A List Of Fintech Firms Providing Free Technology During The Coronavirus Crisis

Coronavirus, or Covid-19, is preoccupying everyone at the moment, and in different ways. Businesses in almost every sector face a rough ride ahead, as they close offices in response to protecting employees health and responding to government instructions to stay at home and avoid contact with others.

Meanwhile, most of us still need money. We have to pay for food and online products, and for that we depend on bank services. And at this critical time, the more traditional banks have been receiving support from the fintechs, so that they can continue to support their customers.

According to Ron Shevlin writing for Forbes, the fintechs are “extending free, discounted, or accelerated deployment offers to financial institutions.”

So let’s see what some of them are doing.

Active.AI has a pre-built virtual assistant that can be quickly customized with answers specific to the institution. It is offering a 30-day free trial.

Agolo is providing customers with AI-generated summary feeds focusing on the impact of coronavirus on various sectors such asFinance, Energy, Media & Entertainment, Health Care, Info Technology, etc. It is offering these feeds for free on the web and via social media.

Agora Teen is an interesting fintech that specialises in offering white-label solutions for teenager bank accounts pre-opened by parents. It is offering free access to its products.

BillGO helps track, manage, and pay bills in one place and it is offering its Prism app free to help everyone stay on top of their money.

Brace is a borrower platform and it is helping borrowers to seamlessly apply for mortgage assistance in the event that the hardship is caused by COVID-19.

Digital Onboarding is a fintech offering its clients unlimited usage at no extra cost to help educate their customers/members on how to access money and utilise digital services without visiting a branch.

Similarly, Horizn works with financial institutions globally making sure both customers and employees understand and know how to bank digitally. It is providing a discounted short-term licence package of our cloud-based Customer Digital Platform and Digital Demos, and like other fintechs, it is accelerating deployment to get banks up and running within two weeks.

There are many other fintechs who are rallying around the financial sector and helping those institutions that need to react quickly to support customers. It’s a welcome move from fintechs and it can only help to boost confidence in digital banking once we come out the other side of this crisis.

Why has Australia fallen in love with neobanking?

Neobanks, or digital banks, arrived in Australia in 2018, dues to a change in legislation, and since then there has been a flurry of activity. Some might even call it a tsunami of neobanks, and this has led to a high level of competition in the country’s banking sector, something that hasn’t occurred for decades.

The neobanks are app-based banks accessed mostly from a smartphone. They don’t have physical branches and they promise clients a ‘touch of the button’ 24/7 service, and most of them have much lower charges than the traditional banks.

Neobanks have been growing in popularity outside Australia for some time, with Europe being a leader, especially the UK. As Jack Derwin points out, the fact that they are doing so well in the UK, and a number of them are registered there, such as Starling, Revolut and Monzo, is a good sign for Australia.

The digital banks are a more recent addition to the Australian banking scene, because until legislation changed in 2017/18, it was extremely difficult to start a neobank. Whilst the previous legislation was intended to protect the consumer, it was perhaps too restrictive, and anti-competition.

In 2017, Scott Morrison, who then headed the Treasury, dramatically simplified the application process to enter the banking sector. As a result, within months neobanks were lining up to enter the market.

Still, entering the banking sector is never easy. Neobanks need a banking licence, a core banking system and a substantial fund of money: one neobank founder told Business Insider Australia that $100 million was the figure needed to start up.

It takes time to raise that kind of money, and to get a banking licence, which can take up to 12 months, as the newcomer must convince the financial regulator to trust the product.

So, what is the advantage to using a neobank? Unlike traditional banks, they are more cost efficient. They don’t have a network of offices and the fact they have lower overheads, means they can pass the cost saving onto the client. Also neobanks have access to the best tech and can therefore optimise their product. It only takes minutes to set up an account, compared with all the paperwork needed for a bank. So, the consumer appeal is there, combined with free accounts and lower charges.

As Derwin says, “From recognising higher than usual bills, notifying you of unused subscriptions, and even helping you switch to a cheaper energy provider, neobanks say they can do banking better.”

That might not be hard to achieve in Australia, where the traditional banks have admitted to extorting fees for non-existent services, to the point they were even charging dead people. They also admitted to lying to the regulators, holding forged documents, failed to verify customers’ expenses when approving loans, and sold insurance to people who couldn’t afford it. And as Derwin says, with four banks controlling 80% of Australia’s business, there was no incentive for them to do better.

All this adds up to a reason for Australians to love neobanking. They now have around five to choose from, including Volt and Xinja, and the UK’s Revolut is testing the market. This is definitely a geographical space to watch for anyone interested in neobanks.

A bank you never heard of has died

How many of you can hold your hands up and say that you have heard of Raphael’s Bank?

It is one owned by an archangel by the way. It is Britain’s second oldest bank and it has existed for 232 years.

What happened to cause its quiet demise? It wasn;t on the news, because few people have heard of it, therefore there was no rush to get the government to bail it out. The bank, which was a leader in lending, sold its motor finance division in 2018 and stopped lending completely in April this year, as reported in Forbes by Frances Coppola. It has also now just closed its retail savings division. Its press release said,

“All savings account holders have been given sixty days’ notice, in line with regulatory guidelines, of the bank’s intention to return their monies to them and close their accounts.”

