on the fintech landscape

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

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

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

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

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

San Francisco Bay Area

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

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

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

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

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

Case study: Varo

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

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

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

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

New York

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

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

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

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

Case study: Lemonade

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

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

Los Angeles

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

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

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

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

Case study: HMBradley

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

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


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

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

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

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

Case study: Flywire

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

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

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


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

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

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

Case study: Raise

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

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

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

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

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

Additional reporting by Benedict Smith

The 101 on the African Continental Free Trade Agreement – AfCFTA

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2020 in Review: Did Bitcoin Leave Adolescence?

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

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

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

Shane Neagle, Editor in Chief, The Tokenist

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

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

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

Hodlers and Wholecoiners

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

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

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

Institutional Adoption Followed by Retail Adoption Rate

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

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

Image Credit: The Tokenist

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

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

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

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

Bitcoin Moving Forward

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

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

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

Image Credit: CoinMarketCap

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Managing Editor, North America at The Fintech Times

DueDil Adds Continuous Updates to KYB Platform to Aid Regulatory Compliance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Provenir Partners With Gini Finance for Turkey Expansion

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

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

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

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

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

Creating Financial Services For African Retailers

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

Karen Adie is Director - Merchant Services at TradeDepot

Karen Adie is Director - Merchant Services at TradeDepot

Karen Adie is Director – Merchant Services at TradeDepot

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

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

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

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

The opportunity presented by COVID-19

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

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

Technology is making a difference

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

The importance of financial literacy

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

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

Unlimint Launches Local Acquiring Services in Mexico

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Machine Learning: View From the Top Featuring SmartStream

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Report ‘Lifting the Lid on Fintech’ Highlights Public Fear of Financial Change

The Finance Innovation Lab’s latest report, ‘Lifting the Lid on Fintech,’  examines the acceleration of technology-driven innovation in finance – fintech. It looks beyond industry-led hype and specific products to explore how fintech is transforming finance on a systemic level, uncovering the new data, business models, and businesses underpinning the speed and convenience of 21st-century finance.

Fintech has directly touched most people’s lives in the UK. A majority use online banking, there is a long-term trend to pay via ‘contactless’ or other digital means and rising numbers are aware of new finance apps, such as Monzo, Klarna, Revolut and Starling Bank.

But many people feel uncomfortable about the pace of change underway. Three quarters think a move towards a cashless society is happening too fast, and low-income households are particularly at risk – the strongest predictor for reliance on cash is poverty.

The report finds that technology is exacerbating existing risks for democracy, sustainability, justice, and resilience in finance. It is also creating new risks, as finance learns from Big Tech and adopts platform business models enabled and powered by the mass acquisition and manipulation of data.

As a result, we are seeing unprecedented levels of corporate power and the establishment of new institutions that are too big to fail. There is little transparency or accountability for the data collected about us. New business models seek to predict and even influence our behaviour. Automation embeds pre-existing inequalities within essential services.

Marloes Nicholls, author of the report and Head of Programmes at the Finance Innovation Lab said, “The digital revolution in finance has been praised for bringing better products to consumers and supporting financial inclusion, but these claims are largely unevidenced and ignore the major risks posed by fintech. The dominance of platform, surveillance-based business models in Big Tech, and now finance, is enabling a major and dangerous accumulation of corporate power. It is high time for a proper review of the role that fintech could and should have in building a financial system that better serves people and planet.”

It is not inevitable that fintech will continue along this trajectory – an alternative approach is possible. There are major opportunities for innovative policymaking and regulation to help realise fintech’s positive potential. The report proposes seven principles to guide financial policymaking and regulation for better social and environmental outcomes and proposes that a multi-stakeholder commission is established to take this important agenda forward.

Mick McAteer, founder and co-Director of The Financial Inclusion Centre, said, “Fintech joins a long list of innovations heralded by promoters as transformative. And there are real benefits. But, this critical report looks beyond the hype and demonstrates how fintech and big data creates real, unrecognised threats to consumers and society. The Lab’s robust framework principles would help policymakers and regulators protect citizens and society from the more dystopian aspects of fintech, and promote the socially useful benefits.”

