fintech

Point wants to provide credit card rewards with debit cards

Posted by | Apps, challenger bank, Finance, fintech, Mobile, neobank, point, Startups | No Comments

Point, a new challenger bank in the U.S., is launching publicly today with an invite system. While Point is technically providing a bank account, the company focuses on rewards associated with a debit card.

“I started Point as a solution about everything that is frustrating and complicated about credit cards. The incentives between credit card companies and cardholders are misaligned,” Point co-founder and CEO Patrick Mrozowski told me.

When Mrozowski first got a credit card, he was spending a ton of money to reach a certain level of spending and unlock the sign-up bonus. At the end of the month, he ended up with credit card debt for no valid reason.

“What would American Express look like today?” he says to sum up Point’s vision. It comes down to two important principles — being in charge of your budget so that you don’t end up with debt and unlocking rewards from brands that you actually interact with.

Many challenger banks want to provide a simple banking experience for the underbanked. Point doesn’t have the same positioning. Creating a Point account is more like joining a membership program.

When you sign up, you get a debit card with some level of insurance as it’s a Mastercard World Debit card. You can expect some trip cancellation insurance, rental car insurance, purchase insurance, etc.

As the name of the startup suggests, you earn points with each purchase. You get 5x points on subscriptions, such as Spotify and Netflix, 3x points on food, grocery deliveries and ride sharing, and 1x points on everything else. Points can be redeemed for dollars — each point is worth $0.01. In addition to that, Point is going to create a feed of offers with discounts, content, events and more.

Due to its premium positioning, Point isn’t free. You have to pay $6.99 per month or $60 per year to join Point. Point doesn’t charge any foreign transaction fees.

You can connect your Point account with another bank account using Plaid. It lets you top up your account using ACH transfers. Behind the scenes, Point works with Radius Bank for the banking infrastructure, an FDIC-insured bank.

The company announced earlier this month that it has raised a $10.5 million Series A led by Valar Ventures with Y Combinator, Kindred Ventures, Finventure Studio and business angels also participating.

Image Credits: Point

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Revolut expands bank account aggregation to Ireland

Posted by | Apps, challenger bank, Europe, Finance, fintech, Mobile, neobank, Open Banking, Revolut, Startups, TrueLayer | No Comments

Fintech startup Revolut has expanded its open banking feature to Ireland. The feature first launched in the U.K. back in February. Once again, the startup is partnering with TrueLayer to let you add third-party bank accounts to your Revolut account.

The feature launch also marks the launch of TrueLayer in Ireland. For now, Revolut users can only link their Revolut account with AIB, Permanent TSB, Ulster Bank and Bank of Ireland. Revolut and TrueLayer will add support to other banks in the future. Revolut currently has 1 million customers in the Republic of Ireland.

The idea behind open banking is quite simple. Many online services rely on application programming interfaces (APIs) to talk to each other. You can connect with your Facebook account on many online services, you can interact with other services from Slack, etc.

Financial institutions have been lagging behind on this front, but it is changing thanks to new regulation and technical updates. With open banking, your bank account should work more like a traditional internet service.

When you connect your bank account with Revolut, you can view your balance and past transactions from a separate tab that lists all your linked accounts. Users can also take advantage of Revolut’s budgeting features with their bank accounts.

As TechCrunch’s Steve O’Hear noted when he first covered Revolut’s open banking feature, Revolut was originally authorized for Account Information Services (AIS) by the U.K. regulator, the Financial Conduct Authority. It lets you access and display information from other financial institutions.

But the startup now has permission to carry out Payment Initiation Services (PIS). It means that you’ll soon be able to initiate transfers from your bank account directly from Revolut. It should make it much easier to top up your Revolut balance, for instance.

While this feature might seem anecdotal, Revolut wants to build a comprehensive financial hub for all your financial needs — a sort of super app for everything related to money. With open banking, you theoretically no longer have to open your traditional banking app.

Image Credits: Revolut

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Square acquires European peer-to-peer payment app Verse

Posted by | Apps, cash app, Europe, fintech, Fundings & Exits, Mobile, Square, Startups, Verse | No Comments

Square acquired Verse, a Spanish peer-to-peer payment app that works across Europe. Terms of the deal are undisclosed. According to Crunchbase, Verse had raised $37.6 million from Spark Capital, eVentures, Greycroft Partners and others.

