What do Cord blood, Air Miles and Life Insurance have in common?

2 years ago at a Fintech hackathon at the London Business School my cofounder, Vishnu Chundi and I started what many refer to today as an InsureTech startup. We created something called AssetVault.

The idea was simple: “A secure and private online space to record your assets”. That is at least where we started…

Millions of pounds worth of insurable assets were recorded by thousands of customers across many countries. Data Privacy was important to us. We wanted for our customers, pretty much what we wanted for ourselves. No one other than “you” should have access to your data, unless explicitly given permission. This is the story of what we found out about our customers with their help, input, guidance, suggestions and complaints.

Though the process of building the business we had many inbound customer emails, countless coffees across all parts of London and even a few more organised qualitative feedback sessions from those logging those assets. Here is what we learnt from them:

Air Miles are important digital assets
Crypto has become so much more important in people’s portfolios given the meteoric rise of crypto currency values
Biological assets have a real place in our lives and there is a need to record where eggs are frozen to where cord blood from a delivery has been stored
Firearms are also collectables
Provenance and proof of ownership is a serious problem in the world of art
Digital collectables are a “thing” now; enter Cryptokitties (https://www.cryptokitties.co/)
There are few places where people can actually see a complete picture of their wealth across the ever growing classes of assets today
Being a part of the FCA Sandbox builds a lot of credibility with the end-customer (we successfully graduated from the Sandbox a few days ago and are now regulated by the FCA)
Real estate is by far the largest chunk of physical assets recorded by value and volume
Passwords as we knew them are on the way out, but have been substituted by a new kind of “access data or digital key” because of a convergence of biometrics, voice and a plethora of new technologies. People are concerned about how to store these
Our average customer has over 2 different insurance policies and that does not even cover all the warranty type of products; many remain “uncertain about their levels of protection”
Helping people catalogue their assets is a real business in itself
We continue to learn something new about customer needs everyday. At the end of the day our customers are also large businesses that believe in providing the utility of our products and services to their own end-customers.

We are what the market calls a “B2B business”, that is because we sell our products and services to other large corporates such as banks, insurers, asset managers, financial advisors, retailers and media companies.

AssetVault is currently a part of the Accenture Fintech Lab 2018 cohort and continues to gain validation from large Financial Services partners from around the globe; the programme has turbo charged our market access by introducing us to so many incredible organisations under one roof. A recommended experience even after Techstars and Mundi Labs for its reach and value. I started my career at Andersen Consulting and even today though I am not a part of the business I remain grateful for the value that Accenture brings to our team and fledgling business.

When we started going down this road to become the world’s largest asset repository we were out and about talking to people about the blockchain and there were no takers. No one really believed in the potential for the tokenisation of assets.

The world is a very different place today.

So many around the world are now personally invested in the success of “Blockchain” technology today. Lets leave aside the speculative group that rail against crypto-currencies each day, there are a large number of forces at play that are showcasing that what the institutional world call the “Distributed Ledger Technology” is here to stay. To an engineer like myself who started his career at Andersen Consulting building large Enterprise Data Warehouses (before there was the term “Big data”) and ended up as a strategy resource at a large European bank the idea of Blockchain permeating the world of finance and data seems like a natural conclusion.

The next chapter for us is about building out technology that will be able to keep pace with the future. The Swedish Land registry is a great example where, Lantmäteriet, has partnered with a startup and another consultancy to bring the future even closer by facilitating real estate transactions on the blockchain. While the UK lags Scandinavia around digital financial services, ‘the cheque’ for instance no longer exists in Norway, chances are that the next generation of leadership at our institutions will also seize the opportunity to dramatically save the tax payer costs and embrace the world of the blockchain.

Stay tuned to find out how we are poised to be ready and waiting to help those with assets both on and off chain and allow them to: Catalogue, Protect and Unlock the value of these assets.

