airBux launches digital currency for small businesses

The danger with following people in a certain industry on social media i.e. fintech, is you end up with a very warped view of the world.

If I just went by what my Twitter feed algorithmically displayed to me, it would seem the current flavor of the month is all things ICO. Is everyone just going slightly nuts for these right now? Speaking of ICO, whenever I see that acronym, I can’t help but think of Frank Underwood’s version of ISIS from House of Cards…

Yesterday someone even joked on my Twitter feed that ICO was also the new ‘we’ll be in touch’ from VCs. While we may not have we reached ‘peak ICO’, my gut tells me we are somewhere on the spectrum.

But ICOs aside, digital currencies are certainly here to stay. And one startup in Australia looks to be finding a hybrid payment/loyalty application for them in the small business space.

airBux went to press this week with news they had started a pilot of their non-blockchain digital currency platform with a pilot group of businesses in Cairns, a city most famous for it’s proximity to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.

More than 35 business owners are taking part, allowing shoppers to pay for goods and services entirely with airBux , or a combination of cash and/or card and airBux.

The platform even looks to be integrated with a few point-of-sale systems, meaning there isn’t some annoying ipad next to the till that the cashier has to separately input the order into, or the customer has to tap or scan a QR code. airBux are also generated per transaction, similar to a traditional loyalty program.

There is serious merit to the concept of being able to use your reward points across various businesses, especially offline. And unlocking liquidity, a central premise of ICOs in particular, is long overdue for the loyalty space. I have so many points languishing in various rewards programs that I would love to be able to make them cross-purpose and actually get some real benefit. Of course, to get a big brand to agree to do this is near impossible (no chance those Emirates points are going to become Virgin points anytime soon). But in the small business space – where loyalty programs today amount to not much more than a punch card or software slightly more sophisticated than Excel – well, that is possible.

But scale is of course key, as is getting the pricing right. Today airBux looks to put the cost burden on the small business owner, which is always a tough one to sell (especially around payments). However if the utility is there and the value can be articulated, then instead of my local café putting up a sign telling me they’re surcharging my $8.50 purchase, maybe soon they’ll be asking me to airBux it – and for less.

Daily Fintech Advisers provides strategic consulting to organizations with business and investment interests in Fintech. Jessica Ellerm is a thought leader specializing in Small Business.

Crypto Liquidity aggregators in need for institutional trading

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Liquidity is one of the main attributes of an asset class that deserves an allocation in a retail or institutional portfolio. Clashing indicators that measure liquidity especially for over-the-counter financial assets, are nothing new. Corporate bonds or stock options, for example, are largely traded over the counter; liquidity fluctuates and measures are more than one (e,g, issue size, bid-ask spread, trading block size, price impact from trade, etc).

Naturally, the emerging crypto asset class cannot escape the liquidity conundrum. With this year’s increase in the overall market capitalization and with more than 5,000 tokens now issued on the blockchain ecosystem; we start paying attention. We have already witnessed the first flash crashes on exchanges, like GDAX run by Coinbase, simply because a large order came in that resulted in wild price swings.

On June 21st, 2017 around noon EST: “Within seconds the price of ETH crashed from ~$320 to as low as $0.10. While the price recovered quickly, the rapid price movement caused many traders to experience margin calls or stop loss orders, resulting in potentially severe losses.” Source; Coinbase is reimbursing losses caused by the Ethereum flash crash

 This recent flash crash was caused by a multimillion dollar sell order ETH/USD. Given the crowded pipeline of crypto-hedge funds (see more details in Shapes and colors of the booming US crypto hedge fund space) we expect an increased need for liquidity providers in the crypto asset class. Add on to this, the additional emerging appetite from asset managers (fund managers, family offices, pension funds, governments etc) there is a pressing need to create liquidity pools for institutional trading of cryptos.

I see a significant risk for the crypto asset class because there are too many startups building software and apps to facilitate the evolution of the crypto market, but there won’t be enough liquidity to accommodate the users of these technologies (especially for institutional appetite) once they grow out of the MVP-beta phase. I am worried even more because this pipeline of technology is also congested and we will be flooded with such tech-tools in the next 3-4 quarters.

Crypto Liquidity aggregators in need. The race is on!

