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Category Archives: FinTech

App review: Plum

When I reviewed Cleo a few weeks ago, I also came across Plum. Plum describes itself as “your personal savings” assistant and lives in Facebook Messenger.

How did Plum come to my attention?  I came across Plum whilst reviewing Cleo, another virtual savings assistant. I then spoke to Victor Trokoudes, co-founder and CEO of Plum, who gave me a first introduction to Plum.

My quick summary of Plum (before using it) – I expect Plum to not only monitor my spending and saving habits, but to also do my saving for me and transfer savings directly to a savings account of my choosing.

How does Plum explain itself in the first minute? – From the headline to smaller print on the landing screen, it’s apparent that Plum is all about saving, helping me to save. Plum “monitors your daily spending and automagically sets money aside for you.”

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Getting started, what’s the process like?  After I’ve clicked on the “Sign up for free” button, I’m taken to Facebook Messenger where I see a landing page that explains about Plum; “I’m a robot. I was built to help you save money so you don’t have to worry about it.”

At this stage, I’m not entirely sure about how exactly Plum will help me to save money, but I decide to click on the “Get Started” button to find out.

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On the next screen, I’m presented with the choice between signing up and learning how Plum works. I decide to do the latter and click on “How it works”.

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And I’m pleased that I asked the Plum bot to explain how it all works, because I like the response that I get in return:

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I now feel more confident about how Plum works and how it can help me with saving money, so I decide to click on “Sign up”. After entering my email address, the Plum bot asks me for some more information to complete my setup. After clicking on the “Complete setup” button, I’m taken to separate page where I can enter my personal details.

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After I’ve entered my personal details, the next step is for me to link my bank account to Plum. I like how Plum is keeping me posted on progress by striking through the previous two steps of the onboarding process. There’s copy there to assure me that my bank login details will be treated securely by Plum; making it clear that Plum “will never, ever store it (my bank login, MA) on our system.”

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Did Plum deliver on my expectations? – Once I’ve managed to sync my bank account info, and have completed my Plum set up, the app starts helping me to save money. For me, Plum’s biggest draw is that I can add money to my Plum savings. Plum tells me how much of my cash is still available for withdrawal, and prompts to me decide on how much money I’d like to set aside.
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Similar to the standard account and transaction info that your traditional bank offers, Plum provides a neat overview of my monthly and total savings, and I can see my most recent transactions at a single glance. Ultimately, I feel I can only truly answer the question about Plum delivering on my expectations once why I’ve achieved a specific savings goal. In the meantime, I feel that Plum does offer a pretty smooth onboarding journey and a clear path to actually saving money. If you’re struggling to save or understanding how much you can save in the first place, definitely worth checking out Plum and start setting money aside!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Learning more about the Fintech ecosystem in China

In a few weeks’ time, I’ll be travelling to Hong Kong for the first time, looking to visit Shenzhen as well. I’m hoping it will be a great opportunity for me to learn more about the needs of Chinese customers and get a better feel for the Chinese Fintech scene. To start preparing for my trip, I used a recent report by EY/DBS Bank titled “The Rise of FinTech in China” to learn more about key characteristics of the Chinese Fintech space.

I’ve looked at the ‘current state’ of Fintech in China, both from a customer and a market perspective, and these are my main takeaways from the EY/DBS report:

