THE ERA OF MARKETPLACES

Marketplaces are becoming the backbone of e-commerce, evolving from generalized mega platforms to niche marketplaces of handpicked third parties. Vertical marketplaces will assume its place, combining large supply chains and local producers. Two sided marketplaces become more common as the main retailer opts to open doors to third party suppliers to avoid becoming irrelevant.

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INSIGHT FROM
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The pandemic has put enormous pressure on retailers over the past months, causing them to rethink their strategy – physical stores developing or evolving ecommerce capabilities. Portugal, ranked 38th in Ecommerce, has had a revenue of US$4 billion in 2020, an increase of 30%, compared to last year1. In addition, quick shifts in consumer habits led to sudden changes in the demand for certain categories of goods (e.g. indoor sporting goods, vitamins and nutritional supplements), which have increased merchant’s appetite for flexible ecommerce models, like marketplaces, and retailers are finding ways to incorporate these models into their operations, opening the door to a wider set of consumers2.

"WHICH HAVE INCREASED
MERCHANT’S APPETITE FOR FLEXIBLE
ECOMMERCE MODELS"

While the multiple benefits that Marketplaces have for consumers are widely recognized, it is important to acknowledge the added layer of complexity that they represent from a payments perspective that bring new risks and exposures.

"IT BECOMES PARAMOUNT TO ENSURE
THESE MODELS ARE SUPPORTED BY
ROBUST INFRASTRUCTURE"

Thus, it becomes paramount to ensure that these models are supported by robust infrastructure that ensures that payment flows between participant merchants, consumers and the marketplace are secure, reliable and provide a frictionless experience to the end users.
 

For more information contact fintecheu@visa.com

1. ecommerceDB. (2021). The eCommerce market in Portugal. Retrived from https://ecommercedb.com/en/markets/pt/all [Accessed 23Sept. 2021].

2McKinsey & Company. (2020). Prespectives in retail and consumer goods. Retrived from:https://www.mckinsey.com/~/media/mckinsey/industries/retail/our%20insights/perspectives%20on%20retail%20and%20consumer%20goods%20number%208/perspectives-onretail-and-consumer goods_issue-8.pdf [Accessed 23 Sept. 2021]. 

BANKING AND INSURANCE AS AN EXPERIENCE

As banks and banking services, as well as insurers and insurance services, become two distinct realities, users shift their loyalty from the relation with the institution to focus on the experience. As such, financial institutions are working to put back the user at the center, granting full control over its financial life. The objective is not only to provide all services through digital channels, but to contribute to a degree of financial literacy that truly empowers the user to take the best decisions.

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RICARDO VIDAL: THE POWER OF CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE

Ricardo is an Internationally Awarded FinTech influencer & Product Executive, and can often be seen as an Advisor, Jury and Mentor in several international occasions with his focus going into Product definition, MVP, fast Agile Execution, Innovation, Growth, Internationalisation and UX/UI/Design. After helping to change the way people look into banking, Ricardo took a break in banking and went on a mission to make insurance sexy, as the CPO (Chief Product Officer) of the biggest Insurtech in Europe, Wefox. Since then, Ricardo is back within banking where he serves as Senior Advisor and collaborating with Oradian, focusing on enabling financial services in emerging markets.

How does customer experience contribute to clients' trust in an organization?

I feel that experience is evolving in banking from solving a problem at the right time to engaging in a conversation about our personal values and how that influences your decisions. For example, many people have a strong inner value for environment and if they feel their bank has the same value they will have a closer connection to the institution and to the product they will use from them, that can be a credit card made of bamboo, or an automated donation to a carbon neutral institutional after booking a flight. That was recently also seen with the debate about some crypto currencies not being as environmentally friendly as they could be, which resulted in a direct impact on the performance of those in the markets. The same is also true for the global awareness for health and for not over exposing you when doing payments.

Germany traditionally is a cash currency and now with covid-19 we see a quick spread of contactless payments, or even before the pandemic. In China, where contactless spread at a very rapid growth where everyone else was focusing on cards, with China almost jumping the credit card phase as a whole.

Overall the way I read customer experience today is more on how you can connect and associate yourself with a brand and their products and less about fixing a problem as it used to be in the past, and that is very true for banking, and slowly starting to be true for insurance.

"THAT IS VERY TRUE FOR BANKING, AND SLOWLY STARTING TO BE TRUE FOR INSURANCE"

Insurance clients typically interact a few times with their providers, usually at negative moments; whilst in terms of Banking there is
also a negative connotation that is difficult to overcome . What can be done to increase client engagement at all moments?

