PalmPay launches in Nigeria on $40M round led by China’s Transsion

Africa focused payment startup PalmPay has launched in Nigeria after raising a $40 million seed-round led by Chinese mobile-phone maker Transsion.

The investment came via Transsion’s Tecno subsidiary, with participation from China’s NetEase and Taiwanese wireless comms hardware firm Mediatek a Transsion spokesperson confirmed to TechCrunch.

PalmPay had piloted its mobile fintech offering in Nigeria since July, before going live today at a launch in Lagos.

The startup aims to become Africa’s largest financial services platform, according to a statement. 

As part of the investment, PalmPay enters a strategic partnership with mobile brands Tecno, Infinix, and Itel that includes pre-installation of the startup’s app on 20 million phones in 2020.

The UK headquartered venture — that was also founded with Chinese seed investment — offers a package of mobile based financial services, including no fee payment options, bill pay, rewards programs, and discounted airtime.

In Nigeria, PalmPay will offer 10% cashback on airtime purchases and bank transfer rates as low as 10 Naira ($.02).

In addition to Nigeria, PalmPay will use the $40 million seed funding to grow its financial services business in Ghana. The payments startup has plans to expand to additional countries in 2020, PalmPay CEO Greg Reeve told TechCrunch on a call.

PalmPay received its approval from the Nigerian Central Bank as a licensed mobile money operator in July. During its pilot phase, the payments venture registered 100,000 users and processed 1 million transactions, according to a company spokesperson.

With its payments focus, the startup enters Africa’s most promising digital sector, but also one that has become notably competitive and crowded  — particularly in the continent’s largest economy and most populous nation of Nigeria. 

By a number of estimates, Africa’s 1.2 billion people represent the largest share of the world’s unbanked and underbanked population.

An improving smartphone and mobile-connectivity profile for Africa (see GSMA) turns this scenario into an opportunity for mobile-based financial products.

That’s why hundreds of startups are descending on Africa’s fintech space, looking to offer scalable solutions for the continent’s financial needs. By stats offered WeeTracker, fintech now receives the bulk of VC capital and deal-flow to African startups.

Nigeria has multiple new digital-payments entrants — see Chippercash — and several firmly rooted later stage fintech players, such as Paga and recently confirmed unicorn Interswitch.

PalmPay CEO Greg Reeves believes the company can compete in Nigeria and across Africa based on several strategic advantages. A big one is the startup’s support from Transsion and partnership with Tecno.

Transsion Tecno Store Africa“On channel and access, we’re going to be pre-installed on all Tecno phones. Your’e gonna find us in the Tecno stores and outlets. So we get an immediate channel and leg up in any market we operate in,” said Reeve.

Tecno’s owner and PalmPay’s lead investor, Transsion, is the largest seller of smartphones in Africa and maintains a manufacturing facility in Ethiopia. The company raised nearly $400 million in a Shanghai IPO in September and plans to spend roughly $300 million of that on new R&D and manufacturing capabilities in Africa and globally.

In addition to Transsion’s support and network, Reeves names PalmPay’s partnership with Visa . “We signed a strategic alliance with Visa so now I can deliver Visa products on top of my wallet, link my wallet to Visa products and give access to someone who’s completely unbanked to the whole of the Visa network,” he said.

Another strategic advantage PalmPay may have as a newcomer in Africa’s fintech space is Reeve’s leadership experience. He comes to the CEO position after serving as Vodaphone’s global head of M-Pesa — one of the world’s most recognized mobile-money products. Reeve was also a GM for Millicom‘s fintech products across Africa and Latin America.

“I’ve had my fingers in mobile financial services for the last 10 years,” he said.

Reeve confirmed that PalmPay has local teams (and is hiring) in Nigeria and Ghana.

With the company’s launch and $40 million raise — which is potentially the largest seed-round for an Africa focused startup in 2019 — PalmPay’s bid to gain digital payment market share is on.

The Transsion led investment also serves as a big bold marker for China’s pivot to African tech in 2019. It follows several big moves by Chinese actors in the continent’s digital space.

These include Opera’s $50 million investment in multiple online verticals in Nigeria and a major investment by Chinese investors in trucking logistics startup Lori Systems this week.

Latin America Roundup: Uber acquires Cornershop, SoftBank invests in Buser and Olist

Brazil continued to churn out unicorns this month, with Curitiba-based Ebanx becoming the first startup from the southern part of the country to top a $1 billion valuation. U.S.-based FTV Capital provided the investment but did not disclose the amount invested nor the exact valuation of Ebanx after the investment.

Ebanx is an end-to-end payment processor that helps international companies receive payments in the Latin American market, similar to Stripe. Their clients include Airbnb, AliExpress, Pipedrive, Spotify, Uber and Wish, and more than 50 million Latin Americans have conducted transactions with more than 1,000 companies through the Ebanx platform. This investment comes on the heels of exciting partnerships with Uber Pay, Shopify, Spotify and Visa to expand cross-border payment processing across the region.

