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Finance

FIDUCIARY MANAGEMENT

by Devan Nathwani, FIA and Investment Strategist at Secor Asset Management

 

Defined Benefit pension schemes are one of the most significant institutional investors, representing c.£1,700 billion[1] in assets. With investments becoming increasingly more complex, regulatory and reporting requirements increasing and markets generally being volatile, making investment decisions is taking up more of the governance budget. This has been further highlighted in the recent Covid-19 crisis where pension schemes were faced with falling equity markets, collateral calls and new investment opportunities arising from market dislocations. Corporate sponsors saw their pension scheme deficits widen at a time when free cash flow was needed to maintain working capital. There is a vast array of investment or de-risking products that claim to have low governance requirements, however often they can require giving up investment freedom and transparency or have high costs. This is where partnering with a Fiduciary Manager can help.

 

What is Fiduciary Management?

Fiduciary Management is essentially a form of delegated investment decision making. Fiduciary Managers partner with pension schemes to give advice on scheme investments and are responsible for the implementation of that advice. Fiduciary Management relationships are often highly customised and do not have to be “all or nothing”. A simple Fiduciary Management partnership could involve a Fiduciary Manager managing a fund-of-hedge-fund portfolio. A more comprehensive partnership could involve a Fiduciary Manager using their investment expertise to make investment decisions on the entire scheme portfolio. In practice, these partnerships can take many different forms and the best relationships are often highly customised, be it in the services received, the portion of the assets covered or the decisions that are delegated.

 

Devan Nathwani

Why Fiduciary Management?

Every pension scheme is different and in practice will choose to partner with a Fiduciary Manager for different reasons. Some common reasons for partnering with a Fiduciary Manager are:

Independent investment expertise

Over the last 10 years pension scheme investments have become increasingly more complex, with alternative asset classes becoming a core component of the strategic portfolio. Asset classes such as Private Equity, Private Credit and Property require in-depth knowledge of the different strategies deployed within them and often require portfolio management expertise to deal with capital calls and distributions and the sizing of commitments. Independence can be crucial here as these asset classes often carry high investment fees and require careful investment due diligence. A Fiduciary Manager typically has deep investment experience in a broad set of asset classes that a pension scheme can in-source without the cost of building an in-house team. Independence can be very important as a Fiduciary Manager that has no association with the underlying managers that a pension scheme invests with, can make investment decisions with minimal conflicts of interest.

Precision and speed

As highlighted by the market impact following the Covid-19 pandemic, it is important for pension schemes to be able to implement their investment decisions with speed and precision. Markets move every single day and investment opportunities can often arise and pass more quickly than a typical pension scheme governance structure can tolerate. Risk management is one of the most important objectives for a pension scheme, with unrewarded risks needing careful management and rewarded risks needing to be sized appropriately. Fiduciary Managers monitor their client portfolios daily and can act quickly to take advantage of investment opportunities or rebalance the portfolio as markets move.

Transparency

As regulatory requirements have increased, pension schemes are increasingly being asked to monitor their investment decisions with more scrutiny. Regulation requires them to consider Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) factors in their investment decisions and understand the performance of their investments in detail, including the impact of explicit and implicit transaction costs. In addition, as funding levels improve, pension schemes and their sponsors are looking for tighter control and greater transparency over the scheme’s risks. This is particularly important as schemes approach their desired “End Game”. Good Fiduciary Managers typically have proprietary tools and systems that facilitate better performance and risk measurement. As regulations form and evolve, Fiduciary Managers adapt their investment decision making processes to account for them making compliance much easier.

Limited resources

Typically pension schemes and their sponsors have limited internal resources with limited time to spend on both investment and non-investment related matters. Most companies do not have dedicated pensions treasury teams so it can be difficult to devote the sufficient time that is required to both monitoring investment performance and making investment decisions. Where new asset classes are added to a pension scheme’s portfolio, additional training may be required which can take a considerable amount of time, particularly for more complex asset classes. Partnering with a Fiduciary Manager can supplement any existing governance structure by re-focusing pension scheme resources on more strategic matters.

