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Finance

LIFE IN 2022: HOW A GLOBAL PANDEMIC CHANGED PAYMENTS

James Booth, VP Head of Partnerships, EMEA at PPRO

 

It’s January 2022. Countries around the world are teeming with life again. Roads and trains are packed with employees commuting to work. High street retailers are seeing foot traffic, and restaurants are gearing up for flocks of hungry patrons. After a continued global effort to flatten the curve and months of social distancing, COVID-19 is finally in the rear-view. People around the world are relieved to be back to life as it was, but will things ever truly be the same?

COVID-19 shook the global economy as the largest pandemic since the Spanish flu in the early 20th century. Social distancing drastically shifted consumer behaviour and introduced a new set of challenges to stores and shoppers alike. But, as humanity has always done, we came together, adapted, and innovated.

We’ve entered a more stable 2022, adjusted to a new normal, and now we’re pausing to reflect on what we’ve just overcome. Let’s take a closer look at how payments and global commerce have changed in the last 18 months.

 

Monumental (and Permanent) Changes in Shopping Habits

COVID-19 was a major accelerator in the shift to digital for most of us; how we take classes, do our jobs, connect with friends, and definitely how we shop. Online shopping had already been the norm with Gen Z and Millennials, but COVID-19 served as the inflection point for older demographics and slow adopters. Gen X and Baby Boomers are often reluctant to change their habits, but 2020 disrupted the status quo for nearly all aspects of life. Throughout 2020, discretionary spending dropped due to a surge in unemployment rates, but e-commerce is now enjoying an all-time high thanks to its inherent convenience.

COVID-19 revealed a structural problem in our reliance on big-box retailers. At first, consumers suffered shortages of goods and frustrating checkout experiences, but big businesses responded with unprecedented agility. They quickly made improvements to overcome the new challenges of the market. Because of social distancing, many brick-and-mortar retailers were forced to go online for the first time. This was enabled by various e-commerce plug-and-play platforms that allowed small retailers or sole traders to sell online in a matter of days.

The market became a cornucopia of choice for the consumer. Millions of people who had previously resisted e-commerce – particularly for fast-moving consumer goods such as groceries – signed up with e-commerce sites. Post-pandemic, few of us have gone back to old shopping habits.

 

A Flood of Fierce Competition

The rapid, sustained increase in online shopping created an interesting challenge for merchants. More consumers meant higher earning potential, but it also meant more competition in the marketplace. To stand out, merchants are applying new rigor and attention to customer and user experience. Brick-and-mortar stores have largely become showrooms or click-and-collect points. Retailers have invested in connecting digital experiences to the physical using robust augmented or virtual reality and immersive experiences.

As a result of the increased quality in the market, consumers (who were already insisting on intuitive user journeys pre-pandemic) now have zero tolerance for sites that are not at least easy to use. When it comes to that all-important payment experience – the make or break moment of conversion – it’s critical to have checkout flows that feel invisible for digital natives, yet inspire trust for those late-adopters.

 

Local Payment Methods Continue to Drive ‘Glocalization’

In 2020, COVID-19 drove consumers to look outside their immediate geography for goods and services. Major drivers of this included price point, quality of products, and availability due to global supply chain challenges. The opportunity for merchants to sell across their borders became even greater, and acted as a solution to bridge revenue gaps and increase reach to an entirely new, global audience. Now, in 2022, most large and medium-sized retailers are selling across borders.

While it’s become easy to navigate logistics around the world, collecting funds in other markets is still an entirely different story. Like all aspects of culture, payment preferences vary from country to country. Surprising to Americans and Brits is that not all e-commerce is paid for with big brand credit cards. In fact, over 70% of global e-commerce is powered by over 450 local payment methods (which is why the misnomer ‘alternative’ has swapped for ‘local’ in recent years). Indeed, e-wallets like Alipay, WeChat Pay, and GrabPay dominate payments in Asia – now more than ever.

Offering local payment methods (LPMs) has always been a critical part of boosting conversion across borders. During the pandemic, as consumers clung more tightly to their money, the demand for payment methods that were familiar and trusted only increased.

