TransferWise’s new debit card for the US fires the starting gun on a new war for travelers

International money transfer service TransferWise, has made a significant incursion into the US market today, launching a MasterCard debit card alongside a multicurrency account. Mirroring the card it has already launched in the UK and Europe last year, the card will work in over 40 currencies without balance limits, and conversion fees will be competitive with current exchange rates. A similar card aimed at businesses will follow the consumer launch.

Co-founder Taavet Hinrikus told me that the card effectively makes the average person able to act like a millionaire when they are traveling. “Alternative ‘travel’ cards are four times more expensive for every dollar spent and are only available to the top 10% of people who pass credit checks and also pay hundreds of dollars per year,” he said.

He believes this card will democratize the whole market. That means it’s likely that US tourists in Europe or elsewhere will be hugely attracted to this card because they will be charged as if they were a local person, in the local currencies, without all the normal fees.

Transferwise is also pushing an immigration angle to the launch featuring Tan France (pictured), star of “Queer Eye For The Straight Guy”.

Key features of the account and debit card include international bank details for the UK, the US, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand, meaning account and routing numbers that are unique to the account holder. Additionally, if a holder swipes a card in a currency they don’t have in their account, the card knows to choose the cheapest option from their available balances. The card is also free to get, with now no subscription, no sign-up fees, and no monthly maintenance fee. Holders can also freeze/unfreeze the card from the Transferwise app and receive push notifications every time they spend. It will also sync with Apple Pay, Google Pay, and Samsung Pay.

Hinrikus added: “Our goal is to offer bank details for every country in the world through one account — the world’s first global account — and we’re starting with five of the world’s top currencies. The 40-currency debit card completes the package, so we’re excited to be releasing the card in the US.

Earlier this year TransferWise said it was now valued at $3.5 billion after closing a $292 million secondary funding round. In November it reported an annual post-tax net profit of $8 million for the year ending March 2018. At the time it said it had five million users transacting $5 billion across its platform a month.

While Transferwise competes with the smaller Revolut and WorldRemit, as well as incumbents like Western Union and MoneyGram, with the launch of this new card it will also be breathing down the neck of Paypal.

Its investors include Old Mutual, Institutional Venture Partners, Andreessen Horowitz, Lead Edge Capital, Lone Pine Capital, Vitruvian Partners, BlackRock, Valar Ventures, Baillie Gifford, PayPal founder Max Levchin, and Virgin Group founder Richard Branson, among others.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

Link to original source

NSA improperly collected phone records for a second time, documents reveal

Newly released documents reveal the National Security Agency improperly collected Americans’ call records for a second time, just months after the agency was forced to purge hundreds of millions of collected calls and text records it unlawfully obtained.

The document, obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union, shows the NSA had collected a “larger than expected” number of call detail records from one of the U.S. phone providers, though the redacted document did not reveal which provider nor how many records were improperly collected.

The document said the erroneously collected call detail records were “not authorized” by the orders issued by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which authorizes and oversees the U.S. government’s surveillance activities.

Greg Julian, a spokesperson for the NSA, confirmed the report in an email to TechCrunch, saying the agency “identified additional data integrity and compliance concerns caused by the unique complexities of using company-generated business records for intelligence purposes.”

NSA said the issues were “addressed and reported” to the agency’s overseers, but did not comment further on the violations as they involve operational matters.

The ACLU called on lawmakers to investigate the improper collection and to shut down the program altogether.

“These documents further confirm that this surveillance program is beyond redemption and a privacy and civil liberties disaster,” said Patrick Toomey, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s National Security Project. “The NSA’s collection of Americans’ call records is too sweeping, the compliance problems too many, and evidence of the program’s value all but nonexistent.”

“There is no justification for leaving this surveillance power in the NSA’s hands,” he said.

Under the government’s so-called Section 215 powers, the NSA collects millions of phone records every year by compelling U.S. phone giants to turn over daily records, a classified program first revealed in a secret court order compelling Verizon — which owns TechCrunch — from documents leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden. Those call records include the phone numbers of those communicating and when — though not the contents — which the agency uses to make connections between targets of interest.

But the government was forced to curtail the phone records collection program in 2015 following the introduction of the Freedom Act, the only law passed by Congress since the Snowden revelations which successfully reined in what critics said was the NSA’s vast surveillance powers.

