Lauren Jones, International Payments Ambassador, Icon Solutions
Instant payments are the ‘new normal’. The last decade saw a ramp-up in adoption as regulation, customer expectation and technology dovetailed to create immediate, 24/7 demand for financial services.
This means that banks and payment service providers (PSPs) who rely solely on speed of payments as a competitive differentiator will struggle to get ahead. The focus is now on leveraging instant payments rails to deliver value-added services that can drive a return on investment. Understanding where these opportunities lie, therefore, is crucial.
- Request to Pay for more control
Perhaps the most valuable new way to leverage instant payment rails is Request to Pay (R2P). R2P is an umbrella term for various scenarios in which a payee takes the initiative to request a specific payment from the payer.
Corporates have two key challenges in that they only receive funds when a customer wants to pay them, and they only receive the information the customer chooses to provide. This makes reconciliation difficult and can even negatively impact workflow and working capital.
However, the R2P options for bill presentment and payments solve these problems, significantly reducing operational cost, liability for chargebacks and fraud risk, as well as improving reconciliation and liquidity. A secure R2P service also has the potential to simplify managing receivables and reduce processing costs.
R2P also benefits consumers. As they are presented with a payment request rather than funds being debited automatically, they can enjoy more autonomy and control over their money across various channels.
As a result, several solutions have emerged under the R2P banner, such as the IDEAL scheme in The Netherlands and PromptPay in Thailand. Further traction will be gained, with EBA Clearing gearing up to launch a pan-European R2P solution in 2020. Certain banks in the US have also begun to go live with The Clearing House ISO 20022 R2P messages using instant payments infrastructure.
- Amplify the power of QR codes
QR code solutions have surged in popularity in recent years as a simple, low-cost alternative payment method, offering consumers and merchants more choice at checkout.
We are now seeing various banks and payments industry players reviewing their strategies to take full advantage. QR code-based solutions, combined with instant payments rails, can extend utility beyond the physical point-of-sale to include online and bill payments.
Thailand, India, China, Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong have all established payment services that leverage QR codes to initiate real-time payments. And although Europe and the US have been slower to adopt QR codes, some European countries such as Sweden and Switzerland have already embraced the technology with country-wide schemes for both retail and corporate payments. In the US, adoption is market-led with several retailers such as Target and Walmart implementing proprietary QR code payment systems.
- Leverage valuable real-time data with ISO 20022
While instant payments does not inherently provide enhanced data opportunities, most of today’s instant payments systems are built using the ISO 20022 data standard. This is due to the extended data-carrying capabilities and the added value this messaging standard can offer banks’ customers. For data to be truly valuable, it needs to be machine-readable, consistently structured and standardised – ISO 20022 enables all that.
However merely collecting data is not enough. Mining and extracting value from this data will be a decisive differentiating factor for banks and other players looking to take their customer propositions to the next level.
The good news is that banks and PSPs are well-positioned to collate and leverage data to deliver tailored interactions, unlocking new revenue opportunities while remaining compliant to stringent regulation.
- Deliver convenience for corporates
The combination of instant and enhanced data-carrying capabilities is extremely attractive to large corporates, and in turn, greater corporate usage of an instant payment system will increase volumes and lower costs.
Instant payments give corporate treasurers greater control over their payments, allowing them to make on-the-spot payment decisions and hold on to liquidity for longer. Instant payments enable informed and timely views on cash positions, enabling management of treasury risk. ISO 20022 data- carrying capabilities also allow corporates to attach invoice data to a payment, allowing for more efficient reconciliation.
Benefits are not only limited to corporate treasurers, but also B2C treasury departments. Instant payments offer new ways to make payments to customers. As mentioned, R2P can also lower cost, reduce risk of fraud, and increase information around each transaction, all of which are key requirements for modern treasury departments.
Moreover, as domestic instant payments schemes grow, there is an opportunity to line these systems together to deliver cross-border real-time movement of both funds and data for corporate and commercial transactions.
- Embrace new channels
As payments become increasingly embedded in our daily lives and interactions, it is inevitable that instant payments will become more ingrained in the social media experience.
