Business Loans for Franchisees: What You Need to Know

| November 8, 2016

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Franchises are probably the most straightforward way to start a small business. Individuals can take a proven successful business model, invest their own time and capital, and hopefully duplicate the success of an already-established brand. That’s why over 12,000 open in the United States each year. And while the start-up process is relatively simple, finding the money to do it is not always so easy.

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Edward Jones

If you think Edward Jones is like every other large investment firm, think again. We are a leader in the financial-services industry, but we take a personal approach to business, an approach that starts with a face-to-face meeting between a financial advisor and client.

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Taking Advantage of AI and ML in Financial Services

Article | April 1, 2020

Many financial services organizations have already begun to take advantage of ML technology because of its proven ability to reduce operational costs, increase revenues, improve productivity, enhance compliance, bolster security, and enrich the customer experience. However, most companies are in the early stages of exploiting the benefits of ML.

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NFTs - A hype or a Lasting New Investment Asset Class?

Article | April 1, 2020

NFTs are at the moment a real buzz. The word NFT stands for non-fungible token, which means a unique, irreplaceable cryptographic object. It aims to manage ownership of digital content (digital collectible items) by storing the ownership in the form of a digital certificate on a blockchain (usually on the Ethereum blockchain, but other blockchains can also be used). This way the buyer can prove that he is the owner of a certain digital item. The fact that the NFT token is unique and irreplaceable, generates traceability of the owner, but also ensures authenticity and (digital) scarcity, thus resulting in its value (via its uniqueness it becomes a collectible item). This makes it an attractive asset for both buyers and sellers. For sellers, creating (= minting) an NFT gives an easy option to monetize (without intermediaries like galleries or auction houses) their digital content (products), like digital pictures, animations, music, videos…. Additionally NFTs have the feature that the author can also get a percentage of future transaction amounts (thus profiting of a future increase in value of the NFT). The buyer can invest in digital art and can be sure of the uniqueness and his ownership (i.e. the bragging right that you own the art) and the ownership can easily be transferred to any other buyer in the world (becoming the new owner) with the click of a button. NFTs started in 2017 with CryptoKitties (a game to breed and trade digital kittens) and CryptoPunks and gradually increased over the last years, but it exploded in 2021 (i.e. in 2020 the market was estimated to $250 million over the whole year, while in the month of February 2021 alone already $360 million of NFTs were traded), with some record transactions, like: The record is held by the digital composite called "EVERYDAYS: The First 5000 Days" of the digital artist "Beeple" (Mike Winklemann), which was sold at Christie’s for $69.3 million. Of the same artist also a video was sold for $6.6 million. Christie’s auctioned recently also an NFT of 9 virtual rare CryptoPunks for a record amount of $16.9 million The first tweet on Twitter of the co-founder and CEO of Twitter Jack Dorsey was sold for just under $3 million The Canadian singer-songwriter Grimes (also known as the partner of Elon Musk) sold for around $6 million of digital artworks, including an NFT of about $400.000 for a 50-second video. NBA’s Top Shot has generated more than $230 million in selling NFTs of NBA highlight videos, with a top transaction for a movie of Lebron James dunking, which was bought for over $200.000. These NFTs have become the digital equivalent of the paper sports collection cards. While those transactions get the news headlines for their record amounts, thousands of NFTs are also sold for a few thousand euros. E.g. a selfie of Lindsey Lohan was sold for $59.000, Bad Luck Brian yearbook photo for $36.000 or the "Charlie bit my finger!" YouTube clip was sold for $761.000, not to mention the thousands of transactions that do not get any media attention at all. These enormous prices definitely attract a lot