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FCA’S ENGAGEMENT IN FINTECH BEYOND LONDON COULD BE THE BOOST BREXIT BRITAIN NEEDS

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FCA’S ENGAGEMENT IN FINTECH BEYOND LONDON COULD BE THE BOOST BREXIT BRITAIN NEEDS

By Craig James, CEO of Neopay

The UK’s financial sector is more respected than any other, with the City of London in particular acting as a magnet for investment and industry talent.

Most recently the capital has been a hotbed of innovation in the financial technology – fintech – sector, with a number of start-up accelerators and challenger companies coming onto the scene to take on the established industry.

We stand on the brink of an era of change as the government enters into Brexit negotiations, with a key question remaining,whether London’s position as a leading financial centre and the focal point of the EU’s fintech industry may be under threat.?

Other EU countries are beginning to respond to this and attempting to entice fintech businesses away from London and the UK.

As a result, the British government and its financial regulator appear to be doing more than ever to boost the UK’s share of the fintech market.

This is definitely a good time for fintech businesses, as governments across the world compete for their business, and this is even more apparent in Europe and the UK as a result of Brexit.

In one of its latest initiatives, the British government are looking specifically beyond the borders of London to help boost fintech hubs in the rest of the UK and encourage greater development of fintech across the country.

Boosting Brexit Britain’s fintech competitiveness

The global fintech market is one of the fastest growing sectors in the world, with EU figures reporting that the value of investment into the sector reached $22.3bn by the end of 2015, a 75% increase on the year before.

Since 2010, large corporates, venture capitalists and private equity firms have invested in excess of $50bn into nearly 2,500 global start-ups.

In the UK, the fintech sector – enveloping everything from online lending to applying blockchain to capital markets – is worth about £7bn to the economy, while more than 60,000 people are employed in the sector.

Looking at the UK’s global positioning, the country is second only to the United States in prominence on the top 100 fintech list, compiled by KPMG.

But while many of the UK companies on the list are London based, the highest based company, and the only UK business to breach the top 10, is Durham based outside London.

The fact that a non-London business is the country’s highest valued fintech business is significant, and an area which must be developed upon if we are to continue to convince new businesses to set up in the UK.

This is particularly important as other EU countries are attempting to take advantage of the confusion surrounding Brexit and boost their share of the fintech market.

A new public-private partnership, “House of Fintech” was recently set up in Luxembourg to attract companies to set up in the country, while French lobbyists have been making efforts to entice fintech businesses to relocate from the UK to Paris.

Even outside of the EU, steps are being taken to replicate the innovation and success being seen in the UK and The Monetary Authority of Singapore has moved to copy British schemes to improve the prospects of its own fintech industry.

Expanding access to regulation beyond London

The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), the conduct regulator for the UK, has recently announced that it is going to take a more pro-active stance in expanding its regulatory support across the country, in order to aid emerging financial technology hubs based outside of London.

Historically, fintech businesses have predominantly come from London due to its proximity to regulatory bodies such as the FCA, tech funding and the majority of major financial institutions.

Looking around the global fintech market, these four factors have been key in the success of fintech companies.

With this in mind, the FCA will be looking to continue this trend, looking primarily to areas with both a strong financial centre and technology presence.

Speaking to the Leeds Digital Festival earlier this year Christopher Woolard, executive director of strategy and competition at the FCA, identified emerging hubs in the Edinburgh-Glasgow corridor and the Trans-Pennine Leeds-Manchester area as significant areas for potential growth.

Examples of successful fintech initiatives within those areas include the developing “FiNexus Lab” in Leeds – a collaboration between local government, industry, and central government – which is laying solid foundations for fintech firms to flourish in the city, while in Manchester, Barclays’ “Rise” hub and “The Vault”, a 20,000 sq ft co-working space for fintech firms in Spinningfield’s business quarter, is improving the conditions for innovative companies to collaborate and grow.

Devolution of government, the rise of non-London tech hubs and the increasing willingness of banks to have a presence in other major cities around the UK, means greater potential is there for those fintech businesses who choose to locate outside London. This is of particular significance at the time the country, now more than ever, needs to solidify and expand its position in the world’s financial and technology markets.

