- Sarment launches a luxury lifestyle ecosystem targeted at high-net-worth individuals
- The proprietary digital platform is enhanced by artificial intelligence
- It raised C$19million (£11.3m) in IPO on TSX Venture Exchange in August 2018
Sarment has launched its digital platform for high-net-worth patrons to access an international network of luxury brands and premium personal services.
This luxury world, which combines a marketplace that offers rare and fine products with a carefully-curated array of exclusive experiences, is delivered via an app to users’ mobile phones. The offerings are refined by the company’s team of experts across all the lifestyle categories including restaurants, fine wines and spirits, bars, events, fashion, health and wellness, art and culture, hotels, travel and more.
Designed as a secure, personal portal to the luxury world, the mobile app aggregates all the different facets of the luxury lifestyle into a single ecosystem providing three pillars of access to the user: specialist content, purchasing ability and reservation opportunities. Depending on the access tier chosen, the user will be able to browse content crafted by Sarment’s lifestyle ambassadors, buy top-drawer products not easily available elsewhere, and unlock privileged experiences.
Users will not only be able to secure coveted tables at fine restaurants, they will also get to select more exclusive appointments such as a test drive of the latest sports car, a private tour of an art exhibition, or even a bespoke stylist session at a fashion atelier – all at the touch of a button. They will also be able to access Sarment’s team of ambassadors who are all well-versed in their chosen fields of luxury expertise, making the app a first-of-its-kind mobile companion for today’s discerning consumer.
Sarment just raised C$19million (£11.3m)in its initial public offering on the TSX Venture Exchange. The proceeds will be used to fund the luxury lifestyle service provider’s technological development and geographical expansion.
Chief executive Quentin Chiarugi says: “While we have always offered our clientele both fine products and personal services, we had reached a point where we could only handle so many in-person interactions given the very high service standards we wanted to maintain. Going digital and automating as much of the interaction process as possible has enabled Sarment to scale our business model to meet the growing demand in the luxury industry.”
Paolo Bulgari, one of Sarment’s key shareholders and honorary chairman, is convinced by this strategy. The chairman of Bulgari Spa says: “Sarment has the right approach as a contemporary company in the luxury industry. By integrating technology with innovative services, it is getting the industry to evolve in the right direction. Personal services are essential for today’s customers and Sarment is doing the correct thing by focusing on the experience around the consumption of luxury goods. I believe this approach is an important part of the future of the luxury industry.” Prior to its listing, Sarment was the only non-listed company that Mr Bulgari ever invested in personally.
The company was founded in 2012 by entrepreneur Bertrand Faure Beaulieu providing “art de la table” products and services to both private individuals and enterprises active in the luxury community. It quickly evolved into a broader lifestyle service provider offering premium experiences to its expanding base of affluent clients in Singapore, Hong Kong SAR, Shanghai, Beijing, Tokyo, London and Paris. Over the past six years, Sarment has specially selected luxury products and services sourced from 1,100 partners across multiple luxury genres made accessible to over 3,400 users.
It started investing into artificial intelligence technology in 2016 and is currently rolling out its digital offerings across the major Asian markets. It aims to expand into the North American and European markets in the coming year.
This proprietary artificial intelligence system is constantly learning about each individual’s preferences and behaviour, evolving the platform to be more personal to each user with every interaction.
The digital platform has allowed the company to adopt a B2B2C model focusing on growing the business through enterprise clients rather than individuals. This has enabled Sarment to overcome the scalability issue in the industry which all luxury players face. These corporates include banks, private members clubs and luxury brands. Providing the mobile app to these enterprises that want to offer their customers entry to the luxury world, Sarment is able to grow its luxury ecosystem by thousands of users at a go.
Mr Chiarugi explains: “Since we position ourselves as a provider of products and services for these high-net-worth individuals, it makes sense to work with enterprises which have already acquired these consumers. This model allows us to reach a broader base of high-net-worth individuals at a much faster pace avoiding substantial client acquisition costs.”
Sarment’s technology also collects valuable big data from users’ interaction on the app, giving enterprises a back-end customer management system to use as an effective customer engagement and retention tool.
Says Mr Chiarugi: “With our platform, we knew we had an incredible opportunity to collect dynamic data never collected before to this extent in the luxury industry. Sarment’s proprietary artificial intelligence-enhanced system is the first in the luxury world allowing for the collection of dynamic and contextual data from the elusive high-net-worth individual segment.”
Since starting development of its digital platform last year, Sarment has already partnered with one of Southeast Asia’s largest banks among other corporate clients. While giving the bank’s gated community access to Sarment’s ecosystem of premium products and luxury experiences, these corporates will also use the system’s smart technology to understand its clientele better and provide a more personal approach for each individual.