Who’s who in the crypto liquidity aggregation space at the institutional level

 To trade large quantities of crypto assets, there are few established businesses:

Cumberland is a US mining company offering two-way markets for institutional size transactions (probably the largest). Genesis Trading and Itbit is based out of NY; Circle Financial, out of Boston (the money transfer company); and Gemini Exchange (the Winklevoss Brothers). Bitcoin Suisse from CryptoValley Switzerland.

The biggest problem institutional clients face is that each exchange operates in isolation and has its own cumbersome agreement requirements.

There is a pipeline to address the problems around the liquidity for crypto-assets, that really needs to be filled up. I have identified the upcoming platform, code-named “Project Omni,” that is being designed to serve as “the first large-scale institutional infrastructure specifically targeted towards crypto assets” from an ex-State Street executive.  The B2Broker who is building liquidity and brokerage software for the crypto space; a broker and a B2B liquidity enabler with a business focus towards the East (from the Arab world all the way to Japan).

Who else did I miss, operating in the crypto institutional space?

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Efi Pylarinou is a Fintech thought-leader, consultant and investor. 

Get fresh daily insights from an amazing team of Fintech thought leaders around the world. Ride the Fintech wave by reading us daily in your email.

Blockchain Bitcoin & Crypto Weekly CXO Briefing for week starting 21st August 2017

The Blockchain Bitcoin & Crypto Weekly CXO Briefing is all you need to know, each week, jargon free for CXO level business leaders and investors who will use this technology to change the world. Each week we select the 3 news items that matter and explain why and link to one expert opinion.

For the intro to this weekly series, please go here.

News Item 1: Bitcoin Cash Price Nears $1,000 as Breakout Continues

Decrypted: Three weeks ago we had Bitcoin’s hard fork, that resulted in the creation of Bitcoin Cash. This week we have Bitcoin Cash reaching a record high near $1,000 and market cap of around $16 billion.

While Bitcoin’s price has rallied to new highs since the hard fork, reaching $4,500, Bitcoin Cash appears to be finding some support with significant gains this week. Bitcoin Cash has showed its potential for significantly increasing transaction speeds and it looks like miners have found it increasingly profitable to mine Bitcoin’s new offspring.

Our take: Bitcoin Cash (BCH), an alternative version of the original Bitcoin (BTC) that was launched by a minority of developers on August 1st, climbed to $972.55, according to CoinMarketCap. This is the highest Bitcoin Cash has ever reached in less than three weeks, a jump of almost 374% from its first day of trading.

Bitcoin Cash differs from the original Bitcoin. It supports an 8 MB block size, but does not address the malleability issue, which is supported by Segregated Witness.

When Bitcoin Cash became available, most investors started dumping what they considered to be free coins. The current price surge shows that investors are betting on faster processing speeds, and miners demonstrated that the new digital currency can support an 8MB block size, a huge advantage over the current 1MB block size of Bitcoin.

Miners often switch their mining power between different currencies depending on their profitability. Currently, Bitcoin Cash is more profitable for miners. Bitcoin Cash is now 69% more profitable to mine than the original Bitcoin. The rising price and reduced difficulty to mine the digital currency has created the incentive for miners to dedicate more horsepower to the new digital cash. The Bitcoin blockchain charges higher fees for transactions, in comparison to Bitcoin Cash that has very low fees.

Today, Bitcoin Cash does not have Bitcoin’s reach and only a few major exchanges are supporting it. In this recent price surge, more than half of the trading volume came from three South Korean exchanges, Bithumb, Coinone and Korbit. This growth indicates confidence that the price will keep moving up and could be a sign that more exchanges will soon see a value in mining Bitcoin Cash.

More and more investors, banks and institutions are adopting Bitcoin and providing methods for investing in cryptocurrencies. Only time will tell if this is a battle with only one potential winner or whether both versions of Bitcoin can coexist.

Right now its still be too early to compare Bitcoin Cash to other digital currencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum, yet traders are proving it might have staying power.

News Item 2: Twitter Investor Helps Develop Blockchain-based Social Media Platform

Decrypted: Last year, Naval Ravikant tweeted“Today’s social media, payment, identity, & application platforms will ultimately be replaced by distributed, uncensorable, open source ones.”

