Traditional finance institutions often question and criticize the new finance models enabled by FinTech, using the excuse that banks are heavily regulated and must manage risks and protect their reputations. Yet the banking sector has more than its fair share of scandals – Danske Bank and Wells Fargo being two very recent examples – where regulations are bent or broken, putting their reputation and bottom line at risk (not to mention the careers of the people involved).
Perhaps now is a good time for them to wake up to reality?
Around 15 months ago I talked with a person at Danske Bank who works with digitization. I tried to get him to talk with some of our companies to implement truly digital processes. His comment was that he doesn’t talk with companies that use clouds because they are too risky. Another Danske person from wealth management gave me a lecture about how it’s easy for startups to use new technology – e.g. for KYC and AML and digital processes – but banks must really focus on regulation, reputation and risk management. Now we are reading that dozens of billions dollars (estimates of total exposure range from $30 billion to $240 billion) has been laundered through Danske.
Meanwhile, we’ve seen the news that Wells Fargo employees created millions of fake customer accounts to fulfill their targets. It was not very clear who initiated this practice, but it was basically motivated by pressure to hit targets and earn bonuses. Wells Fargo has also had other issues with things like modified mortgages, delayed payment fees (although the delays were their fault) and overcharging of credit card payments. Several management and lower-ranking staff were forced to leave the bank, and the firm has announced 26,000 job cuts.
When I recently spoke to a finance sector consultant in London about FinTech and wealth management, he commented to me: “It is clear the Swiss wealth management business struggles when it has been based on money laundering and tax avoidance, and now many governments have put pressure on it.” People also question more and more what these well-paid guys who offer coffee and lunches are really doing to offer value for their high management fees. Data analytics and AI can replace a significant part of portfolio management with lower fees, although it’s questionable if even AI can get those expensive lunches and dinners under control.
I was recently speaking at a FinTech panel in Silicon Valley and one fellow panelist – a venture capitalist – made a comment that “KYC is a funny thing – if you take a billion dollars in a suitcase to a bank in Switzerland or London, and you have traces of cocaine and blood in your suitcases, they find a way to pass the KYC, but if you are a foreign worker with a few hundred dollar salary, you are in trouble with KYC.”
Big risk hubs
Regulation seems to be a recurring argument traditional finance institutions use to protect their own positions. At least, people in the organizations seem to believe that. But in reality it is not so clear – many regulators have also seen that traditional finance institutions are big risk hubs and that’s why we have things like PSD2 and FinTech sandboxes. The cases above are only some examples – there are many others, so it’s fair to question how much talking about regulation and reputation is hypocrisy.
It is easy to list all kinds of risks and uncertainty with new technologies, crypto and blockchain models, and how machines could handle KYC, AML and portfolio management. They also like to argue that customers are keen to have a human touch in the services. But do you really feel you have a human touch when you call a bank call center, end up in a call queue for half an hour, and when you’re finally connected to the human, you realize he/she is reading standard answers from a screen?
It is said that if someone invented bank notes today, they would be illegal because they would be too risky to use. People are always skeptical with new things. At the same time, concern, skepticism and risks never stop development, especially when new solutions are just so much more effective and offer new opportunities. It is the same with finance services. When distributed models, FinTech and AI come to finance, old institutions either adapt or lose a significant part of their business.
We can already see, for example, cloud back offices and IT that cut the IT costs to 1/100th of traditional banking IT. When these come to the mainstream, this will be quite disruptive, and we will see thousands of new finance services that are not only more cost-effective, but also can offer better tools to manage money, find optimal loans and provide a better customer experience. Expensive IT is no longer a barrier to entry.
Probably AI is also more resistant to all the hypocritical talk about regulation while the other eye is closed to suspicious transactions and customers. Data analytics, AI and RegTech will be the new tools of regulators. No system is perfect, but when machines manage the process and there are audit logs and document history of yellow and red flags, it is harder to bypass processes.
