Weekly Briefing No. 124 | Facebully, Fearless Girl’s Fate & Housing Finance Needs Disrupting


Welcome to our 124th edition. Strap yourself in and take a ride with us:

  • Banks and fintech could gain from Facebook’s fall from grace
  • Fearless Girl shouldn’t move an inch; Disrupting housing finance
  • Selected financings: CommonBond, eToro, N26, Paymerang and Promise
  • Cryptomining bans; Dropbox doesn’t drop; Citi’s great step on guns; Slack
  • Breaking Banks’s SXSW roundup; Small bookstores surge; Guardian’s Deanna Mulligan on talent; EDGAR downloading habits of funds; AI scenarios


Would you trust a reckless bully with your financial data?

Much of the opprobrium coming from Silicon Valley commentators on Facebook is spot on in our view (See below for a great one entitled What the F*** Was Facebook Thinking?). Looking at the Facebook nightmare through an East Coast lens, though, leads us to some other preliminary conclusions: 1) Sure, Facebook has been unmasked as a bully, but let’s remember that its Big Tech peers have been just as rapacious in their desire for world domination; and 2) A silver lining to Facebook’s shameful behavior is that an aggressive, direct move by Big Tech into financial services may be off the table for the time being. Nobody knows where the FTC and congressional investigations will go (a broader consent decree?), but even if Facebook weathers the storm and is (ironically) given more power to control user data, it still faces a multi-year humbling process that will hinder it from making bold moves in other sectors. Google and Amazon, meanwhile, aren’t run by a naive Sun King, but they have their own Frankensteinian issues and could be caught up in the wake of rising national suspicion of Big Tech. Meanwhile, digital identity and the ownership and/or custody of personal data are challenges that financials continue to struggle with in the age of open banking and the digital revolution. But as ramping investigations reveal Facebook’s old Graph API to be one the biggest give-to-get data schemes ever, our guess is that incumbent banks (and their fintech partners) will find themselves on the receiving side of a welcomed gift: greater relative trust.

The most inspiring 23 feet in New York.

Neither State Street nor ad agency McCann could have foreseen the implications of “temporarily” placing a statue of a fearless girl at the top of Bowling Green park. At the time, the asset manager wanted to raise awareness for International Women’s Day (and its new gender diversity ETF, SHE). On that basis alone, the statue has been a success (See below). Unfortunately, over a year later, the mayor is still trying to decide where to permanently place the statue, which has become a beloved tourist attraction. Perhaps the Mayor’s Office has failed to note that since 1765, when the Sons of Liberty caused a ruckus in Bowling Green to protest the Stamp Act, this downtown nook has had a proud history of good rebellion. That history was bolstered by Charging Bull, which landed at Bowling Green in late 1989 (and was originally conceived of as “guerrilla art”). A year ago, that tradition continued with the arrival of a southward-looking 50-inch defiant girl directly facing the bull. Today, first and foremost, Kristen Visbal’s sculpture serves as a source of inspiration for girls. But as innovators breeze by her en route to co-working spaces or make-or-break meetings with nearby financial firms, it looks to us like Fearless Girl isn’t just for girls. She’s become an inspiration for badasses of all ages and both genders not willing to take bull from any bull. Does she disrupt pedestrian flow? Sure. Do the nearby crowds that swell onto Broadway impede traffic? Yes. But that’s why Fearless Girl’s current location, 23 feet north of the bull, is the perfect place for her. Rebels with a cause can and should get in the way.

Can the mortgage market be disrupted already?

“As I discovered from a group of MBA’s while lecturing at a business school last month, not even market-leading Quicken Loans escaped criticism for its ‘old-school,’ phone-heavy contact model.” That’s the observation made by our contributor Marvin Chang of Irving, Texas-based Caliber Home Loans. In a new opinion piece for The FR, Chang takes aim at the US housing finance sector and asserts that underneath the surface of health, an aversion to mortgage product innovation is still in place. “Change will come,” says Chang. The question is, when?

