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How far are you willing to go for growth?

Posted by on Mar 1, 2019 in Banking, Finance, Government, infrastructure, money laundering, New York City, Policy, Revolut, The Extra Crunch Daily | 0 comments

There is a deep dilemma facing startup founders that I think just isn’t brought to light often enough. On one hand, almost all (and I do mean almost all) founders are reasonably ethical people. They can be over-optimistic, they can over-promise, they can be inexperienced around management, but at their core, they want to improve the world, build something new, and yes, make (a lot) of money while doing it.

Yet, if you really want to grow fast — so fast that you can go from piddling startup to $1.7 billion-valued banking unicorn in less than four years — then there are only so many ways to do that ethically. Or even legally, given that the laws around industries like banking aren’t designed for high growth, but rather sedentary expansion.

Here’s a lesson that I think founders internalize very, very early: growth solves all problems. And it is absolutely, 100 percent true. Growth absolutely solves all problems. Want to make your next fundraise a cinch? If you grow 5x or 7x year-over-year, watch as dozens of venture firms squabble to get access to that cap table. Want to hire faster and attract better talent? Growing at top speed is an easy way to lock in those people.

And if you think the board acts as a guard rail, you have never seen the giddy excitement of a VC who is seeing their yacht / Napa vineyard / Atherton estate being financed before their very eyes. Boards don’t ask tough questions in periods of high growth, they double down: “do everything to keep this rocket ship shooting for the stratosphere.”

In these situations, it is nearly impossible to balance growth and ethics. You can’t just say, “turn on the money laundering thing again and we will accept 5x instead of 7x” or whatever. The whole organism of the startup has been geared for growth. Hell, even the people not working for the company (but want to) are geared for growth. Every salary bump, equity distribution, performance evaluation, feedback, KPI and firing is predicated on growth.

Sometimes you get away with it, and sometimes you don’t. Uber got away with it, Zenefits did not.

So where does Revolut sit, which I’ve been foreshadowing here? By now, you might have come across the three-part story arc of Revolut, a digital banking service based in London. In part one, Revolut is a fintech darling founded in July 2015 that has since raised $336 million in venture capital within four years at a $1.7 billion valuation, according to Crunchbase.

Insane growth, huge market, real product. It’s the best first act for a startup one can possibly hope for.

Then the bad news started hitting hard this week. In act two, we get this Wired exposé by Emiliano Mellino that discusses the atrocious working conditions of the company along with deeply questionable employee interview tactics:

She did a 30-minute job interview over Google Hangouts with the London-based head of business development, Andrius Biceika, and was immediately told she had passed to the next round, which would involve a small test. “The surprise came when I received the task and it asked me to get the company as many clients as possible, with each one depositing €10 into the app,” says Laura.

And using fear to goad performance:

Last spring, CEO Nikolay Storonsky sent an announcement to all staff through the company’s Slack messaging service, saying that any members of staff “with performance rating [sic] ‘significantly below expectations’ will be fired without any negotiation after the review”.

Around this time, CEO Nikolay Storonsky gave an interview to Business Insider where he said Revolut’s philosophy was to “get shit done”, a slogan that is emblazoned on the company’s London office walls in bright neon lights. In an echo to what was going on in these calls, Storonsky would go on to say in the interview that the company attracted people that want to grow and “growing is always through pain”.

Well, there is more growth to come, because act three is going to bring a very painful episode for the company. My colleague Jon Russell noted that Revolut’s CFO has resigned in the wake of a Daily Telegraph investigation showing that Revolut had switched off the anti-money-laundering safeguards at the company, because, well, it got in the way of growth.

Let’s be clear: We all love a rapidly growing startup. We all want to invest in or join a winner. But what are we willing to forego to get it? Are we willing to push ethical boundaries? Are we willing to use dark patterns to force those numbers higher? Are we willing to break the law and potentially go to prison? Our love of growth often knows no bounds.

