SoftBank Ventures Asia Notches $270M To Fund Startups

The Seoul venture capital division of Japanese multinational holding company SoftBank has raised $270 million, or 317 billion won.

The new fund of SoftBank Ventures Asia will invest globally in early-stage startups, with Asia being the cornerstone, Reuters reported Friday (July 19). Investors include South Korea’s National Pension Service.

SoftBank Ventures Asia indicated the new fund will close in the next six months.

Although the company’s Saudi-backed $100 billion Vision Fund dominates funding for late-stage startups, the group launched a $5 billion Latin American-focused fund in March with $1 billion earmarked for the delivery app Rappi.

Established in 2000, SoftBank has made a number of notable investments worldwide, including $1 billion in Germany’s Wirecard, $2.5 billion in U.S. self-driving company Cruise, $20 million in Mexico’s FinTech startup Clip and $1.1 billion in Indonesian e-commerce firm Tokopedia.

The company has also privately invested $10 billion in The We Company, formally known as WeWork, including $2 billion this year. SoftBank’s Vision Fund also led the $4.5 billion funding round in Grab, the Southeast Asian ride-hailing startup. Grab said SoftBank’s Vision Fund accounted for a third of the investment.

SoftBank recently hired Cantor Fitzgerald to put its Vision Fund in front of bigger institutional investors. It is also reportedly mulling an initial public offering (IPO).

SoftBank was originally founded in 1981 to publish computer and technology magazines, among other endeavors. The company eventually went into internet technology and offerings — it helped build Yahoo Japan, for instance — and went public in 1994, becoming a holding company in 1999. A $20 million investment in China-based Alibaba followed at the turn of the century and was reportedly worth about $60 billion when Alibaba went public in 2014.


Latest Insights: 

Our data and analytics team has developed a number of creative methodologies and frameworks that measure and benchmark the innovation that’s reshaping the payments and commerce ecosystem. The July 2019 Pay Advances: The Gig Economy’s New Normal, a PYMNTS and Mastercard collaboration, examines pay advances – full or partial payments received before an ad hoc job is completed – including how gig workers currently use them and their potential for future adoption.

Visa Acquires Germany’s POS Payment Gateway Payworks

Visa will create a fully white-labelled omnichannel payment management platform for merchants and acquirers after acquiring Payworks, reports Jane Connolly of Fintech Futures (Finovate’s sister publication).

The news follows a 2018 strategic partnership and investment Visa made in Payworks, a Munich-based provider of next-generation payment gateway software for point of sale (POS).

Visa will integrate its CyberSource digital payment management platform with Payworks’ cloud-based software for in-store payment processing, allowing merchants and acquirers to accept face-to-face transactions across multiple POS terminal types.

The platform will provide a unified payment experience for in-store, in-app and online purchases.

“For the past two years, we have partnered closely with Payworks to deliver cutting-edge integrated commerce solutions for CyberSource’s clients worldwide,” said Carleigh Jaques, SVP, global head of digital merchant products at Visa. “As these solutions become mainstream, aligning more closely with Payworks and combining our businesses is a natural extension of our relationship.”

Christian Deger, CEO and co-founder of Payworks, added: “Integrated commerce is an accelerating opportunity for Payworks and its clients. By combining our POS technology with CyberSource’s digital commerce capabilities, we can bring our joint solution to merchants and acquirers across the globe at an accelerated pace. We are excited about joining the Visa family and integrating our capabilities to deliver innovative, differentiated integrated-commerce solutions.”

Research has shown that creating an omnichannel fulfilment strategy is among the top priorities for 94% of retailers.

Payworks demonstrated its platform at FinovateEurope 2014. Headquartered in Munich and founded in 2012, the company began this year with the launch of the first Android-based smart terminal, which was added to its portfolio of pre-certified payment terminals on its Pulse gateway.

This April, the company extended its partnership with worldwide POS software provider Lightspeed. In May, Payworks inked a deal with Hubtel to give merchants in Ghana and Kenya broader access to Payworks’ all-in-one, Android-based smart terminals.

The Amazon Walmart Whole Paycheck Tracker: Prime Day And Its Aftermath

Most weeks, the tale of Amazon and Walmart’s ongoing battle for the larger share of the consumer’s whole paycheck is a fairly evenly run race. Stumbles happen here and there, and pull-aheads are not unheard of – but mostly, the race is made up of moves and countermoves as each struggles to get or stay ahead.

But every once in a while, one side comes out notably ahead – and this week was one of those weeks, with Amazon’s Prime Day performance more or less blowing Walmart out of the water.

Now, in fairness, if there was ever a day when Amazon would run the retail table, it would likely be on the shopping holiday they invented. And Walmart wasn’t alone in its view of Amazon’s taillights on Prime Day – while many tried through various means on Monday and Tuesday to compete with the house that Bezos built, it was pretty much Amazon’s show. Everyone else – including Taylor Swift – was just a player in it.

But as big as Prime Day was across all of retail, it wasn’t the only thing happening in the ongoing race. There was plenty to watch this week, as 2019 enters its back half and starts to really pick up speed.


Biggest Play of the Week: The Prime Day Bounce

By any rational measure, Amazon had a big day on Prime Day. According to internal numbers from Amazon, this year’s Prime Day was its biggest shopping day ever – in fact, it was bigger than any previous Black Friday and Cyber Monday combined.

The sale went for two days (making the Prime Day moniker something of a misnomer) in 18 nations, and was the biggest-ever sale day for Amazon’s entire lineup of devices, with the Echo Dot and the Fire TV Stick leading the pack among sellers.

Beyond the sales, though, Amazon also reported a record day for signing on new members to its $119-a-year Prime service. Amazon reports that July 15 set a record for individual day sign-ons, and that July 16 (Prime Day part two) saw an almost equal number of signups. How many new users does that translate to, other than a lot? There’s no way to know for sure, as Amazon did not release specific figures.

“We want to thank Prime members all around the world,” said Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. “Members purchased millions of Alexa-enabled devices, received tens of millions of dollars in savings by shopping from Whole Foods Market and bought more than $2 billion of products from independent small and medium-sized businesses. Huge thank you to Amazonians everywhere who made this day possible for customers.”

In specific numbers, Amazon did give some item counts: 200,000 televisions, 300,000 headphones, 100,000 laptops and over one million toys went out the door on Prime Day. The fastest-selling items in the U.S. were the LifeStraw Personal Water Filter, the Instant Pot DUO60 and 23andMe Health + Ancestry kits.

But perhaps the biggest win for Amazon on Prime Day wasn’t what they sold, but how much more they sold than everyone else. According to data from eCommerce research company Edison Trends, shoppers spent more than 10 times as much money at Amazon during the first 24 hours of Prime Day than they did on Walmart and eBay combined.

