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Re-thinking the Financial Industry

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Re-thinking the Financial Industry 1

Hassan Abdalla speaks with Global Banking and Finance Review on the occasion of winning Best Investment Bank in Egypt 2017.

Hassan Abdalla

Hassan Abdalla

“Finance” has been a core discipline in your life, as a student who studied finance in the late 70s, to a seasoned Professor of Finance since the 90s and a practitioner with a whole career spanning over 3 decades in the financial industry, how do you see the state of the industry back and then?

If I may reflect back and examine the financial industry across the last 3 decades, I think most financiers in my generation would agree that the industry is changing from focusing mainly on the return on equity to focusing on both qualitative and quantitative dimensions beyond numbers. To say the least, you can hardly sustain the same level of growth if you continue with the same business models or the “banking as usual” mode.

We have a dilemma that textbook finance does not comprehensively address real world challenges. Concurrently our real world day-to-day practices do not accommodate the constantly evolving pressures and trends. We have been taught to measure the return on equity and target profit, the single bottom line. Now we are requested to target the triple bottom line. So yes, the financial industry in terms of theory and practice is outdated.

In your opinion, what are the contributing factors that led to this situation? Could the financial crisis be the reason behind this situation?

As a finance veteran, it has always come as a surprise how financial markets never fail to have a crisis almost every decade. Black Mondays, Black Tuesdays, Latin American Debt Crisis, South East Asia crisis, and Saving & Thrifty crisis…etc. It is an industry plagued with crises.

The 2008 financial crisis is a shattering moment that has shaken the foundations of mainstream banking. Notwithstanding the fact that it destabilized the industry to the core, it is more of a symptom of the industry’s falloff rather than a root cause. It is more of an alarming sign urging the financial industry to pause and reconsider its assumptions and its relationship to the whole ecosystem.

What is more compelling is the rise of major developments known as “Megatrends” that are bound to change business fundamentals. Thus apart from the 2008 global financial crisis, the industry has ever since been encountering serious developments that are constantly putting pressures.

For example, the concept of “Sustainability” – a rising trend – has gained traction and is urging governments all over the world to pursue inclusive growth or sustainable development. What is this telling the financial industry?  It is testifying that the grand design was originally not made with the poor and the environment in mind. Suddenly, there is social and environmental risk on the rise urging the revision of mainstream risk management. Banks are in need to run re-evaluation of all types of risks and update them to avoid future crises since the banking risks are no longer the traditional ones we used to know including credit risk, market risk and operational risk.

Sustainability is also telling us that we have to develop new business models to address financial inclusion, funding of SMEs and entrepreneurs as well clean energy, waste recycling and energy efficiency. All this requires conceiving new systems, structures, policies and capacity building techniques.

Shadow banking is another case in point. Informal economies are a tantalizing development. The fact that formal economies failed to accommodate low-income disenfranchised segments left a big amount of wealth outside the financial system. How to get it inside remains to be rethought.

Technology is another megatrend; from “big data” that impact product design to Fintech to Crypto Currencies, these are all rising modalities that urge prompt revision within the industry. IT fraud and electronic crimes remain to be added to the operational risk of banks.

Also topping the list is facing evolving international regulatory and compliance requirements including new risk management techniques and capital adequacy requirements in addition to tighter banking supervision. Compliance cost, data reporting, and necessary IT infrastructure are becoming additional costly mandates. Basle III will add further capital and supervision requirements that will put pressures on banks’ profitability and trigger the risk –return trade- offs.

Banks cannot sustain their profitability unless they undergo a fundamental revision. Every new development is testifying that it is no longer “Banking as Usual”. Many financiers acknowledge this but still few act upon it.

It is important to note that the new trends are destabilizing but not necessarily threatening; if well understood and preempted they could well lead to the revival of the industry and with it create a new round of balanced growth. It is time to take a step back and rethink.

What type of rethinking is necessary if “finance” is to evolve? Which opportunities and challenges does finance bring?

The rethinking is towards bonding with the whole ecosystem not just shareholders; towards creating value rather than only making profit. The nub is to rethink the role of the financial industry in the economy and the society at large. Agile financial institutions can take advantage of the transition, but it is not easy to adapt and evolve. The main issue is how to create value in non-monetary terms and how would this be reflected on banks’ financials. An issue we need to address to enable the transformation.

