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Bahrain sovereign fund in talks to invest in SoftBank Vision Fund: CEO

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CEO of Softbank Group Masayoshi Son attending a news conference in Tokyo on February 8, 2017.

Alessandro Di Ciommo | NurPhoto | Getty Images

CEO of Softbank Group Masayoshi Son attending a news conference in Tokyo on February 8, 2017.

Bahrain’s sovereign wealth fund Mumtalakat is in early talks to invest in Softbank Group’s private equity fund that aims to target the technology sector, its chief executive said.

Mumtalakat could join other Gulf state funds such as the Public Investment Fund, Saudi Arabia’s main sovereign wealth fund, and Abu Dhabi’s Mubadala, who have invested in SoftBank’s $93 billion private equity Vision Fund.

“We’re talking to them, we haven’t made any commitment yet,” Mahmood AlKooheji told Reuters in an interview. “I think it’s very interesting, and a lot of people have already put a lot of tickets.”

The Bahrain fund, which holds the state’s stakes in companies including Aluminium Bahrain (Alba) and telecoms company Batelco, has a portfolio valued at over $10 billion.

Mumtalakat, which has borrowed quite extensively in the past, is also looking at potential funding options, although it does not have debt due this year. In 2014 the fund issued a $600 million sukuk and raised a $500 million loan.

“This year we don’t need to borrow but we’re opportunistic if the conditions are good,” said the chief executive. “We have maturities coming next year and the year after, and we’re always engaging with our advisers.”

He said the potential new borrowing will be used to refinance existing debt rather than to add leverage to the fund’s balance sheet.

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JPMorgan Chase ‘strongly’ urges all U.S. employees to get vaccinated ahead of office return

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JPMorgan Chase is `strongly’ urging all its U.S. employees get the Covid-19 vaccine, warning that the jab may eventually be mandatory for workers, according to a memo sent late Wednesday.

The bank is now requiring all U.S. workers to log their vaccination status in a software portal by June 30. Those who are vaccinated don’t need to wear masks, socially distance or log their health status on a daily basis when they return to office life; those who aren’t vaccinated need to wear masks and are encouraged to take weekly Covid tests, JPMorgan said.

“We strongly urge all of our employees to be vaccinated because we think it protects you, your friends and family, your fellow employees, and the community at large,” the bank said in the memo, signed by its entire operating committee led by CEO Jamie Dimon.

“We also believe that the more employees who are vaccinated, the safer our offices will be for everyone,” JPMorgan said. “In the future, we may mandate that all employees receive a COVID-19 vaccination consistent with legal requirements and medical or religious accommodations.”

JPMorgan, the biggest U.S. bank by assets with almost 260,000 employees globally, is taking a more gradual approach to vaccine enforcement than smaller rival Morgan Stanley. Earlier this week, Morgan Stanley announced that only vaccinated employees and clients could enter offices starting July 12.

At JPMorgan, while employees can choose to keep their vaccination status private, it means they must continue all the precautions, including social distancing, of the pre-vaccine era.

And the unvaccinated are still expected to return to assigned office locations, along with all other U.S. employees, by July 6. Bloomberg reported the memo earlier.

Here is the memo:

Dear colleagues,

In our country today, we all should feel extremely grateful and fortunate that we are starting to see the pandemic in the rear-view mirror. Given the availability and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines and other improved health indicators in the U.S., we are now taking steps to properly prepare for returning to the office in a safe and productive way. We are doing this because we believe that human interaction, spontaneous learning and creativity are so important to the way we run our company and serve our clients.

We want to be very specific about what we expect and what the requirements are related to working in the office.

I.        We need all U.S. employees — it is now mandatory — to log into and enter responses in the JPMC COVID-19 Vaccine Record Tool by June 30. If you don’t, your manager will follow-up with you individually until a response is received. We need you to enter this information so that we can properly prepare for and manage returning to the office in a very detailed way, and by location.