I think today that is more true for insurance than for Banking. Banking used to be a very negative experience and that was because you were relying on a physical interaction, often had to take time out from work to go to a branch, then talk with a random person, and had to repeat the process (e.g. to get some documents you did not had with you) until you got to the right need you had in the first place (e.g. getting a credit card). Today banking, at least for the final consumer, is very straightforward in most of the countries and you can quickly get the support you need without too much pain - even if you have to rely on different providers for each of your pains.
 

As for Insurance, that is very true still today, you do not think about insurance until something bad happens to you and even then you may not have the experience one would expect to have that usually would have the situation reverted to the moment on what the event occurred. Insurance is also a very relational and personal experience, usually 91% of insurance transactions around the world are done person to person, and usually that person is someone in your family or a friend of yours - so you rely a lot on your close network, and that is not too different around the world. Looking forward, the way Insurance has to improve that experience is to be hand in hand with the customer in the hard moments, and through the increasing amount of data that each individual generates at any moment in time, use that in advance to support each individual to live a better life. But before that we need to do the iterative improvements and look how to increase the most burning pains around filing quick claims and get instant access to monetary or replacement incentives.

How can customer experience contribute to greater financial literacy and customer empowerment?

Absolutely. More often than not, individuals struggling with finance could be supported by some financial literacy, we are usually not educated on the importance of having a solid financial situation and how to make the best decisions around that. I remember back in the days when I was doing Product at Kreditech, we would have some customers that we would talk to that would have one loan with us and then repeat that with other providers, in reality they would be paying one loan with another loan, what was resulting in making them fall under a debt spiral, and not because they purposely wanted to be in one, but because that was the best way they new to do that, and our solution at the time was to look into how could we turn that situation in an harmonisation of the debt in a way that they would have a sustainable way to get back on their feet, and that lead to the creation of product like a credit line and other developing products.
Nowadays with the use of technology and with the data we each have on our own we will soon see even more of these solutions to support develop the customer and helping them make better decisions and have more financial freedom, and that can be by your bank noticing that you pay 25% more water bill then your neighbours or people living in a similar situation as your, it can be to educate it in ways to supplement the financial freedom you have today to reflect that once you get to old age. I am sure we will see more of these creative solutions that will educate the user in such a way that they will feel their lives are improving and give them the tools or information
to make more educated decisions that can affect their current or future financial situations.

Where would you say we are at and where can we go in terms of improving CX in Banking and Insurance?

We have come a long way when we talk about overall banking experience and insurance is making some good steps into that direction.

Banks have fixed most of the pains for the user for some time now, from easy access to credit cards, to saving products, to investment and crypto, to Foreign Exchange and so on. Currently the challenge with banking is not the B2C sector but the B2B and B2B2C sectors. On the B2B2C we see a big hype for buy-now-pay-later type of products and we start to see more often than not partnerships between incumbents and new fintechs. On the B2B side of things we have some startups doing a good job around accounting and access to risk products but I feel the challenge is still around how we help the unbanked and underbanked to get access to products and services that are currently not available to them. By focusing on solving the challenges around core banking legacy systems and opening that to innovative ways to manage the relationship with customers and offer them the right type of the product through the right media you are solving a bigger problem of financial inclusion. (Full disclosure I am an Advisor to Oradian).

"THE CHALLENGE WITH BANKING IS NOT THE B2C SECTOR BUT THE B2B AND B2B2C SECTORS"

With Insurance we are in the early days, but I see a similar problem. We see new insurtechs being born a bit all over with a big focus on the consumer and with some very innovative approaches to it, wefox is currently building a prevention product that will help the customers decrease the need to insurance products by living a better life and making better decisions, and this is a great way to change insurance direction from a pain reliever to a partner giving you a better life. (Full disclosure I was the Chief Product Officer at wefox until recently and wefox has publicly announced that it is working with Samsung on a preventative product). Insurance is today where banking was 5 or 10 years ago - it was a pain to go to a bank branch and get the product we wanted, and today is very simple and everyone is very happy about their digital banking offering like N26 or Monzo’s, Insurance is still mostly seen as a pain topics, you only think about it when something bad happens to you, and I think the right moves are being made at the moment to change that and to bring the banking experience to insurance - you will be proud of your insurance and the impact of it in your life.

 

EMBEDDED
FINANCE

Embedded Finance and Banking-as-a-Service continue to unlock new ways to distribute banking services and features. Not only can non-financial players now embed increasingly more services into their customer journeys, but Fintech to Fintech cooperation is growing to offer combined services.

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SASHA DEWITT: EMPOWERING EMBEDDED INSURANCE

Sasha is an entrepreneur with a background in early stage startups. She began her career in medical research for over five years. In 2015, Sasha started working in operations at Kinsa, a healthcare IoT startup, and then moved to manage strategy and operations at Crediyo, a healthcare FinTech platform. Sasha co-founded Habit Analytics in 2018, where she is Chief Operating Officer.

