Trump's Treasury Supports Fintech, Now What?

Photo Credit: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

The Trump administration Treasury Department has called for dramatic changes in fintech regulation and have voiced their support for a new fintech charter as well as the introduction of sandboxes and opening access to consumer data.

Secretary Steve Mnuchin said: “American innovation is a cornerstone of a healthy U.S. economy. Creating a regulatory environment that supports responsible innovation is crucial for economic growth and success, particularly in the financial sector.

“America is a leader in innovation. We must keep pace with industry changes and encourage financial ingenuity to foster the nation’s vibrant financial services and technology sectors.”

In a report, the US Treasury made 80 recommendations across 222 pages and explored the government’s aim of embracing customer data in a similar way to how PSD2 is being embraced in Europe and transform regulation with the use of sandboxes, so that it innovation is encouraged.

As reported in The Hill, policymakers have found it difficult to keep up with advancements in fintech and the impact on the traditional financial industry. But with the new attitude towards the burgeoning industry, those that create the regulations will be able to work closely with industry advocates to adapt the rules.

States are also encouraged to work together to remedy money transfer rules that regulate payment systems and cryptocurrency marketplaces and prevent unnecessary regulatory burdens.

The report also encourages the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency to move forward with the charter that would give fintechs a license to operate across the US in the same way that banks do.

The Treasury said the charter could “provide a federal approach to reducing regulatory fragmentation and supporting beneficial business models.” The report also makes other recommendations to expand access to financial services.

The department called for repealing the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB) payday loan rule and went on to support the use of alternative data such as utility and rent payments to form credit reports for consumers with limited loan history.

But what does this mean? Despite Trump promising to do away with Dodd-Frank, which was signed into law by former President Barack Obama to prevent another financial crisis, this move by the current leader will be beneficial for the fintech industry and somewhat mimics what is being done in Europe.

Collaboration is the way forward because fintechs do not have legacy and trust on their side, especially in the US where people swipe and sign, instead of using contactless cards and apps to make payments.

I currently work as an SEO Content Executive for DMG Media, optimising content across the UK, US and Australia. Before this, I was the Editor of financial technology website bobsguide and this is where my interest and expertise in global fintech was achieved. Acting as the D…

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San Francisco Marathon App Lets Runners Visualize Course Before They Race

Admit it, we’ve all sniggered slightly at the sight of a bobsleigh pilot mentally visualizing the track before he and his teammates hurl themselves down the ice.

But with speeds approaching 90 mph and medals decided by a fraction of a second, its an important part of their preparation. After all, it’s up them to navigate the ice quickly and safely and ensure the months and years of training – especially before a Winter Olympics – isn’t all in vain.

Virtual Reality (VR) applications are already being used to assist with the process, so athletes can train without the risk of injury and don’t have to travel the world to try out different tracks.

A runner passes by the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California on December 24, 2017. San Francisco is a major travel destination with over 24 million visitors a year, frequenting famous landmarks like the Golden Gate Bridge,Pier 39 and Alcatraz Island. (Photo by Ronen Tivony) (Photo by Ronen Tivony/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Amateur technology

But professional-grade tools such as VR, GPS and analytics are increasingly finding their way into amateur sport too. And it should come as no surprise that the San Francisco Marathon in the heart of Silicon Valley should be among the events to promote their use.

Last weekend more than 27,500 runners participated in the 42nd staging of the race, with the route taking in iconic landmarks like Fisherman’s Wharf, AT&T Park and Golden Gate Bridge. Participants could choose to take on the full course, the first or second halves of it or even to complete it twice in an ultra-marathon.

Technology plays a significant part for many people’s race day, with wearables increasingly used to track speed and distance, but runners in the San Francisco Marathon were able to use a dedicated application to prepare for the big day.

Neurun allows runners to join a community of like-minded athletes who share similar goals and to access tips from professional coaches and runners in a particular group. However, the most intriguing aspect of the application is the ability to visualize the entire course beforehand.

Users can check terrain, elevation and other variables such as the wideness of roads and the location street furniture that might hinder progress. If a tricky section of the route is identified, then it’s possible to take a screenshot and make a note of its location on the timeline.

