Bitcoin going parabolic. ALT Season is Almost Here!

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Last week our theme was “Initial Exchange Offerings: 2019 is the year of the IEO.“ Our theme for this week is “Bitcoin going parabolic. ALT Season Here”

TLDR. Its been an extraordinary week. Binance was hacked for $40 million worth of cryptocurrency. Warren Buffett bashed Bitcoin and cryptocurrency. Bitcoin broke $7500. The negative news didn’t seem to affect the bull run. You can expected that this rally won’t be stopping any time soon. In the first quarter of the year, several altcoins doubled in value. While the performance of altcoins have been very positive, alt season is not here yet, its almost here.

The past couple of days have been exceptional. Bitcoin broke all expectations, with its price going vertical. It jumped from $5,700 to $7,500, rising by 30% since last week.

As Bitcoin continues to rise, the top 10 altcoins also turned green with Ethereum up 18%, Bitcoin Cash 22%, Litecoin 16%, EOS 10% and Stellar 3.7%.

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Bitcoin was the first cryptocurrency, and it’s still the leading cryptocurrency in every aspect. In the past, I’ve read and heard crypto enthusiasts say, that eventually an altcoin will overtake Bitcoin, as the leading digital currency. While different crypto assets have risen and then fallen, none have come ever close to overthrowing Bitcoin from the top spot.

But who cares… does it really matter to overtake Bitcoin?

Bitcoin had a rough time in 2018 and in early 2019, but there have been positive things taking place, both on a market and technical level. One is the influx of Bitcoin whales buying Bitcoin, the other is growing popularity of Initial Exchange Offerings (IEOs). Others think that it has nothing to do with the developments in the crypto market, instead Bitcoin’s sharp price rise is because of the trade war between US and China. Investors are moving their capital from falling stock markets into cryptocurrencies.

The price surge we’ve seen is great, but it’s only setting the stage for something bigger, much bigger. IEOs are the center piece piece of the puzzle for this year and next, until Bitcoin’s halving, next May.

IEOs hosted on Binance and others exchanges, show signs that a mania is coming, similar to what happened with ICOs. Already, Huobi, KuCoin, Bittrex, and Bitmax are hosting token sales similar to Binance.

Almost, two years after the 2017 ICO mania, most financial regulators around the world haven’t really addressed important issues, except for the US SEC hunting down and fining companies for hosting ICOs. In an effort to self regulate and adhere to compliance, exchanges have instituted KYC and AML procedures, Unfortunately, we are still far from universal framework for crypto startups.

Top exchanges have circumvented the regulatory rigmarole and IEOs have proven to be the new way for startups to fundraise. Potentially IEOs could be at least as successful, as the ICOs in the past.

IEOs could be just a re-branding ploy for ICOs. I think it was needed. Yet, I am more excited about IEOs than STOs, which have become vehicles for VCs. IEOs offer a fresh take on token sales.

With positive sentiment buildup for crypto, we’ll see more coverage from non crypto websites and media, driving more newcomers to the market, just like in 2017. Newcomers usually hunt for bigger profits and altcoins can offer huge potential profits. Prices can increase much more than BTC, with smaller investments..

When you look back at 2017, Bitcoin went up and a few months later the altcoins run started, yet altcoins outperformed BTC.

Usually, when Bitcoin rises, other coins fall because people are selling their altcoins to get  Bitcoin. When Bitcoin falls, altcoins also fall because people are selling everything. When Bitcoin rises, and then stabilizes, people diversify into altcoins. This is where the real potential lies.

Will history repeat itself?

Everyone is saying  that altcoins are dead. That’s not the case, especially when you look at the numbers. In fact Litecoin, is up +300% since December, Tezos +250%, Ethereum +100%, BNB +400% etc.

On the US dollar, the Eye of Providence shows the all seeing eye “that favors our endeavors”. After Bitcoin finishes it’s big run and somewhat stabilizes, the all seeing Bitcoin will favor crypto endeavors again, altcoin season will start and IEOs will explode.

Image Source

Ilias Louis Hatzis is the Founder & CEO at Mercato Blockchain Corporation AG. He writes the Blockchain Weekly Front Page each Monday.

I have no positions or commercial relationships with the companies or people mentioned. I am not receiving compensation for this post.

Subscribe by email to join the 25,000 other Fintech leaders who read our research daily to stay ahead of the curve. Check out our advisory services (how we pay for this free original research).

How the Venture Studio model, borrowed from Hollywood, may finance the Blockchain Economy, replacing the current Fund centric model that drives Silicon Valley.

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TLDR Hollywood & Silicon Valley both have proven models for harnessing ideas & talent to big profits. As we move from rock stars to film stars to code stars, the model from down south in LA is moving north to Silicon Valley and all places where tech ventures are created. This paradigm shift reduces the primacy of Finance in the Silicon Valley model, a trend accentuated by tokenized early stage equity. Two leaders in this paradigm shift are Consensys and Andreessen Horowitz. The emerging name is Venture Studio, replacing the names Incubator, Accelerator and Skunkworks from earlier waves of innovation

This update to The Blockchain Economy digital book covers:

  • How the Hollywood Film Producer model could apply to Venture Production
  • Venture creation is both a creative and a repeatable process
  • How Venture Studios reduce the primacy of passive capital
  • The role of talent in both models
  • From Incubator to Accelerator and Skunkworks to Studio
  • How Consensys created an early version of the Venture Studio
  • How Andreessen Horowitz is creating their version of the Venture Studio
  • Other Famous Venture Producers
  • Tokenised early stage equity is the game-changer that enable the Venture Studio
  • Why The Blockchain Economy requires creative non-conformists
  • Context & References

How the Hollywood Film Producer model could apply to Venture Production

The Hollywood Producer works from start to finish (aka full lifecycle in tech speak):

  • develops an idea (aka script). The Producer often own the rights to a book or story idea. Translation to Venture = develops a concept for a new venture. This period is often lengthy, with many ideas/concepts dormant for a long time until conditions are right – timing is everything. The idea that there is a tradeoff between concept/idea and execution is silly. You must have both and a Producer oversees both. 

 

  • Once a script is completed, the producer will lead a pitch to secure the financial backing usually about 25% of the budget; this is the “green light”that allows production to begin. Translation to Venture = find lead investor.

