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How finance leaders use analytics to manage risk and maintain profitability

Jon M. Deutsch, Vice President and Global Head of Financial Services  at Information Builders writes,


Using data to manage risk

The Amercian Institute of Certified Professional Accountants (AICPA) asked more than 400 finance leaders and chief financial officers about their risk management strategies. The survey, undertaken in partnership with The North Carolina State University Enterprise Risk Management Initiative, found that 65% of those surveyed had recently experienced an ‘operational surprise’ from an unanticipated risk.

Among the top five risk management pitfalls, AICPA identified lack of collaboration with the IT department, advising, “IT can provide key metrics for your risk analysis, help mine the data and assist in SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis.”

Using technology to gain visibility

Jon M Deutsch

There are now so many more sources and varieties of data that integration tools are crucial to the success of analytics strategies. To gain reliable business intelligence, organisations need to ensure that they are able to integrate unstructured and structured data. For example, to gain insights into customer demand, organisations might need to combine structured enterprise data from retail sales, with unstructured textual information from customers’ posts on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

Many of the organisations we work with have unlocked the value of their business intelligence (BI) and data analytics investments by empowering frontline workers to use embedded analytics to generate their own reports and insights to anticipate risk and identify opportunities. It’s really important to remember that most users of operational data will not be trained data scientists, they will be line-of-business managers, call centre staff, or financial advisors. These colleagues need straightforward ways of reading from one or more repositories of trusted information that have been distilled from many sources.

Enabling user insights

Technology is only useful when it’s being applied. The key is to make it easy for all users. To encourage adoption, theWebFOCUS business intelligence platform allows authorised employees to simply search by account name, customer, product, or any other data characteristic available, to discover valuable insights and the detail necessary to identify opportunity and risk – a user experience akin to Google for business intelligence.

Democratising data analytics at PostFinance


Switzerland’s number one payment transaction provider, PostFinance Ltd., needs to provide 2,500 users with current operational insights. Using the WebFOCUS BI platform, PostFinance employees have role-based access to portions of the database, which are required to enable them to acquire current operational data. The BI platform goes beyond traditional reporting by enabling employees to conduct self-service analytics on their mobile devices, with the option to drill down into information to enable further decisions and actions.

Ensuring data quality


To encourage employees, partners and customers to embrace data analytics and make the most of BI investments, the data must be trusted. It is therefore crucial to address data quality issues before rolling out data analytics to the user base. By using BI platforms that can automatically refine data, organisations can prevent unreliable information making its way into dashboards, charts and reports, without having to devote additional human resource to manually fix bad data. It only takes one bad experience to see people going back to using Excel spreadsheets, calling on the IT department to generate reports, or installing shadow IT tools for data discovery. In addition to wasting the enterprise investment in data analytics platforms, shadow IT use will lead to data silos, disjointed reports and data quality problems across the enterprise.

A picture is worth a thousand words


International recruitment agency, Robert Half Finance & Accounting, asked 2,200 chief financial officers what keeps them awake at night. The responses revealed that CFOs are concerned about developing communication skills, as well as managing risk and steering the financial performance of their organisations.

The Robert Half survey revealed that to help their organisations navigate technological transformation, today’s financial directors need to hone their technical and communication skills, as well as their strategic skills. To assist financial directors with communicating key data points to the board and line of business managers, WebFOCUS makes it easy to automatically create infographics from operational data, so that trends, risks and opportunities can be rapidly communicated to those with the power to act.

Creating fresh revenues from data


In addition to identifying risks and protecting profits, when high quality data analytics are effectively implemented they can help financial organisations to identify fresh revenue opportunities. This was the case at First Rate Investments.

Each evening, after the market closes, First Rate Investments receives holdings and transactional records for more than one million accounts. Deborah Repak, managing director and general manager of the Products group at First Rate Investments decided to build a self-service analytics portal, ExecView, which transforms this large data set into data visualisations and reports that help clients to quickly see how their portfolios are performing.

First Rate’s clients saw that there were numerous other questions that could be answered using the same self-service application. Clients suggested several ways they’d like to view their data, such as ‘show me the top 10 holdings across selected domains’. What began as a customised product for one client, quickly turned into a general purpose product that First Rate Investments now sells to broker dealers and other financial services companies.

