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MAXIMISING THE SPEED OF RECOVERY: ALLOCATING CAPITAL EFFECTIVELY

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Simon Bittlestone, CEO of Metapraxis

 

How has COVID-19 impacted businesses’ financial plans?

The uncertainty thrown up by the COVID-19 pandemic has meant that many businesses have been feeling the strain and extra pressure on their cashflow. While measures such as the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS) were put in place, for some businesses, these have been ineffective in providing much needed liquidity. This has affected smaller businesses significantly, as they are much more likely to default on loans than their larger counterparts, and therefore less likely to have a loan approved.

In April this year, a survey showed a pessimistic outlook for SMEs predicting that many would run out of cash in as little as 12 weeks. Taking into account various other factors at the time, Metapraxis predicted this time frame could be shorter still, giving certain businesses just 6 – 8 weeks.

 

What do you think the next few months hold?

While the outlook of businesses may have changed continuously since the beginning of the pandemic, it would be naïve to think we are out of the woods. The worst of the economic recession is still to come, so good allocation of capital and effective management of cashflow is now more  important than ever.

 

What factors do businesses need to consider in order to effectively optimise their strategy?

Financial results depend on how businesses split their capital across different strategies, projects, products or services, as well as various regions. Clearly it would be beneficial to back the most profitable service lines in a time of financial uncertainty, but in order to get this right, businesses need to consider three main points: multiplicity of inputs, complexity of comparison and multiplicity of output.

Multiplicity of inputs looks at the number of assets that can be supported. The more assets there are, the more complex the challenge of coordinating capital allocation appropriately. Tied in with that, a business also needs to be able to realistically compare one asset’s return with another’s. This is the complexity of comparison; it is hard for the board to choose which assets to support if they are not directly comparable with each other. Finally, and perhaps most obviously, all of this needs to fit into the overall goal of the business, and what areas it is trying to maximise.

To add to this already difficult process, multiplicity of output is going to change dramatically over the coming years, as companies begin to consider other factors such as climate impact, employee wellness and social responsibility as outputs.

 

What should businesses be focusing on in the short-term?

Businesses must focus their efforts on financial return. Doing so is a key part of any businesses’ recovery from financial hardship, even if they are caused by unpredictable ‘black swan events’ such as coronavirus.

Many things remain fixed in a short-term model. During recovery from such events there is not generally time to create a whole new product line, or explore a different service, although some more agile businesses have of course been able to achieve this. Building a top down model of the business is therefore key in order to streamline processes and manage cashflow, providing the necessary liquidity to survive.

 

What longer-term changes should businesses be aiming at implementing?

With multiple inputs and outputs to consider, the long-term equation is extremely complex. Businesses often underestimate the importance of building a model that allows directors to see the impact of different factors on profitability and cash flow. The ability to reach long-term goals very much depends on identifying future risks and changes in the market, and being able to react quickly.

This can only be done by analysing historical return on investment by business unit, region and product or service, and applying these ratios to test future assumptions. This allows management to run different scenarios quickly and then test these with operational deliverability. If the management team can analyse how various future scenarios might pan out and what the impact might be on the business, it can use this information to make better decisions.

Any company that doesn’t have a model like this will find themselves at a massive disadvantage as we approach the next two years of economic recovery andit is the finance team who must take responsibility for rectifying that.

 

What is the key takeaway for businesses who are looking to learn from COVID-19?

Capital allocation has always and will always be at the heart of any business’s operations. This is even more prevalent in times of economic recession when managing cashflow becomes even more vital for survival. When a business has a clear historical overview of its portfolio, how well products or services are performing, and how previous scenarios have affected profitability, it can make more informed decisions when it comes to assessing the impact of an unexpected event.

The ability to adapt to fluctuations is hugely important to the board, particularly the CFO, when it comes to successful cashflow management. Agility in financial planning, good scenario modelling and prudent assumptions will allow a business to better weather most storms.

 

Interviews

Q&A: THE IMPACT OF ENVIRONMENTAL CONDITIONS ON BIOMETRIC AUTHENTICATION.

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Joël Di Manno, Authentication & Biometrics Laboratory Service Line Manager and Abdarahmane Wone, Biometrics & AI Researcher at Fime.