Egypt has recently been witnessing remarkable economic growth, tell us about its highlights

GDP growth rate reached around 5% in the current fiscal year 2017/18 compared to 4.2% and 3.5% in 2016/2017 and 2015/16 respectively. Also, inflation is taking a downward spiral since its peak in July 2017 reaching 33%, it recorded 17% in January 2018 and is poised to go lower. Foreign exchange reserves hit a record high of USD 42.5BN in February 2018 exceeding the figure recorded before January 2011, and is now covering 8 months of imports. Tourism receipts remarkably surged by 256% in Q1 2017/18 to record USD 2.7BN up from USD 0.8BN a year earlier. In addition, according to the Ministry of Planning (MoP), the construction sector, manufacturing and the extractions sectors grew by 10.7%, 10% and 14% in Q2 2017/18 respectively.

In your view, what are the main drivers of economic growth right now in Egypt?

Current economic growth in Egypt is the function of taking bold and effective reform and regulatory measures on several parallel tracks in a timely manner. This is happening despite the presence of massive challenges. Here, it is important to raise the resilience of the Egyptian economy and its capacity to reboot, when decisions are made right.

Egypt’s successful reform program has played a critical role in stabilizing the economy through liberalization of the exchange rate regime and fiscal consolidation measures, which assertively restored the competitiveness of the economy and encouraged private sector activity, projecting higher investments and job creation in the medium and long term.

Equally important, the Central Bank of Egypt’s (CBE) exchange rate reform has proven to be a “turning point for the economy,” increasing macroeconomic stability and removing most currency restrictions that were earlier replaced to end a chronic dollar shortage that earlier crippled the economy and intimidated investors. Credit rating agencies have applauded the measures and have upgraded the financial outlook to “positive”.

In parallel, the GoE has already commenced a structured approach to overhaul the investment climate believing that a dynamic and strong private sector is an essential prerequisite for growth transformations. The modernized regulatory framework is working its way to alleviate the key bottlenecks that impeded the growth in a relatively short time and create a level playing field for all investors, enhanced competition, greater trade integration, and complete removal of trade barriers along with improved access to finance and land. The government successfully introduced several legislative and regulatory reforms such as the introduction of VAT, Civil Service Law, in addition to investments, and industrial licensing, all of which are likely to boost investment in the approaching period. Recently, the parliament has approved Egypt’s first Bankruptcy Law, the latest in structural developments in the GoE business legal framework and is part of the overall reform efforts to facilitate a healthy business environment for foreign and domestic investors, as well as, local small and medium enterprises as the process of unwinding insolvent companies becomes easier.

In addition, the amendments made to the Capital Markets Law introduce new financial instruments including Sukuks, protect rights of minority shareholders, and lower securities registration fees to encourage SMEs. Broadly speaking, macroeconomic stabilization provides a solid basis for broadening the scope of structural reforms to attract investments, raise the growth potential, and create employment opportunities.

How does the Egyptian government determination to proceed with huge infrastructure projects and huge budget commitments fit in the growth scenario?

Parallel to these structural reforms, economic growth is propelled by ambitious and unconventional Mega Infrastructure Projects that are being implemented with a high degree of dynamism. It is remarkable that these mega-projects run across the whole of Egypt – rather than being Cairo centric- and well leverage its geopolitics and natural resource richness. Some view this as burdensome and should not be addressed at this point of time because they are not Egypt’s priority. In my opinion, they represent the structural base for further sustained inclusive economic growth on the medium and long term. These mega projects will significantly boost job creation.

As a case in point, the headline act for 2018 will be the opening of the Zohr gas field that will help to place Egypt in the league of world’s major energy producers. Also, plans are underway to construct the largest Solar Park in the world in the city of Benban in Upper Egypt. This project will help Egypt tap into its massive potential for solar energy and scale back its use of expensive—and polluting—fossil fuels. The Suez Canal development project aims towards upgrading the infrastructural and industrial capabilities of cities like Port Said, Ismailia, Suez, Ain Sokhna, and Al Tor City in Sinai.

The GoE’s strategy extends to develop the country’s impoverished south along the Red Sea coastline. Golden Triangle is a continuation of a plan that goes further south to cities like Marsa Alam, Safaga, and Qoseir. As the government tries to revive its tourism sector, the cities south of Ain Sokhna all the way down to Marsa Alam can become major tourist destinations. As a new economic zone, envisaging USD 18BN in investments, with the first phase accounting for USD 5.5BN, three-quarters of it private. Infrastructure and utilities projects have been charted out, including a logistics hub to be built behind Safaga Port.

