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Scope affirms Spain’s credit rating of A- with Stable Outlook

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Scope affirms Spain’s credit rating of A- with Stable Outlook

A resilient economic recovery and a reduction of economic, fiscal and external imbalances support the rating; high public and external debt, elevated unemployment, limited structural fiscal adjustment, and political fragmentation are constraints.

Scope Ratings GmbH has today affirmed Spain’s A- long-term issuer and senior unsecured local- and foreign-currency ratings, along with a short-term issuer rating of S-1 in both local and foreign currency. All Outlooks are Stable.

Rating drivers

The A- rating is supported by Spain’s euro area membership, the size and diversity of its economy, robust economic recovery, and on-going reduction of economic, fiscal and external imbalances, particularly its significant private-sector deleveraging. Persistently high public and external debt levels, elevated structural unemployment, low productivity growth, and limited structural fiscal adjustment pose challenges. The Stable Outlook reflects Scope’s view that the upside potential from a continued reduction in economic, fiscal and external imbalances is balanced by the downside risk stemming from a politically fragmented environment, which is limiting the government’s capacity to implement reforms to increase Spain’s growth potential and make structural fiscal adjustments.

Since 2014 the Spanish economy has grown, on average, around 2.8%, a full percentage point above the euro area average, driven by i) the government’s structural reforms, which, except for the insolvency framework and ongoing banking sector reforms, were mostly implemented from 2010-2015, ii) wage moderation and resulting cost-competitiveness gains, iii) low oil prices, iv) the European Central Bank’s accommodative monetary policy, and v) the favourable external conditions, particularly in the euro area. In addition, the structural adjustment in the economy has resulted in a shift in resources towards the dynamic, export-oriented services sector. As a result, Scope expects Spain’s balanced and employment-intensive economic expansion to continue over the next few years, albeit with less dynamism, moderating economic growth from the 2017 growth level of 3.1% to around 2.5% over the medium term.

Scope also notes that the increase in confidence, employment and economic stability has led to the resumption of investment and private consumption despite a marked decline in private sector liabilities, which further supports the A- rating. Since the crisis, the Spanish private sector has significantly reduced its indebtedness to levels similar to those of its euro area peers. Specifically, non-financial corporates have reduced their liabilities by EUR 306.5bn since Q2 2010. In turn, households reduced their liabilities more gradually given that most loans are long-term mortgages, but still by EUR 202.6bn over the same period. As a result, corporate sector indebtedness fell from 133.1% of GDP to 96.8% as of Q4 2017, slightly below the euro area average of 101.7%, while household indebtedness decreased from around 85.1% to 61.3%, just above the euro area average of 58.0%.

Spain’s A- rating is further supported by the gradual fiscal consolidation. Spain has successfully reduced its fiscal balances every year since 2012, with the general government balance dropping successively from 10.5% in 2012 to 3.1% last year. Scope notes that Spain’s fiscal consolidation took place at all layers of government between 2012 and 2017, with the fiscal balance falling by about 6pp at the central government level, from around negative 7.9% of GDP to negative 1.9%. Regional governments also reduced their fiscal balances, on average, to a deficit of negative 0.3% last year, better than the target of negative 0.6% but with wide dispersion among the regions. Finally, the higher deficit of the social security system (negative 1.5% in 2017), which has been in deficit every year since 2010, was partly compensated by the 0.6% surplus of local governments. Going forward, although a 2018 budget has not yet been adopted and is likely to be slightly expansionary if implemented, Scope expects Spain to exit the EU’s excessive deficit procedure this year, recording deficits well below the 3% Maastricht criterion.

Despite this gradual fiscal adjustment, Spain’s public debt level has remained relatively stable since 2014 at slightly below 100% of GDP and below the levels of Portugal (126%) and Italy (132%), but significantly above the 60% Maastricht criterion, which, in Scope’s opinion, constitutes a major rating constraint. Scope’s public debt sustainability analysis, based on IMF forecasts and a combination of growth, interest-rate and primary-balance shocks, confirms that slower growth and primary balances remain the key risks to Spain’s debt sustainability. Scope’s baseline scenario is for the debt-to-GDP ratio to fall modestly to around 90% by 2023, which highlights the need for Spain to maintain relatively high growth rates as well as sustain a significant level of fiscal consolidation over a multi-year period.

