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DRIVING DIGITAL: HOW BUILDING SOCIETIES CAN THRIVE IN A NEW DECADE

Simon Healy, Industry Director Financial Services EMEA, Unisys

Building societies have been a feature of the UK’s financial landscape since the late 18th century, and these well-trusted institutions have played a key role in their local communities ever since – particularly when it comes to savings and mortgages. But recent years have presented serious challenges, and not just because of increased competition.

During the 2008 financial crisis, the sector ran into difficulties – often as the result of what proved to be ill-advised business diversification, like venturing into the sub-prime mortgage market, or corporate lending. In 2019, only 43 building societies remained active – and those who have survived have rightfully focused on consolidation, ensuring continuity of service for their valued customers.

Yet, as we enter a new decade, change is in the air. Most building societies are now in a much stronger position, contributing to a general sense that the time is right to start investing in the future. And – as you might imagine, given customer expectations and the focus of modern challenger banks – that future demands a highly digital, personalised approach.

Unfortunately, many building societies still have a reliance on manual processes, and have inherent constraints that limit their ability to innovate. This means that developing and distributing new digital capabilities can be challenging, with many feeling unsure of where to start.

So, what sort of digital offering should building societies spend their time developing – and how should they approach the process?

 

Belief in building societies: understanding the desire for digital

You only have to look at the rapid uptake of app-based banks like Monzo to understand that digital is desirable. But people aren’t seeking cutting-edge innovation in and of itself, which is good news for building societies. Instead, as Unisys’ recent research shows, customers are primarily motivated by fairly straightforward capabilities.

Our respondents claimed that convenience is one of the key drivers for choosing an account. So, in today’s digital world, it is perhaps no surprise that half say that online opening is important when they’re thinking about a new savings account, and 43% want online account management. A third would like access to a mobile app, and 34% are seeking omni-channel service, so that the service they receive in branch or on the phone is seamlessly integrated with their mobile, tablet or computer experience.

Nearly two in three customers feel that building societies should leverage the opportunities presented by the new Open Banking framework, with a third believing this would positively impact their personal finance management. And although not a traditional market for building societies, 86% of under 35s would be interested in a simple, intuitive digital current account from them.

Interestingly, and perhaps counter-intuitively, Unisys’ research shows that consumers are nearly seven times more likely to open a digital account with a building society than a digital bank, showing there is plenty of appetite – if only building societies are ready to take advantage.

Knowing this is one thing, of course, and building these capabilities in an environment that has traditionally relied on manual processes is quite another. Because while customer appetite for digital is high, delivering on it requires careful planning, not to mention a fundamental shift in mind-set.

 

Delivering digital

Building societies should start by forensically understanding and assessing the actual wants and needs of their target customers. As we’ve already seen, the requirements of most are quite straightforward at a high level – so by taking the time to thoroughly understand digital drivers, building societies can segment customers more effectively, and gain a focused understanding of the features and services most valuable to them.

Once this has been established, they should be prepared to move in small, incremental steps. This might seem counterintuitive for a digital transformation project, especially since innovation teams are usually under pressure to show the ROI of their efforts. But moving too quickly can lead organisations to build capabilities that customers don’t actually want, squandering capital and resources.

A few years ago, after all, it was widely expected that tablets would be the primary method of accessing online banking. Now, it’s generally accepted that mobile-first is the strategy to focus on – and those who invested heavily in an experience optimised for tablet may feel they’ve wasted their resources somewhat. By moving incrementally, building societies will have the freedom to flex and pivot as market shifts like this occur.

 

A top-down change

This phased approach will also allow building societies to drive innovation across the entire organisation, rather than focusing on one particular area – like customer experience. Given the choice, most would prioritise a customer-facing app over investing in the employee experience. But while this works as a means of getting to market quickly, any digital innovation focused solely on the customer experience will soon fall down if it’s relying on paper-based, clunky or manual processes behind the scenes.

This is also tied to the need for a wider cultural mind-set shift, which necessitates buy-in from the top down. Senior stakeholders play an important role in influencing cultural change and moving transformation forward. And just as importantly, they can also overcome financial objections. The reality is, traditional revenue models aren’t particularly helpful for analysing the value of digital investment. An engaged stakeholder can ensure that the project isn’t derailed by objections on this front.

