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TRANSFORMING BANKING: WHY COVID-19 IS UNFREEZING CONSUMER HABITS

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COVID-19

Raj Chakraborty, Senior Managing Director, Publicis Sapient

 

There is much debate about the impact of COVID-19 on the economy. A lot of it is estimation and conjecture based on imperfect data. The discussion is dominated by whether we will have a U-shaped recovery, or if it will look more like an L over the next few years – and what policy decisions will drive the outcomes.

However, regardless of policy or recovery timeline, it is clear that consumer and small business behaviours will change dramatically during and after this crisis. Without an alternative, consumers get on with their lives, bank in the way they always have and business continues to get done, however given a compelling reason, in this case physical restriction to “normal” ways of doing things, people will begin to unfreeze old habits and move to digital channels and remote ways of engaging.

In response, banks have to act now – before new customer habits refreeze in a way that is detrimental to their business. They must:

  • help customers by supporting them when, where and how they need, enabling personalized experiences and offering advice that they can access digitally
  • provide employees the tools and resources required to successfully serve customers remotely, and with flexible schedules that can meet demand

 

A significant moment – unfreezing of habits

This is a significant moment for banks. In a time where consumer and business habits have suddenly unfrozen, banks have the opportunity to step up and become more engaged with their customers, guiding them through these uncertain times. The critical elements in these interactions will be personalized experiences – enabled by digital and data, with a helpful person exactly when needed. Those that act and adapt in real time will be rewarded with greater loyalty, new customers, and better performance when behaviours refreeze in a new mold.

Along with opportunity, the unfreezing of habits also presents a tremendous threat. Consumers and small businesses will question the value that a bank brings to them. More than half of consumers already say that they would be willing to bank with non-traditional players like Google or Amazon if they provided the service. And over 60 percent of the emerging affluent say they would consider switching their primary bank. Those that don’t engage with their customers in an effective, personalized way now will be forced to play catch-up later, hoping they’re not too late.

 

Help customers by supporting them how they need, enabling personalized experiences and advice that they can access digitally

The COVID-19 crisis has pushed us to an extreme end of the spectrum in understanding what consumers and businesses are willing (and have capability) to do remotely. Prior to this, many financial institutions would have said that people doing 30-50 percent of their transactions using digital was very good. In the past month, that view has changed dramatically as customers are doing more transactions using digital. Today, this behaviour is driven by the fact that they can’t go to a branch, and contact centers are currently overwhelmed with long wait times. Tomorrow, it will be driven by a more personalized journey – before, during, and after the transaction – that gives consumers more confidence in the engagement and makes it more convenient. Think back to something as simple as depositing a cheque at an ATM. In the early days, printing an image of the cheque on an ATM deposit receipt dramatically increased adoption of ATMs over tellers for cheque deposits; it gave people confidence that the cheque had actually gone through.

The modern version of this is a bit more sophisticated. Banks must build an understanding of the customer, ethically weaving together internal and external data with a layer of Artificial Intelligence that can help detect patterns of what individuals actually want. They must engage those individuals using the right messaging and channels – and then deliver a seamless and lightweight experience for the transaction that puts the customer at the center. When needed, a remote advisor should also be available – someone who has the context of the customer’s experience thus far and can assist going forward.

We’re seeing leading banks rolling out pilots of these concepts right now.

 

Provide employees the ability to serve customers while they work remotely, and with flexible schedules that can meet the demand

The crisis has also shown us how unprepared the financial services industry is to work remotely. On the retail banking side, many firms have had to cut call center staffing dramatically due to the close proximity of the representatives’ desks. This, coupled with the tremendous increase in call volumes, has resulted in long wait times and poor service interactions. However, many leaders in the space have, quite literally, been able to flip a switch and bring up significant work-at-home service teams and managed to keep up with demand. They have matched their capacity more closely to the demand and are getting real kudos from customers.

In wealth management, some firms have literally had movers come box up equipment and phones from the office and deliver them to advisors’ homes because of regulatory and compliance requirements on the equipment and infrastructure. Others however, had the cloud-based technology infrastructure already in place so advisors could conduct fully-compliant video conferences and phone calls, securely access customer accounts and conduct transactions, and serve clients in this greatest time of need without putting themselves in harm’s way.

Ironically, the new cloud-based and flexible infrastructure that enables the new ways of working are actually easier to manage, maintain, and scale up in times of need.

 

Conclusion

Whilst it’s true that old habits die hard, the unprecedented events of the past few months have forced consumers and small businesses to ‘unfreeze’ their traditional habits. Depending on how it’s addressed, banks have a tremendous opportunity or significant threat on their doorstep. Customer habits will be in flux for a short period as they understand and work through what’s available, and then those habits will ultimately, freeze again.

