FINTECHMAGAZINE by DIGITALSTARTUP DECEMBER 2018 // VOLUME 1 // ISSUE 5
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TRANSPARENCY AND TRUSTژ
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FRONT & CENTRE THE
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FINTECH NATION: OÅwG¨ä
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In recent times, news reports and analysis of female representation and salaries in business have shone a spotlight on the demographics of the financial sector. Slowly, there is evidence of progress in redressing the balance in the composition of staff across all levels. In a special, extended feature, we hear from a cross-section of successful women in the fintech field, each of whom share their experiences of climbing the career ladder and making an impact on the industry. Our focus also turns to risk assessment and management, with valuable contributions from Coinfirm co-founder Grant Blaisdell and Featurespace CEO Martina King, who outline the services their companies provide to help prevent fraud and money laundering. Our regular feature profiling countries’ startup scenes turns its gaze to Hungary, while we head east around the globe to China to explore the implications for Bitcoin, now that the cryptocurrency can be traded legally in the country. We also immerse ourselves in the world of hackathons – the high-intensity contests in which developers are challenged to solve tech problems or create new products. Increasingly, recruiters in the fintech sector are using such competitions to seek out the best new talent. Could a hackathon be the source of your company’s next star signing?
ANDREW SAMU EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
Volume 1 / Issue 5
Editor-in-Chief Andrew Samu Publishing Manager Barry Davies Assistant Editor Fiona McFarlane Writer Ignatius Bowskill-Dutkiewicz Designer Katarzyna Matulewicz Published by Digital Startup Ltd Level 39, One Canada Square Canary Wharf London E14 5AB United Kingdom Inquiries | email@example.com Orders | firstname.lastname@example.org
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CONTENTS 06 The chain of dragons: BTC in the PRC
Recent developments mean it is now legal to trade and own Bitcoin in China – a move that could mark the dawn of a new era for the cryptocurrency
Revolut reveals its latest European target The market for challenger banks may be nearing saturation point, but with a European customer base nearing 3.3 million customers Revolut shows no signs of slowing down
Front and centre: the female faces in fintech In this special feature, eight women making waves in the fintech sector offer their views on the direction of the industry, as well as sharing their experiences of building a career in a male-dominated field
26 Bringing transparency and trust to crypto
Coinfirm co-founder and CMO Grant Blaisdell gives his insights on of cryptocurrencies, AML and blockchain technology
Hackathons: tapping into tech talent Events in which teams of developers compete to address challenges are growing in number and proving to be a valuable tool for fintech recruiters
38 Fighting fraud with technology A Q&A with Martina King, CEO of Featurespace – the world’s leading provider of adaptive behavioural analytics technology for fraud and risk management
42 Fintech Nation: Hungary Hungary and its capital, Budapest, are making headway in developing products and services for the country’s fledgling financial sector and beyond
The Chain of Dragons:
BTC in the
Bitcoin in China has had a turbulent time in the past few years, but recent developments mean it is now legal to trade and own the cryptocurrency in the country â€“ a move that could mark the dawn of a new era for Bitcoin within this economic giant
Bitcoin recently marked two major milestones: on 31 October, the cryptocurrency turned 10 years old; a day earlier, on 30 October, a court in Shanghai – one of the highest in the government of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) – made it legal to trade and own Bitcoin. This second milestone was a turnaround from China’s previous anti-cryptocurrency stance, which saw the country effectively banning the entire trade by shutting down all exchanges in 2017 and putting a blanket ban on all new Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs). Yet despite these recent developments, there remain many hurdles for Chinese holders of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. China’s stake Bitcoin was designed by Satoshi Nakamoto – the name used by the unknown person or people who developed the cryptocurrency – as an ‘electronic cash system that’s fully peer-topeer, with no trusted third party’. But China has 74% control in the collective hash rate of the currency (the total share of all new coins mined), as well as a
major share in new coins mined on the Ethereum platform, thanks to the country’s relatively cheap energy. Although Bitcoin and China hold the same belief that ‘the community of many is better working as one unit’, they operate in vastly different ways. And because of this, they are likely destined to occupy highly conflicting positions. For example, China is arguably the most centralised government in the world, while Bitcoin is the most decentralised asset in the world. They are systems in opposition to each other. Bitcoin, through its record ledger and coin splits, is able to drive itself forward by crowd, miner and node consensus, while China progresses via strict party agreements and votes. The government possesses the power to halt Bitcoin’s advance in the country, if it so wishes. Bitcoin may have been accepted back into the fold of Chinese society, but how long will this last?
While the previous ban of Bitcoin did not technically make it illegal for citizens to trade in the cryptocurrency, the £40,000 per year limit on currency leaving China forced traders to either trade crypto peer to peer or not at all. In addition, any Yuan leaving China is not welcomed by the Chinese government. Reasons cited include stringent capital controls to prevent money laundering, the acquisition of assets by foreign entities hindering growth of domestic stock, and the mortgage sector. Before the ban, the total traded volume of Bitcoin was said to be 90% Chinese Yuan. After the ban, it dropped to as low as 9%, when all the exchanges were instructed to close and all banks and bank employees were banned from trading it. Strict regulations Even in light of the recent relaxation of rules regarding Bitcoin, China maintains some of the strictest regulations on cryptocurrency and has almost total control over the entire network. According to a paper published by researchers from Princeton University and Florida International University, the mining of Bitcoin is actually strongly centralised in one location: China. Six mining pools harvest 80% of Bitcoin, and five of those pools are located in China.
