Jonathan Shawcross, Managing Director of Banking at Gobeyond Partners
2019 saw continued pressure on the traditional UK banks. Margins remained squeezed through rates staying lower for longer; regulatory pressure continued; the ‘tail’ of PPI proved extremely painful; political and economic uncertainty around Brexit prevailed; the investment required for digital-led transformation remained high and the continued competitive pressure from new challengers, all made for a difficult operating environment. Whilst some of these factors will ease in 2020, don’t expect the situation to get too much rosier for the larger incumbents any time soon.
Digital of course remains the big story in town in terms of product and service delivery, in both the retail and commercial sectors. 2019 saw the staggering news that over 1/3 of all UK branches (over 3,300) had closed since 2015. Whilst the rate of closures finally started to slow in 2019 as networks for the biggest players reach ‘right size’, 2020 will continue to see further closures as customer behaviour continues to evolve and latecomers to the closure process, such as TSB, complete their adjustments.
In parallel, 2019 signalled a scale up of the new digital challenger banks and their associated impact in the market – Starling Bank reached one million customers during the year and many challengers continued to see ‘triple digit %’ growth in transaction volumes. Scaling in a stable and manageable way, successfully managing a wider variety of customer journeys and driving to sustainable profitability will continue to be the key conundrums for these new players to solve.
In the push for the incumbents to be able to compete against the new challengers, a notable strategic step was taken by RBS, who announced their own ‘digital challenger’ in 2019, with the launch of ‘Bo’. HSBC’s ‘Kinetic’ for Business customers and Lloyds’ investment in ‘Thought Machine’ (the tech platform behind Atom Bank), signals their own intentions. These moves by the large players gives them the option to compete with the new challengers on a more level playing field, experiment with new technologies such as AI and potentially enables them to leave behind their product orientated, higher risk, legacy systems, sooner. Expect to see more launches of this type in 2020.
Beyond such strategic moves, investments by traditional banks in 2019 in the UK continued to shift from back-end operational cost reduction and improvement programmes, into front-end, customer-led investment, with organisations far more focussed on transforming both their digital and non-digital ‘journeys’.
Throughout this coming year, we expect to see the profitability squeeze continue in an increasingly difficult UK banking market – this will only make such major investments more and more challenging, yet more and more critical. These will be difficult decisions to make.
Recent Gobeyond Partners client research on the topic of ‘customer experience and digital transformation’ in 2020 and beyond, indicated that there was significant nervousness in the banking sector – only 11% of those surveyed in the industry expected their revenues would increase significantly over the next 12 months. Banking was also one of the most concerned sectors when it came to new technology. 61% of respondents expressing that they were concerned with the impact that the current speed of technological change will have on their own ability to grow.
Given that we expect to see an increased use of AI across the sector to drive more tailored experiences and more targeted promotions to customers directly, firms will need to work hard to overcome their fears and ensure they are deploying the right technology, through outstanding customer journeys, to best meet their customers needs.
Additionally, 65% of banks also expressed concern about how much changing customer expectations will have on their growth. There was however widespread recognition that customer experience is now seen as a fundamentally strategic issue, with 77% banking respondents agreeing that the priorities in this space should be driven at Group Executive/ Board level.
With renewed and refreshed challengers such as Virgin Money, TSB & Metro Bank (all under transformed ownership or leadership following difficult periods) and the second major phase of growth coming at Starling and Monzo, there will be even greater competition in the UK and a further need for pace of change, innovation and customer-led thinking across the sector.
Technology is only part of the answer though and for organisations to win in the race for customer loyalty and stronger profitability, organisations will need to successfully marry great technology and innovation with a major focus on what this means for people – customers, employees and partners – in the transformation journey. Taking this ‘human lens’ will differentiate the quality of solutions offered, drive greater efficiency in getting there and will engage their own people more significantly in the change and in delighting customers. 2020 will be a huge year in determining who will ultimately succeed and who may not be able to make the scale of changes required in time.
BANKS UNDER ATTACK: HOW FINANCIAL INSTITUTIONS CAN PROTECT DIGITAL GROWTH
By Victor Acin, Threat Intelligence Analyst, Blueliv
Financial services firms are increasingly being told to embrace disruption in order to compete in a fast-evolving market. But this very disruption threatens to drive a new type of risk: the risk of data loss, service outages and fraud on a massive scale. The resulting hit to the bottom line and corporate reputation may undo all the good work that digital transformation has helped to foment.
