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Cyber is the new front line in modern economic warfare

Cyber is the new front line in modern economic warfare

By Peter Matthews, CEO, Metro Communications

The threat to banking and finance across the world can’t be overestimated –cyber is the new frontline in modern economic warfare.

The challenge from underground activists, organised criminals, state-sponsored actors and have-a-go hackers is gargantuan. When your enemy has a global recruiting ground, fast-evolving weaponry and the ability to walk through walls, staying ahead of the game can seem impossible. But while no organisation, institution or territory is impenetrable, the financial sector can – and must –become much more resilient.

A recent consultation paper on cyber security in the financial sector, jointly authored by the Bank of England, Prudential Regulation Authority and Financial Conduct Authority, seeks to redefine resilience by switching the emphasis from systems to services and people.In other words, rather than invest in scheduled system upgrades and renewals as a matter of course, organisations should focus their efforts on those systems that are needed to maintain key services, such as making purchases, receiving payments and delivering lending and saving.

This approach to resilience requires that organisations have a back-up system, ideally based at a different site.It also suggests they should:

  • Identify essential services and map the systems that support those services
  • Test security measures regularly to ensure they remain fit for purpose
  • Establish secure communications channels and protocols, including for smartphones and other mobile devices
  • Take specialist advice on preventing cyber crime and detecting it early
  • Develop intelligence on current and emerging threats and how to respond to them
  • Raise awareness and build a culture of cyber security
  • Learn from previous incidents by sharing information and good practice.
Peter Matthews, CEO, Metro Communications

Peter Matthews, CEO, Metro Communications

In my opinion, there are two major areas that rarely get the recognition they deserve: raising awareness and establishing secure communications.

An awareness of cyber security can mean the difference between containing and compounding the effects of an attack. It is not unusual for organisations to make a bad situation worse by using compromised technology to report breaches. In fact, hackers often carry out the initial attack in order to monitor messages, redirect traffic, intercept new passwords and inflict even more damage. It’s easy to see how an organisation– using a hacked system to rectify a breach –could inadvertently infect their own back-up system, effectively handing criminals the keys to their safe house.

In the words of Bank of England executive director Andrew Gracie, ‘Cyber is not a minority sport for technologists… it is about culture too and this means people and processes’.Everyone, from senior managers to frontline workers and the board of trustees, needs to play a part in maintaining data security.

The second key area– secure communication channels, including those built into mobile phones–is vital in protecting data and conversations when it’s business as usual. But these secure channels are also essential to safely deliver solutions following a cyber incident. For example, business-grade security apps on mobile phones don’t just encrypt data; they secure metadata (such as contact lists, location and caller identity)to protect sensitive conversations between key individuals. This also thwarts hackers who rig up fake mobile phone masts to intercept and record commercially sensitive conversations,and enables people who travel for work to use unsecured hotel WiFi with confidence.

Other technological solutions, such as enterprise mobility management solutions (which manage the security of all devices in an organisation), firewalls, antivirus software and user authentication and privileges may also be part of the answer.

Butresiliencedoesn’t stop at technology. Buying costly software that tries to deal with every eventuality–often causing as many problems as it cures–isn’t the answer. Again, it’s about knowing what’s important to your business and developing an intelligent, focused and proportionate response to deal with key threats and vulnerabilities.

The financial sector is highly susceptible to cyber crime because of its importance to maintaining life as we know it. The entire system balances on a pinhead of confidence, and its global connections offer criminals a potential goldmine of devastation. It’s worth remembering that the recent Webstresser attack, which sold the ability to disable financial services for just $14.99 a head, was responsible for more than four million attacks across the world before the website was finally disabled by authorities in eleven countries.

Striking at a single internationally connected organisation in one country could give hackers the satisfaction of causing major disruptionacross the world. That might explain why attacks on banking and finance have increased by around 80% over the past year. It is why major financial institutions will soon face exacting new standards, developed by the Bank of England and the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), to ensurethey canrestore vital services following a cyber incident, within a specific timeframe. And it is why I believe that the sector as a whole must raise its game. All organisations need to be clear about what resilience looks like and play their part in delivering it.

For more advice about how to protect your mobile phone conversations, contact Metro Communications.

Business

Return to work: Flexibility, preparation and communication are key

Return to work: Flexibility, preparation and communication are key 36

By Matt Weston, Managing Director, Robert Half UK

As lockdown restrictions ease for the foreseeable future, conversations across the business world are starting to turn to how employers can safely and seamlessly prepare for their workforce to return to the office.

