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The UK’s National SIRA program – a collaboration of more than 130 well-known financial institutions, sharing intelligence and data to combat fraud, risk and financial crime, defending against £billions in losses.

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The UK's National SIRA program - a collaboration of more than 130 well-known financial institutions, sharing intelligence and data to combat fraud, risk and financial crime, defending against £billions in losses.

Data safeguarding is fast becoming the defining issue of the so-called fourth industrial revolution, as the spotlight is firmly turned on organisations’ data protection policies and data sharing activities.

Mark Haslam

Mark Haslam

High-profile data breaches, toughened regulations, state-sponsored hacking and poor integration of new systems into legacy IT architecture have all served to pull good data handling and security into sharp focus.

Furthermore in an age of lightning-fast technological innovation, heading off exploitation of advances by ever-more cunning fraudsters is a constant challenge.

In the UK, leading financial institutions are coming together to combat fraud risk and financial crime through collaboration, bucking the current trend for data silos, and sharing intelligence for the collective benefit of the group.

The successful National SIRA database convincingly underlines the importance of sharing information on potentially adverse activity, particularly in the banking and financial sectors.

In an industry where revealing suspected breaches of your defences is a highly sensitive activity, joining together in this way is a remarkably smart – and responsible – way of staying one step ahead of the criminals, before the dominoes fall.

A pilot program was set up by data solutions and software development firm Synectics Solutions in 2004 involving just three financial organisations – Paragon Bank, Abbey National, and The Cooperative.

The database was established as a living, breathing source of intelligence that allows the sharing and classification of data corresponding to adverse and risk-based applications with the overall aim of reducing losses.
The syndicated database gives members a broader perspective on an applicant’s financial behaviours, by accessing intelligence from a variety of other members and partners, which in turn enables confident decision-making, a quicker response and a positive customer journey.

Since its inception, the success of the database has been phenomenal. 14 years on and more than 130 organisations large and small have signed up to the collaboration, still managed by Synectics Solutions, representing almost three-quarters of the Retail Banking market.

The database has grown to represent over 200 million rows of data, constantly being updated and verified by fraud teams all over the UK, and growing at a rate of more than 35,000 entries every month.

Crucially, during its life the National SIRA database has helped to identify – and defend against – almost £4billion of fraud.

Now, each year,the SIRA application processes more than seven million credit card applications, five million current account requests, four million unsecured loan applications and allows compliance with Know Your Customer and Know Your Business stipulations.

“During its lifetime, National SIRA has played a central role in helping to fend off adverse and fraudulent applications,” explained Mark Haslam, Head of Product and Marketing. “It has saved billions that would potentially have been lost to fraudsters if it weren’t for the intelligence-sharing by those involved.”

He added: “As a group we have come a long way in helping to detect and prevent the evolving threat of financial crime, which is unrelenting. National SIRA provides the proof that when businesses work together to combat a threat such as fraud it is possible to make a real difference.”

Mark added that far from slowing down, the rate of SIRA membership is accelerating as companies seek out an effective defence against a multitude of evolving fraud typologies, and the technology powering the database evolves as a result of member feedback.

“Regular SIRA User Group and Steering Committee meetings give the SIRA community the chance to discuss challenges, opportunities and user feedback, all helping to shape the future of the program for the benefit of its members,” Mark said.

Over the years, advancements in the technology underpinning the database have brought even more power to the collaboration, including Real-Time screening, allowing SIRA members to carry out fraud checks at point of application or quote.

One leading UK ‘Challenger’ bank uses multiple datasets, including SIRA, as part of real-time fraud screening to ensure low risk applications experience a smooth customer journey, key to online-only success, and that adverse cases are spotted quickly.

A spokesperson said: “It’s vital that our fraud prevention controls and processes provide a frictionless application experience, whilst still enabling us to pinpoint suspicious application activity in a timely manner.

“Real-Time fraud screening against multiple datasets including bureau data, industry fraud data, such as Cifas and SIRA, and our own local application data complements this approach as it allows us to quickly and effectively determine the application fraud risks associated with applicants, ensuring low risk applicationsare able to progress straight through.

“On the flip side, where fraud risk concerns are highlighted, the ability to view all the key fraud risk information within the SIRA workflow, coupled with the flexibility to customise our fraud referral criteria and undertake fraudulent application data link analysis across the network of members, enables us to spot any suspicious applications and react to any emerging fraud trends with minimal inconvenience to genuine applicants.”

The SIRA program continues to attract new members from across banking, finance, insurance and now retail and telecommunications industries.

And in a further demonstration of the power of the database, SIRA members can now access the UK Government’s National Fraud Initiative (NFI) dataset.

The NFI data, from 22 different sources, includes millions of accurate and updated records, giving intelligence not readily available from other standard counter fraud or risk assessment solutions.

In total over 1,200 organisations regularly contribute to the NFI which spans a whole range of both local and central government departments and agencies.

Mark said: “To be able to open up this wealth of data to the National SIRA members bolsters the program and underlines the true benefit of collaboration within the financial industry, in staying one step ahead of potential fraudulent activity.”

For more information about the SIRA scheme, visit: www.synectics-solutions.com/Our-Products/sira

Finance

Women finance firm directors earn 66% less than men in UK, study finds

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Women finance firm directors earn 66% less than men in UK, study finds 1

By Lin Taylor

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Female directors at Britain’s biggest financial services firms earn 66% less than their male counterparts on average, research showed on Monday, despite a rise in the number of women on company boards in recent years.

