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The need for faster and smarter contracts in Fintech

Source: Finance Derivative

By Richard Mabey, CEO and co-founder of Juro 

Fintech accounts for half of the country’s billion-dollar ‘unicorn’ startups, and are having to find innovative ways to create competitive advantage in a saturated market. Part of this revolution will be the shift to smarter and faster contract automation.

Last year, UK fintechs raised £7.65bn in equity funding, just over a third of their collective historical raise; the sector is undergoing massive and steady expansion, and would-be leaders will embrace technology that smoothens processes.

So far, pioneers have adopted limited use of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning to automate a number of time-consuming processes, allowing staff to focus on building relationships with clients and engaging more in strategic thinking. AI is now widely used across the financial sector to analyse risk and detect fraud, while the subset of machine learning helps build buyer personas and improve customer relationship management.

Smart contracts and contract automation will be the first step as financial institutions embrace digital transformation; over the last two years, pen-and-paper processes have been rapidly moved online and businesses are looking for ways to simplify digital bureaucracy. Fintech is ahead of the game on the adoption of blockchain, and as a result has already made some progress with digital contracts that can automate and secure agreements.

Smart contracts will allow parties to make deals online and to be able to trust that a digital ledger exists to secure all records of transactions and signatures. The details of parties can be stored on the blockchain safely and securely, used automatically to update the record once set conditions are met. This allows contracts to be continually updated without the need to drag in manual resources.

This is all good news. Smoother processes mean time and money saved. But scaling fintechs will struggle to keep momentum so long as they are bogged down by contract agreements. Secure contracts will encourage better deals, but finance professionals still need to get to grips with the software contracts are written on.

The companies that outgrow their ponds will be those who adopt smart solutions for these problems; as it stands, 68% of in-house lawyers still agree contracts in Word, and only 35% are using Google Docs. The former has parties send different versions back and forth over lengthy email chains; the latter can undermine the process of negotiation where changes are visible for all to see in real time.  

Next to Blockchain technology and AI, word processing sounds quite commonplace. But the leaders able to fend off the competition on the way up will be those who can unshackle themselves from the inefficiencies of our most fundamental processes; those merging and acquiring, lending and borrowing large amounts of money on their rise to the top, should consider how technology can improve those steps.

At an average rate of £85,000 per year in London, the in-house lawyer is a much stronger asset when tiresome administrative processes can be automated. The technology gap provides a barrier to simple and effective work, spiralling fees and detracting from time spent with clients, and so on. Automated document generation alone would cut the time spent by lawyers creating these files by as much as 80% – which is significant when 600 hours per year are devoted to these admin tasks, on average. 

Fintech transformed the financial sector and automation has the potential to transform  fintech. This is particularly the case with API automation which integrates API product creation and consumption and minimises human intervention for a low-code approach to API lifecycle tasks, accelerating development and time-to-market. According to Gartner, organisations that can combine automation with operational processes, such as API management, can reduce operational costs by 30%.  

The technology that moved us online has come on leaps and bounds in the last few years, but digitisation creates its own problems of manual inefficiency. In the medium term, we can expect AI and machine learning to help the transition towards seamless contract agreement. But it will be digital transformation that takes the businesses of today forward, whatever their budget. Once again, it will be programmers and software engineers who allow us to take the next great age of efficiency.

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Business

How VRPs can improve the open banking experiences of consumers

Source: Finance Derivative

Attributed to: Luke Ladyman, COO and Co-founder of Cheddar

Variable Recurring Payments (VRPs) are a new technology within Open Finance. Despite being relatively unknown outside of the financial marketplace, VRPs are at the centre of an exciting conversation around frictionless payments.

This technology enables consumers to set up specific payment instructions with regulated finance apps that are used to make a series of recurring payments. VRPs have been designed to make life easier for consumers and small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). However, there is still room for improvement.

Limits to VRP technology

VRPs have the potential to do far more than just simplify recurring payments but unfortunately, the efficacy of VRPs is severely limited. As they stand, VRPs are only mandated for ‘sweeping’, which is a word to describe moving money automatically between an individual’s current or saving accounts.

According to the OBIE, five million people now use Open Banking in the UK. We can expect consumers to demand greater scope in VRP services, but the infrastructure to support VRP technology is just simply lacking.

The next major step in expanding the scope of this technology will be when legacy financial institutions collectively adopt and build out VRP infrastructure. At present, only a small handful of legacy banks offer VRP services to their customers which has severely limited its reach.

Unlocking the potential of VRPs

VRPs promise to unlock countless opportunities for consumers to better manage their finances, whilst simultaneously supporting companies to build out mechanisms that allow for open banking adoption. This technology has the potential to completely transform how consumers interact with financial services and SMEs.

If mandated for more than just the sweeping use case, VRPs can give consumers complete control over their monthly subscription payments for things such as mobile top-ups or gym memberships. Consumers may even set up VRPs with taxi services to automatically charge them whenever they arrive at a destination up to a certain amount.

