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Soaring global appetite for the cryptocurrency industry

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BeQuant launch aims to shift the competition in institutional cryptocurrency trading 

Luno: cryptocurrency heavyweight reaches two million customers

The announcement from Luno, cryptocurrency wallet and exchange, that they now have 2 million customers has exemplified the surge in appetite globally for cryptocurrency trading and an interest in this new technology and what it can do for the future of money.

Adoption of cryptocurrencies has been driven by companies like Luno who offer a user-friendly, safe service and educate their customers about the risks and benefits associated with this exciting new technology. Luno’s safe and easy way to buy, store and learn about cryptocurrencies has led to a greater number of people feeling they can now confidently trade Bitcoin. Simplified and accessible exchange platforms meanthe cryptocurrency market is no longer just an outlet for the tech or financially savvy.

Named UK’s fastest growing startup by The Next Web and Adyen for 2018, and second fastest in Europe, Luno’s rapid growth is a testament to the wider adoption of cryptocurrencies across the globe. Consumers are increasingly embracing the ambitious vision championed by companies like Luno, working to reimagine a financial system where money is cheaper, faster, more transparent and interoperable with open and equal access for everyone.

To accommodate the rising demand, the business has now grown to a team of 250+ spread across three main hubs: the London headquarters, Singapore and Cape Town. Luno already empowers over two million customers in more than 40 countries worldwide with up to 30 new market launches in the pipeline

In the last month alone, more than $302 billion worth of cryptocurrency trades* have been completed globally. Bitcoin, the first and most popular cryptocurrency, now exceeds the $125 billion total market cap**.

luno

Luno’s Head of UK & Ireland, Maya Kumar explains who is behind this exponential growth.

Users can be broadly divided into two categories: need and greed.

  •    The ‘Need’ group are the ones that typically use Bitcoin because it allows them to do something beyond the remit of the traditional financial system or at least provide a compelling alternative. The reasons for choosing Bitcoin  vary widely but include cross-border e-commerce (seamlessly integration with the internet for online payments better than card payments) and cross-border payments (often faster or cheaper), people who’ve been affected by identity theft and want more security, a need for more privacy (for a greater control of their funds), and sometimes simply because it’s a better user experience, especially for mobile payments
  •    ‘Greed’ customers include active traders that capitalise on price fluctuations as well as long-term speculators or novelty buyers hoping for the value of Bitcoin to increase in the long run.

Other customers fall in the middle of this spectrum and can be classed as sophisticated users that are buying Bitcoin because they consider it an uncorrelated asset to diversify their portfolio. Another group is long-term investors that are buying based on better thought-out fundamentals and see Bitcoin as a viable alternative asset class that can potentially provide superior long-term returns and a real use case in an ever-changing modern economy.

Whilst we want to service the ‘need’ customers first and foremost, ‘greed’ helps to build liquidity for the system which is driving innovation, capital investment, new tools and new learnings – strengthening the cryptocurrency ecosystem further. More importantly, ‘greed’ accelerates inherent network effects in bitcoin. For example, the more people adopting bitcoin, the more people part of the Bitcoin network increases – leading to more people recognising it as a valuable asset class, more future use cases, leading to more liquidity and ultimately more ways to exchange it with others as a representation of value for good and services.

Continuing the growth

While the market is still small, there is an undeniable strong and growing demand for cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. If you look across all industry metrics that are publicly available, from transactions to conversion volumes to wallets, you’ll see that forward momentum. We also see the same trends (if not better) in metrics within our own business, across multiple countries and continents.

In order to truly succeed in the long run, Bitcoin needs to experience some level of hyper-growth. But don’t be fooled by what seems like linear growth right now — it’s not. Evolution Partners and Singularity University penned a concept called ‘the deception of linear and exponential growth’; in short it means that when you are standing on an exponential growth curve and look backwards, the growth always feels linear.

So if we’re experiencing exponential growth, linear growth is exactly what it must look like in the beginning — it’s behaving just as it should. And we’ve seen this with many other technology explosions like smartphone and television adoption. It’s the same reason why technology is almost always adopted a lot faster than what most people think — they project the future on the linear past when it’s in fact exponential.

The end goal

The way people think and use money is changing fast. The existing financial system was built for a non-digital age, ignoring the needs of the modern individual; and is quickly becoming redundant. Like communication evolving from landlines to mobile phones, or post to email, we now have a technology – decentralised cryptocurrencies – that enables money to catch up with other information revolutions.

Cryptocurrencies, like Bitcoin, upgrade the world to something better: money that is cheaper, faster and safer, private yet transparent, interoperable and programmable and with open, equal access for everyone.

Upgrading to this new, better financial system will empower billions of people by lowering their cost of living, increasing the value retention of their wealth, stimulating innovation, unlocking new business models and economic opportunities, and overall by providing more financial freedom. It’s a change that is inevitable, and people need a company like Luno that can transition them safely. Ultimately, upgrading people’s financial system means upgrading their lives. Here’s to the next two million to join the money evolution.

*CoinMarketCap figures based on the analysis of 200 cryptocurrency exchanges by trade volume in the last 30 days (from 3 Aug 2018).

