Source: Finance Derivative
Opinion by Gabriele Sabato, Co-founder & CEO of Wiserfunding
As a “nation of shopkeepers,” the United Kingdom is an ideal case study for examples of what businesses need to drive an economic recovery amid the pandemic’s slow retreat. While Brexit disruption was anticipated, supply chain issues are now widespread across the global economy. Signs of an economic rebound have been fleeting, quickly overshadowed by fears of inflation and labour shortages that threaten a sustained downturn in the UK. Yet there are ways to adapt. Two British strengths are often overlooked in popular debates: the nation’s shopkeepers and financial technology.
In the UK, 99% of all businesses are small and medium-sized and British leadership in financial technology provides solutions for every business to thrive. Technology has transformed financial services from the back-end at banks to consumer mobile apps. However, for technology to be truly transformative in business, solutions need to be designed for real-world challenges that are both innovative and encourage widespread adoption.
Small and medium-sized companies took on an extraordinary amount of pandemic debt – £213 billion – an 82 per cent year-on-year increase. More heavily indebted compared to large corporations, the confidence of small business owners across the country has also more steeply declined in recent months. In September alone 21,764 court actions were initiated by creditors to recover debts accrued, which was a 51 per cent increase on the last economic quarter. After falling 25 per cent since the start of 2020, insolvency rates look likely to increase whilst businesses must also contend with labour and supply shortages too.
Although insolvency poses a significant threat, the biggest threat to British businesses is, without a doubt, inflation. Inflation touches every part of the economy and could make businesses across the country unsustainable if cost pressures mount. The Bank of England may soon be forced to raise interest rates to curb inflation in order to save them which seems like a Catch-22 for businesses in debt. However, as the bulk of pandemic loans have fixed interest rates any increase will have a marginal impact on the costs for most to service loans. Yet, if businesses are focused on paying back pandemic debt that could detract from necessary investments in future growth, such as productivity, where the UK has long trailed OECD peers. In the near term, a wave of insolvencies could still materialise due to the end of support measures like furlough and serve to further dampen business confidence.
As government support ends, businesses must be leaner and smarter today, drawing necessary capital not only from traditional lenders, but alternative sources of debt and equity investors to drive growth. For financial institutions, the difficulty is finding the ‘zombies,’ businesses that are headed for insolvency and have been artificially kept alive on life support, emergency loans and furlough. The financial system, banks and alternative lenders, have a particular role to play in identifying the zombies through assessment of the need and ability of a business to take on debt and pay it back over the long term. Always a challenge, that is especially the case where many businesses, zombies included, have taken on significant amounts of debt. Unlike zombies, though, most have robust fundamentals and the need for capital is circumstantial with balance sheets impacted temporarily by the pandemic.
Banks’ balance sheets, on the other hand, have weathered the pandemic well in part because of previous regulation, and alternative lenders are sitting on record amounts of dry powder. How effective financial institutions are in the deployment of credit, keeping zombies from accumulating bad debt that only holds the economy back and extending working capital to healthy businesses, will shape the size and speed of the whole recovery. For the UK’s 6 million small and medium-sized companies, finance must be embedded into technology fast.
All businesses regardless of size deserve fairness in access to capital. New technologies have made it increasingly possible for lenders to facilitate business-critical finance that is fast, fair and data-driven. Throwing a lifeline to businesses in immediate need, not the zombies on death’s door, both ensures continued growth and mitigates the risk of an insolvency crisis further down the line with bad debt that could have serious knock-on effects through the financial system.
Now is the time for a wake up call to the lenders that have been slow to change, ensuring all have the tools and technologies to make the right credit decisions. Competitively, implementing the right type of financial technology is a critical issue for lenders, but the lives of millions in the “nation of shopkeepers” are dependent on the outcome. Thousands of small and medium-sized businesses will continue to need working capital amid economic uncertainty.
Equally, businesses must become more aware of their credit profile and consider how this may change based on different business choices. Cashflow issues, to take one example, are well-established as one of the biggest threats to small business and new platforms can reduce payments uncertainty.
Entrepreneurs are the bedrock of the economy and key to unlocking growth. It is incumbent on every business owner to find solutions that mitigate financial risks. And where support is needed, finance requires tools to find the businesses, from corner shops to high-growth startups that are each the best of Britain.
Taking Financial Services to the Edge
Source: Finance Derivative
Authored by Pascal Holt, Director of Marketing, Iceotope
Edge computing, cloud, and AI are changing the competitive landscape for financial service organisations. In a highly sophisticated and digitally mature market, speed and efficiency have become paramount to securing an advantage in retaining customers and maximising profits.
