The month of March marked a full year of WFH for many us (and with no end in sight) since COVID became a tangible reality early last year. However it also heralded the onslaught of spring and warmer climes, which has been a welcome respite for many of us in North America.
So without further ado, let’s get into the promising trends we nabbed at this month, ranging from new-age banking to payments in space to the digital collectibles market -
NFTs (non-fungible tokens) are unique (one of a kind) assets on the Ethereum blockchain that can be bought and sold like any other piece of property/asset, but they have no tangible form of their own. The digital tokens can be thought of as certificates of ownership for virtual or physical assets.
This asset class is now evolving in the sports and arts collectible market. Art can easily be copied and replicated across the internet, which has been the woe of many a artists for as long as we can remember. Art (paintings, drawings, music, anything and everything that is considered an artistic endeavor) is unique, in that you cannot replace one artist’s art for another.
Hence NFTs are proving to be a new lease of life for artists who can now claim originality (& legit ownership of their work) and (easily) monetize their art digitally, while still retaining the copyright and reproduction rights, just like with physical artwork.
Mike Winkelmann — the digital artist known as Beeple sold an NFT for $69 million. Thus, mainly the Arts & Sports collectible market has made news recently with people with money to spare have been buying digital collectibles that ensure originality and authenticity.
Would you get onto this trend i.e. buy or sell art through NFTs? There are hidden “gas” fees associated with selling crypto art, so beware!
Notoriously famous for leveraging trends for his brand, Elon Musk offered his tweet as an NFT recently and received a bid for over $1M, and then he turned it down.
Four Ontario hospitals (in collaboration with technology partners, IDENTOS and SecureKey Technologies) have finally decided to leverage digital identity to ease the experience for patients. In this version, the service allows patients to prove their identity online, just as they would in person using their Ontario Health Card, Driver's License or Photo Card.
Patients in Ontario are currently served by a patchwork of digital tools and online health services. This fragmentation has created challenging experiences for patients who must use multiple login usernames and passwords to access these services, each with different levels of privacy and security standards. Offering a solution to these challenges, the Ontario trusted account allows patients to access a number of health-related services without having to log in and out each time, while providing them with full control over what information they choose to share and whom they share it with.
Imagine a service that lets you store all your medical data (test results, medical history, EMRs, PHI - personal health information, PII - personal identity information et all) in a secure location, and lets you control the amount and kind of medical data you want to share with your health providers. This vision is still a few years off, however I’d also love a service that lets me store all my dental records and history in one place, so that the next time I change cities (or countries even) or change dentists in the same city, my data is seamlessly transitioned to the new provider, thus eliminating the need to fill up redundant information in long forms and for costly dental scans.
Microsoft announced that it will launch a public preview of its “Azure Active Directory verifiable credentials” this spring.
Think of the platform as a digital wallet like Apple Pay or Google Pay, but for identifiers rather than credit cards. Microsoft is starting with things like university transcripts, diplomas, and professional credentials, letting you add them to its Microsoft Authenticator app along with two-factor codes.
Microsoft will release a software development kit in the coming weeks that organizations can use to start building applications that issue and request credentials. And long-term, the company says, it hopes the system could be used around the world for everything from renting an apartment to establishing identity for refugees who are struggling without documents—a dream of virtually all decentralized identification efforts.
Crypto in Commerce
Crypto is once again getting the attention it deserves; this time from the regulators.
Ontario Securities Commission (OSC) is looking to crack down on unregistered cryptocurrency trading platforms operating in Ontario.
The Canadian Securities Administrators (CSA) has unveiled guidance around how trading platforms for cryptocurrencies should be regulated as digital token and crypto assets keep growing in popularity.
regulators say platforms involved in the trading of digital tokens or crypto assets must become IIROC members or apply for interim registration as they transition to a long-term regulatory framework.
Regulatory oversight serves a critical role in investor protection, and we expect platforms to act swiftly to bring themselves into compliance with Ontario securities law.”
PayPal will allow users to pay in cryptocurrencies like bitcoin and ether at millions of merchants in the U.S.
Called “Checkout With Crypto,” the new service will let anyone holding crypto through PayPal actually pay using crypto and PayPal will convert it to fiat currency for the business that’s accepting the payment.
ForumPay, which enables customers to shop using cryptocurrencies, entered into a partnership with Sionic to expand the reach of crypto-to-fiat interchangeable payments in the US.
The collaboration will integrate crypto-to-fiat gateway with ecommerce platforms to enable consumers pay for their purchases using with their crypto wallets.
“Typically, 40% who pay with crypto are new customers providing an incredible customer acquisition opportunity for merchants. And, the cost to accept crypto is usually the same or less than traditional credit card payments.”