  1. Fintech activity in seven vertical markets – EY/DBS’ report outlines the seven key verticals in which Chinese Fintech businesses are active (see Fig. 1 below). At a first glance, that the lion’s share of innovation by Chinese Fintech players thus far has been in the payments and e-wallets space. I’ve written previously about the absolute rise of alternative payment methods in China, mostly via mobile and predominantly driven by Alipay and WeChat.
  2. Chinese customers are embracing alternative payment and insurance methods – The EY/DBS report contains a useful diagram that outlines the percentage of customers per Asian country using specific Fintech services (see Fig. 2 below). Based on this diagram, it looks like both payments/remittances and insurance are already quite established in China, with opportunities for lending and personal wealth management to truly take off soon.
  3. Customer focus on online experience and functionality – A recent study by EY explored the appetite of Chinese consumers for non banks over traditional banks. It was interesting to read about the value placed on “better online experience and functionality”, as a key reason for using non banks over traditional players. One of my assumptions here is that Chinese consumer prefer banking services which are fully integrated into their daily lives, thinking about how WeChat seamlessly integrates payments into its messenger app.
  4. Alternative payment methods; disruption hasn’t finished yet – I had never given that much thought to low credit card penetration rates across China, but the stats in the EY/DBS report speak volumes in this regard (see Fig. 4 below). The report offers a pretty straightforward explanation for this phenomenon; a strong adoption of alternative payment methods and e-wallets. Unionpay Quick is a good example of a contactless payment method that is becoming more and more ubiquitous in China, particularly in so-called “first tier cities”.

Main learning point: Having read the EY/DBS report, I do feel that China is quite far ahead of the Western world in certain areas of Fintech, particularly in the payments and e-wallet space.  In the west, Fintech has been responsible for a lot of ‘unbundling’ of traditional banking services. In Asia – in China in particular – my feeling is that things are moving in the opposite direction: seamlessly integrating financial activities with people’s day to day activities. Alipay, WeChat and, in India, Paytm are leading the way in this regard.

 

Fig. 1 – Chinese FinTech activity in seven key vertical markets – Taken from: “The Rise of FinTech in Asia – Redefining Financial Services” by EY / DBS 

  1. Payments and e-wallets A mobile payments ecosystem facilitated by e-commerce and social media players, of which Alipay (of Ant Financial) and Tenpay (a Tencent company) dominate the market. Other notable players include UnionPay, ICBC e-wallet, JD Pay/Wallet (of JD.com) and 99bill (of Dalian Wanda Group).
  2. Supply chain and consumer finance E-commerce players lend to underbanked or unbanked individuals and small medium enterprises (SMEs) by leveraging users’ merchant data on the platform. Key participants include Ant Financial and MyBank (Alibaba), WeBank with WeChat (Tencent), JD Finance (JD.com) and Gome Electronic Appliance, which recently ventured into providing financial services for individual customers and suppliers.
  3. Peer-to-peer (P2P) lending platforms P2P platforms create a marketplace for peers to lend to individuals and SMEs underserved by the traditional lending sector. Market leaders are Lufax (Ping An Insurance), Yirendai (CreditEase), Rendai, Zhai Cai Bao (Alibaba) and Dianrong (the co-founder of Lending Club).
  4. Online funds Funds linked to payment platforms that offer ease of access and more competitive returns than the historically low deposit rates. Primary participants are Yu’e Bao of Ant Financial, Li Cai Tong (Tencent) and Baifa (Baidu).
  5. Online insurance E-insurance sold through e-commerce and online wealth management (WM) platforms. Notable brands are platforms by the People’s Insurance Company of China (PICC), Ping An, and Zhong An (in partnership with Ping An).
  6. Personal finance management Recently developed mobile-centric finance solutions providing access to mutual funds though stock trading apps. These platforms offer offline-to-online activity, with online brokers accounting for over 92% of new clients. Key players include Ant Financial (Alibaba), Li Cai Tong (Tencent), Baifa (Baidu), Wacai, Tongbanjie, Zhiwanglicai (CreditEase) and JD Finance (JD.com).
  7. Online brokerage Investment, social network and information portals for investors in China, providing thematic investing via websites and mobile apps, and offered by FinTech firms such as Snowball Finance, Xianrenzhang and Yiqiniu.

