Joshua Raymond, Chief Market Strategist at City Index
Like many of its neighbours, Cyprus has had all manner of financial problems to contend with, but astronomical levels of debt in its bloated banking sector has forced the new government to go cap in hand to the European Union for a much-needed bailout. After much negotiation and controversy, a €10bn deal was agreed, but what does it mean for the island nation and the rest of the continent?
In the early stages of the negotiations between Cyprus and Germany, the Eurozone’s largest economy, there was a very real possibility that part of the rescue package would come from savings of Cypriots with bank deposits in excess of €100,000. A levy would be imposed on all those with six-figure sums in their savings accounts starting at 6.75%, rising for those with more money.
Understandably, many ordinary Cypriots and expats from countries like the United Kingdom living in the country to enjoy retirement were up in arms, but the deal was agreed. However, as soon as news broke, thousands queued outside cash machines to take as much money as they could, which forced the Cypriot government to close the banks down temporarily.
Cyprus is the fifth Eurozone member to agree a bailout with the EU, following in the footsteps of beleaguered neighbour Greece, Spain, Portugal and the Republic of Ireland. Sharing close economic ties with Greece has exposed the Cypriot economy to serious damage, but with a deal now agreed, the storm appears to have been weathered slightly.
The reaction to the bailout from the markets point towards a short-term recovery, but it’s likely that the long-term for the Euro and the Eurozone could be a little bleaker. Cyprus has to repay some of the banking sector’s debts, while some of the stronger economies on the continent are grappling with bad news of their own.
Joshua Raymond from Cityindex.co.uk talked about the challenges ahead:
The farcical nature of the Cypriot bailout affected short term confidence in the single currency, which the European Central Bank has worked so hard to re-establish in the past few months and long term confidence in the banking sector within troubled eurozone states.
The whole deposit debacle was less about Cyprus – which has a smaller economy by GDP than Latvia, Lithuania and Bulgaria – and more about the conditions future bailouts may now dictate.These concerns were quickly cooled with several finance ministers trying to isolate this condition to Cyprus and not prospective bailout requests outside of the island but the damage to confidence has already been done.
“There was further bad news this morning following a surprise announcement that German unemployment rose unexpectedly in March, further fuelling concerns around the ability of the strongest economy in the region to help energise the Eurozone’srecovery..
A retest of the $1.27 level for the euro against the US Dollar now looks likely and a break below could herald even greater weakness for the euro.”, he concluded.
The German view
Germany is likely to foot most of the bill for the Cyprus bailout as it did for Spain, Portugal and Greece in order to prop up the single currency. Not long after the bailout was agreed, the Euro had recovered in the currency markets, which will have come as a relief to German economic bigwigs, but weak growth in the country could be a by-product of problems elsewhere.
There is growing resentment from many in Germany over the money given to help out other Eurozone member states which might come at its expense. Trying to rescue the Euro is in Germany’s interest, as failure could cost them even more, but the banking sector is expected to suffer far more damage.
It’s expected that funding banks will become even more difficult, while the retail banking sector is likely to incur yet more damage. As many ordinary people will worry about their ability to pay the bills, let alone save money, less people will feel inclined to open accounts, especially after the goings on in Cyprus.
Trust in the banking sector from consumers, which was already at a low level, is likely to fall further. If nothing else constructive is done to reverse that trend by Eurozone governments, then the likelihood is that many like Laiki Bank could go to the wall, leaving account holders and moneymen in a never-ending cycle of economic despair.
Not long after the bailout, banks in Cyprus have reopened their doors during limited hours after being closed for just over a week. Meanwhile, limits on the amount people can withdraw have also been placed, which suggests that the government are doing all they can in order to keep their side of the bargain.
While little normality has returned to Cyprus, the Euro’s slight recovery last week has lightened the mood, although it reached a four-month low yesterday because of concerns over the deal. In the meantime, the whole world watches to see if Cyprus and other Eurozone countries can mount a sustained recovery.
Risk Mitigation vs. Risk Avoidance: Why FIs Need to Maintain Risk Appetite and Not Place All Bets on De-Risking
De-risking aims to protect financial institutions from the increasing pressures placed by regulators and threats, associated with clients operating in high-risk GEOs and market segments. Agnė Selemonaitė, board member of ConnectPay, states that FIs should not focus entirely on de-risking to mitigate all potentially dangerous prospects, rather strive to continuously improve their tools for risk control and consider dividing the market among banks and EMIs for more strategic risk management across the entire sector
October 22, 2020. The payments sector has always been under the microscope in terms of regulatory compliance. Now, with a number of scandals and compliance discrepancies, financial institutions have responded in a growing trend of terminating accounts deemed high-risk—a process also known as de-risking. While in the risk management space the term describes hedging against precarious exposures, within the payments sector it has become synonymous with avoiding risks.
