By Dave Waterson, CEO, SentryBay
Insurance and banking industry call centres, like organisations in every other sector, were forced into dramatic lockdowns in March thanks to the growing spread of the Covid-19 virus. The specific difficulty that many of them faced, however, was how to balance the safety of employees and support them working remotely, with a lack of access to secure systems that could connect them to customer files, policy documents, and payment processes.
It’s no secret that the insurance industry, in particular, was struggling with digital transformation pre-Covid and the legacy systems that still dominate the sector were, in most cases, simply unfit for migration to a remote model in such a short timeframe. This situation was further exacerbated, however, when it became obvious that in order to offer a claims service, staff and agents in many call centres would be receiving calls diverted to them on their mobile phones as they worked from home.
For industries that are immersed in handling personal data and financial transactions like insurance and banking, this presents two immediate issues – how to manage data securely, and how to ensure compliance.
Rise in cyber-crime
Security has been an important factor for most organisations over the past few months. Very few had time to provide secure laptops or dedicated tablets with security built-in for remote use. News headlines have attested to the resulting rise in cybercrime as malicious actors sought to take advantage of vulnerable technology once it was outside the protection of the corporate perimeter.
It is a fact that unprotected endpoint devices – laptops, home PCs and mobile phones included – are the weakest link in the security chain. According to a report published last year, 70 per cent of breaches originate at the endpoint, and 42% of endpoints are unprotected at any given time. When it comes to smartphones, the danger is less to do with malware, and more to do with data leakage, but however the breach happens, once a customer’s personal data is exposed, there are serious implications for those involved.
For banking and insurance company call centres, the situation is further complicated by their obligations to meet the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS). This seeks to protect customer credit card data over landlines, mobile phones, through Chat or use of apps. Normally managed within the call centre estate, PCI DSS ensures that wherever agents are required to process cardholder data, the transactions are monitored, logged and secured.
Even under normal circumstances adherence to PCI DSS is sporadic, partly because of legacy technology, or conversely because organisations are adjusting to new cloud-based systems or are in the process of outsourcing their IT infrastructure. Any chink in the armour can see data lost in moments or websites and mobile apps hacked with devastating consequences. While PCI DSS is not enshrined in law, fines for non-compliance can still be considerable and since data breaches are commonly reported, there is the potential for serious brand and reputation damage that no insurance company would welcome.
The situation presented by Covid-19 therefore meant that compliance with PCI DSS or indeed any other regulation, was made even more challenging, with the onus on financial service companies to supervise agents working from home to ensure they were handling and storing sensitive customer data appropriately, not least by using secure endpoints.
Five months on and many call centre agents still find themselves working from home. The appetite from both employees and managers to a full return to office buildings has waned along with the ongoing threat of infection. As a result, organisations are now in a position to properly address some of the issues over which they applied a metaphorical sticking plaster back in March, and securing workers’ endpoint devices is an important example.
What can they do?
Any smartphones, tablets, home PCs or laptops that are being used by agents to process and access customer data should have, at the very least, the same security posture as the managed devices that reside within the insurance company perimeter. This includes ensuring that SaaS applications are isolated or ‘containerised’ from the rest of the potentially-compromised unmanaged machine or endpoint.
Standard anti-virus products will not do the trick. The particular vulnerability of endpoints means that solutions have to specifically protect data entry on BYOD and unmanaged devices, particularly into remote access apps like Citrix, VMWare, WVD, web browsers and Microsoft Office applications. Browsers that access the corporate network should be locked down, including URL whitelisting, enforced certificate checking and enforced https.
Whilst this sounds time consuming and expensive, in practice it is neither because no special configuration is required. Instead, a simple download and install from pre-configured software will deliver a far more effective and speedy resolution to the threat. Call centre IT managers can select proven anti-keylogging software that can protect every keystroke into any application and prevent screen-scraping malware from stealing customer credentials, payment and sensitive personal and credit card data. It is also important that there is access to a portal that allows simple configuration by administrators – this is after all something that needs to be managed remotely.
As life begins to take on some semblance of normality again, banks and insurance company customers will be expecting high standards, regardless of whether the agent they speak to is working in a physical call centre environment, or from their kitchen at home. Increasingly, it will become unacceptable to use Covid-19 as a reason for not delivering a secure, compliant service. Now is the time for companies to address areas of weakness and take advantage of the opportunity to implement processes and changes that will allow agents to work remotely with confidence in the future and ensure that customer data is fully protected at every stage in its journey through the banking or insurance system.
3 KEY DIGITAL MARKETING TRENDS FOR 2021
Digital marketing is an industry where the trends are changing on a daily basis, meaning those in the sector really need to stay on top of what’s new and what’s going on.
More and more companies are investing in digital marketing; a service that becomes more and more popular every year. However, this year, especially, brands and businesses have needed digital marketing more than ever, with many shops and businesses being forced to close in person, and being forced to offer their services and products online.
Here are three of the fastest rising digital marketing trends that we expect to go in 2021:
- Specialised Marketing Agencies
Due to the current situation, many businesses will have sadly made members of their team redundant. During the 2008 recession, sadly a lot of those that had job cuts were in the marketing department and these were one of the first teams to be cut, as businesses decided that marketing just wasn’t important.
If that is anything to compare this situation to, then there will be less in-house markers, and therefore more businesses will want to be using their budgets to outsource to specialists instead.
