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FINTECH TRENDS :THE CHANGING FINANCIAL SECTOR LANDSCAPE

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Dr Anino Emuwa is Founder and Managing Director of Avandis Consulting

 

The tighter regulatory environment following the 2008-2009 financial crisis constrained banks ability to innovate and helped to fuel the fintech revolution. Another crisis, the pandemic this time, is again bringing about major changes in the fintech industry and impacting the banking  sector.

The acceleration of digital transformation- a five-year shift taking place in a few months, according to experts- following the global lockdown led to a surge in e-commerce and digital payments, driving down bank’s share of the total market value of global banking and payments industry to 72% at the end of 2020 from 81% at the beginning of the year.  Paypal, for example saw its share price almost double during the same period. Currently, the top 5 global financial organisations by market capitalisation include 3 payments and fintech firms – Visa, Mastercard and Paypal

This booming lucrative payment sector hasn’t escaped the attention of GAFA- the big four technology companies- Google, Apple Facebook and Amazon who have already started making incursion into this space and their expansion into this space could lead to a large-scale disruption of the sector.

Anino Emuwa

It wasn’t positive for all fintechs during the pandemic. Lending platforms have come under pressure as the worsening economic climate is reflected in reduced borrowing, and signs of increasing defaults in both personal lending and small business loans as experienced by Lending Club and On Deck in the US, causing online lenders to tighten their underwriting standards.  Howeverr, in the longer term significant growth from this subsector is expected aided by digitization of lending

The instalment payment business has boomed creating billionaires in the process:  case in point, Nick Molnar and Anthony Eisen, Australian co-founders of Afterpay, a market leader. New entrants are also faring well:   Max Levin –co-founder of Paypal—whose recent venture Affrim almost doubled users between November 2019 and July 2020  to 5.6 million. It has raised $500 million valuing it at more than $5 billion a 40% increase in from last year (Source Forbes).

Investment in the fintech sector dropped 30% during the first year of the pandemic according to McKinsey, forcing fintech companies to review their business models to focus on profit-making rather than cash-consuming customer acquisition strategies.  Investor’s focus shifted to fintech ventures which are showing revenues and evidence of scaling, with newer ventures finding it more difficult to access funding as VCs focused on businesses already in their portfolio. This led to concerns that pre seed and Series A ventures could lose out in the short term.

Happily, the first quarter 2021 global fintech investment has rebounded reaching a high of over $13.4 billion across North America, Europe and Asia with a record for mega rounds, 33, in a quarter, according to CBI insights – State of Fintech Q1 21 preview. Frontier markets also experienced this boom, Africa has seen an uptick in tech investments at over $2bn in 2019, five  times the level in five years with fintech accounting for the major part of this recent growth. In 2021, notable transactions included Stripe’s $200 million acquisition of Nigeria’s Paystack signalling its entrance into the African payments market via the continents largest economy  whilst Flutterwave closed a $170mm funding round valuing it at over $1 billion.

In emerging markets, technological leap frogging may well be a feature of fintech innovation finding solutions for solving some of the infrastructural gaps.   The UK, which known as the fintech capital of the Europe attracted almost $5 billion in fintech investment in 2019. In Q1, according to Pitchbook, UK fintech raised $2.9 bn across 117 deals.  It is still to be seen how the UK can continue to retain that status with Brexit now in force.

Other big drivers of trends in fintech will be in infrastructure in the near term, as well as advances in emerging technologies notably block chain, crypto assets and AI.  Digital currencies are currently booming- Bitcoin is currently valued at close to $60,000 compared with around $6,000 at ahead of the pandemic with a market capitalisation of over  $1 trillion, bigger than any bank, whilst Ethereum hit a new record at over $3,400 (as of  3rd May) , making 27 year old co-founder Vitalik Buterin, the world’s youngest  Cryptobillionaire. NFTs are becoming popular as an important cryptoasset used by creatives to sell their work of art and other intellectual property.  Central Banks can no longer ignore crypto currencies market and are responding to this perceived decentralised challenge to their sovereignty  with plans for CBDCs which are controlled by the government

In April 2020, China piloted a digital currency and notably, at the end of March, the President of the European Central Bank, Christine Lagarde, has spoken about the possibility of Euro Digital currency in the next four years, with a decision to be made by EU countries mid-year.

In terms of Artificial Intelligence, the estimated value of AI in fintech  is expected to grow to over $22.6 billion in 5 years from $6.7 billion in 2019 according to Finextra, who predicts that AI and machine learning  will drive innovation particularly in areas such as robo-advisors, credit scoring, and process optimisation

On the regularity side , PSD2 coming on stream in Europe driving  open banking creating a boom the sector particularly for challenger banking. The post COVID-19 era is likely to see established fintech companies expanding their portfolio of services and also geographically.  For example, Revolut, one of UK’s  success stories, which started out as a payment platform has now extended into banking and is now seeking a US banking licence. At the same time, as governments globally come up with policies in response to concerns about customers data security as well as security of assets, more stringent controls and policies may reign in innovation.

