For the original article by Mike Bird of Business Insider, please refer to http://uk.businessinsider.com/europe-15-most-innovative-finance-startups-2015-1.
London has become a global colossus for financial startups: the UK and Ireland accounted for more than half of Europe’s Fintech deals in 2013, with the capital taking the lion’s share of that. There are other pockets of Europe where financial startups also seem to thrive.
Many of these companies are working at the intersection of tech and finance. Some are aiming to market a product to everyone, some just to businesses, and some to the biggest banks and financial institutions.
What’s common among all the companies is that they’re actively making their own markets, fulfilling demand where there previously might have been none – especially since the financial crisis in 2008. But they’re all offering something new, exciting, and financially promising.
15. iZettle: Has a head start on Square in Europe
iZettle is one of Square’s major competitors outside of the US. The Sweden-based service, which launched in 2011, markets low-fee mobile payments technology.
While Square had a year’s head start on iZettle, the difference in card payments in the US and Europe gave iZettle an “in” before Square launched in Europe: card payments in the EU are almost all done by chip-and-pin; the US has yet to adopt the tech.
The firm has received $108.5 million in four funding rounds, and launched in the Netherlands late last year.
14. Eris Industries: All about data
There are now a bundle of startups eager to try and capitalise on the cryptocurrency market. Eris is one of a number of companies, like Blockstream in the US, which aren’t so interested in the cryptocurrencies as the ledger their transactions are recorded on: Blockchains. As Chief Operating Officer Preston Byrne puts it, “Blockchain 2.0 has nothing to do with money and everything to do with data“.
Eris plans to market that Blockchain technology for businesses with a “Distributed Application Software Stack”. The key point is that this could be a huge cost-saver in terms of corporate infrastructure. For a more in-depth look, check this from the company itself.
They received an undisclosed amount of seed funding in October 2014.
13. Derivitec: Back-end derivatives software for the little guy
Based in Canary Wharf, Derivitec is another startup that doesn’t have to worry about reaching a mass market: It’s only aiming to reach people who work with derivatives.
The firm was set up in 2011 and provides cloud-based systems that help financial firms to manage their portfolio risk. It’s set up by a team of quantitative and IT experts, several of whom have experience on derivatives desks at major banks. Here are the things they prioritise, in their own words
1.) Nothing to download.
2.) Agile updates. No need to wait months for your vendor to add new functionality.
3.) A host of machines at your disposal. A small fund now has ready access to the compute power of a tier one bank.
4.) How much you use just depends on what you need to run. You get billed for only as much compute as you need.
12. Landbay: Safe as houses
In the aftermath of the financial crisis, it’s fair to say there have been plenty of new peer-to-peer lending platforms. Maybe more than enough. What makes Landbay fascinating and controversial is that it crowdfunds loans for buy-to-let property investors.
It claims to be able to diversify risk across a range of properties. Some are sceptical, but it’s undoubtedly an innovative way to hitch a peer-to-peer platform to the UK’s growing rental market.
They’ve raised $2.9 million in funding from three investors, the bulk of which came at the end of 2014.
11. FinGenius: “Siri for banks”
Fingenius lets major institutions save hundreds of millions of pounds on customer relations management, especially call centres. It’s described as “Siri for banks” by Crunchbase: the company has created advanced artificial customer relations, which are able to field a huge and complicated range of questions from customers without human input.
They’re already working with companies like BMW and Panasonic, and are promising some pretty impressive software
Our system focuses on conversations as well as delivering the right answer. Through these conversations we can profile each user in an advanced way. This allows us to analyse personality, pick up sentiment and buying signals and enhance the sales process for the client.
10. Azimo: Trying to kill Western Union
UK-based Azimo, which raised $10 million in March 2014, is one of the thriving small firms trying to make it easier and cheaper for migrants working in other countries to send money home. That’s a massive economic trend and matters hugely to some developing nations, where remittances make up a big proportion of national income.
Western Union and similar services charge more: When we checked, WU’s fee for a £100 transfer to Bangladesh was nearly three times higher than Azimo’s. Senders can also pay through a Facebook app.
9. Borro: Lending against Lamborghinis
Beginning in the UK in 2008, Borro is an online pawnbroker (though it doesn’t like the word), which also offers loans secured against luxury items. It’s another firm with an air of controversy, piggybacking on the financial crisis and subsequent recession.
“We’re about as similar to a private bank as we are to a pawn shop,” Borro founder Paul Aitken told Business Insider recently.
Interest on the loans typically runs up to 4% per month, much lower than the rate at a pawn shop, and the firm has netted a cool $156 million in funding through four rounds.
8. Flattr: For artist fan-funding
This is another Swedish-based firm, specialising in microdonations.
Here’s how it works: You sign up and deposit money that you’d like to give to artists and creators you like over a month. You click to “flattr” people when you find content that you like (often videos), and they get a portion of that money, depending on how much you wanted to spend.
Flattr may not be the endgame of this trend, but it’s one of the biggest players in a fascinating sector: Currently users are paying towards content voluntarily that others can access for free. But the idea of a Spotify-like system of micropayments has huge potential in a number of industries. It could work, for example, in media which is currently even strictly paywalled or entirely free online.