The FCA has also been seeking to assist up and coming fintech businesses through its “sandbox” scheme, which helps firms to experiment with products, services and business models.

Around two thirds of the scheme’s first participants were London based, but the initiative has also seen a recent surge of wider regional interest, with almost half the applications for its latest round coming from outside the capital, highlighting the growth of fintech across the UK.

Non-London fintech companies are also seeing an increased interest in investment, with leading business, Atom Bank, recently securing £83m of funding from investors including Spanish bank BBVA, fund manager Neil Woodford and Toscafund Asset Management.

An idea a long time coming

While encouraging new fintech companies outside of London has just recently become a focus of the FCA, the concept has actually been in the pipeline as far back as 2014. Politicians, as well as a number of prolific financial and technology bosses, expressed the view that for the burgeoning fintech sector to fully realise its potential, the sector needs to look beyond the boundaries of the capital – with these opinions being put forth long before the possibility of Brexit became a reality.

For instance, Eric van der Kleij, head of Canary Wharf based start-up accelerator Level39, has been one of the leading fintech figures suggesting that the success of the business isn’t tied to its location, highlighting Manchester as a particularly strong example of an area where fintech companies were performing strongly.

One of the major hurdles, and a barrier the FCA is now seeking to breach with its latest commitment, is that much of the regulatory framework came from London, with businesses based outside of this area – particularly those further towards the north and Scotland – struggling to get access to the kind of support they require.

Speaking at the Leeds Festival, Christopher Woolard said the FCA now wanted to make it “as easy as possible” for firms to engage with the regulator and get access to the advice and help they needed to gain a foothold in the sector.

While many businesses have been able to set up outside of London and travel, sometimes great distances, to access this regulatory assistance, actively moving this help closer to businesses could be a significant benefit to new enterprises, saving them invaluable time and resources which could be better spent elsewhere.

One thing, however, remains clear.

With the UK’s future position in the single market still not fully known, and not likely to be defined for another year at least, the UK government knows it needs to maintain its popularity for fintech businesses.  These businesses need to be given an even greater chance to succeed if the UK is to maintain its strong position during the Brexit negotiations and fend off the competition.

We can expect to see further new initiatives from the UK aimed at making that a reality and more positive developments for fintech as European countries compete for their business.

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To take the nation’s financial pulse, we must go digital

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To take the nation’s financial pulse, we must go digital 1

By Pete Bulley, Director of Product, Aire

The last six months have brought the precarious financial situation of many millions across the world into sharper focus than ever before. But while the figures may be unprecedented, the underlying problem is not a new one – and it requires serious attention as well as  action from lenders to solve it.

Research commissioned by Aire in February found that eight out of ten adults in the UK would be unable to cover essential monthly spending should their income drop by 20%. Since then, Covid-19 has increased the number without employment by 730,000 people between July and March, and saw 9.6 million furloughed as part of the job retention scheme.

The figures change daily but here are a few of the most significant: one in six mortgage holders had opted to take a payment holiday by June. Lenders had granted almost a million credit card payment deferrals, provided 686,500 payment holidays on personal loans, and offered 27 million interest-free overdrafts.

The pressure is growing for lenders and with no clear return to normal in sight, we are unfortunately likely to see levels of financial distress increase exponentially as we head into winter. Recent changes to the job retention scheme are signalling the start of the withdrawal of government support.

The challenge for lenders

Lenders have been embracing digital channels for years. However, we see it usually prioritised at acquisition, with customer management neglected in favour of getting new customers through the door. Once inside, even the most established of lenders are likely to fall back on manual processes when it comes to managing existing customers.

It’s different for fintechs. Unburdened by legacy systems, they’ve been able to begin with digital to offer a new generation of consumers better, more intuitive service. Most often this is digitised, mobile and seamless, and it’s spreading across sectors. While established banks and service providers are catching up — offering mobile payments and on-the-go access to accounts — this part of their service is still lagging. Nowhere is this felt harder than in customer management.

Time for a digital solution in customer management

With digital moving higher up the agenda for lenders as a result of the pandemic, many still haven’t got their customer support properly in place to meet demand. Manual outreach is still relied upon which is both heavy on resource and on time.

