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Fintech Roundup: Will financial technology startups dodge the venture slowdown?



Welcome to my weekly fintech-focused column. I’ll be publishing this every Sunday, so in between posts, be sure to listen to the Equity podcast and hear Alex WilhelmNatasha Mascarenhas and me riff on all things startups! And if you want to have this hit your inbox directly once it officially turns into a newsletter on May 1, sign up here.

On March 25, PitchBook released its 2021 Annual Fintech Report, which found that the fintech industry raised $121.6 billion last year — up 153% year-over-year in terms of global VC deal value. Alex and I will be doing a deep dive on that report next week, but it’s a nice lead-in to what I’m examining today.

There has been much talk as of late of a slowdown in venture funding. But if this past week’s mega-rounds in fintech are any indication, the sector is proving it has the potential to be quite the outlier – at least for now.

In what was not a surprise but is still noteworthy, corporate spend and expense management startup Ramp confirmed that it raised $200 million in equity, secured $550 million in debt and doubled its valuation to $8.1 billion. Not bad for a company that only publicly launched just over two years ago.

I also exclusively covered Jeeves’ $180 million Series C, which quadrupled that company’s valuation to $2.1 billion in half a year’s time. I’ve been writing about Jeeves since it came out of stealth last June with $31 million in equity and it’s been wild watching it grow. It also operates in the corporate spend and expense management space, with more of a global footprint and infrastructure component. In fact, it describes itself as the first “cross country, cross currency” expense management platform. Jeeves has a presence in, and is seeking to expand in, Latin America, Canada and Europe. It’s also eyeing Southeast Asia and potentially Saudi Arabia and Africa.

Another thing that both Ramp and Jeeves have in common — besides skyrocketing valuations — is that both companies are experiencing hyper-growth. Unfortunately, as with most private companies, neither startup will share hard revenue figures. But they do at least provide some metrics. Ramp says its revenue grew “early 10x” in 2021 compared to 2020 while its cardholder base grew 7x and its user base grew 15x. CEO Eric Glyman also tells us that Ramp is powering over $5 billion in annualized payments volume. Considering it makes money off of each transaction, it’s safe to say that Ramp is well, ramping up into impressive revenue territory. Meanwhile, Jeeves says it has seen its revenue grow by 900% since its September raise and even more impressively, that in the first two months of 2022, it brought in more revenue than all of 2021. Meanwhile, the startup has doubled its client base to more than 3,000 companies and reached about $1.3 billion in annualized gross transaction volume (GTV).

Is this market big enough for so many global players? That remains to be seen. But it will be fun watching how the race in the space plays out. As Alex, my friend and Equity podcast co-host, pointed out this week — it seems these companies can’t stop adding features and new products fast enough. For example, Brex announced last week that it provided $10 million in growth capital via venture debt to, a leading provider of predictive data analytics in the climate risk space. Brex launched a venture debt program last August as part of its effort to be many financial-related things to startups and maturing companies alike. (It had also filed for a bank charter last year but ended up withdrawing its application). Meanwhile, newer players are also entering the scene. I recently wrote about a new company called Glean AI, started by former OnDeck and CFO Howard Katzenberg, which aims to help businesses save money by using machine learning to analyze things like deal terms, line-item data, redundant offerings and negotiation opportunities. Startups like these are keeping the incumbents (relatively speaking) on their toes.

It’s safe to say that as long as these startups keep adding on to what they can offer to other companies, the rapid pace of funding to support those initiatives will likely also continue — but there’s a caveat — IF they’re showing fast growth as described above.

It’s too early to tell truly if fintech is truly an outlier when it comes to a pullback in global venture funding, or if we’re just seeing deals that were initiated late last year starting to close. The second quarter will give us more insight as to whether fintech is in fact experiencing, or dodging, a slowdown. 