In context, I’m sure Revolut’s decision came easily, but of course, for disinterested observers, the idea that you would switch off the AML system at a banking startup just looks like complete stupidity. Yet, I am not sure I am ready to blame the employees of Revolut (or its leaders, frankly) before I place the blame on a culture that demands extreme growth and dislikes it when the consequences come to bear. You can’t get extreme growth without something breaking. We need to decide which value is more important for us.

Extra Crunch ethics series

Not sure we are going to be able to answer all the questions posed by Revolut, but Extra Crunch will be hosting a series of dialogues around tech ethics in the coming weeks that will try to parse some of the tough challenges that come from technology and startups these days. Stay tuned.

Why fundamental self-interest causes U.S. infrastructure to fall flat on its face

Simon McGill via Getty Images

Written by Arman Tabatabai

Yesterday, DJ Gribbin, a fellow at Brookings and a senior U.S. government infrastructure official, published an op-ed in which he attributes the U.S.’ infrastructure struggles largely to 1) a misunderstanding of federal fund availability, 2) the fragmentation and variability of local infrastructure needs and 3) misaligned incentives for local politicians and contractors.

Local politicians push heavily for the federal government to cover a portion of their bill, advertising the money as free to their constituents. In reality, investing federal funds is a zero-sum game that requires either more taxation, higher debt or pulling money from elsewhere. What results are the competitive bid and bureaucratic review processes we discussed earlier this week that ultimately lead to gamesmanship and misinformation.

The federal-local coordination has grown more difficult as projects have become more localized with region-specific needs and benefits, compared to national projects of old like the highway system. Now, executing local developments depends on coordination between federal, state and local governments, leading to the political pissing contests we all know and love.

In Gribbin’s mind, the biggest flaw in the U.S.’ approach to infrastructure — also raised in our conversation with infrastructure expert Phil Plotch — is the misaligned incentive system that encourages bad behavior from all parties.

The complexity of approval and funding processes causes local politicians to either delay projects as they lobby for federal funding or to “overpromise and underdeliver” on costs and benefits to push a project through.

Similarly, competitive RFP bidding used to reduce cost estimates encourages contractors to similarly overpromise, leading to plan revisions, construction issues and delays that seem to be inevitable for every major project. Clearly more needs to be done to align the incentives of each of these players.

Software and infrastructure

JayLazarin via Getty Images

Written by Arman Tabatabai

New York City rail operators grew frustrated this week with the contractors hired to install a new safety system. Fumbled management and failed execution on what was thought to be a simple tech integration have caused multi-year delays, potentially pushing completion past the deadline set by the Federal Railroad Administration for railroads across the country to upgrade their safety systems.

Only about one-tenth of the mandated rails had successfully upgraded their system as of last year as local agencies continue to struggle with designing software and hardware platforms compatible with other trains that may use their lines. That pattern is also found in New York. From The Wall Street Journal article:

The projects have suffered a series of setbacks because of understaffing by the contractors as well as software and hardware failures. Those failures include the recall of antennas that were installed on more than 1,000 rail cars and that were later found to be defective.

“It was a novice error and we did not believe we had hired novices,” MTA board member Susan Metzger said.

The New York project mimics issues plaguing projects throughout the U.S., where contractors use the “overpromise, underdeliver” strategy to win competitive bids. Add in software incompetence and you get the mess that New York is facing now.

DC commutes suck more than in NYC and SF, even before Amazon materializes

Richard Sharrocks via Getty Images

Written by Arman Tabatabai

According to a new data set from Bloomberg, the cost of commuting into Washington, D.C. is higher than any other metro in the U.S. Though density is clearly a factor here, workers in the greater D.C. area face the longest commute time in the country at nearly 80 minutes on average. Bloomberg then derived a “score” for the opportunity cost of commutes based on average annual incomes and average total annual commuting hours per worker, weighted based for other externalities such as how early or late average departures were.

D.C. is in the midst of seriously expanding its Metrorail system but, unsurprisingly, the project has gone far from smoothly. Bloomberg’s findings stress the need for an improved transit system in the region, but based on precedent and progress to date it’s unclear if and when the full expansion will be complete and at what ungodly cost.