of media attention and investors, but nonetheless NFTs remain difficult to grasp. While for traditional art, the owner has the physical artwork in his possession, this is not the case at all for NFTs. For example, the NFT for the Beeple picture sold for the record amount can perfectly be downloaded on the internet at no cost. This downloaded file will be identical to the digital file owned by the buyer (i.e. the copy is literally as good as the original). Obviously, this is a new technology which raises a lot of questions and issues, e.g. What do you actually own? The NFT is just a digital certificate on a blockchain. The blockchain does not even contain the digital artwork, but just a link to a location where the digital artwork is stored. This raises automatically questions like: What is the legal ground of an NFT? Can you claim the ownership in court, i.e. will the courts consider the blockchain as sufficient proof of ownership? Will the judge even understand it? Will it have the same legal basis in any country in the world? Can I win at court if someone exploits commercially the digital content owned by me? What happens if the link to which the NFT refers is no longer available? Does the NFT lose its value? Can the link be adapted? What is the exact digital asset I am owning? On the blockchain a hash of the digital asset, together with some ownership info, is stored. However if someone changes 1 (invisible) pixel to a digital artwork, the hash will no longer match. Do I also have the ownership of this new (nearly equivalent) digital artwork? How transparent and well-defined are the properties of ownership? E.g. do you also buy the copyright and reproduction rights? Are you allowed to ask royalties if the digital item is downloaded/published? Are you allowed to ask BigTechs (like Facebook or Google) to remove all copies they store of your digital asset? NFTs are typically sold via intermediate platform (like OpenSea, Rarible, Superrare, Foundation, AtomicHub, Nifty Gateway, KnownOrigin…), managing the contact with the artist, setting up the NFT, managing the transactions on the Blockchain and also storing the digital artwork in the cloud (i.e. location to which NFT refers). This raises a number of questions about the trustworthiness of those platforms: Will they ensure the link to the artwork remains available (i.e. not lost or broken)? Even if they go bankrupt? More and more decentral IPFS network or blockchain based storage is used to mitigate this risk. Does the platform ensure an artist does not create multiple NFTs of the same (or slightly changed) digital asset? Do they ensure that the NFS is minted by the real artist (creator) of the content and not by an imposter? Which procedures do they have in place for verifying that? Even though the decentralized nature of the underlying blockchain ensures trust, buyers and sellers still need to trust the platforms facilitating these NFT transactions. This is for me a general issue of blockchain use cases (cfr. my blog on blockchain "ttps://bankloch.blogspot.com/2020/02/blockchain-beyond-hype.html" - Blockchain - Beyond the hype), i.e. although the blockchain entry can be perfectly trusted, the end-to-end user journey is much more extensive, thus requiring still trust in a central party. How future-proof are the blockchains? With blockchains in full evolution, will the Ethereum blockchain (or other blockchain on which an NFT is held) still be around in 5 years or in 10 years (or not be replaced by a more popular and more modern blockchain)? Will it be possible to keep the decentralized nature of this blockchain while volumes increase enormously? Beginning of June 2021 the Ethereum blocksize (of the full blockchain) was over 800 GB, an increase of more than 100% compared to the year before. This shows that storing the full blockchain (and then we do not even speak about the resources required for mining) has become more and more a specialist job, hence more centralisation and less guarantee that a lot of parties will continue to keep track of the full blockchain. Furthermore it means it becomes less straight forward to prove your NFT ownership, without consulting a specialized party which stores the full blockchain. Is the energy consumption for an NFT sustainable and will it not negatively impact the future success of NFTs?. For example, the energy consumption to create an NFT of a simple animation is equal to using 1.5 million times a pressure cooker. However with blockchains switching more to Proof of Stake-consensus mechanisms this will likely be resolved