Exploring “Real World Fintech” at the Temenos Community Forum (“TCF”) 2017

I had the honor of attending this year’s Temenos Community Forum (“TCF”) where the theme was “Real World Fintech”.  Throughout the event, we “explored real-world examples of the latest advancements in Fintech, including blockchain, artificial intelligence, virtual reality and advanced data and analytics”.  The conference was meticulously organised and executed across three days for over 1,200 attendees.

My experience most notably consisted of attending the main conference sections in the mornings and the wealth management breakout streams (most applicable to my research were “Leveraging Technology to Navigate through Regulatory Change” and “The Future of Digital Advice in Wealth Management”) in the afternoons. I had the pleasure to meet some of Temenos’ senior management (ranging from the Heads of North America and APAC, and cloud infrastructure) through the “Senior Management Speed Dating” rotation and had the unique opportunity to attend a press/analyst lunch with Temenos’ CEO, David Arnott, as well as Ben Robinson, Chief Strategy Officer, and Mark Gunning, Global Business Solutions Director where they discussed the evolution of the Temenos solution and the components of their forward-looking strategy. One of my favourite segments of the conference was the Temenos “Innovation Jam”, where 5 finalists from across the world showcase their fintech start-up with the hope to win the final at TCF. The winner of this year’s competition was “Paykey”, the world's first payment keyboard. “PayKey uses patent-pending payment technology that works with popular messenger apps. Users just tap the "$" key to unlock payment mode directly within the app to transfer funds”. The theme across each of the finalists was: financial planning (particularly for younger investors), customer segmentation, front office efficiency (for advisors and clients), and data management and privacy. 

Of particular interest to my research (Serving NextGen Investors: Innovative Technologies and Platforms ) was the wealth management stream “The Future of Digital Advice in Wealth Management” as Temenos explained how they are shaping their platform to meet the needs of digital clients:

  • A channel agnostic environment (single-source, omni-channel, multi-user role);
  • Automated support is welcomed (Temenos’ robo-advisor, self-service in real-time on multiple devices);
  • Personalization at each stage of life (goal-based planning, younger investors, accumulating wealth for customized purpose);
  • Data as a new AuM capability;
  • The GAFA model (Digital engagement, contextual relevance to the user);
  • Digital signing and document management;
  • Chatbot / Digital assistants;
  • Digital communications (collaborations, screen, video and document-sharing);
  • Integrated market data;
  • Risk analysis and compliance.

Overall, I found the action-packed event a highly valuable learning and networking experience and I very much look forward to attending next year’s TCF. 

How do you say “Brexit” auf Deutsch?

I was in Frankfurt a couple months back to host a client roundtable and there was a palpable rubbing of hands in anticipation of a possible Brexit. It reminded me of the time I had spent in Frankfurt in the late 1980s, right after university, back when the only real skyscrapers in town belonged to Deutsche Bank. There was a real sense in that era that with the coming together of the European Union in 1992, Frankfurt stood to emerge as a global financial hub.

Obviously, London was to usurp that role. For reasons of language, geography, regulation and infrastructure, that ascendance seems in retrospect to have been inevitable. And yet now, with the UK vote in favor of Brexit, London’s preeminence appears to be at risk.

Jangled announcements of redundancies by a few large banks belie the fact that once the dust settles, financial institutions will shift into a wait and see mode. Yet to say that much remains to be determined is as interesting as saying that the original Star Wars movies were better than the litany of duds that followed.

I hate to fault my friends in Frankfurt, who have fostered the growth of a robust fintech sector and capital markets businesses, for seeing opportunity in the UK decision to step away from the Continent. Schadenfreude is after all, a German word. But I believe that Frankfurt’s aspirations are overdone. Wasn’t it just a few months ago that HSBC and a few other institutions were threatening to decamp Britain for Hong Kong and Singapore? Wisely, they decided to stay. The acquisition of the London Stock Exchange by the Deutsche Börse was another vote of confidence in London.

The ties between the UK and Europe are thick (London is home to second largest community of French citizens after Paris) and mutually beneficial. They are unlikely to be undone by this plebiscite. Yes, the vote will give heart to seccessionists elsewhere in Europe, and increase the fissiparous tendencies (look for another Scottish independence referendum) already present in the UK.