**CoinMarketCap Bitcoin market cap figures (3 Aug 2018).

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ECB launches small climate-change unit to lead Lagarde’s green push

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ECB launches small climate-change unit to lead Lagarde's green push 1

FRANKFURT (Reuters) – The European Central Bank is setting up a small team dedicated to climate change to spearhead its efforts to help the transition to a greener economy in the euro zone, ECB President Christine Lagarde said on Monday.

Lagarde has made the environment a priority since taking the helm at the ECB, taking a number of steps to include climate considerations in the central bank’s work as the euro zone’s banking watchdog and main financial institution.

She is now creating a team of around 10 ECB employees, reporting directly to her, to set the central bank’s agenda on climate-related topics.

“The climate change centre provides the structure we need to tackle the issue with the urgency and determination that it deserves,” Lagarde said in a speech.

She said that climate change belonged in the ECB’s remit as it could affect inflation and obstruct the flow of credit to the economy.

The ECB said earlier on Monday it would invest some of its own funds, which total 20.8 billion euros ($25.3 billion) and include capital paid in by euro zone countries, reserves and provisions, in a green bond fund run by the Bank for International Settlement.

More significantly, ECB policymakers are also debating what role climate considerations should play in the institution’s multi-trillion euro bond-buying programme.

So far the ECB has bought corporate bonds based on their outstanding amounts but Lagarde has said the bank might have to consider a more active approach to correct the market’s failure to price in climate risk.

“Our strategy review enables us to consider more deeply how we can continue to protect our mandate in the face of (climate) risks and, at the same time, strengthen the resilience of monetary policy and our balance sheet,” Lagarde said.

(Reporting by Balazs Koranyi; Editing by Francesco Canepa and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

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What to expect in 2021: Top trends shaping the future of transportation

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What to expect in 2021: Top trends shaping the future of transportation 2

By Lee Jones, Director of Sales – Grocery, QSR and Selected Accounts for Northern Europe at Ingenico, a Worldline brand

The pandemic has reinforced the need for businesses to undergo digital transformation, which is pivotal in the digital economy. In 2020, we saw the shift to online and cashless payments accelerated as a result of increased social distancing and nationwide restrictions.

The biggest challenge on all businesses into 2021 will be how they continue to adapt and react to the ever changing new normal we are all experiencing. In this context, what should we expect this year and beyond, in terms of developments across key sectors, including transport, parking and electric vehicle (EV) charging?

Mobility as a service (MaaS) and the future of transportation

Social distancing and lockdown measures have brought about a real change in public habits when it comes to transportation. In the last three months alone, we have seen commuter journeys across the globe reduce by at least 70%, while longer-distance travel has fallen by up to 90%. With it, cash withdrawals for payment has drastically reduced by 60%.

Technological advancements, alongside open payments, have unlocked new possibilities across multiple industries and will continue to have a strong impact. Furthermore, travellers are expecting more as part of their basic service. Tap and pay is one of the biggest evolutions in consumer payments. Bringing ease and simplicity to everyday tasks, consumers have welcomed this development to the transport journey. In-app payments are also on the rise, offering customers the ability to plan ahead and remain assured that they have everything they need, in one place, for every leg of their journey. Many local transport networks now have their own apps with integrated timetables, payments, and ticket download capabilities. These capabilities are being enabled by smaller more portable terminals for transport staff, and self-scanning ticketing devices are streamlining the process even further.

Lee Jones

Lee Jones

Ultimately, the end goal for many transport providers is MaaS – providing an easy and frictionless all-encompassing transport system that guides consumers through the whole journey, no matter what mode of travel they choose. Additionally, payment will remain the key orchestrator that will drive further developments in the transportation and MaaS ecosystems in 2021. What remains critical is balancing the need for a fast and convenient payment with safety and data privacy in order to deliver superior customer experiences.

The EV charging market and the accelerating pace of change  

The EV charging market is moving quickly and represents a large opportunity for payments in the future. EVs are gradually becoming more popular, with registrations for EVs overtaking those of their diesel counterparts for the first time in European history this year. What’s more, forecasts indicate that by 2030, there will be almost 42 million public charging points deployed worldwide, as compared with 520,000 registered in 2019.

Our experience and expertise in this industry have enabled us to better understand but also address the challenges and complexities of fuel and EV payments. The current alternating current (AC) based chargers are set to be replaced by their direct charging (DC) counterparts, but merchants must still be able to guarantee payment for the charging provider. Power always needs to be converted from AC to DC when charging an electric vehicle, the technical difference between AC charging and DC charging is whether the power gets converted outside or inside the vehicle.

By offering innovative payment solutions to this market segment, we enable service operators to incorporate payments smoothly into their omnichannel customer experience that also allows businesses to easily develop acceptance and provide a unique omnichannel strategy for EV charging payments. From proximity to online payments, it will support businesses by offering a unique hardware solution optimized for PSD2 and SCA. It will manage both near field communication (NFC) cards and payments from cards/smartphones, as well as a single interface to manage all payments, after sales support and receipt with both ePortal and eReceipts.

