Google is increasingly involved in more areas of its users’ lives. It’s where we turn every day for answers to pretty much everything from simple questions to complicated research. It’s where we get our email, store our photos, manage our calendars, and manage our files. It’s already the most dominant mobile operating system, and it now makes smart home devices. With its purchase of Fitbit, it’s clear Google also wants to dominate wearable technology.
Well, more specifically, Google plans to partner with banks to offer its customers access to banking products like checking accounts. In this case, accounts would be offered by Citigroup, as well as a credit union at Stanford University, and those financial institutions would provide all of the financial services and account management.
Google would provide the convenience, along with loyalty rewards. For example, users would access their accounts through Google Pay, much like Apple’s users access its branded credit card through Apple Pay.
Speaking of which, with recent moves by other tech companies into the personal finance space, it was probably inevitable that Google would follow suit. Apple recently introduced its own credit card with Goldman Sachs, and Facebook has announced its plans to launch a digital currency called Libra. It might be worth mentioning that both of those have come under intense scrutiny, with New York regulators launching an investigation into Apple Card for discriminating on the basis of gender when extending credit limits.
I actually think this is less a deviation for Google than it might seem. In fact, as TechCrunch pointed out, by providing users with checking accounts, “Google obviously stands to gain a lot of valuable information and insight on customer behavior with access to their checking account, which for many is a good picture of overall day-to-day financial life.”
It’s helpful to remember that for all the useful services Google provides, the company is, at its core, an advertising platform. That is the underlying business model that makes it huge amounts of money, and it’s the driving force behind every product or service it offers.
And while Google hasn’t suffered the same level of scandal as the next-largest advertising platform, Facebook, the strategy is the same–monetize people’s personal information.
Of course, that lack of scandal is reflected in the fact that consumers say they are more likely to trust Google with their financial information than some of its competitors. Only Amazon was rated higher in a McKinsey & Company survey included in the Journal’s report. Fifty-eight percent of consumers said they would trust Google for financial products.
The Journal also reports that Google won’t sell financial information to advertisers, which is great, but that doesn’t mean it won’t use that information to target specific advertising at customers based on their income or spending habits — which is really the only reason Google would get into financial products in the first place.
It’s also the only thing you need to know when considering whether this is a good idea. I’m not sure any amount of “loyalty program” or convenience can make up for the cost of having even more of your personal information monetized.
Google is planning to launch consumer checking accounts next year in partnership with Citigroup and Stanford University, The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported on Wednesday (Nov. 13). Code-named Cache, the accounts will be handled by Citigroup and a credit union at Stanford University. The branding will reflect the financial institutions and not Google. “Our approach is going to be to partner deeply with banks and the financial system,” Google VP of Product Management Caesar Sengupta told WSJ. “It may be the slightly longer path, but it’s more sustainable.”
Big banks to kick off reporting season the week of October 14
Earnings for sector expected to fall slightly, analysts say
Brexit, trade, consumer health on topic list for Financial earnings calls
During Q2 earnings season, Financial sector results helped renew investor confidence in the U.S. consumer.
The question heading into Q3 is whether banking executives still see the same kind of strength, and if they think it can continue amid trade wars, Brexit, and signs of weakness in the U.S. economy.
Over the last three months, as the broader stock market rallied to an all-time high, slammed the brakes, and then re-tested earlier peaks, consumer health arguably did much of the heavy lifting. It felt like every time stocks pulled back, they got a second wind from retail sales, housing or some other data or earnings news that showed consumers still out there buying.
The banks played a huge role in setting the stage by reporting better-than-expected Q2 results that showed signs of strong consumer demand even as some of the banks’ trading divisions took a hit. Next week, six of the biggest banks come back to talk about their Q3 experience and what they expect for Q4. Analysts expect Financial sector earnings to drop slightly in Q3.
That said, most of the major banking names have done an excellent job keeping costs in check as they wrestle with fundamental industry headwinds like falling interest rates and slowing revenue from their trading divisions. This time out, it wouldn’t be surprising to see more of the same, and you can’t rule out a bit more vigor from the trading business thanks to all the volatility we saw in the markets last quarter.
Earnings growth may not be there for Financials this time around, or it could be negligible. At the end of the day, though, Financial companies are still likely to be remarkably profitable considering a yield curve that remains relatively flat and global macroeconomic concerns, according to Briefing.com. This sector knows how to make money, but it might just not make as much as it did a year ago. Earnings will likely show large banking companies still in good financial condition with the U.S. consumer generally in decent shape for now, as the U.S. economy arguably remains the best-kept house on a tough block.