Since the financial crisis of ’08, FIs have been hit with approximately $36 billion of non-compliance fines. The significant growth corresponds with the ever-tightening AML/CTF rules, as well as the general tendency of policies becoming more and more strict. With a continuously toughening regulatory environment, financial institutions are less inclined to take on dubious clients and would rather eliminate any viable threats than risk getting fined by the regulatory authorities. Agnė Selemonaitė, board member of ConnectPay, emphasizes that while de-risking is necessary, it should not become the basis of the entire approach to how financial institutions tackle risks.
Although de-risking has been gaining traction in the payments sector, it is important to disclose the shortcomings associated with the practice. The case of Malta, a EU country bordering the Mediterranean sea, is a good example of how strict de-risking policies can impact the payments landscape and alter a country’s image on a global scale.
Maltese FIs have been under mounting pressure from the European Central Bank, as well as local regulatory authorities due to a significant number of ambiguous industries thriving in the country. For instance, the gaming sector accounts for 13.2 % of Malta’s overall economic activity. Called out to re-evaluate their risk profiles and strengthen AML and CFT strategies, FIs chose to not risk sky-high fines, rather terminate riskier customer bases. This has pushed many businesses to direct their payments to out-of-country vendors, while Maltese institutions lost trust due to unbalanced de-risking.
“Now, businesses operating in higher-risk markets are hesitant to rely on a single regulatory jurisdiction to mitigate risk exposure in terms of payments security. Yet provider diversification leads to missing out on a number of benefits, for example, potential discounts, offered due to high payment volume associated with a client,” explained Agnė Selemonaitė. “We’ve noticed this tendency amongst our own clients too. Many are being overly cautious and choose to carry out only a small fraction of payments, fearing for things to take a similar turn, as it did in Malta, and become the ones deemed high-risk.”
“However, higher turnover helps to better mitigate client-specific risks. For instance, the more vendors from any given corporate group are onboarded, the more we can learn about the payment behaviors in their industry, and, consequently, introduce better risk controls to prevent ML, TF and other threats to clients’ funds.”
Ms. Selemonaitė notes that hasty de-risking could contribute to other issues as well, like the growth of the shadow market. “The higher number of such accounts are rejected, the more inclined they become to look for alternatives to continue their business,“ she adds. “In a way, de-risking might increase the very thing it aims to mitigate for a more transparent market.”
That is why it is crucial for governments to establish a clear position on where the entire country stands in terms of risk tolerance. “Regulators implement changes that are passed down to them by the government. If the latter clearly communicates their stance beforehand – there is less room for distrust and ambiguity from the business’s perspective too.”
Selemonaitė argues that FIs should retain a healthy risk appetite and pool more resources into controlling dubious activities, rather than rely solely on de-risking as the basis for risk mitigation. “De-risking is a necessity – we have leveraged the practice ourselves. However, we are more focused on enhancing our overall risk control capabilities.”
She also raises the idea that sharing the market between banks and EMIs may be even more reasonable in terms of keeping risks at bay. “EMIs are more agile and prone to technology innovation, this allows them to have laser-focus on a single sector and become experts on its common threats. Thus deliberate market division creates the conditions for more strategic risk management across the sector.”
According to her, encouraging a dialogue between the regulators, fincrime watchdogs, market players and other institutions is equally important, as they determine the ins and outs of de-risking. Selemonaitė notes Lithuania’s State Tax Inspectorate (in Lithuanian – VMI) initiative as one of the examples of encouraging back-to-back communication: instead of handing out fines for possible compliance violations, they reported them back to the companies and gave a timeframe to address the issues. “In 6 years, this helped cut down on the auditing almost twice, as well as increased general trust in VMI, which rose from 25 to 75 percent, showing just how important it is to maintain a direct line of communication between regulators and regulatees.”
The TMNL initiative in the Netherlands is also a good example of how consistent dialogue can pave the way for more efficient and transparent process control. Following the initiative, banks are working closely with government parties, such as the Ministries of Finance and Justice and Security, to combat threats related to AML/CTF compliance via real-time transaction monitoring network.
“A joint approach on detecting suspicious patterns enables to take a firmer stand towards mitigating risks, emphasizing the point that, essentially, this is a two-way street: further growth and security in the sector depends on both sides’ efforts to keep communication open and transparent.”
Overall, refusing to work with certain customers or markets focuses only on avoiding risks. As she summarized, “the main goal should be not to shy away, but to increase the capacity to control risks on your own terms.”
