Remarks by Min Zhu, IMF Deputy Managing Director
The new challenges – Global economic slowdown..
Let me begin with the global economic outlook. Overall, we expect global growth to slow to 4 percent this year and next.But this global number masks some important differences. In the advanced economies—the epicenter of the financial crisis—the recovery is still weak and bumpy, with unacceptably high unemployment. They will only manage an anemic 1½ to 2 percent in 2011-12.
The global economy has entered a dangerous new phase. While the recovery continues, it looks weaker, bumpier, and more uneven. Financial stress has risen substantially. The world is suffering from a collective crisis of confidence, which is holding back consumption, investment, and job creation. This imposes not only economic, but also social costs. And uncertainty has been exacerbated by policy indecision and political dysfunction across the advanced economies.
A key problem is too much debt in the system. Uncertainty hovers over sovereigns across the advanced economies, banks in Europe, and households in the United States. Adverse feedback loops between the real economy and the financial sector are gaining strength. Concerns about public debt sustainability in the euro area have intensified, leading to fears about the health of the area’s banks.
The story is different in the emerging markets and developing countries, with growth projected in the 6 to 6½ percent range. The two-speed recovery that we noted last year is still very much in evidence. If anything, it is getting starker. While the advanced economies face cold headwinds, the emerging markets and developing countries face too much heat.
This is a real bright spot, as countries harvest the fruits of sound economic policies. And while accommodative policies, especially fiscal stimulus, helped to ease the pain of the crisis, we now see signs of overheating and inflationary pressures in some countries.
But these countries are not immune to adverse developments in the core economies.
I see a number of key risks here. First, continued financial market stress could lead to large and abrupt capital outflows as investors flee to safety. Second, weaker global growth would hurt emerging markets through reduced trade flows and lower commodity prices. And third, a global slowdown could expose underlying vulnerabilities from excessive credit growth—vulnerabilities that typically stay below the surface in good times.
So downside risks are substantial. Without policy action to halt this vicious circle, the global economy could face a protracted period or low growth and high unemployment. Even worse, we cannot rule out a downward spiral of uncertainty and risk aversion, dysfunctional financial markets, unsustainable debt dynamics, and a collapse in global demand.
These countries must stand ready to deal with spillovers from the advanced economies. IMF research shows that economic tremors in core countries can easily reverberate across the globe, especially when channeled by the financial sector.
Resolving the crisis requires two key rebalancing acts—a domestic demand switch from the public to the private sector, and a global demand switch from external deficit to external surplus counties. Progress on both fronts has been weak. Private demand has not been strong enough to take the baton from public demand. And domestic demand in key emerging markets has not grown enough, owing to structural distortions and limited exchange rate flexibility.
Policies have gone halfway toward addressing the debt problems in advanced economies and achieving more domestic and inclusive growth in emerging and developing economies. It is time to finish the job. Policymakers must act now, act boldly, and act together. The stakes are high.
The first priority is to deal with balance sheets—sovereigns, banks, and households. On sovereigns, advanced countries need fiscal consolidation as a matter of priority, but, for some, pushing too fast will harm growth and jobs. Credible measures that deliver and anchor savings in the medium term will help create space for supporting growth and jobs in the short run.
Policymakers must also focus squarely on job creation. High unemployment not only depresses demand, but also leads to grave human and social costs. This is especially true when unemployment is long-lasting, and concentrated among the young and the unskilled.
In the emerging markets, including in Asia, the surplus countries must rely more on domestic demand, especially since domestic-led growth is also more inclusive growth. In the deficit countries, including in Latin America, the challenge is to reduce overheating and preserve financial stability.
While the advanced economies have the greatest responsibility to act, all must play their part. In this interconnected world, there can be no decoupling. The ultimate goal is growth—inclusive growth that benefits everybody, and growth that produces sufficient jobs.
African regional outlook
The encouraging recent developments we have been observing in sub-Saharan Africa make a welcome contrast to the disappointing recent performance of the advanced economies. For sub-Saharan Africa, we project output growth this year 5¼ percent, rising to 5¾ percent by 2012.
Beneath these good overall prospects for sub-Saharan Africa, there is however considerable diversity.
