Putting technology to work on entrepreneur fund-raising
Source: Finance Derivative
By Simon Glass, CEO, Qodeo
Human relationships are behind the most successful venture capital deals. The chemistry between an investor and an entrepreneur, and their ability to work in harmony is vital, particularly when you consider that VC firms hold their investments for between five and seven years. That’s a long time to keep civil if you don’t actually see eye to eye on the future of the business.
Such endurance makes the initial search, and getting a clear idea about mutual goals, very important. Like any other relationship, what both parties are looking for is a good match. For many entrepreneurs, however, setting off on the path to raising funds can be daunting. Even the language is confusing. Terms such as ‘stage’, ‘series’, ‘pre-seed’ and ‘seed’ are well known everyday expressions if you are a venture capitalist or work in a private equity firm, but even the difference between those types of funders can be confusing.
Getting on top of the funding process
It’s understandable that trying to get to grips with the sector can take entrepreneurs hundreds of hours. According to research conducted with the business school INSEAD many make huge investments in time, and in money too, only to give up or reach a dead-end.
A director at Qodeo, and the former Deputy CEO of Coutts Bank, Paul Wright, says the process of fundraising is like ‘pinballing’: being bounced from firm to firm without getting a result, or even in some cases, getting any kind of reply. Investors are interested, but they are simply overwhelmed with approaches and don’t have time to react to everything they receive. What is even more frustrating is that it is difficult to find out who the most appropriate contact would be. An entrepreneur can spend days trying to get on a shortlist, only to find out that the VC they have been targeting is not the right fit for them.
Outside London and the major conurbations, start-ups can also struggle to be noticed. It is discouraging for them to see firms that are very similar, but based in, or near to, major financial centres, announcing deals when they are unable to access the same sources of funding. Among this group – although the same happens in city-based firms too – there is a tendency to ask for too little money. This sounds counterintuitive, but deal size has grown exponentially in recent years. If an entrepreneur asks for only £500,000, they will automatically fall outside the VC radar, and into the business angel market.
Investors need to expand their networks
The difficulties of connecting also exist on the investor side of the equation. For decades VCs and private equity firms have fished in the same pool, using established networks, often forged in school or university, to find opportunities. We conducted research with Cambridge Judge Business School among 85 investor firms from across the UK, and when we asked about deal flow, we found that 29% were sourcing deals through entrepreneur contacts and referrals but only 19% said they used alternative channels.
Given the vast numbers of start-ups and young businesses that are ripe for investment right across the UK, this narrow approach needs to change if investors are to find more diverse opportunities and better returns. An examination into this topic by Paul Gompers and published in Harvard Business Review found that: “Diversity significantly improves financial performance on measures such as profitable investments at the individual portfolio-company level and overall fund returns. And even though the desire to associate with similar people—a tendency academics call homophily—can bring social benefits to those who exhibit it, including a sense of shared culture and belonging, it can also lead investors and firms to leave a lot of money on the table.”
The question, to date, has been: how can entrepreneurs and VCs connect successfully? And the answer is through a trusted network supported by technology.
The funding dating service
Qodeo is an example of this. It is a digital subscription service that matches successful, diverse entrepreneurs with pre-vetted venture capitalists and private equity firms. The database of companies is not just regional or national, but in fact, draws from across the world, so if a UK-based company wants to expand into Africa or Asia, for example, a match can be found.
For a small subscription of just £10 per month, entrepreneurs can make use of this funding ‘dating’ service to dive into a wealth of reports and research, gain an understanding of the funding environment by attending talks and webinars, and get guidance on building a profile. This is essential, since the service uses an algorithm which, based on their profile, determines the best investor match for the entrepreneur. It will match female investors with female companies, if that is what they want; but primarily it is strategic, aiming to make connections based on identifying specialism matches or filling skills gaps, creating the foundations for a working relationship for the long-term.