We are headed for a new finance services reality, and traditional finance institutions can no longer hide behind the window dressing of regulation, reputation and risk management. They need to face reality and decide their next move. They can either fight and defend the old castle till the very last man, or start a journey to a new land.
The article first appeared on Disruptive.Asia.
We had this slogan ‘live your data’ for our data analytics company in 2007. The company was growing, attracted investors and many new people, and especially the new management and marketing people thought the slogan is too abstract and unclear. I think I had quite a lot of responsibility with that slogan. Probably it was too early, but we now are coming to an era that we can say people truly live their data.
Maybe it is still abstract, but let me try to explain the background. We already made very advanced analytics, combining traditional segmentation, machine learning behavior and social network analytics. We also had the very first concepts for ‘distributed’ data and analytics models, for example, how a mobile phone could learn from the user’s behavior and propose and choose things based on their profile, and a user could even have an anonymous avatar to do things online. Some of those things were too early for that market and technology.
The point of the slogan was that data is becoming a fundamental part of each person’s life. Your data influences your life, your data helps you to live your life and your data can even do things on your behalf. Data is really taking a fundamental role in your life. But, you need tools to control, utilize and manage it, or other people will manage and use it to drive your life.
Now we see this clearer than in 2007. Your finance data very much controls your financial opportunities. Your social media profiles and data create your public image. Your purchase history data determines what kinds of offers and pricing you get. Your health care, and now even real time well being and exercising data, defines your insurance policy and pricing. You live your data.
We have also seen the negative side of this. If someone steals your data, he or she can literally live your life after the identity theft. If someone is able to modify your data, it can change your life drastically, e.g., result in a bad credit score or cause troubles at immigration, or you can even become a terrorist based on your data. You live your data.
We see countries and governments that start to collect all kinds of data not only for credit scoring people, but scoring their reliability and ‘citizenship’. If your data tells that you are not a good citizen, your life can suddenly become much more difficult. You live your data.
Now we are really at a point that we must get control on our own data. There have been enough scandals about data misuse, theft and trading. We are also in a point where legislators, regulators and technology are driving new models to own, manage and use data.
We already see new solutions where people can start to manage their own health care (e.g. MedRec and Patientory) and finance (e.g. Prifina) data. They are still early phase companies and models, but the change has started. Telcos are near consumers and their data, they should also think about how to help their customers embrace a new way to manage data. There are also many more plans about distributed data models, e.g. a social network that doesn’t own data, but just enables people to show their posts (data) to their friends, or a personal AI that helps to find relevant things.
In 2007 we finally started to use ‘data is the black gold of 21st century’ slogan and dumped the ‘live your data’ slogan. The black gold slogan became very popular and many parties have used different versions of that since then. Now this old slogan came to mind at a time when I feel we really are moving from the data as oil era, to the data drives your life era.
Personal coaches and psychologist give advice, how to get your personal life under control. Now we need coaches and tools to take our data into our own control. Live your data, or someone else lives it. And, by the way, your data lives much longer than you.
The article was first published on Telecom Asia.
Grow VC Group has been invited to the Transatlantic Economic Council meeting in Vienna, Austria, and Horasis Asia meeting near Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, in this month.
The Transatlantic Economic Council (TEC) is a body set up between the United States and European Union to direct economic cooperation between the two economies. It was established by an agreement signed on 30 April 2007 at the White House by U.S. President George W. Bush, President of the European Council Angela Merkel and EU Commission President José Manuel Barroso. The Council is co-chaired by an EU and a U.S. official.
Grow VC Group Chairman Jouko Ahvenainen participates in the meeting in Vienna. He is working in a group that focuses to develop SME access to finance in the EU and the USA. The focus of the discussion is especially to find new models and instruments for the SME finance, including utilization of new technologies like fintech and blockchain.