Cashless options for parking payments

The ‘new normal’ is now partly defined by a shift in consumer preference for cashless, contactless and mobile or embedded payments. These are now the preferred payment choices when it comes to completing the check-in and check-out process. They are a time-saver and a more seamless way to pay.

Drivers are more self-reliant and empowered than ever before, having adopted technologies that work to make their life increasingly efficient. COVID-19 has given rise to both ePayment and omnichannel solutions gaining in popularity. This has been due to ticketless access control based on license plate recognition or the tap-in/tap-out experience, as well as embedded payments or mobile solutions for street parking.

These smart solutions help consider parking services more broadly as a part of overall mobility or shopping experience. Therefore, operators must rapidly adapt and scale new operational practices; accept electronic payment, update new contactless limits, introduce additional payments means, refund the user or even to reflect changing customer expectations to keep pace.

2021: the journey ahead

This year,  we expect to see an even greater shift towards a cashless society across these key sectors, making the buying experience quicker and more convenient overall.

As a result, merchants and operators must make the consumer experience their top priority as trends shift towards simplicity and convenience, ensuring online and mobile payments processes are as secure as possible.

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Opportunities and challenges facing financial services firms in 2021

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Opportunities and challenges facing financial services firms in 2021 3

By Paul McCreadie, Partner at ECI Partners, the leading growth-focused mid-market private equity firm

Despite 2020 being an enormously disruptive year for businesses, our latest Growth Index research reveals that almost three quarters (74%) of mid-market financial services companies remained resilient throughout the pandemic.

This is positive news, especially when taking into account the economic disruption that financial services firms have had to go through since the crisis began. No doubt 2021 will also hold its own challenges – as well as opportunities – for firms in this sector.

Challenges outlook

Unsurprisingly, the biggest short-term concern for financial firms for the year ahead involved changing pandemic guidance, with 42% citing this as a top concern. With the UK currently experiencing a third lockdown many financial services businesses will have already had to adapt to rapidly changing guidance, even since being surveyed.

Businesses will also be considering the need to invest in working from home operations, and there may be uncertainty over re-opening offices on a permanent basis.  According to the research 30% of financial services firms are planning to adopt remote working on a permanent basis, so decisions need to be made now about whether they invest more in enabling staff to do this, or in their current office premises.

Due to Brexit, UK financial services firms are no longer able to passport their services into Europe, which may cause problems, particularly in the next 12 months as the Brexit deal is ironed out and the agreement is put into practice. Despite this, Brexit was only cited by 24% of financial firms as a short-term concern. While it’s comforting to see that UK financial firms aren’t hugely concerned about Brexit at this juncture, it is going to be vital for the ongoing success of the industry that the UK is able to get straightforward access to Europe and operate there without issue, otherwise we may see these concern levels rise.

Looking ahead to longer-term concerns for financial services businesses, the top concern was global economic downturn, of which 40% of firms cited this as a worry when looking beyond 2021.

Investing and adopting tech

Traditionally, the financial services sector has been slow to adopt digital transformation. Issues with legacy systems, coupled with often large amounts of data and a reluctance to undertake potentially risky change processes, have meant many firms are behind the curve when it comes to technology adoption. It’s therefore promising to see that so much has changed over the last year, with 45% of financial services firms having invested in AI and machine learning technology – making it the top sector to have invested in this space over the last 12 months.

One business that exemplifies the benefits of investing in machine learning is Avantia, the technology-enabled insurance provider behind HomeProtect. The business has undergone a large tech transformation in the last few years, investing in an underlying machine learning platform and an in-house data science team, which provides them with capabilities to return a quote to over 98% of applicants in under one second. This tech investment has allowed them to become more scalable, provide a more stable platform, improve customer service and consequently, grow significantly.

This demonstrates how this kind of tech can help businesses to leverage tech in order to offer a better customer experience, and retain and grow market share through winning new customers. This resilience should combat some of the concerns that firms will face in the next year.

Additionally, half (51%) of financial services firms have invested in cybersecurity tech over the last year, which allows them to protect the platforms on which they operate and ensure ongoing provision of solutions to their customers.

International resilience

Clearly, there is a benefit of international revenues and profits on business resilience. In practice, this meant that businesses that weren’t internationally diversified in 2020 struggled more during the pandemic. In fact, the businesses considered to be the least resilient through the 2020 crisis were three times more likely to only operate domestically.

Perhaps an attribute towards financial services firms’ resilience in 2020, therefore, was the fact that 53% already had a presence in Europe throughout 2020 and 38% had a presence in North America. This internationalisation gave them an advantage that allowed them to weather the many storms of 2020.

Looking at how to capitalise on this throughout the rest of 2021, half (51%) of are planning overseas growth in Europe over the next 12 months, and 43% in North America. Further plans to expand internationally is not only a good sign for growth, but should further increase resilience within the sector.

Conclusion

While there are many concerns, the fact that financial services businesses are investing in technology like AI and machine learning, as well as still planning to grow internationally, means that they are providing themselves with the best chances of dealing with any upcoming challenges effectively.

In order to maintain their growth and resilience throughout the next 12 months, it’s imperative that they continue to put their customers first, invest in technology and remain on the front foot of digital change.

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