Banks in the Middle East and around the world have been racing to catch up with the ever-evolving technological trends shaping the way they operate and serve their clients. Deloitte has just launched its new report, “Evolving the trends”, that explores key technologies in the banking sector from those at the frontier of today, to ones that form the bridge to tomorrow, and others which seem to be hovering over the horizon.
The Deloitte report finds that prior to COVID-19, the Middle East financial services industry was evolving at a measured pace, driven by changing customer expectations, heightened competition from incumbents and new entrants, evolving regulations, and advancements in technology.
“In a matter of weeks, COVID-19 upended those conventions. As the threat and uncertainty from COVID-19 will remain for the foreseeable future, banks have no choice but to remain hyper vigilant and rewrite their business continuity playbooks as circumstances change. While it is reassuring to see some aggressive fiscal and monetary policy responses around the world already, clarity on how these actions will stabilize markets and accelerate the path to normalcy is slowly emerging, and in some cases yet to emerge”, said Khaled Hilmi, Consulting Partner, ME Financial Services industry leader, Deloitte Middle East.
The financial services industry is moving towards digitization at a rapid pace and adopting the latest technologies such as cloud, artificial intelligence (AI), to meet rising customer expectations to remain competitive in today’s challenging business environment. The Deloitte report highlights the following technologies:
- Cloud computing: By leveraging cloud-based services, banks are able to decrease data storage costs through saving on capital expenditure (CAPEX) and operating expenditure (OPEX), while ensuring customer data is protected. Cloud is an essential tool of today’s service delivery model, and enables banks to penetrate new business opportunities and access new delivery channels.
- AI and cognitive technologies: Artificial Intelligence (A) is now becoming a part of the business environment and is reinventing the entire ecosystem of the banking sector. By increasing the level of automation and using dynamic systems, AI supports decision-making, enhances the customer experience, and improves operational efficiency. AI also provides a strategic oversight for getting value out of data, which is now needed more than ever due to the data influx from a wide range of sources.
- Fintech: In just a few short years, FinTech companies have defined the direction, shape, and pace of change across almost every banking subsector. Customers now expect seamless digital onboarding, rapid loan approvals, and free person-to-person payments, all innovations that FinTech made popular.
- Blockchain and Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT): Blockchain technology and its associated distributed ledgers were devised as a simple yet smart solution to keep track of the Bitcoin cryptocurrency in circulation. The solution leveraged a ‘distributed ledger’ architecture under which all users who participated as ‘nodes’ in the network had a copy of the entire ledger.
“Banks need to actively consider the immediate needs of their customers and simultaneously the multiple near, short and medium-term operational, financial, and regulatory risk and compliance implications. Banks that have embraced today’s technologies may be better placed to weather this crisis and facilitate a quick return to recovery. Now more than ever, the accelerated adoption of these technologies can enable the industry to recover and thrive from the impact of COVID-19,” concludes Hilmi.
ECB stays put but warns about surge in infections
By Balazs Koranyi and Francesco Canepa
FRANKFURT (Reuters) – The European Central Bank warned on Thursday that a new surge in COVID-19 infections poses risks to the euro zone’s recovery and reaffirmed its pledge to keep borrowing costs low to help the economy through the pandemic.
Having extended stimulus well into next year with a massive support package in December, ECB policymakers kept policy unchanged on Thursday, keen to let governments take over the task of keeping the euro zone economy afloat until normal business activity can resume.
But they warned about a new rise in infections and the ensuing restrictions to economic activity, saying they were prepared to provide even more support to the economy if needed.
“The renewed surge in coronavirus (COVID-19) infections and the restrictive and prolonged containment measures imposed in many euro area countries are disrupting economic activity,” ECB President Christine Lagarde said in her opening statement.
Fresh lockdowns, a slow start to vaccinations across the 19 countries that use the euro, and the currency’s strength will increase headwinds for exporters, challenging the ECB’s forecasts of a robust recovery starting in the second quarter.
Lagarde saluted the start of vaccinations as “an important milestone” despite “some difficulty” and said the latest data was still in line with the ECB’s forecasts.
She conceded that the strong euro, which hit a 2-1/2 year high against the dollar earlier this month, was putting a dampener on inflation and reaffirmed that the ECB would continue to monitor the exchange rate.
The euro has dropped 1% on a trade-weighted basis since the start of the year, but is up nearly 7% over the last 12 months. Against the U.S. dollar, that number rises to over 10%.
Opening the door for more stimulus if needed, Lagarde confirmed the ECB would continue buying bonds until “it judges that the coronavirus crisis phase is over”.
Lagarde also kept a closely watched reference to “downside” risks facing the euro zone economy, which has been a reliable indicator that the ECB saw policy easing as more likely than tightening.
