Big data has become the business buzzword of the 21st century, although in its purest form it is not a new concept. Companies and governments have been collecting data on its customers and publics for a long time. An early example of big data in action is customer loyalty schemes. Supermarkets have been collecting details on the shopping habits of their customers and using that information not only to try and personalise marketing but also to predict future shopping trends.
This is big data in its most basic use. The digital world has caused an explosion in the amount of information that companies of all sizes can collect real-time information about the market, their customers and their financial position. ACCA has long talked about the changing role of the accountant and big data is making that a reality.
The company accountant was the person who would put together the last year’s financial results and report them to senior management. In some cases they would use this information to advise on future budgets, but using their analytical skills to decode and unravel the mountain of data available they are now able to give solid interpretation, in real-time, about financial performance, potential opportunities and of course risks.
Risk is a part of everyday life; business cannot succeed without taking risks. Risk has become a taboo word in the post-2008 global economy, but what we need to see is more following the examples of those using big data to take evidence-based risks. A survey in 2013 by Tata Consulting Services found that 80% of business said that implementing big data initiatives had improved their decision-making process. However, big data cannot entirely remove the risk from decision making, especially when you consider the rapid obsolescence of big data using out-of-date data to inform decisions could be as dangerous as using no data at all.
It is often said that a firm’s biggest risk is its staff, an ACCA and IMA (the Institute of Management Accountants) survey identified the technology skills that they expected to find useful during the next decade. These included: knowledge of data extraction tools for mining business intelligence (72%), and use of tools that support data modelling and analysis (70%), and the significance of these skills was rated consistently highly across every world region. Any business that wants to make the most of the opportunities offered by big data must be wary of the staff they employ to interpret the data. This offers a huge opportunity to finance professionals. Accountants are trained to gather, analyse and benchmark data, they can apply these skills to the strategic use of big data and use their skills to take a more proactive role and prove their worth in value creation.
A decade ago Canadian Tire, retailer of electronics, kitchen supplies, sporting equipment and car accessories, through a study, found that there was a link between consumer behaviour with credit risk. Although they chose not to use their findings to manage its own customers, it showed how companies can use customer data to mitigate risk and make informed choices about who to offer credit to and the risk of those customers defaulting on their borrowing.
We live in a world where the supply chain covers many borders, and this presents increased risk too, but by using data from a variety of sources these risks can at least be identified. External sources such as social media can be useful in breaking news of insurgencies and natural disasters. There are, of course, caveats attached to this, one of the most significant is the danger of confusing causation and correlation. Proving causality demands more than noticing a coincidence of data trends.
The skill in decrypting and analysing big data is already very much in demand and this is a trend that is likely to continue, especially the ability to use information to spot future trends and identify quickly emerging threats. The move from a hindsight based, reactive risk analysis to a proactive approach could mean the difference between a business rising to the top of the market and those struggling to make an impact.
One of the biggest growth areas in the accountancy professions in recent years has been in forensic accountancy. Using live data, forensic accountants will become vital in the defence against fraud. Big data makes it easier for auditors and regulators, such as HMRC, to spot large scale fraud. Looking for negative correlations between different datasets, for example financial and non-financial, could be warning signs of manipulation.
As fraud becomes more sophisticated the methods used to detect it have to adapt. Regulation will also change, to take into account the amount of personal data that is now available to companies. The rise of big data has been coupled with a rise in fear among the public about personal information being held by businesses. In the past few years we have seen a privacy backlash against Facebook and more recently against the UK and US governments.
There will be increased regulation to govern what information businesses can hold, but this may not be enough to satisfy some customers, they want to see business be held to a higher ethical standard. This is where the finance function will play an important role. ACCA accountants are expected, not only to act within the law but also ethically. The accountant will see the scope of their role as the ethical steward of the 21st century business, widened.
The continued rise in importance of big data and the opportunities it offers will change the business world and as a result change the finance profession. There will always be a place for the reactive, but there is no doubt that big data is opening up new areas for finance professionals to use their skills and take a more strategic, forward looking role.
