Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Visa Makes Investment In Klarna, Fueling The Swedish Unicorn's Banking Business

Via Business Insider:

Visa and Klarna announced today they have reached an agreement for Visa to make an equity investment in the Swedish fintech company.

The announcement comes just two weeks after Klarna secured its Swedish banking license. The two companies are also committing to a strategic partnership with the aim to accelerate online and mobile commerce, says a joint press statement.

With a partnership, Visa will get better access to the online merchant realm whereas Klarna — according to CEO Siemiatkowski — will be able to “strengthen its global presence and product portfolio”, giving the Swedish payment company access to Visa's s 50 million offline and online customers.

“The Visa and Klarna partnership is a natural fit. We both understand consumer credit and the value of consumer centricity in developing innovative payment solutions”, said Seimiatowski.

The pair is targeting a growing online retail sales market, which is expected to grow 12 percent per annum in Western Europe by 2021 according to Forrester.

“Visa has invested in Klarna for its proven expertise in consumer credit and online purchasing. Together, we share a vision for how today’s online and mobile commerce experiences can be as simple as they are in the real world”, said Jim McCarthy, executive vice president, innovation and strategic partnerships, Visa Inc.

”They have their bank licence, a broad customer base and plans to expand beyond their current markets. Klarna is a natural partner," Bill Gajda, Visa's Head of Innovation said to Di Digital.

The end goal of the partnership seems clear: to acquire as many merchants as possible both online and offline, and provide them with a broad range of payment and personal finance products.

The two companies didn’t disclose how much equity Visa will receive, and said that further details on the partnership will come at a later date.

Visa's planned investment is part of a global strategy to open up the company's ecosystem to digital players and follows on previous bets in U.S. payment giants Stripe and Square (10 percent stake in the latter). Visa has also recently opened an in-house startup accelerator, Collabs.

Valued at more than $2 billion, Klarna has become a leading online payments provider with more than 60 million customers and 70.000 merchants across Europe. Its Visa partnership will provide it instant heft in a pivot into personal banking services, and might also ease its entry into the U.S. market.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

The US Is "Flatlining" In Social Progress Compared To Countries Like Finland And Denmark

Via Business Insider:

While much of northern Europe continues to provide affordable healthcare, promote equality, and minimize poverty rates, across the Atlantic the US is getting more divided and less tolerant.

In the 2017 Social Progress Index, a ranking of 128 nations looking at quality of life, the US is 18th out of 128. Michael Green, the CEO of SPI, said the US was "flatlining", primarily due to its falling scores on measures of tolerance and inclusion.

"Compared to other countries with similar GDP, the US is lagging in its homicide rates, terrorism, and its traffic deaths", Green told Business Insider.

But the country also fell well below other nations, including Denmark, Finland, Germany, Canada, and Sweden, because of its poor scores on information and communication. The category measures a country's access to the internet, mobile phone subscriptions, and level of press freedom.

"A surprisingly low number of people have access to the internet in the US" relative to the rest of the industrialized world, Green said. The US ranks 27th in the world. It also showed a weak performance in environmental quality (33rd), health and wellness (34th), and nutrition and basic medical care (36th).

The strongest category for the US was education. The country placed first, but Green points out the ranking did not take cost into consideration.

Declining scores in tolerance and inclusion highlight the growing political and cultural divides taking place in the US, most noticeably in the wake of the 2016 presidential election. A Gallup poll published in late November 2016 found the number of Americans who viewed the country as divided was at a record-high 77%. SPI's ranking shows US discrimination against minorities ranks 39th in the world. Religious tolerance ranks 92nd.

Enough countries show poor scores in tolerance and inclusion, in fact, that Green believes the data reveal how fractured much of the world has become in matters of immigration.

The US joins France, Kuwait, and Saudia Arabia as the only countries that stood out for their poor performance relative to their GDP. Generally speaking, countries with higher GDPs were more socially progressive, according to SPI's ranking.

Countries such as Uganda and Ghana showed great improvement since 2014, Green said. The rise of mobile phones in East African nations has enabled more people to come online, boosting their countries' overall scores.

Green said that in order for under-performing countries like the US to improve their scores in 2018 and 2019, they'll need to embrace long-term investments in protecting people's rights.

"The US is not under-performing because of the Trump administration or the Obama administration", he said. "It's about the story of long-term under-investment in the justice system, in the education system, in healthcare. Those are the real challenges".

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Macron Faces Challenges After Foretold Victory

Via EUobserver:

On Sunday (18 June), French president Emmanuel Macron will have achieved the most spectacular takeover in French modern history.