In recent years, the number of call records has gone down but not gone away completely. In its last transparency report, the government said it collected 434 million phone records, down 18% on the year earlier.

But the government came under fire in June 2018 after it emerged the NSA had unlawfully collected 600 million call and text logs without the proper authority. The agency said “technical irregularities” meant it received call detail records it “was not authorized to receive.”

The agency deleted the entire batch of improperly collected records from its systems.

Following the incidents, the NSA reportedly shut down the phone records collection program citing overly burdensome legal requirements imposed on the agency. In January, the agency’s spokesperson said the NSA was “carefully evaluating all aspects” of the program and its future, amid rumors that the agency would not ask Congress to reauthorized its expiring Section 215 powers, set to expire later this year.

In an email Wednesday, the NSA spokesperson didn’t comment on the future of the program, saying only that it was “a deliberative interagency process that will be decided by the Administration.”

The government’s Section 215 powers are expected to be debated by Congress in the coming months.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

Link to original source

EU opens formal antitrust probe of Broadcom and seeks interim order

The European Commission has opened a formal investigation into US chipmaker Broadcom which it suspects of restricting competition via a number of exclusivity practices in markets where it holds a leading position such as for systems-on-a-chip, front-end chips and wifi chipsets.

Earlier this year press reports suggested US authorities are broadening their own antitrust probe of the company.

The FTC opened its investigation into Broadcom back in January 2018.

Commenting in a press release announcing the antitrust action against the chipmaker, the EU’s antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager said: “TV set-top boxes and modems are part of our daily lives, for both work and for leisure. We suspect that Broadcom, a major supplier of components for these devices, has put in place contractual restrictions to exclude its competitors from the market. This would prevent Broadcom’s customers and, ultimately, final consumers from reaping the benefits of choice and innovation. We also intend to order Broadcom to halt its behaviour while our investigation proceeds, to avoid any risk of serious and irreparable harm to competition.

The Commission has issued a formal statement of objections in which it sets out its preliminary conclusions and explains its reasons for seeking interim measures, saying (emphasis its) it believes that:

  • Broadcom is likely to hold a dominant position in various markets for the supply of systems-on-a-chip for TV set-top boxes and modems
  • certain agreements between Broadcom and seven of its main customers manufacturing TV set-top boxes and modems contain exclusivity provisions that may result in those customers purchasing systems-on-a-chip, front-end chips and WiFi chipsets exclusively or almost exclusively from Broadcom
  • the provisions contained in these agreements may affect competition and stifle innovation in these markets, to the detriment of consumers

The formal investigation could take several years to conclude and the Commission notes that the outcome is not prejudiced by preliminary findings nor any interim measures.

“The Commission has gathered information indicating that Broadcom may be implementing a range of exclusionary practices in relation to these products,” it writes. “These practices may include (i) setting exclusive purchasing obligations, (ii) granting rebates or other advantages conditioned on exclusivity or minimum purchase requirements, (iii) product bundling, (iv) abusive IP-related strategies and (v) deliberately degrading interoperability between Broadcom products and other products.

“As a result of concerns relating to these alleged practices by Broadcom, the Commission has decided to open a formal investigation.”

The Commission says it wants to impose interim measures to prevent the suspected anti-competitive behaviour from damaging the market “irreparably” — i.e. before a regulatory intervention could issue a corrective sanction, assuming it ends up deciding such action is necessary after the investigation has run its course.

Its assessment of the case found that the alleged competition concerns to be “of a serious nature and that Broadcom’s conduct may result in the elimination or marginalisation of competitors before the end of proceedings” — allowing it to meet the threshold for ordering interim measures under EU law.

The Commission says it has informed the chipmaker and the competition authorities of EU Member States that it has opened proceedings and of its intention to impose interim measures.

It’s not clear at this stage when such interim measures could be applied — with anything from several weeks to many months being possible.

Broadcom could also seek to appeal against them.

We’ve reached out to the company for comment. 

In recent years the semiconductor supplier has walked away from a proposed hostile takeover of mobile chipmaker Qualcomm after it was blocked by the Trump administration. It went on to shell out $18.9BN in cash to pick up IT management software and solutions provider, CA Technologies — in what looked like a bid to diversify its offerings.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

Link to original source

The changing nature of venture capital

SoftBank and Andreesen Horowitz (a16z) recently announced new funds that reinforce the increasing scale of the venture industry. SoftBank announced its intent to raise a second Vision Fund through a public offering, a first for any venture firm. A16z announced two new funds, an early-stage $750 million fund and a growth-stage $2 billion fund.

