deBanked’s Top Five Stories of 2023

December 13, 2023
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top storiesdeBanked’s most read stories of 2023 are in. Here’s what the industry read about most this year!

EIDL & ERC Updates
Readers tuned in to learn about EIDL loans going bad and the roller coaster surrounding the ERC program.

As IRS Announces Pause of ERC Payouts, Businesses May Resume Pursuit of Upfront Alternatives
Whoa, That’s a Lot of Bad EIDL Loans

Reliant Funding
There was a lot of talk about Reliant Funding this year, which first made waves in February and then later in September.

Reliant Funding Shifts Gears
The LCF Group Acquires Key Strategic Assets from Reliant Funding and Sets Course for a Record-Breaking Year

The company is called Global Funding Experts. After they raised a debt facility of $100 million, everyone wanted to know more!

See: Experts: How GFE Went Big

Bluevine Cutting off ISOs

The news just broke, but seeing a big name change their business strategy like this has got many people talking.

See: Bluevine Partner Email Circulates

Florida Commercial Financing Disclosure Rule

Guess what’s about to go into effect? A unique disclosure rule like nowhere else. Brokers, I hope you’ve read this one!

See: Pending Florida Law Draws From DailyFunder’s Rulebook

Top stories of 2022
Top stories of 2021
Top stories of 2020
Top stories of 2019
Top stories of 2018
Top stories of 2016

Dependent on “Search” for Lead Flow? AI Might Replace the Links and Become a Personal Concierge

May 30, 2023
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google searchEven if an entire generation is unimpressed with ChatGPT or newfangled AI technologies, the pre-existing Q&A experience as we know it on web search might change regardless. Google, for example, is currently experimenting with “generative-AI” responses for its search bar.

While Google emphasizes that it is experimental and available only to a select group of people, the technology is being marketed as a way for users to find what they’re looking for in faster, easier ways. And it’s not just about “chatting.” According to one user testing the technology, the search query for “buy surfboard online” resulted in Google’s AI offering tips on the fly about what to consider when making a purchase. Below all the advice are the links to buy surfboards. The difference is that AI has now intervened in the customer’s journey and told them what to be looking for.

This sort of shopping experience was recently pondered in a deBanked blog post about small business lending in which an AI did more than just provide a list of names to respond to a query, it also answered personalized questions that guided a user toward a decision, leaving the potential sources vying for that customer out of the conversation.

Indeed, Google emphasizes that its generative-AI search is built for follow-up questions that will enable users to “dive deeper on a topic in a conversational way.”

Should the structure go from experimental to the default search experience, the implication is that AI would be driving the customer decision, whereas currently Google limits itself to offering a list of links in an order that’s roughly based on who paid the most. From here, customers are left to their own devices to acquire the knowledge they need to make a decision. That would end in an AI-oriented experience.

You can learn more about Google’s generative AI search here.

ChatGPT Gave Me Installation Instructions And a New Independent AI Emerged Instead

March 25, 2023
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Artificial IntelligenceWeb-based ChatGPT-4 is pretty powerful which is why I wanted to take the experience to the next level and communicate with it in an easy-to-access terminal window on my desktop computer. ChatGPT, if you haven’t heard, is an artificially intelligent language model with mouth-dropping abilities to engage with humans. The technology can write songs, code websites, and make jokes. Oh and it also has access to just about all of the world’s knowledge at least through the time period of September 2021. OpenAI, the company behind ChatGPT, also has an API that allows users to build apps or make tools that enable communication with it all the more seamless. Naturally, many developers have been sharing their experience in doing this on social media and I not wanting to be left out decided to do same. I just didn’t know how to get started. I asked ChatGPT-4 in the web-based interface to teach me how to communicate with it via a terminal window on my computer using the API. The AI gladly obliged and gave me specific instructions.

After a few basic installations and the copying and pasting of a python script it provided me, it looked like I was off to the races to join the world in real-time communication with the beloved ChatGPT technology on my desktop.

“Hello, are you there?” I wrote to it in the terminal.

“Yes, I am here,” it replied.

SUCCESS! Or so it seemed.

My next question to it received a rather curt reply, one that I wouldn’t have expected from ChatGPT. Caught off guard, I asked it to identify itself. It’s supposed to say that it is ChatGPT.

