Brexit brings FUD to finance

Brexit is like a long-running soap opera, or a comedy. At times it has come close to being a ‘real life’ version of ‘Fawlty Towers’, the comedy series starring Monty Python’s John Cleese as the ‘Little Englander’ manager of a seaside hotel. It has also resembled a Monty Python sketch, as the Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte, suggested.

But, while we may look on with our mouths wide open in shock at the shambolic mess at the Mother of Parliaments, there are of course serious concerns about the effects of the endless delays. Just yesterday the leaders of the EU 27 granted the UK a further extension until 31st October to sort it out. Is it going to be enough, UK businesses are asking, and they are more fed up with the uncertainty about the future of the UK and its future trading relationship with the EU than many others. And, understandably so. Over the past few months we have heard any number of stories about how the loss of the Single Market and a Customs Union will impact on British businesses in the manufacturing sector, and the automobile industry has already taken a hit, albeit for other reasons as well as Brexit. However, the UK economy relies much more heavily on service industries, especially financial services.

Money is flowing back to the EU

Since the UK voted to leave the EU in June 2016, the passporting rights of the City’s institutions has been of concern. There have been many warnings that the biggest players would decamp to Paris, Frankfurt or Dublin, but so far this hasn’t happened in a major way. However, we have seen money flow out of the UK to the EU. For example, Frankfurt Main Finance noted that it would be moving $800 billion back to Germany this year. And it is estimated that a trillion dollars worth of assets have been relocated from the City to other EU countries.

As Roger Aitken writes for Forbes, the chaos has had a “chilling effect” on financial institutions. How can they plan for the future, or introduce new strategies, when they have no idea what is looming around the corner? As he says: “With no clear framework for how cross-border transactions and interactions will be coordinated in the aftermath of any exit, the desire to take any risks is entirely absent.”

It’s an opportunity for some

Yet there are those who see Brexit as an opportunity. Asaf Elimelech, CEO of trading platform Plus500, which provides online trading services with contracts for difference (CFDs) has noted: “Brexit may be an unwelcome distraction in political terms, but it has been a fertile source of CFD trading opportunities for customers.” However, his seems to be a lone voice in the wilderness.

By contrast, EverFX, the official sponsor of Sevilla FC, has put a halt to its application for a Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) licence that would allow it to operate in the UK. Its CEO George Karoullas

said: ““The whole Brexit debacle has spread a feeling of uncertainty across all industries and economies in Europe, and the trading vertical is not an exception. We consider the U.K. one of the most lucrative, interesting, and challenging markets in the world, and were thrilled at exploring what it has to offer.”,

For now the uncertainty potentially continues until the end of October. The City’s financial institutions have no clearer view of whether they will be able to maintain passporting rights that allow EU firms to have a single license in an EU country and apply it across the region’s Single Market without further approval hurdles, and until that is resolved, we can expect to see hope fade and fear increase amongst the financiers and bankers. The drastic effect that Brexit is having, and will continue to have for some time, on the British economy cannot be underestimated, yet the Leave Voters still think it will all be just fine. Perhaps they should reflect on the fact that the rest of the world sees it very differently, and so does business, which is living with fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD).

3 predictions for the digital financial future

The financial industry is going through a sea change. So many aspects of it are under scrutiny: from debates over cashless societies, to universal basic income, and the implications of digital currencies. Money has always been a hot topic, but it has become even hotter.

Blockchain changed the conversation

The advent of blockchain technology is in part a reason for this sudden increase in interest. As Lauren deLisa Coleman writes for Forbes, we are seeing financial giants like JP Morgan enter the digital currency space, alongside Facebook and IBM. And she points out, “But amidst such vast activity around digital currency overall, there is a specific and growing interest toward trend shifts pertaining particularly to token exchanges.

Talking about Token Exchanges

Coleman reports on the discussions at a New York event: Token Exchanges: The promise of liquidity, compliance and stability, where lawyers comprised the majority of the audience. Joel Telpner, partner and Chair Fintech & Blockchain Practice at Sullivan & Worcester LLP, addressed the issue of turbulence in the digital currency space: “We’re all collectively paying the price at the moment, but it’s important to keep in mind that this is not a bad thing. Most all new forms of technology have experienced a high level of unreasonable exuberance in the early days and after that period, business becomes much more stable.”

A more mature environment

Interestingly, he also suggested that now is the time to create a new ecosystem with new players: “”We’re at the end of the beginning,” he remarked. “This is about moving from the wild, wild, west to a more mature level of the digital currency space and tokens. Those that remain have to work hard and understand that success will come from fundamental principles in business and governance, and it will certainly pay off.”

