Article | August 17, 2021
Powered by Ledgers: Leading Market Experts Predict How Exchange 4.0 will Digitally Transform Financial Market Infrastructure
The move to Exchange 4.0 is well underway, with profound implications for financial markets.
Forward-thinking firms are already positioning themselves for a DLT-fuelled future. But behind the buzzwords, there are lingering questions. What benefits will digitalisation bring, both to trading venues and the market participants they serve? What are the main obstacles to Exchange 4.0, whether they stem from outdated thinking or misaligned stakeholder incentives? And what sort of step-changes can we expect as digitalisation takes off?
In a recent report, Hirander Misra, Chairman and CEO of GMEX Group, and the Realization Group interviewed experts at firms pioneering the new world of crypto asset trading
Alokik Advani, Managing Partner, Fidelity International Strategic Ventures
Charles Kerrigan, Partner, CMS London
Jessica Naga, Director Responsible for Legal and Compliance, SECDEX
Anoop Nannra, Global Blockchain Segment Leader, Amazon Web Services
Nicholas Philpott, Director, Zodia
Duncan Trenholme, Head of Digital Assets, TP ICAP.
We summarise the key highlights and perspectives from virtually every stakeholder group involved in the trend towards digitalisation.
Introducing Exchange 4.0
Just as the world is experiencing a fourth industrial revolution, sometimes called 4IR, financial exchanges are beginning their own technological revolution. The 4IR concept is the driving force behind the Internet of Things, where AI and web technology combine to create smart products. A similar idea is taking hold in the world of financial market infrastructure enabled exchange trading, as DLT, smart contracts and tokenisation make it possible to facilitate true asset portability while linking far-flung liquidity centers.
But there is a great deal of confusion as to how distributed technology will change financial market infrastructure so that it can make the transition, be fit for purpose and what benefits it will bring. There are also significant roadblocks, either in terms of old-fashioned thinking or stakeholders defending their turf. Experts say it is only a matter of time before these obstacles are overcome. The first step, they say, will involve trading venues and participants developing a new mindset, one that embraces open-source practices. As Exchange 4.0 becomes better understood, and as firms move from proof of concept to bottom-line benefits, we can expect a rash of major changes. New trading centers, new products, new ways of doing business and new ways of enabling post trade are all on the way.
Creating the network effect
A growing number of exchanges and trading firms are embracing distributed ledger technology (DLT) and tokenisation, recognising a surge of interest in crypto asset trading from both retail and institutional investors. But many of the venues are replicating silo-based models and missing out on the most important lessons from the digital revolution. DLT, tokenisation and crypto asset trading offer a chance to create much larger market ecosystems by enabling participants to transact across borders more easily and by facilitating asset portability. Rather than divvying up the pie, it’s all about making the pie much larger.
“The key thing about this is asset portability,” says Hirander Misra. “If you look at marketplaces in this space, there are lots of exchanges across the world and there’s tumbleweed growing through most of them. How do you create that network effect? But then also, how do you focus on what you’re really good at?”
Misra says the problem starts with exchanges adopting a silo mentality, where they seek to service clients exclusively rather than building a more collaborative model. Trading, clearing and settlement end up being offered in a closed-in environment. “Essentially these exchanges are just pockets of their own liquidity.”
But the future could soon look very different. “You’re going to see exchanges, custodians and other services interconnect more seamlessly, with the ability to swap services and assets across jurisdictions and across different types of users to get that network effect. This is a construct that I have labelled Exchange 4.0,” Misra says.
What the Experts Expect
Provided that network effect can be created, what sort of benefits can firms look forward to? The list is long and varied.
Alokik Advani:“You have to try this in pockets of smaller assets, where it can be really efficient – private markets, alternative assets, private equity, venture capital, real estate, private debt. All of these things are obscenely inefficient. They trade like bulletin boards today. If you wanted to bring that to some level of an exchange-like infrastructure with a DLT backing and speed of clearing and settlement, it’s a revolution.”
