FinTech in Taiwan: a case study of a Bank’s strategic planning for an investment in a FinTech company
© The Author(s). 2016
Received: 2 November 2016
Accepted: 23 November 2016
Published: 29 November 2016
Since 2015 is the year of FinTech in Taiwan, it is worth investigating the challenges that emerged when banks were encouraged to invest in FinTech companies for collaboration. This study aims to identify the strategic considerations in the process of searching for FinTech investment targets.
This study used a case study investigation of a top-5 bank in Taiwan. The major data sources include the meeting notes of the FinTech investment task force and interviews with the team members. Co-opetition theory was adopted as the theoretical framework and interview questions were derived from the PARTS strategies in co-petition theory. The results relate to: (1) the strategic goals of FinTech investment, (2) the added value from FinTech companies, (3) criteria in selecting candidates in the same FinTech area, (4) choosing to work as either a cooperator or a competitor, and (5) barriers from policies and regulations.
Discussion and evaluation
This study has several findings: (1) regulations and policies shape FinTech’s development; (2) banks, technology companies, and customers are not “FinTech ready;” (3) Compare top-down with bottom up strategies; (4) banks and FinTech companies have complex relationships; (5) it is unlikely that Taiwan will produce FinTech disruptors in the near future.
The findings and discussion can benefit researchers and administrators in finance-related industries. More studies are desired to observe long-term development in terms of how companies collaborate or compete in specific FinTech areas.
First Wave of Digital Finance Environment 3.0 Project
Closing a deposit account
Current deposit account holder
Opening a predesignated account
Current deposit account holder
Approving payment transfer application via fax
Current deposit account holder
Agreeing to allow the bank to conduct online credit check
Current deposit account holder or loan account holder
Applying for new credit card
Current deposit account or existing credit card holder
Applying for microfinance
Current credit card holder
Applying for installment
Current credit card holder
Opening a trust account
Current deposit account holder
Completing “Know Your Customer” survey
Current deposit account holder
Completing customer risk tolerance survey
Current deposit account holder
Accepting or terminating agreement of trust product recommendation
Current deposit account holder
Filling out joint marketing agreement
Existing deposit account holder
The coming trend of FinTech is a major cause of concern for the TFSB. This is because “FinTech,” a combination of “Finance” and “Technology” that refers to the combination of both domains that will lead innovative financial services to shift away from an in-house approach to relying on external providers to deliver online and mobile solutions in a timely manner. On the one hand, the disruptive innovation can initiate new businesses and bring new job opportunities. On the other hand, it damages the basis of the banking industry, which is an important stable socio-economic foundation for nearly all countries. FinTech companies can choose to be the “disruptors”—players that enter the market to compete against existing financial institutions, or “collaborators”—those primarily targeting financial institutions as customers. Banks not only have to deal with challenges from potential disruptors, but also to collaborate with technology companies to win the competition.
A recent analysis indicates that the global FinTech investment growth continues in 2016, driven by Europe and Asia (Accenture 2016). Global investment in FinTech ventures in the first quarter of 2016 reached $5.3 billion, a 67% increase over the same period last year, and the proportion of investments going to FinTech companies in Europe and Asia-Pacific nearly doubled to 62% (Venture Scanner 2016). However, the report shows that collaborative versus disruptive FinTech ventures have different investment patterns in different areas. Overall, funding for collaborative FinTech ventures, which accounted for 38% of all FinTech investment in 2010, grew to 44% of funding in 2015. In North America, the proportion of funding for collaborative FinTech rose from 40 to 60% and in Asia-Pacific, it increased from 7 to 16%. In Europe, however, the reverse trend was true. Funding for “disruptors” there rose from 62% of all FinTech investments in 2010 to 86% in 2015 (Venture Scanner 2016).
Since 2015 is the year of FinTech in Taiwan, it is worth investigating the challenges that emerged when banks were encouraged to invest in FinTech companies for collaboration. The single case study approach is appropriate because it provides researchers with an in-depth look at the context, organizational relationships, knowledge, and experiences of the target case (Benbasat et al. 1987; Cavaye 1996; Miles and Huberman 1994). This study adopts the co-opetition theory (Brandenburger and Nalebuff 1996) as the theoretical foundation guiding the investigation. The results can reflect a bank’s strategic planning in response to the era of digital finance. The findings and discussion can benefit researchers and administrators in finance-related industries.
