The rise of digital currency
What is the general attitude and frequency of use for digital currency in the Middle East and how does that differ from the rest of the world?
Digital payments are very much in their early phase in the region. Technological advances and the UAE’s own move towards Smart City and digitisation is prompting the adoption of new age solutions that can simplify the consumer purchasing experience. At present, there are several players dabbling with the concept of digital internationally, but few have been able to generate wide adoption among vendors.
There are many providers but no clear leader, and even then, the overall market penetration is quite low. For instance, the E-Dirham initiative has been around for close to a decade but it is yet to achieve popularity.
Globally, there have been some illustrations of successful adoption of digital payments. Presently, the largest market with penetration of mobile money is Kenya where M-Pesa rules supreme. M-Pesa lets people transfer money using their phones and remains one of the most successful examples of digital currency usage globally. In the US, the growth of digital currency from 2015 to 2016 has been in excess of 200 percent, primarily because players like Apple and Samsung heavily invested in developing an ecosystem.
Although, Apple and Samsung have yet to really push outside of their market with their digital payment products - Apple Pay and Samsung Pay.
What are the benefits for consumers in alternative currency adoption?
The strength of digital currencies come in at the day-to-day transactional level, replacing cash (not cards as most believe) transactions and providing a safer alternative to cash that can’t be lost, doesn’t require you to carry change or walk up to an ATM. As mobile penetration increases and consumers look for more convenient and safer payment options, we expect that the appetite for digital currencies and digital payments will only grow.
Digital payments broadly encompass Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies – which are a subset of digital currencies.
Many banks today are offering digital payments as an alternative to card payments with no incentive and nothing additional for the consumer. Banks need to create awareness about the real strength of digital currency – which lies in replacing small cash transactions and removing the need for carrying money.
The customer naturally relies on the vendor for complying with the required safety and security norms when it comes to digital currency. The appropriate vendor and the regulator need to ensure that they have the right security framework in place. Bitcoin eliminates the risk of fraud for merchants, making it easier to facilitate global transactions.
What are the main drawbacks?
As some Bitcoin exchanges have discovered the hard way, when money becomes digital it exposes the individual to a much larger and sophisticated “pick pocket” risk. But the technology is moving to counter these concerns quite aggressively and by limiting the transaction amount, in the same way that contactless payment has, the drawbacks are minimal when compared with the benefits.
BlackBerry’s Advanced Assurance division works with multiple banks, cryptocurrency providers and payment engine developers to ensure that their products are developed on a solid, scalable and most of all secure foundation against international payment standards. In many cases the payment providers are startups with a great idea but no in-depth awareness of the existing threats, we ensure they are prepared and so their clients are protected.
What do you see as the main challenges in expanding mobile wallets and digital currency usage?
E-commerce is driving the adoption of new technologies around the world but several countries in the developed and developing economies are still slow to adopt mobile wallets and digital currency usage.
Driving adoption needs to come off the back of a value add. Currently, the early adopters – for instance the banks, are offering to replace cards with a mobile device. There is no added value for the customer. However, if using the device allows a customer to track their spend, file expenses with digital receipts and offers the best currency transfer rates wherever they travel, the likelihood to adopt mobile wallets and digital currency is much higher. Banks need to realise that real adoption is a win-win situation for both sides because managing cards is a huge cost that any financial institution could well do without.
How do you see the future of digital currency in the Middle East, with particular regards to mobile?
Digital currency and mobile wallets have a very bright future in the Middle East. The population demographic - a young, upwardly mobile consumer base with a great propensity to adopt technology in their everyday lives – we believe, is a great start for the adoption of digital currencies. The Middle East also has a sizeable population of expatriates who contribute to the volume of global remittances. The adoption of digital currencies over traditional money transfers could significantly reduce the burden on the consumer – making it cheaper, faster and more efficient. Consumers could send money to their families directly using their mobile phones – thus eliminating any incurred fees. Wider adoption of bitcoin by bank transfers – that still currently take a few days – could be carried out swiftly and more safely. As the banking and financial services sector in the Middle East, particularly retail banking grows, the opportunity for wider adoption of digital currency is ripe. Once standardized, we believe that digital currencies will help boost economic growth and development in the Middle East.
