Kasper Enggaard Krog, CEO at mobile payment and business technology firm, Vibrant, explains why micro businesses are being badly let down by contactless payment providers while local retail has boomed.
Before the pandemic, between 40[i] and 47[ii] per cent of micro businesses didn’t accept card payments, depending which statistics you prefer. This includes everything from corner shops to cafes and builders to barbers. They relied on cash, cheque, or where suitable, perhaps the laborious process of an invoice and bank transfer.
This is despite there being 6 billion contactless cards in the world and 47 per cent of people preferring to pay with one when at a physical point of sale[iii]. At first glance, it might seem that these small traders were cutting their noses off to spite their faces. Customers wanted to pay them with cards, why wouldn’t they just allow them to do so?
What was stopping merchants?
The answer is simple. Because for the smallest of merchants, accepting a card payment has always led to expensive ongoing fees, results in slow settlements, requires admin and calls for an up-front investment in cumbersome and basic technology.
It won’t be news to anyone in the industry that the recurring costs all add up. Transaction fees are typically between 1 per cent and 3 per cent, not to mention authorisation fees and merchant service charges[iv]. A credit card reader might be about £20 and the same for a receipt printer. This all eats into profit, not to mention time.
The pandemic changed it all
Yet the pandemic has forced micro businesses to reassess their reticence to take card payments. Two reasons are behind this. Firstly, there has been an explosion in people shopping where they live. When lockdowns swept across Europe, it became hard to get to larger retailers. Local merchants of all sorts became a lifeline[v].
Not only that, but many people were forced to reconnect to their communities and realised they enjoyed shopping on their street and wanted to support independent businesses. The data proves this. According to research, the convenience store sector grew by 6 per cent in 2020[vi].
This led to the second factor, contactless payments were considered safer than handling cards or cash. The overall impact of more shoppers and the threat of infection led to a boom in contactless payments. In fact, the number of purchases made in May 2021 via contactless technology doubled compared with the same month a year earlier and was up 50 per cent on May 2019[vii].
This shift to accepting card payments among the smallest of businesses should be applauded. There are currently £2.25 trillion in cash and cheque payments made in Europe[viii]. They’re now opening themselves up to this huge market.
This is undoubtedly good for consumers and merchants alike. But it does beg the question, why did it take a pandemic to cause the change? Why did they have to face the prospect of potential infection or financial ruin to make the move?
Simple, the existing model is broken. The barriers to accepting card payments remain – high cost, poor tech and slow settlements – but they’ve been overcome through necessity rather than benefit. These businesses remain woefully underserved yet have been forced to accept what is on offer. There must be another way.
And there is. For the first time, the technology now exists for market traders, stall holders, car washes – any number of micro businesses – to take contactless payments using only their phone. No additional tech. No annoying dongles or readers that take up space and will ultimately add to the vast rubbish bin of obsolete, single-function peripheries. These will soon join calculators, MP3 players and digital cameras.
Furthermore, this tech not only takes payments, but within months is expected to allow merchants to run their whole business on their phone. They will be able to add product lists, inventory details, accounting tools and much more. It’s like a mini enterprise resource management system for the tiniest of firms. And the fees are transparent, predictable, lower than the market rate and don’t have binding contracts. Importantly, it also has the backing of Visa – and Vibrant is leading the roll-out.
The business is proud to do so and sees a huge opportunity. Micro businesses are now worth £1.85 trillion to the European economy[ix]. Their importance will grow, and they need the payments sector to take note of their needs and do better. It’s no longer acceptable to foist poor products and services upon them and allow the pandemic to drive change rather than innovation.
The explosion in local retail demands new payment methods – and they must be made available. In many ways, it’s a scandal that it took a pandemic to force change.
[ii] Visa data
[viii] Visa data
[ix] Visa data
The Evolution and Challenges of Crypto Regulation
Cryptocurrency regulations are evolving quickly around the globe with authorities responding to developing risks professed by criminals exploiting the latest payment methods to mask and launder the profits from their crimes.
According to William Je Founder & CEO, Hamilton Investment Management Ltd, this has warranted the introduction of a more stringent level of due diligence by additional bodies to introduce preventative measures.
William Je Founder & CEO, Hamilton Investment Management Ltd explains: “The past ten years has seen several structural changes in Know Your Customer (KYC) and anti-money laundering (AML) regulations in both Europe and across the world. High-profile money laundering cases and the penetration of illegal monies into global markets have caught the attention of regulators.
“As regulators improve their understanding of these criminal practices, AML requirements have also been improved. However, these improvements have been a reactive process.”
To address the challenges of the blockchain ecosystem, the European Union has started to introduce financial regulations that further bolster the regulatory system in order to improve licensing models. Many member states are regulating crypto assets individually, and Germany is leading the way in being the first to regulate.
Je continues: “These national driven regulations clearly point to a future pathway for crypto companies, outlining the requirements for obtaining and maintaining a financial license from the regulator.
“Compliance, however, is to my mind essential as it not only boosts investor confidence but adds a necessary layer of protection to investors.”
As crypto evolves, so have regulatory bodies’ efforts to monitor, address and enforce restrictions. The most prominent is the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), which details guidance and determines best practices in anti-money-laundering practices and combating the financing of terrorism.
FATF Recommendations number 16, better known as the ‘travel rule’, which requires businesses to collect and store the personal data of the originators and the beneficiaries in blockchain transactions, is the most notable.
Je concludes: “What does this mean? In theory, access to this data will enable authorities to have better oversight and enforcement of crypto market regulations. In other words, they’ll know exactly who is doing exactly what.
As we have always argued – transparency is key. We need to regulate crypto as an asset class with efficacy, which necessitates legislation that is applicable specifically to digital assets and does not hinder the market.
The criminal financial trade which arguably encompasses money laundering, illegal weapons sales, human trafficking, is also international. Thus, cracking down on it is, out of necessity, an international effort.
The decentralised nature of blockchain, which runs contrary to the central-server standard we know and use nearly everywhere, presents a formidable challenge here. Rules and regulations for traditional financial institutions are being implemented wholescale into the crypto sector. We believe that this is arguably wrong footed as it ignores the innovation and uniqueness this asset class and its underlying technology entails.
Traditional forms of regulation from the fiat world do not reciprocally apply to every aspect of crypto nor to the fundamental nature of blockchain technology. However well-intentioned they may be, because these imposed regulations are built on an old system, they must be adapted and modified.”
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.
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