Rather than going to big digital marketing agencies, they will perhaps want more agencies that are specialist in their industry, such as beauty, sport or food so that they can be guaranteed the knowledge and expertise in their niche.
Foundation Agency is an example of an agency launched in the middle of the pandemic. They formed after Google data in May 2020 showed a huge shift in online user behaviour , with trends showing a surge in beauty and skincare, and 70% of consumers now saying they buy beauty products online more than before.
- Less PR Campaigns
The past few months have proven that an event or a situation can take up every newspaper front page, every online article and every single social media mention, and there can be some days (or months in this case) where every day is quite a news heavy day. In this case, journalists won’t be looking for as many campaigns from PR professionals as they’ll already have a list of stories they’d want to cover.
Spending too much time and money on a campaign might backfire, and PR professionals and marketing professionals may use their time to find more reactive opportunities.
Kyle Sowden, Digital PR Executive at Liberty Marketing, says:
“I’ve been keeping a close eye on the amount of surveys that have been getting picked up in the media over the last two or three months and noticed that they’re hugely decreasing. Surveys can cost a few grand, depending on the niche of the respondents you want, what results you want and how many questions you want too. If you don’t get the results that you hoped for, then this could be a huge loss in terms of money and time.
PR professionals are better off spending their money on services like Response Source and HARO, as well as emailing journalists that they know will be writing about topics that they, or their clients, are able to supply comment to rather than producing one big content campaign. Maybe not forever, but certainly for the time being while the world is a bit weird.”
- More Social Media Advertising
Most of us have more time to spend, meaning more time to sit around on our phones or laptops. There have been a lot of furloughs and redundancies this year, as well as more slackers that are working from home, spending time scrolling through social media platforms.
Social media is one of the best places to advertise and market your brand or product, especially as we know many people have switched to online shopping now rather than going into the local town centres.
Ryan Walton, Founder of Aura Ads, says:
“With more time spare to scroll through social media and online shop, brands are well aware that one of the best ways that they can spend their marketing budgets is on social media marketing, specifically video as they know that’s what gets the highest engagement rates.”
Of course, these trends aren’t certain, but they’ve definitely been on the rise towards the end of the year, and we expect them to keep peaking. It’s important to check sites such as Search Engine Journal for your everyday marketing news, to see what sort of changes are going on in the digital marketing industry.
A GUIDE TO LLC TAXES FOR SMALL BUSINESSES
By Tricia Joyce
Starting a small business can be an exciting, if sometimes stressful, journey. While finally being able to be your own boss is definitely a perk, running your own business isn’t always easy.
One of the greatest hurdles that entrepreneurs are often underequipped to deal with is taxation. How much should you be paying per year, and what are the forms and processes? In our previous post ‘Corporation Tax – A Guide for Small Businesses’, we discussed the ins and outs of corporation taxes and other basic information. Today, we’re going to look at the specifics of paying tax as a Limited Liability Company (LLC).
Benefits of an LLC
Why choose to register as an LLC? Well, most entrepreneurs might think that registering as a sole proprietorship might be enough, but there are certain advantages to LLCs. Generally, LLCs offer more flexibility and liability protections, without the complicated procedures and extra costs of other business models.
Another main draw of forming an LLC is that they’re taxed differently from S corporations. The two models are fairly similar in that they protect the owners from double taxation. However, LLCs offer more flexibility, and have less complicated procedures. S corporations are also required to file business tax returns, which are not required for single-owner LLCs.
How Are LLCs Taxed?
As a “pass-through entity,” LLCs have a tax system that sets them apart from corporations. Like sole proprietorships, the profits and losses of an LLC are coursed through business owners or members. These business owners report this information on their personal tax returns, rather than filing for a separate corporation and personal tax.
According to the Internal Revenue Service, single-member LLCs are considered “disregarded entities.” This means the LLC’s activities must be filed as part of the owner’s federal tax return.
Single-member LLCs must use the Social Security Number (SSN) or Employer Identification Number (EIN) of the owner for reporting income tax. Generally, these activities will be reported through Form 1040 or 1040-SR.
If the LLC is owned by a married couple in a community property state, and the couple continue to treat the entity as a disregarded entity for federal tax purposes, or as a partnership for federal tax purposes, then the LLC remains as reported. However, in non-community property states, the LLC must file as a partnership. It is important that you make sure to research what kind of rules for joint ownership of an LLC exist in your state.
If the LLC is owned by multiple members, such as a married couple as given in the example above, income tax is generally paid as a partnership. This means that individual partners will pay tax based on their lawful share of ownership in the LLC. This is called a distributive share, and is usually found in proportion to a member’s ownership percentage of the business.
The Balance has a small guide on paying taxes as an LLC. In brief, the partnership will file an information return on Form 1065. Each partner will then receive a Schedule K-1 showing the share of profits or losses in the LLC.
The Schedule K-1 information must then be transferred to Schedule E – Supplemental income. Each type of income, as broken down on your Schedule K-1, will be inputted in specific sections on the Schedule E. You can then include the income as reported in your Schedule E in the relevant sections of your Form 1040 or 1040-SR.
Is an LLC Right for You?
LLCs are favored for their adaptability and relatively simple procedures. However, if your multi-member LLC needs to retain a certain amount of profits, you may find it more beneficial to register as a corporation. In general, however, LLCs are great options for small business owners. Make sure to do extensive research on the tax laws in your state to ensure you’re choosing the right model for your business plan.
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