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Canary Wharf: How Utilidex helps its customers manage their energy

Co-founder and director of the Level39-based company talks billing and climate change optimism

The topic of energy is ever-present in the headlines in 2022
The topic of energy is ever-present in the headlines in 2022

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The topic of energy is seldom out of the news at present.

There’s the government plan to cap household bills at an average of £2,500 through 2023 with six months of equivalent support for businesses at a cost of more than £100billion. 

Then there’s the longer term problem that, unless humanity brings down global carbon emissions by finding ways to generate the power we need in more environmentally friendly ways, then our activities on this planet will be the end of our species.

Whatever is going on in the market or with the planet, organisations’ ability to accurately know their own usage and impact is essential.

That’s where Utilidex comes in. Founded in 2012, the company is based at Level39, Canary Wharf’s tech community, spread across various floors of One Canada Square.

“We create software for businesses, the public sector and industry,” said co-founder and director Mike McCloskey.

“We do three things. Firstly, we do billing and, by default, bill validation for our customers.

“Secondly, we handle energy procurement – that means buying energy for the future for large corporates and industrials particularly.

“The reason we do that is so companies are less exposed to big changes in prices, to mitigate big shocks in the market.

“Then thirdly, from the data we receive, we create, assess and monitor the carbon footprint of an organisation based on the latest conversions.

“These actually change every year based on how much renewable energy is in the system.

“Once you have that data, which tends to be in half-hourly granularity in the UK, you can make observations – a business can monitor things like how much energy is being used when a property is vacant or a floor is empty in a building.

“You can work out things like energy intensity per square foot and then compare different buildings to see how they differ.

“That’s how you start to understand whether you’re wasting energy.

“Once you start looking at data in this highly granular form, then the observations become more interesting.

“These days, companies are devoting a bit more time to this – they are carbon aware – but even prior to that there was still a requirement for people working in facilities management to understand day-on-day, week-on-week, month-on-month, whether the organisation was making energy reductions and procuring power more effectively.

“These are the sorts of things we try to inform our customers about.

“With our software, it’s all about usability and understanding how the system works – getting as much benefit as you wish and deciding how much activity you can and want to devote to energy.

“In terms of value, we can measure the impact of projects and behavioural change – for example, swapping to LED light bulbs.

“The data can provide the justification for doing things like that.

“We also do the basic things like ensuring our customers’ bills are accurate.

Utilidex co-founder Mike McCloskey
Utilidex co-founder Mike McCloskey

“If your bill is £5million, then you’ll want to know if it’s correct or whether you’re under or over.

“It could be that a company is still being billed for a property it no longer owns, that the rates have changed or that the meter data is either not coming through or has been poorly estimated.

“There’s a lot of talk about energy suppliers over-billing, but in my experience, they’re just as likely to under-bill which is equally problematic if there’s a shock at the end of the year and it wasn’t in the budget.

“Traditionally much of this work was done manually, which was time consuming and prone to error, so we do it digitally.”

Utilidex, which has recently added water to the list of utilities its software supports, did not spring fully-formed from the minds of its founders – Mike and co-founder and CEO Richard Brys.

Instead it is a company where change and evolution have shaped its activities, growth and direction.

“When you start a business in the utility sector, especially if you’ve got some experience, you usually have a plan,” said Mike.

“But as the market evolves there has to be re-calibration and sometimes chucking everything out of the window and starting again.

“All these things happen in a dynamic fashion, but you have to adapt to those changes to stay in business. 

“We were very lucky. Our first two corporate customers – Bourne Leisure and Aviva – had massive environmental awareness in 2014 and still do today. 

“Their interest drove us into an area where we had to learn quite quickly what had to be done to support behavioural change in buildings.

“Nowadays, every organisation above a certain size in the UK has a carbon target.

“These are set at board level, so have to be adhered to, and there are lots of opportunities where our data can be used either by consultants, developers or sales providers to build a business case for a project.

“We want to build our business in the UK and grow it here – there’s a lot to do.”

One of the parts of its business  Utilidex hopes to expand is the ways it supports organisations to reduce their carbon emissions.

