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ANTICIPATING CYBER THREATS AND PROTECTING DIGITAL ASSETS AMID A GLOBAL PANDEMIC

Brian McCann, President Security Solutions, Neustar

 

The best possible outcome for any cyber threat aimed at your network – and in turn, your brand, your customers and your bottom line – is to successfully detect and neutralise it before it causes more risk or new destruction.

While this is the case regardless of your industry, for financial services (FS) organisations that are 300x more likely to be hit by a cyberattack, it is even more critical to be able to quickly mitigate unwanted attention from malicious online actors.

With money and highly sensitive data at the very core of the industry, cybercriminals have always besieged banks and FS companies. Their attacks can compromise data assets, degrade website performance, redirect funds, and damage reputations that have taken years to build.

Despite having long been targeted, now with the COVID-19 pandemic generating a huge spike in the number of fake domains, malware campaigns, Distributed Denial-of-Service (DDoS) attacks, phishing scams and misinformation, there has never been a more pivotal time for these organisations to prioritise security.

 

Elevated threats, additional complications

In recent months, the global health crisis has presented financial institutions with significant new security challenges. Many, for example, have faced greater obstacles with network redirection and outage while moving their entire employee base to a remote working model. Others have been subject to additional online account hacking, credential stuffing and fraudulent emails, due to the increased dependency on the digital world.

At first, it may seem logical that as our reliance on the internet has grown, so too should the number of cyberattacks. While this is true to a certain extent, we’ve seen much more of a spike than initially expected. Now, the risks are simply too high for FS institutions to not be monitoring and, in turn, reacting to online threats in real-time.

In response to the heightened threat level, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) issued a statement outlining its expectations for FS firms to prioritise information security throughout the pandemic, ensuring that ‘adequate controls are in place to manage cyber threats and respond to major incidents’. More specifically, the regulator noted that organisations should look to implement enhanced monitoring to protect end points, information and critical processes, including network connections.

In an effort to defend against the rise in cyberattacks, banks and other FS companies have spent millions building out their security capabilities, including deploying DDoS mitigation services. Many businesses, however, are continuing to expose themselves to a variety of online threats by relying on outdated and manual processes, as well as failing to integrate their protection platforms.

 

Always on, integrated and automated

A catastrophic attack can strike in an instant, before it is even possible for security tools to kick in. Without taking a fully integrated, always on approach, organisations are missing out on immediate insights into where attacks might be coming from; whether it is a potentially risky IP addressing accessing a network, or understanding the location and VPN/proxy status of anonymous traffic.

In order to stand a chance at successfully mitigating against these threats, a robust security strategy is vital. At the very heart of this lies an authoritative Domain Name System (DNS) architecture, ensuring fast and accurate query responses to websites and other vital online assets. When combined with round-the-clock detection and protection for both networks and applications, FS firms can be confident in their ability to assess risks.

Not only can this approach be used to anticipate and block cyber threats – both inbound and outbound – before they do damage, it can also drive access decisions. With cybercriminals constantly exploring new techniques and approaches – particularly during the pandemic – organisations need to deploy tactics and technologies that help them regain the upper hand. By integrating more threat intelligence data, powerful decisioning and risk information can enable a frictionless and secure environment for FS institutions to operate.

Since the pandemic began, we have witnessed a dramatic upturn in cyberattacks using countless measures to wreak havoc on vulnerable businesses. We’ve also recorded an increase in the overall number of attacks, as well as in attack severity and intensity. In fact, Neustar mitigated 2.5 times more attacks in H1 2020 than in H1 2019.

If we review the associated cyber trends that have emerged alongside the COVID-19 crisis, it is easy to see how quickly things can change. While some organisations will have found it less challenging than others to adapt their security strategies in order to suit a fully remote workforce, no institution is exempt from becoming the next victim – especially those in the financial services sector.

 

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Finance

OPTIMISING YOUR FINANCE THROUGH TECHNOLOGY

Covid-19 restrictions and ongoing uncertainty have prompted a fundamental switch in mindset across a multitude of different sectors. Many organisations have begun to recognise that outsourcing their finance can make them more agile and give them the competitive edge they need to compete and scale effectively in today’s market.