Ebanx has operations in Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, Colombia, Chile, Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia, and will expand their local payment solution, Ebanx Pay, into Colombia in 2020. The company has grown its user base by offering a full-service product that includes market research, 24/7 customer service and anti-fraud technology.

The Ebanx investment is part of a growing interest in Latin American payments startups. Brazil’s PagSeguro and StoneCo had successful IPOs last year, while Mexico’s Conekta and Ecuador’s Kushki have raised large rounds to try to unite the region under a single processor as Latin America rapidly adopts e-commerce.

Uber acquires Cornershop, takes off where Walmart left off

The acquisition of the Chilean-Mexican grocery delivery startup Cornershop has been an emotional roller coaster for Latin American entrepreneurs and investors throughout 2019. First Walmart announced a $225 million deal that would be one of the bigger exits of the region, then the acquisition was blocked by Mexican antitrust institution COFECE. This announcement dealt a blow to the ecosystem as entrepreneurs and VCs had eagerly awaited this boost in liquidity in the local market.

Last-mile delivery and logistics became a very competitive space in Latin America in 2018.

Then in mid-October 2019, Uber announced it would take a 51% stake in Cornershop for a reported $450 million, quadrupling the startup’s value in the four months since the COFECE decision. This deal will consist of cash, investment in Cornershop’s growth and stock in Uber, which IPO’d earlier this year.

However, this deal must also be approved by the Chilean and Mexican antitrust boards, which are expected to release their decisions within the next two weeks. In the meantime, Cornershop will continue its expansion into the Colombian market after it added Peru and Canada in 2019.

Last-mile delivery and logistics became a very competitive space in Latin America in 2018, and many of the players are sitting on enormous pools of capital. Colombia’s Rappi raised $1 billion from SoftBank in early 2019, breaking records for startup investment for the region. Brazil’s iFood raised $500 million from Naspers at the end of 2018. However, delivery continues to be a cash-intensive business, with many of these companies burning through capital quickly to gain market share. Cornershop was an exception and had raised less than $50 million before the acquisition.

Brazil’s Buser, Olist, raise funding from SoftBank

Despite the WeWork crash, SoftBank has continued investing consistently in Brazilian startups. In early October 2019, the Japanese investor led an undisclosed Series B round for Brazilian collaborative bus chartering startup Buser. Buser’s team will invest more than $73 million in growth over the next 12 months to create new alliances for their network of operating partners.

Buser helps coordinate groups of people to charter buses at convenient times and lower prices, disrupting the bureaucratic, anti-competitive and inefficient bus system. The company has grown 1,500% over the past nine months and serves more than 3,000 people per day. While Buser has been popular with locals, traditional bus drivers are calling for regulation to slow the company’s meteoric growth. Buser plans to add more than 100 direct jobs in 200 cities over the next 12 months, and SoftBank’s most recent investment will help power this growth.

Brazil’s e-commerce marketplace integrator Olist also received investment from SoftBank for its Series C, coming in around $46 million. Redpoint eVentures and Valor Capital also participated in the round. 

This investment signals the increased interest by traditional retailers in startups that are slowly chipping away at their market share across the region.

Olist connects small businesses to larger product marketplaces to help entrepreneurs sell their products to a larger customer base. They will reportedly use this investment to investigate the development of financial products and look for collaboration with SoftBank’s other companies, like Rappi and Loggi. Based in Curitiba, Olist was founded in 2015 to help small merchants gain market share across the country through a SaaS licensing model to small brick and mortar businesses.

Today, Olist has more than 7,000 customers and uses a drop-shipping model to send products directly from stores to clients around the country, allowing them to grow with a capital-light model. They will use the investment to add up to 100 new employees.

Carrefour Brazil acquires 49% of Ewally

Grocery chain Carrefour acquired a large stake in Brazil-based Ewally after it completed Village Capital’s first regional acceleration program.

Ewally improves financial inclusion in Brazil through a mobile wallet app that allows unbanked clients to pay bills and make purchases online through the blockchain. Carrefour will reportedly use the acquisition to accelerate digital transformation and improve online payment mechanisms throughout Brazil.

Carrefour did not disclose the amount invested and the deal is still subject to approval by Brazilian financial regulation authorities. However, this investment signals the increased interest by traditional retailers in startups that are slowly chipping away at their market share across the region.

News and Notes: Early-stage rounds are getting bigger

Startups in Brazil, Colombia and Argentina raised several rounds this month, ranging from $1.5 million to $13 million. Brazil’s Xerpa, Colombia’s Sempli, Brazil’s Gorilla and Argentina’s Bitso and Worcket were among those that raised capital from local and international investors in October 2019.

Brazilian human resource management platform Xerpa raised $13 million from Vostok Emerging Finance to continue to help companies like MercadoLibre, iFood and QuintoAndar provide benefits for their employees. Previous investors include Nubank’s David Velez, Kaszek Ventures and QED Investors.

Sempli, an online lending platform for small businesses in Colombia, raised an $8 million Series A from new investors Oikocredit and Incofin CVSO, as well as previous investors BID LAB, XTPI Fund, Generación Exponencial, and Impulsum Ventures. To date, Sempli has raised more than $24 million in equity funding. The founders will use this round to grow their portfolio and improve their risk assessment technology to provide more small business loans in Colombia.

