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FINANCIAL SERVICES FIRMS UPBEAT AS BUSINESS VOLUMES RISE – CBI/PWC SURVEY

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Matthew Fell

The UK’s financial services firms saw another rise in business volumes in the three months to June, and optimism continued to pick up across the sector, according to the latest CBI/PwC survey.

The survey of 98 firms revealed that business volumes rose across many industry sub-sectors, with the exception of finance houses and parts of the insurance industry. However, overall profitability fell unexpectedly after six quarters of robust rises, with pricing power under pressure and costs rising in many sub-sectors. At the same time, employment was scaled back.

But looking ahead to the next quarter, financial services firms expect business volumes to grow at a solid pace, profitability to rebound, and numbers employed to increase slightly.

Matthew Fell

Matthew Fell

Firms’ confidence in the longer-term outlook is underlined by plans to invest more in marketing and IT over the year ahead. The most important elements in firms’ growth strategies in the next three months are attracting new customers and cross-selling to existing ones. For the year ahead there are several areas of focus: among them, improvements to sales & distribution and customer relationship management.

Respondents highlighted the increased regulatory burden and inadequate systems capacity to meet demand as factors likely to limit their business over the next year.

Matthew Fell, CBI Director for Competitive Markets, said:

“Despite a surprise fall in profitability, financial services firms are upbeat about their prospects, with business volumes rising across most sectors.

“Firms are focusing on two key strategies for growth in the near-term: finding ways to retain existing customers, by offering them more products and services, and investing in marketing, sales and distribution to attract new customers.

“But the sector is still facing a number of significant challenges. The adverse impact of regulation on business expansion has crept up the agenda and concerns about the ability of firms’ business systems to cope with new demand has risen to its highest level in thirteen years.”

Respondents to the survey indicated that headcount fell in the quarter to June, with a slight rise expected next quarter. On the basis of ONS data, employment in the financial services sector is forecast to stand at around 1,132 by the end of Q3 2014, almost 13,000 higher than a year earlier. This would leave employment 79,000 lower than its peak in Q4 2008, but 35,000 above the trough in Q1 2010, implying that just under one third of the ground lost during crisis will have been recovered.

Kevin Burrowes, Financial Services leader at PwC, said:

“The financial services industry is benefiting from the effects of economic recovery, but that is proving to be a double-edged sword for some. The prospect of growing volumes and revenues is tempered by concerns about competition.

“However, the banks are increasingly optimistic about the economic outlook, especially in the retail arena.

“Most of those surveyed have pinpointed domestic market share gains as crucial to achieving growth.

“Banks and insurers see a growing competitive threat from non-financial services companies and new entrants are also trying to capitalise on the improved conditions. This suggests that UK financial services will see increasing pricing pressure. There is now a growing willingness to partner with technology firms and emerging rivals.

“Regulation will remain a major concern and a key driver of operating costs.”

Key findings:

  • 37% of financial services firms said they felt more optimistic about the overall business situation compared with three months ago, while 9% said they were less optimistic, giving a balance of +28%
  • 48% of firms said that business volumes were up, while 15% said they were down, giving a balance of +33%
  • Looking ahead to the next quarter, 44% of firms expect business volumes to increase, while 7% said they will decrease, giving a balance of +37%.

Incomes, costs and profits:

  • Income from fees, commissions or premiums fell in the three months to June (-10%), disappointing expectations for rapid growth (+34%)
  • In contrast, income from net interest, investment or trading grew (+15%), beating expectations (+8%)
  • Average spreads were largely unchanged for the third consecutive quarter (0%), while average commissions/fees & premiums fell (-21%)
  • Total operating costs rose slightly (+7%), much less than expected (+41%), but still pushing up the average operating cost per transaction (+15%)
  • Profits fell slightly (-5%), contrary to expectations of a robust rise (+30%).
  • Nevertheless, firms are confident that profits will return to growth next quarter: 42% of respondents expect profits to increase, while 12% expect them to decrease, giving a balance of +30%.

Employment:

  • 19% of financial services firms said they increased employment, while 32% said it decreased, giving a balance of -12%
  • Firms expect employment to increase slightly next quarter (+5%).

