Can UK fintech companies succeed where legacy banks have failed so far with CBILS?

Welcome to this weeks’ edition of City AM’s Crypto Insider, and I hope that you all managed to make the most of the Easter Weekend despite the obvious pain of social distancing. I sincerely hope that all of you and your loved ones are safe and well.

The crypto market remains resilient, but nonetheless down since last week’s edition and at the time of writing, Bitcoin (BTC) was trading at US$6,739.03  / GB£5,403.92; Ethereum (ETH) is at US$153.73 / GB£123.24; Ripple (XRP) is at US$0.1840 / GB£0.1469; Binance (BNB) is at US$14.38 / GB£11.54 and Cardano (ADA) is at US$0.03267 / GB£0.02610.  Overall Market Cap is once again below the US$200bn mark at US$192.37bn / GB£153.81bn (data source: www.CryptoCompare.com)

Understandably, with so much uncertainty facing us all, it’s perhaps inevitable that the genuine worry over cash flow is taking its toll especially when it comes to the government aid programs for businesses and people alike such as the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (‘CBILS’).  It was all the more shocking to read last week’s exclusive story written by Harry Robertson of CityAM.com which cemented some of those fears.

Barry James, who chairs the BBFTA (British Blockchain & Frontier Technologies Association) has quickly formed a series of Covid-Response task forces together with Lee Birkett founder of regulated P2P lender JustUs. They had already realised the banks could not deliver and so the peril in which current CBILS plans place the UK’s economy – so created a fintech lifeboat.

When announced, it was clear that the government CBILS scheme would take until June to deliver – too late for many of these businesses.

The facts now are that, after almost three weeks, banks have granted just 5,000 loans from the 300,000 applications that have managed to make it through – less than 2%. This is itself less than 10% of around 6 million such businesses.

The self-employed and SME sector is the beating heart of the economy, producing more jobs than the rest of the economy, but carries little fat – typically with a financial runway of only a few weeks.  The ambitious government scheme intended to prevent mass closures now sees such businesses disappearing daily, time is of the essence.

Whether or not banks are feet-dragging, as some have suggested, it is now clear that they’re not capable of delivering in time to prevent mass unemployment. Because of unreformed, multilayer paper-based lending processes that are ‘patchy’ at best.

Which is why Barry and his cohort pulled together leading fintech players in record time to create a digital solution capable of delivering lending decisions within 24 to 48 hours, as opposed to the eight or more weeks of uncertainty required by banks, and provide the money straight away on criteria that are clear and consistent across the board.

Now we need the government to literally ‘get-it’. The government must embrace this digital lifeboat for the sake of the economy and us all.

Sticking with the theme of businesses struggling with the delays of state aid, startups are particularly vulnerable. One company that has hit my radar is Netherlands-based Funded.club which is a recruiting firm that focuses solely on the startup space. Founded by seasoned entrepreneur Ray Gibson in early 2019, Funded.club recruits quality talent on low-fixed fees that come in 70-80% less than a regular recruiting agency, for fast-growing, early-stage businesses that don’t have the capital or time to invest in an in-house recruiting operation. The company’s services are particularly valuable at a time like this when founders everywhere are facing tremendous uncertainty and cost pressures. Ray and his team can serve as outsourced UK recruiting specialists who help offload some of the burden leaders are carrying.

The last double-page spread edition of Crypto AM on the 31st March featured in its Spotlight PhiGold, a project supported by new entrant Digital RFQ. Both companies are associated with the Atom Asset Exchange (‘AAX’), the first digital asset exchange to be powered by London Stock Exchange Group (‘LSEG’) Technology. Alongside its work with Digital RFQ in delivering innovative tokens such as PhiGold, today AAX is also launching its native exchange token AAB as part of its mission to further connect crypto to global finance.

It’s always inspiring to see blockchain projects in action that are oven-ready to deliver.  In the run-up to the UK Lockdown, the last events that took place in London were London Blockchain Week (LBW), CryptoCompare’s Digital Asset Summit and the Crypto AM Awards 2020. During this time I had the pleasure of meeting Genevieve Leveille, Founder & CEO of AgriLedger, which is an amazing project in Haiti, which designs blockchain-based solutions that have ‘empowered producers by simplifying their access to wider global markets via mobile platforms and to financial services via API linkages with financial institutions’.

The solution supports a high standard of integrity within the agricultural value chain by improving transparency and information flows.  AgriLedger works with companies, governments, nonprofits and other organisations to address challenges on a global scale. It coordinates with farmers, co-operatives, transportation providers, wholesalers, food processing units, cold storage, retailers, seed providers, machinery vendors, and banks.

Over the Easter weekend, we caught up to discuss further and get the news updates.

She explained to me “we are getting ready for the go-live in Haiti. Barring any unforeseen obstacles, the Haitian mangoes start travelling toward the US at the end of April 2020.  Last September, we were a bit frazzled when we had the lockdown due to geopolitical issues in Haiti. Everything had to be done remotely. In retrospect, these events have proven to serve us well, given the challenges brought by COVID-19 Global Lockdown.  In the last few weeks, we have received numerous requests from global organisations recognising the broken trust state of the supply chain. Of these, we are enthusiastic about the potential in applying our solution to the mitigation of a distribution challenge between China and India.”

Finally, I’d like to remind you again about my local community effort for Canary Wharf / Isle of Dogs teaming up with BABB (Bank Account Based Blockchain) to raise money to pay for food and care parcels. We’re on course to hit our target of 72.5m BAX equivalent to circa £7,000 and, with the help of Waitrose & Partners of Canary Wharf, our budget will be enhanced by £400 worth of discounts.  Please donate to the campaign via www.bit.ly/IoDFoodCare .

James Bowater, City AM’s Crypto Insider

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