Hello, and welcome back. We finally got our power restored after the ice storm and I’m feeling better after coming down with a cold — but since I’m still not operating at full capacity, this newsletter will be a bit abbreviated. Rebrands are not uncommon in the startup world, and the fintech space is no exception. They are particularly more prevalent when companies pivot to adapt to external circumstances. Last week, TripActions announced it was rebranding and is now called Navan. I, for one, wasn’t at all surprised by the news since TripActions pivoted from being a travel expense management company to a corporate card and expense management for enterprises more generally soon after the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020. In 2021, CEO and co-founder Ariel Cohen told me that its revenue didn’t just drop — it bottomed out . . . to zero. That’s when execs decided to focus its efforts on its then-new Liquid offering, which appears to have worked out pretty well for the company. In October, amid its continued growth, the company raised $154 million in equity at a post-money valuation of $9.2 billion, up from its prior valuation of $7.5 billion, as well as a $150 million structured financing deal from Coatue. Then in December, it secured $400 million in credit facilities from Goldman Sachs and Silicon Valley Bank (SVB). Its rebrand is more than just a name change, apparently. The company said it has now unified its travel, corporate and expense offerings into “a single super application.” On top of that, Navan — a combination of navigate and avant (or forward) — claims to be the first travel company to integrate OpenAI and ChatGPT APIs across its infrastructure and product set. The company says it is currently using the generative AI technology to write, test, and fix code with the aim of increasing its operational efficiency and reducing overhead. So now, through Ava — Navan’s virtual assistant — travel managers are able to personalize recommendations and increase traveler engagement, execs claim. They say also that admins can use the tool as a personal assistant to perform tasks such as performing personalized data analysis, providing granular carbon emission details or ordering corporate cards for their company. Meanwhile, travelers can do things like perform a travel search, solve customer support issues and even recommend an Indian restaurant near their hotel in London, for example. A company spokesperson told me via email: “Program admins will be able to ask Ava for reporting across the travel and spend programs, whether that is via text, graph, PDF, etc. We also use AI to do everything from the elimination of expense reporting to automate itemization — and in the case of hotel folios, we instantly fetch it from the hotel after a stay, categorize line items, compare that against company policy, and submit for the user, so there’s no need for them [to] move pennies around in order to balance out a folio — a process that’s pretty painful in my experience.” Personally, we’ve been wondering at TC when generative AI was going to impact the fintech space, so I’m intrigued by this move on TripAction’s — I mean Navan’s — part. But I should point out Navan wasn’t the only company in the financial services space that announced it was incorporating AI into its products. Last week, TechCrunch’s Sarah Perez reported that Microsoft and American Express announced they were teaming up to put AI to work “to aid with the frustrating and laborious task of filing and auditing corporate expense reports.” She wrote: “The companies agreed to expand their decades-long partnership to build solutions that leverage Microsoft Cloud and AI technologies, starting with expense report management. According to Amex, the initial solution will leverage machine learning and AI to automate expense reporting and approvals.” Notably, though, Amex says the AI is something it built in-house — it’s not leveraging Microsoft’s partnership with OpenAI but is using Microsoft Cloud. You can read more about that deal here. Fascinating! I expect we’ll only be hearing more about AI being incorporated in the world of financial services.
Last week, Affirm announced that it was reducing its staff by 19% and shutting down its crypto unit. It also missed analysts’ estimates on its revenue and earnings. All this news led to a sharp drop in its stock price. It’s further evidence that buy now, pay later as a space is struggling. I plan to get into that more next week, so stay tuned. Gusto also slashed jobs — laying off 126 people last week. Last May, TechCrunch had reported that the HR technology unicorn, which was worth nearly $10 billion at that time, raised an extension to its 2021-era Series E funding round. That funding event included $175 million in primary capital, a tranche of secondary shares and a tender offer. Ironically, TC’s Natasha Mascarenhas explains, late last month, Gusto’s editor-in-chief wrote about the topic of layoffs — and the silver lining ahead for small businesses looking to scoop up talent. “Call me cynical, but in the end, a big business will always choose itself over scores of its employees. It’s just the nature of the beast. Small businesses need to use this fact to their advantage.” TechCrunch reached out to Gusto for comment and was told that the cuts represented about 5% of the workforce. A spokesperson also told me: “All employees were notified by email. Impacted employees also received a text pointing them to the email.” One employee, who wished to remain anonymous, said the move came as a surprise since the company claims that it is in “stable financial condition.” The same employee cited a toxic work culture, a sentiment that was echoed by some users of Blind.
According to Axios: “Robinhood announced it plans to buy back shares from Sam Bankman-Fried’s Emergent Fidelity Technologies. That particular Robinhood stake is currently in legal hell after FTX’s implosion. Robinhood’s board has authorized the purchase of “most or all” of the 55 million shares Emergent Fidelity Technologies acquired last year, it said in its earnings report Wednesday. Emergent Fidelity Technologies was formed to buy a 7.6% in Robinhood in early 2022. Now however, the stake is being disputed by several players.” Ouch. I’m sure Robinhood didn’t anticipate this when giving up those shares. Pie Insurance, which provides workers’ compensation insurance to small businesses, announced that it has completed its transition to a “rated, full-stack carrier.” Pie will begin issuing its own insurance policies later this year following the recent acquisition of a nationally licensed insurance company (previously the American Insurance Company), now renamed the Pie Insurance Company. We last covered Pie in September when it raised a $315 million Series D. Pie also expanded into commercial auto insurance as the MGA for Ford Motor Credit Company through the launch of Ford Pro Insure. From Manish Singh: “Fintech Kissht and PayU’s LazyPay are among the apps that India’s IT Ministry has blocked in the ongoing crackdown as New Delhi moves to curb the misuse of consumers’ data and protect the nation’s integrity.” More here. PayPal’s stock is up once again. The company announced during its fourth-quarter earnings announcement that longtime CEO Dan Schulman plans to retire at the end of the year. But its earnings topped analysts’ estimates. Last week, we wrote about the company’s plans to lay off 2,000 employees. In July 2022, Brazilian fintech alt.bank launched novücard, a credit card in Brazil that has a “dynamic” credit limit, with the ability to see the limit adjusted upward and downward automatically based on usage and payment timeliness. A company spokesperson told me that since that launch, novücard has grown to 150,000 new clients, “making it the fastest growing credit card in Brazil.” She added: “As many as 3,000 new customers per day are obtaining a new novücard. The company expects this figure will grow, boosted primarily by word of mouth — and that the number of customers will increase to 2 million by the end of 2023.” Founded by American Brad Liebmann, fintech alt.bank has 130 employees based primarily in São Paulo and São Carlos. The company raised $5.5 million in seed funding in May of 2021.
Fundings and M&A
Former Gemini CTO launches Fierce, a high-yield finance super app New social investment platform Follow taps influencers to mirror their investment strategies SUMA Wealth acquires Reel to close the U.S. wealth gap. Christine covered last year: https://techcrunch.com/2022/10/21/suma-wealth-latinos-credit-gaming/ Sequoia Capital Southeast Asia backs cross-border payments startup Tazapay Investment platform Moonfare caps Series C extension at $15M That’s it for this week. Thanks once again for hanging in there with me, and I hope to be back at you at full speed next week. Enjoy the rest of your weekend! xoxo, Mary Ann AI comes to expense reports by Mary Ann Azevedo originally published on TechCrunch