Banksy, Picasso and Hirst can be together on the blockchain

Throughout history very few have been able to participate in the economic spoils of the frothy world of high end art. One could argue that the very same families or family offices that invest into Venture Capital Funds (as an asset class) are also amongst those that get to participate in high end art. How can financial innovators facilitate the ability for the redistribution of assets and their exposure to different customer segments. Or indeed help with the exposure to different asset classes previously difficult to “bundle”?

While Art is not a “security” it is certainly seen as a real world financial asset given the sky rocketing values associated with the works of key artists around the world. A Picasso selling at an auction at Christies recently sold for a record fetching $179m to a single buyer. Auctions in today’s world are a race where only “one horse wins”. But what if that ownership could have been split between a handful of wealthy families or indeed as we would like to see some part of it owned by a super consortia of mass affluent customers? This would for the first time create exposure to an asset class that has simply not been available to the masses.

Enter the world of Tokenisation. We have long believed that there will be some super use cases for the world of Blockchain. Past the consumer use case of CryptoKitties (congrats again Roham and the Axiom Zen team), which has been validated in part by startup luminary investors A16Z and USV, there is a world of B2B and B2C use cases that is starting to capture the attention of a world that can’t seem to move past the daily price of the top few cryptocurrencies. By this we refer to what could herald a new era of securitisation of any physical, non-fungible asset, such as art. A move that could at one level of the market create an unprecedented world of never seen before financial services products. Products with mass appeal and that could extend the hand of “unreachable passion investments” to the crowd.

Invest £10,000 into a Hirst any one?

The world of passion investments and physical assets has long been crying out for innovation. In Asia in particular there is a real bent towards the ownership of real estate, but what if there was a product that mixed real estate with art and that too was further de-risked by a clever composite of tokenised assets across a range of geographies? I am taking about something akin to a Composite product for physical assets through tokens. A world where investing £15,0000, the price UBS suggests as the entry ticket into their online mass affluent focused product Smart Wealth, could give exposure to a basket of art, real estate and why not throw in some classic cars for good measure too.

The remarkably pliable and open architecture of the blockchain allows us to do a lot with very little. The use of specialist tokens like ERC721 tokens has allowed people to own digital collectibles. An asset class which we believe is likely to grow in value as it is not replicable. The Ethereum contracts make sure that these assets can only be owned by one person and are unique to that asset and the owner. You guessed right if you had by now associated ERC721 as the token behind the incredibly successful CryptoKitties. These tokens however unlike their lower energy and divisible cousins the ERC223 are not divisible. So lets come back to the tokenisation discussion. If you wanted to tokenise art or any physical asset as long as you could provide clarity on custody there is a great case for tokenisation.

Enter the old guard, the custodians. Here lies the opportunity for forward thinking auction houses and investment boutiques that want to facilitate the investment of fiat currency or crypto for that matter into the world of art. Work with AssetVault to help channel the new wealth into art and better yet change the face of investment portfolios for the mass affluent market forever.

Smart contracts are likely to make custody extend to the world of museums and even private retail collections where IOT tied into location will be able to ensure that the custodians keep assets where they were intended or certainly within an acceptable range of parameters.

Whether its investment, lending, the case for co-ownership or indeed legacy management watch out for the tsunami of digital financial and technology innovation that is bound to put a lot of players on their toes, upend some old business models and finally increase the size of the pie for all that are sitting at the Financial Services table.

Please do share your thoughts and feedback with us here or reach out to me directly at [email protected]

Tokenisation and the acceleration of Foreign Direct Investment into Real Estate assets

In just over a month or so tens of thousands of Chinese retail investors will pour into the Beijing International property and investment expo. Its a chance for foreign and domestic developers with overseas projects to showcase a chance for the Chinese investors to stump up cash in exchange for ownership of residential and commercial opportunities. The reality is that the vast majority of these investment opportunities are still at a single asset level and the average ticket size for investors > $100k. A house in the United States selling at $400k would typically garner the interest of a few mass affluent families in China as potential investors. That limits the number of potential investors to a small number albeit off a huge base. Not everyone can afford the ticket size!

