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By Dave Henderson, co-founder BlueFort Security


Financial services organisations are increasingly recognising the importance of digital technologies as a driver for increased profits, regulatory compliance, and enhanced customer experience. As remote and mobile access have become more commonplace, digital technologies, including collaboration tools, have shifted from a ‘nice to have’ to a ‘must have’.

IT security teams within financial services, in particular, operate under the understanding that there must always be careful consideration to ensure privacy and security for all users, and their data. There are good reasons that laws and regulations like GDPR, CCPA and HIPAA exist and regulated firms must satisfy the FCA and PRA that they are operating within the strict guidelines that are in place.

However, if IT security teams weren’t stretched enough before March 2020, they’ve certainly got their work cut out for them now.  A geographically dispersed workforce, with hundreds of computers and devices all operating outside the protection afforded inside the corporate network has all the hallmarks of a cybersecurity disaster waiting to happen.

For financial services firms, the need to ensure markets are ‘clean’ and free from abuse is paramount. Working from home – which many will still be doing – places an immense burden on IT security teams as they must prove that appropriate controls over inside information and effective information barriers remain in place, regardless of where their teams are working from.

Julia Hoggett, Director of Market Oversight at the FCA, recently spoke out about the “challenges of surveillance driven by our new ways of working and the importance of effective culture to manage those risks”.

No wonder 91% of CISOs say they suffer from moderate or high stress.


Collaboration Application Sprawl

As employees have adopted a wide variety of tools for internal, external and ad hoc communications, many organisations find themselves in the challenging, and risky, situation of collaboration application sprawl. For the most part remote workers have simply been trying to find a quick and easy communication workaround to being physically separated from their colleagues. There was no malice intended.

However, there is a large elephant in the room when it comes to these collaboration platforms. The simple fact is that Slack, Microsoft Teams, Zoom and the majority of other similar tools aren’t very secure, and neither are shadow IT apps such as WhatsApp. Their sudden and widespread adoption has the potential to be a recipe for security disaster. Even if the legitimate user has no malicious intentions, these platforms are wide open for exploitation by cyber criminals. Earlier this year, Standard Chartered became the first global bank to ban the use of the Zoom video conferencing app and Google Hangouts, as a direct result of these security fears.


But what exactly is at stake here?

If a malicious actor is able to compromise a user account, there is a strong probability that they’ll gain access to a company network. And then once inside the corporate network there’s untold damage that could result. For example, they could pose as a trusted employee to share malicious documents or files to move laterally into other devices. Depending on how the platform is configured, they may also be able to move into file-sharing apps such as G-suite or Sharepoint to gain access to sensitive data.


Here are some classic collaboration platform cybersecurity mishaps:

  • TeamViewer is a collaboration software that facilitates remote control, desktop sharing, online meetings and file transfer.  A couple of years ago, the software had to issue an emergency patch for a bug that could have let attackers access users’ machines via desktop sessions. A separate social-engineering attack earlier last year used an illegitimate version of the software to trick users into surrendering access to their computer.
  • More recently, Abnormal Security researchers highlighted a multi-pronged Microsoft Teams impersonation attack where attackers were impersonating genuine Teams notifications to target employee credentials.  With newly registered domains and multiple URL redirects, these attacks demonstrated levels of sophistication far exceeding those seen in standard phishing campaigns.

Another significant security loophole with these collaboration platforms is that legacy security and data loss prevention (DLP) tools that have been in place for years to handle on-site collaboration and work environments are simply ineffective now that Google, Slack and Dropbox are part of our daily modus operandi. A key reason for this is because collaboration apps lack granular controls, meaning enterprises can only do so much to restrict how they’re used.

Also, because of the informal nature of the chat function in these platforms the lines between what’s appropriate to discuss – and what is not – can become blurred, leading to conversations straying into discussing sensitive data. The potential fallout from this could be  just as damaging to a company as the fallout of a successful phishing attack.


Minimise the risk, focus on the reward 

Clearly employee training is an important, and ongoing priority.  But for financial services firms, trust lies at the heart of everything, the focus has to be on protecting the data itself. And that means as organisations allow sensitive information to move off premises and into new collaboration platforms, they must ensure that employees are using and securing data properly.  As previously mentioned, there are good reasons that laws and regulations like GDPR, CCPA and HIPAA exist.

