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STOP BASHING BANKS AND START BACKING THEM

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Jim Prior

Jim Prior,  CEO of The Partners & Lambie-Nairn

Over recent years, bank bashing has become the social and political norm. Whether it’s a conversation at a dinner party, the office water cooler, in the pages of national newspapers, or at the office of industry regulators, it has become an accepted norm that banks and bankers have been, and largely remain, greedy, reckless or even intrinsically evil. This culture has embedded itself so profoundly that many banks’ leaders are forced to spend their time issuing self-deprecating apologies and announcing strategy plans focused on idealistic notions of making the world a better place rather than doing what they would like to do, which is getting on with running the bank.

Jim Prior

Jim Prior

In some ways this state of affairs is entirely justified. Colluding to fix Libor rates or rogue trading is genuinely villainous and intolerable. But is it really fair for banks to be so universally and consistently tarnished with the same bad brush?My answer to that is a clear no. Not only is it an unfair assumption that all banks are bad but it is fast becoming a spectacularly unhelpful perspective that risks long term damage to the economy and could take us in the opposite direction to that intended in social progress terms.

To explain why, we need to shift our focus away from woolly ideals of good behaviour and examine the true purpose of banks. From the first emergence of a world economy in the 1600s, through the 200-year phenomenon that we loosely name the Industrial Revolution, to the building of the world’s major cities and modern economies in the 20th century, the purpose of banks has been clear: to facilitate trade, fund growth and create wealth for clients. The obvious truth is that without banks none of these major advances in society could have happened. The Medici empire wasn’t a small family business; Watt’s steam engine or Edison’s light bulb weren’t the product of some tinkering in a garden shed; London and New York didn’t rise up to the skies as a consequence of some enterprising DIY – they all happened because banks found ways to finance mere dreams into gargantuan realities. The true purpose of banks has never been solely to make money, they are the engines of social progress. Without them, society stands still.

But of course driving progress on such monumental scale is not easy. So, throughout history, banks have had to be supremely creative in how they discover and invent new sources of opportunity. Few industries have innovated, evolved, scaled and re-imagined more than banks. When one considers the most creative business on the planet, banks have to be right up there with the likes of Apple, Google and Nike – a fact that most commentators on such things rarely acknowledge.

Now, though, the bank-bashing argument is that the source of recent economic problems is that banks got too creative for their, and our, own good. And there is some truth in that. There’s a point in time at which banks’ creativity shifted from being focused on driving value to their clients and to society and became more about driving value to their own assets and bottom line; financial products became too complex for even the people who managed them to fully understand. Under these circumstances chaos inevitably ensued. And it is towards this that the public, the politicians and, most importantly, the regulators have chosen to focus their ire. Creativity, caused the crash, their thinking goes,so let’s stifle it so that it cannot happen again.

This, however, is a fundamental dilemma. If we ask our banks to operate with zero risk to the economy then it follows that we are asking them to operate with zero innovation and zero growth. In effect it says that we accept that banks cannot play their key role in generating a more prosperous and progressive society. Many bankers I talk to today are already firmly of the opinion that over-zealous regulation and their own leadership’s newly-found focus on risk-averse strategies is significantly limiting the value they can bring to their clients and to the public. They tell me that we are digging ourselves into an economic rut.

So, it is my opinion that we need a fundamental rethink of the way in which we regard and mange our banks. We need to get back to recognising that banks create the opportunities by which individuals, businesses, economies and societies flourish, and we need to encourage and incentivise their doing so. We need to encourage innovative thinking and bravery and not actively discourage it. This needs more than the banal ideas that get dressed up as innovation by some: who cares if the branch is open half an hour longer on Saturday or if dogs are allowed into the bank. What we need are tangible innovations in financial products: ideas that get first time buyers on the property ladder, allow entrepreneurs to see their ideas fly, big business to get bigger creating more jobs and more access to the products and services they produce that enhance people’s quality of life. We need to get the leaders of banks and their teams of people to drop the focus on abstract statements of purpose and values that talk about being trustworthy (trust is the foundational principle of money – trust of banks is more deeply resident in people’s minds than they care to admit) and get them incentivised to deliver the new ideas and creativity that the economy needs. Possibly the most innovative bank in the world today is Kickstarter – we need this level of concept coming out of the established big banks.

Local, regional and global economies remain in a fragile state and economic futures are very much hanging in the balance. If we don’t stop bashing banks and start backing them, there is every chance that the recovery will never gather pace. Banks are not the problem, they are the solution but until we choose to make this shift in our minds of how we position them they will be unable to deliver what we need.

Banks are the engine of social progress. It’s time for the public, the press and the politicians to release the brakes and fuel them with our support.

