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Wealth Management

WHY INVESTING IN EMERGING MARKET COMPANIES MAKES MORE OF AN IMPACT THAN FOREIGN AID

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By Martin Soderberg, Managing Partner, SPEAR Capital

 

For decades, many have viewed foreign aid as the best way for rich, developed countries to help poor, developing countries.  In fact, the value of international development aid reached a new peak of $152.8 billion in 2019, a slight increase over 2018, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

COVID-19 and its associated lockdowns have, however, underscored the limitations of foreign aid. In Uganda, for example, aid cuts have forced hundreds of thousands of people to the brink of starvation. Even outside of such an extreme example, many believe that foreign aid only serves the interests of donor countries and that it either creates dependency or has too many destitution “traps” to be effective. There are also some who argue that most foreign aid is spent on Western consultants, instead of the people it’s supposed to help.  

But if foreign aid is ineffective and we accept that wealthier countries should “do their bit” to help, how should they go about doing so?

A much better solution may be to invest in companies in these countries which have long-term commercial viability and which provide local solutions to local problems.

 

Foreign aid and missing incentives

One of the problems with foreign aid is that it doesn’t provide the right incentives for donors or recipients.

For many public and private sector donors, the responsibility is over once whatever project they were funding is complete. Whether it’s the construction of a well, a new school, or handing out mosquito nets, there’s little reason for funders to stay invested in the long run. Certainly, some NGOs might play on their ability to demonstrate impact, but the best they can offer funders is a sense that their money’s being well spent.

Similarly, the recipients of aid funding don’t have any incentive to sustain a project if they don’t have ownership of it. We’ve witnessed this first-hand, having been involved in funding a Zimbabwean dairy training centre.

Once the site was handed over to management, herd size began to shrink, and feedstock was no longer managed properly. By June 2020, the herd had dropped to 21 herd of cattle, down from 35 in August 2018. As of October 2020, there were 13 cattle, comprised of 2 cows, 1 bull and 10 heifers. Many of the cattle were malnourished and we received reports that several had died while giving birth.

While such a vocational facility clearly has benefits for the people it serves, the incentives simply weren’t strong enough for it to run sustainably.

 

Investment and ESG

Contrast that to the relationship between a business and an investor. When it’s looking for an investment, a business will do everything it can to prove that it’s viable. And once it’s made an investment, a good investor will do everything it can to ensure that the business succeeds.

This is especially true of private equity investors who typically restructure companies to give them the best chance of success.

And if the concern — as is the case with most foreign aid — is making a sustainable difference in emerging markets, then there are plenty of opportunities to invest in companies with a good environmental, sustainable, and governance (ESG) record. There are also private equity funds who’ll guide investors through the process.

Imagine what these funds could do with the US$60-billion spent on aid to Africa every year. Imagine what impact a growth explosion in tax-paying businesses could have on the continent’s poverty, employment, and development levels. And, all of that can happen while still providing investors with real returns.

 

A growing imperative

With traditional big Western donors set to target aid budgets as their own economies falter, the imperative for investment only becomes bigger. Handouts may alleviate some of the pain caused by 2020’s economic ructions, but only temporarily.

Beyond simple recovery, what’s needed is sustainable growth which benefits people on the ground. This is especially true of already fragile emerging market economies which have been decimated by the pandemic. Properly managed, foreign investment can achieve much more and much quicker than aid will ever be able to.

