Category: Research

Making sense of the Crypto M&A wild west world

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“It is a wild wild west out there right now; there’s no framework” – Vanessa Grellet, Managing Partner of Aglaé Ventures at Permissionless 2022

 

The M&A scene in the crypto market is relatively young. Nevertheless, the industry has witnessed an ever-growing number of deals over the past few quarters. While the crypto M&A industry is still evolving, analysis of the current state of the industry can give readers a basic framework and thought-starters to comprehend this nascent phenomenon.

Market conditions favor a Crypto M&A boom

In the past several months, the entire crypto market has weathered storm after storm, which, although not necessarily started by Luna’s collapse, was definitely exacerbated by said collapse. Nevertheless, many seasoned Crypto Believers remain hopeful, as true innovations are born in crypto winters, learning from the past and paving the way for the next crypto summer.

As the market retreats from the high-yield gold rush, innovators must develop sustainable innovations with real use cases, such as decentralized identity solutions or blockchain security and protocol audits, making the crypto market, or the general Web3 industry as a whole, more appealing to institutional investors.

Institutional investor’s appetite for engagement in crypto manifests in many forms, including building a dedicated team to develop solutions in the crypto space (for example, KBank’s Kubix), investing in crypto tokens (an emerging area still under consideration by some regulators), investment into crypto native VC funds (such as Pantera Capital), and conducting Merger & Acquisition transactions (“M&A”).

Despite being a staple in the TradFi industry, M&A in the crypto market is a relatively new but robust phenomenon. According to Blockworks, M&A activity in 2021 tripled to 180 deals from 59 deals in 2020, and the industry already has seen over 92 deals in the first half of 2022. Many industry experts believe that industry participants will witness even faster growth of M&A activity over the next year as crypto winters present an opportunity to shop for companies or projects at a very low valuation.

Crypto M&A helps accelerate innovation within the industry

At its core, decentralization promises the elimination of intermediaries, and Crypto Believers see this as a very important evolutionary step in our civilization. With the industry being in its early days, full decentralization requires a massive attempt to build necessary infrastructures, develop appealing products and services, recruit communities, and unite ecosystems. For these to happen, innovation within the Crypto industry must occur not only for Crypto Believer’s hedonism or altruism but also for economic and financial reasons.

As many people believe that innovation is a way out of this crypto winter, M&A can accelerate the rate of innovation within the Crypto space expanding the possibility for innovators to get incentivized for their endeavors, which is especially important during this turbulent time. More M&A activities in the space create a positive feedback loop for more innovation. In addition, having M&A as one of the exit goals, innovators are required to think about the monetization, economics, and risks of their projects early on, giving the innovation landscape the ability to withstand shocks in the long run.

What types of M&A can the industry expect?

Traditional reasons for M&A typically fall into four categories, corresponding to that industry’s life cycle: capability acquisition, market access & customer acquisition, promoting economies of scale, and market consolidation.

M&A objectives by industry life stage

Source: Beacon VC internal analysis

Despite the shrinking market capitalization during crypto winter, many Crypto Believers think the market is still in the early or growth stage, meaning that most upcoming M&A activities within the crypto space will be for capability acquisition or market access.

Strategic Motives behind M&A in the Crypto Market

Strategic motives seen in crypto M&A transactions can broadly be categorized by who and whom the acquirer and target are (Enterprise vs. Protocol). To clarify, Enterprise refers to companies with a conventional equity structure (either TradFi or CeFi), managing the organization using a centralized top-down approach, while Protocol refers to Decentralized Applications (D’Apps) or decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs) with governance tokens representing ownership in a decentralized protocol.

The list of strategic motives below is a sampling of what the market has seen, and is by no means meant to be totally conclusive.

Overview of Crypto M&A transaction motives

Source: Beacon VC internal analysis

Gateway

Given regulatory uncertainties, especially for DeFi, not all enterprises are ready to offer on-chain DeFi products or services, but many see the opportunity to capture the value created in the crypto space. Enterprises looking for a less risky way to engage with the crypto market are eying infrastructure provider/ enabler play, which is achievable through acquiring existing infrastructure, blockchain enablers, or CeFi companies. The types of services that will be provided by enterprises for the crypto industry include wallet and custodian services, auditing services, or blockchain-as-a-service, similar to what AWS does for Web2. Paypal’s acquisition of Curv is a great example of this strategy.

CeFi companies can also be acquirers, especially large CeFi exchanges looking to enter new jurisdictions. The target would likely be existing CeFi exchanges with local licenses and hopefully good relationships with regulators. FTX’s acquisition of Liquid Group, then rebranding it to FTX Japan, reflects this strategy.

Innovation Leapfrogging

Innovation happens fast, often faster than blockchain-native CeFi companies can keep up. Acquiring frontier protocols allows companies to leapfrog their competition. In fact, many industry experts expect that CeFi exchanges to be the most active acquirers. Coinbase, for instance, has made more than 20 acquisitions since its inception, accounting for over $800 million in acquisitions.

Traditional enterprises are also developing a clearer picture of their long-term strategy and crashing the protocol acquisition party to accelerate innovation. For example, eBay recently acquired NFT marketplace KnowOrigin as a part of its ‘reimagine eBay strategy’.

Real-world Capability Cultivation

Successful decentralized protocols rely heavily on their communities to push out innovations and build infrastructure. As these projects tend to scale rapidly, many lack sufficient resources to handle the ecosystem. 

Many successful protocols that are cash-rich may take crypto winter as an opportunity to develop internal capabilities for the next crypto summer, by acquiring traditional companies to develop real-world capabilities. The acquisition target for these protocols would likely be an existing vendor or supplier to that protocol, as the community already has buy-in for the value that the target is able to generate. Sandbox’s recent acquisition of Uruguayan tech firm Caulit is a great demonstration of the attempt.

Synergy Building

As previously discussed, successful projects place high importance on their communities and the platform’s ability to maintain the community. During crypto summer, investor goodwill is high, and funding is easy to come by. When investor money is tight, however, projects and their communities turn to each other in the hope of sharing resources and growing their footprint in a more cost-efficient manner.

The acquisition motive for synergy can take many forms. One can be product-driven similar to Uniswap’s acquisition of Genie, an NFT marketplace aggregator, to complement its existing NFT liquidity pool – Unisocks. Another could be efficiency-driven similar to the Rari-Fei protocol merger to create a mega $2B liquidity pool.

Possible Structures of Crypto M&A

There is still very limited disclosed information on the deal structure, therefore the structures described below are solely based on market observations and internal analysis. In addition, there are still several challenges in executing a crypto M&A, and there is no standard playbook. In general, however, the Equity/ Token Direct Acquisition is the default method of M&A for its relative simplicity for all types of M&A motives, while Token Swap and Token Merge happen exclusively within Protocol-Protocol acquisition.

Level of control associated with transaction structures

Source: Beacon VC internal analysis

Equity/ Token Direct Acquisition

The direct acquisition method involves purchasing a controlling stake of the target’s equity or governance token, usually aiming to acquire total operational and directional control of the target. The process is executed similarly to traditional M&As, where both parties agree on the transaction price, draft legal documents, execute the agreements, and transfer the securities (or tokens). 

Unlike traditional M&As, there are still several challenges in crypto M&A such as token valuation, legal recognition of governance tokens as an acquirable asset, governing jurisdiction, and the absence of a legal entity for many crypto protocols. With these complexities, it is not surprising that the deal structure for direct acquisition will vary greatly, depending on the specific challenges of the deal.

Token Merge

Token merge happens when the acquirer and acquiree merge to form a new entity and issue a new token. Under this structure, both parties have approximately similar bargaining power, knowing that each party cannot succeed without the other party’s strength. The aforementioned Fei-Rari Merger is a great example for this case. Token holders of Fei and Rari would exchange their respective tokens for a new TRIBE token, under the project name FeiRari. 

Some other remarkable token mergers include the WRAP-PLENTY token merge into PLY to provide a more comprehensive all-in-one DeFi experience on the Tezos blockchain. More details on the merge mechanics are available here.

Token Swap

Token swap usually happens when the acquirer has a larger market capitalization compared to the target, and is looking to acquire smaller projects to complement or help complete its current product or service suite. Unlike total acquisition, the acquirer wants to allow the target company autonomy to operate and innovate. To put it in simpler terms, as Cointelegraph has put it, token swaps can be viewed as a crypto partnership on steroids, to drive the stickiness of the main ecosystem. TNC’s, a blockchain network company, announcement of 4 token swap transactions is an example of this pursuit.

Executing token swap transactions requires multiple smart contracts to manage both parties’ tokens staking into each other’s platforms, or through a shared wallet. The swap itself is a smart contract design problem, but the real challenge happens pre-transaction, similar to the token merge structure, as successful conclusion of the deal involves an extensive community buy-in program for both parties’ stakeholders, not only to align at the financial level, but also to align on project directions. 

Some Areas with Still More Questions than Answers

There are still many questions in the crypto M&A space that need to be answered. Most remaining questions are related to the execution of transactions, since there is still limited understanding of blockchain economics, and an unclear regulatory framework surrounding the space. Below are some of the biggest questions by stage of transaction that deal practitioners are trying to answer.

Pre-transaction

Valuation: How to value the project as a basis for acquisition? 

At the moment, there is no definitive approach to value crypto-based companies for general investment or M&A, creating tremendous difficulties at the negotiation table. 

Some of the methodologies being used to uncover ‘fair value’ of the project include:

  1. Market Approach – use comparable tokens and respective market price/ capitalization ratios;
  2. Cost Approach – approximation of input cost to create that specific token or project as a lower bound of valuation range;
  3. Income Approach – discount the future economic benefit or utility of such protocol at an ‘appropriate’ discount rate; and
  4. TQM or Quantity Theory of Money approach – approximation of equilibrium market capitalization value in the future, discounted to estimate the present value of the project.

These approaches are inherently subjective by nature, and the characteristic of tokens in each project also brings tremendous complexity.  For a deep dive into crypto valuation, follow the link to EY’s report on the valuation of crypto-asset or Crypto.com’s guide to crypto valuation.

 

Utilization of on-chain transparency: How to best leverage the abundance of on-chain data for deal-making?

On-chain data promises to help investors make smarter and more well-informed decisions. However, only a handful of investors really understand how to mine insights from the blockchain. Most investors lack the right tools to conduct on-chain due diligence, and further development of the market requires investors to explore how best to leverage on-chain data.

