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Managing liquidity risk during a pandemic



Managing liquidity risk during a pandemic

By Jeff Mount, CEO and Mike Helgesen, Director of Development of Real Intelligence LLC. 

The world seemed to be so much simpler just a few months ago.  Nobody wore masks to protect themselves and others from a potentially lethal virus.  There were no shortages in the aisles of grocery stores.  Unemployment was at historic lows.  Investing seemed relatively easy.

This financial crisis is different than just about every other we have faced due to the complete reversal of the simple life we enjoyed just a couple months ago.  The stock market has recovered somewhat due to the “hope” that our lives will return to normal in the coming days.  Investors have been so optimistic that they have clearly ignored the catastrophic unemployment claims of the last few weeks and are overlooking what are expected to be dismal earnings reports for the second quarter.  In the last six weeks, investors have driven the S&P 500 up 30% from the bottom in late March. This rapid rise—driven by hope and optimism—could be at risk should the pandemic spike again as people around the world attempt to restart their lives.  So, what is an investor expected to do to manage risk and create liquidity for upcoming life events (college tuition, weddings, etc.)?

Traditional financial planning is based on an institutional method.  It asks the investor questions that assess their risk profile and creates an allocation from which growth occurs during the accumulation phase and distributions occur when income is needed.  This allocation is reset on a systematic basis (semi-annually or annually) to take advantage of selling securities that are overvalued and buying ones that are undervalued.  Here is the problem with this—institutions do not get sick or hurt.  They do not get laid off.  They do not pay for their children’s tuition or weddings.  All of these real-life challenges require liquidity.  The most liquid security is cash.  However, cash pays the investor nothing and, therefore, creates a drag on a portfolio.  Bonds function as an instrument that offers less volatility than stocks (which makes them a great instrument to lower overall risk) and they generate income.  However, bonds endure two risks that should be addressed in this environment:  credit risk and interest rate risk.  It is unlikely that we will see the Federal Reserve tighten interest rates for a while, however, rates could potentially rise naturally if inflation becomes a concern due to lack of supply and/or continued supply chain disruptions. Credit risk, however, is a very real risk moving forward.  We just exited the strongest economy we have ever seen in the United States and the consequence of that is there are a lot of outstanding loans that were made to entities that will probably not survive this downturn.  These entities were probably in financial trouble before the downturn but were kept afloat by the strong market and easy access to more capital.  As the tide rolls out, it will be revealing to see who is wearing a bathing suit and who is not!  As sophisticated bond investors evaluate these bonds, they have to try to identify which companies have that healthy mix of strong revenues, a strong cash position, and enough of a dividend to justify the risk for the investor.  All of these challenges highlight why the traditional “institutional” method of financial planning cannot be trusted moving forward.

A new, more human-centered, financial planning method is taking shape.  It is called Dynamic Mapping, and it creates liquidity for the investor by applying a process called “aging of portfolios.”  Rather than putting the investor through the risk profile questionnaire experience (imagine how different the answers to these questions would be when asked last year versus today) and rebalancing back to an allocation that was probably flawed to begin with, Dynamic Mapping suggests creating purpose-based portfolios that each have their own unique distribution date.  Assets would be allocated very highly towards risky asset classes (like stocks) when the distribution date is far into the future (like 15 years or more).  As the distribution date nears, these portfolios gradually move to bonds, and then to short-term US Treasuries at the point nearest the distribution date.  Some compare this process to target-date management, but it is very different in that Dynamic Mapping assigns no downside risk management benefit to diversification of sub-asset classes.  Periods like a dotcom collapse, a global credit crisis or a global pandemic cause these sub-asset classes to correlate to “1”, thus eliminating the risk management benefit at the worst possible time.  Dynamic Mapping also strongly encourages the creation of a bear market reserve, a contingency reserve, and an inflation reserve.  Each is funded with different types of securities that provide liquidity for each purpose.  The bear market reserve and contingency reserve are invested in short-term U.S. Treasuries and the inflation reserve is invested in asset classes like TIPS (Treasury Inflation Protected Securities), commodities and dividend paying stocks.  Under all circumstances, investors who use this process will always have liquidity for those purpose-based accounts at the time they need it.