Reema Patel, Head of Engagement at the Ada Lovelace Institute and Senior Fellow at the Finance Innovation Lab, said, “This thoughtful report argues for levelling the playing field in a context where there are stark asymmetries of power – working to empower and protect vulnerable consumers. To do that, we need an evidence base independent of government and industry that understands what the impacts, risks and benefits are; and to engage citizens in an informed dialogue on their expectations for fintech that works for people and society.”

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

KPMG Report finds VC Investment Strong Despite Covid-19

While overall global fintech funding fell during the first half of 2020, with $25.6 billion of investment globally across 1,221 deals, corporate deals are driving continued strength in VC activity, according to the Pulse of Fintech H1’20, a bi-annual report on global fintech investment trends from KPMG International.

A sharp drop in M&A investment drove most of the decline. During H1’20, M&A accounted for just $4 billion of fintech investment (compared to $85.7 billion in H2’19), including the $1.3 billion reverse merger of Open Lending. The stalled M&A reflects both a general slowdown in deal activity and investors pressing pause on major deals in order to re-consider valuations and risk appetite given Covid-19.

Despite global uncertainty, VC investment was strong in all regions of the world – and is on track to surpass previous annual record highs should the trend continue. In H1’20, VC investment in fintech accounted for $20 billion, including $9.3 billion in the Americas, $6.7 billion in Asia, and $4 billion in EMEA. Indonesia-based Gojek raised $3 billion in the largest VC deal of the quarter – and the largest fintech deal overall. Gojek competitor Grab accounted for the second largest fintech VC deal ($886 million), followed by Stripe ($850 million). Late-stage deals accounted for a significant proportion of VC investment as mature fintechs continued to attract large funding rounds.

Manav Prakash, Advisory Partner, KPMG in Bahrain, said “Given the long lead times for deal-making, many H1’20 deals were initiated in late 2019. Covid-19 saw new deal activity slow dramatically, except in high-priority sectors like payments. Despite the pandemic, investor interest in platform businesses remained incredibly strong in H1’20, particularly in less mature fintech markets. Platform business continued to see significant investment from investors and large techs.”

2020 Key Highlights

Global fintech investment is well behind 2019’s total investment of $150.4 billion. At mid-year, total fintech investment globally is $25.6 billion.

The Americas accounted for the largest share of total fintech investment at mid-year, with $12.9 billion investment. ASPAC saw $8.1 billion in total fintech investment during H1’20, while EMEA saw $4.6 billion in fintech investment.

The Americas and EMEA are currently on track to see a new record annual high of VC investment in fintech. At the end of H1’20, the Americas had attracted $9.3 billion in VC investment, Asia had attracted $6.7 billion, and EMEA had attracted $4 billion.

Corporate VC participating investment remained very strong, accounting for $12.2 billion in fintech investment globally. The US saw a record in VC deal value with corporate participation well over $2.4 billion in Q1 2020; the following quarter nearly matched that same amount.

M&A activity dropped in all regions of the world – a sharp decline due to the mega M&A activity seen during 2018 and 2019. During H1’20, global M&A deals accounted for $4 billion globally, compared to $85.7 billion in H2’19.

Global investment in cybersecurity flew past 2019’s record high of $592.3 million, reaching $870.8 million.

So Hum to Partner With YES BANK for NUE Strategy

So Hum Bharat Digital Payments (So Hum) have
announced that it is in discussion with YES BANK for 9.99% equity
investment. So Hum and Yes Bank will jointly work towards the
NUE’s product & business strategy with key
focus on accelerating innovations, inclusion and digital
penetration in India.

The company had also announced last week that Infibeam
(IA) will be picking up 33.33% stake, joining its
entity as Promoter and Investor.

So Hum has been newly set up by NavinSurya,
Chairman Emeritus of Payments Council of India and Chairman of
Fintech Convergence Council, who has 20 years of experience across
consulting, BFSI and digital payments.

