It isn’t often that one of the apps that I use on a regular basis attracts a large round of funding but it happened recently with Receipt Bank, a London based started which “makes your bookkeeping, faster, easier and more efficient.” Last month, Receipt Bank received a Series B investment worth $50 million from New York based Insight Venture Partners.
Receipt Bank, which started in 2010, targets accountants, bookkeepers and small businesses. It offers them an online platform through which users can submit their invoices, receipts, and bills by taking a picture and uploading it through Receipt Bank’s mobile app (see Fig. 1), desktop app (see Fig. 2), or an email submission. Receipt Bank’s system then automatically extracts relevant data, sorts and categorises it. Apart from viewing your processed expenses online, Receipt Bank also publishes everything to the user’s accounting software of choice, FreshBooks or Xero for example.
Fig. 1 – Screenshot of Receipt Bank iOS app
Fig. 2 – The entry in Receipt Bank for one of my receipts
Given that I’ve been using Receipt Bank for a while now; instead of just reviewing existing functionality, I’ve also had a think about how I’d use a $50m war chest to further build out the Receipt Bank product:
- Faster! Faster! Faster! – When I started using Receipt Bank last year, I emailed the customer support team enquiring about the wait between submitting a picture of a receipt and it being “ready for export”. I got a friendly reply explaining that “we ask for a maximum of 24 hours to process items, but we are usually much faster than that.” The customer support adviser also explained that “the turnaround time also depends on the number of items waiting to be processed by the software and also their quality.” I’m sure Receipt Bank uses some form of machine-learning, algorithms to automatically interpret and categorise the key data fields from the picture of a receipt. As the field of Artificial Intelligence continues to evolve, I expect Receipt Bank to be able to – eventually – process receipts and invoices within seconds, with no need for the user to add or edit any info processed. Because I envisage machine learning to be the core driver of Receipt Bank’s proposition, I suggest spending at least half of its latest investment on AI technology and engineers specialised in machine learning.
- Not just tracking my bills and invoices – Yes, everybody is jumping on the chatbot wagon (and some of the results are frankly laughable). However, I do believe that if Receipt Bank can learn a sufficient amount about its customers and their spending and accounting behaviours, it will be able to provide them with tailored advice and predictions. For example, if I pay my supplier in China a fixed amount per month to keep my stock up, I’d like to ask Receipt Bank’s future “Expense Assistant” how my supplier payments will be affected if there’s massive volatility in the exchange rate between the British Pound and the Chinese Yuan. Similarly, when I look at most of today’s finance departments, the people in these teams seem to spend on matching the right payments received to the relevant invoice(s) sent out. I realise that the machine learning around multiple invoices wrapped into a single payment is easier said than done, but I don’t think it will be impossible and the $25m investment into AI (see point 1. above) should help massively.
- What if the days of paper bills are numbered!? – Now that I’ve effectively spent $25m on AI technology, I’ve got $25m left. The first thing I’d do with this remaining money is to prepare for scenarios where invoices or receipts are no longer issued on paper but provided orally. At the moment, capability like Alexa Expense Tracker is mostly used for personal expenses, but I do envisage a future where people use Alexa or Siri to add and track their expenses. Given that voice technology is still very much in its infancy, I suggest restricting Receipt Bank’s investment into this area to a no more than $1m.
- Integrate more (and please don’t forget about Asia) – If I were Receipt Bank I’d probably use about $10m of the remaining fund to enter new geographies and integrate with additional systems. For example, I like how Sage’s Pegg hooks into any expenses you record on your mobile, whether it’s via Slack, Facebook, Skype, WhatsApp, etc. I don’t know whether Receipt Bank is looking to enter the Asian market, but I feel there’s great opportunity to integrate with messenger apps like WeChat and Hike, without spending more than $2m on development and marketing. Also, integrating with payment processors, like Finsync did recently with Worldpay, is an integration avenue worth considering!
