Article | March 19, 2021
Coin Conundrums: Expert vets 3 popular ‘flight to safety’ coin assets amid forecasted financial strife
As the financial markets strive to rebound from what has been a hugely trying and tumultuous period, courtesy of a deadly global pandemic, we may need to brace ourselves for yet more trouble ahead. This as an ongoing Harvard Business School study predicts a 40% probability of a financial crisis in the next three years, which is largely based on unprecedented growth in credit coupled with the reality that interest rates will eventually rise, making debt service unbearable.
“Now factor in over $10 trillion in global economic stimulus, as well as increases of 26% in the M2 money supply and 78% in the Federal Reserve’s balance sheet over the last year, and the lack of sustainability becomes readily apparent,” says alternative investment pundit Thomas Neptune, Esq. “As the economy artificially recovers and we inch toward full employment over the next few years, the reality is that the Federal Reserve is trapped. It only seems logical that the Fed will, at some point, be forced to raise interest rates to combat inflation, while doing so could put a giant pin in several asset price bubbles.”
When financial markets collapse, it’s known that non-correlated “flight to safety” assets generally perform very well. Due to the heightened level state of uncertainty in the current climate, many investors are already increasing allocations to alterative investment vehicles like Cryptocurrency, U.S. rare coins and gold bullion coins while prices are relatively modest (depending, of course, on whom you ask).
The question then becomes, which of these distinctive “coins” is right for you relative to your situational needs for downside protection, upside opportunity, inflation hedging and overall utility?
Below, Neptune offers his analysis of all three.
In simple terms, Bitcoin is a decentralized peer-to-peer payment system that utilizes an accounting ledger called the blockchain. Bitcoin is the unit of accounting. It can be used as a medium of exchange for some goods and services, but there has not been universal acceptance of Bitcoin as a form of payment. It has recently garnered attention as an asset class as the price has skyrocketed. Almost anyone can own a tiny fraction of a Bitcoin through sites such as Coinbase.
The supply of Bitcoin is capped at $21 million, with approximately $18.5 million currently in circulation. The annual supply increases similar to that of gold, unlike monetary and fiscal policies that promote unlimited growth through the printing press. With 78% of the circulating Bitcoin classified as illiquid and not changing hands, there is not a high likelihood of sellers flooding the market. That being said, the price has been historically volatile as demand varies and competitor cryptocurrencies enter the market. Theoretically, the price could plummet to near-zero if demand shifts elsewhere or regulators step in with force, although Bitcoin has institutional traction and its loyal following is most likely here to stay.
It is no secret that the price of Bitcoin has unlimited upside opportunity based on its supply and demand dynamics. Now almost everyone is getting in on the action. What might have been shocking news only a few years ago, even college endowments like Harvard, Yale, Brown and others have been placing bets on Bitcoin as have influential business leaders such as Elon Musk. It will be interesting to see whether Bitcoin can sustain its meteoric rise.
As an inflation hedge, Bitcoin does not have a long track record, as it was created in 2009 just prior to a market expansion where we saw little inflation for the last decade. Although the supply may increase now at a rate consistent with inflation, its demand and the ensuing price history have been extremely volatile. As such, buyers are placing a bet that, regardless of their entry price, the performance of Bitcoin will outpace inflation over the long-term, despite high volatility.
The technology around how Bitcoin is stored, sent and received is rapidly advancing. For example, the Bitpay wallet can now be added to Apple Pay to use Bitcoin as payment anywhere that accepts this type of monetary exchange. This is a significant development as there are over one billion active iPhones and these crypto-wallets can automatically settle transactions in the users’ currencies, potentially eliminating the risk of price volatility for transactions. Two other major benefits include portable wealth and instant liquidity for retail buyers.
** U.S. Rare Coins
Collecting financial artifacts of various civilizations has been in high demand for over 2,000 years, from when wealthy Romans were collecting Greek coins up to the present day. Representing the birth of the United States economy, its sovereignty on the world stage and notable events throughout the nation’s history, the U.S. rare coins that have survived in spectacular condition have been in high demand from wealthy global collectors and investors since the birth of this young nation.
