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WHY AGILE, SCALABLE DATA MANAGEMENT IS KEY TO DIGITAL BANKING

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By Jason Hand, Global Account Executive – Enterprise Sales, Commvault

 

Back at the start of 2019, before we’d ever heard of COVID-19 (hard to imagine these days, I know), mobile banking was predicted to overtake high street branch visits within two years. But the restrictions placed on daily life to get to grips with the pandemic proved to be a catalyst in speeding up adoption.

Although banks haven’t had to close during the UK lockdowns, they discouraged unnecessary visits — and many people new to online banking discovered that it could provide a quick and easy (and COVID-safe) way to manage their finances. No surprise then, that as summer came to an end, over three-quarters of the UK population were using some form of online banking and one in ten people had switched to a digital-only bank.

When it’s implemented well, online, digital and app-based banking is as easy as shopping with Amazon, booking a cab on Uber or grabbing a takeaway via Deliveroo. With so much potential to create a similar customer experience — and so much to lose if they fail — banks are under pressure to deliver on digital services. But their success (or otherwise) will depend on how well they manage their digital data and, in particular, how willing they are to adopt more agile, scalable, cloud-based solutions to underpin their new services.

 

Adopting New Technology in a Risk-Averse Sector

The UK’s financial services sector is undoubtedly slow when it comes to adopting new technology. Indeed, many UK banks continue to rely on mainframes. This cautiousness stems from the continued rise in cybercrime and the fear of non-compliance with FCA and data protection regulations.

Banks have to tread a thin line. They do want to embrace technology that will help them scale and support customer demand for digital services. But they can only do so with an IT infrastructure that keeps out cybercriminals, hackers and anyone else without explicit authorisation to view the data. So, if their legacy IT systems are secure and protect customer data from cybercriminals, banks do not want to risk implementing new solutions that could leave them exposed — even if those old systems make them less nimble and less responsive to changing customer demands.

 

Open Banking and Shared Financial Data

The increased digitalisation across the sector leaves banks facing a second security and data management challenge. Once, they only had to worry about managing their data and keeping it safe within their closed IT environments. Now Open Banking — a UK government-backed programme — encourages banks to securely share their data with trusted third-party financial services providers via an API (Application Programming Interface).

Typically, these third-party providers offer apps to assist with utility bill management, accounting and auditing, and savings (usually rounding up apps). Once a user grants authorisation, the app directly interfaces with that user’s current account. Customers — whether individuals or SMBs — love them, but for banks, they’ve meant a reassessment of security and data management strategies.

 

What Constitutes Good Data Management?

To begin with, it could mean switching to a single data management solution. Banks historically have deployed several different products to manage their data. Multiple applications add complexity and  need more people to oversee them operationally. This approach will add cost, risk, and ultimately will not align to their digital transformation agendas.

Running multiple data management solutions makes it harder to get a holistic view, understand customer behaviour and predict future trends. It also creates unnecessary security risks. Consolidating data management platforms reduces these risks and costs. At the same time, fewer inter-app data transfer points decrease the number of potential weak-link entry points for hackers and cybercriminals. From a practical point of view, using a single data management solution also enables all relevant data points in a hybrid world to be viewed on a single pane of glass — making it much easier to digest, interpret and deliver data management as a service back to their internal clients.

Automating data management components can improve security and cut costs by reducing human contact. In addition, it enables faster and more accurate data management that can accelerate cloud adoption where data management is key to success.

It’s worth saying at this point that banks have been slow on the uptake of both public and private cloud technology, and are clearly still concerned about security and privacy threats. This is despite the fact that cloud computing — particularly with a zero-trust approach to security — has become a lot safer and carries far less risk.

In the middle of 2019, the Bank of England published a report that estimated the world’s largest global banks conducted just a quarter of their activities in the public cloud or software hosted in the cloud. But change is happening, albeit slowly. Larger banks have started to recognise that cloud computing holds the key to running an agile business  — allowing them to scale their online services and safely store, process and mine vast amounts of digital customer data.

The maturation of the hybrid cloud market may have played a role in increased adoption and allayed many of the sector’s previous doubts. A hybrid cloud infrastructure combines public cloud, private cloud and on-premises architecture, giving users the flexibility to keep some applications and systems (those with particularly sensitive information, for example) within their own four walls while still being able to migrate other systems. It’s an elegant and cost-efficient way to balance security, scalability and compliance.

 

Demand for the Future

With so much change taking place across the UK banking sector, data management has never been more critical. Open Banking, consumer demand for digital banking, and app-based banks like Starling and Monzo are all shaking up the market. But the threats from cybercriminals and the risk of falling foul of FCA regulations are still very much present. And, while navigating all these challenges, banks still face pressure from shareholders and investors to make a profit, retain customers and grow the business.

