The rise of the neobanks Part 2

Payment transactions have certainly been a winner for the neobanks, thanks to their speed and lower fees, as I mentioned in my previous article. One of the other ways in which these challenger banks are stealing a march on the traditional banks is in the area of lending and credit products. For starters, the neobanks are able to provide their credit products with lower charges and interest rates, and in the Medici report “Neobanks: A global deep dive,” the authors use Brazil’s Nubank as an example of this advantage.

Nubank does not charge fees for using its credit card. It allows its customers to lock and unlock the card, ask for an increase in their credit limit, as well as change the due date for repayments, and all this can be done from the Nubank app. That makes the customer’s life a lot easier. You may wonder how Nubank makes money. The report says that it does this in two ways: first through customer transactions, and second, through financing a part of, or the total amount of, consumer invoices. It relies on a public database for all its customer data and groups customers into hundreds of different profiles. This is its way of screening out unqualified customers. Furthermore, unlike many other credit card providers in Brazil, it does not charge any fees as long as the customer makes their payments on time. And now it has added a current account and a rewards programme to its product offering.

What’s happening with neobanks worldwide?

Another of the things that the Medici report highlights is the geographical location of neobank startups. Where would you guess that most of these challenger banks start their journey? Perhaps you think it might be Silicon Valley, or Seoul.

Actually the highest concentration of neobanks is in Europe, and within Europe, the United Kingdom is home to the greatest number of them. Why and how has this happened, especially since neobanks have shown the most rapid growth since 2016, and the UK has been in political turmoil since that year over the vote to leave the European Union, which it is due to leave at the end of October. Medici explains the situation: “the UK has a high concentration of challenger and neobanks owing to two factors, chiefly.

One: compared to the US, which has very high numbers of large banks, the UK has far fewer. Two: when it comes to digital banking, the UK can be considered an early adopter, going back to the dotcom boom between the late ’90s and early ’00s. This provided it a ‘prime-mover’ advantage, through which the UK came to be at the forefront of challenger/neobanks and alternative models. Another factor providing the

UK with an edge in this space is the EU’s common standards being introduced, which has aided neobanks rapidly expand their customer base while remaining in compliance with regulations.”

The last reason will seem ironic to those in the UK who are against leaving the EU, and if the country is to retain its advantages for neobanks, it will need to retain those EU regulations.

The banks that have led the European ‘Charge of the Neobank Brigade’ are Atom Bank, Tandem Bank, Monzo, Starling Bank, Revolut, and N26.

For full details of all the neobanks worldwide and an overview of their services, I recommend you read Medici report for a fuller understanding of how neobanks are changing the banking sector, especially for the retail customer.

The rise of the neobanks Part 1

Investing in Stock Exchanges: a novel idea

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The world of investing centres on investing in stocks. However, Jon Markman writing at Forbes offers up a new idea: investing in stock exchanges. How does that work, you may ask. Markman points to the Intercontinental Exchange (ICE), an operator of commodity and stock exchange, which posted exemplary financial results on 1st August and suggests that as its managers plan to disrupt lucrative markets, such as the new digital ones, it is worth looking at it as a potential investment.

ICE “builds, operates and advances global markets through information, technology and expertise,” according to its website. It’s a relatively new set-up that was only founded in 2000. In 1996, Jeffrey Sprecher, a mechanical engineer from Wisconsin, bought Continental Power Exchange, an Atlanta electronic energy trading company for $1,000. He saw an opportunity to take advantage of a move to electronic trading.

The company launched as ICE in 2000 when Sprecher gave up 80% of the business to investment bankers Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, according. It immediately became a competitor to Enron, one of the biggest electronic trading platforms at the time. However, it wasn’t long before the Enron scandal broke and in a very short time ICE became the market leader.

Sprecher had no experience in financial markets, nor had he ever traded stocks and shares, but he “could see how slow, traditional financial markets were about to be disrupted by fast, low-latency software platforms,” Markman says. Sprecher recounted the story of how flying back from London he spotted a story in the Financial Time about credit default swaps (CDS), and while he had no clue about what they were, he intuited that there might be an opportunity for ICE to leverage its platform to build an electronic marketplace. Today,  ICE currently clears 96% of all CDS.