Mike says industrial companies will invest in making their own energy
Mike says industrial companies will invest in making their own energy

“I’m actually more optimistic now about climate change than I was eight months ago,” said Mike.

“Sadly, that’s down to the rocketing energy prices.

“They will cause a dark winter where energy conservation becomes really important for financial survival, be that for households or businesses.

“The impact of this will accelerate the process because it will force everybody’s hands and that should be a good thing for the planet.”

While Mike said there were no easy fixes for businesses facing escalating bills, he said some would be in a position to take action.

“It’s a massive problem and will need to be addressed in a variety of ways,” he said.

“One way for organisations to do that is to become both producers and consumers of energy as well as investing in batteries to help avoid peak rate tariffs.

“Where firms have the capital, now would be a really good time to invest in wind or solar – and make their own energy. That’s the way industrials will need to go.

“It’s also good because it creates additionality as well – there’s one more solar panel or wind turbine generating power that can be used or fed back into the grid.”

Read more: How Third Space helps Wharfers make the most of their time

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- Jon Massey is co-founder and editorial director of Wharf Life and writes about a wide range of subjects in Canary Wharf, Docklands and east London - contact via jon.massey@wharf-life.com

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Canary Wharf: How Unifi.id delivers tech that helps firms cut carbon in their buildings

Level39-based company’s real-time occupancy data designed to help reduce energy wastage

Unifi.id CEO and founder Paul Sheedy

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“You cannot manage what you can’t measure,” said Paul Sheedy, the CEO and founder of Unifi.id.

“The one thing we focus on is giving clients the right measurement tools so that they can manage their buildings better.”

In the mouth of a lesser individual, technology designed to track building occupancy in real time and adjust systems such as lighting, heating and air conditioning accordingly might seem a little dry.

But Paul positively vibrates with passion when it comes to his specialist subject.

On the one hand there’s the engaging Irish lilt of a Dubliner and a glint in the eye.

On the other there’s a burning frustration and exasperation that more isn’t being done to tackle climate change and humanity’s continued overuse of resources.

He’s disarming, funny and deadly serious.

“We talk a lot about smart buildings,” he said, waving a hand to indicate the London skyline stretching out to the City and beyond as we gaze out of the 39th floor of One Canada Square in Canary Wharf.

“But 96% of buildings around the world are not smart.

“What we’re trying to do is deliver the things companies need to actually make them smarter.

“In most buildings, energy wastage is about 30% – just think of that in the wider context of cutting emissions and gas and electricity prices rising so quickly.

“My focus is all about using less energy and so lowering organisations’ carbon footprint very, very rapidly.”

Unifi.id's long range RFID cards are logged by its detectors
Unifi.id’s long range RFID cards are logged by its detectors

Based at Canary Wharf’s tech community Level39, Unifi.id has developed technology embedded in entry and exit swipe cards that allow its detectors to log employees as they pass key points in a building. 

Paul is quick to stress this isn’t about tracking the exact movements of individuals as they go about their day, but rather knowing who is in what general area at any given time and then using that data in a number of different ways.

“The lingering effect of the lockdowns is a good example,” he said. “Almost all buildings are being run as they were pre-Covid.

“Companies have all their cleaning staff, their restaurant staff and security staff in as though the occupancy was the same.

“But some buildings still have only around 2% of staff in on a Friday.

“That those buildings are being run in the same way is ridiculous.

“Before Covid, the way buildings were occupied was consistent, but now there’s not a single one that we run that has any consistency.

“Occupancy is so sporadic and it can be extreme on Mondays and Fridays.

“It’s criminal that all the lights are on, the air conditioning is cooling every floor, with only a fraction of the staff in.

“That’s why our technology can have an impact – the more we monitor, the better our predictive analysis gets. For example, we can see the effect of external factors. 

“We see that about 7%-12% fewer people come to the office on a Thursday if it’s raining.

“In contrast, rain on a Tuesday hardly affects anything and we think there’s a psychological reason for that because if you’ve been working from home on Friday and Monday, by Tuesday you’ll be feeling a need to return to the office despite the weather.

“On a Thursday, you might just think it doesn’t matter so much, especially if you’re working at home or off on the Friday.

“Then you have other factors such as train strikes, which can affect occupancy over an entire week.