Neurun also shows the location of key amenities like water and nutrition stations, first aiders, public toilets, emergency phones and even photographer locations. These can also be added to the timeline so runners can plan breaks ahead of time or if they need to take an impromptu pit stop should they find themselves in need of assistance.

And all these notes can be shared with your groups too, enhancing the community aspect of the platform.

Marginal gains

With many people hoping to achieve personal bests, the little details can make a difference over a distance as long as 26 miles. That’s why Team Sky make such a big deal about ‘marginal gains’ when competing in the Tour de France.

It will be interesting to see how the application expands given the popularity of long-distance races held around the world and whether other famous marathons follow suit. Could we see competitors in the London Marathon be able to use this technology for example?

Although runners in the marathon had access to the application over the race weekend, the firm’s official website says the public version is still unavailable.

You can sign up to find out when it will be released or you can check out the video of the course below. The footage was captured by a cyclist and the full route can be viewed in 35 minutes below – much faster than it would take to cycle the route, never mind to actually run it!

Blueair Sense+ Review: Breathe Easy With This WiFi-Enabled Air Purifier

Your home might be your sanctuary, but the air inside it is probably not that great for you. Especially during the summer, open windows let in exhaust from passing vehicles, on top of dust, and pollen. My dogs shed constantly, putting dander and hair in the air, too. I can usually find my spouse happily drilling into walls or cutting holes in the floor, and my kids leave sopping wet towels to incubate mold in bizarre, hidden places. Although I vacuum every day, it’s not nearly enough.

Seasonal wildfires and summer heat in the western United States also contribute to poor air quality. While many people are fine with washing their sheets, vacuuming, and changing filters in their HVAC system, those might not be adequate measures if you’ve ever stepped outside to find your entire neighborhood veiled in a fine, ashy haze.

Many parents of small children buy and run an air purifier during the summer. As an allergy and asthma sufferer with two small kids, I do, too.

Just Breathe

Founded two decades ago by an Electrolux alum in Stockholm, Sweden, Blueair makes some of the best air purifiers available. I elected to test the Sense+, their Wi-Fi-enabled model. While it isn’t quite as visually striking as the Dyson Pure Cool, the sleek cuboid does come in a range of vivid colors. My tester model was in a brilliant leaf green.

At 19 inches tall and 18.5 inches wide, the Sense+ is a floor unit. It doesn’t have an exterior fan, so you have to be a little thoughtful about placement in order for the maximum amount of air to get contact with the filter. Blueair recommends that you place it about 10 centimeters, or almost four inches, away from other objects. In my bedroom, the only place that both fit the unit and had an electrical outlet was in the path around the foot of our bed.

Setup is simple. Just plug it in, download the Blueair Friend app to your phone, and swipe your hand over the top of the unit, which will start to glow like something out of Minority Report. Then, you follow the in-app instructions to connect the Sense+.

Blueair

The LED screen on top of the Sense+ looks pretty cool, and it’s fun to adjust the fan speed or turn it off by merely waving your hand. But for more fine-tuned control, you have to use the app (the Sense+ is also Alexa-compatible). On your phone, you can adjust the fan speed or the LED brightness. You can also set night mode, which will dial down the fan speed and LED intensity during a set of pre-programmed time constraints. Finally, there’s a child lock feature, if you also have a toddler who is thrilled to discover that he can turn the purifier on and off by waving a tiny fist.

And unlike the Pure Cool, the Sense+ does not come with a built-in air quality monitor. For that, you need to purchase the optional Blueair Aware, which is a small device that both does not look like it costs $200, and also seems to be comparably priced to other consumer-grade air quality sensors. AQ monitors evaluate your indoor air quality based on a number of different factors, like temperature, humidity, or particulate matter.

The manual recommends setting the Aware at “nose level”, but since the purifier is in our bedroom, a bedside table seemed to be the best place for it. The Aware requires a week’s worth of test readings before it’s calibrated.

The Aware monitors particulate matter that are up to 2.5 micrometers in size, which could range from everything from fine dust to odors; volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as acetaldehyde from cooking or tobacco smoke; and carbon dioxide, in addition to temperature and humidity. The Aware sends you alerts on your phone when the air quality in your room is poor. You can also link it to the Sense+ to increase the purifier’s interior fan speed automatically when the room is more polluted; examine charts for each pollutant over time; and compare your indoor air quality to outdoor air quality.

