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The Great Erosion of Banking
Bitcoin passes $35k, is it back? JP Morgan launches Pay-by-Bank with Mastercard and Visa must be P*ssed
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Hey Fintech Nerds 👋
How was your Money 2020 (or UnMoney 2020) week?
It seems like everything is credit, 1033 will indeed pass, and everyone can have Zelle now (whether or not anyone wants Zelle in a Fintech app is a whole other question).
Fintech stocks might be down, but the energy in the room feels the opposite of dead.
Meanwhile, JP Morgan has launched Pay-by-Bank with Mastercard (Finicity). I saw this and thought, Visa must be p*ssed right now. 🌋 (In Things to Know 👀)
Bitcoin is back and less volatile than US Treasuries over the last 12 months. The world is weird. (In Things to Know 👀)
But the big picture is banks are eroding. They’re losing market share at 1 to 2% annually; without urgent action, that will continue. This week’s Rant is The Great Erosion of Banking. 📣
🎧 PS. If you want to hear me talking about real-life and how I am with money, Zac and Kristen at Fintech Family Hour interviewed me for “Are you Human?” Was so fun!
📽 PPS. This week, CNBC asked me if I thought Fintech was dead. Here’s my 5-minute interview segment.
Here's this week's Brainfood in summary
📣 Rant: The Great erosion of banking
💸 4 Fintech Companies:
Pangea - "Expert mode Wise" for FX Hedging
Hedgeflows - FX Hedging and payment automation for SMBs
Lopay - The low-cost alternative to iZettle or Square (UK)
Cobre - Modern Treasury for Colombia
👀 Things to Know:
📚 Good Read: Mckinsey - The Great Banking Transition
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Weekly Rant 📣
The Great Erosion of Banking
Financial services is in the middle of a slow-moving earthquake.
Fintech companies are dealing with a hangover from 2021, when everything was easy.
Big Tech companies are wrestling with regulation as they go deeper into financial services.
Banks are gradually eroding in relevance, with more than 70% of financial stock growth happening off-balance-sheet
To some regulators, "Fintech" means risk and is being viewed with suspicion.
Life got hard.
Several competing narratives are now duking it out for what happens from here.
The Fintech era is over: Fintech had an optimism bias and now faces a reckoning. The "higher-for-longer" interest rates will make banks more attractive in the long-term. Normal service will resume, and the banks will inevitably scoop up all the best Fintech ideas.
Banks are becoming less relevant: While they enjoy record profits, they lose market share at around 1% to 2% annually. Private equity, credit, and non-bank lenders are picking up the slack. Banks have never been more vulnerable, making this the best time to truly breakthrough as a Fintech company.
If these two world views are at opposite ends of a spectrum, the reality is in the middle.
Let’s do this 🏊♀️
Thesis: The future of financial services is partnerships. Banks and Fintech companies need each other for growth. The private markets are hungry for more opportunities to distribute lending, and banks will continue to erode unless they adapt.
The interest rate environment and macro
Higher rates make everyone more risk-averse
It will get worse before it gets better
The yield curve is signaling a recession
The Fintech Hangover that follows
Fintech has a massive headwind making times harder for almost anyone in the sector
Some zero-sum mindsets are creeping in
But there are winners even in this market
The Great Erosion of Banking
On the surface, large banks haven't had it better in a decade, yet stock prices are eroding
Banks are becoming less relevant in the financial services ecosystem
Banks are eroding because they live in a bubble
Banks are eroding because of their culture like committees and "PMOs"
They're LARPing at technology
They lack genuine customer obsession
They're terrible at partnerships
Banks lack a sense of urgency
And they're not on a "level playing field"
The Fintech advantage remains even with the headwinds
Fintech has always been a great business. We just called it something else.
Fintech brought the software company playbook to financial services.
Fintech became "a thing" after the Global Financial Crisis, but the lessons learned are enduring.
The software company growth playbook applies; you can see this is the bank's failure to capture the opportunities.
The biggest advantage Fintech companies have is the talent and culture.
Fintech must solve its fraud and compliance issues to win.
The Opportunity for Banks
Some banks are already winning by doubling down on what they're great at (but this doesn't apply if you're "universal").
