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DIVERSIFYING HIRING PRACTICES TO BRIDGE THE SKILLS GAP

Jennifer Warawa, EVP at Sage

Talent scarcity and the skills gap have become very real concerns in the UK. We are currently in a period of high employment, and at the same time, uncertainty surrounding Brexit has caused a reduction in immigrant labour, reducing the talent pool further. For accountancy, the skills gap issue is even more acute because it is already an industry with a very limited talent pool. When asked to describe an accountant, it is likely that many of us would describe a very similar person. For a variety of reasons, accountancy as a profession attracts a very specific group – often male, university educated, usually from a Russell Group university. Hiring from such a small pool means that the squeeze on talent is even tighter in this sector.

Recent Sage research shows that 90% of accountants worldwide believe there has been a cultural shift in accountancy. While traditional bookkeeping skills remain important, there is a movement from a transactional industry to one focused on consultancy and partnerships. As the profession itself is shifting, the traditional training and hiring processes need to adapt to encompass the different skills required to fulfil these roles.

To tackle talent scarcity, much of the focus in accountancy so far has been on upskilling existing employees or finding innovative ways to attract talent from abroad. Although these are valid ways to combat the skills gap, accountants can go further.

The benefits of a diversified workforce

By broadening the pool of potential employees to include a wider skillset and then investing more in training these employees, businesses can mitigate the impact of talent scarcity by discovering talents that standard hiring practices might not uncover.  Rather than looking for homogenous talent, HR professionals hiring accountants can go further by shifting their focus to redefine the types of candidates that they consider to be desirable, as well as how they train them.

Sage’s new Practice of Now research has found that a third of businesses are actively looking to diversify their workforce. With the current shortage of the skills that are needed to build a modern, digital firm, accountants must build a workforce that goes beyond the traditional accounting heartlands—one that makes use of individuals with a broader range of skills, and from a broader range of backgrounds. 

By broadening their definition of what makes a good employee, businesses can equip themselves with a wider array of skills and viewpoints. This is useful from a strategic standpoint as it enables the company to provide a more complete picture of client needs. From an operational perspective, it also gives access to valuable, non-traditional skills like data science and coding. Additionally, a diverse range of backgrounds and skillsets brings with it a wider base of experiences and viewpoints, enabling firms to engage on a consultative level with a more varied client base – which in turn provides the opportunity to boost the bottom line.

Prioritising diversity: practical steps

It’s all well and good deciding that your business is ready to employ a more diverse workforce, but how do you ensure you action this new strategy and avoid falling into old stereotypes and practices? Here are some practical ways to get started.

More and more companies are seeing the value of offering employees flexible working practices and implementing flexi-time or home working. By offering more flexible working practices, accountancy can accommodate the needs of a more varied talent pool such as working mums or carers.

Additionally,by investing heavily in training and upskilling, you can unlock hidden skills in existing employees that they might not have realised they had . This investment will also enable employers to train different candidates so that everyone is adding as much value as possible across the business. For example, having open training sessions could reveal numeracy or presenting skills in employees in roles that aren’t currently capitalising on these talents. What’s more, providing additional training for those who have raw talent but may not have been through the traditional training channels, can help bridge the gap between their background and potential.

Another area to consider re-evaluating is your recruitment process. One interesting method being used by Sage customer Bremont, a UK-based luxury watch manufacturer, is the concept of open application days. The company opens its doors to anyone who wants to try their hand at watchmaking, from high-school dropouts to long-time craftspeople. They are then given technical challenges, during which Bremont gets the chance to detect whether the candidates have the basic manual aptitude required for the job, rather than screening candidates based on their CVs. It then takes on those with potential and invests in training them over the next two years. Hiring in this way also enables companies to consider candidates without prejudice or preconception and therefore broaden the talent pool considerably, ending up with a highly-trained and loyal workforce.

Changing culture

Whichever strategies work for your practice, the main challenge will be the shift in perspective and working practices that are required to accommodate an evolving workforce. HR will need to work with line-of-business teams to help them understand the value that a broader hiring programme can bring the business and how any traditional resourcing challenges can be overcome, for example, in an always-on customer services function.

With a new and more diverse workforce, understanding and knowing your employees is even more complex and important. Data analytics or ‘people science’ will be an essential element of a successful diversification strategy. By using analytics to better understand your employees, facilitate tailored individual KPIs and perform continuous performance management, companies can get new hires bedded in as quickly as possible and ensure that people management processes are as effective as possible.

A more diverse hiring strategy increases the chance that businesses will hire the right person for the right role and give them access to a wider range of ideas and viewpoints. Diversifying hiring practices should be a strategic imperative for the good of the business – the possibilities are huge.

