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Wealth Management

FROM EFFICIENCY TO NEW INVESTMENTS – WHY BLOCKCHAIN IS MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE

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Thomas Borrel, chief product officer at Polymath

 

Blockchain has been an extremely hot topic in 2021. With companies and financial institutions internationally having to adapt to an increasingly digital world, the true potential of blockchain is becoming increasingly clear. We have seen hospitals using the technology to track vaccine distributions, major blue-chip companies floating digital assets or ‘stablecoins’, even progress made by central banks in piloting and adopting digital currencies

When it comes to the world of finance, much of the attention has focussed on the booming price of Bitcoin, and there has been much excitement around using cryptocurrencies as an alternative investment. However, the real potential of blockchain technology stretches far into traditional finance and beyond.

 

Improving access to investment options

Security tokens created and issued on the blockchain are already being used to improve efficiency in a variety of more traditional asset classes, ranging from real estate to green bonds. The Sustainable Digital Finance Alliance (SDFA) and HSBC Center of Sustainable Finance recently joined forces to highlight how security tokens for green bonds can reduce management costs and increase operational efficiency by up to ten times. And in early 2020, RedSwan CRE Marketplace tokenised $2.2B in commercial real estate, making it one of the biggest tokenisations we’ve seen so far.

Thomas Borrel

However, the potential of tokenisation does not only stand to improve the process of trading traditional assets; blockchain can also open up the pool of investors able to participate. To date, the focus has been on how fractionalisation brings benefits to retail investors by lowering the bar to entry. However, the retail regulations are still very stringent, which is important to protect non-professionals from disproportionate losses.

Tokenisation can be used to enable large institutional investors to buy into smaller projects. Referred to as aggregation, this process can be used to bind assets together so that they meet an institution’s minimum investment threshold. Because of the transparency of blockchain, the investor is still able to inspect each individual offering and ensure each element meets their quality and risk requirements, but by packaging it into one larger token, an institution can diversify with assets that would have otherwise flown under its radar.

 

Optimising efficiency and minimising risk

Risk management and operational efficiency are usually at the core of any financial institution’s wider strategy. However, no matter how much firms optimise their own processes, there are a range of financial instruments that are still very prone to issues in these areas, especially those that are traded ‘over the counter’ (OTC). The best example of this is likely the bonds market – a multi trillion-dollar market, where OTC trades are still common practice.

When an OTC trade is conducted, it is often so over the telephone – one person calling another to make a deal. This introduces significant information risk with securities operations teams reporting error rates as high as 40%. When instructions for the trade are passed on to the custodians, they will spot the discrepancy. They then have to investigate and find out what has gone wrong, often resulting in very long delays to settlement times.

Blockchains go a long way to solving this problem, providing transparent access to trade and clearing information so that operational issues can be caught earlier and help mitigate settlement risk (i.e. settlement failure). For example, on Polymesh settlement instructions must be affirmed prior to settlement, in a case where an OTC trade has been improperly captured by one counterparty, the counterparty which has affirmed the instruction can see that the other counterparty has not affirmed the instruction within a defined period. In this way, the affirming counterparty can reach out proactively prior to the settlement date to rectify the situation and avoid settlement failure.

Trading on blockchain also generates an easily accessible, secure ledger of trading information. When it comes to reporting in traditional asset classes, the process is highly manual and often expensive. But, with a blockchain solution, reporting is built into the ecosystem from the ground up. There are no significant additional costs or resources required to extract this data and share it where necessary, and the number and complexity of the steps required to complete reconciliations between different entities are reduced and simplified.

 

Is tokenisation a ‘cover all’ solution?

Fundamentally, certain traditional asset classes are not right for the blockchain yet. Instruments with well-established frameworks, like publicly traded stocks, already have very well-formed, rigorous rails in place, and so transferring to a blockchain could cause disruption and incur unnecessary costs.

It is very common to hear blockchain advocates claiming that blockchain technology should be introduced into every corner of the finance space, which is misguided. Blockchain should be introduced where it brings value to investors or institutions. It should be about augmenting and supplementing the marketplace – not overhauling it, or at least not until the incumbent systems no longer keep up with demand.

