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CBDCs: the key to transform cross-border payments

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Dr. Ruth Wandhöfer, Board Director at RTGS.global

 

If you work in finance, you’ll have been hearing a lot about central bank digital currencies (CBDCs) and the moves different markets are making towards using, regulating and evaluating the viability of moving to an economy based on digital currency.

We are already seeing progress in the research, piloting and introduction of CBDCs into the financial system. The Banque de France for example, recently launched its second phase of CBDC experiments in line with the “triple digital revolution” unfolding in the financial sector. The infrastructures of financial markets and fintechs, however, are not prepared to accommodate their security, stability, and viability.

This could be an issue in the not too distant future. Each year, global corporates move nearly $23.5 trillion between countries, equivalent to about 25% of global GDP. This requires them to use wholesale cross-border payment processes, which remain suboptimal from a cost, speed, and transparency perspective. In fact, the G20 cross-border payments programme considers improving access to domestic payment systems that settle in central bank money, as one of the key components in facilitating increased speed and reducing the costs of cross-border payments.

The current state of cross-border payments

International transactions based on fiat are currently slow, expensive, and highly risky due to today’s disconnected financial infrastructure, messaging, and liquidity. Wholesale cross-border payment settlement can take 48 hours or longer, which is not practical in today’s digital world. Even if not every market moves to CBDCs, in an increasingly digital era, cross-border settlements between central banks will unavoidably involve dealing with CBDCs. So, not only will we have different currencies, we’ll have different technical forms of currency being exchanged – digital and fiat – as markets adopt CBDCs at different rates, adding another layer of complexity to cross-border settlements.

While there is much anticipation about the opportunities CBDCs can bring, the adoption of this technology will only be widespread if payment and settlement capabilities are overhauled to allow for new innovations in currencies.  This need for transformation represents an opportunity to redesign existing infrastructure to support cross-border CBDC transactions.

The current cross-border payments system involves correspondent banks in different jurisdictions using commercial bank money. Uncommitted credit lines used in cross-border transactions are a potential risk for any bank that relies on credit provided by a foreign correspondent bank. Interestingly, there is no single global payment and settlement system, only a complicated network of interbank relationships operating on mutual trust. While trust has allowed financial systems to function smoothly, when it begins to fail, as it did during the 2008 financial crisis, the result can be catastrophic.

Following the crisis, the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) implemented the Basel III agreement, which required banks to maintain additional capital against correspondent banking account exposures. These risk-weighted assets impose a costly capital charge on positions held by banks at other banks under correspondent arrangements. While this framework helps combat risk, it neglects to address the inherent problems in traditional correspondent banking that contribute to these risks.

Making the case for CBDCs

CBDCs can offer an improvement in settlement risks and are certainly thought to have potential benefits by the BIS. If implemented correctly, wholesale CBDCs can indeed accelerate interbank transactions while eliminating settlement risk. They can also encourage a more efficient and straightforward method of executing cross-border payments by reducing the number of intermediaries.

It is likely the evolution towards CBDCs will initially see the financial market supplement rather than replace existing payment instruments with new types of digital currency. CBDCs will coexist with current forms of money in a wholesale context, and their payment rails will also work alongside the existing payment systems. In simple terms, CBDCs will need to be linked to the broader capital markets ecosystem and applications such as securities settlement, funding, and liquidity.

If built with an innovation-first mindset, the future of banking infrastructure should provide full interoperability and convertibility between fiat, CBDCs, and any other type of digital money used in wholesale payments.

The future of CBDCs

To unlock the full potential of CBDCs, a ‘corridor network’ will need to be formed. This involves combining multiple wholesale CDBCs into a single, interoperable network under common governance agreed upon by all central banks involved. The legal framework of this platform would then allow for payment versus payment (PvP) or, where applicable, delivery versus payment settlement.

Practical wholesale CBDCs appear to be on the horizon, either as a supplement to existing financial systems or as part of a transition to a digital, cashless world. Looking ahead, central banks would benefit from collaborating with fintechs that provide innovative cloud native technology to enable seamless wholesale cross-border payments without interfering with the flow of funds. If wholesale CBDCs are to become a reality, fintechs must be prepared to accommodate them.

 

Business

Know Your Business (KYB): Exceeding KYC

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Victor Fredung, CEO at Shufti Pro

 

Money laundering costs the UK more than £100 billion pounds a year, according to the National Crime Agency, emphasising the need for stringent ID verification of individuals and businesses.

