Online Lenders vs The Banks

The financial crisis of 2008 has spawned a number of innovations in the world of finance. Cryptocurrency and fintech startups are two of them, but these were preceded by a new wave of online lenders.

The truth is, and it remains so, that the Big Banks failed to respond to the financial crisis in a meaningful way for consumers. They caused the problem, but they remained in denial about the effects on the person in the street who needed access to credit. Furthermore, the banks simply didn’t want to take on more risk. The banks instead of thinking about people, concerned themselves with regulatory challenges and stuck to technology that first saw the light of day in the 1960s.

Online lenders get VC support

Enter the online lenders, supported by venture capitalists who could hear the money dropping into their coffers. Lending money appeared to be an easy and profitable game, however it wasn’t all plain sailing.

Still, online lenders had their customers well figured out: they knew what they wanted and what they didn’t want: they wanted instant access to loans and they didn’t want to visit a physical branch and discuss every detail of their lives with somebody in a suit. That aspect of it all went well.

Online lenders at a disadvantage

However, the economies of lending have been another matter. As fintech expert, Ben Cukier writes, “Loan profitability is driven by the spread (the cost difference between the interest charged on the loan, less the cost of funding those loans), the cost of acquiring the loan, and the default rates of those loans.” From the outset online lenders were at a disadvantage when compared with the traditional banks, because the old-school bankers uses low cost deposits to fund loans. By contrast, the new online lenders had to rely on “raising debt or even more expensive equity,” as Cukier points out..

Enter Big Data

Plus, customers knew the bank brands, whereas the newcomers had to invest a lot in raising brand awareness. But they did have a weapon that the banks did not posses: the newcomers had Big Data. They talked up their Big Data platforms, which use disparate data to better underwrite credit risk in ways common credit scores did not. And, they leveraged this data to target specific consumers on social media, and then used the data they mined from customer behaviour on social media enabled them to dictate borrowing terms.

Fintech is the real financial innovation

This gave the banks a wake-up call, and now bank customers can interact with their banks through apps and even get quick credit approval. Plus the banks offer a range of products, whereas online lenders only offer loans. Then fintech startups came along and offered more help to the big banks. Mark Hookey, CEO of Demyst Data says, “Fintech innovators demonstrated that a data focus matters, however banks can apply that insight at a far greater scale to know their customers and launch new products.”

In the end it is these fintech companies, rather than the online lenders, that offer the promise of a real revolution in lending.

Don’t be afraid of robots, says World Bank

The World Bank has published a report annually since 1978. Each report focuses on a detailed analysis of one aspect of economic development and for 2019 the topic is robots and automation and how it is impacting on the world of work.

Bloomberg interviewed Pinelopi Koujianou Goldberg, the World Bank’s Chief Economist, about the report and one of her first statements was: “This fear that robots have eliminated jobs — this fear is not supported by the evidence so far.”

The fear arises from the fact that in the first world a substantial number of jobs have been lost in the industrial sector, while in East Asia the there has been a rise in employment in industry. The World Bank report notes the anxiety about job losses, but claims “the number of jobs lost to automation is about equal to the number of jobs created, even if technology is changing the nature of those jobs in several ways.”

In the World Development Report 2019: The Changing Nature of Work, World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim said:

“The nature of work is not only changing — it’s changing rapidly. We don’t know what jobs children in primary school today will compete for, because many of those jobs don’t exist yet. The great challenge is to equip them with the skills they’ll need no matter what future jobs look like — skills such as problem-solving and critical thinking, as well as interpersonal skills like empathy and collaboration. By measuring countries according to how well they’re investing in their people, we hope to help governments take active steps to better prepare their people to compete in the economy of the future.”

Koujianou Goldberg also commented on the changing nature of work, telling Bloomberg: “This is the fourth industrial revolution, there have been three before, and in each case we managed to survive so it’s not the case that machines completely eliminated humans.”

However, not everyone agrees with the World Bank’s assessment of the situation with regard to a radical change in the types of jobs available. Gizmodo argues that the World Bank has not considered the quality of the jobs available, or the social and cultural impact of the loss of certain jobs and responds to the idea of robotics bringing a fourth industrial revolution as an idea to be treated with caution. Gizmodo also says, “There is a reason that many of the regions hit hardest by automation voted in the largest numbers for Trump.”