In this context, Scope notes that while the short-to-medium-term growth outlook is robust, Spain’s long-term economic growth prospects face considerable challenges, with potential economic growth estimated between 1.7% (IMF) and 2.1% (European Commission). This lower economic growth outlook is due to weak productivity growth, unfavourable labour force demographics, and high structural unemployment. In fact, Scope identifies Spain’s structural unemployment, the highest among euro area members, as an enduring macro-economic imbalance. In Scope’s opinion, widespread use of temporary contracts, an elevated youth unemployment rate that is still more than double the national average, and the long-term unemployed, who account for almost half of all unemployed persons, is not only likely to limit Spain’s growth potential over the medium term, it also increases the risk of sustained income inequality, poverty and social exclusion among vulnerable groups.

Scope also notes that the fiscal adjustment to date, while credit-positive, has been mostly cyclical, benefiting from improving labour market conditions and reduced interest expenditure. In fact, Spain’s cyclically adjusted primary balance turned negative in 2016, and is expected to remain in deficit during the coming years, suggesting a mildly expansionary structural fiscal stance. As a result, based on European Commission data, Spain’s structural fiscal deficit of around 3% for the 2017-2019 period, the highest among all euro area member states and well above the medium-term objective of a structural balance by 2020 under European and national rules, limits the government’s debt reduction and thus the potential rating upside.

Finally, Scope believes that the current political fragmentation, and the resulting weak minority government led by the Partido Popular with 134 of 350 seats in the Congress of Deputies, is significantly constrained in formulating and implementing a comprehensive reform agenda to: i) raise Spain’s growth potential and ii) increase the structural fiscal adjustment needed to reduce the country’s public debt level. It is Scope’s opinion that Spain’s overall political standstill, due in part to the unresolved situation in Catalonia, could lead to national elections prior to the scheduled end of this legislature’s term, which is set for June 2020.

Core Variable Scorecard (CVS) and Qualitative Scorecard (QS)

Scope’s Core Variable Scorecard (CVS), which is based on the relative rankings of key sovereign credit fundamentals, provides an indicative “BBB” (“bbb”) rating range for the Kingdom of Spain. This indicative rating range can be adjusted by the Qualitative Scorecard (QS) by up to three notches depending on the size of relative credit strengths or weaknesses versus peers based on qualitative analysis. For the Kingdom of Spain, the following relative credit strengths have been identified: i) economic policy framework, ii) fiscal policy framework, iii) market access and funding sources, iv) current-account vulnerability, v) external debt sustainability, vi) vulnerability to short-term external shocks, vii) banking sector performance, and viii) banking sector oversight and governance. Relative credit weaknesses are: i) recent events and policy decisions. The combined relative credit strengths and weaknesses generate a two-notch adjustment and indicate a sovereign rating of A- for the Kingdom of Spain. A rating committee has discussed and confirmed these results.

For further details, please see Appendix 2 of the rating report.

Outlook and rating-change drivers

The Stable Outlook reflects Scope’s view that the upside potential of a continued reduction in economic, fiscal and external imbalances is balanced by the downside risk stemming from a politically fragmented environment, which is limiting the government’s capacity to implement reforms to increase Spain’s growth potential and make structural fiscal adjustments.
The rating could be upgraded if the sovereign: i) achieves sustained debt reduction, ii) implements additional reforms, raising the country’s medium-term growth potential, and iii) improves its external balance sheet. Conversely, the rating could be downgraded if: i) public finances deteriorate due to a reversal of fiscal consolidation and ii) there is a fading commitment to or a reversal of structural reforms, leading to an adverse impact on the medium-term economic and fiscal outlook.

Rating committee

The main points discussed by the rating committee were: i) Spain’s growth potential, ii) macroeconomic stability and sustainability, iii) fiscal consolidation, outlook, and public debt sustainability, iv) external debt sustainability and vulnerability to shocks, v) banking sector performance and private sector deleveraging, vi) political fragmentation, and vii) peers.

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Three questions the financial services industry must answer in 2021

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Three questions the financial services industry must answer in 2021 1

Xformative, a Mastercard Start Path recipient, shares what these questions mean for fintech partners and their innovations

This year, fintechs and institutions alike pushed the limit on how fast, innovative, and digitally-savvy they could be. Buzzwords like cloud and faster payments made headlines, but 2021 will be about refining best practices and putting them into action. Xformative believes that more industries should benefit from digital payments and that it’s not just about faster payments, but the option to offer multiple methods.