But it’s important to take the long view. The UK has survived, even thrived, in the wake of greater challenges, including strikes, war and the loss of global empire. It is a mature democracy that hosts a financial services hub unrivalled in the world history. Surely it can work through this Brexit.

To Brexit and beyond!

So the Brexit has finally happened. The equity, forex and bond markets are still reeling from the news, the volatility probably caused as much by the fact that Brexit was unexpected as of yesterday night in the UK as by the event itself.
While the overall impact will reveal itself over the next several years, in the next few months the capital markets would have to deal with issues such as the future of the LSE-DB merger. Does it make sense anymore, and if yes, how do the two parties proceed? One would expect that now there would be political pressure to ensure that trading and jobs do not move away from either London or Frankfurt. Keeping all stakeholders happy would be a more complicated affair, although it could still be done.
EU wide market infrastructure regulations such as T2S and MiFID II would also now be seen in a new light. London was seen as the financial capital of Europe. The EU would now have to proceed with these significant changes at a time when the UK is preparing to exit, and is weighing its options in terms of how best to deal with the rest of Europe. It could take a middle ground as Switzerland has taken, or position itself even further away with more legal and policy independence but less overlap with the European capital markets.
In an earlier blog that considered the possibility of Brexit, I stated that technologically this might be the best time for an event such as the Brexit. Technology is more advanced and we are better connected than ever before across nations and continents. However, undoubtedly there will still be significant impact from an economic, financial and demographic point of view. As always, there will be winners and losers. As a neutral, one hopes that the people in the UK are able to achieve the goals they had envisioned in making this decision.

French effort to use Blockchain for SMEs could have relevance for emerging markets

The recent news that a French consortium is beginning work on building post-trade infrastructure for trading of SME stocks in Europe will be of great interest to market participants across the world. The consortium comprises of BNP Paribas Securities Services, Euronext, Société Générale, Caisse des Dépôts, Euroclear, S2iEM and Paris Europlace.

There have been several notable developments with regard to experiments and adoption of Blockchain and distributed ledger technology in the leading capital markets globally. However, the signficance of this particular announcement lies in the fact that it tries to address the needs of the a sector that usually struggles to obtain easy access to the capital markets. If successful, such a project could drastically reduce the time taken for post-trade operations, slash costs and generally make it easier for SMEs to raise funds.

In a recent Celent report, we had found that most of the leading global post-trade providers believed that it was still a little early to expect major changes due to Blockchain technology. While this may be true, the current development would be of a lot of interest to the emerging markets around the world. In several such countries, the cost of accessing capital markets is comparatively high and the technology is also often found lagging, as in the case of European SMEs. If the French effort becomes successful, it could pave the way for application of Blockchain technology to specific tasks in emerging markets, not just to enable SMEs to raise capital better, but to help the overall market to leapfrog in terms of modernizing the market infrastructure.

Regulators and market participants in emerging markets should now see Blockchain and distributed ledger technology as a relevant means for streamlining their trading infrastructure. To that end, it is also important that they encourage firms within their jurisdiction to experiment and adopt such technology for specific local applications and requirements, and not just wait to see how it evolves in mature markets in the next few years. 

Is this the best time for an event such as Brexit?

It is difficult to read financial news at present without coming across extensive coverage of the Brexit referendum in the UK and its possible impact. As part of the financial sector, capital markets could be at the forefront in terms of bearing the impact of any likely change. There are already widespread claims of how London could lose its position as the premier European financial center. Of special relevance is the advantage that London has due to the 'passporting' principle, which allows leading U.S. or Asian banks and other firms to access the Europan market without any restrictions. Certainly with regard to these firms, if the UK leaves the EU, US and Asian banks that have based their teams in London while serving the European market will have second thoughts about doing so. Different alternatives have been touted, including Paris, Frankfurt and even Dublin. Some believe that all of these cities, and some other European financial centers as well, would benefit from the departure of the leading global banks from London, but this could lead to fragmentation in the European financial industry and reduce the effectiveness and competitiveness of European firms. 
There are various views and opinions that have been expressed during the run-up to the referendum. Many of these hold water. But in my humble view, when it comes to competitiveness, if the departure of the UK from the EU does lead to a fragmentation of the European financial industry, then this is the best time for it to happen. Technology has today advanced to a level that to an outsider, there would be little tangible difference if a thousand people in a bank are based across four difference financial centers in Europe instead of being in one place they were earlier, namely, London. There would certainly be a one-off rise in cost due to such as move, but the industry should be able to take that in its stride. Furthermore, a more fragmented industry in Europe would also have the ability to address national and regional requirements better than a single leading financial center. So financial creativity and innovation might get a boost across Europe. One would expect that London would continue to be a leading financial center globally, but it might be forced to reinvent itself to continue to be relevant for global banks and financial firms from outside the UK. Therefore, as a neutral and a student of capital market technology trends, Brexit does not necessarily hold many fears and might even lead to some interesting outcomes. Whether people in the City of London or the rest of the UK or indeed Europe have the same view, is of course, another matter!

