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Jonathan Williams

By Jonathan Williams, Director of Strategic Development at Experian

Jonathan Williams

Jonathan Williams

The Single European Payments Area (SEPA) legislation is due to come into force on February 1st 2014, yet the majority of European businesses are still behind where they need to be with regards to data validation and migration in order for them to hit this target. According to latest estimates, just less than 40% of credit transfer data required for compliance has migrated so there is a lot of work left to do across the Eurozone. This can be divided into the following three categories that recognise the changes required in the following areas: systems and people; data; and processes.

People Changes
The first target in the SEPA migration process should be making sure key staff realise that any part of the businesses still waiting to start the move must do so urgently. It is important that everyone understands the potential financial penalties and business risks caused by late, or delayed payments – penalties and business delays which could severely affect all aspects of a company from HR (through employees not getting paid); product and service availability (through payments to suppliers and partners failing); and of course reputational damage to the company as a whole.

Establishing a taskforce internally to drive the migration can significantly aid the process, and create a core body who understand the legislation, its business impact, and the importance of compliance to the business.

This taskforce should in the first instance conduct an impact study which establishes the importance of SEPA legislation to the business – a study which can then be presented back to all the relevant stakeholders to ensure they are bought in to the project and fully back the actions and reforms needed. It is essential that the move toward SEPA compliance doesn’t appear internally to be solely an accounts team issue, but one which a much wider impact on the business, and so requires buy-in from everyone at senior management and Board level.

Once this study is complete, the scope for end-to-end management of the process can be undertaken and steps laid out which will walk the company (and the team driving it, alongside the other key stakeholders), through the process. This guide should include the change points across the organisation where SEPA compliance touches operations, and where data, records and business processes will be impacted not just by compliance but by the stages of validation and correcting of records during the migration process.

It’s worth highlighting early on that there are elements of this work which must be done in-house, as well as that which can be outsourced to a specialist agency in order to optimise use of the time left and resource available to hit the deadline. Deciding which aspects of migration to outsource early on is useful as it will create an understanding amongst colleagues of exactly what the responsibilities of the in-house team are.

Staff should realise the benefits of protecting data integrity for the long term, and ensuring that the work done in migration toward SEPA compliance can fundamentally underpin the business in the long term.

System changes
A critical part of a SEPA migration plan is the upgrading of systems to store data and generate the formats required for SEPA payments. In some businesses, there is a long cycle of updates and if this falls after the SEPA deadline, understanding how the system’s data can be made compliant is an important issue. As part of the analysis of which systems hold payment information, it is important to track data from capture through to initiation. In some cases these systems will be hosted by third parties and it is therefore vital to understand their SEPA-compliance roadmap. Where a system is internal, for example a supplier portal or a consumer website, checking that it is capturing bank accounts in IBAN (International Bank Account Number) and, depending on the location of your payment service provider, Bank Identifier Code (BIC) as well, and ideally validating the details to ensure good data hygiene and reduce exceptions or payment failures.

In some cases a system can be left in a non-compliant state if their feeds to other parts of the business can be automatically converted and compliance achieved at another point in the process. Banks may provide conversion services, but there is no substitute for identifying errors at the point of capture, especially as consumers are generally unfamiliar with IBAN, thereby preventing the error being detected at a point that little can be done to correct it.

Many software providers have compliant versions of software and may assist in choosing the correct route to SEPA compliance.

Data Changes
Once you have staff and systems on board, the next stage is managing the data conversion itself, which may seem daunting, but can be broken down and managed in phases. The first phase is a validation check and converting all known, verified, BBAN (Basic Bank Account Number) data to IBAN (International Bank Account Number) and BIC (Bank Identifier Code) data, the latter two being critical to SEPA compliance.

Extracting the relevant data from business systems is normally a manual task. It is easiest to keep the data as comma-separated-value (CSV) records as this is the easiest format for most software to understand. For a smooth conversion, validating the raw data as soon as it has been received is crucial, as this will identify errors and warnings which may compromise the output IBANs; for instance, if bank codes are out of date, new branch codes need to be found.

