Personal Finance. Money. Investing.

Kris Sharma, Finance Sector Lead at Canonical, explores the value of open source technologies in steering financial services through times of disruption.

In a post-Brexit world, the industry is facing regulatory uncertainty at a whole different scale, with banking executives having to understand the implications of different scenarios, including no-deal. To reduce the risk of significant disruption, financial services firms require the right technology infrastructure to be agile and responsive to potential changes.

The role of open source

Historically, banks have been hesitant to adopt open source software. But over the course of the last few years, that thinking has begun to change. Organisations like the Open Bank Project and Fintech Open Source Foundation (FINOS) have come about with the aim of pioneering open source adoption by highlighting the benefits of collaboration within the sector. Recent acquisitions of open source companies by large and established corporate technology vendors signal that the technology is maturing into mainstream enterprise play. Banking leaders are adopting open innovation strategies to lower costs and reduce time-to-market for products and services.

Banks must prepare to rapidly implement changes to IT systems in order to comply with new regulations, which may be a costly task if firms are solely relying on traditional commercial applications. Changes to proprietary software and application platforms at short notice often have hidden costs for existing contractual arrangements due to complex licensing. Open source technology and platforms could play a crucial role in helping financial institutions manage the consequences of Brexit and the COVID-19 crisis for their IT and digital functions.

Open source software gives customers the ability to spin up instances far more quickly and respond to rapidly changing scenarios effectively. Container technology has brought about a step-change in virtualisation technology, providing almost equivalent levels of resource isolation as a traditional hypervisor. This in turn offers considerable opportunities to improve agility, efficiency, speed, and manageability within IT environments. In a survey conducted by 451 Research, almost a third of financial services firms see containers and container management as a priority they plan to begin using within the next year.

Open source software gives customers the ability to spin up instances far more quickly and respond to rapidly changing scenarios effectively.

Containerisation also enables rapid deployment and updating of applications. Kubernetes, or K8s for short, is an open-source container-orchestration system for deploying, monitoring and managing apps and services across clouds. It was originally designed by Google and is now maintained by the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF). Kubernetes is a shining example of open source, developed by a major tech company, but now maintained by the community for all, including financial institutions, to adopt.

The data dilemma

The use cases for data and analytics in financial services are endless and offer tangible solutions to the consequences of uncertainty. Massive data assets mean that financial institutions can more accurately gauge the risk of offering a loan to a customer. Banks are already using data analytics to improve efficiency and increase productivity, and going forward, will be able to use their data to train machine learning algorithms that can automate many of their processes.

For data analytics initiatives, banks now have the option of leveraging the best of open source technologies. Databases today can deliver insights and handle any new sources of data. With models flexible enough for rich modern data, a distributed architecture built for cloud scale, and a robust ecosystem of tools, open source platforms can help banks break free from data silos and enable them to scale their innovation.

Open source databases can be deployed and integrated in the environment of choice, whether public or private cloud, on-premise or containers, based on business requirements. These database platforms can be cost-effective; projects can begin as prototypes and develop quickly into production deployments. As a result of political uncertainty, financial firms will need to be much more agile. And with no vendor lock-in, they will be able to choose the provider that is best for them at any point in time, enabling this agility while avoiding expensive licensing.

As with any application running at scale, production databases and analytics applications require constant monitoring and maintenance. Engaging enterprise support for open source production databases minimises risk for business and can optimise internal efficiency.


Additionally, AI solutions have the potential to transform how banks deal with regulatory compliance issues, financial fraud and cybercrime. However, banks need to get better at using customer data for greater personalisation, enabling them to offer products and services tailored to individual consumers in real time. As yet, most financial institutions are unsure whether a post-Brexit world will focus on gaining more overseas or UK-based customers. With a data-driven approach, banks can see where the opportunities lie and how best to harness them. The opportunities are vast and, on the journey to deliver cognitive banking, financial institutions have only just scratched the surface of data analytics. But as the consequences of COVID-19 continue and Brexit uncertainty once again moves up the agenda, moving to data-first will become less of a choice and more of a necessity.

The number of data sets and the diversity of data is increasing across financial services, making data integration tasks ever more complex. The cloud offers a huge opportunity to synchronise the enterprise, breaking down operational and data silos across risk, finance, regulatory, customer support and more. Once massive data sets are combined in one place, the organisation can apply advanced analytics for integrated insights.

Uncertainty on the road ahead

Open source technology today is an agile and responsive alternative to traditional technology systems that provides financial institutions with the ability to deal with uncertainty and adapt to a range of potential outcomes.

In these unpredictable times, banking executives need to achieve agility and responsiveness while at the same time ensuring that IT systems are robust, reliable and managed effectively. And with the option to leverage the best of open source technologies, financial institutions can face whatever challenges lie ahead.

Michalis Michael, CEO of DigitalMR, explores these findings and what they mean for the future of banking.

When we are finally on the other side of the coronavirus pandemic, several key sectors will be remembered positively for the way they took charge and handled the crisis, from healthcare to supermarkets and logistics companies.