These five pools control up to 75% of the mining activity. This means that if they chose to or were forced (as is plausible action from governments that are highly involved in the affairs of citizens), they would be able to launch a ‘51% attack’ on the Bitcoin system. This is where a majority of ‘voters’ are able to challenge part of the blockchain, which would cause massive disruption and destabilisation to the price of the asset. This would also have a dramatic effect on other cryptocurrencies, as Bitcoin is used as the benchmark that many
other coins and tokens follow, generally rising and falling in value along with it. The possibility of such an occurrence has led the United States to become concerned over the possibility of China having a controlling share in the cryptocurrency. If Bitcoin were ever to be considered as the world’s reserve currency, or the potential world reserve currency, the ball would clearly be in the court of the Chinese government. Competing governments, especially those locked into trade wars, are beginning to take
notice of China’s dominant position in this area, as every weapon in the world of finance could be drawn in the fight. However, even during the Bitcoin ban, many traders in China remained active by going to the over-the-counter (OTC) trading markets, of which there are numerous providers. Multiple sources reported that the daily volumes here were two to three times that of the exchange volume. Once upon a time the premium on Bitcoin in China was up to 30% of the actual listed exchange price. In effect, this
DISRUPTION BANKING meant that someone could make a substantial amount of money by smuggling cash over the border to purchase Bitcoin in the outside global market, such as in nearby Hong Kong, and make massive returns in days. As this became common knowledge, there was a rush of people looking to take part in this lucrative market. OTC trading can feel a bit like doing business in the jungle. People can trade crypto face-toface, but this creates space for abuse by trading parties due to zero oversight. People can be robbed very easily, and due to the past illegality of the trade itself, there was also the risk of being apprehended by the authorities. According to CryptoSlate, many of the OTC providers are actually registered as shell companies that simply bypass countries’ regulation of the crypto market. These firms are happy to do business in any jurisdiction, and while the main volume comes from China, the Chinese market is not the only option. In fact, many of the Chinese exchanges previously relocated out of China to operate as a typical crypto exchange while also setting up an OTC ‘branch’. Arbitrage market advantage Another marked element of the Bitcoin market in general is arbitrage, whereby a trader would look at a number of exchanges simultaneously and seek to profit from short-term price differences in the quotes. One trader, who wished to remain anonymous, carried out one of the biggest private bitcoin operations in Hong Kong to take advantage of the arbitrage market, enabling him and his business partner together to net 6% in one week alone. This is the mark of a true disruptor, turning his back on selling Hong Kong government bonds to focus DECEMBER 2018
on starting up funds in Bitcoin. Although this trader and his partner almost exclusively focus on arbitrage, they occasionally conduct trades of Bitcoin in the OTC market. Taking a 50% fee on all profits from only professional investors, they move £25 million worth of Bitcoin daily. Providing some insight into the reality on the streets of Hong Kong, he says: “Hong Kong is no problem. But banks may not allow you to open an account if you say that you are going to be using it to trade crypto. They certainly will not if you want to start a crypto exchange.” Although the Chinese government may not always take kindly to the currency side of blockchain, the banks of China have begun to utilise the technology itself. For example, they have used it to make residential mortgage securities. The state has provided the framework with the ‘Jucai Chain’, used by one of the largest banks in China, and thus the world. Hackernoon claims that 12 of the publicly listed banks in China have already been using the technology within their everyday business. The China Construction Bank has stated that crossbank and cross-border loans are running on a blockchainbased system. Their system has processed £195 million in transactions. China’s blockchain ecosystem is clearly alive and growing rapidly. But the future of cryptocurrencies in the region, and indeed worldwide, is on potentially rocky ground, should China choose to interact with the market in an overly aggressive fashion. But whatever does transpire, there is certainty that Bitcoin can be traded there via either formal or informal channels.
Revolut reveals its latest European target With the market nearing saturation point, many challenger banks are becoming ɀƏɎǣɀˡƺƳɯǣɎǝƫȸƺƏǸǣȇǕ even at the end of year, but not London’s ǔƏɮȒɖȸǣɎƺˡȇɎƺƬǝƏȵȵِ Despite a European customer base nearing בِבȅǣǼǼǣȒȇƬɖɀɎȒȅƺȸɀ ƏȇƳɎȸƏǔˡƬǼƺɮƺǼɀɯǝǣƬǝ average 60,000 per day, Revolut shows no signs of slowing down
“We already serve 250,000 individual clients and around 1,000 companies in Poland, our strongest toehold”
Founded by a former Credit Suisse equity derivatives trader and an ex-Deutsche Dev-Ops, Revolut is beginning an aggressive launch into Asia, Japan, and Australia starting Q1 of 2019. But that’s not all. The free app, which offers customers overseas transfers and conversions in 150 fiat currencies, is also hoping to intensify its presence in Europe by tackling its trickiest holds – Central and Eastern Europe. Though considered one region, the nine (or 20, depending on who you ask) CEE markets bear little or no similarity to one another. Each has its own language preferences, unique media landscapes and strongly individualistic populations. Stefan Bogucki, one of Revolut’s PR representatives tasked with increasing its presence on the ground, likens CEE to a puzzle box.
“Central and Eastern states represent increasingly stable and growing economies, with consumers that are optimistic and open towards trying new services, but there is no magic ‘one-sizefits-all’ formula to win them all. After 10 years of working in Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary via Wesburg Trade, I still consider myself an apprentice with a long way to go. One must expect the unexpected on the political and regulatory landscape. Even with the best public affairs advisor, companies end up clueless.” (ǣǔˡƬɖǼɎɎȒƬȸƏƬǸ The opportunity of cashing in on 200 million inhabitants is tempting, but the landscape has proven itself too difficult to crack for a number of financial institutions. Foreign integration remains minor, and it was only
in April that Société Générale crumpled its expansion plan after several years and millions spent on smaller bank purchases. But Stefan views the ebbing competition as a signal that the iron for Revolut is hot. “We already serve 250,000 individual clients and around 1,000 companies in Poland, our strongest toehold. The core strategy for CEE will be based on the same tactics that worked well in the UK and France. We’ll place a major emphasis on building strong media relations to generate high-quality coverage which, in turn, produces customer acquisition and the all-important trust factor. "We will also work closely with local influencers to investigate growth-hacking methodologies. That said, I believe the strongest
tool will be sustained Revolut presence at community events.” According to Revolut's intel, Central and Eastern Europeans respond best to trademarks that appear honest and on the customer’s side. Far from revolutionary, the ‘approachable’ brand ethos has been this year’s trendiest move, but the results reaped by this fintech are extraordinary. In addition to creating a spike in interest, Revolut forges a lucrative customer base with all the sensitivities and enthusiasm of a community. Corporate transparency The secret? Corporate transparency, states Stefano with a grin. “As a rule of thumb we keep them informed on the good and the bad. This includes not shying away from asking for
suggestions new features, or being upfront about glitches. We also refrain from opaque jargon and try to speak to everyone on their level and preferred style of communication. Formal tones are taken with regulators, but we communicate using GIFs with our younger audiences on Twitter. We even let people attach GIFs to money transfers in the app. “By making them understand from the beginning that the dream banking alternative – safekeeping and transfers for next to nothing – required a collective effort from satisfied customers willing to recommend Revolut to friends and family, we were able to keep our costs very low and reinvest earnings into improvements. It’s a fair deal between us and our users and, thus far, it works perfectly well.”