We’re planning on diving deeper into D.C.’s Metrorail expansion project as we read The Great Society Subway by Zachary Schrag, which just arrived at Extra Crunch HQ this week.

Obsessions

  • We have a bit of a theme around emerging markets, macroeconomics and the next set of users to join the internet.
  • More discussion of megaprojects, infrastructure, and “why can’t we build things?”

Thanks

To every member of Extra Crunch: thank you. You allow us to get off the ad-laden media churn conveyor belt and spend quality time on amazing ideas, people and companies. If I can ever be of assistance, hit reply, or send an email to danny@techcrunch.com.

This newsletter is written with the assistance of Arman Tabatabai from New York.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Revolut CFO resigns following money laundering controversy

Posted by on Mar 1, 2019 in Bank, Banking, ceo, challenger bank, Drama, Europe, Finance, Financial Conduct Authority, financial services, Japan, jp morgan, money, monzo, N26, North America, reporter, Revolut, Singapore, TC, the telegraph, TransferWise, United Kingdom | 0 comments

This hasn’t been a good week for challenger bank Revolut . The company, which offers digital banking services and is valued at $1.7 billion, confirmed today that embattled CFO Peter O’Higgins has resigned and left the business.

The startup and O’Higgins have been under pressure after a Daily Telegraph report that revealed that Revolt switched off an anti-money laundering system that flags suspect transactions because it was prone to throwing out false positives.

According to the Telegraph, the system was inactive between July-September 2018, which potentially allowed illegal transactions to pass across the banking platform. Revolut did not contact the Financial Conduct Authority to inform the regulator of the lapse, Telegraph reporter James Cook said.

O’Higgins, who joined the company from JP Morgan three years ago, made no mention of the saga in his resignation statement:

Having been at Revolut for almost three years, I am immensely proud to have taken the company from £1m revenue to £50m revenue during this time. However, as Revolut begins to scale globally and applies to become a bank in multiple jurisdictions, the time has come to pass the reigns over to someone who has global retail banking experience at this level. My time at Revolut has been invaluable and I’m so proud of what myself and the team have achieved. There is no doubt in my mind that Revolut will go on to build one of the largest and most trusted financial institutions in the world.

In a separate statement received by TechCrunch, Revolut CEO Nik Storonsky said that O’Higgins had been “absolutely pivotal to our success.”

The resignation caps a terrible few days for Revolut, which was the subject of a report from Wired earlier this week that delved into allegations around its challenging workplace culture and high employee churn rate.

“Former Revolut employees say this high-speed growth has come at a high human cost – with unpaid work, unachievable targets, and high-staff turnover,” wrote guest reporter Emiliano Mellino, citing the experiences of numerous former employees.

Those incidents included prospective staff being told to canvass for new customers as part of the interview process. The candidates were not compensated for their efforts, according to Wired. Revolut later removed the demands from its hiring processes.

Revolut is headquartered in the UK, where it launched its service in the summer of 2015. Today, it claims over four million registered users across Europe — it is available in EEA countries — although it plans to extend its presence to other parts of the world are taking longer than expected.

The company said last year it aims to launch in Singapore and Japan in Q1 of this year — so far neither has happened — while it also harbors North American market plans. Entries to the U.S. and Canada were supposed to happen by the end of 2018, according to an interview with Storonsky at TechCrunch Disrupt in September, but they also appear to have been delayed.

Revolut is generally considered to be the largest challenger bank in Europe, in terms of valuation and registered users, but other rivals include N26, Monzo and Starling. Even Transferwise, the global remittance service, now includes border-less banking features and an accompanying debit card.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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After challenger banks comes the wave of anti-fraud startups

Posted by on Feb 1, 2019 in Balderton Capital, Europe, Finance, Fundings & Exits, MarketInvoice, Mimiro, Onfido, Revolut, TC, Uber | 0 comments

The sheer scale of global financial crime is not to be underestimated.

The U.K.’s National Crime Agency recently observed that it’s “in the hundreds of billions of pounds” annually, and that’s just in the U.K. In the U.S., domestic financial crime, excluding tax evasion, generates approximately $300 billion of proceeds each year for potential laundering. This is a conservative estimate.

