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Category Archives: FinTech

App review – Qapital

As my readers might know by now, I’m always on the lookout for new apps or any other technology innovations that provide a simple but great customer experience. I think I’ve found another one in Qapital, an app that enables people to “Save small” and Live large.” The app lets people make small savings in an automated fashion. Qapital makes it easy to create (1) saving goals and (2) set up rules to trigger deposits into one’s Qapital account (see Fig. 1 below).

Fig. 1 – Qapital user interfaces – Taken from: https://letstalkpayments.com/keep-lookout-amazing-pfm-app/

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These are the main components of the Qapital app:

  1. Choose a Goal – User can set monetary Goals through the Qapital app. Unfortunately, the Qapital app isn’t available in the UK yet, so I couldn’t set up a Goal through the app. However, once you download the Qapital app, users can set their own saving goal or select one of Qapital’s pre-selected goals.
  2. Create a Rule – Qapital users can create Rules to managing their saving habits. Rules are events that trigger the Qapial app to transfer money fro a user’s linked account to their Qapital account. For example, if you find yourself spending a lot of money on guilty pleasures like tech gadgets or trendy trainers, you can set up your own “Guilty Please Rule” (see Fig. 2 – 3 below).
  3. Connect to IFTTT – Users can link their Qapital account to their everyday (online) activities through IFTTT. IFTTT is a free web-based services that enables users to create “recipes”, which are simple conditional “If This Then That” statements. These statements are triggered based on changes in services such Gmail, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest (see Fig. 4 below).

Main learning point: I love how Qapital encourages people to save and makes it very easy to do so! Call it gamification or jusr great user experience, Qapital has created a very compelling proposition and product in my view.

Fig. 2 – Screenshot saving Rules on Qapital’s app – Taken from: http://www.tested.com/tech/android/564019-google-play-app-roundup-qapital-dub-dash-and-evo-explores/

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Fig. 3 – Rules that users can create on Qapital – Taken from: https://www.qapital.com/how-it-works

  • The guilty pleasure rule – This Rule has been design to help users curb their spending habits. If you feel that you really gotta have it, you can create a Rule to save a set amount when you give in to your guilty pleasure.
  • The spend less rule – Users can decide on a cap for how much they want to spend in one place, and they can then challenge themselves to spend less than that. When you come in under budget, the remaining amount is automatically to sent to a user’s Goal.
  • The roundup rule –  This Rile lets users round up their change every time they make a purchase with their card linked to their Qapital account. Qapital’s average user saves $44 each month with this Rule.

Fig. 4 – Connecting users’ Qapital accounts to their online actvities – Taken from: https://ifttt.com/p/qapital/shared

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Related links for further learning: 

  1. http://www.advisoryhq.com/articles/qapital-review/
  2. https://ifttt.com/p/qapital/shared
  3. https://ifttt.com/qapital
  4. http://www.ourfreakingbudget.com/qapital-app-review/
  5. http://www.americanbanker.com/news/bank-technology/can-mobile-apps-prod-millennials-to-save-this-startup-thinks-so-1073121-1.html
 
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Posted by on October 26, 2016 in FinTech, Gamification, Mobile, User Experience

 

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Lending revisited: Bond Street

Bond Street lends to small businesses that might typically struggle to get a loan from traditional banks. In a recent talk on a MIT Fintech course that I was doing, David Haber – Bond Street’s CEO/Founder – mentioned how Bond Street saw a clear niche in the market for small business loans and acted on it. Haber encountered a problem that seemed pretty common for early stage, online small businesses: banks or other financial services offering small loans for short durations at high rates. To resolve this problem, Bond Street offers loans range between $50k-$500k, for as long as 1-3 years and with rates starting at 6% (see Fig. 1 below).

Fig. 1 – Loan size, rate and terms comparison between Bond Street and other small business lenders – Taken from: https://bondstreet.com/

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Fig. 2 – Overview of Bond Street positioning – Taken from: https://bondstreet.com/blog/an-introduction-to-small-business-financing/

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In the MIT talk, Haber mentioned that OnDeck – a direct competitor of Bond Street – offers small business loans for an average amount of $35k, 10 months’ duration and charges of 40% Annual Percentage Rate (‘APR’). Bond Street competes on rate and speed, but as Haber explained, the business is very focused on “offering more value beyond the economics of a loan, since capital is essentially a commodity.”

