Vertex tax technology: Data intelligence for tax

All tax departments collect data. But are you using it in an intelligent and insightful way?

Tax has access to one of the largest, most detailed datasets in the company: sales, purchases, expenses, payroll, and more. But many use that goldmine of information merely to support the monthly compliance process. You use data to generate and validate the monthly returns.

A truly value-driven tax function uses that data for more than just compliance. It leverages data intelligence tools to not only improve the accuracy of the returns, but unlock time, capacity, and insight, to become a more strategic tax function and drive better business outcomes.

You’ll reduce the time spent on compliance and focus more on higher value functions: like audit defence and planning to support the business.

Data Intelligence leverages every data point that already exists in various business systems, and turns it into insight for the tax function to enhance business outcomes.

Data Intelligence tools gives you insight about your customers, your vendors, your taxes collected and paid. Your newly released products and services. Your new selling and buying locations.

You can easily identify changes and trends; and pinpoint areas of risk that you can address more proactively, to impact the business sooner.

Data Intelligence turns raw data into insight; insight you can use immediately, to not only optimise tax performance, but to model, predict, and influence business decision-making to drive business growth.

It’s the key to moving your tax department out in front of the business, and becoming a profit centre; rather than just a cost centre that handles regulatory reporting.

With Data Intelligence, you’ll use tax data to identify new business opportunities, and influence business growth strategy beyond the tax department. You’ll become more proactive, not just reactive. You’ll measure the value contributed, not just the tasks executed.

Vertex tax technology: Introducing Vertex Cloud VAT compliance

A manual spreadsheet approach to VAT reporting is labour-intensive, error-prone, and costly. Keeping up with the latest regulatory changes is challenging at best; and the effort required to support business expansion can hinder a company’s agility to respond to market opportunity.

Vertex offers a cloud-based VAT-reporting solution to reduce risk, automate and improve process efficiency, improve data quality, and keep the business in line with the latest regulatory changes.

Import tax data from multiple ERPs, a tax determination engine, and all other financial systems – even Excel files.
Perform data quality checks and make necessary enhancements.

Map data easily to generate signature-ready, multi-language VAT/GST returns, reports, and AP/AR ledgers. E-file right in the application.

Access workflow tools, dashboards and reports, designed to let tax preparers and managers alike track progress across the end-to-end compliance process: from filing preparation, to approvals, to submissions.

And support audits with drill-down capability to detail transaction data and complete audit logs.

Vertex Cloud VAT Compliance enables multinational corporations to support business growth without additional VAT/GST process burden.

Built-in up-to-date tax content ensures you keep pace with the latest return forms and regulatory changes.
And efficient cloud access reduces the need for IT infrastructure and maintenance, accelerates deployment, and scales easily to support business growth.

Leverage a robust, multi-country VAT-reporting solution across the enterprise: ideal for decentralised tax departments and shared service centres.

Add Vertex Cloud VAT Compliance to your tax operations today, to: streamline process efficiency and reduce manual error, enhance data accuracy and transparency, improve audit performance, and accelerate scalability.

Post-pandemic surge for healthcare, banking and infrastructure sectors

Dimitris Kantzelis is CEO of XSpot Wealth; the innovative, technology-driven wealth management company he co-founded to provide convenient, transparent, low-cost and flexible wealth management solutions to people at every level of income. In the first video from our interview with Dimitris, he discusses how the markets responded to the slow pandemic recovery of 2021. You can also watch him explain how XSpot Wealth has adapted and evolved through 2021, and outline the company’s new offering for institutional investors.

World Finance: Dimitris, obviously 2020 was a year of incredible volatility; how have the markets responded this year, as we inch closer to recover?

Dimitris Kantzelis: Yes, it was a quite bumpy ride, especially in March 2020, when we saw the stock markets dropping more than 30 percent, and oil prices at some point trading at below zero levels. So that was a very difficult situation for investors, as they were dumping everything and getting cash, preparing for a lifetime catastrophe.

Now, we saw that governments and central banks were very well prepared to support the system, with trillions in stimulus packages. This is now bringing some fears of hyperinflation lasting for the next couple of years – this is the main theme of discussion for these current months and the next year.

The counter-argument for that is that these stimulus packages went to support households and businesses to get through the pandemic, as we saw record levels of savings all around the world. We believe those savings will help as we go out of this pandemic; we believe we will be going out very quickly, and we will be looking at the face of mature growth in the global stock and bond markets.

World Finance: And what sectors do you expect to perform well as life slowly returns to normal?

Dimitris Kantzelis: Well, we’re looking at some sectors specifically. I would mention the health sector, because the MRNA technology helped a lot – not only in the COVID-19 vaccines, but also in the entire research and development around vaccines for the future. So that’s a sector we’re focusing in.

The banking sector is another very important sector. The banks were very well capitalised this time, and we believe that with increasing interest rates they will be very profitable, so that’s another sector we’re focusing on.

Real estate is another sector – we’re seeing people buying houses, turning to real estate for safety after the global pandemic. And also infrastructure, as we’re trying to change the way we commute, and we live in cities.

So, these are the main sectors we’ll be focusing on.

