The Speed of NOW: Navigating Real-Time Treasury
In today’s episode, Craig Jeffery and Kate Pohl, Senior Advisor with Strategic Treasurer, discuss the true meaning of “real-time” in finance, its impact on consumers and businesses, and its future implications. They also discuss value and shed some light on fraud protection and innovative strategies.
Craig Jeffery, Strategic Treasurer
Kate Pohl, Strategic Treasurer
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Episode Transcription - Episode # 270: The Speed of NOW: Navigating Real-Time Treasury
Welcome to the Treasury Update Podcast presented by Strategic Treasurer, your source for interesting treasury news, analysis, and insights in your car, at the gym, or wherever you decide to tune in.
Craig Jeffery 00:18
Welcome to the Treasury Update Podcast. This is Craig Jeffery, your host for this episode on real time treasury. And I am joined with Kate Pohl. Kate, welcome to the Treasury Update Podcast.
Kate Pohl 00:30
Thank you so much for having me, Craig.
Craig Jeffery 00:32
I’ve been on your podcast too. So this is very fun. So yes, the topic of real time treasury where we discussed the speed and changes to treasury. This comes in the context of fast payments have occupied many, many conversations. But are we really heading to real time treasury? Is this the future? Is it partially hype? Is it mostly hype? And I’m joined with Kate Pohl who is a long time adviser in the treasury and payments space. She’s a well known host of a treasury podcast. And she is a frequent and regular host and moderator facilitator in the banking and treasury space for various events. And we met in Amsterdam.
Kate Pohl 01:16
We met in Amsterdam, right. So it was a trade primarily. So it was, but it was working capital. The working capital forum. That was fun.
Craig Jeffery 01:25
So let’s get into real time treasury. So when when we, if we think about real time Treasury or if you if you talk about real time treasury, is this about instantaneous is about quick? How do you? How do you describe real time? Or what do you think the discussion is about? About real time?
Kate Pohl 01:43
Yeah, for me, you know, real time it’s, you know, is it really real time? I don’t think so, for me, it’s more on time or just in time. And it depends on what the treasurer what the Treasury needs. So it’s, it’s very much about information, and the different components that actually support that which includes, of course, instant payments, but there’s more, what I’m talking about is, you know, the the kind of information that’s coming in is about balances. It’s not just about transactions and payments. So it’s key to know your balances. It’s key to know your FX positions, you want to know your exposures and loans. So the point for me is real time is having the information when you need it, how you need it, so so that you can so that you’re able to actually use it, manipulate it, put it into programs, do something with it, so that you can as a treasurer, really plan, forecast, decide. So it’s a real tool.
Craig Jeffery 02:44
Certainly gets to some of the next question I was gonna ask you, I think I’ll still ask it. It was where’s the value for the business? User and the consumer? You started talking about the business? Maybe we could jump to the consumer for a minute, what what’s the, what’s the value? For the consumer? I know, if I have to transfer money to one of my children, it’s way easier to use a yeah, they they bought something or they picked up something from the store and they’re like you owe $7, or whatever the amount is, and it’s just a an instant way of paying it using Zelle or Venmo. On the consumer side, it’s faster really seems to matter quite a bit. What are your thoughts there on the consumer side? And then we’ll move to the business side.
Kate Pohl 03:26
Yeah, sure. I mean, I think as with almost everything else, and the payment space, I think it’s the consumer side that picks this these trends up first, and then it spills over into the corporate or the b2b or the wholesale side. I think that it also part of it is people really wanting this experience you know, we have the the one click the immediate the now wanting your package from Amazon, not in a week, you know, I was used to waiting days that was okay, well, now we don’t want to do that anymore. It has to be same day or next day, or else it isn’t okay. And I think that’s also sort of spilled over into payments. So, you know, I want to see if I make a transfer for example, from one account to another, I want to see that it’s hit the account right away because I want to be able to use it or your example of your children, you want to make sure they have the money so they can take care of the transaction. Another piece that’s important is really the b2c piece so what about paying for items so that you can actually take them out of the store or you know, take something with you reducing that risk that the payment will actually come on the retail side it’s there perhaps faster is more important. So it is real time or close to real time let’s say is more important, as I see it than it is on the wholesale side.
Craig Jeffery 04:53
Because of expectations or just because of the the use cases or.
