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Two economic powerhouses: The continuing rise of Sino-African trade

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Two economic powerhouses: The continuing rise of Sino-African trade 3

Rapidly strengthening economic ties and trade flows between China and Africa have been a major feature of the changing global economy. Florian Witt, Senior Relationship Manager for Africa, Commerzbank, reviews the trends and how the relationship between the two continents is likely to develop

Two economic powerhouses: The continuing rise of Sino-African trade 4November marks the fifth anniversary of the landmark Beijing China-Africa summit. A significant feature of the Chinese economic miracle over recent years has been the country’s fast-growing economic ties with Africa. China is resource-hungry and, together with India, is rapidly displacing the countries of the West as Africa’s most important trading partners. African nations have generally welcomed the contest to woo them between the developed and developing nations, which China appears to be comprehensively winning.
China’s earliest foray in Africa as aid provider goes back to the 1960s when it both financed and executed major construction projects such as the Tanzania-Zambia railway, completed in 1975. By the 1990s the Beijing authorities had decided to accelerate the growth of trade and investment in Africa, at a time when many western companies were pulling out.
As a result, the past 10 years especially have seen trade ties between China and Africa burgeon, offering huge opportunities for Asian corporates. However, there remain numerous pitfalls for corporates looking to enter the region and it is therefore essential that they collaborate with a banking partner that has the on-the-ground presence and expertise to help them navigate the considerable risks that are an inherent part of conducting business in Africa.
In this respect, correspondent banking has proved its worth in enabling corporates in Asia to trade with even the remotest regions of Africa and offers advantages for local African banks. This is because the fundamentals of a properly administered correspondent banking network not only remain sound, but retain distinct advantages over alternative models.

Increasing trade ties
In 2000 the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) was formed, to strengthen economic and trade ties between the two continents. At that time China represented less than 5% of Africa’s total trade, but that percentage had tripled to 15% by the end of the decade and its share is poised to surpass that of the European Union, according to OECD projections.
Trade volumes between Africa and China, which in 1999 totalled only US$5.6 billion – compared to US$29.6 billion for Africa-US trade – had reached nearly US$107 billion by 2008 when China overtook the US to become Africa’s largest trading partner. After a sharp but short-lived decline in the wake of the global economic crisis, volumes rebounded strongly last year to hit a new record of US$127 billion . That figure is certain to be surpassed in 2011, with the first half total of US$79 billion marking a 29% increase on a year ago.
Africa’s 53 nations have increasingly met China’s growing appetite for oil and gas, copper, gold, nickel and other raw materials, which represent around 80% of its exports. The remaining 20% is made of soft commodities ranging from soybeans and olive oil to coffee and wine. While China has accumulated massive trade surpluses with the rest of the world, the balance with Africa has slipped into deficit. In the first half of 2011, Chinese exports to Africa rose 16.4% year-on-year to US$32.6 billion but imports from Africa were 39.8% higher at US$46.4 billion, swelling the resulting trade gap from US$5.2 billion to US$13.8 billion .

Barriers remain to Africa’s growth
However, China’s ability to lift millions of its people out of poverty over the past 30 years attracts widespread admiration throughout Africa – as has its cancellation between 2000 and 2009 of 35 countries’ debts totalling Chinese Yuan (CNY) 18.96 billion – or nearly US$3 billion . And a huge increase in investment from China to Africa suggests

that many have already enjoyed an economic boost; over the period 2003 to 2009 the figure grew from US$490 million to US$9.3 billion .
Despite this flurry of activity, basic statistics underline a continuing gap between China’s economic achievements and Africa’s unrealised growth potential. The People’s Republic of China’s 1.3 billion people represent 20.6% of the total world population. Its gross domestic product (GDP) of US$4.9 trillion equates to a global share of 8.5% and GDP per capita averages US$3,769. Africa also has a large population; its 53 nations have a combined population of 930 million – a global share of 14.2%. Yet GDP of US$1.2 trillion reflects a global share of just 2.1%, with GDP per capita no more than US$1,290 – and even these modest figures mark significant progress over the past two decades
China’s trading success has been due in no small part to low labour costs and high productivity. Yet Africa lacks a similar advantage; its labour is relatively expensive and productivity low. What is more, if Africa is to mirror China’s rise to the top tier of trading regions, it is clear that it must move up the value chain from acting solely as a producer of raw materials to a manufacturer of end-product. Currently, for example, despite being the world’s sixth-largest exporter of crude oil, Nigeria imports refined petroleum products like kerosene, gasoline and diesel because the country’s refineries are dilapidated and only able to work at very low capacity. Latest figures by the country’s Central Bank Monetary Policy Committee show that between January and March 2011 this cost the country US$1.34 billion.
On the whole, however, Africa’s future as a global trading force looks promising and the continent’s abundant resources are an obvious attraction for China, whose own resource base is steadily decreasing in the face of huge demand. Indeed, in order to gain access to Nigeria’s oil and gas exploration sector China’s State Construction Engineering Corporation announced an agreement last year with the Nigerian National Petroleum Corp to provide $23 billion in investment for three new oil refineries and a fuel complex.

