How Cafes Created The Momentum That Made Oat Milk 

Plant-based milks are incredibly trendy as of 2019, but are far from a new phenomenon. Soy milk (or something quite like it) has been on the menu in China since the 14th century, and an early variant on almond milk has been around since the Middle Ages. In more recent memory, soy milk began taking modern markets by storm in the early 1970s, growing steadily in sales and peaking in 2008 with annual sales of $1.2 billion.

But about a decade ago, soy lost some of its shine with concerns that it might not be as healthy or environmentally sound as people had hoped – and besides, there was a new plant-based sensation in town. The rise of almond milk (and other nut-based milks) about a decade ago was sharp. By 2015, almond milk was outselling soy nearly three to one, and by 2018 it had surpassed soy’s $1.2 billion peak.

But almond milk has some issues. Growing almond is environmentally costly – particularly in terms of water costs, given that 80 percent of the world’s almonds are grown in drought-prone California. And the mitigating factor is not exactly comforting: There aren’t actually that many almonds in a typical container of almond milk. According to Cheryl Mitchell, the chief scientist of Elmhurst Milked, almond milk as we know it is mostly water, oil, sugar and gums emulsified with a light dusting of nuts on top.

Also, according to one Vox writer, it has some consistency issues.

“I would not call it creamy, exactly, but even in coffee, it mostly does the job,” Rachel Sugar noted.

Luckily, there is no shortage of “milkable” plants in nature. Apart from literally any variety of nut, one can also pick up a carton of hemp, pea, quinoa or coconut milk at their local health food startup.

But for coffee drinkers – particularly those who have been living in a major U.S. metro for the last two years – the alternative milk of the moment is oat. It is likely the brainchild of Swedish food scientist Richard Oste, the founder of Oatly, who in the mid-90s figured out the process for extracting “milk” from oats. The product was not popular at first – other than a small international collection of dedicated drinkers, oat milk was mostly an unknown commodity for the first 20 years of its existence. In fact, when Oatly CEO Toni Petersson first took over in 2012, he himself didn’t really know oat milk existed.

What changed the game for Oatly specifically, and oat milk in general, was a different go-to market. Instead of trying to sell their product to consumers writ large, they focused their recruitment efforts on independent coffee shops and baristas, believing that with the right brand ambassadors, they could convert consumers to the wonders of oat milk.

“It created that discovery experience for consumers,” said Mike Messersmith, Oatly’s general manager. Consumers trust their baristas, and baristas know their customers (particularly their dairy-free ones) and are in a unique position to push new products.

Which they did – with much greater success than initially anticipated. Oatly launched in the U.S. in 2016, with a handful of high-end New York City coffee shops offering its product. By 2017, that had grown notably to over 200 stores, but still marked a fairly under-the-radar start. By 2018, news headlines were bemoaning the national oat milk shortage, which left enthusiasts from the Wesleyan College campus to the streets of Brooklyn bereft at the possibility of oat milk-free coffee. The company had ramped up production by 1,250 percent in response to the spike in interest, but still found it difficult.

“How do we supply when the growth is this crazy?” Petersson asked.

And, of course, other firms have been ready and willing to step in and help meet that supply – from established names in the oat game like Quaker to legacy milk players like Hood that are pushing their first plant-based product.

“I think it would be incredibly hypocritical of us as a company if we said both that we believe oat is the best source ingredient – the best product from a nutritional, environmental, sustainability basis – but then also we should be the only ones that do it,” Messersmith said. “I think the reality is, we would be thrilled if the entire category was nothing but oat milk tomorrow.”

As long as it’s good oat milk, he clarified. For a product that is still new to the market, bad versions are the bigger problem, not competition and variety.


Latest Insights: 

The Which Apps Do They Want Study analyzes survey data collected from 1,045 American consumers to learn how they use merchant apps to enhance in-store shopping experiences, and their interest in downloading more in the future. Our research covered consumers’ usage of in-app features like loyalty and rewards offerings and in-store navigation, helping to assess how merchants can design apps to distinguish themselves from competitors.

Gemini crypto exchange led by Winklevoss names Damato as CSO

Gemini Trust Co., a cryptocurrency exchange led by the Winklevoss brothers, has named David Damato, the former chief security officer at Tanium, as its new CSO. 

While at Tanium, Damato was in charge of building and managing a team that handled security for major Fortune 500 companies, banks and government agencies around the world. He previously was a member of the leadership team at Mandiant, a cybersecurity firm that was later acquired by Fireeeye. 

“Security is the bedrock of our culture and Dave adds to that legacy,” Tyler Winklevoss, CEO of Gemini, said in a company release. “His depth of security knowledge and experience defending global networks will be invaluable as we continue to build the market’s most secure cryptocurrency offering.”

Geminii in June announced that it would open an engineering center in Chicago

Image courtesy of Tanium

Topics: Bitcoin, Security

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Ezbob Adds KYC Automation To Lending-as-a-Service Offering

Lending-as-a-service company ezbob is rolling out a new solution designed to enable banks to more easily onboard clients and manage their Know Your Customer (KYC) due diligence.

A press release issued on Monday (Aug. 12) said ezbob’s lending platform now includes a module that allows financial institutions to automate the customer onboarding process. The platform connects banks to the company’s Smart Onboarding Engine to streamline KYC, anti-money laundering (AML) and other compliance checks when onboarding new clients.

The solution also includes a range of APIs that connect to third-party data sources. Those APIs allow for the automatic aggregation and analysis of corporate bank accounts, online accounting platforms, payment service providers and eCommerce portals, among other sources of data.

