Welcome to The Interchange! If you received this in your inbox, thank you for signing up and your vote of confidence. If you’re reading this as a post on our site, sign up here so you can receive it directly in the future. Every week, we’ll take a look at the hottest fintech news of the previous week. This will include everything from funding rounds to trends to an analysis of a particular space to hot takes on a particular company or phenomenon. There’s a lot of fintech news out there and it’s our job to stay on top of it — and make sense of it — so you can stay in the know. — Mary Ann and Christine
Busy, busy, busy
It was a busy week in startup and venture lands, and the fintech space was no exception.
In the venture world, I reported on Peter Ackerson’s departure from Fin Capital earlier this year and the fact that he has since started a new venture firm called Audere Capital. The circumstances around his departure remain fuzzy, but one source speculated that tension arose between Ackerson and Fin founding partner Logan Allin over some of the goings-on at alternative financing startup Pipe last year. More details here.
We also wrote about Tellus, a startup that raised $16 million in an Andreessen Horowitz–led seed round of funding last year that is now being scrutinized by the U.S. government. When I interviewed the company’s co-founder, Rocky Lee, last year, I admit I was a little bit skeptical of any company that would bet on people agreeing to high-interest mortgage rates to upgrade their homes (think 9%!) and using customer savings deposits to fund such loans. When I asked Lee if this was risky, he admitted it was but insisted that Tellus utilized “very strict underwriting criteria” and had not yet seen any defaults “because the majority of its borrowers go on to soon refinance their loans at more favorable terms.” Well, last week U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown, chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, wrote a letter to FDIC chairman Martin Gruenberg expressing concerns about Tellus’s claims. In that letter, Brown pressed the FDIC to review Tellus’s business practices “to ensure that customers are protected from financial fraud and abuse.” In a twist, I discovered that Lee was married to a16z general partner Connie Chan (not sure if he still is). Neither he nor the venture firm commented on the senator’s concerns but Tellus CEO/CTO Jeromee Johnson did provide me with a statement via email. Read more here.
Infrastructure continues to be resilient, even in a downturn. This week alone, I wrote about two payments infrastructure companies making moves, and my colleague Ingrid Lunden wrote about Stripe’s latest customer win. For starters, I covered Finix officially becoming a payments processor — a natural evolution really for a company that has slowly been expanding its offerings. In case you forgot, Finix is a startup that Sequoia backtracked on investing in after Stripe (an existing portfolio company) expressed concerns about being too competitive. (Finix got to keep its $21 million, though!) Now that it directly connects to all major U.S. card networks — American Express, Discover, Mastercard and Visa — and no longer relies on a third-party processor, Finix says it’s able to offer businesses “instant onboarding, improved economics and opportunities for lowering interchange fees.” I talked with CEO and co-founder Richie Serna all about it, and why he thinks what Finix has built is different from what legacy players and Stripe have on the market. I also wrote about Liquido, a Mountain View, California–based startup aiming to be the “Stripe of Latin America,” and more. Index Ventures’ Mark Fiorentino led two funding rounds totaling $26 million into the company in 2021. Interestingly, prior to joining Index, Fiorentino helped build and lead business strategy and finance at Stripe from 2015 to 2019. And Ingrid wrote about Stripe landing Uber as a customer, which was a bit unexpected considering that rival Lyft has been a longtime marquee customer of the company.
And, last but not least, corporate card and spend management startup Brex announced last week a global expansion of its Empower product into new markets so that companies that are its customers now “can spend globally and operate locally” in countries such as Brazil, Canada, Israel, Japan, Mexico, Singapore, South Africa, and the Philippines, as well as in 36 European countries. In an interview with TechCrunch, Brex co-founder and co-CEO Henrique Dubugras said that the company believes the move “will really open up TAM” for Brex since so many existing and prospective U.S. clients “have some sort of global operations.”
“One of the big problems that companies have when they operate globally is that they actually need to open up an account in all these different countries where they might have employees. It becomes really complicated to set up all your financial systems on a country by country basis,” he added. “Now, if you use Brex, you can actually operate as if you were a local company with a local card.” In other words, companies using Brex that have employees who work in other countries are giving those workers the ability to use a corporate card freely in their home countries, while also giving the company the ability to pay the statements in local currency from the local bank