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How Alternative Assets and Data Boost Security in the Time of Market Uncertainty

Source: Finance Derivative

Author: Gediminas Rickevičius, VP Global Partnerships at Oxylabs

We live in interesting times, in both good and bad senses. While innovation drives our enthusiasm for the future, the restless geopolitical and Earth’s climate leave room for anxiety.

Interesting times are not always what investors would want. Market uncertainty means insecure positions for the portfolios composed of traditional assets like stocks and bonds. This is the time to look for alternative solutions. In 2024, alternative assets and alternative data are both set for another big year. It will be even bigger for those who effectively use these alternatives.

The growth spur of alternative assets

If we follow the conventional understanding of investment centered around stocks, bonds, and cash, alternative assets are inevitably placed in the periphery. As usual, however, the periphery is much broader than the center. Various asset classes, from the oldest ones, like commodities and real estate, to the newest ones, like cryptocurrency, are often deemed alternatives.

In institutional investment, alternatives have always been overshadowed by their more liquid and closely regulated traditional counterparts. However, alternative asset classes have been emerging out of this shadow recently. Comprising only 6% of the global investable market 15 years ago, they are expected to grow their share to 24% by 2025.

Alternative fund managers all over the world are projecting that 2024 will be another leap year, with around 85% expecting an increase in capital raising. Thus, alternative investment is still reaching its peak, which might be the perfect time to jump on board.

What drives the growth?

Investor faith in alternatives is reasonably driven by their recent performance. Over the last three years, Blackstone Group’s Alternative Assets Management (BAAM) unit outperformed the traditional 60-stocks/40-bonds portfolio by almost 12%.

These results align with historical trends and encourage investors already looking for ways to outride the stormy markets. According to J.P. Morgan, the main investor concerns in 2024 will be those where alternative assets are known to add support – diversification, hedging inflation, and alpha.

Increased retail investors’ access to alternative investments is another growth driver. The younger generations are the leading force in this regard. While older generations already have the financial cushion to patiently wait for long-term returns, Gen Z and Millennials seek to improve their current economic situation. That and feeling comfortable with new technology and financial instruments like cryptocurrency make young investors seek access to alternatives.

For these generations, social media plays a crucial role in investing. It influences them to choose riskier but more rewarding alternatives and serves as an alternative source of knowledge about investing.

Nevertheless, alternative investments are still dominated by the ultra-wealthy, who tend to have alternative assets making up 50% of their portfolios. Given their high stakes in alternative investments, one can be sure that these investors go far beyond social media when sourcing investment intelligence.

Alternative data in investment

Thinking about investing, many of us imagine investors researching stocks and bonds by looking at SEC filings, press releases, and financial statements. This is the traditional picture.

The alternative picture is bigger. Both alternative assets and alternative data have more types than their traditional counterparts. All data types outside the aforementioned official data sources are considered alternative data.

Often, alternative assets and data are also larger in volume. Real estate alone is the world’s largest asset class. Online real estate listings provide an extensive data source for meaningful insights into this investment vehicle. One can scrape these listings for price, location, description, and other crucial data. Another alternative data source, geolocation, provides information on movement patterns around the property. Thus, it is especially handy for investing in commercial real estate that depends on the number of potential customers passing by.

Similar ways of utilizing alternative data sources for investment intelligence are applicable to all types of alternative assets. For example, private equity investors can benefit from online job postings data and firmographics. Most importantly, large-scale alternative data collection is paramount for investors with diverse alternative asset portfolios.

Data opens the doors to diversification

Despite the clear advantages of diversification, not all investors and fund managers feel comfortable utilizing alternative assets for it. Some level of insecurity is understandable. To effectively use the versatility of alternative investments, one needs to understand many relatively unfamiliar markets.

Other major concerns related to such assets include higher fees and a tough time getting out of the investment once it is made. Higher initial investment and relative illiquidity are also among the main factors that historically made alternative assets available mostly, if not only, for the rich.

These concerns make access to alternative data a necessity. Only with versatile, accurate, and up-to-date information can investors securely invest in illiquid and costly alternatives. Many ultra-wealthy investors seem to agree since alternative data provider revenue is set to surpass that of traditional data providers before this decade ends.