“Occupancy detection also allows building owners working with us to tell the buildings in advance so they can adapt – keeping floors closed and turning down the air con, for example. 

“What we’re really trying to say to organisations is that they can adapt to this new way of working, but there will be consequences, so they may need to use hot-desking because certain areas won’t be open.”

The key for Unifi.id is giving organisations this ability to track change so they can adapt what their buildings are doing in real time, rather than simply guessing what’s happening.

Paul says energy is wasted in the vast majority of buildings
Paul says energy is wasted in the vast majority of buildings

“We think there will be a change,” said Paul.

“People working from home, paying for all the lighting and heating, will recognise that it would be cheaper for them to go to work, so it will get busier later in the year.

“In many sectors where there is flexibility, we already know what’s happening.

“Staff are seeing that it’s the right time to go back to work, socialise and interact with other people again.”

Greater numbers back in buildings makes Unifi.id’s technology even more relevant, given its obvious safety benefits.

Should a building catch fire, for example, knowing exactly how many people are in it and where they are is potentially life-saving information for the emergency services.

“This is something I’m particularly passionate about, because back in Dublin when I was a child, we had 48 of our neighbours die in a dance hall fire – they couldn’t get out of the building,” said Paul.

“What we want to do for the London Fire Brigade and for the tenants of buildings is to bring in a new policy where, in real time, if something does go wrong, the emergency services and building managers know the occupancy of the building.

“That means they can monitor the evacuation of the building and could save firefighters’ lives if they then don’t need to go in.

“Also we look at how many people in a building have mobility issues and where they are, so efforts can focus on getting them out safely.

“People don’t always do sensible things when it comes to an evacuation. 

“We have mechanisms in place where, if we can see people heading the wrong way, a completely automated communication is sent to their mobile to tell them where to go and what to do to get to the ground floor, even if that’s to avoid a certain evacuation route.”

Paul created Unifi.id following the success of Symphony Retail AI, a company he co-founded that analyses loyalty card transaction data to better understand the behaviour of shoppers.

Originally conceived to create beacon technology – the idea of sending messages from companies to people’s phones based on their location and profile – his firm switched its focus to property when it eventually became clear in the advertising world that this was a non-starter.

“I hate to admit failure, but I will,” said Paul, who has been based at Level39 since it launched as a tech accelerator hub in 2013.

“The world was convinced that beacon technology was going to be the next big thing in advertising, but it never happened.

“No retailer anywhere in the world ever made it work to detect the right customer at the right time to send them the right offer.

“In reality it didn’t work because it didn’t think about the individual and what they would have to do. 

“So now we focus on making technology that isn’t dependent on people doing certain things to make it work – the more you do that, the better your product is going to be.

“It’s more difficult for the company, but hey, I wouldn’t get out of bed if I didn’t know it was going to be a challenging day ahead of me.

“I enjoy squeezing the grey matter and the brains of brilliant people I work with to find what piece of physics we can break, bend or enhance.

“So we transformed into a proptech company, delivering simple essential data to those managing buildings so they can make them more efficient and better for the environment.

“Over the past two years, it’s not been a great time to be working in occupancy technology, so a lot of what we did in 2020 was to go back to our clients and say: ‘This will end, tell us what we could do to be even better after Covid’. 

“With their responses, my tech team sat down and we just worked relentlessly on building new solutions, working out what the next steps would be.

“We saw that the market was moving from card-based access control to apps.

“But we know this doesn’t make sense because people don’t tap in and out so much using an app, whereas the RFID technology in our cards  means we automatically detect people walking into or out of a building or past our detection points.

“We realised that the way to get around this was to develop a facial recognition system. 

“We only hold the vectors of a face in the camera, and only when an employee of the company walks in or out of the building – this would be detected and put in the database of who is in the building.

“Then we’d mesh that with 3D counting cameras – with these, we don’t know who you are, but we do know how many people pass them, so in reality we have absolute accuracy on the usage of each floor of a building.

“This means that if we do have an evacuation, for example, we know the numbers of people on each floor and we can detect them as they enter each stairway, so we can see the flow and quickly identify where there might be blockages or problems and allow the fire brigade to get to them.

