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Banking on change  

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Banking on change  

By Anders la Cour, co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of Banking Circle.

Reveals the opportunities for financial institutions to step in and help fill the gap in banking provision for online SME merchants.

It is hard to comprehend just how much has changed in the past decade, in business, in banking, in globalisation, in politics and economics – even before the world was locked down to fight a global pandemic. Of course, ten years ago we were in the midst of a very different global crisis – in finance rather than health. What the two events have in common is the impact on small businesses, and the clarity with which they each highlighted failings or gaps in the banking and payments offering.

Back in 2010, the economy was dominated by cash and cheques, 19% of people had a smartphone and only 10% of European SMEs had taken an online order[i]. Accounts, invoices, statements and calendars were all on paper not digital, let alone in a slick smartphone app. Instant B2B payments were a distant dream. Cross border transfers an expensive luxury often only accessible to bigger businesses.

When so much has changed in such a short space of time, how can we predict the shape of our reality in another ten years? It looks as if COVID-19 has already accelerated change, forcing businesses to adopt digital strategies far sooner than they had planned: increasing online capabilities, adapting to homeworking, accepting new digital payment types, joining online marketplaces to reach more customers.

One thing we can say for certain is that payments have not kept pace with the change we have already seen, let alone what we expect in the coming months and years. In another decade the current offering will be even more out of date and inefficient, excluding more businesses than ever. Something needs to change, and it needs to change quickly to keep up with the flexible, innovative SMEs they serve.

Identifying what needs to change, and how

In 2018 we spoke to more than 500 SME online merchants to find out what banking services they use and the pain points they experience in payments and accessing funding. This year we repeated the study but expanded it to include 1,500 SME merchants across Europe, to assess how the landscape for access to payments services and funding has changed – and how the picture varies across different European geographies.

We found that the challenges continue for most smaller merchants, and opportunities remain for payments businesses and banks to step in and provide solutions to help these vital economic contributors to prosper, whilst simultaneously boosting their own revenue.

Key indicators, key opportunities

In the two years between studies, there has been a shift in the number of UK merchants with separate banking relationships for different geographies. In 2018 3.2% of respondents had separate banking relationships in every region in which the business trades, in 2020 that figure has risen to 17.2%.

Whilst this does of course reflect the growth in international trading, it also shows that small businesses find it hard to find one financial institution that can meet all their cross border banking needs. This is underlined by the drop in SMEs using just one bank for all countries in which they trade: 43.9% in 2020, down from 61.9% in 2018.

These two years also saw noteworthy changes in the reasons behind business borrowing. Increased global ambition saw more SMEs seek a business loan, with funding for international expansion accounting for 27.5% of loans in 2018 and 33.9% by 2020. However, the most dramatic and indicative increase is seen in the need to borrow to cover business costs and payroll. In 2018, 9.2% borrowed to cover payroll and 9.9% to cover business costs. Two years later, 23.5% of UK SME merchants needed additional funding to keep paying staff, and 32.8% would have been unable to pay business costs without external financing.

Banking on change    1

Anders la Cour

It is worth highlighting here that those we surveyed were asked to exclude any requirement for funding which was directly linked to the COVID-19 crisis. Therefore, this reliance on external funding to cover basic costs existed even before business was limited or suspended due to national lockdown restrictions, showing that it is a longer-term issue rather than a symptom of the current crisis.

In other European regions, an average of 23% have borrowed to cover payroll and 26.5% for business costs. SMEs based in The Netherlands were the most likely to have needed help covering payroll (28.6%) and – after British firms – German businesses were the most likely to seek funding as a short-term solution to cover business costs (31.5%).

The implications of any inability to gain this additional funding could be disastrous for a small business. In 2018, merchants in the UK said they would have to let employees go (24.6%), and the business could fail (13.3%) without funding. In 2020 these scenarios were even more likely, with 28.7% of SMEs saying they would have to make redundancies and 21.5% fearing the business would fail.

The wider European picture isn’t much better. 30.6% of German respondents said a lack of additional finance would lead to redundancies, and 28% each of Dutch and Nordic SME merchants would expect the business to fail as a result. French businesses were the least likely to have to let employees go, but with 19.9% saying this was a likely outcome, that is little comfort to their employees, especially as 21.5% felt the business would ultimately fail.

Cross border payment pain points

We live in an increasingly digital global market, where consumer or business buyers can purchase almost any product or service from anywhere in the world in just a few clicks, with little regard for details such as FX rates. In this highly competitive landscape it is vital that small businesses can stay competitive and successful by transacting quickly and seamlessly across borders. Yet our research shows that many SMEs have experienced significant challenges when attempting to access cross border payments from their banking partners.