Newsletters & Live Audio
Betty Labs are the creators of live audio social app called Locker Room that’s focused on sports. Spotify is thus moving into live audio. Spotify is betting on the future of live, social audio with its acquisition of the Lightspeed Ventures and GV-backed company.
Twitter entered the competition with “Spaces” and has been rolling out the feature to more users. Meanwhile, Facebook is also working on a new audio chat product, according to The New York Times. Microsoft is also reportedly interested in buying the chatting app Discord for about $10 billion.
I love Substack, as this newsletter will attest. Newsletters are not new, however, the ease with which they allow independent writers and amateur hobbyists to unleash their creativity through companies such as Substack, Buttondown, Tiny Letter & others, have completely disrupted the playing field of content creation and monetization. Newsletters are now another gig (an alternate source of side revenue) for freelancers worldwide.
Now Facebook is trying to tap into this trend by courting independent writers with paid deals for its new newsletter product.
initial user group will be composed of small and independent writers. This newsletter tool will also help writers set up a website outside Facebook. The idea is that writers can charge for subscriptions to their work and potentially create additional revenue streams while relying on Facebook to engage their community. Facebook will let them create Groups for their work as well, and it will also provide metrics on their newsletters.
Twitter acquired newsletter platform Revue in January in an attempt to keep them in the Twitter ecosystem.
Some financial news…
By luring a pair of senior bankers from Goldman Sachs Group Inc. to run its fledgling financial technology startup, the world’s largest retailer is gaining even more heft as it seeks to become a one-stop shop for consumers’ financial needs.
The move struck fear on Wall Street, which has been begging regulators to halt recent efforts by retailers and startups to begin offering core banking products to millions of consumers.
The goal is to “monetize their most valuable asset — the frequency and relationship they have with customers across the globe”
The firm’s MoneyCenter locations allow consumers to cash checks, receive tax preparation services and send money overseas. The retail giant also already offers a bevy of credit and prepaid debit cards through partnerships with banks such as Capital One Financial Corp. and Green Dot Corp.
Imagine a bank just to your liking, needs & preferences? This is exactly what KeyBank & Laurel Road are trying to achieve for a very specific (albeit valuable) demographic - doctors, dentists and people in the medical profession.
Medical professionals usually have a long academic curve, hence larger student debts and require initial capital to set up independent businesses as well. The respite is the exponential financial return in the long term from the medical profession which banks hope to leverage. If a financial institution can tap into your needs early in your academic medical career, you might as well continue to give them your business when you kickstart your professional career.
The bank reimagines banking experiences for physicians and dentists with new products informed by and tailored to their needs. And provide the financial help and peace of mind they need through each career stage.
Laurel Road for Doctors aims to help ease the burden for doctors of paying down student debt. It also aims to ensure a better balance between work and life, and planning for the future.
P2P payments would look a lot more seamless if you can send and receive money on the same channels that you use to communicate with your loved ones, and conduct business with your professional contacts. WhatsApp has received a nod to do just that in Brazil.
The clearance issued by Brazil’s central bank allows WhatsApp messaging service to let its users send each other funds using the Visa and Mastercard card network.
The messaging app, which will be regulated by the central bank, is only allowed to facilitate peer-to-peer payments.
The approval follows the launch of an instant payments system, dubbed Pix, by central bank in November. Pix, unlike WhatsApp, enables payment to businesses as well as individuals.
And in tune with the above, India’s Axis Bank has introduced banking services through WhatsApp.
The move will enable customers to conduct basic banking activities through Whatsapp — view their account balance, details of recent transactions, credit card payments, fixed and recurring deposit details; resolve their banking queries, apply for different products, block their credit/ debit card and procure information regarding nearest branch, ATM or loan centre location.
Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA) has entered the buy now, pay later (BNPL) market, directly competing with the likes of Afterpay and Klarna.
Set to launch in mid-2021, the feature will be available to eligible CBA customers, linking to customer bank accounts, with no ongoing fees and at no additional cost to businesses. This directly contrasts with BNPL outfits, such as Afterpay, which charges a 4.17% merchant fee on all sales made via the platform.
After the success of BNPL, Klarna now wants to expand its suite of service to help retailers offer personalized recommendations and flexible payment options to clients.
The enhanced suite includes AI-driven content creation tools to drive consumer demand and acquire, convert, and retain customers.
It will allow retailers and publishers to provide shoppable content in native formats through the Klarna ecosystem on their own digital properties and across the wider internet.
the service will help merchants to reach the right customers without having to hire resources to create specialised content.
Singaporean Bank OCBC has enabled facial recognition at selected ATMs.
OCBC customers can check account balances at selected ATMs using face verification. This includes liveness-detection technology that detects and blocks the use of photographs, videos, or masks during the verification process.