Haber then explained that technology allows Bond Street to not just innovate on the loan transaction itself, but to provide a great customer experience on either side of the transaction. For example, by offering a borrower data about similar size businesses, the borrower can then make a better informed decision about taking up a loan.

Fig. 3 – Screenshot of Bond Street online loan application form – Taken from: https://www.nav.com/blog/376-decoding-a-loan-offer-from-bondstreet-4788/

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Haber mentioned one other thing which really resonated with me: “building an ecosystem around your business.”  By, for example, leveraging data on an entrepreneur across a network of (similar) entrepreneurs, Bond Street and others can really help people grow their businesses. This doesn’t mean committing data violations, but using data to build an ongoing relationship with one’s customers, and being able to warn them about potential risks or suggest new market opportunities.

A great example is how easy Bond Street makes it for its customers to link to their accounting packages (see Fig. 4 below). I see this is a simple but good example of creating an ecosystem where data is combined in such a way that people and business can derive tangible benefits from it. Through linking to your accounting package as part of the loan application process, businesses save a lot of precious time and effort, since they no longer have to manually input all kinds of financial data.

Fig. 4 – Screenshot of Bond Street’s functionality which links to one’s accounting software – Taken from: https://www.nav.com/blog/376-decoding-a-loan-offer-from-bondstreet-4788/

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Main learning point: Even though lending isn’t a new proposition, I really like what Bond Street are doing when it comes to offering loans to small businesses. It has carved out a specific market niche – small, early stage businesses – that it targets with a compelling proposition and an intuitive customer experience to match.

Related links for further learning:

  1. https://www.thebalance.com/what-does-apr-mean-315004
  2. https://bondstreet.com/blog/category/resources/
  3. http://www.forbes.com/sites/laurashin/2015/06/18/6616/
  4. http://www.peeriq.com/p2p-explosion-business-models-may-change-risks-still-need-managed/
  5. https://bondstreet.com/blog/an-introduction-to-small-business-financing/
  6. https://bondstreet.com/blog/a-beginners-guide-to-cloud-based-accounting-software-ii/
  7. https://www.fundera.com/blog/2016/06/01/application-process-works-bond-street
  8. https://angel.co/bond-street
  9. https://www.nav.com/blog/376-decoding-a-loan-offer-from-bondstreet-4788/
  10. https://www.fundera.com/blog/2016/06/01/application-process-works-bond-street

 

 

 

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App review: Swish

New payment technologies seem to be springing up left right and centre … Swish is another innovative payment platform which I encountered recently. About two years ago six Swedish banks launched Swish. Swish is a mobile app that lets people use their mobile phones to make payments and transfer payments to someone else’s banks. The money gets sent in real-time between the bank accounts and consumers subscribe to the service via their bank.

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Fig. 1 – Screenshot of Swish – Taken from: http://www.windowscentral.com/send-and-receive-funds-easily-swish-windows-phone

“Payments. Anytime. Anywhere.” is Swish’s motto. I can see how Swish’s mobile point of sale functionality competes directly with the likes of Square, iZettle and Klarna. The biggest difference between Swish and iZettle is that for the later retailers need to have a card reader to accept payments. With Swish this isn’t strictly necessary, provided you’ve authenticated your account details via the Swish app (see step 3 in Fig. 2 below).

 

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Fig. 2 – Swish Mobile POS – Taken from: http://swishme.com/mobile-pos/

Other competitors in Swish space are Whywallet and Seamless. With Seamless for example, consumer payments are encrypted and secured through one’s PIN code. As a result – similar to Swish – there’s no longer a need for a user to enter her bank or credit card details when paying (see Fig. 3 below).

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Fig. 3 – Onboarding process for Seamless’ SEQR mobile wallet – Taken from: https://www.seqr.com/nl/en/faq/

Main learning point: Even by just looking at the number of competitors in the payments space, it’s easy to see how payment experiences will become ultra seamless in just a few years’ time. With its focus on simplifying payments as much as possible, Swish is no exception in this respect.

