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COULD YOU PROVIDE US WITH SOME BACKGROUND ON YOUR CURRENT ROLE WITHIN THE FINANCIAL SERVICES SECTOR?

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Q&A with Shanker Ramamurthy, Global Managing Partner – Banking at IBM, BIAN Executive Board Member

 

Can you explain more about your recent appointment to BIAN’s Executive Board and BIAN’s role in the industry? 

I lead the banking consulting practice across IBM Consulting, focusing on banks’ digital transformation, core banking, and payments. Additionally, I am the President of the IBM Industry Academy, a dynamic and diverse community of IBM’s industry experts aiming to form new solutions to help our customers win in a constantly evolving industry landscape. The Academy offers IBMers the chance to work together and collaborate with industry experts from all areas of IBM.

Since my career began almost three decades ago, I have been lucky enough to work across six continents in various consulting and leadership roles in the financial services sector. This experience, coupled with my current role, has provided me with a unique insight into the digital trends affecting all industries and enables me to serve IBM’s financial services clients better.

BIAN stands for the Banking Industry Architecture Network. It is a collaborative, not-for-profit organization of institutions and professionals from the financial and technology industries, including leading banks, technology providers, consultants, and academics from all over the globe. Member organizations are committed to lowering the cost of banking and increasing the speed of innovation adoption in the industry. Members draw upon their combined industry expertise to define a revolutionary banking technology framework that standardizes and simplifies banking architecture to overcome limitations preventing growth and efficiency and encourage ease of management in their existing environments.1

The opportunity to become a member of the BIAN board was an invitation I could not turn down. I am honored to be part of BIAN’s executive board to provide counsel and support their work in helping financial institutions negotiate this time of immense opportunity and disruption. For the financial services industry, BIAN’s open framework, services-oriented architecture, and standards model are more critical than ever before.

 

Shanker Ramamurthy

After working in the financial services industry for a number of years, what is it that makes you so passionate about the industry? 

I am delighted to see the impact of exponential technology on financial services because these innovations provide an opportunity to bring positive change to people’s everyday lives. I am also a strong advocate for financial inclusion and emphasize its importance as part of my practice. Financial services should be accessible for all, regardless of financial means and where you are in the world. In this respect, I am committed to helping banks widen the availability of banking services and reduce the cost point of doing so.

 

The importance of financial inclusion is evident. But what measures can global banks take to increase the availability of banking services and keep cost points low?

The financial services industry still has much to do to achieve inclusive banking globally. Having said this, incumbents, fintechs and techfins have made significant investments in technology and innovation, with this end in mind. Unfortunately, we live in a world where globally, billions of people still do not have access to basic financial services. Critical areas such as payments – particularly cross-border payments – remain costly, and access to credit continues to be a challenge for so many.

Global financial institutions will find success for their own business processes and their customers through a technology and business strategy to support the bank of the future and by prioritizing innovation powered by hybrid cloud and AI. Although there is much work to be done, it is encouraging that the combination of innovation will help democratize and transform finance like never before.

 

What can banks do to prepare for the future? 

Banks are facing an evolving landscape due to COVID-19 and changing regulatory environments. This is something banks and fintechs are navigating. At the same time, the financial services industry is being shaped by new consumer trends – from the rise of a cashless society to the pandemic-driven shift towards online banking and mobile payments.

The focus on technological development to accommodate these changes will continue. The banks that succeed will be the ones who have a technology and business strategy to support the ‘bank of the future,’ in which much of the middle and back office gets almost entirely automated and focus shifts to customers and customer value-adding functions. This transition requires rapid digitization and the adoption of exponential technologies powered by the hybrid cloud and AI. BIAN has an essential role in helping banks do just this.

 

What does the shift towards digital banking, including the increasing use of mobile contactless payments by customers, mean for the bank of the future?

Digitization drives innovation, new business models, and efficiency while simultaneously enabling extreme competition from traditional and non-traditional competitors. In tomorrow’s banking eco-system model, the value is increasingly accruing from customer-facing functions supported by platform-based business models. By extension, this has meant competition from both fintech and importantly, techfins (large technology companies that are moving into the less regulated aspects of financial services such as payments, electronic wallets, BNPL – buy now pay later models and more).