  • Which industries are lagging in the digital payments space and why? The pandemic forced financial institutions and their partners to move digital transformation into a new phase of maturity. But this doesn’t mean every industry has transformed, there are still laggards. According to a survey of more than 1,400 American freelancers and contractors, conducted by Bill.com, more than half said they were still receiving their money in the form of a physical check. Checks still exist in spaces like Property and Casualty, though we did see some reassuring industry changes this year. The year ahead will require businesses to offer more payments flexibility outside of physical checks to meet the payment needs of their gig workers, freelancers, and contractors. Businesses will rely on technology partners to bring them up to speed and simplify the payments process.
  • How can fintechs overcome the challenges of building in the cloud? Most businesses want to architect using a select cloud provider, or at least offer cloud-based services, to remain competitive in today’s fast-paced, disruptive landscape. There are assumptions that cloud architecture will inherently be less expensive to operate than legacy mainframe systems, but for many, these assumptions have turned upside down when developers fail to understand cloud cost optimization principles. As fintechs look to build in the cloud, they should ensure their technology is highly optimized, only leveraging real-time capabilities and transactions when required. Responsible fintechs should focus on balancing customer experience and economics with a mix of batch and real-time capabilities, constantly asking themselves, “is real-time the best choice?” Just because real-time can be offered doesn’t mean it should, and 2021 will be about drawing the line between utilization and optimization.
  • Why is offering more payment choices important? Emerging faster payments are working in parallel, not as a replacement for other methods. People want options to be able to pay however they like, whether it’s with Zelle, Venmo, Apple Pay, or traditional methods like cash or card, and financial institutions need to be prepared to meet this demand. The card that consumers once kept in their wallet was a key component of the bank’s and/or program manager’s brand value, as well as potentially communicating the cardholder’s lifestyle and socioeconomic status. 2021 will reinforce the value of financial institutions having partnerships with fintechs who can help them evolve their brand value to include the broad scope of emerging payments.

It’s time fintechs and institutions partner to digitize payments and offer choices. 2021 is about building smart and partnering for capabilities that can open the door to new opportunities at a financial institution.

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2020: The paradoxical year that has reshaped the future of motor insurance and related sectors

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2020: The paradoxical year that has reshaped the future of motor insurance and related sectors 2

By Alan Inskip, Tempcover CEO & Founder

There’s no doubt that 2020 will be remembered as the year that changed the world. Whether that overall change was for the better or for the worse is a matter of perspective. One thing is for certain, 2020 has been the year of immense innovation and adaptability in the face of seemingly insurmountable adversity caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. In this piece, I’ll touch on some of the greatest challenges that could have had a potentially crippling effect on the economy but instead were overcome and ultimately paved the way for increased resilience and innovation.

Public transport shunned in favour of private vehicles, but driving patterns dramatically shift

With ten months of varying national and regional lockdown restrictions, passenger numbers on public transport have plummeted[1] as many people continue to work remotely, and with most opting for the safety of travelling by private vehicle when they do need to get out and about. But because of restrictive travel measures, motorists have been using their vehicles far less frequently.

This posed a major challenge for traditional motor insurers that were not able to swiftly adapt to this change, with many coming under fire for failing to adjust annual premiums in line with new driver trends[2]. As motorists became increasingly frustrated having to pay the same premiums or sometimes even more despite their vehicle usage being substantially minimised, the relatively new and still largely unfamiliar InsurTech industry was able to rise to the occasion.

In short, InsurTech involves the utilisation of the latest technological innovations such as data analysis, cloud computing, artificial intelligence and machine learning to enable insurance products to become more agile and flexible in line with modern consumer demand – all while remaining price competitive.

Being fully-digital and technology-driven, InsurTechs demonstrated the flexibility and agility that enabled them to adapt to the huge shift in customer demand and step change in how insurance is purchased and consumed. They did this by offering an entirely digital user experience in near real-time, with temporary policies tailored to the time actually needed – anywhere from 1 hour to 28 days.

In a time of furlough and economic uncertainty, this meant that many motorists who were not using their vehicles regularly did not have to take drastic action like declaring their vehicle SORN to achieve short-term financial relief. Nor did they have to risk driving uninsured or committing to an annual policy that they could ill afford at the time.

The rise of the digital dealership offering temporary insurance as part of the purchase journey

In the automotive retail market, dealerships were forced to make drastic changes to their operating models to comply with social distancing guidelines. Showroom footfall and subsequent sales initially plummeted[3]. But in the face of this immense adversity, we witnessed the rise of the digital dealership, a concept that would have been unfathomable even just a year ago.