For these reasons, data management strategy — and linked to that, the pace and effectiveness of cloud computing adoption — are now two of the most significant determining factors in how banks cope today, and how effectively they will operate in the future. As such, 2021 should be the year that most banks and financial organisations embrace and invest in new technology when it comes to data management.

 

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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Banking

BANKING FOR BETTER 

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By Alex Kwiatkowski, Director of Global Financial Services, SAS.

From shifting market dynamics and mounting geopolitical tensions, to skyrocketing cyber threats and a worsening climate crisis, the world faces risk and uncertainty on many fronts.
But how are these and other prevailing trends reshaping the financial services sector?
A volatile landscape  
Describing the past few years as ‘volatile’ could be seen as a slight understatement, akin to saying the Titanic had a minor mishap at sea or that Liz Truss’s economic policy was mildly unorthodox. From the COVID-19 pandemic, Russia’s despicable invasion of Ukraine and the increasingly intense impacts of climate change, the resilience of not only businesses but whole nations has been pushed to breaking point.
In many ways, the banking sector has proven remarkably resilient to such challenges and risks. In the face of prolonged disruption, profitability remained higher than many had anticipated. However, the deeper structural challenges, such as digitalisation, the emergence of fintech disruptors, the brouhaha over crypto, and the growing threats associated with cyber attacks, are continuing to gather force as we head into a new year.
A recent Economist Impact survey, sponsored by SAS, found that while banking leaders are conscious of the imminent risks and those on the horizon, many are generally optimistic about how their organisations could be reshaped over the next decade, and beyond. I believe this optimism is well-founded rather than misguided, although pragmatism is required.

Alex Kwiatkowski

Digital transformation

For some years leading up to the COVID-19 pandemic, banks had been wrestling with exactly when and how to digitally transform. Like so many other industries, the chief legacy of the pandemic was to force rapid and wholesale change on a sector not always eager to embrace new ways of operating.
Traditional banks are now on track to be digitally transformed by the end of this decade, with technologies such as cloud computing and AI becoming industry norms. When considering the next three to five years, 57% agreed that digital transformation is among their top strategic priority. Cybersecurity and data protection (55%) are not far behind.
This focus on digital transformation is understandable, given the opportunities it may bring. Respondents from the Asia-Pacific region were the most excited, with 64% selecting it as among the greatest opportunities for their organisation. This was much higher than their counterparts in North America (52%), Latin America (50%) and Europe (50%). In fact, the tech-savviness among Asian consumers has created an opportunity for banks to leap ahead in delivering innovations compared with other regions.
When asked about the role of advanced data analytics in a successful digital transformation, just under half (48%) of executives selected this as the most important digital capability that their organisation must harness. It was the clear overall favourite, followed by blockchain (35%), AI/machine learning (34%), IoT/5G (33%) and robotic process automation (29%).
However, the survey also revealed a number of hurdles that may prevent the full uptake of data analytics, such as the increased risk of cyber attacks and a reliance on legacy technology systems. In addition, functions and departments working in silos was viewed as a potentially significant barrier, with 48% noting this as a “significant barrier” to change.
Purpose-driven banking
Alongside this goal of digital transformation, a growing consensus has emerged among banking leaders that the wellbeing of customers, communities, employees and the environment ought to be at the forefront of strategy.
Termed ‘purpose-driven banking’, this shift often encompasses ESG-related activities as well as a broader commitment to customer relationships over profits.
Purpose-driven banking has broad support among the industry’s leaders, with 82% of executives agreeing that financial services organisations can pursue profit and a better society at the same time. That sentiment is even more common among C-level executives, with 91% in agreement.
Arguably one of the most interesting results of the survey is the fact that 76% of respondents believe that the banking sector has an obligation to engage with and address societal issues. An even larger portion (81%) said that their bank takes responsibility for the social impacts of its activities.
Interestingly, a clear majority felt that the financial services industry is behind other sectors in terms of progress on ESG commitments. About three-quarters (76%) of C-level respondents said this, compared with 61% of all other executives.
Establishing transparent and measurable ESG goals aligned with corporate strategy is one area where leaders feel behind, with just 38% feeling that their organisation had achieved this. Another important aspect of the purpose-driven mindset is recognising how banks are fundamentally linked to other stakeholders in society. When asked which were the “most important groups for financial services organisations to engage with in order to have the most positive impact”, the technology industry, investors and customers were the top three choices. They were followed by consumers and government or policymakers.
Growing pressure from customers, communities and other external stakeholders are likely to influence the extent to which the banking sector embraces ESG practices, however it’s clear that the banking sector looks set to transform over the next decade. And transform it must.

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