By David Rimmer from Leading Edge Forum looks at role of digital assets in propelling banking into the knowledge economy.
In the knowledge economy, digital assets play a pivotal role. Information technology (IT) is both a significant intangible asset in its own right and the key connecter of other intangible assets. Inevitably, banks must build their strategies around digital assets, just as in the industrial age firms planned their business around machinery, factories and connections to transport networks. In developing strategies, banks will need to take into account the distinctive characteristics of intangible assets, such as scalability and synergies, and identify how to combine digital assets with other intangibles. Let’s take a closer look at the major digital assets which will drive bank revenue and profits.
Scalable digital operations
Intangible assets, such as data and algorithms, have the potential to scale but banks require a means to scale in practice through digital operations if they are to maximise this notional value. For FinTechs and challenger banks this is no problem. They are built digitally from the bottom up, which inevitably gives them scalable software-based operations, with tiny variable costs per transaction. Conversely, if incumbent banks are to compete in the long term, they need operations and IT systems that can scale to match ‘digital-native’ businesses which are digitised from front to back.
At present, most incumbent banks have digital transformation plans that move the bank forward one step at a time from where they are now. This is sensible and pragmatic, but banks will not be able to compete without a parallel strategy that starts from the destination, working backwards from what the bank’s cost structure needs to be. This will be nothing like where they are now, nor even where they expect to be after their current digital transformation plans. Transaction costs may need to be orders of magnitude lower. A vital consideration is that, owing to concentration effects, the number of banks that reach scale in any given market may be small.
There are four options for achieving scalable digital operations: greenfield, brownfield, insourcing / outsourcing and per-click operations.
Greenfield – The critical manoeuvre in this strategy is making the cut-over from old to new, i.e.: “How does the bank bring over legacy customers and data?”; and “How are existing brands and partner relationships leveraged?”. Otherwise, this strategy amounts to following the challengers two to three years after the fact, without leveraging the bank’s strengths in intangible assets.
Brownfield – Banks may decide that in some parts of their business they can come close enough to the goal of scalability through a brownfield approach based on simplifying and transforming their current IT. Here, automation across every function will be indispensable as, put simply, people don’t scale.
Outsource/ insource – Where the bank is not at scale, outsourcing to other service providers will be a compelling option, especially if a function offers little potential to differentiate in the eyes of the customer. Of course, the mirror image of this strategy is to insource additional volumes from outsourcing banks.
Per-click operations – The final option for scalability involves accessing external services on a per-click model. This is how many digital businesses have managed to achieve global scale quickly. Uber’s rapid growth was possible because its operations are essentially just a bundling of services sourced from partners on a per-click basis. Partner APIs lie behind Uber’s geo-positioning, route calculation, maps, push notifications, payments and receipts. Banks can identify where banking functions and commodity services are available on a per-click basis and incorporate them within their digital operations.
The platform is rapidly becoming the dominant business model for the 21st century.This makes platforms fundamental to any intangible strategy. In addition to driving revenue in their own right, platforms draw in more customers, spin off more data and create new data interfaces – all intangible assets that can be leveraged in other areas.
A platform is essentially a multi-sided marketplace that connects parties on each side, with network effects creating a virtuous circle that attracts ever more producers and consumers to the platform. Banks can build platforms around areas of banking, such as trade finance, asset management and wealth management. Alternatively, banks can target platforms at particular customer segments, e.g. small businesses, millennials or high net-worth individuals. A further option is building a platform whose sole role is connectivity, with Bloomberg the poster-child. In any case, the starting point must be total clarity around customer jobs-to-be-done, say, exporting goods or saving for retirement, to use Clayton Christensen’s framework. Why would a customer come to the platform? What jobs do they want done?Equally, banks need to think through which partners are required and what is in it for them. A number of banks have embarked down the road of building platforms, but too many have viewed the platform as a vehicle simply for distributing existing bank products, as opposed to working back from customer jobs-to-be-done and the partners needed for those jobs.[i]
Tapping into external platforms and network effects
Not everyone can be a platform – by definition. Banks should, therefore, consider where it makes sense to adopt a contrarian ‘cheap and cheerful’ strategy of accessing the network effects of other platforms. i.e. “If you can’t beat, them join them’. As an example, 58 banks across Europe have decided to use Raisin as a distribution platform for savings products in order to access a larger network of customers than is possible via their own channels.