How is Habit enabling embedded insurance?

Habit is an Insurtech company that enables insurers and consumer brands to launch new embedded insurance products that customers want to buy.

 

The way we enable embedded insurance is twostep. First, we leverage our relationships with insurers to get the best products and pricing available. Then, we use our platform which includes a robust Business Rule Engine that allows for rapid integration and deployment of new products with minimal development.

 

We work as a technological bridge between the insurers and brands to seamlessly embed these products within the brands websites or apps.

How do you see insurers prepared to answer to this growing trend, especially in the Portuguese case?

Insurance companies need to have digital-first experiences, and embedded insurance is a very efficient option to reach customers. The excitement about the growing trend of embedded insurance is justified by the potential increase in sales in new and existing products. Insurers can now reach more customers through more sales channels than ever before.
 

We’ve seen a particularly high interest from insurers in Portugal who are eager to sell more insurance products in a tech-forward way since this helps to maintain lower premium prices that are sustainable for the Portuguese market.

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Trust is a relevant trait, required in insurance purchases. Do you think it can also be built in embedded insurance journeys?

To offer these journeys, both insurers and brands are involved. Having the possibility of offering better pricing to consumers is very important but it is not the only key aspect. Easy-to-use claims management processes that allow consumers to modify their policies, submit claim requests, or upload receipts all through one portal are also important enhancements. These technology improvements contribute to building trust and comfort with consumers who previously had to deal with difficult to manage and frustrating processes.

Can all types of insurance be embedded? Or will they?

Embedded insurance is expanding into other insurance verticals. Products range from Smartphone Insurance and Appliance Insurance, to Invoice Protection, Travel, and Life Insurance, where trust and high quality customer experience is essential to the success of embedded products.

By being close to the final consumer and integrated within the industry partners systems, new sources of data will be available and will make it possible to reshape existing insurance policies while also creating new ones.

Do you believe the growing number of insurance marketplaces will pressure for more standardization or customization of these products?

With the ability to use new data sources to offer improved pricing and new products, we believe that the growing number of insurance marketplaces will allow for more customized products that target the exact needs of the consumers. For example, it is now possible to run a “phone health test” to test a used phone’s functionalities allowing partners to sell affordable and tailored insurance on used smartphones. This just wasn’t possible before.


There is a lot of innovation happening in embedded insurance and platforms are shortening the path
to make these types of products available to the market.

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GATHERING AROUND THE DE-FI VISION

As blockchain technology becomes more mainstream, it’s no longer a question of “if” legacy companies will catch on to the technology—it’s a question of “when.” While Decentralised Finance (DeFi) is still in its infancy, facing several challenges from unproven stablecoins to hacking incidents, some digital assets like Bitcoin and Ether continue amassing more adopters and growing market capitalisation every year.

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MANUEL NORDESTE: THE FUTURE OF THE INDUSTRY

Manuel is a Director at Fidelity Digital Assets SM, a business of Fidelity Investments, and leads Business Development outside of the United States. Before joining Fidelity in London last year, Manuel held roles in other well-established financial services firms, such as Goldman Sachs, Ernst & Young, and Credit Suisse. Previous to that, Manuel earned his Master of Engineering degree at the University of Southampton.

Fidelity is recognized as one of the top names in the financial industry. Where does the vision for Fidelity Digital Assets come from?

Our vision comes from a belief that blockchain technology and digital assets will be transformational over the coming years, not only for finance but for society more widely. This belief is firmwide and we have been working for nearly a decade on developing a blockchain ecosystem, with the goal of becoming a holistic solutions provider in digital assets. Our initial focus is on institutional solutions because we think a strong institutional base is the foundation upon which the asset class can sustainably scale over the long term, and thus ultimately enable broader adoption.
 

Today, Fidelity’s digital assets ecosystem includes: Fidelity Digital Assets, which provides custody, execution, and other enterprise services to institutions; Fidelity Digital Funds, which is focused on making digitally-native assets accessible to institutional investors through traditional investment vehicles; and the Fidelity Center for Applied Technology, which is the technology innovation hub for Fidelity Investments, leading pioneering research in blockchain but also in a variety of other emerging technology sectors.
 

The philosophy behind our businesses is agnostic to any specific digital asset, so we have built an infrastructure and capabilities that are flexible and allow for what continues to be exceedingly rapid growth in this space. We take our cues from our clients, so we initially focused on bitcoin because that’s the entry point into digital assets for many investors and was, for a long time, the only digital asset traded at a truly institutional scale. Many of our clients, however, are already looking to the future at the next generation of digital assets, which we find very exciting.

"BLOCKCHAIN TECHNOLOGY AND DIGITAL ASSETS WILL BE TRANSFORMATIONAL OVER THE COMING YEARS.”