Square has attracted a ton of users with Cash App, its peer-to-peer payment app that lets you easily send and receive money from your phone. But Cash App has only been available in the U.S. and the U.K.

Acquiring Verse seems like a good fit to expand Square’s presence in Europe. Verse’s team will join the Cash App division within Square.

There are many similarities between Cash App and Verse. Verse’s main feature is that it lets you send and receive money from a mobile app. Users don’t pay any fees and transfers occur in just a few seconds.

Verse users sign up with their phone numbers, which means that you can send money to other users as long as you have their phone numbers in your address book. If you don’t have enough money on your Verse account, the app can charge your debit card directly. And if you want to withdraw money from your Verse account, you can transfer your balance to your bank account.

You can also track group expenses from the app (like Splitwise), create money pots and organize events with a basic ticketing feature.

More recently, Verse launched a Visa debit card in Spain, which lets you spend money on your Verse account directly. You don’t pay any foreign exchange fees and you get two free ATM withdrawals per month. Verse uses Visa’s exchange rate.

While the startup hasn’t shared usage numbers for a while, according to App Annie, it is currently the No. 247 most downloaded app in the App Store in Spain across all categories. Peer-to-peer payment is a fragmented market. For instance, French startup Lydia has 3 million users in France.

“At this point, our main priority is enabling Verse to continue their successful growth in Europe. Verse will continue to operate as an independent business, working out of their offices with no immediate changes to their existing products, customers, or business operations,” Square wrote in the announcement.

The three most important words in this statement are “at this point.” Square doesn’t want to fix what isn’t broken. But I wouldn’t be surprised if Verse slowly evolves to become Cash App in Europe.

Image credits: Square

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Mobile payment app Lydia raises $45 million round led by Tencent

Posted by | Apps, Europe, Finance, fintech, France Newsletter, Fundings & Exits, Lydia, Mobile, Startups | No Comments

French startup Lydia is raising a $45 million Series B round (€40 million). Tencent is leading the round with existing investors CNP Assurances, XAnge and New Alpha also participating.

If you live in France, chances are you already know Lydia quite well. The company has become a ubiquitous mobile payment app, especially for people under 30 years old. Think about it as a sort of Square Cash or Venmo, but for France.

“At first, we wanted to raise less but we ended up raising more,” Lydia co-founder and CEO Cyril Chiche told me in a phone interview.

The company has managed to attract 3 million users in France. More impressive, 25% of French people between 18 and 30 years old have a Lydia account — and 5,000 people sign up every day. Lydia currently has 90 employees.

More recently, the company has expanded beyond peer-to-peer payment. First, the company wants to help you manage your money in many different ways with an important value — everything should happen in real time.

You can create multiple Lydia accounts to put some money aside or use money in that sub-account for a specific purpose. That feature alone turns the app into a versatile money management app.

For instance, you can associate a Lydia payment card with a Lydia account and a virtual card with another Lydia account — that virtual card works with Apple Pay, Google Pay, Samsung Pay and more. You can change those settings in real time.

You can share accounts with other Lydia users. And shared accounts are truly shared — everyone can top up and withdraw money from that account. You can spend directly from that account or withdraw money to another account.

You can also turn any Lydia account into a money pot account. In just a few taps, you can generate a link and share it with your friends so that they can add money using their regular payment card or a Lydia account.

More recently, the company has introduced “the market”, a marketplace of other financial products. From the Lydia app, you can borrow up to €1,000 in just a few seconds. You can also insure your phone and other mobile devices. You can get some free credit when you open a bank account, insure your home with Luko, switch to another electricity and gas provider, compare mobile phone and internet providers and more.

And that strategy is going to be key in the future. “We have an ambitious goal, which is turning Lydia into a mobile financial service app,” Chiche said.

He also pointed out that the company that has been the most successful when it comes to creating a mobile marketplace of financial products is Tencent with WeChat.

