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May 23, 2019
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OpenFin raises $17 million for its OS for finance

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OpenFin, the company looking to provide the operating system for the financial services industry, has raised $17 million in funding through a Series C round led by Wells Fargo, with participation from Barclays and existing investors including Bain Capital Ventures, J.P. Morgan and Pivot Investment Partners. Previous investors in OpenFin also include DRW Venture Capital, Euclid Opportunities and NYCA Partners.

Likening itself to “the OS of finance”, OpenFin seeks to be the operating layer on which applications used by financial services companies are built and launched, akin to iOS or Android for your smartphone.

OpenFin’s operating system provides three key solutions which, while present on your mobile phone, has previously been absent in the financial services industry: easier deployment of apps to end users, fast security assurances for applications, and interoperability.

Traders, analysts and other financial service employees often find themselves using several separate platforms simultaneously, as they try to source information and quickly execute multiple transactions. Yet historically, the desktop applications used by financial services firms — like trading platforms, data solutions, or risk analytics — haven’t communicated with one another, with functions performed in one application not recognized or reflected in external applications.

“On my phone, I can be in my calendar app and tap an address, which opens up Google Maps. From Google Maps, maybe I book an Uber . From Uber, I’ll share my real-time location on messages with my friends. That’s four different apps working together on my phone,” OpenFin CEO and co-founder Mazy Dar explained to TechCrunch. That cross-functionality has long been missing in financial services.

As a result, employees can find themselves losing precious time — which in the world of financial services can often mean losing money — as they juggle multiple screens and perform repetitive processes across different applications.

Additionally, major banks, institutional investors and other financial firms have traditionally deployed natively installed applications in lengthy processes that can often take months, going through long vendor packaging and security reviews that ultimately don’t prevent the software from actually accessing the local system.

OpenFin CEO and co-founder Mazy Dar. Image via OpenFin

As former analysts and traders at major financial institutions, Dar and his co-founder Chuck Doerr (now President & COO of OpenFin) recognized these major pain points and decided to build a common platform that would enable cross-functionality and instant deployment. And since apps on OpenFin are unable to access local file systems, banks can better ensure security and avoid prolonged yet ineffective security review processes.

And the value proposition offered by OpenFin seems to be quite compelling. Openfin boasts an impressive roster of customers using its platform, including over 1,500 major financial firms, almost 40 leading vendors, and 15 out of the world’s 20 largest banks.

Over 1,000 applications have been built on the OS, with OpenFin now deployed on more than 200,000 desktops — a noteworthy milestone given that the ever popular Bloomberg Terminal, which is ubiquitously used across financial institutions and investment firms, is deployed on roughly 300,000 desktops.

Since raising their Series B in February 2017, OpenFin’s deployments have more than doubled. The company’s headcount has also doubled and its European presence has tripled. Earlier this year, OpenFin also launched it’s OpenFin Cloud Services platform, which allows financial firms to launch their own private local app stores for employees and customers without writing a single line of code.

To date, OpenFin has raised a total of $40 million in venture funding and plans to use the capital from its latest round for additional hiring and to expand its footprint onto more desktops around the world. In the long run, OpenFin hopes to become the vital operating infrastructure upon which all developers of financial applications are innovating.

Apple and Google’s mobile operating systems and app stores have enabled more than a million apps that have fundamentally changed how we live,” said Dar. “OpenFin OS and our new app store services enable the next generation of desktop apps that are transforming how we work in financial services.”

News Source = techcrunch.com

YouTrip, a challenger bank in Southeast Asia, raises $25M for expansion

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Singapore-based startup YouTrip thinks consumers of Southeast Asia deserve a taste of the challenger bank revolution happening in the U.S. and Europe, and it has raised $25 million in new funding to bring its app-and-debit-card service to more parts in the region.

