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Indian fintech unicorn Slice to merge with bank

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Slice, backed by Tiger Global, Insight Partners, Blume Ventures and EMVC among its backers, was valued at about $1.5 billion in its previous funding round last year.

Indian unicorn fintech Slice is merging with North East Small Finance Bank, they said Wednesday after receiving the approval from the central bank, in an extremely rare feat that has eluded many tech giants, top financial startups and tycoons for decades.

Slice – which earlier offered credit card like cards and at peak issued over 400,000 cards, more than any other fintech or bank – said the merger with the Guwahati-headquartered bank will allow the combined entity to better serve their shared mission and reach more consumers who currently lack access to basic banking services.

The merger – which follows Slice earlier acquiring a 10% stake in the lender in recent quarters – should also enable the new entity to supercharge its product offerings and accelerate its product iterations, industry executives said.

The Reserve Bank of India clarified a range of guidelines last year that impacted scores of startups including Slice, rival Uni, neobanks Jupiter and Fi, making sweeping changes that challenged how many firms issued cards.

Slice founder and chief executive Rajan Bajaj said the startup has been working with North East Small Finance Bank for 12 months, a timeframe that allowed the board members, investors and management to know each other and see a shared vision.

“We’re grateful to the RBI for entrusting us with this immense responsibility,” he said in a prepared statement. “At Slice, our unyielding devotion to customers and robust risk management have set us apart. This approach allows us to serve a wider audience, including those often overlooked, while also building a deep emotional connection with our customers.”

Slice, which counts Tiger Global, Insight Partners, Blume Ventures and EMVC among its backers, was valued at about $1.5 billion in its previous funding round last year. Its first investment in North East Small Finance bank last year valued the lender at about $68 million.

At least two investors are already in talks to invest in the merged entity, committing about $125 million between them, according to another person familiar with the matter. Bajaj declined to comment beyond confirming the merger news.

North East Small Finance Bank, incorporated in 2016, is a subsidiary of RGVN (NE) Microfinance that serves customers in the north eastern region of the country. It counts Pi Ventures, Bajaj Group and government-backed SIDBI Venture Capital among its backers.

India, the world’s most populous nation, is undergoing a pivotal banking phase, with banks and fintech startups forging collaborations. Federal Bank and SBM Bank India have increasingly engaged startups to boost their operations, and larger banks like HDFC, ICICI and Axis have also invested in fintech startups.

VCs are increasingly focusing on investing in banks. Accel and Quona last year backed Shivalik Small Finance Bank.

Merging with a bank or obtaining a banking license continues to be rare in the South Asian market, especially as the regulator has heightened its oversight in recent quarters, even for minor licenses like those for NBFCs and expressed concern about tech giants’ growing presence in the financial services sector. (Slice has held an NBFC license for about five years.)

The central bank has largely rejected all applications for universal banks in recent years. Last year, it rejected an application by Flipkart billionaire Sachin Bansal. Bansal’s Navi eventually sold the microfinancing unit to Svatantra Microfin in August for about $178.5 million.

In 2021, the central bank issued a small finance bank license to a consortium of Centrum Financial Services and fintech BharatPe. But that license was conceptualized to address a capital-starved situation to help remove the debris of a scam-tainted small lender PMC.

In contrast, the capital adequacy ratio of the Slice-North East bank is multiple fold higher than the 15% mandated by the central bank. Slice’s current annualized revenue is a little over $100 million, according to a person familiar with the matter.

“This alliance with Slice marks an exciting expansion of our reach and enhancement of our services. Dedicated to supporting the underserved, our collaboration is bolstered by Slice’s innovative technology and a keen emphasis on customer experience,” said Rupali Kalita, managing director and chief executive of NESFB, in a prepared statement.

“Meanwhile, we will continue to fortify the bank governance, with continuous improvements in compliance, risk management, and leadership. Together, we strive to deliver accessible and exceptional services, fostering inclusive and responsible banking for all.”