The new onboarding features expand ezbob’s offering, which until now has targeted straight-through-processing (STP) small business lending processes for banks. The company did not clarify in its press release whether the new compliance checks and onboarding service are geared toward enabling banks to address the needs of their larger corporate customers.

“When it comes to KYC, banks have made large investments, growing their compliance teams in order to deal with the new stringent regulatory requirements,” said ezbob CEO Tomer Guriel in a statement. “Clearing a customer now requires more back and forth with the client, and at the end of the day, it is the customer journey that suffers.

“With ezbob’s solution, once the customer clicks submit, that’s where our system instantly starts making API calls to databases, such as LexisNexis, in order to verify the customer,” Guriel continued. “By cross-checking multiple data sources through our own KYC risk engine, we’re able to deliver a true ‘pass/fail’ along with whatever additional information may be required.”

Last year, ezbob announced a partnership with American Express in which Amex refers its U.K. small business customers to ezbob’s financing services.


Latest Insights: 

The Which Apps Do They Want Study analyzes survey data collected from 1,045 American consumers to learn how they use merchant apps to enhance in-store shopping experiences, and their interest in downloading more in the future. Our research covered consumers’ usage of in-app features like loyalty and rewards offerings and in-store navigation, helping to assess how merchants can design apps to distinguish themselves from competitors.

Challenger Banks Raise Record Funds To Take On Traditional FIs

Digital challenger banks are hoarding money to take on traditional banking competitors and have raised a total of $2 billion from eager investors, The Financial Times reported on Tuesday (Aug. 13).

The $2 billion was raised in 55 rounds of funding through July 31, with customers depositing more than $30 million, the FT said, referring to a report released by search firm CB Insights.

Companies in India and China such as Alipay and Tencent were excluded from research.

Digital banking startups are popular in Europe, dangling low fees and mobile apps to attract more customers.

Challenger banks have raised $100 million worldwide in the second quarter and are the fastest-growing FinTechs, Lindsay Davis, a senior intelligence analyst at CB Insights, told the FT. 

“We’ve reached an inflection point with the consumers’ willingness and readiness to adopt these products and services,” Davis told the FT. “They’re also coming into wealth for the first time,” she said, regarding millennials. 

While U.K. banking startups hold bank charters, the U.S. challengers partners with traditional banks to get backing from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC).

Challenger banks have been hammered critically by some analysts for using bold marketing tactics to win over new customers, the FT said.

The bank-FinTech collaboration trend has hit the small business customer segment particularly strong. However, there is evidence that there may be another growing divide in the financial services sector as FinTech firms and alt lenders target small businesses, while traditional banks invest their technology resources into larger corporate clients.

The most recent evidence of this comes from a research report by Balboa Capital, which found that nearly two-thirds of SMBs obtained a small business line of credit from a nonbank lender within the last year. Small firms pointed to a more seamless application process and faster access to capital as their top motivators for turning away from traditional FIs and toward alternative lenders.


Latest Insights: 

The Which Apps Do They Want Study analyzes survey data collected from 1,045 American consumers to learn how they use merchant apps to enhance in-store shopping experiences, and their interest in downloading more in the future. Our research covered consumers’ usage of in-app features like loyalty and rewards offerings and in-store navigation, helping to assess how merchants can design apps to distinguish themselves from competitors.

The Digital Platform That Wants To Be A-Star-Is-Born Maker

There are still countless books to be written about whether the digital age — the technology, the processes, the seemingly endless retail and service choices, the tracking of personal data, the ability of nearly everyone to start a business or land a gig — is more about tyranny or democracy.

That’s beyond our ken here at PYMNTS.

But one thing is very clear — the digital era has in some ways made it easier to be an artist or other type of creator. That’s because the digital era is, in some ways, is making much, much easier for those creators to connect with specific audiences and earn livings from the monetary generosity of those crowdsourcing fans.

The digital impact on art, and art-related commerce and payments, served as the subject of a fresh PYMNTS discussion that featured Karen Webster and Sam Yam, co-founder, president and chief technology officer of Patreon, the online platform that enables fans to give small (or big) financial payments to creators of their choice. “The whole journey to developing a creative career is still ambiguous,” he told Webster, but at least with digital, that journey can at least seem democratic, in that all fans can directly participate in an artist’s success.

New Funding

The PYMNTS discussion came at a big time for Patreon. The company has just announced a $60 million Series D funding round, with that fresh capital earmarked to such tasks as global expansion and helping creators build their brands via such efforts as limited-edition merchandise sales via the platform.

Indeed, in the six years it’s been in business, Patreon has attracted more than a fair amount of interest. It has a user base of more than three million, and the firm is on course to surpass $1 billion in total contributions paid out to creators by the end of this year. That growth has been exponential, too, since over half of that billion will be paid out in 2019 alone.

That billion donated is impressive, given that Patreon donations are generally pretty small. The average patron gives $12 per month to the artist or artists they’re passionate about, according to the company’s internal figures — and monthly donations of $10, $5 or even $1 per patron are fairly common. And while there are a few runaway success stories of people bringing in tens of thousands of dollars a month through the platform, the average creator brings in more modest sums, usually in the hundreds of dollars.

Most people to pay creators tend to stick with just one, Yam told Webster. “But over half the revenue going to creators is being given out by patrons who support two or more creators,” he said. Could that lead to something akin to a membership bundle package to which audience members could subscribe? “We don’t see that in the foreseeable future,” he said, “as it gets between the creators and their subscribers.”