In February 2018, Sarment was ranked Asia’s fastest growing luxury company by the Financial Times in its inaugural FT 1000 High-Growth Companies Asia-Pacific list. It came in at number 54 – the top-ranked luxury company – in the list of 1,000 companies across Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia Indonesia, the Philippines, India, Australia and New Zealand.
‘Spooky’ AI tool brings dead relatives’ photos to life
By Umberto Bacchi
(Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Like the animated paintings that adorn the walls of Harry Potter’s school, a new online tool promises to bring portraits of dead relatives to life, stirring debate about the use of technology to impersonate people.
Genealogy company MyHeritage launched its “Deep Nostalgia” feature earlier this week, allowing users to turn stills into short videos showing the person in the photograph smiling, winking and nodding.
“Seeing our beloved ancestors’ faces come to life … lets us imagine how they might have been in reality, and provides a profound new way of connecting to our family history,” MyHeritage founder Gilad Japhet said in a statement.
Developed with Israeli computer vision firm D-ID, Deep Nostalgia uses deep learning algorithms to animate images with facial expressions that were based on those of MyHeritage employees.
Some of the company’s users took to Twitter on Friday to share the animated images of their deceased relatives, as well as moving depictions of historical figures, including Albert Einstein and Ancient Egypt’s lost Queen Nefertiti.
“Takes my breath away. This is my grandfather who died when I was eight. @MyHeritage brought him back to life. Absolutely crazy,” wrote Twitter user Jenny Hawran.
While most expressed amazement, others described the feature as “spooky” and said it raised ethical questions. “The photos are enough. The dead have no say in this,” tweeted user Erica Cervini.
From chatbots to virtual reality, the tool is the latest innovation seeking to bring the dead to life through technology.
Last year U.S. rapper Kanye West famously gifted his wife Kim Kardashian a hologram of her late father congratulating her on her birthday and on marrying “the most, most, most, most, most genius man in the whole world”.
‘ANIMATING THE PAST’
The trend has opened up all sorts of ethical and legal questions, particularly around consent and the opportunity to blur reality by recreating a virtual doppelganger of the living.
Elaine Kasket a psychology professor at the University of Wolverhampton in Britain who authored a book on the “digital afterlife”, said that while Deep Nostalgia was not necessarily “problematic”, it sat “at the top of a slippery slope”.
“When people start overwriting history or sort of animating the past … You wonder where that ends up,” she said.
MyHeritage acknowledges on its website that the technology can be “a bit uncanny” and its use “controversial”, but said steps have been taken to prevent abuses.
“The Deep Nostalgia feature includes hard-coded animations that are intentionally without any speech and therefore cannot be used to fake any content or deliver any message,” MyHeritage public relations director Rafi Mendelsohn said in a statement.
Yet, images alone can convey meaning, said Faheem Hussain, a clinical assistant professor at Arizona State University’s School for the Future of Innovation in Society.
“Imagine somebody took a picture of the Last Supper and Judas is now winking at Mary Magdalene – what kind of implications that can have,” Hussain told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.
Similarly, Artificial Intelligence (AI) animations could be use to make someone appear as though they were doing things they might not be happy about, such as rolling their eyes or smiling at a funeral, he added.
Mendelsohn of MyHeritage said using photos of a living person without their consent was a breach of the company’s terms and conditions, adding that videos were clearly marked with AI symbols to differentiate them from authentic recordings.
“It is our ethical responsibility to mark such synthetic videos clearly and differentiate them from real videos,” he said.
(Reporting by Umberto Bacchi @UmbertoBacchi in Milan; Editing by Helen Popper. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)
Does your institution have operational resilience? Testing cyber resilience may be a good way to find out
By Callum Roxan, Head of Threat Intelligence, F-Secure
If ever 2020 had a lesson, it was that no organization can possibly prepare for every conceivable outcome. Yet building one particular skill will make any crisis easier to handle: operational resilience.
Many financial institutions have already devoted resources to building operational resilience. Unfortunately, this often takes what Miles Celic, Chief Executive Officer of TheCityUK, calls a “near death” experience for this conversion to occur. “Recent years have seen a number of cases of loss of reputation, reduced enterprise value and senior executive casualties from operational incidents that have been badly handled,” he wrote.
But it need not take a disaster to learn this vital lesson.
“Operational resilience means not only planning around specific, identified risks,” Charlotte Gerken, the executive director of the Bank of England, said in a 2017 speech on operational resilience. “We want firms to plan on the assumption that any part of their infrastructure could be impacted, whatever the reason.” Gerken noted that firms that had successfully achieved a level of resilience that survives a crisis had established the necessary mechanisms to bring the business together to respond where and when risks materialised, no matter why or how.
We’ll talk about the bit we know best here; by testing for cyber resilience, a company can do more than prepare for the worst sort of attacks it may face. This process can help any business get a clearer view of how it operates, and how well it is prepared for all kinds of surprises.
