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Commerzbank announces plans to automate selected compliance relevant pre-checks in trade finance transaction processing by 2020

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Commerzbank announces plans to automate selected compliance relevant pre-checks in trade finance transaction processing by 2020
  • The Bank has partnered with fintech Conpend to automate selected compliance relevant pre-checks processes for trade finance transactions 
  • The solution will reduce transaction processing times while improving risk controls and interaction with clients 
  • Enno-Burghard Weitzel: “We are leading the change towards a new era for trade finance processing. Our aim is to focus the expertise of our trade finance specialists to the crucial and complex parts of the business, while using artificial intelligence to improve efficiency and further optimise risk controls.”

Commerzbank plans to automate around 80% of the selected compliance relevant checks of the bank’s trade finance processes by 2020.

In October 2018, Commerzbank has started a pilot phase to automate the anti-money laundering processes which are an essential part of any trade finance transaction review. After an evaluation of the pilot phase, it is planned to roll out a further stage of the sanctions checks in trade finance during 2019.

Commerzbank, the leading trade finance bank in Germany, has begun a partnership with Conpend, a fintech company focused on solutions for trade finance operations. Conpend uniquely uses optical character recognition (OCR) and progressive machine learning to extract data from physical documents, recognise patterns and flag deviations. The machine learning component means that the software will constantly improve the identification of potentially non-compliant transactions as it is being used. It will use application programming interfaces (APIs) to connect to Commerzba3nk’s existing trade finance processing infrastructure and create a complete and detailed audit trail for the bank to front-run the increasing expectations of regulators with respect to reporting requirements.

The planned automation of selected and relevant compliance pre-check and sanctions check processes in trade finance refers to business operations only – the so called “first line of defence”. It does not affect any downstream internal oversight, compliance and audit processes of the Bank. The new business processes will improve efficiency and further optimise risk control procedures. Any compliance risks identified will be reported to the Group Compliance unit where they will be monitored and examined according to the established risk management, control and governance processes.

Enno-Burghard Weitzel, Head of Product Management Trade Services at Commerzbank, says: “The processing of trade finance transactions is becoming more complex and prone to higher risks, as manual processes struggle to keep pace with the increasing regulatory and market trends. However, we are leading the change towards a new era for trade finance processing. Our aim is to focus the expertise of our trade finance specialists to the crucial and complex parts of the business, while using artificial intelligence to improve efficiency and further optimise risk controls. This is not only a long-term plan, but something we are implementing now to enhance client experience by significantly reducing the time for transaction processing and the associated costs.”

Marc Smith, Founder and Managing Director of Conpend, says: “A growing part of the activity within a bank’s trade finance division is focused on crucial but routine activities that underpin the value-added services they provide to clients. This provides a huge opportunity to improve efficiencies and allow more focus on client servicing. I’m delighted to partner with the team at Commerzbank that shares the same vision of modernising the traditional elements of trade finance processing.”

The key role of financial institutions in the trade finance business is to facilitate international trade transactions between two or more parties by assuming and managing risks. The banks involved offer clients risk mitigation mainly by covering the payment risk and other physical and event risks in the supply chain between exporter and importer through products such as the letter of credit and bank guarantees. Thorough and flawless compliance and sanction screening processes are indispensable in the trade finance business in order to mitigate risks for the Bank and to meet the regulatory requirements. The rapid development of innovation such as automation and machine learning technologies allows a significant enhancement of trade finance processes.

