Nick Corrigan, UK & Ireland Managing Director, President of Global Payments.
As 2020 began, there was already much conversation about the pace of change in the payments space. Driven by regulation changes and enabled by advances in technology; new players and established organisations were able to broaden out their proposition with things like Open Banking. But the Covid-19 pandemic has catalysed change and innovation at an unforeseen pace, out of pure necessity. With customers no longer frequenting physical stores, reluctant to handle cash and relying heavily on online services to feed, clothe and entertain themselves, the payments industry has had to adapt quickly. The question is, which of these changes are here to stay, and what trends will dominate the conversation in 2021?
Brands go direct-to-consumer
It goes without saying that the pandemic has forced us to re-evaluate our relationship with physical stores, irreversibly changing how we view them. Good examples include Nike, Brewdog and Harry’s, whilst Shopify has seen dramatic success in the small merchants needing to go online. This year, we’re going to see an increase in the ‘direct-to-consumer’ play. Brands big and small who previously had a distinct distribution channel e.g. through supermarkets, multi brand outlets or dedicated stores for example, will look more deeply at their distribution models and use technology as the enabler for this. As part of this, they will ramp up efforts around their social presence and communication, apps, loyalty programmes and websites. They will embed the payment process, making it almost impossible for consumers to want to visit a third-party physical store.
This will in turn fuel the subscription economy and we’ll see consumers increasingly harnessing the opportunities there now are to have things like razors or fitness juices delivered to their doors monthly via an app, as opposed to shopping for them in a supermarket. This movement of reclaiming direct consumer interactions and cutting out distribution partners presents massive opportunities for brands. They will now have the data – and the resulting insights – gained from controlling more of the payment flow to strengthen relationships, and in turn, strengthen their revenue.
Tech players ramp up payments prowess
In 2021, we’re going to see tech giants continue to increase their efforts when it comes to payments and broader financial services. Amazon Pay, for example, is fast becoming a standard payment method for purchases outside of its own website. While at the moment it is mostly limited to Amazon storing your card details to enable one-click payments, we’ll begin to see tech giants start to come up with their own payments products so that they can control the complete flow of the payment. The natural next step from consumers using the platform merely to access their card, is that they might have a credit line with the platform in question and offerings beyond buy now pay later as the tech firms disintermediate the traditional financial services supply chain.
Open Banking gains pace
Most consumers are still unaware of this new service, but as more merchants have an opportunity to offer this solution and integrate into their payment options, they have a great opportunity to reduce their costs for payments by not using the traditional routes under Visa and Mastercard. While these entrenched payments rails have a very important place, offering protection for bigger purchases like a TV or a holiday, they aren’t needed for many consumer purchases. It’s unlikely you’re going to seek a refund and have to have a chargeback raised for a cup of coffee or an insurance renewal, which is what these big networks are so vital for facilitating.
When you take these types of credit and debit card purchases, about 30% of them could sit outside of the typical network ecosystem. This is why we’re seeing banks quickly launch their Open Banking services, specifically for these types of scenarios. In 2021, Open Banking is really going to start doing what it was intended to do: increase competition.
The way we pay was already evolving due to Open Banking, BigTech and the explosion of ecommerce. But adapting to the pandemic meant rapidly adapting to new technologies, and nobody is likely to look back. The economic impact of 2020 means that budgets and purse strings will be tighter in 2021, and companies will be looking to find ways to make their payments infrastructure cheaper without compromising security. The promise of new opportunities to monetise data will also bring in new players and new technologies as businesses seek to own more of their payment lifecycle. This had been a year of intense change, and 2021 shows no promise of slowing down.
2021 FINANCE SPEND PREDICTIONS
by Andrew Foster, VP Consulting EMEA, AppZen
As we enter a new year filled with ongoing change and uncertainty, a few things are still clear. Though digital transformation has long been a familiar story told across the finance sector, businesses are recognising the need to adopt new technologies as a matter of urgency. As a result, 2021 will see a huge shift towards embracing technologies that transform finance procedures.
