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GCC’S BIGGEST BANKING SUMMIT TO DIRECT MAJOR IT TECHNOLOGY SPEND

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Over 400 C-level executives, IT experts, retail banking specialists and finance heads have confirmed to attend the region’s biggest banking technology summit, taking place on 29th – 30th of September 2014 at the Jumeirah Emirates Tower in Dubai, UAE. With heightened competition for tech-savvy customers in the market, banks with outdated systems and products are coming under pressure to invest in core banking technologies, fraud prevention solutions and data analytics software and will be looking to discuss these requirements at the Middle East Banking Innovation Summit 2014.

GCC’S BIGGEST BANKING SUMMIT TO DIRECT MAJOR IT TECHNOLOGY SPEND 3In its 4th year the event is gathering major local players including Emirates NBD, Dubai Islamic Bank, Arab National Bank, National Bank of Abu Dhabi, Doha Bank, and RAK Bank amongst international leaders HSBC, Barclays, Standard Chartered Bank, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Deutsche Bank and Citibank to share case-studies, challenges and learn where to target IT spend in the coming year.

The Middle East is projected to reach US$243 billion by 2018, which will represent 5.6 percent of worldwide IT spending estimated by Gartner with $211 billion in 2014 alone. Tech giants Kaspersky, SAP, MasterCard, Nettitude, Temenos and HP will be looking to take advantage of the positive development and will be showcasing innovative solutions as banks prepare to modernize and digitize.

“In the next three to five years, you are going to see a significant technology rollout among the banks that operation in the region with back office operations moving to the cloud,” said Farhad Irani, Mashreq Bank’s Head of Retail Banking in an interview with The National earlier this year. “It’s a fast-growing market, very high tech market, very amenable to innovation. Banking and payments have a very exciting opportunity in that context in being able to wow customers with solutions.”

Google reports UAE having the highest usage of smartphones in the world at 75 percent; a trend that will push more business online and to mobile channels to keep up with customer expectations. As banks prepare for the onset of digitization across the organization, new challenges in cyber security and increased regulatory requirements are brought into the limelight. Topics of major consideration for the industry also include Big Data analytics, core banking optimization, mobile and social marketing, regulatory compliance and new payment solutions, and will be key focusses at the summit to be held in September.

“The banking sector in the Middle East is one of the world’s fastest growing markets, and with increased competition within this region it is no surprise that the Summit is growing in size once again,” says Charlene Corrin, Producer of the Middle East Banking Innovation Summit organized by Expotrade. “It’s a very important platform for the banking industry decision-makers to connect with peers and technology vendors to learn how to apply innovation and focus IT spend where it is most needed.”

Expotrade is a global conference and event organizer with its head office based in Melbourne, Australia. Expotrade has delivered some of the largest, most successful B2B industry conferences and events in industries including Big Data, banking & finance, solar energy, lighting, smart cities and construction.

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UK’s Sunak to build bridge to recovery with more spending

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UK's Sunak to build bridge to recovery with more spending 4

By William Schomberg

LONDON (Reuters) – British finance minister Rishi Sunak will next week promise yet more spending to prop up the economy during what he hopes will be the last phase of lockdown, but he will also probably signal tax rises ahead to plug the huge hole in the public finances.

Sunak, who is due to announce a new budget plan on March 3, has already racked up more than 280 billion pounds ($397 billion) in coronavirus spending and tax cuts, pushing Britain’s borrowing to a peacetime record.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson plans to lift England’s current lockdown entirely only in late June so Sunak is expected to rely heavily on the debt markets again.

His job retention scheme, paying 80% of employees’ wages, will probably be extended beyond a scheduled April 30 expiry date, further inflating its estimated cost of 70 billion pounds. Support for the self-employed looks set to stay too.

Businesses are demanding Sunak keep other lifelines, such as exempting the firms hardest hit by the lockdown from property taxes and giving them a value-added tax cut.

And calls are growing for an extension of a 20 pounds-a-week emergency welfare increase due to expire in April.

The Times newspaper said Sunak would prolong his stamp duty property tax break for three months until the end of June.

Sunak hopes that by then Britain will be emerging from its deep freeze thanks to Europe’s fastest vaccination programme.

Bank of England Chief Economist Andy Haldane likens the economy to a “coiled spring” primed with the savings that households have built up after being stuck at home.

A strong recovery would mean a jump in tax revenues, doing some of the Treasury’s job of fixing the public finances.

Rupert Harrison, an aide to former finance minister George Osborne, said Sunak should not try to slash Britain’s 2.1 trillion-pound debt mountain, equivalent to 98% of GDP – a ratio unthinkable for decades.

Instead he should write new budget rules tied to the cost of debt servicing, which is close to record lows.

“We can safely carry higher levels of debt than before,” Harrison told a webinar organised by Onward, a think-tank.

But the scale of Britain’s borrowing is raising questions about how long Sunak and Johnson can stick to their promises not to raise key taxes, made to voters before the 2019 election.

BROKEN PROMISES?

The huge costs of tackling the worst of the coronavirus pandemic are likely to ease in the months ahead, meaning this year’s 400 billion pound budget deficit should narrow.

