Petal’s no-fee credit card for the credit score-less is now open to the public

Petal, the startup credit card company that’s offering a no-fee credit line to people without a credit history, is now publicly available. Launched earlier this year by co-founders Jason Gross, Andrew Endicott, Andrew Ehrich, and Jake Arenas, Petal has received a $34 million credit facility from Jeffries and Silicon Valley Bank to bring its consumer […]

Petal, the startup credit card company that’s offering a no-fee credit line to people without a credit history, is now publicly available.

Launched earlier this year by co-founders Jason Gross, Andrew Endicott, Andrew Ehrich, and Jake Arenas, Petal has received a $34 million credit facility from Jeffries and Silicon Valley Bank to bring its consumer lending product to the masses.

That money will take Petal beyond the few thousand customers that have trialed the company’s credit card in a pre-release to broad distribution for applicants.

Petal uses information from a customer’s bank account and payments to develop a credit score for individuals who haven’t had time to build up a financial picture that most banks or credit card companies use to create risk profiles and issue credit.

“We use more data than credit history to make credit decisions,” says Jason Gross, Petal’s co-founder and chief executive. “They’re common sense metrics about your finances: how much you make save and spend every month.”

Gross says this window into its customers spending habits allows his company to issue credit lines with higher limits than its competitors and with annual financing rates that are among the lowest for first time borrowers.

Annual percentage rates begin at 14% and are up to 25%, which is the standard for the industry, says Gross. And Petal offers credit limits that are, in many cases, ten times higher than its competitors. Another difference between Petal and its older competitors is the company’s elimination of all fees.

“We want to eliminate traps and fees. We have no fee. No late fees, international fee, or over the limit fees,” says Gross. Petal makes its money on the interest it pays and the transaction charges it receives from vendors when its customers use its card. 

“We want you to pay on time and we want you to build your credit,” says Gross. It’s also transparent about how much interest rates will wind up costing its users, Gross says. “Before you carry an interest on Petal… we show you how much it’s going to cost you… .you have a minimum payment and the statement balance…. All of the costs associated with the minimum payment… we make that information clear,” he said.

Those credit limits and the card’s transparent approach to costs and fees make up for the lack of other perks that cardholders would get with competing lenders.

And, Gross stresses that Petal is for first time borrowers, primarily. People who are looking to rebuild their credit score will likely not be approved for a Petal card. Indeed, the company’s demographics skew younger and solidly middle class, according to Gross.

The typical applicants for the Petal card are in their 20s, and are making somewhere between $30,000 and $70,000 per year.

In the market for the past year, Petal has issued cards to over 1,000 early adopters and is on pace to hit 10,000 borrowers signed up with the company by the end of the year.

The company, which most recently raised a $13 million round Valar Ventures, The Social Entrepreneurs Fund, Third Prime, The Gramercy Fund, Story Ventures, RiverPark Ventures, Ride Ventures and other institutional investors.

In fact, investors are throwing a lot of money at the credit space, and specifically trying to find a way to get at the thin-file customers that are Petal’s target audience. Deserve, a startup backed by Accel Partners (among others) is also pitching potential borrowers with a similar approach.

It’s certainly an important market to address.

“If you look at folks who are thin-file, credit invisible, those who don’t have an accurate score, they’re predominantly young people but they’re disproportionately groups that have historically lacked access to financial services,” Gross has previously saidsaid. “Minorities, immigrants, if you lack a score — or an accurate score — it can cost you very real money throughout your life. Having no score, you’re treated as subprime, you won’t qualify for most financial products, or they’ll be more expensive and inferior.”

Mobile bank Chime picks up credit score improvement service Pinch in all-stock deal

Chime, the no-fees mobile bank valued at $500 million as of its last round, has put some of its funds to use with its first acquisition. The deal is for Pinch, a startup that was focused on helping millennials and other young adults build better credit. It was best known for a service called PinchRent, […]

Chime, the no-fees mobile bank valued at $500 million as of its last round, has put some of its funds to use with its first acquisition. The deal is for Pinch, a startup that was focused on helping millennials and other young adults build better credit. It was best known for a service called PinchRent, which allowed users to increase their credit scores over time by reporting on-time rent payments to credit bureaus.

Millennials can sometimes struggle to improve their credit, or are uneducated about what their credit scores mean, studies have shown. And like any younger demographic, they may also be afflicted with shorter credit histories, which impacts those scores, too.

Many in this age group have said that their low credit scores are holding them back, and millennials prefer debit to credit, Visa has reported.

Pinch’s focus was to provide a different way for its users to increase their scores, rather than simply using credit cards or making loan payments on time.

It did this by aggregating the information on rent payments and submitting that to the credit bureaus. (The bureaus can take rental information, but they don’t work with individual landlords. That’s where Pinch came in.)

Since its founding in 2016, more than 80% of people on its service increased their scores from 10 to 100 points.

The startup was preparing to announce a $1.8 million seed round of funding from Homebrew and Collaborative ahead of its acquisition.

Pinch had only been in beta testing prior to joining Chime, and was also planning to do a full public launch. Instead, it shut down its service by alerting users via email that its last day of business would be June 27, 2018.

