UK is the winner in European fintech funding

Perhaps this news will perk up those England supporters who are living with defeat to Italy at Euro2020, especially if they also happen to be fans of the fintech industry. The UK Fintech State of the Nation report from Innovate Finance shows that London “has cemented its position as the fintech capital of Europe,” despite the double whammy of a global pandemic and Brexit.

According to the data in the first half of 2021, the UK fintech sector raised $5.7bn. This is 34% higher than the $4.3bn raised in 2020 and breaks the 2019 record of $4.6bn.

Who benefited from this rush to invest in UK-based fintechs?

SaltPay and Checkout.com attracted the two largest deals made this year, with $500 million and $450 million respectively. At the moment these are the biggest fintech investments ever in the UK. SaltPay is focused on building a better payments system for merchants, whilst Checkout.com is a global payments platform aimed at offering more payment methods and currencies for online businesses. They’re similar but different, and it is worth noting that both aim to make life easier for merchants.

Indeed, ‘payment’ platforms appear to be dominating the sector here. But challenger bank Starling also got a hefty influx of funds ($376m) and crypto trading platform Blockchain.com received $300m. There has also been significant interest in more niche fintechs, such as Smart Pension, a pension and payroll tech provider, which received $230m, and PayFit, a platform that simplifies and automates payroll and HR processes for small and medium-​sized businesses, raised $107m. Credit-scoring specialist ClearScore raised $200m, another sizeable investment,

In 2021 the number of firms making deals of above $100m also rose from 10 in 2019 to 13 in the first half of 2021, so we can expect that figure to be much higher by the end of this year, and it will be interesting to see by just how much it grows.

Of course the USA is still ahead of the UK, but it is the only country that is. The report shows the levels of support for those other countries that come closest to the two leaders during the same time period: Brazil (40 deals and $3bn), Germany (56 deals and $2.5bn) and India (132 deals and $2.2bn).

Janine Hirt, CEO of Innovate Finance, commented: “Fintech is one of the fastest-growing sectors of our economy and has a vital role to play in the UK’s economic and business recovery. It is hugely encouraging to see evidence of this resilience and growth, particularly in light of the uncertainty and challenges brought on by 2020. Both the flow of capital and a wide talent pool are essential to maintaining the sector’s strength, and we remain committed to supporting efforts in these vital areas.”

You can read the full report here.

Smart investors check out a crypto’s utility

There are somewhere in the region of 4,000 cryptocurrencies to invest in, each representing a different blockchain project. When investment experts look at the array available, they don’t base their choice on price, they look at the utility.

When the exeperts talk about Utility, they are referring to digital tokens built on a specific blockchain ecosystem – most often based on Ethereum’s ERC-20 standard – which grants token holders certain rights. As Katharine Wooller, UK and Ireland managing director at crypto wealth-building platform Dacxi told Rich McEachran, “Any cryptocurrency is only as good as its use case.”

There is a tendency amongst investors to buy Bitcoin simply because it is the most famous cryptocurrency. But Bitcoin’s utility is limited to promoting financial inclusion and cross border payments. Ethereum on the other hand is the preferred ecosystem for building cryptocurrency projects. So, it is not hard to figure out which of the two has more long-term potential.

One of the issues facing investors, particularly retail investors, is that the digital assets they hear the most about and are therefore drawn to, are the “cryptocurrencies addressing or solving specific problems on a macro level,” says Roman Matkovskyy, an associate professor in finance and accounting at Rennes School of Business. But there are many, many more that offer solutions to more ‘micro’ questions. As Wooller says, “it’s essential to do your homework and spend time researching and analysing a coin’s long-term intended use,” usually via the project’s white paper that should be freely available online.

Of course, a coin may appear to have great utility, but that doesn’t guarantee it will be successful. What is required for that to occur, is demand for the coin’s ecosystem. Let’s not forget that there are over 2000 coins that have come and gone, their related projects dead due to lack of demand.

The meme coins, such as Dogecoin, are a good example of complete lack of utility. Yet, investors have poured money into them, resulting in a 12,000% gain for DOGE between January and May 2021. They may look good right now, but they won’t last, as they serve no purpose. Dogecoin was started as a joke, and that should really tell you all you need to know. Still, people buy DOGE because they hope for its value to skyrocket. It’s speculation rather than investment.

Where should you look for long-term investments?

For long-term gains based on utility rather than making a quick profit, experts point to Ethereum (ETH) as the top choice, because it provides a platform for developers to create apps and run them on a blockchain without the involvement of third parties.

Paddy Osborn, managing director of the London Academy of Trading, suggests three others with potential: Polkadot – a network that can support multiple different blockchains and enable them to work together; Internet Computer, which aims to disrupt the internet space by building a decentralised web platform that runs on a blockchain and vechain, which helps companies track their products safely and securely through each stage of the supply chain.

To conclude, nothing is certain, but if you’re looking for a solid, long-term investment, look for the cryptos that are showing the greatest level of user adoption and functionality.  

Panic over: it’s time to buy crypto again

June has not been a wonderful month for cryptocurrencies, but Dan Morehead, CEO of Pantera Capital, is confident that “we’ve seen the most of this panic” and that the sell-off is slowing down.