It also points out that reports like the one from the World Bank are useful as a window into how elites — i.e., those doing a lot of the automating — view mechanization.

What is clear that there are good arguments from both viewpoints and that what we need is dialogue between the two, so that we plan for an industrial revolution that is less harmful to those communities most affected by automation than in the past.

Is Motion Code the answer to card fraud?

On the back of your debit or credit card there is a three-or four-digit number called a ‘card verification value’ or CVV for short. It’s one of the last things you enter when making an online purchase. Its purpose is to act as an added security feature and prevent fraud during ‘card-not-present’ transactions.

However, it isn’t foolproof, because scammers can often discover a CVV, or even guess it, without too many problems. Indeed, researchers have shownthat Web bots making random guesses on legitimate websites can often come up with the appropriate CVV and expiration date to pair with a card number.

Refresh the CVV

Is there an answer to this? Well, the US-based PNC Bank believes there is and it is conducting a pilot test of cards with CVVs that refresh the number every 30 to 60 minutes.

The technology behind what could become an important leap forward for banks and other card issuers, such as neobanks, is something called Motion Code. It has been designed by Idemia and provides an extra layer of security for Card-Not-Present (CNP) transactions and against payment card number theft.

Idemia says: “This technology replaces the static 3-digit security code usually printed on the back of a card, by a mini-screen that displays a code, which is automatically refreshed according to an algorithm, typically every hour.

This solution thus renders copying of card information useless: by the time fraudsters try to use it online, the stolen number will have already changed several times. “

Searching for the ideal refresh rate

PNC began a 90-day trial of cards featuring IDEMIA’s Motion Code technology in November and, according to an Ars Technica report the test run should identify the optimum refresh rate. According to Idemia, “PNC Treasury Management expects to offer Dynamic CVV2 technology to current customers in early 2019, following completion of the pilot.”

Coverage of the story in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette states, “Card issuers like PNC will be able to customize the refresh interval. The e-ink display is limited by a small lithium battery, so a 60-minute CVV refresh rate offers the card a four-year lifespan, and higher refresh rates will make that lifespan shorter.”

The only downside of using the Motion Code technology is that “motion cards are more expensive than regular chip cards to produce,” the Post-Gazettewrites, adding, “Prices vary, but according to one estimate, they cost about $15 compared with around $2 to $4 for a regular chip card.”

4 trends impacting banks in 2019

Thought leaders ATOS published “Toward next-generation financial service ecosystems”, which analyses mega-trends in financial services and why we should all prepare for a fundamental shift in the next few years.

As its report says, banks are at a crossroads, and the “rise of non-banking platform companies are now disrupting the most profitable parts of the banking value chains. New players could capture up to a third of incumbent banks’ revenues by 2020.”

ATOS has identified four challenges and opportunities that will have the biggest impact on banking, providing they leverage the emerging technology.

1. Faster response to customer demands

Retail banks that adopt digital tech will see a 5% to 20% boost in revenues thanks to an improved service. They will also reduce their network costs by anything from 15% to 35%, and increase customer satisfaction by 10% to 15%. In advanced economies, two-thirds of banking customers execute half their financial transactions online. Customer loyalty is becoming elusive and branches are less relevant as a result. To respond, banks may shift from a product-centric to a platform- centric approach focused on customer-driven strategies.

2. Optimise costs

Fintechs are more agile and have lower operating costs than banks, making for strong competition. Digital banks can enjoy a cost-to-income ratio of below 30%, whereas banks are in 40% to 60%. Banks have some options, including shifting to lower-cost, standardised utility processes for selected administrative activities and using AI to improve customer response times and reduce employee redundancies.

3. New revenue streams

With banking business models changing thanks to neobanks, there is a need for traditional banks to reassess their position. They could position themselves as a hub platform and introduce new services for underserved segments of the community, such as mobile only banking for Gen Z and the unbanked.

4. Develop security and compliance systems

Customer data has now become a ‘product’ for financial institutions and this requires enhanced security and insights, which could be provided by AI. For example, PSD2 requires banks to implement secure application programming interfaces (APIs) to make account transactions and data available to third parties. Developing system using AI-generated insights from civil and military intelligence could dramatically reduce the cost of cybercrime and enhance consumer trust.

There is nothing here that is earth shattering; it is what many have been saying throughout 2018, yet the banks continue to be slow in their response. Perhaps 2019 will the year they wake up and start moving forward.