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Is it time for the spotlight to fall on the back office?

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brian collings

Calls for greater unification of Europe’s fragmented securities market and the introduction of centralised counterparties for exchange-traded or OTC derivatives is focusing more attention on middle and back office operations. In these unpredictable economic times, regulators, brokers, bankers and clients alike are concerned to reduce risk and accept the inevitable increase in controls this entails.brian collings

The financial markets have become so fragmented with increasing numbers of trading venues, centralised counterparties and rules that middle and back office costs and efficiencies are under scrutiny more than ever before. The buy-side and sell-side want to see  middle and back office systems work harder to deliver efficiency with higher rates of straight-through processing and are recognising the role these systems can play in delivering one version of the ‘truth’ or one consolidated view of business performance and exposure to risk. At the same time there is pressure to reduce middle and back office costs and support the front office with improved operational efficiency, simplified regulatory compliance, better client service and control.

The front office has long been the “glamour” end of the business. Massive investments in technology to support innovative trading strategies have been made with ultra-low, single digit microsecond latency for market data capture and order execution being the goal. Volumes have risen too. For example over-the-counter derivatives climbed 18 percent to $707.6 trillion by the end of June 2011 compared to the previous six months; according to the Bank of International Settlements November 2011 report. The range of front office systems has also proliferated with best of breed systems chosen for the different instruments, data feeds and exchanges they support.  

In contrast many back office clearance and settlement systems have been around for decades – also often dedicated to a particular or limited range of instruments. For example a global investment bank or broker may use one system for domestic equities another for international and perhaps another for fixed interest, FX or derivatives. Bringing together or unifying the data resident in these disparate systems or silos has become an urgent imperative for improving the management and control of the business.

Brian Collings, Chairman & CEO of newcomer Torstone Technology which recently introduced Inferno — claimed to be the first major system for post-trade securities and derivatives processing to be launched in the last ten years — confirms that the middle and back office is warranting more attention. He said: “People are asking has it now become more cost-effective for the back office to invest in one application that can address all our needs rather than maintain disparate solutions? The pressure is also on back office systems to take information from the wide range of specialist front office trading systems and provide a comprehensive, cohesive view of business performance and exposure to risk.”

Torstone Technology may be a new company but the Inferno system has been widely deployed and proven to support highly complex, structured credit and equity derivatives as well as high volume equity products. The software was originally developed in-house for a statistical arbitrage application where volumes in the hundreds of thousands surpassed the capabilities of the incumbent back office system. Over time additional systems within the bank were replaced as more functionality was added to Inferno. The management team behind Torstone reached an agreement with the KBC Group on a management buy-out of the software and the development/support team. The new business is supporting existing clients in New York, Hong Kong and London.

Torstone’s Inferno includes enterprise-level clearing, settlement and integrated accounting; support for multi-asset, multi-currency and multi-location operations, including high frequency trading and provision of real-time event-driven settlement status and trade accounting. Delivered as software-as-a-service (SaaS) to help reduce costs by avoiding a capital outlay on systems, asset classes already processed by the system include equities, fixed income, convertible bonds, warrants and  fx, as well as a wide range of derivatives products in the areas of credit, equity, funds and insurance. According to Torstone, Inferno offers an unprecedented depth of control and discipline which was instilled by industry accountants who helped design the software and who understand the consequence of trading decisions.

Torstone is targeting regional and mid-sized investment banks, asset managers, hedge funds and brokers with the new system, but how does it distinguish itself from the other longstanding systems in the market?  “Inferno was born out of the shortcomings and inflexibility of other settlement systems to meet the processing requirements of a wide range of instruments, complex trades, multiple venues and the demands of very high volumes,”  Collings said. “We distinguish ourselves from the competition in three key areas. First is breadth of product and the sheer scope of Inferno to handle a wide range of instruments, both simple equities and complex derivatives. Second is the depth of discipline from the middle office to operations, clearing, settlement, global accounting with real-time consolidation of data from multiple front office systems including Fidessa, Murex, Sungard and Sophis.  Third is the capability to process very high volumes, including high frequency trading.”

