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DIGITAL FINANCE: UNLOCKING NEW CAPITAL IN DISRUPTED MARKETS

Krishnan Raghunathan, Head of Finance & Accounting Services at WNS, explores how a digitally transformed finance department can give enterprises the ability they need to improve cash flow and revenue through better use of data and improved analytics-driven visibility.  

Businesses everywhere are scrambling to recover lost revenues and protect cash flow. But as countries globally grapple with a dreaded second wave of the pandemic, imposing far more stringent localised lockdowns and new restrictions, it is set to be the hardest winter in living memory for many sectors.

The likelihood of winter peaks, so often the saviour of sectors such as travel and hospitality, benefitting businesses is diminishing rapidly. While many have pivoted to a greater or lesser degree, few have been able to offset the impact of falling revenues on cash flow. Even retail, riding an e-commerce boom in many regions, is finding itself in choppy waters, with 17 percent of consumers switching brands due to the economic pressures and changing priorities caused by the pandemic.

As one McKinsey article notes, “With some companies losing up to 75 percent of their revenues in a single quarter, cash isn’t just king – it’s now critical for survival”. Where then do businesses find new sources of cash to sustain their operations through the coming months?

 

Tapping Overlooked Cash Opportunities

Krishnan Raghunathan

For many, the answer could depend on whether they have digitally transformed their finance department. Why? Because many organisations are sitting on unidentified opportunities, funds that could be vital in shoring up businesses over the next few months or plugging the gap between operating costs and government bailouts. Yet those that have been slow to start their digital transformation journey are at a disadvantage;. At the same time, it is possible to identify these hidden seams in an analogue organisation, the process is time-consuming, manually intensive and, without the right digital tools, prone to human error.

Where deploying digital tools helps is by bringing speed, automation and reliable data to the fore. Connecting them with digital finance and accounting systems can give businesses clear insights into how money is being spent, where wastage is occurring, and where opportunities for optimisation exist.

It might be something as simple as automating the accuracy checking, issuing and chasing of invoices and late payments. This could reduce errors and invoice disputes and ultimately lead to faster payments. Accuracy and organisation are also important in billing – better records enable faster billing for work completed, and in turn, should deliver quicker payments.

It could also be around having the ability to review the supply chain and procurement data and identify where a supplier is subsidising a larger customer’s product line through drawn-out payment terms, or where a variety of vendors are on different terms across the business. Using that data and overall knowledge of the business to negotiate better terms that work for both supplier and customer can create new opportunities. It could even be to identify late-paying customers, determine the reason for late payments, and use that intelligence to develop products or financing solutions that continue to support those customers (and improve loyalty) without increasing the burden on the balance sheet.

 

Generating Reliable Insights for Faster Decision-making

To do any of these manually would take months, generating data slowly that would quickly go out of date. But digital finance departments have evidence they can trust to inform business decision-making. That’s because old, manual processes built around Order-to-Cash lack the flexibility and agility that businesses require in today’s markets. The fact is that even before the global pandemic crisis, the pace of digitisation across all sectors was demanding new approaches to finance and book balance.

The opportunities are significant – from cognitive credit and improved forecasting accuracy to enhanced customer analytics. All use similar tools, based on artificial intelligence and quality, trusted data. Cognitive credit can be deployed to quickly make decisions on whether to advance or restrict credit, based on individual company positions and available data. Doing so enables businesses to either capitalise on opportunities (for instance, agreeing credit for a supplier that has run out but is a supportive and integral partner) or avoid risk (in the cases where a business might be in administration).

With more accurate forecasts, businesses can better manage their currency purchases and deposits, selling currency that is not required or buying more where predictions identify an upcoming demand.

It is the same with customer analytics – with a greater understanding of customer needs, businesses can make decisions based on the right mix of the product (and how it meets demand) and supply chain suitability (such as production costs and location in relation to customers).

In many ways, the events of the past year have accelerated the process. In doing so, the problem is the pandemic has also accelerated the speed at which failure to act can lead to obsolescence. Therefore, it is vital that businesses, and more particularly their finance and accounting departments, kick start their digital transformation. This will enable them to deploy the tools and analytics that is needed to capture data, generate insights and drive fast, accurate decision-making to uncover previously untapped sources of cash and reverse revenue degradation.

 

The Importance of Digitally Enabled Finance Teams

Forward-thinking CFOs have already begun the process of digitising their departments, but for those that have been slow to start, now is the time to push forward. It is only through digital tools and analytics that finance leaders can identify both the internal and external opportunities to recover revenue and improve cash flow. Whether that’s releasing working capital, minimising revenue loss and accelerating revenue recovery, reducing total cost of ownership or enhancing customer retention – only digitally enabled finance teams will be in a position to capitalise and, ultimately, bolster business performance during what will be a trading period like no other.

