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THE ROLE OF THE TRADITIONAL ACCOUNTANT IS CHANGING

There is no denying that finance is an ever changing industry and accountants need to adapt to keep up. It seems that the days of punching numbers into calculators and scribbling down sums are a far-distant memory.  Accounting is more competitive today than at any time in history, as accountants strive to match the expectations of increasingly demanding clients. Osidon Chief Executive Officer and co-founder, Hennie Ferreira says the role of the traditional accountant is set to change dramatically.

‘The boom in technology across numerous industries has meant opportunities for advancement in how professionals do business. Accounting is no exception. Many of the once tedious tasks performed by accountants are now performed by artificial intelligence (AI), allowing professionals to focus on more advisory roles that brings greater value to clients.’

Osidon is a local South African company and recently introduced the world’s first online digital accountant, paving the way for job creation and increased compliance amongst SMMEs, thus forever changing the way this industry operates. Ferreira says AI has integrated itself with other aspects of our daily lives including the chatbot revolution, smart home networks and applications, and assistive voice-based technologies like Alexa and Siri.

‘AI is positioned to deliver an immense opportunity to accountants as well and promises to bring a new standard of efficiency to their own specific set of decisions and tasks. In the grander scheme of accounting advancements, AI could radically change the profession in its entirety.’

Regulatory bodies, the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) and the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) have now included IT as part of their syllabus, recognizing the importance of technology in the industry. Meanwhile, despite suggestions that robots will replace the human element, Ferreira says AI is actually poised to assist human decision-making, rather than replace it entirely.

‘In fact, employment for accountants is expected to grow 10 percent through 2026, higher than average. AI can take on the tedious work that takes up so much time, data entry and reconciliation, and will also eliminate errors, reducing liability. With the mundane tasks handled, accountants will be free to engage in more advisory roles. They’ll be able to focus on strategy such as process improvement, cost control and capital optimization and will still have control over sensitive information.’

Ferreira says with the new system, business owners will have access to live reporting of their financial statements as opposed to weekly or monthly reports as in the past. This will go a long way to assist business owners to plan and make business decisions based on live information. Ferreira says Osidon will continue to push the boundaries and rethink traditional methods to the benefit of SMME’s.


‘We have a passion for entrepreneurs and SMME’ and therefore we do everything we can to contribute to the success of small businesses. We believe that by removing obstacles, we will be able to empower them to create more job opportunities and contribute to the economy and society as a whole. When SMME’s are able to focus on developing their business they can actively contribute to the growing economy,’ Ferreira explains.

Osidon also focusses on company registrations, HR and payroll and website creation at a third of the normal industry rates. The company is now one of the fastest accounting firms in South Africa and will launch in the UK and USA in 2020.

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Business

A CATALYST FOR CUSTOMER SATISFACTION AND GROWTH IN THE FINANCIAL SERVICES SECTOR

Peter Walker, EMEA CTO, Blue Prism

 

The financial services sector has undergone a period of rapid innovation over the past decade, with the rise of fintechs and digital banking solutions, which are much more agile than traditional banking options. On top of this, the sector is now also experiencing unprecedented effects due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Institutions must transform their core operations to address these industry disruptions, not only to meet the needs of today’s increasingly interconnected society, but also to help weather the impact of the virus.

In order to maintain a competitive advantage within the industry, satisfy the changing demands of their customers and meet intensifying regulations, Robotic Process Automation (RPA) technology can offer a way forward by providing a platform that runs Digital Workers – intelligent software robots that complete activities in the same way as humans, by mimicking and learning business processes like people do.

With the unprecedented surge in demand of business operations, work isn’t being delivered at its full potential, and at the pace required. People are increasingly unable to support businesses’ needs of extracting and formatting data into a number of different systems, as well as performing a number of tasks which are better suited to technology. This work can lead to stressful environments and errors in a highly regulated process.

 

Addressing the changes in the financial services landscape

Digital banking apps like Monzo and Starling have in the past few years transformed the way people handle their personal finances, and the banking solutions now available to customers means that they have become accustomed to seamless service.

