The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan

In August 2017, MetLife Insurance K.K. and LumenLab, MetLife’s innova­tion center in Singapore, launched collab 2.0, an initiative that invited start­ups from around the world to innovate a solution to real business challenges specified by MetLife.

Collab 2.0 attracted 111 applicants from 24 countries. From this pool, six finalists competed for a ¥10 million contract with MetLife. The winners were New Zealand-based software developer Montoux, New York-based artificial intelligence developer WorkFusion, and Tokyo-based Moneytree.

On June 6, at an event hosted by the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan (ACCJ) Alternative Investment Committee, ACCJ members learned more about collab 2.0 and the Tokyo connection from Moneytree co-founder Mark Makdad (pictured center) and Webster Coates (right), statutory executive officer, execu­tive vice president, and chief strategy officer at MetLife.

Founded in 2012 by two Americans and one Australian, Moneytree has grown to 52 employees and is the number-one provider of application programming interface access to customer financial data. According to Makdad, during Moneytree’s series A round in 2015, they were able to attract funding from all three of the venture capital funds of the three Japanese megabanks: Mitsubishi UFJ Capital Co., Ltd., Mizuho Capital Co., Ltd., and SMBC Venture Capital.

Moneytree gathers information from 2,750 sources in Japan, including banks, invest­ments and brokerages, loyalty points, insurance policies, and payments—such as by credit card and using digital money—from seven insurance providers. Makdad said, “We’re trying to find ways that consumers and small businesses can leverage their data and provide more value to their sales as well as the financial services companies that they are working with.”

The young company is teaming up with MetLife, a 150-year-old life insurance provider that operates in more than 50 countries, serves 100 million customers worldwide, and has some 50,000 employees. MetLife Japan is its second-largest business globally and accounts for about 20 percent of the company’s profits. The innovation center LumenLab is a group company that provides training to MetLife employees to encourage innovation and growth.

Makdad and his colleagues came across collab during a business trip to Singapore and met representatives of the program. When 2.0 launched, and one of the challenges for the collab was digital engage­ment, Moneytree was keen to get involved and exhibit their company mission “to help better connect consumers and their financial institutions.”

Collab is about more than just the winners and prizes. “The coaching process, going from finalist to winner, involves a lot of our own employees and champions and working together with a partner company,” Coates said. As a result, the experience itself was highly valuable.

Makdad added: “Even if we didn’t win—even if, out of those six finalists, we were not chosen—my team had inside access to major life insurance problems, [which] are the problems we are trying to solve in digital engagement. That’s an education I can’t buy.”

Of the long-term benefits to MetLife of having multiple collab initiatives, Coates said that the biggest outcomes are really around the company’s own workplace culture, being able to engender the ability to work in different ways and to be more innov­ative. “And, also, because we are primarily a consumer-focused business, ultimately—at the end of the day—it is all about providing services to our customers and being able to do that in a more efficient or more customer friendly manner,” he said. “The Moneytree project, as well as the ones that we are working on with the other collab winners, are ways to start small, test some concepts, learn from those, and then continue on that journey of innovation.”

This is not to say there were no issues. “The fundamental root cause of most of our challenges is that it relates to the definition of the scope—or scope creep—as being something that has made the way forward more complex,” Coates said. This is why LumenLab’s internal training for MetLife Japan is so important.

Saya Hatton is a staff writer at Custom Media for The ACCJ Journal.
The biggest outcomes are really around the company’s own workplace culture