Using information or network technologies to aid the business development of financial institutions to gather, process, analyze, or supply data (e.g., big data, cloud computing, machine learning, etc.).
Using information or network technologies to improve the efficiency or security of financial services or operating processes (e.g., mobile payment, automated investment advisor, blockchain technology, biometrics, etc.).
Designing or developing other digital or innovative financial services based on information or technology.
Banking Infrastructure (114 startups, 1.5B funding)
Business Lending (181 startups, 9.8B total funding)
Consumer and Commercial Banking (66 startups, 1.5 B total funding)
Consumer Lending (264 startups, 16.7B total funding)
Consumer Payments (182 startups, 9.5B total funding)
Crowdfunding (68 startups, 436 M total funding)
Equity Financing (137 startups, 738 M total funding)
Financial Research and Data (79 startups, 824 M total funding)
Financial Transaction Security (101 startups, 1.6B total funding)
Institutional Investing (142 startups, 781 M total funding)
International Money Transfer (59 startups, 1.5B total funding)
Payments Backend and Infrastructure (181 startups, 10.4B total funding)
Personal Finance (194 startups, 2.7B total funding)
Point of Sale Payments (164 startups, 7.6B total funding)
Retail Investing (150 startups, 1.6B total funding)
Small and Medium Business (SMB) Tools (183 startups, 7.3B total funding)
The report aggregated data for North American, Europe, and China. When comparing actual startup and total funding numbers in Venture Scanner’s report with the TFSB’s FinTech definition, the TFSB’s blueprint differs from the actual situation in other countries.
FinTech in Taiwan
The TFSB declared 2015 as the year of FinTech by announcing a series of actions to promote its development in Taiwan. First, all domestic banks must offer twelve online financial services by the end of 2015 (Financial Supervisory Commission 2015a). Second, the TSFB announced eleven big data application projects, including government open data (after de-identification) in real estate credit evaluation, transaction data in the stock market, personal credit card transactions, and fraud statistics, and over 900 other finance-related datasets (Data.Gov.Tw 2015). Third, the banks’ shareholding ratio was relaxed from 5 to 100% for FinTech company investments (Financial Supervisory Committee 2015c). Fourth, the TSFB set up the FinTech office, promotion funds, and a startup base (Financial Supervisory Committee 2016a). Finally, the TSFB published a FinTech white paper in 2016 (Financial Supervisory Committee 2016a). Taiwan’s government aims to attract 5 billion TWD in total funding and at least 30 startups.
Policies and Regulations to Supervise the Development of Digital Finance
Contract template for personal computer and internet banking
Allow banks to offer online banking business
Ministry of Finance
Regulations governing the conduct of equity crowdfunding by securities firms
Allow securities firms to run equity crowdfunding
Regulations governing the conduct of online insurance by insurance firms
Allow insurance firms to offer online insurance
Regulations governing the conduct of equity crowdfunding by securities firms
Allow securities firms to offer equity crowdfunding
The Act Governing Electronic Payment Institutions
Allow banks and non-financial companies with third-party payment licenses to offer e-payment business
Rename “Regulations Governing the Conduct of Online Insurance by Insurance Firms” as “Regulations Governing the Conduct of E-commerce by Insurance Firms
Relax some regulations issued in 2014.8
Regulations of bank and financial holding company investing FinTech firms
Allow banks and financial holding firms to invest in FinTech firms and increase the shareholding ratio
Banking, insurance, and related FinTech companies
Regulations on Information Services and Finance Technology Industries Determined by the Competent Authority as Finance-Related Industry
Define information service industry and finance technology industry
Banks, insurance, and related FinTech companies
Co-opetition describes a strategic framework that enables organizations to classify players within their industry (Brandenburger and Nalebuff 1996). The model adopts knowledge in game theory to observe and explain the behaviors of different kinds of stakeholders within the same industry and beyond.