Speed is everything in financial services, and against a backdrop of economic and political uncertainty, traditional banking institutions need to consider changing the way they operate. They must heed the example of digital natives and become more agile, so that they can quickly adapt to unforeseen circumstances in the market.

As the demand for the sector’s services increases in response to the government’s mandated initiatives, such as the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CIBLS), companies will have to pivot their operations to keep pace with the changing landscape. We always hear about how sectors can digitally transform, and RPA-based Digital Workers can help companies to begin their digital transformation journey and accelerate that innovation.

Implementing Digital Workers

In this challenging climate, where traditional business models have changed overnight, organisations need to fulfil the demands of enterprise operations at the pace required to remain competitive. Increasingly, people won’t be able to support this demand on their own, and technology will plug the gap that humans cannot fill.

A lot of customer-facing activity in financial services is process-heavy by nature. It involves dealing with large amounts of sensitive information and adhering to strict processes, which creates a lot of admin. Strategically deploying Digital Workers and intelligent automation can help businesses to streamline a number of these admin tasks, such as processing loans and mortgage repayments. Automating this process frees up employees’ time so they can improve other areas of the business that automation alone can’t deal with.

Covid-19 has renewed the pressure on financial services organisations – not just simply by increasing the sheer volume of customer service calls, but also by introducing new operational stresses through remote working. Implementing automation technologies in a strategic way can help financial institutions get in better shape to cope, not just during this time of uncertainty, but in the long run. In a recent survey looking at how organisations around the globe are using Digital Workers to stay resilient, positive and competitive in this new economic reality, 95% of business decision makers in financial services revealed that they already have plans in place to extend their use of automation across their business.

 

Support during Covid-19

In response to the pandemic, Blue Prism has set up the Covid-19 Response Programme, donating Digital Workers and services to assist across a number of sectors, including on the front lines of the health emergency, transportation and financial services. These deployments illustrate how RPA can help – as by using Digital Workers, business will be able to maintain business continuity and provide the necessary services to citizens during this difficult time.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, Leeds Building Society has turned to Blue Prism’s RPA technology to rapidly increase its deployment of Digital Workers, helping it to cope with the high demand for mortgage holidays. Mortgage payment holiday requests now exceed 2,000 a day and this is all now being handled by the RPA solution, reducing calls to the contact centre by 75% and providing answers to most of these requests within 21 seconds. This allows front-line colleagues to focus on delivering better customer experiences, and back-office processing teams to work on other priorities for the business. Most importantly, at a time of profound uncertainty when many people are under financial pressure, it helps to quickly resolve their issues.

For a long time, the financial services sector has been slow to adopt new technologies which could speed up internal processes, primarily due to the need to comply with regulatory requirements. Yet automation can help these organisations to adjust to rapid regulatory changes. For example, by helping them to audit their data and processes. Without automation technology, businesses might have to recruit and train temporary staff or hire support from a business process outsourcing provider, which could come at a significant cost.

 

The future of automation in the sector

Financial services perform a vital role in our economy. But the pandemic also provides an impetus for organisations in the sector to transform their operations, and automation has huge potential when it comes to this transformation. By 2024, Gartner predicts that automation technologies will replace almost 69% of the managers’ workloads. The Covid-19 crisis could be a catalyst to hasten the migration of routine and rote business processes and help the sector to keep pace with the changing economic environment, as well as rising consumer demands.

 

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Finance

2020: THE YEAR OPERATIONAL RESILIENCE AND CYBER-RISK TAKE CENTRE STAGE IN FINANCIAL SERVICES

Miles Tappin, VP of EMEA for ThreatConnect, explores how financial providers can build a cyber security strategy that enables operational resilience

 

Financial institutions are operating in a new digital landscape. New disruptive technologies – from Artificial intelligence (AI) to crypto-currencies and big data – have driven change and innovation. In retail banking, new fintech providers have seized the opportunity to offer personalised services and challenge existing providers. For example, Klarna, has successfully disrupted the payments sector and is now established as Europe’s biggest fintech firm. It has quickly emerged as an alternative to credit cards since bursting onto scene, allowing consumers to shop now and pay later with retailers, such as H&M, Ikea and Zara.

