By Ian Bradbury, CTO for Financial Services at Fujitsu UK&I
The rate at which bank branches are closing has been a concern for many in the industry, as people continue to lose access to their local high street banking service. And it goes beyond taking an extra bus journey into town; some people need to travel up to 15km to be able to access a ATM
A recent Which? report found that a third of bank branches have closed over the past five years as a result of changing consumer habits and better access to online banking. As a result, we have seen a push in the industry to support access to cash in local communities.
Yet, while the future of banking increasingly looks digital, cash as a concept will still play an important role for many consumers.
Cashing in on a digital future
Cash will continue to play a vital role in society as banks digitise and even without physical money, some form of anonymised payment will always remain.
For now, access to cash and physical bank branches remains important to many Britons; two-thirds of consumers are more likely to do business with a bank if it has a high street branch according to our recent research. So, for banks, the challenge now is how they can continue to adapt their technology offerings while maintaining a physical, branch presence.
The truth is, banks want to digitise. There’s a lot about physical cash that isn’t sustainable: it can be easily stolen, damaged, or defaced; and it’s historically been easy to mint illegal tender. But people like it – the private transfer of value is considered by many to be a basic human right, something that will always drive cash’s popularity.
The issues around anonymity could be solved by digital currencies. The rise of cryptocurrencies raised the eyebrows amongst many in the industry as a possible alternative to physical cash but ultimately, it lacked monetary stability. As a result, governments that seek to find a digital alternative to cash have been unable to find an answer.
The bank of tomorrow
One of the key reasons why cash is still so vital for society is that there remain a group of consumers who are ‘unbanked’ – unable to open a bank account due to insufficient identification documents. But offline digital wallets have been improving and will be critical in providing a solution to this; by creating a functional, off-the-grid cash system.
Technologies such as biometrics, that are already being used in contactless payments, have moved society in the right direction to reduce the need for physical banks. Biometrics can break the barriers required to get the right level of identification for a bank account, providing a solution for those who are ‘unbanked’.
The rise of challenger banks has also impacted consumer expectations towards banking. Yet, the digital-only model is still a long way from truly dominating the banking industry. Our recent research found that consumers still prefer banks with high street branches, as 40% don’t trust challenger banks at all. So, while digital banks continue to gain popularity, traditional banks continue to have the edge with the offering of the human touch.
This shows that there is still a way to go for digital banks to break into the mainstream. The fundamentals are there for a society where digital banking is the standard payment, but consumers are not yet read.
Consumer trust will take time to build and until it has been developed, people will take time to adopt digital-only banking methods. That makes maintaining the banking systems in rural areas even more important; while offline digital wallets will become standard over time, they are not yet used widely enough to fully replace the traditional banking system.
Most of the challenges are disappearing, but there’s still a way to go
Many of the challenges that banks have faced in the past are being solved with the technology that is available. Biometrics can help solve the problem of identification, rural areas are increasingly becoming more connected and digital wallets are already widely available in some places.
Digital currencies offer the opportunity for anonymous, flexible and secure payments, addressing the concerns consumers have about them. But governments, consumers and even employers all have the same issue in trusting this form of money.
Moving forward, all parties involved in cash such as central governments, banks, employers and retailers should work together to move on from the challenges of physical cash. Consumers will always adapt to whatever currency we trade; we started with sticks and stones and have moved a long way to get to the dollar bill. It’s about time that the industry decides to take the next step.
THE CO-BRAND CREDIT CARD MARKET – SINK OR SWIM
By Chris Vinnicombe, VP Financial Services at Acxiom
The co-brand credit card market is the result of the partnerships between many of the world’s largest credit card issuers and consumer goods businesses like airlines, hotels, and retailers. By leveraging existing technology investments in digital, data, and analytics, the co-brand credit card market has attracted affluent consumers over the years. Indeed, it has remained a powerful component of retail loyalty programmes and strategies that generate revenue not only for the issuer, but for retail partners as well.