A16z is the latest firm to launch a family of funds, four in the past 18 months totaling $3.5 billion, including the earlier announced Bio and Crypto funds. A16z joins GGV, Lightspeed and Sequoia as firms that have raised families of funds that cover specific sectors, stages or countries. In the last 18 months, Sequoia has raised nine funds, with nearly $9 billion committed; Lightspeed four funds for nearly $3 billion; and GGV four funds with $1.8 billion.

These funds and others like them will change the nature of venture capital. Venture is no longer a cottage industry where partners sit around a conference table on Mondays meeting companies and discussing which to support. Venture no longer operates as a collection of individual practitioners like a dental clinic. Venture firms are moving from job shops to scaled organizations with an armada of specialists in human resources, marketing, finance, engineering, legal and investor relations to support their investment and fundraising activity. Once firms with just a few partners, SoftBank, Sequoia and GGV now have teams of hundreds of people working to support continual fund raising, origination and portfolio development in the United States and abroad.

Funding startups is an inherently local business.

Investment banking and private equity firms provide a road map for how the venture capital may develop. The leading investment banks and private equity firms were closely held partnerships for many decades, before increasing capital intensity required a change of corporate structure. Founded in 1914, Merrill Lynch, a securities brokerage firm, was considered an interloper in the cloistered investment banking world. But as more capital entered public securities markets, securities trading houses such as Merrill Lynch encroached on Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Lehman and Kuhn Loeb, which then dominated highly profitable investment banking.

A wave of consolidation followed as partnerships gave way to full-service investment banks armed with capital to backstop their lucrative mergers and acquisition and financing practices. Founded in 1854, Lehman acquired Kuhn Loeb in 1977, which was then acquired by American Express in 1984, combining Lehman’s banking practice with Shearson’s brokerage business. The last bulge bracket investment banking partnerships Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs went public in 1993 and 1999, respectively.

Private equity firms soon followed. Like investment banks, partnerships prevailed in private equity. But as their appetite for capital grew to finance ever-larger acquisitions, private equity tapped the public markets for larger, more stable capital. Today, the five largest private equity firms are all public. Apollo Global Management, a PE firm now with $250 billion under management, went public in 2004. Blackstone, the largest PE firm, with $470 billion under management, followed with an IPO in 2007. Carlyle, KKR and Ares soon followed with public offerings.

Venture capital has been insulated from the capital intensity that fueled consolidation of the investment banking and private equity industries. Funding startups is an inherently local business. Technology innovation has historically been capital-efficient as early technology leaders such as Microsoft and Oracle went public after raising less than $20 million in private funding. And venture is a risky, volatile business, where profits vary substantially, failure rate is high and returns are highly cyclical.

Innovation is costlier as entrepreneurs and investors seek to disrupt rather than enable industries.

But like the investment banking and private equity industries, venture capital is becoming more capital-intensive. Innovation is costlier as entrepreneurs and investors seek to disrupt rather than enable industries.  Startups require more capital to achieve escape velocity with the ever-present, growing threat from technology incumbents. Startups are moving into new industries competing with larger incumbents. And “lean startups” that rely more on company-building services offered by their investors are not “lean” for venture firms that must build out service capacity in talent acquisition, sales, product marketing and finance to accelerate venture growth. Today, staff devoted to supporting startup development often exceeds investment professionals in large venture firms.

The venture industry is highly fragmented, with more than 200 venture firms in Silicon Valley alone. Hundreds of venture firms are starting in cities and countries that were previously considered deserts for technology innovation. The venture industry is likely to consolidate significantly in the next decade as funding confers greater advantage to large venture investors.