There is a finite supply of high-end U.S. rare coins, which can be publicly verified on the census reports of the two major authentication companies: Professional Coin Grading Service and Numismatic Guaranty Corporation. These historical artifacts are not known to flood the market, as wealthy individuals with holding power generally do not need to liquidate them for less than their purchase price. Further, there is immense passion and competition to own the best trophies—why this market is known as the Hobby of Kings—which has evolved to sport for the affluent to locate and own these elusive artifacts in a private market. This passion-driven market with an extremely long track record has attracted investors to hold these highly sought-after assets as a long-term wealth protection strategy. As such, the market has demonstrated long term stability and steady price appreciation for well over a century based on these driven collectors and investors.
The U.S. rare coin market has benefited from numerous advances in technology and other innovations, most recently the introduction of the two major certification companies in the 1980s, followed by the ubiquity of the Internet in the 2000s. Although the market has largely flown under the radar from institutional investors, there has been a massive increase in demand for U.S. rare coins over the last decade, which has ramped up during the pandemic, as wealthy individuals have more time to pursue their interests and compete (via a publicly available points system) to own the finest rare coin portfolios. According to Michael Contursi, Partner at Contursi Rare Coin Investments, “The high end of this market is currently dominated by ultra-wealthy, sophisticated collectors and investors who can afford to own multi-million dollar portfolios. Imagine if these assets could be fractionally owned by the masses. We are already currently seeing this in collectibles such as fine art and baseball cards. The upside for U.S. rare coins is astronomical when you consider the potential for an exponential increase in demand.”
With unprecedented fiscal and monetary stimulus, coupled with a finite supply of U.S. rare coins with intrinsic value, these assets have proven to be an excellent hedge against inflation due to this disequilibrium of supply and demand. As the least volatile of the three “coin” markets here, the high end value of the U.S. rare coin market can be a safe diversification tool for those seeking an inflation hedge, largely based on historical price appreciation data from the last 125 years.
The two major certification companies secure these little treasures in sonically-welded holders with a certification number, barcode and other methods for protecting against counterfeit threats. Due to the weight and size of these items, owners can transport large amounts of wealth with extreme ease. Further, there are no reporting requirements for owning these assets, which makes them extremely private and can be a great way to retain wealth outside of the banking system in case of a financial meltdown or digital economy.
** Gold Bullion Coins
There are many ways to participate in the gold (and silver) bullion markets, some of which include owning mining company stocks, futures contracts on the commodities exchanges, ETFs, or physical control. To this extent, gold bullion can be owned as both a digital asset (like Bitcoin) or a physical asset (like U.S. rare coins).
Many people forget that from 1933 to 1975 it was illegal for Americans to own gold in the United States. Since then, investors have been making small allocations to gold as a diversified investment. It is globally-accepted that gold is a non-correlated, flight-to-safety asset during times of great uncertainty, such as The Great Recession of 2007-09 or the current global coronavirus pandemic. However, the spot price of gold is also extremely volatile, similar to Bitcoin, and the price could move significantly lower depending on one’s entry level to the market.
The value of the U.S. dollar, as well as virtually every other major fiat currency, has drastically declined in its purchasing power over the last century. Since the gold market is currently transacted in U.S. dollars, it becomes cheaper for international buyers (mainly governments or large institutions) to own gold as an alternative to holding dollars or their own currencies as the currency continues to decline. For the retail investor, it is clearer than ever that fiat currencies will continue to decline as governments print an unlimited supply of money to monetize their debts. Similar to the masses that have already entered the Bitcoin frenzy, and those poised to enter the various collectibles markets such as U.S. rare coins, the upside opportunity for gold has already been demonstrated by the Reddit black swan event last month that caused silver spot prices to soar. The same could happen for gold, perhaps in a more sustained trajectory.
Gold is known as an inflation hedge, which to some extent creates a self-fulfilling prophesy—as inflation expectations increase, institutions purchase gold and the increasing spot price protects their purchasing power. In addition, only approximately 2,500 to 3,000 tons of above ground gold are added to the global supply each year, with the majority used for jewelry. These relatively small increases to supply (similar to Bitcoin and finite rare coins) are a significant benefit when compared to printing binges for fiat currencies, thus helping protect against inflation.
The utility of owning physical gold is primarily as a store of value where the owner maintains direct control and access to a tangible asset. Many believe they can use their gold to transact during a doomsday scenario, as these are uniform products owned globally. The downside is that gold is very heavy, making it difficult to store or transport. Nonetheless, it is highly liquid and easy to turn into cash during times of need, like an insurance policy.