Anant Kale, Co-Founder and CEO, AppZen, shares his finance predictions for 2021:
The year of accelerated digital transformation
The current pandemic forced companies of all sizes, across nearly every industry, to virtualise their workforce, almost overnight. But in the coming year, finance leaders will be turning their attention to wider digitalisation efforts.
Kale explains, “Last year, the focus was on how to quickly keep up with changing business needs, with CIOs focusing on business continuity in a remote work environment—conferencing and collaboration tools, network upgrades, and so on. As we finally caught our breath, this next year will bring even deeper transformation. Rethinking and reimagining business processes in an AI-first world will keep enterprises agile, efficient, compliant and allow them to scale without relying on adding huge headcounts, which will be critical to the bottom line.”
Consequently, more CFOs will be driving the push for AI-powered programmes to be implemented into finance operations to accelerate digital transformation, streamlining operations across the entire enterprise and ensuring business resilience.
Expanding digital transformation – beyond the basics
Over the past year, the drive to enable remote working across the whole organisation has meant the deployment of a wide variety of technologies. Yet, most of these solutions are not in areas that directly increase the finance department’s efficiency. This year, finance leaders will be prioritising two specific functions that are prime for disruption and enhancement – AI-based invoice processing and expense auditing.
“Increasingly, AP invoice processing decisions will be made in the autonomous zone, where intelligent systems can independently make decisions that don’t require human second guessing or manual review,” said Kale. “With autonomous AP, systems that are capable of evaluating all aspects of invoice entry, matching, accounting approvals and even risk and compliance, AP teams will be able to move from operations to more strategic AP concerns.”
AppZen’s recent survey of top CFOs and finance executives confirms the need for deeper transformation in 2021. Currently, 59 per cent respondents report they still haven’t automated ingestion and extraction of data from invoices. Unsurprisingly then, a notable 43.5 per cent of organisations still take seven or more days on average to process an invoice. Organisations with more proficient automated processes only take 2.9 days to process an invoice on average — a considerable difference that supports the need for increased automation and AI uptake among modern finance teams.
Adapting for expenses in the 2021 work-world
CFOs will need to budget for different types of business expenses in light of the new environment. With an evolving workforce that includes remote, on-site and hybrid workers, they need to rethink their strategies and plan scenarios in ways they’ve never had to do before.
To this point, Kale comments, “Business travel will come back in some form later this year, but more importantly, the nature of expenses that have traditionally been associated with travel and entertainment (T&E) will change. Instituting routine audits and implementing clear expense policies will be critical to avoid fraud and abuse or unreliable financial data, which cost businesses nearly $3B dollars a year—and that was before the pandemic.”
As the spend environment becomes more complex, spend visibility is more vital now than ever. Finance leaders need to have the right tools in place to identify these new types of expenses – such as the number of video conferencing licences acquired, home office equipment, and productivity software – and properly assess spend priorities.
Flexibility is also crucial. In a rapidly-evolving environment, a one-size-fits-all policy isn’t up to standard. “How enterprises create and allocate budgets has been completely disrupted and what worked in the past won’t work in 2021,” declares Kale. “We’ve gone from a relatively certain, predictable way of carrying out business operations to a time where only the unpredictable seems certain, which requires agility, speed, and scale to ensure longevity and continuity.”
Despite challenging times, finance leaders are showing optimism for 2021. This year will require adaptability in the face of evolving global economic conditions in order to meet not only wider company needs, but those of employees as well. Embracing new technologies will continue to transform operations across every level of an organisation and enable business leaders to drive both productivity and profitability despite the uncertainty ahead.
THE LOYALTY-TRUST PARADOX AT THE HEART OF FINANCIAL SERVICES AND HOW TO OVERCOME IT
By Andrew Warren, Head of Banking & Financial Services, UK&I at Cognizant
There has long been a paradox at the heart of the financial sector – customer loyalty remains high despite overall trust in the banking system being very low. In any other sector, low trust would lead customers looking for services elsewhere. Generally, however, the major banks have been able to retain their clients despite, rather than because of, trust.
This customer loyalty does not always pay, with research suggesting consumers could be overpaying by £2.9bn in areas such as mobile, broadband, home insurance, as well as, notably, mortgages and savings. Whether the result of customer lethargy, lack of awareness of the possible cost savings or low expectations of the service banks provide, this has encouraged complacency in the banking sector.
