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WHAT BANKS CAN LEARN FROM SILICON VALLEY

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Bertrand Lavayssiere, managing partner at international financial management consultancy, zeb

 

Five success factors which explain why Europe’s most digitalised banks outperform their peers

More than a decade after the global financial crash, most of Europe’s banks are profitable. It is therefore tempting to assume that the region’s banking sector has almost fully recovered from the 2007-08 meltdown, but this is to miss a crucial point. Overall, Europe’s top 50 banks earnings are insufficient to cover their cost of capital, meaning that their core banking services might lead to long-term stagnation and decline.

 

There is, however, a promising escape route from this grim fate for banks with sufficient foresight, as revealed in zeb’s latest annual European Banking Study. Digitalisation—the hottest topic across the whole industry—could be the “silver bullet” that delivers long-term profits. Research by zeb reveals that banks which are digitalisation pioneers outperform less digitalised peers across all significant banking and capital market KPIs.

 

Further analysis shows that these pioneers have absorbed the example set by Big Tech giants such as Google and Amazon and focused on five key success factors that are equally applicable to the banking industry: a consistent customer focus, a simple, flexible product portfolio, an innovation-led operating model, an expandable infrastructure and omnipresence in their customers’ daily lives.

 

Bertrand Lavayssiere

Look at the earnings profile of many European banks and one can see immediately why it is no longer an option to rely on traditional, pre-digital solutions to restore long-term profitability. Based on data compiled by zeb, average post-tax return on equity (RoE) among Europe’s top 50 banks reached 7.2% in 2018, 0.6 percentage points higher than in 2017. On paper, the region’s leading banks look like they are moving closer to delivering the returns expected by investors, with a current cost of equity of around 8.0%. However, appearances are deceptive.

 

When we drilled deeper into these numbers, we found that the incremental increase in the top 50’s RoE over the last five years was solely due to non-operational factors: principally, reduced loan loss provisions, lower litigation costs and lower taxes. In stark terms, Europe’s largest banks are making less money from their core banking services than five years ago.

 

How, then, can Europe’s leading banks boost their earnings in a stagnant market with a host of new competitors, from digital start-ups and personal finance portals to online brokerages? In this difficult market, we believe banks have four strategic options. They can consolidate and gain economies of scale through M&A; specialise by focusing on certain products, customers and sales channels; break up the value chain by outsourcing and concentrating on core banking products and services; or go “beyond banking” by building or joining ecosystems. For all four options, digitalisation is the key enabler.

 

The next question is how far Europe’s top 50 banks have pursued digitalisation and it is not easy to answer this in the absence of external benchmarks. In our study, we measured the degree of digitalisation across all banks using a proprietary zeb algorithm which determined how often these financial institutions referred to digitalisation in their annual reports, not an exact measure but something which revealed very stark results. This enabled us to cluster banks into three groups: 13 digitalisation “pioneers”, which emphasised digitalisation very early and continue to stress it strongly; 14 digitalisation “challengers”, which took longer to start communicating on the subject and still do not emphasise it greatly; and lastly, 23 banks that we classified as digitalisation “followers”. Of course, the bias is the potential discrepancy between the intensity of the communication and the reality on the ground.

 

Meanwhile, the difference between the performances of these three groups in recent years is striking. On average, digitalisation pioneers outperformed challengers and followers according to every significant banking KPI: for example, pioneers registered an average post-tax RoE of 8.7% between 2013 and 2018, compared with 6.0% for challengers and just 2.1% for followers. In the same period, pioneers increased their average operating profit by 5.1%, while the average returns of challengers and followers shrank by 10.1% and 9.6 % respectively. Digital pioneers were also clearly ahead of the other two groups when comparing efficiency ratios and especially the cost-income ratio. Given this performance gap, it is hardly surprising that digital pioneers generally performed better on capital markets than challengers and followers. Indeed, pioneers were the only group that achieved a price-to-book ratio of more than 1.0x (while BigTechs are largely above 10).

 

It is not enough, however, for banks simply to entrench digitalisation across all operations for profits to follow. Digitalisation will only work for banks which understand its implications for their businesses. In this regard, there is no better role model for Europe’s profit-starved banks than US technology giants like Google, Amazon and Apple, the original digitalisation pioneers. To complete our study, we looked in depth at these tech giants’ business models and identified the five key success factors, based on digitalisation, which banks need to adopt.