Across all regions, 36.9% struggled with high fees (47.7% of Dutch SME respondents) and 31.6% faced delays due to slow response times (37.7% of Nordic businesses, compared with 22.8% of UK SMEs). Poor FX rates caused issues for 27.3% of respondents, and a poor digital experience caused 26.4% to faulter. 21.6% experienced poor customer service and a lack of understanding of what the business required.

Filling the gap

The world of global digital commerce is a rapidly growing sector; but it is also a sector where entrants face multiple barriers to operate because established financial institutions have a fear of the unknown.

However, banks and payments providers already supporting the online merchant space can deliver a genuine added value by providing their merchant customers with fast, low cost banking services including international bank accounts and access to crucial funding. In the current climate, taking tentative steps out of the COVID-19 lockdown, that support is going to be more valuable than ever. Indeed, for financial institutions that demonstrate a real understanding of SME needs there could be a significant long-term gain.

Clearly now is the time for the financial services sector to step up, and the financial ecosystem model remains strong. Banks or payments businesses working in silo have limited positive impact as resources are spread too thin. But working together within a financial ecosystem, those institutions that focus their resources on developing and delivering solutions in the areas in which they are strongest, working with other providers to build a suite of tailored and high quality services, can deliver better solutions to those SMEs who need it.

Today’s financial institutions – from traditional incumbent banks to payment businesses and FinTechs– have a unique opportunity. They can step in to help online merchants bounce-back, succeed and prosper in ways they could not imagine a few short months ago when the world was a different place.

Key findings of the 2020 research:

 Cross border banking is a challenge

Across the European countries surveyed, an average of 19.2% of online merchants have separate banking relationships in every country in which they operate – adding to their costs and resources to manage

  • 2% of UK merchants have separate banking relationships in every country in which their business trades
  • 44% of UK merchants work with just one bank for all the countries in which the business trades
  • 2% of businesses in the Nordics are the most likely to work with separate banks in each jurisdiction
  • 9% of French merchants work with multiple banks
  • 3% of Netherlands firms work with multiple banks

 Banking services used by online merchants

  • Around half of online merchants surveyed said they use short-term loans (47.8%), overdrafts (49.1%), and finance agreements for specific purposes (48.8%)
  • 2% access settlement accounts for cross border payments (43.2%) from their main bank
  • 35% use their bank for foreign exchange (FX) services (35%)
  • German merchants are least likely to access solutions to help with cross border trade, with the lowest

proportion of all respondents accessing settlement accounts (38.8%) and FX (16.8%)

Accessing finance – how long does it take?

Online merchants reported that accessing business finance had taken them as much as 6 months:

  • 8% said it took 1-2 weeks
  • 6% – 3-4 weeks
  • 7% – 1-2 months
  • 16% – 3-4 months
  • 6% – 5-6 months

 The Opportunities for FinTechs and Payments businesses

  • 3% feel their business is well served by their current banking partners; German merchants are the least satisfied at 82.9%
  • 6% of the dissatisfied businesses felt their business is not a priority for their bank, and 41.5% gave high fees as a reason
  • Approximately one in four respondents dissatisfied with their bank gave each of the following reasons for their dissatisfaction:
    • poor quality and inconsistent service (28.7%)
    • slow response times (28.7%)
    • poor FX rates (24.5%)

[i] Source: https://growth.revolut.com/downloadwhitepaper_2020

The full results of the online SME merchant survey are published in the latest Banking Circle white paper, ‘Mind the Gap: How payments providers can fill a banking gap for online merchants, which is available to download for free at https://www.bankingcircle.com/whitepapers/how-payments-providers-fill-finance-gap-online-merchants

 

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Banking

The future of offshore banking

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The future of offshore banking 2

By Granville Turner, Director at Turner Little.

Despite its misconceptions, the popularity of offshore banking is growing. Not only is it a perfectly legal way of holding your money, but with the right professional advice, it is also reassuringly simple to open an account.

This ease-of-use is prompting many offshore banks to change their offering to compete and make overseas banking even more accessible. No longer is it limited to just the super-rich.

So, what does the future look like for offshore banks? We’ve compiled a list of the top fundamental changes happening in the realm of offshore banking.

Catering to niche markets is the future

Rather than managing account holder’s money in general, offshore banks are tapping into how they can best serve different demographics. Essentially, it is about taking a more bespoke approach to managing money at various stages of life.

But catering to a variety of markets doesn’t just stop there. Many overseas banks are now accepting crypto as a form of currency to appeal to digital, tech-savvy generations.

