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Gain an Edge with Accounting Automation



Gain an Edge with Accounting Automation

By Clayton Weir, co-founder and head of product and strategy, FISPAN

The good news: Robots are not quite ready to take over our jobs in finance and accounting. But they are increasingly changing how we work and collaborate. This technology can allow teams to accomplish more tasks in a safer, more compliant way.

As automation becomes increasingly common in the financial services industry, accountants must learn how to best leverage new tools and services to help their organizations become more tech-savvy and efficient.

The state of accounting automation
A recent report from management consulting firm Robert Half found that accounting and finance organizations in North America have expanded their use of automation across all business processes tracked during the past year. Respondents also ranked automation as one of the top three technologies they expect to disrupt the workplace over the next five years.

While disruptive technologies certainly come with their share of challenges, they can also radically alter industries for the better. Automation is already increasing overall efficiency and productivity for accountants by relieving them of monotonous manual tasks. The automation of basic processes, including invoicing, data collection and entry, documentation management and records reconciliation, is swiftly becoming commonplace in the accounting world. This type of lift is especially important given that 40% of finance leaders feel their teams are understaffed.

More complex tasks such as financial report generation are also being automated. The same Robert Half study found 39% of companies with less than $500 million in revenue, and 44% of those with $500 million or more in revenue, have used automated financial report generation this year, compared to 16% and 12%, respectively, in 2018. Not surprisingly, the time it takes to generate financial reports has significantly decreased for most companies since 2018.

Some of the key technologies in accounting automation include:

  • Robotic process automation (RPA), which automates repetitive, manual tasks like calculations.
  • Artificial intelligence (AI), which can mimic human decision-making for tasks like risk assessment and fraud detection.
  • Natural language processing (NLP), a subset of AI that helps computers understand and interpret human languages for tasks like invoice management.
  • Machine learning (ML), another subset of AI that uses known data to identify patterns and make decisions on new data for tasks like reconciliation and compliance.

The human element

Despite incredible advancements in automation, some processes are still better left to humans. Financial planning and decision-making rely on human strategic-thinking skills. So although some aspects of accountants’ jobs may be winding down, the automation of certain processes allows them to concentrate on more meaningful tasks that add value to the company. Meanwhile, automation serves the role of improving productivity and reducing human error.

Using automation to your advantage

There are many benefits to automating accounting functions, but financial leaders often find the prospect of implementation daunting. Keep these tips in mind as you navigate the automation process:

  1. Integrate your bank and ERP systems. Many financial institutions provide direct connectivity with ERP and accounting systems. Integrating these systems allows you to manage all of your primary business processes via your own platform in a centralized location. Similarly, many cloud-based bookkeeping systems like Xero connect directly to your bank account. Smart bookkeeping ensures transactions are designated to the correct account, eliminating exhaustive manual work for operations, auditing and reporting teams.
  2. Lean on your bank, accounting ERP and TMS vendors. Whether directly or through their partner networks, your current banking vendors might have access to useful automation functionalities. These companies are often looking for eager beta testers for forthcoming tools. It never hurts to ask or take a peek through their app stores and partner ecosystems; the Quickbooks online app store alone has 75 partner apps listed under the keyword “automation.”
  3. Automate internal audits. Some vendors such as MindBridge AI provide internal audit platforms driven entirely by AI. MindBridge claims its platform can be configured in just 10 minutes and analyze data down to the subledger level. 
  4. Use integrated receivables platforms. Some banks and fintechs now leverage AI to develop complicated receivables platforms that can automatically match inbound payments to outstanding items in your system and apply cash. The fintech HighRadius, for instance, claims 95% of its payments are posted without manual interventions.
  5. Link payment tools. Payment processing platforms can be linked to your accounting software through direct connections or third-party integrations, automating cash applications for merchant processing. Stripe and Paypal are two of the most common platforms used by accountants, but each comes with its quirks. If you want to input Stripe data into Xero or Quickbooks Online, you’ll need a third-party add-on tool like Silver Siphon or BankFeeds. And with Paypal, you’ll need to create a separate feed for each type of currency accepted.
  6. Automate Reconciliations. Many companies are already creating rules to automate tasks such as payroll and invoicing. But automation rules can be used for so much more;  in fact, rules can actually be applied to any and all of the tips outlined above. For example, you can set up a rule that automatically allocates specific transactions, like software subscriptions or utility bills, to their corresponding accounts. Beyond rules, some companies are leveraging solutions such as BlackLine that help automate not only bank reconciliations but also the entire period end close.

