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SARMENT launches digital luxury platform

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SARMENT launches digital luxury platform
  • Sarment launches a luxury lifestyle ecosystem targeted at high-net-worth individuals
  • The proprietary digital platform is enhanced by artificial intelligence
  • It raised C$19million (£11.3m) in IPO on TSX Venture Exchange in August 2018

Sarment has launched its digital platform for high-net-worth patrons to access an international network of luxury brands and premium personal services.

This luxury world, which combines a marketplace that offers rare and fine products with a carefully-curated array of exclusive experiences, is delivered via an app to users’ mobile phones. The offerings are refined by the company’s team of experts across all the lifestyle categories including restaurants, fine wines and spirits, bars, events, fashion, health and wellness, art and culture, hotels, travel and more.

Designed as a secure, personal portal to the luxury world, the mobile app aggregates all the different facets of the luxury lifestyle into a single ecosystem providing three pillars of access to the user: specialist content, purchasing ability and reservation opportunities. Depending on the access tier chosen, the user will be able to browse content crafted by Sarment’s lifestyle ambassadors, buy top-drawer products not easily available elsewhere, and unlock privileged experiences.

Users will not only be able to secure coveted tables at fine restaurants, they will also get to select more exclusive appointments such as a test drive of the latest sports car, a private tour of an art exhibition, or even a bespoke stylist session at a fashion atelier – all at the touch of a button. They will also be able to access Sarment’s team of ambassadors who are all well-versed in their chosen fields of luxury expertise, making the app a first-of-its-kind mobile companion for today’s discerning consumer.

Sarment just raised C$19million (£11.3m)in its initial public offering on the TSX Venture Exchange. The proceeds will be used to fund the luxury lifestyle service provider’s technological development and geographical expansion.

Chief executive Quentin Chiarugi says: “While we have always offered our clientele both fine products and personal services, we had reached a point where we could only handle so many in-person interactions given the very high service standards we wanted to maintain. Going digital and automating as much of the interaction process as possible has enabled Sarment to scale our business model to meet the growing demand in the luxury industry.”

Paolo Bulgari, one of Sarment’s key shareholders and honorary chairman, is convinced by this strategy. The chairman of Bulgari Spa says: “Sarment has the right approach as a contemporary company in the luxury industry. By integrating technology with innovative services, it is getting the industry to evolve in the right direction. Personal services are essential for today’s customers and Sarment is doing the correct thing by focusing on the experience around the consumption of luxury goods. I believe this approach is an important part of the future of the luxury industry.” Prior to its listing, Sarment was the only non-listed company that Mr Bulgari ever invested in personally.

The company was founded in 2012 by entrepreneur Bertrand Faure Beaulieu providing “art de la table” products and services to both private individuals and enterprises active in the luxury community. It quickly evolved into a broader lifestyle service provider offering premium experiences to its expanding base of affluent clients in Singapore, Hong Kong SAR, Shanghai, Beijing, Tokyo, London and Paris. Over the past six years, Sarment has specially selected luxury products and services sourced from 1,100 partners across multiple luxury genres made accessible to over 3,400 users.

It started investing into artificial intelligence technology in 2016 and is currently rolling out its digital offerings across the major Asian markets. It aims to expand into the North American and European markets in the coming year.

This proprietary artificial intelligence system is constantly learning about each individual’s preferences and behaviour, evolving the platform to be more personal to each user with every interaction.

The digital platform has allowed the company to adopt a B2B2C model focusing on growing the business through enterprise clients rather than individuals. This has enabled Sarment to overcome the scalability issue in the industry which all luxury players face. These corporates include banks, private members clubs and luxury brands. Providing the mobile app to these enterprises that want to offer their customers entry to the luxury world, Sarment is able to grow its luxury ecosystem by thousands of users at a go.

Mr Chiarugi explains: “Since we position ourselves as a provider of products and services for these high-net-worth individuals, it makes sense to work with enterprises which have already acquired these consumers. This model allows us to reach a broader base of high-net-worth individuals at a much faster pace avoiding substantial client acquisition costs.”

Sarment’s technology also collects valuable big data from users’ interaction on the app, giving enterprises a back-end customer management system to use as an effective customer engagement and retention tool.

