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WHY AN AMBIGUOUS ECONOMIC FUTURE IS POINTING FINANCE TOWARDS ALTERNATIVE SOURCES OF DATA

Omri Orgad, Managing Director, Luminati Networks

 

Every market, every investor, and every business owner in the current climate is looking for signs: signs of recovery, or signs of what is to come next. In a market that frequently resembles quicksand, every economist, banker, or investor is looking for that one insight on which they can base their future strategy. In the search for certainty and a clear direction, organisations in finance are now exploring a plethora of high-frequency alternative data sources to figure out where we are and where we are going.

This lack of near-term visibility is accompanied by an abundance of contradictory signals from governments worldwide. The almost impossible to foresee series of events since March has made it much harder to make accurate valuations and is complicating risk-reward calculations. This ambiguity is driving the financial world to consume significant amounts of alternative data.

In the world of finance, the way we manage, and access money has changed unrecognizably over the past decade. Disruptive technological advances have drastically shifted our approach to borrowing and saving, managing investments, interacting with financial advisors, and more. Could the way we approach data sources undergo the same radical level of change?

 

Omri Orgad

So, what is Alternative Data?

Having access to data sets that reflect a minute-by-minute snapshot of the true state of the economy is all important in today’s financial markets. In a rapidly changing business environment, alternative data, also known as external data, is undergoing a rapid escalation in popularity. Alternative data is defined as data derived from non-traditional data sources, such as social media networks. It gives financial market players such as bankers and investors information and unique insights to help them evaluate loans, investment opportunities, or business decisions, which are necessary in the current uncertain business climate, as traditional data sources such as government or analyst reports simply cannot match the current pace of markets changing.

As a result of this, the alternative data market is already huge and growing. It is expected to become a $1.7 billion industry in 2020 and double year-over-year. It encompasses a plethora of varied sources, these include natively digital information, such as web traffic, online buying habits, pricing strategy, social media activity, and government publications. Other examples include pharmaceutical approvals as well as more granular indicators of financial performance, such as ocean cargo and automobile registration information.

 

Not your usual financial forecasts

Credit and debit-card spending can demonstrate the value of alternative data in the current times. The latest figures compiled by Opportunity Insights at Harvard University looked at spending patterns in Georgia and Florida, two of the first states to reopen. The spending patterns in these states look very similar to those in New York and Massachusetts, which have only recently begun to reopen. This suggests that being allowed to go out and spend is less important than consumers feeling confident about doing so. And that’s where the usual/traditional reports and numbers fail us. Instead, the key to forecasting the future of economy in a time of unprecedented crisis appears to lie in figuring out when people will feel confident enough to spend “normally” again – and that kind of assessment can only be delivered by Alternative Data.

Whether it is online reviews, or posts on social media platforms like Twitter – these can act as indicators for how people feel at a given moment and their willingness to spend, something that is true for any market globally. Personal spending is generally considered to be a sign of a healthy economy and represents a clear indicator of economic recovery.

Alternative financial models also consider “unstructured data,” or data which is not organised in a pre-defined manner, which can be leveraged to be understand consumer behaviour and experiences. For example, data on mobile payments and/or generated by mobile devices creates enormous amounts of information that can be used garner financial insights.

 

How alternative data can benefit consumer lending

The fintech sector has been a frequent user of alternative data models for credit scoring. This can ultimately provide a better approach for consumers, especially considering the immense level of financial strain much of the population is currently under.

Traditional banks are beginning to understand this as well. The current situation makes it difficult to predict what the future brings, inhibiting their ability to accurately estimate credit via conventional means. In the US, 840 companies in total (with more added daily) have stopped providing annual credit reports. Since banks and other creditors use credit reports to make lending decisions, when debts do not appear on a report, a creditor cannot accurately judge the borrower’s capacity to repay. If debts are not reported to the consumer credit reporting agencies, lenders cannot make informed underwriting decisions.

Potentially, this means a person could take out a large loan at one bank and then take out an equally large loan at another institution, even when this borrower lacks any realistic capacity to repay both. This type of losses can add up quickly, and history tells us economic consequences can result from the excessively easy provision of credit.

The way to protect the credit of consumers adversely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic is not a cessation of credit scoring. Rather, it’s by revamping the credit scoring models and adding other alternative data models. This means having a scoring system that factors in human behaviour, which is easily monitored via alternative data, allowing those harder hits to have access to credit which they desperately need.

