UK’s Tech Nation announced the 51 start-ups participating in its next six-month accelerator programme. It was heartening see six interesting Paytech businesses included and we’re looking at them in detail.
BR-DGE is a payment orchestrator focused on the travel sector. BR-DGE’s website claims connections to over 100 PSPs including Worldpay, Adyen, Stripe and NMI which it makes available to merchant customers through a single API. Here’s a good explanation of payment orchestration from Flagship Partners.
Edinburgh based BR-DGE has been around a little while. It was founded in 2014 and has received two rounds of investment, totalling $3.3m according to Crunchbase. The money has mainly come from Anne Gloag, the founder of Stagecoach, a large bus company. Co-incidentally, Brian Coburn, BR-DGE’s CEO, is the former CIO of FirstGroup, another transport operator.
Competitive differentiation is more likely to based on the ability of the orchestrator to advise its merchants how best to route transactions rather than on the sheer number of connections available. There is a clear opportunity to apply AI and machine learning to the problem although, as a technical service outside the money flow, orchestrators cannot make the generous ad valorem margins of the acquirers.
Payment orchestration is a highly competitive market and BR-DGE is sensibly focusing on the travel vertical. These merchants are classed as “high risk” by the payment processors and have most to benefit from applying intelligence to transaction routing. Details of customers are scarce. The website highlights only FirstGroup (using BR-DGE primarily for resilience) and Travel Counsellors.
UK based competitors to BR-DGE include Cellpoint Digital, which also specialises in the travel sector (and recently won Virgin Atlantic) and Apexx Global. Both have made significant recent fundraises. Wider afield there are Ixopay, Zooz and Gr4vy. It’s unlikely many of these will stay independent in the long term. Acquirer agnostic PSP’s and issuer/processor software vendors will likely need to add orchestration capabilities. For example, PPRO recently acquired Alpha Fintech.
Card Industry Professionals
This is quite an unusual choice for Fintech 5.0. Card Industry Professionals (CIP) is not really a technology company at all. Instead, CIP is an Independent Sales Organisation (ISO) that resells other vendors’ products. ISO’s normally work with very small business customers and differentiate through sales and service excellence rather than features or technology leadership.
Founded by Ciaran Savage, CIP is based in Grimsby, a hotbed of ISO success due to the number of businesses set up by alumni of Cardsaver, bought by Worldpay in 2010. CIP has 13 staff on the payroll which it supplements with a network of 130 self-employed sales agents around the country. It received £850K investment in April this year from Northern Powerhouse and Midlands Engine investment funds which will be used to expand the distribution network.
The ISO market is fiercely competitive but potentially very lucrative for those who can build a winning business. Cardsaver went for an undisclosed sum but Handepay which processed £3bn annually, was sold for £70m to Paypoint in 2020.
CIP resells Elavon and EVO Payments merchant accounts and adds either a standard or Android SmartPOS terminal or, for online merchants, a hosted payment page from Cardstream. ISO’s typically receive rental payments from merchants for the POS terminals and, most importantly, commission payments from their merchant acquirer partners.
In common with many ISO’s, CIP is now selling bundles of ePOS software, acceptance hardware and merchant accounts. ISO’s typically adopt a highly driven sales culture focused on energetic lead generation and flexible price negotiations. Selling software is a different business. Sales calls are longer and agents need to have a deep understanding of merchants’ business processes.
It’s early days for CIP. Payment volume is just £25m per month and annual revenues were £1.2m in 2020/21 indicating a take rate of c.0.4%.
The website is not live yet. All we know about Clowd 9 is that it was founded by Suresh Vaghijani, former CEO of Tribe Payments and former MD of GPS. Vaghijani would appear to be building a cloud-native competitor to his former employers. According the Tech Nation blurb, Clowd 9 will be a technically advanced issuer/processor platform and a “flexible, reliable, environmentally sustainable global payment processor.” Chair is Peter Selman, a former Goldman Sachs banker.
An example of the clever value added services that can be easily built on top of Stripe’s payment APIs, Collectiv is an simple way for people to set up “pot” of money for specific purposes and have friends and family contribute. This is a great idea for anyone sharing expenses for a holiday or managing match fees for a sports club. And there is a gap in the market since Paypal closed its Money Pools service.
Collectiv provides an app and user interface. It sends people a message (text or email) which includes a payment link taking them to Stripe’s hosted payment page. Stripe does the rest, including handling the money, which means that Collctiv does not need to be regulated.
The service is free for consumers although a 2% donation is asked. The company says, 70% of customers choose to pay up. If Stripe charges Collctiv (say) 1.5%, you can see the economics quite clearly. To reach profitability, Collctiv will need to scale quickly. £200m payment volume would be needed to cover £1m of operating expense. And this assumes that all users chip into the tip jar.
Collctiv is founded by Amy Whitell, and has Crunchbase says it has raised £840K. The business is based in Manchester and has 18 staff according to LinkedIn.
Founded by Evan Michaels, a former marketing consultant, Helpful’s concept is to create branded digital wallets with a green tinge. It says that its pre-pay Mastercard “drives behaviour change, by making every day actions, climate actions.” Most likely, this will be through offering cashback for spend at merchants whose green credentials meet with Helpful’s approval. And, we assume, are also willing to fund the cashback in order to generate footfall.
Additionally, Helpful says that using its digital wallet at checkout saves 80% on Co2 emissions. It would be very interesting to see the calculation.
Meanwhile, although Helpful’s website say its proposition is “aimed at the music and creator industries” the only customer implementation featured is support for a bottle recycling scheme in Glasgow. Helpful provided a digital wallet into which deposit return fees were paid.
Helpful doesn’t charge for most consumer transactions. Foreign currency transactions are loaded a chunky 5% and ATM fees are £3 per withdrawal.
The HQ is in London but Helpful’s development is in Belarus. The Mastercard is provided by Railsbank and Helpful asks its customers to use openbanking (via Plaid) to load money onto the card. The business is actively looking for seed funding.
Dapio (formerly Paymob, not the Egyptian one) is based in London with development also in Belarus. It plans to launch a SoftPOS aimed at micro-merchants in UK and EU with distribution through both direct sales and partnerships with ISVs. Partners will be offered a commission on the processing fees which Dapio, itself, will have marked-up from its, unnamed, acquirer partners. However, no partnerships have yet been announced and merchants are currently asked to join a waitlist. Pricing is 1.5% for all transactions.
Still at a very early stage, SoftPOS technology allows any Android device to become a contactless payment terminal. This reduces the cost of payment acceptance by removing the expense of a dedicated card reading device. Although as SumUp will sell one for just £19, the cost of a PINpad is maybe not the barrier it once was. More interesting is the opportunity for larger merchants to combine the ECR and payment terminal in a single device and it’s very likely that the technology will spark new use cases we’ve not considered yet.
Dapio was founded by Kosta Du, has 21 staff (according to LinkedIn) and has recently received $3.4m seed funding from Flutterwave, the Nigerian fintech. This may give an indication of a pivot to African markets where the cost of POS terminals is still a hurdle to widening card acceptance.