During-transaction/ Deal-making

Agreement drafting and enforceability: How to ensure that the transaction is legally enforceable and minimizes counterparty risk?

The difficulty of enforceability arises from the discrepancies in how different jurisdictions recognize digital assets or DAO entities, or the lack of recognition in several jurisdictions. Cambridge Judge School of Business provides a deeper analysis of the legal and regulatory framework of different nations. In addition, many institutions are subject to anti-money laundering regulations, requiring that any transactions or activities be free of potential money laundering activities. As decentralized blockchain transactions are anonymous in nature, such institutions may be unable to participate in these transactions. 

Legal practitioners and deal makers have been trying to popularize provisions, which protect both parties, including adverse materials, definitions of digital assets, and agreement termination clauses. Bloomberg Law has published a great analysis piece on crypto drafting trends. 

 

Means of payment and volatility hedging: How to shield parties from the volatility of digital currency as means of payment?

While there is strong demand to use digital currency as means of settlement for crypto M&A (either for tax, transaction speed, or any other reasons), the high volatility within the market prompts both acquirer and target to question how to best shield their position. At the current stage of the market, there aren’t many cost-effective hedging options available, even for institutional investors.

Post-transaction

Integration of technologies and communities: How to ensure successful post-merger community and technology integration?

Many M&A transactions ultimately fail due to a lack of compatibility between entities. Integrating two blockchain projects and work processes is a major problem, as currently there is no standardization between projects. Another problem is how to best handle the two communities, whose interests and passion for the projects may not fully align.

Closing thoughts – the beginning of beginnings

With the industry learning more about crypto M&A, we hope that industry participants are working to close the industry’s understanding gap in good faith and for the sake of innovation, and not in an exploitative mindset. 

While many people hope that decentralization would become one of the most prominent turning points of mankind, there are several pieces of evidence suggesting that M&A activities can adversely affect the rate of innovation in a monopolistic or oligopolistic market environment. Acquirers must strive to remember that these transactions must be done for the sake of value creation for all stakeholders, and in pursuit of the betterment of society. Only with the joint hands of institutions and innovators to lay the groundwork and create meaningful solutions, the pursuit of decentralization dreamworks can be realized.


Author: Woraphot Kingkawkantong (Ping)
Editors: Krongkamol Deleon (Joy), Wanwares Boonkong (Pin)

A New Wave of Finance: Banking-as-a-Service and Data-as-a-Service

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You might have heard of “Open Banking”, “Banking-as-a-Service” and “Data-as-a-Service” and wondered how these terms differ.

Open Banking and Banking-as-a-Service both provide banking services via open connections or open APIs to third parties. While open banking provides access to the data of existing bank customers, Banking-as-a-Service (BaaS) provides access to bank functionality, so that non-bank companies can connect users outside a bank’s existing footprint to banking services. On the other hand, Data-as-a-Service (DaaS) is a service that uses the cloud to deliver value-added data via a network connection. In some contexts, there may be overlapping use-cases between BaaS and DaaS. For example, providing transaction data through API can be considered as both BaaS and DaaS.

1Q2021 Beacon Quarterly Insight will briefly explain to you the definition of BaaS and DaaS (in financial services context), together with market landscape and use cases.

 

Banking-as-a-Service (BaaS)

What is BaaS?

BaaS is an on-demand service that enables users to access financial services (e.g. payments and banking data) over the internet using application programming interfaces (APIs) and cloud-based systems. For instance, a fintech company pays fees to BaaS providers (banks or non-banks) in exchange for API usage. The fintech company then uses APIs to build new financial services solutions for customers.

BaaS allows financial services to be embedded in a wide variety of software and applications. This is also called “Embedded Finance.”

Nowadays, digital brands are embedding financial services into their customer touchpoints, creating more BaaS providers. Many tech companies have realized that their talents are best spent on their core business, thus they are outsourcing to specialists to provide the infrastructure to run financial services at scale.

The BaaS ecosystem includes three parties: brands, BaaS providers, and license holders. License holders rent licenses out, often through partnerships with providers. Providers offer modular financial capabilities to brands to embed financial services in their customer offering. This allows license holders to focus on regulatory compliance and to shift the technological development to providers. BaaS providers would fill in the gap of license holders’ high cost of maintaining pace with regulation.

Examples of BaaS Providers

There are two types of BaaS providers: BaaS-focused fintechs and BaaS with a banking license. Marqeta is a pure BaaS provider in the US. Marqeta offers payments and debit cards programs focusing on card-control features and real-time experiences. In Europe, Railsbank works with payment processors, banks and fintechs to create debit cards, payments and FX through one API.

Examples of commercial banks engaged in BaaS include BBVA and Goldman Sachs.  BBVA Open Platform is a platform that uses APIs to let firms offer their customers financial products without having to take on full banking themselves. In addition, BBVA partnered with Uber in Mexico. In Jan 2020, Goldman Sachs announced its intent to build full BaaS capability: its cloud native, fully API-based platform which is scalable and secured. Already, they have built a new cloud-based infrastructure for accounts and payments, and have released access via APIs for developers to easily integrate new products on top of the platform.

The Landscape of BaaS in Thailand

BaaS players in Thailand are limited; however, there are initiatives from traditional banks.

Thai commercial banks such as Siam Commercial Bank (SCB) and Kasikornbank (KBank) have begun offering open API functions. Open Banking APIs include loan origination, payments, identity sharing, authentication, and slip verification.

There has been very little regulatory conversation about Open Banking in Thailand and to date, regulators have not initiated any frameworks or regulations on this issue. Nevertheless, there is room for financial service providers to experiment through Bank of Thailand’s regulatory sandbox.

In the Asia Pacific region, only Australia currently requires account providers to allow authorized TPPs to access customer data and initiate payments on behalf of clients. The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) and the Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA) do not require that financial institutions provide open APIs, but have consulted with industry experts  to create open API playbooks for banks.

 

Data-as-a-Service (DaaS) 

What is DaaS?

DaaS providers capture, clean, organize, and process data from various sources. DaaS providers then deliver these value-added data services in different forms to clients mostly through APIs or Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) platforms. B2B clients of DaaS providers utilize data to build incremental business results or improve their products and services for their end customers. In B2C business models, end customers utilize data such as credit monitoring data in exchange of money or other incentives. The data comes in various forms including raw data, aggregated data, statistically analyzed data, visualized data, or advanced analytics.

According to IDC, there are multiple possible stakeholders in the DaaS ecosystem that are involved in different stages of service. Data Collectors obtain data from different sources. Data Providers process or analyze data before offering value-added data services such as transaction and customer insights to their clients. In some cases, clients can obtain data through Data Marketplaces, which are platforms where users buy or sell different types of data sets and data streams from several Data Providers.

DaaS landscape

According to Mordor Intelligence, a global market research firm, the highest growth of the DaaS market is found in APAC. Growth of the DaaS market is expected to directly correlate with the growth of end-user industries e.g. financial service DaaS market growth correlates with increased financial inclusion. Further, as DaaS is based on a cloud deployment model, its growth also correlates with cloud computing adoption. According to Forbes, demand for cloud computing is expected to increase to USD 160 billion by 2020, attaining a growth rate of 19%. According to synergy research group, although the APAC region does not yet account for a third of the worldwide market, it is growing much faster than the North American or EMEA regional markets.

Examples of DaaS Providers

There are several DaaS providers supporting the financial services industry.  Examples include Equifax, Mastercard, UnionBank, and DBS.

Equifax, an American multinational consumer credit reporting agency, provides credit and demographic data to business and sells credit monitoring and fraud prevention services directly to consumers. Mastercard offers a powerful analytics platform that enables organizations to make better and faster business decisions based on real-time, anonymized and aggregated transaction data, and proprietary analysis.

Among the financial institutions engaged in the DaaS industry, UnionBank provides an API Marketplace that empowers developers to create new products and services by leveraging data from UnionBank and other fintech players. Another bank, DBS,  has built BaaS and DaaS APIs for business clients. Each has a specific function related to sharing information and instructions, from balance inquiries to data required in settling a payment.

The Landscape of DaaS  in Thailand

Similar to BaaS, the number of DaaS players in Thailand is currently limited compared to other countries like Singapore or UK where there are regulatory body-led initiatives regarding Open-API or Open-Banking.

There are two major initiatives in Thailand related to data and DaaS: NDID and PDPA. Initiated by Bank of Thailand, NDID (National Digital ID) is a platform to provide identity authentication (eKYC) that allows customers to do 100% online transactions such as eOpen Accounts and Digital Lending. DaaS providers will need to take into account the impact of  NDID once it is fully rolled out. Another potential concern for DaaS providers is the Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA), Thailand’s streamlined version of the European GDPR. Of great relevance here is that the usage of data and API goes hand-in-hand with the data protection legislation.


Closing thoughts:

Perfecting the customer experience is the ultimate goal of consumer-facing companies. Financial services and data help companies improve the customer experience, which provides opportunities for different stakeholders in BaaS and DaaS to play in the ecosystem. BaaS and DaaS business models allow different stakeholders to utilize their strengths and at the same time minimize costs by outsourcing the areas where they lack expertise. Therefore, players must identify their unique competitive advantage within the ecosystem in order to win this new-wave-of-finance game. In Thailand, financial institutions play a big role in implementing new banking technology. They quickly adapt to change as the industry is highly competitive. Therefore, they potentially expand their roles from license holders to BaaS and DaaS providers. Nevertheless, fintechs are likely to get a piece of a pie by providing products and services at lower cost and greater quality.


Authors: Panuchanad Phunkitjakran (Pook) and Phanthila Saengthong (Mook)

Editor: Krongkamol Deleon (Joy)

Business Insider’s BaaS market outlook for 2021: https://www.businessinsider.com/banking-as-a-service-industry

11:FS’s Banking as a service report: https://11fs.com/reports/banking-as-a-service

IDC Market Glance: Data as a Service: https://blogs.idc.com/2020/05/21/the-data-as-a-service-daas-market-at-a-glance/

Big Data as a Service market: https://www.mordorintelligence.com/industry-reports/big-data-as-a-service-market

Other interesting reads:

 

 

SPAC – A New Potential Exit Strategy for Startups

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As startups grow their revenue and user bases after several rounds of private fundraising, they  have a variety of exit options including acquisition by a larger company or going public, either through a traditional Initial Public Offering (IPO) or a direct listing. A new option, SPAC (Special Purpose Acquisition Company), has recently gained popularity as an exit option to go public for startups, especially in the United States.

