Ola Refocuses Its Indian Food Delivery Business

https://www.pymnts.com/news/delivery/2019/ola-foodpanda-india/
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Ola, the Indian ride-hailing startup, is overhauling its food business.

According to a report in TechCrunch, citing sources familiar with the matter, Foodpanda, the food delivery startup Ola purchased in late 2017, will now focus on making private-label food for delivery. Ola currently has more than 50 kitchens churning out food for four private labels Flrt, The Khichdi Experiment, Lovemade and Grandma’s Kitchen. These brands make shakes, biryani and khichri.

The move comes as Foodpanda is finding that competing against Zomato and Swiggy is a losing battle. Sources said that after Ola acquired Foodpanda it aggressively went after consumers, offering deep discounts at the beginning of 2018. Having committed $200 million for the Foodpanda operations, Ola decided to revisit the unit after the discounts started to lose their impact. With Zomato and Swiggy in a battle for first-place dominance it is hard for others to compete unless they have deep pockets. Foodpanda process around 3 million orders a month, which is tiny in comparison to Zomato and Swiggy. The two each handle more than 30 million orders each month, according to the report.

People familiar with the matter said even Uber is having a tough go of it, trying to sell Uber Eats to either Zomator and Swiggy, but failing to reach a deal. Uber, which went public earlier this month, has reduced its budget for Uber Eats in India since the failed talks.

“As part of our ongoing business repurposing initiatives, we are focused on building a portfolio of own food brands and curated food offerings through our fast expanding network of kitchens,” Ola said in a statement to the news outlet. “Many of these offerings are already available in all major cities through the Ola and Foodpanda apps. We continue to invest in expanding our facilities and kitchens, as well as our portfolio of food offerings for customers. We remain committed to our mission of building a superior food experience for millions of our customers.”

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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 May 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.

https://www.pymnts.com/news/delivery/2019/ola-foodpanda-india/

Lowe’s Sees Online Sales Rise 16 Pct.; Shares Hit By High Costs

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Lowe’s reported its Q1 earnings on Wednesday (May 22), and the results were mixed – the company’s online sales were up 16 percent, while shares fell 10 percent due to higher costs, forcing the company to cut its forecast, according to a report by CNBC.

The value of Lowe’s at the close of the market on Tuesday (May 21) was $88.4 billion, and its shares are up about 20 percent since the beginning of 2019. The company has been in a transitional period since new CEO Marvin Ellison joined about a year ago.

Many of the retailer’s improvement investments are weighing down profits, and the cut forecast caused a selloff. Earnings per share were $1.22 adjusted, while they were estimated to be $1.33. Revenue was better: $17.74 billion versus $17.66 billion estimated. Also, same-store sales beat expectations, up 3.5 percent versus the 3.2 percent estimated.

Lowe’s reported that net income was up, reaching $1.05 billion from $988 million a year ago.

“Our first quarter comparable sales performance is a clear indication that the consumer is healthy, and our focus on retail fundamentals is gaining traction,” Ellison said in a release. “However, the unanticipated impact of the convergence of cost pressure, significant transition in our merchandising organization and ineffective legacy pricing tools and processes led to gross margin contraction in the quarter, which impacted earnings.”

Ellison noted that cost increases hit gross margins by 90 points as the company completely revamped merchandising operations. “We are still in the early stages of our transformation, and with the changes we are putting in place, we expect to deliver improved gross margin performance over the balance of the year,” he added.

Lowe’s said it expects net income for fiscal 2019 to be around $5.54 to $5.74 a share. Adjusted, it will earn about $5.45 and $5.65 a share.

Oppenheimer’s Brian Nagel said he thinks the results of the quarter are good: “I think when the dust clears on this, it’s going to be a positive. The market’s going to say Lowe’s has been under-managed for a very long period of time, they figured out what they need to do, they’re starting to see the results in better sales … there’s just extra investment that needs to be made here in the near term.”

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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 May 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.

https://www.pymnts.com/earnings/2019/lowes-revenue-online-sales-shares-slide/

Bill.com Debuts AI Business Payments Platform

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Corporate payments technology firm Bill.com is rolling out a new platform designed to deploy artificial intelligence (AI) for automated workflows.

In an announcement on Wednesday (May 22), Bill.com said it has launched the Intelligent Business Payments Platform for small and medium-sized businesses that need a more efficient business payments solution. Bill.com pointed to its own research, which found the payments platform saves SMB users an average of 5.5 hours every week, or 35 business days a year, by automating processes that professionals had previously completed manually.

The platform includes an Intelligent Virtual Assistant, which automates invoice processing and approval, and uses machine learning to automatically capture data from those invoices and identify potential errors. It can also recognize bill approval routing and payment thresholds. The platform includes faster payment options that support cross-border transactions, virtual card payments and automatic payments for recurring bills.

“Bill.com has focused on developing new technologies that help SMBs grow,” said Bill.com CEO and Founder René Lacerte in a statement. “Automating the back office is a huge industry-wide need. Our new intelligent platform, which is the most significant update to Bill.com since its inception, is built on 10 years of experience managing business payments and hundreds of millions of bills and invoices to train the AI. Increasing the speed and ease of payments will help businesses get ahead.”

The launch of the AI-powered payments platform follows a partnership Bill.com struck with Mastercard last month. That tie-up, which coincided with the announcement that Bill.com had raised $88 million and achieved unicorn status, sees Mastercard integrate virtual card payment technology into the Bill.com portal, enabling companies to pay their invoices with single-use virtual cards.

