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GLOBAL STUDY: PEOPLE TRUST ROBOTS MORE THAN THEMSELVES WITH MONEY

Research shows growing confidence among consumers and business leaders that robots handle finance tasks better than people

2020 has changed our relationship with money, people now trusting robots more than themselves to manage their finances, according to a new study by Oracle and personal finance expert Farnoosh Torabi.

The study of more than 9,000 consumers and business leaders in 14 countries found that the COVID-19 pandemic has increased financial anxiety, sadness, and fear among people around the world and has changed who and what we trust to manage our finances. In addition, people are rethinking the role and focus of corporate finance teams and personal financial advisors, according to the research.

 

COVID-19 has created financial anxiety, sadness, and fear 

The global pandemic has damaged people’s relationship with money at home and at work.

  • Among business leaders, financial anxiety and stress increased by 186 percent and sadness grew by 116 percent; consumer financial anxiety and stress doubled and sadness increased by 70 percent.
  • 90 percent of business leaders worry about the impact of COVID-19 on their organization, with the most common concerns centering on a slow economic recovery or recession (51 percent); budget cuts (38 percent); and bankruptcy (27 percent).
  • 87 percent of consumers are experiencing financial fears, including job loss (39 percent); losing savings (38 percent); and never getting out of debt (26 percent).
  • These concerns are keeping people up at night: 41 percent of consumers reported losing sleep due to their personal finances.

 

People see robots as a better way to manage finances

The financial uncertainty created by COVID-19 has changed who and what we trust to manage our finances. To help navigate financial complexity, consumers and business leaders increasingly trust technology over people to help.

  • 67 percent of consumers and business leaders trust a robot more than a human to manage finances.
  • 73 percent of business leaders trust a robot more than themselves to manage finances; 77 percent trust robots over their own finance teams.
  • 89 percent of business leaders believe that robots can improve their work by detecting fraud (34 percent); creating invoices (25 percent); and conducting cost/benefit analysis (23 percent).
  • 53 percent of consumers trust a robot more than themselves to manage finances; 63 percent trust robots over personal financial advisors.
  • 66 percent of consumers believe robots can help detect fraud (33 percent); reduce spending (22 percent); and make stock market investments (15 percent).

 

The role of finance teams and financial advisors will never be the same

To adapt to the growing influence and role of technology, corporate finance professionals and personal finance advisors alike must embrace change and develop new skills.

  • 56 percent of business leaders believe robots will replace corporate finance professionals in the next five years.
  • 85 percent of business leaders want help from robots for finance tasks, including finance approvals (43 percent); budgeting and forecasting (39 percent); reporting (38 percent); and compliance and risk management (38 percent).
  • Business leaders want corporate finance professionals to focus on communicating with customers (40 percent); negotiating discounts (37 percent); and approving transactions (31 percent).
  • 42 percent of consumers believe robots will replace personal financial advisors in the next five years.
  • 76 percent of consumers want robots to help manage their finances by freeing up time (33 percent); reducing unnecessary spending (31 percent); and increasing on-time payments (31 percent).
  • Consumers want personal financial advisors to provide guidance on major purchasing decisions such as buying a house (45 percent); buying a car (41 percent); and planning for retirement (38 percent).

 

Our relationship with money has changed, it’s time to embrace AI to manage finance

The events of 2020 have changed the way consumers think about money and have increased the need for organizations to rethink how they use AI and other new technologies to manage financial processes.

  • 60 percent of consumers say the pandemic has changed the way they buy goods and services.
  • 72 percent of consumers say the events of 2020 have changed how they feel about handling cash, with people feeling anxious (26 percent); fearful (23 percent); and dirty (19 percent). More than a quarter (29 percent) of consumers now say that cash-only is a deal-breaker for doing business.
  • Businesses have been quick to respond as 69 percent of business leaders have invested in digital payment capabilities and 64 percent have created new forms of customer engagement or changed their business models in response to COVID-19.
  • 51 percent of organizations are already using AI to manage financial processes, compared with 27 percent of consumers.
  • 87 percent of business leaders say organizations that don’t rethink financial processes face risks, including falling behind competitors (44 percent); more stressed workers (36 percent); inaccurate reporting (36 percent); and reduced employee productivity (35 percent).

 

Supporting Quotes

Felicity Burch, Director of Digital and Innovation at the CBI, said: “The pandemic has been a watershed moment for technology adoption. The financial services sector has innovated swiftly to support customers at a difficult time, and it’s fantastic to see businesses and consumers alike recognising the potential AI has for managing money. Trust will underpin the successful adoption of emerging technologies, and so firms must be taking steps like embedding robust governance processes, engaging employees, and addressing unfair bias in data.”

“Managing finances is tough at the best of times, and the financial uncertainty of the global pandemic has exacerbated financial challenges at home and at work,” said Farnoosh Torabi, personal finance expert and host of the So Money podcast. “Robots are well-positioned to assist – they are great with numbers and don’t have the same emotional connection with money. This doesn’t mean finance professionals are going away or being replaced entirely, but the research suggests they should focus on developing additional soft skills as their role evolves.”

