The Passing of the Screen Scraping Baton

The FinTech world is buzzing with news of Plaid buying Quovo. Hats off to Quovo’s founder, Lowell, who’s built an excellent reputation in the industry for innovation, professionalism and proprietary technology to enable screen scraping. We’ve received over a dozen inquiries from partners, investors and prognosticators on what the deal means, and, while we have no insider information, we have a few thoughts given our earlier blog series on screen scraping.

There are a few lenses to look at this deal as it relates to what it means to the FinTech space and why it makes sense. We’re going to break it down based on three factors: market structure drivers, systemic reasons and direct reasons.  

Market Structure Drivers

The FinTech world is embracing APIs as the most effective way to interact between institutions, apps and developers — as PSD2 in Europe leads the way. Asian countries are already adopting API protocols. However, since the US has not developed a standard or unified protocol, we can expect more jockeying between screen scrapers and financial institutions, as we saw earlier this year with Plaid & CapitalOne. As long as the US doesn’t mandate standards, screen scraping companies are going to look to gain greater scale and leverage against the more fragmented financial institutions (when’s the last time you saw Citi, JPMorgan, Fidelity & Schwab join forces to protect customer data?).

With 40-70% of FIs website traffic coming from screen scraping companies providing access to Personal Financial Management apps like Mint, FIs have finally woken up to the need to provide secure, controlled access to their products in an increasingly unbundled and distributed world.  FIs are going to require customers to use oAuth to ensure proper security and controls, but traditional US screen scraping companies don’t look favorably on oAuth due to the user experience. The Plaid/CapitalOne battle was a preview of things to come between screen scrapers and Fis, requiring scrapers to go through the front door, not the back.  

Systemic Reasons

If you’re in the screen scraping business and do a value chain analysis, you want to own your own destiny and technology. Screen scrapers exist for a simple reason: to make it easy for FinTechs to enable their clients or customers to aggregate their data in one spot. The screen scrapers create simple and easy to use APIs that customers can integrate and these APIs use screen scraping technology behind the scenes. The technology learns the layout, data formatting and access placements for thousands of FIs, which allows the scrapers to easily enable customers to share their credentials in order to gain entry into the FI. The FI is not a party to this access, it’s a back door. Not all screen scraping companies do this themselves. Quovo did it with robust and secure technology, as do Yodlee and Finicity who often provide their technology to other screen scraping companies like Plaid and MX.    

Data security couldn’t be more paramount to FIs. As much as customers like to demonize banks, banks have done a lot more to protect customer information than big Silicon Valley tech companies. If your user name and password were breached by a portal, hotel company or social network in the last year, it’s likely that the user name and password combination was sold on the dark web. Bad actors on the dark web then run scripts testing your credentials against FIs to get access to your funds. And, while the Fis are proactively monitoring their front door, what many have found is that the bad actors run the scripts via sites using screen scraping to identify vulnerable accounts via the back door. Herein lies the rub. Screen scrapers don’t want to put speed bumps into the user journey, but FIs are requiring oAuth through the front door.  Something has to give, and hopefully it won’t be caused by a breach of your financial information.

Direct Reasons

Plaid and Quovo were direct competitors with similar offerings which could lead to downward pressure on prices. Consolidation will likely allow the combined entity to test price elasticity. Yodlee was the Grand Daddy of screen scraping. Early on, Yodlee bought Vertical One for customers, pricing power and leverage. Yodlee is now owned by Envestnet who has publicly stated that they’ve been focused on making the acquisition pay, meaning they’re increasing prices.

Plaid stated that Quovo’s offering in the wealth space was a driving force for the acquisition.  Yodlee and Morningstar® ByAllAccountsSM have a solid grip on the wealth space, however a combined Plaid/Quovo could result in a greater penetration. And, it doesn’t hurt that Quovo’s founder hails from a storied wealth management lineage, adding to his wealth sector cred.  

Finally, the brands of Plaid and Quovo resonate differently in the broader financial space. Plaid is loved by Silicon Valley FinTechs and Quovo is well-regarded by the established FIs.

In sum, while the financial terms are not readily available, the strategic fit of Plaid and Quovo makes sense — leverage, scale, reputation and technology. Just as Yodlee’s founder stepped away last week from leading his company, the baton (and screen scraping team captain) is now with Plaid’s leadership — run fast and innovate often.