Lately, an agreement was signed between Dubai Ports Worldwide and the Suez Canal Authority to launch the first phase of a marine terminal in Ain Sokna over an area of 30KM which will integrate with Jebel Ali free zone.

Although ambitious and successful, these measures remain within the mainstream. Do you detect any evolution or progressive strides in the Egyptian financial industry over the past period?

Absolutely. Parallel to these impactful structural and regulatory reforms, the financial industry has been experiencing a subtle but a deeply founded overhaul. There is a growing tendency to bring the industry closer to its ecosystem, being more responsive to the needs of the masses, and more focused on inclusive growth and the sustainable development of the country. The financial industry has witnessed a series of regulations that urge the banks to address Financial Inclusion. In my opinion, this counts as a second reform. The first successful round of banking reform (2004-2010) that addressed non-performing loans, consolidated the sector and ensured a competent and solid financial sector that well weathered the global financial crisis and 2 revolutions erupting within couple of years 2011/2013. Now the Egyptian financial industry is experiencing a well-spelled evolution that is felt across several fronts.

The Central Bank of Egypt (CBE) – with the support of the Egyptian government- has ushered a national commitment towards Financial Inclusion. Egypt’s current socio-economic challenges urge addressing SMEs to rebuild and reinforce this vital base. SMEs account for around 80% of GDP and 75% of employment. Today, the number of MSMEs in Egypt exceed 7M with a credit gap of USD 10BN. Currently financial institutions are urged to provide loans to small and medium businesses; new regulations mandate all banks in Egypt to give out 20% of their total loans to SMEs, with 5% interest rate.

In tandem, Egypt has been committed to become a Cashless Society. Regulations have been made in 2016 to launch the mobile payment system, another milestone towards the evolution of the financial industry in Egypt bringing it closer to the populace. Expanding mobile payments will be instrumental in advancing financial inclusion. Mobiles are widely spread in Egypt with a penetration rate 103%, one of the highest in the world. Having a mobile payment platform will revolutionize the industry and further deepen its role in achieving inclusive growth. This national determination has found expression in the establishment of the National Payment Council personally presided by the Egyptian President.

The dynamic evolution of the financial industry in Egypt is one of high pace.  It is challenging banks to cope and revise policies and practices. But it is definitely healthy.

How Does AAIB fit in this dynamic landscape?

There is a seamless fit. AAIB’s distinction lies in its dual feature; a legacy of solid corporate and investment banking tradition that spans over half a century coupled with a progressive and innovative drive. AAIB has a record of accomplishments as an industry trendsetter. Along this spectrum, we have been committed to meaningful and impactful business to help create value to all stakeholders. The bank’s human resources are agile, proactive, and well trained to read the future and move ahead. The current economic dynamism in Egypt certainly avails a precious opportunity for the bank to sustain its growth and contribute to the economic growth of both Egypt and the region.

In what ways does AAIB’s investment banking expertise assist international businesses interested in investing in Egypt? What are AAIB’s plans for continued growth, investment and further strengthening the foundations of the bank?

AAIB has solid credentials as an investment and corporate bank leveraging a comprehensive financial platform to support its international clients with integrated solutions. The bank has both commercial and investment arms and is fully equipped to act as a trusted advisor providing complex solutions that sharply address our clients’ specific needs and challenges. We guide clients to grow in the right direction.

Another advantage is leveraging a financial group providing consolidated investment and financial services including asset management, brokerage, leasing and mortgage finance. Along with our strong regional presence, we are right on track maintaining our distinction and realizing our vision to become the gateway of international business into the region.

There is much AAIB can do to build on current economic growth especially that we already have a strong client base in emerging Gulf markets including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman and Qatar.

There are huge prospects for our business progress especially that Egypt expects private investments to take the chief role in driving economic growth this year. Private investments are projected to contribute 60% of economic growth in the current fiscal year, compared to 48% last year. FDIs are also projected to respond positively as well by increasing significantly over the medium term due to the higher certainty and clarity regarding the foreign exchange policy paired with the new Investment Law and the CBE’s decision to lower interest rates. FDI inflows reached $8.7BN during the 2016- 2017 fiscal year, up 26% when compared to the $6.9BN in the previous fiscal year.

How is AAIB helping support SME’s and their growth?

The bank has been a forerunner in developing its business to attend social and environmental dimensions. Despite our tradition focus on large corporates, AAIB has been agile in expanding its client base, moving to the Middle Market segment for loan portfolio diversification and the base for creating new revenue streams and uncontested segments.

