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Criminal Minds: Account Opening Fraud Tactics put to the Test

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By Raj Dasgupta, Director, Global Advisory, BioCatch

 

The last two years have created a perfect storm for account opening fraud. Many banks and organisations were unprepared to handle an increase in online transactions and the widespread usage of digital services spurred by the pandemic.  Criminals exploited the system by falsely applying online for economic relief packages and then opening bogus accounts to deposit their stolen money into. It has been revealed that account opening fraud in the UK, was at its highest level in more than three years in 2021.

The latest wave may have passed, but there are ripples in the distance. Criminals are opportunistic, and their strategies are continuously evolving.  As highlighted in our recent webinar with the Royal Bank of Canada, it is critical that financial institutions are aware of the latest account opening fraud strategies, finding a balance between decreasing risk and exposure, while providing a great customer experience.

 

New Strategies for Account Opening Fraud: Combining Human and Non-Human Activity

Account opening fraud enables criminals to carry out money laundering. As we saw with economic relief packages, criminals are targeting where the money is — claiming unemployment or stimulus benefits, for example — and opening accounts to deposit stolen funds. They then move the money out to other accounts, often many times over, or buy cryptocurrency to conceal to make it hard to trace the origin of the funds.

Financial institutions that rely on PII or device-based risk assessment to detect account opening fraud are finding that their controls are falling short. Criminals have clean sets of PII data to work with to make their way through the account opening process, and the problem is so commonplace there are even how-to videos on YouTube to walk would-be criminals through the process. Because of the flurry of activity, banks had to act and began investing in new technology, like machine learning-based models, to shut the door on criminals. However, they have continued to adapt.

Criminals have a new MO and are using bots to open accounts at scale. Criminals leverage automated scripts and large caches of stolen PII to submit new account applications in minutes. Because most banks have bot detection technology in place to detect this activity, criminals have modified their attacks to blend real human interaction or introduced time delays on purpose with the intention of mimicking a human.

It’s now an incredibly sophisticated operation, mixing human activity and non-human programs to attack and confuse financial institutions.

 

Risks for Anti-Money Laundering and Fraud Teams

Although account opening fraud is a critical component in the money laundering supply chain, there is room for AML and fraud detection teams to work together on the problem.  Mule account detection is a serious challenge for financial institutions, both at account opening and within existing accounts.

In the world of mule accounts, there are criminals that open accounts with false paperwork or with a stolen or synthetic identity. There are also individuals who will sell their genuine account or multiple accounts to a criminal to make fast money. AML teams’ step in to investigate these accounts when there is a trigger, like a large transaction, that is indicative of money laundering. AML investigations can take weeks, months, or years once suspicious activity is uncovered. However, there are opportunities to prevent money from moving out of these accounts at all, and fraud teams can collaborate with AML teams to achieve this goal.

To reduce risk, we need to blur the lines between fraud and AML teams. One way to do this is by using technology that analyses user behaviour to uncover activity that is out of the norm for a genuine user, either at account opening or later in the customer life cycle.

Someone using an account for money laundering may behave like this:

  • A customer opens an account and uses it like a regular account for awhile
  • A criminal takes over or purchases the account from a genuine user and lays low, leaving the account dormant for a period of time
  • Then, suddenly, there is a host of incoming payments followed by outgoing payments

Technology like behavioral biometrics monitors user behaviour over time to detect these patterns, and can flag the accounts for money laundering activity, preventing money transfers from going through.

 

How to Create an Uninterrupted Account Opening Experience

Despite our best efforts, fraud will never be eradicated. It will change because criminals are flexible. “You have to find a way to balance what is an acceptable level of risk versus a delightful level of experience for the user,” Dasgupta noted.

One way is to layer machine learning and other technologies to “provide that balance between a beautiful user experience with the appropriate level of friction, while at the same time reducing your fraud exposure,” Dasgupta said.

Behavioural biometrics examines user behaviour during account opening to detect signs of illegal conduct. Criminals, for example, frequently employ copy and paste or excessive deletions while filling out a web form. Genuine users know their personal information from long-term memory and thus their typing patterns appear much different than those of a criminal using stolen PII. Because behavioural biometrics also works silently in the background, it does not add friction to the user experience. Instead, the technology identifies tell-tale signs that can build a bigger picture of who’s behind it, how they are behaving, and what is really happening when someone is applying for an account.

There are additional strategies for finding the right balance. First up is choosing controls that pair well with your users and the devices they use. Mobile users are conditioned to provide a second factor, like a thumbprint, but your web banking audience may be less open to extra steps. Second is deciding what transactions are low risk for your organisation and setting priorities for higher value transactions or clients. Financial institutions also shouldn’t cut corners on the measures they have in place to meet compliance requirements.