Automation of repetitive tasks leads to higher value work
Two-thirds of global office workers feel they are constantly doing the same tasks over and over again. That’s according to a new study (2021 Office Worker Survey) from automation software company UiPath.
Whether emailing, inputting data, or scheduling calls and meetings, the majority of those surveyed said they waste on average four and a half hours a week on time-consuming tasks that they think could be automated.
Not only is the undertaking of such repetitious and mundane tasks a waste of time for employees, and therefore for businesses, but it can also have a negative impact on employees’ motivation and productivity. And the research backs this up with more than half (58%) of those surveyed saying that undertaking such repetitive tasks doesn’t allow them to be as creative as they’d like to be.
“When repetitive, unrewarding tasks are handled by people, it takes time and this can cause delays and reduce both employee and customer satisfaction,” Gavin Mee, Managing Director of UiPath Northern Europe tells Business Chief. “Repetitive tasks can also be tedious, which often leads to stress and an increased likelihood to leave a job.”
And these tasks exist at all levels within an organisation, right up to executive level, where there are “small daily tasks that can be automated, such as scheduling, logging onto systems and creating reports”, adds Mee.
Automation can free employees to focus on higher value work
By automating some or all of these repetitive tasks, employees at whatever level of the organisation are freed up to focus on meaningful work that is creative, collaborative and strategic, something that will not only help them feel more engaged, but also benefit the organisation.
“Automation can free people to do more engaging, rewarding and higher value work,” says Mee, highlighting that 68% of global workers believe automation will make them more productive and 60% of executives agree that automation will enable people to focus on more strategic work. “Importantly, 57% of executives also say that automation increases employee engagement, all important factors to achieving business objectives.”
These aren’t the only benefits, however. One of the problems with employees doing some of these repetitive tasks manually is that “people are fallible and make mistakes”, says Mee, whereas automation boosts accuracy and reduces manual errors by 57%, according to Forrester Research. Compliance is also improved, according to 92% of global organisations.
Repetitive tasks that can be automated
Any repetitive process can be automated, Mee explains, from paying invoices to dealing with enquiries, or authorising documents and managing insurance claims. “The process will vary from business to business, but office workers have identified and created software robots to assist with thousands of common tasks they want automated.”
These include inputting data or creating data sets, a time-consuming task that 59% of those surveyed globally said was the task they would most like to automate, with scheduling of calls and meetings (57%) and sending template or reminder emails (60%) also top of the automation list. Far fewer believed, however, that tasks such as liaising with their team or customers could be automated, illustrating the higher value of such tasks.
“By employing software robots to undertake such tasks, they can be handled much more quickly,” adds Mee pointing to OTP Bank Romania, which during the pandemic used an automation to process requests to postpone bank loan instalments. “This reduced the processing time of a single request from 10 minutes to 20 seconds, allowing the bank to cope with a 125% increase in the number of calls received by call centre agents.”
Mee says: “Automation accelerates digital transformation, according to 63% of global executives. It also drives major cost savings and improves business metrics, and because software robots can ramp-up quickly to meet spikes in demand, it improves resilience.
Five business areas that can be automated
Mee outlines five business areas where automation can really make a difference.
- Contact centres Whether a customer seeks help online, in-store or with an agent, the entire customer service journey can be automated – from initial interaction to reaching a satisfying outcome
- Finance and accounting Automation enables firms to manage tasks such as invoice processing, ensuring accuracy and preventing mistakes
- Human resources Automations can be used across the HR team to manage things like payroll, assessing job candidates, and on-boarding
- IT IT teams are often swamped in daily activity like on-boarding or off-boarding employees. Deploying virtual machines, provisioning, configuring, and maintaining infrastructure. These tasks are ideal for automation
- Legal There are many important administrative tasks undertaken by legal teams that can be automated. Often, legal professionals are creating their own robots to help them manage this work. In legal and compliance processes, that means attorneys and paralegals can respond more quickly to increasing demands from clients and internal stakeholders. Robots don’t store data, and the data they use is encrypted in transit and at rest, which improves risk profiling and compliance.
“To embark on an automation journey, organisations need to create a Centre of Excellence in which technical expertise is fostered,” explains Mee. “This group of experts can begin automating processes quickly to show return on investment and gain buy-in. This effort leads to greater interest from within the organisation, which often kick-starts a strategic focus on embedding automation.”