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NO TIME LIKE THE PRESENT FOR IT INVESTMENT

By Chris Labrey, Econocom UK & Ireland, MD

 

Currently, the UK economic climate is uncertain as the political landscape for the future remains unclear. However, the financial sector is a resilient one and has so far emerged largely unscathed from the build-up to Brexit, as a recent Reuters survey shows.

 

Yet, as the final Brexit outcome remains unclear, this may not be the case for long. Currently London has the largest number of banks and the largest commercial insurance market in the European Union (EU) and remains the European centre of international finance. This forms a huge part of the UK economy; it accounts for over 2m jobs and £66bn of tax payments in the UK. Understandably the sector remains cautious; in a worst case scenario, Oliver Wyman predicts as many as 75,000 jobs could go, while the London Stock Exchange suggested two years ago that figure could be as high as 232,000.

 

And, financial firms and markets are more heavily regulated and supervised than most. During these uncertain times, most firms are likely to be evaluating their exposure and strategy in terms of regulation, operations, and distribution as well as the impact of falling exchange rates and communicating to clients within the EU. Investments in big ticket items are likely to sit on the back burner for now.

 

So, significant IT investments may not be top of the agenda at the moment. However, just remaining compliant and agile enough to ride through the uncertainties requires a certain amount of investment. It becomes increasingly important to understand how and where client data is stored and how it is protected. Doing this requires resilient hardware and software platforms. Legacy systems may need to be upgraded but this can seem an impossible task without a large increase to IT budgets.

 

However, using a subscription or as-a-service model allows financial organisations to spread the technology cost burden associated with a capital spend, enabling them to implement the best technology to ensure both compliance and agility. A model such as this not only spreads the costs of an investment over the term of the agreement, it also protects against the unpredictable costs relating to device ownership such as maintenance, damages and breakdowns. Warranty services can also be built into the model meaning that assets can be managed, replaced and disposed of in a safe and compliant manner as needed. The model also protects against any unexpected large purchases. If additional IT assets are required, then they can be added to the terms of the agreement with no upfront outlay.

 

This may be a change from the usual way in which financial organisations fund IT investments. However, it is one that is already widely adopted by employees to fund their cars and mobile phones. Like cars, technology also has a shelf-life, and it can become obsolete very quickly. Streamlining the payment process throughout its lifecycle not only removes the risks associated with upfront investments, but it can also save time and money.

 

Indeed replacing, upgrading or installing new technology assets can be time-consuming, challenging and costly. Budget aside, the main concerns in the financial industry centre around data privacy and security, and the absence of the right in-house skills and expertise. However, working with a trusted digital services partner and using a subscription or as-a-service funding model can go a long way to overcoming these challenges.

 

Technology is also a tool for growth and competitive advantage. Digital transformation is one area that is impacting all areas of business. Certainly, consumers, as well as employees, are expecting a more immersive and flexible way of working. For example, Samsung describes bank branches of the future as advice-driven financial centres incorporating existing technologies such as smartphones, tablets, self-serve kiosks and wearables, as well as newer technologies such as virtual reality and virtual desktop infrastructure.

 

So, although the political backdrop remains unsettled, technology continues to move forward with certainty. Adopting a digital transformation strategy can realise benefits in terms of both business agility and competitive advantage. For instance, according to a study by BDO, nine out of ten financial institutions say they either have a digital transformation strategy or are developing one. Subscription and as-a-service models help organisations invest in powerful technologies to realise their digital future. without putting a strain on capital expenditure.

 

It may prove difficult to predict the future political climate as well as its impact on the UK finance market. But, organisations cannot afford to stand still when it comes to technology. Subscription and as-a-service models allow them to move forward without risk.

 

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BRAVE NEW WORLD: A FUTURISTIC VISION OF PAYMENTS

PAYMENTS

James Booth, VP, Head of Partnerships in EMEA for PPRO

 

Over the last ten years, the retail e-commerce ecosystem has undergone a wide-ranging transformation. As recently as 2010, the e-commerce and payments value chain were relatively straightforward: Any eCommerce merchant could integrate a payment processor’s front-end HPP into their checkout or perform a deeper API integration for a customised checkout experience. The customer then enters their card details or other bank details, which were passed on to payment platforms and schemes for processing.

In 2020, we are now well into the era of open banking, and things look very different. The volume of payments has exploded. By 2018, global digital payments were worth US$3,417.39 billion, and are expected to increase to US$7,640 billion by 2024. Using integrated real-time payments systems — which incorporate everything from authentication through settlement to confirmation — consumers send and spend money in the blink of an eye. And the speed and volume of transactions are made possible by the increased use of technology and artificial intelligence to do everything from risk assessment to anti-fraud measures.