An investment firm can use the ExecView app to determine activities that may be driving increased revenue through fees, or look for areas where assets under management may be decreasing, or run checks and balances to reconcile accounts that are out of line.

ExecView also helps to prevent regulatory issues in trading, cash management and diversification, and helps wealth management firms to comply with U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) requirements by shedding light on trends and practices that might otherwise be overlooked. Data visualisation within the ExecView InfoApp makes it easy to detect pertinent trends and take appropriate action. Deborah Repak reports, “ExecView has resulted in a 10 per cent increase in our revenue per year as a value-added service.”

Keeping an eye on the future


CFOs are agents of change and need to keep abreast of technological developments. Organisations increasingly draw operational data from connected devices, online activity and social media, in addition to traditional EPOS, CRM and ERP systems. By liaising with their colleagues in IT, financial directors can ensure that operational intelligence can be gained from existing data sources as well as integrating business intelligence platforms with emerging technologies such as blockchain, and supporting integration with IoT devices and data science languages such as RScript, RServe and Python.

By delivering models and formulas within intuitive self-service applications, dashboards and reports, everyone in an organisation can be empowered with advanced analytics, without requiring them to become technologists or data scientists. Finance leaders can draw from trusted data sources to identify risk, returns and fresh opportunities and clearly communicate these to the business using familiar data visualisations.


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Fraser Thorne, CEO at Edison Group

According to accepted financial thinking The Efficient Market Hypothesis (EMH) asserts that, at all times, the price of a security reflects all available information about its fundamental value.  So current prices are the best approximation of a company’s intrinsic value.

If that is true then why are so many companies being taken over at values of up to 70% more than their stock market price?.  What is the market missing?  Either accepted economic thinking is wrong or it is suffering from a period of abnormality or maybe something more fundamental is taking place.  Something which challenges the hypothesis of existing theories as to how share prices are created.

In recent months FTSE 100 businesses G4S and Royal Sun Alliance (RSA) have both been bid targets with insurer Hastings Group Holdings plc and Urban&Civic plc falling to earlier bid, following other leading industry names such as Macarthy & Stone .  Even the doyenne of roadside assistance the AA was finally taken off the market following a 6 year downhill journey.

A common feature is the gulf between the company’s stock price when the bid was launched, and the stock price offered by the potential acquirer. Yet if companies took advantage of the IR resources at their disposal, which have been significantly enhanced as digital capabilities have been developed as a result of COVID-19, this share price gap would have been considerably narrower or the companies might not have been the subject of a bid at all – potentially saving millions in defence fees.

Struggling stock prices have, of course, been a key stock market feature during the pandemic. Like many listed companies, G4S´s stock price fell sharply in the spring and then gradually recovered in the early summer to around 110p – still well short of the 200p at the start of this year – when Gardaworld made its first bid of 145p. Gardaworld’s final bid in December of 235p a share, was not enough to win the competition with Allied Universal trumping them at 245p cash. A 70% premium to G4S’s share price when Gardaworld’s first bid was made. The stock now trades at 257p implying some believe the bidding war may rumble on.

Similarly, Urban&Civic received a bid of 345p from Wellcome Trust, a 64% premium on its trading price at the time, RSA a joint bid from Intact Financial and Tryg, of 685p, a 49% premium and Hastings a 250p bid from Dorset Bidco, a 47% premium.

While the AA bid was at a premium of 40% to its price 4 months prior or 230% from its lows in February.  Even serial underperformer Talk Talk was taken over at a 16% premium.

Having reviewed a number of deals over the past six months most had a bid premium of over 40%+ which compares with an average of 15% for the previous two decades.

Takeovers are natural part of corporate development and a key requirement for markets to function efficiently.  But their value to shareholders has to be set against the recognition of the underlying value of the business before the bid is made.  A premium is normal and is normally required for control but what is most notable is the scale of such premiums.  Such price mismatches challenge the foundations of economic thinking, the market is not efficient.

A 10% bid premium is good, 15% very good and anything north of that is exceptional but this depends on the underlying price before the first bid is made.  Numbers in excess of 20% suggest the underlying stock is mispriced and therefore the stock market is inefficient.  This is hard to fathom in age of open access to so much information but the numbers demonstrate a dislocation between the stock markets value what others are prepared to pay for exactly the same assets.

