The fourth industrial revolution has finally arrived and the future belongs to a new set of key technologies. Steve Chiavarone, portfolio manager for Federated Investors, told CNBC that blockchain tech could set off a global revolution in information management, supply chain, administration and virtually every major industry.
Money poured into Bitcoin first, explains Chiavarone, as a result of investors looking for exposure to blockchain-which could bring more efficient supply chains and cut costs.
Mentioned in today’s commentary includes: Bank of America Corp. (NYSE: BAC), International Business Machines Corp. (NYSE: IBM), Cisco Systems, Inc. (NASDAQ: CSCO), Veeva Systems Inc. (NYSE: VEEV), Sony Corp (NYSE: SNE).
Along with AI, automation, robotics and the Internet of Things, key tech like blockchain may likely completely transform the global economy and the future is bright for companies that seize the initiative and pursue these game-changing trends.
Here are several firms that span the tech and finance spheres. Each one deserves special attention from investors. Take a look:
One of the best stocks of 2017 has continued its winning streak into the New Year. NVIDIA, the world’s leading computer hardware manufacturer, announced Q1 earnings that included a 66 percent jump in revenue and the company has seen its profits and shareholder value surge thanks to rising demand for data centers, accelerated computing components and graphics processing units (GPUS), an NVIDIA staple.
CEO Colette Kress expects data center revenue to skyrocket, from $701 million this quarter to $50 billion by 2023, an increase of 17,000 percent and to process this enormous increase in data management, NVIDIA is investing in deep learning training-developing forms of artificial intelligence (AI) that allow computers to learn by observing human behavior.
The AI work comes on top of NVIDIA’s Titan X GPUs, and while it’s only in the experimental phase, analysts are already predicting NVIDIA will emerge as the premier AI firm once the tech has been fine-tuned. That means the best stock of 2017 could be a winner for years to come.
Global Blockchain Technologies (BLOC; BLKCF)
Breaking Update: Hewlett Packard announces partnership with Global Blockchain Technologies to transform the data storage market. This groundbreaking agreement will allow users to profit from excess digital storage space, expanding on the success of companies such as AirBnb and Uber in utilizing the sharing economy.
Blockchain technology could transform entire industries. Put simply, it’s a digital ledger used to store transactions. It has been used primarily with crypto-currencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum. But its potential applications are far wider.
Already, blockchain is being used to transform real estate, finance, healthcare and retail, to name just a few.
Global Blockchain Technologies can be thought of as two companies in one: a crypto-currency hedge fund-type entity that enables shareholders to participate in the cryptocurrency market, and also an incubator for blockchain tech.
BLOC’s management is staffed with experienced pros and veterans of the crypto-currency marketplace. This is no “Millennial Millionaire” start-up looking to make a quick buck mining Bitcoin, but a seasoned, qualified blockchain and crypto firm that can secure the best investment opportunities.
BLOC holds a diversified portfolio of crypto-currencies, from the massive Bitcoin ($142 billion) to smaller cryptos with the potential for large jumps in value. According to President ShidanGouran, “When you invest in us, you’re investing in a company run by people who have been in blockchain from the beginning.”
Leading BLOC’s staff of experts is its Chairman, Steven Nerayoff. Nerayoff took part in the creation of Ethereum and helped engineering the currency’s meteoric rise…one that saw the humble crypto increase by 94,000 percent to a market cap of $70 billion.
BLOC leverages its deep bench of experts in finding applications for blockchain technology. Last year it entered into an arrangement which gives it partly ownership of KodakCoin, the world’s first corporate branded crypto currency, teaming up with Overstock.com and tZero to facilitate the KodakCoin initial coin offering (ICO).
BLOC is hoping to branch out into video games, an industry that already utilizes crypto-currencies for in-game transactions-the currency used in World of Warcraft, for instance, is worth more than the Venezuelan bolivar. BLOC is helping to create a “game galaxy” where crypto-currencies are used exclusively, and all transactions are processed on the blockchain.