Surya said: “YES BANK believes in Fintech First strategy
exactly like So Hum. I have always been impressed by YES BANK’s
success in the Fintech ecosystem driven by innovative and
disruptive products and solutions. We at So Hum are proud to
partner with YES BANK and the combined expertise of the two firms
will add significant value to this NUE venture through continuous
innovation and disruption.”

YES BANK is though to be a  progressive bank in India when it
comes to Fintech partnerships and digital offerings. Since its
establishment in 2004, YES BANK, on the back of technology, has
disrupted the financial services sector through innovation,
reflected through its leadership in the payments ecosystem.

So Hum is also in discussions with multiple fintech partners to
work and co-create new and innovative payment products and
solutions for multiple use cases and for rendering its services
across masses keeping in mind the ‘Digital India’ objective of
the nation. This would help us grow digital payments consumers from
100million to 500million and also drive digital consumer spends
from 18% to 50% in the economy.

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So Hum to Partner With YES BANK for NUE Strategy
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Rapyd Extends Asia Network Launching in Thailand

Rapyd, a global Fintech as a Service company, has announced the launch of its ‘all-in-one’ suite of payment capabilities in its seventh global market – Thailand. The integrated solution is a comprehensive set of local and international payment methods that includes local e-wallets, bank transfers, cash, credit and debit cards. International companies can now offer localised checkout experiences with access to an extensive list of local payment methods preferred by Thai consumers.

Partnering with leading Thai payment solution providers, including Rabbit LINE Pay, Omise, Razer Merchant Services, and GB Prime Pay, Rapyd now provides local payment options like international and local cards (Visa, Mastercard), bank transfers (Kasikorn, Krungsri, Siam Commercial Bank, Krung Thai Bank, and Bangkok Bank), real-time payments via PromptPay, eWallets (Rabbit LINE Pay, TrueMoney), and cash over-the-counter (Tesco Lotus, Big C).

According to JPMorgan, Thailand is the second-largest eCommerce market in Southeast Asia with cross-border spending making up 50% of Thailand’s e-commerce spend. Thailand’s mobile commerce is valued at $8.9 billion in-app and $4.7 billion in-browser mobile purchases.

“Our vision has always been focused on removing friction from electronic payments across industries. That’s why we are excited to collaborate with Rapyd on making Thai payments more compatible and accessible to global merchants and e-commerce players. Together, we are able to create better opportunities for small, medium and large businesses operating in the Digital Economy,” said Sarsira Aphirachhamemaphas, CEO of GB Prime Pay.

Payments in Thailand

As reported in the Rapyd Asia Pacific eCommerce and Payments Guide 2020, that analysed both preference and usage of the local payment methods across top markets in Asia Pacific, 45% of Thai consumers prefer paying with local bank transfers, making it the most popular payment method in Thailand. Respondents’ preference is also aligned with the reported usage with Kasikorn bank used by 44% of respondents, and PromptPay by 37%%.  Of the 17% of Thai respondents that preferred to pay with e-wallets, TrueMoney was used by 66% of respondents, and Rabbit LINE Pay by 18%.

Regional and global merchants will be able to access Rapyd’s capabilities in Thailand via:

  • Rapyd’s Hosted Checkout Page or Checkout “Toolkit” to launch quickly while still offering a secure and customised experience, or
  • Direct access to Rapyd’s API and SDKs that allow users to build any payment or fintech application, and
  • Access to Rapyd Protect, its cross-border fraud management system that allows merchants to develop custom rules and use Rapyd’s machine learning tools to minimise fraud exposure across any payment method at no additional charge.

Businesses based in Thailand will also be able to access Rapyd’s Global Payments Network and expand internationally into 100+ markets around the world by accepting payments from consumers in any of the 900 local payment methods supported by Rapyd.