Challenger banks have sprung up in Europe in recent years. Unicorns Monzo, Revolut and N26 are among those that offer their customers a debit card linked to an app and various levels of banking services, including savings and overdrafts. Brex — another billion-dollar-valued startup — is bringing that approach across the pond to the U.S. market.

But what about Southeast Asia?

All the signs indicate this is a region where digital services can thrive. The number of internet users across its six main countries is larger the entire U.S. population, and online spending is tipped to triple to $240 billion by 2025. Already, the region has mega startups including Grab ($14 billion valuation), Tokopedia ($7 billion) and Go-Jek ($9.5 billion) whose investors are betting that these growth signals will translate into reality.

At the more modest end, YouTrip has pulled in this new money to take its model beyond Singapore and into larger countries in Southeast Asia.

YouTrip CEO Caecilia Chu counts Citibank, McKinsey and Chinese fintech giant Lufax among her past employers

Since its commercial launch in August 2018, YouTrip has clocked over 200,000 app downloads and completed over one million transactions for its customers, according to CEO and co-founder Caecilia Chu.

It covers 150 currencies in the app, but the card itself is limited to 10 currencies (including Singapore dollars) with plans to add local options for Southeast Asia.

Chu — who went to Havard with Grab founders Anthony Tan and Hooi Ling Tan, as well as Go-Jek CEO Nadiem Makarim — started the business with co-founder Arthur Mak in 2016 for frequent travelers who are sick of being short-changed when exchanging money for trips, or using overseas ATMs. Over the longer term, she wants to turn the product into a more modern take on banking for Southeast Asian consumers in the style of the aforementioned European flagbearers.

“The objective is to build a trustworthy financial product for the mass consumer with exchange rates that are competitive,” Chu explained in an interview with TechCrunch. “Right now, we’re incredibly focused on travelers.”

“The success [of European challenger banks] has certainly helped in this part of the world where we are the first mover,” she added.

Like Monzo and its ilk, YouTrip offers zero percent transaction fees and no cross-border fees, but there are “competitive” exchange rates and a “small” fee to cover up to SG$2,000 ($1,460) in ATM withdraws per day. (Because, in much of Southeast Asia, cash remains king.)

The plan, further down the line, is to introduce financial products in the future to draw revenue and provide access to services for users, Chu explained. That’s, again, straight out of the European playbook… but there’s nothing wrong with that.

In Singapore, the card — and app — is backed by Mastercard and it includes integration with EZ-Link, the contactless payment option that covers public transport and more in Singapore. Those are the kind of local integrations that the company is eying with its market expansions.

The YouTrip service in Singapore is integrated with Singapore’s EZ-Tap payment system

On that note, Chu, a former banker, is keeping coy on which countries the service will expand to, but she does anticipate that YouTrip will reach one or two new markets over the next six to twelve months. It already has a regional footprint, though. Its team of 70 is located across HQ in Singapore and an engineering office in Hong Kong.

“We’re certainly looking to expand regionally,” she said. “We will hire a local team for each country because the future of fintech is regional and we believe in a localized strategy.”

That’s where this new money will come into play for YouTrip. The $25 million round included Insignia Ventures Partners — the Singapore firm from Yinglan Tan, formerly with Sequoia India and Southeast Asia — with undisclosed family offices and angels providing the remainder.

That’s somewhat unconventional, but Chu said the family offices “have deep roots in Asia, are really motivated and want to invest in our kind of business.” Likely, they understand the frustration of moving money between borders, or for travel purposes, in Southeast Asia and beyond.

With Revolut continuing to stall on its planned entry to Singapore — which was first announced last November — YouTrip will want to seize the initiative on establishing challenger banking in Southeast Asia.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Partnering with Visa, emerging market lender Branch International raises $170 million

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The San Francisco-based startup Branch International, which makes small personal loans in emerging markets, has raised $170 million and announced a partnership with Visa to offer virtual, pre-paid debit cards to Branch client networks in Africa, South-Asia and Latin America. 

