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Banks and fintechs: the perfect partnership

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Banks and fintechs: the perfect partnership

Christer Holloman, CEO and co-founder, Divido 

Figures from Accenture estimate that the point-of-sale (POS) finance space represents a $1.8 trillion opportunity for banks, and that’s just in the U.S. There are no two ways about it, retail finance represents an enormous opportunity for banks. But are they missing a trick by not being nimble enough to dominate this landscape? Can they capitalise on this opportunity or will they lose out to the fintech pack who have come in and set the standard in the POS finance space?

Christer Holloman

Christer Holloman

When it comes to lending money to finance retail purchases specifically, most banks do this via credit cards. Whilst the card hasn’t evolved much in the last 50 years, consumer preferences certainly have, with fewer consumers choosing to have a credit card. This disconnect between consumer expectations and an ageing banking value proposition has paved the way for new lending providers such as Alipay, PayPal, Affirm, Klarna, etc. These firms combined are now valued higher than any one bank in all of Europe and North America.

The new digital ecosystem 

Digital is the new global currency. Everybody wants to be part of the digital revolution that’s sweeping across the world. Fintech companies have disrupted the status quo and forever changed the way in which consumers manage their finances and view the lending landscape.

Banks have found themselves in a difficult place. They’re facing competition from multiple directions but can be held back by increasingly expensive legacy systems that limit product development in-house. Simply put, they aren’t innovating fast enough, and the level of consumer experience they need to be providing is nowhere near the level it needs to be in order to successfully compete in today’s increasingly competitive market.

A bank can easily spend millions of dollars, and take two or more years to build a system that can be offered by a fintech in a fraction of that time and, more often, at a fraction of the cost. In the time it can take for banks to develop a product in-house, potential customers are switching to digital-focused competitors who can already offer the service.

Legacy systems are only part of the network of barriers that can hold banks back from agile innovation. Product development processes within large banks are often very structured, require multiple sign-offs from stakeholders, and must adhere to investment and budget cycles set by the broader business. These processes can take months or even years to navigate and can have a detrimental impact on the bottom line in an increasingly competitive marketplace.

With fintechs continuing to grow, how can banks successfully navigate their way into the POS market efficiently and effectively?

Befriend the ‘competition’

As the old saying goes, keep your friends close and your competition even closer. All banks see fintechs as threats to their ecosystem, but not all fintechs perceive themselves to be threats. Instead, they can be the perfect partner and springboard for banks.

These are fintech companies that aren’t concerned with competing with banks and eating into market share but instead focused on partnership opportunities to innovate, attract talent and develop world-class solutions for consumers. The brand of a bank, combined with the agility of a fintech, can be the perfect recipe for success.

From Tandem Bank’s partnership with Stripe and Currencycloud’s work with Fidorbank to Divido’s partnership with Nordea Finance, we’re seeing an increasing number of collaboration agreements between banks and fintechs. This is a trend that will continue to grow and prosper as fintech continues to evolve. Why build the technology, when you can buy it?

Partnering with a fintech gives banks a direct and fast route to market and a chance to further grow and diversify their revenue channels. A flexible fintech partnership can offer banks the opportunity for growth and access to their technology without needing to spend vast amounts of time and money on their own research and development (R&D) in-house. The agility and innovative technology provided by a fintech is unparalleled, and one that banking legacy systems simply cannot compete with.

If they are to successfully remain relevant, banks need to recognise the importance of collaboration opportunities with younger fintech companies. The digital demands of the future are unlike anything banks have faced before. Banks that want to defend and grow their lending, and stay relevant for another 50 years, must act immediately to partner with fintechs and diversify their route to market, or they might quickly find out there is no longer a place for them. Banks and fintech don’t always have to compete, sometimes collaboration is key.

Banking

SoftBank reaches settlement with former WeWork CEO Neumann

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SoftBank reaches settlement with former WeWork CEO Neumann 1

(Reuters) – SoftBank Group Corp said on Friday it has reached a settlement with WeWork’s special committee and the company’s co-founder and former chief executive, Adam Neumann, putting to rest a legal battle dating back to 2019.

SoftBank, the new owner of the office-sharing firm, did not disclose terms of the settlement. Media reports earlier this week indicated the deal includes a nearly $500 million cut in Neumann’s payout from SoftBank.

The legal tussle between SoftBank and Neumann started in 2019, when SoftBank agreed to buy around $3 billion in WeWork stock belonging to Neumann as well as current and former WeWork employees. SoftBank later contested its obligation to purchase the shares.

Under the new settlement, SoftBank will purchase around half the shares it had originally agreed to buy, a source familiar with the talks had told Reuters on Monday.

The settlement is also expected to clear the decks for WeWork as it reportedly pursues a public listing by merging with a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC).

“This agreement is the result of all parties coming to the table for the sake of doing what is best for the future of WeWork,” said Marcelo Claure, executive chairman of WeWork and CEO of SoftBank Group International.

SoftBank, which poured more than $13.5 billion into WeWork, was pulled into the legal dispute with directors at WeWork after backing out of the $3 billion tender offer agreed when it bailed out the office-sharing firm following a flopped IPO attempt.

(Reporting by Shariq Khan in Bengaluru; Editing by Richard Pullin)

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Banking

Banks weigh up home working – the new normal or an aberration?

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Banks weigh up home working - the new normal or an aberration? 2

By Lawrence White, Iain Withers and Muvija M

LONDON (Reuters) – As the finance industry prepares for life post-pandemic, commercial banks are moving quickly to harness working from home to cut costs, while investment banks are keen to get traders and advisers back to the office.