And while Amazon has not offered an official tally, Coresight Research estimates that its Prime Day sales total came in at around $5.8 billion.

As well as the day went for Amazon, there were some undeniable, and in some cases amusing, glitches. Some members of the Slickdeals forum managed to score an accidentally amazing deal on some very expensive photography gear for a very low price. The pricing anomaly was first found when a forum member posted an offer for a Sony a6000 mirrorless camera bundled with a 16-50 millimeter lens – a kit that generally costs about $550 – that was priced at $94.48.

It sold out quickly.

But sharp-eyed members noticed a glitch: The site had marked down almost all of the Prime Day-tagged camera equipment to around $94. One user reported buying a $13,000 lens for $94, and another claimed to have purchased $64,000 worth of camera equipment for $500.

At some point, Amazon discovered the glitch and canceled some of the too-good-to-be true deals, according to Gizmodo – but not all of them.

“Can’t believe Amazon actually delivered! Now the question is, what’s the best route to get these sold?” Slickdeals forum member “SoccerMomDeals” posted.

Courting the Cool Kids: Luring Exclusive Brands With a Dedicated Accelerator 

As part of its ongoing efforts to expand its line of exclusive brands, Amazon has launched a new accelerator program to offer independent merchants and manufacturers a reason to create exclusive goods in return for prominent placement on Amazon’s platform, marketing support and product reviews, and access to an expanded set of tools to push those products forward.

The Amazon Brand Accelerator Program is invite-only; for this first run, Amazon is looking to bring on about 10 brands in 2019, targeting soon-to-launch and already launched brands – preferably, those with sustainability or a mission-for-good bent.

To qualify, according to Digiday, brands must be able to do at least $1 million in sales in their first month on Amazon, maintain a healthy inventory level and have expertise in digital marketing and brand-building. They must also commit to funneling a minimum of 5 percent of all revenue earned on Amazon into Amazon’s Paid Ads program.

Moreover, according to reports in The Wall Street Journal, the program gives Amazon the right to purchase a merchant’s brand at any time for a fixed price (which is often $10,000, according to the report) with 60 days’ notice.

But the rewards for clearing that high bar are pretty evident: a lot more exposure and sales on Amazon.

“Amazon’s private-label products account for approximately 1 percent of our total retail sales,” an Amazon representative told The Journal. “This is far less than other retailers, many of whom have private-label products that represent 25 percent or more of their sales.”

Apart from receiving prominent display on the site, Amazon Accelerator members also won’t get charged for reviews through Amazon’s Vine Reviews program (Vine reviews generally cost about $25 apiece). They will also get a host of social media and email marketing tools, access to a Seattle-based coworking space and participation with other brands in special projects such as co-branded pop-up retail stores, AMZ Advisers said in a May article.

“Amazon Accelerator creates new opportunities for manufacturers and offers a way for them to launch brands and products directly to Amazon customers,” an Amazon spokesperson said in an emailed statement. “For customers, this program adds products to our assortment and allows us to offer an even wider selection of high-quality products at a great value.”

And Amazon wasn’t the only player looking to up the level of its game. In fact, that was more or less the central theme for Walmart this week.


Big Move of the Week: Real-Time Security Ranking

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Walmart is a beloved target for cybercriminals. What might be surprising, however, is just how beloved. According to Walmart, the brand experienced over six trillion cyber events in 2018 alone.

Of those, Walmart’s Director of Global Cybersecurity DeWayne Hixson told ZDNet, almost 14 million were actual attacks. They also beat back about two billion pieces of spam email.

“You can just imagine how many of those were phishing attack attempts,” he said.

All in, 230 million malware alerts were received, 1.4 billion lines of code were reviewed, over 2.5 million user accounts were managed, more than 450,000 end points were protected and over 5.1 million vulnerabilities were remediated.

“It is a lot to manage and measure,” Hixson noted.

And so Walmart is now trying to help its executives get a better look at their internal security landscape, and to make it accessible at a quick glance.

So Hixson essentially built a dashboard of all relevant information to provide executives with a quick look at Walmart’s massive global footprint. But the dashboard also ranks how that individual is protecting their own data security, as measured against their peers. Ultimately, they get a grade of A, B, C, D or F, along with action items to improve.

The desire to stay at the top of the pack, Hixson noted, gives executives further incentive to engage with the firm’s security strategies.

“For the most part, executives have pretty short attention spans, and if I don’t have something in front of them that they can look at and within 30 seconds understand ‘I need to do this one thing,’ they’re moving on to the next thing – they’re just too busy.”

Playing Catch-Up: Getting up to Digital Speed 

The fact that Amazon won Prime Day is almost inevitably the conclusion when one looks at the sales data available – but Walmart didn’t take the defeat lying down.

Instead, they chose to double down. Amazon’s Prime Day went for two days – so Walmart’s savings period was extended for four days. Walmart started celebrating its version of Prime Day 24 hours earlier than Amazon did, and shut the doors on its savings party a full 24 hours later.

And Walmart kept its most attractive deals – on big-screen TVs, Apple Watches and video game consoles – up and active to the very end, which kept commerce-minded consumers coming to the site.

Prime Week also saw Walmart CEO Doug McMillon admitting at Fortune’s Brainstorm Tech conference that Walmart has had to make major adjustments to keep up in eCommerce – and, more specifically, to keep up with Amazon after first falling behind.

“Obviously, brick-and-mortar stores are one thing. eCommerce, in some ways, started out feeling like an independent channel or an independent business,” McMillon said. “Yeah, we fell behind and have been playing catch-up, and have been doing a number of things to accelerate that progress, and learning along the way and getting better, as it relates to the customer experience.”

McMillon noted that for Walmart, catching up has meant not only beefing up its online offerings, but also understanding that the retail market is still evolving, and consumer preferences are trending toward omnichannel experiences.

“So today, we’re very focused on creating a seamless experience for the Walmart brand, bringing the stores and eCommerce together,” he said. “Stores have some advantages, and we’re trying to make the most of those. And then catch up in eCommerce and get better with the customer experience and put them together in a way that’s unique and customers will find not only saves them money and time, but creates the optimal experience.”

Creating an optimal experience is, of course, what every retailer is trying to do as 2019 is starting its second half, Amazon included.

Who will do it better, and ultimately end up winning the majority share of the consumer’s whole paycheck?

That remains up in the air – though Amazon did manage to get a few lengths ahead this week.


Latest Insights: 

Our data and analytics team has developed a number of creative methodologies and frameworks that measure and benchmark the innovation that’s reshaping the payments and commerce ecosystem. The July 2019 Pay Advances: The Gig Economy’s New Normal, a PYMNTS and Mastercard collaboration, examines pay advances – full or partial payments received before an ad hoc job is completed – including how gig workers currently use them and their potential for future adoption.

