Commentaries and insightful analyses on the world of finance, technology and IT.

March 16, 2017

Disruption wave in trade and supply chain finance

Couple of years back, Anand and I were discussing few digital disruptions in the financial world that have made a phenomenal impact on the banking sector. We have alternate payment channels that challenge the traditional brick and mortars - immediate payment services (IMPS) transactions, renewed contextual mashups, dashboards, to name a few. Then he threw a question at me - Is there any such disruption happening in the trade and supply chain finance world? Can we eliminate / diminish the monopoly of SWIFT by providing an alternate, safe, secure, cost-effective, and transparent channel? Trade finance is infamous for its process inefficiencies and notorious for cost escalation. Also, not that charming while comparing with retail banking segments. I could not read his mind clearly to derive a conclusion but he knew exactly what he was talking about. Now, two years later, the world is talking about that disruption. Most of the Ivy League banks have either partnered with a consortium to develop this channel or developing in-house model.

The players involved are so excited about this innovation, and what more, SWIFT has predictably sensed the danger of their existence, hence started developing a prototype to make it exclusive for them.

You would have guessed it already, it is none other than blockchain technology. The history of distributed ledger evolved from 90s, however the distinct development has begun from 2008-09 onwards when the ever mysterious Satoshi Nakamoto presented the bitcoin idea based on distributed ledger theory. The world has seen a systematic evolvement of blockchain technology after that, and banks are now keen to add more use cases to improve their operational efficiency. A recent survey done by distributed ledger professionals revealed that majority of banks do not want to miss this blockchain disruption, even if it may challenge some of their successful business models.

Blockchain provides a transparent framework for all relevant parties to communicate transparently. The documents are stored arithmetically to make it available for all. Matching and approvals can be automated unless for exceptions. This makes the whole process significantly faster and secure.
Blockchain driven Trade Finance  use cases, any example?

What is disruptive in this? Just an advanced mode of transmission, isn't it?
That is quite interesting to be justified! Let us understand more, what is fascinating beyond cost optimization and speed factors:

1. Significant change in current business model - Risk-free deals provide better negotiation power to both importers and exporters. Predictability of funds, document management, and shipping are significantly improved. Option of discounting, bills rediscounting, purchases, etc., can be relooked
2. New business models may emerge - Even a technology company (let's say fintech here) can facilitate entire trade transactions since the process is much simplified but digital driven (already modeled this in payment segment and now they can expand their business line). Banks really have to wonder, who moved their cheese!
3. Moving in parallel with retail transactions due to its near real-time behavior - This excitement will definitely bring in more incremental disruptions in the  future
4. The sheer change in technology may force some of the talent to be redundant - Take for instance, we can avoid the expertise in message type (MT) format as the process is now much simplified across the life cycle. A renewed talent philosophy may emerge amidst the chaos!
5.Advance analytics - It can play a vital role in defining the predictability and pitfalls by analyzing the transaction pattern. Isn't that quite exciting?

Are we ready to be part of this positive disruption?
1.The existing business use cases should be simplified to leverage the advantages that blockchain offers. E.g., an average life cycle of a typical trade transaction may take around 20 - 25 days to complete, whereas a distributed ledger network will help the trade to complete in few hours, potentially.
2.Banking Industry Architecture Network (BIAN) standards should be in place to strengthen process inclusion and innovation. We cannot wait for another three decades to have the next set of disruption! Let the experts across the globe participate in this refreshing change management process. It is the era of open source, the best will survive only through a cohesive-distributed platform wherein corporates, fintechs, SWIFT, and the beautiful minds across the world coexist.
3.Revamp of International Standard Banking Practice (ISBP) and International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) rules?  For e.g., banks may take 5 - 7 days to respond once they receive document after verification. In this case, benchmark for bank response would be few hours (or more real-time perhaps!) if everything is acceptable. Existing rules and practices may have to customize.
4.SWIFT is definitely facing an existential crisis. Remember, what happened to Kodak and Nokia in the smartphone era? The likes of Tesla are challenging the 'better car next time' theory of traditional car companies, and the same is happening to SWIFT in the financial world. SWIFT, with more than 8,000 banks in their network originally designed from pre- Internet era, is still surviving even after 40 years without much changes to their protocols. It always provides a better version than a disruptive version and is getting challenged by blockchain. They have come up with a prototype that can create exclusive blocks for the members, but has its own limitations due to initial higher cost of investment and continued exclusivity by SWIFT.
5.Blockchain as a service (BaaS) is a great step to resolve this uniqueness issue and cost optimization. Implementing BIAN standards will be an added advantage here.

