This week in our tech weekly summary, we will look at several big headlines concerning biotech, telecom, and fintech. We start with the report revealing some concerning hidden issues with BNPL, a new initiative aiming at accelerating the DeFi adoption, and a large revolution for one of the most popular neobanks in South America. We also talk about a crypto reward credit card, a large cloud platform increasing its censorship, the CEO of Ericsson claiming he will fight for keeping the presence in China, and the growth of the smartphone market. There are also several important biotechnology stories that we sum up for you, including the huge breakthrough in a prosthetic field and a new Covid-19 variant identified by the WHO.
The latest report that Citizens Advice did on Buy Now Pay Later shows that one in 10 of the shoppers that have used the BNPL have been chased by debt collectors. According to the research, the BNPL users were charged over $40 million in late fees in 2020 alone. Citizens Advice pointed out that none of the leading BNPL providers inform the customers they will be referred to debt collectors in case of a missed payment. Although it may seem obvious to some, it is highlighted in the report that a large part of shoppers does not fully comprehend they are entering a credit agreement by using a BNPL service.
Dame Clare Moriarty, chief executive of Citizens Advice, says: “The sheer number of shoppers facing debt collection is startling. We know from our frontline advisers just how much stress this can cause/”
“A seamless Buy Now Pay Later checkout process should not mean shoppers have to dig around in the small print to find out they’re taking out a credit agreement and could be referred to debt collectors if they can’t pay. The warnings should be unmissable,” she adds.
Millie Harris, a debt adviser at Citizens Advice East Devon, says: “My concern is that people aren’t processing the fact that Buy Now Pay Later is credit. They don’t realize there are going to be consequences if they don’t pay – it gives them a false sense of security.”
“I’ve seen people using it for their kids’ clothes and shoes that they would otherwise never be able to afford. They are taking out what is effectively a loan, but they don’t see it as one. For example, I helped someone who has tens of thousands of pounds of debt, but they don’t see Buy Now Pay Later as part of that total.”
“It’s almost under-the-radar debt.”
Several global crypto organizations have announced the launch of their new initiative, DeFi for the People – meant to accelerate the adoption of decentralized finance. It is built on Celo and includes organizations such as Aave, Curve, Sushi, PoolTogether, 0x, UMA, Valora, Ubeswap, and Moola Market, with the education and infrastructure partners such as Chain Link or RabbitHole. DeFi for the People will offer over $100 million in incentives and initiatives that aim at a broader DeFi adoption.
“DeFi for the People aims to make DeFi accessible to everyone by powering real-world use cases and focusing on mobile-first adoption,” said Rene Reinsberg, Co-Founder of Celo. “We’re excited to collaborate with the biggest projects in DeFi to bring more than 1 billion new users into the DeFi ecosystem over the next five years.”
“Research shows prize savings is one of the most important and effective on-ramps into savings for underbanked people. PoolTogether on Celo can facilitate crypto and DeFi adoption for the unbanked and users in developing markets who benefit most from low gas fees and fast transaction times,” said Leighton Cusak, Founder, PoolTogether.
DeFi for the People is an open initiative and any individual who wants to support the DeFi adoption is encouraged to join.
Agibank has been a financial institution in Brazil for over 20 years. Now, one of South America’s most popular neobanks is evolving into Agi platform that will provide banking and non-banking services for millions of Brazilians, many of them unbanked. Agi is built as an open platform existing outside of the bank. Although it distributes Agibank’s products, it also has offerings from other banks, as it wants to meet all types of needs coming from different kinds of customers
“Agi is a natural evolution of our business model,” says Marciano Testa, CEO and founder of Agibank. “It is an all-encompassing platform, providing solutions that range from means of payment to entertainment, content, investments, a marketplace and banking services. And because we are truly inclusive, we offer the fastest onboarding process in Brazil. We have designed a concept that allows people to become clients of our platform in just three clicks: a user is impacted by a cashback promotion available in our marketplace, or by some sort of content in our platform; when the person consumes that product or service, they get an account. It’s that easy.”
“Thanks to an amazing work that ties together UX, data intelligence and a smart orchestration of engines, we can meet the needs of three major client profiles with one single app. We call these profiles the grandparents, the grandchildren, and entrepreneurs – every family has all of them. Agi’s offerings are adjusted to fit the needs of each group,” he adds.
To make the platform as accessible as possible, it will be available both for those holding an Agibank account and those who are not clients, with 12 types of contact points. One of the solutions included in the Agi platform is Agi Investment where customers can choose between more than 650 different products and services. Another solution is Agi Compras, a cashback service currently partnering with over 320 of Brazil’s largest retailers.
“The Agi platform will serve our existing 3.1 million-plus clients, as well as the market as a whole, starting from our current base of customers. It will boost our growth strategy and attract different profiles, creating a positive flywheel effect,” states Testa.
The global embedded finance platform Railsbank announced its collaboration with a personal finance company Status Money. The two will work on offering a cashback credit card that would automatically invest the rewards in cryptocurrency. The card will give customers an opportunity for 2% unlimited cash back rewards on every purchase.
Dov Marmor, COO of Railsbank (North America), said: “Credit cards are one of the most commonly used spending mechanisms but over 80% of cards are issued by just the top 10 banks. There are simple reasons for this. Until now, issuing credit cards was an extremely complex and expensive business requiring vast technological infrastructure that meets heavy regulatory compliance.
