Category Archives: Uncategorized

Banking in the Developing World

This article was originally posted on my account on Medium.com on March 6th, 2017.  I hope you enjoy!

  

I’ve seen a great deal of literature in the last year or two about the way that financial services industries are developing across the African continent. To really investigate this, look no further than Kenya, where mobile payments are easier than in Pittsburgh or Los Angeles and the leader in this market is M-Pesa (Swahili for mobile money).

96 percent of homes across Kenya us M-Pesa according to a recent report in CNET. That is the kind of market domination that Google Wallet and Apple Pay can only dream of and it is happening in a market that never really had traditional banking.

This all has had me thinking. This is one of those cases where necessity leads to the birth of innovation. It also means that companies like Apple and Google have a lot that they can learn from what M-Pesa is doing.

According to a report in Business Insider, mobile payments will make up $6.3 trillion of the payments that take place in China by the year 2020. Much like in Kenya, China didn’t develop the same kind of banking system that Europe and North America have, so they are for the most part also going through a similar LeapFrog.

This still leaves the existing banking infrastructure in China hurting. The state owned UnionPay loses out on the fees when mobile payment is used. The Financial Times in an article in August described this well.

UnionPay, along with issuing banks and acquiring banks, is hemorrhaging income from merchant fees. The trend is fueled not only by the rise of ecommerce but also by the dramatic increase of mobile payments to offline merchants such as supermarkets and restaurants.

Mobile wallet leaders like Alibaba and Tencent are dominant players in this space, while traditional banks are starting to try to get into the action. I’m truly interested to see how this will play out in the long-term, but one thing is for certain.

These companies are being faced with the challenge of minimizing elicit transactions while also growing a global network of users and agents involved in their transactions. To become an acceptable option in places like the United States, they will have to show their willingness to crackdown on those using their service for illegal services while also making sure their customers feel a sense of privacy.

One of the concerns growing out of the M-Pesa phenomenon is a fear that the platform will be used for money laundering (sound familiar to arguments against BitCoin?). In a US State Department report on International Narcotics Control Strategy, M-Pesa and the potential for money-laundering listed in the section about Kenya.

Mobile payment companies like M-Pesa, Alibaba, and Tencent are entering an era where staying afloat will be truly a balance acting. Only the most innovative companies will be able to continue adding value to the experience of their customers while also remaining a trustworthy firm.

Is Blockchain the Future?

This article originally appeared on Medium and you can find it here.

Media coverage of the blockchain is starting to pick up recently, so I thought it was important to gain a better understanding. On its most basic level, blockchain is a database that creates records for its transactions automatically. If you know anything about cryptocurrency (BitCoin for example), you have been part of one of the major users of the blockchain.

It seems like our future could be bound up in how effective this system is. As an example outside of what you might think about with BitCoin, Walmart announced a trial using blockchain to track to manage food safety. They know how dangerous problems with food, whether it is fresh, prepared, or otherwise.

In recent years, recalls of food due to contamination with listeria, e-coli, and salmonella have dominated the headlines. Look no further than the problems that have plagued Chipotle. While I’m sure they never intended to harm their customers, Chipotle has seen their stock value plummet from a high of nearly $750 per share to as low as $370 per share (on Friday, it closed at $416/share).

Chipotle could have avoided seeing its market cap cut nearly in half had this technology been available to more quickly ascertain the source of its food safety problems. To be fair, some of these problems may be linked to food prep, which this technology might not be able to fix unless the system included the transaction of who is cooking what at each period of time as well as who assembles each burrito, bowl, or salad.

Beyond this, time will tell what kind of value to the economy blockchain could eventually have in self driving cars, healthcare, identity verification and of course finance. I’m excited to see what the world with blockchain will mean, but until then, I’ll just be watching to see who succeeds implementing it.

Snap’s IPO

I think that the IPO for Snap is one of the most interesting in the social media marketplace.  SnapChat is this strange social media service that is personal, but also not.  It is about sharing, but not forever.  It doesn’t necessarily seem like they know where they are going to make money quite yet.  This morning, Snap was trading at around $24/share and at the time I published this story, Snap was trading at $25.24.

Much like a few social media companies that came before them (I’m looking at you MySpace), SnapChat has some business in hardware too.  Snap’s Spectacles are an attempt at what Google tried with Google Glass, but in a very simplified way.  Snap Spectacles come in at just $129.99 (Google Glass was more than $1,000 despite the fact it was basically still in Beta) and in 3 colors (Coral, teal, and black)

Snap Spectacles are basically just sunglasses that can take 10 seconds of video for your SnapChat account and wirelessly add the video to your snaps and SnapChat memories.  Obviously, this is much less feature rich than Google Glass, but simple enough to use for mass market appeal.

