Stephen Bailey, CTO, Transact Payments
In the last ten years, the banking industry has undergone a vast technological transformation. Yet, incumbent banks are in a uniquely challenging position given the weighty burden of their legacy technological infrastructure. These organisations face an extremely complicated, expensive and time-draining process to update such technology, greatly hampering their ability to innovate products and services to tech-savvy customers. A decade ago, incumbents were not at risk of losing their customers to new fintech challengers, meaning they had no real impetus to innovate. Such organisations continued to use existing legacy systems that centred on “old” models, with the added constraint of extensive distribution networks.
However, within this period of time, fintechs have been able to make the most of their freedom and agility to build their technology from scratch. This has enabled them to react continuously (and quickly) to provide the very latest banking services, underpinned by innovative features that customers both need and have come to expect. With fintechs thriving, the position of incumbents has been disrupted and they must now break away from tradition to stay competitive in an ever-evolving market.
Despite such significant disruption to the banking sector, fintechs still encounter hurdles to overcome. For example, some of the most successful challenger banks, like Monzo and Starling Bank, are still impeded by having to rely on the infrastructure and regulatory frameworks of the bricks and mortar banks, such as the simple need to have access to the Single Euro Payments Area (SEPA) network. Unfortunately, until the entire industry becomes better-aligned technologically, fintechs will find themselves in partnerships that bring limitations.
With this in mind, especially at a time of such fast-moving innovation, what are the key considerations for challengers regarding partnerships and technology decisions?
From concrete to the cloud – the need to break cost barriers
It may seem a quaint idea now, but before the adoption of cloud technology, financial organisations had two approaches: either build a data centre or use a hosted solution. Data centres offer on-premise data storage in a physical location yet, are extremely costly. Meanwhile, while less of an initial financial outlay, hosted solutions have the pitfall of locking companies into long-term contracts that can smother the level of innovation at an organisation.
As the rapid pace of cloud adoption highlights, this solution offers a more effective, flexible and affordable approach. The cloud is a bundle of services in practice, encompassing storage, computing, networking, data analytics, AI, and machine learning. With such a range of services, the flexibility comes in the ability to pay-as-you-go depending on the needs of your financial organisation, which in turn, inherently lowers risk as adaptions can be made in a lightning-quick fashion.
Alignment with the cloud enables the development of agile systems that rapidly innovate and scale. Sadly incumbents can’t realise the cloud’s benefits as their ability to utilise it is restricted due to entrenched legacy models. By contrast, fintechs aren’t tethered to such legacy issues, meaning the cloud breaks down cost barriers to markets that otherwise likely would have been unattainable. Importantly, the cloud also offers ongoing agility to respond to both today’s and tomorrow’s business needs and technological developments. This is clearly a distinct advantage for fintechs.
Regulators try to catch up
Much like technology has disrupted the banking market, significant change is also on the horizon from a regulatory perspective. Regulators are trying to get to grips with the complexity of the cloud. Transitioning from the old legacy model has presented new challenges – without simple answers. For example, distributed networks can cause issues including the jurisdiction of where the data is held, where it is used, where services transact, as well as the difficulties of being GDPR compliant, which regulators themselves do not yet know how to regulate.
In this environment, the opportunities provided by the cloud are many (and attractive); however, the overarching context of a shifting regulatory landscape must be given due consideration. This is why care needs to be put into thoughtfully selecting a network of partners to ensure changes stemming from regulations can be planned effectively, without derailing innovation.
The perfect starting point for innovation
The best banking platform considers how symbiotic business strategy and technological infrastructure are – simply put, without such a combination, you cannot innovate in today’s competitive market.
Therefore, a bank identification number (BIN) sponsor’s technology and business teams need to be intertwined to ensure that technology can pivot swiftly to address the needs of the business and give technical solutions that fit ever-changing business ideas. Another factor is ensuring adequate in-house talent is in place, especially in a sector where such expertise is increasingly difficult to find. This fluid way of working with a potential partner is essential to attain fast-paced, bespoke solutions – which banks are simply not capable of delivering.
As technological transformation continues at a breakneck speed, the benefits of a cloud-based platform have really come to the fore. Yet for fintechs, the real recipe for success is combining this technology with an experienced BIN sponsor. Such a sponsor unlocks added value thanks to a strategic vision, built on a deep level of expertise, meaning fintechs can do what they are best at – being innovative.
How bug bounty programs can help financial institutions be more secure
Rodolphe Harand, Managing Director at YesWeHack
Financial services have been one of the most heavily targeted industries by cybercriminals for several years. One alarming stat from the Boston Consulting Group found these firms to be 300x as likely as other companies to be targeted by cyberattacks.
Furthermore, the pandemic has led to a significant increase in the number of cyberattacks targeting financial institutions (FIs), with around 74% experiencing a spike in threats linked to COVID-19.
