Can proptech mixed with fintech save Generation Rent?

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Thanks in part to low interest rates and globalisation, property markets in many urban centres across the world seem to be spiraling out of control. Sydney’s median house price has shot past the AU$1.12M mark, surpassing even that of New York, while across the Tasman New Zealand’s largest city, Auckland, has seen median dwelling prices drift close to NZ$1M.

The market dynamics are similar in the UK, with research from the Resolution Foundation indicating there is a significant ground shift occurring, from owning a home to renting one instead, amongst working-age households. In the year 2000 around 55 per cent of households lived in an owned, mortgaged property, a figure that has since dropped to 41 per cent in 2015. Over the same period, those in private rentals climbed from 11 per cent to 25 per cent. The social ramifications of this shift are profound.

Generation Rent, as they have come to be known, now find themselves stuck between a rock and a hard place, facing a potent mix of stagnant wage growth and skyrocketing house prices. Perversely those that have scraped together a deposit face the risk of long-term low inflation, potentially locking them into a possible debt trap for years to come.

Once, owning a home was considered a safe and sure bet for building long-term wealth for the middle class. However with this asset now out of reach for most, some fintech start-ups have spotted an opportunity to service the appetite for property via a range of more accessible and affordable vehicles.

BRICKX in Sydney is one such fintech (or proptech) startup. Via fractional property investment, the company allows investors to purchase units, or ‘Bricks’ of a home. The investment also entitles investors to a fixed share of any rental income generated.  The upside of fractional investing is that investors can spread their risk across a basket of rental properties, plus cash in on capital gains at any time by selling their Bricks to another buyer.

For those lucky enough to have significant equity stashed away in a home today, fintech startups like Point in the US are providing an alternative to the traditional banks when it comes to accessing stored wealth, specifically for reinvestment back into the property market. Point, an Andreessen Horowitz backed startup, purchase’s a fraction of a homeowner’s dwelling, only collecting this back (plus capital gains) when the original property is sold. Homeowners also have the option to buy out Point at any time.

While Generation Rent might not be able to access services like Point directly, parents, who are increasingly financing children into their first home, could. Data from the Reserve Bank of Australia shows the proportion of first-home buyers borrowing from their parents to finance their first property purchase has more than doubled since the 1970s. With many in the Baby Boomer generation under financial pressure themselves through tech driven workplace disruption, any financial solution that doesn’t impact monthly cash flow is a bonus.

Building societies and small banks have a great opportunity to partner with fintech startups in the proptech sector to propel innovations like these forward, scale and bring them to the mass market. These types of partnerships can have real social impact if executed correctly – there is even scope for government involvement. One thing is for sure, we need to creatively rethink how home ownership works and take this opportunity to address the real long term problems uncertainty and insecurity around housing can cause.

Daily Fintech Advisers provides strategic consulting to organizations with business and investment interests in Fintech. Jessica Ellerm is a thought leader specializing in Small Business.

The vertical integration of SoFi has the core entry point right!

sofi

There is a question that beckons for an answer.

In this fluid world, owning the customer is the challenge.

Each individual is managing a balance sheet, e.g. assets and liabilities.

Serving which side of the balance sheet, will prove to be the best entry point to develop a long lasting relationship with the end-customer?

Tech-enabled financial services are not a dream anymore. From telcos, to internet providers, to social networks, they can all aspire to offer financial type of services. Starting with basic personal financial management tools (PFM), to transactions services, all the way to investments. Most PFM and transaction related services are already very low margin services and heading to zero. The remaining higher margin services are further down the value chain and mainly related to investments. Despite the fact that margins in some segment of investment services, are being squeezed from low cost online offerings (robo-advisors), there are still substantial margins that remain. Even though they are decreasing also, they don’t seem to be heading to zero.

Markets are efficient but the time needed to reach this equilibrium type of state, is uncertain. Technology is altering the investment segment of financial markets and creating havoc for financial advisors and asset managers alike.

Seems like there is a new segmentation being formed in the investment segment of the market, with one part of it being cannibalized and another part not. But the latter one, has no other option but to redefine its value proposition and is being pushed towards some kind of Vertical Integration.

At the same time, we have to admit that technology has not been able to sweep the unadvised assets, still sitting around despite the negative deposit rates in most of the world and despite the old-fashioned vault keeping services that deposit taking institutions offer. We have been pointing to this fact,

The Unadvised Assets, and the quarterly data that we collect show no significant change in the “Lazy Cash” figures.

(Read Oh, the things you could do with the enormous Cash pile!). That covers the asset side of most balance sheets of individuals.

On the other side of the balance sheet, there are our liabilities or our debt. This is the part that actually weighs more than saving and investing. From a more holistic perspective, the debt side of our balance sheet is heavily defining our decision making, our life-style and is more sticky. Debt decisions and debt management, affect much more our life. They not only are typically, larger in size, both absolute and percentage wise, but our life is much more sensitive to these factors.

