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HOW FINANCE AS A SERVICE IS SHAPING THE FUTURE OF FINANCIAL SERVICES

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Ivo Gueorguiev, Co-Founder and Executive Chairman, Paynetics

 

Finance as a Service (FaaS) is revolutionising the financial industry as we know it. As a dynamic delivery model that improves on the old manual legacy systems, it provides companies with quality finance management processes using advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence and process automation. FaaS also helps companies better manage their working capital, quickly deliver accurate forecasts, and reduce operating costs.

Consumers have been the key drivers behind the proliferation of FaaS. High customer expectations of financial services have caused providers across B2C and B2B to improve the quality of their user experience and the speed at which they are able to provide services.

The erosion of payment processing costs, increased customer expectations for user experience, and the reduced regulatory barriers have all helped usher in this new generation of payments.

 

Ivo Gueorguiev

The adoption of new financial services

Consumers have become more willing to adopt new technologies and new financial services providers during the pandemic. Visa, for example, processed 400 million extra contactless payments last year. And the number of Brits with a digital-only bank increased by 23% in 2020. Historically, getting consumers to adopt non-traditional providers has been difficult. Banks have spent years building customer relationships and delivering products, therefore they maintain strong levels of residual trust with consumers.

However, the tide is turning as FaaS reshapes the way we think about the finance products we consume. The “push” for this change comes from providers offering services which create a benefit or an unmet need for consumers. The main one being convenience in payments, with digital payments projected to hit $6.6tn in 2021, a 40% jump in two years. The “pull” is derived from something which is highly desirable to the consumer. Both need to create a compelling enough reason for consumers to move, change providers, or sign-up to a new service. What’s clear above all else, is that consumers are in the driving seat.

 

Consumers driving banking innovation

The adoption of new technologies and processes is always faster in consumer audiences than in business audiences. Some of the new and innovative financial services offered to consumers will need to be extended to the SME sector. This is because customers now demand the same speed and User Experience (UX) in their business dealings as they are used to receiving in their personal finances. As technologies like APIs and Open Banking enable consumers to see a range of data from different providers in one view, ease of set-up and use will become a key differentiator.

However, it’s important to acknowledge the tension between what’s good for the consumer and what makes business sense for providers. Ultimately, whoever best understands the consumer is likely to succeed in the market but there are other factors to also consider. Customer desires include product variety, lower costs, and social purpose included in offerings – such as financial inclusion or support for ESG causes. All of these demands combined pose significant challenges to the providers, who are expected to do the impossible by providing more for less.

This is why it’s essential to lower the total cost of ownership. Scaling globally will help smaller fintechs to lower their operating costs.

 

Future winners and losers

Customers, along with the merchants most attuned to consumer needs, will be the main winners in the shift to FaaS. Meanwhile, larger, more established firms might struggle to identify their unique offering. New market entrants that have a clear sense of their purpose and value proposition will do well.

Financial service providers poised to succeed will have a willingness to innovate, digitisation as part of their DNA, and a large customer base from which to mine user-generated data for product and service development. Hence, Big Tech poses a significant threat to both the incumbent players and the emerging fintechs. Companies like Amazon, Google, and Facebook have billions of consumers, and therefore have the rich resource of data to challenge the existing big banks.

 

Remaining competitive

Smaller players must be willing to form alliances and collaborate in order to make up for the huge amount of investment required to build the technological backbone necessary to remain competitive. Operational solidity is also a key building block for FaaS success; payments systems must be highly scalable, always-on, and frictionless. Those who can ensure this will benefit as the demand for such service grows exponentially.

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Business

THE EVOLVING TECHNOLOGY NEEDS OF THE FINANCE DEPARTMENT

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Jennifer Sims, Senior Consultant at Xledger

 

The world of finance software is evolving quickly, but with many new software contenders entering the market it can be a mindfield for organisations. Many finance teams are already using multiple accounting apps and software packages for bookkeeping, payroll and invoicing to service individual needs. Whilst it may work fine for now, this segregated approach isn’t sustainable for long-term growth. The world is swiftly moving to agile, automated ways of working. As a result, there is a growing need to choose suppliers that can fulfil multiple functionalities within the one platform.

