Zooming out on Capital Markets and Wealth management

insights

A New Year doesn’t always necessarily mean a new mindset but it does allow us to reflect and zoom out.

Capital markets and wealth management, are being disrupted but we are still early in the journey.

In financial products, Price wars continue and zero-fee products keep growing.

In business models, ‘Go Big’ through volume and marketplace offerings continues to dominate; but beware.

The dream of decentralized Community building through blockchain Tech, has failed miserably for now.

The dream of unlocking value through accounting on DLT and automating liquidity through P2P networks, is gaining traction at the country level too.

Robo-advisors and neobanks, have been pushing prices down. Whether it is ETFs themselves, single stock trading, constructing or rebalancing portfolios, buying insurance, Currency exchange, remittances. Customer is king not only getting better UX but also pushing the Fidelities and the Blackrocks of the world to increase their zero-fee offerings. From zero-fee index funds, to zero-fee trading of single stocks. Robinhood and Vanguard have a huge effect on keeping the pricing war very much alive.

The oxymoron is that the dominant business model remains platforms and marketplaces that cross-sell and aim to keep the customer hoping to sell more and more. But as long as the focus is on the product, as the margins will keep diminishing, it will be a Catch22 game. Margins are not uniform but the tech-enabled price war will eventually squeeze them all down to zero.

Think of Robinhood who started off from freemium stock trading. Their growth has been hugely ‘subsidised’ by VCs – $539million over 5yrs – and now they went out offering checking and savings accounts (albeit screwing up on the pricing)[1].  Sofi who started in student loan refinancing, and went into mortgages, thereafter moved into wealth Management. Goldman Sachs, an incumbent investment bank, who went in and out of banking, then targeted retail customers through Marcus, a consumer loan fixed fee service; and is now moving Marcus to their investment unit.

Will a new business model emerge in 2019 that circumvents this inevitable Catch22 of going after ‘Growth’ only to sell financial products whose margins are going to zero, one after another? This is what will be on my radar screen for this year.

The other oxymoron that is evident both from 2017 and 2018, is that the current designs and implementations of blockchain technology (predominantly, cryptocurrencies) have failed in building communities natively. During the bull phase, this was masked as “the crypto community” had a growing number of cross-over[2] members. But the common thread was only FOMO and herding. During the bear phase, the “carrots” put out to design communities were IMHO “a disgrace”. Incentives like retail bounties, airdrops of all sorts, are no innovation. Using Telegram and 24/7 digital community managers, has been ineffective in building trust with the potential retail investors and being transparent post ICO with governance and financial reporting.

The good news is that DLT experimentation grew substantially during the crypto winter and even countries are stepping in. The motives are either to boost the local economy by creating a tech ecosystem – in a decentralized design there can be several players included instead of “a winner takes all” operation – or to transform the government in several areas like land registries, self-sovereign IDs, voting, health, education, capital markets ect.

Happy New Year for those that were still on vacation last week. Lots of exciting insights to share this year too.

[1] I’ll ignore their failure in executing. What fintech can learn from Robinhood’s ‘epic fail’ of launching checking accounts

[2] Cross-Over Buyers is a Wall Street term that refers to investors that buy into an asset class only to capture high returns in the short term; whereas typically they invest in another asset class in the long term.

Efi Pylarinou is the founder of Efi Pylarinou Advisory and a Fintech/Blockchain influencer.

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