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GO DIGITAL OR GO HOME: COVID19 FORCES FINANCIAL INSTITUTIONS TO ACCELERATE DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION

By James Follette, Global Head of Commercial, Business and Retail Banking

 

The pandemic has forced financial institutions to “go digital or go home,” driven by a record growth in the number of clients that have been onboarded digitally. In fact, a recent survey found that since the pandemic, there has been a 15 percent increase in the opening of online accounts.   Simply put, if a bank is unable to onboard customers digitally today or in the near-future, they will struggle to keep pace with their competitors.

Prior to the pandemic, financial institutions had been falling behind when it came to digital transformation, only increasing resources to address emerging concerns. The current situation has brought to light that financial institutions lack the technology to onboard customers remotely. Many are struggling to operate with reduced staff and closed branches, security issues, and customer service concerns, while also meeting Anti-Money Laundering (AML) and Know Your Customer (KYC) requirements.

In the US, this became especially important as many small businesses sought to access critical funding provided for under the CARES Act, such as the Payment Protection Program (PPP). As a result of widespread closures, it was no longer possible to apply for a loan or open a business account with a financial institution in person and many financial institutions were unable to onboard new customers remotely. However, by implementing digital onboarding processes, financial institutions enable customers to access services remotely while meeting compliance obligations.

The COVID-19 pandemic further highlights how imperative it is to leverage the use of digital technology in support of client onboarding processes, allowing them to operate completely digitally. With technology and increased automation, manual processes can be more streamlined and drive efficiencies across the spectrum. Advanced technologies and capabilities such as natural language processing (NLP), machine learning (ML), optical character recognition (OCR), and Identification and Verification (ID&V) technology enable financial institutions to collect client data by extracting the required information and text from scanned documents, which can then be cross-referenced against other data sources internally and externally.

The pandemic is highlighting the need for financial institutions to accelerate their digital transformation strategies or risk being outpaced by digital-first competitors. It also highlights how, in times like these, remaining vigilant to emerging financial crime risks needs to remain a top priority, and how digitisation can help to ease some of the operational challenges. This technology is no longer a ‘nice to have’, but rather a necessity to address inefficient data management, enhance customer service and ensure the detection and prevention of financial crime.

For any financial institution considering investing in new technology solution to keep up with evolving market demands, here are five things to look for. It needs to be:

  1. Flexible and Pluggable – In order to counteract the rigid, immovable legacy technology, the solution needs to be flexible. It will need to integrate seamlessly to any systems, whether it be from the core financial institution’s provider or the financial institution’s own IT. Smaller technology solutions tend to be more agile and able to react quickly to new challenges and needs from the financial institution. This flexibility will allow the financial institution to adapt quickly to new launches from their tech provider, new regulations the financial institution needs to abide by, other leading-edge solutions and any unforeseen challenges along the way.
  2. Industry-Focused – For smaller financial institutions, the personal and collaborative approach is everything. They speak to their customers face-to-face and hear their issues first-hand and many financial institutions may have similar burdens to face. Find a solution that aligns with the company’s values and how it works with clients.
  3. Digitally Enabled – It goes without saying that the digital experience is becoming synonymous with the customer experience. If financial institutions want to keep up with the industry behemoths, they will need to adopt a more digital approach to complement their customer-centric values.
  4. Configurable – The long waiting times for innovation upgrades from core financial institution providers is a massive pain point. A solution that allows financial institutions to make their own edits cuts down on time and cost, creating a path to self-sufficiency.
  5. Forward Looking – We all know the stories of institutions being dependent on legacy platforms build with 90s technology. It’s important that any solution that is selected has a forward looking roadmap with a proven record of delivery.  Innovation is moving to quickly to be stuck on a platform only focused on the past or the present.

Financial institutions of any size, and within any sector, need to recognise that introducing technology-enabled client onboarding solutions will give them the best possible chance of meeting the continuing market and regulatory challenges ahead. They need to put in place the right technology in place and provide a more efficient client channel, early deliverables, and the agility required to respond to evolving market conditions.

 

Biography:

With over 15 years’ experience in the financial services industry, James Follette joined Fenergo as Global Head of Commercial, Business and Retail Banking in December 2018. James will oversee the division’s go-to-market strategy, drive the product roadmap development while ensuring current and prospective client needs are fully met within his division. Before joining Fenergo James held roles at Citibank, IBM and other global consulting firms where he was responsible for implementing client onboarding technologies, leading digital transformation initiatives and overcoming regulatory challenges. James holds a Bachelor of Business Administration by the SUNY University at Albany.

Finance

DRIVING FINANCIAL EFFICIENCY WITH TRANSFORMATIONAL TECHNOLOGIES

Debbie Green, VP of Applications at Oracle

 

As businesses across the globe come to terms with a future of uncertainty, an agile mindset has never been more important. Keeping up productivity and efficiency is critical to business survival, and companies must look for faster time-to-value across business operations. Today there’s a whole host of emerging technologies that have been purposefully designed to allow businesses to reach new heights in efficiency, from technology that helps to close the books at record speed, to intelligent automation that eliminates the manual tasks that forever remain at the bottom of the list.