Lenders are also grappling with regulation. While many recognise the moral responsibility they have for their customers, they are still blind to the new tools available to help them act effectively and at scale.

In 2015, the FCA released its Fair Treatment of Customers regulations requiring that ‘consumers are provided with clear information and are kept appropriately informed before, during and after the point of sale’.

But when the individual financial situation of customers is changing daily, never has this sentiment been more important (or more difficult) for lenders to adhere to. The problem is simple: the traditional credit scoring methods relied upon by lenders are no longer dynamic enough to spot sudden financial change.

The answer lies in better, and more scalable, personalised support. But to do this, lenders need rich, real-time insight so that lenders can act effectively, as the regulator demands. It needs to be done at scale and it needs to be done with the consumer experience in mind, with convenience and trust high on the agenda.

Placing the consumer at the heart of the response

To better understand a customer, inviting them into a branch or arranging a phone call may seem the most obvious solution. However, health concerns mean few people want to see their providers face-to-face, and fewer staff are in branches, not to mention the cost and time outlay by lenders this would require.

Call centres are not the answer either. Lack of trained capacity, cost and the perceived intrusiveness of calls are all barriers. We know from our own consumer research at Aire that customers are less likely to engage directly with their lenders on the phone when they feel payment demands will be made of them.

If lenders want reliable, actionable insight that serves both their needs (and their customers) they need to look to digital.

Asking the person who knows best – the borrower

So if the opportunity lies in gathering information directly from the consumer – the solution rests with first-party data. The reasons we pioneer this approach at Aire are clear: firstly, it provides a truly holistic view of each customer to the lender, a richer picture that covers areas that traditional credit scoring often misses, including employment status and savings levels. Secondly, it offers consumers the opportunity to engage directly in the process, finally shifting the balance in credit scoring into the hands of the individual.

With the right product behind it, this can be achieved seamlessly and at scale by lenders. Pulse from Aire provides a link delivered by SMS or email to customers, encouraging them to engage with Aire’s Interactive Virtual Interview (IVI). The information gathered from the consumer is then validated by Aire to provide the genuinely holistic view of a consumer that lenders require, delivering insights that include risk of financial difficulty, validated disposable income and a measure of engagement.

No lengthy or intrusive phone calls. No manual outreach or large call centre requirements. And best of all, lenders can get started in just days and they save up to £60 a customer.

Too good to be true?

This still leaves questions. How can you trust data provided directly from consumers? What about AI bias – are the results fair? And can lenders and customers alike trust it?

To look at first-party misbehaviour or ‘gaming’, sophisticated machine-learning algorithms are used to validate responses for accuracy. Essentially, they measure responses against existing contextual data and check its plausibility.

Aire also looks at how the IVI process is completed. By looking at how people complete the interview, not just what they say, we can spot with a high degree of accuracy if people are trying to game the system.

AI bias – the system creating unfair outcomes – is tackled through governance and culture. In working towards our vision of a world where finance is truly free from bias or prejudice, we invest heavily in constructing the best model governance systems we can at Aire to ensure our models are analysed systematically before being put into use.

This process has undergone rigorous improvements to ensure our outputs are compliant by regulatory standards and also align with our own company principles on data and ethics.

That leaves the issue of encouraging consumers to be confident when speaking to financial institutions online. Part of the solution is developing a better customer experience. If the purpose of this digital engagement is to gather more information on a particular borrower, the route the borrower takes should be personal and reactive to the information they submit. The outcome and potential gain should be clear.

The right technology at the right time?

What is clear is that in Covid-19, and the resulting financial shockwaves, lenders face an unprecedented challenge in customer management. In innovative new data in the form of first-party data, harnessed ethically, they may just have an unprecedented solution.

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The Future of Software Supply Chain Security: A focus on open source management

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The Future of Software Supply Chain Security: A focus on open source management 2

By Emile Monette, Director of Value Chain Security at Synopsys

Software Supply Chain Security: change is needed

Attacks on the Software Supply Chain (SSC) have increased exponentially, fueled at least in part by the widespread adoption of open source software, as well as organisations’ insufficient knowledge of their software content and resultant limited ability to conduct robust risk management. As a result, the SSC remains an inviting target for would-be attackers. It has become clear that changes in how we collectively secure our supply chains are required to raise the cost, and lower the impact, of attacks on the SSC.

