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PRIVATE EQUITY – ARE YOUR NDAs INTACT AGAINST A CYBER SECURITY BREACH?

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Owen Morris, Operations Director at Doherty Associates

 

Even prior to the pandemic, research revealed how over a quarter of private equity professionals felt their firms’ due diligence to protect against cyber security was poor. Prior to Covid-19, some Private Equity firms wanting to maintain secrecy used their office buildings as physical firewalls and some even used sound-proof meeting rooms to avoid sensitive data leaking out. Now, fast forward to today’s virtual workplace borne out of the crisis, where a greater number of PE professionals are benefiting from the flexibility of working between home and the office.

Home working can result in greater productivity, but a rush to fully remote working and inadequate remote security systems can suddenly make a PE firm’s dispersed workforce an ideal target for cyber attackers seeking lucrative, highly confidential financial data.

It’s therefore no surprise that PE firms are frequently asked to sign nondisclosure agreements (NDAs) by prospective portfolio companies, protecting against a breach of confidential information including cyberattacks. This demand by clients for tightly worded NDAs will only rise as remote access to information becomes ever more commonplace.

Not every company may want to sign an NDA due to the associated constraint on operating within an industry sector and possibly with competitor companies.  Implementing appropriate information security controls can both avoid the need for an NDA by satisfying partners of appropriate levels of safety, or, if one is in place, ensure that the obligation for confidentiality can be met.

 

Starting Out

Start with defining a location where any data under NDA is stored and where controls are enforced.  This means that policies can be applied that allow the data to be controlled to meet the requirements of the agreement.  When choosing a platform, it’s important to ensure that it offers features to label the data as being protected and either prevent data leaving the protected location or to protect it even if downloaded.

 

Securing in place

Once a location is created and data is stored within it, it’s important to understand where the data will be physically located and whether it’s properly protected.  Encryption is one of the main risk mitigation tools that should be in place across the board.  Where companies might previously have looked at this for mobile or laptop devices only, the pandemic has meant that devices are now dispersed much more widely, or conversely, might be in largely unattended locations.  Theft is probably a bigger risk than ever.  Encrypt all devices across the board, and ensure that a remote wipe facility is in place.

Where data can be shared with third parties or could be stored on home machines in a ‘bring your own device’ scenario, encryption remains an option. Some next generation products offer encryption within documents that can be used to allow features such as ensuring that documents can only be read by the person that they are sent to and cannot then be forwarded.  These features can also be used to allow documents to be ‘timebombed’ – for example, documents could be made inaccessible after an NDA expires.

 

Knowing the right people have access

A successful information control ensures that the right people have access to the data and people that shouldn’t, don’t.  Being sure of the identity of the people accessing the data therefore is paramount.  Unfortunately, passwords are no longer sufficient as a way of identifying users and multi-factor authentication (where you have a combination of something you know – the password, and something you have – a phone or biometric like a fingerprint) proves it is you.  Locking down sharing of documents to specific people or organisations is a key way of ensuring this.

 

Keeping your data close

The flip side of the coin to sharing with other parties is ensuring that data doesn’t leak out to other people that shouldn’t be able to access it.  Some next generation platforms come with Data Leak Prevention features that can identify documents as having been marked as protected and prevent them being sent by email or shared through the platform to untrusted parties.

 

Getting rid of the data when you’re done

The best way of reducing data protection risk is not to have the data at all!  This is where using technology can help.  By marking the data as being under the NDA it allows organisations to trace where that data is (potentially even outside the organisation) and automatically remove it when it no-longer needs to be kept using features such as retention policies.

 

What do we do in a breach?

The job of responding to a breach is made much easier by having a defined, rehearsed breach response process.  Once this is in place, implementing the technological controls above puts companies in a good position to confidently respond to a breach.  By knowing where the data is stored, forensic investigations are made much easier.  Device management, wiping and encryption reduces risk of data loss and strong access controls plus data leak prevention can reduce the likelihood of data being accessed and exfiltrated.

 

Finance

WHY THE NORDICS WILL CONTINUE TO LEAD THE WAY IN DIGITAL PAYMENTS

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By

Kriya Patel, CEO, Transact Payments

 

While the recent introduction of PSD2 — the second iteration of the EU’s Payment Services Directive — has undoubtedly had an effect on the entire continent of Europe, some regions have been in a better place to take advantage of it than others. Largely thanks to a historical willingness to foster and embrace innovation, the Nordic nations were already something of a global leader in the electronic payments space even before PSD2. Now, it looks as if the Nordics is on course to be the first region in the world to fully realise digital transformation in payments.