Says Mr Chiarugi: “With our platform, we knew we had an incredible opportunity to collect dynamic data never collected before to this extent in the luxury industry. Sarment’s proprietary artificial intelligence-enhanced system is the first in the luxury world allowing for the collection of dynamic and contextual data from the elusive high-net-worth individual segment.”

Since starting development of its digital platform last year, Sarment has already partnered with one of Southeast Asia’s largest banks among other corporate clients. While giving the bank’s gated community access to Sarment’s ecosystem of premium products and luxury experiences, these corporates will also use the system’s smart technology to understand its clientele better and provide a more personal approach for each individual.

In February 2018, Sarment was ranked Asia’s fastest growing luxury company by the Financial Times in its inaugural FT 1000 High-Growth Companies Asia-Pacific list. It came in at number 54 – the top-ranked luxury company – in the list of 1,000 companies across Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia Indonesia, the Philippines, India, Australia and New Zealand.

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The Bank of England partners with Appvia to assist in the design, construction and assurance of a new cloud environment

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The Bank of England partners with Appvia to assist in the design, construction and assurance of a new cloud environment 1

The Bank of England has appointed self-service cloud-native delivery platform Appvia to support the creation of a new cloud environment.

The announcement follows a public procurement process which commenced in January 2020. The Bank of England will work with Appvia on design, construction and assurance of a modern, fit for purpose cloud environment.

During the two-year partnership, Appvia will be supporting development and project teams within the Bank in testing and deploying code in cloud environments, working with security teams to integrate the cloud into existing operational and security processes; and implementing information governance compliance so staff are able to collaborate safely and securely.

Oliver Tweedie, Head of Digital Platforms at the Bank of England, said, “We have selected Appvia as our Cloud Delivery Partner to help us realise the Bank’s cloud ambitions and unlock the potential of the Cloud. Appvia come with a great pedigree and a wealth of experience delivering Cloud services within government.  Working in collaboration with Bank Technology teams, Appvia will help us shape and build the future of Cloud services across our organisation – a key part of our Technology strategy.”

Jon Shanks, CEO and Co-Founder of Appvia, said, “This is an exciting opportunity to work with the Bank as it undergoes a step-change in its approach to the cloud. Harnessing innovative cloud solutions, such as containers and Kubernetes is a real business enabler for the Bank to streamline the software development lifecycle, ways of working and cloud operating model. We look forward to working with all stakeholders at the Bank of England to support its digital transformation journey.”

Appvia, which counts the Home Office among its major clients, is a self-service platform that enables organisations to scale their infrastructure quickly, securely and easily using services such as Kubernetes. In September, Appvia launched the world’s first developer-centric tool to enable teams to predict and control cloud costs.

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Solving the Challenges of the Modern Retail Industry with SD-WAN

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Solving the Challenges of the Modern Retail Industry with SD-WAN 2

Three key benefits of SD-WAN can help retailers solve new and old challenges and prepare for an uncertain future

By John Tait, Global Managing Director, TNS Payments Market

As customer needs and preferences change, and as technologies disrupt formerly effective strategies, retailers are confronted by continuous challenges in the modern era.

But no year has been quite like 2020. Mandates ordering the public to stay at home crippled foot traffic earlier this year and, even when physical stores were able to open, social-distancing measures have limited the numbers of customers permitted indoors, while fears of the virus have driven others away.

With new and old challenges impacting the industry, it’s time to think differently. Retailers need to look closely at how technology can support their operations and their customers, secure customer payments and business data, and help them adopt the digital strategies that will be vital in an uncertain future.

One network technology, software-defined wide-area networking (SD-WAN), can offer a host of benefits for retail businessesAt its core, SD-WAN is a way of simplifying the management and operation of a network by decoupling the networking hardware from the way it is controlled. This gives a business the ability to manage network traffic to and from data centres and retail sites or offices, which alleviates network congestion and keeps the network from becoming overloaded. It can be layered on top of any connectivity solution to securely connect users with applications, including apps in the cloud.

But that’s not all it is. Here’s how it can help retailers navigate an ever-changing business and economic climate.

It can support new strategies and modernises operations

Many retailers will have heard the term ‘digital transformation’ and their stores may even be working towards it. The basic premise is that all businesses can boost their overall agility, flexibility, and customer service experience by adopting digital initiatives and technology-based strategies.

