EXCLUSIVE: ‘A new gold standard’ – Jason Cozens, Glint in ‘The Fintech Magazine’
Jason Cozens was the architect (quite literally) behind Glint, the gold trading and payment app that allows ordinary consumers access to their own, inflation-proof currency
“The universe creates gold when two neutron stars collide. There’s a finite amount of it on the planet and it’s difficult to mine just one per cent of it every year. But you could drop an atom bomb on it and it’d still be there in 1,000 years. It’s immutable,” says Jason Cozens.
It’s likely this enduring quality – a permanence that pre-dates the human race and will probably endure long after we’re gone – is what drives us to it in a crisis. Investors snapped up historic quantities of the stuff last year, albeit mostly in the form of exchange-traded funds where inflows more than doubled, driving the gold price to an all-time high.
Knowing that somewhere there exists a pile of gold bullion that is more than holding its value is clearly a comfort for distressed investors. But the last time gold was actually used to buy anything – in the UK at least – was around the time of the Napoleonic wars, more than 200 years ago.
As founder of the gold buying app Glint, that’s what Cozens has set out to change. He, literally, wants to see the streets if not paved with gold, then thronged with people paying with it. And here’s where, ironically, technology – which helped drive gold out of circulation – can help bring it back in.
“Civilizations have come and gone but gold has retained its purchasing power, because it can’t be corrupted like anything defined by human beings,” says Cozens.
“For me, gold’s the ultimate form of money. I can go anywhere in the world and people will appreciate its value. The pound has lost 85 per cent of its purchasing power in my lifetime. Yet gold’s, in that same period, has increased by more than 550 per cent.”
The price of gold has tracked public confidence over recent history – dipping when the economic and geopolitical going was good, soaring when the opposite is true. The two major crises of the past two decades saw gold rise from £10,000/kg in 2007 to £36,414/kg by 2011 as the global financial meltdown took hold, while in late 2020, amidst the socio-economic uncertainty sparked by COVID-19, it peaked to £48,819/kg. But Cozens is right when he says that gold’s value as an asset class has grown consistently over time – by 641.58 per cent, in fact, since 2001.
As such, Cozens believes that bringing gold back into circulation could protect ordinary citizens from political and monetary policy that has eroded the worth of the fiat coins and notes in their pockets. Like many cryptocurrency moguls of the moment, he’s intent on shifting currency control away from governments and central banks and back to ordinary people.
In fact, he traces what he believes to be a gradual decline in public trust in currencies, banks and payment systems to the world abandoning the gold standard, which historically linked fiat money to the value of gold.
Cozens explains: “There are lots of inequalities in the way the monetary system works. When money is printed by governments, it isn’t distributed evenly. The idea is that there’s some kind of trickle-down effect from the wealthy to the rest of the population. The problem is, it takes so long that, by the time it trickles down, it’s worth less.”
Returning gold to its ‘natural purpose’, as ‘real money’ will, he says, give people back ‘reliability, choice, independence and freedom’. Glint isn’t just a gold buying app, it’s an ideology. The challenge, however is that, on most western high streets, you can’t walk into a shop and offer an ingot to the cashier – even when Harrods still had a banking division, and you could nip up to the top floor in Knightsbridge to buy a few bars, you couldn’t actually exchange it for anything in the store.
But Glint enables people to buy from just one penny’s-worth of gold. And, by digitising that investment in a speck of precious metal, they can spend it, too, using the Glint card or payment app.
“I pay for everything in gold,” says Cozens.
Through the app, anyone can purchase gold, which is secured against bullion in a Swiss Brinks vault. Glint then translates it into cash to facilitate purchases via a linked Mastercard or to send cash via the app to other Glint users using a PayPal-like email identifier, or purchase foreign currency at rates it claims are ‘eight times cheaper than banks’. And because gold is protected, unlike fiat money, from inflationary pressures, users, in theory, get more bang for their bucks in the real world. The Glint Mastercard now accepted by tens of millions of merchants and at more than two million ATMs, in over 210 countries and territories.
“If I buy a green juice for £7.78, Glint checks the latest gold price in the merchant’s currency, works out whether I’ve got enough gold to pay for it, then authorises the transaction and sells just enough gold to pay for it,” explains Cozens.
It’s the equivalent of having your personal gold standard, and, as Gold’s price is only like to go up in the medium-to-long term, ‘living on a gold standard definitely pays returns’, says Cozens.
“I’ve had clients text me saying ‘Glint’s amazing, I bought gold at the beginning of the year, I continue to buy it every month, I’ve been spending more of it than I’m accumulating, yet it’s worth more than it was a year ago. As everything falls apart around us, we want something to hold on to, and Glint’s technology gives us that.”
A PROTECTED ASSET
Glint was the first fintech to spot this golden opportunity but it’s not the last. New physical gold-trading app, Minted, poised to launch just as the pandemic hit at the beginning of 2020 also plans to give users the opportunity to use gold as currency. Its USP is enabling ordinary investors to purchase small parcels of gold at prices similar to those usually reserved for large-scale investors, then either receive it physically or own it virtually within the app.
Like Minted, Glint is registered with the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority, it’s also insured with Lloyds of London and is very much a product of the UK, having had its genesis during the financial crisis, when Cozens witnessed the first run on a British bank in 150 years.
“It was a shock to see people queuing outside Northern Rock, worried whether they would get their money back,” recalls Cozens. “It was the first time people of my generation realised a bank is not a risk-free place to deposit funds. I started to think ‘surely there’s got to be a risk-free way of storing my hard-earned money?’.
“I started to look at gold, used and trusted by people all over the world, including central banks, as the ultimate store of value, the currency of last resort, and thought ‘maybe that’s the solution’.
“I couldn’t use it to go and buy a coffee at that point, but I thought ‘there’s got to be a way of connecting real, physical gold into the digital payments system’, and that was the beginning of the journey.”
Building the infrastructure needed was no mean feat and, on the face of it, Cozens wasn’t the man to lead it. An architect who was one of the first to employ emerging virtual reality technology to visualise big-scale projects like the Sydney Olympic Stadium, he’d moved into designing ecommerce websites for major players like JD Sports.
“Lots of people told me I wouldn’t be able to do it, but I managed to develop a prototype that worked,” says Cozens. “With that, I attracted some fantastic people to the business. We raised our first money to create a production version of our multicurrency platform to enable gold to be used as money.
“Our clients buy a share of a real physical gold bar, there’s no company, token or fund between them and their ownership of gold. We’ve spent our first few years focussing on that unique selling point and first-mover advantage,” says Cozens.
Now Glint is directing its efforts towards improving the user experience, with automated or event-based communications through the app and peer-to-peer payments.
“I’m looking forward to adding things like multiple wallets this year and there will be lots of opportunities to partner with incumbent and neobanks on new ideas,” says Cozens. “Our vision is a world where everyone has an equal opportunity to prosper.”
You could say that’s an admirable standard… in fact, it’s a gold standard.