I hope Snap figures it all out, because I think the company has an interesting way of communicating, but I don’t know what the roadmap ahead looks like.

 

Other Tech IPOs for Comparison:

Company

Facebook Twitter  LinkedIn

IPO Date

 5/18/2012

 11/7/2013

 5/19/2011

Share Price

$38

$26

$45

% Gain at Close

0.61%

72.69%

109.44%

Deal Size  $16 Billion  $1.82 Billion

 $352.8 Million

Nearly a Year in Pittsburgh

I went for a trip to Atlanta recently and was listening to music on my phone while I was working from my company’s Atlanta office and the song Heroes by David Bowie came on.  For those of you who don’t know, this song has had a somewhat recent surge in popularity due to it being included in two key scenes in the film “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”.

In the film, the main characters listen to the song while riding in a pickup truck through the Fort Pitt Tunnel, which takes you from south of the city straight to the Fort Pitt Bridge with an incredibly view of the City of Pittsburgh.  Every time I hear the song, I am reminded of the experience of riding through the tunnel myself.  Hearing it away from the city made me realize that Pittsburgh is really home now.  It has been about a year and I don’t know everything about this city, but it is certainly home now.

What are my new goals for Pittsburgh?  I want to explore more. I’ve got a list of things still to do in Pittsburgh seem to be key to really experiencing the city. I’ll List them below and have crossed out the ones I’ve already done. If you have suggestions of true “Yinzer” things to do other than drink an IC Light, drop me a comment and maybe I’ll add it.  I know my list is a bit incomplete.  My list isn’t in any particular order.

  • Go to The Warhol Museum 
  • Go to the Mattress Factory
  • Go to Phipps Conservatory
  • Heinz History Center
  • Carnegie Museum of Natural History
  • Carnegie Museum of Art
  • Carnegie Science Center
  • Go to the Pittsburgh Symphony (Heinz Hall)
  • Go to a Pirates Game
  • Go to a Steelers Game
  • Go to a Penguins Game
  • Go to a Pitt basketball game
  • Eat breakfast at De Lucas
  • Eat breakfast at Pamela’s
  • Go to Primanti’s
  • Go to Burgatory
  • Drinks at the Cage (Squirrel Hill Cafe)
  • Get a hot dog at the O in Oakland
  • Have dinner on top of Mt Washington 
  • Cathedral of Learning (go to top floor elevator goes and explore bottom floor)
  • Ride one of the inclines
  • National Aviary
  • Go to the fountain at the Point
  • Bike the City portion of Three Rivers Heritage Trail
  • Go to Kennywood

Our Lives Are Like Soundtracks

Just to preface this blog, I wrote this more as a piece that I’d like to hear on radio.  I drew inspiration for this from some of my favorite radio stories, though to be honest, it is not really like any of them.  I don’t have a good enough microphone to try to do that justice, so instead you will get the text version of this.  I invite you to read it in my voice if you know what that sounds like or anyone else’s for that matter and think about what this might mean to you.

My Life as a Soundtrack 

            I decided recently that my life needs a soundtrack.  One day I want to be followed around by the ghosts of Glenn Miller’s band, playing as I perform the average tasks of a twenty-two year old living at home with my parents.

I want to watch Frank Sinatra looking puzzled as he tries to come up with the right words to describe me as I stare at the different packages of romaine hearts, looking for the right one for my lunches for the week.

I imagine the bands of my soundtrack would have a bit more fun with it watching me cook. They’d see me standing by the kitchen countertop mixing together a salad dressing and drowning out the sound of my bickering at the television.  I really hope it’s Louis Armstong’s trumpet drowning that out.

I have to hope that Rod Stewart would make an entrance into my life soundtrack.  Hopefully he’d come by to give the perfect background sound to turn parts of my life into the chick flick I imagine his songs could create.  Who knows, he might be able to improve my luck in that category.

There are a few songs I’d like to make sure are not in this soundtrack of my life if I can be so bold.  Do you think we could avoid playing the theme to Jaws in my life?  I like all of my limbs and unless I hear the theme at Universal Studios, I can’t imagine anything good could be happening if I hear that song.

I’d like to avoid any song by Nickelback and Avril Lavigne, as I believe this could be a sign of an awkward turn of events in which I end up at Avril and Chad’s wedding (I had to look up his name, I promise). Maybe we could avoid anything with a deadly theme like James Bond or Star Wars.  Like I said before, I like my limbs and don’t like my chances in either of those situations.