Banks, on the other hand, are unlikely to fare as well in the eyes of consumers. A social intelligence report compiled by DigitalMR analysed customer sentiment amongst the top 11 global banks during the period of February 2018 to April 2020 and found customer relationships hit an all-time low during the peak of COVID-19.

In today’s digital world, dissatisfied customers can switch provider with the click of a button and, if banks are to emerge stronger, they must take heed of lessons from the lockdown period and prioritise customer experience in a way that they have never done before.

Here are five of the main customer service lessons banks should take from the coronavirus lockdown according to artificial intelligence.

1. They need to be adaptive

The banks that received the most positive sentiment during lockdown were those that were reactive and quick to adapt their approach in line with what their customers truly needed. Unfortunately, they were in the minority and, despite so much bank advertising claiming to be "by your side" and "in this together", many failed to practice what they preached. In such times of adversity, banks needed to truly demonstrate they were listening to their customers by providing personalisation and products that reflected their needs at specific moments in time. Moving forwards, they must take a more customer-centric approach and provide real solutions in response to new and emerging challenges their customers are facing.

The banks that received the most positive sentiment during lockdown were those that were reactive and quick to adapt their approach in line with what their customers truly needed.

2. Digital is king

Our world today is undeniably digital, and the pace at which disruptive technologies are arriving is accelerating. Arguably, digitalisation in the banking sector moved at an even rapider pace during lockdown, when even those unfamiliar with online banking were forced to bank from home as banks scaled back physical channels and human-led advisory. Despite this, many banks did seemingly little to speed up and optimise their digital processes to account for a surge in online enquiries and applications for Government support, such as the Coronavirus Business Interruption Scheme [CBIS]. To put themselves in better stead post-coronavirus, banks must become innovative and embrace digitalisation so their responses to emergencies like COVID-19 are quicker and more effective. There is no getting away from the fact that digital transformation is vital if they are to be fit for purpose when it comes to lending in the future.

3. It pays to be efficient

Our analysis of customer sentiment throughout lockdown shows that lengthy wait times to speak to a customer service adviser was one of the main frustrations, with some customers experiencing waiting times of four hours plus, and banks like Barclays pulling their customer service functions completely.

Crisis-stricken customers need quick support and solutions, and banks must work hard to address efficiency if they are to improve customer experience moving forwards. Much of this will be achieved by enhancing digital self-service for customers and implementing immediate measures to ensure they have the operational capacity to act quickly. COVID-19 has proven that automation and using data to make efficient decisions is essential for handling increased demand for credit and delivering faster decisions.


4. They must act in times of need

Despite the Government saying in March that banks were required to grant temporary reprieves on mortgage repayments to help families struggling financially during the crisis, our research shows that many failed to issue them. Whilst payment breaks are not a long-term solution for those in financial trouble and could raise bank liquidity concerns, customers in distress need to know that they can turn to their bank for extra support. Many consumers will be considering a switch post-lockdown, so it’s critical that banks offer the trust and services that they demand.

5. They must adapt their fraud strategies

Another key concern amongst customers during lockdown was inconsistencies surrounding fraud, with many consumers worried by their bank’s lack of response to fraud calls, and banks such as HSBC reported to have been overzealous with fraud concerns by cancelling cards when not required. According to Proofpoint, a cloud security and compliance specialist, 80% of accredited banks were unable to say they were proactively protecting their customers from fraudulent emails, and 61% have no Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting and Conformance [DMARC] record whatsoever, putting customers at heightened risk during the pandemic. To regain customer trust, banks will need to enhance their fraud detection activities to mitigate new financial crime typologies, as digital transactions increase and electronic payment growth accelerates.

Whilst our findings related to banking customer sentiment during lockdown are somewhat scathing, banks can still emerge stronger from the crisis if they learn from their shortcomings, implement the necessary immediate measures and take advantage of opportunities. By embracing digitalisation and using artificial intelligence to inform their responses to customer needs, banks can successfully navigate the new normal, support disproportionately affected customers and renew consumer confidence.

Naturally, innovation is a word that can be used overly freely by businesses to signify virtually any kind of thinking that is slightly different from the usual. In this case, however, we are thinking of something that will benefit companies looking to grow. Innovation in the terms we are discussing here refers to the creation of products, services, processes and ideas that can help not only your business to succeed but represent a new type of thinking in your industry. 

Having defining this, you could argue that we are ultimately still talking about ideas that will make the business money through sales. But the truth is that many innovations require a great deal of time and financial input - and not all of your innovations, sadly, will be successful. This can discourage companies from pursuing innovation, as despite the potential upside, there can be no guarantee of success. 

Businesses can innovate with R&D tax credits

Thankfully it is well established that innovation is a fantastic thing - not just for businesses themselves but for the industry, the economy, and for society in general. As such, the government has a scheme that it is designed to reward companies for innovating them - reducing their tax bill if they are in profit, or reducing their losses if they are not. 

There are two main types of tax relief offered by the government: research and development (R&D) tax credits and Patent Box tax credits. These can be fantastic ways to make the best financial use of your innovations and ensure that your company is rewarded for the work it is doing. 

But there is a problem: many organisations are not claiming the kind of R&D tax relief that they could.