- But don’t forget about the current product! – I feel Receipt bank would be remiss if it were to forget about improving its current platform, both in terms of functionality and user experience. For example, I can’t judge how well Receipt Bank does in retaining its customers, but I feel there are a number of ways in which it can make the existing product ‘work harder’ (see Fig. 3 below). In my experience, some of my proposed improvements and features shouldn’t break the bank. By spending about $1m on continuous improvements over a number of years, Receipt Bank should have at least $20m left in the bank, as a buffer for difficult times and any new opportunities that might arise during the product lifecycle.
Fig. 3 – Suggestions to make Receipt Bank’s existing product work harder:
- Some touches of gamification – I’d argue that the longevity of the relationship between Receipt Bank and an individual user is determined by how often the users uploads bills onto the platform. I assume that most users will most probably not view managing their expenses as fun, I think it would be good to look at ways to make the experience more fun. For example, I could get a gold star from my accountant once I’ve successfully synced my month’s expenses into my accounting system. I feel that there’s plenty of room to reinforce the current gamification elements that Receipt Bank uses. For example, the message that Receipt Bank managed to save 27 minutes of my time doesn’t really do it for me (see Fig. 4 below). Instead, the focus could be on the productivity gain that I’ve made for billable work (if I’m a freelancer for example).
- Better progress and status updates – Even if it does continue to take up to 24 hours. to categorise and process my expenses, it would be great if Receipt Bank could make its “in progress” status more intuitive and informative.
- Clearer and stronger calls to action – For example, I can see that I’m not making the best use of my Receipt Bank subscription (see Fig. 5 below). However, there are no suggestions on specific actions I can take to get more value from my Receipt Bank plan.
Fig. 4 – Screenshot my Receipt Bank usage
Fig. 5 – Screenshot of my Receipt Bank “Usage summary”
Main learning point: Having thought about Receipt Bank’s current product offering, and my understanding of their target market, I suggest investing a good chunk of the recent investment into optimising the machine learning algorithms in such a way that both processing speed and accuracy are significantly increased. By doing this, the customer profile and behavioural data generated, will create additional opportunities to further retain customers and offer adjacent products and services.
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In a few weeks’ time, I’ll be travelling to Hong Kong for the first time, looking to visit Shenzhen as well. I’m hoping it will be a great opportunity for me to learn more about the needs of Chinese customers and get a better feel for the Chinese Fintech scene. To start preparing for my trip, I used a recent report by EY/DBS Bank titled “The Rise of FinTech in China” to learn more about key characteristics of the Chinese Fintech space.
I’ve looked at the ‘current state’ of Fintech in China, both from a customer and a market perspective, and these are my main takeaways from the EY/DBS report:
- Fintech activity in seven vertical markets – EY/DBS’ report outlines the seven key verticals in which Chinese Fintech businesses are active (see Fig. 1 below). At a first glance, that the lion’s share of innovation by Chinese Fintech players thus far has been in the payments and e-wallets space. I’ve written previously about the absolute rise of alternative payment methods in China, mostly via mobile and predominantly driven by Alipay and WeChat.
- Chinese customers are embracing alternative payment and insurance methods – The EY/DBS report contains a useful diagram that outlines the percentage of customers per Asian country using specific Fintech services (see Fig. 2 below). Based on this diagram, it looks like both payments/remittances and insurance are already quite established in China, with opportunities for lending and personal wealth management to truly take off soon.
- Customer focus on online experience and functionality – A recent study by EY explored the appetite of Chinese consumers for non banks over traditional banks. It was interesting to read about the value placed on “better online experience and functionality”, as a key reason for using non banks over traditional players. One of my assumptions here is that Chinese consumer prefer banking services which are fully integrated into their daily lives, thinking about how WeChat seamlessly integrates payments into its messenger app.
