LFP062 – “Hard Fail” Provision Funds Revisited with Rhydian Lewis CEO Ratesetter

Ratesetter LFPI am delighted to be joined on the show today once again by Rhydian Lewis CEO at Ratesetter to talk about the ultra-hot topic of provision funds in p2p/marketplace lending. Rhydian was on in the early days back in LFP019 in an episode talking about P2P beyond the metaphors. That’s a good theme for today on a narrower topic as all too often when one reads about provision funds its metaphorical.

Rhydian LewisIn practice as with most/all of FS one really needs to get the metaphorical whiteboard out and draw some diagrams and a bit of arithmetic to make it real.

Lets provide some context first. Ratesetter was formed 7 yrs ago and has accumulated an amazing 300,000 customers with an amazing 250,000 on the platform right now and have lent an amazing £1.5bn with no lender ever losing a penny of interest or capital along the way.

Those are phenomenal achievements that very very very few Fintechs will ever manage to better.

But like growing up there are growth pains along the way. Ratesetter has been somewhat the P2P of choice for taking pot-shots at this year for the FT Alphaville column and the impressive Kadhim Shubber who seems to do more research than most. What are euphemistically described perhaps as missteps around self-investment of provision funds, not publishing future loan losses and rebasing of how the provision fund excess is calculated came in something of a flurry and even generous if sceptical folks like I started to raise an eyebrow.

But behind all this is the need to change. Did Ratesetter – or for that matter you and I – get everything right in 2009 (or for that matter every year since) or do they and we all need to keep changing in the light of experience and further thought?

Let’s briefly mention provision funds.

So briefly a soft-fail provision fund to use my terms is like the platform having a piggy bank into which it puts a few pence on every deal. If lenders loans are impaired that piggy bank is raided to subsidise them. But when it runs out the platform says “sorry guys no more funds to subsidise your loss, over to you”.

A hard fail model in contrast (which off the top of my head Ratesetter is the only big user of) when it runs out pools all investors assets together (to share the losses out). This is a big phase change – like going from water to ice. Its always been a concern of mine – if only as 30+ yrs in FS has shown me time and time again in different markets the impossible is always happening. No amount of whiteboard ink will ever save everyone in all circumstances.

So lets dive into all of this. An annus trickyus for Rhydian and colleagues and this important point about hard provision funds.

Plenty discussed on the show including: Continue reading

LFP061 – InsureTech the 30,000 Feet Guide with Jonathan Howe UK Insurance Lead at PwC

PwC Banner_Orange_JGI am delighted to be joined today by Jonathan Howe UK Insurance lead at Price Waterhouse Coopers. As long time listeners will know I am very reluctant to give anyone a big picture topic on anything. Most folks are experts on one coalface and very few on the whole coal mine.

Jonathan HoweHowever Jonathan is a rara avis in the modern world in many ways. His linkedin career is perhaps the shortest I have read – one entry – 23 years at PwC. Now that’s the lifetime employment model that used to exist back in the day and exists for very few today. That’s also, compared to many butterflies in the modern world, an opportunity to dig a very deep well of experience and knowledge in a sector.

Secondly Jonathan leads the UK insurance practice (over 1,000 employees) and is responsible for PwC’s services for the UK Insurance Industry across all their range including audit, regulatory compliance, actuarial, consulting, tax and deals.

Thirdly PwC have been involved in a series of reports on the sector. Now plenty of reports are out there the more cynical amongst you may say and quality varies. True. However in “InsureTech a force for good”  Jonathan and colleagues have gone more than an extra mile. Amazingly they and their report partners Startupbootcamp have surveyed over 1,300 insurance startups. Wow.

Add that to decades in the industry and we have another of the rarest birds in the real world – someone who really is an expert.

The subtitle of “InsurTech a force for good” is an interesting overview “How InsurTech can reconnect insurers with their customers while simultaneously boosting the bottom line”

I met Jonathan at an event recently. It wasn’t a game of Top Trumps but if it had been Jonathan would have won hands down … when you have a database of 1,300 startups that’s a hell of a lot of facts to bring into any debate.