Branch — which has 150 employees in San Francisco, Lagos, Nairobi, Mexico City and Mumbai — makes loans starting at $2 to individuals in emerging and frontier markets. The company also uses an algorithmic model to determine credit worthiness, build credit profiles and offer liquidity via mobile phones.

“We’ll use [the money] to deepen existing business in Africa. Later this year we’ll announce high-yield savings accounts…in Africa,” says Branch co-founder and chief executive Matt Flannery.

The $170 million round from Foundation Capital and its new debit card partner, Visa, will support Branch’s international expansion, which could include Brazil and Indonesia, according to Flannery. Branch launched in Mexico and India within the last year. In Africa, it offers its services in Kenya, Nigeria and Tanzania.

A potential Branch customer

The Branch-Visa partnership will allow individuals to obtain virtual Visa accounts with which to create accounts on Branch’s app. This gives Branch larger reach in countries such as Nigeria — Africa’s most populous country with 190 million people — where cards have factored more prominently than mobile money in connecting unbanked and underbanked populations to finance.

Founded in 2015, Branch started operating in Kenya, where mobile money payment products such as Safaricom’s M-Pesa (which does not require a card or bank account to use) have scaled significantly. M-Pesa now has 25 million users, according to sector stats released by the Communications Authority of Kenya. Branch has more than 3 million customers and has processed 13 million loans and disbursed more than $350 million, according to company stats.

Branch has one of the most downloaded fintech apps in Africa, per Google Play app numbers combined for Nigeria and Kenya, according to Flannery.

Already profitable, Branch International expects to reach $100 million in revenues this year, with roughly 70 percent of that generated in Africa, according to Flannery.

In addition to Visa and Foundation Capital, the $170 Series C round included participation from Branch’s existing investors Andreessen Horowitz, Trinity Ventures, Formation 8, the IFC, CreditEase and Victory Park, while adding new investors Greenspring, Foxhaven and B Capital.

Branch last raised $70 million in 2018. The company’s overall VC haul and $100 million revenue peg register as pretty big numbers for a startup focused primarily on Africa. Pan-African e-commerce startup Jumia, which also announced its NYSE IPO last month, generated $140 million in revenue (without profitability) in 2018.

Startups building financial technologies for Africa’s 1.2 billion population have gained the attention of investors. As a sector, fintech (or financial inclusion) attracted 50 percent of the estimated $1.1 billion funding to African startups in 2018, according to Partech.

Branch’s recent round and plans to add countries internationally also tracks a trend of fintech-related products growing in Africa, then expanding outward. This includes M-Pesa, which generated big numbers in Kenya before operating in 10 countries around the world. Nigerian payments startup Paga announced its pending expansion in Asia and Mexico late last year. And payment services such as Kenya’s SimbaPay have also connected to global networks like China’s WeChat.

News Source = techcrunch.com

India’s Mswipe raises $30M to grow its smart point-of-sale terminal business

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Mswipe, an Indian fintech company that develops point-of-sale terminals for merchants, has pulled $30 million in new funding as it bids to triple its reach to 1.5 million merchants over the next year.

The company’s previous funding as a Series D in 2017 that ended up at just over $40 million, thanks to a $10 million extension from B Capitalthe investment firm set up by Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin that’s backed by BCG. This time around, B Capital has provided the funding alongside other returning investors that include Falcon Edge, Epiq Capital and DSG Growth Partners. The deal takes the startup to $95 million raised to date.

We wrote extensively about the company’s strategy back at the time of that 2017 round, and essentially the thesis is that POS devices remain essential despite the proliferation of new fintech like mobile wallets. With that in mind, Mswipe makes its terminals cheaper than the competition while it can also work on more limited internet connections, even 2G, to help merchants and retailers in more remote areas or those on a modest budget.

More critically, Mswipe CEO and founder Manish Patel believes the country is “ripe for disruption” because it has so few terminals. With less than three million terminals in operation across the whole of India, even Turkey, with a significantly smaller population of 80 million, has more.