Fig. 2 – Percentage of banking/financial services customers using FinTech services – Taken from: DBS Bank, 2016

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Fig. 3 – Reasons for using a non-bank rather than traditional bank – Taken from: EY Global Consumer Banking Survey 2016

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Fig. 4 – Payment method used most regularly the past 3 months – Taken from: FT Confidential Research survey, May 2016

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                                                       Source: Survey of 1,000 urban consumers conducted by FT Confidential Research, a unit of the Financial Times18, May 2016
 
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Posted by on February 2, 2017 in FinTech

 

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App review: Cleo

I wrote about virtual assistants a few weeks ago, which made me realise that I hadn’t yet explored Cleo in more detail. Cleo is a virtual assistant that I believe can help me save money. However, my knowledge of Cleo ends there, so let’s have a closer look at Cleo and its onboarding process:

  1. How did Cleo come to my attention? – I came across Cleo a few months ago as I was looking at so-called ‘robo advisers’ like Betterment and Nutmeg.
  2. My quick summary of Cleo (before using it)? – When you search for Cleo, Google will tell you that it’s an “Intelligent assistant that helps you save money”. I therefore expect a virtual assistant that will give me a better view of my expenses and gives me tips on how to spend less. I expect an app that’s highly personalised, aiming to making saving fun. I guess a bit similar to Qapital, an app that I reviewed a few months ago.
  3. How does Cleo explain itself in the first minute? – I like how how the homepage of https://meetcleo.com/ talks about Cleo being “The simplest way to manage your money” (see Fig. 1 below). The page also mentions “bank level security” although I must admit that I’m not entirely sure what that means in the context of Cleo.
  4. Getting started, what’s the process like (1)? – Cleo’s onboarding process feels very intuitive and easy, particularly the part where Cleo syncs with my bank account (see Fig. 3 below). The messaging about how Cleo will treat my current account data instills trust and is clear, even to the point where I get a text from Cleo to say that banks are a bit slow when it comes to synching (see Fig. 8 below). However, when I’m asked to set my monthly income, I’m not sure what purpose this will serve and how I’ll benefit from sharing this data with Cleo (see Fig. 4 below).
  5. Getting started, what’s the process like (2)? – The simplicity of the onboarding process is reinforced by the text messages that I’m getting from Cleo on my mobile whilst onboarding on my laptop (see Fig. 8 below).
  6. Did Cleo deliver on my expectations (1) – After completing my onboarding with Cleo, I get a pretty comprehensive overview of my bills and spending (see Fig. 7 below). Perhaps I hadn’t fully set my own expectations when signing up with Cleo, but I’m left with a faint feeling of disappointment, expecting to receive more insights around my spending patterns or be able to ask Cleo specific questions about my balance. For example, when I ask Cleo about how to best increase my balance, she refers me to the generic balance call to action which she’d shared with me 3 seconds prior in the same exchange on Facebook Messenger (see Fig. 10 below).
  7. Did Cleo deliver on my expectations (2) – Some of the machine learning parts that underpin Cleo feel like they’re working pretty well, and getting started with Cleo felt very seamless and self-explanatory. I’m, however, keen to see how Cleo will develop further over the coming months, in becoming truly ‘intelligent’ about my spending habits and ways for me to save money.

 

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Fig. 1 – Screenshot of the homepage of https://meetcleo.com/

 

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Fig. 2 – Screenshot of the first step of the Cleo sign-up flow

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Fig. 3 – Screenshot of the second step of the Cleo sign-up flow

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Fig. 4 – Syncing a bank account with Cleo

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Fig. 5 – Screenshot of setting a monthly income in Cleo

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Fig. 6 – Screenshots of the workflow around adding bills

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Fig. 7 – Screenshot of the ‘outputs’ of the info entered into Cleo

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Fig. 8 – Text updates from Cleo throughout the onboarding process

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Fig. 9 – Chat message from Barney, CEO and Co-Founder of Cleo

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Fig. 10 – Chatting with Cleo through Facebook Messenger

 
 

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How Alipay and WeChat are setting the tone for payments

I recently had to think back to the words of a well-known London-based Fintech CTO who talked about how in Asia, the Fintech playing field is miles ahead compared to some of the things that are happening in Europe and in the US. His comments came to mind when I overheard a conversation between two, ‘more traditional’ shall we say, senior financial service people, talking about  “definitely worth having a mobile app, since that’s what people want and expect.”