Which Coin is Right for You?
All three of these “coins” have either a finite or slowly increasing supply, making them very attractive during times of economic uncertainty, as even relatively small increases in demand can move prices higher. Depending on needs, there is a case to be made to own any of these assets, including small positions in all three.
According to Neptune, “Many of the families who invest with us side by side in the U.S. rare coin space also own small positions in cryptocurrencies and precious metals. Bitcoin is fun and people are speculating on its tremendous upside, whereas gold bullion is highly liquid and has a long track record as an inflation hedge. People have preconceived notions of all three markets, but I think with education and more transparency you will find more portfolios containing small allocations to all three of these assets.”
As investors become more comfortable with the idea that they do not have to be renowned experts to own these tangible assets—similar to the idea that they do not need a Ph.D. in mechanical physics to drive a car—investors can utilize all three markets for various needs in a diversified portfolio.
Since many financial advisors don’t yet know how to access or offer these types of alternative assets, they simply aren’t included in the investment mix and, thus, clients can’t reap the benefits—ostensibly suffering opportunity loss. Therefore, the prudent entrée to owning one (or all) of these “coins” is engaging with reputable companies or trusted experts. They will certainly help wealth-seekers make heads or tails of the burgeoning coin category.
Forbes Business Council Member Merilee Kern, MBA is an internationally-regarded brand analyst, strategist, futurist and marketplace trends pundit who reports on industry change makers, movers, shakers and innovators across all B2C and B2B categories. Connect with her at www.TheLuxeList.com / Instagram, Twitter & Facebook @LuxeListReports
Article | August 7, 2020
The managing director of AutoRek is speaking from the 8,000 square foot premises in Glasgow’s Garment Factory that the fintech company moved into two years ago to accommodate its continuing growth. A similar move to upgrade its presence in Edinburgh took place at the end of 2019. Forecasts of growth for this year, however, have been ripped up by disruption caused by the coronavirus. But Mr McHarg, who co-founded the business in 1994, remains confident it will still make a profit.
Article | June 4, 2021
Digital transformation can mean different things to each financial institution (FI). For some, it’s a push to modernise legacy systems and acquire fresh talent. For others, a journey to adopt an organisational strategy that unites departments and teams. No matter the motive, nearly all FIs want the same result—to drive efficiency, revenue and cost savings. For many forward-thinking FIs, artificial intelligence (AI) is a key part of this process.
At first, implementing AI can feel like an arbitrary effort that requires too many stakeholders, too much technology, and too big a transformation. Yet, as AI in banking matures, it brings the potential for higher-complexity solutions that generate positive ROI across business segments. A recent financial services study showed that 85 percent of respondents had successfully implemented AI within their organisation. [i]An additional 64 percent plan to use AI across a wide variety of use cases including process automation, risk management, and new revenue generation.
These studies prove that AI is not only becoming more mainstream, but is necessary to help FIs achieve their business goals, strengthen customer relationships, and remain competitive. To demystifying AI and reap its benefits, FIs must embrace a multi-functional strategy that sparks innovation and encourages collaboration. The three use cases below show how AI can be implemented to most immediately impact a financial services organisation.
Elevating employees, not replacing them
AI has historically created fears of job loss and obsolescence. However, within financial services, AI is well equipped to automate manual and repetitive tasks - such as rekeying data - rather than autonomously make critical financial decisions on behalf the organisation. Due to the complexity of the decisions, degree of regulation, and importance of qualitative factors these tasks are – and for the foreseeable future will be – better managed by employees.
A key use case of AI for automation is the utilisation of optical character recognition to streamline the process of spreading financials when underwriting commercial loans. Previously, credit analysts would have to invest hours painstakingly transferring borrower financial data into various systems, reducing time for holistic credit analysis and increasing loan underwriting times. However, by employing AI-driven solutions in combination with powerful workflow automation, banks have been able to significantly increase efficiency in lending processes, reducing processing and cycle times by more than 50 percent and seeing a 10 percent increase in front-office capacity to focus on true value-add analysis and customer relationships. [ii]
Additionally, AI has the ability to empower bankers, not only by eliminating manual tasks, but also by being able to equip them with powerful insights around relationship profitability and credit risk. By refining sophisticated, machine-learning based models, banks can more accurately predict and leverage metrics such as probability of default and loss given default within risk-based pricing models to provide competitive lending rates to borrowers, while still maintaining healthy profitability at the relationship and portfolio level.