Capital One: Pressure from non-banks is hurting commercial lending

Capital One‘s commercial lending business is facing price pressure from a saturated market of lenders, including non-banks, that are pushing interest rates down. 

“Increasing competition from non-banks continues to drive less favorable terms in the commercial lending marketplace,” CEO Richard Fairbank told investors on Thursday.

Capital One isn’t alone in facing this pressure in the commercial lending market. In effect, all large banks that lend to businesses face pressure because of heightened competition, said Aite Group senior analyst David O’Connell. “There are too many institutions and too much capital chasing too few borrowers that is driving interest rates down,” he added.

As online lenders like BlueVine, Kabbage and OnDeck grow their customer bases, banks are looking for new ways to to reach this market. Capital One is achieving this goal partly by way of acquisition. In June, the company acquired BlueTarp, a Portland, Oregon-based business-to-business credit company. BlueTarp provides clients instant decisions and lines of credit of up to $1 million. The acquisition was aimed at expanding Capital One’s commercial loan servicing capabilities and offerings, including risk management, technology and information security.

Capital One also lends to businesses through its commercial card business, including its line of Spark-branded small business credit cards. The bank recently told Bank Innovation that middle-market companies, or those between $10 million and $500 million in annual revenue, could be a $5 trillion business opportunity for Capital One. Raj Dutt, head of product strategy for commercial cards at Capital One, said the bank also was using data analytics tools to differentiate from competitors.

 Suman Bhattacharyya contributed to this report.

Amex Q2 Billed Business Gains 5 Percent YOY

American Express posted results that largely met expectations for the second quarter, based on continued card spending and loan growth.

In terms of headline numbers, the adjusted earnings per share of $2.07 was 5 pennies above consensus.

Revenue, reported as net of interest expense, was $10.8 billion, up 8 percent year on year and slightly below consensus.

Drilling down a bit into segment level data, the Global Consumer Services Group Q2 posted revenue growth of 10 percent, to $5.8 billion. Growth was driven by loans, spending on cards and card fee revenues.

Billed business was up 5 percent to $311.7 million in the quarter, up 5 percent year on year. Within that segment, U.S. growth was up 7 percent to $209.2 million.

The company said in its earnings supplementals that average spending on its cards was up 2 percent to a bit more than $5,000. Outside the U.S. growth was up slightly at 3 percent to an average reported in the second quarter of $4,059.

In terms of loans extended to consumers, in the U.S. the growth rate was 10 percent to $72.6 billion. That growth was outpaced by international metrics, where loans stood at $10.6 billion, up 16 percent. Worldwide provisions were up 10 percent to $603 million in the latest quarter.

American Express also said in its results that proprietary commercial billed business was up 6 percent. Within commercial services, total revenues gained 7 percent, with revenues of $3.4 billon. Billed business was markedly higher in Latin America than had been seen elsewhere, at 6 percent and where it had been low single digits elsewhere.

In remarks tied to card growth, CEO Steve Squeri said that the firm added 2.9 million proprietary cards in the quarter and said that about 70 percent of the new consumer cards have annual fees. In the United States, proprietary cards in force were up 2 percent to 37.6 million. Outside the U.S. the 5 percent growth landed the firm at 17.4 million cards.

Looking more granularly at the card data, in the United States, net write-offs, inclusive of principal and fees, was 1.4 percent, up slightly from a year ago at 1.5 percent, the rate was flat internationally over the same period at 1.4 percent.


Latest Insights: 

Our data and analytics team has developed a number of creative methodologies and frameworks that measure and benchmark the innovation that’s reshaping the payments and commerce ecosystem. The July 2019 Pay Advances: The Gig Economy’s New Normal, a PYMNTS and Mastercard collaboration, examines pay advances – full or partial payments received before an ad hoc job is completed – including how gig workers currently use them and their potential for future adoption.

DTC Bikes In A Box, For The Ikea-Level DIYer

Buying a bicycle shouldn’t be an overly challenging task for a consumer, but often shapes up to be one, particularly if one doesn’t happen to be a cycling enthusiast. The products range in price and quality quite widely — and specialized features abound. Throw in the fact that bicycles are purpose-built for different uses — road racing, mountain trekking, fitness, commuting — and the average consumer can find themselves awash in granular details and product comparisons that seem to have been written in ancient Greek.

It is an experience, according to Brilliant Bicycle Co. Co-Founder Adam Kalamchi, that seems more or less built to drain any semblance of fun out of the activity of owning and using a bike.

“A bike is a simple product. There are people who are hobbyists and enthusiasts who really want to talk about specs, but there should also be an easy option for a normal person who just wants to ride to the park and has a budget in mind,” Kalamchi told TechCrunch.

But that, he and his partner Kane Hsieh found, was almost nowhere to be found in the industry as it existed before they launched their own startup in 2015. Instead, Kalamchi noted, consumers would wander into bike shops, make their best guess as to what they needed and then hope to fit a product that met their needs into whatever budget they set out when they entered. A challenge, Kalamchi said, because so much of what a consumer is paying for when they enter a bike shop has nothing at all to do with the quality or the value of the bike they are purchasing. They might hear a lot about the state-of-the-art derailleur on the bike they are considering — but a big part of what they are actually paying for is the cost of transporting, storing and selling the bike in a specialized bike shop.

Moreover, the culture of those bike shops doesn’t exactly make everyone feel welcome when the walk in the door — they can tend toward being a little “dudely” according to Kalamachi, and more than a little intimidating.

So in launching Brilliant Bicycle, the partners decided to cut the complexity out of the process in as many ways they could — and help connect consumers to quality bicycles for a reasonable price without a lot of hassle. To take the overhead costs out, they adopted a direct-to-consumer (DTC) model that allows a consumer to order online — and have their new bike at their front door within a week (within 24 hours, if the customer lives in the greater New York City area).

The bike comes partially assembled, and the firm’s founders say the rest of the construction process takes about an hour in home and doesn’t require any sort of expertise. The idea is an IKEA level of easy home construction but “more idiot-proofed.” Every bike comes with all the tools necessary to build it out, a full set of instructions and a full set of YouTube construction videos easily accessible.

To make sure customers order the right bike, the site features an interactive wizard that asks questions about their preferred riding style, height and more. From there the site matches customers with one of the three bike models it offers, lets them choose further customizations such as color and accessories and lets them complete an offer.

The site even lets consumers “gift” their bicycles with something called the Brilliant Bike Box, that sends the intended gift recipient a tape measure, handlebar leather sample and bike paint samples so that the person receiving the gift can choose exactly what they want, and the person giving it doesn’t have to suffer through making choices on someone else’s behalf that they aren’t sure about.

The idea for the box, Kalamchi said, grew internally from customers who had bought their own Brilliant Bike and wanted to share the experience.

“We would get phone calls regularly from people asking for advice. They wanted to know how to find the right bike, and also how to get one for someone else; how to remove the uncertainty and guesswork but still maintaining the personalization,” he told Glamour.