• Most low-income countries have been doing well, despite the weak world economy: one third of them are expected to grow by more than 6 percent this year. However, poor households have been hit hard by rising food and fuel prices, and famine is devastating the Horn of Africa.
• Economic developments have been less positive for some middle-income countries. South Africa, in particular, was hit hard by the global crisis. With unemployment remaining stubbornly high, growth will probably be limited to about 3½ percent this year.
• Oil exporters have been enjoying high oil prices, and the non-oil sectors in their economies are projected to grow by 7½ percent this year.
Despite the rebound, the crisis did a lot of damage. The strong momentum in reducing poverty and reaching the Millennium Development Goals has been stymied. South Africa alone lost a million jobs. And now, the resilience of Africa is being tested again by sharp increases in food and fuel prices and the fallouts of the sovereign debt crisis in Europe, spilling over to the European banking system. There are also downside risks to the outlook, including volatility in financial and commodity markets, as well as signs that inflation may be on the rise again.
Looking ahead, the policy challenge in Africa will become trickier, because of what is happening in advanced economies.
If growth continues to falter in the North, the South will eventually be adversely affected. This could happen through the same transmission channels as in the previous crisis, namely lower trade, lower foreign investment, lower remittances, and lower aid flows. In the event of an increased impact from the global slowdown, and subject to financing constraints, policies should focus on maintaining planned priority spending. However, some slower growing, mostly middle-income countries, including South Africa, have yet to see output and employment return to potential levels. Policies there should remain supportive of output progression; and even more so if global growth wanes.
Most low-income countries are currently growing at an increased pace, but their policy reaction has been too slow to shed the accommodative approach adopted during the previous crisis. As a result, inflation is now rising in a number of them. These countries should tighten monetary policy and focus on medium-term objectives in setting fiscal policy. With the projected output growth and rising inflation, it is time to rebuild the buffers that served the region so well during the previous crisis. And since many African countries need to invest in infrastructure and strengthen social safety nets, domestic revenue mobilization must be a priority.
Oil-exporting countries are in a different league. Better terms of trade are providing an opportunity to build up reserves depleted in the aftermath of the previous crisis to cushion price volatility and global slowdown, while at the same time pursuing development goals.
Trade re-orientation and regional integration
Trade re-orientation and regional integration can help increase resilience to the global downturn.
Developing countries now account for about half of sub-Saharan Africa’s exports and almost 60 percent of sub-Saharan Africa’s imports. This re-orientation is mostly driven by the economies of Brazil, China, and India, but also by a substantial increase in trade within sub-Saharan Africa. A similar re-orientation is also taking place in investment flows, with China now accounting for 16 percent of total foreign direct investment to the region; other emerging countries are also making considerable investments in sub-Saharan Africa.
This re-orientation and the associated expansion of trade and financial flows have benefits, including gains from comparative advantage, economies of scale, technology transfers, and the diversification of export markets. As a result, closer engagement with other developing countries, including within sub-Saharan Africa, fosters higher valued-added and employment.
However, Africans do not need to go far to find new opportunities. There are significant untapped resources for expanding trade and financial flows within sub-Saharan Africa itself. Regional integration could raise the economies of scale in the region, thus increasing industrialization, competitiveness, and attractiveness for foreign direct investment.
Against this background, it is encouraging that regional integration initiatives are gaining momentum. A tri-partite agreement among the East Africa Community, the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa, and the Southern Africa Development Community on launching negotiations on a free-trade zone was signed recently. This prospective free-trade zone could cover 26 countries with a population of 600 million and a GDP of about US$1 trillion. A lot remains to be done, however, to make this vision a reality. The IMF supports regional integration and harmonization initiatives through policy advice and technical assistance, drawing on its vast international experience. AFRITAC South, which we inaugurated today, will also contribute to these efforts.
The evolving role of the IMF
I believe the IMF has a strong partnership with Africa. We are certainly focused on the distinct challenges of the region. But in our interconnected world, global issues are also African issues. Strengthening our ability to prevent crises matters for everybody. Let me talk a little about the IMF’s agenda.