To be clear, I’m not trying to knock apps, especially if you look at the amazing apps that the likes of Revolut, Simple and Monzo have created. However, I can’t help try to look ahead and figure out what could be around the corner. For example, I recently looked at PayKey, which integrates payments with messenger apps. The likes of KakaoTalk and Line are already doing this successfully.

I do feel though that all these products are simple dwarfed by the scale with which WeChatPay and Alipay have been adopted, predominantly in Asia:

WePay by Tencent (Tencent is known as Weixin in China)

Even though the functionality of the continental version of WeChat feels quite limited, it’s easy to see how WeChat has evolved rapidly from just a messenger app to platform which incorporates gaming, shopping and payments. WeChatPay, the payment functionality built into WeChat, enables peer-to-peer money transfers, make payments online and with participating offline retailers.

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Fig. 1 – Screenshot of WeChat payment interface – Taken from: https://walkthechat.com/wechat-payment-5-reasons-tencent-might-kill-alipay/

There are a number of different types of WeChat payment applications:

  • App Payment – For Android / iOS apps wanting to include WeChat as a payment option
  • Offline Payment – WeChat Offline Payment is meant for brick-and-mortar stores wanting to add WeChat payment via QR codes
  • Official Account Payment – This application is used in order to embed WeChat payment within a mobile website

By integrating with WeChat messaging and payment functionality, brands are creating a very seamless user experience and are interacting where their (target) customers already are. Soapnut Republic and its integration with WeChat’s payment functionality is a good example (see Fig. 2 below).

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Fig. 2 – WePay screenshot, once a user has completed shopping, she can either use her card to pay or use WeChat’s mobile wallet – Taken from: https://www.clickz.com/how-coach-and-moleskine-use-wechat-for-ecommerce/100300/

JD.com – a big Chinese ecommerce platform – has got redirects with WeChat. For example, when customers following the Moleskine account on WeChat want to make a purchase, they are redirected (within the WeChat app) to the brand’s mobile-friendly store on JD.com (see Fig. 3 below).

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Fig. 3 – WePay screenshot, once a user has completed shopping, she can either use her card to pay or use WeChat’s mobile wallet – Taken from: https://www.clickz.com/how-coach-and-moleskine-use-wechat-for-ecommerce/100300/

I can imagine that when WeChat launches its new “mini-apps” service in a few days time, its market presence will increase even more. These mini-apps are a type of app that one can use immediately, without having to download or install anything. Users scan a QR code or search and can immediately open an app.

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Fig. 4 – Example of WeChat mini-app as created by Walkthechat – Taken from: https://walkthechat.com/wechat-mini-apps-look-like/

As WeChat has only launched a developer Beta version of its new mini-apps, I haven’t yet had a chance to play with the apps. However, I’ve learned that through mini-apps users and businesses will most probably be able to (1) do voice recording (through the WeChat API) (2) login (the app will also enable voice recognition) (3) send messages to users and (4) build web apps and services on top of the app.

One will be able to access mini-apps through a special panel, which will be accessible from the “Discover” section of a user’s WeChat account. These mini-apps enable storage of some of the data and code directly on one’s phone, which no doubt will help with app performance and speed.

 

Alipay by Ant Financial

Forget about traditional banks, Alipay’s ascension and reach has been incredible. Its parent company Ant Financial is controlled by Jack Ma, the founder of ecommerce platform Alibaba. This gives Ant Financial access to all of Alibaba’s ecommerce businesses and the merchants who sell through the platform. Through ownership of Alipay, Ant Financial plays a part in about 65 per cent of China’s online payments and about 80 per cent in the mobile space.

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Fig. 5 – Screenshot of Alipay’s mobile wallet – Taken from: https://www.techinasia.com/day-with-wechat-payments-in-stores

Given the role that Alipay plays in the ecosystem of online buyers and sellers, it’s interesting to look at how Alipay facilitates cross-border mobile payments and how it supports settlement with overseas merchants in 12 foreign currencies (see Fig. 6 below).

