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Revolut CFO resigns following money laundering controversy

Posted by on Mar 1, 2019 in Bank, Banking, ceo, challenger bank, Drama, Europe, Finance, Financial Conduct Authority, financial services, Japan, jp morgan, money, monzo, N26, North America, reporter, Revolut, Singapore, TC, the telegraph, TransferWise, United Kingdom | 0 comments

This hasn’t been a good week for challenger bank Revolut . The company, which offers digital banking services and is valued at $1.7 billion, confirmed today that embattled CFO Peter O’Higgins has resigned and left the business.

The startup and O’Higgins have been under pressure after a Daily Telegraph report that revealed that Revolt switched off an anti-money laundering system that flags suspect transactions because it was prone to throwing out false positives.

According to the Telegraph, the system was inactive between July-September 2018, which potentially allowed illegal transactions to pass across the banking platform. Revolut did not contact the Financial Conduct Authority to inform the regulator of the lapse, Telegraph reporter James Cook said.

O’Higgins, who joined the company from JP Morgan three years ago, made no mention of the saga in his resignation statement:

Having been at Revolut for almost three years, I am immensely proud to have taken the company from £1m revenue to £50m revenue during this time. However, as Revolut begins to scale globally and applies to become a bank in multiple jurisdictions, the time has come to pass the reigns over to someone who has global retail banking experience at this level. My time at Revolut has been invaluable and I’m so proud of what myself and the team have achieved. There is no doubt in my mind that Revolut will go on to build one of the largest and most trusted financial institutions in the world.

In a separate statement received by TechCrunch, Revolut CEO Nik Storonsky said that O’Higgins had been “absolutely pivotal to our success.”

The resignation caps a terrible few days for Revolut, which was the subject of a report from Wired earlier this week that delved into allegations around its challenging workplace culture and high employee churn rate.

“Former Revolut employees say this high-speed growth has come at a high human cost – with unpaid work, unachievable targets, and high-staff turnover,” wrote guest reporter Emiliano Mellino, citing the experiences of numerous former employees.

Those incidents included prospective staff being told to canvass for new customers as part of the interview process. The candidates were not compensated for their efforts, according to Wired. Revolut later removed the demands from its hiring processes.

Revolut is headquartered in the UK, where it launched its service in the summer of 2015. Today, it claims over four million registered users across Europe — it is available in EEA countries — although it plans to extend its presence to other parts of the world are taking longer than expected.

The company said last year it aims to launch in Singapore and Japan in Q1 of this year — so far neither has happened — while it also harbors North American market plans. Entries to the U.S. and Canada were supposed to happen by the end of 2018, according to an interview with Storonsky at TechCrunch Disrupt in September, but they also appear to have been delayed.

Revolut is generally considered to be the largest challenger bank in Europe, in terms of valuation and registered users, but other rivals include N26, Monzo and Starling. Even Transferwise, the global remittance service, now includes border-less banking features and an accompanying debit card.

Source: The Tech Crunch

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Cross-border fintech startup Instarem raises $20M for global expansion

Posted by on Nov 22, 2018 in Asia, Business, Finance, funding, Fundings & Exits, Indonesia, instarem, Latin America, Lithuania, MDI Ventures, Mumbai, payments, Prajit Nanu, Singapore, Southeast Asia, TransferWise, unicorn, Vertex Ventures, visa | 0 comments

Instarem, a Singapore-based startup that helps banks transfer money overseas cheaply, has raised a Series C round of over $20 million for global expansion.

The round is led by MDI Ventures — the VC arm of Indonesian telecom operator Telkom — and Beacon — the fund belonging to Thai bank Kasikorn — as well as existing investors Vertex Ventures, GSR Ventures Rocket Internet and the SBI-FMO Fund.

The money takes four-year-old Instarem to nearly $40 million raised to date, although Instarem co-founder and CEO Prajit Nanu told TechCrunch that the startup plans to expand the Series C to $45 million. The extra capital is expected to be closed by January, with Nanu particularly keen to bring on strategic investors that can help the business grow in new emerging markets in Latin America as well as Europe.

“We are a the stage where the color of the money is very important,” he said in an interview. “It is very key to us that we bring people into the round who can add value to our business.”

Nanu added that the company is speaking to large U.S. funds among other potential investors.

Instarem works with banks to reduce their overseas transfer costs, offering a kind of ‘Transferwise for enterprise’ service. Although, unlike Transferwise which uses a global network of banks to send money across the world, Instarem uses mid-size banks that already trade in overseas currencies. As I previously explained, the process is the financial equivalent of putting a few boxes on a UPS freighter that’s about to head out, thus paying just a sliver of the costs you’d incur if you had to find a boat and ship it yourself.

Focused on Southeast Asia primarily, it services over 50 markets with transfers. The company does offer a service for consumers, but financial institutions — which have ongoing demand and higher average spend — are its primary target.