ID verification, however, remains a moving target. The UK’s fraud prevention community CIFAS has warned of surging ID theft. The National Fraud Database increased by 11% in the first six months of 2021, with almost 180,000 instances of fraudulent conduct filed in the first six months of the year. This reflected the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, which recorded a 32% increase in identity fraud the following year. CIFAS is warning UK businesses and consumers to expect a continuation of the steep rise in identity fraud for 2021 and 2022 as criminals exploit businesses under pressure.

Businesses can respond with resilient Know Your Customer (KYC) software and protocols. KYC establishes customer identity; understands customers’ activities; qualifies the legitimacy of funding sources; and assesses money laundering risks associated with customers. To date, almost 6,000 financial institutions are using the SWIFT KYC Registry to publish their KYC data and receive data from their correspondent banks.

KYC regulations and procedures are appropriate when the customer or consumer is a named individual.  However, it’s not enough to verify the identity of individuals. It is also important to verify the identity of businesses.  Know Your Business (KYB) tools and regulations are designed for cases where the customer is a business or corporate entity. KYB is particularly important as criminals seek to exploit crypto currencies which can thwart verification techniques, such as anti-money laundering (AML) and KYC.

KYB verifies businesses by obtaining official commercial register data via APIs. By using the registration numbers and jurisdiction code of a business, a digital KYB service can collect confirmable information for the business. This enables corporate organisations to determine if they are dealing with authentic businesses or fake shell companies. KYB services particularly help financial institutions handling the funds of a large customer base and corporate entities.  During this process businesses must improve the customer digital enrolment and authentication experience. End-users resist proving their identity through for example, showing scans of their bank account statements and may abandon service providers whose online enrolment processes increase friction.

Usefully, KYB uses access to automated commercial registers through a data-powered business verification service, expedites due diligence and eliminates errors.  With advances in digital technologies and virtual data sets, KYB compliance and verification tools can mark businesses involved in undercover activities, gathering background data on the company including the registered address, status, company type, ultimate beneficial ownership structures, previous names and trademark registration. A financial summary of the company’s operational accounts is also provided by the authentication service, to help validate its authenticity.

Here, Artificial Intelligence (AI) can come into its own, determining the identity of individuals and the financial risk attached to that person with AML Compliance solutions. AML services can check the involvement of an individual company in any watchlist or financial risk database, at scale. Machine learning algorithms can detect forged documents or disguised ownership structures. Nationality verification and geolocation targeting can determine the true country of origin of international clients and the jurisdiction of the company.

However, adoption of KYB processes has been sluggish: last year research undertaken by kompany indicated only 5% of financial institutions (FIs) have an automated B2B or corporate banking onboarding process, with 75% of FIs still relying on Google searches to identify Ultimate Beneficial Owners (UBOs), annual filings and financial accounts. Financial services organisations also struggle to manage the complexity of KYB, and the siloed approach to managing information within an FI can make KYB adoption more challenging.

A further challenge for KYB compliance lies in accessing beneficial ownership information, especially in jurisdictions that do not require companies to submit relevant documentation. A lack of shareholder information makes it harder to investigate money trails and business authenticity. Timely availability of data, across international borders in the right format, is another hindrance, especially as company structures and management change over time. This is why geography and industry specific vendors will be of value to businesses needing to conduct ID checks. It is also why businesses must find the right vendors who can be a one stop shop to manage their KYB adoption and must prioritise the user-experience for frictionless onboarding and regulatory compliance.

Banks have experienced difficulties with KYC verification for their customer onboarding, transaction authentication, and remote banking services. This why they may find it hard to trust a KYB service provider. However, FIs and businesses face a pressing need to determine the ultimate beneficial ownership structure of the corporations they are dealing with. The need for a credible, cross-border KYB provider has rarely been more pressing, and according to Forrester, Know-your-business IDV will ‘make or break Identity Verification players.

Know-your-business IDV can make critical difference in identity verification.  With the increase in B2B commerce it has become more urgent to verify both individuals and organisations and their representatives.