Deep Dive into SPAC

Overview of SPACs

A SPAC is a company that is formed to raise funds through an IPO with a purpose of acquiring a private company and taking the target company public. It is normally established by a group of investors called sponsors, and it must be registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). These sponsors have 2 years to find a target company while the funds are placed in an interest-bearing trust account. If they cannot find a target company within the given period, they must liquidate the SPAC and return the money to investors.

One of the most high-profile SPAC deals is the acquisition of 49% of Virgin Galactic for $800M by ex-Facebook executive Chamath Palihapitiya’s SPAC Social Capital Hedosophia Holding in 2019. An upcoming SPAC deal is the merger between SoFi, a consumer financial services startup, and Social Capital Hedosophia Holding Corp V, which would value the company at $8.65B. Recently, Pershing Square Tontine Holding debuted as the largest SPAC with a total raise of $4B in July 2020.

Target Companies for SPACs

The ideal candidate for a SPAC contains 3 qualities:

  1. Growth-stage companies operating in a high-growth industry which have the operations and support from the management team to go public;
  2. Companies that are looking for fast alternative means with limited market and timing risk to go public and;
  3. Companies that are searching for access to capital or liquidity routes during uncertain equity and debt markets.

Moreover, the size of target companies may vary depending on how much money the SPAC can raise. But smaller companies, typically with less than $100M annual revenue, tend to go public via SPAC as they have high growth prospects, but may not meet the qualified threshold for an IPO. Therefore, mature startups are attractive targets for the SPAC sponsors to take public.

SPAC Comeback 

Even though SPACs have been around for decades, 2020 was a year to be remembered for SPACs. The key reason is because investors are searching for yield in a low interest rate environment with a volatile stock market. According to SPACinsider, a total of 248 SPACs filed for IPO, raising a total of $83B in gross proceeds in 2020. Compared to 2019, 2020 had more than 4 times the number of SPAC IPOs, and 6 times higher fundraising amount. The number and size of SPACs are getting larger than ever before. It is also becoming more common for VC funds to launch their SPAC to bring their mature portfolio companies public as for the case of FirstMark Capital. Prominent underwriters such as Goldman Sachs, Credit Suisse and Deutsche Bank are stepping into the game.

Advantages of SPACs

  • Cheaper: the cost of SPAC IPO is 2% of the gross proceeds
  • Speed to market: the faster process of SPAC ranges from 2-4 months can accelerate the company’s market entry
  • Investor’s assurance: The SPAC secures a long-term group of investors through private placement in public equity instead of sell a company at IPO roadshow
  • Higher sale price: by selling to a SPAC, the sale price is 20% higher than that of private equity deal as SPAC is not mainly driven by ROI first approach and allows the company’s management to evaluate opportunities from both short-term and long-term perspective
  • Price transparency: For investor, the price of SPAC is not determined a night before the IPO

Disadvantages of SPACs

  • Uncertain investment: the investors do not know the target company of the SPAC, so it is impossible to evaluate the investment opportunity
  • Potential long lag time: there might be a long interval between the time the investors put money in the SPAC and when it acquires a target company
  • Mixed track record: the performance of the merged SPAC hardly beats the market index and often underperforms, particularly 3-12 months after the acquisition
  • High dependence on sponsor’s credentials: Investors have to largely rely on sponsor’s profile as attractive SPAC candidates would choose high-profile sponsors to acquire and manage the company

Going Public via SPAC VS IPO

In spite of the same end goal, there are several differences between going public via SPAC and traditional IPO in terms of cost, process, time, and risks.

The following table demonstrates the key differences between the 2 methods:

A Glimpse of SPACs in Asian Markets

The concept of SPACs already exists in Asia as Hong Kong, Malaysia, and South Korea have been adopting SPAC for the past 5-6 years. For instance, in 2014 Reach Energy completed the country’s largest SPAC-enabled listing of $229M in Kuala Lampur, Malaysia. Hong Kong has gradually emerged as the second largest area for SPACs as its investment community has better insights in China, Asia Pacific, and Southeast Asia (SEA). Therefore, Hong Kong SPACs have a better chance of acquiring high potential startups compared to the rest of Asia.

According to the Asia Times Financial, the Asia Pacific region has increasingly embraced the use of SPACs as an exit option for mature technology firms. Compared to the number of transactions in 2019, the number of SPAC IPO transactions were four times higher in 2020.

SPAC transactions in Asia are expected to be more common in the coming years. Various investors in the region have been active in this market. For instance, Anthony Lueng, the former finance secretary of Hong Kong and an ex-Blackstone Asia executive, is regarded as the father of Asian SPAC investments. He bought United Family Health in 2019 via his SPAC which had raised a total of $1.5B from the New York Stock Exchange.

Southeast Asia is no exception as SEA’s tech unicorns have received growing interest from SPAC sponsors. Grab and Gojek (ride-hailing and food delivery giants in SEA), Bukalapak (leading e-commerce firm in Indonesia), and Traveloka (SEA’s largest online travel app) have all been approached by several SPACs. Tokopedia, another prominent e-commerce player in Indonesia, has received acquisition interest from Bridgetown Holdings, a $550M SPAC backed by Richard Li, a Hong Kong businessman, and Peter Thiel, a Silicon Valley investor. If this deal is successful, it may inspire other tech unicorns in SEA to follow suit, sparking a boom of SPAC transactions in SEA.

The Implications of Future Fundraising in the Startup Space

Given the surging trend of SPAC exits, there are several implications that we can expect to see in the startup space as follows:

  • It is a significant opportunity for SEA’s mature startups that may not yet meet certain IPO thresholds to get listed in the U.S. stock markets where the company can anticipate deeper liquidity than their home country;
  • Additional channels to access capital markets and exit opportunities gives founders capital to initiate new ventures, which could further boost SEA’s startup ecosystem;
  • High number of SPAC IPOs could potentially shift the bargaining power to the target companies;
  • VC firms could raise SPACs of their own to bring late-stage portfolio companies public, which could further accelerate the local tech IPO;
  • Nevertheless, exchanges in SEA are at a disadvantage of losing local tech IPOs either they do not allow SPAC IPOs or smaller markets compared to the U.S., meaning that the value of SEA startups are seized and gained by foreign investors. Local retail investors will not have the opportunity to invest in these high-growth startups in the region that they are familiar with.

Startups need to carefully weigh the costs and benefits of going public via SPAC. Even though access to the capital markets is crucial to grow in an increasingly competitive environment, it eventually comes down to the readiness of the company’s performance and the management team in order to go public successfully.


Author: Wanwares Boonkong

Editor: Krongkamol DeLeon

Sources and Other interesting reads:

Overview of the e-sports industry in Thailand

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What are e-sports?

The gaming industry encompasses many types of businesses and revenue streams.  E-sports in general refers to the professional gaming market, where players can earn an actual living through their gaming skills.

E-sports in Thailand can be broadly divided into three pillars:

  1. Game Development and Publishing: the development of new games and/or the business of securing distribution licenses for games in various regions
  2. Event Organization: businesses which secure the right to organize events, such as official gaming tournaments
  3. Professional Gaming: individuals or teams who compete in professionally organized and broadcasted tournaments, or who stream their personal gaming sessions online

The global e-sports market is expanding rapidly. NewZoo’s market research estimates that global e-sports revenues will reach USD 1.1 billion in 2020, mostly driven by media rights and sponsorships.  South Korea, China, and the United States are the three most competitive e-sports markets in the world, as measured by total prize money.

According to NewZoo, Thailand is currently the 19th largest market for video games, generating USD 667 million per year in revenue.  While most of this revenue came from traditional video game sales (not from e-sports), there is evidence of growing demand for e-sports in Thailand.  There are an estimated 27 million gamers in Thailand, and Garena cited that in 2019, online views of Arena of Valor’s Season 3 tournament play have exceeded 51 million.

What’s happening with the e-sports market in Thailand?

In recent years, there has been activity from both traditional businesses expanding into the e-sports industry as well as startups attempting to capitalize on the growing demand.  In Thailand, corporate interest has been primarily driven by the telecommunications giants.  Thailand, unlike the US or South Korea, remains a mobile-first gaming country due to strong mobile penetration rates and the high hardware costs associated with PC gaming.  Accordingly, both True and AIS have begun supporting e-sports streaming and tournament organization, viewing the industry as both an opportunity to diversify revenue streams and as a channel to cross-sell their core products.  Due to high capital requirements for game development and publishing, startup companies including Thailand’s Infofed and Indonesia’s Evos are targeting event organization and the professional gaming market to build up the competitiveness of Southeast Asia’s gamers.

What should we look forward to?

For the Thai market in particular, strong barriers remain for the e-sports industry.  The largest barrier has been the mindset of traditional Asian society, which views video games as a childish indulgence.  However, attitudes towards e-sports have gradually been improving, along with increased support from government institutions and universities.  Per Garena’s estimates, successful players can earn as high as THB 5 million per year from streaming and competitions.

Higher education institutions, such as Bangkok University, have begun building curriculum on e-sports, which could help develop more competitive gamers from Thailand to compete an international level.  According to Mr. Jirayod Theppipit, CEO of Infofed, other potential developments to look for in the Thai market could include official university leagues or a Thai national e-sports team. While COVID-19 has temporarily slowed the pace of investment into the e-sports industry, community activity has shot up during the lockdown. As the talent pool increases, industry experts foresee a boom in Thai e-sports once competitive tournaments resume.

From a financial services perspective, fintech has already played an important role in enabling microtransactions and wallets for purchasing in-game items.  However, the rise of competitive e-sports also represents an opportunity for financial service providers to tap into a younger demographic who may be seeking access to bank accounts, wealth management products, and other financial services to support their rising income prospects.  Similar to other athletic professions or influencer segments, e-sports can provide alternative marketing opportunities for financial institutions looking for new ways to connect with the younger generation of consumers.


