The pandemic has now spread to most parts of the world. Believed to have emerged in November 2019 in the Chinese city of Wuhan, the novel coronavirus disease has been spreading at a rapid pace. As of now, over 1,347,000 confirmed novel coronavirus cases have been recorded globally; the US now has the highest number of confirmed cases (367,000) with over 10,000 fatalities.
Almost everyone, rich or poor; every government, strong or weak; every corporation, big or small, is trying to come to grips with the new and frightening norm brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Social-distancing, work from home protocols, remote collaboration, and touch-free/contactless transactions are the new norms. The deadly human toll, the high fatality rate among the elderly & immunocompromised people, self/government-imposed isolation, lockdowns & restricted movements, loss of jobs, loss of businesses, loss of wealth, increased cyberthreats, economic slowdown, and a looming and inevitable recession are just a few of the frightening things that we are witnessing today.
The current crisis is indeed concerning as the pandemic is spreading like a raging wildfire. With the black swan event unleashed by the COVID-19 pandemic in the financial services industry, many companies are finding it challenging to either stick to their earlier revenue projections or make any new one. However, there is a silver lining, at least in the FinTech space, across the globe as several FinTech companies are coming forward to do their bit during these difficult times. From developing COVID-19 insurance products to urging customers to conduct digital transactions with low or zero fees; to allowing cardholders to skip payments temporarily, FinTechs are providing financial aid to their customers in several ways.
Against this background, we take a look at a few interesting actions undertaken by a few FinTech companies around the world, briefly exploring how their business models are being adapted as well as how business is being conducted in these uncertain and challenging times.
Several FinTech and InsurTech companies have adapted their products with regard to COVID-19. Companies such as Plum, Wellmo, and Clinikk, among others, have teamed up with established underwriters such as Religare Insurance, Star Health, and ICICI Lombard to come up with COVID-19 insurance products in India. In a country like India, where health insurance penetration is quite low, something else is being spread other than the virus itself—health insurance awareness. And, with the regulatory body, IRDAI (Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India), asking insurance companies to come out with policies to cover treatment costs for coronavirus infection, several FinTech and InsurTech companies have come forward to explore opportunities.UK-based InsurTech Zego, which focuses on catering to the gig economy, is offering a 14-day free cover to customers who have been forced to self-isolate.
Meanwhile, Berlin-based InsurTech company WeFox launched a technology platform called wefoxGO and made it free for insurance brokers around the globe, considering the declining sales brokers are experiencing due to the impact of COVID 19. wefoxGO is a solution that connects brokers with customers around the world.
In Vietnam, Sacombank launched a COVID-19 insurance product recently along with the PTI (Post and the Post & Telecommunication Joint Stock Insurance Corporation). The COVID-19 insurance product offers Vietnamese citizens and corporations operating in Vietnam with a coverage of up to VNĐ150 million ($6,335).
A few FinTech companies are coming up with several ways to mitigate the risk of losing customers, possibly due to the declining customer base owing to the pandemic. By offering technical support in terms of free access to their platforms or products, discount offers, and accelerated deployment, FinTech companies are trying to keep their customers engaged and also acquire new customers, which will help these companies sustain themselves through the crisis.
Float: Float is a SaaS-based FinTech company that provides real-time cash flow forecasts for small businesses. To help small businesses struggling with coronavirus-related cash flow uncertainty, the company has announced an extended free trial till May 31.
A crisis like COVID-19 can present both challenges and opportunities for FinTechs, and some companies are already making an effort to be a part of the solution by adjusting their business models. For instance, IntiGo, Tunisia’s first bike-taxi startup with a large fleet of unique rooftop scooters, strategically adjusted its business model by venturing into the delivery services as the demand for its bike-taxi service decreased in the wake of the lockdown.
Besides keeping their bike-taxi service active to cater to medical and police teams, they have introduced two delivery services: a concierge service that enables users to run their errands on an hourly basis at around TND 12 (or $4) per hour and a service that allows grocery stores to deliver groceries to customers.
MYbank, an online private commercial bank under Ant Financial, announced that it would cut interest rates for small businesses in the Hubei province. These companies will get one-year loans with zero interest rates for the first three months with a 20% discount on the interest rate for the remaining nine months.
Google has committed $800 million-plus as part of its COVID-19 response efforts, which includes a $200-million investment fund for NGOs and banks around the world to help small businesses access capital.
Funding Circle, a FinTech focused on business lending in the UK, has recently applied for an accredited lender permit through the UK government’s Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme. Once accredited, the company aims to support businesses affected by the coronavirus. The Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme allows businesses to apply for a loan of up to £5 million through a registered lender, with the government covering up to 80% of any of the lenders’ losses. Under the scheme, the first 12 months of the loan would be interest-free, since the government will be covering interest payments.
The FinTech community in the UK, including London-based FinTech companies, Fronted and Credit Kudos, has come forward to provide financial support for the self-employed workers affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Using Open Banking API, they built the COVID Credit working prototype to validate the income of the non-salaried workers.
Amole, a digital wallet powered by Dashen Bank in Ethiopia, is making transactions free on all services, including person-to-person transfers. It is also offering a 5% instant cashback till the end of April 2020 on purchases at over 8,000 participating businesses that accept Amole. Around 2.1 million Amole customers are expected to benefit from this initiative. These measures have come in addition to the bank-to-mobile wallet and mobile-wallet-to-bank transactions being free as well.
M-BIRR, a mobile money service in Ethiopia, will refund the fees collected for money transfers, bill payments, and electronic purchases of goods & services to all registered customers during the month of April 2020. This move would benefit over 1.6 million M-BIRR users. Recipients can collect cash from over 14,000 locations in both urban and rural areas throughout Ethiopia.
HelloCash is a financial service network in Ethiopia. The company’s online shopping platform, HelloMarket, has started offering a free sanitary mask for all HelloMarket online orders from March 28, 2020, till the end of April 2020.
M-Pesa (Kenya) has waived off fees on mobile money transfers for a period of 90 days to promote the use of cashless payments to help contain the spread of coronavirus. The move was appreciated by the United Nations.
MTN (Uganda) has waived off fees on mobile money transfers for 30 days from March 20, 2020, onwards, to promote cashless payments during the pandemic.
Paysend has rolled back its money transfer fees for customers who send money to China throughout the month of March 2020 in an effort to ensure more money is available to people in the areas affected by the coronavirus. Similarly, Paysend is offering zero-fee money transfers to Italy from March 23 till April 30 whenever the code “LOVEITALY” is applied during the transaction process.
Skrill, a UK-based online payments company, has waived off fees and foreign exchange charges for customers that use its money transfer facility to send funds to recipients in Italy. This fee waiver is also applicable to recipients in Italy until further notice.
Boss Revolution, a payments services company in the US, announced that no fee would be charged for international money transfers on the BOSS Revolution Money app throughout April 30, 2020, when customers use their debit cards (up to $2,999).
Western Union has also announced zero-fee money transfers worldwide for the month of March 2020.
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