So with the rise of startup banks, it only makes sense that the next phase of this fintech evolution will be detecting financial crime and fraud.

It’s, therefore, no surprise that Mimiro, which was previously known as ComplyAdvantage and was founded by the co-founder and former CEO of Marketinvoice, closed a $30 million (£22.8 million) funding round this week.

The raise was backed by Index Ventures and Balderton Capital . And guess where they previously laid their fintech cards? Yes, in the fintech/banking-style startup Revolut .

The trick with Mimiro is that it uses AI to analyze the risk of financial crime for banks, building a database of risk profiles for both companies and individuals.

Mimiro is not the only startup making hay in this hot space of fraud and identity. Onfido, which started off checking the credentials of Uber drivers, was recently selected by PensionBee to streamline its KYC processes and add more customers without manual intervention.

It’s even moved into the area of identity verification services for crypto platforms. Onfido has already secured $60 million worth of investment from the likes of Microsoft and Salesforce.

So it’s clear that in the age of greater liberalization of financial services, challenger banks and the rise of crypto platforms and services, tracking identity, fraud and financial crime is going to be an extremely hot space for startups, and the attendant venture capital, to tackle.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Nyca Partners’ Hans Morris hunts for great fintech investments amid volatility

Posted by on Dec 26, 2018 in bill ready, Chime, Finance, general atlantic, Lending-Club, monzo, nyca partners, payoneer, PayPal, Revolut, SigFig, TC, Wealthfront | 0 comments

Hans Morris is a name to know in fintech, and as finance and tech sectors prepare for tougher time next year, he has some incisive thoughts to share about the kinds of companies that will succeed (or not) in a financial downturn. The managing partner of investment firm Nyca Partners, Morris also serves as the chairman of the board of Lending Club and is a director of other start-ups including AvidXchange, Boomtown, Payoneer and SigFig. At Nyca, which is on its third fund, Morris spends much of his time meeting with entrepreneurs focused on payments, credit models, digital advice and financial infrastructure.

But unlike many successful fintech VCs, Morris doesn’t have to read about how Wall Street’s history influenced the trajectory of those sectors. He played an active role in shaping them. His experiences heading Smith Barney’s FIG effort (at 29 years old), overseeing Citigroup’s institutional businesses, serving as president of Visa and advising companies at General Atlantic have also provided him with an unparalleled financial services rolodex. And for those who believe that financial history rhymes, Morris’ opinions are now especially welcome. Fintech may be entering a new, post-financial crisis phase in which the low-hanging fruit has been picked and macro headwinds outweigh tailwinds. In the discussion below, Morris talks candidly about how he’s approaching investing next year and how he’s viewing fintech M&A possibilities. He was also eager to share his thoughts on ethics in financial services (a favorite topic), the prospects for challenger banks, why he’s branched out into real estate tech, the future of blockchain and some of his favorite bank CEOs.

Gregg Schoenberg: Hans, it’s always good to see you, but I’m especially glad to be sitting down with you now, given that the financial world is convulsing at the moment. Before we get into that, though, I want to kick off with something else: Do you buy into the idea of techfin vs. fintech?

Hans Morris: I don’t. My basic organizing principle, which you and I have discussed before, is around declining information costs. As these costs decline, it disrupts the traditional profit pools in financial services. It’s always been like that. What I would say is that in recent times, some tech companies have done a very good job at building a trusted relationship with consumers, and in some cases with businesses. That trusted relationship obviously provides a significant competitive advantage of information. But that advantage lessens later on. There are so many examples we could point to of companies that were ‘it.’ Then, suddenly, they say, ‘Oh no, our tech is expensive, creates a bad experience and will cost a lot to fix.’

GS: Let’s talk about the present. As you know, the Fed has been tightening, equities are hemorrhaging, the yield curve is getting spooky and talk of a recession is intensifying. To me, Lending Club, right or wrong, was one of the original poster children of the post-crisis fintech boom. But now, I think we’re in a regime change and that the next crop of successful financial innovators will look a lot different. What’s in store for an area like credit delivery?