Author: Krongkamol deLeon (Joy)

Editors: Woraphot KingkawkantongVitavin Ittipanuvat

Sources:

https://www.repeat.gg/content/highest-earning-countries-esports-2019/

https://newzoo.com/insights/trend-reports/newzoo-global-esports-market-report-2020-light-version/

https://www.bangkokpost.com/tech/1694020/garena-touts-thai-e-sports-potential

https://www.techinasia.com/evos-bags-4m

How startups are braving the Covid-19 pandemic

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In the time of Covid-19, not all startups were created equal. We have seen some startup founders going through some of their worst nightmares, while some others are having the time of their lives. In this article, based on our experience, we want to examine the impact of Covid-19 to the startup community and paint pictures of how these startups are reacting to the situation.

Adapted from Roland Berger’s Covid Impact Matrix, 2020

One way to assess the impact of COVID-19 to startups is through examining the pandemic’s effect on short term liquidity of startups, and the long term profitability (which correlates with the market size of that particular startup’s playing field). This model is adapted from Roland Berger’s Covid Impact Matrix. We then try to map the technology industry by sector into four startup groups: Shining star, Trapped Tiger, Slow Sore, and Panicking Patient, with a definition of long-term as five years.

Model adapted from Roland Berger, analysis by Beacon VC

Shining Star: This group is marked by its strong growth potential in both the short term and long term. Startups in this space are characterized by the ability to create and capture value completely online and ease and/or urgency of adoption. Covid-19 has driven real demand for solutions in this space, accelerated adoption, and trained consumers to be accustomed to using these virtual solutions. The startups that are included in this group are Healthtech, eCommerce, Online Enterprise Productivity Tools (such as ERP and Software-as-a-Service, or SaaS which can cover anything from accounting, CRM, to property management) Online Media & Entertainment, Insurtech, and e-Payment. Unlike other groups, they have the luxury to focus on perfecting, not fixing, their businesses, and riding the wave during the time of Covid-19.

Boost marketing spend to acquire new users: Responding to the growing demand pie in these industries, many startups were seen to have increased marketing spending to obtain new users. We have witnessed different eCommerce giving out very attractive first-time user incentives. This move is endorsed by many researchers suggesting that increasing marketing spend – instead of decreasing, is a dominant strategy in times of economic uncertainty, if the company can afford it.

Nocnoc user acquisition: first-timer discount

Invest to develop new offerings: As lockdown forces the mass from Gen Alpha to Baby Boomers to migrate to online platforms (many wouldn’t have migrated otherwise), several Shining Stars have spotted new business opportunities or new potential use cases for their products that they can capitalize or build loyalty upon. For these startups, they have the privilege to innovate on new offerings without having to worry so much about cash flow. Houseparty, a much loved social networking app that enables group video chatting, for instance, launched a new feature that allows friends to ‘co-watch live events with their friends’ (from sport events to comedy shows).

Integrate new payment mediums to support digital payment of the non-cardholder:  Online payments have traditionally been done through credit card, and a good portion of the now digitally adapted population has no access to them. According to the Thailand payment research by JP Morgan in 2019, Thailand’s credit card per capita is as low as 0.29, and debit card per capita is 0.77. As the Thai population migrated online, startups who have the time and resources are now exploring ways to integrate new online payment methods to facilitate payment from non-credit cardholders (usually students and non-urban population). The alternative payment channel includes payment through mobile operators (credited to monthly billing), cash cards, integration with mobile banking apps, and e-wallets.

Although the Shining Stars are thriving in this new market condition, many have reported difficulties in fundraising. This is because Covid-19 has made networking with investors difficult and many investors are very preoccupied with supporting their own portfolio companies.


Trapped Tiger: This group is poised to ride the wave of the longer-term market growth but currently trapped by short-term illiquidity and/or temporary sales slump. This is because the startups in this space offer complementary value products or services whose values are created offline (such as mobility or B2B logistics), or the demand for their products or services is highly elastic (such as wealthtech). Their main agenda is to outlive the Covid pandemic and prepare themselves for the upcoming bullish market.

Freeze or reduce expenses: As revenue halts, their net burn rate accelerates. Founders are faced with a tough trade-off between how far they want to cut costs (or resources) to keep burn rate under control, and how much resources to preserve so that they can get back on track once the market recovers. We usually witness headcount freeze, pay cut measures (many founders take steeper cuts than their team to keep morale high), reduction of employee benefits, and decrease in marketing spending. Many have moved from aggressive marketing spending (to acquire customers – which is what the Shining Stars are focusing) to defensive marketing spending (to just make their offering stay relevant in the customer’s head).

Finetune existing offerings and prepare for the next big launch: If their cash position allows it, some Trapped Tigers reported that they are optimizing their platforms, developing new features, or redesigning the user experience to be more on point. Many also have plans to formally launch an upgraded version of their offerings to create a strong rebound momentum for their business once the crisis is over.

Explore creative use cases for excess supply/capability: Many startups are also working creatively to capitalize on their excess supply resulting from diminished demand. Zoomcar, a self-driving car rental platform, for instance, has been working to shift the excess car in their system for B2B, medical emergency, and last-mile logistic use.


Slow Sore: The Slow Sores are usually B2B enterprise solutions that have locked down short to medium-term SaaS contracts with large corporates. This is why these companies will likely be able to sustain cash flow in the near future. The solution generally comes in the form of back-end efficiency enabler, data infrastructure, and management tools (such as Enterprise IT and Construction-tech). Nevertheless, to onboard these solutions, the corporates would normally have to go through lengthy configuration and system migration, where the startups would then charge ample implementation fees. We can expect that the Slow Sorer will have a hard time making new sales as corporations will try to preserve cash, diminishing sales potential and profitability in the longer run.

Retain and assist existing clients: Startups are devoting time to retain its original customers through feedback-based product improvements. Startups with longer runways also have considered deferring payment schedules to give breathing room for their clients to sort things out first. Amazon Web Service (AWS) has been running a program to give cloud credits or fee deferrals to small companies who are affected by Covid, helping them to continue operation and delay potential job slash.

AWS gave its small business clients $5,000 credit on cloud service

Reprioritize company’s efforts: Companies are also re-prioritizing their potential clients based on which clients will thrive under the new normal, and shift sales and innovation effort to better suit those growing clients. Many construction-techs are turning their attention to the B2G construction segment, which was once overlooked due to its bureaucratic and traditional approach to business. The reason is that, with the private sector’s growth outlook remaining stagnant, government spending on infrastructure will likely be the only prominent source of industry growth.

Focus on streamlining the onboarding process: Noticing that troublesome and expensive onboarding process is among the key barriers to adoption, many startups are now trying to pursue growth by making the onboard easier and cheaper for their clients. This could mean offering a more standardized solution, a self-guided onboarding wizard, and elimination of implementation fees to target small and medium enterprises.


Panicking Patient: The Panicking Patient group is affected by Covid-19 in every worst way. These startups are behind the industries that are heavily involved with offline activities (such as Traveltech and Eventtech). The light at the end of the tunnel (that comes in the form of Covid-19 vaccines, treatment, or virus mutation to a much weaker strain) for this group still seems far away at the time of writing this article (many expects that the pandemic wouldn’t get resolved for at least another 2 – 3 quarters). These companies are in a big battle for their survival and need to pivot or at least diversify fast.

Extend the company’s cash runway: Like the Trapped Tigers, we have witnessed several expense reduction efforts by the Panicking Patient. Companies are returning office space and adopting the 100% WFH model. Steep pay cuts accompanied by reduced workdays and staff reduction are becoming prevalent. Indonesia-based Traveloka laid off 10% of its employee in April, while Bangkok-based Agoda slashed up to 25% of its workforce in May. Many are also borrowing cash from future revenue by offering prepaid vouchers or unlimited future passes. This example is also evident in the traditional travel industry, in which airlines and spas are selling heavily discounted vouchers to get cash for the survival of their businesses.

Pivot to other businesses: Because it is unclear when the situation will be back to normal, some startups choose to pivot to related business(es). Eventpop or Airbnb, for instance, chose to pivot to the online experience space, offering exclusive online events to its customers from dough making lessons to online meditation events. Some startups went to a more extreme route and completely shifted their businesses. Flying Elephant Production, an Irish startup focusing on exhibition and event setups, pivoting to selling desks made from the excess plywood they have in inventory.

Example of online events offered on Eventpop website

Closing thoughts:

In this difficult time, we hope this piece will spark some food for thought for you and your organization, no matter what roles you play in the ecosystem – founders, investors, corporate partners, or a mere observer. The pandemic forces us into the lifestyle and working mode that we thought would never be possible. Similar to us seeing new joys in the new normal, businesses and startups will see new rooms to thrive. Like what the US President John F. Kennedy once put, “when written in Chinese, the word ‘crisis’ is composed of two characters. One represents danger and the other represents opportunity.”


Author: Woraphot Kingkawkantong (Ping)
Editors: Wanwares BoonkongVitavin Ittipanuvat
Covid Impact Framework: Roland Berger

Other interesting reads:

The Role of Fintech in the Post-COVID World

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Fear is a powerful factor that creates a fundamental shift in human behavior as the human brain is hard-wired to avoid loss. Scientists and behavioral economists call this “loss aversion.”

We are seeing this trend play out in real-time as the COVID-19 contagion accelerates globally; people are adopting technology at a pace they have never done before. Schools are being conducted through teleconferences. Senior citizens are adopting QR payments and digital banks for the first time. Online activities and transactions are no longer a convenience factor but a necessity. As people adapt to a digital lifestyle, so too will they expect the same convenience and seamless experience from other areas of life, including financial services.

Thailand has made great strides in digital payments thanks to the Promptpay initiative, but it was only during the COVID-19 outbreak in March that we witnessed a noticeable jump in the adoption of digital payments. PromptPay transactions rose 93% or an average of 11M per day in March, up from 5.7M per day in the same period last year. Digital channels are becoming the primary point of access for payments for the mass population in both online and offline purchases.

One of the challenges is not all financial transactions can be done digitally. Think about the last time you wanted to open a bank account, open an internet banking account, take out a loan, or make cross-border transfers, what did you do? Even in today’s world, some types of transactions still require us to visit bank branches.

With the change in customer behavior and expectations, coupled with the pain points of existing products, how will financial services evolve going forward? How might we use technology to improve the way financial products are served?

