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Daily Briefing - 17 February 2017

Every few days we are reminded of the years-long hangover in southern Europe as a result of the global financial crisis. Yesterday we spoke about Spain. The Greek crisis continually threatens to destablilise Europe. Now Italy is back in the headlines, with the government approving a new 21 billion euro investment for Monte dei Paschi and other wavering firms. "Italy's banks are struggling under the weight of a 360 billion-euro mountain of bad loans, a plight that has eroded profitability and undermined investor confidence. Taking Monte Paschi into public ownership, which would be Italy's biggest nationalisation since the 1930s, could be followed by rescues of lenders including Veneto Banca SpA and Banca Popolare di Vicenza." This new fund follows on the heels of the Atlante fund set up less than one year ago with five billion euros from private lenders.

Is Union Bank of Nigeria keeping Atlas Mara alive? That's the suggestion this morning from the FT's Lex, following news yesterday that Atlas Mara had axed its chief executive John Vitalo and announced a share placement. Reports suggest that Mr Vitalo was not cutting costs fast enough. Altas Mara will now split itself into three units: commercial and retail banking, fintech, and markets and treasury. "The bank said it planned to cut $20m of operating and staff costs in its central functions, which are mostly based in Dubai and Johannesburg. This is on top of its earlier $8m cost-cutting target," writes the FT's banking editor Martin Arnold. "The bank's overall operating costs, which reached $185m in 2015, are considered high as a proportion of its revenues. For every dollar it earns, more than 85 cents are spent on operating costs." According to Lex, Atlas Mara has been steadily losing money, with only its 30 percent stake in Union Bank delivering.

There's no standard human response to interacting with artificial intelligence, but some people will be early adopters — introverts. If introverts don't enjoy an AI experience, there's little hope for the rest of the world, according to a piece in Venture Beat. "Introverts will look for almost any means possible to complete tasks, pay for goods and services, and resolve conflict without speaking to strangers. I'm not quite that averse to the idea, but I do tend to look for self-checkouts," writes John Brandon.

Ireland is headed towards a snap election as members of the ruling minority party prepare a heave against prime minister Enda Kenny. The immediate reason is the recent revelation of a smear campaign against a police whistleblower, who famously reported on other police officers doing favours for public figures by wiping out fines for driving infractions. Now the Irish government has been forced to open a public inquiry into the charge, among others, that senior officers used false charges of sex abuse. Prime minister Kenny maintains he should stay on to deal with Brexit, but that now seems improbable. It's worth recalling that whisteblowers in Ireland have suffered a torrid time. Ten years ago, and 14 months before Ireland was forced to accept an IMF loan, Jonathan Sugarman, former risk manager at UniCredit, tried to blow the whistle on UniCredit's liquidity levels. He was roundly ignored and lost his job.

Alex Weber of Berlin-based N26, the mobile-first digital bank, told the Irish Times yesterday that the business has signed up 10,000 Irish customers. He was speaking ahead of an appearance at the Dublin Tech Summit, which has stepped into replace the successful Web Summit which has now decamped to Lisbon. "We're very happy with the adoption level of N26 Black in Ireland and the country is one of our strongest markets on a per population basis. Markets such as Ireland where you have traditional slow-moving players, relatively poor online offerings and high fees are where we find it very easy to get sign-ups," he said. "Generally, across our customer base, we're finding that people are trialling our free basic account and once they've found it easy to use, are upgrading and making it their primary account," he added.

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