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PROTECTING THE DIGITALLY-EXCLUDED: BIOMETRIC IDENTIFICATION ENSURES ACCESS TO PAYMENTS IN A CASHLESS WORLD

By Vince Graziani, CEO, IDEX Biometrics ASA

 

The events of this year have exacerbated a number of challenges for vulnerable members of our society. Fears over health have been compounded by the accelerated digitisation of activities in their daily lives, such as video calls with family, shopping online and mobile banking – activities they may have already been daunted by. Chief among these evolutions has been the pronounced lean away from the use of cash. With many not comfortable with the complexity and security of digital payments, banks must explore an alternative in the form of biometric identification.

COVID-19 and subsequent lockdown restrictions have not only made the handling of cash difficult, but even unsanitary. As a result, many retailers have either stated their preference for digital payments, or indeed forbidden the use of cash during transactions. As a result, the UK cash machine network, Link has reported a 55% drop in ATM usage over the course of 2020.

Meanwhile, in the US, a similar decline in cash has led to a rapid rise in digital payments and mobile payment apps, thanks to comparable regulations and an increase to the contact less payment limit of up to $250. According to recent research, 28% of US shoppers would avoid a retailer that doesn’t offer contactless payment options. That hesitation is causing a shift to digital payments, with the US mobile payment market expected to rise to $130.3 billion in 2020.

When the adoption of technology is accelerated so suddenly, it’s understandable that those vulnerable, older or even just reluctant and sceptical members of society aren’t thought about enough. The resultant fear of leaving vast swathes of people behind means we need a new touch-free payment solution that helps to comfortably and securely bridge their transition away from cash.

 

Who fears the transition, and why?

The idea of digital exclusion isn’t necessarily a new concern. In the UK, Which? has long been calling on the government to protect cash as a payment option, knowing that its eradication could negatively affect vulnerable members of our society.

Despite the concept of going cashless advancing, as many as 27% of UK consumers still operate only in cash, while across the Atlantic, 70% of US citizens regularly use cash. Looking globaly, research by the Global Index has explored the nascency of countries including India, Mexico, Nigeria and Pakistan in transitioning from cash to a digital banking system, finding that 1.7 billion adults around the world lack a bank account, while around 1 billion still pay their bills in cash.

Across the board, there is also a notable percentage of consumers who, while being banked, may struggle to maintain their financial independence. Old age or physical and mental health limitations can make the current transition difficult.

What if you can’t remember your PIN or your online banking password, or even your signature?

Banks must be aware that a wholesale veer away from cash isn’t going to suit or benefit all of their customers. They must therefore seek alternative options that still adhere to the  trajectory towards touch-free payments, while addressing the above digital exclusion challenges that some will face during this transition.

 

A secure and convenient payment option

Rather than making payment transactions a game of memory or self-controlled security, the banking sector should look towards the benefits of biometric authentication. When incorporated into a bank card, fingerprint authentication offsets the need to put people under pressure to note down, secure, remember and then input various passwords, PINS or usernames. Instead, biometric authentication, through fingerprints, automatically and categorically links a person to their finances in the most understandable and seamless way possible.

For retailers it would ensure that the evolution away from cash can continue seamlessly; also meaning they’re less likely to lose out on an entire segment of the customer base. But, more importantly, for consumers, it provides a more safe, secure, immediate and convenient payment method that balances the positives between cash and digital payments.

It’s an ideal balance that relieves pressure on the digitally excluded. Vulnerable members of society will firstly be spared from a growing need to invest in expensive smartphones, or to learn complex digital banking features in order to carry out purchases.

Additionally, at a time where cash is potentially harmful to health, and equally at risk from a security perspective in the longer-term, they are able to make a safe step forward without any of the innovation headaches that might come with it.

The enrolment of biometric payment cards can even now take place remotely in people’s homes, making the transition even more seamless than the idea of extracting cash from ATMs.

Going beyond payments, biometric smart card solutions can also serve as the direct and unequivocal identification many would need to open a bank account, build credit and enhance their financial footprint, as seen in India’s Aadhaar biometric ID programme.

 

The solution to a prolific challenge

As we move away from cash and towards a world of digital payments, biometric payment cards provide the ideal balance of security, convenience and hygiene for touch-free transactions, without having to rely on expensive smartphones, mobile banking, or PINs.

Banks and payment providers must now embrace biometric payment cards to provide consumers with a secure and easily accessible means of touch-free payment. In doing so, financial exclusion will be one less critical factor to worry about as we transition to a cashless society.