World Finance: And which geographies do you expect to be outperforming?

Dimitris Kantzelis: We believe the US will keep outperforming the global stock and bond markets. We see some worries in China – we still believe China is going to be the next big thing for the next decade, but with the Evergrande situation and the debt issues of many companies, the overregulation that Beijing is trying to bring in, we believe that it might grow at a slower pace for the next couple of years.

Now Europe will also grow and get out of the pandemic, but the issue is the big energy crisis that is unfolding at the moment. So we believe this will be lagging the US as well.

World Finance: Dimitris, thank you very much.

Dimitris Kantzelis: Thank you so much.

XSpot Wealth technology and transparency will empower institutions

Dimitris Kantzelis is CEO of XSpot Wealth; the innovative, technology-driven wealth management company he co-founded to provide convenient, transparent, low-cost and flexible wealth management solutions to people at every level of income. In the third and final video from our interview with Dimitris, he discusses XSpot Wealth’s new institutional offering. You can also watch him outline prospects for growth as the world recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, and explain how XSpot Wealth has adapted and evolved through 2021.

World Finance: Dimitris, this year XSpot has expanded the services you provide, and started offering your technology to institutional investors?

Dimitris Kantzelis: That’s correct Paul. We worked a lot during the pandemic, we expanded and upgraded our systems a lot. So we’re reaching a point where we’re discussing with people from the industry, and they will tell us that the system we have, the smart technology and AI, would be so helpful to them: so they can offer better services to their clients, and expand their books. Which is now something they cannot do: it would take very long, and they wouldn’t have the assets to invest in such technologies as well.

So we said, why not license the technology? Expand our global reach, help the investor get more robust and more transparent investment services. But also empower these companies to give better advice and services for their clients, and also expand their books.

World Finance: I know the foundation of XSpot Wealth has always been your smart technology; what sets it apart?

Dimitris Kantzelis: It could be summarised in four main sectors, which are scalability, security, efficiency, and transparency.

So, scalability: we’re working hard with the latest technology infrastructure to accommodate big data, big numbers of clients, while at the same time we give very low latency.

Security is of paramount importance; we’re implementing a lot of security layers before that point, but also security encryption is a very important feature, and we already have that in our system.

Efficiency: the wealth management and banking sectors are very complex sectors. You need a lot of things from the back office, the middle office, the front office, connections with fixed engines; and we’re covering all that.

And finally the transparency. With strong reporting engines, we can give all the information to the client, but also real-time information through our CRM. So they have all the details they want to value and assess their investment.

World Finance: And does it integrate easily? How does the partnership work?

Dimitris Kantzelis: It’s actually one of the big advantages, that it can integrate so easily, and it’s ready to go with any company. We’re very flexible – they can choose parts of the system, from the back office, middle office, reporting lines, the fixed engine connecting them to the global stock and bond markets with some of the biggest counterparties. We provide full support of course, for the entire engagement. And it comes in very competitive packages.

World Finance: And what are your hopes for this side of the business?

Dimitris Kantzelis: First of all expanding our global reach in many countries outside our normal retail space. So, all around the world.

Helping, empowering clients who can now take advantage of these transparent services. Helping other companies and other institutions; expanding their books, offering better services to their clients.

And this will result for us to keep investing and upgrading the technology even more. So hopefully become one of the global key players in the wealth technology space.

World Finance: Dimitris Kantzelis, thank you very much.

Dimitris Kantzelis: Thank you.

XSpot Wealth launches ESG plans and prepares to expand to Middle East

Dimitris Kantzelis is CEO of XSpot Wealth; the innovative, technology-driven wealth management company he co-founded to provide convenient, transparent, low-cost and flexible wealth management solutions to people at every level of income. In the second video from our interview with Dimitris, he discusses how XSpot Wealth responded to the trends of 2021, and its roadmap of future growth. You can also watch him explain the company’s new offering for institutional investors, and outline prospects for growth as the world recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic.

World Finance: Dimitris, how has XSpot Wealth responded this year to the macroeconomic trends you’ve described?

Dimitris Kantzelis: Yes, from the beginning of the year we had some transitions that needed to take place. The Biden administration coming in, and the fears for breaking down the big tech shifted some of our portfolios from technology stock to value sectors as our economies were opening up again – travelling, going out, real estate, banking, as we discussed before. Health sectors. This is where we had to change efficiently, quickly, and that was a key point where our clients saw that we made the correct decisions.

But we believe we’re doing nicely; the way of passive investments, and being able to be extremely diversified, more aggressive but also more conservative approaches, depending on the risk profiles of the clients, proved very, very efficient.

We also launched our ESG plans, we see a lot of people interested in ESG investments. So now we have the thematic ESG funds, which are targeting different kinds of investments in global stock and bond markets. So that was a quite successful launch as well.

World Finance: And what feedback have you had from clients, as you’ve adapted and evolved?

Dimitris Kantzelis: They were very happy, because with the passive way we’re investing, with the big transparency, they can always see what we’re doing. And that’s why they feel comfortable. And this is the reason why they’re bringing us a lot of referrals. And we also see them bringing deposits from different institutions over to us.