in the coming years (although Proof of Stake raises naturally other new concerns about centralization and potential manipulation). Are the NFTs currently sold for a lot of money sufficiently time-lasting? This question can be raised for both the digital artworks as for the technology underpinning it: Are the digital artworks not too time-specific, i.e. linked to current, non-lasting hypes? E.g. will YouTube movies which are popular now still be remembered and popular in 5 years? In the traditional art, certain historical artists (like Monet, Van Gogh, Picasso…) have an established reputation/track record, but for this digital art there is of course no historical records to turn to and as a result it is very difficult to predict future trends. NFTs are also more and more used in games, to describe ownership of virtual plots of land or unique weapons or armors. This makes the NFT practically usable, but what is the value in a few years when the game is no longer popular? Is the technology sufficiently robust? Not only is there a risk due to the above-mentioned dependency on blockchains and the platforms for storing the digital asset, but besides that you also have to ensure the file format of the digital content can still be read or ensure you can still access your digital wallet. Due to popularity of the underlying blockchains (like Ethereum), NFTs are confronted with high transaction costs(high gas fees to get your NFT on the blockchain). While this transaction cost is marginal for the above record amount NFTs, it does pose an issue for cheaper NFTs (as transaction cost become too significant compared to the NFT price). The whole process of minting, buying and transferring NFTs is not so user friendly, i.e. you need to onboard on an NFT platform, you have to acquire the right crypto-currency (e.g. if the NFT is on the Ethereum blockchain, you need Ether coins, i.e. Bitcoins won’t be usable) and you have to pay with crypto-currencies, which is still not so user-friendly (i.e. typically via a browser plugin, which might be easy for a computer specialist, but still difficult to setup for the common layman). Clearly the concept of NFTs is great, as there is a need for managing ownership of digital content. With more and more digital content being produced and some artists even only exclusively producing digital content, there is a need for them to make money and NFTs are a good way to do this. However the too strong focus on the underlying (blockchain) technology and the bullish prices, make it still too much a playground for the (mega)-rich, than a common investment asset class. However even if it remains such a playground, it is still interesting to follow. As there are as many as 100,000 people who have $1 million or more stashed in crypto-currencies, there is an enormous audience with the means, interest and risk appetite to try out NFTs. For them, there is the cool factor of trying out something new, the potential of making same profits as with crypto-currencies, the emotional and bragging aspect of owning digital arts (compared with owning parts of the moon or owning a star. This has no legal ground, but is still very romantic and fun) and the Robinhood aspect of pushing governments to change and fighting the traditional art system (cfr. the actions on Robinhood to stop the short-sellers on the share of GameStop). This being said, NFTs are clearly an excellent real-live experiment, where fundamental questions around ownership, value, digitalization and authenticity are being addresses. The question remains however if ownership can be managed outside governments, i.e. as ownership requires laws to protect the owner, it is very difficult to manage this outside a government. Clearly governments should sponsor some kind of register of such digital ownership. This will ensure that there is legal ground and also long-term continuity, as unlikely governments will disappear/go bankrupt. However if done by a government, there is no real need for a blockchain, as you have a central, credible authority, which could perfectly store the ownership (personal details of the owner) and the full digital content (so not just a hash) in a traditional database. While governments are starting now to explore an alternative for crypto-currencies in the form of CBDCs (cfr. my blog "https://bankloch.blogspot.com/2021/05/cbdc-new-kid-on-block.html" - CBDC - The new kid on the block), this will likely happen as well for NFTs. In the meantime, it is good the conservative art world is shaken up by these kinds of innovations.