Kate Pohl 04:59
I think the expectations and the use cases, because a lot of the use cases that I think we’re seeing are people that are really waiting for the money, then so they can do something with it, or businesses waiting for consumers to pay so they can release the goods. Of course, it’s tied up to risk. It’s expectations, it’s risk. But it’s I think it’s definitely the future.
Craig Jeffery 05:23
So like, if you if you get into any ride share, the payment tends to be instantaneous, when you’re done, it charges it, and they’ve, they’ve reduced a lot of the friction. And so if you’re in a retail outlet, what’s the friction? You pull out a card? Or you pull out your phone? And you do? You scan it? And so, yeah, so like on the retail side, does this speed up the process of the payment, or just the it reduces the burden or the barrier.
Kate Pohl 05:54
Now we’re getting into embedded payments that are then also real time. So I think it’s convenience, it’s reduced friction, it’s convenience, it’s ease, you don’t have to worry about you know, what card to use where it is, the details are in there, it’s you know, it’s a slam dunk, you know, who isn’t excited about using Uber or here in Germany free now it’s, you know, these taxi, you know, car services, it just makes it so much easier, you don’t have to worry that you might not have the right change, or you might not have the right card, etc. And I think that, you know, if you look at the other side, the drivers are very interested now in having more real time payment of their salaries. So you know, that’s another side to it, you know, can they get paid right away? And what is right away as soon as the ride is ended? Or is it the same day? Or is it that week, but no longer waiting, the two weeks are the month that they used to so you know, that’s part of the equation to people wanting to have their their hard earned cash upfront.
Craig Jeffery 07:02
Yeah, a few years back, the Pinnacle Awards, which is the awards put out by the Association of Financial Professionals, or the AFP. And the winner just a few years ago was Uber. And one of the things was was using these immediate payments for paying and the riders, I mean, the sorry, the drivers could get payments four times a day, up to four times a day. It’s like, Hey, you start your day, I need cash, you download it, you buy gas, or your coffee, or whatever you’re consuming. And then if you need something else, you pull it down. So which seems four times a day seems like that’s way more than anybody would ever need, but it was it was available. So it just removed the, the concerns.
Kate Pohl 07:52
But it worries me, I’ll be I’ll be quite honest, if I can just insert that. I mean, absolutely. On one hand, it’s brilliant. Because you can have your money when you need it whenever that is. But on the other hand, that means we’re not budgeting that means that, you know, at the end of the month or the end of a quote unquote pay cycle, there may be nothing left. It’s a little bit like my fear with buy now pay later that you know the folks using that and you know, it’s heavily skewed towards I think if you look at it globally, still towards the millennials or younger, you know, who find this is this is a good way to purchase things, but I think they lose track of what they’ve actually purchased because they’re only doing a payment plan, say four installments, maybe even more, some plans are a little different. And now we’re seeing with the pinch economy with you know, higher rates and inflation, etc. The people are actually using buy now pay later for essentials, and that that, for me is very worrisome. It’s a it’s it’s great that it’s possible. But what does that really mean? And what will that mean?
Craig Jeffery 08:59
Interesting, like you mean for food?
Kate Pohl 09:03
I mean for food. Now this is some is statistics that just came out and especially in the US you’re seeing that number go up significantly. Yes, food, clothing, essentials, as opposed to nice to haves, you know, like, oh, I want you know, she or he wants to have the newest thing and now it’s more like you know, how do, I need shoes for my child who’s starting school and the old ones no longer fit? Or how do I get food on the table? Or how do I pay this doctor bill? I mean it’s really spilling over into essentials? And I find it worrisome
Craig Jeffery 09:38
I think there’s a there’s a lot on the human element side there for sure. I did when you said that like essentials for food. I kept thinking of the the joke part and it’s not it’s not funny but the while the the cartoon was funny, it was the the wimpy burger. I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today. And it’s like a pretty pretty interesting take on it that came back I can see the concern, right? It’s the tech is there. But do you want to be running? The gig economy is like, do you have to like I need money for lunch? Now I need money for gas, two hours later do you really need to be doing it that that’s like hand to mouth is that’s like taking that to the extreme right.