Investors have started to pick up on all this, judging from the S&P 500 Financial sector’s good health over the last month and year to date. The sector is up 3.4% from a month ago to easily lead all sectors over that time period, and up 15% since the start of 2019. The 15% gain is below the SPX’s 17% year-to-date pace, but it’s an improvement after a few years when Financials generally didn’t participate as much in major market rallies.
What to Listen For
No one necessarily planned it, but it’s helpful in a way that banks report early in the earnings season. Few other industries have larger megaphones or the ability to set the tone like the biggest financial institutions can. The other sectors are important, too, but they often see things from their own silos. Combined, the big banks have a view of the entire economy and all the industries, as well as what consumers and investors are doing. Their positive remarks last quarter didn’t really give Financial stocks an immediate lift, but it did apparently help reassure investors who were nervous about everything from trade wars to Brexit.
Going into Q3 earnings, those same issues dog the market, and bank executives have a front-row seat. How do they see trade negotiations playing out? Can consumers hold up if trade negotiations start to go south? How’s the consumer and corporate credit situation? Will weakness in Europe spread its tentacles more into the U.S.? And is there anything bank CEOs think the Fed or Congress can do to fend off all these challenges?
On another subject closer to the banks’ own business outlook, what about the shaky initial public offering (IPO) situation? That’s getting a closer look as a few recent IPOs haven’t performed as well as some market participants had expected. One question is whether other potential IPOs might get cold feet, potentially hurting businesses for some of the major investment banks.
All the big bank calls are important, but JP Morgan Chase (JPM) on Tuesday morning might stand out. Last time, CEO Jamie Dimon said he saw positive momentum with the U.S. consumer, and his words helped ease concerns about the economic outlook. More words like that this time out might be well timed when you consider how nervous many investors seem to be right now. On the other hand, if Dimon doesn’t sound as positive, that’s worth considering, too.
While few analysts see a recession in the works—at least in the short term—bank executives might be asked if they’re starting to see any slowdown in lending, which might be a possible sign of the economy putting on the brakes. Softer manufacturing sector data over the last few months and falling capital investment by businesses could provide subject matter on the big bank earnings calls.
Regionals Vs. Multinationals
While big banks like JPM operate around the world and might be particularly attuned to the effects of trade, regional banks make most of their loans within the U.S., potentially shielding them from overseas turbulence.
Regional banks also might provide a deeper view into what consumers are doing in the housing and credit card markets. With rates still near three-year lows, we’ve seen some data suggest a bump in the housing sector lately, and that’s been backed by solid earnings data out of that industry. If regional banks report more borrowing demand, that would be another sign pointing to potential strength in consumer sentiment. Refinancing apparently got a big lift over the last few months, and now we’ll hear if banks saw any benefit.
One possible source of weakness, especially for some of the regional players, could be in the oil patch. With crude prices and Energy sector earnings both under pressure, there’s been a big drop in the number of rigs drilling for oil in places like Texas over the last few months, according to energy industry data. That could potentially weigh on borrowing demand. Also, the manufacturing sector is looking sluggish, if recent data paint an accurate picture, maybe hurting results from regional banks in the Midwest. It might be interesting to hear if bank executives are worried more about the U.S. manufacturing situation.
Another challenge for the entire sector is the rate picture. The Fed lowered rates twice since banks last reported, and the futures market is penciling in another rate cut as pretty likely for later this month. Lower rates generally squeeze banks’ margins. If rates drop, banks simply can’t make as much money.
The 10-year Treasury yield has fallen from last autumn’s high above 3.2% to recent levels just above 1.5% amid fears of economic sluggishness and widespread predictions of central bank rate cuts. The long trade standoff between China and the U.S. has also contributed to lower yields as many investors pile into defensive investments like U.S. Treasuries, cautious about the growth outlook.
Another thing on many investors’ minds is the current structure of the yield curve. The 10-year and two-year yields inverted for a stretch in Q3, typically an indication that investors believe that growth will be weak. That curve isn’t inverted now, but it remains historically narrow. Still, some analysts say the current low five-year and two-year yields might mean healthy corporate credit, maybe a good sign for banks.