The next 12 months:

  • Financial services firms plan to increase their marketing spend over the next 12 months, relative to the past year (+17%)
  • They also plan to raise capital spending on IT (+49%)
  • But they expect to spend less on other areas:

o    vehicles, plant & machinery (-23%)

o    land and buildings (-13%).

The main factors driving investment are:

  • Increasing efficiency and speed (85%)
  • Dealing with statutory legislation & regulation (66%)
  • Reaching new customers (47%).

Factors likely to constrain business over the next year:

  • Statutory legislation & regulation (70%)
  • Adequacy of systems capacity (37%).

Analysis by sector:

Banking

Optimism among banks strengthened further last quarter, amid solid growth in business volumes. While profitability was flat, expectations for a robust increase in the quarter ahead were undiminished, underpinned by predictions of a further rise in volumes, stable costs and a sharp fall in impairments. Numbers employed fell back in the three months to June, having expanded steadily over the previous three quarters, and a similar decline is expected next quarter. Investment plans remain focused on IT, motivated by a desire to increase efficiency and ensure compliance with statutory legislation & regulation. With demand uncertainty diminishing, banks are gearing up for a period of organic growth in the year ahead, through enhancements to their sales & distribution channels and CRM/marketing capabilities.

Building societies

Building societies’ confidence in the outlook continues to improve. The pace of growth in business volumes picked up a little in the three months to June, although it was less strong than had been expected. However, the level of business was still deemed to be well above normal and profitability increased strongly for the seventh successive quarter, with further robust growth expected next quarter. Against this background, employment in the industry expanded further with another solid rise in headcount expected over the next three months.

Finance houses

Optimism among finance houses rose at a brisk pace in the three months to June, despite mixed results. Business volumes were flat, defying expectations of a pick-up in growth. Having declined in the previous quarter, profitability stabilised as cost pressures eased. But with volumes expected to rise across most customer groups next quarter, profitability is also expected to recover.

Life insurance

Optimism among life insurers improved for a fourth consecutive quarter, during the three months to June, though at the slowest pace over this period so far. Business volumes fell unexpectedly for a second consecutive quarter. Market conditions remain challenging for life insurers, weighing on investment incomes, and with pricing power also under pressure profits fell markedly. Although respondents expected a recovery in business volumes, profits are expected to fall at a similar pace next quarter, as costs growth picks up and investment income remains flat. Life insurers reduced employment slightly in the quarter to June, with headcount expected to edge down at a similar pace in the three months to September.

General insurance

General insurance was the only sector in the survey where respondents were less optimistic relative to three months ago. Business volumes fell for the first time since early 2013, driven by a decline in business with overseas customers. However, business volumes are expected to recover somewhat in the three months to September. Profitability fell for a second consecutive quarter, in part reflecting a sharp increase in the value of insurance claims. Profits are expected to be broadly stable next quarter. In spite of better predictions for the next quarter, general insurers nonetheless appear cautious over their hiring plans and are expecting to cut back investment across the board in the year ahead.

Insurance brokers

Optimism among insurance brokers revived last quarter, having weakened in the previous three months. Growth in business volumes picked up a little and is expected to accelerate further next quarter. Profitability was broadly stable over the three months to June, following a marked increase in the previous quarter. With profits expected to pick up over the next quarter, insurance brokers are expecting to increase headcount in the coming three months, and raise investment in the year ahead.

Jonathan Howe, PwC’s UK insurance leader said:

“General insurers are the only key sector to report lower confidence. Competition and demand are major concerns and although economic recovery is driving an uptick in demand, this is unlikely to be sustainable.

“Customer acquisition is becoming a ‘zero sum game’ in the mature UK general insurance market – any wins are cancelled out by the losses. Insurers are looking for new ways of increasing market share other than reducing price.

“General insurers are the only major sector expecting to reduce capital investment. Despite this, investment in technology is seen as increasingly crucial to growth in this highly competitive market.

“On a more positive note, life insurers remain upbeat about their outlook despite an unexpected fall in volumes of business.The sector is hoping for a pick-up in new business over the summer as customer confidence grows.”

