By Steve Cox, product director at IRIS Software
As Sir Bradley Wiggins prepares to strike gold at the Olympics later this summer, I believe accountants should observe the hypothesis behind his training to transform their businesses. This is the power of marginal gains.
Team Sky boss Sir Dave Brailsford, also known as the ‘guru of marginal gains’, implements the philosophy by breaking down his team’s operations into parts and testing for improvements. He notoriously looks for minor alterations to give his riders a significant advantage over rivals. The tactics behind his riders’ victories over the years, including Sir Bradley Wiggins, can also be applied to the world of accountancy.
The marginal gains strategy, which states improving 30 factors by one per cent gives the same result as improving one factor by 30 per cent, can be applied to the accountancy sector. Accountants can learn and apply the theory to transform their customer experience and boost productivity levels simultaneously. The innovative business strategy of marginal gains can progress and develop businesses when forward-thinking technology is utilised and incremental improvements are made. Accountancy firms should find areas where this technology can aid operational efficiency to save time and cut costs in the workplace. But where exactly can accountants apply these changes to feel the benefits?
Placing the customer at the heart of accounting
Consumers are tech-savvy and digitally confident as new technologies infiltrate the accounting industry. In order to attract new customers and retain existing clients, accountants must meet and ideally surpass the expectations of those utilising their services and ensure they are running accurately and fluently on a daily basis.
The customer experience is paramount, with consumers easily being ‘turned off’ if technology systems are slow, inefficient and unattractive. As competition increases, accountancy practices must ensure their customers’ desire for a collaborative online relationship is fulfilled. Businesses want their finances to be in safe, reliable hands. They want to access their accounts quickly and easily, and feel satisfied their financial and compliance requirements are being met.
I believe marginal gains has the potential to transform the accountancy sector and firms should therefore embrace the strategy. Improvements throughout an accountancy business can connect the company with its employees and build a stronger relationship. Accountants’ roles are evolving as HMRC moves to implement digital tax accounts. By demonstrating the mindset of marginal gains, accountants can minimise time wastage, focus on their workload and adhere to their clients’ needs.
Where can accountants look to make gains?
Technology is a vital tool to help realise marginal gains. Reliable, progressive software enables both the accountancy business and its clients to manage a myriad of accounting functions, as well as support greater collaboration.
Having access to resources, such as client dashboards, allows all users to share access to accounting files and complete tasks when and where it suits them. Employees are kept up to date with changes made by one user instantly visible to others. Time is saved as users no longer need to chase others for updates and client document management is simplified.
Automating tasks where the ‘human touch’ adds little value can be highly beneficial. Storing practice and client data in a single, centralised database omits wasted time spent manually inputting information and potential human error. An integrated platform increases accuracy of these actions, while storing multiple accounts and documents in one accessible place.
Significant time can be saved when users can quickly access files, track jobs and tasks and oversee the progress in ongoing accounts. By using a shared online system, companies have a 360 degree view of their clients’ past and present accounts and files. Accountants can achieve more in less time and using fewer resources. By mapping their workload through the technology, employees can also benefit from the online ‘to do’ list and ensure time is being spent wisely in the workplace, priorities are enforced and deadlines are being met.
Turning a business paperless is also an efficient way of speeding up accounting processes. By collaborating securely, accountants can avoid wasting time printing and posting paperwork. As we all know, a paperless audit can save a significant amount of money in terms of stocking paper and postage fees, as well as being environmentally friendly.
The customer experience is also enhanced when these online processes are accessible on mobiles and tablet devices. Visually, websites can entice new users and satisfy existing clients who want their accounting processes to be displayed clearly and concisely. Clients are offered a first class service around the clock with critical information accessible in one place, while the accountancy firm in question can reinforce its brand through customisation.
The benefits of marginal gains
Shrinking the time consumed by administration and practice management allows businesses to spend their time wisely and effectively. This time can be spent attracting new clients and forging closer relationships with existing clients. Accountants can focus on developing their businesses, building the company’s reputation and growing their practices using the same resources. The extra time also enables accountants to offer additional services, such as business advice and tax planning. All of these benefits could be deemed impossible without gaining efficiencies in a variety of different ways.