At the time of the service’s closure, it was in talks with Chime. But the deal itself only closed this Tuesday, we understand.

Chime declined to share the deal terms, but noted it’s an all-stock transaction and investors were happy.

The acquisition includes Pinch’s core team (5-10 people, depending on how the offers play out) plus founders Maia Bittner and Michael Ducker, who will now help the mobile bank launch credit and lending products over the next six months.

Bittner previously co-founded subscription startup Rocksbox, and worked as a Sequoia Capital scout. Ducker, meanwhile, hailed from Microsoft and Twitter before starting Pinch.

Chime, whose user base is 90% millennials, may or may not relaunch Pinch’s rent-paying service, but it will be soon moving into credit.

“I think, particularly, post the 2008 crisis, there’s been just a general distrust of big banks. But also, people have seen how the amount of credit [they have] can create challenges in their life,” says Chime CEO Chris Britt, discussing the struggles its users face in terms of building their credit.

“And younger consumers are so saddled with with student loan debt that the last thing they want to do is get more debt on a credit card,” he adds, explaining why young people turn to debit cards.

He says Chime’s goal now is to helping serve this group’s needs around credit with a set of millennial-focused products.

“The reality is the typical debit card and checking account do nothing to build your credit score. So as we think about the future set of products that we want to roll out, we’re very focused on helping our members with that part of their life,” he adds.

Chime is now one of several millennial-focused mobile banks on the market, which do away with traditional banking fees as well as brick-and-mortar location. Others like Simple and Stash are also available, but Chime has raised over $110 million, making it the largest in terms of funding.

The company today also shared new numbers – it says it has over 1.7 million bank accounts on its platform, and is opening more than 150,000 accounts per month – in line with Wells Fargo. It expects to surpass 2 million bank accounts and $10 billion in total transaction volume by year-end.

Further down the road, Chime may venture into investing, but not until its user base is ready.

“So we’re very deliberate in how we think about helping our members along their financial journey. We start with the checking account, we make sure you’re paying all your bills, then we make sure you have a savings account balance – because you should have a savings account balance before you start day trading,” Britt says.

“It’s sort of irresponsible to be encouraging day trading if you don’t have the financial means…I think investment accounts and retirement accounts come first,” he notes.

With a $10 million round, Nigeria’s Paga plans global expansion

Jake Bright Contributor Jake Bright is a writer and author in New York City. He is co-author of The Next Africa. More posts by this contributor African tech leaders Fope Adelowo, Ken Njoroge, Tayo Oviosu to speak at Disrupt SF Offering a white-labeled lending service in emerging markets, Mines raises $13 million Nigerian digital payments […]

Nigerian digital payments startup Paga is gearing up for an international expansion with $10 million in funding let by the Global Innovation Fund. 

The company is planning to release its payments product in Ethiopia, Mexico, and the Philippines—CEO Tayo Oviosu told TechCrunch at Disrupt San Francisco.

Paga looks to go head to head with regional and global payment players, such as PayPal, Alipay, and Safaricom’s M-Pesa, according to Oviosu.

“We are not only in a position to compete with them, we’re going beyond them,” he  said of Kenya’s M-Pesa mobile money product. “Our goal is to build a global payment ecosystem across many emerging markets.”

Founded in 2012, Paga has created a multi-channel network and platform to transfer money, pay-bills, and buy things digitally that’s already serving 9 million customers in Nigeria—including 6000 businesses. All of whom can drop into one of Paga’s 17,167 agents or transfer funds from one of Paga’s mobile apps.

Paga products work on iOS, Android, and basic USSD phones using a star, hashtag option. The company has remittance partnerships with the likes of Western Union and Moneytrans and allows for third-party integration of its app.

Paga has also built out considerable scale in home market Nigeria—which boasts the dual distinction as Africa’s most populous nation and largest economy.

Since inception, the startup has processed 57 million transactions worth $3.6 billion, according to Oviosu.

That’s no small feat given the country straddles the challenges and opportunities of growing digital payments. Only recently did Nigeria’s mobile and internet penetration break 50 percent and 40 percent of the country’s 196 million remain unbanked.

To bring more of Nigeria’s masses onto digital commerce, Paga recently launched a new money transfer-app that further simplifies the P2P payment process from mobile devices.

For nearly a decade, Kenya’s M-Pesa—which has 20 million active users and operates abroad—has dominated discussions of mobile money in Africa.

Paga and a growing field of operators are diversifying the continent’s payment playing field.

Fintech company Cellulant raised $47 million in 2019 on its business of processing $350 million in payment transactions across 33 African countries.

In Nigeria, payment infrastructure company Interswitch has expanded across borders and is pursuing an IPO. And Nigerian payment gateway startups Paystack and Flutterwave have digitized volumes of B2B transactions while gaining global investment.

So why does Paga—a Nigerian payments company—believe it can expand its digital payments business abroad?

“Why not us?,” said CEO Oviosu. “People sit in California and listen to Spotify that was developed in Sweden. And Uber started somewhere before going to different countries and figuring out local markets,” he added.

“The team behind this business has worked globally for some of the top tech names. This platform can stand shoulder to shoulder with any payments company built somewhere else,” he said.

