Desjardins launches $45-million fintech fund

Desjardins Group is launching a $45-million fund to invest in financial technology startups as it seeks to build more direct relationships with a nascent sector that once looked poised to disrupt traditional banking.

The new fund will make investments ranging from a few hundred thousand dollars to as much as $3-million, taking stakes of 10 per cent to 25 per cent in early-stage “fintech” companies. It will be managed by Desjardins Capital, the financial co-operative’s venture capital arm, which has invested in more than 400 companies.

The fund builds on existing partnerships and investments Desjardins has made with more than 20 fintechs dating back several years. The burgeoning fintech sector was once seen as a threat to established institutions such as Desjardins but, faced with the high cost and difficulty of acquiring new customers, many fintechs have changed course and have begun collaborating with large financial companies to help them with the transition to digital banking and insurance services.

By creating this new fund, Desjardins is looking to take tighter control of its investments in financial technologies, and to sharpen its focus on products and services that can directly contribute to its strategy, from innovation in insurance and wealth management to strengthening cybersecurity.

Desjardins has already pumped $25-million into Luge Capital, a venture fund focused on fintech and artificial intelligence that launched last year with a total of $75-million from backers such as Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec and Sun Life Financial. Desjardins will continue to back Luge, but now wants to make its own investment decisions as well. Whereas past investments have often been confined to startups in Quebec, the new fund will also seek out opportunities in the United States, Britain, Europe and Australia.

“With $45-million, we can do a lot,” said Guy Cormier, chief executive of Desjardins Group. “There’s a lot of noise, there’s a lot of buzz in the fintech industry, and we just have to be quite careful and quite clever about the kind of partnerships [we choose]. We really know what we want to do, what we want to accomplish, so we’re not trying to go everywhere. But with this fund now we have more capacity.”

The fund’s first investment falls outside the normal boundaries of fintech. Desjardins is putting $400,000 into X-TELIA Group Inc., a company that operates a wireless network tailored to home automation and connecting the so-called internet of things, to help expand its network across Canada. Desjardins sees applications to home and auto insurance, but is also a major lender to the agricultural sector, and X-TELIA connects smart sensors on farmers’ grain silos to make it easier to manage inventory.

“We want to add to our offer. It’s not any more enough for a financial institution to do the financing or to do the everyday banking,” said Martin Brunelle, vice-president of transformation and special projects at Desjardins. “What we want is to ease the lives of our members or our customers.”

Three other fintech companies are currently in the pipeline to receive investments from the new fund, Mr. Brunelle said. But they are at different stages of maturity and some could take years to bear fruit, if they flourish at all.

“The first goal is not return on investment for us. It’s really to build a relationship that is stronger, tighter with these fintechs, and will help us to build something that is great for our members and clients,” Mr. Cormier said. “The return on investment will be there maybe in a few years.”

Source: The Globe and Mail

Large law firms working together on blockchain M&A technology

Written By Anita Balakrishnan

Several major Canadian law firms are working together on a pilot project to make a “smart contract” using Ethereum blockchain.

Technology firm OpenLaw announced the project, which includes Bennett Jones LLP, Blake Cassels & Graydon LLP, Davies Ward Phillips & Vineberg LLP, Fasken Martineau Dumoulin LLP, Norton Rose Fulbright LLP and Stikeman Elliott LLP.

The six-month pilot with a consultancy called GenesisB focused on automating a merger and acquisition escrow agreement, OpenLaw said in the announcement.

“It’s really efficient when it’s fully realized,” she says. “I’m a big believer in what will be enabled through all kinds of projects like this.”

Bennett Jones partner Simon Grant, one of the lawyers who worked on the project, says the project was a “phase one” trial that used a real escrow agreement and model but not client funds. Since the project, however, Bennett Jones has worked separately with clients on putting smart contract technology into practice, using skills learned in the OpenLaw project, says Grant.

Grant says that by removing the need for an individual to act as an escrow agent, automation can be used not only in mergers and acquisitions but other types of transactions such as financing or even transactions where escrow isn’t currently used because it is too complicated.

“The collaboration . . . was among multiple law firms, but it was also between lawyers and programmers — being in the same room at the same time building this project for the ground up,” says Grant. He says that Toronto is a hub for exciting work on blockchain and other technology.

“What [technology companies] may not have is training on how contracts are understood and treated legally,” says Grant.

