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Life Insurance an essential financial tool

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Mr. Youk Chamroeunrith, Chairman of Forte Life Assurance (Cambodia) Plc

Mr. Youk Chamroeunrith, Chairman of Forte Life Assurance (Cambodia) Plc, gives an inside look at their life insurance products, business strategy, and how people can benefit from the financial protection they offer, allowing for security and peace of mind.

Mr. Youk Chamroeunrith, Chairman of Forte Life Assurance (Cambodia) Plc

Mr. Youk Chamroeunrith, Chairman of Forte Life Assurance (Cambodia) Plc

Life insurance licenses have been issued in Cambodia since 2012, with product promotion and marketing initiatives commencing the following year. Over the past seven years, the local insurance industry has enjoyed robust growth of more than 50% per annum on gross premium incomes, achieving $100 million in total premium incomes in 2018.

Despite the increase in life insurance gross premiums, the market in Cambodia still has very low penetration, which creates both challenges and opportunities. One of the largest challenges, notes Mr. Chamroeunrith, is educating the public on the importance of life insurance. Whether as a form of income protection, savings, investment, or as an additional stream of post-retirement income, says Chamroeunrith, it provides financial protection.

Thanks to Cambodia’s relatively young population (more than 50% are under the age of 40), robust GDP growth at an average of 7% per annum, a growing middle-class and increasing income levels, Forte Life Assurance  is able to forecast great opportunities for future growth.

For those who have never considered life insurance, Chamroeunrith reveals why life insurance is a. Life insurance, he says, is an essential financial tool that allows individuals to secure financial protection for their family and build a comfortable retirement income. This is especially crucial because life is unpredictable, and there may be cases where an income stream abruptly dries up due to an unfortunate event. Payment from a life insurance plan allows family members to maintain the lifestyle they’re used to; a well-thought-out plan can also provide policyholders with an additional source of post-retirement income.

To meet the needs of an array of customers, Forte Life Assurance  offers numerous types of life insurance products. Ranging from low income to high net worth individuals, they offer plans suitable for all needs, including corporate employee and credit-related loan customers. Their Mirco Life products are specifically designed with low premium primary protection, which is ideal for low-income populations. Individually, their life products incorporate features that allow the accumulation of savings over extended periods for future financial needs such as retirement or investment.

Additionally, says Chamroeunrith, the policyholder also simultaneously enjoys protection during the length of the policy. Group corporate employee plans are designed with more flexibility for the employer to choose the right protection coverage within their allocated budget.

While innovation drives Forte Life Assurance, they also make simplicity as a key when guiding people through the life insurance process. They believe in keeping things as simple as possible when it comes to imparting knowledge and information on insurance, says Chamroeunrith, and their product design allows clients to easily create their insurance coverage based on needs and affordability.

Looking back at 2019, Forte Life Assurance made several large strides in evolving from a micro-life insurer to a full-fledged life insurance company. Chamroeunrith says that the past year, though hectic, brought with is some outstanding achievements. Forte’s continued strength in micro-life insurance saw them grow at a rate of 15%, with an estimated gross premium income of $3.5 million. The company also invested a sizable sum on building sales, leadership capabilities, enhancing product development, and the implementation of a robust IT system for Group and individual life products.

Looking forward to a successful year in 2020, Forte Life Assurance’s strategy is to grow their micro-life business by prospecting and signing up additional business partners across a wide range of industries. They are looking to substantially build their group insurance portfolio, guided by their vision to become Cambodia’s preferred group employee benefits provider. Additionally, Forte Life Assurance is developing and recruiting a direct market sales team– part of their innovative, yet simple, product approach that will ultimately result in enhancing overall customer experience and satisfaction.

Interviews

How data and analytics are transforming the insurance market

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How data and analytics are transforming the insurance market 1

Global Banking and Finance Review recently caught up with John Beal, Senior Vice President, Analytics, Insurance, LexisNexis Risk Solutions to understand how data and analytics are shaping the future of the insurance industry globally.

  1. They say data is the new gold. Explain this in the context of the insurance market and how this has impacted your business.

The insurance industry has become more competitive every year and those insurance companies who can improve their business practices through the use of data and analytics will be the winners.