For traditional retail banks, edge computing creates opportunities to improve customer service, reduce costs, and ensure regulatory compliance. It also enables banks to personalise their services by processing data quickly and effectively. These real-time analytics translate to bespoke value-added services that provide the customer with exactly what they need.
High frequency trading firms utilise edge computing to maximise profits on high-volume, low-margin trades. Edge computing brings computation and data storage closer to where the data is being generated.
Reducing latency issues can help a firm gain a competitive advantage in high-speed order execution.
Defining the edge
The edge is the physical location where things and people connect with the networked digital world and it’s changing the way we process data. We are moving towards a more interactive world. Data is no longer merely being pushed towards us on our devices, but rather it’s being collected or “pulled” from our interactions with Internet of Things sensors we encounter in our daily lives.
As a result, the data centre is rapidly changing to no longer be the centre of data. The need to handle, manipulate, communicate, store and retrieve data efficiently is moving processing capacity closer to the user than ever before. This phenomenon is known as “data gravity” and draws the physical location of digital infrastructure closer to the data source itself. This creates a new set of challenges – and opportunities – for financial service organisations.
Changing the competitive landscape
Financial firms are not only adopting cloud-based technology to deliver a much better service for their clients, but they are doing so to remain relevant. Artificial intelligence (AI) is one such example. For processing simple, repetitive tasks or extracting insights from large amounts of data, AI applications, in combination with edge computing, have the power to create significant competitive advantages.
Management consulting firm, McKinsey & Company, estimates that AI technologies could potentially deliver up to $1 trillion of additional value each year for global banks. They found that AI could “help boost revenues through increased personalization of services to customers (and employees); lower costs through efficiencies generated by higher automation, reduced errors rates, and better resource utilization; and uncover new and previously unrealized opportunities based on an improved ability to process and generate insights from vast troves of data.”
A more personal customer experience
Technologies like AI, machine learning (ML) and natural language processing (NLP) utilise the cloud but require edge computing for processing data closer to where the data is generated. For traditional retail banking firms, that creates an opportunity to improve customer service while reducing costs.
Going back to our “push” vs “pull” discussion, retail banking has historically been very much in the push category. All customers are given the same product information, regardless of whether it is relevant to them or not. With edge computing, the data gathered helps the bank better understand individual financial needs enabling them to customise advertising and product offerings accordingly.
HSBC is taking this type of customisation one step further with Pepper, a semi-humanoid robot, operating in several branches in the US. Pepper uses NLP to interact with customers. The data intelligence needed for Pepper to successfully and beneficially engage with human customers also requires real-time, low-latency analysis of large quantities of data. All of which is easily served through edge computing.
While Pepper may be a fun way to engage with customers, there are plenty of other use cases for edge computing in banking and financial services. Security and fraud detection/prevention is critically important as unauthorised financial fraud losses across payment cards, remote banking and cheques totalled £360.8 million in H1 2022, according to UK Finance. There is also a significant regulatory burden on modern banking and edge computing enables real-time monitoring of compliance to those regulations required by law.
Many banks have net zero targets they are trying to achieve by 2030. The Big Six US banks have announced a variation of carbon neutral and net zero plans in the last two years. In addition, the UN-backed Net Zero Banking Alliance is bringing together more than 100 banks from 40 countries to align their lending and investment portfolios with net-zero emissions by 2050.
From a data centre perspective – whether that be in the cloud, on-premises, in colocation, or at the edge – technology solutions are available today to help achieve these goals. Advanced liquid cooling solutions can achieve a 1.03 PUE or below. Precision immersion liquid cooling, for example, captures >95% of server heat inside the chassis, significantly reducing energy costs and emissions associated with server cooling.
Water consumption is negligible as little to no mechanical chilling is required.
Beyond sustainability, there are some unique considerations for edge computing. IT computing loads are usually required to operate reliably in locations not built specifically for IT equipment. Whether it is indoors around people or in harsh external environments, the equipment needs to be purpose built for edge computing. With precision immersion liquid cooling, the sealed chassis form factor provides the same kind of protected environmentally controlled conditions found in a data centre facility. It is also designed to withstand all types of IT environments with minimal impact on its local surroundings.
Edge computing is just starting to make an impact on the financial services industry. As technology continues to improve customer service and increase competitive advantages, it will become more important than ever for organisations to have the right solutions in place to enable those opportunities.
Many of these applications are pushing the limits of existing technologies and opening the door to new alternatives. Now is the time for organisations to take a bold step and embrace these new technologies.