“We really believe that this will become a global system, which will go into major cities around the world, like Dubai and New York.

Paul is clear that Unifi.id’s technology cannot be used to monitor the exact position of employees – this isn’t about tracking who’s at which desk and how many trips they take to the toilet in a day.

He said this would not only be an invasion of privacy on an ethical level, but also that such data would not be very useful.

“We have been careful with every client that we will never be a Big Brother solution – we’re only detecting people as employees or visitors who are allowed access to a particular floor of a building,” he said.

“Secondly, we will never put our technology into places like toilets or cigarette-smoking areas. If an employer wants to do that, they will be doing it without our technology. That’s not what this is about.

“One of my key points is that it should be actionable data, which would deliver the best solution, not just collecting data for the sake of it.

“The world isn’t taking climate change seriously enough.

“We’re failing on every single metric and we have to realise this isn’t about governments – its about organisations and individuals making the right choices on every single thing they do. We have to contain energy with every single device we use. 

“What the UK does have is an amazing ecosystem of accelerators for technology companies and a lot of them are now focused on proptech. 

“We’re now working in collaboration with a lot of those companies and, because we’re working with them, this country is now at the forefront of this sector going forward. 

“We work with people on LED lighting and automated building management systems and by using our data, businesses can rapidly cut energy wastage now.”

Read more: How Ultimate Performance helps its clients achieve their goals

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- Jon Massey is co-founder and editorial director of Wharf Life and writes about a wide range of subjects in Canary Wharf, Docklands and east London - contact via jon.massey@wharf-life.com
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Canary Wharf: How Cryptoslate helps readers make sense of cryptocurrency

Co-founder and CEO Nate Whitehill talks WordPress, websites, coins and Canary Wharf

Nate Whitehill is co-founder and CEO of Cryptoslate
Nate Whitehill is co-founder and CEO of Cryptoslate

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How does one become a cryptocurrency millionaire?

Since Bitcoin emerged in 2009 and investment became possible, it’s a question that’s been either idly or actively present in an increasing number of minds. 

With a blizzard of coins now traded it’s a world of complexity where invention and innovation are pushing at the edge of what’s possible in terms of digital finance. Prices rise, crash and rise again.

Stablecoins lose their stability and you can be certain the next idea or gimmick is just around the corner.

For Nate Whitehill, this ever-changing story and the global thirst for information about it, has made him a millionaire in a different sense. 

An entrepreneur for the last 18 years, the 38-year-old grew up just outside Seattle. 

Encouraged by his grandfather and father to take business seriously, by 18 he was coding on the internet and starting ventures with his friends.

A WordPress user since 2006, by 2008 he was building blogs for corporations and discovered the joy of being able to work from anywhere remotely as well as blogging about his own endeavours. 

He then went on to create Highlighter.com – a platform for students and professors to annotate individual passages of text so they could have online discussions around particular words or phrases.

“We raised about $750,000 and ran that company until 2013,” said Nate.

“By 2015 I had really discovered Bitcoin in a serious way.

“My friend in Seattle told me to download Coinbase, and the price was about $270 for a Bitcoin.

“So very early on I fell down the rabbit hole – it’s more of a black hole in the sense that people who fall into the crypto space never escape – I was on it for life.

“As I got into crypto, I started spending a tremendous amount of time on websites like Coindesk, which are like data analysis sites.

“At the time I realised I could build a version of this, combining qualitative and quantitative elements, and have everything interlinked together in WordPress.

“So I stopped the consulting I was doing at the time and started building the site – this was in 2017 and we launched in December.”

Still in Seattle at the time, Nate as co-founder and CEO of Cryptoslate rode the bull market of 2017 as prices for cryptocurrency soared and an increasing demand for information saw his site grow to about 150,000 monthly visitors.

“At this time I was also taking a really strong interest in the global implications of this technology and where previous digital innovations had happened,” said Nate. 

“I could see it happening around the world, especially in places like the UK. 

“So I started researching international conferences which would be interesting to attend, but then I realised there was so much happening in London and Gibraltar.

“So, in February 2018 I flew over to London and then down to Gibraltar for a fintech conference.”

