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REVITALISING THE TOKEN MARKET

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By Gavin Smith, CEO at Panxora

 

With interest rates near zero and fears that whipsawing stock markets are set for further plunges, many investors are turning to alternative markets in the search for returns. Money flowing into cryptocurrency hedge funds and trusts like Grayscale is at all-time highs and the large cap coins seem to be entering a bull phase, but that capital is not trickling down into new token projects. Why are blockchain token projects struggling to attract funding?

 

Seed investor scepticism

Setting aside the reputational issues with mainstream investors, even those educated in blockchain tech are not signing on the dotted line. This is certainly due in part to the hangover from the early token market.

During the heady days of 2016/17, investors could buy tokens during the token sale, and if the project was legitimate – even if the business case wasn’t particularly strong – prices would soar based on market enthusiasm. Early investors purchased at a discount and cashed out almost immediately for a handsome profit – and then repeated the process again. The token sale allowed founders to amass a war chest large enough to finance the entire token project – without having to give up a large chunk of company equity. Everyone got what they needed out of the deal.

Running a token sale is far more expensive today than it was during the boom. Getting the attention of the token buying public in a market where advertorial has replaced editorial is expensive. This coupled with a regulatory framework that requires the advice of accountants, solicitors and information gathering of KYC details for investors all comes with an escalating price tag.

To accommodate the change in cost structure, tokens now need to acquire funding in two rounds. Frequently there is a first round where capital is raised from a few, large investors. This cash is then used to finance setup and marketing the main token sale. The token sale, in turn, provides the capital needed to run the entire business project.

 

Bridging the gap between token projects’ needs and early stage investors

To successfully get a token through the capital raising process, founders must acknowledge the risk assumed by those very early investors and reward them appropriately. And given that tokens may stagnate or fall in price post token sale means that a deep discount in token price is not necessarily attractive enough to get investors to commit.

Many tokens have turned to offering equity in the business in the effort to raise that first tranche of capital. If you look at the number of successfully concluded token sales, the downward trend has continued since Q2 2018, so offering equity is not sufficiently stimulating the market.

 

Two sides of the coin

So, what is the answer? It’s a complex question but one thing is certain. Any solution must be rooted in a deep understanding of what both parties need to successfully conclude the deal.

On the one hand, token founders’ needs are clear: they need enough capital to get the token ready for and through a successful liquidity event that will provide sufficient funds to build the project. The challenge lies in striking the right balance between accruing that capital and making sure not to offer so much project equity that give up either the control or the incentive founders need to drive the project forward.

On the other hand, while the needs of the seed capital investors are more complex, there are two areas of key concern: transparency and profit incentives.

 

Transparency can mean many things, but almost always includes providing more informative cost and profit projections, as well as answers to a whole range of questions, not least the following:

  • What happens to investor capital if the token sale event fails? Token founders must be transparent from the outset. The token market is highly speculative and early investors run the risk of losing their money should the project fail. Therefore, investors require a well-established fund governance process in place throughout the fundraising so they can make informed decisions on whether the project is worthwhile. 
  • How are the assets for the entire project managed? Investors need to know that their money is in good hands and that proper treasury management techniques are being used to manage cryptocurrency volatility risk. Ideally, an independent custodian will be used to hold the funds and limit founders’ ability to draw down the capital – releasing funds to an agreed-upon schedule of milestones.
  • How are the rights of investors protected, for instance in the case of a trade sale? Investors need to know what happens if the company they are investing in is sold. What impact could this have on the value of their stake? Would a separate governance framework need to be established? These are critical questions and investors aren’t likely to settle for any ambiguity in the answers.

Profit incentives are important when it comes to encouraging early participation in a project. Investors need convincing that the proposition will keep risks to a minimum and focus on providing a strong probability of a return. This means that founders need to be able to defend the case for the increase in the value of their token.

But this isn’t the only incentive that matters. Investors can also be incentivised by preferential offerings such as early access to projects and services that might help their own business.

Let’s not forget that investors don’t support just any project. What really matters is that there is something special and unique about the business being underwritten by the token. Preferably something that could be shared upfront and directly benefit the investor – proof that the investment is really worth it.

And that’s what it all comes down to. Ultimately, while token projects are having a hard time finding funds at the moment, if they can prove their worth and provide full transparency and clear profit incentives to ease investors’ concerns, the money is out there. And deals can be done.