Kate Pohl 10:18
But you see the uptake on the consumer side, I think is a lot heavier, no matter what country you look at. Whereas the uptake on the wholesale side is less. However, if we say, Where’s this all going, a very wise man who is interviewing me today once told me things are not going to get slower. So they are going to get faster, which leads us to, we are going to probably move from, you know, payments that take a day or two days to settle to at if it’s not instant, within a few seconds, at least same day or same hour or so things are speeding up. The question is, do corporates truly want that? And I spent a lot of time on this wholesale side talking to companies about this, and banks and payment providers. Because of the consumer side, this has been pushed very hard. But I’m not sure that the wholesale population is really all that interested for a whole variety of reasons. And some of them are, do they really need it? In other words, supplier payments versus treasury? What about the cost? What about the fact that in many countries, there’s a limit on the size of payment that can be made? And most of the EU, it’s 100,000, the reach, you know, where can you send it to who can actually handle it, etc, etc. So there’s a lot of issues surrounding it. And yet legislation in many in many countries or norms, or even as I said, the retail side is pushing it.
Craig Jeffery 11:54
If things aren’t getting slower, like you said, and and there’s other elements that not not all of the economy, all of the systems are able to handle instantaneous or real time. If you look at accounting speed versus Treasury speed Treasury’s every day they’re sending a cash position. They’re looking and seeing what they have today, what’s going to be available tomorrow they have they have a need for intraday information, for sure, maybe not instantaneous, but there’s a need. And so, you know, if we’ve gone from accounting closes, that used to take 12 to 15 days, and many companies are pushing them down to the 5, 6, 7 day period. Even the accounting world has has sped up. Where will Treasury need to be on this? And is this broken down by certain processes occur overnight. Getting that that information instantaneously at three in the morning versus four in the morning, may make no difference. But let’s say large transfer, very large transfer coming in may be extremely important to get that information instantaneously the info the data, how do you look at the the move towards faster? Where will those decision points be? Or what will corporations be concerned about? And then ultimately how to bank support that?
Kate Pohl 13:14
Good question, I want to come back to that. I think that, you know, most treasures would like a world where they have total information at their fingertips when they want it. And what does when they wanted mean? That means when they can also do something with it. So knowing something if you can’t do anything with it is not so helpful. So the question is, if you’ve missed your cutoff times, does it matter if you know that you have the money if you can’t invest it, or you can’t pay down debt, one of the many questions. But the problem that I’m seeing right now, and this will change over time is many systems. Many systems today, for example, are still in the corporate world. Not programmed to accept ISO 20022, which is going to be used, of course by the banks ever more exclusively going forward. And you’ll see you know, the ERP systems, most of them can do it, but not all the TMS is can not all the accounting systems. So if you’re getting information that is truncated or not complete, you won’t have the right picture. But getting back to your original question. I think that most treasures would like that. On the other hand, the question is, do they want to be working 24/7? If they if they know, yeah, but in the end of it, if they know all this, this if they have all this information, they know exactly what their balances are, you know, at any moment in time, and they know what their FX positions are, etc, etc. Shouldn’t they be doing something about it? And question is, can they should they what’s the cost? What’s the cost of not doing it? As long as interest rates were close to zero? It didn’t matter so much. Now it’s getting to be more of a question and the the other question you posed was on banks, you know, we know that not all banks certainly can provide it can provide information or do transfers instantly. And I when I say instant, I’m thinking of within, say, five to 10 seconds, when I’m when I make a transfer from my, you know, I test this occasionally from, from my ABN AMRO account in the Netherlands and everything there is instant to my Deutsche Bank account in Frankfurt, or in Germany, I see the money by the time I get to my Deutsche Bank account, I can already see the money on my account. So that’s, and I think that in some ways that’s very enticing to traders. But on the other hand, they also have, they’ve spent a lot of time and a lot of thought getting their supplier payments down, Pat, they don’t really care. They don’t really want to do it within 10 seconds. They plan this out, and they know ahead of time and they prepare their runs. It’s more the Treasury payments. It’s it’s the you know, foreign exchange settlements, it’s the, you know, loan repayments, it’s different things, things that you possibly haven’t planned for either coming in or going out. And I don’t think it’s certainly all the banks are not ready, legislation in the EU will probably force all banks to be ready to receive and to send, but it’s not there yet. And the question is, if we have PSD three, whether that will then also regulate the cost, which is also an issue because it costs more today, I won’t I don’t make instant payments from my Deutsche Bank Account because it costs more. And it’s not necessary. If it was really necessary, I would do it.