As we enter a new decade, banks need to think carefully about how they respond to these mounting cyber-risks, without holding back digital innovation. Cybersecurity, with threat intelligence at its core, must be a central part not just of business strategy but also of corporate culture.
Digital goes mainstream
According to PwC, financial institutions are increasingly migrating infrastructure to public cloud systems, as “digital becomes mainstream” in 2020. These investments are helping to create the more user-friendly services that customers are demanding today. With fintech innovators often leading the way, lenders have invested heavily in mobile app-based services at the front-end and more streamlined processes for opening accounts and other laborious tasks. In the future, it’s predicted that AI and robotics will become commonplace, and that blockchain will disrupt.
However, PwC also warns that amidst all this change, cybersecurity will be one of the top challenges facing financial institutions in 2020. The truth is that financial institutions have always been a main target for hackers — after all, they guard huge volumes of highly sensitive data, as well as money. And as they build out more digital infrastructure, cyber-risk increases unless proper controls are put in place.
What does cyber-risk look like?
The bad news is that hackers have developed multiple ways to get what they want. A typical financial institution’s attack surface covers not just core banking IT systems, but also customer accounts and the wider payment ecosystem. That’s a lot to protect.
Humans are often perceived as the weakest link in the security chain. That’s why attackers target banking customers in raids aimed at accessing their back accounts. Phishing emails, automated tools which try huge volumes of breached passwords (known as credential stuffing), and malware are some of the most popular mechanisms for account takeover. In fact, earlier this year Blueliv’s threat researchers noticed a 283% increase in activity linked to Trickbot, one of the key botnets used to spread a banking Trojans designed to compromise customer accounts.
Humans are also targeted inside banks themselves. Phishing emails sent to employees are a common first step in potentially sophisticated multi-stage attacks designed to illegally transfer huge sums of money or steal large data troves. Other threats to banks and their customers come from ransomware and DDoS, designed to extort money and deny critical services, and attacks aimed at harvesting payment card details — either from POS systems in retail and hospitality outlets or from e-commerce sites.
Money, money, money
If any indication were needed of the riches to be gained from targeting financial institutions, it’s the relatively large number of sophisticated attack groups that have emerged over recent years. The Carbanak/Cobalt gang is believed to have stolen $1.2 billion from over 100 banks in 40 countries, installing malware internally via phishing emails which either dispensed cash via ATMs or facilitated illegal SWIFT wire transfers, for example.
Others include Dridex, the group behind one of the most prolific banking Trojans ever created, and the North Korean state-backed Lazarus Group, which is thought to have been responsible for the audacious $81 million cyber heist at Bangladesh Bank.
As for the victims of such attacks, there’s a host of potential knock-on effects that can undermine financial stability and customer confidence. There are costs associated with: investigation and remediation of the incident itself; customer notification and possible credit monitoring; and business interruption, if services are taken offline. Legal costs may follow if customers take their bank to court and there may be follow-on fraud attempts to tackle. Then there are the less immediate impacts such as regulatory fines, declining share price, damaged reputation and customer churn.
The latter risk is particularly acute given the UK’s new Open Banking environment, in which a new breed of fintech start-ups are entering the market. More than ever, banks have to prove that they can offer their customers value, and keep their data and finances safe.
What happens next?
The bad news is that attacks are on the rise. The number of cybersecurity incidents reported to the FCA jumped by 1000% between 2017 and 2018. But there are things financial institutions can do.
A layered approach to security is required, promoted from the top down by engaged executives. Company-wide security awareness training is also essential: even by spotting and reporting phishing emails more effectively, staff could transform from being the weakest link to a formidable first line of defence against attacks. Tried and tested incident response plans are also essential: it’s inevitable that hackers will eventually target an organisation, so best be prepared.
Most importantly, banks need to improve their threat intelligence. Systems powered by accurate, real-time data from multiple sources can enhance decision making, improve the resilience of existing cyber-defences, automatically block attacks and support incident response. They can also scour dark web marketplaces to alert security teams if customer card data or user logins are about to be traded by cyber-criminals.