But she signalled those risks were less acute, in part thanks to the recent Brexit deal.
“The news about the prospects for the global economy, the agreement on future EU-UK relations and the start of vaccination campaigns is encouraging,” Lagarde said. “But the ongoing pandemic and its implications for economic and financial conditions continue to be sources of downside risk.”
Lagarde conceded that the immediate future was challenging but argued that should not impact the longer term.
“Once the impact of the pandemic fades, a recovery in demand, supported by accommodative fiscal and monetary policies, will put upward pressure on inflation over the medium term,” Lagarde said.
Benign market indicators support Lagarde’s argument. Stocks are rising, interest rates are steady and government borrowing costs are trending lower, despite some political drama in Italy.
There is also around 1 trillion euros of untapped funds in the Pandemic Emergency Purchase Programme (PEPP) to back up her pledge to keep borrowing costs at record lows.
The ECB has indicated it may not even need it to use it all.
“If favourable financing conditions can be maintained with asset purchase flows that do not exhaust the envelope over the net purchase horizon of the PEPP, the envelope need not be used in full,” Lagarde said.
Recent economic history also favours the ECB. When most of the economy reopened last summer, activity rebounded more quickly than expected, indicating that firms were more resilient than had been feared.
Uncomfortably low inflation is set to remain a thorn in the ECB’s side for years to come, however, even if surging oil demand helps put upward pressure on prices in 2021.
With Thursday’s decision, the ECB’s benchmark deposit rate remained at minus 0.5% while the overall quota for bond purchases under PEPP was maintained at 1.85 trillion euros.
(Editing by Catherine Evans)
Bank of Japan lifts next year’s growth forecast, saves ammunition as virus risks linger
By Leika Kihara and Tetsushi Kajimoto
TOKYO (Reuters) – The Bank of Japan kept monetary policy steady on Thursday and upgraded its economic forecast for next fiscal year, but warned of escalating risks to the outlook as new coronavirus emergency measures threatened to derail a fragile recovery.
BOJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda said the board also discussed the bank’s review of its policy tools due in March, though dropped few hints on what the outcome could be.
“Our review won’t focus just on addressing the side-effects of our policy. We need to make it more effective and agile,” Kuroda told a news conference.
As widely expected, the BOJ maintained its targets under yield curve control (YCC) at -0.1% for short-term interest rates and around 0% for 10-year bond yields.
In fresh quarterly projections, the BOJ upgraded next fiscal year’s growth forecast to a 3.9% expansion from a 3.6% gain seen three months ago based on hopes the government’s huge spending package will soften the blow from the pandemic.
But it offered a bleaker view on consumption, warning that services spending will remain under “strong downward pressure” due to fresh state of emergency measures taken this month.
“Japan’s economy is picking up as a trend,” the BOJ said in the report, offering a slightly more nuanced view than last month when it said growth was “picking up.”
While Kuroda reiterated the BOJ’s readiness to ramp up stimulus further, he voiced hope robust exports and expected roll-outs of vaccines will brighten prospects for a recovery.
“I don’t think the risk of Japan sliding back into deflation is high,” he said, signalling the BOJ has offered sufficient stimulus for now to ease the blow from COVID-19.
NO EXIT EYED
Many analysts had expected the BOJ to hold fire ahead of a policy review in March, which aims to make its tools sustainable as Japan braces for a prolonged battle with COVID-19.
Sources have told Reuters the BOJ will discuss ways to scale back its massive purchases of exchange-traded funds (ETF) and loosen its grip on YCC to breathe life back into markets numbed by years of heavy-handed intervention.
Kuroda said the BOJ may look at such options at the review, but stressed a decision will depend on the findings of its scrutiny into the effects and costs of YCC.
He also made clear any steps the BOJ would take will not lead to a withdrawal of stimulus.
“It’s too early to exit from our massive monetary easing programme at this point,” Kuroda said. “Western economies have been deploying monetary easing steps for a decade, and none of them are mulling an exit now.”
(Reporting by Leika Kihara and Tetsushi Kajimoto; additional reporting by Kaori Kaneko; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore & Shri Navaratnam)
World Bank, IMF agree to hold April meetings online due to COVID-19 risks
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank have agreed to hold their spring meetings, planned for April 5-11, online instead of in person due to continued concerns about the coronavirus pandemic, they said in joint statement.
The meetings usually bring some 10,000 government officials, journalists, business people and civil society representatives from across the world to a tightly-packed two-block area of Washington that houses their headquarters.
This will be the third of the institutions’ semiannual meetings to be held virtually due to the pandemic.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Chris Rees
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