 

Arguably the most important lesson for banks to learn from the tech giants is that digitalisation is not an end in itself. A banking app on a smart phone is not automatically a profit generator any more than the latest back office banking software. Instead, banks need to see digitalisation as a means to achieving sharper, value-adding customer focus and engagement, combined with efficient, scalable delivery of offerings.

 

Our research indicates that even Europe’s digitalisation pioneer banks have yet to absorb this lesson fully. For instance, pioneers have to become faster and more dynamic in expanding their offering and in using customer data to tailor products and services to individual needs, without increased complexity. Meanwhile, followers and challengers are in a catch-up race where they must still address such basic issues as developing authentically customer-centric businesses and automating back office systems.

 

The hopeful conclusion from our study therefore comes with a cautionary note. Digitalisation can indeed be the “silver bullet” that enables Europe’s banks to return to stable profits. As with any bullet, though, one must aim accurately and pull the trigger at the right time, because banks need to apply digitalisation in line with their own digital maturity. Above all, they must make sure not to mistake the means for the end.

 

 

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Banking

How Banks Can Boost App Innovation, Speed and Compliance

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Steve Barrett, Senior Vice President of International Operations, Delphix 

As new finance and banking applications disrupt the market each day, and customer expectations around speed, privacy and quality continue to grow, financial organization CIOs and DevOps teams have to innovate quickly to bring new apps and updates to market, while remaining strictly compliant to a myriad of regulations. DevOps innovation in financial services requires fast access to accurate, compliant test data, and as anyone who touches the industry knows, data privacy is a highly complex, critical process woven into the everyday world of finance.

Banks and financial services organizations collect vast amounts of data, but using that data for innovation can be challenging due to the vast size and complexity of test data. These challenges can inhibit the adoption of new and transformative technologies and hinder innovation if they are not addressed head on. To address these challenges, many organizations are integrating the use of highly innovative test data management (TDM) tools within their DevOps ecosystems. DevOps TDM provides access and delivery of lightweight, compliant data for DevOps initiatives including digital transformation, software upgrades, cloud migration, artificial intelligence and machine learning (AI/ML), and analytics.

Data – the last automation frontier

Historically, application teams manufactured data for development and testing in a siloed, unstructured fashion. Over time, large IT organizations began consolidating TDM functions to take advantage of innovative tools to create test data. With the rise of modern development methodologies like DevOps and CI/CD that demand fast, iterative release cycles and end-to-end API-driven automation, legacy TDM approaches are often no longer sufficient.

Reliance on a traditionally manual, ticket-driven, request-fulfill model creates time drains during test cycles and slows the pace of application delivery. Consider the payments industry, in which agile technology companies using optimized DevOps processes can release new code hundreds of times per month. In contrast, traditional banks with slow IT ticketing systems may take months to release new features. These manual, legacy TDM approaches exist in contradiction with modern DevOps practices and CI/CD processes that depend on automation and fast feedback to development teams.

TDM for the DevOps Era

DevOps teams rely on TDM to evaluate the performance, functionality and security of applications. However, while processes including storage, compute, and code have all been automated, data has eluded the reach of most DevOps toolchains.

Now, DevOps TDM can help accelerate app releases and increase compliance.by automating the delivery, provisioning, and compliance of data. These practices provide both development and testing teams with data APIs, including the ability to refresh, rewind, bookmark, group, tag, branch, and share test data, to accelerate DevOps productivity and improve application quality. DevOps TDM also includes copying production data, and the masking (anonymization) and virtualization of data through the DevOps pipeline, which helps accelerate app releases and increase compliance.

And as the pace of application development quickens, so does the pace of privacy regulations and efficiently ensuring compliance in DevOps has become a significant challenge for enterprises. Non-production data used for testing software applications, reporting, and analytics can contain up to 80% of an enterprise’s sensitive data. To solve this, DevOps TDM provides integrated data masking to de-identify personally identifiable information (PII) and other sensitive data in non-production environments, eliminating the risk of sensitive data exposure.

The World Quality Report 2022-2023[1] by Capgemini stressed the importance of an enterprise wide approach to test data provisioning (a core component of TDM). The report states, “Over the years, with stringent regulatory and security requirements around data, organizations have increased their focus on provisioning test data safely and securely.”

The report shows that secure test data provisioning remains a challenge, with only 20% of respondents having a fully-implemented enterprise test data provisioning strategy in place to address security and compliance requirements.

Data is the catalyst to innovation

Automation is fueling myriad digital transformations within the financial services sector, but without the right data, these application innovations cannot succeed. DevOps TDM can help further accelerate DevOps initiatives by automatically delivering fresh, complete, and secure test data wherever and whenever it is needed, in minutes. With DevOps TDM, banks and financial institutions can innovate faster, reduce time-to-market for updating legacy applications, and accelerate development and testing of disruptive fintech.

