Challenger banks emerged into the mainstream in the UK in the late 2010s by offering consumers more innovative services and, often, better savings rates than the high street giants were willing to offer.
But they have had a tougher time since 2020, first as the Covid recession has restricted their sources of income and now as the Bank of England continues to raise its base rate to control inflation, thus curbing the economy.
The next 18 months could be particularly hectic for them. How they fare will depend on their level of capitalization, the quality of their offerings and their exposure to weakening customer affordability as the cost of living crisis drags on.
Several challengers have yet to make a profit and are still relying on venture capital backers whose confidence in the sector is waning. Yet they continue to experience explosive growth. More than a quarter of adults in the UK – around 14 million people – have an account with a neo-digital bank such as Atom, Monzo, OakNorth, Revolut or Starling.
In theory, a period of rising interest rates should benefit challenger banks as yields on their mortgages and other loans should, after more than a decade of ultra-loose monetary policy by the Bank of England, finally rise. . The Bank has raised its base rate five times since December 2021 in a bid to curb inflation, which hit a 40-year high of 9.4% through June 2022. Some economists believe the base rate could go from 1.25% to 3% next year.
Which banks are likely to benefit from interest rate hikes?
Despite this favorable trend, “not all lenders will benefit equally, given their different funding profiles,” according to Fitch.
In a research note published in June, the rating agency observed: “Large high-street banks tend to benefit the most from rising interest rates, given their large market share in deposits. in current account. medium-sized banks, [non-bank] mortgage lenders and challenger banks will find it harder to expand their margins. They are more dependent on savings deposits, for which savers will demand higher interest rates.
Regulators have told banks on all sides to put more money aside to prepare for possible shocks, which will squeeze margins further. More worrying for neobanks, experts warn that the mortgage market could slow and defaults will increase as more consumers feel the effects of rising prices.
Simon Youel is Head of Policy and Advocacy at Positive Money, a non-profit group campaigning for banking reform. He says that while a period of higher interest rates “can be good for bank profitability, it also presents dangers. It is likely that more than a decade of low interest rates encouraged them to engage in all sorts of risky loans in search of yield. We don’t really know how high interest rates can go before the bubbles burst. There are already worrying signs coming from housing markets in countries like Canada, for example.
Monzo still growing
But the challengers seem confident they can handle such risks. Take Monzo, for example. In its July annual report, the bank said it had shown “extraordinary resilience” during the pandemic and continued to “grow at pace”.
During the year from March 2021 to February 2022, Monzo added one million new customers and its deposits increased by 42% to reach £4.4 billion, which enabled it to generate a turnover of record business of £150m. But it also posted a loss of £119million, after similar results in the previous two years.
TS Anil, CEO of the bank, wrote in the report: “While rising interest rates tend to benefit our business model, given the heavily deposit-centric balance sheet we have, we must remain vigilant. the impact of cost-of-living increases on our customers. We have not yet seen a direct impact on our customers’ deposit balances, their spending behavior or their ability to repay us.”
Another risk challengers face is that investors, concerned about the faltering economy, lose confidence in the fintech sector in general. For example, Klarna, the Swedish finance giant buy now, pay later, saw its valuation plummet from $46bn (£38bn) to less than $7bn in July. And UK mobile payments company SumUp was valued at €8bn (£6.7bn) when it raised money in June – a 60% discount on the price it was targeting at the start of the year. ‘year.
Potential for failure of some fintechs
The indications are that many fintech companies will go bankrupt in the next 18 months and some may even fail. Starling thinks smaller “non-bank” operators might have a hard time, but points out that he and his fellow fired actors are in a much stronger position. The bank, which has about 2.1 million customers, says it is “very well capitalized” and is not looking to raise more funds.
“We have established a stable and sustainable business model that allows us to generate our own capital organically and expand into new markets,” said a spokeswoman for Starling, which announced its first full year of profitability in July.
Although there has been no indication that a licensed UK challenger is in dire straits, Volt, Australia’s first-ever online-only bank, has gone out of business. In July it surrendered its license and returned around A$100m (£58m) in deposits to customers. It came after he failed to raise enough capital to back his mortgage plans.
If a British challenger were to run into serious trouble, Westminster would likely step in to help, according to Youel. He points out that some operators are highly exposed to government-backed Covid commercial loans, which would be canceled in “implicit bailouts”.