Banks have to address reputational risk, too. If today’s discerning consumer doesn’t like what an FI does, they can switch apps and go to a competitor.

Banks are vulnerable to account opening fraud, but by stacking smart fraud controls, they may reduce fraud risk while improving customer acquisition and improving the account opening experience.

 

Banking

Poor software testing puts banks at high risk of IT failures

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 Sune Engsig, VP Product at Leapwork

 

IT failures have plagued the banking industry for several years. From the TSB computer systems meltdown in 2018 costing the bank £330m and causing 80,000 customers to switch to a competitor, to Lloyds, Halifax and Bank of Scotland suffering an IT glitch on payday this year with customers’ faster payments and transfers being delayed.

Despite MPs calling for regulators to act, condemning the number of IT failures in the financial services sector as ‘unacceptable,’ the industry continues to let them happen leaving more and more irate customers locked out of their accounts. But with bank branches disappearing fast, customers are now far more reliant on online and mobile banking, so ensuring technology systems function correctly is paramount.  When you consider the complex compliance and regulatory setup of banks and other financial institutions, and the fact that they are dealing with incredibly sensitive customer information, those that do experience outages can face irreversible consequences such as loss of customer loyalty, severe reputational damage and regulatory fines.

A critical step in mitigating IT failures is having effective testing capabilities in place to find and fix any errors before new software is rolled out to market or new IT migrations take place. This lowers the risk of software failures and outages occurring after launch. Yet, 70% of software testers in banking and financial services think it’s acceptable to release software that hasn’t been properly tested, so long as it’s patched later, according to research by Leapwork. Furthermore, only 40% think software failures are a big risk to their company. But when the impact of an IT failure is so severe, why do banks still take risks?

 

Software testing challenges

Despite the swathes of software businesses now rely upon, 85% of software testing is still done manually. When it comes to the banking sector, as these institutions continue to develop new digitised products and services with increasingly sophisticated and customised software, it is clear that manual testing can no longer be the default. It is time-consuming, cannot scale amidst a skills crisis, and leaves companies open to human error.

There is a huge amount of pressure on IT teams to develop and release new software or manage new IT migrations. A critical step on this journey is having effective testing capabilities in place, like test automation, to find and fix any errors and bugs before new software is rolled out to market. This lowers the risk of outages and failures occurring after launch, which can negatively impact a company’s reputation and bottom line.

However, while some organisations recognise the value of automation tools, many continue to rely too heavily on code-dependant tools which, while an improvement on manual testing, are incredibly complicated to use and thus require specific skills and experience to operate. This means they too are impossible to scale, as they often depend upon developer skills.

 

Skills shortage forcing banks to take risks

Ensuring you undertake proper software testing seems like a no-brainer, but 40% of software goes to market without sufficient testing. The reason why; one in five (21%) of banking and financial services testers say ‘lack of available skilled developers.’ As companies transition from manual to automated testing, which typically requires coding skills, the major global developer skills shortage is creating bottlenecks, increasing costs and delaying project delivery times as development teams try to upskill manual testers, hire new talent or lean on existing developers.

As a result of the skills shortage, only 30% of testers in banking and financial services say they’re using some element of automation (i.e., an automation tool or a combination of manual and automation). In fact, 40% of CEOs across all industries think the fact that their company still relies on manual testing is the main reason why software isn’t tested properly, with 58% of testers in banking and financial services saying ‘underinvestment in test automation’ is the reason sufficient testing does not occur.

 

Testing issues not on CEOs’ agenda until too late

Across all sectors, 69% of CEOs think it’s acceptable to release software that hasn’t been properly tested, so long as it’s patched later, but 68% of testers claim their teams spend five to 10 days per year patching software. While nearly all testers express concern that insufficiently tested software is going to market, the overwhelming majority (75%) of CEOs say they’re confident their software is tested regularly. These numbers show a huge disconnect between CEOs and testers indicating that testing issues are falling under the radar and not being escalated until it’s too late.

 

Moving toward an automated future

Banking and financial services have been thought of as slow-moving and lacking innovation in the past. That isn’t the case anymore, as we’ve seen the industry take great strides towards digitalisation in recent years. However, with that digital transformation and integration of software comes outages, the consequences of which mean millions of pounds lost.

UK banks are at high risk of IT failures due to insufficient software testing, and a reliance on manual testing. On the current trajectory, more and more banks will struggle with failures and outages which could cost them a significant amount in financial and reputational damage. To minimise risk, they need to transition from manual to automated testing and explore testing options that don’t require coding skills so it’s easier to hire in talent or upskill existing team members, whether that be testers or everyday business users. Only then can they increase productivity and time to market while decreasing risk and costs.