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Fig. 6 – Introduction to Alipay’s cross-border mobile payment capability – Taken from: https://global.alipay.com/product/mobilepayments.htm

Until writing this piece, I hadn’t realised that Ant Financial has a stake in Paytm, which is claimed to be India’s largest mobile and ecommerce platform (see Fig. 7 below).

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Fig. 7 – Screenshot of Paytm’s iOS mobile wallet

Main learning point: Call me a clairvoyant, but I can see how the likes of Alipay and WeChat will soon take over the world – from a payments perspective at least – purely because of the scale at which they operate and the way they’re nested in a large, diverse ecosystem of online services and users.

Related links for further learning:

  1. https://intheblack.com/articles/2016/07/01/alipay-and-wechat-are-making-china-a-global-payments-power
  2. https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11347387
  3. http://en.people.cn/n3/2016/0902/c98649-9109330.html
  4. http://www.fintechasia.net/alipay-vs-wechat-war-of-chinese-payments/
  5. https://walkthechat.com/wechat-payment-5-reasons-tencent-might-kill-alipay/
  6. http://www.beyondsummits.com/blog/alipay-vs-wechat-how-does-alipay-overturn-world-through-scenario-based-payment
  7. http://www.wsj.com/articles/china-mobile-payment-battle-becomes-a-free-for-all-1463945404
  8. http://a16z.com/2015/08/06/wechat-china-mobile-first/
  9. https://www.techinasia.com/kakaotalk-kakaopay-mobile-epayments-korea
  10. https://techcrunch.com/2016/11/16/tencent-q3-2016/
  11. https://techcrunch.com/2016/03/17/messaging-app-wechat-is-becoming-a-mobile-payment-giant-in-china/
  12. https://techcrunch.com/2016/03/08/alibabas-ant-financial-raising-new-funding-at-60b-valuation-ahead-of-ipo/
  13. https://www.techinasia.com/day-with-wechat-payments-in-stores
  14. https://intheblack.com/articles/2015/12/01/how-wechat-is-reshaping-facebooks-social-media-future
  15. https://walkthechat.com/wechat-payment-5-reasons-tencent-might-kill-alipay/
  16. https://www.clickz.com/how-coach-and-moleskine-use-wechat-for-ecommerce/100300/
  17. https://curiositychina.com/blog/archives/3095
  18. https://stripe.com/docs/alipay
  19. https://global.alipay.com/product/mobilepayments.htm
  20. http://blog.grata.co/new-wechat-mini-apps/
  21. https://walkthechat.com/wechat-mini-apps-look-like/
 
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Posted by on December 29, 2016 in eCommerce, FinTech, Mobile, Technology, User Experience

 

App review: Zuora

One of the product areas I’m keen to learn more about is billing; understanding how small businesses go about (recurring) billing. A few years ago, I used Recurly to power subscription management and payments for a music streaming service. I’ve now discovered Zuora, who aspire to “turn your customers into subscribers.”

“The world subscribed” – I really like Zuora’s vision – “the world subscribed” – and its 9 keys to building a subscription based business (see Fig. 2 below). Zuora aims to make managing subscription payments as intuitive as possible. For example, when I look at the info that Zuora provides on a specific customer account, it feels clear and clean, enabling the user to digest key account information at a glance (see Fig. 3 below).

Part of an ecosystem – The thing I like best about Zuora is the numerous integrations it has with partners and marketplace apps. As a result, Zuora users can integrate easily with payment gateways such as Adyen and link with accounting software packages such as QuickBooks. Similarly, there’s a whole host of apps and plug-ins that Zuora users can choose from.

Main learning point: Even though subscription management / billing forms the core of Zuora’s value proposition, I feel that there’s much more to it: helping people run their business operations as efficiently as possible. I don’t know whether the people at Zuora would agree with me on this vision, but I believe that, especially through it’s 3rd party integrations, Zuora can support its users more widely in their day-to-day operations.

