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Finance

WE NEED FINTECHS NOW MORE THAN EVER

STRUCTURED DATA

Lubaina Manji, Senior Programme Manager, Nesta Challenges

 

Whilst the sun is far from setting on the COVID-19 pandemic, predictions and hopes for a new “normal” are shimmering on the horizon.

 

Amid the trail of devastation left by the virus, there has to be some semblance of change and positivity to be taken. One such shift is the increase in digital services usage which poses a huge opportunity for our fintech community. Confinement has forced even the more sceptical of us to dabble in digital, and embrace how it has made many everyday tasks more easy and convenient.

 

Online and mobile banking has been helping many people stay on top of their finances for some time. Research conducted by Open Up 2020 Challenge last summer found half (48%) of people would like to use online tools and apps to help them manage their money[1].

 

Then along came a global pandemic that has undoubtedly forced the hands of even the more sceptical to log on, download and transact – quickening the pace of long-lasting change in terms of how we manage our money. Recent figures from deVere Group suggest the virus is behind a 72% rise in the use of fintech apps in Europe[2]. Never before have we been so reliant on technology in maintaining some sort of normalcy and in helping us continue day-to-day tasks, like everyday banking.

 

Another unfortunate byproduct of protecting communities from the virus means many people have been left out of work and with less or no income. In times of financial strain, the need for people to engage with their finances – be it budgeting, saving or shopping around for better deals – is far greater.

 

Issues of trust in traditional banking services and a lack of awareness of the helpful money management services available are some of the barriers preventing people from taking more control of their finances. But the solutions made possible through open banking can provide people with a lifeline to build their financial resilience and better manage their money.

 

Open banking has the potential to revolutionise financial services, by giving people control over their financial data in order to access innovative products tailored to them. Since it launched in 2018, open banking technology has opened the door for new fintech innovators to create cutting-edge tools designed to help people better manage their money – from budgeting, debt management, comparing and switching banks to automating savings and more. These could have a significant impact – it is estimated that UK consumers could gain as much as £12bn over the course of a year from open banking-enabled tools[3].

 

So far, it’s been effective – the UK FinTech’s State of the Nation report[4] totted up more than 1,600 fintech firms in the UK in 2019, whilst predicting this could more than double by 2030. Figures from the Open Banking Implementation Entity showed there were 243 regulated providers, 169 third party providers and 74 account providers as of April 2020[5]. The UK adoption rate of fintech is 42% – higher than the global average of 33% – making it ripe for opportunity[6]. Coupled with lockdown restrictions creating greater dependence on technology – including ATM cash withdrawals falling by half[7] – fintechs are well placed to be part of the solution – and offer help to those struggling to manage.

 

With more than a fifth (21%) of the adult population saying financial stress is having a bigger impact on their mental wellbeing than physical health concerns during the crisis, and a quarter more stressed about money than usual[8], fintechs can be part of the support available to them.

 

However, in order to fully realise the opportunity we need to ensure budding entrepreneurs with bold ideas have the means to turn them into reality. Nesta Challenges exists to design and run challenge prizes that incentivise people to help solve pressing social problems that lack solutions. Through our Open Up 2020 Challenge we are supporting 15 fintech finalists to develop their solutions to enable more people – particularly those underserved by traditional financial products – to manage their finances better, whatever their circumstances.

 

Of the 15 finalists, some offer app designed to help people budget,, save, switch and invest – aided with alerts and notifications that allow people to stay on top of their finances and make their money work harder for them for the long term. For example, Cleo is an AI financial assistant that is already helping more than 3 million customers monitor their spending, budgeting and saving, while Moneyhub empowers people to do more with their money by offering actionable insights from a review of all of their accounts.

 

Some of the apps are designed for those with more specific circumstances, such as Mojo Mortgages, which analyses income and transaction data for first time buyers to produce mortgage affordability scores and savings recommendations if they aren’t quite ready to apply. Finalists Portify and Wagestream cater for workers with irregular earning patterns.

 

As well as monetary grants, Open Up 2020 Challenge provides these companies with non-financial support and promotion to help them on their way to achieving their full potential – which in turn helps them reach many people to help them achieve their monetary goals.

 

While COVID-19 has created personal finance headaches for many, it has been inspiring to see how quickly fintechs have been able to innovate and develop digital solutions that help solve these problems and equip people to better manage their money.

