December 7, 2020
Leading editors discuss the trends affecting the financial sector at the CIM Financial Services Marketing Leaders’ Summit 2020
The World Media Group was delighted to support the CIM’s Financial Services Marketing Leaders’ Summit this week. Four of the world’s leading financial editors from the US, Asia and Europe attended a panel to discuss the key trends affecting the economy, for a virtual audience of senior global marketers from the financial services sector. The panel was moderated by Francesco Guerrera, Head of International, Barron’s Group.
Vaccine “transformative” for the economy
Guerrera’s first question to Faisal Islam, Economics Editor, BBC News, was about the significance of the announcement confirming a Covid vaccine was ready for rollout in the UK. Islam described the news as “transformative for the economy.” He said it would stop the negative, self-fulfilling spiral of expecting things to be worse, planning for them to be worse, and therefore having fewer jobs and fewer investments.
He highlighted two areas for caution: Firstly, people may be more careful about social distancing over the next few months, potentially affecting the retail and hospitality sectors. Secondly, any scientific setbacks would have a negative effect on asset values, house prices and stock.
Persuading people to take the vaccine is crucial to its success. The extent to which the vaccine is mandated for various activities, such as travel will have an impact.
Jason Karaian, Editor, DealBook at The New York Times, highlighted the effect a vaccination passport, dovetailed with testing, could have on business: “You might need that to go into the office,” he said. “Potentially there are some privacy issues, but the pressure to get vaccinated or tested to prove that you are immune is something that I know boardrooms are dealing with.”
Moving to James Kynge, Global China Editor at the Financial Times and Editor of the “Tech Scroll Asia” Newsletter, Guerrera asked what the impact had been in China.
Kynge explained that while China had been blamed by the US and European countries at the start of pandemic, it was now in a position to win back some of the kudos it had lost. With four vaccines rolled out very quickly, he said the Chinese economy was “roaring back”. Kynge said China was taking steps to “ameliorate the huge haemorrhage it has suffered in terms of its international image,” by delivering vaccines and helping with the debt problems of countries in Africa for example.
The impact of the Biden administration
Turning to the US election, Guerrera asked The New York Times’ Karaian about the effect that new roles within the administration may have on business. Karaian said that Biden was trying to strike a difficult balance between capitalism and socialism and was unlikely to “tap full Wall Street types for official roles”. For large banks or businesses, that raises the question of who they can lobby. However, a more controlled, coherent messaging strategy with fewer leaks, may “make it easier for businesses to get their head around the new administration,” he said.
On the prospect of a stimulus package, Karaian said that while most people believed it was needed, it was “bogged down in partisan gridlock” and was likely to be issued under Executive Order, after Biden’s inauguration.
The battle for banking
Introducing Julie Santoriello Chariell, a Senior Analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence covering the Fintech and Payments sector, Guerrera asked about her predictions for this rapidly growing sector.
One of the themes for 2021 will be around the “battle for banking” Santoriello Chariell said, as many “‘non-banks” added more banking services to their apps. She had observed a shift to non-traditional banking during the pandemic with people looking for more ways to pay online, and an increase in digital debit card services.
Santoriello Chariell described four key “non-bank” groups: The first is challenger banks, such Transferwise, Monzo, Revolut, Chime and Varo, which are beginning to chip away at traditional banking. The second, and the group Santoriello Chariell is most excited about, is Wallet providers, such as PayPal, Square’s Cash App and the hardware-based Apple Pay, Google Pay and Samsung Pay. Originally free, peer-to-peer payment services, they are now being monetised through debit cards, credit cards, Bill Pay and, significantly, direct deposit. “If a user starts to use direct deposit of their payroll into their Wallet, that starts to become a primary account,” she said.
The third group are the new lenders, such as “buy now, pay later” app Klarna. Tied in with debit cards, these apps, which allow users to spread the payment for an item over a several instalments, are popular with millennials and Gen Z.
The final group is big tech – Apple, Google, Facebook and Amazon, who Santoriello Chariell said are more inclined to partner with traditional banks. “This could be a nice way for the big banks to catch up digitally to reach a younger audience, and to be able to really harness the power of big data,” she said.
The challenges of economic reporting during Covid
Guerrera asked the panel to share some insight into the challenges they had experienced while reporting on the financial sector during the coronavirus crisis.
Islam talked about the importance of finding the right balance between aggressive accountability journalism and the public service aspect of the BBC, particularly in a crisis. He recalled being able to communicate the extraordinary news about the UK’s unprecedented fiscal intervention to pay the wages of millions of workers during the pandemic, following an unusually open exchange with the Bank of England Governor. Holding the government accountable at the beginning of the crisis and asking difficult questions was essential to the BBC’s credibility, he said.
For Karaian one of the big differences at The New York Times has been a move to more live journalism, constantly updating briefings on certain topics and tackling the disinformation related to the election and the vaccines. “Getting into the mode of putting things up quickly and then filling them out, and having lots of different formats, not just the 1500-word story that comes out in print, is not necessarily unusual for digital media, but it’s been a fairly major revolution inside these virtual walls,” he said.
A large part of Kynge’s role at the Financial Times is investigative journalism, which relies on sources. He says the pandemic has been disastrous: “You not only miss the face-to-face contact, the whispers over lunch, but you also miss that vital aspect – the serendipity of a natural conversation, where they let something slip that they didn’t intend to. That type of interaction, which is so vital for journalists, just doesn’t happen in this type of format.”
The same holds true for Santoriello Chariell, who says body language is key when she meets CEOs and CFOs in person: “The words can be really clear, direct and all buttoned up, but the body language can tell you something else.”
The economic impact of ESG
The final question to the panel was about the trend towards ESG and its economic impact. Santoriello Chariell said that strong interest around ESG from the investment community had prompted Bloomberg Intelligence to build up its team of ESG analysts and to add ESG to every company primer.
ESG investment is also a huge topic for the Financial Times, but Kynge believes that work needs to be done around clarifying what the definitions mean: “The definitions are extremely vague, it’s very easy for a company to claim that it’s abiding by environmental standards when it’s actually not, and the same is true of social, and of governance,” he said.
Karaian has seen an interesting shift from ESG investors having to “needle” companies to change their behaviour to increased pressure from the government, employees, suppliers and customers, and the idea of stakeholder capitalism versus shareholder capitalism, which is pushing everyone in the same direction.
While government initiatives around ESG may have been put on a back burner during Covid, conversations are still likely to be happening at a company level. Islam says that the pandemic has made the channels of communication between employees and their bosses more fluid, allowing subjects that may have been left unsaid in an office environment to surface digitally. As a result, he believes that employees will have higher expectations of their bosses and their boards when it comes to the issues, like ESG, that matter to them.