Fig. 1 – Screenshot of Zuora’s “Quotes” overview – Taken from: https://www.getapp.com/finance-accounting-software/a/zuora/

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Fig. 2 – Zuora’s 9 keys to building a subscription based business – Taken from: https://www.zuora.com/vision/the-9-keys/

  1. Price – Find your sweet spot. Dynamically adjusting pricing and packaging is the surest way to attract and retain customers, and multiply the value of your relationships.
  2. Acquire – Boost subscription rates with tools like flexible promotions, integrated quoting and multi-channel commerce.
  3. Bill – Subscriptions mean more invoices and more payments. Automatically generate fast, accurate bills and deliver them online.
  4. Collect – Get paid. Collect payments instantly through automated and manual channels, while maximising completed transactions and minimising write-offs.
  5. Nurture – Build beautiful relationships. Keep your customers engaged and happy. Seamlessly manage rapidly changing upgrades, conversions, renewals and other orders.
  6. Account – Measure everything. Twice. Zuora plugs straight into your accounting software and General Ledger. Register subscription and process deferred revenue with ease.
  7. Measure – No paper, no worries. Analytics make forecasting, accounting close and audits a breeze. Plus, it gives you the right insight your subscribers, so you can make smarter decisions.
  8. Iterate – Try something new every day. Subscriptions can involve complex customer relationships. Zuora lets you iterate and test what’s working with just a couple of clicks.
  9. Scale – Get growing. Zuora is built on a secure, scalable technology infrastructure. So wherever you start out, we’ll keep the system running as you grow.
Fig. 3 –  Screenshot of Zuora’s “Customer Accounts” page – Taken from: https://www.crunchbase.com/organization/zuora#/entity
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Related links for further learning:
  1. https://www.boomi.com/solutions/zuora/
  2. https://www.zuora.com/product/partners/
  3. https://connect.zuora.com/appstore/apps
  4. http://fortune.com/2014/06/10/10-questions-tien-tzuo-founder-and-ceo-zuora/
  5. http://www.forbes.com/sites/edmundingham/2015/10/13/why-own-anything-anymore-zuora-founder-explains-rise-of-subscription-economy-at-subscribed-ldn/#735812d65a49
  6. http://blog.servicerocket.com/podcasts/episode-7
  7. https://www.zendesk.com/customer/zuora/
  8. https://medium.com/the-mission/the-greatest-sales-deck-ive-ever-seen-4f4ef3391ba0#.xbezrudzi
 

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What Visa and R3 are doing with blockchain technology

In the online Fintech course that I’m currently doing, every other course video is about blockchain and the possibilities it offers. Earlier this year, I wrote about blockchain, trying to demystify some things I’d heard about it up to that point. If anything, watching my course videos with Blockchain experts such as Shaul Kfir, CTO at Digital Asset, has raised my curiosity about blockchain technology even more. In the past week alone, I came across two interesting blockchain related developments, which caught my eye: (1) Visa B2B Connect and (2) R3 Corda:

Visa B2B Connect

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Fig. 1 – Visa B2B Connect diagram – Taken from: https://usa.visa.com/visa-everywhere/innovation/visa-b2b-connect.html

Recently, Visa has started partnering with Chain, a US-based blockchain technology company, to create a proof of concept called “B2B Visa Connect” (see Fig. 1 above). Instead of building a more ‘correspondent’ type of integration between Chain’s core blockchain technology and Visa’s infrastructure, it’s looking to create a peer-to-peer relationship between banks. The essence of Chain’s blockchain network is a shared ledger that allows banks to move assets more securely and efficiently.

I listened to Adam Ludwin, Chain’s CEO/Founder, explaining on a recent podcast that Chain are effectively building “a business-to-business payment network.” Adam highlights that, in essence, Chain are applying cryptography to financial services. As result, entities – whether’s its financial institutions or customers – can have direct control over their financial assets, using a (private) cryptographic key. Adam stresses that there’s no single currency on the different Chain networks. Instead, the currency is specific to the currency issued by the participants of the network in question.