Credit: Long gone the days of paper-based loan application

Yesterday: As the world enters recession, the bank loan approval rate tends to decline as banks become more cautious over the health of their loan portfolio. This leaves the cash-strapped SMEs with little option for financing. The typical process requires borrowers to submit paper-based loan applications, together with heaps of financial statements and other documents, at bank branches while credit decision-making is done manually and takes weeks.

Today: Google search shows a surge in search activities for words, such as “loan” and “loan from fintech app”, as SMEs and furloughed workers seek alternatives as they scramble for liquidity. In fact, the number of Thai companies that have declared bankruptcy due to financial problems rose 46% in the first two months of the year vs same period last yearAspire, the neobank for SMEs and our portfolio company, helps digital merchants get working capital loans near instantly utilizing alternative data from e-commerce, account software and point-of-sale systems. The number of active borrowers for Aspire has accelerated in February 2020 vs the year before.

Tomorrow: Looking ahead, a lot more can be done using technology. Some of the things that we’re excited to see are

  • A platform that automates and digitizes loan application and decision-making processes, both for long-term high value (e.g., mortgage) and unsecured loans (e.g., credit card). Blend, for example, uses software to assess information that the bank has about you — income and assets held at the bank — to almost immediately calculate how big a loan you can afford, and reduces the risk of fraud and errors by replacing document uploads with connections to financial data sources and by automating data verification.
  • A private credit scoring data aggregator that links different private data sources and fintech players and collects data that can be used for assessing borrowers’ credit scores, including national credit bureau (NCB) data, mobile data from telecommunication companies, utility payments. By democratizing credit scoring data, data owners can monetize the data, and reduce the risk of fraud and default for the whole ecosystem.

B2B Payments: Digital process creates the visibility required for supply-chain financing

Yesterday: A process to make payments is still analog with 90% of businesses receiving their invoices the old fashioned way (on paper). Payments might have to go through a purchase order process, invoicing, accounts payable, various data entry points and disbursement. It costs an organization nearly $8 to process a single account payable to suppliers[1].

Today: Since 55% of B2B sales in APAC is made on credit with 32 days terms on average[2], companies need a way to manage, initiate, approve and make payments in a fully digital way with full visibility on financial resources and commitments (e.g. APAR, and payroll).  FlowAccount, one of our portfolio companies, offers software that digitizes the process of issuing invoices and recording receivables.

Tomorrow: By linking disconnected players in supply chain payments – from buyers, suppliers, to banks, businesses will not only better manage their liquidity, but also a better opportunity to access working capital.

  • A platform that connects buyers and suppliers can provide full visibility on where things get stuck and helps businesses optimize workflows. Tradeshift helps businesses connect with all their suppliers digitally, remove paper and manual processes across procure-to-pay, and seize early payment discounts to save money. AvidXchange automates AP processes for medium-sized companies.
  • Access to real-time payments (RTP) could enable companies to access payment delivery statuses and settlement information and, thus, better manage their liquidity. Highradius helps companies get paid faster on their receivables via AI and machine learning. Finlync connects businesses’ enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems with banks’ payment portals, allowing its customers to have full visibility over cash flows.

These are some instances where fintech can help improve the way financial products are served. COVID-19 is just a catalyst that helps push customers along the technology adoption curve. Once onboarded, users tend to stick with the new habit because it’s more convenient. This shift towards digital products and services, accelerated by the virus, will have a long-lasting effect on the years to come. The winner will be those who can serve a digital-native product and adapt to customers’ digital behavior with speed and ease of access being table stakes.


Author: Nattariya (Nat) Wittayatanaseth

Editors: Wanwares Boonkong, Vitavin Ittipanuvat

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

Banking 3.0 – Strategies for Banks to Become an Open Platform

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Visa recently surprised the banking world with its $5.3B acquisition of Plaid, a fintech startup that allows applications to connect with customers’ bank accounts easily and instantly. This is by far the second biggest acquisition Visa has ever made after it paid $14B for Visa Europe in 2015. It also marks an important shift in Visa’s strategy towards becoming an “Open Platform.”

Visa seems to be shifting its strategy significantly from partnering with banks to expand its card networks to partnering with startups to facilitate money movement through both card and also non-card payments (digital channels). The shift comes at an important juncture. While Visa’s payment value had been growing at a steady rate in the last decade, the rate has dropped below 10% in the past two years. Card penetration in emerging economies remains sluggish with penetration in a majority of Southeast Asian countries remaining well below 10%. Consumers are leapfrogging cards to other methods of payments, such as mobile wallets, altogether. Where mobile wallets are nascent, governments have pushed initiatives to facilitate low-cost interbank transfer (such as Thailand’s Promptpay), limiting the role of cards even more. Finding a new growth driver is mission-critical for card networks.

With Plaid on-board, Visa can pursue its Open Platform strategy at full speed. Currently, Plaid allows 2,600+ app developers to connect to users’ bank accounts easily. But, together with Visa, Plaid can utilize Visa’s network and infrastructure to offer new capabilities, such as cross-border money movements or fund distributions and collections, to those developers from the get-go. Fintech partners can connect to, interact with, and create and exchange value with each other through Visa’s network. In return, Visa stands to get large transaction flows from the 200+ million customer accounts that are powered by Plaid.

The popularity of Plaid highlights startups’ growing demand to add financial services to their product offerings. Software-as-a-service (SaaS) companies can monetize by offering financial services, serving as a new revenue stream with zero customer acquisition cost and creating a moat around the business. Fintech is no longer a primary business model, but also a secondary business model for startups (think of it as an ingredient to the main dish). Japan’s largest e-commerce site Rakuten, for example, has 40% of its revenue from financial services. Another example is Shopify, a website that helps small businesses set up e-commerce stores, which has more than half of its revenue from payment processing.

This is an emerging opportunity not only for startups but also for banks who can leverage those startups as a new distribution channel, apart from bank branches and digital banking apps. There are three strategies that banks can pursue to capitalize and capture a piece of this pie:

1) A Closed Ecosystem: Banks directly integrate with startups to offer financial products on third-party platforms. An example of this is Grab Thailand which offers Grab Wallet powered by KBank. In this model, banks would have to dedicate its resources to do the heavy lifting work of allowing its legacy system to communicate with third-parties’ systems. Since most banks still employ complex centralized technical infrastructure, changing such systems to allow external access is not easy and may result in unintended consequences. Due to the significant requirements of both time and resources, banks are generally selective of the partners, prioritizing by the scale of the partners, thus, early-stage companies often get relatively low priorities.

2) An Open Ecosystem: On the other end of the spectrum, banks can turn itself into an Open Platform, changing its centralized system into microservices that can interact with one another through application programming interfaces (APIs). Third-parties can then build and test their software on top of the banks’ infrastructure easily without the risk of messing up the banks’ centralized systems. Adopting this Open Platform strategy is not a difficult decision, but one that requires a strong commitment from the bank’s management and a complete overhaul of the banks’ monolithic legacy system (e.g., mainframe); this ‘transformation’ process can take years.

3) A Semi-Open Ecosystem: There exists a middle ground, a model that banks can adopt as they slowly progress towards an Open Platform. Banks can work with startups that act as middlemen between banks and other startups. These middlemen – so-called ‘core wrappers’ –  are doing the heavy lifting work of connecting with banks through APIs, wrap the integrations within its platform, and open its platform to other third parties to build or offer financial services to end customers.

This is where Plaid comes in. We can think of Plaid as Amazon for e-commerce. Before Amazon, merchants had to do everything from inventory storage, packaging, distribution, to return handling and customer support. With Amazon, those issues are taken care of, and merchants can focus on their core activities and what they’re good at. In the same way, Plaid acts as a middleman between banks and startups, providing a one-stop-platform for bank account access to third-party apps.

Many other startups are considered Core Wrappers for a variety of financial use cases. Stripe allows developers to process online payments and money transfers from a customer’s bank account into a merchant’s bank. Nium (previously Instarem) allows corporations and SMEs to send money cross-border, spend money through Nium-issued prepaid cards, and collect money from counterparty abroad. Synapse offers end-to-end banking services to app developers, eliminating the need for startups to identify bank partners and initiate one-to-one integration with the bank. Startups can easily offer financial services on its app by just plugging into Synapse.

Software is rapidly changing how financial services are offered. We are transitioning into the Banking 3.0 era where financial services are no longer sold in a physical bank branch (Banking 1.0) or mobile banking app (Banking 2.0) but are offered and sold through third-party platforms. Financial service is no longer a standalone service, but it’s being abstracted away and served to the customers in a digital-native way, wherever they are, and in a way that they are used to, instant and seamless.


Author: Nattariya (Nat) Wittayatanaseth

Editors: Woraphot Kingkawkantong, Vitavin Ittipanuvat

Image from Plaid.com

Beacon Insights: Property Technology (PropTech)

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One of the hottest and fastest-growing sectors for startup investing is Property Technology (or PropTech). According to the Wall Street Journal, halfway through 2019 more than $12.9 billion of investment has poured into this sector globally, more than the total investment of $12.7 billion in 2017.

 

But, what exactly is PropTech?

PropTech uses technologies to optimize and modernize tedious processes of searching, transacting, and managing properties for tenants, landlords, brokers, buyers, and sellers in the real estate industry.

The University of Oxford categorizes Proptech into three verticals of PropTech:

  1. Smart Real Estate Platform supports the monitoring, operations, and management of real estate assets;
  2. The Sharing Real Estate Platform facilitates the renting or sharing of real estate assets, such as offices and apartments;
  3. Real Estate FinTech Application simplifies the buying and selling process of real estate assets.

PropTech has been developing and evolving since 2000. The evolution of PropTech is demonstrated in Figure 1.

PropTech in Southeast Asia

The size of the Proptech market in Southeast Asia is still relatively small compared to China and India. According to JLL, there are approximately 800 Southeast Asian PropTech startups, with a total investment of $738 million over 36 deals in 2018. These figures are expected to increase due to several reasons:

  • Rising middle-class population and salaries;
  • Growing urbanization and younger population;
  • Exponential growth of smartphone penetration.

Among the countries in Southeast Asia, Singapore emerges as the regional leader in PropTech investment as the government has a Smart Nation Initiatives to streamline transaction processes in the real estate industry under transformation roadmap, which is further supported by a mature startup ecosystem.