 

 

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Financial Services Makes Gains In Employee Engagement

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By Phil Chambers, GM Workday Peakon Employee Voice 

 

A new report shows that the financial services industry improved in almost all elements of employee engagement last year. Can such momentum be sustained?

After more than two years of change, one thing is certain: keeping workers engaged has become more challenging – and more urgent. Record numbers of workers have left their jobs in the UK. And, as turnover has increased, employee engagement – people’s mental and emotional investment in their work and workplace – has been tested. In today’s climate, engagement isn’t a nice-to-have; it’s a business imperative – especially as companies with engaged employees are known to reap benefits including higher productivity, customer satisfaction, and profitability.

The financial services industry hasn’t been immune from the so-called Great Reshuffle. But, according to Workday’s latest State of Engagement Report, it did make measurable gains in employee engagement during 2021. Of the 17 industries analysed, financial services’ engagement ranking jumped from ninth to fifth place.

The report analysed nearly 9 million employee responses from almost 2.5 million employees throughout 2021. It compared the engagement scores given by employees working in different industries over the 12-month period, as well as scores for the 14 drivers of engagement – including autonomy, goal setting, meaningful work, reward, and recognition.

Organisations in the financial services industry have been considered less   quick to evolve than others. PwC recently characterised insurance companies, for instance, as “traditionally risk-averse and slow to change”. But, as the report shows, financial services clearly made some improvements. It is noteworthy given the enduring pandemic-related economic turbulence of 2021 – and the fact that during that time global engagement scores overall slightly declined.

 

Where The Financial Services Industry Improved in Employee Engagement

Remarkably, the financial services industry saw increased rankings and scores in all but one of the 14 engagement drivers that the State of Engagement report measures.

Of all 17 industries analysed, financial services took top place for goal setting by the end of 2021 (up from sixth at the start of the year) and landed among the top three sectors for strategy and recognition too. These strong results indicate the industry provided clear direction to its people at both individual and organisational levels, and appropriately recognised employees when they met their goals.

The improvement in the industry’s overall engagement, however, was driven largely by a sizable increase in its environment driver score in 2021, suggesting that a significant number of employees responded positively to having more freedom around where they worked during the pandemic. Before the pandemic, it was unusual for financial services firms to offer flexible options at all. But, in 2021, more than ever before, many firms’ employees were working remotely or enjoying a hybrid of both remote and in-office work – as and when offices started to re-open. This unprecedented choice in where, how, and when they worked was appreciated, as the report indicates, by many workers in the sector.

 

Where There’s Room For Improvement

As the report found, many employees feel the amount of work they have is increasingly unmanageable. Workload continues to be a pain point across all industries globally, with workload satisfaction scores dipping slightly in 2021. At the end of the year, financial services received its lowest engagement-driver score for workload and ranked 11th among the 17 industries analysed.

This indicates employees in the financial services industry found their workload less manageable as the year progressed, which is perhaps unsurprising when considering the pandemic’s ongoing toll in many parts of the world, and the fact that remote working can lead to ‘always-on’ work lives.

To help mitigate burnout risk and diminished engagement going forward, financial services leaders and managers will need to stay close to their employees in the months ahead to find out how they can best support them, whether that’s with additional resources, greater work flexibility, or updated benefits. By regularly staying abreast of people’s needs and taking the necessary action, organisations can spot potential problems before they lead to resignations.

 

What The Industry Should Avoid Going Forward

In recent months, we’ve seen some financial institutions try to take a “return to normal” approach, requesting their people go back to working onsite five days a week. But, as the report shows, this approach may not be the best one for everyone, particularly as the past two years have revealed that many employees appreciate and benefit from a greater degree of flexibility.

Of course, not all organisations will be able to provide hybrid or remote arrangements for all their people. But greater flexibility doesn’t necessarily have to mean working remotely. It could mean more flexible scheduling options, or a shift in working hours to enable a greater work-life balance.

Either way, to retain the engagement gains achieved in 2021, the financial services industry should resist the temptation to look back, and must instead take learnings from the past two years. Amid so much economic and societal change, and with employees continuing to shift jobs in record numbers, companies cannot simply go back to before, but need to continue moving forward, listening to the needs of their people, and leading with empathy.

Specifically, leaders and managers in financial services will need to stay closer than ever to employee feedback, going beyond listening and working fast to implement change accordingly.

For the industry to continue making positive gains in employee engagement, it will need to: consider how to retain a degree of flexibility – updating models to reflect evolving employee needs; continue to provide clear individual and organisational direction to those working remotely and on site; create and maintain more manageable workloads through prioritisation and automating repetitive tasks; and continue to reward and recognise employees for their hard work and achievements.

While great strides were made last year, it’s more important now than ever that leaders in the financial services industry determine and understand how employees are feeling so that organisations can explore and shape a future of work that works for everyone.

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