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DO I NEED A MOBILE APP?

By Peter Stonham, Technical Architect at Altus

 

The rise of Mobile is news to no one, and mobile banking continues to grow in popularity and uptake, with UK Finance reporting nearly half of UK adults using mobile banking in 2018. But without a behemoth budget and development team, should you spend the time and money putting together a mobile app?

Research and proposition design are key. Delivering a tempting and competitive offering which caters for a market need is what sets you apart. Beyond this, users need to be able to use the product when – and where – the thought takes them. Whether this is on the morning commute reading about new funds, at the desk planning a pension pot or in the garden on lockdown when you get a notification that your holiday cancellation refund has been processed, and need to choose where to save the money. Circumstances will influence the means the user chooses to interact with your product. When they think to do so, it must be simple and familiar to them, and it needs to allow them to perform whichever actions they need, intuitively.

If an opportunity to grow revenue through a mobile channel is identified, your next question is whether you need an app, or if mobile web is sufficient. Key to this is working out what features should it provide – should it be a lightweight means to check account balances, or a full-featured interface with the potential to replace web browser access?

 

Progressive Web Apps are an entry point to developing a mobile-focused interface. These appear to the user as mobile apps, but are in fact regular web pages, albeit with many additional features. From push notifications and background synchronisation, through to offline caching and data bandwidth reduction, many of the features which used to be limited to native apps are now achievable via Service Workers in Progressive Web Apps. As a starting point these could be a good choice, but it is only the first of many ways to provide mobile functionality, from this stage all the way through to full native. The considerations are both desired functionality and organisational maturity.

Native Apps are at the other end of the spectrum, whether these are written using low-code tools like OutSystems or Salesforce, platform-agnostic frameworks like Xamarin, or directly in Swift or Kotlin. Using native applications enables access to the many services and sensors mobile platforms make available through APIs, such as biometric security; this could include face recognition and fingerprint or iris scanning. Using the inbuilt biometric security APIs of the phone allows users to quickly and securely authenticate with the application. Solution accelerators in the low code platforms provide drop-in components for common features, and bespoke native applications provide unrivalled flexibility and customisation.

Peter Stonham

Increasing the complexity of the solution, and the breadth of access to your services, has many advantages, but these come at a cost. Native application development requires a different set of skills to web app development. Alongside this, having multiple client interfaces operating well, requires a system back end (or at least, an orchestration layer) which is designed to handle service and API calls from different user interfaces. For large multi-national institutions serving client bases in the hundreds of thousands, this cost can be offset with the customer advantages. For smaller organisations it becomes difficult to justify, although an increasing number of services are available via SDKs and APIs from third parties. For example, using a third-party SDK for security and authentication can provide the highest level of security with minimal effort.

Middle ground can be found in the form of Hybrid applications. These applications wrap a responsive web page within a native application. In doing this, the same user interface (and the same code and backend servers) can handle requests from desktops, laptops and mobile devices, reducing development and maintenance costs. Many of the advantages of native mobile applications can be achieved as well, including biometric security for authentication, phone calls for customer service and wearable integration.

Ultimately deciding whether you want or need an app is only the start. Having decided the how and the what, not only do you have an app to build, you need to ensure your operating model supports this provision. Apps are built and live in a world of fast-moving change and falling behind these changes can be damaging, from brand damage and bad reviews to more serious issues such as data loss or security flaws. Apple are reportedly releasing 4 new models in 2020; iOS has been updated 5 times this year; at least 10 new Android phones have been announced with a myriad new features and functions. We have already seen the first phone with a folding screen – a big change in format that could mean a significant change to the new app you have just decided to release.

Consider your proposition, decide on the features you want to offer your customers, and ensure your operating model allows you to provide these features. Mobile offerings will allow customers to use your product when it suits them, and in a more remote world this flexibility will be desirable. Take note of the tripping points though, and set up the supporting models and infrastructure to enable this success.

 

Finance

WE NEED FINTECHS NOW MORE THAN EVER

STRUCTURED DATA

Lubaina Manji, Senior Programme Manager, Nesta Challenges

 

Whilst the sun is far from setting on the COVID-19 pandemic, predictions and hopes for a new “normal” are shimmering on the horizon.