The app uses the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s standard for calculating the air quality index (AQI), and the Blueair Friend’s outdoor AQI readings tallied with the live local readings from my state’s Department of Environmental Quality.

As might be expected, when I first set up the purifier and turned on the app, it registered that our bedroom was highly polluted with both total VOCs and carbon dioxide (it should be noted that high levels of carbon dioxide are a ventilation issue, and cannot be fixed with an air purifier). It took about an hour during the day for the Sense+ and Aware to reduce the readings from polluted to excellent.

Looking back at the timeline of the Aware’s readings was like looking back at a timeline of my day. Yup, those particulate matter spikes are at the exact same time when my spouse and I fall into our dusty sheets at the end of the day. The carbon dioxide spikes are timed exactly when we get up in the morning, and when our dogs walk (or run) past the air purifier at night to chase skunks or possums. Everything flatlines during the day, while we’re at work. And as with the Dyson Pure Cool, I have stopped waking up to note our neighbor skunks’ nighttime journeys past our bedroom window. Maybe they’ve started taking another route?

In the Air Tonight

At $400, the Sense+ is very expensive. A $200 air quality monitor on top of that is pricier still. And after running the Sense+ for about a month, my Blueair Friend informs me that I have a mere 122 days left on the filter, a replacement for which appears to cost around $80. This is not a cheap investment, although the Blueair does offer more affordable options. For example, the Blueair Pure 211 is almost half the price and purifies the same square footage.

As someone who has chronic asthma-induced bronchitis, it’s nice to know when your indoor air quality worsens—even if it’s just because your toddler has started breathing directly into the top of the AQ monitor. Improving your indoor air quality can improve your quality of life, even if you’re not an asthmatic or a data hound who likes poring over charts. Vulnerable demographics, like young children or the elderly, can especially benefit.

After all, if I’m going to endure the constant aromas of fish sticks, scented markers, and Play-Doh while hiding from the sun this summer, I’ll gladly take all the help I can get.

New York, in Unprecedented Move, Votes to Kick Spectrum Cable Out of the State

The New York State Public Service Commission has moved to kick Charter Communications’ Spectrum cable and internet service out of the state, citing Charter’s “repeated failures to serve New Yorkers and honor its commitments”. The commission voted Friday to rescind approval of Charter’s merger with Time Warner Cable, which would effectively end its ability to do business in the state.

The commission approved the Charter-Time Warner merger in 2016 on a number of conditions, including expanding services to 145,000 homes within four years, with a focus on rural areas. The commission says the company has failed to meet milestones for that expansion, and has now given the company 60 days to come up with a plan to hand over its customers to other providers—that is, to sell its assets in New York.

That transition is unlikely to actually happen. Charter has said it will contest the order, calling the commission’s actions “politically motivated.” Experts speaking to Syracuse.com speculated that the move is intended to “give Spectrum a kick in the pants” towards providing more rural broadband access, and said the dispute could spiral into a yearslong court battle. Charter is the largest cable provider in New York, with more than 2 million subscribers.

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The commission fined Charter $2 million this June for failing to meet milestones for expanding services, after the company improperly claimed more than 12,000 New York City addresses as counting towards the commission’s targets. The Friday vote imposed another $1 million in fines for missed deadlines, bringing the total to $3 million. Charter has in part blamed competitor Verizon for slowing its expansion, claiming Verizon has limited its access to telephone poles.

But the commission hasn’t been convinced by that explanation, and on Friday hinted at broader issues, citing Charter’s “brazenly disrespectful behavior toward New York State and its customers”. Charter has been among the U.S. cable providers ranked lowest by its own customers, a situation widely blamed on lack of competition between providers. Though New York’s kick in the pants might motivate Charter to do some things better, that basic condition is unlikely to change until high-speed 5G wireless service becomes a reality.

45 Percent of Millennials Expect This From Brands (It Can Also Help Grow Your Business)

The power of Millennials is no joke: They’re now a leading group of consumers, at 75 million strong. With roughly $200M in annual buying power and a strong voice on social media, discerning (and some say demanding) Millennials dictate not just what happens with their wallets, but also often with national conversations.

