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Take Five: Davos goes virtual

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Take Five: Davos goes virtual 1

1/NON-DAVOS DAVOS

It is the end of January, so time for the Davos World Economic Forum (WEF), and Chinese President Xi Jinping, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and European Central Bank chief Christine Lagarde are among this year’s big-name speakers.

But Davos was not spared the pandemic hit; instead of gathering at the Swiss ski resort, the world’s great and good will do so virtually.

With the global economy deep in crisis, there is no shortage of topics: soaring unemployment and debt levels, growing income inequality and climate change.

And, like everyone else, the WEF is pinning hopes on normality returning – it plans a face-to-face meeting in Singapore in May.

2/FAANGS RETURN

Outpaced by a late-2020 surge in so-called value stocks, tech shares have roared back amid the pandemic’s unrelenting march. That is reflected in recent hefty gains for Russell’s 1000 “growth” index versus its value counterpart.

The gains could extend when Apple, Microsoft and Facebook report earnings. Also on deck is Tesla, which recently joined the S&P 500.

The results could push the combined market capitalisation of the FAANGs – Facebook, Amazon, AAPL Netflix and Google-parent Alphabet – back above their all-time peak of $6.16 trillion.

Netflix has done its part; robust subscription numbers reported on Jan. 19 have boosted its shares 17%. Now there are high expectations for the rest. Morgan Stanley has boosted the price target for Apple, declaring themselves “buyers ahead of what we expect to be a record December quarter print”. Microsoft reports on Jan. 26, followed by Apple, Facebook and Tesla a day later.

Graphic: The return of the FAANGs – https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/mkt/oakpeyelnpr/Pasted%20image%201611266376120.png

3/RED ENVELOPE FOR HONG KONG

Record amounts of Chinese money are flowing into Hong Kong stocks, pushing the Hang Seng index above the 30,000 mark, making it a global top performer and putting a floor under Chinese companies blacklisted by Washington.

The inflows have also pushed Hong Kong interbank rates to multi-year lows, meaning authorities may not even need to inject cash, as they usually do in the run-up to February’s Lunar New Year holiday.

An upcoming $5 billion IPO from Chinese online video company Kuaishou may draw in even more mainland money.

For a city rocked by pro-democracy unrest since 2019, this endorsement of its markets is a positive. Unless, that is, one views this as another sign of China’s growing political and financial stranglehold on the special administrative region.

Graphic: Mainland investors hunt for bargains in Hong Kong – https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/buzz/xlbvgylqevq/mainland%20investors%20hunt%20for%20bargains%20in%20Hong%20Kong.jpg

4/DRIVING OUT EUROPE INC BLUES

Europe’s STOXX 600 firms are expected to report a 26% earnings drop during the Q4 season which has just got under way. But that is history – let’s look instead at the January-March 2021 season when a 44% profit jump is predicted.

Such a surge seems intriguing given new continent-wide lockdowns. The explanation lies in consumer cyclicals, which Refinitiv I/B/E/S predicts will post an eye-popping 3,118% profit gain, versus the pandemic doldrums of Q1 2020.

Drilling down to single stocks, Daimler (1,471%), Fiat Chrysler, now Stellantis (177%) and Volkswagen (602%) turn out to be the largest contributors. Carmakers have seen their biggest earnings revisions in a decade and boosting shares to 14-month highs.

Graphic: Autos – https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/mkt/qzjvqmnwxvx/Autos%20hold%20key.JPG

5/SILVER LININGS

The coming week brings prelimary Q4 GDP data from France, Spain and Germany. Okay, the data is outdated and we already know the first quarter will show an activity dip from lockdown extensions. But let’s not be too hasty in dismissing the end-2020 numbers.

If the economies fared better than expected, it provides a cushion for the blow coming this quarter – that is the conclusion some reached after 2020 growth in powerhouse Germany turned out less bad than feared.

Also pay attention to Germany’s January inflation numbers, out Thursday. Those could show that a reversal in VAT cuts is easing the downward pressure on prices. In short, amid the pain inflicted by lockdowns, some positives might well lurk.