Once a financial planning method has been chosen and crafted, the investment management challenges begin!  It is a given that managing stocks for the short-term will be very tough.  The stock market makes enormous moves up when hopeful information is disseminated to the general public about the possible end to this crisis and equally powerful moves downward when the public is disappointed about economic data or a potential resurgence of the pandemic in the future.  Interest rate cuts and demand for safe assets have driven yields to near “0.”  If an investor wants to own a bond with a higher yield, they take on potentially devastating credit risk with companies who might default on their debt.  This dynamic certainly suggests a need for professional management of both stocks and bonds over passive strategies like indexing.  However, there is a risk of illiquidity in bonds when the bonds are inside of a mutual fund or exchange traded fund.  Here’s how this plays out:

  1. The bond fund manager builds a portfolio that meets the objective of generating income while managing credit risk through the diversification of investment grade and high yield bonds. (Without the high yield bonds, there is very little yield available to make the return performance compelling at this moment in time.)
  2. A cash position is created that is larger than the normal 3% in order to distribute to potentially exiting investors in the next downturn. However, it is almost never large enough to meet this objective because a large cash position creates an enormous drag on performance.  (Portfolio managers often receive performance-based compensation relative to their peers which serves as a conflict of interest).
  3. When the liquidity crisis hits, exiting investors burn through the cash and the portfolio manager is forced to sell bonds. The sale of these bonds in a crisis means the bonds will be sold at a discount and may take a while to clear (bonds do not trade on an exchange like stocks do).
  4. Since there will be no appetite for risk in the crisis, the portfolio manager will only be able to sell the highest quality bonds. Nobody will want to buy the high yield bonds that carry enormous default risk.
  5. The end result is that the exiting investors get their cash while the investors who were asked to “remain calm, all is well” (visualize Kevin Bacon in Animal House here)are left with a lower quality bond mutual fund than the one they initially bought and feel the pain of those bonds that were sold at large discounts. The risk of default in their portfolio would be higher than ever before.

Ideally, an investor would be better off hiring a portfolio manager to manage individual bonds they would own outright.  This would relieve the portfolio of any pressure from exiting investors and allow the investor and manager to remain patient during a liquidity crisis.

Another important risk management tool that is implemented in the Dynamic Mapping method is the calculation of purpose-based liabilities.  When saving for our children’s college tuition plan in the future, we often calculate the four-year tuition into the future with an assumed rate of inflation.  We rarely do that with retirement or other funding needs.  Dynamic Mapping calculates the personal liability for each of life’s purposes so that the investor knows exactly what amount they need.  These liabilities are graphed alongside their corresponding assets.  The output of the calculations is easy to read due to the graphical nature of the method.  No boring spreadsheets and no old school bar charts. For those who like to “do it themselves,” a free app called Dynamic Map is a calculator that can show these graphs.

The COVID-19 crisis has changed the world in many ways forever.  One of these changes needs to be the elimination of risk management methods that have nothing to do with the challenges faced by real people.  The old school method of financial planning is fine for foundations, endowments, and pensions.  No amount of “Monte Carlo analysis,” or other such gimmicks, will justify a “set it and forget it” asset allocation program designed to cover a family’s entire life.


Research exposes the £68.8 billion opportunity for UK retailers



Research exposes the £68.8 billion opportunity for UK retailers 1
  • Modelling shows increasing the proportion of online sales by 5 percentage points would have significantly boosted retailers’ revenues during the first lockdown
  • 72% of Brits want retailers who started an online service during the pandemic to continue operating it full time

New data released today by global payments platform Adyen, outlines the economic gains that could be accessed by getting more UK retailers online.

Economic modelling conducted by Cebr for Adyen indicates that if the retail sector increased the proportion of turnover stemming from online channels by 5 percentage points, £68.8 billion would have been added to the economy during the first lockdown.

While retail turnover stemming from online sales has grown significantly during 2020 – from 19% to 28%[1], there is still considerable room for growth.

Myles Dawson, UK Managing Director of Adyen comments: “The UK retail sector is facing an incredibly tough quarter, so creating the link between physical stores and online channels is more important than ever. With the festive period approaching and many shoppers unable, or uncomfortable leaving their homes, establishing and maintaining a positive online experience is a billion-pound opportunity for retailers.”

The research[2] of 2,000 UK consumers found that 31% are less likely to shop in physical stores now because of positive experiences shopping online during the pandemic. Furthermore, 72% of these consumers want retailers who started an online service during the pandemic to continue operating it in the long term.