Strong data loss prevention (DLP) policies combined with a Cloud Access Security Broker (CASB) and Secure Web Gateway (SWG) will be ‘must have’ tools of the trade for any financial services organisations that are embracing digital technologies. These will provide both visibility into collaboration tool usage across the organisation – on a user, device and activity level – as well as the ability to enforce granular security policies, for example on files or messages containing sensitive or restricted data.

As we start to look ahead to next year, the only certainty for security teams is that 2021 will continue to be full of uncertainties. With the ‘work from home’ model now likely to be the norm, rather than the exception, IT security teams could face their toughest year to date.

Financial services firms are subject to especially stringent controls – and quite rightly so. When it comes to the introduction of new communication tools there is an expectation they will update their policies, refresh their training and put in place rigorous oversight reflecting the new environment. For example, policies should prevent the use of privately owned devices where recording is not possible.  Ultimately, there is definitely risk around collaboration platforms – but when robust, cybersecurity policies and tools are deployed, and enforced, the rewards win out every time.



How app usage can help brands increase their online revenues and customer retention



Arunabh Madhur, Regional VP & Head Business EMEA at SHAREit Group


Brands are continuing to invest heavily in the e-commerce market despite current market and economic challenges – and they need to. Indeed, the current global e-commerce market is valued at around $5.5 trillion. Further to that, estimates show that online retail sales will reach $6.7 trillion by the end of 2023 – and e-commerce making up 22.3% of those sales.

So despite the economic and market climate, businesses must still plan for success and cater to customer demands to make the most of the global e-commerce opportunity.


Mobile apps are key

Mobile apps are now a fundamental component of retail, as they provide customers with a convenient and engaging way to shop from their phones. The past couple of years has been rocket fuel for digital transformation, providing an opportunity for the retail industry to innovate. Whilst global trends continue to point to the user growth of Facebook, TikTok and Instagram, the trends underneath the headlines highlight significant opportunities to drive new customer acquisition, which in turn demands a targeted customer retention strategy from companies.

According to research from Baymard Institute, 69.82% of online shopping carts are abandoned and with demand expected to continue, pressure is growing on retailers to expand current offerings and create personalised experiences to tackle this. One of the big challenges e-commerce companies face, though, is analysing and maximising the behaviour of users, and bringing down the cost of their marketing and engagement against how much is earned through a customer making a purchase.

To meet customer demand, mobile apps offer a variety of features such as push notifications, product recommendations, exclusive discounts and offers, and easy checkout processes, to make the shopping experience easier for customers. By leveraging the power of mobile technology, brands can create an immersive shopping experience tailored specifically to their customer’s needs, and this in turn helps increase customer loyalty, customer return rates, and maximise online revenue.


Re-targeting and re-engaging customers

Brands should focus on re-engaging with returning consumers through a personalised strategy as this can help increase the lifetime value of users, which in turn helps brands bring the cost of their marketing down knowing that brand loyalty has been achieved. According to research from Google and Storyline Strategies study, 72% of consumers are more likely to be loyal to a brand if they offer a personalised experience.

Optimising the online shopping experience is crucial in retaining customers. Today, consumers need a more ‘human’ touch, i.e., smart product suggestions based on buying history & behaviour that helps build a one-to-one relationship between brand and buyer. In particular, push notifications haven’t just enhanced personalisation but also increased app engagement by up to 88%. Push notifications have also proven to get disengaged users back, too, with 65% returning to an app within 30 days of the push notification.

Another strategy to consider is the option of adding buy now pay later (BNPL) options at checkouts for customers. Brands that add the option of financing at the checkout allow customers to spread the cost over time, which according to Klarna has resulted in a 30% increase in checkout conversation rates.

Publisher platforms allow brands to leverage their reach and sticky user base. Especially with open platforms such as SHAREit, which can help e-commerce brands create a strong revenue conversion with higher average order value with unique retargeting and user acquisition solutions. Because users are not just sharing product links, but also sharing e-commerce apps and deals among their community. Users of these publisher platforms are also encouraged to share products and apps through platform activities.


