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PROTECTING THE CONNECTED CONSUMER FROM REAL AND PERCEIVED FRAUD RISK

Sam Holding, Head of International, SparkPost

 

Experts have researched and observed that when there is an economic downturn, there is often a marked increase in fraudulent activity. Unfortunately, the global financial situation caused by the spread of COVID-19 has been the perfect storm for this kind of behaviour. A quick web search on the topic brings back tons of tips sheets and articles about how consumers can keep themselves safe during such a turbulent economic crisis. While these resources suggest that consumers take simple steps like ignoring robocalls and watching out for phishing emails, the amount of channels through which scammers can take action can feel overwhelming. Due to the increasingly interconnected nature of technology, an attack on one website or communication channel can lead to what feels like a domino effect – taking down a consumer’s personal “stack” one by one.

 

The nature of this interconnectedness has given rise to the “Connected Consumer”. This consumer persona represents the vast swathe of people who have smartphones and have not only grown accustomed to ultra-personalised digital experiences but, as a result, expect these types of dynamic solutions. It should also be noted that this is not specifically a Millenial or Gen Z phenomenon, but rather a trans-generational disposition for easy-to-use technology. While the Connected Consumer isn’t necessarily at a higher risk for fraudulent attacks because of how they interact with technology, the stakes definitely feel higher. Because they may use their Facebook or Gmail credentials to login to countless websites and apps, a single fraud attack can feel like a chink in the armor that protects their whole digital footprint.

 

Sam Holding

With the rise of the Connected Consumer, it’s likely no surprise that there is an incredibly high app adoption rate amongst financial services customers. While people may be quick to download retail banking apps, due to their broader online experiences, they expect a highly personalised experience – something the financial services industry hasn’t always been able to give. In an industry known for stringent security and privacy controls and conservative decision-making, adoption of the latest and greatest segmentation and personalisation technologies hasn’t always been possible. But anecdotally as users, we know that an outdated app experience is not only frustrating but may also lead to concerns about security. If the front-end looks antiquated, what’s to keep non-technical consumers from assuming what’s under the hood is old and lacking up-to-date security measures?

 

The, perhaps superficial, perceived threat around slightly outdated app experiences and the very real threat of fraud requires a multi-pronged course of action to keep Connected Consumers feeling safe. Fortunately, many of the steps required are actually low hanging fruit that don’t require technologists and security professionals to completely change their normal course of action. The best place for financial services companies to start is with their email programs. Since email is the backbone of customer communications when it comes to financial institutions, no amount of attention to detail and care is too great when considering new strategies.

 

The first updated strategy that can keep Connected Consumers feeling safe is applying a mobile-first attitude when sending email messages. This can be applied to the look and feel of the actual email template, but should also be applied to the links in messages as well. Hyperlinks in the body of emails should “deep link” back to the banking institution’s mobile app rather than their desktop site. For Connected Consumers, these deep links show that their bank’s email strategies are in lock-step with their app. And, rather than having to fumble through a website that may not be mobile friendly, consumers can use their thumb print or even their face to access sensitive financial information instantly. Quick and even topical changes like this can show consumers that their information is safe by using the security measures built into their phone.

 

Another easy change financial institutions can focus on to create a more streamlined and, therefore, more secure-feeling experience is improved customer service. Certainly, it’s important for support agents to be friendly and helpful, but in 2020 they should also be fully aware of all of the personalised email messages the specific customer they are trying to help has received. Keeping support teams abreast of the latest email marketing campaigns can close the loop on security regarding customer communications. If a customer has a question regarding an email offer they received, the support agent can authoritatively reassure the customer that the message is, in fact, valid. This creates an unparalleled sense of security.

 

When it comes to security, especially during a time in which fraud is increasing, retail banks can’t take any chances. Connected Consumers need their banks to provide digital experiences that not only are secure but feel secure, a challenge that may be easier to meet than most think. With a few simple changes, financial services organisations can keep consumers feeling safe and stable even when the world feels completely off-kilter.

 

Business

ALLIANZ BENELUX IS USING GRAPH TECHNOLOGY TO BEAT FRAUD AND BOOST CUSTOMER-CENTRICITY

Amy Hodler, Director, Analytics and AI Program Manager at Neo4j.

