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Cybersecurity in financial services



Cybersecurity in financial services

By Javvad Malik, Security Awareness Advocate at KnowBe4

Unsurprisingly, due to the immense scale of valuable information, and money dealt with daily, financial services typically rank as one of the most targeted industries for cyberattacks, next to healthcare and public administration. Indeed, according to the Boston Consulting Group, financial service firms are hit with cyberattacks 300 times more than companies from any other industry. These threats show no sign of slowing down either. Rather, as the world of finance migrates online and evolves, with trends suggesting an increase in the implementation of FinTech business models and the digital wallet, organisations will inevitably experience greater pressures to combat an ever-changing and ever-growing stream of cyberthreats. Amidst these developments we are forced to ask, are financial organisations prepared?

The transformation trajectory of the financial industry 

The rise of FinTech ‘disruptors’, or innovative start-ups, such as Monzo and Revolut, have fuelled the adoption of various technologies by traditional banks, who are shifting strategies in an attempt to keep up. Among other trends, traditional banks are having to progressively outsource certain activities to minimise operational complexities. This is particularly necessary as consumers are demanding banking in real time, whereby they can track their financial activity and move money instantly.

Javvad Malik

Javvad Malik

This means, for example, embracing cloud-based software and infrastructure-as-a-service (SaaS and IaaS) applications to administer operations such as Customer Relationship Management or Human Resources. Not only does the cloud allow banks to more effectively manage and store sizeable datasets, but it also provides a more comprehensive analysis of the data amassed, while keeping costs to a minimum. More recently, as revealed in the PwC ‘Financial Services Technology 2020 and Beyond: Embracing Disruption’ report, banks are not solely employing private clouds, but expanding the use of SaaS and IaaS to cover core services on public clouds offered by tech giants such as Amazon, Microsoft and Google. In other words, using the public cloud to process deposits, loans and credit scoring. In fact, the International Data Corporation has even predicted that public cloud spending will grow from $229 billion in 2019 to nearly $500 billion in 2023.

With greater use of cloud computing, we have since also witnessed a shift towards digitalisation and alongside that, AI and machine learning. Both have been fundamental in conducting a more accurate and objective credit assessment of prospective borrowers as well as the risks posed by customer behaviour, when deciding on insurance premiums. It has also revolutionised fraud detection, and advanced stock performance predictions. On top of that, AI has been pivotal in improving customer experience, with chatbots aiding individuals to find solutions to their problems, and voice-controlled assistants helping to check account balances or send reminders concerning upcoming bills. In the future, as machine learning creates smarter robots, it is unlikely that any such function will remain contingent upon human input nor oversight. Rather, a significant proportion of services offered by banks, insurance companies or investment firms could soon become fully automated.

Another trend that will likely have an unprecedented impact on financial industries is the advent of blockchain. Blockchain is a much cheaper means of performing automated contractual agreements, financial transactions etc. as it eliminates the need for numerous intermediaries to confirm authenticity, all of whom would otherwise procure a levy in the process. Moreover, it provides transparency and traceability, enabling processes to run faster and more smoothly in industries such as insurance, trade as well as banking.

Finally, we have the Internet of Things (IoT), whereby devices are interconnected and its data accessible, via the internet. Just observing as commuters buzz in and out of underground barriers in central London, we see fitness trackers, watches and mobile phones used to make payments. Only last year, Tesla announced that it would be using data gathered from its cars to formulate tailored car insurance plans. These are just a couple of ways that the financial industry is leveraging this new phenomenon. As we progress through 2020 and beyond, there is no doubt that this will only continue to expand. As a matter of fact, the Verizon’s launch of its 5G network in April 2019, which set into motion an aggressive race among telecom companies around the world for market share in this domain, will undeniably result in the unparalleled growth of the IoT sphere. According to IHS Inc., it is estimated that by 2025, there will be over 75 billion connected IoT devices! Above all else, the vast quantity of data that can be harvested from billions of these devices will further aid institutions to personalise their services as well as build better relationships with each individual customer. Yet, where do we draw the line between customer convenience and security?

The double-edged sword 

Unfortunately, while these new technologies are transforming financial institutions for the better, they also expose the same institutions to potentially detrimental risks. For instance, as banks begin to entrust third-party service providers with core functions, the probability of an insider threat occurring escalates. The data breach at Nedbank detected in February 2020, is a clear demonstration of what could go wrong, even when just dealing with customer-facing functions. In this instance, the South African bank’s third-party marketing contractor had a vulnerability in its network, which ultimately compromised 1.7 million of the bank’s client details, including names and addresses.