Graphic: Germany’s GDP data set for a bumpy ride – https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/mkt/xlbvgyjmmvq/theme2201DR.PNG

(Reporting by Ira Iosebashvili in New York; Vidya Ranganathan in Singapore; Karin Strohecker and Dhara Ranasinghe in London; Danilo Masoni in Milan; compiled by Sujata Rao)

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How banks can overcome the IT skills gap in a post-pandemic world

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How banks can overcome the IT skills gap in a post-pandemic world 2

By Zak Virdi, UK Managing Director at SoftwareONE

Banks have always struggled to keep pace with the speed of digital, but the problem has become more pressing in recent years. From a skills perspective, job vacancies for tech roles in UK banking rose to 30%, and the finance industry has called for the creation of a new UK body to boost recruitment in the sector. In a bid to keep up with fierce competition from mobile and online banks and fintechs, established banks are now looking to accelerate digitalisation projects. This is urgent, because COVID-19 has forced a decisive shift to digital. Indeed, since the outbreak of the pandemic, the number of European bank branches has rapidly declined.

However, if banks are to digitalise successfully, and enable a faster pace of innovation, they will need the skills to match. This is no easy feat, as talented people well versed in cloud-native technologies, app modernisation and the legacy tech that many banks continue to operate, are hard to find. This is compounded by the fact that banks also face the reality of a crowd of developers reaching retirement age and taking their skills with them.

Changing skills needs to keep up with fintech

Traditional banks face constant pressure from both industry peers and competitors like fintechs and challenger banks, to provide slicker and more seamless banking experiences. Customers expect new, engaging services and functionality, from contactless payments to digital wallets and banking with wearable devices. While it may be easier for digital-native challengers to continually roll-out new technology, it is a huge challenge for traditional banks to keep up with without digital transformation. However, this is not a simple process.

Let’s take cloud as an example. Migrating to the cloud is seen as a key pillar of any digitalisation project, yet the challenge of building, maintaining and monitoring a complex cloud infrastructure is often beyond the capabilities of existing banking staff. According to Gartner, a majority (80 percent) of today’s workers feel they don’t have the skills required for their current role and future career. To maintain a modern, complex cloud ecosystem banks need more skilled personnel. But adding to the issue is that 53 percent of business leaders struggle to find candidates with the right abilities. The good news is that there are options for banks to address the skills challenge:

  1. Hiring new talent: Finding someone new with the skills you need is the most obvious solution. This enables banks to pick the specific type of candidate they require, only interviewing those that fit the bill. However, hiring externally is harder when looking for more niche capabilities, and it costs more. Legacy banks also struggle to attract candidates due to the ‘innovative’ and ‘trendy’ reputation of a career at a fintech. When recruiting for roles requiring advanced IT skills – for example, cloud-native orchestration, SAP expertise or DevOps – the pool of potential candidates is small, and banks can end up paying a premium. While hiring new team members to support your existing IT team may be the first option banks consider, it certainly isn’t the only answer.
  1. Upskilling staff: The World Economic Forum has estimated that 54 percent of workers will need significant digital reskilling by 2022. Looking inward at extra training to advance the skillset of existing staff can be a great way to bridge the gap. The benefits of upskilling include reduced strain on individual employees, less cost and resource drain, and improved collaboration. It will also pay off in the future as established banks build a bank of skills to rival those held by employees at challenger banks. As part of this process, banks will either need an internal skills champion, or an external training partner. Also note that upskilling is gradual and continual; even after training staff, they won’t be experts and will need starter projects to practise what they’ve learned.
  2. Finding the right partner: Training existing staff and hiring helps futureproof in the long term, but doesn’t solve immediate need. Moreover, some banks may decide they don’t have the capacity or resources to pursue upskilling. So another avenue for banks to consider is finding a partner that can fill a skills gap quickly and with little hassle. Outsourcing IT can save time and resources, and enable projects to move ahead faster. With this approach, banks don’t have to spend hours interviewing potential candidates or training employees each time they embark on a new digital transformation project that requires a specific skill. In addition, banking IT teams can focus on fulfilling their day-to-day roles to the highest standard, without having to tackle unfamiliar or new tasks.

