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Africa’s Future: Responding to Today’s Global Economic Challenges

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By Christine Lagarde
Managing Director, International Monetary Fund
Roundtable Discussion with Stakeholders
Eko Hotel, Lagos
It is a privilege to be here with you today. My thanks goes to the Nigerian Government for arranging this event, and to you all for taking the time to join us.
I would also like to express my gratitude to Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of Finance, and Central Bank Governor Sanusi Lamido Sanusi. Both have been instrumental in pursuing Nigeria’s economic transformation.
This is my first official visit to Nigeria—indeed my first visit to Africa—as IMF Managing Director. I can think of no better place to begin my discussions with the region and to work toward a stronger partnership.
To borrow some words from Ngozi:
This is the Africa of opportunity… the Africa where people take charge of their own futures… the Africa where people are looking for partnerships…
Nigeria—with its abundant resources, its wealth of people, and its vast potential—embodies this spirit of opportunity and Africa leadership.
Yet, these are challenging times for the global economy. The dark clouds of risk are gathering, and Nigeria and others in Africa will need to watch them carefully.
So, let me talk about four things today:

  • First, the state of the global economy and the policies needed by countries at the heart of the crisis.
  • Second, the growing risks for Nigeria and the region.
  • Third, the importance of pursuing Nigeria’s Transformation Agenda both to guard against these risks and to promote shared growth for all Nigerians.
  • And, fourth, how the IMF can help Nigeria and Africa face these challenges.

1.  Global Outlook and Policies
As I have said many times, the world economy has been poised in a dangerous phase. In our last forecast, we still saw global growth at 4 percent for this year and next. But, today, the growth outlook is much dimmer. And, worse, there are severe downside risks.
A collective crisis of confidence is at the heart of the problem.
Adverse developments in the real economy and the financial sector keep feeding off each other, propelling each other down. And, as we have seen in Europe, there has been a loss of market confidence in both governments and banks.
Governments have been adjusting—in some cases with the help of IMF programs—but some not convincingly enough to regain market confidence. On top of this, unemployment remains unacceptably high in too many countries.

What does this mean for the policy path forward?
The advanced countries, especially those in the Euro Area, are at the center of the crisis. And they must be at the center of any solution.
In recent months, eurozone leaders have started to outline the key pillars of a solution. But, what is needed now is implementation.
Policies also need to focus on the bigger picture—the need to restore stability and growth, lasting growth.

The advanced economies need to strike an appropriate balance between fiscal and monetary policy to promote growth and stability. It means forging ahead with structural policies that focus squarely on boosting competitiveness, growth, and jobs. And, it means strengthening financial sector regulation to ensure a safer and more stable financial sector that is better able to support growth.
While these problems might seem a world away, without action, the world economy could be swept into a downward spiral of collapsing confidence, weaker growth, and fewer jobs.
And in today’s interconnected global economy, no country and no region is immune to these risks.

2.  Implications for Nigeria and the Region
This brings me to my second point: how might these escalating global risks affect Africa and Nigeria?
Let me first acknowledge the progress in Sub-Saharan Africa, and here in Nigeria, over the past decade. Naturally, challenges remain. But the starting point for our discussion has shifted—shifted for the better.
Good economic policies have provided a platform: for higher growth, for more investment, for less poverty. Growth across the region averaged 5-6 percent or more over the past decade and, although it varies from country to country, this is significant. And the poverty rate declined from nearly 60 percent to just over 50 percent in the 10 years up to 2005.
That’s not to say the crisis didn’t hurt. The food and fuel crisis of 2008, and the global financial crisis that followed, took a toll on efforts to reduce poverty.
But, when the crisis hit, policymakers responded effectively. Most countries were able to maintain critical spending on health, education and infrastructure. And we saw countries in the region recover quickly, with growth rates now returning to levels enjoyed in the mid-2000s.
This is a testament to the hard work and dedication of policymakers and people across the region. Before the crisis, they reduced budget deficits and public debt; they brought down inflation, and built up foreign exchange reserves. In short, they put their economies on a fundamentally stronger footing.
Nigeria is no exception. Reforms initiated 6-7 years ago helped mitigate the impact of the global crisis. Nigeria’s economy continued to grow by 6 percent despite the crisis—and above the current regional average.
Growth looks set to continue at a healthy pace into next year. But, spillovers from the advanced economies threaten that outlook. Nigeria’s resilience is being tested again.