Securities trading

Sentiment improved further in the quarter to June, but less strikingly than during the previous six months. Profitability increased comfortably for the third quarter running, reflecting strong growth in business volumes and income, as well as the fall in total costs. Profits are expected to grow at the same robust rate over the next three months. Numbers employed declined for the first time in a year and at the fastest rate for five years, but headcount is expected to rebound next quarter.

Investment management

Sentiment about the overall business situation rose for the tenth consecutive quarter, but at the weakest pace seen over this period (10 consecutive querters). Business volumes expanded at a brisk pace, exceeding already strong expectations, driven by rising demand from industrial & commercial companies, financial institutions and overseas customers. Profitability was flat, following two quarters of strong growth, but the outlook for future profits growth remains favourable. Against this backdrop, investment management firms expect to continue taking on more staff in the coming quarter, and to boost capital spending in the year ahead.

Paula Smith, PwC’s UK asset management leader, said:

“Investment managers are upbeat about their prospects after a steady performance during the last quarter. Growth in business volumes and fee income is expected to continue over the coming months. Growing risk appetite is expected to boost activity with both retail and wholesale investors.

“Firms see the development of new products and services as increasingly important to growth. This reflects increasing investor demand for low fee products such as exchange traded funds. Investment in new post-retirement products could also grow over the coming quarters.

“Interest in international expansion as a source of growth continues to climb. This is matched by increasing interest in M&A and a continuing focus on strategic partnerships.

“The importance of recognised brands when entering new markets is only likely to grow. Investment managers will be hoping that inflows to European equities continue.”

Finance

The value of digital identity in payments

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The value of digital identity in payments 1

By Vince Graziani, CEO, IDEX Biometrics ASA

In ever more challenging times, the payments industry needs to maintain trust by finding a way to protect consumers from the constant threat of payment fraud and theft. Consumer’s wishing to limit physical contact during the current pandemic has led to the popularity of contactless payments which has accelerated in multiple territories.

In the US, one in five shoppers have made a contactless payment for the first time during the pandemic according to research published in August by the National Retail Federation and Forrester. The bad guys have unfortunately taken note. This has led to a real need for the industry to fight back with enhanced security.

At the 2019 Money2020 Europe conference, there was a universal call for a comprehensive form of digital identity (ID) to enable digital payments. A form of digital identity that would make cashless payment interactions – secure, intelligent, efficient and private. The feeling was unanimous: without functioning digital ID, the payments revolution will stall.

Unlocking the payment ecosystem

In an increasingly connected world, consumers find themselves needing to authenticate their identity daily. Whether that be with financial institutions, retailers, government departments or healthcare providers. Yet, it is rarely known where consumer data is stored, how secure it is or how it may be traded. Privacy regulations such as the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) have attempted to restore some trust, but the industry still has a way to go.

Currently, authentication is fragmented and unwieldy. It requires a mix of hardcopy documents, online login credentials and digital wallets. This is not only frustrating for consumers but leads to the reuse of passwords and PINS that make the user vulnerable to fraud. Mastercard believes there is a clear need for a verified identity that is accepted globally and across multiple digital touchpoints and doesn’t involve aggregating more information in potentially vulnerable data stores, but instead gives the individual control over their identity data.

An integrated digital ID scheme would enable the payments industry to fight fraud on a global scale. It would also meet the pressing need for a payment authentication system that consumers can access anytime, anywhere, and on any device. This joined-up approach is vital to ensure no consumer is left behind as the world continues its digital transformation.

Providing access to a singular, unified digital ID will not only streamline the identity process, but also unlock new and enhanced consumer experiences during this digital transformation. Particularly in the new breed of smart buildings and cities, where everything from travel to payment systems will be connected to a user’s identity.

What form should our digital ID take?

While the need for digital ID is well established, the form it will take is less clear. There are two main challenges that payment providers need to overcome with a potential new identity solution: onboarding new users and ensuring the digital ID is compatible with all transactions.

Placing individual consumers at the centre of their own digital interactions will ensure confidence and broader adoption of new technology payments and services. Yet, for this to be successful, the payments industry must adopt a process that is simple, familiar and easy to understand.

