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FIVE FINANCIAL SERVICES TRENDS FOR 2020: BIGTECHS SWOOP IN, BANKS GO ON THE OFFENSIVE AND CRYPTOCURRENCY STALLS

Rahul Singh, president of financial services at HCL Technologies

 

We’ve just finished a very exciting decade in financial services, with new technologies and new ideas shaking up an industry that had previously been slow to change and evolve. Although some technologies, such as blockchain, are taking more time to make an impact than was originally predicted, others such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) are already playing an increasingly influential role. We are also set to see a lot more jostling for position at a strategic level, as old hands and newcomers alike try to figure out exactly how they can gain a foothold in a rapidly changing market.

 

There are five key trends likely to have the biggest impact on the financial services industry in 2020:

 

1. Bigtechs like Amazon and Google are circling the financial services industry. Banks should be aware that the likes of Amazon and Google are circling the financial services sector, potentially causing disruption in 2020. Although the Bigtechs don’t appear to have a desire to actually become banks, they are taking a keen interest in the data banking activity generates. If they can gain access to this information, Bigtechs can put their unparalleled data and analytics capabilities to work on it, providing something never seen before in the banking industry. If given the opportunity, they could offer more sophisticated, highly personalised financial products and services to customers than existing market players could dream of.

 

2. Traditional ‘big’ banks will launch new brands to ‘challenge the challengers’. Some big banks have come to realise that they can tackle two of their biggest weaknesses – legacy technology and a lack of innovation, by simply starting afresh and creating a brand-new challenger bank that’s completely separate to the rest of the organisation.

This can take a fairly radical form, using a ‘skunkworks’ style approach that sees a small group of people removed from the rest of the organisation and put in an environment that allows them to get their heads down and innovate. In the short term the big bank will hope the new challenger brand will be a success in its own right, but in the longer term, they will be looking to use it as the building blocks for the established brand to build on. The new technology stacks that have been created could have the potential to free the wider organisation from its legacy technology shackles once and for all.

 

3. Banks will focus on payment platform partnerships rather than account holders. At the moment, most banks are trying to sign up as many account holders as possible, but it doesn’t have to be this way. Could they place less emphasis on individuals and focus on becoming the underlying payment platform of choice for specific partners instead? Of course banks will always need a healthy number of account holders, but it’s certainly food for thought as we head into the new decade.

In 2020, we will see more banks coming to realise the value strategic partnerships can bring, enabling them to become the preferred payment platform of choice. This can have a truly transformational effect, by opening up access to data from a much wider pool of people than ever before. If a bank is able to partner with a property platform and become its first port of call for customers, it could be in line to jump to the front of the queue for large transactions, such as mortgage applications and leasing.

 

4. More banks will rely on AI to detect fraud. Banks face two big battles when it comes to fraud: of course they have to prevent fraud from happening in the first place, but they also need to analyse fraudulent activity and have an element of ‘explainability’ to hand. Regulators not only want to know what has happened, but also why. In 2020 an increasing number of banks will realise that AI can help quickly identify the root cause of fraudulent activity so they can move on from fighting a losing battle in a game of ‘whack a mole’ and cut off the problem at its source.

 

5. Regulators will block cryptocurrencies’ path to mainstream success. In the last few years cryptocurrencies were heralded as a new dawn, with people proudly announcing which crypto they were investing in. Meanwhile, currency founders were elevated to celebrity status and the value of different digital coinage regularly made national news headlines. This progress has slowed in recent months, and the talk of cryptocurrencies getting serious will continue to cool in 2020. This is due in no small part to regulators and governments rejecting them. Facebook’s Libra, for example, seemed to have real momentum back in the summer, but the picture is now very different, with authorities asking probing questions and partners including Visa and MasterCard pulling out of the project. If an organisation as powerful as Facebook is struggling to make headway, it seems unlikely that another cryptocurrency project will break through to the mainstream in 2020.

 

The waves of disruption will continue to crash against the financial services shore in 2020. Banks must be willing to innovate and continually improve customer experience, keep on top of regulatory changes, and build stronger ties with technology partners if they want to ride the waves to success.

 

Banking

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.

 

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Banking

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.

 

U Htoo Htet Tay Za

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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