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Challenges and Opportunities for the World Economy and the IMF

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Christine Lagarde – Managing Director, International Monetary Fund
Council on Foreign Relations
C. Peter McColough Series on International Economics

I. The Rise in Interconnectedness
Good morning. I’m delighted to be back in New York, and especially with old friends at the Council on Foreign Relations.
Today, I’d like to talk about the challenges facing the world economy, and the role of the IMF. Since it’s only my 22nd day as Managing Director, I’m still in listening and learning mode. But it is already clear to me that for the IMF to be even more effective, it must understand even better the remarkable changes that are taking place in the global economy—and in particular, the dramatic rise in interconnectedness between countries. In other words, the IMF needs to bring an even more multilateral perspective to the advice it gives its member countries—especially the systemic economies, whose policies can have such a significant impact on the rest of the world. I will return to this point when I focus on the IMF.

II. Challenges Facing the Global Economy
But let me begin with three major challenges that I see facing the global economy today: sovereign debt, growth, and social instability. These challenges are intimately intertwined—and I will submit that it is only by solving all three that we can unlock strong, stable, and balanced global growth. Why is that? Because for sovereign debt to be sustainable, economic growth needs to be strong, but in a sustainable way. And for economic growth to be sustainable, it needs to deliver the stable social chemistry that holds societies together.
Let me turn to the first challenge—sovereign debt.
In Europe, fiscal problems in the periphery have revealed the risks posed by an incomplete economic and monetary union. As a result, the euro area as a whole is experiencing difficulties. Even the tough fiscal and structural measures adopted by the affected countries have not convinced markets that a lasting solution is in place.
Last week, eurozone leaders reached an important agreement to overcome these concerns. The package includes new financing for Greece, at much longer maturities and lower rates—terms that will also be available to the other crisis economies. The EFSF—Europe’s crisis financing tool—has been given greater flexibility in supporting member countries. The package also includes critical measures to strengthen economic governance in the eurozone.
The agreement shows that European leaders believe in the eurozone, and will do what it takes to secure its destiny. It has been welcomed by financial markets, as reflected in the stronger euro and lower peripheral bond spreads. But turbulence could easily resurface. For this reason, it is essential that the summit’s commitments should be implemented quickly.
I’m hopeful that the political courage shown by European leaders will soon be followed by bold fiscal action in the U.S. On the debt ceiling, the clock is ticking, and clearly the issue needs to be resolved immediately. Indeed, an adverse fiscal shock in the United States could have serious spillovers on the rest of the world. But more fundamentally, a credible fiscal adjustment plan is needed sooner rather than later. In Japan also, even though the situation is not as urgent, more ambitious measures are needed to deal with the very high level of public debt.
What will fiscal consolidation mean for growth? In the short-term, the impact is likely to be negative. Our research has found that a 1 percentage point cut in the deficit could lower growth by about ½ percentage point over two years. This is why measures that are legislated now—but only reduce deficits in the future, when the recovery is more robust—would be particularly helpful. But there is good news too: over the longer term, debt reduction can actually raise output by bringing down real interest rates and making room for tax cuts.
Another perspective on this issue comes from the IMF’s spillover analysis. Focusing on the United States, it finds that credible fiscal consolidation measures would likely have very modest contractionary effects on demand—and possibly even positive effects, as confidence improves.
This brings me to the second challenge—namely growth.
Overall, the IMF expects reasonable global growth in the near-term—about 4-4½ percent through 2012. But the recovery remains unbalanced, and risks are clearly to the downside.
Rapid growth in the emerging economies has been critical to sustain the global recovery—and reflects the pay-off from sound macroeconomic policies in recent years. But in some of these economies, signs of overheating are becoming more prominent. Staying ahead of the curve will be essential to avoid the possible hard landing if policy action comes too late.
Low-income countries have also been enjoying healthy growth. Here too, better macroeconomic policies have played a major role. But many of these countries are reeling from the surge in commodity prices. Earlier this year, the World Bank estimated that the rise in food prices had pushed an additional 44 million people into extreme poverty. And today, many countries in the Horn of Africa are facing potentially the worst food security crisis in decades. The IMF stands ready to help our low-income members deal with this crisis—and more broadly, as they seek strong, durable and inclusive growth.
Turning to the advanced economies, it is evident that the crisis has inflicted deep and long-lasting scars. To make up for the lost ground, a sea-change in policies is needed in many areas.
The United States could be facing another jobless recovery. Again, that’s why we’ve advised against fiscal consolidation that is unduly hasty—even as we stress the importance of getting a fiscal consolidation plan agreed soon. We’ve also recommended active labor market policies to stem the rise in structural unemployment, and measures to ease adjustment in the housing market (for example, mortgage relief).
In Europe, where job destruction has been much smaller, addressing competitiveness problems is a major issue. IMF analysis has found that the right reforms could lift annual growth by as much as ½ to 1¼ percentage points. Making labor and capital markets more productive will be essential. Deeper market integration will also play a key role.
Boosting growth in these economies is no small task. And the goal can’t simply be any growth—we need the right kind of growth, that creates jobs and lifts people across the socio-economic spectrum.
This is why we must deal with the third challenge—social instability.
In the Middle East and North Africa, we have seen how socially imbalanced growth contributed to the political upheaval. And in many emerging and developing economies, rising commodity prices are exacerbating social problems associated with high joblessness. In these countries, strong social safety nets can help protect the most vulnerable, while better education can improve job prospects.
Social problems are of major concern to advanced economies too. The young in particular are having a hard time finding work—with potentially lifelong implications in terms of employability and income. At the same time, the older generations are fighting to protect their health and pension benefits. Combine the two, and we may face a “clash of generations”, to borrow a term coined by the scholar David Rothkopf. This is why focusing on the right kind of growth is so important.