Right now, Mswipe claims to have reached over 400,000 merchants — up from 290,000 at the end of 2017 — and Patel said today that the aim is to grow that figure to 1.5 million over the next year.

To reach that ambitious target, Mswipe is once again trying to put more than just a terminal inside a terminal.

Beyond offering hardware that simply works and ties into newer types of payment, Mswipe has a vision of additional services for merchants. It is developing a new ‘smart’ POS — Wise POS Plus — that is developed on Android which allows applications like billing, inventory management and logistics to be pulled in, too. Indeed, the second piece to that is its own dedicated app store — MoneyStore — which is in development now and is aimed at housing a suite of productivity apps and related services for smaller retailers.

Mswipe is betting on a new Android-based smart terminal that will give its merchants access to productivity and management apps, too

“WisePOS Plus… powered by a suite of productivity apps, can enable a merchant to save thousands of rupees and hundreds of hours that go into running computer-based billing and inventory solutions with integrated payments. At the same time, we are also creating a huge opportunity for app developers with MoneyStore,” Patel said in a prepated statement.

The second major prong that he believes can bring this growth is the adoption of UPI, the government-backed real-time payments system in India. Mswipe said it is “all set to enable” the system which will allow QR payments at terminals. Mswipe is also working with lending startup Cashe on a co-branded card for consumers following a deal announced in December.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Omidyar Network spins out its fintech investment arm as Flourish, with up to $300 million

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After 12 years spent investing in impact-oriented financial services startups around the globe, the Omidyar Network, which serves as the family investment office for eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, is spinning off its financial inclusion investment arm as Flourish Ventures.

Equipped with up to $300 million in capital for operations and investments, the new Flourish will continue to invest around the Network’s core mission of backing companies with a dual focus of making a social impact and achieving quality financial returns.

Already, the new firm is one of the most active financial services investors globally, according to a report from FT Partners.

This double-bottom line approach has already yielded results for the company.

“After 10 or 12 years with people becoming more broadly interested in the impact investment space, we had an opportunity to reinvent ourselves,” says Tilman Ehrbeck, a managing partner at the newly independent Flourish.

Flourish is actually the third spin-out from Omidyar Network’s investment and philanthropic arms. Two years ago, Omidyar spun out its U.S. emerging technology initiative as Spero, and last year launched a governance and citizen engagement-focused group called Luminate.

Now the organization, financed by Pam and Pierre Omidyar, will launch Flourish as the latest independent entity.

“We feel that we are the right team at the right place at the right time,” says Ehrbeck.

Flourish, he says, is launching into a financial services environment that looks far different than it did when the Omidyar Network first identified financial services and inclusion as a focus area for its operations.

In the wake of the global financial crisis, financial services organizations indicated that they could not, or would not, deliver necessary access to consumers and small businesses. There was an erosion of trust, says Ehrbeck, and against a backdrop of stagnating wages and the changing nature of work, low and middle-income consumers and would-be entrepreneurs in emerging and established financial markets need all the help they can get.

Indeed, an entire generation of entrepreneur is leveraging a slew of technologies, from blockchain to the platforms that Omidyar Network has helped create through its earliest investments in the market.

That includes companies like Lenddo, an online lender using alternative sources of social media data to determine the creditworthiness of applicants raised its first institutional capital in 2012 with capital from investors, including the Omidyar Network. That investment and the company’s subsequent merger with another Omidyar Network company, EFL, is indicative of the formative role that Omidyar — and now Flourish — can play in the growth of a business.

We knew each other for three years. As we were looking to identify and scale we started to look at where there synergistic opportunities between smaller companies and could we put something together that would allow us to grow,” says Lenddo chief executive Richard Eldridge. 

That scaling has paid off in Lenddo’s expansion into more markets and a more robust product offering.