With FIs holding some of the largest collections of sensitive and private data, it’s clear they will remain an attractive target for malicious actors, especially as any data stolen can be used for fraudulent activities. This leads to the reputational damage of the financial entity that was compromised and has a knock-on effect in terms of monetary and reputational damage to affected customers.
For CISOs at FIs, the conundrum faced is how do you protect intellectual and customer data, and ensure accountability and transparency for clients and stakeholders, at a time when the pandemic has created budget constraints. Research from BAE Systems found that last year alone, IT security, cybercrime as well as fraud and risk departments had their budgets cut by a third.
Below we look at how bug bounty programs can help to address these pressing issues.
Protecting valuable data
Protecting customer and intellectual data has always been a top priority for FIs. However, as opportunistic cybercriminals have a lot to gain by stealing this valuable data, there is a constant evolution of threats, which means FIs must stay on their toes. By deploying a bug bounty program, FIs can work with ethical hackers that have a wealth of experience and unique skills when it comes to identifying security weaknesses within a FI’s defence, thus helping to implement effective security measures to help prevent data breaches.
Building trust among various stakeholders such as customers, suppliers and investors is critical for achieving business goals. By deploying a bug bounty program, FIs send out a message that they care about protecting the security of the data of those they work with – which in turn can have a cascading effect resulting in better business performance.
For FIs to win customers and keep them happy, amidst the growing threat of neo banks and customer-centric fintech organisations, speed of innovation is crucial. As such, many FIs have adopted an agile approach to build, test, and release software faster to bring online and mobile banking solutions to market quicker. However, this can create frictions between development and security teams. Security mandates are deemed to be unnecessarily intrusive and a cause of delayed application development and deployment.
Yet, with DevOps teams needing to build and deploy applications faster than ever before, an epidemic of insecure applications has emerged. According to Osterman Research, 81% of developers admit to knowingly releasing vulnerable applications, while research from WhiteSource found 73% of developers are forced to cut corners and sacrifice security over speed.
With developers often not having the time, tools, skills, or motivation to write impeccably secure code, there is an evident need to provide developers with more support when it comes to building applications securely Fortunately, bug bounty programs can provide a “fact-based” financial implication of inherent security flaws within the process. This makes it possible to hold development teams and service providers accountable for creating or delivering insecure products, thus addressing inherent security gaps within the business units and helping to drive continuous improvement.
Moreover, security awareness and education of developments teams can be improved significantly for those developers that are directly involved with the management of vulnerability reports for their bug bounty programs. This is because, the mere fact of exchanging information with ethical hackers, or assimilating the thinking of a potential hacker and having proof of concepts of vulnerability exploitation on their application components, naturally accelerates consideration of security early in the development stage and provides ongoing learning.
Get more return on your investment
According to Gartner, 30% of CISOs effectiveness will be directly measured on their ability to create value for the business. When security budgets are challenged, CISOs need to demonstrate business value through initiatives designed to enhance efficiency whilst stretching the dollar.
This is where bug bounties can help tremendously. Compared to conventional penetration testing, bug bounty offers a fast, complete, and measurable return on your security investment, with businesses only paying out for successful discovery of vulnerabilities. Equally, businesses get access to hundreds of ethical hackers that can test their programs, each with their own unique skillsets as opposed to only one skilled researcher testing the network. This results-driven model ensures you pay for the vulnerabilities that pose a threat to your organisation and not for the time or effort it took to find them.
Bug bounty programs also deliver rapid vulnerability discovery across multiple attack surfaces. With this approach, organisations receive prioritised vulnerabilities and real-time remediation advice throughout the process to accelerate the discovery of, and solution to vulnerabilities.
Another appeal of bug bounties is that due to the continuous nature of testing, more vulnerabilities are found over time as opposed to pen-testing. This is key to financial institutions that require agility to keep up with the continuous roll-out and updates of applications.
The cornerstone to a successful security programme
The risk posed to financial institutions by cyber threats will only continue, as evidenced by the number of data breaches seen in recent times. The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated these risks, especially with almost all FIs having needed to shift to a remote working environment – which has only widened the attack landscape.
For FIs, a bug bounty program should be considered a fundamental cornerstone of any security strategy, with it being a modern-day cybersecurity solution that is well-equipped to tackle the immediate security challenges they face. In doing so, FIs will not only prove to customers and stakeholders their commitment to data protection and security but this will also be help them to avoid the monetary damages that could be imposed by regulators if a breach was to take place.
Five predictions set impact the finance teams in 2022
By Rob Israch, GM Europe at Tipalti
The CFO now has a very different set of responsibilities in comparison to a few years ago; 2021 saw sustainability move up the C-suite agenda, Brexit was officially pushed through meaning new rules and regulations for industries, and pandemic uncertainty caused further disruption for businesses. Understandably then, 97% of UK CFOs believe their role has become more complex over the last two years, according to latest research by Tipalti. Finance leaders, who were already rushed off their feet, are now having to wear even more hats.
