Lubaina Manji, Senior Programme Manager, Nesta Challenges
Whilst the sun is far from setting on the COVID-19 pandemic, predictions and hopes for a new “normal” are shimmering on the horizon.
Amid the trail of devastation left by the virus, there has to be some semblance of change and positivity to be taken. One such shift is the increase in digital services usage which poses a huge opportunity for our fintech community. Confinement has forced even the more sceptical of us to dabble in digital, and embrace how it has made many everyday tasks more easy and convenient.
Online and mobile banking has been helping many people stay on top of their finances for some time. Research conducted by Open Up 2020 Challenge last summer found half (48%) of people would like to use online tools and apps to help them manage their money.
Then along came a global pandemic that has undoubtedly forced the hands of even the more sceptical to log on, download and transact – quickening the pace of long-lasting change in terms of how we manage our money. Recent figures from deVere Group suggest the virus is behind a 72% rise in the use of fintech apps in Europe. Never before have we been so reliant on technology in maintaining some sort of normalcy and in helping us continue day-to-day tasks, like everyday banking.
Another unfortunate byproduct of protecting communities from the virus means many people have been left out of work and with less or no income. In times of financial strain, the need for people to engage with their finances – be it budgeting, saving or shopping around for better deals – is far greater.
Issues of trust in traditional banking services and a lack of awareness of the helpful money management services available are some of the barriers preventing people from taking more control of their finances. But the solutions made possible through open banking can provide people with a lifeline to build their financial resilience and better manage their money.
Open banking has the potential to revolutionise financial services, by giving people control over their financial data in order to access innovative products tailored to them. Since it launched in 2018, open banking technology has opened the door for new fintech innovators to create cutting-edge tools designed to help people better manage their money – from budgeting, debt management, comparing and switching banks to automating savings and more. These could have a significant impact – it is estimated that UK consumers could gain as much as £12bn over the course of a year from open banking-enabled tools.
So far, it’s been effective – the UK FinTech’s State of the Nation report totted up more than 1,600 fintech firms in the UK in 2019, whilst predicting this could more than double by 2030. Figures from the Open Banking Implementation Entity showed there were 243 regulated providers, 169 third party providers and 74 account providers as of April 2020. The UK adoption rate of fintech is 42% – higher than the global average of 33% – making it ripe for opportunity. Coupled with lockdown restrictions creating greater dependence on technology – including ATM cash withdrawals falling by half – fintechs are well placed to be part of the solution – and offer help to those struggling to manage.
With more than a fifth (21%) of the adult population saying financial stress is having a bigger impact on their mental wellbeing than physical health concerns during the crisis, and a quarter more stressed about money than usual, fintechs can be part of the support available to them.
However, in order to fully realise the opportunity we need to ensure budding entrepreneurs with bold ideas have the means to turn them into reality. Nesta Challenges exists to design and run challenge prizes that incentivise people to help solve pressing social problems that lack solutions. Through our Open Up 2020 Challenge we are supporting 15 fintech finalists to develop their solutions to enable more people – particularly those underserved by traditional financial products – to manage their finances better, whatever their circumstances.
Of the 15 finalists, some offer app designed to help people budget,, save, switch and invest – aided with alerts and notifications that allow people to stay on top of their finances and make their money work harder for them for the long term. For example, Cleo is an AI financial assistant that is already helping more than 3 million customers monitor their spending, budgeting and saving, while Moneyhub empowers people to do more with their money by offering actionable insights from a review of all of their accounts.
Some of the apps are designed for those with more specific circumstances, such as Mojo Mortgages, which analyses income and transaction data for first time buyers to produce mortgage affordability scores and savings recommendations if they aren’t quite ready to apply. Finalists Portify and Wagestream cater for workers with irregular earning patterns.
As well as monetary grants, Open Up 2020 Challenge provides these companies with non-financial support and promotion to help them on their way to achieving their full potential – which in turn helps them reach many people to help them achieve their monetary goals.
While COVID-19 has created personal finance headaches for many, it has been inspiring to see how quickly fintechs have been able to innovate and develop digital solutions that help solve these problems and equip people to better manage their money.
 Open Up 2020 Challenge
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
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
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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