No amount of tech spend is too little
Procurement can be a competitive advantage
Compliance can be a competitive advantage
Partnerships are the win/win we need for a better financial system
1. Interest rates and macro.
a) Rates being up makes everyone more risk-averse. Two years ago, memestocks and crypto were the best way to make a return. Investors and companies can get 5.3% "risk-free" investing in US Treasuries. This has several knock-on effects.
Capital that would have flowed to risky consumer investments no longer does. This means Fintech apps that did well in stock trading have lost daily active users.
Consumers now find mortgages are expensive and are less likely to sell an old place or buy a new one. This means real estate Fintech companies have less volume.
Consumers are facing inflation, impacting household budgets. They're buying less discretionary and more staples. Impacting the perception of BNPL as a category.
Public market Fintech stocks have dropped as much as 90%, making the "comps" or comparisons VCs use as one benchmark of company valuations much lower.
Venture Capital as an asset class is being re-evaluated by Limited Partners (LPs) when compared to treasuries.
This concentrates minds in VCs and makes capital less available for Fintech companies. The core metric of success has shifted from user growth to unit economics and profitable growth.
b) It will get worse before it gets better. 2024 could be rough. The quite-part-out-loud bit of central bank policy is the way to control inflation is to create job losses. If rates increase, borrowing becomes expensive, and companies reign in spending. The best way to cut spending as a company is to cut the biggest single cost any company has: its people.
But that isn't happening fast enough for the Fed. That means they're having to keep interest rates high. And "higher-for-longer" means all the "risk averse" factors above won't change soon.
Side note 1: You must wonder how much the gig economy has given people a lifeline. Not all jobs are created equal, and that shifts the financial products consumers and businesses need.
c) The yield curve is signaling a recession. The fact that job losses haven't happened or that the consumer isn't in the worst place they've ever been is not a moment for complacency. If the models are correct, we'll start losing 175,000 jobs monthly. High inflation + job losses + lower corporate earnings won't be pretty.
The banks are calling this out. Bank of America says the consumer has lost their resilience already. Jamie Dimon noted that if you look back on 1994, 2000, and 2009, the Fed never predicted these inflection points, and the world faces massive uncertainty.
The elephants in the room are conflict, trade wars, and a looming debt crisis.
So far, the landing has been "soft." But we're not out of the woods, not by a long shot. Not if rates stay higher for longer.
This is the new normal.
Fintech companies and banks need to adapt from their pre-2022 defaults to have a shot at winning.
2. The Fintech Hangover.
a) Hangovers suck. Alex Johnson described the Fintech Hangover as a neat metaphor. Long-term near-zero interest rates felt normal but were actually super unusual. The normalization of rates is now creating a reckoning and a return to reality, resulting in
Layoffs and hiring freezes. Layoffs have hit every Fintech company, from giants like Plaid, Klarna, and Stripe to earlier-stage companies.
Regulation and compliance issues. Whether it's companies claiming to be FDIC insured incorrectly or not having adequate BSA/AML controls, we see the downsides of the new distribution models.
Board meetings and investor relations are getting harder. QED partner and investor Frank Rotman notes how board meetings are becoming more heated as portfolio companies come under stress.
Price sensitivity and vendor consolidation. Signing up for another SaaS product or tool is easy when nobody looks at the expense line. Figuring out how to take 8 vendors, consolidate them into one, and still get better performance is not easy.
M&A and closure. The next funding round isn't guaranteed; the IPO market is closed, and the ideal customer for a Fintech product is either already well-served or has left the market.
Set against this backdrop, being "default alive" is hard enough. The VC funding runway will run out, and will you be profitable when it runs out?
Being default alive and growing rapidly is incredibly hard.
As it should be.
b) When growth goes, zero-sum mindsets kick in. It's all getting a bit ugly. Whether it's Banking-as-a-Service companies having a public spat with partner banks or falling out with their investors in public. It feels like the optimism has been sucked out of the room. The Fintech nerd conversation has shifted from "Did you hear x got funded at y valuation?" to "Did you hear company A is having real problems with company B."
c) This market is creating winners. There are pockets of the market completely isolated. The early-stage companies focus on less crowded segments (like private credit, Insuretech, or access to US treasuries). Anything related to AI, compliance, or fraud also has a tailwind.
Ultimately, the right kind of revenue growth is oxygen. And there's a lot of companies gasping.
Gotta hydrate with a hangover.
