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Payments remain the darling of the fintech space



Welcome to The Interchange! If you received this in your inbox, thank you for signing up and your vote of confidence. If you’re reading this as a post on our site, sign up here so you can receive it directly in the future. Every week, I’ll take a look at the hottest fintech news of the previous week. This will include everything from funding rounds to trends to an analysis of a particular space to hot takes on a particular company or phenomenon. There’s a lot of fintech news out there and it’s my job to stay on top of it — and make sense of it — so you can stay in the know. — Mary Ann

Last week, I dug into CB Insights’ State of Fintech 2022 report. We’ve already discussed ad nauseam that fintech funding is not just down, but also way down.

And I’m not foolish enough to try and make any real predictions about the state of fintech in 2023.

Instead, I’m going to highlight some specific findings of that report that stood out to me and that I didn’t already write about.

Digital lending funding was down 53% to $11.5 billion in 2022. Dollars raised and deal volume in the fourth quarter dropped to their lowest levels since 2020 — with $1.6 billion raised across 121 deals. That’s a big drop even from just the first quarter of 2022, in which we saw $5.3 billion raised across 198 deals.

It’s not too difficult to surmise why this was the case. In 2022, we saw inflation and interest rates climb and startups with loose underwriting standards are no doubt paying the price with increased delinquencies and defaults. So when investors are thinking about where next to put their money, it’s unlikely that digital lending startups are going to be high on their lists, to be honest.

But guess where we saw an even bigger drop in funding? Banking. Globally, banking funding slid by 63%, or nearly two-thirds, according to CB Insights. Oof. In all of 2022, banking startups raised $9.4 billion across 299 deals. That compares to $25.3 billion raised across 447 deals in 2021.

There were so many challenger banks born in recent years, it is not surprising that that segment became oversaturated. My guess is that we’ll see a real survival of the fittest in 2023 and beyond. Heck, even decacorn Chime has struggled, as evidenced by its round of layoffs in the fourth quarter.

Meanwhile, payments remain the darling of the fintech space, with the segment leading in total funding and deals in the fourth quarter of 2022. About $3.4 billion was raised across 188 deals in the payments space in Q4 — nearly double the $1.8 billion raised across 62 deals by banking startups in the same three-month period. With more businesses and consumers opting to pay for things digitally, even in a post-pandemic world, this is hardly surprising.

And lastly, wealth tech made an impressive showing in terms of investor interest. Wealth tech companies brought in $1.7 billion across 164 deals in the fourth quarter. I think this reflects increased effort on the part of all generations to think ahead when it comes to their money, and not just live for short-term gratification.

Anisha Kothapa, CB Insights’ lead fintech analyst, believes that last year’s funding numbers reflected more of a correction than a bubble.

While of course I still believe fintech is in its early innings, I do also think that people went a little too crazy, too fast in 2021 and a lot of companies that probably shouldn’t have gotten funded did. So whether it’s a correction or a bubble is hard to say really. Either way, let’s hope 2023 brings with it greater due diligence, less ego and more viable business models.

We certainly don’t need a repeat of last year.

Weekly News

Beleaguered fintech startup Bolt revealed a new brand last week that involved the launch of a multimedia campaign featuring this commercial that will stream on Hulu, Peacock, ESPN, ABC, NBC, and other networks, as well as a meme generator “for any internet user to play around with to discover their own shoppergänger,” a company spokesperson told me via email. The company will soon be “rolling out an influencer campaign where creators will dive into #dolltok by building narratives around their #shoppergangers (dolls customized to their own unique shopper personas) in their miniature worlds,” according to the spokesperson. AdAge speculates that the fintech startup is using memes in an effort to “connect with Gen Z.”

From Axios: “Retail trading platform Robinhood is launching an independent media brand called Sherwood that will be led by veteran tech editor and media entrepreneur Joshua Topolsky. The entity will build on the success of Robinhood’s popular daily markets newsletter, Snacks, and will serve as a branding and customer acquisition tool. Sherwood Media has been set up as an independent LLC that will exist as a subsidiary of Robinhood, in part to ensure that the content produced within Sherwood remains editorially independent.”

Snafus can happen even when incumbents and fintechs partner. Reports The Charlotte Observer: “Bank of America experienced delays in online transactions conducted via Zelle for much of the day Wednesday (Jan. 18), but those problems were resolved by the afternoon, the bank said. On outage tracker, irate customers reported missing funds and unexpected negative balances due to problems with the digital payment network.”

How can fintech startups outlast the VC winter? Peter Hazlehurst, co-founder and CEO of BaaS startup Synctera, shares his thoughts in this TC+ article here.

Reports CFO Dive: “Wilmington N.C.-based nCino announced CFO David Rudow will be leaving the cloud banking provider effective Jan. 31 as the company will lay off about 7% of its workforce, or 117 employees, according to Wednesday press release and a company spokesperson. Chief corporate development and strategy officer Greg Orenstein will move into its CFO seat.”

Nihar Bobba has “dipped” out of Wharton to join fintech-focused venture firm Better Tomorrow Ventures as a principal, according to this tweet. He had been a venture partner there since last March, according to his LinkedIn profile.

Anyone who has tried to buy a new car recently will appreciate this. Publicly traded Upstart, an artificial intelligence (AI) lending marketplace, has added two new applications to its Auto Retail platform — digital finance and online sales — to offer dealerships “a seamless online to in-store car-buying experience, from search to signing.” To hear more rant on this topic and other fun stuff, listen to this week’s Equity Podcast.

A recent panel discussion among VCs Mercedes Bent of Lightspeed Venture Partners, Victoria Treyger of Felicis Ventures and Jillian Williams of Cowboy Ventures hosted by TC editor and StrictlyVC founder Connie Loizos touched on a number of hot topics in the world of fintech. As Connie writes: “If you’re a fintech founder, investor or regulator, you might want to catch the full conversation — which also touches on regulation, talent in the industry and crypto” in the video linked here.

Very talented tech journalist Eric Newcomer is still “marveling at JPMorgan’s decision to go public and sue the founder of the student loan company Frank” after purchasing the startup for $175 million and then accusing CEO Charlie Javice “of helping to fake millions of customers in order to induce the bank to buy her company.” (We’re still marveling too!) I 100% agree with him here: “While I applaud JPMorgan for holding an alleged fraudster accountable, the bank certainly looks pretty foolish for failing to notice before buying the company that so many of Frank’s customers had apparently been brazenly faked.” All this leads Eric to ask: “With JP Morgan suing a startup founder, will 2023 be the year of accountability?

Wholesale marketplace Faire announced last week that it has built what it describes as an “app for brands” to give independent brands a way to manage their businesses — “all from their phones.” So what’s the fintech tie? A spokesperson told me via email: “With this new brand app, customers can manage orders from anywhere at anytime — meaning they will never miss an order resulting in more money being earned.”

Reports Fintech Finance News: Turkish fintech company “Papara . . . [announced] the launch of its insurance arm. Currently live are mobile and pet insurance products, with more to come in the first half of the year….This is the first expansion of Papara’s product suite outside of its core banking and money management products since launching six years ago. It marks the next step in Papara’s mission to become one of Europe’s leading financial SuperApps, providing users with all the accessible and affordable financial services they need in one place.” More here.

The relationship between incumbents and upstarts has long been a complicated one. Cartoonist Ian Foley illustrates the start of the consolidation and M&A process that the fintech market is starting in earnest here.

QED-backed Nigerian fintech TeamApt has made a rebrand by adopting the name of its flagship product, Moniepoint, piloted in 2019 as an agency banking platform that uses POS devices to meet the financial needs of underbanked and unbanked customers in Nigeria.

However, the platform has since metamorphosed into a full business banking solution. While maintaining its agency banking core, Moniepoint began providing small businesses, who still act as agents, with banking and operational tools like working capital, business expansion loans, expense management (business payments cards), accounting and bookkeeping solutions and insurance.

Moniepoint’s interfacing nature between thousands of small businesses and millions of individual customers made it TeamApt’s most well-known brand, among others, that included a white-labeled digital banking product for banks and enterprise software for small business management.

“When we started out in 2015, we were primarily providing back office payment infrastructure for banks and needed an apt team, hence the name TeamApt. Since then, we have evolved significantly and our flagship business banking solution, Moniepoint, has become our core focus and where we see the future,” CEO Tosin Eniolorunda, Moniepoint co-founder and CEO said of the rebrand.

The Moniepoint brand also made the fintech the most money. It currently processes most of the POS transactions in Nigeria with an annualized total payments volume (TPV) of over $170 billion and a customer base of over 600,000 businesses, enabling it to more than double its annual revenues in 2022. The platform also launched a credit offering in 2022, which has already disbursed over $1.4 billion in working capital loans.