“QR code cash withdrawals at ATMs grew 88% year-on-year in 2020. With many customers already embracing QR cash withdrawals without having to use an ATM card, face verification will add a layer of convenience to more customers as they access our banking touchpoints.”
It came, saw and left. UK based fintech Revolut is pulling out of Canada for good now.
The Canadian market has presented its challenges. Banking licenses in Canada are notoriously difficult for newcomer financial service providers to obtain. The Canadian banking market is an oligarchy of five or six main banks. This, in addition to unfavourable regulations, makes it harder for local challenger-bank style startups as well, such as Koho. Revolut was seen as a competitor to companies like Toronto-based Koho.
Revolut may have also faced competition from Canada’s Wealthsimple, which even without a banking license has been working to position itself as the country’s main alternative to traditional banking, moving into a variety of financial service areas including trading, crypto, and Cash.
A pretty nuanced look at why supermarkets and grocery retailers might not be able to fully capture the banking ecosystem.
For a start, supermarkets simply failed to appreciate the loyalty of consumers, thinking that because customers bought their food, they would also want to bank with them. In fact, just as UK consumers are typically loyal to their supermarket, they are also typically loyal to their bank and apathetic to changing, as consistently low current account switching rates tell. Furthermore, most customers, for whatever reason, simply aren’t interested in banking with supermarkets.
And for supermarkets banking on swaying the hearts of younger, less loyal customers, the rise of challenger banks like Monzo and Starling, and also the increasing hundreds of other players, has totally upended that strategy.
Gen Z and millennial consumers are far more likely to prefer digital banks, tech companies, and mobile wallets for banking activities. They are interested in convenient, low-cost digital services and, compared to these newer digital players, will see supermarket propositions as old and outdated.
However, this doesn’t mean that supermarkets shouldn’t consider any form of financial services. Instead, they should provide niche products like currency exchange and consumer credit via Buy Now, Pay Later (BNPL), as M&S and John Lewis have done. BNPL in particular rewards supermarkets with higher consumer spending that debt gives, without the large costs and risks that running a full bank entails.
JPMorgan Chase & Co has recently tested blockchain payments between satellites orbiting the earth.
the bank’s blockchain team did not send its own satellites into space, but worked with Danish company GOMspace, which allows third parties to run software on its satellites.
it could be possible to create a marketplace where satellites send each other data in exchange for payments, as more private companies launch their own devices into space.
Swedish fintech company Fidesmo has launched its wearable payment service Fidesmo Pay in Switzerland.
in partnership with local firm Cembra, which offers consumer finance products and services.
This partnership will enable Cembra payment card holders to make contactless payments by connecting their cards to a wearable with support for Fidesmo Pay.
Fidesmo connects contactless services such as public transport tickets, office or hotel, and car keys to both passive and active devices, in addition to payments.
While ordering the wearables, the payment cards will be connected online, and the users will be able to activate them via Fidesmo app once the purchase reach to them.
Interac Corp. has been selected by Payments Canada as the exchange solution provider for Canada's real-time payments system, the Real-Time Rail (RTR).
The exchange solution provided by Interac will allow Payments Canada members participating in the RTR to send and receive RTR payment messages.
Now you can pay for your parking as well as public transit directly through Google Maps - talk about an end to end experience for your micro, short or long journeys.
Drivers throughout the United States will now have the option to pay for street parking right from Google Maps as part of an expanded partnership with transportation software companies Passport and ParkMobile. Google also announced it was extending this contactless payment feature to public transit users.
..is to help users pay for parking without having to touch a meter — a compelling feature in this era of COVID-19.
In places like San Francisco, users will also be able to buy a digital Clipper card directly from Google Maps. Once they’ve purchased their fare, the user just needs tap their phone on the reader or show their digital ticket.
DTC health is where the Health-tech startup Locke Bio wants to play in. The startup is trying to democratize tools for the healthcare industry by launching a platform that allows North American companies to launch direct-to-consumer (DTC) digital health and pharmaceutical brands.
newly launched plug-and-play platform will allow businesses to open new telehealth and online pharmacy brands in weeks instead of months, “at a fraction of the cost of traditional efforts.” Locke Bio aims to make this process “as easy as setting up a Shopify store.”
Locke Bio’s platform handles everything from customized patient intake forms, to video or phone consultations, e-commerce payments, prescription dispensing, and medication packaging. It also allows companies to take payments through an integrated online payment system, and provides users with access to analytics.
Amazon has acquired Selz, a 7-year-old startup that helps entrepreneurs sell products online. The deal signals Amazon’s continued focus on third-party sellers as it faces potential competition from Shopify.
