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HOW SOFTWARE ROBOTS CAN SUPPORT ESG INITIATIVES IN BANKING AND FINANCE

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Gavin Mee, Managing Director of Northern Europe at UiPath, introduces readers to software robots and explains how the technology can bolster environmental, social and governance initiatives within banking and finance.   

 

This year has only highlighted the growing need for corporate social responsibility. As concerns grow over COVID-19, social inequality, climate change and so forth, regulatory bodies and stakeholder activists alike are ramping up the pressure on financial institutions to implement environmental, social and governance (ESG) initiatives.

On the whole, the sector is realising that true commitment and compliance is a key element to success, with 80 per cent of banks having already made ESG commitments.[i] Several commercial banks, for example, have started to offer sustainability-linked credit facilities to customers. In one case, Brivtic, the soft drinks producer was offered up to £400 million dependent on whether the company can meet various ESG targets.[ii]

However, these initiatives are complex and require huge swathes of data to be regularly processed in order to be successful. For example, if a bank was committed to green financing, it would need to track the clients’ field operations, carbon emissions, supply chain activities, and a score of other variables. Searching for, collecting, processing and reporting back on this data is a huge undertaking which is extremely prone to error. It’s here where software robots can help.

What is a software robot?

Think of a software robot as a colleague who can lend a hand with completing rule-based, repetitive admin. They can control a computer as an employee would, only virtually, reading, extracting and processing data that you’ve taught them to look for.

Using a combination of technologies such as Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and Artificial Intelligence (AI), these software robot can complete data-intensive tasks with ease, more quickly and accurately than an employee could.

This technology is already being used around the world to lighten administrative loads and hand employees back time in their day to focus on value-added work that requires human ingenuity and skill.

How can software robots help with ESG?

As mentioned, ESG initiatives require huge volumes of data to be collected, processed and reported. These are the exact tasks that software robots are best at. The technology can comb through numerous sources of data, extracting the necessary information and reporting it back to colleagues to action as required.

Reporting is one area where software robots are most commonly used in ESG initiatives. Let’s take a bank keen on offering lower rates of interest for green properties, otherwise known as green mortgages. To ensure a property meets the lender’s specifications, additional documentation must be processed. Software robots can sort through this information and report back as to whether the property meets the green standards, providing employees with the information they need, when they need it.

An organisation looking to shape their investment strategies in line with ESG policies is another good example. Software robots can scan through various sources of information such as prospectuses, annual reports and media reports, and consolidate the required information into the necessary format. Portfolio managers can then consult this information to make responsible, purpose driven investment decisions.

Software robots can also be used to relieve the stress on auditing functions. In order for ESG initiatives to be successful, auditing is crucial. However, auditing teams already have enough on their plates without ESG being added to the mix. Therefore software robots can be deployed into the function to assist in sampling, monitoring and assessment.

Alongside assisting with reporting and auditing, the technology can also enact change itself. A business process management firm that provides solutions to the banking and finance sector, for example, is using software robots to digitalise loan documents and to manage customer processes. This has reduced the business’ reliance on paper, thus assisting in their objective to cut waste. Elsewhere, software robots are assisting a Turkish bank in processing requests to postpone loan repayments for customers impacted by COVID-19 in line with the banks new social responsibility initiatives.

As ESG initiatives vary from business to business, so too will be the application of software robots. However, despite the specifics, the running themes throughout these programmes require huge volumes of data to be processed quickly and accurately. Employees can’t pick up all this work alone, nor would it be the best use of skills, software robots on the other hand are designed to handle this exact work with ease.

It’s no surprise, therefore that the technology is proving itself to be an extremely useful tool when transforming ESG objectives into impactful realities. As the importance of corporate social responsibility is only set to grow in the coming years, those organisations that deploy software robots into their processes now will be more prepared for new ESG regulations as they emerge.

[i] https://www.consultancy.eu/news/5905/banks-globally-taking-sustainability-and-esg-more-seriously
[ii] https://home.kpmg/xx/en/home/insights/2020/05/embedding-esg-into-banks-strategies.html

Banking

Augmented automated underwriting and the evolution of the life insurance market

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By Alby van Wyk, Chief Commercial Officer at Munich Re Automation Solutions

 

It’s almost inevitable. Spend your working life identifying, analysing, quantifying and ascribing monetary value to risk, and you’re likely to have a fairly strong aversion to it. Or more accurately, an aversion to undertaking new endeavours with inadequately understood consequences. The insurance industry is, on any number of levels, the very definition of risk-averse.