Related links for further learning:

  1. http://ecommercenews.eu/swedish-banks-want-use-swish-ecommerce/
  2. https://www.finextra.com/pressarticle/61536/swish-payments-obtains-visa-membership-ahead-of-european-pilot
  3. http://www.paymentscardsandmobile.com/swish-mobile-payments-amazing-success/
  4. http://www.windowscentral.com/send-and-receive-funds-easily-swish-windows-phone
  5. http://swishme.com/mobile-pos/
  6. https://www.seqr.com/nl/en/faq/
 
 

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App review: Abra

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The main reason why I’m excited about Abra – a US-based peer-to-peer payments startup – is that people become tellers or ‘human ATMs’ who expense cash at hand to the recipient. The Philippines is a key target market for Abra, and it facilitates seamless payments between residents of the US and the Philippines.

Recent stats show that about two-thirds of the adult Philippine population is still unbanked. Currently, Filipinos will have to go to a local exchange ‘business’ (often a one-man band or small operation that does foreign exchange as one of its activities), fill out paper forms to send or receive money abroad. This can be very time-consuming, costly or unreliable.

Abra’s mission is to change all this and make cross-border peer-to-peer payments as easy and seamless as possible. This is how they do it:

  1. Deposit money into the Abra app – Users can deposit money into the Abra app either via a linked bank account, or by using Abra’s network of Abra Tellers, which are like human ATM machines (see Fig. 1 below). Each Teller will set their own fee with the customer, after which the Teller and the customer will meet up in person to accept a cash deposit and credit the customer’s account with funds (or vice versa, if the user wants to cash out) (see Fig. 2 below).
  2. Convert into Bitcoins – After a user’s account is credited with the necessary funds, the money is instantly converted to bitcoin behind the scenes, but still denominated in a traditional currency. What I like about Abra is that it doesn’t really talk that much on its website or its other comms about using bitcoins to underpin these payments. Abra, however, does use bitcoins and shared ledgers to facilitate peer-to-peer transactions without the need for an intermediary.
  3. Send and withdraw money – Customers can use the Abra app to send and withdraw money, or buy things online where Abra is accepted by the seller. The company generates revenue by charging a .25 percent fee to a customer upon transacting with an Abra Teller.
  4. You don’t need a bank account – One of the key upsides of Abra in my opinion, is that you don’t need to have a bank account to do a transaction through the platform. Competitors like Simple and Venmo still require users to add their bank accounts, whereas Abra let’s people transact without the need for a bank account.

Main learning: I’m really excited about innovations like Abra; using bitcoins and blockchain technology to solve a real-world problem and enabling unbanked people transact easily and cheaply.

Fig. 1 – Add money through Abra – Taken from: http://fintechranking.com/2015/03/05/why-we-started-abra/

 

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Fig. 2 – Finding and engaging with Abra Tellers – Taken from: https://techcrunch.com/2015/09/10/abra-raises-12m-in-series-a-funding-for-its-bitcoin-based-remittance-service/ 

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Related links for further learning: 

  1. https://www.goabra.com/
  2. https://www.goabra.com/blog/were-live-in-the-us-and-other-updates/
  3. http://www.coindesk.com/abra-remittance-app-us-launch/
  4. https://www.finextra.com/pressarticle/65114/bitcoin-remittance-app-from-abra-goes-live-in-the-us
  5. http://uk.businessinsider.com/mobile-payment-company-abra-launches-with-blockchain-technology-in-us-2016-6
  6. http://techcrunch.com/2015/09/10/abra-raises-12m-in-series-a-funding-for-its-bitcoin-based-remittance-service/
  7. https://www.reddit.com/r/Buttcoin/comments/4qq794/can_someone_explain_to_me_how_abra_tellers_are/
  8. https://www.mybanktracker.com/news/new-startup-to-be-uber-of-banks-abra-turns-everyday-people-into-atms
  9. http://money.cnn.com/2015/06/08/technology/abra-bank/
 

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Seamless payments – Learning more about Dwolla and their API platform

I recently heard Shamir Karkal, Head of Open APIs at BBVA, talking about open platforms and I was intrigued. In the podcast episode Shamir talked about the power of APIs, but at the same time stressed the importance of having a strong platform that these API end points can hook into.

