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    How Cybersecurity Will Accelerate IoT’s Growth

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    IoT cybersecurity

    By Pedro Palandrani

    We expect the 2020’s decade to be defined by near-ubiquitous connectivity. All types of devices in our homes, workplaces, and cities are expected to be internet-enabled to seamlessly capture and transmit data. Semiconductors costs have declined over 90% over the last decade, making such connections remarkably inexpensive. And the rollout of 5G will allow data to transfer between devices and the cloud virtually instantaneously, at speeds up to 100 times faster than 4G.

    As the Internet of Things (IoT) brings millions of devices online, it creates vast opportunities for individuals and corporations, but it also introduces new types of risks and vulnerabilities. Each of these millions of devices presents new entry points for hackers, adding challenges and complexity to effectively manage security for firms and individuals. Successful IoT deployments will require multi-layered, end-to-end security that ranges from up front baked-in security requirements to the ongoing management and protection of sensitive machine-generated data.1 There will be no one-size-fits-all solution, but the world’s leading cybersecurity firms are preparing to protect this vast expansion in a new era for the internet.

    New Devices, New Threats

    The Internet of Things is central to many emerging technologies and themes, including autonomous vehicles, smart cities, smart factories, and health devices. But internet-enabled devices also create new targets for hackers who want to steal or ransom valuable private data. Today, 98% of all IoT device traffic is unencrypted, causing 57% of IoT devices to be highly vulnerable to cyberattacks, exposing personal and confidential data on a network.2 We can expect the number and degree of incidences to increase with the proliferation of connected devices.

    IoT cybersecurity

    Take smart speakers, for example – a relatively new market that grew from internet giants looking to enter our homes via virtual assistants. In 2018, a weakness in Amazon’s Alexa code enabled hackers to eavesdrop on users. Typically, Alexa is supposed to start recording only after detecting the wake word “Alexa,” and terminate recording after a receiving a command (“Turn off the lights!”). Yet hackers programmed Alexa to continue listening well after a command, effectively allowing them to record users’ conversations. Fortunately, the hackers were actually researchers without malicious intent and alerted Amazon of their findings.3 The company pushed security fixes immediately.

    Many hackers, however, do have malicious intentions, and their prevalence is on the rise. To help plan defenses, cybersecurity firms use honeypots as decoy servers to gauge trends and patterns of a cyberattack. Honeypots, which are set up all over the world, can receive attacks from connected devices such as a malware-infected smartwatch or a connected toothbrush. In 2019, security researchers found that honeypots documented a 446% year-over-year increase in attack traffic, with the number of hits rising from 1.0 billion to 5.7 billion.4

    Honeypot attacks

    Your Health Can Be Hacked

    The advent of connected cars, smart cities, and next-generation health devices mean hackers may not just steal private data in the virtual world, but also target devices that bridge the digital and physical world. Devices that comprise the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) are particularly sensitive entry points for hackers. In 2013, hacking fears caused doctors to replace former US Vice President Dick Cheney’s WiFi-connected pacemaker with one without WiFi capacity.5 Four years later, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recalled nearly half a million connected pacemakers due to the potential for hacking.6 Digital pills are another potential target. While they have chips that can capture diagnostic information as they travel along the gastrointestinal tract, such information could be intercepted by hackers.7

    Recent research on IoT medical imaging devices found that 83% are running on unsupported operating systems.8 Healthcare organizations that use these devices may be increasingly vulnerable to attacks that can expose sensitive medical information.

    Medical imaging devices

    Answering questions about how to secure connected devices like these are of utmost importance for medical providers and patients to use this technology safely. The stakes are particularly high for IoMT device manufacturers. According to FDA guidelines, the manufacturers bear total responsibility for safety and performance.9

    Securing Endpoints

    The earliest endpoint security firms initially focused on laptops, PCs, and smartphones, but their focus often now extends to connected IoT devices. Endpoints consist of two main categories. A user interaction point is where users input commands and their device displays the requested information, for example, your smartphone. The second category includes actuator or sensor devices, such as a smart speaker or smart bulb, that responds to the commands from the user.

    IoT Ecosystem

    IoT architecture is typically bidirectional, allowing data to be generated from an actuator or sensor and then sent to both the user interaction point and to cloud storage. For example, a smart security camera may sense motion, sending a notification to one’s phone and capturing images that are stored in the cloud.

    Given this architecture, IoT devices, user interaction points, and cloud storage require security measures to protect data. For IoT devices, there must be protections within the operational software known as microcode that is patched to the hardware. Therefore, today’s cybersecurity firms work hand-in-hand with IoT device manufacturers in device design and testing, incident response, and threat modeling.10

    Controlling access to networks is also critical, a role taken on by network firewall companies. These companies identify and profile every device on a network. They monitor the devices continuously to ensure that they are not compromised and mobilize to take immediate action if they are.11

    AI in the Fight 

    Increasingly, cybersecurity firms and device manufacturers are using artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) applications to provide customized endpoint security solutions. Because IoT devices are so numerous in volume and variety, AI can help provide a scalable, customized cybersecurity systems. Such algorithms are trained to identify devices based on their hardcoded attributes and behavior. They may also use sensing engines to autonomously learn the ‘normal’ behavior for these devices once they are on the network. For example, with pacemakers or smart pills, AI can predict performance based on previous results and then detect when the devices behave abnormally. When behavior does change, it’s a potential indicator of a corrupted or attacked device.

    While AI is used for cybersecurity defenses, hackers are also using it to create new, sophisticated, cyberthreats, such as data-poisoning. It’s expected that through the next two years, 30% of all AI cyberattacks will leverage training-data poisoning.12 Data poisoning consists on feeding IoT or connected devices with compromised and malicious data, tricking the systems to mistakenly classify data. To thwart new AI-based cyberattacks, cybersecurity firms continue to enhance their own AI applications in an ongoing arms-race.

    Conclusion

    A one-size-fits-all cybersecurity solution doesn’t exist for the continued wave of connected devices. But the world’s leading cybersecurity firms and IoT manufacturers continue to evolve their strategies and leverage the latest technology to implement protective measures. As the IoT continues to expand to new avenues, including infrastructure, health care, and transportation, it is critical that cybersecurity firms play a central role in securing these devices so digital attacks do not result in real world consequences.

