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Rise of the robots brings huge benefits for businesses

… but also creates new loss and liability scenarios

Chatbots, autonomous vehicles, and connected machines in digital factories foreshadow what the future will look like: The widespread implementation of Artificial Intelligence (AI) applications brings many advantages for businesses such as increased efficiencies, fewer repetitive tasks and better customer experiences. However, in the wrong hands, the potential threats could easily counterbalance the huge benefits.

Vulnerability to malicious cyber-attacks or technical failure will increase, as will the potential for larger-scale disruptions and extraordinary financial losses as societies and economies become increasingly interconnected. Companies will also face new liability scenarios as responsibility for decision-making shifts from human to machine and manufacturer.

In the new report “The Rise of Artificial Intelligence: Future Outlook and Emerging Risks”, insurer Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty (AGCS) identifies both the benefits and emerging risk concerns around the growing implementation of AI in society and industry, including in the insurance sector. AI, also referred to as machine learning, is essentially software that is able to think and learn like a human.

“AI comes with potential benefits and risks in many areas: economic, political, mobility, healthcare, defense and the environment. Active risk management strategies will be needed to maximize the net benefits of a full introduction of advanced AI applications into society,” says Michael Bruch, Head of Emerging Trends at AGCS.

Today, “weak” or basic forms of AI are able to perform specific tasks, but future generations of so-called “strong” AI applications will be capable of solving difficult problems and execute complex transactions. AI is beginning to find users in almost every industry, from chatbots which offer financial advice to helping doctors to diagnose cancer. The technology is used to power driverless cars better predict the weather, process financial transfers or to monitor and operate industrial machines. According to Accenture, AI could double the annual economic growth rate in 12 developed economies by 2035.

But with these potential benefits come risks. Cyber risks, which are one of the biggest risks for businesses according to the Allianz Risk Barometer 2018, illustrate the two different faces of new technologies such as AI: AI-powered software could help to reduce cyber risk for companies by better detecting attacks, but could also increase it if malicious hackers are able to take control of systems, machines or vehicles. AI could enable more serious and more targeted cyber incidents to occur by lowering the cost of devising attacks.

The same hacker attack – or programming error – could be replicated on numerous machines. It is already estimated that a major global cyber-attack has the potential to trigger losses in excess of $50 billion but even a half-day outage at a cloud service provider has the potential to generate losses around $850 million.

Emerging AI risks in five areas

To identify emerging AI risks AGCS has focused on five areas of concerns, namely software accessibility, safety, accountability, liability and ethics. “By addressing each of these areas, responsible development and introduction of AI becomes less hazardous for society. Preventive measures that reduce risks from unintended consequences are essential,” Bruch says. In terms of safety, for example, the race for bringing AI systems to the market could lead to insufficient or negligent validation activities, which are necessary to guarantee the deployment of safe, functional and cyber-secure AI agents. This, in turn, could lead to an increase in defective products and recalls.

With regard to liability, AI agents may take over many decisions from humans in future, but they cannot legally be held liable for those decisions. In general, the manufacturer or software programmer of AI agents is liable for defects that cause damages to users. However, AI decisions that are not directly related to design or manufacturing, but are taken by an AI agent because of its interpretation of reality, would have no explicit liable party, according to current law. “Leaving the decisions to courts may be expensive and inefficient if the number of AI-generated damages start increasing,” Bruch says. “A solution to the lack of legal lability would be to establish expert agencies or authorities to develop a liability framework under which designers, manufacturers or sellers of AI products would be subject to limited tort liability.”

Meanwhile, insurers will have a crucial role to play in helping to minimize, manage and transfer emerging risks from AI applications. Traditional coverages will need to be adapted to protect consumers and businesses alike. Insurance will need to better address certain exposures to businesses such as cyber-attacks, business interruption, product recall and reputational damage. New liability insurance models will likely be adopted – in areas such as autonomous driving for example – increasing the pressure on manufacturers and software vendors and decreasing the strict liability of consumers.

Insurers are early AI adopters

The insurance industry has been an early adopter of machine learning as it deals with lots of data and repetitive processes. “There is huge potential for AI to improve the insurance value chain. Initially, it will help automate insurance processes to enable better delivery to our customers. Policies can be issued, and claims processed, faster and more efficiently,” Bruch explains.

By boosting data analytics AI will also give insurers and their customers a much better understanding of their risks so that they can be more effectively reduced, while new insurance solutions could also be developed. For example, AI-powered analytics could help companies better understand cyber risks and improve security. At the same time the technology could assist insurers in identifying accumulations of cyber exposure. Last but not least, AI will change the way insurers interact with their customers, enabling 24/7 service.

