Tuesday, October 23, 2018

On the Media: Money, Then and Now

The origins of money are in bartering, right? Not so, explains IMTFI Director, Bill Maurer speaking with Bob Garfield at On the Media, "in the beginning was not the coin... in the beginning was the receipt."

Stone money from the island of Yap.
(Bartosz CieĊ›lak/Wikimedia Commons) 

Most schoolchildren learn that money arose when barter proved insufficient for meeting everyday trade needs. People required more complex transactions, so they invented currency: a medium of exchange, unit of account and store of value. It's a compelling story...but a false one. Instead, most evidence suggests that money arose from recordkeeping. In this segment, Bob speaks with Professor and Dean Maurer at UC Irvine and Brown University's Mark Blyth about past and present myths about money, and what the history of money might suggest about its future.

To listen to the interview or read the full transcript, please visit On The Media: Listen | WNYC Studios | Podcasts: bit.ly/2yKLLq2

Friday, October 19, 2018

How Software Ate the Point of Sale: Or, why paying for stuff is so complicated now

By ALEXIS C. MADRIGAL in The Atlantic

Photo credit: Adam Hunger/Reuters

I’m standing at the counter of a Vietnamese restaurant in Berkeley, ordering a pork bun. There was a time when I knew exactly what would happen next. I’d hand over my card, the cashier would swipe it, a little receipt would curl out of a machine, I’d sign it, and I’d crumple the bottom copy into a pocket. Easy.

Now all kinds of things can happen. I might stick my card directly into a point-of-sale (POS) system. Maybe I swipe; maybe the cashier does. Perhaps a screen is swiveled at me. I could enter my PIN on a little purpose-built machine; I could sign with my finger on a screen; I could not have to sign or enter a PIN at all. I could tap my phone on a terminal to pay. Usually, there’s a chip reader for my no-longer-new chip card. When I put the card in one of the machines, sometimes it takes four seconds; other times, I have time to pull out my phone and stare at it, which means I forget about the card until the reader begins to beep at me, at which point I pull it out, mildly flustered, as if I’d caused too much ice to pour out of a soda fountain. Ah! Okay. Sorry.

The act of paying for stuff is undergoing a great transformation. The networks of machines and code that let you move your imaginary money from your bank account to a merchant are changing—the gadget that takes your card, the computer that tracks a restaurant or store’s inventory, the cards themselves (or their dematerialized abstractions inside your phone). But all this newness must remain compatible with systems that were designed 50 years ago, at the dawn of the credit-card age. This combination of old and new systems, janky and hacky and functional, is the standard state of affairs for technology, despite the many myths about how the world changes in vast leaps and revolutions.

If some areas of financial technology, or Fintech, promise a new elegance, the point of sale serves as a reminder of the viscosity of the everyday technologies on which most Americans rely. If you want to divine the future of transportation, you’d probably learn more thinking about the bus than the rocket. If you want to know how money is gonna change in the future, you need to look at the cash register as much as the blockchain.

[The future of money-like things]

But the most powerful and ambitious companies in the world have tremendous incentive to take interest in the cash register. It’s there where the two great data streams of the modern world flow together: what people do on their phones and what they buy in the physical world. In the first stream, the tech one, the rule is that data becomes money, after it is fed into machine-learning systems tuned to show you better ads. In the other, the data is money. If these two streams fully merged, a company could have a perfect ledger of what you saw and then everything you bought. The ads would get better, so you’d buy more stuff, and in buying more stuff, you’d make the ads better. Online, Facebook (and others) can already track all kinds of activity. But about 90 percent of purchases are still made IRL. Imagine the vast sums of money that could be made if every transaction became part of the ledger. Unsurprisingly, the big tech companies want a piece of this action—as do the banks, as do many start-ups and established, niche players.

So Americans are living through what Bill Maurer, the director of the Institute for Money, Technology, and Financial Inclusion at the University of California, Irvine calls the “Cambrian explosion in payments.” The “point of sale”—once a poky machine or just a person with a calculator or a pencil—is now a computer like everything else, tied deeply into the operations of the restaurant or store. The labor of making a payment could fall to the cashier, as in the old days, or to me, the customer, but we’re both accessing a complex, evolved system of reckoning between banks and their attached remoras, feeding on whatever money ends up in the water.

For the full story, please visit:
https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2018/07/when-software-ate-the-point-of-sale/565919/

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Market Watch: How artificial intelligence could replace credit scores and reshape how we get loans

“In the abstract, having access to credit is better than not having access to credit and certainly better than having access to really predatory credit at extremely high interest rates,” said Stephen Rea, IMTFI Fellow cited in Market Watch, Oct. 15, 2018. Still, he cautions that while increased credit access has the potential to meaningfully improve the standard of living in emerging markets, companies and consumers must tread carefully.

Image credit: Peter Grundy

Market Watch: How artificial intelligence could replace credit scores and reshape how we get loans


Alternative credit scores — using data, in part, from customers’ smartphones — will be migrating from emerging economies to the U.S.


by Emily Bary

You may not think the number of words in an email subject line says anything about you, but at least one company is betting that the metric can help determine your likelihood of paying back a loan.

LenddoEFL, based in Singapore, is one of a handful of startups using alternative data points for credit scoring. Those companies review behavioral traits and smartphone habits to build models of creditworthiness for consumers in emerging markets, where standard credit reporting barely exists.

In addition to analyzing financial-transaction data, Lenddo’s algorithm takes into consideration things such as whether you avoid one-word subject lines (meaning you care about details) and regularly use financial apps on your smartphone (meaning you take your finances seriously). Lenddo also looks at the ratio of smartphone photos in your library that were taken with a front-facing camera, since selfies indicate youth, helping the company divide people into customer segments.

The data points are unconventional, but Darshan Shah, Lenddo’s managing director for South Asia, says the company’s overall algorithm is a reliable predictor of creditworthiness for the so-called underbanked. For those who lack formal credit histories, Lenddo and others say artificial intelligence can help sort through a variety of data points that, in sum, indicate financial responsibility.