Union Bank of the Philippines appoints world-leading Data Scientist to further advance digital capabilities

Consistent with its commitment to make banking simpler and more inclusive via best-in-class digital and mobile capabilities, Union Bank of the Philippines (UnionBank) recently appointed global data science expert Dr. David Hardoon Ph. D., as the Bank’s Senior Advisor for Data and Artificial Intelligence (D & AI), reporting to President and CEO Edwin R. Bautista.

Senior Advisor for Data and Artificial Intelligence (D & AI): Dr. David Hardoon Ph. D.

The announcement was made as the Bank continues to see a surge in digital transactions among customers as a result of evolving consumer behavior amplified by the current enhanced community quarantine.  These transactions mean an increased volume of data running through the Bank’s systems which data science and AI can unlock to allow the Bank to serve its customers better.

“Leveraging Data and AI is a key driver to our next-level of digital transformation as we continue to put the customer – both individuals and businesses – at the heart of our business,” said UnionBank President and CEO Edwin Bautista in a statement.

Dr. Hardoon replaces John Januszczak, who is now focused in his role as president and CEO of UBX, UnionBank’s fintech subsidiary.

Dr. Hardoon is a graduate of Royal Halloway, the University of London with First-Class Honors B.Sc. in Computer Science and AI, and a holder of a PhD in Machine Learning from the University of Southampton School of Electronics and Computer Science United Kingdom.

Prior to his appointment at UnionBank, Dr. Hardoon was the Monetary Authority of Singapore’s (MAS, Singapore’s counterpart of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas) first appointed Chief Data Officer and Head of the Data Analytics Group, and subsequently MAS’ Special Advisor on Artificial Intelligence. In these roles, he led the development of the AI strategy both for MAS and Singapore’s financial sector as well as efforts in promoting open cross-border data flow.

In addition, he led and established the ASEAN Advanced Analytics of Ernst & Young Advisory Singapore as Director of EY Data, IT Advisory Services, and co-founded Azendian Solutions Pte. Ltd., an information management and data science consultancy between 2013 and 2017. He was also Head of Analytics at SAS Institute Ltd. Singapore from 2010 to 2013.

As Senior Advisor for Data and AI, Dr. Hardoon will be working with various centers, groups, and units to reinforce data infrastructure and governance, behavior modelling, machine learning, and AI capabilities as well as applications in the Bank and its parent company Aboitiz Equity Ventures.

Aside from his role with the Bank, Dr. Hardoon is concurrently Senior Advisor for AI to Singapore’s Corrupt Investigation Practices Bureau, and Senior Advisor for Data Science to Singapore’s Central Provident Fund (CPF) Board.

Expert comment from Warwick Business School

Warwick Business School

Commenting as Easyjet announced it would resume flights next month,

Professor Loizos Heracleous, an aviation industry expert at Warwick Business School, said:

“Airlines will face a number of challenges as they resume flights. For example, if governments require them to observe social distancing rules on planes, that would mean middle seats are left empty.

“This would reduce capacity and lead to an increase in ticket prices. According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), prices would have to rise by 40-50 per cent, just for airlines to break even.

“The good news for airlines is that they will benefit from lower oil prices and research is already under way that may enable equipment to sniff out coronavirus before passengers board.

“Airlines have been forced to conserve cash to survive, cutting flights, reducing their workforce, and postponing capital investment. However, social habits including the urge to travel have not changed. Provided we find ways to control the virus, through testing, treatment or a vaccine, the industry should be back to pre-pandemic levels within two to three years.

“Aviation is too essential to wither. It is here to stay and the market system is resilient enough to ensure the industry thrives after this temporary setback.”

Pound could drop even further – to $1.18 – in June: deVere CEO

The pound – this month’s worst-performing major currency – could “easily drop to $1.18” at the end of June, warns the CEO of one of the world’s largest independent financial advisory and fintech organisations.

The warnings from deVere Group’s chief executive and founder Nigel Green come as it is revealed that the British currency shed almost 4% against the U.S. dollar in May and 3% against the euro.

Mr Green comments: “The pound is this year’s third-weakest major currency – just behind the New Zealand dollar and Norwegian krone, which have done even worse.

