Insights interview: Tod Oorbals – Biocryptology

An app-centric but human approach to smart investing: interview with Wealthsimple

“Never take money for granted or be frivolous in … spending” advises your bank – no wait, that was Elijah Wood, interviewed by Davy Rothbart for Wealthsimple. Personal stories from celebrities are a great idea for getting people to listen to good financial advice! We caught up with the Wealthsimple team and found that taking a fresh look at money is central to their mission to “make smart investing simple and affordable” for everyone:

At Wealthsimple you describe yourselves as “a whole new kind of investing service” – what is the difference?

Our mission is to make investing transparent, low-cost and accessible to anyone, no matter their age or net worth.

We invest your money in a globally diversified portfolio of low-cost index funds modelled after the same Nobel Prize-winning research used by the world’s savviest investors. This way you can take advantage of world-class, long-term investment management without the high fees and account minimums associated with traditional investment managers.

Secondly, Wealthsimple stands out from the crowd with exceptional product design that’s beautifully designed and personalised for the end-user.
With one glance you can get a clear idea of how your money is working for you: how much you’ve invested, where it has been invested, your earnings and account.

Wealthsimple: “Our app makes it easy for anyone to get started investing, no matter who they are or how much money they have.”

With a commitment to product innovation, Wealthsimple’s website has won the prestigious Webby Award for Best Financial Services/Banking website two years in a row.

Thirdly we aim to humanise the world of money and investing, and our creative content is a big part of this. Wealthsimple’s Magazine unpacks difficult financial decisions, uses unique subcultures to help people understand the way economies work, and talks to interesting people (like Elijah Wood) about their life-long relationship with money.

How long have you been around?

We were founded by a team of wealth management experts and tech entrepreneurs in 2014. Wealthsimple has grown into a leading digital investment manager with over 65,000 clients globally and £1.2 billion in assets. Backed by $165 million (CAD) in investment from Power Financial Corporation, Wealthsimple is available in the UK, Canada and the US and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau came to our Toronto headquarters in 2017 when we celebrated reaching $1billion in assets, saying, “Wealthsimple is an example of fin-tech at its finest … The success of this business has turned heads all over the world.”

We launched in the US in January 2017, and the UK in September 2017 given our ambitions to become a global player.

How do new users get started?

Our app makes it easy for anyone to get started investing, no matter who they are or how much money they have. One of our innovations is that we’ve made the process incredibly easy — it should take about five minutes.

You sign up online, answer a few questions that will help us figure out the best investment strategy for you, and then we recommend an investment portfolio optimised to help you reach your financial goals (buying a home, saving for retirement etc.)

Our clients come from all backgrounds:

  • 40% of clients are first time investors
  • 80% are under the age of 45
  • 50% of clients sign up with our Socially Responsible Investing Portfolio

What if investors need help?

We’re simplifying investing by making it human. So many of us find investing complicated and overwhelming. That leaves us feeling out of control.

We simplify it so that you can get on with your life. You also always have the option to speak to our team of human advisors who are always on hand to walk you through your own portfolio or any questions you may have.

It used to be that unless you had a lot of money, you couldn’t get access to really great financial tools and advice. So that meant lots of people – and younger folks in particular – weren’t being served by the financial services industry.

We’re also working to build more financial advice into our app to make it more helpful and provide the same type of advice we offer through our human investment team. This way great investment advice is accessible to everyone through technology.

Can you give our readers a good bit of investing advice?

We recommend focusing on long term investing, meaning 3-5+ years, so we do often remind people to drown out the noise and not check the stock markets daily.

Having said that we see about 1 in 3 of our clients checking their Wealthsimple app every day!


Find out more:

Wealthsimple describe their service as “investing on autopilot” – find out more (with a very clever bit of web design) here: https://www.wealthsimple.com/en-gb

Banking that breaks the rules: interview with US fintech Kasasa

Can financial technology escape the gravity well of corporate boringness and become relevant to normal people? Can consumers ever trust a bank again? These are both essential and possible, say Kasasa, an award-winning fintech in the US – we caught up with Andrew Swinney, Content Manager at Kasasa, to find out more about what they are up to:

Kasasa does not offer products directly to consumers – instead creating solutions for community banks and credit unions – how does this work?