Despite the risks, the neobanking sector should be able to weather the UK cost of living crisis even if it takes a few bruises along the way.
According to Rich Wagner, founder and CEO of digital bank Cashplus, the best-run challengers “should be in a strong position to cope and even thrive” if things get as tough as experts predict.
They are “sustainable, well-run businesses built on good economics,” says Wagner. “They will fare better than those who have pursued explosive growth or sky-high valuations at the expense of solid foundations.”
With prices in the UK currently exploding at their fastest pace in over 40 years, the cost of living crisis will also impact e-commerce. During this uncertain time, businesses need to focus on their brand, the technology they have integrated into their online journeys, and the quality of the customer experience.
Andy Mulcahy, director of strategy and insight at IMRG, the trade body considered the voice of online retail in the UK, has no doubts about the state of the market. “A lot of retailers provide us with their sales numbers so we can compare performance, and right now it’s down sharply,” he says. “It’s been extremely turbulent recently, but the difference in impact between the pandemic and the cost of living crisis is stark.”
The coronavirus crisis has been, he says, “the most disruptive thing we’ve ever seen”. But from an online retail perspective, it was a huge accelerator. Lockdowns have forced many businesses to enter the world of e-commerce for the first time. Those brave enough to embrace it have reaped generous rewards. Now, however, with all the low hanging fruit gobbled up and consumer purse strings stretched tight, it’s a different story.
“Growth today is weak,” says Mulcahy. “It’s negative, year over year, and the market is contracting.” Other measures analyzed by the IMRG raise concern. “People are spending more time making buying decisions online, and looking at the first quarter of 2022 – which is February, March and April, so that includes the first fallout from the invasion of Ukraine – compared in the first quarter of last year, checkout completion fell 22%,” he adds.
Paul Hornby, director of digital customer experience at Very Group, remains optimistic about his employer and the longer-term outlook for the industry. “Yes, retail has clearly been impacted,” he says. “But we are confident about the prospects for online retail in the UK.”
Supporting customers in difficult times
As a digital retailer with over 2,000 brands that boasts nearly five million active customers and a financial services provider offering its unique version of buy now, pay later (BNPL), Very Group is well positioned to thrive. in the e-commerce space. “As a multi-category retailer, our model is naturally resilient,” says Hornby. “Online is the place to be, and our flexible payment options are popular with our customers.”
Very Pay, which most customers use, according to Hornby, allows shoppers to pay for goods at three locations interest-free over three months. There is also a BNPL option, allowing consumers to spread the cost over a year. In the current context, the Very Group brings added value by offering visitors to the company’s website advice and tips to better cope with the cost of living crisis.
“We help customers by introducing money management content,” says Hornby. “We aim to be customer champions and natural problem solvers, so we will always think of different ways along the journey to help our customers.”
Matthew Parker, UK and Ireland country director at Vonage, a company that builds omnichannel conversations and transforms customer experiences, highlights the urgency for e-commerce organizations to invest in technology solutions; and even more in these tense times, to stand out in an increasingly dense market.
“I see post-pandemic cost reduction initiatives, but in some areas companies are doubling down,” he says. “For example, there has been an increase in technology around artificial intelligence and other tools that can bring a level of intelligent automation to the buyer experience, without losing human involvement.”
Double down on intelligent automation
Hornby reveals that the Very Group was an early adopter of conversational AI. The organization originally invested in a chatbot in 2016 to ease the workload for employees answering simple questions. “We very quickly partnered with IBM Watson to use their AI to help us understand customer sentiment, but also to generate the right responses,” he says.
The chatbot proved invaluable to Very Group customers and its contact center staff last Christmas as it was used almost 140,000 times, reducing phone calls by 17% from the previous peak. Hornby says the maturity of intelligent automation makes it a compelling business case for those looking to improve the digital customer experience.
“If a customer comes to the website or our smartphone app and asks a question that’s more complex than the chatbot can handle, they’ll elegantly escalate it to one of our customer service colleagues so there’s the appropriate level of human intervention,” he says. “We will definitely continue to invest in this technology.”