    Related ETF

    BUG: The Global X Cybersecurity ETF seeks to invest in companies that could benefit from the increased adoption of cybersecurity technology. Companies include those whose principal business involves the developing and managing security protocols to prevent intrusion and attacks on systems, networks, applications, computers, and mobile devices

    SNSR: The Global X Internet of Things ETF (SNSR) enables investors to access a potential high growth theme through companies at the leading edge of IoT, an approach which transcends classic sector, industry and geographic regions to target this emerging theme. In a single trade, SNSR delivers access to dozens of companies with high exposure to emerging IoT technology.

    AIQ: The Global X Future Analytics Tech ETF (AIQ) seeks to invest in companies that potentially stand to benefit from the further development and utilization of artificial intelligence (AI) technology in their products and services, as well as in companies that provide hardware facilitating the use of AI for the analysis of big data.

    Footnotes:

    1. IoT Cybersecurity Alliance, “Demystifying IoT Cybersecurity,” 2017.

    2. Palo Alto Networks, “2020 Unit 42 IoT Threat Report,” Mar 10, 2020.

    3. Wired, “Hackers Found a (Not-So-Easy) Way to Make the Amazon Echo a Spy Bug,” Aug 12, 2018.

    4. F-Secure, “Attack Landscape H2 2019: An unprecedented year for cyber attacks,” Apr 3, 2020.

    5. Forbes, “What Is The Internet Of Bodies? And How Is It Changing Our World?,” Dec 6, 2019.

    6. Business Insider, “The FDA has recalled about 500,000 internet-connected pacemakers over hacking fears,” Sep 1, 2017.

    7. Alliance of Advanced BioMedical Engineering, “Smart Pills Enable Convenient Diagnostics and Accurate Therapy,” 2017.

    8. Palo Alto Networks, (n2).

    9. FDA, “ FDA informs patients, providers and manufacturers about potential cybersecurity vulnerabilities for connected medical devices and health care networks that use certain communication software,” Oct 1, 2019.

    10. Rapid 7, “IoT Security Testing Services,” Accessed on Mar 31, 2020.

    11. Fortinet, “Protect networks with IoT deployments,” accessed on Mar 31, 2020.

    12. Business Chief, “Gartner: Top 10 technology trends,” Mar 11, 2020.

    This article was originally published on Global X.

    The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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    Financial Surveillance in a Cashless Society

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    By Awa Yun Sin, Co-Founder of Anoma, a suite of protocols enabling self-sovereign coordination

    We are failing to regulate the most invasive privacy intrusions society has ever seen. Support for privacy enforcement has never been louder and ‘Big Tech’ is in crisis as support for privacy grows into resentment of surveillance. We have entered the so-called ‘age of tech regulation,’ but online privacy seems more elusive than ever.

    As a sign of action, the EU approved a landmark agreement to monitor tech platforms, strong-arming industry giants to police their platforms and further commit to keeping users safe. Meta, formally Facebook, recently warned that the EU may hit the platform with data protection fines. On the surface it may appear that the world’s tech and privacy laws are starting to grow teeth. Still, little is changing.

    People’s privacy concerns are justified and while privacy regulation is theoretically welcome, it’s clear that governments are not best positioned to safeguard people’s privacy. In Europe, bureaucratic bottlenecks and regulatory mazes block even well-meaning attempts to tackle data privacy. This was never made clearer than when Johannes Caspar, head of the Hamburg Data Commission issued a scathing review of GDPR, Europe’s supposed crown jewel in data privacy enforcement. Casper called it completely unfit for purpose: “It just can’t work…you can’t accept this in the long term.”

    Recent technological advancements in cryptography mean that our ability to reclaim our privacy and financial autonomy are finally within grasp. Blockchain rails allow people to reclaim their financial privacy and autonomy, divorcing privacy from a reliance on states and governments that, so far, have failed to implement any meaningful change. 

    Financial and economic infrastructure is corrupted by perverse incentive systems which lead to vast inequality as well as societal, environmental, and economic collateral damage. Nowhere is this more visible than the erosion of people’s privacy. Commercial incentives built the pervasive infrastructure of surveillance capitalism. From an autonomy perspective, authoritarian state actors deploy financial surveillance mechanisms to extinguish the will of citizens. Photos from the 2019 Hong Kong protests showed long lines at subway stations as pro-democracy protestors queued to buy tickets with cash rather than credit cards to avoid being placed at the scene of the protest by Hong Kong authorities.

    A major privacy concern is that society, supercharged by the CoVID-19 pandemic, has moving away from cash. 

    Cryptography is providing an important tool for people who wish to import the anonymity provided by cash into the digital world. Distributed ledgers drive advancement further by removing the need for a centralized authority to keep track of transactions.

    Measures governments have taken to monitor crypto exchanges

    The adoption of blockchain and crypto assets was sure to encourage governments to retaliate and a regulatory arms race is taking shape as states move into the space. In March, EU lawmakers voted in favor of controversial measures that would ban anonymous crypto transactions – the move received significant pushback with many viewing the vote as an invasion of privacy. Lawmakers extended anti-money laundering (AML) requirements that apply to conventional payments over €1,000 to the crypto assets and scrapped the floor for crypto payments. The result is that even the smallest transactions would be subject to identification.

    In the U.S., President Biden announced a sweeping executive order on crypto-assets calling on federal agencies to adopt a government-wide approach to understanding, and entering, the market. The UK has announced plans to become a global crypto hub, and Australia is looking to bring crypto-assets into the regulatory landscape by 2025.

    While it remains to be seen what, if any, impact these government actions will have on people’s privacy, it’s clear that governments are interested in keeping watch.

    People need to take control of their own privacy. Commercial incentives mean that we cannot leave it to tech giants, while history makes it clear that governments cannot be trusted either. In short, we need to decouple the infrastructure needed to protect online privacy from centralized internet rails. 

    Recent advancements in cryptography offer society its best avenue yet, through which to escape financial surveillance, by re-engineering financial infrastructure around the foundations of autonomy and privacy. Advancing blockchain interoperability will also ensure that no single blockchain is used to store information – further decentralizing society’s information from over concentrations of power.

