In the next interview in our series supporting the FinTech Growth Forum coming up in London on September 19th, we talk to Felicia Meyerowitz Singh, Cofounder of Akoni.
Let’s learn more…
Our questions are in bold.
Who are you and what’s your background?
Akoni is passionate about business as the bedrock of the economy and drivers of growth. We are committed to providing innovative solution to commercial challenges, through our team, a powerful combination of innovators and experienced bankers.
As the CEO I have been in financial services for more than 20 years, and have been the frustrated client who experienced the problems which Akoni solves. I have worked in mainly high-growth, expertise-focused financial services businesses and believe intimate knowledge of clients and their challenges, combined with creativity, contributes to simple solutions. Our CTO and founder, Panos Savvas, has significant experience as Head of R&D, driving delivery to leading global financial services companies. Panos drives all technology, ensuring we are leading adoption and delivery of innovation to benefit our customers and partners, and is also the creative genius behind our UX. Our chairman, Duncan Goldie-Morrison was previously Chairman of Newedge, CEO The Americas Credit Agricole, Head of Global Markets Group and Asia Bank of America. Yann Gindre, also a co-founder and our Deputy Chairman and Head of our Advisory Board, brings further specialist experience including CEO of Natixis Bank London and NYC and understanding corporate client needs in previous MD roles at JPMorgan and Commerzbank. Together, our team has significant expertise in financial from governance to growth.
What is your job title and what are your general responsibilities?
I am the CEO and founder. My general responsibilities in our business cover every aspect other than product development. I spend much of time hustling – with our awesome team; working with incredible partners and large institutions as well as steering our ship strategically. As we are an early stage startup, we all get involved with everything. My focus areas are on business development including SMEs, small corporates, as well as our channel partners including associations, affinity bodies and professional services firms, and critical to us our banking hub and panel partner relationships. In addition, I work on an ongoing basis with investors regarding development and management, and other key aspects including our data partners, who are also key to our business operations. Other ongoing activities include marketing and PR, finance, regulatory and operations.
Can you give us an overview of your business?
99% of the world’s 125m companies are small and medium sized businesses and small corporates, contributing more than 49% of global GDP. 94% of banks see these organisations as important/extremely important however there is limited servicing of this market.
Akoni is a digital cash treasury manager, ensuring maximum returns through the portability of cash and cash management tools. This presents dual benefits in the current market: to Banks – addressing Open Banking for commercial gain; in addition to the Basel III Liquidity upside , and to Businesses – by increasing income relating to a languishing asset, cash/credit via improved rates. Decisions are based on client and market analytics, and a matching algorithm creates the bespoke portfolio of deposit products with automated re-allocation. Leveraging machine learning and artificial intelligence, Akoni provides levels of certainty relating to cashflow projections, company/sector data analytics and technology integration – with the benefit of improved financial outcomes to the client.
At scale, Akoni has market implications that change the way Banking/liquidity is structured, freeing up cash for lending and enabling businesses to reinvest in growth, further contributing to economic development.
Tell us how you are funded.
Our lead investor is a strategic and experienced financial services Chairman, who is in the Risk Hall of Fame, and as a bank Chairman, understands governance and strategic direction. We have had two seed angel rounds, including our Chairman and deputy Chairman and a range of other angel investors. We are currently raising a seed round and in discussions with various funds and super-angels.
Why did you start the company? To solve what problems?
I was a frustrated SME Director – I worked in the London market, and managed £50Million+ in the Lloyd’s and London insurance market, and experienced many challenges and issues dealing with our high-street bankers, earning little to no return on a critical asset, cash. After speaking to many colleagues experiencing the same issues in the market, this led to the founding of Akoni.
Who are your target customers? What’s your revenue model?
Our customers fall into two categories – Banks and Businesses. In the UK, companies and charities earn typically zero on a languishing asset, cash, whereas rates available in the market typically increase returns by 4-10x enabling an enterprise to expand – hire new staff, increase capex investment or further develop the business. Our revenue model is a combination of SAAS fees and software fees.
Banks – Pilot with ABN AMRO, BBVA Top 10 Fintechs for Companies and a strong pipeline of banks, a global insurer and a wealth management firm.
Businesses – we have a range of SME businesses as customers on our platform, and are currently working on sector specialised communities to drive this further as we add additional features.
If you had a magic wand, what one thing would you change in the banking and/or FinTech sector?
I would create a system that deals with issues of security and trust – both potential roadblocks in adoption of innovation : by large financial institutions and by customers .
What is your message for the larger players in the Finance industry?
Collaboration and partnership.
In the commercial and corporate space, we see collaboration as critical to development of solutions for customers. Most financial institutions have strong expertise at running a balance sheet, however acknowledge they are not as in touch with what customers require, particularly as this changes quickly in the current environment. Delivering to these customers requires a mindset of agility and responsiveness. Larger players require multiple adjustment to their traditional procurement process and lead cycles, including communications with startups such as Akoni. This requires a full team across functions and responsibilities to participate fully with new market solutions, and organisational commitment from the top.