 

  • secures the necessary rights (for script, music etc). Translation to Venture = patents, trademarks or existing code (being careful that the open source is not restrictive).

 

  • hires the director. Producers rarely have creative or technical involvement. Translation to Venture = hires the CEO. The closest parallel to Producer in Tech Ventures is Chairman, in the sense that Chairman can hire/fire CEOs, but independent Chairman is unusual in early stage tech ventures. 

 

  • supervises casting. Translation to Venture = involved in talent hunting.

 

  • assembles a crew. Translation to Venture = involved in talent hunting.

 

  • oversees the budget. Translation to Venture = formal Board role.

 

  • coordinates the post production work (e.g editing, commissioning music, encouraging the film’s stars to plug the movie on talk shows). Translation to Venture = informal Board role (leveraging board director’s network).

 

  • The Producer often multi-tasks across several projects at once. Translation to Venture = those people listed as Co-Founder on multiple ventures.

In Hollywood, Producer is such a critical role that the credits often show many variants such as:

co-executive producers: executives or distributors who have a limited financial stake in the project.

  co-producer: works under the executive producer on casting, financing, or postproduction

line producer:  on the set at all times to supervise the budget but has little or no creative input.

Venture creation is both a creative and a repeatable process

That statement defies conventional wisdom in two ways:

– building a business is a creative act. We think of building a business as something requiring hard work, grit and lots of boring tasks – totally unlike the creative arts. I am indebted for the insight that this conventional wisdom is wrong to a post from the great VC, Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures. As he recorded on his wonderful blog (AVC), he was on holiday in Paris, standing in front of an iconic painting and realized that venture founders are like painters, standing in front of a blank canvas and envisioning what should be there.

– the creative process is repeatable. Creative work require hard work, grit and lots of boring tasks  – and is a repeatable process. Let one of the most consistently creative (and funny) people on the planet tells us how in this video. John Cleese is unusual – a scientist  turned comedian and educational content entrepreneur who is obsessed with figuring out where creativity comes from. Watch the video to learn the difference between open mode and closed mode creativity. Open mode creativity is that flash of inspiration. Closed mode creativity is the hard work we call execution. Entrepreneurs and artists  know that creativity is also needed in closed mode. The plot or character idea may come in a flash of open mode creativity, but realising that idea requires further creativity and hard work in closed mode. It is the same in venture creation, where an execution step, such as improving funnel metrics, requires creativity as well.  The Hollywood Producer ensures that both open and closed mode creativity are done right.

How Venture Studios reduce the primacy of passive capital

Look at the credits at the end of the next film/movie you watch. You will see credits to all kinds of people, some with mysterious titles such as key grip, but you will be hard pressed to see or remember who financed the film/movie.

Now look at the tech venture success stories; they will often start with something along the lines of “XYZ BrilliantUnicorn, the HotABC Funded venture….” In the tech venture role, the VC Funds (“HotABC Fund”) have the starring role.

The role of Talent in both models

Talent is a word that made the leap from Hollywood to Silicon Valley, but the roles of talent are different:

  • in Hollywood, talent includes actors but also behind the camera folks such as director, writers, camera crew, set designers etc. Talent are free agents who contract for a specific film/movie. Talent employ agents to help them with this.
  • In Silicon Valley, talent  includes engineers but also marketing, sales, design, HR, finance, etc. The difference is that talent in the Silicon Valley model have to sign on for long periods as employees to get their equity upside. While increasingly free agent in reality, talent in tech ventures have to pretend that it is a 1950s  jobs for life world.

The other big difference for talent is that upside participation in Silicon Valley means equity which means exit via either trade sale or IPO. This makes talent vulnerable to financial engineering by Funds that are harmful to the interests of talent. In Hollywood, upside participation is primarily revenue share. That revenue share is variable and tied to the success of the venture/movie, which makes the upside a bit like equity, but it is not dependent on exit – only on value creation.

Big powerful interests in both models can give a raw deal to talent, but Hollywood has a longer tradition of talent being able to negotiate good deals.

From Incubator to Accelerator and Skunkworks to Studio

Incubator was the venture creation model popular during the Dot Com era.

Accelerator is the current model, as investors of all types ran away from the early stage risk of incubators, with hundreds of accelerators attempting to copy the Y Combinator success.

Skunkworks is a proven model of innovation within big companies aka intrapreneurship. This model pre-dates incubators and accelerators. Skunkworks usually operate with a small elite team removed from the normal working environment and given freedom from management constraints. The term originated during World War II by Lockheed Martin, but the most famous skunkworks was how Steve Jobs developed the Macintosh computer; other examples include Google X Lab and Microsoft Research.

The model for both incubators and accelerators have a graduation event, when the incubator and accelerator role is finished.

Hollywood Studios operate more like the skunkworks, taking responsibility until the product has delivered its value.

How Consensys created an early version of the Venture Studio

When Joseph Lubin made a fortune from Ethereum, he could have done anything. He chose to put a lot of his capital and energy into Consensys. I had the great pleasure of meeting him and his early team very early in the history of Consensys.  My impressions at the time (recorded here on Daily Fintech) were that I was seeing something radically new that I did not really understand:

“Last week I left the smart Manhattan offices to head to northern Brooklyn to visit Consensys. This was not a colorful developer pampering office. Yes, we sat around a conference table that doubled as a ping-pong table; but this was clearly a bootstrapped operation full of bright people fired up by changing the world not by the trappings of success. I had trouble finding the office because there was no logo on the door; I went through a coffee shop to get to their offices. This neighborhood was still in the early stages of gentrification.

Around the ping-pong table (ahem, conference table), developers were as comfortable talking about the finer points of derivatives clearing and compliance as they were discussing developer tools. Big Wall Street firms could feel comfortable here despite the decor.

Yet they were also developing consumer-facing applications.

It is hard to put a label on Consensys. All of these fit:

Consumer app developers

Enterprise IT developers

Core Ethereum developers.

Venture production studio.

Custom solution vendor.

Consultants.”

That same “how do we label you” issue hit the early Hollywood Production Studios, as they moved from a few creative people to a big business with lots of employees. It is easy to write off Consensys; after the fall in ETH price that meant some reassessing of the business model many headlines talk about the rise and fall of Consensys. Pioneers get arrows in their back.  I suspect that future headlines will talk about the rise and fall and rise again of Consensys. Even if not, Joe Lubin will have changed the course of history by creating a new model and a new type of company at the heart of a new protocol based ecosystem.