It is an opportunity that the profession must grasp if they are to remain valued and relevant in the global business economy. Accountants must use their skills to act as business advisers. The finance function has always been vital to the success of a company, keeping a control over budgets and ensuring financial obligations are met, but if the opportunities offered by big data are to be grasped we will see the rise of the strategic finance officer. One who looks forward far more than backward.
Faye Chua is Head of Future Research at ACCA (the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants)
https://www.globalbankingandfinance.com/acca-drivers-of-change-faye-chua/ – Faye Chua, Head of Future Research at ACCA, talking about drivers of change for the Accountancy profession
https://www.globalbankingandfinance.com/acca-technology-trends/ – CFO’s and technology
Iron Mountain releases 7-steps to ensure digitisation delivers long-term benefits
Iron Mountain has released practical guidance to help businesses future-proof their digital journeys. The guidance is part of new research that found that 57% of European enterprise plan to revert new digital processes back to manual solutions post-pandemic.
The research revealed that 93% of respondents have accelerated digitisation during COVID-19 and 86% believe this gives them a competitive edge. However, the majority (57%) fear these changes will be short-lived and their companies will revert to original means of access post-pandemic.
“With 80% still reliant on physical data to do their job, now is a critical time to implement more robust, digital methods of accessing physical storage,” said Stuart Bernard, VP of Digital Solutions at Iron Mountain. “Doing so can enhance efficiency and deliver ROI by unlocking new value in stored data through the use of technology to mine, review and extract insight.”
When COVID-19 hit, companies had to think fast and adapt. Digital solutions were often taken as off-the-shelf, quick fixes – rarely the most economical or effective. But they are delivering benefits – those surveyed reported productivity gains (27%), saving time (20%), enhancing data quality (13%) and cutting costs (12%).
So what now?
The Iron Mountain study includes guidance for how to turn quick-fixes into sustained, long-term solutions. The seven-steps are designed to help businesses future-proof their digital journeys and maximize value from physical storage:
1) Gather insights: The COVID-19 pandemic allowed organisations to test and learn. Companies should ensure these insights are fed into developing more robust solutions.
2) Use governance as intelligence: Information governance and compliance are fundamental to data handling. But frameworks aren’t just a set of rules, they hold valuable insights that can be turned into actionable intelligence. Explore your framework to extract learnings.
3) Understand your risk profile: A key early step is to analyse where you are most vulnerable. With data in motion and people working remotely, which records are at risk? What could be moved into the cloud? Are your vendors resilient?
4) Focus where you will achieve greatest impact: To prioritise successfully, you need to know where you will achieve the largest impact. This involves looking beyond initial set-up costs towards the holistic benefits of digitisation, including reducing time spent on manual scanning, and the risk of compliance violations.
5) Reach out and collaborate: We are all in this together. Your IT, security, compliance and facility management teams are all facing the same challenges. Ensure you collaborate across functions to develop robust, integrated solutions.
6) Find a provider who can relate to your digital journey: For companies that still rely heavily on analogue solutions, digitisation can be daunting and risky. It pays to find a vendor who has been on the same journey, understands your paper processes and can guide you through the digital world.
7) Prioritise and evolve communication and training programmes: To reap the full rewards from any digitisation initiative, thorough and continuous communication and training is critical. Encouragingly, our survey found that 81% of data handlers have received training to work digitally which is an excellent step in the right direction, but consider teams beyond data handling to truly succeed.
The research was commissioned by Iron Mountain in collaboration with Censuswide. It surveyed 1,000 data handlers among the EMEA region. It found that the departments that have digitised more due to COVID-19 include IT support (40%), customer relationship management (36%), and team resource planning (34%).
3D Secure: Why are fraudsters still slipping through the net?
By Tim Ayling, VP EMEA, buguroo
There is a constant tension between keeping online payments secure, and offering an easy and frictionless user experience. Digital transformation – especially accelerated by the global pandemic – leaves consumers expecting online services to be seamless. Customers are even liable to abandon a process altogether if they encounter a hurdle.