AI and machine learning, on the other hand, brings its own set of problems. Among them is data poisoning attacks in which malicious actors inject fraudulent training data into a model, leading to inaccurate assessments. This method could easily be used to cause havoc. For example, AI might be applied to gauge public sentiment towards a publicly listed firm through analysing the news or online discussions. However, bad actors can easily introduce falsified data that could be damaging to the company’s performance in the financial markets. In another case, AI used to compile a set of stocks for investment funds or a trade portfolio, might be adversely manipulated and result in a considerable loss of money. This is particularly true if we do indeed enter a world of complete automation and no human oversight to identify abnormal activity. While these scenarios may seem to come straight out of a dystopian science fiction novel, we have already seen similar stories take place as cybercriminals endeavour to inspire financial panic. Purely through a rumour spread on WhatsApp, suggesting that MetroBank might be “shut down or going bankrupt”, hordes of people began scrambling to withdraw money and valuables from their account. Imagine the reaction that would ensue if fake news was generated from what could be a deemed a more ‘reliable’ source.

Blockchain too has its drawbacks. This is notably prompted by its use of smart contracts, or self-executing code that does not require manual intervention to complete financial transactions. These contracts depend on third-party information sources that feed data into the network, also known as “oracles”.  It is through these oracles that organisations may face an important cyberthreat, as it is here that corrupt data might infiltrate the blockchain and lead the whole network down a rabbit hole of issues.

Finally, we have the most exploited avenues, which arguably comes in two forms: a poorly secured device and a poorly educated employee. While companies may apply rigorous safety measures on a number of devices, the vast quantity of existing devices means that others, unavoidably, fall through the cracks. In fact, 71% of Chief Information Officers are regularly blindsided by unknown devices. What is more, the familiar use of phishing, smishing and other social engineering tactics remains prevalent, if not ramped up towards both employees and clients. This is all the more true in the banking sector, where efforts to “go green” have meant going paperless. With that, follows a greater dependence on emails and texts to communicate with clients, and more opportunities for bad actors to exploit. As we saw in 2018, the cybercriminal group, London Blue, specifically targeted 50,000 finance executives with BEC scams. In another investigation, more than 1900 potential bank phishing sites were registered in the first half of 2019, a rise of 14% compared to the preceding year.

Cyber readiness and resolutions 

Despite the expansion of cyberthreats, both in quantity and in form, the Hiscox 2019 Cyber Readiness Report revealed that as many as 74% of organisations are failing to meet the expertise and best practice standards necessary to overcome cyberthreats. This can largely be attributed to the lack of awareness, of the threat itself as well as how to manage it. At the crux of any strategy, therefore, is the requirement for financial organisations to remain vigilant and informed about imminent threats, whether through liaising with their software and hardware manufacturers, building a network with other businesses to share insights and experiences, or staying on the lookout for research papers or relevant news from reputable sources.

It also means training employees to highlight to the company’s security experts of any devices they use as part of work, or how to identify and handle phishing emails.

Lastly, more provisions should be put in place to advice clients on how to recognise an authentic communication or request coming from the institution, and when it is a fake. When we improve awareness, we will have won half the battle.


The Hidden Costs of International E-commerce



The Hidden Costs of International E-commerce 1

By Gavan Smythe, Managing Director, iCompareFX

Taking a business globally can be an attractive prospect, potentially targeting markets with fewer competitors, taking advantage of a larger consumer base and even gaining access to cost-effective manufacturing resources.

However, it’s not as simple as just shipping product overseas. Successful international traders conduct extensive market research, understanding each region’s barriers to entry – whether it’s regulations around communication and marketing, finding key contacts in supply chain management or navigating legal and cultural restrictions.

This also means identifying the hidden costs of international trading, which threaten the bottom line of businesses.

The price of peace of mind

Online trading isn’t without its complications. Buying online means handing over confidential bank or card details and, without the right protection in place, it can leave consumers open to theft and fraud.

That’s why e-commerce payment services include a gateway model, which secures transactions by encrypting the cardholder’s details and managing the payment process for the merchant.