Q3 Financial Sector Earnings
Analysts making their Q3 projections for the Financial sector expect a slowdown in earnings growth from Q2. Forecasting firm FactSet pegs Financial sector earnings to fall 1.8%, which is worse than its previous estimate in late September for a 0.9% drop. By comparison, Financial earnings grew 5.2% in Q2, way better than FactSet’s June 30 estimate for 0.6% growth.
Revenue for the Financial sector is expected to fall 1.6% in Q3, down from 2.6% growth in Q2, FactSet said.
While estimates are for falling earnings and revenue, the Financial sector did surprise last quarter with results that exceeded the average analyst estimate. You can’t rule out a repeat, but last time consumer strength might have taken some analysts by surprise. Now, consumer strength in Q3 seems like a given, with the mystery being whether it can last into Q4.
Upcoming Earnings Dates:
Citigroup (C) – Tuesday, October 15
JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM) – Tuesday, October 15
Wells Fargo (WFC) – Tuesday, Oct. 15, (B)
Goldman Sachs (GS) – Tuesday, October 15
Bank of America (BAC) – Wednesday, October 16
Morgan Stanley (MS) – Thursday, October 17
TD Ameritrade® commentary for educational purposes only. Member SIPC.
I am Chief Market Strategist for TD Ameritrade and began my career as a Chicago Board Options Exchange market maker, trading primarily in the S&P 100 and S&P 500 pits. I’ve also worked for ING Bank, Blue Capital and was Managing Director of Option Trading for Van Der Moolen, USA. In 2006, I joined the thinkorswim Group, which was eventually acquired by TD Ameritrade. I am a 30-year trading veteran and a regular CNBC guest, as well as a member of the Board of Directors at NYSE ARCA and a member of the Arbitration Committee at the CBOE. My licenses include the 3, 4, 7, 24 and 66.
Last week’s announcement from Coalition that American and European investment banks’ capital markets and advisory’s revenues hit a thirteen-year low is likely to be the beginning of more challenges to come. Even before that announcement, Moody’s Investor Services had changed its positive outlook on global investment banks to stable precisely due to slower economic growth and lower interest rates.
Drivers of Moody’s Stable Outlook for Global Investment Banks
Moody’s Investors Services
As a recession comes closer, bank risk managers, investors, regulators, and rating agencies will be monitoring banks’ loan impairments carefully. According to the Fitch Ratings’ Large European Banks Quarterly Credit Tracker – 2Q19, released last week, “The economic slow down in Europe has not resulted in material new impaired loans yet, but the substantially weakened economic outlook has increased the likelihood of an at least modest increase in impaired loans.”
Impaired Loans/Gross Loans
Fitch Ratings, Large European Banks Quarterly Credit Tracker
Banks’ high holdings of leveraged loans and below investment grade bonds and securitizations, especially those that are less liquid and harder to value, will also weigh on their earnings as the global economy slowdown intensifies. Fitch Ratings’ recent ‘U.S. Leveraged Loan Default Insight’ shows that its “Top Loans and Tier 2 Loans of Concern combined total jumped to $94.1 billion from $74.5 billion in July. The Top Loans of Concern amount ($40.9 billion) is the largest since March 2017, with six names added to the list and nearly all bid below 70 in the secondary market.” Unfortunately, underwriting continues to deteriorate. The Federal Reserve Senior Loan Officer Survey showed a modest loosening of lending standards on corporate loans for the second consecutive quarter.
Fitch U.S. Leveraged Loan Default Index.
A slowing economy and low interest rate environment are outside of bank managers’ control. Yet, cost efficiency, is something that banks can influence; it needs to improve for banks to be more profitable. European banks’ median/cost income ratio, for example, is 66%. “The sector’s structural cost inefficiency will eventually have to be addressed given the persistently weak rate and revenue outlook. Improving cost efficiency faster and developing fee-generating businesses are crucial to sustain profitability in 2H19 and beyond.”
Fitch Ratings, Large European Banks Quarterly Credit Tracker
Global investment banks will also have to be very attentive to what changes need to be made to their business models. While there will be demand for their advisory and distribution services, the demand will slow down in what is likely an upcoming recession.
Source: Moody’s Investors
Moreover, as banks continue to lay-off front office professionals, some top latent to effect deals well will be lost. Volatility from Trump’s multiple front trade wars and Brexit will put a lot of pressure on banks with capital market activities.
