|From: Glenn Petersen||8/17/2020 1:20:07 PM|
|Robinhood snags third mega-investment of the year, boosting valuation to $11.2 billion|
PUBLISHED MON, AUG 17 202011:00 AM EDT
UPDATED 2 HOURS AGO
Kate Rooney @KR00NEY
-- Robinhood announced its third major cash injection in just four months as its core business handles record customer trades during the pandemic. The $200 million funding round lifts its valuation to $11.2 billion from $8.6 billion.
-- The flurry of venture capital cash comes during a high-growth period for the start-up trading firm. Robinhood says it saw 4.3 million daily average revenue trades in June, outperforming all of the publicly traded brokers.
Venture capital investors are betting big on Robinhood during this pandemic-plagued year as people stuck at home, especially younger investors, jump into trading a stock market that’s experienced its fastest bear market and recovery in Wall Street history.
The trading start-up announced a $200 million, Series G funding round on Monday — its third major investment in just five months. The new cash injection boosts Robinhood’s valuation to $11.2 billion, an increase of nearly $3 billion.
The latest investment comes from a new backer, New York-based D1 Partners, just a month after Robinhood closed another late-stage round. In July, Robinhood said it was adding $320 million investment to a prior series of funding, which had been announced in April. That had boosted its valuation to $8.6 billion. D1 joins high-profile Robinhood investors such as Sequoia, Kleiner Perkins and Google’s venture capital arm, GV.
The flurry of venture capital cash comes in a historic year for the U.S. stock market and a high-growth period for brokerage firms. Robinhood and its publicly traded peers, such as TD Ameritrade, Charles Schwab and E-Trade, have seen record customer account growth in 2020, helped by new traders’ enthusiasm for retail stocks such as Tesla and Virgin Galactic. After entering a bear market in March, the S&P 500 was back within striking distance of its Feb. 19 record high this week.
Robinhood said it saw 4.3 million daily average revenue trades, or DARTs, in June, outperforming all of the publicly traded, incumbent brokers. Robinhood’s DARTs in the second quarter more than doubled compared to the prior three months, according to the company. It also added 3 million new customer accounts in the beginning of 2020.
Robinhood’s revenue has surged alongside trading volume. It roughly doubled the money it makes from customer trades from the prior quarter, according to a recent SEC regulatory filing. The majority of that total came from options trading.
This year’s success has also brought growing pains. Robinhood saw multiple days of outages in March, leaving some clients unable to trade during a historic day for the markets. It attributed those, in part, to record trading volume and volatility. The start-up also made it more difficult to get access to its options offering in the wake of a customer’s suicide.
Along with the trading boom, Robinhood said on Monday they are seeing evidence “people are taking time to learn more about the markets” with average unique daily visits to the company’s education resources on the basics of investing up more than 250% since January.
The Menlo Park, California-based start-up offers equity, cryptocurrency and options trading, as well as a cash management accounts. Robinhood offers most trades for free and makes money off of customer order flow and a premium, paid subscription service, but declined to say if it was profitable. Its average client age is 31.
Robinhood said the latest round of funding would go towards investing in its core product, and “customer expectations."
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|From: Glenn Petersen||9/3/2020 3:38:50 PM|
|Start-up co-founded by ex-Goldman trader is first fintech to complete takeover of a national bank|
PUBLISHED THU, SEP 3 202011:15 AM EDT
UPDATED 2 HOURS AGO
Hugh Son @HUGH_SON
-- A tiny start-up led by a former Goldman Sachs trader has become the first fintech firm to complete the acquisition of a nationally regulated U.S. bank, CNBC has learned.
-- Jiko, a 23-person company co-founded by Stephane Lintner, has closed a deal to purchase Mid Central National Bank, a 63-year old retail bank based in Minnesota, according to people with knowledge of the transaction.
-- Instead of being held in deposits, customer money is swept into Treasury Bills, which are liquidated when a person uses a debit card or withdraws cash from ATMs.
-- The Jiko account generated a 3.3% annualized return last year, far outstripping the nominal rate that most big banks pay, Lintner said. But interest rates have fallen since then as the Federal Reserve slashed rates in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Jiko CEO Stephane Lintner
A tiny start-up led by a former Goldman Sachs trader has become the first fintech firm to complete the acquisition of a nationally-regulated U.S. bank, CNBC has learned.
Jiko, a 23-person company co-founded by Stephane Lintner, has closed a deal to purchase Mid Central National Bank, a 63-year old retail bank based in Minnesota, according to people with knowledge of the transaction. The start-up secured approval for the move from the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, these people said.
The move by Jiko, which bills itself as a new kind of bank, gives it broad access to the highly-regulated U.S. market. Fintech firms have to choose one of three ways to break into this market: acquire a banking institution, apply to become a chartered bank, or partner with an existing lender.
Most of the new breed of online only-banks like Chime and Current chose to team up with existing FDIC-backed institutions, as that is the fastest way to get started. Last month, Varo Money became the first consumer fintech firm to earn a banking charter from the government through an application.