There are two main types of tax relief offered by the government: research and development (R&D) tax credits and Patent Box tax credits.

Why aren’t organisations claiming as much as they can?

There are actually many reasons that companies might not be claiming what they are owed through R&D tax credits. Firstly, it is a complex procedure to claim back R&D tax and some companies may have attempted it in the past and actually found the whole job too confusing. Even standard accountants struggle when dealing with R&D tax relief and will outsource some of the work to those with more specific expertise.

It’s no surprise then that less experienced businesses are finding it challenging to claim tax relief. But there is another issue too. 

Unfortunately, it is the case that many businesses assume that they can’t possibly be eligible for R&D tax relief," says Simon Bulteel of R&D tax relief specialists Cooden Tax Consulting.They might assume that R&D purely refers to the field of science – however, this is a misconception. Actually, R&D refers to innovation across a wide variety of sectors”. 

Lack of understanding of what R&D tax relief is meant for can play a huge role in the fact that businesses aren’t taking advantage of the tax credits they are owed. Companies across industries as varied as entertainment, marketing, transport, construction and many more apply and get R&D tax relief every year.

Final thoughts

Innovation is a vital tool for growth for businesses across many different industries, especially under the present circumstances where making further sales and growing your business through profit may not be feasible. If businesses are missing out on valuable R&D tax credit relief it is because they are not working with specialists who can help them.


It is advisable for any organisation that carries out any kind of innovation as a part of their business to speak with experienced professionals in R&D tax relief, who will be able to guide and advise them on whether it is possible for them to claim. 

Failing to do so is missing out on money and isolating your businesses from a very legitimate form of growth.

Andrew Beatty, Head of Global Next Generation Banking at FIS, shares his thoughts on the inevitable evolution of building societies with Finance Monthly.

Building societies have grown with the communities they service. They have been in an area for decades and sometimes centuries, giving them a strong sense of place and knowledge of the needs of the communities they serve. This has been vital to their durability, and this knowledge is very much still valued by customers.

But it’s not enough in today’s digital world. Consumers demands are increasing. Personal, tailored services, such as what customers receive through Amazon and Netflix, in conjunction with seamless digital experience offering spread across all channels the likes of which we see from Google and Facebook is now expected from banks.

Building societies need to evolve, but they need to do it in the right way. Building societies needn’t rip everything up and start again in the pursuit of reinvention. When e-readers were invented, authors didn’t stop writing; a Nobel prize winner retains that distinction in hardback or Kindle. Instead, building societies need to adjust their businesses to maintain relevance.

While every building society is different, but here are four investments no society can afford to ignore.

Digital capabilities

Worldpay research shows that 73% of consumer banking interactions are now digital, a figure that has only been rising during lockdown. Providing customers with a frictionless, on-demand experience across multiple channels is imperative. Focus on getting the right mix of personalisation, agility and operational and financial efficiency.

Building societies have grown with the communities they service.

Platforms that are built to leverage artificial intelligence and machine learning give building societies the ability to deliver the kind of personalisation that reinforces their established brand image. Systems that are built to accommodate open application programming interfaces, or APIs, and that use mass enablement for new product features and service rollouts will make adding new innovations later both cost-efficient and operationally feasible.

The cloud

In banking, trust and security are synonymous, and investing in or partnering with companies that have invested in the cloud is an important strategic decision.

When executed properly, a private cloud infrastructure delivers greater resiliency, enables faster software enhancements and ensures data security. Other benefits include significant decreases in infrastructure issues, improved online response times, enhanced batch processing times and the ability to swiftly respond to disasters and disruptions.


It used to be that only the largest financial institutions could afford good data. But now the ability to access, filter and focus on real-time data is within reach for building societies as well.

In addition to adding even greater personalisation to digital and mobile banking tools, building societies can make further use of data to drive cost efficiencies, growth initiatives and service improvement efforts, as they deliver that differentiated customer experience they were built on. For building societies workers who fear they can’t harness an influx of data: don’t let the flood of information incite “analysis paralysis.” Start with a focus on your key goals. Then, ramp up other functionalities as you gain more confidence and skill. Data is a tool for creating an even better bank.


Regulatory compliance 

To quote Spider-Man, “with great power comes great responsibility”. This rings as true as ever for building societies who, with increasingly stringent regulatory compliance burdens on their plates, need to make sure all the benefits incurred with increased data are analysed and harvested both legally and ethically.

It also demands that building societies put in safeguards as part of their fiduciary duty. Do your due diligence and make sure whatever method you choose, be that technological or hiring additional staff members, accounts for the ever-shifting regulatory environment and can ensure adaptability.

On your marks

Building societies need not despair at their technological deficiencies. After all, it’s far easier for a building society to catch up on five years of technical innovation than it is for a neobank to catch up on fifty years of hard-earned customer loyalty.  Get in the driver’s seat, set the GPS for transformation, and start your digital journey.

With the entire industry currently under pressure due to uncertainty, data must lie at the core of every decision any business makes if it wants to succeed. In fact, research from McKinsey tells us organisations that leverage customer behavioural data and insights outperform peers by 85% in sales growth and more than 25% in gross margin. Jil Maassen, lead strategy consultant at Optimizely, offers Finance Monhly her thoughts on how data experimentation can be used to drive financial services forward.

