Friday, October 20, 2017

Sebastian Kurz: the 31-year-old about-to-be chancellor of Austria, and the youngest leader of a European Union state.

Sebastian Kurz is known for his slim-line suits, open collars, slicked-back hair and a tendency to forgo ties (except in debates). CreditMatthias Schrader/Associated Press
You know what they say: Three times is a trend.
Well, first Canada elected Justin Trudeau prime minister at age 43, and he became something of a political marquee idol thanks to his “because it’s 2015” explanation of why his cabinet was half women. Then France elected Emmanuel Macron president at 39 after he upended the establishment political parties with his En Marche! movement (then he and Mr. Trudeau began a bromance of sorts during the G7 meeting in Sicily). And now comes Sebastian Kurz: the 31-year-old about-to-be chancellor of Austria, and the youngest leader of a European Union state.
“Austria’s answer to Macron and Trudeau?” CNN asked earlier this week.
In terms of policy, no. Mr. Kurz swept to power on an anti-immigration platform. Unlike Mr. Macron, he worked within an established party — the ÖVP, or People’s Party — to reshape it, as opposed to starting his own. Unlike Mr. Trudeau, he had no legacy to live up to or exploit.
But in terms of presentation? Absolutely.
There has been a lot of talk in recent elections about dissatisfaction with politics as usual, and one constant among all three men is that they crystallized the desire for change by connecting it to the look of generational change.
They don’t dress in established conventions. They don’t talk the same. And in the visual culture of a social media world, they understand how, increasingly, that can convince voters that they are not the same.
Even if, on closer examination, and certainly in the case of Mr. Kurz, their platforms are not as much of a break with the past and with opponents as they would like voters to think they are.
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According to Sylvia Kritzinger, a professor at the University of Vienna, the People’s Party leader “says almost the same thing the rival Freedom Party was saying — things that would normally be labeled extremism about immigrants not being Austrians — but makes everyone feel comfortable with it.”
That’s not simply because of his age and unthreatening youthful appearance, but because of the depth of his understanding of the power of a brand — an understanding shared by Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Macron. (See the official “behind-the-scenes” video of Mr. Macron arranging various heavily symbolic items on his desk before his official portrait.)
Mr. Kurz changed his party’s name, making it the New People’s Party, and its official color, making it turquoise instead of black. CreditJoe Klamar/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Mr. Kurz branded not only himself, but also his party. He changed its official color from black to turquoise and referred to it as the New People’s Party, the better to transform it from a familiar part of a coalition government to a “movement” (a word seemingly borrowed from Mr. Macron) shaped in his own image. During his election night rally, supporters wore turquoise jackets, shirts or sunglasses and carried turquoise balloons emblazoned with “Team Kurz.” It wasn’t the only thing he gave a specific look.
“Everything he does is styled to the last breath,” said Eugen Freund, a Social Democratic member of the European Parliament. “Not just on the fashion side. Everything is thought through: every movement of his hands, the way he gazes at people with a slight forward tilt of the head as if to indicate his attention. He does not leave anything to circumstance.”
It began very early. In 2009, not long after Mr. Kurz became leader of the youth wing of the party, he went on an image-ineering campaign, with the tag line “Black is hot,” featuring a picture of himself perched on the bonnet of a Hummer, in jeans, an untucked shirt and a come-hither look, surrounded by some equally satisfied-looking peers. It was broadly mocked, but it was also the beginning of a pattern.
Since becoming foreign minister in 2013 at age 27, Mr. Kurz has become known for his slim-line suits, a tendency to forgo ties (though he does wear them in debates and during state occasions), open collars and slicked-back hair. On his website, Kurz2017, not one of the multiple photographs of him staring soulfully out a window at the future, hard at work and talking to “real” men and women, features a tie. Occasionally he is shown in jeans and a pressed shirt, or a jacket, but never a T-shirt. His casual Friday look is not about a rejection of convention, but rather a noncontroversial loosening up.
“People can connect to it very easily,” Ms. Kritzinger said. “The ties symbolized the idea he was trying to do something different.” Though not, it should be said, different from Mr. Trudeau, who is also often tieless (or before him, President Barack Obama). Rather, it’s different from his older colleagues.
“It’s very unlike what you usually see,” Mr. Freund said, noting that ties have always been de rigueur in political dress in Austria, a country that hews closely to tradition and formality. “It makes a statement. And the collars are very specific: shark collars, never a button-down, the two ends spread wide apart.”
Mr. Kurz also flies economy class, works at a standing desk, likes to tweet (he has 253,000 followers) and, like Mr. Trudeau, will engage in selfies with fans for hours. Also like Mr. Trudeau, sports are a key part of his image: His website has videos of him biking, playing tennis and solo climbing a mountain under the stars, only to arrive at the metal cross on the summit as dawn breaks over the Alpine vista.
Subtle it isn’t.
Pointedly, the selfie thing, as well as the slightly hipster suits, were also hallmarks of his rivals, but none of them got quite the same credit for it. Indeed, the current chancellor, Christian Kern, was occasionally criticized as a “slim-fit chancellor” thanks to his suits. Yet Mr. Kurz wears pretty much the same style with impunity, perhaps because, thanks to his age, it seems authentically chosen, as opposed to adopted out of political calculus.
The truth of that is debatable, but it’s the appearance that counted. Which is the point.
Indeed, Gernot Bauer, the national desk editor at the Austrian newsmagazine Profil, told NPR that Mr. Kurz was like Justin Bieber. On Twitter, a fan compared the new chancellor to James Bond. (His critics use “mini-dictator” and even “Baby Hitler.”)
All of which underscored the message that Mr. Kurz represented something new. That the newness seems to be in fact a swing to the right, and may involve a coalition with the far right populist Freedom Party, has been made palatable by the artful way Mr. Kurz used his image to make the medicine go down.
It’s not the triumph of style over substance; it’s the use of style to convey, or sometimes camouflage, substance. And like it or not, it is increasingly looking like strategy. A spoonful of turquoise, and all that.
Correction: October 19, 2017 
An earlier version of this article referred incorrectly to Sebastian Kurz’s framing of the Austrian People’s Party. While Mr. Kurz rebranded the party and referred to it as the New People’s Party during his campaign, he did not change the party’s name.
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PayPal Posts Stronger-Than-Expected Results on Mobile Growth