Prajit Nanu founded Instarem in 2014 alongside Michael Bermingham

The company has offices in Singapore, Mumbai and Lithuania and it is opening a presence in Seattle as it begins to look to broaden its business, which already includes three of Southeast Asia’s top ten banks. Nanu said that the company will try to work with banks and financial services such as cross-border services which target users with links to Latin America and Mexico initially. In Asia, it is awaiting payment licenses in Japan and Indonesia which will allow it to offer more services in both countries.

TechCrunch understands that the company is on the cusp of a deal with Visa that will allow its customers to roll out branded prepaid cards, adding another financial service to its offerings. Nanu declined to comment when we asked about a deal with Visa.

TechCrunch has also come to learn that Instarem was subject to an acquisition approach earlier this year from one of Southeast Asia’s unicorns. Nanu declined to name the bidder, but he did tell TechCrunch that the offer “wasn’t the right timing for us.” He is, however, giving increased thought to an exit via IPO.

Last year, when Instarem raised its $13 million Series B, he suggested that it could go public by 2020. Now that target date has shifted back to 2021, with the Instarem CEO telling TechCrunch that the U.S. remained the preferred option for a public listing when the time is right.

Source: The Tech Crunch

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Fintech friends: Monzo partners with TransferWise for international payments

Posted by on Jun 24, 2018 in Europe, monzo, Startups, TC, TransferWise | 0 comments

“So what’s going on here then?” I ask. “Two good friends just got even better [friends],” replies TransferWise co-founder Kristo Käärmann laughing, while Monzo co-founder Tom Blomfield, who is also on the video call, smiles approvingly. “Sorry for spoiling your news,” I tell the pair, who I’m interviewing ahead of an announcement today that the two companies are working together.

The partnership, which TechCrunch outed nearly three weeks ago, will see TransferWise power international payments for the U.K. challenger bank’s 750,000 customers. It is the second new bank partnership that the fintech unicorn has unveiled this month, after announcing that it has begun working with France’s second largest bank BPCE Groupe.

TransferWise also powers international money transfer for Germany’s N26, and Estonia’s LHV. However, a previously announced partnership with the U.K.’s Starling Bank never materialised and has since been disbanded.

Asked why Monzo has chosen to work with TransferWise, Blomfield reiterates the challenger bank’s goal of becoming a “hub or control centre” for your money. This won’t necessarily all be done by Monzo, he says, “but with partner organisations who plug into this hub”. TransferWise is the first of these.

International payments has also been one of the most requested features by Monzo users since the challenger bank posted a roadmap of things it intends to “fix” over the next three months now that the switch from a pre-paid card to a full current account has been completed.

“I’ve personally been a TransferWise customer for five or six years and the service is amazing,” says Blomfield. “Compared to my old bank, it’s really, really transparent, the fees are really fair, and they’re continually working on bringing fees down and to make transfers more instantaneous. So I can’t think of a better a partner to do foreign transfers with than TransferWise”.

I ask Käärmann how different the conversation is with a challenger bank like Monzo — which arguably has nothing to lose by partnering with TransferWise and will generate affiliate revenue on each transfer — compared with larger incumbent banks who have historically generated fat margins on foreign exchange fees. He says it is similar, and usually centres on the fact that customers are already using TransferWise and that if a bank wants to put those customers first it makes sense to offer TransferWise functionality within its own app.

“When we announced the large French bank, which is clearly an incumbent — a massive incumbent — they were thinking about their customer,” he says. “That maybe does feel a little bit rare for banks to think this way, but they figured that ‘if we are going to do this, then why don’t we do it properly’. They were actually fully driven by their users and thinking about how to get the best user experience”.

The TransferWise functionality will start rolling out to Monzo users as of today and will let them send money from their current accounts to 18 of the most popular currencies, with “more being added in the near future”. The user experience will be near-identical to TransferWise’s own app, and will see transfers happen at claimed ‘mid-market’ rates in addition to TransferWise’s low and transparent fee. This means you’re told upfront exactly how much you’ll pay in fees and the amount you’ll receive in the exchanged currency.

The integration is pretty deep, too. Monzo customers who don’t have an existing TransferWise account will have an account automatically created for them when they first initiate an international money transfer. If they already have a TransferWise account, they can use their existing details to authenticate with and link their account to Monzo. This means that any international money transfers made from within Monzo will also show up in your TransferWise account and the TransferWise app.

“One of the coolest things for us, other than just working with cool people, is there’s another bank in the U.K. who is transparent with their international fees,” says Käärmann. “We’re kind of getting to the place where once there is enough banks who are as transparent in their foreign fees as Monzo is then it becomes quite untenable for everyone else to keep hiding their fees and that’s very interesting. Not just for us as companies, but more generally in terms of how banking works”.

One notable dynamic to TransferWise adding another bank partner is that the fintech giant recently launched a banking product of its own. Positioned as a companion to your existing bank account, the TransferWise “Borderless” account and debit card lets you deposit, send and spend money in multiple currencies. Acting like a local country bank account, it is primarily designed to solve the specific problem of earning, receiving and spending money abroad and TransferWise says it is not intended to be a fully fledged bank replacement — at least not yet.