 

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Business

HOW WILL DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION EFFECT JOBS SKILLED IN TECH

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Maria Paola Resta, HR Manager at Auriga

 

The world of technology is constantly evolving, and digital skills are also rapidly changing over the years. The interaction with the end customer is becoming more and more digital since the pandemic, therefore tech jobs, particularly in the banking industry, may need professionals to “humanise” the interfaces used by customers.

 

Tech jobs on the rise

Tech talent is growing, particularly in the Artificial Intelligence (predictive, customer profiling, etc.) sector, and technical skills regarding augmented reality, the user experience, and interface design are also on the rise. The outbreak of the pandemic has led to an unprecedented acceleration in the digitisation of processes, therefore jobs that specifically require knowledge of digital skills has increased in order to meet the needs of customers. Tech jobs remain focused on specialised areas of tech, however as the technology industry is in constant flux, some areas might be in more of a demand in comparison to others.

 

How remote working will affect the tech talent pool

The increase of remote working has already impacted the tech skills business, as the day-to-day working environment now exists in the digital realm. Tech skills are needed now more than ever, and employers have a huge role to play in helping people to continue their personal development while continuing home working. They need to focus on their personal development in order to build the workforce they need for tomorrow’s world.

 

Skills beneficial to the banking industry

There has been a massive shortage of skilled candidates in digital and technology disciplines. IT and financial companies need to upskill existing staff to fill these exciting new roles. In an age of high-frequency change, learning is truly for a lifetime.

In the debate about tomorrow’s skills in the banking sector, the rising value of each employee has often been overlooked. People are a valuable asset as machines take on the more robotic processes, and uniquely human skills come to the fore. How we develop these skills becomes a critical question for employers and workers alike. It will be many years before schools and universities nurture students well versed in these skills.

 

More tech talent required for business digital transformation

The process of digital transformation has already started with some businesses as a modernization process. This has undoubtedly accelerated strongly following the COVID-19 pandemic which forced everyone to overcome situations of technological immaturity and to radically review flows, work processes and models of consolidated business. Digitisation has entered even more pervasively into working life, becoming an essential and permanent condition, and making it necessary to acquire skills that are best suited to the new digital paradigms.

It’s inevitable that companies looking for ways to counteract the effects of the pandemic on their operations will ask their technology function to bear part of the burden. However, they must be strategic about any shifts made to the tech workforce. To ensure that vital digital services remain up and running, organizations must do everything possible to protect mission-critical talent. By showing their support now, companies can create goodwill that will carry over to when better times return.

Another of the direct consequences of remotisation is the emergence of new demands for soft skills suitable for managing collaborations and partnerships as well as specific technological talents that are increasingly specialized to support the new needs of businesses.

 

Tech skills that companies can use for their benefit

The movement towards technological areas are becoming increasingly crucial. Companies must necessarily equip themselves with professionals experienced in cybersecurity and train their people on the adoption of new operating models to protect all internal workflows from possible cyberattacks. In parallel, the need to acquire skills in the cloud, artificial intelligence, automation and user experience fields is growing exponentially in order to adequately support the changes in progress and allow work processes to be increasingly safe, intelligent and functional as well as suitable for supporting the new business models developed by companies following the pandemic.

 

How tech skills will support remote working

Soft skills are essential as they allow remote management and collaboration in virtual environments, but the importance of digital skills is growing. All HR departments are engaged in planning and finalizing training and learning projects whose main topic is information and communication technologies. The high complexity and technological vastness necessarily imply a high level of know-how and specialization in order to guarantee an optimal performance in the production and line areas, unlike the managerial or corporate areas where a disciplinary transversality of skills is generally privileged to allow a global overview.

Businesses have to work in order to build the right talent into the organization as a long-term plan during and after the pandemic, and this might be possible by applying AI, automation, and other exponential technologies to make workflows more intelligent. All of this affords a new opportunity to build better businesses and a better world. It starts with enabling a diverse workforce to perform optimally, and building trust and confidence among employees will be critical. How they are treated now will have an outsize impact on perceptions and value in the future.

 

Maria Paola Resta, HR Manager at Auriga

Maria Paola Resta has been a HR Manager at Auriga since 2018. Her role includes the coordination and overseeing of the group’s HR initiatives. She has a background in occupational and organizational psychology, and has been working in the human resources profession for 15 years. Her role focusses on talent acquisition, people development, training and employee relations. In the last 10 years she has worked in the HR departments of important companies that specialise in Information Technology, and her roles have increased in responsibility as she has progressed throughout her career.