Because at the end of the day, he said, the goal for Brilliant Bicycle is simple — to offer customers a quality bike that will get them out there and riding, for a few hundred dollars instead of a few thousand. And the best way to do that, he said, is to make it easy for them to get exactly they bike they want, with the features they actually need without having to first dedicate themselves fully to the cycling life.

“Speed and spandex overshadowed fun and prices skyrocketed,” he observed. “But bicycles shouldn’t be expensive or intimidating, so we set out to bring the magic and lightheartedness of your childhood back to bicycling.”


Latest Insights: 

Our data and analytics team has developed a number of creative methodologies and frameworks that measure and benchmark the innovation that’s reshaping the payments and commerce ecosystem. The July 2019 Pay Advances: The Gig Economy’s New Normal, a PYMNTS and Mastercard collaboration, examines pay advances – full or partial payments received before an ad hoc job is completed – including how gig workers currently use them and their potential for future adoption.

For Credit Unions, Data As Competitive Advantage

Data, data everywhere. For credit unions, data may be the conduit to competing with banks. As found in the latest PYMNTS Credit Union Tracker, consumers expect personalization in the services and financial products on offer. The best way to get to that personalization – for example, for credit unions to get credit cards to the right consumers with the right rewards offers – is through data analytics. Credit unions are boosting their efforts here, as the numbers show.


35 percent: Share of CUs that have made analytics investments over the past three years

60 percent: Share of credit unions that offer a credit card

8.1 percent: Growth in number of credit unions that offer a credit card, measured year over year

5,572: Number of credit unions in operation, as estimated on March 31 of this year

89 percent: Share of credit card debt held by banks

Retail Pulse: Toys R Us Returns With Small Retail Stores

Iconic brick-and-mortar retailers are sometimes reinvented, and return to the world of retail with smaller-format concepts. The parent of the Toys R Us brand, Tru Kids, plans to bring stores under the legendary name to the United States for the 2019 holiday season. Tru Kids has entered into a joint venture with the software-powered experiential retailer b8ta to offer a new store experience with curated toys in “highly immersive, smaller-format spaces.”

The stores are said to serve as destinations – places where children can play with the most popular and latest toys. At the same time, parents can “have fun with their children and ignite their own childlike sense of play.” The locations will also include interactive components with new activities and events with brand stations.

New Jersey’s Westfield Garden State Plaza and Houston’s The Galleria will be home to the first two new Toys R Us stores, which are said to be opening this holiday season.

Richard Barry, CEO of Tru Kids and interim co-CEO of the new Toys R Us joint venture, said in an announcement, “With a 70-year heritage, the Toys R Us brand is beloved by kids and families around the world, and continues to play a leading role in the hearts and minds of today’s consumers.”

Barry continued, “We have an incredible opportunity to entirely reimagine the Toys R Us brand in the U.S., and are thrilled to partner with b8ta and key toy vendors to create a new, highly engaging retail experience designed for kids and families, to better fit within today’s retail environment.”

Through the experiential retail model of b8ta, brands will reportedly be able to display their items in an environment that is described as “playground-like” and “interactive.” They can also design branded shops and custom experiences to create memorable experiences for children and parents. The environment is said to tap into b8ta’s Retail as a Service (RaaS) platform, which lets brands “actively manage their in-store experiences and measure how offline experiences translate into online sales,” per the announcement.

In June of last year, Toys R Us closed the last of its 700 brick-and-mortar locations. That news came after reports emerged in April that the retailer was no longer accepting online orders through its website. But, with the latest reinvention of the brand, the chain’s legacy may live on in the digital era of retail.

In Other Brick-and-Mortar News

Barneys New York is reportedly preparing for a bankruptcy filing with a liquidity crunch brought on by a rise in rent at its New York City flagship. The luxury retailer is said to have engaged law firm Kirkland & Ellis and financial advisers M-III Partners to help with the preparations. The advisers are said to be looking into many options, including filing for bankruptcy, securing further financing or pursuing a sale.

As a company spokesperson told the outlet, “At Barneys New York, our customers remain our top priority, and we are committed to providing them [with] the excellent services, products and experiences they have come to expect. Our Board and management are actively evaluating opportunities to strengthen our balance sheet and ensure the sustainable, long-term growth and success of our business.”

In other news, Gourmet grocer Dean & DeLuca continues to struggle due to increasing competition. The grocer is reportedly dealing with bare shelves and lawsuits over unpaid bills, following over four decades in business. The firm has also closed a number of U.S. locations, with only four stores currently in operation in the country.

While Dean & DeLuca built its business by offering customers a variety of upscale gourmets that couldn’t be found anywhere else, items are now readily available at chains such as Whole Foods (as well as its parent Amazon) and Trader Joe’s. Joshua David Stein, a food writer and restaurant critic, said in an interview with Bloomberg, “They were the first store in New York to offer extra virgin olive oil. Now Amazon has extra virgin olive oil. Everyone has extra virgin olive oil.”

And cannabis operator Curaleaf Holdings has announced it will acquire GR Companies (“Grassroots”), the largest private vertically integrated multi-state operator, in a cash and stock deal valued at around $875 million. The deal is said to make Curaleaf the world’s largest cannabis company by revenue, and the largest in the United States. It will also expand Curaleaf’s presence from 12 to 19 states.

Curaleaf CEO Joseph Lusardi said in a press release, “With a combined 68 open dispensaries, this transaction significantly accelerates our expansion strategy and strengthens our reach across the medical and adult-use markets. In addition, it enhances the depth of our retail and wholesale platform across the country.”

To keep tabs on the latest retail trends, check next week’s Retail Pulse.


Latest Insights: 

Our data and analytics team has developed a number of creative methodologies and frameworks that measure and benchmark the innovation that’s reshaping the payments and commerce ecosystem. The July 2019 Pay Advances: The Gig Economy’s New Normal, a PYMNTS and Mastercard collaboration, examines pay advances – full or partial payments received before an ad hoc job is completed – including how gig workers currently use them and their potential for future adoption.

European fintechs, challenger banks poised to invade US market

A new wave of European fintechs are planning a new invasion into the U.S. banking industry, promising to disrupt the incumbent banking industry with nimble, accessible and appealing business models that they hope will steal away millions of young adults who have grown tired of what they perceive as second class treatment by traditional banks. 

The entry of these European fintechs, combined with the rising number of U.S. entrants into the digital banking space, is leading to a mad scramble for investment dollars, unique customer service propositions and an industry-wide shakeup that could change the face of banking in America.

“We think that the European players have an extremely interesting proposition which will likely gain some traction in the U.S. market,” Nick Maynard, senior analyst at Juniper Research, told Mobile Payments Today via email. “N26 in particular has created an attractive simple proposition to users which offers a strong feature set.”