 

How the Local Payments Landscape Changed During COVID-19

The payment needs and preferences of global consumers still vary from country to country. In fact, they are more diverse than ever. Still, a global trend has been the accelerated shift from traditional cash and card payments toward digital payment methods at the point of sale. Out of social distancing necessity, the pandemic led to increased use of contactless, digital payment methods like mobile e-wallets, bank transfers, and QR codes. Many retailers, particularly in the US, who have long resisted installing contactless technology due to processing fees have now been compelled to offer it.

When it comes to shopping online, installment payment methods like Klarna and Afterpay have surged in use, as they enabled shoppers suffering from the economic impacts of COVID-19 to defer payments and still buy what they wanted. Before the pandemic, apps like these were primarily used by younger demographics to break up payments on big-ticket items, luxury goods, and travel. Many consumers now prefer a ‘buy now, pay later’ option.

During the pandemic, cash obviously circulated less as brick-and-mortar retailers closed or implemented digital payment methods to avoid contact. In 2022, the markets that have remained predominantly digital are markets that had low cash use before the pandemic: the US, UK, Western Europe, and large parts of Asia. Cash-based payment methods remain popular for some economies around the world (especially places in Latin America, where there are high percentages of unbanked consumers). But make no mistake: We are closer to a completely cashless society in 2022 than we have ever been.

 

Innovation in a Time of Crisis

Even before 2020, the proliferation of local payment methods was only set to increase. Now, in a world that faced a pandemic that made e-commerce a necessity, we’ve seen an explosion of new fintechs, local payment methods, and product functionalities. Legacy providers struggle to keep up as new players create integrated, easier-to-use, and more secure options for consumers.

But while there’s more competition than ever, there’s also a new spirit of cooperation and collaboration. Rivals have joined forces to innovate for global consumers. COVID-19 incentivized businesses to provide simple solutions for people stressed by a pandemic. ‘Coopetition’ fueled complex advancements in payments tech.

Despite the havoc wreaked on the global economy, it’s come out stronger than before. In 2022, e-commerce continues to be a powerful force for good. Many consumers have new ways to shop, and retailers now have access to larger, global audiences. Small merchants have a bigger share of the local market and are now able to compete on the same level as big-box retailers.

Before COVID-19 upturned life as we knew it, 2020 sounded so futuristic; there were endless thought pieces in January 2020 on how the internet and AI were taking over. But, as it turned out, technology has become one of humanity’s greatest gifts, enabling us to connect, keep working, and get access to the goods and services we need.

Finance

FIDUCIARY MANAGEMENT

by Devan Nathwani, FIA and Investment Strategist at Secor Asset Management

 

Defined Benefit pension schemes are one of the most significant institutional investors, representing c.£1,700 billion[1] in assets. With investments becoming increasingly more complex, regulatory and reporting requirements increasing and markets generally being volatile, making investment decisions is taking up more of the governance budget. This has been further highlighted in the recent Covid-19 crisis where pension schemes were faced with falling equity markets, collateral calls and new investment opportunities arising from market dislocations. Corporate sponsors saw their pension scheme deficits widen at a time when free cash flow was needed to maintain working capital. There is a vast array of investment or de-risking products that claim to have low governance requirements, however often they can require giving up investment freedom and transparency or have high costs. This is where partnering with a Fiduciary Manager can help.

 

What is Fiduciary Management?

Fiduciary Management is essentially a form of delegated investment decision making. Fiduciary Managers partner with pension schemes to give advice on scheme investments and are responsible for the implementation of that advice. Fiduciary Management relationships are often highly customised and do not have to be “all or nothing”. A simple Fiduciary Management partnership could involve a Fiduciary Manager managing a fund-of-hedge-fund portfolio. A more comprehensive partnership could involve a Fiduciary Manager using their investment expertise to make investment decisions on the entire scheme portfolio. In practice, these partnerships can take many different forms and the best relationships are often highly customised, be it in the services received, the portion of the assets covered or the decisions that are delegated.

 

Devan Nathwani

Why Fiduciary Management?

Every pension scheme is different and in practice will choose to partner with a Fiduciary Manager for different reasons. Some common reasons for partnering with a Fiduciary Manager are:

Independent investment expertise

Over the last 10 years pension scheme investments have become increasingly more complex, with alternative asset classes becoming a core component of the strategic portfolio. Asset classes such as Private Equity, Private Credit and Property require in-depth knowledge of the different strategies deployed within them and often require portfolio management expertise to deal with capital calls and distributions and the sizing of commitments. Independence can be crucial here as these asset classes often carry high investment fees and require careful investment due diligence. A Fiduciary Manager typically has deep investment experience in a broad set of asset classes that a pension scheme can in-source without the cost of building an in-house team. Independence can be very important as a Fiduciary Manager that has no association with the underlying managers that a pension scheme invests with, can make investment decisions with minimal conflicts of interest.

