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August 18, 2018
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Finance

Credit Karma acquires mortgage platform Approved

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Credit Karma, the service best known for providing free credit score monitoring and other financial advice (mostly to millennials), is getting into the mortgage business. The company today announced that it has acquired Approved, a mortgage platform that brings modern technology to a process that even today often still involves faxing documents back and forth. The companies did not disclose the financial details of the transaction.

At first glance, this may seem like a bit of an odd acquisition, given that Approved is mostly a service for banks and mortgage brokers. But it also makes perfect sense for Credit Karma to get into the mortgage business.

Indeed, Credit Karama Chief Product Officer Nikhyl Singhal told me that he sees this as the natural next step in the company’s evolution.

“As we’ve expanded, you’ve seen us move from credit cards as a way to help members with that part of their life to first personal loans to auto — meaning auto loans, auto insurance,” he said. “Today, we’re really talking more publicly about mortgage. Mortgage being for many of our members the most important financial decision they’ll make.”

It’s also no secret that Credit Karma’s largest user base is millennials. As they get older and start getting to the point where they consider buying a home (assuming they are in the financial position to do so), the company obviously wants to keep those users engaged on their platform and offer them more services.

Singhal also stressed that 80 percent of Credit Karma members are active on the service before they get a new mortgage — and Credit Karma obviously knows all of this because it is able to collect a lot of very detailed financial data about its users.

As Singhal noted, Credit Karma has been working on getting deeper into the mortgage business for about 18 months. “The acquisition is just the continuing effort of saying, ‘look, we’re serious about taking our scale and being that trusted destination for our members as it relates to helping them with their mortgage.’”

Credit Karma already offers some mortgage brokerage services and today’s acquisition is meant to help speed up this process with the help of Approved’s technology. “What approved has spent a lot of time doing is working with lenders to help them automate and make them more efficient,” Singhal explained. A more efficient process, Singhal expects, means the lenders can reduce rates and save Credit Karma members money.

Approved CEO Andy Taylor and CTO Navtaj Sadhal are both Redfin alums, so they know this business well. Taylor told me that he believes that Credit Karama will allow him to scale his service up beyond what a stand-alone company could’ve done. Taylor tells me that he sees Approved’s mission as helping consumers navigate the often tedious and painful world of getting a mortgage. “Moving to Credit Karma is going to immediately give us the sort of resources and immediate scale to continue to drive that mission-driven work,” he said. “We can reach significantly more people than we could otherwise. We can spend less time focusing in on the minutia of building the lender system and more time focussing on bringing transparency to the transaction and having a better loan application process.”

News Source = techcrunch.com

Ethereum’s falling price splits the crypto community

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Hello And Welcome Back To The Latest Edition Of All The Cryptos Are Getting Rekt Right Now.

Crypto bloodbaths have become fairly common in 2018 — mainly because of the insane growth in 2017 — but we’ve not covered them all because they are so numerous and often include so-called ‘flash crashes’ or small drops, but the fall happening today is worth noting for several wider reasons.

Primarily that’s because this is a major test for Ether — the token associated with the Ethereum Foundation that is the second largest cryptocurrency by volume — has been on a downward spiral with little sign of change.

Ether, which is the preferred platform of choice for most developers building on the blockchain, is down nearly 17 percent over the past day. That’s erased billions of dollars in paper (crypto) value as the bear market for cryptocurrencies continues to pull markets south.

The drop also marks the first time ever that the price of an Ether has fallen below its valuation over one year: one Ether is worth $266 right now at the time of writing, versus $304 on August 14 2017. The token has been steadily falling since early May, when its peak value was $808, and as the lynchpin for many ICO project tokens, its demise has sent the value of most other tokens down, too.

Just looking at Coinmarketcap.com this morning, all but two of the top 100 tokens are down over the last 24 hours with many losing 10-25 percent of their value over the past day. Bitcoin, too, has dropped below $6,000, having topped $8,000 for a time last month.

Ether’s plummet below $300 has sparked a mixed debate among those in the crypto community. The token had been held as visionary, an improvement on Bitcoin that gives developers a platform to build on — whether it be decentralized apps, decentralized systems or more — but that hasn’t been reflected in in this months-long price retreat.