Craig Jeffery 16:44
The difference of paying suppliers where there’s, you know, regular terms, trade terms, settle on a certain day, why would you need to send something last second instantaneously? Unless it’s to repair an issue or to resolve something that just wouldn’t? wouldn’t be necessary?
Kate Pohl 17:00
Sure. But one in 1000. Right?
Craig Jeffery 17:03
Yeah, somewhere somewhere along those lines. Yeah. And, you know, as you talked about the speed and what what Treasury wants to see, can they do something with it? That would that was interesting as well, in that faster information, if you can’t do anything with it, that can create a create a challenge for sure. I have all this information. It’s I need information, when I need it to make good decisions, I guess so I have it earlier. That’s not a problem. But it’s not as essential as getting it when you need it. But a question on the bank side, so an individual company may not need everything real time or the five to 10 seconds, if you will. But a bank serves a lot of corporate customers, and some of them whether they’re their b2b, b2c customers, or they have other needs, some of them are going to need these more of these faster ways of getting information making payments, settling some type of transaction. Is that is that going to make it an imperative for all banks to be real time to meet the speed for the fastest customers? Or is that really just not the case?
Kate Pohl 18:12
I’ll tell you my opinion, my opinion, and I think it’s shared by most in this market is we will have instant payments, not because the use cases today, say in the insurance industry as a great example, where they want to pay out quickly, some instantaneously, oftentimes, when there’s been some sort of an accident or an issue so they can pay, you know, whatever it is, so they can pay out to the beneficiary instantly. So that’s a you know, b2c situation. There’s also some great examples and real estate when you’re buying and selling or when you have trade or you know, your ship is in the harbor, you need to pay the steerage charges, etc. And you need an instant payment. Those have been, you know, those are classic examples of why instant payment is good. My opinion is that most banks will move to instant because they’ll be forced to by regulation, or they’ll be forced to by peer pressure. And let’s not forget, we started out by talking about retail, and if they have to do it for their retail customers. The next question is and banks are divided on this. I’ve heard both. Do they want to maintain both systems? In other words, if they’re making instant payments, and I’m not saying the retail system is the same as the hotel wholesale system, but if they’re forced to make wholesale instant payments, do they want to also maintain slower, normal? Let’s say use again, Europe as an example. So SEPA credit versus SEPA credit interest? Do they want to be able to do both? Some say, No, too expensive? Doesn’t make sense. Others say yeah, there’s a there’s a benefit to Having both I think they’re going to converge. I think it’s going to be a financial and a regulatory point that eventually they, they we will have pretty much instant is that five years away, 10 years away, somewhere in between? I’d say it’s probably farther away. But it’s, I think it will happen.
Craig Jeffery 20:22
Thanks, Kate, on that, before we move to the next section, I just wanted to have you do a quick introduction of yourself, I know I gave a little bit, you run up a podcast, I think it’s called the Digital Dump, maybe give our listeners for those who may not know you just a little bit of background.
Kate Pohl 20:38
Start out by saying that I’m half American, half German, so I sort of have one leg in each continent. So that’s where my research and my interest really runs. So to both them, you know, America and all of Europe. I started my career after my MBA, because I was a pure humanity student that I had to prepare myself somehow for business. I went into banking, over 30 years of banking, primarily transaction services. So cash and trade and everything that comes with it, securities, and then very heavy risk experience, also in compliance in, so credit risk, compliance risk, etc. Some point however, I decided it was time to go freelance, which I did five years ago. And I’ve been very, very lucky to work together with and for many really exciting and interesting companies. Many, I can’t even put on my LinkedIn profile, because I’m under NDA, but I get to talk to treasures, I get to talk to banks, fintechs, payment providers, startups, the whole nine yards, it’s an exciting place to be in, I really work very hard to keep that cutting edge so that I can build the bridge between what was and the real innovation and digitalization going on today.
Craig Jeffery 21:55
Thank you for that, Kate. Yeah, but the next section on payments, is it payments or information? I know we’ve touched on that a little bit, but what’s, what’s more important, the speed of the payments, the richness of the information. I know, it’s not necessarily completely one or the other.