What the future of e-commerce holds for brands

E-commerce is positioning itself as a key facet in retail, and its future. With Advancements in technology, customers can access various products and services worldwide through their smartphones – making shopping more accessible than ever. Brands must put consumers at the heart of everything they do, like never before. Offering incentives and payment options, personalising customers’ experiences and re-engaging them, as well as targeting new customers, in an effective and un-intrusive way, are all ways in which they can influence purchasing decisions and improve retention figures.


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Does the middle market have a financial edge?  



Ilija Ugrinic, Commercial Solutions Director at Proactis


Companies tend to look up the ladder when searching for ways to improve efficiency and business performance. What are larger competitors, or others outside their industry, doing right that they can learn from and implement?

What smart technologies or bright ideas do they have that could create efficiencies for them, too?  

As we enter yet another likely volatile year for business, punctuated by recession, should businesses continue to only look up? And could the approach of a slightly smaller business offer more of a competitive edge? 

Large corporates tend to pioneer innovation in automation by simple virtue of the resources they have. Home to transformation directors and departments, with the ability to implement large overarching software systems, they pave the way for others and are often the first to digitise their source-to-pay cycle at pace. 

Ilija Ugrinic, Commercial Solutions Director at Proactis

While growing businesses understand the merits of full automation, implementing it is often too expensive and it doesn’t bring the rapid realisation of benefits that they need. They need to consider what will bring them the biggest return on investment – and the reality is that those in the middle market don’t necessarily need all the elements of an ‘all-doing’ piece of software. What’s more, without dedicated personnel to project manage a transition, they frequently lack the currency of time to be able to comfortably transform working practices, and take staff with them on the journey, without taking resource from other areas of the business.  

For SMEs, digital transformation has never been quite as seismic a shift. Instead, they tend to take a modular approach, employing digital solutions only for particular areas of their finance department, where they need them. This has never been a particularly strategic move. Rather, for a growing business that values quick results and watches their outgoings with greater scrutiny than their larger counterparts, it’s something that suits them better. A modular approach also comes with very little disruption and can be implemented relatively seamlessly into their existing organisational setups. 

But while growing businesses are opting for a modular approach because it’s the most cost and time effective option for them, the benefits go far beyond that. The beauty of a modular approach is that it is agile. The last three years – with pandemics, an increasingly challenging climate and shifting geopolitical tensions impacting our global economy – have only served to remind us of how suddenly, and drastically, a business landscape can change. The companies that have weathered the storm are those that have reacted and adapted quickly – those that have been capable of changing the way they do things with little impact on day-to-day operations. A modular approach can offer just that.  

Businesses using modular finance technology can integrate small solutions that sync up with the rest of their processes, quickly and seamlessly – and these systems can be integrated into their existing Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), too. There’s no restriction of a monolithic or aging piece of software either – finance teams can add and update small solutions to their daily operations without the upheaval of having to replace or update large IT infrastructures or wider working practices within the business to accommodate the new software.

Unrestricted by entrenched and hard-to-change systems, the speed with which SMEs are able to react to market changes is miles ahead. A prompt software add-on to manage risk, or create a quick fix in response to a market shift, can be virtually a knee-jerk reaction. SME’s abilities to bend and flex to today’s world efficiently is seeing them reap the benefits of a modular approach. It’s lean, it’s fast and it’s facilitating their growth with a strong competitive edge. And as some of these companies’ growth propels them into the large corporate sphere, they’re choosing to keep a modular approach to finance.  It will certainly be interesting to watch those middle-sized companies which grow to the extent that they find themselves competing in the same space. With no financial remodelling to assume a large ‘all-doing’ piece of software, they’ll be competing against their counterparts with completely different tools in their arsenal.  

With technology, working life and business needs continuing to change day to day, we have another year ahead of us that will see companies running to keep pace with each other – and fast-growing companies’ approach to finance could be the silver bullet that enables them to catch up with, and even take on, big enterprises. It might just give them a competitive edge against large corporates in these turbulent times.

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