By expanding the scope of VRPs, consumers can enjoy hyper-personalised Open Banking experiences. And as Gen Z enters the workforce, this tailored approach will be more important than ever before. Setting payment parameters which are as easy to enforce as clicking a button will keep Gen Z happy and will give businesses access to an entirely new demographic.

Cost of living crisis

With living expenses reaching record highs for young people and working families, paying for basic utilities has become a lot more painful. At their full potential, VRPs could enable the most vulnerable in society to authorise utility providers to automatically take payments, only up to a certain amount. This would help consumers budget better for emergencies and keep up with payments.

To further cushion the effects of the crisis, consumers could also specify payment parameters to avoid any shocks to their bank accounts. This will generally lead to less errors as data is processed digitally and won’t require manual entry.

Lastly, those struggling financially will be able to automatically withdraw their consent to payments service providers (PISPs) who make the payments on their behalf. This is in contrast to credit or debit cards where consumers do not have the flexibility to automatically opt-out of transactions and cannot set specific parameters for payments.

How does this affect banks?

On the surface, the value proposition of VRPs looks to threaten certain aspects of banks’ business models. However, once you look deeper, we can see this isn’t the case – it’s actually quite the opposite.

If adopted for all use cases, VRPs can help banks significantly combat fraud as no sensitive payment information is exchanged with businesses. VRPs can act as a frontline defence with its enhanced transparency and tight controls for the consumer. PISPs can create the same experiences you get by using your debit or credit card but with the additional benefits.

By effectively addressing security concerns, banks will greatly improve customer experiences and reduce customer drop-off rates.

The future of VRP technology

We must take into consideration the current limitations of this technology as we press closer towards a completely frictionless way of banking. As things stand, the future of VRPs will rely heavily on further licensing approval from the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) and increased approval from the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA).

If utilised effectively, VRPs can be applied across a plethora of uses to give consumers greater control over their finances as initially promised. There’s no doubt that expanding the scope of VRPs will give consumers hyper-personalised Open Banking experiences that will decrease customer drop-off rates. So, definitely watch this space!

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Business

Chained to the system – why building another pillar of wealth is key to having the freedom of choice

Source: Finance Derivative

By Marcus de Maria, Founder of Investment Mastery.

For many of us, our lives are already mapped out from the get-go. Go to school, college, then potentially university, get a job and mortgage, whilst spending the rest of our lives paying it off to enable us to have a comfortable retirement.

This is the pathway we have been led to believe we should follow, and many do blindly follow, chained to their desks to pay their mortgage or bills, spending their disposable income to get a better car, bigger house, or enjoy a couple of weeks in the sun.

But for me, I wasn’t happy with this pathway. I didn’t want to be forever paying off a mortgage and saving for a few precious weeks of holiday each year. I wanted more.

So, I took the plunge and started investing  – but fell hard and lost a lot of money. Why? The reason was I didn’t educate myself first. I didn’t have a strategy and I didn’t seek advice from others who had done it before me. Why do people go to university for 3-4 years, study to become a doctor or dentist for 5-7 years or an accountant for 4 years? Because training and education are essential, and the same can be said for the stock markets.

Once I had learned this (the hard way), I worked hard to educate myself and started building my own new pillars of wealth.

Investing isn’t a get-quick-rich scheme. For most, it is not an alternative to working or a reason to quit a lucrative career. It is quite simply another pillar of wealth that gives you the freedom to live a life of more choice. Investments will ripen over the years, and we advise starting as early as possible to ensure you have maximum funds for later in life, when children, ageing parents and retirement can all affect finances.  

The other thing to remember when investing is the level of risk. We say you should never invest any more than you can afford to lose and to keep perspective, as markets are likely to go down as well as up. Investing alongside working in a secure job role is the best option, as you can then funnel small chunks of money into your portfolio each month.

Here are some tips to build a new pillar of wealth:

Where to invest – are you interested in stocks, precious metals, commodities or Cryptocurrencies? If stocks, which Stock are you entering and why? If Crypto, do you know enough in such an unregulated or volatile asset class? Is it on a technical basis where you like the chart pattern or a fundamental basis where you think the company has long-term growth potential?

What price to get in at – I prefer buying low, so I set an order in advance and allow the price of the Stock or Crypto to fall to my entry point. Sometimes I will wait weeks, even months, for this to happen. But I wait because those are the rules.

When to exit with a profit – I know in advance when I am exiting the trade or when to exit with a small loss. So, in order to ensure I am doing the right thing when the Stock is falling, I enter with an automatic order below my entry point, called a ‘Stop Loss’ or ‘Limit Sell Order’ in some cases, to minimise my losses.

How much to invest – this is part and parcel of keeping risk low. I ensure that by the time the stock price falls to my predetermined stop loss, I will only be risking 1% of my portfolio. So, if I have £10,000 to invest, I would only risk 1% or £100 on any one trade. It’s a mathematical equation EVERYONE should know before they start trading. Unfortunately, very few people know this equation, and even fewer utilise it.

For anyone wanting to secure their financial future, increase their pension pot or simply live a life of more choice, building another pillar of wealth is key. Get educated, keep the risk low and be prepared to be in it for the long term –  you may be surprised at the results!

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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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