Alex Blomfield, Mona Katigbak
Applications for founding membership of the China-initiated Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) closed on 31 March 2015. The fifty-seven prospective founding members notably do not include the United States (U.S.) or Japan, but do include a broad geographical spread of countries from Europe, Africa, the Middle East and South America, as well as U.S. allies such as France, Germany, the United Kingdom and Australia. These prospective founding members now have the opportunity to shape the rules that the AIIB will use to govern itself, as well as those it will employ in its financing of energy and infrastructure projects in Asia. At this pivotal juncture – prior to finalisation of the bank’s Articles of Association, targeted for June this year – it is timely to reflect on the AIIB’s potential governance, approach and standards, as well as the bank’s likely effect on the financing of infrastructure projects in Asia.
Why a new development bank?
Asia is the growth engine of the world economy but suffers from an infrastructure deficit which undermines both the region’s growth potential and human development outcomes for its people. In 2009 the Asian Development Bank (ADB), a regional development bank based in Manila, estimated that Asia needed to invest approximately $8 trillion over the ten years to 2020 in overall national infrastructure and, in addition, about $290 billion in specific regional infrastructure projects – an average overall infrastructure investment of $750 billion per year. Existing institutions such as the ADB and the World Bank clearly lack the capacity to meet those needs, given that their combined capital base equals less than $400 billion. The mandate of the ADB and the World Bank extends beyond infrastructure to embrace poverty reduction so these funds are stretched even further. Against this background, employing Asian savings for Asian infrastructure in an effort to help plug the funding gap constitutes a key rationale for the AIIB.
China already participates in financing infrastructure on a massive scale globally. According to Fred Hochberg, chairman of the Export-Import Bank of the United States’, Chinese state-institutions have committed to lend $670 billion in recent years. China could go it alone in increasing funding for infrastructure projects in Asia but its mixed experience with some of that lending (including arrears and/or economic stress from Ukraine, Venezuela, Ecuador and Argentina) has contributed to a decision by China to multilateralise its infrastructure lending efforts.1 One reason China does not simply channel additional funding for Asian infrastructure through the World Bank or the ADB is because the U.S. Congress has blocked China’s efforts in recent years to acquire voting weight and influence more commensurate with the size of its economy and its contributions to such bodies. As a result China has followed through on its promise to create a new multilateral institution over which it would have the predominant influence, much as the U.S. has over the World Bank or Japan over the ADB.
The initial subscribed capital of AIIB will be $50 billion, with China having put up most of the initial amount. The initial amount will be increased $100 billion, with rough plans for 75% of funding to come from Asian members going forward. Beijing will host the headquarters of the new bank which will make its own rules, albeit “built on the lessons of experience of existing [multilateral development banks] and the private sector” according to the AIIB web site.
With the establishment of new rules comes the potential to streamline processing procedures for infrastructure finance. Some advocates of the AIIB claim that the new rules will facilitate an increased flow of funds to infrastructure projects in Asia, which constitutes a further rationale for the establishment of the AIIB. Critics of the ADB and the World Bank maintain that excessively costly project preparation and lengthy reporting obligations inhibit efficient infrastructure funding and development. They maintain that the AIIB offers an opportunity to simplify infrastructure funding by adopting a risk-based approach to lending rather than a legalistic compliance-based approach.
Officially, a key objection cited by the U.S. for not joining the AIIB is a lack of clarity about AIIB’s governance. Irrespective of whether one shares those concerns, it is clear that governance standards will underpin the legitimacy of the new institution. Indeed founding members such as the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Australia have stated that they will use their influence to push for transparency in the AIIB’s governance. The Articles of Association, to be finalized by the prospective founding members by the end of June 2015, will decide several important issues, including the distribution of voting rights between members and the structure of the board of directors. Asian members will control 75% of the shares and China has signaled that it will not seek a veto right but will likely hold the highest voting percentage (estimated at 25-30%), which will give it the predominant voice in decision-making. China has also said that the new bank will make board and staffing appointments based on merit rather than political considerations.
Focus and approach
According to the AIIB’s web site, the Board of the AIIB will develop, and approve, a business strategy and policies for all AIIB investments. Such investments will focus on the development of infrastructure and other productive sectors in Asia, which may include energy and power, transportation and telecommunication, rural infrastructure, and agriculture development, urban development and logistics, especially those projects that are able to bring benefits to more than one member in the region. The AIIB will direct its investments through loans, equity investments and guarantees and will likely also have capacity to offer technical assistance.
Some proponents of the AIIB claim that it will offer a more streamlined approach than the existing Bretton Woods institutions such as the World Bank, with less reporting and bureaucracy. However, there are also concerns that China could use its influence over the new institution to advance its own geopolitical strategic interests or commercial interests. Indeed the increased impetus that the bank will give to infrastructure spending in Asia will undoubtedly be viewed as an opportunity by Chinese construction and other firms that are eager to win business abroad. The adoption of rigorous project-screening and approval processes as well as transparent procurement practices will be essential to ensure that the AIIB is not unduly dominated by Chinese interests.
Some have speculated that the AIIB will offer a big boost to the funding of coal-fired power projects and hydropower projects in Asia. Due to concerns over climate change, most multilateral, regional and bilateral development finance institutions and an ever increasing number of commercial lenders no longer lend to, or invest in, coal-fired power and other coal-related infrastructure projects. However, the AIIB has made no public pronouncements about its stance on coal and could well play a significant role in the plans of India, Indonesia, Vietnam, Japan and South Korea to increase their coal-fired generating capacity. Less at odds with efforts to combat climate change, is the likely push the AIIB will give hydropower development in Asia. Chinese companies have particular strength in both coal-fired power and hydropower projects and the multilateral nature of the AIIB offers a chance to legitimise the expansion of Chinese interests in those sectors.