 

Finance

2021 FINANCE SPEND PREDICTIONS

by Andrew Foster, VP Consulting EMEA, AppZen

 

As we enter a new year filled with ongoing change and uncertainty, a few things are still clear. Though digital transformation has long been a familiar story told across the finance sector, businesses are recognising the need to adopt new technologies as a matter of urgency. As a result, 2021 will see a huge shift towards embracing technologies that transform finance procedures.

Anant Kale, Co-Founder and CEO, AppZen, shares his finance predictions for 2021:

 

The year of accelerated digital transformation

The current pandemic forced companies of all sizes, across nearly every industry, to virtualise their workforce, almost overnight. But in the coming year, finance leaders will be turning their attention to wider digitalisation efforts.

Kale explains, “Last year, the focus was on how to quickly keep up with changing business needs, with CIOs focusing on business continuity in a remote work environment—conferencing and collaboration tools, network upgrades, and so on. As we finally caught our breath, this next year will bring even deeper transformation. Rethinking and reimagining business processes in an AI-first world will keep enterprises agile, efficient, compliant and allow them to scale without relying on adding huge headcounts, which will be critical to the bottom line.”

Andrew Foster

Consequently, more CFOs will be driving the push for AI-powered programmes to be implemented into finance operations to accelerate digital transformation, streamlining operations across the entire enterprise and ensuring business resilience.

 

Expanding digital transformation – beyond the basics

Over the past year, the drive to enable remote working across the whole organisation has meant the deployment of a wide variety of technologies. Yet, most of these solutions are not in areas that directly increase the finance department’s efficiency. This year, finance leaders will be prioritising two specific functions that are prime for disruption and enhancement – AI-based invoice processing and expense auditing.

“Increasingly, AP invoice processing decisions will be made in the autonomous zone, where intelligent systems can independently make decisions that don’t require human second guessing or manual review,” said Kale. “With autonomous AP, systems that are capable of evaluating all aspects of invoice entry, matching, accounting approvals and even risk and compliance, AP teams will be able to move from operations to more strategic AP concerns.”

AppZen’s recent survey of top CFOs and finance executives confirms the need for deeper transformation in 2021. Currently, 59 per cent respondents report they still haven’t automated ingestion and extraction of data from invoices. Unsurprisingly then, a notable 43.5 per cent of organisations still take seven or more days on average to process an invoice. Organisations with more proficient automated processes only take 2.9 days to process an invoice on average — a considerable difference that supports the need for increased automation and AI uptake among modern finance teams.

 

Adapting for expenses in the 2021 work-world

CFOs will need to budget for different types of business expenses in light of the new environment. With an evolving workforce that includes remote, on-site and hybrid workers, they need to rethink their strategies and plan scenarios in ways they’ve never had to do before.

To this point, Kale comments, “Business travel will come back in some form later this year, but more importantly, the nature of expenses that have traditionally been associated with travel and entertainment (T&E) will change. Instituting routine audits and implementing clear expense policies will be critical to avoid fraud and abuse or unreliable financial data, which cost businesses nearly $3B dollars a year—and that was before the pandemic.”

As the spend environment becomes more complex, spend visibility is more vital now than ever. Finance leaders need to have the right tools in place to identify these new types of expenses – such as the number of video conferencing licences acquired, home office equipment, and productivity software – and properly assess spend priorities.

Flexibility is also crucial. In a rapidly-evolving environment, a one-size-fits-all policy isn’t up to standard. “How enterprises create and allocate budgets has been completely disrupted and what worked in the past won’t work in 2021,” declares Kale. “We’ve gone from a relatively certain, predictable way of carrying out business operations to a time where only the unpredictable seems certain, which requires agility, speed, and scale to ensure longevity and continuity.”

 

Conclusion

Despite challenging times, finance leaders are showing optimism for 2021. This year will require adaptability in the face of evolving global economic conditions in order to meet not only wider company needs, but those of employees as well. Embracing new technologies will continue to transform operations across every level of an organisation and enable business leaders to drive both productivity and profitability despite the uncertainty ahead.

 

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Finance

THE LOYALTY-TRUST PARADOX AT THE HEART OF FINANCIAL SERVICES AND HOW TO OVERCOME IT

By Andrew Warren, Head of Banking & Financial Services, UK&I at Cognizant

 

There has long been a paradox at the heart of the financial sector – customer loyalty remains high despite overall trust in the banking system being very low. In any other sector, low trust would lead customers looking for services elsewhere. Generally, however, the major banks have been able to retain their clients despite, rather than because of, trust.