Mastercard, along with Franklin Templeton, Fidelity Investments Canada ULC and others, provided the funding for Bill.com.

“Businesses struggle with conventional payment processes, which are complex, manual, paper-based and not always secure,” Lacerte said in a statement at the time.

Bill.com has also partnered with American Express, a collaboration that integrates Amex’s virtual and corporate card technology into the Bill.com platform.

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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 May 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.

https://www.pymnts.com/news/b2b-payments/2019/bill-com-artificial-intelligence-platform/

Wirecard Works With India To Create Digital Taxpayer ID Cards

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Wirecard, the global digital financial technology company, announced on Wednesday (May 22) that it has partnered with India’s government-owned UTI Infrastructure Technology and Services Limited (UTIITSL) to facilitate the issuing of physical and digital taxpayer identification cards.

In a press release, Wirecard said retail agents in India will collect the data needed for the cards – also known as PAN (permanent account number) cards – digitize that data and forward it to UTIITSL, which will then issue the cards and send them directly to customers.

“As the partner of choice for one of India’s leading government-owned financial service providers, we are delighted to be part of the project to bring PAN cards to more people,” said Anil Kapur, Wirecard’s managing director in India. “Through this cooperation, we have proven Wirecard’s power in global technology services and our ability to create solutions for a wide range of consumers and industries to create a better tomorrow for all.”

According to Wirecard, every citizen in India requires a PAN card to carry out the lion’s share of financial transactions, including opening bank accounts and transferring money. The cards can also be used as proof of identity. And because all data is stored in a centralized database, consumers can also use the cards to track tax payments and declarations. The cards are seen as an effective measure against tax fraud in the country, Wirecard noted.

UTI Infrastructure Technology and Services has a network of 62 branches across India. Through the partnership with Wirecard, 350 cities will be served by around 15,000 Wirecard agents. The agents are authorized to collate and forward citizens’ documents for the creation of the PAN cards.

Wirecard noted that UTIITS is one of two service providers in India authorized to issue PAN card in digital and physical forms. The company provides technology services to the financial and government sectors of India.

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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 May 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.

https://www.pymnts.com/news/security-and-risk/2019/wirecard-india-taxpayer-identification-cards/

WeChat Pay And Alipay Banned In Nepal

https://www.pymnts.com/digital-payments/2019/wechat-pay-alipay-banned-nepal/
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WeChat Pay and Alipay, the Chinese digital payment apps, have been banned in Nepal due to a loss of income as a result of the services, per the government’s claims.

Reuters, citing Laxmi Prapanna Niroula, a spokesman for the Nepal Rastra Bank, reported that the two digital payment services are not registered with the central bank in Nepal and are therefore illegal.

WeChat Pay is a unit of Tencent’s popular WeChat mobile messaging platform, while Alipay is operated by Ant Financial, an affiliate of Chinese eCommerce giant Alibaba. These payment apps are used by Chinese tourists who need to pay in Chinese-run businesses in Nepal.

“Any digital transaction made with unregistered foreign payment systems like WeChat Pay and Alipay is illegal,” Niroula told Reuters. “Anyone using such platforms can be punished.” Individuals found guilty of embezzling foreign exchange could face jail time of as much as three years, noted the report.

The spokesman said the apps were using Nepal‘s internet connectivity, but the transactions are being made in China and not in the country’s national accounts. “The government cannot tax such transactions nor check any crimes related to such unregistered payment systems,” Niroula said, noting the ban went into effect at the start of the week.

In a statement to Reuters, Tencent said its WeChat Pay unit meets all regulations in the countries where it operates. “As for illegal payment collection overseas, we are constantly using technical means to crack down and prevent this behavior,” it said. “Overseas vendors should work with WeChat Pay’s partners to enable WeChat Pay’s collection services.”

Meanwhile, Alipay said it also complies with local rules and regulations. “We request that all users abide by the Alipay Collection QR Code Agreement when using our QR code payment services. We have strengthened our measures to effectively prevent future cases where some users had wrongfully collected payments outside of China using domestic QR codes,” it said.

Of the 1.1 million tourists to Nepal last year, 153,000 were from China. They comprise the largest group after Indian tourists, which amounted to 200,000 in 2018.

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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 May 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.

https://www.pymnts.com/digital-payments/2019/wechat-pay-alipay-banned-nepal/

Despite Growth, Questions Remain with Challenger Bank Numbers

https://bankinnovation.net/2019/05/despite-growth-questions-remain-with-challenger-bank-numbers/
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With hefty injections of cash and ballooning customer numbers, challenger banks are gunning for a greater share of incumbent banks’ customers. They’re promoting customer growth as an indicator of ongoing success, but questions loom about whether these customers are using their challenger bank accounts as their primary account and whether customer acquisition gains are being …Read More

https://bankinnovation.net/2019/05/despite-growth-questions-remain-with-challenger-bank-numbers/

nbkc bank Taps Finastra to Build Conversational Banking App

https://bankinnovation.net/2019/05/nbkc-bank-taps-finastra-to-build-conversational-banking-app/
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Kansas City-based nbkc bank is building a conversational banking app with Finastra on the vendor’s growing FusionFabric.cloud open platform. The digital-savvy community bank, which uses Finastra’s Phoenix core banking solution, wants to be at the forefront of new and evolving communication channels to ensure it can meet customers wherever and however they want to do …Read More

https://bankinnovation.net/2019/05/nbkc-bank-taps-finastra-to-build-conversational-banking-app/

German fintech Raisin to enter U.S. market next year

https://bankinnovation.net/2019/05/german-fintech-raisin-to-enter-u-s-market-next-year/
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A  savings and investment platform based in Germany is opening up a new front in the war for U.S. customers’ deposit dollars. Raisin, which bills itself as a one-stop shop for online savings and investments, is planning to launch in the U.S. next year. Partnering with small and medium-sized institutions, the Berlin-based fintech acts like …Read More

https://bankinnovation.net/2019/05/german-fintech-raisin-to-enter-u-s-market-next-year/

Making Move-In Financially Feasible For Millennials

https://www.pymnts.com/news/alternative-financial-services/2019/staytony-rent-relocation/
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In 2010 a small, obscure New York State political party grabbed a lot of viral attention with a video by its candidate for the governorship, Jimmy McMillan. McMillan’s party name and his message are one in the same: “The Rent Is Too Damn High.”

