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BALANCING THE NEEDS OF DEVELOPING ECONOMIES

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Marc Naidoo a sustainable finance partner at international law firm, McGuireWoods

 

A child sitting with a candle in the dark learning about how hydrocarbons are destroying the atmosphere and why fossil fuels need to be phased out nigh on immediately. Perhaps that resonates with this child, or perhaps these concepts exist in the abstract, or even a combination of the two. Over 640 million Africans have no access to energy, which correlates to an electricity access rate of a mere 40%. The question this child may ask is: so where are all these hydrocarbons coming from, and who is benefitting from them?

The interplay between developed nations and developing nations is a terse one, especially in the context of sustainability. Whilst through effluxion of time the West has been through various industrial and energy booms, developing markets have not been afforded that period of sustained growth. Whether in the form of heavy handed concessional agreements with Western countries, or the challenges facing post-colonial democratic infancy, developing economies have had an almost inverted growth trajectory. Focussing on Africa, the view that its population will double by 2050, creates challenges but also opportunity. With a growing population, the need for infrastructure become paramount, and as we are all aware that is coupled with energy.

Historically developing markets were not given the chance to grow industrially / organically. However growing populations provide these economies with an opportunity to prosper in the long term. Infrastructure leads to a better quality of life, but most importantly paves the way for arguably the most important tenet of sustainability: financial inclusion. The source of all of this is energy, energy which some may argue can be in any shape or form. Developed markets are quick to assume that energy is a divine right, however the context remains different for those who are quite literally living in the dark.

The danger of the current ESG agenda is that anger and vitriol is somewhat misplaced when identifying who is responsible for hydrocarbon contribution in the global economy. Terms like “Big Banks” and “Oil Majors” are cast as if these institutions are pantomime villains trying their utmost to destroy the planet. But as with all things, there is a balance that needs to be struck in balancing the needs of the environment, with those of the people that live therein. ESG is not an acronym for: environment. Social and governance issues are just as important in assessing where we move forward as members of Earth. Even the first six United Nations Sustainable Development Goals focus exclusively on social issues that need to be addressed. The problems facing the planet go beyond climate change. Whilst it is an enormous issue, it should not detract from the fact that we want to have a planet that survives and looks after all life therein, but that is hollow if we systematically make things worse for people that live on Earth right now.

Private sector capital has always played a role in infrastructure and energy within developing economies. This is not me saying that they have done this out of the goodness of their heart, but whatever the profit margin, cash still flows through the system with the additionality of job creation and a better standard of life. If you removed this source of funding, what would happen to the developing economies who require funding for energy creation or infrastructure development? The counter position is: renewables. No, that is part of a solution but not the entire solution. Technologies are still expensive, transmission lines onto national grids (usually with one para-statal energy provider) are projects in themselves and whether these technologies can handle base load energy production for exponentially growing economies remains to be seen. Private capital should not have to operate in the shadows and conclude secret deals to provide people with basic human rights for fear of reprisal from activists and mainstream media alike. If anything, of anyone financing hydrocarbons, big banks are the most adept to do so as they have the requisite internal protocols to manage borrowers building efficient projects as well as adhere to ALL ESG standards. You cannot just cut an entire population group out because there is pressure to do so, there are other solutions which will be explored later in this article.

The same pressure faces large energy corporates directly, as well as oil companies. Forgetting the human element facing millions of workers with regard to redundancies as a result of mass, almost immediate, closures of plants and refineries. Consider the implications of what is to become of the assets in respect of which these companies are being forced to divest from. Would you rather have a large publicly accountable corporate controlling an extraction asset, or a privately owned company less susceptible to public scrutiny. By nature large energy and oil companies are required to mitigate their impact on the environment and the communities in the immediate vicinities of their operations. Removing this buffer, is tantamount to removing accountability in the sector and throwing communities in developing economies to the wolves.

