By Jane Asscher, CEO and Founding Partner, 23red.
A decade on from the global financial crisis and “the world is sleepwalking towards a fresh [one] that will have devastating consequences,” according to the former Bank of England governor, Mervyn King.
Since 2009, some lessons have been learned. Out of the ashes of the credit crunch appeared the likes of N26, Monzo, and Starling, the disrupters that promised banking would be different. And for a time,it was. Our faith in technology was unwavering and we believed that it could unlock a new financial system.
But no sooner than customer trust was on the rise, fresh concerns appeared within the sector. A frightfully volatile cryptocurrency market led by Bitcoin attracted masses of speculative gamblers and left many empty-handed. Then, as FinTech continued to draw investment, questions emerged regarding technological bias in banking.
In November, the algorithm used to set credit limits for the new Apple Card came under fire amid claims of gender discrimination. David Heinemeier Hansson, the Danish programmer and creator of the Ruby on Rails web development framework, announced on Twitter that he had been offered 20 times more credit than his wife. Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple, replied “The same thing happened to us. I got 10x the credit limit. We [me and my wife] have no separate bank or credit card accounts or any separate assets.” Wozniak and Hansson were simply offered more for being male.
This follows widely publicised reports that many artificial intelligence systems have been engineered with racial and gendered biases built in.
Now, financial expert and head of the Financial Inclusion Centre, Mick McAteer, claims that advances in banking technology are putting vulnerable customers at risk of discrimination. He claims that lenders and insurers are gaining access to tools to more accurately identify “unprofitable” or costly customers, increasing the risk of exclusion for certain sections of society; namely the elderly, disabled or those with learning difficulties. Add to this the challenges of the 1.2m unbanked who are paying a banking poverty premium because they are missing out on discounts and preferential rates and the 40% of the working people suffering with financial worries and the knock on impact on levels of stress and depression and there is a crisis in financial wellness looming.
Such claims and statistics are worrying and threaten to undermine a generation of disruptive FS brands. The evolution of banking technology must not reflect societal prejudices or become a socio-political tool that gives benefits to the wealthy. In fact, FS brands should lead the charge in ensuring all customers are treated equally by technology and rising to the challenge of improving the financial wellness. Many consumers left disenchanted by banks following the financial crash of 2008 were won over by the equality and perceived morality of the challenger banks. If challenger banks allow technological bias to discriminate and prey upon certain sections of society, their position in the market will collapse. The ease of payment, investment, or wealth management via apps are no longer USPs because the incumbent banks have simply developed their own equivalents. Therefore, morality, ethics and purpose have become vital selling points.
As an agency that specialises in delivering purpose-driven campaigns for government departments, charities and brands, we have developed a deep understanding of vulnerable audiences. We have adopted behavioural approaches to support these varied and nuanced audiences, ensuring that complicated messages are delivered in a simple, salient way. For NEST we developed a brand strategy, name and identity for Personal Accounts which simply and clearly communicated that it was about retirement savings while building trust and credibility.For HMRC we have helped parents understand the value of saving for their children’s future, start thinking about where they feel comfortable saving, simplified the options and increased confidence in opening an account.
While Monzo has pledged to give bank accounts to vulnerable groups and recently partnered with The Big Issue and Starling have a “vulnerable customers team who look after those customers who need extra support a but there us more to be done to build financial capability and help people manage what money they have responsibly
The opportunity is for challenger banks to make themselves indispensable to and trusted by their customers by adopting a behavioural approach to helping them manage their money. Consumers that feel supported by their FS provider and remain in good financial health will be more loyal and valuable to the brand in the long-term. They’ll value them enough to open new savings accounts and take out loans responsibly, recommend the service to friends and family, and in a technology orientated world, where news and views can go viral within 24 hours, community advocates are literally worth their weight in gold.
If they don’t seize the opportunity, the incumbent banks will always be able to offer added products and services and can ultimately price them out of the market. The challengers must take the high ground and trade on purpose driven initiatives.
To do this they need to support their customers, no matter their background. Drawing on some of the ideas and results from The Financial Capability Lab, there are three ways in which they can do this.
Firstly, their products need to have responsible functions built in. Tools that encourage you to save, advise against over borrowing, night-time spending, or living outside of your means – all things that you are more prone to if you are struggling with mental health issues, addiction, or simply struggling to manage your finances.
Secondly, the tools must be promoted by simple, salient interactive marketing communications that break down the stigma associated with having difficulty managing money, help improve customer comprehension and signpost financial advice and guidance.
