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HOW THE FINANCIAL SERVICES SECTOR CAN GET VALUE FROM CONNECTIONS

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HOW THE FINANCIAL SERVICES SECTOR CAN GET VALUE FROM CONNECTIONS

The author is CEO of Neo4j, the #1 platform for connected data (http://neo4j.com/) 

Neo4j’s Emil Eifrem believes that financial institutions can gain valuable business advantage by joining the dots in data sets

Emil Eifrem

Emil Eifrem

Disruptive competition by way of Fintech companies and digital transformation are changing the face of financial institutions – to thrive in this environment they must be able to manage and gain understanding from increasing amounts of big data to enable them to continually innovate.

The financial sector is taking large steps forward in integrating systems and disparate data sources to mine data. The real challenge, however, is in creating real value from these connections to gain a broader and deeper visibility into addressing key challenges in the business.

Graph is enabling financial firms to address challenges including fighting financial crimes, such as fraud, preventing and responding to cyber threats and ensuring compliance. Meanwhile, the continuous digitisation of processes is demanding that financial services firms evolve their customer engagement strategies to meet rising customer expectations. Graph databases are helping financial services firms gain competitive advantage from digitisation, while driving new sales, reducing costs and building closer relationships with customers.

The beauty of the graph database here is that financial institutions don’t have to rely on semantically-limited data models and expensive, unpredictable ways of running queries through joins in the traditional relational ecosystem. Graph databases support many named, directed relationships between entities (also known as nodes) that give a richer semantic context. This means that features modelled can be specified in much greater detail, in order to take a deep and meaningful dive into the data. The other big bonus is that graph is also fast.

Financial institutions have much tolearn from the internet giants who have been tapping into the power of graph technology for some time. Google, for example, owes much of its success to its ability to speedily exploit connections in Web documents, enhancing the relevance and expedition that searches can take place.

Graph isn’t only about customer engagement and driving new product concepts. Financial institutions are also using the power of graph technology internally in their data centres, networks and IT infrastructures, creating graph maps of their topologies. Use cases include utilising graphs to help with dependency management, impact analysis, network management, downtime reduction, root-cause analysis and routing, and quality-of-service mapping. Many bank DevOp teams maintain that due to the increasing complexity and interrelated nature of their IT infrastructure, graph databases are the only tool that can truly map and query all of the data they need to model today.

Using graphs to leap over process hurdles 

Financial services firms are learning to join the dots that were previously notoriously difficult or impossible.Financial assets, for instance, are highly complex and share intricate, interdependent systems. Graph is proving an important tool in getting a more complete and traceable understanding of the relationships between these important assets and shaping offers accordingly.

Innovative financial firms are also turning to asset graphs to perform derivatives pricing in real time, where the pricing equation needs to incorporate the many interdependencies between items and accurately echo the ratios of risk and reward.

Regulatory compliance is another area where financial institutions need to have a panoramic view of data and flow processes. This can be an enormous challenge as data can be duplicated across a number of different systems. Graphs can help here, as they can easily model data lineage and data flows to deliver a complete understanding of siloed data and systems across the organisation. This is useful for regulatory compliance efforts and also helps speed up projects that depend on that data.

At the same time digitization is changing the financial landscape which is having a major impact on fraud risks. Standard anti-fraud technologies, such as highlighting deviations from customers’ normal purchasing patterns, depend on discrete data. This is useful for catching individual fraudsters, but it flounders when trying to pinpoint fraud rings.

In addition, cyber criminals are continually looking for new ways to launch attacks and stay one step ahead of the establishment. Many steal a number of identities and then use them to create synthetic hybrid identities to open bank accounts, apply for credit cards and credit, for example.

These synthetic identities are hard to track down. Traditional fraud detection solutions will not recognise and red flag them. Real-time graph traversals, however,linked to the right kinds of events can aid financial institutions in spotting possible fraud rings during, after and even before fraudulent activity has taken place.

Money laundering is another major headache for financial institutions, who need to keep track of where funds are coming from and where they are going. Criminals, however, are clever at using indirection to make it difficult to follow the steps from one point to another. Instead of moving the funds from one point directly to another, they make a large number of moves in between, hoping that the financial institution will not notice. Traditional technologies have not been designed to track such zig-zags in movement, which means that it has to be done manually, which is hugely time consuming.

Anti-money laundering teams within financial services, however, are fast recognising the power of graph in being able to track these transactions to quickly build an easily comprehensible picture. Corporate information security groups at financial services firms are also utilising entitlement graphs to audit the entitlement structure and issue queries in real-time to understand often labyrinthine entitlements.

A seamless journey for the digital user

With the wide choice of financial offerings available, customers have become increasingly demanding and their loyalty has to be earned.