HSBC and Lloyds are getting rid of as much as 40% of their office space as an easy way to make savings when bank profits have been crunched by the pandemic.

But there are concerns that remote working does not benefit everyone. Junior staff miss out on socialising and learning opportunities and there are also risks home working can entrench gender inequality.

At investment banks, where long hours in the office were the norm pre-pandemic, bosses say they want most people back where they can see them.

HSBC plans to almost halve office space globally, as it aims to squeeze more use out of the remaining space and increase the number of staff per desk from just over one to closer to two.

Britain’s biggest domestic lender Lloyds plans to shrink its office space by a fifth within three years. Standard Chartered will cut a third of its space within four years, while Metro Bank said it would cut some 40% and make more use of branches.

“We’ve had a period where flexible working has been tested in full, with about three quarters of people not based in offices as we used to call them, and the business has performed remarkably well,” Andy Halford, Standard Chartered CFO, said.

But major investment banks take a different view, with Goldman Sachs Chief Executive David Solomon pouring cold water on the potential of remote working.

“It’s not a new normal. It’s an aberration that we’re going to correct as soon as possible,” he told a Credit Suisse conference on Wednesday.

Barclays CEO Jes Staley, who last year said he thought the days of 7,000 employees trudging into its Canary Wharf headquarters were numbered, is also unwilling to commit for now to large office closures.

The Barclays boss has said the bank had “no plan” to make a major real estate move as Britain’s prolonged third lockdown had shown the strains of working from home.

Nick Fahy, CEO of online lender Cynergy Bank, said working over screens often could not compete. “You might have a disagreement on this, that or the other but actually over the coffee machine or over a glass of wine or a bit of lunch, issues can be resolved.”

UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES

Some banks have acted quickly because they are used to flexing workforces in line with economic cycles, particularly in investment banks, Oliver Wyman principal Jessica Marlborough said.

But some are waiting on analysis of staff productivity changes before making final decisions, while others were mindful junior staff may still prefer going into offices, she said.

Banks are also concerned women may lose out from the shift to remote working.

“We thought the pandemic would be a big leveller for women. But actually what we’re starting to see is it’s extremely challenging to get women to move jobs in a pandemic,” Marlborough said.

“Banks were making progress in hiring a more balanced workforce in terms of gender and other metrics, but they’re actually struggling now (as banks are finding) they (women) are less likely to seek out a new job.”

Union leaders said part of the reason was that some women are juggling more childcare responsibilities during the pandemic.

Dominic Hook, national officer for UK union Unite, said banks must ensure working from home is voluntary, use of surveillance tools is limited, and employers respect staff hours so work does not spill into evenings and weekends.

“Our concern is that it won’t actually be a choice and that banks will pressure staff to work from home,” Hook said.

There are also concerns hybrid working will favour employees who visit the office more regularly, as they can spend more time in person with colleagues and managers, said Richard Benson, managing director at Accenture Interactive.

The staff most likely to go back to the office are traders, bank executives said, while back-office functions such as finance, risk management and IT will spend more time working remotely.

In Germany, Deutsche Bank said it had been challenging to adapt home office spaces for traders and expected many will want to return, but not all.

“We will pay more attention to the personal circumstances at home. Dealers also have children or parents in need of care. We have become more sensitive,” said Kristian Snellman, Deutsche Bank’s head of investment banking transformation for Germany and EMEA.

The trend to shed offices predated the pandemic as many banks made cuts after the 2007-09 financial crisis. Some have already made moves as a result of the pandemic, such as NatWest, which shut its tech hub in north London last summer.

Retained offices are being remodelled, with desks removed to make way for collaboration and break space such as coffee areas, gardens and libraries, property consultancy Arcadis said.

“It’s not just about adding a ping pong table and table football and hoping it will work, it’s about making sure people get downtime,” said Sarah-Jane Osborne, head of workscape at Arcadis.

David Duffy, CEO of Virgin Money, said the bank is among those planning to strip out office cubicles.

“The world of large-scale populations returning to a tall skyscraper building to come in and do their e-mail in the office doesn’t make any sense,” he said.

(Reporting By Lawrence White and Iain Withers in London and Muvija M in Bengaluru, Additional reporting by Patricia Uhlig in Frankfurt. Editing by Rachel Armstrong and Jane Merriman)

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Banking

Bank of England’s Haldane warns inflation “tiger” is prowling

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Bank of England's Haldane warns inflation "tiger" is prowling 3

By Andy Bruce

LONDON (Reuters) – Bank of England Chief Economist Andy Haldane warned on Friday that an inflationary “tiger” had woken up and could prove difficult to tame as the economy recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, adding that central banks may need to respond.

In a clear break from other members of the Monetary Policy Committee who are more relaxed about the outlook for inflation, Haldane called inflation a “tiger (that) has been stirred by the extraordinary events and policy actions of the past 12 months”.

“People are right to caution about the risks of central banks acting too conservatively by tightening policy prematurely,” Haldane said in a speech published online.

“But, for me, the greater risk at present is of central bank complacency allowing the inflationary (big) cat out of the bag.”

Haldane’s comments prompted British government bond prices to fall and sterling to rise as he warned that investors may not be adequately positioned for the risk of higher inflation.

“There is a tangible risk inflation proves more difficult to tame, requiring monetary policymakers to act more assertively than is currently priced into financial markets,” Haldane said.

(Editing by David Milliken)

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