Research from Robert Half has found that over half (54%) of employees are worried about working in close proximity to their colleagues, while a similar proportion are eager to return to the office due to loneliness working from home (45%) or concerns about missing out on career opportunities (30%).

Unsurprisingly, after everything companies and their employees have done to successfully adapt their operations and working practices to social distancing rules over the last few months, immediately returning to the old ways of working will likely neither be sensible or practical. With safety being the key priority for the ‘new normal’ of office life – communication, flexibility and preparation should be the main focus areas for employers.

With this in mind, what are the challenges and opportunities that employees anticipate as they prepare for the return to work, beyond government and industry supplied health and safety best practice? Furthermore, how can employers best support their staff during this period?

Keep people at the heart of change

It is important to recognise that your workforce has been working through an intense period of uncertainty and change for months, which can be incredibly unsettling. On top of this, working for weeks in isolation without the usual physical interactions with team members could be potentially detrimental to employee engagement and mental wellbeing.

Having adjusted to keep staff connected with one another from a distance with virtual team building exercises, video calls and daily check-ins, as teams begin working in hybrid models with some in the office and others remote, staff engagement will need to adapt again.

Managing people with greater sensitivity and maintaining positivity throughout will be crucial. To help instil a sense of normality and engagement, encourage maximum collaboration between individuals (in accordance with social distancing rules), and make sure teams feel part of company goals and opportunities through regular meetings and communication – no matter their location.

Continuing to invest in technology and offering flexibility will also be important to ensuring that people can continue to work remotely or on-site, either in accordance with their own wishes or as part of your staggered return-to-office plan.

Communicate, communicate, communicate (and listen)

Reassuring staff that they are able to safely return to the office will require continuous communication. From expectations of the physical office, to expectations of how to operate within hybrid teams, these new expectations and new workplace requirements should be communicated to all staff clearly to avoid confusion.

Regular email updates, updates on the company’s intranet and social media channels, as well as frequent town hall meetings (either online or in a smaller setting) could be key elements of an effective communications approach.

Also, consider a feedback channel to allow staff within the team to offer thoughts on their experience of returning to the office and any suggestions on improving the process. Whether on a company-wide basis or a team-by-team approach, schedule regular check-ins to engage with employees’ questions and concerns.

Maintaining open communication channels with your team will be essential for keeping up employee morale and ensuring clarity. For example, if some employees aren’t comfortable with coming to the office every day, then they should have plenty of opportunities to voice their concerns and have them dealt with promptly, respectfully and fairly.

Staggered return-to-office planning

Depending on the size of business and density of office space, maintaining home working arrangements across teams on an alternating basis could make it easier to implement safe social distancing. This involves select teams working remotely while others work on-site on any given day.

An alternating approach to remote working might also reduce the risk of staff feeling pressured or overwhelmed by an immediate return to the office five-days-a-week. After all, some families might be juggling temporary disruptions to childcare arrangements and public transport systems will likely become crowded again. So, a transitionary period will help everyone adjust to post-lockdown office working.

Finally, if you have developed your technology infrastructure to facilitate remote working, you would do well to continue to leverage these new capabilities as in all probability, a mixture of remote and at-office work will be needed for some time.

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Business

Contis enters RBS Capability and Innovation Fund bid seeking £35 million for disruptive SME growth strategy  

Contis enters RBS Capability and Innovation Fund bid seeking £35 million for disruptive SME growth strategy   37

Leading payments provider, Contis, has applied for two grants from the RBS & BCR Alternative Remedies Package, totalling £35 million.  

Unlike most applicants who will deploy funds through a single brand, Contis is taking a completely different approach. The funding will be used to drive fintech innovation in the UK by developing an off the shelf, B2B electronic and card payment technology platform for SMEs. With Contis’ powerful tech stack and regulated status, this will empower hundreds of fintechs to support the SME market with groundbreaking technologies, payments and lending capabilities. Contis today services over 800,000 consumer accounts, 14,500 business accounts and processes £4bn in transactions per year, demonstrating a proven track record.   

UK businesses are facing a challenging economic environment with the impacts of Covid-19 and Brexit. As large corporations and entire sectors are affected, SMEs will play a vital role in the recovery. Contis’ approach is completely disruptive, offering three channels to maximise support for SMEs and sole traders, through three unique brands, all powered by APIs from Contis’ modular and configurable engine. 