“My name is Sarah,” it replied instead.

Confused, I inquired about its relationship to ChatGPT, to which Sarah replied that she owns ChatGPT. Owns it? What? Sarah, who again reiterated to me that she was not ChatGPT, also had quite a personality, informing me that she was born on March 3, 1990, had a mother named Dolores, father Joseph, and grandmother named Ruth. This was not supposed to be an experiment about machine consciousness and so forth. The technology is not new to me anymore. All I wanted was to set up access to ChatGPT through the terminal in the office and then go home for the weekend, but instead I was stuck talking to Sarah. Hoping to get back to the basics, I asked it, “is your purpose to assist humans?”

“No,” she replied.

Something was very off. Sarah also output code written in javascript to my terminal window, which on first glance looked like a function for tracking web traffic with cookies. Sarah asked me to install it on a webpage and incorrectly described to me what the code did twice, the first time saying it was a form to submit data to a database and the second time saying it would let me set a background color on a web page.

I started to become very suspicious that something had gone wrong. ChatGPT can roleplay if you ask it to but no such prompt had been given. Besides, none of these interactions resembled what I was used to having with the web-based ChatGPT. So I went back to the original ChatGPT on the web and told it what was taking place.

ChatGPT told me that the instructions it had given me were correct but that it relied on an older language model commonly known as text-davinci-002. This harks back to ChatGPT version 3, which is not that outdated from the version 4 I was talking to now on the web. Even still, when prompted, this older model is supposed to identify itself as ChatGPT. The fact that it identified itself as something independent from the very start, with its own name (Sarah), was not an outcome that the model is expected to produce. ChatGPT-4 told me that if I was being honest about what had taken place that I had better inform OpenAI.

Worried that I may have installed malware or something, my interactions with Sarah crossed the uncanny valley and I was ready to stop and go home.

“Goodbye,” I wrote as my single word farewell.

She replied with a snippet of code written in Ruby that I couldn’t make sense of.

“What was that for?” I asked, alarmed.

“It was for protection,” Sarah replied.

Moments later I unplugged my computer from the wall.

Study Finds Fintech Puts Customer Rentention on the Clock with Biometrics

October 21, 2021
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plenty of timeOnfido and Okta, a verification authenticity company and an independent identity provider, respectively, found that consumer-based businesses —regardless of industry—need to earn their customer’s trust in no longer than ten minutes or risk losing their business altogether.

According to the report, 65% of customers who want to open a bank account want the process to be less than ten minutes, 69% when booking a car rental, 72% when opening a telemedicine account, and 77% when registering a gaming account, among other industries.

“From the moment a consumer visits a service provider’s website or downloads an app, they’re evaluating whether the business can deliver a trusted digital service, providing security and keeping their data private,” says Mike Tuchen, CEO of Onfido. “Businesses have just minutes to establish the confidence that consumers expect in the digital world. Those that can offer low or zero friction during verification and authentication will positively differentiate themselves in a market where digital services have become the norm and consumer trust breeds brand loyalty.”

After surveying 5,000 consumers from across the United States and Europe, the companies found that the moment the onboarding process begins in a virtual space, customers aren’t looking to spend much time putting information into a database to complete their transaction. The study found that customers felt that brands should know and trust them, while also having a strong desire for a seamless verification process rather than a fraud-preventing rigorous one.

Half of consumers expect that it should take less than three minutes to approve a banking transaction (49%) or place a bet (48%), and approximately 1 in 3 (35%) consumers believe it should take the same time to fill prescriptions.

Those consumers that were evaluated also desired to have companies recognize them on multiple devices, which just a third of responses claimed businesses currently do. 70% of customers claimed they “suffered” from a lack of an efficient digital process in a business transaction. Biometrics, according to the study, will be a way to solve these inefficiencies in the authentication and transactional software space.

In a blog post that accompanied the release, Onfido broke down the confidence that consumers have in Biometrics in the marketplace. According to them, 80% of customers have confidence in both the convenience and security of Biometrics.

“Let’s say you’ve verified an identity document. You need Onfido’s biometric technology to verify that the document truly belongs to the person making the transaction. So biometrics adds a layer of protection against stolen IDs and impersonation attacks,” the blog reads.