Topics discussed include – Continue reading

LFP060 – PSD2 & Open Banking in UK & Europe with Paul Thomalla ACI Worldwide

ACI London Fintech PodcastI’m delighted to be joined by Paul Thomalla expert on the upcoming changes in open-banking, SVP at ACI Worldwide, member of the Payments Strategy Forum (PSF) and board member at Nexo Standards.

Upcoming changes re opening payments to non-banks and opening access to bank account data will change the industry. On top of this we have UK and European initiatives in re (even before Brexit). It’s all swirling round and I thought we needed a guide to clarify where it all is and where it’s all going.

Paul Thomalla SVP global corporate relations and business development CASUALBut first some intros to Paul’s hats.

ACI Worldwide, founded in 1975, is one of these perhaps behind the scenes incumbent payments companies that most of you may not have heard of. Suffice it to say they do $14 trillion of payments per … wait for it … day (!!) Interestingly staff numbers are around 5,000 so that looks to me like $3bn per staff member per day. Either their fingers move fast or do you know what … incumbents can use tech as well or even better than those assailing the castle might ever think.

Lazy Fintech commentators and those with little experience in FS – two categories summed up in many a LinkedIn so-called thought leader article – often talk about FS as if FS were basically almost entirely Banks. As listeners to the show will know its far from that. There is a vast ecosystem of players into which Fintechs are trying to find themselves a place at the table.

In LFP049 we had the pleasure of talking to Rich Wagner, Chairman of the Emerging Payments Association. The Payments Strategy Forum is another player in the equation – Paul can explain the whole meta-process of how incumbents, startups, associations and forums and the regulator and legislators interact to produce the FS world we live in.

Oh yes and we start the show with a story which will take the all-time London Fintech Podcast record for anecdotes – taking an ex-US President to a pub in London.

Topics discussed include: Continue reading

LFP059 – How Smart Pension got 75,000 Fintech Clients in under 2yrs with Will Wynne Co-Founder

Smart Pension London Fintech PodcastI have the pleasure to be joined today by Will Wynne MD and co-founder of Smart Pension who have had the fastest 0-60 of any Fintech that has been on the show to date and it’s a record that’s hard to beat.

Will Wynne Smart PensionHow did they do it? Listen up and all will be revealed – though if all of us can read recipe books, few of us can become master chefs like Will who previously sold millions of flowers (from knowing nothing about that business) and in his spare time raised £100m for charity.

I say “wow” more in this episode than in any other – I think you can see why…

In 2014 I hung out a lot in the Fintech startup scene. So many moths! Such a big flame! One of the insider “trick questions” in Fintech is “name a success from all the Fintech incubator/accelerator programs in London”. Actually to be honest someone did come up with one name very recently – though sadly I’ve forgotten it so will lose the game next time that question comes round.

All of which is to say that the ex-ante chances of an individual Fintech getting anywhere are roughly less than zero. And as for ideas … sigh – so many people tell me they have an idea – yes everyone has lots – there is a bigger gulf from idea to business perhaps than there is from startup to business of scale. And then a big gap from “business of scale” (which the best Fintechs have reached) to – er – what might we call it. Scrapes his memory for long-since economics lessons … of yes its coming back … yes the stage that Fintech ain’t got to yet … its … yes “a profitable business” J

So how do you win the lottery? How do you beat odds of less than zero percent of getting anywhere?

Are you interested in how to do this? Would your Fintech be better off for acquiring 75,000 clients?

Listen up and the formula for instant fame and success will be yours. Terms and conditions apply.

Topics discussed on the show include: Continue reading

LFP058 – Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs): Tutorial, Bitcoin, Blockchain & Fintech with Laurent Kssis CEC Capital

CEC Capital

Today I have the pleasure to be joined today by Laurent Kssis MD of CEC Capital who has worked in the ETF industry for 14years. We’ve spent a few episodes recently in the heady heights of the super-big picture so let’s get back to the coalface and dive in depth into an important area of FS.

ETFs – Exchange Traded Funds – have been many times on the London Fintech Podcast, always in passing, so I thought it was more than overdue to attack them head on.

Like Banquo’s ghost in Macbeth ETFs are the thing that haunt the whole Investment Management Fintech scene … if, in essence, you can gain exposure to equity markets in a balanced way via a vehicle with minimal fees what exactly is there for Investment Management Fintech to disrupt?