Fingerprint biometrics as a digital identity

The use of fingerprint authentication to unlock a smartphone is now deeply entrenched. As far back as 2016, 89 percent of users with compatible iPhones were using fingerprints to unlock their devices. The solution for a frictionless onboarding has been at our fingertips the whole time.

Payment providers can incorporate fingerprint biometric sensors directly into their new breed of smart payment cards. A biometric payment card may be a new concept, but payment providers and retailers across the world are already using contactless card technology in the payment process, so it is the next logical step. Consumers are now used to carrying a card and tapping it for contactless payments. Plus, as we have seen, consumers are used to using their fingerprint as an authentication mechanism. Perhaps biometric cards could be the catalyst for financial inclusion desired by the World Bank, as they don’t require the ownership of expensive smartphones in developing nations.

Building a chain of trust with biometrics

Continuous developments in payment regulation mean that secure authentication is imperative. Under the second Payment Service Directive (PSD2) European banking regulation, all payment transactions will soon require Strong Customer Authentication (SCA) to validate users at the point of transaction to reduce fraud and increase security for customers. SCA requires two forms of authentication for every transaction above the contactless limit. While one is generally something you have like a smart card, the second can be something you are like a fingerprint.  Using a fingerprint means that it can be used across multiple platforms and is always at hand. There should be no trade-off between convenience and privacy and fingerprint biometrics delivers on that expectation.

Biometrics can play an essential role in digital ID, significantly limiting exposure to potential fraud and criminality. The addition of a biometric sensor onto a payment card creates a secure ‘chain of trust’ that indelibly connects the user to the card. Furthermore, digital ID has the scope to be extended far beyond payments and used as a unique identifier in areas such as access, government ID and even across IoT devices.

Securing the future of the payments industry

While the world is becoming ever more cashless, commentators and analysts all agree – without a fully functioning digital ID, the payments revolution will stall. As Tony McLaughlin, Emerging Payments and Business Development at Citi put it recently: “If we fix digital identity, we fix payments”. I couldn’t agree more. Both consumers and the payments industry need a user-centric digital ID that is owned and managed by the individual, so they can unlock the full advantages of a transformative digital payment ecosystem.

Using fingerprint biometrics as a digital ID in a payment card will transform the way people authenticate transactions. This integration would enable consumers to confirm their identity wherever they are, on any device, and across every transaction. It will change the face of digital identity as we know it.

We believe that digital interactions should be privacy-enhancing, secure, intelligent, and efficient. To facilitate this, consumers require a user-centric digital identity that is owned, managed, and controlled by the individual. It is time to place individuals at the heart of their digital interactions globally.

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It’s time to press ‘reset’ on travel and expense processes

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It’s time to press ‘reset’ on travel and expense processes 2

By Rudy Daniello, EVP of Corporations, Amadeus

Travel & Expenses(T&E) is a large spend category for companies across the globe. In fact, for many firms, T&E is the second largest indirect spend category. While we all know the inherent value personal, face-to-face meetings bring, it’s important to quantify and manage the cost, especially in today’s climate.

While business travel has slowed due to COVID-19, many companies have accelerated their digital transformation during this period, especially in the way their teams work. One area that is under the spotlight as organisations look to transform digitally and control costs and processes better, is T&E.

Poor business travel spend management can frustrate staff, and lead to cost and productivity inefficiencies. Within the context of COVID-19, controlling T&E spend is likely to be even more important, so companies need a clear strategy around their travel and expenses.

To understand how organisations were assessing their T&E at this extraordinary time, Forrester Consulting conducted research on behalf of Amadeus, surveying more than 550 key decision makers involved in T&E solutions at large organisations worldwide.

The report, titled Digital Transformation For Travel & Expense: Balancing Process Efficiencies, Compliance, And Employee Experience highlights the challenges organisations face as they assess their T&E systems and processes before business travel picks up again.

The good news is that nearly three quarters (74%) of respondents agree that the improvement of T&E management processes and tools is critical to reducing costs, increasing efficiency, improving employee engagement, and forms part of their digital transformation.