Innovation is by no means an easy process for building societies. But as we head into a new decade, the need for developing digital capabilities is clear. Consumers are keen to continue supporting their local building societies – but to build on this sentiment, organisations must take the time and the resource to build out their digital offering. If they can do so successfully, they’ll be well placed to thrive on the UK high street for many years to come.

 

Technology

HOW TO KEEP DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION ON TRACK AFTER THE PANDEMIC

DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION

Ashley Coker, CEO and founder, Slate

 

Introduction

The global coronavirus health emergency has made it abundantly clear how dependent we are on digital services for business continuity and social cohesion. When physical contact must be minimised, digital businesses are in a better position to rapidly adapt and continue their services and respond to customers’ needs.

This is perhaps why Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, was prompted to delay the introduction of IR35 Off-Payroll working rules to the UK private sector until April 2021, as part of his package of measures to support British businesses through the COVID-19 crisis.

While some businesses expressed relief at the delayed introduction of IR35 rules in the private sector, many financial enterprises had already terminated contracts with IT contractors in preparation for the original deadline, with the risk of digital transformation programmes stalling.

 

What is IR35?

Inland Revenue legislation 35 (IR35) is a tax law designed to prevent individuals from using intermediaries, such as their own limited company, in order to avoid paying their fair share of tax and national insurance contributions (NICs). By setting up a limited company, some people were able to leave their employment in a bank on a Friday and return to the same job on a Monday as an IT contractor, with no change in their role, duties, or place of employment. HMRC wants to put a stop to this.

However, with an estimated 170,000 contractors working through their own personal service companies, HMRC has not had the resource to address cases individually and decided to put the onus on the organisations that hire contractors.

From April 2021, the responsibility for assessing whether a contractor is genuinely self-employed (outside of IR35) will fall on every medium and large private sector organisation with a turnover of over £10.2 million, a balance sheet of £5.1 million, and more than 50 employees. This means that every contract will have to be reassessed to decide whether an individual’s work falls inside or outside IR35. Contractors must be provided with a Status Determination Statement (SDS) for each contact that they undertake, confirming the organisation’s assessment of their status for IR35 purposes.

 

How has the financial sector prepared for IR35?

To avoid the time and resource required to scrutinise thousands of contractor contracts, many financial services organisations took a blanket decision which deems that all contractors are working inside IR35. Several prominent organisations have taken this route and terminated all contracts with contractors who bill for their services via limited companies.

Being deemed to be working inside IR35 has the effect of making hiring organisations liable for paying contractors’ income tax and National Insurance contributions at source, as though they were employees, without contractors benefiting from the sick pay and holiday pay benefits of the organisations’ employees. Tax experts have calculated that working inside IR35 will reduce contractors’ incomes by approximately 25 per cent. This makes projects less attractive to IT contractors who might be working on delivering digital change.

 

How does IR35 affect Digital Transformation?

Prior to the IR35 deadline extension, HSBC, Lloyds bank and Barclays bank were reported to have taken a uniform decision to classify all contractors as working within IR35. It was also reported that Deutsche Bank risked losing 50 out of 53 contractors working in its London-based change management team after taking the decision to cease working with contractors via personal service companies and asking them to join the payroll of a recruitment outsourcing agency used by the bank.

If IT contractors stop working with their financial service industry clients, to avoid falling foul of IR35 after April 2021, this could have a devastating impact on digital transformation projects that depend on the specialist skills of external contractors.

A number of contractors have reported that they plan to seek employment overseas after IR35 comes into force in the private sector, so that they can carry on enjoying the flexibility, job satisfaction and remuneration of working off-payroll. This could result in a brain drain for many sectors, such as banking, which relies heavily on the skills of external IT contractors to deliver digital transformation.

 

Fast track to digital delivery:

While IR35 could pose serious challenges for digital change programmes in the UK financial services sector after April 2021, some CIOs we have spoken to see the contract renewal phase as an opportunity to clear the decks, refocus and keep their best people on the pitch.