How are institutions looking at the future of the industry?

Positively and in increasingly large numbers. Each year, we engage an independent research partner to survey institutional investors globally to get a better, unbiased view of their perceptions about and investment preferences for digital assets. Our most recent study, the 2021 Institutional Investor Digital Assets Study, showed that in Europe, the investors surveyed who already have an allocation to digital assets increased annually from 45% to 56%, and globally that number stands at around 52%. These are extraordinary numbers, particularly for a market that was relatively niche until the recent past.

In terms of outlook, we continue to see equally encouraging figures. This year’s study showed strong sentiment that digital assets have a role in a portfolio, with nearly 8 in 10 investors surveyed sharing this belief. Of investors that said they might invest in digital assets, about 76% will invest within a year’s time and nearly all (93%) within five years.


An observation that is often made about digital assets is that individual investors tend to lead the innovation in the industry. Indeed, our survey data at the institutional level seems to also back up that thesis. Family offices were early adopters and view digital assets as a strategic allocation, most commonly within their alternative assets allocations, but there is now also a sense of urgency among financial advisors, driven by increasing end-investor interest in these assets. In Europe, crypto hedge funds and venture capital funds, high-net-worth investors, and financial advisors are most actively adopting digital assets in portfolios today. We expected a high rate of adoption among crypto-native and venture firms (86% currently invested), but what was particularly interesting was how close the rate of adoption was among high-net-worth investors: 84% of highnet-worth investors already have some level of exposure.

Is it still about bitcoin or do you see the adoption of new currencies?

Bitcoin is often the first digital asset that investors gain exposure to and it’s the largest cryptocurrency by market cap. For a long time, it was the only digital asset with truly institutional-grade maturity, infrastructure, and liquidity. This is no longer the case as we have seen other cryptocurrencies, particularly Ether, continue to gain momentum over the past year. We now see investors starting to look into the Ethereum blockchain more intently, as they get more comfortable with the underlying technology.


Current Bitcoin and Ether ownership levels in Europe were higher than in the U.S. and have increased year-over-year, according to our survey. In Europe, bitcoin adoption among investors surveyed increased 13-percentage points to 46% from 33% in 2020, and Ethereum adoption more than doubled to 27% from 13%.


The growth of institutional-grade digital assets solutions has helped increase investor confidence in the market infrastructure, which also helps enable adoption beyond bitcoin, and we’re very proud to continue to be a part of that evolution.


Beyond cryptocurrencies, we are seeing signs of longer-term interest in different digital assets, such as tokenized securities. The regulatory landscape still needs to evolve to enable largescale institutional participation in this space, but there are constructive regulatory changes being proposed across a number of jurisdictions, notably in the European Union. We’re confident that innovation will continue to flourish in this area and, with it, further adoption of digital assets as a whole.

Do you see this allocation as a hedge to a core investment thesis or do you see it growing as a primary investment?

Suitability of an allocation to digital assets will depend on the individual client, their risk tolerance, time horizon and financial goals, as well as the investment thesis driving the allocation. Our 2021 Institutional Investor Digital Assets Study found that institutional investors find digital assets’ high potential upside, low correlation to other assets, and position as an innovative tech play among the most appealing characteristics, which broadly aligns with what have been the three predominant bitcoin investment theses: bitcoin as a hedge against inflation, as a portfolio diversifier or as an alternative.

"BITCOIN AS A HEDGE AGAINST INFLATION, AS A PORTFOLIO DIVERSIFIER OR AS AN ALTERNATIVE.”

Due to recent central bank monetary policy and the potential need to hedge against inflation, many investors and analysts have ascribed to the Bitcoinas- digital-gold narrative. Bitcoin’s properties that lead some to view it as an emerging store of value or as a “digital gold” are its scarcity, portability, verifiability, and divisibility. Clearly, its volatility may be at odds with a traditional definition of a store of value, so some choose to look at Bitcoin as a relatively economical call option on its future use as digital gold.

Other investors see the asset class as a portfolio diversifier and optimization tool. If you look at Bitcoin’s example, it’s had an asymmetric return profile in its young history relative to traditional asset classes. Adding a historically highly uncorrelated asset, like bitcoin, has the potential to provide a positive risk/return impact. It comes with volatility, which is why it’s important to continually look at it in the context of an overall portfolio.


And finally, because it’s an early-stage technology play, more and more investors are viewing digital assets as an alternative investment.

How do you see the evolution of CBDC, and how will the ‘fiat’ world adopt the principles behind de-fi?

Digital fiat money is an area of tremendous potential. At an institutional level, moving funds around the world to keep economies moving – from merchant payments to large inter-bank FX settlements – continues to be a challenging task, even for the largest correspondent banks in the world. Those inefficiencies not only introduce large amounts of risk into the financial system but are also increasingly at odds with a society that is ever more globally-integrated and 24/7. CBDCs have the potential to solve for that, so it’s not surprising that Central Banks around the world have been getting more vocal about their explorations, and we would expect that interest to increase.