All of these factors are key business objectives, so how can organisations address their T&E?

Focus on Systems

The research found that a lot of organisations are still relying on outdated systems to manage their travel and expenses. More than one in five (22%) of centralised companies still use spreadsheets to track expenses and just 15% of organisations use a cloud-based T&E solution.

Many decentralised companies also still rely on manual processes – either fully or partly – for their T&E. These outdated processes and systems add pressure on staff, managers, auditors and accountants. Reassess T&E Processes

Having the right systems in place will help rethink T&E processes, from researching hotels and appropriate transport, to making expenses claims post-trip. Travel managers surveyed difficulties around compliance-related expense tracking, reconciliation and auditing as a key challenge.

Three quarters (74%) of travel management leaders want to increase automation to reduce their reliance on manual processes. However, one in five (20%) organisations do not feel they are getting the analytical and reporting capabilities they need, despite data being a core priority.

The research shows that Human Resources (HR) and IT have key roles to play in redefining their organisations’ T&E processes.

Enable Smarter Booking

The research also finds that T&E leaders want to be able to manage the huge amount of content out there so that they can make clear decisions when making travel bookings. Multinational organisations need a global solution so that they can access the best deals and make more informed business travel booking decisions.

Integrated T&E solutions deliver cost and efficiency benefits

According to the research, those organisations that use an integrated T&E tool are much less likely to receive complaints from their traveling staff. More than a quarter (27%) of organisations that use an integrated T&E solution reported zero complaints from employees.

Integrated T&E solutions are essential for companies as they help their employees, take advantage of the best offers for the business trip. They also streamline expense processes, making it quicker and easier to claim and have their expenses approved and paid back.

Firms that do not have integrated T&E solutions report a 29% increase in delays in reimbursing expenses. Almost all (96%) of organisations interviewed that use integrated tools are satisfied with their T&E processes. Nearly three quarters (73%) of them even plan to expand or upgrade further.

Improving T&E is a team effort

What the Forrester Consulting research demonstrates clearly is that there is consensus across the board that T&E systems and processes can be improved.

Three quarters (74%) of IT leaders are focused on improving end-to-end experience of T&E processes, and 73% are committed to improving integration between T&E tools and other systems (73%).

And it’s not just IT leaders who see the value in integrated T&E solutions. More than four out of five procurement managers see improvement of T&E tools and processes as a key part of their organisation’s digital transformation, the highest of any group interviewed by Forrester.

While online conferencing has become the norm for many organisations, nothing can replace the value of face-to-face meetings. When business travel picks up again, companies with integrated T&E systems and processes will quickly see the benefits.

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Covid-19 and the rise of remote payment fraud: how do we catch a digital thief?

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Covid-19 and the rise of remote payment fraud: how do we catch a digital thief? 3

By Evgenia Loginova, co-founder and co-CEO of Radar Payments

Covid -19 is finding different ways to hurt our finances – and like the virus, the threat is invisible.

Each time we tap our payments cards or make a purchase online, there’s always a risk of getting caught out by a digital fraudster. Yet during the global pandemic, the issue has not only escalated, but the ways in which people are conned have changed to reflect new social distancing and lockdown behaviours.

Indeed, the crisis has transformed the way we buy and shop – and those that are being targeted most are the millennial generation.

What are we doing differently?

It’s all down to the way we are interacting with service providers.

Lockdown behaviour

Since the World Health Organisation issued a pandemic in March, global payment fraud went up 5% with 100 million suspected fraud attempts from the period between March – April.

According to TransUnion, the firm analysing the data, billions of people around the world have been forced to spend time at home, which has led to industries such as financial services, ecommerce and healthcare to experience disruption in ways that have not been seen for generations.

This is due to the spike in online transactions, as more people adjust to the new normal of spending less time at the shops and more time doing everything on their digital devices.  And with so many transactions shifting online – fraudsters are spending more time there too. These culprits are fully remote and are always on the lookout for vulnerable victims – as well as vulnerabilities within the payment systems.