Operating in a new climate, with new challenges and circumstances, finance teams must be ready to innovate to find new solutions to changing business needs. From becoming more attuned to ESG ratings to fighting against the burden of manual processes and tasks, below we explore what finance teams can expect to experience in 2022.
- A tightening of CEO-CFO relationship
As opposed to solely managing financial operations and ensuring compliance, the CFOs relationship with the CEO will intensify in 2022. This shift will see the CFO become increasingly involved in looking at the strategic ways the business can grow and diversify.
Nearly two-fifths (39%) of CFOs have noted a larger demand to collaborate with the c-suite now than two years ago. However, organisations are still slowed down by old ways of working, as nearly a third (29%) of CFOs state they are having to deal with more manual finance operations. As a result, CFOs aren’t afforded time to support the business leader in the way that their job requires.
By innovating financial processes through automation, finance teams can free up time for the strategic tasks that matter most to the business. In fact, UK CEOs believe that the ability to prioritise innovation (25%) and the ability to improve financial and business reporting accuracy and timeliness are the most important qualities for a successful CFO today.
- Invoice payments fraud will be harder to fight
Every year, defending against fraud gets increasingly challenging. As accounts payable complexities rise, finance teams will experience payments fraud at an alarming rate.
Finance teams today are tasked with managing more diverse payment methods, increasing cross-border transactions and dynamic tax compliance and financial reporting. Yet, teams struggle to cope when operations are processed manually. The most common perpetrator of payment fraud is manual processes. They are neither efficient nor airtight enough to ensure optimum financial control. Busy finance teams, escalating complexities in AP and error prone manual processing sets the perfect scene for fraudsters to take advantage.
To mitigate such risk, companies need to leverage people, processes and technology. This means investing in robust technologies such as automation to standardise procedures. Data entry will be minimised, end-to-end payments processing visibility will be optimised and policy compliance becomes automated. Not only does AP automation relieve workflows by minimising manual intervention, but the technology acts as a hub for enforcing strong financial controls as the number of people and systems involved in payment processing is reduced substantially.
In addition, 2022 will see more multi-entity businesses emerge as organisations recognise the value of the ‘work from anywhere’ model. It can be challenging to manage finance functions across these multiple entities, and that is often why different business units in geographical locations run their finances in isolation, with varying processes and approvals being managed in different ways. However, with no central control or oversight, you run the risk of internal fraud.
- Finance leaders will need to focus on ESG initiatives
Following COP26, business leaders are under pressure to set and meet green targets, and many are turning to their CFOs for solutions. In fact, CFOs ranked incorporating environmental, social and governance (ESG) and sustainability into the business and its operations as the greatest driver of complexity in their role (27%), above even the global pandemic (22%).
A key reason for this is that ESG ratings have become an important tool for asset managers and investors to evaluate and compare future investment prospects. Currently more than a quarter (28%) of UK business leaders rank international growth as a top priority for the year ahead, so a less than favourable ESG rating is not an option. So far, the challenge for CFOs has been finding the time to work on sustainable initiatives.
- Uncertainty will continue to loom over the UK post-Brexit
It has been over five years since the UK voted for Brexit – but it will most certainly be on the agenda in 2022 as new regulations emerge. There are a number of challenges that Brexit brings, and much uncertainty still remains in place.
In navigating the uncharted waters of Brexit, businesses will encounter new hurdles when looking to fill roles, as the Global Talent Visa makes competition for skilled employees more formidable than ever before. With the visa application deadline passed, some employees may have chosen to move back home contributing to headcount issues for finance teams.
Moreover, the UK is still yet to agree many key trade agreements. Businesses will need to stay vigilant – watching out for any changes at relatively short notice and be ready to adapt.
- Employee wellbeing will need to be prioritised
Along with many other departments, the Great Resignation period has meant finance is experiencing Churn. Whilst the wellbeing of all employees will be a key focus for the c-suite this year, CFOs will need to ensure the work of the finance team is engaging and talent is not wasted on tedious and time-consuming operations. Introducing automation to take care of those manual tasks will free up time to upskill employees, while making them feel valued in their role.
The future office of finance
2022 will see finance teams adapting the way they operate to combat new challenges. With agreements signed following COP26, implementing sustainable initiatives is no longer a choice, and in the wake of Brexit uncertainty, businesses will have to face new rules and regulations head on. On top of this, the CFO will need to pivot away from solely financial operations in order to drive strategy, fight against fraud threats while prioritising the wellbeing of their team.
It’s a complex set of responsibilities and will only be achieved if finance teams are able to move away from manual administrative work and towards new technologies and automation capability. A CFOs time is precious and needs to be reserved for the tasks that matter.
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