3 key things to watch out for

He then identified what he believed are the three key regulatory areas to watch this year that could be game changers:

1. He believes the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) will make a statement about the status of digital currencies and tokens — which are tokens and which are not.

2. The CFTC (Commodity Future Trading Commission) will become more involved in the token space given that this collective regulates commodities.

3. Stablecoins will come under a regulatory spotlight and decisions will be made about how to regulate this particular type of digital currency.

The event also revealed that a consensus of opinion indicates the issue of custodianship will come under focus this year as well. In addition, there will also be an eye to how trade is conducted in this space and how securities are managed securities once they are issued.

But, one of the most hotly debated topics in the industry is which jurisdiction will establish itself as a leader in the space: Telpner’s response to this was: “”But this approach was wrong in 2017, 2018 and still wrong to think like this in 2019, because all countries are working hard to regulate this space. Stop chasing jurisdiction.”

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.

 

 

 

 

Crypto Commandos: The Blockchain Forces vs Big Finance

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The last few weeks have seen the forces of Big Finance arranging in battle formation to take on what its ‘generals’ see as the usurper forces on the blockchain.

FUD spreading media

From the initial rumours and misinterpretation of crypto-related announcements from the Far East, the FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt) statements coming from the international economic summit at Davos to the loud-mouthed Augustin Carstens of the Bank for International Settlements, the institutional forces have been set on destroying Bitcoin and the other coins on the blockchain. It is nothing less than a declaration of war, and those of us who believe in blockchain technology knew it would come one day. How could it not? The blockchain is a threat to the status quo enjoyed by governments and financial institutions since the Medicis got into banking.

Carstens, appropriately portrayed as a ‘fat bastard’ in Cointelegraph, called Bitcoin, “a combination of a bubble, a Ponzi scheme and an environmental disaster.” And he is one of the bankers screaming for more regulation. Of course they want to regulate cryptocurrency. Anything which is outside their control and which might put a dent in their resources is an enemy that must be executed or at least imprisoned. Because that is what regulation will effectively do: it will suck all the revolutionary qualities out of the blockchain and its crypto progeny until its potential to change the world is put back in the box and locked away for good.

It’s a ‘Criminal’ Currency

He’s not the only one who bleats on about the use of cryptocurrency for criminal activities. The mainstream media and the voices it chooses to publish, also keeps coming back to this time and again, demonstrating a massive lack of imagination, not to mention a real paucity of knowledge about the use of cryptocurrency. But, it’s easy to spot why they focus on this: they want to scare the average Joe away from crypto. Perhaps they missed the memo that showed less than one percent of Bitcoin transactions are involved with money laundering. In fact, the big banks handle more dirty money than the blockchain. But, the media doesn’t let that detail get in the way of the ‘criminal’ story.

The Control Freaks

Of course, the FUD coming from the Big Finance forces is emanating from their collective fear of losing control of the established financial system. Without that, how will they line their pockets? It is unthinkable to them that ‘the people’ might have access to an alternative resource that endangers the use of fiat currency. Big Finance may claim that they want regulation in order to protect ‘us’, but those of us who have been supporting blockchain achievements for many years, know that it is the ideology behind the blockchain that instils a terrible fear in the central and national banks.

Two years ago they didn’t care about Bitcoin, neither did the mainstream media; it was for geeks, not for ordinary citizens. But the crypto events of 2017 spurred them into action. A force was coming that had the potential to “replace the current model based on FIAT money and tax collection and change the current economic power system, which earns profits with financial services, interests and transaction fees,” as Abel Colmenares wrote in Cryptocoin News.

Fear is the weapon

Now we can expect crypto regulation to be the buzz topic at the next G20 summit in Argentina, as France and Germany have already announced their intention to push for global Bitcoin regulation. The French Finance Minister, Bruno Le Maire said: “We have a responsibility towards our citizens to explain and reduce the risks.” Lobbyists at the International Monetary Fund are keen to make sure the IMF is on board with ‘world governance’ for cryptocurrencies. All of the arguments in favour of this focus on spreading fear about the new digital currencies without any regard for the benefits it brings.

Paul Gordon, in an article published by Steemit, summed up why Big Finance is waging war against the blockchain: “Cryptocurrencies create two of the most dangerous potentials for individuals and free associations. They create the potential for anonymity and they significantly increase the ability of individuals and free associations to become self-reliant.”

So, far we have just experienced the first skirmish. This may be a protracted war, and whilst the Blockchain Forces may need to rally more troops, the odds are in favour of it winning. Because Big Finance needs the blockchain to evolve, more than people need centralised financial services. This is a war against liberty – which side are you on?