We are trying to better understand the interconnections that run through the global economy. We are focused more than ever on the vulnerabilities and spillovers that run through our interconnected world. Clearly, this is important for Africa’s economy too, given its dependence on what happens in advanced economies.
We are also trying to improve global monitoring of capital flows. This is becoming an important issue here in Africa, with the growth of frontier markets—like Mauritius—which are finding favor with international investors. These flows bring many benefits to recipient countries, but they also come with risks to macroeconomic and financial stability.
The IMF is seeking to sharpen its awareness of the quality of growth within countries. A poor distribution of income and high unemployment can have implications for macroeconomic stability, sustainable growth, and social stability, as demonstrated by the Arab Spring.
We need to broaden the range of indictors we look at to assess the economic health of a country. But this is not really our area of expertise, so we must collaborate with other institutions. Right now, we are working with the International Labor Organization (ILO) across a number of dimensions, including on the policies behind job-creating growth. Zambia is one of our pilot cases of enhanced social partnership discussions involving the IMF, the ILO, and the International Trade Unions Confederation. We are also working with the ILO in building effective social protection floors in low-income countries—Mozambique is a pilot in this respect.
I think our lending during the crisis drew a line in the sand, helping the countries themselves and reducing contagion—including to African countries. We also changed the way we lend, making our lending programs more flexible, streamlining conditionality, stressing country ownership, and protecting social spending.
Concessional lending to low-income countries jumped sharply during the crisis, and the Fund seeks to increase its concessional lending capacity to provide up to $17 billion during 2009-14. We also cancelled all interest payments through the end of 2011, with permanently higher concessionality thereafter.
We introduced different lending facilities to reflect the diverse needs of our membership better. We adopted a more flexible approach to debt, giving countries with lower debt vulnerabilities and greater capacity to manage public resources enhanced leeway to borrow more from both concessional and non-concessional sources.
Our lending programs allowed governments maintain critical spending. A recent IMF study shows that health and education spending in countries with IMF programs increases faster than in developing countries as a whole.
During the crisis, we also took steps to enhance liquidity provision in times of extreme volatility. We created insurance-like instruments intended for crisis prevention. Looking ahead, we are discussing ways to provide short-term liquidity during times of systemic stress to stop contagion. In this, we think about collaborating with other institutions, such as central banks, systemic risk boards, and regional financing arrangements.
Capacity building is a core part of the IMF’s work. After all, sound policies must be built on sound foundations. Strong institutions are critical for sound macroeconomic management, and ultimately for economic development and inclusive growth.
It is technical assistance and capacity building that brings me to Mauritius today. Just a few hours ago, I had the privilege of opening our latest IMF regional technical assistance center—known as AFRITAC South. This represents an important milestone. This new center is our fourth in Africa, and the total number of countries covered by AFRITACs has reached 38. And we are not finished, as we are planning on one more center in West Africa.
I believe the AFRITAC model is a recipe for success, because of three key advantages. First, it is built on country ownership. Second, the proximity to the action greatly enhances the chances of success. And third, the model provides ample opportunities for cross-fertilization, knowledge transfer, and exchange of best practices.
It is now part of conventional wisdom that cooperation saved the world from calamity during the last crisis. Today, collaboration is more important than ever, given the grave and urgent challenges, as well as the complexity and interdependence of the global economy. And everybody must have a voice at that table, including Africa.
As a multilateral institution founded to support cooperation, the IMF is here to help its members. We all share the same goal—a stronger, more resilient, and more inclusive global economy. Let’s continue to work together during these uncertain economic times.
Digital collaboration: Shaping the Future of Finance
By Ryan Lester, Senior Director of Customer Experience Technologies at LogMeIn
With heightened economic uncertainty and increased customer expectation becoming the norm in the banking industry, it is understandable that the sector is struggling to keep afloat. Due to its precarious nature, banking institutions are trying their best to ensure they remain relevant in the competitive landscape and guarantee that their customers continue to be a priority.
When it comes to the first half of this year, the pandemic has shown how easy it is for industries to fail. Customers and companies alike had to get used to the new normal, as physical locations started to close. The banking industry felt this first hand, as banks were made to restructure how their business ran, with restricted opening hours and a wider push to motivate people to use online banking.