Insurance providers are constantly evaluating new data driven solutions to better segment their customers than their competitors. Added to this, many providers are investing in their own analytics capabilities – this is more advanced in some countries than others. This creates an unending appetite for more and more data, attributes and scores. These factors and the inherent untapped value of our data assets has fueled our growth over the past several years.

  1. You must have a sizeable team to meet this need? 

Today, there are over 130 people across various geographies including Europe, Brazil, and China.  We continue to invest and expand our footprint into more markets and we expect to continue to grow as the demand for analytically derived products increases globally. We continue to research new areas of opportunities in more mature markets, which would lead to organic growth with new product offerings and data analytics initiatives across the organisation.

However, the size of the team is not as important as the breadth of capabilities we bring to our markets. It is not enough to be able to build new predictive solutions, you need to be able to put new concepts into production quickly and efficiently. In addition, insurance providers need to understand relevant benchmarks to understand how they are performing and where they need to invest.  The team offers the range of skills needed to meet these demands.

  1. How has your team structure changed in response to the increasing demand for data insights from the market? 

Overall, our objective is to continuously adapt to the ever-growing demands of our insurance customers by proactively providing actionable, data-driven insights to the market.

We have dedicated Analytics teams that support specific lines of business. Certain product lines require the focus of a dedicated Analytics team because the data sources and processes are highly specialised – Vehicle Build, which is a solution to better evaluate specific Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) to support pricing and underwriting, for example. We also have several teams that provide support to these analytics teams and the business. The Analytics Batch team produces hundreds of test files each year for our customer to validate the value of our solutions.

In addition, we anticipated the industry’s demand of analytics coming several years ago and created the Attribute Development Team, responsible for operationalising thousands of new attributes each year to feed the industry’s data appetite as well as supply our internal data scientists with a constant source of new data points in order to create new products.

As we manage hundreds of complex predictive models and tens of thousands of attributes internationally on a daily basis, implementing and maintaining the highest quality and consistency possible is vital to our business. The Analytics Audit team manages this at a global level and constantly looks for process improvements across all of our product implementations.

  1. How do you attract and retain the right skills to your team? Aren’t data scientist in short supply?

Today, almost every industry leverages analytics and is competing for data scientists.  So, the demand for Data Scientists has increased every year. Universities and Colleges are expanding the number of programmes across the globe, but I think there will be a supply shortage for a long time.

To attract talent, we are fortunate to offer what every data scientist dreams about, data. Our data scientists work with literally hundreds of millions and often billions of records to solve our customers’ problems. Many other companies are very limited in the breadth and depth of their data and many lack the ability to pull it all together in a commercially viable application. We do that every day and that is exciting to a candidate.

Our Data Science Rotational Program (DSRP) sees recently graduated data scientists join LexisNexis for a two-year cycle through four different teams. This experience provides a robust hands-on journey from data access, data analysis, model building to model implementation. Right now, we have seven DSRP team members in this programme and we typically hire three new positions each year.

  1. What has been the most exciting development in the past year?

It’s tough to pick one but the Vehicle Build product is a global solution and being tested across the US, UK and European markets today.  We were able to develop a robust product due to the high quality, advanced analytical work that the team undertook.  They took the time to understand the intricate details associated with ADAS features and technology equipped on a given vehicle.  This product has uniquely positioned us to serve the needs of our clients by offering VIN-level insights.

LexisNexis Risk Solutions has logically sequenced and classified hundreds of variations of vehicle safety features and components into a common taxonomy. In doing so, we are enabling insurance providers to more easily ascertain how these features influences a vehicle’s risk profile. These insights can then be incorporated into pricing and claims workflows.

  1. Can you let us in on the team’s focus going into 2021?

Geospatial analytics is an area we think will provide a number of new predictors into our modeling applications. Image recognition is another area we will be looking at and of course, vehicle build attributes and scores hold a lot of promise globally in both pricing and claims areas.  Trends and benchmark reporting has been under a spotlight with the impact of COVID-19, but we see this area expanding across the globe.

  1. What are the big questions coming from customers today?

Adoption of more data and analytics is the competitive advantage Insurance providers are focused on today. They want more attributes for their data scientists to evaluate. They want the ability to test data faster and with larger files so they can make quicker decisions.