As well as designing the software, those same industry practitioners and a multi-disciplined team of developers and accountants also support the product, which Collings believes also gives the firm an edge: “We are able to deliver very high standards and quality of service rooted in a deep practical knowledge of settlement and trade accounting so are able to solve business as well as technical issues. In terms of on-going costs the modern web service-based software architecture supports rapid deployment of new business rules and incremental upgrades, making the system highly flexible. The ease of use reduces the need for and higher cost of super users and the speedy resolution of failed trades also supports a slimmed down back office.”

“Complex products can cause difficulties for other systems,” Collings continued. “No-one yet knows where or what will emerge as the next complex market, but we aim to make it easier for firms to participate at an early stage, not be constrained by inflexible systems and be equipped to rationalise settlements on a global basis.”

As the need for cost-cutting continues, the back office not only must clearly demonstrate its efficiency but  also its ability to support less risky business decisions.

About Torstone Technology www.torstonetechnology.com/

Torstone Technology, headquartered in London with offices in New York and Hong Kong, provides securities and derivatives processing software to the global financial markets. Its flagship product is Inferno which is designed to support high volumes of straight through processing for settlement of a wide range of asset classes from complex derivatives to high volume equity processing. The software is designed for today’s more fragmented and highly regulated markets.

Press enquiries to:
Salli Roskilly Saffron Communications Limited
Tel: +44 (0)1763 208708
Further information from:

Brian Collings, Chairman and Chief Executive
Torstone Technology Limited
1st Floor 1 Alie Street, London E1 8DE
Direct: +44 20 7418 7901
[email protected]
 

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Why brands harnessing the power of digital are winning in this evolving business landscape

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Why brands harnessing the power of digital are winning in this evolving business landscape 1

By Justin Pike, Founder and Chairman, MYPINPAD

Delivery of intuitive, secure, personalised, and frictionless user experiences has long been table stakes in digital commerce, well before the era of COVID-19. As businesses harness the revolutionary power of digital technologies, they have pursued large-scale change to adapt to evolving consumer preferences (some more successfully than others, but that’s a blog for another day). Digital transformation is a term we hear repeatedly, and it looks different for each organisation, but essentially, it’s about utilising technology and data to digitise, automate, innovate and improve processes and the customer experience across the entire business.

As I said, this was already well underway but then came 2020 and no industry escaped the disruption of the coronavirus outbreak, which has had an indelible impact on businesses performance, operations, and revenue. Regardless of whether the impact of COVID has been very positive or very challenging, it has forced organisations globally to re-evaluate and re-orient strategies to adapt.

As lockdowns and pandemic-related restrictions continue to change daily life, this raises the question of how we can balance a dramatic shift to digital and the benefits it brings, while ensuring business continuity and innovation both during and post-COVID, and protecting everyone against fraud?

Digital is an essential survival tool, and even more so in a COVID world

No one could have predicted the dramatic digital pivot that has taken place over this year. Indeed, within weeks of the COVID outbreak cash usage in the UK dropped by around 50%. Digital solutions including delivery applications, contactless payments, mobile commerce, online and mobile banking have become essential components of a touchless customer experience in the era of social distancing. It’s no longer just about an enhanced and superior customer experience, it’s also about health, safety and survival.

In store, businesses have benefited from contactless payments enabling faster throughput and reduced need for consumers to touch payment terminals (therefore requiring greater cleaning, which degrades the hardware much faster). Mastercard reported a 40% increase in contactless payments – including tap-to-pay and mobile pay – during the first quarter of the year as the global pandemic worsened. Digital has also become an essential sales channel for many B2C brands. Where brick and mortar stores have been required to close, digital commerce enables continuity of customer relationships and revenue. This channel also provides brands with rich customer data, which can be used to enhance and personalise the customer experience and typically results in greater levels of engagement and uplifts in revenue.

Industry forecasts estimate that worldwide spending on the technologies and services enabling digital transformation will reach GBP 1.8 trillion in 2023 – a clear indication that the process represents a long-term investment and a global commitment to digital-first strategy. The key point here is that digital brings significant benefits, and regardless of COVID, is here to stay.

The challenges that rapid digital transformation brings to businesses

Justin Pike

Justin Pike

Regardless of whether businesses are operating in developed or less-developed economies, these times of crisis have levelled the playing field in the sense that all businesses are facing similar issues. Access to products and supplies, maintaining customer relationships, accelerating sales for some and declining sales for others, health and hygiene are just a few of the unique challenges brought about by COVID.

