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Software investment is crucial as VAT collection enters new era



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By Jaume Carol, Senior Manager, CS at Apteanassesses the new software requirements for companies in light of current changes in the Spanish VAT collection system. 

The system for collecting VAT in the European Union has always had its critics. Concern sexist at the extent of the administrative burden the current system places on company operations. There are also accusations of inefficiency due to the fragmented procedures involved. These will be familiar issues to many Spanish businesses.

When the European Commission announced its VAT action plan in 2016, part of their stated ambition was to make the current EU VAT system simpler to use and,as a result, more business-friendly.

Bridging the VAT gap                                                         

Jaume Carol

Jaume Carol

However, beyond this ambition, the scale of the combined EU VAT gap – the overall difference between the anticipated VAT revenue and the amount actually collected –is ultimately the driving force behind the formulation of the action plan.

Pierre Moscovici– the European Union’s Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs, Taxation and Customs,voiced these concerns at the plan’s launch: “We face a staggering fiscal gap: the VAT revenues collected are €170 billion short of what they should be. It’s time to have this money back.”[i]

Immediate measures proposed include enhancing cooperation between Member States through sharing and joint analysis of information; as well as an improvement in tax compliance through better cooperation with businesses. Any successful outcome for these initiatives in the long-term are undoubtedly dependent on the modernisation of tax administrations across Europe and the degree to which this boosts individual government’s ability to fight fraud. The clear goal is to put in place definitive rules for a single European VAT area in 2017.

Robust technology is the key

There is an obvious desire to make the system more robust as a means to combat cross-border fraud, which is reaching alarming levels – with an estimated VAT revenue loss of around €50 billion a year identified in the European Union.[ii]

Incorporating technological innovation is key to the implementation of the proposed new system. Although any technology solution is likely to provide fresh impetus tothe digital economy and e-commerce, it also poses new practical challenges for businesses in how they manage their processes and procedures for VAT collection.

The route to modernisation

According to recently-published European Commission studies, the VAT gap in Spain has been decreasing, although at more than €6 billion it is still significant compared to some other EU Member States.[iii]

In 2014, the Spanish government introduced new measures to combat tax non-compliance. An increase in resources in terms of staff working hours was provided to carry out e-audits more effectively. The subsequent decrease is due to strong revenue performance, despite the VAT rate remaining stagnant.Although the tax base has increased marginally, growth in revenue collected was mostly attributable to an increase in VAT compliance.[iv]

The Spanish government is responding to the challenges of the Commission’s action plan by further strengthening measures to reduce the VAT gap by applying a strategy to modernise VAT administration, through the introduction of a new system incorporating the ‘Immediate Supply of Information’ (SII).

Creating a system for the future

This new system is designed to replace current VAT management procedures that are not fit for purpose and have been in operation in Spain for 30 years.

SII is another key step in the process of continuous improvement the Spanish authorities are undertaking: the mission involves upgrading systems and creating the system of the future. The government’s intention is to improve the information they gather,both to gain more effective control of the system and to focus on generating more revenue. There is no change in the law– or in how VAT is applied – the changes instigated with SII represent a shift that can be very much explained on a technical level. This initiative enables the Tax Agency to prepare the data for VAT in the same way as they currently do for income tax.

The‘Immediate Supply of Information’ accelerates the gap between recording or booking invoices and the conversion of the economic transaction. With the associated automation taxpayers can use SII to file their VAT returns in a simpler way, with real-time information.

The new bookkeeping system for VAT will provide additional benefits beyond improved control. It is anticipated that the SII will assist companies in obtaining their data for VAT returns and alsospeed up any refund process, while allowing checks on the integrity of the data to be made much more precisely.

Who will be affected?

SII will be mandatory for 62,000 companies. This will comprise those considered large companies –who are invoicing over €6.01 million a year – though smaller companies will be included if they are part of a larger group of companies.

