Distributed ledger technology will help us build a new infrastructure that will secure our retirements
By Anastasia Andrianova
Worrying revelations about the extent of the pensions crisis are emerging across the world. The UK now has an estimated $4 trillion retirement savings shortfall — projected by experts to rise 4% a year and reach $33 trillion by 2050.
In Spain, a pensions surplus that once stood at €66b is now almost completely depleted after two years of questionable siphoning practices. In the US, the pensions deficit could force multiple states into bankruptcy, according to a recent Harvard study.
Meanwhile, the World Economic Forum predicts that the pensions deficit will reach $400 trillion by 2050 — about five times the size of today’s global economy.
The pensions system is simply no longer functional. Cost inefficiencies are decimating savers’ pots, mismanagement is rife, and programmes are mired in complexity. Meanwhile, retirements are getting longer and more expensive as life expectancy rises. Individuals who have contributed to funds for decades are stuck in schemes which may not deliver their pensions. Meanwhile, alienated younger generations struggling with soaring rents and property prices aren’t saving enough for the future.
A lack of transparency lies at the heart of this pensions crisis. Just when people need as much useable information as possible to safeguard their jeopardized futures, it is far too difficult to understand the benefits and shortcomings of different pension programmes. Even Andy Haldane, the chief economist of the Bank of England, has admitted he doesn’t understand either workplace or High Street pensions.
The consequence is that savers are struggling with the most important financial decisions of their lives, without the information they need to make them. Meanwhile, they encounter debilitating friction and hassle if they want to move from one pension to another — causing many to stay put in poorly performing or precarious pensions to avoid complexity. Against this depressing backdrop, everyone remains at risk from pension raids and broken promises from companies and governments.
A surmountable problem
But the problems we’re facing, although grave, are by no means insurmountable. In fact, the pensions crisis might even be on the brink of being fixed — thanks to blockchain technology.
The beauty of the blockchain is that no single entity is in control of the ledger — transparency can be built in at the protocol level. And once data is inputted, it can’t be erased or edited. This could be vital for the integrity of pensions.
Even more importantly, a blockchain-based pensions ecosystem, built could utilize emerging smart contract technology to ensure exclusive delivery funds to beneficiaries, eliminating the risk of fund seizures or hidden costs. Safe in the knowledge that their funds will remain absolutely safe from raids by companies or governments, consumers of a blockchain pension system will enjoy now-impossible security.
A pensions blockchain would also make it easy for people to move between funds as every pensions occurrence would be logged on the ledger forever. This would promote better competition among pensions providers, and consumers would find it easy to find pensions that suit them.
An ecosystem for funds
This new ecosystem would also directly connect investment fund managers and financial institutions — bringing much-needed clarity and cutting out the middlemen that siphon value out of investments.
Meanwhile, institutional participants could be incentivised for accountability, transparency, and the delivery of timely pension accrual and remittances. Participants could give funds and organisations ratings, which would be accurately and immutably stored on the blockchain for everyone to see – allowing others to make better-informed choices when it comes to picking a pension plan and eliminating under-informed and oftentimes costly mistakes.
Users might even be able to monetise their invaluable personal and financial data — anonymously if they chose — and access a variety of savings products and services.
Pension funds and fund managers would benefit, too, from reduced regulatory overheads, and improved direct access to clients.
To ensure mass adoption, such a pensions ecosystem must be accessible to individuals on user-friendly mobile apps and tools. These might include portable digital wallets that detail historical pensions contributions, private savings and pension data, as well as records of corporate contributors’ formula-based contributions. All this would mean a modern mobile worker would no longer need to chase historical employee contributions across various jurisdictions.
Of course, this new system won’t solve the whole of the pension crisis, at least not entirely. By rebuilding it from the ground up, though, a blockchain platform would eradicate the costly leaks in the rusted pension fund pipeline in use today.
In recent times, the will among savers to keep throwing money into a pension fund industry has been understandably waning. But a transparent, smart-contract-based pension fund infrastructures, built on the blockchain, could restore trust and usher in a new era of responsible, transparent saving. It would make risks more foreseeable, and increase our ability to avoid them, or at the very least remain resilient to them. Decentralised pensions on the blockchain are, without a doubt, the best route to a safer financial future worldwide.
