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FORECASTING DRIVEN BY DATA FOR THREE-QUARTERS OF BUSINESSES

– yet research shows slow progress up the data maturity scale

 

More than three-quarters (77%) of businesses now rely on data for planning and forecasting, according to an MHR Analytics survey.

 

Yet progress along the data maturity scale is slow, with initial findings from the Data Maturity Quiz indicating that most businesses are still stuck in the early stages.

 

The quiz is a diagnostic tool that assesses the extent to which organisations are optimising their data to achieve goals. It provides guidance on overcoming barriers to climbing the data maturity scale and has so far been completed by over 150 medium-to-large organisations.

 

Findings from those completing the quiz to-date show 68% are now fully committed to harnessing analytics to make evidence-based business decisions.  But nearly half (43%) of respondents are struggling to determine what big data initiatives to measure, and 60 percent don’t have a strategy to improve the level of insight from their data.

 

Two thirds (66%) remain in stages one and two (the operational and descriptive stages) of the five-stage scale:

 

STAGE 1 – Operational. Reporting is limited to tasks that are critical for business operations, with no formal BI (Business Intelligence) and analytics tools or standard in place to support this, and spreadsheets used as a primary means of reporting.

 

STAGE 2 – Descriptive. BI and analytics are in their early stages of implementation and are used to report on activity.

 

STAGE 3 – Planning. Using tools like scenario planning, BI and analytics are used not just to report on what’s happening, but to plan for the future.

 

STAGE 4 – Predictive. Data analytics is used to predict what will happen five, ten, even twenty years from now and to pinpoint the key drivers of trends.

 

STAGE 5 – Prescriptive. Users no longer have to input variables into the system to predict future outcomes. Instead, Machine Learning and AI make it possible to detect issues before they’re even considered.

 

“Many surveys show organisations are well aware of the benefits of the planning and predictive capabilities they couldbe using, particularly within finance and accounting functions, but most are not adopting them yet, despite evidence that those who progress further along the journey soon reap the rewards,” said data maturity expert Laura Timms, product strategy manager at MHR Analytics.

 

“It is often data quality issues that prevent businesses from climbing the data scale as quickly as they would like, and that is where investment should typically be focused – in collating and coordinating existing data sets to enable much more valuable systems to be implemented. A recent PwC survey showed the main *challenges to implementation for 62 percent of businesses were data silos or organisational silos.”

 

“The results mirror what we see when working with our 750 customers around the UK as well as overseas. Spreadsheets and the manual work that comes with managing them are still blighting data quality and business processes, making it difficult for organisations to break down silos and obtain a clear picture across their business and progress to the further stages of data maturity they need to compete.”

 

The MHR Analytics Data Maturity Quiz produces practical steps to improving data maturity and aims to demystify some of the jargon about data and provide a no-nonsense diagnosis.

 

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Business

HELPING SMES ACCESS FINANCE IN EXTRAORDINARY TIMES

Tim Vine, Head of Credit Intelligence at Dun & Bradstreet

 

The closed doors of businesses have become a sadly familiar sight on the high street. With social distancing in force, many of the small and medium-sized enterprises at the heart of the economy have been lockdown was enforced. Unfortunately, it looks like we’re a long way from returning to business as usual.

Access to finance is critical for many small and medium enterprises (SMEs) right now. The government has recognised this with loan schemes that seek to inject much needed cashflow into smaller businesses, and financial services providers are equally looking to offer support.

However, in recent years SMEs have had a tricky relationship with borrowing, lacking confidence with the types of finance and options available. In 2018, nearly half of the UK’s small business owners viewed themselves as permanent non-borrowers (47%). Equally, lenders have sometimes struggled to access the information needed to make robust loan decisions.

Understanding the full range of lending options available will be critical for smaller businesses to make informed borrowing decisions in the coming weeks. Credit reference agencies (CRAs) can play a key role in supporting SMEs, as they secure the finance they need to weather the current storm.

 

Tim Vine

The double-edged sword

The borrowing decisions taken now will impact the financial health of SMEs for many months to come. However, even before the coronavirus outbreak, there were signs that these businesses  didn’t always have the awareness or the information needed to make confident borrowing decisions.

A survey commissioned by Dun & Bradstreet in late 2019 found that 46% of SME respondents seek business loans from the bank, with 25% turning to private investors and 23% to family members or friends. According to research from the British Business Bank in 2019, small business owners had misgivings about the cost (29%), strict conditions (26%) and difficulty (25%) of securing finance – that put them off applying for loans. This left many SMEs facing a double-edged sword when it came to finance: put off by the terms offered by their bank, but not willing to look elsewhere.