While some had already embraced digital options prior to the pandemic, this proved to be a stark contrast to the elderly population, who frequently visited branches to access their finances. Moving forward, banks have to adopt new methods to ensure customers get the most out of our their accounts, without their experience suffering.
Heightened Customer Expectations
When the pandemic reached its peak, people were encouraged to use online banking, as telephone contact was under strain with long waiting times and pressure mounting on contact centre agents. According to Fidelity National Information Services (FIS), which works with 50 of the world’s largest banks, there was a 200% jump in new mobile banking registrations in early April, while mobile banking traffic rose 85%.
With branches remaining closed, customers were continuously being urged to limit the amount of calls they made to the most urgent cases and consider whether they could solve their answers through mobile online banking or checking the company website. Although already being adopted in pockets of the industry, this was a real catalyst that spurred banks to up their game on digital channels and with self-service tools.
Banks are challenged with precariously balancing customer needs with the cost of personalised support. With the demographic of customers changing over the last few years, customers are becoming increasingly younger and more comfortable with technology. Influenced by the “Amazon Effect”, their expectations have raised to an all-time high, placing record strain on the sector
Customer experience isn’t just about support anymore, it’s about serving your customer at every point in the journey. Companies have an opportunity to elevate the experience they provide by moving beyond one-and-done interactions to create continuous engagements with their customers. It is starting to become a primary competitive differentiator in the market and one that doesn’t have a lot of variation. Deploying AI chatbot technology will be able to strategically help banks improve customer experience and raise the level of support that agents provide.
Digital collaboration: Working around the Clock
The benefits of adopting digital channels and self-service tools are second to none. By implementing chatbots, fuelled by conversational AI, banks will be able to help serve a wide range of customer queries and ensure they are protected from fraud and scams.
Conversational AI is exactly what it sounds like: a computer programme that engages in a conversation with a human. When it comes to service delivery, conversational AI can be deployed across multiple channels to engage with customers in ways that effectively address evolving customer needs. At a time defined by COVID-19, self-service tools such a conversational chatbots can work around the clock to solve customer queries in a concise and timely way. Of course, self-service tools won’t completely replace human agents in the banking industry, but they will help companies re-distribute customer traffic and workflows in ways that enhance customer experience. Self-service tools fuelled by conversational AI can also improve employee experience because service employees can handle fewer, but higher-level service tasks that chatbots might escalate to them.
Adopting new tools to help facilitate consistent and concise answers and help maintain customer experience is on the forefront of many industry minds. Banks such as the Natwest Group have seen this first-hand and are testament to the benefits that a good digital experience can provide. Simon Johnson, Capability Consultant, Digital at NatWest Group highlights NatWest’s use of digital tools during lockdown, “Over the last few months, we’ve learnt how to use digital tools to help our employees remotely. From a banking perspective, there have been a lot of changes including base rates, waive fees and the best ways of contacting our vulnerable customers, ensuring we keep them protected from frauds and scams.
“By introducing our Bold360 chatbot interface, Ella, we’ve been able to get relevant information out quickly, apply the best practice and ensure that our customer journeys are being developed correctly. Due to the volume of questions, some of our customers were finding themselves waiting longer than usual. So digital channels become essential to helping reduce the wait time. Using Bold360, we were able to mitigate issues and answer questions in a more timely way through our chatbot.
“Moving forward, as we open more digital services, we are analysing our data to see if customer will return back to their usual way of banking, now that they’ve seen what a good digital experience can provide. Either way, with Ella, we are ready.”
Chatbots and Humans: The Best Option for Customer Service
Over the last year, banking institutions have recognised the power that digital collaboration can have to their success. Delivering exceptional customer service and support is key for any business wanting to stay competitive in today’s market and banks are especially challenged with precariously balancing customer needs with the cost of personalised support. Leveraging the right technology, such as AI-powered chatbots, will enable the banking industry to provide better support and a more robust customer experience in the long term. Other institutions must follow suit, or risk becoming obsolete.