Kasasa makes banking products, like checking accounts, and then partners with community banks and credit unions, who then offer those to people. What makes our accounts different is that they are a win-win scenario. So Kasasa is not a bank: we are a partner to community banks and credit unions, providing them with the technology and products consumers expect from a big bank, but now can get from a local institution that treats them like a person.

Most checking accounts offer interest rates around, oh, .01%. Garbage. Kasasa account rates vary depending on the institution, but are on average 39x higher. The reason we can do that is because they incentivize money saving behavior for the banks — such as asking a consumer to switch from paper statements or e-statements. (Did you know it costs an average of sixty cents a month to print just one of those?)

The bank saves money, they pass those savings along in the form of higher interest to the account holder, and the community is stronger because finances are staying local and being reinvested in the community. Win-win-win.

39x higher interest rates? Yes please – gif via GIPHY

Your marketing features the Kasasa team as Spartans at Thermopylae. So who or what is Xerxes?

Easy. The megabanks. Companies like Chase, Bank of America, and Wells Fargo. They play fast and loose with their account holder’s money (hello, 2008 financial crisis) and then used bailout money to grow even bigger by buying out community financial institutions that struggled in the crisis they caused.

Wells Fargo has been making many headlines for their shady business practices, but they aren’t the only ones. In January 2017, JPMorgan Chase agreed to pay $53 million to settle federal allegations that it charged African-American and Hispanic mortgage borrowers higher rates than white customers. In September 2016, the SEC announced that Merrill would pay a $12.5 million penalty for maintaining ineffective trading controls that failed to prevent erroneous orders from being sent to the markets and causing mini-flash crashes.

Does it sound like these business are good partners? Does it sound like they hold their customers in higher priority than their profits?

Consumer sentiment about big banks after the 2008 financial crisis – gif via GIPHY

People deserve better and Americans, at large, are unaware of the options they have. They can get better service, better products, and improve the economic security of their community by switching to community financial institutions.

Our CEO, Gabe Krajicek, really believes in this mission. He sums it up well in this open letter; https://blog.kasasa.com/2018/02/open-letter-americans/

All Kasasa accounts are FREE and PAY REWARDS for things you already do. And only community banks or credit unions offer them. It’s no wonder megabanks don’t offer FREE accounts that pay rewards…these accounts are too consumer-friendly for their taste.

 

Kasasa’s social media is full of memes and humour – how does this match the world of finance?

Finances carry with it a lot of emotional baggage; people feel shame and guilt about making past mistakes or lack of knowledge all of which translates to wanting to avoid dealing with some pretty serious issues. I mean, I’ve even been guilty of not wanting to check my balance after a fun weekend or getting hit with some fees because I’ve neglected something. Our hope is to strip some of those feelings by calling them out and making fun of them.

Plus, some days we just want to make ourselves laugh. Tim Washer is a big inspiration for me, personally, as a B2B marketer. He’s got a great comedic history and reminds us that while we might be B2C or B2B, we are really P2P, and people like to laugh.

Humor is the great currency of the internet.

 

Kasasa recently won “Best of Show” at FinovateSpring 2018: what did you present?

Okay, so there are plenty of companies out there saying they have reinvented the lending process… except, the only thing they are doing is making it easier to take out a loan. That’s great, filling out forms is pretty tedious, so we get why making the process frictionless is smart… but that doesn’t really address what people want. No one has ever said “I wish I could get into debt faster.”

We presented a product that, we think, will fundamentally change the way people manage debt. The Kasasa Loan allows people to pay down extra money (the smart financial move) with the confidence that they can take back that extra amount at anytime.

Pretend you get a $1,000 bonus at work and want to pay ahead on your car. Now, two months later that car needs an $800 repair. With old loans, you’d be upset you paid ahead. With the Kasasa Loan, you can just take that money back out. It’s unprecedented flexibility that gives people the confidence to make financial choices that are in their best interest.

 

Last year Kasasa was voted one of Austin’s Top Five Best Places to Work: so do you have a free muesli bar and slides between office floors?

No, but now we know what to put in the suggestion box.

It can sound a little corny to say that we have a great company culture, but honestly — we do. It’s something that we take very seriously.

Our culture revolves around what is known as “The Patch.” It’s a visual representation of the four values that is present in everything we do; love, 5-star leadership, interdependence, and badassitude. Every employee goes to “War College” where they learn the values; there is even a handbook and a test that every employee must pass.