III. The Role of the IMF
So how does the IMF fit into all this? Over the last few years, the IMF’s role has grown tremendously. It was an intellectual leader during the crisis, with its early call for coordinated policy stimulus. It has been a flexible financial partner, reforming its lending instruments and making available a record amount of support, totaling about $330 billion. And it is helping build a stronger global economy, through its policy advice and technical assistance efforts.
But as the needs of our members change, we too must we adapt. I see four organizing principles for an IMF that remains relevant—and they all, rather conveniently, begin with C.
First, the IMF must be client-focused. Who are our clients? Arguably, our most important client is the international monetary system. The IMF’s Articles of Agreement mandate us to preserve its stability—with the ultimate goal of fostering a healthy global economy and increasing human welfare. But clearly, our member countries are also our clients. And we service them by providing policy advice, financial support, and technical assistance.
Some may see tensions between these two responsibilities. But in today’s highly interconnected global economy, domestic policies have in a way become external policies. And so by focusing on the policies needed to stabilize the system as a whole, the IMF can help its members find the policies best suited to deliver strong and stable growth over the long run.
Second, as I said at the outset, the IMF must understand better the connections—both between and within countries.
We are just completing a study of how policies in the world’s five most systemically important economies—China, the euro area, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States—affect stability in others. We found, for example, that a successful rebalancing of the Chinese economy—including a stronger social safety net, a liberalization of the financial system, and a stronger currency—would generate positive spillovers for the global economy. We also found that the adoption of a suitably ambitious regulatory and supervisory regime in the United Kingdom would strengthen the stability of the system as a whole.
There are also connections within countries that we must understand better—especially macrofinancial linkages. Here too, the IMF has stepped up its analytical work, and is contributing to efforts to build a macroprudential framework.
Third, the IMF must be comprehensive. When evaluating the strength of an economy, we need to look beyond the standard economic and financial criteria to make sure that we don’t miss other factors—such as social concerns, or political economy issues—that may threaten macroeconomic stability.
Now, does this mean that I intend to turn the IMF into the International Multi-Disciplinary Fund? Not at all. But we do need new thinking on the interplay between macroeconomics and these other dimensions, and we should draw more on outside expertise in this area.
Fourth, the IMF must be credible—both in how we work, and how we’re governed.
Candor and evenhandedness is essential for the IMF to be credible in its monitoring of economic policies. This means that all countries should get fair treatment from the IMF—fair in listening to their views, fair in evaluating their policies, and fair in reporting them to the world.
Credibility of our governance is also essential for the IMF to be effective. For too long, the IMF’s voting structure reflected the economic realities of bygone days. But this is changing. Last year, our members agreed to boost the voting power of the world’s fastest growing economies, such that the BRICs will be amongst our top ten shareholders. Getting these reforms implemented as soon as possible is one of my top priorities.
IV. Conclusion: The Spirit of Wisdom
I’d like to close today with some helpful advice from John Maynard Keynes—incidentally, a great fan of New York, who lobbied very hard for the IMF to be established here.
Speaking at the Savannah conference in 1946, Keynes expressed his hope that the IMF—along with the World Bank—would be blessed with three gifts from their fairy godmothers:
– A many-colored coat, as a perpetual reminder that they belong to the whole world and that their sole allegiance is to the general good;
– A box of vitamins, to encourage energy and a fearless spirit, that welcomes difficult issues and is determined to solve them; and
– A spirit of wisdom, patience, and grave discretion, so that their approach to every problem is absolutely objective.
These three gifts remain as essential for the Fund today as they were at its establishment.
So – I have bought a colorful new coat and have stocked up on vitamins. Now all I need is a spirit of wisdom! Thankfully, I can rely on the tremendous collective wisdom of the members of the IMF, of its Executive Board, and of its dedicated and talented staff. I also look to you, our friends at the Council on Foreign Relations, to share your wise counsel on the critical challenges facing the IMF—and the world—today.
Source: www.imf.org

