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THE POTENTIAL OF PaaS IN FINANCIAL INSTITUTION INNOVATION

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By Barry Tarrant, Director, Product Solutions, Fiserv

 

Financial institutions continually balance competing demands for investment in technology maintenance, compliance, innovation and the delivery of value-added services. Delineation between the “need to have” and “nice to have” is difficult when everything feels like a “must have”. For many institutions, outsourcing strategic services such as payments can enable them to strike a better balance of their investment pool, by enabling more efficient operations that allow for more investment to be focused on rapid delivery of new capabilities and innovation that adds incremental value.

 

Shifting focus to innovation

Financial institutions are facing change on multiple fronts. Customers have quickly come to expect continual product innovation and a consistent experience across multiple channels. And the industry is experiencing structural changes, such as the convergence of payments.

We are witnessing challenger banks and fintechs fully embracing digital tools, such as the cloud, to optimise operations and create transformational customer experiences. Increasing choices available for customers to initiate payments across card and non-card payment rails are leading to further demand for innovation and change. As a result, many financial institutions are reviewing the costs and operational effort required to maintain payments technology in-house and considering how new innovations can be implemented.

Financial institutions have an opportunity to leverage shared innovation to stay ahead of this competition. This can come in the form of payments-as-a-service (PaaS). PaaS can also bring additional benefits such as savings in capital costs, opportunity costs, compliance costs, as well as reduction in one-off costs associated with infrastructure or technology upgrades.

 

The case for PaaS

Outsourcing payments to a PaaS provider can allow a financial institution to focus more time and effort on customer innovation and experience that drive incremental value. It could also lead to other financial benefits associated with reduced capital expenses, such as increased free cash flow. This is particularly important as financial institutions navigate the current environment and capital investment is being analysed under a microscope.

Another benefit to outsourcing to a PaaS provider is the ability to leverage its expertise. While investing in a robust platform is one of many areas for financial institutions to consider, it is the primary business for PaaS providers. Therefore, it is in the provider’s interest to continually invest in the platform and recruit qualified personnel to support and innovate the technology.

Geographical scale can also provide further opportunities to add value. A PaaS provider with clients around the world enables them to deliver innovation on a global scale, and this can be redeployed elsewhere quickly and at a lower cost than custom developments. Additionally, a global payment processing network enables providers to gather useful insights, such as new payment types, changes in consumer behaviour, and threats, which could then be used for further innovation.

As payments become more commoditised, and traditional payment revenue streams decrease, the case for retaining payment processing in-house may become narrower. By adopting PaaS, financial institutions can benefit from significant cost savings, maximise retained payment margins, and rebalance their resource and investment pool, which can be used to focus on more strategic and valuable activities.

 

Clearing misconceptions

While the business case for financial institutions to adopt PaaS is compelling, some remain reluctant to do so due to certain ‘industry myths’. For example, there are concerns that outsourcing data is inherently risky, however, the reality is quite the opposite. PaaS providers have the scale, resources, and practices to invest in key areas such as cybersecurity, whereas keeping operations in-house could in fact lead to greater risks around data security, especially if resources are limited.

Aside from costs, experience and expertise in delivering transformation of payment technology should also be considered as part of the decision to adopt PaaS. Most IT managers within financial institutions are likely to have delivered few major transition projects in their entire career. However, teams at a PaaS provider will collectively have likely overseen many. They also develop and update a range of specialised skillsets and toolkits to provide additional expertise and a seamless service. The ability to deliver transformation effectively is critical to benefits realisation and PaaS providers are likely to be better equipped to do so.

 

Innovate and differentiate

The current pandemic has shifted payments innovation into the spotlight. To fully understand how changes can be made and implemented that respond to this shift, a comprehensive assessment of existing technology, and how it will affect business in the long-term, will be needed. Adopting PaaS brings a wealth of financial and operational benefits, enabling a financial institution to be agile and strategic, so that it can devote more resources to innovation, provide services and experiences that customers want, and differentiate from the competition.

 

Finance

CAN THE CLOUD REVOLUTIONISE FINANCE?

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By Walter Heck, CTO, HeleCloud 

 

The scale of the Cloud revolution that businesses have gone through over the last few years can’t be overstated. Across almost every industry, businesses that have migrated to the Cloud have seen increased revenues, higher productivity and were more prepared to face the challenges of the pandemic than those relying on legacy infrastructure.