But Jiko, a company that has flown under the radar since its creation in 2016, is the first of the recent wave of fintechs to complete the takeover of a regulated bank, allowing it to offer Americans a broad array of financial services. Lending Club, one of the biggest U.S. providers of personal loans, said it was buying Radius Bancorp in February, but that deal will close in 2021, CNBC reported at the time.
“The move by Jiko represents an important milestone in the maturity and evolution of fintech companies seeking to expand the reach of their products and services,” Acting Comptroller of the Currency Brian Brooks said in a statement. “It demonstrates the value and attractiveness of banks and in particular the federal banking system.”
That U.S. regulators blessed the Jiko transaction is significant mostly because of how fundamentally different it is: It’s a consumer bank that doesn’t revolve around holding deposits.
Instead, customer money lands in an FDIC-backed account momentarily before being swept into Treasury Bills, which are liquidated when a person uses a debit card or withdraws cash from ATMs. Rather than ceding the yield on those investments to the typical bank, which takes deposits and buys Treasuries or lends out the money, the Jiko customer keeps it.
Lintner, 40, is a computational mathematics PhD who spent nearly a decade on the trading floor of Goldman Sachs, helping the bank automate the buying and selling of stocks and derivatives. There, he saw during the 2008 financial crisis how institutions around the world made disastrous bets that threatened the safety of customer deposits.
“Once I saw what happens to deposits, I just thought there had to be another way to give people that money experience without entangling it with the risky lenders,” Lintner said. “I don’t want a society that collapses once in a while.”
He left the New York-based bank in 2016 with the kernel of an idea: How could you cut out the middlemen in banking?
His answer was to give banking customers direct access to Treasuries, which are backed by the U.S. government and considered one of the least risky investments available. Jiko means “self” in Japanese.
The Jiko account, which has been in beta mode for the past two years, functions like a combination of a checking and savings account. The bank’s app is being revamped with more features, including a cash-back debit card and tokenized bank account numbers, and will be released before year-end.
“Now that you’ve gotten money that’s transparently stored, you know what you’re holding, you’re not funding the North Dakota pipeline or something like that,” Lintner said. “You’re getting what that money is earning, the Treasury Bill rates, which is the first thing that banks do when they get your money, they buy T-Bills.”
Since money at Jiko is swept into a brokerage account invested in T-Bills, it’s covered for up to $500,000 by the Securities Investor Protection Corporation, or SIPC, and not the FDIC.
But it remains to be seen if American banking customers want to assume the risk of fluctuations in the value of investments, even as safe as T-Bills, in exchange for the chance of greater yield.
The Jiko account generated a 3.3% annualized return last year, far outstripping the rate that most big banks pay, Lintner said. But interest rates have fallen since then as the Federal Reserve slashed rates in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Meanwhile, the brick and mortar bank the start-up is acquiring, formerly known as Mid-Central Federal Savings Bank, will continue to operate its three branches in Minnesota as a normal bank.
Since Jiko passes on the yield from investments and most of the swipe fees on an upcoming debit card to customers, Lintner said he envisions charging a “Netflix-like” subscription fee.
“As a first place to put money in, it’s an excellent place to be in,” Lintner said of Treasuries. “We built a scalable platform, we can go from zero to 300 million Americans, and do a lot of stuff with absolute stability. Now we can deliver an awesome experience and a number of other features.”
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|From: Glenn Petersen||9/4/2020 2:36:43 PM|
|Disruptors PayPal and Square surpass Wall Street giants including Goldman Sachs in market cap|
PUBLISHED FRI, SEP 4 20209:53 AM EDT
UPDATED 34 MIN AGO
Hugh Son @HUGH_SON
- This week, the market capitalization of fintech payments firm Square exceeded that of Goldman Sachs, the 151-year-old investment bank, for the first time.
-- Almost exactly two months earlier, PayPal surpassed Bank of America, the second biggest bank in the U.S., in market cap. That move made the online payments pioneer worth more than every American bank except for JPMorgan Chase.
-- The coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the penetration of digital payments across entire industries, resulting in double-digit revenue growth at PayPal and Square in the second quarter. Meanwhile, banks including JPMorgan and Bank of America have collectively set aside tens of billions of dollars for expected defaults.
-- “It’s pretty stunning to look at some of these fintech companies and the credit they’re getting today,” Devin Ryan, analyst at JMP Securities, said in a telephone interview.
A remarkable changing of the guard is happening in finance.
This week, the market capitalization of fintech payments firm Square exceeded that of Goldman Sachs, the 151-year-old investment bank, for the first time.
Almost exactly two months earlier, PayPal surpassed Bank of America, the second biggest lender in the U.S., in market cap. That move made the online payments pioneer worth more than every American bank except for JPMorgan Chase.
The meteoric rise of these two payments companies solidifies the arrival of the new guard: Firms that began as niche players in overlooked corners of finance that are growing rapidly along with the rise of e-commerce and digital payments. Shares of Square have surged more than 140% so far this year, while PayPal has climbed 90%. Meanwhile, the KBW Bank Index has fallen by 32%.
“It’s pretty stunning to look at some of these fintech companies and the credit they’re getting today,” Devin Ryan, analyst at JMP Securities, said in a telephone interview. “The market is distinguishing between companies’ future growth and what they’re willing to pay for that today, and financials are viewed as a more mature, highly-regulated industry.”
The coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the penetration of digital payments across entire industries, resulting in double-digit revenue growth at PayPal and Square in the second quarter. And central banks’ emergency actions to prop up markets starting in March, coupled with federal stimulus payments to households, have resulted in more dollars chasing growth, benefiting fintech and technology shares.
Meanwhile, thanks to the pandemic, banks including JPMorgan and Bank of America have collectively set aside tens of billions of dollars for expected defaults on credit cards, mortgages and commercial loans. And the industry’s profitability will likely be pressured for years as the Federal Reserve keeps its benchmark interest rate at zero.
There are several ways to look at the divergence in performance: New vs Old, Technology vs. Finance, Growth vs Value, even West Coast vs East Coast. But perhaps the key distinction is that the new guard embody digital platforms that benefit from scale more than banks, which are still mostly in the business of operating physical storefronts and deploying massive balance sheets to make loans.
“PayPal is still mostly about its payments business, and they can benefit from operating leverage in a way that banks just can’t,” said Conor Witt, a research analyst at CB Insights.
To be sure, the valuations of popular technology companies were getting stretched ahead of a sharp pullback on Thursday, and banks could prove to be the better value. There have been signs of froth in the market for months as names like Tesla and Apple rose day after day, and Thursday the tech sector had its biggest decline since March.
Square’s market cap reached $70.7 billion on Monday, above that of Goldman’s at $70.5 billion. The pullback on Thursday meant that Goldman edged out Square later in the week. PayPal’s market cap was $247.5 billion as of Thursday, compared to Bank of America’s at $225.4 million.
Ryan argued that some banks, especially Goldman Sachs, weren’t getting enough credit for their high-growth digital initiatives. But the longer term trend is clear, he said.
“There’s this arms race in digital finance, and the legacy firms have legacy infrastructure that they’re trying to retrofit, and legacy operating margins,” he said. “Firms that start off with a digital backbone don’t have those issues, so they have a lower cost to deliver services. I think some incumbents will be left in the past.”
With reporting from CNBC’s Robert Hum
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|From: Glenn Petersen||9/18/2020 12:42:37 PM|
|Chime is now worth $14.5 billion, surging past Robinhood as the most valuable U.S. consumer fintech|
PUBLISHED FRI, SEP 18 20209:45 AM EDT
UPDATED 8 MIN AGO
Hugh Son @HUGH_SON
-- Chime, the start-up that delivers banking services through mobile phones, has closed a fundraising that values the company at $14.5 billion, CNBC has learned exclusively.
-- In this latest round, a Series F that raised $485 million, Chime more than doubled its valuation from December and is worth almost 900% more than just 18 months ago, when it hit a $1.5 billion valuation.
-- Chime will become “IPO-ready” within the next 12 months, CEO Chris Britt said, although it isn’t locked into going public in that time frame.
-- “We’re more like a consumer software company than a bank,” Britt said.
Chime CEO Chris Britt
The fintech world has a new heavyweight.
Chime, the start-up that delivers banking services through mobile phones, has closed a fundraising that values the company at $14.5 billion, CNBC has learned exclusively.
That lofty figure makes Chime the most valuable American fintech start-up serving retail consumers. Robinhood, the popular free-trading app, raised money last month at an $11.2 billion valuation. The moves show that even as investors punish the shares of established U.S. banks — the KBW Bank Index has lost a third of its value this year — they are willing to lavish money on pre-IPO fintech companies that increasingly look like segment winners.
In this latest round, a Series F that raised $485 million, Chime more than doubled its valuation from December and is worth almost 900% more than just 18 months ago, when it hit a $1.5 billion valuation. Chime is ranked No. 25 on the 2020 CNBC Disruptor 50 list.
The development places Chime among a group of tech-centric companies, both publicly traded and private, that have experienced torrid growth during the coronavirus pandemic. Chime, the biggest of a new breed of start-up known as challenger banks, has more than tripled its transaction volume and revenue this year, according to CEO Chris Britt.
“Nobody wants to go into bank branches, nobody wants to touch cash anymore, and people are increasingly comfortable living their lives through their phones,” Britt said. “We have a website, but people don’t really use it. We’re a mobile app, and that’s how we deliver our services.”
The company crossed over into being profitable on an EBITDA basis during the pandemic, Britt said. Chime is adding hundreds of thousands of accounts a month, he said, but declined to say how many total users it has.
Chime will become “IPO-ready” within the next 12 months, Britt said, although it isn’t locked into going public in that time frame.
Pre-IPO companies are increasingly garnering attention from big investors who are seeking stakes away from frothy public markets, and JPMorgan Chase recently set up a trading team for shares in giants including Robinhood, Airbnb and SpaceX.
The company’s investors reflect that stage of Chime’s development, and now include hedge funds that take stakes in both private and public companies, Britt said. Investment firms that participated in its latest round include Coatue, Iconiq, Tiger Global, Whale Rock Capital, General Atlantic, Access Technology Ventures, Dragoneer and DST Global.
“A lot of these guys are a combination of late-stage private and public investors,” Britt said. “Having folks who invest in public markets making high-conviction bets in your company is a great signal to future investors that these savvy guys who have great track records are investors in the business.”
