Lex is a futurist and entrepreneur focused on the next generation of financial services. Most recently he founded and directed Autonomous NEXT, the Fintech practice of Autonomous Research (a global research firm focused on investing in the financial sector), where he helped clients understand and leverage changes from digitization. Covered themes include roboadvice, blockchain and crypto assets, artificial intelligence, chatbots, neobanks and banks-as-a-platform, insurtech, regtech, and mixed reality.

Lex is on the Board of Directors and previously was the Chief Operating Officer at AdvisorEngine, a digital wealth management technology platform. He was also founder and CEO of NestEgg Wealth, a roboadvisor that pioneered online wealth management in partnership with financial advisors, acquired by AdvisorEngine.  

Lex is a contributor of thought leadership to the WSJ, Financial Times, Bloomberg, the Economist, CNBC, Reuters, American Banker, ThinkAdvisor, and Investment News, among others. He has spoken on the future of technology at conferences including Money2020, LendIt, Consensus, Vivatech, Schwab Impact, In|Vest, T3 Enterprise Edition, Financial Planning Association, and many others.

Prior to NestEgg, Lex held a variety of roles in investment management and banking at Barclays, Lehman Brothers and Deutsche Bank. He holds a JD/MBA from Columbia University, a B.A. in Economics and Law from Amherst College, and Certificates in International Politics and New Media.

Core Discussion and Research themes

Though it may be tempting to treat each consumer Fintech theme according to industry, I would consider that a mistake. The drive to sell mobile-first products is analogous across the financial suite. Also connected are the challenges with customer acquisition costs, pivots to enterprise/B2B models, and related transformation within incumbents.

This fast moving theme has implications for manufacturing of every type of financial product, as well as the economic structure supporting distribution. There is a plethora of interconnected ideas -- from Bitcoin's vector towards gold and payments, to shared ledgers between incumbents to save on cost and efficiency, to distributed smart contracts and the emergence of decentralized finance.

Large technology firms, in both East and West, are best positioned to leverage data exhaust generated by human use, store and process it on GPU clouds, and sell the answers to finance. AI can then span towards distribution (e.g., voice and chat), middle office (e.g., KYC), or manufacturing (e.g., underwriting loans). How non-AI firms could keep up and not lose it all is hard to imagine.

While still far out on the frontier, approximately 10 million new AR/VR headsets are sold per year, with an order of magnitude more AR-ready mobile phones already in the hands of hundreds of millions of consumers. The intersection of digital twins, augmented commerce and payment systems will lead to new version of PayPal, Stripe and Square for the digital realm.

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Broader Thesis: Frontier technology transforming Financial Services

We are experiencing profound transformation at every part of the industry in finance, from manufacturing the product (e.g., blockchain and crypto assets, AI-based underwriting), to the middle office (e.g., open banking and financial APIs, robotic process automation), to the distribution channels and client experience (neobanks, roboadvice, conversational interfaces). Some incumbents have meaningful competitive moats and are well positioned to keep making and selling their stuff. They have cash to participate in and benefit from innovation via partnership or M&A. Yet the long tail (i.e., most banks) will be reduced to a commoditized capital layer that plugs into broader technology platforms powering services or aggregating consumers. 

This dynamic is being played out between banks, startups, Western tech companies, the Asian giants, and crypto projects. No particular asset class or product vertical is safe. Payments, savings, lending, investing, trading, retirement, insurance -- all are on the same chopping block. Between shifting generational dynamics, private companies choosing to stay private, and the international nature of competition, the ground is always shifting in the Fintech industry.

Generational differences matter too. Millennials had a very different upbringing than Gen Y and Boomers. We grew up during the Tech Bubble, a persistent/pointless war state, the collapse of the housing market, bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers and subsequently the Great Recession. The only institution we still trust is Personal Technology, and so we must be diligent in understanding the drivers and potential outcomes of that vector. To know the future of finance, we must know artificial intelligence, virtual reality, chatbots, and the underlying reasons for the types of innovation happening across the economy. 

Digitization will force the financial industry to better serve its clients, the hundreds of millions of regular people that need financial services, at scale, available any time, and with minimum friction. As we move from automating access to existing financial products to decentralizing the manufacturing of financial products, real change will be inevitable. Armed with blockchain-native phones and web browsers, people will access decentralized finance machines that power payments, issue loans, make investments, and underwrite insurance. There will be hacks to attack code, and botnets to promote disinformation, as always. But our human organizations will eventually yield to global, secure, open source networks of value creation.

With automation taking more of the production burden, powered by software machines that are faster and more accurate than us, we humans will become more free. This is a good thing if properly managed and supported. When people achieve their financial goals and build stable lives, art and self-expression can flourish. And technology will help us with that too.

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