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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

New study reveals why youth entrepreneurs are failing

21st July 2022
Youth

The recent study on youth entrepreneurship in Botswana has identified difficult access to funding, land, machinery, lack of entrepreneurial mindset and proper training as serious challenges that continue to hamper youth entrepreneurship development in this country.

The study conducted by Alliance for African Partnership (AAP) in collaboration with University of Botswana has confirmed that despite the government and private sector multi-billion pula entrepreneurship development initiatives, many young people in Botswana continue to fail to grow their businesses into sustainable and successful companies that can help reduce unemployment.

University of Botswana researchers Gaofetege Ganamotse and Rudolph Boy who compiled findings in the 2022 study report for Botswana stated that as part of the study interviews were conducted with successful youth entrepreneurs to understand their critical success factors.

According to the researchers other participants were community leaders, business mentors, Ministry of Trade and Industry, Ministry of Youth, Gender, Sport and Culture, financial institutions, higher education institutions, non-governmental institutions, policymakers, private organizations, and support structures such as legal and technical experts and accountants who were interviewed to understand how they facilitate successful youth entrepreneurship.

The researchers said they found that although Botswana government is perceived as the most supportive to businesses when compared to other governments in sub-Saharan Africa, youth entrepreneurs still face challenges when accessing government funding. “Several finance-related challenges were identified by youth entrepreneurs. Some respondents lamented the lack of access to start-up finance, whereas others mentioned lack of access to infrastructure.”

The researchers stated that in Botswana entrepreneurship is not yet perceived as a field or career of choice by many youth “Participants in the study emphasized that the many youth are more of necessity entrepreneurs, seeing business venturing as a “fall back. Other facilitators mentioned that some youth do not display creativity, mind-blowing innovative solutions, and business management skills. Some youth entrepreneurs like to take shortcuts like selling sweets or muffins.”

According to the researchers, some of the youth do not display perseverance when they are faced with adversity in business. “Young people lack of an entrepreneurial mindset is a common challenge among youth in business. Some have a mindset focused on free services, handouts, and rapid gains. They want overnight success. As such, they give up easily when faced with challenges. On the other hand, some participants argue that they may opt for quick wins because they do not have access to any land, machinery, offices, and vehicles.”

The researchers stated that most youth involved in business ventures do not have the necessary training or skills to maintain a business. “Poor financial management has also been cited as one of the challenges for youth entrepreneurs, such as using profit for personal reasons rather than investing in the business. Also some are not being able to separate their livelihood from their businesses.

Lastly, youth entrepreneurs reported a lack of experience as one of the challenges. For example, the experience of running a business with projections, sticking to the projections, having an accounting system, maintaining a clean and clear billing system, and sound administration system.”

According to the researchers, the participants in the study emphasized that there is fragmentation within the entrepreneurial ecosystem, whereby there is replication of business activities without any differentiation. “There is no integration of the ecosystem players. As such, they end up with duplicate programs targeting the same objectives. The financial sector recommended that there is a need for an intermediary body that will bring all the ecosystem actors together and serve as a “one-stop shop” for entrepreneurs and build mentorship programs that accommodate the business lifecycle from inception to growth.”

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Business

BHC yearend financial results impressive

18th July 2022
BHC

Botswana Housing Corporation (BHC) is said to have recorded an operating surplus of P61 Million, an improvement compared to the previous year. The housing, office and other building needs giant met with stakeholders recently to share how the business has been.

The P61 million is a significant increase against the P6 million operating loss realized in the prior year. Profit before income tax also increased significantly from P2 million in the prior year to P72 million which resulted in an overall increase in surplus after tax from P1 million prior year to P64 million for the year under review.

Chief of Finance Officer, Diratsagae Kgamanyane disclosed; “This growth in surplus was driven mainly by rental revenue that increased by 15% from P209 million to P240 million and reduction in expenditure from P272 million to P214 million on the back of cost containment.”
He further stated that sales of high margin investment properties also contributed significantly to the growth in surplus as well as impairment reversals on receivables amounting to P25 million.

It is said that the Corporation recorded a total revenue of P702 million, an 8% decrease when compared to the P760 million recorded in the prior year. “Sales revenue which is one of the major revenue streams returned impressive margins, contributing to the overall growth in the gross margin,” added Kgamanyane.