The costs and infrastructure associated with capital markets have made some assets – like green bonds or real estate – too expensive to bring to market and service, or too difficult to invest in. These use-cases are examples of where tokenisation can really shine.

Blockchain is an extremely powerful tool, with a range of exciting applications and potential benefits for businesses and financial institutions, ranging from risk management and efficiency through to enabling new investments. However, as with any product, it isn’t the answer to all problems, and must be treated as a powerful enabler – not as an agitator.

 

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DOGECOIN MADNESS

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by Nathalie Janson, Associate Professor at NEOMA Business School

 

After the unstoppable increase of Bitcoin (BTC) since January – it added 10 000$ to its price every month since January reaching 60 000$ in April 2021  – it is now the turn of the Dogecoin to be the next cryptofrenzy.

This crypto created in three hours by Billy Markus as a joke to make fun of the Bitcoin community back in 2013 had no specific use except federating crypto geeks sharing the same sense of humor. Its capitalization quickly reached 60 million USD back then. This is why until Tuesday, April 13th 2021, its price was closed to 0 since cryptos value derives from their usefulness.

The Dogecoin belongs to the family of Altcoins using proof of stake to validate transactions – more flexible and fast compare to Bitcoin and Ether based on proof of work – but essentially not as decentralized and secured.  So far Dogecoin has mainly been used for  tipping creators of content or more interestingly to noble causes. These include raising funds for the bobsleigh Jamaïcan team to send them to the Winter Olympic Games in 2014, paying back victims of Dogecoin hack in the early days after its creation,  and raising funds to provide access to drinkable water in Africa.

 

Dogecoin… a billionaire maker joke

How comes the DogeCoin price surged in such irrational manner? Is this move another proof of market madness? A sign that we might be close to the next burst of the crypto bubble? Who knows? … Why is it so difficult to understand the pricing dynamic of cryptocurrencies?  You might think that what we experienced is the paroxysm of futility. In a week, some Dogecoin holders become billionaires, the price of the Dodge coin increasing from almost 0 to 43 cents at its highest. How mad that sounds? Similar to what happened to Gamestop, we are dealing with a community with a strong identity – the Dogecoin joined by new members like Snickers – the sweet bar and more importantly by Elon Musk – who wants to set a record and claiming April 20th being DogeDay with the clear goal to push Dogecoin up to $1. They are encouraging each other to buy more of the coins. Given the limited size of the market dominated by “whales” – five “whales” are said to control 40% of the market – the increase in purchases of Dogecoin leads to significant rise in price given the low liquidity.

The Dogecoin case is an emblematic case showing how subjective value is in economics. Indeed, like Bitcoin, the price of Dogecoin only depends on its acceptance that in itself depends on the size of its network that suddenly increased.

Why now? First, Elon Musk started to show his interest in the Dogecoins by tweeting about it. Why does Elon Musk opinion matter? Because he symbolizes the success story of a man who is a visionary. After all, if Elon Musk invests in Bitcoin and supports Dogecoin it must be for a reason, and he may be right like he has been right about the industrialization of electric cars as the success of the Tesla demonstrates. He performs a role similar to leading investors in traditional financial markets like Warren Buffet.

Secondly, the Coinbase initial public offering contributed to a rally in the cryptocurrencies market, with no exception for the Dogecoin. Over the week-end, the major cryptocurrencies – BTC and Ethereum dropped for technical reasons due to a sharp decrease in the hash rate after an electricity shortage in the Xinjang province in China. When that happens, it usually benefits altcoins.

More broadly speaking, the crypto market is frenetic since the beginning of the year. This frenzy is a symptom of a global economy that is still suffering from severe restrictions in some activities but at the same time is also experimenting acceleration in others. Combined with overgenerous monetary policy feeding liquidity in search of profitability away from traditional markets because of low interest rates and over rated stock markets, this is a perfect combination for investors to try anything new to boost their portfolio return if you add on the top of that, growing concerns about the return of inflation in the US.

In this context how long will the Dogecoin rally last? This essentially relies on the determination of its fans to support it but after a while, it will need to be more than a symbol!

 

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Wealth Management

WHY COMPLICATED INCOME STRUCTURES SHOULDN’T PREVENT HIGH NET WORTH INDIVIDUALS FROM INVESTING IN PROPERTY

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Mike Coates, Founder and CEO of Commercial Expert

 

An investor’s preference is usually to split their investment across different funds, in a varied and balanced way.  Research has shown that the most popular investments made by high-net-worth individuals (HNWIs) vary between stocks, shares, hedge funds, private equity, and real estates (residential and commercial properties).  The allocation of funds is predominantly governed by taxes, goals and individual preferences.

However, in the past decade, HNWIs have encountered barriers to accessing finance because of the way lenders approve loans.

 

The barriers facing HNWIs

In the aftermath of the GFC of 2008, a notable trend to emerge was lenders seeking to minimise the level of risk to which they were prepared to expose themselves. This was achieved through adopting a more stringent selection criteria when it came to assessing an individual’s financial situation before approving a loan.

As a result of this change in lending behaviour, securing finance has ultimately become more difficult across the board, including, ironically, HNWIs, whom you might expect would be unaffected. The reason HNWIs might struggle is because the new lending culture favours those with straightforward finances, and a regular income.

However, for HNWIs, this is not usually the case.  For example, a HNWI’s portfolio could be split across various asset classes and jurisdictions; their income may be irregular or derived abroad (including off-shore tax-havens); many HNWIs are expats and may be receiving income in different currencies.  When these factors are considered, it’s easy to see why HNWIs might be classed as ‘high-risk’ in the eyes of some lenders.  As a result, many HNWIs have struggled to secure funding or even a credit card.

Consequently, for HNWIs looking to take advantage of the current low borrowing rates, as well as the tax relief by securing finance, they will be better off finding a reputable financial adviser or broker who will take a more holistic view when it comes to assessing their financial situation.

Financial advisers have established relationships with a wide portfolio of lenders who aren’t just the regular high street banks and building societies. There are certain lenders who are used to dealing with clients that have huge property portfolios and are experienced in calculating the stress levels on existing portfolios. They are able to use different assessment criteria in order to approve loans, even where applicants have a low debt service coverage ratio (DSCR).  They may also request to see your SA302 (self-assessment tax returns for the last 4 years), tax overviews and accounts in order to gain a deeper understanding of your income structure. Where people have deferred tax, this also gets taken into consideration.  At the end of the day, it’s about having your foot in the door with the right lenders, that helps to determine your ability to secure a mortgage as an HNWI.

 

Reasons to invest in property

Compared to private equity and hedge funds, real estate investment is by far the least risky option. Real estate is safe and is set to lead us to recovery following the aftermath of Covid-19.

What we witnessed during the global pandemic was that contrary to early predictions, rental prices remained relatively stable and property prices rocketed. The UK house price index, published in January 2021, revealed that the average house price increased by 7.5% year-on-year. i   Initially, the stamp duty tax relief may have been attributed to the increase, however, as the tax relief deadline approaches, there doesn’t appear to be any sign of a slow-down.  This indicates that other factors are underpinning the rise. Many believe that lockdown has forced people to reassess their priorities, with an increasing number of people desiring more generous living and outdoor space in areas away from cities.

 

What properties to invest in

As it currently stands, almost 60% of HNWIs have revealed that they invest in real estate. ii The properties are usually where they themselves reside, or in “offshore” areas where they enjoy going on holiday.  If properties are situated in tourist hotspots with nearby beaches or mountains, they are often rented out to tourists during peak holiday seasons and available for their own holiday use during off-peak times.

 

Final thoughts

If you want to invest in properties either in the UK or abroad, don’t be deterred by previous failed attempts at securing finance. It is a good move to appoint a specialist commercial finance broker with access to the whole of market, who can undertake all the research required, and recommend a suitable lender and product.

There are only a handful of lenders who are equipped to deal with HNWIs, with complex income structures, therefore it’s crucial to make sure you’re speaking with the right people.

 

References:

i https://moneytothemasses.com/owning-a-home/house-prices-2/what-is-going-to-happen-to-uk-house-prices

ii https://www.fool.com/millionacres/real-estate-investing/articles/what-are-high-net-worth-individuals-investing-in-now/

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