COVID-19 and its Impact on the Banking Industry

| March 26, 2020

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European central banks have little ammunition with which to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. Governments will soon be forced to balance the health of their citizens with economic stability and their own debt. After more than a decade of unprecedented economic growth, the world is facing another global economic recession. Since the 2008 crisis, governments have had time to accumulate enough wealth to prepare for the next crisis.

Spotlight

Source UK Services

Source is an asset manager and one of Europe’s leading Exchange Traded Product (ETP) providers, with over US$19 billion in assets under management. Source offers market leading equity, fixed income, commodity and alternative market exposure through approximately 80 expertly engineered ETPs. Source has focused on delivering incremental value to European ETP investors through a combination of enhanced indices, strong partnerships, improved structuring and active trading.

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What's So Special About Embedded B2B Finance?

Article | April 14, 2021

The rise of buy-now-pay-later in the consumer world provides a powerful example of what embedded finance at the point of need can do for brands. Consumer debt ethics aside, B2C buy-now-pay-later providers can proudly point to the fact that implementing a BNPL solution can increase basket sizes for retailers by 20-30%. The concept, although around for years in various forms, has now been delightfully served as an option during the customer’s checkout process and the marketing has been simplified and on point. Even as merchants must pay for the privilege of offering BNPL (keeping it interest free for customers) upwards of 4-6% per transaction, the benefits have been too good to resist. Although let’s face it, regulation aside (there are significant hoops to become licenced in B2C finance), underwriting to consumers is easier than extending credit to businesses thanks in part for the need to understand factors such as business servicing capacity, shareholder control, bespoke pricing, industry risk and not to mention the exposure risks associated to loaning out more significant totals. Therefore B2B lending speed and embedded innovation naturally lags behind B2C. That said, there have been remarkable steps forward over the last two years as more and more millennials and digital natives take over business buying decisions. Existing B2B finance models For many B2B suppliers or merchants, a referral programme to a business finance provider is nothing new. The benefits can be obvious, especially as the alternative is to embark in to the dangers of offering trade terms and all the cashflow and collection troubles that come with it. By introducing business finance, suppliers can get paid upfront and those pesky risks evaporate. When used effectively in a negotiation, financing offers can also allow suppliers to remove expected buyer discounts. Total order values and loyalty increase (as in the consumer world) and accessible finance even helps a buyer’s businesses become more successful — resulting in increased volumes of purchasing. Still, referral programmes of this nature have their problems. Even with same day B2B funding available, finance applications can hold up the buying process. This means suppliers who are keen to leverage the buyers peak interest, antagonising don’t close sales as quickly as they could and run the risk of the of the application declining or extra customer frustration and fatigue. While the benefits for introducing finance in to the sales process still outweigh the negatives, more improvement in the experience can be achieved. Enter Fintech-as-a-Service. Embedded pre-approvals Imagine a situation as a B2B supplier or merchant where you can provide a pre-approved finance offer straight to eligible businesses through your own CRM. This level of proactivity provides you with a powerful tool in drawing in loaded sale opportunities from customers who are primed and ready to transact. The advantage over your competition is significant as your customers already know they can painlessly purchase from you once they’re ready for more stock. A new revenue stream also opens for your business as your FaaS provider hands you commission for each loan a buyer takes. This example highlights the power of pre-approving customers in a proactive capacity. For this level of FaaS to work a customer permission gate is required, either as part of a customer onboarding/sign-up process or through invitation. With a white-labelled or co-branded experience, buyers can securely connect via open banking through a third party (FaaS provider) and be reassured that no visibility of this data given to their supplier. Other business data sources (e.g. payment or accounting software) can also be connected at this point. Through providing these connections through the supplier or merchants portal, buyers can sit back with the knowledge that they will be notified if and when they qualify to purchase goods or services on finance. Once pre-approved, sellers can push a message to their buyer from their CRM system along with any sales pitch or offer they like. Convincing buyers to give this connection permission in the first place is a challenge that clever marketers and UX specialists will need to overcome. Embedded at the point of need Again, we only need to take BNPL as an example of an embedded finance solution served beautifully at the point of need. Buyers, motivated at the time to transact, are more likely to have the determination to apply for finance within the same CX process. Unlike traditional loan referral schemes that remain disjointed with long and possess awkward handover points, through FaaS, an embedded financial product is especially attractive when done right. It can merely feel as a simple ‘way to pay’ option in the buyer experience. No application forms; no double entry of business data; no waiting. The challenge therefore is to create seamlessness, integrated and quick decisioning. Again, still a relatively tall order for B2B finance especially the higher the loan total is (despite advances in innovation and same day funding). The potential for more instant decisioning will need to be enabled through a) improvements in API sharing and open finance analytics to confident business underwriting and b) buyer adoption on online services and platforms. This later point can already be seen in the growing gulf of funding accessibility between online and manual powered businesses. For example an eCommerce buyer, generating rich volumes of data through online sales and excessive B2B Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) use has the perfect data points that can be integrated in to support lending applications. In contrast, a blue collar business, with a limited online presence and who only drops a shoe box full of receipts to their accountant every 90 days, will find it more difficult to provide the data required for quick decisioning. The new normal Embedded B2B finance is here to stay and serious FaaS providers are emerging. More and more suppliers and merchants will be leveraging the power of this new technology trend to create a more successful, loyal and satisfied buyer. Through proactive pre-approvals, B2B sales teams can be armed with more empowered conversations and unique advantages over the competition. Alternative business lenders operating as an embedded finance FaaS will also benefit by leveraging the scale of the B2B supplier and merchant channel, accessing more businesses through wider mass distribution. Soon, simply plugging in an embedded finance solution in to your existing CRM system will become a painless experience. B2B lending products of the future, through speed of underwriting and integrated data points, will be commonplace as an attractive option during the sales process.a

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Buy Now Pay Later - a Credit in Disguise?

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.

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How to grow your customer base

Article | August 26, 2020

Need more repeat customers? You’re not alone. Businesses of all sizes struggle to win over new shoppers and to inspire brand loyalty in the ones they already have. Pulling off both at the same time is even harder. The key to growing this group is acquiring and retaining new customers. While marketing plays a role in the process, sales and support teams are typically responsible for winning and keeping new users.

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AI in Banking – An Analysis of America’s 7 Top Banks

Article | February 13, 2020

While tech giants tend to hog the limelight on the cutting-edge of technology, AI in banking and other facets of the financial sector is showing signs of interest and adoption even among the banking incumbents. Discussions in the media around the emergence of AI in the banking industry range from the topic of automation and its potential to cut countless jobs to startup acquisitions.

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Spotlight

Source UK Services

Source is an asset manager and one of Europe’s leading Exchange Traded Product (ETP) providers, with over US$19 billion in assets under management. Source offers market leading equity, fixed income, commodity and alternative market exposure through approximately 80 expertly engineered ETPs. Source has focused on delivering incremental value to European ETP investors through a combination of enhanced indices, strong partnerships, improved structuring and active trading.

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