    More recently, zero knowledge proofs (ZKPs) balance the asymmetric data flows currently feeding online surveillance. ZKPs verify information online without revealing the data needed to perform the verification, further enshrining privacy and autonomy into the transaction process. 

    Financial incentives have laid the foundation for privacy intrusions on a scale never before seen. At the same time, it’s clear that online surveillance concerns are not confined to surveillance capitalism alone. 

    The appetite for change has never been greater. One approach would be to build momentum for a grassroots social movement calling for a breakup of tech monopolies, publishers, advertisers, and financiers in a major market correction writing public utility back into the law. But governments have repeatedly shown that, even when they want to take action, they rarely succeed. 

    A better approach would be to simply remove our reliance on political and state infrastructure entirely. It’s clear that if we want to place value on privacy and autonomy, such a system needs to be divorced from all forms of centralized and over-concentrated power. Building this system will revitalize people’s financial autonomy online, re-define what we mean when we think about money, and boost humanity’s capacity for collaboration. 

    We need an ambitious and brave approach for how we leverage technology as we re-draw privacy protection in the cashless age. s The convergence of cryptographic techniques and decentralization offer us a means to build this future and correct the imbalance that has poisoned our current financial infrastructure – will we take the opportunity?

    The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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    How Liquid Staking Will Bridge the Gap Between DeFi and Staking

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    By Mohak Agarwal, CEO of ClayStack  

    These days, crypto users are being faced with a choice: staking or DeFi. They can participate in the DeFi ecosystem and gain access to potentially high yields, but doing so comes with risks. On the other hand, staking provides users with relevantly safe rewards, yet comes with one major downside: the crypto staked is locked up and unable to be used in other yield-producing projects, like DeFi.

    But why not both staking and DeFi — especially when the total value locked in DeFi has risen to $75 billion in just five years? The innovation of liquid staking has the ability to allow for both. Yet there are still factors causing crypto users to hesitate when it comes to staking their assets. Here’s what’s holding staking back, and how liquid staking is the solution to strengthen the future of Proof of Stake (PoS) blockchains.

    Factors Holding Staking Back From Mainstream Adoption

    Having seen the limitations in Proof of Work (PoW), many blockchains are shifting to PoS — and PoS account for over half of crypto’s total market cap, a total of $594 billion. But that success is only dependent upon whether holders will actually stake their crypto. Here are some of the common factors keeping crypto enthusiasts from participating in staking.

    Factor 1: Staking has a learning curve

    In order to stake tokens, you have to educate yourself on a number of aspects of the process. You not only need to learn all about that blockchain and how staking works, you need to learn about the validators on that network, too: when they are slashed, how good is their communication, what’s the past history of their uptime, and more. This learning curve and required minimal technical knowledge is often a barrier to entry.

    Factor 2: Volatility of the asset

    When investors stake, they lock up their staked crypto for a minimum period of time. This poses a problem if you stake for a 10% or 11% yield on your investment, and yet the token price has gone down by over 50% while your crypto was locked up. As we found in our newest report, “The State of Staking,” users are hesitant to stake because they don’t want their assets locked up, taking away their ability to sell if the market jumps or plummets.

    Factor 3: Network economics

    Another factor holding crypto holders back is simply the network economics, including the policies, penalties, and fees by which staking functions. With Graph, for example, when you stake your tokens you lose 0.5% of principle right away. Validators may also be subject to slashing penalties, or loss of their rewards or staked crypto, if they demonstrate any malicious behavior.

    Factor 4: Lack of an easy to way to do everything

    There’s an ease-of-use problem as well with staking. It may seem as straightforward as buying crypto, then staking crypto. But someone must go to Binance or Coinbase, buy USDC, go to Uniswap if the asset is not available, exchange the asset, then create a wallet, then go to a staking dashboard, where they can then stake that asset. Staking on an exchange is easier, but it’s very difficult if you want to control your stake.

    Factor 5: Yields are going down on some networks

    When a blockchain launches with staking, a lot of the yields come from the governance subsidies. But with network inflation so low, many chains are not making much on transaction fees, and the rewards are going down. People don’t want to stake for just 4% to 5% yield. On networks like Graph and Matic, staking costs $100 to $150, which is impossible for an average user to pay. If they’re staking $1000, it will take one and a half years just to make their transaction fee back, and then if they unstake, another one and a half to three years just to earn back the transaction fees.

    Why Liquid Staking is the Solution

    What’s the solution to these prohibiting factors? Liquid staking, which allows holders of staked assets to get liquidity in the form of a derivative token which can be further used in various DeFi protocols. It’s a way to maximize earning potential while having the best of both worlds.

    But liquid staking’s benefits aren’t just limited to freeing up assets. Liquid staking also facilitates yield stacking, where users can earn rewards for staking as well as earn yield in DeFi activities. While yield stacking is still available in DeFi, there’s more risk, because if a base layer protocol fails, the entire stack can collapse, resulting in significant losses. Those participating in liquid staking have their base yield coming from the PoS network itself — which they can still rely upon if a DeFi project fails.

    Liquid staking also contributes to the overall strength of the network as well. The strength and security of the PoS network is directly proportional to the number of validators on the network and the amount of capital they have staked. Since liquid staking removes the barriers around staking, it can incentivize more users to stake their capital. As the number of validators on the network increases, the amount of staked capital increases, and the stronger the network becomes. 

    Both Staking and DeFi

    Liquid staking has the ability to unlock the potential of PoS by giving users the ability to not only stake their assets, but have the liquidity to use those assets in DeFi projects during the lock-up time. This opportunity not only increases yields for the individual, but has the ability to grow staking participation in general. Increased participation in staking not only strengthens the network, but is a boon for everyone involved — and will build the future of the crypto ecosystem.

    The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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    The Need for Baby Steps in DAO Development

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    By Edson Ayllon, Product Manager at dHEDGE

    When blockchain projects reach a certain level of hype, they often head down a turbulent path if they flounder publicly. Such projects steal attention from blockchain’s march forward in transforming every industry it touches. Yet there is one facet of Web3 that has mostly avoided this fate: DeFi and Decentralized Autonomous Organizations (DAOs).

