Contributed by David Furlonger
On the weekend, I read a rather alarming commentary by David Stockman European Banking System is on the Verge of Collapse. While this analysis clearly highlights the fragility of bank balance sheets, it doesn’t dig deeply into the graver issue facing the Eurozone policy makers and indeed the world – that of hypothecation. As has been highlighted in the past (MF Global may be apocalyptic for the eurozone), the deeper concern is the amount of leveraged collateral that exists in the markets that has very little, or zero underlying asset foundation. In the sort-term, such leverage should give our children cause for concern. However, perhaps this is just the beginning of a more slippery slope.
The almost constant press commentary and hype about mobility and mobile/internet payments causes me to consider a potentially similar situation of hypothecation and re-hypothecation occurring in The Future of Money.
While regulation is inherently expensive and potentially limits free market activity, it can also (if applied prudently) act as a sound governor of irrational activity – witness the lack of attention afforded to AIG, Lehman’s and MF Global in the UK, and their excessively leveraged use of collateral.
Why is this relevant for the Future of Money and mobility? Mobile and Internet commerce have enabled the expansion of financial services activity beyond the boundaries of the banking industry and remit of regulators. Multiple participants (Telcos, Payment providers, Retailers and even private individuals) offer products and services that are bought, sold and financed outside of the traditional financial services market. They and their activities are unregulated and potentially unchecked due to the consumerization of IT and the power/reach of the Internet. Moreover, the enabling currency of these transactions is not necessarily fiat-based, ie government issued national currency.
As the euro crisis unfolds and individuals face difficult living conditions and austerity constraints, they may well turn to new, digital currencies (loyalty tokens, gaming credits, bandwidth etc) as a means of survival, continuing to conduct commercial activity, barter etc. And, much of this activity may be leveraged and the means of payment used as collateral.
So, now to the point of hypothecation and the question for our grand children:
- in a totally unregulated and poorly audited market,
- where digital content and value can be created and exchanged in real-time by anyone,
- without the frictional cost of an intermediary,
- where potentially there is no underlying asset to back the exchange for value.
Is the Future of Money facing an apocalypse of digital new money hypothecation?
Of course, this may be a stretch and is perhaps an insignificant concern in the current crisis. However, as policy makers debate the “solution” to the current malaise, keeping one eye on emergent trends may help defer an unfortunate legacy.
What does this mean for our clients?
- The rush to connect with innovative payment schemes, providers and commercial channels should not abrogate responsibility of senior executives to monitor carefully the viability of counterparty relationships, and the extent of any “new money” hypothecation.
- Applications to manage collateral must account for new mediums of exchange and systems must be capable of managing new money
- The criticality of developing a holistic strategy for mobile financial services incorporating the Future of Money is essential to maintaining sound fiscal management.
- Companies should emphasize their account services (statements, fraud protection, etc.) as they launch payment services that support digital content, social gaming, social commerce, etc
Remember to read our latest research: CIOs Should Address the Impacts of the Euro Crisis on Their Enterprises Now and The Euro Crisis: Four Scenarios and How CIOs Can Prepare for Them, as well as attend the January 19th webinar on this topic: Euro Crisis Webinar and contribute to our survey: Euro Crisis Survey