Cryptocurrency is also attractive for those who see the security benefits it can offer.

Paper chains are fast becoming a thing of the past

As banks move away from paper in favour of digital, security is on everyone’s minds. This is because information is an important asset to many businesses, so protecting it is vital. As such, banks are securing data with the most vigorous encryption security standards.

For account holders, this means digital bank transfers and communication become less of a risk and the smarter thing to do. Paper chains are fast becoming a thing of the past.

Instant access, day or night

In today’s digital world, you don’t need to travel overseas to open an offshore bank account; everything can be done online or over the phone. And like most UK standard current accounts, many offshore accounts now offer online and mobile banking features. So account holders can manage their offshore finances and investments while transferring funds with ease.

Branchless banking

Offshore banks are following the same route of challenging onshore banks by going branchless. This offers substantial benefits for account holders, as branchless offshore banks don’t pass on as much overhead costs to the customer. Ultimately, this means customers can earn better interest rates and other returns on their investments.

Happy to help

At Turner Little, we work closely with offshore banks to provide you with quality service tailored to your needs. With over 20 years of international banking experience and specialist expert knowledge, we will assist you with your enquiries, no matter how complex. And every account we arrange comes with internet banking, card facilities and the ability to transact internationally.

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Banking

Hong Kong’s First Multi-Cloud Challenger Bank Goes Live with Temenos

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Hong Kong’s First Multi-Cloud Challenger Bank Goes Live with Temenos 3
  • WeLab Bank designed, built and launched using cloud-native Temenos Transact in less than 10 months
  • WeLab offers next generational digital services for the 7.5m people in Hong Kong to access from their mobile phones
  • Customers can open accounts remotely in just 5 minutes with bank reporting 10,000 account openings within 10 days of launch

Temenos (SIX: TEMN), the banking software company, today announced that WeLab Bank, Hong Kong’s first homegrown virtual bank, has publicly launched using cloud-native Temenos Transact to provide a range of next generation digital services for customers to enjoy 24/7 from their mobile phones. Designed, built and launched in less than 10 months, the fully digital bank has seen rapid take up with a reported 10,000 account openings within the first 10 days of launch.

WeLab Bank is powered by cloud agnostic Temenos Transact for core banking along with Temenos Analytics and Financial Crime Mitigation. Implemented on Amazon Web Services and Google Cloud, WeLab is the first multi cloud digital bank in Hong Kong. Operating on multiple clouds at the same time gives WeLab increased operational resilience and disaster recovery capability and is a regulatory requirement of the Hong Kong Monetary Authority for new digital banks. According to the Economist Intelligence Unit 2020 report for Temenos, 81% of global banking executives surveyed believe a multi-cloud strategy will become a regulatory prerequisite.

Developing a cost-effective and scalable core banking solution was paramount for WeLab. Temenos cloud native software is built for the digital age using API-first and DevOps principles and engineered to deploy in containers and microservices. This makes it easy for WeLab to scale for future business growth efficiently and eliminates the need to provision for peak processing volumes so that the bank only pays for its actual usage, yielding significant cost savings.

Critically, with NuoDB the solution delivers a cloud-agnostic, distributed relational database that enables WeLab to deploy an active-active on-demand database across multiple cloud providers with near zero downtime failover.

Temenos Transact is a preconfigured system and so requires very little coding and with Temenos model bank to address local practices and regulations, WeLab was able to bring its service to market faster and extend its innovation with more than 400 out-of-the-box APIs.

With Temenos, WeLab bank is set to transform banking in Hong Kong. In as fast as 5 minutes, customers can remotely open a WeLab Bank account with $0 monthly fees and start enjoying differentiated services such as time deposits with competitive rates, an interest-bearing deposit account with an instant virtual Debit Card, and real-time payments powered by Faster Payment System (FPS). Everything can be done on a mobile phone, simply and effortlessly.

Adrian Tse, CEO at WeLab Bank, commented: “WeLab Bank was born from an initiative to reimagine the banking experience for the 7.5 million people of Hong Kong. From the start, we knew this vision needed the most advanced cloud native technology and a partner that shared our vision for digital transformation. With Temenos we have efficiently built WeLab Bank from scratch, free from any legacies, with innovative features that proactively help customers to take control of their money and their financial journey.”

Max Chuard, Chief Executive Officer, Temenos, said: “Congratulations to WeLab Bank on the launch of their trailblazing new digital bank. Building and launching a licensed bank in such a rapid timeframe is a fantastic achievement and we are proud to have supported them in becoming the first multi-cloud digital bank in Hong Kong. Temenos cloud-native, cloud-agnostic strategy means we can satisfy the needs of the most innovative and ambitious neobanks like WeLab Bank to run on multiple cloud providers. We know this is just the beginning for WeLab and we are excited to be part of their story as they revolutionize banking for people in Hong Kong.”

