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Improve the Client Experience with Virtual Assistants

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Wealth managers targeting HNW entrepreneur clients should foster inter-departmental collaboration, says GlobalData 

Apps are getting the AI treatment

Apart from the weather and football, the hot topic of Summer 2018 is undoubtedly AI. Wherever you look there are new takes on how AI is going to impact business and it can be hard to take on board some of the predictions that are being made. For instance,  Gartner is on record as saying that by 2020, businesses will manage 85% of their relationships without any human interaction.

In our conversations with accountants, AI can be too easily dismissed as not being relevant to their practices but when we explain how chatbots will work, it’s as if the lightbulb comes on and they can start to visualise the benefits.

Imagine having a new staff member who never takes a day off for illness, never needs a holiday and will never hand in their notice. Immediately, faces light up. Communicating with chatbots works exactly as if you were messaging a friend and the technology is there for chatbots to evolve and become intelligent virtual assistants that can perform a highly useful role within today’s accountancy practices.

Over the last year, we have been working with Amazon Lex, which offers developers the same deep learning technologies that power Amazon Alexa and is allowing us to build sophisticated, natural language, conversational bots to work with our Apps. This represents is an exciting opportunity, we believe, for practices to generate considerable cost savings by automating some tasks that have, until now, required a member of staff to carry them out.

The appeal of AI is not restricted to cost reduction. There are other real benefits including improving the client experience and eliminating the Google threat. We have long talked about the Google effect and how this poses a real threat to accountants as clients can find it quicker and easier to Google a question that they could ask their accountant if they were available 24 hours a day.

AI has the potential to change this and for accountants to offer a 24 hour, 365 days a year service that is manned by Virtual Assistants that can run help desks and help with scheduling appointments and other administrative tasks. This frees up the time of administrative staff, so they can focus on higher value-add services and may help employees warm to their fellow chatbot as they will see them as a friend that is enabling them to get on with more thoughtful work.

Mike Page

Mike Page

While we do not agree that Chatbots are the new Apps, as Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella said earlier this year, we do see them working closely with Apps and providing interaction with tasks performed within the App and such as with the calculators. We see a natural synergy for AI within the practice environment following a careful analysis of its needs, the potential uses for AI technologies and their business value.

And in the first alpha launch of our own Virtual Assistant, basic voice and text conversations will help to deliver a heightened client experience and over time, this will be enhanced to become even more intelligent and to deliver better interaction with clients. As we enter an age of conversational commerce, AI techniques will be used to improve client interactions, eliminate wait times and provide greater in-depth expertise. All of which will help boost client retention and differentiate the practice.

It may well be, that further in the future, there will be a dedicated chatbot tailored for each client, making them far more personalised as the intelligent systems driving them know all about the person they are helping. They know their language, the services they require and their preferences and used in the right way, can help to make clients relationships truly ‘sticky’.

The move to AI technologies has been brisk as demonstrated by the fact that  in 2016, the term ‘artificial intelligence’ did not even appear in the top 100 search terms on gartner.com. By May 2017, the term ranked at No. 7 and Gartner predicts that by 2020, AI will be a top five investment priority for more than 30 percent of CIOs.

The level of automation that AI can bring to a practice will undoubtedly drive great efficiencies and present accountants with new opportunities to add value to clients. The pace of technological change can be daunting, but the key is to remain open to new introductions that have been carefully developed by those working with the profession and to evaluate their ability to strengthen firms while at the same time helping to make cost reductions and improve efficiency.

Mike Page, FCCA, Head of Product Management and Customer Experience Strategy, MyFirmsApp

Modern accounting has become incredibly dynamic, with business and tax becoming increasingly complex and tech dependent.  Always-on clients are demanding instant answers from their service providers, and accountancy firms are no different.

MyFirmsApp provides a unique, compliant solution for accountants, to help overcome these challenges whilst putting them at the heart of their clients’ mobile lives.

The App platform increases profitability and client engagement whilst taking the pain out of market changes such as technology, MTD, GDPR and the expanding Add-On market.