Thus, access to premium data collection solutions is as important as larger financial capital in enabling the rich to dedicate a significant share of their portfolio to alternatives. The ultra-wealthy investors could just as well continue making their money from traditional investments. It is the certainty of having the best information available that encourages to look for diversification in often riskier and less regulated investments when stocks and bonds are underperforming.

However, although cutting-edge data-gathering technology might be more available to high-net-worth and institutional investors, alternative data can also advance the general democratization of investment. Retail investors can benefit from simple web scraping tools that allow a more systematic approach to investment research than adhering to sporadic advice from podcasts and social media posts.

Summing up

Alternative assets are generally only loosely correlated with traditional markets. Thus, in uncertain times such as these, alternative investments can provide a level of security that increases the portfolio’s health.

While still less familiar than mainstream investment, these assets are better understood and monitored with the help of alternative data sources. Despite being dubbed alternatives, many of these sources are, in fact, publicly available. One might consider this crucial investment intelligence a public secret of the rich.

As data extraction technology evolves, increasingly better solutions will be available to all investors, forcing us to reconsider whether it is time to rebrand alternatives as the universal vehicle for financial diversification.

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Business

How can a payments strategy support business growth?

Source: Finance Derivative

Following the global economic upheaval brought on by the pandemic, businesses are once again prioritising growth on a global scale. While every business recognises the importance of expansion, their methods, obstacles, and risks differ greatly.

In the following article, Sonya Geelon, Chief Commercial Officer at Conferma, explores some of the most common challenges holding businesses back, and how by including innovative payments solutions in your payment strategy, you can successfully position your business to expand into global markets.

Barriers to global expansion

At Conferma, we wanted to know what businesses felt stood between them and their growth ambitions, so we spoke to 400 financial decision makers to find out.

The research, shared in our new Growth Ignition Index report, identified global expansion as a key priority for businesses looking to grow across all regions. Significant drivers included increasing customer demand (46 per cent), maintaining a consistent cashflow (36 per cent) and undertaking digital transformation (34 per cent.) Businesses also highlighted a number of barriers, such as identifying valuable markets to expand into (27 per cent) and navigating complex cross-border payment systems (13 per cent.) The following sheds light on some of the factors that businesses perceive to be hindering their growth.

Operational inefficiencies

It’s a well-known fact that operational efficiency is crucial for giving businesses the competitive edge. If your processes run smoothly and effectively, you’re likely in a good position to grow. However, a third (33 per cent) of businesses identified operational inefficiencies as a significant sticking point, particularly among small-and-medium sized organisations. This perhaps indicates that larger companies have already invested in boosting efficiency to a degree, however, the issue was noted across businesses of all sizes.

Complex cross-border payments

Successful growth relies heavily on being able to make fast, seamless transactions, however, recent research from Rapyd found that 38 per cent of businesses experience delays of five days or more when sending or receiving international payments.[1] Costs and delays in cross-border transactions can have a significant impact on growth, cutting into revenues, restricting cash flow and complicating financial planning. Our own research highlighted this, with 14 per cent of businesses reporting slow and/or complex cross-border payments as a significant barrier to expansion.

So how can businesses overcome these challenges and unlock global growth?

Taking your payments strategy virtual

Amid the array of payment options available in the market, virtual cards have emerged as a versatile solution, valued by users globally. According to Juniper Research, the global value of virtual cards will increase over threefold in just 5 years, climbing from $1.9 trillion in 2021 to a staggering $6.8 trillion by 2026.[2]

So how do they work?

Virtual cards are essentially digital versions of traditional credit cards. The technology generates a 16-digit card  number, allowing an employee to make payments without having to physically hand over a card. Instead, they provide the virtual card number, expiration date, and security code, just like they would with a regular credit or debit card.

Virtual cards come with built-in fraud and security features, enabling restrictions on usage. For instance, users can set a specific date range or limit usage to certain merchants. This ensures that any attempts to exceed the set amount, use the card at unauthorised merchants, or spend beyond the specified date range will result in a declined transaction.

Using a virtual card provider allows access to extensive, pre-existing payments ecosystems. For example, Conferma connects 75+ card issuers and banks across the world. This enables businesses to use virtual cards in 62 different currencies, making international payments frictionless while mitigating costly cross-border fees. Virtual cards can also help boost cashflow and improve operational efficiency, automating reconciliation and cutting lengthy processing times. By removing convoluted payment processes, virtual cards give businesses the freedom to grow in the markets they deem most valuable, not just most accessible.