Accounting automation is already disrupting the finance industry in major ways, and its use is expected to grow increasingly widespread. While this may shake up daily life for accountants, automation will ultimately make their jobs easier and increase the value of their roles. With more time to dedicate to strategic initiatives, accountants can become a guiding force for their organizations.

About Clayton Weir
Clayton Weir is the co-founder and chief strategy officer at FISPAN, leading product strategy, partnerships with ERPs and marketing. He previously founded the BC Tech HyperGrowth Accelerator and FinTech Industry Cluster. Clayton sits on the NACHA API Standardization Group, taught entrepreneurship at the University of British Columbia and is a board chairman and finance committee chairman of Canada’s largest independent car sharing organization. He holds an MBA from the University of British Columbia and is a chartered financial analyst (CFA).


COVID-19: Dealing with fraudulent applications for the Bounce Back Loan Scheme



COVID-19: Dealing with fraudulent applications for the Bounce Back Loan Scheme 1

By Ed Lloyd, EVP Global Head of Sales, Encompass

The COVID-19 pandemic is still having a devastating impact on businesses and the economy in the UK, and access to funds, loans and financial schemes remains a top priority for business. In many cases, this kind of support is what has helped businesses to stay afloat so far.

The Coronavirus Bounce Back Loan Scheme (BBLS) is just one example. Announced in April, it was designed to help small firms unable to access other forms of support survive the crisis by providing quicker access to funds, through a number of accredited lenders across the UK, with the government, at the time, providing guarantees around the repaying of agreed loans, provided they were evidenced to be legitimate

However, since then, the scheme has been plagued by fraudulent applications, with opportunistic criminals seizing the opportunity to strike. As a result, it has been estimated that up to 60% of the loans may never be repaid, with the National Audit Office (NAO) saying taxpayers could lose as much as £26bn, from fraud, organised crime or default.

Bounce Back Loan Scheme corrupted by fraud

Since the Chancellor extended all connected loans, with businesses now having to pay loans back in January, there have been rising concerns about the potential risks. As mentioned, the scale of fraud has been significant, with criminal gangs exploiting the situation.

And, during this time, we have seen that false applications in the UK have gone almost entirely unreported, with less than 0.5 per cent of the expected cases being flagged to the police. The latest figures from the national Action Fraud service show that only 176 reports of fraud citing a government-backed lending scheme have been received this year, which is extremely concerning. Of these, 95 were crime reports, detailing offences that had taken place, and the remaining 81 were information reports, about attempted crimes. However, the National Audit Office reported that the Bounce Back Loan Scheme alone had delivered £36.9bn to more than 1.2 million applicants.

Even the Cabinet Office has warned that fraud losses from these loans were likely to be significantly above the norm – suggesting at least £1.85bn had been claimed dishonestly

The impact this issue is having on businesses and businesspeople alike cannot be underestimated, as the government refuses to pay back any fraudulent loans, and victims are even having to fight to prove they did not make loans applications.

We are now a matter of weeks away from when businesses will have to begin to repay banks, and they are finding themselves under increasing pressure. A particular concern is that, because of the high levels of fraud in applications, some of the money used to pay back loans may be the proceeds of crime – and banks need to be able to identify this risk.

To do this properly, it is likely they would have to conduct Know Your Customer (KYC) activity on loan beneficiaries again, and to a higher standard than before, in order to ensure dirty money is not flowing into their institutions. We know current manually driven KYC processes are not time effective and they would struggle to do this correctly in the timeframe as a result.

How are criminals doing it?

Lenders have been under pressure from the government to approve these loans within 48 hours, which doesn’t give them the time they require to conduct the level of KYC checks and measures needed to identify any risks or fraudulent activity. This problem is exacerbated by the high level of demand for the scheme – and, worryingly, there is just no telling how many of these applications are indeed fraudulent.

The Solution

Whilst it is true that the entire process needs a head-to-toe structural review, there is one core topic that must be highlighted here, and that is the benefits of RegTech.

RegTech, and specifically intelligent process automation, allows banks to perform comprehensive due diligence checks in order to make sure a company, or individual, is who they say they are, and this can be vital in helping businesses cope in times of  unprecedented demand, when they are working to tight deadlines.