“Financial processes in our personal and professional worlds have become increasingly digital for many years and the events of 2020 have accelerated that trend,” said Juergen Lindner, senior vice president, global marketing, Oracle. “Digital is the new normal and technologies such as artificial intelligence and chatbots play a vital role in managing finance. Our research indicates that consumers trust these technologies to accelerate their financial well-being over personal financial advisors and business leaders see this trend reshaping the role of corporate finance professionals. Organizations that don’t embrace these changes risk falling behind their peers and competitors; hurting employee productivity, morale and well-being; and struggling to attract the next generation of AI-empowered finance talent.”

 

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ACCELERATION OF DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION PUSHING ORGANISATIONS TOWARDS A MORE DATA-DRIVEN APPROACH

  • 84% of businesses have seen more demand for data due to Covid-19, but nearly a third say data quality remains a fundamental barrier

 

New research from Experian reveals how the acceleration of digital transformation, through the Covid-19 pandemic, has led to greater demand for data insights to inform decision making and strategy.

The annual Global Data Management report, which surveyed 700 data practitioners and data-driven business leaders globally, found that changing customer behaviour has intensified businesses’ need for high-quality data. Eighty-four percent have seen more demand for data insights in their organisations due to Covid-19. In fact, 72% say that the rapid push to digital transformation is making their businesses more reliant on data.

Beyond underscoring its business value, the pandemic has also exposed data’s potential to be used for societal good – and business leaders are keen to explore this further. Seventy-eight percent see COVID-19 as a defining moment for organisations to set-up and use data for societal good where they can, while 86% would like to be able to use their data in some way to benefit society.

Increasing collaboration with other organisations to better support those in need, sharing talent and resources to develop and deliver products, or allowing their data practitioners to spend time on voluntary project were all highlighted as a potential approach to achieving this.

However, they will struggle to use data for either business or social good unless they can overcome endemic weaknesses in legacy data management practices. Experian’s report outlines key barriers that organisations must address:

  • Data quality and maturity: On average, organisations believe a third of their data (32%) is inaccurate in some way. It’s unsurprising then that 55% of business leaders lack trust in data assets, and 51% say improving data quality is a ‘significant priority’.
  • Data skills: Embracing the power of data is being stunted by a skills gap – 62% say a lack of basic data literacy skills impacts the value they get from their investment in data and technology, while 55% believe they lack skills/resources to leverage data assets fully.
  • Agility: Sixty-two percent admit a lack of agility in data processes has hurt their response to changing business needs in the wake of COVID-19.

 

Andrew Abraham, Global Managing Director, Data Quality, at Experian, comments on the findings: “The pandemic has been a catalyst for long-awaited digital transformation. Businesses need to move fast to serve customers’ changing needs, and leaders know that data-based decision-making is key to evolving the right way.

“It’s also heartening to see organisations looking beyond the business applications of data, to how they can use it for societal good. However, if businesses are to succeed in either area, they must overcome fundamental barriers to effective data management.”

The paper also provides insight into businesses’ data priorities, as well as expert advice on how organisations can meet digital transformation objectives by making improvements in the following areas:

  • People: With a data literate workforce, a business is armed with talent that can make timely, data-driven decisions. Reassuringly the report reveals that 85% of organisations are hiring data roles in the next six months.
  • Technology: Technology has a critical role to play when it comes to modernising data management practices. Eighty-five percent of business leaders say sourcing more technology for staff is a priority.
  • New ways of working: DataOps: DataOps aims to shorten development cycles, increase deployment frequency, and create more dependable releases of data pipelines, in close alignment with business objectives. This practice helps organisations adapt more quickly to changing conditions.

Getting back to basics: Before new initiatives complicate the issue, go back to basics – people, processes, and tools. To build resilience against future risk, invest in the right areas to recognise return on investment on data management more quickly.

 

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SUSTAINABLE DERIVATIVES: THE “GIVING TREE”

Jennifer Kafcas, Lauren Blaber, Alvino Van Schalkwyk and Harry Polan

 

Momentum continues to gather pace towards building a sustainable economy, especially since the start of the pandemic. As a result, financial markets have seen a considerable increase in the focus on, and deal volume with respect to, sustainability-linked loans and bonds.  It has been a logical progression that the sustainability tree sprouts a new leaf with the development of environmental, social and governance (ESG) linked derivatives.  These products enable, among other things, firms and companies to hedge risks associated with sustainable investments including project risk, interest rate and currency risks.  This will be all the more important given the need to hedge risks from any underlying loan and its related sustainability criteria.