Laurent KssisLaurent certainly has feet in both #oldFS and #newFS camps being the non-exec chairman of the Blockchain investment company Coinsilium. So he is the ideal expert to talk to us about this sector today.

Conceptually ETFs started life as traded funds – if you like index-tracker investment trusts – although why they weren’t just called investment trusts is a question for Laurent. According to wikipedia since 1993 in the US where they were first created an unbelievable $3trn have been invested in them. They have also moved a long way from their origin as index-trackers with (quoting wiki) “By the end of 2015 ETFs offered 1,800 different products covering almost every conceivable market sector, niche and trading strategy”.

So that’s ETFs per se. But like everywhere in FS the wave of innovation that is Fintech is lapping on many shores. If ETFs have inhibited the growth of one area of Fintech what is Fintech doing to them? Listeners will certainly get their money’s worth today as we range from a tutorial on the basics of ETFs through Bitcoin ETFs to blockchain – a huge waterfront.

Topics discussed include:

– how Laurent’s career led him to being an expert on ETFs and progressing that into hot areas like Bitcoin and Blockchain

– the relevance of the “transition management” world [what happens when one fund manager takes over eg a pension fund from another]

– an ETF is a “marketable investment vehicle that allows you to buy and sell during trading hours of the Exchange a basket of stock/bonds/commodities through a single share”

– comparing and contrasting investment trusts and ETFs; management fees, transparency, NAV calculation, premia/discount ranges

– the multiplicity of ETFs eg there are around 50 different ones on the Euro Stoxx 50; different exchanges, currencies, market timezones leading for challenges for  market makers in setting prices, hedging themselves etc

– “trading channel” effectively the arbitrage channel is the range in which ETFs trade compared to their underlying components; over a decade ago this could have been as much as 10%/+5% to -5% (“quite extortionate”) but then illiquid, hard to hedge against;

– this changed rapidly when institutions started to get involved in larger size

– management fees (“TER” – total expense ratio) typically, on ETFs such as Euro Stoxx 50, have gone from ~0.65% a decade ago to ~0.12% today

– ETFs are allowed in ISAs, SIPPs, 401k

– in 401k’s over 50% of the investments are in ETFS (!)

– ETFs are UCITS compliant (which allows passporting into Europe), registered mostly in Ireland and “tax-advantageous” locations (Jersey/Guernsey/Luxembourg)

– ETFs are open-ended they can increase in size at any point (depending on demand:supply); how this is done

– ETFs are undergoing a huge explosion in diversity – you can buy almost anything via ETFs – gold silver, precious metals, industrial metals, agricultural products

the huge opportunity for Fintech in providing a more up-to-date angle to investing in these; the tendency of the first wave of Investment Management Fintech to just replicate investing in the same boring old stuff as existing I.M. firms (core equity markets and bonds for example)

– a whole interesting tale about Bitcoin ETFs and what Laurent learned on that journey – you’ll have to listen to hear that tale 😉 …

– the difference between ETFs and ETNs (Exchange Traded Notes)

– the recent Bitcoin hacking through BitFinex and how it differs from last years MT Gox; a high quality exchange, the role of regulation in re; hot wallets and cold wallets – a painful tale all round 🙁

– blockchain versus bitcoin

ETFs were new once and have been a great success – what can Fintech learn from that (you’ll have to listen ;-)) …

– ETFs have had a rough ride too – from journalists to scandals…

– an overview of Coinsilium – the world’s first listed blockchain publically listed investment company

And much much more 🙂

Share and enjoy!


LFP057 – Five Reasons Corporate Governance is Essential for Fintech with Geoff Miller CEO Afaafa


Geoff Miller

I have the pleasure to be joined today by Geoff Miller, CEO of Afaafa and former CEO of GLI Finance which he built from having no presence in AltFi to having over two dozen share stakes and loan agreements.

If existing FS has gone far to far in the direction of endless PC box-ticking – the porridge is too hot, then for sure in Fintech the porridge is too cold. Fintech is a long way behind grown-up FS is on corporate governance – the average Fintech board being comprised of founders & VCs/angels – little independence there.