Cazoo was the first fully-digital platform to enter the vehicle dealership market in late 2019, and there has also been significant investment this year in new entrants such as Cinch and Carwow. Traditional dealerships such as Arnold Clark, Cargiant and Motorpoint have extended the digital aspects of their purchase journeys with services including home delivery and Click and Collect as alternative options to the full show room experience.

InsurTech has been instrumental in ensuring that car insurance supports this shift to digital, as several national blue-chip dealerships, with both physical and digital showroom floors, now offer temporary driveaway insurance policies that cover the vehicle for a fixed-term, usually between five to seven days.

Alan Inskip

Alan Inskip

The entirely online one-step user experience is the first of its kind in the traditionally outdated and inflexible driveaway insurance industry and it is dramatically simplifying the process of how insurance is purchased and consumed. Due to the flexibility and agility of the digital solution, each retailer has its own unique URL, where the customer can obtain a simple single-cost policy in just 90 seconds through an entirely digital process, which fits in line with the evolving consumer purchase trends.

This takes the stress out of searching for annual insurance on the spot and provides the driver with near instant cover so that they can immediately drive their new car while giving them the opportunity to thoroughly research the best annual policy to suit their needs. It’s also an ideal solution while the car is under its money-back warranty, as the driver does not have to commit to an annual policy on a car that might be returned. Another benefit is there’s no risk to any existing No Claims Discount, as it’s a separate and standalone policy.

Declining brand loyalty and a demand for a more personalised and convenient user experience

Insurance has an unenviable reputation for being inflexible and even unwilling to adapt to shifting consumer trends – making it confusing for most customers. Even pre-COVID, there was a clear trend that brand loyalty was in decline, as modern day consumers are no longer prepared to remain blindly loyal to any company for a long-term period. Instead, they will reward businesses that offer a simple and convenient user experience at best value. COVID accelerated this trend and many large insurers have struggled to adapt accordingly.

Conversely, this has enabled InsurTech to thrive, as the products and user journeys are developed with direct input from customers to ensure that they are receiving a straightforward and fit-for-purpose solution that best fits their needs and requirements. Just some examples of this are simplified terms and conditions, near-instant and paperless policy documentation via the web or dedicated app, and data-driven customer engagement initiatives that offer personalised discounts and communication via email and text messaging. The end result is a user experience that is easier, more convenient and better value for potential consumers in the market.

Cautiously optimistic (if somewhat uncertain) future

Even in the most stable periods, it’s a challenge to accurately predict future market trends. And with 2020 completely rewriting the rulebook on how business is conducted, it would be remiss of me to make outright predictions. One thing is for certain, the days of slow, inflexible and costly motor insurance are numbered. It is important to note that this doesn’t mean that InsurTech is gaining the upper hand at the expense of the traditional insurers in a bid to replace them.

Instead it is there to fill a gap and act as a complementary add-on to provide the best possible value to the consumer. Industry players that enter new collaborative partnerships will dramatically improve the consumer experience, leading to new business wins and return custom, which ultimately impacts positively on the bottom line. But those that fail to adapt will be left behind.

I believe that we can look forward to a futuristic economy in 2021, where ground breaking technology continues to advance at an unprecedented rate to adapt to rapidly evolving consumer lifestyles and subsequent purchasing habits. The real winner will be the consumer and that is in everyone’s best interest.

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Leadership and management in a WFH world

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Leadership and management in a WFH world 3

By Carolyn Moore, SVP of People at Auth0

Although many of us will have settled into some kind of groove, having worked away from the office for the best part of a year, there are still numerous challenges that businesses and their workforces face in this new reality.

One particularly pertinent challenge is the one faced by people managers, especially those managing virtually for the first time. How can you ensure productivity from those in your charge when you don’t have direct oversight? How do you have those more difficult conversations over a video call? Some of your team may be handling remote working better than others, so how differently should you be handling them day-to-day?

For the majority of businesses these will be questions they’re still grappling with. When the pandemic hit, we happened to be in the fortunate position of being a remote-first business, where 60% of our nearly 700 employees were already working from home. As a result, the uptick to 100% was far less taxing for us. In seven years of working from home, we’ve learned a lot about managing teams remotely, a few of which may help leaders who are still navigating the transition.

Keeping communication channels open to build trust

Leading a remote team is wholly different to the usual, in-office set up. Strict hierarchy, and any notion of presenteeism do not translate well into the remote working environment. You have to accept that your employees’ domestic life will necessarily overlap with their professional one.

Leading a virtual team requires trust and a philosophy of work based on results, and managers need to learn to give them more freedom to do work on their own terms, as long as they produce the intended results.