A few boutique investment banks and private equity firms have withstood the scale and capital advantages of bulge bracket firms. Similarly, seed and early-stage venture firms will resist SoftBank-style institutionalization. Venture firms with expertise in specific technologies, industry sectors or geographic markets will still produce superior returns. However, capital intensity is rising. The venture industry will ultimately be dominated by a few global venture firms supported by independent seed and early-stage funds with proprietary access to high-potential startups.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

Link to original source

Why eVTOLs could be providing regional air service sooner than you think

At Uber’s Elevate summit in Washington, DC earlier this month, researchers, industry leaders and engineers gathered to celebrate the approaching advent of on-demand air service. For Dr. Anita Sengupta, co-founder and Chief Product Office at Detroit’s Airspace Experience Technologies (abbreviated ASX), it was an event full of validation of her company’s specific approach to making electric vertical take-off and landing craft a working, commercially viable reality.

ASX’s eVTOL design is a tilt-wing design, which is distinct from the tilt-rotor design you might see on some of the splashier concept vehicles in the category. As you might’ve inferred from the name of each type of aircraft, with tilt-wing designs the entire wing of the aircraft can change orientation, while on tilt-rotor, just the rotor itself adjust independent of the wing structure.

The benefits of ASX’s tilt-wing choice, according to Sengupta, is speed to market and compatibility with existing regulatory and pilot licensing frameworks – and that’s why ASX could be providing cargo transport service relatively quickly for paying customers, with passenger travel to follow once regulators and the public get comfortable with the idea.

ASX founding team Jon Rimanelli and Dr. Anita Sengupta. Credit: ASX

“Depending upon the aircraft configuration you selected, like us, for example, we’re basically a fixed wing aircraft,” Sengupta explained. “So we would not be classified as a rotorcraft, we’d be classified as a fixed wing aircraft with multi-engine, just with obviously special certification features for the VTOL capability. And of course, special check out for the pilots, but the pilots also would be fixed wing aircraft, pilots, they wouldn’t be helicopter pilots.”

ASX’s vehicle design means that it can either take off vertically when space is tight, or do a more traditional short horizontal take off like the airplanes we use every day. That not only makes it easier to use for pilots with more conventional training and experience, but it also means it can slot into existing infrastructure relatively easily and make use of underused regional airports that already dot the U.S.

“Most people who don’t fly for fun don’t realize that there are general aviation airports all over the place, that are underutilized, because only people like me, who fly for fun [Sengupta is also a pilot], use them frequently,” she said. ” Like where we’re located at Detroit City Airport, on a given day, there could sometimes only be like three planes that go in and out of it. So this is infrastructure, which is already funded, paid for and operated by governments, but isn’t utilized. And you can use them in this new UAM [Urban Air Mobility] space, whether it’s for people or for cargo, it’s actually a really good thing, because the challenge of any new transportation system is the cost of infrastructure.”

ASX has also moved quickly to get aircraft up in the sky, which is better help in terms of its own path to commercialization. It’s built six scaled down demonstration and testing aircraft, including five one-fifth scale and one that’s one-third the size of the eventual production version. These testing aircraft can demonstrate all their modes of flight within easy view of the Detroit City Airport airspace control and monitoring.

“We believe, and when you’re really cash strapped your small company, getting a lot of work at the subscale just allows you to do a lot more iterating, prototyping, and learning, basically how to control the vehicle,” Sengupta told me. “From a software perspective, it’s only when you get to that point, when you’re comfortable with a configuration, that it’s really worth your while to go off and build the full scale one. So with this next round [of funding, ASX’s second after raising just over $1 million last year]we’re going to go off and build this out at scale.”

Ultimately, Sengupta and ASX want to help usher in an era of air travel that creates efficiencies by changing the economics of regional and electric flight, and its attracting interest from investors and industry partners alike, including global transportation service provider TPS Logistics, with which it just signed a new MOU to work together on sussing out the opportunities of the eVTOL logistics market.

“Right now you you see a lot of congestion in airports, within beings, you’re going to have congestion coming in, you’re going to have to build a different professional parking lots and runways and all kinds of huge expense, if you can use these general aviation airports as regional centers to do that travel, you can take it away from the commercial, so they actually solve a lot of other problems,” Sengupta said. “For routes of let’s say 300 miles, you probably would need to do a hybrid power solution first, just because the energy density better isn’t there yet. But that’s the whole nicer than having it be fully fueled. And then hopefully […] hydrogen fuel cells is obviously something where you can get the energy needed in each of those regional flights. So by kick-starting this electric aviation use case for the shorter range, urban flights, you kind of kickstart the industry to push it over to fully electric vehicles for regional travel.”

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

Link to original source