Top Risks in 2019

According to the Eurasia Group, a consultancy founded by Ian Bremmer, the global geopolitical environment is right now the most dangerous that it has been for many decades. So what is likely to impact on businesses, regional economies and society during 2019? There are around 10 areas of concern for us all.

Bad Seeds

There used to be an Australian band called The Bad Seeds, but we’re not talking about them. What the term ‘bad seeds’ means in this instance, is this: decision makers are so obsessed with an array of global crises in a world without trued global leadership, that they are allowing a range of future risks to take root and germinate, but these future risks are the ‘bad seeds.’ For example, the future of the European Union, the WTO and the relationship between Russia and China are negative.

US-China relations

The US leadership used to try and keep things smoothed over, but with Trump in office that approach has been dumped. Expect to see more confrontations between the two, especially in the areas of technology, economics and security.

Cyber Power

The US is going to exert its use of cyber power more seriously this year. However, it’s likely to backfire on it rather than create a system of global deterrence.

Populism in Europe

Europe is holding elections in May and it is likely that we will see more eurosceptics win seats. We have seen the rise of eurosceptics in the last two years, the UK and Italy being two prominent examples. These populists blame Brussels for their domestic problems and now they are winning support at home by promising to flout EU rules, or leaving the EU. They will win more seats and undermine the ability of the EU to function.

US domestic politics

The government has been closed down since before Christmas 2018. This year will bring more chaos and volatility to US domestic politics.

Reduced innovation

There will be a reduced level of investment in driving technological development. Eurasia Group believes this will be driven by concerns about security, privacy and economics, as leading countries “put up barriers to protect their emerging tech champions.”

Mexico

The new Mexican president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador –or AMLO—wishes to improve Mexico by taking it back several decades. His strategy includes more spending and poor policies that are more interventionist. While Mexico was ahead of other Latin American countries, expect to see it look more like them this year.

Ukraine

Putin wants Ukraine to be within Russia’s sphere of influence. It is likely to interfere in Ukrainian elections this year, which will pose a problem, for Ukraine and leaders in the European Union who will have to decide how to respond.

Nigeria

This year Nigeria is about to hold one of its biggest and most fiercely contended elections since the country became a democracy in 1999. Neither of the two leading candidates have anything to offer the country, or policies that will reduce its problems.

Brexit

At the time of writing, the Parliament at Westminster is about to vote on the Withdrawal Agreement negotiated by Prime Minister Theresa May. Neither those who want to leave the EU, nor those who want to remain in the EU like it. Nobody knows what will happen when the deal is most likely voted down, but it is going to be an even bigger shambles in the UK throughout 2019 and that will affect the rest of Europe as well.

 

Challenger banks are on the rise

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Challenger banks, neobanks, whatever you want to call them, have been making significant in-roads in the banking sector and are attracting large chunks of venture capital investment says KPMG. There are some subtle differences between the two: challenger banks are often established firms that compete with larger financial institutions, while neobanks tend to be completely digital and favour operating via mobile devices, but the difference between them is somewhat blurred. What they do share in common is this: “these banks don’t carry the weight of legacy technology, so they can leapfrog over traditional infrastructure and disrupt the status quo.”

Two of the most prominent – Monzo and Atom Bank—raised $93 million and $140 million respectively last year. Starling Bank, which is ‘digital-only’ is raising a further $54 million in a new funding round. These are all British startups by the way.

Why are so many challenger banks British?

The chief reason for the fact that so many challenger banks are UK-based is this: Britain isn’t as saturated with big banks and their branches as the US, so there is more opportunity for non-traditional financial institutions. Furthermore, the UK was an early adopter of digital banking, dating back to the dotcom era of the late 1990s and early 2000s. Basically, the UK has had a head start in this financial area, although it would be a mistake to think that challenger banks are a UK-only phenomenon.

Challenger banks worldwide

There are currently about 100 challenger banks worldwide: Brazil has Banco Original and Nubank, while Germany is home to SolarisBank and N26 and in Asia there is MyBank, WeBank, Timo, Jibun, K Bank and Kakao.

What advantage do challenger banks have?

They don’t have a legacy system and because most of them don’t offer a full suite of banking services they don’t have to operate within such tough regulatory environments. This means they have more freedom and flexibility, which in turn allows them to develop their customer base faster, especially in developing countries where bank branches are more rare than in the west.

What services do challenger banks offer?

