Earlier this week, news broke that Currencycloud, a UK-based business-to-business (b2b) payment solutions provider had racked up $80 million in its latest funding round from a number of high-profile backers: Visa, Sapphire Ventures, Google Ventures (GV), the investment arm of the World Bank, French lender BNP Paribas and Japanese bank SBI.
Following the round, however, Mike Laven–the company’s chief executive officer–used an interesting term to describe Currencycloud’s brand: invisible.
“We’re probably the most important business that you’ve never heard of,” he told CNBC. “But that’s conscientious on our part,’ he said. “We do not have a strategy where we compete with our customers.” Instead, Laven clarified to TechCrunch, “my brand is invisible.”
Indeed, Laven described the particular niche that his company caters to as “embedded finance”: providing payments solutions to companies themselves rather than front-end users; in other words, if apps like Venmo and Square are the kitchen sink, companies like Currencycloud are the plumbing.
And while Currencycloud may be one of the largest of these “embedded finance” companies, it certainly isn’t the only one; earlier this year, Visa acquired payments software startup Plaid for $5.3 billion.
Exactly what kinds of products and services do these embedded finance companies offer? And how is the integration of their products changing the face of Big Tech?
“The future of finance is one of collaboration.”
Michael Wasyl, managing partner at NYC-based corporate strategy firm DeerCreek., explained to Finance Magnates that the rise of these “embedded finance” companies represents an important shift in the industry: “in the past, fintech companies were only focused on building their own products and finding the best distribution channels to sell these products into,” he said.
In other words, Kanchan Kumar, chief executive and co-founder of Toronto-based b2b payments company Remitr, explained to Finance Magnates that “the early days of fintech were the ‘unbundling of the banks’.”
On a practical level, this meant that “young startups [were] looking to tackle problems very singular in focus.”
“Product development and technology weren’t necessarily the hurdle, nor was adoption,” Kumar said. Rather, “regulation, compliance, and the actual ‘rails’ to make the system work was the real battle. Companies like CurrencyCloud and Plaid helped fintechs to navigate the red tape and get superior products to market, which is why we’re now seeing a ‘rebundling.’”
In other words, “we’ll soon begin to see feature sets specifically designed for brand affinity and user dependency, such as data visualization, stronger accounting, and budgeting features, personalized customer service, and democratization of ‘luxury’ business features,” Kumar said. “The future of finance is one of collaboration.”
This is made possible by the ease-of-use that these embedded finance companies provide. Michael Wasyl explained that “the industry is beginning to evolve as fintech companies are finding it easier to integrate directly into the infrastructure of their target customers,” he added. “With today’s infrastructure rails being developed to support real-time payments and settlements, there is a major shift towards the reduction of manual tasks across operations.”
This could include, for example, something as simple as invoicing: “companies will shift their invoice processing towards automated processes due to the massive benefits of efficiency and cost,” Wasyl said, pointing to Param Network, a blockchain fintech company, that has an e-invoicing platform that plugs into companies existing EDI systems and automatically processes and reconciles B2B invoices.
“This has shown to reduce invoicing cost by 80% and invoicing payment time by 10x,” he explained–and while invoicing may not seem like such a big deal in and of itself, this is just the tip of the iceberg.
For example, UK-based business-to-business payments solution provider Currencycloud offers 85 APIs, which, according to TechCrunch, “cover areas like inbound money collection (helping clients get paid), foreign exchange, outgoing payments, digital wallet services managing multiple currencies and more.” To date, these APIs have been used to send $50 billion across 180 different countries.
And the company expects those figures to continually increase: “B2B payments is growing,” said Todd Latham, Chief Growth Officer at Currencycloud, to Finance Magnates.
Why is this? “Businesses have been terribly underserved by the payments revolution which has focused so far on the consumer,” Latham explained. “Banks and other financial institutions are beginning to see this and want to partner with fintechs, like us, that provide real solutions to make payments drastically easier, quicker and more transparent.”
“Embedded finance really will drive the next wave of fintech,” he added, “and we are excited to part of that movement.”
Embedded product offerings are simply to declutter the experience for the end-user
While most of these companies will not have direct interactions with end-users, their presence on the scene will affect the ways that users interact with the applications they are integrated with.