Chime Visa Credit Card
Chime, co-founded in 2013 by Britt, gives customers no-fee mobile banking accounts and debit cards as well as ATM access. It’s grown by focusing on a segment of Americans who earn between $30,000 and $75,000 a year. Unlike regular banks, which make money on loans and penalties like overdraft fees, Chime mostly makes money when customers swipe their debit or credit cards.
“We’re more like a consumer software company than a bank,” Britt said. “It’s more a transaction-based, processing-based business model that is highly predicable, highly recurring and highly profitable.”
After the close of its latest fundraising, Chime will have almost $1 billion in cash, according to a person with knowledge of the situation. That gives it plenty of dry powder to fuel growth and potentially acquire companies, although Britt said it has no current interest in acquiring an FDIC-backed institution. Instead, Chime partners with lenders including Bancorp and Stride Bank.
Chatter about the San Francisco-based firm’s fundraising had been circulating in recent weeks. Business Insider reported that Chime was in talks to raise funding at a valuation of $12 billion to $15 billion, citing people with knowledge of the negotiations.
That attention has led to interest from blank check companies, or special purpose acquisition vehicles, according to Britt.
“I probably get calls from two SPACS a week to see if we’re interested in getting into the markets quickly,” he said. “The reality is we have a number of initiatives we want to complete over the next 12 months to put us in a position to be market-ready.”
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|From: Glenn Petersen||9/27/2020 6:13:17 PM|
|h/t Julius Wong|
The Pandemic Plutocrats: How Covid Is Creating New Fintech Billionaires
Stay-at-home consumers and stimulus checks have been a boon for online installment financing, digital banks and day trading.
Jeff Kauflin and Eliza Haverstock
September 25, 2020
With additional reporting by Max Jedeur-Palmgren.
In 2015, Nick Molnar was living with his parents in Sydney, Australia, and selling jewelry from a desktop computer in his childhood bedroom. Hocking everything from $250 Seiko watches to $10,000 engagement rings, the 25-year-old had gotten so good at online marketing that he had become Australia’s top seller of jewelry on eBay, shipping thousands of packages a day.
That same year, he teamed up with Anthony Eisen, a former investment banker who was 19 years his senior and lived across the street. They cofounded Afterpay, an online service that allows shoppers from the U.S., U.K., Australia, New Zealand and Canada to pay for small-ticket items like shoes and shirts in four interest-free payments over six weeks. “I was a Millennial who grew up in the 2008 crisis, and I saw this big shift away from credit to debit,” the now 30-year-old Molnar says today. Either lacking credit cards or fearful of racking up high-interest-rate debt on their credit cards, Molnar’s generation was quick to embrace this new way to buy and get merchandise now, while paying a little later.
Five years later, Molnar and Eisen, who each own roughly 7% of the company, have become billionaires—during a pandemic. After initially tanking at the start of lockdowns, shares of Afterpay—which went public in 2016—are up nearly tenfold, thanks to a surge in business tied to e-commerce sales. In the second quarter, it handled $3.8 billion of transactions, an increase of 127% versus the same period a year earlier.
Buy Now, Pay Later
After a steep drop in Afterpay’s stock in March, the e-commerce boom and credit-card-weary Millennials have propelled the installment payment company’s stock to record highs, nearly doubling its value in six months.
They are not the only ones whose fortunes have taken off in the last few months. According to Forbes’ analysis, at least five fintech entrepreneurs including the two Aussies have been vaulted into the billionaire rankings by the pandemic. Others include Chris Britt, founder of digital bank Chime, and Vlad Tenev and Baiju Bhatt, the co-CEOs of “free” stock trading app Robinhood. Several other founders from such companies as Klarna and Marqeta have also gotten boosts and are suddenly approaching billionaire status.
As in other sectors, the Covid recession has created both fintech winners and losers. For example, LendingClub, which offers personal loans to higher-risk consumers, laid off 30% of staff; small business lender On Deck was sold in a fire sale.
But for a sizable crop of consumer-facing and payments-related fintechs, the virus has delivered a gust of growth, just as it has for e-commerce behemoth Amazon and work-from-home players Zoom, Slack and DocuSign.
“Consumer fintech adoption was already strong prepandemic, especially among the 20s to early-40s age group,” says Victoria Treyger, a general partner who leads fintech investing at Felicis Ventures. “The pandemic has become a growth rocket, fueling the rapid acceleration of adoption across all age groups, including 40- to 60-year-olds.”
Several Covid-driven developments are helping specific types of fintech players. For example, consumers’ shift to more online spending and delivery services is a boon to certain companies powering payments. Marqeta, a specialized payments processor whose clients include Instacart, DoorDash and Postmates, has been in talks to go public at an $8 billion valuation, four times what it was valued at in March of 2019. That would give CEO Jason Gardner, who owns an estimated 10% of Marqeta, a stake worth $800 million.
Meanwhile, the $2 trillion-plus CARES Act Congress passed in March, with its $1,200-per-adult stimulus checks, student loan payment holiday and (now expired) $600-a-week unemployment supplements, helped many Americans keep financially above water—and some digital banks like Chime to prosper.