Many businesses in physical environments have had to swiftly implement changes to significantly reduce safety risks for staff and customers, such as contactless payments, mobile ordering and delivery options. But with these changes come a host of other benefits of digitisation, such as faster transactions, and reduced human error at the point-of-sale.

The reliance on technology, however, can also expose organisations and consumers to certain vulnerabilities. In particular, the risks of fraud and cybercrime have dramatically increased since the onset of the pandemic as scammers have taken advantage of digital technologies to target both businesses and individuals.

As a McKinsey report illustrates, new levels of sophistication in the activities of fraudsters have placed more pressure on companies that have been previously slow to go digital, bringing “into sharp relief how vulnerable companies really are”, and damaging the financial health of small and large businesses. In fact, the Bottomline 2020 Business Payments Barometer reveals that only one in 10 small businesses across the UK report recovering more than 50% of losses due to fraud.

But take these stats with a grain of salt. While it is important to be aware of the risks and challenges this new business landscape brings, it’s equally as important to have a lens firmly across your own business, industry and audience, and to identify the changes you can make internally to mitigate risk as well as improve your customer experience. Where can you make some quick wins? Do you have the right skillsets internally to achieve what you need to achieve? What technology is out there that will enable your business goals? There are tech companies like MYPINPAD that are making huge strides in software development, which will transform businesses globally.

A digital world post-COVID

Almost a year in, the line between business success and failure remains fragile. However, an ongoing transition towards greater digitisation will be the difference between survival and the alternative.

There is a wide range of initiatives businesses can implement to weather this storm. If we look at the space MYPINPAD operates within, secure digital consumer authentication is crucial to the ongoing success and security of not only financial products but also identification and verification across a range of different industry verticals. Shifting the authentication of consumers securely onto mobile devices enables businesses to completely reshape their customer experiences. By bringing together a more seamless, frictionless customer experience, accessibility, privacy, security and access to consumer data, businesses are able to drive digital transformation across day-to-day activities.

Against this backdrop, software with stronger security standards continue to play an ever more vital role in supporting society, protecting consumers and businesses from the increase in risks that rapid digitisation brings. Already, merchants can deploy PIN on Mobile technology from companies like MYPINPAD, onto their smart devices to speed up the digitisation process many are now tackling.

Essentially, opening up universal payments and authentication methods that feel familiar, for both online and face-to-face transactions, will be key to opening up a world of possibilities when it comes to redefining how businesses engage with consumers.

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Brexit responsible for food supply problems in Northern Ireland, Ireland says

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Brexit responsible for food supply problems in Northern Ireland, Ireland says 2

LONDON (Reuters) – Food supply problems in Northern Ireland are due to Brexit because there are now a certain amount of checks on goods going between Britain and Northern Ireland, Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said.

British ministers have sought to play down the disruption of Brexit in recent days.

“The supermarket shelves were full before Christmas and there are some issues now in terms of supply chains and so that’s clearly a Brexit issue,” Coveney told ITV.

The Northern Irish protocol means there are “a certain amount of checks on goods coming from GB into Northern Ireland and that involves some disruption,” he said.

(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Tom Hogue)

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2021: a new tipping point for digital commerce

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2021: a new tipping point for digital commerce 3

By Damien Perillat, SVP Digital Commerce at Worldline Global

2020 was a year of significant change for all of us, impacting businesses and their customers heavily.  While several industries struggled, the demand for digital commerce and alternative ways to pay took off as nation-wide lockdowns meant customers needed to shop from the safety of their homes. This forced many businesses that previously relied on their bricks and mortar stores into the online space. And now, consumers are increasingly comfortable with ecommerce being a crucial part of their shopping experience – even those who were previously reluctant to adopt a digital life. It took ecommerce 20 years to reach about 15% penetration of consumer spending and in just a few months we jumped five to ten years forward. This isn’t likely to change in 2021.

Even in physical stores, customers are looking for safer alternatives to cash and chip-and-PIN payments. UK Finance revealed that contactless spending was up 18% across the UK in September last year when compared to the same time in 2019 – 64 percent of debit card transactions and 46 percent of credit card transactions were contactless. The use of digital and contactless payment methods will be much more widespread in 2021 as we enter this new normal.

