Bitcoin, Digital Currency and The Future of Banking

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This is a guest post from Marguerite Arnold.

When news broke in late October that some of London’s largest banks were investing in Bitcoin, cryptocurrencies in general got another boost. According to reports, however, this latest move to embrace Bitcoin was not a positive embrace of the digital currency per se, but rather a move to stockpile Bitcoin to fend off denial of service attacks from hackers.

Beyond hoarding digital currency as a defensive move in the age of DDOS bank robbers, banks are beginning to think about ways that bitcoin could be used within the banking industry globally. This is not limited to thinking about how Bitcoin could function as a new kind of currency – although that is an ever-present idea on the horizon. Bitcoin itself was created by technologists and programmers with a deep-seated mistrust of central banks themselves. These days, central banks in places including the US, UK and China, are also considering how the underlying technology – blockchain – might be used to record transactions in the real economy more efficiently and with greater transparency.

Blockchain – a system of distributed databases that exist on either private or relatively “public” decentralized computer nodes all over the world – may in fact be the most powerful and influential legacy of Bitcoin. The technology allows multiple users, including competitors, to keep an accurate tracking of events or financial transactions in a way that can be accessed and tracked by multiple users at any given time. The technology is frequently referred to as a “digital ledger”.

The time is ripe for innovation both on the digital currency front and in the use of “digital ledgers” for everything from basic currency tracking and F/X transactions to more sophisticated clearing and reconciliation processes. According to a recent report in the New York Times, the Bank of England has recently produced a report that the economic benefits of issuing a digital currency tracked by a blockchain could add as much as 3% to a country’s economic output. During a time of unprecedented globalization as well as new business models that look set to disrupt entire industries, including banking, the idea of having a digital currency that offers both greater accuracy as well as independence from central banks and government interference is also gaining greater and greater appeal.

There is also the issue of reducing costs as well as the larger question of how to transform banking service provision in the age of “digital” personal services. Everything from sourcing loans to personal banking services, particularly in an age of negative interest rates, is potentially up for grabs – enabled by digital services and the technological backbone they rely on.

According to most industry analysts, the impact of all of these forces is likely to create a tipping point within the next 10 years, leading to wide ranging transformation of all banking services and the companies that provide them. Cryptocurrencies and blockchain are likely to be major pieces of the puzzle, however they are ultimately configured, integrated and used. What is still uncertain at this juncture is exactly how this future world will look – from consumer interactions to the most sophisticated back office clearing procedures and reconciliation measures at the world’s largest banking institutions.

What is certain however, is that digitalization has hit the banking sector – and there is no turning back.

Marguerite Arnold is an entrepreneur, author and third semester EMBA candidate at the Frankfurt School of Finance and Management.

(Image Source: Flickr)

The Lessons I Learned From Peter Drucker

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This is a guest post from Marguerite Arnold.

It is not like I knew Peter well – as a real live person. In fact, I only met him once – in Claremont – as a very old man. That said, I always found it rather funny and more than touching that for a man who helped chart the academic progression of American management studies, he never lost a heavy German/Austrian accent. “Zis ist Peter Drucker” – the message he recorded on his home answering machine – was a cause of much delight at one point in my life, particularly because my father spoke with an upper class English accent, and my aunt with a highly Californianized German one.

Peter was the husband of my father’s eldest sister, Doris. My father was not a fan. Apparently in my family’s frantic transition from central Europe via England and then to the U.S. during the 1930’s, the relationship between the two men became fraught with tension and personal squabbles whose original genesis was odd, to say the least. The cause of a decades long civil war apparently started over Peter’s heavy handed English language instruction to my father (then in British boarding school while Peter was a business journalist in the UK). It continued over the course of a lifetime, fuel added to the fire by envy, competition and academic success. My father thought it was fundamentally “unfair” that the End of Economic Man was published to take advantage of the announcement of the Stalin-Hitler Pact. While Peter taught at NYU, my father was at the New School. Peter followed an entrepreneurial academic path. My father a journalistic and creative one. My father also had a fundamental disgust that Drucker covered up the fact that he was Jewish. In fact, he frequently referred to my uncle as “that ugly man” and (more than once) as an “unapologetic fascist.”

Perhaps because of that, I read all of Drucker’s major works as an act of rebellion by the time I entered college (in the mid 80’s). And at that point Drucker was already being redefined, as well as slightly shelved, by the newer generation of management consultants who took his place. I also experienced his work about the “third way” by being exposed to it directly in managing a non-profit as one of my first jobs out of school. Even at the time, I thought it represented a way to redefine his voice in a way that I believe will continue to be redefined in the century “after Drucker”. He was shifting from writing about focussing on management for the manufacture of profit to management to profit society. At that point in his life he also began to believe that his work was being misinterpreted. By the turn of the century, this was much more evident, at least in private. According to my aunt, who accepted the Medal of Freedom on his behalf (because at that point he was too sick to travel), Drucker was also unbelievably embarrassed that “management by objective” had been used to justify the Iraq War.

Interpreting Drucker’s intended meaning has been, as a result, a journey that I have undertaken as part of understanding my family and myself as much as it is about management.

My perspective on Drucker started with my curiosity about why he felt that nepotism was a fundamental evil. As a child I often thought this was because of the ancient family feud between my father and my uncle.

But as an adult, my understanding became more nuanced.