Spending on the travel and luxury items U.S. consumers typically put on credit cards has fallen with the pandemic, while spending on debit card necessities is up.
In the second quarter of 2020, amid Covid lockdowns and fears, consumers slashed spending on travel, restaurants and luxury items they usually put on their credit cards, but continued to spend on necessities and smaller items—the sort of things they’re more likely to pay for with debit cards. During that quarter, Visa credit card transaction volumes were down 24% from the year before, while debit card transactions were up 10%, according to research firm MoffettNathanson. And debit cards (rather than checks or credit cards) are the spending vehicle most frequently offered by fintech neobanks like SoFi, Dave and MoneyLion.
San Francisco-based digital bank Chime, in particular, has used the stimulus payments to its advantage. In mid-April, about a week before the $1,200 government-stimulus checks started hitting Americans’ accounts, the company advanced customers that money, eventually extending over $1.5 billion. “Following the stimulus advance, we had the largest day for new enrollments in the history of the company,” CEO Britt reports.
The pandemic has depressed total consumer spending, and the unemployment rate remains at a high 8.4%—two factors that affect Chime’s middle-income customer base. Yet, on a per-user basis, the “average spend per customer is up over last year,” Britt says. “Part of the reason for that is the government programs around stimulus payments and unemployment.”
Today, Chime’s annualized revenue is running at a $600 million rate, according to a person familiar with the private company’s numbers. At its eye-popping new valuation of $14.5 billion announced along with a $485 million fundraise in mid-September, venture capitalists are valuing the company at 24 times its revenue. Some investors are asking if Chime should get such a lofty value when Green Dot, a publicly traded fintech that offers checking accounts and prepaid debit cards for low-income customers, trades at two times revenue. “We really look more like a payments-processing business,” answers Britt. That’s because virtually all of Chime’s revenue comes from interchange—the fees merchants pay when Chime’s users swipe their debit cards. The company doesn’t make money on interest through its new secured credit card (that’s a starter card where the holder puts up money to cover his or her credit limit), although Britt says he doesn’t rule out lending in the future.
Now Britt himself has sailed into the “three-comma club.” Forbes estimates his Chime stake is at least 10%, meaning his holdings are worth $1.3 billion-plus (Forbes applies a 10% discount to all private company holdings). And he’s planning an IPO. “Over the next 12 months, we have a number of initiatives to get done to make us even more IPO-ready,” he says.
Then there’s the Robinhood phenomenon. The boredom of being stuck at home, wild stock market swings and government stimulus checks have turned some Millennials and Generation-Zers into day traders and options players. Robinhood’s most recent fundraising round in September gave it an $11.7 billion valuation and its cofounders a paper net worth of $1 billion each. But considering Morgan Stanley’s $13 billion February acquisition of E-Trade and Schwab’s earlier purchase of TD Ameritrade for $26 billion, some think Robinhood could garner a $20 billion valuation if it went public or were acquired.
Under stay-at-home orders, and with coronavirus stimulus checks in hand, some Americans began actively trading stocks and options on Robinhood, helping to make Baiju Bhatt and Vladimir Tenev (pictured in 2015) into billionaires.
If there’s one fintech segment that has been an unalloyed pandemic winner, it’s the business Afterpay is in: online point-of-sale installment financing. It’s benefiting from both consumers’ shift to online buying and their reluctance, in these uncertain economic times, to take on new credit card debt.
While Afterpay’s Nick Molnar and Anthony Eisen hit billionaire status in July, their competitors aren’t far behind. Take Klarna, which was founded in Stockholm in 2005 and entered the U.S. market in 2016. Two of the three founders, Sebastian Siemiatkowski and Niklas Adalberth, met while flipping patties at a Burger King in Sweden. They pioneered the buy-now, pay-later model in fintech, calling it “try before you buy” and letting people own products for 30 days before making their first payment. (That’s a lot more attractive than old-fashioned layaway, the store system once popular for Christmas gifts and large appliance purchases, in which buyers had to make all their installment payments before getting an item.)
Klarna CEO Sebastian Siemiatkowski is using installment financing to build a banking business. “If you talked to a Swedish bank or a German bank and asked them, ‘Is Klarna a threat to your retail banking offering?’ They would definitely say yes.”
KLARNAKlarna charges retailers 3% to 4% of each transaction—slightly lower than the 4% to 5% Afterpay charges—to offer its service. One key difference that separates the two companies: Klarna is becoming a full-fledged financial services business. It became a licensed bank in Sweden in 2017 and offers longer-term financing of up to 24 months, with interest charged, for high-ticket items like laptops sold through a small number of retailers. Siemiatkowski has already turned Klarna into a digital bank in Europe with a debit card for spending on everyday purchases. He’ll likely do the same in the U.S. soon.
The pandemic has catapulted Klarna’s business onto a steep trajectory. By the end of 2020’s first half, its U.S. customer base hit 9 million, up 550% from the same period the year before. Globally, 55,000 consumers are downloading the Klarna app every day, more than two times last year’s pace. Klarna is now available in 19 countries, has 90 million users and expects to bring in more than $1 billion in revenue this year. When it raised a new round of funding last week, its valuation nearly doubled from a year ago, hitting $10.7 billion.