Aggregate capital markets revenue first-half 2009-19 (USD billions)
Moody’s Investor Services
Banks in emerging markets are also under profit pressure. Many of the banks in Latin America already have a negative outlook by ratings agencies, particularly due to a slowdown in Mexico and recessionary pressures in Brazil. Asian banks are particularly sensitive to US-Chinese trade tensions.
Emerging Markets: Median GDP Growth by Region
More than ever, to increase profitability, bank executives will need to find ways to diversify their revenue streams in all parts of their banks, commercial, investment bank, asset management as well as in custody and clearing services. Banks need to be profitable to be liquid and to be well capitalized to sustain unexpected losses. What worries me is that a slowing global economy, coupled with increasing deregulation in the US, such as the recent gutting of the Volcker Rule, will embolden banks to chase yield even more and take excessive risks that could imperil depositors and taxpayers. More than ever, investors, bank regulators, and rating agencies should remain vigilant so as to spare ordinary citizens the pain of when banks run into trouble.
When you’re thinking about money and wealth is hard not to include in that equation Banks. Someone said: Money makes the world go round” and banks, well, that’s where money likes to hang out. Every Aluxer we’ve met has close relations to at least one bank which makes it possible for us to enjoy life to the fullest. #2 *** HSBC Holdings is previously known as The Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation which was founded in 1865 in Hong Kong. However, in 1991-1992, after acquiring Midland Bank The Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation moved it’s headquarters to London because it was much better from a financial and strategic point of view.
Deutsche Bank has issued its results for the second quarter of 2019. They make grim reading. The bank reported a headline loss of €3.1bn ($3.44bn), which it said was due to “charges relating to strategic transformation” of €3.4bn ($3.78bn). But both net income of £231m ($256.67m) and underlying profits of €441m ($490m) were significantly down on the same quarter in 2018.
The restructuring announced earlier this month has yet to impact fully. The “capital release unit” into which the bank plans to put €74bn ($82.22bn) of poorly-performing and non-strategic assets and business lines, including its entire equities trading division, is not yet up and running, and although headcount is about 4,500 lower than it was a year ago, the latest round of sackings doesn’t yet show up in the redundancy costs. Restructuring costs themselves therefore only contribute €50m ($55.56m) to the headline loss.
A further €350m ($388.89m) comes from junking software and service contracts that will no longer be needed because of the restructuring. But by far the largest part of the headline loss arises from impairment of goodwill to the tune of €1bn ($1.11bn) and a €2bn ($2.22bn) reduction in the value of the bank’s deferred tax asset.
This may sound like accounting gobbledegook, but it sends a very important message. Deutsche Bank’s management has admitted the bank will never return to the profitability of the past. When the restructuring is complete, it will be a much smaller, poorer bank.
First, the writedown of the deferred tax asset (DTA). A DTA arises when a firm pays taxes in advance and then suffers losses that wipe out that tax liability, resulting in an overpayment. Rather than claiming back the money, firms can “carry forward” the overpayment and use it to offset their tax liability in a subsequent reporting period. This “carried forward” amount is shown as an asset on the balance sheet.
However, a firm can only carry forward overpaid tax into subsequent periods if it is reasonably certain that the firm will eventually make enough profits to be liable for that amount of tax; and there is usually a time limit by which the deferred asset must be used. If the firm can’t generate enough profits to use the DTA, it is lost.
This is how Deutsche Bank explains its decision to write down the DTA (my emphasis):
Each quarter, the Group re-evaluates its estimate related to deferred tax assets, including its assumptions about future profitability. In updating the strategic plan in connection with the transformation the Group adjusted the value of deferred tax assets in affected jurisdictions. This resulted in total valuation adjustments of € 2.0 billion in the second quarter of 2019 that primarily relate to the U.S. and the UK.
Deutsche Bank has admitted that the deep cuts to the investment bank will result in profitability being significantly lower for the foreseeable future.
Now to goodwill. Goodwill can be regarded as another type of overpayment. It is the amount by which the purchase price of an asset or business exceeds the fair value of the tangible and intangible assets acquired and any liabilities taken on. Firms overpay for acquisitions when they expect them to deliver higher returns in future. But if they disappoint, then eventually the value of the “goodwill” must be reduced.