Precision and speed

As highlighted by the market impact following the Covid-19 pandemic, it is important for pension schemes to be able to implement their investment decisions with speed and precision. Markets move every single day and investment opportunities can often arise and pass more quickly than a typical pension scheme governance structure can tolerate. Risk management is one of the most important objectives for a pension scheme, with unrewarded risks needing careful management and rewarded risks needing to be sized appropriately. Fiduciary Managers monitor their client portfolios daily and can act quickly to take advantage of investment opportunities or rebalance the portfolio as markets move.

Transparency

As regulatory requirements have increased, pension schemes are increasingly being asked to monitor their investment decisions with more scrutiny. Regulation requires them to consider Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) factors in their investment decisions and understand the performance of their investments in detail, including the impact of explicit and implicit transaction costs. In addition, as funding levels improve, pension schemes and their sponsors are looking for tighter control and greater transparency over the scheme’s risks. This is particularly important as schemes approach their desired “End Game”. Good Fiduciary Managers typically have proprietary tools and systems that facilitate better performance and risk measurement. As regulations form and evolve, Fiduciary Managers adapt their investment decision making processes to account for them making compliance much easier.

Limited resources

Typically pension schemes and their sponsors have limited internal resources with limited time to spend on both investment and non-investment related matters. Most companies do not have dedicated pensions treasury teams so it can be difficult to devote the sufficient time that is required to both monitoring investment performance and making investment decisions. Where new asset classes are added to a pension scheme’s portfolio, additional training may be required which can take a considerable amount of time, particularly for more complex asset classes. Partnering with a Fiduciary Manager can supplement any existing governance structure by re-focusing pension scheme resources on more strategic matters.

Accountability

Pension schemes typically receive advice from investment consultants who do a good job of advising on strategic matters but are ultimately not accountable for the performance and the outcome of that advice. Pension scheme representatives are increasingly looking for their advisors to be accountable for their advice and the performance relative to the liabilities. Fiduciary Management solutions typically focus on liability relative scheme performance and are governed by the GIPS Fiduciary Management Performance Standard, to ensure a consistency in performance measurement.

Value for money

Fiduciary Management relationships are often all-encompassing and typically cover all investment related matters for the pension scheme. Through economies of scale, Fiduciary Managers negotiate more favourable asset management fees on behalf of pension schemes and are able to get schemes of all sizes access to investment opportunities that would historically only be available to larger schemes. The combination of investment expertise and accountability under a single Fiduciary Management solution, is expected to deliver better funding and performance outcomes which ultimately offers better value for money.

 

Why now?

Fiduciary Management as an investment solution is arguably more relevant today than historically. The recent crisis has highlighted the need for an investment partner who can help manage the downside risks associated with investing in equities, manage the collateral behind important hedges and take advantage of market dislocations. Many corporate sponsors will have seen their pensions contributions eroded and balance sheet deficits widened during the Covid-19 market crisis and a Fiduciary Management partner could have helped better navigate the volatility.

As corporate sponsors begin to consider the “End Game” for their DB pension scheme, they are increasingly faced with the dilemma of entering low-governance investment solutions that may be poorly constructed or paying an insurance premium to “Buy-out” the scheme.

Solutions such as Cashflow Driven Investing (CDI) tend to overemphasise portfolio construction to be based on uncertain cashflow profiles, and excessively exposing the pension scheme to risky credit allocations, which in a post Covid-19 world could expose pension schemes to adverse funding outcomes.

For corporates who prefer to avoid a large cash lumpsum payment for insurance-based buy-outs, a Fiduciary Manager can offer an alternative solution to reaching the required funding level for such a transaction to take place. By slowly growing the asset base while carefully managing risks, pension schemes can become buy-out ready allowing their sponsors to reinvest free cashflow in existing or new business lines.

Partnering with a Fiduciary Manager today could give pension schemes the tools to better manage the next crisis and offer more flexibility in reaching the desired End Game.