A report by Atlantic Council found that “115 instances, going back a decade, of publicly reported attacks on the SSC or disclosure of high-impact vulnerabilities likely to be exploited” in cyber-attacks were implemented by affecting aspects of the SSC. The report highlights a number of alarming trends in the security of the SSC, including a rise in the hijacking of software updates, attacks by state actors, and open source compromises.

This article explores the use of open source software – a primary foundation of almost all modern software – due to its growing prominence, and more importantly, its associated security risks. Poorly managed open source software exposes the user to a number of security risks as it provides affordable vectors to potential attackers allowing them to launch attacks on a variety of entities—including governments, multinational corporations, and even the small to medium-sized companies that comprise the global technology supply chain, individual consumers, and every other user of technology.

The risks of open source software for supply chain security

The 2020 Open Source Security and Risk Analysis (OSSRA) report states that “If your organisation builds or simply uses software, you can assume that software will contain open source. Whether you are a member of an IT, development, operations, or security team, if you don’t have policies in place for identifying and patching known issues with the open source components you’re using, you’re not doing your job.”

Open source code now creates the basic infrastructure of most commercial software which supports enterprise systems and networks, thus providing the foundation of almost every software application used across all industries worldwide. Therefore, the need to identify, track and manage open source code components and libraries has risen tremendously.

License identification, patching vulnerabilities and introducing policies addressing outdated open source packages are now all crucial for responsible open source use. However, the use of open source software itself is not the issue. Because many software engineers ‘reuse’ code components when they are creating software (this is in fact a widely acknowledged best practice for software engineering), the risk of those components becoming out of date has grown. It is the use of unpatched and otherwise poorly managed open source software that is really what is putting organizations at risk.

Emile Monette

Emile Monette

The 2020 OSSRA report also reveals a variety of worrying statistics regarding SSC security. For example, according to the report, it takes organisations an unacceptably long time to mitigate known vulnerabilities, with 2020 being the first year that the  Heartbleed vulnerability was not found in any commercial software analyzed for the OSSRA report. This is six years after the first public disclosure of Heartbleed – plenty of time for even the least sophisticated attackers to take advantage of the known and publicly reported vulnerability.

The report also found that 91% of the investigated codebases contained components that were over four years out of date or had no developments made in the last two years, putting these components at a higher risk of vulnerabilities. Additionally, vulnerabilities found in the audited codebases had an average age of almost 4 ½ years, with 19% of vulnerabilities being over 10 years old, and the oldest vulnerability being a whopping 22 years old. Therefore, it is clear that open source users are not adequately defending themselves against open source enabled cyberattacks. This is especially concerning as 99% of the codebases analyzed in the OSSRA report contained open source software, with 75% of these containing at least one vulnerability, and 49% containing high-risk vulnerabilities.

Mitigating open source security risks

In order to mitigate security risks when using open source components, one must know what software you’re using, and which exploits impact its vulnerabilities. One way to do this is to obtain a comprehensive bill of materials from your suppliers (also known as a “build list” or a “software bill of materials” or “SBOM”). Ideally, the SBOM should contain all the open source components, as well as the versions used, the download locations for all projects and dependencies, the libraries which the code calls to, and the libraries that those dependencies link to.

Creating and communicating policies

Modern applications contain an abundance of open source components with possible security, code quality and licensing issues. Over time, even the best of these open source components will age (and newly discovered vulnerabilities will be identified in the codebase), which will result in them at best losing intended functionality, and at worst exposing the user to cyber exploitation.

Organizations should ensure their policies address updating, licensing, vulnerability management and other risks that the use of open source can create. Clear policies outlining introduction and documentation of new open source components can improve the control of what enters the codebase and that it complies with the policies.