Financial regulation and security protocols exist to help ensure that a balance is maintained between offering customers this frictionless experience, and keeping them and their funds safe from fraud attacks.
What is 3D Secure?
3D Secure is one such protocol. This payer authentication system is designed to keep card-not-present (CNP) ecommerce payments secure against online fraud. The card issuer uses 3D Secure when a card is used to pay for something online, authenticating the customer’s identity based on personal identifiers, such as the three-digit CVV code on the back of a card, as well as the device they’re using to make the payment and their geolocation or IP address.
3D Secure is important because although transactions can be accepted or denied based on the level of risk, it’s not always as clear as ‘risky’ or ‘not risky’. A small number of transactions will have an undetermined or questionable level of risk attached to them. For example, if a legitimate customer appears to be using a new device to buy goods online, or appears to be attempting to make the transaction from an irregular location. In these instances, 3D Secure provides a step-up authentication, such as asking for a one-time password (OTP).
Getting the right balance
3D Secure is a helpful protocol for card issuers, as it allows banks to comply with Strong Customer Authentication as required by EU financial regulation PSD2 as well as increase security for transactions with a higher level of risk – thereby better filtering the genuine cardholders from fraudsters.
This means that the customers themselves are better protected against fraud, and the extra security helps preserve their trust in the bank to be able to keep their money safe. At the same time, the number of legitimate customers who have their transactions denied is minimised, improving the customer’s online experience.
So why are fraudsters still slipping through the net?
Fraudsters are used to adapting to security protocols designed to stop them, and 3D Secure is no exception. The step-up authentication that is required by 3D Secure in the instance of a questionable transaction often takes the form of an OTP, a password or secret answer known only by the bank and the customer. However, there are various ways that fraudsters have devised to steal this information.
The most common way to steal passwords is through phishing attacks, where fraudsters pretend to be legitimate brands, such as banks themselves, in order to dupe customers into giving away sensitive information. Fraudsters can even replace the pop-up windows that appear to legitimate customers in the case of stepped-up authentication with their own browser windows disguised as the bank’s. Unwitting customers then enter the password or OTP and effectively hand it straight over to the fraudsters.
Even when an OTP is sent directly to a customer’s phone, fraudsters have found a way to intercept this information. They do this through something called a ‘SIM swap scam’, where they impersonate their victim and manage to get the legitimate cardholder’s number switched onto a different SIM card that they own, thereby receiving the genuine OTP in the cardholder’s place.
This is especially an issue for card issuers when taking into account the liability shift that is attached to using 3D Secure. When a transaction is authenticated using 3D Secure, the liability moves to lie with the card issuer, not the vendor or retailer. If money leaves a customer’s account and the transaction was verified by 3D Secure, but the customer says they did not authorise the transaction, the card provider becomes liable for any refunds.
How AI and Behavioral Biometrics can be used to plug the gap
Banks need to find a way to accurately block fraudsters while allowing genuine customers to complete online payments. AI can be used alongside behavioural biometrics as an additional layer of security to cover the gaps in security through continuous authentication of the customer.
Behavioural biometrics can collect and analyse data from thousands of parameters around user behaviour such as their typing speed and dynamics, or the trajectory on which they move the mouse, throughout the entire online session. AI processes are used to dynamically compare this analysis against the user’s usual online profile to identify even the smallest of anomalies, as well as against profiles of known fraudsters and typical fraudster behaviour. AI then delivers a risk score based on this information to banks in real time, enabling them to root out and block the fraudulent transactions.
As this authentication occurs invisibly, the AI technology can recognise if the customer is who they say they are – and that it isn’t a fraudster trying to input a genuine OTP they have managed to steal through phishing or SIM swapping – without adding any additional friction.
