By Madhur Kumar Jain, Senior Vice President and Global Head of Solution Consulting, SunTec Business Solutions
The move of Big Tech companies into the financial services sector brings both risk and benefits to consumers and banks alike. Technology firms such as Alibaba, Amazon, Facebook, Google and Apple have grown rapidly over the last two decades. With a data centric business model focused on direct interactions with a large number of consumers, these firms are using their power to venture into the financial services sector, offering payments, money management, insurance, lending and much more.
For these firms, financial services may still only be a small part of their business globally (11% according to Leonardo Gambacorta, head of innovation and the digital economy at the Bank for International Settlements) but the potential is huge given their size and customer base and they will continue to fuel rapid change in the financial industry. With their fiscal capital, customer data, strong brand loyalty and presence in consumers’ everyday lives, big tech companies have the firepower to drive innovation, and in doing so, pressure the traditional banking model further. So how can banking as we know it, survive the onslaught of tech companies and what do they learn from them?
The answer lies in co-operation and partnerships
According to a KPMG report, 26% of financial institutions are already partnering with one or more technology giants, and an additional 27% report planning to forge such partnerships within the next 12 months.
Big Techs derive their strength from the fact that they have deep expertise in analytics, big data, AI and creating customer centric experiences, which in turn help them to develop services that reach their existing users in no time through their channels.
But the thing to note is that the banks have an advantage in a few areas over the Big Tech companies – their ubiquitous presence in every aspect of life of its consumers (compared to siloed but in depth experience of every individual Big Tech company); the consumers’ trust in banks for all financial matters and the vast experience they have in the industry.
This scenario makes for many opportunities of partnerships between banks and Big Tech companies globally for example, Apple recently launched a credit card with Goldman Sachs. Last year, Australian lender, Westpac partnered with Assembly Payments to launch a payments platform for its business clients. In China, tech companies are influencing how consumers spend their money with mobile wallets from Alipay and WeChat Pay. With the drive to adopt Open Banking by banks and fintechs, the potential for partnerships and innovative product offerings are becoming increasingly possible.
Embracing Open Banking
Open Banking helps banks advance their features to meet consumers’ changing needs, enhance their revenue and at the same time increase customer engagement using differential and personalized experiences. By treating personalized propositions as a commodity, banks can begin providing the personalized customer experience that helps retain customer loyalty. Banks can also go beyond their typical scope, increasingly becoming links in the value chain, for example, to help customers buy a vehicle rather than just give the loan. Leveraging customers’ data with the offerings of an agreement will give banks the opportunity to build business beyond their traditional financial products and actively look at integrating third party trusted products to deliver value to the customer
Partnerships like this can help commercial banks become more inventive and nimbler, digitizing their processing, systems and customer experiences to create new ways to meet the needs of their customers and form new income streams. With Open Banking, the banks’ partnership with fintech companies and other third-party providers is driving technology innovation to help traditional banks stay atop in today’s digitally-centered world.
Winning the digital race
As banks embark on their digital transformation journey in an effort to hold onto market share and capitalize in the digital economy, the industry will need to reinvent itself, driving the creation of more customer oriented, hyper-personalized services. Banks will increasingly become links in the value chains that will also contain non-financial services, meaning suppliers will join their digital ecosystem to offer a one shop stop for customers banking and other needs.
A fundamental change in the financial services sector is taking place as banks begin applying strategies to stay ahead of the curve. Financial institutions are prioritizing digital transformation of their ecosystems to achieve optimum efficiency and customer-centered experiences. Open Banking is quickening this move, making banking truly digital by establishing an interconnectedness that we currently see in the ecommerce industry.
With their size, analytics capabilities, capacity to appeal to huge, loyal userbases and revenue models, tech giants are strengthening their position in typical banking services at a fast clip. The competitive challenge that tech companies bring to the financial services sector presents a threat and/or an opportunity for banks to defend their market share by transforming their digital capabilities to deliver superior digital services that satisfy the demands of increasingly connected customers with growing expectations.
In a data-centric and customer-centric world, banks need to transform and work hard to retain customer loyalty and market share if they are to survive. As more technology firms move into financial services it could make the sector more dynamic and efficient, but it also introduces risks for existing players. By embracing new technology, adapting to customer’s needs and learning how the tech giants are owning the customer experience, traditional financial services firms can transform, or they face the risk of becoming extinct.
Tax giveaway is a boost for business, but will it drive growth or fuel inflation?
Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng has announced a comprehensive wave of tax cuts and other incentives for individuals and businesses, as well as confirming some of the announcements made earlier this week. The measures are part of a new Growth Plan, which is aiming to boost economic growth. However, only time will tell if they will curb inflation and temper recession concerns.
Richard Godmon, tax partner at accountancy firm, Menzies LLP, said:
“With another fiscal statement to follow, this mini-Budget is a defining moment for the new Government and tax cuts are firmly back on the agenda.
“The biggest surprise was the decision to simplify Income Tax by moving to a single higher rate of tax for high earners of 40%, with effect from April next year. This will encourage a spirit of entrepreneurialism by incentivising work and putting money back into the economy. The flip side is that the Government might also be hoping that the move increases the tax take, as it could help to draw people back to the UK who may have previously chosen to live and work elsewhere, while encouraging others to stay put.
“The reduction in dividend tax rates and the abolition of the additional rate of tax from April 2023 means that business owners will need to consider carefully the timing of dividend payments over the next few months.”
Up to 40 new Investment Zones
The Chancellor also outlined plans to create up to 40 new ‘investment zones’ in England, with the potential for more in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Businesses in these zones will benefit from wide-ranging tax breaks including 100% tax relief on investments in plant and machinery, and no National Insurance Contributions will be payable on the first £50,000 earned by new employees.
Richard Godmon, tax partner at Menzies LLP, said: “The new Investment Zones are reminiscent of the former Enterprise Zones, but they will provide a much more favourable tax environment for businesses and they promise to become a magnet for inward investment. There are currently 38 areas in England on the list for consideration and we look forward to finding out which ones will be selected.”
Incentivising business investment and Corporation Tax rise ‘cancelled’
The limit of the Annual Investment Allowance (AIA) will not revert to £200,000 as planned in April next year, it will now permanently stay at £1 million.
Richard Godmon, tax partner at Menzies LLP, said:
“Capital allowances are highly valued by businesses and they will be pleased that this one in particularly is going to stick at £1 million and that this is no longer being described as a temporary measure, but is to be made permanent.
“The decision to cancel the planned increase in Corporation Tax (due to tax effect next April) will be a relief to many small and medium-sized businesses who have been concerned that this increase would erode profits further and make it even more challenging to remain viable.”
Incentivising entrepreneurial investment
The Chancellor highlighted plans to increase the cap on investments that can be made under the Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme (SEIS) from £150,000 to £250,000. Individuals making investments in start-ups up have had the limit doubled to £200,000, with the 50% income tax relief remining the same. The Government also gave its commitment to continuing to back the Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS).
“These announcements send a signal to entrepreneurial investors that tax should not be a barrier and the Chancellor wants to expand incentives in this area,” added Richard Godmon, tax partner at Menzies LLP.
Stamp Duty Land Tax
The threshold at which Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT) becomes payable on residential property purchases in the UK has been raised to £250,000, double its previous level in a bid to boost the property market. In addition, first-time buyers will not have to pay SDLT on property purchases up to a value of £425,000 (up from £300,000). Both measures will take effect from today.
Richard Godmon, tax partner at Menzies LLP, said:
“The decision to raise the SDLT threshold is designed to build consumer confidence and boost the housing market generally. For property developers it will fuel activity by creating demand, particularly from first-time buyers, and help to free up finance to front-end development projects.”
Richard Godmon, tax partner at Menzies LLP, said:
“The repealing of the 2017 and 2021 IR35 changes will be hugely welcomed as it will remove an administrative burden, risk and cost, enabling businesses to devote resources to furthering their growth strategies.
“It is important to recognise that IR35 has not been abolished and the result of the changes is that the risk and compliance costs are being returned to the individuals and their personal service companies. HMRC will no doubt redirect their focus towards the contractors, which will bring challenges and make enforcement more difficult.”
A zero trust environment is critical for financial services
Not long ago security professionals were still focused on protecting their IT in a similar formation to mediaeval guards protecting a walled city – concentrating on making it as difficult as possible to get inside. Once past this perimeter though, access to what was within was endless. For financial services, this means access to everything from personal identifiable information (PII) including credit card numbers, names, social security information and more ‘marketable data’. Unfortunately, we have many examples of how this type of security doesn’t work, the castle gets stormed and the data isn’t protected. The most famous is still the Equifax incident, where a small breach has led to years of unhappy customers.