The picture isn't much better in the banking sector.
3. The Great Erosion of Banking
a) On the surface, large banks haven't had it better in a decade, yet stock prices are eroding. Citi, Wells, Chase, and their peers have had a stellar earnings season.
But stock prices are down for all but one of the four mega-cap universal banks.
Revenue at Chase was up 34%, and the stock is up 11% this year
Citi revenue was up 10% and net income up 2%; the stock is down 8% YoY
Wells Fargo's revenue was up 6.5%, net income up 6%, and the stock is down 1.3% YoY.
Bank of America revenue was up 3% and profit 10%; stock is down 5% YoY.
The four biggest banks have a massive tailwind from higher interest rates.
Yet nearly all of them have an eroding stock price. When interest rates go up, loan rates go up. When loan rates go up, banks make more money.
b) Banks are becoming less relevant in the financial services ecosystem. Mckinsey noted that 70% of financial stock growth happens away from banks, and the largest banks lose value at 1 to 2% per year. As a sector, they're underperforming all other industries by 70% on a "price-to-book" ratio
Banks have been unbundled.
I wrote a couple of weeks ago that lending doesn't need banks.
The entire value chain doesn't.
Consumer deposits, payments, lending, and mortgages no longer need a bank. Fintech companies offer a better UX, pricing, and service.
Business payment acceptance, spend management, and now treasury management no longer need a bank. Fintech companies help aggregate multiple accounts and offer higher yields and 100x better experience.
c) Banks are eroding because they live in a bubble. As an anecdote, I was on a flight to Frankfurt last week from London and saw countless middle-aged men in suits with their printed-out airline tickets in a plastic wallet. First of all, who prints things these days? And did they print that at home? If so, they actually own a printer. If not, did their EA do it? They live in the early 2000s (which is the last time banks were massively relevant).
d) Banks are eroding because of their culture like committees and "PMOs". Banks have a higher compliance burden, but often, the way they work is a bigger blocker. "Program Management Offices" are professional reporting, PowerPoint, and process exercises. They can be useful for risk avoidance, but banks overdo it.
e) They're LARPing at technology. Live-action role-playing is putting on an outfit (e.g., a wizard) and playing that role (e.g., in a field). Banks might have Macs spend on "AI" and a mobile app, but it's copying the appearance of Tech, not the reality.
f) They lack genuine customer obsession. I love this anecdote from Basile at Arc. He installed the Superhuman email client, and like magic, it copied all of his color coding from Gmail. He describes that as "the kind of feature nobody would build if it was ROI tested." Banks start at ROI and spreadsheets. Younger tech companies must begin with customers and usage and work from there. It's existential. I've heard bank CEOs walk around saying the word customer, over and over and over again. Saying it enough will make it appear like beetlejuice.
g) They're terrible at partnerships. I wrote a few weeks ago about how they're terrible at procurement. 90% of banks want to partner with Fintech companies, but very few achieve it. Contracting takes an average of 2 years; if the Fintech is still alive by then, only 60% of contracts go live. The RFP and procurement processes are built to handle massive suppliers like IBM and Oracle, and 81% of banks lack experience with APIs. It's like banks are from Venus and Fintech companies from Mars.
h) Banks are eroding because there's no sense of urgency. Mid-management bankers are excuse artists. Show them a Neoank, and they'll say, "That's a debit card; we can do that." Show them a high-performing Fintech company, and they will say, "Oh, but they don't have to comply with the regulations we do."
This doesn't apply to all banks or all staff at banks, but as a general pattern, it resonates.
i) The lack of a level playing field. The bankers are also partially correct that the Fintech companies don't always meet the high watermark of compliance. While many do, the fraud and compliance issues we see across the industry today directly result from chasing user growth and time to market. Compliance isn't just friction; it's also the law.
Banks have the highest burden of responsibility to the regulator. If you're not a bank, you must work with one at some level to interact with the financial system. The banks have to oversee the Fintech company. It's never the other way around.
Even though there are a few edge cases where that might be a good thing!