Anthony de Fazekas, head of technology and innovation for Norton Rose Fulbright Canada in Toronto, says it was important for companies such as OpenLaw to get the perspective of a variety of law firms, so different lawyers could have input on the legal parameters and standards of turning a traditional document-based contract into a smart contract.

“We are already seeing the trend [toward smart contracts] in client projects. With a smart contract, you’re going to need a law firm to sign off, from risk and liability and contractual standard point of view,” says de Fazekas, who also participated in the project. While a document may become a set of coded processes in a smart contract, a lawyer will still need to know how to audit each process, to validate the different allocations of risk between the parties, he says.

“That’s why these projects are important to lawyers and to law firms,” says de Fazekas.

While many people associate blockchain with crypto-currency, smart contracts don’t have to use so-called tokens and coins, says ter Haar. Existing tools such as DocuSign or Stripe can also be integrated into smart contracts, she says.

Blockchain technology, like other types of software, can be used by a wide variety of lawyers for tasks such as clearing a settlement of securities trades, verifying identities and protecting privilege, underwriting claims for insurance, patient records for health care or administering royalties in media, ter Haar says.

Technology lawyer Addison Cameron-Huff says that as clients demand more efficiency from their lawyers, blockchain will eventually be adopted. The question, he says, is who will win that business.

“Law firms have enormous domain knowledge that’s just waiting to be incorporated into tech products,” says Cameron-Huff. I can see why firms would want to capture that knowledge for their own advantage, rather than give it away to others.  Canadian firms are not trailblazers in tech. Part of the reason for this is the cost of these sorts of initiatives so it makes sense to pool resources to create new platforms that can then be used to expand the pie.”

Cameron-Huff says lawyers on Bay Street may be looking more toward winning on the global market than beating each other.

“The typical approach of firms is to compete with each other, but in the blockchain industry the typical approach is to work together,” he says.

LAW TIMES

Volkswagen tests highly-automated driving on new inner-city test route in Hamburg

Hamburg/Wolfsburg, April 3, 2019 – Volkswagen Group Research is testing automated vehicles in urban traffic in Hamburg. This is the first time Volkswagen has begun to test automated driving to Level 4 at real driving conditions in a major German city. From now, a fleet of five e-Golf, equipped with laser scanners, cameras, ultrasonic sensors and radars, will drive on a three-kilometer section of the digital test bed for automated and connected driving in the Hanseatic city. The results of the test drives, which will be continuously evaluated taking full account of all data protection rules, will be incorporated in the Group’s numerous research projects on automated driving, and will test customer-centric services and optimize individual transport.

Actually, a nine kilometer long test track for automated and connected driving (TAVF) is being created in the city of Hamburg and will be upgraded to infrastructure-to-vehicle (I2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communication by 2020. It is characterised by realistic and thus demanding traffic situations. The test track is an open platform for vehicle manufacturers, technology companies, and research institutions to trial innovative mobility services in real traffic conditions on public roads. With the test track, the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg is creating a user-independent and technology-neutral application laboratory on which vehicle manufacturers, technology companies and research institutions can test innovative mobility services free of charge in real traffic on public roads. Interested companies and research institutions can apply at any time. The TAVF coordination center together with the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg takes various criteria like the impact of innovation, benefits for traffic flow and traffic safety or environmental effects on air quality into account.

With 1.8 million inhabitants, Hamburg is Germany’s second largest city. The City of Hamburg is promoting state-of-the-art technologies with the aim of becoming a showroom for innovative mobility. Digital technology plays a key role in making urban mobility and logistics in Hamburg safer, more efficient, and more eco-friendly. Therefore, Hamburg’s strategy on Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) is targeted at traffic safety, traffic flows, environmental effects, and the promotion of innovations. These topics are pursued in six focal areas: data & information; intelligent traffic control & routing; intelligent infrastructure (maintenance & operation); intelligent parking; mobility as a service; and automated & connected driving. Running under the tagline “Experience Future Mobility Now?, the ITS World Congress will take place in Hamburg from 11 to 15 October 2021.

More information on test track for automated and connected driving in Hamburg: https://tavf.hamburg/en/

Speed camera ahead: Google Maps adds photo radar warnings for drivers

By Colette Derworiz

THE CANADIAN PRESS

EDMONTON _ Drivers using Google Maps are getting a last-minute warning as they approach some photo radar camera locations.

The feature, which is currently being rolled out by Google, allows users to see speed limits, speed cameras and mobile speed cameras on the map before they leave.

