Startup goes beyond payments as market demands more digital services

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What started as Mezu and went through 18 difficult months competing as a payments offering has now rebranded as Alviere, with a broader range of digital banking services.

Alviere's offering is called HIVE, for high-velocity. The four-month-old platform supports an array of payments, processing, banking, compliance, security, loyalty, marketing and card issuing services.

"We went through a lot of pain to enable our payment app and we learned during that time that the enablement of financial services is not easy," said Alviere CEO Yuval Brisker. "Our goal now is to enable any company to avoid those pain points and easily bring a full spectrum of banking products and financial services to their customers."

That's a key element for Cleveland-based Alviere, said Francisco Alvarez, retail banking and payments analyst for Aite Group.

"In order to be successful, you have to do what Alviere is trying to do in offering a diversified platform that can do everything that a client may need," Alvarez said. "As a startup, that is a strength because you will have clients that want to offer a deposit-like feature to customers, but in the near future may want to do credit card programs or lending programs."

If a provider is unable to address all of the potential needs, the customer may start wondering why it is working with that provider in the first place, Alvarez added. "Alviere is right on point in being able to offer everything in financial services."

The path of a payments startup

In many ways, Alviere traveled down a path similar to that of Iowa-based fintech Dwolla, which introduced a mobile payment app a decade ago and then dropped that consumer-facing product in 2016 to focus on faster payments and ACH options for banks.

Also, Dwolla ultimately pivoted away from banks as its primary customers and began focusing on selling payments and fund-transfer technology to business clients.

Alviere has followed a similar path, but decided not to leave any of its technology capabilities off the table. Thus, its HIVE platform now offers an array of digital tools from payments and security to compliant banking services, as well as wire transfers. It hopes to add real-time payment connections in the future.

Yuval Brisker, CEO of Alviere (formerly Mezu)

"Our payment app had just under one million downloads, so we had some significant activity in our payments part of our history," Alviere's Brisker said. "But the reality is we sell so many more interesting services and it's a tangible opportunity. People came to us, and asked if they could use certain services and we initially built a platform for us, so why not offer this to them and help with so many aspects of financial services?"

The competition

By expanding its platform to include more services, Alviere has also positioned itself as a rival to many companies that may not have previously considered it a threat.

As a startup, Alviere has five clients now, but it declined to name any at this time because the businesses requested to not reveal their association yet for competitive reasons, Brisker explained.

With an office also in Lisbon, Portugal, Alviere seeks to become a global provider. Still, it joins a crowded field advancing digital banking services. Its potential competitors include i2c, Marqeta and Galileo. In addition to payments processing, digital card issuing and other services, i2c has also jumped into the cryptocurrency landscape, seeking to lure those players as clients.

In a similar vein, Marqeta and Galileo can point to servicing challenger banks and their vast digital landscape as key clients, while also aiding mainstream financial institutions with instant card issuing and virtual single-use business cards.

Alviere, which operates as an independent sales organization for its partners BMO Harris, Community Federal Savings Bank in New York and People's Trust in Canada, defines its prime market as digital businesses, but also considers the omnichannel needs of brick-and-mortar businesses.

An open book

"We look at the marketplace as an open book," Brisker said. "I see a Nike or AT&T as a potential customer, and there are up to 6,000 community banks in the country of which many are in a real backwards situation as far as the technology they use."

A potential customer might be a supermarket chain wanting to help its immigrant customers with an inexpensive wire transfer option; a gaming company wanting to give its users the ability to easily load and store money they use on the platform; or a cable company wanting to bundle a direct deposit bank account, a debit card or a discounted loyalty program.

Brisker said many requests to his company now center on being able to establish an FBO, or "for the benefit of" account. Alviere can help create a digital banking app for merchant brands, and on the back end create the FBO account to hold those deposits and move funds to other banks and networks. If the mobile payment app becomes popular at a bank, Alviere can offer a card to complement it.

In the bank account creation arena, Alviere would be competing with the likes of Green Dot Bank and Goldman Sachs, which has recently been pushing investment in digital banking capabilities and its ability to embed financial platforms for customers. Goldman is behind the Apple Card and has established a data-sharing deal with Apple.

After creating a digital banking app for the merchant brand and establishing the FBO account to hold deposits, Alviere essentially "becomes the card payment processor on the back end, on behalf of the customer and the network," Aite's Alvarez said.

"The whole concept behind it is that any of these companies like Alviere could tell potential clients to work with them because they will do the heavy lifting," Alvarez said. "It would be on the front end of a new relationship with the customer, like maybe a coffee shop company in saying a small segment of their customer base will buy your coffee, but also bank with you and being willing to hold accounts and deposits with you."

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