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Tripadvisor Teams With Tourism Data Firm To Aid In Travel Recovery

February 26, 2021 at 08:46PM

As the business press keeps recounting a brutal 2020 for air travel and lodgings, we’ve heard somewhat less about the woes of destination marketing organizations (DMOs), which are responsible for getting people to choose Paris over Rome, or India over Indonesia, and then book accordingly.

So dire is the situation for much-needed tourism dollars in destinations worldwide that travel guidance platform Tripadvisor is partnering with Vancouver-based firm Think! X Innovations and the live version of the latter’s Tourism Sentiment Index (TSI), with the goal of reviving travel experiences.

Per a Tripadvisor announcement on Thursday (Feb. 25), “this offering is part of Tripadvisor’s wider suite of data intelligence products for DMOs, known as the Tripadvisor Insights Platform. The live dashboard provides clients with essential word-of-mouth insights about destinations, combining Tripadvisor’s unmatched reach and traveler behavior insights with Tourism Sentiment Index’s industry-leading sentiment technology.”

The Tripadvisor Insights initiative provides data-rich dashboard views, allowing DMOs to “quantify [the] total economic impact” of tourism expenses, a “tool for proving ROI or spend for your clients,” married with “competitive data and … baseline trends.” The dashboards are designed to give DMOs “overall visibility and intent amongst Tripadvisor’s travel enthusiast community,” serving as a representative sample of the larger traveling public.

‘Sentiment’ Gains New Cachet as Travel Marketing Metric

Analyzing large datasets for consumer sentiment is one way that DMOs can use digital marketing to connect at the individual level with consumers who display buying signals.

“The new sentiment dashboard for DMOs uplevels the service offering of the Tripadvisor Insights Platform by providing clients with daily actionable intelligence, using insights from across 50 tourism touch points — including air access, accommodations and attractions,” per the statement. “The dashboard’s analytics are drawn from real-time conversations across half a million platforms, including Tripadvisor. Sentiment toward destinations and travel contribute to an overall score that reveals a destination’s popularity versus competitors, enabling them to update campaigns, product offerings and messaging faster and more effectively.”

Of its TSI Live dashboard, Think! X Innovations said: “We have combined our deep experience in destination marketing with artificial intelligence and applied it to hundreds of thousands of conversations to develop a method for finding and categorizing content into three categories: promoter, passive and detractor. Understanding the roles of communication patterns, like frequency and distribution, we classify content and analyze it with a view calibrated specifically to tourism-based conversations.”

TSI claims to be able to “detect and calculate nuances, including sarcasm.” That’s useful data to destination marketers dealing with a traveling public still quite unnerved about COVID.

Using Rich Data to Put Heads in Beds

Ever-richer datasets are becoming a crucial method for connecting would-be travelers with experiences, even as the interminable pandemic purgatory stretches into 2021.

As PYMNTS reported in February, “Airbnb is now offering flexible travel options based on location instead of specific travel dates, a solution the company said should appeal to people who will continue working from home in the near future.”

Airbnb’s new Flexible Dates feature enables new types of rental searches for Generation COVID, and, per the company’s statement, the feature “allows [travelers] to search for homes in a whole new way. Instead of selecting exact dates at the beginning of a search, guests can search for new options like a weekend getaway, a week-long vacation or even a month-long or months-long stay. This will allow them to browse more options while staying flexible on the exact dates of their trip to make their trip fit with their schedules.”

TripAdvisor Group Head of Destination Marketing Americas Steven Paganelli said that DMOs “need data and business intelligence tools to help maximize competitiveness and drive recovery in the wake of COVID-19. This live dashboard puts actionable insights at DMOs’ fingertips to help them make more informed and strategic marketing and media placement decisions. For example, being able to understand travelers’ readiness to travel in real time helps DMOs update their marketing with the most effective messaging, therefore, getting the most impactful message in front of the right people, at the right time.”

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Farfetch Teams With Aurora Mobile On AI Retail Technology

February 26, 2021 at 08:26PM

Aurora Mobile Limited has struck a partnership deal with international online fashion company Farfetch to bolster its intelligent operation functionalities. The two firms will work together to provide an “unparalleled shopping experience to global customers,” according to a Friday (Feb. 26) announcement.