How Andreessen Horowitz (A16V) is creating their version of the Venture Studio

Andreessen Horowitz (A16Z) is massive force in the global Silicon Valley ecosystem. They are one of the few new Funds to break into the Top Tier in the last decade. Yet they still act like outsiders, making big bold moves that disrupt the game that they are already masters of. “Disrupt your own game before somebody else does” is easy to say, but very hard to do and A16Z is actually doing it.  A16Z has made two prescient moves that position them well for this new model that is emerging:

  • Full execution team means they are active not passive investors. They have the resources, not just cash, to help ensure that the ventures they invest in are a success. This is like the Hollywood Studio.
  • A16Z recently became an SEC registered RIA, giving them the ability to invest in cryptocurrency assets. This means A16V can win in the Blockchain Economy. A later section of this chapter describes why tokenised early stage equity is the game-changer that enables the Venture Studio. A16Z has signalled their determination to ride the next wave of innovation even if if disrupts the Fund model that makes them money today. 

Other Famous Venture Producers

  • Peter Thiel – co-founder of multiple huge ventures from PayPal to Palentir.
  • Richard Branson – using his insight, personality and brand to take on massive broken markets, with external financiers along for the ride. Branson is the closest to the Hollywood model.
  • Steve Jobs – most famous for Apple but also NeXT and Pixar.
  • Jack Dorsey – both Twitter and Square. 
  • Elon Musk – most famous for PayPal, Tesla & SpaceX, but also Neuralink, The Boring Company & OpenAI.

Some are CEOs of the ventures they help to create, others are content with a big % of equity and a corresponding Board role. What they all have in common is a brilliant entrepreneur who attracts capital like bears to a honey jar. Some may put in their own capital, but their signalling/brand value is far more important than their cash. Many have Hollywood connections, most notably Peter Thiel moving to LA and Steve Jobs with Pixar and now Elon Musk aiming to bring Silicon Valley and LA physically closer with The Boring Company.

The institutional stage is coming. This is like the early Hollywood history, when a few big swashbuckling  personalities created institutional studios.

The Silicon Valley model is already institutional with a few Top Tier VC Funds, most notably Sequoia Capital, managing the leadership succession across multiple generations. The Sequoia Capital WhatsApp deal, where they financed all the rounds themselves from an $8m investment in 2011 to a $19,000m exit in 2014, is like a Hollywood Studio that takes all the risk & reward. 

Tokenised early stage equity is the game-changer that enables the Venture Studio

Imagine a movie that took 10 years to get to the box office. Yes there are some outliers like this (Avatar took 10 years), but they are exceptions that prove the rule. This does not count what can be decades, when an idea lies dormant (ie not spending any money) because the timing is wrong or some key piece is missing. Yet, early stage venture investors typically have to wait over 10 years before getting a return. Tokenised early stage equity, whether IEO or STO, is the game-changer that enables the Venture Studio model to flourish. The time to liquidity is now much closer to the time to create a movie/film.

Why The Blockchain Economy requires creative non-conformists

The book called Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World describes  how leaders champion new ideas and fight groupthink. The Blockchain Economy will be a bigger shift than even the disruptions that drove Hollywood and Silicon Valley. Every market is up for grabs in the Blockchain Economy. Entrepreneurs are restricted only by their imagination. Capital is far less of a constraint. There is plenty of capital in the world and Blockchain ventures require less capital for 3 reasons:

  • the crashing cost of building technology thanks to open source, APIs. offshoring etc. This well documented mega shift pre-dated Blockchain.
  • there is no need to invest in massive centralised data centers, because the users provide the servers in a decentralised network.
  • marketing costs are reduced because early users are motivated to evangelise because they bought Tokens (either Utility or Security or both).

Context & References

Why the Blockchain Economy won’t be financed by ye olde artisanal VC funds.

The 4 wrenching leadership pivot gates that entrepreneurs face.

 

Bernard Lunn is a Fintech deal-maker, investor, entrepreneur and advisor. He is CEO of Daily Fintech and author of The Blockchain Economy.

I have no positions or commercial relationships with the companies or people mentioned. I am not receiving compensation for this post.

Subscribe by email to join the 25,000 other Fintech leaders who read our research daily to stay ahead of the curve. Check out our advisory services (how we pay for this free original research).

World’s first Central Bank Digital Currency payment successful- MAS lead the way

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) have been piloting several Blockchain use cases over the past few years. Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC) was one of the key focus areas of Project Ubin – MAS’ Blockchain initiative. In September 2018, I had published my post on Singapore and their efforts around Blockchain.

With the five phased approach to Project Ubin, we may soon see a state issued digital currency. That would not only put Singapore ahead of its Asian peers, it may be a Global first.

We now have a global first. Just over a week ago, MAS and the Central Bank of Canada made an announcement that a transaction between digital currencies of the two central banks was executed successfully. The trial was performed with the help of Accenture and J.P.Morgan.

As the Blockchain narrative developed over the years, one of the key buzzword was decentralisation and disintermediation. However, in the last two years, we have seen permissioned Blockchains gain popularity.

The three dimensions of the Blockchain Trilemma proposed by Vitalik Buterin were, Scalability, Security and Decentralisation. Designers of Blockchain systems have to choose between these three dimensions. The rise of permissioned Blockchain indicates that Decentralisation would be the first to be compromised amongst the three dimensions.

There are several reasons why a central bank would launch a digital currency. In the case of the Petro, the rationale was largely to stay clear of sanctions and raise capital to pay back some of their debt.

Reserve Bank of India on the other hand is exploring CBDC as it would be a low hanging fruit after the mass (forced) adoption of the nation’s identity system – Aadhaar. A good model would be to link a CBDC to Aadhaar verified wallets to create accountability and traceability of cash in the economy.

RBI was also spending 7 Billion Rupees ($100 Million) per year in just creating and managing the Rupee. There would be huge savings if they launched a CBDC.