 

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Banking

TO ENABLE BETTER LENDING FOR PEOPLE AND BUSINESSES, WE HAVE TO LOOK TO OPEN BANKING

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By Iain McDougall, CCO of Yapily

 

A recent FCA study found over 14 million people were grappling with financial issues at the end of 2020, representing more than a quarter of the UK adult population. The picture is similarly tough for SMEs, too, which have been impacted hugely by lockdowns, loss of earnings and more; it’s estimated the pandemic will cost SMEs an extra £173,000 in debt per year.

This is resulting in a lack of lending options for both consumers and businesses, as well as expensive or high interest loans, or worse, rejection from lenders all together. This in turn is driving unaffordable lending, and penning consumers and businesses in an ongoing and irresolvable debt cycle – at a time when they need the most support.

One of the biggest causes of this lies in lenders relying on credit scores and credit bureau data to inform their decisions, which simply aren’t accurate enough to truly get the full picture of a borrower’s financial situation.

The case for using Open Banking data in lending decisions has never been stronger.

Data accessed through Open Banking permits lenders to retrieve accurate information about the borrower’s financial history. This can provide more accurate assessments, and therefore enable fairer lending decisions.

 

Credit scores aren’t helping consumers

Take NHS workers as an example. Despite working tirelessly throughout the pandemic, NHS workers make up a sizable portion of the UK adult population currently struggling with debt.

Iain McDougall

An independent report from the University of Edinburgh Business School, in partnership with Salad Projects, found NHS workers are heavily reliant on long-term overdrafts and high-cost credit, where APR is as high as 1,333%. Almost all (93%) respondents said they use one or more types of credit or loan, compared with 75% in the wider UK population (according to the Financial Lives Survey). More than half (58%) use up to three loan providers and 68% use up to four loan providers.

This situation is the result of relying solely on credit scores. While these are the near-universally accepted method of determining credit terms, each credit reference agency has a different method for calculating a credit score. They rely solely on financial history, whether they’ve previously defaulted, or failed to get credit, and not a consumer’s actual financial position, whether they’ve recently got a pay rise or new income, to see how likely it is they will pay back any money borrowed. This can mean, no matter if a consumer’s financial position has changed, they can’t get a better loan because of a previous discrepancy.

 

The challenges facing SMEs

These issues are not just limited to consumers. SMEs, particularly those in the hardest hit industries like hospitality and travel, have struggled to access credit throughout the pandemic.

While many may have been thriving pre-pandemic, their lack of ability to turn a profit during lockdowns, meant they needed extra support. In an effort to keep these industries alive, we saw numerous government backed loan schemes launched, such as the Bounce Back Loan Scheme, to help struggling businesses survive. In total, these schemes have provided almost £180 billion worth of lending to date, supporting over a quarter of businesses in the UK.

However, the soaring demand from businesses in need of these vital funds meant lenders were unable to keep up and many businesses did not receive support quickly enough. What’s more, providers may register these types of loans with credit reference agencies, which means companies that previously had strong credit ratings may see their credit scores negatively affected by any delayed or missed repayments.

This is why it’s vital for lenders to get lending limits right the first time round, so SMEs can avoid potentially adding to their already growing list of debt and thrive in a post-pandemic world.

 

Enhancing lending with Open Banking 

Using Open Banking can add a much-needed layer of trust and loan personalisation for businesses and individuals. By basing credit decisioning on real-time financial data, lenders will be able to create a more accurate picture of their financial situation; and so make fairer credit offers.

Through adopting Open Banking principles, lenders will be able to onboard new customers and grant loans more efficiently, providing businesses with the cashflow required to maintain their workforce and support the economy.

With the borrowers’ consent, it will also give lenders oversight into how the economy is recovering, and enable them to monitor the rate at which the individual or business can expect the loan to be repaid. Meaning they can step in and provide extra support if and when required.

Open Banking provides what credit scores alone simply cannot – real-time insight into an individual’s or a businesses financial position right now, not three to six months ago. By leveraging the data that is readily available to them, lenders could achieve far better and more responsible outcomes. This will reduce the risk of loan default – for both businesses and individuals – and lead to more responsible lending decisions that can help people and businesses bounce back after what has been a difficult year.

 

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