    DAOs possess revolutionary qualities for work and finance, but blurring the line between reality and fiction here, as is often done in the Metaverse, should be discouraged. DAOs would benefit from taking a different approach to set foundations and gradually scale interest, circumventing the typical hazards ailing other Web3 projects. Focusing on concrete, realistic progress for DAOs is essential to legitimize the underlying values that DAO frameworks offer.

    Rethinking the corporate ladder

    Centralization is highly ingrained in most prominent organizations today, so it’s not a hard concept to imagine. If you work for a traditional company, it’s very likely that the people calling the shots are high-level, C-suite executives who rarely, if ever, consult with employees before making decisions. This is what makes an organization centralized—having a clear food chain of governance and hierarchical corporate structure. Not to say that centralized organizations are bad per se, but there is room to question their effectiveness in a highly-digitized and flexible work ecosystem.

    DAOs challenge this concept by remodeling the social and financial aspects of a company to have no central authority, democratizing corporate structures through automated smart contracts. This means no C-suite or corporate ladder, but instead an emphasis on communication at all levels of an organization’s decision-making. On paper, it sounds like a pie-in-the-sky idea that could never work in a practical setting. But such autonomous, collective corporate governance has existed for decades. Think of it almost like a digitized co-op.

    Companies are struggling to get employees excited about returning to the office, and the pandemic has created space for workers to question their place and the credibility of traditional centralized workplaces. Embracing DAOs or some version of a decentralized company structure could alleviate some of the issues facing modern work. For businesses, DAOs offer a diverse and social way to manage key corporate decisions. Likewise, the social nature encourages employees to take initiative and widen their scope of contribution in a company regardless of title or hierarchy, ultimately improving organizational cultures and employee values.

    Since the core of a DAO operates on decentralization, an avenue is created for employees to meaningfully engage with their organizations and feel substantial impacts on how a company is run. DAOs offer the most comprehensive answer to the reality check created by the unsavory impacts of Web2 and hyper-connectivity on modern work culture in traditional business structures. However, ensuring these changes have the widest impact possible involves taking baby steps and gradual development to avoid the pitfalls of both Web2 and currently developed blockchain technology. After all, no one wants to get their hopes up over something so broad like work culture and corporate structures only to be met with a letdown when nothing changes.

    Sounds neat, but how can we implement it?

    It’s hard to imagine something more jarring than showing up to the office to find your boss replaced by a smart contract. But there are ways to examine the benefits and concerns employees want, yet fail to receive from traditional organizations through incremental DAO integration.

    Transparency and trust in decision-making are priorities that some organizations struggle to reconcile, with 80 percent of employees desiring insight on how key decisions are made in an organization. A DAO is built on the foundation of an automated and consensus-based smart contract, allowing employees at all levels to see how a decision is made with full transparency. Although relatively mundane, having a clear organizational constitution that can only be altered by a group agreement already alleviates a massive concern from ordinary team members.

    Pandemic-fueled labor shortages and the ongoing “Great Resignation” across industries illustrate a widening gap between worker expectations and organizational limitations to address them. Sixty-three percent of workers leaving their jobs cite the inability of employers to address their mobility concerns, underscoring a need for companies to invest in employee growth. This should be an easy fix, and DAOs offer the solution.

    DAOs govern organizations collectively, requiring a voting process over the will of a C-suite boardroom to fashion the operating protocol of a company. Employees are able to be forthright on their needs being implemented and aligning incentives, as the best-serving protocol for company interests runs on a consensus. Although this process is originally meant to create value for token holders within the DAO, it can be retooled to face organizational and operational issues.

    There is a strong appeal in being the next tech sensation considering the breakneck pace of advancement in the Web3 and blockchain spaces. However, often the loudest in the room has the least to offer once a flashy project falls under the microscope or is perceived as a failure in the court of public opinion.

    DAOs differ from average Web3 projects because the concept provides a truly operational solution to tackle issues in corporate governance. The backbone already exists and can be used as a foundation to create useful business implementations, though they might not be quite ready for adoption yet. To withstand scrutiny and be accepted enthusiastically, DAO initiatives should take a step back and deliver concrete benefits on a smaller scale to successfully restructure corporate operations.

    Author Bio: Edson Ayllon is the Product Manager at dHEDGE. Edson pursued an education in Energy Engineering at Pennsylvania State University. Through a growing interest in finance, he surveyed several asset classes to begin investing ventures, growing interest in the blockchain asset class. After testing psychological concepts such as the perceived value that contributes to the supply and demand-driven prices, he later became interested in the technology behind blockchain assets, and the emerging businesses he sees growing from that sector.

    The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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    How to Do Digital Transformation the Right Way With FinTech

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    The pandemic has accelerated FinTech adoption across all sectors of finance. And if your firm hasn’t adopted software for RIA compliance or reviewed its current suite of tools, now is the time to begin serious adoption efforts or to upgrade your current tech stack.

    The ideal RIA compliance software smooths operations and eases collaboration within your organization, allowing you to concentrate on what your firm does best. Time saved on RIA compliance operations is time gained for growing your business and helping your clients.

    During the pandemic, many RIAs switched from annual office visits for clients to phone calls, or often, video conferences online. That switch for many came easily, despite the growing pains that a few may have seen. How about applying that energy to a switch that improves your team’s RIA compliance operations and collaboration? 

    At this point through in the pandemic, you should have already evaluated your digital transformation to understand whether it has been successful. And if you haven’t, we’ll help nudge you there while giving some criteria to look for and questions to ask to measure any room for improvement:

    • Has your tech/software been adopted throughout the company? If not, why? Do your employees see the interface as cumbersome? Even the “best” tech is useless if employees don’t take to it. If this is the case, it’s your signal to reevaluate and find something that’s user-friendly.
    • Are you seeing improved processes, more efficiencies and standardization? Your team should have measurable, documented improvements to best use resources and improve collaboration.
    • Are you reducing risk? This is the most underestimated “hidden” cost in compliance. Top-notch RIA compliance software lets you manage alerts to potential violations, raising the red flag if there are omissions in your documented processes. You don’t want to discover what is missing when regulators visit.
    • Can you customize the tech to fit your needs? Does your software provider help you adjust your tech to your firm? Do you have strong follow-up and service with your tech provider? Good RIA compliance software can be adjusted to your needs, with a service team to help you learn and use it best.
    • Finally, does your FinTech free up resources so you can concentrate on your business? The right RIA compliance software will create better compliance operations for your team and improve collaboration among your team members. In the end that means you’re creating a better workplace for your compliance team, advisers, your firm and its clients.

