Global Banking & Finance Review interviewed Mr. Vladimir Eftimoski, CEO of Stopanska banka a.d. Bitola about the banking sector in Macedonia.
What are some of the main challenges and opportunities that the banking sector in Macedonia is facing?
The economic and financial turbulence on global level have their own influence over the situation in Macedonia and are, of course, one of the key challenges which the Macedonian banks are coping with. In conditions of uncertainty, all the positions in the work are placed in frames which should respond to the risks which may be imposed to the banks. In that regard, one should take into consideration the decreased economic activity, the worsened financial results of part of the business sector and the need of bigger liquidity.
In fact, from a macro-economic aspect, it is clear that all financial subjects should follow the directions dictated by the economy and the financial situation in the country. The Macedonian economy is highly dependent on the occurrences in the Eurozone because it is our greatest trading partner. Therefore, in the past several years, including 2015, the key exterior factor whose impact was reflected on the domestic economic situation was the global economic and financial crisis. In the Q4 of 2014 there was a difficult recovery of the economic activity (the annual growth rate of the GDP in the Eurozone was 0.9%), the industrial production slowed down, and the inflation rate was negative for the first time since 2009 and was -0.2%. This situation, as you know, continued in the first half of 2009 when the GDP growth rate in the Eurozone was 0.4% in Q1 i.e. 1% on annual basis. With regard to the inflation, there is an evident mild improvement, so the data for June show annual growth of 0.2%. However, the inflation rate is still the main objective of the ECB and the programme for quantitative facilitation continues and will be implemented by the ECB until the end of September 2016.
In Macedonia the numbers show an increase of the GDP in Q4 of 2015 of 2.7% and an average negative annual inflation rate of -0.3%. In the first half of 2015 the economic results show that the worsened economic trend continues. The average annual inflation rate was maintained on the level of 2015 and it was -0.3%. The GDP growth rate has also not marked any significant changes, so in Q2 of 2015 it was 2.6%.
I would like to underline that it is good that in such an economic situation the Macedonian banking sector has continue the trend of stability and has increased the level of liquidity. This enabled monetary loosening by decreasing the basic interest rate of 3.50% to 3.25% which was maintained in 2015. The additional changes implemented into the monetary policy is stimulating the growth of loans and have provided support for the private sector in conditions of decrease foreign demand which influenced the limitation of the growth in the domestic economy. The final product which we received was the increase of the assets at the level of the banking system by 8.33%, a growth of gross loans to non-financial subjects by 9.22%, increase in the deposits of the non-financial subjects by 10.67% and increase of the capital and reserves by 3.97% compared to the previous year. In that context more concrete challenges and opportunities are defined and these are the challenges which the banks in Macedonia are facing – how to use the increased liquidity in order to support the business and the economy. In that line, Stopanska banka a.d. Bitola marks a growth in the loan placement by 5.13% in the first semester of 2015 whereas the deposits of non-financial subjects were kept on the stable level achieved in 2014. The capital and reserves are increased by 12.99% which is a signal for an increased degree of capitalization of the bank.
Being the leader in the banking services for the population, what do you think, which were the initiatives that contributed for your success?
Even in this period which was difficult for the global and domestic economic surroundings, Stopanska banka a.d. Bitola has successfully completed 2014 with 187.26 million MK Denars in profits i.e. 3.04 million EUR, after the taxation and calculated pursuant to the IFRS. This is three times more compared to the profits in 2013. This result owes to several factors. First, in 2014 we had bigger net incomes from interest by 161.45% compared to 2013. In the same period we increased the incomes of accumulated and written off interest receivables in accordance with the agreement for liabilities settlement with a value of 4 million EUR.
In the past year, the Bank invested all its funds and resources to improve the quality of the services it offers to its clients through analysis of their needs, and with the purpose of creating an offer of services and products pursuant to the specific needs of each client. As a result of these efforts, in 2014 the Bank increased the number of clients, the scope of crediting and the works in the payment system. All these initiatives, together with good expenditure management, have positively reflected on the net incomes of commissions and compensations which were increased by 10.99% compared to 2013. In this period the net incomes of rate-exchange differences mark an increase of 12.87 million MK Denars and are bigger than 2013 by 70.03%.