 

Data expert Amy Hodler examines how graph technology is reducing insurance fraud and providing customer insight at one of the world’s largest financial services companies

Financial services firms constantly have to fight financial criminals, but it is getting more demanding for organisations to identify and stop fraudulent activity at the scale it now occurs.

Traditional methods for monitoring fraud, such as setting up rules to examine deviations from normal purchasing patterns, use discrete data. This is useful for catching individual criminals acting alone, but this approach falls short when it comes to detecting fraud rings. Sophisticated criminals continuously alter their strategies to circumvent detection. They utilise synthetic accounts to carry out what appear to be unrelated activities by unconnected individuals. However, these activities are in fact well-coordinated and criminally linked.

The financial services sector needs a better way to follow the trail from one account to another to determine how activities that on the surface appear unrelated are in fact connected. This requires having a 360-degree view of the intricate fraud network to determine how suspicious events are linked.

 

Fraud detection with graphs

Graph database technology may be an invaluable tool in fighting fraud. In contrast to traditional relational databases, graphs not only interpret individual items of data, but also their relationships with one another. An increasing number of the world’s leading financial institutions are using graph databases to model and monitor data about customers, accounts, devices, locations and other attributes to identify fraudulent activity. Allianz, a multinational financial services company offering insurance products and services to 100 million customers in more than 70 countries, is one such.

As a truly customer-centric insurer, Allianz Benelux takes a zero-tolerance stance on fraud. As the subsidiary’s chief data and analytics officer, Sudaman Thoppan Mohanchandralal, explains, “We need to secure customers from risk – not just today, but into the future. We can only do that by having full insight into the risk environment and with an ability to predict it for our customers.”

 

Relational data model problems

Mohanchandralal’s colleague, Dr. Jan Doumen, strategic lead for Customer & Broker Information and Insights, agrees. “The best way to understand your customers and the risks they are exposed to on a daily basis is by storing, analysing and visualising them through connected data.

“Graph technology does this at scale, which means we no longer have to rely only on highly demanding, traditional relational technologies.”

Historically, building internal visualisations of suspicious behaviours with relational technology had been too demanding, Doumen confirms. The latest fraud countermeasures, such as network tracking, were too complex to build in a relational database. Sudaman calls this process a ‘2 by 2’ approach, where SQL database-style tables with rows and columns don’t offer the data connections fraud detection and prevention requires.

Working with a relational data model doesn’t allow the Allianz Benelux team to extract useful data on the fly. In contrast, graph technologies spot potentially fraudulent activity in Allianz Benelux’s ecosystem by disclosing concealed illicit connections. Bringing all the customer data into a graph database permits the Allianz Benelux anti-fraud team to reveal the risk exposures in a motor or household context.

“It is the combination of multi-node, multi-connection snapshots of customers and the much more efficient search possibilities coming from graph technology that we believed would revolutionise the way our internal business handles customers’ risks,” Doumen confirms.

 

Clear business benefit

Equally important for the Allianz Benelux team is having a 360-degree view of the customer. The Belelux operation has gone through a series of mergers and acquisitions and its customer data has become dispersed in separate silos, which has led to a number of operational inefficiencies.

“When we were able to get to a level with graphs to show colleagues this holistic view of a customer, it was so much easier for them to understand rather than through a table with rows and columns. This will enable them to personalise their services towards our customers,” Doumen adds.

Allianz Benelux’s success using the native graph approach has resulted in clear business benefits. Over the course of two years, €2 million of operational profit value was identified. Given the advantages realised with graphs, the Allianz Benelux team plans on offering the solution to other parts of the organisation.

Graph databases can future-proof an organisation’s fraud prevention initiatives by providing insight based on data relationships and connected intelligence. They can also unlock data silos and generate a more unified view of customers – helping you achieve full ‘customer-centricity’, as well as drive more revenue. Sounds well worth investigating.

 

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Business

5 SIMPLE WAYS TO PREVENT A DATA BREACH FROM PUTTING YOUR ACCOUNTANCY PRACTICE OUT OF BUSINESS

By Bruce Penson, Managing Director at Pro Drive IT

 

As an accountancy firm, you hold a huge amount of confidential and sensitive information. Personal details on clients, banking and social security information, confidential material about businesses and their staff: all of this data presents a massive problem.