In other words,

allocating capital and managing the risk on the debt side of our balance sheet is larger, more complex, and determines whether we reach our goals or how far away do we end up. This is primarily where we all need advice (human, bionic, hybrid) in the first place, and subsequently in the investment segment of our finances.

Incumbents and Fintechs, for the most part, have got this order of priorities wrong!

Incumbents have a long history of silos between business units, segmentation by product areas, and very low cross-selling rates. The large ones are struggling with the daunting task of integration, platformification, or a holistic approach to the existing large customer base.

Lets watch and see, whether Marcus for example, the consumer lending innovation from Goldman Sachs truly succeeds in destigmatizing personal debt (check out Will Goldman become a verb? Watch the Marcus ads!)? And then, in an invisible way, manages to simplify your first mortgage. And create a full stack for the customer, by integrating their deposit taking offering, their debt offering and management, and their investment capabilities.

On the Fintech side, will it be Betterment which is investing its recent large (for the robo space) funding round into the investment segment of our financial needs, that will invisibly move from its current Home improvement loan offering in certain states, to a full fledged mortgage offering?

Or will it be SoFi, who is investing its ten fold recent funding, into the mortgage segment already, that will easily move into the investment robo-offering later?

SoFi has been growing through the refinancing part of the value chain starting from student loans. From that same niche, they have been growing for more than 3yrs, their mortgage business. In other words, they have been advising their customers on how to manage their debt, from student loans to mortgages! In November, SoFi announced a partnership with Fannie Mae and a new offering, the Student Loan Payoff ReFi.

With SoFi’s new offering, the Student Loan Payoff ReFi, homeowners will have the ability to refinance mortgages at a lower rate and pay down the balance of an existing student loan. With its cash-out refinance student loan payoff plan, SoFi will pay down the student loan by disbursing payment directly to the servicer of the student debt. SoFi is a Fannie Mae approved seller servicer. Source

 This is not just another offering that is cheaper and faster. This is about parents who have co-signed student loans, that will be able to free up their digital assets. It is also about homeowners that manage student debt, being able to optimize the way they manage their capital and risk.

While the headlines are focused on the Zenbanx acquisition (covered in SoFi buying Zenbanx either signals the first Mega NeoBank or a unicorn losing the plot), what is really happening is

the creation of a platform business that is about managing both sides of the balance sheet for retail customers, that has been built around the core business of advising retail on the debt side.

SoFi is a business innovator because it has the priorities right in building a successful business to serve retail customers.

SoFi has realized early on, that the value lies in managing the debt side of the balance sheet for retail customers.

Daily Fintech Advisers provides strategic consulting to organizations with business and investment interests in Fintech & operates the Fintech Genome P2P Knowledge Network. Efi Pylarinou is a Digital Wealth Management thought leader.

A little bit of P2P is all I need – Mambo in Lending

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Ladies and Gentlemen, the lending sector merits a Mambo song and I’ve started the lyrics for you all to create your own version.

A little bit of Prosper in my life

A little bit of Lending club by my side

A little bit of Funding Circle is all I need

A little bit of Lending Home all night long

 

A little bit of Monica in my life
A little bit of Erica by my side
A little bit of Rita is all I need
A little bit of Tina is what I see
A little bit of Sandra in the sun
A little bit of Mary all night long
A little bit of Jessica here I am
A little bit of you makes me your man 

There are dozens of platforms for your Sandra, Tina, or Mary; and most of them offer ways for retail to access the primary market of loans, be it consumer loans, small business, student, invoice, real estate loans etc. However, it remains tedious and complicated to manage portfolios be it 10k or 100k or more. Diversification leads to having to deal with Thousands of orders and even then, retail can’t optimally spread holdings across the FICO spectrum and at the same time be diversified with respect to other risk factors (e.g. industry concentration, geographic concentration etc.).

Bottom line it is really hard work to manage a portfolio of P2P loans on a platform. Monica, Erica, Rita,… are high maintenance! Hector, a NY based retail investor on the Prosper platform, attests to that too in Back to the future of P2P Lending, we interview one of those peers.

Add on to that reality that often retail will be “politely” front-run by those managing loan portfolios with the quantitative support that retail doesn’t have.

Most mass affluent retail investors that could allocate 100k or more to P2P loans (viewing it as a fixed income alternative with a reasonable expected risk-adjusted return compared to high yield) would and should be looking to diversify beyond one single platform.

No matter how wonderful Monica is, it is very sensible to have Jessica or Mary also on one’s side. It reduces platform risk and it reduces lending subsector concentration risk (smallbiz, invoice, real estate). These are even more important in a market that has taken a step backwards in terms of its progress in developing a secondary market. Remember that in the US lending market right now, we only have Lending Club that hasn’t shut down its secondary market business. Prosper did. At the same time, note that Small Business loan platforms like Funding Circle require 50k minimum which makes it very hard for retail to include it in a diversified loan portfolio.