Strategies for the global platforms (GAFA and the Chinese platforms)
A further strategic dimension should be assessing opportunities and threats from the global platforms that have become such dominant features in our business landscape. The global platforms may act in the role of distribution channels, customers or competitors – or all three.
- Competitors – In China, AliPay and WeChat have come to dominate certain financial services segments. In Europe, Amazon, Facebook and Google have registered as a third party to aggregate payment data and initiate payments under Payment Services Directive 2. As a result of these and other moves, banks need to identify where their business is vulnerable to the major platforms and develop defensive strategies.
- Distribution channels and interfaces – Global platforms, such as Amazon, have become the high streets of today’s digital world and, consequently, it is essential for banks to have a strategy for distribution via these digital high streets. This strategy will need to include integration with platforms’ intelligent agents such as Siri and Alexa, which are likely to become the standard interface for accessing frequently-used digital services.
- Customers – Banks should look out for revenue opportunities from providing financial services to the platforms themselves and to their customers. For example, Zopa, the UK peer-to-peer lender, has struck a deal with Uber to offer car loans to their drivers.
An algorithm isa set of rules for solving a problem in a finite number of steps. In some ways, the written operational procedures that banks depend on today can be regarded as algorithms because they similarly define a series of steps. Computerisation, however, has transformed the ability of banks to deploy algorithms. Computerised algorithms bring greater consistency in decisions, allow much larger volumes of data to be employed and increase the speed of decision-making.
Machine Learning (ML) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) bring a further step-change in potential to apply algorithms. Whereas hitherto people programmed an algorithm’s rule-set, ML and AI models allow computers to derive their own rules and progressively improve decision-making. In future, all the decisions that are fundamental to banking – credit, risk, fraud and investment – will be made, or at least supported by ML and AI models.
Monetisation of algorithms
Banks will want to capitalise on opportunities to monetise algorithms outside their own operations. After all, if you have a scalable asset why wouldn’t you want to market its use, generating not only added revenue but also harnessing more data to improve your algorithm? A case in point is Metro, the UK challenger bank, which has partnered with Zopa. Metro brings the customer deposits; Zopa brings the algorithms. Similarly, the AI-based lender, OakNorth, is commercialising its algorithms in countries outside its home UK market.
In order to develop and manage algorithms as a coherent set of corporate assets, acentre-of-excellence model stands out as an obvious approach, especially when it comes to ML and AI. The reasons for this are that:the state of the art is not yet mature; expertise is scarce; ML and AI are General Purpose Technologies (GPTs) with application across the whole bank; and, multiple ML and AI models will draw on similar data. Critical too will be measures of model performance and their impact on cost, revenue and profit. These metrics will be prominent in the dials that executives monitor most closely in tracking and predicting bank performance.
Most banks have long-running data quality programmes, but compliance is typically their principal driver. Of course, compliance matters but the importance of algorithms means that banks should think about data first and foremost as a vital asset for revenue generation. In many respects, the data is more valuable than the algorithms. With data you can build algorithms, but algorithms without data are worthless. Google is happy publish its algorithms because it is the only firm that has the dataon customer search queries. Few banks can expect to succeed in the knowledge economy if they are not masters of their data.
Data Value = Data x Ability to Exploit Data
As with any asset, you first need to know what you have. Banks should build a map showing what data they hold and its business value (or potential value). I say ‘potential value’ because as with many intangibles assets, the value of data is not intrinsic, it depends on how / if it is brought into play, i.e. Data Value = Data xAbility to Exploit Data. For most incumbent banks there is a huge ‘data value gap’: the difference between what their data is worth at present and what it would be worth if it were classified, associated with other data and made accessible to those who need it in a timely manner.
Closing the data value gap
In large part, closing the ‘data value gap’ is a matter of improving data quality through traditional disciplines, such as data cleansing and applying meta-data. However, new factors are coming into play as banks extend their use of algorithms and harness new types of data such as unstructured data and ‘big data’ from outside the bank. As an example, for many ML and AI models, where data is stored and how is critical. In addition, as banks hold more and more data, the cost of data storage and management will become a significant concern. Likewise, because the value of much data ages fast – a breaking news story is worth infinitely more than yesterday’s news – access to data in real-time may be important, for example, via data streaming.