 

Amid the trail of devastation left by the virus, there has to be some semblance of change and positivity to be taken. One such shift is the increase in digital services usage which poses a huge opportunity for our fintech community. Confinement has forced even the more sceptical of us to dabble in digital, and embrace how it has made many everyday tasks more easy and convenient.

 

Online and mobile banking has been helping many people stay on top of their finances for some time. Research conducted by Open Up 2020 Challenge last summer found half (48%) of people would like to use online tools and apps to help them manage their money[1].

 

Then along came a global pandemic that has undoubtedly forced the hands of even the more sceptical to log on, download and transact – quickening the pace of long-lasting change in terms of how we manage our money. Recent figures from deVere Group suggest the virus is behind a 72% rise in the use of fintech apps in Europe[2]. Never before have we been so reliant on technology in maintaining some sort of normalcy and in helping us continue day-to-day tasks, like everyday banking.

 

Another unfortunate byproduct of protecting communities from the virus means many people have been left out of work and with less or no income. In times of financial strain, the need for people to engage with their finances – be it budgeting, saving or shopping around for better deals – is far greater.

 

Issues of trust in traditional banking services and a lack of awareness of the helpful money management services available are some of the barriers preventing people from taking more control of their finances. But the solutions made possible through open banking can provide people with a lifeline to build their financial resilience and better manage their money.

 

Open banking has the potential to revolutionise financial services, by giving people control over their financial data in order to access innovative products tailored to them. Since it launched in 2018, open banking technology has opened the door for new fintech innovators to create cutting-edge tools designed to help people better manage their money – from budgeting, debt management, comparing and switching banks to automating savings and more. These could have a significant impact – it is estimated that UK consumers could gain as much as £12bn over the course of a year from open banking-enabled tools[3].

 

So far, it’s been effective – the UK FinTech’s State of the Nation report[4] totted up more than 1,600 fintech firms in the UK in 2019, whilst predicting this could more than double by 2030. Figures from the Open Banking Implementation Entity showed there were 243 regulated providers, 169 third party providers and 74 account providers as of April 2020[5]. The UK adoption rate of fintech is 42% – higher than the global average of 33% – making it ripe for opportunity[6]. Coupled with lockdown restrictions creating greater dependence on technology – including ATM cash withdrawals falling by half[7] – fintechs are well placed to be part of the solution – and offer help to those struggling to manage.

 

With more than a fifth (21%) of the adult population saying financial stress is having a bigger impact on their mental wellbeing than physical health concerns during the crisis, and a quarter more stressed about money than usual[8], fintechs can be part of the support available to them.

 

However, in order to fully realise the opportunity we need to ensure budding entrepreneurs with bold ideas have the means to turn them into reality. Nesta Challenges exists to design and run challenge prizes that incentivise people to help solve pressing social problems that lack solutions. Through our Open Up 2020 Challenge we are supporting 15 fintech finalists to develop their solutions to enable more people – particularly those underserved by traditional financial products – to manage their finances better, whatever their circumstances.

 

Of the 15 finalists, some offer app designed to help people budget,, save, switch and invest – aided with alerts and notifications that allow people to stay on top of their finances and make their money work harder for them for the long term. For example, Cleo is an AI financial assistant that is already helping more than 3 million customers monitor their spending, budgeting and saving, while Moneyhub empowers people to do more with their money by offering actionable insights from a review of all of their accounts.

 

Some of the apps are designed for those with more specific circumstances, such as Mojo Mortgages, which analyses income and transaction data for first time buyers to produce mortgage affordability scores and savings recommendations if they aren’t quite ready to apply. Finalists Portify and Wagestream cater for workers with irregular earning patterns.

 

As well as monetary grants, Open Up 2020 Challenge provides these companies with non-financial support and promotion to help them on their way to achieving their full potential – which in turn helps them reach many people to help them achieve their monetary goals.

 

While COVID-19 has created personal finance headaches for many, it has been inspiring to see how quickly fintechs have been able to innovate and develop digital solutions that help solve these problems and equip people to better manage their money.

