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WHY THE NORDICS WILL CONTINUE TO LEAD THE WAY IN DIGITAL PAYMENTS

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Kriya Patel, CEO, Transact Payments

 

While the recent introduction of PSD2 — the second iteration of the EU’s Payment Services Directive — has undoubtedly had an effect on the entire continent of Europe, some regions have been in a better place to take advantage of it than others. Largely thanks to a historical willingness to foster and embrace innovation, the Nordic nations were already something of a global leader in the electronic payments space even before PSD2. Now, it looks as if the Nordics is on course to be the first region in the world to fully realise digital transformation in payments.

With a combined population of 21.39 million, the Nordic markets of Sweden, Denmark and Norway have the highest penetration of electronic transactions anywhere in the world. It’s estimated that cash is only used in 3% of transactions in Norway, with this number only slightly higher in Sweden. Given this context, it’s no surprise that there are nearly twice as many payment cards as there are people, at 41.86 million cards. These cards are used for around 7.8 billion transactions annually — worth more than £205 billion — made at just under 600,000 point of sale (POS) locations and online.

You could be forgiven for thinking that given the advanced state of play in the payments market that there would be few opportunities left for incumbents or new entrants to take advantage of. However, for those who are willing to innovate and diversify there could be market share up for grabs. And there are also plenty of things that payments players in other regions can learn from this market. In this article, we will examine what these opportunities and lessons are.

 

Highly developed market

E-commerce accounts for a very large proportion of overall electronic transactions in the Nordics at between 19 and 22%. It’s a segment that is continuing to grow rapidly, even though cards remain the preferred way to pay online and in person.

In fact, cards account for a huge 85% of all in-person transactions in the Nordics, with debit cards used for two-thirds of all purchases in Denmark, for example. In the background, this is enabled by a highly functional consumer-permissioned digital identification system known as BankID that makes Know Your Customer (KYC) compliance for e-commerce much more straightforward for vendors and customers. This scheme, which was first envisioned more than 20 years ago, is one of the key reasons why this region has made such strong advances in digital payments.

Since 2015, all three Nordic markets have embraced digital wallet solutions – Norway’s Vipps, Sweden’s Swish and Denmark’s Bankort. In the case of Denmark, their digital wallet grew from the Bankort debit card solution shared by major Danish banks. Across all three markets, these home-grown wallets have seen strong growth, with Swish reporting the fastest usage growth in the over-45 segment. These domestic wallets are currently looking to grow their functionality, with parking and bill payments being added on top of peer-to-peer (P2P) money transfers and a debit function.

 

Digital wallets to expand functionality

As digital wallets rise and cards continue to be used for a very wide range of purchases, the Nordic markets continue to seek opportunities to reduce cash use for everyday, low-value purchases such as parking and street vendors. This will create room for mPOS (mobile Point Of Sale) and soft POS systems providers, as well multi-function card products. Loyalty is also likely to be another area for growth, with players keen to ensure that they can retain existing customers and attract new ones from their competitors.

One of the most interesting areas in the Nordic region’s payments landscape is how these digital wallet solutions can expand internationally. While digital wallets are growing rapidly in the domestic space, the capacity of these wallets to be used outside the Nordic region is still very limited. Creating international links for Nordic-only solutions will certainly be an area of growth in the coming years, so providers looking to partner with banks or wallet providers should find a receptive audience in these markets.

As with other European markets such as Spain and Germany, we’re also seeing the rise of specialist banks built to meet the needs of smaller companies in the Nordics. Banks such as Norway’s Aprila are expanding rapidly by taking advantage of PSD2’s Open Banking mandate to access SME credit data and deliver innovative payment products and lending solutions. Corporate credit and debit card products will be a major growth area in the near future as SMEs will finally get the attention they deserve.

There’s a great deal that other regions can learn from the Nordics. While the combined population of the three countries adds up to only around one-quarter of Germany, for example, the relatively low population density has proved a fertile ground for digital payments. It will be interesting to see how some of the more innovative services we see in this region can make international links, or how players in other regions try to replicate them.

Finance

AIRBANK SELECTS YAPILY TO BUILD A FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT SOLUTION FOR SMBS

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Airbank, a financial management solution for European startups and SMBs, has selected open banking infrastructure provider Yapily to help its users manage their finances with ease.

