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THE ROLE OF AI IN DRIVING SUCCESSFUL RETURNS FOR ASSET MANAGERS

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Francesca Campanelli, CCO, AxyonAI

 

Artificial intelligence is already a widely used technology in the financial services sector, but is it really being used to its full potential within asset management? The value of AI and machine learning to portfolio management and hedge funds is vast, and as 2021 continues to race ahead, the most successful asset management firms are harnessing AI in order to reassess their way of working and drive returns.

The COVID-19 pandemic hit hard, and almost every industry was forced to re-evaluate their processes. And as the global crisis shone a spotlight on current practices, the need for digital transformation and rapid innovation was suddenly very real and urgent.

In particular, the limitations of traditional investment strategies like quantitative models, where forecasting decisions are based around structured data, became apparent during this period of extreme volatility. The demand for investment strategies and risk management that use AI and machine learning, particularly deep learning, has therefore never been higher.

 

The successful asset manager in the ‘new normal’

During pandemic many investors lost confidence in those asset managers that struggled to keep up with volatile market conditions. Rebuilding that confidence is critical, and advanced AI systems, with their ability to identify data anomalies and trends that traditional quantitative models might not, is a valuable way of doing that.

Deep learning, with its ability to identify complex anomalies easily and rapidly, in a fast-moving market, will therefore be essential for asset management firms looking to thrive and grow as we settle more into the new normal. On top of helping to rebuild confidence lost in the wake of the pandemic, this type of advanced AI will keep firms resilient in the case of future global crises leading to market crashes.

Making the most of AI and machine learning will undoubtedly give asset managers a competitive advantage as they use the information that AI helps them extract to make faster, more accurate decisions. The insights gleaned will also be vital in helping them to put together actionable next steps and tactics for investment decisions, both now and in the future.

Moreover, strategies developed based on AI insights and tools are sharper and more successful at mitigating risk, giving an alternative method of generating alpha in the investment process, no matter how unstructured the data being used.

 

AI and its transformative role for asset management firms

Advanced AI technology is unrivalled when it comes to portfolio management and detecting anomalies in the market. A human element in managing portfolios and mitigating risks can be invaluable, but where it falls down is in being able to handle high volumes of dense, noisy data, and using patterns to successfully predict where markets are headed.

When markets are affected by an unpredictable event, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, AI technology gives asset managers a head start, meaning they’re more successful at reducing earlier market exposure.. And it’s more than just alerting firms to potential risks, advanced machine learning is able to qualify its predictions and how certain those predictions actually are. That extra layer allows asset managers to be even more secure in their portfolio management strategies.

For all these reasons, a recent Funds Europe survey showed just how much the asset management industry is looking to focus on technology and AI over the coming year. More than half of the asset managers surveyed (56%) say that tech and data infrastructure will be focus of investment over next 12 months, and 83% say they will extend strategic alliances with asset servicing tech partners. At the same time, 60% say it’s important to augment human expertise into AI models.

 

AI and good data management goes hand-in-hand

We know that good data management is important, and harnessing AI and machine learning to bolster investment strategies strengthens how asset management firms work with data – and also their requirement for data that’s high-quality and accurate.

AI models can show a lot about the market, and make detailed, accurate predictions that support asset managers as they drive successful returns, but the data being handled has to be as relevant and precise as possible. AI technology can help with this, in part by improving data management techniques to make sure the best and most profitable results are extracted from data sources.

While COVID-19 and its resulting impact on the global economy couldn’t have been predicted, advanced AI technology like deep learning can look out for anomalies that can give asset management firms the information they need to foresee extreme volatility – whether it comes from a future pandemic, or a scenario that we have yet to even imagine.

 

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BECOMING THE CEO: THIS IS HOW CFOS CAN SECURE THE TOP JOB

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Mark Freebairn, Partner and Head of the Board and CFO Practices at Odgers Berndtson, explains what CFOs need to do if they want to become CEOs 

 

For some time now, there’s been a very clear trend in CFOs progressing onto CEOs. It’s a trend that should come as no surprise to executive leaders. With more CEOs under increasing pressure, many CFOs have become the nominal second in command, often taking non-finance related responsibilities off their CEO’s plate.

As result, CFOs have begun playing a more strategic and commercial role which has inevitably broadened their remits beyond the finance function. With many CFOs breaking out of the traditional financial management confines, executive teams and boards have begun to realise that finance and general management are more closely aligned than they previously thought. This has given CFOs more opportunities to gain experience relevant for the CEO position. From owning P&L business units to engaging with external investors, the CFO’s evolving remit is making them likely candidates for the top job.

