ATB Financial introduces robot branch workers

The march of the robots continues, as Canada’s ATB Financial hires dancing humanoids to work in some of its Calgary branches.

ATB becomes the latest bank to test Pepper, the 48-inch humanoid developed by Japanese group Softbank.

Customers at two branches will be able to interact with Pepper through speech and a touchscreen tablet, getting info on products and services.

In addition, the robot will grill customers on their financial literacy through a quiz, take selfies and dance.

Dave Mowat, CEO, ATB, says: “Pepper is cutting-edge technology. We’re excited for her to say hello to our customers and tell them about ATB — or just dance together for a bit.”

Pepper has already made its debut at the flagship Tokyo branch of Mizuho and is also taking orders and payments in some Pizza Hut Asia restaurants thanks to an app built by the MasterCard Labs team in Singapore.

Meanwhile, Commonwealth Bank of Australia has enlisted another humanoid robot, PAL Robotics’ Chip, to help it carry out research into AI.

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DBS and OCBC push QR codes for mobile payments

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Singaporean banks DBS and OCBC are to introduce QR code-based payments at offline stores in a joint project with national payments processor Nets.

Over the coming months, some 2,000 Nets terminals will be enabled for QR code-based payments, rising to 10,000 by the end of the year.

Meanwhile, users of the DBS PayLah! app will be able to generate their own QR code, which they can display at their premises or send to others via social or online channels for payments. And from next month onwards, OCBC Pay Anyone customers will be able to scan a merchant’s QR code and proceed to make payments of up to $1000 a day, without the need for a card and PIN.

In Singapore, it is estimated that more than 80% of payments made at small shops are in cash. At hawker centres and wet markets, this rises to 90%.

Jeremy Soo, head of consumer banking group (Singapore), DBS Bank, says: “We believe that cashless payments in Singapore is ripe for disruption. Singapore has one of the world’s highest smartphone penetration and surveys have indicated that the majority of consumers here are open to making payments with their mobile devices. All we need is a solution that has a low barrier to entry, is easy for merchants to implement, and for consumers to use. The DBS PayLah! QR code payment solution ticks all the boxes and is well positioned to drive cashless payment behaviour in Singapore, taking us one step closer to our nation’s vision of being a Smart Nation.”

Singapore is hoping to mimic the success of mobile payments in China, where QR code-based payments from the likes of AliPay have laid the groundwork for a move to a cashless society.

To help spur adoption, DBS will be holding a QR code bazaar from 5 to 7 May, which will see 200 vendors setting up shop at youth-oriented non-profit Scape, each equipped with DBS PayLah!’s QR code payment function.

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Financial API manager Quovo raises $10 million

Quovo, a data platform providing insights and connectivity for financial accounts, today announced it has raised $10 million in Series B funding.

F-Prime Capital and Napier Park Financial Partners co-led the round and were joined by existing investors, FinTech Collective and Long Light Capital. Quovo will use the funds to accelerate the growth of its suite of data analytics offerings, which include the company’s recently launched bank authentication API and Quovo Connect module.

By providing efficient access to financial account aggregation and analytics via APIs and front-end dashboards, Quovo has played a key role in driving the ongoing digital transformation in wealth management. Demand for high-quality financial account data is rapidly growing as the broader financial services industry turns to data to optimize their client relationships and drive valuable insights. Leading this trend, Quovo has expanded across multiple financial services verticals, offering solutions for banking, lending, insurance, and more.

This expansion has most recently led to the launch and growth of Quovo’s Bank Authentication API and the launch of Quovo Connect, an easy-to-use module that offers an elegant user experience for adding financial accounts from thousands of institutions. The new Bank API and Quovo Connect are both easily embedded into any website or mobile app with just a few lines of code.

“We’re excited to see the continued traction and adoption of our services across the financial services and FinTech space,” said Lowell Putnam, CEO and co-founder of Quovo. “Our mission to help firms build strong, data-driven client relationships is shared by the smallest startups and some of the country’s largest institutions. Investors are committed to helping Quovo flourish, validating our success to-date and helping us drive the innovation our customers demand. This new funding will enable us to build upon our success and help anyone trying to innovate or disrupt within financial services.”