The emergence of new technologies has created an ‘omnichannel’ route for customers via PCs, tablets and smartphone apps as well as offline. These channels have been designed to provide a seamless and consistent interaction between banks and their customers across multiple channels. But for this model to work effectively, financial institutions need an accurate picture of their user base. Harnessing the power of connected data (i.e., data relationships) is paramount to driving these real-time, banking and insurance product and service recommendations and personalisation engines that have become key to meeting customer service expectations.

Looking ahead

Banking is up against an enormous challenge in trying to effectively harvest the mass of information that as an industry it churns every day. But with graph database technology it can remove data chaos that can impede financial services doing business and turn it into a very valuable positive.

Finance

The ever-changing representation of value

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The ever-changing representation of value 1

By Vadim Grigoryan, Partner, Lunu Solutions

Ask a selection of people about cryptocurrencies and you’ll likely receive a wide range of answers. Some will wax lyrical about the huge potential of the underlying infrastructure that supports them, while others will dismiss them as nothing more than a worthless speculative bubble.

Cryptocurrencies have often been described in this way, mainly because – according to their opponents – they aren’t backed by tangible value. This is an argument that could easily be dismissed as very short-sighted, particularly if we remind ourselves that our current currencies all rely on trust – not exactly the most tangible of assets.

As Kabir Sehgal, a bestselling author and former JP Morgan vice-president, said: “In order to deal in money, humans must be able to think symbolically”. Financial history teaches us that money, in its first intent, was almost never meant to have intrinsic value – but to be a representation of it. For example, the porcelain-like shell of the cowry circulated around the globe for 4,000 years – longer than any other currency in the history of money. And its value was perceived not on its intrinsic utility, but on its beauty. Indeed, intrinsic value has long stopped be a measure of the real value of money. Let us not forget that each individual banknote costs a fraction of what it’s worth to produce – a $100 bill costs around 12 cents.

Money first appeared from the original evolutionary need to eat and survive by exchanging energy with another. That is why money has become whatever represents that energy: first food commodities – such as barley, cacao beans or salt – and then the tools to cultivate them. The symbolic distancing of money from its real value has developed over the years into coins, paper currency and mobile payments. Since money is fundamentally a mental abstraction of symbolic representation of value, what money is and what it will be can be is limited only by human imagination. Could something as invisible and intangible as cryptocurrencies be the next step?

Building value through trust

Something that has value should check two boxes: scarcity and utility. Scarcity of cryptocurrencies is often guaranteed by their design, in terms of a finite or limited supply (e.g. Bitocoin has a set cap of 21 million coins). Their utility is already embedded in the divisible nature of cryptos (unlike gold, which is very difficult to use transactionally, you can buy a coffee, a ferrari or a house with bitcoins). As such, the potential of cryptos to be a more efficient currency than what we already have would further increase with the wider adoption of digital currencies in retail.

We know that the representation of value has changed over time and is a fast-moving one in our society. That’s one reason why the concept of ‘money’ is much more abstract and complicated than most people realise.

But one thing that has never changed throughout the long evolution of money is the importance of trust. The reason money works is because people trust in its value; this is a key rationale behind most currencies – including cryptos. In fact, one of the key selling points of cryptocurrency is that it is built specifically on trust.

Although they lack the legal and institutional backing of traditional financial services, cryptocurrencies provide trust through technology. Blockchain technology enables the use of a distributed and immutable ledger of records, providing total transparency and making every transaction tamperproof. Data is decentralised and encrypted so that it can’t be interfered with or changed retrospectively. The crypto sphere is also intrinsically democratic. There is no central authority and no individual entity can change the rules of the game, which protects against government interference and makes it almost impossible to lobby private interests.

So, with this in mind, why are cryptocurrencies still largely used as an asset rather than a means of payment? It’s mainly because the real-life economy is still lagging in terms of providing crypto-based payment solutions. Many stores still fear accepting cryptos as a means of payment – whether due to technical limitations or concerns around fees and exchange rates – creating a vicious circle reinforcing the speculative nature of cryptos as assets that are just bought and sold.

We believe it’s time to break this circle and move towards a new financial model that accepts cryptos as a means of payment. It’s time for cryptocurrencies to be appreciated for the value they provide.

Recognising crypto personas

Our research into the ever-growing crypto community has uncovered an ecosystem of global citizens that share a philosophy; one pegged to a thirst for freedom, equality, inclusion and global interaction. For example, they are actively involved in social causes and place a high value on social responsibility for individuals and companies.

We also identified several different persona groups within that ecosystem, all of which have varying degrees of influence in the community.