Prioritizing open source security efforts

Organisations should prioritise open source vulnerability mitigation efforts in relation to CVSS (Common Vulnerability Scoring System) scores and CWE (Common Weakness Enumeration) information, along with information about the availability of exploits, paying careful attention to the full life cycle of the open source component, instead of only focusing on what happens on “day zero.” Patch priorities should also be in-line with the business importance of the asset patched, the risk of exploitation and the criticality of the asset. Similarly, organizations must consider using sources outside of the CVSS and CWE information, many of which provide early notification of vulnerabilities, and in particular, choosing one that delivers technical details, upgrade and patch guidance, as well as security insights. Lastly, it is important for organisations to monitor for new threats for the entire time their applications remain in service.

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On the Frontlines of Fraud: Tactics for Merchants to Protect Their Businesses

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On the Frontlines of Fraud: Tactics for Merchants to Protect Their Businesses 3

By Nicole Jass, Senior Vice President of Small Business and Fraud Products at FIS

Fraud isn’t new, but the new realities brought by COVID-19 for merchants, and the rising tide of attacks have changed the way we need to approach the fight. Even before the pandemic broke out earlier this year, the transition to digital payments was well underway, which means fighting fraud needs a multilayered, multi-channel approach. Not only do you want to increase approval rates, you want to protect your revenue and stop fraud before it happens.

A great place to start is working with your payment partners to refresh your company’s fraud strategies with emerging top three best practices:

  1. AI-based machine learning fraud solutions helps your business stay ahead of fraud trends. Leveraging data profiles to model both “good” and “bad” behavior helps find and reduce fraud. AI-based machine learning will be increasingly essential to stay ahead of the explosive and sophisticated eCommerce fraud.
  2. Increasing capabilities around device fingerprinting and behavioral data are essential to detect fraud before it happens. While much of the user-input values can be easily manipulated to look more authentic, device fingerprinting and behavioral data are captured in the background to derive unique details from the user’s device and behavior. Bringing in more unique elements into decisioning, can help authenticate the users and determine the validity of the transactions.
  3. Prioritize user authentication. User authentication is a vital linchpin in any fraud defense and should receive even greater priority today. Setting strong password requirements and implementing multi-factor authentication helps curb fraud attacks from account takeover.

As well as working with your payment partners it’s more critical than ever to protect online transactions while not jeopardizing legitimate purchases. Fortunately, there are a few things you can do right now to address these concerns:

  1. Monitor warning signs

Payment verification is an important part of protecting your business. There are a variety of strategies to employ including implementing technology utilizing artificial intelligence and machine learning to help catch certain patterns. In addition to technology, here are a few other tips that may serve as warning signs. These are not a guarantee fraud is occurring, but they are flags to investigate.

o   The shipping address and billing address differ

o   Multiple orders of the same item

o   Unusually large orders

o   Multiple orders to the same address with different cards

o   Unexpected international orders

  1. Require identity verification

Finding a balance between protection and ease of purchase will ultimately help you protect your customers and your business. The following tactics can make it more difficult for fraudsters to be successful:

o   For customers that have a login, require a minimum of eight characters as well as the use of special characters in your customers’ passwords

o   Set up Two-Factor Authentication that requires a One-time Passcode (OTP) via SMS or email

o   Use biometric authentication for mobile purchases or logins

  1. Monitor chargebacks

Keeping good records is essential for eCommerce. If a customer initiates a dispute, your only available recourse is to provide proof that the order was fulfilled. Be prepared to provide all the supporting information about a disputed transaction. Worldpay’s Disputes solutions can connect to your CRM and provide you dual-layer protection against friendly fraud, first deflecting them before they arise and then fully managing chargeback defenses on your behalf.

  1. Monitor declines

Credit card issuers mitigate fraud by automatically declining payments that look suspicious, based on unusual card activity such as drastic changes in spending patterns or uncommon geolocations of spending. You can check your own declined payment history to help spot a potential problem. When volumes increase, the help of a payments fraud management partner is beneficial.

  1. Protect your own wallet

While you take the steps to protect your business, it’s also important to be mindful of your own protection—it’s incumbent on all responsible consumers to be vigilant about their data. Whether it’s simple awareness of how the fraudsters are operating today, sticking to trusted brands when shopping online, and thinking twice about what data you share and who you share it with, you’ll soon see how often you are sharing personal information about yourself.

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