The game-changing nature of data

One of the best examples of risk and reward, based on data science, comes from the world of baseball. Back in 2002, Billy Beane, general manager of the unfancied Oakland Athletics baseball team, spawned an analytical arms race among US sports teams. Working under a limited budget, Beane used obscure stats to identify undervalued players — eventually building a team that routinely beat rivals who had outspent them many times over.

Data analytics turned the game on its head by proving that data is an essential ingredient for making consistently positive decisions. The success of the bestselling book and subsequent Oscar-winning film, Moneyball, based on Beane’s story, took data analytics mainstream. Today, financial services companies are applying a “Moneyball” approach to many different aspects of their business, especially in the field of experimentation.

Data analytics turned the game on its head by proving that data is an essential ingredient for making consistently positive decisions.

We live in testing times

Experimentation departments for the purposes of testing, also known as Innovation Labs, have been growing at a prolific rate in recent years, with financial services seeing the highest rate of growth according to a survey by Capgemini. By the end of 2018, Singapore alone had 28 financial service-related Innovation Labs. Alongside this, research from Optimizely reports that 62% of financial services companies plan to invest in both better technology and skilled workers for data analytics and experimentation.

Areas such as fund management are no strangers to data analytics. But since the fintech disruptors arrived on the financial services scene, legacy banks are now using data in combination with experimentation to evolve other elements of their business and remain competitive. Many have found that this is helping them to address common concerns, including how to improve customer experience and successfully launch products to market. So much so, that our research found that 92% of financial services organisations view experimentation as critical to transforming the digital customer experience. In addition, 90% also consider experimentation key to keeping their business competitive in the future.

Eat, sleep, test, repeat

However, experimentation takes patience. As Billy Beane said when his strategies didn’t deliver right out of the gate: “It's day one of the first week. You can't judge just yet.” He was ultimately vindicated. Like any new initiative, experiments can fail because of cultural “organ rejection.” They require taking short-term risks that don’t always work, all in service of long-term learning. It’s the job of Innovation Labs to take these risks, and often, one for the team, by being prepared to fail.


The point is, when you're transforming something and making massive change, not everyone is going to understand right away. The best way to convince people that your theory is correct is to show them — not tell them — you're right. Experimentation initiatives in business, and especially in financial services where risks and rewards have high impact and return, allow new ideas to be proven right before they play out in front of a paying public.

Founded in facts and stats, experimentation promotes an ethos that is key in adopting new technologies and utilising data analytics to build roadmaps for the future. As the amount of data companies have access to increases, the ethos of experimentation will only become more important for predicting and changing the future for the better.

Experimentation is about measuring and learning and repeating that process until optimum results are achieved. The final word in this regard should perhaps go to Beane himself; “Hard work may not always result in success. But it will never result in regret.” His story is something that all financial services organisations can learn from.

The global COVID-19 crisis has triggered the most disruptive period to British society in peacetime history. The impact on the public and our healthcare system has been devastating, and our economy is facing the prospect of a recession much deeper and more painful than the economic crash of 2008.

However, this must be seen differently to 2008; a time where a culture of risk-taking by banks and from within the financial services industry left consumers and businesses reeling as credit lines were pulled. Back then the ‘casino culture’, which was so widespread in the city, was seen as the root cause of the crash, triggering substantial unemployment and misery for millions. 

Now, we are all in it together, with the coronavirus hitting start-ups, small traders, shopkeepers and global businesses without discrimination. Companies are already collapsing into administration, with millions of workers furloughed on 80% salaries, and having to be supported by government finance and emergency loans. Wayne Johnson, CEO of Encompass Corporation explains to Finance Monthly why now is the time for banks to prove themselves.

Let us be quite clear - businesses and the general public need banks more than ever in this challenging time. It is certainly true that many of the major providers have already stepped up and  emergency banking proposals have already been enacted to help businesses and individuals in these trying times. The Bank of England, for example, has already cut interest rates on their loans to 0.1%, and are working with HM Treasury to support large businesses by offering cash for their corporate debt. Elsewhere, many major consumer banks are offering mortgage, credit card and overdraft payment holidays for up to three months.

However, there is still a gulf of trust between businesses and banks, with many organisations still feeling that financial services firms do not always have their best interests at heart.

Today, the banks are in a much better position, with deeper capital buffers and better regulation. Thus, major financial service providers are in a unique position whereby they can potentially regain the trust of the British public with a strong stance, deep pockets, and generous investment in struggling businesses.

Let us be quite clear - businesses and the general public need banks more than ever in this challenging time.

Moving forward, banks should continue their dedication towards their customers and British business in general through swift action and financial support that proves ongoing, selfless commitment to the economy and its people.

This concerted effort requires adaptation from the financial services industry. The increased dependency on loans and support will inevitably have an overwhelming impact on the skeleton crew of bankers, who are themselves having to deal with the transition to remote working and unprecedented economic climate brought upon us by COVID-19.