He further stated professional fees revenue line declined significantly by 64% to P5 million from P14 million in the prior year which attributed to suspension of planned projects by their clients due to Covid-19 pandemic. “Facilities Management revenue decreased by P 24 million from P69 million recorded in prior year to P45 million due to reduction in projects,” Kgamanyane said.

The Corporation’s strength is on its investment properties portfolio that stood at P1.4 billion at the end of the reporting period. “The Corporation continues its strategy to diversify revenue streams despite both facilities management income and professional fees being challenged by the prevailing economic conditions that have seen its major clients curtailing spending,” added the CEO.

On the one hand, the Corporation’s Strategic Performance which intended to build 12 300 houses by 2023 has so far managed to build 4 830 houses under their SHHA funding scheme, 1 240 houses for commercial or external use which includes use by government and 1 970 houses to rent to individuals.

BHC Acting CEO Pascaline Sefawe noted that; BHC’s planned projects are said to include building 336 flat units in Gaborone Block 7 at approximately P224 million, 100 units in Maun at approximately P78 million, 13 units in Phakalane at approximately P26 million, 212 units in Kazungula at approximately P160 million, 96 units at approximately P42 million in Francistown and 84 units at approximately P61 million in Letlhakane. Emphasing; “People tend to accuse us of only building houses in Gaborone, so here we are, including other areas in our planned projects.”

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Business

Commercial banks to cash big on high interest rates on loans

18th July 2022
Commercial-banks

Researchers from some government owned regulatory institutions in the financial sector have projected that the banking sector’s profitability could increase, following Bank of Botswana Monetary Policy Committee recent decision to increase monetary policy rate.

In its bid to manage inflation, Bank of Botswana Monetary Policy Committee last month increased monetary policy rate by 0.50 percent from 1.65 percent to 2.15 percent, a development which resulted with commercial banking sector increasing interest rate in lending to household and companies. As a result of BoB adjustment of Monetary Policy Rate, from 1.65 percent to 2.15 percent commercial banks increased prime lending rate from 5.76 percent to 6.26 percent.

Researchers from Bank of Botswana, the Non-Bank Financial Institutions Regulatory Authority, the Financial Intelligence Agency and the Botswana Stock Exchange indicated that due to prospects of high inflation during the second half of 2022, there is a possibility that the Monetary Policy Committee could further increase monetary policy rate in the next meeting in August 25 2022.

Inflation rose from 9.6 percent in April 2022 to 11.9 percent in May 2022, remaining above the Bank of Botswana medium-term objective range of 3 – 6 percent. According to the researchers inflation could increase further and remain high due to factors that include: the potential increase in international commodity prices beyond current forecasts, logistical constraints due to lags in production, the economic and price effects of the ongoing Russia- Ukraine conflict, uncertain COVID-19 profile, domestic risk factors relating to possible regular annual administered price adjustments, short-term unintended consequences of import restrictions resulting with shortages in supplies leading to price increases, as well as second-round effects of the recent increases in administered prices “Furthermore, the likelihood of further increases in domestic fuel prices in response to persistent high international oil prices could add upward pressure to inflation,” said the researchers.

The researchers indicated that Bank of Botswana could be forced to further increase monetary policy rate from the current 2.15 percent if inflation rises persistently. “Should inflation rise persistently this could necessitate an upward adjustment in the policy rate. It is against this background that the interest rate scenario assumes a 1.5 percentage points (moderate scenario) and 2.25 percentage points (severe scenario) upward adjustment in the policy rate,” said the researchers.

The researchers indicated that while any upward adjustment on BoB monetary policy rate and commercial banks prime lending rate result with increase in the cost of borrowing for household and compnies, it increase profitability for the banking sector. “Increases in the policy rate are associated with an overall increase in bank profitability, with resultant increases in the capital adequacy ratio of 0.1 percentage points and 0.2 percentage points for the moderate and severe scenarios, respectively,” said the researchers who added that upward adjustment in monetary policy rate would raise extra capital for the banking sector.

“The increase in profit generally reflects the banking industry’s positive interest rate gap, where interest earning assets exceed interest earning liabilities maturing in the next twelve months. Therefore, an increase of 1.5 percentage points in the policy rate would result in industry gains of P71.7 million (4.1 percent increase), while a 2.25 percentage points increase would lead to a gain of P173.9 million (6.1 percent increase), dominated by large banks,” said the researchers.

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