Daily Briefing - 14 February 2017
Rónán Lynch: 14th February 2017 10:10am
In Sweden, you can Swish; in Denmark you had Swipp; and now banks in Norway have plumped for Vipps. Nordic banks are battling to hold on to the payments infrastructure by developing successful mobile payments systems — echoing the struggle taking place in Australia between the banks, Apple Pay, and some social media players dabbling in payments. In Scandinavia, two banks stand out. Norway's DNB developed a payments app in 2015 called Vipps, which is now being spun out into a standalone business that will be used by most of the country's commercial and savings banks. In Denmark, Danske Bank's MobilePay app has been adopted by most Danish banks. Feeling confident, MobilePay declined to include the new Nets card payment app on its platform. But back to Norway for a moment: "This cooperation better prepares us for winning the race against Nordic and international players," DNB chief executive Rune Bjerke said. "There is an ongoing global revolution in payment services. While we were ahead in the 1980s, that's no help in countering the competition from Facebook, Google and other platforms." But will Swedes stick with Swish, the widely used mobile payment system? One certainty is that nothing generates collaboration among banks better than competition from the technology sector.
Ecobank CEO Aye Ayeyemi appeared on CNBC Africa yesterday to talk about the company's strategy as it looks to digital technologies to consolidate its position across the continent. Questioned about the closing of some branches in Kenya, Mr Ayeyemi said that the firm's digital platforms meant that, increasingly, customers can interact with the bank from their own homes. "It is not a question of closing branches for the purpose of efficiency," he said. "It's a question of meeting our customers at their point of need," he said. He also addressed the question of what to do when branch closures force staff layoffs — a question chief executives and boards around the world are also grappling with. Watch the interview here.
Topsy-turvy world? The Chinese are lecturing the Americans about how to do capitalism properly, while the American president casts admiring glances at the Russian way of doing things, even as he stuffs his cabinet with Goldman Sachs executives after winning the election on a promise of elevating Main Street over Wall Street. Those executives, led by Steven Mnuchin, seem determined to gut Dodd-Frank and its spin-offs such as the (Soviet-sounding) Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. So here's a fascinating read from Bloomberg about the Russian central bank's battle with previously untouchable banks such as Peresvet Bank. "In Russia, Peresvet Bank had an edge no other big private financial institution could match," write Evgenia Pismennaya and Gregory White. "Its largest shareholder was the powerful Russian Orthodox Church. In a 2015 pitch to investors, Peresvet said the backing of the church and the bank's other big owner, Russia's Chamber of Commerce and Industry, gave it a 'quasi-sovereign' status. For more than two decades, big state companies stashed their cash with the bank, whose ponderous full name — Joint Stock Commercial Bank for Charity and Spiritual Development of Fatherland — suggested its grand standing." Central bank chief Elvira Nabiullina has been closing Russian banks at a rate of 100 a year for the past three years.
Meanwhile, Ben McLachnan at the Financial Times reports that the promised lighter financial regulatory regime in the United States is encouraging interest in new banks. "Applications for new charters almost ground to a halt in the wake of the financial crisis, as low interest margins, sluggish regional economies and tighter regulation combined to discourage investors from taking the plunge," he writes. "Interest began to recover after the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation eased its rules for new banks almost a year ago. Now, analysts say that more groups are moving forward with plans, galvanised by prospects of more vigorous growth, lower taxes and a gentler regulatory environment under President Donald Trump."