Direct debits are another crucial aspect of the new SEPA regulations yet only 2% of them are currently compliant. SEPA Direct Debits (SDDs) like any other direct debit scheme, are based on the following concept: “I request money from someone else, with their prior approval, and credit it to myself”, with the payer and the biller each holding an account with a payment service provider (PSP) located within SEPA. This relationship must remain intact during the change to SEPA compliance and for future payments to take place smoothly.

Therefore, direct debit mandates containing old bank account data must be updated to International Bank Account Numbers (IBANs). There are three ways to do this; i) you could send a form to every client you currently have a direct debit for requesting the required updated details (with no guarantee they will fill it out and hand it back in time), ii) you can ask your bank to help you in retrieving them. Finally there is also the option of bringing in a third party specialist to assist with the data collection, validation and conversion.

Either way, this update is critical and must be completed to ensure that payments are not delayed and financial penalties are avoided. A key decision is how much of this to bring in-house; how much you need the bank to handle themselves; and how much should be handled by an external third party.

Another vital SEPA requirement is that payment information must be converted to the ISO 20022 XML file format. This standard is already supported by most European banks and the majority of ERP vendors are committed to implementing this format in the near future. In a nutshell, this means that your IT department needs to convert existing data into this new format to prevent payments being refused, or being put through a conversion service that banks are likely to charge for. You need to be aware that although the file conversion process is relatively straightforward, it can be extremely time consuming. Therefore, if you have not already started the process, you may want to think about contacting a third party that can assist you.

Process & Procedure Changes
It’s important to establish a validation process to help find problems with the input data which includes a number of errors including: invalid account numbers, closed branches, transferred accounts and incorrectly formatted data. By finding inaccurate source data and rectifying it, invalid records can be returned to the customer so that good data can be clearly separated from bad allowing each to be treated independently. When deciding on whether this process can be completed in-house or with the help of a third party, it is important to understand how long the task is likely to take – for some organisations, migrating paperless direct debit data alone has taken 18 months.

Once non-valid data is identified, a process needs to be established which will seek to correct the errors, otherwise, incorrect legacy data will be inherited into SEPA compliant systems and bank errors will continue to occur, bringing continued cost to the business in failed payments. Such a process can be handled in-house, by a team who will be responsible for finding the relevant customer / supplier banking details, through either existing records within the business or if need be by contacting the company / individual direct and sourcing the correct data directly.
To make the transition a long term success, starting off with a basic understanding of the road ahead and subsequent analysis and assessment of the tasks are crucial. It would be a good idea to place ‘in-line’ live data checking post-conversion into key lines of business, to ensure long term SEPA compliance, and remove the possibilities for payments to be declined, and thus remove the associated operational, reputational, and financial pitfalls for the business.

In-line data proofing is a simple process to establish, and involves putting in place a system to re-validate payments data periodically. This will therefore, as branches close, banks merge and accounts transfer, ensure the information contained in billing and payments systems remains consistent and reliable. This enables businesses to convert on-the-fly from legacy systems whilst still maintaining the highest levels of data accuracy.

The arrival of SEPA legislation has been on the horizon for ten years now, yet many businesses across the Eurozone are still not prepared – and with time running out, the need for action is now. However, this is not to say there is not time to comply, and by following the steps above, and obtaining external help where required, businesses yet to undertake the move toward SEPA compliance can get the project underway, and avoid extensive penalties, operational issues, and reputational damage that a failure to comply could bring.

Biography for Jonathan Williams, Director of Strategic Development at Experian
Jonathan Williams, Director of Strategic Development at Experian, is responsible for innovation, working with the payments industry and strategic projects within the Identity and Fraud division of Experian. Spanning both technical and marketing disciplines, Jonathan focusses on the commercial opportunities created by market change, and how these can be turned to the advantage of Experian’s corporate customers. Jonathan joined Experian after promoting strategies for growth as European Business Development Manager for Fujitsu Telecom. Prior to this he was responsible for the product propositions which took two start-ups to IPO: Content Technologies and Virata Corporation. He has also held engineering and IT roles at British Aerospace (now BAE Systems), the University of Cambridge and Advanced Telecommunications Modules. Jonathan holds an MA in Theoretical Physics and a postgraduate qualification in Computer Science from the University of Cambridge and is the Experian representative to the Euro Banking Association (ABE) and the Payments Council. – See more at:


How to use data to protect and power your business



How to use data to protect and power your business 1

By Dave Parker, Group Head of Data Governance, Arrow Global

Employees need to access data to do their jobs. But as data governance professionals, it’s our job to protect it. Therefore, we must perform a fine balancing act to weigh robust data protection against the productivity of workers who need the data to maintain business-as-usual working processes.