  • Hamsters: this group is enthusiastic about cryptos, but lacks either the wealth or knowledge to shape the market or effectively navigate it.
  • Geeks: comprised of tech-savvy specialists who expect others to be up to their level of technical expertise
  • Cool cucumbers: a group of wealthier individuals focused on the investment opportunities and less emotionally involved with cryptos as a way of life

But the most powerful and engaged of the various user groups we identified, is the one containing individuals who have the financial capital and technical knowledge to drive and shape the future of the market – the Apostles. They are the community gurus, the public figures and the influencers who aren’t afraid to voice their opinions. Indeed, their minds have the power to drive widespread adoption of cryptos.

Over the coming years, this cohort of individuals will continue to grow and impose its expectations on retailers and stores. They understand the concept of money as a representation of value and recognise the role that secure, decentralised and globally connected cryptocurrencies can play in the existing economy.

If money is a symbol of value, this community appreciates the need for other symbols that represent other values in the world of tomorrow – such as transparency, empowerment and the end of the abuses of power that we have seen in the past.

Ultimately, although cryptocurrencies have been inching their way into the mainstream steadily since their introduction in 2009, the main stumbling block has been how to use them in everyday life. The good news is that we are during a transition. Trust is continuing to build, and the ‘value’ barrier is slowly being overcome. There is light at the end of the tunnel – driving cryptocurrencies and other forms of digital money forwards as the next step in money’s ongoing evolution.

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Finance

Revolut Junior introduces Co-Parent – teach children about money together

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Revolut Junior introduces Co-Parent - teach children about money together 2
  • Premium and Metal customers can invite a team mate to jointly manage their child’s Revolut Junior account
  • Setting Tasks, Goals and topping up up Allowances can also be done by a Co-Parent
  • Lead and Co-Parents both have full visibility and oversight of the child’s account

Revolut has today announced that parents can now add a Co-Parent to supervise their child’s Revolut Junior account and make learning about money easy and fun together, because teamwork makes the dream work.

Those on paid plans (Premium and Metal) will benefit from the new Co-Parent feature at no extra cost. The lead parent can invite a Co-Parent to join Revolut on any plan, including a Standard plan. The Co-Parent can be another family member, carer or  guardian who is responsible for the financial wellbeing of the kids.

Parents and guardians can use Revolut Junior to teach their little ones important lessons about finances and responsibility so they become more informed with each passing day. Both the lead and Co-Parent can use Tasks to teach children the value of money, Goals to help them learn to save and top up Allowances when they deserve a reward or just their weekly pocket money. Both will have full oversight of the child’s Revolut Junior account.

To add a Co-Parent to Revolut Junior, the lead parent can head to the Junior tab to find the Co-Parent invite link at the bottom of the screen.

Revolut Junior’s five top tips for parents/guardians to make learning about money fun 

  1. The power of together: Utilise the power of your joint experience and arrange a time or schedule a regular monthly meeting to sit down as a family to answer any money questions your kids may have.
  2. Set your own Goals: Learning the usefulness of savings is a valuable life lesson that will benefit kids when they hit adulthood. So if your child has been begging for a new game or toy, then encourage them to create Goals to save up faster and more steadily. Parents can add to it or children can choose to fund it from their allowances or by completing tasks, giving them some financial independence, but with full parental oversight!
  3. Sharing is caring: Show your child your app and how you use it to manage money so they see how the ‘grown-ups’ do this. Perhaps take a look at Budgets, and explain your reason for using this.
  4. Cherish your belongings: Get your child to put their top 10 favourite possessions in front of them and ask them to tell you why they picked each one. Explain the importance of selecting items they really like instead of comparing them with what their friends have.
  5. Money matters: Inspire your child to take some time for themselves to go through their purchases and expenditures in-app and use this time to reflect on if they still use all these items or if the buys were a good use of money.

Felix Jamestin, Head of Premium Product at Revolut, said: “We have added the Co-Parent feature to Revolut Junior so parents, guardians and carers alike can come together to teach their kids valuable skills for life. We have made sure that those with unconventional or multigenerational families will also be able to use this, so not only parents but grandparents, carers or members of their wider family can also support their child through their financial education with Revolut Junior.”

Revolut Junior’s Co-Parent feature is currently available to all Revolut Premium and Metal users in the EEA and the UK. It’s designed for kids aged 7-17, providing an account for children to use, controlled by their parents or guardians. So far over 270,000 kids have signed up to Revolut Junior. Revolut Junior has just launched in Australia, and plans to launch the product in Singapore and Japan in the near future.

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Finance

Banking on the Future: Why Payments Transformation is the Key to Success

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Banking on the Future: Why Payments Transformation is the Key to Success 3

By Simon Wilson, Co-Head, Payments at Icon Solutions

Standardisation, regulation and technological innovation means payments are well on the way to becoming instant, invisible and free. This is good news for everybody.