 

A helping hand for businesses and consumers alike

Novel problems require novels solutions. As data is the core of almost all modern business decision making, dealing with Covid-19 and the associated economic issues it presents means that businesses may be best served taking new approach to data. This will allow them to be able to tackle the difficult financial decisions that 2020 is forcing them to make in the most agile and informed manner possible.

But it won’t just be one party that enjoys the fruits of embracing a non-traditional approach to data, everyone from struggling families looking to make it until payday, to wealthy institutional investors, to your run of the mill high street bank has something to gain from this new paradigm for collecting data.

 

Finance

ENLISTING TECHNOLOGY TO HELP FIGHT FINANCIAL CRIME

By Rachel Woolley, Director of Financial Crime Fenergo

 

Million-dollar properties, private jets and parties on luxury yachts with celebrity friends. Although it might sound like the plot for a new reality series, this is what corruption, illicit funds and political connections can buy at the expense of ordinary citizens.

Following an investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ)[1], thousands of leaked documents, known as the Luanda Leaks, suggest that the daughter of Angola’s former president, Isabel Dos Santos, acquired her enormous wealth through favourable access to lucrative deals. These activities were often to the detriment of Angola’s poorest citizens.

We’ve also started to see the application of unexplained wealth orders (UWO) in the UK, with the first UWO issued in 2018. The latest UWOs relate to the grandson of Kazakhstan’s former president, Nurali Aliyev[2], is currently being investigated by Britain’s National Crime Agency (NCA) to explain where he got the money to buy a £80 million house in one of London’s most expensive neighbourhoods. It is thought that the funds used to buy the property have criminal origins.

But these aren’t isolated stories. There have been countless examples in recent years of how corruption, fraud and political connections has resulted in billions of dollars being stolen worldwide in countries such as Brazil, Malaysia, Gabon, Russia and many more.

A recent report by Fenergo found that regulators have issued over $36 billion in AML/KYC and sanctions-related fines (and rising) since the financial crisis. This staggering number shows that related financial institutions had inadequate policy, processes, procedures and systems, in addition to poor governance and oversight in many cases.  Interestingly, a similar report found that the vast majority of these regulatory costs were associated with an AML/KYC-specific labour force.

Not surprisingly, the methods used to hide the illicit wealth are pretty similar; invoice fraud, suspicious transfers, offshore companies and complex ownership structures to disguise beneficial ownership of assets and property. Another commonality is the detrimental impact this has on some of the poorest citizens in these countries and the global economy.

But what can we learn from these scandals? And perhaps more importantly, what can be done?

For financial institutions, the importance of leveraging technology to unwrap complex hierarchies, related parties and identifying individuals with political connections cannot be understated. Understanding the ownership and control structure when onboarding entities is critical, along with robust screening practices to enable sufficient oversight of the relationship, accounts and transaction activity. Enhanced due diligence measures must be applied to politically exposed persons (PEPs), their immediate family members and known close associates. Relationship patterns are also significant, as the same service providers are often used, as was the case with Mossack Fonseca in the Panama Papers scandal.

It’s critical that financial institutions are vigilant in the detection and prevention of financial crime before it’s too late.  By automating KYC/AML compliance and leveraging rules-based technology, financial institutions can ensure that internal policies are fully in-line with constantly changing regulations across multiple jurisdictions.  However, human input will still be necessary when red flags are identified by the system.

 

Biography:

Rachel Woolley, Global AML Manager at Fenergo, has over 10 years’ experience in the Financial Services industry having worked primarily in the funds industry and retail banking. She has a strong background in regulatory compliance, particularly in the areas of anti-money laundering and counter terrorist financing (AML/CTF).

Rachel holds a BSc (Hons) Degree in Applied Accounting from the Oxford Brookes University and is an ACCA Affiliate. She currently holds three professional designations; Licentiate of the Association of Compliance: Officers in Ireland (LCOI), Certified Financial Crime Prevention Practitioner (CFCPP) and Certified Data Protection Officer (CDPO).

[1]https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-51218501

[2] https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2020/mar/10/uk-issues-unexplained-wealth-order-over-kazakhstan-familys-house

 

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Business

CONSUMERS ARE READY FOR BIOMETRIC PAYMENT CARDS

Lina Andolf-Orup, Head of Marketing at Fingerprints

 

We’ve come a long way in the evolution of digital payments. Magnetic stripe cards, chip & PIN and contactless technology have all played a role in dethroning cash as ‘king of payments’, with many countries well on their way to becoming cashless economies. As with all tech innovation, though, consumer readiness is always the deciding factor in the crowning of new payments royalty.

