Now, though it maybe hard to predict what innovations PayPal’s platform will enable, it’s safe to say that the payment industry is going to change dramatically. As money becomes completely digitised, infinitely transferable, and friction-free, it will again revolutionise how we think about our economy.
The author talks excitedly about PayPal’s new open platform X.com and how it is poised to change the current payments landscape which continues to be dominated by the credit card companies. PayPal launched this new approach late last year with their first developers conference Innovate09. Here’s what PayPal President Scott Thompson had to say about the conference:
As you might imagine, given my views on both the enormous opportunity that exists to disrupt an increasingly anachronistic financial services industry and my enthusiasm for “platform-based” business models, it is quite satisfying to see someone like PayPal take on this opportunity in such an aggressive manner. Not only do they help to validate the opportunity – bringing both human and financial capital to bear – but they can capture the attention and imagination of a generation of engineers and entrepreneurs in a way that we simply could not (at least not yet), even if we had a very large amount of capital to deploy. And that can only be good news, except perhaps for the management and shareholders of dominant incumbents like Visa:
â€œWhat we witnessed was truly a perverse form of competition,â€ said Ronald Congemi, the former chief executive of Star Systems, one of the regional PIN-based networks that has struggled to compete with Visa. â€œThey competed on the basis of raising prices. What other industry do you know that gets away with that?â€
Of course payment networks are classic “two-sided” markets, with strong natural tendencies towards monopoly providers (due to strong network effects and high barriers to entry. Further the structure of these markets allows providers to levy charges on only one side of the market (merchants) while seemingly offering the other side a free or inexpensive service. Last fall The Economist explained why, in such a market, regulation is often ineffective and can often actually produce worse outcomes in some cases:
The case for tight regulation seems strong, at first glance. In rich countries, where paying by plastic is now commonplace, the firms that run card-payment systems look like other utilities, which have long been subject to price caps. Visa and MasterCard are associations run on behalf of their member banks. Competition officials are usually wary of such shared ventures but accept that it is more efficient for rival banks to band together in one network in order to process payments and settle accounts. A common fee structure stops members from abusing the rule that retailers must take all cards issued with the associationâ€™s brand. It also obviates the need for countless bilateral deals between thousands of banks. Even so, regulators still fret that banks might use their combined heft to overcharge.
They need to tread carefully. Judging how much credit-card firms ought to charge for their services is trickier even than setting the right price for water or energy supplies. That is because the payment-card system is a â€œtwo-sidedâ€ market. What sets this type of enterprise apart is that it caters to two distinct groups of customers and each sort benefits the more custom there is from the other sort. Consumers will sign up for a credit-card brand if it is widely accepted as a means of payment. Merchants will more willingly accept a card if lots of consumers use it.
In my opinion, the best way to ensure good value to all the participants in the payments value chain is to encourage and facilitate competition: new approaches, new ideas, new entrants. PayPal has long been the poster-child for “start-up” innovation in financial services, but had seemed to have lost its way in stuck in the corporate bureaucracy of eBay. It’s great to see them breaking free of that and striving to re-ignite their creative and entrepreneurial juices. (Although I still think they would probably be better off independent of eBay…even better, how about a merger of an independent PayPal and an independent AWS: now that is a stock I would love to own!)
For several years now, it has been dead obvious to me that new and exponentially improving information and communications technologies would create the foundation upon which bright, ambitious entrepreneurs would build new companies and business models that will disrupt the moribund incumbents and their 20th century business models. And that’s why I started Nauiokas Park. We’ve made some good decisions along the way, and we’ve learned a lot. But one thing we got spectacularly wrong was our naive belief that leading incumbents in the financial services sector would embrace our vision and our proposition as an opportunity to hedge the strategic risk of continuing to rely (exclusively) on their existing business models. That they would look at the management failures and massive value destruction suffered by the traditional media and telecommunications companies and look to deploy multiple strategies to mitigate the risk of being caught unawares in the same way. But it would seem that they are uninterested. A toxic cocktail of hubris, myopia, inertia and institutional politics seems too often to blind them to the risks posed to their continued hegemony. As if admitting Christmas exists – let alone voting for it – would make it’s inevitable arrival more likely.
