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Australia’s startup scene is finally setting its sights on China




Fishburners is heading to Shanghai.
Fishburners is heading to Shanghai.
Image: Getty Images

While much of the Australian startup scene is attempting a Silicon Valley redux, only with far less people and more sunshine, a number of key players are looking to China. 

On Thursday, the startup hub Fishburners announced it would be launching its first overseas office in Shanghai this month. The company currently hosts around 170 startups in Sydney, and the Shanghai space will have 50 desks to start with, CEO of Fishburners, Murray Hurps told Mashable Australia

It will act as an outpost of the current Fishburners community, he added, and as a supportive landing pad for startups looking to investigate the Chinese market.

“If you’re in a group of startups in Australia and you’d like to go to China to try addressing a market or address an investor, it’s nice to be able to do it with those other startups,” he said. 

Hurps also hopes interest will flow in reverse, resulting in new partnerships. Having a hub in China signals to the community that Australia is eager to talk, he suggested, whether to investors or other startups. “There are so many opportunities in Australia. For example, agricultural technology, smart city technology — where there are also great things happening in China.”

Fishburners' Shanghai office.

Fishburners’ Shanghai office.

Image: Fishburners

The Sydney financial technology hub, Stone & Chalk also announced the first three startups to participate in its FinTech Asia incubation exchange Wednesday. The Chinese startups, selected after a final pitchfest in Shanghai, will be given a three-month residency in Australia along with local mentorship and investor meetings.

Stone & Chalk CEO Alex Scandurra told Mashable Australia the organisation hopes to be a leading fintech hub in Asia, and such partnerships will be key.

“You’ve also got to be able to attract the best talent,” he said. “The whole idea is providing mentorship, hooking them up with investors, putting them in front of our partners, so hopefully there’s potential for them to stay and use this as stepping stone to the U.S. and Europe.”

Stone & Chalk also took 10 Australian fintech startups to China in April to give them a crash course in what it’s like to do business there. Scandurra said for the moment, he doesn’t see the need to open a stand-alone Stone & Chalk space in China. 

The Australian government will be providing landing pads for Australian startups in five cities including Shanghai as part of an initiative announced earlier in the year.

Are we a little late?

For all the excitement about Australian startups making it on the West Coast, China may have been a little neglected.

In Hurps view, Australia isn’t late to the China party, but could it be doing better.

Most importantly, Australia’s startup scene is often too inward-looking. “People tend to go up to the markets that they know well,” he explained. “They’ll solve their own problems, and they’ll do it in a local market. Australia is dangerous because it’s just big enough that you can have a big interesting company but not a globally scalable company.”

“Australia is dangerous because it’s just big enough that you can have a big interesting company but not a globally scalable company.”

In his view, we need to not just say “China is big.”

“Say they’re doing wonderful things around smart city initiatives or around clean technology, and here are companies that would like to talk to Australian startups with that kind of technology,” he explained.

According to Scandurra, the Australian startup community is now able to approach China in a manner that wasn’t possible before. “The free trade agreement makes a big difference,” he said. “It makes the posture of the governments in China much more receptive.” The China Australia Free Trade Agreement took effect in Dec. 2015.

China is not the only focus, however. Stone & Chalk has struck partnerships with Korean fintech groups, Korean Fintech Centre and Yello Financial Group, as well as engaging in some early discussions in Singapore.

“I don’t think there’s one market and that’s it. It depends on the type of startup you are and which market is the right fit. That should trump any trends in China,” he said.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull meets staff during a visit to the FinTech start up Stone and Chalk in Sydney.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull meets staff during a visit to the FinTech start up Stone and Chalk in Sydney.


After all, it’s not that simple to cross borders and launch into China. He advised the startup community to continue building bridges, but with care. “I’d encourage them to reach out, and make sure they’re clear in terms of the risks. 

“You can burn a lot of time, and time is money … To be honest, one of the key things we learnt in China is the complexity of the market and the dynamics in terms of relationships. You have to partner with the right people and organisations.”



The rise in mobile banking: Bank of America, First National and TD




Share Mobile banking has surged during the coronavirus pandemic, and banks are reacting with enhanced mobile capabilities, new features and educational tools to support the new wave of digital users. Bank Innovation talked with some of the biggest banks across the country to learn how mobile banking has changed in the past five months and …Read More

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Get Wise: Business Banking Gains a New Challenger




Whatever benefits the challenger bank revolution may bring to retail banking customers, the opportunities these neobanks provide to small businesses may be even more significant. In fact, there is a growing cadre of digital-first challengers who have decided to put innovating on behalf of small business banking at the top of their priorities.