Perhaps as a result, finance has been used as a way to keep the doors open, rather than developing the business. Where SMEs were borrowing, it was most often for working capital to continue trading (56%) – rather than to invest or expand. In Dun & Bradstreet’s survey, over half (52%) of respondents believe there is a lack of financial support available to help small businesses grow and succeed. Today, the challenge to survive is tougher than ever in the wake of COVID-19, so it’s vital that SMEs can look beyond one provider to find finance on the best terms possible.

 

Lack of information

Importantly, in 2019 small and medium-sized enterprises were most likely to rely on their own knowledge – rather than external sources – when considering access to finance. When asked about their most common source of guidance, small business owners pointed to themselves – both for choosing the type of finance (35%) and the specific provider (30%). Right now, this could result in SMEs limiting their borrowing options and missing out on the best choice for the business.

On the other side of the fence, banks historically struggled to approve loans to SMEs due to a lack of information about the risk they represent. Unlike larger businesses, SMEs haven’t been required to register at Companies House or publish annual accounts.

However, since the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Act of 2015, credit reference agencies (CRAs) have had access to information on how banks lend to small and medium-sized businesses. This means that CRAs can act as an independent intermediary between SMEs and lenders, offering information to support robust lending decisions during this critical time.

 

Linking SMEs to lenders

Credit reference agencies can act as an important link between SMEs and lenders. CRAs can provide banks with the depth of data needed to make qualified decisions about offering loans to SMEs, as well as providing greater clarity on how to handle marginal decisions. In other words, CRAs help lenders to say yes as much as possible, to the right business at the right time.

On the business side, credit reference agencies can link SMEs to a wider range of sources for finance, suggesting alternative options and providing clarity over declined applications, to help as many SMEs access finance as possible. Solutions offered by CRAs can help smaller and medium-sized businesses to get a holistic view of their options to make informed decisions – and secure finance on the best terms for them.

Importantly, many CRAs are also taking steps to avoid unfairly discriminating against SMEs due to special measures taken during the pandemic. For example, rating systems will draw distinctions between where SMEs have negotiated approved payment freezes with suppliers and payment defaults, without an impact on credit ratings. This will support smaller businesses’ recovery in the long term.

 

In everyone’s interests

With strict social distancing rules in place, many of the UK’s SMEs may have to face this period of hibernation for a while longer. Access to finance will be vital for meeting financial commitments, protecting jobs and ultimately staying in business until more normal times return.

Right now, it’s vital that SMEs are able to make informed decisions about the finance that they access, including the lender that they choose and the form that it takes. Equally, lenders should be able to make qualified lending decisions, providing crucial cashflow to SMEs that can afford it. By opening up data on both sides, credit reference agencies can act as a critical intermediary and help to keep SMEs in business.

 

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Business

DO MESSAGING APPS PUT THE FINANCIAL SERVICES INDUSTRY AT RISK?

Ashley Friedlein, founder and CEO, Guild

 

Accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic, the use of messaging apps for professional communications has skyrocketed in recent months. Messaging apps have provided a lifeline to organisations, enabling them to support a remote workforce. However, consumer messaging apps have also seen an increase in adoption, and many will be using them for business, as well as personal use.

When using messaging apps in highly-regulated environments, organisations need to be aware of compliance issues in a financial regulatory capacity, while also adhering to laws relating to security, transparency, and data privacy, such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

Not doing so puts banks and other regulated entities within financial services at risk of non-compliance, which can result in serious penalties.

In 2017, the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) highlighted the risks of using WhatsApp. Guidance from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) followed in December 2018 outlining its responsibility for monitoring electronic messaging, which included messaging apps.

Although regulators have been clear about the risks associated with using instant messaging apps, some financial firms seemingly failed to develop and implement robust guidelines around the use of these services for professional purposes.

Ashley Friedlein

Earlier this year, a senior credit trader at JP Morgan was suspended for communicating with colleagues via WhatsApp, with Jefferies, KPMG, and VTB Capital also finding themselves subject to investigations after employees were found to be using messaging apps as unofficial channels for communication.