That’s not to say it’s a done deal for anyone who is currently a CFO. The CEO jobs market is comparatively small, CEO turnover is typically slow, and competition is intense. So below, I’ve outlined the key areas CFOs should gain experience in and the opportunities they should capitalise on if they want to compete for the CEO positions out there.

 

Mark Freebairn

Take responsibility for P&L business units 

Overseeing specific business units is a natural extension of the CFO’s responsibilities. It provides experience of managing products, costs, and revenue generation – all of which are staple requirements for the CEO role. But it also provides operational credibility internally, which will prove advantageous for any CFOs lining themselves up as a succession candidate to their own CEOs.

If possible, CFOs should take on responsibility for turning around a failing business unit. This is the fastest way of gaining commercial experience relevant for a CEO role. Particularly as economies emerge from the pandemic, boards will be looking for leaders who can demonstrate an ability to drive growth and new business despite significant internal and external challenges.

Likewise, CFOs should involve themselves in other business functions. Whether it’s procurement and the supply chain, or facilities and security, CFOs should play a role outside of the finance function in order to gain broader business experience.

 

Build a highly-autonomous finance team 

The CFO’s role within organisations and their ability to easily expose themselves to other P&L units makes them suitable candidates for CEOs. However, CFOs are only as good as the team around them. Building a high-performing finance team that can drive the day-to-day operations of the function will have several outcomes. Firstly, it will free up a CFO to take on more responsibility around the business and gain more time with their CEO. Secondly, it’s a valuable proof point that CFOs can use in any interview to demonstrate their ability to build strong teams – as a CEO, building a strong cadre of trusted executives is crucial for success.

This should be a team that can be trusted to perform autonomously, with a strong second in command that the CFO can rely upon.

 

Take on a non-executive director (NED) role 

While financial management is central to any successful organisation, CFOs still need to develop expertise outside of the function if they are to step up as CEOs. Taking responsibility for P&L business units will provide this, however it won’t provide a CFO with the same board-level perspective that a NED role will.

Taking on a NED role will not only help CFOs to understand what boards expect of CEOs but it will also provide experience of a different kind of leadership; one that is less hands on and more about guidance and mentorship.  Within the commercial sector, there are board roles among smaller quoted companies, those backed by private equity, or family owned businesses. Advisory boards and subsidiary boards are also a good option.

On the public sector side, board roles exist within organisations owned by or reporting to government. These include major infrastructure operators, the NHS, regulators, museums and other arts institutions. Likewise, a charity trustee role (while unpaid) is similar and will help to develop both a CFOs network and board skills.

Auditing, budgetary reviewing and balance sheet responsibilities are often sought after skills in non-executive directors, making CFOs ideal for these positions.

 

Take on internal leadership positions 

These types of leadership positions should be separate to the finance function and can include things like internal workstreams, strategic initiatives such as I&D and sustainability, or CSR projects. The benefit of taking on this responsibility is two-fold. It helps build necessary leadership skills and provides leadership experience. But it also showcases a CFO within the business in a leadership capacity outside of finance. The later will be beneficial for any CFOs looking at internal progression onto the CEO position.

Mentoring achieves similar outcomes. This helps build leadership skills and can lead to greater exposure around the business. What’s more, any mentee may later become a useful contact in a CFOs network.

 

Network outside of the organisation 

CFOs often underestimate the power of a personal network. Building relationships with other senior leaders will enable a CFO to generate career opportunities that can lead onto CEO appointments. While professional networks within the CFO community are valuable, networking outside of these types of environments is likely to be the most profitable for career advancement.

Any CFO looking to make the jump to CEO should build relationships with a variety of third parties. These include shareholders and brokers, investors, M&A specialists, bankers, and even lawyers. A CFOs experience and perspective can be incredibly valuable to these types of professionals so getting on their radar shouldn’t be difficult. Making the effort to build a relationship with them will pay dividends in the long run, and may lead to hearing about, or if you’re good enough, even being recommended for a CEO position.

 

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REDUCE CUSTOMER DISPUTES WITH DATA TRANSPARENCY

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By Gabe McGloin, Head of Business Development EMEA at Verifi

 

The digitisation of commerce has escalated the need for card-not-present (CNP) businesses to bring proactive customer communication to the fore. From digital receipts to high-tech AI chatbots, sellers have more options than ever to interact with customers. Not only will embracing these efforts heighten transparency, but also improve customer service and foster better relationships which plays an important part in preventing disputes, preventing disputes, and ensuring ongoing custom to the seller.

According to a recent report by KPMG, 90% of consumers regard a complete resolution of transaction issues as one of the most important qualities of great customer service[1]. Providing customers with clear information at the precise point they need it should be a central part of all companies’ dispute strategy, as resolving the issue early is in everyone’s best interest.