Our experience of providing corporates with highly-skilled software engineers who are born problem-solvers, who work in small, capped teams on a 5 in 50 model, has shown that they are often fundamental to getting stalled digital change programmes back on track. These developers work alongside enterprise IT teams, on a Seed, Scale, Succeed process, bringing fresh coding skills and transforming project thinking into product thinking, with continuous delivery of digital service iterations. They are technology specialists who relish the challenge of working on high profile digital journeys, but who do not wish to work as corporate employees and are therefore hard for financial services organisations to hire.

We now have another twelve months to prepare for IR35. In the meantime, as financial services organisations adapt to the demands of the pandemic, this is the time for small, agile teams of problem-solvers to shine.

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IN CONSUMER BIOMETRICS WE TRUST: AUTHENTICATION FOR THE DATA PRIVACY AGE

AUTHENTICATION

Jonas Andersson, Head of Standardization at Fingerprints

Data privacy is high on the global agenda. In the wake of data protection policies such as Europe’s GDPR, ensuring the integrity of personal data is an increasingly pertinent subject. This is a governmental and corporate policy reflection of the fact that our lives are moving increasingly online and, with it, our personal data is facing new and increased threats.

For all access to private data or services, we must be authenticated – this is the basis of privacy in the online world. But as PINs and passwords are increasingly viewed as insufficient to tackle this new reality, the world is looking to stronger authentication solutions, such as biometrics.

When implemented in the right way, biometrics will bring multiple benefits. It already enabled consumers to add layers of authentication to personal data previously unsecured in their owned devices – from apps and e-commerce, to our homes and devices. But its potential is phenomenal. Consumer-driven authentication via our phones and tablets is already today by far the largest application of biometrics in the world, with figures in the billions that dwarf government-led identification schemes such as India’s Aadhaar and the FBI database.

Crucially though, it’s a privacy and security measure that consumers have the power and choice to implement. And as third parties, such as financial services, healthcare and enterprise organizations, increasingly accept consumer biometrics authentication for their services, supporting the market’s continued adoption is an important and timely topic. But first, as biometrics creates its own sensitive personal data, there are a few points to clarify and discuss…

 

Consumers need confidence!

Undeniably, the success of existing applications of consumer biometrics is based on the advantages they offer consumers. Just look at the penetration and use of fingerprint biometrics in smartphones. But the success of future adoption will be determined by how confident consumers continue to feel in new situations. We’re frequently reminded not to use the same password or PIN multiple times, so it’s only natural consumers are beginning to feel concerned of their biometrics integrity as they start to utilize their fingerprint on multiple devices and apps: their phone, tablet, card, USB dongle…

In fact, consumer device authentication utilizes a ‘privacy by design’ approach that inherently protects end-user biometric data with an on-device authentication approach – where biometric data is enrolled, stored and managed all on the same device. The following principles have been fundamental to biometrics’ privacy protection in mobile and are what will enable new benefits for consumers in other personal device-based scenarios:

Translating images to templates

It’s a common misconception that biometric data, such as fingerprints, are stored as images. And in turn, if this image is accessed, the corresponding fingerprint is permanently compromised and unable to be restored or used securely on other applications. You’ll have heard the argument about biometrics: “I can change my password any time, but I only have ten fingerprints; what happens if they’re all hacked?”

In fact, data from a biometric sensor is captured and stored as a template in binary code – or encrypted 0s and 1s. This mathematical representation makes hacking basically pointless as, even if fraudsters could access the template, they can’t do anything with it. Template code cannot be reverse engineered into the original fingerprint image, nor can it be linked to other services and, in turn, other personal data. Moreover, this template is unique to the device it is on, making it impossible to re-use between devices, even if the same fingerprint has been enrolled!

The consumer is in control

This neatly leads on to my next point regarding storage. In consumer authentication use cases, information remains solely on the unique consumer device on which the template was created, remaining physically in control of the user.

Our recent consumer research found 38% were unwilling to share their biometric data but, with this approach, no data needs to be shared with third parties or cloud-based databases as everything is stored, and the authentication process is contained, within a single personal device.

Layers of security

Layering defense mechanisms is standard best practice for a range of security implementations – biometrics is no different. In addition to the transformation of biometric data into an irreversible template, these templates are also later encrypted and further protected by hardware and software both at rest and during the matching process.