 

 

About the author: Krishnan Raghunathan

Krishnan Raghunathan is the head of Finance & Accounting (F&A) practice and operations at WNS. He also leads the international delivery locations in China, Costa Rica,  Spain, Sri Lanka, Romania, The Philippines, Poland and USA.

Prior to this, Krishnan was Chief Capability Officer for WNS, in that role he headed Horizontal practices across Finance & Accounting, Customer Interaction Services and Research & Analytics, Transformation & Process Excellence, Program Management (Transitions) and Solutions development.

He has more than 27 years of experience across Finance & Accounting, Business Process Management, Sales Solutions and Capability functions including 7 years in Accounting practice.

Before joining WNS in 2013, Krishnan led several challenging roles at Genpact, supporting strategic deals and consultative selling. In addition, Krishnan was also the business leader for a number of industry verticals at Genpact, including hospitality, transportation, logistics, media and professional services

Krishnan is a Chartered Accountant, a Certified Six Sigma Green Belt and a trained Six Sigma Black Belt

 

Finance

WHAT’S NEXT? PAYMENT TRENDS IN 2021

Philip McHugh, CEO at Paysafe

 

Undoubtedly COVID-19 is going to continue having an impact on us all at least for the next few months and maybe all of this year, but there are still reasons to be optimistic. The industry continues to evolve quickly, and that in mind, here’s five of our predictions to watch out for in payments in 2021:

 

1. New consumers to online change the digital payments landscape

As more consumers headed online during the first wave of COVID-19, businesses noticed that their customers were also paying differently. Three quarters (76%) of the businesses we recently asked for our Lost in Transaction research report series said that consumers were using different payment methods during the pandemic, with the increased use of digital wallets being the most common. Having more customers that were new to eCommerce, and customers now shopping regularly with businesses that they were not comfortable sharing their financial details with, were key reasons for this.

Consumers confirmed this was true. When we asked in April, 18% of consumers told us they shopped online for the first time during the pandemic. With 38% of consumers telling us they are planning to shop online more even when COVID-19 is no longer a factor in their lives, we should see this shift to alternative payments continue.

 

2. SCA will drive mass adoption of biometric authentication 

Perhaps the first factor to shake up the payments industry in 2021 is going to have the greatest impact of any trend we will see in the coming year. That is because, after a series of extensions, the deadline for PSD2 Strong Customer Authentication is fast approaching. From December 31 2020 any transaction that isn’t verified by multi-factor authentication will be automatically declined.

One of the inevitable consequences of this is going to be a huge increase in the use of biometrics to verify payments. With the growth of mCommerce that we have seen before and during COVID-19, it seems very likely this will accelerate beyond predictions made at the initial SCA deadline in 2019. Juniper Research has already predicted that biometrics will be used for more than 18 billion transactions in 2021, with a value exceeding $210 billion in 2021.

 

3. A renewed focus on 5G

The importance of 5G and the growth of the IOT was another prediction we made for 2020. But while the impact of the pandemic has been to accelerate many of the trends we expected to see, perhaps one area where the pandemic has actually slowed adoption is the growth of 5G. With consumers spending so much time at home, appetite for personal 5G-enabled devices has been limited.

But at the same time, the need for the in-store shopping experience to be as frictionless as possible is now more important than ever. Almost half (46%) of businesses told us that they had lost sales in 2020 because their checkout times were too slow. So the use of 5G technology to overhaul the checkout will be back at the top of retailers’ agendas.

Almost half (47%) of stores told us that 5G will mean the end of the traditional checkout, and more than half (53%) believe that Amazon-Go style frictionless checkouts are the future of retail. Omnichannel experiences where consumers shop in a store and then pay via a digital checkout on a smartphone app are also on businesses’ radars.

 

4. A surge in subscription models

Almost one fifth (18%) of stores told us that they had launched a subscription services during the pandemic, and this is not only a result of business need but also customer demand. Overall, 27% of consumers told us that they were already planning to increase the number of subscriptions they had in the future, and this rose to 37% for consumers aged 18-34.

The growth will not be limited to digital either. Pret A Manger recently launched the first in-store coffee subscription service in the UK, and we expect to see similar models populating malls and independent stores soon.

Also, only the initial purchase of a subscription is subject to PSD2 multi-factor authentication. So for some businesses, launching a subscription service may be a way to reduce friction in the online checkout.

 

5. AI and machine learning as the cornerstone of fraud prevention

We’ve known about the importance of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to financial services for years, but in many cases the industry has been slow to implement the technology. With the sophistication of financial crime increasing, and the growing concerns of consumers of being a victim of fraud, it is no surprise that adoption is now accelerating rapidly.

Banks have currently spent as much as $217bn on AI applications already, and in 2021 AI and machine learning based systems will be the standard in fraud prevention.