4. The Fintech secret sauce remains
a) Fintech has always been a great business. We just called it something else. Throughout the 80s and 90s, countless billion-dollar businesses were built. Capital One, ING, Experian, Yodlee, and a little company called PayPal were all founded in the 90s. New companies appear, grow massively, and capture new opportunities every decade. Their advantage is execution, speed to market, and doing things the bigger incumbents can't or won't.
b) Fintech brought the software company playbook to financial services. What changed is who the investors are and the ethos that "tech" culture brought to how businesses are built and scaled with software. Software has a zero marginal cost of distribution. When distribution cost is zero, what you build and how your customers interact with you change massively. Mobile and cloud supercharged this.
c) Fintech became a thing after the Global Financial Crisis. In the early 2010s, the great financial crisis made banking not cool, but what was cool was Tech. In 2012, the first Money 20/20 conference in Vegas brought the CEOs of companies like Stripe to the stage. The sleepy payments industry that was always industrial and manufacturing now had software coolness. The folks in the USA didn't call it Fintech yet (but we were on Fintech Twitter in the UK, so 😛).
d) The key advantages are speed of execution and customer obsession. Fintech companies are built different. Customer obsession, speed of execution, and a sense of grit and determination are night and day compared to life at corporates. Fintech companies built cashflow underwriting, digital onboarding, and expense cards that are actually a joy to use.
e) The biggest advantage Fintech companies have is the talent and culture. It's not about quality or skill; it's about how much they care and culture. Being in a large corporation can grind you down; often, the victory is getting through the committee with approval. Whenever I speak to operators, I can feel how much the talent cares; it is palpable and very different from how large banks feel. Again, there are exceptions to this (not naming names, but you know who you are).
Fintech operators get into the weeds, fill in the gaps, and help each other. Banks often have that one person who knows how the systems really work. In Fintech, everyone gets into the details. Watch any of the videos and see how normal it is to wrestle with the complexity, not with a project management office or committee.
There's also a sense of grit and urgency that isn't there in large organizations. Banks do incredible things in a crisis. During the pandemic, the herculean efforts to get things done were astonishing. That "oh shit, we've got to do this, life depends on it" feel is life in a startup.
f) Fintech must solve its fraud and compliance issues to win. The reality is many sectors still haven't got this right. There are some amazing examples and bright spots, but it's not yet the North Star for the industry. Regulation pushback has started, Big Tech has arrived, and funding isn't assured. The best Fintech companies will get as obsessed about compliance as they are about customers.
Be the measuring stick.
5. The opportunity for banks
a) Some banks are already winning by doubling down on what they're great at. There are pockets of growth in the universal banks, with Citi reporting markets and transaction banking performing well in its Q3 results. The problem is the big universal banking model is broken unless you're Chase. In fact, the only banking sub-sectors almost universally performing are wealth management and investment banking.
Some smaller banks have become great at partnerships or specialist lending like solar. But universal banks can't be small by their nature. So what can they do?
b) No amount of tech spend is too little. The one bank increasing its Tech spending the fastest is also the only one in the big 4 US banks with stock price growth. JP Morgan is now at $15bn tech spend annually. In 2022, when announcing a large leap in spending, the market initially reacted by selling. Surely, as interest rates rose, banks would have a tailwind and should profit from that?
It is no coincidence that JP Morgan has acquired Fintech companies, built spend management competitors, and has one of the most successful Neobank-like offerings in the UK, a new market for the bank. Not everything they do succeeds, but they're consistent.
Consistency is a force of nature few banks have. It rarely lasts through the funding cycle or until the next CEO.
c) Procurement can be a competitive advantage. 90% of banks want to buy from a Fintech company, and 81% don't feel they have the skills to use APIs. Simply getting good at this would create outsized leverage. Same old suppliers, same old terrible performance. Newer suppliers will need more hand-holding. There are many trying, but the ones that crack this nut, as a top-of-house, urgent, OMG-we-have-to-fix-this priority, can capture market opportunities their peers will miss.
d) Compliance can be a competitive advantage. The increasing amount of smaller banks bringing "Banking as a Service" ever more in-house with the direct model is a sign of maturity. The lack of a level playing field can be turned inside out. The market craves credibility, security, and trust. The banks that can overcome arthritis and execute can capture that opportunity. Bankers should take up yoga (metaphorically).
6. It's not Fintech vs Banks. It's Partnership time.
The future of financial services is partnerships.
Fintech companies need growth, and banks need relevance.
This is a natural win/win.
To get growth, Fintech companies need to go as hard on risk and compliance obsession as they do on customers. And more than anything, keep going. The grit to climb the mountain when there's a headwind, will separate the winners from the also-rans.
