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CORONAVIRUS: FURLOUGHED WORKERS AND WHAT IT MEANS FOR BUSINESS

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CORONAVIRUS

by Tina Chander, Wright Hassall

 

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All businesses with a PAYE scheme in place on 28 February 2020, regardless of size or sector, will be able to benefit from the scheme with the government reimbursing employers up to 80% of their employees’ wages, to a maximum of £2,500 per month, plus employer’s NICs and auto-enrolment pension contributions.

Employees on agency contracts and flexible or zero hours contracts can also benefit from the scheme. In addition, the scheme also covers employees who were made redundant since 28 February 2020, if they are rehired by their employer.

 

Furloughed workers: what does that mean?

Businesses have to ‘designate affected employees as furloughed workers and notify your employees of this change’. However, employers still have to heed employment law which means that, having designated those employees whose jobs were at risk, they will need to agree with those employees that they will be ‘furloughed’.

Given the extraordinary situation prevailing at the moment and given the alternative to being furloughed, it is likely that most employees will agree to the terms.

For those workers who do not agree, they will either have to take unpaid leave for an indeterminate period or employers are likely to have to go down the redundancy route. It should be noted that furloughed workers are designated by the employer – an employee cannot ‘self-designate’.

 

Eligibility

Employees hired on or after 1 March 2020 are excluded from the scheme, presumably to stop people ‘gaming’ the system by hiring family members after the scheme was announced and then furloughing them.

However, those businesses that have made people redundant since 28 February 2020, can re-employ them and then furlough them. To qualify for payment under the Job Retention Scheme, an employee must be furloughed for a minimum of three weeks in order to prevent employers putting staff on a furlough ‘rota’ i.e., one week on furlough, one week off.

 

Who can be furloughed?

Normal employment law still applies so employers must not discriminate when deciding who to furlough. Employees returning to work after a period of sickness absence, or self-isolation, can be furloughed, however they cannot be furloughed whilst they remain on a period of sickness absence or self-isolation.

Furlough will only take effect when this period comes to an end. Employees who are “shielding” however, will be eligible to be furloughed. Employees on maternity leave can be furloughed if they agree to return to work early or change to shared parental leave, alternatively they will remain on Statutory Maternity Pay where this is applicable and will not be furloughed until their return.

When agreeing changes and moving to furlough status, it is important to remember that normal employment law processes apply. Employers must be careful not to discriminate against any employees when deciding who to offer furlough to.

 

Furloughed workers remain employed but must not work

Assuming the designated employee has agreed to be furloughed, they cannot undertake any work for their employer at all. If the employee continues to work, even reduced hours, they are not eligible for the scheme. The good news for furloughed staff is that they can volunteer or undertake training providing neither activity generates income for their employer. Whether or not people can take advantage of this while confined to their house is, of course, another matter altogether.

 

How it will work?

While furloughed, the government will pay related employment costs including pension contributions and NICs (but not commission or bonuses) in addition to wages. All furloughed workers will remain employed by their employer for the duration of the scheme.

Employers can make up the missing 20% of their employees’ salaries but that is their choice (or ability to pay). There is no legal obligation for the employers to top up the salary to 100%, but any contractual clauses regarding withholding pay and deductions should be taken into account when this decision is being made.

For those employees who are furloughed, their employment status will change but their employment record remains continuous.

Employers need to give HMRC a list of furloughed employees. Employers pay their workers as usual, via PAYE, and then apply for funding, every three weeks (not weekly) to cover 80% of their wages (up to £2,500 of gross pay).

You will receive a grant from HMRC to cover the lower of 80% of an employee’s regular wage or £2,500 per month, plus the associated Employer NICs and minimum automatic enrolment employer pension contributions on that subsidised wage. Fees, commission and bonuses should not be included.

For workers whose pay varies, the 80% is based on the higher of:

  • the earnings in the same pay period in the previous year; or
  • the average earnings in the previous 12 months (or less, if they’ve worked for less).