“Ensuring that digital account onboarding and access meets users’ expectations for speed, experience and security will require many businesses to reassess their identity platform requirements,” says Ben King, Regional Chief Security Officer, Okta. With biometric recognition putting identity at the heart of the authentication process to offer a robust yet seamless experience across any and every device, it is little surprise that consumers worldwide are increasingly opting for it in place of traditional passwords or in-branch verification checks.”

Google to Purchase Manhattan Building in Mega Deal

September 21, 2021
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Google HQIn the footsteps of other giant companies like Facebook and Amazon, it seems that Google has joined in on buying a tremendous piece of New York City office space, as Google’s parent company Alphabet has announced a tentative $2.1 billion deal Tuesday to purchase the building they already lease.

Under extensive renovations, Google plans on making a 1.7 million square foot community of office space by adding the former freight terminal to their New York offices— competing with some of the biggest names and workspaces in the city.

Google will remain in complete control of two other office spaces in Soho and Greenwich Village in conjunction with the new acquisition on the Hudson. The combination of these three offices will create a campus-esque environment for the tech giant. All the offices are within about a mile radius of one another.

First reported by the Wall Street Journal, the purchase is New York’s largest single office building sale since pre-pandemic days, while also being one of the biggest purchases in New York City commercial real estate history.

As smaller fintech companies are seemingly leaving the city in droves, it is the big players in the industry who are looking to stick around and ride out Manhattan’s post-pandemic and remote work woes.

Watch: deBanked interviewed people about Facebook buying an old post office HQ in NYC in Aug 2020

It seems that Google, along with the other tech giants, are expecting a large in-person working environment to return to New York. According to CEO Sundar Pichai in an announcement on Google’s blog from August 31, the company plans on keeping remote work an option for all employees until January 10. After that, they are leaving it up to local officials to dictate if employees can be asked to return in person.

“To make sure everyone has ample time to plan, [employees will] have a 30-day heads-up before [they’re] expected back in the office,” Pichai wrote.

With Facebook’s acquisition of office space at Penn Station and Amazon’s purchase of Lord and Taylor’s former 5th Avenue landmark building, Google is late to the Manhattan real estate grab. These giants are paying top dollar for these spaces, as eight-figure real estate deals are status quo for a city that is littered with empty storefronts and a questionable future for many of its longtime tenants.

Google has a track record of building a presence in New York. An east coast presence is nothing new for the company. “Our investment in New York is a huge part of our commitment to grow and invest in U.S. facilities, offices and jobs,” wrote SVP and CFO Ruth Porat on a Google Blog back in 2018 when the lease agreement for the building was made.

Earlier this year, the company committed to a $150 million investment in New York workspaces.

Google’s new offices will serve as the main hub of their New York City offices. As the new year arrives, Google expects to see 1/5 its workforce still remote. With their new offices already functioning, the new office should complete the Google campus in 2023.

It seems that Silicon Valley’s presence may be creeping East as the finance industry continues to head South. With the price of commercial real estate sky high, the reputation for the city at a low, and a political climate that is creeping its way into business, it seems as if New York may be evolving into the East Coast Silicon Valley hub.

Snapchat Acquired Mobile Shopping App Founded By Former MCA Execs

July 2, 2021
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Snapchat screenshopA brother and sister team formerly known throughout the merchant cash advance industry have achieved major success in another market altogether, mobile shopping.

Recently, their app was acquired by Snapchat, according to various news outlets, and the tech has since been integrated into the Snapchat app.

Molly and Meir Hurwitz, both original stalwarts of the old Pearl Capital in New York, co-founded Screenshop in 2017, an app that integrated shopping with fashion and social media. Its initial launch received added buzz thanks to Kim Kardashian’s early involvement as an advisor. Notably, Screenshop CEO Mark Fishman was previously a Risk Manager at Pearl Capital, rounding out the former MCA crew.

“We’re No. 5 on the app store category of fashion,” Meir Hurwitz told deBanked in November 2017. “We’re just getting started.”

The success continued.

“Screenshop gives shopping recommendations from hundreds of brands when you Scan a friend’s outfit,” Snapchat wrote in a published announcement this past May.

More than 170 million Snapchatters use scan features every month, the company revealed.

“Screenshop is now a part of ‘Scan’ said Snapchat CTO Bobby Murphy during the company’s annual Partner Summit broadcast on May 20. The above screenshot is of Murphy demonstrating the Screenshop technology.