Maynard pointed out that the fact that N26 has expanded to 24 countries with a total of 3.5 million customers makes it a compelling business model, and that the product is “highly suitable” for millennials, which is a key target market of these challenger banks. 

“Given the complexity of the U.S. banking market, the simplicity of fintech approaches will be a highly effective customer acquisition strategy,” Maynard said. 

N26 earlier this month made its long-awaited entry into the U.S. with its fast growing, yet simple digital banking concept of a no-fee mobile checking account that allows users to create sub-accounts for savings and a Visa debit card. N26 has partnered with Ohio-based Axos to provide FDIC insured backing for the checking account, and there are plans to add additional features this summer, including a limited number of two free ATM withdrawals per month and a later a premium metal card with enhanced features. 

Valentin Stalf, co-founder and CEO, said in the announcement earlier this month that N26 would “radically change the way Americans bank” the way it already has in Europe, and later plans to enter the Brazilian market, which has been a major focal point of fintechs like Airfox. 

Just last month, U.K.-based Monzo announced plans to enter the U.S. with a simple mobile banking app and Mastercard debit card. Monzo will have its own unique features, like a savings feature called Pots, to help customers set aside funds and the ability to send person-to-person funds. 

Monzo thus far has been wildly successful in the U.K., with more than 2 million customers, and it announced a funding round of $144 million led by Y Combinator Continuity and Latitude. 

Mutual atttraction

Raisin, the Berlin-based savings and investment platform, is in the process of building out its team for a major entry in the U.S. market, and just this week got some additional backing from Goldman Sachs, which invested $28 million, which will be used to help Raisin’s previously announced plans to enter the U.S. as well as two new European markets. 

Raisin COO Michael Fuchs told Mobile Payments Today that the Goldman Sachs relationship will help drive Raisin’s entry into the U.S., not only based on the actual funding, but also the vast experience that Goldman has in the marketplace. 

“Goldman Sachs is a well known brand in the U.S.,” he said. “So their backing and their insights as well as knowledge of 150 years in the U.S. market will be very helpful.”

Raisin recently hired Paul Knodel as U.S. CEO after he spent more than 20 years in senior management positions at Citigroup and Merrill Lynch, along with stints at TD Ameritrade, E-Trade and robo-advisor Wealthfront, according to Fuchs 

He noted that Knodel recently led the extension of Wealthfront’s product suite into cash savings. 

All eyes have been on Goldman for more than a year as it expanded its Marcus digital banking product, which led to speculation about what plans it had for international growth and whether it would seek to form strategic relationships with other players in the digital space. Both companies said there are no current links between Raisin and the Marcus business, but said the investment is part of a wider strategy by Goldman’s Principal Strategic Investment arm. 

“PSI seeks to make long-term strategic investments in fast growing technology companies, so Raisin fits well into the overall strategy,” a spokesperson for Goldman Sachs told Mobile Payments Today via email.

She said that the team considers Germany a focus market of the investment arm, pointing out that PSI previously invested in Elinvar in May. Elinvar, founded in 2016, is a digital platform for asset and wealth managers. The company said in the announcement that Elinvar would be expanding to other countries in Europe, but did not specifically mention any plans to enter the U.S., despite the new Goldman Sachs investment

US Commodity Futures Trading Commission probes BitMEX

The U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission is currently investigating the cryptocurrency exchange BitMEX. The regulator is looking at whether BitMEX boke any rules by allowing Americans to trade on the platform, which is not registered with the commission, according to a report by Bloomberg.

The commission considers cryptocurrencies to be commodities and it has jurisdiction over any futures or derivatives based on them. The probe is currently ongoing and there has been no allegations of misconduct yet.

BitMEX’s CEO Arthur Hayes claimed in January that the exchange bans U.S. residents and nationals, however it is possible that a user masked their location by using a proxy server to appear as if they came from a different country.

The exchange is based in Hong Hong, although it also has an office in San Francisco.

Topics: Bitcoin, Region: Americas, Region: APAC, Regulatory Issues

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Insurtech Startup Cuvva Smashes One Million Policies Sold Barrier

UK-based short-term insurance startup Cuvva has sold over one million policies via its mobile app, and has experienced roughly 750 per cent growth in policy sales in the last two years.

Since selling its first policy in 2016, the startup has sold over 32 million hours of motor insurance alone, providing a solution for the UK’s sharing economy. Challenging the insurance sector, Cuvva was the first to provide both hourly motor insurance and insurance via an app in the UK. 

Investment interest in insurtech is accelerating as new players exploit gaps that incumbent insurers are unable or unwilling to address. According to Willis Towers Watson, global investment in insurtech hit $1.42 billion in the first quarter of 2019. Additionally, the firm reported that deal count in the UK increased by 50%, during the same period. 

global investment in insurtech hit $1.42 billion in the first quarter of 2019.

New platforms are transforming the customer interaction model, differentiated product offerings are 10x’ing overall customer experience. Further activity will be seen in the sector as insurtechs develop customer-focused offerings, opposed to insurer led product-focused offerings, as seen in the past. 

Commenting on Cuvva’s recent growth, founder, Freddy Macnamara said:

“Cuvva is building a full-service insurance marketplace for the 21st century. Historically, lengthy, repeated sign up processes and complicated jargon-filled insurance policy documents don’t support customer needs. We are on a mission to change this by building insurance the way it should be – flexible, simple and jargon-free.” 

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Posabit enters deal with cannabis retailer Reef Dispensaries for debit card acceptance

Posabit, a fintech that provides blockchain based point-of-sale and payment technologies, said it entered an agreement with Reef Dispensaries to provide the Las Vegas based cannabis retailer with a compliant debit-payment system. 

Tryke Cos., the parent of Reef Dispensaries, operates four dispensaries in Nevada that serve medical and recreational cannabis customers and two dispensaries in Arizona that sell to medical patients. 

“As one of the epicenters of the legal cannabis industry, with both a large contingency of medical patients and a massive tourist footprint, we’re thrilled to partner with Reef Dispensaries as we’re introduced to the Nevada market,” Ryan Hamlin, co-founder and CEO of Posabit, said in a company release. “Our fully compliant solution offers businesses like Reef Dispensaries a secure path towards improved customer experience and increased sales.”

Mark Conley, director of retail at Reef Dispensaries, said the ability to accept debit cards will  help make the company’s checkout process more efficient. 

Topics: Mobile Payments, POS, Regulatory Issues, Retail

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Tidal Commerce get $4 million investment from Super G Capital

Tidal Commerce, an Illinois-based  payment processing and merchant services firm, said it got a $4 million investment from Super G Capital, in a company release. 

Tidal Commerce plans to use the funding to consolidate onboarding, business management, sales data, payment gateways and other merchant services into a single unified platform.