Bradenburger and Nalebuff (1996) argued that cooperation and competition exist and are desirable in every industry (Levinson and Asahi 1995). When all players focus on market growth, then they must cooperate to increase the benefits to all players (Hill and Lynn 2003). At the same time, competition distributes the benefits earned by individual players depending on their market shares. The theory provides a framework to observe how interactions between players and their choices lead to different outcomes or end states of the game. In addition, it helps administrators and researchers to identify and explain the underlying mechanisms in a firm’s environment, and how the firm can change these mechanisms to their advantage.
Customers: Parties to which the company directs its products and services. In return, money goes from the customers to the company.
Suppliers: Parties who provide resources to the company. In return, money goes from the company to the suppliers.
Competitors: The definition depends on perspective:
◦ Customer perspective: “A player is your competitor if customers value your product less when they have the other player’s product than when they have your product by itself.” Your product behaves as a substitute for a competitor’s product—your increase in market share will directly decrease your competitor’s share.
◦ Supplier perspective: “A player is your competitor if it is less attractive for a supplier to provide resources to you when it is also supplying the other player than when it is supplying you alone.” All firms compete with other organizations for resources in quantity, quality, and price.
Complementors: The definition also depends on the following perspectives:
◦ Customer perspective: “A player is your complementor if customers value your product more when they have the other player’s product than when they have your product by itself.” Complementors are the inverse of a competitor because the demand for their products will increase the demand for your product.
◦ Supplier perspective: “A player is your complementor if it is more attractive for a supplier to provide resources to you when it is also supplying the other player than when it is supplying you alone.” When a market is small, it is difficult to get resources delivered by guessing. When the market increases, suppliers begin to adjust their offerings and make purchasing efforts easier for all acquiring firms.
Importantly, a single player can have more than one role; a player can be both a competitor and complementor simultaneously. The market players can cooperate on the “invisible” logistics side (e.g. develop common standards or return channels) and compete on the “visible” market share side.
Players: Players can use the Value Net to identify and categorize the current players in the game. A company can examine all players in the value net and determine the roles of individual players (customers, suppliers, complementors, and competitors). Bringing more players into the game can have positive effects on a company (e.g. increasing suppliers can decrease costs; extra complementors increase the value of a company’s product; and a competitor can be brought in to give customers the feeling that they have choice.).
Added value: Added value is an indicator to estimate benefits that individual players obtain from the value net. A company can identify its added value from the other players’ point of view and take action to increase this added value in order to increase profitability (e.g., a company can offer a loyalty program to enhance customer loyalty or attract more complementors to the value net to increase its own added value).
Rules: In every business, many written and unwritten rules apply. Rules can be governmental rules, contracts with suppliers, contracts with customers, and general market rules. Although many rules cannot be changed (such as governmental rules), contracts provide opportunities to change the rules on a smaller scale.
Tactics: Tactics are defined as “actions that players take to shape the perceptions of other players.” Brandenburger and Nalebuff argue that players always take rational actions in light of that player’s perception of reality. A company can influence other players’ perceptions and actions by deliberately sending out certain signals. It is necessary, however, to be aware of these perceptions to be able to influence them.
Scope: In most cases, a game is not isolated, but linked to other games via its players. A firm can extend its business to other games when it adds value to the other game and increase its profitability. On the other hand, a firm can deliberately keep two games separate when linking the games would cannibalize its traditional business. Linking and de-linking games can occur by recognizing complementary markets, via special clauses in contracts, or by influencing the perceptions of other players.
What are the strategic goals when searching for potential FinTech candidates?
What is the added value(s) from FinTech candidates?
When facing competition from other banks or FinTech companies, what is T bank’s strategy (as a cooperator or a competitor)?
When selecting candidates in the same FinTech area, what are the major criteria?
Is there any plan to cooperate with competitors or complementors?
Are there any barriers from Government policies and regulations?
Banking industry in Taiwan
Head Offices and Branches of Financial Institutions in Taiwan (End of June 2016)
Foreign bank branches
Chinese bank branches
The Postal Savings System
Credit departments of farmers’ association
Credit departments of fishermen’s association
1949–1960 (the embryonic period): The loan market was established.
1961–1989 (the development period): The stock market, bond market, and foreign exchange market emerged.
1990–2012 (the consolidation period): An important period of liberalization and internationalization for the banking industry, with key deregulation including (1) allowing foreign banks to set up branches, allowing the establishment of new commercial banks, allowing the establishment of financial folding corporations, and allowing the privatization of public sector banks, etc.