World Finance: As the world has opened up, you must have been able to interact with your clients in better and more engaging ways?

Dimitris Kantzelis: Yes of course – being digital doesn’t stop us, because at the same time, we’re hybrid. So we always have our private wealth managers ready, and our customer support, to help solve any questions and advise our clients in a better way based on their individual goals and what they have in mind, yes.

World Finance: When we spoke last year you mentioned your ambitions for 2021 of entering two new countries and reaching 10,000 clients; how far along are you on your roadmap?

Dimitris Kantzelis: We’re very close actually; we believe we can hit that by the end of this year. But COVID-19 delayed us a bit – I believe it did most companies. We’re launching our Dubai office very soon, and we believe by next year we’ll be in another European location.

So by 2023 we will have expanded our reach all around south-eastern Europe and the Middle East. So we’re on track for our next target, which is the 100,000 client mark. But also with the institutional offering we now have, we believe we can expand all around the world.

World Finance: Dimitris, thank you.

Dimitris Kantzelis: Thank you Paul.

How BVI fosters entrepreneurship with its fintech regulatory sandbox

The last year has shown how truly dependent we all are on smooth international supply chains and the business structures that enable frictionless, cross-border trade. Simon Gray is Global Head of Business Development and Marketing for BVI Finance; he explains how the British Virgin Islands has been helping to create our modern global village for the last 36 years, and how the BVI is continuously updating and upgrading its offering to foster entrepreneurship.

You can also watch the second half of this conversation with Simon Gray, where he discusses the ways the BVI is innovating in funds and trusts.

World Finance: Simon, what role has the BVI played in creating our modern global village?

Simon Gray: The role has been very significant. It really began about 35, 36 years ago with the introduction of the International Business Companies Act; and that was extremely innovative and flexible at the time. But we continue to be responsive to business needs and changes globally. So we tend to always try to benchmark with the best. We try to seek out opportunities where they maybe haven’t been considered for whatever reason. And we try to capitalise on that, to the advantage of our stakeholders.

And perhaps a good example of that with the global village is that we do now represent interests in the four corners of the world. And an independent report through Capital Economics indicated or advised that two million jobs were created globally as a consequence of BVI mediated finance, and we contributed $1.5trn to the global economy. So we always try to punch above our weight.

World Finance: I think there is a broad perception that IFC structures are kind of the domain of enormous multinationals, but they are particularly important in helping young entrepreneurs or small businesses to grow internationally.

Simon Gray: Oh absolutely. And you’re right, we do have a number of listed entities – I think there’s about 140 of them. But we have many, many more thousands which are very much smaller operations.

Entrepreneurship is very much something that we’ve always wanted to attract, and we continue to attract. And in the past four years we introduced the Microbusiness Act to help small entrepreneurs. Most recently there’s been our fintech initiative, and our regulatory sandbox, which we introduced last year.

World Finance: Tell me more – what is your fintech regulatory sandbox? Who is it for, what does it achieve, and how has it been performing so far?

Simon Gray: Well it was actually introduced in the summer of last year, and that was not by any means the first globally. But the approach we’ve always taken is: look, and learn, and listen from others, and hopefully improve.

It’s really targeted at the young entrepreneurial individuals who wish to create a new initiative in the fintech space. And we’ve worked very closely with the Financial Services Commission to disentangle some of the regulations that would have been required normally for a period of time while they sit in the sandbox.

Obviously there’s no risk to consumers, because they’re in the laboratory at this point. And at such time as they leave the sandbox, the condition absolutely is they have to have full compliance. There are certain rules that are non-negotiable – there’s no way we’re going to compromise on anti-money laundering or counter-terrorist financing. But for the most part it’s managed to attract a great deal of business. So that is very much the spirit of entrepreneurship that we continue to propagate.

World Finance: And how do you stay agile and adaptive while still maintaining a strong regulatory framework?

Simon Gray: Well I’ve said we try never to be complacent; but we also recognise humility. It’s very important to understand that there are amazing competitors out there, and rather than fear them, I respect them. Hopefully they respect us as well.

But by benchmarking, by networking, we bounce ideas and thought leadership around. And working together, we hope we can price things slightly more competitively. But by working together we think it’s for the good of the overall global industry.

BVI Finance: ‘A suite of services for the entire corporate and blood family’

At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, BVI Finance began running its events online, in a series of programmes it called ‘Virtually Together, Virtually Everywhere.’ On the occasion of his first physical event since the world’s first lockdown, at AFSIC Investing in Africa, BVI Finance’s Simon Gray describes the key themes explored through its events: including a private investment fund regime, a renewed purpose for its incubator fund, and and innovating in the digital space with smart contracts.

You can also watch the first half of this conversation with Simon Gray, where he discusses BVI’s role in fostering entrepreneurship around the world.

World Finance: Now you’re here in London to take part in AFSIC Investing In Africa – what are your hopes for this event?

Simon Gray: Well it’s great to be back physically; I mean we’ve been very big sponsors of AFSIC for many many years, I think over 10. And it’s very much to continue our support – not just for that important investment opportunity, but the African continent.

