By Sascha Breite, Head Future Payments at SIX Payment Services
The stage is set for an almighty scrap.
With the value of global mobile payments accelerating from $235 billion in 2013 to $325 billion this year (according to Gartner), new and existing players are redoubling their efforts to carve out a role for themselves.
And as market observers have spotted, this particular gold rush has a characteristic never before displayed. There are not just two, three or four different industries in competition, but six. Financial institutions (including banks), retailers like Amazon and many others, wireless network operators, traditional payment service providers and mobile rivals are all busily creating platforms, devising apps and gathering customers in preparation for a sustained battle for supremacy.
For all of them, this involves making investments in the future. MasterCard, for example, acquired digital wallet provider C-SAM in February 2014, demonstrating its faith in a certain direction of technological travel. Amazon, meanwhile, bought mobile payments app and point-of-sale software developer GoPago in late 2013, indicating that the queen of online retailing is pitching to enter the bricks and mortar world, via mobile payment technology.
Initial Public Offerings (IPOs) have been scarce in this field so far, but analysts expect the pace to quicken, as the current breed of smaller service provider and mid-size technology company specialising in mobile payments sees the opportunity to expand at speed. Likely companies include Square, while target acquisitions for the existing big players such as Google, PayPal, Apple, Amazon and Walmart include Stripe, Dwolla, LevelUp (a provider of barcode mobile payment solutions) and Bill.com.
Pioneers of mobile payments include Starbucks, which developed a system whereby customers pay into an app, giving them a barcode to display on their smartphones. The Starbucks cashier then passes the electronic reader over this barcode to make a sale.
Starbucks claims that 11 per cent of its sales volume now comes through this system, a very cheering result for the retail sector in general. Many other chains are now developing their own versions of this app, including the Subway sandwich chain, which employed mobile payment company Paydiant to help them. “What you’ll see over the next year is that grocery and convenience stores and restaurants will all come out with mobile payments,” says Chris Gardner, co-founder of Paydiant. He believes that half of consumer transactions will be mobile enabled within three to five years, making many of the current payment systems obsolete (or at least reducing their appeal).
The original genius behind the Starbucks app, Benjamin Vigier, is now head of retail payments for Apple, helping to guide its path to mobile payments prosperity. As the device manufacturer with the most influence upon the mobile payments market (according to a recent survey from Appinions, conducted with Forbes Insight), Apple has already exerted a considerable sway over its direction of travel. By refusing to incorporate NFC (Near Field Communication) into its iPhone 5 series, Apple has effectively prevented the technology from developing as its supporters would have liked. Instead, since the latest iPhones do support Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) communications, in conjunction with Apple’s iBeacon platform, this technology is likely to gain more traction in the coming years. With a range of up to 50 metres, BLE has the capacity to provide in-store communications, giving consumers a map of the premises, allowing them to search for items and then to pay. This, supporters argue, is a truly important step forward, whereas NFC “didn’t solve any real world problems,’ said PayPal president David Marcus.
PayPal, like Apple, has invested in microlocation technology with its PayPal Beacon app. “By knowing more precisely where a consumer is, we can take several steps out of the mobile payments process,” says Rakesh Agrawal, mobile payments consultant. “And in mobile, every touch matters.”
The ease of connecting payments to all the myriad other services and apps on a smartphone makes CRM a hugely fertile possibility for the right solution provider. As Alex Campbell, co-founder of Vibes explains: “Mobile experience will get more personal, through better analytics and CRM behaviour.” He also believes that ‘post-click’ behaviour will change the way that mobile advertisers invest their money.
Speed, simplicity and invisibility are all likely to increase, as mobile payments enter the mainstream. Retailers are interested in removing the processes that cost them money – paying shop assistants to perform card transactions and verify details, which cause queues and disruption. Consumers also want to speed up the shopping process, so they have a vested interest in adopting mobile payment technology. So there is little doubt that it will emerge ever more forcefully in the coming years.
