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Novo, a neobank for SMBs, banks $41M

Small businesses have traditionally been underserved when it comes to IT — they are too big and have too many requirements that can’t be met by consumer products, yet are much too small to afford, implement or thoroughly need apps and other IT build for larger enterprises. But when it comes to neobanks, it feels like there is no shortage of options for the SMB market, nor venture funding being invested to help them grow.

In the latest development, Novo, a neobank that has built a service targeting small businesses, has closed a round of $40.7 million, a Series A that it will be using to continue growing its business, and its platform.

The funding is being led by Valar Ventures with Crosslink Capital, Rainfall Ventures, Red Sea Ventures, and BoxGroup all also participating. The startup is not disclosing valuation but Novo — originally founded in New York in 2018 but now based out of Miami — has racked up 100,000 SMB customers — which it defines as businesses that make between $25,000 and $100,000 in annualized revenues — and has seen $1 billion in lifetime transactions, with growth accelerating in the last couple of years.

There are a wide variety of options for small businesses these days when it comes to going for a banking solution. They include staying with traditional banks (which are starting to add an increasing number of services and perks to retain small business customers), as well as a variety of fintechs — other neobanks, like Novo — that are building banking and related financial tools to cater to startups and other small businesses.

Just doing a quick search, some of the others targeting the sector include Rho, NorthOne, Lili, Mercury, Brex, Hatch, Anna, Tide, Viva Wallet, Open, and many more (and you could argue also players like Amazon, offering other money management and spending tools similar to what neobanks are providing). Some of these are not in the U.S., and some are geared more at startups, or freelancers, but taken together they speak to the opportunity and also the attention that it is getting from the tech industry right now.

As CEO and co-founder Michael Rangel — who hails from Miami — described it to me, one of the key differentiators with Novo is that it’s approaching SMB banking from the point of view of running a small business. By this, he means that typically SMBs are already using a lot of other finance software — on average seven apps per business — to manage their books, payments and other matters, and so Novo has made it easier by way of a “drag and drop” dashboard where an SMB can integrate and view activity across all of those apps in one place. There are “dozens” of integrations currently, he said, and more are being added.

This is the first step, he said. The plan is to build more technology so that the activity between different apps can also be monitored, and potentially automated

“We’re able to see this is your balance and what you should expect,” he said. “The next frontier is to marry the incoming with outgoing. We’re using the funding to build that, and it’s on the roadmap in next six months.”

Novo has yet to bring cash advances or other lending products into its platform, although those too are on the roadmap, but it is also listening to its customers and watching what they want to do on the platform — another reason why it’s clever to make it easy to for those customers to integrate other services into Novo: not only does that solve a pain point for the customer, but it becomes a pretty clear indicator of what customers are doing, and how you could better cater to that.

Listening to the customers is in itself becoming a happy challenge, it seems. Novo launched quietly enough — between 2018 and the end of 2019, it had picked up only 5,000 accounts. But all that changed during 2020 and the Covid-19 pandemic, which Rangel describes as “just hockey stick growth. We grew like crazy.”

The reason, he said, is a classic example of why incumbent banks have to catch up with the times. Everyone was locked down at home, and suddenly a lot of people who were either furloughed or laid off were “spinning up businesses,” he said, and that led to many of them needing to open bank accounts. But those who tried to do this with high-street banks were met with a pretty significant barrier: you had to go into the bank in person to authenticate yourself, but either the banks were closed, or people didn’t want to travel to them. That paved the way for Novo (and others) to cater to them.

Its customer numbers shot up to 24,000 in the year.

Then other market forces have also helped it. You might recall that banking app Simple was shut down by BBVA ahead of its merger with PNC; but at the same time, it also shut down Azlo, it’s small business banking service. That led to a significant number of users migrating to other services, and Novo got a huge windfall out of that, too.

In the last six months, Novo grew four-fold, and Rangel attributed a lot of that to ex-Azloans looking for a new home.

The fact that there are so many SMB banking providers out there might mean competition, but it also means fragmentation, and so if a startup emerges that seems to be catching on, it’s going to catch something else, too: the eye of investors.