Technology-based services like Qodeo rely on the quality of their data and there is a reason that it is so rich. Venture capitalists may be keen to expand their horizons globally, but networking outside their usual groups does not come naturally. Most are not outward-focused or gregarious, and as we said earlier, they are very busy. So, they are signing up to be part of a database that is only being used by companies looking for funding, allowing the matching algorithm to do all the networking for them.
Dating services are not new, but this is the first time that their principle has been applied to the traditional funding industry, and it’s long overdue. After another disappointing search for money, entrepreneurs no longer need to hear that there are plenty more fish in the sea. Likewise, funders can, at last, break out through the walls of convention, and find new, exciting opportunities to make a big return.
Enhancing cybersecurity in investment firms as new regulations come into force
Source: Finance Derivative
Christian Scott, COO/CISO at Gotham Security, an Abacus Group Company
The alternative investment industry is a prime target for cyber breaches. February’s ransomware attack on global financial software firm ION Group was a warning to the wider sector. Russia-linked LockBit Ransomware-as-a-Service (RaaS) affiliate hackers disrupted trading activities in international markets, with firms forced to fall back on expensive, inefficient, and potentially non-compliant manual reporting methods. Not only do attacks like these put critical business operations under threat, but firms also risk falling foul of regulations if they lack a sufficient incident response plan.
To ensure that firms protect client assets and keep pace with evolving challenges, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has proposed new cybersecurity requirements for registered advisors and funds. Codifying previous guidance into non-negotiable rules, these requirements will cover every aspect of the security lifecycle and the specific processes a firm implements, encompassing written policies and procedures, transparent governance records, and the timely disclosure of all material cybersecurity incidents to regulators and investors. Failure to comply with the rules could carry significant financial, legal, and national security implications.
The proposed SEC rules are expected to come into force in the coming months, following a notice and comment period. However, businesses should not drag their feet in making the necessary adjustments – the SEC has also introduced an extensive lookback period preceding the implementation of the rules, meaning that organisations should already be proving they are meeting these heightened demands.
For investment firms, regulatory developments such as these will help boost cyber resilience and client confidence in the safety of investments. However, with a clear expectation that firms should be well aligned to the requirements already, many will need to proactively step up their security oversight and strengthen their technologies, policies, end-user education, and incident response procedures. So, how can organisations prepare for enforcement and maintain compliance in a shifting regulatory landscape?
In today’s complex, fast-changing, and interconnected business environment, the alternative investment sector must continually take account of its evolving risk profile. Additionally, as more and more organisations shift towards more distributed and flexible ways of working, traditional protection perimeters are dissolving, rendering firms more vulnerable to cyber-attack.
As such, the new SEC rules provide firms with additional instruction around very specific prescriptive requirements. Organisations need to implement and maintain robust written policies and procedures that closely align with ground-level security issues and industry best practices, such as the NIST Cybersecurity framework. Firms must also be ready to gather and present evidence that proves they are following these watertight policies and procedures on a day-to-day basis. With much less room for ambiguity or assumption, the SEC will scrutinise security policies for detail on how a firm is dealing with cyber risks. Documentation must therefore include comprehensive coverage for business continuity planning and incident response.
As cyber risk management comes increasingly under the spotlight, firms need to ensure it is fully incorporated as a ‘business as usual’ process. This involves the continual tracking and categorisation of evolving vulnerabilities – not just from a technology perspective, but also from an administrative and physical standpoint. Regular risk assessments must include real-time threat and vulnerability management to detect, mitigate, and remediate cybersecurity risks.
Another crucial aspect of the new rules is the need to report any ‘material’ cybersecurity incidents to investors and regulators within a 48-hour timeframe – a small window for busy investment firms. Meeting this tight deadline will require firms to quickly pull data from many different sources, as the SEC will demand to know what happened, how the incident was addressed, and its specific impacts. Teams will need to be assembled well in advance, working together seamlessly to record, process, summarise, and report key information in a squeezed timeframe.