Getting back to the SGP digital currency. Some key points to note are the following,

  • The exchange transaction happened between SGD and CAD.
  • The MAS network was built on the Quorum Blockchain and the Canadian network was on Corda.
  • The principle of Hash Time Locked Contracts (HTLC) was used to ensure an all-or-nothing guarantee. If one leg of the transaction fails to complete, the entire transaction is rolled back.
  • Interledger protocols can be used if parties were on different Blockchain networks.
  • Off-Chain transfer of hash were performed to initiate and complete the transactions.
  • The asset swap was performed using an intermediary, and a multi-currency support option was modelled in using this infrastructure.
Image Source

The picture above explains the HTLC framework used by this model. A report was published at the back of this initiative, describing several models that cross border settling systems could use.

The next wave of central bank blockchain projects can make further progress by bringing technology exploration together with policy questions about the future of cross-border payments

Sopnendu Mohanty, Chief Fintech Officer, MAS

The report also goes into the depths of the challenges in using HTLC and the potential alternatives being worked on by the Blockchain community. Like in most other Financial Services use cases of Blockchain, this transaction was also executed in a controlled environment.

CBDC are still in their infancy. This pilot could be followed up by collaboration across several central banks at the policy, governance, process and infrastructure levels. This would benefit the global economy at a scale never seen before. Let’s take stocks in a year. Watch this space.

Arunkumar Krishnakumar is a Venture Capital investor at Green Shores Capital focusing on “Sustainable Deeptech Investments” and a podcast host.

I have no positions or commercial relationships with the companies or people mentioned. I am not receiving compensation for this post.

Subscribe by email to join the 25,000 other Fintech leaders who read our research daily to stay ahead of the curve. Check out our advisory services (how we pay for this free original research).

The smartest investment for your innovative insurance play just might be in cultural awareness

It’s not just the tech concept…

TLDR Having the correct idea for underwriting, distributing, selling, adjusting, or scaling insurance may not be the right idea if the scheme is introduced or sold where the customer understands the plan but simply doesn’t accept it in cultural context.  How and where one sells an idea in the connected global insurance industry might just be more important that what is being sold.

I had a great discussion with a very clever InsurTech company this week, Uncharted, a digital insurance sales facilitation and distribution entrant focused on health benefits and business SME markets (check out their website in the link- I won’t do their concept the justice they can).  They are Singapore-based, building toward a global reach.  The firm’s Chief Commercial Officer, Mark Painter, held my attention regarding how the firm was building its sales and distribution tools with the intention of giving carriers and brokers options and efficiencies from point of sale right through home office underwriting, binding and admin of data.  Taking the teeth out of the unstructured data beast, so to say.  Mark (who’s a pretty savvy finance and insurance guy now working alongside Uncharted’s founder, Nick Macey) recounted a recent experience in introducing the Uncharted system into a southeast Asia market carrier’s system, excitedly advising that significant sales admin improvement for the thousands of field agents will or had been gained for the carrier.  That’s very cool.

But my follow-up question was: If the carrier’s products are traditionally sold by agents say, working off of scooters, meeting with small shopkeepers over tea, or noodles, and with the bound policy traditionally taking a few weeks to present to the insured, will an ‘instant’ policy innovation resonate with the known culture of doing business in the neighborhood?  Will an app-based policy hold the same ‘worth’ to that analog customer? It might if the businessperson is comfortable with the growing use of digital ecosystems, it might not if the owner is not. 

How the customer expects to transact business is the key- are you practicing innovation from the customer backwards?

Well this prompted a comparison discussion of what the firm is working with in Zimbabwe, where most residents/customers transact business through smart devices using EcoCash, a mobile payment platform hosted by local telco, Econet.  In this instance EcoCash has an approximate 80% market use penetration, and as such adding services to the ecosystem is an accepted practice.  A company looking to make inroads into the market would be wise to joint venture with or leverage the Econet ecosystem rather than try to make inroads through traditional agencies.  However- once established in the market the firm would be better able to bridge to traditional insurance channels for more complex covers, riding the market awareness built through use of local, accepted practices.  Know what and how the customer expects to transact business and go with that flow.  It ofttimes does not matter how wonderful your product or service is if the customers simply are not accustomed to how you market.  The correct answer is not always the best answer.

There are plenty of examples of companies ‘growing’ their insurance products organically through other business relationships built through understanding local needs.  Take for example the relationship of ride sharing platform Go-Jek and one of its investor firms, Allianz X.  The ride sharing startup was a target of Allianz’s investment, but Allianz also recognized with Go-Jek that the drivers needed insurance, and the two firms collaborated within the bounds of the business model and driver culture to make insurance available within the local reach of drivers.  Don’t be surprised if a similar insurance partnership approach isn’t carried into east Africa’s burgeoning ride sharing environment as the pair of firms extends its reach with their investment into Uganda-based ride hailing entrant, SafeBoda  (a timely share by you, Robert Collins ).  Innovation and marketing developed from business and local culture needs.

There are many examples of firms developing insurance innovations, many successful and many not so much.  The takeaway for the reader from this posting- the firms noted above are working to apply clever innovation based on good ideas, but also on integrating the ideas into what fits a respective market’s expectations, and what businesses and customers are accustomed to.  Ground-breaking innovation might succeed by circumventing that of which a market is accustomed, but in most cases a firm’s best investment is understanding what the locals want and how they want it, and simply following their lead.  Is your approach just a correct answer, or the right answer?

Image source

Patrick Kelahan is a CX, engineering & insurance professional, working with Insurers, Attorneys & Owners. He also serves the insurance and Fintech world as the ‘Insurance Elephant’.

I have no positions or commercial relationships with the companies or people mentioned. I am not receiving compensation for this post.

Subscribe by email to join the 25,000 other Fintech leaders who read our research daily to stay ahead of the curve. Check out our advisory services (how we pay for this free original research).

Iwoca storms ahead in SME lending game

They say the night is darkest before the dawn – which is certainly how it can feel in fintech startup land. You’re always $1 away from disaster, or $1 of leverage away from disaster if you’re a fintech lender. Small books can be painful beasts to manage.

Which is why it is all the more impressive to see Iwoca steam ahead of some big lenders with deep pockets in the UK market. The SME lender now has claim to 12% of all new business overdrafts, beating Santander at 9% and HSBC at 11% according to Forbes, who sourced the data from UK Finance. They aren’t far behind Barclays at 15% and Lloyds at 20%.