However, like any specialist service, merchants pay to keep this sensitive data safe. Gateway fees are typically calculated as a percentage of the transaction amount. And while this payment model is useful for SMEs – helping them efficiently scale – it represents an additional cost that many business owners don’t account for.

Those tempted to simply roll out the cheapest service risk damaging their reputation by potentially being an unsafe seller and one which undervalues its customers. This will eventually impact revenue, as customers look elsewhere, and merchants navigate the costly time spent ironing out problems with insecure payments.

When it comes to choosing a payment gateway service, key considerations should include working with a provider which operates across the same regions and checking contract terms. Some providers may charge set-up fees, monthly subscription fees or implement a blanket charge if a minimum volume of transactions isn’t met.

Merchants should also consider whether to use a direct or indirect payment gateway. While direct payment gateways allow consistent branding with customised design and copy, it may cost extra to integrate the service with an existing website.

Indirect gateways take users away to a separate payment portal on a different page. This is cost-effective to install and can appear more secure to users as they may be using a familiar and trusted payment gateway brand

Calculating conversion fees

As a business owner, payment gateway solution providers charge a number of percentage fees. While for sellers in domestic markets the fee structure can be quite simple, for online sellers in overseas markets, the fee structure becomes complex.

For example, as an international online seller, you can be subject to additional costs for processing international cards, plus additional currency conversion costs back to your business’ home currency.

In some circumstances, this can cost up to 9 percent of your sale revenue. A business has the choice of passing these costs on to the customer or to reduce its profit margin in international markets.

Businesses shouldn’t rush when it comes to choosing a provider. Taking the time to review and compare what’s out there puts them in a stronger position to choose the perfect match.

Providers vary in their offerings, from the regions they operate in, to their fees and exchange rates and even transfer speeds. Those who value trust and transparency may be willing to pay slightly higher to work with a provider which offers exceptional customer service standards, helping them navigate the currency exchange process.

For those moving into multiple markets, it’s worth using a comparison service or tool to make sure they’re partnering with the right provider for each currency pair and region, as it’s unlikely a single provider will offer a blanket ‘best solution’ across the global market.

The role of multi-currency accounts

Having looked at the impact of currency conversion fees, what can businesses do to mitigate these costly charges when it comes to trading in an increasing number of currencies?

Opening a multi-currency account allows businesses to access the speed and affordable conversion costs needed to make the most of international trading. They allow businesses to access unique local banking details in foreign countries and all balances and transfer controls are accessible within a single dashboard.

Not only are the conversion fees associated with these accounts much lower compared with transferring currencies between bank accounts but it’s also quick and efficient – allowing businesses to access funds almost instantly and pass this convenience on to customers.

Specialist money transfer companies that offer multi-currency account solutions offer these services at no monthly cost. Simple and low-cost fee structures are applied on currency conversion and outgoing funds. And incoming receipts of money transfers don’t cost a penny.

Not all multi-currency account solution providers offer access to the same currencies. Furthermore, not all payment gateways offer support for payouts in multiple currencies. Businesses should conduct an assessment of current and future customer and supplier locations to choose the most appropriate solution provider.

Conducting an internal risk assessment helps businesses decide which multi-currency account makes sense for them, based on key requirements, like the number of supported currencies, target regions, potential overdraft facilities and ease of transfers.

Managing international suppliers

In many industries, international e-commerce is not as simple as just sending products to different regions. Logistics and legal regulations across the world mean businesses are often required to work with local specialists to deliver their service or offering.

This may mean working with local manufacturers to produce products in each region or simply partnering with local marketing, PR or advertising professionals to create culturally sensitive brand awareness in the native language.

In these cases, the business becomes the customer. They are required to make payments in multiple currencies as they manage their global operations.

For example, UK bank accounts charge relatively large fees to make payments in foreign currencies and these soon add up when running operations around the world.

This is where multi-currency accounts again prove fruitful. Not only do they allow businesses to hold multiple currencies – which is ideal for sellers – but they can also send money to other accounts with minimal fees if they’re in the same currency.

Paying suppliers in the same region as their customer base can remove the double currency conversion by receiving payment gateway payouts in the foreign currency and paying out of the multi-currency account in the same currency. No currency conversion is necessary in this scenario.

Businesses able to identify all these costs and admin fees up-front will be best placed to get the most value from the research and comparison stage when comparing providers.

Ultimately, they’ll achieve the lowest possible fees for each market, currency and transaction.