Fortunately, there is an abundance of automation and regulatory technology (RegTech) at the banking sectors’ disposal. Recommendations from the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and updated legislation from the Fifth Money Laundering Directive (5MLD), for example, has increasingly pushed banks towards using automation in recent years. While it is no secret that client onboarding and background checks are greatly improved with the assistance of the right RegTech, many financial services organisations can be somewhat hesitant when it comes to introducing new technology to their centuries old trade.

This has to change now. Automated customer onboarding is effective, efficient and empowers analysts at a time when human interaction is, in many cases,  no longer an option during this unprecedented time.

Furthermore, the efficiency of proven RegTech software can ensure financial institutions are in a position to comfortably manage, and even accelerate, payment processes – a particularly useful function for SMEs, organisations and individuals at a time when they need access to finances and payment processes more than ever.


Additionally, in today’s landscape, where consumers have come to expect instant services in all sectors of customer experience, automation is all the more crucial. Statistics from recent research that we published found that 38% of UK businesses have deliberately abandoned an application for banking services due to ‘slow due diligence processes’. Furthermore, nearly one third of businesses said they now trust challenger banking brands and fintech providers - known for their slick and fast digital onboarding - more than traditional banks.

COVID-19 has put consumers in an unprecedented position, as thousands are having to lean on traditional banks, modern fintechs and lenders. Thus, it’s a better time than ever to speed up and smooth out processes, if no less for the purpose of providing the best possible services for those who desperately require it.

Finally, there has been an increased trend in opportunistic cyber criminals looking to profit as a result of  the current climate and, more specifically, from the influx of remote workers - many of whom have not been trained with even the most basic fraud detection or cyber security measures. Such criminals have been known to exploit the goodwill of remote workers through fake charities and financial fraud schemes, before laundering stolen money through overworked and under resourced financial services.

With the right technology in place, financial institutions can reduce the strain on their employees and resources, and flag criminal or suspicious activity at a rate never before possible. This will help combat the wave of online financial crime facing workers and businesses in lockdown, and ensure that accountants and banking services are not unknowingly contributing to money laundering during the crisis, which is set to afflict the nation for the foreseeable future.

Automation has played a critical role in the advancement of financial technology, with tried and tested processes being replaced with modern, more efficient software. With all this innovation breathing life into businesses of all sizes and industries, the question may be asked about what role an accountant plays in the age of automation. Let’s discuss what the changes are, who they impact, and what an accountant's role looks like in the modern era. 

What financial automation have we seen in the last few years?

Not surprisingly, technology has had a significant impact on accounting businesses, departments and professionals, many of which implicate an accountants role as we know it. We have seen changes to employee tax and wages occurred globally, allowing employees to report on this data more easily and more frequently, with employees accessing their own earning statements centrally and independently. These changes have led to a need for more sophisticated software, many of which feature other functions that improve efficiencies through automation. Businesses can now comply with new legislation and complete payroll responsibilities without tasking a greater number of employees to that task. Australia has even coined this legislation change ‘single touch payroll software’, capturing the ease of the automation process. Accountants no longer need to conduct manual tasks, with automation offering expense tracking, payroll and invoicing. 

Bots are another automation that is rolling out to industries beyond just eCommerce, with bots able to capture and respond to a range of enquiries, allowing accountants to not be hamstrung to administrative requests. This communication method can be built into a business’ website or social media pages, but won’t be relevant for all business sizes. Outsourced accounting and payroll services are another automation that allows businesses to hand their financial responsibilities to a third party, contracting rather than employing professionals. 

Accountants no longer need to conduct manual tasks, with automation offering expense tracking, payroll and invoicing. 

What are the benefits of automated accounting processes?

There is a misconception that enhanced accounting services will nullify the critical element an accountant plays within a business, but this is not the case at all. These automated processes simply make operations more efficient, often adding structure and simpler frameworks where there were none. Automation also assures a certain level of accuracy that can’t always be achieved manually, and this is a significant consideration when it’s concerning payroll and business revenue. 

It’s not only accountants that stand to benefit from automation, business owners are also attracted to this option. Accounting automation can reduce or manage a department/business’ headcount, and taking these tasks offsite means that employers don’t need to factor in the physical space nor the employee benefits that come with employing another accountant. Less time in the details means your accountant can be more strategic with their time, which is why outsourced options have been wildly successful.


What’s the future for accountants with automation continuing to innovate the industry?

Despite the automation that appears to be replacing certain accounting functions, the future is still bright for accounting professionals operating in organisations of all sizes. Automation innovations simply allow existing accountants to fine-tune their practice, implementing and optimising strategies with the mundane tasks taken care of. Whether accountants choose to implement software, outsource to a team or leverage reactive bots, one or all of these automation options can harness a greater output and overall performance of your business.

Automation is not something to be feared, as embracing its benefits can propel your business forward. Take a step back and assess what the growth plans are for your business, and explore what functions can be tightened in your financial sector. If there is an opportunity to enhance productivity and support your growth plans, trial some of these functions that are working effectively for those early adopters.