Digital savvy criminals

Businesses that come to grips with the problem will manage to stay afloat – but they won’t be able to do it without fraud prevention tools that can identify suspicious activity without adding friction to the customer payment experience.  In other words, customers must be protected from theft – as well as the truth. They shouldn’t even know that they’re under attack in the first place. It’s all about prevention- or at least as much as what technology can provide.

Without some technological intervention, there won’t be prevention, as companies simply cannot keep up with the proliferation of digital thieves.  Culprits are operating individually or in criminal gangs or both – and usually in countries that are often forgotten by global leaders.  For example, the telecommunications sector witnessed a 76% increase in card fraud a month after the global pandemic was declared – and the top country for suspected fraud origination was Timor-Leste – how many people even know where that is? (East Timor – formerly part of Indonesia, if you must ask!). Financial services saw an 11% increase in identity theft that same period – with most suspected culprits based in war torn Syria.

Exploiting vulnerabilities

Despite their location, fraudsters are quickly adapting to consumer behaviour, and finding ways to attack. With less in-person transactions taking place, criminals are doing things like infecting online points-of-sale with malware that enables them to skim credit card details of previous customers.

Evgenia Loginova

Evgenia Loginova

From our experience with our fraud detection networks the numbers point out that missing card fraud, in particular, has shot up by 70% over the past few months. This is where people’s card details are being used by criminals to make purchases, when they are not in possession of the card. They’ve just stolen the numbers and additional critical security information such as expiry date and CVC2/CVV2.

Identity theft is also on the rise, as well as phishing and social engineering attacks. For example, in the UK alone there’s been a rise in criminals impersonating trusted organisations like the NHS or HMRC to trick people into going online and paying for services that are fake or giving away their money and information to charities and other organisations that are fake.

Local councils in Britain have noted  a 40% increase in reported scams since the start of the pandemic, while Citizens Advice believes one in three people have been targeted by a Covid scammer.

This is a problem that is too big to ignore. The moment the fraudsters have your payment details – whether they’ve stolen it or you’ve given it to them under false pretences, the problem leads to losses for the victim and the businesses and organisations too.

With Covid and lockdown, fraud has gone fully remote and everything from e-commerce and digital banking has been a target for abuse.

In this ‘new normal’ world we find ourselves, the prevention of suspicious transactions through customer profiling and enhanced analytics, use of AI and machine learning models becomes very important.

Fortunately, digital theft is now being taken seriously.  Spending on security has skyrocketed in recent years, and the sector supplying protection predicted to grow by $6 Trillion by 2021.

Businesses that survive the pandemic must be able to anticipate and strive to block 100% of the digital theft they encounter. But to win the war against these online criminals they require a robust security strategy.

Here are some tips to consider.

Security policies should be enforced internally and across payment channels and distributed networks. This includes the core and cloud networks as well.

Security gaps should be closed.  A lot of risk can be mitigated by performing regular checks and plugging security holes, settling on a unified security framework based on interoperability, centralising visibility and control, segmenting the network to restrict the fluidity of malware and high performance, and deep integration.

Invest in AI capabilities.  Artificial intelligence possesses the sophisticated power to replicate the analytical behaviour of human intelligence, as well as enable decision-making in real time and offer predictive security notifications.

Investing in AI based security systems can significantly reduce digital attacks and spot suspicious activity.  The best ones are integrated with artificial neural networks (ANN), which combined with deep-learning models, can speed up data analysis and decision-making. It also enables the network to nimbly adapt to new information it encounters in the network.

Prevent fraud in online and then investigate. It is crucial to stop fraud before it happens. As most of the payments became remote, reaction should be super fast: high-risk transactions should be declined, low-risk passed with no friction and suspicious challenged. This raises the importance of finding the balance between customer experience and risk mitigation as never before. And even with AI and enhanced analytics for complex cases an expert with natural intelligence should be equipped with all needed information for relevant and adequate decision-making.

Lingering problem

Digital crime won’t disappear as long as there’s an opportunity that criminals can exploit. As the world braces for a new wave of lockdown measures, businesses operating in the online sphere must remain vigilant and prepare for more attacks – or face losses that could be impossible to recover from during these challenging economic times.

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