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LOW-CODE TECHNOLOGY BOOSTS THE GROWTH OF SPECIALIST BANK

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That’s where Netcall’s Liberty Create came in. Create is a new breed of low-code software solution, built for both business users and professional developers

Hampshire Trust Bank (HTB) is a digitally-focussed specialist bank staffed by experts that enable UK businesses to realise their ambitions. Primary operations include development finance, specialist mortgages and specialist business finance (including wholesale, block-discounting, structured asset finance and classic cars). HTB also provides award-winning savings accounts to individuals and businesses. With an ambitious growth target in mind, the bank targeted digital as key to its expansion.

 

A fresh approach to change

HTB was frustrated with relying on external resources for technical developments on tasks that they didn’t deem to be particularly challenging. Results were slower than expected, often failed to match business requirements, and the associated price tags were unreasonable. The team knew the job could be done better in house and began searching for a way to utilise the knowledge within the business without hiring an additional army of developers. Low-code clearly stood out as the solution.

That’s where Netcall’s Liberty Create came in. Create is a new breed of low-code software solution, built for both business users and professional developers. By using its drag-and-drop interface to configure, rather than code, it allows users to build a new app fast. And once the app exists, it can be tested, refined and improved on an ongoing basis.

The low-code platform has enabled HTB to form a small team that can now build the systems the bank needs and manage process improvements easily.

 

Modernising the front office to improve customer experiences

“Our journey with low-code development started because we needed to modernise the front-office application suite, across the business and across all of our products. We invested in Liberty Create initially for our specialist mortgage division, to replace manual processes, improve workflow to drive cost efficiencies, and increase consistency in process execution across the team,” explains David Patterson, Head of Solutions & Delivery at HTB.

The initial mortgage division project was successful and Liberty Create is now driving cost efficiencies and business improvements throughout the organisation. The platforms that have been built by using low-code have become core assets, assisting with vital areas such as linking the bank’s API infrastructure to data services, fraud prevention, credit risk, and Companies House data.

The use of Liberty Create has enabled HTB to focus on the time it takes to serve customers (and serve them well) and as a result, it has positioned the bank for exceptional growth.

HTB’s latest platform a property development finance system, has replaced a host of manual and spreadsheet-based processes that handle client customer and credit-rating data. Low-code lends itself to an agile improvement approach, so the system can be continually enhanced and added to.

“This project has come in at less than one-third of the anticipated cost. Plus, it will be delivered four months earlier than planned. These very short timeframes are enabling us to move towards weekly deliveries of capability enhancement, and with confidence in the quality of delivery,” adds Russ Fitzgerald, CIO at HTB.

 

Delivering – and delivering faster

The delivery model of Liberty Create matches HTB’s agile project approach. Without getting bogged down in the process, the development team utilises the elements of agile that work best in digital transformation in banking, especially for a small bank. Liberty Create lends itself perfectly to that capability.

During its low-code journey, HTB invested heavily in testing capabilities, providing value with an improved turnaround time for any defects. Previously, developers would publish a change, finishing in the evening, then the test team would arrive the next morning and start the test pack, which could run for 3-4 hours, ensuring everything worked correctly and highlighting any regressions. The developers wouldn’t get feedback until lunchtime, therefore losing half a day of development time.

Now, the developers publish an update and leave for the evening. Liberty Create takes 30 minutes to package the release and push it to the test environment, waking up the testing platform automatically once complete and running the series of tests. By 9 am, the test team starts the day with the results and the developers work on any fixes needed immediately. As a result, an extra half a day per developer is gained from every push. This acted as the first step for HTB on its journey to seamless integrated testing and DevOps.

 

Changing the relationship with off-the-shelf for good

Today, HTB’s confidence in front-end building capabilities now influences how the bank approaches new potential suppliers with a clear strategy that needs to work with low-code. By tailoring its own front-end capabilities and utilising API services, the bank can pick the best out of the industry suppliers and create USPs for its customers.

Low-code has also changed HTB’s attitude towards buying tech – with no more front-to-back services that are not delivering value, or slow releases and outdated legacy systems. The bank commoditises its back-end systems suppliers based on the ‘best-in-breed approach’ to build or buy. It has become the cornerstone of HBT’s technology strategy, increasing innovation, flexibility, and creativity.

 

Growing with a trusted vendor

With the introduction of low-code, HTB has moved from being a user of a legacy core banking platform into building out its own capabilities. It has honed its ability to develop systems efficiently, change direction when needed, and react to an industry position or an operational challenge quickly.

“We can definitely say we’ve seen time and cost savings by using low-code to solve business challenges,” says Russ Fitzgerald, CIO at HTB.

Today, the bank sees itself as a five-year start-up. With investment, a new leadership team and many specialist hires, it has experienced exceptional growth and developed thriving specialist lending propositions for SMEs.

“Initially, we worked alongside the Netcall team, which started our delivery and then worked extremely well with us to hand over to our small but very talented internal team. We’ve had very strong engagement with Netcall, from the CTO all the way down – we value this support and attention greatly. For us, it is amongst the highest criteria we look for in a supplier – and there are only a handful of suppliers where we genuinely feel we get that top level of support, plus the ability to feedback, request and input on product road mapping,” adds David Patterson, Head of Solutions & Delivery at HTB.

The HTB Development Team is now building a portfolio for the year ahead. Like any innovative business, the team has more ideas than resources. Reflecting their confidence in using low-code as a front-end tool, the team is considering using it for internet-facing services and a number of digital services to improve internal workflow and processes. “This will become the blueprint for how we do it going forward,” comments Mike Beveridge, Business Analyst at HTB. A number of ‘microservices’ are also on the agenda.

“We’re looking forward to growing our technology capabilities using Netcall’s low-code, adding to our current technology estate and allowing the bank to move towards the next generation of banking technology,” adds Faizal Danga, Project Manager at HTB.

The team aims to utilise the workflow insights provided by Liberty Create in a wider element across the bank to improve back-office efficiency, data governance, data quality, and control, while also improving the operational efficiency of the bank.

 

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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