By Scott Cutler
Managing cybersecurity is an ongoing challenge, no matter what industry you work in. But there are few areas more sensitive than personal financial data – which means businesses in this sector have a particularly tricky task to navigate.
In recent years, this has been compounded by the requirement for more stringent data regulation. Meanwhile, high-profile breaches and malicious malware attacks have brought the issue of data protection to the forefront of public awareness – meaning customer expectation around security is high.
But there’s also an additional risk – and it’s one that can be incredibly hard to manage. As financial ecosystems open up, the prevalence of shared banking systems and third-party networks are exposing the financial services industry to a broader threat perimeter than ever before. And all too often, businesses aren’t equipped to deal with the attendant risks.
Third-party vendors: an opportunity and a threat
Once upon a time, protecting data and maintaining security in financial services was very much a case of handling the direct relationship between the business and its customers – and of course, blocking malicious attacks. Nowadays, financial institutions like banks are working with more and more third-party vendors to support their services, ranging from the providers of real-time payment APIs to professional services vendors.
At the same time, initiatives like Open Banking are actively opening up the conversation around collaboration, providing the framework and the driver for more integrated services across the board. In an age where businesses are striving to deliver ever-more innovative products to their customers, the benefits of this are clear, with financial institutions able to access technologies and services they would never have the scope to develop internally.
Yet there’s no escaping the fact that the opportunity for breaches – whether accidental or resulting from a malicious attack – increases significantly with every new party introduced to the security ecosystem.
Playing the blame game
A number of high-profile cases have illustrated the dangers inherent in this. Scottrade Bank suffered reputational damage when a serious accidental breach exposed the personal data of 20,000 customers in 2017. Although Scottrade attributed this breach to a third-party professional services vendor, which failed to take adequate safeguards, the reality is that it was Scottrade’s name hitting the headlines.
Other breaches of this type have had a significant financial impact. In 2016, hackers stole a staggering $81 million from the Bangladesh central bank – and it’s widely believed that they gained access through third-party software. Clearly, dangers from third-party vendors can’t be dismissed. And even when a breach is caused by a third-party vendor, this distinction is very rarely made in the minds of customers (or the press).
So, while nobody would dispute that enhanced collaboration can drive product innovation and therefore improve the customer experience, the flipside is greater risk – and more difficulty establishing exactly where the burden of responsibility lies.
Assessing a changing landscape
If they’re going to protect their customers, their systems, and their reputations, financial institutions need to act. But despite the pressing nature of this issue, few are fully equipped to deal with the changing nature of risk.
It’s standard to conduct a threat risk and vulnerability analysis of a vendor upon entering into a new third-party agreement, at which point the organisation will also provide the third party with assurance of the right level of security. While this approach is commonplace, it’s also flawed – because it only reflects the vendor’s risk level at a specific moment in time.
As those in charge of cybersecurity know all too well, digital threats can emerge in a moment and wreak havoc in minutes. So financial institutions need to have a clear, ongoing view of potential threats from third-party vendors, not simply at the point of entering into a new agreement. Unfortunately, few banks have the internal resource, skills, or budget to assess this on a regular or even semi-regular basis.
Complicating matters further, it’s difficult to develop a standardised approach to risk analysis. When you consider the full range of third-party vendors that financial institutions work with, the issues at play are hugely varied; a professional services vendor presents a very different threat to a piece of integrated software. As a result, it’s historically been difficult to implement a straightforward testing mechanism that can regularly account for the full gamut of potential issues.
An integrated approach to wide-ranging risk
If financial institutions are going to successfully manage third-party risk, this has to change. On the bright side, as the risk has grown, a number of technologies have developed to help businesses manage their risk on a continual basis. Doing this requires a well-rounded, integrated approach that covers many bases – including firewalls and ongoing threat intelligence.
It’s not easy, but it’s certainly possible – and it should be a priority. Because whether it’s protecting customers’ personal information or their savings, banks and other financial institutions have to maintain rigorous security standards. If they don’t, it’s not just their customers’ data at risk – it’s their business’ reputation on the line, too.
