By Rita Cool, Certified Financial Planner at Alexander Forbes Financial Planning Consultants
The full impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is as yet unknown, but individuals have already begun to have their lives disrupted by the country’s economic shutdown, with retrenchments, salary cuts and forced unpaid leave making them take stock of their financial position.
The basic principles of financial planning are especially relevant at this time, but in the short term, cash flow is more important to many people.
To help safeguard you and your family’s financial security, here are some tips to follow to make sure you’re making your money work hard for you:
- Draw up a budget – this is especially relevant if you’re worried about possible retrenchment of yourself or your partner. This will help you know how much you need to cover your basic living expenses and where you can save money. Don’t only look at what you need to spend money on, but also when you think you will need that money. Perhaps you paid school fees upfront at the beginning of the year, or your car registration is only due again next year.
- Check your bank fees. Are you in the best structure for your needs? Are you paying for services that you never use? Consider moving banks to get a better deal.
- Banks have waived the Saswitch fee payable for withdrawing cash at another ATM other than your own bank, but if you’re doing this, be aware of when this switches back as you can end up paying almost double the bank fees.
- Did you know that you start paying interest immediately if you draw cash from a credit card and that you do not get three or six months’ interest free?
- Go through your house while you have extra time and identify potential items which you could sell, as this will free up cash.
- Where possible, pay cash for items as the interest rate on hire purchase items is very high and you pay around 20% more for those items than the sticker price. If you cannot afford the item and you don’t need it right now, wait.
- Look around for bargains online rather than driving around. There are some good sales on, and you can support businesses that need your help.
- At the same time, be aware of spending extra cash you could be saving towards your financial safety net. There are lots of deals available, so balance the need for the 70% off bikini or new laptop with being cautious about the future.
- Use store coupons and discount vouchers. The main food retailers have loyalty programme structures that can be tailored to your specific spending patterns. Make sure you claim point or vouchers but look out for monthly costs to belong to a rewards program. Ask yourself if your monthly savings validate the cost. Optimally a reward scheme shouldn’t cost you money.
- Check with your insurance company if your premium can be reduced because you’re driving less during lockdown.
- Check your current insurances. Do an insurance rebroke. Make sure you are covered for what you need and take things off the list that you do not have any more and add what you have bought since the last update. Make sure you are not under or over insured and that your premium is market related. The cheapest premium isn’t always the best so be aware of exclusions and excesses and make sure you can afford the excess if you need to claim.
- In most cases you can reduce your monthly insurance premiums by not having a cash pay-out in the future. If you want a pay-out, save the extra premium in an investment product, not a risk product.
- Be wary of consolidating debt. You might pay a lower interest rate but it might well be over a longer period so the total interest paid will be higher. If you have debt issues, set up a debt plan with dates and goals to reduce the debt little by little. Do not give up.
- Be aware that payment holidays are not a free loan, you still owe the money and you’re paying interest on it. Check with your service provider.
Remember that the pandemic will pass. Try not to panic as this may lead to rash financial decisions, which could have an impact on your finances later down the line.
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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