Data grows exponentially, and most organisations will admit that they simply don’t know what data they have, where it is, and the controls that exist around it. This creates 2 challenges:

  1. Burgeoning amounts of unstructured data makes the business increasingly vulnerable from external attackers or internal data breaches.
  2. Because data is the key to understanding a customer’s wants and needs, if the business can’t identify its data and unlock its value, it’s at a competitive disadvantage.

As a European investor and alternative asset manager, here at Arrow Global we take care of £50bn of assets and own a data estate exceeding 160TB. How we manage our data is key to our success. We understand the difficulties involved in opening up environments to allow people to work productively, while at the same time locking them down to protect our organisation.

When it comes to analytics, I believe that Arrow is highly proficient because we employ a talented team of data scientists. But even for us, the sheer volume of raw and processed data, that resides in both our structured systems and unstructured data repositories, has the potential to put our business at risk.

We know there’s always more that can be done to strengthen our security posture and ensure regulatory and contractual compliance, while at the same time using our data to drive the business forward.

Data protection isn’t just about compliance

For many organisations, data protection has centred on demonstrating compliance with the GDPR. At Arrow, our efforts have gone one step further to include our contractual exposure.

Being a more mature data organisation, we had previously tried to develop an application in-house to manage our data estate. However, with 160TB across the company in production data alone, we simply couldn’t achieve the scale we needed to handle the sheer volume of data. Of course, the volume is just the start – once you know what data you have, you then need to be able to categorise the data and put it into a structure, so the business can analyse it for a specific use case.

We knew we needed to go to market to find an industrial-strength data discovery product to replace our in-house application. By aligning our choice of product to our overall IT and change strategy, meant that ultimately, we ended up with a far better outcome than we’d anticipated.

Position data as both a risk and an asset

Data touches every part of an organisation, so when it came to building a business case for buying-in a data discovery software platform, we approached it in a way that would speak to different people at the same time. We did this by posing the question:

“What do we want to do with data in a way that is GDPR-compliant, contractually-compliant and enables us to better service our clients?”

These are the black and white tests of data governance – to recognise the importance of securing and protecting data. They’re applied in a way that enables us to commoditise data and use it to drive the business forward, by forcing us to consider how we would use the data – for example, creating value-based pricing for our clients.

In aligning the business case to initiatives that were already priorities within the boardroom, we knew that we’d gain the attention of the senior leadership team and it would be easier to get the buy-in and budget we needed. And in the end, everyone wins – we get what we need to protect the data, and the business gets to distil the data’s value to better meet our customers’ expectations.

Dave Parker

Dave Parker

Get visibility of data at scale

For us, things got really exciting once we were able to see all of our data at scale. We chose Exonar because it allowed us to discover our data in ways that other products couldn’t. And the interface between the user and Exonar meant that everyone – both technical and non-technical users – could understand the technology and the findings it revealed.

When we saw exactly what data was in the estate, where it was and who had access to it, data security became much easier and the risk of data being compromised was dramatically reduced. We can see exactly where the vulnerabilities are and restructure how our data is stored to strengthen security. Then over time, we can use search, workflow and analysis to optimise the infrastructure and continually identify new areas to improve.

Commercialise the data

From a wider-business perspective, once people can see the data, they can start asking “What if…” to query it and distil its value. But it’s more than just the data itself. It’s not uncommon for data relating to the same thing to exist in unconnected systems across the business. For example, customer interactions and incidents or events.

Exonar is capable of joining the dots in disparate data sets. By stitching these data sets together, we can get a better overall view of our customers and use the outcomes to think of new, different or better ways of serving them through enhancing or adapting our offerings.