Add on to that the Faith and Trust that retail needs to have to any and all of these platforms in terms of their credit assessment algorithms, because realistically speaking there is no way for a retail investor to perform any due diligence on that front.

With all these considerations in mind, I go back to humming

A little bit of P2P is all I need

A little of Prosper in my life

A little bit of Lending club by my side

A little bit of Funding Circle is all I need

A little bit of Lending Home all night long

This is the exact mix of platforms included in a soon To Be Issued fund by LendingRobot, a SEC registered investment advisor. They have been assisting investors to manage P2P loan portfolios over the past 5 years. They have recently offered an automated service for 45bps per year that employs ML algorithms. This has been in the form of a managed account up to now. Lending Robot will soon launch a hedge fund for accredited investors that employs the ML algo and invests in these 4 platforms.

In the US, there aren’t many listed vehicles for retail to invest in the marketplace lending space. There are a few publicly traded stocks (if the equity part of capital structure is what you are looking for)

Market capitalization in Bil

Lending Club – LC

$2.4

Lending Tree – TREE

$1.33

Yirendai – YRD an ADR from the East

$1.17

OnDeck – ONDK

$0.3

There are plenty of quasi-lending bets that a retail investor can also consider through ADRs of Chinese companies in the Internet of Finance space which has heavy lending components. The likes of Alibaba, JD Finance, Tencent could be considered but of course, these are broader plays. Renren (RENN) is one that retail may have missed because the brand is associated with a social internet platform with a focus on games, social commerce, social networking etc. The market cap of this tech platform is close to $14bil. Did you know however, that Renren has significant equity holdings in SOFI, Lending Home? Lendacademy reported

“Renren has participated in SoFi’s series B, D, E and F rounds for a total investment of over $242 million. According to the 2015 year end report, “The Company held 28.85% and 21.20% equity interest of SoFi as of December 31, 2014 and 2015, respectively.” 

I suggest that it would be better to consider buying SoftBank, the Japanese telco & internet giant (SFTBY ADR) because through the Vision Fund ($100billion!) they have invested heavily in SOFI.

“the conglomerate – Softbank- convinced SoFi to eliminate the idea of an initial public offering (IPO) and allocate the $1 bln investment to accommodate SoFi’s growth.” Source

Moving to another part of the capital structure, River North Marketplace just recently (in Sep 2016) launched a closed-end fund RMPLX which investors can buy any day but you can only redeem four times a year (AUM $40mil). Lots of diversification offered:

“buying from a few different originators, we get diversification there from an idiosyncratic risk that might arise at one originator, as well as we get different types of loan segments, so unsecured consumer, small business and specialty finance… there’s diversification in those different segments. Then, again, to further thinking about diversification, there is diversification across geography. We have loans in all 50 states. We have a variety of different credit characteristics, so there’s lots of diversification in this pool.”

In the US, retail investing in marketplace lending requires and will require for a while, Monica, Rita, Jessica, Tina and Mary on our side. Lets keep Mambo humming and diversifying as we are chasing investments that can generate yield on a reasonable risk-adjusted basis.

Europe offers more closed-end funds that make sense to consider for UK residents but are have additional complexities for other Europeans due to differential taxation and currency risks. Orchard platform, a leading Fintech focused on the secondary P2P loan market for institutional (NsrInvest is more for retail) tracks these funds in their weekly snapshot.

orchard-snapshot

 

Premium/Discount (rounded) NAV in millions
P2P Global Investments (P2P)

-20%

£608 Mixed with equity
VPC Specialty Lending (VPC)

-17%

£293 Pure multi sector loans
Funding Circle Income Fund (FCIF)

+7%

£172 Pure SME loans
Ranger Direct Lending (RDL)

-8%

£160 Multi sector (pure) loans
SME loan Fund (SMEF)

-7%

£49 Pure SME loans

A glance at this ranking, explains why Funding Circle will be looking to raise more shares this year (ordinary upon approval of existing shareholders or C shares). Seems also that the SME focused fund structures are favored over the multi-sector ones (including consumer loans etc). This snapshot also leads us to continue mambo humming in lending with Monica, Rita, Jessica, Tina and Mary on our side.

Daily Fintech Advisers provides strategic consulting to organizations with business and investment interests in Fintech & operates the Fintech Genome P2P Knowledge Network. Efi Pylarinou is a Digital Wealth Management thought leader.

 

Calpers and the quiet data driven disruption of Private Equity

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Private Equity is a classic clubby insider high margin business. If open data and networks always disrupt these types of business, then Private Equity is overdue for disruption. 

This post offers:

  • A brief history of Private Equity.
  • Private Equity in context to other asset classes.
  • Two big problems facing Private Equity.
  • The disruptive power of open performance data and what Calpers is already doing to bring about this change
  • One disruption scenario.
  • One venture going after this space.

