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Can analytics predict the next financial crash?

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Can analytics predict the next financial crash?

By Nageswar Cherukupalli, Vice President – Client Services, Financial Services and Insurance, at Infosys

Nageswar Cherukupalli, an alumnus of the Harvard Business School is focused on built strategic partnerships with key industry leaders across the Fortune 2000 clients advising on Business and Technology transformation areas. Nagesh is currently responsible for managing Data and Analytics Practice for Financial Services Unit of Infosys. In this capacity, he has participated and spoke at many industry events along with authoring many papers around Data & Analytics impact on Financial Services sector.

It is only a decade since we have come out of the worst financial crises since World War II. There are many who have correctly predicted this cataclysmic financial crash of 2008. Economics analyst Ann Pettifor released The Coming First World Debt Crisis in 2006 to a collective shrug from the wider financial community; it was only after Lehman Brothers that her book became a bestseller. Nor was she a lone voice: other eminent professors, investors and business leaders sounded the alarm long before the crash, but their warnings were lost in the background noise of competing opinions and financial figures.

As humans, we’re incredibly skilled at ignoring or discrediting those who make unpalatable predictions, no matter how great their reputation. After the 2008 financial crisis, the Queen of England famously asked academics at the LSE “Why did nobody notice it?” and Andy Haldane, Chief Economist at the Bank of England, put it rather nicely in saying that the economics profession is “to some degree in crisis”. It is all about building the ability to gather all information and create new economic models that can help simulate the real-world scenario to predict the next financial crisis.

Recent advances in technology, however, promise the ability to collate and analyse huge volumes of information for a real-time indication of the world’s economic health and rising risks. We are in an era where systems can understand, reason, and learn. Just like the way we all think.

Can AI predict the financial crash?

Money, being an invention unique to humans, should be predictable if only on the principle of rational self-interest. The most cursory glance at economic history – or even the current bitcoin bubble – shows us how misguided this belief is.

Lawrence Rufrano, who worked at the Federal Reserve during those febrile days in 2008, eloquently summed up the limits of human reason when applied to the future of finance. “Perhaps the most important lesson we learned,” said Rufrano, “was that the economy is more fragile than we like to believe and that humans alone cannot possibly serve as the sole protectors of the global financial system.”

Human frailty might be a given, but the unspoken question is whether current artificial intelligence (AI) technologies, including machine learning, are capable of predicting the next crash.

One of the main problems with using AI or other technologies to predict the financial future, is the transparency in the predictors’ methodology and technology used, or people will continue to have questions on the credibility of economics’ profession.

An AI ecosystem for the world economy

None of this is to disparage the undoubted capabilities of AI in warning us of impending catastrophe. The financial services and related industries are among the biggest investors in a variety of AI and machine learning tools that are already delivering invaluable insight into risks.

Palantir, the CIA-backed startup, has for some years been pioneering the use of AI to counter fraud, and was instrumental in bringing disgraced financier Bernie Madoff to justice. Other companies are using deep learning technologies to crunch through huge volumes of unstructured data such as corporate reports and social media to spot risks and identity fraud (among many other uses).

In fact, there are hundreds if not thousands of businesses applying the latest AI technologies to help forecast the future. However, these businesses are only focusing on one part of the vast, complex world of finance – either an individual company, or a particular type of risk.

That’s certainly useful for the firms that employ this technology. In our globalised, highly-interdependent world, however, we need a much more holistic analysis to reveal the unseen perils that threaten the fabric of our financial system. Technology firms might promise point solutions for addressing issues such as fraud or compliance failures, but these are unlikely to be enough to predict fundamental structural problems such as the sub-prime mortgage crisis.

The obstacle is not that AI is incapable of answering these questions, but rather that it will require much greater collaboration and cooperation between tech firms and financial businesses. When democracies face an unprecedented threat, a common reaction is to form a government of national unity. If we are serious about predicting and thus avoiding the next Great Recession, we need to take the same approach. The world needs an AI ecosystem that is capable of gathering and crunching through many zettabytes of financial data from an enormous variety of sources.

Of course, this raises numerous difficulties, not least in areas such as data protection and intellectual property. If we can solve these questions, then there is every chance that AI could be the one to predict the next global crash.

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ECB launches small climate-change unit to lead Lagarde’s green push

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ECB launches small climate-change unit to lead Lagarde's green push 1

FRANKFURT (Reuters) – The European Central Bank is setting up a small team dedicated to climate change to spearhead its efforts to help the transition to a greener economy in the euro zone, ECB President Christine Lagarde said on Monday.

Lagarde has made the environment a priority since taking the helm at the ECB, taking a number of steps to include climate considerations in the central bank’s work as the euro zone’s banking watchdog and main financial institution.

She is now creating a team of around 10 ECB employees, reporting directly to her, to set the central bank’s agenda on climate-related topics.