“Tencent is also the number one player in the video game industry, and there’s no industry with as much user engagement,” Chiche said. Tencent acquired Supercell, bought 40% of Epic Games, acquired Riot Games (League of Legends), invested in Ubisoft, Activision Blizzard, Discord, etc. Lydia hopes that it can learn from Tencent on the user engagement front.

Compared to many fintech startups, Lydia doesn’t want to replace banks altogether — the company says it wants to build a meta-banking app. Peer-to-peer payments represent the top of the funnel and a great user acquisition strategy thanks to networking effects.

You can then connect your Lydia account with your bank account and your debit card. This way, you can send money back and forth between your Lydia accounts and your bank account. As a user, that strategy slowly pays off over time. After a while, you end up spending money directly from your Lydia account and relying more heavily on Lydia’s native payment features, with your bank account acting as a money back end.

At the bottom of the funnel, Lydia hopes that it can turn active Lydia users into paid customers with a handful of in-house and third-party financial products. In other words, Lydia doesn’t want to become a credit institution like a traditional bank, it wants to become a financial hub. Expanding the marketplace will be a big focus for the company going forward.

While Lydia is available in other European countries, Lydia is still massively used in its home market with other markets lagging behind. With today’s funding round, growth in foreign countries is going to be the second key topic.

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Pixpay is a challenger bank for teens focused on pocket money

Posted by | Apps, challenger bank, Europe, fintech, France Newsletter, Mobile, Pixpay, Startups | No Comments

Meet Pixpay, a French startup that wants to replace cash when you’re handing out pocket money to your kids. Anybody who is older than 10 years old can create a Pixpay account, get a debit card and manage pocket money.

Challenger banks are nothing new, but they’re still mostly targeted towards adults. If you want to create an N26 or Revolut account, you need to be at least 18 years old. You can create a Lydia account if you’re at least 14 years old with parental consent.

Pixpay, like Kard, wants to fill that gap and offer modern payment methods to teens so that you can ditch cash altogether. Parents and kids both download the Pixpay app to interact with the service.

A few days after creating an account, your child receives a Mastercard. It offers the same features that you’d expect from a challenger bank — you can customize the PIN code, lock it and unlock it, receive a notification with each transaction and restrict some features, such as limits, ATM withdrawals, online payments and payments abroad. Pixpay also lets you generate virtual cards for online payments.

In addition to some spending analytics, users can create projects and set money aside to buy an expensive thing after months of savings. Parents can also define an interest rate on a vault account to teach children how to save money. In the future, Pixpay wants to let teens collect money after a babysitting job for instance.

As for parents, they can send money instantly from the Pixpay app. You can top up your Pixpay account with your favorite debit card and send money on a regular basis (€4 per week for instance) or for one-off payment (here’s €15 for your movie ticket and fast food).

Parents can see an overview of multiple accounts in case you have multiple children using Pixpay. Eventually, the startup wants to let multiple parents manage the account of their child, which could be useful for separated couples.

Pixpay costs €2.99 per month per card. Payments and ATM withdrawals in the Eurozone are free. Transactions in foreign currencies cost 2% in foreign exchange and ATM withdrawals outside of the Eurozone cost €2.

The startup has raised $3.4 million (€3.1 million) from Global Founders Capital. The company partners with Treezor, a banking-as-a-service platform that lets you generate cards and e-wallet accounts using an API.

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Revolut supports direct debits in the UK

Posted by | Apps, challenger bank, Europe, Finance, fintech, Mobile, Revolut, Startups | No Comments

Fintech startup Revolut is adding a key feature for users who want to replace their traditional bank account altogether. You can now pay with GBP direct debits. Revolut already added EUR direct debits last year.

While most people use cards to pay for goods and services in the U.K., some businesses require you to pay with direct debit. It can be a utility bill, a gym membership or a phone contract for instance.

Compared to card transactions, direct debits pull money directly from your account and transfer it to the recipient’s account. It doesn’t go through Mastercard or Visa. Some businesses love direct debits because it’s usually cheaper than card processing fees. Direct debits also don’t have an expiry date, unlike cards.

Customers from the European Economic Area can now share their GBP account details for direct debits in the U.K. Direct debits are protected against some fraud and payment errors by the U.K. Direct Debit Guarantee.

