By Peter Walker, CTO EMEA at Blue Prism
The global finance sector is continually undergoing innovation to cater for ever-changing customer demands, new disruptive market entrants and continued waves of increased regulatory and security challenges. The pandemic is also driving further accelerated change across this sector that’s now operating with increasingly constrained and distributed work resources too.
These challenges must be overcome even though many organisations possess operating environments of complex, disjointed, difficult to modify legacy systems, disparate data, and manual workflows. Old operating models are therefore swiftly being discarded and replaced by a radical re-thinking of how front to back office knowledge work is performed to fulfill the fluid demand surges of business operations – and at the unprecedented pace required. Those that fail to action this fast, will rapidly become slow or no-growth organisations.
Digitally transforming work across the financial sector
Any solutions that can make the finance sector work smarter, faster, more efficiently, cohesively and with less, now top the corporate change agenda. Just like the robotics revolution in manufacturing that increased productivity in the 20th century by some 50 fold, the same automation revolution is occurring across white-collar jobs – especially across the global finance sector. It will change every aspect of the way work is performed, the types of services offered, and the way technology is consumed too.
Increasingly delivering all these capabilities across the operations of over 50 percent of the world’s largest banks, is our intelligent automation technology running a smart Digital Workforce of software robots. This is a Digital Workforce that can unify people, technologies and processes that gets the best out of all, to digitally transform the way work is done.
In a recent 2020 ‘future of work’ survey looking at how organisations around the globe are using Digital Workers to stay resilient, positive and competitive in this new economic reality, 95% of business decision makers in the financial services industry revealed they already have plans in place to extend the use of automation across their businesses.
We’re talking about Digital Workers run by business operations – supported by IT teams, that are securely performing all work ill-suited to people across front, middle and back offices, and crucially, up to 150 times faster – and crucially with zero errors. This work may include routine tasks dealing with large amounts of sensitive information adhering to strict processes, or work that humans struggle with such as spotting money laundering or reducing cybercrime with payment clearing checks.
Digital Workers are increasingly automating more complex work too by ingesting, processing, and understanding semi-structured and unstructured data from any document or source – while providing quality checks, detecting errors and passing exceptions to humans.
This means instead of performing soul-destroying navigation between functions, systems and processes as ‘human middleware’, which is the silent killer of performance, responsibility and effectiveness, people are freed to employ their innate skills to manage higher value, more strategic activities. We’re talking about analysing and interpreting data that Digital Workers can’t understand, making critical judgements, applying this business intelligence to continually optimise or reinvent processes, spending more time with customers, improving their experiences, thinking, problem solving, innovating.
To deliver results fast, non-technical business people collaboratively design, draw, and publish a process that Digital Workers then automate – making use of any tools and third-party technologies as it needs. People centrally share improve and re-use these automated assets – any time, any where – as a single, highly productive, unified team, to compound incredible business value.
Crucially, in these highly regulated and secure environments, all Digital Worker activities can be done totally safely, compliantly and transparently by non-technical people, without the need for changing existing systems or performing any costly IT integration effort that prevents operational agility.
Digital work in action
In response to the pandemic, Digital Workers are operating harmoniously with people to enable financial services organisations create new loan processing and mortgage repayments products, and services in just days, to deliver work that’s helping save jobs. For example, investment management firm T. Rowe Price has used Digital Workers to process tens of thousands of monthly transactions and also help with CARES Act withdrawals, to support the high COVID withdrawal volumes and meet over 400,000 participants’ needs.
The ability to respond and automate at this hyper-level made a real difference to people’s lives at First Home Bank – saving around 85,000 jobs and $770 million (US) in loans secured, with 99 percent of loans being processed on the day of application. Digital Workers are also automating upstream and downstream activities like application validation and loan closures, and will be automating the loan forgiveness process too.
Leeds Building Society increased its deployment of Digital Workers to cope with the high demand for mortgage holidays requests that now exceed 2,000 a day. This is reducing call centre calls by 75% and providing answers to most of these requests within 21 seconds. This also allows front-line colleagues to focus on quickly resolving issues, delivering better customer experiences and enabling back-office processing teams to work on other priorities for the business.
The future of automation in the sector
The global finance sector performs a vital role in the economy, so it will be key in the recovery from the pandemic. But the pandemic also provides an impetus for organisations in to transform their operations. In fact, intelligent automation is already playing a key role in driving real change across this sector by enabling organisations to work collaboratively and achieve much more – faster and more efficiently. By also enabling organisations to stay resilient, responsive, innovative, and competitive, to create sustainable value – will also ensure that they thrive in this brave new world.
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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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