It also gives a verbal warning an automated voice saying “speed camera ahead” when drivers are near a fixed camera location.

Police in Alberta say the feature is helpful to them.

“The biggest thing we love … is we place those (cameras) by collision statistics,” said Sgt. Joerg Gottschling of the Calgary Police Service traffic section. “If we do a new site, if we are going to install a new camera, the next site is always selected by the next highest crash site.

“Our intersection locations are all determined where we are trying to eliminate collisions.”

Gottschling said they’ve had up to a 50 per cent reduction in collisions in some areas where those cameras are stationed.

With Google Maps, he noted, all drivers approaching the fixed camera intersection get the warning.

“That camera is only facing one way,” said Gottschling. “Let’s say it’s only facing northbound, but you can approach southbound or eastbound … you are still going to get Google telling you caution.

“So you’re going to go slowly and cautiously through there which, lo and behold, is actually what we want.”

Sgt. Kerry Bates with the Edmonton Police traffic division agrees.

“If it slows people down and they know it’s there, that’s good,” he said. “It’s fine. It does the trick.”

Bates said there are about 70 fixed camera locations in the city and they will be adding others in the near future.

Google said in an email that there will also be an ability for android users to report mobile speed cameras and stationary cameras.

The technology company said there’s no plan to merge Google Maps with Waze, a community-based traffic and navigation app that allows drivers to share real-time traffic and road information.

The Alberta government is making changes to prevent photo radar from being used as a  “cash cow” by municipalities.

As part of the changes, which are expected by June, radar will be banned at spots where the speed limit changes on highways. It also won’t be allowed on high-speed, multi-lane highways unless there is documented proof of safety concerns.

Gottschling said there will still be photo radar on busy roads such as Deerfoot Trail and Stoney Trail in Calgary.

“We will be on those roadways because of the secondary justification of speed, collision and difficulty in traditional enforcement,” he said. “There’s no better way to enforce Deerfoot than with photos.

“We also have to take into account where can we safely position ourselves.”

Insurance Companies Use Emerging Technologies & Business Models to Shake Up Competition

Led by insurtech disruptors, novel business models are causing disintermediation in the insurance industry and altering power dynamics. The rise of technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT), and smart devices is placing the spotlight on flexible services based on usage-based insurance, on-demand insurance and Prevention-as-a-Service models, which are redefining the role of insurance in people’s lives. These models will especially appeal to Millennials and Generation Z, the newest buying groups.

Lines of business such as liabilityproperty, and casualty will especially gain from models such as Prevention-as-a-Service,” said Lauren Martin-Taylor, Visionary Innovation Principal Consultant at Frost & Sullivan. “Even though insurtechs and start-ups are leading in addressing shifts in social, mobility, and technology trends by pioneering innovative business models, traditional insurers often back them or play an integral role.”

Frost & Sullivan’s recent analysis, The Future of Insurance, analyzes emerging insurable markets and business models, evolution in operations and the value chain, as well as disruptors and opportunities in various lines of insurance. It also covers technologies such as AI, augmented reality/virtual reality (AR/VR), blockchainwearablesimplantsself-healing materials, and automation. An overview of the trends and challenges in each market is presented along with industry best practices, notable activity, and case studies.

Forward-thinking insurers will look to realign their business strategies to tap the growth opportunities presented by:

  • Medical advances, wearables, and growth of the elderly population.
  • Rise in urban population density, particularly in Asia and Africa.
  • The largely untapped low-income demographic in developed countries, which holds huge potential for microinsurance and automation advances.
  • Biological augmentation technologies, which can transform the markets for life insurance and reinsurers.
  • High levels of digitization, increasing data breaches, and cyber threats.

“The auto insurance industry will be one of the most affected by the rising adoption of advanced technologies, as connected and autonomous vehicles will generate real-time data and improve underwriting accuracy,” noted Taylor. “In due course, the focus will shift from insuring drivers to insuring the vehicle, systems, and technology.”

The Future of Insurance is part of Frost & Sullivan’s global Visionary Innovation (Mega Trends) Growth Partnership Service program.

About Frost & Sullivan

For over five decades, Frost & Sullivan has become world-renowned for its role in helping investors, corporate leaders and governments navigate economic changes and identify disruptive technologies, Mega Trends, new business models and companies to action, resulting in a continuous flow of growth opportunities to drive future success

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