The demand for more cloud support is growing. As insurance providers move their own systems to the cloud, they need data and analytics delivered seamlessly.  They are always looking for ways to save expenses while minimising impact to their risk exposure.

  1. How does the process of creating a new data solution work?

If the concept works and the market opportunity exists, we create the final specs for technology to implement. Before the final implementation, our attribute team is involved in order to create the attributes or inputs into the solution and our audit team works with technology to ensure the final product performs as expected.

While this development work is happening, a testing strategy is developed for customers. We may create actionable insight studies or perform retro validations tests through our batch team. The goal of this work is to demonstrate the value of our solution on the insurance provider’s own data.

As we get closer to product launch, we work with our product team to support any required regulatory documents on the solution inputs, outputs and overall performance. Once the product is in production, the batch team continues supporting the validation process for new customers. Finally, we monitor the attributes and scores to ensure they continue to perform as expected. If we see any issues, we work with Product and Technology to address the issue. At some point, the product will need to be redeveloped which means rebuilding the solution under the direction of the Product team. Once that process starts we start the cycle all over again!

  1. What are the biggest misunderstandings/misconceptions about data analytics within the insurance sector?

A big misconception in the industry is that big data and analytics driven products will replace human capital. Data-driven products allow insurance companies to streamline their existing processes and are meant to complement their existing workflow. Human judgment and expertise will always be required to accurately price risk in line with a company’s business strategy. However, data-driven insights can assist with the decision process.

  1. What are the biggest barriers to successful modelling/data analytics and how do you envisage they should be solved?

The time it takes to implement or operationalise an analytics solution. There’s always needs to be a balance between availability and accuracy to ensure the product produces the expected outcomes.  A natural consequence of technology’s ability to deliver solutions quicker each year creates a challenge to continue to find ways to expedite our processes.

  1. What trends do you see in the application of data from the IoT for insurance? 

We do see very positive trends in the application for some IoT devices. We have partnered with several home IoT manufacturers and to validate reductions in home insurance claims – both the frequency and severity due to the presence of the device. Also, with more people at home during the pandemic, we’ve seen the severity of home insurance claims reduce. For example, if an IoT escape of water alarm goes off, being there in person to shut off the water can stop an insurance claim becoming very expensive.

 However, gathering enough performance or claims data to validate the value of any individual IoT device is an ongoing challenge. It takes time for a device to become widely distributed and the data centrally collected. Once that happens, we do expect to see a need to standardise and normalise the data collected by the many different devices that are in the marketplace today. The good news is we have been in this business with telematics devices for many years and we have extensive experience creating device generated attributes and scores.

  1. Are there specific data trends you see emerging through the Covid19 pandemic in terms of how insurers can prepare for future risks around pandemics?

A significant challenge for insurance providers and our own business is any sudden change in consumer behaviour. We all do things we don’t even think about as part of our daily routines.  Shopping for insurance, driving to work and going to the supermarket are just a few activities that just happen. When any of these things stop, insurance providers need to expedite their ability to service their prospects and customers virtually. This includes prefill solutions, data driven underwriting, pricing applications, and contactless claims processing. Fortunately, we have been developing these solutions for years and are in the best spot to help insurance providers interact effectively with their customers.

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Interviews

Supporting Growth in Africa

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Supporting Growth in Africa 2
Jules Ngankam Group Chief Executive Officer African Guarantee Fund

Jules Ngankam Group Chief Executive Officer African Guarantee Fund

Despite the internationally recognized importance of SMEs, African small businesses often have difficulties accessing financing for growth and innovation from the formal financial sector. SME financing is often considered by many financial sector players in Africa to be a risky activity as promoters quite more often than not, fail to come up with the collateral levels required to secure bank facilities. Enterprises (SMEs) are widely recognized as big drivers of economic growth, innovation, regional development and job creation. A strong and vibrant SME sector provides a strong foundation to increase standards of living and to reduce poverty. African Guarantee Fund is a non-bank financial institution whose objective is to promote economic development, increase employment and reduce poverty in Africa by providing financial institutions with guarantee products and capacity development assistance specifically intended to support SMEs in Africa. Jules Ngankam is Group Chief Executive Officer of African Guarantee Fund (AGF), and recently he spoke to Global Banking & Finance Review about today’s business challenges in Sub Saharan Africa, and the financial implications combatting the Coronavirus pandemic. Jules has over 15 years of experience in banking and financial services with leading financial institutions. He joined African Guarantee Fund in 201 3 as the Chief Financial Officer after which he served as Deputy CEO from April 2017 and was thereafter appointed Group Chief Executive Officer in September 2020.