The trade and financial links, so critical to moving the economy forward in good times—ironically—become the interconnections that carry today’s escalating economic risks.
A sustained slowdown in advanced countries will dampen demand for Africa’s exports. And, together with continued financial market uncertainty, this will likely inhibit private financing flows, remittances, and concessional financing.
The potential for greater volatility in commodity markets could cause further disruptions, with winners and losers within the region. The risk of a drop in world oil prices if global demand weakens is the key watch point for Nigeria.
Faced with these risks, my main worry is that many countries do not have as much capacity to absorb shocks as they did three years ago. Added to that, the global slowdown could be more pronounced this time around.
Policies need to tread a fine line between defending against the global slowdown in the near-term, while also preserving fiscal resources for investment in much-needed infrastructure that will help promote employment and growth.
But, for the main part, policymakers need to focus on restoring the fiscal buffers that served the continent and Nigeria so well during the last downturn. It will be important to be prepared.
As Ben Okri, the Booker Prize-winning Nigerian novelist and poet, once said: “Life throws stones at you, but your love and your dream change those stones into the flowers of discovery.”
With the right vision, the right actions, today’s global risks need not become Nigeria’s reality.

3.  Nigeria’s Transformation Agenda
Which brings me to my third point: how reforms underway in Nigeria are the key to guarding against risks, and securing more inclusive and lasting economic growth. At the outset, let me say that I am confident that Nigeria is on the right track.
Earlier this year, President Goodluck Jonathan described the goals of the government’s Transformation Agenda: “Nigeria needs to build a more inclusive society where every Nigerian would have equal access to economic and developmental opportunities.”
These echo the goals for many other countries in the region.
Yet this is not an easy task. In addition to growing global risks, the reform agenda also must contend with some serious local challenges.
Infrastructure gaps, particularly in the power sector, are also holding Nigeria back from its full growth potential. Nigeria’s electricity generation capacity, for example, is just 10 percent that of South Africa’s, while Nigeria’s population is more than 3 times greater.
And high unemployment is also a critical economic and social issue. This is especially true for Nigeria’s young people for whom the rate of unemployment is over 35 percent.
So, economic growth alone will not suffice. Job creation will be critical to ensuring that growth is both economically and socially sustainable.
There are three aspects of the government’s agenda that I see as crucial to this endeavor.
One, better managing Nigeria’s vast natural resource wealth.
Establishing the Sovereign Wealth Fund and emphasizing the use of oil revenues for stabilization and investment are important advancements. Pressing ahead with these reforms is particularly important given the external environment—namely, the need to rebuild fiscal buffers.
It will also help ensure that natural resource revenues are channeled more effectively toward the infrastructure investment needed for growth and jobs.
But, prudent management of natural resource revenues will also create room for other critical public spending. Given the distance still to go to reach the Millennium Development Goals, increasing the resources available to build stronger social safety nets is particularly important, including in areas such as maternal and child care.
Two, structural transformation.
Promoting a more diversified economy will help Nigeria better withstand shocks. It will also provide for more broad-based growth, with opportunities and jobs for the entire population.
There is huge, untapped potential here. Nigeria is an enormous market for investors. A market where telecommunications grew, with the explosion of mobile phone subscribers, from 60,000 in 2000 to 125 million today.
But much could still be done to improve Nigeria’s business environment. This will require investment to address infrastructure bottlenecks, to raise education levels, and to help development the agricultural sector.
It also means more reliable policies that can help promote macroeconomic stability and investor confidence.
Three, financial sector reform.
Nigeria’s banking system experienced a severe crisis in 2009, as over one third of banks became insolvent or seriously undercapitalized. But there has been an impressive record of reform. And actions to resolve the banking crisis are nearly complete.
Looking ahead, continued refinements in regulatory and supervisory practices should focus on preserving financial stability and improving access to credit.
This is a broad and challenging agenda. And, perhaps, what is most impressive is that it is an agenda for Nigeria, driven by Nigerians.