Moreover, the bank will be further downscaling by tapping the bottom of the economic pyramid. AAIB aims to serve the micro entrepreneurs segment through a dedicated Micro Finance subsidiary, Sandah, in partnership with excellent partners- KfW GmbH and Sanad Fund respectively. Effectively speaking, Sandah will start operations this April 2018. Sandah is planning to leverage on its wide branch capillarity, advanced digital capabilities, and its human resources, which are trained to address the growing needs of its diverse client base.

AAIB has its fingerprint in boosting Egypt’s economy especially in Energy sector and Renewables. The bank has succeeded in financing the World largest Solar Park in Egypt in its first stage in Benban city in Aswan.

How has technology and the move to cashless society transaction impacted the way you do business?

With increased adoption of digital channels, the role of the branch is undergoing a change from a transaction-based entity to customer advisory one, which will significantly curb operational overheads.

As we speak, AAIB is currently upgrading its Core Banking System and replacing its legacy systems to drive agility and efficiency to its clientele. Forward looking, the adoption of financial technology applications (Fintech) and Mobile Banking will allow customers to transfer money without the need to go to channels.

Which unique products and services were created as a direct response to the needs and desires of the clients?

AAIB has a reputation among its clients of its proven ability to innovate and customize products. The bank boosts distinguished calibers who are well groomed to provide tailor- made solutions customized to our clients’ needs across different sectors. Our corporate portfolio services include mergers and acquisitions, advising on equity placements, feasibility studies, valuations, escrow arrangements, agency services and raising finance through syndicated loan market. In addition, AAIB has a leading role in the debt capital market products such as securitization bonds and corporate bonds that assist in promoting various instruments and diversifying the Egyptian market’s sources of finance.

But I always say product distinction does not last as they get replicated easily. The true distinction materializes at the relationship level and this is very proprietary and cannot be replicated easy.

Still our edge lies in the “powerful synergies” that are inherent in the bank’s lines of business, locally and regionally as a Financial Group and corporate legacy of distinguished performance and international exposure for over 50 years. Moreover, the Gulf region provides a solid geographical base for expanding in investment services, especially that AAIB is the first private sector bank to establish presence in the Gulf region (Dubai, Abu Dhabi) in the early 1970s. AAIB is a true partner to its clients. We never let go during times of uncertainty.

AAIB is known for its strong commitment to Sustainable Finance. Can you tell us more about it?

AAIB has been a forerunner in rethinking finance. We have realized the inherent connection between economic growth and social, environmental and governance concerns early on since 2003. The starting point was our commitment to achieve growth, so we started a decade ago but it is a tedious process.

Ever since, we have been committed to advance sustainable finance in Egypt and the region. We have constantly been endeavoring to ensure that our business integrate the ESG into its operations. This entailed several measures to revise our business to include environmental and social dimensions. AAIB has been the first in Egypt to join the UN Global Compact in 2005 and the Equator Principles in 2009 to become the first bank to introduce social and environmental risk management in its credit operations. The bank also joined the UNEP FI in 2017. We have also been a forerunner in issuing our Sustainability Report based on the GRI guidelines.

We are also committed to become a driving force to create an industry move on both the regional and global level towards enacting sustainable finance. Our ambition goes beyond the bank to advance an industry movement within the Egyptian banking sector and that of the region towards sustainable finance by launching MOSTADAM; the first platform in Egypt and the MENA region to enact and promote sustainable finance through capacity building, policy advocacy, and promoting sustainable products and services. MOSTADAM is a joint effort between AAIB, the United Nations Development Program, and the Egyptian Corporate Responsibility Center. To date MOSTADAM, has secured the engagement of 60% of the Egyptian financial sector. In 2016, it achieved a partnership with Frankfurt School of Finance and Management to provide two certified programs in SMEs Finance as well Climate and Renewable Energy Finance grooming a new generation of bankers with a new mindset capable of achieving balanced growth.

It is redeeming to see our consistent efforts bearing fruit on the industry level. It feels good to witness the transformation of the Egyptian financial industry driven by all stakeholders.

Interviews

Round Table Feature – Attracting FDI at times of crisis

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Round Table Feature – Attracting FDI at times of crisis 2

In recent years the growth of Northern Ireland’s financial services sector has been fuelled by an unbeatable combination of world-class talent, highly competitive operating costs and research excellence in a low-risk, pro-business environment.