In two divisions – corporate finance, and the wealth management unit within its private & commercial banking division – Deutsche Bank has written off its entire goodwill, amounting to €491m ($545.56m) in corporate finance and €545m ($605.56m) in wealth management. Importantly, the notes to the accounts show that the write-off is not a restructuring cost; these are business lines that have been under-performing for quite some time. The bank blames “adverse industry trends” and “worsening macroeconomic assumptions, including interest rate curves.” This is code for “we thought interest rates would be much higher by now.” Revenues have persistently disappointed because of very low interest rates, and now that the European Central Bank has indicated that rates will stay low for the foreseeable future – and may even be cut further – there is no real prospect of recovery. These business lines are simply never going to make enough money to cover their acquisition cost. Cue transfer to the “capital release unit” as soon as it is up and running.
The good news is that the €3bn ($3.33bn) writedown of DTA and goodwill didn’t affect the bank’s capital. The all-important CET1 capital ratio stayed firm at 13.4%. But looking ahead, there are clearly more restructuring costs to come. The bank says it currently has provisions for about €1bn ($1.11bn). It expects to use all of this, and it may need more. And Deutsche Bank also faces further litigation charges which it admits could be considerable.
But the biggest problem is Deutsche Bank’s desperate lack of income. Troubled though it is, the investment bank is still Deutsche Bank’s biggest source of revenue. The planned cuts will slash that to the bone, and there is no evidence that any of the other divisions can step up to replace it. All Deutsche Bank’s divisions, apart from its asset manager DWS, have flat or declining revenues and poor profitability. Unless it can turn this around, the future looks very bleak.
Despite the management’s upbeat presentation, the share price fell on these results. Shareholders were clearly unimpressed with the promise of “jam tomorrow” in the form of dividends and share buybacks from 2022. Perhaps they, like me, were looking at the bank’s promise to turn ROTE of negative 11.2% today into positive 8% by 2022, and thinking, “I don’t believe a word of it.”
I used to work for banks. Now I write about them, and about finance and economics generally. Although I originally trained as a musician and singer, I worked in banking for 17 years and did an MBA at Cass Business School in London, where I specialized in financial risk management. I’m the author of the Coppola Comment finance & economics blog, which is a regular feature on the Financial Times’s Alphaville blog and has been quoted in The Economist, the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and The Guardian. I am also a frequent commentator on financial matters for the BBC. And I still sing, and teach. After all, there is more to life than finance.
Storm clouds behind the exterior of the Federal Reserve building in Washington, DC
In a disappointing decision, the Federal Reserve Board announced yesterday that effective this year, it will limit its use of the “qualitative objection” in Dodd-Frank’s Comprehensive Capital Analysis and Review (CCAR). Under Dodd-Frank’s Title I, banks that are designated as systemically important are required banks to design a model using stress scenarios from the Federal Reserve. In order to pass the stress test, banks need to demonstrate that they would be able to meet Basel III capital and leverage requirements even in a period of stress. It is in the qualitative portion of CCAR, that the Federal Reserve can identify and communicate to the market if a bank is having problems with its internal controls, model risk management, information technology, risk data aggregation, and whether a bank has the ability to identify, measure, control, and monitor credit, market, liquidity and operational risks even during periods of stress. Easing this requirement, in combination with all the changes to Dodd-Frank that have been taking place since last year, is dangerous to investors, not to mention taxpayers, especially so late in the credit cycle.
Parts of the test that each firm is subject to this year in addition to the hypothetical scenario.
*All firms subject to the qualitative objection, except TD Group, will have their fourth year in the 2020 cycle. TD Group’s fourth year will be the 2019 cycle.
According to the Federal Reserve’s press release “The changes eliminate the qualitative objection for most firms due to the improvements in capital planning made by the largest firms.” Yes, there have been improvements in capital planning precisely, because there were consequences to banks which failed the qualitative portion of CCAR. Banks were prohibited from making capital distributions until they could rectify the problems the Federal Reserve found in the CCAR exercise. This decision essentially defangs the CCAR qualitative review of banks’ capital planning process.
“It is absolutely reckless of the Fed to relinquish its regulatory authority in such a manner, rather than retain the option of qualitative oversight, which has turned up red flags in the past,” said Nomi Prins former international investment banker. “We are after all, talking about what the banks deem a reporting burden versus necessary oversight that could detect signs of a coming credit or other form of banking related crisis from a capital or internal risk management perspective. Why take that risk on behalf of the rest of our country or the world?”
In writing about the Federal Reserve’s decision, the Wall Street Journal wrote that “Regulators dialed back a practice of publicly shaming the nation’s biggest banks through “stress test” exams, taking one of the biggest steps yet to ease scrutiny put in place after the 2008 crisis.” It is not public shaming. It is called regulators doing their job, that is, providing transparency to markets about what challenges banks may be having. Without transparency, the bank share and bond investors cannot discipline banks.