The 84 % of finance and supply chain professionals that are capitalising on emerging technologies are reaping the rewards when it comes to enhancing finance and supply chain operations. When artificial intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT), and blockchain are built into commonly-used applications like ERP, organisations are seeing even bigger jumps in finance and operations efficiency – all without long waits or heavy lifting.

 

Challenge the C-Suite

For example, by incorporating AI into ERP systems, finance teams can yield a 36% drop in errors and reduce the time it takes to close the books by 3.5 days. Speeding processes up while reducing the risk of critical errors is crucial to business resilience particularly in times of uncertainty.

However, none of this progress can be achieved without the full support of the C-Suite. In organisations where the COO’s understanding of IoT is lacking, only 14% use IoT to improve supply chain management. This puts them at risk of falling behind the 64% of organisations with IoT-savvy COOs, who are pushing themselves outside of their comfort zones and seeing the rewards this brings. Organisations that are embracing this technology are seeing a huge increase in overall business performance and are able to provide their employees with important opportunities to upskill, helping them prepare for the next challenge.

Unlock AI potential

By harnessing the power of intelligent automation and using it to drive back-office processes, businesses can minimise, and in some cases eliminate, precious time spent on arduous, manual tasks. A cloud platform with built in AI capabilities, for example, uses financial consolidation and close capability—along with enhanced narrative reporting—to auto-populate financial statements for use across payroll and other key financial functions. The results speak for themselves: we found that finance teams using AI technology reported a 30% improvement in productivity, and a 32% improvement in forecast accuracy.

The same ability to transform working practices can also be said for AI-powered chatbots. In the case of project management, by automatically displaying relevant data to a project manager, the use of a chatbot eliminates the need to look for information across multiple systems. Companies investing in chatbots have seen 38% faster analysis, and a resulting 36% increase in productivity levels across their finance teams. By integrating this technology into everyday financial functions, businesses can equip their employees with the latest tools that will allow them to upskill and offer a greater contribution to business performance and efficiency.

Embrace emerging technologies of the future

New technologies offer a world of new possibilities, and embracing opportunities for exploration is how businesses can ensure their survival in such a turbulent climate. When it comes to emerging technologies, we are at the tip of the iceberg with the potential of AI, chatbots and blockchain. Twice as many businesses said that they prefer to use pre-built AI and machine learning technologies to those who prefer building their own – largely because this streamlined, integrated approach helps them keep up productivity and efficiency as much as possible.

Looking ahead for the next 5 years, we can expect AI to completely automate the financial close; see most financial approvals be automated; reduce fraud by at least half thanks to blockchain; and crown intelligent automation the critical component to keep pace with rapidly shifting regulations. With these advances, we can expect to see the role of finance teams transform. The best way for businesses to prepare is to delay no further, and get both themselves and their existing systems ready for this inevitable change.

What we do know is that the businesses that remain agile, open-minded and resilient are going to be the businesses that come out of the other side stronger than they were before. By embracing technology in the here and now, organisations can empower their employees, boost efficiency and re-define resilience.

 

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Finance

FIDUCIARY MANAGEMENT

by Devan Nathwani, FIA and Investment Strategist at Secor Asset Management

 

Defined Benefit pension schemes are one of the most significant institutional investors, representing c.£1,700 billion[1] in assets. With investments becoming increasingly more complex, regulatory and reporting requirements increasing and markets generally being volatile, making investment decisions is taking up more of the governance budget. This has been further highlighted in the recent Covid-19 crisis where pension schemes were faced with falling equity markets, collateral calls and new investment opportunities arising from market dislocations. Corporate sponsors saw their pension scheme deficits widen at a time when free cash flow was needed to maintain working capital. There is a vast array of investment or de-risking products that claim to have low governance requirements, however often they can require giving up investment freedom and transparency or have high costs. This is where partnering with a Fiduciary Manager can help.

 

What is Fiduciary Management?

Fiduciary Management is essentially a form of delegated investment decision making. Fiduciary Managers partner with pension schemes to give advice on scheme investments and are responsible for the implementation of that advice. Fiduciary Management relationships are often highly customised and do not have to be “all or nothing”. A simple Fiduciary Management partnership could involve a Fiduciary Manager managing a fund-of-hedge-fund portfolio. A more comprehensive partnership could involve a Fiduciary Manager using their investment expertise to make investment decisions on the entire scheme portfolio. In practice, these partnerships can take many different forms and the best relationships are often highly customised, be it in the services received, the portion of the assets covered or the decisions that are delegated.

 

Devan Nathwani

Why Fiduciary Management?