So what Millennials want–and expect–from brands is worth grasping if you want to market to them successfully.

Ross Paquette, founder and CEO of tech startup Maropost, has built a business around customer input–improving and innovating based on customer needs, many of whom are Millennials. While the company began as an email service provider, Maropost grew to span cross-channel marketing, total sales cycle management, and everything in between–largely through customer feedback.

For Paquette, it all comes down to one thing: “Customers are more than just the people buying from you–or at least they should be. Your success depends on taking company-customer relationships from transactions to connections.”

Your success depends not on transactions, but on connections.

The old-school version of business was to see customers as passive recipients of things, whether that thing was an ad or a product someone bought in a grocery store. Before the advent of social media, for example, it was nearly impossible for a big (or little) brand to have any kind of dialogue with consumers, let alone a public one like those that now regularly take place on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Now, taking your business to the next level requires seeing customers in a fundamentally different way. They’re not passive recipients; they’re active participants–a fact that can be either intimidating or galvanizing, depending on how you look at it.

According to recent research by TotalRetail, 45 percent of Millennials expect more engaging experiences with brands than with retailers. In other words, they expect brands to build relationships with them, to listen to them, and to engage with them. They want to be part of the innovative process (especially if something isn’t working for them).

For Paquette, this approach was a founding principle of the startup: “Customer-first innovation directs every decision we make–everything we create, we create for our customers.” It’s not just lip service, either. At Maropost, everything from feature tweaks to entire platforms have been created based directly on customer feedback.

Obviously this requires investing energy into building the right kind of structure: you need a robust feedback loop that goes from customers, to customer support, to development, and back to customers.

It’s worth investing that energy, though. “We’ve been able to build out our capabilities to a level you only see at much larger companies,” says Paquette, “and we’re winning against some of the industry’s biggest players.”

In fact, Maropost is now a leading enterprise digital marketing startup, with customers that include Rolling Stone and Mercedes-Benz. Many of their key customer decision-makers are Millennials, and they keep in close touch with them.

In the past, one-way relationships were the norm. You made the sale and were done. Few companies were interested in nurturing a relationship. Now, not only does that attitude not fly, but it constitutes a missed opportunity.

When companies are committed to true partnership with their customers … it shows. They prioritize smart feedback loops that connect people in social media with people in customer support with the development team. The things customers say (and Millennials don’t tend to hold back) are crucial–and smart companies know that they’ve got to make sure those comments aren’t wasted.

Treating customers as collaborators also ensures you’re answering real business needs–instead of operating in an echo chamber. When you collaborate directly with the people using your product and consistently seek out their feedback (instead of just assuming they’ll tell you), you don’t lose sight of what they need. It’s right there, in their words. 

Obviously not every comment is worth a feature update. But wise is the company that has a strategy in place to capture those that are–and who actively, consistently, and intentionally focus on building connections rather than transactions.

Today, You Need More Than A Market Strategy, You Need An Ecosystem Strategy

In the 1960s and 70s, Route 128 outside of Boston was the center of technology, but by the 1990s Silicon Valley had taken over and never looked back. As AnnaLee Saxenian explained in Regional Advantage, the key difference was that while Route 128 was a collection of value chains, Silicon Valley built an ecosystem.

Clearly, ecosystems are even more important today than they were back then. In fact, a recent study by Accenture Strategy found that ecosystems are a “cornerstone” of future growth and that 60% of executives surveyed viewed ecosystems as a way to disrupt their industry. A similar number saw them as key to increasing revenue.

The problem is that competing successfully in an ecosystem environment is vastly different than a traditional value chain strategy. While a value chain is driven by efficiencies, an ecosystem is driven by connections in a network. So we need to do more than adapt our strategy and tactics, we need to learn how to play a whole new game. The first step is to learn what the rules are.

First, Start Early

One of the key aspects of ecosystems is that they don’t seem all that important at first. By the time it becomes clear that a change is underway, it is often too late to adapt. The demise of Boston’s technology companies is a great example of how that can happen. Dominant firms such as DEC, Data General and Wang Laboratories found themselves irrelevant so quickly that they never recovered.