Reshaping customer engagement
The acceleration of digital banking due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the rise of customer-centric titans have put significant pressure on financial institutions to modernise and reshape their approach to digital banking to appease rising customer expectations.
Customers not only expect a frictionless and seamless onboarding process, but for their bank to act as an ever-present financial advisor, offering personalised insights on spending habits, money management and financial decisions. AI-powered virtual assistants and chatbots offer new levels of accessibility to common questions by utilising natural language processing to find past transactions, access credit scores, and view balances. However, institutions can take a further step of both anticipating customer needs and offering targeted product suggestions based on propensity scoring models. Proactively offering recommendations can be helpful to customers due to the complexity of different financial products and enables banks to simultaneously satisfy customers while unlocking new revenue opportunities.
FIs can leverage AI to operate as a dedicated advisor, offer a differentiated customer experience, and reduce customer churn. However, equally important to the underlying predictive models is having a single, end-to-end platform to drive direct actionability by delivering insights to the right banker at the right time.
Boosting back-end efficiency
In addition to empowering employees to focus on true value-added activities, AI offers enhanced methods to improve operational efficiency and risk management. Analysis of IDC data shows that AI technologies can improve the cost efficiency of financial institutions by over 25 percent across IT operations[iii].
As a part of fraud detection, institutions can leverage AI to oversee thousands of transactions and efficiently flag anomalies that are indicative of fraud. Historically, transaction monitoring has struggled with false positives, through which genuine transactions are incorrectly flagged. However, through machine learning, actual, fraudulent transactions can be compared to false positives, which can then be fed into the model, improving accuracy over time as the system incorporates learned, differentiating factors.
Finally, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused institutions to revaluate how they assess credit risk and problem loan management. Lenders have had to segment their portfolio by geography and industry to differentiate sectors which were more severely affected by the pandemic versus those that were less challenged. Additionally, there is now a greater emphasis on utilising real-time and transactional data in addition to other data sources to truly understand business performance and borrower resilience. As the uncertain pandemic recovery continues, leveraging AI-powered predictive models in combination with delinquency tracking, credit migration modelling, and other tools will continue to be critical to align actual portfolio risk with the risk appetite of the institution.
As AI adoption continues to mature, FIs should avoid sporadically focusing on isolated use cases. Instead, organisations should strive to align strategy, organisational culture, and digital infrastructure under a united AI strategy. This will help enable them to capitalise on revenue growth, operating efficiency and cost savings, from the front to the back office, and across all lines of business.
Article | November 24, 2020
1.Diversity is critical.
Human life endures and evolves due to the intertwining of different gene pools.
Innovation happens with fresh insightful connections between cultures, expertise and backgrounds.
Treating people equally and with respect, regardless of race, religion, gender, sexual identity or age, among other differences, is not just ethically and morally correct, but it leads for better outcomes in society and business.
In many parts of the world, including the United States, there has been significant improvement in the life of women, minorities and LGBTQ communities if compared to a decade or two decades ago.
However, while much progress has been made, there are still significant challenges and obstacles as the #MeToo and Black Lives Matter movements among others clearly illuminate.
While all of us whether as individuals, communities or business continue to strive to ensure equal opportunity and a just society, we should not forget three other critical forms of diversity which may not have movements or focus on them, but are critical to truly build on the efforts and movements underway. These are 1) Diversity of Voices, 2) Diversity of Generations and 3) Diversity of Choices.
1. Diversity of Voices
A few months ago I wrote a piece called Diverse Faces are not the same as Diverse Voices.
Ensuring a diversity of faces is a necessary but insufficient step. Not only do companies need different faces around the table, but they also need diversity in thinking. We need to ensure that every person in a firm and around the table has a voice.
Most importantly, it is critical to have voices that can speak truth to power, question the status quo, call out potential issues and be heard without the risk of being punished.
If such voices were listened to, many companies, such as Wells Fargo and possibly Boeing, would not have suffered losses of reputation and market valuation. There were people who knew there were issues, but they either kept quiet or were silenced or ignored.