For retailers, this can mean creating online storefronts to connect with customers, instead of face-to-face interactions, with cloud-supported e-commerce options and curb-side pick-up options for pandemic-friendly buying experiences. Alternatively, it could mean adding chatbots and customer data management solutions to a website for ways to support customers with a leaner staff. Or implementing contactless mobile payment options for the first time, supported by secure, high-speed connectivity. It can even be as simple as adding a separate Wi-Fi network for customers to use then they’re in a store.

The possibilities for digital transformation are practically endless within the retail space — it all comes down to how daring retailers want to be and how much tech they want to add. But even the more accessible parts of digital transformation incorporate devices and apps that can strain traditional networks and add new levels of complexity around network management. Even simply adding digital displays to stream promotional videos in a store can stretch a network’s bandwidth.

That’s where SD-WAN can come in. Because it can improve network uptime, performance and redundancy, it gives a business the ability to support new strategies and add the latest cloud-based apps while also prioritising business-critical applications like payments. In other words, retailers don’t have to worry that their payments terminal might slow or go down just because they’ve added in-store digital features that also require connectivity, such as customer-facing tablets that let them place orders or view different options, or customer Wi-Fi.

For shops that have shifted to more of an e-commerce/delivery/pick-up strategy, SD-WAN supports secure digital payments while connecting an inventory management system to a payments system and online/mobile ordering portal, so customers can have a smooth experience, and their data remains protected.

It helps retailers embrace and secure the cloud

The cloud is a big part of digital transformation. Retailers’ own operations, like their databases or servers, might not yet be based in the cloud, but they almost certainly use services that are. Tools such as Office 365 and Google Drive, or payments apps like Square are all cloud-based.

Even if retailers aren’t there yet, their vendors are most likely going to push them there. Plus, cloud isn’t just good for the vendors they use; it’s good for retail businesses, too. Many of the aforementioned digital services like e-commerce and chatbots need the cloud to run optimally.  Once they’re in the cloud, retail organisation will have a world of possibilities, but to adopt cloud, they need to solve any connectivity issues they may have.

While cloud services allow business-critical applications to be accessed from anywhere, it does add security concerns. A recent IDG survey found 98% of businesses surveyed said securing applications, data and infrastructure in the cloud is “very” or “somewhat” challenging. Almost all of the organisations that IDG surveyed (95%) feel that their current security infrastructure hinders their ability to protect data — including payments data — as it moves to and from the cloud.

SD-WAN allows retailers to lock down cloud access at a branch or location by securing direct access to the public cloud and software-as-a-service (SaaS) apps like Office 365. SD-WAN also adds the ability to boost capacity during times of high network traffic, or failover to a broadband or LTE network. Retailers can quickly deploy new cloud-based apps with secure, reliable internet connectivity.

It boosts security, including customer payments security

SD-WAN allows retailers to deliver alternative payment options such as self-service kiosks and mobile POS. For example, outdoor terminals can be used for restaurants serving patio diners, or tablets that allow staff to check out shoppers from anywhere in a store.

This flexibility regarding where and how payments can be processed is ideal for the consumer, but it can create cybersecurity risks because of more devices and more points of interaction to and from apps or internet breakout. No retailer wants to be featured in the next headline about data breaches or other cyberattacks. This means properly security controls, especially for payments, are critical.

SD-WAN gives retailers a way to securely connect all types of payments options — POS terminals, cash registers, e-commerce gateways, mobile devices, automated fuel dispenser (AFD) pay-at-the-pump systems and more, as well as any other devices and networks within a retail environment.

SD-WAN can also protect sensitive card data. Retailers should opt for best-in-class security protocols like next-generation stateful firewalls (NGFW) (including IPSEC VPN tunnels), anti-virus features, URL filtering and SSL packet inspection. Regulatory compliance with PCI DSS security credentials is, of course, also critical within a retail environment, and some SD-WAN solutions available today have been designed to incorporate PCI DSS requirements.

While SD-WAN does offer an upgraded, secure technology that can bolt on to another connectivity layer and reduce the complexity of network management, retailers that don’t have in-house IT staff may still be challenged to successfully implement one. Fully managed solutions remove the hands-on work while giving a business access to all of an SD-WAN’s capabilities. They also add an extra layer of security: with a provider actively monitoring threats and keeping an eye on the network peripherals — all the data going back and forth, and what devices are using them — retailers can keep their network, and their customers’ card data, locked down.