Of those surveyed, four out of five  respondents (82 per cent) plan on expanding their virtual card usage in the next twelve months, with 64 per cent extending usage to additional payment needs. Businesses already using virtual cards also anticipate a substantial increase in the volume of payments they make virtually, with our data projecting a rise from 45 to 57 per cent of all payments being made using virtual cards in the next 12 months.

Virtual cards offer a compelling solution to the challenges limiting international growth by offering enhanced security, streamlined operational processes, and seamless cross-border transactions. By embracing virtual cards as a strategic tool, organisations can unlock opportunities for growth and innovation, empowering them to navigate the complexities of international commerce with ease.


[1] The 2023 State of Cross-Border Payments, Rapyd, 2023.

[2] Virtual Cards: B2B and B2C Applications, Competitive Analysis & Market Forecasts 2021-2026, Juniper Research

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Business

How can businesses make the cloud optional in their operations?

Max Alexander, Co-founder at Ditto

Modern business apps are built to be cloud-dependent. This is great for accessing limitless compute and data storage capabilities but when connection to the cloud is poor or shuts down, business apps stop working, impacting revenue and service. If real-time data is needed for quick decision-making in fields like healthcare, a stalled app can potentially put people in life-threatening situations.

Organisations in sectors as diverse as airlines, fast food retail, and ecommerce that have deskless staff who need digital tools accessible on smartphones, tablets and other devices to do their jobs. But because of widespread connectivity issues and outages, these organisations are beginning to consider how to ensure these tools can operate reliably when the cloud is not accessible. 

The short answer is that building applications with a local-first architecture can help to ensure that they remain functional when disconnected from the internet. But then, why are not all apps built this way? The simple answer is that building and deploying cloud-only applications is much easier as ready-made tools for developers help expedite a lot of the backend building process. The more complex answer is that a local-first architecture solves the issue of offline data accessibility but does not solve the critical issue of offline data synchronisation. Apps disconnected from the internet still have no way to share data across devices. That is where peer-to-peer data sync and mesh networking come into play.

Combining offline-first architecture with peer-to-peer data sync

In the real world, what does an application like this look like?

  • Apps must prioritise local data sync. Rather than sending data to a remote server, applications must be able to write data using its local database in the first instance, and then listen for changes from other devices, and recombine them as needed. Apps should utilise local transports such as Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) and Peer-to-Peer WiFi (P2P Wi-Fi) to communicate data changes in the event that the internet, local server, or the cloud is not available.
  • Devices are capable of creating real-time mesh networks. Nearby devices should be able to discover, communicate, and maintain constant connections with devices in areas of limited or no connectivity.
  • Seamlessly transition from online to offline (and vice versa). Combining local sync with mesh networking means that devices in the same mesh are constantly updating a local version of the database and opportunistically syncing those changes with the cloud when it is available.
  • Partitioned between large peer and small peer mesh networks to not overwhelm smaller networks if they try to sync every piece of data. In order to do this, smaller networks will only sync the data that it requests, so developers have complete control over bandwidth usage and storage. This is vital when connectivity is erratic or critical data needs prioritising. Whereas, the larger networks sync as much data as they can, which is when there is full access to cloud-based systems.
  • Ad-hoc to enable devices to join and leave the mesh when they need to. This also means that there can be no central server other devices are relying on.
  • Compatible with all data at any time. All devices should account for incoming data with different schemas. In this way, if a device is offline and running an outdated app version, for example, it still must be able to read new data and sync.

Peer-to-peer sync and mesh networking in practice

Let us take a look at a point-of-sale application in the fast-paced environment of a quick-service restaurant. When an order is taken at a kiosk or counter, that data must travel hundreds of miles to a data centre to arrive at a device four metres away in the kitchen. This is an inefficient process and can slow down or even halt operations, especially if there is an internet outage or any issues with the cloud.

A major fast-food restaurant in the US has already modernised its point of sale system using this new architecture and created one that can move order data between store devices independently of an internet connection. As such, this system is much more resilient in the face of outages, ensuring employees can always deliver best-in-class service, regardless of internet connectivity.

The vast power of cloud-optional computing is showcased in healthcare situations in rural areas in developing countries. By using both peer-to-peer data sync and mesh networking, essential healthcare applications can share critical health information without the Internet or a connection to the cloud. This means that healthcare workers in disconnected environments can now quickly process information and share it with relevant colleagues, empowering faster reaction times that can save lives.