We have very strong historic links there, and we see Africa as an important location, not just for our business structures; our common law system provides certainty, our robust regulatory framework provides reassurance. So we’re seeing exponential growth and opportunity there, and we’re glad we can do our bit to assist.

One thing we’ve been doing as a consequence of COVID-19 is moving more into the virtual field. So we have an initiative called Virtually Together, Virtually Everywhere; recently we did an event for southern Africa, we did one for west Africa, we’re doing one for eastern Africa in the next six weeks. So that focus is very much going to continue.

World Finance: Tell me more about the virtually together, virtually everywhere, events. What were the key themes coming out of them?

Simon Gray: We try to really build on what we’ve got good experience of. So that is not just in the field of business companies, but also the diverse range of funds that we offer. As well as our innovative trust structures.

And if you look at our funds, in 2020 we introduced a private investment fund regime – very much a closed end fund focus, and it really consolidated a lot of existing legislation together. And the real focus has been on private equity and venture capital. So that’s doing great guns, we’re very pleased with that result.

We’re perhaps even more pleased with the incubator fund – that was created back in 2015, at that point really with a focus on the hedge fund industry. What we’ve discovered is that it’s proving as successful – if not moreso – with the world of digital and crypto funds. And that’s largely due to the very benign regulatory structure which keeps the costs down. The speed with which funds can be established and operate. And I think the word incubator says it all: it helps generate life and create a robust structure for the future.

And if I may just develop that in the trusts field. What we’ve also found is that many successful entrepreneurs then capitalise on using our trust structures, which helps with the succession planning for future generations.

So we try and offer a suite of different products and services for the entire corporate and blood family.

World Finance: You’ve touched on a few of these examples so far, I’m sure, but how would you say the BVI is driving innovation?

Simon Gray: We try to be as flexible, as innovative, as possible. And I think a good example of that is our focus on digital assets and working groups. We consult widely with the industry, we liaise closely with the regulator to ensure that whatever rules they have planned are fit for purpose and can work commercially.

And perhaps the best example with the digital space is smart contracts. The decentralised autonomous organisations, or limited liability autonomous organisations – both of those really work very well with the LLC construct, so that’s something that we’re pushing.

World Finance: Simon, thank you very much.

Simon Gray: Thank you very much, Paul.

Banco Popular ‘will continue to bet on a greater digitisation of our clients’

Francisco Ramirez, Executive Vice President of Personal Business and Branches for Banco Popular Dominicano, explains how the bank’s commitment to digital technologies helped it meet the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Francisco Ramirez: Since the establishment of Banco Popular Dominicano more than five decades ago, innovation has been a fundamental pillar that characterises our service and growth strategy. New technologies have enabled us to continue developing new business models, products, and services, that allow us to excel in our customer experience, making us a reference for financial innovation in the region.

In order to accelerate our digital transformation process, we have adopted the AGILE methodology, which allows us to constantly launch new innovations. In recent months, we have introduced a series of digital solutions that together with previously existing digital functionality help us maintain our leadership status in the market.

The COVID-19 pandemic brought challenges to all the productive and social sectors of the Dominican Republic – and the rest of the world. And this has propagated into changes in consumer behaviour. It has been a period of great learning and growth, where Banco Popular had the opportunity to reinvent itself, and support its clients with the launch of multiple digital functionalities that facilitate their interactions with the institution.

During 2020, we saw an accelerated adoption to digital banking services by our clients, where digital transactions reached 87 percent of the total operations performed by the bank.

For example, our Popular App has increased its relevance and usage every year compared to the rest of the channels. In 2020, transactions increased by 34 percent. This demonstrates clients’ trust in our technological infrastructure and the digital migration resulting from the effects of the pandemic.

At Banco Popular we believe that the digital migration process will continue as more clients experience the benefits of digital banking. For this reason, we are constantly communicating digital banking benefits through educational videos and advice from our executives, showing clients how they can save time when using digital solutions.

However, clients who continue to prefer personalised assistance have access to all of our traditional channels to perform their operations, where we are constantly making improvements to maximise the service experience.

For example, guided by innovation, one of our core values, we invest efforts to increase the scope of robotic process automation. Thanks to the robotisation of tasks, we increased our operational efficiency. In 2020, we identified and robotised 19 high-volume macro operational processes, which has an impact of improving the quality of the service offered to our customers.

We want to help our clients prosper in the digital world. That is why we have a strong commitment to online security. We work so that our clients can carry out operations digitally with total security, providing them with a 24/7 service, thanks to a powerful technological infrastructure.

During 2020, we continued to strengthen our information security and cyber security programme, incorporating the requirements of the Cyber and Information Security Regulation of the Central Bank of the Dominican Republic and adapting it to best practices.

At Banco Popular we will continue to innovate and provide our clients with new solutions that can satisfy their needs and make their experience more pleasant. This is why we believe in the importance of listening to customers and co-creating with them. We have always started the innovations that digital transformation requires by understanding what our clients need.

Banco Popular will continue to bet on a greater digitisation of our clients, the automation of processes, and the continuous improvement of the service experience for Dominicans.