Of course, like many economies across the globe, the COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact on Northern Ireland’s communities and many of its businesses. But, thanks to this quality combination, the sector has demonstrated remarkable resilience and continued to thrive, leading to sustained job creation and high-profile customer wins from some of its leading players, including Allstate, Citi and Aflac.

To examine the patterns behind this continued growth in the face of adversity, we recently hosted a ‘virtual roundtable’ with senior figures from established businesses across Northern Ireland’s financial services sector alongside the nation’s fintech envoy, Andrew Jenkins and Invest Northern Ireland’s Steve Harper.

Here, our panel explored the market qualities investing financial services companies look for and discussed the elements they believe a business should invest in to build resilience and as an in-market team during challenging times.

Meet the panel

John Healy – Vice President & Managing Director, Allstate Northern Ireland: John leads Allstate NI’s team of 2,200 experts. He has 25 years’ experience in technology, predominantly in the financial services domain. He has extensive experience at leading global teams, developing strategy and delivering solutions to address business and technology issues.

Keith Farley – Managing Director, Aflac Northern Ireland Ltd: Keith is responsible for setting up Aflac’s European Centre of Excellence. He has relocated to Belfast, UK and is creating a new organization that will offer both software development and cyber security solutions. With a goal of growing from 0 to 150 professionals in a few years, this team will be a critical part of Aflac’s global digital strategy.

Leigh Meyer – Head of Global FX/MM & EMEA Markets Operations Belfast Site Head Citibank: Leigh has worked for Citi for 22 years, covering a number of products from derivatives to FX.  He is also the Northern Ireland Chair for TheCityUK, a private-sector membership body and industry advocacy group promoting the financial and related professional services industry of the United Kingdom.

Darragh McCarthy –Founder and CEO, FinTrU. In 2013, after many years in the banking industry in London, New York and Frankfurt, Darragh founded FinTrU in Belfast having recognised the increased demand from global investment banks for high-quality resources to navigate the ever-increasing regulatory landscape. The company employs over 600 people in Belfast and Derry-Londonderry. 

Steve Harper, Executive Director International Invest Northern Ireland Steve’s role at Invest NI, the region’s main development organisation, is to promote trade and inward investment into the area.

Q&A

What has been your experience as a financial services business operating in Northern Ireland during COVID-19?

Leigh Meyer, Citi NI: As a global company we have been fortunate to have the technology infrastructure to move almost our entire workforce to work from home successfully with little change to our day to day operations. In Northern Ireland, this means we continue to hire, and have successfully on boarded 172 new employees to Citi Belfast virtually over the last four months. The result has been that our client support was largely uninterrupted and continued to give our fullest care and attention in very tough times.

Keith Farley, Aflac NI: As a technology company, we have been very fortunate to have 100% of staff work remotely with minimal disruption. We were also able to continue hiring during the pandemic – more than doubling the size of our team from 19 employees in March to 50 in August.

Darragh McCarthy  FinTrU: Likewise. We made the decision in early March to facilitate 100% of our employees to begin working from home. The infrastructure in Northern Ireland has allowed us to manage this transition smoothly and maintain our productivity with client delivery.

What initially attracted you to Northern Ireland as a destination for your business?

Keith Farley, Aflac NI: We were attracted to Northern Ireland for many reasons, but it really boiled down to three words we have painted on our wall: Resilient, Reinventive and Adaptable. While these words reference the long history Belfast and the nation have in agility, they were proven once again proven during this pandemic.

John Healy OBE, Allstate NI: The availability of skilled technologists was the main reason for setting up an off-shore location in Northern Ireland over 20 years ago.  The original plan was to create a workforce of 200 but the quality of the people and skills available has meant that we have grown to a multi-site operation with 2,400 employees in Belfast and the North West.

Leigh Meyer, Citi NI: Put simply, its value proposition. Northern Ireland offers skilled people, competitive costs, great infrastructure and high standard of living, all with close proximity to London, the European, Middle East and Africa region. The nation also benefits from a central time zone ideal for supporting Asia, North and South America.

Darragh McCarthy, FinTrU: In Northern Ireland, there is an incredible opportunity to partner with leading academic institutions including Queen’s University Belfast, Ulster University, Belfast Metropolitan College and North West Regional College.

FinTrU has undoubtedly benefited from these mutual partnerships with our Financial Services and Legal Academies providing local graduates with the opportunity to work on the global stage with the largest Investment Banks in the world.

How can regions support businesses to be more resilient during crises like the pandemic?