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Business

HARNESSING ANALYTICS IN THE FIGHT AGAINST FRAUD

ANALYTICS

By Anna Lykourina, EMEA Fraud Analytics Expert at SAS

 

In the past, the fight against fraud has been a bit hit-and-miss. It has relied on auditors to identify patterns of behaviour that just didn’t quite fit. They often only detected problems months after the event. And then organisations had to claw back stolen funds through legal processes.

In a world where transactions happen in under a second, however, this is no longer acceptable. We need to be able to detect fraud immediately, if not before it happens. Customers want safe and protected data that is not vulnerable to identity theft through company systems. But they still want to be able to pay online and in seconds. The stakes are high, but fortunately new tools and techniques in fraud analytics are enabling companies to stay ahead of fraud.

 

Trusting machines to do the work

Machines are much better than humans at processing large data sets. They are able to examine large numbers of transactions and recognise thousands of fraud patterns instead of the few captured by creating rules. On the other hand, fraudsters have become adept at finding loopholes. Whatever rules you set, it is likely that they will be able to get ahead of them. But what if your system was able to think for itself, at least to a certain extent?

New approaches to fraud prevention combine rules-based systems with machine learning and artificial intelligence-based fraud detection systems. These hybrid systems are able to detect and recognise thousands of fraud patterns and learn from the data. Automated analytical-based fraud detection systems can reveal novel fraud patterns and identify organised crime more consistently, efficiently and quickly. This makes them a good investment for businesses across a wide range of sectors, including public sector, insurance, banking, and even healthcare or telecommunications.

How, though, can you harness analytics as a tool in your fight against fraud?

 

Identifying needs and solutions

The first step is to identify which options you need. Probably the best way to do this is through a series of company-wide workshops with the fraud analytics experts to determine what analytics you need, which data to include and techniques to use, and what results to report. They can also identify the ideal combination of rules-based and AI/ML approaches to detect fraud as early as possible.

Companies looking towards advanced analytics for fraud detection will need to make a number of decisions. They will need to optimise existing scenario threshold tuning, explore big data, develop and interpret machine learning models for fraud, discover relevant information in text data, and prioritise and auto-route alerts. There may be industry-specific decisions to make, too, such as automating damage analysis through image recognition in the insurance sector. By automating these areas, companies can both significantly reduce human effort – reducing costs – and improve their fraud detection and prevention.

 

Benefits of an analytical approach to fraud detection and prevention

Companies that are already using an analytical approach for fraud prevention have reported several important benefits. First, the quality of referrals for further investigation is better. Investigators also have a much clearer idea of why the referral has been made, which improves the efficiency of investigation. Analytics also improves investigation efficiency by reducing the number of both false positives (that is, alerts that turn out not to be fraud) and false negatives (failure to spot actual frauds). This improves customer experience and reduces risk to the company.

Analytics makes it possible to uncover complex or organised fraud that rules-based systems would miss. Companies can group together customers and accounts with similar behaviors, and then set risk-based thresholds appropriate for each scenario.

There are several sector-specific benefits too. For example, insurance firms can identify fraudulent claims faster to prevent improper payments from going out. Claims investigation is likely to be more consistent because claims are scored through technology, algorithms and analytics, rather than by people. Finally, it becomes possible to shorten the claims process through automated damage analysis. It is no wonder that organizations across a wide range of sectors are placing analytics at the heart of their anti-fraud strategy.

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Business

2020 VISION: TRANSFORMING THE LEGAL DOCUMENTATION LANDSCAPE THROUGH STRUCTURED DATA

STRUCTURED DATA

Jason Pugh, Managing Director, D2 Legal Technology

 

The derivatives industry has been transformed by the proactive engagement of its members over the last 30+ years, an exemplar of bright, resourceful individuals coming together to achieve business outcomes that benefit the industry as a whole. From pioneering the master agreement, the eye-catching creation of protocols, to harmonisation of business process through the likes of FpML, the industry has constantly evolved.

Today, the industry is facing new challenges and while many will consider, correctly, that the proliferation of global and regional regulations since the financial crisis has both been challenging and led to unintended consequences, there is an even more stark reality that players in this market need to consider, i.e. surviving in a disrupted universe.

 

Jason Pugh, Managing Director, D2 Legal Technology, outlines the potential that can be achieved by enhancing legal data standards and how that this is an essential precondition to fundamentally transforming the operating environment through technology.

 

We all witness the impact of Uber and Amazon in every walk of life which has extended client expectations. We all know that as clients appreciate and come to expect these new capabilities and services, disrupted technology will not be put back into the bottle.

Similarly, clients in the financial services industry rightly expect more for less. It may also be less complex than we fear – the industry is, after all, not as unique as it likes to think and a vast proportion of our business can be commoditised.

The critical challenge for the industry is therefore to transform itself into a cheaper and better risk managed operation that achieves the twin goals of client satisfaction and regulatory compliance – this means simplification, the current framework is too complex comprising too many disparate processes pieced together in a makeshift manner.