The remaining incomes of the activities are doubled compared to the ones accomplished in 2013. This increase mainly owes to the profit made from the sale of part of the property. This position includes the incomes of investments in shares of investment funds, as a more profitable alternative compared to the investment in long-term national securities out of which in 2014 the Bank has gained an amount of 1.46 million MK Denars.
The number of employees was increased as a result of the increased number of clients and the increased activity in 2014. The Bank expanded its network of branches and ATMs which cause increase of the expenses for employees by 15.08%, the remaining expenditures of the activity were increased by 20.31% whereas the depreciation was higher by 16.27%. In the first semester for 2015 the trend of growth of the Bank continues, and so the expenses for the employees mark an increase of 13.22%; the remaining expenditures of the activity are increased by 6.04% whereas the depreciation is higher by 13.22%. In parallel with the increased scope of clients the Bank was also active in line of expanding the network of branches and ATMs. In that line, annually, the network of branches was increased by 26.67% in 2014, while the ATM coverage on the territory of Macedonia marks a growth of 41.18%.
When it comes to the increase of the clients base, the contribution of new clients – individuals is especially important – compared to 2013 it was 6.16%, a trend which continues in the first semester of 2015 with an increase of 1.07%. The positive changes within the clients’ base additionally contributed to the increase of 49.76% of the gross loan portfolio of individuals in 2014 compared to 2013 i.e. a growth of 6.92% in the first semester of 2015. The growth of gross loan portfolio of individuals positively reflected on the net incomes of interests which in 2014 were bigger by 192.94% compared to 2013 i.e. 269.59% in the first six months of 2015 compared to the same period in 2014. Having in mind the conditions of the economy in the country, I am especially glad to underline the support which the Bank is giving to the individuals by approving self-employment loans, a project realized in cooperation with the appropriate competent institutions in Macedonia. Moreover, there is an appropriate growth within the incomes of commissions from individuals which were increased by 9.40% in 2014/2013. The growth on this position in the first semester of 2015 compared to the first semester in 2014 was 7.10%.
I reckon that this growth is mostly owing to the unique approach which we as a Bank have towards our clients and is a result of the commitment of each of our employees towards every existing or new client. The fulfilment of the requests and meeting the needs of our clients are our obligation! Namely, every individual who accesses as a new client in our Bank with the very act of signing becomes our highly appreciated client who receives highly qualitative and professional services.
Which unique products and services were created as a direct response to the needs and desires of the clients?
In the past period the Bank is recognized as a stable and secure financial institution. The professional working and the good reputation have contributed to the growth of the deposits of the individuals, an increased number of loans and reinforcement of the market position.
Working with clients (individuals) is in the primary focus of Stopanska banka a.d. Bitola. The objective of the Bank is to provide maximum support to the individuals with an acceptable and reliable business idea when adopting the financial decisions referring to providing additional funds with low interests, as well as long-term loans. We offer friendly advice when investing their surplus of funds in specially created deposit products, which are, of course, in line with the prudent risk management.
The unique approach which we as a Bank have created towards our clients contributes for each client to be able to get all necessary information and to meet their needs in one place which is a special advantage, taking into consideration the dynamics of the contemporary living. The professional relations and the qualitative service towards every client are our single obligation.
The Bank is continuously working and investing its funds and resources to improve the quality of the performed services, makes analysis of the client when preparing the offer and works on the engineering of new competitive products and services which will be fully responsive and in accordance with the needs and nature of the population.
In this part I would like to emphasize that this is a permanent and inevitable process. During 2014 as a result of the agility and flexibility, the conditions and prices of the products and services of Stopanska banka Bitola were continuously harmonized with the conditions on the market, the needs of the clients and the competition.
The technology plays an important part in the banking. How did Stopanska banka a.d. Bitola cope with the challenges of the development of information technology?
The continuous progress and application of information technology in the everyday life imposes a need of expanded palette of products and services coming from the banks in electronic form and will be user-friendly for the business people who have less and less free time. The industries which desire to be more competitive and easily available for their clients will need to adjust to these changes. The adjustment includes creation and application of innovative, easily available and automated processes and solutions in the everyday life, with an increased saving of the direct use of human capital.