For true diversity it is key that people can call out the turd on the table when everyone else is celebrating what looks like a delicious brownie.
For years I have studied how to ensure such voices are nurtured and heard. There is a chapter in my book called “The Turd on the Table” which discusses my findings in detail but in the article noted above I summarize some key findings.
2. Diversity of Generations
These days in my multi-faceted second career of author, speaker/teacher and advisor, I journey (virtually rather than physically given the times we live in) more broadly across business, academia, politics, art, and science around the world than every before.
In just the arena of Business, I can find myself presenting to the Board of a FTSE 100/Fortune 500 company, advising a small start-up and then speaking about my book and sharing career learnings with either youthful students in a BBA or MBA program or more experienced individuals refreshing their expertise or re-thinking their careers while pursuing an Executive MBA.
While I share, teach and advise, I also am constantly learning and have come to believe that while many firms having smartly incorporated women and people of color and people with different forms of expertise on to their decision making councils, they remain relatively homogenous with regard to age. Almost everyone is within the same 16 year generation.
Established companies tend to have Board members in their 50’s and 60’s , while start-ups skew to the 20’s and 30’s. Established companies have young folks on what they call Challenger Boards presenting to real boards and Challenger companies have the occasional grey haired expert to serve as an advisor.
Why should a Fortune 500 Company not have accomplished individuals who are a generation or two younger on the main board? Why do start-ups believe that older people cannot be mentally or technically agile?
Regardless of what you may think of two very accomplished individuals in a Nancy Pelosi in her 70’s and an Alexandra Ocasio Cortez in her 30’s, I believe better decisions are made because of their different generational perspectives.
This generational divide is not just in Business but in Education, Arts and every where I look.
We should ask why ?
3. Diversity of Opinion and Choice.
In the recent election in the United States more people (70 Million) voted for Donald Trump than voted for Barack Obama ( 69.5 million) when he won his first landslide victory in 2008. The only person who garnered more votes is President-Elect Biden with 75 million votes and counting.
As someone who is friends and/or works with people who voted for each candidate and who respects and continues to respect and admire many of the voters on each side, I worry when some folks on each side paint the other as a caricature.
Not everyone who voted for Donald Trump is an anti-mask, gun toting racist, science hating, selfish capitalist nor is everyone who voted for Joe Biden a tree hugging, de-fund the police, pacifist socialist.
In this polarized age weaponized by social media and algorithms of enragement it is very easy to paint things in black or white but that is not what humans are.
A person in two moods is often more different than two different people.
Rather than demonize we should seek to understand and find points of agreement which are many ( most folks on either side would rather live in the US than in other countries, most would hope to have a better world for their children etc.)
If people cannot choose and have their own opinions than most other forms of diversity don’t amount to a hill of beans.
People and life are complicated.
All we know is that we have opinions and belief and choices.
And like humans they are incomplete, imperfect, impermanent.
2. Learnings from Bitcoin
Five years ago in a blog post i wrote…
Bitcoin and Blockchain are likely to revolutionize money. It is likely to become the currency of the Internet since it addresses the lack of trust in financial institutions, speaks to the need of the unbanked and leverages network technology. It’s in the early innings and too much focus on the roller coasting price. With that being said I would recommend everyone buy a bitcoin (its now about 240 dollars as I write this) and begin to understand it. In the US, Coinbase is an ideal wallet. The book to read on this topic is The Age of Cryptocurrency by Vigna and Casey two Wall Street Journal Financial Journalists.
As I write this some five years later, a Bitcoin is trading around 16,000 dollars which is a 6400 percent return, magnitudes better than even if you had put the $250 in Netflix which is the best performing FAANG .( Bitcoin along the way soared to 19,891 dollars in December 2017 before crashing to the 3000’s a few months later but never being below 3000 dollars in the last three years.)
I am not a financial advisor and make no recommendations ( I made my recommendation 5 years ago, since 250 dollars was not a big amount of money to risk to understand and follow a technology and eco-system that might become big). I do wish to share two learnings from Bitcoin which everybody may want to keep in mind as they make decisions at work on whom they meet and what they pay attention to …
The Future Comes from the Slime and not the Heavens: Like Bitcoin, much that of the future comes from places no one is looking.