 

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Finance

FIVE TRENDS THAT WILL IMPACT THE FINANCIAL SERVICES INDUSTRY IN 2021

Ian Johnson, Managing Director Europe at Marqeta

 

Coronavirus has shaken things up across all industries, and financial services is no different. This year, we are likely to see a much more risk averse industry, as fintechs and banks alike move into survival mode. Yet, this will also spur innovation. The shift away from cash will give a shot in the arm to digital payments, while lenders in particular will have to get creative to balance their risk against the need to dispense funds.

It’s likely to be an interesting, albeit bumpy, year. Here are five core trends that I see having a major impact in 2021.

 

Lenders will seek improved visibility to combat delinquency

An economic downturn unfortunately means higher delinquency rates for lenders. But businesses – in particular, SMEs – need liquidity to survive, now more than ever. To balance risk with need, more lenders will focus on enabling visibility and control after a loan is dispensed. Instead of issuing funds to a bank account, loans will be dispensed to virtual cards or wallets, allowing lenders to track exactly how and where money is spent. This way, lenders only release funds as they are needed – rather than in one lump sum.

Ian Johnson

They also have the power to approve or reject payments in real-time, based on whether the request is aligned with the terms of the loan agreement. For instance, if a company has secured a loan for IT equipment, but attempts to spend it on office refreshments, the lender can make an instant decision to permit or deny the transaction based on geolocation and other transactional data. So, borrowers should ready themselves to be much more transparent if they want to secure loans in the future.

 

Embedded payments to become more commonplace

Embedded payments has been around a long time – just look at pioneers like Uber, where payments are so integral to the customer experience that it doesn’t even feel like you’re paying anymore. In the next year, we will see this expand, with a wider variety of organisations making payments a core element of their customer experience strategies. This trend will be coupled with a shift towards transparency and privacy, where people willingly exchange their data for an improved, personalised experience.

This is something consumers do readily in many areas of online life already – shopping, social media, and so on. In 2021, we will see more banking and payment services operating off the back of this same exchange. In return for data, customers will be given smoother, more tailored payment experiences.

 

Use of cash to drop below 15%, falling from 23% of all payments in 2019

The UK and Europe’s departure from cash will continue to evolve into next year. Physical cards will begin to give way to a rise in digital payment methods – virtual cards, digital wallets, and the likes of Apple Pay and Google Pay. Banks will need to prepare for this shift; hopefully learning their lesson from the early months of the pandemic, where 88% were overwhelmed by demand for online and mobile banking. This means modernising behind the scenes, using technology to improve and streamline payment processing. Time and money also need to be invested into educating and supporting businesses and individuals that going cashless could leave vulnerable, such as small merchants and elderly people. Until this has been addressed, going cashless risks leaving the most vulnerable in our society behind.

 

Back-end bank modernisation set to continue

Traditional banks recognise that they need to be able to innovate faster, particularly on the front-end, to compete with the new waves of digital banks and fintech entering the market. While we will see continued modernisation on the back-end, as they try to unpick the complex web of legacy systems they sit upon, I would not expect this issue to be fixed in a year. Instead of taking on the risk of full migration, many banks will ‘hollow out’ certain services – leaving core services in place that are too risky to move, whilst shifting newer services onto more modern platforms to avoid coding them into legacy systems.

This will create the building blocks to build a standalone digital bank within a bank, allowing them to modernise the entire stack and then incentivising customers to make the switch. An example of this approach is Goldman Sachs’ digital bank Marcus, which has debuted to strong demand – it’ll be interesting to see if others follow suit.

 

Alternative lenders will open up the market to support post-COVID-19 recovery

The process of securing a loan has always been quite painful – involving lots of self-reporting, paper statements and credit reports. And it could take days to find out if you were successful and then even longer to access the funds. Thankfully, it is looking like those days might be coming to an end with the emergence of a new breed of alternative lender focused on transforming specific niches of lending. Take SME lending, which has traditionally been regarded as high risk/low rewards and neglected by traditional lenders.

New alternative lenders, such as Capital on Tap, are changing the stakes. Using data and modern payment platforms, they are able to make loan decisions in minutes, not months. We are seeing the same in Point of Sale lending with companies like Klarna – now, you can apply for a POS loan and get approved in seconds. These companies will set the standard in terms of expectations around lending, forcing bigger lenders to follow suit and helping to transform the loan experience.

 

Fintechs to continue leading front-end innovation

Fintechs hold the monopoly on defining what ‘good’ looks like in terms of features. From money management tools, to saving incentives, fintechs have the agility to create new, attractive products with a speed and creativity that traditional banks simply cannot match. However, true success stories of fintechs paving the way to long term profitability are rare. Established, traditional banks still hold all the capital and most of the main checking accounts, making it harder for fintechs to really get ahead. This is likely to continue into 2021, but we are seeing signs of convergence, with fintechs acting as the front-end for customers while banks provide capital in the background.

 

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