The RITDH movement did not win the governorship, nor has it ever won any office, possibly because it is a bit of one-note political movement. Still, it is hard to say it is wrong on the facts, at least in most places in the U.S. Rents in America rose by 64 percent between 1960 and 2014 (adjusted for inflation), while real household incomes only increased by 18 percent, according to census data analysis by real estate platform Apartment List. The national average rent reached an all-time high of $1,405 last June, a 2.9 percent year-on-year increase from 2017, according to data from Yardi Matrix, and is expected to log another increase with the data to come in about a month.

And of course, depending on the area — think megamarkets like New York, San Francisco, Boston or Los Angeles — that $1,400 “average” is higher still. Monthly rent in San Francisco on a studio generally starts at around $2,500, and while Manhattan or Brooklyn show a lot more range, the lower end of that range starts at around $2,700. To live hyper-desirable neighborhoods (think SoHo, Tribeca or Park Slope) $3,500-$4,000 a month rent is considered pretty normal.

Too damn high indeed.

And the problem, StayTony Founder Tony Diamond noted, isn’t just the monthly payments themselves — high rents essentially make renting in some cities nearly impossibly expensive for people looking to relocate to them.  Because, he noted in an interview, the cost of moving into an apartment isn’t about handing the new landlord the first month’s rent on move-in day, from a financial point of view. New tenants in most markets can expect to pay first month’s rent, last month’s rent and/or a security deposit that is usually equivalent to one month’s rent. In high-demand markets where rent passed the $2,500 mark on average, move-in costs start in the $5k-$8k range and tend to skyrocket from there.

“And that just gets you into the door, the apartment is empty when you walk in so that means one is either choosing to purchase things to fill it, or moving things into it — and that’s now more costly,” Diamond said.

This creates a catch-22 for workers, particularly millennial workers who generally lack the kind of savings or well-established credit histories to smooth out these types of high upfront cost processes. Millennials might be able to land a job or work opportunity in a new city, he said, very likely a high-cost hub like Los Angeles or Atlanta — and thus have a chance to radically upgrade their income. But if they don’t have the $8K-$10 in cash or credit access necessary to move, they can’t afford to make more money through relocation.

The StayTony concept looks to act on that upfront cost pain point on two fronts — one familiar, one a bit less so.

The familiar track is offering up short-term housing mostly geared toward business travelers and other corporate types. The goal product has been described as something akin to an upscale Airbnb, or a boutique hotels meets corporate housing. Diamond himself noted the firm’s most common renters are “Airbnb refugees” who are “tired of playing Russian Roulette” with apartment for medium-term stays.

On the housing side, the StayTony advantage is quality and location.

While corporate condos have a reputation for being rather drab and utilitarian, the StayTony aesthetic is most commonly likened to a boutique hotel — with studio and one-bedroom units that tend to feel more homey and hip than average, with hand-painted wallpaper, designer furniture and luxury linens. One month is a required booking, and the average tenure of stay, the site reports, is about three months.

On the location side, StayTony properties in Los Angeles and Atlanta (the only two cities the firm is currently operating in) appear in highly desirable, high price tag locations such as Hollywood, Midtown Atlanta and Beverly Hills.

But what has gotten the firm a lot of attention of late isn’t the quality of housing units it offers, but the unique way it has partnered with POS financing firm Uplift to allow potential tenants to creatively finance their rent.

The big problem for many young professionals, Diamond noted, is that upfront costs of moving kill opportunities before they get started. The financing product the firm has developed with Uplift, on the other hand, allows a tenant to finance one to three months worth of rent on an apartment, to be paid back in even automatic installments over the next 12 months — without a hard credit pull. Tenants who pay their loans back within six months can often get interest-free financing. The move-in cost, instead of several thousand dollars, is simply the first installment payment on the loan. So an apartment that rents for $2,600 per month would have a move-in cost around $240.

“People already finance one-time life events like weddings, medical procedures, and vacations all the time. We thought, why not finance the life event of relocating to a new city or moving for a temporary job assignment?”

For many, the answer to that question will be cost. StayTony apartments, with their boutique hotel attention to detail and prime locations, often have high price tags, where $2,600 is a low-end price. Higher-end price tags come in closer to $5,500 a month. StayTony might be a great solution for young professionals moving to high-cost cities to start high paying jobs — but an aspiring starlet heading to Hollywood hoping to wait tables until she’s discovered might be better served by Craigslist.

But young professionals need better options, Diamond said, and in a world where high-skill professionals are increasingly joining the gig economy and working long-term contracts, a solution that allows them to benefit from opportunities in a financially manageable manner is an innovation the entire workforce can benefit from.