Finally, the company’s premier blockchain asset is its new Laser platform, a tool that connects different blockchain networks into a single union-“blockchain without borders.”
BLOC can do all this with a tiny market cap, accessing potentially billion-dollar opportunities for its shareholders without exposing them to the risks inherent with individual investments in the Bitcoin world.
One of Silicon Valley’s trailblazers, PayPal hasn’t lost any momentum in 2018. The company added 8.1 million new active users in Q1, a jump of 35 percent from last year. Revenue growth is strong and net income reached $511 million, an increase of 29 percent.
But PayPal, which emerged as alternative to traditional financial firms, has since branched out-and it’s relying on its bill-splitting app Venmo to carry it into the next age of digital, peer-to-peer transactions.
Two million merchants around the U.S. now use Venmo, while the app’s total transaction base was $12.3 billion.
PayPal has been adding to its assets through acquisitions, taking over Swedish fintech firm iZettle for $2.2 billion before that company had a chance to carry out its IPO. Smart money is on PayPal following up this big buy with even more acquisitions, which would evidence an aggressive 2018 strategy.
Given how strong this stock has performed already, it’s clear the rest of 2018 looks bright for PayPal, particularly if its fintech investments pay off.
Bank of America (NYSE: BAC)
One of the biggest banks in the world is embracing “fintech”-financial technologies that could radically change how people, money and data interact. A few years ago, fintech firms started popping up all over the place. They seemed leaner and meaner than the established banks-but now venerable firms like BAC have gone back on the offensive, buying out their fintech competition and developing their own innovative tech to stay in business.
BAC has acquired a taste for blockchain patents, and currently holds more than any other financial firm.
One of those patents is for a blockchain-based system for managing network security-one that would be fully automated.
BAC boasted at Davos this year that it’s spent more money on blockchain tech than any other bank, though some analysts believe it’s falling behind in the fintech race. COO Cathy Bessant told CNBC that AI will be the key to fintech’s future-and feels BAC is at the forefront of bringing AI to average consumers.
On the basis of these innovations, BAC has been a strong performer, rising by 150 percent in the last five years. It’s long been an earner for shareholders, and with its investments in blockchain, BAC will likely continue to bring value to its shareholders. Its price might seem a little high, but for investors looking to profit from the fintech revolution, you could do a lot worse.
IBM (NYSE: IBM)
Another venerable tech firm with a long pedigree has bought into tomorrow’s technologies. International Business Machines (IBM) has been an aggressive advocate of applying the newest tech to solving a wide range of problems. When it’s not taking on new acquisitions, IBM is investing heavily in blockchain.
This year could be the year that IBM, along with other major firms, brings blockchain to mainstream business.
IBM has praised the blockchain for its security and transparency, and about sixteen months ago it launched a blockchain business. Right now, about 1,500 employees of the firm are working on blockchain projects.
One project has food and retail giant Walmart using IBM’s blockchain tech to track the food supply chain. IBM has launched an initiative extending blockchain solutions to small-time food distributors in Kenya.
IBM is also working with Maersk, the shipping giant, on using blockchain for logistics. With the resources to tackle major problems, IBM could emerge as the torchbearer that brings blockchain into the mainstream-allowing its shareholders to reap the benefits.
So, while the stock might be a bit overpriced and has suffered through some doldrums since early 2018, we believe IBM will improve as its tech imprint grows.
Other companies to watch as the tech industry continues to reshape the world:
Cisco Systems (NASDAQ: CSCO) is a major player in telecommunications hardware. With a market cap of more than $185 billion, the company earned $49 billion in 2015 and $48 billion in 2016. For years Cisco was a stable stock, though one that showed very little growth. But in 2018 the company plans on pivoting away from its old staples towards new products.
Cisco is about to make the transition from hardware to software. For years, Cisco sold the hardware needed to build and maintain telecommunications networks: internet routers, switchers and cables connecting thousands of offices and households.
Veeva (NYSE: VEEV) Veeva is one of the most prominent cloud services providers out there, focusing specifically on the pharmaceutical sector. The company’s cloud platform for the world’s pharma companies is more popular than ever before.
