Why Spreadsheets can send the Pillars of Solvency II Crashing Down


Solvency II is now fast approaching and while it may provide added protection to policy holders, its impact on the insurance industry is not all a bed of roses. Expect insurance companies to restructure, increase manpower, and raise spending on actuarial operations and risk management initiatives. Those that cannot, will have to go. But what have spreadsheets got to do with all these?

Well, spreadsheets aren’t really the main casts in this blockbuster of a regulatory exercise but they certainly have a significant supporting role to play. Pillar I of Solvency II, which calls for improved supervision on internal control, risk management, and corporate governance, and Pillar II, which tackles supervisory reporting and public disclosure of financial and other relevant information, both affect systems that have high-reliance on spreadsheets.

A little background about spreadsheets might help.

Who needs an IT solution when you can have spreadsheets?

Everyone in any organisation just love spreadsheets; from the office clerk to the CEO. Because they’re so easy to use (not to mention they’re a staple in office computers), people employ them for processing numbers and as an all-around tool for planning, forecasting, reporting, complex modelling, market data analysis, and so on. They make such tasks faster and easier. Really?

You probably haven’t heard of spreadsheet hell

Unfortunately, spreadsheets do have certain shortcomings. Due to their inherent structure and lack of controls, it is so easy to commit simple errors like an accidental copy paste, an omission of a negative sign, an incorrect data input, or an unintentional deletion. Such shortcomings may seem harmless until your shareholders discover a multi-million discrepancy in your financial report.

And because spreadsheet errors can go undetected for a long time, they are constant targets of fraudsters. In other words, spreadsheets are high risk applications.

Solvency II Impact on Spreadsheet-based Financial and IT Systems

Regulations like Solvency II, are aimed at reducing risks to manageable levels. Basically, Solvency II is a risk-based system wherein a company?s capital requirements will depend on its measured riskiness. If companies want to avoid facing onerous capital requirements, they have to comply.

The three pillars of Solvency II have to be in place. Now, since spreadsheets (also known as User Developed Applications or UDAs) are high-risk applications with weak control features and prone to produce inaccurate reports, companies will have a lot of work to do to establish Pillars II and III.

There are at least 8 articles that impact spreadsheets in the directive. Article 82, for example, which requires firms to ensure a high level of data quality and accuracy, strikes at the very core of spreadsheets? weakness.

A whitepaper by Raymond Panko entitled ?Spreadsheets and Sarbanes-Oxley: Regulations, Risks, and Control Frameworks? mentioned that 94% of audited real world operational spreadsheets that were included in his study were found to have errors and that an average of 5.2% of all cells in the audited spreadsheets had errors.

Furthermore, many articles in the directive call for the enforcement of better documentation. This is one thing that’s very tedious and almost unrealistic to do with spreadsheets because just about anyone uses them. Besides, with different ‘versions? of the same data existing in different workstations throughout the organisation, it would be extremely difficult to keep track of them all.

Because of spreadsheets you now need an IT solution

It is clear that, with the growing number of regulations and the mounting complexity of tasks needed for compliance, spreadsheets no longer belong in this era. What you need is a server-based solution that allows for seamless collaboration, data reliability, data consistency, increased security, automatic consolidation, and all the other features that make regulation compliance more doable.

One important ingredient for achieving Solvency II compliance is sound data risk management. Sad to say, the ubiquitous spreadsheet will only expose your data to more risks.

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Why Spreadsheets can send the pillars of Solvency II crashing down

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People, like you, who’ve chosen to invest in eCommerce were most likely thinking along the lines of great ROI, revenues, and profits. Now that you have thousands of visitors, how would you like to have, say for a start, 1% of them buying the products on your site?

You know more about your own product prices; you do the math. But what might really interest you is that a slight change in that 1% conversion rate can already spell a big difference in your profits. Now imagine bringing that 1% up to at least 10%. That’s possible, but not if you simply rely on guesswork.

We rely on tests applicable to complex multi-variable systems, just like today’s typical eCommerce websites, in determining which combination of copy text, landing page images, form layouts, and background colours generate higher conversion rates.

Here’s how we’ll convert your visitors into buyers:

  • We’ll conduct A/B or even multivariate tests on your eCommerce website, thus eliminating guesswork in determining how to increase those conversion rates.
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Operational Reviews

IT OPERATIONAL REVIEWS DEFINED
An IT operational review is an in-depth and objective review of an entire organisation or a specific segment of that organisation. It can be used to identify and address existing concerns within your company such as communication issues between departments, problems with customer relations, operating procedures, lack of profitability issues, and other factors that affect the stability of the business.
Operational reviews allow the organisation members to evaluate how well they are performing, given that they perform appropriately according to the procedures set by them, allocating their resources properly, and performing such tasks within time frame set and using cost-effective measures. More importantly, it also shows your company how well it is prepared to meet future challenges.
Simply put, the goals of an operational review are to increase revenue, improve market share, and reduce cost.

THE BENEFITS OF AN IT OPERATIONAL REVIEW
The main objective of IT operational reviews is to help organisations like yours learn how to deal with and address issues, instead of simply reacting to the challenges brought about by growth and change.
In such review, the information provided is practical from both a financial and operational perspective. Using these data, the management can then come up with recommendations, which are not only realistic, but more importantly, can help the organisation achieve its goals. The review recognises the extent to which your internal controls actually work, and enables you to identify and understand your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats

To be more specific, let’s list down the ways wherein an effective operational review can contribute to the success of the organisation.

The review process can:
– assess compliance within your own organisational objectives, policies and procedures;
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Is Your Project Agile, a Scrum or a Kanban?

Few projects pan out the way we expect when starting out. This is normal in any creative planning phase. We half suspect the ones that follow a straight line are the exceptions to the rule. Urban legend has it; Edison made a thousand prototypes before his first bulb lit up, and then went on to comment, ?genius is 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration?. Later, he added that many of life’s failures are people who did not realise just how close they were to success when they gave up.

So be it to this day, and so be it with project planning too. There is no one size fits all approach when it comes to it. Agile, Scrum and Kanban each have their supporters and places where they do well. Project planning often works best when we use a sequential combination of them, appropriate to what is currently happening on the ground.

Of the three, Agile is by far the most comprehensive. It provides a structure that begins with project vision / conceptualisation, and goes as far as celebration when the job is over, and retrospective discussion afterwards. However, the emphasis on daily planning meetings may dent freethinking, and even smother it.

Scrum on the other hand says ?forget all that bureaucracy?. There is a job to do and today is the day we are going to do it. Although the core Agile teamwork is still there it ignores macro project planning, and could not be bothered with staying in touch with customers. If using Scrum, it is best to give those jobs to someone else.

The joker in the pack is Kanban, It believes that rules are there to substitute for thought, and that true progress only comes from responsible freedom. It belongs in mature organisations that have passed through Scrum and Agile phases and have embarked on a voyage towards perfection.

That said, there can be no substitute for human leadership, especially when defined as the social influence that binds the efforts of others towards a single task.

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