Kanchan Kumar explained to Finance Magnates that on a basic level, “embedded product services led to a more comprehensive product offering. With embedded products, the end-users can now settle accounts payables, check balances, monitor expenses, and manage multiple bank accounts all from within one application.”
“White-labeled solutions, or ‘embedded product offerings,’ are simply to declutter the experience for the end-user,” Kumar said.
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Indeed, embedded finance companies provide end-users with an efficient payment experience. For example, Shannon Murphy, communications specialist at enterprise-grade financial services provider Veem, explained the company’s integration with Plaid, a company that specializes in application programming interface software to link fintech apps with people’s bank accounts: “it simplifies the way users connect their bank account,” she said.
“Our Plaid integration enables users to easily log-in to the Veem network via their banking portal to auto-populate banking fields, rather than having to track down details,” Murphy explained.
Quite simply, “embedded finance saves users time, and, for businesses, time and resources…unlike traditional payments providers, fintechs are putting power back into the hands of the user, empowering businesses to make their payments what they want them to be, not what’s most convenient for their bank.”
Eventually, however, end-users may begin to see companies offer new ways to pay for products, according to Michael Wasyl. “Currently, fintech companies are making their presence felt in this space with the return of layaway payment options,” he said. “Companies such as Affirm, AfterPay, and Klarna are processing billions in loan installment payments for major firms such as Walmart.”
“As company payrolls become increasingly automated, the integration between fintech platforms will allow for more creative payment plans to be created. For example, workers in the future may be able to pay for products by directly linking their payroll to retailers and paying for items against their future pay.”
”Embedded finance” is driving Big Tech’s journey toward financial services
While on the user-end, integration with these embedded finance companies may simply provide better user experience and more payment options, the implications for what these platforms can do for companies are powerful. “With the ability to integrate payments directly into their own software, we will begin to see large companies such as Walmart and Uber move to become their own financial institutions,” Michael Wasyl said.
“Uber has already begun this process with their recent push into UberMoney, [which] create an integrated ecosystem where the driver can receive payment through their digital UberMoney wallet, and also use it to pay for gas, insurance, and other expenses. Uber, in turn, will save money on transaction fees and even have the opportunity to create new high-margin, value-added financial products.”
Indeed, it seems that the increased availability of these b2b payment solutions is feeding directly into the phenomenon of tech companies becoming pseudo-” banks.”
This may be an increasingly attractive option for companies seeking to find new revenue streams. “Companies will find it increasingly viable to create their own financial offerings to their customers without the aid of traditional financial institutions,” Wasyl said. “Companies will take advantage of the lack of customer acquisition cost and will monetize the customers from their traditional business line.”
“For example, Walmart could take advantage of its massive scale to offer customers their own banking accounts while offering discounts and cross-selling other financial products.”
Data and customer experience
The real opportunity, perhaps, is the potential for data mining that providing financial services holds. Coupled with automation, there is powerful potential for improved operations and new sources of revenue.
Therefore, Wasyl says that companies should focus on integrating platforms that “can bring automation and data collection to their payment systems.”
“Automation lowers a company’s financial risk as they are able to receive payment for their products and services much faster than before, increasing a company’s working capital and reducing the need to tap into outside funding sources when there is a shortfall.”
Companies that are able to integrate automation with internal data science and analytics can also build more intelligent forecasting models. These models can help predict seasonality, client buying patterns, and provide other insights that help management make better decisions.”
Better decisions that–hopefully–will lead to greater user retention. Edrizio De La Cruz, chief executive and co-founder of fintech payments platform Arcus, told Finance Magnates that “the demand to create an exceptional customer experience is high across all industries.”
“Providing such an experience relies on many factors, one of which is consumer behavioral data,” he continued. “The more you know about your customers, the easier it is to anticipate and deliver on their wants and needs.”
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“Financial services capture some of the most valuable consumer behavioral data available, which is one of the reasons many of these companies are expanding into the industry. It can really help them put together a complete picture of the journey of their consumers. Then, they can use this information to help design the best possible experience for their customers. It is mutually beneficial.”
Having access to good data will become increasingly important as competition between these “pseudo-banks” continues to increase. “Mergers and acquisitions will continue as the fight for the largest retention of users’ time continues,” Kanchan Kumar said. “The traditional players are fighting to stay relevant as sticking to the traditional model is no longer sustainable.”