“Quovo has a role to play wherever data is being used to build stronger financial relationships. We are impressed with Quovo’s adoption within the wealth management industry and are excited to see what they can accomplish as they expand more broadly across financial services,” said David Jegen, a partner at F-Prime Capital, who will be joining Quovo’s board.

Ned May, a principal at Napier Park Financial Partners, will also be joining Quovo’s board of directors. “We seek to back differentiated platforms with leading management teams and provide the resources and deep financial services expertise to help innovative companies reach their full potential,” said May. “Quovo’s rapid growth across multiple industry verticals underscores the strength and importance of its platform, and we are thrilled to partner with Lowell and the entire team to support Quovo’s next phase of growth.”

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Korean mobile commerce company Tmon raises $115 million, now valued at $1.2 billion

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By VB

Tmon, a mobile ecommerce company based in Korea, has closed a $115 million funding round from new investor Simone Investment Managers, with participation from existing shareholders, including a number of sovereign wealth funds.

The latest tranche of funding elevates Tmon into the much-coveted “unicorn” brigade, with an estimated value of around $1.2 billion.

Founded in 2010 as Ticket Monster, Tmon, as it’s known locally, was acquired by former daily deals darling LivingSocial in 2011, which sold the company to Groupon two years later, which in turn sold a controlling stake in Tmon to global investment firm KKR, Hong Kong’s Anchor Equity Partners, and Tmon’s management. Groupon retains a 41 percent stake in the company.

Above: Tmon

Today, Tmon operates across a handful of core verticals, including a mobile grocery shopping service and an online travel meta-search platform. Its latest cash injection comes just eight months after it raised $40 million in funding.

“This is a significant milestone for Tmon because our new and existing partners have affirmed their confidence in our business and support our vision to change the e-commerce customer experience through our ‘technology and platform’ approach,” said Tmon CEO Daniel Shin.

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Dwolla and Plaid team on tokenised ACH payment integration

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Today, Plaid and Dwolla announced a new partnership to offer a fully tokenized ACH payment integration. The partnership makes it possible to tokenize account and routing numbers and authenticate user bank accounts through Plaid and start accepting Automated Clearing House (ACH) payments in minutes with Dwolla’s ACH API.

Plaid, the technology company whose suite of APIs powers many of the most innovative and fastest-growing companies in financial services, serves as the authentication gateway and data provider while Dwolla, a SaaS platform that moves billions of dollars for developers and businesses of all sizes, is the ACH provider and facilitates the movement of funds via its Access API. The new partnership tokenizes the sensitive financial information from transactions to significantly limit exposure of the data.

“We’re at an inflection point in the world of ACH payments,” said Zach Perret, CEO and co-founder of Plaid. “This partnership brings Dwolla and Plaid together to simplify the developer experience, increase data availability for easier approvals, and increase security for consumers via account number tokenization. The strength of security in card networks is based on tokenization being table stakes, which we hope becomes more common throughout the industry, and we’re working to make a reality with partnerships like this one.”

“Dwolla has specialized in making bank transfers more accessible and secure for years. During that time, Plaid focused on innovating in the bank authentication and consumer data space,” said Ben Milne, CEO of Dwolla. “The partnership demonstrates how fintech companies can come together to introduce easier and safer ways to access the nation’s banking infrastructure.”

The ACH network moves more than $41 trillion each year. To send funds to another bank account, businesses and consumers must authenticate the account. This requires the account owner to provide sensitive bank information to a third-party and validate via micro-deposits, which can take several days to verify, or via an instant account authentication by companies like Plaid. Passing and storing this bank transfer information between third-party platforms and their end users has been traditionally facilitated through best practices by providers like Dwolla and Plaid; however, this new collaboration tokenizes this authentication and transaction data, removing the need for third-party platforms to capture any sensitive banking data from their consumers.

“Tokenizing this data is a huge win for consumers and a boon for companies looking to reduce their information security risk.” said Adam Dell, CEO of Clarity Money, a joint customer of Dwolla and Plaid. “Not only does this collaboration between Dwolla and Plaid make it easier and safer for new entrants, like Clarity Money, to get products to market, it underscores the net new value, best practices, and conversations being generated by fintechs in the space.”

Since its founding in 2012, Plaid has set out to enable innovation throughout financial services. Plaid’s technology infrastructure allows innovators to create new products and services that connect with consumer’s bank accounts and improve their financial flexibility. Applications powered by Plaid benefit tens of millions of consumers.

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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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