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ATTENTION CFOs: HARNESS THE POWER OF FINANCE WITH DATA DRIVEN INSIGHTS

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By Tim Wakeford, VP Product Strategy, Financials at Workday

 

From ensuring business continuity to mitigating risk – when it comes to leading an organisation through uncertain times, COVID-19 has propelled CFOs and finance teams to the forefront of business operations. During the pandemic, financial leaders have been under constant pressure to develop and replan potential financial scenarios, and produce accurate, timely reports. They have also had to take on the responsibility of aligning internal and external audience expectations of the business’ performance. At the same time, many finance teams have found themselves hamstrung by outdated systems that require manual processes, present a lack of data to drive insights, and offer very little collaboration between teams. In order to continue being the strategic guide businesses need and keep up with the rapid pace of transformation, this must change.

CFOs, therefore, need to adopt new cloud-based technologies that allow them to drive data-based insights into their business, and leverage finance intelligence. I know this because many of my CFO clients say this to me regularly. They know that to stay one step ahead and continue to play a vital role in contributing to an organisation’s health and agility, they must embrace data-driven insights and technologies. With this in mind, the question is what should CFOs and their teams be focused on? And crucially – how can they prepare their business to plan for a future of so many unknowns?

 

Ditch Legacy Systems

The uncertainty ushered in by the pandemic has compelled businesses to revisit financial planning on a continuous basis. This is because, as I have pointed out, they now must build and forecast for a range of scenarios, spanning several eventualities. For instance, CFOs need to plan around which path the business may need to take financially based on restrictions, or identify which of their products or services may grow as they aid customers in recovery. Critically, CFOs must articulate clear thresholds and suggest what financial actions a company should take and when.

Within this context, legacy, outdated processes that rely on Excel Spreadsheets and siloed systems need to go. Old technology, which limits visualisation and collaboration between departments has no place in a business that needs to constantly access the latest data to make effective decisions.

 

The More Data, the More Agility

In the European Parliament, a briefing questioned whether data is the new oil of the digital economy. We believe it is. Think about it this way, much like oil in the 18th and 19th century— raw data isn’t valuable, but when gathered accurately, viewed collectively, and connected to other relevant data in a timely manner, it becomes invaluable. Let’s look at the UK retail sector as an example. It was quickly evident that ecommerce sales remained solid throughout the entirety of 2020, as consumers continued to shop online. In fact, new data from IMRG states that online sales grew by 36%, which is the highest growth seen in 13 years. This is in contrast to overall retail sales, which fell by 0.13%, marking the lowest annual growth figure for 25 years. But retailers like ASOS could only make the most of this trend, as both their finance and HR teams had the right data to hand. The retailer reported pre-tax profits of £142.1 million for the year to August 31, up 329% from £33.1 million a year earlier, as sales jumped 19% including 18% growth in the UK.

When reporting this, ASOS suggested it was able to do so as it was able to shrug off soaring costs by making savings across the group, and identifying a trend that customers were buying more carefully and returning less. Something that no doubt would not have been possible without having intelligent data-driven insights to hand.  It goes without saying – while sometimes painful, change can create new opportunities. To unlock these opportunities, finance teams must adopt new, data driven models. Fuelled by finance intelligence and predictive insights, only then can businesses respond effectively to today’s turbulent environment. CFOs and their finance functions must be adept in leveraging this technology. This will translate to less time verifying numbers, and more time making data connections, explaining its implications to the business, and applying the finance lens on decision making. Take Puma, for instance. Puma digitised its payroll processes, adopting Workday’s cloud-based system. In doing so, the business streamlined its operations, enabling them to access absence rates, turnover and data in real time.

The Quest for Transparency

Communication and relationships are cornerstones in the strategic role of the CFO. Taking the lead in proactively conveying the financial and strategic elements of crisis management to the wider business is therefore vital. Think about it. CFOs must establish relationships with the CEO, the board, department leads as well as the wider workforce, to ensure they have the insight to make crucial and timely business decisions. However, to do so, finance leaders must have access to a holistic view of data across their organisation and be transparent with the decisions and planning process. Yet despite this need, over 50% of CFOs believe access to data within their organisation remains outdated and siloed across departments.

By sticking with a fragmented approach, finance teams will struggle to harness the true power of finance. On the other hand, finance teams who embrace digitised processes can offer and communicate timely solutions to change. For example, analytics platforms which incorporate clear visualisation capabilities will enable the dissection of high-density data sets. In turn, this will offer CFOs a deeper understanding of insight, such as efficiency and profitability analysis, across their organisation. This will ensure transparency across the business and allow them to focus on opportunities for growth and ultimately – lead their business through difficult times.

