In the next interview in our series supporting the FinTech Growth Forum coming up in London on September 19th, we talk to Felicia Meyerowitz Singh, Cofounder of Akoni.
Let’s learn more…
Our questions are in bold.
Who are you and what’s your background?
Akoni is passionate about business as the bedrock of the economy and drivers of growth. We are committed to providing innovative solution to commercial challenges, through our team, a powerful combination of innovators and experienced bankers.
As the CEO I have been in financial services for more than 20 years, and have been the frustrated client who experienced the problems which Akoni solves. I have worked in mainly high-growth, expertise-focused financial services businesses and believe intimate knowledge of clients and their challenges, combined with creativity, contributes to simple solutions. Our CTO and founder, Panos Savvas, has significant experience as Head of R&D, driving delivery to leading global financial services companies. Panos drives all technology, ensuring we are leading adoption and delivery of innovation to benefit our customers and partners, and is also the creative genius behind our UX. Our chairman, Duncan Goldie-Morrison was previously Chairman of Newedge, CEO The Americas Credit Agricole, Head of Global Markets Group and Asia Bank of America. Yann Gindre, also a co-founder and our Deputy Chairman and Head of our Advisory Board, brings further specialist experience including CEO of Natixis Bank London and NYC and understanding corporate client needs in previous MD roles at JPMorgan and Commerzbank. Together, our team has significant expertise in financial from governance to growth.
What is your job title and what are your general responsibilities?
I am the CEO and founder. My general responsibilities in our business cover every aspect other than product development. I spend much of time hustling – with our awesome team; working with incredible partners and large institutions as well as steering our ship strategically. As we are an early stage startup, we all get involved with everything. My focus areas are on business development including SMEs, small corporates, as well as our channel partners including associations, affinity bodies and professional services firms, and critical to us our banking hub and panel partner relationships. In addition, I work on an ongoing basis with investors regarding development and management, and other key aspects including our data partners, who are also key to our business operations. Other ongoing activities include marketing and PR, finance, regulatory and operations.
Can you give us an overview of your business?
99% of the world’s 125m companies are small and medium sized businesses and small corporates, contributing more than 49% of global GDP. 94% of banks see these organisations as important/extremely important however there is limited servicing of this market.
Akoni is a digital cash treasury manager, ensuring maximum returns through the portability of cash and cash management tools. This presents dual benefits in the current market: to Banks – addressing Open Banking for commercial gain; in addition to the Basel III Liquidity upside , and to Businesses – by increasing income relating to a languishing asset, cash/credit via improved rates. Decisions are based on client and market analytics, and a matching algorithm creates the bespoke portfolio of deposit products with automated re-allocation. Leveraging machine learning and artificial intelligence, Akoni provides levels of certainty relating to cashflow projections, company/sector data analytics and technology integration – with the benefit of improved financial outcomes to the client.
At scale, Akoni has market implications that change the way Banking/liquidity is structured, freeing up cash for lending and enabling businesses to reinvest in growth, further contributing to economic development.
Tell us how you are funded.
Our lead investor is a strategic and experienced financial services Chairman, who is in the Risk Hall of Fame, and as a bank Chairman, understands governance and strategic direction. We have had two seed angel rounds, including our Chairman and deputy Chairman and a range of other angel investors. We are currently raising a seed round and in discussions with various funds and super-angels.
Why did you start the company? To solve what problems?
I was a frustrated SME Director – I worked in the London market, and managed £50Million+ in the Lloyd’s and London insurance market, and experienced many challenges and issues dealing with our high-street bankers, earning little to no return on a critical asset, cash. After speaking to many colleagues experiencing the same issues in the market, this led to the founding of Akoni.
Who are your target customers? What’s your revenue model?
Our customers fall into two categories – Banks and Businesses. In the UK, companies and charities earn typically zero on a languishing asset, cash, whereas rates available in the market typically increase returns by 4-10x enabling an enterprise to expand – hire new staff, increase capex investment or further develop the business. Our revenue model is a combination of SAAS fees and software fees.
Banks – Pilot with ABN AMRO, BBVA Top 10 Fintechs for Companies and a strong pipeline of banks, a global insurer and a wealth management firm.
