As we plunge deeper into the pandemic, online transactions have become increasingly important, and ACH transactions, the ones that help us get direct deposit of our paychecks or pay our bills, are growing ever more essential. Nivelo, an early-stage startup from a former JP Morgan executive, wants to take the risk out of ACH transactions; today the company announced a $2.5 million seed investment, which closed in mid-August.
FirstMark, Barclays and Anthemis led the round, with help from Dash Fund and several individual investors. While the company was announcing its first funding, it also launched a private beta of a Risk Scoring API for payments.
Company co-founder Eli Polanco says that ACH payments are a huge business, but mostly haven’t been updated for quick and safe digital transactions “We protect digital payments in real time, but taking a step back our focus is ACH payments, which are the most ubiquitous payment channel in the U.S.,” Polanco told TechCrunch.
To give you a sense of how big this business is, more than $55 trillion worth of transactions moves through the ACH channel annually, yet Polanco says for the most part, it remains mired in legacy technology. Her company wants to update the risk component by building a set of APIs that companies can tap into and understand the risk associated with a particular transaction.
“We’re unbundling this risk assessment service and packaging it in the easiest way possible in the form of APIs and embedding it into the most critical payment use cases in the U.S.,” she said.
Polanco, a Black woman who grew up in the Dominican Republic, started the company in January and went to raise money. She had a lot going for her, including a strong background in payments products, a working product and paying customers. While she faced a lot of due diligence, she expected that, especially as a newly minted founder at a time when she couldn’t meet with investors in person.
Still, she knows the odds for Black founders are abysmal, but she says she could only come armed with data and tell her story. “I know that discrimination and racism exist in the world, but I can just live and play offense as much as possible and come prepared,” she said. Ultimately she prevailed and got her funding.
She said that the pandemic has reinforced how important having a safe digital payment system is. “COVID really shone a light into how unprepared we are for where the world is moving to. When COVID happened and a lot of folks were no longer able to rely on checks and cash […] it elevated the prominent rise of moving to digital payments,” she said. And investors saw this too.
Polanco says that she is also building her financial services tooling with the idea of leveling the playing field for everyone. “My hyper focus on risk infrastructure is directly tied to my outsider experience as an immigrant. When you’re trying to get access to any financial service, you’re always the edge case in the risk models that they have, and you’re always going to have additional friction. So when you grow up as a product manager who has always experienced this, you always have a keen sight on building accurate, but accessible fintech tools,” she said.
Nivelo is taking its first steps as a company with this funding, but it’s on its way with an alpha product and a future road map of products and services. The company is live with a couple of thousand users today, although she wouldn’t specify how many are paying customers.