With so many coins in the market, Cryptoslate aims to provide greater depth for its readers
With so many coins in the market, Cryptoslate aims to provide greater depth for its readers

Having presented at the conference, Nate found the international blockchain scene to his liking and decided to relocate to London, moving to Canary Wharf and creating a UK entity to work alongside Cryptoslate’s US business.

He said: “I came here on the endorsement of Level39’s startup visa to join Canary Wharf’s tech community.

“My view was that it contained the best of what was happening in London in an area that’s quite unlike the rest of the city.

“I fell in love with Canary Wharf, with London and with Level39 specifically, when I saw this vision of what life could be like and the opportunities that would present themselves here.

“Since I have been here, all my hopes and dreams have been exceeded in terms of the network of people I have met, so in hindsight, it’s been the best decision I have ever made.

“Having been here a year and a half, I remain passionate about London in general and Canary Wharf as a place to live – I plan on being here a long time.”

In that time Cryptoslate has grown to attract more than a million monthly readers, with Nate aiming to raise $4million to expand its operation.

“We think of the site as a crypto-discoverability engine – we have a combination of news, data and a directory,” said Nate.

“Each day we cover anything from 10 to 15 stories, created by a team of writers mostly in the western European region, but also around the world. We cover issues our audience finds compelling.

“A lot of the time it will be stories about all of the bad events happening, like the hacks and the scams, because we really want to paint an accurate picture of what’s happening with cryptocurrency.

“We don’t think of ourselves as trying to sell ‘hopium’ – the idea people will feed nonsense to each other with the hope of making short-term gains through investment.

“Something that makes us unique compared with other coin sites is that we combine the qualitative and the quantitative to give readers a more accurate picture.

“When you go to a Cryptoslate article about Bitcoin, for example, you’ll not only see the content of the article, you’ll also see a press chart about what Bitcoin actually is, with the opportunity to click through and learn more about it from a qualitative perspective.

“We also do that with our directory of people, products, companies, places and events.

“We also have a strict conflict-of-interest policy, so any time a writer holds an asset they are writing about, they have to check a box and there’s a disclaimer at the bottom of the article. The goal is always to be as transparent and honest as possible.

“I am not editorially involved, personally – I’m a step away – but we don’t discourage our writers from investing in crypto.

“In fact, we think that, if people are using the products, they have a better understanding of how to accurately depict them.”

Whether it's a bull or bear market, Cryptoslate is there to track it
Whether it’s a bull or bear market, Cryptoslate is there to track it

Cryptoslate is actively looking both for strategic investors and to hire writers in London as it grows. It gets about 90% of its revenue from advertising, while 10% comes from its subscription service.

Cryptoslate Edge offers greater analysis, longer stories and is designed to give global investors a better understanding of the market.

“We always try to discourage trying to tell anyone what they should buy, what is a good or bad investment decision, trying to be as objective as possible, but doing it in a more comprehensive way through CryptoSlate Edge,” said Nate.

“The idea behind cryptocurrency is to create an alternative financial system for the world, and that’s absolutely coming true.

“Increasingly the traditional financial system is figuring out ways that it can participate in the crypto economy.

“Just the other day Fidelity announced that it would be offering Bitcoin in pensions, for example.

“Increasingly the crypto industry is going to become part of our daily lives over the next decade.

“People will be using different decentralised protocols and crypto currencies without even realising.

“In the same way that someone may not understand how the internet works, but will use Facebook and Instagram, so it will be the same with crypto technologies over the next decade.

“In five years you could pay by scanning a QR code which connects to your Bitcoin wallet and that’s how you pay for something. These are just some of the things that will be huge for society.”

And Cryptoslate will be there to help its readers and subscribers navigate that future.

Read more: Cody Dock tests its rolling bridge

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Canary Wharf: How Lenderwize spotted telecoms’ companies’ need for finance

Level39-based firm verifies digital assets allowing money to be lent to the businesses handling them

Lenderwize founder Lawrence Gilioli
Lenderwize founder Lawrence Gilioli

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Lawrence Gilioli’s business, at least at present, is mostly hidden from the minds of the public.

Make a call from the UK to Brazil and the phone rings, someone picks up and the conversation happens.

