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GREEN AND INCLUSIVE FINANCE THROUGH THE SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT GOALS

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By Professor Catherine Karyotis, NEOMA Business School and Joseph Onochie, Zicklin School of Business, Baruch College, City University of New York

 

The current global health crisis is a reminder that finance must help build the world of tomorrow, provided it is green and inclusive.

So, what is the role of finance?  To serve the real economy, society and the biosphere. An economy can only be solid and sustainable if it is based on a healthy population, which in turn can only survive on a healthy planet.

 

Finance must be guided by the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals

So how do we rebuild the post-Covid world by meeting societal expectations? By taking the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a roadmap for finance.

Speaking to attendees of the “UN Global Compact Leaders’ Summit” on 21 September 2019, Paul Polman (ex-CEO of Unilever) remarked, “Business cannot be a bystander in a system that created it in the first place… In implementing the SDGs, as in any change process, there will be bottlenecks, setbacks, cynics, sceptics. It takes courageous leadership. That’s where the breakthrough comes from:  from people who understand that putting the interests of others ahead of their own is actually in their own self-interest.”

Globally, many institutions have chosen to use this model of the SDGs from AFD – Agence Française de Développement (French Development Agency). This model groups the 17 SDGs into six transitions: energy, demographic and social, digital and technological, economic and financial, territorial and ecological, and political and civic.

 

 

A business plan for finance based on the SDGs makes it possible to direct financial flows towards multiple targets; for example, financing infrastructure useful for water sanitation (SDG 6) makes it possible to act on the health of populations (SDG 3) by improving terrestrial and aquatic life (SDG 14 and 15) in order to contribute to economic growth (SDG 8 and 9). The SDGs are indivisible and cross-cutting; they concern all economic actors in all countries; they are sources of universal language.

 

The pandemic has accelerated the link between finance and sustainability

This role of finance as seen through the lens of the SDGs has become even more apparent since the global health crisis. In August 2020, GISD – Global Investors for Sustainable Development published a report with 64 recommendations to encourage sustainable finance to better target the SDGs, of which 10 are priorities: addressing systemic sustainability risks, improving ESG data and ratings, complying with transparency and harmonisation requirements, strengthening corporate governance, strengthening public-private partnerships, developing sustainable finance products and infrastructure.

The instruments exist: green bonds, social bonds, sustainable finance, responsible investment, impact investing, etc. From now on, we must put the long-term dimension back into financing and investment, so that we can reconcile financial profitability with social and environmental profitability.

 

An economic model that places human and environmental sustainability at its centre

Former World Bank Group chief financial officer Bertrand Badré suggests “Now is the time to think big. In 1944, while World War II was still raging, representatives from governments around the world gathered in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire to start planning for what would follow it. Following that model, we should be preparing a new Bretton Woods for sustainability. When one is being buffeted by a storm of this magnitude, the worst thing one can do is lose one’s compass. But we must use that compass to chart a new course towards an economic model that places human and environmental sustainability at its centre”.

 

Joseph Onochie is Associate Professor of Finance at the Zicklin School of Business, Baruch College, City University of New York (CUNY).  He teaches, and conducts research, in diverse areas of Finance.

Catherine Karyotis, is a Professor of Finance at NEOMA Business School in France

 

Banking

LEGACY INFRASTRUCTURES MUSTN’T HOLD BACK INNOVATION IN FINANCIAL SERVICES

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By

Ian Perry, Principal Solution Architect at Zscaler

 

We are living in a changed world; one of hybrid home/office work and customers who may never return to bank branches and the services of the high street. According to RFi Group, 73 per cent of UK consumers interact with their main bank via digital banking at least once a week, and only 23 per cent believe nothing can replace what they get in a branch. Meanwhile, institutions including JP Morgan, HSBC and Nationwide have all indicated an intention to retain new higher levels of homeworking.

Now that employees work from a multitude of locations and customers bank and manage their money online the race is on to adapt processes, systems and support structures for safe, secure and productive homeworking and digital access for customers. Inevitably, this calls into question legacy infrastructures in financial services and how they might impact digital progress.

 

New tools, old systems?

The question is, how can banks and other financial institutions securely provide a higher level of remote access to their systems and applications when incumbent infrastructures were developed for an entirely different time?

Of course, the first thing to note is that banks aren’t coming at the problem from a standing start. Oft-cited legacy infrastructures have been added to over time so that many set-ups are now an on-premise/cloud-hosted hybrid. In fact, the finance sector has invested heavily in cloud infrastructures and cloud-based office applications.

The issue is how to harmonise this set-up so that it works for users and organisations as a whole. Here, there is work still to be done. It’s often the case that core banking applications remain in mainframe on-premise networks, whilst other operational tools reside in the cloud. Cloud-based Office 365 is a case in point. It supports digital working, as organisations need it to, but a range of its benefits and functions are at odds with legacy network setups.

Inevitably, when a product or service innovation reaches implementation planning stage, the starting point is the existing network, its systems and processes. The hard part is flipping this approach to assess what the resulting experience will be from the user point of view, but that is exactly what’s needed. It’s an approach that competing market disruptors have been ideally placed to adopt from day one.

However, that needn’t mean that financial institutions must completely overhaul their legacy infrastructure – something that would be expensive and complicated. They can still fully capitalise on the benefits of cloud-based services, among them flexibility, productivity, business continuity and the right customer and user experience.