While overdrafts are falling out of favour with businesses in lieu of the more attractive benefits business credit cards offer, they still represent an ‘understood’ cash funding entry point into the SME lending space.

According to additional data from UK Finance, the average % acceptance rates for overdrafts is 82.6%, compared to 69.1% for business loans.

Being a funding type that is ‘understood’ is half the challenge for new SME lenders, especially given hardly any businesses understand the types of financing they can access now.

Not knowing what you don’t know is a problem in SME lending land, and could potentially be a large factor behind the estimated £3 billion to £9 billion funding gap SMEs face in the UK. SME owners rarely seek advice before seeking funding and UK Finance reports, ‘the time spent investigating options is woeful.’

With companies like Iwoca forming multi-million-dollar lending chests, along with other fintechs, the real opportunity isn’t necessarily in more Iwocas – most are probably nowhere near capacity – but in developing more pre-lending advisory services that can help SMEs navigate the plethora of choices.

In 2017 it was reported that less than 1 in 5 SMEs sought advice on lending options, despite 45% of SMEs planning growth. This is a huge disparity, and one that someone with a smart, simple and cost-effective solution could solve. Traditional business brokers are probably not the answer, especially given their advice often comes coloured with the commission they earn in the background.

It’s always tempting to solve the simple problem in front of your nose – market the product more – but the smart entrepreneurs in SME lending land need to be looking far-further up the funnel, for the marketing and sales arbitrage opportunities that exist in tangential digitised advice businesses. I’ve always considered a ‘get-finance-ready’ platform a great plug in to any SME, provided it could be done smartly and digitally.

If you come across any in your travels – let me know!

Daily Fintech Advisers provides strategic consulting to organizations with business and investment interests in Fintech. Jessica Ellerm is a thought leader specializing in Small Business and the Gig Economy and is the CEO and Co-Founder of Zuper, a new superannuation startup in Australia.

I have no positions or commercial relationships with the companies or people mentioned. I am not receiving compensation for this post. I was a previous employee at Tyro.

Subscribe by email to join the 25,000 other Fintech leaders who read our research daily to stay ahead of the curve. Check out our advisory services (how we pay for this free original research)

Robo-advisors have not reduced the Cash Pile

It was four years ago that Schwab and Vanguard stepped into the robo-advisory market and leapfrogged the standalone top US robo advisors, Betterment, Wealthfront, and Personal Capital. SigFig was also a big contender at the time but has pivoted since into a predominately B2B business.

Anyone interested in reviewing the baby steps in grabbing market share and luring those holding cash to invest, can review a series of past posts[1].  Fintech startups and incumbents with low-cost investment asset allocation services, great customer onboarding, and relatively simple investment choices; have been trying to serve Unadvised Assets.

Current market snapshot

The top five robo advisors by AUM are 3 Fintechs and two incumbents. They have accumulated over $187 billion in AUM.

robo-advisors-with-the-most-aum-2019-750x375

Source: Robo-advisors With the Most Assets Under Management -2019

The growth has been double-digit, the kind that VCs like. Despite the fact that robo-advisors have clearly not lowered the customer acquisition cost (CAC) and ironically, in most cases have been deploying the same old-fashioned channels to acquire customers[2]; VCs have been generous in funding them. Just for the top three Fintech robo-advisors, Betterment, Wealthfront, and Personal Capital VCs have invested ($275, $204, $265) nearly $745million.

The market share (as measured by AUM) amongst the top 5 US robos, is 20%-80% between Fintechs and incumbents.

One of the metrics that I had chosen to follow from the very beginning of the robo-advisory trend, was Unadvised Assets – cash in physical wallets and in checking & savings accounts. For me, Unadvised Assets are a measure of the market opportunity for robo businesses. Deloitte reported in 2014 that in the US there were close to 13 trillion of such, unadvised assets.

Looking at the Q3 2018 U.S. Federal Reserve report[3] and recent Money data, from grandmothers to hedge funds holding cash, in overnight money market funds, to checking accounts and currency; I realize that

Robo-advisors have had none or negligible impact on Unadvised assets.

In the US, Unadvised assets continue their solid growth. In 2016, I had reported $13.4trillion and now we are looking at $14.5trillion. An 8+% growth over the past 3yrs.

Unadvised assets in the Euro area, have grown from a total of 10.3 trillion EUR to 11.8 trillion EUR – a 14+% growth over the past 3yrs.

In the UK, from 1.56trillion GBP to 2.4 trillion GBP – a 5+% growth over the past 3yrs.

Cash continues to be up for grabs, for robo-advisors, for P2P lenders, for crowdfunding platforms, and tokenization platforms.

When will Unadvised Assets shrink? Will the digitization of capital markets (with the rich variety of technologies and business models) overtake the trends in fiat monetary policy, public markets, and human behavioral psychology?

[1]Nov. 2015 Salivating for Unadvised assets: a videographic

March 2016 Digital Wealth management: a videographic update

Nov. 2016 Oh, the things you could do with the enormous Cash pile!

[2] Advertising, mailing services, cheap initial offers….

[3]https://www.federalreserve.gov/releases/z1/20181206/z1.pdf

Efi Pylarinou is the founder of Efi Pylarinou Advisory and a Fintech/Blockchain influencer.

 I have no positions or commercial relationships with the companies or people mentioned. I am not receiving compensation for this post.

Subscribe by email to join the 25,000 other Fintech leaders who read our research daily to stay ahead of the curve. Check out our advisory services (how we pay for this free original research).

Bitcoin price is picking up steam; 2019 is the year of the IEO

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Last week our theme was “Will Bitcoin go from Crypto Winter to China Crisis?.“ Our theme for this week is “Initial Exchange Offerings: 2019 is the year of the IEO.”

TLDR. After a brutal 2018, it is becoming nearly impossible for investors to lose money this year. A couple of days ago Bitcoin market capitalization broke $100 billion. If it sounds too good to be true, it just might be, especially with IEO’s picking up steam.

It has been almost a year, since the Bitcoin market was at $100 billion. While Bitcoin’s price remains down by 70 percent from its 2017 all-time high, the market cap for the world’s most valuable digital asset exceeded $102 billion. It’s certainly time to cheer!