Here Gareth Jones, Chief Information Officer at Fraedom, explains how banks can move to the cloud in stages, picking the most pressing workloads and moving them to the cloud incrementally, and adopt a hybrid technology infrastructure, touching on the inherent benefits therein.

Banks have traditionally been reliant on legacy systems, however, now almost half (46%) of bankers see these legacy systems as the biggest barriers to the growth of commercial banks. Technology is becoming an integral part of the banking industry and the pressure is on for these institutions to innovate and adopt the latest capabilities. Therefore, banks must overcome the reluctance to make changes to their IT infrastructure.

As new challenger banks increasingly launch directly to the cloud and consumers demand the latest technologies, it’s time for traditional banks to consider migrating to the cloud. Here’s how they can do this and the potential benefits they can expect to experience:

An incremental move to the cloud

Fortunately, banks needn’t see the adoption of the cloud as an all or nothing venture. Instead, it is possible to migrate in stages. Vitally, banks must acknowledge that doing a ‘lift and shift’ will offer limited benefit to their organisation or their customers as their workloads won’t be cloud-ready or scalable. Banks should see the move to the cloud as a gradual transition and start by migrating the most pressing workloads and services to the cloud in a controlled manner. This will ensure workloads are moved across securely, nothing is lost in the process and that customers aren’t impacted by significant periods of downtime. This will result in the adoption of hybrid technology infrastructure, at least in the short-term, which research by IBM found that 87% of outperforming banks are using to reduce operational costs. This approach is favoured by more than two-thirds of global banking executives surveyed by Accenture who intend to operate in a “bimodal” way — maintaining key legacy systems and those not easily replicated on cloud platforms, while transferring other systems and adding new applications in the cloud.

Fortunately, banks needn’t see the adoption of the cloud as an all or nothing venture. Instead, it is possible to migrate in stages.

As many banks are reliant on legacy systems, moving to the cloud, even as part of a gradual transition, can seem daunting. Therefore, seeking assistance from third-party fintechs that are much more accustomed to the technology and have the experience of carrying out many cloud migrations, can help to ensure that the process is smooth and secure.

The benefits of the cloud adoption

Cost reduction

One of the most significant benefits of the cloud is its potential to help banks reduce core costs, particularly those associated with delivering new solutions, as well as overall operating costs. This is due in part to the fact it removes the cost of the upgrade cycle that comes with physical infrastructure. It also means banks no longer need on-site infrastructure management, allowing banks to focus resources on value added functions more closely aligned with their core business objectives. In the long-term, cloud adoption can help banks enhance customer satisfaction and bring products to market faster, therefore allowing them to maximise return on investment.


A further benefit of cloud adoption is increased scalability. Currently, organisations not utilising cloud services must invest in additional hardware in order to scale. This incurs a greater impact in time and money. Adopting cloud allows banks to scale on-demand, with cloud services able to expand and contract as needed almost immediately. This provides a far better capability to manage costs in line with user and business demands.


Agility and innovation

Legacy systems are still largely important to many banks’ daily operations, but moving to more agile systems is essential to growth and innovation. Therefore, migrating to the cloud helps banks overcome this issue, whilst also offering additional cost-savings.

With so many benefits, traditional banks can’t afford to ignore cloud technology any longer. While legacy systems may have once played an integral role in their business, these systems now widely act as inhibitors. A gradual transition to the cloud will enable increased operational efficiencies, while also providing the infrastructure through which they can begin to foster the same level of innovation as their cloud-native competitors. This will allow traditional banks to not only keep up with the changing technological landscape, but the ability to develop more innovative products and services faster will also help them to answer customer demands and compete with challenger banks.

Below Simon Kenny, CEO of Hoptroff, explains that traceable time is not something you can just install and forget, but must be carefully integrated so that it maintains fully traceable time across all the servers the regulations require.

We have learnt that the challenge is not so much about installing traceable time, but more about adapting traceable time so it works within an existing infrastructure without interfering with performance. Many variations on solutions have therefore been installed, often based on different interpretations of what the regulators require. So the solution adopted by one enterprise might not work at all for another or even offer useful precedents on how to solve the problem.

The FCA is seeing the results of this fragmented development process. It has noted in its bulletins that it is finding that many companies have timing irregularities in their data records. However, it has not moved aggressively to generally enforce the timing regulations, preferring instead to give companies more time to find a compliance solution that works with their existing systems. But this position can only be sustained for so long.

Traceable timing was introduced because data records on automated transactions were unreliable and could not be used to reconstruct transactions after the event accurately. If market participants are to be able to trust reported outcomes from automated systems and have confidence in the market, then sequence and interval in event records need to be verified.

Traceable timing was introduced because data records on automated transactions were unreliable and could not be used to reconstruct transactions after the event accurately.

There might not be a simple solution everyone can acquire and install 'off the shelf', but traceable timing compliance is getting easier. Network connectivity providers such as BT are beginning to offer traceable time as a network service, where companies do not need to buy and integrate additional hardware.

Traceable time synchronization is done in software, using connections to cloud grandmaster clocks to provide trusted time sources. As this method gains adoption, the FCA will be less patient with bespoke timing solutions that do not produce the reliable records they need to regulate market practices.