Cofounder Victor Jacobsson has a 10% stake, while Siemiatkowski’s has 8% in the still-private company. (Niklas Adalberth retains just 0.4% after selling some shares to fund his philanthropic organization and investing in startups. Neither he nor Jacobsson are still involved in Klarna.)
Not surprisingly, as the installment purchasing fintechs gain more customers and attention, they’re also facing additional scrutiny from regulators. In March, Afterpay agreed to fork over $1 million, including $905,000 in consumer refunds, after California’s Department of Business Oversight (DBO) concluded the late fees Afterpay charges meant it was running an unlicensed lending business. “Afterpay rejects the view that the Company operated illegally,” the Australian company said in a statement. “While Afterpay does not believe such an arrangement required a licence from the DBO, Afterpay has agreed to conduct its operations under the DBO licence as a part of this settlement.” A spokesperson adds that Afterpay “has been applying for, and has been granted licenses [in other states] where needed.” In 2017, Klarna was fined $15,000 in New Hampshire for operating without a lending license. Today Klarna has such licenses in every U.S. state.
Another fintech winner in the installment-payment business is Silicon Valley-based Affirm, the creation of serial entrepreneur Max Levchin, a founder of PayPal, which itself jumped into the installment business just last month. Between November 2019 and July 2020, Affirm nearly doubled its U.S. users to 5.6 million. It raised $500 million last week at a valuation of more than $5 billion, up from $2.9 billion last year. While Levchin’s exact stake is undisclosed, it’s likely worth hundreds of millions.
Eight years after founding Affirm, Levchin has raised $1.3 billion in venture capital and ridden lucrative partnerships with Peloton and Shopify to a valuation of more than $5 billion.
Affirm has also enjoyed a special Covid kicker from pricey home fitness gear. Since 2015, it has powered financing for Peloton, whose sales have surged as affluent young consumers, missing the motivation of group exercise classes, have flocked to buy the $2,000-plus stationary bikes with their streaming workout classes. Affirm also now finances purchases of Mirror, the hot $1,495 in-home fitness coaching device acquired by Lululemon this summer.
Of course, the fintech companies’ current lofty valuations depend on consumer spending staying strong and consumers retaining some of the online shopping habits they’ve developed over the past six months. With a preelection agreement between Congress and the White House on a new stimulus package looking unlikely and the future course of Covid-19 unknown, there are no guarantees. But for now, these fintechs are riding high.
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|From: Glenn Petersen||10/11/2020 11:03:01 AM|
|Seven central banks and BIS publish report on digital currency, detailing how it should be designed|
by Yogita Khatri
October 9, 2020, 4:45AM EDT · 2 min read
-- A group of seven central banks and the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) have published a comprehensive report on digital currency, detailing how it should be designed.
-- The group includes the U.S. Federal Reserve, the European Central Bank, the Bank of England, and others.
A group of seven central banks and the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) have published a comprehensive report on digital currency, detailing how it should be designed.
The 26-page report, published Friday, outlines “foundational principles and core features” of central bank digital currencies (CBDCs). The report has been compiled by seven central banks — by the Bank of Canada, the Bank of England, the Bank of Japan, the European Central Bank, the Federal Reserve, Sveriges Riksbank, and the Swiss National Bank — and the BIS.
None of the central banks have reached a decision on whether or not to issue a CBDC, but they have outlined common principles and key features a CBDC would need "in order to contribute to central bank public policy objectives."
The use of cash in payments has declined and digital payments have grown “enormously," according to the report. Therefore, the central banks and the BIS believe that a CBDC could be "an important instrument" for central banks to continue to provide a safe means of payment in step with wider digitalization of lives.
"While technology is changing the way we pay, central banks have a duty to safeguard people's trust in our money," said Christine Lagarde, President of the European Central Bank. "Central banks must complement their domestic efforts with close cooperation to guide the exploration of central bank digital currencies to identify reliable principles and encourage innovation. The present report is a convincing proof of this international cooperation."
The report highlights three principles a CBDC should have: (i) a central bank should not compromise monetary or financial stability by issuing a CBDC; (ii) a CBDC would need to coexist with and complement existing forms of money; and (iii) a CBDC should promote innovation and efficiency.
As for core features of a CBDC, these include ease of use, low cost, convertibility, and continuous availability.
“This report is a real step forward for this group of central banks in agreeing the common principles and identifying the key features we believe would be needed for a workable CBDC system,” said Jon Cunliffe, chair of a BIS committee on payments and deputy governor of the Bank of England. “This group of central banks has built a strong international consensus which will help light the way as we each explore the case and design for CBDCs in our own jurisdictions."
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|To: Glenn Petersen who wrote (140)||10/12/2020 6:50:21 AM|
|From: Glenn Petersen|
|China hands out $1.5 million of its digital currency in one of the country’s biggest public tests|
PUBLISHED MON, OCT 12 20202:52 AM EDT
-- Last week, the government in Shenzhen carried out a lottery to give away a total of 10 million yuan (about $1.5 million) worth of the digital currency.
-- The winners can now download a digital renminbi app to receive the digital yuan and spend it at over 3,000 merchants in a particular district of Shenzhen.