Certainly, two founders who spoke TechCrunch and have held ICOs expressed a belief that Ether “needs to find some price stability” to allow the focus to become about product and not just ‘get rich’ speculation. Of course, it helps that the two founders and many of those who held token sales have long since sold the Ether or Bitcoin they raised in exchange for fiat currency. Indeed, if their token sale was last year, the chances are they got a lot more real-world cash than they initially bargained for or would get now.

But still, the idea of consistency is shared by others who are in crypto professionally. That includes investors like Kenrick Drijkoningen, who is in the midst of raising a $10 million fund for LuneX, a spinout of Singapore-based VC firm Golden Gate Ventures.

In an interview last week, Drijkoningen told TechCrunch that raising a fund and doing deals in a ‘low tide’ market like now beats attempting to do the same amid a frothy period with hype and peak valuations — one Ether was worth nearly $1,400 in January, for example. A number of others VCs have long said that, ultimately, stability is good for the ecosystem.

Vitalik Buterin is the creator of Ethereum

But, on the other side, there are more pessimistic voices.

Among some investors canvassed by TechCrunch, the sense is that with the downturn of the ICO funding boom that fueled much of Ethereum’s rise, there may be less incentive to hold as the broader market’s interest in the cryptocurrency wanes.

For one Bitcoin bull, the intrinsic value of Bitcoin as an immutable, decentralized ledger acts as a more powerful draw than the perceived mutability and centralization that the Ethereum platform offers.

“People are also beginning to understand the unique value of an immutable, decentralized ledger, and recognize that Ethereum is not that,” the investor wrote in an email.

Another long-term problem that Ethereum faces, according to this investor, is that the promise of decentralized apps backed by the token is yet to be released. Crypto Kitties, a smash hit earlier this year, has faded and now there’s competition as Bitcoin’s Lightning Network is adding nodes and apps — referred to as LApps — which can operate in a similar but leverage the Bitcoin ledger.

It’s still early days, of course, and markets will always rise and fall, but this is the first big test for Ether and Ethereum. Beyond the sport of price speculation, it’ll be worth watching to see where this heads next.

Note: One of the authors of this post — Jon Russell — owns a small amount of cryptocurrency. Enough to gain an understanding, not enough to change a life.

News Source = techcrunch.com

California may mandate a woman in the boardroom, but businesses are fighting it

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California is moving toward becoming the first state to require companies to have women on their boards –assuming the idea could survive a likely court challenge.

Sparked by debates around fair pay, sexual harassment and workplace culture, two female state senators are spearheading a bill to promote greater gender representation in corporate decision-making. Of the 445 publicly traded companies in California, a quarter of them lack a single woman in their boardrooms.

SB 826, which won Senate approval with only Democratic votes and has until the end of August to clear the Assembly, would require publicly held companies headquartered in California to have at least one woman on their boards of directors by end of next year. By 2021, companies with boards of five directors must have at least two women, and companies with six-member boards must have at least three women. Firms failing to comply would face a fine.

“Gender diversity brings a variety of perspectives to the table that can help foster new and innovative ideas,” said Democratic Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson of Santa Barbara, who is sponsoring the bill with Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins of San Diego.”It’s not only the right thing to do, it’s good for a company’s bottom line.”

Yet critics of the bill say it violates the federal and state constitutions. Business associations say the rule would require companies to discriminate against men wanting to serve on boards, as well as conflict with corporate law that says the internal affairs of a corporation should be governed by the state law in which it is incorporated. This bill would apply to companies headquartered in California.

Jennifer Barrera, senior vice president of policy at the California Chamber of Commerce, argued against the bill and said it only focuses “on one aspect of diversity” by singling out gender.

“This bill basically mandates that we hire the woman above anybody else who we may be fulfilling for purposes of diversity,” she said at a hearing.

Similarly, a legislative analysis of the bill cautioned that it could get challenged on equal protection grounds, and that it would be difficult to defend, requiring the state to prove a compelling government interest in such a quota system for a private corporation.

Five years ago, California was the first state to pass a resolution, authored by Jackson, calling on public companies to increase gender diversity. In response, about 20 percent of the companies headquartered in the state followed through with putting women on their boards, according to the research firm Board Governance Research. But the resolution was non-binding and expired in December 2016.

Other countries have been more proactive. Norway in 2007 was the first country to pass a law requiring 40 percent of corporate board seats be held by women, and Germany set a 30 percent requirement in 2015. Spain, France and Italy have also set quotas for public firms.