“It is very humbling to work in an environment where employees aim to make a positive impact every day, and it’s my privilege to lead a group with such strong personal values.” Gabriel Krajicek, CEO

Of course, we also have some pretty cool things like unlimited PTO, Beer:30, a break room full of snacks, and events like yoga, karaoke, video game competitions, etc. What can I say, it’s good to be a Spartan.


Find out more:

“Banking that breaks the rules”: https://kasasa.com/

On Twitter: @Kasasa and @KasasaNews

Social proof insurance on the blockchain: interview with Matt Peterman, co-founder of InsurePal

What happens if you draw a venn diagram intersecting the new, rapidly innovating world of blockchain, with the time-honoured, stable, even “boring” world of insurance? This is what we set out to discover in this exclusive interview with Matt Peterman, co-founder of InsurePal, a new business that has recently closed an $18m ICO on the promise of developing peer-to-peer insurance based on social proof endorsements.

Thanks for speaking with us Matt – could you tell us the story of how InsurePal got started?

[Matt Peterman:] Thank you for taking the time to interview me. The insurance industry is all about dealing with trust and risk, and we actually think people are pretty good at this between themselves… it just gets less accurate and more difficult when you do it at scale without a human face. So in 2015 we identified the science of social proof as a possible solution and invested close to $500,000 to develop our model and web app demo, filing a patent in the US and worldwide.

Calibrated mathematical algorithms confirmed that our model brings from 30% up to 70% cost reduction. We pitched the idea in Silicon Valley but ended up refusing an offer of several million dollars in order to be able to develop InsurePal on our own terms.

After conducting our methodology and viability assessment, and a legal review of the project, we identified the missing piece: blockchain. Our core team are mostly people with a background in the financial and insurance industry – we have a really strong insurance knowledge base – and we held several meetings with cryptocurrency think-tanks. We are working on making the InsurePal platform the global “go-to” solution for social proof insurance, leveraging blockchain technology.

You mentioned you’ve patented your solution for “social proof for the insurance industry” – can you summarize the technology involved?

The InsurePal platform improves risk selection, segmentation, and trust. For the end user, the InsurePal decentralized app will serve as an entry point to our insurance ecosystem, and we set up white label partnerships so businesses can sell social proof insurance. We feel that the social proof idea will reshape insurance back to its roots.

Decentralization is a key change we see coming to many technologies, and it’s great for insurance. Blockchain technology has three different but complementary definitions:

  1. Technically, the blockchain is a back-end database that maintains a distributed ledger that can be inspected openly;
  2. Business-wise, the blockchain is an exchange network that operates 24/7 and allows you to move value peer-to-peer without the assistance of intermediaries;
  3. Legally speaking, the blockchain can be seen as a validation mechanism for transactions, replacing middlemen.

Having that in mind, blockchain technology can add significant value. Here are a few areas we can improve:

  • insurance conditions and automated claims processing through smart contracts;
  • a reliable and transparent payment mechanism for the client;
  • identity check (KYC/AML) and better fraud control;
  • bringing to market innovative insurance product offerings.

Regarding new insurance products, we’ve seen a lot of ideas realized recently: property CAT XL (a type of excess of loss reinsurance), flight delay insurance, crop insurance, drone insurance, smart car and smart home insurance, and battery insurance. Social-proof based insurance is another of these rapidly emerging areas of innovation.

What does this all mean for consumers?

Well, we can say that insurance is boring. How many times a year do you interact with insurance company? As seldom as possible, right?

We want to change that and build a community that has common goals regarding lifestyle, for example diligent drivers who want to be rewarded for their habits. Social proof is a natural, in-built mechanism within all of us, where we reference the behaviour of others to guide our own actions.

InsurePal translates social proof into a form of financial commitment. An endorser financially guarantees someone, and to do this they use their own due diligence since the risk is losing their money. Through many such endorsements and guarantees, the network as a whole whole becomes more risk aware, and will actually encourage a change in people’s behaviour.

We anticipate that the InsurePal platform will serve as a replacement for many types of insurance as we know today, and offer completely new types of coverage for areas of life and business that are emerging rapidly in a digital world.