 

Harnessing the Power of Finance

The recent transformation experienced by finance teams will continue to enshrine CFOs and their teams as trusted business advisers. However, to fulfil their purpose and deliver for customers, sustain profitability, look after their employees, and succeed – today’s finance professionals must harness technology. And that’s because the right technology will enable collaboration, arm the organisation with the right data-driven insights to make better decisions, and ultimately make the organisation more agile and adaptable to change.

Business

HOW MERCHANTS CAN IMPROVE THE ONLINE PAYMENTS EXPERIENCE

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By Alan Irwin, Senior Director of Product at Global Payments UK

 

The dramatic increase in online shopping over the past 18 months has encouraged many businesses to invest in developing their omnichannel shopping experiences. The reasons vary – some are keen to capitalise on the trend of older shoppers migrating towards ecommerce and some are trying to make up for loss of sales in brick-and-mortar stores during the pandemic. It is also true that many businesses are shifting their models to sell direct to consumers to avoid high marketplace fees and are therefore building their ecommerce channels for the first time.

The checkout experience is arguably the most important and delicate part of the ecommerce transaction, as it can make the difference between a happy customer likely to return, and a shopping cart abandoned out of frustration and confusion. A survey from March 2020 suggested that 88% of online shopping orders were abandoned, i.e. not converted into a purchase. A seamless, customer-centric online payment experience is therefore critically important in ensuring completed transactions. But with so many payment providers available, what should businesses be looking for when trying to keep friction to a minimum?

 

Keep clicks to a minimum

Less touchscreen interaction equals less abandonment. Adapting the payment page to fit any device and supporting popular mobile digital wallets like Google Pay ensures a seamless, stress- and hassle-free checkout experience for the customer and keeps clicks to a minimum. Friction can present itself in the most minor features – for example, when the customer is navigating the payment form, the appropriate keypad should be shown to the customer when required. It’s much easier to enter a card number using the dial pad instead of switching between QWERTY keypad layouts.

Simplifying online forms with autofill and tokenisation also significantly reduces friction at checkout and shortens necessary time taken. Ensuring checkout forms are tagged correctly for “autofill” is a great way to offer customers a single-click to input the payment, shipping, and billing data that they have stored in their browser profile. Similarly offering a guest checkout option will help convert customers who are in a hurry or looking for a one-off purchase. This can also be achieved by offering to store the payment details (called ‘tokenisation’) for express repeat and one-click purchases.

 

Make it easy to understand

A tailored payments approach can increase both domestic and international global sales. By offering a checkout experience in the customer’s language, the option to pay in their currency of choice, and use their preferred method of payment (whether it’s PayPal, Alipay or card), businesses can build loyalty quickly and put customers at ease. It is equally important for merchants to ensure they always display simple direction and information about next steps to instil confidence and prevent customer drop-off. The customer should be informed of what is happening at every stage in the process, for example, whether they will proceed to SCA (Secure Customer Authentication) next or go straight through to completion.

In addition, validating forms in real-time means merchants can highlight potential errors to the customer early on, and payment providers should provide this functionality. This could be an invalid expiry date, an incorrect digit in the card number or incorrect CVV number based on card type. When issues are only flagged at the end of the process, this forces the customer to go back through the steps to figure out the error. Real-time signposting of problems removes this potential friction and reduces the potential for a declined transaction.

 

Ensure seamless security

Merchants should work with a payment partner who offers the right blend of security and compliance management without it coming at a cost to the end-to-end checkout experience for the user. Instilling trust and security in your checkout flow while utilising the right solutions to drive seamless authentication flows will increase customer confidence and help prevent drop-off.

The greatest level of security and control comes from either utilising hosted payment fields that the
merchant can natively integrate into their checkout flow, or a hosted payment page where they can
manage the look and feel. Showcasing your brand on the checkout page with trust signals and logos also adds to building trust with the customer.

Staying ahead of regulations is also important. Secure Customer Authentication (SCA) will soon be mandatory in the UK for all eligible digital transactions, and this doesn’t have to be a friction-full process. Tools like Transaction Risk Analysis (TRA) and Exemption Optimisation Service (EOS) can quickly score transactions and drive exemptions where there is the right blend of transaction risk.

 

The devil is in the details

These three rules for successful ecommerce checkout experiences may seem straightforward, but it is important to apply them at a micro level. It can take only one minor point of friction to cause a customer to abandon their cart, and this will inevitably be replicated across other similar customers. It is critical to identify friction points early on and anticipate customer needs throughout the process. Discussing these points and any opportunities to improve customer checkout experience with your ecommerce team and payment provider is an important first step towards ensuring your entire shopping experience remains competitively seamless and loyalty is won. It may be that your payment provider cannot address them, in which case it could be time to move on in order to stay competitive.