Banks need growth and to spend more on Tech.
Fintech, the provider, is part of the answer here.
But Fintech, the partner distributing new lending products, might "compete" on one level but not another. That's a massive opportunity, too.
Banks must productize risk and compliance (I know a little company that can help here), make procurement a competitive advantage, and consider Tech spending existential.
No more LARPing at Tech. It's time to execute.
Optimism is a good bias.
But optimism doesn't mean ignoring reality. Harvard Business Review found optimistic entrepreneurs failed more often.
Zero interest rates (ZIRP) might have meant some companies pushed a little too hard on growth, and we've now got a hangover of fraud issues.
But it also means we got to "get paid early," cashflow underwriting, and expense cards that work like magic.
What will we get next?
Surprise me anon.
4 Fintech Companies 💸
1. Pangea - "Expert mode Wise" for FX Hedging
Pangea is a single platform to send, hold, and hedge foreign currency. With currency wallets, users can manage global payment operations in one place. Based on the spot rate, the platform will also "auto-send" money at the most cost-effective time of day. The platform also features a powerful risk analysis dashboard.
🧠 This platform is the fever dream of bank FX product teams. I remember working on a similar all-in-one platform as a consulting project for a bank in 2019. Client demand for this kind of product in mid-market is incredible. FX is still very manual, involving emails, calls, and spreadsheets. Someone needed to build this platform, and everyone is building it simultaneously. This will be much needed as digital businesses scale and atoms become bits. This is the missing expert mode from Wise. Or if Wise had an older brother who was a bit more capable but aloof.
2. Hedgeflows - FX Hedging and payment automation for SMBs
Hedgeflows provide a business account, payment, and reconciliation across multiple currencies. The platform also provides cash flow analytics and FX risk management dashboards. Hedgeflows integrates with multiple accounting platforms like Xero and Quickbooks to help manage invoices and reconciliation. It's sort of like if Modern Treasury and Wise had a baby.
🧠 Large businesses run treasury desks that throw people and spreadsheets at managing FX currency moves unavailable to SMBs. To companies like Apple, managing currency well is the kind of thing that can show up in quarterly reporting. Bringing that to SMBs is something bank FX desks have done for decades. Making that digital makes sense. The risk with these businesses is go-to-market and wedge. SMB FX desks tend to be boutique, which isn't always venture scale. But a platform could change that, just like Wise did at the lower end.
3. Lopay - The low-cost alternative to iZettle or Square (UK)
Lopay provides a low-cost card payment terminal to small and medium-sized businesses. It claims to be "less than half the price of iZettle, SumUp and Square. Lopay lets merchants accept cards for 0.79% if they settle weekly, 0.99% for the next day, and 1.79% for instant settlement. The small print includes +0.25% at the point of sale and +0.69% for subscriptions.
🧠 This looks like enterprise pricing with SMB simplicity of product. The power of SMB payment terminals is their simplicity and speed. Part of that is included in the pricing model, which is "expensive." In reality, the pricing is high to cover a variety of edge cases (like premium Amex cards or subscriptions). By breaking that out, Lopay gets to say, "We're the lowest-cost option!" I wonder how many small businesses are desperately seeking lower fees vs looking for more sales and managing inventory/payroll, etc. Lopay has 20k merchants already, so they could be on to something. The SMB point of sale space is maturing.
4. Cobre - Modern Treasury for Colombia
Cobre lets marketplaces, platforms, and growth companies connect their bank accounts and accounting software into a single dashboard. They claim to improve reconciliation time by 2x, reduce time spent on payments by 70%, and optimize working capital by up to 20%.
🧠 That's the cleanest business case for treasury management ever. I'm a big fan of companies placing KPIs up front in the sales pitch. "Automation" can feel like a "nice to have," but who doesn't want 20% better working capital? They're in a growing market where incumbents haven't always moved quickly to solve problems. Keep an eye on these guys.
Things to know 👀
Merchants and billers will be able to give users the ability to pay by bank app with a new service from Mastercard and JP Morgan. Users who select pay by bank on the billers web page will go through an Open Banking flow to select their bank and to share their bank information. Verizon will pilot the solution in the coming months,
🤔 Pay by bank app already exists. If you make a downpayment on a Tesla in the US, that payment flow is initiated with Plaid account linking. What's new here is JP Morgan can take this package to some of its biggest corporate payments customers like Verizon.
