For a good start of the new week, we have prepared your fresh portion of tech news. That way, you can catch up with everything you may have missed during the last seven days and take a look at the most important tech developments. We will look at the new fintech initiative by HSBC, FED’s Waller publicly criticizing CBDCs, insurtechs expansion in UAE, Australia being one of the biggest blockchain hubs globally, Verily’s new AI center in Israel, the necessity for a booster shot in case of the Moderna Covid-19 jab, Rakuten was chosen for building an innovative mobile network for 1&1, and Ether’s major upgrade.
HSBC’s asset management unit has just launched a brand new VC investment strategy that aims at reimagining fintech. Through the strategy, HSCBC wants to provide clients with broader exposure to companies that can transform financial services. The VC will participate in series A and series B funding rounds of B2B companies specializing in software and fintech. The offer targets European and Asian businesses.
Joanna Munro, CEO, HSBC Alternatives, says: “As part of our commitment to provide clients with exciting investment opportunities, this strategy will give them access to high growth sectors and parts of the world where economies are expanding fast such as the Greater Bay Area in China.”
The new initiative will be led by Remi Bourette, head of venture & growth investments, and director Kara Byun. “We are interested in the tectonic changes of the industry, even more so when they relate to the role of finance in the economy and society in general. We believe the transition to ESG-driven finance will lead to the reinvention of many product lines creating a powerful tailwind for sustainability-native companies. We also see wealth creation in Asia as an enduring trend that will benefit technology companies across wealth management, capital markets, and insurance,” Bourette says.
Christopher Waller, the Federal Reserve governor has spoken out about CBDCs with what many considered a harsh critique. Waller described himself as “highly skeptical” of the digital currency, digital dollar specifically. He disagreed with the often-repeated statements that current payment services are too slow and digital dollar would be cheaper, faster, and better for financial inclusion.
During a speech at the American Enterprise Institute, Waller said: “After careful consideration, I am not convinced as of yet that a CBDC would solve any existing problem that is not being addressed more promptly and efficiently by other initiatives.”
Waller has also pointed out the concerns connected to CBDC used for gathering information about people’s financial transactions.
“The introduction of a CBDC in China, for example, likely will allow the Chinese government to more closely monitor the economic activity of its citizens. Should the Federal Reserve create a CBDC for the same reason? I, for one, do not think so.”
“After exploring many possible problems that a CBDC could solve, I am left with the conclusion that a CBDC remains a solution in search of a problem,” Waller added.
The UAE-based insurtech startup has announced a collaboration with MetLife, as the two companies want to expand the insurtech sector in the gulf region. Through the partnership, MetLife will be able to provide customers with easy access to a range of critical illness, accident, and retail solutions via a mobile device. The end goal is to provide the clients with a fully digital insurance experience. However, the process is expected to be done gradually, with the first version only offering products through SMS and mobile web.
The Democrance platform will also enable MetLife to deploy automated processes that drive accessibility and efficiency and delivery the ready insurance solutions within just a couple of minutes.
Speaking on the formation of the partnership, Michele Grosso, Chief Executive Officer at Democrance, said, “With financial service customers embracing digital channels and social distancing becoming the norm, banks and insurers today must refine their partnerships to ensure they can jointly respond to changing consumer demands. Through pooling their customer, product, and technology expertise, they can transform the way they serve their shared client base.
“We are confident that this partnership with MetLife will enable Democrance to deploy its digital platform across the customer value chain to expand customer access to a broad range of need-based products and services. In doing so, we hope to enhance efficiencies further and leverage the existing ecosystem to facilitate superior experiences for banking and insurance customers.”
Apostolos Ailamakis, Head of Bancassurance and Direct to Consumer at MetLife in the Gulf, added, “Continuously enhancing our processes and actively looking for opportunities to simplify and automate manual activities is embedded in the core of our strategy. We are committed to investing in tools that place our customers in the driver’s seat. The new partnership with Democrance will enhance our customers’ insurance buying experience by creating a seamless digital process that caters to their ever-evolving needs.”
The FinTech Times posted an interview with the Founder & CEO of Labrys, Lachlan Feeney. Labrys is an Australian blockchain company that offers a wide range of blockchain solutions. The story focused on the Australian blockchain industry and how it developed into one of the biggest and most important global players when it comes to blockchain, NFTs, and crypt0.
“Despite most of the attention first going to cryptocurrencies, customized expressions of blockchain infrastructure have a lot to offer the world’s economy,” Feeny explained. “Behind the scenes, technologists are actively conceiving solutions to all sorts of problems. Decentralized technology is now delivering on theoretical promises of value and is proving its capabilities in the real world.”
Feeny focuses on the Australian market that he described as a booming ecosystem.
“The industry here is brimming with innovation and has enormous growth potential,” he said. “Over the last 18 months, Labrys and our domestic contemporaries have grown considerably by providing global standards in service and expertise.”
“Our growth is reflective of blockchain’s surge in the Australian market in general. Our staff numbers are set to more than double by the end of the year, fuelled by significantly increased project scopes as enterprise blockchain adoption increases. This has seen client numbers jump by a quarter in 2020 vs 2019, and average project scope soared 105%. This reflects Australia’s case as a waking giant for the blockchain industry; 40% of our clients are now international – this is up from just 19% in 2019,” he added.