On average, only one-third of the CEE population trusts banks, and many people opt out ȒǔɖɀǣȇǕˡȇƏȇƬǣƏǼ services altogether Over its 41 months of existence, the community’s support has grown from endorsement to beta-test, promotion, and even business development. The firm famously spends nothing on marketing, and instead simply issues an assistance request to boost revenue or exposure. Community power An example of how community power can work in difficult regions was seen on Cyber Monday on 26 November. “An assistance request to gain users was issued, and the effect was superb; we shot up the Apple Store popularity list in several markets the very next day and became the number-one financial app in Poland. No other financial brand
has that sort of relationship with its user community. We owe our growth to them.” But can Revolut's formula replicate its success in new regions? Breaking into the central markets has yet to done, but its strategy has first-mover advantage and, if one were to take the above experiment as proof, the company’s confidence may not be misplaced. The combination of local events and community endorsement can enable the company to penetrate into its micro-markets, and inspire it to remedy its own setbacks (low internet and smartphone penetration, pockets of digitally adverse communities, distrust of foreign brands and banks).
Meanwhile, Revolut's customer relationship could tease out the roadblocks currently stopping the CEE fintech market from growing – such as very low repeat usage of mobile banking apps, distrust of apps, reliance of cash remains heavy, and distrust. CEE consumer markets are notoriously distrusting of banks. On average, only one-third of the population trusts banks, and many people opt out of using financial services altogether. Will it work, but more importantly, could their strategy make Revolut more attractive than banks? The banks are not considered friends, and Revolut stands out like a financial Robin Hood with its motto – “putting the financial sector on its head”. DECEMBER 2018
FEMALE FACES IN FINTECH
ÁǝƺˡȇɎƺƬǝɀƺƬɎȒȸǣɀƺɴȵƏȇɀǣɮƺً ƳǣɮƺȸɀƺƏȇƳȸƏȵǣƳǼɵƺɮȒǼɮǣȇǕِXɎ is an industry characterised by innovation, with participants adapting to shifting needs and overcoming development, regulatory and roll-out hurdles ƏǼȒȇǕɎǝƺɯƏɵِ But those hurdles can be bigger ǔȒȸɀȒȅƺɎǝƏȇȒɎǝƺȸɀِIǣȇɎƺƬǝ ƫȸǣƳǕƺɀɎǝƺɯȒȸǼƳɀȒǔˡȇƏȇƬƺƏȇƳ technology – both traditionally male ˡƺǼƳɀِçƺɎɯȒȅƺȇƏȸƺȸǣɀǣȇǕɖȵƏȇƳ making a mark, shifting perceptions of the industry from the inside and trailblazing developments in this ȇƺɯƺȸƏȒǔƳǣǕǣɎƏǼˡȇƏȇƬƺِ In this special feature, eight women making waves in the industry, each bringing something new and ƺɴƬǣɎǣȇǕɎȒɎǝƺɀƺƬɎȒȸًɀǝƏȸƺɎǝƺǣȸ ɮǣƺɯɀƏȇƳƺɴȵƺȸǣƺȇƬƺɀِ 18
Head of Fintech Times
A few years ago, I became interested in the growing buzz around fintech and crypto. I decided to position myself in the industry, moving to London in 2015, where I co-founded Disrupts Media and began publishing The Fintech Times newspaper, which first went to print in January 2016. The newspaper connects fintech with the world and has gone from strength to strength, experiencing steady growth in headcount, readership and revenue.
I believe it’s crucial to learn as much as you can, attend every event possible and really listen to what people are saying while you’re there. My favourite event has been Money2020 Europe – it’s a great event to hear from and mingle with all these amazing fintech founders and reconnect with people we’ve known for years. Besides being one of the bestorganised fintech events out there, it feels like coming home to old friends.
I honestly feel that being a woman in tech is good in this day and age. There are plenty of opportunities around, and it’s all about being yourself that makes you stand out.
Being a woman doesn’t change a thing, you just need to be the kind of person who people like to meet and talk to. You would be surprised how far simply being friendly can get you.
BE THE KIND OF PERSON WHO PEOPLE LIKE TO MEET AND TALK TO
SPEAK UP TO MAKE SURE MY VOICE IS HEARD When I entered the fintech space in 2014, after becoming interested in blockchain, I remember mapping out the key stakeholders both internally and externally. The majority were male. This was particularly noticeable at events such as roundtables and conference panels. I recall attending one panel where there were ǔǣɮƺ middle-aged, middleclass men and a male moderator discussing bias in AI. While they were all knowledgeable, the irony of the topic and composition of the panel was not lost on me!
A good starting point for women wanting to get into fintech is networking and educating yourself in this space, whether that’s through reading lots of articles and publications, speaking to colleagues and/or attending events. My experience shows that if you are truly interested in something and work hard, you can achieve anything.
In the past, people have been surprised that I’m a woman in tech, but things are changing. There are some amazing women-in-tech role models and a number of initiatives promoting women in the industry. The best advice I have been given is to speak up to make sure my voice is heard. I ran with this advice, joining presentation courses to improve my skills. This has taken me far in my career – I’ve been invited to the European Commission’s Innovation Expert Group, gained a spot on the 2017 Innovate Finance Women in FinTech powerlist and the 2018 Lattice80 Top 100 Women in Fintech Global list, and regularly sit on panels at conferences and roundtables, which I believe boosts the cycle of bringing more women into this space.