Merchandise Push

What Patreon is more focused on that some membership-bundled offering is helping creators to sell unique or limited-time merchandise via the Patreon platform, he said. “We have found over time that creators wanted as much sustainable funding as possible over the long term,” he said. “And they wanted a set of tools that allowed them to enrich the relationships they had with their best fans.”

Such merchandise can help creators build out their brands — a few lucky ones might even build something that can scale globally and become its own thing beyond Patreon. “That’s something we are investing heavily in,”  Yam said.

The content on Patreon is pretty varied, as you can imagine, but some general trends stick out at this point in 2019. “Podcasts are a very large segment,” Yam said, crediting the true-crime wave within the podcast community as helping to spark that. “The gaming community is also very large. We are seeing a lot of new mediums we really didn’t think of.”

And the interest seems sustainable in such platforms, at least according to how Yam told it Webster. So many children, he said, are enamored not so much about being engineers or doctors, but something more creative. “They want to be YouTubers,” he said. Children often grow up and lose such dreams — and some don’t — but no matter what, it seems that digital technology can reduce some friction and anxiety from the hard, often lonely work of being an artist or creator.


Latest Insights: 

The Which Apps Do They Want Study analyzes survey data collected from 1,045 American consumers to learn how they use merchant apps to enhance in-store shopping experiences, and their interest in downloading more in the future. Our research covered consumers’ usage of in-app features like loyalty and rewards offerings and in-store navigation, helping to assess how merchants can design apps to distinguish themselves from competitors.

Groupon Select membership launches with special discounts and perks for insiders

Groupon Select membership launches with special discounts and perks for insiders

Groupon announced the launch of Groupon Select, a membership program that gives special customer discounts and insider perks to members, for a price of $4.99 per month. 

The company said the Groupon Select program is designed to boost user engagement and increase purchase rates on a range of purchases, with special discounts of up to an additional 25% off local activities, restaurants and spas. The program provides lower discounts on other purchase categories, including 10% off trips and events. Member discounts are applied automatically and don’t need promotion codes added during checkout. 

“Groupon Select is the best way to experience Groupon today and discover even more value on local services, experiences and goods,” Rich Williams, Groupon CEO, said in a company release. 

Groupon is offering a 50% discount off a single item for existing and new Select members. 

Cover image courtesy of Groupon.

Topics: Loyalty Programs, Mobile Apps, Mobile Payments, Retail

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Cobalt Credit Union’s Data-Driven Innovation In Member Services

Modern credit unions understand all too well that loyalty innovation is critical to staying in business, and that those that do not prioritize it risk losing a significant share of their members. Loyalty-based innovation is a top concern for many credit union (CU) members, as outlined in the latest Credit Union Innovation Playbook. It found nearly 40 percent of them would consider leaving their current CUs because the financial institution provided inconvenient services or was unable to address their problems and data security concerns, among other reasons. 

Given the high stakes, it is clear that credit unions must pursue the innovations members value most. This leads to a challenging question for CU decision-makers: Which loyalty innovations will deliver the greatest returns on investment? Some credit unions are going right to the source to understand their members’ innovation preferences. This includes Cobalt Credit Union, a CU with 26 locations across Iowa and Nebraska that holds more than $1 billion in assets. The right mix of member engagement and data analytics is among the most effective ways to understand the innovations members will value, according to Cobalt Credit Union President and CEO Gail DeBoer — and to determine which will deliver the highest payoffs. 

DeBoer recently spoke with PYMNTS about how Cobalt’s communication and data analytics strategy informs its innovative pursuits, including its recent move to implement interactive video services through its web and mobile channels. 

“Technology is not cheap,” DeBoer said. “You want to make sure the things you are buying and implementing are meeting whatever members have told [you] they like.” 

An Interactive Innovation 

In early July, Cobalt introduced an interactive video banking service for its web and mobile channels that enables members to engage with the CU in real time. The interactive solution allows them to perform a wide range of banking transactions, including applying for loans, opening accounts and holding real-time conversations with members using web and mobile-based interfaces. These services can help change long-held perceptions of credit unions, DeBoer said. 

“Credit unions have a reputation for not investing in technology as readily as the big banks,” she explained. “This [technology] shows we can compete with our banking counterparts. I don’t think that’s always been the reputation CUs have had.” 

DeBoer added that the video banking service can be accessed via smartphone, and that Cobalt staff are available to train members on how to use it. Rural members may find it especially helpful, because the connected video technology can spare them from traveling miles to the nearest branch location to conduct financial business. Access to services via web and smartphone also enables Cobalt to more effectively engage with its member base. 

“Our members really like that face-to-face contact,” DeBoer said. “They want us to know them, and they want the ability to have that person-to-person relationship. This really solves that problem.” 

Gleaning Data Directly From Members 

Cobalt is eager to hear directly from members as it works to deliver the more personal relationships they want, DeBoer said. The CU conducts an annual survey featuring more than 100 questions to gain deeper insights into the state of member relationships and how they transact with the credit union. 

“We ask our members often how we are doing and how we’re meeting their needs,” she said. “That’s important to continuously have that feedback.” 

Receiving insight from members helps the CU determine the types of innovations that will deliver the highest return on investment. 

“There’s no reason for us to implement something that nobody’s going to want,” DeBoer explained. “Asking them what they want is really important, [because] then [we can use] that to set our strategy.” 

Cobalt plans to more heavily invest in data analytics in the near future as part of its broader innovation plans, she said. The goal is to use the data to better understand who its members are, what they are doing in their financial lives and how the credit union can help them make more informed decisions. 

“We want to make sure we target [members] where they’re at in their life stages, where they’re at financially, and present them with things that are beneficial to them,” DeBoer said. 

She urges other credit unions to take the time to understand the nuances of data analytics as they pursue their own innovation agendas. 