What does 2019 hold for FinTech?

2018 had its fair share of disruption in the FinTech space, but for the most part, companies and investors sat out the end of the year market fluctuations and are cautiously — and perhaps optimistically — looking to 2019. The latest downturn is definitely not unexpected, and if the market continues to soften as most have predicted, we expect to see more acquisitions in FinTech, as investors tighten their belts.

Here are our thoughts on what potential market moves might include:

Chinese FinTechs make another go at the US market

As highlighted in the MIT Technology Review, the Chinese market is much more innovative and disruptive than the US FinTech Market. While the Alipay-Moneygram tie-up failed with regulators, it won’t deter the ambitions of these cash-rich companies.  Notably, Alipay, TenCent, Fosun, CreditEase and PingAn continue to be ever-present at US FinTech conferences, networking, looking to deploy capital, and tempting entrepreneurs with cash offers. Expect to see Chinese companies buying smaller FinTech companies that allow them to fly below the radar of regulators, yet buy and scale with US teams that have strong operating reputations.  

Betterment or WealthFront might get acquired by a smaller incumbent who’s looking to chase down Vanguard and Schwab’s market dominance

Wealthfront got a bump with a $75M investment earlier this year, but some claim that raising money at this stage (10 years in) is a delay tactic if they’re seeking acquisition. Perhaps a “marriage between two leading independent robo advisors is next,” claims Timothy Welsh of Nexus Strategy. He also states that “if robo advisors were going to disrupt, they would have already.” A very debatable stance, in our opinion. But if a merger isn’t in the cards, it’s certainly likely that acquisition is on the table.

The economics of “set it and forget it” firms might catch up with robos as market prices soften

Robos haven’t had to deal with a down market since their inception. As we head into 2019 and likely more volatility, how will they respond and, perhaps more importantly, how will their clients? With a down market and poor returns, will investors stick it out with a “set it and forget it” or will they just say “forget this” and move their funds back to an incumbent? And, though most robo investors are Millennials, will they be ok getting communication about downturns from their advisors solely via email or social media? More importantly for the bottom line, it will be very telling to see if an electronic relationship has the same stickiness as a personal one. According to Greg Curry, a fee-only financial advisor with Pillar Advisors in Louisville, Kentucky, “In a down market many clients need hand holding and the value of interaction with a human financial advisor can be the difference between them sticking with a well-conceived financial plan and investment strategy and making moves that are detrimental to their financial future out of fear.”

With the loss of Robinhood, APEX Clearing looks to sell

Now that Robinhood has built their own clearing system from scratch, what does that mean for APEX Clearing? The last time a major brokerage built something similar was Vanguard, in 2008. It was only five years ago that Apex claimed it was the only company that had the technology to make Robinhood possible. And while right now Robinhood Clearing will only be used on its own platform, they haven’t ruled out the possibility of commercializing it. So, what does this mean for other FinTechs? Is Robinhood Clearing the potential go-to for these solutions? Or, with Robinhood’s recent insurance snafu surrounding their checking and savings account announcement, did they tarnish themselves as a trusted platform/partner?  

N26’s move to the US from Europe will gain ground in the investment world based on their API platform approach

The German mobile bank just received the largest equity financing round in the FinTech industry in Germany to date, as well as one of the largest in Europe. According to their Americas CEO, Nicolas Kopp, they’re “a technology company with a bank license.” Because N26 was built from scratch, and their European roots means they have to comply with PSD2, they’re prepared for open banking protocols. Their design was specifically built for mobile — to be both visually appealing and user friendly, and they support/use APIs, not siloing technology for different lines of business, creating a seamless user experience. And they’ve AI-enabled their platform, allowing them to create more personalization at scale. We’re curious to see what else they have up their sleeve.