The cloud race is clearly heating up, with more and more getting into the SaaS business, but as a pioneer in a niche industry, Veeva can expect more repeat business and more solid growth than its competitors.
Sony Corp (ADR) (NYSE: SNE) is a tech heavyweight. From TVs to video games, Sony covers anything and everything media-related. The company’s infamous Walkman was in the hands of every young person throughout the 1980s and 1990s.
Sony’s partnerships and innovative technology make it an appealing investment for those looking for a company with longevity. Sony isn’t going anywhere and is sure to continue its entertainment dominance for years to come.
By. Charles Kennedy
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TCI: A time of critical importance
By Fabrice Desnos, head of Northern Europe Region, Euler Hermes, the world’s leading trade credit insurer, outlines the importance of less publicised measures for the journey ahead.
After months of lockdown, Europe is shifting towards rebuilding economies and resuming trade. Amongst the multibillion-euro stimulus packages provided by governments to businesses to help them resume their engines of growth, the cooperation between the state and private sector trade credit insurance underwriters has perhaps missed the headlines. However, this cooperation will be vital when navigating the uncertain road ahead.
Covid-19 has created a global economic crisis of unprecedented scale and speed. Consequently, we’re experiencing unprecedented levels of support from national governments. Far-reaching fiscal intervention, job retention and business interruption loan schemes are providing a lifeline for businesses that have suffered reductions in turnovers to support national lockdowns.
However, it’s becoming clear the worst is still to come. The unintended consequence of government support measures is delaying the inevitable fallout in trade and commerce. Euler Hermes is already seeing increase in claims for late payments and expects this trend to accelerate as government support measures are progressively removed.
The Covid-19 crisis will have long lasting and sometimes irreversible effects on a number of sectors. It has accelerated transformations that were already underway and had radically changed the landscape for a number of businesses. This means we are seeing a growing number of “zombie” companies, currently under life support, but whose business models are no longer adapted for the post-crisis world. All factors which add up to what is best described as a corporate insolvency “time bomb”.
The effects of the crisis are already visible. In the second quarter of 2020, 147 large companies (those with a turnover above €50 million) failed; up from 77 in the first quarter, and compared to 163 for the whole of the first half of 2019. Retail, services, energy and automotive were the most impacted sectors this year, with the hotspots in retail and services in Western Europe and North America, energy in North America, and automotive in Western Europe
We expect this trend to accelerate and predict a +35% rise in corporate insolvencies globally by the end of 2021. European economies will be among the hardest hit. For example, Spain (+41%) and Italy (+27%) will see the most significant increases – alongside the UK (+43%), which will also feel the impact of Brexit – compared to France (+25%) or Germany (+12%).
Companies are restarting trade, often providing open credit to their clients. However, there can be no credit if there is no confidence. It is increasingly difficult for companies to identify which of their clients will emerge from the crisis from those that won’t, and whether or when they will be paid. In the immediate post-lockdown period, without visibility and confidence, the risk was that inter-company credit could evaporate, placing an additional liquidity strain on the companies that depend on it. This, in turn, would significantly put at risk the speed and extent of the economic recovery.
In recent months, Euler Hermes has co-operated with government agencies, trade associations and private sector trade credit insurance underwriters to create state support for intercompany trade, notably in France, Germany, Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands and the UK. All with the same goal: to allow companies to trade with each other in confidence.
By providing additional reinsurance capacity to the trade credit insurers, governments help them continue to provide cover to their clients at pre-crisis levels.
The beneficiaries are the thousands of businesses – clients of credit insurers and their buyers – that depend upon intercompany trade as a source of financing. Over 70% of Euler Hermes policyholders are SMEs, which are the lifeblood of our economies and major providers of jobs. These agreements are not without costs or constraints for the insurers, but the industry has chosen to place the interests of its clients and of the economy ahead of other considerations, mindful of the important role credit insurance and inter-company trade will play in the recovery.