- Alternative payment methods; disruption hasn’t finished yet – I had never given that much thought to low credit card penetration rates across China, but the stats in the EY/DBS report speak volumes in this regard (see Fig. 4 below). The report offers a pretty straightforward explanation for this phenomenon; a strong adoption of alternative payment methods and e-wallets. Unionpay Quick is a good example of a contactless payment method that is becoming more and more ubiquitous in China, particularly in so-called “first tier cities”.
Main learning point: Having read the EY/DBS report, I do feel that China is quite far ahead of the Western world in certain areas of Fintech, particularly in the payments and e-wallet space. In the west, Fintech has been responsible for a lot of ‘unbundling’ of traditional banking services. In Asia – in China in particular – my feeling is that things are moving in the opposite direction: seamlessly integrating financial activities with people’s day to day activities. Alipay, WeChat and, in India, Paytm are leading the way in this regard.
Fig. 1 – Chinese FinTech activity in seven key vertical markets – Taken from: “The Rise of FinTech in Asia – Redefining Financial Services” by EY / DBS
- Payments and e-wallets A mobile payments ecosystem facilitated by e-commerce and social media players, of which Alipay (of Ant Financial) and Tenpay (a Tencent company) dominate the market. Other notable players include UnionPay, ICBC e-wallet, JD Pay/Wallet (of JD.com) and 99bill (of Dalian Wanda Group).
- Supply chain and consumer finance E-commerce players lend to underbanked or unbanked individuals and small medium enterprises (SMEs) by leveraging users’ merchant data on the platform. Key participants include Ant Financial and MyBank (Alibaba), WeBank with WeChat (Tencent), JD Finance (JD.com) and Gome Electronic Appliance, which recently ventured into providing financial services for individual customers and suppliers.
- Peer-to-peer (P2P) lending platforms P2P platforms create a marketplace for peers to lend to individuals and SMEs underserved by the traditional lending sector. Market leaders are Lufax (Ping An Insurance), Yirendai (CreditEase), Rendai, Zhai Cai Bao (Alibaba) and Dianrong (the co-founder of Lending Club).
- Online funds Funds linked to payment platforms that offer ease of access and more competitive returns than the historically low deposit rates. Primary participants are Yu’e Bao of Ant Financial, Li Cai Tong (Tencent) and Baifa (Baidu).
- Online insurance E-insurance sold through e-commerce and online wealth management (WM) platforms. Notable brands are platforms by the People’s Insurance Company of China (PICC), Ping An, and Zhong An (in partnership with Ping An).
- Personal finance management Recently developed mobile-centric finance solutions providing access to mutual funds though stock trading apps. These platforms offer offline-to-online activity, with online brokers accounting for over 92% of new clients. Key players include Ant Financial (Alibaba), Li Cai Tong (Tencent), Baifa (Baidu), Wacai, Tongbanjie, Zhiwanglicai (CreditEase) and JD Finance (JD.com).
- Online brokerage Investment, social network and information portals for investors in China, providing thematic investing via websites and mobile apps, and offered by FinTech firms such as Snowball Finance, Xianrenzhang and Yiqiniu.
Fig. 2 – Percentage of banking/financial services customers using FinTech services – Taken from: DBS Bank, 2016
Fig. 3 – Reasons for using a non-bank rather than traditional bank – Taken from: EY Global Consumer Banking Survey 2016
Fig. 4 – Payment method used most regularly the past 3 months – Taken from: FT Confidential Research survey, May 2016
Source: Survey of 1,000 urban consumers conducted by FT Confidential Research, a unit of the Financial Times18, May 2016
One of the product areas I’m keen to learn more about is billing; understanding how small businesses go about (recurring) billing. A few years ago, I used Recurly to power subscription management and payments for a music streaming service. I’ve now discovered Zuora, who aspire to “turn your customers into subscribers.”
“The world subscribed” – I really like Zuora’s vision – “the world subscribed” – and its 9 keys to building a subscription based business (see Fig. 2 below). Zuora aims to make managing subscription payments as intuitive as possible. For example, when I look at the info that Zuora provides on a specific customer account, it feels clear and clean, enabling the user to digest key account information at a glance (see Fig. 3 below).