Horasis is a visions community that with its members explores, defines, and implements trajectories of sustainable growth. Horasis provides strategic foresight to public and private entities who envisage growing into global organizations. Horasis will convene the 2018 Horasis Asia Meeting in Binh Duong New City – a high-tech development zone close to Ho Chi Minh City. The Horasis Asia Meeting will bring together over 400 of the foremost leaders from across Asia.
Grow VC Group Jouko Ahvenainen is a co-chair of the event. He participates in the discussions about Asian's dynamism, how business, trade, diversity and cultures can develop together across Asia. Mr Ahvenainen also focuses on the opportunities of new finance and fintech services, and how they can offer opportunities to unbankable people and businesses. He has also earlier participated in the Horasis Global meeting.
Grow VC Group focuses especially on global finance, digitization and data businesses. Its target is to participate in work to create future opportunities and more equal access to finance globally and give people better tools to manage their finance and data. A part of the work is to participate in workgroups to shape the visions, policies and strategies for the future, and at the same time the Group companies offer practical solutions and technologies to enable these things.
Record labels and movie production companies work hard to protect their copyrights, especially when it comes to digital distribution solutions, which has resulted in all kinds of restrictions in how content can be copied, distributed and shared. They have also been very aggressive with legal action to enforce those restrictions.
Which gets me to wondering: could the same happen for personal data? Imagine that every time someone uses someone else’s personal data, they must pay for using it and must adhere to agreed-upon policies on how it can be used, otherwise they will face harsh legal action.
There are several factors changing the personal data business: GDPR and other new regulations in many countries; increasing concerns about privacy; blockchain-type solutions to distribute data and make smart contracts; and more advanced models to monetize data. It is basically a combination of changes in the legal environment, people’s behavior and Internet services, as well as emerging FinTech models.
In the content business, authorities have been very active to shut down sites that enable file sharing of music or video (see: Pirate Bay or Kim Dotcom). And currently in many countries, ordinary consumers can be sued if they download an illegal copy of a song or movie, or knowingly used a pirate streaming device. In some countries, even using a friend’s Netflix login credentials is illegal.
But what are the consequences for companies that have sold, bought or utilized data from ordinary people without proper and clear consent? Up to now there really haven’t been any. Indeed, it’s a core business model for OTT services – attract people to somehow use something for free, and then take their data and monetize it by selling it to advertisers and partners. The people whose data is being used are the product, not the customer.
One extreme and confusing consequence of this is that consumers’ personal data can be potentially mishandled by companies they don’t have accounts with. For example, I just received an email from British Airways informing me that someone had stolen payment data from their servers, including names, credit card details, and customer addresses. The email was essentially a notification and apology, with no offer of compensation or redress.
But the strange thing is that I have never created an account with BA, so I was surprised that they were storing my payment data in the first place, and confused as to why they would. A payment transaction should be just a transaction, and when they get the money, they should not keep all the details.
It has been easy for companies to collect all this data and develop fancy ideas to use it or sell it. And to be sure, many individual consumers haven’t been too keen to protect their data, and have been willing to let companies use it in exchange for some meaningless discount points. Meanwhile, the ones who do want to protect and control their data have very limited options to hold companies who collect and misuse that data to account.
However, this year marks a probable turning point. Many point to GDPR as the linchpin, but honestly, it is just one component in this shift. It might actually be more significant that public opinion is shifting and technology is being developing to enable these changes to happen. It is also about having solutions that make it cost-effective to implement new data models.
Many companies see customer data as a business opportunity, but they might also see it as a potential liability if they (or a partner) lose it, abuse it or do anything unethical. The risks to play with data are becoming increasingly higher, even if what’s at stake is your reputation. Companies also need more and more advanced tools to utilize data all the time – simply analyzing purchase behavior to for some “best next offer” campaign isn’t a competitive advantage anymore.
Blockchain, distributed models and smart contracts are among the solutions that are changing services and data models. The same is true for local AI solutions that work for an individual consumer to find the best deals. All this together fundamentally changes services and concepts. Of course, none of this will happen overnight, but this is increasingly becoming the mission statement of a new wave of startups rather than the usual “free service in exchange for your data” model.