Cash and digital payments – a balancing act to aid financial inclusion
By Matthew Jackson, Head of Partner Development, EMEA at PPRO
The cashless debate is one that continues to spark both conversation and controversy. The pandemic, which has seen many merchants discourage the use of cash to limit the spread of the virus, has accelerated these discussions. M-Pesa, a Kenyan mobile money transfer service, for example, waved its fees to support the move away from cash during the pandemic. Today, many global economies are now questioning whether they should continue to offer cash payments or go cashless by converting solely to digital. Critics say this move would disenfranchise unbanked, cash-dependent consumers and does not drive financial inclusion, while others claim that a failure to go cashless limits innovation in the fintech sector. So, what exactly is the answer?
The solution lies somewhere in the middle.
The truth is cash and digital payments don’t have to be mutually exclusive; this is not a zero-sum game as the two payment options can exist together. According to recent PPRO data, over half of US and UK consumers will stop the checkout process if it is too complicated or their preferred methods are not available. Consumers prefer having multiple payment options, whether it be using a bank transfer, a credit card, a mobile wallet or even cash. Payment flexibility is a crucial factor in offering a seamless checkout experience. Some shoppers never carry cash while others view cash as the only way they want – or are able – to pay.
The key is for merchants to offer a personalised experience for each and every consumer.
The future of cash
Despite a seemingly rapid shift towards digital payment methods, cash is not going anywhere. Many regions across the globe are tied to cash-based payments. For example, in Latin America, 21% of e-commerce transactions are completed by cash. Via cash vouchers, many consumers are able to access the global, online marketplace: at the checkout page, consumers are shown a barcode for their order. They then 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. 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.
Cash is often preferred for a plethora of reasons: It can be easier to use cash for smaller purchases, older consumers may be wary of digital payment methods, and avoiding credit can help shoppers stay within budget.
Conversely this year, Bristol was revealed as the contactless capital of the UK, with London leading the way when all card payment types were considered. Tottenham Hotspur’s brand new stadium was also the first stadium in the UK to go completely cashless in a bid to provide the best possible fan experience. The stadium claims fans can now expect increased service speed, shorter queue times and better hygiene as staff won’t be handling cash. With many other venues following this trend, merchants must be able to provide multiple options to consumers or risk excluding part of the market.
Ensuring inclusivity with digital payments
Financial inclusion is not just limited to offering cash payments. Each region has its own nuances that influence consumer payment preferences. Consumers want to pay with the payment methods they are comfortable with; a majority of online shoppers will abandon their cart and purchase items on another site if they aren’t offered their preferred way to pay.
Local payment methods serve as the bridge to connect shoppers with merchants across the globe.
A great example of this is the rise of the mobile payment method M-Pesa in Kenya. According to PPRO research, more Kenyan consumers have a smartphone (60%) than a bank account (56%). Payment innovations have helped solve consumer needs and enable financial inclusion by turning a smartphone into a virtual bank account. Similarly, in southeast Asia, GrabPay, which started out as food delivery and on-demand taxi app, has evolved into a leading payment method used by 115 million consumers across the region. These sentiments resonate in the UK as well with 45% of UK consumers believing cash will be a thing of the past in just five years.
Striking a balance
Whatever the way forward, ultimately payment methods need to enhance the consumer shopping experience and a combination of both cash and digital payments is a way to enable this. For many regions the lines between cash and digital payments continue to blur. For example, in Argentina, Mexico and Brazil, cash-based payment methods like RapiPago, Oxxo and Boleto Bancario give many cash-dependent consumers a chance to shop online. Merchants must come to realise that cash can actually complement many digital payment methods, not necessarily restrict them.
To be able to continue to satisfy the needs of all consumers, merchants need to understand the factors driving consumer behaviors around the world and offer the specific local payment methods to fulfil those needs. In some cases, this is cash and others a digital method. Having a choice is what will not only drive inclusion but also increase sales around the globe. Innovation does not necessarily mean cashless, but rather the industry creating solutions to solve consumer needs.
The value of digital identity in payments
By Vince Graziani, CEO, IDEX Biometrics ASA
In ever more challenging times, the payments industry needs to maintain trust by finding a way to protect consumers from the constant threat of payment fraud and theft. Consumer’s wishing to limit physical contact during the current pandemic has led to the popularity of contactless payments which has accelerated in multiple territories.
In the US, one in five shoppers have made a contactless payment for the first time during the pandemic according to research published in August by the National Retail Federation and Forrester. The bad guys have unfortunately taken note. This has led to a real need for the industry to fight back with enhanced security.
