Israeli fintech start-ups get their place in the sun

Leumi Group, joining Citi, MasterCard, and others, is the latest financial institution to seek solutions in the Start-Up Nation

At work at the Elevator Fund in Tel Aviv (Photo credit: Courtesy)
At work at the Elevator Fund in Tel Aviv (Photo credit: Courtesy)

Almost under the radar, the Start-Up Nation has become a go-to place for financial technology. This week, Bank Leumi announced that it was joining with other financial institutions, both Israeli and foreign – such as Citi and Mastercard – to develop new technologies with Israeli fintech start-ups.

Together with start-up investment fund Elevator, Leumi Group has set up an accelerator program to search out the next big thing in financial technology. The program will seek start-ups that have innovative technology in finance, consumer relations, security, risk management, and services.

The program started several months ago, and this week the participants met with Professor Danny Tsiddon, deputy CEO of Bank Leumi, along with Dan Yerushalmi, Leumi’s CTO. They toured the bank’s super-secure and super-secret computing center, and showed top officials of the Bank what they have been working on during the program.

The program last for six months, during which time start-ups are working with Bank Leumi and its affiliated companies, receiving mentoring services from some of the top bankers and financiers in Israel. They also receive training on business development issues, computing and cloud infrastructure and services (via the Amazon cloud), accounting service, PR services, assistance in patenting their ideas and products, and more.

When they’re ready for the “big time,” Leumi group and Elevator will take the start-ups to Wall Street, where they will present their ideas and products to serious investors and heads of large financial institutions in the U.S. and Europe. Altogether, the package is worth about $200,000 for the start-ups – $20,000 in direct investment by Elevator and $180,000 in services. Elevator gets 10% of company equity, and promises to open up its substantial network of investors, financiers, and entrepreneurs for the benefit of the start-ups.

Among the projects the start-ups are working on is a “digital wallet” for benefits and bonuses consumers are eligible for from their credit card companies, allowing them to more easily keep track of their activity and rewards; a method to significantly increase the speed for making complex queries in a bank’s big databases; a revised and far more accurate (and fair, its inventors say) method of determining an individual’s creditworthiness; and a more secure environment for mobile banking.

With the program, Leumi joins numerous other financial institutions in taking advantage of Israel’s fin-tech expertise. Mastercard, for example, has been running a contest for tech companies in Israel for several years now, awarding $25,000 to the winner; this year, CallVU, a Tel Aviv-based start-up, took the prize for its innovative monetization and service improvement of the call-in help process.

Bank Hapoalim recently announced it was investing NIS 80 million ($23 million) in Israeli fintech “to turn Bank Hapoalim into a home for technology companies that are developing products for the financial industry,” said Bank Hapoalim chairman Yair Seroussi. Also working with fintech start-ups in Israel is British bank Barclays, whose CIO, Andrew Witney, said that the bank was “very excited about opening the technological center in Israel. The center will benefit from Israel’s large pool of talented high-tech workers and will provide solutions for Barclays Capital’s technological challenges today and in the future.”

And Citi, one of the largest financial institutions in the world, opened a fintech accelerator earlier this year. At a recent conference, Lyron Wahrmann, director of Citi’s Technology Innovation Center in Israel, said that while the bank has been operating in Israel for 20 years, it was only recently that Citi got the idea of leveraging the Start-Up Nation’s savvy to improve its business. “The financial software and technology market around the world is huge,” he said. “Given the skills and experience Israelis have in security, networking, Internet services, and so many other areas, financial technology is a great opportunity for Israeli start-ups.”

read more:
Never miss breaking news on Israel
Get notifications to stay updated
You're subscribed