What phone are you carrying and why?
Apple iphone – working on the go is simple and I love the time-saving of specific apps, and syncs with my various other Apple devices. Outside of business, I like to ensure everything functions smoothly and simply, giving me mindspace to focus on what is important.
Where do you get your industry news from?
I use Google alerts across a range of topics as well as follow industry news from multiple sources. I also use google trends to track comparative news and digital market queries. Relating to more mainstream publications, I read and love the FT and Economist as I consider our role within broader society a critical part of business leadership. I also follow a publications and specialist industry media relevant to our clients including charities, insurance, property, SME media and fintech.
Can you list 3 people you rate from the FinTech sector that we should be following on Twitter?
@amitTwitr – Amit Goel: Founder of Let’s Talk Payments
@joshConstine – Josh Constine TechCrunch Editor
@fredwilson – VC
@LizLum – Startupbootcamp
Can you suggest the name of an Angel Investor or VC that might be interested in being profiled?Duncan Goldie-Morrison, who invests in a wide range of financial services businesses, at varying stages of growth. Duncan is Akoni’s Chairman and valuable in terms of guidance and experience.
Alan Morgan from MMC Ventures – a fantastic mentor, with a unique strategic view particularly regarding fintch, and whom we met at the Accenture Fintech Innovation Lab.
What’s the best FinTech product or service you’ve seen recently?
Oxigen based in India – a provider of a range of financial services across the mass market, from the last mile to provision of a corporate banking payments infrastructure. Oxigen utilise the relatively new Aadhar ID database rolled out across the almost 1.3billion people in the country.
What is astounding about what they do – reach and societal impact using mobile technology, finger-printing as part of the validation, and collaboration with large financial institutions. I admire companies who seek to contribute to and change society as well as follow a commercial driven vision.
Finally, let’s talk predictions. What trends do you think are going to define the next few years in the FinTech sector?
Key trends we see are the emergence of the B2B and corporate solutions, which is the element of the market largely neglected by fintech innovation to date, with the exception of credit.
- Personalisation and Data Innovation – use of public and where permissible, private data to provide solutions tailored to organisations tailored to their size, region, stage of growth and particular requirements. Witin this, Customer affinity and loyalty are key objectives – seeking solutions providing stickiness to the commercial client basis.
- Technology adaption driven by globalisation and cross-border commerce including AI and machine learning to constantly improve solutions to customers, including learning cycles linked to increasingly intelligent data analytics. In addition, performing multiple functions simultaneously using technology ensures information verification, accuracy of information, Sanctions checks and decreases costs, while increasing the speed of the overall process for commercial clients.
- Regulations: these are not slowing down (even with PSD2 preparations underway)
- In particular, impact of 100% of the Basel III’s Liquidity Coverage requirements (LCR) having a significant impact in terms of banks seeking solutions, ensuring that there is a change in customer behaviour to reduce the HQLAs (Higher Quality Liquid Assets). This presents a global opportunity.
- Ring-fencing in the UK will drive further improvement in solutions for clients.
- The importance of governance and data transparency are features within both regulations and technology and should be weaved into all fintech innovations and offerings.
- Broader societal impacts: driving change by assessment of issues that impact of employees, partners and customers; creating closer relationships with the new generation. Business can no longer afford to sit on the sidelines with the level of change underway in society.
We operate in the business space and are alive to these issues that have potential impacts on our business and those of our customers and partners.
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Ripple CEO Brad Garlinghouse Explains Why CBDCs Don’t Threaten XRP
In a recent tweet, Ripple CEO Brad Garlinghouse continues to bolster the opinion that digital assets like XRP aren’t threatened by Central Bank Digital Currencies (CBDCs), but rather, convinced that XRP would be that bridge amongst different CBDCs.
XRP, The Facilitator
Brad Garlinghouse of Ripple some few hours ago further buttressed the point highlighted in the Ripple Insight’s latest newsletter that CBDC is one thing, interoperability amongst different CBDCs is another. And if any project isn’t thinking of how these various projects will work together, it’s just basically “re-building the same siloed system.”
Many countries and their central governments are looking into issuing central bank digital currencies for its citizens. China seems to be leading the pack as it reported that it could launch its sovereign digital currency later this year.
In the U.K. earlier this year, Sarah John, Bank of England’s Cheif Cashier, had said that there’s a need for central banks around the world to start talking about central bank digital currencies. She says this is a “crucial” need.
In another speech, the Bank of England’s governor, Andrew Bailey, said that CBDCs are beneficial.
With all these talks and plans ongoing in several parts of the globe, Brad Garlighhouse is optimistic that RippleNet’s On-Demand Liquidity service, which uses the XRP digital asset, will be a bridge amongst these currencies as it provides real-time transactions across multiple global markets.
Most Americans Don’t Like The CBDC Idea
Having a CBDC may be a good cause, but Americans don’t seem to like the idea of a “digital dollar.”
A survey carried out by Genesis mining shows that out of 400 participants, just 25% nods to a digital dollar idea. The rest associate digital currencies of any kind to be a medium for criminal activities and do not think it should replace paper notes.