Supply Networks: The Future of Procurement
By Sean Thompson, EVP of Network and Ecosystem, SAP Procurement Solutions
No supply chain has been spared by the impact of the coronavirus. Some parts of the world are indeed seeing businesses slowly look toward recovery and a gradual move to a ‘new normal’. But we cannot ignore that small shops and multinational corporations alike will continue to face challenges with regard to their manufacturing, distribution, logistics, and demand functions, as well as their overall financial well-being and that of their business partners.
A contributing factor to this disruption is the traditional, linear supply chain model, where each step is dependent on the one before it. Inefficiencies at one stage result in a cascade of inefficiencies down the line. And when the buyer and supplier are located at either end of the chain, it’s easy to see how collaboration breaks down and end-to-end visibility is nearly impossible.
The resulting reactive and uncoordinated response makes it challenging for procurement teams to know exactly which suppliers, sites, parts and products are at risk, and therefore, extremely difficult to secure new sources of supply in a timely manner.
Fostering the Partner Ecosystem
As businesses grapple with the ramifications of COVID-19, they must learn key lessons as they look to recovery. At the crux of this is rebuilding and restructuring resilient supply chains for a better future. This means moving beyond the traditional linear supply chain model to the implementation of a dynamic, collaborative supply network.
Unlike traditional supply chains, supply networks shift away from singular, point-to-point processes to a many-to-many structure that enables 360-degree visibility. Once an organisation is connected to a network, they become both a buyer and a supplier and gain broad visibility into the interconnected operations of their trading partners. Beyond allowing companies to identify emerging trends or issues more easily, access to a network also enables them to collaborate with new partners, improve cash flow, develop new products and accelerate sustainability.
Connecting to a network that includes producers, vendors, distribution centres, warehouses, transportation companies and retailers contributes to a businesses’ overall ability to move with agility, respond more quickly to demand and address unforeseen circumstances like those we’ve seen this year.
Building the Business Pillars of the Future
The global COVID-19 pandemic has suddenly accelerated the need for organisations to transform and respond to the unplanned and unprecedented. As a different world takes shape, longer term strategies for supply chains and operating models need to be re-assessed and prioritised in order for an organisation to advance in the following three key business pillars of the future: resiliency, profitability, and sustainability.
Digital transformation will play a major role for an organisation to withstand future disruptions and help pivot them toward recovery when disruptions do occur. In turn then, supply networks offer a holistic approach that enables greater transparency between trading partners and help organisations make decisions in real-time. Unlike linear supply chains, supply networks optimise operations and break down functional silos to enable organisations to realise the untapped potential of existing capabilities and achieve higher performance as well as greater value. Indeed, this is demonstrated by recent data from Bain & Company, which reveals how companies with resilient supply chains grow faster because they’re able to move quickly when market demand shifts.
When it comes to an organisation maximising its profit margins, resiliency and profitability go hand in hand. Businesses that run reliable, automated supply chains generate increased revenue because digital supply networks can smooth over any friction, and in turn, maximise the output. With automation and transparency in place, the ROI handles itself and the network becomes a profitability-driving tool.
Finally, businesses should always consider their sustainability goals; not only across their organisation, but within their supply network too. Beyond the need for creating long-term value, sustainability can foster innovation and encourage new ways of thinking that can ultimately lead to increased revenues, stronger customer relationships and improved brand perception. One way this is often addressed is by looking to reduce carbon footprints as a result of operations. However, sustainability exists deep within supply chains, like modern slavery and single-use plastics; these need to be addressed in equal measure too. The use of technology can help spot inefficiencies and risk so that today’s business leaders can instil long-lasting change and dig into the supply chains of their partners and suppliers, prioritising those who are also making sustainability a priority too.
It’s a New Dawn
Transforming from a supply chain to a supply network should support a business’ total digital transformation strategy. By taking advantage of the latest digital tools, businesses can remain resilient and scale at a rate that creates a competitive advantage.
An example of this done successfully is demonstrated by the Danish manufacturing company VELUX Group, which automated 64% of its 20,000 monthly order lines after digitally transforming supply chain operations and streamlining supplier collaboration. Now, the VELUX Group seamlessly conducts transactions with more than 200 vendors and enjoys improved processes, accelerated delivery dates and more time saved.
