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Innovation and competitiveness: Fintechs must move to the edge

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By Simon Michie, CTO, Pulsant

Data-driven innovation has been one of the hallmarks of fintechs, along with the ability to identify areas that banks neglect or where new capabilities will transform financial services.

Now, however, the fintechs have arrived at a crossroads as edge computing changes IT in the global financial landscape. The edge is a major advance, moving data processing closer to the end user or customer. Working in combination with 5G wireless connectivity, edge computing delivers fast, low latency processing, even with the high volumes of data needed for artificial intelligence (AI) technologies.

For financial organisations, this has obvious advantages. Customer-facing trading platforms, for example, can use edge computing to enable faster and more complex mobile execution anywhere in the UK. There is no longer any significant disadvantage in being a long way from the hubs of the major cloud providers such as AWS, Azure, or Google. Fintech mobile apps are already highly developed, but once they run on an edge infrastructure platform, they will be capable of far more. They can, for instance, offer a new range of services based on, or triggered by, the user’s location, or deploy more sophisticated security, including facial recognition, to enable larger-scale or more frequent transactions on a mobile device or PC.

Edge infrastructure will become the platform for fintech innovation, to the extent that those failing to grasp the opportunity may well lapse into irrelevance. They will lack the responsiveness and streamlining the efficiency of their competitors who, for example, will vastly accelerate approvals of loans or credit extensions, drawing on historical and current customer data.

Simon Michie

Many AI-driven anti-fraud technologies also stand to make significant progress as real-world solutions, using low latency data processing to detect anomalies or suspicious behaviour in near-real-time. AI in combination with edge data processing is also set to ease the burden of compliance with banking regulations and data sovereignty laws. These use cases are among the reasons why market research company IDC estimates global cloud spending by banks will increase by more than 16 per cent each year up to 2024, hitting $77bn annually. It is why Mastercard, the global payment giant, is pushing forward its Next Edge network – a good example of how edge computing is entering the financial mainstream.

 

Fintechs need the edge to sustain innovation

As banks invest heavily in edge computing, fintechs will need to accelerate innovation. Competitiveness is about more than loan rates or current account interest – it’s about providing a great experience, whether for payday loans or niche services on trading platforms.

Fintechs also need the ability to adapt rapidly to any future pandemics, the sudden imposition of financial sanctions, interest rate rises or new laws or regulations. Since most are cloud-natives, they already have the advantage of a more flexible infrastructure than incumbents in the banking sector who still have critical applications and vast datasets that cannot function properly in the cloud.  The more wide-ranging use of AI and the integration of crypto currencies, cardless payment platforms and non-fungible tokens (NFTs) will make edge adoption a necessity. The question facing many fintechs, therefore, will be about the nature of the edge infrastructure they should adopt.

 

Using the edge to provide a high-quality user-experience

Because edge computing has several configurations, deciding which infrastructure to build on can be difficult. For ubiquity and low latency, any edge infrastructure platform must comprise a network of regional data centres with fast connectivity to and between the major cloud providers’ hubs in metropolitan areas. This of course must be supported by low latency 5G transmission to end users and their devices. Whichever financial services market a fintech addresses, it must provide a slick interface and total reliability. For mobile applications, this means providing the same quality of experience in northern Scotland as in the South East of England.

At the same time, the data any fintech must transmit to the hyperscalers’ compute or storage capacity must also transit in the fastest and most cost-effective way possible. In the UK, this requires a network of well-dispersed data centres and fast, seamless connectivity for all data flows.

Fintechs, along with their banking or enterprise clients, should also appreciate that digital transformation in finance outside the major metropolitan areas will also require more than fast, high-bandwidth connectivity. Solutions that apply beyond the City of London will demand true edge capabilities from a purpose-built edge infrastructure platform, so they deliver to the entirety of the country.

 

Making hybrid architectures work with edge

The crossroads in financial IT that banks and fintechs have reached requires them to make some decisions about direction of travel. Established banks are now considering their hybrid cloud strategies, placing data and workloads where they work best and are most cost-effective, whether on-premise, in colocation, or with hyperscalers.

Increasingly, edge computing is part of the hybrid architectures banks are adopting. Fintechs should take care not to be left behind, nor to be limited by their choice of edge infrastructure partners. They must avoid vendor lock-in or being bogged down in the complexities of managing increasingly opaque or complicated and costly hybrid deployments.

Fortunately, the next generation of cloud management platforms is on hand to maximise implementation and management across hybrid and edge infrastructures. These solutions offer the ability to gain the full flexibility and innovation of edge computing while maintaining access to the most sensitive data and workloads in secure locations, as required. These more advanced edge platforms are compliant with payment card industry (PCI) data security and encryption standards as well as the EU and UK data protection and sovereignty laws. They may also comply with US regulations such as SOC 2 and the Trans-Atlantic Data Privacy Framework, governing the confidentiality, integrity, and privacy of customer data.

As fintechs take stock and decide which way to go with their IT architecture, they must consider all these points. Fintechs that address the world outside London must at the very least ensure they have a genuinely national and resilient low-latency edge platform with rapid connectivity to the major hyperscalers’ metropolitan hubs. By making informed decisions and choosing to work with best-qualified edge partners they can continue along their fast track to innovation and widespread adoption within banking and finance.

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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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