Thirdly, by helping people take control (rather than offering them yet more choice); encouraging them to use the tools with timely prompts or nudges to promote savings, restrict spending and seek guidance.
Only by helping everyone to manage their finances responsibly regardless of circumstances will FS brands and the challenger banks help to avert the looming crisis of financial wellbeing, earn back customer trust and improve their own triple bottom line.
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Shining a spotlight on operational resilience and cyber-risk in financial services
By Miles Tappin, VP of EMEA for ThreatConnect, explores why the financial services industry must build a cyber security strategy in 2020
The new digital landscape has welcomed financial institutions with open arms. Emerging technology such as Artificial intelligence (AI), crypto-currencies and big data have shown widespread benefits throughout the years, particularly how they have driven innovation and change. When it comes to retail banking, fintech providers have quickly taken the chance to offer personalised services to ensure they remain relevant to their target market and stand out among their competitors.
This has been particularly evident with Klarna, now Europe’s most valued fintech firm. Providing payment solutions for online storefronts, consumers are now able to shop and pay later with top retailers including the likes of H&M, Ikea and Zara. This is just one example of how easy it has become to successfully and strategically disrupt the payments sector.
With several new players entering the banking scene, traditional financial institutions are making sure that they stay one step ahead and are developing robust digital ecosystems that deliver omnichannel service models. However, this comes at a price. As technological change becomes part and parcel to remaining relevant in the sector, the industry needs to be aware of the cyber security challenges that may present themselves and how to overcome them.
2020: The year for cybercriminals targeting financial services
2020 has become a definitive year for cybersecurity in the financial services industry. Financial institutions are a lucrative target – they hold highly sensitive information and have a mandate to protect the personal information of their customers. It started with an unprecedented attack against Travelex where hackers successfully took some of the currency providers offline for nearly a month. Then came Coronavirus which sparked a new wave of malware and phishing threats. Research from VMware Carbon Black Cloud revealed that threats against financial institutions have surged by 238% since the start of the pandemic.
The renewed interest from cyber criminals comes at a time when regulators are paying close attention to the resilience of the sector. After a string of IT failures and breaches, financial organisations in the UK have been given a mandate from regulators to improve operational resilience. This means ensuring business models can withstand disruptive events from hackers or adversaries and quickly recover to protect the stability of financial systems.
In December 2019, the UK’s financial regulators published a series of consultation papers outlining their proposed approach to achieving greater operational resilience. The proposals suggested that financial institutions will be required to map out the systems and processes that support business services in order to identify any potential vulnerabilities that would pose a risk to the stability of the UK financial system or the firm’s standing.
Working together in tandem
Where cybersecurity used to be a classic back-office concern, it’s now a central part of digital strategies and a key pillar of both reputation and customer retention – financial legislation leaves no room for failure. All financial institutions need to ensure they have full visibility of their systems and can detect any potential threats.
The challenge for financial institutions is making the security tools they have purchased separately work together in tandem. Security teams buy a firewall, an email filter, threat intelligence feeds, antivirus software or enhanced endpoint protection, and whatever else they need individually. Each of them does a good job but they don’t talk to each other and valuable time is lost tending to individual systems that become a burden to run. At the same time, running multiple security systems is expensive. The more systems you have, the more highly skilled staff you need to manage them, and they’re few and far between.
The importance of sharing across communities
To reduce complexity and simplify decision making, financial organisations need to unify processes and technology to harness the security intelligence that comes from across their own security programmes and external sources to drive down risk. However, no financial institution can tackle the problem alone. Experienced threat actors using advanced techniques are constantly targeting the financial sector. The industry needs to come together as a whole to foster a sense of collaboration and data sharing.
In the same way that financial institutions have introduced open banking to deliver a fairer service to customers, the same needs to apply to security – all parts of the financial ecosystem need to unite and share information to learn from one another and succeed in the fight against adversaries that operate across borders.
By sharing alerts on cyber hazards and risk across financial institutions and with law enforcement, government agencies and other relevant authorities, it’s possible to build industry specific insights into cyber security threats and quickly pivot to gain more information on those specific threats and threat actors. By working together, a picture can be painted on threats coming from all manner of malicious activity, from malware to ransomware, to phishing and software vulnerabilities.