I have written in the past about data being the oil of the 21st century – that is to say, just as oil was an enabler for people do new things (especially drive a car), data should also enable people to do new things. Maybe we can also say personal data should be the copyright battle of the 21st century, where the individual is seen as the ‘copyright holder’ of their data (intellectual property).
We’re seeing the first indicators that this change is starting to happen. When companies understand they must respect the individual’s ownership of data as much as content companies expect us to respect the copyright of songs and movies, we will enter a totally new phase of consumer data. Only then can we say consumer data really gets the value it deserves.
The article first appeared on Disruptive.Asia.
Read more about Prifina's models to manage personal finance data.
Globally many financial institutions have rolled out their digital products and services, such as Goldman Sachs Marcus platform. These act as digital store fronts for these financial services firms, providing a digital native experience at the users terms. Having created one digital channel product, can be seen to add to the urgency of ushering in a digital overhaul of other channels. Let me give you an example.
A client of ours had launched their digital offering a few years ago, on boarding tens of thousands of clients and generally adopting a successful platform strategy. What happens then, when this digital channel successfully adopts these clients, is that it sets expectations for these users. When they have further needs, such as a new service they are in the market for, what do they expect? They expect the same client centric, smooth user experience they were initially met with.
Often times however, what they get is a cold shower.
The starkest example of this, is initially having the full service delivered completely on the users terms and then later, having to set up a phone conversation where no channels (chat, mobile, even email) are available to the user. And the first phone conversation often ends up being a person who on boards the user, to figure out who to pass them to next. Walking into a branch and doing things in person at this stage, will seem the simpler option, which is by no means a compliment of the process.
When we set the expectations for users, they (and rightly so) expect those expectations to be met in the future as well. And when we do not meet them, we create a bad user experience.
The Opportunity of Digital Sales Channels
Cross selling is second nature to large enterprises, yet when digital channels become the norm, that comes with its own set of rules.
It’s completely natural that digital transformation starts in vertical segments, solving very clear client problems that drive value. It’s also natural that the next stage becomes relevant when connectivity and communication between new vertical products and old systems start to be warranted. This may happen far quicker than many enterprises realize, given clients will translate one positive client experience to the next and want to explore what other value the service can create for them. This is the ideal situation however, a real opportunity to client lasting client relationships! The reality as well, is that for true adoption of digital channel strategies, volume will come from translating and integrating existing services to be distributed through efficient conduits. By distributing existing products through efficient sales channels, margins will rise and competitiveness will be driven at the same time as client value.
The Digital Overhaul May Appear Massive, but it’s the Clients Direction
It may seem like a wave that crashes on the organization, but as with most trends driven by client value and demand, the direction is the right one. Client centricity is at the heart of digital transformation and clients will show the way for the services they want, and how they want to consume them. Listen to them.
The article first appeared on Difitek Blog.
Digitization has been talked about for years. It is hard to count how many industries talk about it, how many consulting projects plan it, and how many new services and processes have been created based on it. Of course, a lot of data is now digital, there are lots of online services, and IT is somehow involved in most processes. But is this enough to count as real digitization? Or is it actually more the case that most companies just add digital data and computers to very old processes instead of planning their operations and customer experiences based on digital models?
It is typical to hear stories how a customer-facing employee cannot do what the customer wants because “our IT system works like this.” Management and process consultants are selling expensive consulting packages to create new processes and educate employees to follow them, but many employees have doubts about whether this really helps their business. Many employees feel it is hard to find internal company information and use internal systems. At the very least, it takes a long time for any new process to see real use.
Does it really have to be so difficult? Of course, we can say it always takes time to get employees to unlearn old things and pick up new things. At the same time, these employees are also everyday consumers who learn quickly to use new things like social media, chat apps, online shopping and streaming video services (and combinations therein). Why is it that these same people are often frustrated with their employer’s IT systems and services – sometimes to the point of using commercial services they understand as a workaround to their company’s internal processes?
