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NO SAFE HARBOUR FOR DIGITAL BANKING

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by Konstantin Bodragin, Business Analyst and Digital Marketing Officer at Bruc Bond

 

At the beginning of 2020, the future of digital banking was pretty clear. Between Open Banking initiatives, regulatory frameworks like the PSD2, and growing customer demand for more advanced digital services, bank-watchers the world over felt confident in their predictions. The course was set for full digitisation, likely brought about by victorious challenger banks replacing stuffy and lumbering traditional banks. Then the winds changed and ongoing disasters shook the world’s seemingly endless confidence in fintech and the bright future it promised to the core.

COVID-19 dropped on us like a sudden thunderstorm on a birthday party. Sure, experts, analysts, prognosticators (and perhaps even meteorologists) all warned of an inevitable pandemic event. But the rest of us, including most leaders and financial giants, were taken almost entirely by surprise. A majority of us managed to get drenched, even though the forecast predicted stormy weathers. Now, leaders and investors are scrambling to reach high ground and keep whatever they can from being swept away in the torrential floods.

Konstantin Bodragin

In practice this means redirecting funds from aspirational projects towards more immediate goals, and shedding as much unnecessary weight as possible, in case the water rises higher. In the year of COVID, who gets what is not so much a question of wants, but of pure necessity. Unless you’re a government with bottomless pockets, superb credit rating, and a deep desire to stave off a Great Depression-style downturn by means of public works, chances are you too are cutting costs. Big Business is doing the same. Autonomous car projects will be put on hold (if they haven’t been frozen yet), status symbol product launches will be postponed until customers feel confident to spend their extra cash again, and ambitious digitisation projects will be slowed unless their worth can be demonstrated even for the current times.

As they say, when it rains it pours, and this year is particularly wet for fintech. Even if Hurricane Covid hadn’t battered the shores of the global economy quite to so hard, the void left by the sinking of the titanic WireCard would suck much of the industry down beneath the water with it. Just last month, WireCard served as the main provider of banking infrastructure for much of Europe’s Non-Bank Financial Institution industry. NBFIs, tautologically, are not banks. As a rule, until they grow large enough to acquire a bank or banking licence of their own, NBFIs rely on financial and banking facilities provided by another. This is by design, with frameworks like PSD2 regulating access and relationships between various institutions.

Such relationships, under the watchful eyes of local and international regulators, are meant to best serve the interests of customers and consumers. And for the most part they do. Failing or unscrupulous institutions get sidestepped and the system heals around them. Unless, of course, the problem actor is too large. WireCard is one such giant dud, and the sinking of this fintech suppliers will have repercussions that will be hard to mitigate.

WireCard served so many financial institutions that many millions of customers have been affected. Many of these institutions will not be able to survive, and one can only hope that end consumers will be protected from the fallout. On the business end, such hopes for salvation could be too optimistic. Many companies don’t have the resources to withstand several weeks or months of inactivity while they work to replace their financial infrastructure, especially not with extremely depleted budgets due to the ravages of COVID-19.

Those institutions that do survive will face a new reality of confused and likely higher costs, which will almost necessarily have to be passed on to consumers. The more savvy of WireCard’s survivors will try to shore up their defences against the recurrence of such a disaster by spreading the risk and their activity between several providers. This will hopefully lead to a normalisation of costs and a reduction in fees, but by then consumers could once again be too wary to take the risk with digital services whose fees could seemingly spike at any moment.

Loss of confidence won’t be limited to the consumer side, either. Regulators, wary of being made the fool again, are likely to treat fintech and the NBFI sector with much harsher gloves than it did so far. Increased scrutiny, stricter regulatory requirements, and a general lack of cooperation from regulators could sink any hopes of quick recovery for the battered industry. Not to mention the increased costs from such requirements, that are, again, liable to be passed down to the consumers.

Regulators and authorities are not the only power brokers digital banking suppliers will have to contend with. Partners in the banking industry were already eyeing fintechs with suspicion, not least thanks to the egregious claims of the latter to replace the former. Little wonder then, now that the seemingly unbeatable leviathan of WireCard has sunk to the bottom of the deep, that banks will loath to lend a helping hand to NBFIs struggling to find replacement providers.

So what will happen? In this climate, with demands for justice at their peak, some funds will surely be diverted from risky digitisation projects to PR-friendly investment in diversity. Behind the scenes, certain players will carry on their digitisation projects, but their approach is bound to change. The three Ss – slow, steady, stable – are likely to reign supreme, at least until Hurricane Covid passes, and the economic seas are calm once again.