[1] Open Up 2020 Challenge

[2] Forbes 2020

[3] Open banking Consumer Priorities for Open Banking report

[4] UK Fintech State of the Nation

[5] Open banking Highlights April 2020

[6] UK Fintech State of the Nation

[7] https://www.link.co.uk/about/statistics-and-trends/

[8] Open Up 2020 Challenge

Finance

OPTIMISING YOUR FINANCE THROUGH TECHNOLOGY

Covid-19 restrictions and ongoing uncertainty have prompted a fundamental switch in mindset across a multitude of different sectors. Many organisations have begun to recognise that outsourcing their finance can make them more agile and give them the competitive edge they need to compete and scale effectively in today’s market.

Mark Pullen, CEO at Xledger  explains to what extent outsourcing can boost resilience for a lockdown recovery.

 

Solving the pain points

Inefficient processes are prone to causing delays and errors which can have a huge impact on the bottom line when viewed at scale. They can also negatively impact the client experience, causing frustration with missed deadlines and mounting uncompleted tasks.

New finance technology is automating many of the daily, monotonous back office functions such as bank reconciliation and invoice entry, meaning that the nature of the work that a finance professional provides will change. This presents a huge opportunity as it gives these employees the opportunity to be involved in higher-level work. Technology can also provide a resource that gives real time insight, allowing for better strategic decision making, which is so key in the current climate.

 

Optimising your finance function

Outsourcing high-value services within the finance function can improve workflow by implementing a defined and transparent process which streamlines operations. For a finance department, this can speed up areas that require internal controls such as expense reporting and cash release, but it can also speed up the full lifecycle of a project; from time tracking and resource to accounting and billing.

There is also a cost efficiency benefit when outsourcing, as management bandwidth is effectively increased by eliminating the need to be involved in many of the day to day processes. Instead this time can be focused on other business priorities and planning for future growth.

Outsourcing accounting functions to bespoke and standardised technologies means using data led processes that can be measured, optimised and benchmarked against in-house requirements. These processes can also be undertaken remotely, boosting the resilience of your business in these uncertain times.

 

Case study box-out: RPC Tyche

RPC Tyche is a global insurance software supplier with offices in London, Paris, and the USA. Initially a division of award-winning law firm RPC, but now a stand-alone entity, RPC Tyche’s main software offerings support capital modelling, and pricing commercial insurance and reinsurance.

 

The challenge

As part of a restructuring process following the de-coupling with the law firm RPC, RPC Tyche had to separate its back-office processes. They remained under the umbrella of the law firm while the changes were taking place, so initially had some flexibility with the shared finance system, but time was running out to separate the two entities cleanly. As a stand-alone company, RPC Tyche now needed its own financial system; one that could align with its new business processes and that could be implemented quickly to deliver the organisation’s business objectives. Furthermore, they needed a new finance solution that could help them grow exponentially, facilitate a globally diverse group structure, and still maintain efficiency when operating as a small team.

Gavin Dilley, Chief Finance Officer for RPC Tyche commented, “Following an initial discussion with a third-party advisor regarding Xero and Quickbooks, we were recommended Xledger because we required a swift and scalable solution. After contacting Xledger, their tried and tested implementation methodology ultimately assured us that we would achieve the fast-paced implementation needed for our go-live objective. We also really liked that Xledger was a multi-tenanted, true cloud solution with its scalability setting it apart from the competitors.”

 

Implementation and training

Following conversations with Xledger, RPC Tyche created a project management team to keep everything on track on their side, an arrangement that Gavin emphasised “worked really well.” He said that “as a small project team, the flexibility to undergo substantial configuration during the training sessions with the Xledger consultants brought focus and enabled us to dedicate sufficient time to the system without distractions.”

Although the implementation was expected to take three months, RPC Tyche experienced hold-ups owing to the separating of back-office processes, so they were pleased when it was mutually agreed to facilitate a one-month delay.

 

Post-implementation results

“The implementation process was highly effective, and we’re very happy with the results,” said Gavin. “Since implementing the Xledger solution, we’ve been so pleased we haven’t had to dip back into the old system as the transfer of historic data has been particularly successful.” RPC Tyche had a large volume of historic data and transactions, including timesheets and work in progress reports that were all successfully migrated to Xledger during implementation. “We’re particularly happy with how easy it has been to onboard our new Finance Controller, due to flexible training and the system being so intuitive.”