Airbank provides a simple financial management solution that aggregates all bank accounts in one place and delivers more control, visibility, and automation to modern finance teams. Startups & SMBs use Airbank to access bank accounts, monitor cash flow in real-time, create reliable forecasts, and make business payments.

Airbank matches bank transactions with merchant and category data to give finance teams complete visibility into revenues and expenses, thus helping make their lives easier with cash flow budgeting, forecasting, and reporting.

Yapily’s API infrastructure provides Airbank users with a smooth, simple way to connect to more than 1,500 banks across the UK and Europe including Deutsche Bank, Commerzbank, Sparkassen, Volksbanken and neobanks. Airbank selected Yapily for its strong coverage in Europe, with a specific focus on Germany, France, Spain, and the UK. Yapily’s European bank connectivity enables Airbank’s customers to scale and grow across Europe, delivering forecast visibility anywhere they go.

The partnership with Yapily alleviates Airbank’s customers from spending time and resources managing their finances – giving them direct access to all the financial and contextual data they need in one tool. Historically, most businesses created budgets and cash flow forecasts in manual spreadsheets which is time-consuming and error-prone. With Airbank, customers save time and costs to focus on value-adding business tasks.

The partnership also enables Airbank’s customers to use its data enrichment platform and transaction categorisation engine to turn the raw data from bank accounts into meaningful and actionable insights. Airbank reconciles account balances, forecasts financials and helps business owners make smarter business decisions every day. Harnessing Yapily’s leading open banking infrastructure, Airbank can accelerate its adoption of digital banking services.

Airbank’s vision is to simplify financial management for SMBs and to create a unified platform that helps its users with the full cycle of financial management from cash flow analysis and forecasting, to accounts receivables and payables management, and more. Airbank has raised $3m seed funding from leading VCs, and counts hundreds of users in Germany, Austria, France, Spain and the UK.

Open Banking has enabled smooth integrations with banks, which we utilize to offer richer banking and payments experiences for our users. We’re building a business banking solution that connects all your financial accounts in one place. Our partnership with Yapily gives users a smooth and simple way to connect to thousands of banks in Europe, unlocking real-time insights into their cash flow. We eliminate the pains of finance admin so business owners can focus on what’s really important — growing their business.

Christopher Zemina, Co-founder and CEO of Airbank

Airbank helps simplify the daily routine of banking and finance management for small and medium sized businesses. By leveraging Yapily’s open banking infrastructure, Airbank can provide actionable insights to businesses – at a time where it’s needed. As a small yet fast growing company, Yapily is committed to supporting the SMB community and we are excited to see how Airbank delivers the benefits of open banking to many businesses across Europe.

Comment by Chris Scheuermann, Commercial Lead DACH at Yapily

 

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AI AND HOW IT’S LEADING THE FIGHT AGAINST FRAUD IN THE FINANCIAL SECTOR

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Geoff Clark, Managing Director, Aerospike EMEA

Much like many other sectors financial institutions have accelerated their digital transformation projects since the beginning of the pandemic. Lockdown meant that customers could no longer visit local branches or meet in person with their financial advisor. Financial institutions have no choice but to find alternative ways to serve their customers.

We saw banks quickly adapt and improve their automation tools to interact with their customers online.  Technologies that enable chatbots, credit card brokerage, contactless payment cards, digital verification for onboarding, online insurance applications, mobile apps, recommendation engines, robo-investing and robotic process automation (RPA) were just some of the many solutions deployed. Here in Europe, Ernst and Young (E&Y) reported an increase of 72% increase in the use of FinTech apps since the start of COVID-19.

Geoff Clark

Cybercriminals typically opt for the lowest hanging fruit and as financial institutions clambered to expand their digital services the cybercriminals looked to identify and exploit any weakness in the infrastructure providing the backbone for these technologies. Exploiting the vulnerabilities of financial institutions is not new as they have long been a coveted target for fraudsters. In the main, that’s due to the wealth of sensitive personal and financial information they hold. Throw into the mix pandemic relief funds, increased unemployment benefits, and stimulus payments, and you have the perfect playground for fraudsters.