“You can’t go half in,” DeBoer said. “You have to go all in with data analytics and really understand what you’re doing with it. That’s been the biggest conversation with CEOs, is [understanding] what [you are going to] do with it.” 

Having access to this kind of information and using it to drive loyalty innovation strategies can help CUs find the most effective opportunities to provide assistance to their members. Those that invest heavily in the technology and solutions that provide enhanced communication — and ultimately more insightful information on how credit unions can best serve their members — could stand apart from the pack, especially in an increasingly competitive financial landscape. 


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.

Why the insurance industry has fallen behind on the digital highway

Why the insurance industry has fallen behind on the digital highway

By Christian Wiens, founder and CEO, Getsafe

Insurance by smartphone — younger customers today in particular want digital solutions. Insurtechs have recognized this customer need and the established insurance companies are following suit. The industry is on the verge of upheaval. The technological potential is massive, and so are the challenges.

Digitalization has reached the insurance industry later than in other sectors. The pressure is coming particularly from the customers themselves: They expect a consistently digital insurance experience, starting with the conclusion of the contract, through consulting, to the reporting and settlement of claims.

The established insurance companies are aware of these customer expectations, but consistent implementation is still missing. Most processes are still paper-based; contractual changes must be made in writing; many employees spend most of their working time on trivial copy-paste tasks. This is time-consuming and ties up resources. Repetetive work processes are also more prone to errors, as employees become tired and less able to concentrate over time.

At the same time, the potential for the use of new technologies is enormous: many customer enquiries, damage reports or data analyses could theoretically be standardized and automated – ideal prerequisites for using intelligent machines.

According to several studies by strategic consultancies, the consistent automation of manual processes and the use of new technologies could increase premium income by almost 25 percent and simultaneously reduce costs by almost 30 percent. According to experts, the greatest savings are possible in claims settlement and acquisition costs.

For most established insurers, meeting changing customer expectations and fully exploiting the potential of digitisation is a mammoth task. They are not lacking in willpower, but the hurdles are great.

On the one hand, life, health and property & casualty insurance sectors are often separated into independent legal entities, which often work with different IT systems. On the other hand, cost and competitive pressures in recent years have led to smaller insurance companies being bought up by the “big ones” without integrating the IT infrastructure. The result is a patchwork of incompatible hardware and software in which customer data cannot be exchanged within a group or across multiple departments or divisions. Under these circumstances, it is difficult to realize a digital customer experience.

In addition, most insurers work with brokers who, in turn, know their customers’ lives much better than the insurers themselves. The motor insurer knows what kind of car the customer owns, the liability insurer at least knows the family circumstances, the household contents insurer can draw conclusions about the income and assets of the customer. But even full insurers do not have an infrastructure that allows them to bundle customer data over the entire contract term and all interfaces. In particular, the question of where customers come from remains unanswered despite cooperation with brokers.

Insurtechs, on the other hand, have two decisive advantages here: they build their insurance solutions without any inherited burdens, so to speak “on a greenfield site”. Obsolete IT infrastructure, sceptical employees who act according to the motto “We’ve always done it this way” —  a foreign word in startups. Agility is the order of the day here, and while established insurers need months — if not years — to introduce new software, Insurtechs spurn reflection in favour of implementation. The (partially blind) activism of the “boys” may cause head shaking among established insurers – but it is also clear that their speed is an important strength.

Companies such as Lemonade in the USA, Bought By Many in Great Britain and Getsafe in Germany are working intensively on platforms with which they can record and analyse customer data in a structured manner. Not only do they lay the foundation for feeding self-learning algorithms with classified training data, they also manage to make the insurance experience simple, transparent and digital.

Figuratively speaking, a manoeuvrable and partly D.I.Y. sailing ship is competing against a giant steamship. The steamship has an experienced crew, well-rehearsed processes and a venerable captain who has proven his skills over many years — but the sailboat sets the pace and the course. The steamer can better withstand a storm on the high seas, but as long as the sea remains calm, it will reach its destination much later than the manoeuvrable sailboat, despite its much greater power. And: Due to its more precise data, the sailboat may not even run into the danger of a storm.

It will remain exciting to see who wins the race in the future: the steamship or the sailboat. The way data and technology is handled will be decisive. Only those who make their internal processes more efficient and at the same time meet the needs of their customers will be able to assert themselves in the markets of the future.

Cover photo: iStock











Topics: Bill Payment, Mobile Payments

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Finix raises $17.5 million led by Bain to expand payments infrastructure platform

Finix Payments Inc. announced that it raised $17.5 million in Series A funding led by Bain Capital Ventures along with Insight Venture Partners, Aspect Ventures and Visa. 

The San Francisco-based payments infrastructure platform plans to use the funding to accelerate product development and sales. 

“Payments technology has reached an exciting tipping point, ” Richie Serna, founder and CEO at Finix, said in a company release, noting that Lyft, Airbnb and Mindbody have high valuations in part due to their own payments stacks. 

“Our mission is to provide the foundation for the next generation of multi-billion dollar payments businesses by empowering them to become payments facilitators in months, not years.”

Finix claims that it can help businesses become payments facilitators in as little as two months, at a fraction of the average cost of $3 million to $5 million that it costs to build a system from scratch. 

Topics: Mobile Payments

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Commercial Banking Gets Up Close And Digitized

The consumer eCommerce experience is having a ripple effect on any number of other arenas — including commercial banking.

The expectations for speed and convenience, and for an experience that gets tasks and transactions done in a fluid manner, need not be confined to online retail.