Those applying the monthly tax rebate scheme –REDEME– will also be among these compulsory participants. However, for companies invoicing less than €6M, but included in REDEME, this will not be mandatory, so they will not have to send invoices.

Any other company can also apply for SII on a voluntary basis, independent of the type of activity they carry out – or their VAT status.

Although this number of participants may initially seem small, however, these companies represent 80% of the overall VAT billing.

Pilot project

SII was initially announced in 2015 –with the intention that it was to be effective on 1 January 2017. The problematic political situation regarding the Spanish interim government meant that initially it was impossible to approve the legal framework.However, SII was formally approved in December 2016, and it was established that participating companies must send invoices recorded and produced during the period 1 January 2017 to 30 June 2017 – the term for this is to 31 December 2017.

In order to give business sufficient time to adapt to the initiative. There is an initial six-month pilot project of forty-one companies. It is still the early stages of the pilot project and, with such a limited sample of companies involved, it is difficult to transpose information or levels of voluntary participation, let alone to pass any judgement on the system’s ultimate success. As expected the situation is very fluid. Results so far have been sporadic, with only about a 50% fulfilment rate. The pilot participants may also need to respond quickly to changes as the system is adjusted in the face of any problems that arise.

Important practical concerns are also being highlighted concerning the capacity the government is providing to implement the system. Is it enough to guarantee collection and remain effective in the face of the mandatory implementation which starts on 1 July 2017?

What you will need to do –immediately

When the SII system becomes mandatory in July, companies will have to send the invoices recorded/produced from 1 July 2017 to 31 December 2017 to the tax authorities in eight days. They will need to keep registration books,created through electronic delivery of their billing records to the AEAT Electronic Office online.These books will cover issued invoices, received invoices and investment goods. EU invoices – either received or produced – will be submitted along with the rest of the invoices.There will also be a new book, called the – ‘Book for Special Intra-EU operations’ – that will keep record of what are classed as special EU operations. Such as, a company sending equipment to their permanent establishment in another EU country, for example a truck, which is to be used by the company in this recipient country.

In the case of the internal movement of goods in the EU, the period will be fixed based on the date when the transport started or when the goods were effectively received. This information is usually not available in accountancy systems, as it is considered logistical, but it will be necessary to include it.

The SII will also enable VAT calculations, the application of the reverse charge and certain additional information –which at present is not included in such books –like a description of the transactions and the VAT period. The system will also provide the means to rectify prior registry entries. The option of making summarised entries will no longer be possible.

The new system allows a review of all transactions carried out by companies to check accuracy and avoid potential amendments in VAT ledgers. These commonly trigger tax audit procedures or information requests within the current system.

Financial management software designed to meet the challenge

Companies– from SMEs to large businesses – will now find themselves making a crucial choice of effective financial management software, under considerable time pressure. The chosen software should satisfy a number of key requirements. It should be a very strong product that aligns with two worlds; combining technical detail with effective communication internally and with external agencies.

It must be powerful to meet the ongoing burden of recording and transmitting information, while being agile and responsive enough to implement any changes as the SII develops. Rapid installation is a prerequisite; as is a comfortable integration that delivers data integrity and regulatory compliance,with minimum staff training. The new software must minimise the economic and operational impact of an as yet unproven system, ideally reducing the total cost of administration and ownership.

Companies are inevitably suspicious of new fiscal legislation and in particular the costs involved in implementation. How quickly the software cost will be recouped depends specifically on the scale of the company and its range of operations. The internal cost depends on factors such as the existing software that’s running on the company computer systems and how many different divisions or facilities it services overall.

Reward and punishment

The tax authorities are preparing some incentives for taxpayers, such as deadline extensions and faster refund proceedings, which should help to embrace change. And while these advantages should not be dismissed, cynics might argue that they are more of a natural consequence of introducing this system than a sign of any good will.

From 1 January 2018 the term for the SII is reduced to four days. Any delay in meeting obligations through the Tax Agency’s Electronic Office will result in a fine of 0.5 per cent of the invoice amount. This represents a quarterly minimum of €300 –to a maximum of €6,000.Whether penalties are applied from the beginning or there is an accommodation to be made is unclear.

