An attendee tries out a facial recognition system for Ant Financial Services Group's Alipay mobile payment platform at Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.'s annual November 11 Singles' Day online shopping event in Shenzhen, China, on Friday, Nov. 11, 2016. Alibaba broke its $14 billion Singles' Day sales record with room to spare, offering assurances about the strength of the Chinese consumer despite the nation's economic slowdown. Photographer: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg
Fintech companies like Ant Financial are giving consumers new ways to make payments. © Bloomberg

Every year, the FT looks for fintech companies and projects with the ability to bring lasting change to the financial services sector. The awards recognise both innovative ideas and the ability to bring them into widespread use.

There are two categories; the Impact Award is for larger and more established fintech companies, which are starting to have an effect on the financial services industry, while the Innovation Award is for newer fintech companies that are bringing out novel solutions.

These are the companies that have been shortlisted for the awards. Two winners will be announced at the FT’s Banking Summit on November 30th.

Impact Award

■ Funding Circle

Funding Circle, a direct lending platform that connects investors to borrowers, is shortlisted for the second year running for our Impact Award. With valuation of more than $1bn it is one of the UK’s “unicorns” and the largest British online “peer-to-peer” company by cumulative amount lent. More than £3bn has now been lent through the platform, with £1.1bn of that in 2016. 

Funding Circle has an investor base of more than 60,000 lenders providing funding globally to in excess of 24,000 small businesses.

It also works with larger lenders, such as the government-owned British Business Bank, which has, since 2013 lent a total of £100m to small businesses via the Funding Circle lending platform. 

The company received full authorisation from the UK Financial Conduct Authority in May, paving the way for it to launch new financial products, such as an individual savings account (ISA). Revenues in 2016 increased 59 per cent to £50.1m , although the company still makes an operating loss. 

The judges said:

“The company is big enough to be making an impact in small business lending now.”

■ Ant Financial Services

Ant Financial Services, founded in 2014, is an affiliate of Alibaba, the Chinese e-commerce company. It is one of the world’s largest financial technology companies, offering everything from loans to insurance, wealth management and credit products. 

It operates Alipay, the world’s largest online and mobile payments platform, with more than 670m active users. The company’s money market fund, Yu’e Bao, created by sweeping up the cash left over in customers’ accounts, is the world’s biggest, with $165.6bn under management. It overtook JPMorgan’s US government money market fund earlier this year. 

Ant Financial also has Ant Fortune, a wealth management app; Zhima Credit, a third party credit filing and scoring provider; MYbank, an online private bank providing micro loans to small businesses; and Ant Financial Cloud, an open platform providing customised cloud computing services to financial companies. 

Ant Financial was valued at $60bn in its last financing round in April 2016, although a widely anticipated stock market listing has been pushed back until at least 2018. 

Ant Financial is expanding beyond its home market of China and says it aims to have 2bn users over the next 10 years. 

The judges said:

“This is clearly one of the most innovative and impactful fintech companies of the moment, changing the landscape completely.”

■ Ripple

California based Ripple, founded in 2012, has grown to be one of the world’s biggest blockchain networks. It allows businesses to transfer money globally at low cost using its own cryptocurrency XRP. 

More than 100 customers have so far signed up, including banks such as Santander, Standard Chartered and Bank of America. 

Revenues, from the sale of software to banks and transaction fees, have more than doubled each year for the past three years. The market value of its own virtual currency XRP has reached almost $10bn. 

The company has raised more than $93m since it was founded from investors including Google Ventures and Andreessen Horowitz. 

The judges said:

“This is no longer a prototype. Ripple is actually sending blockchain payments through. Many of these are still test payments but it is further than a lot of others.”

■ EFL Global

EFL Global provides alternative credit scoring for people who have previously been outside the banking system. It was founded in 2010 to help small businesses in emerging markets qualify for loans. 

The company’s founders, Bailey Klinger, Asim Khwaja and Dennis DiDonna, created an AI system that analyses psychometrics, such as an individual’s ability and willingness to repay a loan, and other data collected online to predict an individual’s credit risk. Applicants with no previous credit history can take 15 to 20 minute online assessments to qualify for a loan with one of EFL’s partner financial institutions. 

EFL is creating data where none was available before and predicting risk for a previously “unscorable” section of the population. 

EFL’s credit assessment is available in more than 20 languages in 15 countries, across four continents. So far it has provided credit scores for nearly 1m people and enabled $1.5bn lending. It sells the credit scoring platform to more than 30 paying clients, such as banks, microfinance institutions and retailers.

The judges said:

“There were many credit scoring entries and we liked what many of these were doing in terms of giving more people access to finance. However, we particularly liked the way EFL went beyond traditional credit score information.”

■ Digital Reasoning 

Digital Reasoning uses cognitive computing techniques to detect rogue traders at financial services companies. 

