FinTech for Breakfast
Held on Tuesday, March 14, 2017.
With support from Dentons
Izabella Kaminska (FT Alphaville)
Clara Durodié (Cognitive Finance)
Thomas Soede (BiBox)
With so much FinTech news (or fake news) being churned out each month by PRs, marketeers, investor relations, lobbyists and even journalists, pulling out the themes can be challenging. We don’t have an algorithm to do that – yet – so apologies in advance for the human errors. Where to start?
Insurance, leasing and the internet of cars
Tesla have been partnering with AXA to bundle insurance with their cars since last summer – no news there. But on this February’s earnings call, Elon Musk made an interesting threat:
“if we find that insurance providers are not matching the insurance proportionate to the risk of the car, then if we need to, we will in-source it.” (Fuller story here).
That risk of disintermediation by car-makers isn’t lost on insurers. In Europe – where OEMs are integrated all the way through the auto value chain into the after-market and finance – the roll-out of cars with “in-vehicle” data is causing concerns. As European cars get more connected, access to in-vehicle data is a growing competitive advantage. Little wonder that the insurance industry has partnered with other 3rd party suppliers to lobby for access on competitive grounds.
On a related note: behind the scenes of the recent Peugeot acquisition of Vauxhall-Opal, BNP Paribas quietly announced it would buy 50% of Vauxhall-Opal’s car finance book. There may be synergies with its insurance unit.
Big data, GDPR and e-Privacy
On the subject of big data and its uses, Citi put out a 144-page report on ePrivacy and Data Protection. The conclusion on GDPR? “There will be winners from the change, but mainly losers.”
The short version is that the gorillas of the data industry (Google, Facebook, Amazon and, to a lesser extent, the big financials) can afford the compliance load that is coming. Software security and cyber security companies stand to do very well, but for other companies… well, let’s hope that the power to fine 4% of revenues is used proportionately.
From a consumer perspective, Izabella has drawn attention to the privacy issues and how big data is driving advertising.
A.I. Trading (and A.I. Regulators)
In regulated markets, manipulating information and prices is thoroughly illegal. Perhaps not so in Bitcoin exchanges (Izabella will hopefully have stopped snickering by Tuesday).
Even so, finding public information first and trading on it is perfectly legal, and hardly new. It’s probably only a matter of time before someone hires a natural language A.I. expert, wires an information hoover into a high-frequency order engine and a low-latency connection, and takes all the fun out of reading the papers.
Both Greenwich Associates and Opimas have reports out on A.I. in the capital markets this week, with Opimas predicting 230,000 capital markets jobs will be automated (globally).
However they got to that figure, Opimas set out some nice distinctions between the different technologies that are currently badged “A.I.” and where they’re appropriate. Investment professionals seem bullish for the time being.
On the regulatory side, France's Autorité des Marchés Financiers is looking ahead to all the MiFID2 data it’s set to receive and making its own A.I. investment.
Bill Gates, Lawrence Summers and the robot tax
Of course it’s not just bankers’ jobs at risk. How society adjusts to the coming wave of automation is a big question – and Bill Gates helpfully drew attention to the topic by discussing a “robot tax” in an interview with Quartz.
Fully serious or not, it’s opened up the discussion. Lawrence Summers weighed in this week, following opinions from The Economist, Financial Times, New Scientist, The Guardian… and plenty of other places.
JP Morgan has a $10bn annual IT budget
Or $9.6bn to be precise – and they’re on track to spend it. To put that number in context, it’s slightly more than the total value of outstanding peer-to-peer loans in the UK and roughly half of the value of Bitcoins in circulation (correct at time of posting).
How they’re spending it is interesting: one third ($3.2bn) is new spend, and the COO is hoping to recycle some of the savings into even more new spend rather than dividends to shareholders.
Side note: JP Morgan chose to build its own private cloud rather than entrusting its data elsewhere.
Public blockchains over-hyped?
Blockchain hyperbole du jour comes courtesy of Harvard Business Review: “The Blockchain Will Do to the Financial System What the Internet Did to Media”.
Now, December saw the launch of Ledger, the world’s first peer-reviewed journal dedicated to DLT and blockchain. I didn’t follow all of the maths, but there seems to be consensus on three issues: (i) public blockchains have significant scaling issues, (ii) reducing those issues involves compromises on trust, and (iii) the security issues aren’t going away.
Over to the Twitter feed of Ethereum developer Vlad Zamfer: “Ethereum isn't safe or scalable. It is immature experimental tech. Don't rely on it for mission critical apps unless absolutely necessary!”
For those intrigued by sharding and forking, Vlad elaborated on this thinking here.
How much blockchain will change the finance industry probably depends on what you include in your definition of blockchain…
Consolidating costs across banks
On that subject, it’s worth looking at some of the initiatives that have been previously lumped under “blockchain”. R3’s website now avoids the B-word almost entirely, with Finextra describing it as a “consortium to design and apply distributed and shared ledger-inspired technologies”. In essence, it’s always been a shared costs proposition.
But what do you do if you’re not a global bank with $10bn to spend on IT? Well, smaller banks arguably ought to benefit more from sharing costs as they don’t have the same scale benefits. The new Ripple-enabled consortium in Japan includes a few jumbo players, but many participants are domestic and regional banks rather than household names. And what they’re up to isn’t a pure blockchain either – if I’ve read the blurb correctly, it’s a shared cloud and protocol for ledger communication (corrections welcomed).
So, “blockchain” may be changing the industry dramatically – but not of itself. The willingness to cooperate and share services inspired by blockchain could be set to strip swathes of cost out of back office processes. Just not necessarily using any actual blockchains.
Abbreviated news: IBM and Google predicted quantum computing breakthroughs; Nokia started investigating cryptography in a world of quantum computers; Zopa flew the flag for Blighty, winning Top Consumer Lending Platform at the LendIt awards in New York; and the UK had a budget statement with relatively little in it for FinTech.
So, Bill Gates thinks robots should pay taxes. Given that most of the skilled workers at risk of replacement currently buy software licenses, he might not be an impartial observer. Nonetheless, how we transition to the brave new economy is a debate that needs to happen.
Elsewhere in FinTech, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has started an inquiry into alternative credit data and its uses (and abuses); the Autorité des Marchés Financiers is developing a big-data-powered tool to supervise markets; CapGemini has unveiled a new platform to facilitate the transition to PSD2; and the number of FinTech deals hit a five-year high in Europe in 2016.
Our usual anchor for the panel, Izabella Kaminska (FT Alphaville), is returned from sabbatical and (hopefully) raring to go. Joining Izabella will be two FinTech entrepreneurs:
- Clara Durodié, founder and managing partner of A.I. consultancy Cognitive Finance. A senior investment management professional, Clara is a mentor for Startupbootcamp and a member of the Innovation Institute of America’s advisory board.
- Thomas Soede, Co-founder and CEO of Bank in the Box, a platform for banks to share IT architecture and substantially reduce costs. Thomas has 30+ years of capital markets experience, most recently as global head of client connectivity and user experience at BNP Paribas.
Anyway, as usual, this is a caring and sharing experience – so please do share your thoughts on agenda with firstname.lastname@example.org, or register for the event by calling 0207 621 1056 or emailing email@example.com. Thanks to Dentons, I can promise excellent coffee and buns.