“The ability of the Novo team to grow the company rapidly during a year where businesses have faced unprecedented challenges is impressive,” said Andrew McCormack, founding partner at Valar Ventures, the firm co-founded by Peter Thiel, another big figure in fintech. “Novo tripled its small business customer base in the first half of 2021! Their custom infrastructure and banking platform put them in prime position to expand their services at an even faster pace as we come out of the health crisis. All of us at Valar Ventures are excited to join this team.”

10x, a UK fintech, raises $187M to build new services for old banks

As so-called neobanks continue to gain more traction in the market with their more modern takes on banking and other financial services, a startup that’s building technology to help incumbent players better compete is announcing a big round of funding.

10x Future Technologies, a London-based fintech that helps larger, established banks build both next-generation services as well as tools to help their older services work more efficiently, has raised $187 million. We understand from sources close to the company that 10x’s valuation with this round is in the range of $700 million.

(The amount raised and valuation also roughly line up with the figures from Sky News, which reported earlier this month that 10x was raising new funding.)

10x will be using the funds both to expand into new geographies like North America, as well as to continue building more technology for its flagship platform. SuperCore, as that platform is called, is an all-in-one system built from scratch to run a wide range of banking services such as payments, core banking, mortgages, analytics, security and marketing, which 10x’s bank customers can integrate into their existing tech by way of APIs, or 10x can use to build those clients new services from the ground up.

This Series C round is full of heavy hitters that speak to the credibility 10x has picked up in its five years in the market.

Co-led by BlackRock and Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPP Investments), it also includes existing investors JPMorgan Chase, Nationwide, Ping An and Australia’s Westpac.

The latter four include strategic backers: Antony Jenkins, the founder and CEO of 10x who himself used to work at big banks (his last role was CEO of Barclays, and although he left under a cloud, his prominence and track record are likely reasons for the company’s clout), tells us that 10x is currently building services for Westpac and Nationwide.

10x has two other banks as customers that it is not disclosing yet, which will be leading to more soon, Jenkins added, since the industry is “at a transitional moment” right now. Some of 10x’s engagements are already live, with “volume going over the platform,” he said. Others have yet to launch.

The opportunity that 10x is targeting is big, but also elusive.

Neobanks and other new-generation fintech providers are slowly chipping away at incumbent banks’ stronghold on consumer and business banking. They are typically doing this not by becoming fully-fledged banks themselves, but by stitching together suites of traditional and more modern banking services by way of APIs from other fintechs; machine learning algorithms to personalise services to customers; and modern interfaces to make the whole experience more user-friendly than what you might get from a traditional bank.

Incumbent banks want to compete against these new upstarts with rival products of their own, but in many cases they can’t: their infrastructure is too old, and oftentimes the company culture is even older.

This is where 10x comes in, providing the tools and advice to help them get new services up and running.

Jenkins notes that currently, a lot of the engagements 10x is seeing involve banks bolting on completely new services rather than building services to replace those they already offer. One fitting analogy here is that it’s a little like putting a modern extension on a very old house, rather than remodelling and modernizing the whole of the old house from the ground up.

But, it seems that we are now, five years into 10x’s life as a business, starting to see the first signs of banks willing to explore how to migrate their core data to more modern systems to make it more extensible and usable in a wider range of new services, and 10x believes it can be a partner in that back-end transformation, too.

“The legacy systems are where banks’ issues sit, because they are all architected around product, not customers,” he said. “But we believe that the industry is ready to contemplate the process of migration now.” The company is not yet working on any projects of this kind, he added, but it expects to in the next 12 months.

And even with other fintech startups, like FintechOS, also building services aimed at helping incumbent banks be more modern, that expectation spells opportunity for investors.

“We have been impressed with 10x’s strategy and ambition to play a key role at the heart transformations taking place in financial services, driven by technology innovation, consumer expectations and regulatory reform,” saiid William Abecassis, BlackRock’s Head of Innovation Capital, in a statement. “We are excited to be investing in the business as it scales into new markets.”