Just last month, the Federal Reserve Board announced that it would be “providing relief to less-complex firms from stress testing requirements and CCAR by effectively moving the firms to an extended stress test cycle for this year. The relief applies to firms generally with total consolidated assets between $100 billion and $250 billion.”
Investors in bank bonds, especially, should be concerned about recent easing of bank regulations. Immediately after the Federal Reserve decision was announced yesterday, Christopher Wolfe, Head of North American Banks and Managing Director at Fitch Ratings stated that “Taken together, these regulatory announcements raising the bar for systemic risk designation and relaxed standard for qualitative objection on the CCAR stress test reinforce our view that the regulatory environment is easing, which is a negative for bank creditors.” Fitch Rating analysts have written several reports about the easing bank regulatory environment being credit negative for investors in bank bonds and to counterparties of banks in a wide array of financial transactions.
Also, a month ago, the Federal Reserve announced that it will give more information to banks about how it uses banks’ data in its model to determine whether banks are adequately capitalized in a period of stress. In commenting on the Federal Recent decisions, Better Markets President and CEO Dennis Kelleher stated that “Stress tests and their fulsome disclosure have been one of the key mechanisms used to restore trust in those banks and regulators. By providing more transparency to the banks in response to their complaints while reducing the transparency to the public risks snatching defeat from the jaws of victory in the Fed’s stress test regime.”
Center for American Progress
Gregg Gelznis, Policy Analyst at the Center for American Progress also expressed his concern about the Federal Reserve’s recent changes to the CCAR stress tests. “While Federal Reserve Chairman Jay Powell and Vice Chairman for Supervision Randal Quarles have spoken at length about the need for increased stress testing transparency, this transparency only cuts in one direction.” He elaborated that the Federal Reserve’s decision “benefits Wall Street at the expense of the public. The Fed has advanced rules that would provide banks with more information on the stress testing scenarios and models. At the same time, they have now made the stress testing regime less transparent for the public by removing the qualitative objection—instead evaluating capital planning controls and risk management privately in the supervisory process.”
SoftBank Group Chairman and CEO Masayoshi Son delivers a keynote speech during the SoftBank World 2018 conference on July 19, 2018 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Getty Images)
Everybody is wondering what Warren Buffett will buy next. With more than $100 billion in cash, aspirations for another megadeal and an 89th birthday approaching, the Sage of Omaha says he’s on the prowl for big targets.
One wonders, though, if the investment world is looking in the wrong direction. The focus on Buffett, the man and the legend, is about more than nostalgia, of course. In today’s chaotic and disorienting economic climate, the next big move by this value-investment icon will turn many heads.
But 6,000 miles away from Nebraska, SoftBank’s Masayoshi Son is pioneering a new era of value investing. Whether Japan’s richest man can live up to the Buffett-of-Japan hype is anyone’s guess. The report card on the $100 billion Vision Fund he rolled out in 2016 is incomplete, at best. And that’s vital to keep in mind as Son ups his firepower to the $200 billion mark.
Before launching a second $100 billion fund, Son might want to convince the globe that his first one hit his own intended targets. Son can start by answering three questions.
One: What’s the theme here? Don’t get me wrong–Japan needs more risk-takers like Son. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe spent the last six-plus years urging ultra-conservative Japan Inc. to rekindle the innovative mojo that drove the nation to such great heights in the 1970s and 1980s. By becoming the world’s top venture capitalist, Son, 61, is showing peers in Asia’s No. 2 economy how it’s done.
Well, we hope so. His splashy investments smash the Japanese CEO mold. But they also raise questions about the grander strategy at play. SoftBank’s journey from software company in 1981 to telecom titan–gobbling up Vodafone and Sprint–has a certain Buffett-esque logic. His aggressive bets on everything from Uber to WeWork to messaging system Slack to online lender SoFi to robot-pizza-maker Zume to Fortress Investment to food-deliverer DoorDash to solar panels to AI (artificial intelligence) to indoor farms to satellite makers, though, are as scattershot as you’ll find among today’s billionaires.