Aurora Mobile will harness its artificial intelligence (AI)-powered technology, smart operational analytics and machine learning (ML)-based push notification offerings to assist Farfetch in tailoring intelligent retail experiences and offering more effective and personalized services to their shoppers, according to the announcement.

A mobile developer service company in China, Aurora Mobile was established in 2011. The firm has rolled out instant messaging, one-key authentication and push notifications, among other services. It has inked deals with many platforms in the digital education, weather, insurance and finance sectors, among others, according to the announcement.

“Aurora Mobile is committed to help customers in various verticals to improve operational efficiency and conduct advanced decision making with a one-stop, diversified range of big data service solutions,” according to the announcement.

Farfetch, which was founded in 2007, offers shoppers immediate access to a host of popular fashion from more than 50 nations and over 3,000 brands.

The news comes as Farfetch is out to prove that the market for high-end products fits fine with pre-owned merchandise. The online shopping company was rolling out its Farfetch Second Life effort in the United States per news in November.

The moves comes as high-end names such as Coach and Prada are reissuing or playing off styles from previous years. Beyond that, the pandemic has consumers reaching into their closets to check out what they have in their possession already.

Farfetch had started the concept as an experimental effort in Europe and the United Kingdom in 2019. The program enables shoppers to trade in high-end handbags and receive credits to shop newer offerings on the Farfetch website.

The European version of Farfetch Second Life attracted new customers for the firm’s platform.

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Black-Focused Neobank First Boulevard Raises $5 Million

February 26, 2021 at 07:35PM

First Boulevard, a neobank focused on the Black community, announced on Friday (Feb. 26) that it has raised $5 million in seed funding. The bank aims to use this funding to expand its team and its customer base, and to add a range of features in advance of the platform’s expected launch in the third quarter of 2021. Investors included Barclays and Anthemis, as well as notable angels such as Jamere Jackson, John Buttrick and actor Gabrielle Union.

The neobank aims to offer financial services to Black communities across the U.S. that have historically been overlooked by traditional banks, despite their collective spending power of $1.4 trillion annually. The platform will provide opportunities to build wealth and reinvest in Black-owned businesses with a wide range of sophisticated financial instruments.

Among the tools First Boulevard intends to provide to its customer base are offer fee-free debit cards, financial education content, a Black business marketplace that rewards shopping from Black-owned businesses, and technology to help members automate their saving and wealth-building goals.

“The wealth gap is the worst it’s ever been,” Co-founder and CEO Donald Hawkins told Karen Webster in an interview. “Homeownership is worse nowadays than it was in the 1960s. And when you think about assets and wealth-building, the Black community in general really doesn’t have that conversation and relationship when it comes to money.”

Before First Boulevard, Hawkins founded Griffin Technologies, a FinTech company that provides real-time data to community banks and credit unions. Co-founder and COO Asya Bradley, meanwhile, recently served as head of revenue for Synapse, a platform that built banking-as-a-service APIs to bring unbanked consumers into the banking fold.

“History has proven that oppressed communities can succeed when their finances are centralized, and when it comes to financial services for the Black community, a centralizing force is long overdue,” said Hawkins in a company statement. “After viewing yet another tragedy engulf the Black community, and the all-too-familiar protests against persisting issues, it was beyond clear to me that the solutions Black America needs must be financially focused and developed within our community.”

“The current financial industry was not built to serve the needs of melanated people, because we were excluded from its construction,” added Bradley. “Three out of four Black mothers are breadwinners for their families, but Black women are burdened with the most student debt of any U.S. demographic. First Boulevard understands the unique needs of our community, so we provide early access to wages, round-up savings features, plus targeted financial education and budgeting tools to improve livelihoods and build generational prosperity for Black America.”

By 2053, the company pointed out, the median income for Black families in the U.S. is predicted to fall to $0, and the unforeseen economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic has only accelerated this trend. First Boulevard aims to use its automated tools to combat this alarming disappearance of wealth.

“Diverse talent and leadership are key ingredients to a successful financial ecosystem. The First Boulevard team has set its sights on an important segment of the market, one which [the] current infrastructure does not support,” said Katie Palencsar, an investor at the Female Innovators Lab by Barclays and Anthemis. “As investors, we believe that Asya and Donald’s platform will democratize wealth in financial services and go a long way in shaping a financial ecosystem that is fit for purpose. We’re beyond thrilled to support them on their journey to growth.”