HM: In credit delivery, I think it’s now pretty well-realized by investors, and certainly realized by capital markets investors, that credit delivery requires capital. So today, I feel that anyone who’s going to be successful in credit intermediation needs to have a very good understanding of balance sheet risk, liquidity risk, and capital requirements. I pay a lot of attention to capital requirements, and the ability to fund something in the teeth of a crisis.

GS: Let’s say we enter a recession next year and see continued volatility across the capital markets. I understand that each recession and bear market is different, but with the fresh capital you’ve closed on, where are you looking to go on offense?

HM: Among the thousands of fintech companies that have gotten some funding, there are companies that are really struggling to get their Series B or Series C done.

GS: Names that have lost their momentum?

HM: Yes. They’ve lost their momentum, and they’ve lost the perception of momentum among venture investors. But in some cases, these companies still possess some very good fundamentals, yet the valuations are a lot more attractive. If that dynamic becomes even more extreme, I think there could be some good opportunities.

GS: Isn’t it also true that the fintech names that suck up a lot of the venture money aren’t always the best underlying businesses?

So when you talk about high-valuation companies, I think it’s unrealistic for banks to be acquirers.

HM: It’s an interesting dynamic. Generally, as long as companies can continue to raise capital, they will keep going even if that isn’t necessarily a rational thing to do. But in some cases, where you see a bunch of companies pursuing a similar strategy, it would be better to pursue a merger because we don’t need tons of companies doing personal financial management, etc…

GS: Do you see the big banks with strong balance sheets, the JP Morgans of the world, getting the green light from regulators to be more aggressive in M&A?

HM: Regulators have clearly been one reason there hasn’t been more activity. The second thing is goodwill. Keep in mind that for a bank, goodwill is a 100% reduction to tangible Tier One capital. So even for JP Morgan to say, ‘We’ll take a billion dollars of our Tier One capital and invest it in a company with no income and maybe positive EBITDA, but maybe not

GS: That would take a ton of capital or a ton of conviction.

HM: Well, that company would have to be a very powerful growth engine or solution. So when you talk about high-valuation companies, I think it’s unrealistic for banks to be acquirers. Where banks can be acquirers, and this is what we’ve seen, is where you have a company valued at $60 million, maybe a $100 million, etc…

GS: A Clarity Money.

HM: Yes, a company where the acquisition moves a bank much further along in a development cycle. Where the the bank can say, “Instead of us taking two years to get our real product out, we can get out a state-of-the-art product right now, and it comes with a great team and DNA. That’s appealing.

GS: Appealing, but realistic?

HM: It’s hard to pull off. Often, the team leaves, everything dissipates, and the acquirer ends up writing off the whole thing.

GS: Moving forward, who do you think is poised to make M&A work?

HM: There’s a couple of examples where it’s worked. One is PayPal, which in recent times has done an excellent job of acquiring things and integrating talent into the company. I’m quite impressed in terms of how Bill Ready, who is now COO, Dan Shulman and the management team have changed the tech profile of PayPal.

GS: Well, they’re not a 200-year-old financial institution founded on a winding alley in downtown New York.

HM: Yes, but it was very old-school Silicon Valley, and they had a lot of technical debt. Of course, they had this great mafia 20 years ago, but all those people are gone. I don’t think there’s a single person in the top 100 at PayPal that was there 15 years ago.

GS: Let’s talk specific themes. You’ve already mentioned personal financial management, which I share your skepticism about. What’s your take on the prospects for challenger banks?

HM: I think we’re likely to have a war for deposits with too many different types of firms competing for deposits. Just look at the United States last year. All of the deposit growth we saw was explained by Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and JP Morgan Chase. Everyone else shrank. But if you have Monzo and Revolut come to the US and you look at Acorns, MoneyLion, Chime and fifteen other prepaid models or fully chartered bank models, they’re all going to have a pretty slick interface, and they’re all going to be out there competing for deposits.  

GS: How about the robos and free trading platforms?  As you know, a lot of the younger customers on these platforms haven’t experienced a sustained period of tumultuous equity market conditions.  