The market today
Historically, rewards have been critical to retaining and attracting consumers. However, businesses are increasingly finding that this benefit alone is not enough. In today’s world of data, one-size-fits-all loyalty programmes show little customer intimacy, since they don’t pay attention to individual attitudes, behaviours, and expectations.
Co-branded credit cards have faced competitor pressure to sweeten the rewards pot to draw customer traffic and differentiate their card programmes. Above that when consumers around the world are used to relevant adverts, offers and suggestions, the market increasingly seems out of touch when the offers don’t hit the mark.
It is now time for credit card companies to take a hard look at their proposition to determine which offerings consumers still value and to create benefits that are digital first, easy to use and truly relevant to how they live.
Increasing cardholder engagement
Today, engagement has become a significant part of this challenge. Cardholder engagement is critical in the market since it measures who has an active relationship with their card, rather than those where it sits unused at the bottom of a draw.
One of the issues is that many cardholders feel they are of little interest to the card issuer after starting the relationship. When offerings remain the same and don’t reflect consumer lifestyle changes, it leads to a decline in spend and balance activity.
For example, if a person is consistently purchasing long-haul, luxury summer holidays on their card and receiving a reward of discounts on Christmas staycations it just won’t be claimed. Ultimately, if the user isn’t likely to claim a reward it defeats the whole point of user offerings in the first place and will lead to a decay in the relationship over time.
To change this dynamic, card issuers need to focus on becoming far more customer-centric, addressing pain points, fulfilling desires and engaging with the consumer as an individual. Whether they are frequent travellers, trend setters, have an affinity to luxury products, cash back collectors, etc. Keeping up with interests and offering tailored rewards will create a more personalised experiences for customers and increase loyalty.
Customer experience – reach for the skies
A key example of this is the airline sector. Co-branded credit cards play an important role for airlines and their card issuers, each of which benefit from credit card engagement and purchasing behaviour. The cards also play an integral role in frequent flyer programmes, helping drive flyer loyalty.
Nowadays, airline customer interactions can come through many channels like customer service centres, online travel agencies, websites, and more which can create a complex ecosystem of customer data. The co-brand card partners see significant transaction data that identifies travel activity and purchasing patterns that are strong triggers for airline marketing programmes. All these interactions generate crucial information on passenger needs and preferences that enable up-sell/cross-sell, pricing and preferred experiences (i.e. early boarding or flight update notifications).
For the co-brand credit card market to work, partners need to work together seamlessly. Sharing customer information is vital to the interwoven marketing capabilities needed to be successful.
It all starts with the data foundation. A shared space for data to be safe provides a privacy-compliant environment that allows marketers and partners to connect different types of data while protecting and governing its use. This is the bread and butter for people-based marketing that enables partners to engage consumers across today’s highly fragmented landscape of channels and devices.
These data safe havens provide the ability to ingest customer records from partners, as well as core campaign and engagement logs used where businesses can measure and analyse success. This data can also be enhanced by third-party sources (demographic data, propensity models) to enrich the view of the consumer and create new insights to support new audience creation for marketing programmes.
However, organising, managing, and deriving insights from large sets of consumer data is complicated. To overcome this, companies should rely on connectivity solutions that integrate data to provide a single view of the customer. These identity resolution services resolve first-, second-, and third-party data, exposure and transaction data to represent real people in a privacy-compliant way.
Having this omnichannel view of the consumer can then be utilised to support consumer targeting, personalisation, and measurement bettering the offering to the user and maintaining relevance in the customer’s wallet.
Ultimately, data is helping the co-brand credit card market to stay relevant to consumers today. It is no longer enough to offer one-size-fits-all rewards to card users as competition in the industry hots up. Increasing customer loyalty and engagement is name of the game and using data from across both partners is helping firms to be more competitive, responsive and personalised than ever to drive new business uptake while keeping existing customers coming back for more.
