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Artificial intelligence in financial services

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Artificial intelligence in financial services

By Grant Caley, CTO of NetApp

At the leading edge of the financial services industry, artificial intelligence (AI) is transforming the way that businesses operate. As that wave crashes over the industry at large, we might expect to see the legacy IT system – monolithic, in-house, and bespoke – become a thing of the past as banks prepare for the reality of data-led operations. With new technologies helping to streamline and optimise processes ranging from quantitative trading to risk management, bringing the benefits to bear for customers will mean analysing vast datasets and making them actionable and transparent.

Consumers, meanwhile, are already having their expectations conditioned by this new reality across other sectors, particularly in terms of self-managing their purchasing. Whether you want to transfer money, apply for a mortgage, order food, hail a taxi, or just speak to friends, apps are now the go-to tool. Faced with tough challenges around security and trust, the financial sector is still catching up – and will continue to do so as AI-powered offerings become endemic. Those legacy IT systems, meanwhile, are failing to deliver the flexibility and visibility that customers need in order to fully manage their own finances.

The evolution of legacy systems

 Financial services have been a data-heavy proposition for a long time, but as banks and insurers open up this kind of functionality to their customers – and attempt to do so in a way which offers ease of use – the additional data flows created cause ripples which can affect every part of the IT estate, imperilling speed and reliability. For many, this pressure is accentuated by cloud-native start-up competitors built expressly to enable the digitally-native experiences customers now expect.

Today, many companies are positioning themselves as convenience providers by offering a seamless transaction experience. For instance, Rocket Mortgage’s slogan “push a button, get a mortgage” promises a quick online mortgage application. This customer-friendly tech, not only captures the attention of the customer but also offers them accessible support through social media platforms and apps. The impact of this trend can be seen with JPMorgan, which has allotted $11.4 billion on technology for the year ahead, signifying a serious prioritisation of tech within the company.

The magnitude of that spend also, however, indicates the magnitude of the challenge. In a situation where root-and-branch system overhauls can be either prohibitively expensive or, given the value of pre-existing datasets, prohibitively risky, while ad-hoc solutions are either insufficient or only redouble the pressure on legacy systems, businesses are turning to alternative, AI-led solutions for transformation.

Robot rescue

The way in which many organisations have begun to combat lethargic IT systems has been to use automation tools such as Robotic Process Automation (RPA). According to a recent NetApp survey, decision-makers in both the banking and insurance industries see this as the ideal starting point for integrating AI solutions in their companies. By intelligently integrating with existing systems and managing how data flows through and around it – rather than relying solely on the transport networks those systems already have – RPA can be an effective bridge between the accrued value of long-running systems and the competitive advantage of innovative customer experiences.

Banks and insurance companies are, in fact, the leading advocates and adopters of RPA technology. The analyst firm Gartner currently values global spending on RPA software at $680 million– and by 2022, that’s expected to reach $2.4 billion. Our study, designed to assess the extent of AI’s impact on the industry and forecast its direction of travel, found that almost half of organisations within the industry already work with AI. In particular, portfolio management (27%), customer service (47%), and fraud prevention (40%) were all bright spots in adoption rates – these areas speaking particularly well to RPA’s capacity to carry out repetitive tasks with a low error rate. In the future, managing employees’ workloads and making customer care more personal were identified as growth areas for AI.

The Boost of the Cloud

Cloud computing is moving to the forefront as a focus in the financial world. The adoption of the cloud is becoming a catalyst for businesses to transform their operations for future-proofed capability. In the NetApp survey, 87% of participants revealed that they rely on AI services that draw their computing power from the cloud. The cloud provides a more elastic alternative to on-premise data storage and enables both flexibility and the necessary scale of performance to process large quantities and varieties of data.

Businesses must synchronise modernisation programmes with the need for speed and stability in order to maintain a reliable IT system. Without the boost of cloud, financial services organisations are unable to build resilient operations and break down operational data silos separating risk, regulation, and customer support, limiting their ability to operate at the necessary scale. Once massive data sets are combined in one place, this helps security teams to effectively identify and flag fraudulent transactions, which is an ever-emerging concern for the financial services industry.

AI also underpins chatbots which, using Natural Language Processing, can perform basic customer service workloads and even automatically translate messages. With this, customers can be helped at any time of the day, meeting their expectations with a real-time reality. The inference computation which this requires – and which is typically performed on highly specialised hardware – is again a workload best suited to cloud-based infrastructure.

Adapt, Enhance, Evolve

Adding AI to the fleet of technologies within the finance and insurance industries will significantly enhance the services they can provide to consumers. As we’ve seen from the increasing implementation rates of AI within both industries, the shift is already underway. When the survey came out, over 56% of participants had already been developing their own strategy for several years and had even gone so far as to integrate one or more solutions into daily operations.

