Startups Make Progress Toward Fintech for Impact
Key updates from each of the companies over the first six months of their investment period
A little over six months ago, five startups based and working in the Philippines were onboarded into ING and UNICEF’s first ever Fintech for Impact cohort.
These companies were chosen through a competitive process for this opportunity because they are building innovative open source solutions with potential to provide families and youth in the Philippines with better financial stability and opportunity.
In addition to investment, the cohort has also received individualized support from UNICEF mentors to strengthen their business strategies - as well as in how to “work in the open” - how to set up, grow, license and sustain their open source technology or content solutions. They have also met with experts at ING, which is providing access to the core business skills of their staff to support the growth of the startups.
In addition, Manila-based startup accelerator IdeaSpace is providing wrap-around support to the cohort, to monitor progress, needs, and challenges - and match the startups with the many mentors and resources they have available in their network.
Working throughout the pandemic and shifting lockdowns, as well as facing numerous weather events, the startups have had to find new ways of working and engaging with users on the ground, while accelerating the development of their solutions given the clearer need and urgency for social protection and financial stability.
Here are some of the key updates from each of the companies over the first six months of their investment period.
Saphron is building NAN.AI, an AI-powered tool for a primarily female workforce of microinsurance agents (“nanays”) to efficiently reach more lower-income, rural families with affordable, accessible insurance.
- An updated version of NAN.AI is now being used in more than eight provinces around the country, and can function offline to be synced at a later time. While lockdowns have prevented people from meeting face-to-face, the agents report that communities are more aware about the importance of having the social safety net of insurance.
- The team continues to develop their machine learning solution to improve the efficiency of NAN.AI for their agents - incorporating optical character recognition and an after-sales chatbot.
- Saphron is preparing to release two open data repositories - handwriting data and an English-Filipino corpus - as training data sets that can be used for computer vision and natural language processing use cases. They are partnering with multiple academic institutions on this open data initiative.
reach52 is adding to their suite of apps that empower local women (“agents”) to provide affordable microinsurance, healthcare, and health products to rural communities.
- They have developed and rolled out a streamlined checkout feature for over 300 community agents which simplifies the ordering process for their customers.
- They have also developed an offline mobile ‘health wallet’ feature to digitize payments and processes for these communities, which are usually in low-connectivity regions, and have typically been purely cash-based.
- reach52 is set to begin testing the next set of features which will enable community residents to connect e-wallets, cards or bank accounts to the app, as well as earn and redeem points towards future purchases of health products - further improving affordability and strengthening the link to the community agents.
- By minimising cash transactions through these new features, reach52 hopes to further improve access to digital financial and health services - even more critical in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
InvestEd is developing an “Education-to-Adulthood” coaching platform and educational content to complement its student loan program, guiding low-income students toward job security and financial wellness.
- With the Fintech for Impact investment they were able to kick off development of the digital content (which will initially focus on building financial health and stability) - identified as a critical need during the first COVID-19 lockdowns. In their loan program, this year has seen a record-high number of new and repeat student loan borrowers with a need for this support.
- The feedback they gathered led them to move away from a traditional curriculum-based approach and instead catch the attention of young viewers by presenting them with a collection of strategies and suggestions, coming from their peers, presented in short, casual, and engaging video formats.
- Young people interviewed also expressed the desire for community with peers going through their own financial wellness journey, so the goal is for the content produced to spark discussion and interaction - all within a new online forum functionality.
- The content is now being tested among current borrowers; when the platform is launched the content will be available for anyone to use.
Beam&Go has built a payment and digital marketplace empowering migrant workers (and overseas foreign workers or OFWs) by giving them control over how their remittances are spent by their families back home.
- The team is in testing mode for Project SEGUIDA - the next generation tool for OFWs to manage the financial activities of their beneficiaries and empower more family members to get involved in household financial management - including their spouse, parents, siblings, and children. The resulting tool will include an API, database structure, and an administrative dashboard, all released under an open-source license.
- Beam&Go has significantly expanded the scope of their business to support the overseas foreign worker throughout her journey, with an eye to her speedy return home: in addition to a digital wallet (recently launched in Singapore), they are planning to add access to saving plans, ethical consumer and tuition loans, upskilling opportunities, and support around finding a job or starting a business in the Philippines.
- Beam&Go is running a series of workshops with their most active wallet users to educate them on how the Beam&Go wallet can help them successfully repatriate back to the Philippines. In addition, the team gathers user feedback toward improving usability and user experience. The goal of the workshops is to ensure the wallet’s features and functions deliver what users need and expect.
Agrabah is building an integrated platform that provides farmers and fisherfolk access to markets and financing, helping stabilize and scale income for rural families.
- They have built the platform with a very simple UI/UX for farmers and fisherfolks, but one that gathers a broad set of business data. So far over 1400 farmers and fisherfolks have been registered and are being issued an ID card with QR code, which is used every time they deliver their crop to the community leader - and all aspects of the delivery are tracked.
- Agrabah is developing and refining a risk-rating system based on the detailed crop availability and delivery data that their platform gathers, to assist financial institutions in assessing risk for loans to farmers and fisherfolks, with the goal to open up more opportunities for the farmers to expand their businesses.
- A live pilot was launched to test the traceability functions with 1 seaweed farming community with 37 farmers in Camarines Sur tracking transactions. They also piloted the Finance aspect of the platform, starting the matching of farmers to loan providers. 5 of the 8 farmers in the pilot were initially approved for a loan that will be disbursed via digital means as opposed to a traditional check.
- Agrabah recently won the PhilDev X Cebuana Lhuillier Foundation Financial Literacy Innovation Challenge. The prize money will be used to conduct 10 financial literacy bootcamps for 250 farmers and fisherfolk in supported coastal communities in Caramoan, Camarines Sur.