Solving existing and future Challenges

This year has challenging in many ways and surprises are likely to continue for the next year or so. This uncertain new reality is understandably unsettling for many retailers, but it’s also an opportunity to rethink the way they do business to ensure long-term survival and drive growth, even in a volatile environment.

Implementing an SD-WAN solution can help retailers support digital initiatives and new strategies, deploy and secure modern cloud applications, and secure payments data. With the option of a managed service provider behind the SD-WAN, stores can focus on boosting the customer experience and modernising retail operations instead of managing payments terminals or troubleshooting a network. This will save time and money at a time when everyone needs more of both.

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The case for AI technology adoption in financial back-office roles to improve efficiency

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The case for AI technology adoption in financial back-office roles to improve efficiency 3

By Tomas Gogar, AI CEO, Rossum

In this era, digital transformation isn’t anything new. Nonetheless, it can still cause a lot of confusion and resistance for some companies, many of which are often slow, unwilling or unable to implement the necessary changes to embrace technology. As a result, entire industries are barely scratching the surface when it comes to shifting to the digital world, and many, from the insurance industry to logistics and delivery are still catching up on the digital transformation.

The banking and financial sector have been notoriously slow in adapting to the online world. They paid the high price for it, giving way to a flurry of incredibly successful new disruptive players, built on cutting edge tech from the ground up. From Transferwise, Revolut or Venmo, to GoCardless, this new generation of fintech companies addressed consumers changing expectations in a way that traditional retails banks simply couldn’t.

To catch up, incumbent players have prioritised the user interfaces, giving the appearance of a digital offering, and oftentimes leaving the back end infrastructure untouched, and hence the processing power, accuracy and speed unaffected. Back-office functions, although they are essential to the smooth running of a business, have seen very little change and as a result,  too many people in these functions are still tied up typing information into spreadsheets and software forms – in fact, manual data entry is a prime example of how much resources the offline legacy wastes. Take Accounts Payable for example, invoice data entry in this sector is estimated to eat up roughly 100 human lives worth of time every single day.

Tomas Gogar

Tomas Gogar

With the significant increase in the number of employees working from home due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, the back-office challenges have suddenly come to light, and finally, companies that got away with minimal changes so far, are realising that they need a structural digital overhaul, and fast. We believe the solution to this is artificial intelligence backed software solutions.

Previous technology based solutions essentially did half the job, heavily depending on human fact checking. Consequently, these solutions were actually quite cumbersome and time consuming and costly to implement and maintain, and offered only incremental improvements. Now with AI, automises data processing completely removing the need for human fact checking (and human error!). Additionally, deployment is massively simplified with an average setup time of one week, compared to about 6 months for previous technologies.   AI solutions are also highly adaptable to new formats and scenarios, allowing businesses to test them in say one department and to quickly roll out a single unified solution across all functions of the business.   Data can be extracted from any invoice layout with no template or rule set-up, saving significant and effort. Rather than trying to change and standardise a highly fragmented environment (there are about as many invoice formats as there are businesses), AI can work with it, and optimise the overall process and offer a unified answer to a fragmented ecosystem.

Taking Accounts Payable as an example again, this is a sector that has relied by and large on Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software solutions in an attempt to remove some of the manual labour involved in reading processing and filing invoices. Although OCR did improve the processes to a certain degree, ultimately these types of solutions still required a long and expensive set up processes and a lot of manual labour to actually capture the data accurately with templates and manual data entry. Now, with AI software, like the one we have created, this is a solution that makes data extraction simple and easy, saving time and man power, as well as building on existing infrastructure. It has the ability to transform this industry.

In conclusion, for a sector that has been slow to adopt digital change, AI is THE technology answer that is finally fixing the invisible pain points that businesses had simply accepted as unremovable. AI applied in this way offers a viable way forward and businesses that were notoriously slow and resistant to embrace the digital transition, incentivised to make a change, may actually end up at the head of the pack. Skipping ‘older tech’ and jumping straight into AI solutions, the best scenario available by far, is indeed the smartest, fastest and most cost effective way to transition into the digital world.

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