Creating a single source of intelligence
Having the right intelligence is not enough to ensure that intelligence is turned into action. Breaking down information and process silos across security teams allows financial organisation to analyse and act on the most pertinent information. Everyone has access to the risk and threats that matter most, and orchestration and automation of response helps overwhelmed security teams prioritise response plans and improve efficiencies in their security programme.
Integrating internal security tools and technologies, while also connecting to external sources of intelligence, creates a single source of intelligence that feeds operations and enables organisations to direct action against the threats that matter most. The outcomes of those actions further feed intelligence, providing the ability to further refine the efficacy of the entire security lifecycle.
This approach provides a continuous feedback loop for the people, processes and technologies that make up the security programme. It allows financial institutions to keep up with threat actors that have consistently adapted their methods to profit at the expense of the financial industry. Something that won’t stop anytime soon.
While financial services institutions tend to operate with security front of mind, there is still an opportunity to collaborate more within the industry and increase intelligence sharing, so CSOs and CTOs can understand as much as they can about the threats they are facing. For example, what types or variants of malware have been used to steal, delete, or ransom personal identifiable information or IP specific to financial services? What ransomware has been used in attacks against other organisations within the industry? How does this ransomware work and how does it ransom the targeted data? Ultimately, the more you know, the better and quicker you’ll be able to respond to a new threat and remain protected.
Blackline reveals CEO succession plan
By President & COO Marc Huffman appointed CEO as of Jan. 1st, 2021;
Founder Therese Tucker to serve as executive chair
Accounting automation software leader BlackLine, Inc. (Nasdaq: BL) today announced that the board of directors has elected Marc Huffman as chief executive officer, effective January 1st, 2021. Mr. Huffman currently serves as president and chief operating officer. Therese Tucker, who has served as CEO since founding BlackLine in 2001, will continue to serve on the company’s board as executive chair.
A seasoned SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) executive with more than 25 years of experience driving growth at successful software companies, Huffman joined BlackLine in early 2018 as chief operating officer. He was named president in February 2020, leading the company’s worldwide sales, marketing, technology and all customer-facing organizations. Since Huffman joined, BlackLine has scaled its sales and customer success teams, strategically repositioned its go-to-market plan, completed a global reseller agreement with SAP, established a subsidiary in Japan, and entered into a number of strategic alliances with the world’s leading consulting and advisory firms.
Prior to BlackLine, Huffman served as president of worldwide sales and distribution at NetSuite. During his 14-year tenure, NetSuite grew from $3 million to $1 billion in annual revenue and became recognized as a global SaaS powerhouse.
“I’ve been so pleased with the leadership Marc has demonstrated over the past two and a half years, most recently driving our response to the COVID-19 pandemic – mitigating disruption to the business and our customers. Because of Marc’s leadership, skill set, cultural alignment and stellar performance, BlackLine is in a better position to grow and scale than ever before,” said Ms. Tucker. “I am incredibly proud of what we have achieved at BlackLine and believe Marc is the kind of leader I can trust to take our customer-centric values, vision and growth to the next level. I am also thrilled that in addition to providing strategic oversight as executive chair, I will now have more time to focus on the areas I love most – product innovation and customer success.”
The announced transition is part of a multi-year succession plan that has involved seeking potential successors, bringing the right person on board, seeing that person excel, and Tucker and Huffman working methodically together over several years to build out the leadership team and strategic growth plan and ensure values were aligned.
“I am ready and excited for this next step. BlackLine is a special place with a strong culture and I am looking forward to leading the company through its next phase of growth,” said Huffman. “We’ve got the team, the plan, and now we are focused on execution as we continue to scale the business and make BlackLine an indispensable platform for Finance & Accounting organizations globally.”
Commenting on the CEO and executive chair changes, John Brennan, BlackLine’s chairman of the board, said, “We are excited to announce Marc’s appointment as CEO. His experience successfully expanding and scaling NetSuite into new strategic and geographical markets is invaluable as BlackLine continues to penetrate what we believe is still an untapped market. Coupled with his proven track record at BlackLine we are confident that, under Marc’s leadership, the company’s momentum, growth and success will only accelerate.”
Mr. Brennan added, “Therese has been a strong and inspirational leader since she founded BlackLine just over 19 years ago. Her unwavering determination and commitment to both customers and employees has been the driving force behind the company’s incredible journey from start-up to global market leader. We look forward to having her serve as executive chair, a position in which she will continue to shape the future of the company she has built from the ground up.”
Upon Tucker’s assumption of the executive chair role, Brennan will serve as the board’s lead outside director.
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