FOUR WAYS OPEN BANKING AND AI WILL REVOLUTIONISE ACCOUNTANCY
Ed Molyneux, CEO and co-founder of cloud accounting software company, FreeAgent
It’s been just over two years since the term Open Banking became a tangible reality in the UK. Since then, the nine largest banks and building societies in Great Britain and Northern Ireland have signed up to take part in the initiative, meaning they must allow regulated businesses to access their customers’ financial data, as long as the customer has provided permission.
Open Banking was imposed by the Competition and Markets Authority to spur competition between banks and make customers’ banking information more accessible to third parties. And this phenomenon has already been transformative for accountancy, providing third-party financial service providers standard ways to access consumer banking transactions, and other data from financial institutions – a seamless alternative to the teetering piles of paperwork traditionally associated with accounting. Paired with other new innovative technologies, including artificial intelligence (AI), Open Banking has the power to change the day-to-day lives of accountants and more broadly, the world of finance.
This article examines the fundamental ways Open Banking and AI can and are already being utilised by accountants.
Real Time Insights
Through the use of Open Banking, accountants can have real-time access to their clients’ most up-to-date banking data every single day. This means no more chasing clients for the necessary information that you need to do your usual day-to-day work. This also benefits your clients, as they can continue with their daily workload knowing that their bank transactions are being shared with you directly, accurately and automatically. Suddenly their do-list looks a bit shorter!
Traditionally, accountants have had to deal with an enormous amount of paperwork, including invoices, expense receipts, bank statements and other important documents. Combined across the profession, this amounts to mountains of paper that have to be analysed and filed. One of the greatest benefits of technology and digital accounting is that it alleviates the stress of keeping important information in physical files. As well as less mess in the office, this means invoices, expenses, receipts can be kept in one place – online. This enables accountants to be more efficient on a day-to-day basis as they are able to easily find documentation by simply typing in what they are looking for to search for it.
Luckily for accountants, and also for the environment, Open Banking and cloud software platforms ensure that important data can transfer seamlessly and safely between your bank and your financial accounts. Already, cloud accounting software makes it possible to have one tidy dashboard that gives an overview of the business in its entirety. As well as being the guardian of files, using technology to set up a bank feed will allow accountants to track incomings and outgoings, link invoices and payments and view interactive charts of all their clients’ accounts.
Working from anywhere
The last five years have seen the progression to flexible working increase significantly. Millennials in particular have a desire to work out of the office. A survey conducted with over 19,000 working Millennials across 25 countries revealed their top five priorities when looking for a job, with 79% stating flexible working was a must. Further analysis from BBC 5 Live revealed a 74% jump in the number of people working from home between 2008 and 2018.
As well as the natural increase in the number of people working remotely, accountancy is one of the many professions being affected by the current turbulence being caused by the Covid-19 virus. This month, the government announced everyone should work from home if they can. Now, more than ever, people are away from the traditional office space and working instead from the confines of their own home, with technology acting as the glue that in many cases is keeping their business together. For accountants this means remote access to financial data is an absolute essential.
Add consultancy to the equation
With more efficient processes and easier methods of making and tracking transactions, technology and Open Banking will ultimately free up a whole lot of time for the accountants. Clearing up the calendar will make room for new kinds of work and enable accountants to spend more time on consultancy and value-added services, where previously these may have been perceived as a bonus service or from the client-side, a service at a much larger additional cost.
As well as consultancy, these technologies will have other, less direct impacts on the client-side. For example instead of needing a shoebox full of receipts, Open Banking and AI will lead to more confident and self-managed clients. If a client is keeping accurate books themselves, then the accountant no longer has to do all of the numerical admin. Rather, the value add lies in providing higher-level insights around the numbers and offering useful advice such as “it is time to put your prices up, as your profits are lower this year“.
Ultimately, AI and Open Banking are opening the gateway to a more efficient and effective accountancy industry. While benefiting the clients by making new space for consultancy and added value services, new technology ultimately streamlines an accountants’ entire job. Because they are constantly dealing with stacks of financial information, the consequences of misplacement of one document or inefficiently tracking systems hold higher stakes than usual. Luckily there is no need for accountants to grapple with old-school methodology anymore as AI and Open Banking are already readily available and at their fingertips.
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