“The climate change centre provides the structure we need to tackle the issue with the urgency and determination that it deserves,” Lagarde said in a speech.

She said that climate change belonged in the ECB’s remit as it could affect inflation and obstruct the flow of credit to the economy.

The ECB said earlier on Monday it would invest some of its own funds, which total 20.8 billion euros ($25.3 billion) and include capital paid in by euro zone countries, reserves and provisions, in a green bond fund run by the Bank for International Settlement.

More significantly, ECB policymakers are also debating what role climate considerations should play in the institution’s multi-trillion euro bond-buying programme.

So far the ECB has bought corporate bonds based on their outstanding amounts but Lagarde has said the bank might have to consider a more active approach to correct the market’s failure to price in climate risk.

“Our strategy review enables us to consider more deeply how we can continue to protect our mandate in the face of (climate) risks and, at the same time, strengthen the resilience of monetary policy and our balance sheet,” Lagarde said.

(Reporting by Balazs Koranyi; Editing by Francesco Canepa and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

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What to expect in 2021: Top trends shaping the future of transportation

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What to expect in 2021: Top trends shaping the future of transportation 2

By Lee Jones, Director of Sales – Grocery, QSR and Selected Accounts for Northern Europe at Ingenico, a Worldline brand

The pandemic has reinforced the need for businesses to undergo digital transformation, which is pivotal in the digital economy. In 2020, we saw the shift to online and cashless payments accelerated as a result of increased social distancing and nationwide restrictions.

The biggest challenge on all businesses into 2021 will be how they continue to adapt and react to the ever changing new normal we are all experiencing. In this context, what should we expect this year and beyond, in terms of developments across key sectors, including transport, parking and electric vehicle (EV) charging?

Mobility as a service (MaaS) and the future of transportation

Social distancing and lockdown measures have brought about a real change in public habits when it comes to transportation. In the last three months alone, we have seen commuter journeys across the globe reduce by at least 70%, while longer-distance travel has fallen by up to 90%. With it, cash withdrawals for payment has drastically reduced by 60%.

Technological advancements, alongside open payments, have unlocked new possibilities across multiple industries and will continue to have a strong impact. Furthermore, travellers are expecting more as part of their basic service. Tap and pay is one of the biggest evolutions in consumer payments. Bringing ease and simplicity to everyday tasks, consumers have welcomed this development to the transport journey. In-app payments are also on the rise, offering customers the ability to plan ahead and remain assured that they have everything they need, in one place, for every leg of their journey. Many local transport networks now have their own apps with integrated timetables, payments, and ticket download capabilities. These capabilities are being enabled by smaller more portable terminals for transport staff, and self-scanning ticketing devices are streamlining the process even further.

Lee Jones

Lee Jones

Ultimately, the end goal for many transport providers is MaaS – providing an easy and frictionless all-encompassing transport system that guides consumers through the whole journey, no matter what mode of travel they choose. Additionally, payment will remain the key orchestrator that will drive further developments in the transportation and MaaS ecosystems in 2021. What remains critical is balancing the need for a fast and convenient payment with safety and data privacy in order to deliver superior customer experiences.

The EV charging market and the accelerating pace of change  

The EV charging market is moving quickly and represents a large opportunity for payments in the future. EVs are gradually becoming more popular, with registrations for EVs overtaking those of their diesel counterparts for the first time in European history this year. What’s more, forecasts indicate that by 2030, there will be almost 42 million public charging points deployed worldwide, as compared with 520,000 registered in 2019.

Our experience and expertise in this industry have enabled us to better understand but also address the challenges and complexities of fuel and EV payments. The current alternating current (AC) based chargers are set to be replaced by their direct charging (DC) counterparts, but merchants must still be able to guarantee payment for the charging provider. Power always needs to be converted from AC to DC when charging an electric vehicle, the technical difference between AC charging and DC charging is whether the power gets converted outside or inside the vehicle.

By offering innovative payment solutions to this market segment, we enable service operators to incorporate payments smoothly into their omnichannel customer experience that also allows businesses to easily develop acceptance and provide a unique omnichannel strategy for EV charging payments. From proximity to online payments, it will support businesses by offering a unique hardware solution optimized for PSD2 and SCA. It will manage both near field communication (NFC) cards and payments from cards/smartphones, as well as a single interface to manage all payments, after sales support and receipt with both ePortal and eReceipts.

Cashless options for parking payments

The ‘new normal’ is now partly defined by a shift in consumer preference for cashless, contactless and mobile or embedded payments. These are now the preferred payment choices when it comes to completing the check-in and check-out process. They are a time-saver and a more seamless way to pay.