The main thing that I’m taking away from Visa B2B Connect is that Chain is looking to “digitise Visa’s existing currency” by building blockchain technology for Visa from scratch, aiming to design an architecture to solve Chain’s specific problems in mind. In contrast, the likes of Digital Asset, Ethereum, R3 and Ripple, are more like existing architectures which can be modified to meet the needs of specific financial institutions and their customers.

R3 Corda

Last week, R3 – a consortium of 75 banks – announced the introduction of an open source blockchain, to be used by banks. It was announced as “distributed ledger designed for financial services”, called Corda. The ledger hasn’t been built yet, but it was interesting to already get a flavour of its underlying principles:

  • Corda has no unnecessary global sharing of data: only those parties with a legitimate need to know can see the data within an agreement
  • Corda choreographs workflow between firms without a central controller
  • Corda achieves consensus between firms at the level of individual deals, not the level of the system
  • Corda’s design directly enables regulatory and supervisory observer nodes
  • Corda transactions are validated by parties to the transaction rather than a broader pool of unrelated validators
  • Corda supports a variety of consensus mechanisms
  • Corda records an explicit link between human-language legal prose documents and smart contract code
  • Corda is built on industry-standard tools
  • Corda has no native cryptocurrency

Fig. 2 – Overview of Corda’s underlying principles – Taken from: http://www.r3cev.com/blog/2016/4/4/introducing-r3-corda-a-distributed-ledger-designed-for-financial-services

The other thing that I took away was the business problems that R3 Corda is looking to solve:

  • Bank A and Bank B agree that Bank A owes 1M USD to Bank B, repayable via RTGS on demand.
  • This is a cash demand deposit
  • Bank A and Bank B agree that they are parties to a Credit Default Swap with the following characteristics
  • This is a derivative contract
  • Bank A and Bank B agree that Bank A is obliged to deliver 1000 units of BigCo Common Stock to Bank B in three days’ time in exchange for a cash payment of 150k USD
  • This is a delivery-versus-payment agreement
  •  … and so on…

Fig. 3 – Business problems R3 Corda is looking to solve – Taken from: http://www.r3cev.com/blog/2016/4/4/introducing-r3-corda-a-distributed-ledger-designed-for-financial-services

In essence, R3 Corda is looking to significantly improve the way in which banks share and managements agreements between them. The goal is remove any duplication of data or confusion about inter-bank agreements or transactions. Given the immutable nature of blockchain technology, it’s easy to see why banks are collectively developing Corda:

“What I see is what you see and we both know that we see the same thing and we both know that this is what has been reported to the regulator”

Main learning point: Understanding how blockchain applications are built to solve specific problems (R3 Corda) or improve existing experiences (Visa B2B Connect) really helps in painting a better picture of the tangible value that blockchain technology will deliver.

 

Related links for further learning:

  1. https://usa.visa.com/visa-everywhere/innovation/visa-b2b-connect.html
  2. https://chain.com/technology/
  3. https://sharetheledger.com/reading-list/beginners/
  4. https://chain.com/docs/protocol/papers/whitepaper
  5. http://www.forbes.com/sites/laurashin/2015/06/24/nasdaq-selects-bitcoin-startup-chain-to-run-pilot-in-private-market-arm/
  6. http://www.the-blockchain.com/2016/05/03/chain-inc-rolls-open-standard-blockchain-capital-one-citigroup-fidelity-first-data-fiserv-mufg-nasdaq-state-street-visa/
  7. http://bankinnovation.net/2016/10/chain-releases-open-source-code-partners-with-visa/
  8. https://chain.com/press-releases/visa-introduces-international-b2b-payment-solution-built-on-chains-blockchain-technology/
  9. http://www.r3cev.com/blog/2016/4/4/introducing-r3-corda-a-distributed-ledger-designed-for-financial-services
  10. http://www.ithome.com.tw/news/105319
  11. http://11fs.co.uk/podcasts/ep119-back-blockchain-gang/
 
 

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Varo Money and its focus on the banking – customer relationship

Varo Money is a US based Fintech startup that provides mobile banking and personal financial management services. We’ve seen mobile banks launching in various forms left right and centre over the last two years; think N26 in Germany, Simple in the US and Monzo in the UK, just to name a few. I’m keen to explore Varo more and learn more about its focus on personal financial management and building an ongoing relationship with its customers.