On that platform, Oviosu underscores it has positioned itself as a partner, not a rival, to traditional banks. “Our ecosystem is not built to compete with you, it’s actually complimentary to you,” he said of the company’s positioning to big banks—enabling Paga to partner with seven banks in Nigeria.

Paga also sees potential to adapt its model to other regulatory and consumer environments. “We’ve built an infrastructure that rides across all mobile networks,” said Oviosu. “We’re not trying to be a bank. Paga wants to work with the banks and financial institutions to enable a billion people to access and use money,” he said.

As part of the $10 million round (which brings Paga’s total funding up to $35 million), Global Innovation Partners will take a board seat. Other round participants include Goodwell, Adlevo Capital, Omidyar Network, and Unreasonable Capital.

Paga will use the Series B2 to grow its core development team of 25 engineers across countries and continents. It will also continue its due diligence on global expansion—though no hard dates have been announced.

On revenues, Paga makes money on merchant payments, bank to bank transfers, and selling airtime and data. “As we roll out other services, we will build a model where we will make money on savings and lending,” said the company’s CEO.

As for profitability, Paga does not release financials, but reached profitability in 2018, according to Oviosu—something that was confirmed in the due diligence process with round investors.

On the possibility of beating Interswitch (or another venerable startup) to become Africa’s first big tech IPO, Oviosu plays that down. “For the next 3-5 years I see us staying private,” he said.

Clinc expands to automotive, releases SaaS platform for its voice AI assistant

Clinc co-founder and CEO Jason Mars just announced the company is expanding to a third vertical: Automotive. The company, which started in fintech and recently unveiled a product for drive-thru restaurants, is aiming its voice AI service at the automotive industry. The idea is to give automakers a platform that they can integrate into their […]

Clinc co-founder and CEO Jason Mars just announced the company is expanding to a third vertical: Automotive. The company, which started in fintech and recently unveiled a product for drive-thru restaurants, is aiming its voice AI service at the automotive industry. The idea is to give automakers a platform that they can integrate into their vehicles that will allow drivers to control and interact with their vehicles through natural language.

Launching alongside the new product, Clinc also revealed a platform to give developers access to the conversational AI. The company says it’s easy enough for developers with little to no experience in machine learning to build with Clinc’s products.

Clinc’s conversational AI is fantastic and the company’s products in other verticals show that if it’s used by automakers, the technology could usher in a new wave of user interfaces. This is not Siri.

The company was founded in Ann Arbor, Michigan in 2015 with a solution for fintech and currently has several contracts with major banks such as USAA, Barclays and S&P Global. In most cases, when integrated into the bank’s system, Clinc’s technology emulates human intelligence and can interpret unstructured, unconstrained speech. The idea is to let users converse with their bank account using natural language without pre-defined templates or hierarchical voice menus. The company says it works in any language.

With its new developer platform, companies can use Clinc’s system to integrate the company’s natural language processing into their products.

“We’re thrilled to be democratizing the world’s most powerful conversational AI and to be empowering people to solve important problems and to create amazing things,” said Dr. Jason Mars, Clinc CEO. “We’ve taken the complexity out of machine learning infrastructure and we’re giving developers the keys to our AI brain to create and deploy their own customizable virtual assistants.”

Crypto market crashes after Goldman reportedly scraps trading plans

The crypto market is down significantly today, practically across the board of all coins, following a report that claims Goldman Sachs has backed down on plans to start a dedicated cryptocurrency trading desk. Bitcoin is down over five percent in the last 24 hours, but ‘altcoins’ have been hit harder. Ethereum (down 14 percent), XRP […]

The crypto market is down significantly today, practically across the board of all coins, following a report that claims Goldman Sachs has backed down on plans to start a dedicated cryptocurrency trading desk.

Bitcoin is down over five percent in the last 24 hours, but ‘altcoins’ have been hit harder. Ethereum (down 14 percent), XRP (down 13 percent), EOS (down 16 percent) and Litecoin (down 11 percent) are seeing bigger drops, according to data from Coinmarketcap.com.

Business Insider reported this week that Goldman has backed down on its aspiration to enter crypto trading due to continued uncertainty around regulation. That’s according to sources, although it does appear that the bank is holding off making a full-on commitment to crypto.

“At this point, we have not reached a conclusion on the scope of our digital asset offering,” a Goldman spokesperson told Reuters in a statement.

Added to that, there may also be some concern around a Reuters reported that claims the EU is looking into regulating crypto. The organization is said to be preparing a report that proposes regulation of crypto exchanges and ICOs.

95 of the top 100 cryptocurrencies have dropped in valuation over the last 24 hours

Goldman has never gone public with its intention but reports first surfaced of its plans back in December 2017. That period was one of the peaks for crypto. During a bull run in December and January, the value of Bitcoin touched almost $20,000, that’s a record high and significantly higher than today’s price of just under $7,000.

So, in addition to regulatory concerns, the fact is that there is ongoing uncertainty around Bitcoin and the crypto more generally from an investment perspective. While it is worth noting that, counter to that, many in the industry believe price stability has many benefits because it allows a stronger focus on technology and product, it is clearly a problem for banks like Goldman which are ultimately focused on making money.

Note: The author owns a small amount of cryptocurrency. Enough to gain an understanding, not enough to change a life.

