Alex Mifsud, Founder and CEO, Ixaris
The 2007-2008 financial crisis killed off some banks. It left many, if not most, of the others debilitated with knock on effects for the wider economy. Banks, especially those in Europe, are not lending like they once were. As a recent article in The Economist points out, there are fears we may see ‘zombie’ banks in many quarters of Europe, neither strong enough to lend nor weak enough to collapse. Although this is often reported as a hardship to their customers, banks have effectively scaled back one of their most lucrative sources of revenue.
At the same time, many institutions are shrinking their investment-banking arms. With Basel III and Dodd-Frank imposing more stringent capital ratios, some banks are swinging the axe on headcount and pulling out of certain asset classes and products altogether.
In the light of these developments, banks all over the world are looking for profitable new business lines to make up for the loss of revenue. Transaction banking is increasingly seen as a more secure (and less casino-like) source of revenue in comparison to the investment banking fees traditionally seen within capital markets.
Within the more dependable, less balance-sheet intensive, payments businesses that banks are increasingly turning to for revenue, prepaid cards have become one of the most lucrative segments. The consumer prepaid market has been in the public view for some time now. Consumers who are unable to get credit or debit cards can use prepaid cards to spend online. Children or teenagers who would normally be unable to pay with plastic can use them. Those travelling abroad can also avoid the high FX fees associated with regular debit or credit cards by choosing prepaid.
What is less well known is that Corporate (or Commercial) prepaid is one of the fastest growing segments within payments. The flexibility, convenience and low fees of prepaid cards enable businesses to make all kinds of operational or mundane tasks such as payroll, corporate incentive programmes, disbursement of funds and corporate purchasing far easier and efficient.
According to Visa, corporate prepaid spend by 2015 will be €167bn with an annual growth rate of 27% (‘Market Sizing’, Visa Prepaid Forum 2011). MasterCard, on the other hand, estimates global growth of the prepaid card market as a whole at 27% CAGR, with corporate prepaid to account for $385bn of spend by 2017 (2012 Global Prepaid Sizing Study, commissioned by MasterCard).
Corporate prepaid presents banks with a sizeable revenue opportunity to make up for the diminished streams from lending and investment banking. However, while many banks are fully aware of this opportunity, they lack the financial and technical resources to take advantage. IT departments at countless institutions find their staff tied up dealing with torrents of regulation. While they would like to innovate, the prevailing mentality is one of ‘keep the lights on’.
This is also true at challenger banks and smaller, regional banks. With smaller IT budgets and fewer technical resources than larger institutions, they simply do not have the capability to develop corporate prepaid offerings in-house. The upshot is that these banks lose out on to larger banks with existing offerings or to non-bank rivals such as e-money issuers.
Other banks may already have a corporate prepaid offering under a third party programme manager. Prepaid cards work best under a high-volume, low-margin business model. While choosing a manager may seem like an attractive option, programme managers take a big bite out of profit margins.
Another factor holding banks back is that corporate companies tend to be more demanding customers than consumers. Corporates have very specific payments needs which cannot always be satisfied by the one-size-fits-all approach of traditional mainstream banking services. For instance, use of virtual prepaid cards – valid card numbers that are issued for use by clients without using plastic cards as a medium, and which can only be used online rather than in physical retail environments – by corporates has been growing exponentially. Few banks, however, are equipped with the systems to deliver and manage virtual card programmes. This is because banks, at least historically, have chosen payments processing systems capable of handling large volumes of standard transactions. These systems are far from flexible enough to provide the tailored services that corporate customers require and to keep pace with innovation in cards and payments.
A sophisticated, hosted (or cloud-based, in recent parlance) prepaid card solution can provide banks with a way out of this dilemma. Some providers are now offering ready-built platforms for corporate prepaid which enable banks to develop their customisable prepaid card offering in-house. As these solutions are hosted in the cloud, a corporate prepaid programme can be brought to market within months and at minimal capital expenditure, unlike traditional IT infrastructure projects.
At Ixaris, for example, we have launched Ixaris Payments Server, a platform that gives banks all the tools they need to capitalise on the corporate prepaid market. Ixaris Payments Server is compliant with the highest level of the Payments Card Industry data security standards, and comes ready-made with highly customisable, market-tested apps for different payments challenges so that banks can build their own programmes for corporate customers.
Challenger banks and smaller, regional banks can gain access to a new source of revenue, win new corporate customers and gain a competitive advantage against larger banks in the region. Those banks with existing corporate prepaid programmes can increase profit margins by capturing more from the value chain, quickly expand their programme portfolio and easily adapt new prepaid applications for future needs.
With new revenue streams hard to come by, corporate prepaid is an easy win for banks. While security concerns may have stopped many banks from embracing the cloud, banks are now able to host solutions that enable them to genuinely improve their offerings to customers, without compromising on security.
Alex Mifsud, founder and CEO, Ixaris
Alex Mifsud founded Ixaris with colleagues William Lorenz and Damon Hart in 2002. Before Ixaris, Alex worked as a senior consultant in the Cambridge-based technology practice of Arthur D. Little, a global management consultancy. There, he provided technology and innovation advice to blue chip clients such as Telia, VW Group, Granville Baird and 3i. Alex holds a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of Malta and master’s and doctorate degrees in computer science from the University of Edinburgh. He has lectured in the University of Malta’s Department of Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence.
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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