To address the coming trend of digitalization in finance, the TFSB proactively announced a series of deregulations after 2014 to encourage financial innovation. Therefore, we might call 2014 the beginning of the fourth stage—the innovation period.
Policy and regulatory barriers
In Taiwan, the bank industry is highly protected and regulated; banks are prohibited from engaging in any business that does not have related policies or regulations. Therefore, when the government requested that all banks engage in innovation, they were not sure what to do at first. In addition, there are too many limitations or regulations for new startups. For example, the minimum capital for a new startup to apply for a third-party payment license is ten million US dollars. Additionally, FinTech companies cannot manufacture hardware and must derive more than 51% of their annual operating costs or operating revenue from financial enterprises (including financial holding companies, banks, securities firms, insurance companies, and their subsidiaries) (Appendix A). Regulations also make it difficult for foreign FinTech companies, such as P2P lenders, to enter Taiwan’s market.
Case study bank
T bank Compared to all Other Domestic Banks in Taiwan
Loans to SMEs
Active credit cards
Profit before tax
Number of domestic branches
Number of overseas branches
Overall, T bank’s strength is in Corporate Finance, especially in SME loans. Compared to the other top-tier commercial banks, T bank’s personal finance business is a weakness. In 2015, T bank renamed the division of electronic finance as the division of digital banking to declare its ambitions to develop digital banking, including online banking, electronic payment, FinTech, and big data analytics. The Chairman of T bank aims to cultivate personal finance as another star business by means of FinTech and big data analytics. Therefore, the bank established the FinTech, Artificial Intelligence, Blockchain, and Maker Base task forces to search for the best solution providers or startups on the market. The team members include supervisors in the divisions of digital banking, information technology, personal finance, corporate finance, venture capital, foreign exchange markets, and compliments and legislative. These groups are led by two vice presidents and report to the President and Chairman directly. After over 7 months of effort, T bank identified the most appropriate target and completed their first investment in 2016. The task force continues to look for other suitable candidates. The next section describes the bank’s process for FinTech investment by research question.
The strategic goals of FinTech investment
Look for a strategic partner rather than targeting ROI only
Look for a technology company that can co-develop unique financial services with T bank’s employees
Look for new startups or small companies with innovative expertise.
Added value from FinTech companies
Candidate and Visited FinTech companies
Financial transaction security
Big data analytics
Point of sale payments
Internet of Things (IoT)
Fintech companies in the payment category can be divided into two types: Third-party payment and point of sale payment. The third-party payment companies attracted all banks’ attentions in 2015 because these companies will offer services in online, offline, and online-to-offline environments. In May 2015, the TFSB announced “The Act Governing Electronic Payment Institutions” to supervise third-party payment institutions. The act allows banks and non-financial companies to apply for third-party payment licenses. Five non-financial companies were approved in 2015 and 2016, and each of these companies has third-party payments as their core business, similar to PayPal. In addition, 10 banks (including T bank) and 12 e-commerce companies can also provide third-party payments, though this is not their core business. E-payment services are already up and running at all 10 banks, but none of the five third-party companies can offer their services until 2017. These third-payment payment companies are very welcome bank’s investment in order to form a stronger alliance. Therefore, they limit the shareholding percentage to 5–10%, in order to have more bank partners. Although the third-party payment attracted many attentions in the beginning, banks predict only one or two companies will survive due to the low profit margin. Point of sale payment is the other type of payment companies whose major customers are physical retailers. These companies mainly provide POS systems to retailers. In the past, credit card readers and POS systems are different devices and a store usually needs to prepare at four credit card readers, one pre-paid card reader, and one POS system. Due to the integration of hardware (all-in-one card reader with cloud-based POS functions) and software (integrated payment API), the all-in-one smart POS system can satisfy assorted payment needs from retailer stores. In addition, the all-in-one smart POS system can accept all kinds of payment tools, including cash, credit card, pre-paid card, gift card, and other payment types via TSM, HCE, TSP, and QR Code technologies. A well-known POS company became T bank’s first FinTech investment target. More details will be introduced later.
Banking infrastructure and system integration
The task force filtered out technology/solution providers because they felt that these companies concentrate only on their current business and are not ready for a higher-level challenge. Therefore, they selected none of companies in the banking infrastructure and system integration for online-site visits.