But Britain is probably on course to be stuck with a gap of 60 billion pounds between revenues and day-to-day spending by the mid-2020s, the Institute for Fiscal Studies think-tank says.

In a nod to that, Sunak is expected to start raising Britain’s low corporation tax rate.

The Sunday Times said the rate would rise steadily to bring in an extra 12 billion pounds a year by the time of the next election, due in 2024.

Other options include ending a freeze on fuel duty increases which has been in place since 2012 and looks at odds with Britain’s plans to be carbon net zero by 2050.

But higher fuel prices now would hurt the haulage industry, already struggling with Brexit-related disruption, and could alienate working-class voters who backed Johnson in 2019.

Higher capital gains tax or lower pension incentives would anger lawmakers in Johnson’s Conservative Party.

David Gauke, a former deputy finance minister, said the only big revenue-raising options were the ones that Johnson has promised not to touch – income tax, VAT and national insurance contributions.

“In the end, they are going to have to say, sorry we just can’t responsibly maintain that manifesto commitment,” Gauke told the Onward webinar.

($1 = 0.7046 pounds)

(Writing by William Schomberg; Editing by Catherine Evans)

 

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Women inch towards equal legal rights despite COVID-19 risks, World Bank says

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Women inch towards equal legal rights despite COVID-19 risks, World Bank says 5

By Sonia Elks

(Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Women gained legal rights in nearly 30 countries last year despite disruption due to COVID-19, but governments must do more to ease the disproportionate burden shouldered by women during the pandemic, the World Bank said on Tuesday.

Nations should prioritise gender equality in economic recovery efforts, the bank said, warning that progress on equal rights was threatened by heavier job losses in female-dominated sectors, increased childcare and a surge in domestic violence.

“This pandemic has exacerbated existing inequalities that disadvantage girls and women,” David Malpass, World Bank Group president, said in a statement accompanying the annual “Women, Business and the Law” report.

“Women should have the same access to finance and the same rights to inheritance as men and must be at the centre of our efforts toward an inclusive and resilient recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.”

A total of 27 countries reformed laws or regulations to give women more economic equality with men in 2019-20, said the report, which grades 190 nations on laws and regulations that affect women’s economic opportunities.

While countries in all of the world’s regions made improvements in the new index – with most reforms addressing pay and parenthood, women on average still have only about three quarters of the rights granted to men, the report found.

Notably, nearly 40 countries brought in extra benefit or leave policies to help employees balance their jobs with the extra childcare needs created by coronavirus restrictions.

But such measures were “few and far between” worldwide and will probably not go far enough to tackle the “motherhood penalty” many women face in the workplace, it said.

The report also noted separate data from a United Nations tool tracking gender-sensitive pandemic responses which found 70% of such measures addressed violence, with just 10% targeting women’s economic security.

The pandemic could result in “a backslide on various hard-won advances in women’s rights achieved in recent years”, said Antonia Kirkland, the global lead on legal equality at women’s rights organisation Equality Now.

“This disruption is a unique opportunity for countries to rebuild more resilient, inclusive and prosperous economies,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by email.

“But this can only be achieved alongside the removal of sex discriminatory laws that prevent women from participating fully and equally in economic, social and family life.”

(Reporting by Sonia Elks @soniaelks; Editing by Helen Popper. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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Digital health checks vital to travel recovery, Heathrow says

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Digital health checks vital to travel recovery, Heathrow says 6

By Sarah Young

LONDON (Reuters) – Digital health checks will be vital to a recovery in foreign travel from the COVID-19 pandemic, Britain’s Heathrow airport said on Wednesday, after a collapse in passenger numbers saw it plunge to a 2 billion pound ($2.8 billion) loss last year.

The UK government said on Monday trips abroad could restart in mid-May as its vaccination campaign kicks in, sparking a surge in holiday bookings.

It is also looking into a digital health passport or app to help ease restrictions, while conceding the benefits have to be weighed against potential risks to civil liberties.

But Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye said digital technology, and international agreements, would be vital to reviving a travel industry on its knees.

“It’s absolutely critical and that’s one of the main things that government needs to work on,” he said, when asked about a digital health app.

At present, paper checks on COVID-19 test results and passenger locator forms take 20 minutes per traveller at Heathrow, making travel near impossible should passenger numbers rise from current low levels.

Britain’s biggest airport said it was “very likely” people would be able to go on their summer holidays, but expects passenger numbers will take time to recover.

The airport, west of London, is forecasting 25 million passengers in the second half of the year, meaning it would be operating at about 50% capacity.

Heathrow, owned by Spain’s Ferrovial, the Qatar Investment Authority, China Investment Corp and others, last year lost its title as Europe’s busiest airport to Paris after its flight schedules shrank more than those of its rivals.

Passenger numbers plunged 73% to 22 million people last year, with half of those travelling during January and February, before the pandemic shut down global travel in March.

Heathrow said it had 3.9 billion pounds of liquidity, giving it sufficient resources to keep going with low levels of traffic until 2023, despite the 2 billion loss before tax for 2020.

The airport urged the government to provide business tax breaks for big airports, something only available to smaller airports so far, and to extend the furlough job support scheme to help it financially before the recovery takes off.

($1 = 0.7044 pounds)

(Reporting by Sarah Young. Editing by James Davey and Mark Potter)

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