“The pound has been battered since the Brexit referendum in 2016 and the ensuing years of political uncertainty, losing around 20% of its value since the referendum. 

“The Covid-19 crisis has been another hammer blow for sterling as it promoted a flight-to-safety and ramped-up the search for liquidity.  This situation is a win for the U.S. dollar and, in turn, a loss for the pound.”

He continues: “There are legitimate concerns that the pound has further to fall in the next few weeks.

“It could easily drop to $1.17-$1.18 by the end of June due to renewed and heightened fears of a negative shock due to a no-deal Brexit combined with the far-reaching economic fallout of the pandemic.”

Negotiations between the UK and the EU on their post-Brexit future relationship stalled on Friday with the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier saying the two sides risked reaching a “stalemate.”

The British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has repeatedly threatened to walk away from the talks if insufficient progress has been made by next month’s high-level negotiations. The UK has indicated the alternative of an “Australia-style” deal, a relationship where both sides trade on basic World Trade Organization terms, similar to a no-deal Brexit.

“An even weaker pound will help to reduce people’s purchasing power and a drop in UK living standards. Weaker sterling means imports are more expensive, with rising costs being passed on to consumers,” says Mr Green.
 
“The fall in the pound is good for exports some claim, but it must be remembered that around 50% of UK exports rely on imported components. These will become more expensive as the pound falls in value.
 
“A low pound is, of course, bad news for British expats, amongst others, who receive income or pensions in sterling.
 
“The country’s financial services sector – which represents 6% of all economic activity – will also be adversely affected because it is built on foreign investment that puts its faith in sterling being strong.”

The deVere CEO concludes: “The pound will remain volatile, and is likely to become weaker in the next month.
 
“As such, it can be expected that domestic and international investors in UK assets will be seeking the available international options available to them.”

Global advisory giant to launch major digital finance operation in Dubai

One of the world’s largest independent financial advisory and services organisations is to develop a major digital finance operation from Dubai, confirms its CEO and founder.

deVere Group’s Nigel Green made the announcement on Wednesday as the world readjusts to a post-pandemic new normal.

Mr Green comments: “The world has changed forever in the last few months, the market has changed and client expectations have changed.

“Much of this is being driven by new technologies and the rapid pace of the digitialisation of our lives, including our financial lives. 

“It was a trend that was happening pre-pandemic, but which has been massively accelerated because of it.

“Indeed, this new decade is being reshaped more rapidly and more dramatically than any other.

“To meet these fundamental shifts, we’re developing and building a major digital financial organisation from Dubai.”

There are, says Nigel Green, three main drivers why Dubai has been chosen for this by the organisation that does business in 100 countries worldwide.

“First, we already have had for more than 15 years a considerable footprint in Dubai and across the UAE, with many teams of highly talented individuals.

“Second, Dubai, which is already recognised as one of the most important financial centres in the world, can be expected to become one of the world’s top ten international financial hubs to rival and more aggressively compete with the likes of London, New York and Hong Kong.”
 
He adds: “Dubai is helped in this regard by having an independent regulator, an independent judicial system, a global financial exchange, a stable, pro-business government, a high proposition of high net worth individuals, a dynamic business community, world-class infrastructure, superior digital and telecommunications networks, English as its de-facto business language, and its enviable geographical location and time zone.

“And third is Dubai’s passion for and expertise in innovation. We’ve seen this in real-time as the emirate diversified from oil to become a truly global leader in trade, transportation, finance, tourism, retail and real estate.  

“This is exemplified by Expo 2020 Dubai’s theme, ‘Connecting Minds, Creating the Future’; as well as Sultan Al Mansoori, the UAE Economy Minister, saying recently that the new economy will now be built around digital.”

The deVere CEO says that the Dubai-based digital financial organisation will consolidate and “significantly further develop and expand” the organisation’s pioneering global Contactless Finance service and its world-leading fintech apps, which allow people to access, use, save, invest and manage their money 24/7, on-the-go, anywhere in the world.

Nigel Green concludes: “Our new Dubai-based model is designed for the new world with, as always, the client experience, and expectations and outcomes front and centre of mind.”

Are rallying stock markets out of step with economic reality?

Buoyant stock markets are not necessarily ignoring alarming economic data, rather they are reflecting the post-pandemic era, affirms the CEO of one of the world’s largest independent financial advisory organisations.