And what of the banks, who have decades of history as incumbents in the payment arena but are now threatened with marginalisation, should mobile payments disintermediate them and facilitate a new era of direct transfers?
“We believe that the banks’ payment systems will open up to third parties, enabling these parties to play a vital role in facilitating payments,” says Sascha Breite, Head Future Payments at SIX Payment Services. “The impact of direct payments, including micro payments from consumers to small merchants, will be huge”, he argues.
“The real value for banks is to connect payments to other services,” says Breite. “All the major players are aware of the risks in the market and they’re trying to be part of the whole value chain, instead of simply handling the payment itself only.” He thinks that the opportunity for the telcos to direct the future of mobile payments is still there but in another role. Here again, they are keen to add value.
“A world in which payments virtually disappeared from our daily lives – because the payment process has become absorbed by technology into our own personal ‘back office’, deal with automatically and painlessly – would be a major step forward” adds Breite.
The exponential growth of mobile payments hints that this future could be closer than we think. Until then, we have the spectacle of six industries fighting for the right to let us ignore them and get on with their business, transferring our money between one another in the blink of an eye.
By Sascha Breite, Head Future Payments at SIX Payment Services
Five things shaping Britain’s financial rulebooks after Brexit
By Huw Jones
LONDON (Reuters) – Britain is conducting a review of its financial rulebooks and policies to see how it can keep its 130 billion pound ($184 billion) finance sector competitive after Brexit left it largely cut off from the European Union.
The government is due to issue papers in the coming days outlining its approach to financial technology (fintech) and capital markets, while further down the line it’s expected to propose changes to the funds and insurance sectors.
Here are five things set to shape the City of London financial hub following its loss of access to the EU:
BIG BANG DEBATE
Britain’s finance ministry is reviewing financial regulation and insurance capital rules, with minister Rishi Sunak raising the prospect of a “Big Bang 2.0” to maintain the City’s competitiveness, a reference to liberalisation of trading in the 1980s.
But it’s unclear how far any deregulation could go given that Britain says it won’t undermine global standards.
UK Finance, a banking body, wants a formal remit for regulators to ditch rules that put them at a competitive disadvantage globally. Insurers want cuts in capital requirements to free up cash for green and long term investments.
But the Bank of England says the City must not become an “anything goes” financial centre, and that insurers hold the right amount of capital.
Cross-border firms want to avoid Britain diverging from international norms as this would add to compliance costs.
City veterans say Britain should focus on allowing firms to hire globally, and ensuring that regulators respond nimbly and proportionately to crypto-assets, sustainable finance, long-term investing and restructurings after COVID-19.
COPYING NEW YORK
London has fallen behind New York in attracting company flotations and a government-backed review of listing rules is likely to recommend allowing “dual class” shares and a lower “free float”, perhaps for a limited period.
Dual class shares are stocks in the same company with different voting rights, while “free float” refers to the proportion of a company’s shares that are publicly available.
The potential changes could attract more tech and fintech companies whose founders typically want to retain a large degree of control.
It could also recommend making it easier for special purpose acquisition companies (SPACs) – businesses that raise money on stock markets to buy other companies – an area in which New York has also dominated, with Amsterdam catching up fast.
UK asset managers warn that strong corporate governance standards could be diluted by tinkering with listing rules.
Britain is home to one of the world’s biggest innovative fintech sectors, its “sandboxes” – which allow fintech firms to test new products on real consumers under regulatory supervision – copied across the world. But Brexit means Britain has to work harder to attract and retain fintechs as they will no longer have direct access to the world’s biggest trading area.
A government-backed review to buttress the sector is due to report back on Friday with recommendations that could include cutting red tape for fintechs that want to recruit staff from across the world, and make listing in Britain more attractive.
Other ideas could include helping fledgling fintech navigate government departments and regulators more easily, along with ways of boosting funding for start-ups.
FUNDS ARE THE FUTURE
Britain is reviewing how to make itself a more competitive place for listing investment funds, a core tool for bringing fresh capital into markets.