A few days ago, he revealed a plan to sponsor a prize to create a Blockchain-based alternative to Twitter, using the Blockstack platform. With this plan the co-founder of AngelList, proposed an edition of Twitter that will have no central authority and the users will be able to monetize their contributions.

Ravikant is not the only one with plans to support new blockchain content platforms. Albert Wenger, a partner with Union Square Ventures has revealed plans to fund a new prize aimed to incentivize blockchain-powered blogging platform.

Our take: Blockchain is the most disruptive idea since the Internet. The disruptive potential of Blockchain has proven to be limitless, not just to currencies like Bitcoin, but to every industry around us. The potential applications of blockchain will be disrupting everything, and one the industries that is ripe for disruption is social media.

Today’s social media are centralized networks, made up of users that give up their personal privacy, data protection and ownership of the content they create. Most social networks collect information, interests and habits of their users in order to monetize the data through advertising. They heavily guard this data and many of the big social networks, like Google, Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin, act as identity providers for other sites and apps that use OAuth-based authentication and single-sign-on mechanisms.

Facebook’s algorithms control the news that reaches 2 billion people, in many ways creating censorship and potential bias that prevents people from encountering new and interesting ideas.

The content on social networks produces a massive financial gain for the platform, rather than the user that creates it. Users produce quality content, but their work is consumed by the platform, leaving them with no real financial gain. Also users have no control over the ads that appear with their content, and many feel that advertising may diminish the value of their work.

Blockchain technology can provide a more democratic and secure way to share content, preventing many of the problems that social networks have been criticized for in the past. The use of blockchain technology can enable users to control their data, escape the censorship imposed by platforms like Facebook and Twitter and get paid for the content they create.

There has been lots of talk around the idea of using blockchain to build the social networks of the future and numerous of projects have sprang out. Most of these new services are still their early stages.

Steemit is a content-sharing site where posts are ranked by popularity, similar to Reddit, it allows private messaging and the ability to follow specific users.  It was launched in March 2016 and since its user base has grown significantly. The most interesting feature is the way it rewards users. When users produce or share content, they receive Steem tokens. These tokens can be exchanged for fiat currency or used to vote on how the platform will evolve, giving users power over the future of the platform. The content users see is not filtered or controlled by an algorithm, preventing any form of censorship. Also because the data is on blockchain, Steemit doesn’t control or own any of the data created by its users and cannot use it to sell advertising.

AKASHA is like a decentralised Twitter, that uses the Ethereum blockchain to store the content created by users. The content is broadcasted across Ethereum’s decentralized network and votes are bundled with Ethereum microtransactions. When content gets votes, the content creator can earn some Ethereum from it.

Synereo is another decentralized, next-generation social networking and content delivery platform. Synereo has created tools that lets users monetize original content, get rewarded for sharing quality content with others and also discover the best content on the Internet.

A new breed of social media networks is emerging. Blockchain can radically shift social media to a new level. Its introducing decentralization that encourages free speech and has the power to reinvent the very basics of how content is shared and profitably distributed.

News Item 3: Government Agencies Adopting Bitcoin and Blockchain Technology

Decrypted: Cyber warfare is an emerging new threat that can be used to achieve strategic superiority, destabilize states, and cause large-scale economic damage. Breaches of sensitive data, mass disinformation campaigns, cyber-espionage and attacks on critical systems can affect individuals, businesses and governments.

Until recently, cyber-espionage was mostly used by large corporations with the goal to gain an unfair advantage over their competitors. The main risks, from a business perspective, were intellectual property infringements, disclosure of trade secrets, and economic espionage.

But now government organizations are looking very closely at the potential of blockchain, as a technology to build systems that will prevent data theft and tampering and provide secure communications.

Our take: High-profile attacks, such as those against the German Parliament in 2015, against Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union party in 2016, or against the US Democratic National Committee are a clear sign that politically-motivated cyberattacks are gaining in scale, hostility and sophistication. In 2016, the United States accused Russia of cyberattacks against the Democratic National Committee in order to interfere with the outcome of the US. Presidential election, while media reported a record year for data breaches.