Role of correspondent banking

No longer secondary targets, African countries have therefore become essential markets for growth for corporates operating out of Asia. The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) estimates economic growth rates in 2011 of 12% for Ghana, 10% for Ethiopia, 8.4% for DR Congo and 6.9% for Nigeria with sub-Saharan Africa and East Africa outpacing the North due to recent political unrest in several countries .
As these emerging markets grow wealthier and more knowledgeable, the opportunities for corporates are endless. As even small businesses grow more sophisticated and begin to source materials and sell goods globally, their banks must grow with them – and be able to provide support for international transactions for both currency and credit.
Correspondent banking is increasingly providing this support, and will continue to play a leading role in the Sino-African trade flow. Its strength lies in its combination of a community bank’s local expertise with the trade finance infrastructure of a leading international bank. Commerzbank, for instance, has five representative African offices in the cities of Lagos, Johannesburg, Addis Ababa, Cairo and Tripoli, which source trade finance business from local financial institutions while our Frankfurt office covers Sudan, Eritrea and DR Congo. Commerzbank’s pan-African correspondent banking network has burgeoned to almost 500 relationships, with 250 account relationships. This global footprint enables Commerzbank to promptly detect and respond to new and changing trade flows.
Certainly, businesses must be able to provide payment services to customers, suited to their needs, in what were once inaccessible growth areas. Steadily rising volumes in Sino-African trade flows means that the Yuan will become an increasingly important settlement currency. Leading banks have responded, preparing their African bank partners by delivering CNY account and FOREX solutions. Commerzbank has a significant number of CNY accounts within its books and has already settled CNY transactions in African countries.

The importance of an “on-the-ground” presence

The value of local knowledge – as provided by correspondent banks – should not be underestimated when conducting business in Africa. The advantage to customers is that complex trade finance processes, such as the negotiation and settlement of Letters of Credit (LCs), can be overseen, or even undertaken, by a correspondent bank with expert knowledge of the local regulatory environment – a major advantage when trading with Africa where LCs will remain prevalent for some years to come.
Furthermore, each of Commerzbank’s foreign branches and subsidiaries in a total of 51 countries has its own documentary department for the handling of LCs of customers abroad. Such coverage is essential if banks are to open, advise and confirm LCs in close conjunction with both their own clients, and locally via the branches or correspondent banks used by African mid-tier customers themselves.
Commerzbank’s strong presence in Africa also offers advantages to investors. Despite its attractions, the region is not the world’s easiest in which to invest. Shallow capital markets, many illiquid stocks, scarcity of information and sheer diversity of markets can all prove highly confusing – making detailed local knowledge essential.

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To take the nation’s financial pulse, we must go digital

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To take the nation’s financial pulse, we must go digital 5

By Pete Bulley, Director of Product, Aire

The last six months have brought the precarious financial situation of many millions across the world into sharper focus than ever before. But while the figures may be unprecedented, the underlying problem is not a new one – and it requires serious attention as well as  action from lenders to solve it.

Research commissioned by Aire in February found that eight out of ten adults in the UK would be unable to cover essential monthly spending should their income drop by 20%. Since then, Covid-19 has increased the number without employment by 730,000 people between July and March, and saw 9.6 million furloughed as part of the job retention scheme.

The figures change daily but here are a few of the most significant: one in six mortgage holders had opted to take a payment holiday by June. Lenders had granted almost a million credit card payment deferrals, provided 686,500 payment holidays on personal loans, and offered 27 million interest-free overdrafts.

The pressure is growing for lenders and with no clear return to normal in sight, we are unfortunately likely to see levels of financial distress increase exponentially as we head into winter. Recent changes to the job retention scheme are signalling the start of the withdrawal of government support.