The company plans to speed the development of its in-house payment software, which the company said will have an interactive online application with underwriting, CRM, fraud, ticketing and chargeback response features. The company also plans to expand partnerships with independent service organizations, banks and credit unions. 

“We average almost $1 billion in transaction volume annually and are currently servicing over 1,000 merchants ranging from professional services to banks,” Drew Sementa, founder and CEO of Tidal Commerce, said in a company release. “We used our initial funding to spur merchant growth while strategically positioning ourselves to scale, and now the matches are set for that next spark.”


Topics: Mobile Banking, POS, Technology Providers

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Dressbarn To Close 53 Stores This Summer

Ascena Retail Group has announced it is closing 53 additional Dressbarn stores by the end of August.

The news follows the May announcement that Ascena planned to shutter approximately 650 Dressbarn stores in order to concentrate on the company’s more profitable brands, including apparel chains Loft and Ann Taylor.

At the time, the company admitted the decision to close the stores wasn’t easy to make. “[The] Dressbarn chain has not been operating at an acceptable level of profitability in today’s retail environment,” said CFO Steven Taylor.

While the retail chain has been around for more than 50 years, Dressbarn has been challenged when it comes to growth: Consumers are looking toward off-price chains like Ross Stores and TJ Maxx, as well as fast-fashion merchants such as Zara and H&M, in addition to Target. At the same time, Amazon is still taking a large share of the online apparel market.

While there had been reports that Dressbarn itself would file for bankruptcy if its landlords didn’t agree to relieve the brand of its lease obligations, the company revealed on Thursday (July 18) that everything is going as planned and that all stores are expected to be shuttered by the end of the year.

“We have received overwhelming landlord support for our plan, which will allow us to implement our wind-down in a manner that provides the best recovery for our landlords. Further, we are current, and expect to remain so, with our vendors and suppliers,” Taylor said, according to CNBC.

The company is currently working with Gordon Brothers Retail Partners on the store closures, while Hilco Streambank is searching for buyers for Dressbarn’s intellectual property, and Malfitano Partners is managing the overall wind-down. Although it is still receiving “fresh inventory,” customers have been encouraged to “shop early for the best selection, and use any outstanding gift cards.”


Latest Insights: 

Our data and analytics team has developed a number of creative methodologies and frameworks that measure and benchmark the innovation that’s reshaping the payments and commerce ecosystem. The July 2019 AML/KYC Tracker provides an in-depth examination of current efforts to stop money laundering, fight fraud and improve customer identity authentication in the financial services space.

JCPenney Explores Debt Restructuring Options With Advisers

To look into debt restructuring options that would provide the retailer more time to make a turnaround, JCPenney Co Inc has reportedly hired advisers. The retailer had talks with investment bankers as well as lawyers who specialize in helping troubled companies with debt restructuring as well as other financial workouts per unnamed sources, Reuters reported.

The retailer is said to be looking into options encompassing negotiating with creditors or raising more cash. Even so, one of the unnamed sources put out the caveat that the plans for restructuring are at an early stage. But the talks with the specialists show the resolve of the retailer to avoid coming into contact with a bankruptcy filing and make for more financial breathing room. The retailer operates over 860 stores and has 95,000 workers.

The retailer, which is based in Texas, has strong competition from discount retailers like T.J. Maxx and Marshalls. At the same time, the retailer has reportedly had difficulty raising the profile of its online retail business to compete with established players like Amazon. The report also noted that JCPenney has over $1.5 billion available via a revolving credit line, but investors are still selling the retailer’s stock due to financial losses. The retailer’s credit rating, too, is reportedly in junk territory.

The news comes after JCPenney announced in February that it wouldn’t sell major appliances after Feb. 28, “in order to better meet customer expectations, improve financial performance and drive profitable growth” per a blog post at the time. The company also said at the time that furniture will only be available in some stores in Puerto Rico and through eCommerce.

The company also noted in the post, “While configurations vary by store, we are finalizing new layout options, including the reduction of store space previously dedicated to appliance and furniture showrooms to maximize efficiencies, reduce inventory and create an enhanced shopping experience that inspires repeat shopping trips.”


Latest Insights: 

Our data and analytics team has developed a number of creative methodologies and frameworks that measure and benchmark the innovation that’s reshaping the payments and commerce ecosystem. The July 2019 AML/KYC Tracker provides an in-depth examination of current efforts to stop money laundering, fight fraud and improve customer identity authentication in the financial services space.

Brexit and the Financial Services Sector: Time to Transform Customer Service with Voice Technology

By Gary Williams, Director of Sales and Consultancy, Spitch

October 31 marks the latest deadline in the seemingly endless Brexit debacle. Many companies and industries are still scrambling around trying to prepare for an uncertain future- the financial services industry is no exception.  

In the financial services sector, an industry largely regulated by EU rules, Brexit would also mean potential changes to regulations and the implementation of new compliance processes. Much like for other organisations, Brexit preparations for financial services companies will also require carefully managing relationships with partners and international money – but it is crucial that they also think about their customers.

The lack of clarity over what Brexit will actually entail means that ordinary consumers are in the dark over the likely effect on, say, their savings or pensions. Naturally, they will call their bank or investment company to try to get answers and reassurance – and this is where the industry faces both challenges and opportunities.

If companies cannot provide a great call experience – with short waiting times and informed contact centre staff – then they’ll face the ire of their customers and risk losing them. 

The corollary, of course, is that businesses can strengthen their relationship with customers and win over others by improving their call centre operations, reducing queues and making sure that advisers can answer the most complex questions accurately and without delay. 

If companies cannot provide a great call experience – with short waiting times and informed contact centre staff – then they’ll face the ire of their customers and risk losing them

Forget Brexit – this should be the ambition of any customer-focused industry, whether it’s financial services, retail, travel, or any other. We all know what irritates and infuriates customers when they call to complain or seek information: long waits, complicated voice menus, ill-informed advisers. Identifying the problem has always been much harder than fixing it but, thanks to technology, the financial services industry is now in a position to do so. 

New developments in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and natural language Machine Learning (ML) can bring significant benefits by improving voice-driven customer experience through pioneering speech recognition technology.

AI and natural language processing (NLP) are now delivering real value to organisations. Industry analysts Gartner predicts that by next year half of analytic queries will be generated using searches based on natural-language processing. Meanwhile between 20-25% of searches made with the Google Android App in the US are already voice searches, according to Google.

New developments in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and natural language Machine Learning (ML) can bring significant benefits by improving voice-driven customer experience

One key development is in voice-driven customer service, a perennial bugbear of callers. Today, AI is far more capable of understanding voice commands; what’s more, it can now also identify callers’ intent and sentiment, perform voice biometrics non-intrusively, transcribe calls and flag issues in real time. AI can also ensure that the caller doesn’t lose focus and that they remain interested in what is being communicated to them via a speech-enabled Interactive Voice Response system. 