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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 May 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.

https://www.pymnts.com/news/alternative-financial-services/2019/staytony-rent-relocation/

Imitation Meat, Loyalty On Demand And Remote Ordering: The Shape-Shifting Of Dining In 2019

https://www.pymnts.com/innovation/2019/restaurants-dining-trends-digital-technologies/
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As is usually the case, there was plenty to see – and even more to eat – in the national restaurant show this week. During the early part of the week, 43,000 attendees descended on Chicago’s McCormick Place to feast on food samples, experiment with new cooking technology and wander among tables at an exhibition the size of 22 football fields, trying to get a taste for what’s next in in the industry.

And as always, there were some surprisingly big showings at the National Restaurant Show. In 2019, plant-based meats were the show stealer. Though they are historically associated with “hamburgers” that bore more than a passing resemblance to cardboard hockey pucks in both appearance and execution, the last 12 months have marked something of a meatless meat renaissance.

The team at Impossible Foods, which notched a $2 billion valuation early this year, took the opportunity at the show to tout their newly reformulated vegan burger, which reportedly blew viewers away with “how closely it mimicked beef.”

And while meatless meats and their apparent advances were the surprise stars of the show this year, the trend has been notably been building all year. Beyond Burger, an Impossible Foods competitor, is eyeing an IPO, while Don Lee Farms (maker of the veggie burger that bleeds) has been pushing global expansion.

“No one wants to eat a burger hidden with artificial or modified ingredients if they have the choice,” Danny Goodman of Don Lee Farms told PYMNTS earlier this year. “They want natural. They want organic. They want real.”

Or, at least it seems, they want it to taste as real as possible.

The most controversial food item of the day, incidentally, was Jimmy Dean’s sausage gravy stuffed hash brown, which was lovingly described as “meat and cream-filled toaster strudel made of crisp potatoes.” Its flavor is “exactly what you think” – which we assume means it tastes like a heart attack. It was a winner of the 2019 Food and Beverage Award in innovation – an award recognizing “industry-altering products that will shape the future of food and beverage.”

And while it makes sense that a restaurant industry event would focus on the food at the front of the house when handing out awards for innovations, the technical products running behind the scenes are increasingly creeping into the spotlight when it comes to being “industry-altering.”

The ongoing tension between restaurateurs and mobile delivery aggregators like Uber Eats, Grubhub and Deliveroo seems to continue as a powerful product driver. As Olo CEO Noah Glass noted in a conversation earlier this year, restaurant operators wrongly assumed they couldn’t be digitally disrupted because of the nature of what they sold. But, as Karen Webster explained, restaurants are in trouble today, because those third-party order aggregating plays have all matured into real threats to their customers’ loyalty.

“Restaurants sign on because they see it as a way to get orders, even though they run the risk of losing consumer loyalty to their brand, and perhaps even the consumer herself, as aggregators inevitably pivot their platforms – and their platform economics – to create their own branded food experiences,” Webster wrote.

But, as the latest edition of the Restaurant Readiness Index clearly indicates, there is no going back and hitting reset on this for restaurateurs, because customers are pushing for that simplified digital moderated checkout experience. By the numbers, nearly all (92 percent) report that using an app to place a QSR order is a positive experience.

Among offerings that drew attention this week in Chicago was Say2eat, a Messenger-based ordering solution that allows customers to order meals through Facebook Messenger. Designed as an alternative to mobile apps, Say2eat currently counts 168 million customers as users. Synk, on the other hand, is designed to provide a lower-cost alternative to third-party delivery. Using Google mapping, the software optimizes routes for delivery drivers so restaurants can keep their delivery operations in-house.

Gaining strength, but largely off the beaten path this year, were loyalty applications and offerings. According to the Restaurant Readiness Index, nearly eight in 10 QSR customers see loyalty programs as highly important, a view shared by about half of all managers.

Overall, the report found that approximately 80 percent of customers and managers have a positive view of loyalty programs. Among the more successful users of them are Starbucks and Dunkin’, which noted in their most recent earnings reports that they are critical to boosting sales and engagement – particularly when wedded to a mobile order-ahead program.

But at the big show for restaurants nationwide this week, loyalty didn’t get much love or big announcements.

There were, however, robots – specifically, serving bots. Introduced by Bear Robotics, Penny is a self-driving robot designed to deliver food and drink orders and bus tables. Swappable trays allow for different functions, and multiple Penny units can be programmed to work in a small space at once without issue. And then there is Sally, a bot that makes customizable salads, yogurt bowls, grain bowls and snacks using sophisticated robotics and algorithms to dispense accurate portions of hundreds of different ingredients.

Useful – but can it accept an order on the go? Offer points? Make a veggie burger that really tastes like the real thing? Stuff a potato hot pocket with sausage gravy?

Probably not, but then, there is always next year.

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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 May 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.

https://www.pymnts.com/innovation/2019/restaurants-dining-trends-digital-technologies/

Truecaller Denies Data Hack As Customer Info Shows Up On Dark Web

https://www.pymnts.com/news/security-and-risk/2019/truecaller-data-dark-web/
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Data from Truecaller, the Swedish caller identity app company, is reportedly being sold in private internet forums, including data on customer phone numbers and email addresses of users around the world.

According to a report in the Economic Times, a cybersecurity analyst who monitors these types of transactions told the paper that the data is being sold on the dark web for around Rs 1.5 lakh (2000 Euros.) Data on global users are going for as much as 25000 Euros. Truecaller has 140 million users around the globe.

“It has been recently brought to our attention that some users have been abusing their accounts,” a representative for Truecaller said in a statement to the news outlet. “In light of this event, we would like to strongly confirm at this stage that there has been no sensitive user information being accessed or extracted, especially our users financial or payment details.”