Accountability

Pension schemes typically receive advice from investment consultants who do a good job of advising on strategic matters but are ultimately not accountable for the performance and the outcome of that advice. Pension scheme representatives are increasingly looking for their advisors to be accountable for their advice and the performance relative to the liabilities. Fiduciary Management solutions typically focus on liability relative scheme performance and are governed by the GIPS Fiduciary Management Performance Standard, to ensure a consistency in performance measurement.

Value for money

Fiduciary Management relationships are often all-encompassing and typically cover all investment related matters for the pension scheme. Through economies of scale, Fiduciary Managers negotiate more favourable asset management fees on behalf of pension schemes and are able to get schemes of all sizes access to investment opportunities that would historically only be available to larger schemes. The combination of investment expertise and accountability under a single Fiduciary Management solution, is expected to deliver better funding and performance outcomes which ultimately offers better value for money.

 

Why now?

Fiduciary Management as an investment solution is arguably more relevant today than historically. The recent crisis has highlighted the need for an investment partner who can help manage the downside risks associated with investing in equities, manage the collateral behind important hedges and take advantage of market dislocations. Many corporate sponsors will have seen their pensions contributions eroded and balance sheet deficits widened during the Covid-19 market crisis and a Fiduciary Management partner could have helped better navigate the volatility.

As corporate sponsors begin to consider the “End Game” for their DB pension scheme, they are increasingly faced with the dilemma of entering low-governance investment solutions that may be poorly constructed or paying an insurance premium to “Buy-out” the scheme.

Solutions such as Cashflow Driven Investing (CDI) tend to overemphasise portfolio construction to be based on uncertain cashflow profiles, and excessively exposing the pension scheme to risky credit allocations, which in a post Covid-19 world could expose pension schemes to adverse funding outcomes.

For corporates who prefer to avoid a large cash lumpsum payment for insurance-based buy-outs, a Fiduciary Manager can offer an alternative solution to reaching the required funding level for such a transaction to take place. By slowly growing the asset base while carefully managing risks, pension schemes can become buy-out ready allowing their sponsors to reinvest free cashflow in existing or new business lines.

Partnering with a Fiduciary Manager today could give pension schemes the tools to better manage the next crisis and offer more flexibility in reaching the desired End Game.

 

[1] The DB Landscape – Defined Benefit Pensions 2019 – The Pensions Regulator dated January 2019

 

Finance

DIGITAL FINANCE: UNLOCKING NEW CAPITAL IN DISRUPTED MARKETS

Krishnan Raghunathan, Head of Finance & Accounting Services at WNS, explores how a digitally transformed finance department can give enterprises the ability they need to improve cash flow and revenue through better use of data and improved analytics-driven visibility.  

Businesses everywhere are scrambling to recover lost revenues and protect cash flow. But as countries globally grapple with a dreaded second wave of the pandemic, imposing far more stringent localised lockdowns and new restrictions, it is set to be the hardest winter in living memory for many sectors.

The likelihood of winter peaks, so often the saviour of sectors such as travel and hospitality, benefitting businesses is diminishing rapidly. While many have pivoted to a greater or lesser degree, few have been able to offset the impact of falling revenues on cash flow. Even retail, riding an e-commerce boom in many regions, is finding itself in choppy waters, with 17 percent of consumers switching brands due to the economic pressures and changing priorities caused by the pandemic.

As one McKinsey article notes, “With some companies losing up to 75 percent of their revenues in a single quarter, cash isn’t just king – it’s now critical for survival”. Where then do businesses find new sources of cash to sustain their operations through the coming months?

 

Tapping Overlooked Cash Opportunities

Krishnan Raghunathan

For many, the answer could depend on whether they have digitally transformed their finance department. Why? Because many organisations are sitting on unidentified opportunities, funds that could be vital in shoring up businesses over the next few months or plugging the gap between operating costs and government bailouts. Yet those that have been slow to start their digital transformation journey are at a disadvantage;. At the same time, it is possible to identify these hidden seams in an analogue organisation, the process is time-consuming, manually intensive and, without the right digital tools, prone to human error.