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Digital Euro Could Spur Major Breakthrough Towards More Liberal EU Payments Market, Expert Says



Digital Euro Could Spur Major Breakthrough Towards More Liberal EU Payments Market, Expert Says 2

The recent talks about a possible digital version of euro have raised discussions throughout the industry. According to Marius Galdikas, CEO at ConnectPay, it could greatly liberalize the market in terms of lessening barriers for market entry and present more opportunities for accelerating its growth.

With the ever-increasing digitalization transforming the modern world, the European Central Bank (ECB) has raised the idea of launching a digital euro, which would assume an electronic form of currency accessible to citizens and companies alike. According to Marius Galdikas, CEO at ConnectPay, it seems like a high-potential bearing solution, which could greatly liberalize the market, reduce entry barriers for new companies, as well as drive further digitization.

The European Central Bank has been weighing the pros and cons of the digital version of Euro for a while now. The idea is based on an insight that while there is an array of choices for retail payments, e.g. cash or payment cards, the market lacks a unifying digital currency, which could facilitate daily transactions, was easy to use, and would provide cost-free access to a reliable means of payment accepted throughout the entire eurozone.

“At the moment, digital euro seems to be bringing a plethora of benefits to the table, without waiving the inherent properties of cash,” said Marius Galdikas. “It appeals to the consumers’ need to go cashless, largely influenced by the coronavirus situation, and gives them more choices about how to pay. By no means will it replace actual banknotes—ECB emphasized this as well—but rather present a supplementary-to-cash solution that corresponds with the rapid levels of digitalization. It could contribute to a stronger Eurozone’s stance in the global payments market, too.”

Galdikas noted that while it offers quite a few benefits for the everyday consumer, the digital euro could be a game-changer for the fintech sector as well. According to him, having a digitalized version of the currency could potentially eliminate the need for middle-men. This would result in fewer barriers for new ventures to enter the market.

“In order to gain access to the Eurozone, first it is necessary to acquire a credit institution license. Only then it can join TARGET2 – Eurozone’s settlement system, which processes large-value euro payments in real-time. However, such licenses are usually issued to FIs that focus on collecting deposits or lending credit.”

“Consequently, it is much harder for up-and-coming fintechs to acquire the same licenses, as they have a more innovation-driven approach, hence, want to offer novel products,” continued Galdikas. “This leads to dealing with a fair amount of intricacies in order to ensure all-round compliance in the banking sector. Digital euro could restructure the current chain of authority and shape it to be more strategic, streamlining bureaucratic procedures and leaving fewer hoops to jump through.”

Inevitably, this would prep the industry to be more welcoming towards greater innovation, as fewer barriers would pave the way for new fintechs, looking to present novel solutions.

Currently, the idea of the digital euro launch is in the analysis stage. Over the next six months, the Frankfurt institution will be carrying out a series of experiments exploring risks and operational challenges, as well as undergoing a three-month public consultation, launched mid-October.

Although currently the move to digital Euro launch is predicted to happen over the next 2 to 4 years, the impact it would have on the European Union payments market makes it a highly anticipated solution.

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Tax administrations around the world were already going digital. The pandemic has only accelerated the trend.



Tax administrations around the world were already going digital. The pandemic has only accelerated the trend. 3

By Emine Constantin, Global Head of Accoutning and Tax at TMF Group.

Why do tax administrations choose to go digital?

Among the many reasons, the most important one is the pressure to perform. Most governments complain that the tax revenues they collect are significantly lower than what should be collected. To increase the collection rate, tax authorities need better insight and access to detailed information.

Another key reason for tax digitisation is the need to address cross-border challenges and the issue of value creation.

“Where is the right place to tax cross-border transactions – is it the country of residence or the country of consumption?” has been a topic of discussion for some time. Adding another level of complexity, many cross-border transactions take place online. For tax authorities, the challenge is the lack of information about the users and the amount of payments made for the activities facilitated by the online platforms. Without such data, identifying the place of consumption is very  challenging

Where is tax digitisation at?