Accounting Automation in the Future
Source: Finance Derivative
Accounting automation is the process of streamlining repetitive tasks in financial processes. For example, some processes like invoicing are time-consuming and repetitive. Automation can reduce manual labor and save businesses both time and money. Also, it helps improve accuracy, reduces errors, and provides more accurate financial reporting.
Accounting automation in the future will be increasingly important for businesses to stay competitive. But every new change comes with both advantages and challenges. Let’s dive in to get ready for this future trend.
Potential Future Benefits of Accounting Automation
Increased Efficiency and Cost Savings
Accounting automation is a great way to increase efficiency and cost savings. For example, AI bookkeeping uses advanced algorithms to automate many accounting tasks. So, companies can track expenses, prepare financial reports, and more using AI.
It reduces the time needed for manual entry. So, businesses can spend fewer labor hours on tedious processes. They can increase efficiency by freeing up resources for more strategic work. It also helps reduce errors and inconsistencies associated with manual processes. So, the cost of compliance is lower because of greater accuracy.
Improved Accuracy and Reliability
Accounting automation can improve accuracy and reliability in accounting processes. For example, Automating bank reconciliation is less prone to errors from human mistakes or miscalculations. You can automate the process to identify discrepancies between the bank statement and accounting records. It helps to ensure that financial reports remain accurate and reliable. So businesses can take corrective action faster than processing data manually.
Streamlined Business Processes
Streamlined business processes involve eliminating unnecessary steps, reducing paperwork, and automating repetitive tasks. This allows businesses to focus on higher-value activities, such as developing new products, improving customer service, and developing strategic plans for the future.
Making a Better Decision
Accounting automation can enhance decision-making in 3 ways.
1. It enables businesses to access real-time information from multiple systems. So they can identify trends for better decision-making.
2. Automated accounting also helps with forecasting, budgeting, and auditing tasks. It enables businesses to be more proactive in their decision-making processes.
3. Also, automated accounting tools can integrate with enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems. They can manage data across the enterprise and make concise decisions that are favorable to the company as a whole.
Increase Customer Satisfaction
Accounting automation can help businesses increase customer satisfaction by streamlining their processes and providing a more efficient customer experience. For example:
4. Automated accounting systems can automate tedious manual tasks such as invoicing, data entry, and payroll processing. This allows businesses to focus on other aspects of their operations that are more important for customer service.
5. Automated accounting systems can also provide customers with more accurate and timely financial information. The information can help them make better decisions about their finances.
6. Also, accounting automation enables businesses to respond quickly to customer inquiries. It helps reduce wait times and improve the overall customer experience. So, you can build better relationships with their customers.
Accounting automation takes place online or comes with cloud-based solutions. So, you can access your information and do your job from anywhere instead of being confined to one spot.
Challenges to Implementing Accounting Automation in the Future
Cost of Technology Infrastructure Upgrades
Automating an accounting system often requires businesses to invest in new hardware and software, such as servers and other associated equipment. These upgrades come with a hefty price tag that may be difficult for small businesses to afford.
There are also extra costs, such as installation fees, setup charges, software licensing fees, cloud storage costs, and maintenance fees.
Training Requirements for Staff Members
Accounting automation involves using advanced technology to automate certain processes. So, it creates a need for trained staff members who can handle the new technology. Training requirements vary depending on the type of software used.
Some common training includes record-keeping procedures, software applications, and troubleshooting skills.
Regulatory Compliance Issues
Accounting automation can be a time-saver, but it also requires firms to be aware of the applicable rules and regulations. Companies must ensure that their automated systems are compliant with relevant laws and regulations such as Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS), and other applicable accounting standards.
Besides, they must also comply with legal requirements related to taxes, financial statements, and other reporting obligations.
So, businesses must consider the complexities of regulatory compliance when automating accounting.
Security and Data Protection Concerns
As businesses move their accounting processes to the cloud, they are exposed to a wide range of potential security risks. Data breaches can cause significant damage to the business’s financial and reputational integrity. Besides, the complexity of automated accounting systems can make it difficult to identify and detect suspicious activities or errors in the system.
To ensure data is kept secure, businesses must have strong measures in place to protect against unauthorized access, encryption, and regular backups of data.
Furthermore, companies must train their staff on the proper use of the system. It helps staff to know how to protect confidential information from being accessed or misused by unauthorized personnel.
Businesses may also need an experienced IT team to monitor and maintain the system to keep up with any changes or updates for optimal performance.