On that note, our amazing fintech/crypto reporter Anita Ramaswamy talked to Lightspeed Venture Partners’ Justin Overdorff on the topic and at least in his view, fintech is not immune to the global slowdown. For context, Overdorff joined Lightspeed in 2021 to help lead the team’s fintech practice. He told Anita:

Image Credits: Self-proclaimed “fintech junkie” Justin Overdorff / Lightspeed Venture Partners website

We’re seeing pretty big market changes. Maybe valuations aren’t coming down yet, but what is changing is that we are certainly seeing round sizes are shrinking. And the number of term sheets that are being offered are shrinking. So when you see, you know, a deal, and a [founder] who normally was going to go out for a $20 million Series A, they’re being told by the market to raise 12 to 15 million, because that’s where the appetite is. And instead of eight term sheets, you’re going to get two. And that’s been happening pretty clearly….Now, with that said, I think that there’s still a lot of appetite [for fintech] across the board.

On the venture side, Overdorff told Anita that from what he’s hearing, VCs “are trying to make their funds last longer” and as a result, “there’s an unknown of where it goes.”

So if Overdorff’s observations are any indications, both startup founders and investors alike are working harder to make their dollars last longer.

Robinhood expands into consumer finance while Apple steps up its fintech game

In other notable news, Robinhood this week announced it was launching a new debit card that allows for spare-change investing. As my very talented colleague Sarah Perez and I discussed, the move was significant in that it shows that Robinhood is taking concrete steps to expand beyond trading and into more consumer finance areas. Sarah’s exact words were: “It puts it in more direct competition with other fintechs such as Chime and even P2P payment companies such as CashApp and PayPal/Venmo, which tie online customer accounts to physical payments cards. The roundup feature can also help to increase customers’ investments passively — like Acorns [with its savings app] and like Venmo is doing with crypto.”

Another example of fintechs trying to do all the things.

Meanwhile, as our friends at Protocol reported, Apple is reportedly buying U.K. open-banking startup Credit Kudos for around $150 million. This follows its early February introduction of a new Tap to Pay feature for iPhone that turns the device into a contactless payment terminal. The tech behemoth is clearly encroaching into fintech territory.


As usual, there was no shortage of fundings around the world, although I do have to admit, this list feels shorter than in weeks past. Here’s a sample of just a few:

In other news

Mastercard announced the launch of a new suite of open banking-driven smart payment decisioning tools aimed at eliminating friction and improving success rates in the payments ecosystem. The credit card giant called the move “one of the first significant technology developments to come out of its acquisition of Finicity.”

This article by our own Alex Wilhelm ties into the “is fintech an outlier” narrative from above: Forge’s public debut will pose fresh test to SPAC-led exits. Forge operates a market for private shares — equity in unicorn startups, basically. It went public via a SPAC this week and, gasp, actually had an impressive debut.

Ola said on March 24 that it has reached an agreement to acquire Avail Finance, a financial services startup that serves the blue-collar workforce, as the ride-hailing giant looks to expand its financial services offerings. Manish Singh gives us all the details in this piece.

Sightline, which just a few months ago became Nevada’s first unicorn, announced last week that J.P. Morgan Payments will become the primary processor for its Play+ transactions spanning online casino, mobile sports betting, cashless payments at casinos “and more.” The company told me: “The gaming industry has a notoriously clunky payments ecosystem bogged down by regulations and casinos’ reliance on cash. But recently there have been huge technological advancements, like Sightline helping launch the world’s first casino with a fully cashless infrastructure.”

Stori reports that it expects to reach 1 million active customers this month. Says CEO and co-founder Bin Chen: “We are super excited about reaching this milestone, particularly because most of our customers were rejected by traditional banks in the past. With a Stori card, they are building credit history and gaining financial upward mobility.” I wrote about the startup’s $32.5 million Series B in February of 2021.

BMO Financial Group and 1871 last week issued a national call for applications for their leading fintech industry program for women-led startups, WMNfintech. Applications for the 2022 program will be accepted through April 22, 2022.