Lending startup Portal Finance nabs $200 million for small business loans in Latin America

Latin American small businesses just got a big boost with a new commitment for a $200 million lending joint venture between the Bogota-based startup Portal Finance and Latin America’s largest financial services institution, BTG Pactual. For Portal Finance, the deal with BTG caps a meteoric rise, which has seen the company raise $1.5 million at […]

Latin American small businesses just got a big boost with a new commitment for a $200 million lending joint venture between the Bogota-based startup Portal Finance and Latin America’s largest financial services institution, BTG Pactual.

For Portal Finance, the deal with BTG caps a meteoric rise, which has seen the company raise $1.5 million at a $60 million valuation and move from a small $5 million lending pilot to a $200 million deal in the span of two years.

A year ago we were four guys in a closet. Now we’re 70 people,” says Diego Caicedo, the company’s chief executive and co-founder. 

The company’s success is a testament to the changing fortunes of many Latin American economies and the role that venture capital is playing. For the last several years Colombia’s economic fortunes have been rising since the successful conclusion of peace talks with the country’s largest rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, brought an end to 50 years of civil war.

Meanwhile, investment firms like Magma Partners, which led the pre-seed and seed rounds for Portal Finance are linking innovative companies in places like Buenos Aires, Bogota, and Lima with Chile’s stable economic base to provide a market where innovative startups can gain traction.

It’s also a sign of the significant demand for small business loans across Latin America. In the aftermath of the 2008 global financial crisis small businesses found their credit lines pulled as banks refused to take on the risks associated with lending to small businesses.

That left businesses with only supply chain financing and factoring as the only alternatives. With interest rates that are typically between 20% and 50% annually. These rates are being charged even though invoices can be used as collateral and default rates hover at around 1% per year.

Portal Finance, and other companies like it, solve the problem by giving banks a better window into their borrowers finances by tackling the problem from three ways. The first is by working with factoring firms who were the lenders of last resort to companies who needed cash for operations and improvement and could not take out loans or raise equity financing. Second, the company has a window into the receivables of small businesses through the large corporate customers they supply. Finally, the company has reached out to the small businesses themselves to collect additional data, giving lenders a complete view of the borrowers’ financing.

That “full-stack” approach to small business financial statements was the vision that Caicedo had for his company from the moment he and his co-founders Felipe Puntarelli and Nicholas Bohorquez, took their first financing — $50,000 from Magma Partners (a Latin American focused venture capital firm).

The opportunity was so great that he was able to convince his eventual Charlie Cliff, a former defense contractor in the aerospace industry, to come down to Bogota without knowing a single word of Spanish to help jumpstart the business as Chief Technology Officer. Cliff, who was connected to Caicedo through Magma Partners’ managing director and co-founder Nathan Lustig, flew down after three phone calls.

Diego Caicedo and Charlie Cliff, the chief executive and chief technical officers for Portal Finance

Caicedo and Cliff first tackled the problem for the factoring firms that would lend money to businesses off of the projected income for accounts receivable. It was the first product that Portal Finance brought to market when it launched in 2016.

By 2017, it expanded its products to include an offering for large corporations to help them manage their payments to small businesses.

With that information in hand, Caicedo reached out to financial services firms to set up a lending operation. BTG Pactual agreed to a pilot in Chile in January, and expanded to the $200 million lending joint venture in July that covers both Chile and Colombia.

Caicedo called the program the largest investment in a fintech startup by a Latin American financial services firm. So far, the company has issued 200 loans in Chile and 500 in Colombia. On the heels of that investment, Caicedo says that the company expects to close an additional $2.5 million in financing soon and will be profitable by the end of November.

Xiaomi backs Indian consumer lending startup ZestMoney in $13.4M deal

Xiaomi has continued its investment in India after it led a $13.4 million round for fintech startup ZestMoney. The newly-public Chinese firm previously said it would invest up to $1 billion in India and Indian startups over a five-year period, and this deal follows its maiden India fintech investment in lending platform KrazyBee. The new capital […]

Xiaomi has continued its investment in India after it led a $13.4 million round for fintech startup ZestMoney.

The newly-public Chinese firm previously said it would invest up to $1 billion in India and Indian startups over a five-year period, and this deal follows its maiden India fintech investment in lending platform KrazyBee.

The new capital is an extension to ZestMoney’s recently closed $6.5 million Series A, and it takes the company to $22 million raised to date. Existing backers PayU, Ribbit Capital and Omidyar Network joined Xiaomi in this ‘Series A2’ round.

ZestMoney was founded in 2015 by British entrepreneur Lizzie Chapman, who moved to India in 2011 to head up payday loan startup Wonga’s division in the country. Wonga — which is reportedly close to shutting down — didn’t ultimately pursue that opportunity. After a spell consulting, Chapman reunited with her former Wonga India colleagues Ashish Anantharaman and Priya Sharma and the trio launched ZestMoney.

Despite close ties to Wonga, it’s fair to say that ZestMoney comes at the problem of consumer loans from a totally different direction.

Payday loan companies have (rightly) come under fire for restrictive terms and a business model that is most lucrative when customers pay back late or default on loans.

