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Accion Venture Lab—the seed-stage investment arm of non-profit Accion—has raised $ 23 million for a new inclusive fintech startup fund.

The Accion Venture Lab Limited Partnership, as its called, will make seed-stage investments in inclusive fintech startups, defined as ventures that “that leverage technology to increase the reach, quality, and affordability of financial services for the under-served at scale,” per a company release.

The new fund was raised with capital contributions from a number of participants, including the Ford Foundation, Visa Inc. and Proparco—the development finance institution of the French government.

The additional $ 23 million brings Accion Venture Lab‘s total capital under management to $ 42 million.

The new LP fund will consider startups from any geography, as along as they meet specific criteria. Overall, Accion Venture Lab doesn’t have regional investment quotas, but does look to allocate roughly 25 to 30 percent of its funds to Africa, Accion Venture Lab Managing Director Tahira Dosani told TechCrunch on a call.

“We want to continue to focus on Latin-America, on Sub-Saharan Africa, on Southeast Asia as well as in the U.S. It really is about…where we see the need and the opportunity across the markets that we’re in,” she said.

In line with Accion’s mandate to boost financial inclusion globally, Accion Venture Lab already has a portfolio of 36 fintech startup investments across 5 continents—including 9 in the U.S., 8 in Latin America, and 8 in India.

“Our goal is to really be the that first institutional investor in the companies we invest in. That’s were we see the biggest capital gap. And it’s where we build capability and expertise,” Dosani said. In 2018, Accion Venture Lab successfully exited Indian fintech company Aye Finance, following exits in 2017 and 2016.

Tahira Dosani Accion Venture Lab I

This year Accion Venture Lab supported a $ 6.5 million Series A investment in Lulalend, a South African startup that uses internal credit metrics to provide short-term loans to SMEs that are often unable to obtain working capital.

Accion’s new LP fund will follow past practice and make investments typically in the $ 500,000 range. It will start sourcing startups immediately through its investment leads around the world and already made its first seed financing to U.S. venture Joust—a fintech platform for gig economy workers.

Accion Venture Lab’s LP fund is the first time the organization has pooled third-party investment capital, according to a spokesperson.

On the appeal for those contributing, Dosani named Accion’s geographic reach and experience. “We think that’s our strength, because we’re able to invest in similar business models across different markets. And we’re able to bring that knowledge from one market to another,” she said.

The Ford Foundation contributed $ 2 million, according to an email from Christine Looney, Deputy Director, Mission Investments. Visa didn’t disclose its capital contribution, but told TechCrunch it will play a role in governance through its participation in a Limited Partners Advisory Committee for the new fund.

As a point of observation, Accion Venture Lab stands out as a fund for giving an equal pitch footing to fintech ventures across frontier, emerging, and developed markets from Lagos to London.

Accion’s new LP fund—along with the organization’s commitment to make nearly a third of its investments in Africa—means more capital to digital finance startups on the continent. By a number of estimates, Africa’s 1.2 billion people still represent the largest share of the world’s unbanked and underbanked population.

 

 

 


TechCrunch

Another day, another mega round for a fintech startup. And this one is mega mega.

Brazil-based Nubank, which offers a suite of banking and financial services for Brazilian consumers, announced today that it has raised a $ 400 million Series F round of venture capital led by Woody Marshall of TCV, the growth-stage fund best known for its investment in Netflix but which also made fintech a priority, with over $ 1.5 billion in investments in the space. According to Nubank, the company has now raised $ 820 million across seven venture rounds.

Katie Roof of the Wall Street Journal reported this morning that the company secured a valuation above $ 10 billion, potentially making it one of a short list of startup decacorns. That’s up from a $ 4 billion valuation we wrote about back in October 2018.

Part of the reason for that big ticket round is the company’s growth. Nubank said in a statement that it has now reached 12 million customers for its various products, making it the sixth-largest financial institution by customer count within its home market. Brazil has a population of roughly 210 million people — indicating that there is still a lot of potential local growth even before the company began to consider international expansion options. It announced a few weeks ago that it will start to expand its offerings to Mexico and Argentina.

Over the past year, the company has expanded its product offerings to include personal loans and cash withdrawal options as part of its digital savings accounts.

As I wrote earlier this week, part of the reason for these mega rounds in fintech is that the cost of acquiring a financial customer is critical to the success of these startups. Once a startup has a customer for one financial product — say, a savings account — it can then upsell customers to other products at a very low marketing cost. That appears to be the strategy at Nubank as well with its quickly expanding suite of products.