Is exchange consolidation desirable for global markets?

The CEO of Deutsche Börse made some very interesting remarks at the recent IDX derivatives industry conference in London. He argued that the proposed merger between Deutsche Börse and LSE would aid the development of trading in global markets because it would unite and harmonize the European capital markets, which are more fragmented than those in the US and Asia according to him. However, in this author's view, the merger of two large global exchanges raises as many questions as it answers. While one can agree that there would be less fragmentation and more harmonization, the main issue is whether the European market has a high level of fragmentation when compared with its global counterparts. Due to the European Union, European capital markets are much less fragmented than the Asia-Pacific, Middle-East and Africa, and Latin America. There has been a great degree of harmonization over the years, driven both by common regulation and industry mergers & takeovers. It is difficult to argue that there is a pressing need for more integration at this point. Instead, the main argument for the merger of LSE and Deutsche Börse is the fact that it would create a larger exchange that would be able to take on the likes of CME, Nasdaq and some of the leading Asian exchanges more easily. The expected reduction in headcount would also make for a more efficient, streamlined, and competitive exchange. But there are concerns that remain from an antitrust point of view and it is quite likely the Deutsche Börse CEO was trying to assuage these when he spoke about the positive effect of such a merger on global markets. If the merger does go ahead with regulatory approval, the advantage for other leading exchanges would be the higher possibility of such mergers and takeovers being approved in the future as well, since these could well be expected in an industry that is undergoing heavy consolidation due to economic and technological factors.

Run, hide, partner, or buy: Fintech, automation, and disruption in wealth management and capital markets

Readers of a certain age may remember Frankfurt's aspirations of surpassing London as the world’s leading banking center. While that vision has not come to pass, Frankfurt remains a powerful hub for global finance. Home to Deutsche Bank, the European Central Bank and the Deutsche Börse exchange among others, Frankfurt’s importance is reinforced by its location at the very heart of Europe.

With this in mind, Research Director Brad Bailey and I are excited to bring the next Celent Wealth and Capital Markets roundtable to Frankfurt on Tuesday, May 10th. Of particular interest will be the role played by fintech firms in disrupting an ecosystem long dominated by large financial institutions. Brad and I will share ideas and examples from recent research, while senior executives with banks and asset managers and other large institutions from Germany, Switzerland, the UK and Italy will offer their perspectives on the disruption and the technology strategies they have adopted in response.

To maximize the participatory nature of this event, Celent is capping attendance at 20 individuals. At present, we have a few seats still open and would love to hear from other clients interested in joining us.