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TCI: A time of critical importance

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By Fabrice Desnos, head of Northern Europe Region, Euler Hermes, the world’s leading trade credit insurer, outlines the importance of less publicised measures for the journey ahead.

After months of lockdown, Europe is shifting towards rebuilding economies and resuming trade. Amongst the multibillion-euro stimulus packages provided by governments to businesses to help them resume their engines of growth, the cooperation between the state and private sector trade credit insurance underwriters has perhaps missed the headlines. However, this cooperation will be vital when navigating the uncertain road ahead.

Covid-19 has created a global economic crisis of unprecedented scale and speed. Consequently, we’re experiencing unprecedented levels of support from national governments. Far-reaching fiscal intervention, job retention and business interruption loan schemes are providing a lifeline for businesses that have suffered reductions in turnovers to support national lockdowns.

However, it’s becoming clear the worst is still to come. The unintended consequence of government support measures is delaying the inevitable fallout in trade and commerce. Euler Hermes is already seeing increase in claims for late payments and expects this trend to accelerate as government support measures are progressively removed.

The Covid-19 crisis will have long lasting and sometimes irreversible effects on a number of sectors. It has accelerated transformations that were already underway and had radically changed the landscape for a number of businesses. This means we are seeing a growing number of “zombie” companies, currently under life support, but whose business models are no longer adapted for the post-crisis world. All factors which add up to what is best described as a corporate insolvency “time bomb”.

The effects of the crisis are already visible. In the second quarter of 2020, 147 large companies (those with a turnover above €50 million) failed; up from 77 in the first quarter, and compared to 163 for the whole of the first half of 2019. Retail, services, energy and automotive were the most impacted sectors this year, with the hotspots in retail and services in Western Europe and North America, energy in North America, and automotive in Western Europe

We expect this trend to accelerate and predict a +35% rise in corporate insolvencies globally by the end of 2021. European economies will be among the hardest hit. For example, Spain (+41%) and Italy (+27%) will see the most significant increases – alongside the UK (+43%), which will also feel the impact of Brexit – compared to France (+25%) or Germany (+12%).

Companies are restarting trade, often providing open credit to their clients. However, there can be no credit if there is no confidence. It is increasingly difficult for companies to identify which of their clients will emerge from the crisis from those that won’t, and whether or when they will be paid. In the immediate post-lockdown period, without visibility and confidence, the risk was that inter-company credit could evaporate, placing an additional liquidity strain on the companies that depend on it. This, in turn, would significantly put at risk the speed and extent of the economic recovery.

In recent months, Euler Hermes has co-operated with government agencies, trade associations and private sector trade credit insurance underwriters to create state support for intercompany trade, notably in France, Germany, Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands and the UK. All with the same goal: to allow companies to trade with each other in confidence.

By providing additional reinsurance capacity to the trade credit insurers, governments help them continue to provide cover to their clients at pre-crisis levels.