Five years ago I wrote a thought piece called ‘Through the Looking Glass’ to provoke non-linear thinking and foster debate on the possible future direction of the financial services industry and market structures. (I later turned it into a short video called AmazonBay.) It was a retrospective told from the point of view of an observer in 2015. It was never meant to be taken literally – in particular with respect to (most of) the specific corporate mergers – rather I used these as a concise and dramatic way of highlighting the possible or even probable consequence of the deep secular currents that I felt would inevitably work to reshape the landscape.
(December 2015:) …The global securities and investment banking groups that dominated the market in the last century are now extinct. In their place we have an intelligent galaxy of new specialist advisory, investment management, algorithmic software and consulting firms networked with a universe of powerful transaction facilitation exchanges. Banks now exist only as giant regulated pools of capital.
Following the sweeping banking reforms proposed last week by President Obama, and the fact that we are now halfway to this hypothetical future, I thought it might be worth doing a quick mark-to-market of how my ideas have lined up with reality.
stock exchange consolidation and emergence of new exchange venues (A-) pretty close both in outcomes and timing – the major stock exchanges have been merging a-go-go while at the same time new trading venues have proliferated, and exchange (or quasi-exchange) trading of new asset classes continues to develop strongly.
sports/outcome trading in US legitimized (B-) my narrative had this happening in February 2010, not there yet but Congressman Frank’s bill might open the doors later this year and the trend seems to be on the right track and will probably be signed into law by Obama (!); as an aside was way early on a Betfair IPO…
giant bank mergers followed by break-up of vertically integrated universal banks, with Goldman Sachs leading the way (A) we have seen the big get mostly even bigger (RBS/ABN, BoA/ML, Barclays/Lehman…and while JPMorgan didn’t buy MS, they did get Bear Stearns and WaMu); GS hasn’t yet broken itself into three as predicted but I’m still confident it will lead the way when/if industry structure changes, and more generally the trend of regulatory thinking across the globe is definitely a trailing wind for the kind of change I envisioned. The 2010-2012 timeframe for the re-organization of global banks is probably a bit early but plausibility has certainly gone up (from near zero) significantly since I wrote this.
more (and more) algorithmic / automated intermediation of markets (A-) this was obliquely referenced in my article but was really at the heart of the idea that this fictional ‘AmazonBay’ platform would end up dominating this aspect of markets; clearly the market is heading this way – in fact it may seem obvious now but most people did not fully understand this even as little as five years ago.
Amazon anything (B+) The jury is probably still out on this one, but in my view it is looking increasingly likely that Amazon.com will become a giant of the next economic paradigm; whether or not they use their vast intellectual and technological resources to participate more directly in the financial services arena is not yet clear, but I can tell you the only ‘big company’ job I would not hesitate for two minutes to accept if it were offered would be CEO or CSO of Amazon Financial Services (AFS) Jeff are you listening? 😉
(Note: Remember I used real company names mainly to add vividness to the ideas underlying the narrative. The key concept I wanted to convey with this GS break-up vignette was that the vertically integrated model would decompose under the light of new technology and regulations into a (technology-centric) Sales & Trading component, a more focused, relationship driven Advisory component (cf. the emerging proliferation of pure advisory ’boutiques’) and independent, conflict-free Asset Management businesses (cf. the secular growth of hedge funds and Barclays sale of BGI, etc.))
(February 2009:) …Reacting to new competition, Goldman Sachs becomes the first major investment bank to break itself up. Securities and distribution are sold to Ebay Financial Markets, while the remaining activities are split into two new companies: GS Advisory Services and GS Capital management…
eBay anything (D) Despite the fact that the actual companies cited are more symbolic than literal, the choice of eBay to represent the cutting edge of online, data-driven, algorithmic marketplaces was simply awful. To the extent that it risks distracting the viewer from the key, underlying messages. It is now entirely implausible and so instead of bridging the cognitive gap, the inclusion of eBay simply extends it. Thank goodness this is somewhat mitigated by my inclusion of Amazon.com (see above) as the other new markets avatar but they come late to the narrative…
sports trading developing as an asset class (C+) this clearly hasn’t happened, although there are one or two small funds and firms offering managed accounts; and a vibrant ecosystem of professional traders and the associated software has emerged around the Betfair and other exchange platforms. In my defense, I picked sports as just a provocative and emotionally attractive example of the idea that – enabled by technology – a vast array of new tradable markets in goods but also outcomes, would emerge. Work in progress.