Well, not quite everybody. Banks are now faced with the significant challenge of transforming business models and legacy technology systems to meet the demands of a new era in payments.

Banking is historically a conservative and risk-averse industry where the pace of change varies between sedate and glacial. But now is not the time to ‘wait and see’ and finding the right approach to payments transformation must be the immediate and fundamental priority for banks.

Understanding the need to transform

Firstly, we must ask: Why has payments transformation become an urgent priority?

For one thing, increased competition has seen banks’ market share of the global banking and payments industry reduce from 96% in 2010 to 72% today. Fintechs, challengers, payments companies and big tech have entered the playground and started taking banks’ lunch money, demonstrating a level of innovation and agility that incumbent banks are struggling to keep up with.

And of course, there is Covid-19. We have seen years, if not decades, of change in a matter of months. The crisis has torpedoed traditional and reliable revenue streams such as cross-border payments to accelerate margin pressure, while driving a rapid shift to online banking channels and a massive uplift in digital volumes.

Breaking the shackles

In the context of increased competition and unprecedented digitalisation, the banking industry is waking up to the fact that payments are about adding value, not just processing. There is increasing recognition that capitalising on the potential of emerging payment rails, monetising the standardised datasets unlocked by ISO 20022 and launching new external services are huge opportunities to diversify and retain relevance. The introduction of overlay services such as Request to Pay or the European Payments Initiative are also poised to spur on the move to digital payments.

Decades of inaction on legacy infrastructure, however, is limiting options. Banks across the globe find themselves lumbered with expensive, inflexible and unreliable technology estates. The ability to respond to marketplace innovation, let alone lead it, is constrained by the need to devote massive amounts of cash, time and ever-dwindling internal resource to simply keep the lights on.

It is apparent that doing nothing is no longer an option, but transformation is a nebulous concept. There is no one single way to effectively transform. Different organisations have unique considerations based on their technology, capabilities, resource and culture, and there are various routes to take.

‘Don’t outsource your heart, your soul…and your spinal cord’

One option is to make payments someone else’s problem and outsource them. This can be an appealing proposition to get a seemingly perennial cost centre off the books, particularly in the current climate. But speaking at Sibos, J.P. Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon cautioned against the risk of inadvertently “outsourcing your heart, your soul and your spinal cord.”

Simon Wilson

Simon Wilson

For it is true that payments are the beating heart and soul of an organisation. Payments represent 80% of all interactions, providing critical customer touchpoints, data and service opportunities. As for the spinal cord, not much can happen when mission-critical payment systems go down.

The big problem, as Dimon notes, is that a lot of companies who have outsourced “have no idea what they are doing.”

Banks can find themselves stuck with equally costly, complex and cumbersome alternatives, falling even further behind the innovation curve and losing control in the process. “You end up paying too much money and then you’re beholden to costs that are going up.” But most importantly, “you’re not even doing a better job serving your client.”  Outsourcing a commodity execution service may well be the right strategic approach for some, but you need to ensure you have the other pieces of the payment process running smoothly and that you really are not leaving money on the table or  developing risk longer term by constraining future choice.

Still, the alternative is not necessarily better. Modernisation needs to happen now, so it is not surprising that enthusiasm for years-long, ruinously expensive and inherently risky in-house transformation projects has dimmed somewhat.

Best of both worlds

Yet it is wrong to say that the only choice is buy or build. There is a middle-ground. A collaborative approach to payments transformation that allows banks to move quickly to seize opportunities, while retaining control, significantly reducing costs and adding value.

This begins with banks understanding their starting point, defining a crystal-clear strategic vision for the role that payments play within the organisation and identifying market opportunities. Indeed, as McKinsey notes, “success for banks will depend on thoughtfully assessing capabilities [and] determining the role of payments in market strategies.”

Banks should then consider low-risk and lightweight options for upgrading legacy infrastructure to meet their strategic objectives, while minimising business impact. Payment platforms based on Cloud-native, open source technology promote flexibility, scalability and independence, rather than restrictive and expensive vendor dependencies.

Collaboration also plays a critical role. Finding the right fintech and service provider partners can allow banks to simplify complexity, reduce manual heavy-lifting and lower their cost base, driving efficiencies that enable resource to be focused on delivering for customers. As Dimon explains, “If I can’t build it better than you can, I’m better off just using yours.”

This combination of strategy, enabling technologies and true collaboration provides a foundation for innovation. It can help drive new revenues, further develop existing business lines and, by moving payments from cost to profit centre, help banks thrive rather than survive.

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