 

User adoption of biometric authentication has accelerated in recent years, yet some users are still cautious. Fime is exploring ways to innovate on biometric evaluation to help solution providers to launch reliable and high-performance products. In this interview, Stéphanie Pietri, Communications Director at Fime, speaks to Joël and Abdarahmane about their scientific paper to learn more on the impact of environmental conditions on fingerprint systems performance.

 

Stéphanie Pietri: What is biometric authentication?

Joël Di Manno: Biometric authentication solutions utilize a person’s physical or behavioural characteristics, such as their fingerprint, face, or keystroke dynamics to verify their identity. Using biometric characteristics to authenticate someone provides a high level of security because these traits are unique to that person. It also provides a good user experience, as there is no need to remember long passwords. This can provide consumers with easier routes to make a payment or access a service.

However, the adaptability of biometric solutions can present challenges, as different conditions have the potential to increase false acceptance or rejection rates. This means that there is the potential for security to be compromised if non-genuine users can be verified, or the user experience will be impacted if genuine users cannot.

 

SP: What type of environmental conditions can influence biometric authentication?

Abdarahmane Wone: One of the challenges of biometric solutions is that environmental conditions can alter their performance. For example, if someone is using a facial recognition solution, changes in lighting or the background can influence its performance. Similarly, fingerprint systems can be affected when environmental conditions like temperature and humidity change, because the texture of fingerprints alter accordingly. This change can mean that the fingerprint does not match the reference fingerprint that was recorded during enrolment and therefore is not verified.

These environmental changes impact the performance, security, user experience and the trust of biometric systems. It is also important to note that not all biometric systems are impacted in a similar way. However, while we know that there is an impact, very little research has been done to assess the performance of biometric systems in different climatic environments.

 

SP: What did Fime do?

AW: To find out more about these impacts, Fime undertook some research to understand how humidity and temperature changes affect the performance of fingerprint systems. We tested the performance of three different third-party fingerprint authentication matchers in different climatic conditions. The aim was to see how accurate the algorithms were at matching the fingerprint samples taken during enrolment. The performance of the biometric systems was evaluated in six different conditions made up of a combination of two different temperatures and three different humidity environments. The different humidity and temperature environments were created using climatic chambers. After signing consent forms regarding European GDPR regulation, more than one thousand fingerprint images were collected from 17 volunteers.

 

SP: And what was the impact of these environmental factors on biometric authentication?

AW: We observed that all of the algorithms performed better when the environment was less humid. Importantly, we saw that the three algorithms were all impacted differently by temperature and humidity changes, demonstrating that the impact of environmental factors is not consistent across biometric solutions.

Also, the environmental conditions of the enrolment of the fingerprint samples made a difference. The algorithms all performed better when the environmental conditions were the same as those during enrolment of the fingerprint samples. Again, we saw that the three products were all impacted differently when the verification was done in an environment different to the enrolment environment. While two of the products differed less than 1%, the third product differed by 24%. This shows that the product could present high security risks and/or a bad user experience for consumers. This study highlights the importance of a comprehensive enrolment guide for vendors and users, to decrease the impact of environmental conditions as much as possible.

 

SP: What can be done to mitigate the impact of these conditions on biometric authentication systems?

JDM: Fime has now developed a process and identified parameters to evaluate environmental impact, thanks to the research project. The results of this research demonstrate that environmental conditions can have differing degrees of impact on biometric authentication systems. Therefore, testing the performance of biometric solutions in different environments, including different conditions between enrolment and verification, could prevent real-life issues. Certification schemes could introduce this aspect into their evaluation programs to ensure security in various conditions and decrease variance between different biometric solutions.

Biometric solution vendors can use this evaluation during their own quality assurance processes. By performing testing in this area, they can fine-tune solutions to mitigate the impact of environmental conditions. This will verify that their products can be deployed globally and will perform well in different climates. By taking these factors into consideration, they can enhance the trust, security, performance and user experience of their solutions. This may give them the ability to outperform competitors who are not considering the impact of environmental factors when developing their solutions.

 

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BATON SYSTEMS 2022 OUTLOOK

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Responses provided by Jerome Kemp, President, Baton Systems

 

Q. Organisations are forecast to spend nearly $6.6 billion on blockchain solutions this year, an increase of more than 50% compared to 2020, according to a new update to the International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Blockchain Spending Guide. What does 2022 have in store for adoption of DLT? 