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SpaceX Rocket Suffers Engine Failure In Starlink Mission, Elon Musk Shares What’ll Happen Next

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SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket suffered a rare failure on Friday. The launcher lifted off with 20 Starlink satellites at 8:06 am IST from California but failed to deploy them in the intended orbit.

According to SpaceX, the second stage of Falcon 9 did not complete its second burn necessary for reaching the desired orbit. The booster did its job and safely landed on the droneship in the Pacific Ocean. It was SpaceX‘s 70th mission this year.

Currently, the satellites are in a lower orbit than planned.

“SpaceX has made contact with 5 of the satellites so far and is attempting to have them raise orbit using their ion thrusters,” the company said in a statement on X.

ALSO SEE: Japan’s First Private Rocket Launch Ends In Massive Explosion, Video Goes Viral

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said that it might not work “but it’s worth the shot. He also said that the satellites might fall toward Earth and burn up in the atmosphere if their thrusters are overpowered by the atmospheric drag.

In another post, Musk revealed that the upper stage engine exploded for unknown reasons while trying to raise the orbit. “Team is reviewing data tonight to understand root cause,” he said.

Notably, the reputed rocket by SpaceX has suffered only one full in-flight failure during a mission to the International Space Station in 2015.

ALSO SEE: Chinese Rocket Launches Accidentally, Crashes With Massive Explosion Seconds Later

(Image: SpaceX)





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China Plans To Destroy An Asteroid For Planetary Defense Mission By 2030: Report

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After the impeccable success of NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission, China is now planning to deflect an asteroid later this decade. According to The Planetary Society, the China National Space Administration (CNSA) is preparing its first planetary defense test which is expected to launch by 2030.

Scientists have proposed the near-Earth asteroid 2015 XF261 as a candidate for the mission which will include two probes. One will ram into the space rock to deflect it and the second will conduct impact assessment.

The asteroid 2015 XF261 measures about 100 feet or 30 metres in diameter and it made a close flyby of our planet earlier this month. According to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), the asteroid was about 50 million kilometres from our planet on July 9 and was travelling at a speed of around 42,000 kilometres per hour.

ALSO SEE: NASA Drills Freaky Scenario Where Elusive Asteroid Heads Towards Earth

Apart from China, Japan is also eyeing a ‘kinetic impact’ test mission to deflect an asteroid. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) reportedly has plans to repurpose its Hayabusa2 spacecraft to collide with 1998 KY26. The probe which launched in 2014 is expected to rendezvous with the space rock in 2031 and potentially change its orbit.

The said missions by the two nations are driven by the success of NASA’s DART mission launched in 2021 which proved that smacking an asteroid can deflect them. It collided with Dimorphos which circles a larger rock Didymos in September 2022 and changed its orbit by about 32 minutes.

These missions are of immense importance as they enable technologies that could save Earth from a planet-killing asteroid. While predicting an impending asteroid armageddon is predictable, it is also the gravest threat that humanity faces.

ALSO SEE: Collision Of NASA’s DART With Asteroid Dimorphos Changed Its Shape; Finding Excites Scientists



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Uzbekistan mobile bank TBC raises $38.2M to expand its financial products

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Uzbekistan’s only mobile-exclusive bank, TBC Bank Uzbekistan, owned by London Stock Exchange-listed TBC Bank Group, has raised $38.2 million in a fresh equity investment. It plans to expand its local presence in the country and introduce new financial products as well.

TBC Bank Group has led the latest funding in TBC Bank Uzbekistan by infusing $23 million, while shareholders European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and World Bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC) have participated in the round by investing $7.6 million each.