Brazil’s Quicko, an alternative mobility startup that uses big data, raised $10 million in October from Brazilian transport company CCR. Quicko’s technology integrates all mobility options — from bicycles to Uber and 99 — to help people get where they need to go as quickly and inexpensively as possible.

Also in Brazil, startup Gorilla Invest raised $8.4 million from Ribbit Capital, Monashees and Iporanga. Gorilla aggregates financial assets so that investors can review all their commitments in one place, and currently manages more than $1.2 billion for 40,000 clients.

Mexican cryptocurrency exchange Bitso raised an undisclosed round from Argentine startup Ripple to expand into the Southern Cone, especially Argentina and Brazil. Other investors in the round included Pantera Capital, Digital Currency Group, Jump Capital and Coinbase.

Looking ahead to November, with unsettled politics in several countries across the region, tech startups are growing despite governmental changes. Some of these changes will likely have a positive effect on the regional ecosystem as people push for more sustainable and equal economic growth.

What to watch next? Last year, Q4 was marked by a wave of large investments as funds and startups look to end the year strong. IFood raised its record-breaking $500 million round in December 2018. We may well see a similar uptick this year as mega-funds like SoftBank have been consistently investing multi-million dollar rounds since June. There is no sign international investment in Latin America will slow through the end of the year, so we can likely look forward to several more growth-stage rounds before the year is out.

Why each Libra member’s mutiny hurts Facebook

There’s a strategic cost to the defection of Visa, Stripe, eBay, and more from the Facebook -led cryptocurrency Libra Association . They’re not just names dropping off a list. Each potentially made Libra more useful, ubiquitous, or reputable. Now they could become obstacles to the token’s launch or growth.

Fearing regulators’ inquiries not just into their Libra involvement but the rest of their businesses, these companies are pulling out at least for now. None had made precise commitments to integrating Libra into their products, and they’ve said they could still get involved later. But their exit clouds the project’s future and leaves Facebook to absorb more of the blowback.

1E2D7DCE 681A 48C3 94E6 8318216CB542

Here’s what each of the departing Libra Association members brought to the table and how they could spawn new challenges for the cryptocurrency:

Visa

With one of most widely-accepted payment methods, Visa could have helped make Libra universally spendable. It’s also one of the most prestigious names in finance, lending deep credibility to the project. Visa’s departure leaves Libra looking more like tech companies barging into payments, conjuring fears of their move fast, break things approach that could cause financial ruin if Libra runs into problems. It also could leave Libra with a much weaker presence in brick-and-mortar shops. No one will want to own a cryptocurrency that doesn’t appreciate in value and can’t be easily spent.

MasterCard

The involvement of MasterCard alongside Visa made Libra look like the incumbents adapting to modern technologies. This made it less threatening, and gave cryptocurrency an air of inevitability. MasterCard would have also brought an even wider network of locations where Libra could one day be used for payment. Now MasterCard and Visa might actively work against Libra to prevent their payment methods being made obsolete by Libra and its elimination of transaction fees through the blockchain. Two of Libras biggest allies could become its biggest foes.

PayPal

Facebook has repeatedly told regulators that its Calibra app plus integrations into Messenger and WhatsApp would not be the only Libra wallets, pointing to PayPal . Facebook’s head of Libra David Marcus told Congress when asked about the social network’s outsized power to exploit Libra through its own Calibra wallet that “you have companies like PayPal and others that will, of course, collaborate, but [also] compete with us”. Now Facebook won’t have a scaled payment method it doesn’t own to point to as a likely alternative for people who don’t want to trust Facebook’s Calibra, Messenger, or WhatsApp to be their Libra wallet. The Libra Association also loses PayPal’s enormous network of online merchants that accept it, plus the inroad to integration into its peer-to-peer payback app Venmo. PayPal convinced the mainstream public to trust online payments — the exact kind of trust Facebook desperately needs. The fact that Marcus was also the former president of PayPal but couldn’t keep it in the association raises concerns about the group’s coalition-building prowess.

Stripe

Stripe’s enormous popularity with ecommerce vendors made it a valuable Libra Association member. Together with PayPal, Stripe facilitates a huge portion of online transactions outside of China. Its ease of integration made it a top pick for developers Facebook surely hoped would build atop Libra. Stripe’s exit destroys a critical bridge to the fintech startup ecosystem that could have helped institutionalize Libra. Now the association will have to work on engineering payment widgets from scratch without Stripe’s assistance, which could slow adoption if it ever launches.

There’s a clear reason all these payment processors bailed. Senators Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) wrote a letter to Visa, MasterCard, and Stripe’s CEOs this week explaining that “If you take this on, you can expect a high level of scrutiny from regulators not only on Libra-related activities, but on all payment activities.”

eBay

As one of the longest standing ecommerce companies, eBay bolstered beliefs that Libra could be used to power transactions between untrusted strangers without a costly middleman. It might have also put Libra into practice on one of the top western online marketplaces outside of Amazon. Without destinations like eBay onboard, average netizens will have fewer opportunities to be exposed to Libra’s potential to eliminate transaction fees.