In 2015, the bank was an active lender, though it had no high street presence and operated mainly through brokers and third parties. Its main strength was in motor finance, including mobility scooters and such like, and it was known for its range of retail and small business loans. It was also a significant provider of pre-paid credit cards in the UK, and had a string of ATMs. Coppola says, “It was, in short, a small full-service bank. Just the sort of bank the highly concentrated UK banking marketplace needs.”

However, story of its death goes back to who owns it, because it wasn’t really an independent bank, despite its independent sounding name. It is owned by Lenley Holdings, which also owns the International Currency Exchange (ICE). And Lenley didn’t want to support a small British bank, so it put it up for sale in 2016.

The expectation was that Russian and Chinese buyers would leap at the opportunity, but none emerged. Meanwhile Raphael’s kept expanding its services, including becoming the banking partner for Transferwise in the UK. And it partnered with Vodafone and PayPal in their mobile money initiative in Germany.

In fact the bank was doing very well in 2017 and reported a profit of over £22m ($28.57m), which was a significant increase on the paltry £25,000 ($32,470) of the year before.

Some onlookers say that the Brexit fiasco spooked overseas buyers, which is likely true, but then in 2018 the bank reported a massive loss of nearly £4.5m ($5.84m). The chances of finding a buyer now were rapidly disappearing, which is why it closed its motor finance and asset finance activities, and sold its motor loan book. Therefore in 2019 it was judged that it couldn’t be sold as a going concern, so Lenley decided to liquidate it.

It is not a catastrophic situation for the banking community, but it is an interesting story for startup neobanks. Just remember, even though this bank opened for business before the French Revolution, in the end it was defeated by a combination of geopolitical events and a low Euribor rate that decimated its evolving payments division.

Canada needs get ahead in fintech

Canada is an innovative nation, but for some reason or other it is lagging behind its peers when it come to new financial technology. More co-operation between the banks and the fintechs is needed if the country is not to be left behind, as Financial Post suggests.

In the summer of 2018, the Canadian government announced, “it needed someone to study the landscape for financial technology companies, or fintechs, and figure out how they were getting along with the big banks and other financial institutions,” journalist Geoff Zochone reported. As he said, “Large multinational companies have jumped out to a headstart in the race to succeed, and Canada runs the risk of falling behind. At stake is nothing less than our prosperity and economic well-being.”

Toronto-based Fintech Growth Syndicate Inc., won the contract for the study, which became a 240-page report, the first of its kind made available in Canada.

The report used only publicly available data sourced from more than 60 different websites and discovered, amongst other things, that there were “approximately 1,000 fintechs across Canada offering services or products related to crowdfunding, insurance, wealth management, cryptocurrency, artificial intelligence, capital markets, lending and payments.”

Although most of the companies were startups and had small staff numbers, when combined they employed more than 30,000 people and they had an estimated combined value of $30.5 billion. This was exciting. However, what it also showed that very few of the fintechs had partnerships with the banks. Instead the study found “Canada’s Big Five banks may have been increasing their engagement with fintechs, but “the majority of their efforts” were still on building their own products and digital experiences.”

The result is that one of Canada’s biggest industries is innovating at a snail’s pace, plus the country is lagging behind its peers in adopting new financial technologies. It also means the Canadian consumer is probably paying more for financial services than they should.

Sue Britton, director at Fintech Growth Syndicate Inc., said, “To the extent that we could find publicly available information, we were able to show that, yes, there are some fintechs that are partnering with financial institutions. But certainly the majority of those partnerships are on the financial institutions’ terms. They’re not groundbreaking new business models … It’s not going to make the marketplace more competitive, because it’s going to, in fact, if anything, grow the business for the incumbent.”

Sticking with the status quo may be Ok for the banks in the short-term, and consumers may not mind, because they are used to the ‘traditional’ banking services. And it appears that they see no need to shake up Canada’s acclaimed stability on financial services. However, as Zochone says, “the incumbents could wake up one day to find their lunches being eaten by big-tech firms such as Amazon.com Inc. and Apple Inc., which are already offering a payments solution, some more aggressively than others.”

Britton added, ““What our big banks aren’t doing is moving as quickly as other parts of the world, innovating their business models, extending financial services to more small businesses or reducing their fees.” She added, “Perhaps, as Abraham Lincoln famously said, ‘give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe,’ they are still sharpening the axe.”

Royal Bank of Canada chief executive Dave McKay reported in March of this year that he was increasingly concerned with the prospect of Facebook Inc., Amazon.com, Apple, Netflix Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google (the FANG companies) getting into banking. He told Bloomberg, “They are getting between us and the moments of truth of our customers, and currently what they do with that is they sell that insight back to us in the form of search and advertising and other perspectives, and they earn a certain amount of economic rent.”

It will take time for Canada to begin adopting tech like other countries, Britton said. But it will happen.

“It’s not a blip, it’s not a bubble, it’s not a one-off,” she said. “It is the future.”