MyFirmsApp operates the largest global custom App platform in the world for Accountants in practice providing the only compliant (ICAEW accredited) UK solution that’s used by over 250,000 businesses

www.myfirmsapp.co.uk

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Exclusive: China’s Huawei, reeling from U.S. sanctions, plans foray into EVs – sources

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Exclusive: China's Huawei, reeling from U.S. sanctions, plans foray into EVs - sources 1

By Julie Zhu and Yilei Sun

HONG KONG/BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s Huawei plans to make electric vehicles under its own brand and could launch some models this year, four sources said, as the world’s largest telecommunications equipment maker, battered by U.S. sanctions, explores a strategic shift.

Huawei Technologies Co Ltd is in talks with state-owned Changan Automobile and other automakers to use their car plants to make its electric vehicles (EVs), according to two of the people familiar with the matter.

Huawei is also in discussions with Beijing-backed BAIC Group’s BluePark New Energy Technology to manufacture its EVs, said one of the two and a separate person with direct knowledge of the matter.

The plan heralds a potentially major shift in direction for Huawei after nearly two-years of U.S. sanctions that have cut its access to key supply chains, forcing it to sell a part of its smartphone business to keep the brand alive.

Huawei was placed on a trade blacklist by the Trump administration over national security concerns. Many industry executives see little chance that blocks on the sale of billions of dollars of U.S. technology and chips to the Chinese company, which has denied wrongdoing, will be reversed by his successor.

A Huawei spokesman denied the company plans to design EVs or produce Huawei branded vehicles.

“Huawei is not a car manufacturer. However through ICT (information and communications technology), we aim to be a digital car-oriented and new-added components provider, enabling car OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) to build better vehicles.”

Huawei has started internally designing the EVs and approaching suppliers at home, with the aim of officially launching the project as early as this year, three of the sources said.

Richard Yu, head of Huawei’s consumer business group who led the company to become one of the world’s largest smartphone makers, will shift his focus to EVs, said one source. The EVs will target a mass-market segment, another source said.

All the sources declined to be named as the discussions are private.

Chongqing-based Changan, which is making cars with Ford Motor Co, declined to comment. BAIC BluePark did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Shares of Changan’s main listed company Chongqing Changan Automobile rose 8% after Reuters reported the discussions. BluePark’s shares jumped by their maximum 10% daily limit.

GROWING EV MARKET

Chinese technology firms have been stepping up their focus on EVs in the world’s biggest market for such vehicles, as Beijing heavily promotes greener vehicles as a means of reducing chronic air pollution.

Sales of new energy vehicles (NEVs), including pure battery electric vehicles as well as plug-in hybrid and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, are expected to make up 20% of China’s overall annual auto sales by 2025.

Industry forecasts put China’s NEV sales at 1.8 million units this year, up from about 1.3 million in 2020.

Huawei’s ambitious plans to make its own cars will see it join a raft of Asian tech companies that have made similar announcements in recent months, including Baidu Inc and Foxconn.

“The novel and complicated U.S. restrictions on semiconductors to Huawei have slowly been strangling the company,” said Dan Wang, a technology analyst with research firm Gavekal Dragonomics.

“So it makes sense that the company is pivoting to less chip-intensive industries in order to maintain operations.”

In the United States, Amazon.com Inc and Alphabet Inc are also developing auto-related technology or investing in smart-car startups.

Huawei has been developing a swathe of technologies for EVs for years including in-car software systems, sensors for automobiles and 5G communications hardware.

The company has also formed partnerships with automakers such as Daimler AG, General Motors Co and SAIC Motor to jointly develop smart auto technologies.

It has accelerated hiring of engineers for auto-related technologies since 2018.

Huawei was awarded at least four patents related to EVs this week, including methods for charging between electric vehicles and for checking battery health, according to official Chinese patent records.

Huawei’s push into the EV market is currently separate from a joint smart vehicle company it co-founded along with Changan and EV battery maker CATL in November, two of the sources said.

(Reporting by Julie Zhu in Hong Kong and Yilei Sun in Beijing; additional reporting by David Kirton in Shenzhen; Editing by Sumeet Chatterjee and Richard Pullin)

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Facebook switches news back on in Australia, signs content deals

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Facebook switches news back on in Australia, signs content deals 2

By Renju Jose and Jonathan Barrett

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Facebook Inc ended a one-week blackout of Australian news on its popular social media site on Friday and announced preliminary commercial agreements with three small local publishers.

The moves reflected easing tensions between the U.S. company and the Australian government, a day after the country’s parliament passed a law forcing it and Alphabet Inc’s Google to pay local media companies for using content on their platforms.

