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A CATALYST FOR CUSTOMER SATISFACTION AND GROWTH IN THE FINANCIAL SERVICES SECTOR

Peter Walker, EMEA CTO, Blue Prism

 

The financial services sector has undergone a period of rapid innovation over the past decade, with the rise of fintechs and digital banking solutions, which are much more agile than traditional banking options. On top of this, the sector is now also experiencing unprecedented effects due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Institutions must transform their core operations to address these industry disruptions, not only to meet the needs of today’s increasingly interconnected society, but also to help weather the impact of the virus.

In order to maintain a competitive advantage within the industry, satisfy the changing demands of their customers and meet intensifying regulations, Robotic Process Automation (RPA) technology can offer a way forward by providing a platform that runs Digital Workers – intelligent software robots that complete activities in the same way as humans, by mimicking and learning business processes like people do.

With the unprecedented surge in demand of business operations, work isn’t being delivered at its full potential, and at the pace required. People are increasingly unable to support businesses’ needs of extracting and formatting data into a number of different systems, as well as performing a number of tasks which are better suited to technology. This work can lead to stressful environments and errors in a highly regulated process.

 

Addressing the changes in the financial services landscape

Digital banking apps like Monzo and Starling have in the past few years transformed the way people handle their personal finances, and the banking solutions now available to customers means that they have become accustomed to seamless service.

Speed is everything in financial services, and against a backdrop of economic and political uncertainty, traditional banking institutions need to consider changing the way they operate. They must heed the example of digital natives and become more agile, so that they can quickly adapt to unforeseen circumstances in the market.

As the demand for the sector’s services increases in response to the government’s mandated initiatives, such as the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CIBLS), companies will have to pivot their operations to keep pace with the changing landscape. We always hear about how sectors can digitally transform, and RPA-based Digital Workers can help companies to begin their digital transformation journey and accelerate that innovation.

Implementing Digital Workers

In this challenging climate, where traditional business models have changed overnight, organisations need to fulfil the demands of enterprise operations at the pace required to remain competitive. Increasingly, people won’t be able to support this demand on their own, and technology will plug the gap that humans cannot fill.

A lot of customer-facing activity in financial services is process-heavy by nature. It involves dealing with large amounts of sensitive information and adhering to strict processes, which creates a lot of admin. Strategically deploying Digital Workers and intelligent automation can help businesses to streamline a number of these admin tasks, such as processing loans and mortgage repayments. Automating this process frees up employees’ time so they can improve other areas of the business that automation alone can’t deal with.

Covid-19 has renewed the pressure on financial services organisations – not just simply by increasing the sheer volume of customer service calls, but also by introducing new operational stresses through remote working. Implementing automation technologies in a strategic way can help financial institutions get in better shape to cope, not just during this time of uncertainty, but in the long run. In a recent 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 financial services revealed that they already have plans in place to extend their use of automation across their business.

 

Support during Covid-19

In response to the pandemic, Blue Prism has set up the Covid-19 Response Programme, donating Digital Workers and services to assist across a number of sectors, including on the front lines of the health emergency, transportation and financial services. These deployments illustrate how RPA can help – as by using Digital Workers, business will be able to maintain business continuity and provide the necessary services to citizens during this difficult time.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, Leeds Building Society has turned to Blue Prism’s RPA technology to rapidly increase its deployment of Digital Workers, helping it to cope with the high demand for mortgage holidays. Mortgage payment holiday requests now exceed 2,000 a day and this is all now being handled by the RPA solution, reducing calls to the contact centre by 75% and providing answers to most of these requests within 21 seconds. This allows front-line colleagues to focus on delivering better customer experiences, and back-office processing teams to work on other priorities for the business. Most importantly, at a time of profound uncertainty when many people are under financial pressure, it helps to quickly resolve their issues.

For a long time, the financial services sector has been slow to adopt new technologies which could speed up internal processes, primarily due to the need to comply with regulatory requirements. Yet automation can help these organisations to adjust to rapid regulatory changes. For example, by helping them to audit their data and processes. Without automation technology, businesses might have to recruit and train temporary staff or hire support from a business process outsourcing provider, which could come at a significant cost.

 

The future of automation in the sector

Financial services perform a vital role in our economy. But the pandemic also provides an impetus for organisations in the sector to transform their operations, and automation has huge potential when it comes to this transformation. By 2024, Gartner predicts that automation technologies will replace almost 69% of the managers’ workloads. The Covid-19 crisis could be a catalyst to hasten the migration of routine and rote business processes and help the sector to keep pace with the changing economic environment, as well as rising consumer demands.