Funds and advisors will also need to provide prospective and current investors with updated disclosures on previously disclosed cybersecurity incidents over the past two fiscal years. With security leaders increasingly being held to account over lack of disclosure, failure to report incidents at board level could even be considered an act of fraud.
Organisations must now take proactive steps to prepare and respond effectively to these upcoming regulatory changes. Cybersecurity policies, incident response, and continuity plans need to be written up and closely aligned with business objectives. These policies and procedures should be backed up with robust evidence that shows organisations are actually following the documentation – firms need to prove it, not just say it. Carefully thought-out policies will also provide the foundation for organisations to evolve their posture as cyber threats escalate and regulatory demands change.
Robust cybersecurity risk assessments and continuous vulnerability management must also be in place. The first stage of mitigating a cyber risk is understanding the threat – and this requires in-depth real-time insights on how the attack surface is changing. Internal and external systems should be regularly scanned, and firms must integrate third-party and vendor risk assessments to identify any potential supply chain weaknesses.
Network and cloud penetration testing is another key tenet of compliance. By imitating how an attacker would exploit a vantage point, organisations can check for any weak spots in their strategy before malicious actors attempt to gain an advantage. Due to the rise of ransomware, phishing, and other sophisticated cyber threats, social engineering testing should be conducted alongside conventional penetration testing to cover every attack vector.
It must also be remembered that security and compliance is the responsibility of every person in the organisation. End-user education is a necessity as regulations evolve, as is multi-layered training exercises. This means bringing in immersive simulations, tabletop exercises and real-world examples of security incidents to inform employees of the potential risks and the role they play in protecting the company.
To successfully navigate the SEC cybersecurity rules – and prepare for future regulatory changes – alternative investment firms must ensure that security is woven into every part of the business. They can do this by establishing robust written policies and adhesion, conducting regular penetration testing and vulnerability scanning, and ensuring the ongoing education and training of employees.
Gearing up for growth amid economic pressure: 10 top tips for maintaining control of IT costs
Source: Finance Derivative
By Dirk Martin, CEO and Founder of Serviceware
Three years on from the pandemic and economic pressure is continuing to mount more than ever. With the ongoing threat of a global recession looming, inflation rising, and supply chain disruption continuing to take its toll, cutting costs and optimizing budgets remains a top priority amongst the c-suite. Amid such turbulence, the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) and Chief Innovation Officer (CIO) stand firmly at the business’s helm, not only to steady the ship but to steer it into safer, more profitable waters. These vital roles have truly been pulled into the spotlight in recent years, with new hurdles and challenges being constantly thrown their way. This spring, for example, experts expect British businesses to face an energy-cost cliff edge as the winter support package set out by the government is replaced.
Whilst purse strings are being drawn ever tighter to overcome these obstacles, there is no denying that the digitalization and innovation spurred on by the pandemic are still gaining momentum. In fact, according to Gartner, four out of five CEOs are increasing digital technology investments to counter current economic pressures. Investing in a digital future, driven by technologies such as the Cloud, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Blockchains and the Internet of Things (IoT), however, comes at a cost and to be able to do so – funds must be released through effective optimization of existing assets.
With that in mind, and with the deluge of cost and vendor data descending on businesses who adopt these technologies, never has it been more important for CIOs and CFOs to have a complete, detailed and transparent view of all IT costs. In doing so, business leaders can not only identify the right investment areas but increase the performance of existing systems and technology to tackle the impact of spiralling running costs.
Follow the below 10 steps to gain a comprehensive, detailed and transparent overview of all IT costs to boost business performance and enable your IT to reach the next level.
1: Develop an extensive IT service and product catalogue
The development of an IT service and product catalogue is the most effective way to kick-start your cost-optimization journey. This catalogue should act as a precise overview of all individual IT services and what they entail to directly link IT service costs to IT service performance and value. By offering a clear set of standards as to what services are available and comprised of, consumers can gain an understanding of the costs and values of the IT services they deploy.