With this in place, banks can move from a reactive to a proactive security posture, hunting down those who seek to do them harm, cancelling cards and resetting passwords before an attack can even be monetised. Collaboration within and between organisations is also key. The bad guys are past masters at sharing information and expertise to get what they want. It’s time the security teams within our banks did the same.
THE ROLE OF NEW TECHNOLOGY IN DEVELOPMENT OF MYANMAR’S BANKING INDUSTRY
U Htoo Htet Tay Za, Managing Director, AGD Bank
Myanmar’s economy is one of the fastest growing in Asia and presents a dynamic business environment for international investments and business. But it is not without its problems. High interest rates, fluctuation and instability of the local currency vs the dollar exchange rate can all present difficulties.
The lack of a centralized scoring system has led to problems with verifying credible candidates for access to finance options. With many companies indebted to banks and unable to repay their overdrafts this has led to high non-performing loan ratios. There is a real need for companies to agree a timetable to repay these loans, as this affected the long-term security of the banking system.
Opportunities provided by new technology
There are 53 million people in Myanmar and by 2030 and the smart phone user rate is constantly increasing. The digital technology sector in ASEAN could be worth up to US$625billion, which represents 8% of the region’s entire GDP. To reach this, our region must establish cohesive regulatory frameworks for the delivery of new services, which includes the development of Fintech.
Banks and financial institutions play a key role in the transformation in market economies. Fintech is largely an untapped market within the ASEAN region. This is where the financial sector should focus its opportunities and increase awareness and understanding of digital banking, e-commerce and online business.
Is cash still king?
In an economy where 99% of all estimated transactions are cash, the future of banking still lies in digital. Only 23% of adults have a bank account which presents some challenges to the finance industry in Myanmar. Branch penetration across all banks in Myanmar is less than 10 percent which equates to 3.8 branches per 100,000 people, with the global average a lot higher at 11.7 per 100,000.
However, smart phone penetration is at its highest rates, with an estimated 80% of adults having access to the internet. Data usage across the country on a par with more developed European countries. This leads to a strong shift towards the digitisation of products and services from banks throughout the country.
In countries such as China the increase of smart phone penetration has driven the requirement for more mobile payment options, and I’d see the development in Myanmar to be similar. Smart phones have opened new avenues of integration to financial services such as new apps and services.
Digital wallets and lifestyle mobile apps, like Onepay, are on the rise and enable the unbanked population to perform mobile transactions. Most banks in Myanmar are seeing the change and creating their own versions of e-wallets, such as KBZ Pay, MAB Mobile and Onepay supported by its banking partner AGD Bank.
Digital wallets offer a lot more security for their users, as there’s no need to carry large amounts of cash around. Mobile, or digital, wallets also help the unbanked population establish a credit rating in order to access finance. For example, AGD Bank use the data from their usage to establish credit scores for future use, or similar to use the data to cross-sell other banking products.
But retail businesses and merchants are benefitting too from the development in new technologies. Both electronic and physical merchants are now all accepting card payments through Visa, Mastercard, UnionPay or MPU. With applications like AGD Pay, the first QR payment application in Myanmar it has opened access to more access to mobile transactions.
The rise of new technologies in Myanmar has led to a new trend of mobile payments, with explosive growth of mobile and internet penetration that is making a huge impact on the financial services sector. Merchants will be able to offer users a secure and easy way to pay for goods and services as well the ability to add or withdraw cash to and from their e-wallet.
The future of banking
Banking in Myanmar is constantly changing, and I expect this to continue in the future. It’s looking good and I predict that we’ll be seeing an increasing amount of the population gaining access to financing.
In June 2019, International banks were granted licences to begin retail banking in Myanmar, and whilst I don’t necessarily see International banks opening loads of branches as it’s a very long process to get the licence, I think they’ll start looking to local banks to start new partnerships.
Whilst the opening of International bank branches will present some competition for local banks, we don’t see it being with our retail customer base. Local banks have the knowledge and a solid branch base which benefits our customer relationships going forward.
The Myanmar banking system has always had the willingness to develop and invest in new technology and we’re already seen
AGD bank is already seeing a strong shift to the digitalisation of products and services and I expect this to continue for some time.
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