Banking

How open banking can drive innovation and growth in a post-COVID world

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How open banking can drive innovation and growth in a post-COVID world 1

By Billel Ridelle, CEO at Sweep

Times are pretty tough for businesses right now. For SMEs in particular, a global financial and health crisis of the sort we’re currently witnessing represents a truly existential risk. Yet there is hope of a brighter future. Digital transformation is already helping organisations in countless sectors, with everything from building supply chain resilience to rolling out potentially life-saving contact-tracing schemes. Yet it’s not just delivering transformative benefits in grand projects like this.

Thanks to open banking rules, a new wave of fintech innovation is sweeping the globe, offering business leaders a new launchpad for success. Even something as simple as corporate expenses can be transformed by the power of open data — to help firms cut costs, reduce fraud risk and become more productive.

Opening up data to innovation

It’s easy to get bogged down in the technical details of open banking, and the slew of new acronyms it has ushered in: Third Party Providers (TPPs), Account Information Service Providers (AISPs), Payment Initiation Service Providers (PISPs), and Application Programming Interfaces (APIs). Yet at the heart of the open banking revolution is a simple concept: the idea that forcing banks to open up their customers’ financial data will create more competition, and fresh opportunities for market entrants to create innovative new services.

This was at the heart of the UK government’s world-leading strategy when it was introduced back in 2016. A revised EU payment services directive (PSD2) gave it legal teeth, mandating that all payment account providers in the region provide third-party access for customers that want it. The push is also about reducing banking fees and enhancing financial inclusion, of course, but it’s in competition and innovation that the benefits really shine for businesses.

Access to real-time financial data via open APIs has already resulted in a range of new services which are helping businesses ride out the current economic storm. Whether it’s capabilities that can help freelancers prove loss of income to receive targeted loans, or services designed to streamline business processes to reduce costs and fraud — examples of innovation are endless.

What’s more, it’s already global. Aside from the PSD2, open banking rules are taking shape in Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong, Mexico and elsewhere. According to frequently cited Gartner predictions, regulators in around half of the G20 countries will create an open banking API regime over the coming year.

In the UK alone this is set to create a £7.2 billion revenue opportunity by 2022, with 71% of SMBs and 64% of adults expected to adopt it by then, according to PwC.

Making expenses pay

Corporate expenses and travel management might not be an area one immediately associates with high levels of innovation. But here too, open banking is having a profound impact. By combining automation, in-app approvals, integration with corporate policy and secure open banking APIs, companies like Sweep are offering new ways to solve old problems.

Part of the legacy challenge relates to productivity. Managing corporate travel costs and expenses was cited last year as the biggest concern of the UK’s small and mid-sized firms. Separate research claimed that SMBs are estimated to lose over £8.7 billion annually due to the time it takes employees and managers to complete these menial tasks. By automatically integrating real-time corporate bank account information into an easy-to-use app, we can save up to 15 hours a month on data input and travel administration per employee. That’s all time they could be spending on growing the business.

Another key area of concern is fraud. According to some estimates, fraudulent expenses claims could be costing UK firms £1.9 billion each year. In the US, the figure could be approaching $3 billion annually. Whether it’s the result of submitting expense claims for personal purchases, claiming for additional mileage on work trips, or over-claiming for other items, it all adds up. What’s more, fraud tends to spike particularly during times of recession, when normally diligent employees look for ways to supplement their income.

In this use case too, there are benefits to be had from open banking-powered solutions. Traditional manual processes offer too many gaps that can be exploited by fraudsters. Submitting paper receipts to finance departments — which must then input the information into spreadsheets or accounting software — is slow, error-prone and lacks accountability. However, with modern digital systems, transactions are automatically fed through from bank account to expense management platform. Here they are seamlessly checked according to policy and automatically approved, rejected or flagged for further investigation.

The future’s open

Thanks to the power of open banking, innovative fintech use cases like this are transforming operational challenges into opportunities to cut costs and fraud risks, improve employee productivity and become more strategic. With real-time data fed through from corporate bank accounts, finance directors can better understand spending patterns, react with greater agility and gain the insight they need to run their businesses more efficiently.

So what of the future? The good news is that open banking is only just getting started. As more sophisticated machine learning algorithms are developed, it has the potential for even greater disruption by empowering SMEs with predictive analytics and forecasting tools, or more accurate fraud checks, for example. Those in Europe may benefit most as PSD2 allows businesses to use tools that work seamlessly and securely across markets, without requiring any duplication of work.

In fact, open banking is not just good for individual SMEs, it’s important for Europe as a whole if we are ever to nurture successful digital unicorns to compete with those coming out of the US and China.