In this Q&A with FinLedger, Morty co-founder Nora Apsel discusses the online mortgage marketplace’s journey, overarching goals and plans moving forward. I talked with Nora myself earlier this year and the former engineer is very impressive. Her company raised a $25 million Series B in July 2021 at a $150 million valuation. In February, she told me that the startup’s revenue has grown nearly 14x since 2019 and doubled in the last year alone.

Image Credits: Nora Apsel / Morty


Speaking of women in fintech, Mila Ferrell, a founding member of Zoom’s product team, last week joined Cervin, becoming the first female partner at the early-stage venture capital firm. In her new role, according to the firm, Ferrell will “define the future of work and shape fintech infrastructure in the next decade and beyond.” 

Image Credits: Mila Ferrell / Cervin

Tishman Speyer, one of the world’s largest real estate developers, announced it secured $100 million in commitments, anchored by the National Pension Service of Korea and Investment Management Corporation of Ontario, for its first proptech venture capital fund. The venture says it seeks to raise up to $150 million in total equity to fund investments “in technology-driven opportunities related to all sectors of real estate.”

Well, that’s it for this week! My newsletter was set to launch today but for logistical reasons, that date has officially been moved to May 1. Thanks for hanging in there and reading this column in the meantime. Have a great Sunday, and week ahead!


Bonds See 2023 Recession, Stocks Aren’t So Sure



The yield curve is one of the most robust recession predictors and has signaled a recession may be coming since mid 2022. In contrast, U.S. stocks as measured by the S&P 500 are up materially from the lows of last October and only just below year-to-date highs, seemingly rejecting recession fears. Yet, fixed income markets see the Fed potentially cutting rates by the summer, perhaps reacting to a U.S. recession.

The Evidence From The Bond Markets

The recessionary evidence, at least from fixed income markets, is mounting. The 10 yield Treasury yield has been below the 2 year yield consistently since last July. That is is called an inverted yield curve and has signaled a recession fairly reliably when compared to other leading indicators.

Building on that, fixed income markets see almost a nine in ten chance that the Federal Reserve cuts rates by September of this year. That’s something the Fed has repeatedly said they won’t do on their current forecasts. Yet, a recession could cause it to happen.

The Stock Market

In contrast, the stock market shows some optimism. The S&P 500 is up 7% year-to-date as the market has shrugged off fears of contagion from recent banking issues. In particular, tech stocks have rallied.

In contrast, more defensive sectors such as healthcare, utilities and consumer goods have lagged in 2023. This suggests that the stock market is taking more of a ‘risk on’ position and is perhaps less worried about the economy.


That said the stock market is a leading indicator of the business cycle, it may be that stocks see a recession, but are now looking past it to growth ahead and are factoring in the lower discount rates that a recession might bring as interest rates decline. Also, the U.S. stock market is relatively global, so the fate of the U.S. economy is a key factor in driving profits, but not the only one.

What’s Next?

Monitoring unemployment data will be key. Though the yield curve is a good long-term forecaster of recessions it is less precise in signaling when a recession starts. Unemployment rates can offer more accurate recession timing. Unemployment edged up in February, suggesting a recession may be near, but we’ve also seen monthly noise unemployment. Two similar monthly unemployment spikes during 2022 both proved false alarms.

However, if we see a sustained move up in unemployment from the low levels of 2022 that may be a relatively clear sign that a recession is here. Economist Claudia Sahm estimates that a sustained 0.5% increase in unemployment rate from 12-month lows is sufficient to trigger a recession. Unemployment rose 0.2% from January to February 2023, so maybe we’re on the way there. Of course, the jobs market performed better than expected in 2022 and it could do so again. Still, fixed income markets do suggest a 2023 recession is coming. Stock markets don’t necessarily share that view.

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Which States Have The Highest And Lowest Life Expectancies?



There’s a wide variance of life expectancies among the 50 states in the U.S., according to a recent report prepared by Assurance, an insurance technology platform that helps consumers with decisions related to insurance and financial well-being.

Figure 1 below shows the 10 states with the highest life expectancy, starting with Hawaii, the state with the highest life expectancy.

Figure 2 below shows the 10 states with the lowest life expectancy, starting with Mississippi, the state with the lowest life expectancy.

