In early May 1970, a long-standing wage dispute between Irelands banks and their employees unions finally came to a head. The staff walked out, and to the nations horror virtually the whole of Irelands banking system shut up shop. Wage negotiations dragged on into the summer, and then through the autumn. In the end, it was November before the banks reopened. For six and a half months, Irish companies and individuals had to survive without access to the facilities of the modern monetary system: no bank accounts; no clearing of cheques; no withdrawals of cash; no wire transfers; and so on.End of Moneyby David Wolman Buy it from the Guardian bookshopSearch the Guardian bookshop Most people, when they hear this story, assume that its effects on the economy must have been catastrophic. The reaction at the time was no different. A contemporary newspaper warned darkly of “a rapidly growing paralysis… spreading through the economy because of the banks dispute”. The reality was very different. The Irish Central Bank concluded in its official review of the episode not only that “the Irish economy continued to function for a reasonably long period of time with its main clearing banks closed for business”, but even that “the level of economic activity continued to increase”. In the absence of the official banking system, people and companies simply resorted to using private IOUs to settle payments. Few people would have believed that such a widespread and successful ad hoc monetary system could spring up and spontaneously replace the official version. But in the breach, it did – and it worked.
Archive for April, 2012
I attended the Mobile Contactless Payment Innovation Summit in San Francisco last week. The audience included representatives from payments companies, enablers, solution providers and merchants all engaged in mobile payments. Given the constant rate of innovation in mobile payments and recent network incentives for EMV in the US, there was a great deal to talk about.
At Glenbrook we help companies across the payments value chain to understand the future of the market; both the rate of adoption and the value proposition of new offerings are critical. As a result, I was delighted to moderate a panel on mobile and contactless payment innovation with panelists Marc Warshawsky of Bank of America, Peter Ho of Wells Fargo, Ed Busby from ISIS and Oscar Muñoz from CHARGE Anywhere.
Here are some key issues discussed both by the panel and at the event:
Heightened Expectations – As mobile smartphone adoption has exploded, the expectation of mobile payments has grown exponentially. Yet challenges related to technology standards, business models and merchant implementations have slowed progress. Some felt the problem is in consumer education and adoption , but clearly the mobile value proposition has yet to be discovered and defined.
Role of NFC – Throughout the conference, there were vocal detractors and advocates for NFC. Visa, MC and Discover have each laid out a contactless roadmap, providing financial incentives for merchants to deploy contactless (NFC) terminals. The technology is reasonably mature and effective with extensive trials around the globe; ISIS and Google Wallet are examples in the US. Trials demonstrate consistent consumer enthusiasm but handset manufacturers still rarely have NFC chips in new phone models. Why the delay? Most think the problem is in the business model. As long as carriers, handset manufacturers and banks are unclear on how they will realize incremental revenues from mobile payment, there is a hesitation to deploy at scale.
Mobile beyond NFC – Patrick Gauthier from PayPal started his presentation emphasizing the difference between NFC and mobile wallets. He demonstrated that there are other ways to access the wallet. With more active accounts than American Express has cards in hand, PayPal’s cloud-based model is a significant alternative to the physical card-centric NFC approach. Peter Ho discussed Wells Fargo’s experiences with using In2Pay microSD card for Visa payWave transactions attached to a Wells Fargo account as compared to NFC. Either technology supports the desired interaction and he suggested the decisions were more around creating the right consumer experience. Other alternatives to NFC include the barcode model (also known as the Starbucks Example). One constraint to adoption of mobile is the speed at which merchants can implement the technology at POS. Merchants have to sort through the hype, identify mandates and ultimately prioritize their investments.
Are we just sticking a credit card on the phone? – Card issuers in particular were concerned with enabling card transactions over the phone. These models are expensive to merchants as they move card present, in store transactions to what they expect will be card not present interchange. So is there value in a mobile transaction and perhaps even room for more fees? Value in a mobile payment needs to be found in the added functionality brought from the phone. Location, data, computing power and Internet capabilities augment the in-store transaction. Bill Gajda from Visa was clear “it’s about more than replacing a swipe with a tap”.
SHANGHAI—Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao told a national audience on Tuesday that China’s state-controlled banks are a “monopoly” that must be broken, in an unusually blunt appeal for a shake-up of the creaky financial system of the world’s No. 2 economy.