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Effective Use of Intent Data for Financial Institutions

Article | April 1, 2020

The world began its course to become a digital open book after the internet came into existence. With almost everything available for purchase, the internet has brought the world to the buyer's doorstep. With the purchase, comes the data, and with effective use of the data collected within a period, any industry can speculate the buyer’s journey and take compelling steps to attract the buyer. Looking at the facts, around 93% of purchases start with internet research. Intent data is the name of the collection of the behavioral signals that a user shows while purchasing anything. This data helps businesses be available at the right time and the right place to pitch their product to the customer who is already interested in buying what they are selling. Businesses can analyze these signals, accurately understand where the prospect is in its buying journey and can give a solution to the problem. With intent data, even financial institutions can up their game and generate greater ROI while accurately predicting the buyer’s position in its purchase journey, and provide the best value to attract him/her. With over terabytes of intent data available for use, financial institutions can use it to flourish in this pandemic hit economy, using fewer resources and marketing their services to ready to buy consumers. Since its inception, intent data is on the top priority of every marketer’s to-do list, with its usage in advertising campaigns, outreach campaigns, content creation, SEO, etc. This article covers how financial institutions can use intent data to their advantage, provide value to the user, and draw massive attention to their platform to reach their ultimate goal and generate more revenue. Before going further, let’s understand the basic concept of intent data and its type that comes into the use for financial institutions. WHAT IS INTENT DATA? Intent data refers to collecting information on online behavioral insights of internet users or prospects, allowing you to better focus on the audience that has more chances of buying your products or services. To put it simply, intent data will help you display your product or services to those already searching for it. For example, your financial department is facing challenges to keep the accounting on track, checking the organization’s financial status, etc. While, you look for the solutions online, you Google “best financial tool for in-house accounting.” Out of millions of search results, your search concludes with some of the top tools like Robotic Press Automation (RPA) in accounting kept aside. Now, your search would be more specific and according to the selected tools. Now, for comparing and selecting the best tools, you may Google- “How RPA keeps track on accounting?” “What is the ROI of RPA in accounting for small enterprises?” “What is the role of RPA in accounting?” And so on. Notice how your search query got specified after some informative searches. Imagine having the power of intent data of your customers and satisfying them with your content. Intent data helps you nurture a highly targeted audience and eventually convert them into your clients. When prospects face challenges, they search for the solution online. While providing the solution for any specific query, websites ask the prospects to accept their cookies. These cookies monitor their intent of searching and this data is then pushed to the marketers to mold their campaigns suited better for these targeted customers. Let’s look at how financial institutions can focus their campaigns on highly targeted prospects with types of intent data. TYPES/SOURCES OF INTENT DATA The types of intent data divide the vast information of intent into three types - first party, second party, and third party. First-party The data you now gather on known contacts and anonymous visitors is first-party intent data. It can also involve prospective website connections, newsletters, emails, and social media. You can use the first-party intent data to segment messages, build workflows, and get more leads. You can assist your marketing and sales team in determining how to approach and convert a prospect. Second-party Second-party data refers to data collected by another company. It is like gaining insights into your prospects from the shops they have visited earlier. The second-party intent data includes review websites and publishing networks. And all this information is voluntarily provided by the user. Sometimes, the user may also share the contact details and their business email id. Third-party While some systems only track a network of pages, third-party intent data is gathered from all across the web. In several cases, this intent data is extracted using one of 3 techniques: reverse IP lookup, Bidstream data from ad networks and widgets, and media exchange/publishing participants. Third-party intent data can show the user’s intent that is relevant to your campaign. STEPS TO BUILD GREATER ROI FROM INTENT DATA How can a financial institution decide whether a particular lead is worth its investment? Answer: By lead qualification. By segregating each lead into three types, you can decide whether the prospect is an active buyer or someone who wants some information over the web. It allows the marketing team to use their time efficiently and target the leads which are likely to convert. For significant ROI from intent data, financial institutions should gather intent data and segregate it into three types of B2B data- Fit data, Intent data, and Opportunity data. Fit data Fit data shows how well your product or services fit the need of the customers. Imagine if a financial institution provides loans on a low credit score, and a user searches for loans on a low credit score, we can call this collection of information as fit data. With this information, you can efficiently use your time and investment to target a specific prospect. This information collection may include the prospect’s age, sex, job level, job function, and the residing location. Fit data is generally the data that won’t change quickly. It may give you a right fit of prospects for your campaign but cannot tell you the right time or context of search intent. Opportunity data Opportunity data is event-based data on particular prospects. Suppose, you are a financial institution providing a car loan on reduced interest rates, and you come to know that a specific company is crediting bonus salary to its employees. If you market your car loan services to their employees, you can have more leads as you know they have a bonus salary in their account. This is called