Stopanska banka a.d. Bitola during this and in the past year has implemented several activities and projects for development and upgrade of the applicative systems in line of implementation of the regulatory terms, meeting the mandatory standards and regulations of the Bank and the recommendations given by the audit; achieving competitive advantages; rationalization and optimization of the business processes and harmonization within the frames of the Bank; upgrade of the IT infrastructure (system, communication, data base, as well as security information). These changes and improvements of the existing IT systems have enabled conditions for efficient monitoring of the market and the scope of the work and easy adjustment of the Bank to the changes in the organization and regulation.
The bank is permanently expanding its ATMs network, as well as their upgrade with new services. This is one of the two banks in Macedonia which have started the M-payment project. This was initiated towards the end of 2014 and we expect it to be finalized towards the end of this year.
The relations with the clients play an important part in the banking. What are the initiatives you included in order for the clients to continue getting on their disposal the best services?
The clients are always in the focus of the bank. During its existence Stopanska banka Bitola managed to establish close connections to its clients. The maintenance and deepening of these relations is a primary objective of the Bank. This is recorded in its heritage, tradition, culture, as well as in its future working. In order to achieve a higher level of services for the clients, the Bank managed to upgrade its internal educational programmes and the training programmes in cooperation and with the support from external companies specialized for training. In that line, in 2014 the Bank started an intensive realization of the project for talent management by organizing and implementation of unified professional assessment of the leading personnel and preparatory activities of the bank for implementation of a new system for monitoring and assessment of the performances of the employees by defining the objectives.
The more significant internal trainings in the bank include: seminars for the new employees, trainings for the organizational culture and professional behaviour, covering the ongoing changes of the legal regulation and current trends regarding the news in the offer of products and services, improvement of soft-skills of the employees, as well as experts’ training for internal transfer of know-how in different areas in the banking. The relations of the Bank with the clients are based on contemporary approach in the human resources management. The maintenance and reinforcement of the human capacities is done with appropriate engagement of employees, valuation of their performances and results, promotion and upgrade, systematic approach towards accomplishing professional specialization and training of the employees. These are the main tasks and activities in the field of personnel management of the Bank.
At the same time, our employees are always timely acquainted with all aspects and details around the new services and products which the Bank is placing on the market, all in order to provide qualitative and timely service to the clients.
Do you have any ongoing projects which you would like to share with us?
Following the world trends of globalization which are present not only in the finance sector, but also in all other sectors of the economy, we are aware that Macedonia, being a small open economy, will not be bypassed by these processes. In Macedonia and the region there are several banking brands which additionally put pressure on the competition, but also over the fast tempo of the globalization. Being aware of this unstoppable process, and led by the experience of the managing team of the Bank, we are intensively working on being well prepared to tackle these processes. As for myself, in my 17 years of banking experience, gained in international banking trends, I have passed through these processes and I know their importance.
It is a fact that in the moment the world economy and the finance sector are still in a global crisis which slows down this process. Here we can see our biggest advantage, to be sufficiently fast and flexible, in order to use this vacuum period for reorganization and consolidation in order to attract a foreign strategic partner who would be interested in presence of the Macedonian market. The most optimistic expectations are that the financial markets, especially the market of capital will start recovering towards the end of 2017. The consolidation process, cleaning out the bad placements and reorganization started in 2013, which resulted in excellent achievements in 2014. We plan to use 2015 and the following two years for more efficient acting on the domestic and foreign markets in order to attract a foreign strategic partner. Knowing the deliberation and reservations which the investors have, this process would be a gradual one: First, by attracting a credit line with a longer repayment period; then, in the form of subordinated debt to make efficient use of the time for them to meet the Bank and its processes. In the end, our primary objective i.e. primary project is our complete consolidation and reorganization which will enable us to function as a modern bank which will be able to compete with the world banking trends in line of attracting foreign financial strategic partners.
In which way is Stopanska banka a.d. Bitola providing support for the socio-economic development in Macedonia?
One of the strategic objectives determined with the business policy and the development plan of the Bank is to take consistent care for the social good. In accordance with this strategic determination, the Bank in 2014 was constantly and actively included in the different projects and activities of public and social nature.
- In 2014 the Bank continued its long-term tradition with humane character to help the protégés in the Primary School “Gjorgji Sugarev” in Bitola;
- Stopanska banka a.d. Bitola donated funds for construction of the temple “Ss. Konstantin and Elena” in Skopje;
- Stopanska banka a.d. Bitola supported the International youth art-festival “Bitola – an open city”;
- The bank sponsored the equipping of the city pool “Atina Bojadzi” in Ohrid;
- The bank gave donation to the Association of children with autism and the children with Asperger’s Syndrome.