Designed for digital
We can see that many successful digital services offered by companies such as Amazon, Facebook, Google, Netflix and Tencent are designed for the digital era. They have successfully leveraged the internet in ways no one could have imagined when the internet emerged as a commercial entity in the mid-1990s, and have out digital technology at the core of their business models.
Many other companies – including media companies, telco carriers, and retailers – have tried to adapt to this new environment. Some of them have died, some of them have survived, but none of them have really been able to replicate the success or even the business models of the digital giants. Which begs the question: is it simply impossible to modify an old company to make it compatible with digital reality?
Most startups are built on digital technology today. Many incumbent companies have tried to learn from them and even acquire them. Very often the outcome is that startup activities are isolated to a corporate VC or innovation unit. IT is still often seen as something that lives its own life inside the IT unit. New models or digitalization don’t exist at the core of these companies – they are just wingman functions.
We have seen this in the media, telco, advertising and retail businesses for some time. Now we are seeing it in the finance and banking business. We cannot blame these companies too much, because it hard to get to real digitalization to work in practice. Sometimes, digitalization requires you to shred your entire legacy IT, destroy all old processes, and demolish your organization. It sounds like you’re being asked to drag your company through chaos with no guarantee of success or even survival. At the same time, if you don’t do it, you are probably doomed and will disappear from the market sooner or later.
Customer experience is the heart of digitization
We have seen a lot of hype about startups and digitization. Corporate people show up at startup events in ripped jeans, they acquire fancy new services, and management consultants charge huge fees during the transition process. But isn’t there a way to skip all that and just start to build businesses and services on new digital technology? Certainly this may still require consultants and external help, but the result would be the ability to really operate in a new way, rather than simply buying time to stay in your comfort zone.
One key thing about new businesses built digital from the ground up is that the whole design process is based on customer experience – as it must be. Whatever mandatory internal or regulatory processes are in place, in the end it all exists solely to offer value to the customer. This sounds like a simple guideline. But it’s actually far more complex. In fact, it takes a lot of courage and concentration to work like this. And it’s especially difficult for existing big organizations encumbered with legacy IT, organizations and processes, internal politics and a lot of people in their own comfort zones who would very much like to stay there.
Now that the hype phase of startups and digitization looks like it will be winding down soon, it’s now time to think in a more mature way about how to do new things. There’s nothing wrong with startup and digitization models, but we have seen many failings and gaps when they are adapted directly in corporations. We particularly need bold leaders in corporations that are ready to shred old things, cannibalize old businesses and build totally new models. New, truly digital processes might actually be easier to implement than these ineffective intermediate models if they are based on customer experience and made as easy for employees to use as Google, Amazon and Facebook without having to call in expensive consultants.
The article first appeared on Disruptive.Asia.
Since Web 2.0 became important, many companies have wanted and claimed to create Web 3.0. The label has mainly been artificial. For example, the semantic web has been a candidate for this role, but we haven’t really seen it or what it might mean in practice. Now we again have a strong candidate for this role: a blockchain-based distributed web.
Web 2.0 means especially more interactive web services, user generated content and social media. It changed internet services significantly from the broadcast model to real interaction between people. Those interactive social media type services now make up a significant part of web services usage time. We can really say Web 2.0 was a change and it was easy to notice this change, although Web 2.0 hasn’t really had an official specification.
The problem with Web 3.0 has been that many companies and people have tried to use it for marketing purposes. It is nice to include it into a business plan covering how to disrupt internet services and pave the way into a new phase. Despite its wide use in marketing, users and service providers haven’t been able to see these changes.
The Web 3.0 label has been put on Semantic Web where computers can understand content, always-on mobile internet, or virtual world web services. The World Wide Web Consortium, W3C, has even created a Semantic Web standard. But it is probably based more on technological dreams than what the users really see and can use today.
Together with blockchain we now see more services and, at least plans, to offer more distributed services. Cryptocurrencies are, of course, an example of these. They are based on models that don’t require a centralized organization or technology to manage and authorize transactions.