I pay a lot of attention to capital requirements, and the ability to fund something in the teeth of a crisis.

HM: I think a great majority of American households should be using a roboadvisor. However, the question is around the relationship between the customer acquisition and the revenue opportunity. In fact, a big part of our thesis with SigFig was to really help drive the pivot over to enterprise-based customers. But generally, and without knowing the details, my sense is that Betterment, Wealthfront and maybe Personal Capital have enough brand to get to the scale necessary to be self-sufficient. I think most of the others are not in that position.

GS: Turning to the mortgage and broader real estate sector, is your view that even if we have a deepening downdraft in housing, the real estate start-ups backed by you and others can do well anyway? Because they are essentially taking an industry stuck in the 1980s and ’90s and dragging it into the modern era.

HM: There’s a lot of room for tech improvement in real estate, and that includes residential real estate as well as institutional real estate. The problem with real estate, and mortgage-related models, is that the capital needs are also significant. So if you end up owning property, the bill adds up very quickly.

GS: I guess it depends on where a company buys them.

HM: True. Look, we remain bullish on them, but I share your concern that if activity stops or if you start having real decreases in property values in certain sectors, some of these companies may end up holding the bag.  

GS: When I saw the Ribbon deal, I was wondering how you and other backers looked at the opportunity at this point in the cycle.

HM: Well, for one thing, you can estimate the likelihood of someone getting a mortgage pretty efficiently. You can be right 99 percent of the time, but even if you’re only right 90 percent of the time, you’re going to be fine. That’s because the certainty that the company offers to the customer is worth it. They also have a great management team and a CEO who is really smart. They’re not naive.

GS: So given all the hype and ups and downs we’ve seen in blockchain, I’m wondering if you remain a long-term blockchain guy.

HM: Here’s the simple fact: The whole financial services industry is composed of ledgers. The reconciliation between entities of that information is a significant expense, particularly in the capital markets businesses. But I don’t buy into the view that it’s going to work better in all cases. The evidence so far is that it works well in some cases.

GS: Where can it work well?

HM: Distributed ledgers can work well when having synchronous data is an essential attribute, and when speed is not necessarily a central attribute.

GS: So, even if the implementation takes longer than the the hype machine suggested it would, financial institutions will get there?

Because money attracts crooks.

HM: They will get there. The cost of change is very, very high. The benefit of it is real. The question is, ‘How’s that cost of change compare to the ongoing benefit?’ In enterprise applications, the ones that will succeed are not ones where you say, ‘Lets rebuild everything within the core functions,’ because the cost and complexity are too great. The much better way is to start at the edge of an enterprise delivering immediate value, and then become an architecture for more things to move over to that.

GS: It’s easier said than done…

HM: If you take the capital markets area, I think it often requires an individual who has a bigger-than-life personality and the leadership skills to match it.

GS: Speaking of leadership, let’s talk about that within the context of fintech, where, as you know, we’ve seen mixed outcomes. You and I have talked a fair bit about how fintech isn’t like other tech sectors, because you’re dealing with money and livelihoods.

HM: Yes, and the activities are regulated, for a very good reason.

GS: When you look at a deal, does the character of the leader trump everything else?

HM: I’d say that the character and capabilities of a leader make a big difference. And to me, in financial services, the errors made, whether it’s 10 years ago or today, are similar. I mean, you have to tell the truth. You have to.

GS: Why is it so important to you?

HM: Because money attracts crooks.

GS: On that note, when I look at some of those who subscribe to the whole blitzscaling ethos, I see it as incompatible with our current climate and especially problematic to financial services. Blitzscaling doesn’t endorse breaking the law, of course, but this whole idea of consciously letting fires burn is a recipe for disaster in today’s financial services sector, right?

HM: Yes, I think so. I’d add that we have a rule in our firm: Don’t invest in any business model where you’re tricking the customer into a profitable relationship. But unfortunately, I feel that there are many business models that do just that.

GS: That’s a bold rule given that terms of services agreements remain dark dens of iniquity.

