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TECHNOLOGY IS OUR FIRST DEFENCE AGAINST MONEY LAUNDERING

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Jesse Chenard, CEO of MonetaGo

Fraud is an age-old problem that has plagued every industry since businesses began trading. It takes many forms and guises and is a constantly evolving threat, as the perpetrators adapt to the ever-changing business environment they seek to disrupt. Perhaps one of the most well-known examples of fraud is money laundering.

 

On one end of the spectrum, money laundering involves small-time criminals, constantly on the lookout for genuine businesses to pump money through, who pollute the hard-work and money of legitimate businesspeople to hide their own criminality.

 

On the other end white collar criminals, from major fraudsters through to sanction-busting oligarchs, use the major banks of the world alongside credible auction-houses and brokerages to hide their money. Their actions, whilst they are no less devastating, have a different impact. They have the capacity to severely damage our trust in global institutions.

 

This effect has become all too real a prospect in the aftermath of the leak of the so-called FinCen files. This leak makes it clear that large, and even systemically important banks have been drawn into money laundering that has infiltrated every industry from financial services to Premier League football.

 

Now it is clear across all these different sectors of the economy, and across the broad spectrum of activities that constitute money laundering, that action is needed. Blockchain is one such way forward. Blockchain technology provides the transparency needed to identify risks of money laundering. This technology enables companies and governments alike to take swift action, both to prevent it from happening in the first place and to identify its source.

 

Blockchain-powered solutions have a broad appeal because not only can they provide rigorous AML protections, they also have the advantage of being able to be implemented without the need for global or even national regulators.

 

The transparency inherent to distributed ledger technology means that you can decentralise the regulatory function, with every participant within a ledger able to review the actions of other users, and flag suspicious transactions. In sectors where there is a regulatory body, they become far less obtrusive in their actions as the regulator can be included as a node on the ledger, able to review all transactions in real-time without having to slow processes up. Or, when irregularities are detected, can act swiftly instead of weeks or months down the line when filings are made. Shortening this time can be all the difference when the whole point of money laundering is to move money quickly and efficiently through a system, obscuring where it came from in the first place.

 

Blockchain’s potential use-cases in fighting fraud are particularly exciting. Alongside being able to intercept suspicious transactions and providing a guarantee of the provenance of capital entering into a system, blockchain can also be used to reduce the risk of physical assets being used for money laundering via a process known as tokenisation. With tokenisation the asset can be represented on a blockchain ledger allowing for a fully transparent record of its provenance available to anyone interested in procuring it.

 

Furthermore, just as with the addition of regulators into the ledger via a node, this sort of tokenisation is entirely unobtrusive when it comes to the processing of a transaction, and is likely faster, in comparison to the sort of verification that would be required currently by legacy AML systems.

 

Money laundering, and the criminals that perpetrate it, continue to become increasingly sophisticated. The best way for us to fight this evolving threat is by harnessing state of the art technology, more sophisticated than that of the criminals. Genuine digital transformation of trade fraud systems is vital in this fight. Blockchain enables our financial services to ensure frictionless and transparent verification, both of the origin of funds and the ownership of assets. The honesty that blockchain provides is an invaluable asset in the fight against money laundering. The fraud we are fighting has levelled up – it’s time our AML systems did too.

 

Technology

OPTIMISING DIGITAL EXPERIENCE IN AN INTERNET-RELIANT FINANCIAL SECTOR

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Tony Finn, EMEAR Lead, ThousandEyes

 

It would be unfair to say that the events of the last year have started a wave of digital change in the financial services (FS) sector. Speak to any leader within the industry and, although digital transformation looks different to each organisation, it was already high on the business agenda. That said, the pandemic has undoubtedly fast-tracked many FS firms to a complete digital overhaul. In fact, according to data, business adoption of digital services was propelled forward five years in a matter of weeks. For all FS organisations who have made the transition to remote sales and services, it has evoked a re-evaluation of everything from people and property, to technology.