4.  Role of the Fund
The IMF is here to support you and be a better partner for you. This is my final point.
I am committed to a deeper, more fruitful dialogue, with the IMF listening even more carefully to your needs. This will help us serve you even more effectively.
Nigeria is a thought leader in the region. And I am here to listen.
We have also been working hard to reform the IMF’s governance structure so that emerging market and developing countries have a greater voice in the institution. And, so we can be truly representative of our membership.
For those countries that need it, we have boosted our concessional lending capacity and made our lending instruments more flexible, with greater protections for social spending.
We are also redoubling our efforts to provide quality technical advice. The IMF has technical expertise to offer, expertise that can help African countries achieve their social and economic objectives; we have an active program of technical assistance with Nigerian public institutions. We can also play an important role, through our four, and soon to be five, regional technical assistance centers in Africa, of facilitating a sharing of expertise between countries.

Conclusion
Let me conclude with a thought from renowned Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe. In Things Fall Apart, he wrote: “The sun will shine on those who stand, before it shines on those who kneel under them.”
There are challenges ahead. And this is the time for policymakers to stand up. To turn away from the global economic storm clouds and turn to the sun.
It is a time for action; a time for African leadership, Nigerian leadership. With continued action, Nigeria can be a source of growth, for itself, for the continent, and for the world.
Source: www.imf.org

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TCI: A time of critical importance

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By Fabrice Desnos, head of Northern Europe Region, Euler Hermes, the world’s leading trade credit insurer, outlines the importance of less publicised measures for the journey ahead.

After months of lockdown, Europe is shifting towards rebuilding economies and resuming trade. Amongst the multibillion-euro stimulus packages provided by governments to businesses to help them resume their engines of growth, the cooperation between the state and private sector trade credit insurance underwriters has perhaps missed the headlines. However, this cooperation will be vital when navigating the uncertain road ahead.

Covid-19 has created a global economic crisis of unprecedented scale and speed. Consequently, we’re experiencing unprecedented levels of support from national governments. Far-reaching fiscal intervention, job retention and business interruption loan schemes are providing a lifeline for businesses that have suffered reductions in turnovers to support national lockdowns.

However, it’s becoming clear the worst is still to come. The unintended consequence of government support measures is delaying the inevitable fallout in trade and commerce. Euler Hermes is already seeing increase in claims for late payments and expects this trend to accelerate as government support measures are progressively removed.

The Covid-19 crisis will have long lasting and sometimes irreversible effects on a number of sectors. It has accelerated transformations that were already underway and had radically changed the landscape for a number of businesses. This means we are seeing a growing number of “zombie” companies, currently under life support, but whose business models are no longer adapted for the post-crisis world. All factors which add up to what is best described as a corporate insolvency “time bomb”.

The effects of the crisis are already visible. In the second quarter of 2020, 147 large companies (those with a turnover above €50 million) failed; up from 77 in the first quarter, and compared to 163 for the whole of the first half of 2019. Retail, services, energy and automotive were the most impacted sectors this year, with the hotspots in retail and services in Western Europe and North America, energy in North America, and automotive in Western Europe

We expect this trend to accelerate and predict a +35% rise in corporate insolvencies globally by the end of 2021. European economies will be among the hardest hit. For example, Spain (+41%) and Italy (+27%) will see the most significant increases – alongside the UK (+43%), which will also feel the impact of Brexit – compared to France (+25%) or Germany (+12%).

Companies are restarting trade, often providing open credit to their clients. However, there can be no credit if there is no confidence. It is increasingly difficult for companies to identify which of their clients will emerge from the crisis from those that won’t, and whether or when they will be paid. In the immediate post-lockdown period, without visibility and confidence, the risk was that inter-company credit could evaporate, placing an additional liquidity strain on the companies that depend on it. This, in turn, would significantly put at risk the speed and extent of the economic recovery.

In recent months, Euler Hermes has co-operated with government agencies, trade associations and private sector trade credit insurance underwriters to create state support for intercompany trade, notably in France, Germany, Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands and the UK. All with the same goal: to allow companies to trade with each other in confidence.

By providing additional reinsurance capacity to the trade credit insurers, governments help them continue to provide cover to their clients at pre-crisis levels.