Financial software is evolving at such a pace that it can be difficult to keep up. Changing up a finance solution is a big step and ease of migration can be a substantial factor in determining which solution provider to go with. But how do you choose a solution that will grow with your business and still offer something innovative in five or ten years down the line? The fear is always that non-techie organisations will end up falling behind, but in such a highly concentrated industry, how do you decide which solution would work best for you?

 

Cloud-first: the term that makes all the difference 

You could find a ‘cloud-based’ service with an application that comes with automated audit trails to make it easier to meet compliance and record-keeping obligations, for example. But for a solution to offer all of the many future benefits promised by the cloud, it needs to have been built specifically for a cloud environemt from the outset – ie. not an on-premise built system that has been later adapted. Cloud-first services (true cloud) were always intended to leverage economies of scale, cope with live updates, be accessible from anywhere with an internet connection, and to scale rapidly, to name just a few of the many benefits.

When we talk about innovation in financial technology, we’re not just talking about software that makes it easier for the financial controller to create reports. If eliminating reliance on Excel spreadsheets is the only tangible benefit you have to really shout about, you are missing out on the real deal. With ‘true’ cloud finance software the sky is the limit.

Finance and accounting technology needs to directly meet the needs of the finance function and support the wider business needs.  When looking at accounting software platforms you’d be hard pressed to find one that doesn’t now promise ‘cloud-based’ enterprise resource planning (ERP) capabilities. The cloud is nothing new, but it’s the way that a solution harnesses this environment that makes a real difference. And here is where there is a need to read between the lines.

 

Automate more with true cloud 

Historically, repetitive and manual tasks are typical of the finance role – from invoice postings to expense claims handling – these can overwhelm the finance team. Research by Xledger[1] has found that an enormous 91% of CFOs and finance decision makers are carrying out at least one of these repetitive tasks as part of their job. What’s more, senior finance leads are averaging a whopping 25 hours per week carrying out repetitive and manual tasks, compared with 15 hours for other finance decision makers.

A modern, true cloud finance system can enable your business to automate repetitive tasks and provide one source of truth so that teams can make informed business decisions that will help to scale a business. Bank reconciliation, dashboard creation and reporting are just some of the tasks that can be handled automatically.These capabilities are aiding overtasked finance teams and saving hundreds or thousands of hours a year.

Whilst different companies are at different stages in their digital transformation what is clear is keeping up with the latest technology is fundamental to the future success of an organisation.

Xledger is a true cloud finance solution. The basics include invoicing, robust general ledger accounting, detailed slice and dice reporting, purchase orders, billing, VAT reporting, and cash and bank payments. It also adds process and structure to the enterprise with procurement and inventory, budgeting and forecasting, and project accounting. Users are always on the latest version of the software and with regulation more stringent than ever today, Xledger is ISO 27001 accredited.

Choosing the right provider for your financial ERP solution comes down to whether it has the fundamentals right. When hosting all of your vital data in the providers’ own servers, it should evidence a highly tested security process that comes with backup services as standard.

As our demand for technology capabilities grows and as ERP models progress, innovation will become the structure for growth – and there is no end to the possibilities.

 

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Finance

HOW FINANCIAL ORGANIZATIONS CAN PROTECT THEIR DATA

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Yuval Wollman, President, CyberProof and Chief Cyber Officer, UST

 

Top executives from Wall Street’s largest banks pinpointed cybersecurity as the greatest threat to America’s financial system, at a Congressional hearing that took place in May.

The concern of financial industry leaders with cyber-attacks is neither surprising, nor new. The attraction of cybercriminals to banks and other financial institutions makes sense, given the fact that the financial sector functions as gatekeepers – not just of financial assets, but also of valuable Personally identifiable information (PII).

Threat actors are attracted to attack financial institutions to earn a profit through increasingly sophisticated attacks that range from ransomware attacks to identity theft. But while the threat continues to grow, there is much that can be done to mitigate the risks.

 

The Downsides of Digital Banking

The number of attacks on financial institutions increased sharply in the last two years due to the upheavals wrought by COVID-19, which prompted a dramatic rise in the number of online transactions.

With so much of today’s financial transactions done on both web and mobile devices, threat actors have more opportunities than ever before. Take, for example, the growing importance of Man in the Middle (MITM) Attacks, which impersonate another party online and give criminals access to personal data, passwords, and banking details.