Network scientists call this an instantaneous phase transition and it happens because connections tend to form slowly. They start as isolated clusters that, even taken in sum, don’t seem to amount to much. However, when those clusters connect, a cascade ensues and what once seemed inconsequential suddenly becomes predominant.

That’s why it’s so important to become active in an ecosystem before those clusters connect, when things are moving relatively slowly, everybody wants to talk to you and the price of admission is still fairly cheap. Once an ecosystem begins to thrive, things move much faster and costs for entry raise exponentially.

Consider the automobile industry, which is now spending billions to set up research centers in Silicon Valley. Just think of how much cheaper — and more effective — it would have been for those companies to have started 20 or 30 years ago.

Not Just Spinning Out, But Spinning In

A typical strategy for an enterprise looking to leverage an ecosystem is to spin out a division to focus on activities that are relevant to it. These spinoffs tend to have a lot more in common with the ecosystem firms than the parent company and therefore are much more able to connect. However, because links to the parent company become more tenuous over time, benefits are limited.

A potentially more successful strategy is to spin ecosystem firms in. For example, the National Labs have set up programs like Cyclotron Road, Chain Reaction and Innovation Crossroads that invite entrepreneurial firms to come work at the labs, make use of the scientific facilities and be mentored by top scientists.

In the private sector, corporate venture capital operations, as well as incubators and accelerators, can be a great way to connect with small entrepreneurial companies early in the ecosystem lifecycle. Beyond the actual investments made, these programs give you the opportunity to connect with hundreds of small firms, some of which can become important partners, suppliers and customers later on.

What’s crucial is that you are not seen as an interloper, but a true source of value, whether that value is in actual monetary investment, access to facilities and expertise or connection to points of market access. What may be insignificant to your company may be incredibly valuable to a small, entrepreneurial firm.

Maintaining Open Nodes

One of Saxenian’s most interesting findings in Regional Advantage was how differently the Boston technology firms treated outsiders compared to the Silicon Valley companies. The Boston firms were vertically integrated and sought to keep everything in-house. The Silicon Valley companies, on the other hand, thrived on connection.

For example, in Silicon Valley if you left your employer to start a company of your own, you were still considered part of the family. Many new entrepreneurs became suppliers or customers to their former employers and still socialized actively with their former colleagues. In Boston, if you left your firm you were treated as a pariah.

When technology began to shift in the 80s and 90s, the Boston firms had little, if any, connection to the new ecosystems that were evolving. In Silicon Valley, however, connections to former employees acted as an antenna network, providing early market intelligence that helped those companies adapt.

So while it is necessary to reach out to evolving ecosystems, it is just as important to ensure that there are also paths for small entrepreneurial firms to engage within your enterprise. Ecosystems thrive on personal connections. Those may not show up on a strategic plan or a balance sheet, but they are just as important as any other asset.

The New Competitive Advantage

Ever since Harvard professor Michael Porter published his seminal book, Competitive Strategy in 1980, strategists have sought advantage through driving efficiencies in order to maximize bargaining power against customers, suppliers, substitute goods and new market entrants. By doing so, they could achieve higher margins and invest in greater efficiencies, creating a virtuous cycle.

Yet today things move much too fast for that kind of chess game. To compete in a networked world, you must constantly widen and deepen connections. Instead of always looking to maximize bargaining power, you need to look for opportunities to co-create with customers and suppliers, to integrate your products and services with potential substitutes and form partnerships with new market entrants.

Power no longer resides at the top of value chains, but rather at the center of networks and collaboration has become the new competitive advantage. Value is no longer merely a target for extraction, but an asset for connection. You need to be seen to be adding value to the ecosystem in order to get value out.

The truth is that we can no longer manage for stability, we must manage for disruption. We can’t predict the future, but we can connect to it, nurture it and profit from it. Yet to do so requires far more than a simple shift in strategy and tactics. It requires a fundamental change in mindset.

Disney Announces Plan To Drop Plastic Straws And Stirrers By 2019

The Walt Disney Company is the latest in a series of large corporations recently bent on eliminating plastic drinking straws and stirrers, which some disability activists say could pose new problems for customers.