How can Fintech get the porridge “just right”?

What are the advantages for a Fintech of a well-composed board?

A quick count on LinkedIn shows that Geoff may have been on getting on for two dozen boards.  So who better to talk about the importance of corporate governance then Geoff. As Professor John Kay said in LFP055 corporate governance may sound like a dull box-ticking exercise but it is a vital function of FS. Just look at what has happened to senior executive pay in the UK when the FS industry (now the largest holder as most of our investments are indirect) hasn’t much to vote much at board meetings. If the cat is off busy making whoopee its hardly surprising if the mice steal most of the cheese.

If you are anywhere near the Fintech scene in London (or in some other countries) you will have heard of Geoff. Geoff has always been a rare soul in terms of brutal honesty. At AltFi Europe 2015, the general tone of which was “ra-ra aren’t we wonderful” Geoff spoke of “woeful underwriting standards and hopelessly naïve CEOs”.

Geoff is an ideal guest on the London Fintech Podcast as he doesn’t just have “views and opinions” which are so prevalent amongst the so-called “thought-leader” classes   Rather he has been at many coal faces with many miners. And as with coal mining its often painful work. In LFP037 John Regan gave an excellent account of managing ones way out of business model crisis at Platform Black. GLI Finance had its own internal shuffle before Xmas bringing in new management. More recently Funding Knight went into administration and there was plenty of work for the board there.

Topics discussed on the show include: Continue reading

LFP056 – “Everything You Wanted to Know About Fintech Venture Capital But Were Too Afraid To Ask” with Rob Moffat Partner at Balderton Capital

Balderton BannerI am  delighted to welcome Rob Moffat, Partner at Balderton Capital to dive into the topic of Venture Capital and Fintech.  As I aim to present London Fintech in the round I have been – for a long time – keeping my eye open for a friendly VC to have on the show. This has taken two years would you believe!

Viewed from Mars you might think this is curious given how the whole mainstream tech media is so focused on fund-raisings, so-called valuations (and fantasy animals with one horn), and the whole machismo around money.

Viewed not from Mars the VC sector globally is perhaps rather problematic. If this is a surprise to you then I recommend as an entry point Diane Mulcahy’s 2014 Harvard Business Review article Venture Capitalists get well paid to lose money. As a former VC she knows where to direct the fire – high fees, illiquidity and underperformance. As I recall in the greatest tech boom ever, in the US the aggregate stats are something like that the average VC hasn’t even returned to the investors the funds they raised, let alone got a carry cheque (the performance related fee).

Furthermore as we heard way back in LFP008 with Richard Goold the UK/European venture capital market was very thin indeed in most of the 20th Century (post-WW2 the UK basically had the (originally government) 3i as the only player for a long time) and returns were poor.

Set against this virtually every Fintech that scales needs VC money – without which there would be no boom at all.

Equally like in all industries there are always some good players with a reputation for adding value. It was such a lead that led me to Balderton Capital who are one of the real players in the London Fintech scene.

Rob MoffatRob also writes a lot on the industry – I recommend his blog – and is on the board of seven of Balderton’s investments, the best-known of which in UK Fintech are perhaps GoCardless and Nutmeg. Balderton invests around £20m per annum into Fintech.

Above and beyond this Rob is – finally – someone who is happy to talk on air about the reality of VC and Fintech. As he joined the firm in 2009 (from Google) he has experienced the Fintech world from roots through shoots and now into a rather varied garden.

There is more than plenty discussed on the show, key topics include: Continue reading

LFP055 – How Fintech Could Become Far Greater by Re-Forming FS with Professor John Kay

John KayI am delighted to be joined this week by Professor John Kay – one of the UK’s leading economists and outstanding authority on Financial Services to discuss the truly vast potential that still exists for Fintech to disrupt FS. Fintech as we know it now has so far only put its toe into that ocean of possibility.

Maybe Fintech as we know it now is as good as it gets. Or maybe it could be far far more. If the latter it really needs to get stuck into the areas we discuss on the show and in a far more radical way really support society at large and both re-form and reform FS.

