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The Shift to a Cashless Society is Snowballing

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The Shift to a Cashless Society is Snowballing

Image courtesy of: Raconteur

The Shift to a Cashless Society is Snowballing

Love it or hate it, cash is playing an increasingly less important role in society.

In some ways this is great news for consumers. The rise of mobile and electronic payments means faster, convenient, and more efficient purchases in most instances. New technologies are being built and improved to facilitate these transactions, and improving security is also a priority for many payment providers.

However, there is also a darker side in the shift to a cashless society. Governments and central banks have a different rationale behind the elimination of cash transactions, and as a result, the so-called “war on cash” is on.

On the Path to a Cashless Society

The Federal Reserve estimates that there will be $616.9 billion in cashless transactions in 2016. That’s up from around $60 billion in 2010.

Despite the magnitude of this overall shift, what is happening from country to country varies quite considerably. Consider the contradicting evidence between Sweden and Germany.

In Sweden, about 59% of all consumer transactions are cashless, and hard currency makes up just 2% of the economy. Yet, across the Baltic Sea, Germans are far bigger proponents of modern cash. This should not be too surprising, considering that the German words for “debt” and “guilt” are the exact same.

Within Germany, only 33% of consumer transactions are cashless, and there are only 0.06 credit cards in existence per person.

The Dark Side of Cashless

The shift to a cashless society is even gaining momentum in Germany, but it is not because of the willing adoption from the general public. According to Handelsblatt, a leading German business newspaper, a proposal to eliminate the €500 note while capping all cash transactions at €5,000 was made in February by the junior partner of the coalition government.

Governments have been increasingly pushing for a cashless society. Ostensibly, by having a paper trail for all transactions, such a move would decrease crime, money laundering, and tax evasion. France’s finance minister recently stated that he would “fight against the use of cash and anonymity in the French economy” in order to prevent terrorism and other threats. Meanwhile, former Secretary of the Treasury and economist Larry Summers has called for scrapping the U.S. $100 bill – the most widely used currency note in the world.

“Smoother” Aggregate Demand?

It’s not simply an argument of the above government rationale versus that of privacy and anonymity. Perhaps the least talked-about implication of a cashless society is the way that it could potentially empower central banking to have more ammunition in “smoothing” out the way people save and spend money.

By eliminating the prospect of cash savings, monetary policy options like negative interest rates would be much more effective if implemented. All money would presumably be stored under the same banking system umbrella, and even the most prudent savers could be taxed with negative rates to encourage consumer spending.

While there are certainly benefits to using digital payments, our view is that going digital should be an individual consumer choice that can be based on personal benefits and drawbacks. People should have the voluntary choice of going plastic or using apps for payment, but they shouldn’t be pushed into either option unwillingly.

Forced banishment of cash is a completely different thing, and we should be increasingly wary and suspicious of the real rationale behind such a scheme.

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Banks

The Making of a Mammoth Merger: Charles Schwab and TD Ameritrade

A look at the histories of Charles Schwab and TD Ameritrade, what comes next after the merger, and the potential impacts on the financial services industry.

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Charles Schwab and TD Ameritrade: A Mammoth Merger

In this era of fierce competition in the discount brokerage space, scale might be the best recipe for success.

Charles Schwab has once again sent shockwaves through the financial services industry, announcing its intent to acquire TD Ameritrade. The all-stock deal — valued at approximately $26 billion — will see the two biggest publicly-traded discount brokers combine into a giant entity with over $5 trillion in client assets.

Today we dive into the history of these two companies, and what effect recent events may have on the financial services industry.

The Evolution of Charles Schwab

1975 – U.S. Congress deregulated the stock brokerage industry by stripping the NYSE of the power to determine the commission rates charged by its members. Discount brokers, which focused primarily on buying and selling securities, seized the opportunity to court more seasoned investors who might not require the advice or research offered by established brokers. It was during this transitional period that Charles Schwab opened a small brokerage in San Francisco and bought a seat on the New York Stock Exchange.

1980s – The company experienced rapid growth thanks to a healthy marketing budget and innovations, such as the industry’s first 24-hour quotation service.

This fast success proved to be a double-edged sword. Charles Schwab became the largest discount broker in the U.S. by 1980, but profits were erratic, and the company was forced to rescind an initial public offering. Eventually, the company sold to BankAmerica Corporation for $55 million in stock. A mere four years later, Charles Schwab would purchase his namesake company back for $280 million.

1987 – By the time the company went public, Charles Schwab had five times as many customers as its nearest competitor, and profit margin twice as high as the industry average.

1990s – In the late ’90s, Charles Schwab moved into the top five among all U.S. brokerages, after a decade of steady growth.

2000s – The company made a number of acquisitions, including U.S. Trust, which was one of the nation’s leading wealth management firms, and most recently, the USAA’s brokerage and wealth management business.

The Race to $0

For Charles Schwab, the elimination of fees is the culmination of its founder’s vision of making investing “accessible to all”.

charles schwab falling trade fees

The company’s fees were slowly declining for decades. In late 2019, it finally took the plunge and introduced free online trading for U.S. stocks, exchange-traded funds, and options. The response was immediate and enthusiastic, with clients opening 142,000 new trading accounts in the first month alone.

Although Charles Schwab sent rivals scrambling to match its no-commission trade offer, fintech upstarts like Robinhood have offered free trading for years now. The “race to zero” reflects a broader generational shift, as millennials are simply more likely than earlier generations to expect services to be free.

The Evolution of TD Ameritrade

1975 – The origin of TD Ameritrade can be traced back to First Omaha Securities, a discount broker founded by Joe Ricketts. The company changed its name to TransTerra in 1987.