credit crunch and asset bubbles (D) although the overall purpose of the piece was to provoke thinking on the sustainability of existing business models in financial services in the face of radically shifting underlying technological, economic and demographic trends, I failed to include a thread touching on the possibility of catastrophic systemic discontinuities arising as a result of the prevailing market structure and business models. It’s a significant ommission, especially as at the time of writing this I was in the process of exiting my former responsibilities as a senior executive in the credit business due in part to my increasing discomfort with the sustainability and prudence of the risk pricing in that market.
All in all, I would give myself a mid-term grade of B+/A- with room both to improve and to slip back. Mostly on the right track, especially with respect to big themes but perhaps a bit optimistic in terms of some of the timelines. What do you think? Better? Worse? To be fair, the correct measuring stick is not so much whether or not I was right or wrong, even in terms of ‘macro’ predictions but whether or not this article and video helped catalyze serious discussion, debate and thought about the potential for disruptive and non-linear change in the financial services industry. Alas I have no idea how one could even attempt to measure that, but any thoughts or anecdotes you might have with respect to this would of course be appreciated.
If I had a billion dollars. (If I had a billion dollars.)
Well I would buy you a Skype. (I would buy you a Skype.)
I would buy a Twitter for your Skype (so you could tweet and chat and call all your friends.)
The news has left many in the industry wondering if eBay will put Skype, which it paid a hefty $2.6 billion to buy in 2005, on the auction block. Donahoe had said last year that eBay would consider selling the business unit if it couldn’t be integrated with its auction or PayPal payment system.
And according to statements made during the conference call, it looks like Donahoe doesn’t think there is much the Skype technology can do to help eBay’s other businesses. When asked what eBay was doing to add shareholder value to Skype, Donahoe admitted that “the synergies between Skype and the other parts of our portfolio are minimal,” the paper said.
Well if it were up to me, I’d sell eBay – maybe Ken Lewis at BoA might be interested, would look innovative and might distract the federales from the Afghanistan that is the Merrill acquisition – and keep Skype. eBay could have been the Betfair of consumer goods, instead it became the Microsoft of marketplaces…
Anyhow, I’d buy Skype. Maybe not for $2 billion, but I think it is potentially a very valuable asset and I’m convinced that it is not even scratching the surface of its potential. The problem is that they seem to be trapped in linear thinking with respect to their business model. Selling minutes and add-value telco services. A telco. An alternative and innovative telco. But a telco. Nothing wrong (well you know what I mean…) with telcos but if you want to buy a telco, buy BT – its a lot cheaper. And its not just management (that can’t think out of the box) – it’s the press, analysts etc:
So an acquirer would likely be buying Skype for its 370 million registered users, which is nothing to sneeze at. But the big question is how much money can be made from these users? Sure, people love using Skype’s free services, but most of its revenue is made from a small portion of its users. Skype generates most of its revenue from its SkypeOut service, which charges users to make calls from the Skype service to regular landline phones and cell phones.
The SkypeOut revenue stream is sufficient to sustain Skype’s business model today, but as IP networks are deployed throughout the world and all communications becomes IP-enabled, there will be fewer opportunities to make money from connecting Skype calls to the regular phone network. What’s more, as Skype adds more subscribers, those users are more likely to talk to one another over the free Skype-to-Skype network rather than paying to call these friends and family on regular phones. Of course, it will likely take years for this scenario to play out, but this fact could color a potential acquirer’s willingness to pay a premium for the service.
“As more people adopt Skype, there’s potential for the asset to peak in value,” Friedland said. “It won’t likely happen for another five to eight years. And unless Skype comes up with a new meaningful revenue driver, it could start to decline.”
370 million registered users. Three hundred and freakin’ seventy million. And growing. Fast. And more people joining is a bad thing?!?
Let’s just pause here for a moment. So Mr. Friedland, if Skype ended up having say one or two billion – BILLION – registered users and so like became the de facto communications substrate for the vast majority of the connected citizens of the planet, that would be…ummmm…bad?