Mr. Wen’s declaration on a national radio program on Tuesday represents an 11-hour push for an overhaul by China’s top economic official, who formally came into office in 2003 with a reputation as a reformer but has acknowledged publicly his regrets that he didn’t go far enough. Mr. Wen is expected to step down as premier in a once-a-decade leadership change that begins late this year.In an evening broadcast on state-run China National Radio, Mr. Wen told an audience of business leaders in the export-oriented province of Fujian that China’s tightly controlled banking system needs to change.
“Let me be frank. Our banks earn profit too easily. Why? Because a small number of large banks have a monopoly,” said Mr. Wen according to the transcript of the program posted on the broadcaster’s website. “To break the monopoly we must allow private capital to flow into the finance sector.”
The push is part of a broader set of issues over China’s future growth. The country’s economic expansion is set to slow in coming years after racing ahead at a torrid pace over the past decade, raising questions over whether it can switch from a model based on exports and investment to one that relies more on a rising consumer culture.
That has led to a nationwide conversation over China’s tight grip on its financial system, which favors big state-owned firms but has been criticized by economists and even some reformers in China.
To realize the economic transformation, “private companies should be encouraged to get into the financial-services industry,” said Fang Xinghai, director-general of Shanghai Municipal Financial Services Office and a former World Bank economist, in an interview at China’s Boao Forum for Asia this week.
White label gamification platform BigDoor has raised $5 million in new funding led by existing investor Foundry Group, bringing BigDoor’s total funding to $13 million.
BigDoor’s gamification platform essentially allows online publishers to add game mechanics to web interactions and engagements. BigDoor helps companies build game-like mechanics and loyalty programs into their sites or apps by enabling points, badges, levels, leaderboards, virtual currency and virtual goods.
The company’s newest product, Gamified Rewards Program, is being released today out of private beta, which allows publishers to give users rewards for engagement, such as exclusive content, unlocked powers, exclusive virtual items, as well as tangible rewards. The company says that private beta tests of the BigDoor Rewards program resulted in a threefold increase in the number of website registrations based on the rewards available.
Online publishers have three options for implementing BigDoor: Lite, Plus and Premium. Lite is a free offering for websites with fewer than 25,000 monthly visitors. Plus is a white-label and highly customized solution built for medium-sized websites with up to one million monthly visitors. For enterprise customers, BigDoor creates a fully customizable rewards program as part of the Premium package.
Besides just allowing publishers to implement game mechanics within a website, BigDoor also gives clients reports and analytics on how the program is influencing behavior and web engagement. BigDoor’s dashboard focuses on four key areas of performance to track the overall health of a site including loyalty, engagement, virality, and average revenue per user. This data can be measured in hourly, daily and monthly increments. And customers can also A/B test their program via BigDoor.
BigDoor says that partners realized an average lift of 153% in user loyalty, 672% in engagement, 355X in social sharing, and 9X in average revenue per user.�Customers include MLB.com, Dell, Nickelodeon, Spartz, and Wetpaint.
As the cost of a college education continues to rise, a startup called SoFi is offering a way for alumni to offer students financial assistance and more.Co-founder and CEO Mike Cagney describes the current student loan system as a “classic market failure,” resulting in students who are stuck with high interest rates and heavy debt that they struggle to pay off. He says that if you can remove government from the equation specifically government loans and replace it with alumni, then “you create a very virtuous cycle.”So that’s what SoFi tries to do. The company is creating university-specific funds for alumni to invest in, and those are used to make loans to students. SoFi says it’s offering to cover the full cost of attendance for participants, with loans ranging from $5,000 to $200,000. The loans are 6.24 percent fixed rate, and they can drop to 5.99 percent, lower than federal Stafford and PLUS loans and many private loans. So Students get relatively low interest rates, while alumni get a significant financial return.The benefits aren’t purely monetary. Through its website, SoFi tries to connect the participating alumni and students, for example if someone is looking for mentorship or help with their job search. Cagney notes that the loans create a financial incentive for alumni to pitch in — after all, they want students to do well so they can pay off the loans. On the flip side, he says that some alumni don’t care about making money from the investments at all, and want to use the interest payments to a nonprofit organization that will help the students something that SoFi is investigating.Of course, alumni donations are already an important source of funding for university programs. Cagney says these loans can be made from tax-deferred accounts like a 401k, so they shouldn’t divert money from traditional alumni giving.Cagney and his co-founders ran a pilot program at Stanford where they attended the Graduate School of Business last fall, raising a $2 million fund from 40 alumni. This fall, SoFi is expanding to 40 locations and hopes to lend out $150 million.As for its own funding, the company has raised $4 million from Eric Schmidt’s Innovation Endeavors, and board members Joe Chen founder and CEO of RenRen and Steve Anderson founder of Baseline Ventures.