The beneficiaries are the thousands of businesses – clients of credit insurers and their buyers – that depend upon intercompany trade as a source of financing. Over 70% of Euler Hermes policyholders are SMEs, which are the lifeblood of our economies and major providers of jobs. These agreements are not without costs or constraints for the insurers, but the industry has chosen to place the interests of its clients and of the economy ahead of other considerations, mindful of the important role credit insurance and inter-company trade will play in the recovery.

Taking the UK as an example, trade credit insurers provide cover for more than £171billion of intercompany transactions, covering 13,000 suppliers and 650,000 buyers. The government has put in place a temporary scheme of £10billion to enable trade credit insurers, including Euler Hermes, to continue supporting businesses at risk due to the impact of coronavirus. This landmark agreement represents an important alliance between the public and private sectors to support trade and prevent the domino effect that payment defaults can create within critical supply chains.

But, as with all of the other government support measures, these schemes will not exist in the long term. It is already time for credit insurers and their clients to plan ahead, and prepare for a new normal in which the level and cost of credit risk will be heightened and where identifying the right counterparts, diversifying and insuring credit risk will be of paramount importance for businesses.

Trade credit insurance plays an understated role in the economy but is critical to its health. In normal circumstances, it tends to go unnoticed because it is doing its job. Government support schemes helped maintain confidence between companies and their customers in the immediate aftermath of the crisis.

However, as government support measures are progressively removed, this crisis will have a lasting impact. Accelerating transformations, leading to an increasing number of company restructurings and, in all likelihood, increasing the level of credit risk. To succeed in the post-crisis environment, bbusinesses have to move fast from resilience to adaptation. They have to adopt bold measures to protect their businesses against future crises (or another wave of this pandemic), minimize risk, and drive future growth. By maintaining trust to trade, with or without government support, credit insurance will have an increasing role to play in this.

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What Does the FinCEN File Leak Tell Us?

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What Does the FinCEN File Leak Tell Us? 2

By Ted Sausen, Subject Matter Expert, NICE Actimize

On September 20, 2020, just four days after the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) issued a much-anticipated Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, the financial industry was shaken and their stock prices saw significant declines when the markets opened on Monday. So what caused this? Buzzfeed News in cooperation with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) released what is now being tagged the FinCEN files. These files and summarized reports describe over 200,000 transactions with a total over $2 trillion USD that has been reported to FinCEN as being suspicious in nature from the time periods 1999 to 2017. Buzzfeed obtained over 2,100 Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) and over 2,600 confidential documents financial institutions had filed with FinCEN over that span of time.

Similar such leaks have occurred previously, such as the Panama Papers in 2016 where over 11 million documents containing personal financial information on over 200,000 entities that belonged to a Panamanian law firm. This was followed up a year and a half later by the Paradise Papers in 2017. This leak contained even more documents and contained the names of more than 120,000 persons and entities. There are three factors that make the FinCEN Files leak significantly different than those mentioned. First, they are highly confidential documents leaked from a government agency. Secondly, they weren’t leaked from a single source. The leaked documents came from nearly 90 financial institutions facilitating financial transactions in more than 150 countries. Lastly, some high-profile names were released in this leak; however, the focus of this leak centered more around the transactions themselves and the financial institutions involved, not necessarily the names of individuals involved.

FinCEN Files and the Impact

What does this mean for the financial institutions? As mentioned above, many experienced a negative impact to their stocks. The next biggest impact is their reputation. Leaders of the highlighted institutions do not enjoy having potential shortcomings in their operations be exposed, nor do customers of those institutions appreciate seeing the institution managing their funds being published adversely in the media.

Where did the financial institutions go wrong? Based on the information, it is actually hard to say where they went wrong, or even ‘if’ they went wrong. Financial institutions are obligated to monitor transactional activity, both inbound and outbound, for suspicious or unusual behavior, especially those that could appear to be illicit activities related to money laundering. If such behavior is identified, the financial institution is required to complete a Suspicious Activity Report, or a SAR, and file it with FinCEN. The SAR contains all relevant information such as the parties involved, transaction(s), account(s), and details describing why the activity is deemed to be suspicious. In some cases, financial institutions will file a SAR if there is no direct suspicion; however, there also was not a logical explanation found either.