The observation from deVere Group chief executive and founder Nigel Green comes as official figures on Friday revealed that more than 20 million people in the U.S. lost their jobs in April and the unemployment rate more than trebled.

Mr Green comments: “The staggering U.S. unemployment numbers wipe out a decade’s worth of job gains. There’s been nothing like this since the Great Depression.

“Yet U.S. stock futures climbed higher as global markets rose on Friday.  This is highly unusual.”

He continues: “There are two things happening simultaneously here.

“First, a weak first half of 2020 has already been priced-in. 

“As have the risks of a potential second wave – but the concerns of this are being largely contained as it is not such a ‘bolt out of the blue’.

“It is extreme uncertainty, the likes of which we saw at the peak of the pandemic, that typically upsets markets.

“Whether they are correct in their assessment remains to be seen, but markets are looking towards the second half of the year.  They appear to believe that there is likely to be a steady economic recovery as key advances are made in coronavirus treatments, as central banks continue to implement and further bolster historic stimulus packages, and as lockdown restrictions around the world are eased to revive activity.”

He goes on to add: “Second, and perhaps more importantly, stock markets are reflecting what is going on in the economy right now and what it’ll look like post-pandemic.

“A closer look at the markets reveals that, of course, not all stocks and sectors are rising equally. They are being driven up across the board by the ‘winners’ of this new era including tech, biotech, home entertainment and established online retailers, amongst others.

“We can assume that these, and other stock market ‘winners’, are showing us what the future economy looks like.”

The deVere CEO concludes: “The optimistic stock markets seem at odds with the grim economic data.  They may be being overly confident, even complacent.

“But it could also be the case that they are giving us clear signals for the current and future shape of the economy, in which there are and will be distinct winners and losers. 

“A good fund manager will help investors seek out the opportunities and mitigate potential risks as and when they are presented to generate and build their wealth.”

Demand for financial advice surges 24% as priorities shift in new era

As individuals, households and businesses readjust and look ahead to a new era and recovery, demand for financial advice is up by almost a quarter, reveals one of the world’s largest independent financial advisory organizations.

deVere Group, which operates in 100 countries worldwide, says the number of enquiries from new clients was up 24% in April, compared to the previous month.

Of the findings, Nigel Green, the founder and chief executive of deVere Group, observes: “Disruption and dislocation have hit entire economies and businesses of all sizes and in all sectors.

“This has had a very real and very immediate impact on the finances of individuals, households and businesses around the world.

“Suddenly, unexpectedly, many have realised that they didn’t have sufficient money behind them, they didn’t have contingency plans.

“This, as they know, could have consequences for the lifestyles and life opportunities of themselves and loved ones and, for those in business, for the long-term sustainability of their firm.

“With financial matters back in sharp focus, for many ‘I should have’ becomes ‘I need to have.’ 

“This most unusual situation has dramatically underscored that no-one really knows what is around the corner. Now more than ever people are seeking to be as financially prepared as they can for any eventuality.”

He continues: “The same thing happened following the 2008 financial crash. That too served as a wake-up call to many people to ensure that they become financially secure and there was a subsequent increase in demand for advice.

“Even then – when confidence in financial institutions, especially traditional banks, was at an all-time low – people understood that as the world evolves, your financial planning strategies might need to also.”

This, says Nigel Green, is driving the increasing demand. But in this tech-driven era, how do people want this advice delivered? 

According to a poll carried out by deVere amongst existing and prospective clients, 52% said ‘face-to-face, 42% said they prefer videocall platforms like Zoom, and 6% answered ‘by telephone.’ 

“Given the circumstances and how much things have changed, I quite was surprised that the preferred option for the delivery of financial advice remains face-to-face.

“But video communication is only 10% behind, which is quite something as it is a new platform for most people.  

“The survey underscores that increasingly people want bespoke financial advice combined with innovative technology.”

Mr Green goes on to add: “We can be in no doubt that the world has already fundamentally changed – and it will do so more and maybe at a faster pace.”

This was highlighted by the deVere poll which revealed that 72% of client respondents feel the world has changed permanently.