Head of Regulatory Policy, Barclays
I AM FORTUNATE TO HAVE THE FREEDOM
TO BALANCE FAMILY AND CAREER. FOR ME, THE START-UP INDUSTRY MAKES IT A LOT EASIER AND I HAVE MORE FLEXIBILITY THAN I WOULD HAVE IN A
I am one of the four managing partners at Finleap and responsible for business development. I work in a sector that tends to have very few women, particularly in upper management. Fintech is located at the intersection between finance, digital technologies and entrepreneurship, where it is even more difficult to find women. At the beginning of my career, I was quite lucky to be in a relatively sheltered environment, where I developed and learned to make my voice heard in an all-male environment. Nowadays, I am also fortunate to have the freedom to balance family and career. For me, the start-up industry makes it a lot easier and I have more flexibility than I would have in a large corporation. In 2016, I launched the Fintech Ladies Europe initiative, now named Fintexx, which brings together women in fintech and gives them more visibility. This year, we hosted for the first time our female hackathon, TexxFactor, together with Deutsche Bank, which was definitely a highlight of the year for me. The idea behind TexxFactor is to find solutions to oft-neglected areas, such as financial planning, investment opportunities and pension schemes. We wanted to provide a platform and the chance to work on ideas for a digital solution that fits the needs of women – something made for women by women.
Managing partner, Finleap
Raja Al Mazrouei
0ɴƺƬɖɎǣɮƺà¨ًIǣȇɎƺƬǝRXà0 I have held various positions at the Dubai International Fund Centre (DIFC), including commissioner of data protection, head of operations and head of information technology at DIFC Authority and senior vice president of marketing and corporate communication at DIFC. It is really important to constantly learn and advance in areas of technology and leadership. Technology is the foundation of all future sectors, and leadership development is essential to enable the teams and functions to adapt and advance as the industry is changing, and also to engage with constantly developing consumer behaviours. I enjoy working with startups. I find ways to enable them to access the financial services ecosystem and at the same time learn from them about their technologies and their ambitions to disrupt the world. I would like to form a youth
DISRUPTION BANKING inspirational link for students and entrepreneurs to embed this culture earlier in our community and inspire those looking for a spark to connect with the real world. One current challenge for all providers of financial services is cybersecurity and the trust in machine judgment over human judgment. For firms trying to solve problems in the sector, I say believe in the opportunity and pursue it fiercely; if you believe in its power the whole world will believe in it and support it. For the established firms, I would say embrace change and collaborate with the smaller players, invent a new model of collaboration and engagement to create a sustainable business model that supports both the established firms and the start-ups.
MY ADVICE FOR
WOMEN (AND MEN) TRYING TO ENTER
THIS INDUSTRY IS TO TAKE THE LEAP! T’S STILL A GREAT TIME TO BREAK INTO THIS INDUSTRY
Head of Blockchain and Distributed Ledger Technology, World Economic Forum
IT IS REALLY IMPORTANT TO CONSTANTLY
LEARN AND ADVANCE IN AREAS OF TECHNOLOGY AND LEADERSHIP
I began my career as a Wall Street attorney at the law firm of Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP before turning to philanthropy and non-profit technology more than a decade ago. Past achievements include creating a blockchain-backed registry for non-profit organisations. My experience in blockchain and tech has been influenced by the fact that I am a woman. But I actually find the blockchain space refreshing compared to much of the rest of the tech sector (or law, for that matter). There are so many incredible women bringing their expertise in all sorts of areas – investment, policy, law, business – to bear on this space, and while there’s still a lot of nonsense (as with any space that attracts a ton of capital), for the
most part it is not that hard to separate signal from noise. And I do feel that the reality inside is different from the perception from outside. Some of the most respected people in this space are women. My advice for women (and men) trying to enter this industry is to take the leap! It’s still a great time to break into this industry, and the potential is largely only limited by your imagination. Blockchain technology has applicability in such a wide variety of areas and sectors that I think it’s wise to think about what you are deeply knowledgeable and passionate about (in my case, civic tech) and find a way to bring that experience to bear on this yet-nascent industry.
DISRUPTION BANKING I entered the fintech industry in 2013 and have delivered strategic consultancy for global corporate projects. For me, the most important areas of development are the startup ecosystem and corporate programmes, which have been developing for some years. Now we need to connect these networks among sectors, technologies and countries. My passion lies in open innovation – creating connections so that innovation can flow where it previously couldn’t. I’m currently focused on understanding and creating connections that will foster cross-cultural partnerships – for example, by connecting the Nordics to the Spanish-speaking world, or non-financial sectors with the financial industry. My advice to those trying to problem-solve in the fintech space is not to forget that behind all the technology and the disruption speed are humans. Remember that real changes will come through how we interact with one another. For women in the industry, it’s important to make connections with other women in this sector for support and recognition. Personally am part of Power Women in FinTech Index by Innotribe 2016, Powerlist Women in Fintech 2015 & 2017 and Women in Tech Spain. Attend events, too. When I visited the BBVA Open Summit, it was clear that all participants were eager to connect and interact. When you walked around you could see hundreds of people talking, laughing, pitching, listening or attending any of the keynotes or panels. These are the threads that create the fabric of innovation in collaboration.
Head of Open Innovation, Santander
Head of Fintech Partnerships, HSBC As a director in the HSBC Strategic Innovation Investments team, I believe the biggest opportunity in fintech lies in the application of machine learning and intelligence to various facets of financial services. Finance has historically been an extremely data-rich industry and machine learning offers the ability to improve every aspect of our products and services, ranging from client experience to operations to risk management. Fintechs have embraced AI from an early stage – for example, in extending credit to subprime clients. However, banks have been curtailed by legacy systems and data silos, which many are starting to overcome only now. I think this will have a transformative impact on financial services quite quickly, unlike technologies such as blockchain, the effects of which will be felt in the medium term. My advice for firms in this sector is this: if you are an early-stage startup, focus on winning deals or partnerships with smaller organisations before targeting the large ones. Large banks want to adopt solutions that are proven in the market at some scale and will be reluctant to commit to a new company that lacks a proven product or business model. Think through the pricing model. A good pricing model ties closely with the enterprise sales cycle in that it is relatively cheap to pilot, demonstrates quick tangible results, and scales with the benefits reaped by the client. Remember that the buyer has to make a business case to adopt your solution, and the more you can do to help the better your success will be. Consider regulations and, where applicable, engage proactively with regulators. Financial services is a heavily regulated sector, but the good news is that many regulators now have programmes to support new companies and innovations. DECEMBER 2018
DISRUPTION BANKING I’m quite well known in the fintech world for my work as the CFO for Ripple’s compliance function alongside product and engineering teams on compliance requirements. Behind that is 18 years of financial-sector experience, coupled with extensive practical experience in both US and global cryptocurrency compliance and regulatory matters. Today, I’m an independent adviser to emerging cryptocurrency and fintech startups on strategy, risk management and regulatory compliance consulting.
