NEAR Protocol raises $350 million in new funding; Uber adds planes and trains to cars in ‘super app’ push; Embedded finance and crypto;
In this edition:
- Personal opinion: Crypto and non-financial services within the embedded finance ecosystem?
- NEAR Protocol raises $350 million in new funding
- The race to the super app: Walmart
- “Paid in Bitcoin” and other crypto features by Cash App
- Embedded finance and crypto are enablers for one another
- Chris Dixon: Crypto Networks and Why They Matter
- Go-To-Market motions for Layer 1 blockchains and other protocols
- Uber adds planes and trains to cars in ‘super app’ push
- Ranking Open Finance data sources by relevance to SMBs
Personal opinion: Crypto and non-financial services within the embedded finance ecosystem?
1. Uber is pushing forward with super app plans by adding travel services into its ecosystem.
2. What other data points from Mortgages, Investments, Savings, Pensions, Telecoms and Energy sources would benefit consumers.
As we can see from the visual attached to this post embedded finance at the moment is mainly built around banking services, however, the financial services ecosystem is opening up.
While this process is in progress new services such as crypto is catching and non-financial service providers are focusing on API to enable financial companies as well as other types of companies to integrate non-finance services into their value chain e.g. Uber enabling travel services through travel aggregators.
Let’s assume as a next step Uber would like to enable its customer to pay in crypto and drivers to accept payments in crypto. Or e-commerce websites start would like to enable customers to pay in crypto or people would like to manage their crypto assets directly in their banking or payment application.
Where would these services fit in this chart and how could fintechs and non-financials enable these services quickly?
Embedded finance 2.0 should be the technology that enables these features.
How could this possibly happen?
1. EF 2.0 company could enable banking services through BaaS providers.
2. Invest in crypto rails by enabling simple services such as crypto to fiat exchange and vice-versa.
3. Create rails to enable fintech to add crypto wallets to their apps.
4. Enable e-commerce services providers to accept payments in crypto and using step two exchange it to fiat as they need it.
5. Enable businesses to add crypto trading to their ecosystems.
6. Enable businesses to add non-financial services into their ecosystem and accept payment either in fiat or crypto and many more.
These are some of the services embedded finance 2.0 could enable, however, a lot more could be added to the list.
These services would enable customers to get the full picture of their financial and non-financial lifestyles and businesses personalise their services at the core.
NEAR Protocol raises $350 million in new funding
As it seeks to compete with Ethereum as a go-to blockchain for decentralized applications, NEAR Protocol announced today it has raised $350 million in a new funding round led by Tiger Global Management. Republic Capital, FTX Ventures, Hashed, Dragonfly Capital, ParaFi Capital, Blockchange Ventures, and MetaWeb.vc also participated.
NEAR says this latest funding round will accelerate the decentralization of the NEAR ecosystem. NEAR’s previous raises included a $21.6 million round in May 2020 and another $150 million in January 2022.
Founded in 2018, NEAR Protocol is a platform for building decentralized applications using smart contracts, automated programs that execute once specific criteria are met.
The project is focused on helping developers get their projects off the ground by offering a range of development tools. It also aims to be a user-friendly and scalable proof-of-stake (PoS) blockchain; NEAR launched its mainnet in October 2020.
The 19th-largest cryptocurrency by market capitalization, according to CoinMarketCap at $10.8 billion, NEAR Protocol’s eponymous coin, can be used to pay for transaction fees and staking on the network.
NEAR says its ecosystem has seen a massive increase in venture capital investment since late 2021.
That includes investment in Aurora, an Ethereum Virtual Machine (EVM) on the NEAR Protocol, and various DeFi applications. In February, Ref Finance also announced it had raised $4.8 million to build a “one-stop-shop” for DeFi services in the Near Protocol Ecosystem.
The race to the super app: Walmart
Retail giant Walmart signaled its intent to launch a financial Super App through a series of moves announced in early 2021.
