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How finance leaders use analytics to manage risk and maintain profitability

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Jon M. Deutsch, Vice President and Global Head of Financial Services  at Information Builders writes,

 

Using data to manage risk

The Amercian Institute of Certified Professional Accountants (AICPA) asked more than 400 finance leaders and chief financial officers about their risk management strategies. The survey, undertaken in partnership with The North Carolina State University Enterprise Risk Management Initiative, found that 65% of those surveyed had recently experienced an ‘operational surprise’ from an unanticipated risk.

Among the top five risk management pitfalls, AICPA identified lack of collaboration with the IT department, advising, “IT can provide key metrics for your risk analysis, help mine the data and assist in SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis.”

Using technology to gain visibility

Jon M Deutsch

There are now so many more sources and varieties of data that integration tools are crucial to the success of analytics strategies. To gain reliable business intelligence, organisations need to ensure that they are able to integrate unstructured and structured data. For example, to gain insights into customer demand, organisations might need to combine structured enterprise data from retail sales, with unstructured textual information from customers’ posts on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

Many of the organisations we work with have unlocked the value of their business intelligence (BI) and data analytics investments by empowering frontline workers to use embedded analytics to generate their own reports and insights to anticipate risk and identify opportunities. It’s really important to remember that most users of operational data will not be trained data scientists, they will be line-of-business managers, call centre staff, or financial advisors. These colleagues need straightforward ways of reading from one or more repositories of trusted information that have been distilled from many sources.

Enabling user insights

Technology is only useful when it’s being applied. The key is to make it easy for all users. To encourage adoption, theWebFOCUS business intelligence platform allows authorised employees to simply search by account name, customer, product, or any other data characteristic available, to discover valuable insights and the detail necessary to identify opportunity and risk – a user experience akin to Google for business intelligence.

Democratising data analytics at PostFinance

 

Switzerland’s number one payment transaction provider, PostFinance Ltd., needs to provide 2,500 users with current operational insights. Using the WebFOCUS BI platform, PostFinance employees have role-based access to portions of the database, which are required to enable them to acquire current operational data. The BI platform goes beyond traditional reporting by enabling employees to conduct self-service analytics on their mobile devices, with the option to drill down into information to enable further decisions and actions.

Ensuring data quality

 

To encourage employees, partners and customers to embrace data analytics and make the most of BI investments, the data must be trusted. It is therefore crucial to address data quality issues before rolling out data analytics to the user base. By using BI platforms that can automatically refine data, organisations can prevent unreliable information making its way into dashboards, charts and reports, without having to devote additional human resource to manually fix bad data. It only takes one bad experience to see people going back to using Excel spreadsheets, calling on the IT department to generate reports, or installing shadow IT tools for data discovery. In addition to wasting the enterprise investment in data analytics platforms, shadow IT use will lead to data silos, disjointed reports and data quality problems across the enterprise.

A picture is worth a thousand words

 

International recruitment agency, Robert Half Finance & Accounting, asked 2,200 chief financial officers what keeps them awake at night. The responses revealed that CFOs are concerned about developing communication skills, as well as managing risk and steering the financial performance of their organisations.

The Robert Half survey revealed that to help their organisations navigate technological transformation, today’s financial directors need to hone their technical and communication skills, as well as their strategic skills. To assist financial directors with communicating key data points to the board and line of business managers, WebFOCUS makes it easy to automatically create infographics from operational data, so that trends, risks and opportunities can be rapidly communicated to those with the power to act.

Creating fresh revenues from data

 

In addition to identifying risks and protecting profits, when high quality data analytics are effectively implemented they can help financial organisations to identify fresh revenue opportunities. This was the case at First Rate Investments.

Each evening, after the market closes, First Rate Investments receives holdings and transactional records for more than one million accounts. Deborah Repak, managing director and general manager of the Products group at First Rate Investments decided to build a self-service analytics portal, ExecView, which transforms this large data set into data visualisations and reports that help clients to quickly see how their portfolios are performing.