In California, smaller companies have fewer female directors. Out of 50 companies with the lowest revenues, 48 percent have no female directors, according to Board Governance Research. Only 8 percent of their board seats are held by women.

The 2017 study said larger companies did a better job of appointing women, with all 50 of the highest-revenue companies having at least one female director and 23 percent of board seats held by women.

“The main issue is still that a lot of companies headquartered here don’t have women on their boards,” said Annalisa Barrett, clinical professor of finance at the University of San Diego’s School of Business. “We quite often like to think of California as progressive and a leader on social issues, so that’s kind of disappointing.”

Barrett publishes an annual report of women on boards in California. Public companies are major employers in the state, and their financial performance has a big impact on public pension funds, mutual funds and investment portfolios. “Financial performance does really impact the broader community,” she said.

The National Association of Women Business Owners, sponsor of the bill, says an economy as big as California’s ought to “set an example globally for enlightened business practice.” In a letter of support, the association cites studies that suggest corporations with female directors perform better than those with no women on their boards.

One University of California, Davis study did find that companies with more women serving on their boards saw a higher return on assets and equity, but the author acknowledges this may not suggest a cause-and-effect.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Offering a white labeled lending service in emerging markets, Mines raises $13 million

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Emerging markets credit startup Mines.io has closed a $13 million Series A round led by The Rise Fund, the global impact fund formed by private equity giant TPG, and 10 others, including Velocity Capital.

Mines provides business to consumer (B2C) “credit-as-a-service” products to large firms.

“We’re a technology company that facilitates local institutions — banks, mobile operators, retailers — to offer credit to their customers,” Mines CEO and co-founder Ekechi Nwokah told TechCrunch.

Most of Mines’ partnerships entail white label lending products offered on mobile phones, including non-smart USSD devices.

With offices in San Mateo and Lagos, Mines uses big-data (extracted primarily from mobile users) and proprietary risk algorithms “to enable lending decisions,” Nwokah explained.

“We combine a strong AI technology with full…deployment services — disbursement…collections, payments, loan management, and regulatory — wrap it up in a box, give it to our partners, and then help them run it,” he said.

Mines’ typical client is a company “that has a large customer base and wants to avail credit to that customer base,” according to Nwokah. The startup generates revenue from fees and revenue share with partners.

Mines started operations in Nigeria and counts payment processor Interswitch and mobile operator Airtel as current partners. In addition to talent acquisition, the startup plans to use the Series A to expand its credit-as-a-service products into new markets in South America and Southeast Asia “in the next few months,” according to its CEO.

Mines sees itself as “hardcore technology company based in Silicon Valley with a global view,” according to Nwokah. “At the same time we’re very African,” he said.

The startup’s leadership team is led by three Nigerians — Nwokah, Chief Scientist Kunle Olukutun, and MD Adia Sowho. The company came together after Oluktun (then and still a Stanford professor) and Nwokah (a then AWS big data specialist) met in Palo Alto in 2014.

Looking through the lens of their home country Nigeria, the two identified two problems in emerging markets: low access to credit across large swaths of the population and insufficient tools for big institutions to put together viable consumer lending programs.

Due to a number of structural factors in these markets, such as low regulatory support, lack of credit data and tech support, “there’s no incentive for many banks and institutions to take risk on a retail lending business,” according to Nwokah.

Nwokah sees Mines’ end user market as “the more than 3 billion adults globally without access to credit,” and its direct client market as big “banks, retailers and mobile operators…who want to power digital credit tailored to these markets.”

Mines views itself as different from the U.S.’s controversial payday lenders by serving different consumer needs. “If you live in a country where your salary is not guaranteed every month, where you don’t have a credit card…where you have to pay upfront cash for almost everything you do, you need cash,” he said

The most common loan profile for one of Mines’ partners is $30 at 15 percent flat for a couple of weeks.

Nkowah wouldn’t name specific countries for the startup’s pending South America and Southeast Asia expansion, but believes “this technology is scalable across geographies.”

As part of the Series A, Yemi Lalude from TPG Growth (founder of The Rise Fund) will join Mines’ board of directors.

On a call with TechCrunch Lalude named the company’s ability to “drive financial inclusion within a matter of seconds from mobiles devices” their “local execution on the ground” and model of “partnering with many large organizations with their own balance sheets” as reasons for the investment commitment.