The company has also announced its partnership with Visa on the Fintech Fast Track Program launching later this year. First Boulevard will be the first platform to pilot Visa’s new suite of crypto APIs, which will enable their customers to purchase and trade digital assets. The company will also launch a First Boulevard Visa Debit card, which offers early access to wages, Black community-centric rewards and educational tools.

“In addition to working with First Boulevard to help them issue debit cards,” Cuy Sheffield, head of crypto at Visa, told PYMNTS, “we’ll be working with them to pilot this new set of crypto [application programming interfaces (APIs)]…we’ll enable First Boulevard customers to buy and sell bitcoin” through digital accounts.

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Report: Ant Seeks To Shore Up Consumer Finance Unit’s Funding

February 26, 2021 at 07:35PM

As it gets ready to fold in its micro-lending operations, Ant Group is in discussions with other backers in its new consumer finance unit to strengthen the company’s funding, Reuters reported, citing unnamed sources.

To satisfy regulatory mandates, it would require 30 billion yuan (approximately $4.6 billion), according to one of the unnamed sources in the report. Ant reportedly intends to fold most of its micro-lending operations into the unit. That migration would let it keep operations through the country and grow with less difficulty, according to two unnamed sources.

Micro-lending is very popular in China, and Ant Group has two fruitful micro-lending operations. One micro-lending business is short-term personal loan provider Jiebei and the other is virtual credit card-like Huabei. These operations are headquartered in Chongqing and comprise most of its credit business.

Jiebei and Huabei would need to restrict their business to Chongqing if they don’t receive countrywide licenses under new draft regulations the nation’s central bank released in November. In the event the micro-lending operations were part of the consumer finance unit, that would not present an issue, according to the report.

Furthermore, consumer finance firms can lend as much as 1000 percent of their registered capital, but digital micro-lending companies are just permitted leverage ratios of two to three times.

The news comes after it was reported that Jack Ma will restructure Ant Group into a financial holding company.

China’s central bank, the People’s Bank of China, will oversee the new entity, which will be subjected to stringent asset requirements, according to unnamed sources in a previous published report.

Ant had created a working group led by CEO Simon Hu to work with regulators. The company’s Alibaba mobile program has over 1 billion users in China and has handled approximately $17 trillion in online payments in the 12 months leading up to June of last year.

Alipay, which also sells investment and insurance offerings, has also provided short-term, unsecured loans to approximately half a billion individuals.

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‘Crypto Collectibles’ Wave Assigns Big Value To Digital Art, Avatars On The Blockchain

February 26, 2021 at 07:06PM

Think blockchain is all about cryptocurrencies? Think again. As hyper-ledger technology starts fulfilling its wider uses, one of the first things up is art — or, more precisely, digital art — and the ability to prove ownership of it. Welcome to the cryptic world of non-fungible tokens (NFTs).

As the Q1 2021 bitcoin surge electrifies the blockchain community, CNBC reported on Thursday (Feb. 25) on the trend of buying NFTs to identify legal ownership of digital assets on the blockchain. NFTs are being used to store and track the value of viral internet memes, digital avatars and pieces of digital art that are dubbed as “crypto-collectibles.”

In much the same way that Elon Musk’s recent bitcoin activities are heating up that space, NFTs are being spotlighted by other celebs — namely billionaire Mark Cuban, who said this week on The Quest podcast that “if this was 1995 again, coming up with these types of applications, I’d be going nuts.” The Dallas Mavericks owner and Shark Tank alum added that “this is like the early internet days all over again. I think [NFTs and blockchain tech is] going to be huge.”

With serious money starting to flow into NFTs and the crypto-collectibles category, market watchers are analyzing actions like those of VC firm Benchmark, an early investor in Uber, Twitter and eBay, which is now sinking $50 million into Sorare, “a digital network focused on global soccer stars such as Lionel Messi and Mohamed Salah,” as reported by Bloomberg.

For those familiar with germinal meme sensation “Nyan Cat,” it’s hard to imagine that creator Christopher Torres thought it would ever be investment-grade. Wrong. CNBC reported that “CryptoKitties, one of the original NFTs, generated $433,454 in sales in the past week,” and fantasy sports is an emerging market for “CryptoPunk” avatars and digital renderings of players.