Mercado Pago

One of the lesser-known Libra Association members, Mercado Pago helps merchants receive payments via email or in installments. The idea of connecting financially underserved populations has been core to Facebook’s pitch for why Libra should exist. The Libra Association has been light on the details of how exactly it serves this demographic, relying on the inclusion of partners like Mercado Pago to help it figure this out later. Mercado Pago’s departure leaves Libra looking more like a financial power grab rather than a tool to assist the disadvantaged.

Who’s Left?

On Monday, the remaining Libra Association members will meet to finalize the initial member list, elect a board, and create a charter to govern the project. This forced the hands of the companies above, who had their last chance to depart this week before being pulled deeper into Libra.

Facebook Currency Hearing

UNITED STATES – JULY 16: David Marcus, head of Facebook’s Calibra digital wallet service, prepares to testify during the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee hearing on “Examining Facebook’s Proposed Digital Currency and Data Privacy Considerations” on Tuesday, July 16, 2019. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Who’s left includes venture capital firms, ride sharing companies, non-profits, and cryptocurrency companies. They are less tied up with the status quo of payment processing, and therefore had less to lose. The blockchain-specific companies were likely hoping to piggyback on financial giants like Visa to get Libra approved and create more legitimacy for their industry as a whole.

These partners could help fund an ecosystem of Libra developers, create daily use cases, spread the system in the developing world, and push for alliances between Libra and cryptocurrency players. Facebook will need to fight to keep them aboard if it wants to avoid Libra looking like a unilateral disruption of the economy.

For Libra to actually launch, Facebook needs to make serious concessions and divert from its initial vision. Otherwise if it continues to butt heads with regulators, more members could flee. One option floated by Libra Association member Andreessen Horowitz’s a16z Crypto partner Chris Dixon was for Libra to be denominated in US dollars instead of a basket of international currencies. That might lessen fears that Libra intends to compete directly with the dollar.

It’s become apparent that Facebook will not get its ideal cryptocurrency out the door. This is the brand tax of 100 scandals coming back to bite it. Now the best it can hope for is to get even a watered-down version launched, prove it can actually help the underbanked, and then hope to convince regulators it’s well-intentioned.

PayPal is the first company to drop out of the Facebook-led Libra Association

PayPal has become the first company to walk away officially from Facebook’s Libra, a cryptocurrency and related association that it announced earlier this year with a chain of nearly 30 big names behind the effort to help build and operate services around it.

PayPal has made the decision to forgo further participation in the Libra Association at this time and to continue to focus on advancing our existing mission and business priorities as we strive to democratize access to financial services for underserved populations,” PayPal said in an emailed statement to TechCrunch. “We remain supportive of Libra’s aspirations and look forward to continued dialogue on ways to work together in the future. Facebook has been a longstanding and valued strategic partner to PayPal, and we will continue to partner with and support Facebook in various capacities.”

A high-profile, would-be partner like PayPal backing out from the effort before it’s even gotten off the ground is a big blow to Facebook and the Libra Association, which has been struggling under the weight of speculation that some of the big organizations, initially interested in collaborating on Libra, are now on the fence about the project, put off by wave of negative reaction from regulators and others that might lead to problems launching and ultimately growing the service.

In response, the Libra Association has come out with an understated but scathing statement of its own in response to PayPal’s announcement. (Facebook had referred our questions to the group and did not comment directly.)

“It requires a certain boldness and fortitude to take on an endeavor as ambitious as Libra – a generational opportunity to get things right and improve financial inclusion,” said a spokesperson. “The journey will be long and challenging. The type of change that will reconfigure the financial system to be tilted towards people, not the institutions serving them, will be hard. Commitment to that mission is more important to us than anything else. We’re better off knowing about this lack of commitment now, rather than later.”

PayPal is the first firm to walk away from the Libra Association, but it comes at a difficult time for the project, even before it has launched.

Both regulators and other government bodies on both sides of the Atlantic — already scrutinizing Facebook and cryptocurrency as separate issues — have honed in on the project with concerns of how a Facebook-backed and promoted currency could lead to anti-competitive behavior.

Facebook and other members of the Libra Association are due to meet this month in Geneva to appoint its first board of directors, but ahead of that it’s been reported that the government scrutiny has started to spook some who have only nominally backed the project at this point.

The WSJ reported earlier this week that Mastercard, Visa and other companies may join PayPal in backing away from the Libra project. Mastercard has not responded to a request for comment, but Visa’s CEO Al Kelly has made public statements that underscore Visa’s provisional support for Libra — a position we understand remains unchanged as of today, provided regulatory and other issues do not get in the way.