A recent report found that every dollar lost to fraud costs financial service companies as much as $3.78 — an increase from $3.25 in 2019. But fraud’s impact is much deeper than financial loss. It drains company resources to investigate and prosecute fraud, damages reputations, and puts customer retention at risk. For these reasons alone, it is imperative that the appropriate systems and processes are in place to combat fraud.

 

Analysing Fraud

The majority of financial institutions still rely on dated rule-based systems to mitigate fraud risk. These systems can consist of thousands of predefined rules that store, sort, and manipulate data to find fraud patterns. For example, a rule could say, if there is a credit card transaction in one state and another transaction in a different state within a 30-minute time frame, then this is likely a fraudulent transaction and therefore it declines the transaction.

Rule-based systems are static, hard-coded, and time-consuming to update, and are often one step behind the sophisticated techniques fraudsters use. When fraud occurs, the typical response is to create another rule that prevents another attack, but it’s often too late.

Fraudsters continue to find new ways to commit fraud that rules don’t capture.

The trend we’re seeing from financial institutions is to replace rule-based systems with AI and machine learning-based systems as they’re more effective. These systems are largely self-learning and there is so much more data available and the more information they’re fed the more effective they can be. Rather than using tens of data attributes with rule-based systems, AI and machine learning-based systems can analyse hundreds of data attributes over enormous data sets and longer time frames to automatically detect with higher accuracy unusual behaviours that indicate fraud. For example, Barclays Bank has implemented AI systems to detect and mitigate fraud improving the customer experience in the process through the reduction of false positives and false negatives.

AI and machine learning-based systems are heading toward explainable AI (XAI), an emerging sector in machine learning that addresses how AI systems arrive at their black-box decisions. Financial institutions know the inputs and outputs of these systems, but they lack visibility into how they reached the results.

Building XAI into AI systems enables banks to understand how decisions are made and create better models to improve their systems by removing bias. For example, suppose a fraud system declines a legitimate customer’s credit card transaction. In this situation the financial institution needs to understand why the false positive has occurred so it can further refine its model.

XAI also has data privacy in its favour particularly when it comes to compliance. Under the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA)—and with other data privacy laws coming—financial institutions need to comply with specific mandates. They must be able to explain how they use a customer’s personal information and how they came to decision such as declining a credit card transaction. Overlaying XAI on top of their AI systems, ensures they have far great visibility into how decisions are being made by AI/ML systems.

 

Constructing a Fraud System Architecture

To emulate some of the industry’s more innovative organisations financial institutions must understand and pursue best practices when building their AI-based fraud systems. They should work alongside technology organisations but also work with their line of business managers to understand how fraud is impacting their business, what their greatest weaknesses are, how customer satisfaction can be improved, and how they can incorporate customer fraud/risk metrics into their customer analytics to improve their omnichannel marketing campaigns. Customer data collected and analysed by fraud teams are some of the most robust depositories of customer information making them invaluable to marketers.

When looking to build a world-class system, financial services firms should consider the following steps:

  • The fraud system needs to likely consume hundreds of terabytes of data, perhaps even petabytes for the largest firms.
  • Data must be continuously updated in real time from many sources such as internal customer and transaction data from storefronts, web pages, and mobile devices, as well as third-party demographic, behavioural, geo-location, identity management, credit bureau, and other data types.
  • This data will usually need to be prepared, e.g., cleansed, standardised, and normalised, to convert it into a form that AI/ML models can more easily digest and understand.
  • The data needs to move back to the central data platform to be further enriched.
  • At this point those financial institutions can fine-tune the model parameters, test and select the optimal machine learning algorithms, feed them with data to learn the underlying patterns, and validate the model’s accuracy to make good decisions using data that was not part of the training set.

After the above steps are completed and they are satisfied the model can be deployed to act in the microsecond moments that are necessary to fight fraud.

As technology evolves at such a fast pace all organisations must aim to implement a fraud solution that can combat the increasingly sophisticated fraudsters while implementing the following key elements

  1. Large data sets (TeraBytes, PetaBytes) consisting of both internal company data supplemented with third-party data;
  2. Highly optimised and validated AI/ML algorithms that detect fraud and minimise false positives and false negatives;
  3. A real-time data platform capable of running these AI/ML algorithms across enormous data sets in sub-millisecond response times to provide customers with the fast customer experience that they expect.

 

 

 

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