Assurance scoured life expectancy data prepared in January 2023 by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). With this data, Assurance created several easy-to-understand graphics that offer information about life expectancies.

Life expectancies are a basic measure of well-being

As measured by the CDC, life expectancies are a basic measurement of well-being in a broad population and not a prediction of how long an individual might live. The CDC measures the expected lifespan for a person born in the year of measurement. This measurement is calculated based on the assumption that the individual will live and die according to the rates of death that are prevalent in the measurement year for each age. There’s no assumed improvement or backsliding in the assumed mortality rates in future years for each age in the life expectancy calculation.


By contrast, an estimated lifespan for an individual would consider their current age, their gender, and some basic lifestyle information. It might also attempt to project future improvements or backsliding in mortality rates based on key factors.

Significant influences on life expectancy calculations

Leading causes of death in the U.S. are heart disease, cancer, and accidents in that order. These immediate causes are significantly influenced by factors in the population such as poverty rates, educational attainment, rates of obesity and smoking, access to healthcare, prevalence of violent crime, and the support people receive from federal, state, and local governments. All these factors can vary widely among different states, which can be a key reason why life expectancies vary by state.

When you think about it, all these factors also have the potential to influence a person’s quality of life. The measured life expectancy rate rolls up all these factors into one objective measurement of well-being that’s based on population data.

In addition to the factors listed above, mortality rates increased and life expectancies decreased in the past few years due to the Covid-19 pandemic. A recent article titled “Live Free And Die” summarized recent research results that show that life expectancies in most countries around the world rebounded after the Covid-19 pandemic but that they continued to decline in the United States. Many of the reasons cited in the article for the continued decline in U.S. life expectancies are the same or similar to the factors listed above.

NPR‘Live free and die?’ The sad state of U.S. life expectancy

Why should retirees care about the life expectancies reported here if these measures don’t predict your own lifespan? Life expectancy calculations indicate the general well-being of the entire population in your area. While the living conditions in your area can influence your own lifespan and quality of life, retirees should focus on their remaining life expectancy given their age. They should also consider how the factors listed above that influence life expectancies in the population might apply to them.

You can obtain customized estimates of your remaining life expectancy at the Actuaries Longevity Illustrator. Part of your planning for retirement is understanding how long you an an individual might live, instead of relying on generalized information about larger populations you see in the media.

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IRS Dirty Dozen Campaign Warns Taxpayers To Avoid Offer In Compromise ‘Mills’



Owing taxes can be stressful. Unfortunately, the actions of some companies can make it worse. As part of its “Dirty Dozen” campaign, the IRS has renewed a warning about so-called Offer in Compromise “mills” that often mislead taxpayers into believing they can settle a tax debt for pennies on the dollar—while the companies collective excessive fees.

Dirty Dozen

The “Dirty Dozen” is an annual list of common scams taxpayers may encounter. Many of these schemes peak during tax filing season as people prepare their returns or hire someone to help with their taxes. The schemes put taxpayers and tax professionals at risk of losing money, personal information, data, and more.

(You can read about other schemes on the list this year—including aggressive ERC grabs here, phishing/smishing scams here and charitable ploys here.)

Tax Debt Resolution Schemes

“Too often, we see some unscrupulous promoters mislead taxpayers into thinking they can magically get rid of a tax debt,” said IRS Commissioner Danny Werfel.

“This is a legitimate IRS program, but there are specific requirements for people to qualify. People desperate for help can make a costly mistake if they clearly don’t qualify for the program. Before using an aggressive promoter, we encourage people to review readily available IRS resources to help resolve a tax debt on their own without facing hefty fees.”


Offers In Compromise

Legitimate is a key word. Offers in Compromise are an important program to help people who can’t pay to settle their federal tax debts. But, as the IRS notes, these “mills” can aggressively promote Offers in Compromise—OIC—in misleading ways to people who don’t meet the qualifications, frequently costing taxpayers thousands of dollars.