Mulcahy argues that e-commerce companies don’t have to spend a lot to improve the digital customer experience; sometimes a little goes a long way. “If you take two websites and they both offer exactly the same products at the same prices, you can generate more sales just by optimizing certain elements,” he says. “You can offer free shipping, for example, or it’s easier to navigate. There are a lot of things you can do, and now with expensive traffic to pay for and declining conversion rates, these things are essential to getting it right.
Hornby agrees: “Having friction throughout the user journey is a surefire way to send the customer into the arms of a competitor, so we need to obsess over the issues on our site and fix them. .”
Top tips for improving the digital customer experience
Vonage’s Parker believes the best way to improve the digital customer experience is to become a trusted retailer. “Trust comes down to four things: integrity, intent, capability and track record,” he says. “Brands that best demonstrate these four things, focus on customer needs, and don’t bombard people, will do their best.”
And for e-commerce players unsure of their future or where to invest, Mulcahy offers some soothing words. “Don’t panic. It’s a very different time, but it’s tough for most businesses. Those who focus on building their brand and simplifying the online journey will do well.
Hornby stresses the importance of keeping the customer at the heart of all digital design. Forget futuristic and hype concepts, like shopping in the metaverse or non-fungible tokens; what consumers want today, especially during this cost of living crisis, is a retailer they can rely on and that serves them well.
“You need to integrate the customer into all your thinking, which is easy said but hard to do,” he says. “The market will only become more competitive, so speed to market is key. This speed comes partly from the process and partly from the technology. But, more importantly, everything you do must really meet the needs of your customers. »
Retailers have had to deal with years of disruptive events. But, armed with technology and online savvy, they can now ensure a digital customer experience tailored to all of their audiences.
Recent events, among others in the Buitoni and Ferrero companies, have highlighted that no company is safe from falling into the turmoil of a crisis other than putting it in difficulty.… Each of these crises has consequences either on health, on the life of the population and presents dangers. Anticipating crises seems to have become essential with the generalization of the Internet, which is accelerating the circulation of information and rumours. Faced with a crisis, a company has the effect of reacting as quickly as possible and demonstrating maximum transparency in order to preserve the trust of its customers. Frequently comments?
Anticipate the crisis so as not to be caught off guard
The time factor is crucial in managing a crisis. It is advisable to react as soon as possible in order to be able to give its arguments before the rumor and the false noises are known. This is the strategy adopted by Findus who, after detecting horse in his frozen preparations, chose to make the case public. By taking the lead, the company has demonstrated a concern for quality and has avoided the spread of unfavorable rumors at its expense, even if the reality is not to their advantage.
Respond quickly and vigorously
Responsiveness seems even more important in the management of a crisis which gives another area of business. It made it possible to limit the consequences of the crisis, which quickly became a problem of the past. It also allows the importance that the company attaches to the safety of its consumers (if it is threatened) or to the quality of its products. Even with the car manufacturer Toyota, I confronted the technical defects of certain models, massively revising the vehicles concerned for verification and repair. The cost of the measure was substantial, but the image of the brand was preserved, and Toyota was renamed the world’s leading manufacturer despite this alert.
Prepare communication tools in advance
Prepare a crisis website or modify your website to adapt it to the crisis in order to allow you to respond to the emergency but also to avoid the silence of rumour. You can also prepare a list of contacts to establish for the transmission of information to trade unions, the press, administrative authorities… and prepare numerous press releases. It is also necessary to list the crises you will face. For example, the SNCF (accident, delay, bad weather, etc.) for the agro-food industries (all diseases linked to allergies, poisoning, etc.), for the automotive industries (faulty manufacturing). Every business should be aware of the dangers and sue if this happened to my business, what would I do? and anticipating will allow him to prepare a communication that will not force the company to put the key under the door.
The rapid and informal circulation of information via social networks is a decoy to limit dissemination. It is therefore better to know this and play cards on the tables: if the public has the feeling that something is being hidden from it, it risks being ruthless, whereas if the company gives the impression of playing fair, it will be listened to more and more quickly forgiven. Here again, the example of Findus is convincing: in explanatory comment, it was abused by unscrupulous intermediaries, the company placed itself on the side of the victims, which enabled it to preserve its market share despite the crisis. .
