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Can CFOs balance the books with rising operating costs?

Source: Finance Derivative

Mark Blakemore, Chief Finance Officer at Compleat Software, the purchase to pay (P2P) software house

As almost every single finance leader (98%) surveyed by Deloitte recently said they anticipated operating costs to rise this year, how can they balance the books in the face of some of the most challenging economic forecasts in recent history?

Almost half (46%) of the CFOs surveyed also said they expect these rises to be significant, while 71% believe operating margins will fall over the next 12 months.

High inflation and interest rates have overtaken concerns over brexit and the pandemic, putting the pressure on businesses to operate with fine margins.

The spotlight is on CFOs to balance growing operating costs while maintaining growth, but can it be done?

Is there an endgame?

With no exception, the day-to-day expenses associated with the maintenance and administration of a business are rising. From the cost of energy, to raw materials, labour shortages and rising interest rates.

Ultimately if businesses do not find solutions to deal with rising operating costs, businesses will fail, further compounding the issues faced.

In this era of predictable unpredictability, CFOs face an unenviable challenge that needs to be met, with both optimism and practicality – it is a good job that CFOs have broad shoulders!

Given the global, interconnected and data-driven way in which businesses operate, the pace of change is often rapid and long lasting, due to the relationship between the key factors impacting a business’s bottom line.

The hangover of Brexit and the pandemic have blended with rising geopolitical risks associated with the war in Ukraine, set alongside record inflation, globally – all are driving costs up for businesses.

Even if businesses provide and sell more services, they’re not making the margins they once did, which will see constant knocking on the finance door to provide answers to this significant challenge!

Donning the battle armour

CFOs are answering the door and facing the challenge head on. But what approach should they take? Tighten purse strings, reduce energy consumption, remove the dead wood, invest in better practices – all of the above?

It is not quite as simple as that.

CFOs are in a unique position to balance the books in the face of rising operating costs, as the scope of their roles allows them to impact upon all aspects of a business, from steering strategy around technology investments, to ensuring supply chain resilience, as well as influencing talent management and even organisational culture.

CFOs should not be scrambling to batten down the hatches and adopt simple cost cutting measures that they may have undertaken during the pandemic, such as reducing workforces, stopping bonuses and increasing prices and expect this to ride out.

There are simply too many factors involved, which are intertwined.

CFOs are presented with a great opportunity to introduce much needed innovation into their businesses. This could take the form of creating new products, or services, entering new markets, as well as looking to invest in technology to innovate and automate processes.

Unleash innovation by leveraging intelligent automation

In these times of narrow margins and increasing costs for pretty much every business commodity, organisations are increasingly turning to their CFOs for strategic direction and to drive business transformation.

The role of finance professionals has altered dramatically over recent years due to emerging and proven technologies, such as intelligent automation, AI and machine learning – all of which help CFOs to streamline processes, improve accuracy and maximise compliance – in short, CFOs can assist businesses to accomplish more with less by, investing in true automation.

Many financial operations can, and are fully automated, using currently available technologies.

CFOs which embrace emerging technologies to automate finance operations can free up significant resources within their organisations, in areas such as cash flow forecasting, invoice processing, accounts receivable – freeing up resources to add value in other areas of the business, as well as accessing vital business data gained from automation to help drive business decisions.

By ensuring that a business spends less time dealing with manual, time consuming tasks, CFOs can pave the way for the business to implement strategies to support their employees in reinvesting their energy into work that requires more creativity and critical thinking.

Adopting intelligent automation and emerging technology now allows forward-thinking finance leaders to remain competitive amidst today’s complex challenges.

CFOs have many solutions at their disposal to help balance the books in the face of rising operating costs.

By taking a holistic approach to the problem and fully embracing the benefits of automation, CFOs are able to free up significant resources in their organisations to focus on strategic leadership and innovation, helping them to balance the books in the face of rising operational costs.

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Business

Resilient technology is the most important factor for successful online banking services

Source: Finance Derivative

By James McCarthy, Director of Solutions Engineering, NS1

More than 90 percent of people in the UK use online banking, according to Statista and of these, over a quarter have opened an account with a digital-only bank. It makes sense. Digital services, along with security, are critical features that consumers now expect from their banks as a way to support their busy on-the-go lifestyles.