  1. What conditions led to the creation of African Guarantee Fund?

The Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) sector contributes significantly to developing African economies, but it still has a huge unexploited capacity for growth. SMEs make up approximately 80% of Africa’s private sector firms, with 50% being small- scale and 30% being medium-sized. SMEs contribute over 50% of new jobs in Sub-Saharan Africa however, only approximately 20% to the GDP. This is compared to 40-60% of GDP in the EU and the US and even higher rates in growing Asian economies.

For the SME to really play their role of the engine of growth, among other barriers, access to finance remains the strongest obstacle. According to analysts the SME financing gap in the continent is estimated at USD 300 billion.

The acknowledged reticence of the banking system in financing SMEs, especially as regards to the investment needed for development for this class of businesses, is mainly explained by:

  • Low Banks’ long-term deposits; The inability of the SMEs to provide
  • acceptable guarantees and collateral; Inadequate equity for SMEs;
  • SMEs’ poor quality of management.

The African Guarantee Fund for Small and Medium- sized Enterprises (AGF) was established in 201 2 to address the mismatch in the supply and demand of SME financing in Africa.

The aim of AGF is to reduce the risks assumed by the financial sector by sharing these risks through the provision of financial guarantees that mitigate the inability of SMEs to provide acceptable collateral.Supporting Growth in Africa 3

AGF also offers capacity development to financial institutions to improve SMEs’ financial product offerings, by helping banks to better address working capital and long-term financing needs of SMEs; and increasing Banks’ capacity to appraise SMEs by providing technical assistance and strategy to further develop their business.

AGF is a truly public-private partnership involving donors, development institutions, financial institutions and private investors joining forces to support African SMEs.

  1. Can you tell us about the guarantees AGF offer to address the range of financing needs?

AGF offers four main types of guarantee products:

Loan Individual Guarantees

Loan Portfolio Guarantees

Bank Fund Raising Guarantees

Equity Guarantees

The Loan Individual Guarantee guarantees a single loan made by a bank to a single Borrower whose identity is known. The Loan Portfolio Guarantee guarantees a portfolio of loans made by a bank to a borrower segment for which the qualifying criteria have been defined but the individual borrowers are not known at the time of the guarantee agreement. The guaranteed party is not required to get approval of AGF prior the placement of each loan under the guarantee.

The Bank Fund Raising Guarantee guarantees bonds issued by a bank to investors for the purpose of raising long-term resources to finance SMEs.

The Equity Guarantee is issued to cover equity investments in SMEs.

  1. What is the scope to use guarantees?

The most important criteria of AGF’s guarantee is that the end beneficiary has to be an SME.

  1. How does African Guarantee Fund enable banks in Africa to execute their SME strategy?

In Africa, the main source of financing for SMEs is the banking sector. Despite Banks’ increasing interest to provide services to SMEs, they face multiple challenges mainly due to issues of assessing and managing risks. Furthermore, the resources of banks and financial institutions are mostly short-term, and it is therefore difficult for the banking system to easily use their current excess of liquidity to finance the needs of SMEs. Finally, the inability of SMEs to provide acceptable collateral to reduce the lending risks associated to them, the inadequacy of their capital structure and sometimes the poor quality of their management increase the reluctance of the banks to fully support their activities.

AGF products assist financial institutions to scale up their SME lending activities in situation where SMEs are unable to meet collateral requirements; Improves the solvency (regulatory capital) ratios of banks and thus enables them to have a better leverage on their capital; Addresses regulatory requirements of banks’ limited use of short-term resources to finance medium and long-term SME needs; Allows banks to mobilize medium and long-term resources at very competitive price.

  1. How is the AGF opening up financial opportunities and supporting the growth of SME customers?

The challenges SMEs face in Africa are within five key areas:

Access to finance

Infrastructure

Access to markets

Human resources

Legal environment and corruption

Amongst these challenges, the biggest one is that of accessing finance.

