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AVOIDING THE ‘BOTWAGON’ TRAP : HOW BANKS CAN RESPOND TO NEW PAYMENT TECHNOLOGIES

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Avoiding the ‘botwagon’ trap: how banks can respond to new payment technologies

Daniel Gonzalez, Design Strategy Senior Manager, SapientNitro and Karwai Ng, Design Strategist, SapientNitro.

Are we all turning into digital magpies? Financial institutions seem to be jumping on the ‘botwagon’, with Amex launching a Facebook Messenger bot that sends out real-time notifications to customers when they make a purchase (it even comes with its own FAQ page), and Bank of America soon to be releasing its own version to help customers “stay connected to their finances whenever and wherever they choose”.

Given the hype around payments in messaging and bots, how should banks respond to this new technology?

The battle for payments

Payments are a gateway product for customer acquisition across the whole banking experience. As BBVA puts it, “the prevailing logic dictates that whoever offers the best customer experience (CX) in payments will own the customers for other products/services and create additional upselling or cross-selling opportunities”.

Payments have become even more pertinent with the incoming PSD2 legislation, which grants permission to third party providers to process payments on customers’ behalf. As customers increasingly migrate to third party platforms, banks risk being pushed further down the value chain and reduced into dumb pipes.

Given this, how can banks reverse the tide of losing direct customer relationships while addressing the emergence of new payment technologies?

  1. Change internally to become leaner and faster
    First and foremost, instead of jumping on the next tech bandwagon, banks should focus on embedding greater agility in their organisations. This is because banks aren’t going to drive the evolution (or revolution) of bots, and they shouldn’t be worried about that.As Forrester states in the title of its recent report, “Bots Aren’t Ready To Be Bankers”. Customer experiences offered by most bots today are still poor or inconsistent. “Tech companies are better staffed and equipped to push AI and bots to the next level, and banks can reap the rewards of these advances”.
    By designing for flexibility, banks can a) test new technologies quickly and b) discern which technology is better and more relevant to people’s lives. Barclays has built a beta, invitation-only app – Launchpad – to co-create new digital experiences with their customers and fintech start-ups to shape future digital solutions for the bank. It works in banks’ favours to be bot-agnostic when it comes to investing in new technology and working in nimbler, faster ways.
    Once banks have greater agility, they can then ‘atomise’ their payment functionality to become more relevant to customers’ lives.
  1. Build connected, ‘atomised’ payment offerings
    Financial institutions need to shift their focus from building standalone payment features to atomising or connecting different parts of their payments offering to third-party touchpoints and platforms.
    Spotify is a prime example of an ‘atomised’ product. It’s distributed across various third party platforms (on your TV via Chromecast, in your Uber or local Starbucks via the Starbucks app), but still provides the same experience for its listeners.
    By atomising payments, banks can become more integrated to customer’s lives and reverse the trend of being rendered as dumb pipes.
    Some financial services players are looking across the globe in efforts to atomise their payment offerings. French payments processing group Ingenico recently partnered with China’s Alipay, which would enable thousands of European merchants to accept payments in-store via the Alipay app and Chinese tourists to pay for goods using the Alipay e-wallet.

Two years ago we spoke about the unbundling of apps. Today we’re talking about bots, and possibly the end of apps and websites.Tomorrow it may be the singularity of AI that will ‘disrupt’ bots altogether.

Rather than jumping on each of these bandwagons, banks should embed greater agility into their organisations, building and testing atomised products and services with their customers. Remember, disruption in and of itself is not a strategy. Even Facebook’s head of Messenger David Marcus admitted that the bot craze was ‘overhyped, very, very quickly’. So let’s not forget that bots are only one form of atomisation, a tiny piece of the technology puzzle. 

When it comes to payments, banks shouldn’t focus only on building bots, but distributing services in even more relevant ways to customers’ lives. 

Banking

Take on more risk or taper? BOJ faces tough choice with REIT buying

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Take on more risk or taper? BOJ faces tough choice with REIT buying 1

By Kentaro Sugiyama and Leika Kihara

TOKYO (Reuters) – The Bank of Japan (BOJ) is under pressure to relax rules for its purchases of real-estate investment trusts (REITs) so that it can keep buying the asset at the current pace, highlighting the challenges of sustaining its massive stimulus programme.

The fate of the rules, which limit the central bank’s ownership of individual REITs to a maximum of 10%, could be discussed at the BOJ’s review of policy tools at its March 18-19 meeting, with an industry estimate putting nearly a third of its REIT holdings at close to the permissible threshold.

Given Japan’s fairly small REIT market, the BOJ may struggle to keep buying the asset unless it relaxes the ownership rule or accepts REITs with lower credit ratings, analysts say. The BOJ currently buys REITs with ratings of AA or higher.

“There’s a good chance the BOJ could tweak the rules for its REIT buying at the March review,” said Koji Ishizaki, senior credit analyst at Mizuho Securities.

The issue underscores the tricky balance the BOJ faces at the March review, where it hopes to slow risky asset purchases without stoking fears of a full-fledged withdrawal of stimulus aimed at weathering the prolonged battle with COVID-19.

As part of its stimulus programme, the BOJ buys huge amounts of assets such as exchange-traded funds and J-REITs.

It ramped up buying last March to calm markets jolted by the pandemic, and now pledges to buy at an annual pace of up to 180 billion yen ($1.68 billion).

The BOJ last year bought 114.5 billion yen worth of J-REITs, double the amount in 2019, bringing the total balance of holdings at 669.6 billion yen as of December, BOJ data showed.