Taking the UK as an example, trade credit insurers provide cover for more than £171billion of intercompany transactions, covering 13,000 suppliers and 650,000 buyers. The government has put in place a temporary scheme of £10billion to enable trade credit insurers, including Euler Hermes, to continue supporting businesses at risk due to the impact of coronavirus. This landmark agreement represents an important alliance between the public and private sectors to support trade and prevent the domino effect that payment defaults can create within critical supply chains.
But, as with all of the other government support measures, these schemes will not exist in the long term. It is already time for credit insurers and their clients to plan ahead, and prepare for a new normal in which the level and cost of credit risk will be heightened and where identifying the right counterparts, diversifying and insuring credit risk will be of paramount importance for businesses.
Trade credit insurance plays an understated role in the economy but is critical to its health. In normal circumstances, it tends to go unnoticed because it is doing its job. Government support schemes helped maintain confidence between companies and their customers in the immediate aftermath of the crisis.
However, as government support measures are progressively removed, this crisis will have a lasting impact. Accelerating transformations, leading to an increasing number of company restructurings and, in all likelihood, increasing the level of credit risk. To succeed in the post-crisis environment, bbusinesses have to move fast from resilience to adaptation. They have to adopt bold measures to protect their businesses against future crises (or another wave of this pandemic), minimize risk, and drive future growth. By maintaining trust to trade, with or without government support, credit insurance will have an increasing role to play in this.
What Does the FinCEN File Leak Tell Us?
By Ted Sausen, Subject Matter Expert, NICE Actimize
On September 20, 2020, just four days after the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) issued a much-anticipated Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, the financial industry was shaken and their stock prices saw significant declines when the markets opened on Monday. So what caused this? Buzzfeed News in cooperation with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) released what is now being tagged the FinCEN files. These files and summarized reports describe over 200,000 transactions with a total over $2 trillion USD that has been reported to FinCEN as being suspicious in nature from the time periods 1999 to 2017. Buzzfeed obtained over 2,100 Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) and over 2,600 confidential documents financial institutions had filed with FinCEN over that span of time.
Similar such leaks have occurred previously, such as the Panama Papers in 2016 where over 11 million documents containing personal financial information on over 200,000 entities that belonged to a Panamanian law firm. This was followed up a year and a half later by the Paradise Papers in 2017. This leak contained even more documents and contained the names of more than 120,000 persons and entities. There are three factors that make the FinCEN Files leak significantly different than those mentioned. First, they are highly confidential documents leaked from a government agency. Secondly, they weren’t leaked from a single source. The leaked documents came from nearly 90 financial institutions facilitating financial transactions in more than 150 countries. Lastly, some high-profile names were released in this leak; however, the focus of this leak centered more around the transactions themselves and the financial institutions involved, not necessarily the names of individuals involved.
FinCEN Files and the Impact
What does this mean for the financial institutions? As mentioned above, many experienced a negative impact to their stocks. The next biggest impact is their reputation. Leaders of the highlighted institutions do not enjoy having potential shortcomings in their operations be exposed, nor do customers of those institutions appreciate seeing the institution managing their funds being published adversely in the media.
Where did the financial institutions go wrong? Based on the information, it is actually hard to say where they went wrong, or even ‘if’ they went wrong. Financial institutions are obligated to monitor transactional activity, both inbound and outbound, for suspicious or unusual behavior, especially those that could appear to be illicit activities related to money laundering. If such behavior is identified, the financial institution is required to complete a Suspicious Activity Report, or a SAR, and file it with FinCEN. The SAR contains all relevant information such as the parties involved, transaction(s), account(s), and details describing why the activity is deemed to be suspicious. In some cases, financial institutions will file a SAR if there is no direct suspicion; however, there also was not a logical explanation found either.