The frequency of cash transactions is dropping as contactless and card payments rise and the key to this is convenience. It is faster and easier for customers to use digitally-enabled services than traditional over-the-counter facilities, cheques, and cash. The Covid pandemic, which encouraged people to abandon cash, only accelerated a trend that was already picking up speed in the UK.

But as bank branches close—4865 by April of 2022 and a further 226 scheduled to close by the end of the year, Which research found—banks are under pressure to ensure their online and mobile services are always available. Not only does this keep customers satisfied and loyal, but it is also vital for compliance and regulatory purposes.

Unfortunately, their ability to keep services online is often compromised. In June and July of this year alone, major banks including Barclays, Halifax, Lloyds, TSB, Nationwide, Santander, Nationwide, and Monzo, at various times, locked customers out of their accounts due to outages, leaving them unable to access their mobile banking apps, transfer funds, or view their balances. According to The Mirror, Downdetector,  a website which tracks outages, showed over 1500 service failures were reported in one day as a result of problems at NatWest.

These incidents do not go unnoticed. Customers are quick to amplify their criticism on social media, drawing negative attention for the bank involved, and eroding not just consumer trust, but the trust of other stakeholders in the business. Trading banks leave themselves open to significant losses in transactions if their systems go down due to an outage, even for a few seconds.

There are a multitude of reasons for banking services to fail. The majority of internet-based banking outages occur because the bank’s own internal systems fail. This can be as a result of transferring customer data from legacy platforms which might involve switching off parts of the network. It can also be because they rely on cloud providers to deliver their services and the provider experiences an outage. The Bank of England has said that a quarter of major banks and a third of payment activity is hosted on the public cloud.

There are, however, steps that banks and other financial institutions can take to prevent outages and ensure as close to 100% uptime as possible for banking services.

Building resiliency strategies

If we assume that outages are inevitable, which all banks should, the best solution to managing risk is to embrace infrastructure resiliency strategies. One method is to adopt a multi-cloud and multi-CDN (content delivery platform) approach, which means utilising services from a variety of providers. This will ensure that if one fails, another one can be deployed, eliminating the single point-of-failure that renders systems and services out of action. If the financial institution uses a secondary provider—such as when international banking services are being provided across multiple locations—the agreement must include an assurance that the bank’s applications will operate if the primary provider goes down.

This process of building resiliency in layers, is further strengthened if banks have observability of application delivery performance, and it is beneficial for them to invest in tools that allow them to quickly transfer from one cloud service provider or CDN if it fails to perform against expectations.

Automating against human error

Banks that are further down the digital transformation route should consider the impact of human error on outage incidents and opt for network automation. This will enable systems to communicate seamlessly, giving banks operational agility and stability across the entire IT environment. They can start with a single network source of truth, which allows automation tools to gather all the data they need to optimise resource usage and puts banks in full control of their networks. In addition it will signal to regulators that the bank is taking its provisioning of infrastructure very seriously.

Dynamic steering 

Despite evidence to the contrary, downtime in banking should never be acceptable, and IT teams can make use of specialist tools that allow them to dynamically steer their online traffic more easily. It is not unusual for a DNS failure (domain name system) to be the root cause of an outage, given its importance in the tech stack, so putting in place a secondary DNS network, or multiple DNS systems with separate infrastructures will allow for rerouting of traffic. Teams will then have the power to establish steering policies and change capacity thresholds, so that an influx of activity, or a resource failure, will not affect the smooth-running of their online services. If they utilise monitoring and observability features, they will have the data they need to make decisions based on the real time experiences of end users and identify repeated issues that can be rectified.

Banks are some way into their transformation journeys, and building reputations based on the digital services that they offer. It is essential that they deploy resilient technology that allows them to scale and deliver, regardless of whether the cloud providers they use experience outages, or an internal human error is made, or the online demands of customers suddenly and simultaneously peak. Modern technology will not only speed up the services they provide, but it will also arm them with the resilience they need to compare favourably in the competition stakes.