True, bid prices are not always representative of the value of a business and its future cash flows might improve as a result. But one has to review the fundamentals of stock market valuations when the world’s largest security business can be undervalued by 200%+. Does the market lack the relevant information about the business outlook to make the same assessment as the bidder?  Is it that the market is dominated by analysts whose collective glass is half empty?  Or maybe it is the risk averse nature of large, bureaucratic investment houses who hope to demonstrate their precise calculations to reassure fund holders that they are looking after their savings.

Some of the quoted discount results from the public/private differential of the cost of capital and the tax treatment of debt v equity.  But perhaps a more obvious challenge has to be met by the companies and their boards’ – make sure everyone recognises your value, not just a potential bidder.

With as much investment now funded via debt (PE) as by quoted equity financial theories need a much wider lense. The efficient market hypothesis can only be applied to the market if investors and analysts incorporate the activity of the wider economic and investmsnt market.  This must include the valuations applied to private companies.  It is a great irony that in the age of the internet he time when more and more information is freely available to all markets are seemingly becoming less efficient.

The cost of private v quoted capital plays a part as does the massive growth of private equity v quoted funds, with active money halving in percentage terms in the last 20 years.

EMH theory came to prominence at a time of relative stock market stability, before international takeovers had come into vogue and in a time of greater higher interest rates.


US Mergers since 1897

According to Keynes “markets can remain irrational longer than you can stay solvent” and while they may re balance in the long run they can experience long periods of price dislocation.  We are not talking days but months or even years in some extreme cases.  Long enough for those closest to the business (the board) to highlight the error and try to rebalance it.

If the stock market cannot see the value opportunity then maybe it is not being given the full picture.   When that is the case then it is the obligation of the board to put the market right, yes the business needs to deliver what it promises but the other side of that is to highlight to investors how they will long term returns for shareholders.

While public perception may be that M&A deals and takeovers are decided by thrusting company directors, brave bankers and diligent lawyers, heroically fighting their corners in smoke filled boardrooms.

The reality is that these situations can only arise either when resources are scarce ie a mega merger between two dominate indsurty players scarping over a low growth or shrinking market or if one neglects its duty to achieve a proper value for its shares in the most public of arenas the stock market.

Certainly, the current gulf between share and bid prices suggests that management teams are not doing enough to properly communicate the value of their business to the wide variety of investors, which have holdings in their company.

In these uncertain economic times, clear and direct communication with investors is more important than ever. But not only do management teams need to communicate effectively with their existing investors, reaching out to potentially new investors who are likely to back an existing management team is also important.

A healthy share register is a diverse register incorporating all types of investors from retail through to the large institutions.  This means reaching out to a wide and fragmented audience.  The modern investment landscape is increasingly characterised by new and exciting pools of capital.  The growing significance of these new pools and the value of funds they represent is magnified as a result that active funds have shrunk as a percent of global funds under management by up to 30% in the last 20 years.  Boards should focus on building a more diverse and engaged share register, reach out beyond the more mainstream institutional investors to include, family offices, private wealth managers and the end individual investor herself.  To ignore this part of the market could be the difference between success and failure in a bid, just ask the board of GKN.


To address these issues, the IR industry has been adopting to a new level of innovation and tech-enabled solutions to respond effectively to these demands. For example, Edison has developed a new market-leading digital approach, which harnesses the latest in data and tech-driven tools, effectively transforming and enhancing the firm’s IR capability to not only efficiently reach out to existing holders but also to target new investors, which in an unwelcome bid situation could make all the difference between independence and redundancy.

Edison’s starting point is to monitor the behaviours of tens of thousands of investors by using smart targeting, with algorithms identifying not just interest but interest with intent to buy. These ‘propensity to purchase signals’ are detected via Edison’s digital content tracking system, InvestorTrack® and layered over market activity and fin depth knowledge of funds flows.

The recent spate of high premium bids highlights management failures to invest in their capital market communications.  It is not sufficient to concentrate on the top holders, nor to assume that exhaustive meetings with the sell side is an effective way to get your message carried to the wider market, in the format you want.