According to a recent report by Oliver Wyman, the management consultants, mass affluent class (individuals with RMB 650,000 [c. £73k] to RMB6 million [£676k] investable) in China currently number at around 15m people. Per the report this number is projected to grow to 33 Million by 2030. This provides a fertile bedrock for financial services product innovation teams that are looking to go lower down the value segments to seek even wider participation.
We can also see that the culture in China is one where Saving is a top priority which bodes well for products that may be seen as safer investment opportunities (pseudo savings opportunities):

Bring the picture above together with the South China Morning Posts analysis of the growing trend in outbound real estate investments and its pretty clear that Chinese money is looking to chase property investments abroad.

The key question then is:

How can FDI into property be turbo-charged?

The answer…one word:

Tokenisation of real estate assets for retail investors.

This needs a few forces at work. Primarily:

  • A friendly tax regime for inwards investment into countries looking to attract emerging market retail investment into real estate
  • A friendly local land law establishment (by this we mean the full gamut of stakeholders ranging from County and State level legal representatives, Land title companies, and other conveyancing value chain participants); an acceptance of smart contracts as they link title deeds to investors to accommodate for (and this is the important part)…not only single ownership but partial ownership.
  • A different kind of distribution than what is in place for the sophisticated world of REIT and Real Estate Fund investments where larger tickets and sophisticated knowledge leads to lack of investment from the Chinese mass affluent customer
  • A mechanism by which retail investors are able to literally construct their own portfolios and take on a balanced risk across different Countries, Cities and even locations e.g. Imagine owning tokens across San Francisco, New York, Boulder, Austin, Boston and Seattle. These become almost like personalised indices which can then perhaps be copied by other retail investors much like the trading platform, eTorro allows you to copy the trading strategies of the best crypto traders you could be copying the best portfolios for real estate exposure in the US, UK or other geographies
  • The establishment of developers and real estate agents finding ways to participate in the new value chain for partial or fractional ownership through the purchase of tokens
  • A significant amount of market education around the value of tokenisation and how it can significantly cut down the administrative cost to the extent where there should be a view that this will lead to certain parts of the “dinosaur” value chain to change in its entirety or be shut down to make way for the new way to do things. I should however preface that rather bold statement by saying that this will NOT be a step function and happen overnight but rather we are likely to see a gradual change with the usual early adopter pattern of some states or regions jumping on early

Blockchain, like many new technologies has its share of sceptics. Many of these sceptics hail from the world of Venture Capital (full disclosure I was one too with Lean Investments) where it seems like asking entrepreneurs a sarcasm loaded “does this really need to be on the blockchain?” is almost expected. Here I ask the reader to consider the amount of money you would have to spend to get legals done for fractional ownership of land or property each time there was a transaction. There is a lot of fidgeting around with paperwork and our society has created an opaque and complicated process that lawyers have relished.

The world of crowdfunding saw the investment into parts of a company get covered by technology and one could argue that this too could be done. After all crowd investment into real estate has also been around for a while. But if you take a closer look you will find a lot of Smoke and Mirrors and much larger commercial property opportunities that can carry a front end that brings together data from a large collection of investors and then creates some form of a SPV (A special purpose vehicle) that then facilitates the partial investment into the asset as a debt instrument rather than equity). Behind the scenes a number of people then run around trying to make the opportunity legally binding. Customised software has added a lot to the business opportunity, as has the use of automated signature software such as docusign and Hellosign. But we are now in a world where Smart Contracts are able to be set up in a way that allows for the automatic execution of certain rules. Being coded in languages like Solidity, the contracts can be triggered through certain data and are enabling startups like us to make sure that property tokens can be generated, transferred and traded in an easier and cheaper way than what may have been possible before.