Bouncing back from the crisis
The judicious treatment of a crisis can even constitute an opportunity for a company. Ferrero also confronted a vast controversy for the forest on this question of taxing palm oil, considered harmful to health and threatening for the environment via deforestation. The Italian company explained the benefit of using palm oil (essential to the texture of the product) in the Nutella recipe, and obtained the pure and simple abandonment of the tax, benefiting more equally from a vast movement of sympathy on the part of the brand’s fans, reinforce its image through its optimal crisis communication!
The Italian brand thus applied the principles of crisis communication from start to finish by anticipating the vote on the law, by reacting with advertising pages in the newspapers and by being transparent thanks to these explanations before bouncing back, by committing in to use environmentally correct palm oil, that is to say from certified sustainable plantations. Efficient !
In January 2020, Mark Hoban, chairman of the UK’s Financial Services Skills Commission (FSSC), warned that the sector was facing an “existential skills crisis”.
At the time, the former jobs minister chaired the Financial Services Skills Taskforce, an independent body formed by the Treasury to explore how the UK could maintain its status as a world leader in the sector. He identified key issues, including a lack of diversity (see panel, xxxx) as well as the skills gap highlighted by Hoban, that were jeopardizing the country’s competitiveness in financial services.
The FSSC was duly created in the spring of 2020 to address such challenges but, just over two years later, the industry still appears to be struggling. Recent research from Talent.com suggests that the difference between the number of vacancies and the number of professionals trained to fill them increased by 40% in 2021.
One of the main reasons for this is the combined impact of Brexit and Covid on international recruitment in a sector which has traditionally relied heavily on overseas talent. But so does the fact that the pandemic has prompted many employers to start offshoring jobs, especially those related to technology, to address concerns about security and operational resilience.
That’s the view of FSSC chief executive Claire Tunley, who notes that another Covid-related problem is that older employees are leaving the industry at a higher rate than normal.
Moreover, wage inflation induced by the growing shortage of labor in the sector is fueling an increase in staff turnover, which further aggravates the situation.
Last year, 92% of FSSC member companies struggled to fill vacancies, according to its March research report, Mind the Gaps – skills for the future of financial services 2022.
The document also indicates that the industry is particularly lacking in five key skills. Three of them are technical: digital literacy, which must be developed throughout the workforce; and more specialized expertise in the form of data analysis and software development. The other two are “soft” skills – coaching and creative thinking – which the FSSC believes are crucial to fostering innovative problem solving and staff retention.
But Dennis Khoo, author of Driving Digital Transformation: Lessons Learned from Building ASEAN’s First Digital Bankbelieves that process design skills should be added to the list.
“You can’t apply technology effectively if you don’t have good underlying processes,” he says. “Understanding how processes support outcomes is paramount.”
Whether or not the FSSC agrees with Khoo’s assessment, it is widely accepted that the main factors driving all these skills gaps are, as Tunley puts it, “technological change and digitization due how people interact with financial services, especially since the onset of the pandemic.” . This produces more data, which creates a need for more analytics, which in turn leads to more digital products and services. And so on. »
In banking, there’s another problematic factor, according to Simi Dubb, director of colleague experience and inclusion at Metro Bank. She says the ongoing branch closures mean customers expect more from their online banking services at a time when competition for digital skills in the wider market is already fierce.
As a result, “we’ve all had to take a data, digital and customer view when looking at roles, as the future of banking will be less about traditional relationship management and more about predicting products and services.” self-service digital devices that customers will use. need,” says Dubb. “This is where the idea of retraining and upgrading comes in.”
His opinion is shared by the FSSC. He believes that, given the significant change in the types of skills required, the industry cannot solve its shortage by recruiting alone.
Tunley notes that before the pandemic, the industry failed to provide people with much training beyond basic topics such as regulatory compliance. As a result, it has fallen behind other sectors at a time when intense competition for digital skills, in particular, is beginning to become a ‘blocker’ to innovation and growth.
To drive home the need for more training, the FSSC released a report earlier this year titled Requalification: A Business Case for Financial Services Organizations. The paper says companies could save up to £49,100 per head by retraining employees at risk of redundancy for new roles that would have required external recruitment. Despite this compelling business case, the industry has tended to lay off and hire new, rather than retain and retrain.
“With 1 million people working in financial services in the UK, you can’t make the whole workforce redundant,” says Tunley. “Around 80% of the industry’s current workforce will still be employed in 2030. Since only 20% will be new entrants, employers will need to retrain existing staff to obtain all the new skills required.”