It has also become clear, particularly over the past twelve months, that digital money can drive significant innovation. Even with their existing limitations with respect to legal ambiguity, credit quality, etc., fiat-backed stablecoins are some of the largest digital assets out there – US Dollarbacked coins are the third largest digital asset by market cap if you combine the top stablecoins – and they’ve been at the core of the DeFi growth trend we’ve observed in recent months. A CBDC would likely unlock significantly more liquidity and innovation, which would be a net-positive for broad adoption of digital assets.

As gatekeepers of the “fiat world”, central banks and other central authorities have been understandably cautious as they consider potential monetary and economic consequences of a CBDC, but the positive momentum seems to continue building up.

"IT HAS ALSO BECOME CLEAR, PARTICULARLY OVER THE PAST TWELVE MONTHS, THAT DIGITAL MONEY CAN DRIVE SIGNIFICANT INNOVATION”

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ROBERTO MACHADO: THE POTENTIAL OF DECENTRALIZED FINANCE

A product manager by heart, but with plenty of experience in management and entrepreneurship, Roberto has always been interested in creating new ventures. Co-founder of several companies, such as Subvisual, Deci and Finiam, among
others, Roberto agreed to share his experience in UTRUST, a payment platform that empowers buyers to pay with cryptocurrencies.

Why would you say de-fi is so interesting at the moment?

Unsurprisingly, people looking for a change fall in love with what is happening in DeFi land. It’s a massive technological experiment with billions of dollars in the mix. It brings clarity, freedom and transparency to a world where secrecy and behind-curtain-deals have ruled. On top of that, you have the opportunistic factor in creating wealth from the transactional activities. The space is full of stories of people turning a few hundred dollars of savings into millions.


Personally, I’m excited about the possibilities that it brings to create a more fair, accessible, and transparent financial system. Easy access to mechanisms that a few years ago were reserved for only the high net-worth individuals.

Many people see a lot of potential in the area, how do you see it existing with traditional finance?

The beautiful thing about DeFi is that everything is available to traditional finance. The other way around is not the case. I believe that traditional players will start embracing (or have already) some of the mechanisms provided by DeFi and help them grow in their businesses. Bridges connecting DeFi and traditional finance will be standard, and decentralized and centralized finance will certainly coexist.

What kind of new use cases are we unlocking with defi and what are the main benefits?

I’m super excited about digital identities, pseudonymity and access to products without revealing one’s identity but keeping a track record of one’s activity and reputation. It will unlock a diversity of use cases in an ever-growing digital world.


I see borrowing and lending without intermediaries using a multitude of digital assets and with a low overall costs of transactions as the cornerstone use case for DeFI growth. It also has the potential to be the most disruptive use case for struggling economies with a high percentage of underbanked individuals.


The emergence of decentralized organizations is also a use case that I’m deeply interested in and bullish on. The capacity to turn communities into large organizations without physical HQ, borders, and centralized decision structure has a huge disruptive potential and I predict that the largest organization in the world in 5 to 10 years will be a DAO.

You founded UTRUST several years ago, how were you seeing the industry back then compared to what you expect of it now?

Recalling those early days, one of the criticisms at the time was that while most cryptocurrencies were indeed an interesting fringe curiosity, but had no practical use. Fast forward a few years and the industry evolved, becoming more mature and many use cases have already proven themselves. Conversely in DeFi today, we have billion dollar protocols that already have real impact. They ran on top of the success and validation of cryptocurrency protocols. Money is flooding the space like never before, and there is already a sense of validation that we didn’t have back then.

What changed in your vision for UTRUST?

We continue to be focused on the evolution of online payments, making them more secure, fast, and accessible. However, if previously we were highly focused on bridging traditional and cryptocurrencies payments, we now are starting to look even beyond that. With the possible future of central bank digital currencies and stablecoins at hand, perhaps there is no need to have fiat currencies as part of this process whatsoever. We are not there yet, but we can already envision this future and are ready to explore and shape our vision to follow along.

 

ESG FEAR OF MISSING
OUT

The transition from CSR to ESG brought about tangibility to the topic, even though it is still one that is hard to navigate through. With new laws being passed, markets mutating and consumers’ views constantly changing, corporates and startups do not want to be left behind. Financial services want to answer the request for sustainability but are not yet certain of the path to follow. Measuring impact, transparent value chains, gender balance, circular economy and others dimension will become present in every product management decision

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TIAGO ANDRADE & EDUARDO REBELO: THE ASSET MANAGERS' PERSPECTIVE

Tiago and Eduardo co-founded RM Analytics, a SaaS platform that builds data-driven recommendations for asset managers, investment funds, and investment bank managers to create their ESG portfolios, which will pressure companies to be more sustainable.

