Ahead of the Sibos 2012 trade show in Osaka, Japan, on 29 October to 1 November, which will be covered by a daily bobsguide show blog, Richard Chapman, product director, operations, for SunGard’s banking unit discusses one of the topics that is always up for debate: reconciliation. He outlines here how to achieve operational maturity in order to obtain efficiency.
The operational maturity of a financial institution determines its ability to effectively process the accounting, cash flows, trading and transactional activity that supports its core business with the least associated cost and minimum risk. Today, reconciliation and system validation play a key role in a financial institution’s journey to operational maturity and constitute a significant part of core middle- and back-office processes. Effectively and efficiently managing these processes has never been more critical for a financial institution.
The back office accounts for around 20% of bank operating expenditure and McKinsey  believe this can be reduced by up to 12% through simple, tactical improvements such as automation and consolidation, in areas including trade confirmation and reconciliation. This realisation is hitting home with financial institutions and is highlighted in a recent study by TowerGroup  confirming that reconciliation investment is on the rise.
So financial institutions are starting to see there are rewards to be reaped through increased focus on reconciliation. But what is influencing this new found focus?
This greater focus on reconciliation is being driven by three primary factors:
More robust internal system validation, as well as more traditional ledger / accounting versus external statement reconciliation, is needed to comply with new regulations.
Second, a greater level of reconciliation is also needed to achieve transparency of end-to-end business processes and more clearly identify compliance and market and operational risk.
Third, lower performance and profitability of the financial sector from banks to hedge funds has resulted in greater cost pressures leading to a focus on operational cost reduction.
Let’s look at these three primary factors, outlined above, in more detail.
Regulation, arguably the biggest banking business shaper today, is changing the face of reconciliation by driving an increase in internal reconciliations processing. This has created an expansion into front-to-back, system-to-system style reconciliation through pressures from internal compliance and controls. This, in turn, has raised the profile of the reconciliation function above operational concerns of settlement and client reporting. The US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) highlighted the growing importance of system-to-system reconciliations in the recent UBS loss-making rogue trader incident, stating in press reports that: “controls in the inter-desk reconciliation process within the equities and fixed income, currencies and commodities businesses to ensure that internal transactions are valid and accurately recorded did not operate effectively.”
Secondly, complementing the regulatory drivers, is the increased need for transparency of end-to-end business processes to help clearly identify compliance and operational risk parameters. This requires greater levels of reconciliation and a wider demographic of recipients. Regulations such as the US Dodd-Frank act demand more transparency and accountability, mandatory clearing, execution and reporting for swaps, and higher capital and margin requirements for uncleared swaps.
Financial organizations and their partners are already preparing for the impact of post-crash regulations like Dodd-Frank on the back-office, as trading migrates from bilateral agreements requiring collateral dispute management to central clearing models requiring discrepancy identification and repair. The effect on existing swap positions, which are reportedly $2 trillion under-collateralised, will mean organisations must sharpen their focus on optimising their collateral allocation and managing the process effectively in a timely fashion . Outside of over-the-counter (OTC) derivatives, liquid asset definitions in the Basel III capital adequacy rules, as well as changes to tier 1 capital requirements for financial institutions in some national rules, have increased the need for accurate calculation, validation and visibility into cash positions to support intra-day liquidity. This is also driving real-time reconciliation requirements.
Thirdly, operational cost pressures have put reconciliation further into the spotlight. As an area that carries the highest number of full time equivalents compared to other post-trade functions, systems and resource optimisation across reconciliation functions can result in a significant reduction in operational costs.
So while research suggests that financial institutions are planning to increase spending on reconciliations, what is the state of play today and how do they intend to disperse this investment?
Those that are leading the pack are rolling out enterprise reconciliation in rapid phases not only to boost customer service levels, satisfy growing regulation and cut operational risk, but also to slash costs and build efficient frameworks to support ongoing growth, consolidation and optimisation.
Here is how I think financial institutions can move towards operational maturity and efficiency:
Growth – by working to improve and automate the reconciliation environment, financial institutions can initiate rapid on-boarding of new business processes and expand existing ones with full change management controls in place which all helps to better manage business growth.
Optimisation – deploying business process analytics helps financial institutions track the effectiveness of rules and processes to identify areas of degrading automation or potential opportunities for further rules and enhanced levels of automation to boost optimisation.
Consolidation – through consolidation of operational environments, financial institutions can obtain economies of scale, greater visibility across processes and regions and lessen administrative burdens.
As the economic winds of change gather pace and we swing from commodities resurgence, to debt crises, to the reshaping of the Euro, life in the operations departments of banks is becoming fraught with challenges. It will be the financial institutions that can respond rapidly to change, deliver high quality and efficient services via streamlined operational processes that emerge intact. Those institutions that have been slow to react may find themselves limping into an operational chasm that, this time, they cannot climb out from.
Ahead of the Sibos 2012 trade show in Osaka, Japan, on 29 October to 1 November, Bobsguide is running a number of blogs, news pieces and articles, in addition to a daily show blog which will be produced by experienced Sibos reporter Tom Groenfeldt over the first four days of the show, providing you with all the latest news, announcements and presentations.
 McKinsey: Rethinking Wholesale Banking Operations
 TowerGroup: Enterprise Reconciliations at Tier 1 Banks: Meeting the Operations and Technology Challenges, May 2011
 Tabb: Initial Margin for OTC Derivatives – The Burden of Opportunity Costs, August 2011