There are three possible answers to the question we will ask you:

a.       I am vaccinated

b.       I am not vaccinated

c.       I choose not to share my vaccination status with JPMorgan Chase (it is fine not to tell us, but you must respond)

   II.        If you have been vaccinated, have entered your data into the Tool, and have uploaded your COVID-19 vaccination card, you will no longer need to wear a mask or social distance in most locations in accordance with our current practices, and you will no longer be required to complete the Daily Health Check beginning July 6. (Note: U.S. Branch employees should continue to follow State-by-State Face Covering Guidance.)

  III.        If you indicate that you are unvaccinated or select the “I choose not to share my vaccination status with JPMorgan Chase” option, we still expect you to return to the office. You will be strongly encouraged to test for COVID-19 weekly and will also have to continue to wear a mask, complete the Daily Health Check and practice social distancing when in the office in accordance with our current practices.

  IV.        We strongly urge all of our employees to be vaccinated because we think it protects you, your friends and family, your fellow employees, and the community at large. We also believe that the more employees who are vaccinated, the safer our offices will be for everyone. In the future, we may mandate that all employees receive a COVID-19 vaccination consistent with legal requirements and medical or religious accommodations.

V.        Finally, beginning July 6, we expect all U.S. employees to move to a regular schedule, in your assigned office location, subject to occupancy limits and as directed by your manager. In many cases this may be five days each and every week, and for others it will mean a minimum of 50% of your workdays will be in the office, due to occupancy limits. We are aware that some teams are piloting a hybrid approach that varies by job, such as three days in the office or 50% rotations, but we want each of you back regularly so that we can test the effectiveness of these models as quickly as possible.

Over the past month it has been terrific to see more of you safely returning to our U.S. offices, and we have been pleased to hear from many of you that our workspaces are better than ever. You’ve commented on the health and safety protocols we’ve put in place, the new technology we’ve rolled out and, most importantly, how good it feels to see your colleagues in person.

We look forward to seeing more of you very soon.

This story is developing. Please check back for updates.

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Fierce competition as UAE digital bank Zand prepares for launch

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Buena Vista Images | Stone | Getty Images

Dubai, United Arab Emirates – Dubai-based digital bank Zand will attempt to attract customers with competitive deposit rates and a digital-first product lineup when it launches later this year, challenging traditional bank rivals as Covid-19 drives a wave of digital adoption in the Gulf.

“We think there is a huge opportunity,” Zand CEO Olivier Crespin said during a CNBC moderated panel session at the Open Banking Ecosystem Summit hosted by QnA International on Monday.

“We are onboarding friends and family on both the retail and corporate side, and we should be ready to go to market in the next couple of months,” added Crespin, who said interest in the Sheikhdoms newest bank had been “very strong” ahead of its official launch date, which is still subject to final administrative and licensing requirements.

Zand plans to be the first fully independent digital bank in the UAE, with a remit to service both retail and corporate customers. Emaar Properties founder Mohamed Alabbar, the developer behind The Dubai Mall and Burj Khalifa, has invested in the company and will serve as chairman.

Other domestic and international backers are yet to be disclosed.

Zand will offer interest rates of “around 2%” on deposits according to Crespin, as it seeks to attract users and compete in the crowded UAE market, where 48 banks already cater to a population of around 10 million people. 

For example, major local incumbents such as First Abu Dhabi Bank and Emirates NBD offer 0.020% and 0.2% respectively on a standard website advertised savings account. Rates are dependent on a multitude of factors, and a proper like-for-like comparison can’t be considered fair until details of Zand’s product offering are released to the public. 

Zand will offer cards, loans, accounts and personal financial management products “comparable to N26 or Revolut” for new retail customers, Crespin said, drawing a comparison with some of Europe’s established neobanks. “We’re also focusing on the corporate side, where we are going to work primarily on supply chain finance,” he added. 

