Weekly Briefing No. 147 | Maybe it’s time to let the old ways die.

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In a nod to our favorite song from A Star is Born, we’re delighted to present to you a bunch of old ways and thoughts that should die:

  • Old-school landlord attitudes

  • Not having a digital strategy in wealth management

  • Signature panels on credit cards

  • No institutional love for crypto

  • Perception of Blackrock’s invincibility

  • Idea that money can buy AI safety

  • Fake “good” news about student loan bondage

  • Painless corporate apologies

  • Counting out banks in mortgages

  • Old paradigms for democracy and capitalism

  • Idea that it’s okay not to get your hands grimy

INTERVIEW

Old-school landlord thinking.

“We're using the landlord's balance sheet to grow our business...And WeWork is using the Softbank balance sheet to grow their business.” That’s a one-two quote from Convene’s infectious co-founders Ryan Simonetti and Chris Kelly in discussing how they plan to continue to build their white-hot meeting, event and flexible workspace company. In a new interview for TechCrunch, The FR’s Gregg Schoenberg sat down with Simonetti and Kelly (in Convene’s new members club) to talk about their nine-year-old company and the unique partnerships they have put into place with Class A landlords. In the last several years, these landlords, which include Brookfield, Durst and RXR Realty, have come to realize that real estate is becoming consumerized and that they have to deliver more than just space. Working closely with Convene is one key way in which they are doing just that.

NEWS ROUNDUP

Those ridiculous signature panels on the back of credit cards.

Trying to sign your name in the micro-slicked signature panel on a credit card’s rear-end has been one of the bigger little absurdities in financial services (especially if you have a long last name ending in -berg). Mastercard probably didn’t need a formal survey to tell it that most people would like to ditch the John Hancock, but still, the card network deserves credit for finally phasing out the signature silliness.

Not having a digital strategy in wealth management.

Two years ago, we discussed Marstone, a robo that’s been laser-focused on helping financial institutions deliver automated wealth management services to their clients. At that time, several direct-to-consumer robos were flying high and talking a big game about an all-digital future that emphasized algorithms above all else. But Marstone’s CEO, Margaret Hartigan, didn’t bend to that trend and instead insisted that her company’s B2B offerings stay grounded in empathy for the end customer’s life journey. Today, Hartigan has been proven right as the original robos have sought to become more human and most of the incumbent wealth managers have recognized the need to have a digital option. As such, we were delighted to see that Marstone and HSBC announced a partnership this week to develop a digital wealth platform in the US that will enable the bank to attract new clients and provide greater choice to existing customers. It’s a big deal for Marstone and a smart deal for HSBC. Moreover, its gratifying for us to see that Hartigan, a determined entrepreneur with a wealth of grit, now has the wind at her back.

The institutional blockade of crypto.

“Money has been going digital ever since we had an internet to use it on.” That observation is from Fidelity, which, in a move consistent with statements made by CEO Abigail Johnson over the last year, officially launched a service to buy and sell Bitcoin and Ether for institutional investors. Sloganed with the tagline “Institutional Solutions for a New Asset Class” and led by ex-Goldman technology executive Tom Jessup, Fidelity will also look to custody assets offline via cold storage. Such an approach by a firm like Fido should reduce the counterparty concerns holding back many institutions from trading crypto.

The aura of Blackrock’s invincibility.

Despite beating earnings expectations and chalking up $11 billion of long-term net inflows, Blackrock’s Q3 earnings report caused some pre-Halloween horror this week as over $30 billion of institutional money de-risked out of its Index equity products. Overall, its iShares ETF products saw continued inflows to the tune of nearly $34 billion (including over $21 billion of equity ETF inflows), but it’s the institutional-retail diversion here that’s worth noting.

REFLECTION

Idea that big money can buy AI safety.

