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Fintech Acquisition: Global Payments Firm Nium to Acquire Ixaris, a Company Offering Travel Payments Optimization



Nium, an international B2B payments service provider, revealed on Monday (June 7, 2021) that it had signed a “definitive” agreement to acquire Ixaris, a company focused on travel payments optimization.

As mentioned in a release shared with CI, the transaction is set to be finalized “early in the third quarter of 2021, subject to customary closing conditions.”

The announcement also mentioned that Ixaris offers “flexible” funding and payment methods that “help airlines and online travel agents (OTAs) in the £230 billion travel sector reduce surcharges, earn rebates, flatten FX fees, and streamline reconciliation.”

As an industry leader, Ixaris issued over 10 million virtual cards back in 2019, the announcement revealed while adding that since its official launch, Ixaris has handled around 24 million transfers for over 200 clients in 40 different countries for “a total payment volume of £5 billion.”

As noted in the release, Ixaris is well-known for “transforming the travel payments industry with the introduction of Europe’s first virtual prepaid card in 2003.” The release added that all of Ixaris’ 86 workers currently based in London and Malta will be joining the Nium family.

Prajit Nanu, Co-founder and CEO at Nium, stated:

“Airlines and OTAs are actively transforming their technologies and processes in anticipation of a surge in global travel happening this year. The travel industry has long been dependent on slow-moving, monolithic payment platforms. Our acquisition will serve to replace these incumbents with a modern solution that combines Ixaris’ leading virtual card capability with Nium’s advanced pay-in, pay-out and embedded foreign exchange capabilities. We welcome the Ixaris team to the Nium family and together we look forward to helping the travel sector bounce back across the globe.”

Today’s acquisition should enable Nium to execute on its goal to offer a single API integration to access the global payments infrastructure.

As noted in the announcement, the Nium platform will allow clients to “quickly deploy new financial services from card issuance to cross-border payments.” With licenses in more than 40 different markets and integrations in “as little as four weeks,” Nium provides “the speed and scale for customers to unlock new revenue opportunities and improve cash flow economics throughout the global economy,” the release noted.

Mark Anthony Spiteri, CEO, Ixaris Group, remarked:

“As part of the Nium family, we can offer the broadest portfolio of virtual card offerings to travel businesses across the globe. All aspects of our company, from our technologies to our people, perfectly complement Nium and we look forward to increasing our geographic footprint to new regions, including the United States.”

FT Partners acted as the exclusive strategic and financial advisor to Nium on its acquisition of Ixaris.

Ixaris is a payments optimization firm with a portfolio of virtual Mastercard and Visa cards that “helps companies make smarter payment choices.”

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Real Estate Report: Northern Ireland was Best-Performing UK Region, with Scotland, West Midlands Housing Prices Also Rising



According to the Nationwide House Price Index in the UK, the price of the average house in the country surged by 13.4% YoY in June 2021, which is the largest increase seen in more than 17 years – since November 2004, the Blend Network team revealed in a recent market report.

The UK-based P2P lender noted that there’s a strong base-effect that is “distorting this reading because in June last year prices had collapsed in the aftermath of the first lockdown.”

The Blend Network team also mentioned that there’s now the stamp-duty factor that is contributing to the overall strength of the UK housing market because many buyers have been rushing to finalize their deals before the end of the stamp-duty holiday on June 20, “a measure that translated into a £15,000 saving for those purchasing homes above the £500,000 threshold,” Blend Network noted.

Despite all these factors, the UK market has continued to maintain steady momentum during the last few months and an increasing number of buyers are now paying over the asking price, the Blend Network team noted in a blog post while adding that the average UK house price has now increased nearly £30,000 over the last year and by almost £15,000 YTD.

When examining the key monthly trends, June saw the third straight MoM increase (0.7%), after taking account of “seasonal effects,” Blend Network noted while adding that prices in June 2021 were nearly “5% higher” than in March of this year.

That being said, the MoM growth has “clearly started to ease over the past few months (2.3% in April, 1.8% in May and 0.7% in June),” the Blend Network team wrote while noting that the Nationwide Nationwide House Price Index shows that the average UK house prices increased 10.3% YoY during Q2.

However, the company clarified that this reading also shows “a wide divergence between different regions.” Northern Ireland, “by far the best-performing region, saw average house prices increase by 14% year-on-year, while on the other end of the spectrum Scotland saw average house prices increase by 7.1% year-on-year.”

Northern Ireland has seen “a very strong performance,” closely followed by the West Midlands, the Blend Network team revealed while noting that as per recent affordability estimates, the data shared by Nationwide indicates that even though there was an increase in house prices to all-time highs, the typical mortgage payment is “not high by historic standards compared to take home pay, largely because mortgage rates remain close to all-time lows.”

Moreover, the Nationwide house prices are “close to a record high relative to average incomes.” According to Blend Network, this is important because it “makes it even harder for prospective first time buyers to raise deposits.” (Note: for more details and updates from Blend Network, check here.)

As covered, Blend Network recently explained how to use their AutoLend feature to automate the lending process. Earlier this month, Blend Network reported solid Q2 2021 performance, with 1,052 registered investors lending via platform loans.