In contrast, ZestMoney — and other loan services across Asia — are much more consumer-centric. That’s to say that the businesses monetize when consumers pay back their loans, while terms are considerably more customer friendly.

“New age fintech is much more optimistic” than what’s come before, Chapman told TechCrunch in an interview. “The thesis is ‘Behave well and do good things and you’ll get cheaper pricing.'”

ZestMoney Founders (left to right) Priya Sharma, Lizzie Chapman, and Ashish Anantharaman

The startup also works with banks, rather than against them.

That makes plenty of sense because the idea of giving microloans runs counter to any kind of orthodox thinking at banks in India. Loans of $200-$300 are too small to yield any significant revenue, and banks aren’t in a position go out there and attract thousands of small loans customers that would make it viable.

Then there’s the issue of data. It simply doesn’t exist in the same way it does in the U.S, UK and other Western markets. Few consumers have a credit score, which in conventional banking terms would mean lenders are taking a stab in the dark backing them.

That explanation plus the low volume explains why banks don’t offer the services themselves, but it also goes somehow to understanding why startups like ZestMoney can.

They can essentially act like a funnel for banks, bringing in significant volumes of micro-loan customers by specializing on that area of financing. In ZestMoney’s case, that’s 200,000 applications per month. While by focusing on financial support for single-purchase items — Chapman said electronics, education and learning, and vacations are among the top reasons for loans — the service encourages repeat customers, which in turn provides data which can help vet potential loans.

Added to that, it is also in the common interest within the tech ecosystem to encourage more flexible financing.

Companies like Amazon and Flipkart, which are keen to tap the growth potential of India’s 1.3 billion population, acknowledge that more flexible payment solutions are necessary when the average salary is orders of magnitudes lower than say the U.S. That’s why these e-commerce companies and others work with ZestMoney to subsidize many of the costs around loans. The startup passes that on to consumers, meaning that, often, they get attractive interest-free rates on big-ticket items likes phones or computers.

Chapman concedes that this situation won’t last forever, but she said it helps gain initial reach among some new users and encourage repeat business from existing customers.

Indeed, Xiaomi and ZestMoney have collaborated in a similar way before.

The Chinese firm tapped the startup one year ago to develop its Mi Finance service for Xiaomi customers in India. That relationship, which Chapman said included reciprocal learnings on both sides, led to this week’s investment deal.

ZestMoney is eying a larger round of funding soon as it aims to ramp up its business, and particularly technology. Chapman said the firm is focusing on AI and facial/voice recognition which she believes will enable her company to go beyond tier-one cities in India and reach those who are less comfortable with English and are less experienced in using the internet and digital services.

What happens when hackers steal your SIM? You learn to keep your crypto offline

A year ago I felt a panic that still reverberates in me today. Hackers swapped my T-Mobile SIM card without my approval and methodically shut down access to most of my accounts and began reaching out to my Facebook friends asking to borrow crypto. Their social engineering tactics, to be clear, were laughable but they […]

A year ago I felt a panic that still reverberates in me today. Hackers swapped my T-Mobile SIM card without my approval and methodically shut down access to most of my accounts and began reaching out to my Facebook friends asking to borrow crypto. Their social engineering tactics, to be clear, were laughable but they could have been catastrophic if my friends were less savvy.

Flash forward a year and the same thing happened to me again – my LTE coverage winked out at about 9pm and it appeared that my phone was disconnected from the network. Panicked, I rushed to my computer to try to salvage everything I could before more damage occurred. It was a false alarm but my pulse went up and I broke out in a cold sweat. I had dealt with this once before and didn’t want to deal with it again.

Sadly, I probably will. And you will, too. The SIM card swap hack is still alive and well and points to one and only one solution: keeping your crypto (and almost your entire life) offline.

Trust No Carrier

Stories about massive SIM-based hacks are all over. Most recently a crypto PR rep and investor, Michael Terpin, lost $24 million to hackers who swapped his AT&T SIM. Terpin is suing the carrier for $224 million. This move, which could set a frightening precedent for carriers, accuses AT&T of “fraud and gross negligence.”

From Krebs:

Terpin alleges that on January 7, 2018, someone requested an unauthorized SIM swap on his AT&T account, causing his phone to go dead and sending all incoming texts and phone calls to a device the attackers controlled. Armed with that access, the intruders were able to reset credentials tied to his cryptocurrency accounts and siphon nearly $24 million worth of digital currencies.

While we can wonder in disbelief at a crypto investor who keeps his cash in an online wallet secured by text message, how many other services do we use that depend on emails or text messages, two vectors easily hackable by SIM spoofing attacks? How many of us would be resistant to the techniques that nabbed Terpin?

Another crypto owner, Namek Zu’bi, lost access to his Coinbase account after hackers swapped his SIM, logged into his account, and changed his email while attempting direct debits to his bank account.

“When the hackers took over my account they attempted direct debits into the account. But because I blocked my bank accounts before they could it seems there are bank chargebacks on that account. So Coinbase is essentially telling me sorry you can’t recover your account and we can’t help you but if you do want to use the account you owe $3K in bank chargebacks,” he said.

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Now Zu’bi is facing a different issue: Coinbase is accusing him of being $3,000 in arrears and will not give him access to his account because he cannot reply from the hacker’s email.

