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CASHLESS AFTER COVID-19: WHY TOUCH-FREE TRANSACTIONS COULD SEE US FINALLY SAY GOODBYE TO CASH

By Vince Graziani, CEO of IDEX Biometrics ASA

 

The impact of COVID-19 on the global payments industry is likely to be profound. McKinsey predicts that activity in the sector could drop by as much as 8-10% of total revenues due to the pandemic, a reduction of between $165 billion- $210 billion. That’s compared to the 10-11% revenue reduction seen following the 2008 global financial crash. The devasting outcomes of the pandemic have not only created consequences for our immediate lives and the economy but are already causing shifts in consumer behaviour relating to payment that will resonate for years to come.

In the payment industry, the pandemic is accelerating a shift towards a cashless economy. Back in February, before the pandemic was declared, UK Finance predicted that the UK will become virtually cashless within the next decade – which is only likely to accelerate in the current climate. Meanwhile, in the midst of the pandemic China has launched a sovereign digital currency, the eRMB, anticipating cash will diminish even further. In March, the World Health Organization advised the public to use contactless technology where possible, to prevent the spread of the disease. Since then, retailers have begun refusing cash payments and a concern around sharing potentially ‘contaminated’ cash has grown.

 

A reason to give up cash

It seems that while a cashless world has been on the horizon for a number of years, the coronavirus pandemic has finally given the public a firm reason to give up cash. We are currently seeing a widespread change in consumer behaviour propelling the desire for a cashless society forward – including for those who were previously sceptical of going cashless.

For many consumers, using contactless payments can provide much needed reassurance while shopping in stores during the pandemic. While these new purchase options may seem unusual for some, COVID-19 has caused retailers and consumers to seek touch-free payment alternatives. It has quickly become second nature for consumers to tap their card to pay for goods and services instead of using cash or punching in a PIN.

So, now there is significant demand for a cashless society, how do we actually get there? And how do we make sure it is secure and accessible to all?

 

Making payments touch-free and secure

The answer is to make all payments touch-free. We already have contactless payments, of course. The limit for PIN-free payments has even risen around the world in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, reaching £45 in the UK, €50 in all EU countries and even up to $250 in Canada– allowing consumers to make more payments without having to touch a PIN pad. But in a post-pandemic world, all payments, regardless of value, need to be touch-free to protect consumers.

And while contactless methods are the most commonly available touch-free payment option, they lack added security and authentication. As Strong Customer Authentication (SCA) grows in importance, payment methods must have two-factor authentication, as well as convenience and hygiene. But with PINs increasingly recognised as insecure and PIN pads deemed ‘unclean’, consumers are now worrying about their health as well as contactless banking fraud while making a payment.

Consumers, particularly those cautious about potential fraud from transactions without a PIN, may need a greater layer of security to overcome trust issues around contactless payments. While a signature can be forged, a PIN cracked or an online account hacked, a fingerprint is virtually impossible to replicate. Therefore, to resolve fraud uncertainty, the payments industry must adopt fingerprint biometric authorisation to provide greater security and protect consumers.

 

Finding the balance

Biometric payment cards provide the ideal balance of security, convenience and hygiene for transactions, without having to touch anything beyond your personal payment card. When paying for goods with a fingerprint biometric payment card, the consumer only needs to touch the sensor on their own bank card while holding it above the terminal for a contactless payment – just like they do today. This two factor authentication links the person to the payment card in a sanitary way, eliminating the incentive for theft or mis-use of payment cards.

We know that consumers want a transaction process that is fast and free from hold ups. In the age of COVID-19, increased touch-free authentication with your fingerprint will secure the payment card, removing the need for PINs and reducing the need for the payment limit, all while making the transaction process more hygienic.

 

Preparing for a cashless world

As the pandemic continues, and consumer’s payment behaviour continues to change, it seems likely that the UK will ultimately become a mostly cashless society sooner than we thought. But the transition must be well supported to provide all consumers with a secure and easy way to manage contactless payments.

Biometric smart payment cards are vital to help consumers overcome trust issues around digital payments. The payment industry must now adapt and adopt biometric technology to ensure that payments are stable, secure and sanitary as we finally embrace a cashless world.

