Daily briefing - 13 February 2017
Rónán Lynch: 13th February 2017 9:11am
Bloomberg kicks off the week in fine style this morning in a report that puts Apple, conspiracy theories and banking in the same sentence. The Australian banks have now abandoned their attempt to work in concert to block Apple Pay. In their final submission to the country's competition regulator, the banks said that they will cooperate with Apple as long as the tech company grants the banks access to the iPhone's NFC antenna. Apple's "conspiracy theories" about the banks wanting to block Apple's business is "fantasy," the banks said in an e-mail statement to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission. NFC, or near-field communication, makes payments possible on contactless readers. "Without open NFC access on iPhone, no genuine competition in the provision of mobile wallets is possible and Apple will have a stranglehold on this strategically important future market," the banks said in their statement, according to Bloomberg. Bloomberg added that in a separate submission supporting the banks, the Australian Retailers Association said that the opportunity to negotiate collectively would benefit "all banks, merchants, app developers and ultimately customers in Australia and overseas."
After years of high-value Chinese investment, Berlin has recently grown more cautious about Chinese companies hoovering up German technology. Perhaps this time the technology will be flowing the other way? In fact, it's likely that the German government will be happy to hear about Dalian Wanda's reported interest in acquiring Deutsche Postbank, the ubiquitous German retail bank currently controlled by Deutsche Bank, although it's been a poor relation. Deutsche bought Postbank in the run up to the 2007 financial crisis, and efforts to offload the bank have been compounded by conflicts between international and local accounting rules. (For more detail, read this Bloomberg piece.) It's not clear what the giant Chinese property development business will bring to the table, as it's not previously been involved in retail finance. "It also comes at a time when Chinese regulators are cracking down on outbound corporate investments that do not fit with companies' core lines of business," reports the FT. "It was unclear if banking assets would be deemed a primary part of Wanda's operations." Could Wanda be moving to bring Chinese fintech wiles to a moribund German retail bank?
Australia will be cashless in five to ten years, according to Mastercard's president of operations and technology, Rob Reeg. Speaking to the Australian Financial Review, Mr Reeg noted that Australia was an early adopter of technologies — much like Mastercard. Mastercard "flagged that strong future growth would be driven by its investment in digital, safety and security, data analytics and loyalty and processing products". Mr Reeg said Mastercard did not regard new players such as Klarna and Vend as threats, since they encouraged card use rather than cash — and he cannot see another business rising to challenge the Visa and Mastercard duopoly. He said that Mastercard was working towards not just a cashless but a cardless future where wearable devices and selfies will rule authentication processes. Will Australia lead the way here? In much of the world, interest in wearables appears to have waned, with a sense that the technology has never really taken off. (Even selfie queen Kim Kardashian went cold on selfies, not posting a single pic for three whole months until the start of 2017 — though this was also a result of the Paris robbery which may have influenced her decision to stay offline for a while.) However one cannot help but think of QR codes and NFC in this regard, both written off until uses were found that caught fire.
The UK's Co-operative Bank is putting itself up for sale, with TSB among the parties expressing an interest. The BBC's Simon Jack considers the likelihood of a TSB takeover: "One [buyer] suggests itself: TSB, which was carved out of Lloyds to satisfy competition concerns over the scale of the Lloyds/HBOS merger," he writes. "With 600 branches, it lacks the scale to compete against the Big Five and it has a very strong capital position with no legacy issues. Whether the bank would want to take on the problems of Co-op is questionable but in terms of brand (both have a local and ethical flavour to them) it might work. The TSB is currently focused on completing a complicated IT separation from Lloyds, but the BBC understands that at the right price it might consider it. Determining the right price will be hard as the amount of capital any buyer needs to sink into the Co-op is very far from clear." The bank has four million customers and its ethical standpoint is one of its assets. That reputation was shaken by events at the bank during 2013, which included the appearance of a £1.5 billion black hole in its finances and was followed by the arrest of its chairman months on drug charges.