Digital supply networks are built to anticipate disruptions and mitigate risks. They leverage technology and data analytics to provide a continuous flow of information which allows business leaders to gain a holistic insight to all areas of the business. While moving to a supply network requires fundamental changes to many aspects of an organisation’s planning – from strategy, to business processes, to IT – the ability to keep up with fast-moving market dynamics is essential in today’s business environment more than ever.
Will covid-19 end the dominance of the big four?
By Campbell Shaw, Head of Bank Partnerships, Cardlytics
Across the country, we are readjusting to refreshed restrictions on our daily lives, as we continue to navigate the seemingly unnavigable waters of the coronavirus pandemic.
For all of us, the pandemic has made life anything but ‘normal’, and with social distancing here to stay, it will remain so for a long time yet. These paradigm shifts have impacted every aspect of life, including how we bank.
Focus is already turning to the role the big banks are playing through the pandemic, with experts fearing the economic downturn will only cement the position of the ‘big four’ traditional players.
But has the pandemic shaken the dominance of the big banks? Or has it simply confirmed their position?
Turning to tech
There’s no doubt that the pandemic has caused the big players to be challenged like never before on tech.
Classically slower to adapt to developments in the market, increased demand for online services and contactless payment systems have turbocharged the big banks’ need to act like a challenger.
And they have, agilely adapting to this new normal by updating systems and services to ensure customers’ safety and financial security come first.
Scale is staying power
In these new times, the power and influence of the big players has also been proven.
The big four have provided the lion’s share of the government-backed loans designed to help small and medium-sized businesses through the pandemic. It has also been the big four offering the majority of payment holidays for customers on their mortgages, debt and credit cards.
However, it’s important to note that their power to retain customers goes much deeper than their market share.
Our switching study, which looked at the reasons behind customer switching, found that even before the pandemic, despite nearly half (48%) of UK adults admitting they know they aren’t getting the best deal with their current bank, half have never switched their current account.
That’s often because of the value they can provide to their customers, through personalized service, offers and rewards that keeps customers engaged and invested in them. As brands increasingly look to
Focus on finances
As the world becomes a more financially insecure place, due to COVID-19, there’s been a marked shift towards more attention on finances, which has affected not only the business functions of banks but has impacted banking relationships with customers at their core.
From deals to savings, customers now more than ever are re-evaluating how they bank, and how they manage their money.
The impact on the big four is more pressure than ever to keep up with the best interest rates and deals. That can be difficult for a big, and often slower moving, organisation and could be a stumbling block for them in the months to come.
However, on the plus side, the big four can lean into their sophisticated loyalty schemes, using offers and deals from partner brands to demonstrate value to customers and build up their loyalty.
Engaging with purpose
The pandemic has seen many banks acting with a renewed sense of purpose. Banking has had to be more adaptable than ever before – fitting the needs of those who may be feeling financial stress or dealing with unprecedented challenges.
And showing a little heart can go a long way when it comes to increasing customer loyalty and boosting a bank’s reputation.
Over the last months, traditional banks have been quick to adapt their products and services, in response to the demands and challenges their customers have been face.
No doubt, continuing to build more meaningful, supportive and engaging customer relationships, whether it is online or on the newly reopened high-street, will be critical to banks’ dominance as we look to the future.
Bring on the challengers
However, with their meteoric rise ahead of lockdown, we must keep an eye on the challengers, who still have the potential to knock traditional players off their pedestal.
We found that more than three million people in the UK opened a current account with a new bank last year. Our research found that traditional banks made up well over half (69%) of the accounts UK adults switched from, while newer digital challenger banks such as Monzo, Starling Bank and Revolut made up 25% of current accounts switched to. And these fast moving, fast growing challengers may see further growth if traditional banks are stifled by the declining high-street.
What’s more, the high street could yet prove to be the Achilles heel of the bigger players, as shifting budgets and increasing overheads in the context of a more online banking experience could see more big players struggle with their physical presence, making way for the digital challengers to thrive.
So, while the dominant players may have the lead, they should still keep an eye on the challengers as we look ahead to the next, uncertain, six months.
To take the nation’s financial pulse, we must go digital
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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