The correlation between better client service, better risk management/compliance and cost efficiency is high when viewed through the prism of effective front to back processes. This is the challenge the industry faces, and the good news is that many of the strands are already being developed; the challenge is to bring them together.

 

The journey so far

Over these last decades, ISDA has worked with its members and market participants to produce and maintain a documentation framework. It has constantly responded to market changes and this has led to an evolution of its suite of documentation especially with the development of the ISDA Master Agreement and associated documentation, such as various annexes, definitional booklets and protocols. This framework has provided important legal certainty, clarity and efficiency for market participants and critically transformed the credit risk profile of trading entities through the concept of close-out netting.

In recent years, the number of standard form documents and their complexity has proliferated often in response to regulatory requirements. Many of the core terms have remained constant, yet there has been an ever-increasing number of variants in the specific clauses used within the documentation framework, increasing the time taken for negotiation and onboarding of new client relationships.  These increased variances have different commercial and operational effects and have precipitated multiple bespoke business processes to monitor, at a time when monitoring has been more scrutinised than ever, post financial crisis.

The increased cost of supporting pre- and post-trade activities and complying with the new regulatory obligations, alongside reduced profit margins in the derivatives business, is not sustainable. Against a backdrop of an increasingly digital and data-driven world, there is a need and an opportunity to standardise and digitise the legal documentation.

Through the adoption of common market standards, the market will be able to leverage technology-enabled contract delivery and management solutions, as well as allow the use of technology such as Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT) and smart derivatives contracts.

Significant work has progressed in these areas through the work of ISDA and others and there is a broader recognition of the need for market infrastructure, utilities, data governance, documentation change and process change. However, there is more to be done and until recently, legal agreement clause/data standardisation and legal agreement data had been at the periphery of current legal technology initiatives. But it is now falling into the mainstream, with clause taxonomies which are designed to address the growth of clause variants into one singular vernacular. Most importantly, we have seen the development of an outcomes based approach where variants are being condensed if they relate to the same business outcome. This is foundational when looking to enhance process, reduce risk and meet client expectations.

 

A glimpse of what “strategic state” looks like

Historically, written legal agreements have been king as we look to document and evidence the intention of trading parties, which has been largely effective. However, the legal profession has, on occasion, complicated contracts through verbose legalese that is not even consistent with the prose of other lawyers and incomprehensible to the uninitiated – never mind those e.g. in operations, giving effect and managing the risks arising from the contractual obligations they create.

The environment has changed and in an increasingly data-driven world, it is no longer the written word that is king. Firms are moving to operationalise their businesses through automated data-driven processes, and accordingly, key commercial and operational terms, as well as risks monitored within legal agreements need to form a part of the business process if they are to play a part in optimising the business decision-making, management of commercial risks and operations. However, until the key data elements of the legal agreements are structured, transparent and consumable, this optimisation is impossible. This means defining standard structured data variables and allowable values for those defined variables.

 

It all starts with structured data

We are on an inevitable journey to data-orientated legal agreements, with a representation of the written contractual terms in a manner that follows a consistent, predictable and structured data format. There are numerous tangible benefits to data orientated contracts, such as enhancing the process of negotiating legal agreements, allowing the opportunity to automate the creation and delivery of legal agreement documentation, and negotiate and execute it with multiple counterparties simultaneously, by focusing on intended business outcomes.

By having a standard list of variants focusing on outcomes of those clauses, it is possible to utilise LegalTech solutions to parse through legacy legal agreement documentation, and classify the clauses contained within such documentation against those standards and successfully manage those contractual obligations to optimise the business.

 

Challenges on the road to delivery

Markets and industries, by their very nature, tend to resist new ideas, products and standards. Added to this is the sheer amount of change to the pre- and post-trade processing and market infrastructure landscape in OTC derivatives following the 2008 financial crisis.

However, to unlock the benefits of the changing legal documentation landscape, the focus needs to be on data. Firms have historically under-invested in core reference data, and whilst there have been marked improvements, the standard is lacking for legal contract data; firms are simply unable to systematically understand the risks emanating from their broad contractual portfolio.

Clause taxonomies create a framework in which to work with legal agreements and manage the contractual obligations they contain, allowing classification to be conducted within the framework of that taxonomy. Although taxonomies are a well-established approach to categorising and linking to business processes, these have only been used to a limited extent by market participants for legal agreement management, and typically created individually (often for a particular department or specific use within a firm). They do however, form the foundations of optimising value from business processes and unlocking value through (legal) change.

 

Conclusion

Market participants have demonstrated considerable pioneering spirit to develop the industry through legal documentation. It now needs to be bold enough to take the next step to unlocking the digital agenda by developing common data standards. There are times when firms should compete and there are times when they should converge for the common good – and this in one of them.

Structured data will enable technology to provide the insights clients require with a far simpler and more sustainable operating model. We therefore need to think smart and adapt to operate in this new landscape which we should embrace, rather than resist.

 

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