“The partnership between Rapyd and Omise in Thailand is a perfect example of a win-win relationship in the industry. International merchants can increase their turnover by offering local payment methods and widening payment acceptance, while Rapyd and Omise are building stronger foundations and operational excellence to serve those merchants,” commented Omise Chief Commercial Officer, Raphael Lajoux.

“With its ‘Thailand 4.0’ policy, the country is taking the lead in expanding opportunities for the Internet economy. The Thai government is building strong digital payment infrastructure and encouraging more digital wallet adoption. We are thrilled to partner with leaders in the Thai payment ecosystem to offer preferred local payment options Thai consumers use every day for their online and physical transactions. And with the recent rollout of Rapyd Protect, an industry-leading online fraud tool, companies can have the confidence to grow their online business safely and securely while they tap the explosive potential of the Thai eCommerce market,” said Joel Yarbrough, Vice President for Asia Pacific, Rapyd.

UPA Launches Worlds First Tradable Carbon Token

The Universal Protocol Alliance (UPA), a coalition of leading blockchain companies including Bittrex Global, Ledger, CertiK, Infinigold and Uphold, have launched Universal Carbon [UPCO2], the world’s first tradable carbon token on a public blockchain that can be bought and held as an investment, or burnt to offset an individual’s carbon footprint.

With demand for carbon credits outstripping supply by a factor of 4 to 1 in 2020, according to the World Bank, the UPCO2 Token is set to democratise an important new asset class, which could lead to the establishment of a global clearing price for carbon (as today exists for such commodities as oil and gold) and more resources going into environmental projects.

Each UPCO2 Token represents one year-tonne of CO2 pollution averted by a certified REDD+ project preventing rainforest loss or degradation. Every Token is backed by a Voluntary Carbon Unit [VCU], a digital certificate issued by Verra, the international standards agency, which allows certified projects to turn their greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions into tradable carbon credits.

“The projects we support through carbon credit purchases prevent deforestation in the Amazon, Congo Basin and Indonesia as well as other threatened rainforests,’ explained UP Alliance Chairman, Matthew Le Merle. ‘For a new generation of investors looking for more than mere financial return, UPCO2 offers attractive social, economic and environmental benefits. At a key moment for climate change, UPCO2 allows people worldwide to do good for the planet and potentially do well for themselves.”

Powerful macroeconomic forces underpin the Voluntary Carbon Credit market and, according to some commentators, could drive up prices significantly as more countries introduce regulated CO2 markets, forcing companies to compensate for their pollution. Additionally, a growing number of firms and individuals are choosing to offset their carbon footprints voluntarily.

According to the World Bank, in 2020 humanity compensates for just 22% of global emissions through the purchase and retirement of carbon credits, and yet the proportion of countries operating regulated carbon markets has risen from 40 percent of global GDP in 2016 to 70 per cent in 2020. The result is a wall of demand that may far outstrip the production of new carbon credits, which is choked by the slow and expensive process of Voluntary Carbon Project certification.

“This year may go down as the key inflection point for climate change,’ said JP Thieriot, Co-Founder of the UP Alliance and CEO of Uphold. ‘The year it went from far-off issue enshrined in distant accords like Kyoto and Paris, to an existential threat affecting the lives of tens of millions of people. In recent months, we’ve seen Australia and California on fire, ever more powerful hurricanes, the US president-elect Joe Biden announcing a Climate Administration, and companies such as Apple, Microsoft, and Nike voluntarily committing to carbon neutrality.

“Combating climate change is likely to become the dominant economic issue of the next 20 years. The UPCO2 Token allows people everywhere to participate in this hugely important – and potentially lucrative – new market, as well as do the right thing for the planet.”

Voluntary carbon credits, which back all UPCO2 Tokens, offer major economic advantages compared with regulated credits. As dollar-denominated, globally-recognised, fungible and perennial assets, voluntary credits last forever, maintaining option value, until consumed or retired by a company or an individual seeking to compensate for carbon footprint.

“It’s astonishing that there is no single global clearing price for carbon emissions,’ said Le Merle. “A non-deliverable, digitally-tradable commodity that’s essential for human activity shouldn’t be traded bilaterally on OTC markets, as carbon credits are today.