Closing the IT skills gap is only going to become more complicated as banks continue to digitally transform, with the added complication of operating in a highly regulated and competitive sector. A reliable and highly-skilled IT workforce is crucial when pursuing a digital-first future. Whether banks choose to hire-in, upskill or outsource, a clear roadmap needs to be developed that encompasses where skills gaps are and how they can be addressed, to ultimately support financial organisations in their digital transformation efforts.

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Unlocking the interconnectivity of Technology and Innovation

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Unlocking the interconnectivity of Technology and Innovation 3

By Olly Chubb, Strategy Director, Design by Structure

Technology enables innovation to happen – but it is not why innovation happens.

Thousands of businesses have the capability to ‘innovate’ – to create something new, or something better. What separates successful businesses is not whether they can do something, it’s whether they know why they are doing it. There is a huge distinction here, let’s look at that further.

The most successful businesses deliver more than linear, incremental improvements that make something better, faster or smoother. Instead, they harness a deep understanding of their customers, not just observing how they currently behave, but revealing and understanding their pain points, interrogating what really matters to them and identifying new opportunities to create meaningful change for them. 

These businesses can rethink the sector/customer problem, approaching it from a fresh and original perspective, reframing the context and transforming expectations of what ‘better’ means.

As the classic Henry Ford quote goes, “If I’d have asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses”. He could have bought the fastest horses, bred them to be even faster and become rich. He didn’t. Why? Because he understood that, although his customers might not have articulated it directly, the problem wasn’t just about speed – so the solution wasn’t just about being faster. Instead, he built a new mode of transport that exceeded expectations and transformed the landscape forever – and he became extremely rich!

In short, technology enables innovation, but the smartest innovations are driven by insight – and so too are the smartest businesses.

It can be easy to forget or overlook this, not least when businesses are running full speed to improve and when there seem to be more options for improvement than ever. The most ground-breaking innovations are not remembered because of the technology, they’re remembered because they transformed businesses, cultures and industries.

We need to think of technology and innovation as having a symbiotic relationship in business. Insight is the catalyst for this change. And by putting it at the heart of every decision and using it to constantly challenge and rationalise why they should do something, businesses can streamline activity, optimise resource and align every action through a clear purpose. 

Interconnectivity of tech and innovation

Technology and innovation are interconnected they need each other to thrive, let’s look at some examples.

What’s the biggest frustration people experience with customer services? Feeling that they are not being understood or listened to. Having to go through the same conversation, the same complaint, over and over again because they’re speaking to a different agent. We all know this pain.

Dixa, is a SaaS business currently transforming the customer service experience by making it more personal, intelligent, and data-driven., it puts people at the core of its business and addresses this particular pain point – frustration.

Dixa could have used technology to reduce waiting times or increase accessibility. Instead, they looked at the problem differently and unlocked a fresh way to innovate in this industry. The service combines every customer interaction into one seamless conversation by unifying all contact points – phone, email, chat, and messaging. Therefore, changing the landscape by removing the frustration of having to explain yourself again and again to different customer service agents. 

It has used technology to create a seamless, ongoing dialogue that has transformed expectations of customer service forever.

Mews is another business blending insight and technological innovation to revolutionise the hospitality guest experience.

Rather than think about how to improve the traditional property management system that dominated the industry landscape, Mews decided to drive its innovation from a different angle – the human experience of both hoteliers and customers and asked what are their pain points? 

By adopting a customer-first perspective, Mews developed customer-first tech that identifies how and where to simplify or automate hotel operations – from booking engine to check-out, front desk ritual to revenue management.

Small scale improvements would not have been enough to compel hoteliers to switch from the established incumbent – but a new way of thinking brought to life through technology, has created wholesale change and encouraged hoteliers and guests to imagine more.

What both these business example show, is where technology was used to deep dive into a real problem, to fulfil a gap in the sector where meaningful change could innovate to the benefit of the end-user – the customer. Both of these solutions tackle specific pain points, and instead of an easy fix, have come up with an idea that can shake a sector and really challenge sedentary thinking. 