But this very visible — and much written about — transformation is not the only way in which the payments and e-commerce landscape has been changing beyond recognition. Because while e-commerce over the last ten years has gone increasingly global, the way people pay online is more than ever local. In some markets, low rates of financial inclusion make cash-voucher schemes the best option. In others, bank-transfer apps are the most popular.

Our research has shown that between 2017 and 2019, the number of UK online transactions paid for using a bank transfer increased by 36%. Driving the use of bank transfer payment methods by UK consumers to now account for  8% of all British online transactions, with cards and e-wallets, including PayPal, leading the race. In fact, card payments account for 56% of transactions, followed by e-wallets (25%), bank transfers (8% ) and lastly cash (7%).

Some markets prefer e-wallets or primarily use locally issued credit cards. In the Nordics, deferred payment methods are becoming the norm. And in countries such as Germany, most online shoppers prefer via direct debit.

The result is a global online and digital payments market that is now incredibly diverse. And even more complicated. Even markets right next door to each other may have very different payment preferences. In Latvia, for instance, 49% of online transactions are paid for using a credit card [2]. In neighbouring Lithuania, it’s just 24%.

Globally, by 2021, only 15% of all transactions will be paid for using the brands of credit cards familiar to most Western merchants. That number is only set to decrease. Today, local payment methods account for 77% of e-commerce spend; by 2024, it is forecast that this share will increase to 82%. There are an estimated 450+ significant local payment methods worldwide, so considering the UK mostly rely on PayPal and card payments, there is a big world of alternative payment methods the British public are yet to realise. To truly go global, merchants don’t just need break down language barriers, but also payment barriers.

Already, Klarna, one of Europe’s most popular bank-transfer and pay later app, processes €53.4 billion in online payments every year. Merchants operating in or entering Europe which doesn’t support Klarna are effectively saying that they’re not interested in any part of that €53.4 billion. And this situation is not unique; it applies to markets throughout the world.

 

Local payment methods, as they drive financial inclusion, will only proliferate.

When we look forward to the state of e-commerce in 2030, a personalised shopping experience is not a nice-to-have. It is an absolute requirement. Consumer preferences must be noted; if they aren’t, retailers will miss out on sales. Almost half (47%) of UK consumers will end a transaction if their preferred payment method is not available, according to PPRO research, so customising payment options for cross-border shoppers is vital. This is highly important to attract international customer bases beyond a retailer’s local remit. It’s no longer adequate to offer customers one single way of paying – in-store or online. Payments aren’t a one size fits all approach.

The best brands do this already. Those who don’t will struggle to make it to 2030.

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ENTERPRISE BLOCKCHAIN: DRAGGING INSURANCE OUT OF THE DARK AGES

INSURANCE

Ryan Rugg, Global Head of The Industry Business Unit at R3

 

The history of insurance traces back to the development of modern business and insuring against its risks; property, cargo, medical and death. Insurance helps mitigate losses, wary of the financial losses a capsized ship could cause, forward-thinking vessel owners established communal funds that could pay for damages to any individual’s ship within the group. While this basic concept holds strong to this day, insurance is now a multi-trillion dollar industry that impacts almost every other sector of business, from healthcare to capital markets and aviation.

Despite the insurance industry’s image of being a conservative sector, insurers have been consistently innovative in the property and perils they protect against, but the supporting technologies and infrastructure have remained antiquated and unfit for purpose. Operational inefficiency is the single biggest threat facing the insurance industry today, and insurers are now taking steps to tackle this challenge head-on with purpose-built enterprise blockchain technology.

 

INSURANCE

Ryan Rugg

Inefficiency and fragmentation

Blockchain provides a solution to drive efficiency and security that would allow private data to be shared in a secure manner. Many policies are still sold over the phone rather than online, and the policies themselves are then processed on paper contracts, introducing huge potential for manual errors in claims and payments. This anachronistic infrastructure is even more surprising when you consider the complexity of the insurance ecosystem and the amount of parties involved in a transaction, including consumers, brokers, insurers, reinsurers and more.

The costs of this inefficiency and fragmentation are well documented. Inaccurate, disparate sources of data acquisition lead to long underwriting cycles and inaccurate risk profiling. Extensive manual intervention is required across the insurance value chain, ranging from contract placement to claims settlement. Archaic billing systems and complex billing processes lead to high reconciliation costs. Ambiguity in loss conditions, assessment procedures and claim settlement delays leads to increased litigation risk. It has been estimated that as much as 60% of customer premiums is consumed by these inefficiencies.[1]

In addition, increasingly stringent and dynamic regulatory requirements continue to impact areas such as renewals and claims assessment. Insurers often have a complete lack of visibility of their liabilities and obligations, and a lack of transparency across the entire business. In today’s regulatory climate, it is unsurprising that authorities are beginning to demand more from insurers.