HSES – Health, Safety, Environmental and Social
Another key objection cited by the U.S. for not joining the AIIB has been a concern about whether the AIIB will adhere to strict environmental and labour standards in its operations. President Obama has now stated that the U.S. never opposed the AIIB, and supports it provided that it incorporates strong financial, social and environmental safeguards. Indeed the AIIB itself has stated that it is “committed to the principles of sustainable development in the concept, design, and implementation of its investment activities” and that “building on MDB [multilateral development bank] experience and with the support of international experts”, the AIIB Secretariat has “initiated a process to develop an environmental and social policy framework to assure integration of these concerns in its operations”. The interim head of the new bank, Mr. JinLiqun, has said that it will ensure that people displaced by new infrastructure projects will be taken care of and that local communities and countries interested in projects financed by the bank will have the opportunity to be involved from the projects’ early stages and have a say through their “full life cycle,” he said.
It remains unclear whether the AIIB will adopt existing HSES standards or establish its own. IFC, other multilateral development banks, such as the ADB, and many commercial banks require their clients to apply its Performance Standards to manage environmental and social risks and impacts so that development opportunities are enhanced. Such standards are incorporated by reference in the Equator Principles, a credit risk management framework used to determine, assess and manage the environmental and social risks associated with certain project based financing. While some might presume that the AIIB will not apply IFC Performance Standards or the Equator Principles to its investments, it is worth noting that as long ago as 2007 the IFC and China Eximbank entered into a memorandum of understanding to cooperate on supporting environmentally and socially sustainable Chinese investment in emerging markets and that the Chinese bank Industrial Bank of China has signed up to the Equator Principles.
As noted in by Deborah Brautigam in her book “The Dragon’s Gift – The Real Story of China in Africa”, one of the most enduring criticisms of Chinese engagement in Africa concerns exploitative labour practices. The World Bank, ADB and many other lenders insist on compliance with IFC Performance Standard 2 on “Labour and Working Conditions”. Performance Standard 2 recognizes that the pursuit of economic growth through employment creation and income generation should be accompanied by protection of the fundamental rights of workers. The requirements set out in this Performance Standard have been in part guided by a number of international conventions and instruments, including those of the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the United Nations (UN). It remains to be seen whether the AIIB will adopt equivalent labour standards. China’s record of bringing in its own labour for large infrastructure projects, as well as its ignorance and/or non-observation of local labour laws, can lead to conflicts with local communities and workers. This means that labour standards on AIIB-funded projects will undoubtedly attract close scrutiny.
Bribery and corruption
Mr. Jin, the interim leader of the AIIB, has said that the AIIB will have “zero-tolerance” of graft. However, China continues to suffer from perceptions of corruption with its performance in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index recently slipping from 80th among 175 countries in 2013 to 100th in 2014. China’s broadening of the AIIB’s membership will see the institution come under pressure to uphold international rules and norms relating to bribery and corruption, such as the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention (1997) – based on the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act of 1977 – and the IFC Anti-Corruption Guidelines.
The AIIB will contribute to the further internationalization of China’s currency – renminbi (RMB), a key aim for China in the run-up to this year’s special drawing right (SDR) basket review by the IMF. Singapore and London will strengthen their market positions as centres for RMB-denominated offshore transactions by virtue of the membership of Singapore and the United Kingdom in the AIIB. Indeed, it has been suggested that this constituted Prime Minister Cameron’s key motivation for the United Kingdom joining the AIIB; London’s aim to be the first RMB clearing house outside Asia can only be helped by such joining.
Working with other institutions
While some see the AIIB as a threat to the ADB in particular, economist Joseph Stiglitz has pointed out that the ADB has previously “defended the virtues of competitive pluralism”. Indeed ADB President TakehikoNakao has said that he does not see the AIIB as a threat to the ADB, that the ADB will cooperate with the AIIB, and that the ADB could co-lend to projects with the AIIB and assist the AIIB with environmental standards. However, the ADB has also warned that it will find it difficult to cooperate with the AIIB if it fails to adopt high-quality standards. The World Bank President Jim Yong Kim has stated through a spokesman that his staff are in “deep discussions” with the AIIB “on how we can closely work together”. Even the U.S. has struck a new cautiously cooperative tone with Treasury Secretary Jack Lew stating at the recent annual meeting of the World Bank in Washington D.C.: “We are ready to welcome new additions to the international development architecture, including the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, provided that these institutions complement existing international financial institutions, including by adopting their high quality standards. Having the AIIB co-finance projects with existing institutions will help demonstrate a commitment to these high standards.” In addition, IMF president Christine Lagarde has also said that she expects that the IMF will cooperate with the AIIB.
The Asian Infrastructure Development Bank follows the establishment of two other China-led institutions over the past year: the Shanghai-based New Development Bank (NDB) that brings together the five BRICS countries of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa and the Silk Road Fund (SRF). Some commentators see this trio of new institutions as ushering in a new world economic order.
More projects, better quality projects
The AIIB’s new funding for roads, railways, airports and other infrastructure projects in Asia will likely lead to more of such projects being constructed. However, whether the efforts of China and the prospective founding members to establish a new institution lead to an increase in the quality of such projects, and the probity of funding to projects, remains to be seen. The AIIB could drive standards up by competing with the World Bank and the ADB and fulfilling its promise to be “lean, green and mean”. However, the AIIB could also drive standards down. Which direction the AIIB takes, and its influence on infrastructure projects in Asia, will largely depend on the behaviour of the AIIB’s membership in establishing and administering the new institution.
How open banking can drive innovation and growth in a post-COVID world
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.
Banks take note: Customers want to pay with points
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.
The Importance of Liquidity Solutions
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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