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Banking

Digital Banking – a hedge against uncertainty?

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Ankit Shah, Head of Digital Banking, Apex Group

 

The story of the 2020’s thus far is one of crisis. First the world was plunged into a global pandemic which saw the locking down of people and economies across the world. Now we deal with the inevitable economic consequences as currencies devalue and inflation bites. This has been compounded by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and subsequent energy politics.

And the outlook remains uncertain. Tensions continue to build between China and Taiwan and inflationary conditions are forecast to continue well into 2023. This uncertainty is impacting everyone, and every sector. And finance is no exception with effects being felt everywhere from commodity and FX markets to global supply chains.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Rollercoaster markets and an ever-evolving geopolitical situation have made 2022 a tricky year far, but, despite the challenges, digital banking has proven resilient. In fact, the adoption of digital banking services has continued to grow over the last few years, and is predicted to continue.

So, what are the forces driving this resilience?

In an increasingly digital world and economy, digital banking comes with some advantages baked in, which have seen the sector continue to succeed despite the tumult in the wider world. In fact, the crises which have shaped the decade so far may even have been to the advantage of digital banking. Just as during the pandemic, technologies which could facilitate remote working saw a huge uptick in users, so to digital banking is well suited to a world where both people, and institutions demand the convenience that online banking services offer.

And while uptake of digital banking services is widespread amongst retail consumers, a trend likely to continue as digital first generations like Gen Z become an ever-greater proportion of the consumer market, uptake amongst corporate and institutional customers has been slower. This is largely down to a lack of fintech businesses serving the more complex needs of the institutional market, but, in a post-Covid world of hybrid working business, corporate clients are looking for the same ease of use and geographic freedom in their banking that is enjoyed by retail consumers.

This is not just a pipe dream – with the recent roll out of Apex Group’s Digital Banking services, institutions can enjoy the kind of multi-currency, cloud-based banking solutions, with 24/7 account access that many of us take for granted when it comes to our personal banking.

Staying compliant

One significant difference between retail and business accounts however, for banking service providers, is the relative levels of compliance which are needed. While compliance is crucial in the delivery of all financial services, running compliance on multi-million pound transactions between international businesses brings with it a level of complexity that an individual buying goods and services online doesn’t.

For digital banking services providers, this situation is further compounded by guidance earlier this year from HM Treasury – against the backdrop of the Russia-Ukraine conflict- requiring enhanced levels of compliance and due diligence when it comes to doing business with “a high-risk third country or in relation to any relevant transaction where either of the parties to the transaction is established in a high-risk third country or with a sanctioned individual.”

So, can digital banks meet these standards while also providing institutions with the kind of easily accessible, mobile service which retail customers enjoy?

The answer is yes and again, once initial hurdles are overcome, digital banking brings with it features which give it the edge over traditional banking services. Paperless processes, for example, mean greater transparency and allow for better and more efficient use of data. This means AI can be employed to search documents, as well as provide verification. It also means compliance processes, often notoriously complicated, become easier to track. Indeed, digitising time intensive manual process means the risk of human error in the compliance process is reduced.

Digital banking can also better integrate transaction monitoring tools, helping businesses identify fraud and irregularity more quickly. This can be hugely important, especially in the times of heightened risk we find ourselves in, where falling foul of a sanctions regime could have significant legal, financial and reputational consequences.

Cross-border business

Our world is increasingly globalised, and so is business. For corporate and institutional banking customers, being able to operate seamlessly across borders is key to the operation of their business.

This brings with it challenges, which are again compounded by difficult geopolitical and economic circumstances. In recent weeks for example, we’ve seen significant flux on FX markets which can have real consequences for businesses or institutional investors who are buying and selling assets in multiple currencies and jurisdictions. The ability to move quickly then, and transact in a currency of choice, is vital. Advanced digital banking platforms can help – offering automated money market fund sweeps in multiple core currencies to help their clients optimise their investment returns and effectively manage liquidity.

Control admin uncertainty

In times of uncertainty, digital banking can provide additional comfort via customisable multi-level payment approvals to enhance control of what is being paid out of business accounts, with custom limits available for different users or members of a team. Transparency and accountability are also essential, with corporate clients requiring fully integrated digital reporting and statements and instant visibility with transaction cost and  balances updated in real-time.