 

Wealth Management

DIGITAL NATIVES CAN BE THE DRIVING FORCE BEHIND THE BIGGEST TRANSFORMATION IN INSURANCE

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Sam Vickerman, Practice Director, Insurance & Retail, Grayce

 

Often referred to as digital laggards in the finance sector, insurance companies are renowned for being slow to adopt new technologies. Held back by legacy systems and old-fashioned business models, the industry also lacks the technology talent required to speed up innovation. According to Deloitte, just 4% of millennials want to work in insurance, with many more being drawn to exciting roles in technology, consulting or other financial companies instead. Insurtech start-ups are beginning to emerge, who are focused on developing software for the sector. Yet the gap between these fledgling firms and traditional insurance companies is growing. Exacerbating the problem further is the impact of Covid-19 on the sector, with customer demand for more digital products and services growing. If insurance companies are to prosper in the post-pandemic world, they need to find ways to adopt digital technologies at a faster rate. And that must start with changing the next cohort of workers’ perception that the industry is dull and dusty and finding ways to attract and retain this talent.

 

Attracting digital native talent

Immersed in technology since birth, millennial and Gen Z workers are confident in and capable at using digital tools – it’s argued that the brains of digital natives are actually wired differently to ‘digital immigrants’ (those who have adapted to the new world as adults), due to vastly different kinds of early learning experiences. In the workplace, this translates to differing communication and information-gathering styles, and according to Forrester, these workers prefer greater mobility, tech autonomy and software diversity compared to their older counterparts. Insurance firms must find ways to tap into this talent pool more widely if they’re to digitalise their operations and compete with the emerging start-ups in the sector, and they should start by employing individuals that show a curiosity and willingness to continuously learn. These individuals can act as digital champions for their organisations, helping them to embed the latest technologies into their operations and shape the future of their business.

Sam Vickerman

Here are a handful of those technologies that could drive widespread transformation of the sector.

  • Highly personalised services through IoT and social media – traditional risk assessment relies on datasets that consider a range of factors such as the customer’s age, gender, location, marital status and so on. But today, endpoint devices and social media can provide much more personal insights into the individual – in a model that is beneficial to both the insurer and the customer. Wearables, for instance, provide deep insights into a person’s physical health, measuring factors such as blood pressure, temperate and number of steps per day. The business gets a more accurate risk assessment, and the customer gets a more tailored policy that suits their needs. This model is growing in popularity, with a recent study by Accenture finding that more than three-quarters of consumers are willing to share their personal data in exchange for more personalised insurance offers and cheaper coverage.
  • Digitising paper records – the insurance sector is a heavy user of paper-based records, with firms typically keeping thousands of files in paper archives, gathering dust. If files are digitised, analysed and stored in the cloud, documents can be automatically reviewed, helping to reduce inconsistent information or errors.
  • Internal workflow automation with RPA and Machine Learning – automation enables firms to reduce the time spent on routine paperwork and administrative tasks, freeing up employees to focus on more creative, value-add work with their clients. Robotic Process Automation (RPA) can help address repetitive work, including preliminary assessment of each claim, data entry and payments. In turn, this results in more efficient decision making, reduced call times to customer service teams and far greater accuracy of data entry.
  • Automated resolutions through AI-powered chatbots – customer service agents spend thousands of hours on the phone, often supporting clients with simple requests. Chatbots can help automate many of these conversations, using AI to filter through the chats and route priority customers that require urgent attention through to human service agents. This can drastically cut costs in customer support and sales.
  • Blockchain implementation – according to PWC, blockchain implementation could cut costs by $5-10bn for reinsurers worldwide. Key benefits include reducing verification and validation time, eliminating errors and minimising reputational risks. Blockchain enables all required parties to be connected by smart contracts, meaning reinsurers don’t have to interact with the insurer to get access to the client’s data.

 

Dusty to digital-first

The insurance sector is in much need of a revamp and companies risk falling behind if they do not start investing in digital innovation today. However, by giving ambitious digital natives licence to research and embed new technologies, they can transform their operations and compete with new market entrants. Technology is driving several disruptive trends in insurance, such as personalisation, automation and real-time based assessments. If insurers can get digital adoption right, they will benefit from cost reduction, better communication with their customers on the channels of their choosing and more accurate risk assessment. The next generation of workers can help drive this change – shifting the perception of insurers from dusty to digital-first. It’s time for insurance companies to start investing in these individuals now.