Undoubtedly, marginal gains can have a powerful impact on accountants’ businesses and operational efficiently. I believe accountants who strive to succeed in the changing landscape of accountancy should adopt the marginal gains mindset in order to transform their businesses and become more successful. Once the philosophy of marginal gains is fully comprehended, accountants can implement changes and improvements to their own practices and benefit from better client communication, reputation, more effective time management and a stronger business overall.
ISO 20022 migration: full speed ahead despite recent delays, says new Deutsche Bank paper
Today, Deutsche Bank has released the third installment in its “Guide to ISO 20022 migration” series, which offers a comprehensive update on the industry shift to the de facto global standard for financial messaging: ISO 20022. This paper comes at a critical time for the ISO 20022 migration, with a number of changes to existing timelines and strategies from SWIFT and the world’s major market infrastructures having been announced this year.
The paper explores the latest developments, including SWIFT’s year-long postponement of the migration in the correspondent banking space. The decision meets industry calls for a delay and also provides ample time to build the new central Transaction Management Platform (TMP) – a core feature of SWIFT’s new strategy that will allow the industry to move away from point-to-point messaging and towards central transaction processing.
It also details the wave of action that has been seen by market infrastructures around the world – with many, including the ECB, EBA CLEARING and the Bank of England, announcing revised migration approaches.
“Now more than ever, with shifting timelines and strained resources, it is vital that banks and corporates alike do not view the ISO 20022 migration as just another project that can be put on the back burner,” says Christian Westerhaus, Head of Cash Products, Cash Management, Deutsche Bank. “The delays in the correspondent banking space, and across several market infrastructures, should not be seen as an opportunity for banks to take their foot off the pedal. The journey to ISO 20022 is still moving ahead at speed – and internal projects need to reflect this.”
The Guide also highlights the implementation issues on the migration journey ahead – most notably surrounding interoperability between market infrastructures, usage guidelines and messaging formats. This is achieved through a series of deep dives, case studies, and points of attention drawn from Deutsche Bank’s internal analysis.
“As this year has proved, nothing is set in stone, “says Paula Roels, Head of Market Infrastructure & Industry Initiatives, Deutsche Bank. “The ISO 20022 migration involves a lot of moving parts and keeping abreast of the latest developments is critical for banks and corporates alike. As the deadlines near, and the ISO 20022 story develops, this series of guides will continue to highlight key points for consideration over the coming years.”
The Psychology Behind a Strong Security Culture in the Financial Sector
By Javvad Malik, Security Awareness Advocate at KnowBe4
Banks and financial industries are quite literally where the money is, positioning them as prominent targets for cybercriminals worldwide. Unfortunately, regardless of investments made in the latest technologies, the Achilles heel of these institutions is their employees. Often times, a human blunder is found to be a contributing factor of a security breach, if not the direct source. Indeed, in the 2020 Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report, miscellaneous errors were found vying closely with web application attacks for the top cause of breaches affecting the financial and insurance sector. A secretary may forward an email to the wrong recipient or a system administrator may misconfigure firewall settings. Perhaps, a user clicks on a malicious link. Whatever the case, the outcome is equally dire.
Having grown acutely aware of the role that people play in cybersecurity, business leaders are scrambling to establish a strong security culture within their own organisations. In fact, for many leaders across the globe, realising a strong security culture is of increasing importance, not solely for fear of a breach, but as fundamental to the overall success of their organisations – be it to create customer trust or enhance brand value. Yet, the term lacks a universal definition, and its interpretation varies depending on the individual. In one survey of 1,161 IT decision makers, 758 unique definitions were offered, falling into five distinct categories. While all important, these categories taken apart only feature one aspect of the wider notion of security culture.
With an incomplete understanding of the term, many organisations find themselves inadvertently overconfident in their actual capabilities to fend off cyberthreats. This speaks to the importance of building a single, clear and common definition from which organisations can learn from one another, benchmark their standing and construct a comprehensive security programme.