Every pension scheme is different and in practice will choose to partner with a Fiduciary Manager for different reasons. Some common reasons for partnering with a Fiduciary Manager are:

Independent investment expertise

Over the last 10 years pension scheme investments have become increasingly more complex, with alternative asset classes becoming a core component of the strategic portfolio. Asset classes such as Private Equity, Private Credit and Property require in-depth knowledge of the different strategies deployed within them and often require portfolio management expertise to deal with capital calls and distributions and the sizing of commitments. Independence can be crucial here as these asset classes often carry high investment fees and require careful investment due diligence. A Fiduciary Manager typically has deep investment experience in a broad set of asset classes that a pension scheme can in-source without the cost of building an in-house team. Independence can be very important as a Fiduciary Manager that has no association with the underlying managers that a pension scheme invests with, can make investment decisions with minimal conflicts of interest.

Precision and speed

As highlighted by the market impact following the Covid-19 pandemic, it is important for pension schemes to be able to implement their investment decisions with speed and precision. Markets move every single day and investment opportunities can often arise and pass more quickly than a typical pension scheme governance structure can tolerate. Risk management is one of the most important objectives for a pension scheme, with unrewarded risks needing careful management and rewarded risks needing to be sized appropriately. Fiduciary Managers monitor their client portfolios daily and can act quickly to take advantage of investment opportunities or rebalance the portfolio as markets move.

Transparency

As regulatory requirements have increased, pension schemes are increasingly being asked to monitor their investment decisions with more scrutiny. Regulation requires them to consider Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) factors in their investment decisions and understand the performance of their investments in detail, including the impact of explicit and implicit transaction costs. In addition, as funding levels improve, pension schemes and their sponsors are looking for tighter control and greater transparency over the scheme’s risks. This is particularly important as schemes approach their desired “End Game”. Good Fiduciary Managers typically have proprietary tools and systems that facilitate better performance and risk measurement. As regulations form and evolve, Fiduciary Managers adapt their investment decision making processes to account for them making compliance much easier.

Limited resources

Typically pension schemes and their sponsors have limited internal resources with limited time to spend on both investment and non-investment related matters. Most companies do not have dedicated pensions treasury teams so it can be difficult to devote the sufficient time that is required to both monitoring investment performance and making investment decisions. Where new asset classes are added to a pension scheme’s portfolio, additional training may be required which can take a considerable amount of time, particularly for more complex asset classes. Partnering with a Fiduciary Manager can supplement any existing governance structure by re-focusing pension scheme resources on more strategic matters.

Accountability

Pension schemes typically receive advice from investment consultants who do a good job of advising on strategic matters but are ultimately not accountable for the performance and the outcome of that advice. Pension scheme representatives are increasingly looking for their advisors to be accountable for their advice and the performance relative to the liabilities. Fiduciary Management solutions typically focus on liability relative scheme performance and are governed by the GIPS Fiduciary Management Performance Standard, to ensure a consistency in performance measurement.

Value for money

Fiduciary Management relationships are often all-encompassing and typically cover all investment related matters for the pension scheme. Through economies of scale, Fiduciary Managers negotiate more favourable asset management fees on behalf of pension schemes and are able to get schemes of all sizes access to investment opportunities that would historically only be available to larger schemes. The combination of investment expertise and accountability under a single Fiduciary Management solution, is expected to deliver better funding and performance outcomes which ultimately offers better value for money.

 

Why now?

Fiduciary Management as an investment solution is arguably more relevant today than historically. The recent crisis has highlighted the need for an investment partner who can help manage the downside risks associated with investing in equities, manage the collateral behind important hedges and take advantage of market dislocations. Many corporate sponsors will have seen their pensions contributions eroded and balance sheet deficits widened during the Covid-19 market crisis and a Fiduciary Management partner could have helped better navigate the volatility.

As corporate sponsors begin to consider the “End Game” for their DB pension scheme, they are increasingly faced with the dilemma of entering low-governance investment solutions that may be poorly constructed or paying an insurance premium to “Buy-out” the scheme.

Solutions such as Cashflow Driven Investing (CDI) tend to overemphasise portfolio construction to be based on uncertain cashflow profiles, and excessively exposing the pension scheme to risky credit allocations, which in a post Covid-19 world could expose pension schemes to adverse funding outcomes.

For corporates who prefer to avoid a large cash lumpsum payment for insurance-based buy-outs, a Fiduciary Manager can offer an alternative solution to reaching the required funding level for such a transaction to take place. By slowly growing the asset base while carefully managing risks, pension schemes can become buy-out ready allowing their sponsors to reinvest free cashflow in existing or new business lines.

Partnering with a Fiduciary Manager today could give pension schemes the tools to better manage the next crisis and offer more flexibility in reaching the desired End Game.

 

[1] The DB Landscape – Defined Benefit Pensions 2019 – The Pensions Regulator dated January 2019

 

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