The SME financing gap is brought about by the following gaps:

Information gap: SMEs lack historical data to enable them to adequately assess their risks due to the fact that most of them do not practice proper book-keeping.

Tenor gap: Banks have short-term resources while the SMEs need more of long-term resources to grow.

Collateral gap: Banks have tough collateral requirements.

Product gap: Bank products are sometimes not adapted to SMEs’ business cycles.

Skills gap: SMEs are unable to attract or afford required talent.

Perception gap: This is the gap between the perceived risk and the real risk.

AGF’s guarantee products and capacity development assistance are designed to tackle the financing challenge by being the missing link between the lending institutions and the SMEs.

  1. What improvements have you brought about in the SME sector since you began operations?

Since AGF began operations, the company has delivered in:

Improving lives in Africa

AGF has supported more than 25,000 SMEs.

SMEs that benefited from AG F guarantees have generated an additional revenue of USO 4 Billion. Approximately 50% of supported SMEs are located in rural areas.

20 Million people were able to access clean energy thanks to SMEs supported by AGF guarantees.

Fostering Jobs Creation

130,000 Additional jobs created

Fighting Climate Change

Cutting 3.8 million tons of C02 equivalent Greenhouse Gas (GHG) 57,005 KW Cleaner generation capacity installed

101 Partner Financial Institutions and 291 SMEs Trained

Promoting Gender Equality

USD 522 million Loans granted to 6,000+ women-led SMEs

328 women-led SMEs Trained

Contributing to Africa’s Competitiveness USO 780 million loans granted to 3,400+ SMEs in the Energy, Infrastructure and Manufacturing Sectors

Contributing towards Food Security

USD 188 million loans granted to 2, 100+ SMEs in the Agriculture Sector.

Partnering for Poverty Reduction

USD 2.5 billion private capital made available in 40 Countries

  1. What are your plans to increase financing to agricultural and renewable energy SMEs in Africa?

In 2015, AGF with support from the Nordic Development Fund, launched the Green Guarantee Facility (GGF) to ease access to finance for SMEs to invest in climate and green growth-oriented economy.

The Green Guarantee Facility brings direct benefits in terms of climate change mitigation and adaptation as well as sustainable employment, poverty reduction, and gender- inclusive financing opportunities.

From the banking sector point of view, green finance is a new sector, of which SME lenders are not very familiar. Besides, SMEs are also not well versed with knowledge and skills to design and manage climate-friendly projects, let alone access to green funding. There exists significant knowledge and capacity gaps in green finance, which the GGF technical assistance addresses.

To-date, AGF in partnership with the Nordic Development Fund and the International Trade Centre has hosted five Green Finance Conferences and subsequent trainings in Zambia, Kenya,

Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire and Senegal.

  1. In November, Fitch Rating confirmed the African Guarantee Fund for Small and Medium- sized Enterprises Ltd’s (AGF) Insurer Financial Strength (IFS) Rating at ‘AA-” (Very Strong), what does this rating mean for the company?

The biggest asset of a guarantee fund is its credibility. The main criteria defining AGF’s credibility is its rating. The rating brings a very strong comfort to our partner financial institutions when assessing AGF’s capacity to assist them in improving their profitability, liquidity and solvency in order to meet the expectations of their shareholders and the requirements of the regulators.

AGF’s rating brings huge benefits to our partner financial institutions:

It provides a higher capital relief to banks as it reduces the required amount of loan provisions.

Allows banks to raise capital at a better cost;

Increases the asset quality of banks’ loan portfolio.

Improves the banks’ Risk Weighted Assets (RWA)

  1. Has AGF had to adapt operations as a result of COVID-19? What are some ways AGF is responding and assisting businesses and individuals during this critical time?

COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect African SMEs and has deteriorated their creditworthiness.

As a consequence, the reluctance of financial institutions to finance SMEs has increased.

It is crucial to provide external stimulus to financial institutions so that they can continue to support SMEs in this unprecedented crisis.

AGF launched a COVID- 19 product that aims to:

Reduce the uncertainties faced by financial institutions in Africa as a result of the global coronavirus pandemic.

Provide more comfort to financial institutions to restructure facilities that become non- performing because of COVID-19.

