https://ift.tt/2xLzu7w June 4, 2018 LONDON (Reuters) – European shares extended their recovery rally on Monday thanks to bank stocks as dealmaking took centre stage again after a week of political tension in Italy and Spain. Investors’ concerns over rising trade frictions were trumped by very strong U.S. jobs data on Friday. Europe’s STOXX 600 […]
Chairmen, especially those embarrassed by the share price on their watch, feel obliged to examine any old merger or acquisition idea. But there are limits to what counts as credible and Barclays’ John McFarlane was seriously off-piste if he thought shareholders would be remotely interested in a corporate combination with Standard Chartered.
The idea provoked inevitable derision in the City. First, Barclays’ entire strategy for the past three years has been to reinvent itself as a US-UK “transatlantic bank”, minus its former African business. Merging with Standard, which operates almost exclusively in Asia and Africa, would be a U-turn too far. Second, regulators would probably demand substantially bigger capital buffers, thereby negating the appeal of Standard’s Asian deposit base. Third, the potential to rip out costs, banks’ usual justification for big mergers, would barely exist.
Barclays’ “exploratory conversations”, according to the FT’s report, were prompted by the perceived need to have a plan B to hand when the unsmiling agitator Edward Bramson turns rough. Bramson’s Sherborne fund has bought a 5.4% interest in Barclays and a confrontation of some form is inevitable because that is how activists justify their fees.
McFarlane and colleagues should drop their “blue sky” bumbling. Barclays’ share price, stuck around the 210p mark, is unimpressive but a panicky mega-deal could make things worse. Their thinking should be simple. If the board trusts the chief executive, Jes Staley, to grind out higher returns over time, let the strategy run. If it doesn’t, it should not have approved his plans in the first place.
Bramson’s beef is assumed to be about Barclays’ investment bank. Should the bank even be in a capital-hungry business dominated by big American firms? Bramson will probably offer a few sharp criticisms and, actually, it’s right that Barclays should be made to explain why dismantling its unreliable investment bank is supposedly too expensive to contemplate. But give the detailed rebuttal, don’t play silly games of fantasy mergers.
Most of all, remember that Bramson is merely a 5% short-termist punter who may have overreached in trying to call the tune at a large regulated bank. He should not be a source of terror.
M&S has time to save itself
It was a “historic day” for Marks & Spencer, declared the chairman, Archie Norman, and he wasn’t talking about the record £514m “adjusting item” hit to profits, which beat even last year’s £437m whack. Rather, M&S was offering the first warts-and-all assessment of its troubles for ages, Norman said.
The list of woes was certainly long: too many stores; stores in the wrong places; a website that is too slow; a distribution centre that cannot cope with peak demand; dated IT systems; an inefficient supply chain in food; and, as the chief executive, Steve Rowe, put it, a corporate culture that was “top heavy” and “inward looking”. Given that none of those items can be considered minor, you can understand why the promised turnaround is pitched as a “three-to-five-year” job.
The share price rose 5%, probably reflecting M&S’ confidence in a same-again dividend of 18.7p. The yield is 6% if you believe the annual distribution is permanently safe. That’s not the worst long-term gamble in a horrible retail sector, even if one suspects more than 100 stores will eventually have to close. M&S still has time to save itself.
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Monzo, the U.K. challenger bank, has finally added Apple Pay to its mobile-only current account. The just over three year-old fintech says it has been one of the most requested features for its banking app, with over 2,000 mentions of Apple Pay on Monzo’s forum, whilst its customer support team have been asked about the functionality more than 13,000 times. In other words, the rollout can’t come soon enough. Noteworthy, Monzo was able to add Google Pay all the way back in October 2017.
Meanwhile, many of its passionate and vocal users will be wondering what took Monzo so long (as an aside, rival challenger Starling was able to add Apple Pay in July 2017). The upstart bank, which usually makes a virtue of its community-driven approach and transparency hasn’t been able to say (or even fully acknowledge that the feature was coming), likely because Apple imposes strict rules on the ways its partners communicate working with the tech giant. And when you sign an NDA with Apple it’s not untypical for it to stipulate that you don’t talk about said NDA.
What we do know is that — similar to Apple’s iOS App Store when submitting an app — the Apple Pay approval process for a new bank partner is not for the faint-hearted. Industry insiders tell me that Google Pay has less hurdles to jump in comparison.
Now that the feature is live, Monzo is talking up the security and privacy aspect of using Apple Pay, noting that when you use a credit or debit card with Apple Pay, the actual card numbers are not stored on the device, nor on Apple servers. Instead, “a unique Device Account Number is assigned, encrypted and securely stored in the Secure Element on your device… [and] each transaction is authorised with a one-time unique dynamic security code”.
Of course, most people simply like Apple Pay for its convenience, letting you use your phone to pay rather than fumbling for a debit or credit card, and when shopping online not having to repeatedly enter card details.
Cue Monzo’s Tom Blomfield waxing lyrical in a company statement about Apple’s design and UX. “Apple is famous for building beautiful products with simple, intuitive interfaces. Their design thinking has long been a source of inspiration for us. Monzo’s mission has alway been to make sure everyone can use and manage their money effortlessly, and with Apple Pay we are one step closer to achieving that,” says the challenger bank’s co-founder and CEO.
In our lifetime we will see many of the traditional banks and credit reporting systems become irrelevant as blockchain technology brings about a radical transformation of the institutional nature of our banking system – a system that is based on a centralized ledger to manage transactions, says Virginia Tech economist David Bieri.