I read his newsletter published on 14th June with interest. He names three things that caused the markets to fall sharply:

  • China banning bitcoin (again)
  • Tax day
  • Elon Musk

The first point, regarding China, he says is one that happens in a cycle, as China has ‘banned’ bitcoin in 2013, 2017 and 2021. So, that’s every four years. Will they do it again in 2025? It’s hard to say, but by that time the cryptocurrency markets will look rather different one suspects. Morehead warns “Investors who sell on China “bans” usually end up bummed.”

Tax day is also something that comes around with an inevitable regularity. It is also important for crypto prices. In 2013 and 2017 when we also had spectacular bull runs, “bitcoin peaked four months before Tax Day and hit a low about a week before Tax Day.” People sell their crypto to pay their tax bills, especially when they are being asked to pay on their crypto gains. As for Elon Musk’s swivel over bitcoin, Morehead stays silent on that. He’s right, enough has been said to inflate the entrepreneur’s sense of himself as a market mover.

What Morehead does address is human behaviour and our love of acting in cycles. As he says, “Humans have an innate herd instinct.” He explains it like this:

  • It’s human nature that we want to buy when the market is surging up — when the FOMO devil is whispering in our ear.
  • When the markets are crashing – and our spouse/friends/boss are all WTF, we want to flee…we want the pain to stop..

And that is what happened in May and June. Although, Morehead does add another warning: “I could imagine that the traits we imprinted on the plains of the Serengeti might not be optimal for trading early-stage protocol tokens.”

It is worth noting that the Pantera Bitcoin Fund is the oldest cryptocurrency fund, so Morehead speaks with some authority when he says of this moment in the markets, “The volatility has presented a very compelling opportunity.  We are eager to deploy assets of the new Pantera Blockchain Fund on June 30th.”

Buy in the dip is not a new message, but when the evidence is clearly laid out, as Morehead has done, then it injects investors with renewed confidence that the panic is over and it’s time to buy. 

 Read the full Pantera Capital newsletter

Making the case for CBDCs

Crypto purists probably balk at the idea of a Central Bank Digital Currency, if only because it flies in the face of cryptocurrency’s ‘raison d’être’. As Kraken’s CBDC report says, “While the concept of CBDCs was

inspired by cryptocurrencies like bitcoin, the ethos of CBDCs show a stark contrast from the ethos of cryptocurrencies in that they are issued by the state as a centralized form of digital money.”

The growing popularity of bitcoin, as well as Facebook’s proposed venture into digital assets with Dien, spurred governments to consider creating a digital version of their sovereign currency. While most countries are still at the research phase, a few, such as China, are already piloting CBDC programmes. Whilst this may be a slow process, it looks as if the global rise of CBDCs has begun.

How can a CBDC benefit a country?

According to the BIS’s quarterly report,3 retail CBDCs may help overcome the limitations of national payment systems and act as a convenient and affordable payment method of transferring funds across accounts held at different Payment Service Providers (PSPs) while reducing the costs and inefficiencies associated with low interoperability. Another use case is in areas where access to cash is limited, and a CBDC would guarantee access to central bank money.

Why CBDCs are gaining popularity now

The COVID-19 outbreak hat started in early 2020 prompted governments and central banks around the world to start directing their attention to CBDCs as the advantages of having a digital currency that is easily accessible and distributable became apparent. Latin America is one region where cashless methods of payment quickly became popular and it noted a fast decline in cash withdrawals following the emergence of the pandemic, alongside an expansion of mobile, phone and internet banking use.

What else are CBDCs good for?

Mass adoption of CBDCs would greatly assist governments and make it far easier for them to track transactions; something they can’t do with fiat money in cash form. This would allow them to have real-time updates about economic activity. It would also allow payment systems to operate more efficiently by offering almost instant settlements at lower costs than present. Both of these have a significant appeal for central banks. The one factor that has less appeal is the possibility that hackers would find it too easy to attack digital wallets, so security is a big issue to be resolved.

Taking all these things into account, it is likely we will see more regulatory discussions around CBDCs, digital wallets and blockchain. Merchants and business too will have to adapt their payment systems to facilitate digital currency transactions.

Every day we are seeing announcements from the different regions of the world as individual countries make their move on CBDCs. Chinese internet, fintech and e-commerce giants are leading the digital yuan vanguard and the Bank of England indicates it is moving ahead with one by posting job ads for seven positions ranging from solution architect to senior manager. South Korea will pilot a CBDC later this year, and the European Central Bank is pursuing the idea of a digital Euro.

But, one thing all central banks will have to over come is there aversion to decentralization, because for CBDCs to succeed, they need to grasp “ the most revolutionary aspect put forth by cryptocurrencies and blockchain tech as a whole,” which is decentralization. Public trust in centralized control of the banks has been eroded, so centralized CBDCs are unlikely to have mass appeal.

As, Sky Guo wrote in Cointelegraph last month: “It stands to reason that there truly does exist a real window of opportunity for the creation of digital currencies that are decentralized in their governance and overall scope of utilization, “ adding “Another point to consider is that centralized blockchains are still relatively slow, thus the use of decentralized solutions, such as distributed ledger technology, stands to make CBDC transactions much faster and far more streamlined.”

It is perhaps too early to make an exact call on the future of CBDCs, but there will be a future for them, and that’s all we need to know right now.