The company announced Thursday that it plans to scrap single-use plastic straws and drink stirrers at all Disney-owned and operated locations by mid-2019. In a news release, Disney said its internal ban will amount to “a reduction of more than 175 million straws and 13 million stirrers annually.”

Disney is the latest company to announce a ban on plastic straws in recent weeks, which have seen the likes of Starbucks and McDonald’s UK renouncing this form of single-use tableware.

See also: Chemists Find New Method Of Recycling Common Plastics As Fuel

As CNN reported, activists have long been working to cure America of its estimated 500-million-a-day plastic straw habit, which gained fresh attention after a 2015 video of a sea turtle with a straw stuck in its nose went viral.

In lieu of plastic straws, Disney and other companies have said they’ll offer versions made out of paper, bamboo, or other more sustainable materials.

Despite the proposed environmental benefits, however, some critics say this recent trend of forsaking plastic straws could put disabled persons at a real disadvantage with drinks.

Server Alissa Dow holds a handful of new paper straws, left, and remaining plastic straws no longer in use, right, at Woodford Food & Beverage in Portland, Maine on Wednesday, May 16, 2018. (Credit: Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)

As NPR reported, disabled persons who rely on plastic straws to drink have argued for more flexibility in companies’ bans as the technology for sustainable straws catches up with demand.

Katherine Carroll, policy analyst at the Rochester, New York-based Center for Disability Rights, told TIME earlier this month, “The disability community is concerned with the ban because it was implemented without the input of their daily life experience … Plastic straws are an accessible way for people with certain disabilities to consume food and drinks, and it seems the blanket bans are not taking into account that they need straws and also that plastic straw replacements are not accessible to people.”

Environmental and manufacturing researchers have also pointed out that plastic packaging like bottles and bags account for significantly more waste than straws do.

Disney also announced this week that it has plans to reduce single-use plastics in other areas down the road.

In the next few years, the company says it will transition to providing refillable toiletries and in-room amenities on cruise ships and in its hotels, reduce its plastic shopping bags at resorts and on cruises, and drop polystyrene cups entirely. When single-use plastics are unavoidable, the company says it will continue its recycling practices in these areas.

Bob Chapek, chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences, and Consumer Products, commented in the release, “These new global efforts help reduce our environmental footprint and advance our long-term sustainability goals.”

And the sooner companies take steps to truly reduce their plastic footprints, of course, the better; humanity is literally and figuratively already swimming in the stuff.

Stock market newbie Spotify hits targets, plays down challenges

LONDON (Reuters) – Market leading music streamer Spotify added 10 percent more paid subscribers in the second quarter and said it was on track to meet its full-year targets as it downplayed reports it was losing ground to rival Apple Music in the United Sates.

FILE PHOTO: The Spotify logo is displayed on a screen on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., May 3, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo

Despite some mixed results in its report and financial outlook, its shares touched new highs early Thursday near $199 – up 20 percent from its first day of trading in April – before settling back to $191.10, up 1.6 percent, at 1436 GMT/1036 ET.

In the Swedish company’s second financial report since its debut on the New York Stock Exchange, Spotify said monthly paying subscribers, which generate the bulk of its revenue, rose to 83 million at the end of June from 75 million in March.

The figure topped the 82 million average estimate in a Reuters poll of analysts and was more than double that of the 40 million paid users which Apple, its closest rival in the music streaming business, last disclosed in April.

Spotify, which launched its service a decade ago, has seen a surge in subscriber growth in recent years as the previously skeptical music industry warmed to streaming as a surer way to return to health after struggling to adapt to the digital age.

The Stockholm-based company tightened its full-year forecast for total monthly active users – including those choosing the entry-level, ad-supported service – to between 199 million and 207 million.

A Reuters poll showed analysts already expecting 207 million users, on average.

The still loss-making company is under increasing pressure, however, from Apple, which has the advantage of a huge customer base, especially in the lucrative U.S. market. Apple will report second-quarter results next week.

Spotify co-founder and Chief Executive Daniel Ek said the company continues to enjoy rising growth in paid and free users in the United States, while providing no specific figures.