Mixed perspectives on SII

The overwhelming national advantage from introducing the SII is the long-term overall reduction in the VAT gap. This should be regarded as a first step to increased visibility of transactions in Spain; the next step might involve training tax officers to improve their analysis to prevent fraud and accelerate this reduction.

On a pragmatic level, July 1st is a difficult time of the year to implement any new system as it is in the middle of the holiday season. Also electronic certification is required to send information and currently it is not clear whose responsibility or duty it is to pass on this information once collected.There are as many questions as answers.

What is not in doubt is that Spain is entering a new era in VAT administration. Through a process of modernisation and standardisation the government is now the bookkeeper. There is a new pressure for companies to get it right. And the ability to do so requires careful investment in the right financial management software.


Thinking Long-Term When Your Shareholders Won’t Let You



Thinking Long-Term When Your Shareholders Won’t Let You 1

By MaryLee Sachs, US CEO, Brandpie

In a recent study of nearly 700 CEOs across the US and Europe, my team at Brandpie uncovered that 76% of chief executives think corporations need to shift focus from short-term profit delivery to long-term value creation.

So why have less than 5% actually made that shift?

Uncertainty about the future, and how to navigate increasing pressure from shareholders to survive the present moment can make the shift from short-term profit to long-term value feel like a pipe dream. And that makes sense, even more now than it did when we administered the survey before the COVID-19 pandemic had taken root.

But even amidst the most uncertain period of history in many of our lifetimes, and certainly the most uncertain business landscape, the transition is possible. If they can be bold enough, those CEOs who have identified the need to shift toward long-term value can join that 5% of leaders who have already taken the leap.

All they need is purpose.

But I’m not talking about surface-level mission statements or even commitments to meeting ESG requirements.

CEOs that are ready to successfully pursue long-term value creation need something much deeper: a north star that guides businesses from the inside out. A purpose that primes them, through long-term considerations, to respond quickly and effectively to short-term concerns to benefit share and stakeholders – including staff and brand audience – across the board.

A north star

The most common barrier to leaders looking to make a long-term impact is uncertainty, and the world is increasingly rife with it.

Businesses must find a way to offer some sense of security, to shareholders and stakeholders – and purpose is the path to that security.

Organizations that have orientated themselves around a north star internally and externally are better able to address, respond to, and pivot in the face of unexpected events and the endless changing market landscape.

Take a company like BlackRock – whose CEO Larry Fink has been a long-time advocate of purpose, calling it “the animating force” for achieving profit. When I spoke to Frank Cooper, BlackRock’s Senior Managing Director and Global CMO in a webinar this summer, he reiterated the organization’s dedication to their guiding purpose, and discussed how it helped them adapt to support their employees and their stakeholders when COVID-19 threatened financial security around the world.

“In the past six months, the COVID-19 crisis, alongside racial justice movements, have drastically changed the ways people expect corporations and corporate leaders to act,” said Cooper. Initially BlackRock prioritized a humanitarian response for the short term – focusing on guaranteeing as much security for their employees, customers, and shareholders as possible. But as part of a purpose-driven leadership team, Frank knew that short-term reactionary methods wouldn’t be enough.

“If you only play defense,” he said, “You will not end up winning. You have to play defense and offence.” And purpose is the game plan that allows you to do that.

Blurred lines

BlackRock’s Fink was also one of 181 CEOs to sign a statement from the Business Roundtable last year, which redefined the purpose of corporations in light of changing business landscapes and an increased focus on stakeholders. The statement also expresses a commitment to prioritizing long-term value to the benefit of shareholders, serving as a reminder that long-term value creation and pleasing shareholders is not remotely mutually exclusive.