What are some of your FinTech predictions for 2019? Share them with us on Twitter using #TradeIt2019 and #FinTechPredictions

 

Distribution Matters

The Oceans of Investing

While you read a lot about news publishers complicated relationships with Facebook and Google, the investing space has long been dependent on two oceans for referral traffic — Twitter and Yahoo! Finance. Yahoo! Finance was the original aggregator that fed the referral traffic which built every online company from Marketwatch to SeekingAlpha. The challenger to Yahoo! Finance is not another website but a social network: Twitter, which has more impressions in a week for the top 30 equities than Yahoo! Finance does in a month. With TicToc, Bloomberg is harnessing the Twitter audience to build a counter weight to Yahoo! Finance. We like to think about Yahoo! Finance and Twitter as the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, feeding the tributaries of Bloomberg, Marketwatch, The Street, WSJ, Motley Fool, Forbes and so many more who depend on their mighty engines to flow.

TicToc Dough

It’s clear that externally sourced traffic is only going to increase as more engines feed more content to more places. Bloomberg, for example, gets most of their traffic off network, meaning that most traffic comes from other content providers and social media platforms, as seen from the charts below. A large portion of this can be attributed to their massive Twitter presence as TicToc. With close to 400K followers, 2.2 million average daily views and 1.4 million average daily viewers, this handle drives large amounts of users to their platform and largely increases their brand awareness. It also shows the burgeoning power and importance of Twitter in the finance world.

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Source: SimilarWeb, 09/25/2018

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#Cha-Ching

In fact, the Cashtag, Twitter’s trackable and clickable stock tracker, has propelled the platform’s popularity as a financial news tool. As we saw recently, a CEO can wipe out billions of $ off their company’s market cap with just a tweet. While on the other hand, analysts are now using the platform to speculate about the “next big thing”. Plus, with 330 million active monthly users, Twitter’s reach far exceeds Yahoo! Finance and just about everybody else.

We conducted an analysis of the engagement that’s generated from top equity cashtags, as well as other major market movers from the S&P 100, over 32 randomly selected days and found that average impressions/day accumulate to almost 8MM and reach almost 5MM users.

Screen Shot 2018-09-27 at 3.16.44 PM.pngSource: Keyhole

That’s more than Yahoo! Finance, which gets 70MM visitors per month. Yahoo! Finance’s traffic mainly comes from people going directly to the site or via the mobile app, as well as those who come from links to the site within Google Search results.

No Longer Siloed

With the bulk of web traffic today coming from outside platforms, social or otherwise, the landscape for financial news consumption is shifting. Essentially, we have a hugely fragmented ecosystem where people go to get their finance news and it’s even more fragmented in how they got there. One thing’s for sure, it’s only going to get more disparate as platforms and the digital ecosystem evolve.  

Incumbents vs. FinTechs: Product Offer Throwdown

Previously, we have done comparisons on mobile account opening and the design of these offerings as it relates to incumbents vs. FinTechs, so we thought it only fair to do a more detailed comparison based on product offerings and where the industry is headed. While you can call our design evaluation subjective, our side by side product and feature comparison demonstrates how the large incumbents serve a stronger set of offerings to a broader base of investors, but at the expense of simplicity. While the FinTechs have limited offering but a more honed feature set.

Set-It-And-Forget-It

Pretty much everyone is working on some form of a robo, and many have already started their own. In fact, due to competition for passive investors from low fee, automated investing startups like Wealthfront and Betterment, incumbents (Schwab, Fidelity, E*TRADE, TD Ameritrade) were quick to roll out at least one automated investing account and many now offer more than one option.

While the incumbents are dominating AUM (Vanguard $112B and Schwab $33B vs. Betterment $14.5B and Wealthfront $11B), the independent robos are pushing the tech envelope. “For people who are looking for a quality, digital online experience, independent robos are a step ahead of the incumbent ones.”

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The start-ups are forcing banks and brokers to adopt technology faster than ever before, while the established players are pushing the robos to incorporate more traditional services in their products. In fact, many of the digital-only startups are layering in human advice to complement their automated offerings. This should give pause to any incumbent, or at the very least, make them rethink their features and user experience.

In a Galaxy Not Far Away: Pricing Wars

Whether it’s executing trades, managing portfolios or simply owning mutual funds and ETFs, costs have been collapsing on Wall Street. Feeling the pressure from low cost or no cost entrants like Robinhood and Tastyworks, Fidelity finally slashed trading commissions to $4.95 in February of 2017.  This quickly resulted in similar changes from the other incumbents (Schwab, E*TRADE, TD Ameritrade), and Fidelity and Vanguard have also aggressively cut fees on ETFs. Now, with J.P. Morgan offering fee-free trading and access to research and portfolio building tools to their 47M customers, it just may become the industry standard.