This is an area of rapid technology innovation where ‘received wisdom’ around how best to do things has yet to evolve. For most banks, unlike say manufacturing companies, the challenge is not the volume of data but its inter-relatedness and its timeliness. In the meantime, the challenge is keeping abreast with a flood of new technologies, understanding how and where they fit.
Data access and monetisation
Once data is classified and made accessible, i.e. turned into an asset, it can be monetised. Whereas traditional management information and business intelligence models involve ‘pushing’ data to consumers of information, maximising the value of data entails reversing the flow through a ‘pull’ model. ‘Self-service’ becomes the goal, where consumers of data are provided with data, metadata and a set of tools.
There will also be opportunities to monetise data outside the bank’s own operations, for example:
- Data services – Banks can seek to provide data services, both in order to generate revenue and to increase stickiness. In personal banking, increasingly customers’ choice of a bank will be shaped by the tools it offers to analyse and advise on spending. For merchants, Wirecard, the German payments provider, has built a service on top of its ePOS solution, which takes merchants’ payment data and provides back to them a machine learning solution for analysing customer value and migration rates.[ii]Data integration is another strategy: Barclays’ DataServices transfer data on payments and cash balances directly into customer accounting systems
- Revenue from data sales – GDPR and other data regulations notwithstanding, banks will derive revenue from data sales. For example, companies such as Cardlytics provide targeted offers from retailers to bank customers who have opted to receive offers
- Data aggregation – As banks’ ability to derive value from data increases, they will be active in aggregating and acquiring additional data, through offering customers added-value services in return for permission to use and partnering with data vendors who hold complementary data sets where 1 + 1 =3.
The sooner banks start down the road of thinking about their data as a vital corporate asset the better because it is hard to make up lost ground. Firstly, resolving data management issues around years’ of complex inter-related data plain takes time. Secondly, developing algorithms – which is why you want the data – is a learning process that depends on iterations, so it too just takes time. Most banks require much more impetus here.
Digital assets that can be monetised in their own right
Having built digital assets to support their own business, banks may find opportunities to monetise digital assets in their own right.
In many cases, the opportunity to monetise digital assets will come through APIs. Capabilities that were developed as part of an overall bank process, such as providing account data or initiating a payment, may be commercialised as stand-alone services via an API. Partners will consume bank APIs on a per-click basis as part of their own distinct customer proposition. As more and more elements of the economy are digitised, there will be an increasing range of opportunities to embed payments and other banking functions within the operations of other sectors. Banks should consider monetisation of any functions that they have digitised to support their business – not just banking functions. For example, Know Your Customer (KYC) checks are needed in a range of sectors (accountancy, legal and real estate) as a precursor to doing business.
To succeed in the knowledge economy, banks will have to put digital assets at the centre of their strategies to drive revenue and profits. Thinking about scalable digital operations, platforms, data and algorithms as distinct assets will in itself mark a step-change – right now they barely feature, if at all, on bank balance sheets. Human capital and organisation capital – people, skills, roles, processes and governance – will all need to evolve in support. Moreover, as with chess pieces, banks will have to learn the moves that are possible with each digital asset and decide how to bring them into play alongside other intangible assets within an overall game strategy.
[i] A framework for brownfield firms to map out platform strategies and to anticipate the moves of digital-native competitors is detailed in Liberating Platform Organizations, by Bill Murray of the Leading Edge Forum
[ii]Digitise Now, Wirecard Annual Report, 2017
Oil extends losses as Texas prepares to ramp up output
By Devika Krishna Kumar
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Oil prices fell for a second day on Friday, retreating further from recent highs as Texas energy companies began preparations to restart oil and gas fields shuttered by freezing weather.
Brent crude futures were down 33 cents, or 0.5%, at $63.60 a barrel by 11:06 a.m. (1606 GMT) U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures fell 60 cents, or 1%, to $59.92.
This week, both benchmarks had climbed to the highest in more than a year.
“Price pullback thus far appears corrective and is slight within the context of this month’s major upside price acceleration,” said Jim Ritterbusch, president of Ritterbusch and Associates.