First Rate’s clients saw that there were numerous other questions that could be answered using the same self-service application. Clients suggested several ways they’d like to view their data, such as ‘show me the top 10 holdings across selected domains’. What began as a customised product for one client, quickly turned into a general purpose product that First Rate Investments now sells to broker dealers and other financial services companies.

An investment firm can use the ExecView app to determine activities that may be driving increased revenue through fees, or look for areas where assets under management may be decreasing, or run checks and balances to reconcile accounts that are out of line.

ExecView also helps to prevent regulatory issues in trading, cash management and diversification, and helps wealth management firms to comply with U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) requirements by shedding light on trends and practices that might otherwise be overlooked. Data visualisation within the ExecView InfoApp makes it easy to detect pertinent trends and take appropriate action. Deborah Repak reports, “ExecView has resulted in a 10 per cent increase in our revenue per year as a value-added service.”

Keeping an eye on the future

 

CFOs are agents of change and need to keep abreast of technological developments. Organisations increasingly draw operational data from connected devices, online activity and social media, in addition to traditional EPOS, CRM and ERP systems. By liaising with their colleagues in IT, financial directors can ensure that operational intelligence can be gained from existing data sources as well as integrating business intelligence platforms with emerging technologies such as blockchain, and supporting integration with IoT devices and data science languages such as RScript, RServe and Python.

By delivering models and formulas within intuitive self-service applications, dashboards and reports, everyone in an organisation can be empowered with advanced analytics, without requiring them to become technologists or data scientists. Finance leaders can draw from trusted data sources to identify risk, returns and fresh opportunities and clearly communicate these to the business using familiar data visualisations.

 

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Business

How bug bounty programs can help financial institutions be more secure

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Rodolphe Harand, Managing Director at YesWeHack

 

Financial services have been one of the most heavily targeted industries by cybercriminals for several years. One alarming stat from the Boston Consulting Group found these firms to be 300x as likely as other companies to be targeted by cyberattacks.

Furthermore, the pandemic has led to a significant increase in the number of cyberattacks targeting financial institutions (FIs), with around 74% experiencing a spike in threats linked to COVID-19.

With FIs holding some of the largest collections of sensitive and private data, it’s clear they will remain an attractive target for malicious actors, especially as any data stolen can be used for fraudulent activities. This leads to the reputational damage of the financial entity that was compromised and has a knock-on effect in terms of monetary and reputational damage to affected customers.

For CISOs at FIs, the conundrum faced is how do you protect intellectual and customer data, and ensure accountability and transparency for clients and stakeholders, at a time when the pandemic has created budget constraints. Research from BAE Systems found that last year alone, IT security, cybercrime as well as fraud and risk departments had their budgets cut by a third.

Below we look at how bug bounty programs can help to address these pressing issues.

 

Protecting valuable data

Protecting customer and intellectual data has always been a top priority for FIs. However, as opportunistic cybercriminals have a lot to gain by stealing this valuable data, there is a constant evolution of threats, which means FIs must stay on their toes. By deploying a bug bounty program, FIs can work with ethical hackers that have a wealth of experience and unique skills when it comes to identifying security weaknesses within a FI’s defence, thus helping to implement effective security measures to help prevent data breaches.

Building trust among various stakeholders such as customers, suppliers and investors is critical for achieving business goals. By deploying a bug bounty program, FIs send out a message that they care about protecting the security of the data of those they work with – which in turn can have a cascading effect resulting in better business performance.

 

Improving accountability  

For FIs to win customers and keep them happy, amidst the growing threat of neo banks and customer-centric fintech organisations, speed of innovation is crucial. As such, many FIs have adopted an agile approach to build, test, and release software faster to bring online and mobile banking solutions to market quicker. However, this can create frictions between development and security teams. Security mandates are deemed to be unnecessarily intrusive and a cause of delayed application development and deployment.