 

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FUJITSU’S CTO, FINANCIAL SERVICES – IAN BRADBURY – SHARES HIS TOP PREDICTIONS FOR THE FINANCIAL SERVICES INDUSTRY IN 2021

At the beginning of the year, financial institutes were excited by the prospect of a new decade. The advent of digital payments services becoming ubiquitous, digital transformation projects moving from idea to reality and the advent of 5G, among many other technologies, all look set to push the boundaries of what was possible.

Fast forward 12 months and plans have had to change drastically in the light of the coronavirus pandemic. Covid-19 has forced a different approach – one that puts safety first. It’s also something that has seen consumers’ habits completely shift online, underpinned by a need for a convenient, quick and informed approach. The rise of digital banking was accelerated even further due to the global pandemic and the complete closure of high streets presented an all too realistic future for traditional banking institutions that could now become reality.

 

According to Ian Bradbury, CTO, Financial Services for Fujitsu UK and Ireland:

 

“Covid-19 has had a major impact on financial services. However, it has also shown us the resilience that organisations have. Overnight, employees weren’t able to go into their offices, branches had to close and banks had to rethink the services that they provided online. From banking and insurance to conveyancing, financial institutes have found themselves in new scenarios but adjusted quickly and efficiently. If anything, it has confirmed to long-standing organisations that technology isn’t to be feared because it can enable them to catch-up, adapt and innovate in a world that is increasingly becoming digital.

“As well as the ability to move quickly, the shift away from bricks and mortar to digital has helped banks to realise the cost benefits. Stripping unnecessary operating costs out of the business will lead to a renewed focus. The coronavirus pandemic has also given perspective – and time to reflect on what is most important. This is something that consumers will take into a post-Covid-19 ‘new normal’ world as purpose-led banking, the green economy and new payment methods like ‘buy now, pay later’ top the list of priorities.”

 

In the face of drastic, widespread digital transformation, Ian Bradbury has outlined the top five changes he predicts for financial services in the coming year.

 

  1. Covid-19 accelerates digitisation

For years, traditional organisations have watched plucky digital entrants eat away at their market share. Alongside this was a fear to digitise services quickly enough to meet consumer’s demands. Often, this was met with inaction because of existing practices that were still sufficient, particularly in the banking industry. Covid-19 has forced them to show their hand, and their hand has proved doubters wrong. It has given digital activity the push it needed. Just this month, NatWest and Santander joined a digital remortgage service to simplify the process for homeowners. The resulting impact of this has led people to question the long-term viability of Starling and Monzo, for example; Monzo’s premium account was an expected announcement in October, but it wasn’t an innovative or new idea. Covid-19 has demonstrated to older financial organisations that they can move quickly and provide digital services that consumers will expect more and more now.

 

  1. An evolution in how consumers pay

The consumer lending model has been transforming for some time now. Rather than visiting a branch, consumers are increasingly turning to a buy as a service model. PayPal recently introduced an option for consumers to buy and repay the cost afterwards, not dissimilar to Klarna. The sector will have to reassess how people purchase products and borrow money, underpinned by the right level of comfort to pay it back without having to pursue them.

Moreover, the traditional credit risk model that we have had in place for decades will not be a viable way to support the economic environment we should expect next year. The aftermath of Covid-19 will be challenging, and the regulator won’t allow businesses to fall into another payday loan conversation. Ultimately, it’ll boil down to companies needing to innovate to allow people to borrow, and a personal and sympathetic approach.

 

  1. Humanising the banking experience

Banking has had to become purpose-led. The focus has shifted away from making money for stakeholders, to supporting the economy and positively contributing to wider society. We’re now seeing a stronger focus around employee wellbeing, collaborations with charities, and investment in ethically sound companies. Alongside this theme will be the rise of the green economy. Start-ups such as TreeCard are already using the green revolution as a way to position their services as unique. The onus will be on competitors to look at where growth will come from as the government’s 10-point climate change plan becomes a reality in 2030. Banks will have to find the balance as consumers’ purse strings tighten and the full impact of Covid-19 is felt on the economy.

 

  1. As technology becomes ubiquitous so too do bad actors

One thing that hasn’t changed is the number of technologies available to financial organisations. Quantum technology may be the biggest beneficiary of this renewed shift to digital, but it’s realistically 10 years away from widespread adoption. Blockchain will have an impact, but it’s about finding specific use cases where the technology is a viable alternative. AI has been on the horizon for what seems like a decade now. There is one constant, however, the acceleration of cloud adoption. Large organisations have moved to public clouds, meanwhile major players like Google and AWS have doubled down their investment. The cloud is not new, but it will accelerate – rather than moving what we already have it’ll become about reengineering everything to become cloud-native.