Drivers are more self-reliant and empowered than ever before, having adopted technologies that work to make their life increasingly efficient. COVID-19 has given rise to both ePayment and omnichannel solutions gaining in popularity. This has been due to ticketless access control based on license plate recognition or the tap-in/tap-out experience, as well as embedded payments or mobile solutions for street parking.

These smart solutions help consider parking services more broadly as a part of overall mobility or shopping experience. Therefore, operators must rapidly adapt and scale new operational practices; accept electronic payment, update new contactless limits, introduce additional payments means, refund the user or even to reflect changing customer expectations to keep pace.

2021: the journey ahead

This year,  we expect to see an even greater shift towards a cashless society across these key sectors, making the buying experience quicker and more convenient overall.

As a result, merchants and operators must make the consumer experience their top priority as trends shift towards simplicity and convenience, ensuring online and mobile payments processes are as secure as possible.

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Opportunities and challenges facing financial services firms in 2021

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Opportunities and challenges facing financial services firms in 2021 3

By Paul McCreadie, Partner at ECI Partners, the leading growth-focused mid-market private equity firm

Despite 2020 being an enormously disruptive year for businesses, our latest Growth Index research reveals that almost three quarters (74%) of mid-market financial services companies remained resilient throughout the pandemic.

This is positive news, especially when taking into account the economic disruption that financial services firms have had to go through since the crisis began. No doubt 2021 will also hold its own challenges – as well as opportunities – for firms in this sector.

Challenges outlook

Unsurprisingly, the biggest short-term concern for financial firms for the year ahead involved changing pandemic guidance, with 42% citing this as a top concern. With the UK currently experiencing a third lockdown many financial services businesses will have already had to adapt to rapidly changing guidance, even since being surveyed.

Businesses will also be considering the need to invest in working from home operations, and there may be uncertainty over re-opening offices on a permanent basis.  According to the research 30% of financial services firms are planning to adopt remote working on a permanent basis, so decisions need to be made now about whether they invest more in enabling staff to do this, or in their current office premises.

Due to Brexit, UK financial services firms are no longer able to passport their services into Europe, which may cause problems, particularly in the next 12 months as the Brexit deal is ironed out and the agreement is put into practice. Despite this, Brexit was only cited by 24% of financial firms as a short-term concern. While it’s comforting to see that UK financial firms aren’t hugely concerned about Brexit at this juncture, it is going to be vital for the ongoing success of the industry that the UK is able to get straightforward access to Europe and operate there without issue, otherwise we may see these concern levels rise.

Looking ahead to longer-term concerns for financial services businesses, the top concern was global economic downturn, of which 40% of firms cited this as a worry when looking beyond 2021.

Investing and adopting tech

Traditionally, the financial services sector has been slow to adopt digital transformation. Issues with legacy systems, coupled with often large amounts of data and a reluctance to undertake potentially risky change processes, have meant many firms are behind the curve when it comes to technology adoption. It’s therefore promising to see that so much has changed over the last year, with 45% of financial services firms having invested in AI and machine learning technology – making it the top sector to have invested in this space over the last 12 months.

One business that exemplifies the benefits of investing in machine learning is Avantia, the technology-enabled insurance provider behind HomeProtect. The business has undergone a large tech transformation in the last few years, investing in an underlying machine learning platform and an in-house data science team, which provides them with capabilities to return a quote to over 98% of applicants in under one second. This tech investment has allowed them to become more scalable, provide a more stable platform, improve customer service and consequently, grow significantly.

This demonstrates how this kind of tech can help businesses to leverage tech in order to offer a better customer experience, and retain and grow market share through winning new customers. This resilience should combat some of the concerns that firms will face in the next year.

Additionally, half (51%) of financial services firms have invested in cybersecurity tech over the last year, which allows them to protect the platforms on which they operate and ensure ongoing provision of solutions to their customers.

International resilience

Clearly, there is a benefit of international revenues and profits on business resilience. In practice, this meant that businesses that weren’t internationally diversified in 2020 struggled more during the pandemic. In fact, the businesses considered to be the least resilient through the 2020 crisis were three times more likely to only operate domestically.

Perhaps an attribute towards financial services firms’ resilience in 2020, therefore, was the fact that 53% already had a presence in Europe throughout 2020 and 38% had a presence in North America. This internationalisation gave them an advantage that allowed them to weather the many storms of 2020.

Looking at how to capitalise on this throughout the rest of 2021, half (51%) of are planning overseas growth in Europe over the next 12 months, and 43% in North America. Further plans to expand internationally is not only a good sign for growth, but should further increase resilience within the sector.

Conclusion

While there are many concerns, the fact that financial services businesses are investing in technology like AI and machine learning, as well as still planning to grow internationally, means that they are providing themselves with the best chances of dealing with any upcoming challenges effectively.

In order to maintain their growth and resilience throughout the next 12 months, it’s imperative that they continue to put their customers first, invest in technology and remain on the front foot of digital change.

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