So what deems certain activities to be suspicious and how do financial institutions detect them? Most financial institutions have sophisticated solutions in place that monitor transactions over a period of time, and determine typical behavioral patterns for that client, and that client compared to their peers. If any activity falls disproportionately beyond those norms, the financial institution is notified, and an investigation is conducted. Because of the nature of this detection, incorporating multiple transactions, and comparing it to historical “norms”, it is very difficult to stop a transaction related to money laundering real-time. It is not uncommon for a transaction or series of transactions to occur and later be identified as suspicious, and a SAR is filed after the transaction has been completed.

FinCEN Files: Who’s at Fault?

Going back to my original question, was there any wrong doing? In this case, they were doing exactly what they were required to do. When suspicion was identified, SARs were filed. There are two things that are important to note. Suspicion does not equate to guilt, and individual financial institutions have a very limited view as to the overall flow of funds. They have visibility of where funds are coming from, or where they are going to; however, they don’t have an overall picture of the original source, or the final destination. The area where financial institutions may have fault is if multiple suspicions or probable guilt is found, but they fail to take appropriate action. According to Buzzfeed News, instances of transactions to or from sanctioned parties occurred, and known suspicious activity was allowed to continue after it was discovered.

Moving Forward

How do we do better? First and foremost, FinCEN needs to identify the source of the leak and fix it immediately. This is very sensitive data. Even within a financial institution, this information is only exposed to individuals with a high-level clearance on a need-to-know basis. This leak may result in relationship strains with some of the banks’ customers. Some people already have a fear of being watched or tracked, and releasing publicly that all these reports are being filed from financial institutions to the federal government won’t make that any better – especially if their financial institution was highlighted as one of those filing the most reports. Next, there has been more discussion around real-time AML. Many experts are still working on defining what that truly means, especially when some activities deal with multiple transactions over a period of time; however, there is definitely a place for certain money laundering transactions to be held in real time.

Lastly, the ability to share information between financial institutions more easily will go a long way in fighting financial crime overall. For those of you who are AML professionals, you may be thinking we already have such a mechanism in place with 314b. However, the feedback I have received is that it does not do an adequate job. It’s voluntary and getting responses to requests can be a challenge. Financial institutions need a consortium to effectively communicate with each other, while being able to exchange critical data needed for financial institutions to see the complete picture of financial transactions and all associated activities. That, combined with some type of feedback loop from law enforcement indicating which SARs are “useful” versus which are either “inadequate” or “unnecessary” will allow institutions to focus on those where criminal activity is really occurring.

We will continue to post updates as we learn more.

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How can financial services firms keep pace with escalating requirements?

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By Tim FitzGerald, UK Banking & Financial Services Sales Manager, InterSystems

Financial services firms are currently coming up against a number of critical challenges, ranging from market volatility, most recently influenced by COVID-19, to the introduction of regulations, such as the Payment Services Directive (PSD2) and Fundamental Review of the Trading Book (FRTB). However, these issues are being compounded as many financial institutions find it increasingly difficult to get a handle on the vast volumes of data that they have at their disposal. This is no surprise given that IDC has projected that by 2025, the global “datasphere” will have grown to a staggering 175 zettabytes of data – more than five times the amount of data generated in 2018. As an industry that has typically only invested in new technology when regulations deem it necessary, many traditional banks are now operating using legacy systems and applications that haven’t been designed or built to interoperate. Consequently, banks are struggling to leverage data to achieve business goals and to gain a clear picture of their organisation and processes in order to comply with regulatory requirements. These challenges have been more prevalent during the pandemic as financial services firms were forced to adapt their operations to radical changes in customer behaviour and increased demand for digital services – all while working largely remotely themselves.

As more stringent regulations come in to play and financial services firms look to keep pace with escalating requirements from regulators, consumer demand for more online services, and the ever-evolving nature of the industry and world at large, it’s vital they do two things. Firstly, they must begin to invest in the technology and processes that will allow them to more easily manage the data that traditional banks have been collecting and storing for upwards of 50 years. Secondly, they must innovate. For many, the COVID-19 pandemic will have been a catalyst for both actions. However, the hard work has only just begun.