Gavin added, “Since implementing Xledger, we have far greater reporting flexibility, better distribution of skills within the finance team and are naturally more self-sufficient because we can make amendments to the system without relying on the software provider.

The system is easy to use, and the purchase order functionalities, integrated workflows and automation of processes have enabled us to be highly efficient, even as a small finance team. Not to mention that the Xledger support team are incredibly responsive, so we can continually maintain productivity.”

 

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Finance

THE FUTURE OF FINANCE LIES IN THE CLOUD

Author: Chris Tredwell, Enterprise Business Development Manager,Aqilla

 

At the beginning of 2020, 87% of public sector organisations surveyed by UKCloud expressed a desire to move traditional IT environments into the cloud. But, as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, the rate of cloud adoption in the UK has grown significantly, as many companies not already in the cloud were compelled to make the switch due to enforced remote work.

This is certainly indicative of many other industries, finance included. Pre-lockdown, the majority of finance and accounting teams still relied on on-premises software, but the move to remote-working meant many organisations had to quickly reconsider their technology needs and move some or all of their IT requirements to cloud-based platforms.

But, in a recent survey by GrowCFO – an independent portal for finance leaders to network, learn and collaborate – it was found that there is confusion around what actually equates to a true cloud finance platform. This was apparent given some respondents replied with ‘cloud’ to known on-premises solutions, suggesting the difference between cloud-based and ‘on-premises with remote access’ is not fully understood.

This is an important point because it has the potential to influence the technology choices made by organisations across the sector. In short, traditional on-premises financial software resides on IT systems owned by the user organisation, typically on hardware hosted within their building. After purchasing and installing the software, they maintain, secure, and manage it themselves (or with the help of a specialist third party IT support business). Many of these systems also offer the option of connecting remotely, with users accessing software and data via a connection to their office-based network.

Conversely, cloud software is almost entirely outsourced and delivered via a web browser or app as a service to each user, hence the description ‘Software-as-a-Service’ (SaaS). The software resides with the service provider who is also responsible for reliability, performance, the availability of enhancements and updates, as well as the security of their service or application. The location of the user is largely irrelevant – as long as they have a good, secure internet connection, a suitable laptop or tablet and a browser, they can access the service in exactly the same way as if they were in the office.

Chris Tredwell

One of the most immediate changes organisations notice when moving from on-premises technology to the cloud is it removes the need for in-house IT personnel or external specialists to manage and maintain the technology. For many smaller organisations, it liberates the individual who has been given the task of ‘looking after’ the on-premises tech, even though it usually isn’t their specialism or even in their job description.

But that’s just the start. The massive success of the cloud-based, ‘-as-a-Service’ technology industry is predicated on a range of key developments over traditional on-premises, or ‘legacy’ software.

 

A Formula for Finance

Often of particular interest to finance and accounting professionals are pricing and payment terms that accompany today’s cloud SaaS options. Cloud-based software typically offers the convenience of a monthly pay-as-you-go model, instead of investing significant up front sums in one-off software purchases. This also saves money on the server hardware that has previously sat in the office, which may no longer be needed at all. Also included in cloud pricing arrangements should be details which clearly set out the type of service and support included in the cost. Done well, cloud-based customer support and service can deliver an exceptional experience where the provider effectively works as an extension of their in-house team.

The best cloud software providers place huge emphasis on security, focusing on data protection, backup services and their ability to deal with common security issues, such as ransomware. This also extends to compliance, and in the finance context, specialised compliance capabilities offered by many cloud software providers can be of particular benefit. Even for the most niche requirements, there is often a software provider out there whose technology has been written to meet compliance rules, often saving users considerable time and effort.

And then there’s the key issue of functionality and performance. Today’s cloud-based finance software market offers a wide range of options from simple entry-level tools to powerful applications designed to meet the needs of even the biggest and most complex finance departments. For organisations considering cloud, it’s important to assess the options available and choose a provider that most closely matches their individual needs.

For many finance and accounting organisations and their teams, the requirements of lockdown and transition to home working were made possible by cloud-based software solutions. In doing so, they have gained valuable insight into the range of services available, their potential benefits and how technology can become much more than just a labour-saving tool, but also a means to enhance their all round business capabilities.

 

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