The beneficiaries are the thousands of businesses – clients of credit insurers and their buyers – that depend upon intercompany trade as a source of financing. Over 70% of Euler Hermes policyholders are SMEs, which are the lifeblood of our economies and major providers of jobs. These agreements are not without costs or constraints for the insurers, but the industry has chosen to place the interests of its clients and of the economy ahead of other considerations, mindful of the important role credit insurance and inter-company trade will play in the recovery.

Taking the UK as an example, trade credit insurers provide cover for more than £171billion of intercompany transactions, covering 13,000 suppliers and 650,000 buyers. The government has put in place a temporary scheme of £10billion to enable trade credit insurers, including Euler Hermes, to continue supporting businesses at risk due to the impact of coronavirus. This landmark agreement represents an important alliance between the public and private sectors to support trade and prevent the domino effect that payment defaults can create within critical supply chains.

But, as with all of the other government support measures, these schemes will not exist in the long term. It is already time for credit insurers and their clients to plan ahead, and prepare for a new normal in which the level and cost of credit risk will be heightened and where identifying the right counterparts, diversifying and insuring credit risk will be of paramount importance for businesses.

Trade credit insurance plays an understated role in the economy but is critical to its health. In normal circumstances, it tends to go unnoticed because it is doing its job. Government support schemes helped maintain confidence between companies and their customers in the immediate aftermath of the crisis.

However, as government support measures are progressively removed, this crisis will have a lasting impact. Accelerating transformations, leading to an increasing number of company restructurings and, in all likelihood, increasing the level of credit risk. To succeed in the post-crisis environment, bbusinesses have to move fast from resilience to adaptation. They have to adopt bold measures to protect their businesses against future crises (or another wave of this pandemic), minimize risk, and drive future growth. By maintaining trust to trade, with or without government support, credit insurance will have an increasing role to play in this.

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What Does the FinCEN File Leak Tell Us?

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By Ted Sausen, Subject Matter Expert, NICE Actimize

On September 20, 2020, just four days after the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) issued a much-anticipated Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, the financial industry was shaken and their stock prices saw significant declines when the markets opened on Monday. So what caused this? Buzzfeed News in cooperation with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) released what is now being tagged the FinCEN files. These files and summarized reports describe over 200,000 transactions with a total over $2 trillion USD that has been reported to FinCEN as being suspicious in nature from the time periods 1999 to 2017. Buzzfeed obtained over 2,100 Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) and over 2,600 confidential documents financial institutions had filed with FinCEN over that span of time.

Similar such leaks have occurred previously, such as the Panama Papers in 2016 where over 11 million documents containing personal financial information on over 200,000 entities that belonged to a Panamanian law firm. This was followed up a year and a half later by the Paradise Papers in 2017. This leak contained even more documents and contained the names of more than 120,000 persons and entities. There are three factors that make the FinCEN Files leak significantly different than those mentioned. First, they are highly confidential documents leaked from a government agency. Secondly, they weren’t leaked from a single source. The leaked documents came from nearly 90 financial institutions facilitating financial transactions in more than 150 countries. Lastly, some high-profile names were released in this leak; however, the focus of this leak centered more around the transactions themselves and the financial institutions involved, not necessarily the names of individuals involved.

FinCEN Files and the Impact

What does this mean for the financial institutions? As mentioned above, many experienced a negative impact to their stocks. The next biggest impact is their reputation. Leaders of the highlighted institutions do not enjoy having potential shortcomings in their operations be exposed, nor do customers of those institutions appreciate seeing the institution managing their funds being published adversely in the media.

Where did the financial institutions go wrong? Based on the information, it is actually hard to say where they went wrong, or even ‘if’ they went wrong. Financial institutions are obligated to monitor transactional activity, both inbound and outbound, for suspicious or unusual behavior, especially those that could appear to be illicit activities related to money laundering. If such behavior is identified, the financial institution is required to complete a Suspicious Activity Report, or a SAR, and file it with FinCEN. The SAR contains all relevant information such as the parties involved, transaction(s), account(s), and details describing why the activity is deemed to be suspicious. In some cases, financial institutions will file a SAR if there is no direct suspicion; however, there also was not a logical explanation found either.