Where deploying digital tools helps is by bringing speed, automation and reliable data to the fore. Connecting them with digital finance and accounting systems can give businesses clear insights into how money is being spent, where wastage is occurring, and where opportunities for optimisation exist.

It might be something as simple as automating the accuracy checking, issuing and chasing of invoices and late payments. This could reduce errors and invoice disputes and ultimately lead to faster payments. Accuracy and organisation are also important in billing – better records enable faster billing for work completed, and in turn, should deliver quicker payments.

It could also be around having the ability to review the supply chain and procurement data and identify where a supplier is subsidising a larger customer’s product line through drawn-out payment terms, or where a variety of vendors are on different terms across the business. Using that data and overall knowledge of the business to negotiate better terms that work for both supplier and customer can create new opportunities. It could even be to identify late-paying customers, determine the reason for late payments, and use that intelligence to develop products or financing solutions that continue to support those customers (and improve loyalty) without increasing the burden on the balance sheet.

 

Generating Reliable Insights for Faster Decision-making

To do any of these manually would take months, generating data slowly that would quickly go out of date. But digital finance departments have evidence they can trust to inform business decision-making. That’s because old, manual processes built around Order-to-Cash lack the flexibility and agility that businesses require in today’s markets. The fact is that even before the global pandemic crisis, the pace of digitisation across all sectors was demanding new approaches to finance and book balance.

The opportunities are significant – from cognitive credit and improved forecasting accuracy to enhanced customer analytics. All use similar tools, based on artificial intelligence and quality, trusted data. Cognitive credit can be deployed to quickly make decisions on whether to advance or restrict credit, based on individual company positions and available data. Doing so enables businesses to either capitalise on opportunities (for instance, agreeing credit for a supplier that has run out but is a supportive and integral partner) or avoid risk (in the cases where a business might be in administration).

With more accurate forecasts, businesses can better manage their currency purchases and deposits, selling currency that is not required or buying more where predictions identify an upcoming demand.

It is the same with customer analytics – with a greater understanding of customer needs, businesses can make decisions based on the right mix of the product (and how it meets demand) and supply chain suitability (such as production costs and location in relation to customers).

In many ways, the events of the past year have accelerated the process. In doing so, the problem is the pandemic has also accelerated the speed at which failure to act can lead to obsolescence. Therefore, it is vital that businesses, and more particularly their finance and accounting departments, kick start their digital transformation. This will enable them to deploy the tools and analytics that is needed to capture data, generate insights and drive fast, accurate decision-making to uncover previously untapped sources of cash and reverse revenue degradation.

 

The Importance of Digitally Enabled Finance Teams

Forward-thinking CFOs have already begun the process of digitising their departments, but for those that have been slow to start, now is the time to push forward. It is only through digital tools and analytics that finance leaders can identify both the internal and external opportunities to recover revenue and improve cash flow. Whether that’s releasing working capital, minimising revenue loss and accelerating revenue recovery, reducing total cost of ownership or enhancing customer retention – only digitally enabled finance teams will be in a position to capitalise and, ultimately, bolster business performance during what will be a trading period like no other.

 

 

About the author: Krishnan Raghunathan

Krishnan Raghunathan is the head of Finance & Accounting (F&A) practice and operations at WNS. He also leads the international delivery locations in China, Costa Rica,  Spain, Sri Lanka, Romania, The Philippines, Poland and USA.

Prior to this, Krishnan was Chief Capability Officer for WNS, in that role he headed Horizontal practices across Finance & Accounting, Customer Interaction Services and Research & Analytics, Transformation & Process Excellence, Program Management (Transitions) and Solutions development.

He has more than 27 years of experience across Finance & Accounting, Business Process Management, Sales Solutions and Capability functions including 7 years in Accounting practice.

Before joining WNS in 2013, Krishnan led several challenging roles at Genpact, supporting strategic deals and consultative selling. In addition, Krishnan was also the business leader for a number of industry verticals at Genpact, including hospitality, transportation, logistics, media and professional services

Krishnan is a Chartered Accountant, a Certified Six Sigma Green Belt and a trained Six Sigma Black Belt

 

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Business

NAVIGATING SUDDEN DIGITAL ACCELERATION – HOW MERCHANTS CAN KEEP UP IN A NEW AGE OF PAYMENT INNOVATION

James Booth, VP Head of Partnerships, EMEA at PPRO

 

Recent months have brought momentous change for businesses across the globe. Needless to say, the pandemic has had a colossal impact on the retail sector in particular. For certain industries, the crisis has catapulted society further into the digital world; technology that was predicted to be adopted  over the coming years is now on track to be embraced in mere months.