One major industry challenge is that when you are working with incredibly smart people who are building products and developing technology that has the potential to transform the payments industry, compliance with global regulations is not always first and foremost on their minds – yet it is the single most important thing to get right. Making sure everyone understands the importance of regulation and compliance with those requirements, even when it means redesigning a product to fulfill those obligations, is crucial to building successful software technology and products.
People in this field need to be able to think beyond the traditional payments landscape. It is imperative that you know your stuff and understand regulatory parameters, not just jurisdictionally, but on a global scale. And it is extremely important to take the time to understand the underlying technology – I can’t stress that enough; that way you can truly add value and be considered as one of the key cross-functional collaborators. Be a mentor to others and lead by example; build your teams to be successful and empower them to always strive to reach higher goals.
TEAMS TO BE SUCCESSFUL
AND EMPOWER THEM TO ALWAYS STRIVE TO REACH HIGHER GOALS
Bringing transparency and trust to crypto Coinfirm is the world's leading provider of antimoney laundering (AML) risk assessment products and services, offering a variety of off-the-shelf and tailored AML products for companies and financial institutions operating in the cryptocurrency ecosystem. With clients ranging from global banks to cryptocurrency exchanges, Coinfirm has serviced five million AML reports to their clients, with over 500 million addresses and 10 billion transactions monitored in real time. Co-founder and CMO Grant Blaisdell, recognised as one of the top influencers in the regtech and blockchain space, gives his insights on the future of cryptocurrencies, AML and blockchain technology.
Why is AML and its adoption in the cryptocurrency market so important? When Coinfirm started, about three years ago, it was one of the few times that fanatical crypto people – almost anarchist types – and conservative, traditional financial people agreed. The hardcore crypto end felt, "AML for crypto, this was created not to have these processes". The other said, "AML for crypto? Crypto was created as a money-laundering machine!". Both were wrong, from different angles. We realised very early on that, to be mass adopted, you can't ignore the world standards and practices. The biggest roadblock would be compliance to regulations and, more specifically, anti-money laundering. But the AML system in the traditional space is broken – extremely expensive, inefficient and ineffective.
We said let's address that roadblock and the realities of compliance overall to change to an automated, efficient solution, something unique that blockchain and cryptocurrency allows. Blockchain revolutionised the approach to AML. We realised that what we were trying to do was to be key to overall adoption, proving that with clients in the traditional and crypto spaces. Among your services, where is the most growth coming from in the AML industry? ICOs – we serviced over 70 in just nine months. But since the second quarter, going into the third quarter of this year, the market stats have dropped significantly. The money hasn’t reduced, rather the amount of ICOs. Our model is based on the number of contributors to an ICO. The more ICOs, the more
contributors, the better. Now we see fewer ICOs, fewer contributors, and more focus on the money. But it will grow again. The United States is coming through with security rules and standards, which is formally creating the security token offering. When I was in the States recently, they’re not saying ICO anymore – only security token offering. In Europe, the fifth EU AML directive is the first one that names wallets and exchanges directly, meaning they will fall under the same purview as traditional payment processors, money transmitters, etc. Other big growth areas are exchanges and stable coins. We work with one of the biggest banks globally in providing AML for their stable coin. More of these are coming, some creed, some
asset backed, some pegged towards an asset, whether the dollar, gold etc. Others use algorithms and analysis to keep price stability. Different entities are creating them – from major financial institutions to crypto individuals. They allow traditional investors to enter the market without directly interacting with crypto. In the future, we will have hundreds of millions using cryptocurrency without knowing. What is needed for mainstream acceptance? Functionality. How it works and does it? For instance, user experience on exchanges is bad, because the industry was built by tech people who didn’t much consider the front-end user experience and interface due to creating the back structure. That is one, the other is legitimising blockchain and crypto spaces. When dealing with regulators or financial institutions we say, "You have worries around AML. We not only pacify that worry, but exceed standards and capabilities of the traditional system". We want to communicate that the fear around crypto is inaccurate and that the true transparency and security of this system can be way beyond the traditional. !ȒǣȇˡȸȅƬȒɮƺȸɀۏזȒǔɎǝƺ ȅƏȸǸƺɎِáǝƏɎǣɀȇƺƺƳƺƳɎȒƬȒɮƺȸ ɎǝƺȸƺȅƏǣȇǣȇǕّۏא Our build, products and approach is blockchain – having the technical capability to integrate any blockchain framework or structure. Our AML platform is built on it, and we're able to thrive because our platform has that approach
as its core foundation. We cover Bitcoin, Ethereum, Dash and EOS. We will soon be integrating Bitcoin Cash, Litecoin, Ripple and Stellar. But a lot of the market is tokens, so most of that ‘80%’ is tokens. We need to be incentivised. Pick out market wants and needs. Somebody says ‘EOS is really great, I've had clients transferring to EOS’, then we move. Then you have Monero, which you can't properly analyse because it's built to be a very opaque asset. Monero has few controls, it’s a grey market. Our goal is to legitimise the market and build transparency.
