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Banks are not the Barrier to Growth

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tim kirk

Tim Kirk, Partner and Head of Financial Services, BDO LLP

Any calls to reduce the capital requirements so that banks can substantially increase lending to businesses must not risk undermining attempts to restore long-term stability to the banking sector. tim kirk
In the fine balancing act to restore growth to the UK economy, banks have a key role to play.  But regulators and the Government need to address both supply and demand issues for bank lending, including ensuring banks are financially sound going into turbulent economic times, encouraging new entrants – with scale – to the banking sector, and encouraging SMEs through business friendly tax and regulatory structures.
As the UK sits on the edge of a double dip recession and second credit crunch, Sir Mervyn King, Governor of the Bank of England has confessed that “no one can know what precisely the outcome will be.  Who knows what’s going to happen tomorrow, let alone next month. ”
One thing becoming clear, though, is that the Chancellor, George Osbourne, has stopped talking about the “expansionary fiscal contraction” – growth being spurred due to the confidence generated by a fiscal tightening.  Instead, confidence is decreasing. Goldman Sachs has estimated that growth will have been reduced by around 0.7% of GDP due to the fiscal tightening programme and the Bank of England is forecasting no growth until well into 2012, with the 2012 forecast downgraded from GDP growth of 2.2% to a miserly 0.9%.
What we now need most are steps that will restore confidence and promote growth.  This this has prompted another senior Bank of England figure to call for a loosening of banks’ capital buffers to ease lending to small businesses.
With the volume of small business lending falling, Andrew Haldane, Executive Director of Financial Stability at the Bank of England, has suggested that rules should be relaxed so that banks can recalibrate their risk weightings – and how much capital is required to back a loan – to help boost economic growth. In Haldane’s view, greater account should be taken of the economic benefits that small businesses can provide in assessing risk and return.  “At present, they are calibrated to the risk to a bank.  In future, they need to reflect returns to society.”
There is much merit in the Haldane’s argument, especially his call for risk weightings to be dynamic to reflect the real economy and to provide more discretion to local regulators to fine-tune requirements within global parameters set by the Basel Committee on Financial Supervision.  And the argument that there is no point building up capital buffers if you are not prepared to use them has an inherent logic.
But, given the current economic uncertainty and perceived weakness of the banking sector, it is taking a risk to suggest that the regulatory infrastructure around capital adequacy is eased at this juncture.
The European Banking Authority, which oversees regulation across the EU, recently identified a Euro106bn capital shortfall across 70 banks.  And as we have seen before, even banks that are seen as secure by their regulator are not always quite so safe: 86 days after getting a clean bill of health as part of its stress tests, Belgium bank Dexia took a government bail-out to avoid collapse.
Nonetheless, even if capital requirements are higher than may ultimately be necessary, is this the time to start adjusting them and will that have a material impact on lending to small businesses?
Given we haven’t yet quantified the debt problems of the Eurozone, it is taking a substantial risk to suggest that this is the time to reduce banks’ capital requirements.  The higher capital buffers banks are being asked to hold should be seen as protection against future debt default, made increasingly more likely as Europe drives towards economic turmoil. While UK banks have reduced their exposure to European sovereign debt, the contagion risk from further strife in Europe remains high.
It is also not clear that the solution put forward by Haldane addresses the root causes of a lack of growth in the UK.  Our growth is poor by comparison to our European neighbours – the 17 members of the Eurozone, as a group, have grown by 1.4% in the past 12 months (even including the Club Med countries and Ireland) while in that period the UK has managed to grow by only 0.5% – but it is hard to build a case that this is attributable to a lack of bank lending available to SMEs when all countries are facing the same capital constraints and liquidity issues.
The British Bankers Association (BBA) shines some light in this debate with its independent research highlighting that the majority of businesses seeking loans or overdrafts had their applications approved and that:
  • About 14% of SMEs sought new/renewed finance in the past twelve months.
  • Only around 2% of all SMEs were turned down for an overdraft and even less (1%) for a loan.
  • Those businesses which found difficulties in getting credit were newer, smaller businesses with higher external risk ratings or no track record of successful borrowing.
So, a key issue reducing the amount of lending seems to be a lack of demand for loans and more prudent lending policies. It would seem that most SMEs who ask are able to get the credit they need from their bank, but, given the current economic climate and risk of a double-dip recession, the majority are unwilling to take on additional risk and have preferred to operate without seeking external finance.
But, while the banks can point to evidence to vindicate their position, small business leaders clearly believe lack of credit – and its cost – is a major problem.
However, rather than current banks not being willing enough to lend, the real constraint on the supply side is in relation to competition.  Rather than asking each bank to lend more, we need to consider how to have more banks lending.  The banks from the US, Europe and the rest of the world that used to populate London have largely pulled out of the UK.  It’s calculated that even if our banks returned to the levels of lending pre-crisis, there would still be a shortage of credit.
Unfortunately, the new entrants such as Metro Bank, while providing much welcome innovation in customer service, are small in relation to those who have withdrawn from the UK market.  Even the enlarged Virgin Money, with Northern Rock now included, will make little impact against the banks that have left the UK and will be a minnow compared to the dominant Lloyds, Nat West/ RBS, Barclays, HSBC and Santander.
In the longer-term, Virgin Money, NBNK and Tesco Bank are the probably most likely to replace at least a significant part of the lending capacity withdrawn from the UK market.  But this will take time and even then they will be constrained by tight capital requirements.
In the short-term at least, it’s unlikely that the FSA will be in a position to flex the relevant risk weightings that Haldane refers to.  Any flexibility of the risk weightings could be seen to undermine the European Union’s approach to wider financial stability.  The chairman of the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision, Stefan Ingves, warns that “the financial crisis resulted in a bold response by the committee.  However, these efforts will have been wasted if they are not globally implemented on a consistent and timely basis.”
And while previous agreements have not always been honoured, the committee is promising that this time the focus will be on implementation, with ‘global review teams’ checking on regulators around the world to ensure that Basel III reforms are followed.  This will include how banks measure asset risk, amid growing concern that banks are tinkering with their internal models to reduce perceived risk and the amount of capital they need to hold.
Banks can, and should, focus on both stability and economic growth, but it will take time. Only through strengthening their own capital positions, will they be more able to take the additional risks needed to support the small business sector and be in a stronger position in the event of future economic crises.
In the longer term, Haldane is right to consider how capital requirements can be flexible enough to meet macro-economic needs, and to allow local regulators to make adjustments within strict globally agreed parameters.
But, with the Eurozone crisis threatening economic stability and inter-bank lending dries up within Europe, the requirement to maintain a sound banking system means it is a risk too high in the short-term to suggest banks may reduce their capital.  As Ingves warns, “the corrosive forces of short memories and supervisory complacency must be avoided.”
If the Government and Bank of England are really looking for a way to unlock growth across the economy, attention also needs to turn to the demand side of the equation and towards issues that may not be gaining sufficient speed of response from policymakers: the impact of tax and regulation on new and growing enterprises.
Figures from the World Economic Forum show that the UK now ranks 94th out of 142 countries for the damaging effects of tax and 83rd for competitiveness of government regulation.  Neither Osbourne’s cuts to the spending by government departments – about 3%, versus the 2.2% they would have been under Gordon Brown – nor more pressure on banks to lend will have the same impact as freeing business, entrepreneurs and wealth creators from the regulation and high tax that can shackle enterprise.
By all means should the government and Bank of England find ways to ensure capital requirements don’t stifle growth, but first let’s create the right tax and regulatory frameworks to encourage business to take risk and allow growth to flourish.

Banking

The future of offshore banking

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The future of offshore banking 1

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 2
  • 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 3

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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