Nevertheless, there are several hurdles for PropTech industry, including:

  • Restricted access to credit and financing and high financial costs;
  • Outdated regulations;
  • Trust and information asymmetry;
  • Low purchasing power of the millennials.

Despite the hurdles, the outlook for PropTech in Southeast Asia remains positive. Government initiatives and investments from VCs are key to fueling PropTech development in Southeast Asia.

Author: Wanwares Boonkong

Editors: Nattariya Wittayatanaseth, Krongkamol Deleon

Cover photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash

ESG Investing, a Tradeoff between Profit and Planet or a Win-win Opportunity for Investors and Society

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Introduction: What is ESG investing?

 

ESG is a term that is gaining popularity and momentum as investors take advantage of economic shifts such as the rise of electric cars and plant-based foods. But what exactly is ESG? ESG stands for Environment, Social, and Governance. ESG criteria are a set of common standards for companies to integrate in their operations, and in the long-run can help improve companies’ internal operations as well as provide benefits to stakeholders such as customers and the society.

In Thailand, there are two common terms mentioned when discussing about long term sustainability. One is ESG model as mentioned earlier, and other side is Bio-Circular-Green Economic or BCG model which is economy model to develop Thailand economy by adopting three dimensions including

 

  • Bio economy aiming to make the most from bio resources
  • Circular economy aiming to ensure resources recycling ability and reduce waste
  • Green economy aiming to reduce pollution for overall global long-term sustainability

Key differences between the two are BCG model is the absolute economy goal for Thailand while, ESG model is the universal standard and methodology that allows companies to achieve better operational practices and long-term sustainability. For this article, we aim to explore more in the field of ESG model and especially deep dive further in ESG investing.

 

Taking ESG factors into consideration when evaluating investment opportunities is becoming more common and relevant at this present day as ESG investing does not only provide benefits toward the planet earth, but also to investors in the form of greater and more sustainable profit. According to CBInsights, the mentions of climate change, global warming, and ESG on earning calls surged significantly from Q2 2020 to 2021. This finding demonstrates that the consideration of ESG has a positive effect on the investment performance and is currently at the very top of institutional investors’ minds when they are making their investment decisions.

 

 

Source: CBInsights

 

In this article, we will discuss the brief evolution of ESG investing, how investors view ESG investing, and the implications to the venture capital industry and financial institutions.

The Brief Evolution of ESG Investing: From Compulsory to Mandatory

 

In the past, the concept of social responsibility was simply a rule of faith separated entirely from investment activities. It was not recognized in business and investment operations until the 18th century, with the rising influence of Methodists and Quakers who believed that money gained should not come at the expense of life.

 

Integrating social responsibility in investment activities was not popular and not straightforward due the lack of technology to support ESG data assessment. This limited the ability of investors to access the ESG information of each company. Consequently, investors could not acquire sufficient information to make socially

responsible or ethical investment decisions.

 

In the 1980s, the idea of integrating social responsibility in investment activities emerged as global warming became more threatening and disastrous incidents such as Bhopal[1] and Exxon Valdez[2] pushed people to recognize how much damage businesses could inflict on society, the environment, and the business’s profitability if they did not act responsibly. As a result of these two incidents, Union Carbide Corporation was charged 470 million dollars in damages by the Indian Supreme Court for the toxic gas leak at Bhopal, and Exxon had to spend more than 3.8 billion dollars on cleanup costs, fines, and compensation. These disasters served as wake-up calls and catalysts for investors to take greater interest in companies’ social impact. The demand for socially-responsible investments has increased, resulting in the establishment of the United States

 

Sustainable Investment Forum (SIF)[3] in 1984. The forum has assets under management of 5 trillion dollars for sustainable and responsible investment. It aims to develop sustainable and impact investing expertise by providing resources such as ESG investing knowledge sharing sessions and networking events for institutional members, including investment and advisory firms, mutual fund companies, and data firms.

 

Since then, the concept of ESG investing has gradually evolved and been incorporated into investment decision-making processes. It is expected to become more deeply integrated in the future due to technological advancement and increasing business stakeholders’ expectations.

 

Stakeholders Expectation with ESG
Investors Many large institutional investors have explicitly agreed to apply ESG principles to guide their investment decisions and monitor key points in investing companies such as progress, disclosure & reporting on ESG issues, and ESG integration in business operations.
Customers Customers are now focusing more on how much businesses care about ESG when they are making purchasing decisions and are willing to pay a premium for ESG-focused offerings.
Supply Chain Partners Supply chain partners are expected to pay more attention to ESG matters as they are now regarded as parts of a company’s footprint and respective impact.
Employees Millennial and Gen Z employees prefer to work at a company that has the vision to serve a higher purpose than profit generation.
Communities & Society Communities and society expect companies to be responsible and take care of issues that impact the community in a more sustainable manner, not only for CSR purposes.

 

What  ESG  Investing is in the Eyes of Investors: No Longer a Choice between Planet or Prosperity

 

Investors used to believe that they had to compromise performance to invest more responsibly. But today, they can also do well while doing good. Research from well-known organizations such as McKinsey & Company, CBInsights, and CFA Institute support that ESG investing is gaining attention and can produce more profit to investors than non-ESG investing.

 

According to MSCI, more than 80% of ESG and ethical fund indexes, which are designed to reflect the performance of investment strategies that seek to gain exposure in companies which demonstrate both a robust ESG profile and positive trend in improving that profile, have outperformed and proven to be as resilient as traditional funds over the last three years.

 

 

Source: MSCI

 

The rationale behind this superior performance is that ESG can enhance overall company performance in key areas:

  1. Revenue boost;
  2. Cost reduction;
  3. Overall risk minimization; and
  4. Employee productivity enhancement.

 

1) Revenue Boost

 

With a solid ESG proposition, companies can increase revenue from both existing and new markets.

 

For existing markets, ESG consideration allows companies to gain more revenue as consumer preferences have shifted and customers are now willing to pay a premium for ESG-focused products or services. According to PwC research, nearly 80% of Thai consumers said that they have become more eco-friendly when purchasing products and services. This trend is more applicable with younger populations as they are generally more well-educated and are the generations that will have to bear the costs of ESG-related misconduct.

 

For new markets, integrating ESG consideration in business operations will allow companies to expand to the new market more easily due to regulatory support. Businesses with strong sustainable consideration are likely to get support and access from the government relations and communities as the positive impact that the businesses will create is in line with the government’s long-term policies.

 

2) Cost Reduction

 

Considering ESG can also help reduce cost of production and expenses for companies in both short and long term.

In the short term, applying ESG ideas in business operations will allow companies to reduce costs such as raw materials, energy, water, waste/hazard, or carbon footprint by adopting production methods that generate less waste to the environment and lower the threat of getting fined as a result of participating in risky activities. According to a study by McKinsey & Company, as financial performance and resource efficiency are significantly correlated, 60% of operational expenses can be offset by implementing ESG in a proper way. 3M is an excellent case study for ESG cost reduction. In 1975, the company saved 2.2 billion dollars as a result of the Pollution Prevention Pays (3Ps) initiative, focusing on preventing pollution by reformulating products, optimizing manufacturing processes, redesigning equipment, recycling, and reusing industrial waste. Another great example is FedEx. The company plans to convert its whole 35,000-vehicle fleet to electric or hybrid engines. With 20 percent of the fleet converted so far, FedEx has saved more than 50 million gallons of fuel consumption.

 

In the long term, having a strong ESG position can prevent companies from costs that might occur in the future such as non-compliance costs. ESG has become a mandatory measure and criteria in many countries, and it is essential for companies with plans to expand their businesses abroad. For example, Nestlé announced they would invest up to 2.1 billion dollars by 2025 with the aim to shift from virgin plastic packaging to food-grade recycled plastics, and to develop other sustainable packaging solutions. Its goal is to reduce carbon emissions as well as to protect itself from non-compliance charges in the several countries where it is operating.

 

3) Overall Risk Minimization

 

Organizations that focus on integrating ESG have lower risk levels because ESG practices allow companies to be less vulnerable to regulatory and legal interventions. The reduced exposure to these interventions can then help reduce overall cost of capital.

The ESG-focused companies will be able to avoid the risk of incurring costs from the government such as fines, penalties, and enforcement actions. According to McKinsey & Company, more than 30% of corporate profits are at risk from state or government intervention and can be even higher depending on the industries.

 

 

Source: McKinsey & Company

 

The correlation between the cost of capital and the company’s risk are well established. Therefore, the ESG-focused firms with lower volatilities and risk levels tend to have lower cost of capital for both debt and equity. With support from MSCI research, organizations with high ESG scores, on average, experienced lower costs of capital compared to those with low ESG scores in both developed and emerging markets during a four-year study period.

 

 

Source: MSCI

 

4) Employee Productivity Enhancement

 

According to research by Mckinsey & Company, favorable social actions of organizations have a positive correlation with increased job satisfaction. The positive impact of their work on society helps motivate employees to act in a more prosocial manner and encourages them to work more productively. This finding is supported by a study from Alex Edmans, professor of Finance at London Business School that companies on the “100 Best Companies to Work For” list which have strong employee governance earned  2.3 – 3.8 percent higher profit than typical players over the 25-year period.

 

ESG investing and Venture Capital Industry: Venture Capital Investment and ESG integration

 

Venture Capital (VC) firms, like other traditional investment entities, are giving more focus towards more responsible and impact-driven practices for greater social and economic return. According to a PRI survey, most VC respondents indicated that they mostly consider ESG factors in their investment processes during the due diligence and decision-making processes.

However, ESG incorporation in the investment processes for VCs has not yet been standardized throughout the industry and is often less comprehensive than public firms. These are how VCs incorporate ESG in their investment activities from screening, due diligence to investment decision making.

 

ESG Incorporation and Investment Policies

 

Currently, there are various practices for ESG incorporation in investment policies. Some VC partners have clear and concrete investment policies on ESG in place that define the scope and nature of their ESG strategies. Some VCs have policies covering only particular ESG aspects such as diversity, equity, inclusion and anti-harassment. Other VCs may have incorporated ESG issues in a less formalized way and do not have any policy to govern their practices.

 

ESG Incorporation and Screening

 

For the screening phase, several VCs have adopted customized screening policies that incorporate ESG factors. For example, Amadeus Capital Partners avoids investing in a variety of industries and business models, including gambling, predatory credit and debt traps and Truffle Capital avoids investing in companies whose scientific procedure led to a way of modifying human beings.