Stable coins allow traditional investors to enter the market without directly interacting with crypto !ȒǣȇˡȸȅȸƺƬƺȇɎǼɵɯƺȇɎǣȇɎȒ ǔȸǣƬƏًɮǣƏzǣǕƺȸǣƏِáǝɵɎǝƏɎ ƬȒɖȇɎȸɵɀȵƺƬǣˡƬƏǼǼɵّ Nigeria all started with meeting the CEO and co-founder of the
Kaduna ICT hub. Supported by the Governor and private enterprises, we then co-created the first African blockchain lab. We took the AMLT network designed on Coinfirm’s platform to attack a big issue. Nigeria and that region is treated as high risk. Even if many legitimate entrepreneurs transact around crypto, they're treated as highrisk – because of ‘where’, not because of ‘what’. We built an effective AML system with Coinfirm to discriminate on individuals, and remove ‘regional blanket highrisk approach’. Which is financial inclusion. A hot topic. Everybody's had a ‘Nigerian prince’ email or something like that. There is a whole economy built around it. This image hinders Nigeria, making it look high-risk and distrusted by business and investment. Crypto brought a new element. We asked ourselves how we could address this, while providing something positive for us and also incentivising the Nigerian market. Thus, we partnered with Kaduna ICT hub to build first a mindset of how and why it's important. An incentivised network is there, constantly looking at this and providing this data. For that, as network members, they'll get our token back in return. Is it important for the blockchain sphere to include institutions, or rather for the institutions to include blockchain? It's a dual approach. The ICOs came to us because they couldn't get banked. They needed an approved source of funds and reports. For example, take the Californian digital media, startup
Everybody’s had a ‘Nigerian prince’ email or something like that... This image hinders Nigeria environment. Remember how the industry reacted to their first peer-to-peer revolution, file sharing? First it was arrogance: they can't touch us, we're big studios, record labels. Then it started eating their bottom line. Instead of trying to learn around it, they tried to kill it. None of the largest sellers of digital, music and video are studios. Netflix and iTunes are Silicon Valley tech companies. The financial system responded better, and that's what we're doing with banks around the world. We’re more concerned about long-term results. We use many different methodologies. Clustering and visual representation. We just demoed Veese, an easy webbased interface, where a click on an address opens up where everything's going. We catch it all through various systems. All the connections. That's what people forget about blockchain.
On an immutable blockchain, we see it, connect it, and analyse better than the banking system can in their system. They're talking about the ETFs and there's all this hype around that, or you hear ‘JP Morgan opens trading desk’. But NASDAQ's been working around crypto for a while. But many want to see Bitcoin offered through the major traditional routes, so that's another thing stable coins will help with providing – more retail and banks, and an easier-tounderstand investment process for average people. What personally got you interested in the blockchain? áƏɀɎǝƺȸƺƏƳƺˡȇǣȇǕȅȒȅƺȇɎّ Everybody who is really passionate about this space has had their moment. I'm from California’s startup scene and knew about Bitcoin early on. About 2012, I had my ‘moment’.
I was building innovation around digital content, rights, distribution and monetisation models, and what always sat there was the ‘trusted’ third party. Take the YouTube situation. You have a centralised party that you're providing information to, expecting it to be protected properly and transparently. But people need to keep their data safe as well. I saw a huge opportunity in decentralising and making it more transparent and trustful – so if a content creator comes, registers content, and that content is registered to them through private keys, all revenue generated is seen transparently. Smart contracts give them their 70% cut – it's all there. Why do banks have value, or why are they trusted? It’s because you're putting the responsibility on them to keep your money and business safe. With the crypto space, in its purest form, you've accepted that yourself.
HACKA DISRUPTION BANKING
â€“ time-limited events in which teams of developers compete to address challenges and provide solutions to complex problems â€“ are proving to be a great method of bringing top talent to the fore, not least in the field of fintech
THONS DISRUPTION BANKING
tapping into tech talent
The origins of the hackathon can be found in the first event to be labelled with the term, which took place in June 1999 in Calgary, Canada. Nearly two decades later, a simple web search will turn up hundreds of such events ranging across a plethora of frameworks, languages, operating systems and industries – not least the burgeoning fintech sector. Despite the negative connotations of the word ‘hack’, generated and reinforced by news headlines and pop-culture references to nefarious attacks on critical computer systems, hackathon events are all about innovation and solving problems. For those that are successful, reward awaits in the form of cash prizes or perhaps a lucrative career move. Increasingly, companies and recruiters are getting involved in the hackathon scene, organising and sponsoring events not only to seek out the most creative solutions to problems or to develop new products, procedures and apps, but also as an opportunity to find and recruit the best talent.
How hackathons work Hackathons range in size from the intimate to the enormous, with participant numbers anywhere from dozens to several thousand, usually working in teams. An event typically takes place over 24-48 hours, so time is of the essence, leaving little opportunity for rest and recuperation. Attendees must be prepared to survive on little or no sleep and a diet of pizza and energy drinks while they work ceaselessly to solve the problem or complete the challenge that has been set
by the organisers. At the end of the event, the intense efforts of the previous hours are presented to a judging panel, so participants must also be prepared to give a sales pitch. Collaboration can play a crucial part in success, or otherwise, at a hackathon, bringing together people with a variety of skills, experience and knowledge – such as programmers, project managers and designers. As a result, preparing for and participating at a hackathon also offers the chance to develop relationships and expand contacts.
However, the reason for today’s prevalence of hackathons isn’t simply the networking opportunities. Essentially, participants have little more than a weekend to achieve what companies might manage over weeks, months or even years, but the hothouse environment can also generate some truly groundbreaking innovations that result in new methods, services and features. For example, significant milestones in the development of Facebook – such as the timeline and the ‘like’ button – can be directly attributed to the social media giant’s internal hackathons.
FORTHCOMING FINTECH HACKATHONS Blockchain Week 2019 Hackathon 8-10 February 2019
Cocoon Networks, London, UK ɯɯɯ٫ƫǼȒƬǸƬǝƏǣȇɯƺƺǸ٫ƬȒȅٱ ȵƏǕƺٱתשׯװתٱǝƏƬǸƏɎǝȒȇ
Running for five years, this hackathon series has previously been sponsored by Lloyds Banking Group, Thomson Reuters and IBM. Winning teams will receive a prize of £1,000 and present their concepts to a room of 500-700 delegates at London Blockchain Week.
F10 Fintech Hackathon 22-24 March 2019
Schauspielhaus Zurich/Schiffbau, Zurich, Switzerland ɯɯɯ٫ǔשת٫Ƭǝ˾ٱȇɎƺƬǝډǝƏƬǸƏɎǝȒȇٱ ɿɖȸǣƬǝٱײתש
This event, which aims to generate new ideas and turn them into validated prototypes, is seeking a broad range of participants – including developers, designers, marketers, bankers and financial experts.