Charles Kerrigan: “You are seeing the move towards digitalisation as a prime example of capitalism forcing change. You are talking about another wave of creative destruction. We have digitalised the front office of financial institutions – what you see as a customer – but the real benefits will come from digitalising the market infrastructure. Crypto shows how this can be done. Payments have learnt from that. Securities issuance is following. We are simply following the logic of the information economy. This is a big one.”
Hirander Misra: “With Exchange 4.0, say you’re an existing exchange and you have existing infrastructure. You may want to set up a digital exchange, but you may not want to replicate everything you have. You may not need another matching engine, you may need digital custody or you may need issuance. The thing about Exchange 4.0 is that you can combine the services you have with services others have or augment what you already have. So, you’re not beholden to creating yet another siloed infrastructure.”
Jessica Naga: “There is something to be said for the countries that take the jump and do this now fast. They will have first movers’ advantage, if they build the necessary legal framework and infrastructural ecosystem in a sustainable way. The clear advantage of technology and FinTech companies is that their business is cross border and therefore from one centre, they can service the world.”
Anoop Nannra: “We look at Exchange 4.0 and the opportunities in terms of creating digital assets on virtually any aspect of our business. I think it’s really exciting, being able to create a futures index based on real-time solar energy production. Right down to the second. You create new patterns and opportunities for liquidity to occur. Capital historically will move to the environments where liquidity is most easily had.”
Nicholas Philpott,: “The locations and the cities that succeed in the future may no longer be the same as the ones at present. It’s a much more even competition now. If you can spin up a virtual exchange with none of that physical infrastructure that opens up the possibility of some very interesting developments as far as the new trading centres of the future are concerned. You’re broadening the market across a bigger spectrum of participants. More people can have access.”
Duncan Trenholme: “It’s possible that some of the private permissioned blockchains get traction in certain areas and solve certain use cases, but over time we believe the open permission-less blockchains will eat market share. The idea of running your own distributed ledger, in a centralised manner, just misses the point of what this technology can do. It’s repeating the limitations of vertical silo’s all over again. As people do connect, they’ll increasingly experience the benefits of transacting on an open, interoperable, and programmable financial system.”
A way forward
All of this leaves traditional venues and market participants having to prepare for a wholesale change in the way they operate while still conducting business in the here and now. At the same time, scores of new exchanges have sprouted up with DLT technology and digital assets that can only be traded on one platform.
By forging the DLT-based world of the future while still servicing traditional assets in traditional ways, we will see a hybrid model which bridges the gap between digital and traditional financial market infrastructure. This will serve to eradicate the current silos and fragmentation to facilitate better portability of assets by interconnecting the whole capital markets value chain of participants, across international nodes (jurisdictions), to more easily trade, clear and settle.
Article | September 14, 2021
Digital transformation had a huge impact on every sector, and this includes finance. Digital disruption in finance can be defined as an event where new technologies replace traditional methods for financial transactions. This article will discuss how technology for finance has changed over time, why it's vital to stay current with digital trends, and what you need to do to make your company ready for the future!
Make plans for the coming age of Digital Transformation
The finance team has traditionally used tools like spreadsheets, reports, and presentations to managing its processes. However, digital disruption in finance is creating new challenges for the finance department because of these changes - they need to learn how to use technology effectively or risk getting left behind! Here are some examples demonstrating why digital transformation of your company's financial processes can be beneficial.
Digital transformation gives the finance team access to better systems to help them do their jobs more efficiently and effectively.
Digital transformation gives the finance team access to better tools that will allow them to be more agile and deliver new services for their clients.
Digital transformation saves money for the company because new technology is cheaper than old technology like spreadsheets and presentations.
As such, if you want your company ready for the future, make sure your finance department is aware of digital trends and knows how it can integrate new technology into its workflows.