“It’s important to understand the facts here and not any of us get out ahead of ourselves,” Kelly said in the company’s most recent earnings call. “So we have signed a nonbinding letter of intent to join Libra. We’re one of – I think it’s 27 companies that have expressed that interest. So no one has yet officially joined. We’re in discussions and our ultimate decision to join will be determined by a number of factors, including obviously the ability of the association to satisfy all the requisite regulatory requirements… It’s really, really early days and there’s just a tremendous amount to be finalized. But obviously, given that we’ve expressed interest, we actually believe we could be additive and helpful in the association.”

As we reported when Libra first launched, Facebook doesn’t control the Libra organization or currency, but gets a single vote alongside the remaining partners. Those that have endorsed the association currently include, alongside Mastercard and Visa, Stripe, Uber and the VC firm Andreessen Horowitz. Each Libra Association partner invests at least $10 million in the project and the association will promote the open-sourced Libra Blockchain.

The partners would not only pitch the Libra Blockchain and developer platform with its own Move programming language, but sign up businesses to accept Libra for payment and even give customers discounts or rewards.

Facebook has a lot riding on the success of the Association beyond just its Libra stake. The company has also launched a subsidiary company called Calibra that handles crypto transactions on its platform that would use the Libra blockchain. (It’s been quietly developing this alongside the Libra effort, including making acquisitions to expand the functionality around how it will work.)

Governments around the world have been up in arms because they are concerned that, with Libra, Facebook and its partners will try to make an end run around existing financial services and their corresponding regulations.

Perhaps in response to these pressures and how they might play out, earlier this month, Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg indicated that the company would be willing to delay the launch of the cryptocurrency — it is currently planned for 2020 — in an interview with the Japanese Nikkei news service. “Move fast and break things” won’t be getting applied here.

Plaid announces strategic investment from Mastercard and Visa

When Plaid announced its $250 million Series C investment, last year, it left out a couple of key investors. Today it revealed that Mastercard and Visa had also quietly participated in the round.

For a company like Plaid, which builds APIs to enable customers to access their bank accounts inside applications in a seamless way, having the blessing of two of the major credit companies in the world is a big deal. It could signal that the startup intends to move more broadly into payments, although it didn’t make any specific assertion it was doing that in the announcement.

CEO and co-founder Zach Perret, writing in a blog post this morning, addressed the broad implications of having these companies on board. “We’re particularly excited about what this means for our customers and consumers. As an industry when we come together with a shared vision for an ecosystem that is open, secure and encouraging of innovation the possibilities are limitless,” he wrote.

Screenshot 2019 09 16 07.44.17

Plaid tools

Plaid helps developers connect to financial services in a similar way that Stripe helps them to connect to payments or Trello to communications tools. By having access to a set of tools from Plaid, developers can build access to bank information and other financial data into their applications without having to have knowledge about how to connect to thousands of different banking systems.

Former CTO and co-founder William Hockey explained to TechCrunch what this meant in an announcement earlier this year:

“Everybody in the U.S. can actually use this product now. And some of those [connections] are super quick and instant, and some of those maybe take a day to verify, but what we’re doing is we’re wrapping all of that in the product. And so you as a developer, you don’t have to worry about all of the different authentication methods at some of these banks,” Hockey explained.

Plaid has raised over $310 million since it launched, and that Series C investment last year carried with it a fat $2.65 billion valuation. Strategic investments of this sort show that the industry as a whole is behind a startup, and having Mastercard and Visa involved, gives the company additional credibility in the marketplace.

Nyca Partners raises $210M to invest in fintech startups

Nyca Partners, a firm with investments in financial technology businesses including PayRange, Trellis, Affirm and Acorns, has collected another $210 million for its third venture capital fund.

Located in New York, Nyca’s debut fund closed on $31 million in 2014. Its second fund, a similarly focused fintech effort, raised $125 million in 2017.

Venture capital investment in fintech is poised to reach new heights in 2019, according to PitchBook. So far this year, investors have bet $8.6 billion on U.S.-based fintech upstarts. Last year, investment in the space reached an all-time high of more than $12 billion, with Robinhood, Coinbase and Plaid all raising multi-hundred-million-dollar rounds.

Nyca managing partner Hans Morris has a long history in the financial space. Most recently, he was managing director at General Atlantic; before that, he served as president of Visa and spent nearly three decades at Citigroup in roles including chief financial officer and head of finance.

The firm is also led by Ravi Mohan, partner and chief operating officer, who spent 25 years at Citigroup and JP Morgan Chase .

As part of the new fundraise, Nyca has promoted David Sica to partner. Prior to joining Nyca, Sica was a director at Visa.

Nyca announces its new fund just days after Oak HC/FT, another fintech-focused fund, raised $800 million to invest in the space.

Visa invests in India-based B2B payments platform PayMate’s $25M round

PayMate, a Mumbai-based startup that helps businesses automate and digitize their payments, is raising $25 million in a new round, its founder said, as it looks to expand its presence within India and in international markets.

In an interview with TechCrunch, Ajay Adiseshann, founder and CEO of PayMate, said the startup has already raised a substantial amount of the $25 million it is eyeing in its Series D. These funds came from Recruit Strategic Partners, Brand Capital, Visa, and existing investor Mayfair 101. Adiseshann said he expects the round to close in 60 days.

