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ECB STRESS-TESTING: BANKING ON FAILURE?

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Roger Davies

Many financial commentators foretold the recent plight of the Eurozone believing it inevitable in any economic downturn. Few, however, anticipated a call for a full banking union although most thought that the European Central Bank (ECB) would play a central role in any solution. The Eurozone is struggling with modest growth and subdued inflation. There are, of course, wide divergences across the 17 nations involved with a particularly weak French economy. It should not be forgotten that there are some 19 million people are out of work across the Eurozone. This has enormous implications for the ECB and bad-debt remains a major threat to an often undercapitalised banking sector. Reducing the risk of a future financial crisis through a complete banking union is hugely complex and will ultimately involve some 6,000 banks. Undoubtedly, implementation will take many years if not decades to complete.

Roger Davies

Roger Davies

A very major development will see the ECB become the new banking supervisor for the Eurozone with effect from November 2014. In advance of taking up this new role, the central bank announced plans in late October to vet the top Eurozone lenders. This will include a ‘Comprehensive Assessment’ involving a three-stage review of some 130 bank balance sheets. The ECB website states “the exercise has three main goals: transparency – to enhance the quality of information available on the condition of banks; repair – to identify and implement necessary corrective actions, if and where needed; and confidence building – to assure all stakeholders that banks are fundamentally sound and trustworthy.” The ECB is currently identifying those portfolios requiring deeper scrutiny. This will be followed by an asset quality review in the first half of 2014, including collateral valuations, and culminate in stress-tests in full cooperation with the London-based EBA (European Banking Authority). The latter will examine the resilience of banks’ balance sheets under various shock scenarios. All the results are due to be published in October 2014 and most commentators are expecting a call from the ECB that some banks at least must bolster their capital reserves.

The exact details of the stress-testing are still unknown and the final methodology will not be released until late January 2014. However, they will probably simulate three years of negative economic conditions to the end of 2016. The ECB hopes to calculate a base and a worst case scenario using a core-capital ratio of at least 8 percent and the 2014 Basel III definitions. For the first time investors should be able to compare banks across borders as the definitions of bad loans and the quality and risk weighting of certain assets will all be aligned. The ECB will use the EBA’s definition of non-performing loans as those more than 90 days overdue. The central bank believes that the stress-tests will ensure that all banks have a sustainable business model going forward. This assumes that an academic exercise can on this occasion replicate reality. If the review is too rigorous it could, of course, undermine confidence and bond yields will rise again making it far harder for the ECB to maintain price stability. Overall, there is much talk of stress-testing reviving public trust in the banking sector. In truth, the ECB is desperate to ensure that there are no surprises when it takes on its supervisory role as its own credibility will be firmly on the line. Fortunately, setting a time horizon and defining capital terms should greatly assist Eurozone banks in understanding their likely fate although no one, of course, yet knows how tough the tests will be. How risk-free is sovereign debt?

It is clear that the ECB has no expertise in the field of stress-testing. It will also be fascinating to see how the central bank assesses a Eurozone banking system where the ECB itself is the key provider of funding against diverse pools of loan collateral submitted by banks as security for cash! The integrity of the exercise really demands total independence and impartiality, and many regulators will judge that this diversification of role is inappropriate for the ECB. Sadly, it is too late for a dedicated and independent supervisory body to be appointed. News that “Oliver Wyman will support the ECB’s management and coordination and will provide financial advisory services for this project, notably in refining the methodology for the assessment” has also raised one or two eyebrows. This consultancy has recent experience with stress-testing Spanish and Slovenian banks but famously endorsed AIB (Anglo Irish Bank) as the ‘best-performing’ in the world only for subsequent losses of £14.8bn to cause its nationalisation and an economic trauma for the Irish. Ultimately, Ireland only survived through an EU/IMF bailout.

There is much dismay across the Eurozone at the timing of the announcement of the ECB stress-testing. It appears that the vested interests of the ECB may have taken priority over the short term need for economic recovery in the Eurozone. Indeed Mario Draghi, the ECB president, has warned that some banks will need to fail the stress tests in order to prove the accuracy and credibility of the review in the eyes of the general public. He is no doubt very mindful that two earlier pan-European stress tests failed to spot potential problems with property lending by the Irish and Spanish banks. This can only point towards a robust review. Bank share prices fell even in Germany after the ECB unveiled its plans. There is widespread concern that the tests will show up unwelcome hidden surprises in bank balance sheets. Institutional investors will now seek to identify the weaker brethren in a sector already under attack from new regulation and hungry for capital. Sadly, the measures planned by the ECB to give greater stability to the Eurozone may yet backfire. There is a real risk that in clearing the decks for the ECB’s new role many marginal, poorly capitalised banks will be grievously wounded adding to the woes of those Eurozone countries with stuttering economies. In banking on failure, the ECB may be doing far more harm than good.

Roger Davies, Principal Consultant, ea Consulting Group

Banking

How open banking can drive innovation and growth in a post-COVID world

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How open banking can drive innovation and growth in a post-COVID world 1

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.

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Banking

Banks take note: Customers want to pay with points

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Banks take note: Customers want to pay with points 2

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 movetowards 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 members’ 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.

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Banking

The Importance of Liquidity Solutions

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The Importance of Liquidity Solutions 3

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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