Now we see more evidence that these models are not only for cryptocurrencies. Smart contracts are bringing distributed models for many kinds of transactions from buying real estate to managing digital rights for movies and songs. These services are not only going to change web services, but also the role of central ‘authorities’ like notaries, banks and rights owners. We can even see they might challenge governmental services and the role of governments.
At the same time, we see development towards more distributed data on two levels, physically and logically. Physically distributed data means, for example, a local device with AI functionality keeping data locally for several reasons like availability, latency and privacy (read more on MWC2018 on distributed models). An example is self-driving cars that must be independent enough. The logically distributed data means that, for example, users can own their own data, although it is physically in centralized clouds.
This year privacy issues and the rise of blockchain have made distributed data models more relevant. We don’t necessarily need a centralized social media that keeps our data, we can have a service that only shows the data we wish to share to our friends, but we keep it on our own servers (that can be on our account in a cloud). We don’t need a bank or hospital to retain our data, if we can keep our own verified data and use it in services when needed, granting and revoking access on a need-to-know basis.
Timing is always the difficult part to predict. We can be quite sure; the distributed Web is coming. But it is hard to give an exact timetable for it. A breakthrough always requires that several things click at the same time, like availability of technology, the price of technology and user experience. The final breakthrough then might need some lucky coincidences, like one very successful service. After that changes can happen truly rapidly.
It is more difficult to say if the distributed web is the Web 3.0. And does it really matter? Logically, Web 3.0 should be any big change in the internet services that comes next and really changes the user experience, business models and dominating internet services. In that way, the distributed web is the most promising candidate at the moment for that role.
The articles was first published on Telecom Asia.
Digitization is coming to all services, also linked to physical services. It will change the user experience significantly. It helps us to get rid of many complex and time-consuming processes. Especially the combination of blockchain and IoT offers new powerful tools for this.
Let’s take examples that have been introduced to me most recently.
When you buy a house in the future, you can sign the agreement with a smart contract. This signing then triggers an automated process. The payments and loan agreements are accomplished. You are sent digital keys (e.g. to your mobile) to get into the house. The sale starts a process of finding suitable insurance with data that comes directly from your house, and you can select the best one, with the same process for utility contracts.
You can get a car for your use based on your needs. It can be for a single drive or longer-term. All agreements, payments and insurance needs can be handled digitally immediately. There can be different pricing models based on your needs. This works also for self-driving cars and you can even send the car to collect something and it can handle a signing and payment when it completes the delivery.
You can manage and “carry” your own finance and health care data with you. You can control how and when it is used, and you can track its users and their access. When you need health care or a loan, you can get offer offers based on your own data. The same for insurance contracts.
Probably these examples are even simplified, as we cannot even imagine all models to use these two things together in the future. They regardless give an idea about the opportunities to build new services. It will change significantly, how services are offered in the future.
This will especially change the user experience. For example, all processes above now include a lot of paper work, take a lot of time, and the data is not properly utilized (for example, you easily pay extra for home or car insurance, when it is hard to find the optimal one). We can compare the scope for change to how it was to book a trip before internet travel services. You had to find information from brochures, booklets, and travel agencies, fetch tickets and hotel vouchers and have everything on paper with you. But this change can actually be bigger, when it gets many services to work together and is also linked to physical services and devices.
Technology for these services start to be available now or very soon. A more complex question is, who will implement the actual end-user services, how the business models will look, and if the development is more a disruption or an evolution. Telecoms carriers, finance institutions, cloud companies are all linked to these services with other parties like real estate, car, and logistics companies. But are any of them able to offer smooth end-user services, or do they only implement lower level parts in the value-chain?