Leigh Meyer, Citi NI: Regions can help ensure that the infrastructure is robust, scalable and fit for purpose – this applies to both physical and technical infrastructure. It is also essential that policy makers give clear guidance on what health and safety measures they require, to boost the confidence of people travelling to and from work and in their everyday lives.

Keith Farley, Aflac NI: We believe that investments in infrastructure continue to be critical, especially urban and rural internet connectivity as we shift to more flexible work environments.

Darragh McCarthy, FinTrU: In terms of the Financial Services industry, I feel crisis management and leadership is crucial. Having a clear strategy in place from the top can help alleviate the anxieties that others will face during a period of crisis. Regions can help businesses to be further resilient through investment in appropriate infrastructure to allow for the transition from office to homeworking in all areas across Northern Ireland.

What have external organisations (like Invest NI) been able to offer in terms of support?

Keith Farley, Aflac NI: Invest NI has been a great partner in introducing us to the region and the opportunities that exist here to hire world-class technology talent in a business-friendly environment.

Leigh Meyer, Citi NI: We have been in touch with our Client Manager throughout the pandemic. Invest NI has supported Citi from 2005, starting with the initial inward investment feasibility study and financial assistance to help expand the workforce in Belfast and training and development costs. We are also engaged with the NI Chamber of Commerce, CBI NI, Belfast City Council and universities and schools for exchange of ideas, support, driving the business agenda for the country.

Steve Harper, Invest Northern Ireland: We have worked hard to ensure that all businesses benefit from being part of Northern Ireland’s diverse economy, embedded resilience and agility. Even during the height of the pandemic, we were able to work closely with the Department of Finance and the Business Services Organisation to help match NI companies with government calls for much needed medical equipment and PPE. We received over 300 offers from businesses who expressed interest in supporting the fight against COVID-19 by developing prototypes and products for testing to ensure they comply with regulations. Many then went on to receive orders for PPE, ventilators, testing and sanitiser.

Darragh McCarthy, FinTrU: We made the decision to not avail of any COVID-19 Governmental sponsored support initiatives or furlough any employees due to our ongoing growth. However, the resources provided by Invest NI such as the ‘Recover’ support which include ‘HR advice to build skills’, ‘Build resilience through leadership capability’, ‘Invest in ICT solutions and technologies’ and ‘Operation excellence to adapt to COVID-19’ demonstrates its commitment to the companies that have invested in Northern Ireland.

Coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, what do you think are the challenges and opportunities facing the financial services sector?

Keith Farley, Aflac NI: We are going to need to work together with employees to ensure they feel safe traveling to work, knowing that their safety is a priority, but also that people want to return to a city that is open for business. We also need to learn from the pandemic to make our work environment safer, more inclusive and flexible. As a community, we recognised the impact we have on each other, as well as the importance of human interaction. We should not take that for granted again.

Steve Harper, Invest Northern Ireland: The resilience and agility demonstrated by businesses in the local financial services sector – and beyond – throughout the crisis really sets our region apart as a positive force and a lucrative location for business. This couldn’t have been achieved without its diverse business landscape, supportive environment, and of course, its excellent calibre of people. As we move forward, I strongly believe that this experience has unleashed a renewed sense of purpose and a collaborative and enterprising spirit that will serve us well as we recover and look forward – and these are qualities that this new world absolutely needs.

Darragh McCarthy, FinTrU: Social distancing and remote working from home can leave people feeling isolated, especially those who are away from their families. At FinTrU, we invest heavily in our company culture and pay careful attention to ensure that it is not lost whilst we are working away from the office. It is important for businesses to consider the challenges faced by their people and to have empathy towards situations that may be experienced by others.

What do you think financial services organisations will look for going forward, when it comes to investing in new markets?

John Healy, Allstate NI: The financial services industry has seen dramatic technology-led changes over the past few years. Many have looked to improve efficiency and implement game-changing innovation, while seeking ways to lower costs. Meanwhile, Fintech start-ups are disrupting established markets, leading with customer-centric solutions developed from the ground up. To best serve our industry, markets will need highly skilled technologists in a range of areas: Blockchain, Robotics, AI, Cloud and Cyber Security, to name but a few. There must be collaboration between government, education and industry to prepare and sustain the skills that are required now and in the future.