The challenge for lenders

Lenders have been embracing digital channels for years. However, we see it usually prioritised at acquisition, with customer management neglected in favour of getting new customers through the door. Once inside, even the most established of lenders are likely to fall back on manual processes when it comes to managing existing customers.

It’s different for fintechs. Unburdened by legacy systems, they’ve been able to begin with digital to offer a new generation of consumers better, more intuitive service. Most often this is digitised, mobile and seamless, and it’s spreading across sectors. While established banks and service providers are catching up — offering mobile payments and on-the-go access to accounts — this part of their service is still lagging. Nowhere is this felt harder than in customer management.

Time for a digital solution in customer management

With digital moving higher up the agenda for lenders as a result of the pandemic, many still haven’t got their customer support properly in place to meet demand. Manual outreach is still relied upon which is both heavy on resource and on time.

Lenders are also grappling with regulation. While many recognise the moral responsibility they have for their customers, they are still blind to the new tools available to help them act effectively and at scale.

In 2015, the FCA released its Fair Treatment of Customers regulations requiring that ‘consumers are provided with clear information and are kept appropriately informed before, during and after the point of sale’.

But when the individual financial situation of customers is changing daily, never has this sentiment been more important (or more difficult) for lenders to adhere to. The problem is simple: the traditional credit scoring methods relied upon by lenders are no longer dynamic enough to spot sudden financial change.

The answer lies in better, and more scalable, personalised support. But to do this, lenders need rich, real-time insight so that lenders can act effectively, as the regulator demands. It needs to be done at scale and it needs to be done with the consumer experience in mind, with convenience and trust high on the agenda.

Placing the consumer at the heart of the response

To better understand a customer, inviting them into a branch or arranging a phone call may seem the most obvious solution. However, health concerns mean few people want to see their providers face-to-face, and fewer staff are in branches, not to mention the cost and time outlay by lenders this would require.

Call centres are not the answer either. Lack of trained capacity, cost and the perceived intrusiveness of calls are all barriers. We know from our own consumer research at Aire that customers are less likely to engage directly with their lenders on the phone when they feel payment demands will be made of them.

If lenders want reliable, actionable insight that serves both their needs (and their customers) they need to look to digital.

Asking the person who knows best – the borrower

So if the opportunity lies in gathering information directly from the consumer – the solution rests with first-party data. The reasons we pioneer this approach at Aire are clear: firstly, it provides a truly holistic view of each customer to the lender, a richer picture that covers areas that traditional credit scoring often misses, including employment status and savings levels. Secondly, it offers consumers the opportunity to engage directly in the process, finally shifting the balance in credit scoring into the hands of the individual.

With the right product behind it, this can be achieved seamlessly and at scale by lenders. Pulse from Aire provides a link delivered by SMS or email to customers, encouraging them to engage with Aire’s Interactive Virtual Interview (IVI). The information gathered from the consumer is then validated by Aire to provide the genuinely holistic view of a consumer that lenders require, delivering insights that include risk of financial difficulty, validated disposable income and a measure of engagement.

No lengthy or intrusive phone calls. No manual outreach or large call centre requirements. And best of all, lenders can get started in just days and they save up to £60 a customer.

Too good to be true?

This still leaves questions. How can you trust data provided directly from consumers? What about AI bias – are the results fair? And can lenders and customers alike trust it?

To look at first-party misbehaviour or ‘gaming’, sophisticated machine-learning algorithms are used to validate responses for accuracy. Essentially, they measure responses against existing contextual data and check its plausibility.

Aire also looks at how the IVI process is completed. By looking at how people complete the interview, not just what they say, we can spot with a high degree of accuracy if people are trying to game the system.

AI bias – the system creating unfair outcomes – is tackled through governance and culture. In working towards our vision of a world where finance is truly free from bias or prejudice, we invest heavily in constructing the best model governance systems we can at Aire to ensure our models are analysed systematically before being put into use.

This process has undergone rigorous improvements to ensure our outputs are compliant by regulatory standards and also align with our own company principles on data and ethics.

That leaves the issue of encouraging consumers to be confident when speaking to financial institutions online. Part of the solution is developing a better customer experience. If the purpose of this digital engagement is to gather more information on a particular borrower, the route the borrower takes should be personal and reactive to the information they submit. The outcome and potential gain should be clear.

The right technology at the right time?

