Tony Virdi, VP Banking and Financial Services, UK, Cognizant
With high street banks in the UK having ever increasing numbers of active internet banking customers, the volume of digital banking transactions are growing exponentially. But it is the even more rapid rise in mobile banking and payments that is making traditional bankers sit up and take even more notice. Customer experience is the key. The opportunity to instantaneously personalise banking products via digital channels, for example, helps to reposition both banking and non-banking services, increase wallet share and income, and hence provide an important driver for change.
In the corridors of power in UK banks change is also afoot as discretionary investment budgets in retail banks migrate towards digital. Digital bankers are rapidly becoming the new power base.
There are increasingly many more transformations with which banks are grappling, however, as the recent news that debit cards are the first choice for online shopping shows. The UK Cards Association claimed that online spending using a debit card hit £35 billion last year compared with £34 billion on credit cards. Apparently shoppers are also more inclined to use debit cards in stores as well as online, especially as more shops have accepted debit cards and devices such as chip-and-pin machines. This highlights that a bank’s role as a credit lender is also changing, whether due to greater caution exerted by consumers or by banks themselves to avoid risky lending.
In my opinion and experience, however, it is mobile payments that are truly disrupting traditional banking. Up until recently, mobile payments have been the way of the future, with smaller payment via contactless cards as well as peer to peer payments taking off. But banks have not been able to truly capitalise on the wider opportunity available, due to the disparate nature of retailers, banking institutions and consumers themselves. Many mobile payment and mobile banking apps exist but they have either been platform-specific and tricky to interoperate, or unable to fulfil banking and payments standards.
Some key disruptions that will pave the future and this is where it gets interesting – include –.:
Zapp, a new mobile payment service backed by the UK’s major high-street lenders, providing the infrastructure behind Bacs, Direct Debit and Mobile Top-Up. Expected to launch next year, it was announced by VocaLink, a consortium of 18 banks and building societies. The mobile payment service will allow smartphone users to make instant, secure payments from their bank account via their mobile banking app, bridging ecommerce, mCommerce and extending into payments made directly in a retail environment.
Not to be confused with Zapp, the UK Payments Council will also launch a ubiquitous interbank mobile P2P payments services in April 2014.Building on the success of Pingit, this service will enable people in the UK to send money to anyone who holds a bank account in one of the eight major banks signed up for the service. The payment will be routed via their mobile telephone number linked to their sort code and account number in a database which has been built by Vocalink. The payment transactions will be processed via the Faster Payments Service.
Mobile payment technologies will continue to evolve which will affect payment acceptance processes. Services like SQUARE, iZettle and Paylaven are disrupting traditional merchant payment providers, including Amex. Smartphones are becoming payment acceptance device, thereby reducing the time to bring on board new merchants and also reducing cost of transaction. This also provides a platform for entirely new loyalty-based products, and will complement the consumer’s desire to use mobile technology for payments.
With new wearable devices such as Google Glasses and the iWatch, the expectation is that customers will complete even more digital transactions on the go. This is because of the ease of use of such devices and their ability to provide all of the services that current smartphones provide, and more, without taking the user away from everything that is happening around them. As a consequence, digital transactions including payments on the go are expected to become even more prevalent.
This all means that banks are increasingly focusing on m-commerce as a means of both providing better customer service as well as enhancing their top lines. M-commerce provides banks with unique opportunities to develop complete and holistic payment solutions in collaboration with retailers and telecom providers so as to provide customers with seamless, safe and secure ways of paying for the goods and services they buy on their mobile devices.
I believe that the combination of Pingit, Zapp, the new interbank P2P services, easier payment acceptance processes and new mobile devices will be the tipping point for mobile payments in the UK. They will provide the potential for consumers to embrace mobile payments regardless of which bank they use or which retailers they prefer (similar to the disruptive innovation that SMS first drove.)
However, with an uptake of mobile payments also comes risk. Whether anti-money laundering (AML), fraud, device theft or shoulder surfing, this is no different to any other new technology. In the case of mobile payments, the interesting aspect is that these risks converge with those of the financial services and telecommunications industries. The regulators, telecom operators, regulated firms and vendors will need to work closely together to parry the threats of fraud. Key to encouraging mobile payment adoption among consumers is ease of use, a ‘risk-free’ customer experience, i.e. ensuring continued high levels of security as people are increasingly wary of parting with their cash, whether coins and notes, online, or via mobile means. For banks, financial institutions and retailers, more interoperation and cooperation is required if they are to benefit from this disruptive consumer driven change to traditional payments and banking.
The wind of change is rife, and it is progressively being driven by consumer demand as they seek new channels for payments (and communication), and it is up to banks to embrace this disruption at pace to retain their relevance and move with the times.
Airbus CEO urges trade war ceasefire, easing of COVID travel bans
By Tim Hepher
PARIS (Reuters) – The head of European planemaker Airbus called on Saturday for a “ceasefire” in a transatlantic trade war over aircraft subsidies, saying tit-for-tat tariffs on planes and other goods had aggravated damage from the COVID-19 crisis.