This is already the case across many Asian countries, but momentum is slowly building in Europe and the US as well. For example, First Direct’s Fdpay service allows customers to make P2P payments within social media apps. In addition, Instagram, WhatsApp and Facebook are all actively exploring instant payments and checkout options. Watch this space.
Building on strong foundations
It is clear that building a foundation for innovation now will enable banks to create points of differentiation and tap into new revenue streams through R2P, QR codes, leveraging enhanced data, corporate instant payments and new channels.
But to fully realise the return on investment, banks will need to overcome the legacy payment environments many are encumbered with, and will need to develop a powerful transformation strategy to ensure their payments landscape is equipped to fully harness the benefits.
CAN TECHNICAL INNOVATION HELP FINANCIAL SERVICES FIGHT BACK AGAINST FINANCIAL CRIME?
By Charlie Roberts, Head of Business Development, UK, Ireland & EU at IDnow
It’s no secret that the financial services sector is a top target among cyber criminals. In fact, according to a report from IBM, it retained its top spot as the most targeted sector in 2019.
The consequences of falling victim to an attack can be severe too. It can lead to financial losses and reputational damage as well as loss of customer confidence and therefore sales. One UK financial services firm, for example, was hit by a total loss of $87.9 million.
So, if we consider that the coronavirus crisis continues to drive increased online consumer activity, should financial services be more concerned? Simply put, yes.
We are seeing a significant increase in organisations taking their business online to reach their customers. Banks, for example, in adapting to COVID-19, are offering customers a more convenient way of opening an account given branch visiting restrictions. But while these services offer more choice and ease for customers, it also means that new account fraud is opening up and is becoming a major challenge for organisations to overcome.
Some cyber criminals are even trying to exploit the pandemic as an opportunity for financial crime by posing as trusted organisations like banks and even the World Health Organisation. According to Action Fraud, over £6.2 million has reportedly been lost by UK citizens to coronavirus-related scams. And this figure continues to rise week by week.
The role of innovation
The rise in financial crime shows just how much the financial services sector is in need of technological innovation. We’ve already seen great progress. About half of financial services and insurance firms globally already use Artificial Intelligence (AI), according to Forrester.
It has many use cases too. In a recent report published by The Alan Turing Institute, AI is largely being used for fraud detection and compliance. AI is beneficial because its algorithms can analyse millions of data points to detect fraudulent transactions which could otherwise go unnoticed by humans. What’s more, these AI-driven fraud detection systems can now actively learn and calibrate in response to new potential (or real) security threats.
The report also details some of the ways that financial services companies are exploring AI-based fraud prevention alternatives. It includes the use of AI to increase approvals for genuine transactions and the use of real-time and high volume data to help protect schemes, financial institutions and their customers from fraud and financial crime.
It’s perhaps no wonder that, outside of the technology sector, the financial services industry is the biggest spender on AI services according to The Bank of the Future report from Citi. But there is still some way to go in using technology to combat financial crime.
The identity verification era
Arguably, identity verification is one of the most important processes that technology can help transform – especially as the current crisis continues to drive increased online customer behaviour. In fact, AI and video based identity verification software can provide financial services organisations with a fast, seamless and secure onboarding process that increases conversion rates and customer satisfaction while providing the highest level of security.
Demand for this software in the UK’s financial services sector has already more than doubled since the start of the year, as growth in scams linked to COVID-19 continue to rise.
It’s this technology that will become critical in validating a person’s identity quickly and confidently while limiting the increased risk of fraud for both businesses and consumers.
IDnow’s AutoIdent is one software solution that has this year been experiencing high demand from the financial services industry. Its AI technology can use the camera on a customer’s smartphone to recognise the country and type of ID document without the need for user input. The technology then captures the machine-readable part of the ID document as well as non-machine-readable areas, such as address fields, before automatically checking the optical security features of the ID documents, such as holograms.
With the subsequent biometric video check of the person and “liveness detection”, the identification process is completed for the customer within just a few steps. The system can then decide if the identification is valid, with a reliability that meets compliance requirements.