– In January, the Company announced the creation of a FinTech startup in partnership with FinTech investment firm Ribbit Capital, which will aim to deliver financial services targeted at Walmart’s customers and associates by pairing Walmart’s retail knowledge and scale with Ribbit’s FinTech expertise
– In February, Walmart hired two Goldman Sachs executives who helped grow its FinTech unit, Marcus by Goldman Sachs, to over $97 billion in deposits: Omer Ismail, previously head of Goldman’s consumer business, and David Stark, previously head of Apple Card
Given the variety of Walmart’s products and services, in addition to its large and loyal customer base, it is sensible that the Company is looking to evolve into a full digital ecosystem as it already interacts with consumers on a variety of different touchpoints, which could give it an edge in becoming a focal point for its existing customers
– Walmart offers a wide range of products and services in addition to its brick-and-mortar retail presence, including: eCommerce, in-house advertising via Walmart Connect, supply chain and fulfilment capabilities to online marketplace sellers via Walmart Fulfillment Services, as well as accessible healthcare via Walmart Health
– Walmart also offers financial services such as money orders, prepaid cards, money (wire) transfers, installment financing, check cashing and bill payment
Walmart faces significant competition from FinTech companies, tech giants, and financial institutions in the race to become the leading consumer digital ecosystem, but the Company has clearly demonstrated its commitment to building a Super App
In January 2022, Walmart’s FinTech project with Ribbit Capital, formerly deemed Hazel, signaled the end of its stealth mode period with two acquisitions
– The Company announced its acquisition of online banking and overdraft protection provider Finance One and earned wage access platform Even Responsible Finance
– Following the combination, the Walmart-backed startup will use the ONE brand
According to Walmart’s FinTech executives, the new company ONE will be a central access point for a range of digital financial services that appeal to customers across the socioeconomic spectrum
– Its partnership with Walmart offers a massive customer acquisition advantage as the retailer boasts 1.6 million employees and 100 million weekly shoppers
“Paid in Bitcoin” and other crypto features by Cash App
Block users who receive their paychecks through Cash App’s direct deposit feature can now receive all or a portion of those wages in Bitcoin.
The company formerly known as Square announced the new “Paid in Bitcoin” feature on Thursday at the Bitcoin 2022 conference in Miami.
The “Paid in Bitcoin” option was just one of a trio of new features announced by Block, which has recently doubled down on an ambitious crypto agenda it accelerated last year.
One of the other new features is a “round up” Bitcoin option for those who use Cash App’s debit card. This means that a user who makes a $2.80 Starbucks purchase can choose to have the extra 20 cents added to their account in Bitcoin. (Round-up apps have been popular in fintech for years; in 2017, CoinDesk acquired a Bitcoin round-up app called Lawnmower.)
The final feature announced by Block relates to the Lightning Network — a rail that facilitates rapid and low-cost Bitcoin payments.
While Block integrated Lightning to Cash App in February, users can currently only send Bitcoin via the network, not receive it — something Block says will change in the “near future.”
Block added that receiving Lightning payments will only be available to U.S. customers, except those who live in New York — presumably because of the state’s onerous crypto licensing regime.
All of this comes as Block, better-known for hardware like payment dongles and cash registers, is betting its future on becoming a crypto-first business.
Embedded finance and crypto are enablers for one another
Now eligible U.S. Shopify merchants will be able to receive bitcoin payments from customers globally as U.S. dollars, announced Strike CEO Jack Mallers speaking at the Bitcoin 2022 conference in Miami.
Mallers has also noted that Chicago-based Strike partnered with Blockchain 50 lister NCR Corporation, the world’s largest point-of-sale (POS) supplier, and payments firm Blackhawk.
The integration offers an alternative to traditional card networks such as Visa and Mastercard by leveraging the Lightning Network, a second layer built on top of the bitcoin blockchain that allows users to send or receive cryptocurrency quickly and cheaply by moving transactions off of the main blockchain.
The service will be accessible to any consumer in the world with a Lightning Network-enabled wallet, including more than 70 million Cashapp users, Mallers said.
The announcement underscores the growing adoption of the Lightning Network. Earlier in the day, Robinhood unveiled plans to integrate the solution into its technology stack, joining firms like cryptocurrency exchange Kraken Digital Asset Exchange, Twitter and Block.
On Tuesday, the California-based developer of the Lightning Network, Lightning Labs, introduced a new protocol that, it hopes, will open Lightning Network to assets other than bitcoin, including stablecoins and fiat currencies.
Chris Dixon: Crypto Networks and Why They Matter
Andreessen Horowitz (a16z) General Partner Chris Dixon discusses “Crypto Networks and Why They Matter,” giving an overview of the crypto space, the transformative implications of its technology, and the potential for crypto networks to lead a new wave of innovation.
Go-To-Market motions for Layer 1 blockchains and other protocols
In web3, Layer 1 refers to the underlying blockchain. Avalanche, Celo, Ethereum, and Solana are all examples of Layer 1 blockchains. These blockchains are all open source, so anyone can build on top of them, replicate or alter them, and integrate with them. Growth of these blockchains comes from having more applications built on top of them.
Layer 2 refers to any technology that operates on top of an existing Layer 1 to help solve scalability challenges with Layer 1 networks. One type of Layer 2 solution is a rollup. Layer 2 rollups do just that — they “roll up” transactions off chain and then post the data back onto the Layer 1 network via a bridge.