Looking forward, 30% of respondents declared that they plan to introduce a whole department focused on AI into their business. As we see more businesses invest in AI as a strategic solution, financial institutions must have access to the data locked in technical and organisational silos in order to thrive. Building a clear data strategy, maintaining an open mind and recognising the potential of AI is necessary for banks and insurance companies to evolve.

Finance

The Hidden Costs of International E-commerce

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The Hidden Costs of International E-commerce 1

By Gavan Smythe, Managing Director, iCompareFX

Taking a business globally can be an attractive prospect, potentially targeting markets with fewer competitors, taking advantage of a larger consumer base and even gaining access to cost-effective manufacturing resources.

However, it’s not as simple as just shipping product overseas. Successful international traders conduct extensive market research, understanding each region’s barriers to entry – whether it’s regulations around communication and marketing, finding key contacts in supply chain management or navigating legal and cultural restrictions.

This also means identifying the hidden costs of international trading, which threaten the bottom line of businesses.

The price of peace of mind

Online trading isn’t without its complications. Buying online means handing over confidential bank or card details and, without the right protection in place, it can leave consumers open to theft and fraud.

That’s why e-commerce payment services include a gateway model, which secures transactions by encrypting the cardholder’s details and managing the payment process for the merchant.

However, like any specialist service, merchants pay to keep this sensitive data safe. Gateway fees are typically calculated as a percentage of the transaction amount. And while this payment model is useful for SMEs – helping them efficiently scale – it represents an additional cost that many business owners don’t account for.

Those tempted to simply roll out the cheapest service risk damaging their reputation by potentially being an unsafe seller and one which undervalues its customers. This will eventually impact revenue, as customers look elsewhere, and merchants navigate the costly time spent ironing out problems with insecure payments.

When it comes to choosing a payment gateway service, key considerations should include working with a provider which operates across the same regions and checking contract terms. Some providers may charge set-up fees, monthly subscription fees or implement a blanket charge if a minimum volume of transactions isn’t met.

Merchants should also consider whether to use a direct or indirect payment gateway. While direct payment gateways allow consistent branding with customised design and copy, it may cost extra to integrate the service with an existing website.

Indirect gateways take users away to a separate payment portal on a different page. This is cost-effective to install and can appear more secure to users as they may be using a familiar and trusted payment gateway brand

Calculating conversion fees

As a business owner, payment gateway solution providers charge a number of percentage fees. While for sellers in domestic markets the fee structure can be quite simple, for online sellers in overseas markets, the fee structure becomes complex.

For example, as an international online seller, you can be subject to additional costs for processing international cards, plus additional currency conversion costs back to your business’ home currency.

In some circumstances, this can cost up to 9 percent of your sale revenue. A business has the choice of passing these costs on to the customer or to reduce its profit margin in international markets.

Businesses shouldn’t rush when it comes to choosing a provider. Taking the time to review and compare what’s out there puts them in a stronger position to choose the perfect match.

Providers vary in their offerings, from the regions they operate in, to their fees and exchange rates and even transfer speeds. Those who value trust and transparency may be willing to pay slightly higher to work with a provider which offers exceptional customer service standards, helping them navigate the currency exchange process.

For those moving into multiple markets, it’s worth using a comparison service or tool to make sure they’re partnering with the right provider for each currency pair and region, as it’s unlikely a single provider will offer a blanket ‘best solution’ across the global market.

The role of multi-currency accounts

Having looked at the impact of currency conversion fees, what can businesses do to mitigate these costly charges when it comes to trading in an increasing number of currencies?

Opening a multi-currency account allows businesses to access the speed and affordable conversion costs needed to make the most of international trading. They allow businesses to access unique local banking details in foreign countries and all balances and transfer controls are accessible within a single dashboard.

Not only are the conversion fees associated with these accounts much lower compared with transferring currencies between bank accounts but it’s also quick and efficient – allowing businesses to access funds almost instantly and pass this convenience on to customers.

Specialist money transfer companies that offer multi-currency account solutions offer these services at no monthly cost. Simple and low-cost fee structures are applied on currency conversion and outgoing funds. And incoming receipts of money transfers don’t cost a penny.

Not all multi-currency account solution providers offer access to the same currencies. Furthermore, not all payment gateways offer support for payouts in multiple currencies. Businesses should conduct an assessment of current and future customer and supplier locations to choose the most appropriate solution provider.

Conducting an internal risk assessment helps businesses decide which multi-currency account makes sense for them, based on key requirements, like the number of supported currencies, target regions, potential overdraft facilities and ease of transfers.

Managing international suppliers

In many industries, international e-commerce is not as simple as just sending products to different regions. Logistics and legal regulations across the world mean businesses are often required to work with local specialists to deliver their service or offering.

This may mean working with local manufacturers to produce products in each region or simply partnering with local marketing, PR or advertising professionals to create culturally sensitive brand awareness in the native language.