This could, however, change as our post-pandemic reality begins to bite. People may have used the extra time from the lack of a commute to do some research and shop around for better alternatives, as well as harbouring frustrations over a perceived lack of support in recent months. Coupled with the possibility of a period of negative interest rates, we could soon be heading towards a perfect storm, where both retail giants and small local businesses start to question the value their banks actually provide.
Digital native challengers are shifting the landscape
One viable reason for the supposed loyalty consumers have towards the major banks has been the lack of real alternatives. With all of the traditional high street institutions offering services that were largely interchangeable, switching services seemed more effort than was really worth it when perceived benefits were so minimal. However, this changed with the arrival in recent years of challenger banks such as Monzo, Starling and Revolut, which continue to grow in popularity due to ease of use and better customer experience from sign-up through to their intuitive apps.
The primary advantage of the big banks is their liquidity, historical reputations and longstanding customer base. However, the agility and user-friendliness of the challengers is shifting the landscape, and the continued reliance on legacy systems leaves the traditional players struggling to surpass, or in most cases match, the innovative services and products fintechs are able to bring to the market.
Customer expectations setting a new standard
As personalisation and smooth technological integration in other sectors, such as retail, raises expectations of similar offerings across all service industries, this could soon become a key battleground for banks.
With the challengers currently looking better equipped to respond to these consumer needs, here are some of the steps banks can take to modernise their offerings and retain customers’ loyalty:
- Embracing human science – the financial sector has long favoured data science in its behavioural analysis. Almost anyone can understand basic data; it is how semiotic algorithms can be used alongside this that will reveal real insights that can be used simply to help understand people better, their fears, their hopes and their aspirations.
- Adapting to modern trends – the lockdown has, by necessity, modified and in some cases accelerated, many of the established habits of both individuals and businesses. These range from an increased adoption of cashless payments, to remote working, the propensity for saving vs investing, attitudes towards fraud and risk appetite, and loyalty. As a result, some customer journeys, which had become the cornerstone of banks’ or lenders’ strategies, will now need to be adapted. For example, products, pricing and customer treatment strategies will need to be updated, and the entire value-chain of customer touchpoints should be digitally enabled. Financial institutions will now need to ensure speed and quality of their response to this change.
- Using innovation to level the playing field – the systemic advantage the big banks have over more agile challengers is in liquidity access. It is an advantage that potentially will be scrutinised in the COVID-19 enquiries we can expect to see in the near future, particularly around the provision of the various governmental support schemes and loans for which these big banks initially had responsibility. As that advantage then reduces, the need for real innovation grows. This means building business models and deploying technology that can deliver value and differentiation. For example, the major banks have more channels than their digital-only counterparts and, therefore, more data to draw on. The result is a better focus on customer journeys, with modern cloud-based data management platforms central to this. The quantity and detail of data can play in banks’ favour, allowing constant ongoing improvements to customer communications and simplifying self-service options in an increasingly remote world. It is important that banks continue to ensure they are thinking outside the box and keeping pace with other industries that are innovating in their response to the pandemic.
- Personalising the process – technology is already helping to speed up processes and improve self-service banking operations, particularly with predictive and smart decision-making through AI and ML. The advanced use of chatbots is an example, along with increasing tailored content and interfaces in apps and on digital platforms. However, the end goal is personalisation across the whole customer journey, not only through technology but also call centre operatives who still form a critical role in trouble shooting and need an up to date view of the customer in order to be able to do their job. Technology can also help analyse how these human interactions can then become more personalised.
The major banks retain a crucial position in UK society for the support and confidence they offer their customers. However, as in so many other sectors, the coronavirus pandemic could come to be seen as a watershed moment in their evolution. With the challengers continuing to gain momentum, banks certainly cannot afford to stand still. It is the ability to have a data- and technology-driven approach, as outlined here, that can help them retain their dominance and justify customer loyalty now lockdown is beginning to lift. Should they fail to do so, we may find ourselves in a very different landscape than we do today. By focusing on the steps above, banks will start to level out the playing field.
2021 FINANCE SPEND PREDICTIONS
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