Voice-driven technology can also provide rich data and insight which will empower them to improve their operations and deliver better, more personalised services.

For example, one international insurance company sought to improve customer service by requiring its employees to listen to archival contact centre conversations. The company deployed an AI-powered omni-channel communication platform that helped to identify which calls were going wrong and where, and suggested changes to business workflows. The technology also helped the team to compare the efficiency of different marketing campaigns and to assess agents’ performance against several key criteria.

Incredible as it may seem, AI can even understand customers better than human agents

In Switzerland, meanwhile, a car insurer is improving the customer experience by shortening call queues with an AI-powered self-service system. The system extracts the required details before giving customers the option to have their vehicle fixed by their local garage, a partner garage or a drive-in; in the case of the first two options, the system will automatically issue a ticket to get the work done. A crucial part of the system is that a caller can get through to a human at any stage by saying “agent”, ensuring the smoothest customer experience possible.

Incredible as it may seem, AI can even understand customers better than human agents. It’s now capable of understanding callers’ sentiment and intent, their speaking habits, conversational linguistics, dialects, idiosyncrasies, slang, foreign accents, intonation, emphasis, intention and enunciation.

That’s not to say that humans will no longer have a role in the contact centre. Many people prefer speaking to a real person, especially when dealing with complex queries. Rather, we should see AI as an augmentation of people’s skills and experience.

It’s impossible to predict what the future holds, but one thing is for certain – customers are continuing to demand exceptional customer service.  Whatever the outcome on 31st October, financial services companies need to unlock the power of AI- and NLP-based technologies to provide the highest levels of customer service. Financial service companies and banks needn’t fear Brexit – as long as they use it as an opportunity to ensure they are equipped with the tools to deliver the outstanding customer service their customers expect and deserve.

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How Pay Advances Affect The Retail Industry

In the gig economy, early payment—not just ease or speed—can be a differentiator.

According to Pay Advances: The Gig Economy’s New Normal, employers disbursed $236 billion in full or partial payments before jobs were completed to 43.8 percent of United States-based gig workers last year.

The U.S. gig economy now comprises 38.7 percent of the nation’s workforce, 12.1 percent of whom perform ad hoc jobs on a full-time basis. This is changing the way workers receive payments, since gig workers aren’t paid on set schedules like traditional full-time employees.

Gig worker” conjures up images of Uber drivers, Postmates delivery people or TaskRabbit movers. But in reality, gig jobs can encompass a wide range of work, both skilled and unskilled.

In the age of digital platforms, nearly no niche has gone underserved. Jyve launched earlier this year to connect gig economy workers with brick-and-mortar retailers. The idea behind this venture is that the rise in digital commerce will lead to a labor shortage in physical retail. Jyve aims to connect stores with workers who can stock products; input, pack and deliver product orders; and build in-store displays and audit shelving.

According to PYMNTS’ study, 1.2 million retail gig workers have received pay advances, totaling $66 billion — 40.5 percent of retail gig workers’ income.

Though retainers or deposits are commonplace in highly skilled industries, it hasn’t been the norm among gig workers, especially among unskilled industries like transportation and arts and entertainment.

This study looks at how the desire for pay advances differs by industry. One major finding was that gig workers are interested in pay advances, and a majority are willing to pay fees. Over half (64.4 percent) of gig workers would be willing to pay fees to access pay advances. Those who currently receive early access pay approximately $2.4 billion in annual fees, which would translate to another $1.8 billion in annual fee payments if all U.S. gig workers were able to access pay advances.

At first glance, it appears that certain professions receive pay advances in far greater numbers than others. For instance, architects and engineers lead in collecting them,

with 77.4 percent of gig workers in this field indicating they received pay advances. Industries that also receive pay advances in large numbers are management (66.8 percent), construction and contracting (66.2 percent) and manufacturing (62.9 percent).

Around one-quarter of retail gig workers (26.5 percent) and transportation workers (24.6 percent) have used pay advances.

These figures are slightly misleading, though, since gig workers disproportionately work in certain industries. While architecture and engineering appears to dominate pay advance activity, only 0.8 percent of architecture and engineering workers participate in the gig economy.

In contrast, 4.6 percent of gig workers are in retail, similar to the number in food preparation services (4.5 percent) and transportation (4.8 percent).

This represents a gap between unskilled and skilled workers. Gig workers in unskilled segments include cooks, retail associates and personal caregivers, and represent 64.4 percent of the gig economy. Workers in these sectors far outnumber those in this study’s skilled segments, which total 35.6 percent.

Workers in unskilled market segments received $118.7 billion in pay advances, and the projected market for unskilled workers to receive pay advances is $245.1, which reflects pent-up demand.

Arts and entertainment has one of the largest discrepancies between gig economy participation and the use of pay advances. Arts and entertainment workers are the largest participant in in the gig economy at 12 percent, but fewer than half (47 percent) have used a pay advance.

In the study, gig workers in unskilled segments are more likely to encounter obstacles when accessing pay advances than workers in skilled segments: 83.6 percent say they did not receive early access to pay because the service was unavailable or they were unaware that it existed.

Bottom line, gig workers are interested in pay advances, and a majority are willing to pay fees. That has major implications for unlocking additional revenue. There is an opportunity in enabling pay advances for the overall segment, as well as the retail industry, if the gig economy can overcome awareness and availability issues.


Latest Insights: 

Our data and analytics team has developed a number of creative methodologies and frameworks that measure and benchmark the innovation that’s reshaping the payments and commerce ecosystem. The July 2019 AML/KYC Tracker provides an in-depth examination of current efforts to stop money laundering, fight fraud and improve customer identity authentication in the financial services space.

Amex Eyes Cash Flow With New SMB Card

American Express is rolling out a new commercial card solution for small businesses targeting cash flow management for its users.

The company announced in a press release Thursday (July 18) the launch of its Blue Business Cash Card, a card that offers 2 percent cash back without an annual fee. According to American Express, the product empowers small business spending to promote healthier cash flow and the ability to say “yes” to more business opportunities.

The card connects small business owners to American Express’s Expanded Buying Power function, a way to leverage the card beyond its credit limit without any penalty to invest in larger purchases. At the end of their billing cycle, small businesses pay the portion above their credit limit in full, and they can choose whether to pay off the remainder of their balance or carry it into their next billing cycle with interest.

American Express is also connecting small business owners to Connect to Quickbooks and its Spend Manager solutions to integrate into their accounting portal and analyze spending.

Coinciding with the launch of the new SMB card, American Express also released new research on small businesses’ cash flow challenges, finding that 51 percent of SMBs prefer to organize their junk drawers than deal with cash flow issues. More than one-third would ditch social media or their phones to avoid cash flow friction.