We are especially proud of the cooperation which the Bank has with the Association of children with autism and Asperger’s syndrome because the constant support which we are providing is promoting and animating their creativity and talents through adaptation of their drawings and other pieces of art into the marketing materials of the Bank.
Unlike the other banks in Macedonia, Stopanska banka a.d. Bitola has its head-quarters beyond the capital. This is a great advantage, but of course, and a big responsibility for the bank to aid the local economic development in the South-West region of Macedonia. With its projects and plans, the Bank is actively included in supporting the small and medium businesses, and of course, the agriculture sector, which is one of the main activities of the population in this region.
The activities of public and social nature have continued in 2015 when the Bank was included in providing help for the flooded areas in the Pelagonija region. Furthermore, the support which the bank is providing to the development of the culture and sports is not lagging behind.
What are your future plans for development?
If I say that we should grow, because we are a medium bank on the level of the banking sector in Macedonia, this will not be the most precise definition of the plan for development of Stopanska banka a.d. Bitola. Our objective is to continue the trend for growth of the crediting scope in healthy and sustainable business projects, which will improve the economic position of Macedonia. Our goal is to gain bigger trust within the clients and to use it, in order to increase the overall capital of the Bank which will be placed into the function of the business. These are the more general goals, but they are presented in details in several business plans and policies of the Bank, which are very ambitious.
In the very end, I would conclude that a given banking and financial system does not recognize small or big, but good or bad, successful or unsuccessful. Therefore, our primary goal is to be good and successful, and of course, to always improve and upgrade in all segments of our work, such as relations with clients, the offer of products and services, relations towards the community, etc. In any case, we must not forget the investments in the employees and managers.
Round Table Feature – Attracting FDI at times of crisis
In recent years the growth of Northern Ireland’s financial services sector has been fuelled by an unbeatable combination of world-class talent, highly competitive operating costs and research excellence in a low-risk, pro-business environment.
Of course, like many economies across the globe, the COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact on Northern Ireland’s communities and many of its businesses. But, thanks to this quality combination, the sector has demonstrated remarkable resilience and continued to thrive, leading to sustained job creation and high-profile customer wins from some of its leading players, including Allstate, Citi and Aflac.
To examine the patterns behind this continued growth in the face of adversity, we recently hosted a ‘virtual roundtable’ with senior figures from established businesses across Northern Ireland’s financial services sector alongside the nation’s fintech envoy, Andrew Jenkins and Invest Northern Ireland’s Steve Harper.
Here, our panel explored the market qualities investing financial services companies look for and discussed the elements they believe a business should invest in to build resilience and as an in-market team during challenging times.
Meet the panel
John Healy – Vice President & Managing Director, Allstate Northern Ireland: John leads Allstate NI’s team of 2,200 experts. He has 25 years’ experience in technology, predominantly in the financial services domain. He has extensive experience at leading global teams, developing strategy and delivering solutions to address business and technology issues.
Keith Farley – Managing Director, Aflac Northern Ireland Ltd: Keith is responsible for setting up Aflac’s European Centre of Excellence. He has relocated to Belfast, UK and is creating a new organization that will offer both software development and cyber security solutions. With a goal of growing from 0 to 150 professionals in a few years, this team will be a critical part of Aflac’s global digital strategy.
Leigh Meyer – Head of Global FX/MM & EMEA Markets Operations Belfast Site Head Citibank: Leigh has worked for Citi for 22 years, covering a number of products from derivatives to FX. He is also the Northern Ireland Chair for TheCityUK, a private-sector membership body and industry advocacy group promoting the financial and related professional services industry of the United Kingdom.
Darragh McCarthy –Founder and CEO, FinTrU. In 2013, after many years in the banking industry in London, New York and Frankfurt, Darragh founded FinTrU in Belfast having recognised the increased demand from global investment banks for high-quality resources to navigate the ever-increasing regulatory landscape. The company employs over 600 people in Belfast and Derry-Londonderry.