Son doesn’t often swing for the fences the way Buffett does at times. Buffett’s 2016 megadeal purchase of Precision Castparts for $37 billion is a case in point. Consider Son more of a “Moneyball” player who tried to recreate the Buffett-like income streams in the aggregate. Still, investors are anxious to know how dominating the ride-sharing space, betting $3.3 billion on money-manager Fortress and overpaying for startups around the globe can gel together in profitable ways.
Two: Where’s Son’s General Re? One year ago, a tantalizing story swept the markets: Son might be buying a nearly $10 billion stake in Swiss Re AG. It seemed classic Buffett to stabilize Son’s broader constellation of futurist bets the way General Re helps anchor the sprawling Berkshire Hathaway. What better way to reconcile the gap between an increasingly eclectic balance sheet, a discounted SoftBank share price and Son’s global ambitions?
Those ambitions have their roots in a 2000 investment Son made in a then-little-known Chinese visionary. The $20 million Son wagered on Jack Ma helped seed Alibaba. It paid off spectacularly, too. By 2014, when Ma took his e-commerce juggernaut public, Son’s bet was worth some $50 billion. The Vision Fund aims to recreate that success in the aggregate, as many times over as possible.
Anchors are important, though. Son’s talks with Swiss Re ultimately failed. Yet it’s time to build in some Vision Fund cash-flow stability.
In 2016, here’s how Son explained his strategy: “I think I’m better than others at sniffing out things that will bear fruit in 10 or 20 years, while they’re still at the seed stage, and I’m more willing to take the risks that entails.”
Great, so long as there are ample shock absorbers for when some of those risks go awry. The need becomes greater as Son’s arsenal doubles to $200 billion.
Three: How to finesse the Saudi dilemma? A major source of Vision Fund’s seed money–$45 billion–resulted from a September 2016 meeting between Son and Muhammad bin Salman. The Saudi Arabian crown prince, you might’ve noticed, has been in a few headlines since then. None flattering, and it’s not a great look for SoftBank.
The apparent murder of dissident and Washington Post contributorJamal Khashoggi in a Saudi consulate put a cloud over Riyadh. That, coupled with a gruesome war in Yemen and locking up relatives, made MBS, as the prince is known, a less appealing business partner. In late October, a who’s-who of chieftains dropped out of MBS’s “Davos in the Desert” conference–from JPMorgan’s Jamie Dimon to HSBC’s John Flint.
Can SoftBank avoid the taint? Time will tell, but Son may have another Saudi challenge on his hands: divergent visions. So many of Son’s Vision Fund bets are in the renewable energy space. How, though, does that track?
The Saudi royal family has expressed a desire to diversify its fossil-fuel-reliant economy. And yet that effectively means replacing the industry from which Saudi royals derive their wealth. If MBS changed his mind, restoring the primacy of the petrodollar model, the source of Son’s liquidity dries up.
Perhaps Son can indeed reconcile this disconnect. There’s a great deal riding on Son’s ability to juggle–and ultimately answer–these three questions. I’m certainly rooting for him. Few visionaries are doing more, at this very moment, to empower startups with the potential to alter humankind’s trajectory.
A key Son priority, for example, is helping seismically-active nations from Japan to India replace nuclear reactors with safer renewables. If Son and his ilk succeed, future generations won’t know from petrostates, oil rigs or gas stations. Cars, airplanes, ships and indeed buildings will be powered by batteries or other clean-energy sources.
Getting there, though, requires out-of-the-box thinking and even bigger risk-taking. That’s why the trajectory of the global economy will likely owe more to Son’s moves than Buffett’s.
http://bit.ly/2UB8XjX February 4, 2019 Australia’s corporate regulators will be subjected to a new oversight body in a shake-up of the banking sector designed to combat the excessive greed and unethical practices that have engulfed some of the country’s biggest financial institutions. The Royal Commission, Australia’s most powerful type of government inquiry, also advised in its […]
Not paying attention to your idle balances? You might be throwing away $500 a year. If you are like most bank and brokerage customers, you’re getting gouged on your cash holdings. For years, there was no need to shop around. The Federal Reserve held overnight interest rates close to zero. If all you got out of your short-term savings was no-fee checking, you were getting a pretty good deal. Now, with overnight yields above 2%, cash returns matter. If you’ve got $25,000 of idle cash between your checking and your brokerage account, and you don’t pay attention, you might get nicked out of $500 a year……………
Money laundering is a multi-bank phenomenon. Danske Bank Estonia has been revealed as the hub of a $234bn money laundering scheme involving Russian and Eastern European customers. But Danske Bank Estonia couldn’t do this by itself. Much of the money was paid in U.S. dollars, and for that, it needed help from other banks. Banks that had access to Fedwire, the Federal Reserve’s electronic settlement system. Big banks, in other words. It appears that four big banks helped Danske Bank Estonia make its dodgy transactions. J.P. Morgan, Bank of America and Deutsche Bank AG all made dollar transfers on behalf of the Estonian branch’s non-resident customers. And according to the Wall Street Journal, Citigroup’s Moscow branch…….