PayPal Posts Stronger-Than-Expected Results on Mobile Growth

Online payments company raises outlook for the year, pushing shares up after hours

PayPal Holdings said Thursday that third-quarter profit rose 18% from a year earlier and executives projected strong growth for 2018 thanks in part to payments platform Venmo finally contributing to revenue.
The San Jose, Calif.-based payments company reported a quarterly profit of $380 million, or 31 cents a share. That compares with a profit of $323 million, or 27 cents a share, in the same period of 2016. Excluding certain items, per-share earnings rose to 46 cents, above the estimate of analysts polled by Thomson Reuters.



PayPal: After The Earnings Beat, CEO Talks Venmo’s Growth and More

“Venmo is much less a peer-to-peer platform than it is a social experience,” CEO Dan Schulman says.

PayPal beat earnings expectations once again on Thursday.
PayPal beat earnings expectations once again on Thursday. ILLUSTRATION: DAVID PAUL MORRIS/BLOOMBERG
PayPal is getting more people to use its services more often, and that paid off nicely in its latest quarter.
The company added 8.2 million net new accounts, the largest organic gain in at least three years. Meanwhile, PayPal grew the average number of transactions per average account over the last year to 33, up 9%. That translated to earnings per share of 46 cents a share, 3 cents above Wall Street’s estimates, on revenue of $3.2 billion.
Further growth, though, may come from some of PayPal’s newer initiatives, including Pay With Venmo, by which people can use their Venmo accounts when shopping at online merchants. The company announced earlier this week that it would start rolling out the feature to more than two million PayPal merchants.
Investors are excited about PayPal’s interest in making money off of the popular peer-to-peer platform, which it acquired via the acquisition of Braintree a few years back. Management includes a “modest” contribution from Pay With Venmo in its prediction for 20% revenue growth next year, a forecast that came in above analysts’ expectations.
But CEO Dan Schulman thinks the benefits of Pay With Venmo go beyond monetization, based on his observations of those who’ve so far used the service with a handful of merchants that were piloting the program. “Engagement goes up significantly when a Venmo user starts to pay with Venmo,” he told Barron’s Next Thursday after the company’s earnings call. “When engagement goes up, churn goes down.” Churn refers to users leaving a service.
After the Pay With Venmo rollout, Venmo users will be able to shop online using the platform, which is the core strength of PayPal. And PayPal offers its own peer-to-peer payment tools, which are popular, though less sexy, than Venmo’s. But Schulman isn’t worried about a blurring of the two services. “Venmo is much less a peer-to-peer platform than it is a social experience,” he says, given that the users check the Venmo app multiple times a week just to see what they’re friends are paying for and who they’re sending money to.
He adds PayPal and Venmo’s checkout capabilities carry the same “take rate,” meaning the cut that PayPal gets per transaction. And Pay With Venmo, meanwhile, might end up being more profitable that PayPal checkout, since Venmo’s user base is more likely to fund their transactions with debit cards or bank account balances. Processing payments made using these methods costs less for PayPal, compared to processing credit-card transactions.