Its “Blue Business Cash Survey from American Express” also found that nearly two-thirds of small businesses agree automatic cash back would be helpful in managing cash flow, with 62 percent agreeing it would support their investment in their businesses.

“We know that three-quarters of small business owners experience unexpected business costs on a monthly basis, but less than a quarter of them feel fully prepared to deal with those unexpected costs,” said E-Bai Koo, executive vice president of Global Commercial Services at American Express in the release. “We launched the Blue Business Cash Card to help alleviate some of the most common pain points of running a business so that business owners can concentrate on growing their business.”


Latest Insights: 

Our data and analytics team has developed a number of creative methodologies and frameworks that measure and benchmark the innovation that’s reshaping the payments and commerce ecosystem. The July 2019 AML/KYC Tracker provides an in-depth examination of current efforts to stop money laundering, fight fraud and improve customer identity authentication in the financial services space.

SAP Concur Connects Users To AvidXchange Payments

SAP Concur has reached an agreement with AvidXchange to integrate the latter’s AvidPay Network within the invoice processing platform Concur Invoice.

In a press release Thursday (July 18), SAP Concur and AvidXchange announced their collaboration, which will allow Concur Invoice users to process electronic payments via the AvidPay Network, supporting a seamless invoice processing-to-payment journey. Businesses using Concur Invoice as part of their accounts payable processes will be able to leverage the AvidPay Network of suppliers to provide their vendors with a choice of how they get paid, including virtual card, AvidXchange’s ACH solution AvidPay Direct, and other tools.

This integration is available through the SAP Concur App Center, the firms noted.

In addition, the integration will connect Concur Invoice users to AvidXchange’s Supplier Services offering, which helps businesses migrate their vendors toward ePayments acceptance.

“Over the past 20 years, we’ve built the strongest supplier network for the mid-market, supported by an industry-leading payment services team,” said AvidXchange CEO and Co-founder Michael Praeger in the release. “We’re excited to bring the AvidPay Network to Concur Invoice customers across the United States to help them streamline and optimize how they pay their vendors.”

“SAP Concur is committed to enabling customers to have choices that enable strategic financial management with industry-leading applications via partners,” said SAP Concur Senior Vice President and General Manager of Global SMB Ben Brewer in the release. “The AvidXchange integration allows customers to manage the full invoice and payments process. By building this relationship with AvidXchange, we’re allowing businesses who already trust our technology to tap into the AvidPay Network, creating additional value from their existing SAP Concur solutions.”

The companies noted that invoice processing automation and electronic payments enable accounts payable professionals to focus on more strategic initiatives.


Latest Insights: 

Our data and analytics team has developed a number of creative methodologies and frameworks that measure and benchmark the innovation that’s reshaping the payments and commerce ecosystem. The July 2019 AML/KYC Tracker provides an in-depth examination of current efforts to stop money laundering, fight fraud and improve customer identity authentication in the financial services space.

B2B Investors Target Supply Chain Friction

Not every startup in this week’s B2B Venture Capital Roundup provided full visibility into how much it raised, but more than $150 million in new funding can be confirmed for B2B startups. Investors had a particular interest in supply chain management this week, targeting startups that addressed friction in global trade including product verification, shipment tracking and compliance. But it was a B2B contract lifecycle management startup that not only raised the most funding this week, but also emerged as B2B’s latest unicorn. See all the latest funding rounds below.

Source Intelligence

Supply chain compliance firm Source Intelligence raised an undisclosed sum in its latest investment round, the company said in a press release this week. The funding will go toward the launch of its artificial intelligence platform as well as for further expansion across the European Union, the firm said, noting Source Capital Partners, Kayne Capital Partners and various local banks participated in the Round B growth capital funds investment. The firm’s technology analyzes trade documents and data from other sources to build out its supplier database to identify and address various supply chain risks. Source Intelligence has a particularly strong presence in the conflict minerals compliance space, it noted.


Another undisclosed funding round was announced by Singapore’s dtledgers, a blockchain startup that secured Pre-Series A funding from Walden International, the company said in a press release. The startup provides cross-border trade solutions using technology to digitize documents and trade finance processes. According to dtledgers, its technology enables businesses to wield smart contracts to streamline trade flows and ensure transparency and compliance across all trading partners. Offered as a Software-as-a-Service solution, dtledgers plans to use the funding to grow its staff and expand across Asia.


The pre-Series A round of $3 million for Travelstop will help the Singapore-based startup strengthen its position in the corporate travel and expense management space. Accel led the funding, Skift reported this week, while Travelstop also announced a partnership with online travel platform Traveloka to support a streamlined travel booking process for business users. Strive and existing backer SeedPlus also participated in the funding, according to reports, with the funding also going toward Travelstop’s efforts to launch a 24/7 feature to help corporate users in the event of travel disruptions like flight delays.

DUST Identity

Supply chain security and shipment tracking service DUST Identity announced $10 million in Series A funding that will go toward product development, engineering, and its go-to-market strategy, according to a press release this week. DUST Identity has developed a diamond-coated security tag it claims cannot be copied to promote security within the supply chain and strengthen trust between manufacturers and suppliers to promote product authentication. In addition to growth, DUST Identity said the investment will help it expand its customer base with a focus on the automotive, luxury goods, cosmetics, and oil and gas sectors. Investors at Kleiner Perkins led the investment round, which also saw participation from Airbus and Lockheed Martin, reports said.


Also operating in the supply chain management space, France-based Traxens positions itself with a focus on data to connect businesses to Internet-of-Things tracking capabilities. With $22.7 million in recently-announced Series C funding — led by the Itochu Corp., Bpifrance and Supernova Invest — Traxens plans to launch its ocean and land fleet IoT tracking technologies on vessels operated by its logistics partners, and to focus on growth across Asia. Its IoT tool aims to boost visibility and traceability of shipments as they move, while connecting corporate users to Big Data analytics capabilities, a press release said.


As the latest B2B unicorn, Icertis is positioning itself in the contract lifecycle management space to help organizations manage and promote compliance to their contracts, from vendor agreements in procurement to non-disclosure contracts and more. The company raised $115 million in its Series E funding round, announced this week, with investors at Greycroft and Premhi Invest leading the way. Existing backers B Capital Group, Cross Creek Advisors, Eight Roads, Ignition Partners, Meritech Capital Partners and PSP Growth also participated in the investment, which propelled Icertis’ valuation beyond $1 billion. Icertis said it will deploy the funding to focus on further expansion, invest in its underlying technology and explore other potential use-cases of its solutions.


Latest Insights: 

Our data and analytics team has developed a number of creative methodologies and frameworks that measure and benchmark the innovation that’s reshaping the payments and commerce ecosystem. The July 2019 AML/KYC Tracker provides an in-depth examination of current efforts to stop money laundering, fight fraud and improve customer identity authentication in the financial services space.