And while Robinhood gained attention for attracting more than 5 million users, and a $5.6 billion valuation, in just a few years, J.P. Morgan, the biggest U.S. bank, has a distinct advantage: it already has financial ties with half of American households. In other words, market share is up for grabs and while low fee or no fee might hook customers in, what will keep them needs to be more thought out than simply “free stuff.”

Tales of the Crypto

While none of the large retail brokers have added direct trading of cryptos, there have been a few interesting developments. TD Ameritrade and E*TRADE allow crypto futures to be traded on their futures trading platform and Fidelity and E*TRADE both have innovation labs exploring uses of blockchain and crypto. “It’s no secret that we are actively exploring cryptocurrencies, including Bitcoin and other digital assets in our Blockchain Incubator at Fidelity.”

For a large conservative financial firm, Fidelity was early to realize the potentially transformative impact of cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology, even allowing users to link Coinbase accounts via a web widget. But while they’ve been experimenting, other FIs have been diving in, from big traditional exchanges that offer bitcoin futures, to companies such as Square and Robinhood that allow users to trade digital coins.

Robinhood, which earlier this year added crypto trading, only offers this feature in select states. Square added crypto trading to their Cash app in late January, with Square Cash averaging 2M downloads per month, 3x the growth rate of Venmo. Coinbase surpassed Charles Schwab in the number of open accounts in late 2017 (11.7M vs. 10.6M), but the value of those accounts is still a fraction of the value of Schwab ($50B vs. $3.26T)

Not everyone is on the blockchain bandwagon. As E*TRADE’s Lance Braunstein says, “For me…it feels more like a solution waiting for tangible problems to emerge. We don’t have a dying need to use blockchain.” But as we’ve written about in previous posts, with blockchain’s ability to greatly speed up processes and reduce cost, why doesn’t everyone have a dying need to use it?

Amazon of Investing

While all of the challengers in the investing space have well-defined customer journeys and easy to use interfaces, there’s still a large difference in the breadth of the offering. Customers with specialized needs (securities lending, bonds, futures, trust capabilities, advanced options tools) will probably be better served by more established players. While customers seeking to simply capture market returns with excess cash will probably enjoy the better digital experience and onboarding provided by the newer players in retail brokerage.

What interests us is how both facets are pushing the others to be better. FinTech is pushing the incumbents to simplify, while the incumbents are pushing fintech to be more than just a pretty interface. But the question is, will anyone become the Amazon of investing? Will anyone ever have everything for everyone? And what will that look like? Time will certainly tell.

 

Time’s Running Out to Adopt an API Strategy

As the connective tissue linking ecosystems of technologies and organizations, APIs allow businesses to monetize data, forge profitable partnerships, and open new pathways for innovation and growth.

So why isn’t everyone using them?

Adoption of APIs

More and more APIs are being adopted across all industries—travel (Google Maps), food/entertainment (OpenTable, Spotify), communication (What’sApp, Messenger, WeChat). Companies like Button are partnering with brands to help distribute their offerings to a large developer community and that are eager to strengthen their mobile experience via the use of APIs. APIs, to these organizations, equal opportunity, and access.

In fact, companies that have moved aggressively to embrace APIs have profited handsomely. Salesforce generates nearly 50% of its annual $3 billion in revenue through APIs and for Expedia, that figure is closer to 90% of $2 billion.  And, as Professor Rahul Basole has demonstrated through infographics and a simulation, first mover advantages matter for API strategies. Just look at this graphic contrasting Amazon and Walmart.

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Finance is Far Behind

However, when looking at the Finance industry, banks and brokerages are lagging behind in API adoption. Screen-scraping—which we’ve written about numerous times—doesn’t allow for reliable data connections to banks and is a huge security risk. However, screenscrapers are widely used and via the halo effect, end users are tricked into submitting their information that results in loss of control over their own data. All of that can be alleviated with the adoption of APIs which use information in a more effective and efficient way. APIs still allow data sharing but in a way that creates a safe, seamless experience for both users and creators.  