TFSB tended not to set up any regulations on P2P lending (Financial Supervisory Committee 2016d). In addition, TFSB encourages banks to collaborate with P2P companies on the lending business. Right now there are two P2P companies on the market (https://www.lend.com.tw and https://lnb.com.tw/). Although no matter personal loan and corporate loan are not hard to be approved by banks at all, many banks, including T bank, are preparing to set up their own online lending platform instead of collaborating with P2P companies. For example, SinoPac bank’s bidmoney platform (https://bidmoney.sinopac.com) is the first and the only P2P platform from bank. It will be expected more similar platforms will appear in these 2 years.
Big data analytics
Big data analytics companies are hard to complete with large analytics companies, like SAS, IBM, and TaraData. Therefore, the local big data analytics companies all focus on the techniques of Chinese text mining. Chinese might be the hardest language to perform Natural Language Processing, due to its unique characteristics. Due to bank’s data contains sensitive personal information, T bank is more interested in buying or cultivating its own analytics team. These local analytics companies can be solution providers of intelligent automatic customer services and sell their products to all banks. They are not interested in becoming a specific bank exclusive company.
Blockchain is another area which attracts lots of attentions. Maicoin and Gcoin are two major companies in Taiwan with potential bank partners. In addition, TFSB regards blockchain as a crucial foundation of the FinTech industry. Therefore, TFSB is planning to set up a national blockchain for all banks. Blockchain contains two major flows, virtual currency flow and information flow. Right now banks are more interested in the aspect of information flow. Four banks will collaborate with Maicoin. Another two banks will collaborate with Gcoin. CTBC bank just announced that they joined the R3 alliance. Therefore, more investment on the blockchain from banks can be expected in the future. T bank’s chairman also assigned a taskforce to search for blockchain partners. Because related information is classified, no further information can be revealed in this article.
After the on-site visits, T bank moved on from most candidate companies for several reasons: (a) T bank would have difficulty developing any unique financial services with these companies (no added value) because they are more like solution vendors; (b) the stock price per share (PE ratio) is too high, and (c) recent analysis indicates that cash and credit cards are still the major payment tools (59 and 58.1%, respectively) (Market Intelligence & Consulting Institute 2016). In addition, people can withdraw/wire cash, pay transaction fees, pick up online shopping goods, and buy electronic tickets at any supermarket. With the highest density of supermarkets (over 10,000) in the world (Taiwan Today 2014), payment is convenient in Taiwan. Whether other payment methods can become mainstream is still under observation.
Criteria to select FinTech candidates
Since banks do not know how to design an innovative financial service using technology and technology companies do not know how to apply their knowledge to finance, T bank had difficulty identifying qualified candidates. Therefore, due to the limited number of FinTech companies available, they did not identify more than one candidate with potential in the field.
Cooperator or a competitor?
In the highly competitive market, such as mobile payments or e-wallets, T bank tended to work as a cooperator rather than a competitor. T bank regards these products as “must have” services for all banks, which they can purchase from solution vendors. Their goal is to compete with other banks on some unique financial services, such as a P2P platform for SMEs. However, they could not find a company in this area.
In Spring 2016, T bank invested in a FinTech company offering smart POS systems based on several strategic considerations. First, retailers currently tend to have more than three devices for different payment options. The smart POS system integrates all kinds of payment options in a small mobile device, which is a very attractive solution for T bank’s customers in retail. Second, T bank and the FinTech company are complementors; the latter is a major POS system provider for top retailers in Taiwan. As T bank’s strength is in SME finance, it can help the FinTech company to expand its market share to small and medium sized retailers. On the other hand, the FinTech company can assist T bank in expanding its personal finance business, a key goal, especially in issuing credit cards or affinity cards. Finally, the smart POS system contains enterprise resource planning (ERP) modules, data analytics (cloud-based), and data visualization (cloud-based) to track retailers’ daily business activities. It enables T bank and the FinTech company to develop innovative financial services and use the POS system as the customer-end interface.