Steve Harper, Invest Northern Ireland: Quality digital connectivity has proven essential during the crisis, and, as our lives move increasingly online, for these organisations it will become as critical to economic sustainability and growth as water and electricity are to our everyday lives today. Wherever you go around the world, those places that have invested in solid digital foundations have, in most cases, proven to be the most resilient. This is because digital services and solutions underpin innovation and productivity, as well as businesses’ ability to scale.

Leigh Meyer, Citi NI: Finance businesses value the ability to relocate staff effectively, source new talent and offer rewarding careers. We look closely at the broader legal, regulatory and tax regime. The UK’s operating environment needs to remain competitive, not least as the Brexit transition phase comes to an end. A robust infrastructure is also important, particularity digital/tech infrastructure in this current climate as we evolve our methods of training our employees to virtual. 

Darragh McCarthy, FinTrU: Without the correct infrastructure, it would not have been possible for businesses such as FinTrU to adapt to a situation like COVID-19. This robust connectivity and investment in technology will be a very important consideration for any company when investing in a new market. However, risk and cybersecurity represent an important area for Financial Services organisations to consider. This industry is more reliant than ever on technology, and a lack of risk management or compliance can cost an organisation greatly.

Finally, I feel the most important consideration for a company when it comes to investing in a new market is the people. The talented workforce will make up your organisation in terms of the client delivery as well as shaping the company culture.

ENDS

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Is the upskilling of compliance teams in financial services the key to delivering fast and effective identity verification?

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Is the upskilling of compliance teams in financial services the key to delivering fast and effective identity verification? 3

By Charlie Roberts, Head of Business Development, UK, Ireland & EU at IDnow

With the global pandemic driving the world’s population online, identity fraud is becoming increasingly attractive to criminals. In 2019, even before COVID-19 struck, the UK fraud prevention service – Cifas – recorded in excess of 223,000 cases on its National Fraud Database, an increase of 18 percent on the previous year and a 32 percent rise over the previous five years. And looking ahead, experts predict that by 2021, the damage caused by internet fraud will reach $6 trillion, making cyber fraud one of the world’s fastest growing and most dangerous economic crimes.

Of particular concern for the financial services sector, is IBM’s recent report which revealed that in 2019, it was the most targeted industry for cyber criminals.

As a result, perhaps unsurprisingly, financial institutions are increasingly being thrust into the spotlight when it comes to digital security and protecting the identities of their customers.

These worrying figures are certainly one driving factor in the UK government’s new Digital Identity Strategy Board, which has developed six principles to strengthen digital identity delivery and policy in the country.

So how can financial institutions tackle the growing problem of cyber crime? We caught up with Charlie Roberts, Head of Business Development UK&I at IDnow, to talk about the importance of upskilling inhouse teams in a bid to deliver fast and effective identity verification.

What is the benefit of taking a hybrid approach to identity verification?

Charlie Roberts

Charlie Roberts

We already know the important role technology is playing in the fight against cyber criminality – from biometrics and machine learning to artificial intelligence (AI) – and we recently discussed the significance of supplementing this verification technology with human identification experts. These professionals are able to use their intuition and understanding of human interactions and behaviours to identify when a person is being coerced or dishonest.

However, while these highly skilled and trained identification specialists are playing a vital role in the fight against cyber and identity crime, for some financial institutions, particularly larger banks, they present a barrier.

How will owning the entire verification process benefit financial institutions?

Working on a SaaS basis, typically, identity software vendors provide financial institutions with the software and technology required for identity verification however, the final decision on verification rests with the vendor’s algorithms or ident specialists.

However, many banks want to own the entire verification process, from utilising the technology and software to making the ultimate decision on the identity of a person. By handing this level of control over to the bank, institutions can integrate the verification systems within their own infrastructure, enabling the people that know their brand the best to set their own levels of security and determine what is authenticated and what is declined.

Why should banks consider upskilling inhouse compliance teams?

While working with a third-party verification specialist is the preferred option for some, for others, the idea of upskilling and training existing compliance teams in identity verification is the priority, empowering the bank to own the process and the risk. Long term, it will also provide significant cost savings while showcasing a major investment in talent and people, which will undoubtedly help attract and retain customers too.

Is the time right to invest in inhouse identity verification systems?

With the UK seeking to develop a legal framework for digital identity, it is clearly becoming an increasingly important feature on the governmental agenda, not least to ensure that not only can people feel safe online, but also to deliver faster transactions and ultimately add billions to the economy. As such, all eyes will soon be turning to the safeguards the financial sector is putting in place to help protect the online identities of customers.