You founded RM Analytics right after your Masters. Tell us a bit about the story, what potential did you see?

I had been working with startups since the beginning of my Bachelor, always with the purpose of creating one as soon as I was able to do so. Eduardo, my co-founder and CTO of RM Analytics is passionate about technology and strives to create products and services that bring value to our society.


Right at the end of our studies, we knew it was time to create a company as we immediately understood the power that finance can have in terms of environmental and social impact. We also believe that our generation’ mission is to reduce and reverse the impact we have on our environment. On this basis, we saw that bringing technology and sustainability for the finance world would be the best way to create value in our terms.


Just by looking at the main trends in the financial market, ESG stands out as the next thing to be solved. With the new regulations from governments getting in the scene, there is a great opportunity to bring technology to the financial world.


By connecting our expertises we aim to create a solution for asset managers, investment banks, and multinational companies that helps them bring profitable solutions aligned with the new sustainability goals.

How different is ESG from CSR, and how do you see this rising movement towards ESG in Portugal?

 

Put it this way: CSR is the precursor to ESG. It is incorporated internally in the company and exposed in press releases saying that the
company is making efforts to be more responsible and sustainable, without specifying objectively what those efforts are, and their magnitude.

 

ESG is similar to CSR but tries to be objective. It is about measurable goals such as, for example, a 20% decrease in the CO2 emissions made by a company within 3 years.

 

In summary, CSR thinks about accountability, ESG methodology makes its efforts measurable

How do you think clients perceive corporations’ investment in ESG?

 

Corporations’ investment in ESG is perceived in a positive way by clients. Everyone feels safer when buying something from a corporation that is openly sustainable and responsible in terms of ESG, because they provide a better image for the public. It is implied that a corporation that cares about ESG will be socially and governmentally responsible, which can be related to the way they treat their
clients and the quality of the service that they offer. And also, how trustworthy and reliable they are when making governmental decisions in their business, which can greatly benefit their clients.

 

Although it is a separate issue, you can see a similar effect in the way investors perceive corporations that invest on ESG. They trust those corporations because they are less prone to be involved in scandals, and they are more aware of the risks they might be exposed to.

Why is it difficult to navigate through ESG, and what is RM Analytics offering different for asset managers?

There are a lot of things that make it hard to navigate through ESG, for example, measuring the magnitude of the impact of different variables to give an accurate rating to an entity.
 

We can understand that by looking at the main ESG score providers that don’t agree with each other in many companies, since they assume different things to be important for ESG. Their evaluations are also very relative, applying bigger or lower weights to different aspects of the ESG as they want. With this, ESG scores are not based on explanatory and rational arguments, but instead on the credibility of the score provider, something that was previously proven that is not enough.
 

Another difficulty is to keep track of everything that is happening in a company for asset managers to update their portfolios regularly and predicting possible ESG scandals that can have a negative or positive effect on a company’s value. To solve or at least simplify these problems, RM Analytics provides an unbiased tool for asset managers, that aims to agglomerate the scattered ESG data that exists in the web and provide mostly explanatory data in the most user-friendly way possible, to make their job much easier and less time consuming, and for them to be able to provide explanations for investment decisions using the data available on our tool.

 

It is relevant to emphasize the fact that we go as deep as social media, blogs, and reddit to collect data to spot investment trends and possible ESG
scandals before they are published on the news.

Asset managers also have the possibility to ask for specific services on our platform, that we will evaluate and provide, if it is possible, and they can customize the data that they see according to their standards, so they can find more relevant information.

What has been/should be the role of regulation in fostering companies to hold ESG objectives?

Regulation has had a fair impact in the past, but is evolving and becoming more objective, clear, and demanding.


This way companies will know exactly what to do according to the regulation, and there will be a bigger pressure to hold their ESG objectives, so they can be ahead or head-to-head with the competition and continue to be seen as a good investment for asset managers. This is the best way to foster companies to keep up with the regulation, by making it easier for them and their competition to know how to behave accordingly, turning the perspective of not holding their ESG objectives and keep having a successful business, almost hopeless. In Europe we will see a big change in terms of ESG regulations with EU taxonomy, which will be created by the EU in order to solve some of the issues that still exist in this area.

Can a business have as core purpose its positive impact on society, and at the same time be a profitable asset for its investors? And how?

Larry Fink, BalckRock CEO, sent a letter to CEOs this year saying “Over the course of 2020, we have seen how purposeful companies, with better environmental, social, and governance (ESG) profiles, have outperformed their peers. During 2020, 81% of a globally-representative selection of sustainable indexes outperformed their parent benchmarks.”
 