Assumptions and the mechanisms they should produce are the best way to prepare for the unknown. But, as the boxer Mike Tyson once said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” The aim of cyber resilience is to build an effective security posture that survives that first punch, and the several that are likely to follow. So how can an institution be confident that they’ve achieved genuine operational resilience?
This requires an organization to honestly assess itself through the motto inscribed at the front of the Temple of Delphi: “Know thyself.” And when it comes to cyber security, there is a way for an organization to test just how thoroughly it comprehends its own strengths and weaknesses.
The Bank of England was the first central bank to help develop the framework for institutions to test the integrity of their systems. CBEST is made up of controlled, bespoke, intelligence-led cyber security tests that replicate behaviours of those threat actors, and often have unforeseen or secondary benefits. Gerken notes that the “firms that did best in the testing tended to be those that really understood their organisations. They understood their own needs, strengths and weaknesses, and reflected this in the way they built resilience.”
In short, testing cyber resilience can provide clear insight into an institution’s operational resilience in general.
Gaining that specific knowledge without a “near-death” experience is obviously a significant win for any establishment. And testing for operational resilience throughout the industry can provide some reminders of the steps every organization should take so that testing provides unique insists about their institution, and not just a checklist of cyber defence basics.
The IIF/McKinsey Cyber Resilience Survey of the financial services industry released in March lasy year provided six sets of immediate actions that institutions could take to improve their cyber security posture. The toplines of these recommendations were:
- Do the basics, patch your vulnerabilities.
- Review your cloud architecture and security capabilities.
- Reduce your supply chain risk.
- Practice your incident response and recovery capabilities.
- Set aside a specific cyber security budget and prioritise it
- Build a skilled talent pool and optimize resources through automation.
But let’s be honest: If simply reading a solid list of recommendations created cyber resilience, cyber criminals would be out of business. Unfortunately, cyber crime as a business is booming and threat actors targeting essential financial institutions through cyber attacks are likely earning billions in the trillion dollar industry of financial crime.A list can’t reveal an institution’s unique weaknesses, those security failings and chokepoints that could shudder operations, not just during a successful cyber attack but during various other crises that challenge their operations. And the failings that lead to flaws in an institution’s cyber defence likely reverberate throughout the organization as liabilities that other crises would likely expose.
The best way to get a sense of operational resilience will always be to simulate the worst that attackers can summon. That’s why the time to test yourself is now, before someone else does.
Thomson Reuters to stress AI, machine learning in a post-pandemic world
By Kenneth Li and Nick Zieminski
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Thomson Reuters Corp will streamline technology, close offices and rely more on machines to prepare for a post-pandemic world, the news and information group said on Tuesday, as it reported higher sales and operating profit.
The Toronto-headquartered company will spend $500 million to $600 million over two years to burnish its technology credentials, investing in AI and machine learning to get data faster to professional customers increasingly working from home during the coronavirus crisis.
It will transition from a content provider to a content-driven technology company, and from a holding company to an operational structure.
Thomson Reuters’ New York- and Toronto-listed shares each gained more than 8%.
It aims to cut annual operating expenses by $600 million through eliminating duplicate functions, modernizing and consolidating technology, as well as through attrition and shrinking its real estate footprint. Layoffs are not a focus of the cost cuts and there are no current plans to divest assets as part of this plan, the company said.
“We look at the changing behaviors as a result of COVID … on professionals working from home working remotely being much more reliant on 24-7, digital always-on, sort of real-time always available information, served through software and powered by AI and ML (machine learning),” Chief Executive Steve Hasker said in an interview.
Sales growth is forecast to accelerate in each of the next three years compared with 1.3% reported sales growth for 2020, the company said in its earnings release.
Thomson Reuters, which owns Reuters News, said revenues rose 2% to $1.62 billion, while its operating profit jumped more than 300% to $956 million, reflecting the sale of an investment and other items.
Its three main divisions, Legal Professionals, Tax & Accounting Professionals, and Corporates, all showed higher organic quarterly sales and adjusted profit. As part of the two-year change program, the corporate, legal and tax side will operate more as one customer-facing entity.
Adjusted earnings per share of 54 cents were ahead of the 46 cents expected, based on data from Refinitiv.
The company raised its annual dividend by 10 cents to $1.62 per share.
The Reuters News business showed lower revenue in the fourth quarter. In January, Stephen J. Adler, Reuters’ editor-in-chief for the past decade, said he would retire in April from the world’s largest international news provider.
Thomson Reuters also said its stake in The London Stock Exchange is now worth about $11.2 billion.
The LSE last month completed its $27-billion takeover of data and analytics business Refinitiv, 45%-owned by Thomson Reuters.
(Reporting by Ken Li, writing by Nick Zieminski in New York, editing by Louise Heavens and Jane Merriman)
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