Unusually cold weather in Texas and the Plains states curtailed up to 4 million barrels per day (bpd) of crude production and 21 billion cubic feet of natural gas, analysts estimated.
Texas refiners halted about a fifth of the nation’s oil processing amid power outages and severe cold.
Companies were expected to prepare for production restarts on Friday as electric power and water services slowly resume, sources said.
“While much of the selling relates to a gradual resumption of power in the Gulf coast region ahead of a significant temperature warmup, the magnitude of this week’s loss of supply may require further discounting given much uncertainty regarding the extent and possible duration of lost output,” Ritterbusch said.
Oil fell despite a surprise drop in U.S. crude stockpiles in the week to Feb. 12, before the big freeze. Inventories fell by 7.3 million barrels to 461.8 million barrels, their lowest since March, the Energy Information Administration reported on Thursday. [EIA/S]
The United States on Thursday said it was ready to talk to Iran about returning to a 2015 agreement that aimed to prevent Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Still, analysts did not expect near-term reversal of sanctions on Iran that were imposed by the previous U.S. administration.
“This breakthrough increases the probability that we may see Iran returning to the oil market soon, although there is much to be discussed and a new deal will not be a carbon-copy of the 2015 nuclear deal,” said StoneX analyst Kevin Solomon.
(Additional reporting by Ahmad Ghaddar in London and Roslan Khasawneh in Singapore and Sonali Paul in Melbourne; Editing by Jason Neely, David Goodman and David Gregorio)
Analysis: Carmakers wake up to new pecking order as chip crunch intensifies
By Douglas Busvine and Christoph Steitz
BERLIN (Reuters) – The semiconductor crunch that has battered the auto sector leaves carmakers with a stark choice: pay up, stock up or risk getting stuck on the sidelines as chipmakers focus on more lucrative business elsewhere.
Car manufacturers including Volkswagen, Ford and General Motors have cut output as the chip market was swept clean by makers of consumer electronics such as smartphones – the chip industry’s preferred customers because they buy more advanced, higher-margin chips.
The semiconductor shortage – over $800 worth of silicon is packed into a modern electric vehicle – has exposed the disconnect between an auto industry spoilt by decades of just-in-time deliveries and an electronics industry supply chain it can no longer bend to its will.
“The car sector has been used to the fact that the whole supply chain is centred around cars,” said McKinsey partner Ondrej Burkacky. “What has been overlooked is that semiconductor makers actually do have an alternative.”
Automakers are responding to the shortage by lobbying governments to subsidize the construction of more chip-making capacity.
In Germany, Volkswagen has pointed the finger at suppliers, saying it gave them timely warning last April – when much global car production was idled due to the coronavirus pandemic – that it expected demand to recover strongly in the second half of the year.
That complaint by the world’s No.2 volume carmaker cuts little ice with chipmakers, who say the auto industry is both quick to cancel orders in a slump and to demand investment in new production in a recovery.
“Last year we had to furlough staff and bear the cost of carrying idle capacity,” said a source at one European semiconductor maker, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“If the carmakers are asking us to invest in new capacity, can they please tell us who will pay for that idle capacity in the next downturn?”
The auto industry spends around $40 billion a year on chips – about a tenth of the global market. By comparison, Apple spends more on chips just to make its iPhones, Mirabaud tech analyst Neil Campling reckons.
Moreover, the chips used in cars tend to be basic products such as micro controllers made under contract at older foundries – hardly the leading-edge production technology in which chipmakers would be willing to invest.
“The suppliers are saying: ‘If we continue to produce this stuff there is nowhere else for it to go. Sony isn’t going to use it for a Playstation 5 or Apple for its next iPhone’,” said Asif Anwar at Strategy Analytics.
Chipmakers were surprised by the panicked reaction of the German car industry, which persuaded Economy Minister Peter Altmaier to write a letter in January to his counterpart in Taiwan to ask its semiconductor makers to supply more chips.
No extra supplies were forthcoming, with one German industry source joking that the Americans stood a better chance of getting more chips from Taiwan because they could at least park an aircraft carrier off the coast – referring to the ability of the United States to project power in Asia.
Closer to home, a source at another European chipmaker expressed disbelief at the poor understanding at one carmaker of how it operates.