    We watched video conferencing become another necessary tool for business during the pandemic, much like FinTech did over that same time period. The U.S. advanced 5 years in terms of digital adoption in only 8 weeks of the pandemic. Even formerly tech-reluctant employees are likely to be more receptive now that they’ve been doing video conferencing, among other tasks. Technology is a natural part of life in business and finance. FinTech is here to stay.

    The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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    The fintech winners and losers from higher interest rates

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    Key drivers of fintech interest rate sensitivity

    Higher interest rates are here to stay, with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine punching a massive hole through the transitory inflation thesis. We have previously addressed both the benign and less positive aspects of the rising rate environment and burgeoning inflation for the banking sector, but how will fintechs be affected? Naturally, given the huge diversity of this sector, the impact is likely to vary significantly. In this note, we highlight the key factors investors need to consider and drill down to the relative sensitivity of different business models.

    The key drivers of fintechs’ interest rate sensitivity

    We highlight below some of the key factors that investors should consider:

    Wholesale funding dependence

    With interest rates at historic low levels across the globe for much of the past few years, fintechs have not found themselves to be too disadvantaged relative to deposit-taking institutions, such as banks, even when their business models have depended on plentiful access to cheap funding. Clearly, these conditions no longer hold. Most negatively impacted, in our view, are lending-based models. In contrast, businesses that are able to collect deposits, such as digital wallets, should be able to benefit; typically, they can only invest in risk-free securities such as government bonds but, increasingly, even these can generate healthy nominal yields.

    Capital intensity

    With fixed income instruments delivering higher yields, the required return on equity capital is increasing. Moreover, the return premium that investors demand for taking on risk appears to be rising (evidenced, for example, by the increasing preference for value over growth stocks). Fintechs typically employ less capital-intensive business models than traditional peers, but the most efficient capital structures are likely to offer the best protection against investors’ increased pricing of risk.

    Pricing flexibility

    Our previous studies have indicated that fintech customers are extremely price-sensitive. Therefore, fintechs may find that they are unable to pass on to their customers any higher costs relating to tighter monetary policy. For some products, low pricing is key to their appeal. For example, most customers may consider that buy now pay later (BNPL) credit facilities are free; usually, the merchant covers the cost of these loans via a fee paid to the fintech. Higher funding costs erode the margin that this product can generate; if merchants are unwilling to raise the fees they pay to fintechs for providing the facility then it is the latter’s margins that will get squeezed. The market power of the BNPL fintech and merchant will ultimately determine which party takes the hit.

    Liquidity and leverage dependence

    Some fintech products are effectively plays on liquidity. This is particularly the case in the investech arena, where many clients use leverage to bulk up their exposures. Coins market has often been touted for its inflation-proof credentials, but investor behaviour suggests a stronger speculative element to the story; as inflation and interest rates have picked up, crypto trading volumes have collapsed. Crypto Trade could be some of the biggest fintech casualties of higher interest rates.

    Customer spending power

    Households are finding that higher fuel and food costs are hitting spending power. Higher input costs and rising financing costs are pressuring corporate profitability. In both cases, the willingness and ability to make use of fintech services may become constrained. More discretionary products, such as savings and investments, could be more affected.

    Our fintech scorecard highlights the most interest-rate sensitive business models

    We use these factors to provide a framework that will help us gauge the relative prospects of various fintech business models in a rising interest rate environment.

    In broad terms, we think that firms with high pricing power could even benefit from the current environment. But businesses that depend on plentiful liquidity and easy access to leverage, or those that require customers to have good spending power, could see their profitability and growth potential deteriorate.

    Key drivers of fintech interest rate sensitivity

    Drilling down to different fintech business models, we think consumer payments fintechs and digital banks could potentially benefit in the current environment, as the income they can generate from deposits improves. However, we think most business models are likely to suffer, particularly certain lending businesses such as Buy Now Pay Later and SME financing.

    Fintech interest rate sensitivity

    Company profiles

    We highlight below two fintech businesses that, based on our analysis, could potentially benefit from the high interest rate environment (Nubank, Paytm), and two that are likely to suffer (Konfio and Tabby).

    Nubank (Digital banking, Brazil)

    Nubank is a digital bank providing services in Latin America, principally Brazil. It has a growing suite of financial services for individuals and SMEs, including payments services (eg cards, QR code-based, and PIX instant payment network), saving products, investments, lending, and insurance. As of December 2021, the company had 53.9mn customers, monthly active users accounted 76% of this number. Nubank has been able to acquire customers at a low cost; at an average of US$5.4 per customer in 2021. The bank’s revenue has grew by 130% yoy to US$1,698mn in 2021, from US$737mn in 2020.

    Paytm (Consumer payments, India)

    Paytm is an Indian super app offering payments, other financial services (lending, insurance, etc), commerce and cloud services to 333mn consumers and over 21mn merchants (as of March 2021). In FY 2021, the firm oversaw INR4.0tn gross merchandise value (GMV) (ie US$53bn) via 7.4bn transactions, generating INR2.8bn revenue. It has set up 64mn payment bank accounts for its customers and holds INR52bn deposits and has INR52bn assets under management. Last year, Paytm disbursed 2.6mn loans.

    Konfio (SME banking, Mexico)

    Konfio provides credit solutions, both credit card and lending, to businesses by leveraging the proprietary algorithm that combines data and technology to measure credit-worthiness. It has two additional core products, KonfioPay and Gestionix. The former is a B2B payments management solution, while the latter provides cloud-based business systems for operational, accounting and financial management. In September 2021, the company raised an additional US$110mn in Series E round extension, raising its valuation to US$1.3bn.

    Tabby (BNPL, UAE)

    Tabby, founded in 2019, has in a short span of time become one of the leading BNPL providers in Saudi Arabia and the UAE. It has 1.1mn active users and 3,000 merchant partners. Tabby allows customers to pay for their purchases in four interest-free payments, billed monthly. The company generates revenues from merchants on its platforms, and through late payment fees. Tabby has so far raised US$185mn in debt and equity, and it was valued at US$300mn in August 2021. The company’s transaction volumes are growing strongly; up 8x since August 2021 and 50x in full-year 2021.