Initiating a bid is expensive, even more so defending one.  The combined advisory fees alone in the G4s bid are estimated to be in excess close to $30m or close to the annual IR budget of the combined FTSE100.  If the FTSE was repriced to close the average bid premium of the last two decades then it could increase in value by more than £300bn.

So, the choice appears straightforward: implement a long-term IR strategy, utilising all the modern digital methods now available to robustly communicate a company’s commercial case and strategy so the business is as fully valued as possible, or neglect this and risk a future bid and if it transpires then spend potentially millions of shareholder funds in fees in a possibly futile attempt to protect the company’s independence. If I was part of a senior management team, I know which option I would choose..


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Nick Corrigan, UK & Ireland Managing Director, President of Global Payments.


As 2020 began, there was already much conversation about the pace of change in the payments space. New players were frequently appearing as Open Banking opened the doors to new fintechs with different business models, and incumbents ramped up adoption of cloud technology to future-proof their businesses. But the Covid-19 pandemic has catalysed change and innovation at an unforeseen pace, out of pure necessity. With customers no longer frequenting physical stores, reluctant to handle cash and relying heavily on online services to feed, clothe and entertain themselves, the payments industry has had to adapt quickly. The question is, which of these changes are here to stay, and what trends will dominate the conversation in 2021?


Brands go direct-to-consumer

It goes without saying that the pandemic has forced us to re-evaluate our relationship with physical stores, irreversibly changing how we view them. Good examples include Nike, Brewdog and Harry’s, whilst Shopify has seen dramatic success in the small merchants needing to go online. Next year, we’re going to see an increase in the ‘direct-to-consumer’ play. Brands big and small who previously had a distinct distribution channel e.g. through supermarkets, multi brand outlets or dedicated stores for example, will look more deeply at their distribution models and use technology as the enabler for this. As part of this, they will ramp up efforts around their social presence and communication, apps, loyalty programmes and websites. They will embed the payment process, making it almost impossible for consumers to want to visit a third-party physical store.

Nick Corrigan

This will in turn fuel the subscription economy and we’ll see consumers increasingly harnessing the opportunities there now are to have things like razors or fitness juices delivered to their doors monthly via an app, as opposed to shopping for them in a supermarket. This movement of reclaiming direct consumer interactions and cutting out distribution partners presents massive opportunities for brands. They will now have the data – and the resulting insights – gained from controlling more of the payment flow to strengthen relationships, and in turn, strengthen their revenue.


Tech players ramp up payments prowess

In 2021, we’re going to see tech giants continue to increase their efforts when it comes to payments and broader financial services. Amazon Pay, for example, is fast becoming a standard payment method for purchases outside of its own website. While at the moment it is mostly limited to Amazon storing your card details to enable one-click payments, we’ll begin to see tech giants start to come up with their own payments products so that they can control the complete flow of the payment.  The natural next step from consumers using the platform merely to access their card, is that they might have a credit line with the platform in question and offerings beyond buy now pay later as the tech firms disintermediate the traditional financial services supply chain.


Open Banking gains pace

Most consumers are still unaware of this new service, but as more merchants have an opportunity to offer this solution and integrate into their payment options, they have a great opportunity to reduce their costs for payments by not using the traditional routes under Visa and Mastercard. While these entrenched payments rails have a very important place, offering protection for bigger purchases like a TV or a holiday, they aren’t needed for many consumer purchases. It’s unlikely you’re going to seek a refund and have to have a chargeback raised for a cup of coffee or an insurance renewal, which is what these big networks are so vital for facilitating.

When you take these types of credit and debit card purchases, about 30% of them could sit outside of the typical network ecosystem. This is why we’re seeing banks quickly launch their Open Banking services, specifically for these types of scenarios. In 2021, Open Banking is really going to start doing what it was intended to do: increase competition.


Looking ahead

The way we pay was already evolving due to Open Banking, BigTech and the explosion of ecommerce. But adapting to the pandemic meant rapidly adapting to new technologies, and nobody is likely to look back. The economic impact of 2020 means that budgets and purse strings will be tighter in 2021, and companies will be looking to find ways to make their payments infrastructure cheaper without compromising security. The promise of new opportunities to monetise data will also bring in new players and new technologies as businesses seek to own more of their payment lifecycle. This had been a year of intense change, and 2021 shows no promise of slowing down.


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