Leading-edge Innovation from Innotribe Singapore

Innotribe evolved from a decision in 2007 by SWIFT’s chief executive (CEO) to set up a team focused on innovation, its co-founder Peter Vander explained. Along with a “fast development shop” internally delivering new services, Vander’s team set up a start-up challenge to bring in ideas from the outside. While payments was the leading focus at Innotribe in 2014, Vander said, this year start-ups are most active in lending, followed by payments and then big data. The best of them will pitch at
SIBOS 2015
, which will be held in Singapore in mid-October

The FinTech Gold Rush

In a panel focusing on key trends in fintech, Pascal Bouvier, a partner of US venture capital (VC) firm Route 66 Ventures and Michael Lints, who has a similar role at Golden Gate Ventures, looked at key fintech innovation trends in Asia Pacific.

The fintech of yesteryear – where service providers simply sold products – is no longer relevant, Bouvier said, as it has expanded to include banks, insurance brokers, asset managers and smaller companies. As the cost of building fintech companies has become significantly cheaper, Lints said, the number of companies starting up has grown strongly. Payments companies have also shifted to using telco infrastructure rather than just banking infrastructure.

Bouvier believes that the biggest disruptors are in robo-advisory platforms and alternative lending. While he doesn’t expect consumers to have crypto currency in their pockets soon, he does expect block chain technology to have as big an impact as the internet on financial services and to provide a systemic shift that will lead to a major watershed impact when it is applied.

For Lints the key trend lies in companies attempting to tap into the unbanked market and remittances in Southeast Asia. His firm has been focusing on remittances in the Philippines and on investments in Indonesia that help the unbanked.

Working with Banks

In a ‘fireside chat’ session with one of the Innotribe partners, SWIFT’s head of commercial operations, Eddie Haddad, spoke with Bipin Sahni, Judd Holroyde and Puon Pegg from Wells Fargo Bank.

Sahni said the bank’s approach to innovation lies in gaining access to innovative companies and their founders, learn from them, and place the best in the bank’s accelerator programme. While many banks focus on areas such as anti-money laundering (AML) and post-transaction functions such as moving money, Holroyde said that Wells Fargo also looks at areas such as using pre-transaction innovation, so payments senders can validate the recipient as a qualified beneficiary. Sahni added that the bank is also considering how smartphones can become smart, applying virtual personal assistants to a banking solution, and leveraging biometric authentication

Pegg mentioned that the bank actually has several accelerator programmes. “One is designed to look for early stage innovative ideas that improve the way we serve our customers or do things internally. Then we have one for pure technologies, to accelerate the pace of innovation for addressing climate and resource issues. The opportunity for us is serving customers the way they haven’t been served, or customers we haven’t served because of regulation or technology.”

Names to Watch

From 10 early-stage start-ups that presented at the Innotribe event in Singapore, three – profiled below – were selected to move on to Innotribe at SWIFT.

Bitspark

Founded in 2014 and headquartered in Hong Kong, Bitspark enables banks and money transfer operators to process end-to-end remittances quickly and cheaply using Bitcoin. CEO George Harrap said the Bitspark web platform enables banks to send funds, conduct due diligence and do performance analytics. Neither senders nor receivers need any knowledge of Bitcoin. Senders can go to a Bitspark shop to transmit funds, while recipients can receive funds at tens of thousands of pick-up locations globally. Bitspark has enjoyed strong growth in the Hong Kong-Philippines corridor, and has rolled out in Indonesia, China and Australia.

Jewel Paymentech

Jewel Paymentech (Jewel) provides an automated risk management platform to manage ecommerce merchant risk through predictive analytics. The challenge it aims to solve, said CEO Sean Lam, is enabling banks to manage risk better amid an explosion in e-commerce that makes it hard for banks to keep up with checks for good merchants. Jewel has developed a statistical analysis system (SAS) model that uses machine learning, analytics and social media to look for problems ahead of complaints by networks. In 60 seconds, its engine analyses the risk for existing and new merchants, which enables acquirers to on-board merchants quicker and worry less about ecommerce.

Trusting Social

Trusting Social (TS) provides consumer credit scoring for emerging markets (EMs), using social and mobile phone data, CEO Nguyen Nguyen explained. In EMs particularly, investable customers often lack a credit history, even if they have a bank account. TS uses a predictive model, which Nguyen said is 50% more accurate than some other leading solutions and can save up to 55% in credit loss. Along with using advanced technology for credit scoring, Nguyen said the solution can enable clients to detect customer profiles and patterns, and also detect leakage. TS uses a “zero knowledge data sharing protocol” to protect customer data, so all information between the bank, the telco and TS is anonymised. The model performs better in prepaid accounts because prepaid users have multiple choices and decisions to optimise, including how much and how often to top up.

How Start-ups can Work with Banks

In a panel discussion, VC firms and a start-up examined how fintech start-ups can be more successful in working with banks.

Orange Growth Capital partner Marc Bernegger said that while fast-moving founders in other industries are building their own services, the financial industry is different because it is so highly regulated. The uniqueness in financial services is that “you have a connection to money, financial transactions. You have a natural limitation.” He believes start-ups can benefit from working with big financial intermediaries because they know their customers.

iMoney.my co-founder Bruno Araujo said there is a regulator paradox, which also makes it beneficial for fintechs to partner with banks. “Financial services needs to be regulated. Regulators want to open it up, but they don’t want to let just anyone in.”

The biggest challenge for a fintech company, he believes, is that “we work at very different speeds to the industry. We can open up a new vertical in under two weeks, a country in under a month. Banks are hierarchical, with more checks and balances. You need to take that into account.” Banks and start-ups therefore both need understanding and patience.

Furthermore when they invest in start-ups, Nest.vc Managing Partner Aaron Fu said “it’s always about teams first and ideas second.” Bernegger added that “I would go for passion. You have to feel that these guys want to change the world. It’s more about the passion and the team.”

Growth-Stage Start-ups

Participants at Innotribe in Singapore also selected two out of five competing growth-stage start-ups, which are further along in their development, to participate at SIBOS in October

goSwiff

goSwiff provides mobile payment of sale (mPOS) solutions for for banks and mobile operators so that their merchant customers can process and track card payments more easily, head of communications Anne Karumo explained. goSwiff is also now expanding by offering mobile wallets as well as payment gateway services.

Codapay

Codapay is an online payment gateway that allows merchants in Southeast Asia to offer customers without a credit card a range of alternative payment options, including direct carrier billing, bank transfers, cash payments at convenience stores and physical vouchers. Research shows that more than 50% of online shoppers in some of the region’s markets prefer non-card payments, while Codapay has found that 94% of online shoppers in Indonesia use bank transfers to pay for purchases, so the solution opens up vast new markets for e-commerce.

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