[1] Open Up 2020 Challenge

[2] Forbes 2020

[3] Open banking Consumer Priorities for Open Banking report

[4] UK Fintech State of the Nation

[5] Open banking Highlights April 2020

[6] UK Fintech State of the Nation

[7] https://www.link.co.uk/about/statistics-and-trends/

[8] Open Up 2020 Challenge

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Technology

THE “MOBIUS STRIP” OF CYBER SECURITY

By Miles Tappin, Vice President, EMEA at ThreatConnect

 

Over the last few years, cyber criminals have become more agile and possess a higher quality of skill than ever before. However, these skills come at a cost to industries worldwide. According to the Allianz Risk Barometer 2020, companies now see cybercrime as the biggest threat to their business, taking the top spot for the first time and ranking above threats such as climate change, natural disasters and market developments.

With digital threats remaining front of mind for the C-suite, more needs to be done to ensure businesses are protected from the powerful effects that cyber crime can have on the bottom line, corporate reputation or day-to-day operations.

 

The rise of the “business savvy” hacker 

Awareness of digital threats is rapidly accelerating among businesses, but many aren’t prepared to tackle the mounting threats they now face.

According to David Ferbrache, Global Head of Cyber-Futures at KPMG and Chair of the National Cyber Resilience Board for Scotland, organised crime has become a lot less “crude” than it used to be. In essence, criminals are now becoming “business savvy” and are even undertaking reconnaissance missions to work out exactly who the best target is and how much they can extort.

Gone are the days of “hackers” being people who lurked in darkened rooms, anonymously terrorising the internet. They now want to be known as players in an evolving landscape who are taking advantage of your organisations’ pitfalls and planning far in advance to inflict the most amount of damage possible for maximum impact.

The main worry for the C-suite is that cyber criminals are getting smarter. They’re continuously learning from previous attacks, sharing insights and using this to exploit new vulnerabilities using emerging forms of technology. This continuous feedback loop is enabling them to act quicker.

For example, if a hack highlights a potential weakness, they will then target it in their next assault before organisations have a chance to respond. It becomes an ongoing cycle for the attackers. If the weakness isn’t fixed in time, then there is no doubt that it will continue to happen. Much to the dismay of organisations.

 

Threat intelligence informing operations

It’s long been argued that threat intelligence should inform operations when it comes to cyber security. This allows organisations to quickly identify threats and false flags, so security teams do not waste their time chasing down non-malicious communications. It should be noted that intelligence does not exist for its own sake. Intelligence, in particular threat intelligence, specifically exists to inform decisions for security operations, tactics and strategy. However, this relationship is not a one-way street.

Intelligence and operations should be cyclical and symbiotic. Intelligence informs decisions for operations resulting in actions being taken based on those decisions. Those actions, including clean-ups, further investigations, or other mitigations will create data and information in the form of artefacts. This includes lists of targeted or affected assets, identified malware, network-based indicators of compromise and newly observed attack patterns.

In turn, these artifacts can be refined into intelligence that can inform decisions for future operations. While some organisations do not have a formally defined intelligence function on their team, the concept of using what you know about the threat-space to inform your operations exists in all organisations. Regardless of whether an explicitly named threat intelligence analyst employee is on the payroll, the relationship between intelligence and operations is fundamental and present in all security teams.

 

Enter the “mobius strip”

With security risks and attacks set to increase year-on-year and the average annual cost to organisations ballooning, companies need to explore how they can make greater use of threat intelligence to respond to the new barrage of threats.

Threat intelligence may be the catalyst for taking an action or starting a process and informing how the process and decision making is done throughout. As threat intelligence drives your orchestrated actions, the result of those actions can be used to create or enhance existing threat intelligence. A feedback loop is created — essentially threat intelligence drives orchestration and orchestration enhances threat intelligence.

Increasingly, cyber security programmes are operating like a “mobius strip”, a continuous loop where intelligence informs operations and insights from these operations are fed back and form new intelligence. The “mobius strip” will prevent hackers in the long-term. By sharing important data between intelligence and operations it denies hackers the upper hand. Providing context to indicators during incident management is crucial to understanding what you might be dealing with and where it’s been seen before. At the same time, adding new intel generated from an incident or case back to your threat repository takes information that’s very relevant to your organisation and makes it available for future analysis.

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