A Change, She’s A Coming

Luckily things are changing. In Europe with PSD2, APIs are becoming the new standard. The U.S. is likely a few years behind, but Asia, always an early-adopter, has already recognized the need for APIs in order to have a competitive edge. Frankly, the entire finance industry should be looking to find ways of unlocking the potential which will impact and, ultimately, provide benefits for all involved.With the objective of stimulating competition in banking, monetary authorities across Asia are looking at this themselves and starting to put in place a number of Open API directives and specifications designed to dramatically reduce barriers to entry, create opportunities for nimble and innovative players in the market, and encourage competitiveness within Asia’s banking sectors.

Open for Business

Singapore got on board early with Open Banking and their open market strategy saw DBS, a financial services group, launch the world’s largest API developer platform last November. “A platform-based approach, underpinned by an extensive ecosystem of participants that all adhere to common standards, is crucial in enabling banks to quickly access, integrate and deploy new APIs from Fintechs and developers.” In other words, it’s time for everybody to get into the sandbox and play nice.

Follow the Money

McKinsey estimates that as much as $1 trillion in total economic profit globally could be up for grabs through the redistribution of revenues across sectors within ecosystems. Even more, reason to adopt APIs which are integral in bringing together organizations and technologies in these ecosystems, creating a significant competitive advantage. One bank created a library of standardized APIs that developers could use as needed for a wide variety of data-access tasks rather than having to figure out the process each time. Doing so reduced traditional product-development IT costs by 41% and led to a 12-fold increase in new releases.

And yet, there are still just a small number of firms with fully developed API programs, making it now or never time to capitalize on this window of opportunity.  “Today, a firm without APIs that allow software programs to interact with each other is like the internet without the World Wide Web.” For FIs, even with systems that might be more antiquated than others, APIs can help

bring your processes into the 21st century, better connect you to your customers, create money-saving efficiencies and drive brand loyalty.

So the question we have to ask is, what are you waiting for?

 

 


1 Venkat Atluri, Miklos Dietz and Nicolaus Henke, “Competing in a world of sectors without borders,” McKinsey, July 2017

TradeIt’s Bot is Live on Facebook Messenger

We are excited to announce the launch of the TradeIt Bot, live on Facebook Messenger. The new bot allows investors to securely link to their brokerage accounts to view account balances, receive alerts, such as end of day market roundups on the performance of their positions. The bot also provides pricing data for the equities and crypto markets. Giving investors greater control and sense of security, TradeIt securely links investors to their accounts via brokers’ APIs; we do not screen scrape the data.

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“Our partners have reported increased engagement when leveraging TradeIt. When an end user simply sets up a watchlist, retention increases 5x over a 3 or 6-month timeframe.  With a portfolio linked via TradeIt’s technology, partners reported 10x and 12x increases in retention for 3 and 6-month timeframes, respectively,” Nathan Richardson, CEO, and co-founder, noted.  “We expect with the large volume of users on Facebook’s Messenger Bot and high retention numbers reported among our partners, TradeIt can support investors with real-time portfolio data and account balances.”  

In November 2017, Facebook reported continued growth and adoption for the Messenger app by hitting 103.5 million MAU in USA.  Global adoption was 1.3 billion MAU globally.  As we explored in our summer series on FANGs, Facebook laid out plans to embed business services into the Messenger platform, in line with WeChat’s strategy.  Ordering an uber, booking a reservation, shopping for new clothes, and with TradeIt’s Messenger Bot, now, monitoring your investment platform and track market prices for equities and crypto.  

With Messenger’s numbers increasing and Facebook’s stated strategy to follow cues from WeChat, looking to Tencent is likely a sign of what’s coming to the US markets.  Tencent, WeChat’s parent company, has received a license that allows it to sell mutual funds on WeChat and give the popular messaging app’s 980 million users.  Coupling the mutual fund license with the licenses to operate mobile payments, insurance and micro-financing on the WeChat messenger platform, the market is seeing… and validating the need… new avenues for individuals to manage their wealth and pursue the business of their lives.  