Stories like those repeat across the Flourish portfolio of companies, and speak to the kind of value the company provides to portfolio companies, said Eldridge.

Indeed, Flourish’s global portfolio holds at least 40 fintech companies helping low and middle-income households and small businesses. From challenger banks like Chime, Aspiration, Neon, Albo and Tez; to insurance technology companies like MicroEnsure and Kin; and asset optimization tools, including United Income and Scripbox.

Given the explosion of interest in financial services offerings across challenger banks and through insurance technology offerings, Ehrbeck said it was a no-brainer for the company to spin out, focus and potentially expand.

With the spin-off, Flourish is taking the existent $200 million portfolio the team had built at Omidyar and expanding that with the additional capital commitment from the Omidyar Group.

The firm is also starting to realize its first exits. The firm realized a 3x return on its investment in Asian Networks and has had another exit in the sale of Ruma to Go-Jek.

“It’s a carve out of a successful team that has momentum and that Pierre wants to double down on,” Ehrbeck says. “What’s carved out is the existing portfolio and a commitment to fund the next wave. The reason the number has a flexibility. Pierre gives us the capital we think we can deploy against opportunity.”

Flourish will do more than commit capital to financial services startups. It also has the opportunity to provide grants and encourage research around financial inclusion.

Some recent work from the firm included the financing of a study of 240 households called the U.S. Financial Diaries, which provided hard data around the illness that pervades a large swath of the U.S. population.

Investments from Flourish will fall into similar buckets as the firm’s previous operations under the umbrella of the Omidyar Network. Including alternative credit, challenger banks, insurance technologies and low-cost digital infrastructures that can level the playing field for financial services providers. 

“We find a gap in the system and try to fill it and improve it,” says Arjuna Costa, another partner on the new Flourish team coming over from Omidyar’s financial services group. 

“We have the impact of companies scaling and reaching and serving people and led to replicators and competitors and widespread adoption,” Costa says.

Lenddo and its credit-scoring business is a perfect example of the trend, according to Costa.

We started investing behind a number of companies that were coming up with using nontraditional data sets to try and score people,” he said. “We picked different data sets… we invested in the pioneering company using mobile payment data, the pioneering company using social media data, and the pioneering company using psychometric data.”

As those companies gained traction and new customers, proving the market demand, Omidyar’s investments could scale to higher value offerings around financial services.

“Initially talking about those deals other people in the industry looked at us and said that you’re nuts. And now it’s become the table stakes if you’re getting into lending,” Costa says. “After building this digital infrastructure to enable credit… now there’s version two and version three of the infrastructure that’s coming up.”

Those higher value services are things like the agricultural lending business Rose Goslinga has launched for farmers in Africa.

“We bootstrapped our business for the first two years. They were the largest investor in our seed round,” Goslinga says of the Flourish commitment to her company, Pula Advisors

“Omidyar is extremely well-known in the financial inclusion space. They had the first investment in micro-insurance 10 or 15 years ago. They are really seen as the blue chip of financial or insurtech investors,” Goslinga said. 

With their investment, it validated Goslinga’s attempt to provide credit and working capital loans to small farmers.

“We had quite a number of clients at that point but we didn’t have any kind of institutional or financial investors at that point,” Goslinga says. “It was a stamp of approval for a lot of people later in.”

In mature markets like the U.S., Flourish’s approach is bit more nuanced, to serve a market with significant inefficiencies and baseline inequality, but one where the disparities manifest in different ways.

That’s why Flourish has gravitated toward businesses like Aspiration, which helps people bank more ethically — promoting sustainable investment portfolios and offering pay-your-own-fee for services; and Propel, which helps American consumers manage their public assistance benefits.

“At the highest level we look at the same criteria, we care about financial health and technology to promote financial health,” says Emmalyn Shaw, a partner managing the firm’s U.S. portfolio. “The U.S. as a more mature market tends to be a lot more competitive.”

News Source = techcrunch.com

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