In an interview with PYMNTS, Jessica Cheney, vice president of product management and strategic solutions at Bottomline Technologies, said the customer experience is now critical in digital banking. By necessity, banks are moving away from a focus that, up to now, has been on providing transactionally-focused solutions.

“Its now reality that the proximity of a branch … is not central to any type of business relationship that they have with commercial entities,” Cheney told PYMNTS. “Smart banks have started to think about the impact of what consumers — as consumers — expect from their bank and how that translates to commercial banking.”

Those aforementioned consumer experiences, she said, have been modeled by digital service companies as far-flung as Venmo and Airbnb. It may not be the easiest mind shift, or technology shift, for financial institutions. Their product and service development approach has been, “If I can support X Y Z piece of functionality online then I’ve got this offering covered,” Cheney said. “The banks didn’t have to worry about how the user interacted with the application or if the application was ‘intelligent.’” Financial firms, she said, had viewed, and may still view, applications and user interfaces as being a means to an end — simply for getting information to or from corporate users or facilitating transactions.

Changing Times, Challenges and Evolution

But to paraphrase a line from an old tune, the times are changing.

Digital presence now outweighs local scale and geography. Banks must provide a platform that enables intelligent engagement, delivers a unified experience and offers rapid innovation in order to remain the first choice.

The mandate now is that banking, whether done by consumers or corporates, “needs to be able to be done in a simple and intuitive manner,” Cheney said. “However, there has to be something else that drives me to the application beyond just the basic action that I went there to do. I need the solution to be an invaluable tool to me in managing my business.”

There are, however, several complex business functionalities and workflows, involving multiple parties, tied to commercial banking. But as Cheney explained, “There are always ways to simplify the way that we’re asking users to interact with the banking solution. But the real value occurs when the application is automating routine tasks or providing data rich insights that increase the knowledge of the end user about their key business tasks or performance.”

As she noted, a lot of banks don’t take advantage of the massive amounts of data on hand that can paint a financial picture of a corporation, with specific business habits — such as how it might prefer to pay vendors, for example. Leveraging machine learning means banks can help corporate clients (with a holistic view on how they operate) make smarter day-to-day operating decisions. Actionable insights, intimacy and intuition brought to commercial banking-focused activities such as cash flow management or payroll can bring a level of personalization to clients that cement relationships.

“The term personalization has been around for a long time,” Cheney remarked to PYMNTS, “and usually that has meant setting preferences to the way users want the applications to work,” such as through setting alerts. “But the next evolution in personalization from an intelligent digital experience is allowing machine learning to recognize who I am, how I use the application and to automate tasks or advise me of key trends and decisions when it makes sense to do that.”

As a concrete example, consider the case of the payroll clerk who logs into an application twice a month, every month, on the 13th and the 29th of the month. It’s a repetitive task, and an intelligent solution could remind that payroll clerk of the date, offer a prepared payroll batch ready for review and, if necessary, modification. “It’s really a different level of engagement in an online cash management tool than we’ve seen before,” said Cheney.

If the ability to automate through intelligent applications is valuable, the ability to advise is critical. As Cheney noted, there are of course use cases and occasions where human intervention, and a prompt for such intervention, is desirable. That’s especially true as real-time and faster payments gain ground in commercial banking as business crosses borders. Real-time payments, she said, are irrevocable, and an extra layer of scrutiny can be useful.

In terms of a general roadmap, she said, commercial banking applications are moving toward a model where “form and substance are equally important. The ideal is one where how the solution interacts with users is as important as the feature functionality that the solution is offering. An intelligent engagement tool combines these aspects and drives relationship value for the corporate and the bank.”


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 edition of the FI Innovation Readiness Playbook examines how the innovation playing field is leveling as small FIs implement bolder strategies and larger banks adopt more measured approaches.

FitPay, CPI Card Group enter deal for integrated contactless payment device

CPI Card Group Inc. said it entered an agreement with FitPay to combine its Adaptives embedded contactless technology with FitPay’s contactless payment device, called Flip. 

Flip allows consumers to make purchases at millions of retail locations that accept contactless payments. Flip is linked to FitPay’s digital wallet, which allows consumers to store and manage funds from traditional bank accounts, bitcoin wallets and other payment sources. 

“Along with the shift to contactless payments, we’re also seeing an evolution in consumers’ relationships with their wallets,” Jack Jania, vice president of product management and innovation at CPI Card Group, said in a company release. “People went from paying with cash to mostly paying with cards.”


Topics: Contactless / NFC, Mobile Apps, Mobile/Digital Wallet

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CurrencyCloud Raises New Capital in Series E

Currencycloud is believed to have raised around $40 million (£32 million) in the first part of a Series E funding round, Jane Connolly writes in Fintech Futures (Finovate’s sister publication).

TechCrunch reported that the London-based company, which provides an API and service for cross-border payments, plans to follow tranche one with more funding in the next two or three months.

According to TechCrunch’s sources, Goldman Sachs is rumored to be taking part, along with other possible investors GV and Santander. Currencycloud has declined to comment.

Currencycloud undertook a Series A round in 2011. The company operates across Europe, the U.S. and Canada, and includes Visa, Starling Bank, Standard Bank South Africa, Travelex and Klarna among its clients.

With offices in Amsterdam and New York, Currencycloud demonstrated its technology most recently at FinovateSpring 2018.

InstaReM Looks To Apply For Singapore Digital Banking License

While it gears up to apply for a digital banking license in Singapore, cross-border payments firm InstaReM is reportedly seeking lending business partners. The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) recently noted that it will grant as many as three digital wholesale bank licenses and up to two digital full-bank licenses, Deal Street Asia reported.