However, local lockdowns for example in the UK continue to force shoppers away from brick-and-mortar stores and onto online platforms to purchase a range of goods. As a result, we are seeing new user groups embracing e-commerce and digital payment methods at a much faster rate than anyone ever thought possible. These new consumer habits are taking root and are likely to become preferences that persist long after the pandemic.

As we continue to hurtle into a new digital era, there’s an unprecedented urgency for merchants to be proactive – offering a range of new payment offerings. As digital payments increase, offering  preferred payment methods can unlock a whole new world of opportunities. The retailers seeing exponential growth are the ones who have tailored and localised their payments offering to a global audience.

 

The pandemic has propelled demand for Local Payment Methods

Today, consumers have an even greater desire and need for frictionless shopping experiences. Social distancing is facilitating the surge in e-commerce, increasing demand for digital payment methods over traditional cash and card payments.

Before the pandemic, the world was already on route to becoming a digital-first society. Some regions were ahead of others; for instance, from the PPRO Payment Almanac, 56% of online transactions in China were already conducted via e-wallets, compared to 25% in the UK. However, now we are seeing increased demand for these types of payments across the globe.

 

Catering for a new online customer

Whilst typically the global digital payment revolution had been led by Gen Z and Millennials, elderly consumers are set to drive the e-commerce market post-crisis. In fact, a recent study by Mintel revealed that 43% of those aged 65 and older have shopped more online since the start of the crisis. This is a stark contrast from back in May 2019 when just 16% of the same age group shopped online at least once a week.

Ongoing consumer needs for increased convenience and safety during the pandemic, have sparked a shift towards online shopping and away from brick-and-mortar. For example, groceries have seen a meteoric rise in online ordering; according to PPRO’s cross-border engine, online purchases of food and beverages are up 285% since the start of the pandemic.

With new curbside and buy online pick-up in store (BOPIS) programs, the typical cash and card payment methods will be harder to maintain. Now, merchants must offer e-commerce, and implement digital payment options at checkout. Recent data shows up to 80% of shoppers across Europe’s three largest markets (UK, Germany and France) will now make at least half of their purchases online.

We are also seeing the rise and popularity of pay-later apps like Klarna and Afterpay (Branded ClearPay in the UK) to help offer relief from the economic impacts of the virus. Just last month, Klarna was crowned one of Europe’s biggest private owned financial technology providers – with nine million consumers in Britain having used the service, and 90 million users worldwide.

Shoppers need flexible payment options. For merchants, extending many different payment options that cater to different consumer groups can provide diversification and enable growth.

 

Get ahead, or get left behind

This sudden digital acceleration puts merchants at a crucial crossroads. Embracing new innovations in payment methods has the power to open brands up to a wealth of new customers, whilst satisfying the changing needs of their existing customer pool. On the other hand, failure to offer a variety of digital payment methods can severely limit brands – therefore impacting future growth and success.

As businesses continue to navigate the ongoing ramifications of the pandemic, merchants will eventually face a digital arms race to create the best possible online experience. Those who understand this and make the checkout experience a top priority will succeed, and those who stick to their guns will be left behind. The failure to meet customer preferences during the payment process means many customers will abandon baskets at the very last hurdle. In fact, a study by PPRO 44% of UK shoppers abandon a purchase if their favorite payment method isn’t available.

While recent events have put huge strain on both global economies and consumers, it has also birthed a new age of payment innovation. New offerings such as the rise of Facebook owned, WhatsApp payment features or PayPal and Venmo enabled QR code checkout are showcasing the acceleration of this trend. Financial technology is helping to keep humans connected and provide access to the goods and services they need. Digital adoption will only proliferate, so merchants must act now to get ahead of the curve.

 

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