Outlook

For some, the perception remains that digital banking is the upstart industry trying to offer the services that the traditional banking industry has built itself upon. Increasingly however, the reality is that the pressure is on traditional banks to try and stake a claim to some of the territory being taken by digital first financial services.

With a whole range of features built in which make them well suited to business in a digital world, digital banking is on a growth trajectory. Until now, much of the focus has been upon the roll-out of services to retail consumers, but with features such as automated compliance, effortless international transactions and powerful AI coming as standard for many digital banks, the digital offering to the corporate world looks increasingly attractive.

Banking

How Banks Can Boost App Innovation, Speed and Compliance

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Steve Barrett, Senior Vice President of International Operations, Delphix 

As new finance and banking applications disrupt the market each day, and customer expectations around speed, privacy and quality continue to grow, financial organization CIOs and DevOps teams have to innovate quickly to bring new apps and updates to market, while remaining strictly compliant to a myriad of regulations. DevOps innovation in financial services requires fast access to accurate, compliant test data, and as anyone who touches the industry knows, data privacy is a highly complex, critical process woven into the everyday world of finance.

Banks and financial services organizations collect vast amounts of data, but using that data for innovation can be challenging due to the vast size and complexity of test data. These challenges can inhibit the adoption of new and transformative technologies and hinder innovation if they are not addressed head on. To address these challenges, many organizations are integrating the use of highly innovative test data management (TDM) tools within their DevOps ecosystems. DevOps TDM provides access and delivery of lightweight, compliant data for DevOps initiatives including digital transformation, software upgrades, cloud migration, artificial intelligence and machine learning (AI/ML), and analytics.

Data – the last automation frontier

Historically, application teams manufactured data for development and testing in a siloed, unstructured fashion. Over time, large IT organizations began consolidating TDM functions to take advantage of innovative tools to create test data. With the rise of modern development methodologies like DevOps and CI/CD that demand fast, iterative release cycles and end-to-end API-driven automation, legacy TDM approaches are often no longer sufficient.

Reliance on a traditionally manual, ticket-driven, request-fulfill model creates time drains during test cycles and slows the pace of application delivery. Consider the payments industry, in which agile technology companies using optimized DevOps processes can release new code hundreds of times per month. In contrast, traditional banks with slow IT ticketing systems may take months to release new features. These manual, legacy TDM approaches exist in contradiction with modern DevOps practices and CI/CD processes that depend on automation and fast feedback to development teams.

TDM for the DevOps Era

DevOps teams rely on TDM to evaluate the performance, functionality and security of applications. However, while processes including storage, compute, and code have all been automated, data has eluded the reach of most DevOps toolchains.

Now, DevOps TDM can help accelerate app releases and increase compliance.by automating the delivery, provisioning, and compliance of data. These practices provide both development and testing teams with data APIs, including the ability to refresh, rewind, bookmark, group, tag, branch, and share test data, to accelerate DevOps productivity and improve application quality. DevOps TDM also includes copying production data, and the masking (anonymization) and virtualization of data through the DevOps pipeline, which helps accelerate app releases and increase compliance.

And as the pace of application development quickens, so does the pace of privacy regulations and efficiently ensuring compliance in DevOps has become a significant challenge for enterprises. Non-production data used for testing software applications, reporting, and analytics can contain up to 80% of an enterprise’s sensitive data. To solve this, DevOps TDM provides integrated data masking to de-identify personally identifiable information (PII) and other sensitive data in non-production environments, eliminating the risk of sensitive data exposure.

The World Quality Report 2022-2023[1] by Capgemini stressed the importance of an enterprise wide approach to test data provisioning (a core component of TDM). The report states, “Over the years, with stringent regulatory and security requirements around data, organizations have increased their focus on provisioning test data safely and securely.”

The report shows that secure test data provisioning remains a challenge, with only 20% of respondents having a fully-implemented enterprise test data provisioning strategy in place to address security and compliance requirements.

Data is the catalyst to innovation

Automation is fueling myriad digital transformations within the financial services sector, but without the right data, these application innovations cannot succeed. DevOps TDM can help further accelerate DevOps initiatives by automatically delivering fresh, complete, and secure test data wherever and whenever it is needed, in minutes. With DevOps TDM, banks and financial institutions can innovate faster, reduce time-to-market for updating legacy applications, and accelerate development and testing of disruptive fintech.