K-shaped economic recovery will continue

With that said, economic recovery won’t take place at the same rate for everyone. Different industries have been impacted in their own unique ways by the pandemic. Leisure and travel continue are ranked as the most one missed activities by consumers and the first signs of recovery will be in the form of an increase in domestic and regional travel.

At the same time, the way consumers are interacting with different industries has changed. For example, millennials are looking for more experiential holidays with strong social aspects, where they can make a positive impact on the destination and people they are visiting. And, younger generations are displaying more conscious buying behaviour, focusing on sustainability.

Other industries have faced difficulties throughout the pandemic. Challenged with economic uncertainty, customers have cut back on spending on non-essential, luxury items, instead favouring spending that has enabled low-touch and home-based activities, such as food delivery, electronics, home entertainment and online marketplaces.

A shift in payment preferences

What has been uniform across many industries though, is that consumers now have high expectations surrounding not only the user experience (UX) but also the payment process itself. They anticipate an easy shopping experience where payments are almost invisible. Having the right payments mix will therefore be the key ingredient for success this year for many. Companies will need to ensure that their payment processes are fast, simple and frictionless as online checkout experiences have been raised to the next level.

At the same time, demand for digital goods and services surged last year as people were stuck indoors during lockdowns so purely digital players benefitted. By the end of Q3 2020, Netflix had a huge 195 million subscribers registered, while from February to June, Zoom saw a 677% increase in usage – attributed to increased remote working.

Clearly the digital transformation boosted the subscription economy, and that didn’t stop at just digital goods. People took to subscription services that regularly delivered anything from food to supplies to their doorsteps. This has been a much safer and convenient way to purchase goods during the pandemic.

So, with subscription services establishing a foothold last year, 2021 will be the time for businesses to invest in understanding the dynamics of what a truly optimised subscription payment customer acquisition looks like.

More online payments means more online fraud

Last year it wasn’t all plain sailing for everyone operating in the digital space. The increase in online payments presented more opportunity for fraud to take place and that’s exactly what happened. Between May and July 2020, when certain lockdown measures were eased and customers became more willing to spend, fraud volumes rose 61%, according to figures published by Barclays Bank.

Damien Perillat

Damien Perillat

Similarly, chargebacks became more prevalent. When shops are more reliant on deliveries than ever before, there is more opportunity for things to go wrong with orders and customers to be dissatisfied with what has been purchased. Fraudulent chargebacks have also become much easier to commit as it is increasingly difficult to prove when deliveries arrive safely.

Therefore, in 2021, not only will it be important to have a frictionless UX, but security measures must be effective without impeding on checkout processes and refund management will remain critical.

Going global

Greater risk of fraud didn’t stop businesses from embracing their new-found digital capacities while physical stores were closed though. Many have ventured into international territory with the aim sharing their services with other countries around the world.

This year, focusing on high-growth markets such as India, Brazil, Russia, and China will be hugely beneficial for companies looking to operate internationally and we could see cross-border sales continuing to take off in these regions. South-East Asia and Latin America have some of the greatest potential for digital commerce growth and I would urge those operating across borders to consider offering services there.

Key to achieving this is the ability to provide payments services that meet the needs of customers in different localities. Worldline research has found up to 42% of customers are likely to drop off and search for an alternative website if their preferred payment method is not offered at the checkout. Therefore, businesses must integrate with payment networks in different regions to provide locally relevant payment methods.

Yet, the web of complexity is increasing for online merchants, especially for those that want to expand internationally. As such, next year we can expect to see the growing popularity of payment solutions that seamlessly support the international reach of consumers and that enable businesses to integrate with local payment networks, while minimizing the need for local establishments and resources.

In a similar fashion, supply and logistics is becoming more localized. Lockdown measures hugely impacted supply chains around the globe and businesses resorted to new sourcing strategies and business models which will continue to be used this year.

Facing up to the change

2021 will be another extraordinary year for many businesses, as the world begins to find its feet again following COVID-19. Businesses must assess their position in the market and ability to meet the changing needs of customers’ when it comes to preferred commerce and payment methods.

Not only will this be critical when operating in the bustling online space, but it gives them scope to diversify, bringing in new revenue streams as we face the current economic downturn. When used to their full potential, payments will also ensure that companies can continue expanding online and abroad, even if the economy is going through a long K-shaped recovery period.

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