Simon Wilson, Director, Payment Solutions, Icon Solutions
There are decades where it feels like nothing happens, and there are weeks where decades seem to happen. In just over 100 days, COVID-19 has swept around the planet, more than half the world’s population has been forced into lockdown, far too many lives have been lost and entire industries have shutdown. A crippling global recession seems inevitable and a clear exit strategy, for now, remains elusive.
Make no mistake, this truly is the end of the world as we know it. As we gradually emerge from this unprecedented crisis, societies and economies will have been irreversibly transformed at a pace and scale that would have been unimaginable only months ago.
For the payments industry, transaction volumes have collapsed as entire sectors have shut down and buying has ground to a halt. The impact is felt not only at the point-of-sale, but across supply chains and corporate, FX and trade finance transactions. In contrast, massive stimulus, relief and requisition packages have led to a huge increase in government payments directly to corporates and consumers.
Banks and financial institutions have critical, positive, immediate roles to play in supporting consumers and business, while facilitating the repurposing of entire economies and welfare systems. Longer-term, banks will need to address a range of challenges as they adapt to the new normal. One thing’s for sure, efficiency across every area of their business will be central to doing the best for customers and shareholders, and minds need to be on accelerating digital transformation.
Becoming the good guys
The reputation of the banking industry has never fully recovered from the 2008 financial crash. Public reaction to banks seen to be abandoning their customers will be severe, immediate and potentially unsalvageable. When push really has come to shove, the human race has prioritised life over money. Banks (and other businesses) that are stepping up now will be rewarded in the long-term.
Viable companies that have fallen on hard times must also be supported. Many industries such as airlines, travel and hospitality will not immediately bounce back, and finding sustainable ways to prop them up is undoubtedly a challenge. Accurate cash management to protect liquidity and reserves, for example, will be key to the survival of many businesses until better times return.
In contrast, other companies have taken off. Medical ventilator manufacturers are rapidly working to scale production, while engineering firms from other sectors are repurposing factories. Remote working means Zoom and Slack have seen share prices skyrocket since the end of January. Supporting and facilitating growth where possible will save lives and assuage ailing economies.
The unique financial circumstances and inclinations of consumers must be considered. Diligent savers are being forced to raid rainy day funds, take on debt and risk potentially defaulting on mortgage, loan and credit card payments. Spendthrifts are all-dressed-up with nowhere to go and are transformed into frustrated misers. A one-size-fits all approach will not work, and banks must think outside the box to ensure the individual needs of customers are met.
Making life easier in hard times
Banks must also consider the behavioural impact across the economy. The way we transact is likely to have changed forever as we get used to new payment methods. With billions of people stuck inside and shops shuttered, online spending has soared. And when shopping in-store, consumers are opting for cashless payment options, especially contactless cards and mobile wallets, to avoid touching cash and POS terminals. For corporates, cheque use (which accounts for 40% of B2B transactions in the U.S.) will decline as banks push real-time alternatives.
Banks also need to prepare for mass channel changes and provide support to aid this transition. Consider the many (mainly elderly) customers who were reliant on branches being forcibly converted to digital banking as a result of lockdown and quarantine measures. My suspicion is that many lockdown closed branches are unlikely to re-open, accelerating an existing trend.
Digital education is particularly crucial given another predictable, and disappointing, trend. We have seen a significant increase in fraud as criminals and chancers prey on uncertainty, confusion and inexperience.
But with banks’ own internal human resources under huge pressure and strain, supporting the transition to digital channels presents challenges. Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) technologies, therefore, have a key role to play in service provision. AI call centres and chat bots are already seeing increased use to help deal with enquiries, while AI-based fraud prevention tools can help protect customers. However, using them in the right way at the right time is a challenge that still needs to be met.
Speed and scale matters
Beyond support to individual consumers and companies, huge structural shifts must be addressed. The ability to respond quickly and on a massive scale is the key to protecting lives and livelihoods. Payments are an integral part of this response.
We are therefore seeing unprecedented government intervention. The U.S. is sending $1,200 to every citizen. But welfare systems are simply not designed for this scale, and urgent support is needed to help distribute funds and relief to those who need it.
Real-time payments enable the distribution of urgent funds, such as aid, immediately rather than in a week. Value-added services built on RTP rails, such as Request to Pay, will enable data-driven action and could prove powerful.
Global supply chains have also been decimated. Protectionist instincts alongside practical necessity have taken root as governments come under increasing scrutiny. With ongoing supply constraints due to social distancing the need to source closer to home is likely to drive lower intercontinental trade.
Banks have a crucial role in supporting a rapid shift towards domestic production, whether it be food, medical supplies or PPE. For example, Singapore (which produces only 10% of its food locally) has launched a $30 million fund to incentivise innovation.
Payments transformation in a transforming world
It is a brave person that predicts what comes next. But what we do know is that bank profitability, already a significant pain point, will be placed under unprecedented strain from reduced transaction volume, historically low interest rates and increasing default rates.
Reducing costs, and quickly, is essential. With the stakes now higher than ever, we can expect to see a marked acceleration in payments transformation initiatives. Outdated, fragmented and expensive legacy systems are a burden that banks can no longer afford. As McKinsey noted, ‘banks will need to reflect on how to organise themselves for change, possibly by running some of their payments businesses in a completely different way.’
