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Visionary Thinking

FinTech: robots that might change your (financial) life

Visionary Thinking

FinTech: robots that might change your (financial) life

Computers have long been able to add, subtract and a lot more, but they’ve never been able to think… until now. Artificial intelligence – computer decision-making, that is – is working its way into day-to-day financial doings: it’s called FinTech.

Fiction is full of robots: bad, like HAL in a 2001: A Space Odyssey; good, like R2D2 in Star Wars; or bizarre, like T-1000 in the Terminator series. But these are nothing like the ones being brought to us by FinTech.  Robots of FinTech are not even humanoid. Intelligent, yes, yet entirely disembodied. And they’re coming soon (or already are there) to a computer or smartphone near you. To make introductions easier, we’ve given names to the four that seem most imminent.

PORPLA
Portfolio Planner, sometimes called a robo-advisor, takes information about the investor and investment goals, and maps that into a model portfolio. Nationality, age, family, wealth, tax position, risk-appetite and more are parlayed into a tailor-made package of assets. PORPLA is similar to online matchmakers (Parship.ch and the like), except rather than pairing singles, it joins someone’s assets with an investing strategy. Another analogy might be that it’s a ‘self-driving’ advisor.

PORPLA is still in baby shoes. One of its variants, a six-month-old called AIERA (Artificially Intelligent Equity Research Analyst), recently put a ‘sell’ rating on stock-market-darlings Alphabet and Facebook that contradicted the ‘outperform’ grades given by its creator, US bank Wells Fargo. Oops? Wells Fargo shrugged it off as teachable moment, telling investing website Seeking Alpha that “AIERA remains in test and learn mode, and therefore has no current bearing on our long-term outlooks or ratings.”

TRUTRAN
Trust Transformer is built on novel concept of ‘digital identity’. In one respect, this is nothing more than the digitisation of name, birthdate, address and other labels that identify a unique person. But TRUTRAN goes beyond in trying to bring all ‘identity items’ – say, health records, school transcripts, work certificates, drug tests – into one, verified place. Nobody has yet gone so far, but companies such as SecureKey, SwissSign and ThreatMetrix are working in that direction.

Earlier this year a consortium of six Canadian banks put CAN$27 million (about CHF 21 million) into developing a version of TRUTRAN. They hope it will allow their customers to consolidate all their financial activities under one login and password – but still keep matters private. That is, the bank with the mortgage won’t be able to see the stock portfolio held at another bank, and vice versa.

Such a central registry raises privacy concerns: is TRUTRAN the realisation of George Orwell’s Big Brother? Not if it’s done properly, contends a leading FinTech expert. According to Jesse McWaters of the World Economic Forum (WEF), TRUTRAN could not only prevent frauds, it could also allow people to control personal information more tightly. TRUTRAN could be set up, as McWaters puts it, to “prove rather than disclose.” For instance, it could prove that a person buying alcohol is of legal age, i.e. over 18 or 21, without disclosing the actual age or birthdate. Or it could prove that a person is not suspected of HIV infection, without disclosing any test data.

FUFU
Futuristic Funder is a new-fashioned approach to the old-fashioned practice of asking friends for a loan or for capital. What’s new? Having hundreds or thousands of friends via an online network.

Loans are offered by ‘peer-to-peer’ lending, brokered by companies such as Cashare, Lend, OnDeck and more. In many ways FUFU Loans works like a bank, with depositors lending to debtors with a spread for the middleman, but there are differences: credit approvals tend to be completely automated; and often givers and takers are matched specifically by FUFU, rather than paying to or drawing from a common pot of funds.

FUFU Capital, explains WEF’s McWaters, works in two main ways, both known as ‘crowdfunding’. One is to win working capital: your band wants to record an album, so to scratch together the studio fees, you crowdraise from your fans and you pay them back from the album’s proceeds. The other is similar to a private equity issuance. Shares in a private firm are sold directly over the Internet to the crowd. Perhaps the best-known example is Scottish beer-maker BrewDog, which already has crowd-funded some CHF 25 million in seed money and is now looking to double its stake.

RI-RE-DI
Risk re-definer thrives on the premise that although accidents will happen, they can be hedged with data. Lots and lots and lots of data.

Probably the best-known RI-RE-DI is behind InsureMy Tesla, which debuted earlier this year in Asia and was just launched in the USA. Offered in partnership with local insurers by self-driving-car-maker Tesla (who else?), the wheeze is that RI-RE-DI – with masses of Tesla’s self-driving data – can figure out risks better than insurers can, and set premiums accordingly. Tesla has such confidence in RI-RE-DI that its President of Sales and Services, Jonathan McNeill, told analysts earlier this year that in future it will offer a fixed, lifetime price that includes not just a car, but insurance and even maintenance, too.


Julius Baer and FinTech
Will robots ever take over the jobs of relationship managers in the private banking industry? Only time will tell. At least for a bank like Julius Baer, where the human factor is a key element of its service model, the prospect is rather unlikely. But this doesn’t mean that technology is insignificant. On the contrary: without cutting-edge IT, a bank like Julius Baer couldn’t cater to the very complex needs of its clients. In order to push the technical boundaries even more, the Bank joined the F10 FinTech Incubator and Accelerator Association in October 2016, supporting promising start-ups from across the globe on their way to innovate the financial industry. In our ‘Insights’ section, we will cover the progress of this initiative regularly and talk to movers and shakers of the FinTech scene.

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