Despite the statement out of Truecaller, the news outlet said it reviewed a sample of the data that is being sold on the dark web and found it that had personal identifiers including the user’s address and the mobile service provider. “The team has been investigating the matter and has found a very large percentage of the sample data does not match or is not Truecaller data,” Truecaller said in response to that.

The report noted that earlier in 2019 the caller identity app said it started looking into users accounts that may have abused access to its platform. It had previously set daily limits on the number of searches one account could do.

Truecaller went on to say in its statement that its database wasn’t attacked and that the data on its servers is “highly secured.” Still, cyber experts told the news outlet it’s not likely that such a large amount of data wasn’t accessed via a data breach.

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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 May 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.

https://www.pymnts.com/news/security-and-risk/2019/truecaller-data-dark-web/

How Subscription Services Can Disrupt Alcohol’s Confusing Distribution System

https://www.pymnts.com/news/retail/2019/subscription-services-alcohol-distribution-firstleaf/
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Selling alcohol is a more complicated process than the average consumer generally appreciates when they order a glass of wine with their restaurant meal or pick up something at a liquor store. Some of the difficulty is that alcohol is one of the most regulated retail goods – and those regulations aren’t always consistent state to state, or even town to town. Almost 100 years post-Prohibition, there are dozens of towns throughout the U.S. where the sale of alcohol is still illegal.

But the bulk of that back-end complexity comes as the direct result of the unique three-tiered sales process for alcohol and spirits. Alcohol producers – wineries, distilleries and brewers – must sell their products to wholesalers. The system is controversial within the industry, with supporters noting that it controls the flow of alcohol within the U.S. and critics pointing out that it creates an unnecessary layer of middlemen that unnecessarily raises prices.

Outside the industry, however, most people don’t have much of an opinion on the subject, because it is mostly invisible to consumers.

But the evolving consensus is that the digital economy is disrupting, and possibly displacing, the system – mainly by exploiting loopholes.

Online marketplaces like Drizly mostly stand outside the system, by aggregating prices across a variety of retail sellers. Wine flash sale sites build relationships with lots of distributors – still within the three-tiered system – but act as a force that exerts downward pressure on wine pricing. Shots Box CEO JC Stock noted in a recent interview with PYMNTS that despite the fact they had originally conceived of their distilled products delivery business as an online-only endeavor, they had to open a single physical store just to get the licensing they needed to sell online.

“We had to buy a retail store to fulfill this dream. It was a learning process, and a very expensive one,” Stock told Karen Webster.

There is another workaround to the three-tiered system, a loophole leveraged by Firstleaf and other wine subscription clubs. While the tiers are mostly legally mandated to be separated (producers can’t be wholesalers, wholesalers can’t be distributors, etc.), wine clubs are the exception, in that they can hold dual licenses. What that means in practical terms is that the service can both purchase wine directly from vintners and sell to consumers directly, as long as they sell on subscription instead of allowing shoppers to order bottles a la carte.

“At Firstleaf, we are investing in higher quality wine and shipping it directly to consumers, cutting out steps that add cost. Great wine always begins in the vineyard directly, with the small farms to bring in the product .We skip the importers and import the wines ourselves.”

The experience of using the service is otherwise similar to the DTC commerce experience. The user starts the experience with a brief online quiz, which asks about white vs. red vs. rosé vs. sparkling preferences, what region they prefer their wine to come from, and how much on average they drink per month. From there, the user gets a three-bottle introductory box for just a $4.95 shipping fee.

Once the bottles are consumed, the wines can be reviewed with a thumbs-up or thumbs-down, and users can leave comments. That data feeds the artificial intelligence to generate suggestions for future boxes.

After the initial box, every future shipment will consist of six wines (for $79, plus tax and $9.95 shipping) delivered automatically every two months. Users can make specific substitutions within orders three times.

The service, by all accounts, works better the more consumers use it and interact with it by selecting or deselecting wines. Most reviews indicate it is a better service for wine novices than for those that already have highly developed palates and preferences.

It might not singlehandedly bring down the three-tiered system – but as Firstleaf and other digital alcohol players are proving, there are workarounds. How long they can survive the competition or adjustments remains to be seen.

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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 May 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.

https://www.pymnts.com/news/retail/2019/subscription-services-alcohol-distribution-firstleaf/

Unexpected eCommerce Boost Pushes Earnings Beat For Target

https://www.pymnts.com/news/retail/2019/target-earnings-revenue-ecommerce-sales/
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Target notched an impressive beat when it reported its Q2 earnings earlier this morning (May 22), with earnings and sales both clearing analyst predictions.

Net income clocked in at $795 million, or $1.53 per share. That is a beat on results at this time last year, when Target reported earnings of $718 million, or $1.33 a share, a year ago, well ahead of analyst estimates of an EPS of $1.43. Revenues came in at $17.63 billion, a 5 percent increase from 2017’s Q1 result, and ahead of estimates for $17.52 billion. Same-store sales were up 4.8 percent, up from a year ago and ahead of 4.2 percent estimates. Target also reported that traffic at stores was up 4.3 percent, transactions overall were up 4.3 percent and the average transaction amount was up 0.5 percent.

Online sales, however, were the start of the earnings show with a 42 percent surge, driven by the introduction of curbside grocery pickup at Target locations. Online sales now represent 7.1 percent of the retailer’s total sales, up from 5.2 percent a year ago.

