Weekly Briefing No. 122 | Is Our Economy Ready for the Fountain of Youth? Who Wins Most When Amazon Picks a Bank?


As the Ides of March approach, we invite you to check out our 122nd edition. Just be careful.

  • Genomics, life extension and the economy
  • Amazon looks for a banking partner
  • S&P Global buys AI start-up Kensho; Deutsche Bank rocks Instagram
  • A US dark web price index is launched; Alphabet’s Missouri nemesis
  • Crypto’s problems with the Feds deepen
  • Hixme’s Denny Weinberg; Ripple’s Marjan Delatinne
  • Theo Lau; Naval Ravikant; Abacus: Small Enough to Jail


Ponce de Genomics?

“This is not a radical indictment of the American healthcare system; it’s just a fact. We are very good at treating illnesses, but not at preventing them.” That’s a quote from 23andMe’s Anne Wojcicki embracing the FDA’s big decision this week to allow her company to offer a home test for three BRCA-1/BRCA-2 mutations. Because these mutations are associated with increased risk for breast and other cancers, it’s easy to see why there’s excitement over direct-to-consumer tests like this, although many experts remain skeptical over their clinical value. Still, we’re hopeful that the efforts of genomics companies save many lives and move towards a day when 100 is the new 60 (See XPRIZE and Human Longevity Inc. co-founder Peter Diamandis’ explanation here). But along the way, big issues around ownership and use of health data will need clarification. And after that happens, a slew of systematic and economic questions will be waiting, particularly when you consider that today, over 40% of Americans may retire broke. Can the existing medical universe and healthcare/life insurance frameworks adapt to a prevention-based system? How will pension and 401k plans accommodate ten or more years of average life expectancy? Will AARP be forced to change its official name to the American Association of Formerly Retired Persons? Will the cast of Riverdale be spry enough in 2090 for a reunion show? We have no answers to these questions, but think it’s time for entrepreneurs to start asking them. Because if a genomics-led Fountain of Youth revolution is on the horizon, everything will change.

Can we write you a check, Amazon?

This week, The Wall Street Journal published an article suggesting that Amazon was choosing between big banks to create an Amazon-branded checking account. The piece, which noted that Jamie Dimon almost went to work for Amazon in the early 1990s, hinted that JP Morgan Chase was the lead candidate (although Capital One is in the mix too). Analysts and journalists, of course, had a field day in response to the news by writing “Watch out for Amazon” pieces (See a good one below from Bain). But assuming Amazon ultimately moves forward with a bank partnership, our hunch is that despite Amazon’s Machiavellian brilliance (as heard via its dastardly Echo gadgets), the winning bank could wind up even or maybe come out ahead on the trade. “Whoever becomes Amazon’s banking partner would gain a lot of insight into what it’s like to have a financial product embedded into a suite of non-financial services,” according to Bradley Leimer of Explorer Advisory & Capital. Leimer added that banks aren’t going to be the drivers of the open platforms of the future, tech giants are. If Leimer is right (and we think he is), Amazon’s checking account partner would have an unrivaled front seat to the future of digital financial services and commerce. Yes, banks including branch-light Citigroup, which talked about its national digital bank aspirations this week, and Goldman, whose plans for its “game-changing” no-branch Marcus unit keep growing, may come on strong. But integration with America’s #1 titan — even temporarily — looks like the best seat a bank could dream to occupy in the Age of Amazon.

Are you at SXSW?

We may be based in Southwest Brooklyn, but today, we’re at SXSW to join FinTEx Chicago, the FinTech Professionals Association, Caliber Corporate Advisers and other experts to talk fintech. We’ll be gathering tonight from 5pm to 8:30pm. Please let us know if you’ll be in Austin and if you’re interested in joining us.

Choosing the right mobile engagement automation strategy.

Sponsored by Relay Network

Mobile engagement is a must for any business, but implementing the right strategy for your particular needs can be tricky. That’s why our friends at Relay Network created a complete buyers guide laying out your options, discussing why mobile engagement automation is often the best path and providing pointers on how best to sell a mobile engagement strategy to the bigwigs in your company.

