BIMA SECURES USD16.8 MILLION INVESTMENT FROM AXIATA DIGITAL

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BIMA, the InsurTech pioneer bringing microinsurance to underserved families in emerging markets, today announced the close of an investment of USD16.8 million by Axiata Digital, the digital services arm of Axiata Group Berhad (Axiata), one of Asia’s largest telecommunications groups.

The Asian telecommunications giant, with presence in 10 countries and over 320 million customers across the region, already works with BIMA as a partner in several markets. The transition to shareholder deepens the integration between BIMA, and the Group while opening up new high-growth markets across Asia.

Together, BIMA, Axiata Digital and Axiata have revolutionised access to insurance in Asia, using mobile technology to deliver services that are inaccessible via traditional channels. For example, in less than a year, BIMA together with Axiata’s subsidiary Smart, has become the largest provider of life insurance in Cambodia. At end 2016, approximately 3 million Axiata customers in three of its operating companies are covered by mobile insurance policies.

BIMA founder and CEO Gustaf Agartson said “Asia is a key region for BIMA; it is home to some of our most successful and profitable markets as well as the consumers who will drive the digital services revolution. Axiata Digital’s investment will ensure that BIMA continues to lead the industry and capitalises on the significant opportunity in Asia.”

Commenting on the deal, Mohd Khairil Abdullah, CEO of Axiata Digital, said, “Investing in BIMA is a strategic move that positions Axiata Digital and Axiata mobile operating companies to shape the future of Digital Services in Asia.”

“As a long-term partner, we recognise the strength of BIMA’s technology and model, and have seen its growth trajectory. Our shared commitment to innovation is a key driver behind Axiata Digital’s investment. Together we have the potential to transform the way consumers across Asia access and use products in the digital age.”

“Alongside product development, we will prioritise geographic expansion through new local partnerships that will bring these life-changing services to millions of families across Asia.”

Chris Bischoff, BIMA Chairman and Senior Investment Director at Kinnevik, said, “Axiata’s investment in BIMA brings together two of the leading names in digital financial services in a move that will define the future of the industry. This investment will fuel BIMA’s growth in Asia and continued dominance as the emerging market InsurTech leader”

Axiata Digital joins existing shareholders, Kinnevik, Milicom (Tigo), LeapFrog Investments and Digicel. Axiata Digital replaces existing shareholders commitment for the second instalment of a C-series fundraising completed in June 2015. BIMA has raised USD75 million since launch.

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TradAir deploys trading platform at Amazon AWS London Region

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TradAir, the global provider of trading technology solutions for banks, brokers, prime of primes and regulated marketplaces, is using AWS’s London Region to reduce round-trip latency and improve its execution performance.

TradAir’s fully managed low-latency trading technology solutions hosted in Equinix LD4, are now also hosted in the AWS London Region. The new AWS UK Region provides the scale, reach and high-availability critical for TradAir’s cloud-based trading platform.

The AWS London Region’s proximity to TradAir’s industry-leading selection of primary FX liquidity providers and trading venues helps reduce round trip order latency, which results in higher fill ratios and reduced slippage. This has resulted in improved execution performance and an outstanding trading experience for TradAir clients and their customers.

TradAir live in the AWS London Region delivers significant benefits to TradAir clients:

 Robust, futureproof FX trading platform: Latest in high-performance, scalable and fully managed Web, Cloud, BigData, and HTML5 technology, with superior customer support

 Security, scalability, and high-availability: AWS provides the security, scalability, reach and high-availability required to support our high-performance trading platform

 Improved execution and performance: Servers being deployed in proximity to LPs and trading venues, helping to reduce trip trade latency and improve execution performance

 Outstanding trading experience: Fully customizable, zero install HTML5 trading platform, delivers high-performance, and ease of deployment with global reach

 Advanced trading analytic engine: Deep, actionable insight across platform, to optimize liquidity provision, client pricing and risk management

David Elliot, Solutions Architecture Manager, Financial Services, Amazon Web Services, commented on TradAir’s deployment:

“We are delighted that TradAir is now live in the AWS London Region, they have been a customer for many years.
By leveraging AWS, TradAir benefits from lower latency with servers deployed in proximity to key FX liquidity providers and trading venues in the city of London.”

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SeedPlus raises over $18m for its first seed-stage fund

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By Michael Tegos for tech in Asia

Seed-stage startup investor SeedPlus has raised over US$18 million for its first fund, it announced today. This was the targeted amount but was oversubscribed, partner Michael Smith Jr. tells Tech in Asia.

SeedPlus launched in May last year, when investment firms Jungle Ventures, Infocomm Investments (now SGInnovate), Accel Partners, and Ratan Tata’s RNT Associates came together to invest in seed-stage startups in Singapore.

The fund has made five deals so far, including AI assistant maker Mimetic.ai, mobile app security startup Appknox, and marketplace for elderly care Homage. The team doesn’t share its expected returns or what the timeframe for those returns is.

It targets early-stage local and regional startups that focus on large, cross-border markets both in Asia and internationally.

SeedPlus feels good about its focus one year in. “We have settled on the themes for the fund but of course we continue to look back at our operations quarter by quarter and evaluate and alter our course as needed,” Michael muses.

Finding the right focus

SeedPlus’ fundraise comes in a challenging environment for startup investments in Southeast Asia, which dropped significantly in the first quarter of 2017.

Managing partner at Tri5 Ventures, Christopher Quek, also a seed-stage investor, feels that investors looking at young companies in the region need to figure out two things: the right verticals and startups to bring up to series A investors; and the right entrepreneurs and tech talent to develop solid intellectual property and go-to-market strategies.