So what deems certain activities to be suspicious and how do financial institutions detect them? Most financial institutions have sophisticated solutions in place that monitor transactions over a period of time, and determine typical behavioral patterns for that client, and that client compared to their peers. If any activity falls disproportionately beyond those norms, the financial institution is notified, and an investigation is conducted. Because of the nature of this detection, incorporating multiple transactions, and comparing it to historical “norms”, it is very difficult to stop a transaction related to money laundering real-time. It is not uncommon for a transaction or series of transactions to occur and later be identified as suspicious, and a SAR is filed after the transaction has been completed.
FinCEN Files: Who’s at Fault?
Going back to my original question, was there any wrong doing? In this case, they were doing exactly what they were required to do. When suspicion was identified, SARs were filed. There are two things that are important to note. Suspicion does not equate to guilt, and individual financial institutions have a very limited view as to the overall flow of funds. They have visibility of where funds are coming from, or where they are going to; however, they don’t have an overall picture of the original source, or the final destination. The area where financial institutions may have fault is if multiple suspicions or probable guilt is found, but they fail to take appropriate action. According to Buzzfeed News, instances of transactions to or from sanctioned parties occurred, and known suspicious activity was allowed to continue after it was discovered.
How do we do better? First and foremost, FinCEN needs to identify the source of the leak and fix it immediately. This is very sensitive data. Even within a financial institution, this information is only exposed to individuals with a high-level clearance on a need-to-know basis. This leak may result in relationship strains with some of the banks’ customers. Some people already have a fear of being watched or tracked, and releasing publicly that all these reports are being filed from financial institutions to the federal government won’t make that any better – especially if their financial institution was highlighted as one of those filing the most reports. Next, there has been more discussion around real-time AML. Many experts are still working on defining what that truly means, especially when some activities deal with multiple transactions over a period of time; however, there is definitely a place for certain money laundering transactions to be held in real time.
Lastly, the ability to share information between financial institutions more easily will go a long way in fighting financial crime overall. For those of you who are AML professionals, you may be thinking we already have such a mechanism in place with 314b. However, the feedback I have received is that it does not do an adequate job. It’s voluntary and getting responses to requests can be a challenge. Financial institutions need a consortium to effectively communicate with each other, while being able to exchange critical data needed for financial institutions to see the complete picture of financial transactions and all associated activities. That, combined with some type of feedback loop from law enforcement indicating which SARs are “useful” versus which are either “inadequate” or “unnecessary” will allow institutions to focus on those where criminal activity is really occurring.
We will continue to post updates as we learn more.
How can financial services firms keep pace with escalating requirements?
By Tim FitzGerald, UK Banking & Financial Services Sales Manager, InterSystems
Financial services firms are currently coming up against a number of critical challenges, ranging from market volatility, most recently influenced by COVID-19, to the introduction of regulations, such as the Payment Services Directive (PSD2) and Fundamental Review of the Trading Book (FRTB). However, these issues are being compounded as many financial institutions find it increasingly difficult to get a handle on the vast volumes of data that they have at their disposal. This is no surprise given that IDC has projected that by 2025, the global “datasphere” will have grown to a staggering 175 zettabytes of data – more than five times the amount of data generated in 2018. As an industry that has typically only invested in new technology when regulations deem it necessary, many traditional banks are now operating using legacy systems and applications that haven’t been designed or built to interoperate. Consequently, banks are struggling to leverage data to achieve business goals and to gain a clear picture of their organisation and processes in order to comply with regulatory requirements. These challenges have been more prevalent during the pandemic as financial services firms were forced to adapt their operations to radical changes in customer behaviour and increased demand for digital services – all while working largely remotely themselves.
As more stringent regulations come in to play and financial services firms look to keep pace with escalating requirements from regulators, consumer demand for more online services, and the ever-evolving nature of the industry and world at large, it’s vital they do two things. Firstly, they must begin to invest in the technology and processes that will allow them to more easily manage the data that traditional banks have been collecting and storing for upwards of 50 years. Secondly, they must innovate. For many, the COVID-19 pandemic will have been a catalyst for both actions. However, the hard work has only just begun.