Banks in the future will automate extensively, and likely extend their business models to create ‘beyond banking platforms’ to support their customers in areas outside of the traditional banking value chain. The future of such models is being written in Asia by banks such as DBS in Singapore, State Bank of India, among others as they evolve their business models to combat the growth of ‘super-apps’ like Alibaba, Tencent, Grab, Gojek, and more in that part of the world.

 

How can the industry find its footing after such a change?

Banks have several natural advantages that come from incumbency, customer loyalty, and material regulatory barriers preventing non-traditional competitors from quickly breaching their businesses. Regardless, mastering the future will require banks to ask themselves three questions:

  1. Is our strategy ambitious enough?
  2. Are we executing fast enough?
  3. Do we have the talent and capabilities to win?

Answering these questions honestly and then putting in place programs to execute relentlessly is the only way for the industry to continue to thrive and take advantage of the extensive opportunities in the near future.

 

 

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HOW TO OVERCOME THE DIVERSITY PROBLEM IN STARTUP FUNDING

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1. What is Txeya?

Recognising that many businesses founded by black, female, minority ethnic and LGBTQ+ individuals often don’t get access to the funding and investment support that many other companies do, Txeya is a fintech platform that has been created to champion diversity-led businesses. Its mission is to give these start-ups and their founders a fair chance to access the credit, funding and investor networks they need to get their ventures moving.

Using the power of smart banking, Txeya gives diversity-led businesses access to financial tools to support them across the entire start-up journey and beyond, beginning with one of the biggest pain points for underrepresented entrepreneurs — access to funding.

 

2. What inspired you to create Txeya?

As an entrepreneur who has set up a number of businesses from the ground up, I’m fully aware of the challenges many of us face when trying to fund and grow our new business.

I’ve been lucky enough to have had a successful career in investment banking and as an entrepreneur for the last 20 years. And while climbing the career ladder and founding several businesses didn’t come without any challenges, I’m completely aware that growing a new business is even more difficult for diversity founders, particularly when it comes to securing venture capital (VC) funding.

The disparity is shocking and shows no sign of improvement either. Recent research from Crunchbase highlighted that global VC funding to female-founded companies fell to 2.3% in 2020, from 2.8% in 2019.

It’s a situation that’s beyond frustrating, and while there’s a lot of talk about the problem, not enough is being done to initiate change. But with the launch of Txeya we’re set to drive greater equality in entrepreneurship and business investment.

 

3. Txeya is solving problems for diversity-led businesses, but how is it helping investors?

Txeya isn’t just for underrepresented entrepreneurs, it’s a platform that champions the cause for equality from both sides.

Nearly a half (45%) of investors attributed the insufficient number of diverse founders in their portfolio to a “pipeline problem” — a lack of available businesses which fit the diversity profile. But there is no shortage of excellence when it comes to entrepreneurs from underrepresented backgrounds, so perhaps investors just don’t know where to look.

While giving entrepreneurs access to funding, credit and investment options, Txeya also opens the door for investors to connect with these exceptional entrepreneurs and convert investment into high-value returns.

 

4. How can funding diversity-founded business benefit investors?

As it stands, great entrepreneurs and great business ideas are being overlooked and investors are missing out on huge opportunities.

If we look at women as an example, when female-founded start-ups do get funded, they’re more likely to be successful and ultimately deliver higher revenue than businesses not led by women — more than twice as much per dollar invested.

Other research also suggests that start-ups with ethnically diverse founders are able to raise more operating cash and provide better financial returns for investors, and in fact outperform others by 30% when they go public or are acquired.

But despite being aware of the issue and the proven benefits of investing in diversity founded businesses, over a half (60%) of VC firms say that their portfolios hold too few diversity-led business, with 83% believing they can prioritise investments in companies led by diverse entrepreneurs and maximise returns.

 

5. What is your broader vision for the company?

There’s no doubt there’s a lot of work to do in order to create a fairer and more diverse venture capital industry, but it’s our commitment at Txeya to make diversity more central in conversations about investment and to become a leading voice on diversity and inclusion in business.

Our initial focus is to create a hybrid digital banking, credit and investor platform solving the first and most known pain point — access to funding.

However, our long-term goal is to become the go-to community for diversity-led businesses. We want to provide entrepreneurs with access to ongoing business support through mentorship programmes and coaching from leaders in the VC space, who are keen to support diversity and inclusion, beyond the initial funding stage to ensure their business flourishes.

 

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HOW CAN MERCHANTS OVERCOME THE COST AND COMPLEXITY OF LOCAL PAYMENT METHOD INTEGRATIONS?