The AI-based analytic platform was initially used by the US Department of Defence for the surveillance of suspects, but it soon caught the attention of big Wall Street banks, who applied it to analysing trader behaviour. 

The software analyses emails, chat logs, documents and speech-to-text audio records. It flags up risks by sending alerts to compliance officers. The system learns to recognise patterns and becomes increasingly accurate over time.  

According to a study by Forrester Research one company using the trader surveillance system doubled its return on investment in four months. 

Digital Reasoning’s clients include Goldman Sachs and HCA Healthcare. Nasdaq is in the process of integrating the software into its own trading surveillance system. 

The judges said:

“We thought this idea was cool. Cutting rogue trader activity and fraud at banks is a serious issue with consequences beyond just the banks themselves.”

Innovation Award

■ QCash Financial

Micro finance lending platform QCash Financial was founded by the Washington State Employee Credit Union as an alternative to expensive payday loans. The credit union’s tellers had noticed that a number of their customers needed small, short-term loans but these were not available from the traditional and credit union lenders. 

After more than a decade of testing as an internal solution for its own members QCash was launched in 2012 as an online lending platform accessible to more than 500 other US credit unions as a white label solution. 

QCash boasts that the system can accept, underwrite and fund a loan application in 60 seconds without creating an additional administrative burden for the union or the bank. 

QCash originated more than 30,000 loans last year. 

The judges said:

“We liked this because it was an alternative to payday lending and an instance of an established financial institution doing something innovative.”

■ Token

Token is creating an open banking platform aimed at making it easier for people, businesses and financial institutions to move money around. Using digital identity and smart tokens it offers a way for people to give third parties access to their account details in a secure and simple way. 

It could offer banks a simple way to comply with the EU’s new payment services directive (PSD2). The regulations, which come into force in 2018, will require banks to provide third parties access to customer data if the customer requests it. Banks will need to build APIs, or interfaces, for third parties to use, but this is likely to result in a confusing maze of different systems. Token would offer a single API that would aggregate client data from any bank.  

Token has four signed deals with banks so far and 35 banks in the pipeline. The company recently raised $18.5m in a Series A funding round from a group of European investors including Octopus Ventures, EQT VC and OP Financial Group. 

The judges said:

“This is solving the problem that PSD2 brings, where banks need to provide APIs to authorised third parties. Token simplifies the many APIs and is already integrating 10 banks into the system.  

■ RSRCHXchange

RSRCHXchange was founded in 2014 as a one-stop-shop for asset management firms to purchase research services from banks, brokers and boutique providers. It will be particularly useful in helping banks comply with the EU’s new Mifid II rules, which come into force at the start of 2018. The updated Markets in Financial Instruments Directive requires banks to keep the sale of equity research separate from other banking services. At present they are often bundled with other investment banking fees.  

RSRCHX provides a marketplace where banks and asset managers can buy and sell such research, tracking and verifying that this is done in a MiFiD II compliant way. 

RSRCHX‘s customers include more than 1,000 asset managers in 37 countries and 200 research providers. 

The judges said:

This is solving a problem that comes with Mifid II. A more sophisticated solution than others in the market.  

■ Bricklane is an online property ISA allowing anyone to participate in the housing market with an initial investment of as little as £100. The idea is that people wanting to save for a deposit for a home can do so by investing in the property market. The fund uses their investment to buy homes that are rented out to make a profit; investors receive a share of the rental income. Bricklane takes a 2 per cent fee on new funds and charges a 0.85 per cent annual management charge.

The first fund has invested in Leeds, Manchester and Birmingham. A London fund is due to be launched shortly. is backed by ZPG Plc (which operates Zoopla and uSwitch) and has also taken funding from venture capitalist Robin Klein. 

Founders Simon Heawood and Tom Cavill are both using the ISA product themselves. 

The judges said:

“We liked this because it is creating a new product. The founders say the main competitor is cash, with most of their funds coming from people transferring their ISAs.”

■ Castlight Financial

Castlight Financial is aiming to prevent another credit crunch by providing a more accurate way to assess what a consumer can afford to borrow. It collects data in real time from customers’ banks accounts, including income and expenditure, and uses these to build a clear picture of a their monthly disposable income. People who may have previously been refused loans because banks had too little data about them may become eligible for credit. Castlight says it can also speed up the mortgage decision process from six weeks to 10 minutes. 

Castlight generates income by charging customers a fee for use of their “affordability passport”, similar to the fees for downloading a credit file. The UK’s mortgage and insolvency sectors are beginning to adopt the technology. The company has taken no funding or debt and has been profitable since its first year. 

The judges said:

“The idea of better credit scoring is attractive and it is significant that the company has made a profit from the first year and has not had to take any financing.”

This article has been amended to reflect the fact that Credit Suisse is an investor in Digital Reasoning rather than a client.

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