If employees paid the minimum wage are furloughed, the fact that 80% of their earnings will bring their wages below the NMW does not contravene the legislation as people are only entitled to the NMW if they are working. They can, however, claim the NMW if undertaking training.

The HMRC system through which payments can be made should be up and running by the end of April. The scheme is expected to run for three months, subject to review.

 

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Ransomware chokes COBRA: How AI-powered data analysis can support financial services’ plight

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By Toby Butler, Financial Crime Solutions Manager at Ripjar

 

Ransomware attacks are on the increase in the United Kingdom. Most of the British Government’s COBRA meetings have been convened in response to ransomware attacks, showing how cybersecurity breaches are as pressing as national emergencies and crises. The National Cyber Security Centre’s (NCSC) annual review found this year that the country was hit by 17 ransomware incidents that were so impactful they “require a nationally coordinated response”. That extends to the financial services sector, which saw an increase of ransomware attacks with 55% of organisations hit in 2021.

Where does this leave the sector and how can artificial intelligence and machine learning be instrumental in understanding the risks companies face against future ransomware attacks?

Toby Butler

Company information is being stolen and sold to different threat groups, who prey on the individuals in that organisation who are more likely to pay them. The UK is one of the most cyber-attacked countries in the world and the Government has been criticised for being “ill-equipped” to deal with this exponential rise of fraud cases.

 

Ransomware-as-a-Service

Ransomware is one of the most common forms of cybercrime. Fighting it has become one of the biggest problems that organisations today face during their everyday operations. For instance, Malware (malicious software) encrypts the files of a single computer, then works its way through an entire network to reach the server and inflict maximum damage. Company information is being stolen and sold to different threat groups, who prey on the individuals in that organisation who are more likely to pay them.

When these attacks occur the victims, more often businesses, are left with minimal options. If they have substantial backup solutions already in place, they can attempt to restore the encrypted data to their servers. But if that data isn’t already secured elsewhere, they may need to pay a ransom to the criminals behind the attack. Thereby allowing the business to function once again and restoring their reputation. The cost of paying the ransom will feel considerably smaller compared to starting a business again from scratch. Sophos’ State of Ransomware in Financial Services 2022 report found that 52% of financial services organisations paid the ransom to restore their data, the average remediation cost in financial services was US$1.59M.

Cybersecurity Ventures estimates that ransomware is set to cost global businesses more than $256 billion by the end of 2031. By that token, organisations need to be extremely mindful of the potential threats they may face. Businesses need to understand the methodologies these hackers use, to address the weaknesses within their domain and take measures to isolate and prevent further ransomware attacks from happening again.

 

The rise of WAMs

According to a recent report by security firm CyberSixgill, 19% of the 3,612 cyberattacks that took place in 2021 were traced back to Wholesale Access Markets – or WAMs for short. WAMs are, in essence, underground internet flea markets. These markets are where aspiring attackers come to purchase network access from threat actors – the individual or entity involved in carrying out the cyber-attack. Types of threat actors include insiders, cybercriminals, rival organisations, or even nation states stealing data.

WAMs sell access to multiple compromised endpoints (or pathways) for around 10-20 dollars. Researchers found that WAMs listed access to approximately 4.3 million compromised endpoints in 2021, which include access to both provider and enterprise software (for example, an organisation’s Slack channel) up to 180 days before the attack itself took place. This shows how long these compromised endpoints remain undetected without proper internal analysis.

 

How can Financial Services stay ahead of the curve?

The use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning is undisputed across modern businesses and sectors, and continues to revolutionise processes across the board. AI is a significant player in the financial services industry, building the ‘cyber-wall’ against nefarious users. It gives organisations optimal insights into reducing the likelihood of a ransomware attack in the future.

Namely, AI and machine learning collects and analyses vast amounts of messy (structured and unstructured) data from disparate sources. The challenge for the sector is to understand the volume and variety of the raw data collected from any source to build better protection in the future.

