A look at the Money-verse in 2028

Today money is going through an evolutionary process as I write. The choices the finance sector, and the consumer, make today will shape the future of money, and we can already see that the world’s sovereign currencies are under siege from cryptocurrencies and stablecoins.

Bitcoin has not yet brought about the massive revolution that some expected on the one hand, but on the other, if “governments and central banks can’t offer a sound version of the sovereign money for the digital age, their downfall could be tragic,” Marcelo M Prates writes at Coindesk.

Prates envisages a ‘ future fantasy’ scenario in 2028 that may become reality. Amongst other things he sees, “ see drones dropping bags of money in the neighborhoods most affected by the latest cyber-attack on the e-Gov platform.” Regardless of whether the attack is foreign or domestic, “nobody can transfer digital dollars or even check their FedAccount balance.”

In his view, this kind of disaster could happen if the government decided not to offer an offline account option. Why not? The government might believe “people would finance domestic terrorism with an offline FedCoin that could be transferred from person to person without identification.”

As a result, every time the e-Gov platform is attacked, the government has to send out bags of old dollar bills so that people can make payments.

There may also be a global Big Tech Alliance offering its own digital asset that launches before a government-backed one, and it could potentially result in a fall in demand for dollars, especially if inflation is rising at a record pace.

Governments will have to deal with the fallout from the huge expansion in spending during 2020. Nations’ debts will be soaring, and it’s foreseeable that printing more money might well become a response.

Banks will also be affected if an organisation, such as Prates’ Big Tech Alliance offers customers a compelling reason to empty deposits in traditional banks, and use it for the consolidation of other debts, thanks to favourable loans. The result would possibly be multiple bank closures.

This entire scenario is likely to happen due to central banks’ ambivalence about digital currencies. In Prates’ world, “Many believe that the breaking point came when the government insisted on having exclusive control over the digital ID scheme created to provide every American citizen and corporation with a single digital identity. The goal was to keep track of the vaccination progress amid different coronavirus variants and better target the relief money sent monthly.” However, centralization is rejected, as it “was seen as a further step toward the growing surveillance state.”

What is clear, even now, is that the technology available makes a multi-faceted Money-verse entirely possible, because as Prates says, “Money does not need to be controlled by a government or limited to a sovereign territory anymore.”

Central banks need to get their digital strategy right, or face the consequences in the not too distant future.

Neobanks grow in 2020

Some good news to come out of 2020 is the growth in neobanks. According to Finextra, Exton Consulting has produced data showing that there are currently 256 neobanks globally, and several more waiting to launch.

The data indicates that a new banking business opened every five days over the last three years, and that Europe is still the main location of innovation, with three of the five most advanced markets being in the region. They are the UK, which is recognised as a neobanking powerhouse, followed by France and Sweden. It also reports that 50 million people in Europe have opened a neobanking account.

Europe leads in neobank innovation

Other markets are catching up with Europe, most notably South Korea and Brazil, but there is also substantial movement in the USA. China is somewhat unique in its challenger bank development, but it is unrivalled in terms of its numbers of clients using the “financial super apps” available there.

On the downside, not all challenger banks have been able to stay the course. A significant number of players relied on payment interchange fees as a revenue stream, and there has also been vulnerability due to rising number of defaults on loans. As a result, more than 30 neobanks have been wound down since 2015, with Australia’s Xinja being and an example.

New routes to profitability

Exton says: “On their quest for monetizing customer relationships neobanks have learned a first lesson: payment transaction fees, premium account subscription fees, or open banking commissions from brokering 3rd party services will in most cases not be sufficient to generate profits or breach beyond operational break-even.” It added, “Our expectation much rather is that Neobanks will need to offer additional products to jump the gap to sizable profitability.”

Digital lending may be one opportunity where the neobanks can thrive. Another option is, “the morphing of the product outside of financial services via the development of a super app, ” and a third possible route to profitability “lies in providing investment services to the mass affluent market.”

Exton concludes, “Irrespective of which path neobanks will take, we remain convinced that they will need to shift into profitability mode quickly as investor patience will not be unlimited. But for those that select the paths right for them, stay focused on it and grow up as an organization, the future remains bright and full of opportunities.”

China’s alarming plan for tech dominance

China has been using robotics in its manufacturing for quite some time, and it has some very powerful AI tools as well that automate processes in its factories. This is going to push other countries to match China, particularly the USA.