As my colleague Jon Shieber discussed last month, critical connections between Stanford, Silicon Valley and Latin America have forged a surge of investment from venture capitalists into the region as the continent experiences the same digital transformation seen in many other places throughout the world. As just one example from health care, Dr Consulta has raised more than nine figures to address the serious health care needs of Brazilian consumers. SoftBank’s Vision Fund, which was rumored to be investing in Nubank earlier this year, has vowed to put $ 5 billion to work in the region. That fund recently invested $ 231 million in fintech startup Creditas.

In an email from TCV, Woody Marshall said that, “Leveraging unique technology, David Vélez and his team are continuously pushing the boundaries of delivering best in class financial services, grounded in a culture of tech and innovation. Nubank has all the core tenets of what TCV looks for in preeminent franchise investments.”

NuBank was founded in 2013 by co-founders Adam Edward Wible, Cristina Junqueira, and David Velez. In addition to TCV, existing backers Tencent, DST Global, Sequoia Capital, Dragoneer, Ribbit Capital, and Thrive Capital also participated in the round.


TechCrunch

Fintech has been one of the bigger stories of the UK startup world — due in no small part to the fact that its capital, London, is also one of the world’s major financial centers. Today, one of those startups made a big splash by buying an incumbent business, and taking on an equity investment alongside that, to scale up its position in the market.

Jaja, a mobile-first business that provides digital and physical credit cards and other financing services, today announced that it will be acquiring the UK credit card accounts for an initial cash consideration of £530 million (or $ 671 million at current rates). It will also become the consumer credit card issuer for the Bank’s UK business and the AA. At the same time it’s also getting an equity investment of £20 million in its own business.

“This announcement with Bank of Ireland UK is an exciting and important development in Jaja’s journey and is part of our strategy to create partnerships that will help more people embrace a simpler way of managing credit,” said Neil Radley, CEO of Jaja Finance, in a statement. “Our vision is to enable a new generation of mobile-first credit card products with unrivalled functionality, service and security. We’re excited to be welcoming Bank of Ireland UK customers as cardholders.”

The Bank of Ireland’s UK credit business includes a number of key accounts covering the AA (UK’s Automobile Association), the Post Office, as well as a card branded Bank of Ireland itself. (It excludes the bank’s commercial card business in the Republic of Ireland.)

The Bank had put the business up for sale some time ago as part of a bigger strategy to divest of its capital-intensive, competitive operations in a push to grow profitability by improving its loans and mortgages business: amid that, the Bank’s wider UK business has been a challenge for it, with investors going so far as to value the UK business at zero earlier this month.

“Jaja is an innovative company which shares our commitment to delivering outstanding customer service. We are proud to partner with them and bring their next generation credit card to customers across the UK,” said Bank of Ireland UK CEO Des Crowley in a statement. “Today’s announcement demonstrates the Bank’s continued progress in delivering against its strategic targets for growth and transformation to 2021, as set out at its Investor Day in June 2018.”

Jaja’s deal is being done in partnership with KKR, Centerbridge Partners and other unnamed investors, who are helping finance the acquisition and are also putting £20 million ($ 25 million) of equity investment into Jaja (pronounced “yah-yah”) alongside it. Prior to this, Jaja had raised about about $ 16 million, including about £3 million by way of the Seedrs crowdfunding platform.

The company is not disclosing its valuation amid this $ 671 million purchase.

A spokesperson for Jaja said the startup is not releasing any numbers today that point to how much the company’s current services are being used. The company, which is today active only in the UK, has taken the route of keeping a waitlist to onboard new users, and it was reported to have some 6,000 people on it back in February just ahead of the Jaja launching its cards.

The company also has a deal with Asda, the UK business of Walmart, to provide financing at the point of sale for its online storefront George.com (an Amazon-type everything store akin to Walmart.com). Given that Jaja has up to now not operated on a massive scale — even if it took on its whole waitlist, that would only number 6,000 customers, for example — it’s likely that this latest acquisition will be adding a sizeable number of users, and key brands, into its stable in one fell swoop.

Jaja was founded by Jostein Svendsen, Kyrre Riksen and Per Elvebakk — London-based Norwegian entrepreneurs who have previously found and sold other financial and tech startups (Svenden, for example, sold a previous company to American Express) — and is currently led by CEO Neil Radley, who had previously been the MD for Barclaycard in Western Europe.