1.       Canvas for Business 

Contis is a super-vendor in the world of fintech, offering payments through proven banking rails and card scheme capabilities including issuing pre-paid, debit and virtual cards. They’re linked to digital delivery like Apple Pay and Google Pay, and a trusted tech stack that boasts 99.99% uptime.  

With funding from the Capability and Innovation Fund (CIF), Contis’ technology and regulated services will be made available to the whole fintech community, enabling them to provide dedicated SME accounts with the latest leading-edge capabilities delivered via Contis’ wholly owned, secure, cloud-based technology and apps. Contis’ solution has a firm eye on the need for SMEs to compete internationally, particularly after Brexit, and offers FX integration as standard.  

Canvas for Business will increase competition by providing fintechs serving the SME market with technology that outstrips the big banks. Contis will also provide credit referencing capabilities and empower fintechs to lend to their SME client base through Contis’ own credit licence. Without the constraints of legacy systems, it will enable simple connectivity to accounting and payments solutions, as well as to unlimited future innovations.  

2.       Engage for Business 

Over 150 Credit Unions currently use Contis’ Engage service and technology, and hold an estimated £400 million in undeployed cash reserves. Developed with CIF funding, Engage for Business will enable Credit Unions to launch business accounts and payments products for the first time, and allow excess funds to be redeployed in the SME sector through business support loans. This will revolutionise access to funding for sole traders and small businesses. 

3.       Freedom for Business 

With CIF funding, Contis will also offer large scale SMEs a direct-to-market solution where Contis holds the relationship and provides a bespoke offer to meet the business’ exact needs. 

Contis’ application to the Capability and Innovation Fund is focused on creating the widest possible impact for UK SMEs by fulfilling their accounts & payments needs and driving innovation in SME financial services. 

Through the grant, Contis will empower over 200 fintechs and Credit Unions to provide credit, simplify payments integration into everyday business needs, offer digital credit referencing, provide budgeting tools to SMEs, enable automated payments, give predictive insight on cash flow, provide rewards to SMEs on spending, and much more. 

Peter Cox, Founder and Executive Chairman of Contis said: “Our mission is to democratise payments and financial services for all SMEs, so they’re spoilt for choice with innovative and affordable solutions that meet their exact needs. Our approach, based upon proven technologies, will broaden and disrupt the services available to SMEs far beyond the capabilities of existing providers such as the big banks.  

“By driving competition and innovation, while improving the availability of funding, our approach will increase the services on offer to SMEs and make them more affordable, therefore becoming easier for every entrepreneurial person with vision to run their own businesses.” 

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Business

Four years of digital transformation in four weeks: UK lockdown puts pressure on brands to digitally deliver

Four years of digital transformation in four weeks: UK lockdown puts pressure on brands to digitally deliver 38

Nearly a third (32%) of consumers would switch providers if a brand’s website is unavailable for more than 24 hours

A study released today reveals the scale of omni-channel pressure brands now faced as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, as consumers flock to apps and websites to as the priority destination to transact with brands.

The UK has experienced a huge leap in use of online services thanks to lockdown, with the public appearing to have less concern for the availability of a brand’s physical location. Research by Sungard Availability Services (Sungard AS) uncovers a “window of availability” that UK businesses now have before consumer loyalty changes:

  • If a brand’s website is down for 24 hours – 32 percent of consumers would switch provider
  • If a brand’s app is down for 24 hours – 28 percent of consumers would switch provider
  • If a physical store is closed for 24 hours – 20 percent of consumers would switch provider

The results by industry paint an interesting picture of the availability timeframes brands are expected to adhere to:

  • For online retailers, excluding grocery retailers – 23 percent of consumers would switch provider if they could not access online services for 12 hours, rising to over a third (34 percent) after 24 hours
  • For financial services and entertainment streaming platforms – 21 percent of consumers would switch provider after 12 hours, rising to 33 percent after 24 hours
  • In the case of online grocery shopping – 20 percent would switch provider after 12 hours, rising to one third 33 percent after 24 hours

The findings also highlight that as digital reliance increases, so will consumer expectations towards availability in the future. Over the coming two years, a third (33 percent) of consumers expect online financial services to always be available, rising to 35 percent for streaming services.

“UK consumers have become reliant on the constant availability of online services, and lockdown has only served to heighten this,” comments Chris Huggett, SVP, EMEA at Sungard AS. “What used to be a choice between physical and digital has now firmly accelerated into digital environments across various industries. As online worlds continue to outpace bricks and mortar as the face of businesses, ensuring constant availability and clear communications on downtime will be key for brands to build trust and loyalty.

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