The structure of capital markets precedes the innovations that come from it. High frequency trading, passive ETF investing, SPACs, and crypto assets all telegraphed their value proposition before becoming large and meaningful in scale. We are now seeing a new market shape emerge, one that starts with community and builds up into financial instruments that are cultural and social. This analysis looks at the most recent developments in the overlap between decentralized social and cultural work and related financial features.
In this conversation, we chat with Jason Wenk, who is the Founder & CEO at Altruist. Apart from this Jason is a writer, self-proclaimed math geek, and investment systems developer. He began his career at Morgan Stanley in NYC at age 20, working on investment research and asset management systems development. After this Jason founded FormulaFolios: quantitative, computer-driven investment models based on academic research to help remove emotion from investing. FormulaFolios would later develop into a standalone asset manager and go on to rank as a fastest-growing private company by Inc. magazine 4 years in a row, reaching as high as #10 in 2017.
More specifically, we discuss all things wealth tech, as well as, serving people with financial planning, financial advice, and generally improving their financial health.
In this conversation, we delve deep into next generation finance and banking with CJ MacDonald, the Founder and CEO of Step – an incredibly successful neobank on a mission to improve the financial future of the next generation.
More specifically, we discuss traditional vs. digital banking, how personal experiences influence entrepreneurial the spirit, immersive market research, banking-as-a-service, the importance of financial literacy amongst Millenials and Gen-Z, the power of influencers who actually believe in a brand, aspirational brands vs. plastic Wells Fargo stage coaches, and lastly the proliferation of crypto in the minds of the next generation.
Gen Z is becoming a cultural force, reshaping culture and online society. This is starting to echo in fintech startups and crypto protocols. We explore how financial communities are beginning to congeal into DAOs, their nature and structure, and potential longer terms outcomes. The analysis identifies the differences in Millennial and Gen Z approaches — however imperfectly — to explain the frontier of social tokens and why ShapeShift chose decentralization, while Revolut chose decacorn funding.
DAOs are not socialist communes built for the benefit of humankind. Rather, they are techno-fortresses to defend, and make valuable, exclusive online tribes.
Whereas Millennials dream about a VC-funded unicorn startup, permissioned into wealth with capital from traditionally successful investors, Gen Z and crypto natives dream about bottoms-up community syndicates with trillions to spend on the sci-fi future, unshackled from regulatory overhang and the sins of the 2008 quantitative-easing past.
Luxury and fashion markets are structurally different from finance or commodity markets in that they seek to limit supply in order to generate value. This increases price and social status. We can analogize these brand dynamics to what is happening in NFT digital object markets and better understand their function as a result.
We’re not cool. That’s why we’re in finance.
But people want to be cool. As highly social and intelligent animals, we want and need to belong, differentiate against each other, and negotiate for status. We create signals and hierarchies to create pockets of relational capital, which we then cash in for real world benefits.
Such mammalian realities are contrary to the economic rendering of the homo economicus, the abstracted rational agent making choices in financial models. In 2021, our financial models are waking up and instantiating themselves, becoming Decentralized Autonomous Organizations (DAOs), spun up by DeFi and NFT industry insiders, and implemented into commercial actions onchain.
Let’s look at the recent Fortnite blackout and compare it to neobank Chime's embarassing down time, as well as explore the business model implication of what it means to be the social square where people hang out. Does Finance have such an equivalent? Maybe it is Venmo, crypto Twitter, or the credit unions. We also look at statistics behind influencer marketing, and how influencers have usurped the position of music labels. Perhaps banks should get ahead of this game too.
Assurance came on my radar courtesy of Financial Technology Partners, which was the investment banker on Assurance's $3.5 billion sale to Prudential. Notably, the company is just 3 years old -- which comes out to a cool billion of enterprise value per year, likely a record comparable to the very few Ant Financials. Depending on the details, this is about $25 million of value per employee. So what does the company do? Simple, really. It is a destination website licensed to sell all types of insurance product (e.g., life, health, auto), with a clean onboarding questionnaire like any other roboadvisor, which then matches against policies on offer from third parties. AI and data science are used as the recommendation engine. It is a Kayak or Money Supermarket of insurance, simply designed, cleverly wired, with killer founders.
Finance is everywhere, and everywhere is finance. Smart city supply chains, self driving car insurance, video game real estate markets -- no matter which frontier technology you touch, it will have embedded implications on the delivery of financial services. And why wouldn't it? Like the use of language, finance is a human technology that allows societies to coalesce and compete with one another (in the Yuval Harari sense). It lifts people out of poverty and into entrepreneurship through microloans, providing generational sustenance for their families. And of course it also throws them into pits of corruption and greed, as they drink too deeply from the rivers of securitization and political power.
But enough poetry! I want to talk about augmented reality, attention platforms, and the re-formulation of payments and lending propositions in a global context.
Jump is an electric bike that is being distributed by Uber, and it just happened to be launching 350 of them in the London borough of Islington. You can rent a bike for 5 minutes at £1, and pay £0.12 per minute thereafter. That's generally cheaper than a taxi, on average more expensive than a public bike subscription. So why am I going on an on about these bikes? Two things come to mind as jumping off points for deeper discussion: (1) the incentives and tactics of economic organisms under capitalism to gather and retain attention, and (2) the monopoly powers of Uber and Facebook, leading to the impact of Libra's cryptocurrency on open competition, as well as the public responsibilities of supra national corporations.
Two things are on my mind: (1) the acquisition of United Capital by Goldman Sachs, and (2) Mike Cagney's Figure securing a $1 billion funding line from Jefferies and WSFS for blockchain-tracked home equity loans. Both are outcomes of complex, interesting, somewhat unexpected processes -- and both are examples of demand-driven market expansion. Let me highlight that again. Both of these are consumer-centric developments, and not product-driven developments, which goes to the core of the problem in the financial services industry.