UK-based asset managers run many funds listed in the EU, but this global system of cross-border management known as delegation could be tightened up by the bloc.
Having more funds listed in Britain would also mean that the shares they hold would be traded in London. Billions of euros in trading euro shares have left the UK for Amsterdam since Brexit due to the bloc’s restrictions on where funds can trade shares.
As the City will get only limited access at best to the EU, industry officials say it makes more sense to focus on getting better access to other markets like Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan and the United States, while at the same time keeping the UK financial market open to the world, including the EU.
Negotiations between Britain and Switzerland for a “mutual recognition” deal in financial rules is the way to go, industry officials say. Better global access would also keep the City ahead of EU centres like Amsterdam, Paris and Frankfurt.
($1 = 0.7056 pounds)
(Reporting by Huw Jones. Editing by Mark Potter)
How the Brexit Agreement Failed the Financial Services Sector
By Steve Taklalsingh, MD UK Business, Amaiz
Over the Valentine’s weekend, it was announced that during January, the first month that the new Brexit-related changes came into force, Amsterdam overtook London as the largest financial trading centre in Europe. Approximately €9.2bn (£8.1bn) worth of shares were traded on Amsterdam’s exchanges each day in January, against €8.6bn in London. How did that happen and why is Brexit to blame?
The Brexit deal for the Financial Sector
The Christmas Eve Brexit agreement delivered an unfair market for UK companies in the Financial Services Sector. The deal meant we were left in a situation where EU-based banks wanting to buy European shares cannot trade via London. EU shares that were previously traded in the UK have moved to the EU on advice of the European regulator. In addition, EU FinTech companies can operate in the UK but, as ‘equivalence’ (agreeing to recognise each other’s regulations) has not been agreed, our FinTech companies cannot now operate in the EU. You can already see evidence of EU companies, particularly those based in Amsterdam and Germany, eyeing up the UK market.
As a sector we’ve never been shy of boasting about our 12% contribution to the UK’s GDP. FinTech, in particular, has been a UK success story. This vibrant scene is looked on with some envy and I’m very proud to be part of it. Internationally, having a foothold in this market, and a London address, was the aspiration of financial services companies who wanted to be taken seriously, but not anymore.
Action to solve the market distortion
The Bank of England chief Andrew Bailey has warned that there are signs that the EU plans to cut off the UK from its financial markets and has urged them not to do so. The indications are that the Government is aware of the ‘problem’ but doesn’t appear to see the clear urgency in resolving it. It has been reported that there are ongoing talks to harmonise rules over financial regulations (equivalence) and that they’re working towards a March deadline.
Number 10 has said they are open to discussions on the equivalence issue and claims that the Government has ‘supplied the necessary paperwork’ and boasts of the UK’s strong regulatory system. It lays the fault of delay firmly at the doorstep of the EU: “Fragmentation of share trading across financial centres is in no one’s interest.” I’m disappointed that they’re not, in public, recognising the seriousness of the situation.
Research on the impact of Brexit
At Amaiz we have worked hard to understand the implications of Brexit. At the beginning of December we carried out research which focussed on the impact on financial services. The report, Brexit Brink: Are British SMEs about to fall off the edge of Europe – or building new bridges? is based on a survey of SMEs across the UK and you can download it free from www.https://journal.amaiz.com/amaiz-guide/. Our findings gave us valuable insight into the deal that was needed for Financial Services.
Most companies had been preparing for Brexit for some years. Whilst there were some that hoped and campaigned for the referendum result to be overturned, that seemed unlikely. The results of our research in December showed that people were as ready as they could be:
- Nearly half (49.2%) of company decision makers had reviewed new regulations set to take force on 1 January 2021 (if there was a no deal Brexit) and made changes to ensure their companies would meet them.
- Only 17% of companies said they had failed to prepare.
The changes that company leaders believed would have the most impact were those to regulations (37.4% of respondents said this was a concern), increased costs of doing business (37.2%), and reduced access to suppliers (35.5%). Overall, 57% of companies believed that Brexit would have a negative impact on their business, and some (6.6%) believed it would destroy their business.