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Business

Solving the Future of Decarbonisation in Real-Time

Source: Finance Derivative

Jamil  Ahmed, Distinguished Engineer at Solace

The energy sector has faced many disruptions and challenges in recent years, from pipeline disruption to the growing demand for hydrogen. However, the most significant of all of these is the global desire to decarbonise. The growing concern over fossil fuels has created intense pressure for businesses to transition towards renewable energy sources and cut carbon emissions. Governing bodies have begun to impose regulations on organisations to force them to cut emissions by 3.4 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent (GtCO2e) a year by 2050, which amounts to a 90 per cent reduction in current emissions.

The constant development of markets and digital transformations will only increase the demand for energy in the future across all industries. Therefore, reducing emissions, in reality, is no small feat, however harsh or impressive the targets may be. To make decarbonisation a reality in the near term, businesses must adopt an inward-looking strategy to reduce emissions through their own operations. These are termed Scope 1 emissions and refer to emissions released as a direct result of one’s own current operations. Achieving this requires companies to streamline their operations, and improve their internal visibility to measure and track energy consumption.

Detecting emissions

The major challenge companies face in accurately measuring their energy consumption lies in overcoming the mass amounts of siloed data within their system. These data silos not only diminish productivity but also bury these useful insights, compiled into a mountain of data that is hard to identify and analyse. Ultimately, data silos are a result of organisational infrastructure built for a previous era, one with limited technological adoption, and limited pathways for dataflows. Over time these have created complex organisational barriers.

The lack of data transparency in organisational infrastructure is severely undermining businesses’ ability to gain insight from their existing data. This also impacts their ability to share data with external partners in search of meaningful solutions for decarbonisation. The value of data sharing cannot be overstated when searching for innovative solutions. A recent study shows that 45% of businesses in the energy sector see analytics and innovation as critical tools. With the entire energy sector’s ability to effectively decarbonise hinging on data sharing to drive innovation, gaining greater data insights are non-compensatory.

Another major consideration in decarbonisation is power reliability planning when transitioning to renewable energy sources. Solar and wind energy rely on changeable weather factors for operability, the varying levels of power readiness in these energy sources make them difficult to implement into the national grid. This makes reliably planning this an increasingly complex and important part of the decarbonisation journey as the sector must test for long-term stability and the potential for energy transfers and storage. A solution must be found that can address these real-time concerns.

Reliability in Real-time

Real-time data is the information that is delivered immediately after collation and enables businesses to respond to information at lightning speed. Real-time data has a host of usages in the energy sector, from alerting major weather changes that may impact power reliability to detecting overheating or electrical wastage in appliances. These information transfers are known as an ‘event’ that requires further action or response.

Real-time capabilities play a major role in overcoming data transparency issues associated with the sector, in its ability to connect interactions across systems and processes could enable energy providers to effectively identify opportunities in reducing energy wastage.

Event-driven Decarbonisation

Enter event-driven architecture (EDA), the structure that underpins an organisation’s ability to view event series that occur in their system. EDA decouples the events from the system so that they can be processed and then sent in real-time as a useful information resource. This can then be analysed by resource companies to assist with optimising decarbonisation initiatives.

The strength of EDA is its scalable integration platform, as this allows companies to manage enormous quantities of data traffic coming from multiple data streams and energy sources. From this, energy companies can develop durable systems by aggregating information. This can then be sent to control systems to identify power outages or extreme weather events and conditions.

To achieve this, an architectural layer known as an event mesh is required. An event mesh enables EDA to break down data silos and facilitate the real-time integration of people, processes and systems across geographical boundaries. Implementing an event mesh also upgrades and streamlines existing systems/processes to enable better data transparency in real-time data sharing. It is unsurprising that given the great benefits of EDA both in terms of its scalability, durability and agility that a recent study found 85% of organisations surveyed view EDA as a critical component of their digital transformation efforts.

Decarbonising for the future

Regulations on the energy sector are rapidly increasing, most recently the US Senate passed the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) on August 6th of this year. This Act signals the intense pressure on the energy sector to immediately undertake significant decarbonisation initiatives. It is designed to accelerate the production of greener and more renewable energy sources such as wind and solar. Once nations like the US have begun higher production of the technology that can harness these energy sources, others will follow suit. The only way the large-scale adoption of renewable energy sources will occur is if businesses build real-time capabilities to become event-driven businesses. Only then can the transition to decarbonisation and achieving net zero become a reality.