“We continue to see a healthy economic backdrop for our business,” CEO Brian Cornell said, noting that Target is “well-positioned to deliver strong financial performance in 2019 and beyond.”

Big Q1 rollouts for Target included intimates and sleepwear brands Auden, Stars Above and Colsie, all of which were well-received. The retailer also launched an environmentally friendly brand of cleaning products called Everspring during the first three months of the year.

“When we incorporate our merchandising efforts into all the other initiatives that are driving our business … something really special happens for our guests,” CMO Mark Tritton told analysts. “Target becomes more relevant to them and they choose to shop us more often.”

Over the last year and a half, Target has developed a reputation as retail’s most avid survivor, according to an analyst note from Morgan Stanley earlier this month.

“Now, there are signs Target’s shipping-related deleverage is narrowing, particularly as it invests in fulfillment options … which promote higher traffic and reduce costs,” Morgan Stanley said ahead of earnings.

Target has also skillfully managed to generate buzz – and regain some of that late 90s, early 2000s “Tar-jay” feeling – with the launch this month of its limited-edition line of Vineyard Vines’ preppy apparel and accessories. The move generated long lines, sellouts and countless internet and social media mentions. On Tuesday (May 22), Target said the Vineyard Vines launch is already “one of the most successful” brand collaborations it’s ever done.

Target shares are up about 8.8 percent for the year, and the good earnings news drove that upward trajectory. The retailer’s shares were up 7 percent when market trading began.

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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 May 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.

https://www.pymnts.com/news/retail/2019/target-earnings-revenue-ecommerce-sales/

Plaid Launches Plaid Direct In Open Banking Innovation Push

https://www.pymnts.com/innovation/2019/plaid-direct-open-banking/
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A new service launched Wednesday (May 22) called Plaid Direct enables “two-way connectivity across the financial ecosystem and makes it easier for consumers to move money between their accounts — whether it’s in a neobank, FinTech, or big box bank account,” according to a statement from Plaid.

In a blog post, the company said it now offers a “lightweight integration specification that allows banks and FinTech applications to quickly and easily become a data source in the Plaid network. By doing so, businesses can enable their customers to enjoy open banking-style connectivity across their toolkit of financial services providers.”

Changing regulations and open banking are redefining the obligations of financial institutions, forcing them to rethink their strategies and implement new technological approaches. New legislation, such as PSD2, is raising the bar for FIs by allowing organizations like FinTechs to provide financial services. Such rules require traditional FIs to securely open up their customer data and require new levels of transparency from service providers, which must reveal everything from fees and exchange rates to liabilities and transaction time frames.

Here’s how the service works, according to Plaid: “Once you have integrated via Plaid Direct, end users can select your institution or app in Plaid Link and connect their accounts with personal financial management apps, such as Drop and Qapital. Your customers can also use their accounts as a funding source for other services, such as Acorns and Coinbase.”

Plaid said the new service already has sparked innovation, via Varo Money. It’s offering consumers an “unprecedented level of financial freedom” by enabling consumers to use funds from their Varo account to fund their Betterment account.

“Varo’s goal is to help our customers make smart financial decisions by ensuring they can see their full financial picture, ideally across all their money apps. The Plaid Direct specification enabled us to easily build into the Plaid network and enable our customers to do just that,” said James Pelham Burn, product manager at Varo.

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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 May 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.

https://www.pymnts.com/innovation/2019/plaid-direct-open-banking/

Comcast Wants To Follow Amazon, Google And Apple Into The Healthcare Game

https://www.pymnts.com/healthcare/2019/comcast-device-amazon-google-apple/
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Comcast reportedly is getting into healthcare — the latest example of how technology is proving entry for a variety of tech and communication-focused firms into one of the largest industries in the U.S., a group that includes the likes of Amazon, Google and Apple.

According to CNBC, the Comcast healthcare effort centers around a yet-to-be deployed device to “monitor people’s health,” which is set for a pilot later this year. The report, based on knowledge from two unnamed sources, said the “device will monitor people’s basic health metrics using ambient sensors, with a focus on whether someone is making frequent trips to the bathroom or spending more time than usual in bed. Comcast is also building tools for detecting falls, which are common and potentially fatal for seniors, the people said.”

The report added that the device won’t be a “communications or assistant tool,” and won’t be capable of other tasks such as web searches or controlling household appliances or utilities. “Comcast plans to offer the device and related service to at-risk people, including seniors and people with disabilities, but the timing, pricing and roll-out plan have not been finalized,” the report said. “It will start to experiment with pilots, which are not limited to Comcast customers, by the end of 2019, with potential commercial release in 2020.”

Healthcare is at the verge of a wave of innovation and disruption via the efforts of Big Tech and other companies that are more associated with digital payments and commerce than medical care and medicine.

Amazon stands as one of the main example of that, and seems to be helping to blaze the path that Comcast is following. As PYMNTS has covered, Amazon wants to enable Alexa, its voice-activated digital assistant, to keep tabs on customers’ medicine and provide personal health updates, and is taking steps to achieve that. Amazon said Alexa is HIPAA-compliant and that five healthcare companies including Cigna, Livongo Health and hospital partners have created new Alexa skills, enabling Alexa to make appointments at urgent care facilities, track prescription drug shipments and provide doctors with information once a patient is released from the hospital.

As for Google, its plans to disrupt healthcare and play a major role in that industry include using data and artificial intelligence (AI). That’s according to Toby Cosgrove, an executive advisor to the Google Cloud health care team. Such tools could allow Google to help medical professionals better spot health trends and determine more efficient — and perhaps even less expensive — treatment plans. AI in healthcare will reach $36.1 billion by 2025, according to a recent report.