Accounting automation has come a long way in the past few decades. It is likely to continue to advance in the future. As technology continues to evolve, more businesses will likely begin taking advantage of automation in their accounting processes. So, businesses should be aware of the potential challenges and prepare to stay competitive.
How banks can help customers during the cost of living crisis
Source: Finance Derivative
Lavanya Kaul Head of BFSI, UK & Ireland, LTI Mindtree
Surging energy and food prices are significantly driving up household expenditure, which means living standards in the UK will fall to 2.2% this year, according to the Office for Budget Responsibility. This is the biggest drop in any single financial year since the records began in 1956-57.
It’s a tough situation for many consumers who are still struggling with financial hardship following redundancies and pay freezes from the pandemic. According to TSB’s Money Confidence Barometer, 82% of people have experienced an increase in the day-to-day cost of living. This resulted in almost a quarter of them using their savings, while one in five changed their usual spending habits and behaviours.
As the financial situation worsens, consumers are increasingly relying on their banks for help and support. But, while banks can’t control inflation, energy or food prices, they can play a more supportive role by adapting their services to offer stronger customer service, better tools for financial management and be more flexible with loan repayments.
Strengthen customer service with intuitive AI solutions
Since the pandemic, consumers have changed the way they bank, using more mobile apps for primary banking rather than going into physical branches. This provided an opportunity for banks to accelerate their investment in digital services including automation and offer customers more support during the cost of living crisis.
Effective tools include AI-powered chatbots which respond intelligently to customer enquiries to quickly help troubleshoot problems and provide useful advice. But to be successful, you need to ensure you strike the right balance between an efficient and convenient process and creating a personalised experience. Customers need to feel like you understand and care about their problems and are here to help, rather than just fobbing them off with a monosyllabic bot. To avoid this, banks need to embrace intuitive AI solutions to ensure that empathy comes across in all automated interactions with customers. While doing that, messaging is key. In times of stress, we don’t function as well and financial struggles are a huge stressor. The clearer the message and the simpler the instructions, the better.
Financial education, when combined with technology solutions such as open banking, can offer more long-term solutions for people to navigate their finances. This can help put more information into the hands of the consumer to help them grasp their financial situation better. Some banks have cracked this with innovative solutions like HSBC’s Financial fitness score tool that can analyse your money habits and signpost you towards ways to improve your financial health. This may include joining one of the financial education webinars run by the bank or having a ‘financial health check’ with a member of staff.
Launch money management features & apps
Introducing money management features and apps to increase the visibility of a customer’s financial situation, empowers them with the information they need to make smarter choices.
TSB offers Spend & Save and Spend & Save Plus current accounts which include a savings pot that enables customers to put extra money aside when they can and an auto-balancer feature that automatically transfers money from the savings pot into their current account if their balance falls below a certain level. This allows them to start building up savings and protects them from unnecessary overdraft charges.
Personal financial management (PFM) apps also help customers get a better understanding of their finances. These connect with a customer’s bank account and enable them to keep a close eye on their spending habits and track upcoming bill payments. An example is Prism, a PFM app which allows customers to manage bill payments by sending them reminders about due dates. It also provides a summary of their income, account balance and monthly expenses at a glance, therefore consolidating all their financial information in one place and saving time on bill payments.
Lloyd’s Banking Group and HSBC launched a subscription management tool for all customers on mobile, allowing them to see and cancel recurring card payments for things like TV subscription services. HSBC says that during the first quarter of the year, it led to customers dumping around 200,000 subscriptions.
Introduce payment holidays
While improved customer service and financial management tools are important support tactics, they might not be enough for more vulnerable customers. For example, those who are about to default on mortgage payments or loans due to redundancy or periods of ill health need banks to do more, like offering payment holidays. Banks relaxed the rules for payment holidays during the pandemic, so they should consider doing it again to help more vulnerable customers through the crisis. Customers need to understand that they are not alone when experiencing financial difficulties and that help is available
Ride out the crisis together
As inflation reaches a 30-year high, customers are now more reliant than ever on banks for guidance and support. But to provide the right level of service, they need to move away from their traditional ways and behave more like technology companies by embracing automated solutions to create the right products and services for customers. Then layer on top of that the need for more personalised and empathetic customer interactions, as well as consider additional support for more vulnerable customers.
While we don’t know how long the cost of living crisis will last, what we do know is that the pressure on household finances is likely to get worse before it gets better. Therefore, banks need to step up, be the supportive partner and do whatever they can to help customers. After all, the only way we can ride out the crisis is by supporting each other and working together.