This rising reliance on technology may also contribute to fraudsters’ ability to dupe customers. Organisations cannot allow fraud, identity theft and customer manipulation to become commonplace; fraudsters are putting effort into their innovation. How we protect people, providing ways to make sure they are not being defrauded will underpin the technology that we successful adopt. While there is nothing on the horizon that is game-changing, that’s good because there so much to achieve and fine-tune with existing technology.

 

  1. Winners & losers will emerge

The financial services industry will do well to get to the end of this year and take learnings from Covid-19. The pandemic has shown institutions – new and old – that they can undertake significant digital transformation projects, perhaps better than we initially thought. The ‘new norm’ will bring change, and all organisations should expect the unexpected. The Bank of England (BoE) will say success is about managing stability. However, maybe we need to move the thinking away from stability and managing risk to how we can accelerate innovative thinking when stability isn’t an option. This is a huge shift away from a 100-year-old mantra to the new world, underpinned and challenged by technology.

 

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UK OPEN BANKING FINTECH YAPILY ANNOUNCES EXPANSION IN VILNIUS

Yapily, a London-based fintech startup, has announced plans to set up in Vilnius, the company’s third European office. Yapily joins a growing number of UK fintechs including Revolut, Curve and Square that chose Lithuania as the location for its European hub.

 

Yapily was established in 2017, shortly after the EU’s second Payment Services Directive (PSD2) granted third-party access to customer data of financial institutions. The legislation, which aims to stimulate competition in the financial services market, compelled providers of such services to innovate their API and open banking practices. Stefano Vaccino, Founder and CEO of Yapily, used his extensive experience in fintech and commercial banking to create Yapily, a platform that enables companies to take advantage of open banking.

 

Yapily connects businesses to banks and financial institutions using a single open API. Using the platform, companies can access their customers’ account information and gain a holistic financial view without having to build and maintain hundreds of APIs of their own. Powered by a secure and regulated service, Yapily manages and facilitates the connection to fetch information and initiate payments while ensuring PSD2 compliance.

 

“Yapily makes connecting to banks easy through sharing financial data and payments infrastructure,” explains Stefano Vaccino. “We connect you to thousands of banks using an open banking API, taking care of the complexity behind the scenes”.

 

Yapily’s vision of open banking has attracted significant investment. Since its inception, the company has raised $18.4 million in VC funding. Yapily’s investors include Holtzbrinck Ventures, LocalGlobe and Lakestar, an early investor in Skype, Spotify, Airbnb and Facebook as well as some of Europe’s biggest fintechs – Klarna and Revolut.

 

Yapily now allows companies to connect to more than 600 banks, providing 80% account coverage across 15 European countries. The company boasts customers ranging from innovative fintechs to Fortune 500 companies including American Express, IBM, Intuit Quickbooks, GoCardless and BUX. In the last 12 months, Yapily has tripled its headcount and currently employs 72 people in offices in the UK and Germany.

 

According to Stefano Vaccino, Yapily’s current focus is to penetrate the European market. “This involves building a scalable platform while accelerating testing capabilities for our European users”,” he says.

 

Looking for a new European hub following the Brexit decision, Yapily considered several European locations, including Portugal and Germany. For the company, it was important to find a supportive regulator and fintech ecosystem. The expertise of Lithuanian developers; reputation of the country’s regulator; and a flourishing fintech scene all contributed to Yapily’s decision on Vilnius. It’s Lithuanian entity received regulatory license in December 2020, prior to the UK leaving the EU, and is now focused on its exciting expansion plans.

 

“Outside of the UK, Lithuania has the second largest fintech hub in Europe,” says Stefano Vaccino. “The local regulator plays a positive role in the fintech ecosystem, allowing Yapily to become a part of it.”

 

The company will hire up to 30 people in Vilnius in the coming months. Yapily is currently recruiting for compliance, engineering, product and operations roles.

 

“Open Banking will create a more competitive landscape of tailored financial services,” Mantas Katinas, Managing Director of Invest Lithuania, believes. “As more and more banks comply with the PSD2, Lithuania’s fintech community could be at the forefront of developing financial products leveraging this new access to data. Yapily’s choice to set up an office in Vilnius shows that Lithuania is an excellent base for cutting-edge fintechs.”

 

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