Traditionally, due to tight budgets and no overarching regulatory imperative to change, financial institutions haven’t done enough to address their overreliance on disconnected legacy systems. Even when faced with the new wave of regulation that was implemented in the wake of the 2008 banking crash, financial services organisations generally only had to invest in different applications on an ad hoc basis to meet each individual regulation. However, as new regulations require the analysis of larger data sets within smaller processing windows, breaking down any and all data siloes is essential and this will require financial institutions that are still reliant on legacy systems to implement new technologies to meet the regulatory stipulations.
With this in mind, solutions which offer high-quality data analytics and enhanced integration will be key to the success of financial institutions and crucial to eliminate data silos. This will enable organisations to achieve a faster and more accurate analysis of real-time and historical data no matter where they are accessing the data from within smaller processing windows to keep pace with regulatory requirements, while also benefiting from low infrastructure costs.
This technology will also play a huge part in helping financial institutions scale their online operations to meet demand from customers for digital services. According to PNC Bank, during the pandemic, it saw online sales jump from 25% to 75%. Therefore, having data platforms that are able to handle surges in online activity is becoming increasingly important.
Real-time analysis of data
While the precise solution financial services institutions need will differ based on the organisation, broadly speaking, the more data they are storing on legacy solutions, the more they are going to require an updated data platform that can handle real-time analytics. Even organisations that have fewer legacy systems are still likely to require solutions that deliver enhanced interoperability to help provide a real-time view across the business and enable them to meet the pressing regulatory requirements they face. Let’s also not lose sight of the fact that moving transactional data to a data warehouse, data lake, or any other silo will never deliver real-time analytics, therefore, businesses making risk decisions based on this and thinking it is real-time is completely inappropriate.
As such, financial services firms require a data platform that can ingest real-time transactional data, as well as from a variety of other sources of historical and reference data, normalise it, and make sense of it. The ability to process transactions at scale in real-time and simultaneously run analytics using transactional real-time data and large sets of non-real-time data, such as reference data, is a crucial capability for various business requirements. For example, powering mission-critical trading platforms that cannot slow down or drop trades, even as volumes spike.
Not only will having access to real-time data enable financial institutions to meet evolving regulatory requirements, but it will also allow them to make faster and more accurate decisions for their organisation andcustomers. With many financial services firms operating on a global basis, this is vital to help them keep up not only with evolving regulations but also changing circumstances in different markets in light of the pandemic. This data can also help them understand how to become more agile, help their employees become productive while working remotely, and how to build up operational resilience. These insights will also be vital as financial institutions need to consider the likelihood of subsequent waves of the virus, allowing them to gain a better understanding of what has and hasn’t worked for their business so far.
The financial services sector is fast-paced and ever-changing. With the launch of more digital-only banks, traditional institutions need to innovate to avoid being left behind, with COVID-19 only highlighting this further. With more than a third (35%) of customers increasing their use of online banking during this period, it is those banks and financial services firms with a solid online offering that have been best placed to answer this demand. As financial institutions cater to changing customer requirements, both now and in the future, implementing new technology that provides access to data in real-time will help them to uncover the fresh insights needed to develop new and transformative products and services for their customers. In turn, this will enable them to realise new revenue streams and potentially capture a bigger slice of the market. For instance, access to data will help banks better understand the needs of their customers during periods of upheaval, as well as under normal circumstance, which will allow them to target them with the specific services they may need during each of these periods to not only help their customers through difficult times but also to ensure the growth of their business. As financial institutions not only look to keep pace with but also gain an advantage over their competitors, using data to fuel excellent customer experiences will be essential to success.
With the current economic uncertainty and market volatility, it’s critical that financial services are able to meet the changing requirements coming from all angles. With COVID-19 likely to be the biggest catalyst for financial institutions to digitally transform, they will be better able to cater to rapidly evolving landscapes and prepare for continued periods of remote working. As they look to achieve this, replacing legacy systems with innovative and agile technology solutions will be crucial to ensure they can gain the accurate and complete view of their enterprise data they need to comply with new and changing regulations, and better meet the needs of consumers in an increasingly digital landscape, whether they are located in an office or working remotely.
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