The 13-year-old startup, which had raised $18 million prior to Series D, began its journey as a consumer-facing payments service. But it quickly shifted its attention to opportunities in business-to-business payments market, Adiseshann said.

PayMate today develops and offers cloud-based solutions for SME and enterprise customers to help them manage invoices and payments from vendors and customers. It also works with Visa and issuing banks to offers crediting financial option to customers.

Last year, PayMate acquired Z2P Technologies, a startup that offers lending technologies, to bring lending stack on its platform. It looks at transactional data on its platform to score SMEs and offer them credits from third-party lenders. PayMate also serves as a discounting marketplace, allowing large enterprises to electronically negotiate offers with SMEs.

In India, and same is true of some other markets, small and medium businesses often struggle to secure financing options from major banks. “India is a very collateral-based in financing. On our platform, we have the visibility of their transactional data,” he said. This helps establish transparency and trust between all the stakeholders.

The startup has over 35,000 business customers that use its platform to process more than $5 billion in payments each year. It began operations in UAE earlier this year and will use the new capital to expand in Africa and parts of Europe, Adiseshann said.

Congressional testimony reveals some faults in Facebook’s digital currency plans

As Facebook continues to lay the foundation for getting some of the world’s largest payment processing and technology companies a seat at the global monetary policy table, the company faces significant obstacles to enacting its plans from both sides of the Congressional aisle.

In the second of what’s sure to be many (many many many) hearings in front of Congressional committees, David Marcus, the chief executive of Facebook’s new digital payments subsidiary, Calibra, faced hours of questions from Representatives on the House Financial Services Committee about the how and why of Facebook’s digital currency plans.

Facebook’s critics had questions about both sides of the company’s two-pronged approach to transforming the global financial services industry.

Marcus was able to avoid answering some of his toughest questioning by taking advantage of the grey area between Facebook’s role as the chief architect behind Libra (a financial instrument that uses blockchain technology to enable transactions using a digital currency managed by a consortium of private companies) and Calibra (the payments subsidiary that Facebook owns).

Marcus stated in his testimony, Facebook’s plans for Libra are entirely about getting the digital currency that the company is creating recognized by international financial bodies — skirting the oversight of U.S. banking and financial services regulators in favor of Switzerland’s “neutral” approach.

Representatives, rightly, have concerns about each step of the process, so it’s probably best to examine the currency that Facebook is hoping to create with its partners in the Libra Association and the Calibra subsidiary separately.

First, there are significant questions around the Libra Association that Facebook assembled itself, and the regulatory responsibility that Congress and various Federal agencies have to oversee the digital currency that it’s hoping to create.

The structural problems of the Libra Association and its currency

Concerns begin with the independence of the association Facebook selected to be its partners in the cryptocurrency. There are any number of ties between the corporations and investors that are on Libra’s existing governing body and Facebook. The fact that Facebook selected the initial charter members that paid $10 million for the privilege of being co-founders of the currency was not lost on Representatives like Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, the first term representative from New York.

“The membership is open, based on certain criteria,” Marcus said in his testimony responding to a question from Representative Ocasio Cortez about the membership of the Libra Association. “The first 27 members that have joined are companies that have shared that desire to build this network and solve problems.”

Representative Ocasio Cortez responded, “So, we are discussing a currently controlled by an undemocratically selection of largely massive corporations.”

The New York representative wasn’t alone in her criticism of the composition of the Libra Association, questioning whether Facebook would have undue influence over the organization.

Setting aside the independence of the Libra Association, Representatives also had some pertinent questions about the ways in which the currency is structured.

Libra’s currency is set up as a stablecoin whose value is set by the Association and is pegged to a basket of global currencies that provide a hedge against the the currency fluctuating in value as a result of speculative investment. Users pay in a certain amount of currency and receive an amount of Libra that they can spend at participating merchants or companies (a vast network considering that Mastercard, PayPal, and Visa are all participating in the Association).

Given the size of Facebook’s user base (which numbers in the billions), if every user put an average of $100 into the network, the Libra Association would vault into the ranks of the top 20 largest banks in America (assuming $100 billion in assets). That alone would warrant regulatory oversight by any number of Federal agencies, some representatives argued.

They also expressed concern about how the Libra Association and its membership could manipulate currencies and potentially displace the U.S. dollar as the global reserve currency.

“Sovereign currencies should remain sovereign and we do not want to challenge sovereign currencies,” said Marcus in response to a particularly sharp line of questioning. “We just want to augment their capabilities in the way they can be used.”

It’s an engineer’s answer to a question about the social function of currencies. Facebook can use the basket of currency structure to argue that Libra isn’t actually a currency, but instead rests atop of several currencies to provide more stability and access for its users — and make the system function more effectively. But should Libra’s adoption begin to accelerate, the organization behind it would be able to pick currency winners and losers and begin to leverage its holdings to potentially manipulate markets, some representatives feared.

Facebook could destabilize currencies and governments,” said California Rep. Maxine Waters. “Facebook’s entry is troubling because it has already harmed vast numbers of people.”