With cryptocurrencies on the move again, everyone is making predictions of what will follow. An online platform called Bitcoin Forest, attempts its own predictions using market data and an AI algorithm to produce forecasts for the prices of cryptocurrencies.

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We are out of the prolonged bear market and prices will start rising, but on much sounder ground.

Since the lows in January, the number of addresses on the Bitcoin network are by 20 percent. In early April, Bitcoin recorded its 400 millionth transaction, in just a year after it passed 300 million transactions, showing continued growth in popularity. Lightning Network’s capacity has increased to over 8000 nodes with a capacity of $5.6 million. This is a 7.8 percent over the last 30 days. Fidelity’s Bitcoin Custody was launched to reel in high profile investors.

A recent survey by Harris Poll for Blockchain Capital, showed that 43% of US Adults are familiar with cryptocurrencies with 20% between the ages 18-35 owning Bitcoin.

Bitcoin is gaining a lot of traction across the board. The report shows that 21% prefer BTC over government bonds, 17% over stocks, 14% over real estate and 12% would invest in BTC before investing in gold.

Along with the rising prices of cryptocurrencies we are also seeing a rising trend in Initial Exchange Offerings (IEOs). It’s becoming clear that will IEOs will be the theme for the cryptocurrency industry in 2019.

In 2017, 875 ICOs raised $6.2 billion. In 2018, 1258 ICOs raised about $7.8 billion USD. Already this year, 12 exchanges have announced IEO platforms and 39 projects have participated in an IEO.

In 2017, ICOs are raised using smart contracts with Ethereum. It was as simple as sending ETH to a smart contract to purchase your tokens in ICO, and immediately you will receive your tokens. In 2018, things changed. Most ICOs performed KYC before a participant could contribute, and the release of tokens usually is not immediate.

IEOs are like ICOs, except that the fund raising takes place on a specific exchange. From exchange to exchange, IEOs may slightly differ, but the basic idea is the same. The exchange performs, marketing, fundraising, and distribution and is paid a fee in the given token. When the IEO completes, the token is listed on the exchange for trading.

Binance was one of the first to introduce IEOs in 2017, and in 2019 reintroduced its Launchpad platform with the success of the Bittorent token generating interest from the crypto community.

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IEOs also offer numerous benefits to the parties involved. Investors are theoretically better protected against fraud, because there is an exchange that approved and rejects projects. It’s expected that serious exchanges, will likely conduct better due diligence before offering to act as the counterparty for a project that want to raise money with an IEO.

Crypto is heading towards the same VC and private equity to IPO exclusivity game. The model isn’t all that different to a conventional IPO. Exchanges, like NASDAQ or the New York Stock Exchange, approve listings based on the quality of the offering and a whole host of regulatory compliant guidelines. An IEO merely replaces equity with a digital asset.

Will year 2019 be the year of IEO?

2019 is the year of the IEO. Exchanges will handle project vetting for retail investors and tokens will be tradable in weeks. Being vetted by an exchange and immediately tradable, IEOs address two of the key problems with ICOs. Tokens are immediately listed on the exchange, giving holders immediate access to a trading platform. An exchange that acts as a counterparty, providing an additional layer of assurance for investors.

The new race will be investing in companies that are guaranteed an IEO, which can be interpreted as a very positive signal for the industry, in general.

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Ilias Louis Hatzis is the Founder & CEO at Mercato Blockchain Corporation AG. He writes the Blockchain Weekly Front Page each Monday.

I have no positions or commercial relationships with the companies or people mentioned. I am not receiving compensation for this post.

Subscribe by email to join the 25,000 other Fintech leaders who read our research daily to stay ahead of the curve. Check out our advisory services (how we pay for this free original research).

Why #GetOffZero Gets Sensible Investors To Look Seriously At Improbable Bitcoin Based Solutions

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TLDR We used to think of positive interest rates like the law of gravity or the law of supply and demand – immutable. Yet negative interest rates is a very real phenomenon/problem today. In this topsy turvy world, even sensible  investors look seriously at improbable bitcoin based solutions. (The hashtag should be #getoffnegative but that is not getting traction like #getoffzero).

This update to The Blockchain Economy digital book covers:

  • Why sensible people pay to lend their money

 

  • Gold and the hope you are wrong story

 

  • The other obvious solutions look jaded at end of everything bubble

 

  • The improbable Bitcoin solution

 

  • Context & References

Why sensible people pay to lend their money

Paying money to lend money (aka Negative Interest Rates) is crazy. So why do sensible investors do this? The answer is simple. They aim to avoid a worse problem. 

With Negative Interest Rates you are guaranteed to lose a little. You do this to avoid the risk of losing a lot in some other asset.

The more secure the currency, the higher the interest rate that the Central Bank controlling that currency can charge. For example, the Swiss National Bank (SNB), caretakers of the famously stable Swiss Franc, can charge a premium for the right to lend them money. If you pay 1% a year, you will only lose 1% a year. if you earn 15% interest on a currency depreciating by 17% you do worse.

Gold and the hope you are wrong story

One investor suggests an allocation to Gold but in the hope that Gold price goes down. His logic is that if you allocate say 10% to Gold and it goes up 2x, that is probably because 90% of your assets have declined a lot. You can paint a scenario where Gold is valuable but Bitcoin is worthless (eg if there is no Internet or electricity) but that scenario is so awful that you hope it is wrong (even if you have some physical gold just in case).

Bitcoin has no obvious parallels as an asset class. Bitcoin is a bit like a currency and a bit like a commodity and a bit like a stock – yet different from all of them. If you want an analogy, Bitcoin is like gold but a) before gold had a long history of value and b) with a fixed hard limit to how much could ever be mined. Imagine somebody pitching gold before gold had an established monetary value and you come close to understanding Bitcoin by analogy.

Gold and Bitcoin are both anti-fragile bets. If the current macro story ends badly, both will do well. Gold is definitely a hope you are wrong story. Bitcoin is more nuanced.  A scenario where Bitcoin goes up 100x is likely to be scary and disruptive and bad for many assets, but there is also a hopeful scenario where Bitcoin gives people greater sovereignty over their data and other assets.