However, one industry that has been slow to realise the potential of the Cloud has been finance. PwC found that 81% of banking CEOs were ‘concerned’ about adopting digital tools too quickly however,  even though 91% of hedge fund executives who adopted Cloud solutions stated that their chosen cloud solutions performed ‘better than expected’. Those sitting on the fence when it comes to the cloud can afford to do so no longer. The speed, security and efficiency offered by the cloud is already changing the face of finance, as it has so many industries before it.

 

How Cloud can help Finance?

Compliance continues to be an area that financial institutions of all shapes and sizes are spending an increasing amount of time and money on. The majority (71%) of large firms are cutting the size of their compliance departments while GDPR, Brexit and increased global economic sanctions make even simple tasks regulatory headaches. Compliance is also costing the finance sector more every year. Since the financial crash, Deloitte estimates Deloitte that compliance costs have increased by as much as 60% for retail and consumer banks.

Migrating to the Cloud can solve many of these compliance issues for financial service institutions. For instance, by leveraging modern technologies on the Cloud, such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML), organisations can ensure financial activities remain compliant with local regulations, no matter where the data is stored. AI can also process this data far quicker and more effectively than humans, ensuring compliance matters are solved quickly and with little room for error.

With companies downsizing their expensive compliance departments, while at the same time regulation increase, the role of Cloud-based automation in compliance is set to become even more important to the financial sector.

Financial institutions that utilise Cloud-based automation allow themselves the peace of mind that they are less likely to be faced with sanctions from regulators for unforeseen or unknown infractions when carrying out day to day activities. With the cost of non-compliance running into the billions every year, neutralising this threat has the potential to save significant amounts of money for the financial institutions who make the move to the Cloud.

 

Security

Data security is vital to the survival of financial institutions. With strict rules in place, and punishments for breaches from regulators and governments increasingly common. As the number of cyber-attacks continues to increase, and costly ransomware continues to put companies out of business, it is imperative that financial institutions take the necessary steps to secure their data.

Traditional on-premises storage and data management solutions of the type utilised by many financial institutions are frequent victims of various types of cyber-attack. Gartner research has shown that up to 60% fewer attacks occur on Cloud structures when compared to on-premises alternatives.

There are many reasons for this but one of the simplest is remote access. An IBM study highlighted that 95% of security failures at companies are due to human error. This can be anything from employees using unapproved third-party applications to being the victim of ‘spill over’ malware for an attack on a different company that bleeds onto another’s on-premises infrastructure. With data being stored and managed remotely, the Cloud offers fewer direct contact points between employees and valuable company data.

However, not all Cloud solutions are created equal and when going alone companies can often find themselves under-utilising the security benefits of the Cloud and leaving themselves vulnerable to threats. Selecting the right Cloud service provider is vital. Storing sensitive data on a Cloud service enabled and managed by an experienced, trustworthy partner, ensures that client and customer data remains safe and accessible without the litany of security issues that come with on-premises infrastructure.

 

Partnering with a Cloud enabler

The Cloud is already revolutionising finance in the way it has so many other industries. Big players such as JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs have started migrating core applications to the Cloud and setting up Cloud hubs in major American cities. Almost half (43%) of financial services decision makers have stated their intent to increase their reliance on the Cloud over the coming year as more and more finance professionals see the benefits that larger competitors are reaping from Cloud migration.

In periods of great change and uncertainty, it can be tempting to bury your head in the sand and stick to the way things are already being done. However, those who ignore the Cloud revolution leave themselves vulnerable in a rapidly changing and unforgiving business climate. An experienced Cloud services partner can help guide a business on its Cloud journey and ensure they receive all the security and productivity benefits the Cloud offers. With more and more major players moving processes and workflows onto the Cloud, it is up to each finance decision maker to change now, or be overtaken by their forward looking and savvy competitors.

 

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Finance

PREPARING YOUR HEDGE FUND FOR THE MODERN CYBERCRIMINAL

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By: Simon Eyre, Head of Europe, Drawbridge

 

The familiar adage that “every organization is a target” when it comes to cyber-attacks, solidifies its place as an undeniable truth for companies in all industries each year. Spring has barely begun and we have already seen what could be one of the biggest cyberattacks of 2021. When thousands of companies were compromised due to the exploitation of flaws in the Microsoft Exchange Server email software, organisations across the globe were once again faced with the reality that the modern cybercriminal will use any opportunity to gain leverage in the cyberspace and get a monetary advantage.