What is clear is that in Covid-19, and the resulting financial shockwaves, lenders face an unprecedented challenge in customer management. In innovative new data in the form of first-party data, harnessed ethically, they may just have an unprecedented solution.

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The Future of Software Supply Chain Security: A focus on open source management

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The Future of Software Supply Chain Security: A focus on open source management 6

By Emile Monette, Director of Value Chain Security at Synopsys

Software Supply Chain Security: change is needed

Attacks on the Software Supply Chain (SSC) have increased exponentially, fueled at least in part by the widespread adoption of open source software, as well as organisations’ insufficient knowledge of their software content and resultant limited ability to conduct robust risk management. As a result, the SSC remains an inviting target for would-be attackers. It has become clear that changes in how we collectively secure our supply chains are required to raise the cost, and lower the impact, of attacks on the SSC.

A report by Atlantic Council found that “115 instances, going back a decade, of publicly reported attacks on the SSC or disclosure of high-impact vulnerabilities likely to be exploited” in cyber-attacks were implemented by affecting aspects of the SSC. The report highlights a number of alarming trends in the security of the SSC, including a rise in the hijacking of software updates, attacks by state actors, and open source compromises.

This article explores the use of open source software – a primary foundation of almost all modern software – due to its growing prominence, and more importantly, its associated security risks. Poorly managed open source software exposes the user to a number of security risks as it provides affordable vectors to potential attackers allowing them to launch attacks on a variety of entities—including governments, multinational corporations, and even the small to medium-sized companies that comprise the global technology supply chain, individual consumers, and every other user of technology.

The risks of open source software for supply chain security

The 2020 Open Source Security and Risk Analysis (OSSRA) report states that “If your organisation builds or simply uses software, you can assume that software will contain open source. Whether you are a member of an IT, development, operations, or security team, if you don’t have policies in place for identifying and patching known issues with the open source components you’re using, you’re not doing your job.”

Open source code now creates the basic infrastructure of most commercial software which supports enterprise systems and networks, thus providing the foundation of almost every software application used across all industries worldwide. Therefore, the need to identify, track and manage open source code components and libraries has risen tremendously.

License identification, patching vulnerabilities and introducing policies addressing outdated open source packages are now all crucial for responsible open source use. However, the use of open source software itself is not the issue. Because many software engineers ‘reuse’ code components when they are creating software (this is in fact a widely acknowledged best practice for software engineering), the risk of those components becoming out of date has grown. It is the use of unpatched and otherwise poorly managed open source software that is really what is putting organizations at risk.

Emile Monette

Emile Monette

The 2020 OSSRA report also reveals a variety of worrying statistics regarding SSC security. For example, according to the report, it takes organisations an unacceptably long time to mitigate known vulnerabilities, with 2020 being the first year that the  Heartbleed vulnerability was not found in any commercial software analyzed for the OSSRA report. This is six years after the first public disclosure of Heartbleed – plenty of time for even the least sophisticated attackers to take advantage of the known and publicly reported vulnerability.

The report also found that 91% of the investigated codebases contained components that were over four years out of date or had no developments made in the last two years, putting these components at a higher risk of vulnerabilities. Additionally, vulnerabilities found in the audited codebases had an average age of almost 4 ½ years, with 19% of vulnerabilities being over 10 years old, and the oldest vulnerability being a whopping 22 years old. Therefore, it is clear that open source users are not adequately defending themselves against open source enabled cyberattacks. This is especially concerning as 99% of the codebases analyzed in the OSSRA report contained open source software, with 75% of these containing at least one vulnerability, and 49% containing high-risk vulnerabilities.

Mitigating open source security risks

In order to mitigate security risks when using open source components, one must know what software you’re using, and which exploits impact its vulnerabilities. One way to do this is to obtain a comprehensive bill of materials from your suppliers (also known as a “build list” or a “software bill of materials” or “SBOM”). Ideally, the SBOM should contain all the open source components, as well as the versions used, the download locations for all projects and dependencies, the libraries which the code calls to, and the libraries that those dependencies link to.

Creating and communicating policies

Modern applications contain an abundance of open source components with possible security, code quality and licensing issues. Over time, even the best of these open source components will age (and newly discovered vulnerabilities will be identified in the codebase), which will result in them at best losing intended functionality, and at worst exposing the user to cyber exploitation.

Organizations should ensure their policies address updating, licensing, vulnerability management and other risks that the use of open source can create. Clear policies outlining introduction and documentation of new open source components can improve the control of what enters the codebase and that it complies with the policies.