In these cases, the business becomes the customer. They are required to make payments in multiple currencies as they manage their global operations.

For example, UK bank accounts charge relatively large fees to make payments in foreign currencies and these soon add up when running operations around the world.

This is where multi-currency accounts again prove fruitful. Not only do they allow businesses to hold multiple currencies – which is ideal for sellers – but they can also send money to other accounts with minimal fees if they’re in the same currency.

Paying suppliers in the same region as their customer base can remove the double currency conversion by receiving payment gateway payouts in the foreign currency and paying out of the multi-currency account in the same currency. No currency conversion is necessary in this scenario.

Businesses able to identify all these costs and admin fees up-front will be best placed to get the most value from the research and comparison stage when comparing providers.

Ultimately, they’ll achieve the lowest possible fees for each market, currency and transaction.

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Digital Euro Could Spur Major Breakthrough Towards More Liberal EU Payments Market, Expert Says

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Digital Euro Could Spur Major Breakthrough Towards More Liberal EU Payments Market, Expert Says 2

The recent talks about a possible digital version of euro have raised discussions throughout the industry. According to Marius Galdikas, CEO at ConnectPay, it could greatly liberalize the market in terms of lessening barriers for market entry and present more opportunities for accelerating its growth.

With the ever-increasing digitalization transforming the modern world, the European Central Bank (ECB) has raised the idea of launching a digital euro, which would assume an electronic form of currency accessible to citizens and companies alike. According to Marius Galdikas, CEO at ConnectPay, it seems like a high-potential bearing solution, which could greatly liberalize the market, reduce entry barriers for new companies, as well as drive further digitization.

The European Central Bank has been weighing the pros and cons of the digital version of Euro for a while now. The idea is based on an insight that while there is an array of choices for retail payments, e.g. cash or payment cards, the market lacks a unifying digital currency, which could facilitate daily transactions, was easy to use, and would provide cost-free access to a reliable means of payment accepted throughout the entire eurozone.

“At the moment, digital euro seems to be bringing a plethora of benefits to the table, without waiving the inherent properties of cash,” said Marius Galdikas. “It appeals to the consumers’ need to go cashless, largely influenced by the coronavirus situation, and gives them more choices about how to pay. By no means will it replace actual banknotes—ECB emphasized this as well—but rather present a supplementary-to-cash solution that corresponds with the rapid levels of digitalization. It could contribute to a stronger Eurozone’s stance in the global payments market, too.”

Galdikas noted that while it offers quite a few benefits for the everyday consumer, the digital euro could be a game-changer for the fintech sector as well. According to him, having a digitalized version of the currency could potentially eliminate the need for middle-men. This would result in fewer barriers for new ventures to enter the market.

“In order to gain access to the Eurozone, first it is necessary to acquire a credit institution license. Only then it can join TARGET2 – Eurozone’s settlement system, which processes large-value euro payments in real-time. However, such licenses are usually issued to FIs that focus on collecting deposits or lending credit.”

“Consequently, it is much harder for up-and-coming fintechs to acquire the same licenses, as they have a more innovation-driven approach, hence, want to offer novel products,” continued Galdikas. “This leads to dealing with a fair amount of intricacies in order to ensure all-round compliance in the banking sector. Digital euro could restructure the current chain of authority and shape it to be more strategic, streamlining bureaucratic procedures and leaving fewer hoops to jump through.”

Inevitably, this would prep the industry to be more welcoming towards greater innovation, as fewer barriers would pave the way for new fintechs, looking to present novel solutions.

Currently, the idea of the digital euro launch is in the analysis stage. Over the next six months, the Frankfurt institution will be carrying out a series of experiments exploring risks and operational challenges, as well as undergoing a three-month public consultation, launched mid-October.

Although currently the move to digital Euro launch is predicted to happen over the next 2 to 4 years, the impact it would have on the European Union payments market makes it a highly anticipated solution.

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Finance

Tax administrations around the world were already going digital. The pandemic has only accelerated the trend.

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Tax administrations around the world were already going digital. The pandemic has only accelerated the trend. 3

By Emine Constantin, Global Head of Accoutning and Tax at TMF Group.

Why do tax administrations choose to go digital?

Among the many reasons, the most important one is the pressure to perform. Most governments complain that the tax revenues they collect are significantly lower than what should be collected. To increase the collection rate, tax authorities need better insight and access to detailed information.

Another key reason for tax digitisation is the need to address cross-border challenges and the issue of value creation.

“Where is the right place to tax cross-border transactions – is it the country of residence or the country of consumption?” has been a topic of discussion for some time. Adding another level of complexity, many cross-border transactions take place online. For tax authorities, the challenge is the lack of information about the users and the amount of payments made for the activities facilitated by the online platforms. Without such data, identifying the place of consumption is very  challenging

Where is tax digitisation at?