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Business

Know Your Business (KYB): Exceeding KYC

Source: Finance Derivative

Victor Fredung, CEO at Shufti Pro

Money laundering costs the UK more than £100 billion pounds a year, according to the National Crime Agency, emphasising the need for stringent ID verification of individuals and businesses.

ID verification, however, remains a moving target. The UK’s fraud prevention community CIFAS has warned of surging ID theft. The National Fraud Database increased by 11% in the first six months of 2021, with almost 180,000 instances of fraudulent conduct filed in the first six months of the year. This reflected the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, which recorded a 32% increase in identity fraud the following year. CIFAS is warning UK businesses and consumers to expect a continuation of the steep rise in identity fraud for 2021 and 2022 as criminals exploit businesses under pressure.

Businesses can respond with resilient Know Your Customer (KYC) software and protocols. KYC establishes customer identity; understands customers’ activities; qualifies the legitimacy of funding sources; and assesses money laundering risks associated with customers. To date, almost 6,000 financial institutions are using the SWIFT KYC Registry to publish their KYC data and receive data from their correspondent banks.

KYC regulations and procedures are appropriate when the customer or consumer is a named individual.  However, it’s not enough to verify the identity of individuals. It is also important to verify the identity of businesses.  Know Your Business (KYB) tools and regulations are designed for cases where the customer is a business or corporate entity. KYB is particularly important as criminals seek to exploit crypto currencies which can thwart verification techniques, such as anti-money laundering (AML) and KYC.

KYB verifies businesses by obtaining official commercial register data via APIs. By using the registration numbers and jurisdiction code of a business, a digital KYB service can collect confirmable information for the business. This enables corporate organisations to determine if they are dealing with authentic businesses or fake shell companies. KYB services particularly help financial institutions handling the funds of a large customer base and corporate entities.  During this process businesses must improve the customer digital enrolment and authentication experience. End-users resist proving their identity through for example, showing scans of their bank account statements and may abandon service providers whose online enrolment processes increase friction.

Usefully, KYB uses access to automated commercial registers through a data-powered business verification service, expedites due diligence and eliminates errors.  With advances in digital technologies and virtual data sets, KYB compliance and verification tools can mark businesses involved in undercover activities, gathering background data on the company including the registered address, status, company type, ultimate beneficial ownership structures, previous names and trademark registration. A financial summary of the company’s operational accounts is also provided by the authentication service, to help validate its authenticity.

Here, Artificial Intelligence (AI) can come into its own, determining the identity of individuals and the financial risk attached to that person with AML Compliance solutions. AML services can check the involvement of an individual company in any watchlist or financial risk database, at scale. Machine learning algorithms can detect forged documents or disguised ownership structures. Nationality verification and geolocation targeting can determine the true country of origin of international clients and the jurisdiction of the company.

However, adoption of KYB processes has been sluggish: last year research undertaken by kompany indicated only 5% of financial institutions (FIs) have an automated B2B or corporate banking onboarding process, with 75% of FIs still relying on Google searches to identify Ultimate Beneficial Owners (UBOs), annual filings and financial accounts. Financial services organisations also struggle to manage the complexity of KYB, and the siloed approach to managing information within an FI can make KYB adoption more challenging.

A further challenge for KYB compliance lies in accessing beneficial ownership information, especially in jurisdictions that do not require companies to submit relevant documentation. A lack of shareholder information makes it harder to investigate money trails and business authenticity. Timely availability of data, across international borders in the right format, is another hindrance, especially as company structures and management change over time. This is why geography and industry specific vendors will be of value to businesses needing to conduct ID checks. It is also why businesses must find the right vendors who can be a one stop shop to manage their KYB adoption and must prioritise the user-experience for frictionless onboarding and regulatory compliance.

Banks have experienced difficulties with KYC verification for their customer onboarding, transaction authentication, and remote banking services. This why they may find it hard to trust a KYB service provider. However, FIs and businesses face a pressing need to determine the ultimate beneficial ownership structure of the corporations they are dealing with. The need for a credible, cross-border KYB provider has rarely been more pressing, and according to Forrester, Know-your-business IDV will ‘make or break Identity Verification players.

Know-your-business IDV can make critical difference in identity verification.  With the increase in B2B commerce it has become more urgent to verify both individuals and organisations and their representatives.