 

Banking

Three tips to help banks profit from the rise of managed services

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By Chris Mills, Global Head of Managed Services Sales, Finastra

Research from IDC finds that only 29% of banks claim to have a long-term, strategic digital transformation plan in place, despite results showing firms that had invested in transformation saw improvements of 27% in reducing risk, 27% in innovation and 26% in improved customer satisfaction. The days when banks’ IT teams operated in isolation of business goals should be very old news. Effective CEOs build digital transformation into their strategies from the start, and the most successful CTOs understand how to apply technology to achieve business success.

In many ways, CTOs have become more like orchestrators or conductors than individual instrumentalists. They need everybody on their team to work in concert to deliver value according to desired business outcomes. It’s less about building IT from scratch and more about assembling components and making sure that they operate smoothly and cost-effectively.

Chris Mills

One of the most striking findings is that 40% of financial institutions said that the pandemic meant they had to accelerate and increase all of their digital-first initiatives. They had to innovate to remain viable and competitive. It’s also clear that there is no longer just one, singular path of IT delivery. Instead, CTOs are facing multi-threaded challenges. It means CTOs must consider many different deliverables and leverage all the resources at their disposal, including internal and external partners.

Changing customer expectations

The financial services sector was facing a range of external challenges even before the pandemic arrived. For example, from a consumer’s perspective, the exponential advancement of a smartphone’s technological capabilities in recent years has increased their expectations for new updates and improvements. This behavioural change has impacted customer decision-making and they now expect a high level of service and responsiveness, whether they are customers of a retail or a corporate bank.

The banking industry also faces regulatory, compliance, resilience, and sustainability issues. As ESG agendas become an increasingly important priority for financial institutions, pushed by the rise of net-zero targets, CTOs must respond to these demands, and that’s why they see innovation as such a key focus.

But how can financial institutions that are late to the digital transformation party use technology to capture competitiveness and improve responsiveness for their clients?

One approach that has proved successful is managed services, which is a term used to capture the blending of services, product, and functional capabilities. When CTOs consider this option, they need to start by thinking about the business outcomes with the associated technical and functional expertise they need.

This includes the business uptime that is required, scalability and deployment speed. Does the bank need to roll out capabilities across the globe, and does it need to serve only the main financial markets, or emerging markets too?

Another question CTOs must consider is choosing what service partner to work with. Large system integrators have been providing these services for a long time, but a software partner like Finastra has advantages in terms of product proximity.

Service providers must offer tailored products focusing on the needs of its clients. Offering quality software allows banks to achieve their long-term strategic outcomes.

It’s important to look at all areas of a banks’ business, For example, what does the payments team need?

What does the head of lending need? What does the head of treasury need in order to grow their business over the next five years?

With that in mind, I offer three tips to banks when considering managed services.

1. Be very clear about what your business outcomes need to be. Really drill down into KPIs and metrics that we can look at to ensure we provide the service your bank demands. This can range from resiliency, compliance, regulation or even functionality and capabilities – such as how often you require upgrades.

2. Measure and assess your own resources, skills and capabilities. Understand where you want to draw the line between the responsibilities you would want a service partner to take on and what you want to retain. There shouldn’t be any grey areas. You want a clearly-defined line where responsibilities lie, so that everyone is very clear about who’s doing what and how KPIs and service levels will be met.

3. Be prepared to develop a long-term strategic partnership, over five or 10 years. We expect hard questions, and you should be expecting them back – ultimately that’s how good relationships and partnerships work.

As IDC writes in its report ‘New service models to accelerate innovation in banking’ these holistic and software-led models require banks to master a set of new skills, including governance and partner management. Service partners should be industry-savvy, should supply end-to-end expertise, and should be aligned to support the financial institution’s business goals, not just technical KPIs.

Digital transformation infrastructure management requires CTOs to act as a conductor, rather than a solo performer.

 

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Banking

How Biometric Payments Are Tackling Financial Exclusion

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By Catharina Eklof, CCO, IDEX Biometrics

We are moving closer to a cashless society: 89% of payments in the UK are contactless and, globally, contactless payment transaction values are set to surpass $10 trillion by 2027. Ease, convenience, security, and inclusion have accelerated the transition away from cash. However, many of today’s current payment solutions are leaving entire cross sections of society behind: including the most vulnerable, underserved, and unbanked populations.