As covered last month, Blend Network explained how their Secondary Market is designed to help investors. Notably, Blend Network reported funding its largest-ever 5.6M GDV project in Dorset earlier this year.

In an interview with CI, Yann Murciano, CEO at Blend Network, explained how 2020 will be known as the year seeing a decade of digital transformation.

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Azimut Group, with Azimut Investments S.A., Is Reportedly the First Luxembourg Fund Manager to Acquire Permit to Manage Digital Asset Funds



Azimut Group, with Azimut Investments S.A., is reportedly the first asset management firm based in Luxembourg to acquire authorization to manage digital assets strategies.

With this further evidence of the Group’s innovation capabilities, Azimut confirmed that it will be introducing the AZ RAIF Digital Asset fund, which is the first fund under Luxembourg law and the second overall in Europe. It will aim to make strategic investments in virtual currencies, exchange-traded funds, and equity of Fintech or blockchain-related firms.

As first reported by International Investment, Azimut, with its Luxembourg-headquartered product platform Azimut Investments SA, managed to obtain a permit from the Luxembourg supervisory authority, Commission de Surveillance du Secteur Financier (CSSF), in order to manage investment strategies involving crypto-assets like Bitcoin (BTC), Ethereum (ETH), and various other decentralized finance or DeFi tokens.

The permit allows Azimut Investments to further extend its existing AIFM license in order to manage alternative investment funds that may provide exposure to digital assets.

Azimut said it would introduce the AZ RAIF Digital Asset fund, which is intended for professional investors. The Fund will provide exposure to virtual currencies in a dynamic, diversified manner while supporting an active risk management strategy.

The investment portfolio will be focused on generating returns from an allocation to various asset classes and will enable investors to take part in the complete range of opportunities provided by crypto-assets without needing to concern themselves with the more technical aspects of managing these new assets.

The Fund will reportedly be managed by the Group’s investment division in Singapore.

The introduction of the digital asset fund is reportedly a part of an initiative which is focused on cryptocurrencies. The Group is currently carrying out research via its Global Asset Management division. The Group’s efforts involved the issuance in April 2020 of AZIM, which is notably the first security token to be supported by a management firm.

AZIM is described as a digital securitization of a €5 million investment portfolio of loans to Italian SMEs that’s originated via the Borsa del Credito platform. It’s guaranteed by the Mediocredito Centrale Guarantee Fund (used in the creation of portfolios of Luxembourg alternative credit funds for professional traders).

Giorgio Medda, Co-CEO & Global Head of Asset Management for the Group, said that the license should serve as a source of satisfaction and recognition of their ongoing commitment and to address the requirements of their clients. Giorgio also mentioned that they have been studying the world of digital assets for a while, and that led them to offer the AZ RAIF Digital Asset fund.

The fund has a long-term investment outlook with longer diversification horizons for company clients.

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Hong Kong Monetary Authority Executive Director Reveals how They’re Protecting Consumers from Emerging Threats



In a keynote speech that focused on fraud and financial crime at a conference in Asia, Carmen Chu, Executive Director (Enforcement and AML), Hong Kong Monetary Authority, discussed anti-money laundering and financial crime risk issues and the ability of authorities to address these problems.

While speaking at the Fraud and Financial Crime Asia 2021 Conference, Chu noted that there are certain challenges presented by online fraud and related money laundering. Chu discussed how regulatory authorities, working closely with the industry, are currently helping to create an effective response “to deter, detect and disrupt new and emerging threats to businesses and individuals.”

She noted that the respective AML and risk management systems are able “to deliver a more effective return on the huge investment at the institutional, sectoral and national levels.” She added that the required changes include “richer data streams like digital footprints to drive the gains from analytics; technology-enabled information sharing partnerships to deliver more responsive and actionable suspicious activity reporting; and, for regulators, data-driven supervision and industry engagement.”

Chu also mentioned that the past 12 to 18 months have been “a landmark for the banking sector” in Hong Kong. The launch of eight virtual banks and collective efforts across the region’s banking sector have been key when overcoming major challenges “arising from the pandemic – banks had to make changes to meet customer demand within a very short time to launch or expand digital and online financial services.”

Chu also noted that while this is in the interests of customers and “has brought huge benefits, the global AML community, led by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), saw increased levels of online fraud and cybercrime.”

Chu also mentioned that the scale at which the online economy was developing has been “matched only by the increasingly sophisticated attempts of criminal networks to exploit it.”

She added that the scale and speed with which this has happened “are breathtaking; fraudulent websites and spam emails targeting Government-led pandemic relief efforts, for example, often surfaced within hours of the initiatives being launched.”

She continued:

“Hong Kong has not been immune to this global phenomenon. There were over 15,000 deception cases in 2020, almost doubling from about 8,000 cases in the previous year. A similar increase was noted by the HKMA in bank customer complaints related to fraud and financial crime, which rose by about 120% in the first half of 2021 when compared with the same period a year ago.”

Chu further noted:

“It’s not all bad news, however. When we coordinate effectively, when we formulate and implement strategies for the public and private sectors to work closely together and take timely actions, we can make an impact.”