Bob Walmsley, CEO of NuoDB said: “We are excited to be partnering with Temenos to help WeLab Bank achieve their aggressive launch timelines and deliver innovative banking services to its customers. We were inspired by the technical vision of WeLab and knew that executing an on-demand, multi-cloud strategy was a perfect fit for NuoDB. Our enterprise-class, distributed SQL database combined with Temenos’ cloud-native technology helps banks of all sizes around the globe migrate to the cloud to improve agility and reduce costs.”

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Banking

The Bank is Where the Heart Is

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The Bank is Where the Heart Is 4

By Nick Barnes, Practice Director, Financial Services & Customer Success at JRNI

When unexpected events occur, people turn to their banks to provide a sense of trust, security, and stability. They need to be available anywhere, anytime, and from any device. As it’s a business based on trust, one-on-one communication is key.

With the world still emerging from the COVID-19 crisis and endeavouring to avert a possible second wave, every country, state, and region has their own unique requirements. Plus, every customer or member has their own demands. Experts and pundits have discussed a new normal, but what’s normal for now involves keeping customers and employees safe while also providing the same sense of stability as before.

For banks, building societies and credit unions, the main concerns include how to maintain personal relationships amidst social distancing; how to be available at any time on any device; and how to provide a sense of calm and security amidst the chaos.

Adapt or fall behind

Customers are quickly learning which of their service providers are adapting best to this new world. Are financial services providers like banks and credit unions adapting, or falling behind?

Finances are a highly personal topic, and often, illogical or emotional. Will I have enough? Will it be available when I need it? It is always a hot topic of conversation, but especially during a pandemic when unemployment rates are rising, and the economic landscape is unsettled. In the past, a customer could walk into the bank, have a reassuring conversation with a representative and move on.

So, how can banks help their customers through tough financial times during the current crisis, when in-person communication is nearly impossible? One solution is to provide helpful, personalized customer service through digital channels.

While in-person assistance will remain important after COVID-19, customers are looking for assistance now.   Banks are turning to remote video and voice appointments to boost customer satisfaction and meet customer expectations.

3 reasons to use remote appointments

1. To comply with social distancing

Our Modern Consumer Banking Report​​​​​​​ last year showed that when consumers visit branches, it’s primarily to talk face-to-face and ask questions/get help.  Research from Bain reinforces this, and emphasizes that “many retail banking customers think it’s easier to purchase through a human channel, or prefer to speak with an employee before buying a product.”

Due to social distancing measures, branches cannot be customers’ primary way of managing their finances during this pandemic. However, this doesn’t mean that customers aren’t interested in personalized attention that can be made available via video and voice.

2. To meet new demand 

Although spending habits may have changed, consumers are still making critical financial decisions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Individuals: The financial effects of coronavirus are drastically different from one customer to the next. While some are counting down the days to receipt of their unemployment check, others may be taking advantage of low-interest rates to buy a house. Ultimately, banks and credit unions need to address each customer segment with a unique message and way of providing assistance.

Small business banking: Countless small businesses around the world have been forced to close their doors. Whether they’re needing loans, payment deferrals, or advice, small businesses are looking to their bank as a guide, and a comfort.

Investment management: A recession is upon us, and with that comes a new approach to investing. Financial advisors are fielding questions, providing recommendations, and staying up to date on the market. Beyond this, many are building entirely new strategies for their clients.

Regardless of customer type, it’s clear that each subset of customer needs help from their financial institution at this time.

3. To boost customer retention

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Financial institutions cannot afford to lose customers during the pandemic, so customer retention is crucial.  Great customer service boosts customer loyalty, and research from Bain shows that loyalty is key to retention:

  • Customer loyalty increases revenue, and loyal customers are less likely to switch to a competing bank.
  • Customers who are a bank’s “promoters” recommend the bank to others as much as six times more than “detractors.”
  • A bank’s “promoters” spend one-quarter more than detractors on their primary credit card.

Ultimately, being able to connect with a customer in need using video or voice can give customers peace of mind and boost loyalty. Delivering personalized financial services without interruption is crucial.

Initial results from video banking show that consumers consider the service valuable. Phoenix Synergistics’ survey from December 2019 found that 17% of customers polled had used video chat through a website or app with their financial institution. Of those that had used video chat, 89% found video chat valuable.

Some suggestions for banks using remote video or voice appointments would be to: firstly ensure your solution is secure and doesn’t expose personal information outside of the conversation; secondly create a culture of consultation to alleviate outstanding fears; thirdly leverage appointment setting to allow customers to pre-schedule consultations and enquiries; finally include remote appointments as part of a wider suite of ‘touchless’ offerings.

The dos and don’ts for bank branches

Forty-three percent of banking customers have expressed their desire to change the way they bank due to the pandemic. As with retail and hospitality, several key customer segments have doubts about visiting physical locations and are transacting more remotely.

The challenge for banks is to make services available wherever customers want to bank – be it by phone, online, or in branch – and when it comes to any transaction, the key is to make customers feel cared for, heard, and secure.

With social distancing parameters in place along with other health and safety measures, there’s significant focus on the need to retool the branch experience. Here are a few suggestions as we move into that next stage of business and interaction:

DO: Have a plan.

Nick Barnes

Nick Barnes

Think about how customers will enter and exit each location. Plan for increased space between people in line, how to attend to at-risk customers, properly spaced lobbies, and waiting areas. Consider your employees and what they need in order to stay safe including break rooms with increased space between lounging areas, removal of shared snacks, availability of hand sanitizer and masks.

DO: Make sure you can effectively manage footfall.

Overcrowding will create fear and loss of trust. Make sure you have plenty of directional signage, crowd control measures, and staffing. Solutions including people counters, occupancy managers, and pre-booked appointments​​​​​​​ both allow for the throttling of traffic, and the ability to build in cleaning time.

DO: Hire the right team and staff adequately.

Being courteous and in control will be the most important ingredient to success. Have enough staff, you will need the extra hands to ensure that all staff is properly trained and ready to enforce new protocols.

Some customers will be understandably anxious going into branches, and some will want to feel that everything has returned to normal, so staff may need to be very firm and well-versed in a new operating style.

DO: Offer customers the ability to bank when and how they prefer.

We’re not suggesting that you remain open for 24 hours, but the goal is to make it easy for the customer. Adding the ability to set an appointment with a wealth manager or an advisor online will enable customers to bank from home, and will enable banks to provide the personalized service customers have come to expect.

Leverage online appointment confirmations to remind customers to have key documents available if they need them. Virtual solutions position the bank to serve as an advisor rather than just a financial institution.

DO: Demonstrate your commitment to a safe environment.

Use clear signage to convey the measures in place to ensure customer and employee safety. Make hand sanitizer or wipes available throughout the branch, and in all high-touch areas. Ensure cleaning supplies are visible, around doorways and ​​​​​​​near greeters to provide customers with an added sense of security. And make sure that employees are following every measure required of customers.

DON’T: Lose customer confidence.

If you are not prepared, it will show, and it will be very hard to gain back customer confidence once compromised. Social media will not be your friend. Forrester Research reports that 52% of US online adults prefer to buy from companies that demonstrate how they are protecting customers against the threats of COVID-19.

DON’T: Overcrowd or fill your branch to capacity.

Consumers are being trained to avoid crowds, so failure at the branch to comply could result in losing their business. Most physical locations are operating with fewer staff and accommodating 10 – 25% of the traffic once allowed. Keep in mind that you only have one opportunity to make a first impression on customers, and they’re looking to trust you have their best interests in mind.

DON’T: Understaff.

You will need to expect the unexpected and having more hands-on deck will prove to be beneficial in the long run.  Having the wrong staff, or those that don’t take the time to learn new operating procedures or feel comfortable telling that customer who won’t keep a mask on, may not be the best fit.

DON’T: Make it difficult for customers to do business with you.

Social distancing introduces a number of disruptions to the way you’ve traditionally done business. So limiting options to customers – providing no ability to bank online or via phone, not having a live customer service voice or chat option – is not going to help. In addition to making sure the services are available, it is imperative to communicate all options to customers.

DON’T: Assume someone else will do it.

Bank staff need to show that the branch is being tended to, cleaned between visitors, and before opening each day. It is important that staff jump in to help move customers safely through the branch, ensure their questions are answered and overall, take a proactive approach to service without assuming that a sign or another staff member will take care of it.  Customers will come to the branch, but gaining their confidence is everything. Don’t lose it by not being prepared. It will be very hard to win it back.

With the constant threat new restrictions in response to COVID-19 outbreaks, banks will need to take a long view on how they enable the operational flexibility that will be needed to adapt to fast-changing conditions.  As people prepare to live more risk-averse lives, banks will need to go the extra mile to ensure customers feel less wary about visiting in person whilst also offering a seamless experience for those customers who prefer to remain in the safety of their homes.  Those that manage to do so will emerge from the crisis with a sustainable advantage over their competitors.

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