    The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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    The 5 best performing fintech stocks amid the global tech sell-off

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    Most tech shares have fallen by around 20% year-to-date

    Sky-high valuations, rising inflation, monetary tightening and concerns over slowing economic growth have all resulted in a massive sell-off in technology stocks this year. EM fintech companies are down 21% ytd, but there are some companies that still managed to deliver strong returns to shareholders due to their robust operating performance and investors’ confidence in the business model. We highlight five such names in this note – these stocks have generated a median 35% ytd return and are operating across different markets and sectors.Most tech shares have fallen by around 20% year-to-date

    Angel One (India, investech)

    ytd performance: +56%. market cap: US$2.0bn

    Angel One, previously known as Angel Broking, is a digital investment services company offering its customers stock trading, advisory services, margin funding and mutual fund investments. It is one of the largest retail brokerage houses in India.

    The company was incorporated in 1996 but shifted to a fully digital business model in 2019. Angel One has various innovative product offerings, which include ARQ (a robo-advisory platform), iTrade Prime (a trading platform offering flat per-order pricing for various asset classes) and AngelBee (a mutual fund investment platform). It currently has a total client base of 9.3mn, with 3.7mn active clients.

    Angel One’s positive share price performance is supported by the firm’s strong growth momentum. The company’s average daily turnover during Q1 2022 rose 130% yoy to cUS$115bn, with a market share of 21%. Its revenues in this period rose 63% yoy while profits are up c100% yoy.

    Angel One’s transformation from traditional brokerage to a fully-digital model

    Source: Company presentation

    Cielo (Brazil, payments)

    ytd performance: +51%. market cap: US$2.0bn

    Cielo is Brazil’s leading payments infrastructure company with more than 1.2mn active merchants using its services. The company offers POS devices to merchants to accept credit and debit card payments. In addition, Cielo also provides a suite of products for e-commerce merchants including checkout services on merchants’ websites as well as solutions for those who want to sell through platforms like WhatsApp.

    The company processes over US$45bn of transaction value through its products each year. Cielo also has various subsidiaries, but the largest of them is Cateno, which is jointly owned by Banco do Brasil. Cateno manages card payments transactions including account management and security solutions. It is also focusing strongly on innovating new technologies in the payments sector.

    During 2021, the company saw a major increase in its profits, which rose 98% yoy to US$210mn. This was mainly on the back of a 20% decline in operating expenses, while revenue growth was just 5%. Payments volume rose 9% during the year to US$45bn. In addition to strong profit growth, the share price of the company has also been supported by: i) the sale of its stake in US firm Merchant e-Solutions for cUS$175mn; and ii) a share buyback plan that the company approved earlier this month.

    Cielo's cost efficiency has increased recently

    MCash Integrasi (Indonesia, payments/diversified digital products)

    ytd performance: +36%. market cap: US$781mn

    Established in 2010, M Cash Integrasi is a digital services provider operating across various business segments with a broad and growing suite of products (currently 18, see exhibit below). M Cash identifies itself as a platform that builds digital products and services to address specific unmet economic needs. Its flagship product is Digital Kiosk, which is targeted at providing services to unbanked customers. Since 2017, the company has expanded into various other product lines, including mobile wallets, payments infrastructure, business communication, cloud advertising, logistics and food delivery.

    M Cash’s strong share price performance this year is likely down to its rapidly expanding product portfolio. It aims to capitalise on network effects and data gathered through its wide product suite to enhance the consumer experience and boost customer retention.

    M Cash’s expanded product portfolio

    Source: Company presentation

    Pax Global Technology (China, payments)

    ytd performance: +16%. market cap: US$883mn

    Pax Global Technology is a payments infrastructure company headquartered in China. The company is a leading provider of electronic payment terminal hardware and transactional software services to various companies across the globe. In the past decade, the company has turned into a global provider of payments infrastructure products as >90% of its sales now come from international clients, this is compared to only c20% in 2010.

    The company has more than 4mn terminals connected to its platform. Pax is seeing strong demand for its Android smart terminals, sales of which were up 78% yoy in 2021. The revenues of the company grew 27% in 2021 and its profits were up 21%.

    The company’s US subsidiary was raided by a US federal investigation in October 2021 (for reasons unknown) which took a toll on the share price. This is also one of the reasons behind the strong performance of the stock so far this year, as the shares are recovering in the absence of any material updates on that matter. Nevertheless, the shares are still down c30% from their October levels.

    Pax Global geographical presence and growth

    Source: Company presentation

    Intellect Design Arena (India, diversified digital products)

    ytd performance: +9%. market cap: US$1.5bn

    Intellect Design Arena (Intellect) is a leading technology solutions provider for banking, insurance and other financial services companies. The company serves over 260 global clients in over 90 countries. The company has solutions for various financial products such as digital lending, cards and digital payments. Roughly 60% of Intellect’s revenue comes from recurring licence-linked revenues (including licences, SaaS and annual maintenance contracts). The company owns various platforms including iKredit360 (lending) and Xponent (data analytics).

    During the nine-month period to the end of December 2021, the company earned revenue of cUS$125mn, up 17% yoy, with SaaS and subscription revenues up 122%. We think the share price performance and resilience in the face of the global tech sell-off is because of the company’s growing revenues, particularly from the SaaS segment, along with its high-profile and geographically diversified client base.

    Intellect product mix

    Source: Company presentation

    The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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    Lessons from Netflix’s lost subscribers

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    Expected long-term post-pandemic behavioural changes

    Netflix lost 200k customers in Q1 22, its first quarterly decline in over a decade; the shares are likely to be down heavily today. The sanctions-hit data was skewed by the loss of 700k Russian subscriptions, but the firm indicated that a further 2mn subscriber losses (from a total base of over 220mn) are likely as it cracks down on account sharing, and due to the tough operating environment. The firm may consider allowing advertising on its platform in a bid to support the top line. In this report we look at some of the broader implications of these results.