Prepare for a transaction revolution as automation and blockchain infiltrate further into the financial process:
While financial institutions have been working on transformation plans for many years, the recent cryptocurrency and blockchain revolution indicates that things are moving faster than ever before. As a result, banks are starting to understand that they need to be open to new technologies and ways of working to stay relevant in their industries and attract new clients. Financial institutions need to brainstorm new ideas and innovative ways of working that will allow them to be relevant in today's market while at the same time applying technology in ways that facilitate faster and safer processes.
Financial Institution's role in Digital Transformation:
Now that most finance processes are automated, the finance industry will provide more business insights and services. Of course, success is not a certainty, but digital marketing for financial services can get more focused and accurate.
In essence, FinTech technology will improve financial management and help production. It can do this by rethinking procedures, breaking formats (finance is a chaotic environment), streamlining reporting, and endorsing transactions with a better data set. As a result, businesses may find themselves better placed to make long-term decisions and do not require immediate cash flows. The key question is whether financial technology can deliver on these promises in a way that provides real benefits for customers and shareholders while being price-insensitive enough to be affordable for all.
The way for financial teams to be agile:
Although digital transformation is a competency within finance, most bankers still focus on software development and hopping from platform to platform. One of the biggest problems in overcoming this difficulty is the lack of a common language. An effective digital transformation strategy requires the sharing of data - including between departments. Sharing information enables agility because it allows each team to understand their strengths and weaknesses more clearly. It also enables cross-functional teams that can reach out to business partners outside their core business functions when necessary or to solve problems outside their domain of specialty. The transformation can also help in creating compelling promotions and creating persuasive advertisements for your financial services.
"As workplaces start to open, a hybrid model—seems to be a new norm that provides flexibility for people to operate both from their homes and offices, as we emerge out of the pandemic period."
-Vishal Srivastava, Vice President (Model Validation) at Citi
A more adaptable future in digital transformation for FinTech
Several banks and financial institutions are making it a point to associate themselves with technological innovation. Recent data shows that nearly half of financial institutions worldwide have made some sort of digital transformation in the past five years – from transaction processing to customer relationship management. Increasingly, these institutions are looking to the future and thinking about using technology to transform how they do business. Digital transformation of finance is just one of the many buzzwords we're hearing from financial institutions right now. Financial institutions need to stay connected and relevant in an increasingly competitive marketplace by designing financial products and services that meet their changing demands.
Cloud computing for a more agile future
What's more, the shift means businesses can scale faster using the cloud--perhaps even more effectively--than before. The momentum behind the online collaboration, instant messaging, and Web browsing has only accelerated in the past few years -- threatening to upend the very foundations on which many large companies have built their business models. This shift means banks will need to find new ways to stay competitive and fast. Tech giants such as Amazon, Microsoft, and Google make significant inroads with cloud technology into innovative services and products into the bank space. We'll see if they also can help shake up the way work gets done -- either here or in offices around the world, as migrating infrastructure to the cloud enhances access, flexibility, and scalability for both FinTechs and banking giants.
The current financial crisis has led to a re-examination of traditional finance models and ways of working. One area that has gained particular attention is the digital transformation of finance teams. The potential impact of digital transformation on finance is intense. If well-timed, it may help finance organizations attract and retain talented employees while reducing operating costs and enhancing returns on investment in core operations.
What are the four main areas of digital transformation?
Digital transformation is a broad term that generally refers to an increase in efficiency across many business functions using technologies such as software applications, data analysis techniques, networks, and infrastructure. To achieve digital transformation, the organization needs to rethink many core processes while integrating new technologies. In addition, there are challenges associated with changing from an existing model and overcoming internal resistance.
What is the future of finance?
The future of finance is in changing the way companies raise money for new ventures and how financiers themselves manage their portfolios. Fundamental changes include using technology that helps investors access data and choose more suitable investments, better deals, and structures for companies that now seek to raise money from multiple sources rather than just raising an individual round.
What are the top technologies for finance?