Businesses – we have a range of SME businesses as customers on our platform, and are currently working on sector specialised communities to drive this further as we add additional features.
If you had a magic wand, what one thing would you change in the banking and/or FinTech sector?
I would create a system that deals with issues of security and trust – both potential roadblocks in adoption of innovation : by large financial institutions and by customers .
What is your message for the larger players in the Finance industry?
Collaboration and partnership.
In the commercial and corporate space, we see collaboration as critical to development of solutions for customers. Most financial institutions have strong expertise at running a balance sheet, however acknowledge they are not as in touch with what customers require, particularly as this changes quickly in the current environment. Delivering to these customers requires a mindset of agility and responsiveness. Larger players require multiple adjustment to their traditional procurement process and lead cycles, including communications with startups such as Akoni. This requires a full team across functions and responsibilities to participate fully with new market solutions, and organisational commitment from the top.
What phone are you carrying and why?
Apple iphone – working on the go is simple and I love the time-saving of specific apps, and syncs with my various other Apple devices. Outside of business, I like to ensure everything functions smoothly and simply, giving me mindspace to focus on what is important.
Where do you get your industry news from?
I use Google alerts across a range of topics as well as follow industry news from multiple sources. I also use google trends to track comparative news and digital market queries. Relating to more mainstream publications, I read and love the FT and Economist as I consider our role within broader society a critical part of business leadership. I also follow a publications and specialist industry media relevant to our clients including charities, insurance, property, SME media and fintech.
Can you list 3 people you rate from the FinTech sector that we should be following on Twitter?
@amitTwitr – Amit Goel: Founder of Let’s Talk Payments
@joshConstine – Josh Constine TechCrunch Editor
@fredwilson – VC
@LizLum – Startupbootcamp
Can you suggest the name of an Angel Investor or VC that might be interested in being profiled?Duncan Goldie-Morrison, who invests in a wide range of financial services businesses, at varying stages of growth. Duncan is Akoni’s Chairman and valuable in terms of guidance and experience.
Alan Morgan from MMC Ventures – a fantastic mentor, with a unique strategic view particularly regarding fintch, and whom we met at the Accenture Fintech Innovation Lab.
What’s the best FinTech product or service you’ve seen recently?
Oxigen based in India – a provider of a range of financial services across the mass market, from the last mile to provision of a corporate banking payments infrastructure. Oxigen utilise the relatively new Aadhar ID database rolled out across the almost 1.3billion people in the country.
What is astounding about what they do – reach and societal impact using mobile technology, finger-printing as part of the validation, and collaboration with large financial institutions. I admire companies who seek to contribute to and change society as well as follow a commercial driven vision.
Finally, let’s talk predictions. What trends do you think are going to define the next few years in the FinTech sector?
Key trends we see are the emergence of the B2B and corporate solutions, which is the element of the market largely neglected by fintech innovation to date, with the exception of credit.
- Personalisation and Data Innovation – use of public and where permissible, private data to provide solutions tailored to organisations tailored to their size, region, stage of growth and particular requirements. Witin this, Customer affinity and loyalty are key objectives – seeking solutions providing stickiness to the commercial client basis.
- Technology adaption driven by globalisation and cross-border commerce including AI and machine learning to constantly improve solutions to customers, including learning cycles linked to increasingly intelligent data analytics. In addition, performing multiple functions simultaneously using technology ensures information verification, accuracy of information, Sanctions checks and decreases costs, while increasing the speed of the overall process for commercial clients.
- Regulations: these are not slowing down (even with PSD2 preparations underway)
- In particular, impact of 100% of the Basel III’s Liquidity Coverage requirements (LCR) having a significant impact in terms of banks seeking solutions, ensuring that there is a change in customer behaviour to reduce the HQLAs (Higher Quality Liquid Assets). This presents a global opportunity.
- Ring-fencing in the UK will drive further improvement in solutions for clients.
- The importance of governance and data transparency are features within both regulations and technology and should be weaved into all fintech innovations and offerings.
- Broader societal impacts: driving change by assessment of issues that impact of employees, partners and customers; creating closer relationships with the new generation. Business can no longer afford to sit on the sidelines with the level of change underway in society.
We operate in the business space and are alive to these issues that have potential impacts on our business and those of our customers and partners.
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