Leon Pedersen,  MD and Head of Thematic Investing, CPP Investments added: “10x is very well placed to change how big banks are built and deliver for their customers. 10x presents an attractive opportunity for a long-term investor like CPP Investments as we believe they will benefit from their exposure to the structural growth trend of financial institutions investing in digital initiatives and renewing core technology infrastructure, allowing banks to introduce new offerings and products much faster than using legacy platforms.”

FamPay, a fintech aimed at teens in India, raises $38 million

How big is the market in India for a neobank aimed at teenagers? Scores of high-profile investors are backing a startup to find out.

Bangalore-based FamPay said on Wednesday it has raised $38 million in its Series A round led by Elevation Capital. General Catalyst, Rocketship VC, Greenoaks Capital and existing investors Sequoia Capital India, Y Combinator, Global Founders Capital and Venture Highway also participated in the new round, which brings FamPay’s to-date raise to $42.7 million.

TechCrunch reported early this month that FamPay was in talks with Elevation Capital to raise a new round.

Founded by Sambhav Jain and Kush Taneja (pictured above) — both of whom graduated from Indian Institute of Technology, Roorkee in 2019 — FamPay enables teenagers to make online and offline payments.

The thesis behind the startup, said Jain in an interview with TechCrunch, is to provide financial literacy to teenagers, who additionally have limited options to open a bank account in India at a young age. Through gamification, the startup said it’s making lessons about money fun for youngsters.

Unlike in the U.S., where it’s common for teenagers to get jobs at restaurants and other places and understand how to handle money at a young age, a similar tradition doesn’t exist in India.

After gathering the consent from parents, FamPay provides teenagers with an app to make online purchases, as well as plastic cards — the only numberless card of its kind in the country — for offline transactions. Parents credit money to their children’s FamPay accounts and get to keep track of high-ticket spendings.

In other markets, including the U.S., a number of startups including Greenlight, Step and Till Financial are chasing to serve the teenagers, but in India, there currently is no startup looking to solve the financial access problem for teenagers, said Mridul Arora, a partner at Elevation Capital, in an interview with TechCrunch.

It could prove to be a good issue to solve — India has the largest adolescent population in the world.

“If you’re able to serve them at a young age, over a course of time, you stand to become their go-to product for a lot of things,” Arora said. “FamPay is serving a population that is very attractive and at the same time underserved.”

The current offerings of FamPay are just the beginning, said Jain. Eventually the startup wishes to provide a range of services and serve as a neobank for youngsters to retain them with the platform forever, he said, though he didn’t wish to share currently what those services might be.

Image Credits: FamPay

Teens represent the “most tech-savvy generation, as they haven’t seen a world without the internet,” he said. “They adapt to technology faster than any other target audience and their first exposure with the internet comes from the likes of Instagram and Netflix. This leads to higher expectations from the products that they prefer to use. We are unique in approaching banking from a whole new lens with our recipe of community and gamification to match the Gen Z vibe.”

“I don’t look at FamPay just as a payments service. If the team is able to execute this, FamPay can become a very powerful gateway product to teenagers in India and their financial life. It can become a neobank, and it also has the opportunity to do something around social, community and commerce,” said Arora.

During their college life, Jain and Taneja collaborated and built an app and worked at a number of startups, including social network ShareChat, logistics firm Rivigo and video streaming service Hotstar. Jain said their work with startups in the early days paved the idea to explore a future in this ecosystem.

Prior to arriving at FamPay, Jain said the duo had thought about several more ideas for a startup. The early days of FamPay were uniquely challenging to the founders, who had to convince their parents about their decision to do a startup rather than joining firms or startups as had most of their peers from college. Until being selected by Y Combinator, Jain said he didn’t even fully understand a cap table and dilutions.

He credited entrepreneurs such as Kunal Shah (founder of CRED) and Amrish Rau (CEO of Pine Labs) for being generous with their time and guidance. They also wrote some of the earliest checks to the startup.

The startup, which has amassed over 2 million registered users, plans to deploy the fresh capital to expand its user base and product offerings, and hire engineers. It is also looking for people to join its leadership team, said Jain.