Thankfully the mindset has shifted spurred on by the proliferation of networks and applications across geographies, devices and cloud platforms. This has made the classic point to point security obsolete. The perimeter has changed, it is fluid, so reliance on a wall for protection also has to change.
Zero trust presents a new paradigm for cybersecurity. In this context, it is already assumed that the perimeter is breached,no users are trusted, and trust cannot be gained simply by physical or network location. Every user, device and connection must be continually verified and audited.
What might seem obvious, but begs repeating, with the amount of confidential customer and client data that financial institutions hold – not to mention the regulations – this should be an even bigger priority. The perceived value of this data also makes financial services organisations a primary target for data breaches.
But how do you create a zero trust environment?
Keeping the data secure
While ensuring that access to banking apps and online services is vital, it is actually the database that is the backend of these applications that is a key part of creating a zero trust environment. The database contains so much of an organisation’s sensitive, and regulated, information, as well as data that may not be sensitive but is critical to keeping the organisation running. This is why it is imperative that a database is ready and able to work in a zero trust environment.
As more databases are becoming cloud based services, a big part of this is ensuring that the database is secure by default, meaning it is secure out of the box. This takes some of the responsibility for security out of the hands of administrators because the highest levels of security are in place from the start, without requiring attention from users or administrators. To allow access, users and administrators must proactively make changes – nothing is automatically granted.
As more financial institutions embrace the cloud, this can get more complicated. The security responsibilities are divided between the clients’ own organisation, the cloud providers and the vendors of the cloud services being used. This is known as the shared responsibility model. This moves away from the classic model where IT owns hardening the servers and security, then needs to harden the software on top – say the version of the database software – and then needs to harden the actual application code. In this model, the hardware (CPU, network, storage) are solely in the realm of the cloud provider that provisions these systems. The service provider for a Data-as-a-Service model then delivers the database hardened to the client with a designated endpoint. Only then does the actual client team and their application developers and DevOps team come into play for the actual “solution”.
Security and resilience in the cloud are only possible when everyone is clear on their roles and responsibilities. Shared responsibility recognizes that cloud vendors ensure that their products are secure by default, while still available, but also that organisations take appropriate steps to continue to protect the data they keep in the cloud.
In banks and finance organisations, there is always lots of focus on customer authentication, making sure that accessing funds is as secure as possible. But it is also important to make sure that access to the database on the other end is secure. An IT organisation can use any number of methods to allow users to authenticate themselves to a database. Most often that includes a username and password, but given the increased need to maintain the privacy of confidential customer information by financial services organisations this should only be viewed as a base layer.
At the database layer, it is important to have transport layer security and SCRAM authentication which enables traffic from clients to the database to be authenticated and encrypted in transit.
Passwordless authentication is also something that should be considered – not just for customers, but internal teams as well. This can be done in multiple ways with the database, either auto-generated certificates that are needed to access the database or advanced options for organisations already using X.509 certificates and have a certificate management infrastructure.
Tracking is a key component
As a highly regulated industry, it is also important to monitor your zero trust environment to ensure that it remains in force and exompasses your database. The database should be able to log all actions or have functionality to apply filters to capture only specific events, users or roles.
Role-based auditing lets you log and report activities by specific roles, such as userAdmin or dbAdmin, coupled with any roles inherited by each user, rather than having to extract activity for each individual administrator. This approach makes it easier for organisations to enforce end-to-end operational control and maintain the insight necessary for compliance and reporting.
Next level encryption
With large amounts of valuable data, financial institutions also need to make sure that they are embracing encryption – in flight, at rest and even in use. Securing data with client-side field-level encryption allows you to move to managed services in the cloud with greater confidence. The database only works with encrypted fields and organisations control their own encryption keys, rather than having the database provider manage them. This additional layer of security enforces an even more fine-grained separation of duties between those who use the database and those who administer and manage it.
Also, as more data is being transmitted and stored in the cloud – some of which are highly sensitive workloads – additional technical options to control and limit access to confidential and regulated data is needed. However, this data still needs to be used. So ensuring that in-use data encryption is part of your zero trust solution is vital. This also enables organisations to confidently store sensitive data, meeting compliance requirements, while also enabling different parts of the business to gain access and insights from it.
Securing data is only going to continue to become more important for all organisations, but for those in financial services the stakes can be even higher. Leaving the perimeter mentality to the history books and moving towards zero trust – especially as cloud and as-a-service infrastructure permeates the industry – is the only way to protect such valuable data.
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