Why other financial services businesses should also take a smarter approach to data

  1. By changing the way you approach data, you can use it to protect and power your business and the people you serve.
  2. By positioning data as both a risk and an asset, you elevate its position to give it priority in the boardroom. Ultimately, it’s data that helps the business make informed strategic decisions about how to strengthen its competitive advantage.
  3. By gaining visibility of data at scale, you can see exactly what data you have and where it is. This gives the business confidence about the actions needed to ensure it is secured in both a regulatory and contractually compliant way, and that people are doing the right thing with data at all times.
  4. And joining different data sets provides you with a single view of ‘X’ within your data, no matter where it is. Helping to support your wider-business strategy and priorities, it gives you the information you need to secure a business advantage and generate value.
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How business leaders can find the right balance between human and bot when investing in AI



How business leaders can find the right balance between human and bot when investing in AI 2

By Andrew White is the ANZ Country Manager of business transformation solutions provider, Signavio

The digital world moves quickly. From keeping up with consumer behaviour patterns, to regulation and compliance, the most successful organisations are always on the cutting-edge of technological developments.

However, when it comes to investing in artificial intelligence (AI), a hard and fast strategy does not guarantee a top spot amongst the league of tech greats. Instead, it pays to take a considered approach to balancing reliance on automated processes with a human touch. Why? Because creative and strategic thinkers are the true propellers of innovation; automation is simply the enabler.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) developed the ‘Routine Task Intensity’ (RTI) index as a measure of which processes are likely to benefit most from automation. According to this metric, jobs requiring analytical, strategic, communicational and technical skills score low on the RTI index, while simple, repetitive tasks scored highly.

The lesson for business leaders here is simple; your digital investments are just as important as your stake in talent. When deciding which processes to automate, start simple, and remember to value the skills and potential of your people.

Keep customer-centricity at your core

Customer-centricity means that every business decision, dollar spent and new hire is centred on one question: how does this benefit my customer? Investments in AI are no different. To be truly successful, they must have a customer-focused outcome.

Where companies get this wrong is by implementing cost-saving measures or ‘copy and paste’ software that fails to improve the customer experience – often having the adverse effect.

Take the virtual chat-bot, for example; if implemented poorly, it can send your customers into a frustrating and seemingly infinite cycle of dead-ends. The modern consumer is far too digitally savvy for this shortcut, and will quickly move onto the next merchant offering a more seamless customer service experience.

To guarantee your investments are delighting rather than infuriating your customers, it helps to take an outside-in perspective of your business processes, aided by Customer Journey Mapping (CJM).

Before you commit to digital investments, CJM can trace and map each customer touchpoint, signalling pain points or conversion rates throughout their journey. These data-driven insights lead you to the areas that would benefit the most from automation, instead of implementing a broad band-aid solution.

Avoid the ‘set and forget’ method 

When investing in enterprise-wide AI, the ‘set and forget’ method rarely works. Real transformation requires an ongoing dedication to refining and improving AI-driven processes, as well as adapting them to the evolving needs of your customers. This is the best way to achieve customer loyalty, by proving that your organisation listens to, and understands its users.

A human perspective is invaluable here, paired with process mining – a method that thrives on finding process inefficiencies – to create a consistent feedback loop of improvement.

During periods of uncertainty, customer loyalty is everything, so aim to protect it at all costs.

The power of your people

The rise of automation can be linked to the corporate world’s obsession with speed and efficiency. However, the psychology behind this goes deeper than being the biggest and fastest producer; it’s also about reallocating resources into attracting and retaining the brilliant minds that drive companies into the future.

When communicating digital change, it’s critical to highlight the valuable impact AI has on augmenting jobs; removing the burden of mundane, repetitive tasks and allowing for more strategic skill-sets to shine through. For lower-skilled workers, invest in upskilling or re-education where possible.

Successfully rolling-out digital transformation plans means that every employee across all tiers of your company understands the value of AI. The starting point here is education to achieve buy-in. Change communications must be accessible, constructive and value-focused, supported by key culture influencers who champion automation within teams.

Enterprise-wide buy-in is an important element of refining and improving digital processes, as cross-functional collaboration can offer valuable insights into common pain points or inefficiencies ripe for automation. Supported by process mining, collaboration provides a holistic view of how each investment will impact other processes. There is no point investing in automation that streamlines one process and makes another more people-centric, so be sure to take a balanced approach to your investments.

Remember, AI is not about creating an army of robot workers; it’s about increasing efficiency and productivity so that an organisation, and its people, can work smarter.