HM: Well, it’s more than just that. Look at Robinhood. I think it’s a remarkable company made up of unbelievable entrepreneurs. But I do feel that if you say, ‘Payment for order flow is the business model,’ or ‘Margin lending is the business model,’ you’ve got to spell that out. I mean, ‘payment for order flow?’ Most people would be like, ‘What does that mean?’

GS: You might as well be speaking in Ancient Greek.

A VC once said to me that we have too much knowledge about some things. I think there’s some truth to that.

HM: Exactly. I feel, in financial services, the best companies, the most successful long-run stories, will do the right thing for their customers, always. That also means not making a high-profile release of a new product, like a high-interest checking and savings account yielding way above anyone else, before you’ve actually checked with the regulators.

GS: On that latter reference, how accountable is Robinhood’s board for the company’s recent blunder?

HM: I honestly don’t know in what way the board was involved in this, but I think it’s a good example of where a board should put the brakes on an idea until the risks are clear. Sometimes management teams, and investors, don’t want to hear that, but it’s an essential role for financial services companies.

GS: In your career, you have seen your fair share of financial icons rise and fall. Have you ever passed on a deal that wound up being a huge success because something didn’t smell right?

HM: Yes, we have passed on things that turned out to be really good investments, but that’s part of our equation.

GS: In 1997, Howard Marks

HM: He’s fantastic, isn’t he?

GS: He’s phenomenal. In one of his famous memos, he asked ‘Are you an investor? Or are you a speculator?’ Given that there are quite a few VCs who have come to fintech in recent years, I’m wondering if you see a lot of speculators.

HM: Most of the folks that I interact with are investors, not speculators. The crypto stuff is pure speculation by almost everybody.

GS: Yes. I wasn’t implying that we discuss crypto.

HM: To the core of your question, I’ll tell you this: There’s this very, very successful VC investor I had a debate with over a deal. My point was that the company in question would need to raise a lot of capital to scale. But that long-term consideration wasn’t especially relevant to him, because he felt the company would have options down the road. We passed on the deal, but now, I look back and regret that decision.

GS: Are you suggesting that you could benefit from having a little more of a speculative instinct?

HM: A VC once said to me that we have too much knowledge about some things. I think there’s some truth to that.

GS: I’m sure that your institutional knowledge has been an important asset on many other occasions. I’ll move on to our last topic, Hans, because I know you have a fund to manage. You know all of the big bank CEOs, right?

HM: Yes.

GS: There’s Jamie Dimon, who defies easy description. At Goldman, you’ve got a banker as CEO. At Morgan Stanley, you’ve got an ex-management consultant. At Citibank, you’ve got

HM: You’ve got Corbat. Michael is just an excellent manager who gets things fixed. It’s interesting: Jamie is a fantastic manager of people too, but Jamie brings in his team. Corbat is very good at taking on an existing team and just making them better. Brian [Moynihan] is also really good. I mean he was a lawyer, and when he got the job, I had no idea what he was like. But I’ve noticed that the people who have worked for him are really loyal.

GS: I think the CEOs of the big banks tend to be a reflection of the times in which they operate, right? We went through the period of the trader CEO, which is now gone. As you look down the road, what are the heads of the big banks going to look like?

HM: I’ll answer that question by turning you to Microsoft. What explains the turnaround there? Is it because Satya [Nadella] is such an amazing engineer? No; he’s a great people person. He’s a fantastic manager who put in place a high-quality decision process, which is key to managing a complex organization.

GS: Implicit in my question is whether or not these organizations are going to be as big and complex as they are now. Specifically, I’m referring to the supermarket model that you were involved in helping to construct. Does that remain in place?

HM: Keep in mind that liquidity is a very, very important aspect of a financial marketplace, and having access to core liquidity that doesn’t change frequently is very important. The professional money obviously switches very quickly. But things like core deposits, pension flows and corporate cash tend to have the longest time-frames to build access to. But when a bank has access to deposits that don’t move much, it enables it to fund the liquid financial assets. That’s so important for when you hit a liquidity crisis.  

GS: So the big bank model is here to stay?