 

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Wealth Management

ROBINHOOD’S IPO COULD TURN THE TRADING PLATFORM INTO A 35 BILLION DOLLAR CONCEPT

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  • US share and crypto trading platform Robinhood is expected to list on the Nasdaq on 29 July
  • The company will trade under the ticker HOOD
  • Stock expected to be priced between $38 – $42 per share
  • Listing would put a value on the company of around $35 billion
  • Robinhood is under the regulatory spotlight following the GameStop craze
  • UK investors can’t participate in IPO but can buy shares when trading begins

 

Susannah Streeter, senior investment and markets analyst, Hargreaves Lansdown

‘’There is likely to be huge interest in Robinhood’s IPO, given the swirling speculation about the company on social media forums and the media coverage the company received as it became a central figure in the GameStop craze earlier in the year.

The company was set up to help further democratise investing in the US and draw more ordinary traders into the Wall Street world. If the stock does list within the range of $38 – $42 per share, this will turn out to be a $35 billion dollar idea. But the company has come under the regulatory spotlight and that could have a big impact on the company’s future potential as an investment.

The app has come under fire for the so called ‘gamification’ of investing with the use of rewards and celebratory notifications to encourage users to trade more. Its strategy is paying off with the number of accounts increasing to 18 million by March this year from 7.2 million in March 2020.

The way that Robinhood makes money has also come under intense scrutiny. Instead of charging investors a dealing commission, it puts clients’ trades through certain companies, and in return, these companies pay Robinhood a fee. It’s these charges, called “payment for order flow” that make the company most of its money.

Even though each fee is a tiny fraction of a cent per share traded, it soon adds up. Over the last year Robinhood made $720m from payment for order flow – three quarters of its total revenue. That rose to 81% of revenues in the first 3 months of this year.

But this model is now under review, with the US regulator, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) planning to look again at the stock market trading rules, which could include payment for order flow.

The concern is that it stops investors from getting the best price for their deals and could create a possible conflict of interest between firms like Robinhood and their clients. Firms promise to trade at, or at better than, current market price. But the question remains about whether, under the system, there are even better prices available with other market making companies, which they don’t use. If rules do change this could be a big worry for the firm’s revenues and future investors in the company. It was enough for Robinhood to highlight a potential ban on payment for order flow as a key risk in its prospectus.

This isn’t the first time Robinhood has come under fire from US regulators. In December last year, Massachusetts securities regulator accused Robinhood of gamifying investing. The case included a customer, with no investment experience, who traded 12,700 times in six months. More recently, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority fined Robinhood a record $70m. It said the company had caused “widespread and significant harm” to investors.

And there could be more storms gathering on the horizon. The Robinhood prospectus named seven US state and federal bodies investigating the company. All this could add up to potential issues down the line, so investors need to take such risks into the equation when they consider investing right from the start of Robinhood’s listed life.

If Robinhood can bat away these issues, or if the SEC decides not to change the current rule book, the groundswell of support among day traders the company has already gathered could potentially accelerate, leading to further growth for the company.’’

 

How to buy Robinhood shares

UK investors can’t take part in the Robinhood IPO. But HL clients should be able to buy Robinhood shares once they start trading on the US stock market which is expected to be on 29 July. If you believe in the long-term prospects for Robinhood and want to buy the shares, you first need to choose an account to hold the shares in. Once listed on the stock market, you can hold Robinhood shares in a general investment account (Fund and Share Account), ISA or Self-Invested Personal Pension (SIPP). Before you buy your first US share with HL, you’ll also need to complete a W-8BEN form.

On the first day of trading, it can take several hours to get a live market price. During this time, it isn’t possible to buy or sell the shares. Investors will be able to deal the shares through HL once there’s a live market price, and trading and settlement has been confirmed by the UK clearing and settlement service. This could be after the shares have already started trading on the stock exchange.

 

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