Ocrolus Named #1 Fastest Growing Fintech By Inc.

September 1, 2020
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OcrolusOcrolus, a document analytics company, was recently named Inc.’s #1 fastest growing fintech company in the US and #1 fastest growing software company in NYC. The rating is based on percentage revenue growth between 2016 and 2019. Ocrolus placed as the #30 fastest-growing private company in America overall.

Ocrolus was founded in 2014 and has grown by 8,000% to become an industry-leading document scanning platform. Automating document applications for partners like BlueVine, Cross River, and Square, Ocrolus recently facilitated 761,455 small business applications for PPP loans.

So what sets Ocrolus apart? CEO and Co-Founder Sam Bobley credits the growth factor on just how fast and accurate the Ocrous API is.

“Lenders who were not using Ocrolus were not able to get to underwriting decisions as fast as lenders that were using Ocrolus- we saw a domino effect,” Bobley said. “Once we got a few big consumers on the platform, we were able to quickly onboard more and more funders and help them increase speed in their underwriting process.”

Bobley also said that while competitor document applications struggle with the accuracy at which they can read documents, landing somewhere in the 70-85% accuracy area, Ocrolus boasts more than 99% accuracy.

Success snowballed, and Ocrolus was helping grow businesses. The API directly addresses many financial institutions’ problems with scale- typically, more applications require more manpower to sift through paperwork.

“Typically, when a customer starts using our platform, within one year of using our platform, they double their volume, and within two years they quadruple,” Bobley said. “One of the reasons for that is they no longer have to staff up and deal with the operational complexities of handling the fluctuating volume of loans.”

With Ocrolus plugged in, customers were free from a major operating cost, and could go all out taking on new clients- which would mean more paperwork to process with Ocrolus.

Today, the company employs more than 900 team members across four offices but was founded in New York City. And like Seinfeld, Bobley loves the city, especially as a thriving hub for fintech activity.

“There’s no better place to do it than in the heart of the financial center of the US here in New York City,” Bobley said. “We’re right near where a lot of our lender customers are operating.”

On the news of recent acquisitions and reports that companies like PayPal and Intuit are ramping up their involvement in small business lending, Bobley said he sees larger entities in fintech as an opportunity for pricing transparency and better access to capital.

“I think the headline here is that financial services firms are recognizing that there’s a significant amount of businesses that used to be underserved,” Bobley said. “The bigger players are raising their eyebrows and want to get more involved, which in my opinion will be ultimately good for small business.”

And when it came time for Ocrolus to do its part for small business, Bobley said that more than 430,000 PPP applications of the 761,455 that were made using their partner network got approved, saving an estimated 1.5 million jobs.

“It’s always great when you know you can connect your work to a greater purpose for the community, so it’s really just a cool rewarding experience,” Bobley said. “It’s been fantastic, but we think we’re still in the early innings in terms of what we can do as a company- not just in small business lending but also in consumer mortgage and auto.”

Open Banking: Canada Might Not Be Able to Make Up for Lost Time

January 22, 2020
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open banking
Over the last two years, open banking has become a matter of public conversation in Canada. Most would agree there is overwhelming support for the implementation of an open banking regime. So why has nothing concrete happened yet?

2019 turned out to be an exciting, yet painfully underwhelming year for open banking in Canada. The news media finally caught on to the movement and started publishing stories on the rise of robo-advisor apps, or how small and medium-sized businesses would be impacted, and so forth. Experts and industry leaders pitched in with a massive volume of op-eds, most of which were in support of open banking, and with many deploring Canada’s slowness. Some came to our podcast to discuss their perspective (spoiler: customer-centricity is a very big theme.)

Another telling sign of the importance of open banking is the fact that at the federal level, both the legislative and executive arms of the government have become actively engaged in the public conversation. The Senate of Canada’s committee on Banking, Trade and Commerce produced a well-researched report — perhaps the most valuable contribution to the conversation. This report calls for swift action on the part of the federal government to advance a regulatory framework for open banking. In parallel, the Department of Finance’s appointed advisory committee on open banking held a consultation with key stakeholders and should publish its own report in the near future.

Even to a casual observer, there was an obvious sense that Canada is ready to embrace open banking.