Revolut has partnered with Modulr for this feature as it uses Modulr’s API. Business customers will also be able to take advantage of direct debits. You can now pay suppliers with your account details, which could be convenient for large sums of money for instance.

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N26 launches its challenger bank in the US

Posted by | challenger bank, Europe, fintech, Mobile, N26, Startups, TC | No Comments

European fintech startup N26 is now accepting customers in the U.S. The company is launching a bank account with a debit card that should provide a better experience compared to traditional retail banks.

If you’re familiar with N26, the product that is going live today won’t surprise you much. Customers in the U.S. can download a mobile app and create a bank account from their phone in just a few minutes. It’s a true bank account with ACH payments, routing and account numbers.

A few days later, you receive a debit card that you can control from the mobile app. Every time you make a transaction, you instantly receive a push notification telling you how much money you just paid. You can set up your PIN code, customize limits, turn on and off online payments, and make ATM withdrawals or payments abroad.

And that’s about all there is to know. But what about fees? Basic N26 accounts are free. There’s no monthly fee and no minimum balance. There’s no fee on transactions in a foreign currency and you get two free ATM withdrawals per month.

N26 US App and Card

N26 is going to progressively roll out signups over the summer as a sort of beta program. If you’ve signed up to the waitlist, you’ll get an invitation over the coming hours, days and weeks. There are currently 100,000 people on the waitlist. N26 will then open signups to everyone later this summer.

When N26 rolls out its final product in a couple of months, the company says that it plans to automatically find and reimburse fees the ATM operators are charging. N26 cards in the U.S. work on the Visa network instead of Mastercard.

Just like Chime, N26 will also try to let you get paid up to two days early if you get paid via direct deposit. Instead of waiting a couple of days to clear those transactions, N26 will go ahead and top up your account.

N26 US 2

White label

Behind the scenes, there are a few differences between N26 in Europe and N26 in the U.S. While N26 has a full-fledged banking license in Europe, the company has partnered with Axos Bank, which is acting as a white-label partner in the U.S.

Axos Bank essentially manages your money for you, and N26 acts as the interface between customers and their bank accounts. As a result, you get an FDIC-insured account.

N26 first partnered with a third-party company in Europe, as well. But it was a costly deal that wasn’t meant to stick around. The startup got a banking license in Germany that was good for Europe at large. In the U.S., it’s a different story, as the market is not as unified as in Europe — it’s complicated to get a license to operate in all 50 states.

“We looked at 30 players, we did some due diligence and we’re happy to partner with Axos Bank. The deals that you get in the U.S. for white-label banks are much more favorable than in Europe,” N26 co-founder and CEO Valentin Stalf told me. “It’s a setup for the longer term. It’s good for a couple million customers,” Stalf added later in the conversation.

Just a start

N26 is already planning more features for the U.S. The company plans to roll out two premium plans — N26 Metal and then N26 Black.

And it sounds like there will be some changes when it comes to perks for premium users. “We took that to a separate level,” Stalf said.

And shared Spaces are finally arriving in the coming months. Spaces are sub-accounts designed to put money aside. You can swipe money from one Space to another or you can set up automated rules.

Eventually, you’ll be able to share a Space with other people so that you can save money and spend money together. It’ll work “like a WhatsApp group,” Stalf said.

N26 currently has 3.5 million customers in Europe and has raised more than $500 million in total so far. There are now a thousand people working for N26 in Berlin, 60 employees in New York, 80 people in Barcelona and a small team of five to 10 people starting soon in Vienna.

“It went from being a small company to being an international company,” Stalf said.

N26 Spaces ENUS

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Bunq lets you track and settle up group expenses

Posted by | Bunq, challenger bank, Europe, fintech, Mobile, Startups | No Comments

Fintech startup Bunq is announcing a handful of new features today, such as a way to track group expenses without creating a joint account, a web app and better Siri integration.

If you usually track vacation expenses and group expenses from your phone, chances are you’ve been using two different products — a mobile app like Splitwise to track group expenses with your friends, and a peer-to-peer payment app to settle up balances.