During this period, banks must move quickly to become valuable to their customers through personalized experiences that are digitally-driven, but enabled through actual people when needed. They must also build supporting capabilities and cloud-based infrastructure for their people so they can work remotely and in flexible hours to meet customer demand. These technologies are all available and we are putting them to use today – all indications are that this crisis and the opportunity and threats it presents has the potential to transform our industry.

 

Banking

Augmented automated underwriting and the evolution of the life insurance market

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By Alby van Wyk, Chief Commercial Officer at Munich Re Automation Solutions

 

It’s almost inevitable. Spend your working life identifying, analysing, quantifying and ascribing monetary value to risk, and you’re likely to have a fairly strong aversion to it. Or more accurately, an aversion to undertaking new endeavours with inadequately understood consequences. The insurance industry is, on any number of levels, the very definition of risk-averse.

And yet, for all the commentary suggesting otherwise, insurance still has an appetite for innovation. If the insurtech sector is any indication, then an interest in and requirement for new solutions is being recognised and slowly addressed.

Declan O’Neill

It may not employ the language of disruption that runs through the wider fintech market, it may be short a few unicorns and unable to boast some of the record-breaking funding rounds, but a quiet tech evolution has been building in insurance nonetheless. Hence the advent of automated underwriting facilitated by more advanced algorithms and data analysis.

Where insurtech does overlap with its more vocal fintech counterparts is in the greater use of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to solve age-old problems around data analysis and interpretation.

It’s about five years or so since AI first became a topic of conversation in insurance. Since then, despite the intensity of the debate, it has often felt like a reality that is always just over the horizon – a destination that kept moving even as more and more efforts were directed towards it.

But recent research suggests that the journeys made so far have not been in vain. We are at a point where embracement of AI is about to step up a gear. The global value of insurance premiums underwritten by AI have reached an estimated $1.3 billion this year, as stated by Juniper Research; but they are expected to top $20 billion in the next five years. As a destination, it is closer and more attainable than ever before.

However, AI is not an island. Its promise of $2.3 billion in global cost savings to be achieved through greater efficiencies and automation of resource-intensive tasks will not be achieved in isolation.

AI remains part of a more complex ecosystem of data gathering and analysis. It can apply new technologies to get the best out of the already established and still-emerging data sources that feature in underwriting offices around the world. It emphatically does not require these existing investments to be ripped out, replaced or downgraded.

It is more helpful therefore to see AI as the differentiating factor in the latest generation of insurance IT: augmented automated underwriting, or AAU for short.

AAU gives underwriters the ability to spot patterns and connections that are, frankly, either invisible to the human eye or which take normal, human-assisted processes unfeasible amounts of time and resource to identify.

Whereas earlier generations of automation were able to pick up the low-hanging fruit of insurance markets – the individuals whose driving history fit into clearly delineated boxes, for example – AAU can take into account all of the rich complexity of the human experience. It can spot the nuances and individualities that populate the life market, for example, and translate those into accurate policies.

That’s good news for both underwriters and their customers. AAU can significantly reduce the need for separate medicals, repeated questions, lengthy decision-making processes, and drastically increase the speed at which a potential insurer can get a quote and cover – while continually improving the way risk is calculated and managed.

It can make sure the decision-making process remains in the hands of underwriters rather than IT departments, enabling them to set and update the rules and parameters as befits their preferred business model. It consequently makes advanced, complex and precise decision-making available to a broader range of underwriting businesses – which is good for those businesses, good for customers and ultimately good for the entire industry.

AAU – augmented automated underwriting – is an example of the realisation of AI’s promise. As such, it’s set to become one of the key talking points and disruptive technologies of the insurance industry. And this time, AAU is both a journey and destination that all progressive insurance organisations need to be considering for their future operations.

 

 

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Banking

ESG in the finance and banking industry – are you ready?

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By Julian Moffett, CTO BFSI, EDB

 

Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) has soared towards the top of banking, financial services, and insurance (BFSI) and other boardroom interests. Organisations everywhere know they need to take ESG and greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) seriously not only because it is the right thing to do for the future of the planet or because it can help attract and retain talent, but also, because failing to do so may pose a risk to the economic value of their businesses and encourage probes by governments, watchdogs and non-execs. However, complying with complex reporting and going the extra mile to actually deliver on the goals of the rules is a challenge in many ways, not the least of which is in achieving the required excellence in data management to underpin strong reporting on ESG.

 

What is ESG? 

Julian Moffett

ESG is an umbrella term that covers a broad gamut of activities. Gartner defines ESG as “…a collection of corporate performance evaluation criteria that assess the robustness of a company’s governance mechanisms and its ability to effectively manage its environmental and social impacts.”