Now there’s a new technology on the block, ready to help contactless offer even more value: the biometric payment card. In recent years, biometric payment cards have been steadily gathering momentum, currently being trialled by over 20 banks across the world, with the first commercial launch announced last year. A mass-market roll-out is imminent.

But with all the noise from the payments world, it’s important to answer the de facto question that’s key to any technology’s success: are consumers ready?

 

Lina Andolf-Orup

Contactless is (almost) king

Contactless has achieved great success globally, and are now seeing a steep increase across the world.

In addition to consumers being frustrated with having to remember a plethora of PINs and passwords, the current pandemic has also brought to light the unhygienic nature of cash and PIN-enabled payments. Now more than ever, consumers are eager to use a secure, convenient, and hygienic payment method. And contactless almost fits the bill.

Although consumers want to use their contactless card more often, security worries, payment experience frustrations, and the limiting payment cap are all preventing the card from reaching its full potential usage.

The missing link

This is where biometrics comes into play: the missing element that can take contactless into the era of worriless and limitless payments, and provide consumers an experience they expect in the 21st century. With consumers clear about what they want, let’s take a look at what’s top of their checklist and how biometrics can fill in the gaps to realize their ideal payment experience.

 

  1. Smarter, safer contactless. Just for you.

Security is a primary concern for consumers when it comes to contactless, with 38% of consumers citing security as the main reason they are hesitant to use the payment method. For older generations, this number rises to almost 50%.Yet with hygiene concerns at an all-time high, many consumers aren’t eager to use PIN-pads to secure their payments either. By moving the authentication onto the card itself, biometrics secure payments in a way that allows consumers to never touch a PIN pad again.

With the rise of data privacy concerns, consumers can rest assured that their biometric data never leaves the card and won’t be shared with third parties or cloud-based databases. Everything remains securely stored on the payment card itself.

 

  1. Let’s talk about UX

Although every generation is keen to use contactless more, millennials are especially eager to take greater advantage of this convenient payment method. 87% of millennials that own a contactless card use it regularly and three quarters are set to use it more often.

Biometrics bring additional trust to contactless payments, while keeping the same level of convenience, allowing consumers to make a secure payment in less than a second. And with a unified experience so you know what to expect every time you pay; not PIN code sometime, contactless another time, it always works the same no matter where you are in the world.

Because a biometric payment card does not need to be charged – it’s powered from the payment terminal in the same way traditional contactless is – there is nothing standing in the way of efficiency-loving consumers embracing this technology.

 

  1. Contactless made limitless

To offset the lack of PIN security, traditional contactless payments are capped. In light of the current hygiene concerns, countries around the world have already raised contactless payment caps in a bid to reduce PIN entry and cash use. But without any additional strong authentication, the limit has not been lifted completely anywhere to date. This is not only frustrating consumers, but our recent research found this was the primary frustration banks felt regarding contactless.

With the touch of a finger, biometrics brings the robust security needed to remove contactless payment limits altogether. Across contactless cards, mobile, wearables – and even future payment options – biometrics can provide a strong and seamless authentication solution to however we choose to pay or whatever contactless form or shape. Limitless payments with a harmonized UX, wherever consumers are, however much they spend, and wherever they pay: the perfect companion in the age of convenience.

 

  1. Tech nation

A less pressing, although by no means trivial matter, is that consumers are simply ready for something new. Over a third of consumers want to use more modern and personal payment cards, and biometrics sits alongside metal cards, tailored designs and other innovations to do just that. Not to mention that the standard contactless card, the last great innovation in card payments, is now over a decade old!

Featuring the latest fingerprint sensors and an advanced algorithm with AI, biometric payment cards not only meet the criteria for a modern and next-generation payment card but offer the most personal touch imaginable. Your fingerprint.

 

  1. Ready to roll…

We’ve arrived at a crucial point in the evolution of payments. With the technology tested and accredited in line with the rigorous standards of the payments ecosystem, the mass market adoption of this technology is just around the corner. But most importantly, consumers have never been more ready to embrace limitless and worriless contactless.

 

 

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