A final word of caution, too often businesses create or adopt technology for technology’s sake. They realise they can, so they do, but they don’t stop to ask ‘why?’. They should. When you unlock ‘the why’, you unlock the insights.

It is the insight that unlocks innovation – and technology that makes good on the promise.

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How can modern and emerging technology revolutionise Wealth management and Banking going forward?

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How can modern and emerging technology revolutionise Wealth management and Banking going forward? 4

By Azamat Sultanov & Firdavs Shakhidi, Co-CEOs of Fortu Wealth

Over the last few years, we have seen much innovation in the financial sector. Challenger banks such as Monzo and Starling have seen rapid growth, with customers being attracted to their open and intuitive systems.

However, we’re yet to see corresponding innovation in the private banking and wealth management sectors. Many firms and asset managers rely on legacy tech that is incapable of providing the modern customer with the sleek, streamlined and hassle-free offering that they seek from their financial services.

Digitisation is key to meeting the needs of the modern consumer, and below you’ll find areas that will benefit most from such a change..

Payments, Transfers & Exchange

Historically, the process of transferring money was slow, complicated and expensive. However, thanks to the likes of TransferWise and other such FinTech unicorns, this is no longer the case..

In-app software now allows for the real time checking of exchange prices, ensuring customers can get the most accurate and cost-efficient rates in the palm of their hand.

Gone are the days of endless form signing as well with Touch ID, DocuSign and voice-authentication greatly increasing the speed in which customers can safely and securely transfer money between accounts, Payees and countries or make payments.

Part of this success comes from the collaborative approach now used by most banks. This has enabled firms to partner with smaller, more agile fintechs, implementing a number of white-label services, and advancing their own offering to appeal to the new modern consumer.

This collaborative-formula will be the key to success and innovation within the financial sector for years to come.

Trading and Investment

Azamat Sultanov

Azamat Sultanov

Digital brokerships, such as eToro, Trading212 and RobinHood have led to a swathe of new retail investors entering the marketplace, and with that banks and firms should be looking to engage with this exciting new customer base.

If GameStop taught us anything, it’s that modern investors want the capability and the security to quickly access the trading floor and invest without the labour-intensive ways of years gone by with brokers, trade forms and endless bureaucracy.

This instant-access to the trade floor does pose risks to retail investors’ capital however and so it’s pivotal that financial service providers make a proactive effort to educate their customers on investing. This also offers a great opportunity for banks to open up positive channels of communication with their clients.

Banks shouldn’t be afraid to become more conversational and friendly with their customers to help solidify engagement. Perhaps by providing a monthly newsletter, banks and firms can cover off a number of key actions, helping to educate the consumer on interesting stocks and share options. By doing this, they can help their retail investors avoid costly investing mistakes.

Through these actions established banks and finance professionals are fulfilling their educational role and utilizing their investing experience to ensure the DIY-Investor is safe and well-informed.

Compliance

The debate over modernising financial service companies compliance models is polarising. On the one hand, established banks and firms will say that what is not broken does not need fixing, however given that the FCA imposed nearly £200m worth of fines to firms in 2020 alone, it would appear that there is definite room for improvement.

Innovative technology offers the ability for financial service companies to automate the process of collating and protecting customer data, and also bypass the risk of human error which can often be a costly and easily-avoided outcome when it comes to compliance.

Automated data processes also offer a multitude of benefits by optimising a bank’s operational efficiency, ensuring regulatory requirements are met, and creating a satisfying customer experience.

In previous decades the financial services industry has been slow to adapt and often it’s been for understandable reasons, the stakes are high and mistakes can result in customers lost and sizable fines.

That said, the benefits of greater digitisation pose too great an opportunity for banks, firms and wealth management companies to upgrade to a more efficient work process and retain & grow more customers.

By utilising the latest technology available to the sector and becoming more open-minded to collaboration with third-party vendors, firms can provide benefit to their customers.

Whether that is streamlining compliance, saving costs and time on payments & transfers or expanding to allow consumers the ability to invest and trade directly from within an ‘all-in-one’ app. The customer now wants efficiency without the sacrifice of security and that is exactly what we should be looking to provide.

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