The magazine Insurance CIO Outlook has ranked InsurePal in the top 10 blockchain solution providers in 2018

What does your roadmap look like?

We launched the InsurePal token (IPL) crowd sale on 16th January 2018, and closed it successfully in the first 80 seconds!

Before and since that public sale, we’ve been hard at work in both R&D and marketing. We have a pilot project in the UK which also involves some global services and at the end of the summer social proof modules will be ready for testing with our community. While we are setting up token economics a lot of blockchain knowledge will need to be integrated in our solution.

On the other side, extensive legal and regulatory preparations are ongoing, with our goal to obtain an EU passport license and join the FCA global sandbox. Beyond this, we will be seeking partnerships with interested third parties, and from a PR point of view all InsurePal activities will be promoted on a global scale.

Our roadmap can be found on our website at: https://insurepal.io/roadmap

InsurePal have set up offices in London with an eye on the excellent global fintech and insuretech ecosystem here

 

With the experience you’ve gained so far in the brand new world of blockchain technology, what’s your outlook and advice for fellow entrepreneurs?

One thing is certain: in the blockchain business, there is always something new happening! Basically it’s going to affect everything: if you run through predictions for how things work in the year 2025, you’re going to have cryptocurrency banks and crypto-insurance companies, DAO will be a generally accepted company structure, we will use digital wallets, business logic and contracts will be recorded on blockchains, digital securitization of goods will become the norm (gold, diamonds, physical property)…

Would you like more? Medical documentation will be available on blockchains, laws and restrictions will be directly checked on the blockchain, taxes will be calculated and paid on the blockchain, stock exchanges will use blockchains to validate transactions and traders will use them as a means of payment, the decentralized protocol will become commonplace, special blockchain browsers will be developed, the language of smart contracts will prosper, open source protocols will gain, university programs of cryptography and game theory will prosper, decentralized cloud computing will gain…

So what can we sum up? One needs to stay flexible for 100% change from the position which is known today.

Doing business in an environment like this takes even more effort than the usual entrepreneurial life. My advice: be flexible and run towards your goals or others will get there first!


To learn more about InsurePal, visit https://insurepal.io/ and follow @InsurePal_io on Twitter.

A Platform for Token Offerings: Interview with Tokenise CEO Mike Kessler

Clearly, the ability to issue blockchain-based tokens as a way of raising capital for new business ventures has revolutionised entrepreneurs’ access to capital and seems set to be a top choice for new startups from now on.

Regulation and technical toolkits are rapidly catching up, with platform builders emerging to offer investors and company builders a way to take advantage of a blockchain way of raising capital without reinventing the wheel. One of these is Tokenise, a brand of Kession Capital.

As part of our Insights series, we interviewed Kession Capital Founder and CEO, Mike Kessler:

It’s great to speak with you Mike: how did you first get into the blockchain world?

[Mike Kessler:] Kession Capital Limited is the owner of the Tokenise brand and prior to this, we have had a number of crowdfunding platforms operate under our umbrella structure. We originally liked the concept of crowdfunding, but it has a flaw: you can participate into the equity and buy shares in the companies, but the chances of exiting your investment are very slim.`

In 2015 we were looking to partner with an exchange to build a secondary market for crowdfunding using blockchain as the backbone. I see this evolution now taking place in 2018 whereby tokenised securities will come more strongly into vogue in the 4th quarter, and they will become the prevalent form of capital raising in 2019 and beyond. Unlike traditional crowdfunding, tokenised securities offer investors a direct route to an active market for their investment, as and when they are looking to exit.

What were the key ideas inspiring you to build Tokenise?

Tokenise was conceived from looking at two main aspects, regulated markets and tokenised securities.

The concept of having an orderly market with rules and compliance may sound boring, but ultimately you want to protect investors not only from unscrupulous actors in this marketplace but also against themselves for investing in tokens that are fundamentally there to enrich the owners.

In addition we saw a natural pathway from equities crowdfunding to tokenising securities. This is to help create liquidity, price discovery and transparency into an otherwise opaque and untraceable marketplace. I think the sector should be regulated and overseen using sensible parameters and working with exchanges like Gibraltar Blockchain Exchange (GBX).

Building a securities crowd sales platform will enable the industry to move into a new lane of the highway, safely.

