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.
How FS organisations can utilise data to boost customer experience
Charles Southwood, Regional VP and GM – Northern Europe and Africa at Denodo
We’ve all heard the age-old adage “the customer is always right”. It insinuates that, in any sector, the needs and desires of those buying a brand’s product or services should be paramount. However, today’s customer has new standards and it is becoming harder than ever for businesses to meet and exceed them.
This is certainly the case in the financial services (FS) sector where getting customer experience right used to be relatively simple. The human touch was traditionally delivered as a bi-product of in-store, transactional interactions. Perhaps, as a result of this, few people ever considered changing their provider and the traditional, established banks ruled the space.
However, with the dawn of online banking and the introduction of new, exciting challenger banks as well as the UK’s unique Current Account Switching Service, the balance of power between the consumer and the bank is changing. Consumers no longer feel locked in. If their needs aren’t being met, they aren’t afraid to look elsewhere and switch their allegiance to other companies. In other words, loyalty is far from guaranteed and customer acquisition is only half the battle.
Retention relies upon delivering strong, unique customer experiences that beat down the competition. In order to achieve this, FS organisations will need to be able to leverage data. Its insights could be the differentiator that enables them to stand out. The positive news is that, in our online world, there is a constant stream of data being produced. However, having access to all this data doesn’t necessarily mean that a brand knows how to effectively analyse and utilise it.
Ensuring data provides insight
The rapid growth in digital technologies and services across the sector has left many FS organisations juggling an unimaginable amount of data. This data is both complex and much of it is lacking in quality. Structured, semi-structured and unstructured, it is stored in many different places – whether that’s in data lakes, on premise or in multi-cloud environments. Before FS organisations can even think about using it to inform customer experience strategies, they need to be able to find it and understand it.
This is where modern technologies – such as data virtualization – can help. Through a single, logical view data virtualization boosts visibility and real-time availability of all data across an organisation. Unlike traditional extract, transform and load (ETL) solutions, it does not move and copy data. Instead it leaves it in the source systems. In other words, instead of just replicating data, data virtualization reveals an integrated view to those trying to find it.
For FS organisations this provides several important benefits. For example, it helps when data sovereignty issues arise and the movement and replication of data outside certain countries is illegal. Data virtualization solutions can also assist in terms of financial reporting by fetching data in real time from underlying source systems – applying the necessary security and obfuscation whilst delivering the performance, the agility and the accuracy needed through the seamless connection of data.
FS organisations that adopt data virtualization, are likely to see an improvement in the overall performance and efficiencies of their business operations. Overheads will be reduced, as will the length of project times. Above all, data virtualization will rapidly strengthen the customer experience by supporting business leaders to think strategically and make decisions based on real-time insights. But don’t just take my word for it.
The proof is in the pudding: How Landsbankinn is delivering on the CX promise
Landsbankinn is just one of the many financial services institutions that has already successfully embraced data virtualization and its benefits. Despite being the largest financial institution in Iceland – with around 40% of the retail and 33% of the corporate banking market share – Landsbankinn used to face several issues when it came to data sharing and analytics.
Over 45 siloed data sources – including Oracle databases, data warehouses and APIs from internal and external sources – made finding and accessing the right data at the right time extremely difficult. Without real-time data to fuel informed decision making, customer experience and operational efficiency were suffering. As a result, Landsbankinn was in need of a data overhaul to streamline and integrate its infrastructure.
To bring together its complex data landscape and collect data in real-time, Landsbankinn implemented the Denodo Platform – a data integration and data management solution built on data virtualization – to build a logical data warehouse. As a result, the team can now aggregate data from multiple data sources, transform that data based on the applied business rules, and then make it available to consuming applications. Ultimately, this means that, throughout the organisation, the data can be utilised by a wealth of employees, even those who are not particularly IT savvy. It also means that the business leaders can use data insights to make well-versed decisions and provide a plethora of services to Landsbankinn customers both quickly and efficiently.
In recent years, customer retention has become the key to successfully growing a business. This cannot happen without an effective customer experience strategy. The ability to convert data into insight is priceless in an economic landscape where the line between a business thriving, surviving and failing is so thin. Those operating in financial services must harness modern technologies – like data virtualization – to stay at the top of their game and ahead of the competition.