Their focus is usually on niche products rather than trying to provide all the services that the big banks provide. For example, customers can open a current account with a relatively high rate of return and get loans, but they may have to go elsewhere for services such as credit cards, mortgages and wealth management. Some of the challenger banks do have banking licences, although not all follow this model.

Although challenger banks are on the rise, the old guard hasn’t disappeared just yet, and the traditional banks are aware of the threat the challengers pose and are preparing for battle. The traditional banks have the advantage of a large and well-establish customer base and strong branding that promotes trust. The challenger banks will have to earn trust. That will most likely come from the millennial generation over the next decade, because they are the group that have lost trust in the banks their parents use, and this is the audience that challenger banks will need to court if they are to become an established sector in banking.

 

 

 

 

UK’s FCA opens up sandbox for more play

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In a week where the British government is losing Cabinet ministers on an almost daily basis as a result of party in fighting over the Brexit negotiations, making the pound sterling plunge in value, the UK’s financial regulator, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has taken a bold step forward in recognising the potential of blockchain-based startups.

The FCA started a regulatory ‘sandbox’ some time ago in 2016 and it has just added its fourth cohort of startups to the process. The FCA received a total of 69 applications to participate in the exploration, and this week it has added 11 of the 29 successfully accepted applicants.

In its announcement regarding Cohort 4, the FCA revealed, “Applications came from a diverse range of firms operating across the financial services sector including in areas such as consumer credit, automated advice and insurance.”

The FCA also said, “We have accepted a number of firms that will be testing propositions relating to cryptoassets. We are keen to explore whether, in a controlled environment, consumer benefits can be delivered while effectively managing the associated risks.”

The startups in Cohort 4

One of the businesses in this cohort is 20/30. This London based financial firm is using the DLT to allow “companies to raise capital in a more efficient and streamlined way,” and it is partnering with the London Stock Exchange and Nivaura. According to the FCA’s press release, 20/30 will be issuing an equity token on the Ethereum blockchain. Capexmove, also in this new cohort is offering a similar service.

Another that stands out is called ‘Chasing Returns’. This startup is described as “Psychology-based risk platform that promotes good money management discipline and improves outcomes for customers that trade Contracts for Difference (CfDs). It acts like a digital coach, encouraging adherence to money management and risk exposure levels.”

While for those people with ID problems, ‘Community First Credit Union’ offers an “Initiative to facilitate creation of an identity token that supports customers who lack traditional forms of ID, in order to assist them in accessing bank account services in the UK.”

The latter perhaps answers the issues that many British immigrants have faced recently, most notably those who arrived from the Caribbean on the ‘Windrush’ and in recent months have found themselves at risk of deportation, because of lack of documentation establishing their British citizenship and right to stay.

The FCA has chosen a fascinating selection of startups for Cohort 4 and indicates its willingness to be open-minded and inclusive when it comes to envisioning a future for blackchain-based businesses. It certainly seems to be making better progress with blockchain than the government is with Brexit.

What decision will the SEC make about Ethereum?

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This week, Monday May 7th to be exact, the Security & Exchange Commission (SEC) started a series of meetings to decide whether Ethereum 9ETH) is a security. At the moment we’re not sure how the decision will turn out, but let’s think about what the SEC will be considering and how it might affect ETH owners.

If you’re an ETH owner, you might expect to see two extremes as a result of any decision: an unexpected high, or a devastating low. For example, if ETH is considered a security by the U.S. government, then there may be a negative, short-term price reaction. However, because Ethereum’s underlying technology, is borderless and does not depend on the opinion one country’s regulatory committee, its long-term prospects should be unaffected. And, if it is decided that it is not a security, then it is very likely that the long-term prospects of the technology and its financial standing within the community will prosper.

If no decision is made about the status of ETH we might see a major upsurge in the market, especially as Buterin and his developers have been talking up new solutions for scaling in recent days and while this might be a short-term uplift in the market, there is also reason to think it might become a long-term trend.

What is Ethereum saying?

For it’s part, ETH founders are sure that it is not a security. Joseph Lubin, one of the co-founders said prior to the SEC meeting this week: “We spent a tremendous amount of time with lawyers in the US and in other countries, and are extremely comfortable that it is not a security; it never was a security… many regulators that matter understand what Ethereum is.”

Will the SEC agree with Lubin’s assessment, and with the way other regulators claim to see it – that I what we’re waiting to find out.