 

ESG Incorporation and Due Diligence

 

There are many distinct ways VCs can apply ESG incorporation to the due diligence process. Some VCs use pre-investment ESG questionnaires to discover and understand the ESG risks and opportunities of potential target companies. VCs might also apply standard measures as a criterion for due diligence, such as Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) standards. VCs might also apply informal methods to examine ESG, such as assessing the founders’ principles and ethics by observing how they interact with others.

 

ESG Incorporation and Investment Decision Making

 

For the decision-making process, some VCs consider ESG data when deciding whether to pursue an investment. Startups with high ESG risks that severely impact the society and other stakeholders and are difficult to mitigate, such as unethical business operation process or improper waste management, may be rejected.

 

Some VCs might insert additional sustainability clauses requiring startup founders to consider and be aware of ESG in business operations. These terms may include warranting the company’s due diligence results, enforcing the company’s compliance, and monitoring and addressing the company’s non-compliance with ESG requirements. This practice could help ensure the appropriate overall ESG risk during the investment period.

 

Next Step for VCs and ESG investments

 

There are several areas that can be enhanced to enable VCs to effectively move forward with the ESG integration. Examples include:

  1. Broadening the understanding of ESG incorporation in the VC industry by forming and joining communities of practitioners such as Venture ESG community who work together 12to improve practices; and
  2. Enhancing sharing of best practices of practitioners and investors on experiences, observations, and insights as well as ongoing challenges through channels such as case studies reports, podcasts and roundtables.

 

ESG Investing and Financial Institutions: Current and Potential Initiatives

 

Current Initiatives

 

Financial institutions (FIs), like other businesses, are conscious of the movement toward ESG practices. They are aware of the advantages of incorporating ESG into their business operations, as well as the pressure of increasing customer expectations. According to Forbes, more than 40 percent of banks holding global assets have agreed to join the net-zero banking alliance, which would synchronize lending and investment strategies while utilizing technology and policies to achieve net-zero emissions by 2030. This agreement does not only target the industry’s own carbon emissions, but also allocates lending and investment funds to organizations involved in the reduction of carbon emissions.

In Thailand, there are numerous internal and external initiatives from Thai FIs striving for ESG incorporation and sustainability. For internal operations, FIs aim to improve their core operations by proposing policies to achieve net zero carbon including setting up zero waste policies to reduce greenhouse gas emission activities in the working environment by 2030 and digitizing internal operations processes. For external initiatives, FIs have been developing and providing loan portfolios to accommodate sustainable projects such as green bonds, green project financing, and EV car loans to support customers with ESG vision.

 

Potential Initiatives

 

Looking forward, there are several opportunities for FIs to support ESG incorporation and sustainability, including:

  1. Considering carbon credits as a criterion for loan offering
  2. Treating carbon credits as loan collateral; and
  3. Investing in sustainable fintech startups which provide innovative solutions for long-term sustainable finance development.

 

Conclusion

 

ESG investing is not only a way to support businesses that are doing good for the society, but it is also a new key consideration for better investment returns. However, there are challenges lying ahead in ESG investing in the VC industry which are the lack of knowledge and deep understanding of ESG incorporation in the current investment process. Joining ESG investing communities for VC and encouraging sharing of best practices of ESG incorporation will drive ESG incorporation in VC to another step. For financial institutions, there are many opportunities to explore more in the area of ESG incorporation and sustainability for better operational efficiency and meeting customer expectations. The immediate initiatives for FIs to incorporate ESG investing in their operation is through their core business such as adopting ESG as a loan criteria and considering carbon credit as a collateral. As ESG investing is expected to remain dynamic in years to come, it is also important for investors to pay close attention to the ESG disclosures by the target companies and carefully interpret the actual meaning behind those statements to achieve the appropriate and desirable ESG exposure and make the most optimal investment decision.

 

Author: Chaloemlak Tantiviwatkhul (Gam)

Editor: Wanwares Boonkong (Pin), Krongkamol Deleon (Joy)

 

Source: 

https://www.db.com/files/documents/2022/01-JAN/ESG-Capital-Markets-2022-Outlook.pdf

https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/strategy-and-corporate-finance/our-insights/five-ways-that-esg-creates-value

https://klementoninvesting.substack.com/p/how-to-lower-your-cost-of-capital?s=r

https://blog.worldfavor.com/why-venture-capital-firms-need-to-integrate-esg

https://www.unpri.org/private-equity/starting-up-responsible-investment-in-venture-capital/9162.article

https://www.cfainstitute.org/-/media/documents/survey/future-of-sustainability.ashx

https://www.openinvest.com/articles-insights/debunking-esg-myths-pt-1-the-fear-of-sacrificing-financial-returns

https://www.dbresearch.com/PROD/RPS_EN-PROD/PROD0000000000478852/Big_data_shakes_up_ESG_investing.pdf?undefined&realload=goIiIaL0bVwqRD4WPq5x0j63wxwmJyxQtockReAUkRhHI3BkmcaVlSsaeOqxH76E

https://www.uethical.com/blog/the-history-and-future-of-esg-investing

https://slideplayer.com/slide/10914977/

https://www.cbinsights.com/reports/CB-Insights_Tech-Trends-2022.pdf

 

 


 

[1] The Bhopal tragedy was a gas leak accident that happened on December 2-3, 1984, at the Union Carbide India Limited pesticide plant in Bhopal, India.

[2] The Exxon Valdez oil spill was a man-made disaster that happened on March 24, 1989, when the Exxon Valdez, an Exxon Shipping Company oil tanker, dumped 11 million gallons of crude oil into Alaska’s Prince William Sound.

[3] Sustainable Investment Forum (SIF) is a Washington, DC-based membership organization that promotes sustainable investment across all asset classes.

Metaverse Explained: What is the Metaverse, and Why Does it Matter?

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One of the major buzzwords this past year has been “metaverse,” triggered in no small part by Facebook’s announcement this past October that it was rebranding to Meta and investing at least $10 billion on metaverse technologies.  While the term “metaverse” originated in the 1992 novel Snow Crash, in which people use the metaverse as an escape from a dystopian world (an idea also later explored in the novel and film Ready Player One), only recently has technology improved to the point where the metaverse could leave the realm of science fiction and become a reality.  This article will explore what the metaverse is now, and what it may become, as well as some of the companies involved in creating it and opportunities for financial institutions, in particular, to get involved and help shape the future of the metaverse.

 

What is the Metaverse?

 

The metaverse has been described in several different ways.  The Oxford dictionary defines the word as “a virtual-reality space in which users can interact with a computer-generated environment and other users.” Meta has referred to the metaverse as “a persistent, synchronous environment where we can be together.”  The video chat platform startup Gather has shared their definition of the metaverse as “the next iteration of the Internet that brings a sense of place and facilitates rich human connection.”

As the world is likely still several years away from seeing a fully-realized metaverse, it is unclear how exactly the metaverse will look in the end.  However, there are a number of facets of the metaverse that most people would agree are core components of the definition of the metaverse.

  1. The metaverse will be an ecosystem of shared virtual worlds.

While virtual worlds already exist today (for example, within online video games), most worlds are not linked, and consumers cannot move freely in between different worlds in the same way that one could move from one website to another.  Assets purchased in one game typically cannot be used or sold in a different game.  In the metaverse, it is expected that items such as digital clothing or accessories will be able to be shared across different worlds and experiences.  The boom of technologies such as non-fungible tokens (NFTs) may assist in allowing users to use items across different worlds.  Further, virtual worlds in the metaverse should be persistent, which is to say that the world will remain regardless of whether users are logged on or logged off, unlike Zoom meetings or video calls which end as soon as the participants leave the room.  Changes to these shared worlds could also persist into the future, creating a more realistic and lived-in experience for users.

 

2. The metaverse will fuse the real world with the digital world.

Creators will be able to recreate real-world spaces or objects in a virtual medium, where users can feel like they are present in the space, as opposed to merely seeing the space via a web browser. Virtual objects may also be embedded into the real world via AR technology.  The best current example of this technology is the hit game Pokémon Go.  Corporations such as Nike and Gucci are already investing in technology to bring their products and branding into the digital world in the form of skins and digital clothing. In the same way that consumers purchase branded goods and accessories as a form of self-expression in the real world, these digital collectibles will allow users to display their interests and personality in the virtual world.  As AR and VR technology improves, companies and creators will find new ways to merge the physical and the digital to create experiences that feel more real and more integrated with the daily life of the average consumer.

 

3. The metaverse will provide new ways for people to connect and interact with each other in a virtual space.

While the origins of the metaverse may be found in gaming (key examples include Fortnite and Roblox), many in the industry see the opportunity for the metaverse to redefine how and where people connect to each other.  The pandemic has shown the vital importance of finding ways for people to meet and engage with others via a virtual medium. In the future, the metaverse may provide channels for people to meet, talk, and enjoy activities and events together, even if they are far apart in the real world.  Though the pandemic will hopefully come to an end soon, it is clear that many companies already see a future in remote work that allows the company to save money, while at the same time offering employees a way to avoid the hassle of a regular commute.  Families separated across countries or continents will continue to see the metaverse as a way to stay connected in person, even as travel opens back up.  By eliminating the physical barriers and limitations of the real world, virtual spaces can democratize access to events, education, and even work opportunities.

Though the metaverse is still in its infancy, many companies have already begun creating and hosting virtual experiences that exemplify how people may interact with the metaverse in the future.  Examples include Marshmello’s 2019 concert inside Fortnite (attended virtually by 10.7 million people), or the SXSW Online XR experience in 2021 (which recreated downtown Austin, TX, the traditional host of the SXSW film festival). Companies like BMW and Audi have created virtual showrooms for consumers to shop for and virtually test drive cars, and platforms such as Decentraland and Gather allow users (retail and corporate alike) to create their own spaces for anything from art shows to weekly team game nights.

 

Left: Marshmello concert in Fortnite.  Right: SXSW Online XR

How Will the Metaverse be Created?

At its most fundamental level, the technology does not yet exist to support the metaverse as previously defined.  Like the internet, there will be multiple underlying technologies supporting the advent of the metaverse, including networks and infrastructure to deliver content to metaverse users, hardware to immerse users in the metaverse and render complex 3D environments, and programming standards and protocols to both allow various stakeholders to create new content and experiences in the metaverse and to allow different worlds and creations to interact with each other.  There is no finite answer of when all of these technologies will have developed enough to support the imagined metaverse – people speculate that it will gradually emerge over time.