About the Author:
Anastasia Andrianova, ex Lehman Brothers and now CEO and Founder of Akropolis, a blockchain pensions platform for the next generation of savers. Ana is one of very few female chief executives in the blockchain world, and is an experienced investment professional, business builder and technology and data expert. She sits on the advisory board for the Web3 Foundation, serves as a board advisor and investment committee member of the EU industrial IoT incubator (OpenMaker Project) and is a member of the Blockchain Ecosystem Network.
Is It The Right Time To Invest In Gold?
By Zoe Lyons, Hatton Garden Metals
The current climate is one of uncertainty, so it can be difficult to know what to do with your money, particularly investments. When faced with the decision on what to do with your savings, there are a number of options, but one investment which many have opted for over the years is gold buying.
Purchasing gold can be a great investment. Although the price of which can fluctuate just like anything else, the value of gold has generally tended to increase at a good rate and many prefer it over other saving options. With bank interest rates currently at a low and discussions of negative interest rates, many are opting to purchase gold as a way to earn money on their savings.
So is gold buying right for you? We take a look at some commonly asked questions when it comes to purchasing gold.
Why Should I Buy Gold?
Buying gold is often seen as a good investment due to value increases, so you may be able to make a profit from selling it on if the price of gold increases after you have purchased. The price can fluctuate, so profit is not guaranteed and is based on a number of factors. Looking back over previous years since the 1970s, the value of gold has prospered compared to other investment types, albeit with some dips in value at certain points over the past 50 years.
Buying gold also allows you full control as you are the owner. So you can choose if and when you want to sell.
Buying Gold Vs ETFs
When looking at investment opportunities, you may consider ETFs. An ETF is an Exchange Rated Fund, which when purchased is similar to buying stocks and shares. They can be a good investment, but is it more beneficial than purchasing gold?
When purchasing physical gold you will need to consider where to store it. This can incur charges, whereas with an ETF there is no need for storage, but an ETF can come with admin charges and investment management costs. When you choose to sell an ETF, you may also be required to pay a commission, which are often small amounts, but can add up if you are an active trader. There is also less control with an ETF as the price of which can change and is based on the company’s actions.
Gold Bars Vs Gold Coins
If you do choose to purchase gold, you will be faced with the option of whether to buy gold coins or gold bars. Although similar, they have varying benefits.
- Gold Coins
The purchase of gold coins are often favoured by those who appreciate the historic value of the coin. Many people collect coins, so an investor may be inclined to pay more if they are a keen collector of such. Many may also pay more for gold coins based on their rarity. These factors can affect the price you pay or sell at, meaning the value of gold coins is not solely deemed by the live price of gold, so you may receive a higher price, dependent on the investor. This allows the price of gold coins to be more fluid than gold bars.
- Gold Bars
Gold bars are not seen as a collectors item and don’t tend to have historical attachments. Because of this, the price is not influenced by these factors and is based on the weight, purity and the live price of gold at the time of selling or purchasing. This allows for a more accurate estimate of the price of your gold bars.
Where Should I Store Gold?
One of the most frequently asked questions when it comes to gold buying is storage. If you do choose to purchase gold, you will need to consider storage. Just like anything else of a high value, it needs to be stored securely. Simply keeping gold stored at home could be risky. When kept in your property, if not stored in the correct conditions, it is more susceptible to damp and corroding. There is also the possibility that your home insurance does not cover your gold, so if you are burgled, you could lose your investment. Because of this, it is wise to protect your gold with proper secure storage. Look for companies that offer storage abilities that are covered by insurance and be sure to do your research on pricing and look for cost effective storage as the fees incurred can soon add up. You may also want to look for a company that allows you quick and easy access to your gold to ensure you can buy and sell with ease.
Should I Invest In Silver Too?
Although gold is often a more popular investment option, many choose to purchase silver alongside it. The price of silver tends to be much more volatile than the price of gold, for this reason, many see gold as a safer choice. The price of silver will still have an intrinsic value but may be more worthwhile for those looking into long term investment options due to its VAT charges.