An OIC allows you to resolve your tax obligations for less than the total amount you owe. You generally submit an OIC because you don’t believe you owe the tax, you can’t pay the tax, or
 exceptional circumstances exist.

Because of the nature of the OIC—and the dollars involved—the process can be time-consuming. It can also be confusing for taxpayers who may not have a complete grasp on their finances.

First, you must complete a detailed application, Form 656, Offer in Compromise. You must also submit Form 433-A, Collection Information Statement for Wage Earners and Self-Employed Individuals, or Form 433-B, Collection Information Statement for Businesses, with supporting documentation (generally, bank and brokerage statements and proof of expenses).

You’ll also need to submit a non-refundable fee of $205 and payment made in good faith. The payment is typically 20% of the offer amount for a lump sum cash offer or the first month’s payment for those made over time. Generally, initial payments will not be returned but will be applied to your tax debt if your offer is not accepted. Payments and fees may be waived if the OIC is submitted based solely on the premise that you do not owe the tax or if your total monthly income falls at or below income levels based on the Department of Health and Human Services (DHSS) poverty guidelines.

The IRS will examine your application and decide whether to accept it based on many things, including the total amount due and the time remaining to collect under the statute of limitations. The IRS will also review your income—including future earnings and accounts receivables—and your reasonable expenses, as determined by their formula. The IRS will also consider the amount of equity you have in assets that you own—this would include real property, personal property (like automobiles), and bank accounts.


Before your offer can be considered, you must be compliant. That means you must have filed all your tax returns and paid off any liabilities not subject to the OIC. After you submit your offer, you must continue to timely file your tax returns, and pay all required tax, including estimated tax payments. If you don’t, the IRS will return your offer.

Additionally, you cannot currently be in an open bankruptcy proceeding, and you must resolve any open audit or outstanding innocent spouse claim issues before you submit an offer.


You can probably tell—it’s a lot to consider. You may want representation. A tax professional can help marshal you through the process and offer practical guidance, while communicating what fees could look like.

By contrast, according to the IRS, an OIC “mill” will usually make outlandish claims, frequently in radio and TV ads, about how they can settle a person’s tax debt for cheap. Also telling: the fees tend to be significant in exchange for very little work.

Those mills also knowingly advise indebted taxpayers to file an OIC application even though the promoters know the person will not qualify, costing taxpayers money and time. You can check your eligibility for free using the IRS’s Offer in Compromise Pre-Qualifier tool.

“Pennies On A Dollar”

What about those promises that taxpayers can routinely settle for pennies on a dollar? Not true. Generally, the IRS will not accept an offer if they believe you can pay your tax debt in full through an installment agreement or equity in assets, including your home. That’s why the IRS tends to reject a majority of OICs that are submitted. The acceptance rate is less than 1 in 3, according to the 2021 Data Book.

The IRS will generally approve an OIC when the amount offered represents the best opportunity for the IRS to collect the debt. It’s true that there’s a formula that the IRS uses to figure out how much they think they can collect from you. But there is some wiggle room to account for special circumstances, including a loss of income or a medical condition. It’s worth noting those are the exceptions, not the rule.


While submitting an OIC may keep the IRS from calling you, it doesn’t stop all collections activities—don’t believe companies that suggest that submitting an OIC will make your tax debt disappear. Penalties and interest will continue to accrue on your outstanding tax liability. Additionally, the IRS may keep your tax refund, including interest, through the date the IRS accepts your OIC.

You may also be liened. In most cases, the IRS will file a Notice of Federal Tax Lien to protect their interests, and the lien will generally stay in place until your tax obligation is satisfied.

Be Skeptical

An OIC is a serious effort to resolve tax debt and shouldn’t be taken lightly. Be skeptical—if it sounds too good to be true, it likely is. If you’re considering an OIC, hire a competent tax professional who understands the rules and is willing to level with you about your chances of being successful—including other options. Don’t fall into a trap that can make your situation worse.

MORE FROM FORBESIRS Urges Those Hoping To Help To Beware Of Scammers Using Fake Charities

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