That Business Roundtable statement generated a lot of buzz about the rise of stakeholder capitalism, and for good reason. Increasingly, stakeholders are playing a more powerful role in the success of businesses than ever before. And that’s as it should be. Afterall, a company’s worth is only as good as the end service it delivers to meet customers’ needs, and when it comes to employees, they’re the best ambassadors for the business.

Both of these demographics are looking for long-term relationships, security, and to succeed in the long-term, businesses have to find a way to offer that now, or risk losing hold of customers and employees that are crucial to their success in the present moment.

Another rising trend that represents a blurring of the lines between share and stakeholder interests is a new wave of shareholder activism. Rather than advocating for strictly profit driven-changes, firms like Trian Partners and Blue Harbour are investing in order to steer companies towards higher ESG standards, reflecting a more purposeful approach to doing business with not just the future of a company, but the future of the world in mind.

MaryLee Sachs

MaryLee Sachs

Pivoting with purpose

As the COVID-19 crisis continues to throw uncertainty after uncertainty in the face of leaders fighting to keep business as usual as it can possibly be, purpose has proven to be a life-saving tool. It’s allowed many organizations to pivot authentically and smoothly to meet unprecedented internal and external needs.

To survive in any context, businesses constantly need to react to changing conversations to meet stakeholder needs, but the pandemic certainly underscores just how effectively a purpose can ferry organizations through short-term change toward more permanent and relevant adjustments. These uncertain times have also challenged businesses to recognize that purpose incorporates more than just something to stand for, but a way of acting, and focussing on service and fulfilment of need.

In the early days of the pandemic, companies like BrewDog, Ford, and Virgin Orbit stood out for their swift and apparently seamless transition to providing hand sanitizer, PPE, and respirators. Purpose played no uncertain part in these agile short-term pivots – by knowing who they are at a core level, and how their specific expertise positions them to respond to the evolving needs of their customers, they were able to quickly adapt to new, entirely unexpected needs for the greater good. They were driven by clear purpose internally that allowed for authentic outward change.

Playing the long game

True purpose is achieved through constant maintenance and centering – moving forward purpose must become part of corporate hygiene. The current state of business – and the world at large – demands that shareholders get on board with the value of that.

None of us have a crystal ball to determine what will happen. When you think about all the different things affecting the market – a pandemic, Black Lives Matter, equality, ESG – it’s hard to imagine how to prepare your business for any number of continually unexpected factors, while also priming it to last.

But a deeply-rooted purpose addresses both of these problems. By determining the long-term value your company can offer and implementing that internally, you create a resilient operation that knows what it stands for, how it operates, and is prepared to nimbly shift in the face of adversity.

No new normal will ever last, but businesses with a strong sense of internal self and clear, purposeful organization can.

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New TransUnion Study Finds Smooth Digital Transactions “Essential to Business Survival” During and After Pandemic



New TransUnion Study Finds Smooth Digital Transactions “Essential to Business Survival” During and After Pandemic 2

Economist Intelligence Unit report for TransUnion highlights the crucial role emerging technologies will play in balancing fraud prevention and customer experience to help build consumer trust

A new global and UK study by the Economist Intelligence Unit for information and insights provider TransUnion has overwhelmingly found the key to whether or not companies go out of business hinges on providing consumers friction-right digital transactions. More than eight out of 10 executives, both in the UK and globally said they believe smooth transactions are “essential to business survival” rather than merely a competitive edge.

“Digital transformation has been rapidly accelerated by COVID-19, with over half (52%) of UK executives, and an even higher number globally (61%), saying they have changed their digital processes as a result of the pandemic,“ said Shail Deep, chief product officer at TransUnion in the UK. “That’s not surprising when we consider some of the changes that have come about as a result of social distancing, with reports of over a fifth (21%) of UK consumers shopping online[i] for the first time during the COVID-19 pandemic. Delivering a smooth customer journey is essential to building trust, yet over two thirds (69%) of UK businesses that made changes to their digital transaction process as a result of the pandemic experienced glitches.”

