Best New Ideas in Money: These innovations are rewriting the language of money
I tried to buy a cup of coffee in China but couldn’t speak the language.
I don’t mean Mandarin. For that, I spent a few months learning enough phrases to make passable, if poorly pronounced, small talk. No, I’m talking about the other language barrier: money.
In China, it seems that only foreigners use cash. Everyone else shops and does business much more efficiently with smartphone apps such as WeChat Pay, which are unavailable without a Chinese bank account. So when I attempted to order a latte at Luckin Coffee, the Chinese answer to Starbucks that went public in the U.S. this year, the barista explained, in a conversation mostly conducted via dueling translation apps, that I was unfortunately out of Luckin.
“You have to know languages when you go to sell something,” wrote Gabriel García Márquez. “But when you go to buy, everyone does what he must to understand you.” It turns out he was wrong — though, in fairness, his Nobel Prize wasn’t in economics.
There is no universal language of money. Our financial system is more a Tower of Babel, built in conflicting dialects that cause unnecessary friction and confusion. But, like languages, money evolves, continuously reshaped by a mixing of cultures and by new technologies and ideas.
That is one of the key themes that comes through this, our second annual Best New Ideas in Money, a series that explores the financial innovations changing the way we live, work, save and invest.
So what has this got to do with the price of coffee in China?
The use of better data and algorithms is streamlining transactions that long required professional intermediaries like brokers, lawyers and other translators.
Andrea Riquier, for instance, looks at how new tech could make buying and selling a home, one of the most fraught financial transactions, as simple as buying and selling shares of company stock.
William Watts shows how the explosion of new alternative data sets is changing the way we invest.
And Emily Bary examines how advances in language-translation technology could make money flow faster around the globe by enabling small businesses to deal internationally.
Those are just a few examples of the fascinating pieces that will be published over the next few weeks. Please let me know what you think — and where I can get a decent cup of Joe around here.
Here are the stories:
Leslie Albrecht: How a mix of psychotherapy and financial advice could solve your money issues once and for all
William Watts: The explosion of ‘alternative’ data gives regular investors access to tools previously employed only by hedge funds