-- The digital yuan is not a cryptocurrency like bitcoin. Instead, it is issued and controlled by the People’s Bank of China, the country’s central bank.
GUANGZHOU, China — China has started one of the biggest real-world trials for its digital currency as it pushes closer toward creating a cashless future.
Last week, the government in Shenzhen carried out a lottery to give away a total of 10 million yuan (about $1.5 million) worth of the digital currency. Nearly 2 million people applied and 50,000 people actually won.
The winners can now download a digital renminbi app to receive the digital yuan and spend it at over 3,000 merchants in a particular district of Shenzhen. The south China technology hub is home to some of the country’s biggest tech giants including Huawei and Tencent.
Local supermarkets and pharmacies are among the participating merchants as well as Walmart, according to a post by the Shenzhen government messaging app WeChat.
China has been pushing toward a cashless society.
The digital yuan is not a cryptocurrency like bitcoin. Instead, it is issued and controlled by the People’s Bank of China, the country’s central bank. It is not looking to replace digital wallets like Alipay or WeChat Pay. It will likely work together with them and other banks.
In comparison, Bitcoin is decentralized, which means it’s not owned and controlled by one entity, and it is not distributed by a central bank.
China’s digital yuan has been in the works for the past few years and there have been just a handful of small trials across the country. The Shenzhen pilot appears to be the biggest so far.
Central banks around the world are exploring the idea of issuing digital currencies. Last week, the Bank for International Settlements and seven central banks published a framework for central bank digital currencies, or CBDCs.
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|From: Glenn Petersen||10/18/2020 10:29:52 AM|
|A 32-Year-Old Trader Is Driving 21,000 Amateur Stock Investors|
EToro has gained a devoted following in Europe and is now looking to the U.S.
By Edward Robinson and Justina Lee
October 1, 2020, 11:01 PM CDT
Updated on October 2, 2020, 9:05 AM CDT
Jay Smith isn’t a professional money manager. He’s just a 32-year-old living in southern England who spends his days playing the stock market.
But Smith, better known online as Jaynemesis, drives the investment decisions of more than 21,000 people with $40 million in assets who copy his trades on a digital platform called eToro. When he loads up on shares of FedEx, so do they, and when he shorts the Nasdaq index, they do that, too.
All of this is taking place on EToro, which calls its service copytrading. While the feature has played a key role in attracting more than 15 million users to the Israeli-British company — which is around the same level as online trading powerhouse Robinhood — the practice has yet to take root in the U.S. That might be about to change.
EToro plans to expand into the U.S. equities brokerage game in early 2021 and challenge Robinhood for the hearts and wallets of rookie investors who’ve embraced stockpicking big time this year. It’s hook: providing a “social trading” network that lets millions of customers around the world share their market exploits and opinions, and replicate the bets of the best performers on the system. Think Facebook meets eTrade.
The company’s biggest difference with rivals is this notion of copytrading. With the tap of a button, a customer can automatically duplicate the trades of dozens of other customers that eToro has designated Popular Investors. They perform like de facto money managers. Smith regularly communicates on the ups and downs of the market with his followers. When stocks skidded in early September he reassured them: “Perhaps you copied yesterday or today and you’re sitting down 4% already and you’re hovering over the uncopy button,” he wrote. “STOP – DON’T PANIC. You don’t need everyday to be in the green.”
Photographer: Luke MacGregor/Bloomberg
EToro pays Popular Investors up to 2.5% of the assets that follow them. Smith, as the No. 1 copytrader on the site, is pocketing $1 million. With his portfolio up 62% in 2020, he’s been attracting droves of recruits. “Hi Jaynemesis, newbie copier here!” one recently posted on his social media feed on eToro’s site. “I have no real idea on stocks but it seems like you do.”
Consumer-protection advocates decry how eToro and its ilk are turning the market into something that looks like a game. And while retail investors have picked some of the biggest winners during this year's rally in stocks, study after study has shown that beating the market with an actively managed portfolio is almost impossible over the long term.
There’s also been controversy. In June, a 20-year-old Robinhood customer killed himself after believing he’d lost about $730,000 on options trades, a tragedy that raised questions from lawmakers about the wisdom of letting inexperienced investors use tools normally deployed by professionals. A spokesman for Robinhood said the company is constantly working to improve its products and communications with customers.
As for eToro, it has long used a derivative called a contract-for-difference to let retail traders easily apply leverage and execute short positions on securities, commodities, and cryptocurrencies. In 2019, the U.K. Financial Conduct Authority imposed new restrictions on the sale of these instruments, including guaranteeing customers’ losses don’t exceed the funds in their accounts. The U.S. prohibits contracts-for-difference.
In making it easier than ever to copy amateurs, sell short, and use borrowed money — eToro’s limit for stocks is 5 to 1 — the platforms are magnifying risk and fueling speculation, says Rainer Lenz, the former chairman of Finance Watch, a Brussels-based organization.
“You should not be selling these products and tactics to retail investors,” says Lenz, a professor of finance at Germany’s Bielefeld University of Applied Sciences. “It just promotes gambling.”