Part of an ecosystem – The thing I like best about Zuora is the numerous integrations it has with partners and marketplace apps. As a result, Zuora users can integrate easily with payment gateways such as Adyen and link with accounting software packages such as QuickBooks. Similarly, there’s a whole host of apps and plug-ins that Zuora users can choose from.
Main learning point: Even though subscription management / billing forms the core of Zuora’s value proposition, I feel that there’s much more to it: helping people run their business operations as efficiently as possible. I don’t know whether the people at Zuora would agree with me on this vision, but I believe that, especially through it’s 3rd party integrations, Zuora can support its users more widely in their day-to-day operations.
Fig. 1 – Screenshot of Zuora’s “Quotes” overview – Taken from: https://www.getapp.com/finance-accounting-software/a/zuora/
Fig. 2 – Zuora’s 9 keys to building a subscription based business – Taken from: https://www.zuora.com/vision/the-9-keys/
- Price – Find your sweet spot. Dynamically adjusting pricing and packaging is the surest way to attract and retain customers, and multiply the value of your relationships.
- Acquire – Boost subscription rates with tools like flexible promotions, integrated quoting and multi-channel commerce.
- Bill – Subscriptions mean more invoices and more payments. Automatically generate fast, accurate bills and deliver them online.
- Collect – Get paid. Collect payments instantly through automated and manual channels, while maximising completed transactions and minimising write-offs.
- Nurture – Build beautiful relationships. Keep your customers engaged and happy. Seamlessly manage rapidly changing upgrades, conversions, renewals and other orders.
- Account – Measure everything. Twice. Zuora plugs straight into your accounting software and General Ledger. Register subscription and process deferred revenue with ease.
- Measure – No paper, no worries. Analytics make forecasting, accounting close and audits a breeze. Plus, it gives you the right insight your subscribers, so you can make smarter decisions.
- Iterate – Try something new every day. Subscriptions can involve complex customer relationships. Zuora lets you iterate and test what’s working with just a couple of clicks.
- Scale – Get growing. Zuora is built on a secure, scalable technology infrastructure. So wherever you start out, we’ll keep the system running as you grow.
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New payment technologies seem to be springing up left right and centre … Swish is another innovative payment platform which I encountered recently. About two years ago six Swedish banks launched Swish. Swish is a mobile app that lets people use their mobile phones to make payments and transfer payments to someone else’s banks. The money gets sent in real-time between the bank accounts and consumers subscribe to the service via their bank.
Fig. 1 – Screenshot of Swish – Taken from: http://www.windowscentral.com/send-and-receive-funds-easily-swish-windows-phone
“Payments. Anytime. Anywhere.” is Swish’s motto. I can see how Swish’s mobile point of sale functionality competes directly with the likes of Square, iZettle and Klarna. The biggest difference between Swish and iZettle is that for the later retailers need to have a card reader to accept payments. With Swish this isn’t strictly necessary, provided you’ve authenticated your account details via the Swish app (see step 3 in Fig. 2 below).
Fig. 2 – Swish Mobile POS – Taken from: http://swishme.com/mobile-pos/
Other competitors in Swish space are Whywallet and Seamless. With Seamless for example, consumer payments are encrypted and secured through one’s PIN code. As a result – similar to Swish – there’s no longer a need for a user to enter her bank or credit card details when paying (see Fig. 3 below).
Fig. 3 – Onboarding process for Seamless’ SEQR mobile wallet – Taken from: https://www.seqr.com/nl/en/faq/
Main learning point: Even by just looking at the number of competitors in the payments space, it’s easy to see how payment experiences will become ultra seamless in just a few years’ time. With its focus on simplifying payments as much as possible, Swish is no exception in this respect.
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I recently heard Shamir Karkal, Head of Open APIs at BBVA, talking about open platforms and I was intrigued. In the podcast episode Shamir talked about the power of APIs, but at the same time stressed the importance of having a strong platform that these API end points can hook into.