As far as the user is concerned, they’re paying BT for that call and it’s delivering that connection.

Except, in the world of telecoms, that’s not what goes on.

“BT doesn’t have all the lines in the world, so needs to connect with an intermediary or wholesaler,” said Lawrence.

“They, in turn, don’t have all the lines either, so they need to connect to a terminating operator, which completes that phone call.”

It’s in this middle stage that Lawrence, a seasoned entrepreneur with a background in the telecoms industry, has identified his first market.

“These companies are invoicing each other – the middle man has to pay the terminating operator in Brazil and BT has to pay the middle man.

“However, typically the intermediary has to pay Brazil on seven days, but won’t get paid by BT for 60 days.”

That payment mismatch at worst means the wholesaler can’t do business at all, or limits what they can do, due to cash flow.

To address this problem, Lawrence created Lenderwize.

Based at Canary Wharf’s tech accelerator, Level39 in One Canada Square – but with staff distributed around the world in reflection of the industry it serves – its aim is to provide smart finance solutions for these companies.

“We are essentially talking about digital commodities and services here,” said Lawrence.

“Today’s world is ever more digital – that means traditional banks don’t understand it and they don’t know how to fund it, to validate activity or how to mitigate risk.

“So we’ve invented a fintech platform that uses patent pending technology to capture the digital assets behind phone calls, text messages and data use, for example.

“These things are intangible, but our technology makes them tangible because we are able to capture, validate and certify that these are real assets.

“That means you can lend against something Lenderwize certifies has been delivered.

“We understand this market because me and my partners come from this industry, which is huge – $64billion a year and growing. It includes voice calls, text messages, data use and, now, other e-goods and commodities.

“It is hidden to the general public and it’s even hidden to the financial world, because, being digital, once again, they will shy away from it.

“Typically banks or other investment institutions want to invest in real estate, the motor industry or tangible things like that.

“Consequently, there is this whole digital world that is under-served by banks and under-capitalised, but with a tremendous need because this area is only growing in size and companies need access to funding.”

Digital assets are increasingly important in a connected world
Digital assets are increasingly important in a connected world

Having launched the platform two years ago with the intention of building a business ultimately to sell to a large financial institution once the concept is proven, Lenderwize now has 12 staff split across London, Italy, Australia, Holland and Switzerland.

“We have just passed processing 350million calls in the last year and we expect that to double this year and to triple within two,” said Lawrence. “We expect to surpass a billion calls.

“The way it works is that our clients buy into our system and the data is uploaded automatically onto our platform. 

“That gives us access to their switches anonymously, so we can validate and verify that the information they are giving us on a daily basis is verifiable.

“Right now we’re doing that on a sample basis – looking at calls going to the same destinations from the same number and capturing durations and frequencies.

“We’re checking to see if the numbers are real and, ideally, will ultimately do that on every single asset.

“That’s part of our know-how, but it’s the case that the operators in this market require these services, so clients reach out to us because the need is so great.

“We have a very precise credit vetting procedure and our ability to verify the assets means we’ve only had one default so far, which is exceptional.

“I think the ability to analyse beforehand and then to validate on a daily basis is the key to success. It means that if there is something wrong, we discover it immediately, not at the end of the month.”

In addition to providing credit to these wholesale companies, Lenderwize is also in a position to embed a range of financial services in its operation.

Lawrence said: “We’re looking to exit in three years and we think we’ll be sexy to a bank, a telecoms operator, an insurance company or a big bank.

“That’s because ultimately we are an entire ecosystem that can be used for supply chain financing or supply chain payments, but the direction our fintech platform is going in, which mitigates risk, will be adding on embedded finance, insurance and payment solutions, all in real time.

“As this whole world gets more and more digital, the need to speed things up in real time becomes greater, from risk analysis to the transfer of value.

“Our direction is to continue to develop new technology but we don’t want to re-invent the wheel ourselves, we want to develop partnerships with high quality businesses.

“That’s why we’re so happy to be at Level39, because there’s so much interesting stuff going on here.

“We want to partner with organisations doing specific things to add to our mosaic, creating services for our investors and our clients.”