 

[1] Source: https://www.capgemini.com/insights/research-library/world-quality-report-wqr-2022/

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Banking

Is traditional business banking the best option for SME finance squeezes?

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Airto Vienola, CEO, AREX Markets 

The pressures facing business and personal finances alike have been well documented.

Stories are now starting to emerge about how smaller enterprises around the UK – which make up well over 90% of the companies in the country – are coping with that mounting stress. The picture starting to emerge suggests, not well.

Personal borrowing is bridging gaps in business books

One survey released recently suggested that one in five of the country’s small businesses have taken out personal loans by the business owner to try to cover gaps in their incomes and profit margins. A further 43% said they were considering doing the same. This rush to secure additional funds by any means may be understandable for businesses feeling the pinch, but it’s neither sustainable nor savvy. Many of these enterprises are already burdened with additional debt from the Covid relief scheme, and given rising interest rates, soaring energy costs and rising cost of goods, taking on additional debt is not an attractive prospect. Add to that the fact that rates from traditional business banking providers are proving steep, smaller enterprises could be forgiven for looking to personal means to shore up the balance sheet. A recent study from members of the Federation of Small Businesses found that one in five small businesses are struggling to find business lending rates under 11%. To help these companies to survive, something clearly has to give.

Not all Alt-Fi options are equal

Alternative finance services have been proliferating in recent times, and yet almost half of small business operators have concerns about pursuing this option, despite actively seeking additional funding support. Clarity over terms and conditions is an often-cited reason for this reticence, which is only natural when undertaking proper due diligence on financial lending. This is a wise choice, especially as it has become so easy for business owners to quickly and simply access new services through embedded finance services, just a few clicks away on existing digital accounting and bookkeeping services. Many of these are still not clear about any detailed fine print, lengthy contract terms or potentially high fees, and yet these too can look like accessible and viable options to business owners facing mounting financial issues.So, it can be hard to pick the right provider without a lot of research. Those wary of the long tail of taking on debt should be particularly careful when it comes to business Buy Now Pay Later or BNPL offers, which are currently entering the UK market, though that isn’t to say that other alternative financing services won’t suit their specific needs whilst mitigating fears over risk.

A fresh perspective on an established technique

So, if debt should not be an option, and embedded finance can have downsides, where should SMEs turn if they don’t want to kick the can of cashflow problems just a few months down the road? One area to reevaluate, which has seen a tremendous shift given the fresh thinking from alternative finance is invoice financing or spot factoring. No longer the imbalanced option of last resort it was traditionally perceived to be, the option has become much fairer to the SME, in addition to providing a swifter and more flexible alternative. In years gone by, invoice financing was the purview of the banks, which led to low rates of return for businesses looking to unlock the value in their organisation, and often much better value flowing back instead to the lender taking on the risk. This is no longer the case. Likewise, invoice financing earned a bad reputation among some for tying businesses into lengthy contracts – another area which current services in the market have since addressed. Our service for example allows businesses the flexibility to access cash back on just a single invoice of their choosing – which could be the difference for struggling SMEs between dipping into loss or keeping the lights on.

One answer to the late payments problem?

Perhaps the most important area which services like invoice financing assist is overdue invoices – the bane of the British SME. Barclays claimed earlier this year that over a quarter of SMEs are finding late payments to be on the increase, and this was an already notorious issue for many business owners. Estimates show that SMEs on average have £6500 in unpaid invoices at any given time. Financing these invoices ensures that the cashflow of these strapped SMEs is healthier, gets the money back into the business without the concerns of lengthy payment terms or endless chasing, and certainly in our case, has no impact on the relationship with the other organisation. Our platform acts as a marketplace between SME and likely investors, with extensive insight provided to make sure that those investing in the invoice are matched to the right businesses. We take on the intermediate risk – removing any suggestion or potential concerns around unwanted debt collection, for additional business owner peace of mind.

While the pressures may be mounting on the SMEs around the country, one thing is clear. No business should rush into making long term financial decisions simply as the cashflow is drying up. Any savvy business would be well advised to make sure they understand the implications, short and long term, of any lending solution they look to employ. However, knowing that there are options and the business’ bottom line does not simply have to rely on traditional banking services, should provide business owners with a lot more options at their disposal to help them to face the coming months with greater cash liquidity confidence.

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