This post is specifically about investing in mature, profitable private businesses. This is in contrast to early stage investing which is already being disrupted by crowdfunding networks for both accredited and non-accredited investors. Private Equity deals are usually control deals (vs early stage that are normally minority equity), so we usually refer to this as Private Equity Buyout. 

A brief history of Private Equity Buyout

Private Equity Buyouts has gone through three iterations:

  • Version 1: Lean Conglomerate. This was pioneered by Hanson Trust in the 1970s. They bought underperforming old companies and put in financial discipline and a new CEO who got a piece of the action after the business was sold. Hanson Trust was an operating company with diverse businesses, so the right name is conglomerate, but they kept Head Office very small and they were always willing to sell a business if the price was right. Their mental set was closer to a Fund than an operating company, so the appropriate tag is Lean Conglomerate. Many other firms did well applying the Hanson Trust model in different markets (often learned while working at Hanson Trust). For example, Misys took the Hanson Trust model and applied it to software and now there are many such software conglomerates.
  • Version 2: Leveraged Buyout Funds. This cut the HO function down even further so that Conglomerate morphs into Fund, but the practices and techniques were similar. KKR was the pioneer in the 1980s. These Funds use leverage to juice returns and force cost cuts. Using strong cash flows to pay down debt, a Fund could sell after 5 years without even changing the business and still get a good return.
  • Version 3. Take Private. This requires more work than the Leveraged Buyout model. It is about fixing what is dysfunctional in public markets – an obsession with quarterly earnings. Transformational change requires more than one or two quarters. One example is the $11.3 billion 2005 Sungard deal. Sungard, like Misys, had grown through acquisitions and at a certain point the result was too messy and the business needed to be revamped out of the eye of public investors.

Private Equity in context to other asset classes.

Private Equity is small in total assets compared to asset classes such as Public Equities and Fixed Income. Private Equity is one part of Alternatives which was $7.2 trillion in 2013 vs $56.7 for Traditional Investments. But note the growth rates.

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However, Private Equity is big in one area which is Fees. In this FT article it is revealed that one pension fund alone (Calpers, more on them later) paid $2.4 billion in fees to PE Funds.

High growth and high margins means that any entrepreneur listening to Jeff Bezos (“your fat margin is my opportunity”) should be paying attention.

Problem 1: Software is eating the world.

Private Equity Funds pitch themselves to Investors as being more conservative/less risky than their wild cousins doing early stage equity. They will do rigorous analysis of the past 10 years or longer to see how predictable the cash flows are. No dangerous projections based on new products for them, their models are rooted in real world actual results of proven products.

That sounds good, but is based on a fundamental error which is the assumption that the future will be like the past. The Digital Era overturns that assumption.

Consider the printed telephone books aka “Yellow Pages”. They were a license to print money for a long time and many Private Equity Funds bought into them for that reason. Now it is hard to find people who use printed telephone books for anything other than doorstops.

Or consider hotel chains after AirBnB or Private Banks after Robo Advisers. How do you model future cash flows in those scenarios?

Problem 2: capital oversupply

When everything else changes, you can count on the law of supply and demand as a constant. Private Equity has been such a good business for so long that investors have been pouring money into the best funds (who then get high fees on AUM and the ability to do the mega deals). The problem is that this results in a lot of capital chasing the best deals (what Private Equity guys call “dry powder”) which raises prices on entry and that depresses returns on exit.

Calpers – its the data stupid

Into this closed, clubby world (”if you have to ask the price you cannot afford it”) comes Calpers (California Public Employees Retirement System) with their Private Equity Program Fund Performance Review. This is data transparency in action. It is only one investor but that investor is so big that it is a significant data point. You can sort all the PE funds online by all these different criteria.

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Our thesis is that this data will drive a lot of innovation. Entrepreneurs will be able to show what they offer vs the competiton by referring to this data. It is like an Index for the Private Equity business.

Disruption scenario

Our thesis is that disruption will come from Family Offices, managing money for the Ultra High Net Worth Individuals (UHNWI) and their families. In the US alone there are 3,000 single-family offices with assets under management between $1 trillion and $1.2 trillion.

Four key points about Family Offices:

  • They like the high returns of Private Equity and don’t worry about the lack of liquidity with money “locked up” for years (because they are managing money for multiple generations).
  • They are agile because they don’t have any “explanation risk” (if something goes wrong they can learn from it and move on, they don’t have to explain their actions to investors).
  • They don’t compete with each other.
  • Many are still run by entrepreneurial families (who are used to taking measured risks to get better returns).

This makes the Angel List model of following a proven investor applicable to Private Equity. This is already happening in a small way with small networks of like-minded Family Offices working together on deals (referred to as “club deals”). This is where the entrepreneurial genes of the Family Office counts. Let’s say Family Office A made their money in Pharma and Family Office B made their money in Software. Family Office A follows Family Office B’s lead in Software and vice versa.