Disclaimer

This release contains forward-looking statements. Forward-looking statements are statements that are not historical facts. In this release, these statements concern inter alia the expected future business of Commerzbank, efficiency gains and expected synergies, expected growth prospects and other opportunities for an increase in value of Commerzbank as well as expected future financial results, restructuring costs and other financial developments and information. These forward-looking statements are based on the management’s current plans, expectations, estimates and projections. They are subject to a number of assumptions and involve known and unknown risks, uncertainties and other factors that may cause actual results and developments to differ materially from any future results and developments expressed or implied by such forward-looking statements. Such factors include the conditions in the financial markets in Germany, in Europe, in the USA and other regions from which Commerzbank derives a substantial portion of its revenues and in which Commerzbank holds a substantial portion of its assets, the development of asset prices and market volatility, especially due to the ongoing European debt crisis, potential defaults of borrowers or trading counterparties, the implementation of its strategic initiatives to improve its business model, the reliability of its risk management policies, procedures and methods, risks arising as a result of regulatory change and other risks. Forward-looking statements therefore speak only as of the date they are made. Commerzbank has no obligation to update or release any revisions to the forward-looking statements contained in this release to reflect events or circumstances after the date of this release.

Banking

SoftBank reaches settlement with former WeWork CEO Neumann

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SoftBank reaches settlement with former WeWork CEO Neumann 1

(Reuters) – SoftBank Group Corp said on Friday it has reached a settlement with WeWork’s special committee and the company’s co-founder and former chief executive, Adam Neumann, putting to rest a legal battle dating back to 2019.

SoftBank, the new owner of the office-sharing firm, did not disclose terms of the settlement. Media reports earlier this week indicated the deal includes a nearly $500 million cut in Neumann’s payout from SoftBank.

The legal tussle between SoftBank and Neumann started in 2019, when SoftBank agreed to buy around $3 billion in WeWork stock belonging to Neumann as well as current and former WeWork employees. SoftBank later contested its obligation to purchase the shares.

Under the new settlement, SoftBank will purchase around half the shares it had originally agreed to buy, a source familiar with the talks had told Reuters on Monday.

The settlement is also expected to clear the decks for WeWork as it reportedly pursues a public listing by merging with a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC).

“This agreement is the result of all parties coming to the table for the sake of doing what is best for the future of WeWork,” said Marcelo Claure, executive chairman of WeWork and CEO of SoftBank Group International.

SoftBank, which poured more than $13.5 billion into WeWork, was pulled into the legal dispute with directors at WeWork after backing out of the $3 billion tender offer agreed when it bailed out the office-sharing firm following a flopped IPO attempt.

(Reporting by Shariq Khan in Bengaluru; Editing by Richard Pullin)

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Banking

Banks weigh up home working – the new normal or an aberration?

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Banks weigh up home working - the new normal or an aberration? 2

By Lawrence White, Iain Withers and Muvija M

LONDON (Reuters) – As the finance industry prepares for life post-pandemic, commercial banks are moving quickly to harness working from home to cut costs, while investment banks are keen to get traders and advisers back to the office.

HSBC and Lloyds are getting rid of as much as 40% of their office space as an easy way to make savings when bank profits have been crunched by the pandemic.

But there are concerns that remote working does not benefit everyone. Junior staff miss out on socialising and learning opportunities and there are also risks home working can entrench gender inequality.

At investment banks, where long hours in the office were the norm pre-pandemic, bosses say they want most people back where they can see them.

HSBC plans to almost halve office space globally, as it aims to squeeze more use out of the remaining space and increase the number of staff per desk from just over one to closer to two.

Britain’s biggest domestic lender Lloyds plans to shrink its office space by a fifth within three years. Standard Chartered will cut a third of its space within four years, while Metro Bank said it would cut some 40% and make more use of branches.

“We’ve had a period where flexible working has been tested in full, with about three quarters of people not based in offices as we used to call them, and the business has performed remarkably well,” Andy Halford, Standard Chartered CFO, said.

But major investment banks take a different view, with Goldman Sachs Chief Executive David Solomon pouring cold water on the potential of remote working.

“It’s not a new normal. It’s an aberration that we’re going to correct as soon as possible,” he told a Credit Suisse conference on Wednesday.

Barclays CEO Jes Staley, who last year said he thought the days of 7,000 employees trudging into its Canary Wharf headquarters were numbered, is also unwilling to commit for now to large office closures.

The Barclays boss has said the bank had “no plan” to make a major real estate move as Britain’s prolonged third lockdown had shown the strains of working from home.