 

[1] Source: https://www.capgemini.com/insights/research-library/world-quality-report-wqr-2022/

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Banking

Is traditional business banking the best option for SME finance squeezes?

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Airto Vienola, CEO, AREX Markets 

The pressures facing business and personal finances alike have been well documented.

Stories are now starting to emerge about how smaller enterprises around the UK – which make up well over 90% of the companies in the country – are coping with that mounting stress. The picture starting to emerge suggests, not well.

Personal borrowing is bridging gaps in business books

One survey released recently suggested that one in five of the country’s small businesses have taken out personal loans by the business owner to try to cover gaps in their incomes and profit margins. A further 43% said they were considering doing the same. This rush to secure additional funds by any means may be understandable for businesses feeling the pinch, but it’s neither sustainable nor savvy. Many of these enterprises are already burdened with additional debt from the Covid relief scheme, and given rising interest rates, soaring energy costs and rising cost of goods, taking on additional debt is not an attractive prospect. Add to that the fact that rates from traditional business banking providers are proving steep, smaller enterprises could be forgiven for looking to personal means to shore up the balance sheet. A recent study from members of the Federation of Small Businesses found that one in five small businesses are struggling to find business lending rates under 11%. To help these companies to survive, something clearly has to give.

Not all Alt-Fi options are equal

Alternative finance services have been proliferating in recent times, and yet almost half of small business operators have concerns about pursuing this option, despite actively seeking additional funding support. Clarity over terms and conditions is an often-cited reason for this reticence, which is only natural when undertaking proper due diligence on financial lending. This is a wise choice, especially as it has become so easy for business owners to quickly and simply access new services through embedded finance services, just a few clicks away on existing digital accounting and bookkeeping services. Many of these are still not clear about any detailed fine print, lengthy contract terms or potentially high fees, and yet these too can look like accessible and viable options to business owners facing mounting financial issues.So, it can be hard to pick the right provider without a lot of research. Those wary of the long tail of taking on debt should be particularly careful when it comes to business Buy Now Pay Later or BNPL offers, which are currently entering the UK market, though that isn’t to say that other alternative financing services won’t suit their specific needs whilst mitigating fears over risk.

A fresh perspective on an established technique

So, if debt should not be an option, and embedded finance can have downsides, where should SMEs turn if they don’t want to kick the can of cashflow problems just a few months down the road? One area to reevaluate, which has seen a tremendous shift given the fresh thinking from alternative finance is invoice financing or spot factoring. No longer the imbalanced option of last resort it was traditionally perceived to be, the option has become much fairer to the SME, in addition to providing a swifter and more flexible alternative. In years gone by, invoice financing was the purview of the banks, which led to low rates of return for businesses looking to unlock the value in their organisation, and often much better value flowing back instead to the lender taking on the risk. This is no longer the case. Likewise, invoice financing earned a bad reputation among some for tying businesses into lengthy contracts – another area which current services in the market have since addressed. Our service for example allows businesses the flexibility to access cash back on just a single invoice of their choosing – which could be the difference for struggling SMEs between dipping into loss or keeping the lights on.

One answer to the late payments problem?

Perhaps the most important area which services like invoice financing assist is overdue invoices – the bane of the British SME. Barclays claimed earlier this year that over a quarter of SMEs are finding late payments to be on the increase, and this was an already notorious issue for many business owners. Estimates show that SMEs on average have £6500 in unpaid invoices at any given time. Financing these invoices ensures that the cashflow of these strapped SMEs is healthier, gets the money back into the business without the concerns of lengthy payment terms or endless chasing, and certainly in our case, has no impact on the relationship with the other organisation. Our platform acts as a marketplace between SME and likely investors, with extensive insight provided to make sure that those investing in the invoice are matched to the right businesses. We take on the intermediate risk – removing any suggestion or potential concerns around unwanted debt collection, for additional business owner peace of mind.

While the pressures may be mounting on the SMEs around the country, one thing is clear. No business should rush into making long term financial decisions simply as the cashflow is drying up. Any savvy business would be well advised to make sure they understand the implications, short and long term, of any lending solution they look to employ. However, knowing that there are options and the business’ bottom line does not simply have to rely on traditional banking services, should provide business owners with a lot more options at their disposal to help them to face the coming months with greater cash liquidity confidence.

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