At the end of the day the Chinese or Indian retail investor will not care about the technology that is used. Blockchain or not the idea is to make sure that the retail investors of the future are able to overcome the basic barriers that plague the industry today that range from:

  • Delayed transfers from the Emerging Market to the Investment destination (not all of the world uses Transferwise yet); lack of understanding of ‘exact dates’ that money will exchange hands between the Buyer/Investor and the Developer, thanks to the middle men that continue to sit on capital in transit and “slow down the velocity of money”
  • Complex, expensive and alien conveyancing processes and legal support to take control of a title deed or indeed some fraction of the title deed
  • Most importantly the availability of these opportunities as an investment destination for more than a “select few” and instead allowing for smaller tickets of investment into “tokens” that allow for wider participation than ever before into coveted properties
  • Enabling the facilitation of payment not only in Fiat currencies but also in certain crypto-currencies (this will also require sophisticated hedging products to counter volatility)

We are hard at work around unlocking opportunities where tokenisation allows for a fundamental reshaping of investment portfolios for families world over. Our hypothesis is that this will in turn accelerate Foreign Direct Investment into countries that embrace the technology as an enabler for product innovation.

We are currently thinking about a few areas which you can expect some follow up posts on:

  • What will the new world of Crypto conveyancing look like?
  • How will the world of title insurance change as a result of the changing process?
  • How will the international tax regime adjust to make way for the increased transfers of money into tokenised assets
  • How will compliance and regulation change to ensure that funds are only taken in from places not on sanctions or exclusions lists
  • How incumbents that have experience with securitisation of real estate assets can work with startups to provide regulatory umbrellas and coaching
  • How Asset Managers will start to partner with startups to create new business models

If you share our passion for the space and are building or investing in this space please do reach out at [email protected] We would love to connect and build the future together. Real estate is about to get “Real”!

Voice As The Future Interface Of Business

Voice. Many of us take it for granted but it’s amongst the most powerful tools at our disposal since the beginning of civilization. And yet for the vast majority of the hours, we spend interacting with the technology we do it quietly. Unless off-course you are chatting away on Skype or the myriad of communication apps that have swamped the market. The thing to note here is that in case of a two-way conversation between one or more person on each end there are a few things happening here as data is being:

  1. Created by real people on each end of the medium or channel
  2. Exchanged between real people
  3. Processed by real people
  4. It is sometimes recorded by a machine and archived


Voice is simply a human medium. This post is predominantly a reflection of what happens when one node on either end of the exchange or both for that matter in the future become a machine and able to interact through voice. Through conversation. Enter Conversational Interfaces. Today they are starting off as one way with humans. Tomorrow we enter Star Wars where R2D2 and CP30 exchange data through voice (that’s right George Lucas may have thought of it first).

We like to think and define the advent of voice technologies in three waves:

  1. Recorder (yes as in a simple recording device but even that went digital in the 1980s)
  2. Interactive Virtual Recording (IVR) via telephony (Voice recognition and subsequent action)
  3. Voice for a Conversational Interface (CI)


Just like Video killed the Radio star. There was a move towards the visual as a means of best showing value, meaning and context. Voice became a part of the video and was subsumed by it. No one really thinks about how important the audio cues are unless you realize how a director is manipulating your feelings which watching a horror movie through the score itself. Try watching the same scene again without the sound. It’s not as scary. The human brain layers over audio information to make the experience richer. Our thesis is that much like this voice is here to stay and today’s run of the Graphical User Interface is about to get turbocharged through the introduction of CI.

True voice recognition was first invented by a Princeton man. Another American first. Hidden Markov Modelling (HMM) was a complex mathematical pattern matching technology created by Lenny Baum of Princeton University. The research was then shared with the likes of ARPA (the military as always was ahead of the game and the Advanced Research Projects Agency was also credited with having invented the precursor to the internet) and off-course those old chestnuts old big blue, IBM and Bell labs at AT&T.