Technologies used in the financial services sector have become so integrated that it is difficult to understand their impact on a business or industry. Nevertheless, here are some of the emerging technologies that are in use right now:
Hybrid Cloud Servers
Robotic Process Automation
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"text": "Digital transformation is a broad term that generally refers to an increase in efficiency across many business functions using technologies such as software applications, data analysis techniques, networks, and infrastructure. To achieve digital transformation, the organization needs to rethink many core processes while integrating new technologies. In addition, there are challenges associated with changing from an existing model and overcoming internal resistance"
"name": "What is the future of finance?",
"text": "The future of finance is in changing the way companies raise money for new ventures and how financiers themselves manage their portfolios. Fundamental changes include using technology that helps investors access data and choose more suitable investments, better deals, and structures for companies that now seek to raise money from multiple sources rather than just raising an individual round."
"name": "What are the top technologies for finance?",
"text": "Technologies used in the financial services sector have become so integrated that it is difficult to understand their impact on a business or industry. Nevertheless, here are some of the emerging technologies that are in use right now:
Hybrid Cloud Servers
Robotic Process Automation
Article | August 18, 2021
BNPL (short for "Buy Now Pay Later") is a hot topic in the Credit space. The recent funding round of Klarna (one of the most known BNPL players on the market) of $639 million at a valuation of $45,6 billion makes it Europe’s most valuable startup and shows that investors predict continuing exponential growth for this service.
This anticipated growth is coming from an increased negative perception of consumers towards revolving credit lines, like credit cards. As a result consumers look for cheaper and more user-friendly and convenient alternatives. Especially the younger generation of millennials seems to be attracted by this offer, with 15 percent of them already uses BNPL today, i.e. 5 times more than older generations.
Combine this with the continuous growth in e-commerce for which this type of credit is ideally suited and you can get a feeling why such an astronomical valuation could be justified.
The result is an exploding market of Fintechs offering those promising services, like Klarna, but also Affirm, AfterPay, Cashper, Divido, ratepay, scalapay, Cofidis, LayBuy… Additionally incumbent players like PayPal and AmEx have also started attacking this market.
Although many praise this new product for its user experience and convenience and its promise to offer zero-interest rate credits to nearly anyone, many specialists are also highly skeptical about this new trend, as it can push people in unneeded debt for products they don’t even need.
But what is BNPL and where is this hype coming from? And how is it different from traditional consumer credit cards or 0% interest consumer installment loans offered already for years by car dealers, electric appliances stores or kitchen/bathroom dealers?
In fact BNPL could be considered as the modern, digital equivalent of those consumer installment loans. Its characteristics could be summarized as following:
A short-term financing product
For relatively small amounts, i.e. maximum 1-2.000 EUR as a total maximum credit amount at a specific BNPL vendor (aggregated over all purchases paid with BNPL)
Linked to a purchase of a specific product or service
Usually interest-free, i.e. instead the merchant pays a commission to the BNPL provider.
Very strongly integrated in the check-out process of the merchant. Till now mainly for online merchants (usually as an additional payment method offered via the webshop’s PSP), although BNPL vendors recently have started to expand also to physical payments. Usually this is done by the BNPL issuing a virtual credit card (which can be limited to a specific store) with which the purchase can be done (with the smartphone emulating a physical credit card), but it can also be done via a QR code (generated by the merchant and scanned by the customer or vice-versa).
An excellent user experience, giving a near real-time, frictionless and fully digital origination process of the credit, i.e. in a few seconds the BNPL credit can be opened.
Usually consisting of an upfront payment (typically 25% of the overall purchase amount) at the moment of purchase, followed by a predetermined (= fixed schedule) small number(typically 4) of installments at future dates (typically with intervals of 2 weeks, meaning duration of 2 x 4 = 8 weeks) to reimburse the remainder. These reimbursements are usually done automatically by linking a debit or credit card or direct debit to the BNPL provider. This method is called "Slice-it" (i.e. the payment is spread over time), but many BNPL provider also provide the "Pay Later" method, which is also ideal for online purchases, as it allows the user to usually pay 14 days after his purchase. This corresponds with the moment the customer has received the product and has decided not to return it.