The banking industry is experiencing disruption at an increasing pace. Over the past few years, traditional financial institutions and non-traditional fintech firms have begun to understand that collaboration may be the best path to long-term growth. At the same time, big tech firms are offering financial services, creating techfin solutions.
The rationale for collaboration is the ability to bring strengths of both banks and fintech firms together to create an stronger entity than either unit could bring on their own. For most fintech organizations, the primary advantages are an innovation mindset, agility (speed to adjust), consumer-centric perspective, and an infrastructure built for digital. These are advantages that most legacy financial institutions don’t possess.
Alternatively, most banking institutions have scale, a stronger brand recognition and established trust. They also have adequate capital, knowledge of regulatory compliance and an established distribution network.
According to the World Fintech Report 2018 from Capgemini and LinkedIn, in collaboration with Efma, “Most successful fintech firms have focused on narrow functions or segments with high friction levels or those underserved by traditional financial institutions, but have struggled to profitably scale on their own. Traditional financial institutions have a vast customer base and deep pockets, but with legacy systems holding them back.”
The challenge will be the ability to establish an environment where collaboration can flourish as opposed to stifling the beneficiary attributes of either partner.
Fintech vs. Techfin
The difference between fintech and techfin is based on the origin of the underlying organization. Fintech usually references an organization where financial services are delivered through a better experience using digital technologies to reduce costs, increase revenue and remove friction.
A basic example of a fintech offering is the mobile banking services that most traditional banks offer. More commonly, fintech refers to non-traditional financial offerings such as PayPal, Zelle and Venmo in the U.S. and digital-only Starling Bank, Monzo and Revolut in the U.K.
Alternatively, techfin usually references a technology firm that finds a better way to deliver financial products as part of a broader offering of services. Examples of techfin companies include Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple (GAFA) in the U.S. and Baidu,Alibaba & Tencent (BAT) in China.
A couple years ago, Jack Ma, technology visionary and co-founder and executive chairman of Alibaba Group, described the difference between Fintech and Techfin.
There are two big opportunities in the future financial industry. One is online banking, where all the financial institutions go online; the other is internet finance, which is purely led by outsiders. – Jack Ma
In both instances, success of these organizations in finance will be based on the ability for the institution to collect and analyze massive data sets, learn from the insights to improve personalization and digital engagement in real-time, and expand offerings in response to consumer needs.
A New Competitive Landscape
Even with the best collaboration, the ability for legacy financial institutions to compete in the future banking ecosystem will be challenged by the techfin powerhouses. Built on digital platforms, these huge technology organizations are efficient and have already found ways to reduce operational costs and monetize their business models.
According to Bain, “Many of the tech giants possess the ingredients of success: digital prowess, large customer bases, organizations well versed in improving the customer experience, and ample leeway to extend their corporate brands into banking.” More concerning may be that some of these firms are generating a level of trust previously reserved only for traditional banks and credit unions.
As a result, an increasing percentage of consumers are willing to use financial products offered from these non-traditional firms – especially where the experience is superior to that offered by legacy organizations. A potential to shift revenues from other businesses (such as retail) to enhance banking offerings can completely change the competitive equilibrium.
It is expected that demand for products and services from fintech firms and large tech companies will only increase as more consumers become familiar with new digital offerings. This is especially true for younger consumers, who have grown up with digital devices.
More and more, people will get annoyed when they’re forced by bank policies and processes to use non-digital channels for everyday banking business. Traditional banking organizations cannot rely on providing checking accounts and loans only. Competitors are already eating away at significant parts of the banking value chain with the potential of limiting banks to becoming nothing more than utilities.
The future of the banking industry will depend on its ability to leverage the power of customer insight, advanced analytics and digital technology to provide services that help today’s tech-savvy customers manage their finances and better manage their daily lives.
As financial and technology organizations embrace a broader view of banking, offering both banking and non-banking services, the ultimate winner will be the consumer regardless of which provider they select.