“We believe that the UPCO2 token has an important role to play in democratising access to carbon credits, which could eliminate price arbitrage and produce a single global price. This was a light bulb going on for me. Combine a digital asset with a rainforest carbon offset and give everyone in the world access. How could that not be a great idea?”

Early Salary Feature Now Available in Revolut, Powered by Modulr

Earlier this week the financial superapp, Revolut, launched an early salary feature available to its UK customers, giving over three million people an easy and flexible way to access their pay cheque a day early each month. 

The new feature will mean Revolut’s UK customers can access their salaries and all payments made over the Bacs payment scheme a working day earlier than usual*. In the case where they would be paid on Monday, people would be able to access their salaries the Friday before. This is especially useful for navigating bank holiday weekends. So, whether it is students receiving their student loan or those financially squeezed by the impact of Covid-19, Revolut’s latest feature gives its customers more control over their finances during tough economic conditions.

The new functionality has been enabled by Revolut’s long-term payments partner Modulr. One of the few non-banks to gain direct access to the Bank of England, including Bacs and Faster Payments, last year. Through this access, the Fintech has been able to innovate and create new ways for its partners to access payments through automation, in a quicker, simpler and more efficient way than via traditional banking partners.

Revolut has used Modulr’s API platform since 2017. This fintech collaboration has enabled Revolut to develop and launch multiple everyday services for its growing customer base – cementing its position as the fastest-growing private tech company and one of Europe’s largest FinTechs, with over 13 million customers globally.

Nik Storonsky, CEO and Founder at Revolut: “Early access to salaries could be a genuine lifeline for many during these tough economic times. Our aim is always to provide Revolut customers with services they need and the best possible experience.

“With Modulr we’ve been able to deliver better services and experiences to millions of UK customers. We’re looking forward to future innovation and to launching many more exciting products for Revolut customers. Now more than ever, our customers across the globe need easily accessible tools to manage their finances proactively and successfully.”

Myles Stephenson, CEO and Founder of Modulr commented: “Revolut continues to go from strength to strength, as it asserts itself as the go-to challenger for consumers eager to have greater ease, access and control of their money. Utilising our APIs and direct access to the Bank of England, Revolut can offer their customers payments solutions fit for this new normal we find ourselves in – where payments need to be instant, flexible and reliable. Customers accept nothing less now.

“With Modulr’s commitment to payments innovation, the partnership with Revolut is a natural fit. We’re excited to continue our journey with Revolut and look forward to seeing the future innovative releases they bring to market.”

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

Behind the Idea: FutureBricks

The worldwide pandemic has accelerated the adoption of technologies that had slowly started to disrupt the traditional property development industry. One of them is the power of big data, gathering historical and real-time information, paired with AI and machine learning to enhance their actionability for pricing predictions through historical trends and marketplace activity.

While real estate is now no longer immune to the grasp of technology as the trends in virtual and augmented reality and smart devices bring a renewed sense of connection, property development is poised for changing the buyer experience by digitising it. Even as these technologies have disrupted the final stretch of a property development project, they are paving the way for more transparency throughout the industry. FutureBricks is geared towards future-proofing the company by setting standards in technology innovations, where transparency is of central importance.

Arya Taware, Managing Director of FutureBricks

Arya Taware, Managing Director and Founder of FutureBricks, is known for changing the investor experience in the world of property investments. With her forward-thinking approach in making transparency central on the desktop and mobile application platforms at FutureBricks, Arya is bringing the technologies of the investment world closer to the world of property development.

FutureBricks is property investment made simple. Backing SME housebuilders in the UK, retail lenders can invest with as little as £500 and earn up to 10% gross interest per annum. FutureBricks takes care of vetting property development projects through a rigorous vetting process and monitors their progress. Capital is at risk.

What has been the traditional company response to financial technology innovations nationally?