Steve Harper, Executive Director International Invest Northern Ireland Steve’s role at Invest NI, the region’s main development organisation, is to promote trade and inward investment into the area.
What has been your experience as a financial services business operating in Northern Ireland during COVID-19?
Leigh Meyer, Citi NI: As a global company we have been fortunate to have the technology infrastructure to move almost our entire workforce to work from home successfully with little change to our day to day operations. In Northern Ireland, this means we continue to hire, and have successfully on boarded 172 new employees to Citi Belfast virtually over the last four months. The result has been that our client support was largely uninterrupted and continued to give our fullest care and attention in very tough times.
Keith Farley, Aflac NI: As a technology company, we have been very fortunate to have 100% of staff work remotely with minimal disruption. We were also able to continue hiring during the pandemic – more than doubling the size of our team from 19 employees in March to 50 in August.
Darragh McCarthy FinTrU: Likewise. We made the decision in early March to facilitate 100% of our employees to begin working from home. The infrastructure in Northern Ireland has allowed us to manage this transition smoothly and maintain our productivity with client delivery.
What initially attracted you to Northern Ireland as a destination for your business?
Keith Farley, Aflac NI: We were attracted to Northern Ireland for many reasons, but it really boiled down to three words we have painted on our wall: Resilient, Reinventive and Adaptable. While these words reference the long history Belfast and the nation have in agility, they were proven once again proven during this pandemic.
John Healy OBE, Allstate NI: The availability of skilled technologists was the main reason for setting up an off-shore location in Northern Ireland over 20 years ago. The original plan was to create a workforce of 200 but the quality of the people and skills available has meant that we have grown to a multi-site operation with 2,400 employees in Belfast and the North West.
Leigh Meyer, Citi NI: Put simply, its value proposition. Northern Ireland offers skilled people, competitive costs, great infrastructure and high standard of living, all with close proximity to London, the European, Middle East and Africa region. The nation also benefits from a central time zone ideal for supporting Asia, North and South America.
Darragh McCarthy, FinTrU: In Northern Ireland, there is an incredible opportunity to partner with leading academic institutions including Queen’s University Belfast, Ulster University, Belfast Metropolitan College and North West Regional College.
FinTrU has undoubtedly benefited from these mutual partnerships with our Financial Services and Legal Academies providing local graduates with the opportunity to work on the global stage with the largest Investment Banks in the world.
How can regions support businesses to be more resilient during crises like the pandemic?
Leigh Meyer, Citi NI: Regions can help ensure that the infrastructure is robust, scalable and fit for purpose – this applies to both physical and technical infrastructure. It is also essential that policy makers give clear guidance on what health and safety measures they require, to boost the confidence of people travelling to and from work and in their everyday lives.
Keith Farley, Aflac NI: We believe that investments in infrastructure continue to be critical, especially urban and rural internet connectivity as we shift to more flexible work environments.
Darragh McCarthy, FinTrU: In terms of the Financial Services industry, I feel crisis management and leadership is crucial. Having a clear strategy in place from the top can help alleviate the anxieties that others will face during a period of crisis. Regions can help businesses to be further resilient through investment in appropriate infrastructure to allow for the transition from office to homeworking in all areas across Northern Ireland.
What have external organisations (like Invest NI) been able to offer in terms of support?
Keith Farley, Aflac NI: Invest NI has been a great partner in introducing us to the region and the opportunities that exist here to hire world-class technology talent in a business-friendly environment.
Leigh Meyer, Citi NI: We have been in touch with our Client Manager throughout the pandemic. Invest NI has supported Citi from 2005, starting with the initial inward investment feasibility study and financial assistance to help expand the workforce in Belfast and training and development costs. We are also engaged with the NI Chamber of Commerce, CBI NI, Belfast City Council and universities and schools for exchange of ideas, support, driving the business agenda for the country.
Steve Harper, Invest Northern Ireland: We have worked hard to ensure that all businesses benefit from being part of Northern Ireland’s diverse economy, embedded resilience and agility. Even during the height of the pandemic, we were able to work closely with the Department of Finance and the Business Services Organisation to help match NI companies with government calls for much needed medical equipment and PPE. We received over 300 offers from businesses who expressed interest in supporting the fight against COVID-19 by developing prototypes and products for testing to ensure they comply with regulations. Many then went on to receive orders for PPE, ventilators, testing and sanitiser.