As will be discussed below, companies are working to overcome current network limitations, improve hardware capabilities, and develop common standards and protocols in order to bring the metaverse to life on a large scale.

 

1Network Limitations:

To operate, the metaverse will require persistent connections that update in real-time with a high degree of accuracy and a fast data delivery time. The metaverse must also support a collection of applications and experiences across all devices and cater to a large pool of users concurrently.  This is an enormous computational challenge and one that fights against the underlying design or intent of the Internet. Bandwidth, latency, and reliability are the three main metrics used to measure network quality.

Bandwidth is commonly thought of as “speed,” although it actually refers to the amount of data transmitted over a given amount of time. The metaverse has far more rigorous standards than most internet apps and games.  Many players already face bandwidth and network congestion for online games; these requirements will be amplified by the metaverse, highlighting the need for technological improvements to increase bandwidth.

Latency refers to the time it takes for data to be transmitted from one point to another and back. For example, latency is the time it takes for a game player to receive information (such as whether a grenade has been thrown) and transmit that information to other players. In other words, latency can determine whether a player wins or loses, kills or dies in a game.  Many gaming companies have devised partial fixes that lower latency or mitigate the impact of high latency.  However, none of these current solutions scale particularly well.

Reliability measures the reliability of network service quality. This includes not only the overall uptime but also the consistency of other factors such as bandwidth and latency.

To deliver an immersive metaverse to the masses, all three of these network limitations will need to be solved.

 

2Hardware

Most industry insiders believe that hardware limitations will be the major stumbling block in realizing the metaverse.  In order to enjoy a fully immersive user experience, users will need to access the metaverse via AR/VR hardware.  However, current headsets are expensive, heavy, and lack the graphics quality and processing power to render realistic virtual worlds or objects.  This creates a massive barrier to entry for consumers interested in interacting with the metaverse.  Continuing to reduce the cost and size of AR/VR hardware will require continued improvements in the underlying hardware components, including processing chips, graphics chips, and light engines.  While AR/VR hardware development has taken massive leaps in recent years, including the launch of the widely popular Oculus Quest 2 and the increased adoption in the enterprise VR space of Microsoft’s HoloLens, analysts believe it may be five to ten years before the hardware can support the full metaverse at a price accessible to the mass consumer segment.

 

3Adoption of interoperable standards

Today’s internet operates under a set of common standards and protocols that allow anyone to create websites, share files, or otherwise interact with said internet. Standards and protocols will need to be considerably wider and robust in the metaverse. Furthermore, because interoperability and real-time synchronous experiences are so important, a common set of standards will need to be adopted.

In today’s world, big tech players may employ similar technology, but they are not designed to function together. Most companies are also adamant about not cross integrating their systems or sharing their data, which makes it more difficult, if not impossible, for users to jump to different companies or to integrate their digital lives across multiple companies.  Interoperability is one reason blockchain proponents believe that the future metaverse will be powered by blockchain technology and that decentralization will make it easier for developers of different platforms to connect and collaborate to offer a seamless experience to users.  However, examples of cross-platform gaming engines like Unity and Unreal Engine in the game development industry point to an alternative possibility, where independent third-party companies may arise to create metaverse engines to help developers create interoperable products.

 

Metaverse Ecosystem Players

 

 

Infrastructure – the metaverse infrastructure includes network providers, programming standards, and virtual worlds/platforms.

Network Providers

By expanding the reach of high-quality internet access, more people will be able to access and participate in the metaverse. One example is Starlink, SpaceX’s satellite Internet constellation, which hopes to provide high-bandwidth, low-latency internet, particularly to clients in areas underserved by traditional telecommunications firms.

Programming Standards and Protocols

 

NVIDIA is one of the major tech firms which has made significant investments into the metaverse.  NVIDIA Omniverse provides the programming infrastructure to create and connect virtual worlds into a shared universe.  This includes the interchange of assets between multiple users/world creators, the rendering and simulation of virtual worlds, and engines for simulating real-world physics and materials in a virtual space.

 

Virtual Worlds/Platforms

In the current state of the metaverse, virtual worlds have been created on both centralized platforms (i.e. platforms that are controlled by a single entity like a corporation) and decentralized platforms (i.e. platforms that are governed by the community of users or stakeholders).

Two key examples of centralized platforms are Roblox and Fortnite.  Roblox lets users create virtual worlds and games. Users can personalize their own avatars with virtual gear which can be applied across multiple worlds or experiences on the Roblox platform. Fortnite allows players to create and monetize their own content, including anything from digital clothing (skins) to dances (emotes). Fortnite Creative Mode also allows users to create their own games and experiences.

 

An example of a decentralized platform is Decentraland, which runs on the Ethereum blockchain network.  In Decentraland, users can buy and sell digital real estate, while exploring, interacting, and playing games. Real estate transactions are fueled by MANA, Decentraland’s native currency which is used for payments, and LAND –NFTs which represent ownership of virtual property. Smart contracts allow MANA owners to vote on policy modifications, land auctions, and new development subsidies on Decentraland.

 

Hardware – hardware companies develop and produce devices which will allow users to immerse themselves in the metaverse.

 

Tech giants and startups alike are working to create fully immersive user experiences.  Oculus has dramatically improved its virtual reality headgear in recent years by improving resolution quality and mobility.  Magic Leap provides AR glasses, with the vision of embedding the digital world into the physical world.  Immersion provides haptics technology that can make metaverse experiences feel more realistic.  Google’s Project Starline is a hardware-based booth designed to make video discussions feel as if both parties were in the same room. The hardware in the booth is used to create a projection that looks real to the other party.

 

Content – content in the metaverse includes digital assets and marketplaces, avatars, and virtual experiences like gaming, work, and social events.

 

Digital Assets and Marketplaces

The metaverse will require users to be able to own digital assets, such as NFTs which may reflect ownership of items such as digital files, skins, or even virtual land.  Many major brands like Nike, Coca-Cola, and Disney have recently launched their first official NFTs as they begin exploring how to engage users in the virtual economy.  Marketplaces like OpenSea offer opportunities for users to buy and sell these digital assets.

 

Avatars

One of the exciting features of the metaverse will be the ability to represent oneself as an avatar within virtual worlds and to find new methods of self-expression by personalizing and customizing avatars.  Companies like Genies, which raised a $65 million funding round in 2021, allow users to create fully personalized avatars to represent and express themselves in the metaverse.  Other examples of virtual avatar creators include Ready Player Me and CryptoAvatars.

 

Experiences

Experiences is a subset of content which refers to events or activities in which users can participate, and which may mimic or enhance events or activities users traditionally would have engaged with in the real world.  One example is Strivr, an enterprise VR training company, which partnered with MGM on a number of metaverse initiatives. MGM’s Human Resource Department announced a rollout of VR headsets as part of staff training. MGM is also exploring the implementation of this immersive technology by hosting virtual career fairs. Strivr’s clients include other big names such as Walmart and Verizon.

 

Opportunities in the Metaverse for Financial Institutions

Financial institutions have already begun exploring different areas of the metaverse.  These projects include creating digital replicas of their headquarters or branches where customers can experience what it would be like to conduct normal banking transactions in a virtual space instead of in-person, leveraging VR/AR technology to improve employee workflows, and hosting events and seminars for their customers in virtual spaces.

The key roles that financial institutions can play in the metaverse are analogous to the traditional roles of financial institutions in the real world.  Financial institutions should look to leverage their core strengths in exploring new initiatives and innovations in the metaverse.  These key roles can be broken down into three main categories.

 

Experiences:

The metaverse requires content in the same way that the internet requires websites.  Financial institutions will need to consider how they can create content and experiences for their customers.

While many transactions are already easily conducted via online or mobile banking applications, many more financial transactions still require personal contact between a banking agent and the customer.  Some customers may still prefer a more human interaction, even for regular transactions, and the metaverse may offer opportunities for financial institutions to create this kind of personalized experience in the virtual world.  For example, the metaverse could allow users to engaged with existing technology such as chatbots or roboadvisors in a more human way.

Financial institutions can also support content creation by their retail customers.  UGC is already a major part of the internet economy today, and building tools such as digital asset exchanges and portals to help users monetize their creations in the form of NFTs is an area that several financial institutions are already piloting.

Infrastructure:

As the virtual economy scales, fast, cheap, and secure digital payment rails become increasingly important.  As payments has long been a core area of strength for financial institutions, these same institutions may look to develop the payments infrastructure that will power transactions in the metaverse, which may leverage traditional payments, blockchain technology, or some combination of both.  Financial institutions also can help consumers access the digital payments space by acting as the bridge between fiat and digital currencies.

Another way financial institutions could support the metaverse is as a node validator for metaverse blockchain projects.  By participating as node validators, financial institutions can help build trust in the ecosystem.

 

Financing:

Analogous to the way that financial institutions provide lending and financing to entrepreneurs and small business owners in the traditional economy, financial institutions can provide financing within in the virtual economy.  This could include loans to content creators, project financing, or even sponsorship of activities such as gaming, in exchange for revenue sharing.

Lastly, financial institutions can invest in and support the technology innovators who will research and develop the technology needed to make a fully realized and immersive metaverse a reality.

Conclusion

While a real metaverse may not arrive until several years from now, parts of the metaverse have already begun to emerge and provide people with new ways of interacting.  The virtual economy is growing rapidly and immersive technologies such as VR are beginning to redefine the way the people work and play.  The metaverse may eventually change how people live their lives and engage with one another.  Given the lockdowns and restrictions brought on by the pandemic, it becomes increasingly important to leverage technology to ensure that people can connect with others, with friends and family, with companies and service providers, in a human way, even if they cannot meet in the physical world.  It is vital for all potential stakeholders to work together to create a metaverse that is open to all, that brings people together, and that provides people with new opportunities to work, play, and experience things which may not be accessible to them in the real world.

 

Author: Krongkamol Deleon (Joy) and Premika Bhongsudhep (Prink)
Editor: Wanwares Boonkong (Pin)

Sources:

https://www.idtechex.com/en/research-article/making-the-metaverse-hardware-hurdles-discussed-by-idtechex/25314

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