The new law makes Australia the first nation where a government arbitrator can set the price Facebook and Google pay domestic media to show their content if private negotiations fail. Canada and other countries have shown interest in replicating Australia’s reforms.

“Global tech giants, they are changing the world but we can’t let them run the world,” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Friday, adding that Big Tech must be accountable to sovereign governments.

Facebook, whose 8-day ban on Australian media captured global attention, said it had signed partnership agreements with Schwartz Media, Solstice Media and Private Media. The trio own a mix of publications, including weekly newspapers, online magazines and specialist periodicals.

Facebook did not disclose the financial details of the agreements, which will become effective within 60 days if a full deal is signed.

“These agreements will bring a new slate of premium journalism, including some previously paywalled content, to Facebook,” the social media company said in a statement.

The non-binding agreements allay some fears that small Australian publishers would be left out of revenue-sharing deals with Facebook and Google.

“It’s never been more important than it is now to have a plurality of voices in the Australian press,” said Schwartz Media Chief Executive Rebecca Costello.

Facebook on Tuesday struck a similar agreement with Seven West Media, which owns a free-to-air television network and the main metropolitian newspaper in the city of Perth.

The Australian Broadcasting Corp has said it was also in talks with Facebook.

Google Australia managing director Mel Silva said in a statement published on Friday the company had found a “constructive path to support journalism”.

She thanked Australian users of the search engine for “bearing with us while we’ve sent you messages about this issue”.

Facebook and Google threatened for months to pull core services from Australia if the media laws, which some industry players claim are more about propping up ailing local media, took effect.

While Google struck deals with several publishers including News Corp as the legislation made its way through parliament, Facebook took the more drastic step of blocking all news content in Australia.

That stance led to amendments to the laws, including giving the government the power to exempt Facebook or Google from mandatory arbitration, and Facebook on Friday began restoring the Australian news sites.

(Reporting by Renju Jose and Jonathan Barrett; Editing by Richard Pullin and Jane Wardell)

 

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China’s factory activity growth likely moderated during February holiday lull – Reuters poll

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China's factory activity growth likely moderated during February holiday lull - Reuters poll 3

BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s factory activity likely grew at a slightly slower rate in February as factories closed for the Lunar New Year holiday, a Reuters poll showed, although growth is expected to remain firm, buoyed by an early resumption of production.

The official manufacturing Purchasing Manager’s Index (PMI) is expected to dip marginally to 51.1 in February from 51.3 in January, according to the median forecast of 20 economists polled by Reuters. A reading above 50 indicates an expansion in activity on a monthly basis.

Chinese factories typically scale back operations or close for lengthy periods around the Lunar New Year holiday, which fell in the middle of February this year.

However, the resurgence of COVID-19 cases in the winter had prompted local governments and companies to dissuade workers from travelling back to their hometowns, giving a boost to the earlier-than-usual resumption of production at many factories, analysts say.

“Although government COVID-19 prevention measures may constrain some manufacturing activities in the near-term, the fact that a majority of migrant workers stayed in their workplace cities for the holiday should facilitate an earlier resumption of business activity following the holiday this year,” said analysts at Nomura in a note to client on Thursday.

Wang Zhishen, a migrant worker from Gansu, told Reuters that his factory, a manufacturer of logistics boxes in the manufacturing hub of Dongguan, only closed for three days during the holiday, thanks to overwhelming businesses. Lured by the 1,500-yuan cash subsidy his factory offered, he chose to work through the holiday.

The Chinese economy has largely shaken off the gloom from the COVID-19 health crisis, with consumers opening up their wallets after months of hesitation. Growth is now set to rebound sharply this quarter, also helped by the low base effect of a year ago.

The country has successfully curbed the domestic transmission of the COVID-19 virus in northern China, with the national health authority reporting zero new local cases for the 11th straight day. Cities that were on lockdown have since vowed to push for a work resumption at full speed.

The official PMI, which largely focuses on big and state-owned firms, and its sister survey on the services sector, will both be released on Sunday.

The private Caixin manufacturing PMI will be published on Monday. Analysts expect the headline reading will dip slightly to 51.4 from 51.5 in January.

(Reporting by Stella Qiu and Ryan Woo; Editing by Sam Holmes)

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