The CFA Institute describes the environmental element as focusing on “the conservation of the natural world” and includes measuring “climate change and carbon emissions,” “air and water pollution” and “biodiversity” among many other measures. Social considers “people and relationships” looking at areas including “customer satisfaction,” and “gender and diversity.” Governance covers “standards for running a company” and analyses factors such as “board composition,” “audit committee structure” and “audit committee structure.”

 

Status of the current regulatory environment

There are many bodies proposing rules to formalise ESG monitoring and seeking to ensure corporate compliance. Some example groups, frameworks and bodies:

  • The Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD)
  • Streamlined Energy and Carbon Reporting (SECR)
  • The International Regulatory Strategy Group (ISRG)
  • The Sustainability Finance Disclosure Regulation (SFDR)
  • The International Sustainability Standards Board (ISSB)
  • The Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB)
  • Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) support efforts such as the US SEC’s Climate and ESG Task Force.

Financial services organisations are very aware that the current regulatory landscape is far from mature (and will continue changing) both in terms of alignment between bodies and also with regard to when the new rules will come into effect. At the of time of writing:

  • The requirement for Scope 2 disclosures (see below for description) for the Sustainable Finance Disclosure Regulation (SFDR) will likely come into effect in 2023
  • A proposed Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD) should be agreed by the European Parliament this year for implementation in 2024 to report on performance in 2023.
  • Meanwhile, the SEC has just released its proposed rules for climate-related disclosures, which,if passed in legislation, may come into effect as early as year end 2022.

 

Reporting Obligations 

Reporting can cover a wide range of areas covering energy consumption, GHG emissions, water consumption and waste management to health and safety, labour rights, diversity and inclusion to ethical conduct, and even areas such as appropriate executive compensation.

While the regulatory reporting obligations are not yet finalised, the expectation is that compliance may prove to be an onerous task. For example, organisations are under pressure to monitor carbon emissions but even so-called Scope 1 emissions (those that come from owned or controlled emissions) can be hard to track. Factor in Scope 2 (indirect emissions such as purchased power) as well as Scope 3 emissions from up and down value chains, and the reporting task at hand is difficult indeed.

To measure, monitor and manage in addition to staying on the right side of rules, organisations need to have excellent data management fundamentals, strong reporting tools and a new class of applications, which also have the agility to adapt to rapidly changing regulatory demands. Data will be used both to support decarbonisation measures but also to identify where there are disclosure gaps. It was telling that when the SEC issued a press release on its Enforcement Task Force, it specifically referred to data:

“The task force will also coordinate the effective use of Division resources, including through the use of sophisticated data analysis to mine and assess information across registrants, to identify potential violations.”

Having reliable data comply with emerging rules isn’t the only essential requirement for organisations. Institutions need such data to understand where they are in their journey to sustainability, so that they can set sensible targets and track progress against them. Organisations will have to cover the data trifecta of availability, management and transparency. Many organisations may be stuck in the early stages of managing ESG, overly relying on manual processes, spreadsheets and email. But their target should be to get to real-time data insights that are easily visualised, understood and shared. As a foundation, BFSIs need to capture, manage and securely share data reflecting consumption and safety to emissions, financials and data from surveys measuring results against ESG targets. Data emanating from ERP and other back-office systems, performance data from third-party associates, media and social network coverage, spatial/geolocation systems and beyond should also be factored in.

 

Actually reducing GHGs

Organisations are using a wide variety of ways to reduce emissions and improve their footprints from using renewable energy sources to making secondary use of energy; for example, in the case of one university, this is done through capturing data centre heat in hydroponics. For IT, making broader use of multitenancy in cloud computing and hosting services is a popular way to reduce emissions. Not only do these large data centres offer an economy of scale, they also tend to be state of the art in their use of renewables and highly efficient hardware and other infrastructure. Gartner, in an article titled The Data Centre Is Almost Dead, says it expects 80 percent of enterprises will close in-house datacenters by 2025. For me, the jury is out on this one but an interesting one to monitor going forward.

 

Conclusion

We are at the start of a very significant inflection point in regulatory and consumer expectations around ESG. BFSIs should be under no illusion that momentum is building rapidly in terms of having to address strict reporting requirements and implement strategies to reduce GHGs.

However, we also see this as a time of positive change. As the leading provider of Postgres, EDB is excited to help organisations further their ESG goals as the journey unfolds. We are closely monitoring the implications of ESG regulations as they will give rise to a new class of applications and drive adoption of green data centres. We see OSS, including Postgres, as playing a key role in this shift as often the movement to private and public cloud helps accelerate application modernisation and enables displacement of outdated incumbent technology (including database) platforms. As the leading provider of Postgres, EDB is excited to help organisations further their ESG goals as the journey unfolds.

 

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