Shopify and Amazon are different — customers don’t buy products on Shopify.com, for example — but in many ways they are competitors as both cater to small businesses and online merchants.
If the key to Amazon’s success has been to put the customer first, for Shopify the key has been to put the merchant first.”
Sustainability & Climate
Hydrogen is touted as the next fuel to aid in reaching net zero carbon emissions and is reportedly a $11 trillion market. And hence we’re hearing a lot of ambitious plans from US, UK and Canada to leverage hydrogen in transportation (trucking & other vehicles), aviation, shipping, industrial activities and even our homes. There’s even a hydrogen ETF (HDRO) that launched a few days back on LSE (London Stock Exchange) that offers exposure to companies in the global hydrogen economy such as hydrogen producers, fuel cell manufacturers or companies in the electrolysis sector.
High costs are the biggest reason why the hydrogen marketplace has been lagging at a time when the renewable energy sector is booming.
Indeed, it's a big reason why EVs are quickly going mainstream while hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (FCEVs) remain a niche market.
Biden plans to replace the entire government vehicle fleet with electric vehicles. The time for EVs is now, and is looking only more promising in the future.
54% of all vehicles sold in Norway last year were electric vehicles. Norway has added massive benefits to their citizens who buy electric (including not having to pay tolls, paying lower taxes on vehicles, and even free charging at charging stations across the country.)
Gains of over 700% in Tesla, helping them become one of the largest companies on the S&P 500
green ride-sharing EV-related company, Facedrive (TSXV:FD), has seen shares surge a massive 800% over the last year... the pioneer of carbon-offset ride-hailing in North America, which stunned North American markets late last year with the acquisition of US-based Steer EV subscription company, and is now becoming a market leader in COVID contact-tracing technology that will help bring people back to work for real economic recovery
Google recently issued an ESG (sustainable investing) corporate bond worth an incredible $5.75 billion.
Facebook is looking to renewable energy to fuel its data centers.
Microsoft has actually experimented with putting their data centers underwater in the North Sea, powered by wind, solar, and other new energy technologies.
Competitors like Uber are trying to make the shift to EV, announcing an Uber Green program that’s expanded to various cities throughout the U.S.
Disposal of food waste is the biggest cost for Lawson’s franchise owners after labour costs.
Convenience store chain Lawson Inc has started using AI from U.S. firm DataRobot, which estimates how much product on shelves, from onigiri rice balls to egg and tuna sandwiches, may go unsold or fall short of demand.
Lawson aims to bring down overstock by 30% in places where it has been rolled out, and wants to halve food waste at all of its stores in 2030 compared with 2018.
Suntory aims to reduce the return of goods by 30-50% and cut the cost of food waste and develop a common standard system that can be shared by other food makers and shipping firms.
ETFs, Robotics & other Innovations
ARKX is a Space ETF composing of such companies as Elon Musk’s SpaceX, Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, Lockheed Martin and Boeing. This space exploration ETF is the firm’s eight ETF hitting the markets at a time when private companies are stepping up into space exploration in a big way.
Uber has invested $50 million in a new delivery startup, Serve Robotics, which will bring food, groceries and other items to Uber customers without human intervention. How will this affect the livelihoods of human gig economy workers who battle rain, sleet, snow & shine to deliver you takeout and groceries remains to be seen.
Over the next five years delivery robots will become the first commercial application of self-driving at scale .
MealMe.ai, a food search engine allows users to search for food, or a restaurant. It then displays price points from various food-delivery apps for what the user wants to eat and have delivered. And, notably, MealMe allows for in-app checkout, regardless of the selected provider.
SMBs (Small Business Owners)
Codat, a UK based startup is building an API that will enable small and medium businesses with critical data exchange capability with their financial institutions.
Codat is building an API that connects with all the systems that hold all the relevant financial data.
Codat powers the data ecosystem of the small and medium business by offering a critical data exchange between SMBs and the financial institutions and fintechs that caters to them.
Its API is designed to connect the tools and services that small businesses requires for their operations. It also facilitates the heavy lifting of integrations, allowing providers to focus on enhancing their offerings for small businesses.
Where You Shop Matters is an initiative designed by Visa to help small business owners build digital capabilities and continue serving their communities.
Visa has joined forces with banks, governments, commerce platforms and technology partners to digitally enable small businesses.
New acceptance technology: ‘Tap-to-Phone’, a new Visa technology that transforms mobile devices into payment terminals, is helping thousands of small business owners to accept digital payments in the Czech Republic, Italy, Poland, Romania, Slovakia Turkey, Ukraine, and the UK.
Did you like this snapshot of the underlying shifts & currents brewing in the Payment, Cards & Innovation space? If you found this useful, feel free to comment, share and subscribe.