He said customer churn, or service cancellations, fell below 4 percent in the United States, which contributes 31 percent of the company’s worldwide revenue. The churn rate worldwide was 5.1 percent at the end of 2017.

The company said it was seeing lower churn thanks to growth in family usage and student packages and bundling of Spotify with the video streaming service Hulu.

PRIVACY SHOWDOWN

Premium subscription revenue topped expectations, rising 27 percent to 1.15 billion euros ($1.34 billion) while revenue from its ad-supported service was weaker at 123 million euros, well below the 138 million, on average, analysts had forecast in a Reuters poll.

Overall, revenue rose 26 percent to 1.27 billion euros. But its growth was slowed by new European data privacy rules that took effect in May, which gives users more control of how their personal information is used by marketers and others.

“We did see some GDPR disruption across our European markets during Q2 but seem to be largely past that now,” the company said in a statement, referring to the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation that came into effect in May.

Chief Financial Officer Barry McCarthy said Spotify endured a “short-term hiccup” – around two weeks, late in the second quarter – during which it came under pressure from advertising firms to divulge more data about its users.

“When it became clear that we weren’t going to soften our position, we were able to move on and get back to the business of booking revenue,” McCarthy told reporters of the company’s behind-the-scenes skirmish over user data privacy.

The company said its operating loss widened to 90 million euros from 41 million in the first quarter, largely due to costs related to its stock-market listing. Management reiterated its focus on rapid growth in global market share and entry into emerging markets rather than on short-term profitability.

Spotify’s CEO denied recent reports his company was seeking to replace major music labels by licensing music directly from artists, saying it has done this for years and its goal remains to act as a promotional platform for both artists and labels.

“We will continue licensing music from whoever owns the rights,” Ek told investors on another conference call. “We have been doing this for years because our goal is to get as much music on to the platform as we possibly can.”

Spotify’s $26 billion stock market debut in April was the most highly scrutinized technology IPO since that of Snapchat owner Snap last year.

It is the first European company to take on major U.S. tech rivals – Apple, Amazon and Google – on the global stage. Its unorthodox direct market listing, bypassing investment banks, also made for rocky trading in its first few weeks.

Reporting by Eric Auchard in London; editing by Jon Boyle and Elaine Hardcastle

Hedge funds hit by Qualcomm-NXP deal collapse

LONDON (Reuters) – Hedge funds betting Qualcomm (QCOM.O) would succeed in a $44 billion bid for NXP Semiconductors (NXPI.O) face steep losses after the deal fell through – taking the shine off a strong start to the year for many funds.

Qualcomm, the world’s biggest maker of chips for mobile phones, called off the deal on Thursday after the Chinese regulator failed to approve it by a Wednesday deadline.

Many funds bought into NXP months ago at an average of around $115 a share, well below the $127.5 a share offer price, a trader at a major investment bank told Reuters, but rising U.S. China trade tensions caused a steady slide in the value of the target.

After closing at $98.37 on Wednesday, ahead of the deadline, shares in NXP were down more than 7 percent early on Thursday. From Wednesday’s close to Thursday, the estimated paper loss based on the share price movement would be more than $700 million, based on available Thomson Reuters data.

“It’s a significant hit but it’s always more palatable for risk-arbitrage to lose money as a slow bleed,” said the trader at the bank. “The struggle is when you come in and the stock is down 30 percent in one day.”

Which funds held what position at when the deal was called off on Wednesday is hard to determine as U.S. securities filings data has a long lag. It is also impossible to show using publicly available data when they bought and sold, to determine precise losses.

The most recent Thomson Reuters data, however, showed hedge funds made up seven of the top 10 shareholders in NXP, and collectively they held more than 35 percent of its shares.

“A lot of hedge funds are involved in NXP-Qualcomm. We have about five to 10 event-driven managers involved in the trade,” said Ben Watson, senior investment manager, alternatives at Aberdeen Standard Investments.

Three of the seven hedge funds among the top-10 investors cut exposure to NXP ahead of Wednesday, including Soroban Capital Partners, Och-Ziff Capital Management and Pentwater Capital Management, Thomson Reuters data showed.

All of these funds declined to comment to Reuters.