One such company is Wise, a BBVA-backed challenger based in San Mateo, California, that announced the release of its premium checking account in the U.S. this week. The new offering, available for $10 a month, enables businesses to earn up to 1% APY on deposits through a combination of a 0.5% base APY and an additional 0.1% for every $1,000 purchase using a Wise debit card. Accountholders get 25 free ACH deposits and 25 free outgoing bank transfers a month, as well as additional payments services. Among the functionalities to be added are remote check deposit, the ability to send digital checks and international wires, and support for Quickbooks.

The new offering comes in the wake of the company’s first major fundraising: a $5.7 million seed round in April led by Base10 Partners and featuring the participation of several other investors including Abstract Ventures and Backend Capital. The company told TechCrunch earlier this year that it has 1,000 business customers, with average workforces ranging from 2 to 10 employees, and “between $500,000 and $5 million in ARR (annual recurring revenue).”

Finovate audiences met Wise last year when the company made its Finovate debut at our September conference in New York. At the event, Wise co-founders Arjun Thyagarajan (CEO) and Suresh Venkatraman (CTO) demonstrated the company’s “small business banking-in-a-box” solution, and previewed additional products and services for small businesses including payments and invoicing.

From left: Wise co-founders Arjun Thyagarajan (CEO) and Suresh Venkatraman (CTO) at FinovateFall 2019.

Thyagarajan founded Wise after a stint managing product for Mojio, a platform for connected cars. Before that he was a classic serial entrepreneur, launching a personal organizer (LivingOrganized), and a pair of password management platforms (TeamsID and Gpass). But a sense that he wasn’t “doing what I really wanted to do” led him to leave the “hot startup” in search of what he called “problems that needed solving.”

“My explorations led me to FinTech and I was pleasantly surprised with the rapid advancements in technology transforming the financial industry, especially in banking and payments,” Thyagarajan wrote on the company blog last summer, looking back on his decision to launch Wise. “It got me thinking: what if we could build a banking product that can deliver on the promise of putting the customer first … And solving real world problems.”

Thyagarajan’s reflections are similar to those his co-founder Venkatraman, who in a companion post observed that Wise’s own experience as a small business trying to secure quality banking services was vindication of the company’s mission.

“The day started innocently enough as we walked into a local bank with all our paperwork in hand,” he wrote. “That was the beginning of a chase around Silicon Valley to find a bank that would take our money and open up an account. Banks would reject us for all sorts of reasons or just ignore us.”

These days, with an new offering, a big investment and a major banking partner in BBVA in hand, it looks like the fintech world might be ready to wise up.

Photo by Jean van der Meulen from Pexels


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Standard Chartered Ties Up with Microsoft




Adding to the big-bank-to-big-tech partnerships announced in recent weeks, Standard Chartered secured a three-year partnership with Microsoft today.

The bank will leverage Microsoft to take a multicloud approach that will port its significant applications to the cloud. Specifically, Standard Chartered is planning to make its core banking and trading systems and digital ventures such as virtual banking and banking as-a-service cloud-based by 2025.

“Cloud is a cornerstone of Standard Chartered’s strategy to meet the present and future banking needs of our clients,” said Group Chief Information Officer of Standard Chartered, Michael Gorriz. “Using cloud services improves our ability to be agile and innovative, while increasing our operational efficiency and resilience. As disruption in the financial industry continues, we can focus on client benefits by deploying our solutions quicker and allowing for faster integration of new business models and partners.” Gorriz added that today’s partnership is a “major milestone” in Standard Chartered’s journey to become cloud-first.

Standard Chartered will pilot the launch by moving its trade finance systems to Microsoft Azure. The move is expected to facilitate cross-border trade at the bank.

The partnership extends to Microsoft’s workplace tools. Standard Chartered’s 84,000 employees will be working on Office 365 and communicating via Microsoft Teams.

This news comes during a time of widespread digital transformation across the banking sector. Banks and fintechs are seeking to move their operations to the cloud to update their infrastructure and create a better customer experience. There are two factors driving this change: the global health crisis that has moved many in-person interactions to online channels and the rise of competition from challenger banks.

“Cloud computing is an enabler for financial institutions to modernize their infrastructure and systems, to gain the agility they need to respond to competitive pressures, regulatory environments and customer demand,” said Bill Borden, Corporate Vice President of Worldwide Financial Services at Microsoft. “We are committed to helping Standard Chartered Bank in its ongoing digital transformation journey as it strives to address evolving customer needs and build the next generation of banking experiences.”

Photo by Franck V. on Unsplash


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