IBM did not take MS-Dos and Microsoft seriously. Microsoft did not understand what Larry Page and Sergey Brin had created in the PageRank algorithm and Google Search. Bezos turned out to be more than a book seller on the Internet. Again and again, Boards and Leaders pay attention to each other, to the famous, to the powerful and to what dominates the news.
David will not be found hanging out with the Goliaths.
Even today, I find it amazing how incestious and uniform thinking is in so many “councils of the powerful”. The same words…disruption…personalization…platforms…data… All of us trampling on well worn paths of widespread and obvious thinking.
Of course we have to work in an an omni-channel, digital first, platform dominated world with personalized data. Everybody better do so to compete and remain relevant. But then what? This is where the ball is. Where is the ball going ?
Pay attention to the non-obvious, the small and weird. Take meetings with folks you would not normally do even though they have no rolodexes or fame.
Remember that those behind Red Ropes may be roping themselves in rather than roping others out.
Experiment quickly with new companies and technologies instead of meeting after meeting which costs more than testing out the new.
Do not diddle.
Mindset Shifts: There comes a time when there is a mindset shift. When this happens ( it is has happened with Bitcoin, and recently with Tesla when all the "Gods of Finance” pooh poohed what they did not understand and soon will again with the reality of Climate Change and Gene Therapy), major new industries and opportunities are born and major forces of disruption and wealth creation happen.
Build a case for why you may be wrong.
Build a case for the opposite of what you think is true.
Shift your mind before it is shifted.
3. Looking for a Christmas Gift for your friends, your team or your company?
As many of you know, and many have been huge supporters of (Thank you!) a book I authored called “Restoring the Soul of Business: Staying Human in the Age of Data” which was published globally early in the year by HarperCollins.
The book which has 12 chapters, each of which can be read in any order, provides tangible advice in four areas. 1) How to think about the future, 2) How to manage and adapt to change so it sucks less, 3) How to lead with soul and 4) How to upgrade your mental operating system.
The Economist Magazine said…”During the lockdown your columnist has worked his way through four weighty tomes by managers who argue that companies have a broader purpose than simply making a profit. The books were “Trailblazer” by Marc Benioff, “Green Swans” by John Elkington, “Restoring the Soul of Business” by Rishad Tobaccowala and “Share” by Chris Yates and Linda Jingfang Cai.
Perhaps the best of the books is Mr Tobaccowala’s. That is because the author, a senior adviser at Publicis Groupe, an advertising and communications firm, has a clear focus: how to ensure you can hire, then inspire, the right workers in the knowledge economy. “Employees who find work meaningful are highly productive, agile and committed,” he writes, adding that talented workers are in a more powerful bargaining position in the current economy. He also argues that companies can be too obsessed with data, and not enough with employee motivation: “The best businesses find ways to marry the math and the magic.”The book is clearly written and full of sensible and practical suggestions. “
The book has also made some Best Business Books of the Year list including form Strategy and Business which wrote
“Restoring the Soul of Business, I kept thinking as I read it, is part Ken Auletta (the New Yorker media critic who, as it happens, authored the foreword), part Deepak Chopra. As detailed and all-business as Tobaccowala is, and as soberly and expertly as he makes his case here, it would be unimaginable to ruminate, at book length no less, on a subject like the importance of humanity without sounding at times like something out of the Up with People program. (One chapter is titled “How to Lead with Soul.”)
Aside from its numerous how-to lists, the book is filled with helpful case studies of companies that have mastered the fusion of data-based marketing and business management with human relationships.
A smart and worldly man, Tobaccowala has produced a deeply informed book about brand marketing, data science, and humanity that is a remarkably lively read. Name another book about business (or any other subject) that in one breath urges the reader to acknowledge “the turd on the table” in the boardroom and references François Truffaut’s The 400 Blows and Joan Didion in the next.”
Read the full review here.
You can read more about the book including an essay from me on why you should read the book and different purchase options ( audible, kindle, ebook, book and even CD-ROM) everywhere in the world here….https://rishadtobaccowala.com/book
And for those who want to get more than 25 books or e-books reach out to me for both bulk pricing and Concierge handling from HarperCollins. If you want to upgrade and inspire your teams $10 to $20 is a great investment as a Christmas present…
Regardless, thank you for the 10 minutes every Sunday or whenever you give to reading this newsletter…