For some members of the Finance Committee, the structure of the asset-backed currency itself makes it resemble a financial instrument that also demands regulation from government agencies. At varying times they compared the proposed currency to an Exchange Traded Fund (because it relies on a basket of currencies to create value) or an alternative fiat currency itself.

“What exactly is this? Is it fish or fowl? And it seems to me that it’s more of a platypus and it evolves in its different parts,” said Rep. Bill Huizenga, of Michigan.

For Connecticut Rep. Jim Himes, the foreign currency risk that users could be exposed to presents an opportunity for the government to exercise oversight under investment laws passed in 1940. “They will have some degree of volatility,” said Marcus in his testimony.

“This looks to me exactly like an exchange traded fund. Backed by a series of short term instruments in foreign currency… it even has a creation and remittance mechanism,”  says Himes. If that’s true, then the Libra Association would be subject to regulations under the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Marcus says that the instrument behind Libra isn’t an exchange traded fund, because the users that will transact using the cryptocurrency through services like Facebook’s Calibra, aren’t going to be speculating on the currency’s rise in value. However, that logic seems to be slightly faulty given that all of the members of the Libra Association are expected to generate returns from the assets that are held in Libra and invested in the short term basket of currencies.

What’s the matter with Calibra?

If the Libra Association and its mechanism for establishing a stablecoin creates one knot for regulators to untie, then the actual transaction mechanism that Facebook is proposing in the form of the Calibra subsidiary is yet another.

Here again a host of issues raise their head for members of Congress… Some are associated with Facebook’s perennial privacy problems and the history of predatory behavior that reared its head yet again with the company’s $5 billion fine for continuing violations.

MROthers are related to the company’s policy of what conservative critics called “social engineering” which saw Facebook boot some controversial users from its platforms (potentially denying them access to the benefits of Libra). Still another batch of concerns rests on Facebook’s ability to properly implement the know your customer (KYC) regulations that are required of banks and other financial services institutions.

The concern about Facebook’s propensity for de-platforming was topmost in the mind of Wisconsin’s Republican Representative Duffy

“Can Milo Yiannopoulos or Louis Farrakhan use Libra?” Duffy asked. “I bring that up because both of those two individuals have been banned from Facebook.”

Marcus could only respond “I don’t know yet.”

Rep. Duffy compared the potential for Facebook to engage in the same kind of social engineering to grant access to its new payment network as the experiments that China is conducting with its social credit scoring.

“For this system, I think you’re going to see a lot of pushback from both sides,” said Duffy. “I’m also concerned about the data privacy and how we’re going to use that data… How we spend our money is really powerful information and you have access to that too.”

Calibra may face anticompetitive challenges too. Facebook has said that its payment processing app will be the only one that’s directly integrated with the company’s other social networking and communication tools, but that other potential wallets would be interoperable. The exclusive access to Facebook gives Calibra an automatic advantage over other potential payment tools and opens the company up to receive a whole host of transaction information that it would otherwise not be privy to.

And while Facebook is restricting wallet access on its platform to its own digital payments service, it’s giving free rein to developers to build other apps for Libra’s payment platform without vetting them at all.

It’s a situation that could lead to another Cambridge Analytica-style scandal for Facebook and is yet another hole in the company’s oversight.

The appropriate response 

The Libra project is hugely ambitious and its critics have several valid concerns about its execution. Some of the concerns about the risk that it poses are justified and it could, indeed, become a systemic player in the global financial system more quickly than its proponents are willing to accept. All of that doesn’t mean that it should necessarily be thrown out or dismissed because of the potential dangers it poses, some economists argued.

The hard work of governing demands appropriate oversight (which Facebook has been calling out for — although it’s arguably doing it in the jurisdictions that will have the lightest touch over its activities).

No less an expert than the acting International Monetary Fund chair, David Lipton, has said as much in recent discussions over the role that Libra should play (or could play) in the global monetary system.

“Risks include the potential emergence of new monopolies, with implications for how personal data is monetized; the impact on weaker currencies and the expansion of dollarization; the opportunities for illicit activities; threats to financial stability; and the challenges of corporates issuing and thus earning large sums of money — previously the realm of central banks,” Lipton said of Facebook’s proposed digital currency, according to Bloomberg. “So, regulators — and the IMF — will need to step up”

But stepping up does not mean regulating Facebook’s currency out of existence.

“We look back at the the history of technology and innovation, and a conclusion is you never know at the beginning how valuable a technology will be,” Lipton said. “It requires experimentation and adaptation over years and often decades.”

Visa funds $40M for no-password crypto vault Anchorage

Visa and Andreessen Horowitz are betting even bigger on cryptocurrency, funding a big round for fellow Facebook Libra Association member Anchorage’s omnimetric blockchain security system. Instead of using passwords that can be stolen, Anchorage requires cryptocurrency withdrawals to be approved by a client’s other employees. Then the company uses both human and AI review of biometrics and more to validate transactions before they’re executed, while offering end-to-end insurance coverage.