Establishing a clear strategy and target architecture, outsourcing non-strategic elements of the payments value chain and leveraging cloud-based open source technology provide opportunities to reduce costs and increase resiliency, while laying a foundation to adapt to the uncertain times that lie ahead and support consumers and businesses through them.
NO SAFE HARBOUR FOR DIGITAL BANKING
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.
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.
WHY OPEN BANKING SHOULD BE EVERY MARKETER’S BEST FRIEND
By Kathryn Wright, CSO, Upside
To date, Open Banking has been mainly utilised to help consumers with account switching and account aggregation. Being able to have a birds-eye-view of our spending always helps us realise how much money might be slowly ‘leaking out’ of our pockets. As useful as some of the applications have been so far, they are somewhat passive in nature and there is a bigger opportunity at play with Open Banking.
Personalisation has been the holy grail in sales and marketing for some time now, often twinned with omni-channel propositions. According to a study by Gartner in 2018, the brands who personalised discounts and calls-to-action outperform their competitors in revenue by at least 20%. The demand for a completely personalised customer experience has seen many SaaS offerings come to market, promising a complete understanding of your customer.
Many of these technologies are riddled with challenges though, such as customers flitting between devices, moving from mobile to tablet to laptop, and all at different IP locations – which is where omni-channel solutions are needed, but only work reliably when a customer is ‘logged in’. Cookie tracking, or the lack of it, also impacts what is shown to a customer. There’s nothing worse for a customer than clicking through an email and landing on a website just to see a large pop-over asking them to sign up to emails and offers. That’s clear evidence and an example of personalisation not working!
Another bad example in basic segmentation is generalisation. Businesses often take a few pieces of demographic data and then make wildly inaccurate assumptions about the customer. No retailer or marketer needs more data. They need actionable data with insights which can drive action and engagement.
And this is when Open Banking comes into play. By pairing past spending data through Open Banking, marketing teams can better understand their customer base, and brands can personalise which products and offers are shown and when. The end-result is an all-round better experience for the customer, which in turn means an increase in their brand loyalty.
Single Source Of Truth
Businesses currently struggle to know who really is a new customer. It’s kind of tricky when all of the largest discounts are designed to get a new customer on board and marketing teams are heavily focused on new customer acquisition and the cost per new customer.
So who is a new customer? Someone with a new email address that you haven’t seen before? But what about a different delivery address or using PayPal one time and then a card the next time. One customer can potentially register as a ‘new customer’ up to around seven times. Additionally, if I leave my broadband provider this year and come back after a year, am I a repeat or new customer? Brian Dunne from Gift Card Consulting, advisor and investor to Upside puts it well: “There is no such thing as new customers, they’ve all seen you at some point. You are just not getting all their spend most of the time.”
False customer categorisation affects all other business metrics. CAC, CLTV, Repeat purchase rate, customer churn – and these are not trivial metrics, these are metrics upon which huge budgets are committed to or culled. The answer to these questions and challenges in customer personalisation lies in Open Banking. The single source of truth where money can only come out once. Of course, there are credit cards and multiple bank accounts, but the idea is for the customer to have all of these linked.
A new world of data analysis opens up when Open Banking is applied. Retailers can see the frequency of spend, location and average order value. Most brands have this information, but only for themselves. Outside of their walled-garden, it’s more of a mystery. Open Banking allows businesses to benchmark all of these metrics against the rest of their industry, showing what percentage of wallet share they have, which is more meaningful as a metric than an incorrect measure of new customer sign-ups.
For Open Banking to fully show its potential, the conversation with customers needs to change. Brands need to reward repeat purchases and loyalty, instead of offering all of the best discounts to ‘new customers’. Leveraging new fintechs and Open Banking, retailers will be able to know for sure who is a new customer, which will allow them to attract new, win back old and delight their most loyal customers more accurately.
Open Banking – Fiction or the Future of Retail?
Pairing machine learning with Open Banking brings personalisation to a whole new level above simple segmentation and improves the customer experience. Machine learning and AI, combined with Open Banking, are ways to create insights from the masses of data that businesses have. As an example, over time, businesses will be able to recognise when a particular customer looks like they are going to lapse into no longer shopping there, or shop less regularly, and suggest to the brand that at this stage, they offer a special cashback rate. Rather than a ‘spray and pray’ attitude to marketing it means brands can give customers what they need at the right time and ensure their communications are relevant.
Does this sound like a dream? It is not – the technology is ready. Open banking and machine learning can change the way marketing and sales work for any industry. Estimates sit around 95% for the prediction of future revenue which will come from as little as 5% of a brand’s existing customer base. A study by the Center for Generational Kinetics reveals 80% of consumers would visit a store they hadn’t visited before if given a direct cashback. Given statistics like these, retention through delighting and rewarding existing customers, as well as new user acquisition, is imperative.
It’s only the mindset which often holds businesses back. Those retailers, businesses and Open Banking providers who grasp this opportunity and move away from the old discounting culture will rise in the post-Covid-19 world.
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