“I tried to work with coinbase hotline who is supposed to help with this but they were clueless even after I told them that the hackerchanged email address on my original account and then created a new account with my email address. Since then I’ve been waiting for a ‘specialist’ to email me (was supposed to be 4 business days it’s been 8 days) and I’m still locked out of my account because Coinbase support can’t verify me,” he said.

It has been a frustrating ride.

“As an avid supporter and investor in crypto it baffles me how one of the market leaders who just supposedly launched institutional grade custody solutions can barely deal with a basic account take-over fraud,” Zu’bi said.

How do you protect yourself?

I’ve been using Trezor hardware wallets for a while, storing them in safe places outside of my home and maintaining a separate record of the seeds in another location. I have very little crypto but even for a fraction of a few BTC it just makes sense to practice safe storage. Ultimately, if you own crypto you are now your own bank. That you would trust anyone – including a fiat bank – to keep your digital currency safe is deeply delusional. Heck, I barely trust Trezor and they seem like the only solution for safe storage right now.

When I was first hacked I posted recommendations by crypto exchange Kraken. They are still applicable today:

Call your telco and:

  • Set a passcode/PIN on your account

    • Make sure it applies to ALL account changes
    • Make sure it applies to all numbers on the account
    • Ask them what happens if you forget the passcode
      • Ask them what happens if you lose that too
  • Institute a port freeze

  • Institute a SIM lock

  • Add a high-risk flag

  • Close your online web-based management account

  • Block future registration to online management system

  • Hack yo’ self

    • See what information they will leak

    • See what account changes you can make

They also recommend changing your telco email to something wildly inappropriate and using a burner phone or Google Voice number that is completely disconnected from your regular accounts as a sort of blind for your two factor texts and alerts.

Sadly, doing all of these things is quite difficult. Further, carriers don’t make it easy. In May a 27-year-old man named Paul Rosenzweig fell victim to a SIM-swapping hack even though he had SIM lock installed on his account. A rogue T-Mobile employee bypassed the security, resulting in the loss of a unique three character Twitter and Snapchat account.

Ultimately nothing is secure. The bottom line is simple: if you’re in crypto expect to be hacked and expect it to be painful and frustrating. What you do now – setting up real two-factory security, offloading your crypto onto physical hardware, making diligent backups, and protecting your keys – will make things far better for you in the long run. Ultimately, you don’t want to wake up one morning with your phone off and all of your crypto siphoned off into the pocket of a college kid like Joel Ortiz, a hacker who is now facing jail time for “13 counts of identity theft, 13 counts of hacking, and two counts of grand theft.” Sadly, none of the crypto he stole has surfaced after his arrest.

Japan’s Freee raises $60M to grow its cloud accounting business

Japan-based accounting software company Freee, one of the country’s most-prominent startups, has raised a $60 million Series E funding round as it bids to expand its services into other areas of management for its customers. Freee was founded six years ago — we wrote about the startup when it raised a Series A in 2013 — […]

Japan-based accounting software company Freee, one of the country’s most-prominent startups, has raised a $60 million Series E funding round as it bids to expand its services into other areas of management for its customers.

Freee was founded six years ago — we wrote about the startup when it raised a Series A in 2013 — which makes it one of the ‘oldest’ startups in Japan, while this round is also a large one for the country, too. Japan’s startup ecosystem has a culture that encourages founders to take their companies’ public earlier than in most parts of the world, to mitigate some risk, but there are signs of alternative approaches that include this round and of course the recent IPO of Mercari, which went public this summer and raised over $1 billion.

“Japan is a country that respects precedent a lot,” Freee founder and CEO Daisuke Sasaki told TechCrunch in an interview. “Having present cases will change [the culture] a lot, we are staying private and investing in growth. The ecosystem isn’t changing [yet] but [startups, founders and VCs] now have more options.”

Free was one of the first Japanese startups to raise from overseas investors, a move that helped get Japanese VCs interested in enterprise and Saas, and this time around it has pulled in capital from a bunch of big names: Chat app company Line, Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group (MUFG) — Japan’s largest bank — consumer credit firm Life Card and “several [unnamed] international institutional investors.”

DCM and Infinity Investments are among the startup’s earliest backers.

Today, Freee offers cloud-based accounting and HR software and it claims to have over one million business accounts. It has over 5,000 certified accountant advisors — who help it reach new customers and also use it for their own work — and the company said that over 3,500 apps and services, including mainly financial products, are integration with its software.

Going forward, Sasaki — who is a former Googler — said Freee will use this new capital to build out an API ecosystem to enable more integrations — some of its practical ones right now include Slack and Salesforce — while it is planning a major collaboration with Line to allow Line business customers to integrate their use of the app with Free, while it is exploring how it can collaborate around Line Pay.

Freee founder and CEO Daisuke Sasaki

Freee is also focused on expanding the scope of its services to branch out into products that help with more general management and operational tasks.

“We want to focus not only on back office but also to add value to customers to make their businesses better through dashboards, reporting and insight. Customers who use the [existing business] reports grow faster. Our vision is to give much better insight and business advice through AI [and] to do that we need more data, not just back office but front line too,” Sasaki said.