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Are you a fighter or a freezer? The 4 “F’s” of Surviving Danger



Are you a fighter or a freezer? The 4 “F’s” of Surviving Danger 3

By Dr.Roger Firestien, Author of Create In a Flash.

The fight, flight, freeze survival response – or FFF for short – is designed to mobilize our brain and body to fight an enemy, run from a tidal wave or freeze to hide from a predator.

FFF is how humans react when they encounter a dangerous situation. It is a primal response that happens instinctively even before we are able to think about the situation we are confronting.

The FFF alarm causes our brain to focus on negative memories, probably to scan them to avoid repeating dangerous situations and negative outcomes.  We get tunnel vision as our pupils dilate to increase our focus and long-range vision, but as a result we lose our peripheral vision.   

Humans use the FFF response and so do organizations.

When organizations encounter dangerous situations, like, say, trying to survive a global pandemic, they can respond by either fighting the situation, fleeing from the situation, or freezing and waiting for the situation to pass.

I would like to propose a fourth strategy for organizations to deal with a danger like the pandemic. It is the fourth “F.”  The farm response. More on that later.

What kind of organization is yours?

The fighter organizations were the ones that fought the idea of a global pandemic or pushed back against the research that reported how serious the virus was.  Think of the meat processing plants that didn’t provide proper protective gear or the religious organizations that refused to take a break from large services.

The results were catastrophic for the organizations and deadly to the employees and worshippers.

It is pretty easy to identify the fleeing organizations.  You don’t see them anymore.  Unfortunately, this is the organization that just doesn’t have the resources or the energy to fight.  You will recognize them by the “For Rent” signs in the windows of the buildings they used to occupy.

The organizations that freeze  are a little more difficult to identify.  They are still around but are frozen by fear. They are the organizations that, although they are in a position to move forward, are too frightened to take a risk or even look at the periphery of their business. Their tunnel vision blinds them to opportunity.  The freezers hide and wait for the danger to pass.  They are the ones who miss out on possibilities.

For example, if you are in the business of supplying concessions to sporting events, airports and national parks, your business is in deep trouble now. So, what are some ways to keep people buying food and drinks with so many venues closed?

Dr.Roger Firestien

Dr.Roger Firestien

Many national parks are now open and visitors need to eat.  How can you sell food while supporting social distancing? Answer: Sell picnic meals to your patrons.  And, sell a blanket that commemorates the park that diners can spread out and have lunch while social distancing with their families. Then, they’ll keep the blanket that reminds them of their visit to the park.

Sound like a good idea? It sure does. You can keep your park concession business, allow people to social distance and add to your product line with that commemorative blanket. Did the company implement the idea? Unfortunately, they did not. They froze and missed the opportunity.

However, businesses are finding ways to optimize their organization and capture opportunities. They are the farmers. The farmer organizations study the situation, just like farmers study the weather and the land. They look at the resources available to them and get to work.

Farmer organizations pivot and get creative.

Distillers, who before the pandemic, were making vodka, whiskey, gin and other spirits quickly changed their operation from distilling booze to distilling sanitizer.

Telemedicine, which had limited acceptance before the pandemic, almost immediately became the accepted way to deliver care.  Now, the doctor comes to you.

Fitness trainers are conducting their sessions via Zoom or in person outside on sidewalks in front of their gyms so they can social distance.

My favorite ranch, SK Herefords, sells their beef at local farmer’s markets in the Western New York area. This spring when the large packing houses shut down and grocery stores were limiting the amount of beef customers were able to buy, my farmer friends were there at the markets with locally produced farm-raised beef.  Sales soared and demand skyrocketed.

Why? The farmers were ready.  They used their resources and were not afraid to optimize them in a rapidly changing and volatile environment. Farmers live with constantly changing weather conditions and market prices and are accustomed to rapid change.

To operate with constant change, all of us, like farmers, need to be constantly creative.  Phil Keppler, my philosopher farmer friend from SK Herefords says, “Creativity helps you to not look at things as a problem. It’s trying to find the solution – and that’s the exciting thing about it. Things aren’t problems anymore. It’s just difficult situations and you’re trying to find a solution to that situation.”

A good mindset for what our world is experiencing now… it’s a difficult situation and we are creating solutions daily.

Fight, flight, freeze or farm. What kind of organization is yours? And, what can you learn from “the farmers?”

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