 

[1] The DB Landscape – Defined Benefit Pensions 2019 – The Pensions Regulator dated January 2019

 

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Business

TOUCH-FREE AUTHENTICATION FOR ALL: WHY WE NEED A SAFER PAYMENT METHOD IN THE ‘NEW NORMAL’

David Orme, SVP, Sales & Marketing, IDEX Biometrics ASA

 

Ever since March, when the World Health Organization encouraged people to not use cash, coronavirus has made touch-free shopping a necessity for all consumers. However, as economies across the world begin to reopen, we are seeing in-person shopping and payment via touch-pads return. So, with payments beginning to return to ‘normal’, the global payments industry must now consider an important question: how can we protect consumers from the pandemic and potential future health crisis’ during the transaction process?

During the pandemic, touch-free payments began to gain international traction across the world, changing behaviour during the payment process. While previously, consumers were happy to key in a PIN, or even provide a signature for a purchase, they are now familiar with more convenient and safer touch-free methods, and they’re not likely to let them go.

In Europe, high street chains have rapidly shifted to contactless payments, often refusing to accept cash. Meanwhile in the USA, levels of contactless payments have rocketed since the pandemic, after a slow initial adoption of the service – US banks only adopted contactless cards in 2019 compared to 2007 in the UK. According to Visa, overall contactless usage in the USA has grown 150% year-on-year as of May 2020.

Even mega-retailer, Walmart, has recently introduced contactless options for in-store shopping and delivery to protect its customers during the pandemic – showing there is growing demand for a touch-free and convenient way to pay across the world. This has raised awareness of touch-free payments among consumers looking to reduce contact-based interactions and time spent at the checkout during the pandemic.

 

Mobile payments are growing

Mobile payments are growing, again showing the desire for touch-free authentication among consumers. According to Forbes, the US mobile payment market – currently only sixth in the world – has increased 41% and is worth more than $98 billion.

To respond to the growth of touch-free payments among small vendors, PayPal has launched a new QR code-based payment app that allows market stall holders or businesses without a PoS machine to accept payment through a code. This means even the smallest of merchants, from small stores and farmer’s markets to craft sales, can now go cash-free and use touch-free payments for everything.

Meanwhile, China has long been using QR code-based apps, such as WeChat Pay from tech giant TenCent and AliPay from Alibaba. The apps are so widely used that street vendors display QR codes for payments and together the two fintech giants control about 90% of China’s digital payments market.

 

But card is still king

At the same time, payment cards are still consumers preferred way to pay. Of course, we only need to look to Apple and Google, who recently have launched physical payment cards despite running mobile payment apps for further proof that payment cards are far from dead.

So why aren’t cards on their way out, given the growth of mobile payments?

We know that consumers still look to payment cards for security and a sense of familiarity while shopping. According to IDEX Biometrics’ research carried out in the UK, only 3% of consumers choose to use mobile payments, while nearly two-thirds (65%) state that carrying their debit card provides a sense of security. And when it comes to touch-free payments, only biometric payment cards can provide the most secure level of validation with an easy digital experience for shoppers.

Despite the popularity of WeChat as a payment app, China’s biggest card provider China UnionPay has recognised that its customers aren’t ready to give up on physical payment cards either. China UnionPay has recently certified the first biometric fingerprint card technology in the country as they look to the use of biometric technology in cards to provide an extra layer of security, with added convenience and hygiene during a payment transaction.

 

Secure touch-free card payments

Biometric fingerprint payment cards provide end-to-end encryption – securing the user’s card and data. A fingerprint biometric card allows the user to authenticate their ID by touching their finger to the card’s sensor while holding it over the contactless card machine. Therefore the shopper only has to hold their own card over the PoS system and the entire transaction process is free of public PIN pads or checkout counters – making it no different to how consumers currently use contactless payments cards. This touch-free payment technology provides the consumer with the convenience of contactless or a mobile payment but with far greater security, as the card is personally tied to the owner.

Biometric identification is already firmly incorporated into our everyday lives. Thanks to unlocking our phones and authenticating payment apps, we are increasingly using our fingerprint to verify our identity. Now that consumers are familiar with the technology, biometric identification in payment cards will become essential to help consumers navigate the shopping and transaction process safely, speedily and securely.

As our economy gradually reopens, financial services providers must protect consumers during the transaction process. In stores, on transport systems – even in stadiums – a fingerprint biometric payment card will provide touch-free payment authentication for all.

 

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