Yet, with DevOps teams needing to build and deploy applications faster than ever before, an epidemic of insecure applications has emerged. According to Osterman Research, 81% of developers admit to knowingly releasing vulnerable applications, while research from WhiteSource found 73% of developers are forced to cut corners and sacrifice security over speed.

With developers often not having the time, tools, skills, or motivation to write impeccably secure code, there is an evident need to provide developers with more support when it comes to building applications securely Fortunately, bug bounty programs can provide a “fact-based” financial implication of inherent security flaws within the process. This makes it possible to hold development teams and service providers accountable for creating or delivering insecure products, thus addressing inherent security gaps within the business units and helping to drive continuous improvement.

Moreover, security awareness and education of developments teams can be improved significantly for those developers that are directly involved with the management of vulnerability reports for their bug bounty programs. This is because, the mere fact of exchanging information with ethical hackers, or assimilating the thinking of a potential hacker and having proof of concepts of vulnerability exploitation on their application components, naturally accelerates consideration of security early in the development stage and provides ongoing learning.

 

Get more return on your investment

According to Gartner, 30% of CISOs effectiveness will be directly measured on their ability to create value for the business. When security budgets are challenged, CISOs need to demonstrate business value through initiatives designed to enhance efficiency whilst stretching the dollar.

This is where bug bounties can help tremendously. Compared to conventional penetration testing, bug bounty offers a fast, complete, and measurable return on your security investment, with businesses only paying out for successful discovery of vulnerabilities. Equally, businesses get access to hundreds of ethical hackers that can test their programs, each with their own unique skillsets as opposed to only one skilled researcher testing the network. This results-driven model ensures you pay for the vulnerabilities that pose a threat to your organisation and not for the time or effort it took to find them.

Bug bounty programs also deliver rapid vulnerability discovery across multiple attack surfaces. With this approach, organisations receive prioritised vulnerabilities and real-time remediation advice throughout the process to accelerate the discovery of, and solution to vulnerabilities.

Another appeal of bug bounties is that due to the continuous nature of testing, more vulnerabilities are found over time as opposed to pen-testing. This is key to financial institutions that require agility to keep up with the continuous roll-out and updates of applications.

 

The cornerstone to a successful security programme

The risk posed to financial institutions by cyber threats will only continue, as evidenced by the number of data breaches seen in recent times. The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated these risks, especially with almost all FIs having needed to shift to a remote working environment – which has only widened the attack landscape.

For FIs, a bug bounty program should be considered a fundamental cornerstone of any security strategy, with it being a modern-day cybersecurity solution that is well-equipped to tackle the immediate security challenges they face. In doing so, FIs will not only prove to customers and stakeholders their commitment to data protection and security but this will also be help them to avoid the monetary damages that could be imposed by regulators if a breach was to take place.

 

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Finance

Five predictions set impact the finance teams in 2022

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By Rob Israch, GM Europe at Tipalti

 

The CFO now has a very different set of responsibilities in comparison to a few years ago; 2021 saw sustainability move up the C-suite agenda, Brexit was officially pushed through meaning new rules and regulations for industries, and pandemic uncertainty caused further disruption for businesses. Understandably then, 97% of UK CFOs believe their role has become more complex over the last two years, according to latest research by Tipalti. Finance leaders, who were already rushed off their feet, are now having to wear even more hats.

Operating in a new climate, with new challenges and circumstances, finance teams must be ready to innovate to find new solutions to changing business needs. From becoming more attuned to ESG ratings to fighting against the burden of manual processes and tasks, below we explore what finance teams can expect to experience in 2022.

 

  1. A tightening of CEO-CFO relationship

As opposed to solely managing financial operations and ensuring compliance, the CFOs relationship with the CEO will intensify in 2022. This shift will see the CFO become increasingly involved in looking at the strategic ways the business can grow and diversify.

Nearly two-fifths (39%) of CFOs have noted a larger demand to collaborate with the c-suite now than two years ago. However, organisations are still slowed down by old ways of working, as nearly a third (29%) of CFOs state they are having to deal with more manual finance operations. As a result, CFOs aren’t afforded time to support the business leader in the way that their job requires.