Keeping customers informed through proactive communication and delivering clear transaction information can lead to reduced friction in returns and refunds. Such efforts should be coupled with greater sharing of transaction data between seller and issuer, allowing purchases to be easily confirmed and understood. Clear but not invasive communication pre-empts disputes and can prevent the escalation of many far-reaching problems related to disputes.

 

Prevention is better than a cure

A company’s disputes strategy should feature preventive tactics at the presale experience. Sellers should ensure at the point of purchase that customers have all the appropriate information needed for a complete and satisfying purchase. Ensuring customers are making well-informed decisions is not only important as best practice, but a good measure to help minimise returns, refunds, and disputes.

At or before checkout, sellers should provide easy access to policies. Clear and concise terms & conditions allows customers to understand their rights and what is expected of them. Likewise, returns & refunds policies should outline the procedures for customers to take in the event a product or service does not meet their expectations. Subscription services must also be clear around commitments and cancellations. A key area of needed clarity is in the scope of free trials: unclear rules can leave customers feeling cheated when they see an unfamiliar charge on their billing statement. To avoid disputes, service providers should clearly outline the end date at the outset and remind customers at the appropriate time of the pending close of the free trial period.

By giving customers clear information about their rights and available actions up front, confusion and speculation leading to disputes may be reduced. In the unfortunate event a dispute does occur, clearly presented presale terms and customer purchasing history can provide sellers with important compelling evidence for successful representment and recovery of funds from unwarranted chargebacks.

 

Did I buy that?

Unrecognised transactions can often lead to consumers disputing charges with their issuer. Far too often, customers contact their bank to submit a dispute, simply because they do not recognise transactions on their statement. This type of activity is a key driver of friendly fraud. Research shows that 77% of heavy online shoppers who reported a problem transaction on their statement are in favour of having access to enhanced transaction details. In fact, 75% of credit card users will do research on an unrecognised transaction before they call their issuer (83% for debit card users). It should also be noted that 25% of calls to the issuer could be prevented with clearer seller transaction descriptors on billing statements[2]. The ability to effectively head off confusion around transactions is the most cost-effective way to reduce customer disputes.

After the point of sale, proactive and continued communication is key to reducing disputes. Sellers should follow transactions with purchase confirmation and transaction details via email or text. If possible, confirmation should include business name, contact information (email, phone), purchase amount, date of purchase, item(s) quantity and descriptions. Also, if applicable, sellers should provide tracking and shipping information and receipt confirmation of goods/services. These standard practices should leave customers no doubt about the purchase they made, as well as instil confidence in the sell with whom they have conducted a transaction.

Sellers must embrace technology in their communications with consumers. In a recent survey, 60% of customers thought a digitally posted picture of the printed receipt would be most helpful in validating a transaction[3].

Despite best preventive practices, some disputes are inevitable. Sellers that provide data transparency throughout the sales process – maintaining all documented communications and records of customer purchase history and behaviour – can provide compelling evidence to build effective dispute responses for improved revenue recovery.

 

Reduce disputes with collaboration

To be most effective, all communication should be coordinated across consumers, sellers, and issuers. By practicing transparency and opening the lines of communication, consumers can self-resolve disputes or address them directly with sellers. Sellers can share information with issuers, so issuers can deliver vital purchasing data to their customers, thus minimising customer confusion that could result in disputes. Such collaborative technologies are now coming into the payments ecosystem, fostered in large part by major card brands.

It isn’t just sellers that benefit by supporting data transparency for their customers. 70% of customers contact their issuer’s call centre at some point in the dispute process[4]. This creates an unnecessary workload for issuers, as many questions and disputes could have been expediently handled by the seller by providing their customers with essential transaction information.

Data-sharing solutions enable sellers to provide purchase information to card issuers, which in turn can be delivered to customers through online banking channels or reviewed by customer services personnel at the point of transaction inquiry. Not only can these services help prevent unnecessary disputes, but also provide a more enhanced experience for customers in the post-transaction phase of the payment lifecycle.

 

Don’t lose touch

Dispute strategies should be underpinned by efforts to build a bridge of trust with your customers – using email, text, digital receipts – which includes, and in some ways depends on, issuer collaboration. Embracing digital alternatives is key; as multichannel retailing becomes commonplace, so should multichannel customer service.

 

[1] Customer experience in the new reality, KPMG

[2] Aite Improving the Dispute Experience May 2020

[3] Aite Improving the Dispute Experience May 2020

[4] Javelin Report – Optimizing Dispute Strategies / October 2020

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