Portuguese Golden Visa demand soars as 2022 rules change is announced

Portugal’s Residency Permit Programme – its Golden Visa – has been offering high-net-worth-individuals a route to EU citizenship since 2012. Tiago Camara and David Machado are co-founders of PTGoldenVisa, an investment and consultancy service that focuses exclusively on Portugal’s programme. They explain how the COVID-19 pandemic, in combination with changes to the golden visa rules from January 2022, have created a surge in demand for investments this year. And they discuss how they’ve adapted their services to be more accessible than ever, in a time when people can’t physically visit their potential investment properties.

World Finance: Tiago, who are your clients and what are they looking for?

Tiago Camara: Our clients are typically non-European business owners or highly qualified workers, who are looking for freedom and security. They have available capital to invest – at least €280,000 on real estate, or €350,000 on qualified investment funds – and qualify for a programme that opens them the doors of Europe.

The pandemic has created enormous uncertainty and instability – and for many people, the promise of a Portuguese residency permit, with the potential to apply for citizenship after five years – represents a secure future – or simply a back-up plan against the unforeseen.

World Finance: And David, how are your clients typically investing – and how have things changed since the start of the pandemic?

David Machado: Nowadays the investment is still majority in real estate, so that’s how majority of the clients qualify for the programme. We have different opportunities here, but the big hit these days is to invest over €500,000 in villas, modern villas especially, where you can invest off-plan and get a very high capital appreciation.

And now the demand is bigger than ever. These days people realise how hard it is to travel, how important it is to feel secure and safe. People also feel very comfortable to place their investments in real estate in pandemic situations.

We also simplified the process to make it more easier for those who cannot travel. So everything can be done remotely: with 3D viewings, which these days are very accurate, very precise, and give you the real feeling of travelling through the property, a whole video of the property, outside and inside, and also a video that explain you how the rental projections of the property will perform. This will give you a very accurate feeling of what’s going to happen with your investment.

World Finance: There are big changes coming to the programme in 2022, how are you preparing for that?

David Machado: Our recommendation is for those who have the ability to perform the investments in 2021, don’t delay your investments, because the current rules are much more beneficial than the rules in the next year.

Obviously we’re still very confident that in 2022 Portugal will still be the main programme in Europe, and still very strong. But if you can do it today, don’t leave it for tomorrow, because the current rules allow you to have a very, very safe investment, and collect the benefits the same way. Obviously next year is still going to be attractive, but this year is much better.

World Finance: Finally Tiago, Why PTGoldenVisa? What sets you apart?

Tiago Camara: So, you know, it’s been a challenging time, but we pride ourselves on providing a complete investment and consultancy service all the time for our clients. Our ability to adapt and continue giving an excellent service for our clients through the pandemic is just one of the reasons we were awarded once again as the best Service Provider for the Portuguese Golden Visa Program.

We offer a complete service starting from Real estate investments, consultancy on the Golden Visa programme, assuring the solutions on all the legal legal steps, banking services, tax optimisation, property management. We are basically with our clients through all the investment and through all the programme – and lately we support them to apply for their citizenship.

Just visit our website, www.ptgoldenvisa.com or contact us directly on our email: contact@ptgoldenvisa.com and start your process with us – presently or remotely.

Africa’s 56 million missing homes: Shelter Afrique confronts the crisis

Shelter Afrique is a pan-African development finance institution, funding low cost, high volume housing in 44 countries across the continent. According to its centre of excellence, there is an urgent crisis in urban housing, with 56 million homes needed in African cities – and that number is growing year-on-year. Andrew Chimpondah explains how Shelter Afrique forms public-private partnerships with governments in order to create homes that cost in the region of $20-30,000 – homes that the majority of people can actually afford.

World Finance: Andrew, how urgent is the need for more urban housing in cities across Africa?

Andrew Chimpondah: Yeah, thank you Paul for the opportunity. I think for us as Shelter Afrique, we view the need for housing as a crisis. We have our centre of excellence that has estimated the shortage of housing at 56 million units throughout the whole of Africa. 56 million units!

And the biggest challenge in Africa is affordability. We need to have products that the majority of Africans can afford. And we do that through the creation of public private partnerships, so that we can achieve development impact.

World Finance: Tell me more about these partnerships – how is Shelter Afrique tackling this housing crisis?

Andrew Chimpondah: So we at Shelter Afrique have realised that for you to get a low-cost house, you need to enter into a partnership with the governments, the 44 governments that are members of Shelter Afrique. That they provide land, and possibly infrastructure support or subsidies; then we can provide funding for the top structure, so that the end result is a house that costs in the region of $20,000-30,000.

We also use that as a way of influencing the policies, the housing policies in our member states so that they provide an enabling environment to create sustainable public-private partnerships.
And then lastly we also have a trade finance product, to also fund countries that want to import building materials like cement, also building materials, to support their house construction.

World Finance: Now I know that you’re working on a number of bond issuances – half a billion US dollars in Nigeria; the same in east Africa, as well as a bond for Francophone Africa – with that funding in place, what can we expect going forward?

Andrew Chimpondah: Going forward what you can expect is that we have now built a pipeline of housing projects in the region of $1bn. Now we need to make sure that we fund that pipeline. That’s very important for us. So we want to look, going forward we want to see our assets under management growing; we want to see ourselves being able to support that pipeline.