But he will face risky challenges: managing a massive but heterogeneous and inexperienced majority in parliament in a country that is socially unstable.

According to the latest opinion polls, Macron's party, La Republique en Marche (LRM, The Republic on the Move), could capture up to 470 seats in the second round of the legislative elections.

That would amount to more than three-fifths of the 577-seat National Assembly, the French parliament's lower house.

It would leave the two main traditional parties, the center-right Republicans and the Socialist Party, with only 70 to 90 seats and 20-30 seats, respectively.

The far-right National Front (FN), whose leader, Marine Le Pen, faced Macron in the run-off for the presidential election in May, would get one to five seats, behind the radical-left Unbowed France (five to 15 seats).

Le Pen's defeat, as well as her poor performance in the presidential debate against Macron and an internal party controversy over whether to continue to defend a French exit from the euro, have demobilised FN voters during the legislative campaign.

The victory of LRM, a political movement that was founded only a year ago and is still not officially organised as a party, will follow Macron's own victory with 66.1 percent against Le Pen in his first ever political campaign.

Macron chose a Republican prime minister, Edouard Philippe, with a government that includes members of the right, centre, and left, as well as non-politicians.

In the process, he destabilised the established parties and will benefit from France's political tradition by which voters give the new president a majority.

Restive public opinion

But Macron's triumph remains fragile.

In the first round, last Sunday (11 June) only 47.62 percent of registered voters cast a valid ballot. The turnout is expected to be as low on Sunday, and would be the lowest since the 5th Republic was established in 1958.

"The new majority should not make the mistake of thinking that voters gave them a blank cheque", political scientist Yves-Marie Cann told Les Echos newspaper. "They have been lucky that there was no mobilisation against them".

According to a poll by OpinionWay published on Thursday, only 48 percent of people said they wanted that Macron has a majority.

If he is unlikely to have to deal with strong opposition in parliament, Macron could face a restive public opinion when he tries to introduce controversial measures such as a reform of the labour code to make lay-offs easier.

French voters have shown that they were ready to push out their leaders and vote for radical candidates on the left and right.

But Macron and Philippe could also have to manage a chaotic majority in the assembly.

'Avoiding a mess'

"We're going to have many elected people, almost too many. We will have to supervise them to avoid a mess", Macron was quoted as saying by the Canard Enchaine weekly, which is usually well-informed.

Big majorities are usually difficult to manage, because "subgroups or political clubs are created", political scientist Olivier Rozenberg pointed out in Liberation, a daily.

In addition, LRM is an assembly of people with different political views who are disillusioned with their traditional parties on the left and right, as well as of people with no political experience at all.

Next week, as the new MPs take their seats, Macron will participate in his first EU summit in Brussels.



Almost two months after his shock election, he will start to be tested on both his domestic and his EU ambitions for reform.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Finland’s Government Crisis Resolved Last Minute By Unexpected Rupture Of The Finns Party

Via Business Insider:

Monday’s political crisis caused by the election of hard-line ultra-nationalists at the Finns Party conference last weekend has passed – but not for the Finns Party itself. While driving to the President’s Naantali summer residence to hand in the government’s resignation, Prime Minister Juha Sipilä got the news that over 20 Finns Party MPs had resigned from their party and formed a new parliamentary group called ‘New Alternative’.

Sipilä turned round and held a different media conference at Turku Airport to explain that, “There is now no need to resign,” and that the government would continue – subject to a vote of confidence – with the new band of defectors. The split in the Finns Party started Tuesday morning when two MPs announced they could not accept the new leadership under party chair Jussi Halla-aho and his fellow travellers who are virulently anti-EU and anti-immigration to the point of being racist. Resignations then flooded out to the media.

The final figure of rebels is 21 with one wavering, leaving the Finns Party bloc just 15 MPs. But all the big guns, meaning three ministers, speaker of the Eduskuntatalo (parliament) and parliamentary group leader were all among the band who jumped from the FP ship. First and foremost was ex-FP leader for 20 years until last Saturday and current Foreign Minister Timo Soini.

“The group is ready to continue as part of the Sipilä government with the same programme and constitution,” said MP Simon Elo, who is now the new grouping’s spokesman.

“Today we are not just politicians but also acting on behalf of our country. It’s not just about Halla-aho’s election, but those elements that have taken over the party.” He echoed many others stating that the party was not now the one he joined.

The swiftness and decisiveness of the split caught commentators and others completely by surprise – none more so than the new Finns Party leader himself. “It was expected that one or a few MPs might go, but I didn’t expect such a large scale movement”, he bleated.