To illustrate that last point, CNBC noted that “NBA Top Shot, a platform created by Dapper Labs in partnership with the basketball league, attracted $147.8 million in sales in the last seven days, according to NFT data tracker CryptoSlam. The service lets users buy and sell short clips showing match highlights from top basketball players.”

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Today In B2B: Plastiq And Ramp Boost Corporate Card Adoption; Enova Merger Forms SMB Lender

February 26, 2021 at 07:03PM

Today in B2B payments, Plastiq pairs with Ramp to boost corporate card adoption, and Enova’s ODX merges with Fundation to form a new small business lender. Plus, DBS offers facial recognition capabilities for small business customers, TravelBank secures cybersecurity certification and Atom Bank plans fundraise ahead of IPO.

Plastiq, Ramp Collaborate On Supplier Payments By Card

Plastiq and Ramp are collaborating to help companies pay for almost every kind of corporate cost with the Ramp card. Clients can monitor, manage and control all of their spending in one location — even larger costs that don’t usually fit on a credit card, according to a Thursday (Feb. 25) announcement. Plastiq President and Chief Operating Officer Sameer Gulati said in the announcement that access to credit and the capacity to smartly control payments is of the utmost importance for companies aiming to quickly grow.

Enova’s ODX, Fundation To Form SMB Lending Firm Through Merger

Enova International struck a deal to combine its ODX operation with origination solutions company Fundation. Enova will keep a minority share in the new combined company, according to a Thursday (Feb. 25) announcement. “This transaction creates the largest independent SaaS provider to banks for small business lending,” Enova CEO David Fisher said in the announcement. “We believe that this transaction will fuel growth for Linear while enabling us to more efficiently focus our efforts on growing our core U.S. SMB and consumer businesses.”

DBS Offers Facial Recognition For SMB Customers

Small and medium-sized business (SMB) owners in Singapore will now be able to use facial recognition to access their DBS Bank accounts, per a report from The Straits Times. To use the software, called SingPass Face Verification, users will just have to face a camera and have their information verified. Before this, business owners who qualified for straight-through processing would have to manually enter in their information while setting up a corporate account, creating the risk of users forgetting their passwords.

TravelBank Gets Certification For Cybersecurity Standards

Expense management and business travel booking platform TravelBank has become an ISO/IEC 27001:2013 certified provider, with its Information Security Management System (ISMS) receiving third-party accreditation from the International Standards Organization, according to a Wednesday (Feb. 24) press release. The ISO/IEC 27001:2013 standards have to do with the best practices for information security systems. By being recognized with this certification, the release said, TravelBank’s procedures are comprehensive and follow leading practices.

UK’s Atom Bank Raises £40 Million In Plan For Initial Public Offering

U.K. FinTech Atom Bank is planning to raise 40 million pounds (about $56 million) from existing shareholders as it plans for an initial public offering (IPO), according to a Prolific North report on Thursday (Feb. 25). The startup has turned the corner of profitability from its mortgage and business lending within a year. The IPO is anticipated to happen in the 2022-23 financial year.

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Zoom Out: Commerce Adjusts To School Reopenings

February 26, 2021 at 06:21PM

For millions of American students, it’s coming up on the first anniversary of their last visit to a classroom. Some students have gone back to in-person learning, some have been in hybrid educational programs that had them half in the classroom and half at home, while another cohort of students has been 100 percent virtual since sometime last March. But it seems that is about to change, as the push to get students back in school has revved up of late, with the backing of newly elected President Joe Biden and state and local officials.

“A lot of work has gone into this to make sure we are ready,” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said before New York City schoolchildren returned to classrooms on Feb. 25. “Our children are ready. Our parents are ready for kids to be back in school, so we’re very excited about this.”

President Biden has called out getting kids back into a school as a top priority of his first 100 days in office, noting that the shutdown has created mental health troubles for kids, set their education back by a year, widened education disparities for low-income students and disrupted the economy as parents have been forced to exit the workforce to manage their kids’ educations. “We have sacrificed so much in the last year. But science tells us that if we support our children, educators and communities with the resources they need, we can get kids back to school safely in more parts of the country sooner,” Biden wrote, ending his note by stating “we know what we have to do” and that “we need to move fast.”