Women board members made 247,100 pounds ($349,720) on average per year while men earned 722,300 pounds, said the study by law firm Fox & Partners, which examined pay gaps in financial firms that are among the nation’s 350 largest listed companies.

“Despite having greater levels of diversity at more junior levels, financial services firms are still struggling to reflect that shift at the senior executive level,” said Catriona Watt, partner at Fox & Partners.

“In order to see long-term change, firms must be committed to taking steps that will lead to more women progressing through the ranks, getting into senior executive positions and closing the pay gap,” she said in a statement.

The number of women on FTSE 350 company boards has jumped by 50% in the last five years, reaching 1,026 in 2020, according to the Hampton-Alexander Review, an independent body aiming to boost gender diversity on FTSE boards.

More than a third of board positions are now held by women too, the Review said last week, hitting a target that it had set for the end of 2020.

Yet disparities exist, even at the top. The Fox & Partners study said female directors in FTSE 350 financial services firms were mostly in non-executive roles, which meant they were paid less and had fewer responsibilities than men.

“These shocking figures prove the gender pay gap is thriving,” said Felicia Willow, head of women’s rights group the Fawcett Society, which was not involved with the report.

“There are not enough women in top roles and those who have made it are all too often paid less than men.”

A year ago, Britain suspended the need for companies to report on the gender pay gap in their workforces due to the coronavirus pandemic, a step the government said would not derail attempts to pay men and women fairly.

Since 2017 the government has required employers with more than 250 employees to submit gender pay gap figures every year in a bid to reduce pay disparities.

The gap narrowed last year, with men earning 15.5% more than women on average, down from 17.4% in 2019, according to official data.

Companies will now have until Oct. 5 to report on pay gaps, according to the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

($1 = 0.7066 pounds)

(Reporting by Lin Taylor @linnytayls; Editing by Helen Popper. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. )

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Finance

UK consumer credit slumped as new lockdown hit in Jan – BoE

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UK consumer credit slumped as new lockdown hit in Jan - BoE 2

LONDON (Reuters) – British consumer borrowing fell at its fastest pace in January since May last year as the country went back into a coronavirus lockdown, Bank of England data showed on Monday.

Unsecured lending to consumers fell by 2.4 billion pounds ($3.35 billion), the biggest fall since last May’s 4.6 billion-pound drop and more than a median forecast for a 1.9 billion-pound fall in a Reuters poll of economists.

That took the year-on-year fall to 8.9%, the biggest decline since monthly records began in 1994, the BoE said.

British lenders approved 98,994 mortgages in January, down by about 4,000 from December.

The Reuters poll of economists had seen approvals falling more sharply, to 96,000.

($1 = 0.7174 pounds)

(Reporting by William Schomberg and Andy Bruce, editing by David Milliken)

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Finance

UK’s Sunak says public finances won’t be fixed overnight

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UK's Sunak says public finances won't be fixed overnight 3

By William Schomberg and David Milliken

LONDON (Reuters) – British finance minister Rishi Sunak said on Sunday he would not rush to fix the public finances as he readied a budget plan which will pile more borrowing on top of almost 300 billion pounds ($418 billion) of COVID-19 spending and tax cuts.

Sunak, who is due to deliver his budget to parliament on Wednesday, promised to help the UK economy through a gradual lifting of lockdown measures that will last at least until late June. But he also said he would “level with people” about how Britain’s 2.1 trillion-pound debt pile would carry on growing without action.

“This is not something that’s going to happen overnight. Given the scale of the shock we’ve experienced, the scale of the damage, this is going to take time to fix,” Sunak told Sky News on Sunday.

“But it’s important … to also have strong public finances over time.”

Sunak declined to comment on specific tax moves – including a widely reported plan to raise corporation tax – ahead of his budget speech.

He also would not say if he would stick to his Conservative Party’s promises made in 2019 – before the pandemic – not to raise the rates of income tax, value-added tax or national insurance contributions, the biggest sources of tax revenue.

The Sunday Times said Sunak was planning to raise income tax revenues by 6 billion pounds by freezing the point at which people start paying the basic rate of income tax and the threshold at which they begin paying the higher rate.

Britain has suffered the biggest COVID-19 death toll in Europe and the heaviest economic shock among big rich countries, according to the headline measures of official data.

In response, Sunak has racked up the country’s biggest ever peacetime budget deficit to protect jobs and help businesses, and to increase funding for health and other services.

“We went big, we went early, and there’s more to come and people should feel reassured by that,” Sunak told BBC television.

Businesses such as shops, bars, clubs, hotels, restaurants, gyms and hair salons will be offered 5 billion pounds of additional grants, the government said on Saturday.

BORROWING COSTS EDGE UP

But Sunak also raised the prospect of a fiscal reckoning to prepare Britain for future economic shocks and he noted a recent rise in the cost of borrowing from record lows as debt markets worldwide price in more inflation from the global stimulus push.

“Interest rates have been at very low levels, which does allow us to afford slightly higher debt levels,” he said.

“But that can always change and we’re seeing that in the last few weeks,” he said. “We have to be acute to that possibility.”

The opposition Labour Party said Sunak was already putting pressure on local authorities to increase taxes.

“We are an outlier both in terms of having had the worst economic crisis of any major economy but now also in having a government that seems to be focused on increasing tax right now on families when other countries have focused on securing the recovery,” its finance spokeswoman Anneliese Dodds said.

(Reporting by William Schomberg; Writing by David Milliken; Editing by Susan Fenton)

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