However, making the process of shopping online as frictionless as possible will be key to unlocking the opportunity presented by online channels. 70% of Brits say that when shopping online, the ease of use is as important as the quality of the product, and 72% won’t shop with a retailer whose website or app is difficult to navigate.

Myles Dawson concludes: “Many retailers did amazing things during the pandemic in terms of adapting and creating new experiences – it’s a testimony to their agility that 57% of Brits said their expectations of the retail sector has improved during the pandemic. The challenge now is to consistently meet these expectations going forward. With local lockdowns in place, online channels will be key to serving many consumers in the short term. However, retailers need to see the shift to unified commerce as a long-term trend. The sooner they can demonstrate agility and jump on board, the longer they’ll reap the rewards.”


2 Research conducted by Opinium Research LLP

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Want to serve your customers better? An effective online strategy is what financial institutions need 



Want to serve your customers better? An effective online strategy is what financial institutions need  2

By Anna Willems, Marketing Director, Mention

A strong online presence matters.

Having a strong online presence, that involves social media is now a crucial part of all business strategies. Whether they are retail brands, sports teams, libraries or even restaurants, most companies are investing more and more in developing their digital brand image and online presence – financial institutions are no exception.

When it comes to market trends and innovation, financial institutions are first on the line. After all, we — people and companies — trust them to manage our money to the best of their abilities. And even more so than any other market, we demand secure, trustworthy, fast and user-friendly services.

Reaching such high expectations is not a given. To this point, banks and other financial institutions have no other choice but to have a perfect understanding of their market, their audience, and their needs. What they need to get there is a fail-proof online strategy.

Gaining a deep understanding of your market

One of the best things about using social media to learn about your audience is that people give unsolicited opinions. They speak their mind and share their thoughts candidly.

This is the key to help any business to learn about themselves. They get to analyze their audience’s challenges and aspirations without having to ask them directly or serve them time-consuming surveys and polls.

UK-based Asto, a company that is part of the Santander Group, is committed to helping small businesses have access to financial and non-financial tools. Asto was looking for something that could help them discover what their target audience was talking about and find opportunities to add to the conversation. Mention enabled Asto to keep on top of reviews and customer comments, which has helped us provide a better service for our customers.

Which platform suits your offering the best?

There’s no point choosing to create campaigns on TikTok if your customers don’t use it – you need to think about who they are and work back from there.

You do this by automating the process using a social listening tool. A social listening tool will help you to view your market as a whole and identify where the key conversations are happening — and, therefore, where you should be. What’s more, you will never miss any relevant mention of your institutions, products, services, or competitors.

Handling a crisis

Financial institutions need to watch carefully for negative press – social media is the first place people will go to if they feel they’re not getting the service they need. In theory, rogue employees or unhappy clients can post anything they like online to try and hurt your brand. And if their messages gain traction, you’ve gone from one person saying bad things, to thousands.

That’s why listening needs to be part of any crisis management plan. Now, sometimes, there are crises you cannot prevent. And those usually hit pretty hard.

Power of influencers

For an influencer marketing campaign to work for your financial institution, partnering with nano content creators may well be the best way to go. They’re ability to play a part in how they shape your brand story can make a huge difference when it comes to engagement and reason to believe in your service.

Many financial institutions are already leveraging influencer marketing. It’s an efficient strategy to: Build trust and gain credibility, reach out to new audiences and share engaging stories.

The online review conundrum

94% of consumers check online reviews before they decide to buy something or subscribe to a service. They need what we call social proof. It says that the more people say they use your service, the more it will look like a good service. In short, you need to show how happy people are using your service. But not all online reviews are positive.

Having said that, we find that financial institutions shouldn’t ignore negative reviews. Instead, embrace them as an opportunity to rebuild trust in your brand. Less delicately put, take the bull by the horns and turn them to your advantage. Always respond to relevant complaints (and as fast as possible). Take responsibility for what happened. Be helpful.

And ignore trolls.

Learn from the competition

Over the last two decades, a marketer’s daily life has greatly evolved. Most importantly, we now can measure everything we do, including the consequences of our actions on our business. Having said that, you can’t evaluate how well you’re doing without comparing against


Truth is that 77% of businesses rely on listening to keep an eye on their competitors. What this means is that 4 in 5 of your direct competitors are likely watching each and every single step you take. And you should do the same.

Setting the trend

From staying up to date with the latest industry trends and innovations, to keeping an eye on the competitors’ newest services, to being the first to know of potential brand crises – tracking relevant online conversations lets marketing and communication professionals working for financial institutions to stay one step ahead in an industry that is leading change and innovation.