 

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Business

ALLIANZ BENELUX IS USING GRAPH TECHNOLOGY TO BEAT FRAUD AND BOOST CUSTOMER-CENTRICITY

Amy Hodler, Director, Analytics and AI Program Manager at Neo4j.

 

Data expert Amy Hodler examines how graph technology is reducing insurance fraud and providing customer insight at one of the world’s largest financial services companies

Financial services firms constantly have to fight financial criminals, but it is getting more demanding for organisations to identify and stop fraudulent activity at the scale it now occurs.

Traditional methods for monitoring fraud, such as setting up rules to examine deviations from normal purchasing patterns, use discrete data. This is useful for catching individual criminals acting alone, but this approach falls short when it comes to detecting fraud rings. Sophisticated criminals continuously alter their strategies to circumvent detection. They utilise synthetic accounts to carry out what appear to be unrelated activities by unconnected individuals. However, these activities are in fact well-coordinated and criminally linked.

The financial services sector needs a better way to follow the trail from one account to another to determine how activities that on the surface appear unrelated are in fact connected. This requires having a 360-degree view of the intricate fraud network to determine how suspicious events are linked.

 

Fraud detection with graphs

Graph database technology may be an invaluable tool in fighting fraud. In contrast to traditional relational databases, graphs not only interpret individual items of data, but also their relationships with one another. An increasing number of the world’s leading financial institutions are using graph databases to model and monitor data about customers, accounts, devices, locations and other attributes to identify fraudulent activity. Allianz, a multinational financial services company offering insurance products and services to 100 million customers in more than 70 countries, is one such.

As a truly customer-centric insurer, Allianz Benelux takes a zero-tolerance stance on fraud. As the subsidiary’s chief data and analytics officer, Sudaman Thoppan Mohanchandralal, explains, “We need to secure customers from risk – not just today, but into the future. We can only do that by having full insight into the risk environment and with an ability to predict it for our customers.”

 

Relational data model problems

Mohanchandralal’s colleague, Dr. Jan Doumen, strategic lead for Customer & Broker Information and Insights, agrees. “The best way to understand your customers and the risks they are exposed to on a daily basis is by storing, analysing and visualising them through connected data.

“Graph technology does this at scale, which means we no longer have to rely only on highly demanding, traditional relational technologies.”

Historically, building internal visualisations of suspicious behaviours with relational technology had been too demanding, Doumen confirms. The latest fraud countermeasures, such as network tracking, were too complex to build in a relational database. Sudaman calls this process a ‘2 by 2’ approach, where SQL database-style tables with rows and columns don’t offer the data connections fraud detection and prevention requires.

Working with a relational data model doesn’t allow the Allianz Benelux team to extract useful data on the fly. In contrast, graph technologies spot potentially fraudulent activity in Allianz Benelux’s ecosystem by disclosing concealed illicit connections. Bringing all the customer data into a graph database permits the Allianz Benelux anti-fraud team to reveal the risk exposures in a motor or household context.

“It is the combination of multi-node, multi-connection snapshots of customers and the much more efficient search possibilities coming from graph technology that we believed would revolutionise the way our internal business handles customers’ risks,” Doumen confirms.

 

Clear business benefit

Equally important for the Allianz Benelux team is having a 360-degree view of the customer. The Belelux operation has gone through a series of mergers and acquisitions and its customer data has become dispersed in separate silos, which has led to a number of operational inefficiencies.

“When we were able to get to a level with graphs to show colleagues this holistic view of a customer, it was so much easier for them to understand rather than through a table with rows and columns. This will enable them to personalise their services towards our customers,” Doumen adds.

Allianz Benelux’s success using the native graph approach has resulted in clear business benefits. Over the course of two years, €2 million of operational profit value was identified. Given the advantages realised with graphs, the Allianz Benelux team plans on offering the solution to other parts of the organisation.

Graph databases can future-proof an organisation’s fraud prevention initiatives by providing insight based on data relationships and connected intelligence. They can also unlock data silos and generate a more unified view of customers – helping you achieve full ‘customer-centricity’, as well as drive more revenue. Sounds well worth investigating.

 

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Business

5 SIMPLE WAYS TO PREVENT A DATA BREACH FROM PUTTING YOUR ACCOUNTANCY PRACTICE OUT OF BUSINESS

By Bruce Penson, Managing Director at Pro Drive IT

 

As an accountancy firm, you hold a huge amount of confidential and sensitive information. Personal details on clients, banking and social security information, confidential material about businesses and their staff: all of this data presents a massive problem.