2: Monitor IT costs closely
By mastering the value chain, a concept that aims to visualise the flow of IT costs from its most basic singular units through to realised business units and capabilities, businesses can keep track of where IT costs stem from. With the help of service catalogues, benchmarks, the use of a cost model focussing on digital value in IT Financial Management (ITFM) or what is often referred to as Technology Business Management (TBM) solutions, comprehensive access to this data can be guaranteed, creating a ‘cost-to-service flow’ that identifies and controls the availability of IT costs.
3: Determine IT budget management
Knowledge of IT cost allocation is a vital factor when making informed spending decisions and adjustments to existing budgets. There are, however, different approaches that can be taken to this including – centralized, decentralized and iterative. A centralized approach means that the budget is determined in advance and distributed to operating cost centres and projects in a top-down process, allowing for easy, tight budget allocation. A decentralized approach reverses this process – operating costs are precisely calculated before budgeting and projects are determined. Both approaches come with their own risks, for centralized overlooking projects that offer potential growth opportunities and for decentralized budget demands that might exceed available resources.
The iterative approach tries to unify both methods. Although the most lucrative approach, it also requires the most resources. So, the chosen approach is very much dependent on the available resources, and the enterprise’s structural organization.
4: Defining ‘run’ vs ‘grow’ costs
Before IT budget can be allocated, costs should be split into two distinct categories: running costs (i.e. operating costs) and costs for growing the business (i.e. products or services used to transform or grow the business). Once these categories have been defined, decisions should be made on how the budget should be split between them. A 70% run/30% grow split is fairly typical across most enterprises, but there is no one-size-fits-all approach, and this decision should be centred around the businesses’ overall strategies and end goals.
5: Ensuring investments result in a profit
By carrying out the aforementioned steps, complete transparency can be achieved over which products and services are offered, where IT costs stem from, and where budgets are allocated. From here, organizations can review how much of the IT budget is being used and where costs lead to profits and losses. By maintaining a positive profit margin, the controlling processes can be further optimized. If the profit margin is negative, appropriate, or timely, corrective measures can be initiated.
6: Staying on top of regulation
For a company that operates internationally (E.g. it markets IT products and services abroad), it is extremely important that it stays on top of country-specific compliance and adheres to varying international tax rules. To do so correctly it is necessary to provide correct transfer price documentation. This requires three factors:
- Transparent analysis and calculation of IT services based on the value chain
- Evaluation of the services used and the associated billing processes
- Access to the management of service contracts between providers and consumers as the legal basis for IT services.
7: Stay competitive
Closely linked to the profit mentioned in step five is the question of how to price IT services in order to stay competitive whilst avoiding losses. This begins with benchmark data which can be researched or determined using existing ITFM solutions that can automatically extract them from different – interconnected – databases. From there, a unit cost calculation can be used to define exactly and effectively what individual IT services – and their preliminary products – cost. This allows organizations to easily compare internal unit cost calculations with the benchmarks and competitor prices, before making pricing decisions.
8: Identify and maintain key cost drivers
Another aspect of IT cost control that is streamlined via the comprehensive assessment of the cost-to-service flow is the identification and management of main IT cost drivers. A properly modelled value chain makes it clear which IT services or associated preliminary products and cost centres incur the greatest costs and why. This analysis allows for concise adjustment to expenditure and helps to avoid misunderstandings about cost drivers. Using this as a basis, strategies can be developed to reduce IT costs effectively and determine a better use of expensive resources.
9: Showback/Chargeback IT costs
By controlling IT costs using the value chain, efficient usage-based billing and invoicing of IT services and products can be achieved. If IT costs are visualized transparently, they can easily be assigned to IT customers, therefore increasing the clarity of the billing process, and providing opportunities to analyze the value of IT in more detail. When informing managers and users about their consumption there are two options: either through the ‘showback’ process – highlighting the costs generated and how they are incurred – or through the ‘chargeback’ process, in which costs incurred are sent directly to customers and subcontractors.