The hearts of AI devotees were aflutter this week as MIT announced a big new initiative that will see the school deploy about $1 billion to launch the Stephen A. Schwarzman College of Computing. According to Schwarzman, who ponied up $350 million, a core driver behind his AI investment was his hope that it would serve as a “clarion call” to get the US government on task. If that’s the case, then Schwarzman could have started off with a more modest $10,590 expenditure. That’s the amount it would’ve taken to buy every member of the next US Congress, the president and his cabinet, Jarvanka, AND China’s Standing Committee of the NPC, President Xi Jinping, Premier Li Keqiang and (very importantly) Xi Mingze a hardcover copy of Stephen Hawking’s new, posthumously published book, Brief Answers to the Big Questions (available on Amazon Prime for $15). In it, Hawking warns that AI and genetically advanced superhumans could either propel mankind forward or expedite humanity’s doom if not controlled properly. Of course, policy influencers don’t read every book handed to them, but with a personal note inscribed from SAS, we’d bet some would. And as a result, maybe some of those US and Chinese politicians would recognize that even during an ugly trade war going postal, they’d have a shared interest in a) better understanding AI and b) working jointly to prevent the rise of  AI nationalism and “slaughterbots,” coming to a war theater near you.

“Fakish” good news about student loan bondage.

We took interest in a recent Wall Street Journal article (subscription) which heralded that the “real cost” of college was rising at a much slower pace as schools sought to up their scholarship levels. That may be true (for now), but it doesn’t speak to the complicated  structural issues that are fueling more and more (and more) student debt accumulation. And while it’s great that start-ups have helped turn student loan assistance programs into the hottest benefit offered by big employers, the problem is that about half of all private sector workers punch the clock at companies that employ 100 people or fewer. So yes, a slowing rise in costs is good, but as Bloomberg’s Riley Griffin points out, the student loan crisis is still getting uglier. We’d put it more bluntly: the financial imprisonment of America’s youth is set to worsen.

TROVE

Thinking that saying ‘I’m sorry’ will do when your firm errs.

This week, residents of the Big Bagel (NYC grows bagels, not apples), gave Apple a schmearing after the company released a bagel emoji that was truly a zero. But unlike other tech giants, Apple has class, and it moved swiftly to fix its despicable rendition with a new version of, perhaps, the Murray’s varietal. (Note: Apple has just announced a mystery event for October 30th at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Hopefully, it will make smart catering choices.) But how about companies that make bigger gaffes? What’s the best way for these mistakes to be rectified before their brands get toasted? Uber’s economists have an answer.

Counting out banks in the mortgage business.

According to Caliber’s Marvin Chang, banks should not be considered yesterday’s news in the mortgage business. In an insightful new opinion piece for The FR, Chang adds that while non-bank financial institutions like Quicken Loans, PennyMac, Caliber and LoanDepot have aggressively taken share, start-up-fueled financial institutions have learned to leverage the “unbundling of the bank” for their benefit. Thus, insurgents need to up their game if they want to preserve their pole position.

Old paradigms for democracy and capitalism.

Do traditional constructs of democracy and capitalism make sense anymore given how quickly technology is changing our energy, provision, travel and communication paradigms? This very tough question was posed by Will Beeson to entrepreneur, thinker and writer Azeem Azhar in a thought-provoking episode of Beeson’s terrific Rebank podcast.

FINANCINGS

Assuming that there are no untapped markets left in fintech.

Future Family, a San Francisco start-up seeking to ease the financial pressures associated with fertility care, raised a $10-million Series A led by Aspect Ventures. With the capital, the company plans to expand its suite of monthly plan offerings, which is a great idea considering that a majority of women don’t have insurance to cover fertility-related expenses. Also, LA-based ProducePay, an interesting ag-fintech start-up that provides much needed financial, liquidity and technology solutions to produce farmers and distributors, just announced a $14-million Series B.

Thinking it’s okay not to get your hands dirty.

It’s been widely reported that Uber, along with Lyft and Palantir, plans to join the IPO Bonnaroo next year. In a fascinating example of a banker willing to do things others won’t to win this juicy mandate, Morgan Stanley’s Michael Grimes has reportedly channeled Lee Strasberg’s method acting principles to convince Uber executives that he understands the emotional truth of the company. Specifically, Grimes has purportedly gotten his hands grimy by moonlighting as an Uber driver. If true, that could go further than Morgan Stanley’s recently upsized high-yield bond deal for Uber in making Uber’s executives believe that Morgan Stanley “gets” them.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

“The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”

~ Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie