By Matt Pfeil, Chief Customer Officer and Co-Founder, DataStax
While the hype around big data has been at an all-time high for the past couple of years, the reality is that software products are changing things all around us. This is not limited to the banking sector. Boring things in your house like thermostats and weighing scales are themselves becoming connected to the Internet, and businesses are developing around this use of personal data. As people want to run their lives better, they turn to products and companies that can help them make better decisions based on the data that they create.
For banks, this use of data represents a great opportunity too, but at a much bigger scale. In 2014, Gartner estimated that 73 percent of organizations either planned to invest in big data over the following 12 months, or had already started their implementations. The finance sector is leading the charge to deploy new technologies that help improve decision-making and the customer experience. In particular, banks are looking at how they can make more use of data for decisions in real time across both investment and retail banking operations.
This involves being able to answer very specific questions as they are asked. For example, should a customer be able to carry out a transaction, or is it a risky one that might be fraudulent? What impact does an individual trade have on the institution’s liquidity, and how do each of those trading positions interact with each other? What does the big picture look like for the bank in the market?
To answer these kinds of questions, IT teams have to consider how they can manage the huge amounts of data that they are creating at any given point, as well as how to bring this data together in order to support the new services in the first place. By using this data in real time, IT can expand the usefulness of existing services and support the development of new products for customers. This is important as customers want to use multiple channels to interact with their bank, shifting over to online and mobile services for day-to-day transactions alongside traditional in-person sessions when they are necessary.
Part of this approach comes back to how banks see themselves in the wider market. One CIO I spoke with mentioned that he did not see competition coming from other financial institutions; instead, he was looking at how Facebook and Google are planning new services that might enter into what was previously considered the remit of the banking sector. In response to this new kind of pressure, he was looking at how to keep ahead of these potential competitors, rather than direct competitors. Recommendations and user experience were therefore at the forefront of his thinking. In essence, this involves traditional companies taking the DNA of businesses that were born on the web and applying it to the business of banking.
Investment banking and big data – getting more real-time insight
There are currently two areas where banks want to use real-time data within their trading operations, pre- and post-trade risk analytics and financial liquidity analytics. Each of these is concerned with both the long-term impact of decisions, and with how specific decisions currently affect the bank. Looking at these areas requires both the “thousand foot” view that comes with huge data sets that have been acquired over time, and the ability to manage the individual transaction too.
For trading, being able to model the wider impact of decisions before and after they are made can help those trades become more profitable for the organization as a whole. Looking at the overall liquidity that a bank may have at any given point is a critical requirement for all institutions to consider. Big data is therefore essential to meeting these business requirements.
Following on from the financial crash of 2008, banks have to maintain much larger levels of reserves in order to cover their trades and lending. The introduction of Basel III and the guidance from the U.S. Federal Reserve will compel banks to hold more of their assets to protect against potential risk. They have to demonstrate that they are holding enough capital to cover their trading operations at any given point in time. Using big data, the trading desk has the potential to analyze how potential decisions can affect the bank, and show whether additional liquidity will be required. Over time, this will mean a potential reduction in the volume of capital and assets that the bank has to hold while still meeting the needs of the regulators.
Here, big data can support more efficient use of capital and assets while allowing the bank to show it is in compliance. While the implementation of more compliance regulation does mean that banks will have to hold more cash and assets to cover potential risk, this approach can lead to significant efficiency around how assets are used in order to generate profits over time.
Big data in the retail banking sector
So far, much of this discussion around big data has focused on investment banking. However, big data can be used in the retail sector too. There are two main areas for this: fraud detection analytics, and implementing new services that take different data sources into account as part of the offering.
Fraud detection is a huge area of potential investment for big data according to Gartner. While many financial institutions have forms of fraud analysis in place today, the reality is that these are often limited to one channel only. For banks that are stressing their multi-channel strategies and abilities at online and (more importantly) mobile banking, this is a potential gap.
Analyzing transactions for fraud across multiple channels, and in real time, is a compelling use case for big data. Banking IT teams can look at the experience that online retailers and e-commerce sites have in order to learn and apply similar approaches. The likes of eBay have to monitor transactions and behaviour for fraudulent activity in real time, whether the request is being made via mobile app, mobile web or online channels, for example. As these B2C companies operate at huge scale, banks can learn from their approaches and apply some of the same techniques for web-scale IT.
This approach is also being used around designing new services. Banking IT teams can collaborate with the marketing division to support the extension of mobile channels with data. A good example is location – while many people have used social networking sites like Foursquare in the past, location-based services haven’t been adopted in the banking sector. This is now changing, as mobile apps can include data like location both to improve the user experience, but also as part of the security around the device and service being used.
If organizations do bring additional sources of data into these mobile apps, then availability of that data is an important consideration. When using location-based data as a factor in deciding what service to offer, or whether a payment should be processed, the data itself has to be continuously available to the application. Otherwise, there is the risk that mistakes are made and the customer experience suffers. Considering availability is important for services that are online and mobile – customers expect those services to be available at all times, performing at the same level. Amazon found that every 100 milliseconds of latency translated to a 1 per cent drop in revenue; for banks, the availability and speed of their services will increasingly be a yardstick that they are judged by. If services are perceived to be lacking or slow, then customers will move their accounts elsewhere.
This shift to using data also has further implications for the business around data security. Banks have always been targets for hacking attacks, whether this is on the IT infrastructure side or targeted at individual accounts. However, with so much data available and stored by banks as part of their services, the risk from a data breach goes up. This makes it more important than ever that data security is in-depth, structured and well-managed.
Changing technology approaches
According to Gartner, 32 percent of banking organizations surveyed last year are already implementing this kind of solution. However, many IT teams are facing challenges in getting these big data implementations from initial projects into full production. This is mainly due to the complexities of working at scale. Traditional technologies like Relational Databases (RDBMS) and Data Warehouses are approaching the limits that they can work at. To cope with these new channels and applications, banking IT teams are turning to new technologies like NoSQL databases and Hadoop are needed to handle the huge amounts of data that their applications require.
NoSQL refers to a family of new database platforms that are designed to cope with the volume of data that banks are now generating and using within their decision-making processes. While Google and Facebook originally developed NoSQL technologies to deal with the extraordinary volumes of data they processed on a daily basis, platforms like Apache Cassandra are now being used to bridge the gap around scale and availability that RDBMS platforms cannot. As the banking industry is now approaching the same scale and complexity, IT teams need to use similar tools in order to deliver results that consumers and enterprise clients have come to expect.
Alongside this, there is a general move over to using cloud computing strategies rather than more traditional big iron servers. The ability to scale up on commodity hardware is appealing as banks can manage their investments in hardware in a more linear fashion, making it more feasible economically to invest in supporting new services.
With all this change from a technology perspective, there are also organisational changes that have to take place too. Rather than looking at IT from a functional perspective, it’s important to look at how companies can manage their operations from a data perspective instead. This encourages much more cross-team and cross-function working, which can spur greater innovation and better service delivery for customers.
Looking to the future
Banks are looking at how they can make use of data to maintain their competitive advantage. This approach means that there is more emphasis on how to deal with data in real time and at scale. At the same time, IT teams are seeing what lessons they can learn from B2C services and web-scale organizations. As businesses seek to become more data-driven, new platforms that can provide the necessary scalability, availability and speed will prove crucial to these efforts. The time has come for technologies like NoSQL to meet these needs.
Matt is Chief Customer Officer & Co-Founder at DataStax. The company supports the delivery of Apache Cassandra to enterprise environments. Prior to DataStax, Matt built and managed the Email and Apps infrastructure development group at Rackspace.
Prior to Rackspace, Matt was at Webmail.us where he worked in various management roles in infrastructure and scalability. Matt holds a BS from Virginia Tech in Computer Science.
How open banking can drive innovation and growth in a post-COVID world
By Billel Ridelle, CEO at Sweep
Times are pretty tough for businesses right now. For SMEs in particular, a global financial and health crisis of the sort we’re currently witnessing represents a truly existential risk. Yet there is hope of a brighter future. Digital transformation is already helping organisations in countless sectors, with everything from building supply chain resilience to rolling out potentially life-saving contact-tracing schemes. Yet it’s not just delivering transformative benefits in grand projects like this.
Thanks to open banking rules, a new wave of fintech innovation is sweeping the globe, offering business leaders a new launchpad for success. Even something as simple as corporate expenses can be transformed by the power of open data — to help firms cut costs, reduce fraud risk and become more productive.
Opening up data to innovation
It’s easy to get bogged down in the technical details of open banking, and the slew of new acronyms it has ushered in: Third Party Providers (TPPs), Account Information Service Providers (AISPs), Payment Initiation Service Providers (PISPs), and Application Programming Interfaces (APIs). Yet at the heart of the open banking revolution is a simple concept: the idea that forcing banks to open up their customers’ financial data will create more competition, and fresh opportunities for market entrants to create innovative new services.
This was at the heart of the UK government’s world-leading strategy when it was introduced back in 2016. A revised EU payment services directive (PSD2) gave it legal teeth, mandating that all payment account providers in the region provide third-party access for customers that want it. The push is also about reducing banking fees and enhancing financial inclusion, of course, but it’s in competition and innovation that the benefits really shine for businesses.
Access to real-time financial data via open APIs has already resulted in a range of new services which are helping businesses ride out the current economic storm. Whether it’s capabilities that can help freelancers prove loss of income to receive targeted loans, or services designed to streamline business processes to reduce costs and fraud — examples of innovation are endless.
What’s more, it’s already global. Aside from the PSD2, open banking rules are taking shape in Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong, Mexico and elsewhere. According to frequently cited Gartner predictions, regulators in around half of the G20 countries will create an open banking API regime over the coming year.
In the UK alone this is set to create a £7.2 billion revenue opportunity by 2022, with 71% of SMBs and 64% of adults expected to adopt it by then, according to PwC.
Making expenses pay
Corporate expenses and travel management might not be an area one immediately associates with high levels of innovation. But here too, open banking is having a profound impact. By combining automation, in-app approvals, integration with corporate policy and secure open banking APIs, companies like Sweep are offering new ways to solve old problems.
Part of the legacy challenge relates to productivity. Managing corporate travel costs and expenses was cited last year as the biggest concern of the UK’s small and mid-sized firms. Separate research claimed that SMBs are estimated to lose over £8.7 billion annually due to the time it takes employees and managers to complete these menial tasks. By automatically integrating real-time corporate bank account information into an easy-to-use app, we can save up to 15 hours a month on data input and travel administration per employee. That’s all time they could be spending on growing the business.
Another key area of concern is fraud. According to some estimates, fraudulent expenses claims could be costing UK firms £1.9 billion each year. In the US, the figure could be approaching $3 billion annually. Whether it’s the result of submitting expense claims for personal purchases, claiming for additional mileage on work trips, or over-claiming for other items, it all adds up. What’s more, fraud tends to spike particularly during times of recession, when normally diligent employees look for ways to supplement their income.
In this use case too, there are benefits to be had from open banking-powered solutions. Traditional manual processes offer too many gaps that can be exploited by fraudsters. Submitting paper receipts to finance departments — which must then input the information into spreadsheets or accounting software — is slow, error-prone and lacks accountability. However, with modern digital systems, transactions are automatically fed through from bank account to expense management platform. Here they are seamlessly checked according to policy and automatically approved, rejected or flagged for further investigation.
The future’s open
Thanks to the power of open banking, innovative fintech use cases like this are transforming operational challenges into opportunities to cut costs and fraud risks, improve employee productivity and become more strategic. With real-time data fed through from corporate bank accounts, finance directors can better understand spending patterns, react with greater agility and gain the insight they need to run their businesses more efficiently.
So what of the future? The good news is that open banking is only just getting started. As more sophisticated machine learning algorithms are developed, it has the potential for even greater disruption by empowering SMEs with predictive analytics and forecasting tools, or more accurate fraud checks, for example. Those in Europe may benefit most as PSD2 allows businesses to use tools that work seamlessly and securely across markets, without requiring any duplication of work.
In fact, open banking is not just good for individual SMEs, it’s important for Europe as a whole if we are ever to nurture successful digital unicorns to compete with those coming out of the US and China.
Open banking been described in the past as a quiet revolution. With the right buy-in from business and the continued innovation of digital platforms, it may soon become a full-throated roar.
Banks take note: Customers want to pay with points
By Len Covello, Chief Technology Officer of Engage People
‘Pay with Points’ – that is, integrating the ability to pay with loyalty reward points directly into the online check-out process – is a trend that is growing exponentially with big-name brands like Amazon, PayPal and American Express leading the way.
The past few months have posed an unprecedented challenge in the loyalty space, especially with the pandemic’s impact on travel. The unforeseen impacts across the board have caused institutions with premier incentive credit cards to feel increased pressure to retain their loyalty members. As such, exploring innovative ways to create a personalized loyalty experience for customers is at the forefront now more than ever.
Offering the flexibility to pay with points is certainly one option that can help transform financial institutions’ (FIs) loyalty programs. With the evolution of consumer preferences – like relying on other forms of payment outside of credit and the move towards contactless payments – viewing points as currency naturally ties into the “new ways” in which American consumers bank, pay and shop.
Personalization is a win-win for banks and loyalty program members
As the world continues to evolve in light of the pandemic, consumer habits like mobile banking and shopping online for groceries are likely to carry over long-term. As a result, consumers will expect their loyalty programs to provide new incentives to fit their ever-changing needs. By offering loyalty program members the ability to pay with points for the items they want or need during the online check-out process, FIs are creating a more personalized shopping experience. This can help increase member retention, especially compared to dated loyalty programs that offer limited options for point redemption.
As we’ve learned with iPhones, tap to pay and other technologies that reduce friction, once consumers begin using a new and convenient digital service, there’s little desire to go back to the old way of doing things. By incorporating pay with points into loyalty programs sooner rather than later, FIs will be setting themselves apart in terms of meeting their member’s needs with modern payment offerings.
Outside of providing a personalized experience to loyalty program members, pay with points as a program perk also has specific benefits when it comes to a bank’s bottom line. Currently, there are billions of dollars in liabilities in the form of unused points sitting on banks balance sheets. This is in part due to loyalty program members inability to spend their points how they want. By allowing a more personal and flexible way to spend points, banks can reduce those liabilities while creating a more engaging experience for their members.
Meeting consumer demand is easier than you think
Incorporating the infrastructure to power new digital capabilities is more often than not a cause for concern: how expensive will it be? What does down time look like? How long will it take to get up and running?
Luckily for banks, the process is actually quite simple – and inexpensive. With a lightweight integration of a few APIs, banks can tap into a pool of retailers to make their merchandise available for purchase with points by loyalty program members in no time. And as the retail network expands, there’s no need for additional IT work to add new brands into the fold. Ultimately, API integrations upfront create a frictionless and scalable solution for FIs and a preferred shopping experience for members. And based on market feedback, the personalized experience that results from giving customers the option to spend points as easily as they would cash or card, far exceeds any initial inconveniences that may arise.
According to our recent Customer Loyalty Survey, 75% of customers are more likely to spend loyalty reward points to make a purchase over other payment methods. The findings also indicated that 72% of customers are actively engaged in loyalty programs because of the available redemption options.
Long-term loyalty is not just about acquisition or promotional material, but rather the experience of redemption and viewing loyalty points through a fresh lens. Customers today are well-versed in what’s available to them online. The more redemption options offered to the consumer, the more appealing the FI becomes.
Loyalty point redemption in action
In April of 2020, when the world was mostly in lockdown, we looked at how a select group of approximately 3,000 consumers spent their loyalty reward points, comparing April 2020 to April 2019. Key findings suggest that, if given the opportunity, consumers will spend their loyalty points to buy what they want or need based on their specific circumstances. For example:
- Significant increases in the purchase of outdoor items like BBQs and smokers (+3401%), fire pits and heaters (+2644%) and pool and patio accessories (+1297%) suggested people were making the most of the spaces around them.
- Consumers were focusing on their personal health and well-being with the increase in points spent on fitness accessories (+1664%), bike accessories (+1453%) and fitness trackers (+536%).
- Finally, the increase in purchases of hand-held power tools (+3076%), smart control lighting (+1750%), stick vacuums (+1096%) and specialty small appliances (+531%) suggests consumers took advantage of the opportunity to check projects off their at-home to-do lists.
We’re keeping a close eye on how loyalty point purchases evolve as more retailers and FIs get on board with viewing points as a true form of currency, especially in a post-pandemic world. Which items will rise to the top in the coming months and years as the payments ecosystem evolves? Will flight purchases or experience-based purchases regain popularity?
What’s next in the loyalty payments space?
As consumers continue to look for alternative payment methods, offering the flexibility to pay with points is the perfect opportunity for FIs looking to reinvent their loyalty programs. Engage People has always viewed loyalty points as a fiat currency, creating innovative technology that allows for easy integration that satisfies loyalty program members’ needs.
In the future, there’s a real opportunity to incorporate loyalty reward points into everyday life – extending beyond the online shopping experience. Imagine a world where you can pay for coffee, your bills, monthly subscription services like Netflix or make charitable donations with loyalty points just as you would with a credit card or cash. The future involves a mindset shift by consumers, financial institutions and the entire payments ecosystem, and that shift is viewing loyalty points as a true form of currency. Like reaching for cash, a debit or credit card, loyalty points can easily become a payment option of choice for consumers. FIs that are at the forefront of this trend now have the most to gain long term.
The Importance of Liquidity Solutions
By Justin Silsbury, Lead – Product Manager at Infosys Finacle
Economic uncertainty and business complexity have made a deep impact on corporate treasury management in recent years. With regulations getting tougher, funding becoming elusive, and profits shrinking fast, the way liquidity is managed is making a real difference to companies’ survival. As corporate treasurers around the world struggle with the challenges of liquidity management, they are turning to their banks for support; it is imperative that the industry respond with digital solutions that enable clients to manage money efficiently at low cost.
Why corporates need liquidity solutions
Corporate banking customers need a liquidity structure that maximises security, liquidity and yield. Even today, treasurers in multinational corporations lack visibility into their companies’ overall cash position across countries and currencies. Delivering returns on excess cash, although important, is not a priority for them, but making sure the money is safe and available when needed, is. Therefore, a liquidity solution should be able to consolidate a company’s cash position across all its accounts around the world, provide a unified view in real-time, as well as offer timely suggestions on maximising utilisation and yield. It should automate all these functions as far as possible to reduce both manual overheads and the risk of moving money manually on a daily basis.
Broadly, liquidity solutions are of three types – cash concentration solutions that automatically move money around the world; interest optimization solutions that reward customers based on their aggregated balances without the need to move any money; and investment sweeps that move all the consolidated funds to a money market fund or other short-term investment to earn extra returns.
And why banks should provide them
There are several reasons why banks should invest in a sound liquidity solution. The most important one is that without it, a bank can never become a customer’s principal financial institution. A large corporation will have many banking providers, each one trying to increase share of wallet; in this situation, a high involvement product such as a liquidity solution is particularly effective for building stickiness and strengthening a bank’s position vis-à-vis others. An illustration may be useful here: say a food retail chain banks with Santander in the U.K., and other banks across Europe. If the retailer chooses to consolidate its cash daily into its U.K. account using Santander’s liquidity management solution, where the excess cash can then be swept into an investment vehicle overnight, over time, Santander can cross-sell other products to the client to increase revenue and stickiness.
Technology does it
Corporate banking has historically lagged retail banking in technology adoption. It is high time that banks remedied this by digitizing their corporate solutions. Specifically, they can leverage a variety of digital technologies to provide clients instant access to liquidity, global visibility into the overall cash position, and efficient working capital management. With robotic process automation and machine learning, they can simplify and automate processes to cut cost and lead-time. Blockchain enables banks to offer fast, secure, cross-border transactions, while open APIs ease collaboration and co-innovation with Fintechs, customers and developers.
Banks need to deliver frictionless, personalized, “retail banking-like” experiences over customer-centric corporate banking channels. Instead of channel silos – one for liquidity, another for payments and so on – customers will see data from all their accounts in one place, from where they can manage liquidity, forecast cash flows, secure trade finance etc. On their part, banks can use 360-degree customer insight to issue not just timely alerts but also contextual recommendations. For instance, being able to alert a customer that a large payment is due the following week, but also suggesting the best options for arranging those funds.
Apart from improving the customer journey, a real move in corporate banking is towards cloud adoption. Many banks have started the cloud journey, but many still have some distance to cover before they are fully cloud-enabled; mainly, they are migrating monolithic, on-premise workloads to the cloud. Early adopters, such as JP Morgan Chase, HSBC and Citibank, are setting the pace by developing their own capabilities as well as procuring certain components from Fintech partners to plug into their overall solution.
One size doesn’t fit all
In the past, corporate banking solutions were largely meant for big companies, but today they are relevant to enterprises of all sizes. Internet and mobile have enabled even small local firms to scale far and wide, creating a need for solutions to manage their money across borders. Therefore, banks need to make sure their liquidity solution can accommodate the different needs of different clients. Only a flexible, componentised solution can do that.
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