Darragh McCarthy, FinTrU: We made the decision to not avail of any COVID-19 Governmental sponsored support initiatives or furlough any employees due to our ongoing growth. However, the resources provided by Invest NI such as the ‘Recover’ support which include ‘HR advice to build skills’, ‘Build resilience through leadership capability’, ‘Invest in ICT solutions and technologies’ and ‘Operation excellence to adapt to COVID-19’ demonstrates its commitment to the companies that have invested in Northern Ireland.
Coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, what do you think are the challenges and opportunities facing the financial services sector?
Keith Farley, Aflac NI: We are going to need to work together with employees to ensure they feel safe traveling to work, knowing that their safety is a priority, but also that people want to return to a city that is open for business. We also need to learn from the pandemic to make our work environment safer, more inclusive and flexible. As a community, we recognised the impact we have on each other, as well as the importance of human interaction. We should not take that for granted again.
Steve Harper, Invest Northern Ireland: The resilience and agility demonstrated by businesses in the local financial services sector – and beyond – throughout the crisis really sets our region apart as a positive force and a lucrative location for business. This couldn’t have been achieved without its diverse business landscape, supportive environment, and of course, its excellent calibre of people. As we move forward, I strongly believe that this experience has unleashed a renewed sense of purpose and a collaborative and enterprising spirit that will serve us well as we recover and look forward – and these are qualities that this new world absolutely needs.
Darragh McCarthy, FinTrU: Social distancing and remote working from home can leave people feeling isolated, especially those who are away from their families. At FinTrU, we invest heavily in our company culture and pay careful attention to ensure that it is not lost whilst we are working away from the office. It is important for businesses to consider the challenges faced by their people and to have empathy towards situations that may be experienced by others.
What do you think financial services organisations will look for going forward, when it comes to investing in new markets?
John Healy, Allstate NI: The financial services industry has seen dramatic technology-led changes over the past few years. Many have looked to improve efficiency and implement game-changing innovation, while seeking ways to lower costs. Meanwhile, Fintech start-ups are disrupting established markets, leading with customer-centric solutions developed from the ground up. To best serve our industry, markets will need highly skilled technologists in a range of areas: Blockchain, Robotics, AI, Cloud and Cyber Security, to name but a few. There must be collaboration between government, education and industry to prepare and sustain the skills that are required now and in the future.
Steve Harper, Invest Northern Ireland: Quality digital connectivity has proven essential during the crisis, and, as our lives move increasingly online, for these organisations it will become as critical to economic sustainability and growth as water and electricity are to our everyday lives today. Wherever you go around the world, those places that have invested in solid digital foundations have, in most cases, proven to be the most resilient. This is because digital services and solutions underpin innovation and productivity, as well as businesses’ ability to scale.
Leigh Meyer, Citi NI: Finance businesses value the ability to relocate staff effectively, source new talent and offer rewarding careers. We look closely at the broader legal, regulatory and tax regime. The UK’s operating environment needs to remain competitive, not least as the Brexit transition phase comes to an end. A robust infrastructure is also important, particularity digital/tech infrastructure in this current climate as we evolve our methods of training our employees to virtual.
Darragh McCarthy, FinTrU: Without the correct infrastructure, it would not have been possible for businesses such as FinTrU to adapt to a situation like COVID-19. This robust connectivity and investment in technology will be a very important consideration for any company when investing in a new market. However, risk and cybersecurity represent an important area for Financial Services organisations to consider. This industry is more reliant than ever on technology, and a lack of risk management or compliance can cost an organisation greatly.
Finally, I feel the most important consideration for a company when it comes to investing in a new market is the people. The talented workforce will make up your organisation in terms of the client delivery as well as shaping the company culture.
Is the upskilling of compliance teams in financial services the key to delivering fast and effective identity verification?
By Charlie Roberts, Head of Business Development, UK, Ireland & EU at IDnow
With the global pandemic driving the world’s population online, identity fraud is becoming increasingly attractive to criminals. In 2019, even before COVID-19 struck, the UK fraud prevention service – Cifas – recorded in excess of 223,000 cases on its National Fraud Database, an increase of 18 percent on the previous year and a 32 percent rise over the previous five years. And looking ahead, experts predict that by 2021, the damage caused by internet fraud will reach $6 trillion, making cyber fraud one of the world’s fastest growing and most dangerous economic crimes.