My music should send me traveling around the world.  I want to hear the words of Matisyahu’s Jerusalem as I walk through the Old City and chow down on some schwarma or some schnitzel.  I’ll somehow find myself face to face with Benjamin Netanyahu discussing foreign policy, which I know less about personally than I do about the books of the bible that come after the Fives Books of Moses.

With a glass of Havana Club and Tu Kola in one hand, I want to hear Frank Delgado singing Loco Por Ti.  Hopefully, when this song is playing, I am starring into the eyes of some lucky girl’s eyes (okay, let’s be real, I’ll be the lucky one) and find myself surrounded by the whole Cuban gang.  There is no question that Ariel will be ripping up the dance floor by the time Qva Libre comes up to play Buena Suerte and I’ll be just trying to keep up with him.

I fear one day I’ll hear tunes reminiscent of the ones that played Steve Job’s funeral in my soundtrack.  It will signal the death of someone important and recovery will take a long time.  I will sit around and ask myself why I wanted a soundtrack in the first place.  I will give John Williams the stink eye for standing behind me while I try to wipe my eyes off.  He just wanted to offer me a tissue, but I would have no part of that, because I will have told him it was just allergies.

At some point, maybe I will hear the national anthem of this great nation and serve my country in elected office.  I will find serving in office to be a constant struggle, yet a joy at the same time.  I’ll hear something like Bach’s Cello Suites or something that equally academic.  I’m hoping maybe I’ll Also Hear Fanfare for the Common Man, because that would just be cool.  It will be a truly special part of my life.

My hope is that this lifetime soundtrack consists of more highs than lows along the way.  It is filled with more memories than I would bother you with. I’m so early in the soundtrack that few of the musicians have even been chosen.  There is plenty of noise on the outside that can serve as distractions along the way, but I know that it will all be special.

 

The Conversation has Begun

A couple weeks ago I made an announcement to Colleagues in the Student Government Association about efforts to change our campus community.  This announcement was the beginning of a conversation with the student body about the issues that matter, issues that impact students every day.  It was on that first day I reminded my colleagues something simple yet important: We Are Limitless.  We Are Limitless is a conversation about how together as a student body we are strong enough to change our campus, city, state, country, and world.  I believe in the ability of our student body to change things, to create positive change and am encouraged  by what I see every day.  It wasn’t long ago that I learned that it is important to have a healthy disregard for the impossible.

The first part of this conversation is about transportation.  Today, we live in a city that is neither bicycle nor skateboard friendly.  Our city has incredibly limiting skateboarding ordinances and lacks the necessary bicycle lanes to support the growing cycling community.  Cyclists seem forgotten, like the stepchild of motorists.  What we all need to remember is that roads were not designed for just cars.  We must educate each other to share the roads.  We are all looking to get from point A to point B and do it safely.  From this, along with members of the community I have established a Cycling Safety Committee where we are looking for ways to educate students at the College to ride their bicycles safely.

I’d like to thank you for taking the time to read this and hope you check back for further information as our conversation continues.

Ross Kressel, President of the Student Body

Derek Jeter reaches 3,000 Hits

The last time I wrote on here I was talking about Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, and Mariano Rivera as well as my memories of baseball growing up.  It is amazing to me that Derek finally hit his 3,000th hit.  What amazes me more is that it was a homerun.  People joke about his saying that Derek is some kind of perfectionist and I’m not sure they are far off.

This so far has been a hard year to watch baseball in.  I am watching the end of an ERA like I said before.  Jorge spent some time hitting below the Mendoza line (YUCK!).  Life as a DH must not be easy.  What still amazes me is how Mariano Rivera just doesn’t seem to ever age.  Rivera’s has blown a couple saves this year, sure, but he is still one of if not the sharpest closer in the game.

As much as I know baseball is made just to entertain us (or at least that is how I’ve always seen it before), it is a new reminder that I am growing up.  Over are the days of playing in the park, swim listens, camp, and simplicity.  It seems the older we get, the more complicate things seem to be getting.  I sometimes struggle with the fact that I am 21 and the expectation is for me to be an adult, but have none of the real freedom of an adult.  I want to keep moving forward, but also stay behind.  It is a strange sort of struggle that I guess is part of the quarter-life crisis (yes, that exists).

I guess what I’m trying to say is I am ready to grow up.  I know being an adult (what exactly is that?) isn’t going to be easy, but I have to do it.  Come the end of next May, I will walk across the Cistern and either get ready to start a job or graduate school.  Both ideas are scary, but also exciting.  As much as the idea of growing up is scary to me, the adventures it will bring will certainly reward me.