UK-based readers of a certain age will recall Anthony Howard. He was, quite simply, one of the great journalists and editors of his generation and inter alia, a distinguished editor for many years of The New Statesman, a sister title to EPI.
He also served as a masterly obits editor of The Times, as deputy editor of The Observer and editor of The Listener.
Howard argued that being a magazine editor is like being the conductor of an orchestra. You must not push yourself forward all the time…and an editor who is only interested in his or her own point of view will not be an effective leader of a magazine.
In other words: publish viewpoints contrary to one’s own and give voice to a wide range of opinion. And so, taking the great Anthony Howard’s advice to heart, this editor has over the past 16 years accommodated many a point of view I do not come close to sharing. And that is exactly as it should be.
BNPL is the latest case in point. Rarely an issue goes by without an analyst opinion piece or consultant thought leadership article or something from a vendor, proclaiming the rosy prospects for the BNPL sector and how credit card revenues will be under attack for card issuers.
BNPL: a sector beloved of gullible PR evangelists
BNPL evangelists do like to talk up the sector and one cannot fault their optimism.
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Keeping with the conductor of the orchestra theme, I think they are badly out of tune but as one of us will be proved right in time, they are welcome to continue contributing such copy-always provided their by-line appears and they take ownership for their argument.
And so, for that reason, contributors who extolled the virtue of the likes of N26 and Fidor were given space, bigging up their prospects when they entered the UK market. I thought they were wildly optimistic and argued the point in this column-my biggest error on this point being to quite under-estimate how quickly they would exit the UK market and how much they would lose in the process.
A decade ago, a running theme in this column, quarter after quarter, was to keep tabs on the accumulated losses of ING Direct in the UK market, as it utterly failed to crack the UK, in contrast to its relative success in say Canada or Germany.
One last example of being proved right, would be the Canadian market itself and the failure of many an international raider to make a go of Canada. Revolut is just the latest example, over many years, of an international player entering the Canadian market to take on the incumbent banks-and exiting stage left at speed when they appreciate how tricky it will be to win market share.
Needless to say, over 16 years, there have been plenty of occasions when one has been proven utterly and gloriously wrong. And that continues to make the job highly enjoyable.
Another challenging spell for Afterpay
It is possible that somewhere, hopefully gathering dust never to be re-read, is an editorial suggesting that the reporting discrepancy at Metro Bank would soon blow over, merely a temporary set-back, share price will bounce back.
As this issue goes to production, comes news of another tricky week for Afterpay. A double digit fall in the share price is just for starters. The firm’s ANZ sales actually declined in the third quarter compared with the second. Again, by double-digits.
Growth in the UK market also seems to be muted. So now Afterpay is to roll out traditional banking products in a revenue sharing model with Westpac.
I cannot wait to see how the BNPL evangelists spin this one. By contrast, Grant Halverson, CEO of McLean Roche has a turn of phrase of which Anthony Howard would approve.
He tells me: “I was warning four years ago of the ‘dance of the elephants’ and BNPL apps are tiny mice in that play.
It’s the result of the BNPL relentless spin and bluster. It has attracted big industry players who will kill off most of them – literally stomp on them.
BNPL: the beginning of the end?
Apply Pay and Goldman Sachs are the latest ‘elephants’ to enter the BNPL critical US race. CBA will also do a job on BNPL in Australia when it starts in August – which is why Paypal has gone now.
Goldman Sachs in conjunction with Apple is going to be a very serious threat.
“I describe it as the end of the beginning – the question is whether it’s the beginning of the end.”
Lastly on a quick but sad matter of domestic housekeeping, this is the last week on the mag on which my team mate Evie Rusman contributes, before she goes off to a new job and a new challenge.
Any editor needs a talented and enthusiastic team -Anthony Howard’s team in his day included the likes of Martin Amis and Christopher Hitchens-star writers who shone on the world stage once they left the NS. Evie may not wind up as the star of Vanity Fair but has been an invaluable help on this desk and will be much missed.