Defining Security Culture: The Seven Dimensions
In an effort to measure security culture through an objective, scientific method, the term can be broken down into seven key dimensions:
- Attitudes: Formed over time and through experiences, attitudes are learned opinions reflecting the preferences an individual has in favour or against security protocols and issues.
- Behaviours: The physical actions and decisions that employees make which impact the security of an organisation.
- Cognition: The understanding, knowledge and awareness of security threats and issues.
- Communication: Channels adopted to share relevant security-related information in a timely manner, while encouraging and supporting employees as they tackle security issues.
- Compliance: Written security policies and the extent that employees adhere to them.
- Norms: Unwritten rules of conduct in an organisation.
- Responsibilities: The extent to which employees recognise their role in sustaining or endangering their company’s security.
All of these dimensions are inextricably interlinked; should one falter so too would the others.
The Bearing of Banks and Financial Institutions
Collecting data from over 120,000 employees in 1,107 organisations across 24 countries, KnowBe4’s ‘Security Culture Report 2020’ found that the banking and financial sectors were among the best performers on the security culture front, with a score of 76 out of a 100. This comes as no surprise seeing as they manage highly confidential data and have thus adopted a long tradition of risk management as well as extensive regulatory oversight.
Indeed, the security culture posture is reflected in the sector’s well-oiled communication channels. As cyberthreats constantly and rapidly evolve, it is crucial that effective communication processes are implemented. This allows employees to receive accurate and relevant information with ease; having an impact on the organisation’s ability to prevent as well as respond to a security breach. In IBM’s 2020 Cost of a Data Breach study, the average reported response time to detect a data breach is 207 days with an additional 73 days to resolve the situation. This is in comparison to the financial industry’s 177 and 56 days.
Moreover, with better communication follows better attitude – both banking and financial services scored 80 and 79 in this department, respectively. Good communication is integral to facilitating collaboration between departments and offering a reminder that security is not achieved solely within the IT department; rather, it is a team effort. It is also a means of boosting morale and inspiring greater employee engagement. As earlier mentioned, attitudes are evaluations, or learned opinions. Therefore, by keeping employees informed as well as motivated, they are more likely to view security best practices favourably, adopting them voluntarily.
Predictably, the industry ticks the box on compliance as well. The hefty fines issued by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) in the past year alone, including Capital One’s $80 million penalty, probably play a part in keeping financial institutions on their toes.
Nevertheless, there continues to be room for improvement. As it stands, the overall score of 76 is within the ‘moderate’ classification, falling a long way short of the desired 90-100 range. So, what needs fixing?
Towards Achieving Excellence
There is often the misconception that banks and financial institutions are well-versed in security-related information due to their extensive exposure to the cyber domain. However, as the cognition score demonstrates, this is not the case – dawdling in the low 70s. This illustrates an urgent need for improved security awareness programmes within the sector. More importantly, employees should be trained to understand how this knowledge is applied. This can be achieved through practical exercises such as simulated phishing, for example. In addition, training should be tailored to the learning styles as well as the needs of each individual. In other words, a bank clerk would need a completely different curriculum to IT staff working on the backend of servers.
By building on cognition, financial institutions can instigate a sense of responsibility among employees as they begin to recognise the impact that their behaviour might have on the company. In cybersecurity, success is achieved when breaches are avoided. In a way, this negative result removes the incentive that typically keeps employees engaged with an outcome. Training methods need to take this into consideration.
Then there are norms and behaviours, found to have strong correlations with one another. Norms are the compass from which individuals refer to when making decisions and negotiating everyday activities. The key is recognising that norms have two facets, one social and the other personal. The former is informed by social interactions, while the latter is grounded in the individual’s values. For instance, an accountant may connect to the VPN when working outside of the office to avoid disciplinary measures, as opposed to believing it is the right thing to do. Organisations should aim to internalise norms to generate consistent adherence to best practices irrespective of any immediate external pressures. When these norms improve, behavioural changes will reform in tandem.