Legacy technology

Traditionally, due to tight budgets and no overarching regulatory imperative to change, financial institutions haven’t done enough to address their overreliance on disconnected legacy systems. Even when faced with the new wave of regulation that was implemented in the wake of the 2008 banking crash, financial services organisations generally only had to invest in different applications on an ad hoc basis to meet each individual regulation. However, as new regulations require the analysis of larger data sets within smaller processing windows, breaking down any and all data siloes is essential and this will require financial institutions that are still reliant on legacy systems to implement new technologies to meet the regulatory stipulations.

With this in mind, solutions which offer high-quality data analytics and enhanced integration will be key to the success of financial institutions and crucial to eliminate data silos. This will enable organisations to achieve a faster and more accurate analysis of real-time and historical data no matter where they are accessing the data from within smaller processing windows to keep pace with regulatory requirements, while also benefiting from low infrastructure costs.

This technology will also play a huge part in helping financial institutions scale their online operations to meet demand from customers for digital services. According to PNC Bank, during the pandemic, it saw online sales jump from 25% to 75%. Therefore, having data platforms that are able to handle surges in online activity is becoming increasingly important.

Real-time analysis of data

Tim FitzGerald

Tim FitzGerald

While the precise solution financial services institutions need will differ based on the organisation, broadly speaking, the more data they are storing on legacy solutions, the more they are going to require an updated data platform that can handle real-time analytics. Even organisations that have fewer legacy systems are still likely to require solutions that deliver enhanced interoperability to help provide a real-time view across the business and enable them to meet the pressing regulatory requirements they face. Let’s also not lose sight of the fact that moving transactional data to a data warehouse, data lake, or any other silo will never deliver real-time analytics, therefore, businesses making risk decisions based on this and thinking it is real-time is completely inappropriate.

As such, financial services firms require a data platform that can ingest real-time transactional data, as well as from a variety of other sources of historical and reference data, normalise it, and make sense of it. The ability to process transactions at scale in real-time and simultaneously run analytics using transactional real-time data and large sets of non-real-time data, such as reference data, is a crucial capability for various business requirements. For example, powering mission-critical trading platforms that cannot slow down or drop trades, even as volumes spike.

Not only will having access to real-time data enable financial institutions to meet evolving regulatory requirements, but it will also allow them to make faster and more accurate decisions for their organisation andcustomers. With many financial services firms operating on a global basis, this is vital to help them keep up not only with evolving regulations but also changing circumstances in different markets in light of the pandemic. This data can also help them understand how to become more agile, help their employees become productive while working remotely, and how to build up operational resilience. These insights will also be vital as financial institutions need to consider the likelihood of subsequent waves of the virus, allowing them to gain a better understanding of what has and hasn’t worked for their business so far. 

Innovation

The financial services sector is fast-paced and ever-changing. With the launch of more digital-only banks, traditional institutions need to innovate to avoid being left behind, with COVID-19 only highlighting this further. With more than a third (35%) of customers increasing their use of online banking during this period, it is those banks and financial services firms with a solid online offering that have been best placed to answer this demand. As financial institutions cater to changing customer requirements, both now and in the future, implementing new technology that provides access to data in real-time will help them to uncover the fresh insights needed to develop new and transformative products and services for their customers. In turn, this will enable them to realise new revenue streams and potentially capture a bigger slice of the market. For instance, access to data will help banks better understand the needs of their customers during periods of upheaval, as well as under normal circumstance, which will allow them to target them with the specific services they may need during each of these periods to not only help their customers through difficult times but also to ensure the growth of their business. As financial institutions not only look to keep pace with but also gain an advantage over their competitors, using data to fuel excellent customer experiences will be essential to success.  

With the current economic uncertainty and market volatility, it’s critical that financial services are able to meet the changing requirements coming from all angles. With COVID-19 likely to be the biggest catalyst for financial institutions to digitally transform, they will be better able to cater to rapidly evolving landscapes and prepare for continued periods of remote working. As they look to achieve this, replacing legacy systems with innovative and agile technology solutions will be crucial to ensure they can gain the accurate and complete view of their enterprise data they need to comply with new and changing regulations, and better meet the needs of consumers in an increasingly digital landscape, whether they are located in an office or working remotely.

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