A sleeping digital giant wakes? 4 key trends accelerating payments transformation in the US
By Lauren Jones, International Payments Ambassador, Icon Solutions
The US payments industry is undoubtedly ripe for change. Before the unprecedented shock of COVID-19, digitization and payments transformation initiatives had been organic, piecemeal and predominately the preserve of the largest banks.
Now, increasing pressure means that financial institutions of all sizes are working to define a digital strategy to unlock new opportunities, drive business value, and stay competitive. But beyond the immediate impact of COVID, what underlying trends are accelerating digitization in the US?
- Real-time payments – the stimulus for change
Real-time payments have been met with a degree of caution by US financial institutions. Risking traditional profit generators in return for potential revenues down the line is a gamble many have not been willing to take. But immediate payments are coming to the US whether banks like it or not.
Major payments infrastructure providers, including NACHA and The Clearing House (TCH), have moved to encourage immediate payment adoption in recent years. But the Fed, frustrated with a slow rate of progress, has announced that it is pressing ahead with the implementation of its FedNow system (despite significant industry objection). Although the Fed’s true intentions are open to interpretation and this may just be a play to accelerate private initiatives, it is a clear signal that they mean business.
This means holdouts risk their own ‘Kodak’ moment if they miss the huge opportunities in front of them by fixating on traditional revenue streams. Banks are in a position to support innovation across entire industries such as healthcare, which could be released from the constraints of paper-based bureaucracy and slow, expensive transactions.
Another opportunity that can be unlocked via instant payments is ISO 20022 (used in the TCH RTP system). It is the future of payments messaging standards and can greatly enhance various payments processes through increased data-carrying capabilities. More importantly given the current climate, citizens reliant on federal or state support can benefit from RTPs combined with additional data to immediately access emergency funds.
- The kids are growing up
The US is getting older. Consumers who were 10 when the iPhone first launched are now 23. This means we are seeing a ramp-up of digitally native Gen Z consumers (roughly those born between 1995 and 2010) accessing banking services.
Demographics are an inexact science and not perfect predictors (there are technophobe college students and 100-year-old Instagram influencers), but we can detect noticeable trends.
Younger customers don’t usually choose a bank because there is an ATM in their neighbourhood, a slightly better interest rate or an advert in the newspaper. Rather, a strong digital presence, personalised tools, rewards and experiences, and the trusted recommendations of friends and family, will have a more significant impact on customer acquisition.
Banks must look at the effect this will have on their longer-term digitalization strategy and be able to segment what this emerging customer base might want and how they will interact in years to come.
- Checkmate? Evolving corporate requirements
Corporate treasurers are people and their experience of seamless, immediate payments in their personal lives shapes expectations in the workplace. Although check usage for business-to-business (B2B) transactions is still the norm in the US and barriers remain, corporates are increasingly demanding the ability to transact in a real-time, omnichannel environment, 24×7.
The benefits are clear. Corporate treasurers stand to enjoy enhanced liquidity management and transparency, greater control over payments and enhanced data for reconciliation purposes. And for consumers, alternative digital payment options such as buy now pay later promote choice and flexibility.
- Increasing competition
A significant consequence of emerging consumer and business demand for digital offerings is the increase in competition from fintechs, technology giants and other third-parties. Traditionally, incumbent banks have enjoyed the advantage of consumer trust to offset more limited innovation. But as consumers become more comfortable entrusting their financial transactions to non-banks, banks must differentiate and digitize to remain competitive.
Data is where the technology giants excel, and their ability to personalise experiences and emotionally connect with their users is unprecedented. Banks need to learn from the positive aspects of this model to better understand their users and deliver meaningful, useful products and services.
For data to become the cornerstone of a banks’ customer relationship and take services to the next level, breaking the channel silos and extracting value from a comprehensive dataset will be decisive. But with only 18% of banks reporting that they are in the process of shifting from a transactional revenue model to a data-driven revenue model, this work has some way to go.
Taking customer propositions to the next level
Customers now expect services that work for them, not their banks. All banks, no matter the footprint, need to move quickly to offer a broad digital service platform that adds value to both the customer and the bank.