Discussion and evaluation
Regulations and policies shape FinTech’s development
Government regulations and policies significantly shape an industry’s development. The most famous case is the influence of deregulation on the US telecommunications industry in 1982, which resulted in the industry’s liberalization (Los Angeles Times 1995). Thus, researchers should track how the series of deregulations will shape Taiwan’s FinTech industry development. At the same time, restrictions in the current regulations prevented some overseas FinTech companies from offering their financial services in Taiwan. Based on authors’ own observations, the deregulation will continue, though the banking industry will maintain its unique position and high government protection in the future.
Banks, technology companies, and customers are not “FinTech ready”
Compared to other countries, Taiwan is behind in the revolution of financial digitalization in terms of practical development, customer adoption, and legislation. It seems that Taiwan’s banks have been protected for too long. Banks, technology companies, and customers are not “FinTech ready.” T bank’s Chairman and President also sensed the problem and think that the best way forward is to cultivate collaborative relationships with startups. Therefore, T bank will set up a maker base and assign a group of T bank’s employees to collaborate with these companies on R&D. A follow up study of these efforts would be beneficial.
Mobile payment is another example. In 2015–2016, Apple pay, Line pay, WeChat pay, Alipay, and domestic third-party companies introduced assorted innovative payment methods via TSM, HCE, TSP, and QR Code technologies (Financial Supervisory Committee 2016c). However, based on TFSB statistics, credit cards are still the most popular payment method. Most transactions counted as mobile payments were credit card transactions linked with apps. Among these innovative payment technologies, WeChat pay and Alipay attracted a lot of attention in 2015. With a potential 60 billion TWD in spending annually, tourists from China account for about 35% of annual tourists to Taiwan. Therefore, although only tourists from China can use these two payment options, three banks collaborate with Alipay and four banks collaborate with WeChat pay. These banks are interested in both the Chinese tourists and in cross-border e-commerce transactions and cross-border tuition payments (there are about 8,000 Chinese students studying in Taiwan). The high number of new mobile payment options opens another research topic in terms of how these payment companies/technologies collaborate or compete.
Complex relationships among banks and FinTech companies
Banks and FinTech companies have complicated relationships. T bank chose to collaborate with other banks on “must have” financial services but compete with them on unique technology-based services. The authors assume that other banks have similar strategies because some FinTech companies have refused to remain “xx bank exclusive,” especially when their products are more like “must have” services. Therefore, these companies welcome investments from banks and limit their shareholding. On the other hand, startups might like the “exclusive” approach due to the high percentage of investment from a specific bank. However, there is a potential risk that they will not gain contracts with other banks in the future.
Compare Top-down with bottom-up strategies
T bank collaborates with other banks on “must have” financial services, such as mobile payments, by collaborating with third-party payment companies so customers can link their bank accounts or credit cards with the third-party wallet or apps. Because these third-party companies aim to cultivate their own payment ecosystem, the authors call this a top-down strategy. On the other hand, the FinTech company T bank invested in has been working as a solution provider in the retail industry for more than 20 years. It has a solid buyer base and knows buyers’ needs. Obviously, the bottom-up strategy is more attractive to T bank because the collaboration can help the bank expand its current business and discover a new “blue ocean.”
Taiwan will have difficulty producing FinTech disruptors in the near future
Taiwan is not a friendly environment for FinTech startups: firms in this industry face high entrance barriers, high competition, and a market size that is not attractive to new challengers. Second, most financial services are very convenient with low service fees. Therefore, customers might feel that innovative financial services are better than services from existing banks. However, the adoption rate will be slow, just as in credit card versus mobile payments. Third, traditional financial institutions are highly protected by the government. Put another way, the government does not want disruptors because they will damage the foundations of these traditional financial institutions. Therefore, it is unlikely that Taiwan will produce FinTech disruptors in the near future. Instead, almost all FinTech companies will be collaborators aiming to provide solutions for traditional financial institutions.
The case study reveals the strategic consideration in the process of searching for FinTech investment targets. It seems Taiwan’s government aims to cultivate FinTech collaborators rather than disruptors. It is still at the embryonic stage for FinTech industry in Taiwan. Therefore, more studies are desired to observe long-term development in terms of how companies collaborate or compete in specific FinTech areas.
J-LH: data collection, data analysis, literature review, and manuscript writing. BL literature review and manuscript writing. Both authors read and approved the final manuscript.
The authors declare that they have no competing interests.
Open AccessThis article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made.
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