This customer loyalty does not always pay, with research suggesting consumers could be overpaying by £2.9bn in areas such as mobile, broadband, home insurance, as well as, notably, mortgages and savings. Whether the result of customer lethargy, lack of awareness of the possible cost savings or low expectations of the service banks provide, this has encouraged complacency in the banking sector.

This could, however, change as our post-pandemic reality begins to bite. People may have used the extra time from the lack of a commute to do some research and shop around for better alternatives, as well as harbouring frustrations over a perceived lack of support in recent months. Coupled with the possibility of a period of negative interest rates, we could soon be heading towards a perfect storm, where both retail giants and small local businesses start to question the value their banks actually provide.

 

Digital native challengers are shifting the landscape

One viable reason for the supposed loyalty consumers have towards the major banks has been the lack of real alternatives. With all of the traditional high street institutions offering services that were largely interchangeable, switching services seemed more effort than was really worth it when perceived benefits were so minimal. However, this changed with the arrival in recent years of challenger banks such as Monzo, Starling and Revolut, which continue to grow in popularity due to ease of use and better customer experience from sign-up through to their intuitive apps.

The primary advantage of the big banks is their liquidity, historical reputations and longstanding customer base. However, the agility and user-friendliness of the challengers is shifting the landscape, and the continued reliance on legacy systems leaves the traditional players struggling to surpass, or in most cases match, the innovative services and products fintechs are able to bring to the market.

 

Customer expectations setting a new standard

As personalisation and smooth technological integration in other sectors, such as retail, raises expectations of similar offerings across all service industries, this could soon become a key battleground for banks.

With the challengers currently looking better equipped to respond to these consumer needs, here are some of the steps banks can take to modernise their offerings and retain customers’ loyalty:

  • Embracing human science – the financial sector has long favoured data science in its behavioural analysis. Almost anyone can understand basic data; it is how semiotic algorithms can be used alongside this that will reveal real insights that can be used simply to help understand people better, their fears, their hopes and their aspirations.
  • Adapting to modern trends – the lockdown has, by necessity, modified and in some cases accelerated, many of the established habits of both individuals and businesses. These range from an increased adoption of cashless payments, to remote working, the propensity for saving vs investing, attitudes towards fraud and risk appetite, and loyalty. As a result, some customer journeys, which had become the cornerstone of banks’ or lenders’ strategies, will now need to be adapted. For example, products, pricing and customer treatment strategies will need to be updated, and the entire value-chain of customer touchpoints should be digitally enabled. Financial institutions will now need to ensure speed and quality of their response to this change.
  • Using innovation to level the playing field – the systemic advantage the big banks have over more agile challengers is in liquidity access. It is an advantage that potentially will be scrutinised in the COVID-19 enquiries we can expect to see in the near future, particularly around the provision of the various governmental support schemes and loans for which these big banks initially had responsibility. As that advantage then reduces, the need for real innovation grows. This means building business models and deploying technology that can deliver value and differentiation. For example, the major banks have more channels than their digital-only counterparts and, therefore, more data to draw on. The result is a better focus on customer journeys, with modern cloud-based data management platforms central to this. The quantity and detail of data can play in banks’ favour, allowing constant ongoing improvements to customer communications and simplifying self-service options in an increasingly remote world. It is important that banks continue to ensure they are thinking outside the box and keeping pace with other industries that are innovating in their response to the pandemic.
  • Personalising the process – technology is already helping to speed up processes and improve self-service banking operations, particularly with predictive and smart decision-making through AI and ML. The advanced use of chatbots is an example, along with increasing tailored content and interfaces in apps and on digital platforms. However, the end goal is personalisation across the whole customer journey, not only through technology but also call centre operatives who still form a critical role in trouble shooting and need an up to date view of the customer in order to be able to do their job. Technology can also help analyse how these human interactions can then become more personalised.

The major banks retain a crucial position in UK society for the support and confidence they offer their customers. However, as in so many other sectors, the coronavirus pandemic could come to be seen as a watershed moment in their evolution. With the challengers continuing to gain momentum, banks certainly cannot afford to stand still. It is the ability to have a data- and technology-driven approach, as outlined here, that can help them retain their dominance and justify customer loyalty now lockdown is beginning to lift. Should they fail to do so, we may find ourselves in a very different landscape than we do today. By focusing on the steps above, banks will start to level out the playing field.

 

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