There are a hundred and one ways to bootstrap amazing, profitable, cash generative businesses off of Skype’s brilliant platform and installed base, and they are all in my new book: Managing Skype for Dummies. Actually, I didn’t write it. And it’s usual title is the Cluetrain Manifesto but still…
1. Markets are conversations.
I don’t know what Meg was thinking (those of you who listened to the eBay analyst webcast and pored over the accompanying presentation the day eBay announced it was buying Skype will surely remember that at the end of both you were even more confused than at the beginning…) But even if it was by accident, she was on to something (admittedly she did get a bit punchy with the pricing, although if she had paid in paper instead of cash…) It’s just that that something wasn’t being able to call EvilRabbit467 and haggle over the price of an iPod nano to ‘close the deal’…
Seriously if I was the captain of some vast private investment capital pool, I would be sitting around with my partners and a handful of clever young associates and putting together a plan for Skype. But if I were Donahoe, I’d spin Skype out to my shareholders as a separate listing, this would create value and possibly more importantly, especially in these interesting times, give Skype an explicit valuation and an acquisition currency. Then it gets interesting.
British MPs who oversee the Department for Culture, Media and Sport are a sensible bunch, with a keen eye for special pleading. But they’ve erred badly today. In a report on online ticket touting, the MPs have today given a strong recommendation for a levy on the resale of tickets for live events. (Report here.)
Resellers – and therefore punters – will be forced to pay this levy, and a levy collection agency would need to be established to distribute the tax. There’s no recommendation that the levy is returned to performers, as the MMF (Music Managers’ Forum) has proposed. As it stands, the levy will merely oil the machinery of the primary market: the promoters and their agents. This is a quite amazing stunt to pull off – and should serve as a wake-up call to everyone…
…there’s a very healthy after-market for tickets, sold through auction sites such as eBay and bulletin boards such as Gumtree and Craigslist. This is exactly what the internet is supposed to be good at: eliminating wrinkles caused by consumers having a lack of information. And it works very well.
Yet the major promoters have very nearly succeeded in banning this market outright. Instead they’ve won themselves a “right” not enjoyed by book authors, songwriters or composers – or even the RIAA! (Authors, publishers and record companies don’t get a cent from the second-hand sales of books and records.) …
The Committee said it wants the secondary market to continue, and declared itself reluctant to intervene. But it did so anyway, giving credence to a long laundry list of grievances raised by the mega-promoters, including Harvey Goldsmith. Goldsmith wants to extend his huge market power in the primary market by banning the secondary market, and does so by conflating issues such as fraud with touting. Of course, there’s already legislation in place to deal with fraud. But the ticketopolists want to fight fraud the cheap way: getting us to pay a tax, rather than using better technology or employing a few more people to check against abuse. And in this case, they’ve won an improbable victory.
I’ve only had the chance so far to read the summary or the report (but have printed out the whole c. 200 page pdf to read later) but I can’t for the life of me figure out how they managed to reach their final recommendations, which seem to contradict their own findings (!):
While the superficially obvious solutionâ€”of increasing ticket prices to whatever level the market will bearâ€”might keep all the potential profit within the industry and effectively eliminate the secondary market, it would run counter to the industries’ pricing policies which aim to make tickets affordable by their grass roots and genuine fans upon whose continuing interest and attendance the long term wellbeing of the industries depends. [Give me a break!!! There are so many holes in this argument I don’t know where to start…] We did not receive any evidence from the grass roots or fan bases complaining that they were unable to obtain or afford tickets for their chosen events…
…We also believe that the existing situation whereby large profits can be made on the secondary market with no benefit to the organisers or owners of the primary rights is unfair and must be addressed. [Why????? Change the primary market price if you think it is wrong!!!!] …
…We welcome the initiative of the Music Managers Forum to seek agreement for a voluntary scheme under which sellers of tickets in the secondary market would pay a proportion of the profit to the original organisers to be distributed in the same way as the original amount paid. In return, the organisers would recognise the legitimacy of the secondary seller and not seek to invalidate the ticket being sold. [So the secondary market participants pay the primary underwriters for their inability to correctly price and risk manage their inventory…wow. Wow! All I can say is I wish we had that kind of mechanism when I was underwriting bonds for a living!] Such a scheme would recognise the right of those in the entertainment and sports industries to a share in the profit made by others out of the events for which they are responsible in the same way that creators of artist works now benefit from sales of their works through resale royalties. We believe that a scheme of this kind offers the best chance of meeting the concerns of event organisers while still allowing the secondary market to operate unfettered and we strongly encourage all those involved to consider it seriously.