Of particular concern for the financial services sector, is IBM’s recent report which revealed that in 2019, it was the most targeted industry for cyber criminals.
As a result, perhaps unsurprisingly, financial institutions are increasingly being thrust into the spotlight when it comes to digital security and protecting the identities of their customers.
These worrying figures are certainly one driving factor in the UK government’s new Digital Identity Strategy Board, which has developed six principles to strengthen digital identity delivery and policy in the country.
So how can financial institutions tackle the growing problem of cyber crime? We caught up with Charlie Roberts, Head of Business Development UK&I at IDnow, to talk about the importance of upskilling inhouse teams in a bid to deliver fast and effective identity verification.
What is the benefit of taking a hybrid approach to identity verification?
We already know the important role technology is playing in the fight against cyber criminality – from biometrics and machine learning to artificial intelligence (AI) – and we recently discussed the significance of supplementing this verification technology with human identification experts. These professionals are able to use their intuition and understanding of human interactions and behaviours to identify when a person is being coerced or dishonest.
However, while these highly skilled and trained identification specialists are playing a vital role in the fight against cyber and identity crime, for some financial institutions, particularly larger banks, they present a barrier.
How will owning the entire verification process benefit financial institutions?
Working on a SaaS basis, typically, identity software vendors provide financial institutions with the software and technology required for identity verification however, the final decision on verification rests with the vendor’s algorithms or ident specialists.
However, many banks want to own the entire verification process, from utilising the technology and software to making the ultimate decision on the identity of a person. By handing this level of control over to the bank, institutions can integrate the verification systems within their own infrastructure, enabling the people that know their brand the best to set their own levels of security and determine what is authenticated and what is declined.
Why should banks consider upskilling inhouse compliance teams?
While working with a third-party verification specialist is the preferred option for some, for others, the idea of upskilling and training existing compliance teams in identity verification is the priority, empowering the bank to own the process and the risk. Long term, it will also provide significant cost savings while showcasing a major investment in talent and people, which will undoubtedly help attract and retain customers too.
Is the time right to invest in inhouse identity verification systems?
With the UK seeking to develop a legal framework for digital identity, it is clearly becoming an increasingly important feature on the governmental agenda, not least to ensure that not only can people feel safe online, but also to deliver faster transactions and ultimately add billions to the economy. As such, all eyes will soon be turning to the safeguards the financial sector is putting in place to help protect the online identities of customers.
Arguably then, now is the time to invest in a robust identity verification system that will not only provide the advanced technology needed to automate the process, but that can help train and upskill inhouse teams to truly deliver an embedded and hybrid approach to identity verification at a time when it is of paramount importance.
ZeroBounce COO Brian Minick Talks Email Marketing and Deliverability
For a channel that’s been deemed “dead” by some, email marketing is doing more than well. You can expect an average return of $42 for every dollar you invest. But what does it take to achieve such a high performance?
In this exclusive interview, ZeroBounce Chief Operating Officer Brian Minick breaks down the main ingredients of successful email campaigns. With more than 10 years of experience in Operations, Minick and his team are currently helping thousands of email senders across the world land in the inbox. Let’s see what he has to say about improving inbox placement, engagement, and email marketing ROI.
What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in email marketing this year?
So many facets of the economy and the world have slowed down drastically or even stalled completely, but one thing showing no sign of stopping is email marketing. Email marketing is doing better than ever, but there are also new challenges that go along with this year.
Email engagement has gone up 200 percent since the pandemic hit. With everything being pushed online, it makes sense that businesses and people are heavily relying on email.
However, that’s not to say email marketing hasn’t suffered in other ways. There has been a massive increase in what we refer to in the industry as “churn.” Many were laid off or placed on leave. With their email addresses removed or abandoned, this has resulted in a rapid decline in email list quality.
Those bouncing emails lead to lost opportunities if companies don’t validate their lists regularly. Especially for the B2B sector, taking measures to restore email hygiene is paramount during these months.
How has ZeroBounce adapted to these changes to stay relevant in the market?
For starters, we can easily help senders identify the bad email addresses once they get turned off. It’s important for many reasons, and one is to make sure you’re reaching real people.