And yet, for all the commentary suggesting otherwise, insurance still has an appetite for innovation. If the insurtech sector is any indication, then an interest in and requirement for new solutions is being recognised and slowly addressed.

Declan O’Neill

It may not employ the language of disruption that runs through the wider fintech market, it may be short a few unicorns and unable to boast some of the record-breaking funding rounds, but a quiet tech evolution has been building in insurance nonetheless. Hence the advent of automated underwriting facilitated by more advanced algorithms and data analysis.

Where insurtech does overlap with its more vocal fintech counterparts is in the greater use of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to solve age-old problems around data analysis and interpretation.

It’s about five years or so since AI first became a topic of conversation in insurance. Since then, despite the intensity of the debate, it has often felt like a reality that is always just over the horizon – a destination that kept moving even as more and more efforts were directed towards it.

But recent research suggests that the journeys made so far have not been in vain. We are at a point where embracement of AI is about to step up a gear. The global value of insurance premiums underwritten by AI have reached an estimated $1.3 billion this year, as stated by Juniper Research; but they are expected to top $20 billion in the next five years. As a destination, it is closer and more attainable than ever before.

However, AI is not an island. Its promise of $2.3 billion in global cost savings to be achieved through greater efficiencies and automation of resource-intensive tasks will not be achieved in isolation.

AI remains part of a more complex ecosystem of data gathering and analysis. It can apply new technologies to get the best out of the already established and still-emerging data sources that feature in underwriting offices around the world. It emphatically does not require these existing investments to be ripped out, replaced or downgraded.

It is more helpful therefore to see AI as the differentiating factor in the latest generation of insurance IT: augmented automated underwriting, or AAU for short.

AAU gives underwriters the ability to spot patterns and connections that are, frankly, either invisible to the human eye or which take normal, human-assisted processes unfeasible amounts of time and resource to identify.

Whereas earlier generations of automation were able to pick up the low-hanging fruit of insurance markets – the individuals whose driving history fit into clearly delineated boxes, for example – AAU can take into account all of the rich complexity of the human experience. It can spot the nuances and individualities that populate the life market, for example, and translate those into accurate policies.

That’s good news for both underwriters and their customers. AAU can significantly reduce the need for separate medicals, repeated questions, lengthy decision-making processes, and drastically increase the speed at which a potential insurer can get a quote and cover – while continually improving the way risk is calculated and managed.

It can make sure the decision-making process remains in the hands of underwriters rather than IT departments, enabling them to set and update the rules and parameters as befits their preferred business model. It consequently makes advanced, complex and precise decision-making available to a broader range of underwriting businesses – which is good for those businesses, good for customers and ultimately good for the entire industry.

AAU – augmented automated underwriting – is an example of the realisation of AI’s promise. As such, it’s set to become one of the key talking points and disruptive technologies of the insurance industry. And this time, AAU is both a journey and destination that all progressive insurance organisations need to be considering for their future operations.

 

 

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Banking

ESG in the finance and banking industry – are you ready?

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By Julian Moffett, CTO BFSI, EDB

 

Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) has soared towards the top of banking, financial services, and insurance (BFSI) and other boardroom interests. Organisations everywhere know they need to take ESG and greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) seriously not only because it is the right thing to do for the future of the planet or because it can help attract and retain talent, but also, because failing to do so may pose a risk to the economic value of their businesses and encourage probes by governments, watchdogs and non-execs. However, complying with complex reporting and going the extra mile to actually deliver on the goals of the rules is a challenge in many ways, not the least of which is in achieving the required excellence in data management to underpin strong reporting on ESG.

 

What is ESG? 

Julian Moffett

ESG is an umbrella term that covers a broad gamut of activities. Gartner defines ESG as “…a collection of corporate performance evaluation criteria that assess the robustness of a company’s governance mechanisms and its ability to effectively manage its environmental and social impacts.”

The CFA Institute describes the environmental element as focusing on “the conservation of the natural world” and includes measuring “climate change and carbon emissions,” “air and water pollution” and “biodiversity” among many other measures. Social considers “people and relationships” looking at areas including “customer satisfaction,” and “gender and diversity.” Governance covers “standards for running a company” and analyses factors such as “board composition,” “audit committee structure” and “audit committee structure.”

