By Doug Gross, CEO at NGDATA
Arthur C. Clarke, writer of the famous science fiction epic 2001: Space Odyssey, famously remarked that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. The problem with magical things, however, is that we often ascribe them miraculous powers that are beyond their actual capabilities while ignoring the fact that far greater powers reside in a much humbler vessel – the human cranium.
Data analytics provides a great example of this disconnect. Every organisation knows that it needs to unleash the power of the information that it holds, while simultaneously being painfully aware that there is currently a worldwide shortage of data scientists. (A LinkedIn Workforce Report for the US earlier this year identified 151,000 data scientist jobs going unfilled in that region alone.) Instead of incurring the expense of hiring and retaining these experts, it may seem sensible to ask if there is some magical technological substitute – a ‘data scientist in a box’.
But can large, complex organisations like banks really swerve the dearth of data science skills and unlock the insight they need, all from a magical technological box somewhere in the cloud?
Asking the right questions
In truth, there’s no such thing as a data scientist in a box; nor do should there ever be. Machines can replace us in many spheres of activity but, as anyone who remembers HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey knows all too well, we should never expect them to take total control of our most important missions without human supervision.
Marketing provides a great example of machines’ limitations. Communicating with consumers and, indeed, designing new products and services for them, requires a comprehensive understanding of customers themselves. A bank can’t load all its data into a box and hope that it spits out the ‘right’ answer to such complex questions such as how to attract new customers or improve the banking experience. Some common sense is required, and no matter the speed at which technology can take over the heavy lifting, it is still the case that rubbish in means rubbish out when it comes to data-based insight.
Instead, marketers in the banking industry must understand their audience and their needs intimately; they must be able to segment them into groups or personas while, of course, mapping these to the bank’s strategic aims – all before they even begin to get to grips with the data. A technological “no code” solution can bring enormous benefits to this process of design, testing and iteration, enabling non-specialists to turn masses of data into useable insight. But it can never replace data scientists, who bring their own invaluable, indispensable magic to the process, ensuring that data is applied to problems correctly.
What do data scientists actually do?
There’s still a degree of misunderstanding of data scientists’ role in an organisation. They are not data-evangelists-in-residence, nor are they there to add their own unique insight to existing projects. Data scientists will, in all likelihood, know little or nothing about the actual business in which they’re engaged. They wouldn’t be able to tell you about merits or demerits of a new mortgage or credit card; nor will they understand the banks’ marketing objectives.
Their job is to make sure the data is delivered in a way that it can be applied (and trusted) by non-specialists in marketing or other areas of the business engaged in the process of evolving new initiatives.
Marketers, for example, use intelligent engagement platforms to understand their audiences and to test new campaigns among carefully defined groups. This is a great example of the democratisation of data that’s been enabled by a new generation of powerful tools that enable anyone to become a “citizen developer” without a degree in computer science. Yet if these tools are being fed with erroneous metrics, then the results will obviously be inaccurate – perhaps catastrophically so.
Perhaps a better way of thinking of data scientists is as “data stewards” who are responsible for collating data from numerous silos, checking and deduplicating, defining models and metrics, and ensuring they iron out the tiny errors that can add up to an unbalanced sample. Data scientists also make a direct impact on the big picture, improving business outcomes through implementing data-driven techniques, such as predictive and prescriptive analytics, throughout the organisation. Being able to link the IT and human worlds, data scientists are vital to driving forward the digitally enabled business.
For example, a bank might need to identify a group of people who do not have an active financial product such as car insurance. Without a data steward, the data from which the non-specialist is working might include someone whose insurance was cancelled after one too many crashes. Technically, this person doesn’t hold a financial product – but that doesn’t mean that they’re the right person to target with marketing about renewing their insurance.
Driving relevant interactions
It’s only once this important work has been completed that non-specialists can get on with the task in hand. And for this, they will need a ‘box of magic’, in the form of an intelligent engagement platform that can stitch together accurate data from multiple sources to gain a true picture of customers and drive relevant interactions with them.
The dashboards, analytics and self-service capabilities that make it easy for a non-specialist to design and test campaigns from pre-built use cases are all built on a solid foundation of accurate data. In this sense, the data scientist operates at the very beginning of the chain that, ultimately, leads to improved offerings, more personalised communications and an enhanced customer experience.
It may seem like the modern world is run on magic, but anyone who has worked with a modern intelligent engagement platform will realise that the combination of smart people and easy to use technology is the most powerful one. Both the data scientist who sets up the system and defines predictive models and the marketer who orchestrates the delivery of relevant customer interactions in real time are both essential to the process of driving business value.
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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