The cost of not adopting KYB technology is dwarfed by the prospect of data breaches, fraud and reputational damage. For financial institutions, legitimacy and verification of the business is key for growth. The software solutions exist and are ready to be implemented.  he National Fraud Database increased by 11% in the first six months of 2021, with almost 180,000 instances of fraudulent conduct filed in the first six months of the year. This reflected the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, which recorded a 32% increase in identity fraud the following year. CIFAS is warning UK businesses and consumers to expect a continuation of the steep rise in identity fraud for 2021 and 2022 as criminals exploit businesses under pressure.

Businesses can respond with resilient Know Your Customer (KYC) software and protocols. KYC establishes customer identity; understands customers’ activities; qualifies the legitimacy of funding sources; and assesses money laundering risks associated with customers. To date, almost 6,000 financial institutions are using the SWIFT KYC Registry to publish their KYC data and receive data from their correspondent banks.

KYC regulations and procedures are appropriate when the customer or consumer is a named individual.  However, it’s not enough to verify the identity of individuals. It is also important to verify the identity of businesses.  Know Your Business (KYB) tools and regulations are designed for cases where the customer is a business or corporate entity. KYB is particularly important as criminals seek to exploit crypto currencies which can thwart verification techniques, such as anti-money laundering (AML) and KYC.

KYB verifies businesses by obtaining official commercial register data via APIs. By using the registration numbers and jurisdiction code of a business, a digital KYB service can collect confirmable information for the business. This enables corporate organisations to determine if they are dealing with authentic businesses or fake shell companies. KYB services particularly help financial institutions handling the funds of a large customer base and corporate entities.  During this process businesses must improve the customer digital enrolment and authentication experience. End-users resist proving their identity through for example, showing scans of their bank account statements and may abandon service providers whose online enrolment processes increase friction.

Usefully, KYB uses access to automated commercial registers through a data-powered business verification service, expedites due diligence and eliminates errors.  With advances in digital technologies and virtual data sets, KYB compliance and verification tools can mark businesses involved in undercover activities, gathering background data on the company including the registered address, status, company type, ultimate beneficial ownership structures, previous names and trademark registration. A financial summary of the company’s operational accounts is also provided by the authentication service, to help validate its authenticity.

Here, Artificial Intelligence (AI) can come into its own, determining the identity of individuals and the financial risk attached to that person with AML Compliance solutions. AML services can check the involvement of an individual company in any watchlist or financial risk database, at scale. Machine learning algorithms can detect forged documents or disguised ownership structures. Nationality verification and geolocation targeting can determine the true country of origin of international clients and the off shore status of a company.

However, adoption of KYB processes has been sluggish: last year research undertaken by kompany indicated only 5% of financial institutions (FIs) have an automated B2B or corporate banking onboarding process, with 75% of FIs still relying on Google searches to identify Ultimate Beneficial Owners (UBOs), annual filings and financial accounts. Financial services organisations also struggle to manage the complexity of KYB, and the siloed approach to managing information within an FI can make KYB adoption more challenging.

A further challenge for KYB compliance lies in accessing beneficial ownership information, especially in jurisdictions that do not require companies to submit relevant documentation. A lack of shareholder information makes it harder to investigate money trails and business authenticity. Timely availability of data, across international borders in the right format, is another hindrance, especially as company structures and management change over time. This is why geography and industry specific vendors will be of value to businesses needing to conduct ID checks. It is also why businesses must find the right vendors who can be a one stop shop to manage their KYB adoption and must prioritise the user-experience for frictionless onboarding and regulatory compliance.

Banks have experienced difficulties with KYC verification for their customer onboarding, transaction authentication, and remote banking services. This why they may find it hard to trust a KYB service provider. However, FIs and businesses face a pressing need to determine the ultimate beneficial ownership structure of the corporations they are dealing with. The need for a credible, cross-border KYB provider has rarely been more pressing, and according to Forrester, Know-your-business IDV will ‘make or break Identity Verification players.

Know-your-business IDV can make critical difference in identity verification.  With the increase in B2B commerce it has become more urgent to verify both individuals and organisations and their representatives.

The cost of not adopting KYB technology is dwarfed by the prospect of data breaches, fraud and reputational damage. For financial institutions, legitimacy and verification of the business is key for growth. The software solutions exist and are ready to be implemented.

