We will be discussing how the Wealth Management business can profit from Fintech by gaining access to previously inaccessible assets and managers, at our first Round Table in Geneva on 28 June. The Bitcoin, Blockchain and Crypto revolution will be one of 7 subjects on the agenda.
Today we look at how Bitcoin will disrupt the current nexus of power between top tier Silicon Valley VC Funds and bulge bracket investment bankers in New York – what I call Wall Street West and East. This may lead to new opportunities to invest at the early stage with better risk adjusted returns than current models. Or it may lead to scams and bubbles and become a footnote in history. Or, like most disruptive innovation it might be scams and bubbles first and then change the world later.
Wall Street West is my name for the permanent aristocracy of top tier VC Funds on Sand Hill Road. Today they are far removed from their founding days as early stage investors. Today they are more like momentum investors who accumulate large % stakes in private companies before taking them to their connections in Wall Street East (i.e. the bulge bracket investment bankers in New York).
John Doerr of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers famously called the personal computer industry’s growth from zero to $100 billion in 10 years “the greatest legal accumulation of wealth in history.” Then he saw how that the PC industry was a small wave compared to the Internet which went from zero to $400 billion in 5 years. “There are waves,” says Doerr, “and then there is a tsunami.”
It has been a great ride, but it is coming to an end.
The tsunami referred to by John Doerr is what we will in future call the Centralized Internet and recognize as a 20-30 year period in a multi-century history of the Internet. The next tsunami, powered by Bitcoin, Blockchain and Crypto will be the Decentralized Internet. This brings the Internet back to its founding days as a decentralized network. Bitcoin, Blockchain and Crypto technologies will enable the Decentralized Internet by creating a digital value exchange system.
The Decentralized Internet will also be funded in a decentralized way. This is what will disrupt Wall Street West and East. The value creation will be even bigger than the Centralized Internet, but these gains will be much more broadly distributed (good news for reducing inequality).
The Decentralized Internet will be powered more by the Rest than the West.
A big theme on Daily Fintech is “first the Rest then the West”.
For most of the 20th century, technology was limited to the West. Countries in the Rest (formerly known as developing, then emerging, then rapid growth economies) were “tech deserts” until those economies started to open up (first China, then India, then Africa). Then technology adoption started to flow from the West to the Rest; the last decade has been a boom time for Western tech firms selling to the Rest.
Now the flow is reversing as technology adoption starts in the Rest and then goes to the West. For example, look at Xiaomi to see the future of mobile phones and Alibaba for the future of e-commerce and Paytm for the future of mobile money.
Firms in America and Europe will profit from this shift, but will not drive the shift. This is the same as Britain making money investing in America (when America was an emerging market); British firms made money, but American firms drove the shift and took the lion’s share of the profits.
This megatrend is not limited to Fintech, but within Fintech mobile payments and mobile e-commerce is the big disruption and that is happening first in the Rest and then will flow to the West. Note that I am referring to technology adoption. Where something is invented matters a lot less than where and how it is adopted, as Steve Jobs taught us after wandering around Xerox Parc and seeing the first graphical user interface and using that for the Mac. Network effects and branding have replaced patents as the technology moat.
The Centralized Internet was dominated by Silicon Valley companies. The top tier Silicon Valley VC Funds could network with the best ventures without using more than half a tank of gas in a Ferrari. This was fortunate because VC Funds have had trouble globalizing and many have given up the challenge.
This opens the market up to new innovation such as Initial Token Offerings (ITOs). These are currently at the bleeding edge stage, with lots of risk, scams and sketchy characters that are typical of the early days of a disruptive technology (think Silk Road and Mt. Gox). You can learn more about ITOs and attempts to create a self-regulatory code of conduct on this discussion on the Fintech Genome.
This is still very early days, but the key point about Initial Token Offerings is that they are a) permissionless and b) global. Anybody can invest from anywhere. This is the power of a global network that the top tier VC Funds catalyzed with their investment in Centralized Internet players. Now the genie is out of the bottle and those same top tier VC Funds have to compete on a level playing field with anybody who has capital and insight.
Watch out when this tsunami crashes on the shore
Bull markets end in a frenzy. The bull market in Centralized Internet ventures is currently in a frenzy. People look for historical analogies to the Dot Com era, but as the old saying goes “history does not repeat but it does sometimes rhyme”. Most of the frenzy/overvaluation this time around is in private not public markets. For more data on this, see this post.
This led to a strange inversion of the norm during 2015 and 2016 when private companies were valued higher (on paper at least) than public companies.
Thanks to artificially low interest rates for a long, long time, even public stocks are overvalued on historical norms. So the ending of the Centralized Internet will be brutal. From this rubble will emerge the new Decentralized Internet.
For many reasons, the IPO bar keeps getting higher. So ventures need much longer and much more capital before getting to liquidity. This is good for really big funds in the short term, but will end badly when the public/private inversion ends. ITOs in contrast offer liquidity from day one.
Don’t need $ billions for data centers
The key point about the Decentralized Internet is that you do NOT need $ billions for data centers, because the network is powered by the computers of the users in the network.
This ends one of the wonderfully simple ways that top tier VC Funds made money. They tracked ventures until they saw signs that hyper-growth was about to start, knowing that large amounts of capital for data centers (and other things) was needed to fund that hyper-growth.
Some centralization, but permissionless
Bitcoin today has a scalability problem. For more, read this post. To put that in perspective, pundits for decades have talked about the Internet’s scalability problems (and yet it has scaled very well).
To scale Bitcoin, it is likely that some form of offchain processing is needed; about 80% of Bitcoin transactions today are offchain. The cyber purist view that every human will run a full node that records every transaction is clearly not technically feasible at scale.
It is likely that this will happen in future through something like Lightning Network.
This is not the post to explain how Lightning Network works. Here are a couple of good introductions:
The assumption about offchain processing is that it has to be centralized. Offchain processors today such as Coinbase and Bitpay are centralized.
That assumption is false. As we have seen from services such as Skype, large scale services can be decentralized. However, there is something more important than centralized vs decentralized which is permissioned vs permissionless. Skype is decentralized but it is controlled by Microsoft. The idea behind Lightning Network is that anybody can choose to run a full node or a Lightning Network node. Permissionless adds economic incentive and makes it scalable.
A global Wall Street, spanning both early and late stage that is truly decentralised and permissionless will change the game.
Join us in Geneva on 28 June
One of the subjects for our Round Table in Geneva on 28 June will be:
Bitcoin Disruption and the possibility that permission-less innovation and decentralization will change the game.
Note; this is one of 7 subjects on the agenda.
If you are interested in attending this Round Table, please email julia at daily fintech dot com and we will send you the full agenda and other details. Please note that this Round Table is invite only for Family Offices, Private Banks and Asset Managers.