After serving customers in Georgia, TBC Bank Group decided to expand outside that country’s borders in 2019 and found Uzbekistan as its first international market. The bank started its Uzbekistan operations in 2020 through a separate entity, TBC Group Uzbekistan, which launched the mobile-only bank after its debut, with no physical branches in the country. The plan was to leverage Uzbekistan’s increasing digitization effort and foresee business growth in the country, which has the biggest population after Russia and Ukraine in the region — the second-largest among all the Commonwealth of Independent States countries — and has upright economic and socio-demographics.

“Before TBC came in, there were no banking apps in Uzbekistan … Fast-forward four years, most of the banks have got a mobile app, but TBC is far ahead of the field,” said Oliver Hughes, head of international business at TBC Group, in an exclusive interview.

According to official data, Uzbekistan has a 70% smartphone penetration rate and a 77% internet penetration rate; 59% of its population of 37 million is under 30 years old, making it a viable market for a mobile-specific business.

TBC Bank Uzbekistan offers a mobile app through which customers can open bank accounts and access services, including cash loans and deposits. This omits the requirement of physically going to a bank branch to access banking.

Hughes told TechCrunch that a couple of years ago, customers in Uzbekistan typically had to visit their bank and stand in a queue to get any of their banking work done.

Alongside the mobile-only bank, TBC Group Uzbekistan owns Payme, the digital payments app for individual users and small businesses, as well as the Sharia-compliant credit business called Payme Nasiya. To broaden its coverage, it looks to integrate some experiences from these two businesses within the bank or sync them with the bank’s operations.

For instance, through its app, TBC Group Uzbekistan will offer tips, recommendations and user-generated content on local events, entertainment, concerts and travel to provide complementary services that are not strictly financially related. Some of these features will first arrive on the Payme app but will be available to the TBC Bank Uzbekistan customers over time.

Similarly, Payme Nasiya currently serves Uzbek customers with its point-of-sale and installment loans. To expand the credit business, it will introduce e-commerce and offline buy now, pay later. This is expected to attract more local businesses and eventually help the mobile bank gain more customers.

In addition to the new financial products in the pipeline, TBC Group Uzbekistan plans to bring AI experiences to its mobile bank. Hughes told TechCrunch the group has built a large language model predominantly using its customer dataset and is working on a voice assistant to deliver banking and financial services through a chatbot integrated within its app.

In the fall, TBC Bank Uzbekistan will use the fresh funding to add credit cards and an insurance product next year, Hughes said.

The bank’s roadmap includes additional services such as current accounts, as well as accounting, offline payments, e-commerce payments and lending specifically for small and medium enterprise customers, Hughes added.

“This investment will allow us to further capitalize on the immense opportunities in Uzbekistan, a fast-growing country with a population of over 37 million people where TBC UZ continues to leverage its growth momentum,” said Vakhtang Butskhrikidze, CEO of TBC Bank Group, in a prepared statement.

At the end of 2022, TBC Bank Uzbekistan broke even, and 2023 was the bank’s first full year of profit. As of March 2024, the bank had a user base of 4.8 million unique registered users. It also recorded monthly active users of 1.2 million in the first quarter of 2024.

Overall, TBC Group Uzbekistan, with a registered user base of 15 million users, reached profitability two years after launch and recorded 85% year-on-year revenue growth in the first quarter of this year. The company achieved gross loans of $296 million and deposits of $216 million through all three of its subsidiaries. Its net profit hit $23 million for the financial year 2023, most of which came from Payme. However, TBC did not disclose the mobile bank’s revenues or profits.

“TBC UZ’s impressive growth trajectory and innovative approach align with our mission to support sustainable economic development in the region,” said Andi Aranitasi, head of Uzbekistan, EBRD.

Hughes said that by the end of 2025, TBC Group Uzbekistan is projected to generate $75 million in net profit, most of which would come from TBC Bank Uzbekistan.

“We are encouraged with the progress TBC UZ has made so far and remain confident in its potential to contribute to economic growth and financial inclusion in Uzbekistan,” said Neil McKain, country manager, Uzbekistan, IFC.



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