We caught up with Founder Phil Campbell to discuss how things have gone since winning the innovation jam in May 2016.
In the highly competitive world of fintech, KERV Wearables founder and managing director Phil Campbell tells Sophy Buckley how winning the Temenos Innovation Jam has helped the company forge important relationships and stand out from the crowd.
The KERV contactless payment ring is an idea a bit out of left field. And right now, it's about as authentic a-piece of financial services innovation as you will encounter anywhere in the world.
KERV won the annual Temenos Community Forum Innovation Jam final in May, ultimately beating more than 100 cutting-edge fintechs to the coveted title, immediately catapulting it into a select band of standout startups.
The final, held in Barcelona, was the culmination of a series of global heats – Miami, Dubai, Singapore and London – where hopefuls pitched their ideas to audiences of top financial services specialists including industry analysts, bankers, commentators and strategists. Each audience voted for its favourite, with the most popular two from each heat going through to the final.
KERV won the London event, held at Canary Wharf's Level 39, home to the capital's vibrant fintech start-up scene. Being crowned Innovation Jammer 2016 meant not only standing out above the London competitors, but beating 11 world-class contestants in Barcelona whose applications, ranging from robo-advisory to blockchain and biometrics, taking in digital wallets and more, had already impressed their regional audience.
"It was great to win at TCF 2016. We got fantastic feedback straight away, meeting exactly the right people to help us," says Phil Campbell, founder and MD of KERV Wearables. "Everyone's there. The event has got huge appeal and Temenos is a great name. Winning TCF is the one event we put into all our presentations. It has been incredibly useful and we've had some very constructive talks as a result."
He believes winning has made forging key partnerships easier, which has helped KERV develop faster than it might otherwise. These include its payment partnership with MasterCard, which facilitates the debit payments, and its relationship with Temenos, which has helped KERV develop a series of web services and APIs that integrate directly with the Temenos platform. Once complete, KERV will then be able to deliver a white label service for banks to offer their customers.
Temenos has also been helpful when it comes to the integration on to its core banking platform. "We've really worked hard with them on this. Ease of integration is key for banks looking for more ways to improve the customer experience," Campbell says. "Once we've got that, more relationships will follow."
To date, KERV has had very encouraging talks with big names including Virgin Money and Bank of Ireland, and Metro Bank is also interested.
KERV won not simply because the ring allows wearers to pay for things wherever the contactless payment system is available. It was also because the ring is the beginning of a range of jewellery and other wearable devices that will come under the KERV brand and help further to integrate digital financial services into our lives.
The audience, some 1,200 financial industry professionals, clearly got the pitch, with a quarter voting for KERV. But the benefits of winning didn't stop with a higher profile and easier introductions. According to Campbell, winning also changed the mind-set of the company and staff.
"We went from having an idea we believed in to realising we had an idea that others believed in too."
The central idea is that all KERV devices will seamlessly talk to each other so a user can chop and change from a ring to a watch to a bracelet – or more mundanely, these days, a card or phone. And it could be stylish and fashionable – Campbell is already working with Swiss horologist Frederique Constant on a watch.
"Lots of different devices will be run off one account. The user won't have to do or act differently to use each device," he says. The software will link everything together seamlessly and effortlessly and transactions will link to the user's bank account. "That's the future."
The ring was launched as a pre-payment service, but today KERV is a MasterCard service partner, allowing users to use it just like a debit card.
Campbell is clearly delighted with this key partnership. "When the till receipt comes out it's got MasterCard's name stamped on it, along with KERV. Seeing that is pretty cool."
The ring is now up and running, but the customer base will take time to build. "To date we've sold less than 50 to friends, family and early adopters," Campbell refreshingly admits. "They can go into Costa or M&S or wherever there is a contactless terminal and tap the ring on it to pay." It also works with contactless transport payment systems and NFC locks.
He believes the real growth will come once KERV signs up a banking client, which should be soon. "Once we get a bulk partner, growth could be quick – thousands very quickly."
Meanwhile, he continues to attend events to meet people and get feedback. "It's incredibly helpful to hear what people think and you never know whom you're going to meet and what opportunities will arise," he says.