IT services giant Accenture today presented the financial services technology start-ups that participated in the London leg of its FinTech Innovation Lab programme.
The scheme offers the start-ups mentorship and the opportunity to pitch to technology decision makers in major financial organisations.
Participants in the London leg were invited to spend three months at Level39, a new incubator in Canary Wharf, developing their proposition and speaking to potential customers.
“It’s more of an ‘accesserator’ than an accelerator,” said programme manager Samad Massood at a launch event in City Hall this morning, adding that the scheme makes no financial investment in the start-ups.
The seven companies are as follows:
Java is the world’s most popular programming platform and yet, according to Waratek CTO John Matthew Holt, it has not adapted to the era of cloud computing.
“Java has none of the traits of cloud computing – it’s application platform are not multi-tenant, they are not elastic, and they are not meterable as a service,” he said.
The Dublin-based start-up’s technology, Holt claimed, “virtualises Java like VMware did for servers.”
“Waratek makes Java elastic, provisionable and meterable as a service without any code change,” he said. “It makes Java ready for the cloud, drastically reducing the cost of hosting.”
CEO Brian Maccaba claimed that using Waratek can help organisations cut the server capacity required to support their Java apps by 33% or more, which equates to a 25% reduction in hardware costs.
Maccaba said participating in the FinTech Innovation Lab scheme helped Waratek “achieve in 3 months what could have taken 10 years”.
The company is now moving into some “very serious” pre-production environments, and expects to see production deployments in the next 6 months.
Calltrunk began life as an phone call recording service. It later added a search engine that allowed customers to search for keywords in calls they had recorded.
It was originally aimed at consumers, but the London-based start-up soon found that most of its customers were small businesses.
“We applied to the FinTech Innovation Lab to see if the enterprise – and specifically banks – was a potential market,” explained founder and CEO Paul Murphy explained this morning.
Speaking the banks during the scheme prompted Calltrunk to completely rethink its offering, Murphy said.
He had thought that the main appeal to the banks would be to use Calltrunk as a cheap alternative to their current call recording systems. “But when it comes to compliance,” he found, “saving money is not the top concern.”
Instead, they were interested in the proprietary technology that powers Calltrunk’s ARGO search engine. The technology, called OpenVoice, indexes audio and video calls made on anything from PBX telephones, to mobile phones, to Skype, and allows users to search for words mentioned in the calls via text query.
After speaking to the banks, Murphy realised that OpenVoice could be used to give them unprecedented access to recorded voice calls. “The banks’ programmers currently don’t have access to the underlying call data,” he says.
If they did, it could lead to sophisticated compliance systems that could identify potential breaches as they arise. “The big data guys tell me that they could prevent another Libor scandal if they had access to voice calls.”
It was a realisation that could have only sprung from such direct contact to the financial services providers. “We never talked about the underlying technology because our historical customer didn’t care,” he said. “We didn’t even give it a name.”
Business-to-business sales people need up to date information about companies in order to prioritise their telesales operations. There is no point pitching products or services to a company that have already gone bust.
However, while the UK has excellent data on privately-owned business at Companies House, they are only obliged to report once every six months.
Growth Intelligence gives salespeople more up to date information by analysing the web.
“Companies leave a digital footprint online,” explained founder and CEO Tom Gatten. “There are clues about their web traffic, their email traffic, the amount they’re spending on IT infrastructure.
Growth Intelligence analyses these ‘digital footprints’ to track the growth of private businesses, and analyse which are in a position to buy certain products or services.
Participating in the FinTech Innovation lab gave the London start-up “two years’ worth of ideas”, Gatten said.
“One person wanted us to analyse coffee bonds by analysing rainfall in Guatemala and global wars,” he explained. “Another asked if we could use email and web traffic to develop a 21st century productivity index.”
“What that taught us, though, is the need to focus,” he said. “We’ve nearly perfected our offering now.”
Gatten says the 75% of the UK’s retail banks are now doing pilots of its product or are about to start. The plan now is to expand the scope of its analysis to cover global business, in order to pursue global customers.