HM: Yes, I think it’s going to be around for a long time.

GS: Well on that note, Hans, I wish you luck in navigating whatever the future brings. Thanks for sitting down with me and sharing your wisdom.

HM: It’s always a pleasure speaking to you, Gregg. Thank you as well.

This interview has been edited for content, length and clarity.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Revolut gets European banking license in Lithuania

Posted by on Dec 13, 2018 in Apps, Europe, Finance, Fintech, Revolut, Startups | 0 comments

Fintech startup Revolut is now officially a bank. While the startup initially expected to get its European banking license during the first half of 2018, the company has finally come out of the regulatory tunnel with a license in hand.

As expected, Revolut applied for a license through the Bank of Lithuania and is leveraging passporting rules to operate in other European countries. Users will see some changes over the coming months.

First, the company expects to roll out new features in the U.K., France, Germany and Poland. Right now, Revolut is more like an e-wallet that you can top up in many different ways. Users in those countries will get a true current account and a non-prepaid debit card in a few months.

After transferring your money to Revolut’s own infrastructure, funds will be covered up to €100,000 under the European Deposit Insurance Scheme. It should convince more users to switch to Revolut for their salaries and big sums of money.

Eventually, the startup expects to be able to offer overdrafts and loans. All fintech startups end up offering credit at some point as it’s a good way to generate revenue.

There are currently 8,000 to 10,000 people opening a Revolut account per day. Users generate $4 billion in monthly transaction volume.

It’s going to be interesting to see if current accounts will affect growth. It’s currently quite easy to open a Revolut account as users don’t need to go through a lot of KYC processes. This is going to change once the startup starts opening current accounts.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Paysend announces global account to compete with Revolut

Posted by on Sep 11, 2018 in Europe, Finance, Paysend, Revolut, Startups | 0 comments

Meet Paysend’s global account, a new way to hold, spend and send money in multiple currencies using a mobile app and a card. It looks a lot like Revolut’s basic features. But the company is trying to provide a more focused and robust experience from day one.

“We are quite different from both a technical infrastructure and consumer offering viewpoint. We own and control our own processing and this gives tremendous ability and flexibility to deliver a wide variety of services whilst controlling the entire consumer journey,” Head of Product Alex Murashko told me.

“But for me an important distinction is that we have a different approach to designing the product. We believe in simplifying the consumer experience so that instead of feeling like they are bombarded with a long list of features they have available a focused group of benefits.”

And it’s true that Revolut has launched so many different features that it’s hard to keep track of what you can do with your Revolut account. For instance, you can insure your mobile phone, save money using vaults, buy cryptocurrencies, subscribe to a travel insurance package and more.

So Paysend went back to the drawing board to focus on the essential. The company lets you top up and hold money in EUR, GBP, USD, Russian rubles and Kazakhstani tenge. Paysend is partnering with Bitstamp so that you can buy and hold cryptocurrencies in the app as well.

You can then covert your money into any of those currencies at interbank exchange rates with a 1 percent markup. Revolut adds between 0.5 percent and 2 percent markup depending on the currency.

What if you’re traveling to another country? You can use your Paysend card to spend money and withdraw cash in 125 currencies. You decide in the app the backup currency that you want the company to use.

When it comes to sending money, you can send money for free to other Paysend user, or send money instantly for €1 or £1.5. The company doesn’t initiate regular bank transfers. Paysend has worked on card-to-card transactions instead. You enter the card number of your friends and family members to send money to their card directly.

Sometimes, you need to send money to someone you don’t know that well. You don’t have to ask them for their card number. You can generate a payment link and send the link. The recipient can then enter their own card number to receive the payment.

This card-to-card transfer feature has already been live for a while as a standalone product. Going forward, global accounts will become the flagship product, but standalone transfers will remain available.

Paysend has already raised $20 million and there are 130 people working for the company. Global accounts are still in beta and should roll out to European users soon.

While Paysend is still a young and intriguing product, it’s going to be interesting to see how it evolves. In addition to card-to-card transfers, the company will differentiate its product from its competitors even further over time.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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