“We got a call from one auto maker that was desperate for supply. They said: Why don’t you run a night shift to increase production?” this person said.
“What they didn’t understand is that we have been running a night shift since the beginning.”
NO QUICK FIX
While Infineon, the leading supplier of chips to the global auto industry, and Robert Bosch, the top ‘Tier 1’ parts supplier, both plan to commission new chip plants this year, there is little chance of supply shortages easing soon.
Specialist chipmakers like Infineon outsource some production of automotive chips to contract manufacturers led by Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co Ltd (TSMC), but the Asian foundries are currently prioritising high-end electronics makers as they come up against capacity constraints.
Over the longer term, the relationship between chip makers and the car industry will become closer as electric vehicles are more widely adopted and features such as assisted and autonomous driving develop, requiring more advanced chips.
But, in the short term, there is no quick fix for the lack of chip supply: IHS Markit estimates that the time it takes to deliver a microcontroller has doubled to 26 weeks and shortages will only bottom out in March.
That puts the production of 1 million light vehicles at risk in the first quarter, says IHS Markit. European chip industry executives and analysts agree that supply will not catch up with demand until later in the year.
Chip shortages are having a “snowball effect” as auto makers idle some capacity to prioritize building profitable models, said Anwar at Strategy Analytics, who forecasts a drop in car production in Europe and North America of 5%-10% in 2021.
The head of Franco-Italian chipmaker STMicroelectronics, Jean-Marc Chery, forecasts capacity constraints will affect carmakers until mid-year.
“Up to the end of the second quarter, the industry will have to manage at the lean inventory level,” Chery told a recent Goldman Sachs conference.
(Douglas Busvine from Berlin and Christoph Steitz from Frankfurt; Additional reporting by Mathieu Rosemain and Gilles Gillaume in Paris; Editing by Susan Fenton)
Aussie and sterling hit multi-year highs on recovery bets
By Tommy Wilkes
LONDON (Reuters) – The Australian dollar rose to near a three-year high and the British pound scaled $1.40 for the first time since 2018 on optimism about economic rebounds in the two countries and after the U.S. dollar was knocked by disappointing jobs data.
The U.S. currency had been rising in recent days as a jump in Treasury yields on the back of the so-called reflation trade drew investors. But an unexpected increase in U.S. weekly jobless claims soured the economic outlook and sent the dollar lower overnight.
On Friday it traded down 0.3% against a basket of currencies, with the dollar index at 90.309.
The Aussie rose 0.8% to $0.784, its highest since March 2018. The currency, which is closely linked to commodity prices and the outlook for global growth, has been helped by a recent rally in commodity prices.
The New Zealand dollar also gained, and was not far off a more than two-year high, while the Canadian dollar rose too.
Sterling rose to $1.4009 on Friday, an almost three-year high amid Britain’s aggressive vaccination programme.
Given the size of Britain’s vital services sector, analysts say the faster it can reopen the economy, the better for the currency. Sterling was also helped by better-than-expected purchasing managers index flash survey data for February.
The U.S. dollar has been weighed down by a string of soft labour data, even as other indicators have shown resilience, and as President Joe Biden’s pandemic relief efforts take shape, including a proposed $1.9 trillion spending package.
Despite the recent rise in U.S. yields, many analysts think they won’t climb too much higher, limiting the benefit for the dollar.
“Our view remains that the Fed will hold the line and remain very cautious about tapering asset purchases. We think it will keep communicating that tightening is very far off, which should dampen pro-dollar sentiment,” said UBS Global Wealth Management strategist Gaétan Peroux and analyst Tilmann Kolb.
ING analysts said “the rise in rates will be self-regulating, meaning the dollar need not correct too much higher”.
They see the greenback index trading down to the 90.10 to 91.05 range.
The euro rose 0.4% to $1.2134. The single currency showed little reaction to purchasing manager index data, which showed a slowdown in business activity in February. However, factories had their busiest month in three years, buoying sentiment.
The dollar bought 105.39 yen, down 0.3% and a continued retreat from the five-month high of 106.225 reached Wednesday.
(Editing by Hugh Lawson and Pravin Char)
Battling Covid collateral damage, Renault says 2021 will be volatile
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