​NAB Ventures backs blockchain startup in $24m round

The VC arm of the National Australia Bank has invested in San Francisco-based foreign exchange payments startup Veem.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

The National Australia Bank (NAB) has announced that its venture capital fund, NAB Ventures, has led foreign exchange startup Veem's $24 million Series B investment round.

In addition to NAB, Veem -- formerly Align Commerce -- received funding from Google Ventures, American VC firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Silicon Valley Bank, and Japanese fund SBI Investment Co. Ltd.

The San Francisco-based startup uses blockchain technology to perform cross-border business-to-business payments that are settled and sent in respective local currencies.

In announcing the funding injection on Thursday, NAB Ventures general partner Melissa Widner said NAB is continually looking at services that have the potential to make life easier for its business customers.

"Technology in the global payments and foreign exchange space is evolving rapidly as customers identify new platforms to help them do business quickly and easily," said Widner, who will join the Veem board following NAB Ventures' investment.

"We identified Veem as a market leader in both technology and business model. This investment forges a close relationship with the company that will provide insights into user expectations of where technology is heading for cross-border payments.

Previously, NAB Ventures, alongside Qantas Loyalty and Westpac's ReInventure Fund, invested in Sydney-based startup Data Republic's AU$10.5 million Series A round.

Data Republic was co-founded in 2014 by Paul McCarney and Danny Gilligan, who is also the co-founder of Westpac's ReInventure.

The startup offers a marketplace for data exchange between organisations and is currently in use by governments and not-for-profits, in addition to private enterprise.

NAB announced last month it was working with health-tech startup Medipass Solutions -- which the bank also seed-funded in February -- to develop a new digital platform to connect patients with healthcare practitioners.

Although the "Uber-like" platform is currently in testing and development phase, NAB expects it will allow users to also receive upfront cost estimates, make appointments, and take care of payment or claiming for the consultation. It will also leverage the NAB-owned health claims and payments system (HICAPS).

For the initiative, NAB has also partnered with Melbourne-based tech startup Localz, which won NAB Labs' inaugural Hackathon in December 2014 and received funding from NAB Ventures.

Last year, NAB chief Andrew Thorburn said the bank was looking to make faster, bigger, better changes, and to do that, it needed to embrace the hunger found within fintech companies.

"I actually think we are a fintech company ourselves. I think we have the mindset of a fintech company, and I actually think we have a lot of the assets of a fintech company," he said previously.

"Fintech companies -- the smaller, emerging ones -- they're hungry, they want to make an impact, they find an opportunity, and they go after it. And that's the sort of hunger we need inside our own company.

"They should be respected, but not feared."

On Wednesday, Australian Securities Exchange-listed fintech firm Digital X announced that an update to its AirPocket app that allows money transfers to some countries in Latin America went live in the United States on Android devices, with iOS availability to shortly follow.

According to the former bitcoin miners, AirPocket is the first blockchain-enhanced mobile payments application in the world, with the AirPocket platform allowing users to make low-cost, cross-border money transfers.

Digital X found itself listed on the ASX after performing a reverse takeover of investment firm Macro Energy almost three years ago. Digital X only emerged in October 2015 after DigitalBTC -- trading as Digital CC -- underwent a name change and shift in business model as well.

Once rebranded, Digital X announced its focus would be on its app-based cash remittance product AirPocket, saying at the time that the new name and direction represented a strategic change from a focus on bitcoin as a mechanism in order to store value to a focus on software development.

After reporting its ninth quarterly loss since landing on the ASX, Digital X revealed it had handed its liquidity desk duties over to Blockchain Group to allow them to focus on AirPocket, the company said.

Although Digital X is based in Perth, AirPocket is not available in Australia.

Digital X also told shareholders on Tuesday it was recently selected as a delegate by Australian government bodies for a number of upcoming international events to showcase Australia's leading financial services and technology companies.

Earlier this week, Standards Australia published a Roadmap for Blockchain Standards, determining the industry should first develop blockchain and distributed ledger technology (DLT) terminology standards as a means to clarify definitions in the sector and set a platform for the development of other related standards.

Australia's non-government standards body was charged with managing the secretariat of an international technical committee for the development of blockchain standards by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) in September, with 16 ISO member bodies including Germany, the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Canada, Estonia, Japan, and South Korea also participating in the development of ISO/TC 307 Blockchain and electronic distributed ledger technologies.

Australia will host the first international blockchain standards meeting for ISO/TC 307 in April.

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