In other words, the core competencies of the profession are no less valuable than they have ever been. They “just need to be improved if you want to add new digital services”, explains Tunley, who adds that “if you only recruit externally, you don’t get all the knowledge you need in terms of internal processes, which is why you need both approaches.
Tunley acknowledges that recycling will not offer a silver bullet, as it requires a “clear, well-structured plan and long-term commitment”. Nevertheless, she believes that a significant change is underway.
“We said a few years ago that there was an existential crisis and the industry needed to act – and it’s starting to do that,” she says. “While it’s too early to tell what impact this is having, things are moving in the right direction.”
How to improve diversity, equity and inclusion
One approach to solving the skills shortage in financial services is for employers to seek talent in pools they have not traditionally explored.
Almost 80% of workers in the sector are white, according to the Financial Services Culture Board (FSCB), an industry body formed from the Banking Standards Board in April 2021. Although data from the Office for National Statistics suggests that only 14 4% of people in the UK are members of an ethnic minority, the percentage rises sharply in cities. In London, for example, it’s closer to 40%. This means that financial services firms often fail to reflect the diversity of communities in the urban areas where they tend to operate.
“When we asked them what could be done about it, they suggested, ‘Hire more diverse people and make sure there’s more staff who look like me,'” reports Pollyanna Wardrop, senior analyst at the FSCB for evaluation and information.
But the industry also faces other, less immediately obvious challenges regarding its lack of diversity, equity and inclusion. For example, although women from all walks of life make up 52% of the total financial services workforce in the UK, the proportion of senior managers who are white women is only 29%. Meanwhile, women from ethnic minorities occupy 6.5% of operational positions, but just 2.7% of management positions.
Even Metro Bank, where 45% of employees are from ethnic minority communities, acknowledges that they are not as well represented in the upper echelons of the organization. According to Simi Dubb, Director of Colleague Experience and Inclusion at the bank, this tends to be due to changes at key “life transition points”, such as raising children.
“The challenge is to ensure we have the right infrastructure and an inclusive culture to support people through these transitions. We also need to continually retrain them so they can advance in their careers,” she says. This is essential not only to ensure that “diverse talent has the opportunity to flourish”, but also to promote staff retention.
Kate Coombs, Head of Analytics at the FSCB, agrees. The council’s research found that female employees from ethnic minorities feel less included than respondents from any other category, she reports, adding that literature from the London Business School indicates that people’s sense of belonging to their employer – or lack thereof – is a predictor of their attrition rates.
“Additionally, anticipation of belonging indicates a willingness on the part of a potential candidate to apply,” Coombs says. “From there, you can extrapolate its importance to the hiring pipeline.”
Equally vital is that people feel heard, she notes. It’s “super important to enable culture change”. Also, “listening and ‘psychological safety’ – where line managers create a constructive and sharing environment – are strongly correlated”.
All of these factors push line managers to up their games. Coombs believes this will require “a change at all levels in how they are trained, developed and supported. It will require a lot of investment because you can’t just assume they will pull through.
When you need to create a company there are fundamental legal aspects to take into account so that this functionme. An example of this can be the rules that are strengthened in the face of partners or investors. However, it is very common for companies to take care of the outside but not the inside. And by that I mean the lack of creation of internal communication policies that help prevent future problems.
Its the departments of human Resources who must ensure that this policy exists and for this reason, in this article we explain what its function is and How to manage a reputation crisis if necessary.
It may interest you: Master in Human Resources
What is communication policy?
communication policy It is a manual of functions established by the human resources department and the management, where the goals that the company wants to achievein order to define the work methodology.
In addition, also the internal and external activities carried out by the company are definedand that they should be public knowledge.
Some of the aspects that must be specified in the communication policy are:
- Internal communication: In this section, workers are encouraged to communicate with their respective bosses, colleagues and subordinates in a constructive way that adds value to the company.
- External communication and social networks: Establishes the treatment in communication facing the outside. This in order to prevent inadequate or inaccurate information from arriving, generating misunderstandings and possible legal causes.
- Use of corporate devices: At this point the rules about the use of mobile phones and portable devices both in the company and outside it are established.
By last, what this is a policy seeks is to consolidate a communicative culture and behaviors that support corporate objectivesthus, in case of internal or external conflicts that directly affect the company, such as a reputational crisis.