Lawrence hopes to also offer consumers financial services

As if revolutionising the finances of the telecoms industry on the business end wasn’t enough to be getting on with, Lawrence also has ideas about how Lenderwize might branch out into the consumer market.

“Today we’re B-to-B and tomorrow we want to be B-to-C,” he said.

“At the moment you’re probably paying a flat fee for your phone contract, but statistically you’re throwing away about 25% of that money.

“We want to give people the ability to convert what they’re paying for and not using.

“Three years ago, 25% of people surveyed globally said they would be likely or highly likely to change their operator on the spot if they got a phone call offering them a new deal.

“Three years later and that figure is 66% – there is no loyalty in the mobile world.

“This means that Vodaphone or BT, for example, could lose their entire customer base overnight, potentially.

“Mobile operators need to create loyalty programs, to create stickiness.

“So we will be proposing our finance-meets-telecom solution on people’s phones, where customers can place unused airtime that they have already paid for in an interest-generating wallet.

“We want to tackle two great inefficiencies – airtime and bank savings accounts that offer low or no rates of interest. 

“We want to convert these from cost centres into profit-generating centres – a tool for everyone to use in a proactive way. We’ll be talking more about this later in the year.”

Lawrence, who holds dual Italian and American citizenship said he’d based the business in London because of the efficient infrastructure, easy access to clients and investors and tax breaks for startups.

“Level39 is at the heart of fintech in Europe, it’s also the coolest place to be aesthetically and it’s connected to all the banks,” he said.

Read more: How cryptocurrency exchange Coinjar gives investors options

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Canary Wharf: How cryptocurrency exchange CoinJar gives investors choices

Co-founder Asher Tan talks cycles, assets and why dipping a toe into crypto is something to experience

Physical currency is increasingly redundant

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This image is a great big pile of old tech (albeit American in this instance).

While coin has been around for thousands of years, there’s a growing sense that physical money has had its day.

Go to an ATM – machines once used on an almost daily basis. Try and remember your PIN and extract some cash.

See how odd the plastic notes feel, how strange the idea that they might be taken to a shop and broken down into small metal discs representing value. 

Currency was digital before the pandemic but now physical euros, dollars and pounds seem increasingly otherworldly.

That’s one reason, perhaps, why cryptocurrencies seem less and less exotic. 

If wealth is simply represented by numbers on a screen, maybe changing the logo next to them with the hope of making money on the trade is a little less scary than say, walking up to a currency exchange counter and converting a familiar set of notes into something completely alien. 

Maybe it’s why about a fifth of British people have owned cryptocurrency as of March this year – up 103% on 2018.

Statistics like these will doubtless be welcome reading for Asher Tan, co-founder of CoinJar, which operates from bases in Australia, and Level39 in Canary Wharf.

He created the company with business partner Ryan Zhou in 2013 after the pair took part in an incubator scheme in Melbourne as interest around Bitcoin, which emerged in 2009 grew.

“CoinJar is a simple way to buy, hold and sell crypto assets,” said Asher.

“We also have tools, such as a debit Mastercard, so that people can go to any ATM and convert their crypto to any currency they want or spend it where the card is accepted.

“That part of the business has been a long time coming – we’d had previous versions, but we were a small company and nobody wanted to work with us until now when we’ve partnered with Mastercard.

“Most people use CoinJar for some form of asset investment, to just buy and hold crypto.

“The popularity of doing that comes in waves every two or three years.

“You have a huge upswing as crypto rises in value, then cryptomania resumes, but that’s just the nature of the cycles. It’s been easing off in the last three months.”

CoinJar co-founder Asher Tan at Level39 in Canary Wharf

Such fluctuations are not unusual and Asher exudes the air of a business owner content to play the long game.

Bitcoin, the most well-known and first cryptocurrency is famed for its rapid fluctuations in value, having gone from a few pence in value in 2009 to more than £30,000 per coin in 2022. 

It’s still about 50% of the total crypto market but has since been joined by a bewildering array of digital coins – Injective, The Sandbox, Synthetix and Bancor, for example – many of which can be bought on CoinJar for a few pounds.

Ethereum, perhaps the second most well-known, can be bought for about £2,300 at the time of writing.