Chief Executive Officer Prajit Nanu said, according to reports, “InstaReM already provides services similar to transaction banking in a bank so this would be a natural extension for us.” Nanu continued per reports, “One key aspect where we have limited ability is lending and we will be looking to partner to create the lending experience in the same technology stack.”

Grab, Razer and Singapore Telecommunications Ltd. have all expressed an interest as of the announcement from MAS. However, InstaReM is reportedly the first firm to indicate that it will apply for a license. At the same time, it was noted that Ant Financial is “delighted” with the plan of Singapore.

InstaReM, which was started in 2014, is regulated in Singapore, Canada, Hong Kong, Australia, India, Malaysia, the U.S. and the European Union. It processes billions of dollars a year for payments institutions, retail users and banks worldwide. The startup is backed by investors such as Rocket Internet, MDI Ventures, Fullerton Financial Holdings and Vertex Ventures.

In separate InstaReM news, the Singapore FinTech firm notched $41 million in venture funding per reports in March. Proceeds from the funding round are slated for expansion into Latin America. (The company plans to open an office there). At the same time, it was noted that the funds will also go to expand in Asia by going after Indonesia as well as Japan.

It was also noted per earlier reports that the company is also nearing the launch of a prepaid debit card that it plans to issue to consumers in 25 countries. InstaReM also wants to offer banking customers more options as well with the funding.


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 June 2019 PSD2 Tracker Report, is the go-to resource for monthly updates on the trends and changes regarding PSD2 and other privacy and data protection regulations.

Facebook announces 32 job openings for blockchain

The social media giant Facebook has listed 32 job openings related to blockchain technology. The listings include programmers, financial accountants, data scientists and technology communications, according to the postings.

Facebook recently announced itsLibra cryptocurrency, which users will store on a wallet called Calibra. The job listings range from researchers to engineers to legal experts.

Congress hasrecently requested that Facebook halt development on Calibra and Libra until representatives have time to examine the products. This is due to previous privacy breaches alleged misuse by the social media company.

Topics: Bitcoin, Mobile/Digital Wallet, Regulatory Issues, Social Media

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Amazon Sues Counterfeit Sellers

Amazon is continuing its fight against counterfeiters. Along with Boulder-based company Nite Ize, a maker of specialty lights and phone mounts under the STEELIE brand, the eCommerce giant filed a lawsuit on Wednesday (June 26) in a Seattle federal court, accusing a group of counterfeiters of selling fraudulent Nite Ize products.

According to the filing, the issue was brought to Amazon’s attention in October 2018 after a tip from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency, which had seized a shipment of 300 counterfeit STEELIE brand car mounts. The agency alerted Nite Ize, which then alerted Amazon.

“Defendants have deceived Amazon’s customers and Amazon, infringed and misused the IP rights of Nite Ize, and harmed the integrity of Amazon’s store, and tarnished [Amazon] and Nite Ize’s brands,” the lawsuit said, according to reports.

The suit identified 11 individuals and businesses that advertised and sold counterfeit versions of Nite Ize products. The suit named individuals living in Minnesota, Maryland and Ontario as defendants, as well as businesses based in China.

Nite Ize introduced its STEELIE line in 2014, which offers a variety of products designed to make phone mounting easier. The company and Amazon want to recover actual and statutory damages, including the ability to recover the defendants’ profits.

This lawsuit is Amazon’s latest effort to take on the rampant counterfeit trade taking place in its online marketplace. In fact, the company even launched a suite of new tools this year to help brands and manufacturers go after counterfeiters.

“Each day, millions of consumers use Amazon’s store to purchase a wide range of products, across dozens of product categories, from Amazon and third-party sellers,” the company said. “Amazon recognizes that consumer trust is hard to win and easy to lose, so Amazon invests significant resources and effort into building and preserving its customers’ trust.”


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 June 2019 PSD2 Tracker Report, is the go-to resource for monthly updates on the trends and changes regarding PSD2 and other privacy and data protection regulations.

Farmhouse Market’s Remotely Operated, 24/7 Grocery Store

Automated, cashierless stores are often deployed in bustling urban areas, where they can help keep high-traffic commerce moving. These retail models cater to customers who are on the go by offering seamless experiences and convenient payment methods.

Such locations can be critical in expanding retail options for smaller cities and towns, too, and staff-free grocery store Farmhouse Market seeks to do just that for consumers in New Prague, Minnesota. The small city had a population of about 8,000 in 2015, and its grocery store offerings were limited.

“[New Prague] had just one big-box grocery store on the outside of downtown,” explained Co-founder Kendra Rasmusson. “We lived over 20 miles from our nearest co-op, and were really desperate to source local, organic, natural food options.”

Rasmusson’s daughter was diagnosed with epilepsy at age two. She thought the right diet could help reduce her daughter’s seizures, and became determined to open an organic food store to fill the service gap.

Launching a grocery store proved to be a complicated undertaking, however. Rasmusson and her husband, Paul, believed that 24/7 accessibility was important to providing a convenient, automated service, but they were unable to manage or afford staffing the store around the clock. The pair ultimately designed a concept that could operate without any on-site staff to solve this quandary.

“We looked to technology to assist us,” Rasmusson said.

Designing For Security And Remote Management 

The Rasmussons debuted Farmhouse Market in a 650-square-foot space in 2015. There were initially about 190 registered members, but that number has grown to 275 today. Customers visiting the store can select items and check themselves out with a tablet-based point-of-sale (POS) system that accepts credit and debit cards. The shop’s lighting is motion-activated and triggers when customers enter.