With a combined population of 21.39 million, the Nordic markets of Sweden, Denmark and Norway have the highest penetration of electronic transactions anywhere in the world. It’s estimated that cash is only used in 3% of transactions in Norway, with this number only slightly higher in Sweden. Given this context, it’s no surprise that there are nearly twice as many payment cards as there are people, at 41.86 million cards. These cards are used for around 7.8 billion transactions annually — worth more than £205 billion — made at just under 600,000 point of sale (POS) locations and online.

You could be forgiven for thinking that given the advanced state of play in the payments market that there would be few opportunities left for incumbents or new entrants to take advantage of. However, for those who are willing to innovate and diversify there could be market share up for grabs. And there are also plenty of things that payments players in other regions can learn from this market. In this article, we will examine what these opportunities and lessons are.

 

Highly developed market

E-commerce accounts for a very large proportion of overall electronic transactions in the Nordics at between 19 and 22%. It’s a segment that is continuing to grow rapidly, even though cards remain the preferred way to pay online and in person.

In fact, cards account for a huge 85% of all in-person transactions in the Nordics, with debit cards used for two-thirds of all purchases in Denmark, for example. In the background, this is enabled by a highly functional consumer-permissioned digital identification system known as BankID that makes Know Your Customer (KYC) compliance for e-commerce much more straightforward for vendors and customers. This scheme, which was first envisioned more than 20 years ago, is one of the key reasons why this region has made such strong advances in digital payments.

Since 2015, all three Nordic markets have embraced digital wallet solutions – Norway’s Vipps, Sweden’s Swish and Denmark’s Bankort. In the case of Denmark, their digital wallet grew from the Bankort debit card solution shared by major Danish banks. Across all three markets, these home-grown wallets have seen strong growth, with Swish reporting the fastest usage growth in the over-45 segment. These domestic wallets are currently looking to grow their functionality, with parking and bill payments being added on top of peer-to-peer (P2P) money transfers and a debit function.

 

Digital wallets to expand functionality

As digital wallets rise and cards continue to be used for a very wide range of purchases, the Nordic markets continue to seek opportunities to reduce cash use for everyday, low-value purchases such as parking and street vendors. This will create room for mPOS (mobile Point Of Sale) and soft POS systems providers, as well multi-function card products. Loyalty is also likely to be another area for growth, with players keen to ensure that they can retain existing customers and attract new ones from their competitors.

One of the most interesting areas in the Nordic region’s payments landscape is how these digital wallet solutions can expand internationally. While digital wallets are growing rapidly in the domestic space, the capacity of these wallets to be used outside the Nordic region is still very limited. Creating international links for Nordic-only solutions will certainly be an area of growth in the coming years, so providers looking to partner with banks or wallet providers should find a receptive audience in these markets.

As with other European markets such as Spain and Germany, we’re also seeing the rise of specialist banks built to meet the needs of smaller companies in the Nordics. Banks such as Norway’s Aprila are expanding rapidly by taking advantage of PSD2’s Open Banking mandate to access SME credit data and deliver innovative payment products and lending solutions. Corporate credit and debit card products will be a major growth area in the near future as SMEs will finally get the attention they deserve.

There’s a great deal that other regions can learn from the Nordics. While the combined population of the three countries adds up to only around one-quarter of Germany, for example, the relatively low population density has proved a fertile ground for digital payments. It will be interesting to see how some of the more innovative services we see in this region can make international links, or how players in other regions try to replicate them.

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Banking

THE GROWTH OF DIGITAL BANKING: WHY COLLABORATING WITH FINTECHS IS CRUCIAL TO ADAPT TO CUSTOMER DEMANDS IN LIGHT OF THE PANDEMIC

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The growing customer demand for a seamless digital banking experience looks set to transform how the entire banking industry operates. Traditional banks have been left playing catch up with the emergence of new fintech players and challenger banks. The demand for slick digitally finance solutions is led by the digital native generations, the millennials and Gen Z. However, the coronavirus pandemic accelerated the uptake of online shopping and remote working for whole swathes of the population. Even the older generations have been left wondering why accessing banking services online remains so cumbersome.

Consumers’ growing desire to access financial services through digital channels has already led to a surge in various new banking technologies which are reconceptualising the banking industry. Consumers have rapidly moved to adopt payment solutions such as those offered by apps like Revolut.