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Business

Inflation spike building further upwards

27th October 2020
Inflation spike

In the coming months prices will go up and inflation will shoot sharply above the target of 3 percent to 6 percent towards the third quarter of 2021, the Bank of Botswana on the other hand will continue to withhold its knife on the Bank Rate. This is according to a forecast made by Kgori Capital in its recent Market Watch Segment.

Statistics from Statistics Botswana show that the recent 1.8 percent increase in the September inflation, from 1 percent in August, was a reflection of the upward adjustment in public transport fares (Transport (from -6.9 to -3.9 percent) in September 2020, which is estimated to have increased inflation by approximately 0.64 percentage points.

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Plans to erase Edgars, Jet trademark from Botswana malls underway

27th October 2020
Edgars Jet trademark

Local anti-trust body, Competition and Consumer Authority (CCA), this month received back to back acquisition proposals from South African clothing retailers to wipe out their former rivals, Edcon, from Botswana malls.

Last week BusinessPost was in possession of Merger Notice No 23 of 2020 whereby a South African clothing retailer owner, Retailability Proprietary Limited, through Oclin Proprietary Limited, proposed to acquire parts of the Edgars business conducted by Edcon in Botswana (through Edcon Botswana), as a going concern, consisting of certain assets and identified liabilities.

South African government’s Business Rescue Practitioners earlier this year announced that Retailability will buy Edgars, after the latter filed for a business rescue plan in April after it failed to pay suppliers. This move will see Retailability add Edgars to its portfolio consisting of brands such as; Legit, Beaver Canoe and Style.

Retailability landed on Botswana shores 18 years ago with its flamboyant urban fashion Style which had 17 stores. Style, having almost the same target market as Edgars as it offers men’s and ladies’ contemporary and formal fashion, gave the 91 year old legendary clothing retailer a run for its money, and has won the battle as its parent company has taken over Edgars.

Retailability brands are synonymous with Botswana shopping centres and there are currently five (5) Beaver Canoe stores, 10 Style stores and seven (7) Legit stores across this country. The Beaver Canoe stores sell clothing apparel for men and boys only. The Legit stores have a fashion store format which focuses on the retailing of clothing, footwear, accessories, colour cosmetics and cellular products.

Retailability operates in over 460 stores across South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Lesotho, and Eswatini. Many observers suggest that because of the deal with Retailability to swallow Edcon, most Edgars stores in Botswana will change their name and be branded Style. A sad tale for religious consumers of the Edgars trademark who got used to love their favourite brand for years.

According to CCA’s Merger Notice No 23 of 2020, Retailability is controlled by Clifford Raymond Lines (through a company which functions solely as a holding company of his interests in Retailability) and Metier Investment and Advisory Services Proprietary Limited (“Metier”). Metier is a private equity enterprise with investments in a number of industries spanning from healthcare, hospitality, FMCGs and telecommunications.

Retailability directors are mostly South Africans; Clifford Raymond Lines, Mark Richard Friday and Norman Victor Drieselmann. Only Nasreen Essack, who was appointed February this year, is a Motswana. He comes after Brian Thuto Tsima left on the same date. Retailability 100 percent owns Oclin Proprietary Limited, the company it is acquiring Edgars with, by a capacity of 3000 shares.

The target business, Edgars, offer textiles, cosmetics and cellular products. Edcon has a Motswana director, Charles Mzwandile Vikisi, a South African, Shane Van Niekerk and Zimbabwean Jethro Kamutsi.

“The Target Business comprises of two (2) Edgars franchise brands and private label stores across Botswana. These stores target middle to upper income customers and are home to a range of private label brands such as Free2BU, Charter Club and Stone Harbour, and a wide range of market label brands (such as Levi’s and Guess) for clothing, footwear and cosmetics.

In addition, the Target Business operates iconic Edgars Home and Edgars Beauty stores as store-in-store formats rounding out the department store offering in Botswana,” said CCA.
Foshini also lines up to take Jet Botswana from Edcon.

The Foschini Group (TFG) released a statement confirming its latest intentions to acquire Edcon assets or Jet for a cash purchase consideration of R480 million. This was after the business rescue practitioners offered TFG to buy Jet by that amount.

CCA is currently mulling on a proposed merger by TFG to take over Jet operations in Botswana. Merger Notice No 21 of 2020 from TFG came a few days before the Retailability proposal. In this merger TFG, acting through Foschini Botswana, want to take over “parts” of the Jet business conducted by Edcon through Jet Supermarkets Botswana.