An increasing number of economists are noting that reopening schools is a move the economy truly needs to return to something like normal. A survey of the Ohio Economic Experts Panel published last week by Scioto Analysis asked whether panelists agreed that “Ohio’s economy will receive a substantial boost as soon as K-12 schools can be safely opened in-person statewide.” Of 32 surveyed, 19 agreed, for a variety of reasons. Some cited long-term harms to the economy caused by a lost year of education.

“Schools remaining closed would reduce the lifetime earnings of the children, thus lowering (gross domestic product) in the long term,” Economist Vinnie Gajjala of Tiffin University argued in the comment section of the survey. “Zoom (is) not (a) perfect substitute for in-person classes.”

Some, however, were more concerned with the more immediate gain of allowing parents to get back to work instead of being stuck at home playing at being educators. “Until schools reopen, there is a limit on how many individuals can go back to work,” said University of Cincinnati economist Michael Jones. “With schools closed, the natural rate of unemployment is higher.”

And parents, according to a Massachusetts study put out this week, are more than ready for their kids to get back to school. “It’s a huge failure of society that schools have been closed so long. We are letting kids down. Enough,” one parent noted in the comments section.

“Absolutely, yes,” wrote another. “There has been no evidence of in-school spread of COVID. Children are struggling significantly and need to be with their peers and teachers for their emotional and mental health and to learn effectively.”

Still, not all Boston area parents, or parents in general, are ready to take the plunge and send their kids back to in-person learning. arguing that it remains too soon for a return to normal that decisive.

“Absolutely NOT,” wrote Kim of Haverhill about sending her six-year-old daughter back to school in April. “My child will remain fully remote. Not only do I think it’s still unsafe, but my daughter is in kindergarten and I believe it would be disruptive to send her in April for 2.5 months. She’s excelling in the remote environment.”

That mix of reactions is consistent with PYMNTS data from late 2020 indicating that consumers are still wildly concerned about resuming their old normal habits in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. Almost 60 percent of consumers reported that they would need to know that a COVID-19 vaccine was readily available before feeling comfortable returning to their pre-pandemic routines, while 38 percent noted that it is the single most important pre-requisite.

There is a vaccine (actually, in the U.S. there are three vaccines) currently rolling out — but the timetables aren’t yet certain everywhere. That means people are warming up to the idea of kids going back to school, but are not quite sold. As the vaccine is more widely distributed and the pressure continues to mount, a return to school — for better or worse — is likely coming soon to educational institutions everywhere.

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Goodyear-Cooper Tire Merger, Cloud ATMs, BNPL Top This Week’s News

February 26, 2021 at 06:05PM

In this week’s news, we saw the Goodyear-Cooper Tire merger heating up competition, along with new insight on cloud automated teller machines (ATMs) and buy now, pay later (BNPL). The Weekender is here to catch you up.

News 

Goodyear-Cooper Tire Merger Heats Up Competition Among Auto Service Chains

The announced merger of Goodyear and Cooper Tire is poised to not just bolster competition with international and domestic rivals, but it is set to also raise the bar in the profitable aftermarket retail services industry.

Walmart’s Bid To Go From Supercenter To Super App

The first Walmart Supercenter opened its doors in in 1988. When Walmart reported its Q4 2020 earnings last week, CEO Doug McMillon talked about a much different “super” concept at the core of the retailer’s future: “the super app.” He might not have used those words, yet the connect concept — and the flywheel graphic he spoke to — is the super app notion to a tee.

Digital Dollar Exploration Gets Backing From Treasury Secretary Yellen

U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said at a digital conference held by The New York Times this week that central banks should look into making and issuing sovereign digital currencies.

J.P. Morgan Details The 6 Trends Shaping Corporate Treasurers’ Futures

J.P. Morgan has found six global trends shaping the frontier of the treasury department. Some of the trends were well on their way pre-pandemic, while others came to light because of the large and sudden impacts of the crisis.

Square: Omnichannel Sellers Accounted For More Than 50 Pct Of GPV In 4Q

Square registered earnings that illustrated expansion in cross-channel initiatives, a healthy uptake in Cash app – and some bitcoin buying as well.

Trackers And Reports

Eight Takeaways From The Digital First Holiday Shopping Season

The holiday season is the most important time of year for a number of merchants, and not only because it affords them a chance to complete the year profitably. The season also tends to magnify current consumer purchasing trends and bolster them going forward.