I listened to a podcast interview with Colin Walsh – CEO and Co-Founder of Varo – recently, in which he outlined as Varo’s core proposition and its main points of differentiation:

  • Next generation of consumers – In the interview, Colin explains how Varo sees the so-called generation of ‘millennials’ as a white space, currently not addressed well by existing banks. Varo aims to provide these target customers with an easy way to manage their accounts, but also focuses on providing them with financial guidance on how to manage their money.
  • Mobile first – Given that Varo targets ‘millennials’, Colin made a point of explaining that Varo’s customer experience needs to be intuitive and mobile first, since this has become the standard for millennial users. He describes this mobile first approach as a key differentiator for Varo, along with “delivering meaningful insights to customers.”
  • Relationship focus – Varo is all about “earning the relationship with the customer.” This means gathering customer data so that Varo can advise customers better and deepening the relationship with the customer by addressing their needs. This doesn’t make Varo any different to any other banks in my opinion, but it will be interesting to see how Varo will design an experience tailored to the needs of its customers. I liked Colin’s point about using data to enhance customer relationships, and I wonder how Varo will build this ‘customer understanding’ into its experience.
  • Goal-based – Similar to Qapital, Varo is all about helping its customers reach certain financial goals and outcomes. For example, if you want to save money for a big expenditure, Varo is looking to create an experience which will make it easier to set related goals and manage your money accordingly (see Fig. 1 below). I like how Varo enables users to have a single view of their money across a number of accounts (Fig. 2 below).
  • Underpinned by partnerships – Like many Fintech startups, Varo partners with a number of established third parties to provide the components of their platform. Varo is partnering with companies like Galileo (payment processing) and Socure (identity verification) who, as Colin explains, “things they do very well at scale” and will help with Varo’s speed to market. Varo configures these existing technologies in order to not have the reinvent the wheel. Instead, Varo wants to focus its efforts more on a human-centered approach to design and experience, providing customers with insights to help deepening relationships with them (see Fig. 3 and 4 below).

Main learning point: For a company that hasn’t even yet released its product into Beta, Varo has done a good job in creating a buzz around its proposition and its services. With so many new banking platforms popping up, it will be interesting to see how Varo will differentiate itself and establishes a critical mass of US customers and, as Colin says will become “a credible alternative to a traditional bank account.”

Fig. 1 – Screenshot of Varo’s goal-setting functionality – Taken from: http://www.varomoney.com/whatisvaro.php#2

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Fig. 2 – Screenshot of Varo’s ability to provide a single view of all their accounts – Taken from: http://www.varomoney.com/whatisvaro.php#2

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Fig. 2 – Screenshot of Varo’s card functionality – Taken from: http://www.varomoney.com/whatisvaro.php#2 

 

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Fig. 4 – Screenshot of “V”, providing insights to customers – Taken from: http://www.varomoney.com/whatisvaro.php#3

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Related links for further learning:

  1. https://soundcloud.com/wft
  2. https://blog.varomoney.com/2016/10/05/from-toasters-to-mobile-banking-moving-to-better-experiences-and-better-outcomes/#more-775
  3. http://www.wsj.com/articles/silicon-valley-looks-at-something-new-starting-a-bank-1462146047
  4. http://www.varomoney.com/data/Varo-Bancorp-Partnership-Announcement-2016.pdf
  5. https://www.sofi.com/
  6. https://www.prosper.com/
  7. https://www.crunchbase.com/organization/varo-money#/entity
 

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