Property development is amongst the few industries that has been slower at adopting technology trends, by staying unfazed in front of technology innovations. For example, most home buyers would still envision signing the documents of their house with a pen and paper. While there are software companies that easily eliminate this requirement in the process, the pandemic that took the world by storm has now forced traditional industries like property development, to turn to the aid of technology. Covid has most likely fast-tracked this adoption by 2 or 3 years earlier at least and technology trends can no longer be overlooked even in such a brick and mortar world. As a company, FutureBricks is continuously tapping into the power of technology to bring some of its best features to end-users as, whilst protecting data and enhancing the user journey, through technology as it paves the way forward.

How has this changed over the past few years?

In the past few years, property development itself has lagged behind in terms of technology innovations compared to other industries. Yet, with Covid now in the picture, it has encouraged firms to choose alternatives that are born of technology. This shift has been long-awaited and such a simple thing as an electronic signature, even when it comes to the witness’ signature is a step forward for the property development world.

Is there anything that has created a culture of change inside the company?

FutureBricks stands for fintech and the technological element is part of the DNA of the company. Beyond taking a forward-thinking approach and tapping into the power of big data, our work culture is one that has adapted the quickest to the new environment around us. We have made work hours even more flexible and supported remote working more easily. This has allowed us to overfund during the Seedrs crowdfunding campaign.

What Fintech ideas have been implemented?

FutureBricks’ lending platform for retail lenders who want to keep tabs on their portfolio of property development projects is fully automated, including the mobile application. We allow users to monitor the projects they have funded with us: by viewing project details, evaluations or property developers’ (borrower) records. These features are made available as the users invest through an e-wallet system and keep them updated with notifications. FutureBricks is proud of its desktop platform and mobile application, as they endorse an ease of use in the property investment journey.

What benefits have these brought?

Ultimately, the technological features offered by FutureBricks offer a great customer journey. The onboarding of new clients who want to join the lender community is based on simplicity and efficiency, from Anti-Money Laundering (AML) checks to Know Your Client (KYC) data gathering and topping the e-wallet to tracking investments. This seamless experience has attracted a growing number of customers to the FutureBricks’ website and mobile application.

Do you see any other industry challenges on the horizon?

Within the property development industry, we are ready to see a housing pricing shift after the stamp duty holiday ends on March 31st 2021; there is an expected slight dip. From a broader perspective, there are certain expectations for all industries at large as we progress through the current economic climate. FutureBricks is about staying agile as we evaluate the supply and demand in the property development sector and keep a close eye on the changing market.

Can these challenges be aided by Fintech?

Transparency is what allows a seamless process. FutureBricks is closely monitoring everything and tapping into the power of its technology features, allowing the firm to update the community of any changes and progress. This has created an efficient and joyful customer journey, from onboarding to funding projects and performance monitoring. To continuously future-proof this user journey is central for FutureBricks as we aim to set the standards. We look forward to the launch of our ISA account coming up in 2021, as it will allow our community to benefit from tax-free investing and earn up to 10% gross interest per annum. When investing, your capital is at risk.

P2P lending is not covered by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme. There is a risk that a business may default and that the loan won’t be repaid. FutureBricks is targeted at investors who understand these risks and make their own investment decisions.

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

Raisin Partners with Banca Sella to Launch in Italy

Italian bank Banca Sella and pan-European deposits marketplace Raisin have announced their partnership to give the bank’s customers access to third-party savings products for the first time. Through the integration of Raisin’s marketplace, Banca Sella customers will be able to invest from their accounts in select deposits at other Italian banks and banks across Europe. This partnership makes Banca Sella the first bank in Italy to offer its customers external deposit products.

Founded in 1886 and one of Italy’s largest privately-owned, independent banks, Banca Sella was the first to launch an open banking platform in Italy. The entirely digital offer, integrated into Banca Sella’s online banking platform, has been launched first as a pilot program, with the offer to be extended in the coming months to all the bank’s retail customers.