In RM analytics, we believe there is no question that when a company aims to create a positive impact on society, it can and will be profitable. In fact, the main purpose of every company should be exactly to create a positive impact on society and thus be paid for that. What we are looking at now is that companies which end up creating too many bad consequences due to their activities are penalized by their stakeholders.

To wrap up, the markets are looking for sustainable options to continue to create value and bring profits to shareholders. We are here to give them exactly that, in the most efficient way possible, which will turn us into a profitable asset.

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JOANA ALVES: HOW CAN COMPANIES BECOME SUSTAINABLE COMPANIES

Joana worked as a lawyer in Madrid, London and New York. After witnessing the devastating effects of hurricane Sandy, Joana left everything to dedicate herself to a greater cause: sustainability. In 2018 Joana entered the startup world and in the beginning of 2019 co-founded APlanet, a platform that allows organisations to easily manage, track and showcase their ESG and sustainability.

How did APlanet start and what motivated you to start the company?

The project emerged in early 2019 in Spain, as we saw not only a business opportunity and a growing market, but most importantly a way to facilitate the positive impact of organisations and thus contribute to creating a better world. We met in other emerging tech startups within the social impact and sustainability sectors, and it was clear for us that organisations were increasingly looking at how to manage their environmental, social and governance (ESG) or extra-financial aspects, due to several factors such as new EU regulation or pressure from stakeholders such as investors, clients, and employees.


It was also clear that there was no easy way to manage these aspects within companies. Most of CSR or sustainability managers say that their biggest challenge is the difficulty of assessing their impacts and results. At the same time, most of their time is spent on data collection, performance measurement, reporting and risk analysis. We saw that this was because sustainability and ESG data management was still dominated by manual solutions (paper and pen, excel, email) and that through specialised technology, they could automate the tedious processes involved in managing information and free up this time to improve their sustainability strategies.
 

We designed the first prototype, launched our product early, and iterated it based on early customer usage and industry evolution. Just 2 years later, APlanet is now present in Spain, Portugal, Italy, Brazil and the UK with over 100 customers worldwide.

In your view, how can ESG concerns be addressed through a corporate’s strategy?

Firstly, ESG concerns have to be put at the centre of any business. Companies should consider them a top priority and integrate them into their business models.


Unfortunately, for too long ESG aspects have been viewed as something ancillary, to be delegated to a CSR department which was almost a separate entity from the business and that was not of concern to leadership teams. Nevertheless, in today’s world, a business’ long-term success depends on having a good ESG performance. Secondly, business leaders must adopt a proactive approach to holistically integrate ESG into their business. This effort should encompass corporate governance, risk management, and the environment, to name a few, to help them incorporate ESG into their operations and value chains. Companies should develop a strategy that is guided by an overarching vision and mission, and incorporate ESG into strategic planning.

Knowing so many examples of sustainable companies, where should companies start?

All successful sustainable companies should start by being clear on what their purpose is and by conducting their materiality assessment. In other words, companies should start by identifying, prioritising and validating the ESG issues that are aligned with their business activities in order to be able to optimise the use of their resources. It’s not the company’s responsibility to solve all the world’s problems. They must focus on the issues that they are best placed to solve.

"ALL SUCCESSFUL SUSTAINABLE COMPANIES SHOULD START BY BEING CLEAR ON WHAT THEIR PURPOSE IS AND BY CONDUCTING THEIR MATERIALITY ASSESSMENT."

How can companies maximize their ESG impact and measure it?

After identifying and prioritising the sustainability issues that will allow the company to maximise its positive impact, it’s important that leadership are onboard to help push the ESG agenda transversely across the organisation. A great place to start is by implementing infrastructure and processes that allow for the efficient collection and transparency of information around environmental, social and governance issues. What is your carbon footprint? What is the risk of corruption? How are you performing in gender equality and diversity issues? And so on. This way company leaders can begin to understand what their impacts are and what needs to be improved. Due to the complexity of dealing with this type of data, it cannot be done efficiently and accurately without investing in technology and expertise.


Additionally, in the past years the main trend was for companies to create ad hoc initiatives to generate a positive impact, even if they were not that significant. Nevertheless, the market is now becoming aware that the best way for companies to maximize their impact is by transforming their business models and use their resources and competitive advantage in order to serve wider society.

What do you believe to be Society’s role? Will customers put ESG in the center of their decisions?

All the data points to consumers placing more and more importance on ESG issues in their day-today decisions. Sometimes we think that people are powerless because corporations are so large, but now more than ever, changes in consumer demand are beginning to affect the corporate bottom line as they are increasingly aware of ESG practices. As individual investors, as customers, and as employees we have large power to shape businesses, and that power is larger today than it has ever been because, for example, of social media.