Considering all this, it’s easy to see the rebrand as fitting. Moniepoint, now a London-based company, claims to be profitable (it says since 2020). It became QED’s first African investment last July when the U.S. fintech-focused firm led a $50 million+ pre-Series C round that saw Moniepoint’s valuation jump into soonicorn range.

Arrows on the African landscape pointing up and down

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin

Fundings and M&A

Seen on TechCrunch

Kenyan fintech Kwara raises $3M seed extension, signs deal to reach over 4,000 credit unions

Link raises $30M to help merchants accept direct bank payments 

P2P lending platform PeopleFund raises $20M Series C extension led by Bain Capital

Grazzy wants to stop letting people use ‘no cash’ as an excuse to avoid tipping

And elsewhere

Splitero raises $12M to expand home equity investment operations

Insurtech iLife Technologies raises $17M

Sneak peek: Dayforward, a digital-only, full-stack life insurance startup, will announce this week that it has closed on $25 million in funding led by AXA Venture Partners with participation from existing investors HSCM Ventures, Juxtapose, and Munich Re Ventures. It also has acquired Commercial Travelers Life Insurance in an effort to expand its own life insurance offering nationwide. Founded in 2021, the company touts that its term life insurance offering “guarantees the policyholder’s family will continue to receive their income in the event that the policyholder passes away.” The company’s latest funding round brings its aggregate amount of capital raised to $45 million. The money will go toward scaling its business nationwide, developing new insurance products and “continuing to launch its proprietary solutions through strategic partners.”

That’s it for this week. Thanks, once again, for reading and sharing this. See you next time! xoxo, Mary Ann


Tesla more than tripled its Austin gigafactory workforce in 2022



Tesla’s 2,500-acre manufacturing hub in Austin, Texas tripled its workforce last year, according to the company’s annual compliance report filed with county officials. Bloomberg first reported on the news.

The report filed with Travis County’s Economic Development Program shows that Tesla increased its Austin workforce from just 3,523 contingent and permanent employees in 2021 to 12,277 by the end of 2022. Bloomberg reports that just over half of Tesla’s workers reside in the county, with the average full-time employee earning a salary of at least $47,147. Outside of Tesla’s factory, the average salary of an Austin worker is $68,060, according to data from ZipRecruiter.

TechCrunch was unable to acquire a copy of the report, so it’s not clear if those workers are all full-time. If they are, Tesla has hired a far cry more full-time employees than it is contracted to do. According to the agreement between Tesla and Travis County, the company is obligated to create 5,001 new full-time jobs over the next four years.

The contract also states that Tesla must invest about $1.1 billion in the county over the next five years. Tesla’s compliance report shows that the automaker last year invested $5.81 billion in Gigafactory Texas, which officially launched a year ago at a “Cyber Rodeo” event. In January, Tesla notified regulators that it plans to invest another $770 million into an expansion of the factory to include a battery cell testing site and cathode and drive unit manufacturing site. With that investment will come more jobs.

Tesla’s choice to move its headquarters to Texas and build a gigafactory there has helped the state lead the nation in job growth. The automaker builds its Model Y crossover there and plans to build its Cybertruck in Texas, as well. Giga Texas will also be a model for sustainable manufacturing, CEO Elon Musk has said. Last year, Tesla completed the first phase of what will become “the largest rooftop solar installation in the world,” according to the report, per Bloomberg. Tesla has begun on the second phase of installation, but already there are reports of being able to see the rooftop from space. The goal is to generate 27 megawatts of power.

Musk has also promised to turn the site into an “ecological paradise,” complete with a boardwalk and a hiking/biking trail that will open to the public. There haven’t been many updates on that front, and locals have been concerned that the site is actually more of an environmental nightmare that has led to noise and water pollution. The site, located at the intersection of State Highway 130 and Harold Green Road, east of Austin, is along the Colorado River and could create a climate catastrophe if the river overflows.

The site of Tesla’s gigafactory has also historically been the home of low-income households and has a large population of Spanish-speaking residents. It’s not clear if the jobs at the factory reflect the demographic population of the community in which it resides.

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Launch startup Stoke Space rolls out software tool for complex hardware development



Stoke Space, a company that’s developing a fully reusable rocket, has unveiled a new tool to let hardware companies track the design, testing and integration of parts. The new tool, Fusion, is targeting an unsexy but essential aspect of the hardware workflow.