The firm raised $2.1 million in a funding round in 2012, but it’s a not-for-profit organisation.
7. Aire: “Credit scoring for humanity”
John Bundy (left) and Aneesh Varma (right), co-founders of Aire with other staffers.
Young people are avoiding credit cards, and that’s a problem. Running small monthly debts are the usual way to build up a credit rating. That’s important for things like buying a house.
London-based Aire is trying to build credit histories for people who are “file thin”: In current models, Aire says that missing data effectively counts as a zero rating for that part of a credit score, penalising people who have little, not bad, credit history. They call it “credit scoring for humanity”.
Aire received an undisclosed amount of funding in a round last summer.
6. WorldRemit: Bypassing the middlemen in remittances
WorldRemit is another startup that wants to turn the world of remittances on its head. Ismail Ahmed founded the group while working and learning in the UK, and personally experienced the problems with remittance transfers himself: “Studying in London, he needed to send money to family members in Africa. Every transaction meant an epic journey across the city to an agent who charged a small fortune in fees to send modest amounts of money.”
Receivers can take their money by phone, one of the massively popular payment systems in parts of Africa.
It offers a cheap and easy service and announced $40 million in funding from Accel in March 2014. Remittances are a huge part of many developing economies, and the potential market for this sort of financial service runs into the many billions, if not trillions of dollars.
5. Essentia Analytics: Pulling patterns out of traders’ track records
There’s no shortage of startups in finance offering analytical data. But they’re usually focused on analysing markets and assets. Essentia Analytics analyses a trader’s own performance to try and identify behavioural patterns from past performance.
The firm has a coaching team which attempts to point out to investors where they’ve been going wrong. Clare Flynn-Levy set up the firm after 10 years as a fund manager, including a spell at Deutsche Bank. Here’s how she described the business in a recent interview:
To date, decision-support tools in general have been focused on making decisions based on what other people in the market are doing. Essentia focuses on the trader or portfolio manager’s own behaviour – after all, the one person whose behaviour you can control is your own. Not paying attention to it does not make sense, particularly in light of what we’re learning about human cognitive bias. What Essentia does is make it simple to track and reflect upon your own investment process.
4. Funding Circle: Making loans where banks won’t
Funding Circle was out at the very front of peer-to-peer lending for businesses, and they’ve expanded rapidly because of it. It’s another firm that has found an innovative way to thrive in very specific conditions that came about after the financial crisis.
Post-2008, small businesses in the UK have struggled to get loans through the banks they’d previously used: So Funding Circle set up an online marketplace for people to make their own loans to firms. You can adjust the level of risk you’d like to take (and therefore your potential return), and choose sectors and individual firms to lend to.
Funding Circle is now so prominent that they’re on the verge of no longer being thought of as a small firm or a startup, though they’re not yet five years old. So far they’ve lent out more than £300 million and raised $123 million in equity capital to expand.
3. Metro Bank: The flagship challenger bank
There may be a few eyebrows raised at the idea of a fairly large bank being an innovative startup. But in the context of UK banking, Metro Bank is one of the most interesting forces in years.
The bank was set up nearly five years ago, based on the US Commerce Bank model, and already has hundreds of thousands of accounts in London and south east England. They’re aiming for a flotation eventually, and chief executive Craig Donaldson has talked about being a FTSE 100 company in just four years.
They’re focused on a service-provision model, putting an extremely high premium on the ease of opening and accessing an account, opening hours and customer care. With UK confidence in banks extremely low, that’s been a winning strategy for Metro Bank so far.
2. Nutmeg: Wealth management for the masses
Nutmeg is pioneering online-only wealth management for anyone with as little as £1,000, widening a market that has been dominated by a small set of private banks in the UK. Like Funding Circle, they’re on the verge of no longer being appropriate for a list of startups, despite the fact that they officially opened barely two years ago. The firm is still loss-making, but founder and former Barclays employee has his eyes on achieving a much larger market scale than existing wealth managers. Nutmeg raised $32 million in a funding round last summer.
Here’s a section from his talk with the Wall Street Journal:
“Previously private banking was only for the very rich”, said CEO and founder Nick Hungerford. “They had private bankers who would talk to them while out playing golf. It was very expensive and it was not accessible unless you had bundles of cash” …
Transactions are all carried out free of charge. “If that wasn’t the case then someone with small amounts of money would end up paying most of it in fees.”
1. Transferwise: Already valued at $1 billion
If you live or work in London you’ve almost certainly seen TransferWise’s posters in the underground stations.
Kristo Kaarmann and Taavet Hinrikus, Estonians who set up Transferwise in the UK, are aiming to take a huge chunk of the currency exchange market, offering low rates and trying to discourage travellers from relying on their banks. They get that discount by not actually trading currency: Instead, they match sums from people exchanging one currency for another with someone who wants to do the same in the opposite direction, and simply pay the counterparties the equivalent sums from domestic accounts.
They charge a small fee but other than that, the exchange happens at extremely competitive market rates, not the awful deals you’d get, particularly at airports.
It’s four years old this month and recent funding offers have valued it at close to $1 billion, according to the Financial Times.