Wearables, too, are part of this building wave of disruption and innovation in healthcare. For instance, Google has said it would work with Fitbit, a maker of wearable devices, on healthcare initiatives tied to consumer and enterprise health situations, with Fitbit using Google’s new Cloud for Healthcare API to help the company integrate further into the healthcare system. Through this collaboration, Fitbit can connect user data with electronic medical records (EMR).

For its part, Apple also has a hand in wearables, and in offering encouragement toward exercise and healthy living through those devices. Earlier this year, for instance, Aetna said that via the Apple Watch, the insurance provider’s Attain app will give Aetna members access to personalized goals, the ability to track their daily activity levels, access to health action recommendations and the ability to earn rewards for taking actions that improve their overall well-being. According to Aetna, reward opportunities include the ability for eligible users to earn their Apple Watch via participation in the program.

Apple is also working with Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen Pharmaceuticals unit to study whether the Apple Watch can be used to prevent strokes.

But wearables aren’t the only focus for Apple when it comes to healthcare. It will provide its Health Records feature on the iPhone to the upwards of 9 million veterans in facilities all over the country. That means veterans will be able to peruse their health records and see secure medical info, all organized in one app on their iPhones. Things like immunizations, conditions, allergies, procedures and lab results will all be displayed, and veterans will be able to see a summarized health profile on demand.

As all this shows — and the new Comcast effort confirms — the world of healthcare promises to be built in large part by the contributions of commerce and payments and web-focused firms.

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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 May 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.

https://www.pymnts.com/healthcare/2019/comcast-device-amazon-google-apple/

How eTailers Level Up Their Checkout Game

https://www.pymnts.com/news/retail/2019/ecommerce-checkout-shopify-uber/
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To prevent consumers from leaving their carts behind before they pay, businesses need to have strong online checkout processes that convert online shoppers into customers. The aim is to head off the real and pertinent issue of checkout abandonment, which, according to some estimates, happens to a staggering share of eCommerce carts.

Some estimates say almost seven in 10 — or 69.6 percent — of all online shopping carts end up deserted, according to the latest PYMNTS Checkout Conversion Index. And that calculates to lost eCommerce sales of $260 billion because shoppers don’t hit that buy button and complete their purchases. The pressure is on enhance and streamline online checkout processes with so much in the balance.

From Amazon to Shopify, tech companies and eCommerce retailers are adopting features to up their checkout games (and presumably improve conversions in the process). These are just some of the functions companies are employing to help bolster their checkout processes on eCommerce websites.

All — or 100 percent — of the top 30 merchants in Q2 2018 offered product ratings, reviews and recommendations. Google Shopping, for instance, has been redesigned and users can read reviews or watch video content on certain products and they can filter by brands or items. The example given by Google was a shopper looking for a set of new headphones filtering for attributes like “wireless” or a brand like “Sony.” At the same time, news surfaced that the new shopping experience would include the insertion of a little blue shopping cart logo. The company noted per reports that it would “show shoppers they can seamlessly purchase what they want with simple returns and customer support, backed by a Google guarantee.”

All — or 100 percent — of the top 30 merchants in Q2 2018 offered rewards. Through the Uber Rewards program, for instance, riders in the U.S. earn points for their Uber X, Premium and Pool rides along with Uber Eats purchases. Passengers earn 1 point for every $1 they spend on Uber Pool as well as Uber Eats, and earn 2 points for every dollar they spend on Uber X. Riders who reach certain thresholds then meet levels such as gold, platinum and diamond. The latter tier, in one case, offers customers who earn a minimum of 7,500 points free Uber Eats delivery on three orders. This tier of riders also attains “special access to highly rated drivers” as well as complimentary upgrades in addition to “premium support.” 

Nearly all — or 98.7 percent — of the top 30 merchants in Q2 2018 offered free shipping. And shipping methods through eCommerce retailers are becoming faster: Amazon, for instance, plans to invest $800 million during Q2 to make delivery speed for Prime members one day instead of two. One-day delivery is an option on some goods as of now. Amazon Chief Financial Officer Brian Olsavsky said in response to a question from an analyst, “We have been offering obviously faster-than-two-day shipping for Prime members for years — one day, same day, even down to two-hour delivery for Prime Now — so we’re going to continue to offer same day and Prime Now morphing into, or evolving into, a free one-day offer.”

And 95.3 percent of the top 30 merchants in Q2 2018 offered live site help. Technology companies are rolling out new services to condense business conversations and tasks into one place: Shopify, in one case, rolled out a new mobile app dubbed Shopify Ping per reports last year. Merchants can manage tasks through messaging without needing to switch between apps and tools through the tool. Shopify Director of Product Michael Perry said in an announcement at the time, “Shopify merchants are conducting many business conversations across multiple apps every day, not only to run their day-to-day operations, but also to manage customer inquiries. Shopify Ping was created to make all of this easier to manage.” Perry added, “It’s a one-stop messaging app that lets them spend more time on what matters most — running their businesses seamlessly and deepening customer relationships.”

Nearly eight in 10 — or 79.3 percent — of the top 30 merchants in Q2 2018 offered guarantees or refunds. Pet Plate, for instance, has a money-back guarantee if a dog isn’t satisfied with the company’s pet food on the first try. Consumers enter the company’s conversion funnel by clicking “start now” or “see plans or pricing.” They are then taken into a flow that asks various questions about their dog (such as breed or birthdate, according to the website). The site will then find the appropriate number of calories for a dog via an algorithm on the back end and will suggest a plan based on how much food a dog needs.