10: Analyse supply vs. demand
By following the processes above, transparency regarding IT cost control is further extended and discussions around the value of IT services are made possible across the organization. A more holistic analysis of IT service consumption allows conclusions to be drawn promptly to enable the optimization of supply and demand for IT services in various business areas. This, in turn, will enable a more comprehensive value analysis and optimization of IT service utilization.
Following these 10 cost management steps, a secure, transparent, and sustainable IT cost control environment can be developed, resulting in fully optimized budgets and in turn – significant cost savings. Cost-cutting aside, automating the financial management process in such an environment can boost productivity substantially freeing up time to focus on valuable work, thus leading to overall business growth.
The business and economic landscape is full of uncertainty right now, but business leaders can regain control via cost management, not only to weather current storms but to set themselves up for success beyond today’s turbulence.
Mortgage digitalization: How mortgage lenders are automating the lending process
Source: Finance Derivative
By Fernando Zandona, Chief Product and Technology Officer at Mambu
The mortgage market has a long history, but its future is digital. As tech capabilities grow and consumer expectations evolve, mortgage providers are increasingly turning to digital solutions to attract and retain customers and streamline the lending process. According to research from the 2022 Celent Origination Study, over half of banks and 75% of building societies expect to make significant changes to their mortgage origination systems within 24 months. So, how is the mortgage industry transforming and what must lenders do to future-proof their business?
The acceleration of digitalisation in mortgage lending
There are several factors that have accelerated the digitalisation of mortgage lending. One is changes to consumer behaviour: customers have come to expect smooth digital experiences across all areas of their life (accelerated by the pandemic). As such, they seek similar ease, speed and efficiency when it comes to home buying.
Then there’s the arrival of fintechs. Newer fintechs are beginning to enter the mortgage sector – often through acquisitions, such as Starling Bank’s acquisition of Fleet Mortgage or Zoopla acquiring YourKeys. They are also bringing with them innovative digital solutions, which raise the bar for the whole industry. At the same time, regulatory changes are helping accelerate and facilitate digitalisation, such as the Bank of England’s decision to withdraw its affordability test recommendation and cut some of the red tape around mortgage lending, and HM Land Registry’s acceptance of electronic signatures. The combination of these forces have played a significant role in accelerating the lending process and making it more efficient.
Today’s financial institutions are offering a wide range of digital options, through online and mobile platforms, to their mortgage customers. Services include easier ways for customers to access and manage their mortgages, schedule a session with a mortgage advisor, find personalised recommendations, and access improved security measures to protect sensitive customer information.
That’s not to mention the embrace of open banking has enabled seamless integration of customer data into the lending process. This innovation is helping reduce the number of steps needed to collect data and resulting in faster processing times, less rekeying of information and lower origination costs. Offering faster, cheaper loan decisions is a crucial advantage in an increasingly-crowded mortgage market and automated processes reduce teams’ manual work and eliminate costly human errors.
Digitalising in the right way
The success of these new products and processes relies on the way mortgage lenders introduce and configure them. Agility is key – lenders need to prioritise configurability and scalability when building new products and choosing technology partners, as they must be able to quickly launch new features or make adjustments, in line with evolving customer expectations, emerging trends and changing industry regulations. The use of software-as-a-service (SaaS) platforms and application programming interface (API) integrations helps with this, allowing for faster feature launches and less internal friction.
APIs are just part of future-proofing the mortgage market. According to Forbes, 55% of senior executives in the US mortgage industry think that AI will make their firm, and the industry overall, more competitive. AI and machine learning can assist lenders in analysing data more quickly, leading to more efficient decision-making and forecasting, although as with all AI applications, providers must be vigilant about encoded bias that can radically increase discrimination.
The mortgage landscape is transforming through digitalisation, and this is bound to continue. Lenders who want to keep up the pace with this change – and reap the benefits of faster, smoother processes as well as keep satisfied, loyal customers – will be future-proofing their processes through lending automation and putting customer ease at the centre of their offering.