 

Zero Trust without friction

One way is to take a ‘Zero Trust’ approach. As a result of recognised risks, 72 per cent of companies are prioritising the adoption of such a security model. This resets a data security approach from one that traditionally secured the perimeter to one that protects users, devices and business resources.

It’s a shift in emphasis from securing the network to securing each access and doing so without introducing friction into processes for users. We can think of legacy digital protection methods as a visitor getting a key from reception and being allowed to wander around the building, and compare that to a frictionless cloud experience in which a security guard shows the visitor directly to the room they need.

The Zero Trust model lends itself to high levels of remote access, which is exactly the situation organisations are now in. Employees work from anywhere, from a range of devices, and customers access services previously provided in-person online. Applications are no longer exclusively within the data centre, they are outside the network perimeter meaning that traffic must be enabled to run securely through the internet, rather than through corporate IT. Doing so not only equips organisations for the way things are today, it can also reduce the cost of individual site maintenance and enable the full benefit of cloud-based tools.

The technology now exists to make high levels of security completely invisible and so, with a growing number of security processes now taking place in the cloud, educating customers will be key. The industry must come together to improve user interfaces to signal what’s taking place behind the scenes.

With the right security approach, financial services can deliver on new access priorities to support their workforces and serve customers. Convenience, as well as security, should be the aim along with a strategy that ensures legacy doesn’t hold back innovation. That way, banks and other finance institutions can begin to fully capitalise on the benefits of cloud, adapt to meet customer demands as they evolve and compete in a disrupted market.

 

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Finance

HOW CFOS CAN TAKE A HOLISTIC APPROACH TO ENTERPRISE AGILITY

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By

Frederic Portal, Financials Product Marketing Director, at Workday

 

Whether brought on by a market shift, technological innovation or as we have seen over the last year, a pandemic, change in business is constant. But to survive it, or even thrive in it, organisations must find a way to adapt rapidly, while remaining strong and stable in the long-term. This is where enterprise agility and the CFO come into play. In theory, the concept of enterprise agility — a company’s ability to outperform the competition and drive growth in new, ambiguous situations by learning and adapting — sounds like something every business should inherently do. Yet, many are trying to introduce technology or implement processes before defining and establishing what agility really means to them as an enterprise. In other words, embracing agility should be a holistic approach and crucially must be led by the CFO. The CFO and financial team are instrumental in making sure that a business can lead digital transformation, steer through uncertainty and ultimately, embrace a culture with agility at its core. However, in order to achieve enterprise agility successfully, there are some simple factors that a CFO should consider when guiding their organisations to become truly agile.

 

Enterprise agility starts with the CFO

The last year made it clear that the finance function is leading business recovery. In fact, a Workday survey with C-suite leaders showed that 37 percent of respondents agree that finance is the function most likely to influence digital growth in a business. Overnight, CFOs and their teams had to rethink their processes and leave behind legacy technology in order to keep up with the continuous change that the pandemic now demands. Naturally this prompted a company-wide transformation.

To make sure this transformation towards agility doesn’t stop at technology adoption, CFOs should put practical steps in place, working in collaboration with all senior leadership, from IT to Sales and HR, to build a plan that will guide a wider change within the business. Once a plan is in place, it must be communicated and then reinforced to the rest of the workforce by providing them access to real-time data and cloud-based models. Led by the CFO, this will give crucial insight into payroll, cash flow and planning scenarios. In turn getting the entire organisation on board, creating uniformity and ensuring teams are all working from the same source of truth to move the business forward.

 

Embracing an agile mindset 

When incorporating new agile processes, CFOs must work with all business leaders to define and integrate an agile mindset. Enterprise agility isn’t just a process, it needs to be baked into the heart of the organisation — and its digital transformation agenda — so that teams across the business embrace qualities such as quick thinking, being perceptive and taking action. Adopting this way of thinking and behaving is the foundation for any agile organisation and must begin with the finance department.

Take Aon as an example. The multinational British professional services firm sells a range of financial risk-mitigation products, including insurance, pension administration, and health-insurance plans across 120 countries. By March 2020, COVID-19 resulted in the company’s entire team working from home, which meant Aon’s finance team had to do a fully-remote close. While this had never been attempted before, Aon had baked agility into its financial processes by investing in the right cloud-led, and agility enabling technology. With up to date data, and transparency across the regions, Aon’s finance team was able to close remotely, with one region even being able to close a day early.

 

Empowering agility 

Transparency and accessibility are also key to enterprise agility. So, it’s critical that CFOs empower all departments to work from the same data sources, assumptions and outcomes in their workflows. It is only by prioritising digital transformation and having technology structures up-to-date, that businesses can experience real results, and fast.

Take Netflix, for example. Even in this streaming powerhouse there were improvements to be made to back office processes. Netflix’s back office systems had usability issues due to clunky workflows and limited visibility. Led by the CFO and investing in transforming the back office into one unified system, Netflix was able to introduce an agile mindset across the business that was vital in turning this around. For instance, every time Netflix creates an original show or movie they have to create a legal entity and set up the banking and with Workday it just takes minutes to add it to an existing framework. Implementing the right technology resulted in more efficiency, more agility and fewer silos among the IT, Finance and HR teams.

 

Taking a holistic approach to enterprise agility

The disruption of 2020, and impact COVID-19 has had, is showing no signs of slowing down in 2021. It is simply no longer enough to just deploy new technology or processes with hopes of becoming  agile. In order for an organisation to truly embrace agility, it must take a holistic approach and proactively adopt an agile mindset across the entire organisation and its way of working. This is where the CFO plays a pivotal role.

 

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