“We cut our position from near-10 percent of our portfolio in February down to under 5 percent,” said a trader at one of the top-30 hedge funds with a position in NXP.

The losses marred what has been an otherwise strong start to the year for ‘event-driven’ funds that specialize in trading around deals.

Up 2.26 percent in the first half of 2018, the average fund outperformed average industry returns of 0.79 percent, industry tracker Hedge Fund Research showed.

One of the star contributors to portfolio performance has been Sky (SKYB.L), up 52 percent this year as Comcast Corp (CMCSA.O) and Walt Disney Co (DIS.N) compete to buy the company.

Also, a number of other China-U.S. deals had successfully completed or were expected to complete which has helped performance, investors said.

Among them were Marvell Technology (MRVL.O), which announced it had acquired Cavium on July 6, and Microchip Technology (MCHP.O), whose takeover of Microsemi Corp was finalised May 29.

Investors and analysts also pointed to reasons for funds not to sell out of NXP completely.

As a result of cancelling the deal, Qualcomm paid a $2 billion breakup fee to NXP – a fact that should help bolster the share price – while NXP also launched a share buy-back. Olivetree analysts suggested NXP could now hit a standalone price of $120 a share.

Reporting by Maiya Keidan. Editing by Jane Merriman

China pulls approval for Facebook's planned venture: New York Times

(Reuters) – China has withdrawn its approval for Facebook Inc’s plan to open a venture in the eastern province of Zhejiang, the New York Times reported on Wednesday, citing a person familiar with the matter.

FILE PHOTO: Facebook logo is seen at a start-up companies gathering at Paris’ Station F in Paris, France on January 17, 2017. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer/File Photo

A Chinese government database showed that Facebook had gained approval to open a subsidiary, but the registration has since disappeared, according to checks made by Reuters.

The move is a setback for Facebook, which has been struggling to gain a foothold in China, the most populous country in the world, where its website and messaging app Whatsapp remain blocked.

And it makes the social networking company the latest to get caught in the middle of U.S.-China trade tensions.

U.S. chipmaker Qualcomm Inc’s deal to buy NXP Semiconductors NV has yet to win approval from Chinese regulators, the only holdout from eight of nine global regulators required to approve the deal. The companies have said they will call off the deal if they do not win China approval.

“If China blocks this move by Facebook it’s another shot across the bow at U.S. tech companies as this tariff battle heats up between China and the Beltway, coupled by the Qualcomm-NXP saga continuing,” GBH Insights analyst Daniel Ives said.

Facebook, which said on Tuesday it planned to create an “innovation hub” to support local start-ups and developers, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

While the about-face does not definitively end Facebook’s chances of establishing the company, it makes success very unlikely, a source told the New York Times.

The decision to take down the approval came after a disagreement between officials in Zhejiang and the national internet regulator, the Cyberspace Administration of China, which was angry that it had not been consulted more closely, according to the New York Times.

China strictly censors foreign news outlets, search engines and social media including content from Twitter Inc and Alphabet Inc’s Google.

“At first blush it looks like it’s not trade-war related but more free-speech related. China has wanted to control what gets into the public hands which has made Google and Facebook’s entry difficult there,” Elazar Advisors analyst Chaim Siegel said.

“If the U.S. and China were best buds maybe it could have affected this decision but I don’t think so,” he said.

The Chinese internet regulator was not immediately available for comment. Other Chinese officials could not be reached outside business hours.

“While Facebook had hoped to dip a toe in the market and work with Chinese developers, its very presence appears to have become a large, and incendiary, political question,” said Daniel Morgan, a portfolio manager at Synovus Trust, which holds 73,386 Facebook shares.

Facebook said on Tuesday that owning the China company would not change its approach to China, where it was still understanding and learning how to operate.

Its venture in China was similar to what it did in other countries: Station F in France, Estacao Hack in Brazil, Tech Hub launch in India and Innovation Hub in Korea.

Shares of Facebook pared most of their gains to trade marginally up at $215.34, after touching a record-high earlier in the session. The company is due to report quarterly results after the closing bell.

Reporting by Supantha Mukherjee and Vibhuti Sharma in Bengaluru; Editing by Bernard Orr and Susan Thomas