According to Bieri, “the distributed ledger technology of the blockchain offers new ways of economic coordination and governance whereby a information flows are shared almost instantaneously across all participants in a networked system, opening the door for new possibilities such as de-nationalized currencies and a radical democratization of different forms of trust.”
Bieri is an associate professor at Virginia Tech who has also held positions in central banking across the globe.
“The information monopoly of the three credit bureaus is rapidly being dismantled as big data and AI allow fintech companies to engineer something that is much more accurate than the FICO score, from the social media and other personal information they have on you. Several fintech companies are already basing their lending information on this. It has similar logic to FICO, but is based off of their proprietary information.”
“There is significant power in the distributed network because in order for someone to tamper with it they would need to change every copy at the same time and hack every computer separately. Because this is much harder to do than hack a central single location, it makes the data more secure.”
Background and research
Bieri is leading a collaborative research project with two of the largest blockchain-based fintech consortia, R3 and Hyperledger, to develop standards as well as examine how the banking system is reorganizing itself to embrace blockchain, the very thing that might render it obsolete. Project Information – “Disruption, Dislocation or Delusion? Fintech and the Digital Macrofoundations of the Next Global Financial Order” (David Bieri and Giselle Datz)
David Bieri is an associate professor in the School of Public and International Affairs and in the department of economics at Virginia Tech. His current research examines the dynamics of financialization and its role in the process of urbanization. He also writes about regulatory aspects of international finance and global monetary governance. Previously, Bieri held positions in central banking at the Bank for International Settlements in Switzerland and in investment banking in London.
Just a few hours after German online bank Bitbond announced it now allows users to transfer loan anywhere in the world using bitcoin and other cryptos , a move which we said would result in a rapid adoption of blockchain technologies within the bank-disintermediation space, the FT reported that in a somewhat parallel transaction, UK-based banking giant HSBC has completed the world’s first commercially viable trade-finance transaction using blockchain, in the process opening the door to mass adoption of the technology in the $9tn market for trade finance, a process which ironically culminates with traditional banks such as HSBC becoming disintermediated from the fund flows process, i.e., obsolete.
HSBC said the blockchain trade, which processed a letter of credit for US food and agricultural group Cargill, had shown the platform was ready to be commercially adopted across the industry.
In many ways the news will be welcome, especially when it comes to trade finance: traditionally one of the most convoluted and burdensome pillars of modern finance, one which has been deeply in need of disruption.
As a result, the FT notes that the introduction of blockchain “is expected to shake up the centuries-old trade-finance industry, reducing the numerous documents and several days of processing needed for a single transaction to a paperless task that can be completed in hours.”
And, as Vivek Ramachandran, head of innovation and growth for commercial banking at HSBC, said, “the next stage is actually encouraging as many participants as possible to sign up to the utility” adding that banks, shipping companies, ports and customs operations would have to take up the same technology before it could gain widespread usage. “We don’t envisage the platform as anything other than a utility.”
Think of blockchain is to trade finance as DTCC was to old-school stock certificates (incidentally, blockchain is set to revolutionize DTC as well).
In trading hubs around the world, banks such as HSBC still operate trade-finance floors filled with stacks of paper documentation for trade. Blockchain transactions will greatly reduce these operations in the coming years, Mr Ramachandran said. HSBC took in $2.52bn in trade-finance revenue last year, making it one of the world’s largest banks in the industry.
In light of these numbers, it is understandable why HSBC wants to streamline its process even more, generating a far higher profit margin.
Some more details on the historic blockchain-mediated letter of credit:
The transaction for Cargill was for a shipment of soyabeans from Argentina to Malaysia last week. HSBC used the Corda blockchain platform, which was developed by technology consortium R3. Dutch bank ING, which has also adopted the technology, was a counterparty on the deal.
Unlike previous test transactions, the one for Cargill could be replicated if the same counterparties were involved, Ramachandran said, showing that the technology is ready for commercial use.
To be sure, HSBC was delighted with the outcome, and Ramachandran likened the advent of blockchain trade finance to the usage of standardized shipping containers, which were slowly but surely adopted by ships, ports, railways and trade companies over several decades to eventually become the primary mode for global shipping.
And now the race is on for the next standardization protocal, which unless something far better emerges in the coming months, will be blockchain:
In much the same respect, counterparties to trade finance — such as banks, ports and traders — must all adopt common platforms and standards for blockchain trade finance, something that Mr Ramachandran says will play out over the next five years.
To be sure, there will be bottlenecks, and widespread adoption of the technology will still face challenges as companies and banks attempt to make their pilot projects fit in with the bustling world of global trade, said Gadi Ruschin, chief executive at Wave, an Israel-based start-up developing bill-of-lading products using blockchain. Many of the products currently under development around the would fail, he predicted.
“The blockchain is only an enabling technology for different products and each product should be evaluated in many aspects before evaluating the chances for adoption — technology, regulations, cost of the service, security but the most important one is the product market fit,” Ruschin said.
As discussed most recently three months ago, trade finance – its massive $9 trillion industry size notwithstanding – is just one of numerous fields ripe for disruptions and improvement; ultimately the broad reach of blockchain will impact no less than $100 trillion worth of goods and services; in this context, the fact that the market cap of the entire crypto universe (at just over $400 billion at this moment) is less than half the market cap of Apple, may be one of the biggest arbitrage opportunities in history.
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