🤔 JP Morgan payments are quietly everywhere. While Citi and Wells are major players in the ACH and payments ecosystem, you rarely see them win a partnership headline like this. As Ricky Bobby said. If you're not first, you're last.
🤔 Visa must be p*ssed at the DoJ right now. Mastercard can do this because it acquired Finicity, the Open Banking aggregator. Visa would have to build all of this in-house or try to acquire something smaller. They're now locked out of a key payments offering to some extent.
2. Bitcoin passes $35k. Is Bitcoin Back?
Bitcoin passed $35,000 on Tuesday on further evidence that a Bitcoin ETF was imminent, geopolitical turmoil, and as a possible alternative to Gold as a geopolitical hedge. Blackrock's potential ETF appeared on the DTCC website with the ticker IBTC, often seen as a key requirement before launch.
🤔 Is Bitcoin back? It never went away. You may have gotten bored or written it off (along with the rest of Crypto) while GenAI happened, yet Bitcoin has quietly marched from $20k to $35k over the past year.
🤔 I hope we don't see another hype cycle. We don't need another run of Crypto weirdness; we need digital Gold. A stable, consistent infrastructure for a new Bretton Woods in a more balkanized world.
🤔 Isn't it weird that this seems normal? Once considered "rat poison squared" by Warren Buffet and hated by regulators, Bitcoin is now largely uncontroversial. It's funny how Web3 and Crypto get a ton of criticism yet have a legitimate shot at changing finance more than Fintech ever has?
Good Reads 📚
It's a great time to be a bank on the surface; profits are at the highest since 2007. Yet there's a tipping point happening. Banks are now the worst-performing sector by PE multiple. All of the growth in financial services is happening outside the banks.
Mckinsey offers 5 solutions (translated from consultant BS into human-speak):
Get better at Tech.
Do banking as a service.
Scale or exit transaction businesses.
Do embedded finance directly and via 3rd parties.
Make the risk function a differentiator.
Sounds familiar 😇
🧠 Damn, they make pretty charts. Some data highlights: The financial services industry intermediates $400trn to generate $7trn in revenue and $1trn profit. Retail and Wholesale are the largest contributors. Banks are 70% below all other industries on a price-to-book ratio and are not creating shareholder value, and margins are eroding.
🧠 Erosion of relevance: 70% of financial stock growth happens off-balance-sheet (e.g., private credit or private equity). Transactions in payments, wealth, and capital markets have shifted from banks to specialists.
🧠 Winners and losers: The worst performers are "mid-tier universal banks" and Globally Systemically Important Banks (GSIBs); the best are cap markets infrastructure and payments companies. Banks have collectively been losing value at 1 to 2% per year.
🧠 The big unknown: Will "higher-for-longer" rates reverse this long-term trend and wash out new lenders and Fintech companies? I doubt it (see the Rant for more!)
🧠 What high-performing banks have in common: They spend substantially more on Tech. When JP Morgan announced it was doubling its tech budget, the market hated it. Yet, in hindsight, it was the right call.
🧠 Report lowlight: "GenAI should be a deep strategy issue." Made me want to vomit; I mean, they would say that, wouldn't they? But also, more than anything, it is far too early for that. Their strategy recommendations aren't wrong, but banks have far more mileage in getting Machine Learning right than GenAI in the short term. The optimal thing for a CEO to do is create a personal account and tinker with GenAI enough to have a decent understanding of it as a user. I know one top 100 bank CEO who has written code against more than one large language model API and has an account on Hugging Face. That's your benchmark. Bank CEO, if your Mckinsey partner hasn't recommended that. Fire them.
That's all, folks. 👋
Remember, if you're enjoying this content, please do tell all your fintech friends to check it out and hit the subscribe button :)
Disclosures: (1) All content and views expressed here are the authors' personal opinions and do not reflect the views of any of their employers or employees. (2) All companies or assets mentioned by the author in which the author has a personal and/or financial interest are denoted with a * (3) Any companies mentioned in Rants are top of mind and used for illustrative purposes only. (4) I'm not an expert at everything you read here. Some of it is me thinking out loud and learning as I go; please don't take it as gospel—strong opinions, weakly held.