Society now has higher expectations of the companies behind the products to operate their businesses ethically and responsibly, and demands greater transparency about how they conduct their business. As an example, millenials are willing to pay more for products and services regarded as sustainable or coming from socially and environmentally responsible companies.

What do you believe to be Society’s role? Will customers put ESG in the center of their decisions?

All the data points to consumers placing more and more importance on ESG issues in their day-today decisions. Sometimes we think that people are powerless because corporations are so large, but now more than ever, changes in consumer demand are beginning to affect the corporate bottom line as they are increasingly aware of ESG practices. As individual investors, as customers, and as employees we have large power to shape businesses, and that power is larger today than it has ever been because, for example, of social media.


Society now has higher expectations of the companies behind the products to operate their businesses ethically and responsibly, and demands greater transparency about how they conduct their business. As an example, millenials are willing to pay more for products and services regarded as sustainable or coming from socially and environmentally responsible companies.

Therefore, companies must show, with hard numbers, that they are listening to not only their investors but also their customers and employees by integrating environmental, social and governance risks and opportunities into their business strategies.

In your view, will all companies become ESG companies?

In my view, if companies do not engage in ESG properly, they will eventually disappear. According to the European Green Deal, by 2050, all member states will have circular economies, having achieved net-zero emissions. Companies are already experiencing the financial consequences of failing to act on sustainability as many countries have implemented regulations, such as carbon taxes, and the financial and banking sectors have integrated ESG rules in their funding criteria. As an example, the only way stakeholders can avoid poor lending conditions and exclusion from capital markets is to show evidence of having developed robust sustainability and ESG strategies.
 

Besides that, there is growing evidence that companies with higher ESG performance are likely to have better financial performance, talent retention, and long-term value creation.

Most importantly, all companies should become ESG companies as their commitment is fundamental to build a more sustainable and resilient future.

Antonio Miguel.jpg
ANTÓNIO MIGUEL: INVESTING IN A SUSTAINABLE FUTURE

António is the founder of MAZE, an impact investment firm. Gathering over 10 years of experience in impact investment in the UK, Canada and continental Europe, António is also professor at Nova SBE. António was an analyst at Social Finance UK.

With ESG becoming a priority across industries, do you believe organizations are feeling the pressure of missing out?

I certainly do. Organizations of all types and sizes are realising that integrating environmental, social and governance criteria in the way they do business and develop solutions is actually a great contributor to better unit economics.

The rationale is simple: consumer preferences are shifting towards sustainability (hence, lower customer acquisition costs); talent wants to work for purposeful organizations (hence better productivity and less turnaround); investors are allocating more and more AUM on ESG assets (hence lowering the cost of capital). Organizations who have impact at their core will ultimately benefit from these macro tailwinds.

How do you see organizations effectively adapting to ESG objectives?

There are many ways in which this can happen. Most often, ESG integration takes place at process level, whereby an organization adapts its modus operandi to be more sustainable in terms of its operations and value chain. However, the main opportunity for true adaptation lies at the core business, by developing goods and services that contribute to addressing social and environmental challenges, whether through better access (e.g. affordability or wider segments of clients) or through reduced carbon footprints.

How do see Portugal in the world race for sustainability?

Portugal has the chance to lead by example, not because of its size but due to its ability to serve as a blueprint for others to replicate and scale. Our country is a perfect testbed for innovation, given the technological readiness of our companies,
qualified human resources and inherent global ambition of our entrepreneurs. As a result, Portugal can lead by example and position itself as the place where sustainability innovation is tested and proven.

"OUR COUNTRY IS A PERFECT TESTBED FOR INNOVATION, GIVEN THE TECHNOLOGICAL READINESS OF OUR COMPANIES, QUALIFIED HUMAN RESOURCES AND INHERENT GLOBAL AMBITION OF OUR ENTREPRENEURS"

Could you tell us about Maze’s investment thesis?

Our investment thesis is that investing to solve social and environmental challenges is one of the biggest economic opportunities of our times.

 

There is a new wave of businesses enabled by technology, whose revenue models are directly linked to positive social and environmental outcomes. In essence, solutions where impact and profit are mutually reinforcing. Those are the solutions that we back through our various areas of work: acceleration, outcome-based funding and venture capital.

How does Maze analyze its investments with regards to impact?

At MAZE we adopt the Impact Management Project, a global framework used by thousands of investors and institutions such as the UN, World Bank and others. We rather focused on managing impact, instead of solely measuring it, because it is fully embedded in all organizations we work with and it’s fundamental to manage it proactively on an continuous basis.
 

For us at MAZE, impact is not something binary (yes or no). There is a plethora of impact strategies, each with suitable financial instruments. We strive to offer impact entrepreneurs a full-suite of tools adapted to each impact strategy they pursue.