Washington progressively imposed import duties of 15% on Airbus jets from 2019 after a prolonged dispute at the World Trade Organization, and the EU responded with matching tariffs on Boeing jets a year later. Wine, whisky and other goods are also affected.
“This dispute, which is now an old dispute, has put us in a lose-lose situation,” Airbus Chief Executive Guillaume Faury said in a radio interview.
“We have ended up in a situation where wisdom would normally dictate that we have a ceasefire and resolve this conflict,” he told France Inter.
Boeing was not immediately available for comment.
Brazil, which has waged separate battles with Canada over subsidies for smaller regional jets, on Thursday dropped its own complaint against Ottawa and called for a global peace deal between producing nations on support for aerospace.
Faury said the dispute with Boeing was particularly damaging during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has badly hit air travel and led to travel restrictions or border closures. He expressed particular concern about widening bans within Europe.
“We are extremely frustrated by the barriers that restrict personal movement and it is almost impossible today to travel in Europe by plane, even domestically,” he said.
“The priority no. 1 for countries in general is to reopen frontiers and allow people to travel on the basis of tests and then eventually vaccinations.”
The comments come as businesses increase pressure on governments to reopen economies as coronavirus vaccine roll-outs gather pace across Europe.
France has defended recently introduced border restrictions, saying they will help the government avoid a new lockdown and stay in force until at least the end of February.
Germany installed border controls with the Czech Republic and Austria last Sunday, drawing protest from Austria and concerns about supply-chain disruptions.
Berlin calls the move a temporary measure of last resort.
Poland said on Saturday it had not ruled out imposing restrictions at the country’s borders with Slovakia and the Czech Republic due to rising COVID-19 cases.
(Reporting by Tim Hepher; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)
Why a predictable cold snap crippled the Texas power grid
By Tim McLaughlin and Stephanie Kelly
(Reuters) – As Texans cranked up their heaters early Monday to combat plunging temperatures, a record surge of electricity demand set off a disastrous chain reaction in the state’s power grid.
Wind turbines in the state’s northern Panhandle locked up. Natural gas plants shut down when frozen pipes and components shut off fuel flow. A South Texas nuclear reactor went dark after a five-foot section of uninsulated pipe seized up. Power outages quickly spread statewide – leaving millions shivering in their homes for days, with deadly consequences.
It could have been far worse: Before dawn on Monday, the state’s grid operator was “seconds and minutes” away from an uncontrolled blackout for its 26 million customers, its CEO has said. Such a collapse occurs when operators lose the ability to manage the crisis through rolling blackouts; in such cases, it can take weeks or months to fully restore power to customers.
Monday was one of the state’s coldest days in more than a century – but the unprecedented power crisis was hardly unpredictable after Texas had experienced a similar, though less severe, disruption during a 2011 cold snap. Still, Texas power producers failed to adequately winter-proof their systems. And the state’s grid operator underestimated its need for reserve power capacity before the crisis, then moved too slowly to tell utilities to institute rolling blackouts to protect against a grid meltdown, energy analysts, traders and economists said.
Early signs of trouble came long before the forced outages. Two days earlier, for example, the grid suddenly lost 539 megawatts (MW) of power, or enough electricity for nearly 108,000 homes, according to operational messages disclosed by the state’s primary grid operator, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT).
The crisis stemmed from a unique confluence of weaknesses in the state’s power system.
Texas is the only state in the continental United States with an independent and isolated grid. That allows the state to avoid federal regulation – but also severely limits its ability to draw emergency power from other grids. ERCOT also operates the only major U.S. grid that does not have a capacity market – a system that provides payments to operators to be on standby to supply power during severe weather events.
After more than 3 million ERCOT customers lost power in a February 2011 freeze, federal regulators recommended that ERCOT prepare for winter with the same urgency as it does the peak summer season. They also said that, while ERCOT’s reserve power capacity looked good on paper, it did not take into account that many generation units could get knocked offline by freezing weather.
“There were prior severe cold weather events in the Southwest in 1983, 1989, 2003, 2006, 2008, and 2010,” Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and North American Electric Reliability Corp staff summarized after investigating the state’s 2011 rolling blackouts. “Extensive generator failures overwhelmed ERCOT’s reserves, which eventually dropped below the level of safe operation.”
ERCOT spokeswoman Leslie Sopko did not comment in detail about the causes of the power crisis but said the grid’s leadership plans to re-evaluate the assumptions that go into its forecasts.
The freeze was easy to see coming, said Jay Apt, co-director of the Carnegie Mellon Electricity Industry Center.
“When I read that this was a black-swan event, I just have to wonder whether the folks who are saying that have been in this business long enough that they forgot everything, or just came into it,” Apt said. “People need to recognize that this sort of weather is pretty common.”
This week’s cold snap left 4.5 million ERCOT customers without power. More than 14.5 million Texans endured a related water-supply crisis as pipes froze and burst. About 65,000 customers remained without power as of Saturday afternoon, even as temperatures started to rise, according to website PowerOutage.US.