By defining a robust payments transformation strategy, banks of all sizes can remain fiercely competitive by rapidly lowering costs, unlocking revenues and promoting innovation
Return to Work Doesn’t Mean Business as Usual When it Comes to Travel and Expense
By Rob Harrison, MD UK & Ireland, SAP Concur
The last few months have been an exercise in adaptability for businesses across the UK. With the sudden mandate to work from home, company processes that were ingrained in employees’ day-to-day routines were either put on hold or turned upside down. The new office normal now includes virtual meetings, conversing through instant messaging instead of in the hallway, and the redefining of “business casual” attire.
Many of the processes that have undergone changes fall into the category of travel and expense. With most business travel on hold and the nature of expenses changing, finance managers have had to adjust policies and practices to accommodate the new world of work. Recent SAP Concur research found that 72% of businesses have seen changes in the levels and types of expenses submitted, but only 24% have changed their policies to support this. Examples of travel and expense related changes that were made at the beginning of work from home mandates include:
- A halt to business travel and its associated expenses.
- Temporarily ending expensed meals for business lunches, dinners, or in-office meetings.
- Increase in office expenses like monitors and chairs as employees furnish their home offices.
- New expenses to consider like Internet and cell phone bills for employees who must work from home.
Now, as companies begin thinking about return to work plans, finance managers are discovering it’s not simply business as usual again. SAP Concur research found that many expect finance will return to normal quicker than general workplace practices, but vast majority see the process taking up to 12 months. New policies and processes need to be put in place to accommodate travel restrictions and changes in expenses. While finance managers need to stay flexible as the business environment continues to evolve, spend control and compliance should still be a high priority.
Here are a few questions that can help finance managers prepare for return to work while keeping control and compliance top of mind:
- What will travel look like for the company? Finance managers must work with travel and HR counterparts to determine the need for employee travel, if at all, and how to keep employees safe. At SAP Concur, we surveyed 500 UK business travellers and found that health and safety is now seen as more than twice as important than their business goals being met on trips (34% versus 16%. Clear guidelines should be developed, even if they are temporary or evolving, so it’s clear who can travel, when they can travel, and how they can travel. Duty of care plans should also be re-evaluated and businesses should ensure they know at all times where employees are traveling for business and how they can communicate with them in the event of an emergency.
- Who needs to approve travel and expenses? While it may be temporary, businesses may have to implement a more stringent approval policy for travel and other expenses. Due to health concerns related to travel and the need to conserve cash flow, business leaders like CFOs may want to have final approval over all travel and expenses until the situation stabilises. To help ensure new approval processes don’t cause delays and inefficiencies, finance managers should implement an automated solution that streamlines the process and allows business leaders to review and approve travel requests, expenses, and invoices right from their phones. According to SAP Concur research, 11% of UK businesses implemented some automation of financial processes in response to COVID-19. This is definitely set to increase post-pandemic.
What types of expenses are within policy? Prior to social distancing, employees may have been allowed to take clients out to dinner. In-person team meetings held during the lunch hour, may have included expensed lunches. As employees return to work, finance managers need to determine if these activities and expenses will be allowed again. Clear guidelines must be put in place and expense policies need to be updated to reflect any changes.
- What happens to home office items that were purchased? While new office equipment may have been purchased for employees’ home offices, they remain the business’s property and what to do with them as employees return to work needs to be determined. Perhaps employees will continue to work from home a few days a week and need to keep the equipment to ensure productivity. However, if a full return to work is expected, finance managers have options that can maximise their asset investment and possibly save the company money, like replacing old office equipment with the new purchases, reselling to a used office furniture company, or donating to a non-profit.
- How can cost control be ensured? For many businesses, cash flow will be tight for the foreseeable future. Spend needs to be managed to help ensure recovery and stability. An important aspect of controlling costs is having full visibility of expenses throughout the company. Implementing an automated spend management solution that integrates expense and invoice management brings together a business’s spend, giving finance managers an understanding of where they can save, where to renegotiate, and where to redirect budgets based on plans and priorities.
Once finance managers have asked themselves the questions above and determined how they want to approach travel and expense procedures, it’s vital they create guidelines and communicate clearly to employees. Compliance can only be ensured if employees have a clear understanding of what has and has not changed with travel and expense policies and what’s expected as they return to work.
Digital collaboration: Shaping the Future of Finance
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