And I think more importantly, we are looking forward to the 20th to 26th June, where we are holding our 40th anniversary in Yaoundé in Cameroon, where we’ll be able to promulgate the Yaoundé declaration in terms of 40 years in housing. How have the policies in the member states been effective, and if not, what changes do we need to make in terms of the policies? And you’ll be glad to know that we collaborate with the UN Habitat, we collaborate with the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, where we’re actually developing a model, a law, which is a benchmark of housing policy that should create an enabling environment to support the growth of low-cost, large-scale housing.

Last but not least we’re pleased to report in our audited financial results for 2020 a profit which we’ve delivered of $2m, and we’re looking forward to delivering more profit for our member states so that the capital they’re investing in Shelter Afrique continues to grow and gets reinvested in housing.

How HBL’s digital payment solutions are expanding financial inclusion

Bank digitisation is a worldwide trend; but its benefits are particularly notable in countries with a large unbanked population. Pakistan is one such country, where HBL is at the forefront of its digital banking drive. Sagheer Mufti explains how the bank has transformed from a legacy bank to a digital one: leveraging technology to help digitise the flow of money across individuals, institutions, and businesses.

World Finance: Sagheer, HBL was the very first commercial bank established in Pakistan – how has it transformed from a legacy bank, to a digital one?

Sagheer Mufti: Thank you for the question, because we’re very proud of our legacy. HBL, since inception, has a history of innovation in customer service.

For example, early on we decided to create a branch network so we can be wherever our clients are, including an international footprint. We brought credit cards and ATMs to the Pakistan market 50 years ago. And as the digital landscape started evolving in financial services, we have embraced it fully – to the extent that we view HBL today as a technology company with a banking licence.

The end goal remains the same: be a customer-centric organisation, by having mobile-first channels, data-enabled decisioning, and an agile organisation to increase speed-to-market. Our success today in achieving pole position in digital is based on enabling our clients to enjoy banking services and channels that fit in with today’s lifestyle – be able to get information you need about your transactions, your wealth, or be able to transact when you want, from where you want, in a secure manner.

World Finance: A core component to this transformation is your digital payment capacity; tell me more about HBL Pay.

Sagheer Mufti: Absolutely! HBL digital payment solutions enable HBL customers to enjoy a cashless ability to transact with ease. Big data is enabling us to do lead generation, product personalisation, and react much faster to client feedback on our products and services.

The bank’s ability to maintain a leadership position in HBL pay, its cash management proposition, is about a one-stop online banking solution for all of HBL’s customers.

HBL Pay’s new payment gateway continues to power more and more ecommerce merchants. Being one of the first banks to offer open banking capabilities since last year has allowed us to on-board customers and partners quickly and remotely. Allowing them from the safety of their offices or homes to join HBL’s payment systems.

World Finance: Now, Pakistan has the fifth largest population in the world, but a financial inclusion rate of just 21 percent; is digitisation helping?

Sagheer Mufti: Oh, absolutely. Financial inclusion is at the core of HBL’s business philosophy, as it supports Pakistan’s national agenda, and allows us to better serve the communities that we do business in.

The bank believes that leveraging technology to digitise the flow of money across individuals, institutions, and businesses, is a necessary step; and greatly assists in achieving its financial inclusion agenda. We are seeing this happen every day.

A very good example was by HBL becoming a lead partner with the government of Pakistan in the disbursement of the largest social safety net initiative in the country’s history – and in fact, in south Asia – with $1bn during COVID-19 being disbursed to 12 million Pakistani families.

ACY Securities: 10 years of empowering traders to make smarter decisions

With enormous diversity in tradable assets, and a commitment to cutting-edge technology, ACY Securities pitches itself as half Wall Street and half Silicon Valley. All Darwish and Justin Pooni discuss ACY’s award-winning partnership programme, the educational products in place to help empower the company’s traders, and its key achievements through the turbulent 2020, and ambitions for 2021.

World Finance: The World Finance Forex Awards recognised your partnership programme as being the best for 2020; what sets it apart?

Alla Darwish: So when it comes to forging successful commercial and business partnerships, finding the right partner is crucial. ACY’s backbone is fintech; so when it comes to systems, we have tailored solutions to brokers, fund managers, FIX-API offerings, and even introducing brokers. And even if professionals wanted to take part in ACY’s global reach and presence, they can always apply to work directly with ACY, and represent us in specific regions around the globe, under the regional manager programme.

ACY Partners offers bespoke solutions designed by you and tailored by us. So if our clients want a certain liquidity provider, a product, or even a price range, or a commission structure, we’ve got them covered. We not only offer the best technology in the market, but the best customer service they could experience with any broker.

World Finance: Justin, ACY’s vision is to empower your customers, to help them make smarter decisions; how are you delivering on that promise?

Justin Pooni: Well yes that’s right; our vision as a company is all about empowering clients with the tools and resouces they need to make smart informed trading decisions. And we’ve been delivering on that vision every day for the past 10 years, I’m happy to say.

There are two distinct areas that we focus on when it comes to arming our clients. Number one is the education and tradable market analysis, and number two is the technology and exceptional trading environment.