To compete with the rising number of fintech providers and fulfil growing consumer expectations, traditional financial institutions are developing robust digital ecosystems that can deliver omnichannel service models. However, it’s becoming clear that the pace of technological change is a double-edged sword. It enables innovation and change but it is also one of the most destructive forces in the financial services ecosystem today.

 

Financial services emerge as a hotbed for cybercriminals

2020 has emerged as a defining year for cybersecurity in the financial services industry. It started with an unprecedented attack against Travelex where hackers successfully took some of the currency providers offline for nearly a month. Then came Coronavirus which sparked a new wave of malware and phishing threats. Research from VMware Carbon Black Cloud revealed that threats against financial institutions have surged by 238% since the start of the pandemic.

The renewed interest from cyber criminals comes at a time when regulators are paying close attention to the resilience of the sector. After a string of IT failures and breaches, financial organisations in the UK have been given a mandate from regulators to improve operational resilience. This means ensuring business models can withstand disruptive events from hackers or adversaries and quickly recover to protect the stability of financial systems.

In December 2019, the UK’s financial regulators published a series of consultation papers outlining their proposed approach to achieving greater operational resilience. The proposals suggested that financial institutions will be required to map out the systems and processes that support business services in order to identify any potential vulnerabilities that would pose a risk to the stability of the UK financial system or the firm’s standing.

 

A mandate for change

Where cybersecurity used to be a classic back-office concern, it’s now a central part of digital strategies and a key pillar of both reputation and customer retention – financial legislation leaves no room for failure. All financial institutions need to ensure they have full visibility of their systems and can detect any potential threats.

The challenge for financial institutions is making the security tools they have purchased separately work together in tandem. Security teams buy a firewall, an email filter, threat intelligence feeds, antivirus software or enhanced endpoint protection, and whatever else they need individually. Each of them does a good job but they don’t talk to each other and valuable time is lost tending to individual systems that become a burden to run. At the same time, running multiple security systems is expensive. The more systems you have, the more highly skilled staff you need to manage them, and they’re few and far between.

 

Improving intelligence sharing across borders and communities

To reduce complexity and simplify decision making, financial organisations need to unify processes and technology to harness the security intelligence that comes from across their own security programmes and external sources to drive down risk. However, no financial institution can tackle the problem alone. Experienced threat actors using advanced techniques are constantly targeting the financial sector. The industry needs to come together as a whole to foster a sense of collaboration and data sharing.

In the same way that financial institutions have introduced open banking to deliver a fairer service to customers, the same needs to apply to security – all parts of the financial ecosystem need to unite and share information to learn from one another and succeed in the fight against adversaries that operate across borders.

By sharing alerts on cyber hazards and risk across financial institutions and with law enforcement, government agencies and other relevant authorities, it’s possible to build industry specific insights into cyber security threats and quickly pivot to gain more information on those specific threats and threat actors. By working together, a picture can be painted on threats coming from all manner of malicious activity, from malware to ransomware, to phishing and software vulnerabilities.

 

Breaking down barriers

Having the right intelligence is not enough to ensure that intelligence is turned into action. Breaking down information and process silos across security teams allows financial organisation to analyse and act on the most pertinent information. Everyone has access to the risk and threats that matter most, and orchestration and automation of response helps overwhelmed security teams prioritise response plans and improve efficiencies in their security programme.

Integrating internal security tools and technologies, while also connecting to external sources of intelligence, creates a single source of intelligence that feeds operations and enables organisations to direct action against the threats that matter most. The outcomes of those actions further feed intelligence, providing the ability to further refine the efficacy of the entire security lifecycle.

This approach provides a continuous feedback loop for the people, processes and technologies that make up the security programme. It allows financial institutions to keep up with threat actors that have consistently adapted their methods to profit at the expense of the financial industry. Something that won’t stop anytime soon.

 

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