However, while America may be regarded as a world leader in tech, China’s President Xi has a plan to take that role for his country, and ensure that China is not using US-made tech either.

In an article published by the South China Morning Post, in May of 2020, President Xi presented his vision for China and his goal of achieving global tech supremacy by 2025. This is an extract from the piece:

“Beijing is accelerating its bid for global leadership in key technologies, planning to pump more than a trillion dollars into the economy through the roll-out of everything from next-generation wireless networks to artificial intelligence (AI).

In the master plan backed by President Xi Jinping himself, China will invest an estimated 10 trillion yuan (US$1.4 trillion) over six years to 2025, calling on urban governments and private hi-tech giants like Huawei Technologies to help lay 5G wireless networks, install cameras and sensors, and develop AI software that will underpin autonomous driving to automated factories and mass surveillance.

The new infrastructure initiative is expected to drive mainly local giants, from Alibaba Group Holding and Huawei to SenseTime Group at the expense of US companies. As tech nationalism mounts, the investment drive will reduce China’s dependence on foreign technology, echoing objectives set forth previously in the “Made in China 2025”programme. Such initiatives have already drawn fierce criticism from the Trump administration, resulting in moves to block the rise of Chinese tech companies such as Huawei.”

Tim Bajarin in Forbes, asks us to consider Xi’s use of the term, “tech nationalism.” He explains that Xi plans to “nationalise everything in China so it is the main provider of goods, services and tech-related products to China itself.” He wants China to be completely self-sufficient in tech by 2025, and nationalised tech will “receive a huge financial boost from China’s $1.4 trillion dollar fund.”

In early September former Google CEO Eric Schmidt commented that China’s leadership in AI posed a security threat and could lead to “high-tech authoritarianism” worldwide.

According to Bajarin, the US government is aware of the problem, but so far nobody knows exactly what actions it might take. Will it counter China’s influence by remaining a tech powerhouse, or what? If China is successful in fulfilling Xi’s vision, then it is also likely that “there could be a time when products we get from China are no longer available to the west.” Currently, China is still committed to globalisation, so its products will continue to reach us, but if it scales back on that, then those products will need to be sourced elsewhere. The question is, where might that source be? It is time the USA and any other countries likely to be negatively affected by a lack of good from China form a plan – the clock is ticking!

The digital banking surge predates the pandemic

It may be supposed by some that the global pandemic was the kick-starter of the rise in the number of digital bank accounts. However, that isn’t quite true as Ron Shevlin usefully points out in Forbes. 

In 2019, half of all community banks and credit unions opened less than 5% of their new checking account applications in digital channels. But then these banks only account for 15% of the total current account applications last year.

More significantly, it is what the Americans call ‘megabanks’ (Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, and Wells Fargo) alongside the digital banks that “accounted for roughly 55% of all checking account applications in 2019, 63% in Q1 2020, and 69% in Q2 2020.”

However, one thing is clear; digital account openings are overtaking in-branch applications. For example, “Nearly two-thirds (64%) of the checking account applications taken during the height of the Coronavirus crisis in Q2 2020 for what consumers considered their primary account were submitted either online or on a mobile device,” Cornerstone Advisors report. That’s a 59% increase over the same period in 2019.

The turning point came earlier though; in the second half of 2019 to be precise. This is the moment when digital applications for primary accounts exceeded branch applications.

It would also appear from Cornerstone’s research that the 35% of Americans with more than one current/checking account, are more likely to turn to digital solutions when applying for a second or third account. Shevlin writes, “In Q2 2020, roughly three-quarters of the applications consumers submitted for their secondary checking was done through digital channels, up from 65% in the first quarter of the year.”

And there is more good news for digital platforms: “a larger percentage of consumers who opened an account in the past three years rated their experience on the mobile channel as “excellent” compared with those who used online or in-branch services.

Banks have for some time clung to the idea that consumers want the ‘human touch’, but Cornerstone’s research indicates that while this is somewhat true, “The rest of the experience isn’t as good as it is in a digital channel.” Furthermore, consumer ratings of the in-branch experience haven’t increased in recent years, and in some cases have fallen.

The megabanks have captured much of the millennial market, largely due to a better digital and mobile experience. This leaves the smaller banks at a disadvantage, although there are opportunities for them to become second account providers. They just need to provide a digital account opening process.