Shamir talked about building a product with a platform attached. Instead of just building a set of APIs, we should treat APIs as a way in for customers, developers and third parties to hook into the capabilities of our business. For example, hooking into all the things that banks typically tend to do well: compliance, risk management and customer support.
My ears really perked up as soon as Shamir started talking about Dwolla. Dwolla is US based peer-to-peer payments company, whose mission it is to facilitate “Simple payments. No transaction fees.” Dwolla is powered by APIs, making it easy for US users to link their Dwolla account to a US bank account or credit union account to move money. Setting up a Dwolla account is free, and there’s no per transaction fee. Users can collect payment on an invoice, send a one-time or recurring payment, or payout a large number of people at once. Dwolla also offers this a white label solution (see Fig. 1 below).
Fig. 1 – Dwolla’s white label version of their API – Taken from: http://apievangelist.com/2015/09/03/dwolla-just-released-a-white-label-version-of-their-api-are-you-ready-for-the-wholesale-api-economy/
In essence, what Dwolla does is enabling real-time payments between Dwolla accounts and another bank account that users want to send money to. Dwolla are integrated with banks such as BBVA, having Dwolla APIs ‘talk’ to the bank’s APIs. Dwolla has created some form of a protocol in the form of FiSync which aims to make it more secure for users to transmit information between accounts. FiSync enables the use of secure authentication and tokenisation in the comms between Dwolla and accounts like those of BBVA Compass. This way, BBVA Compass account holders don’t have to share their account info with Dwolla (see Fig, 2 below).
Fig. 2 – Workflow of a connecting a FiSync-enabled bank account to Dwolla – Taken from: https://www.dwolla.com/updates/breaking-down-real-time-secure-authentication/
Main learning point: I love how Dwolla’s proposition is almost entirely API based, making it easy for its users to transfer money to bank accounts and credit union accounts. Dwolla definitely feels more seamless, secure and cost-efficient compared to the way in which users traditionally transfer money from one account to another.
Related links for further learning:
A few days ago I wrote about some popular apps within the educational space and I’d now like to focus more on some of the current (technology) trends within the “EdTech” space:
- Shift from ‘asset based learning’ to ‘continuous learning’ – We’re already seeing a shift away from the traditional educational model – where learning happens through courses or certificates and has a defined endpoint. John Seely Brown, in a talk called Cultivating the Entrepreneurial Learner in the 21st Century describes this traditional model as an ‘asset-based’ approach. Instead, we’re starting to treat learning as a lifelong process consisting of deliberate practices aimed at constantly getting better. I can imagine that this will have a significant impact on educational technology. For example, learning might become more of a ‘playful’ activity and something which is ‘consumed’ much more on ‘pick and mix’ basis rather than the more linear approach that we’re used to.
- Subscription learning – Some trend watchers have been predicting a model where for example universities do much more than just providing you with academic content. It’s about creating a “full stack” model whereby the education provider becomes a school, recruiter, a lender and an employer, all merged into one. This could mean that students have a lifelong relationship with their university, coming back to it as their career and their professional skills evolve.
- Combining adaptive learning and competency based learning – The combination of a student picking up some specific competencies (‘competency based learning’) at a pace and in a format tailored to the individual (‘adaptive learning’) is something that technology can well facilitate. I believe this will be one of the biggest trends to watch in the EdTech space over the coming years. As a simple example, I’m currently doing a UX Design course online where I can work through the modules at my own pace and go over specific aspects with my tutor, who I Skype with once a week.
- Gamification in education – Gamification, as the concept around motivation and rewards, will continue to have an impact on education. The channel through which you access the educational content becomes secondary, it’s all about the ways in which people the subject matter is presented to people and how hooked they become. As a result, learning effectively becomes an ongoing habit (see my point about ‘continuous learning’ above). A good example is Lifesaver which is a prize winning campaign that combines interactivity, live-action film footage and time based decision making activities to teach CPR on your tablet, smartphone or computer.