Farmhouse Market does not have an open-door policy, however, and instead relies on a variety of security technologies. Access is typically restricted to paying members, each of whom receives a keycard in exchange for a $99 fee the first year and $20 each year thereafter. The keycards can be used to unlock the store’s doors, and each customer has their own unique card. This allows the Rasmussons to determine who is entering the shop at what time.

The market’s security system and video cameras further help identify potential shoplifters or other issues. Kendra Rasmusson said it operates under a strict “one strike and you’re out” policy — any member caught stealing is banned from the store. There have, thus far, been no issues with theft.

The market relies on a small footprint, and the store has been able to operate using the same technology it has maintained since its launch.

“Our store is small,” Rasmusson explained. “It has to be in order for it to be manageable from afar.”

The keycards enable both members and local farmers delivering inventory to access the store 24/7. Rasmusson said this is particularly helpful for the store’s more than 20 suppliers, who can deliver goods on their own schedules. Though the same all-hours access is granted to consumers, they are less likely to take advantage of it.

“In reality, we don’t have that many middle-of-the-night shoppers,” she said. “But, hey, it’s nice to know you can do it, right? Local consumers feel like our products are always available.”

For certain designated hours each week, the Rasmussons revert to a more traditional retail model and staff the store. The shop is open to the public during these periods, and the staff also handles security. Additional payment options, including cash, are accepted during the staffed store hours, and the market is also working to enable electronic benefits transfer (EBT) cards.

Automated commerce concepts like Farmhouse Market show that unattended store models appeal to more than just larger markets. Local operations can also leverage self-serve technologies to stay open longer than otherwise possible as they work to bring smaller municipalities added convenience.


Latest Insights: 

The Payments 2022 Study: Building A High-Performance Payments Team For Fraud Detection, a PYMNTS collaboration with Stripe, examines how digital platforms of all sectors and sizes plan to develop their anti-fraud teams as part of their their broader growth and development strategies. Drawing from an extensive survey from approximately 250 payments heads at digital platforms in the U.S. and abroad, our study analyzes how poor anti-fraud capabilities can harm platforms’ long-term growth strategies, and how they can build high-performing teams to tackle these challenges.

Ford-Backed Argo AI Spends $15M On Autonomous Vehicle Research

Argo AI announced that it has pledged $15 million over five years to fund the Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) Argo AI Center for Autonomous Vehicle Research.

“It’s an amazing time for those of us in the fields of robotics and artificial intelligence. We’re starting to see consumer products and services powered by the capabilities that we and our predecessors spent decades developing and testing in labs across the country. And one of the flagship opportunities enabled by these capabilities  —  autonomous vehicles  —  is finally on the horizon with initial commercialization plans in place,” Deva Ramanan, an associate professor at Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute, wrote in a blog post.

The $15 million will fund a team of five faculty leaders, and support graduate students conducting research on self-driving technology. Argo will provide access to data, infrastructure and platforms for CMU students engaged in autonomous vehicle research.

“This Center builds on Argo’s already-existing collaboration with CMU and Georgia Tech, while introducing a unique model for academic engagement with unprecedented access and openness,” explained Ramanan. “In addition to myself and Simon Lucey serving as the Center’s faculty leaders, it’s a privilege to also have John Dolan, David Held and Jeff Schneider as part of the team. John’s focus is on mechatronics, systems engineering and safety; David’s is machine learning; and Jeff’s is machine learning, computer vision and perception.”

The news comes as Argo AI recently launched Argoverse, a collection of sensor data and HD maps for computer vision and machine learning research, to which researchers and faculty working in the center will have direct access.

“We view this Center as an important step in advancing research addressing the challenges that will enable commercialization of self-driving technology on societal scale, and we look forward to the improvements this Center can help bring to the field of self-driving vehicles,” wrote Ramanan.


Latest Insights: 

The Payments 2022 Study: Building A High-Performance Payments Team For Fraud Detection, a PYMNTS collaboration with Stripe, examines how digital platforms of all sectors and sizes plan to develop their anti-fraud teams as part of their their broader growth and development strategies. Drawing from an extensive survey from approximately 250 payments heads at digital platforms in the U.S. and abroad, our study analyzes how poor anti-fraud capabilities can harm platforms’ long-term growth strategies, and how they can build high-performing teams to tackle these challenges.

OPAL IS Launches Replatforming Guidance for Banks and Insurers

Fintech solutions developer OPAL IS, part of OPAL Group, has launched guidance for banks and insurers to replatform more efficiently. Based on the group’s 35 years of experience, OPAL IS has highlighted three key themes of which financial providers need to be aware before embarking on a replatforming in order to make it fast, cost effective and secure.

1. Keep innovation outside of the legacy system

Keep the build outside of the legacy system in a ring-fenced development area, don’t mix the two together from the start. At the very least take a hard look at the benefits of migration versus cost and risk. What is required is a step by step development over a period of time with measurable milestones, triggers and reactions to the market. This reduces complexity so the focus is on the immediate needs for new products. There is less customer disruption and lower cost and risk because there’s no change to the existing systems and no data migration initially.

We know that what financial providers want to do is to deliver client solutions digitally and at pace.

2. Understand what problem you’re trying to solve to manage risk

Look through the ‘right end of the telescope’ by being clear what problem are you trying to solve? Do you need a new platform or do you need to launch new, competitively priced, attractive products in the channels that customers want to buy them in? Understand how best to keep distribution channels happy, maintain customer service levels, all while testing, learning and retesting. If the focus is cost and risk management, for example, keep in mind that old, complex books of business with very low customer volumes are not a priority where the risks outweigh the benefits and the key problem is how to deliver new products digitally rather than worrying about migrating old books. In these situations, OPAL suggests a selective approach to replatforming.