Provide commercial stimulus to the financial sector with the objective of mitigating the deterioration of SMEs ‘ perceived risk.

Provide technical assistance to financial institutions to enhance their risk assessment approaches to better analyze the impact of the pandemic and reduce the SMEs’ risk perception gap.

  1. In your opinion, what role should financial institutions take to support the social economic development in Africa?

Financial institutions need to increase their support to SMEs by increasing SME lending and designing products that are better adapted to SMEs’ needs.

  1. Are you launching any new products and where do you see AGF in 5 years?

We are constantly improving our product offering to better serve SMEs and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Our new products mostly follow a thematic approach to close financing gaps in climate finance, women finance, agribusiness, etc.

In 5 years, we see AGF covering all countries in Africa, dealing with most of African banks and managing a guarantee portfolio of USO 5 billion.

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Interviews

seedtag’s Co-CEOs discuss their most recent acquisition success

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seedtag's Co-CEOs discuss their most recent acquisition success 4

By Albert Nieto, Co-CEO of seedtag & Jorge Poyatos, Co-CEO of seedtag

Q: What does the acquisition of Recognified mean for seedtag?

The acquisition of Recognified is a highly strategic move for seedtag as Recognified is the contextual advertising leader in Germany. It has greatly impacted our business, specifically in three different ways. Firstly, it has consolidated our European leadership which has allowed us to expand our contextual solutions to Germany, the second-largest European market in advertising spend. Secondly, it has reinforced our contextual AI (Artificial Intelligence) technology, strengthening our computer vision capabilities. Last but not least, it now means we can push our ambitions even further to consolidate more companies under seedtag’s umbrella, embedding us as a global leader in contextual advertising.

Q: How will this expand seedtag’s services and technologies?

In terms of services, seedtag offers several contextual solutions, which are completely integrated into the content. We are currently expanding our options so that our clients can move from delivering contextual advertisements in-image and in-video, and also in-article and in-screen. The key is to allow our proprietary contextual AI to optimise among a different set of placements, depending on which is going to be a more effective way of respectfully catching the attention of users.

In terms of technology, our contextual AI has incorporated the strong computer vision capabilities of the technology built by Recognified. The combination of computer vision and Natural Language Processing algorithms allows our technology to be extremely precise when categorizing online content and determining its brand safety, which is absolutely critical for our clients.

Q: What is contextual advertising and why it’s so important in modern marketing?

Contextual advertising is a form of targeted advertising in which the content of an advertisement is in direct correlation to the content of the website page the user is viewing. We have applied AI to our digital advertising to develop our most advanced contextual analysis technology. Today, our algorithm has been learning for more than seven years, enabling us to offer the most powerful contextual AI on the market. Furthermore, we offer advertisers an effective alternative to the use of cookies by targeting users based on their real-time interests.

More and more players are positioning themselves in this sector to meet the demand of internet users, authorities and advertisers, so contextual advertising represents a growing share of the market worldwide.

Q: What’s the next step for seedtag? Will seedtag continue its international expansion?

Seedtag has a lot of growth opportunities ahead. Contextual advertising will keep developing in the coming years and we must be sure that we can offer the best product and service to our clients to capitalise on this growth. Organic growth is our number one priority.

Today we are leaders in Europe and Latin America, but our ambition has been to be global since day one. We will definitely continue to analyze both organic and inorganic opportunities to continue our international expansion, mainly to the United States.

Q: How do you see the advertising market, regardless of your technology, in 5 to 10 years?

It’s not easy to predict how such an innovative sector like advertising and the technology around it will look like in 10 years. However, there are some clear trends that we believe we will see over the next few years.

Media consumption across the globe is increasing across many digital platforms and this will only keep growing. The more time we spend online, the bigger the share of investment for digital advertising there will be.

Relevancy and attention will become the true currency in advertising. Only the brands and solutions that will be able to respectfully catch the attention of users and be relevant to them will survive in the long run.

We also foresee an increase in market duplicity. On the one hand, we will have the ‘walled garden’ platforms led by Google, Facebook, and sooner than later Amazon as key players. Alternatively, we will have an open internet that will be very relevant in terms of time spent but will have higher challenges in terms of addressability. Seedtag is moving towards being one of the key players in the open internet to help brands win the attention battle in a privacy-first world.

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