Mark Pullen, CEO at Xledger  explains to what extent outsourcing can boost resilience for a lockdown recovery.

 

Solving the pain points

Inefficient processes are prone to causing delays and errors which can have a huge impact on the bottom line when viewed at scale. They can also negatively impact the client experience, causing frustration with missed deadlines and mounting uncompleted tasks.

New finance technology is automating many of the daily, monotonous back office functions such as bank reconciliation and invoice entry, meaning that the nature of the work that a finance professional provides will change. This presents a huge opportunity as it gives these employees the opportunity to be involved in higher-level work. Technology can also provide a resource that gives real time insight, allowing for better strategic decision making, which is so key in the current climate.

 

Optimising your finance function

Outsourcing high-value services within the finance function can improve workflow by implementing a defined and transparent process which streamlines operations. For a finance department, this can speed up areas that require internal controls such as expense reporting and cash release, but it can also speed up the full lifecycle of a project; from time tracking and resource to accounting and billing.

There is also a cost efficiency benefit when outsourcing, as management bandwidth is effectively increased by eliminating the need to be involved in many of the day to day processes. Instead this time can be focused on other business priorities and planning for future growth.

Outsourcing accounting functions to bespoke and standardised technologies means using data led processes that can be measured, optimised and benchmarked against in-house requirements. These processes can also be undertaken remotely, boosting the resilience of your business in these uncertain times.

 

Case study box-out: RPC Tyche

RPC Tyche is a global insurance software supplier with offices in London, Paris, and the USA. Initially a division of award-winning law firm RPC, but now a stand-alone entity, RPC Tyche’s main software offerings support capital modelling, and pricing commercial insurance and reinsurance.

 

The challenge

As part of a restructuring process following the de-coupling with the law firm RPC, RPC Tyche had to separate its back-office processes. They remained under the umbrella of the law firm while the changes were taking place, so initially had some flexibility with the shared finance system, but time was running out to separate the two entities cleanly. As a stand-alone company, RPC Tyche now needed its own financial system; one that could align with its new business processes and that could be implemented quickly to deliver the organisation’s business objectives. Furthermore, they needed a new finance solution that could help them grow exponentially, facilitate a globally diverse group structure, and still maintain efficiency when operating as a small team.

Gavin Dilley, Chief Finance Officer for RPC Tyche commented, “Following an initial discussion with a third-party advisor regarding Xero and Quickbooks, we were recommended Xledger because we required a swift and scalable solution. After contacting Xledger, their tried and tested implementation methodology ultimately assured us that we would achieve the fast-paced implementation needed for our go-live objective. We also really liked that Xledger was a multi-tenanted, true cloud solution with its scalability setting it apart from the competitors.”

 

Implementation and training

Following conversations with Xledger, RPC Tyche created a project management team to keep everything on track on their side, an arrangement that Gavin emphasised “worked really well.” He said that “as a small project team, the flexibility to undergo substantial configuration during the training sessions with the Xledger consultants brought focus and enabled us to dedicate sufficient time to the system without distractions.”

Although the implementation was expected to take three months, RPC Tyche experienced hold-ups owing to the separating of back-office processes, so they were pleased when it was mutually agreed to facilitate a one-month delay.

 

Post-implementation results

“The implementation process was highly effective, and we’re very happy with the results,” said Gavin. “Since implementing the Xledger solution, we’ve been so pleased we haven’t had to dip back into the old system as the transfer of historic data has been particularly successful.” RPC Tyche had a large volume of historic data and transactions, including timesheets and work in progress reports that were all successfully migrated to Xledger during implementation. “We’re particularly happy with how easy it has been to onboard our new Finance Controller, due to flexible training and the system being so intuitive.”

Gavin added, “Since implementing Xledger, we have far greater reporting flexibility, better distribution of skills within the finance team and are naturally more self-sufficient because we can make amendments to the system without relying on the software provider.

The system is easy to use, and the purchase order functionalities, integrated workflows and automation of processes have enabled us to be highly efficient, even as a small finance team. Not to mention that the Xledger support team are incredibly responsive, so we can continually maintain productivity.”