Apart from that, we recognized our customers needed more tools to make their email marketing successful. So, this year, we launched three deliverability tools: a mail server tester, blacklist monitoring and an inbox placement tester. They all help marketers detect potential issues before they send, so they can increase their chances of landing in the inbox.
It’s a crazy time for all businesses and as the needs change, ZeroBounce likes to stay one step ahead.
From your experience talking to customers, what are the main challenges they have? How do they overcome them?
Most of them have old databases that need cleaning. They may have an email list that has been dormant or neglected, and it causes bounces and spam complaints.
Sending newsletters or promotions to an outdated list is not a good idea. It jeopardizes the deliverability of emails to every person on the list, even the valid contacts. We help them get rid of the bad, ineffective and fake email addresses. Thus they can communicate more efficiently, boost their brand awareness, and increase ROI.
So many things go into creating a successful email campaign. What would you say are the most important ones?
It’s so important to have a list made up of people who double opted in because you know they want to be there. Just as important is making sure all of your email addresses have been verified. These things ensure the greatest chance of arriving in the inbox.
But showing up, and doing so consistently, is only one part of it. You also need great subject lines. Your subject line is the first thing people see and it has a dramatic impact on your open rates.
Finally, well-written, relatable copy and a great call-to-action can push you across the finish line.
What type of content do you think brands should send out during these difficult months?
It’s a tough time for so many. Brands have had to adapt their messaging and tone of voice, and those that didn’t have seen a decrease in engagement. People are less likely to respond to hard sell pitches right now. So, they key is to create content that shows genuine empathy – whether that content is for email, social media or other channels you use.
Keep in mind that everyone has felt these months, and some more than others. Show you’re there for people in a meaningful way.
Please give us one “trick” anyone can use in their email marketing today and see immediate results.
Come up with two great options and then use A/B testing. Go with the one that works better!
What can you imagine in the future of email?
With email growing in every way, and all indications showing no sign of slowing down, I see it getting even harder to land in the inbox. And if and when you do, every one of your emails will be competing with so many others.
Marketers are constantly refining their tactics and fine-tuning personalization to deliver the most relevant content, to the right person, at the right time. The competition will be even more intense, and that’s a good thing: it forces us all to get better.
What would you say to those struggling to keep their businesses afloat right now?
Email marketing costs you very little, but has a great ROI. Keep on pushing and sooner or later you will find success. It is one of the most affordable ways to get in front of millions of people. If you aren’t using email to its fullest potential, don’t think about the time that has passed. Think of all the opportunities ahead of you.
It’s not too late. In fact, in many ways, it’s just starting.
Research exposes the £68.8 billion opportunity for UK retailers
Modelling shows increasing the proportion of online sales by 5 percentage points would have significantly boosted retailers’ revenues during the...
Want to serve your customers better? An effective online strategy is what financial institutions need
By Anna Willems, Marketing Director, Mention A strong online presence matters. Having a strong online presence, that involves social media...
The rise of AI in compliance management
By Martin Ellingham, director, product management compliance at Aptean, looks at the increasing role of AI in compliance management and just...
Simplifying the Sector: How low code can aid digital transformation in financial services
By Nick Ford Chief Technology Evangelist, Mendix From online banking to contactless payments and Apple Pay, it has been well...
Why the Boom is Long Overdue (and Here to Stay)
By Roger James Hamilton, CEO, Genius Group Virtually every aspect of our lives has been taken over by tech, so...
5 Sustainability Lessons That Are Crucial For Business Success
By Michael Stausholm, founder of Sprout World (sproutworld.com) Sprout World is the eco-company behind the world’s only plantable pencil, with...
Why financial brands need to understand consumer vitality
By Carolyn Corda, CMO at data consortium ADARA Our day to day lives have been turned upside down. Office workers have...
Why and how a modern marketing strategy should put customer experience first
By Jim Preston, VP EMEA, Showpad In 2004, the Leading Edge Forum coined the term ‘consumerisation of IT’, defining a...
Leading from the front – why decision makers must embrace automation
By Jeppe Rindom, Co-founder & CEO, Pleo Ask any decision maker at a business about admin and you’re likely to...
Business first, not compliance only is the future for accountants
By Peter Bracey, MD at Bracey’s Accountants. The past few months have underlined the need for better business insight to reduce...