May I suggest an alternative model? A simple one. Liberalize and regulate the secondary market. Full stop. Fraud and manipulative and abusive trading is proscribed with both criminal and civil penalties depending on the situation (analogous to securities markets.) And the market decides. I guarantee you the world will not come to an end. Events will continue to be underwritten. Artists and performers will end up being fairly paid (sometimes a lot more, sometimes a bit less but closer to “fair market value” in all cases), consumers will be happier, and underwriters and distributors will make a decent living and innovation will thrive.
The crowning irony is that folks like Mr. Goldsmith would probably continue to be very successful – and the Sharpe Ratio of their business vastly improved – in such a new world. After all they still have their relationships which in an efficient electronic market paradigm generally become even more valuable insofar as they cannot be industrialized and yet can be monetized against a much more efficient infrastructure. But fear and habit are powerful ghosts…and change is well, scary. Like the recorded music industry before them, rather than clinging for dear life to the status quo, major promoters should be leveraging their position of market knowledge and leadership to participate and profit from change: partnering with and investing in innovative new participants and business models. And not leave it until it is too late.
I just wish I had know about the report. I would have liked to submit my Tickets & Markets Part 1 and Part 2 as evidence…
…efficient organized markets in tickets for events have not been allowed to develop despite the fact that: (a) the existing market structure is horribly inefficient to the detriment of both buyers and sellers and (b) a vastly more efficient, tried and tested, robust market structure which could very easily be applied to ticket markets already exists and furthermore, especially given modern web technology would be easily adaptable to ticket markets.
Basically they both point to the fact that secondary markets for tickets exist (despite laws and restrictions against them; these only serve to make them work badly…) and that this is a contributing factor to unnecessarily disfunctional primary markets:
(Joe Cohen on the sale of Led Zepplin tickets, FT Sep 21, 2007)
The circus that has ensued would dent anyone’s confidence in promoters. A crashed website, a ballot with a window of less than a week to enter and no guarantee of a ticket at the end of it. Add to this, of course, the blood-spitting opposition of such promoters to reselling your ticket if you turn out to be unable to attend. “Be patient,” was the concert spokesperson’s answer to the debacle. Be realistic, is my response, and look to the US for a healthier way of ticket allocation.
(John Wilson on getting tickets to the Police concert)
Where to get tickets at this late stage? Well, at this point I did some digging around and was astonished by the results.
– Ticketmaster still had tickets at Â£90 face value plus booking fee of over Â£10.
– Seatwave and Viagago, as well as similar ticket trading exchanges had an abundance of tickets. These were trading at an average price of Â£112 on top of which had to be added Seatwave charge on the buyer of Â£15 or so. This was for tickets and not hospitality packages
– ebay also had lots of ticket on buy it now and auction. All were evidently looking for a premium.
– Gumtree also had an abundance of tickets, but these were mostly at a discount to face value eg Â£90 tickets for Â£45
Why such a wide variety of prices for a relatively homogeneous item? Moreover, if there were still tickets in the primary market (Ticketmaster), why would anyone pay a premium in the secondary market?
Well, there are several factors to consider
– I bothered to search; some people don’t bother to scan the many “trading venues”
– trust; I trust that Ticketmaster has the genuine article. Seatwave & Co have refund policies (assuming you believe that they can honour them) and assurance re delivery. ebay has a ratings system. Gumtree is dealing in the wild west with persons unknown as is the case with other websites advertising tickets.
– time to “expiry”. As the event approach, people become more desperate to sell which can quickly drive down prices if there is an abundance of tickets evident. But even if scarce, you still want rid of them in time. Some people “blink” sooner than others.
– booking fees can add a considerable premium onto the price, so some tickets advertised above “face value” simply reflect attempts to recoup booking fees.