Cyberattacks are a growing problem for western countries and the timeline below shows us just how big the problem really is:

  • December 2015 & December 2016 – Power grid in Ukraine: 230,000 people were left without power for up to 6 hours. Its the first time that a cyber-weapon was successfully used against a nation’s power grid.
  • February 2016 – Central bank of Bangladesh: USD 81 million were lost and a further USD 850 million in transactions were prevented from being processed.
  • February 2016 – FBI and Homeland Security: Personal details of over 20,000 employees of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and 9,000 of the Department of Homeland Security were accessed.
  • April 2016 – Philippines’ Commission on Elections (COMELEC): Personal information of every single voter in the Philippines, approximately. 55 million people.
  • April 2016: Democratic National Committee Publication of 20,000 e-mails stolen from the Democratic National Committee.
  • October 2016 – Domain name provider Dyn: A distributed denial of service attack resulted in the break-down of some of the biggest websites in the world including Twitter, The Guardian, Netflix, Reddit, Airbnb and CNN.
  • October 2016 – Australian Red Cross: Personal data of 550,000 blood donators stolen.
  • November 2016 – Deutsche Telekom: 900,000 people suffered Internet outages over two days.
  • November 2016 – Tesco Bank: Around £2.5 million was stolen from around 9,000 customers in this hack, the largest on a UK bank.
  • November 2016 – NHS hospitals: Hospital machines were frozen to demand ransom cash. At least four NHS funds were attacked.
  • November 2016 – Yahoo: Data breach of 1 billion accounts.

The cost of cyberattacks is enormous. A 2014 study estimated the economic impact of cyberattacks in the European Union to be around 55 billion euro, with Germany being most affected. The study forecasts that the economic cost of data breaches globally will quadruple by 2019, reaching 2 trillion euro, almost four times the cost of 2015.

A recent memo by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies outlines several potential scenarios in which outside forces attack or infiltrate America’s national security industrial base.

The US. government apparently sees the potential in blockchain technologies. This past May, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) listed several blockchain companies that received innovation grants.

An article in the Washington Times suggests that the Pentagon and NATO have been exploring blockchain technology as cybersecurity shield.

A few decades ago, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) helped create the Internet and now its exploring how blockchain can help create a secure messaging platform, that will eventually be used for communications in the battlefield.

Cybersecurity relies on secrets and trust to maintain security, but neither can be guaranteed. Blockchain operates independent of secrets and trust. Its a shared, distributed, tamper-resistant database that every participant on a network can share, but that no one entity control. Blockchain can preserve the “truth” in couple of ways. First, it ensures that digital events are widely witnessed by transmitting them to other nodes on the blockchain network. But it also use consensus. These events are secured in a database that can never be altered. Blockchain enhances the cyber defense’s perimeter, not by helping to hold up the walls, but by monitoring the walls and everything within them.

Blockchain provides a fundamentally different approach to cybersecurity, potentially improving the defense against cyberattacks, as the it can secure, prevent fraudulent activities through consensus, and detect data tampering based on its underlying characteristics of immutability, transparency and data encryption.

OpinionJohn McAfee: Bitcoin Price Bubble Talk “Absurd”

After a gargantuan leap last week, the price of Bitcoin hit a record high above $4,500 on Thursday and the total value of the cryptocurrency reached an astonishing $74 billion.

The media is once again abuzz with the self-proclaimed experts telling anyone that will listen, that crypto is a classic bubble. This is worrying and fascinating at the same time. Everyone is jumping into the market, fuelling a spectacular bubble that Goldman Sachs predicts will burst within months.

Since the beginning of the year, we’ve seen a lot of volatility, mostly due to the scaling debate that was going on for the past couple of years. With the SegWit activation locked in, good things will happen. It looks like they already are happening, the first being the uncertainty is reduced.

The second important thing that’s happening, is institutional acceptance. Institutions are starting to come into the market. High net worth individuals, fund and assets managers, private funds and institutional investors are one of the main reasons we are seeing the price of Bitcoin rising. They are starting to realize that this is a non-correlated new asset class with very high returns. Since its launch in 2009, Bitcoin has consistently outperformed every stock and currency in existence, by incredible margins. There are so many institutions looking to get into this space, there is a mountain of money ready to come into the market.