Underpinning it all is the core focus on how to deliver an always on digital experience. Whether you’re a payment provider or stock brokerage, ‘business as usual’ is now dependent on this, without delay or failure.

That said, keeping customers happy and employees productive is increasingly difficult, with remote business adding another layer of complexity to an already intricate puzzle. Providing a good digital experience now relies on an intricate web of Internet, cloud and SaaS services – with many infrastructures lying outside of an organisation’s view and subsequently their control. With remote business here to stay, many are realising the need for increased control over both customers’ online experience and employees’ ability to access now business-critical SaaS applications.

 

Conservative to cutting-edge

According to EY’s UK Banking Cloud Adoption Index, before the pandemic hit, the majority of UK banks (80%) had moved less than 10% of their infrastructure to the cloud. As a highly regulated sector, financial services have traditionally been conservative about diving headfirst into new technologies.

Enter COVID-19. National lockdowns meant that a new approach to technology, particularly in IT, was necessary. With offices and branches closed, never before had FS organisations had to face almost all of their customer base and workforce accessing services and products online – and perhaps most importantly, outside of their IT perimeter.

Over a year has passed and a by-product of the pandemic is that many FS organisations are rethinking their entire business operations. At the end of last year, Capital One became the first major bank to exit all of its data centres, completely overhauling its IT environment in favour of AWS’ public cloud services.

But it’s not just technology choices that have irrevocably changed. Changes are also being made to both organisations’ real estate footprint and remote working policies, with banks already making work-from-home options permanent. As a result of the latter, we’ll see hybrid work strategies emerge with different category employee personas, including field, fixed, and flexi  workers – those who return to the office, those who continue to work remotely and then a combination of both.

 

An IT blindness dilemma

Navigating new employee preferences and consumer expectations for digital banking requires a  complex service delivery ecosystem, hinging on a multitude of external components including public and hybrid cloud, SaaS applications and the Internet. Finding the source of any performance and availability issues amidst a maze of internal and external dependencies is almost an impossible task. However, gaining visibility of what’s occurring within these networks is critical for businesses to achieve that all important user experience.

The challenge is that traditional monitoring tools can’t identify the problem quickly or provide insights into what’s going on outside an organisation’s four digital walls. You certainly can’t fix what you can’t see so, more often than not, IT teams are left scrambling to troubleshoot the issue. What’s more, customers and employees don’t see or appreciate this internal battle so a lack of sight into the root cause often leads to blaming of the product, rather than the network. Not only can a potential outage cause immediate problems in the form of lost employee productivity but it can result in more harmful damage to a FS organisation’s reputation, and ultimately its bottom line.

 

Getting digital experience right in the “next normal”

So, what’s the solution for FS businesses? To optimise digital experience, it’s all about understanding the health of global Internet networks, employee and customer applications, and everything in between. Financial services navigating the digital era post COVID, will need new solutions that provide the reach, visibility, and insight they need to get a holistic view of their entire digital service delivery ecosystem.

End-to-end visibility ensures that issues – happening both in and out of a business’ control – can be quickly pinpointed and mitigated. Sometimes this can take place even before customers are aware or are impacted. This level of visibility empowers IT teams to avoid any finger-pointing and quickly decipher root cause and have purposeful discussions with relevant parties such as service providers. What’s more, there are also advantages to this approach from a network planning perspective – something which many FS organisations will need to include in their IT strategies. Visualisation and scoring of performance across applications, groups of users and locations allows a better understanding of how critical employee services are performing from a benchmark perspective.

The pandemic has undoubtedly turned the financial services sector on its head. With restrictions in the UK slowly easing and optimism around the vaccine rollout, we will see employees return to offices and customers visit branches again this year. That said, some aspects of remote business are here to stay forever and we’re already seeing the impact of this on organisations’ priorities in relation to property, technology and people. Ultimately, success in this new digital-led future will depend on a business’ ability to provide a first-rate digital experience.

 

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Finance

CAN THE CLOUD REVOLUTIONISE FINANCE?

