Global Finance I JUNE 03, 2022
As pandemic response continues to reshape human behaviors and attitudes, banks are strengthening in-house innovation teams and tapping broader networks to stimulate fresh ideation in financial services.
After a surge of innovation in 2020 as Covid-19 created new needs and accelerated take-up of digital channels, the past year saw only a modest pushing of the fintech envelope. Bank spending on tech grew slowly in 2021; Forrester, a technology consultancy, now expects it to see double-digit growth in 2022.
This is not to say 2021 was an innovation-free zone, just that groundbreaking innovations by banks were thin on the ground. This is our seventh year of this annual special issue devoted to financial innovation. The following pages recognize innovation standouts among banks and fintechs, as well as the most interesting finance-sector innovations of the year worldwide. We also honor excellence at the regional and category levels. Finally, we include our popular annual review of the world’s leading fintech innovation labs.
In our years studying finance innovation, we have come to recognize a certain ebb and flow, and today’s relative calm masks often robust activity that will later be revealed. This year, banks entering our awards bragged most about their innovations focused on user experience or payments—unsurprising when you consider how the pandemic brought a greater focus on both. But overall, in reviewing entries (required for all but the global-level awards), we saw a deepening embrace of change and an enthusiastic push to bring about the best possibilities the future may offer.
Still, banks have a long way to go before they can shake off their legacy shackles and match the agility and customer-centric way that fintechs innovate. The record VC investment flowing into the sector in 2021 should keep fintechs hungrily snapping at the tech toes of banks.
It’s not all about competition, however, as many banks rightly see fintechs as enablers and partners on the journey of discovery. Whether its payments, savings, loans or treasury technology, tech-centric upstarts experiment more nimbly than banks, and can help increase the speed and scale of innovation. Open banking, application programming interfaces and no code/low code are all helping bring about a more inclusive culture for the development of innovation. These features were characteristic of many of this year’s innovation leaders.
GLOBAL TOP FIVE MOST INNOVATIVE FINTECHS
Business-to-business (B2B) buy-now, pay-later (BNPL) startup KEO World was founded in 2020 and issues Keo American Express (Amex) Virtual Cards and credit lines with a quick digital approval process for small businesses. The Miami-headquartered company is working to extend its footprint from North America to Latin America; and in 2021, Keo formed an international alliance with Amex to become the first nonbank financial institution to be granted an issuing license by Amex Mexico. Following a fast digital approval process, small to midsize enterprises (SMEs) are issued a Keo Amex Virtual Card and a credit line. Keo’s Workeo product allows business buyers to access key inventory on credit, and suppliers to increase their recurring sales, enhancing working capital management via an all-digital, frictionless and low-cost inventory financing platform. Keo World recently announced a seven-year debt facility of up to $500 million from asset management firm, Hayfin Capital Management to boost its supply chain finance purchasing power for SMEs.
Payments platform Dwolla launched its real-time payments (RTP) option in April 2021, in partnership with Cross River Bank, allowing businesses’ clients to integrate Dwolla’s payment API (application programming interface) to connect with RTP-enabled financial institutions and send funds to a bank account within seconds. Existing clients can change a single line of code to initiate an RTP transaction using the Dwolla API. Dwolla has also expanded its library of drop-in components, to help lighten the technical lift that comes with integrating a payment API, offering a low-code solution that reduces a payments integration by thousands of lines of code. In July 2021, Dwolla partnered with financial data platform MX to help customers automate bank account verification, connecting any depository account securely and easily.
By building a flexible API, Dwolla enables companies of all sizes and technical expertise to implement account-to-account payment solutions. For startup companies, Dwolla’s scalable and customized low-code solution allows them to easily send and collect payments or facilitate transactions. In 2022, Dwolla plans to expand beyond the US with the introduction of foreign exchange transactions via RTP, ACH and push-to-debit functionality.
Capitolis builds technologies that speed up and simplify how banks transact with each other, addressing capital market constraints in equities and foreign exchange. Capitolis works with more than 100 big banks and has transacted over $60 billion “notional” (a nominal amount used to calculate payments made on financial instruments) from over 30 investors. The company has optimized over $13 trillion in trades through its trade compression platform. By connecting market participants and automating manual workflow, Capitolis helps firms mitigate inefficiencies linked to reserved regulatory capital, tightening client credit capacity and reducing costs resulting from manual processes.
The New York–headquartered Israeli company can also come up with solutions to capital market problems. In response to the war in Ukraine, Capitolis was approached by a large network of global banks to design a solution to reduce their exposure to Russian rubles. Through its trade compression platform, Capitolis was able to reduce these large exposures, promoting financial soundness and stability for the benefit of the whole capital markets system. Ruble optimization is a first for Capitolis, and the company says it will continue offering a Russian ruble compression run for as long as it is needed.
In October 2021, the launch of Kyriba Working Capital Solutions furthered the cloud-based treasury-software provider Kyriba’s efforts to close the reported $3.4 trillion trade financing gap and help corporate buyers support suppliers, especially at-risk SME suppliers. Kyriba says the new capabilities will increase access to liquidity, mitigating supply chain risk. They include purchase order financing and a receivables financing platform to help CFOs enhance and modernize their enterprise liquidity programs.
In collaboration with Societe Generale, Kyriba launched a joint treasury management solution, including payment automation and fraud management functionalities, to make treasury management smoother and easier for the French bank’s corporate clients. Kyriba also launched its Open API platform to enable “composable” (modular, responsive and open-form architecture) technology solutions for CFOs, CIOs and treasurers, accelerating the next generation of finance innovation. Finally, Kyriba teamed up with BNPL payments fintech Openpay to allow its customers to use Openpay’s OpyPro software-as-a-service B2B payments solution to manage their trade accounts end to end, including applications, credit checks, approvals and account management.
Having earned its stripes removing many of the pain points behind online payments, the Irish-American financial services and SaaS company Stripe spent 2021 launching a suite of innovations that go beyond payments. In December 2020, Stripe launched Stripe Treasury to enable Stripe clients to provide bank accounts to their customers. It also provided an inkling that Stripe’s fertile environment for programmers and developers was going to get creative with its innovations. In 2021, Stripe never took its foot off the innovation accelerator. First came the launch, in May, of Payment Links—a no-code method for businesses to create a full payment page with just a few clicks. Then in June followed two more launches: Stripe Tax, to help businesses automatically calculate and collect sales tax, value-added tax, and goods and services tax in over 30 countries; and Stripe Identity, a simple and low-code way to verify identities online. In September came Revenue Recognition, built especially for fast-growing businesses with subscription-based or recurring revenue models, to simplify accounting and automate financial reporting. Finally, in December, Stripe upped its commitment to fighting the climate crisis with Stripe Climate, which allows any business to automatically direct a fraction of its revenue on Stripe toward carbon-removal technologies. Stripe is the most valuable privately held fintech in the US, at $95 billion. The company’s Irish founders, Patrick and John Collison, look set to continue their developer-focused spree of innovation with new products that will help build the best software platform for running an internet business.
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