The global report, “New Dimensions of Change: Building Trust in a Digital Consumer Landscape,” is based on a study with 1,610 executives across 12 countries and five continents, including 180 senior executives from the UK. The research uncovered how technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), national digital IDs[ii] and super-apps[iii] can help overcome challenges to building digital trust.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Biometrics Will Play an Increasingly Important Role in Fraud Prevention and Customer Experience

Overwhelmingly global respondents answered that: 1) biometrics[iv] will be the dominant payment customer authentication method, 2) improved fraud detection and security is the greatest benefit to using AI, and 3) a national digital ID system can help prevent consumer fraud.

About three quarters (74%) of UK executives say biometrics are likely to be used to authenticate the vast majority of payments in the next 10 years, although the global response was even higher, at 85%. Approximately four in 10 UK and global respondents noted that improved fraud detection and security is the greatest benefit to using AI. This was the top selection by far worldwide and in the UK, with smoother customer experience coming second at about three out of 10, both in the UK and worldwide.

Furthermore, about seven out of 10 executives in the UK and globally think national digital IDs can help fraud prevention in consumer transactions. This comes at a time when the UK government has recently outlined steps to boost secure use of digital identity, with six guiding principles[v] published in September 2020. These are intended to strengthen consumer rights around digital identity to enable wider use across the country and reports say it could ultimately help boost GDP by 3% by 2030.

John Cannon, managing director of Fraud and ID at TransUnion in the UK said: “Protecting consumers and minimising the risks of fraud they face is crucial to earning their trust, and our research shows that biometrics, AI and digital IDs are seen by businesses as the key to trusted digital commerce going forward. Implementing the right tools and technology, alongside robust policies and processes, can help businesses strike the right balance when it comes to combining fraud prevention with a seamless customer experience. As this research shows, that’s no longer just desirable, it’s going to be critical for survival.”

Digital Identification Technology is at the Core of New Benefits

Authentication and verification are essential in building digital trust and new, cutting-edge solutions can combine a range of technologies to deliver instantaneous verification of customers and reduce fraud risks, whilst still supporting great customer experiences.

TransUnion recently introduced its Document Verification and Facial Recognition solution in the UK to help businesses meet this challenge, by providing customer document and selfie capture to enable real-time, online verification through the customer’s device. Near-field communication (NFC) reading of chip-enabled passports is built into the solution, to strengthen checks on ePassports. This is important given that 65% of UK executives stated that traditional authentication factors, such as birth certificate and passport in digital fraud and identity can overly inconvenience customers who value smooth digital transactions.

In order to fully embrace the new digital solutions available, such as ePassports, businesses need to have the right technology in place. And with identity fraud on the rise – up by nearly a third (32%) in the UK over the past five years, according to Cifas[vi]– the urgency for such tools is clear.

The impact of COVID-19 has fast-tracked the move to digital commerce, with nearly two-thirds of UK consumers[vii] reporting in a separate survey that they are using contactless payment technology more due to COVID-related health and safety concerns, and 61% saying they are happier using contactless payments now than they were in 2019.

In this context, with potential fraudsters seizing the opportunities that ‘faceless’ transactions present, there’s an even greater pressure on businesses to know who their customers are and carry out the right checks, keeping pace with the latest innovations. Only by doing so can they build the digital trust they will need to succeed.

Find out more about the UK report, “New Dimensions of Change” at TransUnion’s website.

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How technology has made us communicate better in crisis



How technology has made us communicate better in crisis 3

By Pete Hanlon, CTO of Moneypenny

COVID-19 has taught us a lot. We have embraced technology, some might say, survived so far because of it, yet also craved that human interaction. Working hand-in-hand, these two elements will shape our future.

The impact of COVID-19 has been immense, not just health-wise but also economically. To date, people have shown their resilience, adapting quickly to a remote way of working and through the use of technology.

We have embraced working remotely, using video conferencing tools, for example to give us some contact, some ‘normal’. We have proven we can do it, so the question is will this new normal we have adapted to, be sticking around?