The cost of not adopting KYB technology is dwarfed by the prospect of data breaches, fraud and reputational damage. For financial institutions, legitimacy and verification of the business is key for growth. The software solutions exist and are ready to be implemented.  he National Fraud Database increased by 11% in the first six months of 2021, with almost 180,000 instances of fraudulent conduct filed in the first six months of the year. This reflected the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, which recorded a 32% increase in identity fraud the following year. CIFAS is warning UK businesses and consumers to expect a continuation of the steep rise in identity fraud for 2021 and 2022 as criminals exploit businesses under pressure.

Businesses can respond with resilient Know Your Customer (KYC) software and protocols. KYC establishes customer identity; understands customers’ activities; qualifies the legitimacy of funding sources; and assesses money laundering risks associated with customers. To date, almost 6,000 financial institutions are using the SWIFT KYC Registry to publish their KYC data and receive data from their correspondent banks.

KYC regulations and procedures are appropriate when the customer or consumer is a named individual.  However, it’s not enough to verify the identity of individuals. It is also important to verify the identity of businesses.  Know Your Business (KYB) tools and regulations are designed for cases where the customer is a business or corporate entity. KYB is particularly important as criminals seek to exploit crypto currencies which can thwart verification techniques, such as anti-money laundering (AML) and KYC.

KYB verifies businesses by obtaining official commercial register data via APIs. By using the registration numbers and jurisdiction code of a business, a digital KYB service can collect confirmable information for the business. This enables corporate organisations to determine if they are dealing with authentic businesses or fake shell companies. KYB services particularly help financial institutions handling the funds of a large customer base and corporate entities.  During this process businesses must improve the customer digital enrolment and authentication experience. End-users resist proving their identity through for example, showing scans of their bank account statements and may abandon service providers whose online enrolment processes increase friction.

Usefully, KYB uses access to automated commercial registers through a data-powered business verification service, expedites due diligence and eliminates errors.  With advances in digital technologies and virtual data sets, KYB compliance and verification tools can mark businesses involved in undercover activities, gathering background data on the company including the registered address, status, company type, ultimate beneficial ownership structures, previous names and trademark registration. A financial summary of the company’s operational accounts is also provided by the authentication service, to help validate its authenticity.

Here, Artificial Intelligence (AI) can come into its own, determining the identity of individuals and the financial risk attached to that person with AML Compliance solutions. AML services can check the involvement of an individual company in any watchlist or financial risk database, at scale. Machine learning algorithms can detect forged documents or disguised ownership structures. Nationality verification and geolocation targeting can determine the true country of origin of international clients and the off shore status of a company.

However, adoption of KYB processes has been sluggish: last year research undertaken by kompany indicated only 5% of financial institutions (FIs) have an automated B2B or corporate banking onboarding process, with 75% of FIs still relying on Google searches to identify Ultimate Beneficial Owners (UBOs), annual filings and financial accounts. Financial services organisations also struggle to manage the complexity of KYB, and the siloed approach to managing information within an FI can make KYB adoption more challenging.

A further challenge for KYB compliance lies in accessing beneficial ownership information, especially in jurisdictions that do not require companies to submit relevant documentation. A lack of shareholder information makes it harder to investigate money trails and business authenticity. Timely availability of data, across international borders in the right format, is another hindrance, especially as company structures and management change over time. This is why geography and industry specific vendors will be of value to businesses needing to conduct ID checks. It is also why businesses must find the right vendors who can be a one stop shop to manage their KYB adoption and must prioritise the user-experience for frictionless onboarding and regulatory compliance.

Banks have experienced difficulties with KYC verification for their customer onboarding, transaction authentication, and remote banking services. This why they may find it hard to trust a KYB service provider. However, FIs and businesses face a pressing need to determine the ultimate beneficial ownership structure of the corporations they are dealing with. The need for a credible, cross-border KYB provider has rarely been more pressing, and according to Forrester, Know-your-business IDV will ‘make or break Identity Verification players.

Know-your-business IDV can make critical difference in identity verification.  With the increase in B2B commerce it has become more urgent to verify both individuals and organisations and their representatives.

The cost of not adopting KYB technology is dwarfed by the prospect of data breaches, fraud and reputational damage. For financial institutions, legitimacy and verification of the business is key for growth. The software solutions exist and are ready to be implemented.

Continue Reading

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