To learn more, check out Relay Network’s next webinar on March 22nd. They'll cover the ten criteria for selecting a mobile engagement automation partner and provide every attendee with a a copy of the guide too.

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Kensho gets scooped up by S&P Global.

This week, Stripe looks to have made a smart acquisition by scooping up offline retail software company Index, which should enable Stripe to better serve larger customers with a physical presence. And speaking of savvy deals, Kensho Technologies has determined that its path to buddhahood would be furthered by selling to S&P Global for $550 million. The price, which looks to be about flat to last year’s valuation, is nonetheless a big, validating transaction for the AI world.

Deutsche Bank launches on Instagram.

This week, Deutsche went millennial with its launch of its very own Instagram page, following other firms including Morgan Stanley and Capital One. The jury’s out on whether this channel will help financial giants convince younger consumers that they’re as cool as fintechs. But we’d point out that if you’re going to push the hashtag #nofilter, you need to live up to it. Otherwise, the smashed avocado on the toast will turn brown very quickly.

VPN rating service launches a US dark web price index.

Is there an ETF for personal information on the dark web? No, but a British VPN comparison site recently launched a US index that tracks the average price on the dark web to buy a person’s full identity ($1,200). Index constituents include the average price of a PayPal login ($250) and a Spotify login (21 cents).

A Nixon-goes-to-China politician to take on Big Tech?

“We need to have a conversation in Missouri, and as a country, about the concentration of economic power.”; “My worry is, to be frank with you, that we’re drifting towards a form of corporatism.” The pol behind these quotes is Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley. And despite his views, this 38-year-old candidate for the US Senate is far from being a Bernie Bro. In fact, he’s a Federalist Society conservative who is openly weighing an antitrust case against Alphabet. And when it comes to the strategic use of lawsuits, Hawley has another thing going for him: visible backing from Peter Thiel.

The Feds prepare to take a bite out of cryptoassets.

This week, a federal judge ruled that the CFTC was allowed to sue New Yorker Patrick McDonnell and his company, which does business as Coin Drop Markets. This ruling supports the CFTC’s argument that cryptoassets are in indeed commodities. Meanwhile, the SEC said on Wednesday that unregulated crypto trading platforms that characterize themselves as ‘exchanges’ needed to be registered with the SEC. However you slice the regulatory pie, crypto looks set to get bitten.


Weekend Reading

Hixme’s Denny Weinberg: Rarely have we learned as much during an interview as we did when we sat down with Weinberg in early 2017. A lot has changed on Planet Healthcare since then, but as a recent interview Weinberg gave to CalBroker shows, he’s still a creative, leading voice within healthcare insurance.

Ripple’s Marjan Delatinne: And speaking of interviews, we liked Veronika Rinecker’s discussion with Delatinne, who before joining Ripple had been a ten-year veteran of SWIFT.

Theodora Lau: “I'd rather be known as a person than for my career — but I do hope I can always pick up the check, too.” That’s the well said commentary by our own Kelsey Weaver, who was featured in a great, exfoliating piece by our friend Theo Lau inspired by the 2000 romcom What Women Want.

Weekend Watching

Naval Ravikant: Recently, we stumbled across an interview of Ravikant at Goldman’s private internet company conference discussing the risks and benefits of blockchain and ICOs for early-stage capital formation.

Abacus: Small Enough to Jail: This documentary didn’t win this year’s Academy Award in its category. However, we were compelled by this film about Abacus Bank, a pillar of New York’s Lower East until New York’s district attorney indicted the bank for grand larceny and other things. Was Abacus unfairly targeted?


Last week, we said that the name Erica has never been featured in a popular song. But Goldman’s Matthew S. Rothman, a quantitative equity research expert, pointed out that in “Mambo Number Five” by Lou Bega, a woman named Erica is mentioned. Perhaps we overlooked the song because its lothario sentiments are quite dated, but we nevertheless appreciate Matthew’s efforts to help us fix our fuzzy data.


“Our major obligation is not to mistake slogans for solutions.”

~ Edward R. Murrow