Doubtless people will continue to buy and sell the stuff in the hope of a big pay day.

But there’s another way to make money from crypto and that was the niche Asher and Ryan spotted.

“Being a startup in 2013 was a good vintage – we travelled quite a bit, saw other companies being built and, in the UK, saw the fintech bubble beginning,” said Asher.

“The message was already being pushed out that London was the fintech capital of the world and Level39 – Canary Wharf’s tech accelerator – was created about that time too.

“That was a bold move by Canary Wharf Group, to combine the existing financial infrastructure with fintech and it’s one that has really paid off.

“Being part of that early group, crypto was a movement – we were all trying to figure out this piece of technology.

“Everyone was trying to push for something but not everyone knew what that was yet.

“Everyone was trying to build services – some people created crypto point of sale businesses, others wallets to keep crypto in and some exchanges so people could buy it.

“Would you use it to pay for coffee? There was even a Bitcoin ATM in Old Street. Back then it was underground, people looking for consumer services.

“Now, in 2022, after the pandemic, crypto is almost accepted as an asset class, not just Bitcoin.

“There’s some debate about how you use it, but no-one argues that this isn’t the status quo.

“The premise has shifted and the imagination continues to grow.

“It might seem crazy to some people, but it’s the job of entrepreneurs to make these things happen. We’re trying to create an alternative financial system for the whole world.”

Bitcoin remains about 50% of the total cryptocurrency market

While the currencies it trades in are very different, CoinJar operates in a similar way to a conventional exchange, charging a fee to change money from one currency to another.

It also levies a 1% fee on in-store and online purchases and cash withdrawals for those using its debit card, available in either physical or digital form.

Having operated consistently in Australia, CoinJar has maintained a presence in Canary Wharf, deciding in 2018 to expand its business in earnest overseas. 

“It’s been nine years since we started the company,” said Asher.

“In that time there have been so many peaks and troughs about Bitcoin – it’s died a thousand times. In the early years, you were wondering if this was a fatal step or whether cryptocurrency even needed to exist.

“At some points the overriding opinion was that crypto was just going to evaporate. So you do need belief and it takes time.

“Like with most good things, you have to wait. When we first came to Level39 we never fully launched and there were questions about whether we should just focus on Australia, but we always kept the membership even when we weren’t operating in the UK.

“So, in 2020 we had a proper launch and now we have six people based at One Canada Square. I think the UK market has always been slightly under-served in terms of crypto services.

“But there are some things it has in common with Australia, such as strong regulation.

“It’s always been a market we wanted to enter because the two countries have a unique friendship. It’s a good place to come for Australian startups.

“In terms of the future for CoinJar, the product is always changing.

“We started this business to provide consumers with an alternative way to use finance, so that means we’ve also got to keep up and change as the industry develops.

“As a business, we’re first generation crypto – we now have staff who are much younger and their views are very different – everything’s going to change, right?

“Now it’s Non-Fungible Tokens and these seemed very strange to me when I heard about them in 2017, but nine years ago crypto was very strange to everyone. It’s important to keep challenging yourself about the reality of the online world.” 

The question all those teetering on the brink of their first investment want answered, is whether it’s worth it?

“Different people have different strategies,” said Asher. “Personally, I’m not a trader day-to-day – I don’t really see crypto as get rich quick.

“With fintech there’s no cap to what it could be, so it captures the imagination and then the sky’s the limit.

“In the early days there were a lot of predictions around crypto – everyone would be using it, the banks would all take it. But, come on, seriously? It might happen.

“The premise of crypto has always been about choice. You can opt for something different – you don’t have to choose one of the big banks – you can use alternative platforms in terms of investment. Right now, that means there are more options.

“Crypto has always been something for people who want to try different things. Right now, I do believe the promise has benefit for everyone in terms of buying and holding cryptocurrency – an experience most people should try. 

“You can get into it for £10, so it’s not a huge financial commitment to try to understand what this movement is about.

“Use it, try to make sense of the technological mystery behind it, and I think that’s the first step to a better understanding of why it even exists.”

  • Cryptocurrency remains a very volatile investment. What you do with your money is your own affair and this article should in no way be seen as recommending the purchase of cryptocurrency.

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