Finally, the startup is exploring ways it can enable banks and financial organizations to work more closely with its customer base. Already customers can share data within Freee to banks for assessment for loans and other credit products, and the company is exploring the potential to introduce a marketplace that would give its customers a place to scout out financial products at more preferential rates.

“Initially we focused on small business but now our biggest customers have a couple of hundred employees so we are going upmarket,” Sasaki told TechCrunch.

One area Freee won’t be moving into is overseas markets. Yet at least. Sasaki explained that the company wants to build out that vision of an expanded ecosystem of connected services and more in-depth business tools before branching out into new countries.

SmartHR, a younger rival to free which specializes in HR as the name suggests, raised $13.3 million earlier this year to push on into areas such as payroll and more. That could begin to pose a threat to Freee, particularly since SmartHR a developer platform to hose third-party applications and services.

The dramatic rise and fall of online P2P lending in China

Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on TechNode, an editorial partner of TechCrunch based in China. When Emily Zhang was interning with a peer-to-peer (P2P) lending firm in the Summer of 2016, her main task was to carry out research on other P2P lending firms. She found the rates of return tempting and some underlying […]

Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on TechNode, an editorial partner of TechCrunch based in China.

When Emily Zhang was interning with a peer-to-peer (P2P) lending firm in the Summer of 2016, her main task was to carry out research on other P2P lending firms. She found the rates of return tempting and some underlying assets reliable, so she decided to invest in the market herself. Until now, none of her investments have matured, but she worries about whether she can actually withdraw her profits, much less get back the principal.

Even so, Zhang considers herself lucky that the companies that sold her the assets are still in business while many other P2P companies have collapsed, leaving their investors in despair.

Stories have been circulating across Chinese social networks about desperate investors who have lost their life savings. Zhang Xue, for instance, a 47-year old single mother with a 13-year-old son, was reported to have lost the 3.8 million RMB her husband left her with when he died of a heart attack. “I am totally desperate. 3.8 million RMB. It’s finished, all finished,” she told local media.

Some of those affected protested in front of police stations and chanted the Chinese national anthem, March of the Volunteers, in an effort to pressure authorities. Others organized online investor rights groups, making a collective effort to get the money back. Together, the protesters made headlines in domestic media and sparked intense online debates on who is responsible for the losses and where the industry is heading.

P2P lending, or online lending, is generally considered as a method of debt financing that directly connects borrowers, whether they are individuals or companies, with lenders. The world’s first online lending platform, Zopa, was founded in the UK in 2005. China’s online lending industry has seen rapid growth since 2007 without significant regulation.

Default rates have been soaring since June. In May, only 10 platforms were considered in trouble. But by June, that number had increased to 63. By the end of July, 163 platforms were on the concern list. The Home of Online Lending (网贷之家), a platform that compiles the data, defines “troubled” as companies that have difficulty paying off investors, have been investigated by national economic crime investigation department, or whose owners have run away with investors’ money.

One of the key factors contributing to the sudden surge is the national P2P rectification campaign that was supposed to have been finished by June. “The due date of rectification has passed, but many P2P platforms have not met the requirements. Strict regulations have propelled a break-out of the compliance issues,” Shen Wei, Dean and Professor of Law at Shangdong University Law School, told TechNode.

In late 2017, the platforms were asked to register with local authorities by June 2018, according to China Banking Regulatory Commission, which has now merged with China’s insurance regulator to become China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission.

Shen said the main purpose of the regulations is to restrict P2P lending platforms to be information intermediaries only, matching borrowers and investors. Under such regulations, the platforms are not allowed to pool funds from investors or grant loans to any client or provide any credit services, which most of the platforms were doing when they first started.

The rise of P2P lending in China

China’s first online lending platform, PPDAI Group (拍拍货), launched in 2007 and went public on the New York Stock Exchange in late 2017. The industry has gone through rapid growth since then. In January 2016, there were 3,383 platforms in business with combined monthly transactions reaching 130 billion RMB, according to Home of Online Lending.

In a recent research paper, Robin Hui Huang, professor of law at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, attributed the increase of P2P in China to three factorsa high 56 percent rate of internet penetration by 2018, a large supply of available funds from investors, and financial demands of small-to-medium-sized companies that cannot be satisfied by the existing banking system.

P2P lending is a tempting and easy investment option because the loans usually promise 8-12 percent interest rates, according to Home of Online Lending, of which many mature within a year, much higher than the 2.75 percent rate for three-year fixed deposits found at most banks.

P2P lending is also friendlier to smaller businesses since major banks in China generally prefer state-owned enterprises or large companies. Huang cited a joint 2016 report by the Development Bank of Singapore and Ernst & Young, that only 20-25 percent of bank loans went to small to medium-size enterprises, even though they accounted for 60 percent of China’s gross domestic product.

China’s financial system is still dominated by banks, especially the established “Big Four”— the Bank of China, China Construction Bank, the Agricultural Bank of China, and the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China. Ryan Roberts, a research analyst at MCM Partners, told TechNode that about 70 percent of the banks’ loans are commercial loans, with just 30 percent for individuals.