Open banking been described in the past as a quiet revolution. With the right buy-in from business and the continued innovation of digital platforms, it may soon become a full-throated roar.

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Banking

Banks take note: Customers want to pay with points

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Banks take note: Customers want to pay with points 2

By Len Covello, Chief Technology Officer of Engage People

‘Pay with Points’ – that is, integrating the ability to pay with loyalty reward points directly into the online check-out process – is a trend that is growing exponentially with big-name brands like Amazon, PayPal and American Express leading the way.

The past few months have posed an unprecedented challenge in the loyalty space, especially with the pandemic’s impact on travel. The unforeseen impacts across the board have caused institutions with premier incentive credit cards to feel increased pressure to retain their loyalty members. As such, exploring innovative ways to create a personalized loyalty experience for customers is at the forefront now more than ever.

Offering the flexibility to pay with points is certainly one option that can help transform financial institutions’ (FIs) loyalty programs. With the evolution of consumer preferences – like relying on other forms of payment outside of credit and the move towards contactless payments – viewing points as currency naturally ties into the “new ways” in which American consumers bank, pay and shop.

Personalization is a win-win for banks and loyalty program members

As the world continues to evolve in light of the pandemic, consumer habits like mobile banking and shopping online for groceries are likely to carry over long-term. As a result, consumers will expect their loyalty programs to provide new incentives to fit their ever-changing needs. By offering loyalty program members the ability to pay with points for the items they want or need during the online check-out process, FIs are creating a more personalized shopping experience. This can help increase member retention, especially compared to dated loyalty programs that offer limited options for point redemption.

As we’ve learned with iPhones, tap to pay and other technologies that reduce friction, once consumers begin using a new and convenient digital service, there’s little desire to go back to the old way of doing things. By incorporating pay with points into loyalty programs sooner rather than later, FIs will be setting themselves apart in terms of meeting their member’s needs with modern payment offerings.

Outside of providing a personalized experience to loyalty program members, pay with points as a program perk also has specific benefits when it comes to a bank’s bottom line. Currently, there are billions of dollars in liabilities in the form of unused points sitting on banks balance sheets. This is in part due to loyalty program members inability to spend their points how they want. By allowing a more personal and flexible way to spend points, banks can reduce those liabilities while creating a more engaging experience for their members.

Meeting consumer demand is easier than you think

Incorporating the infrastructure to power new digital capabilities is more often than not a cause for concern: how expensive will it be? What does down time look like? How long will it take to get up and running?

Luckily for banks, the process is actually quite simple – and inexpensive. With a lightweight integration of a few APIs, banks can tap into a pool of retailers to make their merchandise available for purchase with points by loyalty program members in no time. And as the retail network expands, there’s no need for additional IT work to add new brands into the fold. Ultimately, API integrations upfront create a frictionless and scalable solution for FIs and a preferred shopping experience for members. And based on market feedback, the personalized experience that results from giving customers the option to spend points as easily as they would cash or card, far exceeds any initial inconveniences that may arise.

According to our recent Customer Loyalty Survey, 75% of customers are more likely to spend loyalty reward points to make a purchase over other payment methods. The findings also indicated that 72% of customers are actively engaged in loyalty programs because of the available redemption options.

Long-term loyalty is not just about acquisition or promotional material, but rather the experience of redemption and viewing loyalty points through a fresh lens. Customers today are well-versed in what’s available to them online. The more redemption options offered to the consumer, the more appealing the FI becomes.

Loyalty point redemption in action

In April of 2020, when the world was mostly in lockdown, we looked at how a select group of approximately 3,000 consumers spent their loyalty reward points, comparing April 2020 to April 2019. Key findings suggest that, if given the opportunity, consumers will spend their loyalty points to buy what they want or need based on their specific circumstances. For example:

  • Significant increases in the purchase of outdoor items like BBQs and smokers (+3401%), fire pits and heaters (+2644%) and pool and patio accessories (+1297%) suggested people were making the most of the spaces around them.
  • Consumers were focusing on their personal health and well-being with the increase in points spent on fitness accessories (+1664%), bike accessories (+1453%) and fitness trackers (+536%).
  • Finally, the increase in purchases of hand-held power tools (+3076%), smart control lighting (+1750%), stick vacuums (+1096%) and specialty small appliances (+531%) suggests consumers took advantage of the opportunity to check projects off their at-home to-do lists.

We’re keeping a close eye on how loyalty point purchases evolve as more retailers and FIs get on board with viewing points as a true form of currency, especially in a post-pandemic world. Which items will rise to the top in the coming months and years as the payments ecosystem evolves? Will flight purchases or experience-based purchases regain popularity?

What’s next in the loyalty payments space?