Bunq is essentially bundling these two features with Slice Groups for owners of the Bunq Travel Card. Given that the Bunq app already lists all your transactions, adding transactions to a group is easier than with your average group payment tracking app.

After adding other people to your Slice Group, each person can add expenses to the group. You get a list of your most recent Bunq transactions and you can add them to a group. You also can add manual transactions in case you paid for something using cash, for instance.

This is just a group accounting feature. When you add a transaction to a Slice Group, your money remains in your account. But you can see who has a positive balance and who has a negative balance.

When you settle up a group, people who owe money get a push notification. They can then tap on the notification and send money from their Bunq account to your friends’ Bunq accounts.

This feature will work particularly well for groups of people who all use the Bunq Travel Card. But it doesn’t fundamentally change how you manage your money with groups.

Bunq now has two tiers of users. Free users get a travel card with an account that they can top up. Paid users get a full-fledged bank account with banking information.

Multiple paid users can already create joint accounts with their roommates or partner. You can then associate your Bunq card with a joint account and spend money from that joint account directly.

So if you have a Bunq Travel Card, Slice Groups are for you. If you have a Bunq bank account, joint accounts are for you.

Revolut doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel, either, as you can only split individual card transactions with other users. It could take a while to settle all transactions after a long vacation. Revolut also lets you create Group Vaults. Those are sub-accounts to put some money aside and invite other people to contribute. But only the admin can withdraw and spend money from those vaults.

N26 has promised Shared Spaces so that you can create sub-accounts and share them with other people. But the feature isn’t live yet.

Lydia’s take on group expenses works more like Bunq’s joint accounts. You can create sub-accounts and share those accounts with other people. Everyone can then top up that account and attach a payment method, such as a payment card or a virtual card in Apple Pay or Google Pay. You also can move expenses from one sub-account to another. When you’re back from vacation, you can associate your card with your personal Lydia account again.

In addition to Slice Groups, Bunq is launching a web interface to access your bank account. It works a bit like WhatsApp’s web app. You scan a QR code with your phone and you can then control the mobile app from a desktop web browser.

Bunq should also work better with Siri. You can now send money using your voice or change card settings. Finally, the startup has also made improvements to its business accounts with a few new features. For instance, you can now automatically put money aside to pay back VAT later down the road.

bunq update 11

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Revolut is ready to launch in Singapore and Japan

Posted by | Apps, Europe, fintech, Mobile, Revolut, Startups | No Comments

Fintech startup Revolut has been teasing Asian market expansions for more than a year, but it sounds like it might finally happen. The company has secured licenses to operate in Singapore and Japan. It now expects to launch its service in Q1 2019.

In Singapore, the company was granted a Remittance License by the Monetary Authority and a Stored Value Facility approval — these two things combined let Revolut users hold money as well as send and spend money. In Japan, the company has been authorized to operate by Japan’s Finance Service Agency.

According to Revolut, those approvals are enough to launch the service in those countries. But not all features will make their way to Singapore and Japan. Regulation varies from one country to another, so the company might not be able to provide the same limits and feature set everywhere.

At launch, Revolut will focus on the electronic wallet and the payment card. You won’t be able to buy cryptocurrencies, create business accounts and more. Limits should be more or less the same in local currency equivalent.

In Japan, Revolut says it has already signed deals with Rakuten, Sompo Japan Insurance (SJNK) and Toppan. It sounds like there will be new insurance products, special card designs and more.

Revolut plans to open its APAC office in Singapore. Let’s see if Revolut ends up convincing expats to sign up or if they can have a real impact outside of Europe.

And if you’re a potential user in the U.S. or Canada, you’ll have to wait a bit more. Revolut says there will be more news in the coming weeks.

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DFS Lab is helping the developing world bootstrap itself with fintech

Posted by | accelerator, africa, Banking, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Finance, fintech, funding, Gates Foundation, incubator, Mobile | No Comments

Entrepreneurs have it rough in Africa, India, Pakistan — places where VC cash doesn’t fall from the sky and necessary infrastructure like reliable banking and broadband can be hard to come by. But companies grow and thrive nevertheless in these rugged environments, and DFS Lab is an incubator focused on connecting them with the resources they need to go global.