So is this the article you read that denounces large banks and major oil corporates taking action against climate change? No, and far from it. There are ways in which the interests of these companies and the needs facing developing economies can be aligned, while at the same time not glossing over the issues with carbon credits and the like. Sustainability within the corporate landscape is at a point where market participants can work together to find solutions that are creative and work for both corporates and developing economies. Other metrics can be introduced to offset hydrocarbons, whilst still ensuring developing economies have the room to grow. The Central African Forest Initiative is an example of this, with Gabon pledging to protect its forests in return for financing from the Norwegian government. Countries can be asked to develop carbon absorption assets such as sea grass or forests to mitigate the damage done to the climate. These are all tools that can be easily worked into financings, especially by larger financiers. All that is required is a little creativity and a commitment to a long term view on sustainability.

Changes need to be made, but not at the sacrifice of others. We are all in this together, but most importantly each country is on their own journey, both economically and with regard to sustainability. The answer to solving the issues facing our planet is not cutting off those people that need our help the most. Perhaps we should also educate those of us who are demanding radical change, that sometimes it is not possible as there is always some form of collateral damage. Change must be managed and must happen organically. Perhaps the E, in ESG, should stand for empathy.

 

Business

IS SCARCITY OF TALENT THREATENING THE UK’S FINTECH CROWN?

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To be attributed to Rafa Plantier, Head of UK and Ireland at Tink

 

From the Square Mile to Canary Wharf, London has been the historic centre of global finance, with long-established trading exchanges and trusted financial institutions. In the digital era, it has also ensured that it’s moved with the times to become a thriving hub for fintech.

But the UK financial services sector is now at an inflection point. In the past year, London’s position as a global fintech leader has been under threat. Earlier this year, Amsterdam overtook The City as the largest European share trading hub. The European Banking Authority moved from London to Paris. And Dublin, Paris and Frankfurt are all competing to win a greater share of the European financial marketplace.

The culprits of the shift are the twin challenges of the pandemic and Brexit, combined with the speed of technological transformation in financial services – disrupting the traditional flow of people, capital and ideas. So the pressing question for the industry is: how do we maintain and, more importantly, accelerate momentum to retain London’s fintech crown?

The answer revolves around one key thing — people.

 

Diverse talent drives innovation

Attracting the best talent is crucial if the UK financial services sector is going to continue to thrive and retain its global position as the preeminent financial centre.

In February 2021, the Kalifa Review laid out a strategy and delivery model for the UK to lead the fintech revolution, covering five key areas. These included skills and talent, investment and international attractiveness and competitiveness. But what became clear was that access to the right level of highly skilled talent was one of the biggest challenges for UK fintech, with barriers spanning both domestic skills shortages and the need to access foreign talent seamlessly.

As a native Brazilian in the UK, working for a Swedish-owned fintech, I understand these challenges as well as anyone. I love London, but we must recognise that fintech firms need unique talent and skills, and such a talent base can’t be met by a single city – not even one as resourceful as London. Not only do fintechs require technology and data specialists, but also experienced managers with good knowledge of high-growth companies and financial services.

As someone lucky enough to have worked with startup and scale-up fintechs across the world,  I understand the unique grounding that comes from being a part of a high-growth global company. That’s why I believe it’s vital that we attract people from across the world with commercial experience at ambitious, rapid-growth businesses — so they can bring this experience to bear on the UK financial services sector.

At the same time, many companies face renewed pressure to create new services and products to meet expectations for growth. That is why it’s critical that the UK has access to people with the right technical skills in areas such as software engineering, DevOps, Cybersecurity and data science.

Put simply, having the smartest minds delivering the best products is good for everyone. It drives efficiency, productivity,  growth and, ultimately, prosperity.

 

The UK is open for fintech

The UK should be proud of being a fintech pioneer and the driving force behind legislation that helped usher in the era of open banking. There is now an exciting opportunity to take this even further. Having access to a diverse pool of talent and skills will empower the financial services industry to create innovative products to tackle complex social challenges, such as better B2B payments, financial inclusion and climate change.

The good news is that the UK government clearly recognises the role the industry has to play in driving growth and innovation. The 2021 Autumn Budget reaffirmed commitments to reskill the nation. With £3.8bn budgeted for skills and a formal criteria for the long-awaited Scale Up Visa, the Chancellor announced a set of proposals that will support the breadth of our sector — from startups right through to unicorns and incumbent banks. This will be essential for fintechs like ours to continue to trailblaze and for the UK to differentiate itself on the global stage.