Its key mission has been to bring a more modern approach to the world of credit and credit cards. That in itself is not hugely unique — it is essentially the purpose of all consumer-facing credit startups today — but given that the vast majority of credit services, and transactions, are still handled through traditional channels, it’s disruptive nonetheless.

The company describes itself as digital, mobile-first business, which in its case means that you apply for and initiate services through the company’s app — using your phone’s camera to snap your ID and an AI-based algorithm that takes in other data about you to provide what Jaja describes as “near instant” credit decisions within minutes. Jaja provides physical cards (Visa is its credit card partner), but it also allows people to use the cards through their digital wallets immediately. The company does not change for foreign currency exchanges and offers free cash withdrawal fees, with an annual percentage rate (APR) of 18.9%. And in keeping with what is now par for the course for challenger fintech services, you can use the app to get real-time updates on your account, modify repayments and more.

On that note, in addition to the challenge of onboarding a number of established brands and a large number of users on to a new platform that up to now has been adding users intentionally slowly, it will be interesting to see how and if Jaja can inject more modern infrastructure into those established operations, and a customer base that’s used to the traditional way of doing things. For now, it says that customers of those services will continue to use them as they have done.


TechCrunch

African fintech has taken center stage for the Catalyst Fund, a JP Morgan Chase and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation-backed accelerator that provides mentorship and non-equity funding to emerging markets startups.

The organization announced its 2019 startup cohort and three out of the four finance ventures — Chipper Cash, Salutat and Turaco — have an Africa focus (Brazil-based venture Diin, was the fourth).

Catalyst Fund, which is managed by global tech consulting firm BFA,  also released its latest evaluation report, which showed 60% of the organization’s portfolio startups are located in Africa.

The new additions to the fund’s program will gain $ 50,000 to $ 60,000 in non-equity venture building support (as Catalyst Fund dubs it) and six months of technical assistance. The funds and support are aimed at moving the ventures to the next phase of catalyzing business models, generating revenue and connecting to global VCs.

“We really tailor the kind of help we give to companies so they can reach market fit and proof points that investors want to see to enable the next phase of growth,” BFA Deputy Director Maelis Carraro told TechCrunch.

Catalyst Fund’s 2019 startup cohort also gained exposure to the fund’s Circle of Investors — a network of impact and commercial backers who can make decisions on investing in and accelerating particular companies.

Next Big Thing and Deciens Capital recently joined the group of 40 investors that includes Techstars and the Mastercard Foundation.

The tenor for support for Catalyst Fund’s newest cohort of startups lasts through 2019. The ventures will also attend the big SOCAP 2019 tech conference in San Francisco, where Catalyst organizes workshops and meetings with its Circle of Investors.

Founded in 2016, the Catalyst Fund’s mandate includes supporting fintech startups that are developing solutions for low-income individuals in emerging markets. The organization has accelerated 20 ventures in Africa, Asia and Latin America that have raised $ 25.7 million in follow-on capital, according to its latest report.

With the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and JP Morgan Chase as the lead backers, Catalyst Fund partners also include Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors and Accion.

JP Morgan Chase’s interest in supporting Catalyst Fund connects to a firm-wide commitment of the global bank to financial inclusion, according to JP Morgan’s Head of Community Innovation Colleen Briggs — who is also a day-to-day Catalyst Fund manager.

JP Morgan recently launched a $ 125 million, five-year commitment to improve global financial health, she explained. “For us there is a true market opportunity…we genuinely believe that financial inclusion is the foundation for the economy,” Briggs said.

“If we don’t get the social issues right it undermines the resiliency of the communities and the markets where we’re trying to operate.”

That Catalyst Fund’s cohorts have shifted toward Africa focused ventures speaks to the thesis for fintech on the continent.

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.

Hundreds of startups are descending on Africa’s fintech space, looking to offer scalable solutions for the continent’s financial needs. By stats offered by Briter Bridges and a 2018 WeeTracker survey, fintech now receives the bulk of VC capital and deal-flow to African startups.

Ventures such as Catalyst Fund cohort member Chipper Cash — co-founded by Ugandan Ham Serunjogi and Ghanaian Maijid Moujaled — are looking to grow across Africa first before considering any global moves.

The company plans to introduce its no-fee, P2P, cross-border mobile-money payments products beyond current operations in Ghana and Kenya to Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda within the next 12 months.

Ventures looking to join companies like Chipper Cash as a Catalyst Fund-supported startup can seek a referral from Catalyst’s Circle of Investors — who make a recommendations on new candidates. Catalyst Fund aims to choose 30 startups for its cohort over the next three years, according to program director David del Ser.


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