    Pandemic-driven behavioural changes are continuing to normalise

    We have already seen that the boost to digital payments volumes from the pandemic has waned substantially. And high occupancy in Dubai hotels and long queues at UK airports suggest international tourism is rebounding. Increased leisure options appear to have impacted Netflix’s appeal. Could delivery services and online shopping also see downturns? Will office vacancy rates fall as commuters head back to work? Our emerging market consumer survey from last year highlights some of the sectors most vulnerable to change as individuals and employers re-evaluate the post-pandemic world.

    Expected long-term post-pandemic behavioural changes

    Consumers are very price sensitive

    The Netflix experience shows that even for firms that have invested heavily in high-quality, proprietary content, customers can prove fickle. While price increases helped Netflix’s top line grow by c10% yoy, the decision also lead to increased cancellations, with 600k customers in the US and Canada pulling the plug. Our consumer survey shows that even for early adopters, pricing is a key consideration. 

    Fintech consumers are very price sensitive

    Discretionary spending is vulnerable to higher inflation

    Rampaging inflation is squeezing consumer finances. Particularly in emerging markets, many households are being forced to prioritise food and energy over leisure pursuits. This is not a good time to be launching non-essential products and services.

    Food prices scale new heights as inflation bites

    Russia sanctions come at a cost

    Netflix indicated that it lost 700k subscribers in Q1 when it pulled out of Russia. Other Russia-exposed western firms are likely to present similar negative effects in their results.

    Our consumer app survey suggests tech firms should be relatively unaffected by sanctions, given that the country was already blocked off in many areas due to restrictive local regulations. Our survey suggests Facebook and Google were the most popular western apps used in the country, with TikTok and Telegram also popular.

    App usage pattern in emerging markets

    Tough times call for new revenue models

    Subscription-based services like Netflix have traditionally steered clear from advertising, to help differentiate themselves from traditional providers and also to protect the user experience. But with household finances getting squeezed, adding a layer of advertising could allow the firm to offer a lower-cost product to appeal to a wider audience.

    Security spending can protect the top line

    Netflix estimates that around 100mn households are sharing subscription passwords (including 30mn in US/Canada), amounting to a sizeable loss of revenue. Improved security could help convert some of these sharers into subscribers, but could also result in increased cancellations.

    Cross-subsidisation is eroding margins

    Pure-play firms can excel, but still see margins eroded by newcomers with alternative revenue streams. Amazon, Apple and Disney are all looking to eat Netflix’s lunch.

    International expansion is key to long-term growth

    Despite hitting roadblocks in its traditional markets, Netflix was still able to register growth in its less mature markets such as Japan and India. The experience should provide some hope to Netflix shareholders on what is likely to be a tough day; a compelling product, well-delivered will always find an audience.

    The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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    Advancing Anti-financial Crime Operations through Hyperautomation

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    Three steps to establish effective hyperautomation

    Anti-financial crime (AFC) operations have been rapidly evolving over the past several years as regulatory pressures and competitive forces drive banks to invest in more effective and efficient systems. As banks seek to improve data collection analytics and decision-making processes, many AFC operations are moving toward hyperautomation to accelerate their transformation. A new report by Chartis Research, in partnership with Nasdaq, explores the journey to hyperautomation and how banks can deliver long-term success.

    Hyperautomation utilizes a combination of tools and techniques, including robotics, machine learning, artificial intelligence and no-code approaches, to maximize the level of automation in a set of processes, thereby removing as much manual activity as possible. According to the report, hyperautomation can not only enable banks to make their data gathering, operations and analytics activities incrementally more efficient, but it can also help to automate more complex, decision-based activities as well.

    The Chartis report, which focused primarily on Tier 1 banks, found that hyperautomation led to time and cost savings of up to 90%, particularly for investigations and remediation. More specifically, the report discovered that implementing hyperautomation within AFC operations at banks:  

    • Reduced the time taken for Level 1 investigations by 90% and reduced the number of full-time employees focused on repetitive manual tasks by 75%.
    • Reduced the time and people required for AFC operations by two-thirds.
    • Eliminated manual data gathering, consolidation and standardization from Level 1 review, reducing the required decisions by up to 60%.
    • Reduced the number of bottlenecks in the alert handling, risk and reporting stages.
    • Drove efficiency beyond the AFC operations process, with cuts as high as 90% in manual data extraction and processing as part of reporting to the internal audit, policy, and risk departments.
    • Created powerful analytics to enable continuous improvements in AFC.

    Chartis also analyzed one Tier 1 bank as part of the research report, revealing that by automating some of its AFC operations, the bank was able to combine many key processes, including customer due diligence, transaction monitoring and anti-money laundering screening.

    “Automating these work-heavy processes reduced workload by 75%, increased efficiencies in areas such as audit and risk and enhanced traditionally ‘unautomated’ areas of the AFC workflow (such as investigations),” the report stated.

    As hyperautomation has become increasingly essential to AFC operations, Chartis outlined three steps to establish effective hyperautomation based upon its research, including:

    1. Basic automation. Most banks are currently at this stage. The distinct automated areas are not linked, and significant manual input is still required in many processes. Individual elements (such as parts of the CDD process) are automated via workflows and data flows. Sanctions screening is also commonly automated, often with AI/ML applications at the back end to help reduce false positives and manage alerts.
    2. Analytics automation. By automating decisions and analytics that flow throughout the AFC architecture, banks can eliminate significant manual processes almost entirely. By applying analytics up- and downstream in the process, they can develop better rules on everything from data collection to risk parameters. At this stage, such processes as investigations can be automated effectively.
    3. Self-serve, no-code. By this stage, both the architecture of the AFC unit and the technology that supports it are well integrated. This frees end-users previously engaged in highly repetitive manual tasks to perform complex analytics and make decisions that align more closely with the firm’s risk policy.
    Three steps to establish effective hyperautomation


    Chartis Research

    At Nasdaq, we strive to reduce the burden of manual processes across all anti-financial crime activities for banks around the world. Through the Nasdaq Automated Investigator for AML,an innovative technology that replicates the alert investigation processing and decisions carried out by human analysts today, financial institutions can devote more resources to the risks that matter. 

    Read the full report here.