There are two primary categories of Layer 2 rollups. The first, optimistic rollups, “optimistically” assume the transaction is honest and not fraudulent via a fraud proof. The second, zk rollups, use “zero knowledge” proofs to determine the same. The majority of these Layer 2 solutions are currently being developed for Ethereum and do not yet have their own token, but we will discuss them here as their go-to-market success metrics are similar to those of the other networks in this category.
Additionally, protocols can be built on top of other L1s or L2s, with the Uniswap protocol, for example, supporting Ethereum (L1), Optimism (L2), and Polygon (L2).
Growth of Layer 1 blockchains, Layer 2 scaling solutions, and these other protocols can come from forks, which are when a network is replicated and then altered. For example, Ethereum, a Layer 1 blockchain, was forked by Celo.
Optimism, a Layer 2 scaling solution, was forked by Nahmii and Metis. And Uniswap was forked to create SushiSwap. While this may initially seem negative, the number of forks that a network has can actually be a measure of success — it shows that others want to copy it.
These examples and mindsets all focus on the upper right quadrant, decentralized networks with tokens — broadly speaking, the current most advanced examples of web3. However, depending on the type of organization, there is still a fair amount of blending of web2 GTM strategies and emerging web3 models. Builders should understand the range of approaches as they begin to develop their go-to-market strategy, so let’s now take a look at a hybrid model that blends web2 GTM with web3 GTM strategies.
Uber adds planes and trains to cars in ‘super app’ push
Uber plans to add long-distance travel bookings to its UK app this year, including intercity trains, coaches and flights, as chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi reboots the “super app” strategy he first outlined several years ago.
The plan is to expand Uber’s ride-booking app into a one-stop shop for travel that could eventually include hotels. This is aimed at providing a “seamless door-to-door experience”, said Jamie Heywood, Uber’s regional general manager for UK, northern and eastern Europe.
The UK, one of Uber’s biggest markets outside North America, will pilot the service before a wider rollout.
The company hopes that adding forms of transport will boost the core ride-hailing business, with customers using its driver network to move between transit hubs, as well as bring in commissions when customers book train or bus fares. Before coronavirus hit, about 15 per cent of Uber trips were made to airports, so the company hopes that integrating flight booking and ticketing will give a boost to these higher-margin rides.
Khosrowshahi began talking about Uber becoming a platform for a wider range of mobility options — branded by some in Silicon Valley as a super app — in 2018, a year after he was appointed chief executive. However, when the pandemic halted the travel and transport industry, Uber refocused on expanding its food delivery business.
Uber is planning to team up with existing travel-booking services but has not yet disclosed with which groups it plans to partner, suggesting it could become an ally of aggregators such as Trainline, Skyscanner or Khosrowshahi’s previous employer, Expedia. “We will not be selling tickets directly and will be fully partnering with existing aggregator or API services when we go live,” Uber said.
Train and coach booking services will go live in the UK this summer, with flight bookings launching later in the year. Heywood said hotel reservations could follow next year.
Ranking Open Finance data sources by relevance to SMBs
Open Finance is the addition of more sources of financial data to the recognized scope of Open Banking. The key datasets at the forefront of conversation around Open Finance are Mortgage, Investments, Savings, Pensions, Telecoms and Energy data. But what is clear is that open access to any of these datasets will benefit consumers and not SMBs.
For consumers, the house purchasing process is famously painful and usually the largest, most significant purchase an individual will make in their lifetime.
Open access to mortgage data would not benefit small businesses because the vast majority will only rent premises, if they have premises at all.
Consumers that invest often tend to invest money in multiple locations. To manage finances effectively it’s useful to be able to get a single view of money available.
Small businesses rarely have investments, they tend to invest any excess cash back into the business or take it out of the business as dividends.
Technically under the remit of Open Banking rather than Open Finance, access to savings data for consumers will be a key component of money management applications.
Businesses rarely have separate business accounts, they either invest back into the business or pay out as dividends.
For consumers, visibility and understanding of pension contributions and how this translates to future pay-outs is critical to financial wellbeing in later life.
For businesses, there may be scope for open pension data to simplify workflows around employee benefits, but this is a small fraction of what is needed to meaningfully reduce administrative burden for SMBs.
Energy and telecoms
Where consumers have a lack of credit history, data from energy and telecoms providers is useful evidence of good payment behavior to prove creditworthiness.
Access to telecoms and energy data could be marginally useful to businesses, for example to automating reconciliation and payment of bills, but this is a very small piece of the overall administrative burden.
Accounting and sales
Accounting and sales data have not yet been discussed as part of Open Finance policy as these platforms are not used by consumers.
Businesses stand to benefit considerably from the inclusion of accounting and sales data in Open Finance policy. For example, this would enable them to automate bookkeeping processes and gain improved access to financial services.