Having the ability to load up a digital wallet to pay for goods and services at businesses you frequent, and then earn rewards for those purchases, would be convenient and well, rewarding.

But as of now, few merchants outside of retail giants such as Starbucks offer that ability.

Ansa is a startup emerging from stealth today that wants to change that.

Founded last year by former Adyen manager Sophia Goldberg and ex-Affirm software engineer JT Cho, San Francisco-based Ansa is building what it describes as a white-labeled digital wallet infrastructure to help businesses process small payments and offset high credit card fees for smaller transactions.

Or as Goldberg describes it, Ansa is building a “wallet-as-a-service,”or embedded customer balances to let any merchant launch a branded flexible payment instrument.

“That can look like consumer prepayment, like the Starbucks in-app payment experience, or it can be for the merchant to fund with incentives,” she told TechCrunch. “The why of this is that it can really reduce costs and also drive loyalty.”

Initial customers are quick-service restaurants (QSRs) and coffee shops but the founders’ goal one day is to serve enterprise customers as well.

Goldberg, who penned The Field Guide to Global Payments and was previously on Hillary Clinton’s finance team during her campaign, said she was driven to build Ansa in part because of what she described as “inflexibility in payments in the U.S. today.”

“Especially during the pandemic heyday of the creator economy, I saw some companies launching not great monetization experiences, and I thought you know for these small transactions, it should be a closed loop wallet on your platform, then you’re able to get away from barriers to entry with card cost of payments today,” she said. “Your most loyal customers shouldn’t cost you the most.”

So how does offering prepayments help save money for merchants? Besides paying interchange fees for any credit or debit card purchase, merchants also pay other fees for every transaction. Card fees, particularly for micropayments, can represent well over 12.5 percent of the transaction, notes Goldberg. But if a consumer prepays, they’re making fewer transactions overall. This means that a merchant then pays lower fees  on the transactions being made by what Goldberg calls “habitual use, low transaction” (or HULT) customers.

Ansa claims that by using its API-first platform, a merchant can create a wallet “within weeks rather than quarters.”

It’s live with its first pilot customers and plans to charge customers a monthly recurring fee.

Bain Capital Ventures led Ansa’s $5.4 million seed round last year and notably, partner Christina Melas-Kyriazi actually introduced Goldberg to Cho, who had moved on from Affirm to Google.

“Sophia and JT are fintech veterans with a similar mindset around product and culture,” Melas-Kyriazi told TechCrunch. “Having worked with JT at Affirm, I knew he would be an ideal technical partner for Sophia’s product-minded payments experience.”

She added: “It’s completely counterintuitive that the most frequent customers at many small businesses are also the least profitable. Sophia’s expertise in payments and deep knowledge of the customer’s pain points make her the ideal founder for a company dedicated to making it easier to attract, retain and reward those loyal customers profitably. Ansa will bring the virtual wallets used by the Starbucks of the world to every local coffee shop and quick service restaurant.”

Ansa’s other backers are a mix of institutions and angel investors, 

Nimi Katragadda at Box Group, Nichole Wischoff at Wischoff Ventures, Cambrian Ventures, the Fintech Fund, Susa Ventures and angels such as Plaid co-founder and CEO Zach Perret, Gokul Rajaram, and the founders of Alloy, among others. Notably, female investors contributed over 75 percent of the funding round.

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Founded by Adyen and Affirm alums, Ansa aims to help merchants create virtual wallets for customers by Mary Ann Azevedo originally published on TechCrunch