“Raisin’s integration with Banca Sella is an important step for us into the Italian savings market, bringing to customers in Italy the convenience and choice of a marketplace,” explains Federico Roesler Franz, Country Manager Italy at Raisin. “Banca Sella’s forward-looking approach to technology and digital banking has provided Raisin with an excellent entry point into one of Europe’s largest economies.”

The integration with Banca Sella represents Raisin’s entry into the Italian savings market with a localised platform, the fintech’s eighth country launch. Based in Berlin, Raisin has built a marketplace of savings products available to depositors across Europe, featuring deposits from banks in 25 countries. The fintech focuses on competitive interest rates as well as providing consumers access across borders, choice, transparency, and the convenience of a fully digital process.

“Banca Sella immediately understood the importance of seizing the opportunities that open banking offers,” says Luca Ferrarese, Head of Retail Business of Banca Sella. “This is how we make innovative and cutting-edge solutions available to our customers, in line with their needs, and it has put the bank on a continuous path of digital transformation. Partnering with Raisin, one of the most established fintech companies in Europe, represents a further element of this strategy that sees banks and fintechs working together to offer completely new, effective and efficient solutions.”

Raisin co-founder and CEO Dr. Tamaz Georgadze said: “We’re very happy to fulfil our mission of reaching Italian depositors through a partnership with one of Italy’s oldest, most established banks. It’s also a great illustration that the potential for innovation depends not on how new a financial institution is but on its vision. Our partnership with Banca Sella enables Raisin to take an important step toward our vision, as Raisin products are now available on a localised platform to savers in all of Europe’s largest economies.”

Backbase Launches BaaS to Provide Enhanced Engagement Banking Infrastructure

Engagement Banking technology provider Backbase today announces the launch of its next-generation platform as well as the release of its enhanced Backbase-as-a-Service (BaaS) offering. The announcement comes as Backbase hosts its annual event—Backbase Connect—which unites thousands of digital banking leaders virtually to discuss the future of banking and experience Backbase’s newest innovations.

The two launches mark an acceleration of the banking industry’s move towards a technology-led, single platform play—which is already a key disrupter in other industries.

Backbase’s improved platform, as well as its enhanced BaaS offering, provides banks with the agility of a one-platform infrastructure, while enabling them to draw on the rapid innovation power of Backbase’s rapid release cycles and in-house teams. These two enhanced offerings will allow banks to take full control of customer engagement across their entire financial lifecycle, all in one place, while continuously adapting to customer needs by instantly executing new digital services.

The Engagement Banking Platform now incorporates upgraded features such as a unified security architecture, enhanced banking services, and seamless interoperability. This presents an instant transformation for banks, from technological laggards into state-of-the-art and holistic digital-first businesses. Free from siloes, the rich set of pre-built apps and journeys already enhanced every channel and line of business (Retail, SME, Corporate, Wealth) for customers—but now notably, also employees.

With the addition of a unified Employee App, customer support staff are freed from laborious manual tasks and duplicated work. This next-level employee empowerment is key to Backbase’s 2021 strategy: provide financial institution employees with tools to focus on improved care and catered, personalized experiences for their customers.

Through the Engagement Banking Platform, banks will be able to orchestrate the complete journey of a customer from onboarding and account opening through to cross-selling and up-selling as financial needs change. Additionally, the platform allows banks to aggregate the value of Backbase’s wider fintech ecosystem by accessing their curated list of external partners, or giving banks the option of selecting their own.

In addition to the platform innovations, Backbase’s enhanced BaaS offering incorporates a key expansion of services – adding complete outsourced DevOps support to its existing managed hosting offering. The enhanced BaaS solution enables banks to maximize their speed of innovation and delivery, allowing them to launch new services faster than ever by drawing on the experience and best practices of Backbase’s in house DevOps experts. By leveraging the new BaaS solution, banks will benefit from increased innovation power, enhanced agility, and the ability to keep pace with market demand, all while lowering operational costs. By capitalizing on Backbase’s team to build, test and deploy digital services on their behalf, banks can shift their focus back to their core concern: the customer.