In an increasingly competitive global landscape, and to sustain momentum, we must keep talent avenues open to attract the best of the best in the industry. As one of the fastest-growing areas of the UK economy, the benefits of nurturing UK fintech to drive productivity, growth and lead the UK’s post-pandemic recovery, cannot be overstated. 2021 has seen a surge of activity in the industry and I am eager to see what London’s fintech sector can achieve in 2022.

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THE EVOLVING TECHNOLOGY NEEDS OF THE FINANCE DEPARTMENT

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THE EVOLVING TECHNOLOGY NEEDS OF THE FINANCE DEPARTMENT

Jennifer Sims, Senior Consultant at Xledger

 

The world of finance software is evolving quickly, but with many new software contenders entering the market it can be a mindfield for organisations. Many finance teams are already using multiple accounting apps and software packages for bookkeeping, payroll and invoicing to service individual needs. Whilst it may work fine for now, this segregated approach isn’t sustainable for long-term growth. The world is swiftly moving to agile, automated ways of working. As a result, there is a growing need to choose suppliers that can fulfil multiple functionalities within the one platform.

Financial software is evolving at such a pace that it can be difficult to keep up. Changing up a finance solution is a big step and ease of migration can be a substantial factor in determining which solution provider to go with. But how do you choose a solution that will grow with your business and still offer something innovative in five or ten years down the line? The fear is always that non-techie organisations will end up falling behind, but in such a highly concentrated industry, how do you decide which solution would work best for you?

 

Cloud-first: the term that makes all the difference 

You could find a ‘cloud-based’ service with an application that comes with automated audit trails to make it easier to meet compliance and record-keeping obligations, for example. But for a solution to offer all of the many future benefits promised by the cloud, it needs to have been built specifically for a cloud environemt from the outset – ie. not an on-premise built system that has been later adapted. Cloud-first services (true cloud) were always intended to leverage economies of scale, cope with live updates, be accessible from anywhere with an internet connection, and to scale rapidly, to name just a few of the many benefits.

When we talk about innovation in financial technology, we’re not just talking about software that makes it easier for the financial controller to create reports. If eliminating reliance on Excel spreadsheets is the only tangible benefit you have to really shout about, you are missing out on the real deal. With ‘true’ cloud finance software the sky is the limit.

Finance and accounting technology needs to directly meet the needs of the finance function and support the wider business needs.  When looking at accounting software platforms you’d be hard pressed to find one that doesn’t now promise ‘cloud-based’ enterprise resource planning (ERP) capabilities. The cloud is nothing new, but it’s the way that a solution harnesses this environment that makes a real difference. And here is where there is a need to read between the lines.

 

Automate more with true cloud 

Historically, repetitive and manual tasks are typical of the finance role – from invoice postings to expense claims handling – these can overwhelm the finance team. Research by Xledger[1] has found that an enormous 91% of CFOs and finance decision makers are carrying out at least one of these repetitive tasks as part of their job. What’s more, senior finance leads are averaging a whopping 25 hours per week carrying out repetitive and manual tasks, compared with 15 hours for other finance decision makers.

A modern, true cloud finance system can enable your business to automate repetitive tasks and provide one source of truth so that teams can make informed business decisions that will help to scale a business. Bank reconciliation, dashboard creation and reporting are just some of the tasks that can be handled automatically.These capabilities are aiding overtasked finance teams and saving hundreds or thousands of hours a year.

Whilst different companies are at different stages in their digital transformation what is clear is keeping up with the latest technology is fundamental to the future success of an organisation.

Xledger is a true cloud finance solution. The basics include invoicing, robust general ledger accounting, detailed slice and dice reporting, purchase orders, billing, VAT reporting, and cash and bank payments. It also adds process and structure to the enterprise with procurement and inventory, budgeting and forecasting, and project accounting. Users are always on the latest version of the software and with regulation more stringent than ever today, Xledger is ISO 27001 accredited.

Choosing the right provider for your financial ERP solution comes down to whether it has the fundamentals right. When hosting all of your vital data in the providers’ own servers, it should evidence a highly tested security process that comes with backup services as standard.

As our demand for technology capabilities grows and as ERP models progress, innovation will become the structure for growth – and there is no end to the possibilities.

 

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