Manoj Mistry

Retail banks continue to launch platforms in the Banking as a Service (BaaS) space, in an effort to remain competitive. An example of this in the UK is how NeoBank (Starling) used to only offer business to consumer (B2C) retail banking services. However, once it launched its BaaS platform, Starling was able to rapidly diversify to include consumer services.

New technologies like blockchain and artificial intelligence (AI) continue to evolve, and look set to have an enormous impact on banking over the next three to five years. The type of cryptocurrencies that we have seen to date look set to be far more tightly regulated, given significant governmental concerns about their potential for misuse in cybercrime and money laundering.

In the blockchain space, the transformative development which will accelerate the rise of digital finance is the advent of central bank-backed digital currencies. The US Treasury has described the creation of a digital dollar as a high priority project. China is already trialling its digital Yuan. Meanwhile, the ECB is actively pursuing its plans to launch a digital Euro. The launch of stable, highly secure digital currencies, underpinned by major central banks, looks set to ensure that digital finance will permeate every area of our lives in the not too distant future.

How we use digital finance is also set to change radically. We are used to seeing new technology emerge from Silicon Valley. However, an analysis by KPMG Australia suggests that a new breed of apps which prefigures the future of digital finance has already emerged in the East. The report notes that “super apps” are “already encroaching on traditional financial services territory”.

Super apps are defined as apps which “essentially serve as a single portal to a wide range of virtual products and services. The most sophisticated apps – like WeChat and Alipay in China – bundle together online messaging (similar to WhatsApp), social media (similar to Facebook), marketplaces (like eBay) and services (like Uber). One app, one sign-in, one user experience – for virtually any product or service a customer may want or need.

“Due in large part to their versatility, super apps have quickly become ingrained into users’ daily lives. It is not unusual for a WeChat user in China to set up a date with a friend via instant messaging, make dinner reservations, book movie tickets, order a taxi and pay for every transaction along the way, all using one single app.”

We are already beginning to see trends in this direction in the Western world, with Facebook launching a marketplace and even a dating service within its social network. Facebook also attempted to launch its own digital currency, Libra, but this move stalled when it ran into significant governmental opposition. However, Facebook hasn’t given up, and it is determinedly pursuing the launch of a revamped stablecoin, Diem, which has been redesigned to address regulatory concerns.

A group of Citi analysts recently wrote an interesting research paper, which predicts that “the story of digital money in the 2020s will be the growth of tokenised money”. Noting that both Big Tech and Central Banks “are building new payment formats and rails,” they say that “while stablecoins such as Diem await regulatory approval, they could benefit from the huge network effects of their Big Tech sponsors. In fact, Diem could be an effective tokenised payment format inside the Facebook universe.” The paper predicts that “Stablecoins, such as Diem, could benefit from the huge network effects of their Big Tech sponsors”. With 3.3 billion monthly users, Facebook certainly has remarkable global reach.

The idea of an integrated tech platform which enables people to interact and purchase goods and services – including financial services – is now being pursued by many major players.

Amazon has long been rumoured to be planning to launch its own bank. Yet, research by CB Insights concludes that, “from payments and lending to insurance and checking accounts, Amazon is attacking financial services from every angle without even applying to be a conventional bank.” This is perhaps not surprising. After all, tech companies rarely replicate existing models. They usually find disruptive new ways to achieve the outcomes that consumers want. Even the messaging service, WhatsApp, has recently moved into financial services with the launch of WhatsApp Pay.

As money becomes digitised and tokenised and ever more areas of our lives move online, the distinction between an online marketplace, a social network and a financial services provider will continue to blur. How traditional financial services companies react to these developments remains to be seen. Some may partner with tech companies in creating new services. For example, Visa and Mastercard were involved with Facebook’s Libra stablecoin project. Visa also responded to the popularity of peer to peer payment services such as Revolut by launching Visa Direct, which enables users to make payments directly to another account in 30 minutes. Most major banks now support Apple Pay, which enables users to authorise payment by scanning their face or thumb.

Banks can also collaborate with tech companies in terms of data sharing, in order to better understand what their customers want. A company like Amazon knows what books people like, what music they listen to and what they purchase. By combining such data with wider financial data, remarkably predictive Big Data models could be created. Some banks might increasingly pursue opportunities to monetise data, while others might make privacy their unique selling point.

The banking sector fundamentally deals with money. Yet, the very nature of money is set to change, as it becomes digitised. Banks are no longer merely competing with each other, but they are both competing and collaborating with tech companies and social networks. Looking ahead, the only certainty we have is that we are in for a period of remarkable change.

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