Apart from advancements in technology, social trends are also impacting innovation: the pandemic has drawn attention to the need for values- based financial services to address equity, social justice and environmental concerns. With impact investing becoming more significant, we can expect investment flowing to supporting fintech solutions addressing global issues such as financial inclusion and sustainable finance. And as the digital native, Generation Z comes of age demanding more gamification, digitalised financial services, we will see fintech increasingly catering to this demographic.

In all, the fintech is sector is expected to continue to surge providing a challenge to traditional banking in many areas, one of the exciting areas is in Defi- as blockchain powered solutions replace the middleman in traditional financial services with a smart contract.   For now, the dampening in investments during the height of COVID seems to have been overcome. As banks continue to make equity investments in fintechs, it will be interesting to see possible mergers or large-scale acquisitions by banks of fintechs. Or even vice versa.

 

About the author

Dr Anino Emuwa is Founder and Managing Director of Avandis Consulting, a strategy and financial advisory firm in France.  A former corporate banker with Citibank, she is a also a non-executive director, sitting on several boards including the Board of Governors of Nottingham Trent University. Anino is a and Diversity and Inclusion advocate; she is a member of the Institute of Directors’ Expert Advisory Group on Diversity and Inclusion and a member of the global advisory Board of UK’s 20-first, a gender balance consultancy firm.

Finance

Why financial services is stepping into a new era

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by James Mingard, Head of Retail & Finance at Maintel

 

When comparing industries, financial services has arguably fallen behind when it comes to digital transformation. The sector has found it especially challenging to move from more traditional, legacy ways of working. But, with challenger banks and changing customer expectations, the tables have turned. According to a  recent research report from Maintel, in partnership with RingCentral, the financial services sector is leading the way when it comes to implementing digitalisation plans. In fact, 35% of those surveyed within the sector claim to have fully implemented their digitisation plans, compared to just 26% in other industries.

 

Evolving Technology

As such, banking technology is innovating at a significant rate, with everything from start-ups offering online-only credit cards to TSB opening a 100-seat tech centre in Scotland. There is little doubt that the sector understands the need to be digital-first, but there is room for improvement. Over half of respondents said they have seen an increased demand for digital communication from customers because of the pandemic, but the channels on offer fall behind other industries.

Over half (55%) of other industries communicate with customers through Twitter, compared to just 30% in the financial services sector. We might not want to discuss our mortgage over Instagram or to tweet about how much money is in an ISA. However, there is a real opportunity for the financial sector to add to its offering and grow its digital communication channels. By giving customers more options, it will help improve customer experience and let the end-user reap the benefits of digital transformation strategies. Balancing the expectation for digital-first interactions while ensuring a high-quality customer experience is central to creating an efficient, yet personal service.

 

Collaboration is the future

The contact centre of the future should represent an integrated approach to unified communications. It should bring business experts and agents together, across every channel to deliver real-time customer experiences in a cloud-based, collaborative engagement model. For financial services, this once seemed a pipe dream but advancements in digital transformation mean that the sector can in fact set the standard for other industries.

From a productivity point of view, team collaboration can also be enhanced using innovative communication technology. This helps to improve an employee’s workplace experience by providing instant access to essential information and allows them to work effectively from any location. Flexibility has not always been associated with the financial sector, but by giving employees better technology and more autonomy, naturally, this has a knock-on impact on the experience that customers receive and helps to foster long term loyalty.

 

Customer comes first

Banks used to be built on life-long custom. Many people would be with the same bank from their first current account through to the day they passed away but the volume of competition, variety of offers and new customer deals mean that today’s consumers are fickler than ever.  To really stand out, financial services providers need to make sure that everything from communication strategies through to software has the customer at its heart. And technology is key.

Indeed, customer experience, customer  and technology insights were the top three benefits of digitisation within the sector, according to Maintel and RingCentral’s 2021 report, It’s therefore clear that a customer and user experienced focused approach is key to success in the financial sector.

 

Click here to read the research report in full – How to translate unified communications and digitalisation into better customer experience.  For further information find out more :- https://www.maintel.co.uk/industries/financial-services/driving-financial-services-digital-transformation/

 

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FINANCIAL MARKETS IN 2022: INFLATION, ENERGY PRICES, AND THE CONTRASTING PERFORMANCE OF STOCKS

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Bob Jenkins, Head of Research, Refinitiv Lipper

 

Anyone hoping for a reprieve from the chaos and uncertainty of the last couple of years is likely to be disappointed. The pandemic will continue to have an impact on global economies, both directly (such as ongoing lockdowns and restrictions to combat the disease) and the exhaust effects we’ve seen in areas such as the production of goods, supply chain challenges, labour shortages and rising energy prices.

At the same time, the digital disruption of the financial world continues apace, with assets once overhyped becoming increasingly mainstream.

To make specific predictions in such an environment might seem like a fool’s errand, yet it is possible to discern some themes that will shape the course of financial markets in the coming year.