Rob Israch

By innovating financial processes through automation, finance teams can free up time for the strategic tasks that matter most to the business. In fact, UK CEOs believe that the ability to prioritise innovation (25%) and the ability to improve financial and business reporting accuracy and timeliness are the most important qualities for a successful CFO today.

 

  1. Invoice payments fraud will be harder to fight

Every year, defending against fraud gets increasingly challenging. As accounts payable complexities rise, finance teams will experience payments fraud at an alarming rate.

Finance teams today are tasked with managing more diverse payment methods, increasing cross-border transactions and dynamic tax compliance and financial reporting. Yet, teams struggle to cope when operations are processed manually. The most common perpetrator of payment fraud is manual processes. They are neither efficient nor airtight enough to ensure optimum financial control. Busy finance teams, escalating complexities in AP and error prone manual processing sets the perfect scene for fraudsters to take advantage.

To mitigate such risk, companies need to leverage people, processes and technology. This means investing in robust technologies such as automation to standardise procedures. Data entry will be minimised, end-to-end payments processing visibility will be optimised and policy compliance becomes automated. Not only does AP automation relieve workflows by minimising manual intervention, but the technology acts as a hub for enforcing strong financial controls as the number of people and systems involved in payment processing is reduced substantially.

In addition, 2022 will see more multi-entity businesses emerge as organisations recognise the value of the ‘work from anywhere’ model. It can be challenging to manage finance functions across these multiple entities, and that is often why different business units in geographical locations run their finances in isolation, with varying processes and approvals being managed in different ways. However, with no central control or oversight, you run the risk of internal fraud.

 

  1. Finance leaders will need to focus on ESG initiatives

Following COP26, business leaders are under pressure to set and meet green targets, and many are turning to their CFOs for solutions. In fact, CFOs ranked incorporating environmental, social and governance (ESG) and sustainability into the business and its operations as the greatest driver of complexity in their role (27%), above even the global pandemic (22%).

A key reason for this is that ESG ratings have become an important tool for asset managers and investors to evaluate and compare future investment prospects. Currently more than a quarter (28%) of UK business leaders rank international growth as a top priority for the year ahead, so a less than favourable ESG rating is not an option. So far, the challenge for CFOs has been finding the time to work on sustainable initiatives.

 

  1. Uncertainty will continue to loom over the UK post-Brexit

It has been over five years since the UK voted for Brexit – but it will most certainly be on the agenda in 2022 as new regulations emerge. There are a number of challenges that Brexit brings, and much uncertainty still remains in place.

In navigating the uncharted waters of Brexit, businesses will encounter new hurdles when looking to fill roles, as the Global Talent Visa makes competition for skilled employees more formidable than ever before. With the visa application deadline passed, some employees may have chosen to move back home contributing to headcount issues for finance teams.

Moreover, the UK is still yet to agree many key trade agreements. Businesses will need to stay vigilant – watching out for any changes at relatively short notice and be ready to adapt.

 

  1. Employee wellbeing will need to be prioritised

Along with many other departments, the Great Resignation period has meant finance is experiencing Churn. Whilst the wellbeing of all employees will be a key focus for the c-suite this year, CFOs will need to ensure the work of the finance team is engaging and talent is not wasted on tedious and time-consuming operations. Introducing automation to take care of those manual tasks will free up time to upskill employees, while making them feel valued in their role.

 

The future office of finance

2022 will see finance teams adapting the way they operate to combat new challenges. With agreements signed following COP26, implementing sustainable initiatives is no longer a choice, and in the wake of Brexit uncertainty, businesses will have to face new rules and regulations head on. On top of this, the CFO will need to pivot away from solely financial operations in order to drive strategy, fight against fraud threats while prioritising the wellbeing of their team.

It’s a complex set of responsibilities and will only be achieved if finance teams are able to move away from manual administrative work and towards new technologies and automation capability. A CFOs time is precious and needs to be reserved for the tasks that matter.

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