Tokenise can act as a Sponsor Firm for companies listing on the Gibraltar Blockchain Exchange

Is tokenisation something specific to the blockchain approach?

I think tokenisation has existed in various forms over the last several years: this can be seen from the Green stamps, to loyalty cards, and if you think about it, a prescription is in effect nothing more than a token. In fact it is probably more akin to a smart contract as there are certain conditions that have to be met before being converted!

Another token usage that has existed for years are timeshares: here you own the utility of time and not the property. Therefore tokenisation itself is nothing new, but the use of recording property, transactions, and contracts on a blockchain is something that has only recently become a real life business tool.

How do you view the data protection pros and cons of operating with blockchains?

For years we’ve used databases for sharing data, but when you do this with blockchain technology there are a number of key differences. With a blockchain one of the things you have, and can prove, is immutability. This is an important principle when considering data issues, and it has its pros and cons. The advantage is it provides an indelible record of what has occurred and cannot be changed. However, this also has its disadvantages and in some instances with GDPR actually causes serious issues as people’s data are only meant to be retained for a limited time in corporate hands.

However, blockchain technology is also all about distributing the store of information instead of having one central locked-down database. Our world is already very networked but the advantages of better data sharing are numerous, if you consider life records that are indeed immutable and that you need to share in many places throughout your life. It could be used to record the birth of a baby – your birth – your health records, immunisations, education, results, jobs, salary levels, references, bank records, tax codes, house purchases etc. The list goes on, but the key is to ensure that only those that should be allowed access to certain areas of that ledger are granted access.

Having looked at these two sides to data on the blockchain, the reality is there is a huge potential conflict in GDPR for personal identity and the information contained therein. At this stage I don’t think anyone has a complete answer to how this is solved. If something is immutable and on record forever it is impossible to destroy and therefore the right to be forgotten doesn’t really exist.

One potential area being explored is that the private key needed to access restricted data could be destroyed after a period of time. This way, the owner of the data would effectively have it back under their sole control. The practical issue is whether the private key is destroyed, or how to enforce a moratorium on the ability to hold that data, i.e. how to trust the counterparties. I think this area has yet to be fully thought through and will cause serious issues for anyone trying to jump too far ahead without a solid approach.

Tokenise Founder and CEO Mike Kessler: “Blockchain technologies will significantly improve the financial ecosystem, and …create greater social and economic cohesion”

Do you see blockchain living up to the hype in the near future?

Within blockchain I think we are currently at the crest of the wave and as the word implies, it’s a big part of anyone’s job in the blockchain space to keep on top of things and keep up with the speed of progress.

We are consistently speaking to thought leaders in the space, attending conferences and talking to people within the sector. The blockchain ecosystem is going to mature rapidly from a hype stage to being a true enabler, whether it is to help bank the previously unbanked, or to create new paradigms and uses in the offering of securities.

By working with entities like the Gibraltar Stock Exchange and various other financial institutions whether they are exchanges, trading platforms, or wealth managers, there is the general consensus that blockchain if used responsibly in the right areas, it will significantly improve the financial ecosystem, and hopefully make it far more inclusive across the world to create greater social and economic cohesion.

What about jobs in the blockchain ecosystem – do you have advice for those thinking of this career path?

If starting out in your career it is important to brush up on your knowledge base. There are tonnes of free resources out there that are really good and some of the basic videos explain it really well. Going deeper, there are courses like edX Blockchain for business, where you can do a short course to help understand more about it.

It is possible to specialise, but the field is still very new: if you define an expert as someone spending 10,000+ hours on a subject, how many of those people are there? Therefore I think it is good to get broad industry experience, learn about a wide range of aspects, and speak to as many people as you can. The blockchain ecosystem is very community focussed and people are therefore generous with their time, but be warned once you go down the rabbit hole, it’s a lot of long nights and early starts as it really is a 24/7 business!

 

To find out more about Tokenise, visit: http://tokenise.io/

On Twitter: @TokeniseLDN

Interview with Jomari Peterson, Founder & CEO of the Digital Reserve

Microfinance is currently a $100 billion dollar market that has grown faster than 15% per year over the past decade. The Digital Reserve is a fintech startup backed by a for-profit Public Benefit Corporation applying cryptocurrency and mobile app technology to connect lenders with borrowers more accessibly and efficiently.