This work being done by financial services will potentially become important in other industries that use widely distributed automated systems to conduct trading. The Information Commissioners Office (ICO) in the UK is currently conducting a review of the Real Time Buying (RTB) process in the digital advertising industry. This is the process through which a personally targeted advertisement is marketed, sold and provisioned in the interval between when you click on a particular website page and the advertisement actually appearing. It takes milliseconds, but can involve hundreds of third parties, all of whom get access to the personal information of the user as part of the process. However, under the terms of the General Data Protection Act (GDPR), that information is supposed to be under the control of the publisher, who has the permission to use it, not multiple unidentified third parties who don’t have direct permission. If the ICO wants to track this “data leakage,” so it can protect personal data then the work done by the financial services industry to create traceable records using synchronized time could be invaluable.


Similarly, the online gambling industry uses fast, automated systems to offer and adjust betting odds on different outcomes in sporting events. In this process the precise sequence and intervals between events are important; if a user bets 'in-play' during a football match that a penalty will be given, and at that precise moment of making the bet a foul is committed which is then given as a penalty, the timing of events, and how they are recorded, will determine whether the bet is accepted. Did the bet happen in time? What mattered? When did the user pressed send, or when did the bet hit the platform server? The UK gambling commission is regularly being asked to look at disputes when gambling companies reject bets that would have won had they been accepted. If all the parties in the chain had traceable time to confirm the sequence and interval between events, disputes could be settled more quickly and much more cost effectively.

There are no traceable timing requirements in the digital advertising market, or in online gambling at present, but both have a need for traceable data records to underpin market confidence in non-transparent automated systems. The regulators will likely move cautiously on introducing a regulation like traceable timing. Like the FCA, they want to make sure that the potential market disruption this might cause is justified by the market efficiency benefits to be gained. But the faster the systems become, the wider they are deployed and the smarter the applications get, the greater the need for verified transactions records. Financial services are leading the way on developing ways to help keep automated systems accountable. Other industries will reap the benefits, because when additional regulators unveil a requirement for traceable timing, the systems developed for financial services will be available, almost 'off the shelf', to these other industries, which make automation more accountable but ultimately boost market confidence.

Here Martijn Groot, VP Marketing and Strategy at Asset Control , discusses how AI and Machine Learning techniques are finding their way into financial services and changing the way we do things, in particular how we invest.

Ranging from operational efficiencies to more effective detection of fraud and money-laundering, firms are embracing techniques that find patterns, learn from them and can subsequently act on signals coming out of large volumes of data. The most promising, and potentially lucrative, use cases are in investment management though.

Among the groups that benefit most are hedge fund managers and other active investors who increasingly rely on AI and machine learning to analyse large data sets for actionable signals that support a faster; better-informed decision-making process. Helping this trend is the increased availability of data sets that provide additional colour and that complement The typical market data feeds from aggregators, such as Bloomberg or Refinitiv, range from data gathered through web scraping, textual analysis of news, social media and earnings calls. Data is also gathered through transactional information from credit card data, email receipts and point of sale (“POS”) data.

The ability to analyse data has progressed to apply natural language processing (NLP) to earning call transcripts to assess whether the tone of the CEO or CFO being interviewed is positive or negative.

The ability to analyse data has progressed to apply natural language processing (NLP) to earning call transcripts to assess whether the tone of the CEO or CFO being interviewed is positive or negative.

Revenue can be estimated from transactional information to gauge a company’s financials ahead of official earnings announcements and with potentially greater accuracy than analyst forecasts. If, based on this analysis, a fund believes the next reported earnings are going to materially differ from the consensus analyst forecast, it can act on this. Satellite information on crops and weather forecasts can help predicting commodity prices.

These are just a few examples of the data sets available. The variety in structure and volume of data now available is such that analysing it using traditional techniques is becoming increasingly unrealistic. Moreover, some has a limited shelf life and can quickly become out-of-date.

Scoping the Challenge

Setting up a properly resourced team to assess and process this type of data is costly.

The best approach therefore is to more effectively assess and prepare the data for machine learning so that the algorithms can get to work quickly. Data scientists can then focus on analysis rather than data preparation. Part of that process is feature engineering, essentially selecting the aspects of the data to feed to a machine learning algorithm. This curation process involves selecting the relevant dimensions of the data, discarding for instance redundant data sets or constant parameters, and plugging gaps in the data where needed.

An active manager could potentially analyse hundreds of data sets per year; the procedure to analyse and onboard new data should be cost-effective. It should also have a quick turnaround time as the shelf life of some of these data sets is short.


Addressing these challenges means that traditional data management (the structured processes to ingest, integrate, quality-proof and distribute information) has to evolve. It needs to extend data ingestion and managing data quality into a more sophisticated cross-referencing of feeds looking for gaps in the data; implausible movements and inconsistency between two feeds. For instance, speed of data loading is becoming more important as volumes increase. With much of the data unstructured, hedge funds should be conscious of needing to do more with the data to make it usable. More sophisticated data mastering will also be key in making machine learning work effectively for hedge funds.