Kate Pohl 22:11
That’s a really tough one, I think most treasures are gonna say information. Because they all want that information to make decisions, I that’s more important to them, I think then to actually have the payment be instant. If you talk to a consumer, they probably want the cash. So they want the money. But if we stay with wholesale for a moment, I think I think it is more the the information side, as I said, the corporate treasurer and the you know, cash manager and all the folks in the finance area, you know, they need to have a picture of what’s going on. So they need to really understand where their cash is, if some of the accounts aren’t reporting and aren’t reporting in time, that can be a huge gap, that could be a gap in terms of their foreign exchange position, in terms of loss of interest, in terms of needing to fund because they don’t realize they’re down. So it’s very much it’s very much information. Once you have the information, of course you want to be able to move the money, possibly redistribute those funds to make sense. But I would say information, number one, and that instant payments is one of the tools.
Craig Jeffery 23:20
What are some other considerations on on that, in addition to the payments and information? But you know, we didn’t we haven’t talked about fraud. And that’s that always seems to be brought up heavily about real time and faster, presents greater opportunities for Friday at least that’s that’s what a talking point. They’re right. We’re going so fast, we don’t have time for the right level of controls.
Kate Pohl 23:43
That’s huge. And I wish, I worry constantly about it as do I think most treasures, but yeah, I think what you’ve got here is you know, putting on my compliance hat too. So you have you know, that piece as well. The faster things move, the less time you have, it’s it’s just a you know, it’s just a matter of physics, if you will, you know, for monitoring your payments, you know, for filtering your payments, for really making sure that you know, the AML requirements are being met. Also, you know, I’ve some interesting articles and comments from people are really that you know, Faster Payments seem to attract faster fraud. So, because there’s less time to review, even though systems are becoming faster and more sophisticated, etc, etc. You have less time and therefore, it’s possibly more error prone. And once those payments are gone out the door. It’s much harder to get them back especially if it hasn’t been an error if it’s supposedly you’ve done something correct but you have sent it perhaps to the wrong place because it is you know there’s a fraudulent invoice or an invoice with a fraudulent account number and there isn’t as much time to really Look at it corrected, that begs the question do you do pre work on your payments? You know, there are a whole variety of fintechs that do that, you know, we know, there’s TIS, there’s Kyriba, there’s, you know, many that, that really look at that payment batch and try to do sort of pre tests on them so that certain things can be caught before they go to the bank. Banks are all also putting in all kinds of software and due diligence and training in order to stop certain things from happening, but it’s a huge concern that frost fraudsters are always working one step in lockstep ahead or you know, even a few steps ahead trying to figure out how they’re going to exploit the next best invention or the next best discovery that has been put into place on the payments world.
Craig Jeffery 25:56
You know, as you said, a couple of those those comments that made me think of what companies do on the pretest, or the setup, just because the payments faster, they still have security requirements and control requirements where they should have those. And the need for speed should help with the validation, the confirmation process. But that that shouldn’t necessarily mean that these zip it out the doors is too without having the checks done, right?
Kate Pohl 26:25
Well, if I look at it from the bank side, if the you know, the bank gets the request for payment, think of what I just told you about my ABN AMRO payment to my Deutsche Bank account that just as a very simple that seconds now, how much time did the bank have to if you will filter and monitor that payment? You know, we could all say, All right, there are certain safeguards that are built in perhaps such as repetitive payments and payment masks where you have pre, you know, pre fed information, etc, etc. But that’s pretty fast. So the whole bank filtering and monitoring, I mean, I ran compliance for ABN AMRO on the IT operations and GTS side, before the before the merger or before the the implosion of the of the bank some years ago. That’s a hefty task and difficult to do as you speed up the process. So you need ever faster technologies ever faster systems to actually do the same work to tough one that’s different than the than the corporate side who may say fine, I’m going to not send my file to the bank until I have done pre checks myself to make sure that I don’t have fraud, I don’t have fraudulent payments, I don’t have AML issues, I don’t have all of this so that the payments will be processed correctly or processed without any issues.