At the 2019 Money2020 Europe conference, there was a universal call for a comprehensive form of digital identity (ID) to enable digital payments. A form of digital identity that would make cashless payment interactions – secure, intelligent, efficient and private. The feeling was unanimous: without functioning digital ID, the payments revolution will stall.
Unlocking the payment ecosystem
In an increasingly connected world, consumers find themselves needing to authenticate their identity daily. Whether that be with financial institutions, retailers, government departments or healthcare providers. Yet, it is rarely known where consumer data is stored, how secure it is or how it may be traded. Privacy regulations such as the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) have attempted to restore some trust, but the industry still has a way to go.
Currently, authentication is fragmented and unwieldy. It requires a mix of hardcopy documents, online login credentials and digital wallets. This is not only frustrating for consumers but leads to the reuse of passwords and PINS that make the user vulnerable to fraud. Mastercard believes there is a clear need for a verified identity that is accepted globally and across multiple digital touchpoints and doesn’t involve aggregating more information in potentially vulnerable data stores, but instead gives the individual control over their identity data.
An integrated digital ID scheme would enable the payments industry to fight fraud on a global scale. It would also meet the pressing need for a payment authentication system that consumers can access anytime, anywhere, and on any device. This joined-up approach is vital to ensure no consumer is left behind as the world continues its digital transformation.
Providing access to a singular, unified digital ID will not only streamline the identity process, but also unlock new and enhanced consumer experiences during this digital transformation. Particularly in the new breed of smart buildings and cities, where everything from travel to payment systems will be connected to a user’s identity.
What form should our digital ID take?
While the need for digital ID is well established, the form it will take is less clear. There are two main challenges that payment providers need to overcome with a potential new identity solution: onboarding new users and ensuring the digital ID is compatible with all transactions.
Placing individual consumers at the centre of their own digital interactions will ensure confidence and broader adoption of new technology payments and services. Yet, for this to be successful, the payments industry must adopt a process that is simple, familiar and easy to understand.
Fingerprint biometrics as a digital identity
The use of fingerprint authentication to unlock a smartphone is now deeply entrenched. As far back as 2016, 89 percent of users with compatible iPhones were using fingerprints to unlock their devices. The solution for a frictionless onboarding has been at our fingertips the whole time.
Payment providers can incorporate fingerprint biometric sensors directly into their new breed of smart payment cards. A biometric payment card may be a new concept, but payment providers and retailers across the world are already using contactless card technology in the payment process, so it is the next logical step. Consumers are now used to carrying a card and tapping it for contactless payments. Plus, as we have seen, consumers are used to using their fingerprint as an authentication mechanism. Perhaps biometric cards could be the catalyst for financial inclusion desired by the World Bank, as they don’t require the ownership of expensive smartphones in developing nations.
Building a chain of trust with biometrics
Continuous developments in payment regulation mean that secure authentication is imperative. Under the second Payment Service Directive (PSD2) European banking regulation, all payment transactions will soon require Strong Customer Authentication (SCA) to validate users at the point of transaction to reduce fraud and increase security for customers. SCA requires two forms of authentication for every transaction above the contactless limit. While one is generally something you have like a smart card, the second can be something you are like a fingerprint. Using a fingerprint means that it can be used across multiple platforms and is always at hand. There should be no trade-off between convenience and privacy and fingerprint biometrics delivers on that expectation.
Biometrics can play an essential role in digital ID, significantly limiting exposure to potential fraud and criminality. The addition of a biometric sensor onto a payment card creates a secure ‘chain of trust’ that indelibly connects the user to the card. Furthermore, digital ID has the scope to be extended far beyond payments and used as a unique identifier in areas such as access, government ID and even across IoT devices.
Securing the future of the payments industry
While the world is becoming ever more cashless, commentators and analysts all agree – without a fully functioning digital ID, the payments revolution will stall. As Tony McLaughlin, Emerging Payments and Business Development at Citi put it recently: “If we fix digital identity, we fix payments”. I couldn’t agree more. Both consumers and the payments industry need a user-centric digital ID that is owned and managed by the individual, so they can unlock the full advantages of a transformative digital payment ecosystem.
Using fingerprint biometrics as a digital ID in a payment card will transform the way people authenticate transactions. This integration would enable consumers to confirm their identity wherever they are, on any device, and across every transaction. It will change the face of digital identity as we know it.
We believe that digital interactions should be privacy-enhancing, secure, intelligent, and efficient. To facilitate this, consumers require a user-centric digital identity that is owned, managed, and controlled by the individual. It is time to place individuals at the heart of their digital interactions globally.
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