It can take the burden away from analysts within the banks by doing the heavy lifting when it comes to carrying out proper KYC due diligence, ensuring an efficient and effective process. The right software should also be able to provide corporation dates and financial audits, as well as spot and flag suspicious applications, history, or activity.

We cannot forget that COVID-19 has led to a dramatic increase in other forms of financial crime, with many criminals using its guise to trick unknowing consumers into sophisticated cyber scams, which have been designed to look like legitimate government schemes or financial aid services. What’s more, the increased pressure on banking services means the fight against fraud and money laundering in the UK has become more important but, in many ways, more challenging. Financial services institutions must ensure they invest in trustworthy and secure onboarding processes if they are to have a truly meaningful KYC programme.

It is crucial that they make use of the solutions at their disposal to ensure swift approval and compliance, and avoid falling foul of regulation. Using advanced technologies such as automation is a solution to a significant problem, and its importance is only underlined during these times of pressure and uncertainty.

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Data Unions, fisherfolk and DeFi



Data Unions, fisherfolk and DeFi 2

By Ruby Short, Streamr

In the fintech world it seems every month there’s a new trend or terminology to get acquainted with. From just learning about cryptocurrency a few years ago, to the crazy boom markets of 2017-18, the market has now moved on to DeFi, or Decentralised Finance to those less in the know.

It’s a trend which is gathering momentum, too – $275m of crypto collateral was invested in the DeFi economy in early 2019, but by February of this year it hit $1 billion, and by the end of July this number had risen to $4 billion.

According to crypto exchange Binance, DeFi refers to “a movement that aims to create an open-source, permissionless and transparent financial service ecosystem that is available to everyone and operates without any central authority.” Essentially it gives full asset control to those who use it, whether this is through peer-to-peer models or DeFi applications.

These apps, known as DApps, run on a blockchain network meaning they’re not controlled by a single authority. And as they are also Open Source, they are publicly available – characteristics that make transactions quicker, more affordable and more efficient than their centralised counterparts, where data is stored on servers managed by one authority (think traditional banks).

So why is DeFi getting so much attention?

DeFi is exciting for many because it gives more people more control over their money. Where much of the financial sector is traditionally centralised it inherits bias, thus restricting many people from their funds and what they can do with it.

With this approach, anyone can make investments or get into trading much more easily, and, most importantly, keep control in the hands of the user and not large corporations.

One of the preliminary benefits of this control is the improved visibility we gain over our financial data. In fact, any data we produce in general, whether online or through smart devices is predominantly controlled by giant centralised platforms such as Google and Facebook. In many cases users are unaware of where this is being sold on, or at least have been up until now.

As with DeFi and DApps, a way to decentralise this control has been introduced – in the form of Data Unions. A relatively new concept, this is a framework that enables individuals to bundle together their real-time data with others to create valuable insights which can be sold on, offering each the chance to earn revenue. It is helping businesses and individuals realise the value of the information they produce.

How does it work?

Our data on its own holds little value, but once bundled with multiple data sets from other people and sources and combined in a Data Union, it becomes an attractive set of insights to buyers who can use it to improve their market knowledge, product or service.

Data is shared through an app on the device or object via Streamr’s Data Union framework, a toolbox, which any developer or company can integrate into their existing products. It also allows individuals to choose which particular data types they share and monetise, and which they keep private.

This information then passes, encrypted, through the Streamr Network, to the Data Union where it’s bundled with others’ data for sale on the Marketplace – a process called crowdselling, which has the potential to generate unique data sets by incentivising trade directly from data producers.

What’s more, Data Unions can be set up to capture any form of data. For instance, a music streaming company could commission their own app where users could sell their listening and genre habits paired with their demographic info.

What has this got to do with DeFi?

Data Unions can help provide a means of DeFi direct to the people that need it most.

To break this down, a Data Union is beneficial because it enables any internet user to be paid for their data, which is unlike any data tax that has been proposed by many politicians. And, the advantage of a DeFi solution is that anyone can get paid from it because the finances are no longer dependent on their jurisdiction, but on which products they are using. Putting these together can have endless benefits.

We’re already seeing this happen, with a framework being used to improve the lives of financially marginalised groups. Tracey is a blockchain enabled Data Union working in partnership with WWF.