TFG will be willing to add Jet to its portfolio of 30 retail brands that trade in clothing, footwear, jewellery, sportswear, homeware, cell phones, and technology products from value to upper market segments throughout more than 4085 outlets in 32 countries on five continents. TFG will also get Jet’s distribution centre located in Durban and certain stores in Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia and Eswatini. Also part of this fat deal is that the company is looking to also acquire JET Club and all existing JET stock of no less than R800 million.

Johannesburg listed TGF owns Foschini Retail Group which owns the local operations called Foschini Botswana, the acquiring enterprise according to CCA merger notice. “TFG is not controlled by any enterprise/s and for completeness, the three largest shareholders of TFG holding shares greater than 5% as at 27th March 2020 are: Government Employees Pension Fund (16.2%) Public Investment Corporation (13.2%); Old Mutual Limited (6.7%); and Investec Asset Management (6.3%). The remaining issued share capital in TFG is widely held,” said the merger notice.

Only Abdool Rahim Khan is a Motswana in the Foschini Botswana directorship, the rest; Ganeswari Shani Naidoo, Anthony Edward Thunström and Gustav Jansen (alternate director) are South Africans.

According to the CCA merger, the Jet Business is Edcon’s discount department store division, selling clothing, footwear, homeware and some cosmetics as well as cellular products and targets lower-to-middle income consumers throughout Botswana. The Jet Business does not directly or indirectly control any enterprises, says the notice. CCA seeks any stakeholder views for or against the proposed merger, which may be sent within 10 days from date of this publication to the following address.

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Business

BOCRA, associates to provide broadband internet in schools

27th October 2020

Botswana Communications Regulatory Authority BOCRA signed a memorandum of Agreement (MoA) with the Ministries of Transport and Communications (MTC), Basic Education (MoBE) as well as Local Government and Rural Development (MLGRD).

The MoA seeks to continue the collaboration that dates back to 2016 when the three parties first agreed to work together in a project aimed at computerizing and providing broadband Internet to primary schools in remote and underserved areas of Botswana.

The project benefitted 68 primary schools and 9 secondary schools through the construction of Local Area Network (LAN) in each primary school, provision of 5 Mbps dedicated broadband Internet to each Primary School and provision of Wi-Fi enabled tablets, laptops and related peripherals such as printers and copiers.

Further, the project will see the augmentation of computers in 9 Junior Secondary Schools with 30 laptops per identified school and employment of Information Technology (IT) officers at each primary school.

When speaking at the signing ceremony in Gaborone, Chief Executive of BOCRA and Chairperson of Universal Access and Service Fund (UASF) Board of Trustees Martin Mokgware said the project’s ultimate goal is to facilitate pupils in schools and host villages to be able to play a meaningful role in the digital economy.

Mokgware indicated that this necessitates upgrading of existing Telecommunications infrastructure to high capacity broadband that will support delivery of education, accessibility to the quality Internet and usage of ICTs.

The Fund began its inaugural programme by sponsoring the provision of WiFi hotspots in public areas around the country as its first project. Following the successful implementation of public WiFi hotspots, the Fund identified Kgalagadi, Ghanzi and Mabutsane areas for mobile network upgrades, schools computerization and internet provision.

Conscious that the project would not be possible without buy-in and support from MoBE, MTC and MLGRD, the Fund facilitated the signing of the first MoU between the three parties in 2016 for implementation of the project.

BOCRA Chief Executive said the signing of this agreement is aimed at benefitting the Kweneng District, adding that they have already assessed the area and have determined that they will be covering 62 underserved villages and 119 schools, 91 of which are primary schools.

“This is a project for which the partner Ministries need to re-commit for its success. Lessons from the previous schools’ computerization and internet connectivity project require that we increase our involvement and resources dedicated to the project for it to be successful. It is my belief as the project coordinator, that we will not do things the way we did them during the first project, for if we do, then we will not have learnt anything,” he said at the signing ceremony.

The purpose of learning is so that there can be continuous improvement to minimize the length of time and amount of resources utilized, he said expressing confidence that their partners will step up to the plate and ensure they play their part in the implementation of the project and that it will progress smoothly having already tread along a similar path.

UASF’s role lies mainly in funding and project management. According to Mokgware, once the project is completed, the work to integrate ICTs into the classroom begins in earnest. Therefore, he said, the project will not succeed without full cooperation and oversight of partners.

“MoBE will put in place the necessary content and ensure that the curriculum is available to all. MLGRD will provide, among others, the enabling environment by ensuring readiness of the school’s infrastructure and necessary security.”

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