The Digital Reserve Network (“DRN”) is a peer-to-peer distributed ledger, secured by cryptographic signatures and governed by the Denarii Protocol. The base currency unit of the DRN is the Denarii Token. The Digital Reserve aims to be a part of the solution in redefining the World Economy through the establishment of a registered microfinance institution.

In this Adastra Insights interview we spoke to Digital Reserve Founder & CEO, Jomari Peterson, to find out more about their bold initiative:

Who’s on board with your idea?

[Jomari Peterson:] One example is the Trust Savings Credit Union in Liberia: this is a United Nations supported entity and has already agreed to leverage The Digital Reserve services towards their goals of providing credit for neglected markets. In the US, a non-profit in Pittsburgh, PA has also expressed interest in leveraging the Digital Reserve capabilities for their students.

How will it work for users?

There are two parts to consider: Digital Reserve is the network, and we also have the Digital Reserve Public Benefit Corporation [PBC] which is focused on the development of the network and increasing financial accessibility. Users will discover the Digital Reserve network through word of mouth and targeted support interventions by the Digital Reserve, P.B.C.

The organization will make substantial investment in financial literacy programming, training and capacity development. As the user base grows, the organization will be important for encouraging network exposure and utilization.

The main focus and support within the Digital Reserve Network will be on financial services and solutions.

Here are some planned interface designs:

Will there be an ecosystem of developers?

Absolutely. Partners can build apps to integrate with The Digital Reserve without being part of the formal structure of Digital Reserve, P.B.C. – interaction with other services and interoperability is something we definitely support.

To reach our goal of developing a healthy and equitable economic system, it is vital to engage those who share this interest and desire.

To truly be effective, the Digital Reserve Network needs a diversity of players to create a holistic system. We are very intentional about our desire to become part of the fabric of the future of finance

Therefore, the specific interventions and partnerships are vital to creating a strong foundation for the development of the Digital Reserve’s vision to be a new type of financial institution. As a financial institution of the future we can’t afford to not operate on the cutting edge of technology, and this means not working in isolation.

We are going to build programmable structures for offering a variety of financial services, including debt and equity based solutions on top of the Digital Reserve Network. In addition, asset recognition is an important aspect of operations.

 

What challenges do you foresee in building this venture?

Well, it is important to make sure that we provide robust customer service options. We plan to develop this infrastructure through community volunteers, bounties and partnerships with existing organizations with a similar vision of social impact, equity and growth.

Secondly we need to build positive relationships with the traditional banking and finance world. We pride ourselves on a user experience focus. We believe this is the fundamental barrier to making alternative financing options viable. Therefore, we have an emphasis on transparency, clarity and accessibility superior to what is offered by many traditional institutions. That doesn’t mean we are in opposition to them: these traditional institutions still have the ability to be a hub for some types of transactions and opportunities. They also have the infrastructure for providing more direct customer service options. This is why the interface and partnership with traditional institutions is an important part of our roadmap.

Thirdly, we have to consider how to make it easy for people to understand and try out what we are offering. We believe there will be some friction with adoption. However, the improvement of rates through more efficient and equitable capital accessibility will be a very attractive draw.

Once users realize how they are empowered in new ways by bidding on their repayment and interest rates for loans, this will completely reverse the way they perceive finance.

When will the Digital Reserve go live?

The Digital Reserve is aiming to launch in April 2019.

Before that we have:

  • A large user testing session in June 2018 to acquaint our future users with our designs and operations
  • The 1st testnet will be in the Fall of 2018
  • Penetration Testing and Institutional Plugins during the Winter
  • The next testnet version will run from December 2018 to April 2019

We are currently in the process of starting our next user interface iteration and completing our fundraising for US$2m toward development.

Find out more…

The Digital Reserve team, 2018: the mission is to leverage decentralized network technology to create a sustainable microfinance institution that innovates monetary policy within the cryptocurrency ecosystem.

Read an introduction to the project here: https://medium.com/the-digital-reserve/introducing-the-digital-reserve-network-a-decentralized-financial-institution-bff171a44080

DRN homepage: https://www.thedigitalreserve.org/ – sign up to participate in the first User Experience Testnet in June 2018

On Twitter: https://twitter.com/DigitalReserve

On Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/digitalreserve/

On Telegram: https://t.me/digitalreserve/