The other obvious solutions look jaded at the end of the “everything bubble”

The simplest way to avoid paying a bank to take your money on loan is to loan money to a Government or a Corporate. The more stable the Government or Corporate, the lower the interest rate. You also avoid bank counterparty risk. So risk-off capital floods into sovereign and corporate bonds. What happens when excess capital flows into an asset type – yes, you get bubbles and that means returns go down and risk goes up. So the bond workaround is not a good one.

Equities at the end of the everything bubble seem dangerous, valuations are high and highly dependent on central banks. 

Hard assets also suffer from the storage cost problem. For physical goods this is a very real issue; think of vintage cars, wine, art etc. There is the additional shelf life problem as any wine lover knows who has opened an old wine that got better as decades went by and then suddenly was “off” ie horrible to drink and worthless. 

So, looking at the alternatives to Bitcoin, none are looking that good at this stage of the cycle. One veteran investor was asked to come up with reasonably priced assets to buy. The best he could come up with was that labor is undervalued vs capital. 

That lack of obvious alternatives is pushing some investors to look at the improbable Bitcoin solution.

The improbable Bitcoin solution

Investors are like detectives, on the hunt for truth – preferably contrarian truth. The most famous fictional detective,  Sherlock Holmes says:

“When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth”.

The improbable Bitcoin solution has 3 parts to it:

  • Safe low cost storage. This is a tough problem, but with such a big prize motivating so many upstarts and incumbents it will be fixed. It should be possible to deliver this at low cost as Bitcoin is a digital product; this is not like storing vintage cars/wine/paintings.
  • Allocation. You place an anti-fragile with maybe 1% of your capital into Bitcoin. If the everything bubble ends badly for other assets, Bitcoin will do well. If you lose 40% on 99% of your capital, you will need a 40x return on Bitcoin. That is feasible if there really is that level of disruption to legacy finance. As some wealthy people enjoy comparing themselves to other wealthy folks, that Bitcoin win will get them bragging rights on their yacht (as well as more yachts for sale at bargain prices). 
  • Use Bitcoin as collateral. Lombard loans have been a tool of the wealthy for a long time. A lombard loan (or lombard credit) is a type of secured loan, in which the entire loan amount is secured by a deposit at the bank that is providing the loan. Lombard loans can be secured by money held in bank accounts, life insurance policies, securities (like stocks or bonds) or other assets. For more go here. Today, Bitcoin would be considered far too risky for lombard loans and most legacy finance won’t offer Bitcoin deposits. This leaves the market open to upstarts. If it is an asset, it can be used as collateral. The only calculation is collateral to loan % and that is based on volatility; so Bitcoin as collateral is still an emerging story.

No investment is without risk. Bitcoin has risk. That is why 1% allocation is what some investors/advisers suggest. AIl risk is comparative. If other assets look risky, maybe that 1% allocations to Bitcoin starts to look a bit more sensible.

Context & References

Why Bitcoin Is Surprisingly Valuable And Stable As A Chair With Only One Leg

A Bitcoin Maximalist describes a real issue to worry about – it is not what the Bitcoin sceptics tell you.

The Path To Mainstream Adoption Of Bitcoin Is Not Through Legacy Finance Institutions, It Is Through The Excluded.

How Family Offices AKA Muppets On Steroids Are Writing The Future Of Fintech Blockchain And Wealth Management

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Bernard Lunn is a Fintech deal-maker, investor, entrepreneur and advisor. He is CEO of Daily Fintech and author of The Blockchain Economy.

I have no positions or commercial relationships with the companies or people mentioned. I am not receiving compensation for this post.

Subscribe by email to join the 25,000 other Fintech leaders who read our research daily to stay ahead of the curve. Check out our advisory services (how we pay for this free original research).

$100 Billion++ , is Softbank’s Vision fund blinding the market?

The tech IPO market is having a bonanza year so far and NASDAQ hit an all time high in April. However, confidence in the tech giants and their ethics in dealing with consumer data is perhaps at rock bottom. Cheap money is causing ballooning valuations. With Zoom, Pinterest, Lyft, Slack, Uber, WeWork all going for the big day at the market, are we witnessing a repeat of the dot com boom and bust?

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The other question to ask is “Is Technology the new Banking?”. As they say, “Follow the money” to catch the bad guys in crime stories. The other way to look at it is, when people make good money, they are often portrayed as the bad guys. The world loves to see them fall. Behavioural and philosophical points aside, several market trends are shouting out for caution.

Analytics company Intensity’s April prediction puts the chances of a recession happening in the next 18 months at 98.9% and in the next 24 months at 99.9%. They are expecting a recession to happen in October 2019. Out of curiosity, I went through all their previous months’ predictions, to check for consistency. The confidence levels had increased steeply between Aug-Sep 2018, and have stayed high since.

Irrational exuberance in the markets is on display yet again. The Crypto bubble burst two years ago, but didn’t cause much of a pain as the market cap was not big enough. But with tech stocks driven by late stage VCs like Softbank, we have more to lose.

Global debt levels are at an all time high at $244 Trillion, and almost everyday economists are writing about a crisis triggered by debt markets.

One of the key trends over the last two years in the VC industry is the rise of late stage venture funds. Softbank led the boom, with Sequioa and others following up with relatively modest sized funds to catch “Unicorns” before their big day in the public markets. The strategy is to get in, pump the firms with steroids and fatten them up for the markets to consume. In the process, make some huge multiples.

Softbank’s investment timeline: Source, Crunchbase

Some stats around the Softbank fund

  • $100 Billion to invest
  • ~$70 Billion deployed so far in about two years,
  • $15 Billion more
  • $10 Billion in Uber and $5 Billion in WeWork
  • Improbable, NVidia, Grab, Kabbage, Flipkart, Oyo, Slack, PingAn, Alibaba and more recently OakNorth are some big names in the porftfolio
  • $45 Billion from Saudi’s Sovereign Wealth Fund represents the biggest investor in the Softbank Vision Fund.

However, both Uber and WeWork have struggled to demonstrate a sustainable business model inspite of their rise. The Growth vs Profitability conundrum remains, and these two might well be case studies on how not to spend VC money, if (when?) their “Going-Public” goes sour.

The Softbank Vision fund could also be a case study of “How not to do Venture Capital”. As a late stage Venture Capital investor, they have an opportunity to look for firms with robust business models and help them go public.

One bright spot is their investment into OakNorth, a UK based Fintech, who tripled their profits in 2018.