The research found that larger companies were more prepared for Brexit than smaller ones. That’s likely to due to their ability to devote resources to solving the challenges Brexit presents. Those employing between 1 and 10 people were most concerned about increased costs (45.7%) and those with between 11 and 50 employees about taxes and VAT (41.3%).
Larger companies in Financial Services prepared for Brexit by registering companies and offices within the EU so that they could continue trading there. This acted as a fail-safe solution that avoided issues, whether a deal was struck or not, and whatever the nature of that deal. Smaller companies don’t have the resources to do this; they could not open another office on the off chance that they would need it, so Brexit put them in a more vulnerable position.
Impact on the economy
Of course, Brexit came at a time when we were all trying to manage the devastating impact of the pandemic. The FCA (Financial Conduct Authority) and FSB (Federation of Small Business) both published figures in January that show the terrible impact of the pandemic on SMEs in the UK. The FCA found that 59% of smaller financial firms expected that their profits would take a hit this year. The FSB found that nearly 5% of smaller companies expect to be forced to close within 12 months, the largest proportion in the history of the Small Business Index and would mean that 295,000 companies will close this year.
A plea to the Government
The Government has worked hard to find ways to help small businesses survive the pandemic in order to save jobs. The economy is experiencing an unprecedented recession, with all hopes laid on a swift bounce back as soon as lock down ends. Until then we are in ‘war’ mode. However, helping businesses survive is not just about handing out cash. What the Financial Services Sector urgently needs is a fair regulatory framework and marketplace in which UK business can operate. Instead, the Government has allowed distortions that continue to damage one of the country’s key sectors – one that can drive us out of recession – and appear laid back about resolving the situation!
Bitcoin tumbles 17% as doubts grow over valuations
By Tom Wilson and Tom Westbrook
LONDON/SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Bitcoin tumbled 17% on Tuesday, sparking a sell-off across cryptocurrency markets as investors grew nervous at sky-high valuations and leveraged players took profit.
The world’s biggest cryptocurrency suffered its biggest daily drop in a month, falling as low $45,000. Bitcoin was last down 11.3% at 0939 GMT.
The drop extended a slump of nearly a fifth from a record high of $58,354 hit on Sunday – though bitcoin remains up around 60% for the year.
“The kinds of rallies we’ve been seeing aren’t sustainable and just invite pullbacks like this,” said Craig Erlam, senior market analyst at OANDA.
Ether, the world’s second largest cryptocurrency by market capitalisation that often moves in tandem with bitcoin, also dropped more than 17% and last bought $1,461, down almost 30% from last week’s record peak.
Cryptocurrency markets have been running hot this year as big money managers and companies begin to take the emerging asset class seriously, piling money into the sector and driving confidence among small-time speculators.
A $1.5 billion investment in the crytocurrency by electric carmaker Tesla this month has helped vault bitcoin above $50,000 but may now lead to pressure on the company’s stock price as it has become sensitive to movements in bitcoin.
Rising government bond yields over recent days have hit riskier assets, spilling over into leveraged bitcoin markets, said Richard Galvin of crypto fund Digital Asset Capital Management.
“Markets were quite hit from a leverage perspective so that didn’t help,” he added.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, who has flagged the need to regulate cryptocurrencies more closely, also said on Monday that bitcoin is extremely inefficient at conducting transactions and is a highly speculative asset.
Critics say the cryptocurrency’s high volatility is among reasons that it has so far failed to gain widespread traction as a means of payment.
Analysts said key price levels have played a large part in determining the direction of crypto markets.
“Because we’re so lacking in fundamentals, it’s the big figures that have proved to be support and resistance points,” said Michael McCarthy, chief strategist at brokerage CMC Markets in Sydney.
“$50,000, $40,000 and $30,000 are the key chart levels at the moment. If we see it heading through $50,000, selling could accelerate.”
(Reporting by Tom Westbrook; Editing by Jacqueline Wong and Nick Macfie)
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