In addition, 80% said that in a similar way to after the 2008 crash, new companies will emerge and the same ones that were successful in the past were not guaranteed to succeed again.

“With these shifts impacting people’s finances, the majority of our new clients are seeking advice on savings plans, investments, foreign exchange, pensions and retirement planning and tax planning,” he notes.

The deVere CEO concludes: “2020 has been a year of change.  For an increasing number, this includes a change in the way we prioritise, with long-term financial security for ourselves and our loved ones ever-more important.”

Working from home: Are you breaking confidentiality laws?

What happens to confidential waste while working from home?
 

With employees working from home because of the Covid-19 outbreak, how safe is the information they’re accessing and disposing of now it’s out of the office?

According to one specialist waste handling organisation, remote working means new headaches for companies and their data security.

UK waste collection agency BusinessWaste.co.uk knows that even during the crisis of a pandemic, confidential waste must be disposed of correctly in order to protect businesses and their customers from fraud or blackmail.

“Even if people are working from home, they need to be mindful that any waste they create needs to be destroyed in the same ways it would if they were in the office,” says BusinessWaste.co.uk  company spokesperson Mark Hall. Companies could still be in line for massive fines if they get it wrong, Hall warns.

What counts as confidential waste?

Essentially, confidential waste refers to documents possessed by any company that can expose discrete information about suppliers, customers, or employees.

“Basically, if it details any information about the nature of your work or anyone associated, then it counts as confidential information which will need proper disposal,” says spokesman Mark Hall.

However, it can be very tricky to distinguish what counts as confidential waste, as many businesses work with different mediums of materials.

BusinessWaste.co.uk has compiled a list of different types of confidential waste, making it easier to understand which work-related items will need expert disposal.

  • Personnel files and contracts – including CVs and application letters
  • Financial records – such as order forms, invoices, bills and statements
  • Health and social care records
  • Criminal Records
  • Business cards, ID badges, and security passes
  • Letters, memos, and other items containing names and addresses.
  • New business proposals and business plans
  • Used notebooks
  • Product samples or profiles
  • Research data
  • Diaries
  • Photographs

“If you’re working from home, you need to be aware that any of these resources could contain confidential details which could be dangerous in the wrong hands,” says Hall.

“So please make sure you or your staff don’t throw this information into the household waste!”

What could happen if it’s not disposed of properly?             

Failing to dispose of confidential waste can lead to a variety of outcomes, ranging from prosecutions under the law to identity theft and fraud.

“Your company could fall victim to industrial espionage, so it’s really important to make sure that private information cannot be leaked to rival companies through improper disposal,” says Hall.

Although it might be easier to just chuck all rubbish into your household waste bin, there are legal implications such as breaching the UK 1988 Data Protection Act, which regulates the collecting, storing, and destroying of confidential data.

Any companies that fail to oblige the act can face crippling fines from the UK data watchdog, the Information Commissioner’s Office.

“This is serious stuff that could ruin a company’s reputation and lose customers,” says Hall, “and if you’re the one discovered to be doing it, you could be fired.”

Confidential waste needs to be disposed of by a licensed waste removal company in order to comply with the latest laws and guidelines.

Actions you can take now

BusinessWaste.co.uk recommends that all members of staff be reminded about company policies regarding waste, and firmly told not to chuck any work materials into their household rubbish.

Mark Hall says that in an ideal world, sensitive information should not leave the office, so the best thing for businesses to do is to try to restrict what is essential and needs to be taken home.

Another suggestion from Hall is to make as many work tasks computer-based as possible, with sensitive files only accessible from a secure device approved by your company.

 “The best thing you can do if you’re unsure is to keep all information secure and together at your home workspace, and when it is safe to do so, take it all back to work for proper disposal,” says Hall.

“If in doubt, don’t chuck it out.”

For further information see https://www.businesswaste.co.uk/confidential-waste/ and https://www.businesswaste.co.uk/waste-transfer-note-faqs/

Bitcoin’s coming of age? May’s historic halving taking place in a new era

The Bitcoin price will hit ‘at least $10,000’ even before the four-yearly ‘halving’ event taking place in two weeks, predicts the CEO of one of the world’s largest independent financial advisory organisations. 

