Whether you live by your Twitter lists, save your Google Alerts or simply scroll through LinkedIn for insights and commentary – there is a wealth of content that weaves a global story around fintech. This week’s FTT Bookmark is brought to you by Laura Camplisson, Product and Content Manager at VC Innovations and features current account switching trends, misconceptions surrounding Britcoin and the environmental impact of Bitcoin mining.
UK banking customers want digital services, sustainability… and wine!
This week, the UK Current Account Switch Service (CASS) reported on the numbers of people who switched their account provider over the second quarter of 2021.
From April to June there were 182,000 switches, a sharp 32% increase from the previous quarter. Whilst high-street banks HSBC, NatWest and Santander all saw net customer losses, Starling, Virgin Money and Monzo all gained customers in the thousands.
Starling were top of the leaderboard, gaining 17,769 customers over the quarter, despite not offering any sign-on bonus. Given the most commonly cited reasons for switching – better online banking facilities, stronger customer services and easy mobile apps – Starling’s success makes a lot of sense.
This doesn’t mean incentives can’t still be used to sway UK customers though. Particularly, it turns out, if that incentive is wine, as shown by the success of Virgin Money’s offer of a free case of wine, when you switch to their current account. I’m not saying this was the only reason Virgin Money gained 17,495 customers from April – June!
Sustainable financial provider Triodos bank also came out as a winner, with the lowest number of customer losses at only 77. Clearly, sustainability is also a priority at front of mind for today’s financial consumers.
Rishi Sunak’s ‘Britcoin’ causes misinformed public panic
Earlier this year British Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced plans for a taskforce between the Treasury and the Bank of England, to explore a central bank digital currency (CBDC).
The proposed CBDC, dubbed ‘Britcoin’, has received a mixed response with objections from privacy critics, environmentalists and the cryptocurrency industry. Banks and Fintechs have also expressed some concerns that traditional profit models may be challenged by a CBDC.
In the last week though, Sunak’s taskforce hit the mainstream media. A ‘Treasury department insider’ allegedly told the Mail on Sunday that Britcoin would be the biggest upheaval to the monetary system for centuries. Misinformation then circulated rapidly, as tabloid headlines declared, ‘Rishi Sunak plans to replace our cash with an official digital currency.’
The chancellor was quick to take to Twitter to set things straight, stressing that, ‘any potential UK CBDC would exist as a complement to cash and bank deposits, and not a replacement.’
No, we’re not replacing cash with ‘Britcoin’🤨https://t.co/Xnvmo1uoEG
— Rishi Sunak (@RishiSunak) July 26, 2021
As I was scrolling through the comments left by Mail Online readers, the level of public confusion and mistrust surrounding digital currencies was very clear. Many commenters were unaware of other existing national CBDC trials, mistaking ‘Britcoin’ as a concept unique to Rishi Sunak and the British government.
Others were quick to suggest that nefarious intentions were behind Britcoin. Some feared a digital currency would enable the government to steal our savings, or even block people with certain political views or who haven’t taken the COVID vaccine, from having financial access.
Clearly, there is a growing concern from part of the UK population around government control and surveillance. The NHS Track & Trace app, Vaccine passports and other COVID related measures seem to have exacerbated these feelings of unease.
One of the main attractions of cryptocurrencies (other than seeing them as a viable investment) is their decentralised nature. Payments can be made without revealing your identity. By contrast, fears around CBDCs are closely linked to fears about identity tracking and centralized control. So, it will be very interesting to see how a British digital currency backed by the government would be able to take off, given the apparent absence of public trust.
Mining Bitcoin at an old coal-plant
Speaking of the environmental impact of Bitcoin, I was gripped by this BBC reporter’s tour of a US coal-plant, which has been converted into a Bitcoin mine.
It’s estimated the annual amount of energy used to mine bitcoin is equivalent to a country the size of Columbia or Bangladesh. Watching the video below it wasn’t difficult to see why, as at this plant alone 10,000 Bitcoin mining computers are being powered by natural gas.
The mine says its greener than others in the US or China, which mine Bitcoin using coal, and that it offsets its carbon emissions. But to me, this still seems like a real step backwards in terms of moving away from fossil fuels, at a time when projects and initiatives dedicated to sustainable finance and sustainability in general, are growing so rapidly!
And finally this week’s wildcard story… can AI tell you how your cat really feels about you?
Pet owners will know that while dogs tend to wear their hearts on their sleeves, cats can be notoriously hard to read. Well, animal health technology company Sylvester.ai, has just developed an app called Tably, that can apparently tell you how your cat is feeling.
Using a kind of face recognition, Tably assesses an image of a cat taken through a mobile phone camera. Through machine learning Tably has been trained to assess a cat’s ear and head position, eye narrowing, muzzle tension and whisker position, against the Feline Grimace Scale – a valid tool for pain assessment in cats.
Given the uptake in digital pet health over the pandemic with services like video consultations and vet chatbots really taking off, I would imagine an app like Tably could have really interesting applications in the veterinary world.
Join us at Future Identity 2021, on the 15th & 16th November, where we will discuss face recognition in more detail (but this time for humans, not cats!).