John’s CV includes having written for the Financial Times for over 20yrs, being a successful author of at least 9 books, a fellow of St John’s college Oxford for some 46yrs, a visiting Professor at the LSE, being awarded the CBE, has been a director of well over a dozen FS companies, a successful businessman (Google tells me he has an investment in London Fintech Nutmeg), a member of the British Academy, the Royal Society of Edinburgh, establishing the IFS as one of Britain’s leading think tanks,  and in 2012 producing a review for the UK Government on equity markets and long term decision making. Post-Brexit he has been appointed to advise the Scottish Government on European Union issues.

So he knows a thing or two about FS. Not only this but as his website strapline is “accessible and relevant economics” he has the rare ability to take all that knowledge and experience and make it readily assimilable to the layman. Never more so than in his latest book “Other People’s Money: Masters of the Universe or Servants of the People?” (which currently gets 4.4*/5 from 32 reviews on amazon.co.uk).

If you want a taste of the book and an education (I learnt a lot and I know a little about FS myself) I recommend checking out John talking about the book at Google or at the LSE. And then buy the book 🙂

Anyway all this deep background serves for a very deep and vitally important issue.

Fintech would not be where it is today without the FS crisis of 2008. Leading authorities – John, the ex-governor of the Bank of England and the ex head of the FSA – have all written books saying that the fundamental dynamics behind that crisis have not been eliminated and that we will see a similar crisis again. I agree entirely.

In his Google Talk John mentioned that his book was in part educative but also in part so that when the next FS crisis breaks authorities will not be able to say (as they did last time) they had no forewarning and no policy prescriptions to reach for.

This made we wonder whether we couldn’t repurpose and leverage John’s work – inverting it as it were – turning problems into opportunities and showing what Fintech could do to both reform and re-form FS. Continue reading

LFP054 – Special Episode! Do we need Fintech 2.0? What are Brexit’s impacts? with Giles Andrews Zopa Chairman

Zopa-930-x-180Less than a week ago the UK voted to leave the EU. This comes against a background of severe problems for listed US marketplace lenders, a worlwide tailing off of institutional capital into the sector and only a tiny number of Fintechs having achieved profitability (many years after launch).

I thought it time to take a big picture look at Fintech – is Fintech 1.0 flagging? Do we need Fintech 2.0 to take us onward and upwards? Will Brexit be a positive force or a negative force for Fintech?

ST-ZopaA14vc051I could think of no better figure to discuss this with than Giles Andrews who has been at the top of perhaps the UK’s oldest Fintech Zopa per se as well as one of the most blue-chip today.

It’s a wide-ranging conversation but one that lays out some of the parameters of the territory ahead – one which right now may be shrouded in fog but one which we all, including the Fintech sector, will travel through.

It’s a longer episode than normal and there is plenty on the show. Some main topics we discuss include:

Continue reading

LFP053 – Innovating In P2P with Cormac Leech Co-founder Liberum Alternative Finance

LFP LiberumCormac Leech is co-founder of Liberum Alternative Finance who are a (the?) specialist strategic adviser and development partner to the UK Alternative Finance sector, focusing on online direct and marketplace lending and equity crowdfunding.

Liberum have done some $2bn of the largest P2P investment fund originations in the UK – notably P2PGI now a listed FTSE250 company. Which to make that explicit means that one of the biggest 250 listed companies in the UK purely invests in P2P. An interesting stat in itself when you hear how Fintech ain’t much from the odd naysayer.

Cormac LeechCormac is perhaps London’s best known and deepest thinker on Alternative Finance. In LFP038 Peter Renton and I discussed the highlights of Lendit 2015 – Europe’s largest P2P conference last year. We both picked out Cormac’s coruscating presentation – a little like the scene in Apocalypse now where they are on LSD under the bridge while the battle is going on. More prosaically it fitted a 3hr presentation into about 20 minutes and included everything about P2P including advice to the Bank of England as to how they should in the future use P2P assets to control the money supply.

Plenty has been happening in all directions with P2P lending and I thought it would be a great time to hear from someone who, although having an indirect stake in the success of the industry, is not the CEO of one and therefore that much more dispassionate.  Furthermore as always I aim to dive beneath all the froth and trivia and get to the deeper waters.

Plenty in this show including: Continue reading