Covid has created more fintech billionaires

Fintechs have done extremely well out of the Covid crisis. The lockdowns have forced more people to turn to online for financial products, as well as day trading as a way of creating an income at a time when jobs are disappearing.

Afterpay is one example. It is an online service that allows shoppers from the USA, the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand to pay for small items, such as clothing in instalments over a six-week period. It’s an online version of the catalogue shopping that was so popular in the 1970s and 80s that allowed mostly women to clothe their families by paying for the items over a period of time. Now it’s in a digital format and not connected solely to a small selection of businesses.

Afterpay is only five years old, but the pandemic has made its founders billionaires, even though at the start of the crisis its shares tanked. Now its shares have increased in value tenfold thanks to a surge in online retail sales. For example, in the second quarter of 2020 it handled transactions worth $3.8 billion, an increase of 127% over the same quarter in 2019.

Who else has benefited? Chime, a digital bank, Robinhood, the stock trading app and Swedish fintech Klarna. And then there are those platforms such as Zoom and Slack which have enjoyed a boom due to the increase in working from home.

Others have not been so fortunate. The Lending Club, which offers personal loans to high-risk customers has laid off 30% of its staff, and On Deck, a lender specialising in small business loans has been sold off in a fire sale.

Victoria Treyger, a general partner who leads fintech investing at Felicis Ventures, commented to Forbes: “Consumer fintech adoption was already strong pre-pandemic, especially among the 20s to early-40s age group,” adding, “The pandemic has become a growth rocket, fuelling the rapid acceleration of adoption across all age groups, including 40- to 60-year-olds.”

Fintech payment providers are amongst those benefiting most thanks to the rise in online spending and home delivery services. Marqueta is one of those. It is a specialised payments processor providing a service to Instacart and others. It is discussing an IPO valued at $8 billion, which is four times its valuation in March 2019.

Credit card spending is down, as large-ticket items such as holidays were effectively cancelled for 2020. Instead, debit card payments are up. This is good for fintechs, as they primarily offer debit cards. For example, Chime, based in San Francisco, used the US government stimulus package to its advantage. In advance of he $1,200 government-stimulus checks started hitting Americans’ accounts, it loaned customers that money to the tune of $1.5 billion. Its CEO said, “Following the stimulus advance, we had the largest day for new enrolments in the history of the company.” It also has a new valuation of $14.5 billion, and “venture capitalists are valuing the company at 24 times its revenue.”

While this year has proved to be a great one for fintechs and other online platforms, there is one thing to consider: will consumers keep up the habit their online shopping habits in 2021, because a lot is riding on that for the fortunate fintechs.

Covid-19 sparks the tech trends of 2021

This year, 2020, has been such a disaster that looking forward to 2021 is our only option. Of course, while making predictions used to be a fairly safe occupation, now it feels slightly dangerous. Furthermore, as Bernard Marr reminds us in Forbes, “tech has been affected just as much as every other part of our lives.”

It is also true that tech promises to play a major role in adapting to whatever the future may now look like. As Marr says: “From the shift to working from home to new rules about how we meet and interact in public spaces, tech trends will be the driving force in managing the change.”

You would be correct in thinking that Covid-19 has accelerated tech advances that were already in the pipeline, due to our increasingly digital lifestyle. Now they will happen quicker, because necessity is driving the change.

In Marr’s latest book, Tech Trends in Practice, he has identified some of the things we may see in 2021, many of which will support the recovery from the effects of the pandemic on almost every part of our lives.

He identifies Artificial Intelligence (AI) as a leading tech trend. In 2021 “it will become an even more valuable tool for helping us to interpret and understand the world around us.” We have seen an unprecedented amount of data collected around Covid, and machine-learning algorithms “will become better informed and increasingly sophisticated in the solutions they uncover for us.” Some of the AI tools Marr envisages include “ computer vision systems monitoring the capacity of public areas to analyzing the interactions uncovered through contact tracing initiatives, self-learning algorithms will spot connections and insights that would go unnoticed by manual human analysis.”

The provision of services that we need to live and work through cloud-based, on-demand platforms, known as ‘as a service’ providers are also key. Just look at how quickly Zoom entered our personal and business lives during the last few months.

5G is another key tool, and not just so you can download films faster. 5G will support services relying on advanced technologies, such as augmented reality and virtual reality (discussed below) as well as cloud-based gaming platforms, and it will likely make cable and fibre-based networks redundant.

Extended reality, virtual and augmented reality that uses glasses or headsets to project computer-generated imagery directly into the user’s field of vision is growing. Emergency services have already been using it for training during Covid, as real-life training situations for firefighters and police were not feasible. We may also see it used more in medical diagnostics, as face-to-face consultations decrease.

There will be many more tech advances as we grapple with an uncertain future. The aim is to make everyday activities safer for everyone, and to allow business to continue as we negotiate our way through a new environment.

The Covid-19 Crypto Craze

You might have noticed when you checked the price of Bitcoin (BTC) on 27th July that it had tipped over the $10,000 point and is continuing to rise. It was pretty unusual for a Monday, as there is usually a dip after a weekend. Not so in July..