The third was the hard fork on August 1, with the Bitcoin network splitting in two, creating the new Bitcoin Cash. Everybody that already owned Bitcoin, got a bunch of Bitcoin Cash, kind of like a dividend. There was plenty of fear that the fork would hurt Bitcoin, but now with the split completed these fears have evaporated.

Perhaps more importantly, the Bitcoin and cryptocurrency markets have matured significantly in a span of 12 months, as the cryptocurrency market cap increased from a mere $11 billion to over $120 billion. Overseas markets have evolved, and an increased number of governments have legalized Bitcoin.

All these factors combined have caused a bull market. But can the market turn into a bear? It certainly can, if for example the government of major economy, lets say the US., passed regulations that are not crypto-friendly.

Bubbles are exhausting and people can easily get hurt, but all bubbles are not bad. Bubbles laid out railroads, built the telegraph and ships, created alternative energy, and brought the Internet to everyone around the world. Bubbles are moving Bitcoin the and cryptocurrency market fast forward.

But what creates a bubble, does not disappear when the bubble goes away. Not tulips, not railways, not the Internet. Nor will blockchain or cryptocurrencies disappear.

Bitcoin has laid out the path for decentralization. Decentralized money is better than fiat money. Decentralized social networks will be better than Facebook and Twitter. Decentralized search engines will be better than Google.

I think John McAfee said it best: “Bitcoin critics will point to temporary Bitcoin price declines as proof of their understanding, but it won’t matter in the end. The blockchain revolution will not be stopped. Those who understand the revolutionary potential of cryptocurrency, will be the leaders of this new world.”

Ilias Louis Hatzis is a Blockchain entrepreneur who writes the Blockchain Bitcoin & Crypto (BBC) Weekly CXO Briefing each Monday.

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Wrap of Week #32: Bitcoin, Fidor, Starling, Revolut, Nesta, Kin, Cleo, Onfido, Tractable, Habito, Aire

 

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Five UK startups pioneer AI across the Consumer Fintech Spectrum

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AI is no longer a differentiator amongst startups, it has become a default feature that most firms will need to have as one of their core capabilities. UK has never been short of AI success stories, with one of the first being Deepmind, that was acquired by Google in 2014. The Fintech wave was just getting started then, and there have been some good tales in the UK-AI-Consumer Fintech space, across various sub-clusters.

Personal Finance Management: Cleo

Cleo, an AI assistant that helps customers manage personal finance was founded in 2015, and after two years of work was launched commercially this year. The AI assistant taps into consumers’ bank accounts and helps them save money. Since launch, Cleo have close to £400 Million worth of assets under management.

They have integration with Facebook messenger to manage payments, and have an interface that has managed to retain 70% of their users even after 3 months of signing up – thats pretty impressive. VCs have been pouring their money into PFMs in anticipation of PSD2, and Cleo has recently closed a £2 Million round in which Skype’s Niklas Zennstrom participated.

RegTech: Onfido 

London based Onfido, was recently announced by the World Economic Forum as one of the “Technology Pioneers”. They help verify people’s identities digitally. Founded by three entrepreneurs from Oxford University, Onfido uses AI to perform background checks and spot frauds. They validate a user’s identity by comparing biometrics with identity documents. Identities can then be cross-referenced against international credit and watchlist databases

They operate across the globe in about 195 countries with a team of 150 employees, and support close to 1500 businesses. They have recently managed $30 Million in funding from Salesforce ventures and IdInvest Partners.

InsurTech: Tractable

AI within Insurance has seen some really good use cases in the last couple of years. Tractable is a deep learning startup specializing in computer vision to solve specific high impact problems. Their imagery algorithm can be used to quickly perform visual inspection of an accident and provide data digitally to support insurance claims.

In the past where even minor accidents took a few days if not weeks to settle, AI programmes can quickly scan the damage and digitally assess the cost to fix them. The deep learning capability that they have built in collaboration with Cambridge Machine Learning Group, the Visual Geometry Group (Oxford University) and the Neuroscience unit at UCL, can now assess damage to a vehicle more accurately than a human expert. Tractable closed their Series A round of $8 Million last month.

Mortgages: Habito

I wrote about Habito in detail in one of my previous posts. They are an AI capable online Mortgage broker based out of London. Their AI algorithm helps identify the best deal in the market, and also get real time approvals for mortgages. Customers have access to over 60 mortgage lenders through their platform.