On the market education front, we have three video reports that go out to clients every day. The Asian Open, the London Open, and the ACY Securities daily report, which is a comprehensive breakdown of the movers and shakers of the day. These products provide traders with a full wrap of markets, including tradable market analysis, that they can use to enter and exit their trades.

On top of that, we also have a suite of structured and self-paced educational products that allow clients to grow as traders, regardless of their level of skill or experience.

In terms of the technology and the trading conditions, our ultra-fast execution speed, direct access to Equinix Servers in New York and Asia, combined with the low cost of trading, ensures that traders can trade with confidence.

World Finance: Obviously it’s been a turbulent year, but ACY has been growing steadily – what have been your key achievements this year, and what are your ambitions for 2021?

Justin Pooni: Well certainly 2020 was a tough and challenging year on many fronts, but we have managed to soldier on strongly and achieve some pretty incredible things. Some of them include introducing share CFDs and ETF CFDs, to give our clients access to over 1,000 instruments across six asset classes.

We enjoyed strong organic growth in key markets, including the Middle East, south-east Asia, and of course Australia.

2021 is actually shaping up to be another very strong year for us: marking our 10 years in the industry, which is just an incredible milestone. And on the technology and trading front, we’ll be making further investments to our technological infrastructure; ensuring even faster speeds of execution.

And we’ll be looking to roll out some exciting trading tech that could transform the client experience as we know it. So watch out for that.

And of course we’ll continue to introduce more and more new instruments, so our clients have the choice to trade from a very wide selection of instruments. At the end of the day it’s all about our clients.

‘Our people perform miracles’: How Foresight keeps drilling through COVID-19

While everybody’s lives and businesses were transformed dramatically in 2020, spare a thought for the energy industry, and the people who quite literally keep the world’s lights on. Dr Ravi Mehrotra is founder and mentor of Foresight Offshore Drilling, part of Foresight Group International; he discusses how the pandemic devastated oil prices, forced oil operators to become more nimble, and how the agility of Foresight’s people were critical to the business’s success through the crisis.

World Finance: Dr Ravi, how has the pandemic affected the oil industry – and drilling in particular?

Dr Ravi Mehrotra: April absolutely devastated oil prices, as lockdowns and travel restrictions forced people to stay at home. E&P companies also cut their planned capex spends by about $100bn. So the drilling sector has been particularly hard hit, with contract delays, suspensions, cancellations and terminations. Plus the inevitable squeeze on day rates.

Oil prices are recovering, but Moody’s suggests demand may not return to 2019 levels until at least 2025, if at all. Decarbonisation is becoming a priority. And with the upcoming inauguration of President Joe Biden, we may see demands for oil companies to substantially reduce their carbon outputs. So even beyond the pandemic, this is a challenge the industry needs solutions to.

World Finance: How did Foresight respond and adapt?

Dr Ravi Mehrotra: By becoming more agile, more nimble, so that our operations could continue successfully through this low earning period. Like a lot of companies we experienced issues with crew change logistics. Our operations and HR teams came up with really brilliant solutions to overcome those challenges, and make sure our people were appropriately quarantined.

We’ve always been a relatively small business in this industry – but we make that a strength. Larger corporations only have their one way of doing things, they’re very rigid. We can be more agile, we can adapt to different customer needs. The client is at the heart of what we do, so we make sure we’ve fully understood their needs, and then we develop solutions to match.

World Finance: It sounds like your people are really vital to Foresight’s success.

Dr Ravi Mehrotra: Absolutely. Our people really are exceptional, we have teams who regularly perform miracles to get critical milestones achieved for our clients. Our fleet has been at 100 percent utilisation, running at an amazing 99.7 percent uptime with excellent safety performance.

In 2002 we created our own training institute, fully approved by the International Association of Drilling Contractors. Now all our intake is through this academy, and it’s these long-term employees who have been trained up within the company that are such a strong asset.

It’s been a challenging year, but thanks to our people it’s been a successful one. And looking ahead we’re optimistic. We’re going to remain agile, and see if we can scale up to medium size, with a critical mass of jack-up and land rigs in our operations.

EVO Banco: Our one goal is to make our customers’ financial lives simpler

EVO Banco is one of Spain’s key challenger banks; disrupting the national industry with a 100 percent digital banking model. Head of Disruptive Innovation and Big Data, Pedro Tomé, explains how EVO combines traditional banking with innovative technology to offer the best financial products and services to its customers; and Digital Innovation and Big Data Director, Javier Gonzalez, discusses the bank’s customer communications strategy, and its focus areas for technological development in the coming months.

World Finance: Pedro, what makes EVO Banco different in the Spanish banking market?

Pedro Tomé: I would like to start saying that EVO Banco is a traditional bank. We have bank accounts, we have loans, we have mortgages. All products and services that other competitors also have.

But some people identify or define EVO Banco like a new, neo bank. This is because we offer new products and new services, and the rapid functionalities that these kinds of new players also offer. We try to take the best of these two worlds and give that to our clients.

So we want to use the technology to help the people; we want to use this technology to make their lives easier. We are digital, we have an innovative DNA, and the clients understand how we are: that we are different from the rest.