Using a soft-credit score, which uses other info (like e.g. all details of your current and past purchases) than the traditional credit scoring systems and doesn’t affect your credit score (unless there is a late payment or a failing to pay). This leads also to higher acceptance scores (of around 90%) than traditional credits.
The merchant is paid right away and the BNPL provider takes over all the risks, like liabilities due to fraud, chargebacks, defaulting…
If you read those characteristics, this product seems great for all involved parties, i.e.
Consumers get a cheap (often "free"), user-friendly, disciplined (i.e. a fixed well-defined repayment schedule) and frictionless way of funding a purchase, which they may otherwise not have been able to afford.
Merchants can increase their revenues, i.e. multiple studies have showed that people buying via BNPL tend to spend more than if they would be paying with a traditional payment method (i.e. increase of AOV = Average Order Value) and abandon less their shopping carts.
Research has also showed that BNPL can act as a Customer Acquisition Channel as a growing number of users considers BNPL (to be available as a payment method) as a key decision criterium to choose one webshop over another. Additionally the apps of BNPL vendors become more and more marketplaces advertising all their partners.
Nonetheless BNPL is not all sunshine and rainbows. Several pitfalls can be identified, which could endanger its future growth, i.e.
Increased regulation: while many BNPL vendors have slipped through the cracks of severe regulatory supervision (i.e. in many countries BNPL vendors try to be exempt their product from the definition of a credit), the impressive growth of this credit product is about to change this. Regulation will fiercen, as a high percentage of consumers using BNPL already cope with financial difficulties to pay back their installments. One potential improvement could be to demand for more transparency, so that there is an aggregated view of all your pending BNPL payments at different BNPL players.
With more and more merchants offering this service, the product will become a commodity, meaning the advantage of being a "Customer Acquisition Channel" will disappear. One might wonder as well if it is desired that every merchant starts offering this payment method. E.g. in certain countries pizza restaurants are already offering to order your pizza and pay with BNPL. If consumers start using too much BNPL, it will become extremely difficult to keep a good financial overview and the advantages of BNPL like user-friendliness and a disciplined repayment schedule might disappear.
The operational and support model is not always top yet. As BNPL vendors take over all liabilities, it is unclear who is responsible for the delivery of a product. A few months ago I had myself a particular bad experience with BNPL. On a webshop I selected BNPL as a payment method, but never got any invitation to pay. The webshop didn’t want to send the item as they were not paid yet and they referred me to the BNPL vendor, who in its turn referred me back to the webshop. In the end, given the urgency for receiving the product, I said it could be cancelled, which required again a message to both parties. In the end everything got straightened out, but it was not a pleasant experience for me as a user, nor for the BNPL vendor and the webshop who both had a lot of work without any revenue.
A similar issue exists when deciding to return a delivered item and get reimbursed. As a consumer you will return the package to the webshop, but it’s the BNPL vendor who should cancel the BNPL arrangement. Often this requires a lot of hassle for the customer to arrange all this.
This shows the complexity of this model. In this kind of partnerships it is extremely important to align on responsibilities (cfr. my blog "Ecosystems - The key to success for all future financial services companies" - https://bankloch.blogspot.com/2020/11/ecosystems-key-to-success-for-all.html). Ideally as a consumer you would like to have only a relation with the webshop (given the strong embedding of BNPL in the checkout process it is difficult to make a clear distinction for users), i.e. the fact that other parties like the PSP and the BNPL provider are also involved in the flow should be hidden away for the consumer. This is far from being the case today.
With this product being used more and more, customers might also get a negative perception of this credit, as the zero-cost credit comes with a lot of hidden costs. First of all there are considerable fees and interests in case of missed payments (as much as 30% of the invoice amount), but additionally the BNPL vendor is still paid with a more traditional payment method, like a debit or credit card or direct debit. If there is insufficient funding on the bank accounts linked to those payment methods, customers will still pay costs for failed direct debits, expensive overdraft debt interest rates and/or credit card debt interests (which people tried to avoid in the first place).