Earlier this year, they closed a £5.5 Million funding round which they would be using to build an end to end AI enabled real time mortgage experience.

Credit Scoring: Aire

Aire offers AI enabled alternative credit scoring capability to lenders, where they get insights into borrowers with thin credit files. Aire has an interactive virtual questionnaire that provides insights on top of traditional credit data. Through this new capability, lenders on average have managed to increase credit approvals by upto 14% without increasing risk exposure.

Aire has recently signed partnerships with Zopa and Toyota Financial Services, and closed a funding round of $5 Million last month.

AI for decades has been a fairy tale as it lacked the data volumes and data quality to provide the right insights. However, with Social Media, Open data, and PSD2 providing a firm footing this time, the API era should see some Consumer Fintech AI success stories over the next few years.


Arunkumar Krishnakumar is a Fintech thought leader and an investor. 

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Will Kin be the Simple of Insurtech with a better UX to crack open the home insurance market?

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Kin recently raised a $4m Series A from top tier investors for a proven management team. The plan does not sound exciting.There is no conceptual breakthrough. Nor is there any deep, proprietary technology.  All they are doing is using better digital UX to reduce the time it takes to buy house insurance from hours to minutes.

Simple to say, but valuable if done well.

This is a bet on execution. In VC lingo, this is betting on the jockey not the horse.

One of these Insurance companies will buy them

Kin does not sound exciting…unless you are a shareholder of Kin. Reducing sign up time from hours to minutes is not conceptually exciting but if it reduces Customer Acquisition Cost and grows the top line, the acquirers will be forming a line outside their door.

Reducing sign up time is also relatively simple to do. Most of the data that Insurance companies ask us to enter could be found online. This is a 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration business where the devil/god is in the details. Reducing sign up time also  works because having spent a lot of time buying the house of our dreams we want to be done quickly with the boring but essential insurance task. Time matters.

Look at the following list of top 15 Home Insurance companies from A.M. Best:

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Any one of these could be an acquirer.

The Simple BBVA story

Way back in the early days of Fintech, we had Simple. They did a $2.9m Series A in September 2010 and sold to BBVA for $117m in February 2014 – 3.5 years later. All they did was offer a better digital UX. Naysayers would ask “where is the moat/defensibility?” but the reality is incumbents are bad at digital innovation so they will pay to buy it if it is proven to acquire customers.

Given the accelerating pace of innovation, the Kin exit story will probably be written in less than 3.5 years from now.

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Bernard Lunn is a Fintech deal-maker, author, investor and thought-leader.

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UK’s Nesta drives small business fintech innovation forward

If your looking for the next wave of innovation in small business banking and possible investment opportunities, then Nesta’s Open Up Challenge is probably a good place to start.

Nesta – the National Endowment for Science Technology and the Arts – was established in the UK in 1998, with a mandate to take risks and back innovations over the long term, specifically projects that tackle the big challenges of our time. By doing this outside of short-term government funding cycles or shifts in political fashion, the organisation believes it can facilitate real economic impact.

And what could be a bigger challenge than figuring out how fintech startups can help small businesses take advantage of the upcoming Open Banking directive that will come into force in January of next year in the UK?

Stage 1 of the Open Up Challenge launched in January of this year, with 20 fintech startups granted a £50k up-front development grant in July. A prize pool of £1m will be shared amongst Stage 1 winners in December.

So who’s in contention for Nesta’s big prize?

Big names like Tide and Iwoca are featured, while up and comers like Teller, an api for your bank account and Coconut, a bank for freelancers, are certainly ones to watch. You can see the full list of 20 here.

Where to next? In January 2018 Nesta will launch Stage 2, aimed at ‘Market Ready’ fintechs in the SME space. In this round, 5 startups will share in a sizeable grant pot of £500k, with a further £2m up for grabs.

With other countries dragging their feet on open data, now looks like an exciting time to consider expanding to the UK, and front running your next wave of your product development there. And with money on the table and access to the epicentre of fintech – London – what more reason do you need to book your flight?

Daily Fintech Advisers provides strategic consulting to organizations with business and investment interests in Fintech. Jessica Ellerm is a thought leader specializing in Small Business.