1988 – TransTerra’s subsidiary, Accutrade, was the first company to introduce touch-tone telephone trading, a major innovation at the time and one of the first early forays into automation.

Early 1990s – Ricketts’s willingness to integrate emerging technologies into the trading business helped his companies achieve impressive growth. In 1997 the company acquired K. Aufhauser & Co., the first company to run a trading website.

The Internet wasn’t a puzzle. We were crystal clear from the beginning that customers would migrate to this.

– Joe Ricketts (2000)

Late 1990s – The Ameritrade brand was solidified after the company changed its name from TransTerra to Ameritrade Holding Corporation in 1996. The newly named company completed an IPO the following year, and established its new brand Ameritrade, Inc., which amalgamated K. Aufhauser, eBroker, and other businesses into a unified entity.

2000s – Ameritrade entered the new millennium as the fifth largest online investment broker in the United States, fueled in part by marketing deals with AOL and MSN.

The modern incarnation of TD Ameritrade took shape in 2006, when TD Bank sold its TD Waterhouse USA brokerage unit to the Ameritrade Holding Corporation in a stock-and-cash deal valued at about $3.3 billion. At the time of the deal the new company ranked first in the U.S. by the number of daily trades.

2016 – TD Ameritrade acquired the discount brokerage Scottrade for about $4 billion. The deal brought 3 million client accounts and $170 billion in assets under management into the company, and quadrupled the size of its branch network.

What Comes Next?

Naturally, the announcement that these massive discount brokers plan to merge has generated a lot of speculation as to what this means for the two companies, and the broader brokerage industry as a whole.

Here are some of the consensus key predictions we’ve seen on the deal, from both media and industry publications:

  • After the deal is approved, the integration process will take 12 to 18 months. The combined company’s headquarters will relocate to a new office park in Westlake, Texas.
  • Charles Schwab’s average revenue per trade has dropped nearly 30% since Q1 2017, so the company will likely use scale to its advantage and monetize other products.
  • The merged company will continue to adopt features from fintech upstarts, such as the option to trade in fractional shares.
  • E*Trade, which was widely considered to be an acquisition target of Schwab or TD Ameritrade, may now face pressure to hunt for a deal elsewhere.

Even though these longtime rivals are now linking up, stiff competition in the financial services market is bound to keep everyone on their toes.

I think Joe Ricketts and I agree that our fierce competitiveness nearly 30 years ago is proof that market competition can be a source of miraculous innovation.

– Charles Schwab

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Banks

Why It’s Time for Banks to Make Bold Late-Cycle Moves

As we enter a late-cycle economy, a staggering 60% of banks are destroying value. Here’s the steps they can take in order to succeed.

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Why It’s Time for Banks to Make Bold Late-Cycle Moves

An economic downturn is approaching on the horizon. Amid low interest rates and a manufacturing slowdown, industries and investors alike are scrambling to prepare as the window of opportunity closes.

Banking is no different. After a decade of expansion, the industry is showing many signs of a late-cycle economy. On top of this, a staggering 60% of banks are destroying value. Today’s infographic from McKinsey & Company explores the steps banks can immediately take to succeed in the next economic cycle.

How is Value Created?

In the banking sector, three main factors contribute to value creation:

  • The location of the bank
  • The scale of its operations
  • The effectiveness of its business model

Given that geographic reach is mostly out of a bank’s control, and scale takes time to build, banks must focus on their business model.

There are three universal business model levers that all banks can immediately act on to change their destiny.

1. Risk Management
Banks can protect returns in an economic downturn by managing risk. For example, new machine-learning models can predict the riskiest customers with 35 percentage points more accuracy than traditional models.

2. Productivity
To radically reduce costs, banks can transfer non-differentiating activities to third-party “utilities”, through outsourcing, carve-outs, or partnerships. This has the potential to increase return on equity by as much as 100 basis points.

3. Revenue Growth
When customers are satisfied, they generate more value for banks—and vice versa. For instance, customers who report low satisfaction with their mortgage experience are almost seven times more likely to refinance with a different bank.

By materially improving decisive points in the customer experience, banks can increase revenue and reduce churn rates within 12-18 months.

The Four Banking Archetypes

Beyond these universal performance levers, a bank should prioritize late-cycle economic decisions based on the archetype it falls under.

  • Market leaders are top-performing financial institutions in attractive markets
  • Resilients are top-performing operators despite challenging market conditions
  • Followers are mid-tier organizations generating returns due to favourable market conditions
  • Challenged banks are poor performers in unattractive markets

Different archetypal levers are available depending on each bank’s unique circumstances.

  1. Ecosystem
    Banks can find new revenue streams across and beyond banking, leveraging customer relationships and white-label partnerships.
  2. Innovation
    Banks can create value by developing new methods, ideas, products and services. To implement this effectively, banks must set goals for the return on innovation as well as the timeframe.
  3. Zero-based budgeting
    By justifying expenses for each new period, banks can drastically reduce costs. This involves starting from a “zero base” rather than prior years’ numbers.

Here’s how banks across the various archetypes can take action:

 
Ecosystems
Innovation
Zero-based Budgeting
Market Leaders
-
Resilients
Followers
-
Challenged
-
-

For example, while market leaders’ large capital base is best used for ecosystem and innovation plays, challenged banks need to radically rethink their business model or merge with similar banks.

Reinvent, Scale, or Perish

As the late-cycle economy slows even further, no banks can afford complacency. In fact, history has shown that 35% of market leaders drop to the bottom half of peers in the next cycle.

Now is the time for banks to take bold action through universal and archetypal levers—or risk being left behind.

For a more detailed breakdown of the actions that banks can take in this market environment, check out the full report by McKinsey & Company.

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