He also used his creative thinking to engineer the $8.2 billion buyout of the New York Stock Exchange in 2012. In a little over a decade, this small Atlanta company went from obscurity to being in the vanguard of financial markets.  Today ICE currently operates 12 regulated exchanges and six clearing houses. The company logged $6.3 billion in revenue in 2018.

Its success is down to a great strategy based on seeing the transformation of financial markets early on. It has continued to make interesting strategic acquisitions, including the Chicago Stock Exchange last year, and as Markman says, “Getting ahead of the digital transformation of the $11 trillion mortgage market is another multibillion-dollar opportunity for ICE.”

Furthermore, as it is based in regulated financial markets, the company is the logical intermediary for this emergent digital ecosystem. It appears ot be firing on all cylinders, and as Markman says, “Growth investors should consider using broad-market weakness to accumulate shares.”

 

Who is controlling your financial data?

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A decade ago, and even further back, none of us were aware that our personal data was so valuable. Now, we’ve certainly been made aware that companies are busy collecting as much data about each of us as they can, because the more they know about us, the more power they have over our decision making.

We know that social media channels like Facebook re focused on collecting data about our shopping habits and our political views amongst other things, and that has frightened not a few people, and angered them when they discovered the data was being sold to dark actors behind political lobbying. And while the majority of the public may be being guided by the media towards focusing on social media giants, the banks are busy collecting data about each of us as well.

And, like the social media guys, the banks want to hold on to our data; they don’t want to share it with fintech startups. Because these startups are better positioned to use the data and respond to consumer wants in a faster more flexible way. To that end, there is a battle going on by some of the biggest banks, such as JP Morgan Chase and the Silicon Valley fintechs for possession of data.

Big banks plan to stifle fintech access to data

Nizan Geslevich Packin at Forbes suggests that JP Morgan and Capital One actually have a campaign strategy to control, Silicon Valley fintech startups’ access to consumer financial data. She claims that there is a rising behind-the-scenes tension and “some banks have threatened to block fintech companies’ servers from accessing customer data, in order to improve their customer accounts’ safety and increase consumer protection.” The banks claim that this is in the consumer’s best interests because fintechs “often collect more data than they need, store it insecurely, sell it to third parties, and sometimes also get hacked, exposing account numbers and passwords.” It sounds a lot like political arguments these days, especially in countries with a two-party system, like the USA and UK.

Of course regulation and consumer protection are important; they are two of the cornerstone elements of the financial industry. And yes, cybersecurity is an issue these days, and we should be wary of sharing data with third-parties, but if anyone thinks the banks are occupying the higher moral ground and acting entirely for the benefit of the consumer, then they don’t know banks and bankers that well.

Banks claim to act for the consumer

Banks are acting in their own interest: they are afraid of the fintech newcomers who are currently taking a trickle of their customers, but that could become a major flow.

Not if the banks have their way and find a way to stop the sharing of data. As Nizan says, there are companies like Mint that provide consumers with an aggregated snapshot of their accounts from multiple financial institutions. Without access to the bank data, Mint’s business would collapse. Indeed, most fintechs are reliant on gathering traditional bank data; without it they will not be able to innovate.

The fintechs are not leaving things to chance. They are not waiting for the banks to reduces their access to APIs or stop access altogether. They are looking at technological ways to combat the banks’ blocking technology. And they are lobbying for open banking. This works by allowing fintech companies’ apps to ask consumers for permission to access their accounts, and then requiring that banks abide by that consent.

The battle between the banks and the fintechs is not confined to the USA. In Europe Payment Services Directive II encourages technological developments that disrupt existing businesses by collecting data on savings, spending, wealth management and more.

The struggle continues for control of our data, but has anyone ever asked you what you’d like to do with your financial information and who you are prepared to share it with?