The application incentivises Filipino fisherfolk to record their catch and trade data digitally through direct data monetisation via the Streamr Marketplace. This data makes the first mile of their seafood products through the supply chain, traceable. With regional fish stocks declining, accurate catch yield data is a desirable insight for third party members such as retailers and final buyers.

The benefits of this model are twofold. Many fisherfolk in the Philippines are unbanked, meaning they don’t have a bank account. Trading this data gives them access to finance and loans previously out of reach, changing them and their family’s livelihoods. It also enables a self-sustaining ecosystem that captures accurate traceability data and helps these areas monitor their overfishing levels for more sustainable fishing.

What does this mean for us for the future?

We’re seeing a lot of momentum building around all forms of online decentralization,and the potential is huge. Over the coming years we will see these systems become ever more integrated into the existing internet stack, which will profoundly impact our possibilities online. Soon, it will become normal to take part in the internet’s data economy.

We see internet users becoming members of several Data Unions and have a range of different options to choose from that best suits them and their data sets. Personal data monetisation will no longer be a privacy issue we’re all suffering under, but rather a question of whether we want to sell our data or not. Users will have the freedom to choose for themselves if they want to sell their data or not and ethical data sharing will become the norm.

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ECOMMPAY expands Open Banking payments solution to Europe



ECOMMPAY expands Open Banking payments solution to Europe 3

Open Banking by ECOMMPAY facilitates fast, secure and simple payments 

International payment service provider and direct bank card acquirer, ECOMMPAY, has today announced the expansion of its payment system Open Banking by ECOMMPAY to Europe. The solution allows consumers to initiate online payments to merchants.

Open Banking by ECOMMPAY leverages Open Banking technology, which enables third-party providers to access banks’ data to provide payment initiation through API connections. The news comes as research by the Open Banking Implementation Entity recently showed that uptake of Open Banking has doubled over the past six months, with more than two million consumers making use of the data-sharing service.

ECOMMPAY’s solution will allow consumers to connect to over 4000 banks in more than 28 European countries, while merchants can accept payments from customers in real-time, directly to their bank account. The solution is available in the UK, Latvia, Estonia and the Netherlands, and will be rolled out to further countries soon.

Benefits for consumers as well as merchants

For shoppers, Open Banking by ECOMMPAY means confidential information is accessed in a secure manner, compliant with GDPR requirements. Financial data is stored in one place so that credit decisions on loans or other transactions can be made promptly. Purchases can be made easily via smart devices, and consumers simply log in to their online banking via their mobile app to approve payments.

Merchants benefit from access to new infrastructure for payments. Without the need for credit or debit cards, chargeback risks due to fraud or an inability to capture funds are eliminated, while card fees are cut too. As the process does not require intermediaries, the payment process is efficient, and can also be customised by region, currency and other localised requirements. While banks usually have full control over the services customers need such as loans or transfers, Open Banking brings these decisions under a single administration.

Simplified European expansion

Historically, businesses growing into new markets would require a local banking relationship to facilitate the collection of direct debit payments, and face multiple complications around legal requirements, licenses and compliance. However, Open Banking by ECOMMPAY allows companies to use one efficient, cost-effective and simple payment solution to expand within Europe.

Paul Marcantonio, Executive Director of ECOMMPAY, commented: “Open Banking is revolutionising the way we pay, and the recent growth in its use indicates people are looking for more payments choice. Open Banking for Europe by ECOMMPAY will allow us to cater to the increasing number of people taking advantage of this secure, real-time and simple payment technology. Our solution will let merchants quickly expand into new markets and accept payments directly from customers’ bank accounts.

“With the pandemic shifting businesses online faster than ever before, the need for fast, safe and secure payment methods is growing. There is an urgent need to cater to a variety of payment methods, and at the same time to counter fraud and cyber-crime.”

ECOMMPAY has enjoyed steady growth since its launch in 2012, and has built a global presence with six international offices and operations in key markets including Asia, Europe, Africa, Russia and the UK. The company is a principal member of Visa and Mastercard, and a member of Visa Direct and MoneySend, as well as being the first payment provider on the PayPal Commerce Platform and the first acquirer to implement a Mastercard Dashboard.

The company will be hosting a webinar on Open Banking on 10th December. ECOMMPAY and its host speakers will look at the different opportunities that open banking brings for businesses, the challenges faced implementing it, and how to make it work from every business angle. Key topics will include how Open Banking will impact online business in the future, the effect of Brexit and Covid-19, and how to become an early adopter.

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