Building trust is best managed with regular communication. Frequent written communications from leaders regarding strategy, objectives, and organisational learning is crucial. It’s natural when working remotely for team members to isolate themselves and get wrapped up in their own workload. Managers need to help their teams understand how their work impacts on the broader corporate objectives. At Auth0, we adopted and adapted a technique created by Google called ‘Objectives and Key Results’ (OKRs) to enable this.

Now more than ever, make it a priority to regularly check in with your employees and always be up to date and aware of what their needs are. One of the first initiatives we kicked off in an effort to do so was our Slack ‘Coronabot’. This is a tool we integrated with our main form of communication that allows employees to self-identify if their work capacity was impacted by the pandemic. Another way that we tried to better understand the concerns and needs of our employees was holding listening sessions. From these listening sessions, we’ve rolled out a couple of initiatives to combat burnout, including Slack-free weekends and no internal meeting Fridays.

Make flexibility a priority

As the worlds of home life and work life collide, the traditional ‘9 to 5’ workday needs to evolve. Leaders need to encourage their team to devise their own schedules and complete work at those times when they’re most productive.

If in doubt, ask your employees how best you can help and trust that their answers will be honest. In our own experience we saw a need for a different approach when it came to supporting our employees who are caregivers. With childcare much less accessible, caregivers are doing double duty. We rolled out a survey to these individuals to hear directly how best we could support them and used the feedback to plan future programmes and supports.

We have encouraged these employees to take advantage of flexible working hours, should they need to adjust due to the pandemic, and are using tools like Clockwise or Slack that allow our employees to set their working hours and snooze notifications when they’re offline. This alleviates the pressure to respond, and we’ve found employees are actually happier and more productive this way, especially if you have a team spread across several time zones.

Put your culture front and centre

When you work remotely interactions between management and staff become increasingly transactional. Leaders need to avoid making decrees without explaining the reasoning behind them, and the thought process that led to them. Failure to do so can create a secondary culture within the workforce composed of rumours and hearsay, which can lead to mistrust.

Leaders therefore need to firstly be clear in the reasoning for their decisions, but also explicit about the culture they want to create. Your corporate culture must be written down and communicated frequently so employees can use them to guide their everyday work.

Carolyn Moore

Carolyn Moore

This is particularly beneficial for multinational companies spread across geographies and timezones and encompassing multiple cultures. Whether your teams are based in Singapore or San Francisco, they all have a code of conduct to adhere to This is crucial for dealing with conflict in a productive way and creating teams that collaborate and respect each other.

Create virtual spaces to socialise

Leaders mustn’t forget the more pastoral benefits of the workspace. Spontaneous water-cooler chats may seem trite, but they’re an essential means of colleagues building rapport and learning about one another’s lives outside of work.

Socialising should not disappear when you transition to remote work. That would be bad for business, productivity, and employee wellbeing. Instead, I would encourage you to get creative and use different functionalities of the collaboration tools you’re probably using daily. We use Donut within our Slack channels, that randomly pairs three employees together and schedules them for a meeting. The intention is to bring employees together that otherwise may never interact and have them connect on topics beyond the workplace, such as life, family, etc. Donut has been a fantastic aid in keeping our distributed workforce feeling connected. We’ve also utilised the results of both our semi-annual engagement survey and more frequent pulse surveys to give us insight into how effective these engagement programmes have been and where we could tweak them to make them even better.

Don’t neglect security

Security should always be a top priority, especially especially as people are logging into more services remotely. Your business’ IT and Security teams should have set up multi-factor authentication as the minimum standard. As new apps are connected to better enable any of the measures described above, your IT teams and managers should also be educating their teams about the access third-party providers have to their data.

Managers have a crucial role to play as evangelists of security best practice. They should be monitoring whether their teams are completing their security awareness training and, if new apps or technology are being introduced, ensuring that the appropriate channels are open for them to ask questions. The pandemic has been a lucrative time for cybercriminals, who have taken advantage of some lapses in security best practice. Ensuring security is everyone’s business, but it starts from the top.

Building for the future

For many businesses the move to remote working will have been, and is continuing to be, a difficult transition. Admittedly, remote work is not a perfect substitute for personal communication. When circumstances allow, we would recommend managers meet with their teams in-person at least once a year. managers meet with their teams at least once a year.

However, even whilst the pandemic still hampers our ability to travel and meet face to face, it is still possible to have a distributed team that is productive, collaborative, and happy. If leaders take the time and make the effort to foster a culture built on trust, it will open up opportunities for you in the long-term, no matter what that future may be.

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