The launch comes as Covid-19 accelerates the adoption of digital services across the Gulf region. Demand for financial technology products among its young and mobile enabled population is rising, particularly in the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

Regional competition

In the UAE, Emirates NBD has already launched digital retail bank Liv and separate digital business bank E20 — leveraging its banking license, large customer base and established brand credibility. Liv claims to have 400,000 users. 

Other banking incumbents have chosen to partner with financial technology platforms as a means to grow their digital presence. Large international digital banks such as Revolut have also signaled an intention to enter the region, promising currency and crypto exchange services, person-to-person payments, and advanced personal finance analytics beyond the standard offering.

The rising competition underscores the challenge for Zand — a start-up that will need to compete on product, service and back-end technology, while still being subject to the same capital requirements and regulations as its traditional bank rivals. 

“The challenge is being able to combine two DNAs — the DNA of banking, which is about risk management, financial expertise and compliance with regulation, and the DNA of digital, which is about customer centricity, better leverage of analytics and the latest technology,” said Crespin, who previously held roles at BNP Paribas, Citi, and DBS Bank. 

Local reaction

Zand will be put to the test when it finally launches, according to big bank executives who also joined Monday’s panel discussion.

“I think it’s a great development,” Bernd van Linder, CEO of Commercial Bank of Dubai, told CNBC. “The challenge that Zand puts to the banking sector, and one that I embrace and look forward to, is to make sure that we become as agile as fast and as innovative as (Zand) will be.”

However, he said: “The big challenge for the digital banks … is to make money while you compete with lots of incumbents that have already developed their digital proposition, and who know how to make money on the back of lending.”

“The competition is going to be fierce,” Boutros Klink, CEO of Standard Chartered Middle East, told CNBC when asked about digital-first rivals in the region. “It’s exciting, and we need to do what we need to do to stay ahead of the curve,” he added.

“Some will survive, and some will fail, without a doubt.”

 

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BuzzFeed announces plans to go public via SPAC

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Jonah Peretti, Founder and CEO, Buzzfeed, speaks at the Wall Street Journal Digital Conference in Laguna Beach, California, U.S., October 18, 2017.

Lucy Nicholson | Reuters

BuzzFeed, a 15-year-old digital media company, announced Thursday it plans to go public via a merger with a publicly traded special purpose acquisition company. 

The company, merging with 890 Fifth Avenue Partners, is targeting a $1.5 billion valuation. The deal is expected to close in the fourth quarter.

BuzzFeed also plans to acquire Complex Networks, a digital publisher that specializes in streetwear, music and culture, for $300 million. The deal is made up of $200 million in cash and $100 million of equity in BuzzFeed, the company said. They added it will “immediately accelerate BuzzFeed’s revenue growth.”

“With this acquisition, BuzzFeed becomes even better-positioned to thrive in an age of media consolidation,” the company said. BuzzFeed in November acquired news site HuffPost from Verizon Media for an undisclosed amount.

BuzzFeed generated $321 million in annual revenue and $31 million in adjusted EBITDA in 2020, in large part due to its e-commerce business, a spokesperson previously told CNBC. The company is estimating $654 million in revenue in 2022 and $117 million in adjusted EBITDA, according to an investor presentation.

SPAC deals have become an increasingly popular route to go public over this past year. Several digital publishers, including Bustle Digital Group, Vox Media and Vice Media, had held talks about a market debut via a SPAC, CNBC previously reported.

BuzzFeed will trade under the ticker symbol “BZFD” on the Nasdaq. The company said its management team will stay in place following the deal, with founder Jonah Peretti remaining CEO and Felicia DellaFortuna as its CFO.

“With today’s announcement, we’re taking the next step in BuzzFeed’s evolution, bringing capital and additional experience to our business,” Peretti said in a statement. The company has also bulked up its business in other areas, leaning into e-commerce, selling things like branded cookware, and affiliate commerce.

This story is developing. Please refresh for updates.

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