Santander Bank: Cloud ATMs Improve Access, Manage Costs

Cash use has been volatile during the pandemic, leaving financial institutions (FIs) to second guess the effectiveness of their ATM strategies because of diminishing returns. Some FIs are instead putting cloud-based ATM options into use, with the aim of offering a similar level of service at a much lower cost.

PYMNTS explores with Santander Bank, N.A. how deploying cloud-based ATMs can assist FIs in dedicating additional resources to their digital-first aims.

Report: Buy Now, Pay Later Helps Toy Merchants Go Global

BNPL options are more and more being provided by merchants beyond the apparel industry such as those in the toy industry. PYMNTS explores why Tambo Teddies opted to put BNPL payments into place and how supplanting its standard layaway program with such choices have provided it with a notable sales boost.

Fun, Cool And Otherwise Interesting

Uber, Other Platforms’ Changing Business Models Meet Regulatory Buzzsaw

The evolution — and revolution — of the platform economy has been one in which people find work at the time and location in which they need it. For companies, making new and digital-first markets while keeping expenses somewhat low can simplify initiatives to expand globally. However, the risk always exists that new business models will meet the regulatory buzzsaw.

What Comes Next: SPACS And The Risks Of De-SPACs

The special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) has been having what might be called a moment in the sun on Wall Street. But like those “pandemic puppies” that people clamored for as the pandemic took over daily life and made us do everything from home … there’s the question of what to do with those impulse purchases once the purchasing has been done.

New Data: Consumers Show Pent-Up Dining Demand In Post-Pandemic World

High-income individuals were the most likely to say that they were “extremely interested” in leaving home more frequently than they now can, with consumers who make more than $100,000 annually leading in the category. For restaurants, this marks a large opportunity. Particularly because high-income individuals tend to be restaurant enthusiasts.

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The Week In Payments: Central Banks Embrace Crypto, Digital Banking Blossoms And Convenience Conquers All Consumer Concerns 

February 26, 2021 at 06:00PM

The good thing about the world of payments and commerce, Karen Webster observed during the latest edition of The Week in Payments with Erwan Gelebart, CEO at JazzCash, is there is never a lack of things to talk about. The last full week of February 2020 was no exception, the two said, as central banks in China and the UAE made big moves into cryptocurrency, digital banks continued their march forward worldwide, and innovative opportunity and regulatory authority bumped heads in Europe over the suddenly sensitive topic of retail stock trading.

Gelebart has a unique and international perspective on payments. His company provides bank accounts linked to users’ mobile numbers, allowing users to send and receive funds, pay bills, take out and pay loans, and conduct other everyday financial activities. JazzCash (owned by VEON, a global telecommunications and digital services firm) has 12 million active users in Pakistan, where 80 percent of the adult population is unbanked. According to the World Bank, that equates to a total of 100 million individuals. This represents a significant opportunity for firms seeking to broaden financial inclusion.

“What makes our service and all of the emerging digital services work is convenience,” Gelebart said. “That’s why people use them at the end of the day. Currency is currency — consumers don’t generally care about the specifics. What they want is the ease of transacting and accessing their funds, with the ability to do deposits and withdrawals.” Convenience, he said, is what makes the world go around in the digital age — and all of this week’s big payments news stories come back to it.

Crypto’s Big Week of Government Approvals

China and the UAE captured headlines this week with the announcement that both would be signing on with a digital currency initiative for cross-border payments previously known as Project Inthanon-LionRock, which is at work on a central bank digital currency (CBDC) for international payments.

It’s an important move, Gelebart said, if not quite a game-changer in the region. It’s evidence of an increasing acceptance on central banks’ part that if they can’t beat the digital currency craze, they may as well join it — and even lead it. The move makes a lot of sense, he noted, given the fact that central banks already produce currency in the form of cash, and there is no earthly reason why they couldn’t produce an electronic currency.

“I think it creates trust for the end user, because they get an electronic national currency right away, with an understanding that it’s issued by the central bank,” Gelebart said. “I would say merchants are legally bound to accept that money more broadly, but at some point, the whole ecosystem will want to accept that money. That’s really the biggest benefit to making it an international currency, and not a currency issued by private institutions.”

That doesn’t completely solve the chicken-and-egg problem in getting consumers and merchants to adapt and begin using electronic fiat currency, but it does inject confidence and trust in their system, helping to inspire the construction of the payments infrastructure to make it convenient for consumers to use. Because ultimately it’s that convenience, paired with something they can trust to work transparently and reliably, that consumers are increasingly seeking.

