Chris Pope, Global VP of Innovation at ServiceNow
We’re living through unprecedented times, dealing with a situation completely out of our control. But while finance leaders have no way of managing the pandemic itself, they do have influence over how their business responds and adapts to the chaos left by COVID-19. And for many, it’s exposing cracks in their planning.
Enabling remote working is not a new thing; it’s a concept companies have grown with as they utilise technology to scale globally. But never has working from home been so robustly tested as it is right now.
Many organisations have adapted successfully as remote working has moved to an absolute necessity, but others are faring less well and it’s posing big problems for them. After all, how can a business react to the crisis if the staff it relies upon to keep things going are not equipped to carry on working?
It’s never too late to improve and technologies like the cloud make it possible to do so. But whether thriving or failing with remote working, there are three questions every leader should be asking themselves right now:
Question 1: How successful is your remote working strategy proving so far?
Success doesn’t mean perfection, but it does mean a content workforce doing the right work, at the right time, without wasting time or adding unnecessary cost to the business.
The measure of success or failure of your remote working strategy can’t be based on complaints about team members only having one screen to work on at home, or about kids occasionally interrupting video calls – those are normal distractions and that’s life.
A successful strategy needs to start with evidence of an understanding workforce, one that’s used to a flexible culture and is showing they’re prepared and able to adapt to these changing circumstances.
Success can be measured by teams having access to the tools they need to do their jobs properly and having solutions for their clients as quickly as possible, no matter where they’re logging in from. The ultimate goal is for the workforce to function as smoothly as it did prior to the virus outbreak.
Question 2: What will happen once the crisis subsides?
Strategy up until now would have likely focussed on digital transformation and using technology to help teams do their best work. But a very specific and catastrophic event has happened, and it will rightly make the C-suite nervous it could happen again. The ability to work remotely has shifted from a ‘nice-to-have’ for many, to a ‘must-have’ for almost everyone.
So, building and future-proofing a strategy which enables employees to work seamlessly, without costing or losing the business money, should be a key focus for finance leaders once we’re back to some kind of usual routine.
Leaders also need to prepare for a percentage of their workforce questioning why they need to return to the office. If employees have adapted and thrived through remote working, why should they spend thousands of pounds and hundreds of hours on daily commutes when they can achieve what they need to from home?
It’s essential that finance leaders make sure they’re prepared for the whole host of working-culture questions they’re likely to face on return to the office.
Question 3: How do you rethink your remote working strategy?
This is a crisis that’s going to take years for businesses to recover from, and it’s going to change the way people think about work. With buy-in from the C-suite and secure access to the cloud, it provides an opportunity for finance leaders to reimagine the working structure of their company.
There are many businesses where the very nature of their industry makes it impossible, or at least impractical, to allow a blanket policy of working from home. So, the first job in rethinking the strategy is understanding which roles could be done remotely. Using data, leaders can scrutinise which functions could be automated, freeing up teams to do more meaningful work, whether that be conducted in the office, in a cafe or at home.
For a company that’s solely on-premise, true remote working faces obstacles. But for teams working securely in the cloud without the constraints of outdated, manual, costly, and inefficient work processes, there are huge productivity and satisfaction benefits to be gained.
Those who have already embraced digital will stand the best chance of making it through these troubled times and set themselves up to thrive in the future. But a successful remote working structure comes from innovative thinking and a true desire to make working easier and more satisfying for your teams. So, for businesses yet to go digital, it’s not too late to use this as an opportunity to catch up.
CAN TECHNICAL INNOVATION HELP FINANCIAL SERVICES FIGHT BACK AGAINST FINANCIAL CRIME?
By Charlie Roberts, Head of Business Development, UK, Ireland & EU at IDnow
It’s no secret that the financial services sector is a top target among cyber criminals. In fact, according to a report from IBM, it retained its top spot as the most targeted sector in 2019.
The consequences of falling victim to an attack can be severe too. It can lead to financial losses and reputational damage as well as loss of customer confidence and therefore sales. One UK financial services firm, for example, was hit by a total loss of $87.9 million.
So, if we consider that the coronavirus crisis continues to drive increased online consumer activity, should financial services be more concerned? Simply put, yes.
We are seeing a significant increase in organisations taking their business online to reach their customers. Banks, for example, in adapting to COVID-19, are offering customers a more convenient way of opening an account given branch visiting restrictions. But while these services offer more choice and ease for customers, it also means that new account fraud is opening up and is becoming a major challenge for organisations to overcome.
Some cyber criminals are even trying to exploit the pandemic as an opportunity for financial crime by posing as trusted organisations like banks and even the World Health Organisation. According to Action Fraud, over £6.2 million has reportedly been lost by UK citizens to coronavirus-related scams. And this figure continues to rise week by week.
The role of innovation
The rise in financial crime shows just how much the financial services sector is in need of technological innovation. We’ve already seen great progress. About half of financial services and insurance firms globally already use Artificial Intelligence (AI), according to Forrester.
It has many use cases too. In a recent report published by The Alan Turing Institute, AI is largely being used for fraud detection and compliance. AI is beneficial because its algorithms can analyse millions of data points to detect fraudulent transactions which could otherwise go unnoticed by humans. What’s more, these AI-driven fraud detection systems can now actively learn and calibrate in response to new potential (or real) security threats.
The report also details some of the ways that financial services companies are exploring AI-based fraud prevention alternatives. It includes the use of AI to increase approvals for genuine transactions and the use of real-time and high volume data to help protect schemes, financial institutions and their customers from fraud and financial crime.