This functionality coupled with the capability to quickly onboard new data sets for machine learning will enable funds to save money and especially time in the data analysis process. It will allow data scientists to focus on what they do best and generate more actionable insight for the investment professionals.

Reaping the Rewards

Machine learning clearly has huge potential to bring a raft of benefits to hedge funds, both in reducing the time and cost of the data analysis process and in driving faster time to insight. It also gives firms the opportunity to achieve differentiation and business advantage. Hedge funds need to show returns to attract investment in an increasingly competitive space, machine learning supported by high quality data management offers a positive way forward.

According to Ketan Parekh, Head of Financial and Insurance Services at Fujitsu UK & Ireland, Fujitsu recently revealed that 71% of financial services leaders believe that technology is vital to the future success and health of their organisation. Below Parekh discusses with Finance Monthly the prospects of fintech innovation in 2020, and the benefits for Financial services companies therein.

Every year new technologies are transforming the financial services industry, with technology such as the Internet of Things (IoT), Robotic Process Automation (RPA), Artificial Intelligence (AI) and blockchain completely changing the services that banks can provide to their customers. For example, Metro Bank is using a selfie technology to allow consumers to open current accounts online, whilst Facebook will soon let you send payments via WhatsApp. With so much innovation on offer, there is a huge opportunity for organisations to take advantage of new technologies to improve efficiency and customer service.

Our recent research of the sector also revealed that over half (55%) of UK financial services business leaders feel their organisation has been a leader in technological innovation over the last five years. And while many embrace the positive effect of technology, there are some risks associated with this rapid innovation. The explosion of new technologies combined with the rapid pace of change and ever evolving consumer demands means some organisations can be left playing catch-up and falling behind on innovation.

Investing in the future

It was recently uncovered that more than half (56%) of UK financial services business leaders worry their organisation could miss out on the benefits of technological innovation, because they haven’t planned radically enough. The truth is - organisations with the right foundations in place will be those to take advantage of what technology has to offer.

With no signs of innovation slowing down, it’s vital that the financial services sector builds on its existing strengths. Although significant steps have been taken already, to succeed in the digital age and bring innovative solutions to the market, business leaders will need to make a sizeable financial commitment. Now is the time for them to put the right plans in place to ensure they are prepared to tap into the innovations to come, and this includes making investments in digital technologies a key priority for the business.

Although significant steps have been taken already, to succeed in the digital age and bring innovative solutions to the market, business leaders will need to make a sizeable financial commitment.

Customer first

Financial services leaders have been faced with no small challenge. Currently, over half (55%) of financial services business leaders admit they are not able to predict what customers will want from their organisation in the future. Today their customers are hunting for convenience, and seeking innovation, new digital services, low rates, speed and security.

Take retail banking for example, where some banks are now beginning to roll out systems that learn the behaviours of their individual customers, and can recognise in real-time the ‘signature’ abnormal behaviours when these customers are influenced by scammers. It’s clear that financial services organisations are innovating but these organisations must ensure that the technology they offer actually meets the demands of individual customers.

Keeping the top spot

Financial services leaders have been faced with no small challenge. Their customers are asking them to innovate and provide new digital services, alongside threats in the form of data governance, protection and public trust. Yet one thing is clear - financial services leaders must continue to put the organisation at the forefront of innovation.

It’s now the time for them to put the right plans in place to ensure they are prepared to tap into the innovations to come. When organisations ensure they prepare, plan and put the customer first, successful technological innovations are possible. This way organisations will be able to stay ahead of competition and keep the UK’s financial service organisations at the forefront of innovation.

In a session titled ‘Shaping the Future of Financial and Monetary Systems,’ yesterday, co-founder and CEO of Circle, Jeremy Allaire shed light on the biggest problems the cryptocurrency and wider financial systems are currently facing.

Speaking to delegates in Davos, Allaire highlighted the existence of an arc, by which these systems journey and end up, where we are currently sit in said arc and what we can expect further on. He said: “For the financial system, we are at an inflection point and moving from the periphery to the core. For example, moving away from the likes of just ‘making access better’ to finally visiting the core of financial system — such as, the nature of money, how distributed and utilised.”

He emphasized that since the credit crisis 10 years back, “we’ve seen growth in alternative architecture,” referring to the likes of blockchain, cloud, cryptocurrencies and stable coins. He also pointed out however that for now, the biggest challenge ahead is regulation and policymaking, comparing some of the sector’s struggles to those of other sectors like media and communications.

Stressing the need to drive policy in line with innovation, he said: “None of us would like to go back to a time where we can’t freely communicate with anyone on the planet without any intermediation with some rare exceptions. We all accept as society, trade-offs. [For example] we have open communications but we also accept the fact that terrorists can recruit people on YouTube. We’re not saying shut down YouTube.”


“The financial system is different to communications and there are identity and risk issues that are real but we have to revisit how those issues are solved — right now it’s the blunt forced mechanism for enforcement which ends up tying to national sovereigns and their policing mechanisms. We have to look for global schemes and technology driven approaches for identity risk that run alongside blockchains and digital currencies,” he said, according to Yahoo Finance.

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