The surge of its portfolio has led to the BOJ owning more than 9% for some REITs. An estimate by Mizuho Securities showed the BOJ owned more than 9% for seven out of the 23 REITs it held as of January, including Japan Excellent and Fukuoka REIT.

The BOJ did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The central bank normally does not comment on policy, besides public speeches and briefings by its board members.

BOJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda has said the review won’t lead to a tightening of monetary policy.

But many BOJ officials are wary of relaxing rules for an unorthodox programme like J-REIT purchases, which critics say distorts prices and exposes the bank’s balance sheet to risk.

“Unless markets are under huge stress, it’s hard to relax the rules,” said an official familiar with the BOJ’s thinking.

($1 = 107.0200 yen)

(Reporting by Kentaro Sugiyama and Leika Kihara; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman)

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Banking

German watchdog puts Greensill Bank on hold due to risk concerns

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German watchdog puts Greensill Bank on hold due to risk concerns 2

By Tom Sims and Tom Bergin

FRANKFURT/LONDON (Reuters) – Germany’s financial watchdog warned of “an imminent risk” that Greensill Bank would become over-indebted on Wednesday as it imposed a moratorium on the lender making disposals or payments.

BaFin’s move is another blow to the bank’s owner, Greensill Capital, which said on Tuesday it is in talks to sell large parts of its business after the loss of backing from two Swiss asset managers which underpinned key parts of its supply chain financing model.

Greensill, which was founded in 2011 by former Citigroup banker Lex Greensill, helps companies spread out the time they have to pay their bills. The loans, which typically have maturities of up to 90 days, are securitized and sold to investors, allowing Greensill to make new loans. Greensill’s primary source of funding came to an abrupt halt this week when Credit Suisse and asset manager GAM Holdings AG suspended redemptions from funds which held most of their around $10 billion in assets in Greensill notes, over concerns about being able to accurately value them.

Two sources told Reuters on Wednesday that SoftBank-backed Greensill Capital is preparing to file for insolvency, adding that the sale talks were with U.S. private equity firm Apollo.

Greensill and Apollo did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Greensill’s insolvency preparations, which were earlier reported by the Financial Times, or on the sale talks.

Japan’s SoftBank, which has invested $1.5 billion in recent years in Greensill, also declined to comment.

BaFin said an audit found that Greensill Bank could not provide evidence of receivables on its balance sheet purchased from mining tycoon Sanjeev Gupta’s GFG Alliance. GFG did not respond to a Reuters request for comment on BaFin’s findings.

“The moratorium had to be ordered to secure the assets in an orderly procedure,” BaFin said in a statement, adding that the Bremen-based bank would be closed for business with customers. It declined to elaborate.

Greensill Capital said in a statement that Greensill Bank always “seeks external legal and audit advice before booking any new asset.”

CASH RETURN

Greensill Bank had loans outstanding of 2.8 billion euros and deposits of 3.3 billion euros at the end of 2019, rating agency Scope said in an October report, which did not detail the bank’s exposure to GFG.

The bank is a member of the Compensation Scheme of German Banks which means deposits up to 100,000 euros ($120,740) are protected. The German regulator said withdrawals were not currently possible, but gave no further detail in a statement.

Prosecutors in Bremen said earlier they had received a criminal complaint from BaFin regarding Greensill Bank, but did not provide further details on it.

In Britain, meanwhile the financial regulator took action against GFG’s own trade finance arm Wyelands Bank. The Bank of England’s Prudential Regulation Authority said it had ordered Wyelands to repay all its depositors. It said in a statement that it had been engaging closely with Wyelands, but did not say why it had taken the action.

GFG said Wyelands, which had over 700 million pounds ($979 million) of deposits according to its latest annual report, would repay deposits and planned to “focus solely on business advisory and connected finance”.

A GFG spokesman declined to comment on the BoE statement.

Credit Suisse said on Wednesday it is looking to return cash from its suspended funds dedicated to supply chain finance, which is a method by which companies can get cash from banks and funds such as Greensill Capital to pay their suppliers without having to dip into their working capital.

“Given the significant amount of cash (and cash equivalents) in the funds, we are exploring mechanisms for distributing excess cash to investors,” Credit Suisse said in a note to investors on its website.

Credit Suisse said that more than 1,000 institutional or professional investors were invested across its funds.

($1 = 0.8282 euros)

($1 = 0.7153 pounds)

(Reporting by Tom Sims and Patricia Uhlig in FRANKFURT and Tom Bergin in LONDON; Additional reporting by Brenna Hughes Neghaiwi and Oliver Hirt in ZURICH; Editing by Alexander Smith)

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Banking

Britain to review surcharge on bank profits

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Britain to review surcharge on bank profits 3

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s finance minister Rishi Sunak has said the government will review the surcharge levied on bank profits, in a bid to keep the UK competitive with rival financial centres in the United States and the European Union.

Sunak said in his Budget statement on Wednesday he was launching the review so that the combined tax burden on banks did not rise significantly after planned increases to corporation tax.

Leaving the surcharge unchanged would make UK taxation of banks “uncompetitive and damage one of the UK’s key exports”, the government said in its Budget document.

Changes will be laid out in the autumn and legislated for in the forthcoming Finance Bill 2021-22, the document said.

The surcharge on bank profits raised 1.5 billion pounds for the government in 2020, the document showed.

It is separate to the more lucrative bank levy on bank balance sheets, which raised 2.5 billion pounds.

(Reporting by Iain Withers, Editing by Huw Jones)

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