It’s perhaps no wonder that, outside of the technology sector, the financial services industry is the biggest spender on AI services according to The Bank of the Future report from Citi. But there is still some way to go in using technology to combat financial crime.
The identity verification era
Arguably, identity verification is one of the most important processes that technology can help transform – especially as the current crisis continues to drive increased online customer behaviour. In fact, AI and video based identity verification software can provide financial services organisations with a fast, seamless and secure onboarding process that increases conversion rates and customer satisfaction while providing the highest level of security.
Demand for this software in the UK’s financial services sector has already more than doubled since the start of the year, as growth in scams linked to COVID-19 continue to rise.
It’s this technology that will become critical in validating a person’s identity quickly and confidently while limiting the increased risk of fraud for both businesses and consumers.
IDnow’s AutoIdent is one software solution that has this year been experiencing high demand from the financial services industry. Its AI technology can use the camera on a customer’s smartphone to recognise the country and type of ID document without the need for user input. The technology then captures the machine-readable part of the ID document as well as non-machine-readable areas, such as address fields, before automatically checking the optical security features of the ID documents, such as holograms.
With the subsequent biometric video check of the person and “liveness detection”, the identification process is completed for the customer within just a few steps. The system can then decide if the identification is valid, with a reliability that meets compliance requirements.
The threat of financial crime is not going away any time soon and so there is no better way than to fight back with innovation. With the right technology investment, such as in AI identity products, the sector will be in a stronger position to support businesses who have a duty of care to protect their customers from risk of fraud while ensuring they remain resilient during this pandemic.
COULD COVID-19 BE THE CATALYST FOR DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION IN FINANCE?
By Simon Bull, Sales Operations & Business Development Manager at Aqilla
We are all now living in a new ‘normal’ where working from home is no longer a luxurious ‘perk’ of the job, but an essential. In the case of many organisations, the transition to flexible, remote working was successful, albeit slightly bumpy. But there is one department that has found it more challenging to transition to the required standards of remote working – the finance department.
The finance department often gets left behind when it comes to digital transformation largely because it is so heavily regulated. And because of this, one of the biggest problems the finance teams face is that it’s sensitive data will likely be stored on a hardware server on office premises. If you look at how organisations update their software as they grow, it’s usually the finance department lagging far behind, or sometimes forgotten about altogether. This is because finance has complex requirements that can lead to the attitude of: if it ain’t broke, why fix it?
Up until now, most finance teams have overcome the challenges this situation presents, but with the repercussions of the pandemic still very much in play, the complications that go hand-in-hand with on-premise technology have been more noticeable than usual. As a result, COVID-19 is becoming a catalyst for a digital transformation in finance, or more specifically moving finance and accounting software away from traditional on-premise solutions to built-for-cloud services. But what are the advantages of this approach, and what should finance teams be looking for in a built-for-cloud solution?
Cost: The Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) approach that is the basis of many of today’s cloud computing businesses generally offers customers a convenient monthly pay-as-you-go model. Given that all that users need to access the software is a desktop, laptop or smart device and internet connectivity, they can also save money on the server hardware that has previously sat in the corner of the office. Hint: compare pricing from several potential providers to make sure there are no unexpected extras before signing up.
- Service: Good cloud-based providers offer extremely strong levels of customer support and service. It should be very easy to get help quickly and conveniently, and they should be in a position to offer advice, identify problems and fix errors without undue delay. Hint: ask for references from existing customers or look for online reviews to assess their service and support capabilities. Also, carefully check their Service Level Agreement (SLA) to clearly understand where their commitments begin and end.
- Security: Established cloud providers offer high levels of security, data protection and backup services as part of their ‘as-a-Service’ package. Customers benefit from the protection afforded by security specialists whose job it is to prevent breaches and keep data completely secure. Hint: Check their security policies and consider talking to existing customers about their security track record.
- Compliance: Cloud providers specialising in the finance industry should have compliance at the heart of their product set. Hint: Check with potential providers about their levels of compliance and certification, particularly if you have specialised requirements.
- Ease of use: today’s built-for-cloud software services are built for purpose, with many offering a high degree of bespoke capabilities so every user can tailor it to their precise needs. This is in contrast to traditional software packages that can be far less flexible, forcing the user to work in a particular way that might not be ideal. Hint: ask potential providers for an online demonstration to check the way the services work meet your needs.
- Performance: In the early days of cloud computing, finance software was too basic for many professionals to consider. Today, there are many entry-level services, while others offer a comprehensive range of capabilities to precisely fit the needs of professional finance departments. Hint: evaluate the range of capabilities offered by a cloud provider, which should include areas such as: extensive analysis, proper periodic management and business calendars, multi-currency, multilingual and multi-company operation, full VAT handling International coding, tax and language flexibility, automatic reconciliation / bank integration, built-in key performance measurement, advanced search, selection and drill-down, document and image scanning. Hint: compare the features of different providers in advance – if anything important is missing, look elsewhere.
- Regular updates: Software developers find it much easier to update and improve their services when they are delivered online, and can more effectively keep up with finance best practice and changes to rules and regulations. Many also encourage users to suggest improvements or new features which are then provided to customers at no extra cost. Hint: ask providers about how often they update their software and whether you can suggest improvements.
For many businesses, these are compelling reasons to adopt cloud-based finance software services, even in normal circumstances. But considered in the context of the current remote working environment, built-for-cloud finance software can help departments to adapt and capitalise on working from home and match the levels of digital transformation seen across many other key business functions.
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