The Evolution of SoftPoS in 2023
By Brad Hyett, CEO of phos
Contactless payments and digital wallets have surged in popularity in recent years. Part of this stems from the digital boom that occurred during COVID-19 but it’s also thanks to the ease of use that contactless offers customers. This has helped accelerate Software Point of Sale or ‘SoftPoS’ adoption amongst SMEs and enterprise retailers, with a total of 6 million merchants taking advantage of the technology in 2022 according to Juniper Research.
SoftPoS or ‘Tap to Pay’ technology – is a software solution that allows vendors to turn their phones or mobile devices into contactless payment points. This has made life for small businesses easier, as they no longer have to fork out large sums of money for traditional Point of Sale (POS) terminals, i.e. card readers, or ‘make do’ with outdated payment software.
In light of Apple’s announcement to allow third-party SoftPoS providers to deploy their technology on iPhone last year, adoption is expected to increase further. By 2027, it’s forecast that there will be up to 34.5 million merchants by 2027 – nearly a 500% increase from today. With more payment giants like Paypal and Venmo announcing they will support contactless transactions through their iOS apps in the months ahead, what else is in store for SoftPoS in 2023?
Apple’s role in market consolidation within SoftPoS
Apple’s move to integrate the technology with iOS devices will expand SoftPoS’ usability across mobile operating systems – significantly boosting the size of the addressable market for vendors. For the first time, Apple users will be able to offer Tap-to-Pay solutions which have traditionally been limited to Android devices only.
This will ultimately bring greater awareness and adoption of SoftPoS as we see increased familiarity with Tap-to-Pay solutions among businesses and consumers alike – as they’re no longer bound by the constraints of the type of phone they use.
While the SoftPoS on iPhone rollout currently only applies to the US market, it’s fair to assume this will expand internationally at some point – aiding the normalisation of ‘Tap to Pay’ solutions en masse in the months and years ahead.
The next wave of solopreneurs
The events of the last year will also continue to have a ripple effect over the next 12 months. For example, we’ve seen the tech industry undergo mass layoffs due to a challenging economic environment and rising global inflation.
With large numbers of highly skilled talent out of work, the phenomenon of solo entrepreneurship is likely to see an uplift – as it did during the pandemic – over the next 12 months. Born in a digital-native environment, individuals from this released workforce can now set up their own businesses and run them on mobile devices, as opposed to legacy infrastructures.
This could prove another sizable opportunity for SoftPoS vendors in the coming year, as we predict to see more small businesses sprout as a result of ongoing redundancies.
The growing importance of SoftPoS orchestration
As the market rapidly develops, so too does the choice and ease of onboarding. Financial institutions and retail technology providers can now use a SoftPoS orchestrator to help them deploy Tap-to-Pay solutions quickly and easily for their merchant customers, instead of having to create their own mobile solutions. This saves them time and money – both crucial resources for any business and especially in a challenging economy.
Partnering with a SoftPoS orchestrator is a cost-effective way of providing mobile payment solutions without having to worry about waiting on new software and security updates. With an orchestrator, this is done automatically – making this a much lighter lift with no requirement for technological know-how.
As SoftPos orchestrators are acquirer agnostic, this means they can help businesses provide a SoftPos solution to their own retail customers, regardless of the existing acquirer that they’re already using.
An additional benefit here is that a wider pool of merchants are able to benefit from the technology – growing the overall size of the SoftPoS market. Orchestrators, then, have the ability to drive wider adoption of the technology globally, reaching a bigger audience of end users and advancing the mobile payments industry in emerging markets across the world.
The increased popularity of digital and contactless payment options has driven exponential growth in the SoftPoS market in recent years. The next 12 months will see the technology enter the mainstream, as Apple starts to allow more third-party SoftPoS providers to deploy their solutions on iPhones.
The timing coincides with several emerging opportunities for the technology, including a potential uptick in the number of solopreneurs and mobile-first businesses. This combination of factors will see more financial institutions and legacy technology players work with SoftPoS orchestrators to bring Tap-to-Pay solutions to market in 2023 if they want to stay ahead of the competition and keep up with ever evolving customer demands.
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