Feeney has also addressed the NFT craze. Since the beginning of this year, the non-fungible tokens have taken the world by storm and while some started viewing them as a golden opportunity, others see them as a bubble that is about to burst.
“While they might sound like a craze, NFTs are a superb example of the infinite application possibilities of the technology. NFTs represents a breakthrough in ownership and copyrights infringement, issues that have long plagued the creative industries. This is a landmark moment for artists of all kinds; artistic craft is again defining its actual market value, perhaps not ways not seen since before the popularisation of the internet,” Feeney said.
“As an NFT only has one owner, they create a scarcity that many consumers demand today. It’s just an evolution of age-old retail practices like limited edition sales, only this time it’s a digital asset, and there’s only one. As long as consumer interest in the technology exists, we believe the market for NFT’s will continue to boom.”
Feeny concluded: “At Labrys, we believe 2021 will be marked in history not just as a year plagued by the effects of the pandemic but as a pivotal milestone in the history of technology. The potential for decentralized technology to change the way we work and live together is proving very real.
In order to explore the infinite opportunities that AI can offer in the healthcare field, Verily decided to open a new R&D AI center in Israel, partnering with numerous hospitals, medtechs, and researchers based in Israel. Some of the key aspects that the research center may focus on are minimally invasive surgery, endoscopy, and other medical imaging methods. The Israel team of Verily will be based together with Google’s researchers in Haifa and Tel Aviv.
“The country has excellent academic institutions all within a short distance of our offices, providing the opportunity for easy collaboration,” said Ehud Rivlin, a professor of computer science at the national technology institute who recently joined Verily to serve as the company’s Israel site lead.
While the long-term study of Moderna’s Covid-19 shot showed that patients that received their two-dose vaccine 6 months ago are still fully protected, researchers believe that a third booster dose may likely be needed in the fall due to the relaxation of the lockdown rules and the delta variant.
The biotech company cited the Phase 2 study data that clearly indicated a third dose given more than six months after the first two doses could boost the antibodies to the levels seen shortly after receiving both doses. While countries currently debate the necessity of booster shots, many have already decided that it will be recommended for elderly and immunocompromised individuals.
“We believe a booster is likely to be necessary this fall, particularly in the face of the delta variant,” said Moderna president Stephen Hoge on a Thursday conference call.
“In our mind, the right way to benchmark this is ‘let’s look at that really high consistent efficacy in Phase 3 … and let’s do better, let’s exceed those titers,” said Hoge. “If we can, it should stand to reason we can provide protection at or above the levels we saw before.”
Last week, Rakuten announced it was chosen by 1&1 to build “Europe’s first fully virtualized mobile network based on new OpenRAN technology”. The network that Rakuten will be building for the German operator will be created from the ground up and the construction will start in Q4 of this year.
“We are honored to have been selected by 1&1 as their partner to build the first fully virtualized mobile network in Europe,” Mickey Mikitani, Chairman and CEO of Rakuten Group, said. “Like 1&1, we launched our mobile network in Japan with a vision to transform the industry. Through technological innovation, we have been able to offer high-quality services at an affordable price that challenge the market. We are very excited to now have the opportunity to share this experience and know-how with 1&1 through the Rakuten Communications Platform and to jointly create a next-generation network that will set new standards for future mobile communications in Germany and across Europe.”
Meanwhile, Ralph Dommermuth, CEO of 1&1, said. “With Rakuten, we have the world’s only OpenRAN expert on our side who really has extensive practical experience with this new technology. Together we are building a high-performance mobile network that has extensive automation and agility to fully exploit the potential of 5G,” Dommermuth continued. “Through complete virtualization and the use of standard hardware, we can flexibly combine the best products. This will make us a manufacturer-independent innovation driver in the German and European mobile market.”
According to the partnership deal, Rakuten will build all parts of the active network equipment and 1&1 will gain access to all of the Rakuten solutions such as the Rakuten Communications Platform (RCP) stack (running access, core, cloud, and operations).
On Thursday, the second-largest blockchain network Ethereum got a huge upgrade. The upgrade aims at lowering and stabilizing the transaction fees and decreasing the supply of the ether token. The upgrade is called Ethereum Improvement Proposal (EIP) 1559, and it alters the way Ethereum processes the transactions, providing transparent prices on transaction fees paid to miners to validate transactions and “burning” a small number of the tokens (that will then be taken out of circulation for good). By “burning” the tokens and reducing the supply, the remaining ether tokens that circulate will become more valuable.
While Ether’s price went down right after the adjustments, it is expected for it to recover quickly.
“Everyone should watch as the next few weeks unfold and financial models emerge quantifying the impact of the burning on the supply of ether, which may ultimately lead to price targets,” said Viktor Bunin, protocol specialist at infrastructure platform Bison Trails. “The new ether supply dynamics may spark a new virtuous cycle where increased price leads to greater adoption and vice versa. The more users and developers that enter the industry, the faster we can grow the crypto-economy.”