So what deems certain activities to be suspicious and how do financial institutions detect them? Most financial institutions have sophisticated solutions in place that monitor transactions over a period of time, and determine typical behavioral patterns for that client, and that client compared to their peers. If any activity falls disproportionately beyond those norms, the financial institution is notified, and an investigation is conducted. Because of the nature of this detection, incorporating multiple transactions, and comparing it to historical “norms”, it is very difficult to stop a transaction related to money laundering real-time. It is not uncommon for a transaction or series of transactions to occur and later be identified as suspicious, and a SAR is filed after the transaction has been completed.

FinCEN Files: Who’s at Fault?

Going back to my original question, was there any wrong doing? In this case, they were doing exactly what they were required to do. When suspicion was identified, SARs were filed. There are two things that are important to note. Suspicion does not equate to guilt, and individual financial institutions have a very limited view as to the overall flow of funds. They have visibility of where funds are coming from, or where they are going to; however, they don’t have an overall picture of the original source, or the final destination. The area where financial institutions may have fault is if multiple suspicions or probable guilt is found, but they fail to take appropriate action. According to Buzzfeed News, instances of transactions to or from sanctioned parties occurred, and known suspicious activity was allowed to continue after it was discovered.

Moving Forward

How do we do better? First and foremost, FinCEN needs to identify the source of the leak and fix it immediately. This is very sensitive data. Even within a financial institution, this information is only exposed to individuals with a high-level clearance on a need-to-know basis. This leak may result in relationship strains with some of the banks’ customers. Some people already have a fear of being watched or tracked, and releasing publicly that all these reports are being filed from financial institutions to the federal government won’t make that any better – especially if their financial institution was highlighted as one of those filing the most reports. Next, there has been more discussion around real-time AML. Many experts are still working on defining what that truly means, especially when some activities deal with multiple transactions over a period of time; however, there is definitely a place for certain money laundering transactions to be held in real time.

Lastly, the ability to share information between financial institutions more easily will go a long way in fighting financial crime overall. For those of you who are AML professionals, you may be thinking we already have such a mechanism in place with 314b. However, the feedback I have received is that it does not do an adequate job. It’s voluntary and getting responses to requests can be a challenge. Financial institutions need a consortium to effectively communicate with each other, while being able to exchange critical data needed for financial institutions to see the complete picture of financial transactions and all associated activities. That, combined with some type of feedback loop from law enforcement indicating which SARs are “useful” versus which are either “inadequate” or “unnecessary” will allow institutions to focus on those where criminal activity is really occurring.

We will continue to post updates as we learn more.

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How can financial services firms keep pace with escalating requirements?

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By Tim FitzGerald, UK Banking & Financial Services Sales Manager, InterSystems

Financial services firms are currently coming up against a number of critical challenges, ranging from market volatility, most recently influenced by COVID-19, to the introduction of regulations, such as the Payment Services Directive (PSD2) and Fundamental Review of the Trading Book (FRTB). However, these issues are being compounded as many financial institutions find it increasingly difficult to get a handle on the vast volumes of data that they have at their disposal. This is no surprise given that IDC has projected that by 2025, the global “datasphere” will have grown to a staggering 175 zettabytes of data – more than five times the amount of data generated in 2018. As an industry that has typically only invested in new technology when regulations deem it necessary, many traditional banks are now operating using legacy systems and applications that haven’t been designed or built to interoperate. Consequently, banks are struggling to leverage data to achieve business goals and to gain a clear picture of their organisation and processes in order to comply with regulatory requirements. These challenges have been more prevalent during the pandemic as financial services firms were forced to adapt their operations to radical changes in customer behaviour and increased demand for digital services – all while working largely remotely themselves.

As more stringent regulations come in to play and financial services firms look to keep pace with escalating requirements from regulators, consumer demand for more online services, and the ever-evolving nature of the industry and world at large, it’s vital they do two things. Firstly, they must begin to invest in the technology and processes that will allow them to more easily manage the data that traditional banks have been collecting and storing for upwards of 50 years. Secondly, they must innovate. For many, the COVID-19 pandemic will have been a catalyst for both actions. However, the hard work has only just begun.