Angel List obviously works at the early stage end, but the brilliance of their innovation is that they take of all the “boring plumbing admin” stuff like reporting. That can apply to any form of asset management, including Private Equity.

Axial

One company going after the Private Equity space is Axial. They recently raised a $14m Series C and are led by a proven entrepreneur called Peter Lehrman who was part of the founding team at Gerson Lehrman Group (technology platform for on-demand business expertise).

Image Source

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I am with French when it comes to robo-advisors

“Do the Brits continue to be ill-informed?”

As a standalone statement it is definitely very political. But bear with me and I will explain myself.

For this post, I looked around for an image for Systemic Risk. My inclination comes from being a graphic novel aficionado and having flirted with the idea of graphic storytelling while living in the birthplace of Marvel and Drawn and Quarterly.

Should I have picked explosives, or an earthquake, or simply the year 2008? None of these capture the essential element of “Systemic Risk”, which is an event whose consequences will require Central level intervention because the stakes are too high to leave it to the market forces.

Even though it has been 10yrs since the last major systemic event, the memory hasn’t dissipated especially behind the walls of Central banks, Regulators, Treasuries and the such.

Brits behind the walls sniffing around for signs of systemic risks

Jan 2016

Lord Alain Turner spiked Twitter impressions with his media comments in early 2016 around the systemic risks of the P2P lending space. As is customary in the media, his remarks were singled out.

“The losses which will emerge from peer-to-peer lending over the next five to 10 years will make the bankers look like lending geniuses,” said Turner on a BBC program.

Lord Turner, ex-chairman of the FSA, reversed his thinking before year end at the Fall London Lendit conference that I personally attended. He said that MPLs (market place lenders) may prove to be the spare tire in the next crisis. He claimed that peer-to-peer lending platforms could actually help reduce the risk of a future financial crisis. I agree with him in that the MPL sector is more than a spare tire already, in terms of mitigating the “Too big to Fail” risk that was the nightmare of the 2008 financial crisis. I also agree with Lord Turner that the multiple and complex risks of the broad, predominantly over-the-counter lending market are very similar within the “Castle” of the regulated financial system and within the “Fintech valley” of the self-regulated (partly) Altfi scattered ecosystem. From cyber security issues, to due diligence, to legal structuring, etc; these are structural issues that are inherent no matter what the delivery process is.

The conversation around this topic is live on the Fintech Genome and insights are welcome.

If one is sniffing around for the exact same kind of 2008 systemic risk (i.e. too big to fail) then I say that you wont find out coming out of the MPL space. Of course, black swans include those risks that we haven’t thought of.

Jan 2017

Carney, the governor of the Bank of England, showcased his concern around robo-advisors posing systemic risk to the financial system at a recent G20 conference meeting.

“Robo-advice and risk management algorithms may lead to excess volatility or increase pro-cyclicality as a result of herding, particularly if the underlying algorithms are overly-sensitive to price movements or highly correlated,” Carney told the conference.

Scalable Capital UK chief Adam French, decided to publicly defend the sector through an open letter which you can read on their site (instead of media excerpts).

I agree with French that for now, the money managed by robos globally (standalone and from incumbents) are clearly less than1% of managed assets. Honestly, the Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC) has proven to be very high and the growth rates of standalone robo-advisors are nowhere close to showing signs of overtaking the asset management industry. Actually, what is growing faster is the leapfrogging of incumbents into the robo space. Brokerage houses are the main adopters simply because their business is experiencing a type of second world war threat (first WW was the online brokerage digitization wave); followed by incumbents like Vanguard, Blackrock, ING, etc that are adopting variations of the business model parallel to their business as usual.

Current evidence shows, that

The majority of robo-advised AUM is by incumbents not by standalone robos. So, leave those kids alone.

Why voice concern for assets managed through robos, since the processes used don’t differ from those used by conventional practices?

  • Algorithms used are no different than those used by conventional managers or financial advisors. Mostly MPT based and in some case risk attribution (like Scalable Capital).
  • The ingredients are basic and liquid and used by conventional asset managers and financial advisors.

Would or should there be an central concern, if we woke up one day and realized that flows of funds shifted into actively managed vehicles that were using predominately passive low cost financial structures? I don’t think so.

Such kind of “herding” has been inherent in the system and more so, as the asset management business is consolidating and we live in a world that a few Blackrocks, Vanguard, etc can survive. Independent asset managers of medium size are struggling to stay afloat as standalone businesses. Did you not notice the recent move from Calamos (NASDAQ: CLMS) one of the few remaining public independent asset managers, that has been taken private?

Shouldn’t the attention be on those entities managing the majority of AUM through basic MPT asset allocation frameworks?

Look for concentrations within incumbents not at standalone robos. So, leave those kids alone.