Shamir talked about building a product with a platform attached. Instead of just building a set of APIs, we should treat APIs as a way in for customers, developers and third parties to hook into the capabilities of our business. For example, hooking into all the things that banks typically tend to do well: compliance, risk management and customer support.

My ears really perked up as soon as Shamir started talking about Dwolla. Dwolla is US based peer-to-peer payments company, whose mission it is to facilitate “Simple payments. No transaction fees.” Dwolla is powered by APIs, making it easy for US users to link their Dwolla account to a US bank account or credit union account to move money. Setting up a Dwolla account is free, and there’s no per transaction fee. Users can collect payment on an invoice, send a one-time or recurring payment, or payout a large number of people at once. Dwolla also offers this a white label solution (see Fig. 1 below).

dwolla-white-label-api

Fig. 1 – Dwolla’s white label version of their API – Taken from: http://apievangelist.com/2015/09/03/dwolla-just-released-a-white-label-version-of-their-api-are-you-ready-for-the-wholesale-api-economy/

In essence, what Dwolla does is enabling real-time payments between Dwolla accounts and another bank account that users want to send money to. Dwolla are integrated with banks such as BBVA, having Dwolla APIs ‘talk’ to the bank’s APIs. Dwolla has created some form of a protocol in the form of FiSync which aims to make it more secure for users to transmit information between accounts. FiSync enables the use of secure authentication and tokenisation in the comms between Dwolla and accounts like those of BBVA Compass. This way, BBVA Compass account holders don’t have to share their account info with Dwolla (see Fig, 2 below).

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Fig. 2 – Workflow of a connecting a FiSync-enabled bank account to Dwolla – Taken from: https://www.dwolla.com/updates/breaking-down-real-time-secure-authentication/

Main learning point: I love how Dwolla’s proposition is almost entirely API based, making it easy for its users to transfer money to bank accounts and credit union accounts. Dwolla definitely feels more seamless, secure and cost-efficient compared to the way in which users traditionally transfer money from one account to another.

Related links for further learning:

  1. http://11fs.co.uk/podcasts/ep111-interviewed-innovators-really-changing-banking/
  2. https://www.bbva.com/en/news/disciplines/shamir-karkal-building-financial-future-bbvas-platform/
  3. http://finovate.com/open-api-shamir-karkal-to-head-bbvas-new-developer-platform/
  4. http://apievangelist.com/2015/09/03/dwolla-just-released-a-white-label-version-of-their-api-are-you-ready-for-the-wholesale-api-economy/
  5. http://www.ibm.com/support/knowledgecenter/SS9H2Y_7.5.0/com.ibm.dp.doc/oauth_threeleggedflow.html
  6. https://www.dwolla.com/updates/breaking-down-real-time-secure-authentication/
  7. http://help.dwolla.com/customer/portal/articles/1940212-bbva-compass-dwolla-faq?b_id=5440
  8. https://www.bbvacompass.com/compass/dwolla/
 
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Posted by on September 27, 2016 in Data, FinTech, Open Data, Technology

 

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App review: PayKey

I recently came across PayKey and have been intrigued since in the combination between banking and social media. PayKey’s vision is “to make payments in all social chat possible.” To this end, PayKey provides a secure payment keyboard which people can use when they’re in a social network of choice (Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, WeChat, Twitter, etc. – see Fig. 1 below).

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Fig. 1 – PayKey Startup Pitch at the Mobile Monetisation Summit 2015 – Taken from: http://www.slideshare.net/IsraelMobileSummit/paykey-startup-pitch-at-the-mobile-moentization-summit-2015-startup-contest

The first step is for users to include payment functions in your keyboard.

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As soon, as you’ve included the payment capability, you start the payment flow within the messaging service. This enables you to pay to any people within your social network on the messenger service of choice.

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The penultimate step involves choosing an account to send to a contact, setting limits that work for you.

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Once you authorise the payment, the specified amount will be sent. The authentication that takes place here is one of the critical components of PayKey. PayKey is linked to existing bank payment systems, which means no changes to their current security practices. In addition, users can also choose a unique identifier (e.g. Twitter account detail) to connect with their bank account, making it easier to connect with your bank account.