State health officials have linked more than two dozen deaths to the power crisis. Some died from hypothermia or possible carbon monoxide poisoning caused by portable generators running in basements and garages without enough ventilation. Officials say they suspect the death count will rise as more bodies are discovered.
THIN POWER RESERVE
In the central Texas city of Austin, the state capital, the minimum February temperature usually falls between 42 and 48 degrees Fahrenheit (5 to 9 degrees Celsius). This past week, temperatures fell as low as 6 degrees Fahrenheit (-14 degrees Celsius).
In November, ERCOT assured that the grid was prepared to handle such a dire scenario.
“We studied a range of potential risks under both normal and extreme conditions, and believe there is sufficient generation to adequately serve our customers,” said ERCOT’s manager of resource adequacy, Pete Warnken, in a report that month.
Warnken could not be reached for comment on Saturday.
Under normal winter conditions, ERCOT forecast it would have about 16,200 MW of power reserves. But under extreme conditions, it predicted a reserve cushion of only about 1,350 MW. That assumed only 23,500 MW of generation outages. During the peak of this week’s crisis, more than 30,000 MW was forced off the grid.
Other U.S. grid operators maintain a capacity market to supply extra power in extreme conditions – paying operators on an ongoing basis, whether they produce power or not. Capacity market auctions determine, three years in advance, the price that power generators receive in exchange for being on emergency standby.
Instead, ERCOT relies on a wholesale electricity market, where free market pricing provides incentives for generators to provide daily power and to make investments to ensure reliability in peak periods, according to economists. The system relied on the theory that power plants should make high profits when energy demand and prices soar – providing them ample money to make investments in, for example, winterization. The Texas legislature restructured the state’s electric market in 1999.
Since 2010, ERCOT’s reserve margin – the buffer between generation capacity versus forecasted demand – has dropped to about 10% from about 20%. This has put pressure on generators during demand spikes, making the grid less flexible, according to North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC), a nonprofit regulator.
That thin margin for error set off alarms early Monday morning among energy traders and analysts as they watched a sudden drop in the electrical frequency of the Texas grid. One analyst compared it to watching the pulse of a hospital patient drop to life-threatening levels.
Too much of a drop is catastrophic because it would trigger automatic relay switches to disconnect power sources from the grid, setting off uncontrolled blackouts statewide. Dan Jones, an energy analyst at Monterey LLC, watched from his home office in Delaware as the grid’s frequency dropped quickly toward the point that would trigger the automatic shutdowns.
“If you’re not in control, and you are letting the equipment do it, that’s just chaos,” Jones said.
By Sunday afternoon about 3:15 p.m. (CST), ERCOT’s control room signaled it had run out of options to boost electric generation to match the soaring demand. Operators issued a warning that there was “no market solution” for the projected shortage, according to control room messages published by ERCOT on its website.
Adam Sinn, president of Houston-based energy trading firm Aspire Commodities, said ERCOT waited far too long to start telling utilities to cut customers’ power to guard against a grid meltdown. The problems, he said, were readily apparent several days before Monday.
“ERCOT was letting the system get weaker and weaker and weaker,” Sinn said in an interview. “I was thinking: Holy shit, what is this grid operator doing? He has to cut load.”
Sinn said he started texting his friends on Sunday night, warning them to expect widespread outages.
‘SECONDS AND MINUTES’
Early Monday morning, one of the largest sources of electricity in the state – the unit 1 reactor at the South Texas Nuclear Generating Station – stopped producing power after the small section of pipe froze in temperatures that averaged 17 degrees Fahrenheit (9 degrees Celsius). The grid lost access to 1,350 MW of nuclear power – enough to power about 270,000 homes – after automatic sensors detected the frozen pipe and protectively shut down the reactor, said Victor Dricks, a spokesman for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
About 2:30 a.m. (CST), the South Plains Electric Cooperative in Lubbock said it received a phone call from ERCOT to cut power to its customers. Inside the ERCOT control room, staff members scrambled to call utilities and cooperatives statewide to tell them to do the same, according to operational messages disclosed by the grid operator.
Three days later, ERCOT Chief Executive Bill Magness acknowledged that the grid operator had only narrowly avoided the calamity of uncontrolled blackouts.
“If we hadn’t taken action,” he said on Thursday, “it was seconds and minutes (away), given the amount of generation that was coming off the system at the same time that the demand was still going up.”
(Reporting by Tim McLaughlin and Stephanie Kelly; additional reporting by Nichola Groom; editing by Simon Webb and Brian Thevenot)
UK could declare Brexit ‘water wars’ – The Telegraph
(Reuters) – Britain could restrict imports of European mineral water and several food products under retaliatory measures being considered by ministers over Brussels’ refusal to end its blockade on British shellfish, the Telegraph reported.
Senior government sources pointed to potential restrictions on the importing of mineral water and seed potatoes, the report said.
(Reporting by Maria Ponnezhath in Bengaluru; Editing by Daniel Wallis)
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