I’ve always thought that robos could and should differ from the conventional way of servicing smaller amounts of wealth, in two main ways:

Batch One:

(a) Reduced Cost and transparency,

(b) Risk-adjusted performance transparency,

(d) fiduciary duties

Batch Two:

(a) Goal-based investing

Reduced and transparent costs have been the marketing strength of the robo-advisory business model. This is of no concern to central authorities, on the contrary.

The fiduciary responsibility or lack thereof, is of course the main concern. To put this in very simplistic terms, as long as you leave your money to be managed (i.e. not withdraw) the robo-advisory business model entail less incentive conflicts (i.e. a financial advisor selling a fund etc).

It is a simple algorithm (asset allocation – e.g. x% equities, y% fixed income, z% commodities etc) or a more sophisticated one (risk attribution and maybe coupled with momentum analysis; tax loss harvesting may also be incorporated). The only human or emotional decision, which is no different in the digitized asset management delivery or the conventional, is to liquidate part of whole of the portfolio or to Top Up.

As the robo-advisory business model is moving to a hybrid (auto asset allocation + Call a human for an extra cost), I really don’t see the difference in terms of the incentives and the fiduciary duty.

Central authorities should start thinking of mass-market, true AI-driven, asset management. Now that is a tricky one. It has been around for the elite, through the Bridgewater likes. What if technology makes it a viable business model for the mass? How can we think of Deep-Learning (a specific AI application) being used for managing our 10k or 50k savings? The fiduciary responsibility lies with whom?

Add to your radar screen Deep learning applications to asset management, as a future source of concern. In the meantime, please leave these kids alone.

If you want to understand more on AI, ML, Deep learning, listen to this primer because “Software is eating the world”.

Robo-advisory businesses will evolve and grow up and in some ways look more like their old-fashioned ancestors. My concern is that they have not taken the next step in terms of Transparency. They started with the Cost Transparency and reduction campaign. But the bottom line of the financial business is to create wealth. This means offering performance.

Lowering costs of execution, advise, custody, reporting etc is the first step. This is actually low-hanging fruit in 2017. Now, where is the performance? Where is the Risk-adjusted transparent performance?

Why are robo-advisors not reporting online, transparent risk adjusted Actual performance? Simply moving model portfolios online, isn’t an innovation. Simply measuring internally, performance and risk isn’t an innovation.

Contributing actual performance statistical data towards the development of some kind of Robo-Index, that can be used for internal improvement and for offering transparency to end-customers; is the way to go.

Are you a robo-advisor managing assets and want to know more? Drop us a note in the comments below.

Daily Fintech Advisers provides strategic consulting to organizations with business and investment interests in Fintech & operates the Fintech Genome P2P Knowledge Network. Efi Pylarinou is a Digital Wealth Management thought leader.

Digital Wealth – Shùzì cáifù – in China

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Heading into 2015, China had US$21 trillion dollars pent up in bank deposits. With such a large, investment hungry population with so much ready-to-invest capital, anyone with a WealthTech business idea can only start salivating.

Be careful and contain your excitement around this huge single market opportunity. There is no doubt that strong favorable winds are blowing in China because of:

  • Very high internet penetration
  • Reduced anxiety over data privacy
  • The internet of finance birthplace
  • Government support for innovation
  • A nationwide credit scoring system underway
  • Openness to Collaboration of restrained banks with fintechs
  • Capital looking for investments

On the other hand, look at who is already positioned in China to offer wealth management products and examine how they are delivering these services.

The Internet of Finance refers to financial services delivered through digital platforms (digital from birth).

Digital money-market type of funds

The money-market funds typically sold by the Charles Schwab’s or the HSBC’s in the West; are offered e-commerce giants in China. We are all familiar with the Yu’e Bao fund of Ant Financial (Alibaba when it was launched in June 2013), which by the way was met by the media with great skepticism since there were already more than 200 such funds in the Chinese market. Was it for small-size savers or was it for typical clients of wealth mgt services at banks?

To cut a long story short, the remarkable path of asset accumulation (summer of 2016 AUM 772 billion yuan (=$116 billion)) is even more stunning as the AUM growth occurred even though rates of return declined.

The fund started with initially offering 7.5% interest rates compared to 0.39% maximum interest rate that China’s national banks could give out. The Yu’E Bao rates are now only able to pay out an annual interest rate of 2.5%.

The fund is run by Tainhing Asset management and integration with Alipay, facilitated the growth of the retail user base. By mid 2016, there were close to 300,000 users reported.

Li Cai Tong’s fund by Tencent and Baifa fund offered by Baidu; are also major players in this space which continues to incentive users by offering better rates and better user experience.

Stock Trading apps

Broader Fintech type of activity in China is seen in the PFM space both from the e-commerce giants and the P2P lending platforms. Stock trading apps have been launched by several such platforms and are the first signs of integrated platforms that address investment and funding needs of individuals and their businesses.