Although the shift from cloud-only to cloud-optional is subtle and will not be obvious to end users, it really is a fundamental paradigm shift. This move provides a number of business opportunities for increasing revenue and efficiencies and helps ensure sustained service for customers.

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Business

When something personal fills an important gap in the market 

by Cécile Mazuet-Eller, founder of NameSwitch

There aren’t many business ideas that go from a personal experience to filling an important gap in the market. However, this is certainly the case for NameSwitch, the UK’s pioneering and only name changing support service launched in 2018. But what inspired its inception and what challenges did it face? Here, Cécile Mazuet-Eller, the founder of the company, in its seventh year, explains.

My entrepreneurial journey is a bit unusual in that it started from my own experience of going through a divorce, which became a pivotal turning point for me not only emotionally, but practically too. I wanted to remove my married name, and I had a visceral reason to do so as I really didn’t want to keep it. Feeling extremely frustrated at still receiving letters and official documents featuring my previous name, I was desperate to change it but like for so many people it became a stop-start, arduous task.

Once I started the process, I realised it was taking up far too much time I didn’t have; being a single mum to two young children and working full-time is no mean feat, so when I embarked on the name changing process I realised it wasn’t going to be easy.  Searching for a solution to help, all I came up with was a service covering the US and Canada, but nothing that worked for the UK, so in the end, I spent a whole year to get everything changed that had to be, which proved long and stressful to say the least.

Nurturing the idea

In the early days I was fortunate enough to be surrounded by positive people who had good contacts, and who saw the viability of my idea. Living in a small community filled with intelligent and well-rounded people, I wasn’t short of encouragement from them and friends, who recognised as well as I did there was a definite gap in the market. Working with a web development team in Serbia which was also recommended, I enlisted additional help from a university student on some research.

I always wanted to run my own business, and there were several reasons why I needed to embark on something new. As the only breadwinner in the house, there were mounting bills while balancing the demands of motherhood and other financial responsibilities. Cash was limited but what little I had was used carefully which I put into the business.

In the early stages, which included the development of the unique technology that underpins the service, I carved pockets of time at night and on weekends to create a strong foundation for the business. Creating something completely from scratch was like a form of healing, which is why it was and remains such a personal project.

Mulling over the idea for at least two years following the original lightbulb moment, the business was registered in 2015, with time needed for building the robust platform in order to  create a viable product. Drawing on my previous experience, I investigated overseas equivalents, financials and marketing intelligence ensuring there was a genuine need for the service in the UK. Fortunately enough I was able to share my plans with my employer at the time, who turned out to be my biggest supporters, becoming my first paying customer who purchased a NameSwitch for his ex-wife, who was getting married to someone else!

With a career in telecommunications and a degree in marketing, I was already used to hard work and having the support and encouragement from my telecoms team was extremely helpful.   

Support and coaching

Coaching was an important element of the start-up process, obtained through a wider network and some financial support from family,  with no other funding or investment being available.

The challenges

Presented with certain obstacles like all businesses are, there was a lot to juggle and at times it felt like too much but I managed to navigate the complexities involved. When Covid hit that was a huge set-back, given that our biggest target market was and still is, newly-weds. With all weddings being banned, it hit NameSwitch hard, but our saving grace were the people who used the time to change their name’s in lockdown, by doing something they previously didn’t have time for. Being 100% employed by the business by this stage, it turned into a year of survival and another big challenge.  

In 2022-2023 we concentrated on growth for NameSwitch, when me and my dedicated team were satisfied with the service, it was time to consider investment into PR, advertising and partnerships to increase brand awareness to reach the revenues that were needed.

In 2022-2024, it was forecast that 285,000 – 415,000 weddings will take place resulting from the pandemic, which has reflected well on the business in recent years. And amidst the trials and tribulations it’s proved to be both exhilarating and exhausting in equal measure.

With hindsight, there are certain things I’d have done differently, such as bringing in a partner early on to put us in a stronger position sooner, and adding more resource  to improve growth, but I know that’s all part of the steep learning curve and something to take with me to projects in the future.

Advice for aspiring entrepreneurs

For anyone contemplating their own entrepreneurial endeavours, I’d recommend to ‘one hundred percent go for it’ – but do not bet the house on it and whatever happens, embrace the journey.

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