HMM enabled significant research by private and military scientists that then went on to allow for the creation of the IVR technology. IVR could perhaps be described as a Fintech enabler as it was first developed by Charles Schwab to allow for hundreds of customers to be handled by the technology to call in and get quotes on stock and options. Once the technology was proven at the scale it became widely adopted across corporate America as late as the 1990s. Early customer use of IVR must have been significantly frustrating for some users due to the limited vocabulary in use. IVR was and remains, contrary to public impression, much more than a dumb terminal. The technology behind IVR allows for voice as an input, which is recognized, processed and then returns a result from a finite set of expected outcomes. This is largely in a sense rule-based. Many like myself who have seen the world of call centers evolve view IVR as the backbone that enabled call centers. This was largely possible thanks to Computer Telephony Integration which allowed for voice to be provided as an input to computers for processing and actioning. Financial Services used IVR to effectively create ‘extended office hours’ for simple information that could be provided to customers about their accounts or products and services.

CI will not exist in a vacuum. We simply could not analyze that much data in the palm of our hand this quickly ever before. Nor could we store that much data in such small components. Moores law has certainly enabled an entirely new capability for voice and mobile has essentially broken the leash of the desk for the beast once confined to the desktop kennel. Enter voice analytics the sister to CIs along with Artificial Intelligence to be able to decipher complex meaning and provide a suitable, appropriate and successful response.

There is complexity in voice around accent (will a non-native speaker with challenges in pronouncing words ever be as enabled) or in-fact the nuances of mood (will AI be able to interpret mood correctly and distinguish excitement and anger). What about the fact that we spend an inordinate number of minutes saying ‘can you hear me now’ because of poor network coverage, will we be as patient with the Voice Bots? We are less forgiving when it comes to machines. The expectations are heightened. And disappointment can lead to abandonment quickly. There is also the very serious challenge around those unable to hear, the deaf or partially deaf, and participate in what I deem to be the ‘Voice economy’. In time I am sure that voice will somehow be able to transcend these challenges through sheer processing horsepower or even perhaps the use of vibration to create visual clues (think about sound being used to manipulate particles that showcase letters on one end).

In a bid to not get disaggregated from its main source of revenue around visual advertising Google has launched its own platform to facilitate voice. The three horsemen of the voice apocalypse are Google (Home), Amazon (Echo) and Apple (Siri). The future of advertising in CI is unclear. Is there a return to the era of radio jingles? Will that be an unacceptable disruption to the User Experience around voice? Skills are only just being written into the Echo repositories around the world and it’s too early to set the standards in stone though best practices are emerging and fast being proven or failed. One certain challenge is around the depth and breadth of voice offerings that will captivate and retain the user base. Can voice develop a broad App ecosystem as quickly as GUI?


Voice is a deep and complex field with more data points that would appear obvious to the untrained ear. The computer of today, however, is a sophisticated listener and can interpret a multitude of data points related to voice that can provide clear and consistent data on the origin and provenance of the voice print. It is not entirely unsurprising to see some banks like HSBC now implementing voice-based security. Though I have to say that there is something discretely unattractive about repeating the words ‘my voice is my password’ to authenticate oneself over a phone call to what seems to be a next-generation IVR Bot. Emotionally Intelligence classes are likely to be available at General Assembly for Bots in the coming decade.

But before we get all excited about the power of what voice can do, we as technologists need to collect data to train the machines to be able to better service the complexity of languages as they seek help with utilities that service their lives. Eventually, our hypothesis is that voice will be a dominant interface supported by GUI. The reason why GUI is likely to stick around until we have implantables and total integration with human thought and consciousness is likely to be as mundane as the office worker not wanting everyone to know that he is shopping Home and Content insurance while sipping the morning coffee at his desk. The good news. Turning the newspaper page with sticky donut fingers and buying insurance just got a whole lot easier.

We have pondered further on the use of voice in insurance and look forward to discussing more of this with you next month. Until then please do write in with thoughts and feedback to [email protected].