Legacy technology

Traditionally, due to tight budgets and no overarching regulatory imperative to change, financial institutions haven’t done enough to address their overreliance on disconnected legacy systems. Even when faced with the new wave of regulation that was implemented in the wake of the 2008 banking crash, financial services organisations generally only had to invest in different applications on an ad hoc basis to meet each individual regulation. However, as new regulations require the analysis of larger data sets within smaller processing windows, breaking down any and all data siloes is essential and this will require financial institutions that are still reliant on legacy systems to implement new technologies to meet the regulatory stipulations.

With this in mind, solutions which offer high-quality data analytics and enhanced integration will be key to the success of financial institutions and crucial to eliminate data silos. This will enable organisations to achieve a faster and more accurate analysis of real-time and historical data no matter where they are accessing the data from within smaller processing windows to keep pace with regulatory requirements, while also benefiting from low infrastructure costs.

This technology will also play a huge part in helping financial institutions scale their online operations to meet demand from customers for digital services. According to PNC Bank, during the pandemic, it saw online sales jump from 25% to 75%. Therefore, having data platforms that are able to handle surges in online activity is becoming increasingly important.

Real-time analysis of data

Tim FitzGerald

Tim FitzGerald

While the precise solution financial services institutions need will differ based on the organisation, broadly speaking, the more data they are storing on legacy solutions, the more they are going to require an updated data platform that can handle real-time analytics. Even organisations that have fewer legacy systems are still likely to require solutions that deliver enhanced interoperability to help provide a real-time view across the business and enable them to meet the pressing regulatory requirements they face. Let’s also not lose sight of the fact that moving transactional data to a data warehouse, data lake, or any other silo will never deliver real-time analytics, therefore, businesses making risk decisions based on this and thinking it is real-time is completely inappropriate.

As such, financial services firms require a data platform that can ingest real-time transactional data, as well as from a variety of other sources of historical and reference data, normalise it, and make sense of it. The ability to process transactions at scale in real-time and simultaneously run analytics using transactional real-time data and large sets of non-real-time data, such as reference data, is a crucial capability for various business requirements. For example, powering mission-critical trading platforms that cannot slow down or drop trades, even as volumes spike.

Not only will having access to real-time data enable financial institutions to meet evolving regulatory requirements, but it will also allow them to make faster and more accurate decisions for their organisation andcustomers. With many financial services firms operating on a global basis, this is vital to help them keep up not only with evolving regulations but also changing circumstances in different markets in light of the pandemic. This data can also help them understand how to become more agile, help their employees become productive while working remotely, and how to build up operational resilience. These insights will also be vital as financial institutions need to consider the likelihood of subsequent waves of the virus, allowing them to gain a better understanding of what has and hasn’t worked for their business so far. 

Innovation

The financial services sector is fast-paced and ever-changing. With the launch of more digital-only banks, traditional institutions need to innovate to avoid being left behind, with COVID-19 only highlighting this further. With more than a third (35%) of customers increasing their use of online banking during this period, it is those banks and financial services firms with a solid online offering that have been best placed to answer this demand. As financial institutions cater to changing customer requirements, both now and in the future, implementing new technology that provides access to data in real-time will help them to uncover the fresh insights needed to develop new and transformative products and services for their customers. In turn, this will enable them to realise new revenue streams and potentially capture a bigger slice of the market. For instance, access to data will help banks better understand the needs of their customers during periods of upheaval, as well as under normal circumstance, which will allow them to target them with the specific services they may need during each of these periods to not only help their customers through difficult times but also to ensure the growth of their business. As financial institutions not only look to keep pace with but also gain an advantage over their competitors, using data to fuel excellent customer experiences will be essential to success.  

With the current economic uncertainty and market volatility, it’s critical that financial services are able to meet the changing requirements coming from all angles. With COVID-19 likely to be the biggest catalyst for financial institutions to digitally transform, they will be better able to cater to rapidly evolving landscapes and prepare for continued periods of remote working. As they look to achieve this, replacing legacy systems with innovative and agile technology solutions will be crucial to ensure they can gain the accurate and complete view of their enterprise data they need to comply with new and changing regulations, and better meet the needs of consumers in an increasingly digital landscape, whether they are located in an office or working remotely.

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