Why? Because this information is highly valuable to cyber criminals. They know you hold it, they know who you are, and they will be trying to find ways into your IT systems to get access to it. Today’s cyber criminals are no longer hobbyists or ‘geeks’ sitting in a darkened room behind a computer. They are organised gangs with a considerable amount of knowledge and access to more sophisticated IT resources than a typical SME could ever hope to own.

This presents a real problem for accountancy firms — one for which many are inadequately prepared.

There is good news though. It is possible to make very real improvements to your defences and significantly reduce the risk of a breach without the need for complex technical solutions. In this eBook, we are going to cover five simple changes you can make at your accountancy practice to protect it from cyber criminals.

 

  1. Take control of your passwords

With all the different websites and apps we use in both our personal and work lives, we have a lot of passwords to remember. Memorising all of them is an almost-impossible task. Yet with many breaches of firm’s IT systems coming as a result of staff reusing passwords or having easy-to-guess ones, it is an area that accountancy practices cannot afford to ignore.

The UK Government recommends using password managers to address this problem. A password manager stores your valuable passwords in a secure online vault to keep them out of the prying hands of cyber criminals. Our favourite is LastPass, which costs just £3 per user per month for the business version. As well as providing an area for your team to store their passwords, the business edition of LastPass also alerts you to staff storing insecure passwords or reusing them for other websites — ensuring you can maintain best password practice across your firm.

If you are not ready to commit to spending at this stage, LastPass also provides a free of charge service — you can follow our handy guide on how to set this up. There really is no excuse: make sure you setup your password manager today!

 

  1. Switch on two-factor authentication

As we have already discussed, the most common form of data breach comes from passwords being stolen. For web-based accounts and applications, this is a problem as once a cyber criminal has your password and email address, they will also have access to any accounts that use them.

Using automated software, they will quickly find these accounts — meaning they will have gained access before you are even aware you have a problem. At the moment, the most effective way to stop this is to enable two-step authentication. You most likely already use this on your online banking — where you might have to supply a randomly generated code in addition to your password. Most websites and web-based applications will have the option for two-step authentication at no additional cost. Where available, you should ensure this is activated and enforce it for your entire organisation.

This is absolutely essential if you use Microsoft Office 365 or Google Apps. For more information on two-step authentication, view these simple-to-follow guides from the popular two-step authentication app Authy.

 

  1. Use an ‘External Email Banner’

Time and time again, we’ve commented on the fact emails are the source of most cyber security breaches.

As such, it can be very useful to identify any emails you receive that are from outside of your business. If you can do this and you receive an email tagged as being from an ‘external sender’, but it appears to come from a colleague of yours, there is a good chance it is a fraudulent email. Adding a simple banner such as the one below is a very short job for your IT team and should cost you nothing — yet it could save you a fortune.

 

  1. Train Your Staff

It is a well-publicised fact that almost all cyber security breaches require some kind of human interaction to be successful. It is, therefore, somewhat puzzling that the majority of SME accountancy firms do not have a regular cyber security training program in place — especially when you consider that CPD courses and anti-bribery training are deemed so important. Part of the issue is that cyber security training is considered expensive, time consuming to deliver and not at all engaging to the people receiving it. But this is far from true. Some systems cost from as little as £2–3 per member of staff per month and deliver cyber security training in short, digestible blocks. These ‘short and snappy’ training sessions will not take up large amounts of your billable time but will still get the message across in an engaging way.

 

  1. Keep Your Team Aware

One of the challenges in any firm is keeping the threats from cyber security fresh in the minds of your team whilst they have their day jobs to focus on. Although training undoubtedly helps, often this is seen as a ‘point-in-time’ initiative in response to a breach or security incident occurring. Once the memory of this has faded, awareness amongst staff often does too.

The good news is that this is easy to address and even better, it should cost you no more than a little time to administer it. Here is our suggested approach: Nominate a member of staff to be your ‘cyber threat co-ordinator’. This should not necessarily be someone from IT. Ideally, it would be the person involved in running your office and organising staff communications: most likely your practice manager. Your co-ordinator should sign up to some email feeds on the latest threats — a good starting point is the government backed Action Fraud site and the security training service DynaRisk. Your co-ordinator should also review some online blogs such those from the Independent, which offers an easy-to-understand news feed on the latest cyber security threats. The information from these feeds should then be used to create content in staff newsletters, presented regularly in team meetings, posted to your intranet or circulated via email or an instant messaging feed.

 

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