Today’s criminal is capable, skilled, and always following the money. This is what makes the financial industry a tempting target, with alternative investment firms being increasingly being targeted by criminals. Very recently, Sequoia Capital, one of the largest venture capital firms in the world, was successfully phished with sensitive data being exposed to criminal eyes.

So, what can hedge funds do to prepare the organization for an impending cyberattack?

 

One size fits all?

It is tempting to bolt-on the latest technology on the market, and trust that the product will do ‘what it says on the box’. When constructing a robust cybersecurity program, to avoid investing in cybersecurity plans that are seemingly “one size fits all”, hedge funds should firstly focus on evaluating the cybersecurity landscape and understanding the most common threats and potential attack vectors. The firm’s leadership and cybersecurity team should identify what factors would make your business a target and why would you be at risk, as well as consider the types of cyberattacks your peers have experienced. Ask questions such as: “What kind of breaches and attacks are happening in the industry to firms of our size and strategy?”, “How are other firms mitigating these risks and how can our fund do the same?” and “Where are the cracks in the technical armor?”

During this process, you should consider what data is most important to your business. What are the crown jewels of the hedge fund? Consider where this data is stored, who has access to it, how it is transmitted and whether vendors process it. Never underestimate what might be of value to a cybercriminal. Your most important data can include corporate data, communication records, or personal data of staff and investors.

Prioritize protecting your data and protecting against the most likely attacks that would disrupt the business.

 

Plenty of phish in the sea

Phishing remains a weapon of choice for the modern cybercriminal. In 2020, we saw as number of attacks occur via social engineering, voice/email phishing and impersonation. One notable example is the unfortunate set of events that set in motion the eventual closure of Levitas, an Australian hedge fund. After sending a fake Zoom invite and it being accepted, hackers planted malware and gained control over an executive’s email, leading to the approval of $8.7M in fraudulent invoices. Shortly after, the firm’s largest investor pulled their planned investment, resulting in the fund being scheduled to wind down.

What can we learn from this? Any employee in the hedge fund could fall victim to a phishing attack, as these emails, calls and invites are carefully crafted and virtually indistinguishable from the real deal. An important mitigation strategy is to invest in high quality staff awareness training that goes beyond ticking boxes on a generic on-demand course and tests. Hedge funds should establish a training program that is relevant to the business, the work environment, and its risks, as well as the systems in use. Standard template training is insufficient in preparing staff for the delicately created and convincing attacks of cybercriminals.

 

A balanced blend of staff training and technology

Most cybersecurity experts would agree that defense in depth is critical. This means that the hedge fund’s technology and staff should work in harmony to achieve the highest degree of protection for the firm. Many cyberattacks, especially phishing, have time on their side. Once an employee has been convinced to click on a link, criminals will lurk in the background and look for vulnerabilities within the business. To address this issue, in addition to employee training, hedge funds should invest in a vulnerability management solution that helps discover weaknesses within the system. Hedge funds should continually perform vulnerability management with recurring penetration testing of their environment to ensure the safety of their data and uninterrupted service.

 

The importance of vendor management

Hedge funds today work with a network of independent partners or vendors that support the running of their operations. From law firms, to auditors, brokers, marketers, researchers and administrators, the hedge fund’s network expands into a complex spider’s web, increasing the likelihood of a successful cyberattack with each new silk thread. Why? Criminals will not always go for the bullseye, but rather compromise a target that might have weaker defenses and use their network as a steppingstone to the hedge fund’s valuable data. This is one of the reasons why regulators and hedge fund investors are hyper focused on vendor due diligence. To minimize risk, hedge fund managers should hold vendors to the same cybersecurity standards as the business itself. Remember, your firm’s network is only as secure as the weakest vendor with access to your data. Extensive due diligence of third parties should not be optional – it is required.

Criminals continue to be attracted to valuable data, and hedge funds can expect to be increasingly targeted due to the nature of their business and large transactions being processed every day. To avoid financial and reputational damage due to a cyber-attack, as well as ensure regulatory compliance while navigating a complex regulatory environment, hedge funds must invest in and develop a robust cybersecurity program that is tailored to the alternative investment industry. By focusing on the most important data, most likely attacks and equally investing in people and technology, hedge fund managers can protect their business, while building a reputation as a reliable partner in the alternative investment industry.

 

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