The Anti-Deception Coordination Centre of the Police, which is responsible for leading the action against fraudulent activities, has managed to intercept HKD 6.3 billion “conned from victims of phone and internet scams in its first three years of operation since 2017,” Chu revealed while noting that the Centre “intercepted a staggering HKD 3 billion in a single year in 2020, and none of this success would be possible without the close cooperation of banks, 24 hours a day and 7 days a week, in helping disrupt fraud and financial crime and protecting customers from losses.”

She added:

“These numbers must be a matter of concern for everyone in the global AML ecosystem and the wider economies. We all need to reflect on how effective we are being, while staying alert to new tricks and doubling our efforts to slow and reverse the tide. This is not to say that we expect to be able to pre-empt all fraud and financial crime, but that when these crimes unfortunately happen, our responses are quick and targeted.”

Chu also mentioned that the HKMA’s approach has been guided by their commitment to global  standards and related best practices in how AML and financial crime risk management systems have been implemented.

HKMA’s ‘Fintech 2025’ strategy also outlines how innovative tech can help with achieving “effective outcomes.” She further revealed that they’ve been working to realize their vision, “beginning with an AML/CFT RegTech Forum in 2019 to raise industry awareness and explore the role that technology could play in AML work.”

She added that the HKMA regularly releases different papers and reports “to share Regtech use cases including AML, and will be putting all relevant resources in [their centralized ‘Regtech Knowledge Hub.’”

She also noted:

“We must also talk about data – quality data – to drive Regtech adoption. Specifically, the availability of richer data streams, such as digital footprint data, with proper integration, can have a significant impact on system effectiveness.”

She added that other external data and information are also “becoming increasingly important in monitoring customer risk and to this end, [they] have recently shared key observations and best practices from a thematic review to assist banks in identifying and using these resources.”

Chu confirmed that they’ll further these pieces of work later in 2021 when they introduce their first interactive lab session “featuring machine learning in the area of monitoring.”

She pointed out that some of those technologies “featured prominently in the successes we have seen in identifying and disrupting mule account networks linked to COVID-19 and investment scams, which have been shared through our public-private information sharing partnership, the Fraud and Money Laundering Intelligence Taskforce – or FMLIT.”

The FMLIT partnership has seen dramatic growth during the past 3 years, “bringing about clear improvements in our collective abilities to identify and disrupt financial crime,” Chu revealed.

She also shared:

“Since its launch in 2017, actions taken by banks through FMLIT have identified over 11,000 bank accounts which were previously unknown to law enforcement agencies, leading to restraint or confiscation of about HK$700 million in crime proceeds mainly from investment scams and other frauds involving financial impacts on customers and/or banks themselves.”

While addressing how effective they have been their AML and financial crime work, she revealed:

“It is essential for regulators to ask ourselves how AML/CFT supervision needs to change in the age of digital innovation. The HKMA’s approach is to build on our strong foundations as a risk-based AML supervisor, while recognizing the need to constantly learn and adapt to the digital age. We are implementing a series of changes to better leverage the latest technology in our supervisory work, while building capacity to allow us to adopt new technologies and techniques as they emerge.”

To review the full speech, check here.

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UK based PensionBee, an Online Pension Provider, Reports Doubling Assets Under Administration to £2B



UK’s PensionBee (LON: PBEE), an online pension provider, recently revealed that its assets under administration have now more than doubled during the past year.

PensionBee is reporting 117% growth in its assets under administration to nearly £2 billion in just the past 12 months ending  June 30, 2021. The company confirmed that this growth has mainly been due to its acquisition of new clients.

PensionBee’s first half 2021 results reveal that its number of invested clients increased by 81% to around 92,000 during the same time period, meanwhile, the number of registered customers surged 81% to about 538,000, Pension Sage reported.

Active clients, which are those customers who had asked to become invested users but hadn’t seen their transfer or contribution process being finalized, also grew by 78% to 155,000, meanwhile, PensionBee confirmed that that recurring revenues from existing clients have also been fairly steady.

PensionBee also shared that its annual run-rate revenue jumped by 114% to £12.3m during the financial year. The firm’s business operations have been supported by solid customer satisfaction and 95% customer retention.

The 6-month timeframe also saw PensionBee acquire £55 million in funding from an IPO in April 2021, which enabled even more innovation while leading the company to profitability by the end of 2023 (if current developments remain on track).

PensionBee added that they are expecting their company performance to be consistent with the market guidance offered during their IPO. This is being supported by regular marketing investment growth, continuous product innovation as well as additional investments in new talent and tech.

The company further revealed that it’s now expecting its growth to be driven by consistent demand for online pension consolidation along with positive contribution behavior.

Romi Savova, CEO at PensionBee, said he’s pleased to report yet another period of strong financial and operational performance following the firm’s IPO. Savova also noted that they’ve been able to achieve steady growth by prioritizing their clients and giving them more control over their financial future.

He added that they’re looking forward to the immense opportunity ahead and plan to continue  working towards their goal of making pensions simple “so everyone can look forward to a happy retirement.”

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