Collaborate to Innovate Hackathon
29-30 March 2019
Plexal, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, London UK ɯɯɯ٫˾ȇɎƺƬǝɎƏǼƺȇɎɀ٫ƬȒȅٱ ǝƏƬǸƏɎǝȒȇ˾ډȇƏɀɎȸƏٱ
Sponsored by Finastra, this event focuses on Open Banking challenges and the FusionFabric. cloud platform, beginning with an opportunity to network with members of the fintech community.
Finding future stars In the world of fintech, hackathons have become a valuable means of acquiring new talent. Such events attract highly competitive and quick-thinking people – prompting the interest of large finance organisations, leading recruitment agencies and fintech startups – and provide an alternative to conventional recruitment procedures that have become ineffective. One advantage for recruiters is that they can see potential employees in action. Observing people at work reveals more about their personality, passion and ability to add value that a traditional interview alone. It also enables recruiters to meet and have impromptu conversations with candidates in an informal setting, perhaps even making job offers on the spot before other organisations can take promising individuals off the market.
A prime example of how hackathons can transform an organisation’s recruitment procedure and generate new ideas can be found in the strategy of Singapore-based DBS Bank. In 2013, DBS initiated its own series of hackathons to develop new fintech solutions, bringing together more than 500 of the company’s employees with 50 teams from startups, leading to prototypes of 50 new products, a dozen of which were introduced to the market. By 2017, DBS became the first bank in Southeast Asia to use a hackathon to unearth talent in software development across Singapore and India, offering outstanding performers positions within the company. It continues to run ‘Hack2Hire’ events with the aim of hiring future stars, filtering would-be participants online with an assessment challenge, before inviting the best to join the live event in Singapore.
In the US, the likes of TD Bank and Prudential have also given their backing to fintech hackathons, providing sponsorship for MIT’s first such event in 2017. TD Bank provided participating teams with access to data and APIs to develop platforms to help their employees interact with customers. A total prize pot of $10,000 was on offer to participants, as well as the obvious opportunity to impress. As the fintech sector continues its rapid growth, and with numerous companies now specialising in organising hackathons, it appears there will be no shortage of events for recruiters to compete for the most promising tech talent in the near future.
One advantage for recruiters is that they can see potential employees in action
Fighting fraud with technology The recent moneylaundering scandal involving Danske Bank, Denmarkâ€™s biggest lender, shocked the financial world. As it attempts to rebuild its reputation, the bank has engaged the services of Featurespace, the worldâ€™s leading provider of adaptive behavioural analytics technology for fraud and risk management. Featurespace CEO Martina King explains more about the company and the services it provides DECEMBER 2018
Featurespace has just become a service provider for Danske Bank, which recently made headlines over a major money-laundering scandal. How does your company intend to help in preventing future issues? After a very thorough vetting process, Danske Bank selected us to mitigate their card fraud exposure and safeguard online channels. To be fair, fraud is industry agnostic, a global issue. Whenever two entities exchange money they’re at risk, and criminals that seek to commit fraud typically have the upper hand, as they’re on the offensive and are constantly testing defences for weaknesses. Our technology helps level the playing field for our clients – which are some of the world’s largest banks, payment processors and merchant acquirers – by monitoring individual behaviours to determine what’s normal and what’s anomalous. Having a comprehensive profile of what a good customer looks like allows you to quickly identify suspicious behaviours and stop the attacks before the damage is done.
What other companies in ﬁnance and tech do you work with, and in what capacity do you provide support? Our clients include more than a dozen top-tier international banking and payments
companies, including Worldpay and TSYS. Collectively, they benefit from our cutting-edge machine-learning technology and our experienced fraud experts; we support their businesses by reducing fraud losses, customer friction and the operational costs associated with fighting fraud. That said, we didn’t begin with such a diverse portfolio. Our first client was gaming specialist Betfair, and we are grateful because it was through our work with them that we discovered how much our technology could help companies reduce fraud with the most advanced adaptive behavioural analytics, whilst also creating revenue opportunities. And it was through the expansion of our client base that we saw the opportunity to grow our operational footprint and enter the US market from the UK. It’s worth noting that in that transition, we’ve seen the nuances between the two markets, especially when we can take what we learned from our point of origin in Cambridge University and apply it to today’s issues and in such an effective way.
What, in your experience or opinion, are the greatest challenges faced by banks? While fraud is a major pain point, the issue of false positives is something we really help our clients with. Banks are facing an enormous uphill battle in the scale and frequency of attacks, and the rules they’ve traditionally relied on are not sophisticated enough
to discern actual fraud from a genuine customer’s atypical behaviour. In the effort to limit fraud losses as much as possible, these rules also inadvertently prevent a sizeable portion of good transactions from getting through, and when you take into account how many transactions banks are processing, the impact becomes clear. It’s a problem that quickly becomes very costly, financially and reputationally.
In your opinion, what have been the most inﬂuential and illuminating events in banking over the past ﬁve years and why? I think the pace of innovation will continue escalating and fuelling the evolution of customers’ expectations for convenience. We’re already seeing the impact that mobility is having, and the influx of digital and app-only experiences will place more power in the individual customer’s hands. It’s driving the demand for frictionless and as that continues, there will be a concerted effort to go to market faster, without opening the door to fraud.
Which challenges and industry issues do you feel are the most important at the moment? The same innovation that is making things more convenient for consumers is also creating a host of new vulnerabilities. Cross-channel risk exposure is a major issue because it’s providing criminals with more tools to commit fraud. And these are very smart and sophisticated people with bad intentions, which makes the fight that much harder. Thinking like a criminal doesn’t come naturally to most of us, so the defences against their behaviours are often reactionary, instead of preventative. But machine learning and AI are more than just popular buzzwords today; they’re influencing how the industry approaches mitigating fraud and also how fraud prevention is perceived. It used to be a cost centre, but now we’ve found a way to operationalise it so that it brings in additional revenue. The discussion around how we can outsmart risk is critical to the industry’s ability to continue innovating. We’re never going to eliminate 100% of the fraud that occurs, so we need to equip ourselves for a continuous fight against an amorphous threat.