“Among the people (who have gone) were individuals of whom I would have least expected. All were disappointing, but some more than others”.

His rump Finns Party is left with just 15 MPs now and the rift has rippled out throughout local government too. While the scale came as a shock, the reasoning behind it was obvious. Halla-aho and his cohorts now in charge of the Finns Party have a chequered past of blatant racist comments and speeches not to mention his position as MEP when holding strong anti-EU opinions. This attracted accusations of hypocrisy due to his willingness to take Brussels money while still intending to run the party from there.

Other losers, though on a much smaller scale, are the two parties that were swilling to step into the void left by the Finns Party. The Swedish People’s Party and Christian Democrats are now dreaming of what might have been. But they would have only brought 15 MPs, leaving a putative coalition with a majority of just one with 101 seats in the 200-seat parliament.

With a minimum of 21 MPs, the ‘new’ government of the Centre and National Coalition parties with New Alternative has a more comfortable 107. Maria Louhela, still Speaker and New Alternative member said that a vote of confidence would probably take place next week. So while the government may breathe a sigh of relief, for the Finns Party it will be a sharp intake of breath and an aspirin to ease the sudden headache and find a new image to replace its current tarnished reputation, as many media have stopped calling it populist – it is now ‘ultra-nationalist’.

Monday, June 12, 2017

The Finnish Government Is Falling Due To New Finns Party Leader

Via Business Insider:

The election of MEP Jussi Halla-aho has plunged Finland into a political crisis, with many expecting the three-party right-wing coalition to collapse over his strident anti-EU, -euro and anti-immigrant stances. The Finns Party leadership is now occupied by far right-wingers with the party congress last weekend choosing MPs Laura Huhtasaari as first vice-chair and Teuvo Hakkaraine as joint second vice-chair.

Previous leader for twenty years, Timo Soini, who is the current Foreign Minister, took a more moderate and practical position. He took over from the defunct Finnish Smallholders Party when it was in danger of extinction and led it to a high of nearly 20% of votes in parliamentary elections.

Both Halla-aho and Hakkarainen have been convicted of racist crimes in 2012 and 2016 respectively. In his acceptance speech, the new leader was not conciliatory at all, drawing up future policy battle lines instead. He criticised other parties, which includes his now coalition colleagues, for their positive EU viewpoints especially on integration.

Parroting typically modern populist parlance, he said the EU's freedom of workers policy distorted labour markets and the euro weakened nations to control their budgets. Although he admitted that leaving the EU was not possible now, he said, "I believe staying in the EU is not in Finland's long-term interests".

"Our job as the only Eurosceptic party is to instigate and maintain critical well-founded discussion on the topic. We should seek allies in countries which are also sceptical about loss of national sovereignty".

So links will be established with the Swedish People's Party and Danish People's Party, which together would give the Finns Party leverage in the European Parliament and Nordic Council.

Crisis Meeting

But just as Halla-aho and colleagues were celebrating what they assumed is a new dawn, government coalition partners, Centre Party and National Coalition Party (Kokoomus) and their leaders proved notto be in the mood for surrender.

PM Sipilä called immediately for a meeting today (Monday) due to Halla-aho's decision that Soini could not continue as FM. "The Finns Party is a completely new party with new policies now," Sipilä growled, adding that no negotiations on immigration or other previously agreed government programmes would take place.

NCP leader and Finance Minister Petteri Orpo stated his party would re-consider whether it should remain in a Finns Party government coalition. "The NCP will not stay unconditionally," he said, "This is matter of principles.. Finland is open, rich in languages and culture".

Others are waiting in the wings, with both the Swedish People's Party and Christian Democrats announcing they would possibly be willing to be part of a new coalition. The SPP, despite its name, is based on the Swedish language and is mainly a broad umbrella of opinions, but not anti-EU or immigrant.

However, whatever the outcome, the fact is that the Finns Party is sinking in the polls - the last in April showing support at 9%. In 2015 Finns Party got 17.7% of the vote and 38 MPs. Now at half that figure and with, by Finnish standards, an extremist holding the reins, its future looks grim. In addition to his conviction, it recently came out that Halla-aho had a child with a woman with whom he had a long affair.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Danish Math Wizards Use Big Data To Cut Airport Waiting Time In Half – And Next They’re Doing The Same With Hospitals

Via Business Insider:

Danish startup Copenhagen Optimization has become the go-to-guys for making airports run more smoothly. Like they did at Genève Aéroport where the average waiting time was reduced by more than 50%.