 

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Finance

NAVIGATING FINANCIAL SERVICES IN 2021: LOW-CODE TO THE RESCUE

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Nick Ford, Chief Technology Evangelist, Mendix

 

Financial services are the poster child of great digital transformation: today, Britons can pay from their watches, check their balance directly from their phone at any time and even automate trading. This level of innovation isn’t only about customers: traders are able to operate faster than ever before thanks to better predictive analysis and forecasting tools, and finance teams are able to collaborate from anywhere in the world.

While we embrace all this innovation, it’s easy to forget that the reality of the sector is incredibly complex. The radical changes induced by COVID-19 have highlighted how challenging maintaining innovation today really is, while putting more pressure on IT teams to accelerate the digital transformation of the sector even further.

On top of this, the sector is one of the most affected by Brexit. Mendix’s Navigating the UK Landscape research found that businesses in the financial services sector have serious concerns about the impact of Brexit on their industry. Many believe that Brexit has damaged the reputation of the UK as a centre of finance (67%) – as well as creating functional challenges for businesses in the country.

Many financial services organisations are turning to technology, and specifically low-code, to deal with these challenges. This piece will look at how firms in the sector can use low-code to navigate the new world.

 

A sea of challenges

Financial services are complex: there are thousands of products to choose from, from savings to investment and mortgages. These services are then managed by lots of different companies, creating an additional level of complexity: banks, fintechs, brokers, wealth management specialists, government bodies… the list goes on. To add yet another layer, there’s a network of regulations, which change over time, forcing IT leaders to constantly keep on top of the latest evolution in the sector. Knowing these is only the first step: every time new laws are implemented, the sector needs to adjust to them, and that can mean anything from revising security protocols to radically changing the way information is processed, transmitted or audited.

This may already look complicated, but the real complexity starts underneath, in the realms of processes that the IT manages to keep the company operating as normal. It would be fair to say that the mission of financial IT leaders is often underrated: they deal with antiquated systems dating back decades, inadequate data management processes and minute security and compliance considerations every day, simply to keep the business afloat. Add to this the need to get all staff to work remotely during the lockdown, and the already time-poor IT leaders are now completely swamped.

Brexit also makes things difficult for financial services organisations. Two thirds anticipate costly and complicated processes for crossborder payments and investments, while 59% believe it will be harder to attract foreign investments. Ultimately, 61% admit they will no longer be able to support some of their customers because of the transition.

 

Tech as a raft

While the sector is mired down with complex processes and inadequate tools, it also needs to deal with a major challenge: fierce competition for tech-savvy customers. Now, all banks, investment firms and wealth management companies are investing in tech to help them cope with new customer demands for easier access to their capital and increased transparency. Two thirds have deployed digital projects to make the business more flexible as a result of Brexit, with data management (62%) and digital processes (62%) particular focal points.

And this is not just about pleasing digitally minded customers: it’s also about improving productivity and operational efficiency, harnessing data, and solving compliance challenges. This balancing act between priorities is gathering pace and spreading across the business: today, IT teams must deliver innovation that’s fast, reliable and secure, and that supports many divisions — all at once. It’s a big challenge, but it’s one that IT leaders are willing to tackle head on: two thirds of IT leaders believe the value of digital transformation initiatives outweighs their inherent risk. Yet, IT leaders know that rushing would be a mistake: although IT teams face high demand for their support, most would not prioritise speed over caution, even if they could innovate faster. This measured pace ensures that financial organisations are delivering the right solutions at the right time, reducing the risk of service disruption and security challenges.

 

Low-code to the rescue

To manage all these priorities, the IT team needs to look beyond its own team to create revenue-generating services that truly answer the clients’ needs – and it needs to empower all developers with the right tools to do so. This improves collaboration between IT and customer-facing staff to design services that suit the needs of the customer base, while reducing the pressure of an already-stretched IT team. Enter low-code: most leaders (58%) say that low-code has enabled the development of new applications to support their companies post-Brexit.

One example of this is a Financial Institution, which perceived its digital user experience lacking and engaged low-code to install a new user experience for its portal, consumer and wholesale digital services. It was able to do this in just eight months, providing numerous benefits to stakeholders.

Low-code software development provides a simple solution to address these constraints and challenges: based on a visual approach for building applications using drag-and-drop components, it enables non-technical staff to participate in creating business applications, even if they have little to no coding experience. Working separately or in close collaboration, professional developers and business-side “citizen developers” can create, iterate, and release applications in a fraction of the time it takes with traditional methods, all under the watchful governance of IT to ensure their applications comply with enterprise standards and architecture.

A low-code approach allows for flexible, iterative app development for many use cases in the financial services sector, including legacy application upgrades to comply with new regulations, apps supporting smart banking or portfolio management, and mortgage application management. With low-code, the financial services industry has the right tools to untangle its complex processes, simplify its evolution and focus on its core mission: keeping the economy thriving.

 

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