 

Status of the current regulatory environment

There are many bodies proposing rules to formalise ESG monitoring and seeking to ensure corporate compliance. Some example groups, frameworks and bodies:

  • The Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD)
  • Streamlined Energy and Carbon Reporting (SECR)
  • The International Regulatory Strategy Group (ISRG)
  • The Sustainability Finance Disclosure Regulation (SFDR)
  • The International Sustainability Standards Board (ISSB)
  • The Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB)
  • Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) support efforts such as the US SEC’s Climate and ESG Task Force.

Financial services organisations are very aware that the current regulatory landscape is far from mature (and will continue changing) both in terms of alignment between bodies and also with regard to when the new rules will come into effect. At the of time of writing:

  • The requirement for Scope 2 disclosures (see below for description) for the Sustainable Finance Disclosure Regulation (SFDR) will likely come into effect in 2023
  • A proposed Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD) should be agreed by the European Parliament this year for implementation in 2024 to report on performance in 2023.
  • Meanwhile, the SEC has just released its proposed rules for climate-related disclosures, which,if passed in legislation, may come into effect as early as year end 2022.

 

Reporting Obligations 

Reporting can cover a wide range of areas covering energy consumption, GHG emissions, water consumption and waste management to health and safety, labour rights, diversity and inclusion to ethical conduct, and even areas such as appropriate executive compensation.

While the regulatory reporting obligations are not yet finalised, the expectation is that compliance may prove to be an onerous task. For example, organisations are under pressure to monitor carbon emissions but even so-called Scope 1 emissions (those that come from owned or controlled emissions) can be hard to track. Factor in Scope 2 (indirect emissions such as purchased power) as well as Scope 3 emissions from up and down value chains, and the reporting task at hand is difficult indeed.

To measure, monitor and manage in addition to staying on the right side of rules, organisations need to have excellent data management fundamentals, strong reporting tools and a new class of applications, which also have the agility to adapt to rapidly changing regulatory demands. Data will be used both to support decarbonisation measures but also to identify where there are disclosure gaps. It was telling that when the SEC issued a press release on its Enforcement Task Force, it specifically referred to data:

“The task force will also coordinate the effective use of Division resources, including through the use of sophisticated data analysis to mine and assess information across registrants, to identify potential violations.”

Having reliable data comply with emerging rules isn’t the only essential requirement for organisations. Institutions need such data to understand where they are in their journey to sustainability, so that they can set sensible targets and track progress against them. Organisations will have to cover the data trifecta of availability, management and transparency. Many organisations may be stuck in the early stages of managing ESG, overly relying on manual processes, spreadsheets and email. But their target should be to get to real-time data insights that are easily visualised, understood and shared. As a foundation, BFSIs need to capture, manage and securely share data reflecting consumption and safety to emissions, financials and data from surveys measuring results against ESG targets. Data emanating from ERP and other back-office systems, performance data from third-party associates, media and social network coverage, spatial/geolocation systems and beyond should also be factored in.

 

Actually reducing GHGs

Organisations are using a wide variety of ways to reduce emissions and improve their footprints from using renewable energy sources to making secondary use of energy; for example, in the case of one university, this is done through capturing data centre heat in hydroponics. For IT, making broader use of multitenancy in cloud computing and hosting services is a popular way to reduce emissions. Not only do these large data centres offer an economy of scale, they also tend to be state of the art in their use of renewables and highly efficient hardware and other infrastructure. Gartner, in an article titled The Data Centre Is Almost Dead, says it expects 80 percent of enterprises will close in-house datacenters by 2025. For me, the jury is out on this one but an interesting one to monitor going forward.

 

Conclusion

We are at the start of a very significant inflection point in regulatory and consumer expectations around ESG. BFSIs should be under no illusion that momentum is building rapidly in terms of having to address strict reporting requirements and implement strategies to reduce GHGs.

However, we also see this as a time of positive change. As the leading provider of Postgres, EDB is excited to help organisations further their ESG goals as the journey unfolds. We are closely monitoring the implications of ESG regulations as they will give rise to a new class of applications and drive adoption of green data centres. We see OSS, including Postgres, as playing a key role in this shift as often the movement to private and public cloud helps accelerate application modernisation and enables displacement of outdated incumbent technology (including database) platforms. As the leading provider of Postgres, EDB is excited to help organisations further their ESG goals as the journey unfolds.

 

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