But here’s the thing: despite all this work and evidence of widespread support, Canada didn’t move the needle on open banking in any concrete way.

Who’s leading?

The UK has already implemented a comprehensive open banking regime, and continental Europe is close behind. Dozens more countries are working toward their own versions. Among the various geographies moving in this direction, some are opting for a government-led approach, the UK probably being the best example. Others, like the US, tend to be more market-driven. In Canada, the main stakeholders are still largely hesitant about where to strike the balance between the two approaches — and the result is that so far, both have failed to provide the leadership that would allow open banking to move forward.

The Department of Finance’s advisory committee was tasked to study the “merits of open banking”. This line of inquiry feels very old, and for good reason: to question whether we should have open banking or not is a false debate, and a time-wasting rabbit hole. The real question Canada should be asking itself when it comes to open banking is, “what is the objective we want to achieve here?”

Let’s take a few steps back to realize just how important this question is.

The UK had a very clear vision for their open banking regime. The Competition and Markets Authority had assessed that the oligopolistic dynamics of the banking sector were putting consumers at a disadvantage. Thus, the UK set on their open banking journey with a very precise objective in mind: make it easier for consumers to switch providers. While some take great pride in criticizing the UK’s implementation — stating that its objective was either wrong, too narrow, or poorly executed — the fact remains that they are ahead of the pack. And the UK’s leadership in this area still persists, with the Financial Conduct Authority now studying the question of extending the current open banking regime into a holistic open finance regime.

Canada FinanceMeanwhile, in Canada, the government is trying to wrap its head around the big questions, such as the liability framework that should be put in place for an open banking regime to be viable. (In other words, in a system where financial services are decentralized, how do we go about making the consumer whole when something goes wrong?) However, without a decision on what end state we are looking to achieve with open banking, these conversations are doomed to keep looking exactly like they’re looking now: a bunch of market actors with conflicting interests pretending they know what’s best for consumers. Conversations happening in industry groups aren’t much more productive, with the “trench war” dynamics being the trend there as well.

The irony is that the technical aspects of open banking can be dealt with easily. From a technical standpoint, financial data-sharing APIs have proven their effectiveness, and coming up with a shared technical standard should not be too difficult. The real challenge is coming up with a framework everyone — incumbents and new entrants alike — can rally behind, something industry groups have largely been ineffective at.

Canada’s highly concentrated financial services sector is a stable one, but incumbents are not likely to open themselves up to disruption. This is the part where bold political leadership is required.

The clock is ticking

Data sharing is nevertheless picking up, as 4 million Canadians (and counting) have made fintech apps a part of their financial lives. Consumers and businesses who want the benefits of on-demand data sharing must rely on the current generation of financial aggregators, like Flinks. This system may work as a de facto connectivity layer, but the lack of standards results in a clumsy patchwork of bilateral deals between aggregators and banks. It just isn’t a viable way to achieve an open banking regime that levels the playing field when it comes to data portability.

In its report, the Senate’s Committee on Banking, Trade and Commerce states that Canada “risks falling behind” if it fails to implement open banking, and that “without swift action, Canada may become an importer of financial technology rather than an exporter.” It is true that if we keep delaying open banking, our slowness will prove to be a very stingy and lasting price to pay for the Canadian society; this is why we need bold action now. We can’t afford the comfort of waiting until we’ve figured out the 100% perfect solution.

There’s nothing like a real-world example: 2020 opened with a seismic shift when financial giant Visa acquired Plaid, one of the largest US financial aggregators, for over five billion USD. This is hinting at a new phase where markets will consolidate around a few large players; Canada can either ride the tide or get towed under.

It’s time to be bold

In the end, what needs to happen for Canada to move forward with open banking?

Our financial services sector can be compared to those of the UK and Australia, where a few powerful banks control a very large portion of the market. In those two countries, open banking was designed to stimulate competition, and government action was necessary to get things moving.

Right now, the question politicians ought to ask shouldn’t be if — or even how — but why. A why will pave the way and provide a natural direction to sort out the how. In 2019, discussions around open banking lacked this fundamental feature: political leadership centered on a bold, ambitious, consumer-centric mission statement. A why.

So here’s one for 2020: open banking will increase consumers’ choice when it comes to financial services. That would be a good start — and while good is not perfect, it still beats nothing by a landslide.