Most tax administrations are currently implementing e-reporting (enabling the submission of tax information in an electronic format) and e-matching (correlating the data received from different sources: e.g. both customers and vendors submit information on sale and purchases and the two sources of information are checked and agreed to identify discrepancies). Through e-reporting, tax administrations are able to:

  • Obtain real-time or near-real-time data submissions. Instead of waiting until the end of the month for summary tax information, each invoice is electronically communicated to tax authorities when it’s issued. This moves compliance upstream. Tax assessments are supported in real-time or close to it, instead of assessing transactions that have happened in the past. TMF Group’s research has found that 24% of countries surveyed globally require companies to issue tax invoices using technology and send them to tax authorities electronically, without any form of manual intervention. The percentage gets higher in the Americas (where more than 50% of countries have such requirements) and in APAC (where 36% of countries have no adopted this method).
  • Share best practices and boost cooperation with other tax authorities. According to a recent OECD report, 15 of 16 tax authorities surveyed use data analytics to drive audit case selection. With national implementations of BEPS (Base Erosion and Profit Shifting) and global tracking and monitoring, digital is a new focal point for the OECD. Tax administrators learned the value of such collaboration from previous projects and are putting that experience to good use by sharing approaches and leading practices.
  • Increase the coverage of the tax audit. Tax authorities request more and more data and more and more details during tax audits. Such requirements are not limited to technology companies that may host a platform where their users trade with one another. In some cases, companies have been asked to provide data files. In others, they have even been asked to install tax authority software on their systems.

When it comes to digitisation, it’s important to understand local and regional trends because the level of maturity can be quite different.

In Europe, countries are increasingly adopting SAF-T (Standard Audit File for Tax) submission requirements — long described as the closest to a consistent approach for managing tax audits.

Portugal, France, the Netherlands and Luxembourg are just some of the countries where SAF-T submission is now mandatory.

Digitisation brings benefits but also challenges for companies. In Spain, VAT refunds are suspended until SII (Immediate Supply of Information) submission is fully compliant. In the Czech Republic, the introduction of VAT control statements has led to many formal and informal queries by tax authorities with a required response time of 5 working days. All these requests put pressure on taxpayers to provide accurate tax data to avoid further enquiries.

LATAM is the most mature region in terms of tax digitisation. Latin American countries have adopted a “layering” approach, splitting tax and accounting data into “slices,” each with its own submission schedule, scope and format. Brazil is one of the most advanced countries in this respect. Virtually all accounting and tax data is communicated electronically.

In APAC, China and India have also started their journey towards fully-fledged electronic reporting.

A positive shift

Digitisation makes the tax journey easier, not only for the tax authorities but also for the taxpayer. One obvious benefit is the reduced tax return filing burden. For example in Poland, the submission of the VAT return was replaced by the SAF-T submission.

Based on the amount of data collected, tax authorities in Spain and Australia have created virtual online assistants to help answer tax questions. In India, the authorities are looking at pre-populating the GST return, reducing the amount of time that taxpayers spend preparing it.

Implications for companies

When responding to the electronic requirements of tax authorities, companies have some key considerations.

Data requirements – what will companies need to report, and how? What we see in practice is that:

  • Data sits in multiple places and companies need to either aggregate it automatically or reconcile it before extracting it manually.
  • Data is inputted manually and – as such – is prone to errors, inaccuracies and incompatibilities.
  • Some of the data needs to be manually adjusted outside the normal transactional cycle (e.g. output VAT on goods provided free of charge)

If a company faces any of the situations described above, the challenge will be to aggregate and validate the data before reporting it.

Processes – do current processes allow companies to collect all data that is needed? Often, the data collection processes do not allow for consistency or for storage of all relevant data. Processes might need to be adjusted to make sure that the right level of data is in place.

Technology – are the company’s current systems appropriate for reporting purposes? Existing software might not allow for accounting records to be digitally linked.

Tax reporting process – is the tax reporting process fit for purpose? As described above, tax resources need to be moved to the front-end of the accounting process: data needs to be accurate when entered into the system.

Companies that wish to mitigate these problems should follow these steps:

  • Understand local requirements.
  • Identify the required data sources and strive for a global standard. Looking for local solutions will not help you deal with the digitised world.
  • Create a library of tests – it’s believed that 70% to 80% of national revenue authority requirements are similar.
  • Prepare to respond to tax queries – as tax authority scrutiny and testing moves into real or near-real time, so must the response.

Digitisation is very much a global trend, more and more countries are introducing it, and it’s seen as a safe solution to reduce the tax gap. In the short-term digitisation may bring complexity, because it will affect how a company’s accounting and tax functions are organised. But in the long term, once processes are automated, it will save companies time and effort – and allow them to stay ahead of the demands of tax authorities.

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