Craig Jeffery 27:53
One of the 12 security principles we talked about is speed matters, not necessarily doing a transaction. But speed of speed of detection of a problem. So let’s say let’s say a payment has gone out quickly, you need as much time as possible to you want to find that out if you can’t stop it ahead of time. But you’ll find it out soon speed of notifying authorities tracking items down matter greatly. That’s why they the criminals oftentimes target days before holidays when they know people are scooting out of the office. And so they have as much time to exfiltrate that the funds move the funds out of these accounts that they control to take it out of the banking system. Yeah, so if it’s like it takes, you know, a certain amount of time to get it out of the, let’s say out of the country. But now that can be that timeframe can be shortened. The speed matters, there’s no there’s no time once something has escaped from catching it before it’s completely gone.
Kate Pohl 28:52
You have to think about you know, the olden days as it were, you know, I go back farther than I wish to admit. But in a you’d have a payment that you would you’d debit a client’s account and the banks were all about holding that money. Remember, they were living from balances. That was that was big, you know, we might hold the funds for two days. That’s how we got paid. So there was plenty of time for the customer to say stop, stop, stop, stop. Don’t send that out. Right. Yeah, that’s gone.
Craig Jeffery 29:23
So okay, you’ve thought about this quite a bit, as you consider what’s what’s the view on the future towards faster and what’s happening today? Where do you see changes taking place? What does need to take place?
Kate Pohl 29:37
If we look at instant payments, sort of as a bellwether or an indication, you know, we have there’s almost 80 countries in the world with real time payments, games and many more that are how many countries are there 50 180 That I’m not sure even but there are many more that are now trying or looking at schemes And the problem is that these schemes tend to be very local. Sometimes they’re regional, like the EU, but mostly they’re local and not global. So I guess the other question we have to ask ourselves is, even if we get our local schemes working within, if we want to call it real time, within just a few seconds, what does that mean about cross border? So that’s going to be a tough one, a really tough one, in my opinion. And then we have to look at what what is the take up, if most of the corporates aren’t all that excited. I say this very carefully. But that’s my view that most of them are not all that excited about instant payments, because they don’t feel they really need them. There are other things they need more first, they want the information. And they want perhaps the ability to make a special, the odd instant payment or the odd quick payment. What is that going to mean? If we look again, let’s use Germany as just my example. Germany is the front runner of all of Europe in terms of how many instant payments and that’s only for the 2022, the numbers are like slightly more than 2% of total payments, for instance, that’s not very much when you consider that Germany is number one in, in the Eurozone. So we still have a long way to go. Now. That’s also because not all banks can receive and send, and not all banks do it for free. In fact, most don’t we, as we talked about, and Treasury says, Well, 100,000 is too low a limit for me. So there are reasons for that. But it’s still a very small percentage. So they’ve got to want it. And if they don’t want it, then how long is that going to take? The other side of the coin is, if you look at checks, and I won’t touch America here, but we look at checks in Germany, cheques disappeared, why not? Because necessarily, people said, I don’t want to write them anymore as one day. They weren’t accepted anymore. It’s very easy. You had to figure out a new way. So if we go to instant payments, I’m sure we’ll figure that out. But until that happens, I’m not so sure it’s the acceptance is going to be great enough to make it as interesting on the wholesale side, as banks would like to see.
Craig Jeffery 32:13
Sure, yeah. So Kate, any final thoughts on real time treasury?
Kate Pohl 32:19
Well, I guess I would say after all the almost negative comments I just made. I didn’t I think it’s I think it’s coming for various reasons that perhaps all the right reasons I say this carefully, but I think it is coming. I think real time Treasury is important, or at least this just in time treasury because treasurer’s need to have the information. And they want to be able to act on information that’s accurate, and, you know, very timely, and they have different tools. And one of them, as we discussed are real time payments. So this instant payment, real time payments, payments, now whatever we want to call it. So I think there is definitely that is coming. It’s just more of a timeframe question. And also, you know, what does that mean, in terms of as you rightly said, fraud? You know, will we be able to get to the point where we have that we have a better under control? Or will we still have supplier payments for as long as possible running through a different system because there’s more time to check and validate? So I think we’re moving in the direction I don’t think it’s stoppable, it probably shouldn’t be stopped. But I think there’s a lot of bumps on the way.
Craig Jeffery 33:28
I like it. A lot of bumps on the way. Awesome. Thank you so much, Kate.
Kate Pohl 33:33
Thank you, Craig.
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