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Addressing the ongoing global pilot shortage issue

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By Bhanu Choudhrie, Founder of Alpha Aviation

 

The Covid-19 pandemic brought the aviation industry to a halt, causing vast market disruption and putting the future of many key players at risk. Now, just as airlines were getting back on track, staffing shortages are causing new complications – and part of this issue is a growing pilot recruitment problem.

So, where does the sector go from here and what steps need to be taken to mitigate pilot shortages?

The root of the issue

Even before the pandemic, there was a global shortage of pilots, with people flying more due to a rise in more affordable airlines and falling fuel costs. In fact, the 2020-2029 CAE Pilot Demand Outlook suggested that the global civil aviation industry will require more than 260,000 pilots by the end of the decade.

However, when demand for air travel dropped across the globe, airlines were quick to offer early retirement packages to reduce immediate outgoings. Whilst this approach helped some airlines stay afloat during the slowdown, a wave of early retirements has left them on the back foot.

Bhanu Choudhrie

Now demand is coming back much faster than expected. In the US alone, the Bureau of Labor Statistics is expecting 14,500 openings for commercial and airline pilots each year until 2030, and this imbalance is already having a detrimental impact on the aviation industry. With flights being cancelled, travellers left stranded, and some airports losing service altogether, it is crucial that the larger aviation ecosystem comes together to work out a solution to effectively address this pilot shortage crisis, so that it can once again meet capacity demands.

Re-directing efforts to rebuild pilot pools

With vast swathes of pilots put on furlough during the pandemic – and therefore unable to maintain their license requirements, the damage isn’t just in the ongoing pilot shortage, but also in the decades of experience the industry has lost. In response to this narrative, last month a Senator in the US introduced legislation to raise the mandatory retirement age of commercial airline pilots from 65 to 67 – and the US are not alone in this shift. Last week, Air India announced that it will be raising their retirement age for pilots from 58 to 65. Now we need to see other countries and airlines follow suit to help retain the talent that can help guide and mentor the next generation of cadets.

Moreover, training schools and airlines will need to work together to challenge industry stereotypes and empower more women to pursue a career in the cockpit. Currently, just 5.1 per cent of the world’s commercial pilots are women. This means that for every twenty flights taken, only one of them will be piloted by a woman. Unfortunately, this gender imbalance has become a long-established trend within the aviation industry and, stereotypically, pursuing a career as a pilot has been considered a male occupation, with women type cast to cabin crew instead. Therefore, if we are to make proactive strides towards addressing the current pilot shortfall, finding a way to shift that percentage is essential.

The cost of training to be a pilot is also a key barrier the industry needs to address, and at pace. On average, the cost to train as an air transport pilot can exceed $100,000 – making a career in the cockpit unattainable to many. One way for the industry to help narrow the gap and mitigate what is often seen as a considerable financial risk, is to make bursaries more accessible. There are already a number of programmes in place, to support both aspiring pilots and those who need to maintain their licenses, however, now the industry needs to work on championing and expanding these support systems.

The industry also needs to start to embrace alternative approaches to alleviate this substantial outlay. For example, at Alpha Aviation, we have started running the the Multi-Crew Pilot License (MPL). This is a shorter, more simulator-focused way of training that not only opens up opportunities for prospective cadets from less privileged backgrounds, but also offers a more flexible training programme and quicker route to qualification – reducing the financial expenses for cadets to cover.

Technological innovations can also play a crucial role in advancing the training process to help support a consistent employee base. For example, e-learning programmes can enable airlines to expand cadet class sizes. No longer restricted by the physical capacity of training centres, e-learning programmes have the potential to significantly open up access to becoming an aviator and will ensure airlines can recruit the best talent, irrespective of locality. In addition to this, pilots still need to clock up over 1,500 flying hours to receive their ATP certificate. Therefore, investing in simulator training facilities is now pivotal in supporting cadets to keep on top of the legal requirements and improve their skills set at a significantly quicker pace, alongside supporting existing pilots to retrain on new aircrafts when necessary.

Looking ahead

The pressure on the aviation industry shows no signs of abating any time soon. Therefore, while it is great to see passenger numbers returning to near pre-pandemic levels, the industry needs to take this as a significant wakeup call and re-assess its pilot recruitment process.

At the end of the day, there is no quick fix – training top of their class pilots takes time, investment and enthusiasm. However, addressing the ongoing chaos and driving the sector out of this turbulent period is essential to the economic revival of the nation. Therefore, decisive action is needed – and it is needed now.

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