Unresolved regulations

Before the government first signaled regulations in 2016, the P2P lending industry aggressively expanded. Compared with the current defaulting scandals, the situation back then wasn’t any better.

By the end of 2015, there were 1,031 total troubled platforms out of 3,448 platforms still in operation. So, on average, one out of four was problematic. Chinese media reported on a number of Ponzi scheme stories concerning dubious platforms that tempted would-be investors with fat bonuses for referring family and friends, too.

Despite the fact that there was no established regulatory framework, the government was watching. Since mid-2015, a series of announcements set the stage for China’s first regulatory instrument for online lending in August 2016. Called Interim Measures on Administration of Business Activities of Online Lending Information Intermediaries, violations of its articles can lead to administrative or even criminal penalties.

The interim measures set the business scope of the platforms to be mere information intermediaries. It also asked all platforms to set up custody accounts with commercial banks for investor and borrower funds held by the platforms in order to reduce the risks that platform owners abscond with funds. The measures require online lending platforms to register with their local financial regulatory authority.

Later, a specific timeline was set for the implementation. Provincial government agencies were told to complete general investigations into local P2P platforms by July 2016 and formulate regulatory policies based on regional conditions. Overall rectification and registration should have been completed by June 2018, the latest.

It’s August now and, obviously, the work still isn’t finished

Huang said the measures, in general, have covered all the factors of the industry that should be regulated, but when it came to implementation, all we really saw was a delay.

“It’s good that the measures are carried out locally, which means that local government can develop policies in line with local conditions,” Huang explained to us. However, in order to attract more capital locally, local authorities have engaged in a race to the bottom, competing with one and another to have the loosest regulations, and therefore, have been hesitant to finalize them.

Moreover, the general public has a different understanding of the registration process. “Registering with local authorities doesn’t mean that local governments have recognized or will guarantee the legitimacy and quality of platforms. However, in reality, the public seems to perceive registration as official assurance,” Huang said. This has lead to very cautious approaches from government agencies towards the whole registration project since they don’t intend to be held responsible for the fallout or future wrongdoings of the P2P firms.

The concern is quite reasonable. Huoq.com—a P2P lending platform launched in December 2016 and backed by state-owned enterprises—announced on July 11, 2018, that it went into liquidation. The platform is owned by Dingxi Zhuoyue Online Lending Information Intermediary. One-third of Dingxi is owned by Xinjiang Tianfu Lanyu Optoelectronics Technology while Tianfu Lanyu itself is partly owned by a state-owned company in Xinjiang. On July 10, however, owners of the platform disappeared. Neither the company nor investors were able to locate them.

Their still-functioning official site doesn’t show the slightest sign of liquidation, displaying various certificates and recognition from government agencies and industry associations. A banner at the bottom of their mobile app icon still says “Central enterprises are our majority shareholders.”

The unresolved regulations are also affecting P2P lending companies listed overseas. Shares of PPDAI plummeted to $4.77 as of July 30 from $13.08 when it was first traded in late 2017. The stock price of Yirendai (宜人贷), the first Chinese online lending company to go public overseas, dropped to $19.33 compared with $38.26 the same period last year.

That the shares of these companies don’t trade well indicates that investors are skeptical towards the business, said Roberts. With the ongoing regulations, it’s still possible that regulators can outlaw and ban their businesses, he explained. Some borrowers even take advantage of the unsettled regulation and stop paying back their loans, in the hopes that the platform they have borrowed from would fail, Roberts added.

Buyer beware

In June 2018, 17.8 billion RMB worth of transactions took place on China’s P2P lending platforms and outstanding loan balance reached 1.3 trillion RMB. The number looks insignificant if compared with 1.8 trillion RMB in net new bank loans in June alone.

However, they have made quite a splash. Victims of the troubled online lending platforms gathered in Hangzhou in early July, filling two of the largest local sports stadiums, which the local government had set up as temporary complaint centers.

“One of the reasons why the current wave of defaults has drawn so much attention is that many troubled platforms were pretty big,” Huang said. Some of the platforms violated the rules, pooling funds illegally, and some were suffering from China’s slowing economic growth and the ongoing deleveraging campaigns.

P2P lending has helped fund small-to-medium-sized enterprises in some way, but in general, the role it plays in the financial system is limited, said Shen. Most of the P2P investors are speculative and they themselves should be responsible for their losses, he added.

“If the rate of return exceeds 6 percent, investors should be alert; if it is more than 8 percent, the investment is very risky, and if it’s more than 10 percent, investors should prepare themselves for losing all their capital,” said Guo Shuqing, chairmen of China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission at a finance forum in June in Shanghai, referring to financial scams that lure investors in with high returns.

Although P2P lending is only a relatively small piece in China’s financial industry, there are still concerns that the collapse of these platforms should trigger systematic risks, Shen said. This also implied that Chinese investors have very limited investment options.

According to research by China International Capital Corporation, experts predicted only 10 percent of the current P2P lending companies, less than 200, could still be in business after three years.

Zhang said P2P lending needs regulations because many platforms are not innocent. “P2P platforms have high moral hazards and it’s really easy to fake borrowers’ information. However, I believe the government is supportive towards the industry and some platforms will survive till the end,” said Zhang. “I just wish I can be lucky enough to pick the right one.”