With the widespread adoption of digital banking, consumers have become increasingly worried about cyber-attack. As a result, there’s growing demand to create better consumer protection laws that respond to the rapidly evolving technology. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC), for example, recently strengthened security safeguards for consumer financial information.

 

It’s Not “Just” About the Money

Financial organizations are at risk not just from threat actors looking for profit, but also from nation-states and hacktivists acting out of idealistic motives or as a means of achieving specific political ends.

The most famous examples of this type of attack include Russia’s 2016 attack on Ukraine’s electric grid and North Korea’s 2017 attack on Britain’s National Health Service.

Because of the extent of the damage that this type of attack could cause, NATO established cyberspace as the “fifth domain of warfare” in 2016. It developed a definition of when foreign factions are banned from attacking financial institutions, due to the fear that this type of attack could directly lead to a country’s destabilization.

 

Recognizing Risk Factors

The digital transformation of financial services helps banks and other financial institutions provide more a more convenient customer experience.

And while significant customer demand has led many banks to implement changes such as the transition from legacy to cloud-based solutions, these shifts also have the potential to create additional security risks.

For example, if we’re talking specifically about cloud migration, there’s need for additional security layers to protect organizations working with public cloud providers from the range of attacks targeting the financial sector: ransomware, account takeover, data theft and manipulation, phishing attacks, identity theft, and more.

Another example is the extensive use of third-party vendors, which has increased the risk of attack for organizations in the financial sector. Because third-party vendors enlarge the attack surface, they create more entry points to the system and make it harder to protect customer data.

 

Accelerating Detection & Response

By adopting an agile approach that supports continuous improvement, financial organizations can facilitate proactive identification of evolving threats and vulnerabilities in the wild. More specifically, by placing an emphasis on use case optimization – which starts by mapping out an organization’s threat detection gaps to a framework such as MITRE ATT&CK – enterprises can prioritize threats and invest their time and resources in mitigating risk more effectively.

For organizations transitioning to the cloud, what’s key is managing the migration process in a way that provides optimal visibility in the cloud and supports ongoing optimization at the enterprise level. Digital playbooks are a crucial tool in providing improved detection and response, creating automated or guided responses that allow faster, more effective, collaborative action.

The development and regular review of incident response plans similarly allows for efficient response in emergency situations and helps reduce the business impact of cyber-attacks.

 

Targeted Threat Intelligence

Threat intelligence that’s tailored to the financial services sector is another key component of timely detection and response. By working with expert Cyber Threat Intelligence (CTI) services, organizations can obtain up-to-date information about industry-specific threats in real time – information that is a highly valuable tool in strengthening the defense of an enterprise.

 

Cyber Hygiene

Employees make mistakes; after all, it’s only human. But these errors can lead to massive data breaches. For example, when someone clicks on a phishing email or leaves passwords for a company computer on a slip of paper that’s easily seen by the wrong person, the damage can be astronomical.

Providing regular cybersecurity training programs for employees can help minimize the risk of an accidental or careless action leading to cyber-attack. To be effective, training programs should not only explain how to spot cybersecurity risks like phishing emails but should also discuss how and where it’s safe to access company information.

Aside from employee training, there are fundamental cybersecurity-related decisions that should be implemented at the enterprise level such as Zero Trust, DevSecOps, and multi-factor authentication (MFA). From a policy perspective, for example, it’s crucial to enforce MFA for all applications. Moreover, technology-related vulnerabilities can be minimized through frequent patching and updates for systems. Audits, as well as vulnerability and penetration tests, must be conducted regularly.

 

For the Financial Sector, “Best Practices” are Key

With the growth in number and complexity of cybersecurity attacks on financial organizations and the increased risk of nation-state attacks, proactively approaching the question of cybersecurity and implementing “best practices” makes the difference in reducing the degree of risk to an enterprise.

By modernizing the SOC with a carefully navigated migration to the cloud, adopting continuous improvement of use cases and the development of digital playbooks that improve detection and response – as well as by leveraging targeted threat intelligence and maintaining strong cyber hygiene – enterprises can put themselves in a stronger position to minimize the potential business impact of a cyber-attack on their organizations.

 

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