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By Walter Heck, CTO, HeleCloud 

 

The scale of the Cloud revolution that businesses have gone through over the last few years can’t be overstated. Across almost every industry, businesses that have migrated to the Cloud have seen increased revenues, higher productivity and were more prepared to face the challenges of the pandemic than those relying on legacy infrastructure.

However, one industry that has been slow to realise the potential of the Cloud has been finance. PwC found that 81% of banking CEOs were ‘concerned’ about adopting digital tools too quickly however,  even though 91% of hedge fund executives who adopted Cloud solutions stated that their chosen cloud solutions performed ‘better than expected’. Those sitting on the fence when it comes to the cloud can afford to do so no longer. The speed, security and efficiency offered by the cloud is already changing the face of finance, as it has so many industries before it.

 

How Cloud can help Finance?

Compliance continues to be an area that financial institutions of all shapes and sizes are spending an increasing amount of time and money on. The majority (71%) of large firms are cutting the size of their compliance departments while GDPR, Brexit and increased global economic sanctions make even simple tasks regulatory headaches. Compliance is also costing the finance sector more every year. Since the financial crash, Deloitte estimates Deloitte that compliance costs have increased by as much as 60% for retail and consumer banks.

Migrating to the Cloud can solve many of these compliance issues for financial service institutions. For instance, by leveraging modern technologies on the Cloud, such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML), organisations can ensure financial activities remain compliant with local regulations, no matter where the data is stored. AI can also process this data far quicker and more effectively than humans, ensuring compliance matters are solved quickly and with little room for error.

With companies downsizing their expensive compliance departments, while at the same time regulation increase, the role of Cloud-based automation in compliance is set to become even more important to the financial sector.

Financial institutions that utilise Cloud-based automation allow themselves the peace of mind that they are less likely to be faced with sanctions from regulators for unforeseen or unknown infractions when carrying out day to day activities. With the cost of non-compliance running into the billions every year, neutralising this threat has the potential to save significant amounts of money for the financial institutions who make the move to the Cloud.

 

Security

Data security is vital to the survival of financial institutions. With strict rules in place, and punishments for breaches from regulators and governments increasingly common. As the number of cyber-attacks continues to increase, and costly ransomware continues to put companies out of business, it is imperative that financial institutions take the necessary steps to secure their data.

Traditional on-premises storage and data management solutions of the type utilised by many financial institutions are frequent victims of various types of cyber-attack. Gartner research has shown that up to 60% fewer attacks occur on Cloud structures when compared to on-premises alternatives.

There are many reasons for this but one of the simplest is remote access. An IBM study highlighted that 95% of security failures at companies are due to human error. This can be anything from employees using unapproved third-party applications to being the victim of ‘spill over’ malware for an attack on a different company that bleeds onto another’s on-premises infrastructure. With data being stored and managed remotely, the Cloud offers fewer direct contact points between employees and valuable company data.

However, not all Cloud solutions are created equal and when going alone companies can often find themselves under-utilising the security benefits of the Cloud and leaving themselves vulnerable to threats. Selecting the right Cloud service provider is vital. Storing sensitive data on a Cloud service enabled and managed by an experienced, trustworthy partner, ensures that client and customer data remains safe and accessible without the litany of security issues that come with on-premises infrastructure.

 

Partnering with a Cloud enabler

The Cloud is already revolutionising finance in the way it has so many other industries. Big players such as JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs have started migrating core applications to the Cloud and setting up Cloud hubs in major American cities. Almost half (43%) of financial services decision makers have stated their intent to increase their reliance on the Cloud over the coming year as more and more finance professionals see the benefits that larger competitors are reaping from Cloud migration.

In periods of great change and uncertainty, it can be tempting to bury your head in the sand and stick to the way things are already being done. However, those who ignore the Cloud revolution leave themselves vulnerable in a rapidly changing and unforgiving business climate. An experienced Cloud services partner can help guide a business on its Cloud journey and ensure they receive all the security and productivity benefits the Cloud offers. With more and more major players moving processes and workflows onto the Cloud, it is up to each finance decision maker to change now, or be overtaken by their forward looking and savvy competitors.

 

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