an opportunity data, which sometimes is also referred to as data scoops that give you information about favorable conditions for sale. As the name suggests, the opportunity data gives you the data of a perfect opportunity to market your services to targeted prospects. Intent data Intent data indicates that the time has come to engage with folks who actively express a desire to acquire a solution. When the intent data is integrated with other signals and a solid fit, the chances of conversion increase dramatically. It's helpful to know when there's movement at a company, but if you don't know who to connect with and don't have a phone number or email address for them, it's only informative. You need actionable data along with intent data to perform a perfect marketing campaign. COMMON USE OF INTENT DATA A Segment to sort out active prospects With the use of intent data, B2B marketers find companies actively looking for products or services they are serving. Intent data solutions provide segmentation tools that you can utilize to sort out active prospects that fit perfectly with your services. This segmentation tool can help you filter your prospect with an unlimited combination of the type of company, contact details, location, industry, and technology they use. Intent data for Account-Based Marketing Leading B2B marketers use intent data to drive their ABM campaigns as it naturally fits these campaigns. ABM and intent data are the two sides of the same coin, as ABM delivers results through specific account’s interest and intent data provides timely opportunities to initiate the contact. Integrating both helps you elevate your marketing reach. Intent Data for marketing campaign Optimization Integrated marketing strategies help financial institutions because marketers can pump useful insights to drive effective and relevant demands. The sales team of financial institutions get into the conversation with the buyer while having more information on their pain points and what solutions they are looking for, giving them an upper hand in exchange. SIGNIFICANT FINANCIAL MARKETING TREND Insight-driven marketing With the help of effective machine learning and artificial intelligence, insight-driven marketing helps financial institutions to offer financial assistance to the right fit of customers. Marketers can further collect the right type of customers that fits the services and not the other way around. Prospects with other financial needs can be routed to more appropriate services you offer. Awareness of the customer journey Intent data helps financial institutions optimize and understand the customer journey and correctly map customer interactions. It enables to influence the end-to-end experience of the customer. By having a perfect understanding of where the customer stands in the customer journey, financial institutions can market their services according to their needs. Increased personalization Intent data allows the marketers to look further into the minds of their prospects. It enables them to read the customers as an open book while segmenting them on their thought process. For example, which customer is more savings-oriented? Which one is planning for their retirement? With these insights, marketers can match the right customers to their services with the relevant type of marketing to compel the audience. TYPES OF MARKETING SIGNAL AVAILABLE Signals are the hints prospects resonate, showing financial institutions they are ready for being potential customers. These signals are everyday actions like Googling stuff they need orLike hard searching online, clicking on financial institution ads, applying for any loans, and paying off debts. Financial institutions can use these signals to run highly specific marketing campaigns. Let’s look into these marketing signals further. Most marketing signal falls into three major categories, such as: Behavior-based The behavior-based marketing signal includes hard searching like credit inquiries and online searches that signal intent to look for services. It may also include some minor changes that indicate future requirements like a change of residence or buying intent of large purchases like automobiles and real estate. Event-based Event-based marketing signals include automobile lease expiring, mortgage rate settings, or child passing the high school. These are the hints that indicate the prospect is going to have a requirement for your services. These signs show that the customer is about to have a significant financial shift, and financial institutions can use this opportunity to market their services. Predictive Predictive signals are passive hints that prospects show. It may not be as obvious as behavior-based, but it can set a boundary to your targeted customers. Some of the predictive marketing signals could have data of savings, debit consolidation, and mortgage refining. Predictive marketing signal can give low fidelity and can assure you the maximum coverage of your marketing campaign. CONCLUSION Using signals to attract and retain consumers is an effective component of a well-thought-out marketing strategy. Moving to a signals-based strategy, on the other hand, does not have to be a huge overhaul of your current procedures. Continue to use your tried-and-true strategy, but experiment with new ways of analyzing and responding to signals. Worried about how much money you'll need to set aside to fund the signal-based marketing strategies? You can assess the ROI of the marketing strategy before expanding your program if you start with a scalable service with no commitments. Traditional signals continue to be relevant and form the basis for customer-focused marketing. Combining them with potentially powerful signals that indicate purchase intent will enable proactive communication and elevate financial marketing initiatives to the next level.

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SME Challenges in Cross Border payments

Article | April 1, 2020

The economic scale of the SME market is substantial, contributing £2.0 trillion (52%) a year to the UK economy alone and growing. But for SMEs wanting to trade internationally, they’re met with highly complex infrastructure and a myriad of lenders, brokers, FIs, processes and systems in place that lack sufficient integration or none at all.

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Spotlight

Edward Jones

If you think Edward Jones is like every other large investment firm, think again. We are a leader in the financial-services industry, but we take a personal approach to business, an approach that starts with a face-to-face meeting between a financial advisor and client.

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