The most successful example of a biometrics use case, the smartphone, utilizes the highly secure software isolation of Trusted Execution Environment (TEE) technology for storage and matching of biometric templates on device. The hardware on which it runs is intrinsically secured through its high degree of integration, complexity, miniaturization and specialization.

This approach is also championed by new use cases such as biometric payment cards. Here, the Secure Element (SE) – the chip technology that secures the financial data in your bank card – is utilized to store, process and match biometric information within the confines of the card. This treats biometric templates with the same security as the PIN and other financial data that is stored on our payment cards.

Removing the weakest link

Nothing is ‘un-hackable’, this is the reality of security. With enough time, money and effort, it’s possible to get into anything. A safe, a bank vault. However, attackers take the path of least resistance, and often it’s the end-user that is the ‘weakest link’ in the security chain when it comes to social engineering attacks.

End-users are vulnerable to attacks, such as phishing, where they can be tricked into giving away information such as a PIN or password. With consumer biometrics, the user only presents their biometrics to their personal device and can’t give anything away. This also removes the risks generated by mistakes or complacency, such as creating a password that’s easily guessed.

 

More authentication = more protection

Biometric authentication can protect a whole host of other sensitive personal data, far more quickly, conveniently and securely than was ever possible with PINs or passwords.

Today however, passwords and PINs remain the most used authentication methods outside of smartphones – something increasingly problematic. The friction created by asking users to create a new password has a significant impact on drop-out rates – especially as new ‘best practice’ guidelines recommend complex requirements such as including numbers, capitals, special characters and length. NIST’s digital identity guidelines outline the importance of usability challenges and stress, fundamentally, “positive user authentication experiences are integral to the success of an organization achieving desired business outcomes.”

6 out of 10 consumers feel they have too many PINs and passwords and worry about forgetting them. Unsurprisingly, 41% also admit to re-using the same PIN code or password across multiple sites, apps and devices. So, not only are PINs and passwords frustrating for consumers, they’re also becoming less secure.

Biometrics can be the authentication silver bullet as it combines security and a convenient UX, with leading fingerprint sensors authenticating in under a second. Its capacity to bring security to devices and processes previously either unsecured, poorly secured, or secured with a poor UX is phenomenal. Mobile is the perfect example of how it has been able to transform a device from being unsecured most of the time, to now only unlocked when in use. And now, just look at how your bank accepts your fingerprint authentication on your phone for access to your account.

With consumer biometrics, its quick and effortless to enroll onto new services and subscriptions. Consumers are happy to authenticate more frequently, because it’s so simple and the action is so intuitive. Plus, you cannot forget your fingerprint…

 

Consumer biometrics: on the agenda

It’s clear that biometrics is key to many organizations’ plans for privacy and security, but don’t just take our word for it. Many industry and government initiatives are moving quickly.

Europe’s GDPR highlighted biometrics as ‘sensitive personal data’ which clearly needs to be protected in the right way. Meanwhile, the benefits and integrity of consumer device biometric authentication were also recognized by Europe’s financial services directive, PSD2, citing biometrics as a trusted factor under its strong customer authentication (SCA) mandates.

Looking to industry bodies, FIDO Alliance is gaining significant traction in formalizing the quality and security of personal authentication with biometrics. Its work is complementing rising initiatives such as Self Sovereign Identity (SSI) models, whereby individuals or organizations are endeavoring to have sole ownership of digital identities and control how this personal data is shared and used. With an owned, FIDO-certified biometrics-secured device, users can add another authentication layer over stored digital identifiers.

For several years, we’ve also participated in industry body GlobalPlatform’s work to verify and standardize the quality of security protection on TEE. The biometric API extension defines security protections specifically around biometrics and is highly referenced in mobile implementations, and increasingly in new devices such as key fobs and home security devices too. With the dawn of the biometric payment card, we’re also supporting GlobalPlatform to define an SE specification for biometric cards.

The combination of government and industry engagement is setting the scene for so much more to be achieved with consumer authentication using biometrics. Undoubtedly, biometrics’ role in an increasingly data-conscious world has only just begun to take shape, and excitingly, it’s consumers who have the power at their fingertips – quite literally!

 

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