Why? Because this information is highly valuable to cyber criminals. They know you hold it, they know who you are, and they will be trying to find ways into your IT systems to get access to it. Today’s cyber criminals are no longer hobbyists or ‘geeks’ sitting in a darkened room behind a computer. They are organised gangs with a considerable amount of knowledge and access to more sophisticated IT resources than a typical SME could ever hope to own.

This presents a real problem for accountancy firms — one for which many are inadequately prepared.

There is good news though. It is possible to make very real improvements to your defences and significantly reduce the risk of a breach without the need for complex technical solutions. In this eBook, we are going to cover five simple changes you can make at your accountancy practice to protect it from cyber criminals.

 

  1. Take control of your passwords

With all the different websites and apps we use in both our personal and work lives, we have a lot of passwords to remember. Memorising all of them is an almost-impossible task. Yet with many breaches of firm’s IT systems coming as a result of staff reusing passwords or having easy-to-guess ones, it is an area that accountancy practices cannot afford to ignore.

The UK Government recommends using password managers to address this problem. A password manager stores your valuable passwords in a secure online vault to keep them out of the prying hands of cyber criminals. Our favourite is LastPass, which costs just £3 per user per month for the business version. As well as providing an area for your team to store their passwords, the business edition of LastPass also alerts you to staff storing insecure passwords or reusing them for other websites — ensuring you can maintain best password practice across your firm.

If you are not ready to commit to spending at this stage, LastPass also provides a free of charge service — you can follow our handy guide on how to set this up. There really is no excuse: make sure you setup your password manager today!

 

  1. Switch on two-factor authentication

As we have already discussed, the most common form of data breach comes from passwords being stolen. For web-based accounts and applications, this is a problem as once a cyber criminal has your password and email address, they will also have access to any accounts that use them.

Using automated software, they will quickly find these accounts — meaning they will have gained access before you are even aware you have a problem. At the moment, the most effective way to stop this is to enable two-step authentication. You most likely already use this on your online banking — where you might have to supply a randomly generated code in addition to your password. Most websites and web-based applications will have the option for two-step authentication at no additional cost. Where available, you should ensure this is activated and enforce it for your entire organisation.

This is absolutely essential if you use Microsoft Office 365 or Google Apps. For more information on two-step authentication, view these simple-to-follow guides from the popular two-step authentication app Authy.

 

  1. Use an ‘External Email Banner’

Time and time again, we’ve commented on the fact emails are the source of most cyber security breaches.

As such, it can be very useful to identify any emails you receive that are from outside of your business. If you can do this and you receive an email tagged as being from an ‘external sender’, but it appears to come from a colleague of yours, there is a good chance it is a fraudulent email. Adding a simple banner such as the one below is a very short job for your IT team and should cost you nothing — yet it could save you a fortune.

 

  1. Train Your Staff

It is a well-publicised fact that almost all cyber security breaches require some kind of human interaction to be successful. It is, therefore, somewhat puzzling that the majority of SME accountancy firms do not have a regular cyber security training program in place — especially when you consider that CPD courses and anti-bribery training are deemed so important. Part of the issue is that cyber security training is considered expensive, time consuming to deliver and not at all engaging to the people receiving it. But this is far from true. Some systems cost from as little as £2–3 per member of staff per month and deliver cyber security training in short, digestible blocks. These ‘short and snappy’ training sessions will not take up large amounts of your billable time but will still get the message across in an engaging way.

 

  1. Keep Your Team Aware

One of the challenges in any firm is keeping the threats from cyber security fresh in the minds of your team whilst they have their day jobs to focus on. Although training undoubtedly helps, often this is seen as a ‘point-in-time’ initiative in response to a breach or security incident occurring. Once the memory of this has faded, awareness amongst staff often does too.

The good news is that this is easy to address and even better, it should cost you no more than a little time to administer it. Here is our suggested approach: Nominate a member of staff to be your ‘cyber threat co-ordinator’. This should not necessarily be someone from IT. Ideally, it would be the person involved in running your office and organising staff communications: most likely your practice manager. Your co-ordinator should sign up to some email feeds on the latest threats — a good starting point is the government backed Action Fraud site and the security training service DynaRisk. Your co-ordinator should also review some online blogs such those from the Independent, which offers an easy-to-understand news feed on the latest cyber security threats. The information from these feeds should then be used to create content in staff newsletters, presented regularly in team meetings, posted to your intranet or circulated via email or an instant messaging feed.

 

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