Technology enables new things, but it needs business models and good customer experience to really change the world. TCP/IP existed since 1960s, but only in the 1990s did we started to get user friendly services and businesses to utilize it. Nowadays, development is faster. It also often so that incumbent players have been able to maintain certain roles, when the Internet has changed a business, but newcomers have really took the major part of a new business. You can think, for example, advertising and media businesses, where many old media and ad companies still exist, but companies like Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Netflix have been the biggest winners and prevail with their new models.
We are going to see a race for these new services. We can already see that carriers, banks and insurance companies are becoming more active to utilize new technology. But to really offer these new services we need much more than a conservative technology development. It requires risk taking with new business models that can also cannibalize existing business lines. Therefore it is not easy for large incumbent companies.
These new services are based on distributed models and data, open APIs and smooth cooperation of many components. It doesn’t even make sense to try to dominate these services alone. For each company, it is much more important to choose and accept their position and focus on playing that position as well as possible. If someone tries to make it alone, they can lose a lot of money and be out of the actual dominating ecosystem. So, each party should select its own strategy and then start to constructively cooperate to have a valuable role in the ecosystem and value chains.
The article first appeared at Telecom Asia.
Telecom carriers have looked for a role beyond the bit-pipe for years. Now it looks like the evolving TV and content business is a new game that they want to participate in. Netflix and Amazon are leading the streaming business globally and have stepped to produce their own content too. Now there are signs that some carriers want to enter this business. But consequences can be complex to evaluate.
In the US AT&T has tried to merge with Time Warner, but the merger is now a legal battlefield. There are also other similar activities around the world. Maybe the latest one is that Sweden's Telia is talking to acquire Bonnier Broadcasting that owns TV channels and production in Nordic countries. Vodafone just acquired cable networks in Central and Eastern Europe from Liberty Global. Some operators are also in the pay-TV business and even started to produce their own content.
The timing is interesting for both parties. Carriers are still looking for value-added services. At the same time broadcast media companies have really started to feel the impact of Netflix and Amazon and other content from the internet. They lose viewers, and advertising money follows.
For a longer time it has looked like streaming content is one interesting business opportunity for carriers. People are now ready to pay for good content. An additional opportunity is to bundle data and content, such as by offering ‘free data connections’ for a carrier’s own content services. It is a way to tie in customers.
In principle, this sounds good. But as the AT&T and Time Warner case also demonstrated, this kind of vertical mergers can be complex for competition and consumers. We have several questions, like:
How well carriers are able to run this business in practice is its own question. Carriers’ track records in expanding to other businesses is not very promising, and often they ramped down or divested non-core activities. Carriers must at least accept that the media business is very different business from the network infrastructure business.
Globally it looks like there will be strong global content companies, like Netflix and Amazon. At the moment, it looks like the vertical mergers are not really a threat to them, they are strong enough. The media and carriers' mergers can be a bigger threat locally and, for example, in certain language areas. At the same time, someone can argue that Netflix and Amazon could become globally dominant players, and it is actually good to get serious competition from Media-Carrier firms.
Disney’s acquisition of 21st Century Fox is another example of media consolidation. The competition authorities have commented that horizontal deals are not such a threat as the vertical ones for the competition. But it also indicates that media and content firms are preparing for a new era of competition.
There is an old saying that the TV content and distribution business is an example of how one strategy can work only for some time. The past has shown that if a winning strategy seems to be to own cables to customers, then a distributor gets the rights to such a content that every one wants and they start to dominate the value chain, until the best content producers start to dominate it by dictating the terms of the market. So, it is a never-ending pendulum in the value chain. But if you own the whole value chain, which can be the result of vertical mergers, it will be very different game, or no game at all.
The article was first published on Telecom Asia.
Legacy technology is often debated. Recently, we’ve seen many high-profile privacy intrusions (Cambridge Analytica with Facebook) and system malfunctions (mass flight cancellations in Europe in March 2018), yet we are amassing even more data into increasingly large black boxes (how much data did Equifax have again?). Decentralized and distributed systems have started becoming topical and popular. When will the unbreakable black box finally clear for new systems?