The threat of financial crime is not going away any time soon and so there is no better way than to fight back with innovation. With the right technology investment, such as in AI identity products, the sector will be in a stronger position to support businesses who have a duty of care to protect their customers from risk of fraud while ensuring they remain resilient during this pandemic.
COULD COVID-19 BE THE CATALYST FOR DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION IN FINANCE?
By Simon Bull, Sales Operations & Business Development Manager at Aqilla
We are all now living in a new ‘normal’ where working from home is no longer a luxurious ‘perk’ of the job, but an essential. In the case of many organisations, the transition to flexible, remote working was successful, albeit slightly bumpy. But there is one department that has found it more challenging to transition to the required standards of remote working – the finance department.
The finance department often gets left behind when it comes to digital transformation largely because it is so heavily regulated. And because of this, one of the biggest problems the finance teams face is that it’s sensitive data will likely be stored on a hardware server on office premises. If you look at how organisations update their software as they grow, it’s usually the finance department lagging far behind, or sometimes forgotten about altogether. This is because finance has complex requirements that can lead to the attitude of: if it ain’t broke, why fix it?
Up until now, most finance teams have overcome the challenges this situation presents, but with the repercussions of the pandemic still very much in play, the complications that go hand-in-hand with on-premise technology have been more noticeable than usual. As a result, COVID-19 is becoming a catalyst for a digital transformation in finance, or more specifically moving finance and accounting software away from traditional on-premise solutions to built-for-cloud services. But what are the advantages of this approach, and what should finance teams be looking for in a built-for-cloud solution?
Cost: The Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) approach that is the basis of many of today’s cloud computing businesses generally offers customers a convenient monthly pay-as-you-go model. Given that all that users need to access the software is a desktop, laptop or smart device and internet connectivity, they can also save money on the server hardware that has previously sat in the corner of the office. Hint: compare pricing from several potential providers to make sure there are no unexpected extras before signing up.
- Service: Good cloud-based providers offer extremely strong levels of customer support and service. It should be very easy to get help quickly and conveniently, and they should be in a position to offer advice, identify problems and fix errors without undue delay. Hint: ask for references from existing customers or look for online reviews to assess their service and support capabilities. Also, carefully check their Service Level Agreement (SLA) to clearly understand where their commitments begin and end.
- Security: Established cloud providers offer high levels of security, data protection and backup services as part of their ‘as-a-Service’ package. Customers benefit from the protection afforded by security specialists whose job it is to prevent breaches and keep data completely secure. Hint: Check their security policies and consider talking to existing customers about their security track record.
- Compliance: Cloud providers specialising in the finance industry should have compliance at the heart of their product set. Hint: Check with potential providers about their levels of compliance and certification, particularly if you have specialised requirements.
- Ease of use: today’s built-for-cloud software services are built for purpose, with many offering a high degree of bespoke capabilities so every user can tailor it to their precise needs. This is in contrast to traditional software packages that can be far less flexible, forcing the user to work in a particular way that might not be ideal. Hint: ask potential providers for an online demonstration to check the way the services work meet your needs.
- Performance: In the early days of cloud computing, finance software was too basic for many professionals to consider. Today, there are many entry-level services, while others offer a comprehensive range of capabilities to precisely fit the needs of professional finance departments. Hint: evaluate the range of capabilities offered by a cloud provider, which should include areas such as: extensive analysis, proper periodic management and business calendars, multi-currency, multilingual and multi-company operation, full VAT handling International coding, tax and language flexibility, automatic reconciliation / bank integration, built-in key performance measurement, advanced search, selection and drill-down, document and image scanning. Hint: compare the features of different providers in advance – if anything important is missing, look elsewhere.
- Regular updates: Software developers find it much easier to update and improve their services when they are delivered online, and can more effectively keep up with finance best practice and changes to rules and regulations. Many also encourage users to suggest improvements or new features which are then provided to customers at no extra cost. Hint: ask providers about how often they update their software and whether you can suggest improvements.
For many businesses, these are compelling reasons to adopt cloud-based finance software services, even in normal circumstances. But considered in the context of the current remote working environment, built-for-cloud finance software can help departments to adapt and capitalise on working from home and match the levels of digital transformation seen across many other key business functions.
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