Jouk Pleiter, CEO of Backbase, comments: “**The banking industry has no choice but to adapt to the one-platform play that BigTech has shown us is disrupting every single industry. Without it, banks as we know it will not survive. They need rapid digital execution power and instant innovation abilities if they are going to thrive in the platform economy, where speed is the new currency.

“For technology to truly drive growth, banks must experiment, learn, deploy and scale faster than ever. This is what we are making possible with the launch of our new Engagement Banking Platform and our enhanced BaaS solution. Customers are used to approaching everything in their lives the way they do with Netflix – through one seamless app. To match these expectations, banks need to replace their long-outdated systems and shift to a single platform approach, while innovating at the speed of digital. This is the only way to bring a genuinely customer-centric approach to the banking world and take full control of customers’ entire financial lives. If banks don’t take that control now, someone else will”.

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

Retirement Delays Due to Covid Set to Affect More Than A Million Over 55s

New research commissioned by Smart, carried out by YouGov, suggests that over a million Brits over the age of 55 are planning on delaying their retirement due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The research also suggests that people no longer see retirement as a one-off event and want to be in control of their retirement finances with the ability to take their savings in a variety of different ways.

The news comes as Smart, the fast-growing global retirement technology platform provider which now manages almost £1.5bn of assets, launches Smart Retire, an innovative product that gives flexibility to plan and manage retirement savings in a personalised way. Four in ten savers over 55 say they plan on working part-time during retirement and will therefore need the opportunity to flex their income as necessary.

Will Wynne, Group MD & co-founder of Smart said: “While the headline impact of Covid is shocking news for a million people approaching retirement in the UK, this survey demonstrates that the nature of retirement is changing and fast. We know people want to be in control of their finances, but worryingly 47% of people on the cusp of retiring say that they want to manage their retirement without any help or guidance.

“Retirement is complex and we know people need help if they are to make the most of their savings. That’s why we’ve invested tens of thousands of hours conducting research, testing and developing our new Smart Retire solution which gives people flexibility and control, while guiding them through important decisions to ensure they are using their money in the right way. Importantly our approach, which helps people navigate their retirement options, bridges the advice gap while empowering people to make the most of their retirement savings.”

The YouGov survey, conducted on behalf of Smart in November 2020, painted a complicated picture for people approaching retirement.

Over half (51%) of people over the age of 55 think of retirement as an event with several stages. Furthermore, 7% of people don’t know how they will access their retirement savings and 20% don’t understand their options at retirement. This marries with the latest DWP research suggesting there was little evidence of people giving detailed consideration to the length of their retirement or their needs beyond the independent phase of later life. Despite all of this, Smart research suggests people want control and/or flexibility:

Independent planning

Almost 47% of those surveyed wanted to manage all of their retirement finances themselves with 37% wanting some support; and only 7% wanting someone else to manage their retirement finances entirely, while 30% want some assistance but to remain involved.

27% want to be able to change their income if their financial needs change and 29% want the ability to withdraw ad-hoc lump sums

Worryingly, 52% of people are also concerned about only being able to afford a limited lifestyle in retirement and 13% of those aged 55+ are considering delaying their retirement due to the Covid-19 pandemic. With an estimated 8.16m people in the UK between the ages of 55 and 64, this could mean over a million people delaying their retirement.

Smart Retire hopes to address this so-called ‘advice gap’ with guidance services rather than expensive advice. Members can use this solution in conjunction with personalised advice from a professional.

Built with four pots, and designed by an in-house research and UX team, Smart Retire allows users to scenario plan and change their pension strategy as required.

It includes two incomes pots:

  • Flexible income pot – monthly income in the early years of retirement –
  • Later life pot – leave money invested to buy a guaranteed income from an annuity provider later on in retirement

And two savings pots:

  • Rainy day pot – dip in to this pot for emergencies
  • Inheritance pot – put money aside to leave to a loved one

Smart Retire will initially be available to members of the Smart Pension Master Trust with it being rolled out globally in 2021.

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