Most tax administrations are currently implementing e-reporting (enabling the submission of tax information in an electronic format) and e-matching (correlating the data received from different sources: e.g. both customers and vendors submit information on sale and purchases and the two sources of information are checked and agreed to identify discrepancies). Through e-reporting, tax administrations are able to:

  • Obtain real-time or near-real-time data submissions. Instead of waiting until the end of the month for summary tax information, each invoice is electronically communicated to tax authorities when it’s issued. This moves compliance upstream. Tax assessments are supported in real-time or close to it, instead of assessing transactions that have happened in the past. TMF Group’s research has found that 24% of countries surveyed globally require companies to issue tax invoices using technology and send them to tax authorities electronically, without any form of manual intervention. The percentage gets higher in the Americas (where more than 50% of countries have such requirements) and in APAC (where 36% of countries have no adopted this method).
  • Share best practices and boost cooperation with other tax authorities. According to a recent OECD report, 15 of 16 tax authorities surveyed use data analytics to drive audit case selection. With national implementations of BEPS (Base Erosion and Profit Shifting) and global tracking and monitoring, digital is a new focal point for the OECD. Tax administrators learned the value of such collaboration from previous projects and are putting that experience to good use by sharing approaches and leading practices.
  • Increase the coverage of the tax audit. Tax authorities request more and more data and more and more details during tax audits. Such requirements are not limited to technology companies that may host a platform where their users trade with one another. In some cases, companies have been asked to provide data files. In others, they have even been asked to install tax authority software on their systems.

When it comes to digitisation, it’s important to understand local and regional trends because the level of maturity can be quite different.

In Europe, countries are increasingly adopting SAF-T (Standard Audit File for Tax) submission requirements — long described as the closest to a consistent approach for managing tax audits.

Portugal, France, the Netherlands and Luxembourg are just some of the countries where SAF-T submission is now mandatory.

Digitisation brings benefits but also challenges for companies. In Spain, VAT refunds are suspended until SII (Immediate Supply of Information) submission is fully compliant. In the Czech Republic, the introduction of VAT control statements has led to many formal and informal queries by tax authorities with a required response time of 5 working days. All these requests put pressure on taxpayers to provide accurate tax data to avoid further enquiries.

LATAM is the most mature region in terms of tax digitisation. Latin American countries have adopted a “layering” approach, splitting tax and accounting data into “slices,” each with its own submission schedule, scope and format. Brazil is one of the most advanced countries in this respect. Virtually all accounting and tax data is communicated electronically.

In APAC, China and India have also started their journey towards fully-fledged electronic reporting.

A positive shift

Digitisation makes the tax journey easier, not only for the tax authorities but also for the taxpayer. One obvious benefit is the reduced tax return filing burden. For example in Poland, the submission of the VAT return was replaced by the SAF-T submission.

Based on the amount of data collected, tax authorities in Spain and Australia have created virtual online assistants to help answer tax questions. In India, the authorities are looking at pre-populating the GST return, reducing the amount of time that taxpayers spend preparing it.

Implications for companies

When responding to the electronic requirements of tax authorities, companies have some key considerations.

Data requirements – what will companies need to report, and how? What we see in practice is that:

  • Data sits in multiple places and companies need to either aggregate it automatically or reconcile it before extracting it manually.
  • Data is inputted manually and – as such – is prone to errors, inaccuracies and incompatibilities.
  • Some of the data needs to be manually adjusted outside the normal transactional cycle (e.g. output VAT on goods provided free of charge)

If a company faces any of the situations described above, the challenge will be to aggregate and validate the data before reporting it.

Processes – do current processes allow companies to collect all data that is needed? Often, the data collection processes do not allow for consistency or for storage of all relevant data. Processes might need to be adjusted to make sure that the right level of data is in place.

Technology – are the company’s current systems appropriate for reporting purposes? Existing software might not allow for accounting records to be digitally linked.

Tax reporting process – is the tax reporting process fit for purpose? As described above, tax resources need to be moved to the front-end of the accounting process: data needs to be accurate when entered into the system.

Companies that wish to mitigate these problems should follow these steps:

  • Understand local requirements.
  • Identify the required data sources and strive for a global standard. Looking for local solutions will not help you deal with the digitised world.
  • Create a library of tests – it’s believed that 70% to 80% of national revenue authority requirements are similar.
  • Prepare to respond to tax queries – as tax authority scrutiny and testing moves into real or near-real time, so must the response.

Digitisation is very much a global trend, more and more countries are introducing it, and it’s seen as a safe solution to reduce the tax gap. In the short-term digitisation may bring complexity, because it will affect how a company’s accounting and tax functions are organised. But in the long term, once processes are automated, it will save companies time and effort – and allow them to stay ahead of the demands of tax authorities.

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