Blockchain technology is not a panacea for all of these problems, but with the right architecture a platform can address and reduce inefficiencies.  There are also new revenue and growth opportunities in cutting-edge sectors such as cyber insurance that blockchain technology can help enable.

 

Tackling the blockchain privacy challenge

Blockchain offers insurance firms a new way to coordinate information between each other, by using a pre-agreed technology solution instead of relying on a third party’s bookkeeping. The technology enables disparate parties to connect via a shared platform environment. While this premise may appear simple at first glance, the insurance industry has specific requirements in relation to privacy and security that only certain blockchain platforms can fulfil.

For example, if a blockchain has the appropriate data privacy architecture in place, each insurance firm can maintain the same amount of control over their data as today, but with more flexibility. Unlike the traditional permission-less blockchain platforms – in which all data is shared with all parties – Corda shares information with those who have a “need to know,” ensuring the confidentiality of trades and agreements while also capturing the benefits of a shared distributed ledger infrastructure.

Blockchain platforms such as R3’s Corda have been purpose built for enterprise usage in industries such as insurance and tackle issues such as data privacy, scalability and security head-on. Following a period of experimentation with multiple consortia and technologies, insurers are now consolidating their blockchain efforts around Corda.

Testament to this is the recent decision of the industry-leading B3i consortium to port from IBM’s Fabric to Corda or RiskBlock decision to port from Ethereum.  All the major insurance groups and ecosystems are coalescing on Corda in order to effect change and form standards. As Metcalfe’s Law states, the value of a network is proportional to the number of connections in the network squared – the more insurers that build upon on a common platform, the more valuable the platform becomes to all participants due to the interoperability of applications. The consolidation around Corda creates network effects industry-wide.

 

Contract placement: leveraging the network effect

To more tangibly examine the benefits of these network effects, we can look at a specific insurance use case that involves a network of many different entities and counterparties – contract placement.

Contract placement is the process of negotiating a potential insurance contract between a broker and an insurer in order to issue the contract to provide coverage for an end customer. For most commercial and specialty insurance scenarios, except for small commercial and some mid-market products, this is an arduous, complex process involving several entities – a broker, one or more insurers, and potentially a reinsurer and reinsurance broker. Furthermore, outsized risks generally mean that multiple insurers come together to insure the risk at the requested limit price, resulting in additional complexity for the broker in managing the placement process.

Contract placement, with the extensive negotiation cycle between a broker and insurers, as well as between an insurer and reinsurers – with or without a reinsurance broker thrown in – has several inefficiencies related to inter-firm coordination. Extensive manual intervention and reconciliation is required for brokers, insurers and reinsurers to keep track of requests and responses; high IT spend is required for all participating parties to maintain an audit trail of the negotiation history between different entities; and each firm must make heavy investments in document storage systems to maintain separate contracts over the policy lifecycle.

Leveraging the network effect by connecting brokers, insurers and reinsurers onto the same blockchain platform can deliver numerous benefits. These include:

  • Near-instantaneous communication between participating parties to eliminate delays associated with reconciliation and coordination;
  • Real-time consensus among all parties involved in the contract on coverage, price, terms and conditions;
  • Complete audit trail from all sides of negotiations and data exchanges;
  • Greater regulatory compliance throughout the insurance industry due to instantaneous communication of in-force contracts to the regulator;
  • Eliminating the “double spend” problem of having the customer buy the same policy from different insurers by involving the notary (regulator);
  • Reduced IT spend for individual firms, with eventual decommissioning of legacy document storage systems and reducing spend on document generation systems.

 

A brighter future

Blockchain technology offers great promise across many avenues, not only contract placement. Platforms like Corda can add value to many insurance business segments – commercial and specialty insurance, life insurance, personal lines and health insurance, along with niche areas like marine and trade credit.

The industry’s recent consolidation around Corda reaffirms that data privacy is pivotal for a network of enterprises and that the platform’s peer-to-peer data sharing approach matters for insurance blockchain applications going into production. For a highly regulated industry like insurance, only Corda can ensure that the entire supply chain of brokers, insurers, reinsurers and consumers can interact in a seamless, secure and private manner.

From contract placement to insurance as an industry, we are excited to see the new opportunities and efficiencies that blockchain technology will enable between this wide ecosystem of participants now that the right network – Corda – is in place.

[1] https://marketplace.r3.com/solutions/Blocksure%20OS/448484fb-ad8d-40c1-8a1f-47e76381fb85

 

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