Bitcoin Always Online In Venezuela: Launched The First Satellite Node In Collaboration With Blockstream
Bitcoiners in Venezuela don’t need the internet to send some Satoshis. Today, the crypto payments startup Cryptobuyer announced the successful launch of the first Bitcoin satellite node thanks to a collaboration between Cryptobuyer, Blockstream, and a team led by a crypto enthusiast named Aníbal Garrido.
The initiative allows interacting with the Bitcoin blockchain without the need of an internet connection. A satellite antenna installed in Venezuela is in charge of the communication between the node and the blockchain.
We successfully installed and run a satellite #Bitcoin node in #Venezuela which allows us to be independent of the internet to download messages and validate transactions. Thanks to @Blockstream @adam3us @richardbensberg @anibalcripto for all your support https://t.co/TUb6eG19XP
— Cryptobuyer (@cryptobuyer) September 25, 2020
How the Satellite Node Works
This novel solution allows the Venezuelan node to process information in real-time completely off-line. Thus, the normal functioning of the network in case of connectivity failure (something widespread in the country) is guaranteed. It also facilitates the use of cryptocurrencies in remote places where internet service is scarce, expensive, or even non-existent.
The project works as follows: Blockstream contracts a number of satellites to provide the communication service between the nodes and the blockchain. Cryptobuyer bought the necessary equipment to receive the signal and connect to the satellite, and Anibal Garrido and his team were in charge of assembling the antennas and making the required adjustments.
It’s been a pleasure working with @cryptobuyer and @anibalcripto to launch the first of many #BlockstreamSatellite nodes in #Venezuela, ensuring bitcoiners in the region are always connected to the Bitcoin network! 🛰⛓💻 https://t.co/hzqoR1nACI
— Blockstream (@Blockstream) September 25, 2020
For Alvaro Perez, a software programmer from Valencia City who helped set up the whole infrastructure, the node’s synchronization was an inspiring moment. In statements compiled by Cryptobuyer on an official blog post, the expert says that the operation was a “great achievement.”
“We downloaded the whole Bitcoin blockchain and successfully carried out the first transaction through a Bitcoin satellite node in our country on September 23, from the city of Valencia (…) We received bitcoin through the satellite connection without any internet connection. It was a moment of great achievement.”
The journey is just beginning for Bitcoiners in Venezuela
This would be the first of three antennas that Cryptobuyer plans to deploy to cover the country’s most critical areas. The remaining two will be placed in the country’s capital, Caracas, in the north of Venezuela, and Puerto Ordaz, an industrial city located south of the country.
Later on, they plan to deploy a large number of small devices that will serve as a sort of repeater antenna to create a sizeable mesh-type network that will facilitate transactions in Bitcoin even far away from the primary antenna.
Now there’s no excuse to start using some satoshis in the country. Venezuela keeps proving that it has plenty of reasons to be on the podium of the three countries with the most adoption of Bitcoin around the world.
KuCoin’s CEO: The $150 Million Hack Is “Small” For KuCoin, Insurance Will Cover
In a dedicated live stream, KuCoin’s CEO noted that although why he cannot reveal how much of the company’s total assets were affected during the hack, the stolen fund amount is “small for KuCoin.” The exchange will cover all the losses with its insurance fund.
- The company first noticed the abnormalities at 2:51 AM, Sept 26, when it received an alert from its internal risk-monitoring system. More alerts followed, indicating abnormal transfers from the hot wallet.
- At 3:01 AM, the exchange received an alert about its remaining balance from the monitoring system. Three minutes later, more alerts came in showing abnormal XRP withdrawal, which was followed by another alert that the company’s hot wallet is “running out of balance.”
- Subsequent alerts between 3:05 AM and 3:40 AM showed abnormal BTC withdrawal alongside other tokens.
- While the abnormal withdrawals were ongoing, the company set up an urgent task force and then shut down its wallet servers. However, the shut down did not do much to stop the hackers as the abnormal transfers continued.
- At this point, KuCoin realized that the private keys of its hot wallet had leaked. The company then started moving the remaining balance in its hot wallet to cold storage at 4:20 AM. The process took about 30 minutes to complete.
- Lyu said the exchange would publish the addresses used by the hackers on its official channels. An earlier report on the hack shows that the Ethereum address supposedly used for the operation contained over $150 million in ETH and ERC-20 tokens.
- KuCoin is now in contact and working with the international police, its largest clients, and industry experts for an in-depth investigation into the incident.
- The CEO also said they had asked most crypto exchanges, including Binance, Bitfinex, OKEx, BitMEX, and Houbi Global, to blacklist the hackers’ wallet address and assist with the investigation.
- The crypto community was quick to swing into action to assist KuCoin in its request. Bitfinex CTO Paolo Ardoino said they have already frozen 13 million USDT on EOS that was part of the hack, while Tether froze the 20m USDT on Ethereum in the ETH address used for the hack.
- While trading services are still available, withdrawals and deposits will remain closed until the exchange completes its wallet upgrade.
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