Interoperability driving evolution among European CCPs

The current CCP landscape in Europe broadly consists of two types of players. In the first category belong the national CCPs that focus on a single market; the second category consists of the “interoperable” CCPs that clear trades conducted at multiple trading venues. With the growth in electronic trading and launch of alternative trading venues, firms trading in multiple markets needed to connect to different CCPs and fund collateral on separate positions. Such firms increasingly demanded a single CCP for efficient settlement and collateral management purposes. Regulators responded by allowing interoperability among CCPs whereby investors could choose at which CCP they wanted to clear their trades, and the two counterparties’ CCPs could interact among themselves to clear a trade. This introduced an element of competition in the CCP space as the CCPs vied to become the CCP of choice for trading participants. However, the extent of competition was still limited, as some vertically integrated exchanges refused to open up their clearing functions to other CCPs, while others gradually allowed access to multiple CCPs for trades executed on them. Interoperability among CCPs, albeit limited, has already resulted in significant efficiency improvement and cost reduction in the European equities clearing space. Moving on from voluntary provision of CCP interoperability by the trading venues, the next phase of evolution will center around mandatory opening up of clearing function through regulatory changes. Regulations such as the Markets in Financial Instruments Directive (MiFID) could force the vertically integrated infrastructures that were not inclined to allow interoperability for trades conducted at them previously, to open up and allow interoperability. This is likely to bring about more competition among the CCPs in Europe. Like CSDs, currently there are too many CCPs in Europe, all of which may not survive the increased competition. Players with wider market coverage, efficient technology and operational capabilities, strong capital base, and advanced risk models will be able to capture market share. Having achieved interoperability in the equities space, there are now talks of allowing the same for derivative instruments as well. But the case of derivatives may be different from that of equities. Under the interoperability model, the linking of two CCPs introduces an additional element of risk into the system. The risk could be more severe for derivative operations given the inherent higher risks associated with derivative instruments. Different CCPs may follow different risk management policies and practices, and this may create problems in mitigating overall risk and resolution mechanisms in case of default. Furthermore, some argue interoperability may disincentivize innovation in the context of derivative product development. Launching derivative instruments requires a good deal of research and development by the exchanges and only a few of the launched instruments succeed in the market, a situation analogous to the case of drug developments. Therefore, it is argued if exchanges lose out on the derivative clearing revenue because of interoperability that may discourage them from developing new products in the future.

The European post-trade landscape: regional integration initiatives paving the way for industry consolidation

The biggest changes in the global post-trade industry are taking place in Europe. The Eurosystem’s attempts to create a single market and associated market infrastructure are transforming for the European post-trade industry. Eurosystem’s Target2 Securities (T2S) project and the CSD Regulations (CSDR), along with numerous other regulations, are reshaping the European CSD (Central Securities Depositories) landscape. As settlement gets outsourced to the T2S platform, CSDs will lose a key revenue stream and will have to find new revenue by developing new offerings. Asset servicing capabilities will be a natural choice for many CSDs, but that may not be a winning proposition because they will face stiff competition from custodians, who have been offering these services for a long time. T2S will allow CSDs to expand their market coverage by becoming investor CSDs and offer domestic clients holdings of foreign securities. Efficient management of collateral has become of utmost importance, and T2S’s single liquidity pool allows CSDs to develop new collateral management solutions for their clients. EMIR requirements requiring holding of initial margin for derivative trades with a licensed securities settlement system enhance their opportunity, and most CSDs are developing collateral management solutions in response. Many CSDs are developing similar solutions to stay competitive in the post-T2S world, and there may be oversupply in the market along with duplication of efforts and investments. It is expected that the industry will go through consolidation. It is unlikely that CSDs will go out of business, at least in the short term, but their role will shrink significantly. In a new report we discuss these and several other key issues relating to the European post-trade market participants, including (I)CSDs and CCPs.

MiFID II on the minds of fixed income leaders

I am getting excited about participating and speaking at the Fixed Income Leaders Summit in Barcelona, Spain this week.  The timing could not be better; the fixed income world is grappling  with the challenges of an evolving market structure, innovation and technology, all within the context of a recently delivered regulatory MiFID II/MiFIR proposal. I am looking forward to hashing out the most pressing challenges facing the market, with the best and brightest leaders from all corners of the fixed income world. In advance of the conference, the European Fixed Income Industry Benchmarking Survey 2015, surveyed 50 senior buy side leaders to get a sense of their focus. The primary challenges  identified, include: the evolving center of gravity in the relationship between the buy side and sell side; digesting and understanding the regulatory framework and MiFID II guidelines: and, engaging with the changing landscape of sourcing data and electronic trading. Celent is very focused on the evolution of the fixed income business within the context of evolving market models, data aggregation/analysis and regulation.  We continue to discuss these topics in our ongoing research. I am especially eager to participate in discussions  around requirements for quoting and new reporting requirements that will impact the buy side. I will also be discussing the evolution of trading tools and electronic trading-looking at the landscape of trading platforms, new analytical tools for accessing liquidity access, and creating a holistic approach with engaging with the market across products. I look forward to catching up on all these topics. Please come by and see my session on market structure and electronic trading tools at 11:45 on Thursday in lovely Barcelona.