What is a reputation crisis?
One of the most serious problems an organization can encounter is with a reputation crisis. Faced with this problem, have established a communication policy, You can help us manage it in the best way possible.
We can speak of a reputation crisis when, as a result of some error in the company, it obtains a negative image, causing its reputation to be affected.
With the appearance of social networks, reputation crises have warnedJust bad reviews about a red-checked product or organization can quickly be seen and shared by thousands of people, causing the bug to spread so fast that it can’t be rectified in time.
Reputation crises can happen because of:
- negative comments in social networks towards the organization and its services.
- Mentions that involve an attack on third parties.
- Mistakes made for the organization that go viral before they can be rectified.
- loss of transparency in addition to data and organization management.
- generate a lot UNWANTED MAIL It can tire the consumer/user/client, and it can be cause for complaint.
How to manage a reputation crisis
Front has a crisis of reputation, it is very important try to solve the problem as quickly as possible, to avoid viral infection. In the event that this is not possible and some users have begun to comment, you should reply as politely as possible, without losing your temper, and facing the problem.
- remember that the customer (consumer) is always rightand should never be treated in a bad way.
- If you already see yourself involved in the problem, do not deny the facts, or delete comments of the user. Freedom of expression is a right, and you should not go against a user’s opinion.
- you are forbiddenmake threats or mention that legal action will be taken or disqualifications for their comments.
Therefore, in the face of a reputation crisis, we must act quickly, respond to comments and try to calm the user with good manners, either by telling them that the problem has been solved, that they are right and that they are fixing it..
Examples of how to manage a reputation crisis
If we end up with a legal disaster in the face of a reputational crisis, you already have some examples of good reputational crisis management.
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Case 1: Zara
Zara learned that in 2014 a reputation crisis was managed, as a result of one of these shirts (image).
This company made and brought to the market a striped t-shirt with a star of the type worn by cowboys in western movies. What they did not imagine when the shirt went on sale, is that someone compared it to one of the shirts worn by the Jews in the Nazi era in the concentration camps.
As a result of the negatives that the shirt had, Zara left the market and released a statement, alleging that at no time had the concentration camps been thought of to make the T-shirt, but rather jeans, since one or two seasons ago, cowboy-style clothing had become fashionable. In this case, Zara did well, since it abandoned the product from the market and knew how to respond to criticism.
Case 2: Donuts
The case of the Donnettes food company was very similar. It all started with the “Don’t Touch My Donnettes” campaign.
This campaign referred to the non-sharing of these buns with others, but with catchy phrases a little conflicting such as: “Sharing my body but not my Donnettes”, “sharing can severely damage our friendship”, among others.
The slogan that ended the most controversy was “Ask the subway”, which caused one of the users to react on twitter. This criticized that such sensitive issues should not appear in marketing campaigns. Instantly, the tweet had hundreds of retweets and was going viral..
Donnettes acted fast and responded to everyone’s first tweet, saying that their input was being taken into account and a solution was being sought. solution. Finally the company decided to abandon the sale of all the Donnettes with the campaign “I don’t get the Donnettes”.
Legal consequences of the crisis of reputation
We found few reputational crises that could not be easily managed and had to resort to legal means to solve them. Still, it is important to look at the volkswagen company and the biggest reputational crisis he has ever had to face.
According to this BBC news, the company confirmed that it had modified engines and that they could have sold more than 11 million vehicles worldwide that polluted 40% more than they should.
Faced with this type of reputational crisis, It is not enough to make a statement or respond to messages on social networks that the problem is resolved, but in this case, it could be considered fraud and breach of contract. Therefore, those affected could go to court to claim compensation for damages, since the check does not meet the requirements established in the contract, but could bring consequences such as:
- Lower value of the car when selling it.
- The mayor costs fuel.
- Back to ITV
- Higher costs in parking meters.
Volkswagen had a hard time regaining the trust of its customers and has been violated for years in this crisis.
The communication policy is important to provide value and trustnot only to the workers and people that make up the organization, but also to the users/customers/consumers about the products and services.
If you want to know about personal management and corporate policies, we invite you to participate Master in Human Resources En el que prenderás has adopted more innovative business communication models and is able to effectively manage individual or collective conflicts.
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