“The trend of marketplaces and Uber-like verticals is beginning to slow as series A investors already have sufficient exposure to such verticals with their current portfolio,” Christopher tells Tech in Asia. “Investors need to go back to basics. Currently it is still all about infrastructure for a developing Asia. The change in investing style is that these infrastructural plays take much longer to commercialize.”

SeedPlus is focusing primarily on business-to-business products. Opportunities for task automation are particularly exciting, highlighted by the fund’s investment in Mimetic, Michael says.

The team is helped along by a select group of limited partners. Last month, the International Financial Corporation, a member of the World Bank Group, poured US$2 million into the fund. Today, SeedPlus announced that Cisco Investments, Cisco’s investment vehicle, and Eight Roads Ventures are also limited partners.

Michael says both new partners see startups as a key part of their own future growth and success in Asia. Cisco’s focus on infrastructure and internet of things projects means the company’s investment arm is eager to find deals that help the mothership. Eight Roads Ventures, the investment arm of financial services and management firm Fidelity International, is making inroads into Southeast Asia where SeedPlus’ local expertise comes in handy.

SeedPlus is also supported by Google and PwC Singapore.

“We find that the region has plenty of good seed stage companies that are looking for money and support. This is an exciting time and Singapore is a perfect place to headquarter a regional seed stage fund,” says Michael.

Converted from Singapore dollars. US$1 = S$1.39

Update, 2:10pm SGT: The initial press release mentioned SeedPlus had closed its first fund at over US$18 million. An amended press release corrected this and a spokesperson confirmed the fund can continue raising money. We have amended our story accordingly.

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SME Lending Activity: China Spikes, US Banks Reboot

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By PYMNTS

Small business lending activity across the globe is in flux. China saw a whopping 17 percent increase in small business lending in Q1, while U.S. banks are rebooting their efforts to capture SMEs from their alternative rivals. The U.K. and Canada, meanwhile, see their small businesses struggling to find financing. We break down the latest on SME lending in these key markets.

$3.2 trillion worth of outstanding SME loans in China means lending activity to small businesses in the community has inched up in Q1 2017. New data from the People’s Bank of China released the statistic, which signals a 17 percent increase from a year ago, reports said. That growth rate is faster than lending increases to larger corporations, the central bank noted, with small business loans now accounting for nearly a third of all outstanding loans — another increase from the year before.

The $330 million market cap of alternative SME lender OnDeck is giving rise to murmurs of a merger. OnDeck, which will release its quarterly earnings report next month, could be an acquisition target by rival Kabbage, though some analysts doubt such a move. On the other side of the conversation is Marathon Partners Equity Management, LLC, which has owned 1.75 percent of the company since late last year.

“We believe OnDeck’s platform ultimately needs to be in the hands of a larger, more secure owner in order to reach its full potential,” Marathon Managing Partner Mario Cibelli said in a letter to the company’s board last month. With analysts and investors watching OnDeck closely ahead of its incoming earnings report, rumors for a merger or acquisition are likely to flare up again.

Three out of five London SMEs have been turned away from lenders, according to data released by SME finance LDF. Its research revealed that more than half of London’s SMEs say the jargon associated with financing has turned them off from accessing a loan, and 57.6 percent said they have been turned down from a loan outright. The words SMEs trip over the most? CAPEX, COGS and ROCE — technical terms that make London’s small businesses struggle to get cash. According to LDF, the findings are “disturbing.”

Fewer than 15 percent of Canada’s small businesses are run by entrepreneurs aged 25 to 39, said CIBC Capital Markets in a new report. That’s despite this age group making up a quarter of the overall population. A lack of access to financing could be a significant challenges to this age range, analysts said, and may account for their low numbers in the SME community. “From companies with high growth rates to those with young owners, some SMEs do face more acute issues finding financing,” said Benjamin Tal, deputy chief economist at CIBC.

Three minutes could be all it takes for a small business to get financed from NatWest. The bank said last week that it has rolled out a new platform for its SME customers that have been pre-assessed for financing. Those small businesses can go online to see how much they could potentially borrow from the bank, and if they apply, they could see a decision in only a few minutes — with cash landing in their accounts as quickly as two days. NatWest’s new portal is a clear effort to position itself in competition with alternative and marketplace lending platforms, which have challenged traditional lenders by offering a faster, all-digital way for small businesses to get  financed.

The 0.25 percet federal interest rate hike could stifle SMEs’ ability to borrow, according to Craig R. Everett, PhD, director, Pepperdine Private Capital Markets Project at the Pepperdine Graziadio School of Business and Management. He spoke with PYMNTS about the impact the hike, which occurred in March, may have on SMEs and how another expected increase could continue to trouble small businesses that may already be struggling to manage cash. According to Everett, small business owners should “consider strategies to hedge against the need to borrow.”

A dip of 1.1 in the PayNet Small Business Lending Index may appear to be bad news — signaling a slight decline in Canadian small business lending in February compared to January. But according to PayNet data, medium-sized business lending increased nearly two points in the index, marking the highest level since January 2016 and reflecting separate data from CIBC Capital Markets that signals strong growth among Canada’s SME community. Still, PayNet President Bill Phelan said Canadian SMEs are mostly playing it safe: “They’re not finding a lot of organic economic growth, but they’re not risking a lot,” he said. “They’re not putting a lot of new capital to work. They’re maintaining their financial resources until the day they find some more growth.”

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