These apps offer access to trade-invest in A-shares and mutual funds or structured products that are more diversified options. They are all heavily used by brokers (over 90% of usage) who form their end, tap into the growing customer base of these tech businesses. Some of the players are the ever present trio BAT, JD finance, Credit Ease, Wacai, and Tongbanjie. The latter two are standalone Chinese mobile apps. JD Finance is the financial subsidiary of e-commerce giant JD. They are in the process of following restructuring the organization and following pretty much the spinoff steps of Alibaba-Ant Financial. Credit Ease, run by publicly traded Yirendai (NYSE: YRD) was setup as both a lender (small business and consumer) and a wealth mgt business focused more on the middle and upper end of the wealth spectrum.

In addition to these local players, there are already noteworthy moves from foreigners positioning themselves through local partnerships in the stock, fund trading space. These strategic moves makes sense given the much anticipated increase of the limit for Chinese individuals for overseas investments and at the same, establishing a sensible presence in the local market.

Currently, Chinese investors can only trade overseas equities through the “QDII = Qualified Domestic Institutional Investor” framework which offers quotas to select institutions, which in turn channel to each Chinese citizen an annual exchange “allowance” of US$50,000.

Robinhood, the US-based free stock trading app, formed a partnership with Baidu in summer 2016 to tap into the mass market of Chinese citizens by offering them US stock trading access. They also launched their Chinese app, named Luobin Xia (罗宾侠), for US citizens in mainland China.

Another different partnership of two Asian Fintechs and an established global financial service provider originating from Europe, is that of Saxo Bank, WEEX, and Lean Work. The Chinese online trading platform WEEX of WallStreetCN, partnered last summer with Saxo Bank, the Danish-origin multi-asset trading business, and Fintech startup LeanWork to tap into the mass market of Chinese speaking users. Lean Work is a Shanghai based startup, focused offering cloud based risk management, back office, trading and brokerage solutions. The 15million monthly users of the WallStreetCN financial media business (a 3yr old financial content startup) will gain access to over 30,000 instruments via this integration.

Brokerage, social trading, robo-advisors

The lines between stock trading apps (linked to third-party brokers) brokerage businesses with bells and whistles, and robo-advsiors; are blurred. The grouping I have chosen is more for the sake of simplicity.

Tiger Brokers (Bejing based) is a 2yr old Fintech broker targeting the overseas investing market segment (Hong Kong and US). One of the largest mainland China brokers, Citic Securities (Shengzen based) participated in the Dec 2016 Series B funding round ($29mil) which will be used mainly to boost Tiger broker’s big data capabilities in financial advice. Xiaomi participated in the Series A round.

Jimubox (Bejing based) the Xiaomi backed marketplace Fintech, launched a trading app mainly to serve the overseas channel, the Jimustock app.

Snowball Finance (Bejing based) is a Fintech with a social information and investment platform that plans to add brokerage capabilities (Sequoia Capital participated in their $40mil series C in 2014).

ChaoTrade, is a newly launched social trading Fintech platform.

At the same time that Robinhood launched Luobin Xia, 8 Securities launched their free-trading app in Hong Kong, with an AI feature, Chloe, that can educate and help users in their investment discovery process.

In the summer of 2016 which is clearly a turning point for the Digital wealth space in China, CreditEase launched a robo-advisor in mainland China, ToumiRA. The offering allows overseas investing via ETFs instead of the expensive and non-transparent way of managed accounts. ToumiRA was launched in partnership with the US based B2B robo-advsior DriveWealth.

Pintec is the other significant player in mainland China. Pintec is a Fintech group that spun off Jimubox. XUANJI is their robo-advsiory offering launched also in summer 2016. They have an onshore and offshore version; and they have a B2C offering in addition to a white liable offering.

Digital apps using machine learning for investment advisory are:

Micai Fintech launched in Spring 2015

Clipper Advisor, launched out of California and with a motto “the Wealthfront of China”.

Our Chinese Fintech startup coverage in this post on wealth management is focused on the B2C segment. Hong Kong is booming right now with B2B offerings that mainly targeting the South East Asian markets (Indonesia, Malaysia ect). Another post will cover those trends.

Wealthtech China

China is leading in the integrated digital wealth management movement.

Credit Ease, is one Fintech launched with that mission; the PINTEC group is similar in its broad scope and aim to become a full range financial services provider. Alibaba, Baidu, Tencent, JD, the e-commerce tech giants, are spinning off subsidiaries and taking the lion’s share from Fintech funding (skewing global reality also, with the huge lump-size funding rounds) and dominating the financial services space. They are leading the way of digital cross-selling.

In a report recently published by EY and DBS on “The rise of Fintech in China” it is noted that:

“ The willingness of Chinese consumers to adopt FinTech services is striking. Forty percent of consumers in China are using new payment methods compared to 4% in Singapore. Thirty-five percent are using FinTech to access insurance products compared to1-2% in many Southeast Asian markets. There are also significantly higher rates of FinTech participation in wealth management and lending.”

