TransferWise’s new debit card for the US fires the starting gun on a new war for travelers

International money transfer service TransferWise, has made a significant incursion into the US market today, launching a MasterCard debit card alongside a multicurrency account. Mirroring the card it has already launched in the UK and Europe last year, the card will work in over 40 currencies without balance limits, and conversion fees will be competitive with current exchange rates. A similar card aimed at businesses will follow the consumer launch.

Co-founder Taavet Hinrikus told me that the card effectively makes the average person able to act like a millionaire when they are traveling. “Alternative ‘travel’ cards are four times more expensive for every dollar spent and are only available to the top 10% of people who pass credit checks and also pay hundreds of dollars per year,” he said.

He believes this card will democratize the whole market. That means it’s likely that US tourists in Europe or elsewhere will be hugely attracted to this card because they will be charged as if they were a local person, in the local currencies, without all the normal fees.

Transferwise is also pushing an immigration angle to the launch featuring Tan France (pictured), star of “Queer Eye For The Straight Guy”.

Key features of the account and debit card include international bank details for the UK, the US, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand, meaning account and routing numbers that are unique to the account holder. Additionally, if a holder swipes a card in a currency they don’t have in their account, the card knows to choose the cheapest option from their available balances. The card is also free to get, with now no subscription, no sign-up fees, and no monthly maintenance fee. Holders can also freeze/unfreeze the card from the Transferwise app and receive push notifications every time they spend. It … Read the rest

Peter Thiel-backed auto commerce startup Drive Motors has a new name and $5M in capital

Not that long ago, visiting the website of an auto dealership was a little like going to a store without a cash register. The retailer’s website might list all the cars, trucks and SUVs in its inventory, but there would be no way to actually buy one online.

A digital commerce startup called Drive Motors jumped in to fill that void. Unlike Carvana and Shift and other online used car startups that have emerged on the scene, this company is providing the “buy button” for  dealerships and automakers by creating a native transaction layer within their existing webpages and stores.

Now, the three-year-old company is flush with a fresh injection of capital, high-profile investors and a new name that founder Aaron Krane says better reflects its broader vision and business plan. 

The startup, now called Modal, has raised $5 million in capital from new investors, including Peter Thiel, Japanese dealer conglomerate IDOM, and Ally Ventures, the investing arm of national auto lender Ally Financial.

The company started small, first landing local dealerships in California as customers of its real-time financing and digital commerce platform. Today, its customers include auto brands and some of the largest dealer groups in the country. In 2018, the startup saw its online monthly volume per store double to more than $1.8 million per month, and more than $10 million per month for top-performing individual stores.

That transaction layer is still the core feature of the company’s business, Krane told TechCrunch. Modal has added several new features since its last funding round, including real-time financing, digital documents and in-store point of sale.

Krane initially landed on the name Drive Motors because it sounded relevant to the auto dealerships he wanted to win over and not the Silicon Valley tech world where he had come from. (Krane … Read the rest

Why eVTOLs could be providing regional air service sooner than you think

At Uber’s Elevate summit in Washington, DC earlier this month, researchers, industry leaders and engineers gathered to celebrate the approaching advent of on-demand air service. For Dr. Anita Sengupta, co-founder and Chief Product Office at Detroit’s Airspace Experience Technologies (abbreviated ASX), it was an event full of validation of her company’s specific approach to making electric vertical take-off and landing craft a working, commercially viable reality.

ASX’s eVTOL design is a tilt-wing design, which is distinct from the tilt-rotor design you might see on some of the splashier concept vehicles in the category. As you might’ve inferred from the name of each type of aircraft, with tilt-wing designs the entire wing of the aircraft can change orientation, while on tilt-rotor, just the rotor itself adjust independent of the wing structure.

The benefits of ASX’s tilt-wing choice, according to Sengupta, is speed to market and compatibility with existing regulatory and pilot licensing frameworks – and that’s why ASX could be providing cargo transport service relatively quickly for paying customers, with passenger travel to follow once regulators and the public get comfortable with the idea.

ASX founding team Jon Rimanelli and Dr. Anita Sengupta. Credit: ASX

“Depending upon the aircraft configuration you selected, like us, for example, we’re basically a fixed wing aircraft,” Sengupta explained. “So we would not be classified as a rotorcraft, we’d be classified as a fixed wing aircraft with multi-engine, just with obviously special certification features for the VTOL capability. And of course, special check out for the pilots, but the pilots also would be fixed wing aircraft, pilots, they wouldn’t be helicopter pilots.”

ASX’s vehicle design means that it can either take off vertically when space is tight, or do a more traditional short horizontal take off like the airplanes we use every day. That not … Read the rest

EU-US Privacy Shield legal showdown now set for July 9

A legal challenge to a data transfer mechanism that’s used by thousands of companies to authorize taking European citizens’ personal data to the US for processing has been delayed.

As we reported last month, the General Court of the EU had set a date of July 1 and 2 to hear the complaint brought by French digital rights group, La Quadrature du Net, against the European Commission’s renegotiated data transfer agreement, the EU-US Privacy Shield.

That hearing has now been canceled — as the court intends to await the decision on another separate but related hearing, on July 9.

La Quadrature du Net has argued for years that Privacy Shield is incompatible with EU law as a result of US government mass surveillance practices — filing its first complaint back in October 2016.

Nor is it alone in its concerns, with the European parliament, European data protection agencies, and privacy and data protection experts all raising questions about the legality of the arrangement which went into operation in August 2016.

But in a series of tweets posted to Twitter today the digital rights group says it has been informed by the court that the hearing has been cancelled — in favor of waiting for the upshot of July 9 hearing.

The latter pertains both to the EU-US Privacy Shield and another data transfer mechanism, called standard contractual clauses (SCCs).

Following an updated complaint against Facebook’s use of SCCs, filed with the Irish Data Protection Commission by lawyer and privacy campaigner Max Schrems back in 2016, the watchdog referred its concerns to the courts.

Irish judges went on to ask Europe’s top court to weigh in on a number of legal questions — including whether Privacy Shield ensures an adequate level of protection for EU citizens’ … Read the rest

FedEx lures online sellers with two-day air shipping at ground rates after Amazon contract ends

International shipping giant FedEx is showing it’s serious about attracting the ecommerce crowd after a high-profile termination of one of its contracts with Amazon to provide delivery using its express air service in the US. FedEx is now offering the same two-day express air shipping direct to some customers for the same price it usually charges for ground service, which is typically much less expensive, the New York Times reports.

FedEx is offering the price cut in order to better compete with rival UPS, the report claims, and to help refactor its product with ecommerce sellers in mind. These include large competitors to Amazon, including Walmart and Walgreens, as well as smaller customers. Note that FedEx will still act as a carrier for Amazon even once its Express contract comes to an end this month, providing last-mile ground shipping.

Meanwhile, Amazon is expanding its own cargo air fleet, with 15 more planes joining its network and a goal of operating a total of 70 planes by 2021. Amazon launched Prime Air in 2016 to help increase its delivery speed to customers, and has been building out the network ever since. The company’s investment in its own delivery and logistics network has helped it provide free two-day, next day and even same day shipping on many items available on the platform to its Prime subscribers.

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