Ron Shevlin is just one of the fintech writers and Snark Tank analyst who saw this shift as ‘The Coronavirus Crypto Craze’. He asked, “Where is this Coronavirus-fueled trading volume coming from and who will drive the future growth?” It was, and still is, a good question.

According to Cornerstone Advisors, 15% of Americans now own crypto in some form, and just over half of these people invested in cryptocurrency for the first time during the first six months of 2020. Furthermore, these new investors obtained roughly $67.5 billion in cryptocurrencies, averaging out at around $4,000 per person. 

This new penetration in the USA brings it into the Top 10 countries when it comes to crypto ownership, although it still has surpass Turkey (20%) Brazil and Colombia (18%), Argentina and South Africa (16%).

Who is buying crypto?

But what we all want to know is this: who has been on a BTC buying binge during the months when the pandemic forced people to stay at home across the world. Although, of course, if you’re at home, that’s the perfect place form which to buy crypto.

High-income men with postgraduate degrees account for eight in 10 buyers, and have an annual salary of around $130,000. Then there are the Millenials and Gen Xers. Millennials (26 to 40 years old) comprised 57% of the consumers buying cryptocurrency in 2020 with Gen Xers (41 to 55 years old) accounting for 30%. Baby Boomers hardly feature accounting for only 3% of crypto consumers, and Gen Zers are similarly thin on the ground at 7%.

Significantly, the majority of buyers are customers of traditional banks rather than the new digital challengers, which is surprising. Shevlin reports, “Of the consumers buying cryptocurrencies during the Bitcoin binge, almost half—47%—are customers of Bank of America.” By contrast only 6% of the 2020 BTC buyers use a digital bank as their primary bank.

Financial health and first time buyers

Another interesting revelation from the study is, “44% of Americans who have already invested in Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies said that their financial health is “much better” since the beginning of the Covid crisis,” whereas only 5% of all other US consumers agreed with this statement.

The first time investors are an interesting group. In some ways similar to established crypto owners, they differ in one respect: they’re changing up the financial institutions they do business with.

Half of the first timers switched their primary banking relationship in the past six months—one-third did so in the past three months alone.

The key takeaway from all this is, as Shevlin says: “

 All banks—in particular, community banks and credit unions—should look at opportunities to provide Bitcoin wallets and other cryptocurrency trading services as a way to differentiate their services.”

The Ugly Exploitation of 5G Fears

The Covid-19 pandemic has proved to be a fertile breeding ground that has brought together disparate groups, including anti-vaxxers and the anti-5G movement, on any platform they can find to share their conspiracy-based views. One of the most prominent claims is that 5G technology spread the coronovirus, even though 5G is not available ‘everywhere’.

Before that became a widely shared theory, we already knew that those who don’t want to see 5G launched had been pushing out information about the alleged dangers of 5G. We were all about to be ‘wi-fried’ by it, and children would be particularly vulnerable. I’m not here to debate the claims of the anti-5G movement, but I would like to alert people to one of the dangers that this kind of scaremongering can produce: the opportunity to be scared into buying into a health scam.

A Forbes story by John Koetsier illustrates it perfectly. It concerns a ‘5G Bioshield’ that is being sold for $350 per unit. The USB stick boasts features such as “quantum oscillation” and “restoring coherence of atoms” as well as “emitting life force frequencies.”

This is what the company selling it claims on its the website:

“Through a process of quantum oscillation the 5G BioShield USB Key balances and reharmonizes the disturbing frequencies arising from the electric fog induced by devices, such as laptops, cordless phones, wifi, tablets, etc., The 5G BioShield USB Key restores the coherence of the geometry of the atoms, which allows a perfect induction for life forces, by (re-)creating a cardiac coherence, via plasmic support and interactivity.”

It sounds like the answer to all those fears about the health damage that 5G is purported to inflict. It must be a very special USB stick to do all the above, must it not? You’d like to think so for $350.

The expert analysis

But when Pen Test Partners reviewed the stick’s properties, it “revealed nothing more that what you’d expect from a regular 128MB USB key,” states its blog. And they went on to say: “Usually with USB devices, one can look at the properties and it will list the manufacturer and extra information about the device. However, we found that all the default values remained. This is often an indication of cheap, unbranded devices.”

So, basically it is a $6 USB stick being sold for $350. Furthermore, the founders of the 5G Bioshield don’t appear to exist. Koetsier says, “A search for “Dr. Ilija Lakicevic,” listed on the website as one of the founders of the company, turns up nothing on LinkedIn. A search for him on the Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics, where the 5G BioShield website says he worked, also turns up no results.”

Have they sold any? Yes. To the city of Glastonbury in the UK, which issued a statement saying, ““We use this device and find it helpful.” It is also worth mentioning that other health protection used in Glastonbury include Shungite, a mineral which is said to have healing powers that one “healing crystal” company says “span the board from purity to protection.”

Whether you agree with the theory that 5G is a health danger or not, I expect you can agree that paying $350 for a $6 product is quite simply — exploitation!