The TradeIt Bot for Facebook Messenger can be integrated for a single broker on their Facebook page, giving our brokerage partners an easy way to enter the Messenger space and provide access to their investors where their investors are active and engaged.  Also if you head over to the TradeIt homepage you can see the bot experience embedded on the page.  Over time, we expect the bot to support additional parts of the customer journey, specifically account opening.  For more information, please contact us at support@trade.it or check out the bot here.

FinTech Roundup: Summer 2017

As August comes to a close, we’re taking a moment to reflect on the biggest fintech happenings of the summer. If you spent the last 12 weeks at the beach, here’s what you missed in the fintech world:

Tech Titans Pose a New Threat to FI’s

While startups continue to innovate in consumer finance, financial institutions should look to stay ahead by plugging into incumbent tech platforms, leveraging Google, Facebook, and Amazon as a front-door to acquire and engage customers. To understand the unique opportunities for today’s largest financial institutions, see our FAANGs in Finance series.

Bitcoin Rally Endures the Split

bitcoin-and-ethereum-sitting-on-a-tree@2xThe price of Bitcoin is up 119% since May, to $4,700. In August, the currency split into two: Bitcoin and Bitcoin Cash. Skeptics warned the split would undermine public confidence in the technology and kill its price rally. One month after the split, that concern hasn’t materialized.

FinTech Funding Is Hot

Venture Capitalists continued pouring money into fintech companies, and 2017 is expected to be a record funding year. Here are some of the largest rounds announced over the summer:

Coinbase: cryptocurrency wallet. Series D: $100M

Betterment: automated investing. Series E: $70M

Stash: investing for millennials. Series C: $40M

Kabbage: lending technology. Series F: $250M

Personal Capital: financial advice. Series E: $40M

Wealthsimple: Canadian robo-advisor. Series B: $37M

Fintech News: June 23rd, 2017

New Trading Service Declares War On ‘Disgraceful’ Commissions (Forbes)

The UK market has it’s own free-trading broker now, Trading 212. While all of the major US brokers charge around $5-7 per trade, UK brokers typically charge around £11.

US Wants Travelers to Declare Cryptocurrency Assets At Border (International Business Times)

Regulators are hoping to control the threat of moving money across borders to fund terrorism. However, it’s still fairly easy to do that through traditional financial channels, and the evidence that cryptocurrency funds terrorism is mostly anecdotal, as of today.

Will Amazon Become a Force in Fintech? (TechCrunch)

EY thinks Amazon is the most likely tech company to get into finance, first by expanding into payments and lending.

Announcing: Interactive Brokers, Powered by TradeIt

We’re excited to announce that we’ve connected our core products — Portfolio View and Trading Ticket — to Interactive Brokers, the largest electronic broker by DARTs and a top choice for active traders worldwide.

Over the past month, we launched early-access IB support on Stockflare and the Trigger Finance app. Today, we’re extending IB connectivity to our entire partner network, so IB clients can view their accounts and trade from any of the apps in our sphere.

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“As one of the leading platforms for active investors, we are constantly upgrading our systems for the future. We’ve heard from our customers that they want to be able to take secure action from the apps they use,” said Steve Sanders, Executive Vice President of Interactive Brokers. “Our partnership with TradeIt enables IB to reach our customers wherever they prefer to operate with a high level of sophistication and security.”

After four decades of focus on technology and automation, Interactive Brokers is equipped to provide cutting edge technology and tools at the lowest costs in the industry. We’re thrilled to distribute IB’s offering across our partner network to help their clients stay connected from anywhere.

If you’d like to add IB connectivity to your platform, shoot us a note at support@trade.it.

 

FinTech News: May 26th, 2017

Summer has sprung! Here are our top Friday reads this week:

A Quant Program is the Reason You Just Bought that ETF (WSJ)

BlackRock is using Twitter sentiment data to sell you their funds at the perfect time.

The World’s Largest Bitcoin Exchange Couldn’t Handle this Week’s Crypto Boom (TechCrunch)

Bitcoin hit all-time highs at $2,800 this week, and traffic was so high it crashed Coinbase, spooking some investors.

Teen chat app Kik to launch digital currency (Finextra)

Kik, sometimes called the “WeChat of the West,” launched its own cryptocurrency, “Kin,” for in-app transactions and services offered on the platform.