Yoni Assia, the 39-year-old co-founder of Tel-Aviv-based eToro, counters that the site isn’t rife with reckless trading behavior and the company urges its customers to exercise caution in the markets. It's just a new model.
Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg
“Traditional financial institutions don’t really offer a relevant experience for our generation,” said Yoni Assia, the 39-year-old co-founder and chief executive officer of eToro. “We expect everything to be in real time, to be mobile, and to be social. That’s what differentiates our platform.”
In any event, he may have a tough time bringing its CopyTrading product into the U.S., at least in its current form. While there’s no law barring the practice, securities lawyers say firms may face liability if traders on their books aren’t registered investment advisers. Sharing opinions about stocks on eToro’s social media feed and influencing how customers invest could constitute recommendations as defined by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, said Adam Gana, a securities attorney with Gana Weinstein in Chicago.
EToro, which already provides copytrading for cryptocurrencies in the U.S., says it’s planning to introduce the same offering for equities after it irons out the details. Ads promoting the practice starring comic actor Alec Baldwin rapping about stocks and cryptocurrencies are already live on YouTube in other markets. Chances are the move will open a new legal frontier in retail investing.
“This is going to be scrutinized by regulators,” said Amber Allen, general counsel for Fairview Investment Services, a North Carolina firm that advises and manages legal compliance matters for investment companies. “At the moment, there’s not much in this space to address this model.”
For young consumers hungry for new ways to play the market, eToro may be the next step in the evolution of personal investing. It has ambitions to be more than brokerage and is preparing to issue a debit card just like Robinhood does. And eToro’s customers can copy more than other traders — the firm produces its own version of mutual funds called CopyPortfolios. They assemble securities under a theme — its InTheGame offering, for instance, comprises stocks of companies connected to the gaming industry. Another offering mimics the trades of legendary investor Warren Buffett.
“EToro could potentially carve out a niche but it would be going after the same young clients as Robinhood,” said Michael Wong, an analyst with Morningstar who covers the brokerage industry. “Then again, many people, including me, didn’t believe Robinhood would make a dent, so maybe eToro’s social networking will make a difference in a changing market.”
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|From: Julius Wong||10/21/2020 9:16:05 AM|
|Bitcoin continues surge as PayPal launches crypto service in run at Square|
In competition with Square's service that allows users to buy and hold Bitcoin ( BTC-USD), PayPal Holdings (NASDAQ: PYPL) introduces a new service that enables customers to buy, hold, and sell cryptocurrency directly from their PayPal account.
In addition, PayPal signals plans to increase crypto's utility by making it available as a funding source for purchases at its 26M merchants.
PayPal jumps 3.7% in premarket trading. As for Bitcoin, it's continuing its big rally, up another 4.6% today $12.4K. That's the highest level in two months and closing in the strongest since early 2018. GBTC +4.7% premarket.
PayPal has been granted the first conditional Bitlicense ever issued by the New York State Department of Financial Services.
The company is introducing the ability to buy, hold and sell select cryptocurrencies, initially featuring Bitcoin, Ethereum, Bitcoin Cash and Litecoin, directly within the PayPal digital wallet. The service will be available to PayPal accountholders in the U.S. in the coming weeks. It plans to expand the features to Venmo and select international markets in H1 2021.
There are no service fees when buying or selling cryptocurrency through Dec. 31, 2020, and there are no fees for holding cryptocurrency in a PayPal account.
Beginning in early 2021, PayPal customers will be able to use their cryptocurrency holdings as a funding source to pay at PayPal's 26M merchants worldwide.
Square (NYSE: SQ) slips 0.7% in premarket trading on the same day when JPMorgan and Visa also introduce services in competition with the fintech.
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|From: Glenn Petersen||10/22/2020 3:47:58 PM|
|Central Bank of Bahamas Launches Landmark ‘Sand Dollar’ Digital Currency|
Oct 21, 2020 at 08:51 UTC
Updated Oct 21, 2020 at 13:50 UTC
Sand dollar (Laura Summers/Unsplash)
The Central Bank of the Bahamas has officially launched its national digital currency.
The first of its kind in the world to have been fully deployed, the sand dollar is a digital version of the Bahamian dollar.
Issued by the country’s monetary authority as a central bank digital currency (CBDC), the announcement of the launch came via a tweet on Wednesday.
The project is designed to bring more “inclusive access to regulated payments and other financial services,” per the central bank’s FAQ.
CBDCs have been a hot topic this year; China, for instance, appears to be close to launching its digital yuan, which in recent days has seen its biggest public trial. Others, like the U.S., Russia and the European Union are looking into their respective CBDC launches.
As reported by CoinDesk, the first phase of the Bahamas rollout sees private-sector players such as banks and credit unions readying compliance checks for personal and enterprise wallets to support the sand dollar.
The digital wallets will be secured with multi-factor authentication security and will be mobile-based, servicing the 90% of the population with smartphones.
Underserved communities of the Caribbean nation are the primary target of the initiative, which the bank said would reduce financial service delivery costs and boost transactional efficiency. The country is an archipelago with hundreds of islands, placing limits on traditional infrastructure.
The Sand Dollar is backed 1:1 to the Bahamian dollar (BSD), which, in turn, is pegged to the U.S. dollar.
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