With Mines’ pending Asia and South America move they join Nigerian tech companies MallforAfrica.com and data analytics firm Terragon Group, who have expanded or stated plans to expand internationally this year.

 

News Source = techcrunch.com

Singapore’s Golden Gate Ventures announces a $10M fund for crypto deals

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VCs around the world are trying to wrap their head around crypto, and the new investment paradigm it brings. Some have made one-off deals but a few have jumped in off the deep end with dedicated crypto funds, with A16z in the U.S. the most prominent example. Now Singapore has its first from the traditional world after prominent firm Golden Gate Ventures announced a spinoff fund called LuneX Ventures.

The fund is focused on crypto and it is targeting a $10 million raise. Its announcement comes weeks after we reported the first close for Golden Gate’s new $100 million fund, its third to date, which is backed by Naver, Mistletoe and others.

Golden Gate already has some exposure to ICOs, having backed the company behind OMG, and plenty of rumors have done the rounds about its plans for a standalone fund considering the surge in ICOs, which have scooped up over $10 billion in investment this year so far.

Notably, LuneX will be the first crypto fund from a traditional investor in Southeast Asia, although Wavemaker Partners — which is backed by early Bitcoin proponent Tim Draper — does have a U.S.-based fund.

LuneX will be run by founding partner Kenrick Drijkoningen, who was previously head of growth for Golden Gate, with associate Tushar Aggarwal, who hosts the Decrypt Asia podcast. The two are assembling a small support team which will also be assisted by Golden Gate’s back office team.

Drijkoningen told TechCrunch in an interview that he believes the time is right for the fund, even though the price of Bitcoin, Ether and other major tokens is way below the peaks seen in January.

“Despite the fact that public markets are down, the amount of talent that’s moving into this space is exciting. There are young entrepreneurs who are passionate about this space and want to build an ecosystem,” he said, adding that stability on price is a good thing.

“There’s a lot of crypto funds but most of them are hedge funds,” Drijkoningen added. He explained that LuneX intends to take a longer-term approach to investments by helping its portfolio and generally doing more than shorting and quick trades.

Kenrick Drijkoningen, Founding Partner, LuneX Ventures

Drijkoningen explained the capital will be divided equally for token sales, purchasing existing tokens and equity-based investments in crypto projects. That means getting into private sales and pre-sales for ICOs, and seeing what tokens already on the market have long-term return potential. On the equity investment side, Drijkoningen is looking for what he calls “infrastructure” businesses, such as solutions for token custody, banking and more. The fund’s capital is being raised in fiat, but it is considering allowing Bitcoin, Ether and other tokens.

Although Singapore is seen by many as a ‘crypto haven’ the legal status of crypto and tokens is unclear since the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) has deferred on making these decisions. That’s in contrast to places like Malta, Gibraltar and Bermuda, which are actively wooing crypto companies with incentives and legalization frameworks, but Singapore’s status as a global financial hub and a destination for Southeast Asia’s investor capital has helped make it a destination for crypto companies all the same.

MAS is known for engaging with crypto stakeholders, and Drijkoningen said there had been discussions although he did not elaborate further other than to say that the regulator is “quite well informed.” He clarified that the new fund is structured so that it is legally compliant while it is banking with a “crypto-friendly” bank in the U.S. since Singaporean banks to do provide services to crypto companies.

Drijkoningen said the fund’s LP base is comprised of high net worth individuals who understand crypto or are crypto-curious, as well as hedge fund managers and family offices. He said there’s been interest from projects that raised significant capital from ICOs and want to invest in the ecosystem and grow networks, as well as some long-time Golden Gate LPs.

There’s no doubt LuneX is an early mover in Southeast Asia — well, the world — but Drijkoningen believes it won’t be long before others in the traditional VC space follow suit. He revealed that already a number of other funds are “looking into” the opportunities, and expects that some will make a move “this year or next.”

As for LuneX, the plan is very much to scale this initial fund in the same way that Golden Gate has gone from a small seed fund to a $100 million vehicle in less than eight years.

“We want to get up and running, get a good return and raise a larger fund,” Drijkoningen said. He added that the fund is currently looking over half a dozen or so deals that it hopes to wrap up soon as its first investments.

Note: The author owns a small amount of cryptocurrency. Enough to gain an understanding, not enough to change a life.

News Source = techcrunch.com

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