- Enable ‘flipped learning’ – Flipped learning is an approach whereby students watch lectures and read related content online, and then go to a physical classroom to do their homework, under the personal instruction and guidance of teachers. The underlying idea here is that it will increase student engagement levels, both in and out of class.
- Bring Your Own Device – The ‘BOYD’ approach builds on the reality that a lot of students already bring their own devices to school and use them for their own needs. Rather than trying to constrain the educational approach and content to a single device or operating system, the idea here is that the content should be device agnostic. I’m sure that over time the technology will get better at ironing out scalability, security and compatibility issues, but BOYD taps into the reality of students having their preferred devices and ways of working.
Main learning point: It feels like there’s a lot of opportunity for innovation and transformation within the educational space. It will be interesting to see at what pace this change will take place and its impact on our education.
Image taken from: http://www.videojeeves.com/blog/e-learning-for-kids/
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How do the likes of eBay, Amazon Handcraft, Notonthehighstreet, Rakuten and Etsy go about supporting the small businesses who sell products through their platforms? What are some of the typical data and customer insights that these sellers benefit from and why? Amazon recently launched its Seller App aiming to “help grow and manage your selling business on Amazon.” I had a quick look at the Amazon Seller App and these are my initial thoughts:
- How did the app come to my attention? – Since I’ve started working on online marketplaces I tend to keep an eye out for new technology and tools available to the sellers on these marketplaces.
- My quick summary of the app (before using it) – I expect a mobile app, which helps sellers to keep a close eye on their sales figures and manage their orders.
- How does the app explain itself in the first minute? – The first screen of the app asks me to select my marketplace (see Fig. 1 below). It doesn’t provide any further context but I presume that if you’re an active seller on Amazon you might not need any further info.
- Getting started, what’s the process like? – I’m not a seller on Amazon, but looking at some of the screenshots and the data provided, I can imagine that sellers will find it relatively easy to use the app (see Fig. 2 and 3 below). What I’m curious about though is the data syncing between devices, making sure your sales data is as ‘real-time’ as possible. I also couldn’t get a sense of whether (and how well) the Seller App integrates with Amazon’s Mobile Credit Card Reader.
- How does the app compare to similar apps? – The Amazon Seller App feels very similar to the Sell on Etsy app and SellerMobile. For example, the Etsy app enables sellers to manage their open orders and revisit completed ones on the go (see Fig. 4 below). The Etsy app also offers sellers the opportunity to check their Etsy shop and product views, but I’m not sure whether this analytics feature is included in Amazon’s Seller App.
- Did the app deliver on my expectations? – Yes, based on what I could tell from the screenshots and app description. The app looks the provide the key stats and insights that marketplace sellers tend to be interested in. What I could not tell from the screenshots is how the app facilitates sellers who sell on multiple marketplaces, for example in the UK and the US. I know this is a reality for lots of small businesses and it would be good to find out how the user interface of the Amazon Seller App accommodates for this use case.
Main learning point: The Amazon Seller App looks fit for purpose, providing sellers with key sales information that’s visual and easy to manage on the go. Analytics and multiple marketplaces are two areas where I’m not sure how (well) they are covered by this app. However, if you sell products through Amazon and want to keep a close eye on your orders and sales, then this app should give you the key information to help you manage your activities on Amazon’s marketplace.
Fig. 1 – Screenshot of opening screen on Amazon Seller App (iOS)
Fig. 2 – Screenshots of Amazon Seller App (iOS) – Taken from: http://www.allmediatalks.com/amazon-in-launches-its-seller-app-in-india-amazon-online-selling/
Fig. 3 – Screenshot order detail view on Amazon Seller App (iOS) – Taken from: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/amazon-seller/id794141485
Fig. 4 – Screenshot of the ‘Sell on Etsy’ App – Taken from: https://blog.etsy.com/news/2014/introducing-new-mobile-app-just-for-sellers/
Related links for further learning: