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‘MOVE FAST BUT DON’T BREAK THINGS’ – WHY FINTECHS WILL COME TO LOVE REGULATION

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Alex Johnson, Director of Portfolio Marketing, FICO

 

The guiding ethos of fintech is move fast and break things. It’s the fundamental advantage that disruptors have over the incumbents they’re disrupting — the ability to move quickly and make mistakes, learn from them and deliver innovative services to customers. Generally, this ethos is presented as a virtue. Banking is ‘broken’ so any investments in improving it are both notable and noble – even if there are bumps along the way.

Conversely, anything that stands in the way of this ‘march of progress’ is generally cast as a villain.

The most prominent villain for fintech companies is regulation. From their perspective, it’s a competitive moat, based on rules written for a different century, that protects banks’ ability to make money without needing to innovate and offer more or improved services to their customers.

So, it’s easy to see why a fintech company — believing fully in the virtue of its mission and faced with a litany of illogical and intractable regulations — might just say ‘we’re doing it anyway.’ That’s what Robinhood co-founder Baiju Bhatt reportedly did when his company tried to roll out a checking and savings product that it claimed was insured without confirming that with regulators first.

The problem is that while we may mythologise the ‘move fast and break things’ ethos in the abstract, consumers don’t love it when their stuff breaks in the real world.

And when fintechs and challenger banks aren’t constrained by regulation (as they mostly are in the U.S and Europe) the harm caused by this ‘move fast and break things’ approach can be much more severe than a service outage or a false claim of deposit insurance.

 

Stories from overseas

In China, online P2P lending exploded in popularity, with the number of P2P lenders growing from 50 in 2011 to 3,500 in 2015. Then the whole industry imploded when it was revealed that 40% of P2P lending platforms were Ponzi schemes.

In India, online lending companies raised a record $909 million in venture capital last year (the third-biggest market behind the U.S. and China). And those lenders are now using personal data from borrowers’ mobile phones to make lending decisions – which although illegal, is reportedly ignored by Indian regulators.

In the Philippines (another emerging market where venture capital dollars for online lending are pouring in), the National Privacy Commission is investigating hundreds of complaints from consumers about lending apps leveraging their personal data to shame them into making their payments.

 

A prediction for the decade to come

In the 2020s, I believe fintech companies will come to love – or at least quietly appreciate – regulation for two primary reasons:

 

Brand protection

Fintechs and challenger banks understand that brand recognition and affinity is key to their long-term success. Building their brands will be a challenge. A recent survey of 2,000 Brits found 40% don’t trust challenger banks at all and 67% said they are more likely to do business with banks that have branches on the high street. As Zach Bruhnke, co-founder and CEO of U.S. challenger bank HMBradley recently said, ‘We’re going to have to grow by word-of-mouth and doing the right things for our customers.’

Fintechs and challenger banks focused on the long-term task of building brand affinity and trust will, over the next decade, come to despise bad actors that skirt the rules and dress up get-rich-quick schemes in the same language they use to describe their own firms. Regulations that constrain and/or shut down these bad actors will be increasingly appreciated by legitimate market participants.

 

Disruption-friendly regulations 

In the 2010s, we saw the beginning of a trend that will strengthen in the 2020s — regulations designed to foster competition between incumbents and new market entrants. To date, such regulatory action has run the gamut, from vague (innovation sandboxes and special-use charters) to hyper-specific (U.S. regulators’ cautiously approving the use of alternative data, or the Bank of England considering giving non-banks access to its 500-billion-pound balance sheet). Perhaps, most promising, has been the work done by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), which has been proactively driving the adoption of rules and standards around Open Banking for past couple of years. O

ver the next decade, through careful management of public perception and increased investment in lobbying, fintechs and challenger banks will further reshape the regulatory environment from a competitive moat to a more level playing field.

 

Reaching fintech maturity

’As a licensed broker-dealer, we’re highly regulated and take clear communication very seriously. We plan to work closely with regulators as we prepare to launch our cash management program’.

This was the statement issued by the chastened co-founders of Robinhood shortly after they backed away from their plan to launch a checking and savings product without government insurance. And here’s the crazy part — that’s exactly what happened! Less than a year later the company announced a new deposit product, this time insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC).

As fintech companies mature in the 2020s and the focus of their strategic objectives shifts from growth to profitability, regulation will play a vital role in transforming the ethos of those companies into something a bit more sustainable. Call it ‘Move fast, but don’t break things’.

 

Finance

HOW TO TELL IF YOU’RE OVERPAYING TAXES

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HOW TO TELL IF YOU’RE OVERPAYING TAXES

Paying taxes is a necessary act in our world, and with good reason. Our governments use taxes to build the infrastructure we use, improve our children’s education, and fund the societal safety nets we all end up needing at least once in our lives, like Social Security, unemployment insurance, and welfare.

There’s a difference between paying your fair share and paying too much because that money could be used to better your situation instead of sitting in a government account. But how do you know whether you’re paying too much and what can you do about it? We’ve got a few tips below.

 

The easiest way to tell if you’re overpaying: Do you get a refund every year?

Does your yearly tax filing fill you with a sense of excitement because of the refund you’ll receive? Unfortunately, that excitement is a clear sign you’re paying too much in taxes.

Try to see your taxes like a loan you give to the IRS. If you pay too much, then you’ve given them above and beyond your fair share, interest-free. Yes, you get it back by April (if you file on time and there’s not an extension for a global pandemic) of the following year, but you’ve lost the opportunity to make that money work for you by either accruing interest, getting rid of debt, or improving your lifestyle. This is known as “opportunity cost” and removing as much of it as possible is a critical part of having a solid financial plan.

Balancing how much you pay in taxes works both ways. Underpaying taxes amounts to an interest-free loan from the IRS to you that will need to be paid in full by Tax Day on April 15. If you can land into a sweet spot where you owe $0 and are refunded a trivial amount, then you’ve adjusted your withholdings correctly. It’s a tricky situation to get just right, though, so let’s cover a few adjustments you can make.

 

How to adjust the amount of taxes withheld from your paycheck

Taxes in the U.S. are complicated, so don’t feel bad if you’re just now realizing you’ve been overpaying.

If you have an employer, the first step is to figure out which department handles your payroll and taxes. Typically this will be HR, though it can fall on the accounting department, too. You can update your withholdings at any time, though it’s better to adjust it when new life circumstances come up. These include:

  • Getting married or divorced
  • Having a child, either from birth or adoption
  • Changes in income

To adjust withholdings, you’ll submit a new W-4 that includes your updated tax situation. You shouldn’t need to send any additional verification, but check with the payroll department to see what the latest requirements from the IRS look like.

 

What to do after you’ve adjusted your withholdings

If you’re able to adjust your withholdings, you should see a bigger paycheck after your next pay period. While it can be exciting to have more money coming in, it’s important you use this opportunity to get into a better financial situation. Consider putting that “extra” money toward paying down your debt or putting it into a retirement account. Using that new infusion of cash responsibly will not only help your financial situation now but ensure you have a stable source of income in retirement, too.

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WHY THE EXPLOSION IN LOCAL RETAIL DEMANDS NEW PAYMENT METHODS

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Kasper Enggaard Krog, CEO at mobile payment and business technology firm, Vibrant, explains why micro businesses are being badly let down by contactless payment providers while local retail has boomed.

 

Before the pandemic, between 40[i] and 47[ii] per cent of micro businesses didn’t accept card payments, depending which statistics you prefer. This includes everything from corner shops to cafes and builders to barbers. They relied on cash, cheque, or where suitable, perhaps the laborious process of an invoice and bank transfer.

This is despite there being 6 billion contactless cards in the world and 47 per cent of people preferring to pay with one when at a physical point of sale[iii]. At first glance, it might seem that these small traders were cutting their noses off to spite their faces. Customers wanted to pay them with cards, why wouldn’t they just allow them to do so?

 

What was stopping merchants?

The answer is simple. Because for the smallest of merchants, accepting a card payment has always led to expensive ongoing fees, results in slow settlements, requires admin and calls for an up-front investment in cumbersome and basic technology.

It won’t be news to anyone in the industry that the recurring costs all add up. Transaction fees are typically between 1 per cent and 3 per cent, not to mention authorisation fees and merchant service charges[iv]. A credit card reader might be about £20 and the same for a receipt printer. This all eats into profit, not to mention time.

 

Kasper Enggaard Krog

The pandemic changed it all

Yet the pandemic has forced micro businesses to reassess their reticence to take card payments. Two reasons are behind this. Firstly, there has been an explosion in people shopping where they live. When lockdowns swept across Europe, it became hard to get to larger retailers. Local merchants of all sorts became a lifeline[v].

Not only that, but many people were forced to reconnect to their communities and realised they enjoyed shopping on their street and wanted to support independent businesses. The data proves this. According to research, the convenience store sector grew by 6 per cent in 2020[vi].

This led to the second factor, contactless payments were considered safer than handling cards or cash. The overall impact of more shoppers and the threat of infection led to a boom in contactless payments. In fact, the number of purchases made in May 2021 via contactless technology doubled compared with the same month a year earlier and was up 50 per cent on May 2019[vii].

 

Woefully underserved

This shift to accepting card payments among the smallest of businesses should be applauded. There are currently £2.25 trillion in cash and cheque payments made in Europe[viii]. They’re now opening themselves up to this huge market.

This is undoubtedly good for consumers and merchants alike. But it does beg the question, why did it take a pandemic to cause the change? Why did they have to face the prospect of potential infection or financial ruin to make the move?

Simple, the existing model is broken. The barriers to accepting card payments remain – high cost, poor tech and slow settlements – but they’ve been overcome through necessity rather than benefit. These businesses remain woefully underserved yet have been forced to accept what is on offer. There must be another way.

And there is. For the first time, the technology now exists for market traders, stall holders, car washes – any number of micro businesses – to take contactless payments using only their phone. No additional tech. No annoying dongles or readers that take up space and will ultimately add to the vast rubbish bin of obsolete, single-function peripheries. These will soon join calculators, MP3 players and digital cameras.

Furthermore, this tech not only takes payments, but within months is expected to allow merchants to run their whole business on their phone. They will be able to add product lists, inventory details, accounting tools and much more. It’s like a mini enterprise resource management system for the tiniest of firms. And the fees are transparent, predictable, lower than the market rate and don’t have binding contracts. Importantly, it also has the backing of Visa – and Vibrant is leading the roll-out.

The business is proud to do so and sees a huge opportunity. Micro businesses are now worth £1.85 trillion to the European economy[ix]. Their importance will grow, and they need the payments sector to take note of their needs and do better. It’s no longer acceptable to foist poor products and services upon them and allow the pandemic to drive change rather than innovation.

The explosion in local retail demands new payment methods – and they must be made available. In many ways, it’s a scandal that it took a pandemic to force change.

 

[i] 40% of the UK’s micro businesses do not accept card payments
[ii] Visa data
[iii] 40% of the UK’s micro businesses do not accept card payments
[iv] Credit card processing fees
[v] Local heroes: The retailers benefiting from the rise of localism
[vi] Lumina Intelligence UK Grocery Data Index for 2020
[vii] Contactless payments dominated as lockdowns eased
[viii] Visa data
[ix] Visa data

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