Arguably then, now is the time to invest in a robust identity verification system that will not only provide the advanced technology needed to automate the process, but that can help train and upskill inhouse teams to truly deliver an embedded and hybrid approach to identity verification at a time when it is of paramount importance.

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ZeroBounce COO Brian Minick Talks Email Marketing and Deliverability

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ZeroBounce COO Brian Minick Talks Email Marketing and Deliverability 4

For a channel that’s been deemed “dead” by some, email marketing is doing more than well. You can expect an average return of $42 for every dollar you invest. But what does it take to achieve such a high performance?

In this exclusive interview, ZeroBounce Chief Operating Officer Brian Minick breaks down the main ingredients of successful email campaigns. With more than 10 years of experience in Operations, Minick and his team are currently helping thousands of email senders across the world land in the inbox. Let’s see what he has to say about improving inbox placement, engagement, and email marketing ROI.

What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in email marketing this year?  

So many facets of the economy and the world have slowed down drastically or even stalled completely, but one thing showing no sign of stopping is email marketing. Email marketing is doing better than ever, but there are also new challenges that go along with this year.

Email engagement has gone up 200 percent since the pandemic hit. With everything being pushed online, it makes sense that businesses and people are heavily relying on email.

However, that’s not to say email marketing hasn’t suffered in other ways. There has been a massive increase in what we refer to in the industry as “churn.” Many were laid off or placed on leave. With their email addresses removed or abandoned, this has resulted in a rapid decline in email list quality.

Those bouncing emails lead to lost opportunities if companies don’t validate their lists regularly. Especially for the B2B sector, taking measures to restore email hygiene is paramount during these months.

How has ZeroBounce adapted to these changes to stay relevant in the market? 

For starters, we can easily help senders identify the bad email addresses once they get turned off. It’s important for many reasons, and one is to make sure you’re reaching real people.

Apart from that, we recognized our customers needed more tools to make their email marketing successful. So, this year, we launched three deliverability tools: a mail server tester, blacklist monitoring and an inbox placement tester. They all help marketers detect potential issues before they send, so they can increase their chances of landing in the inbox.

It’s a crazy time for all businesses and as the needs change, ZeroBounce likes to stay one step ahead.

From your experience talking to customers, what are the main challenges they have? How do they overcome them? 

Brian Minick

Brian Minick

Most of them have old databases that need cleaning. They may have an email list that has been dormant or neglected, and it causes bounces and spam complaints.

Sending newsletters or promotions to an outdated list is not a good idea. It jeopardizes the deliverability of emails to every person on the list, even the valid contacts. We help them get rid of the bad, ineffective and fake email addresses. Thus they can communicate more efficiently, boost their brand awareness, and increase ROI.

So many things go into creating a successful email campaign. What would you say are the most important ones? 

It’s so important to have a list made up of people who double opted in because you know they want to be there. Just as important is making sure all of your email addresses have been verified. These things ensure the greatest chance of arriving in the inbox.

But showing up, and doing so consistently, is only one part of it. You also need great subject lines. Your subject line is the first thing people see and it has a dramatic impact on your open rates.

Finally, well-written, relatable copy and a great call-to-action can push you across the finish line.

What type of content do you think brands should send out during these difficult months? 

It’s a tough time for so many. Brands have had to adapt their messaging and tone of voice, and those that didn’t have seen a decrease in engagement. People are less likely to respond to hard sell pitches right now. So, they key is to create content that shows genuine empathy – whether that content is for email, social media or other channels you use.

Keep in mind that everyone has felt these months, and some more than others. Show you’re there for people in a meaningful way.

Please give us one “trick” anyone can use in their email marketing today and see immediate results. 

Come up with two great options and then use A/B testing. Go with the one that works better!

What can you imagine in the future of email? 

With email growing in every way, and all indications showing no sign of slowing down, I see it getting even harder to land in the inbox. And if and when you do, every one of your emails will be competing with so many others.

Marketers are constantly refining their tactics and fine-tuning personalization to deliver the most relevant content, to the right person, at the right time. The competition will be even more intense, and that’s a good thing: it forces us all to get better.

What would you say to those struggling to keep their businesses afloat right now? 

Email marketing costs you very little, but has a great ROI. Keep on pushing and sooner or later you will find success. It is one of the most affordable ways to get in front of millions of people. If you aren’t using email to its fullest potential, don’t think about the time that has passed. Think of all the opportunities ahead of you.

It’s not too late. In fact, in many ways, it’s just starting.

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