The prediction from the chief executive and founder of deVere Group, Nigel Green, comes as the price of the world’s largest cryptocurrency suddenly soared by more than $1,500 on Thursday, moving it to its highest value since February.  It peaked at $9,400.

It comes ahead of May’s highly anticipated halving event. Occurring every four years, halving means that less and less Bitcoin – which is limited to 21 million units – will be mined.

In 2012, the number of new Bitcoins issued every 10 minutes fell from 50 to 25. In 2016, it went down from 25 to 12.5. Now, in the 2020 halving, it will drop from 12.5 to 6.25.

Mr Green says: “We see the cryptocurrency market already significantly picking up pace ahead of the historic event in May.  

“Investors are now increasing their exposure to Bitcoin as the halving – only the third in its 11-year history – will push up prices sharply due to the dramatically lower supply combined with a steady demand and increasing awareness of digital currencies.”

Previous Bitcoin halving events have prompted impressive price climbs. The 2016 halving triggered a 300 per cent jump in the value of Bitcoin.  

But the 2020 one could be even more remarkable, believes the deVere CEO.

He notes: “May’s event could herald Bitcoin’s coming of age. 

“It will, of course, drive prices higher – but, in my opinion, the jump could be even more impactful due to these unprecedented times.

“The digitalisation of our lives is accelerating at a faster pace than ever before. We’re in an exciting new era driven by technology.

“This new world needs new ways of doing things to fit the new normal.  Clearly, one of those things which is needed now more than ever, as the world becomes ever-more digitalised and globalised, is digital and global currency, such as Bitcoin.

“This will not have gone unnoticed by investors who are increasingly piling into cryptocurrencies.”

Mr Green continues: “Also, these unusual times have forced central banks to increase monetary supply. By printing never-seen-before amounts of money, traditional currencies are devalued and inflation fears rise.

“This will also drive investors towards decentralised, non-sovereign digital currencies.”

Mr Green concludes: “The excitement of the forthcoming rare halving event, together with the new era we’re in, will drive the price of Bitcoin exponentially and sustainably.

“I believe we can expect it to hit at least $10,000 before the May event itself.  

“Beyond that, we could see an explosion in the price of Bitcoin due to real-world issues it addresses and increasing adoption.”

Towards economic recovery: a simple, quick and targeted way for authorities to support those most in need

As political leaders across Europe are contemplating how to best prepare the restart of our economies, European Fintechs Loyaltek and Paynovate launch the Unity Card (unitycard.eu): an initiative enabling authorities to financially support certain segments of the population, such as the most underprivileged, but also to specifically target local retailers and merchants who’ve had to close their businesses. 

The special payment card, which will exceptionally be free to municipalities as the first, local level of power, can be delivered anywhere on the Old Continent in as fast as 2-4 weeks and avoids cumbersome logistics and administration, allowing for effective, ultra-targeted, monitorable and evolutive socio-economic measures on the road to economic recovery.

Brussel, 24 april 2020. As the Corona curves are slowly but surely starting to flatten, the focus is gradually shifting towards the next challenge: relaunching the economy. Whilst national governments and international institutions across Europe and the world are announcing unprecedented crisis measures, it remains to be seen if these will be enough, and especially, whether the aid can be deployed quickly enough to save those in need today. Therefore, decisive action needs to be taken today rather than tomorrow.

With a view to this, European FinTech pioneers and veterans Loyaltek and Paynovate are teaming up in a unique proposal to political leaders, with the aim of offering citizens much needed and rapid financial support by means of the Unity Card. As innovative as it is useful, this debit card can be limited for use in a certain geographical area (e.g. one municipality) as well as a certain types of predetermined shops or businesses, in this case those that have been forced to close during the current crisis: hotels, restaurants, bars, hairdressers, DIY-stores, clothes stores… As such, it is the perfect instrument to stimulate the local economy and prevent the money disappearing to foreign e-commerce websites, being sent to family abroad, or saved.

Whether it’s to support merchants who have had to close their business or to help a mother feed her children: our leaders, from municipal to national level, are looking for ways to mitigate the effects of the lockdown and prepare for a return to normal life and economic recovery,” explains Robert Masse, founder and CEO of Loyaltek and expert in the field of card payments. “But time is running out, and the question arises as to how to allocate these various resources as quickly and efficiently as possible, while at the same time avoiding any risks of fraud and ensuring that public money serves its intended purpose, to the extent of creating a win-win situation and benefiting society as a whole.”