These are more or less the points that define why we are different from the rest in the field.

World Finance: Javier – technology has transformed the way that banks interact with their customers. What’s EVO’s strategy?

Javier Gonzalez: Well, there is just one goal in our interactions with our clients, which is to make their lives simpler. Make their financials transparent. This means making better services and improving the customers experience while reducing our own inefficiencies.

We have just one physical branch, so our interaction with the client lies in our digital channels – particularly in our mobile app. And there in our app, we are bringing a high quality digital service, with a great user experience. So finally the client can do anything related with her money in an easy way.

And we want the user to be part of this. Our clients must be part of this process. We hear what they are demanding, and we have different mechanisms to interact with them.

For instance, from the very beginning we had a beta testing programme, where some early adopters gave us feedback about the new features or products in the app.

We are also leveraging the power of machine learning techniques, combining with real time solutions. So we can offer at the right moment what the user really needs.

World Finance: And what are EVO’s focus areas for the coming months?

Javier Gonzalez: Well, our main intention is to keep positioning EVO as one of the most innovative financial institutions in Spain, and also in Europe. So to achieve this goal we will continue to strengthen the bank’s digital acceleration strategy.

We also always have to offer high value financial and non-financial services. Alliances with different fintech companies are of paramount importance in this strategy. We work alongside different startups, such as our robo-adviser Finizens, or our collaborative model with Booking or Rentalcars is a very good proof of this.

We expect to keep developing our own technologies. Improve the life of our users by simplifying their relationship with money.

We are also advancing, knowing the use of biometric technology to validate transactions, that’s something that’s coming soon. So we are working on biometrics and voice to deliver and seamless, agile and secure user experience to our customers in doing whatever operation they want to do.

World Finance: Now finally, Pedro, World Finance has recognised EVO Banco as the best consumer digital bank in Spain for 2020; what does this award mean to you?

Pedro Tomé: This award represents that we are on the right track, encouraging the sector to change and to evolve. The banking sector is moving towards an update, to evolution and change. From humility, EVO Banco is driving this change. And as far as possible lead the change.

We like thinking differently, and we like doing different things. Awards like this not only acknowledge our commitment but encourage to keep us making efforts to our performance ourselves. So thank you for it, thank you for this award.

Atradius: Innovation will be key to 2021 – but make sure you’re getting paid

As a trade credit insurance provider, Atradius is very much a first responder to distressed businesses. Andreas Tesch, Atradius’ Chief Market Officer, says the company expects global insolvencies to have only increased by four percent in 2020, thanks to government stimulus packages. However as those packages begin to expire through 2021, it’s more critical than ever that businesses exhibit caution when selecting their customers: because if the business you’re selling to doesn’t survive, neither will yours.

World Finance: Andreas, it’s been an unimaginably turbulent year; how has the crisis looked from your perspective?

Andreas Tesch: Well Paul, you’re right: turbulence is the right way of describing the economic impact of the COVID-19 crisis on 2020. In fact 2019 already ended quite rocky, with protectionism looming on the horizon. And when the COVID-19 crisis hit, it had a disastrous impact on economic development.

As Atradius, we expect the GDP globally to contract by more than five percent in 2020; and even worse, global trade to contract by more than 15 percent. But there’s also good news, in the sense that governments have been very quick in responding to this crisis. And with massive stimulus packages they avoided an economic catastrophe.

In fact, for 2020 we only anticipate a very small increase in global insolvencies of around about four percent. But that’s mainly due to the stimulus packages that have been put in place, which will expire in the course of 2021.

World Finance: Now, you’ve written about the need for businesses to pair innovation with caution – what do you mean by this, and where is the balance?

Andreas Tesch: Well in fact, what this crisis has told us is that innovation and the ability to adapt to changing situations is key to success. And as a credit insurer, and an insurer of trade receivables, what we mean with caution is always making sure that ultimately you’re being paid by your customer.

So, what’s the right balance between the two? That will differ from industry to industry. When you look at where innovation can be seen, it’s in processes, it’s in products. And looking at the retail sector as one example, we’ve seen a massive shift during this crisis from high street retailers which continue to disappear, to online traders, to ecommerce companies. And those companies are in a lot of instances in place for less than five years, they’re still in a loss-making situation, and their balance sheet is fairly weak.

Still, they have a bright future in front of them, they’re growing very rapidly – which is also where we as a credit insurer had to innovate, and had to adapt our way of assessing such companies using things like artificial intelligence rather than classical financial matrices, balance sheet analysis. Because those would no longer fit this new environment.

World Finance: Finally, what’s your outlook for the year ahead – what will it take for businesses to prosper?

Andreas Tesch: Well, innovation is going to be key for 2021 as well. It’s not going to be an easy year, because the COVID-19 impact will last for a good part of 2021 as well. Still, we expect that GDP will bounce back, and then we will see an increase of more than five percent in 2021.

Nevertheless, as I’ve mentioned before, the stimulus packages will expire, and that will lead to a substantial increase of insolvencies in 2021. So caution is going to be a key theme to be successful in 2021, next to innovation, and making sure that you select the right customers that will survive – even once these stimulus packages have expired.