Much to the ticket industry’s annoyance, there is clearly an active secondary market, but despite their lobbying efforts, the UK Govt is loathe to outlaw such markets, questioning why live entertainment should receive special concessions and how is the consumer harmed by the current situation.
As I pointed out in Part 1, and is implicitly underlined by these two gentleman, a healthy – transparent, liquid, well-regulated – secondary market adds enormous value to the price discovery and distribution process of any (transferable) good or service. So why is their so much resistance to free and fair secondary markets in tickets? Well, last year at the futures industry’s annual Burgenstock conference I was speaking on a panel – discussing the future potential of markets in sports risk – and the conversation gravitated towards the question of why so many people seemed to have such a hard time seeing the potential for new types of markets and, worse, why they should not stand actively in the way of these developing. A gentleman in the audience reminded everyone (I for one had not been previously aware of this historical gem) that in the early 20th century – and then especially from the period starting with the “Great Crash” and lasting until the early 1960s, secondary markets in equities were seen by much disdain by many in the establishment and were at best tolerated and at worse actively argued against. In this context, the NYSE was seen as a second-class citizen in the financial firmament and traders and speculators in shares were considered an untouchable caste by the brahmin bankers. The moral of the story: that resistance to change and the dispersal of power engendered by transparency and access to information have been resisted by the “gatekeepers” since the beginning of time. (Just ask Martin Luther!) Equally, this resistance has always proved futile and those that embraced transparency and change, usually not only survived but prospered in the new paradigm. (The mystery is why the strategy of active immobilism continues to find disciples given its horrendous historical track record of inevitable failure…I’ll leave that one to the sociologists amongst you!) Perez would frame this situation as a disconnection of the techno-economic paradigm (what is possible) from the socio-institutional paradigm (what people in power can stomach.)
But I’m an optimist. So whereas I know the road will be bumpy and resistance will not melt away with a whimper, I’m convinced that the market for tickets – both primary and secondary – will undergo a transformation that take months and years, not decades. The foundation of my conviction is that the market model (and many if not all the mechanisms and processes) exists already (in the shape of the capital markets, see Part 1) and needs only minor adaptations to serve the needs of all the participants (‘wholesale’ and ‘retail’) in the markets for tickets for entertainment events. And indeed, the entrepreneurs and innovators are moving forward at this very moment: a number of ticket brokers and/or exchanges exist such as StubHub, viagogo, seatwave and of course eBay (amongst many others); major primary resellers like Ticketmaster; and aggregators such as Tickex (who in a highly fragmented market such as tickets have a great business model in my opinion.)
I’m in no way anything close to being an expert on these firms and their business models, however my impression is that in general they have focussed on the fulfillment process (super important of course) rather than the risk management process. Of course you need both, but in my opinion, the potential (financial) opportunity arising from intelligently revolutionizing the risk management (underwriting and distribution) process is even greater than the exciting rewards available for these companies that are optimizing the matching and fulfillment process. This is certainly an opportunity I will have my eye on going forward. (Indeed, I look forward to learning more about John’s portfolio company he alludes to at the end of his post linked to above.) Rather than delve deep into the myriad opportunities that exist to transpose the capital markets paradigm on to ticket markets, let me leave you with a fragment of a possible future:
The year is 2021 and Oasis has announced they will be doing a reunion concert at Wembley Stadium to celebrate the first year-on-year drop in CO2 emissions in the history of the modern world. The $7 billion Live Entertainment Fund – a leading hedge fund focused on underwriting and investing in live sporting and entertainment events – has underwritten the entire ticket offering at a price of Â£20 million and will work with a number of ticket distributors to syndicate and distribute the tickets over a week, one month prior to the concert, using the online bookbuilding capabilities of Tickex Group. The fund would not comment, but analysts expect the proceeds from the sale to exceed Â£25mn, which will likely give LEF a return on equity of more than 30% for their 6 month investment (depending on the cost of various insurance and weather hedges: the tickets are expected to include the now standard 50% rebate for rain for outdoor concerts and sporting events.) Since its inception in 2010, the flagship LEF Music Fund has returned an average of 43% annually.
(Oh and by the way I had my pension fund invest Â£50,000 in LEF in 2011…making it a lot easier for me to afford to bid for a box for my friends and family to go see Oasis at Wembley!)