 

  1. Global inflation gets stubborn: Inflation is not transitory, and we are seeing a foundation for higher prices being put in place thanks to the supply chain and labour issues previously mentioned. In major developed markets, I think we’ll see stubborn inflation regardless of whether Covid remains a pandemic or begins to enter an endemic phase. The situation is slightly more positive in the US; while inflation will remain at a 3.5-4.5% range, a reduction in supply chain bottlenecks, increasing labour force and improved unemployment rates will serve to reduce the impact of primary inflation forces. We should bear in mind that households are estimated to have around $2 trillion in savings, which will maintain consumption levels and keep up the pressure on labour and supply chains.
  2. Rates will rise: Rates are likely to rise, with discussions in several major economies indicating a tapered end to the period of low rates we’ve seen since the 2008 financial crisis. This will probably be achieved in fits and starts as central banks navigate virus outbreaks and any resulting economic shocks. For instance, both the Fed and the Bank of England have indicated there will be hikes, but it is likely that they will rely on tapering at first to slow stimulus while also trying to navigate sentiment swings and volatility arising from waves of infections and/or new variants.
  3. China to lead economic growth, but not by much: China’s growth is likely to be around the 4-5% mark, with the US just slightly behind at 3.5-4%, off its 6% pace from the first part of 2021. The European Union and United Kingdom will likely trail the US, even if they have been exhibiting similar economic issues, while emerging markets could be hit by a combination of the Fed tightening up and challenges dealing with Omicron and other COVID waves.
  4. Higher energy prices are here to stay: Multiple forces will provide support to higher energy prices: supply chain issues, political posturing, demand for heating/cooling due to climate change, but Covid will occasionally step in to disrupt and counteract these forces. Even carbon neutral efforts could cause overall energy prices to rise in the near term as energy producers shift to renewables, with many of these alternative sources remaining expensive. Oil will stay in the $70-$80 range, with the occasional dip towards $60 as intermittent Covid concerns influence energy consumption in the travel sector.
  5. Underperforming stocks with a positive finish: In general, slower growth and lower rates help Growth and Tech stocks while faster growth and higher rates benefit Value and Cyclicals and I believe the economy will tend to lean towards the latter scenario. That said, growth and value leadership will change hands throughout the course of the year as the economy reacts to Covid waves and switches between lockdown and reopening. I suspect Value and Cyclicals will outperform Growth and Tech at the margin, but the dominate capitalization size of the latter two will pull down overall stock market returns. Of course, as with consumers, there is a lot of money being held back at the moment. Businesses have significant cash reserves and self-directed traders continue to shovel money into markets, which, when combined, can help buoy stocks.
  6. Flattening the bond yield curve: I think we will see some retrenchment as a result of rising rate programs by central banks that will largely result in negative to flat returns across core fixed income. Any selling in longer term bonds in reaction to either economic or central bank activity will be mostly offset by buying due to the global desire for yield, thus keeping a lid on longer term rates. Rising short term rates in this environment will serve to flatten the yield curve. High yield bonds could provide for pockets of opportunity as they are potentially tied to cyclical areas of the economy that could show leadership.
  7. The contrasting futures of ESG and digital assets: In the coming year I think we’ll see digital and tokenized assets become almost as popular as Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG). However, whereas ESG is a permanent shift that will eventually encompass the evaluation of all mutual funds, digital currencies still look a little more niche. We could well see them proliferate over the next few years, potentially even becoming a new quasi-asset class, but they will remain a satellite allocation in risk tolerant portfolio strategies. They are unlikely to achieve the status of being included in mainstream portfolios such as defined contribution retirement plans where assets can flow in large, consistent amounts – unlike ESGs, which could well reach that point in the coming years.
  8. A more defined ESG: It is looking increasingly likely that ESG funds will begin to splinter into more thematic offerings as investors eschew the combined “ESG” mandates in favour of more targeted strategies that enable them to better assess stocks aligned with fund objectives. This will also help avoid those securities jumping on the ESG bandwagon.
  9. The continued rise of the Big Five: Of course, in an era of unpredictability, there are always going to be trends or themes that run counter to accepted wisdom. Despite the aforementioned attempts of central banks to raise rates, the Big Five stocks (Microsoft, Alphabet, Apple, Amazon and Nvidia) will continue to show leaderships. While technically falling into the camp of richly valued Growth, these stocks have begun to also acquire a status as a safe haven, with generally strong earnings demonstrating a consistency and dependability that attracts investors. They also populate immense amounts of passive and retirement plan assets under management, equating to steady flows into them in almost any economic environment.

 

All this plays out against a backdrop of our changing stance on COVID. While there are some commonalities in how different regions tackle the pandemic, the continued uneven nature of our global responses makes it hard to determine what state we will be in this time next year. If most major economies can move to an endemic setting, then we should have the tools in place to make ‘living with Covid’ a reality. However, the continued emergence of other variants will cause volatility, and with it a predictable jostling of market leadership. Perhaps the only predictions anyone can truly make is that life will continue to be unpredictable for some time to come.

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