“We built Railsbank to enable companies like Status Money to create financial products that offer completely different value propositions, whereas currently big banks can only offer cashback, and more cashback. Railsbank offers this at a fraction of the cost and time that would have previously been required.”
Moreover, anybody holding the card will have the access to all of the Status Money’s Premium financial management tools such as tracking the net worth and comparing it with friends or video chatting with a financial advisor on a monthly basis.
Majd Maksad, co-founder and CEO of Status Money, added: “We’re giving everyone who spends money the ability to become an investor automatically. If cryptocurrencies continue their skyward adoption, a member who spends $1,000 a month on this card will have rewards worth over $60,000 in five years. This is life-changing money for most of us.
“Thanks to Railsbank, we’re taking our business model to the next level and opening up previously untapped revenue streams. We started Status Money with a social budgeting app that gave members new insights into their finances and access to advice – and this credit card is the first in a suite of products that will make it effortless to build wealth.”
AWC, one of the most popular public cloud platforms is allegedly working on increasing their platform’s censorship. Based on the stories first reported by Reuters quoting people close to the matter, the company is currently in process of forming a censorship team. The idea of increasing the censorship is said to have come from a request from Amazon that wants AWS to be more “proactive” in monitoring the platform and potential threats.
“AWS Trust & Safety works to protect AWS customers, partners, and internet users from bad actors attempting to use our services for abusive or illegal purposes,” said AWS in a statement to Reuters.
Last week, we have been reporting on the statement that Börje Ekholm, CEO of the Swedish Ericsson, gave on China’s domination in 6G and its potential threat. Now, Ekhold is speaking out again and in his latest Reuters interview, he claims he will be fighting to maintain Ericsson’s presence in China, even though the geopolitical situation bets against him. The most recent allocation of 5G work in China was not successful for Ericsson whose shares fell drastically. It came a few months after Sweden upheld the ban on the Chinese telecom kit vendors.
“We have been in China for 120 years and I don’t intend to give up easily. We are going to show that we can add value to China.” Ekholm says.“I don’t believe we have had any help from the Swedish government to be honest”
It looks like the smartphone market is returning to its pre-Covid levels, with a projected 7.4% increase in smartphone shipments in 2021. The global smartphone market could see a noticeable decrease followed by a stagnation during the Covid-19 pandemics. Now, it looks like the sector is ready to bounce back. According to the reports, the growth this year can be attributed to the emerging and high-growth markets such as India, Japan, Middle East and Africa. As for the “Western” markets, they are still expected to record some declines as compared to the pre-Covid levels.
“The smartphone market was better prepared from a supply chain perspective heading into 2020 given almost all regions were expecting to grow and vendors were preparing accordingly,” said Ryan Reith, group vice president with IDC’s Mobility and Consumer Device Trackers. “2020 was a bust due to the pandemic but all of the top brands continued forward with their production plans with the main difference that the timeline was pushed out. Therefore, we are at a point where inventory levels are much healthier than PCs and some other adjacent markets and we are seeing the resilience of consumer demand in recent quarterly results.”
“Premium smartphones (priced at $1000+) continued to grow in the second quarter as the segment displayed 116% growth from last year,” noted Anthony Scarsella, research director, Mobile Phones at IDC. “Moreover, ASPs across the entire market climbed 9% as buyer preferences trend towards more costly 5G models than entry-level devices.”
One of the main drivers of the smartphone market growth is 5G. The 5G models are expected to make up more than half smartphone shipment by the end of next year.
A team of researchers from Cleveland Clinic has developed a new prosthetic arm prototype that communicates with the brain in an innovative way. The movements of the bionic arm are controlled by the neurological signals and at the same time, the prosthetic sends signals back to the brain through nerves, helping the brain restore sense of touch and movement of the amputee. The development is a huge breakthrough in the prosthetic segment as it is the first device to offer amputees intuitive motor control, sense of touch and grip kinesthesia in a single device. The bionic arm is connected to one’s limb nerves and subsequently trained to pick up on neural impulses.
“Perhaps what we were most excited to learn was that they made judgments, decisions and calculated and corrected for their mistakes like a person without an amputation,” said Cleveland Clinic’s Paul Marasco, Ph.D., lead investigator for the study. “With the new bionic limb, people behaved like they had a natural hand. Normally, these brain behaviors are very different between people with and without upper limb prosthetics.”
As the Delta variant of the Covid-19 virus continues to account for the majority of Covid-19 outbreaks globally, a new variant has been identified by the World Health Organization. The “Mu” variation is the fifth strain of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that has been named “variant of interest” by the WHO. It shows possible resistance to vaccines and based on the latest reports from WHO, it is being closely monitored.
Dr. Anthony Fauci said at a press briefing on Thursday that while the U.S. is monitoring the new variant, it does not seem to be an “immediate threat” and added Mu is currently “not at all even close to being dominant”.
Based on the currently available information, it looks like Mu variant may transmit more rapidly than the other virus strains. It also possesses genomic alterations that can indicate it will be immune to vaccines or monoclonal antibody treatments. Also known as B.1.621, the Mu variant was identified in Colombia at the beginning of this year. Since then, it has been confirmed in 39 countries, with some larger outbreaks across South America and Europe. Although the global presence of the Mu variant may not look concerning, currently standing at 0.1% of the new cases, its prevalence has been growing rapidly in Colombia and Ecuador, now accounting for roughly 40% and 13% cases respectively.