Negative Interest Rates
Although it is not a current practice, there has been recent talk of banks in the UK potentially introducing negative interest rates. If a savings account has a negative interest rate, this could mean you are charged for keeping money in the bank. If introduced, this could mean savers lose out. Instead of receiving interest on your savings, you may be charged a rate for keeping your money in the bank.
Could purchasing gold be a better option for your savings? Possibly, but this will depend on how much you have saved and the rates of the negative interest (if they are introduced). They may be minimal, but if you have a large amount in a savings account, this could add up to an expensive charge. If you choose to use your savings to buy gold, you may make a profit upon selling, but you will need to consider costs of storage as well as the chances of the price decreasing in the future.
So, is it the right time to invest in gold? It’s a very popular question. Hopefully the above will give you a bit more insight into gold investing and how it may work for you, but with any investment, there is never a guarantee that it will generate profit, so take careful considerations when diversifying your portfolio.
Private public investment is more inter-dependant than ever
By Konstantin Sidorov, CEO and Founder of London Technology Club
Today, one thing unites the majority of governments around the world: their fiscal position is destitute. COVID 19 has seen an extraordinary, forced expansion in public sector expenditure, which has come just as the world was getting back on its feet following the Global Financial Crisis. The financial strains are already showing and will become more apparent as we move through the pandemic into social and economic recovery.
If you want to understand the impact that the re-focusing of public sector spending is having, then there is no better example than the space economy. In the US and Europe, we are becoming increasingly reliant on the space rockets and space launch companies pioneered by private investors and entrepreneurs.
NASA, that powerhouse and flag bearer for American national pride, is having to partner with the private sector in order to fulfil their missions. Private investors, the likes of Elon Musk, and Jeff Bezos alongside smart use of new technologies have brought the economics of space down and the excitement around what’s possible up. With it comes a whole satellite manufacturing, launch and servicing industry growing to $271bn in revenues in 2019. Of the total revenues in the space economy ($366bn in 2019), government space budgets made up $95bn of that.
Commercial entities, being patiently built and backed by private capital willing to dig deep and progress their own missions has helped fuel the space economy. Many are realising now just how crucial space is for the future of a country’s protection, position in the world and prosperity. In China, India and Russia we still see significant public sector expenditure in space projects as an agent for military and economic expansion. The role of private investors in plugging major gaps in public sector funds and national pride in Western economies is therefore increasingly important.
Private and public investment must be seen as a partnership. We should not forget that Elon Musk’s SpaceX survived from the brink of collapse only because of a ten-figure NASA contract awarded at the last minute. Musk, since then, has looked for public infrastructure contracts to fuel his companies, the likes of The Boring Company winning the contract to build a downtown-to-airport loop, a government program for high-speed transport in Chicago. Musk proves his products and services work and then secures lucrative government contracts in order to quickly scale which in turn leads to transforming whole industries.
It’s not just space infrastructure where we see this redefinition of the role of public and private finance. The Chinese have invested at least US$160 billion in infrastructure projects as part of the Belt and Road Initiative, creating roads, ports, energy infrastructure and providing aid to foreign governments to create the most ambitious infrastructure project the world has yet seen.
For Western countries, access to that scale of public finance is not fiscally-possible, a new solution is needed and just as the space race has been redefined by private capital, so will the development of new industries, infrastructure and the reinvigorating of economies facing structural change that has been accelerated by COVID.
Private capital has the huge advantage of being driven by conviction and competence. It can cost-effectively be deployed, fast and targeted with a laser-like focus by entrepreneurs who know exactly what they want to achieve. Private capital, currently, is also in abundance.
In a world which is providing slim returns across multiple traditional asset classes, private capital is being stockpiled and is waiting for the opportunity to be invested for growth. We need private investors to have the confidence to deploy their capital to fuel the system once again.
This new world, post COVID, won’t see public capital replaced. Its role is likely to focus more heavily on health, welfare and critical infrastructure. However private investors will step in where gaps appear. Ten years ago, the scale and ambition of private space companies would have been greeted with snorts of derision and looks of disbelief. Today governments embrace the private capital, and regard the companies that have deployed it as systemically important national assets.