Since 2019, there has been a doubling of spending on DLT related developments. While the evolution in cloud computing transformed how we now store and access data, DLT has the potential to completely revolutionise collaborative interaction between market participants.

The high levels of funding pouring into this space is fueling unstoppable momentum, and I expect we will see this expressed in a number of ways as we cross the threshold into the new year.

We are acutely aware at Baton that interoperable DLT offers considerable possibilities relative to the existing post-trade landscape – possibilities that are now proving far too compelling to ignore. We’re in a situation today where trillions of dollars of financial assets change hands daily across very complex and aging infrastructures that consume massive amounts of financial and human resources. DLT has the potential to completely transform these aging technology stacks offering flexibility, transparency, security, resiliency and immutability, along with automation and collaboration.

2022 will be the year where we will start to see DLT being adopted by leading global financial institutions to address the long-standing risk, efficiency and transparency issues that have plagued post-trade processing for far too long, delivering a level of transformation that’s well overdue.

 

Q. What pinch points and obstacles will the post-trade sector still experience in 2022? 

The attraction of DLT as a means of transforming post-trade processing is undeniable. However, as is the case with any new approach to an age-old problem, DLT will likely continue to be scrutinised, analysed, and treated with a degree of skepticism by the market given its potential to displace existing platforms and network protocols that play a systemically important role in global market infrastructures.

The pace of technological innovation has outpaced the existing regulatory framework and while we see numerous levels of engagement from regulators around the world, the question of if, and then how, these new innovations should be regulated is now a source of regulatory debate.

 

Q. With the FX industry being rife with opportunities for modernisation – in what ways should it modernise in 2022 and in what ways will it modernise in 2022?

It’s not so much a question of how firms should modernise, as many are already undertaking multiple initiatives to do so. I think it’s more a case of firms really considering what they need to be doing today as the industry continues to rapidly evolve. The FX market has witnessed significant change in recent years, partially as a result of the significant increase in trading volumes and margin declines – and while the trading ecosystem has benefited from significant technology investment we are now seeing a notable shift to the post-trade processing space.

The focus now needs to switch to building fully-connected, seamless workflows from the point of execution through to settlement, so market participants have at their fingertips the flexibility to automate netting sets and to settle on demand with whomever they wish based on a number of criteria. It will be through the adoption and embrace of new technologies like DLT that market participants will be able to achieve the goal of performing riskless settlement on demand in virtually any currency and with any counterparty they choose.

 

Q. What are the big opportunities for the sector in 2022 with emerging technologies? 

Settlement risk has plagued the FX industry for far too long and I believe 2022 will see the adoption of emerging technologies that for the first time, will really allow firms to take control. There will be an opportunity to improve transparency through the end-to-end process from trade matching to settlement and as risk has such a huge impact on capital usage, eliminating sources of exposure would allow firms to optimise the deployment of funding and intraday liquidity management.

 

Q. Do you think the CBDCs will play a greater role next year? If so, how?

A growing proportion of the world’s central banks are now actively researching CBDCs and we’re seeing a number of individual experiments with real potential – all of which indicates a very real intention by central banks to systematically move forward with CBDC’s. In the US for example you have the digital dollar project, one of the major initiatives that is underway right now, it’s under the stewardship of J. Christopher Giancarlo, former CFTC chair and Senior Advisor to Baton.

Though I think that we have more ground to cover before we will start to see CBDCs emerge as an integral part of the business as usual (BAU) financial landscape this is an exciting and natural progression in the broader history of money, given the technologies that we are now able to leverage for the greater common good.

I also feel that the CBDC debate will be closely related to the position that regulators ultimately adopt in respect to Stablecoins and how these function alongside the goals and objectives of Central Bankers.

 

Q. Is 2022 going to be the year that we finally see mass adoption of digital market infrastructure?

I believe it is somewhat naive to expect mass adoption of a fully digitised market infrastructure as some sort of big bang event.  As we are well aware, market evolution is predicated upon extensive, iterative analysis relative to, amongst others, the technological, operational, regulatory, financial and human resource implications of changes to the broader infrastructures upon which daily market interactions reside.  I expect to see a greater embrace of digitised infrastructures by large global market participants in 2022, but this will be a gradual process, and I expect to see this enhanced participation as the primary catalyst for progress on the regulatory front.

 

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