That’s evident in the governmental expansion into crypto, said Gelebart, and equally so in the global expansion of digital banking.

The Platformed Future of Financial Management

That consumer craving for a simpler, better way to manage their financial lives is feeding a FinTech revolution. Consumers don’t want to skip between several apps. They want a single-source aggregation that allows them to control their entire financial lives. They want the ability to register an account in a few seconds and access services within minutes. But Gelebart said we tend to ask the wrong question as we watch that explosion of FinTech opportunity, in an attempt to figure out which digital player will come out on top in each market.

“I think it’s not about who is going to win,” Gelebart said. “It’s more about how you position yourself within the market.”

And that’s particularly critical in the era of platforms. As the world recently saw in the great retail sales explosion in the U.S. around GameStop stock, innovative new ideas sometimes have dramatically unexpected consequences. And in the event of big surprises, said Gelebart, trust becomes an even more important commodity.

Creating Stability in a Surprising World 

For all the outcomes forecast for the accessibility of investment opportunities for retail investors via apps like Robinhood, no one foresaw current events. It’s a world where a group of Reddit investors leveraged those retail investors to pump up the stock price of a struggling retailer at the expense of a few billion dollars short-selling hedge funds.  It’s the kind of surprise — one that causes multi-billion-dollar market ripples — that tends to get regulators and legislators all riled up. Evidence of that can be seen by the fact that in the U.S., hearings are on the schedule — and in the EU, regulators have preliminarily said “no thanks” to Robinhood-like business models.

But regulatory action isn’t going to be the silver bullet solution, Gelebart said. The platforms that support connecting retail investors with brokers have to step up. They need to be the trusted player, because the reality in a lot of geographies is that consumers trust the platform more than they trust the regulators.

“When opening up a platform, it’s not about handing brands the keys and saying ‘okay, do whatever,’” Gelebart said. “For JazzCash, we do partner, but we select the partners we work with. There’s no free access, and we’re very cautious regarding who we partner with.”

The regulations are important, he said, but they’re not a panacea. There is a critical element of self-regulation that has been visibly lacking at times — particularly with platforms like Facebook, where scrutiny was low for a long time. Good platform governance will build trust and will keep convenience in place that customers more than desire at this point, Gelebart noted. It’s what they expect — and the brands that succeed will be the ones that find the best ways to innovatively deliver it.

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Alibaba Praised For Efforts To Abolish Chinese Poverty, Help Farmers

February 26, 2021 at 05:50PM

Alibaba was commended by Chinese President Xi Jinping and the state media for its efforts to alleviate poverty and assist farmers with eCommerce, CNN reported on Friday (Feb. 26).

Xi complimented Alibaba and many other companies at an event to boost his campaign to put an end to destitution in the country. 

Alibaba “is privileged to have participated in [the anti-poverty campaign],” the company said on a social media Weibo post, per CNN.

The company also was commended for helping farmers via its eCommerce network, Chinese state media said. With Alibaba’s assistance, farmers were able to see about $155 billion in goods, per CNN. 

State-run China Youth Daily pointed out the technological advances that have been of assistance to farmers, like using algorithms from artificial intelligence (AI) to raise chicken, and live streaming to sell agricultural products. The state-run publication also mentioned how Alibaba helped poor rural women get education and training, and extended loans to rural regions.

Alibaba and its founder Jack Ma had been under fire by Beijing as investigations into the country’s tech sector magnified. The company’s FinTech, Ant Group, saw its mega initial public offering (IPO) halted by the government at the last minute late in 2020 after Ma reportedly criticized Chinese regulators. As a result, Ant Group is restructuring. The IPO was expected to raise as much as $35 billion.

Supporting the Communist Party is something expected of private firms in China, Xi said in September 2020, per CNN. 

Tech companies assisting with Xi’s anti-poverty campaign are meeting their responsibility of “serving the state,” Alex Capri, a research fellow at Hinrich Foundation and a visiting senior fellow at National University of Singapore, told CNN.

Ma said in November that he was willing to give China any of the platforms owned by Ant Group if the country needs it. Following the cancellation of the IPO, Ma disappeared for a time before resurfacing in January to give a speech.

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