Card issuers cannot decline all questionable transactions without losing customers, while approving them without additional checks poses security issues that can result in financial losses as well as losses in customer trust. Behavioural biometrics is a foundational technology that can work simultaneously to 3D Secure to keep customers’ online payments safe from fraud while maintaining a frictionless experience and minimising the risk of chargeback liability for banks.
Track and Trace and Other Lost Data
By Ian Smith, General Manager and Finance Director at Invu
You, like me, were probably amazed by the now infamous loss of the over 16,000 positive test results in the track and trace system due to an Excel spreadsheet error.
You, like me, probably wondered how the Government could get something so important so wrong?
But perhaps we should ask are we standing in a greenhouse launching stones?
Data risks from software
Today we are spoilt with software offerings that help us with both our personal and our work lives.
Microsoft Excel is a powerful application and offers many functions now that required moderately complex macro writing in the past, seducing all of us into submitting more data for it to analyse. In finance, we tend to solve all those problems our applications cannot address using Excel.
In finance, we also know the risks of formula errors, and if we have relied on it enough, we will have our own war stories to go with these risks. Yet, we often continue to use the tool for operations that make those folks with an information technology background shake their heads.
These Excel files nowadays may find themselves resident on a local file server or one of the many file servers in the cloud (like those from the big three, DropBox, Google Drive and Microsoft OneDrive or other less well-known file sharing applications). Many of us use these in multiple ways.
Beyond finance and Excel, there are now many applications that we run our data through and leave data stored in the form of documents, comments and notes.
The long-standing example is email. We today receive many documents via email, with content in the body often providing context. Email systems then become the store for that data. While this works from a personal point of view, for a business working at scale, the information stored this way can be lost to the rest of the business. Just like data falling off a spreadsheet when there are not enough rows to capture the results.
More recently, we have seen easy to consume applications develop in many areas like chat and productivity. Take for example task management apps, my own preference being Monday.com (I am sparing you the long list of these). The result of the task and how we got there, in the form of attachments or comments, are often stored in the application. Each application we touch encourages us to leave a bit of data behind in its store.
Many of these applications can have a personal use and an initial personal dalliance is what sparks up the motivation to apply the application to a business purpose. Just like the “Track and Trace System”, they can often find themselves being used in an environment where the scale of the operation overwhelms their intended use.
In our business lives, combining the use of applications in this way by liberally sprinkling our data across multiple systems often stored in documents (be they Microsoft Word, email, scans or comments and notes) puts us on the pathway to trouble.
Imagine how Matt Hancock felt explaining to Parliament that the world-class track and trace system depended on a spreadsheet.
Can you imagine a similar situation in your business life? Say, for example, that documents or data in some form was lost because of the use of disparate systems and/or applications that were not really designed for the task you assigned to them.
Who would be your Parliament?
Now you can see yourself in the greenhouse, you may not want to reach for that metaphorical stone.
If these observations create some concerns for you, you may want to consider the information management strategy at your business. You have a strategy, even if it is not addressed specifically in documents, plans or thought processes.
These steps may help figure out where you are and where you want to go.
- Assess your current environment.
Are you a centraliser, with all the information collected in one place? Or is all your data spread across multiple stores, as identified above? Are you storing your key business information on paper documents, or digitally or a mix of both.
- Assess your current processes.
Do your processes run on a limited number of software applications? Or do you enable staff to pick their own tools to get things done? The answer to this question is often a mix of both where staff bridge the gaps in those applications using tools like MS excel. A key application to think about is how the data in email, particularly the attachments, is made available to the business.
- Design a pathway for change and implement it.
Start with the end in mind. I suggest the goal is to enable the right people to have the right access to the information they require to do their job in real-time. I believe the way to effectively do this is to go digital. The fork in the road is then whether to centralise your information store or adopt a decentralised approach.
My own preferred route is to centralise using document management software that enables all your documents to be stored in one place. Applications like email can be integrated with it, significantly reducing the workload required to file and store the data. The data can then be used in business applications using workflows. Thinking these workflows through will help you assess the gaps between your key business applications and consider whether tools like excel are being stretched too far.
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