Deutsche Bank took steps to ban all text messaging and communication apps to improve its compliance standards, with many others, including HSBC, Citi, and Wells Fargo following suit to move to a secure communications platform. However, while the financial industry is taking steps to prevent the usage of consumer messaging apps, some firms are failing despite the implications of not having a robust policy around the tools used to communicate within a bank or other regulated entity.

 

Data privacy and security

Data privacy laws such as the GDPR and CCPA make the use of consumer messaging apps in the workplace challenging for IT, HR, corporate governance and compliance teams. The financial and reputational cost of misuse in these ‘shadow communications’ channels can be significant.

WhatsApp, one of the most widely used consumer messaging apps, can result in organisations using the platform being non-compliant with the GDPR privacy regulation due to:

  • Lack of explicit consent – anyone can be added to a WhatsApp group without explicit consent. WhatsApp has added functionality to prevent specific users from doing this, but this is not enabled by default. Contacts can also upload data to WhatsApp/Facebook if they give access to their contacts/address book, even though those contacts have not given consent.
  • Lack of ability to delete information – after a certain time, content posted to WhatsApp cannot be removed.
  • Lack of ability to get your own data back (SAR – Subject Access Request) – WhatsApp cannot provide an individual with messages they have posted, only profile info.
  • Data being transferred outside the EU – it is not very clear where exactly WhatsApp/Facebook moves the data it collects.

The use of WhatsApp for business purposes potentially breaches GDPR in several ways.

Companies do not even know what groups exist in consumer messaging apps, let alone who is in them, or whether former employees or contractors may still have access, increasing the risk of data breaches and leakage of confidential information.

 

A lack of oversight and transparency
Consumer messaging apps like WhatsApp, Signal and Telegram have provided unofficial communication channels that are difficult to monitor, resulting in a total lack of visibility for employers and regulators alike.

Access to these unofficial communication channels presents a serious risk by creating opportunities for employees to take advantage of situations This includes conducting business under the radar in a way that benefits them, or their clients in a manner that is immoral, or even illegal. In some cases, sharing information about clients without intending to cause harm can still result in serious consequences.

Firms have a legal obligation to keep a record of conversations between themselves and their employees, clients, or stakeholders. If legal challenges arise, it may be necessary to provide a record of these conversations. Many consumer messaging apps store data locally rather than centrally in the cloud, making it more difficult to provide a complete record of conversations.

In addition, there are also legal obligations and a duty of care to protect employees and ensure adequate levels of oversight, governance and control. This includes protecting them from bullying, harassment, or inappropriate behaviours in the workplace. The lack of visibility and transparency around consumer messaging apps, including the ability to delete messages, makes it more difficult for HR departments and legal teams to address issues promptly, while inhibiting their ability to collect evidence.

Terms of service

WhatsApp is used by over 40% of UK workers for professional purposes. This appears to violate WhatsApp’s own terms of service, as the app is not intended for business use.

WhatsApp’s terms state:

“WhatsApp is committed to using the resources at its disposal–including legal action–to prevent abuse that violates our Terms of Service, such as automated or bulk messaging, or non-personal use.

“We make no representations or warranties that our Business Services meet the needs of entities regulated by laws and regulations with heightened confidentiality requirements for personal data, such as healthcare, financial, or legal services entities.”

 

How can the financial service industry minimise risk when using messaging services?

The financial services industry requires a tailored approach to messaging in order to effectively minimise risk. Messaging apps are becoming increasingly ubiquitous, and do provide many benefits, such as increased productivity and collaboration. Excluding them from communications completely can close off channels that improve operational efficiency and build rapport between teams – something that has become even more important now that many employees are working from home.

Banks who have taken steps to ban all text messages and communication apps on work-issued devices in order to improve its compliance standards have sought alternatives, such as Symphony – a messaging service aimed at highly regulated financial firms. This enables banks to continue to communicate with clients in real time, while also maintaining thorough and rigorous standards of data security and privacy protection.

Security, transparency, and compliance are paramount in the financial services industry, yet it is easy for unregulated consumer messaging apps to go completely unnoticed. The sector must do more to acknowledge and address their use in order to adhere to these three fundamental principles.

Workplaces, working practises, and channels of communications have needed to change rapidly as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s critical that organisations address the issues and risks associated with messaging apps by implementing robust policies around workplace communication and seek out viable, compliant alternatives not only now, but as part of a long-term solution.

 

Written by Guild founder and CEO, Ashley Friedlein. Guild is a British, independent and ad-free messaging platform for professional groups, networks and communities.

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