Perhaps not the first place to be considered as a hotspot for fintech activity, Hungary and its capital, Budapest, are making headway in developing products and services for the countryâ€™s fledgling financial sector and beyond In spite of shaky infrastructure and remaining traces of its communist past, Budapest pulsates with tech activity. Approximately 500 registered startups grow and pivot in private offices or recently formed incubators. Their business plans, freshly inked, are modelled on the most successful international case studies in tech enterprise. On Facebook, groups of up to 15,000 freelancers bounce ideas, job opportunities and event details between each other. There seems to be a never0ending flow of events for the startup crowd. One part instructive to two parts social, they offer a friendly point of entry into the fiesty, entrepreneurial ethos which has increasingly become commonplace in Budapest.
Folded into the social gatherings, serious contenders find another calibre of high-visibility events. Euroskills, Budapest Hackathons, Blastoff Hungary and HackathonIn-a-Box are among the events that offer an opportunity for contestants to flex their muscles in front of venture capitalists and potential employers. Each has become a huge human-resources success, where the likes of Morgan Stanley and BlackRock survey attendees for signs of quant genius. "Budapest plays a significant role as the key technological and analytic center of Morgan Stanley, to ensure the company stays among the leaders," says Laszlo Hajdu-Nemeth, Morgan Stanleyâ€™s Executive Director.
Seeds of success The success of Budapest’s grassroots tech community can largely be accredited to one person: Hungarian entrepreneur and former INSEAD Business School professor Peter B Zaboji, a charismatic businessman with an international vision for his country. In 2008, Zaboji founded the European Entrepreneurship Foundation to host pep talks and angel mentorship meetings to instigate business growth. Widespread scepticism greeted his decision to hold meetings in English, the members’ weakest language, but he retorted that “the biggest room in the world is that for improvement”. The momentum to create a hub picked up speed in 2010 when Peter’s invitation-only ‘First Monday’ meetings brought inspiration and knowledge in the form of founders, investors and bright minds. Seven years on, and the progress is impressive. From the entertainment industry to gaming and fintech firms specialising in machine learning, AI and cyber, there are few sectors that are not present. Hungary also has three unicorns to its name– Preezi, Ustream and Logmein – each a testimony that Hungarian-made products can appeal to the global market. Some of the new startups are 100% Hungarian, but many are making the most of tech talent from neighbouring countries. “Budapest has become a viable incubation spot with a considerably mature investor community,” says János Pereczes, managing director of MKB Fintechlab. “They [entrepreneurs] know that once they get here, it suddenly becomes easy to snowball into finding a co-founder, finding an engineer, finding funding… Such a wealth of talent spells opportunity for the Hungarian fintech landscape, which at the moment is in the earliest stages of growth.”
The fintech landscape According to official reports, the Hungarian banking sector has 44 institutions, of which 26 are commercial banks, nine are foreign bank branches, five are mortgage banks, four are building societies and two are specialised banks. The five most prominent (OTP Bank, KBC, UniCredit Bank, Raiffeisen, and ERSTE) are responsible for more 50% of the sector’s total income.
Most large players now offer a mobile banking app to their customers. By way of alternative payment methods, the most popular choices are iCsekk, which allows for payment via QR code scanning; Buxa, for peer-to-peer money transfer and QRcode-based payments at selected stores; and Barion, an e-wallet enabling commission-free payments for goods and services. However, according to a survey conducted by GKI, the Hungarian economic research institute, market penetration for mobile banking and payments is at a minimum, with less than 10% of the population having tested online shopping or payment apps. One reason for such meagre take-up figures is that Hungary remains a cash-reliant economy. According to research by Deloitte, three-quarters of transactions in Hungary are realised in cash, with only 79.4% of the country’s adults possessing a bank account (in comparison to more than 85% in the UK). For those seeking to extend fintech products in the Hungarian market and elsewhere, Budapestbased events such as the Fintech Summit and the E-Banking Summit now offer platforms for raising awareness. However, perhaps more important are smaller events such as the Fintech Banking Summit and Beyond Banking, which allow C-level bank and tech leaders to discuss the issues and possibilities of a modern financial landscape. Questions over what the future holds come from all angles. Concerns include banks spending 70% of their IT budgets for compliance development with no clear rules for the future, or the need for additional government support. For a modern fintech landscape to develop in Hungary, the consensus is that the government and Hungarian National Bank should continue to re-evaluate policies and strategies; that plans should be tailored to digitize services in segments that are feasible; and that companies of all sizes should work to increase communication and trust channels with customers. “The evident breakthrough in communication on a corporate level is the most impressive, and auspicious detail,” says Tal Sharon of fintech consultancy firm Equitech. “Now is the time for fintech providers to start thinking about Hungary.”
HUNGARIAN TECH ACHIEVEMENTS Prezi.com, the online document creation tool, has 45 million users globally and attracts 55,000 new users every day. It has raised a total of $15.5 million. Ustream.com is a live videostreaming service hosted on a cloud platform. Popular with Panasonic Samsung, Logitech and CBS News, to name a few, it raised $11.1 million in Series A funding, and is now owned by IBM Cloud Video. LogMeIn.com is a cloud-based remote connectivity tool that has been on NASDAQ since 2009 and valued at $1 billion since 2017. Hiflylabs provides consulting, project management and implementation in the fields of business intelligence, data warehousing, data mining, data science, dashboard building and custom application development. NNG LLC, formerly Nav N Go, is a global leader in navigation and GPS systems. It was founded by Peter Balogh, and won the Hungarian Innovation Grand Prize for its software, iGO Automotive. It has offices in Switzerland, Hungary, India, Australia, Israel, China and the US. SignAll.us, is world’s first automated sign language translator which, using a webcam, depth sensor and a computer, allows hearing-impaired people to communicate Seon helps with fraud detection and fraud repair. The platform serves more than 300 merchants and is estimated to have saved businesses around €10 million so far. Mr Coin, Hungary’s first online Bitcoin exchange and ATM, was a leading European invention that, to date, has processed transactions of more than €4.8 million.
“THEY [ENTREPRENEURS] KNOW THAT ONCE THEY GET HERE, IT SUDDENLY BECOMES EASY TO SNOWBALL INTO FINDING A CO-FOUNDER, FINDING AN ENGINEER, FINDING FUNDING”