While ISDA has outlined the broad range of derivatives in sustainable finance, furthering the development of this product type (including, among others, sustainability-linked derivatives, ESG-related credit default swaps, exchange-traded derivatives on listed ESG-related equity indices, emissions trading derivatives, renewable energy and renewable fuels derivatives, and catastrophe and weather derivatives), this article focuses on more conventional derivatives transactions, such as interest rate swaps (IRS) and Foreign Exchange (FX) transactions used by market participants to hedge the risk arising from green bonds and loans. Though these transactions are no different conceptually from a product standpoint than any other IRS or FX transaction, it is important to understand the inherent structural and deal term differences.

 

Finance-linked sustainable derivatives (OTC)

A number of sustainability-linked derivatives have been issued in recent years, which add an ESG pricing component to conventional IRS and FX hedging instruments. The table below provides examples of recently issued sustainability-linked derivatives. As this is a developing market, the transaction volume has been very low, but uptake is expected to increase over coming years.

 

PartiesDeal Information
BNP Paribas & Siemens Gamesa€174 million FX forward, under which Siemens Gamesa will pay a premium on their forward if they do not meet certain ESG targets. If paid, that premium shall be used to finance local reforestation projects in Spain. The premium shall be calculated using a metric assigned by a third-party sustainable finance specialist.
Société Générale & EnelCross currency swap, by which Enel hedged their euro-dollar exchange rate and interest rate risk under a $1.5 billion sustainability-linked bond. If Enel does not meet certain renewable energy targets, the swap will be re-priced to their detriment.
New World Development (NWD) & DBS Hong KongInterest rate swap linked to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, hedging interest rate risk under NWD’s HK$1 billion sustainability-linked loan. If NWD generates at least eight business-to-business opportunities that contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals, DBS will sponsor certain NWD social innovation projects.

 

As evidenced above, ESG-linked derivatives can take on a number of characteristics and structures, including:

  • Derivative pricing. One counterparty having a number of prescribed ESG targets which, if met, will lead to a downwards ratchet in the pricing of the derivative (with such pricing often increasing if the targets are not met).
  • Fixed payments. If ESG targets are not met by the corporate, a fixed payment can be required to the issuing bank, which will be put towards a green project.
  • Triggers linked to a company’s ESG rating. If the ESG rating of the corporate increases, a benefit can be awarded to them (e.g. interest rate discount).
  • Both parties having ESG targets papered into their derivatives contracts. Corporates can receive a discount on the interest rate under the derivative if they meet their ESG targets, with that discount increasing if the issuing bank fails to meet its own ESG targets.
  • Charitable giving requirements. A failure by the corporate to comply with its ESG targets can lead to it being required to make contributions to non-profit organisations, with the bank having to make such contributions if the corporate’s ESG targets are met.

As sustainability-linked products gain traction, a degree of care will be required to ensure ESG targets are finely balanced and verifiable. Verification is essential for market transparency, for ESG products to be considered credible and for lenders and corporates alike to avoid reputational risks. Furthermore, the ability of a corporate to verify reliable compliance with ESG targets could provide a significantly smoother path through their lender’s credit approval process and in turn the lender’s ability to verify will enable it to better monitor the performance matrix set by the underlying loan or bond.

 

Renewable Energy and Renewable Fuels

In addition to the above OTCs, renewable energy hedging transactions (including power hedge transactions) are important for market participants to hedge the risk associated with fluctuations in renewable energy production, and in doing so, encourage more capital to be contributed to renewable energy projects.

Typical documentation with respect to the above type of trades are Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) which document the purchase of power and associated renewable energy certificates between a renewable energy generator (the seller) and a purchaser of renewable electricity (the buyer). PPAs do not require companies to contribute directly to enhanced ESG standards, however they can help catalyse a shift to clean energy sources as they reduce market price volatility for buyers, and reassure sellers that a buyer will purchase power generated from renewable energy assets, thus encouraging the financing of such projects.  In an ESG-linked transaction, these types of arrangements can be replicated by covering the credit risk element in the intercreditor terms.  As an alternative the market may develop such that in lieu of these structures the underlying risk with respect to market price volatility is documented under an ISDA and secured under the financing and intercreditor documentation. This structure is fast approaching.

 

Expected developments in 2021

Climate change and, therefore, a sustainable economy remain front and centre for governments and regulators worldwide.  In 2020,countries like Japan, China, South Korea, Hong Kong and the UK set net carbon neutrality objectives and most recently the USA, following the inauguration of President Biden, announced plans to spend $2 trillion over four years to aid in the fight against climate change, all following the commitment already set by the EU.

Whilst the need for banks and corporates to develop and consider bespoke products to promote true progress in ESG compliance may hinder any radical uplift in ESG-linked derivatives volumes over the course of 2021, we anticipate that as banks and corporates continue to familiarise themselves with the requirements of such products, integrating ESG elements into derivatives trades will begin to be common practice.

In view of this, derivatives market participants will be eager to continue to drive ESG-linked derivatives volumes and to develop new and innovative ESG products facilitating the mobilisation of capital towards sustainable investments to ensure that they continue to significantly improve ESG standards, and to strengthen their contribution to the green finance drive.

 

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