As we look to the future, huge macro trends emerge that demand significant investment: the aging population, the threat of pandemic, the drive to create a sustainable economy and lifestyle, the need to decarbonise, the digital revolution. The list goes on.
Public finance cannot hope to provide the finance and pioneer the bold thinking and accept the risks required to find new solutions that drive us forward in a world of change. That role goes to the private investor and private capital.
For the investors themselves the opportunities are immense, and for society as a whole they are just as big. As we look forward public and private sector needs to embrace private capital. Rather than fearing private investors as locusts who strip organisations and opportunities of profit then fly away, a narrative that gained traction after the last great economic crash. This time we need to see private capital as agents for positive transformation. Private-public partnerships fuelling each other.
Private money is already building rockets that send people and payloads into space, but that isn’t the final frontier for entrepreneurial investors or the societies and economies that benefit from their boldness.
What should I invest and How do I invest
By Imogen Clarke, The Fry Group
With all the uncertainty that has arisen from 2020, with lockdown threatening businesses and the warning of a second wave, the topic of investments has taken on new meaning. Nowadays, more people are concerned with what makes for a good investment, or, if you’re a novice, how to best invest.
For instance, you might be unsure about the reliability of the company you’re looking to invest in, as well as the long-term prospects of your investment.
If you are unsure of your investments, then it is best to seek advice from financial experts like The Fry Group, who deal with tax, wealth and estate planning. They will see that you have a strong financial plan in place to help meet your objectives. They will develop a strategy that is built around your needs and asses any risks that could hinder your plans.
There are some things you’ll need to consider for your strategy; for instance, are you looking to make investments that are more of a risk and will take longer to come to fruition? Or, alternatively, are you wanting a faster approach that will result in a steady income? Whether or not you decide to play it safe all depends on your current financial situation and whether you have the means to take more of a risk. Do you have any other debts that take precedence over your future plans? Is your investment strategy realistic?
With the aid of a specialist – or investment manager – you can design an investment concept that works for you and your goals, and start to build a regular income from your investments. There are four main areas when it comes to assets (groups of investments) that you can consider:
Your investment manager will test the risks associated with your investment, and if it proves to be a positive investment choice, then you will be able to invest more over time.
So, how do you decide where to invest?
According to The Fry Group, ESG investing (Environmental, Social and Governance) is a good option for investors looking to support businesses that meet their similar ethics.
The main areas of ESG investing include:
- Environmental challenges (climate change, pollution, etc)
- Social issues (human rights, labour standards, child labour, etc)
- Governance considerations relating to company management
According to The Fry Group, “Many investors choose to consider ESG investing in order to ensure any investment decisions reflect personal beliefs and values. As a result, they choose to support companies who are making informed, responsible decisions which take into account their wider societal and global impact. In this way investors can achieve peace of mind that their investments are creating a positive effect.”
ESG investing is also more relevant now than ever, as more businesses are looking to present themselves as an environmentally conscious corporation that recognises the values of their consumers.
As The Fry Group puts it, “In the past, ESG investing has been seen as a niche investment approach, for a relatively small number of people with specific requirements. This has changed significantly in recent years, with a growing awareness of environmental issues such as climate change and an increasing understanding of social issues and human rights. As a result, many people are increasingly interested in reflecting their opinions and lifestyle choices through the way they invest.”
So, if you want your investments to pave the way for your personal values and reflect your own morals, then this is the route to go down. But how does it all work?
There are four areas of ESG investing:
- Responsible ownership and engagement: when companies are encouraged to make necessary improvements.
- Avoidance or negative screening: whereby businesses are ‘graded’ based on how ethical their business practices are and are avoided altogether if their methods are not approved.
- Positive screening strategies:when companies meet the ESG goals and are approved for investments.
- Impact investment strategies: the purpose of this is to use investment capital for positive social results such as renewable energy.
You will need to take into account your own personal objectives as well as the objectives that meet the ESG investment criteria. And, in terms of financial performance, ESG investing can be hugely beneficial. Those who opt for ESG investing perform a more in-depth analysis into long-term and future trends that affect industries, meaning that they are better prepared for changes in consumer values when they arise. And, with all the unpredictability that this year has offered us so far, isn’t it better to do the research and have all angles covered?
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