The company was founded, and funded, on the back of a $4.8 million grant from the Gates Foundation, which of course is deeply concerned with tech-based solutions for well-being all over the world. Its name, Digital Financial Services Lab, indicates its area of focus: fintech. And anyone can tell you that sub-Saharan Africa is one of the most interesting places in the world for that.

This week DFS Lab is announcing a handful of new investments — modest ones on the scale companies are used to in Silicon Valley, but the money is only a small part of the equation. Investment comes at the end of a longer process, the most valuable of which may be the week-long sprint DFS Lab does on the ground, helping solidify ideas into products, or niche products into products at scale.

The relative lack of VCs and angel investors puts early-stage companies at risk and can discourage the most motivated entrepreneur, so the program is aimed at getting them over the hump and connected to a network of peers.

The latest round puts a total of $200,000 into four startups, each touching on a different aspect of a region or vertical’s financial needs. All, however, are largely driven by the massive growth of mobile money in Africa over the last decade and the more recent, ongoing transition to modern smartphones and the app/data landscape familiar to the U.S. and Europe.

  • Nala aims to move p2p payments away from the antiquated but widely used USSD system (more on this later) to a Venmo-like app interface that integrates multiple native mobile currencies like M-Pesa into a single tool.
  • Cherehani connects female entrepreneurs with financial resources; the idea is to provide both much-needed credit and financial literacy at as early an age as possible. (They have a chatbot too, naturally.)
  • Nobuntu is a platform through which South Africans can open and contribute to pension plans via mobile money, simply and with low overhead costs.

The fourth company is choosing to remain in stealth mode for now, but you see the general theme here.

For one reason or another there are major gaps in everyday services that many of us take for granted — the ability to prove one’s identity, for example, is critical but commonly absent. I talked with Paul Damalie, founder of a DFS-funded company called Inclusive that helps address that particular shortcoming.

Basic ID verification can be difficult when you remove many of the things we take for granted. So when, for example, someone wanted to get a loan, a savings account, or some other basic financial service, “Originally you’d have to literally walk into the bank to do it,” Damalie said. Needless to say that isn’t always convenient, and banks as well as users want better options.

“We’ve been collecting existing databases and building a layer of rich access around it,” he continued. “Now we can use facial recognition to check those details. Once you have the ID, you need to check it with the government records” — which Inclusive also does. A range of other data creates a confidence score in the person’s identity, helping avoid identity fraud.

Another opportunity arises not from these gaps but from the unique ways in which the African ecosystem has evolved. USSD, which I mentioned before, is probably unknown to many of our readers — it certainly was to me. But it’s become a standard tool used regularly by millions for important tasks in Africa; if you want to work in that market, you have to deal with USSD one way or another.

The problem is that, as you might guess from Nala trying to deprecate it, USSD is a technology dating back to the ’90s, a text-based interface that’s rudimentary but, much like SMS, universally accepted and intelligible. The importance of cross-platform compatibility in mobile markets as fragmented as these can’t be overstated.

So bridging the gap between USSD and a “traditional” (as we might call it) payment app is a unique opportunity, and one a company called Hover (also in the DFS Lab portfolio) is addressing. Its tech acts as a sort of translation layer between USSD and smartphone app interfaces, allowing for modern app design but also deep back-compatibility. It’s an opportunity specific to this time and this area of the world, but nevertheless one that may end up touching millions.

And from the narrowness of its vision that DFS Lab derives its effectiveness.

“They’re one of the most specialized accelerators in the world,” said Damalie. “It goes beyond just funding — it involves having the right kind of network: access to partners, data, sources across the continent. They had context-relevant fellows, people who had very specific challenges.”

“The grant was useful and let us build a proof of concept, and of course the Gates Foundation gives us credibility. But they were taking bets on us as individuals.”

Although DFS Lab has heretofore been funded by the Gates infusion, that well will run dry soon. Jake Kendall, DFS Lab’s executive director, indicated that the plan is to move towards a more traditional investor fund. They already focus on profitability and the potential for growth to the continental stage or beyond; this isn’t a charity but tactical investment in such a way that social good is a necessary byproduct.

“The best way to have a global impact is to be self-sustaining,” he said.

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