From Pet Plate to Google, eCommerce retailers and technology firms are using features at checkout that could help drive conversions. And, with checkout processes slowly homogenizing and features that were rare becoming common, it is more important than ever that retailers approach their checkout processes strategically to maximize their conversion rates.

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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 May 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.

https://www.pymnts.com/news/retail/2019/ecommerce-checkout-shopify-uber/

Helping The Smallest Businesses Navigate Credit – And Taxes

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The gig economy is gaining ground, as an increasing number of workers have specialized skill sets. But even the savviest of individuals may need help navigating what they owe to Uncle Sam at the end of a gig, at the close of the quarter or on April 15. Likewise, small business owners need credit to help them get operations in place to get top lines flowing. As relayed in recent coverage and interviews with Fundbox and Keeper Tax, the needs (and opportunities) are significant.

Data:

$1.4 trillion: Value of the small business lending market as estimated by the CFPB.

$3,500: Amount it may cost a bank to underwrite a loan through traditional means.

40 percent: Number of small business owners with a  “less than pristine” credit score, as estimated by Fundbox.

20 percent: Keeper Tax’s estimate of gig workers’ tax “overpayment.”

32.2 percent: Share of gig economy workers with specialized skills, measured at the end of 2018.

https://www.pymnts.com/today-in-data/2019/small-businesses-credit-lending-taxes/

CheckFree founder Kight leads $2.5M Series B investment in FI Navigator

https://www.mobilepaymentstoday.com/news/checkfree-founder-kight-leads-25-million-series-b-investment-in-fi-navigator/
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Former CheckFree Corp. founder and CEO Pete Kight led a $2.5 million Series B investment in Fi Navigator Corp., a web-based data and analytics platform for the banking industry, according to a release from the company.

The funding round was supported by Commerce Ventures, an early-stage investment firm that focuses on fintech companies. Several other prominent venture capital firms and private investors also participated in the funding round, officials said.

“Pete Kight inexorably altered the payments landscape through CheckFree, which remains one of fintech’s greatest success stories,” Steve Cotton, founder and CEO of Fi Navigator, said in the announcement. “Pete continues to advance innovation in fintech and possesses an uncommon ability to identify avenues of business model disruption.”

Fi Navigator said the funding comes at a time when the company is rapidly expanding its data and analytics offering, FIN Advisor and FIN Reporter, which serves financial institutions, vendors and consultants.

“FI Navigator dramatically advances industry analytics closer to automated consulting with instant, comprehensive assessments of any financial institution,” Kight said in the release. “That unique ability has the potential to transform the B2Bank sales and consulting models.”


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Marqeta raises $260M in Series E funds to expand payment card issuing platform

https://www.mobilepaymentstoday.com/news/marqeta-raises-260m-in-series-e-funds-to-expand-payment-card-issuing-platform/
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Marqeta Corp. has raised $260 million in a Series E funding round led by Coatue Management. According to a press release, this latest round values the company at $2 billion.

The round was backed by several new investors, including Vitruvian Partners, Spark Capital, Lone Pine Capital and Geodesic. They join the firm’s existing investors Visa, Iconiq, Goldman Sachs, 83 North, Granite Ventures, CommerzVentures and CreditEase.

The firm said the new funding round will be used to expand its modern card issuing platform into new domestic and international markets.

“We are in the midst of a transformation in card issuing around the globe,” Marqeta founder and CEO Jason Gardner said in the announcement. “When today’s innovators are in need of modern payment solutions, they aren’t turning to banks as their primary issuers anymore and want a platform built for their needs.”

Oakland, California-based Marqeta, founded in 2010, uses open APIs to allow companies such as Square, DoorDash, Kabbage and Instacart to create customized payment cards for their customers. The firm has 300 employees worldwide and recently opened a London-based office for its expanding European business.


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Nuvei agrees to buy UK payments firm SafeCharge for $889M

https://www.mobilepaymentstoday.com/news/nuvei-agrees-to-buy-uk-payments-firm-safecharge-for-889m/
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Nuvei Corp. has agreed to buy U.K.-based payments firm SafeCharge International Group Ltd. in a cash deal valued at $889 million (669 million British pounds), according to a regulatory filing.

SafeCharge shareholders will receive $5.55 a share in cash under the agreement. The purchase price represents a 25% premium based on the SafeCharge purchase price at the end of business yesterday.

“The price premium Nuvei is offering reflects SafeCharge’s leading position in the high-growth e-commerce market, the strength of its own technology platform, its diversified and stable customer base, and the significant experience in the payments industry of SafeCharge’s payments team,” SafeCharge chairman Roger Withers said in the filing.

SafeCharge CEO David Avgi said the agreement positions the combined companies well in their respective markets, noting that Nuvei is a strong competitor in the U.S. and Canadian payments business. Nuvei, based in Plano, Texas, was previously known as Pivotal Payments, but changed its name in late 2018. 

Nuvei Chairman and CEO Philip Fayer said the company is very excited about the acquisition, noting the agreement would create a leading payments firm with significant scale.

“Our businesses are highly complementary from multiple perspectives, including geography, technology, key verticals and customers,” he said. “We think the technology platform SafeCharge has developed is exceptional and will serve as the go–forward foundation from which we will continue to grow the combined businesses and provide best-in-class products and services to our customers and partners.”

The deal is expected to be completed by the third quarter.

The SafeCharge board has agreed with the terms of the agreement and plans to recommend that shareholders approve the deal, according to the filing.

 


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