Interested in causing some good trouble in financial services with a new product or service? If so, contact us about marketing opportunities with The FR.

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Big money and big impact rounds happened.

It’s been a good March for CommonBond. First, the company completed its sixth securitization, which earned a triple-A rating. Now, its closed on a $50-million Series D financing to fuel its education financing platform. Also this week, eToro, a social trading network, announced a $100-million Series E, N26 raised a $160-million Series C and Virginia-based Paymerang raised $26 million of fresh capital. Finally, it’s often been said that it’s expensive to be poor. But being poor can also lead to more jail time for those who can’t afford to make bail. That’s where Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins’ Promise comes in. The Y Combinator-hatched start-up has closed on $3 milion from First Round Capital, Jay-Z’s Roc Nation, 8VC and Kapor Capital.

Both coasts are turning away from Bitcoin mining.

Last week, New York State’s Plattsburgh City Council grabbed headlines when it kiboshed new Bitcoin mining within its confines for 18 months. Apparently, its citizens grew accustomed to paying 4.5 cents per kilowatt hour for electricity (thanks to a nearby dam on the St. Lawrence River) and were angry to see their electricity bills skyrocket as Bitcoin miners moved in. Similar activity occurred this week on the West Coast too, as Washington State’s Chelan County utility board indicated it would no longer approve new licenses for mining facilities.

Dropbox doesn’t drop in its debut.

Concerns over a trade war, rate hikes and Facebook spooked equity markets to the bone this week. But the anxiety failed to keep down Dropbox, which rose over 35 percent on Friday after pricing its $756-million offering above the range. Although the IPO price valued the company below its $10-million private valuation circa 2014, the 2007 Y Combinator alum has to be feeling good about its debut.

Citigroup takes a stance on guns.

Citigroup demonstrated some much-welcomed financial services leadership this week by announcing a new commercial firearms policy that will cover small business, commercial and institutional clients, and (perhaps most importantly) its credit card partners.

Slack is making it easier for your boss to spy on you secretly.

It appears as though Slack has made it easier for your supervisor to read your direct messages without your knowledge (we think). It also appears that the company is claiming that the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a factor behind this move. GDPR is confusing enough as it is, but trying to fully understand Slack’s new policy here takes things to another level. Our conclusion: If you want to roast your boss or a colleague, whip out your phone and hit the call button.


Breaking Banks talks SXSW: In a recent episode of Breaking Banks, host Brett King and co-host Jason Henrichs gave a great recap of this year’s Austin festival. Doug Nielson of US Bank’s innovation division and The Financial Brand’s Jim Marous rounded out the discussion.

Independent bookstores are back, baby: Small bookstores that emphasize customer experience and intimacy are surging in popularity despite the Age of Amazon. For more on our bifurcating economy, check out The Indicator podcast below.

Guardian’s CEO Deanna Mulligan talks talent: In this McKinsey video, Mulligan talks about why she’s not benchmarking her company against other insurers when it comes to talent recruitment, retention and organizational structuring.

Want to know which funds download which SEC filings? Believe it or not, thanks to the SEC and a recently published study by some Rice University brainiacs, you can compare the 2013-2017 downloading habits of Renaissance, PanAgora, Blackrock, AQR, Jennison and many more. See below for a great recap from Integrity Research Associates.

Future visions of AI: “Of course, the world did lose portions of New York City — and 200,000 New Yorkers — in the uprisings of 2057-’59, as TriBeCa and Midtown were burned to the ground by residents of Westchester and southern Connecticut in a fit of rage at their impoverishment.” That’s an AI-inspired scary vision offered by artist Jules Julien in Smithsonian. Check out his full take and four other scenarios.


“Until you dig a hole, you plant a tree, you water it and make it survive, you haven't done a thing. You are just talking.”

~ Wangari Maathai