By Young Pham, Chief Strategy Officer, CI&T
There’s a constant noise surrounding cryptocurrencies in recent months – and for good reason. Bitcoin, Ethereum, Dogecoin, even Britcoin have all been making waves – chopping and changing in a volatile landscape of inflation and Covid-hit economic recovery. Business giants like Elon Musk and even central banks like Bank of England have been throwing their hat into the ring on the future of this technology.
In this sea of opinions, there’s a clear divide between those who see cryptocurrencies as the future of DeFi and payments, and those who deem it far too risky business to deserve a place in the heavily regulated market that is mainstream finance.
So, how should financial institutions be preparing for this uncertain future, and should the post-Covid landscape involve the adoption of cryptocurrencies on a much larger scale? One thing is for sure – the potential of crypto shouldn’t go unnoticed.
Seeds of change
There’s no denying that cryptocurrency has come a long way since the early days, despite its volatility. What was first a speculative investment vehicle has decisively moved into more of a mainstream payment method used by many merchants and consumers. Regardless of what’s being tweeted, crypto has entered mainstream circulation and its share of the real estate is growing fast. By 2026, cryptocurrency market size is expected to grow to 2.2 billion, with a CAGR of 7.1%.
As with every nascent technology, of course, we are not yet seeing all of cryptocurrency’s potential. Yet the winds of change are blowing. Payments is one small aspect of what bitcoin and cryptocurrencies enable. With the unique ability of having programmatically financial instruments, the ecosystem of technology being built on top of that foundation is enabling diverse new use cases. Solutions like the Lightning Network on top of bitcoin for fast, small payments, or collateral-based loans for fast liquidity, start to create possibilities beyond the foundational aspects of bitcoin and other cryptos.
This could not have come at a better time. Following the pandemic, large retailers are increasingly determined to move to a 100% cashless model. For them, the cost of handling cash across thousands of different stores is an added expense that they want to divest. Moving to more digital payment structures, including the adoption of cryptocurrencies, is a path many will start to follow over the next year.
Yet there are also security benefits to consider as well. The cryptographic certainty of cryptocurrencies adds an extra security layer for financial institutions by eliminating forgery risk or counterparty risk that any other current financial instrument has today. Just as digital infrastructure, protocols and processes help financial institutions protect against scams and money laundering with assets, crypto could offer a more secure and scam-proof model.
However, the greatest benefit the likes of bitcoin can provide for international cooperation is by design: a fixed, known and pre-defined monetary policy. One with a financial instrument representation that can be transferred in a fully decentralised and permissionless way, where every international participant can join on an equal footing. It’s the only type of neutral financial instrument in existence where trustless cooperation can happen, opening up unprecedented new opportunities for international commerce.
Despite backlash against cryptocurrencies, they are inexorably gaining ground. If established financial institutions don’t find a way to incorporate this technology into their offerings, then someone else will and they stand the risk of losing control. The good news is that this is the perfect time to start. Covid-19 has forced many to challenge their current business paradigms and find better and more efficient ways of doing business. For cryptocurrencies and underlying blockchain technology, we’re on the cusp of a real gold rush.
The obvious path for financial institutions is to create financial instruments that are more and more based on bitcoin. Many start with offering custody services, or additional investment options either directly or through vehicles like Funds, Trusts or ETFs. A financial institution could even offer a credit system based on a collateralised bitcoin loan, which is then used to make the payment in the currency of choice.
Central banks, meanwhile, are looking at issuing a digital currency similar to cryptocurrencies as a way to enable fast changes in monetary policy and a better view of overall financial health and the usage of its currency. This approach is expected and we should see that happening across many jurisdictions over the next few years.
Yet, the biggest opportunity is to understand and envision how this new technology can open a completely new set of services to offer and monetise. This could be compared with the early days of the Internet, where some were looking at how to become Internet Service Providers – these are the banks and exchanges today looking at bitcoin as ISPs once looked at ‘access to the internet’. History showed us that the new business models created on top of the Internet were the ones with the most potential. It’s difficult to predict the form these ground-breaking new services will take, but once they arrive you can be certain we’ll wonder how we ever lived without them.
New world of commerce
For all the headlines about crypto’s volatility, it’s also quietly gaining a solid ground in payments and transactions. So much so that its underlying technology is inspiring massive changes in monetary policy. For that reason, the surge we’re seeing in different cryptos is no fad, and there will be wider ramifications which go far beyond just the payments landscape. Those financial institutions that explore its potential and adapt to crypto will be the drivers behind a whole new world of commerce.
How bug bounty programs can help financial institutions be more secure
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.
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.
Five predictions set impact the finance teams in 2022
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.
- 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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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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