Happy new year China.

Thank you April Rudin for tweeting the jewelry designs for the New year in case your gold allocation has some room.

chinese-jewelry

Daily Fintech Advisers provides strategic consulting to organizations with business and investment interests in Fintech & operates the Fintech Genome P2P Knowledge Network. Efi Pylarinou is a Digital Wealth Management thought leader.

T-Zero sings “Love me do” to the SEC with its Blockchain Series A Preferred Shares

t0

Wonders are still happening in America!

Who would imagine that an online retailer who started out as an e-commerce business liquidating merchandise of failed companies, would be the first publicly traded company offering Blockchain Shares.

Let me introduce to you Overstock, a Nasdaq listed online retailer (OSTK) based in Utah and founded by Patrick Byrne.

Tee-zero (t0.com) is a majority owned subsidiary of Overstock that is focused on using blockchain technology in capital markets. Last summer, we covered the issuance of a private crypto-currency denominated bond that settled on the T0 platform. It was a symbolic move, demonstrating that it is possible to issue, trade & settle (synonymous in the future T0 world), and have very fine divisibility of a bond and fast transferability. The trading activity of this bond was not the point of the implementation.

This December an even more important symbolic implementation happened. After the SEC approved in early Fall the issuance of a blockchain public stock offering; Overtstock will go down in history as the first publicly traded company that offered blockchain shares trading on an Alternative trading system (ATS).

The historic offering: Overstock Preferred Shares

Voting Series B Preferred Shares

  • 560,333 @ $15.68 (roughly $9mil)
  • Trading on NasdaQ OTCQB

Blockchain Voting Series A Preferred Shares

  • 126,565 @ $15.68 (roughly $2mil)
  • Trading on ATS under the symbol OSTKP

The above offering (total roughly $11mil) was handled by Keystone Capital, a conventional broker-dealer that worked diligently and closely with the regulators to obtain the required approvals.

Existing shareholders had the right to participate in the offering as follows: One subscription right for each 10 shares of common stock owned. Each share of the preferred stock has a preferential right to a 1 percent cumulative annual cash dividend.

The symbolic significance of the Blockchain Series A transaction is all about the

Transparency of the transaction and the fact that it boils down to the verification of two blockchain addresses.

What’s next?

I wasn’t an Overtsock shareholder on the required date and therefore didn’t participate in the offering. The broker-dealer, Keystone Capital handled the onboarding of the buyers (existing shareholders that exercised their right to buy the Series A preferred stock) of the digital securities. They created digital wallets and accounts for them and are now continuing to onboard outside buyers who will be matched on the T0 platform to sellers (those that participated in the first placement). Any individual that qualifies under the Title III Jobs Act, can participate.

Nasdaq is watching and probably nodding its head, since a large-scale adaption of such a process is not imminent. However, it is threatening to its core business.

Stock exchanges are one of the main three categories of players involved in capital markets; Brokers and Central Securities Depositaries handling settlements, are the other two main categories. The million-dollar question here, is who of them will embrace the T-zero or some such blockchain based platform and make the other two obsolete?

T-Zero is actually a viable product that targets the capital markets B2B vertical and is out there for the first mover to embrace it. Ironically T-zero is a private blockchain. In addition, this first symbolic implementation was accomplished with the participation and collaboration of market players and intermediaries that will be directly affected should this technology prove to change the capital markets infrastructure. Broker-dealers for example, which were instrumental in obtaining approval from the SEC and effectively laying the seeds for the growth of such an ecosystem of digital assets; will be cannibalized.

At the same time,

T-zero with Keystone Capital, are bringing up to speed the SEC and holding their hand towards Full Regulatory Transparency in public markets.

For me, this symbolic transaction is the first public performance of “Love me do” from T-zero to the SEC. Right at the time that the SEC has committed to a plan to spend $1.5billion to create a consolidated audit trial (CAT), T-zero is echoing loud and clear to them “Love me do”

T-zero can offer a freemium service to the SEC, if they adopt the T-zero platform which will naturally include a Consolidated Audit Trial.

If T-zero manages to seed an ecosystem of publicly traded digital assets (even if it starts small); then I foresee Lykke, the frictionless global marketplace for digital assets, accelerating its growth. Lykke, an open source platform, has started with frictionless, transparent, immediate settlement of FX, ICOs and cryptocurrencies, but is ready to broaden its assets base (anything digital can be on boarded).

The transformation in capital markets is here. Timing is uncertain but the trend is clear.

Sources: T zero news; Nasdaq news

Daily Fintech Advisers provides strategic consulting to organizations with business and investment interests in Fintech & operates the Fintech Genome P2P Knowledge Network. Efi Pylarinou is a Digital Wealth Management thought leader.