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Why the Boom is Long Overdue (and Here to Stay)



Why the Boom is Long Overdue (and Here to Stay) 3

By Roger James Hamilton, CEO, Genius Group

Virtually every aspect of our lives has been taken over by tech, so why is it that our schools, that are educating the business leaders of tomorrow, are still operating in much the same format as they did 100 years ago?

The global pandemic put digital learning in the spotlight and an Edtech boom has ensued, with companies like Coursera, Quizlet and Udemy seeing unicorn style growth. And the market is not slowing down. The education technology (Edtech) boom will continue.

Resilience and Growth

Unicorns are defined by rapid growth. Traditionally, these companies are not overly concerned with early profitability, long-term sustainability or value creation as much as with putting their competitors out of business.

But something different is going on in the Edtech market. The unicorn has lost its appeal. When learning platform Quizlet achieved unicorn status this year, CEO Matthew Glotzbach was keen to play down the moniker reserved for start-ups valued at $1 billion or more, preferring to liken his company to a camel.

Unlike unicorns, camels are real, hardworking beasts. Respected for their adaptability to various climates, resilience, and abilities to survive for long periods without sustenance. These are all traits much better suited to weather the economic storms created by the pandemic.

Despite their considerable abilities to adapt to challenging conditions, the climate is looking particularly sunny for camels within the Edtech market. In fact, all creatures great and small have the potential to capitalise on unprecedented growth in this sector.

The nature of education makes it a traditionally slow-moving area, which renders it unattractive to some investors. Yet, the coronavirus outbreak and subsequent surge in remote learning this year triggered a flurry of uptake in e-learning platforms.

We’ve seen the adoption rate for new technologies be accelerated by events like this before. For example, the SARS crisis of 2003 contributed to the boom in China’s ecommerce industry, as quarantines lead consumers to shop online. Of course, this market trend did not slow down once quarantine restrictions were lifted. Ever since, global online sales have risen exponentially. The same is set to happen in the Edtech market.

Providing a Solution

As with ecommerce in 2003, the demand for Edtech in 2020 was already there. It has been there for years. For the past decade at least, there has been a notable need in recruitment for qualified talent in data science, coding and digital. Edtech can bridge the skills gap, not only within formal education but also for adult learners upskilling and reskilling for today’s digital world.

Similarly, the financial crash of 2008 had the effect of fast-tracking the rise of the gig economy, requiring millions more to learn entrepreneurial skills. The idea of a job for life is now a distant memory. The Edtech sector can deliver the tools to equip students of all ages with the skills necessary for creating their own opportunities, as well as exchanging knowledge and collaborating in a digital economy.

Rising unemployment, as well as competition for jobs and government furlough schemes has seen interest in digital learning courses for adults also soar during the past few months. Figures show that the corporate e-learning market is set to increase by as much as $3.09 billion between 2020 and 2024.

Roger James Hamilton

Roger James Hamilton

The Edtech boom kickstarted by the pandemic is just the beginning in a paradigm shift in how we view education and work.

Over the next 10 years, with the rise of artificial intelligence, automated technology, and augmented reality, traditional, manual and customer service based roles will diminish and there will be less need for a large workforce when computers and machines can do the role equally well.

The need for a truly 21st century education system that reflects the needs of the job market is long overdue. Edtech companies are offering solutions to many of these issues that have troubled the economy for the past decade or more.

A Different Animal

Enter the zebra (back to our animal analogies). These types of Edtech businesses will be the ones to watch within the sector. With zebra companies, there’s a sense of community and collaboration, rather than competition. They understand that there’s room for more than one superstar in a market. Zebras are herd animals after all. The zebra believes that competition is healthy for everyone involved—something to watch and use for motivation and growth. It closely observes consumer trends and continually strives to solve new and developing problems for those consumers.

For zebra companies, profit margin is vital because it is necessary for steady growth and sustainability. Revenues hover between $5M and $50M, it serves customers within a specific niche, requires annual growth capital of $100K to $1M, and generally has more than four streams of revenue.

Zebras are both black with white stripes and white with black stripes – they have a fluidity in their approach and are camouflaged at the same time. This creates a double bottom line: Zebras want to conduct real business, by solving a pressing problem in a sustainable way, whilst reacting to contemporary challenges. This too could be said of the Edtech industry as a whole.

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