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    DeFi Needs to Follow Tesla’s Example to Avoid Becoming the DeLorean

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    By Bill Wolf, Chief Investment Officer at TrustToken

    The decentralized finance (DeFi) ecosystem has taken off over the past year, expanding about 1,200 percent in total value locked. This is no small feat, especially since just a few years ago, most people—including many crypto enthusiasts—hadn’t even heard about DeFi. But if 2021 was the year DeFi got its beachhead, 2022 should be the year it pushes into the domain of traditional financial institutions. The question is—how?

    Fortress TradFi

    DeFi may be the next stage for the finance world, but so far, this world has largely been doing fine without blockchain. Many of TradFi’s components are pretty efficient. The ones that aren’t, however, from venture debt to real estate, indisputably have a lot of room for improvement—especially when the technology to drive it is blossoming.

    For all of its time-earned pedigree, TradFi has a number of fundamental flaws that hamper business activities in nearly every industry. These flaws stem from a variety of factors, such as the outdated technological stack on which banks still rely, and the wariness these institutions have toward the expenses and early adoption risks associated with massive updates. Other drawbacks can be even more structural in nature, such as contractual or regulatory obligations. In more specific terms, these are just a few areas where TradFi could do better:

    • Transfer speed. Sure, it does not take long to move money from one account to another in the same bank. Cross-border payments, however, take longer periods and amount to trillions of USD per year, and still have high fees depending on the method of transfer This makes for a clear-cut inefficient market of a colossal scale.
    • Swelling overhead. The above point also leads us to another TradFi flaw. The traditional system is prone to accumulating high overhead on nearly every transfer, with each trade or exchange transaction accumulating more and more fees and costs with every middleman.
    • Limited reach. Finally, any TradFi service you launch is inherently very limited in terms of its geographical outreach at the onset. It is only available to a limited set of vetted lenders and borrowers, and diversifying one’s portfolio of financial opportunities is rarely an easy feat accomplished from a single platform. Moreover, the transactions are limited in terms of time: Many TradFi activities are constrained to local business and/or market hours.

    While the blockchain ecosystem remains largely niche in terms of its overall share of the global economy, the technology underpinning it holds a major promise for the financial world. Both DeFi and TradFi fundamentally revolve around moving value, with the goal of meeting capital supply with the most productive risk-adjusted opportunities.

    But TradFi is the proverbial General Motors, an established powerhouse giving people the vehicles that do their job. DeFi, for its part, is the techie startup looking to bring people the cars they don’t know they need. The last thing it should be doing is trying to mindlessly replicate what the competitor does; what DeFi needs is a Tesla strategy.

    Kicking into high gear

    It’s clear from the first glance just how different Tesla is from regular carmakers. It’s not trying to do the same thing as everyone else, but cheaper. Instead, in the words of its own CEO, Tesla’s vision is “to enter at the high end of the market, where customers are prepared to pay a premium, and then drive down the market as fast as possible.” 

    To make further inroads into TradFi’s domain, DeFi should adopt a similar approach—a wedge strategy. It should zoom in on a niche user most willing to pay for what it’s selling and work its way into the market from there, adding new features and products over time. Blockchain must press the advantage where there is one, and the good news is that its design offers a functional and effective solution for some of TradFi’s current struggles.

    As a trustless protocol, blockchain is effective in eliminating the various middlemen, greatly reducing the overhead for any business operations. This is twice the case for international transfers, where blockchain eliminates the need to move money through a network of correspondent banks, while also expanding its reach to a global audience from day one.

    Permissionless chains are also infinitely more accessible than banks for both institutional and retail users. They are global by definition, transcending national borders, but are also flexible enough to support compliance with different KYC rules through tailored smart contracts and other solutions. This makes for almost $80 billion in untapped global liquidity—the total value locked in DeFi as of the article’s writing—immediately accessible to any business just willing to reach out and grasp it.

    As helpful as these advantages may be, they are hardly enough to secure a beachhead for DeFi on their own without a clear-cut strategy making the most of them. So where should it start its glorious advance? How can it pull off a Tesla?

    Welcome to the Blockchain ICE Age

    Moving forward, DeFi developers should be looking for financial services and products that have three key characteristics—Inefficiency, Complexity, and Esoterism:

    • I for Inefficient: In this case, inefficiency means lacking broad support from mainstream capital. DeFi must look out for financial products and business models that are starving for funds and failing to secure the backing of the traditional bodies. Think venture debt financing for exotic startups, specialized technology-enabled lending programs, or even crowdsourcing for niche underfunded projects.
    • C for Complex: DeFi should look to attract projects with a complex underlying business model, which makes them more difficult to assess from the TradFi standpoint. Think of complex trading strategies of a quant hedge fund automated with smart contracts and brought on-chain for investors to tap into—this is the kind of product the space needs to embrace, and for which it is uniquely tailored.
    • E for Esoteric: DeFi should keep an eye for products that take specialist knowledge and are harder to grasp for the mainstream financial crowd. Credit analysts and lenders can struggle with new and emerging tools, or even with things that don’t get that many headlines in the media. Anything obscure and demanding in terms of specialist knowledge, like seed-stage debt funding for startups in a specific niche, lending to businesses in emerging economies, or even specialized B2B insurance, is a welcome guest on the blockchain, for two reasons. Firstly, the managers of such opportunities have a bigger need for solutions—specifically, access to greater liquidity and a larger lender pool. Secondly, because these opportunities are usually quite lucrative, thereby attracting more lender interest.

    DeFi has made colossal progress, growing and branching into a diverse and bustling industry. While it is still nascent, especially compared to traditional finance, its potential is just as large as the domain of its rival—and to make the most of it, it should use its momentum to take risks and innovate, not to mimic its rival. Everyone is on a continuous hunt for yields, after all, and in today’s volatile macroeconomic conditions, blockchain’s key strengths stand tall in the spotlight. 

    About the Author:

    Bill Wolf is the Chief Investment Officer at TrustToken, the core team responsible for building the leading unsecured lending protocol TrueFi. A Harvard Business School graduate, Bill worked as Managing Director of Goldman Sachs, HSBC, and Credit Suisse. Prior to joining TrustToken, he was the President & CEO of Lobo Leasing Ltd., a Blackstone-backed helicopter leasing and advisory service.

    The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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