This new-age approach to cryptocurrency protection has attracted a $40 million Series B for Anchorage led by Blockchain Capital and joined by Visa and Andreessen Horowitz. The round adds to Anchorage’s $17 million Series A that Andreessen led just six months ago, demonstrating extraordinary momentum for the security startup.

As a custodian, our work is focused on building financial plumbing that other companies depend on for their operations to run smoothly. In this regard we have always looked at Visa as a model” Anchorage co-founder and president Diogo Mónica tells me.

“Visa was ‘fintech’ before the term existed, and has always been on the vanguard of financial infrastructure. Visa’s investment in Anchorage is helpful not only to our company but to our industry, as a validation of the entire ecosystem and a recognition that crypto will play a key role in the future of global finance.”

Anchorage Crypto 1

Cold-storage, where assets are held in computers not connected to the Internet, has become a popular method of securing Bitcoin, Ether, and other tokens. But the problem is that this can prevent owners from participating in governance of certain cryptocurrency where votes are based on their holdings, or earning dividends. Anchorage tells me it’s purposefully designed to permit this kind of participation, helping clients to get the most out of their assets like capturing returns from staking and inflation, or joining in on-chain governance.

As 3 of the 28 founding members of the Libra Association that will govern the new Facebook-incubated cryptocurrency; Anchorage, Visa, and Andreessen Horowitz will be responsible for ensuring the stablecoin stays secure. While Facebook is building its own custodial wallet called Calibra for users, other Association members and companies hoping to dive into the ecosystem will need ways to protect their Libra stockpiles.

“Libra is exactly the kind of asset that Anchorage was created to hold” Mónica wrote the day Libra was revealed. “Our custody solution , so that asset-holders don’t face a trade-off between security and usability.” The company believes that custodians shouldn’t dictate what coins their clients hold, so it’s working to support all types of digital assets. Anchorage tells me that will include support for securing Libra in the future.

Libra Association Founding Partners

You’ve probably already used technology secured by Anchorage’s founders, who engineered Docker’s containers that are used by Microsoft, and Square’s first encrypted card reader. Mónica was at Square when he met his future Anchorage co-founder Nathan McCauley who’d been working on anti-reverse engineering tech for the U.S. military. When a company that had lost the password to a $1 million cryptocurrency account asked for their help with security, they recognized a recognized the need for a more idiot-proof take on asset protection.

“Anchorage applies the best of modern security engineering for a more advanced approach: we generate and store private keys in secure hardware so they are never exposed at any point in their life cycle, and we eliminate human operations that expose assets to risk” Mónica says. The startup competes with other crypto custody firms like Bitgo, Ledger, Coinbase, and Gemini.

Anchorage CryptocurrencyLast time we spoke, Anchorage was cagey about what I could reveal regarding how its transaction validation system worked. With the new funding, it’s feeling a little more secure about its market position and was willing to share more.

Anchorage ditches usernames, passwords, email addresses, and phone numbers completely. That way a hacker can’t just dump your coins into their account by stealing your private key or SIM-porting your number to their phone. Instead, clients whitelist devices held by their employees, who use the Anchorage app to submit transactions. You’d propose selling $10 million worth of Bitcoin or transferring it to someone else as payment, and a minimum of two-thirds of your designated co-workers would need to concur to form a quorum that approves the transfer.

But first, Anchorage would’s artificial intelligence and human staff would check for any suspicious signals that might indicate a hack in progress. It uses behavioral analysis (do you act like a real human and similar to how you have before), biometric signals (do you look like you), and network signals (is your device what and where it should be) to confirm the transaction is legitimate. The same process goes down if you try to add a new whitelisted device or change who has permission to do what.

The challenge will be scaling security to an ever-broadening range of digital assets, each with their own blockchain quirks and complex smart contracts. Even if Anchorage keeps coins safely in custody, those variables could expose assets to risk while in transit. Now with deeper pockets and the Visa vote of confidence, Anchorage could solve those problems as clients line up.

While most blockchain attention has focused on the cryptocurrencies themselves and the exchanges where you can buy and sell them, a second order of critical infrastructure startups is emerging. Companies like Anchorage could make Bitcoin, Ether, Libra, and more not just objects of speculation or the domain of experts, but safely functioning elements of the new world economy.

The rise of the new crypto “mafias”

In the early 2000s, journalists popularized the term “PayPal mafia” to describe the PayPal founders and employees who left to start their own wildly successful tech companies, including Peter Thiel, Reid Hoffman, and Elon Musk. Drawing from that idea, this article seeks to cover the formation and flow of talent within the crypto landscape today.

The crypto world is in a constant state of flux, with new startups entrants joining the industry every single day. These new startups have the potential either to be superstars within a portfolio company or to start the next Coinbase. Additionally, there are already impressive spin-outs from some of the more established crypto companies.

For ease of framing, I’ve separated these early-forming mafias into four categories: CryptoTechWall Street, and Academia. Since 2009, there have been 186 spinout companies originating from those four categories (33% from Academia, 28% from Crypto, 24% from Tech, and 15% from Wall Street).

crypto mafias

Obvious but important disclaimer: this article does not intend to promote organized crime within crypto.

Criteria