3. Assemble a specialist team with a proven track record

In-house teams often struggle with the specialist needs of replatforming projects. Build a team that will focus on the three main drivers in developing digital platform solutions – flexibility, speed and quality of build. Building new digital platforms and replatforming existing data doesn’t have to be fraught with complexity and doomed to failure. It just needs to be fully assessed in advance and then broken down into practical and manageable sections, but doing it efficiently, on time and to budget only comes with experience.

Eoin Lyons, OPAL Group CEO, said: “The last year has seen plenty of headlines about the bad experiences of banks and insurers when building and migrating to new platforms. Despite a huge budget, some of the biggest names failed to deliver, leaving clients locked out of new systems and budgets overrunning.

We know that what financial providers want to do is to deliver client solutions digitally and at pace. However, they are not always clear how best to do that and we believe our three rules should be front of mind when embarking on a replatforming project.“

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Retail Pulse: Luxury Brands Eye Airport Retail; Panera Bread Tests Dinner Menu

Airports are providing luxury brands with access to consumers with extra time on their hands who want to buy unique and unusual items they can’t find near their residences. These hubs for travel retail, which are providing an audience of on-the-go travelers as U.S. shopping malls are on the decline, are also becoming locations where brands are innovating with products.

Edgar Huber, who heads the luxury division of multinational beauty company Coty Inc., said in The Wall Street Journal, “It’s not about discounting now; it’s really about experience.” The report noted that the firm’s pharmacy brands like Clairol and CoverGirl have grappled with declining sales. However, the company’s luxury unit is continually on the uptick — and travel retail is said to be partly responsible. In one case, the company rolled out a Gucci lipstick line at airports that encompassed a Goldie Red — it retails on the web for $38. And consumers at airports do make an attractive customer base as they have extra time that lets them stay in stores longer.

Luxury brands are looking to catch the attention of travelers who might be willing to explore new products. Bacardi Managing Director of Global Travel Retail Vinay Golikeri said, according to the outlet, “Over half of the people, when they travel and browse stores, they’re looking for something they can’t find back home.” Bacardi, for instance, launched an Aultmore Scotch whiskey three-part series at the United Kingdom’s Heathrow Airport and sold the bottles for $400 each. As it turned out, the brand discovered that many customers were actually purchasing all of the bottles for $1,200.

Consumers wait just over an hour — or 72 minutes — passing the time from security to the flight during a so-called “golden hour.” And travelers are working high-end shopping trips into their travels by purportedly gearing their layovers toward luxury shopping. At the same time, research firm Data Circle found that duty-free and other travel-retail channels saw global sales increase by roughly 9.3 percent to attain $76 billion last year. That figure marked a rise from $69 billion two years ago. Travel retail is said to encompass more than only airport shops: it also includes eCommerce orders that consumers pick up at the airport and in-flight purchases, among other categories.

Through product innovation at the airport, luxury brands are aiming to reach on-the-go travelers who have the time — and the desire — to try something new on the way to their destinations.

In Other Brick-and-Mortar News

Lululemon has quietly closed its men’s standalone stores in Toronto and New York City even as the company still intends to more than double its men’s business in the next five years. The retailer found customers respond to the company better “as a dual-gender brand,” spokeswoman Erin Hankinson said per reports. “We continually test and learn at Lululemon — which is what we did with the men’s stores.”

Toronto’s small-format men’s location — called “The Local” — opened in December 2016 and closed last year as revealed by Hankinson. The New York City Soho men’s store, which opened in 2014, was consolidated into a nearby larger format location. For now, the company is focused on expanding its more productive stores, which Hankinson said, “will continue to create space for category expansions and will help to grow our business, specifically in men’s.”

In other news, Domino’s Pizza and robotics company Nuro are working to use a custom unmanned vehicle to bring autonomous pizza delivery to Houston. The company said in an announcement that the fleet from Nuro will serve some customers in Houston who make online orders. Diners can track the vehicle through the app of the company and will get a unique PIN code to unlock a compartment and retrieve their pizzas

“We are always looking for new ways to innovate and evolve the delivery experience for our customers,” Domino’s Executive Vice President and Chief Information Officer Kevin Vasconi said in the announcement. “Nuro’s vehicles are specially designed to optimize the food delivery experience, which makes them a valuable partner in our autonomous vehicle journey.”

And Panera Bread has been piloting a menu for dinner at a Jacksonville, Florida restaurant in an effort that could bring delivery opportunities. The quick-service restaurant (QSR) is extending the test in July to nine Kentucky locations. Dinner is a popular time for delivery orders, and the chain taps into its own delivery drivers in place of teaming with another company.

Panera Chief Growth and Strategy Officer Dan Wegiel said, according to reports, “We definitely saw for delivery an opportunity with dinner, but it flagged as something we could unlock further for sure.” As many diners view Panera’s salads, soups and sandwiches as items that are too light for a dinner meal, the QSR company added options that would be available following 4:30 p.m. that are heartier like flatbread pizzas and bowls.

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


Latest Insights: 

The Payments 2022 Study: Building A High-Performance Payments Team For Fraud Detection, a PYMNTS collaboration with Stripe, examines how digital platforms of all sectors and sizes plan to develop their anti-fraud teams as part of their their broader growth and development strategies. Drawing from an extensive survey from approximately 250 payments heads at digital platforms in the U.S. and abroad, our study analyzes how poor anti-fraud capabilities can harm platforms’ long-term growth strategies, and how they can build high-performing teams to tackle these challenges.