As consumers continue to look for alternative payment methods, offering the flexibility to pay with points is the perfect opportunity for FIs looking to reinvent their loyalty programs. Engage People has always viewed loyalty points as a fiat currency, creating innovative technology that allows for easy integration that satisfies loyalty program members’ needs.

In the future, there’s a real opportunity to incorporate loyalty reward points into everyday life – extending beyond the online shopping experience. Imagine a world where you can pay for coffee, your bills, monthly subscription services like Netflix or make charitable donations with loyalty points just as you would with a credit card or cash. The future involves a mindset shift by consumers, financial institutions and the entire payments ecosystem, and that shift is viewing loyalty points as a true form of currency. Like reaching for cash, a debit or credit card, loyalty points can easily become a payment option of choice for consumers. FIs that are at the forefront of this trend now have the most to gain long term.

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Banking

The Importance of Liquidity Solutions

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The Importance of Liquidity Solutions 3

By Justin Silsbury, Lead – Product Manager at Infosys Finacle

Economic uncertainty and business complexity have made a deep impact on corporate treasury management in recent years. With regulations getting tougher, funding becoming elusive, and profits shrinking fast, the way liquidity is managed is making a real difference to companies’ survival. As corporate treasurers around the world struggle with the challenges of liquidity management, they are turning to their banks for support; it is imperative that the industry respond with digital solutions that enable clients to manage money efficiently at low cost.

Why corporates need liquidity solutions

Corporate banking customers need a liquidity structure that maximises security, liquidity and yield.  Even today, treasurers in multinational corporations lack visibility into their companies’ overall cash position across countries and currencies. Delivering returns on excess cash, although important, is not a priority for them, but making sure the money is safe and available when needed, is. Therefore, a liquidity solution should be able to consolidate a company’s cash position across all its accounts around the world, provide a unified view in real-time, as well as offer timely suggestions on maximising utilisation and yield. It should automate all these functions as far as possible to reduce both manual overheads and the risk of moving money manually on a daily basis.

Broadly, liquidity solutions are of three types – cash concentration solutions that automatically move money around the world; interest optimization solutions that reward customers based on their aggregated balances without the need to move any money; and investment sweeps that move all the consolidated funds to a money market fund or other short-term investment to earn extra returns.

And why banks should provide them

There are several reasons why banks should invest in a sound liquidity solution. The most important one is that without it, a bank can never become a customer’s principal financial institution. A large corporation will have many banking providers, each one trying to increase share of wallet; in this situation, a high involvement product such as a liquidity solution is particularly effective for building stickiness and strengthening a bank’s position vis-à-vis others. An illustration may be useful here: say a food retail chain banks with Santander in the U.K., and other banks across Europe. If the retailer chooses to consolidate its cash daily into its U.K. account using Santander’s liquidity management solution, where the excess cash can then be swept into an investment vehicle overnight, over time, Santander can cross-sell other products to the client to increase revenue and stickiness.

Technology does it

Corporate banking has historically lagged retail banking in technology adoption. It is high time that banks remedied this by digitizing their corporate solutions. Specifically, they can leverage a variety of digital technologies to provide clients instant access to liquidity, global visibility into the overall cash position, and efficient working capital management. With robotic process automation and machine learning, they can simplify and automate processes to cut cost and lead-time.  Blockchain enables banks to offer fast, secure, cross-border transactions, while open APIs ease collaboration and co-innovation with Fintechs, customers and developers.

Banks need to deliver frictionless, personalized, “retail banking-like” experiences over customer-centric corporate banking channels. Instead of channel silos – one for liquidity, another for payments and so on – customers will see data from all their accounts in one place, from where they can manage liquidity, forecast cash flows, secure trade finance etc. On their part, banks can use 360-degree customer insight to issue not just timely alerts but also contextual recommendations. For instance, being able to alert a customer that a large payment is due the following week, but also suggesting the best options for arranging those funds.

Apart from improving the customer journey, a real move in corporate banking is towards cloud adoption. Many banks have started the cloud journey, but many still have some distance to cover before they are fully cloud-enabled; mainly, they are migrating monolithic, on-premise workloads to the cloud. Early adopters, such as JP Morgan Chase, HSBC and Citibank, are setting the pace by developing their own capabilities as well as procuring certain components from Fintech partners to plug into their overall solution.

One size doesn’t fit all

In the past, corporate banking solutions were largely meant for big companies, but today they are relevant to enterprises of all sizes. Internet and mobile have enabled even small local firms to scale far and wide, creating a need for solutions to manage their money across borders. Therefore, banks need to make sure their liquidity solution can accommodate the different needs of different clients. Only a flexible, componentised solution can do that.

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