The strategy with firms like WeWork or Uber should have been to identify where the business model needed tweaking and pivoting. That could be achieved with $100 Billion in the bank. As a fund with so much capital, they have a responsibility to make healthy VC investment decisions. Not just for their investors, but also for the markets.

I am sure Softbank will make handsome multiples when some of these shaky businesses go public. However, the success these firms managed with private money, would be hard to replicate in the stock market. If a few of them fail, that would trigger pain.

There is enough negative PR about the tech industry’s lack of ethics, diversity and how they manage data monopoly. Creating a bubble, riding it and exiting it before a market crash might just make Tech the New Banking. Softbank might have accelerated that process.

Arunkumar Krishnakumar is a Venture Capital investor at Green Shores Capital focusing on “Sustainable Deeptech Investments” and a podcast host.

I have no positions or commercial relationships with the companies or people mentioned. I am not receiving compensation for this post.

Subscribe by email to join the 25,000 other Fintech leaders who read our research daily to stay ahead of the curve. Check out our advisory services (how we pay for this free original research).

Digital transformation for insurance or simply competitive advantage?

Just when I thought the Elephant that is insurance was fully accepted as an aggregation of many participants’ perspectives, along comes Digital Innovation, Digitization, and Data Culture discussions as another example of many parts making the whole.  What makes effective digital innovation/integration for an industry or firm, is digitization the root of InsurTech, who in the firm should be taking the lead on evolving the firm into a digital world, all questions that crossed my media feed this week.  On one day!  And a big question- does digital transformation stand on its own as a business initiative, or is it simply one other activity that comprises a firm’s efforts to maintain or grow competitive advantage?

As for the academic approach to digital transformation, I’ll consider two authors of articles that make good points and have solid basis from which to speak. I contend that in some ways the authors are also subject to the potential narrow path of each of the vision-challenged men in the fable- a conceptual grasp primarily of what is immediate and not in consideration of whole issue.  Through whose eyes are the issues being considered?  Customers’? Staff? Leadership? The public?

While there as many definitions of digital transformation as there are discussions about it, this example is a pretty solid one:

“we define digital transformation as the integration of digital technology into all areas of a business resulting in fundamental changes to how businesses operate and how they deliver value to customers. Beyond that, it’s a cultural change that requires organizations to continually challenge the status quo, experiment often, and get comfortable with failure.”  The Enterprisers Project 

(Consider though, that even this description does not embrace transformation from the customer-backwards perspective.)

Two authors who have a good grasp on digital transformation and its effects/integration on/in business provide us some bullet points:  Jim Marous, global authority on marketing and strategy for retail banks and credit unions in his article, “Becoming a ‘Digital Bank’ Requires More Than Technology”, and Claudio Fuentes, Product Manager at Pypestream, as noted in “5 requirements for building a strong data culture”

Areas or components that the authors suggest are needed or are present for effective digital transformation within an organization:

Digital Transformation Pathways

Good summaries, good advice, but are the bullet points actionable across the entire spectrum of insurance or banking businesses?  What if the subject firm is brand new, tech-based, with no analog process ‘baggage’ to wrestle?  The reality of digital transformation is that businesses need to consider the principle as part of being competitive within their respective industries, and in being responsive to what their customers need or expect.  Transformation for the sake of being fashionable might be considered a fool’s chase.

Consider the challenges for the Nigerian insurance industry- very low insurance product penetration, and lower than average acceptance among the population regarding the need/purpose of insurance products.  One hundred million potential insurance consumers, urban and extremely rural.  Does digital transformation make as much sense for that insurance market, when the delivery to existing customers is meeting their needs, and expanding penetration to the balance of the population can be effected through smart devices (much higher penetration of smart devices than insurance) and InsurTech players?  Are digital efforts potentially transformative to existing processes if the customers have no expectations of improvement?  Would it be focus and funds not well spent?  And if an industry is being built from ground up, there is little transformation to be had as any efforts are greenfield.  The point- it’s competitive advantage and customer responsiveness that should drive transformation or not.

(if you want to read a good summary of Nigeria’s FinTech/InsurTech activity and challenges, see Segun Adeyemi,  Where are the Digital Insurance Platforms in Nigeria? )

 A recent article by Richard Sachar, titled Who is Responsible for Leading Digital Transformation Within Insurance Companies  prompted a discussion with one of my favorite InsurTech connections, Thomas Verduzco-Weisel, wherein I opined:

“Better question, one might say- who is responsible for maintaining (or gaining) competitive advantage for a respective insurance organization? Digital transformation has been continuous since the advent of electronic data processing; it simply has a rallying cry now called ‘InsurTech’.   Customers may not know how (what methods) they want their insurance products delivered, but they do know what is important to them.  Keeping that pulse drives how the firm needs to maintain its edge, and then applying process, admin, or tech innovation to keep that edge will direct the firm in who/how/when/and with whom any transformation is needed. What if a firm’s culture, processes, staff, and delivery are driving growth and profitability now, should there be a transformation just to be fashionable?  Good business practices should drive any change, and by extension strategy at the senior level, tactics at operational levels, and all levels keeping track of how customers and staff are maintaining comfort with operations. “

(However, if there’s an urge to be fashionable, innovate/transform from the customer backwards.)

Digital transformation is as fashionable a concept as is InsurTech, and needs to be approached within business context.  There is no question that if transformation is undertaken prudent businesses should follow a framework as suggested by Messrs. Marous and Fuentes.  But before jumping into the fashionable approach, is any transformation being undertaken as a standalone concept, or as part of a firm’s competitive or growth strategy? Have to consider the entire beast, not just one facet or part. And as my fine colleague who knows of such things, Karl Heinz Passler,  states, Stop Confusing InsurTech With Digitalisation.

Digital transformation makes sense where it makes sense, and when undertaken, it makes sense to consider what all the organization’s stakeholders need.

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Patrick Kelahan is a CX, engineering & insurance professional, working with Insurers, Attorneys & Owners. He also serves the insurance and Fintech world as the ‘Insurance Elephant’.

I have no positions or commercial relationships with the companies or people mentioned. I am not receiving compensation for this post.

Subscribe by email to join the 25,000 other Fintech leaders who read our research daily to stay ahead of the curve. Check out our advisory services (how we pay for this free original research).