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Main learning point: Companies like PayKey are making the experience around making payments a lot more intuitive. Instead of relying on customers to go where their banks are, PayKey enables customers to connect with banks where a lot of their daily interactions already take place – social networks and messenger apps. Don’t be surprised if Facebook launches a very similar service soon!

Related links for further learning:

  1. http://www.cbronline.com/news/verticals/finance/fintech-profile-paykey-enables-payments-within-any-social-network-4857108
  2. http://www.wired.co.uk/article/wired-money-2016-startup-stage-digital-banks
  3. http://www.centrodeinnovacionbbva.com/en/blogs/blog-talents/post/paykey-proposition-tailored-help-banks-remain-competitive-current
  4. https://www.paykey.me/#/vision
 
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Posted by on September 20, 2016 in FinTech, Mobile, Online Trends, Social Media, Startups

 

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Voice-enabled security and payments

I know I’m slightly late to the game when it comes to voice recognition technology, but I was intrigued when I came across a mobile banking app by Dutch bank ING, which they launched about a year ago. This app uses a voice enabled security and payments system, which makes it possible for its clients to check their balance or make mobile payments using their voice. In order to log in, users will have to say a short phrase which the banking app then matches to a sound file stored on the user’s phone.

The underlying claim here is that the shape of a user’s vocal cavities and the way a user moves her mouth means that speech can be more unique than a fingerprint. Nuance, a US based biometrics company, has developed technology that analyses a user’s voice “for hundreds of unique characteristics that are then compared to the voiceprint on file.”

 

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Instead of having to remember 15,000 different passwords or related security questions – you should be able to tell my frustration with existing security measures here – Nuance aims to do away with all this by matching the user’s voice to a stored voiceprint. This can be either passively, whereby the user can say anything to enable the matching or actively, whereby the user is asked to recite a specific passphrase. As a result, authentication should become a lot easier and less stressful for the user.

From the perspective of a bank like ING or any other company, voice-based security mitigates the risks inherent in knowledge-based security. Four-digit PINs or event digital fingerprints can be easily compromised, for example when a person is attacked. Passwords and security questions can be successfully answered with simple web searches of the account holder.

In contrast, it’s much harder to compromise voice biometrics. A voiceprint is a hashed string of numbers and characters, which means that it’s pretty meaningless to a fraudster. Even more so, each time a hacker tries to speak with a call centre or a mobile app, their own voiceprint will be left behind which can then be used to proactively keep them out of the system.

Thinking of mobile payment giants like WeChat (see Fig. 1) and M-Pesa (see Fig. 2) and the rapid raise of in-app payments, I can see voice-based see voice based technology taking great a great flight over the coming years.

wechat payments

 

Fig. 1 – WeChat screenshot – Taken from: http://www.digitalstrategyconsulting.com/intelligence/2014/08/wechat_adds_virtual_payments_to_messaging_app.php

 

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Fig. 2 – “How to get started with M-Pesa” – Taken from: https://www.vodacom.co.tz/mpesa/consumers/getting_started

Main learning point: I know that voice recognition isn’t yet where it needs to be in certain cases, but I can see how voice-enabled security and payments can provide a secure and seamless user experience, especially compared to issues related to the current knowledge based approach to passwords and security.

Related links for further learning:

  1. http://news.sky.com/story/make-mobile-payments-using-your-voice-10351022
  2. http://www.nuance.com/for-business/customer-service-solutions/voice-biometrics/index.htm
  3. http://www.techweekeurope.co.uk/mobility/mobile-apps/ing-netherlands-voice-password-nuance-173717
  4. http://www.cnet.com/news/google-wants-to-help-you-manage-your-passwords/
  5. http://www.ing.com/Newsroom/All-news/NW/Do-you-want-to-transfer-money-Just-say-it-out-loud.htm
  6. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interactive_voice_response
  7. https://techcrunch.com/2016/03/17/messaging-app-wechat-is-becoming-a-mobile-payment-giant-in-china/
 
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Posted by on August 7, 2016 in FinTech, Mobile, Technology

 

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