“It’s all about numbers”, says Anders Dohn, Managing Partner and co-founder at Copenhagen Optimization, ”At the core, we have a number of sophisticated mathematical models that we apply to each specific operational area. We use data to find patterns we can utilize in terms of optimization. For instance, we know that passengers use more trays at the security checkpoint in the winter because people wear more clothes. But with our model, we predict the pressure on security, treating each day as unique. That allows for a much more efficient allocation of resources”.

Since 2015, the startup has worked with 20 airports around the world, improving their operations. At Dublin Airport, passenger throughput increased by 10% and in Stockholm Arlanda, peak in check-in counter demand was decreased by 5.5%.

The passenger leaves a data trail through the airport.

The math experts have chosen to work with airports for two main reasons. Firstly, both Anders Dohn and his co-founder Kasper Hounsgaard have practical experience from managerial positions at Copenhagen Airports. Secondly, airports have vast amounts of data at their disposal, enabling them to follow the passenger's every step, almost.

”The passenger submits data all along the way, from checking in to having the boarding pass scanned at an airport shop. Furthermore, many airports have Wi-Fi or sensor technology to track passengers within the airport.

That means that we know when the passengers arrive, how long they stand in line, how long they take to pass through security, where they are in the airport and how many passengers are boarding the plane”, says Anders Dohn.

Airports are late on strategy and technology.

With all that data at their disposal, you would expect airports to excel at analyses and forecasts but that is not the case.

”Other industries like retail are way ahead of airports when it comes to tracking people”, Kasper Hounsgaard explains, ”I think it is cultural. Airports are really good at making things work in real-time. But they can improve planning by working in more structured ways with data and thinking long term”.

In order to help airports getting better - and to expand the business - Copenhagen Optimization recently launched software-as-a-service solution, Better Aiport. The client can subscribe to services such as Better Border Control and Better Forecast.

Next destination: Hospitals

Airports are not the only people-intensive facilities in need of optimization, and the Danish startup is now turning to hospitals. ”The challenge is similar to airports. You have a large number of people that need to move through the infrastructure, but at the same time you must pay attention to their situation and needs”, says Kasper Hounsgaard.

The startup is working with the pathology department at Rigshospitalet in Copenhagen, Denmark's largest hospital.

”The department handles a large number of different samples and the prioritization of tasks is complex. We analyze the extensive data available to help them improve their processes”, Anders Dohn explains.

Copenhagen Optimization has been in operation for two years and employs 15 people. It has been without external funding until recently when the company got additional capital from The Danish Growth Fund (Vækstfonden), and three private investors.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

The 1000 Richest Families In Scandinavia Evade A Third Of Their Taxes, Finds A New Bombshell Study

Via Business Insider:

A new study indicates that Scandinavia's wealthiest families are moving their money abroad to avoid paying taxes.

Research study: The richest families in Scandinavia avoid paying up to a third of their taxes

The study estimates that the 1000 richest families in Scandinavia have withheld as much as 32 procent of the taxes they would otherwise be required to pay.

The researchers behind the study imply that the wealth gap in Scandinavia in the last ten years has increased more than previously thought. The study's results, published on Monday, have made waves in Norway, Denmark, and Sweden.

“Up until now there’s been an assumption that most of tax evasion is done by small business owners who bend the rules, but these results show something completely different. It’s actually the wealthiest people who are avoiding taxes to the largest extent”, said Annette Alstadsaeter, a professor at Handelshoyskolen in Oslo involved in the study, to SVT.

Alstadsaeter worked together with her research colleagues Niels Johansson at Copenhagen University and Gabriel Zucman at Berkelely in California. Their estimates are partly based on the Panama Papers and Swissleaks (an extensive leak of Swiss bank accounts) as well as an investigation into Swedish tax evasion previosuly done by SVT.

The rich prefer Swiss bank accounts

Based on their study, the trio could conclude that the wealthier the individidual, the higher the likelihood of tax evasion. This is likely because the rich have better opportunities to hide money abroad.

Having compared bank account details in Swissleaks with tax declarations in Denmark and Norway, the researchers posit that almost all Swiss bank accounts set up by Scandinavians are being used for tax evasion.

“Normally it’s not illegal to have a bank account in Switzerland. But this shows that 95 percent of the accounts are not included in tax declarations. This means we’re talking about tax evasion”, Alstadsaeter said to SVT.

The study also found that as a whole, tax evasion leads to three percent less tax revenue in Scandinavia. The researchers do not know the identities of the concerned individuals, as bank account details were anonymized ahead of the study.