 

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Business

HOW FINANCE FIRMS CAN IMPROVE THEIR CUSTOMER COMMUNICATION IN 2021

Amy Robinson, Senior Brand Development Manager, Esendex

2020 has certainly thrown a curve ball to all businesses across the world, and the finance industry is no different. This year finance has been the driver for both commercial and personal challenges across the country.

The start of the pandemic saw revenue disappear overnight for many businesses, while exponentially increasing demand for other predominantly online services. This commercial challenge had a knock on effect to personal finance with 9.6 million people being put on furlough between April and October 2020. Sadly, the rate of unemployment also increased by 0.7% and sits at 1.62 million people unemployed in the UK today.

These drastic changes to both personal and commercial finances mean that financial services firms have a unique and challenging task ahead of them. With 2021 planning well underway for most businesses, a key focus for finance firms needs to be around customer communication.

In fact, 1 in 3 firms in the finance sector are sending more messages now compared to before the pandemic, most made up of account updates (17.95%), customer service updates (17.95%), delivery information (17.95%), appointment management (15.38%), marketing activity (12.28%), customer satisfaction surveys (10.26%) and emergency information (7.69%). This trend looks likely to continue well into 2021 with Covid-19 still impacting everyday life.

Amy Robinson

However, the latest vaccines offer hope to both businesses and the general public that an end might be in sight. Consequently, it’s important for companies to start to plan how they will navigate this next phase alongside their customers, as the country and indeed the world, will hopefully steadily move into a recovery stage. Life, for anyone, is unlikely to return to a pre Covid-19 state, with the country entering into one of the deepest recessions we’ve witnessed in our lifetimes. Mass uncertainty is likely to continue well into 2021 and it’s the role of financial services to understand this, consider customer sentiment, and ensure that brands are adding empathy to their messages when communicating with customers. This is especially important for areas such as debt collection where businesses should look to focus on ethical debt recovery strategies.

Alongside the financial recession, the UK is also witnessing a mental health pandemic more severe and widely spread than ever before. In fact, a report by The Health Foundation found that 69% of adults in the UK report feeling worried about the effect that Covid-19 is having on their life. With this in mind, finance firms need to tread carefully when communicating with their customers. The FCA have recently confirmed support for consumer credit customers impacted by Covid-19, outlining how finance firms will need to behave when collecting monies owed. The theme heavily weighs in the consumers’ favour, allowing payment holidays to those unable to make their usual deposits.

Consequently, the big theme coming out of 2020 for financial institutions is around ethical and empathetic behaviour. Below are some tips and strategies for approaching customer engagement in 2021, while navigating the new government criteria and market trends.

 

Clear, effective messaging

At a time of high stress and anxiety, various government support schemes, furlough, unemployment and often relationships with multiple financial institutions, it’s easy for customers to become overwhelmed or confused. When communicating with your customers make sure the message is clear and concise; if there are actions required on the customer’s side then ensure this is clearly detailed using a step by step guide.

 

Support your customers

Aim to support your customers as far as possible and send them a reminder message should a payment be due or you require additional information. It’s easy to forget that you’re not the only business sending a customer an important message, so aim to communicate with them in a simple and timely manner. The channel used for this message can also make a great difference, so using something like SMS can really help to break through the noise and get the required response.

 

The power of conversation

Something often missing in a digital world is the power of the human touch. With so many emails and Zoom calls flying around the world, something as simple as a telephone call can be the most effective strategy. People can become frustrated and anxious if they feel that they are not being listened to or treated as an individual; by talking to a selection of key customers on the phone, you can help to bring back the human element and improve the perception of your brand. This is especially true when talking to customers from the older generation who may feel uncomfortable talking about finances online.

There’s no doubt that 2021 will look different for us all. By remaining agile, empathetic, and consumer-centric, we can ensure that we navigate the next 12 months in the smoothest way possible. This is a true change for customer engagement in the financial services sector, and while challenging, it will hopefully offer many benefits to this form of communication for years to come.

 

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