Additionally BNPL tends to make the origination of a credit so easy, that there is a big risk of putting customers into financial issues for products they didn’t really need in the first place.
BNPL usage still negatively impacts the margin of the merchant. Even though BNPL can be considered as a means to attract additional business (revenue), the cost for the merchant is still considerably higher than other payment methods. E.g. VISA and MasterCard are typically situated around 2-3% transaction commission, while BNPL methods are typically situated between 2 and 8% (usually 4-6%).
Consumers tend to miss out on rewards or cashbacks earned on purchases (often offered by credit card companies). This means an additional hidden cost for the consumer.
BNPL Fintechs are expected to get a lot of competition of incumbent players like incumbent banks and PSPs offering those services themselves. Those players can offer a lot more integrated features (e.g. a full integration in the banking app and an immediate link to the customer’s current account) and can exploit a lot of competitive advantages compared to BNPL Fintechs, e.g. lower cost of capital from deposits, synergies with other products… Although those players have been late adopters of this technology, they are likely to take a serious cut of market share from BNPL Fintechs, once they get the offer setup. Already today, Fintechs, like Amount, have created white-label BNPL products, which can help banks to quickly setup a BNPL product.
BNPL Fintechs are already taking action to address those concerns, e.g. BNPL providers offer
A lot of features to improve customer’s financial literacy. Although very noble, it still seems a bit of window-dressing to please regulators and public opinion.
A shift to also support physical payments, as explained above.
The app of BNPL vendors is turned more and more into a marketplace, where specific (products of) merchants (being a customer of the BNPL vendor) are directly offered, meaning the BNPL vendor becomes the direct customer entry point instead of the webshop.
BNPL vendors are using more and more their collected data for offering targeted marketing, like personalized recommendations, advertisements, discounts in the form of coupons and cashbacks… This can be an interesting additional source of revenue.
Many BNPL vendors are starting to handle the logistics of a transaction. Obviously this allows to ask higher commissions to the merchants, but also allows to provide a better end-to-end support flow.
BNPL credit limits are being increased to allow for more BNPL payments for 1 customer, but also to attack merchants with more expensive product offers, like high-end luxury goods. Obviously this change is slippery slope as it can increase the risk of credit deferrals/defaults and also increase negative perception.
BNPL vendors are transforming more and more into Challenger banks themselves, offering also more traditional banking products.
The apps of BNPL vendors is extended with additional value-added features, like managing spending limits, getting insights into your spending habits, receive personalized budgeting tips, get product recommendations based on your purchase history, initiating refunds…
BNPL vendors are starting to increase the customer relation via loyalty programs (e.g. Vibe from Klarna)
All this seems the traditional story in Fintech. Fintechs come with very innovative ideas, but often have difficulties to make those products profitable and keep their competitive advantage on the long-term, as incumbent banks develop similar offers after a few years and the Fintechs are automatically becoming more bureaucratic, complex organizations (often forced by regulators) similar to the incumbent banks, which they tried to disrupt in the first place (cfr. my blog "Neobanks should find their niche to improve their profitability" - https://bankloch.blogspot.com/2020/12/neobanks-should-find-their-niche-to.html). Let’s see how many BNPL Fintechs are still around 5 years from now.
Article | March 6, 2020
With barely six months remaining before the September 2020 deadline for European Commission’s implementing regulation 2018/1212 for Shareholder Rights Directive II (SRDII), firms operating as financial intermediaries are focused on planning for compliance. SRDII is aimed to improve corporate governance in EU member states. The European parliament published SRDII in May 2017 as an amending directive to 2007 SRDI, aimed to strengthen the position of shareholders and to improve shareholder influence on corporate governance and other factors in companies that are either traded in the EU’s regulated markets or have a registered office in any of the member states of EU.