The latest British bank to report for 2016 this week is Barclays: profit before tax stood at £3.2bn for the full year, almost treble the amount reported for the year before. "We are now just months away from completing the restructuring of Barclays, and I am more optimistic than ever for our prospects in 2017, and beyond," chief executive Jes Staley told the BBC, referring to the disposal of "non-core" units and the sale of Barclays Africa.
Brexit may find the bank moving its European headquarters to Dublin, Staley revealed, where hundreds of extra staff are already planned. The effects of the unprecedented British exit from the European Union are perhaps nowhere more obvious than on the island of Ireland: 100,000 British firms have reportedly registered themselves in the Republic as companies prepare for "worst-case scenarios". Citing shifting consumer preferences, Allied Irish Bank is meanwhile closing half of its 30-branch network in British-controlled Northern Ireland, having opened new branches in Cork and Dublin.
Across the Atlantic, Bank of America is first to the market with a fully fledged version of Zelle, the new app created by a group of leading banks, 19 in all, that allows for person-to-person transfer of money using either email address or phone number. Responding to the threat posed by Venmo, one prominent feature is the ability to split up bills and settle outstanding amounts between friends in a simple process. However a distinct advantage over Venmo being bruited by the banks is the fact that funds leave and arrive in user bank accounts within a matter of minutes: with Venmo, days can be involved to actually get one's own cash in hand. Come summer, Zelle should also be available as a bank-agnostic download for smartphone users.
Venmo's owner, PayPal, is busily making its own moves too: this month the online payments pioneer launched a bot integrated into the widely used intra-office communications platform Slack. By simply typing "/paypal send $5 to @username" within Slack, a sum will be instantly transferred from one PayPal account to another. PayPal has to tread a careful path as it builds up a wider array of payments and money transfer solutions: "to Venmo" may have entered everyday American discourse but without fees being charged for transfers, profits have yet to emerge.
Finally, an excellent piece on Indian payments: "Just because Indian fintech startups lack the scale and sophistication of their Chinese peers doesn't mean banks can take them lightly," writes Andy Mukherjee for Bloomberg. Demonetisation has been a once-in-a-lifetime jolt to the sector. And since research shows that "convenience, not cashback, is the No. 1 reason Indian bank customers use mobile wallets" incumbents would do well to take the new players seriously indeed.
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