It’s a solution born out of “ubiquitous pain in the industry,” Stoke CEO Andy Lapsa said in a recent interview. The current parts tracking status quo is marked by cumbersome, balkanized solutions built on piles of paperwork and spreadsheets. Many of the existing tools are not optimized “for boots on the ground,” but for finance or procurement teams, or even the C-suite, Lapsa explained.

In contrast, Fusion is designed to optimize simple inventory transactions and parts organization, and it will continue to track parts through their lifespan: as they are built into larger assemblies and go through testing. In an extreme example, such as hardware failures, Fusion will help teams connect anomalous data to the exact serial numbers of the parts involved.

Image credit: Stoke Space

“If you think about aerospace in general, there’s a need and a desire to be able to understand the part pedigree of every single part number and serial number that’s in an assembly,” Lapsa said. “So not only do you understand the configuration, you understand the history of all of those parts dating back to forever.”

While Lapsa clarified that Fusion is the result of an organic in-house need for better parts management – designing a fully reusable rocket is complicated, after all – turning it into a sell-able product was a decision that the Stoke team made early on. It’s a notable example of a rocket startup generating pathways for revenue while their vehicle is still under development.

Fusion offers particular relevance to startups. Many existing tools are designed for production runs – not the fast-moving research and development environment that many hardware startups find themselves, Lapsa added. In these environments, speed and accuracy are paramount.

Brent Bradbury, Stoke’s head of software, echoed these comments.

“The parts are changing, the people are changing, the processes are changing,” he said. “This lets us capture all that as it happens without a whole lot of extra work.”

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Amid a boom in AI accelerators, a UC Berkeley-focused outfit, House Fund, swings open its doors



Companies at the forefront of AI would naturally like to stay at the forefront, so it’s no surprise they want to stay close to smaller startups that are putting some of their newest advancements to work.

Last month, for example, Neo, a startup accelerator founded by Silicon Valley investor Ali Partovi, announced that OpenAI and Microsoft have offered to provide free software and advice to companies in a new track focused on artificial intelligence.

Now, another Bay Area outfit — House Fund, which invests in startups with ties to UC Berkeley — says it is launching an AI accelerator and that, similarly, OpenAI, Microsoft, Databricks, and Google’s Gradient Ventures are offering participating startups free and early access to tech from their companies, along with mentorship from top AI founders and executives at these companies.

We talked with House Fund founder Jeremy Fiance over the weekend to get a bit more color about the program, which will replace a broader-based accelerator program House Fund has run and whose alums include an additive manufacturing software company, Dyndrite, and the managed app development platform Chowbotics, whose most recent round in January brought the company’s total funding to more than $60 million.

For founders interested in learning more, the new AI accelerator program runs for two months, kicking off in early July and ending in early September. Six or so companies will be accepted, with the early application deadline coming up next week on April 13th. (The final application deadline is on June 1.) As for the time commitment involved across those two months, every startup could have a different experience, says Fiance. “We’re there when you need us, and we’re good at staying out of the way.”

There will be the requisite kickoff retreat to spark the program and founders to get to know one another. Candidates who are accepted will also have access to some of UC Berkeley’s renowned AI professors, including Michael Jordan, Ion Stoica, and Trevor Darrell. And they can opt into dinners and events in collaboration with these various constituents.

As for some of the financial dynamics, every startup that goes through the program will receive a $1 million investment on a $10 million post-money SAFE note. Importantly, too, as with the House Fund’s venture dollars, its AI accelerator is seeking startups that have at least one Berkeley-affiliated founder on the co-founding team. That includes alumni, faculty, PhDs, postdocs, staff, students, dropouts, and other affiliates.

There is no demo day. Instead, says Fiance, founders will receive “directed, personal introductions” to the VCs who best fit with their startups.

Given the buzz over AI, the new program could supercharge House Fund, the venture organization, which is already growing fast. Fiance launched it in 2016 with just $6 million and it now manages $300 million in assets, including on behalf of Berkeley Endowment Management Company and the University of California.

At the same time, the competition out there is fierce and growing more so by the day.

Though OpenAI has offered to partner with House Fund, for example, the San Francisco-based company announced its own accelerator back in November. Called Converge, the cohort was to be made up of 10 or so founders who received $1 million each and admission to five weeks of office hours, workshops and other events that ended and that received their funding from the OpenAI Startup Fund.

Y Combinator, the biggest accelerator in the world, is also oozing with AI startups right now, all of them part of a winter class that will be talking directly with investors this week via demo days that are taking place tomorrow, April 5th, and on Thursday.

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