Pre-pandemic, Moneypenny was operating in thrive mode and we rapidly had to switch to survival mode. The first challenge was arranging for our 1,000 employees to all work from home during the initial lockdown whilst offering a near seamless service to our customers. No mean feat for a company that had always been office based for our front line people.

Luckily for us, the first Covid lockdown happened 3 weeks after we’d just finished an 18 month long tech project to move our telephony system from on premise to the cloud. This meant we had some options but we did need to work tirelessly to get everyone home without missing any customers call.

We spent February and March trialing solutions and coming up with a plan and then we moved people to home working, team by team to assess call quality. Three weeks later everyone was working from home and it was service as normal for our clients.

This wouldn’t have been possible without a little strategizing and a lot of tech, not to mention a superb team that worked tirelessly to make it happen. Using our already brilliant tech as well as working with tech giants including  Microsoft Teams, Twillio, Workplace by Facebook and Amazon Workspace, for example, who have all reported record levels of usage, we were able to look after our customers and our people. Our weekly mindfulness sessions took place online instead of in the office, team meetings happened virtually  with vouchers for pizza, chocolate brownies were delivered to employees doors  as a well-earned treat and our management teams shared their business and personal experiences via video conferencing.

Maintaining communication was, and remains, key. The very nature of our business gave us a head start in helping businesses, large and small, manage their calls throughout this, specifically tailoring our systems to their specific needs at any given time. Yet, we have embraced further new tech to work alongside our people for our clients: We quickly integrated Microsoft Teams into our systems so that our PAs could keep a track of their clients’ availability and efficiently manage calls whilst clients were working from home; We developed new online screening bots for clients to use in order to give them piece of mind that customers were symptom-free before any necessary meetings and using the same innovations to ensure social distancing and wellbeing to those who come into the office when restrictions allow. It seemed a very natural extension to the support we provide for businesses.

Pete Hanlon

Pete Hanlon

We are also finding that our customers are using our in-depth analysis systems to get a better understanding of call duration and patterns in calls and so on, as well as for reporting. And we are using them alongside deep learning technologies to identify common requests and common themes so that we can better serve our clients.

Before the pandemic there was significant movement towards more of a conversational and interactive experience when it comes to digital assistant technologies. This has only been heightened as natural language processing is advancing exponentially.

This demand for digital switchboard and new innovations has been a growth area during lockdown as companies were looking at ways to manage all their calls without in-house receptionists and switchboards.

As part of our business model, we offered digital switchboard for free to businesses for three months to help them at the start of lockdown allowing people to engage with an automated assistant by simply talking. Through this use, we’ve found that a voice-controlled switchboard is really gaining in popularity following the widespread adoption and acceptance of technologies like Alexa and Google in people’s homes.

A key area of focus for us, is the area of natural language processing (NLP), bridging the gap further between how we communicate and what a computer can understand. The field is advancing rapidly, and we are actively leveraging pre-trained transformer-based models such as BERT, RoBerta, Longformer to analyze and summarize live chat content. We are also monitoring and testing emerging deep learning models, such as Bigbird from Google and GPT-3 from OpenAI, to help advance our chat and digital switchboard offerings further.

Speech detection continues to get stronger. Currently the technology does not outperform our brilliant people, in my opinion, but it is starting to get closer to the matched experience. For us, however, our tech works hand-in-hand with our people enabling them to deliver brilliant and highly efficient customer service. I can’t see technology replacing people anytime soon. I do see it super-charging people in a way to be even better at what they do so we will just have to watch this space.

We always put trust at the heart of our tech roadmap and ask ourselves ‘Do our customers or our customers customers’ benefit from this tech innovation and does it improve the overall customer experience’. If the answer is yes, we progress

And finally, linking back to the relationship between humanity and tech, I believe that the future will be in video-based communication. It is increasingly important to us and we are investigating how deep learning can be applied to real-time video in order to power the future.

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