Structured information could be best understood as the clear data we see in a table. For example, the following attendees made a business meeting: first name – Joan, surname – Smith, age – 46. But unstructured information is information presented in a complex manner. For example, ‘there were five people who attended the business meeting, one of whom was forty-six and called Joan Smith’. Naturally, due to the complex nature of the prose, it would be more difficult for a machine to process that data into a digestible format for further risk analysis. This is where AI continues to prove invaluable.

AI uses natural language processing to understand the information provided on the web. As the software continues to evolve, natural language processing reads the information in a way a human would to extract the key information from the text. By incorporating AI and machine learning within an organisation’s IT infrastructure, companies operating within financial services can be better equipped to handle cybercrime.

These tools are flexible and adaptable, they can be configured to analyse different types of data from different sources to curate key insights. This collated information provides a better analysis of the organisation’s exposure, allowing them the opportunity to get upstream in preventing future attacks. This kind of approach is essential to processing listings on WAMs.

The power to analyse data to identify weakness is vital in the battle against cybercrime. It gives organisations a better understanding into what they could expect to see in the future. Hosting the correct data, and with the analytical skills, financial organisations can gain a better understanding of the methodologies and weaknesses in-house that attackers use and exploit to hold them to ransom. Organisations can then use this as a reference to pinpoint compromised endpoints, giving them a chance to reduce access before this route can be exploited and ruin their business.

With cybercrime and ransomware continuing to remain prevalent, it’s vital that financial services companies understand how they can get ahead of the curve and build a robust security platform within their IT infrastructure that can withstand an attack. In 2022, a ransomware attack occurred every 40 seconds. The mindset for the sector needs to be one of when, not if.

Organisations need to be thinking about an attack now – before it’s happened. Pre-planning and preparing for the worst possible outcome from future threats and adversaries. The introduction of AI and machine learning in the fight against cybercrime is a must, and the sooner the industry gets behind in implementing AI, the safer it will be through the next decade.

 

 

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SVEA BANK ACQUIRES AREX’S FINTECH OPERATION IN FINLAND

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AREX Markets, the data-driven FinTech company that drives financing costs down for SMEs and enables them to get paid quicker, has announced the sale of its Finland operations to Swedish payment and financing institution Svea Bank.

With the deal, Svea will further strengthen its position as a corporate financier, as AREX’s c.1200 Finnish customers and partnerships in the areas of financial management and financial management software will be transferred to the bank’s portfolio. The Finnish operation of AREX has financed over EUR 500M worth of invoices.

AREX’s Spanish and UK operations remain unaffected and remain focused on building embeddable financing products for third party platforms. Customers in Finland have been informed of their transition, and their contracts and service details will port across to Svea.

Svea is reshaping the playing field of corporate finance in Finland, and taking on the operations of AREX in the region is a natural step to strengthen their own business and at the same time offer AREX’s partners and customers an easy path to a wider range of services than before.

“Over the years, Svea has grown a lot also through business transactions, therefore acquiring AREX’s business operations in Finland was a good and natural solution for us. In addition, the deal is pleasant for us at Svea because the focus of our activities is to help partners and customers succeed – offering AREX’s partners and customers a wider range of services is exactly that,” says Pasi Väre, country manager of Svea in Finland.

The deal also brings new opportunities for AREX to focus on the UK and Europe in its roll out of embeddable financing products, which can be white-labelled by neobanks, ERPs and accounting software alike. The business is seeking to bridge the liquidity gap faced by most small businesses in the face of a recessive economic climate.

UK SME’s can continue to access AREX’s core invoice financing product through the Xero marketplace.

“For us at AREX, this is a great step: we are developing a stronger presence in the field of embedded finance, which is underpinned by our sophisticated marketplace software, our strongest point,” says AREX’s CEO, Airto Vienola.

“For the AREX team it was extremely important that we find the best possible corporate financier to take care of the business’ customers and partnerships in Finland. Svea convinced us with their customer and partner-centric approach”, adds AREX’s co-founder Perttu Jalkanen.

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