Building a robust security culture is no easy task. However, the unrelenting efforts of cybercriminals to infiltrate our systems obliges us to press on. While financial institutions are leading the way for other industries, much still needs to be done. Fortunately, every step counts -every improvement made in one dimension has a domino effect in others.
Has lockdown marked the end of cash as we know it?
By James Booth, VP of Payment Partnerships EMEA, PPRO
Since the start of the pandemic, businesses around the world have drastically changed their operations to protect employees and customers. One significant shift has been the discouragement of the use of cash in favour of digital and contactless payment methods. On the surface, moving away from cash seems like the safe, obvious thing to do to curb the spread of the virus. But, the idea of being propelled towards an innovative, digital-first, cashless society is also compelling.
Has cashless gone viral?
Recent months have forced the world online, leading to a surge in e-commerce with UK online sales seeing a rise of 168% in May and steady growth ever since. In fact, PPRO’s transaction engine, has seen online purchases across the globe increase dramatically in 2020: purchases of women’s clothing are up 311%, food and beverage by 285%, and healthcare and cosmetics by 160%.
Alongside a shift to online shopping, a recent report revealed 7.4 million in the UK are now living an almost cashless life – claiming changing payment habits has left Britons better prepared for life in lockdown. In fact, according to recent research from PPRO, 45% of UK consumers think cash will be a thing of the past in just five years. And this UK figure reflects a global trend. For example, 46% of Americans have turned to cashless payments in the wake of COVID-19. And in Italy, the volume of cashless transactions has skyrocketed by more than 80%.
More choice than ever before
Whilst the pandemic and restrictions surrounding cash have certainly accelerated the UK towards a cashless society, the proliferation of local payment methods (LPMs) in the UK, such as PayPal, Klarna and digital wallets, have also been a key driver. Today, 31% of UK consumers report they are confident using mobile wallets, such as Apple Pay. Those in Generation Z are particularly keen, with 68% expressing confidence using them.
As LPM usage continues to accelerate, the use of credit and debit cards are likely to decline in the coming years. Whilst older generations show an affinity with plastic, younger consumers feel less secure around its usage. 96% of Baby Boomers and Generation X confirmed they feel confident using credit/debit cards, compared to just 75% of Generation Z.
Does social distancing mean financial exclusion?
As we hurtle into a digital age, leaving cash in the rearview, there are ramifications of going completely cashless to consider. We must take into consideration how removing cash could disenfranchise over a quarter of our society; 26% of the global population doesn’t have a traditional bank account. Across Latin America, 38% of shoppers are unbanked, and nearly 1 in 5 online transactions are completed with cash. While in Africa and the Middle East, only 50% of consumers are banked in the traditional sense, and 12% have access to a credit card. Even here in the UK, approximately 1.3 million UK adults are classed as unbanked, exposing the large number of consumers affected by any ban on cash.
Even when shopping online – many consumers rely on cash-based payments. At the checkout page, consumers are provided with a barcode for their order. They take this barcode (either printed or on their mobile device) to a local convenience store or bank and pay in cash. At that point, the goods are shipped.
There are also older generations to consider. Following the closure of one in eight banks and cashpoints during Coronavirus, the government faced calls to act swiftly to protect access to cash, as pensioners struggled to access their savings. Despite the direction society is headed, there are a significant number of older people that still rely on cash – they have grown up using it. With an estimated two million people in the UK relying on cash for day to day spending, it is important that it does not disappear in its entirety.
Supporting the transition away from cash
Cashless protocols not only restrict access to goods and services for consumers but also limit revenue opportunity for merchants. While 2020 has provided the global economy with one great reason to reduce the acceptance of cash, the payments industry has billions of reasons to offer multiple options that cater to the needs of every kind of shopper around the world.
Whilst it seems younger generations are driving LPM adoption, it is important that older generations aren’t forgotten. If online shops fail to offer a variety of preferred payment methods, consumers will not hesitate to shop elsewhere. With 44% of consumers reporting they would stop a purchase online if their favourite payment method wasn’t available – this is something merchants need to address to attract and retain loyal customers.
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