Prioritizing open source security efforts

Organisations should prioritise open source vulnerability mitigation efforts in relation to CVSS (Common Vulnerability Scoring System) scores and CWE (Common Weakness Enumeration) information, along with information about the availability of exploits, paying careful attention to the full life cycle of the open source component, instead of only focusing on what happens on “day zero.” Patch priorities should also be in-line with the business importance of the asset patched, the risk of exploitation and the criticality of the asset. Similarly, organizations must consider using sources outside of the CVSS and CWE information, many of which provide early notification of vulnerabilities, and in particular, choosing one that delivers technical details, upgrade and patch guidance, as well as security insights. Lastly, it is important for organisations to monitor for new threats for the entire time their applications remain in service.

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On the Frontlines of Fraud: Tactics for Merchants to Protect Their Businesses

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On the Frontlines of Fraud: Tactics for Merchants to Protect Their Businesses 7

By Nicole Jass, Senior Vice President of Small Business and Fraud Products at FIS

Fraud isn’t new, but the new realities brought by COVID-19 for merchants, and the rising tide of attacks have changed the way we need to approach the fight. Even before the pandemic broke out earlier this year, the transition to digital payments was well underway, which means fighting fraud needs a multilayered, multi-channel approach. Not only do you want to increase approval rates, you want to protect your revenue and stop fraud before it happens.

A great place to start is working with your payment partners to refresh your company’s fraud strategies with emerging top three best practices:

  1. AI-based machine learning fraud solutions helps your business stay ahead of fraud trends. Leveraging data profiles to model both “good” and “bad” behavior helps find and reduce fraud. AI-based machine learning will be increasingly essential to stay ahead of the explosive and sophisticated eCommerce fraud.
  2. Increasing capabilities around device fingerprinting and behavioral data are essential to detect fraud before it happens. While much of the user-input values can be easily manipulated to look more authentic, device fingerprinting and behavioral data are captured in the background to derive unique details from the user’s device and behavior. Bringing in more unique elements into decisioning, can help authenticate the users and determine the validity of the transactions.
  3. Prioritize user authentication. User authentication is a vital linchpin in any fraud defense and should receive even greater priority today. Setting strong password requirements and implementing multi-factor authentication helps curb fraud attacks from account takeover.

As well as working with your payment partners it’s more critical than ever to protect online transactions while not jeopardizing legitimate purchases. Fortunately, there are a few things you can do right now to address these concerns:

  1. Monitor warning signs

Payment verification is an important part of protecting your business. There are a variety of strategies to employ including implementing technology utilizing artificial intelligence and machine learning to help catch certain patterns. In addition to technology, here are a few other tips that may serve as warning signs. These are not a guarantee fraud is occurring, but they are flags to investigate.

o   The shipping address and billing address differ

o   Multiple orders of the same item

o   Unusually large orders

o   Multiple orders to the same address with different cards

o   Unexpected international orders

  1. Require identity verification

Finding a balance between protection and ease of purchase will ultimately help you protect your customers and your business. The following tactics can make it more difficult for fraudsters to be successful:

o   For customers that have a login, require a minimum of eight characters as well as the use of special characters in your customers’ passwords

o   Set up Two-Factor Authentication that requires a One-time Passcode (OTP) via SMS or email

o   Use biometric authentication for mobile purchases or logins

  1. Monitor chargebacks

Keeping good records is essential for eCommerce. If a customer initiates a dispute, your only available recourse is to provide proof that the order was fulfilled. Be prepared to provide all the supporting information about a disputed transaction. Worldpay’s Disputes solutions can connect to your CRM and provide you dual-layer protection against friendly fraud, first deflecting them before they arise and then fully managing chargeback defenses on your behalf.

  1. Monitor declines

Credit card issuers mitigate fraud by automatically declining payments that look suspicious, based on unusual card activity such as drastic changes in spending patterns or uncommon geolocations of spending. You can check your own declined payment history to help spot a potential problem. When volumes increase, the help of a payments fraud management partner is beneficial.

  1. Protect your own wallet

While you take the steps to protect your business, it’s also important to be mindful of your own protection—it’s incumbent on all responsible consumers to be vigilant about their data. Whether it’s simple awareness of how the fraudsters are operating today, sticking to trusted brands when shopping online, and thinking twice about what data you share and who you share it with, you’ll soon see how often you are sharing personal information about yourself.

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