While Growth Intelligence is helping sales people to use the ‘digital footprints’ that companies leave on the web, another start-up in the FinTech Innovation Lab aims to help those companies clear up those footprints in the interest of security.
“The data that companies expose online is increasing through social media, cloud computing etc.,” explained CEO Alastair Paterson. “Some of that information is positive, but some of it can undermine their security or their reputation.
“That’s what we call a ‘digital shadow’.”
To see the extent of the confidential information that is available online, Paterson suggests searching for PDFs marked ‘Confidential – not for distribution’ on Google. “There about 16,000 documents on there,” he said.
Digital Shadows has spent two years developing a “discovery engine” that pulls information in from over 60 million sources, including the major social networks, in 25 languages. The engine uses natural language processing (NLP) to hunt down confidential documents that have found their way online.
The technology clearly has a variety of uses, which meant is wasn’t clear exactly who Digital Shadows’ target audience within financial services companies is. “Do we sell to compliance teams, to HR, to legal, or to security?”
Participating in the programme has led the company to focus on two use cases. The first is data leakage detection – alerting companies when confidential documents crop up online.
The other is finding “actionable attack intelligence” – information that could be used to compromise a company’s security systems.
Paterson acknowledges that it is a crowded marketplace. “The challenge is showing what we are doing that is different.”
Nevertheless, he is confident that the company’s technology will win out. “Our technology is better than the other solutions. We know that because the banks are already using all the other solutions.”
Kiboo is an online service designed to help young people engage with information about their finances.
It collates data from their bank account and credit card providers to show money in and money out, and allows them to set personal budgets or spending goals. It also lets them set longer-term “life goals”, such as saving for a deposit, and track their progress towards achieving them.
And it also allows parents to track their children’s spending and budgeting. “We give parents mission control, allowing them to give support and advice,” explained CEO and founder Lisa Halpern.
The company is based in the US, and participated in the London FinTech Innovation scheme to gauge the UK market. ” We are in the programme to see if banks here are interested in working with us,” she explained.
Halpern said the experience validated that there is a gap in the market, that the company’s technology works and that user like it.
“We’ve got a foot in the UK market now,” she said.
Open Bank is an open source API platform that is designed to allow banking institutions to open their data up to third party developers.
“Our vision is to drive innovation to the banks by encouraging third party application developers to bring their innovation to the banks,” explained Simon Redfern, CEO of Berlin-based software development agency Tesobe and founder to the Open Bank Project.
“It removes the monopoly of the software development team at the bank, and allows the bank to partner with the world.”
The idea was prompted by a desire to see reform in the banking sector. “I was thinking about how we need a new kind of bank, a more transparent bank, and how that would require an API.”
Redfern acknowledges that some banks might feel uncomfortable exposing their data through a secure API, but says that is better than requiring developers to use web scraping technology.
“This way, they can still act as the gatekeeper of the application,” he says. “This is good for security.”
The software is free to download under an open source license. How it will make money has so far not been decided. “The business model will come later,” said Redfern.
BehavioSec is a Swedish biometric security company that analyses the rhythm of a user’s keyboard typing, or the precise way in which they swipe their smartphone, as a unique identifier.
“PINs and password are extremely insecure,” explained CEO Neil Costigan. “But the good security measures, like one time passwords, are very complex and unusable and expensive to manage and support.”
The company already has signed all the Scandinavian banks as users for its mobile solution, and is working with the US military on a project that locks a user out of the computer if they do no match the expected typing behaviour.
To expand in the financial services sector, though, the company realised it need to come to London, and the scheme provided the right opportunity.
“This didn’t just give us some leads,” said Costigan. “It gave us chaparoned access to the banks, and coaching on how to pitch.”
Indeed, one of the retail banks that Costigan pitched specifically explained who the pitch could be improved.
So good was the experience, in fact, that BehavioSec is now looking to set up an office in the capital. “It let us see that this is a place where we have to play.”