Developments in the payment sector over the past decade still aren’t a perfect fit for all. Those suffering from dementia, literacy challenges, or impaired vision can find current payment methods – with a PIN to remember – extremely challenging. Financial inclusion requires us to make payments accessible to all demographics. Though the financially excluded represent minorities, they account for an estimated 1.7 billion people – almost a third of adults globally.

Enabled by huge advances in technology, our evolving social dialogue has become accelerated and unfettered, on a global scale. It is critical to harness technology as a force for dynamic economic improvement: democratizing access to banking and payments. As such, we need to look beyond mobile wallets or digital payments and support those in need of easier access to payment and fintech solutions. A more inclusive form of payment technology is essential.

Catharina Eklof

 

Personal Identity as the New Pin Code

Many communities remain vulnerable or underserved by the functionality of traditional payment solutions such as bank cards. These products are, at their core, only linked to the owner by way of name and signature, offering limited security and protection. With contactless payments, no link whatsoever is required to a card for payment.

In an increasingly contactless society, fraud and digital security are growing concerns. Credit and debit cards can be used by anyone, and card readers don’t understand if cards have been apprehended illegally. Vulnerable groups may also struggle to input their credentials into what can be, for some, a complex system. Empowering those vulnerable groups therefore means providing them with the independence to access payments with greater ease.

Biometric payment cards play a significant role in bridging the gap between the financially underserved and the financially included. Simple and secure financial authentication, like facial or fingerprint recognition, allow payments to become about who a person is rather than what they know or remember. If individuals can be personally linked to a payment card via biometrics, it can address the significant 1.1 billion people worldwide who are currently without official government identification or access to it. In Nigeria alone, 149 million individuals lack the legal means to evidence their identity, while in South Africa, 12 million individuals are excluded from the country’s formal identity system.

Fingerprint authentication has the added benefit of optimizing security, in that it requires the individual to opt into a purchase, avoiding any issues of unauthorized or unintentional payments from having a reader placed near the card owner’s face. This provides increased independence for the blind and visually impaired, who account for an estimated 2.2 billion people globally, as it allows for seamless payment authentication without sensory barriers. Similarly, biometric smart cards can be transformative for more than 55 million people living with dementia and Alzheimer’s, as it enables access to payment without the difficulty of remembering passcodes.

Literacy is also a little talked about hurdle to inclusion. Globally, there are 750 million “functionally illiterate” individuals struggling to use and understand financial products. Across all levels of education, biometric authentication is a universally inclusive concept. It is easy to communicate and understand that one’s fingerprint is inherent to their identity, and can act as a form of verification. Biometric smart cards facilitate and secure payments with ease by simply requiring their fingerprint to instantly authenticate their own card.

 

Pushing on With Progress

Even the most reluctant individuals are likely to have succumbed to contactless payments and some form of digitized banking in recent times. This will have the positive impact of making the needed transition to biometrics more seamless. Using fingerprints or facial recognition to unlock phones or access apps is not unusual. If anything, they have been convenient and comforting additions to the surge of tech innovations over the last couple of decades. There is a relief in knowing that these portals are being secured by methods that are almost impossible to replicate.

It is a breakthrough that financial players and governments in the world’s most developed countries still need to catch up with, as emerging economies have already capitalized on biometrics’ capabilities for almost a decade now. In India, for example, internal fraud and leakage from pension payments dropped by 47 percent after transitioning from cash to biometric smart cards. Because the solution bypasses the need for prior credit ratings or credentials, the country has also been able to catalyze safe online banking among previously unbanked adults since biometrics’ introduction in 2014.

Meanwhile, in Pakistan, the total number of mobile wallet accounts tripled from 5 to 15 million in 2015, with an estimated 50 percent of new registered mobile wallet accounts opened using biometric authentication. This was a result of Pakistan’s National Database and Registration Authority’s (NADRA’s) effort of collecting biometric information to allow for more convenient and democratic account opening processes.

Many around the world have been marginalized by both the pace of change in banking and the solutions that have, to this point, been created to accommodate such change. With the mass adoption of biometric smart cards, the same benefits seen in India could be realized on a global scale. If we take on the opportunity in front of us – promoting solutions like biometric smart cards to increase accessibility to the global economy – we will foster a digitally-focused, equitable and inclusive society. This doesn’t just mean ease and convenience, but also security for all and financial inclusion of those who have been left out of digital evolution, until now.

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