Like any large-scale shift, it’s far easier to see the direction than it is to predict anything close to an accurate timing of said shift. Legacy, monolithic, colossal systems are clearly not the future, and more cracks in the foundations are going to be made public in the months and years to come. However frail these systems may be, getting a large-scale shift of any system requires not only years of R&D, it also requires years of validation. But it is happening.
Short of directly overhauling information systems, we can see organizations launching their greenfield projects based on modern technologies, often a step removed from their core infrastructure. For instance, look at what Goldman Sachs did with Marcus, which their technology team has been quite open about. They then rolled out the Marcus platform into GS Bank, but only after taking it to market as a relative standalone. This makes sense – why hold a novel new approach down with archaic systems at the start when the value is minimal, when you can simply link it back in the future? Should it actually be seen as valuable?
Yet, the more new greenfield projects an organization has and launches, the more crucial the question of interconnectedness and interoperability becomes. Tying together these new projects, product, and services, we see a new infrastructure emerge. Riding on the API economy principles, this type of connectivity can and should be native and allow a modular architecture, which, by the way, ends up being future proof given the malleability and high specialization (switch out one call for another and you can swap out an entire product).
Although modularity and longer-term future-proofing are not only limited to technology, it really becomes a question of delivering the best service to the end client. Collaboration between different parties to achieve certain aims, such as syndicating a larger loan to diversify risk exposure, ultimately yields the client what they are looking for and creates more value.
This isn’t without its challenges in a culture which seeks control over client relationships, yet the shift in thinking has to become more purely client-centric. In the case of the syndicated loan, if our bank, in collaboration with various lenders, can provide the client with further value, does that not reflect well on our relationship with the client? Does the client actually care that others are part of the syndicate and if so, does that lessen the perceived value? I would argue that not only is it a more technical nature of the loan for the client, it may even enforce the value created.
Yet creating this new infrastructure allows for an interesting question on timing. At what point is the new infrastructure proven enough that the legacy system can be wound down? Surely, it’s under 50% of usage, but is it 15% or 25%? How long is too long to wait?
Winding down a successful system is also a political question: why fix it when it is not broken? But history shows us that this thinking and the failure to anticipate change bodes dramatically poorly for organizations that exist in innovative or disrupted industries. The financial services industry is clearly in flux.
Crises present themselves as great opportunities, or forced opportunities, and with the future looking full of crises, we are presented with an ever-growing list of opportunities for financial services organizations to leverage. There is, of course, the option that old service lines and offerings simply die out as unused or unpopular following a mass exodus of users, and maybe that is relevant in a few cases, but larger scale change does have to be managed.
With financial services systems, having users in the millions and capital in the billions (and more) taking down a system in any manner includes a major disruption. However, that may be unavoidable, so a proactive path may allow you the chance to determine when that disruption takes place. In private meetings, I’ve even been told of systems that are expected to “go down in 2018 – we just don’t know when!” This seems to be an interesting predicament to try to manage. But even a proactive strategy is not without its issues, imagine telling the board that you intend to take down a multi-billion-dollar business for “maybe a few hours,” how will that go?
We have to conclude that change in an interconnected legacy systems market is messy, and organic change, even more so.
While we wait for these organizations change agents to act when presented the opportunity, we can also be curious about the new silos we are building. We are constantly amassing private and sensitive data behind a central agent’s control all around the world. And the data sets we can today create and generate are truly amazing in their technical nature and terrifying in their implications – with personal identification data, meta-data, smart connected devices in our pockets and homes, the list goes on. To think that central agents and their systems are immune to failure and or attack is naive and time alone will show their integrity.
With all the data we have and our seeming determination to store it into centralized systems, it does make one wonder how well all our change agents are lined up. It also has one hoping they have a proactive plan in motion.
This post originally appeared on MEDICI.
Est. 2009 Grow VC Group is the global leader of fintech innovations, digital and distributed finance services. Our mission is to make the finance services more effective, transparent and democratic. The Group includes leading fintech companies in their own areas.
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