Drucker was, at least in my mind, a business anthropologist. He sought to understand and explain company culture in a way that is akin to an expat trying to understand the culture of a new country. He was no less hurt than most European Jews were about being betrayed by their home countries on the basis of an intangible idea (religion). His writing about nepotism, for example, was I believe a fundamental criticism of the German “Mittelstand” and how easily companies designed for one purpose (efficient production and profit) can be perverted by politics, as happened in Europe with the rise of Hitler. Later Drucker writing on the importance of managers getting out of the way and letting employees do the work they were there to do, as well as his early interest in an IT enabled and remote working environment, was also heavily influenced by the background of a man who relied on his entrepreneurial skills and distrust of office politics to survive in a world hostile to immigrants.

By the time Drucker shifted in focus at the end of his career, he had clearly also become concerned with the way that American corporate life was rapidly undermining the stability of American society achieved after WWII. “The third way”, and his argument for the professionalization of non-profit work, was in some ways a bit of an apology for Drucker’s early celebration of corporate culture in the U.S. His writing on executive pay, for example, was clearly a reaction to the beginnings of private sector greed that has become a major political topic of our new century.

Ultimately, Drucker was a man who sought to make sense of a world caught between politics, society and culture operating within the framework of something else – the corporate structure. While the specific issues that our society is called upon to face are of course different at the beginning of this new century, I also feel that the things he wrote about have never been more pertinent and relevant.

Marguerite Arnold is an entrepreneur, author and third semester EMBA candidate at the Frankfurt School of Finance and Management.

(Image Source: Benandju)

Lessons Learned from a German EMBA

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This is a guest post from Marguerite Arnold.

In the fall of 2015, after spending two years in a small town in the Ruhr Valley starting to learn German (I will appreciate Mark Twain’s perspective on the sprache so much better going forward), I moved to Frankfurt to begin my Executive MBA at the Frankfurt School of Finance and Management.

There are many reasons why I chose to obtain my graduate business degree in Germany (and even more specifically in Frankfurt). I am an American expat, with my future plans in Europe if not the rest of the world. I have felt, for quite some time, that American business schools are myopic when it comes to understanding international business issues and globalization outside of maximizing profit. I also feel that there is something very right going on in Germany specifically, that has been fundamentally lost in the U.S. There is a strong manufacturing culture here that is shifting to the future with a face that is far more humane and sustainable (and certainly more green, the disaster at Volkswagen notwithstanding), and the so-called “Mittlestand” – small to medium sized enterprises – create a business culture in which innovation and change can thrive.

While Germans frequently ask me “why come here when you have the U.S.?” the answer is super simple. Yes, things are regulated in Germany on a level that drives even rules-obsessed Germans to distraction. And yes, change comes more slowly here. But the so-called “creative destruction” that drives American entrepreneurialism is now happening in a way that is destroying companies and lives if not innovation in general (including in Silicon Valley).

Germany is more interesting.

German regulation and the thinking about the regulatory process in general, particularly in industries like banking and Fintech, is a standard which could certainly help redefine not only the German market, but create a global benchmark for those who understand that regulations are necessary. The changes that Germany has managed to transcend (including those of the post war period, reunification and even its acceptance of refugees) were only possible because of a strong national culture that is by definition globally focussed. Germany has no natural borders and, perhaps because of that, the country has created a national identity and operating DNA that is designed to be like an ocean liner on a global ocean, rather than a country which walls itself off from the rest of the world.

Frankfurt itself is also a fascinating city. It is not only where my family is historically from, but has long been defined by international trade, commerce and global thinking. Now it is set to become a thriving cluster for FinTech entrepreneurs in a way that other cities cannot match due to the winning combination of its size, infrastructure and proximity to global banking players.

The Frankfurt School itself is also a very interesting place. Started as a school for more traditional bankers and executive education, it is rapidly moving up the global rankings and redefining itself in a rapidly changing world; the school is perfectly positioned to address the transformations happening in the banking industry with the impact of digitalization, cryptocurrency and mobile payments. My class has also achieved a number of “firsts” for the school: we are a highly diverse international group, classes are taught in English, and we are 40% women.

In terms of coursework, it has by far lived up to my expectations (and I have high ones, partly because of my 25 year professional career in the U.S. but also because I am Peter Drucker’s niece). Our professors are drawn from the ranks of both the school’s faculty and drawn from all over the world (including Ghana and the U.S.) However, the perspective offered here is exactly what I was hoping for. And the lessons learned from the teamwork exercises and my classmates are ones I will take with me for the rest of my life. We are drawn from every industry, and every kind of background. And more than a few of us are using the EMBA experience to either begin or more seriously launch our entrepreneurial careers and aspirations. Drucker once wrote that once a subject becomes obsolete, it is taught in the classroom, but that is not the feeling I have here. In fact, the Frankfurt School has made it a priority to present classical business education in the context of a world that is changing fast (from every perspective). And while there is a healthy appreciation of American innovation, it is taught in a way that is separate and distinct from a mind-set that is focused mostly on the American market.

Students who want to understand a world outside the U.S. on topics ranging from globalization to sustainability would do well to consider a German business education.

Global business is about understanding the needs of stakeholders who come from a diverse range of cultures; being able to create a remarkable “journey” for employees and customers; and responding to and managing change in a way that does not upset the core mission of the enterprise. It requires innovative responses to both the mundane and the exception.

At heart, those are some of the real lessons I have learned here at the Frankfurt School. It has been one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences of my life.

Marguerite Arnold is an entrepreneur, author and third semester EMBA candidate at the Frankfurt School of Finance and Management.

(Image Source: WallpaperUp)