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James Booth, VP Head of Partnerships, EMEA at PPRO

 

As commerce becomes more digital and borderless, one of the biggest hurdles companies face is the complexity of facilitating the myriad payment options required to maximise sales in any given market. But, with 77% of global online sales now being made using one of 500+ trusted local payment methods (LPMs), it has never been more crucial for companies to get it right.

In the below Q&A article, James Booth, VP Head of Partnerships, EMEA at PPRO discusses the challenges businesses and merchants face when integrating a diverse range of payment methods, and how with the right expertise, businesses can overcome this to increase online conversion rates and unlock greater profitability.

 

How has the pandemic and rise of e-commerce added pressure to merchants/businesses to integrate local payment methods (LPMs)?

Offering a diverse array of local payment methods has always been important. The recent e-commerce boom merely turbocharged this need as consumers were forced online in their masses. During this time, digital payment options became a must-have for online brands to be able to compete. What we have learnt since then is that consumer payment behaviours that changed during lockdown are in fact here to stay. Selling across borders without offering LPMs is no longer an option, as consumers demand more choice than ever before.

For businesses and merchants who do not invest in LPMs at this pivotal time, they are at risk of missing out on potential customers. Our own research suggests that nearly 50% of online shoppers say they will abandon a purchase at checkout if their preferred or local payment option isn’t available. Not only does this mean that merchants will lose out to the competition in their own markets, but it also limits their expansion plans into new locations – as each region has its own LPM preferences. The opportunity for cross-border growth is at an all-time high, but to be able to succeed, a greater focus is needed on local payment preferences.

 

What is involved when it comes to integrating LPMs? What hurdles do merchants/businesses come up against when beginning this process?

Integrating LPMs is no easy task – it requires a number of considerations before a business can even get started. For example, market analysis plays a huge role – identifying which market you’d like to sell to and gaining insights into the preferred LPMs in that region is an important first step. This is where consultancy from a partner with on the ground local knowledge is extremely helpful. Especially when it comes to negotiating with the LPM directly regarding contracts. And often language can act as a barrier and add additional complexity to this process.

Time and cost are two of the biggest hurdles to consider. Adding just one payment method means  up to 1 million USD in integration costs and 6-12 months from contracting to initial operations. There is also the additional cost of operational complexity licensing, compliance, managing funds and more! As well as being costly, this process is extremely complex and time consuming for a brand going at it alone. That’s not to mention the added complexities surrounding regulations funds collection that could require the business to set up an entity in the region in order to be able to move any further with the integration process.

 

What are the financial implications associated with LPM integration? What impact can this have on the merchant’s decision to go ahead?

The costs and complexities can often be enough to stop a business in its tracks when it comes to integrating a new payment method. This can create an awful catch-22 situation whereby merchants are aware they need to integrate LPMs to be able to compete and grow their business, but are unable to keep up with the costs and complexities associated with implementing them effectively.

To overcome this, merchants need to partner with an expert who can provide strategic consultancy and easy access to new payment methods via a diverse portfolio. Only with this support can merchants successfully expand into the new lucrative markets on offer.

 

Are there any other factors merchants/businesses need to consider when integrating an LPM?

Even with the right mix of payment methods at the checkout, there are often other reasons why online sales don’t convert and baskets are abandoned. This may be because of a technological problem. A single misconfiguration, and an option unchecked in the backend, can cause payments to time out or fail.

In many cases, the issues impacting the success of a sale (the conversion rate) may not be entirely technical. Often, a poor user experience causes unnecessary cart abandonment. For instance, poor language localisation, offering a local payment method to shoppers in a country where this is not available, a confusing layout on the payments page or even relatively simple things like only telling a user about a surcharge when they reach the final payments screen — can all depress the conversion rate.
Considering the whole picture will be crucial to not only making LPM integration a success, but ensuring it fulfils its purpose – boosting online conversion rates and unlocking future online growth.

 

How can businesses overcome the cost and complexities associated with LPMs and implement them successfully?

Using the regional knowledge and the experience of strategic partners will be essential for any business beginning this complex journey. Even for the biggest of payment service providers, LPM integration can be overwhelming. Luckily for merchants, and the payment service providers who support them, local payment infrastructures are on hand to remove the pain points associated with implementation. By offering easy access to a diverse array of payment methods, these infrastructures can empower merchants to take on cross-border commerce.

 

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