“We’re pretty chilled about it,” says Blomfield when I ask him if TransferWise’s tentative entry into the bank account space was in any way a concern. “Honestly, we are not competing with TransferWise. Both of us are looking at the big high street banks, as either partners or competitors. Our customers come from Barclays, Lloyds, HSBC and RBS. I think anything that increases both of our brand awareness is a really positive thing. We have 750,000 customers, which is something like 2 percent of the adult population, we’re targeting the other 98 percent who are still using the big banks. I just think there is so much headroom in this space that it would be crazy to think that we are competing with each other”.

“If we take a step back, what is the problem we are solving?” says Käärmann rhetorically. “The problem we are solving is that moving money across borders is expensive”. He then reiterates a point that TransferWise co-founder and Chairman Taavet Hinrikus has made often, which is that the company is entirely agnostic on how customers access the service. The more money moving via its infrastructure, the better, with economies of scale also meaning it has been able to lower fees on an increasing number of routes.

“For us, it doesn’t really matter if the money is in a bank account that is connected directly to TransferWise or if it is in the Borderless account,” he says. “There’s really no difference, and I know the user experience is better today if you’re banking in the U.K. with Monzo, so that’s what users should do”.

At this point I can’t resist mentioning Revolut, the digital bank startup and newly crowned unicorn that, on paper at least, competes with both TransferWise and Monzo. Revolut’s original “attack vector” (to borrow Blomfield’s phrase) was cheap foreign currency exchange coupled with a debit card for traveling. And although not yet a licensed bank, it has rolled out bank account features at a shockingly fast pace, putting it on feature parity with Monzo in a number of instances.

Rightly or wrongly, I put it to Käärmann that there is a market perception that Revolut is often the cheapest option when spending or sending money abroad, even if questions remain about how it determines prices, especially at weekends, or if the startup actually makes money on foreign exchange at all.

“When you talk about other people getting into that space, we should be happy if someone figures out how to do parts of it, some routes, better than us or faster than us or cheaper than us,” he says, somewhat diplomatically.

“I wish these things were sustainable as well. We’re super anti-subsidising, just because we think that over the long-term it doesn’t make sense to get some users paying for other users’ transfers or for some routes to pay for other routes. Progress is going to be faster if it’s clean. But, at the end of the day, if there’s a better solution, we actually endeavour to recommend that better solution. It would be nice if that better solution was also transparent and we can confidently say that they’re not just better in the next 5 minutes but that they are going to be better for the next 5 hours when you can put in your transfer. It’s only fair to the consumers — they’re not stupid — that they should go wherever is cheapest, if they need that, or somewhere that is more convenient”.

Cue Monzo’s Blomfield to caution me not to get too caught up in the London fintech echo chamber. “Most people in the U.K. have never heard of Monzo or Revolut or TransferWise,” he says, “and so our mission over the next five years is to take market share off all of the big banks, who I think are gouging their customers on things like foreign exchange. There’s so much open space in front of us because big banks just aren’t able to keep up”.

Source: The Tech Crunch

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TransferWise’s next partnership could be with U.K. challenger bank Monzo

Posted by on Jun 5, 2018 in Apps, Europe, monzo, Startups, TC, TransferWise | 0 comments

Hot on the heels of announcing that it has partnered with France’s BPCE Groupe, TransferWise could be about to unveil another partnership with a bank. According to sources, the international money transfer service and European unicorn is working with the fast-growing U.K. challenger bank Monzo.

The tie-in will likely see TransferWise functionality offered within Monzo’s mobile banking app, courtesy of the TransferWise API. It will give Monzo customers the ability to send money in various supported currencies at the ‘mid market’ rate in addition to TransferWise’s low and transparent fees.

Along with the newly-announced partnership with BPCE Groupe — which won’t ship until next year — TransferWise is also working with Estonia’s LHV, and German challenger bank N26 (which also has plans to launch in the U.K.).

A partnership with U.K. challenger bank Starling was also announced last year, but integration with the bank’s app never materialised and TechCrunch learned last week that the partnership has now dissolved entirely. That is particularly noteworthy given that Monzo and Starling are direct competitors with an interesting shared history, shall we say.

Meanwhile, if confirmed, we can probably chalk this up as a decent win for TransferWise, which is best known for its consumer-facing international money transfer app, but has always had ambitions of being a broader platform play.

In fact, the company is attempting to position itself as entirely agnostic on how customers access the service: the more money moving via its infrastructure, the better, whilst economies of scale also mean potentially lower fees on specific routes.

This can be done directly via the TransferWise app and service for both consumers and SMEs, via third-party integrations, such as with incumbent and challenger banks, or via the company’s own Borderless account. In all three cases, TransferWise generates revenue, regardless.

I’ve reached out to both TransferWise and Monzo for comment and will update this post if and when I hear back.

Source: The Tech Crunch

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