The Unity Card has a maximum value of €250 and works just like a regular debit card on payment terminals. The validity period can be adapted in function of the needs and intended support. Users can check the remaining value thanks to a QR code on the back, while an extranet allows the issuing authority to monitor, analyse, manage and even adjust the way its cards are being used, all in real-time. And thus, once again in this crisis, it’s new technologies that are offering relief in a situation which at first seemed insoluble.

“In a spirit of social commitment, our R&D teams wanted to make themselves useful against the horrors of the Corona virus. Ultimately, it’s the pragmatism and the potential of this solution which convinced us to set up the necessary partnerships to deploy it throughout Europe,” concludes Robert Masse. “The name, which of course stands for solidarity, came naturally, and we have decided to offer the first 5,000 cards to each of the municipalities that want to work with it, given that they’re the ones closest to the situation on the ground. Implementation costs are kept to a minimum and amount to a fraction of the usual costs of similar ‘traditional’ measures. Moreover, we do not take any margin on the transactions.”

The solution proposed by Loyaltek and Paynovate has proven its worth before in Germany at the time of the migration crisis, when authorities distributed thousands of similar cards to manage the allowances of Syrian refugees, allowing them to provide in their most basic needs by purchasing from local merchants.

The appearance of the Unity Card can be personalised if necessary. It is distributed either directly to the beneficiaries or by group transmission to the competent authority, which can then further distribute it. The payments made by citizens with the card are managed together with the rest of the merchants’ payment traffic, while cardholder support is ensured by Loyaltek or the ‘customer’ himself, i.e. the issuing authority.

Loyaltek NV is a European leader in limited range cards and manages numerous gift card and professional expense cards programmes in 14 countries. Its clients include Sodexo, Ingenico, Total and a great number of major commercial real estate players. They call on Loyaltek’s expertise for specific and technically advanced projects.

Paynovate NV is one of the six Belgian issuers of electronic money, regulated by the National Bank of Belgium and authorised to issue payment instruments in all European countries. Paynovate is also a principal member of Visa and Bancontact.

UnionBank bolsters COVID-19 ‘Stay-At-Home’ with range of digital services

In response to the Philippine government’s “Stay At Home” directive as part of the ongoing enhanced community quarantine, Union Bank of the Philippines (UnionBank) continues to process a growing number of digital transactions and remains business-as-usual (BAU), throughout the ECQ.

For the month of March, UnionBank logged a nearly 160% in daily sign-ups to its online and mobile banking portals, and enabled more than 500,000 credit card transactions and well over 1 million Instapay and PesoNet fund transfer transactions. Importantly, the bank waived all its fees on InstaPay and PesoNet since the start of the ECQ and has extended this to April 30.  

Most significantly, UnionBank also registered a tremendous surge in new accounts opened “100% digitally” through the UnionBank Online platform, as this was 2700X higher than year-ago levels.

These robust figures come amid reports from several consumer monitoring groups that the behavior of banking customers may be changing, preferring to use digital channels during the lockdown.

UnionBank president and CEO Edwin Bautista said the coronavirus crisis could be the turning point in customers’ shift-to-digital – to safely access their funds, do transfer, make payments and apply for credit.

 “This represents a tremendous new opportunity for banking in the country as this should reduce the number of Filipinos who remain unbanked.  As this happens, we at UnionBank are fully prepared with the digital infrastructure already in place to offer full banking services to more people, more conveniently and more cost-effectively,” Bautista said. 

Along with its digital platforms that enable the public to bank from home, UnionBank also rolled out its 5G-enabled mobile van called 5G-Bank On Wheels (5G-BOW) to serve people’s banking needs during the ECQ.  

With its 5G-BOW clients can withdraw, pay bills, transfer funds, open an account and do balance-inquiries with faster, more robust bandwidth and internet connections, powered by its unique 5G technology.

In terms of its brick-and-mortar branches, UnionBank was able to keep 94% of its branches open, outside of those in medical quarantine and local lockdown areas; while safely keeping close to 90% of employees working from home in compliance with government guidelines.