Nick Fahy, CEO of online lender Cynergy Bank, said working over screens often could not compete. “You might have a disagreement on this, that or the other but actually over the coffee machine or over a glass of wine or a bit of lunch, issues can be resolved.”

UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES

Some banks have acted quickly because they are used to flexing workforces in line with economic cycles, particularly in investment banks, Oliver Wyman principal Jessica Marlborough said.

But some are waiting on analysis of staff productivity changes before making final decisions, while others were mindful junior staff may still prefer going into offices, she said.

Banks are also concerned women may lose out from the shift to remote working.

“We thought the pandemic would be a big leveller for women. But actually what we’re starting to see is it’s extremely challenging to get women to move jobs in a pandemic,” Marlborough said.

“Banks were making progress in hiring a more balanced workforce in terms of gender and other metrics, but they’re actually struggling now (as banks are finding) they (women) are less likely to seek out a new job.”

Union leaders said part of the reason was that some women are juggling more childcare responsibilities during the pandemic.

Dominic Hook, national officer for UK union Unite, said banks must ensure working from home is voluntary, use of surveillance tools is limited, and employers respect staff hours so work does not spill into evenings and weekends.

“Our concern is that it won’t actually be a choice and that banks will pressure staff to work from home,” Hook said.

There are also concerns hybrid working will favour employees who visit the office more regularly, as they can spend more time in person with colleagues and managers, said Richard Benson, managing director at Accenture Interactive.

The staff most likely to go back to the office are traders, bank executives said, while back-office functions such as finance, risk management and IT will spend more time working remotely.

In Germany, Deutsche Bank said it had been challenging to adapt home office spaces for traders and expected many will want to return, but not all.

“We will pay more attention to the personal circumstances at home. Dealers also have children or parents in need of care. We have become more sensitive,” said Kristian Snellman, Deutsche Bank’s head of investment banking transformation for Germany and EMEA.

The trend to shed offices predated the pandemic as many banks made cuts after the 2007-09 financial crisis. Some have already made moves as a result of the pandemic, such as NatWest, which shut its tech hub in north London last summer.

Retained offices are being remodelled, with desks removed to make way for collaboration and break space such as coffee areas, gardens and libraries, property consultancy Arcadis said.

“It’s not just about adding a ping pong table and table football and hoping it will work, it’s about making sure people get downtime,” said Sarah-Jane Osborne, head of workscape at Arcadis.

David Duffy, CEO of Virgin Money, said the bank is among those planning to strip out office cubicles.

“The world of large-scale populations returning to a tall skyscraper building to come in and do their e-mail in the office doesn’t make any sense,” he said.

(Reporting By Lawrence White and Iain Withers in London and Muvija M in Bengaluru, Additional reporting by Patricia Uhlig in Frankfurt. Editing by Rachel Armstrong and Jane Merriman)

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Banking

Bank of England’s Haldane warns inflation “tiger” is prowling

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Bank of England's Haldane warns inflation "tiger" is prowling 3

By Andy Bruce

LONDON (Reuters) – Bank of England Chief Economist Andy Haldane warned on Friday that an inflationary “tiger” had woken up and could prove difficult to tame as the economy recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, adding that central banks may need to respond.

In a clear break from other members of the Monetary Policy Committee who are more relaxed about the outlook for inflation, Haldane called inflation a “tiger (that) has been stirred by the extraordinary events and policy actions of the past 12 months”.

“People are right to caution about the risks of central banks acting too conservatively by tightening policy prematurely,” Haldane said in a speech published online.

“But, for me, the greater risk at present is of central bank complacency allowing the inflationary (big) cat out of the bag.”

Haldane’s comments prompted British government bond prices to fall and sterling to rise as he warned that investors may not be adequately positioned for the risk of higher inflation.

“There is a tangible risk inflation proves more difficult to tame, requiring monetary policymakers to act more assertively than is currently priced into financial markets,” Haldane said.

(Editing by David Milliken)

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