Technology companies should leverage the current disruption wave to amplify its business opportunities. These are time bounded opportunities; Winners and early adopters will take it all, others may just wipe off from the scene. Future is bright for those who constantly challenge the conventions. Blockchain is indeed doing this, and is here to stay for long.

March 7, 2017

Digital twins: Manufacturing embraced them, Will banks follow suit?

- by Shivani Aggarwal and Irene Varghese

The little kid in you and me always wondered if a magic lamp could bring a Jin who could get us everything we wanted. Not just that, we primarily wanted a Jin to help in writing exams so that the results were always 100 percent accurate, and the list went on. The need for outstanding results and unending desires never gets over, instead it grows as we grow. Years later, in today's tech-savvy world, the Jin looks to be coming alive in the form of a twin! Yes, a twin that can simulate real-world conditions, people, and assets; and is aptly called the 'digital twin.'

Digital twins are virtual products which are replications of physical products, systems, and processes that are indistinguishable from their real counterparts. In simple terms, they are high-end connectors between physical and digital worlds. These digital twins give flexibility to users to make changes and figure out the impact without modifying the actual model. This, in turn, enhances the physical assets performance, eventually increasing the operational efficiency of the business.

Tapping into this potential opportunity, digital twins are being widely used in manufacturing. For instance, they are being widely used to detect assembly line malfunctions in the virtual world much before they occur in reality, condense product development time and costs profusely, and develop feedback loops of customers, thereby transforming the business to a great extent. Recently, General Electric was in the news for deploying digital twin technology in analyzing data of big machines such as aircraft engines, locomotives, and gas turbines. They are not only making headway in manufacturing, but also in other industries such as pharmaceuticals, healthcare, and so on.

The financial services industry, which has been a hotbed for technological innovations, should consider leveraging digital twins mainly for two reasons. Firstly, financial services industry is customer-oriented and relies highly on customer satisfaction. Secondly, the banking industry will be further transformed in the coming years with the increased adoption of beacons, smart watches, wearable's, connected cars, and other connected devices. So, a technology like digital twins will help banks in analyzing tons of data collected from various devices. It can help in deep analysis of customers, and study their behavior, desires, and demand; and accordingly offer products and services.

Specifically in the banking sector, the application of digital twins can be manifold - using them to better understand banking operations, get closer to real-world customers, and finally to renovate banking business as whole. In fact, banks can deploy digital twins of key clientele to monitor their comforts and inclinations based on their archived inputs, purchase records, historic usage patterns of products, and services. If banks embrace digital twins now, they will be able to benefit by understanding their customers better, enhancing their products, and in the end, identifying the best business stream, which would have a cutting edge over competitors.

Digital twins are one of the hottest trends for 2017, as predicted by top-rated analyst firms. It is believed that many companies would be investing heavily in these models within the next few years. Raw data is all around, while insightful data gets generated with digital twins around. If companies fail to leverage them, then they will be left behind in this tech-savvy world!

February 23, 2017

Tips and trends for insurance and brokerage firms in 2017 to get away from high risk

The World Economic Forum, an international non-profit foundation, published The Global Risks Report for 2017. The report is based on the global risk perception survey (GRPS), and was unveiled at an event hosted by Marsh & McLennan and Zurich Insurance.

The report highlights a core problem that nations have to address -- the increasing disparities in income and wealth worldwide. This calls for a focus on accelerating economic evolution and reforming capitalism. The citizen's burden of contributing to social security will have to be transferred to government and businesses. It also points out that old age is on the rise, jobs are being disrupted, and the financial sector growth has been weak for over nine years. Life insurance is a must for financial protection and there has to be a paradigm shift in the way the protection is planned and calculated.

In the near future, increasing polarization and intensifying national sentiments are set to cause an imbalance in the society. Countries are looking at safeguarding national interests, and not the world at large. With political surprises or shocks, civil disturbances, and terrorist attacks; each country is inward focused. This has led to lack of multinational cooperation, discriminating G20 trade policy measures, rise in refugees, and international migration.

Managing technological change 

Artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, biotech, new computing technologies, and nano technology will revolutionize the way risk is assessed. Though there is fear of losing jobs, technology players need to emphasize on how talent can be re-utilized to upgrade skill sets of employees to manage the modern enterprise. Enterprises will start investing toward building expertise and nurturing ideas for new solutions. Such efforts will also be powered by disruptions happening in geoengineering, space technology, blockchain, Internet of Things (IoT), and 3D printing. 
Today, we are able to influence insurers and risk takers through our capability to calculate risk accurately. Soon, the high accuracy of risk assessment, powered by big data and IoT technologies, will alter the risk categories being covered. Insurance and risk writing industry is set to redefine the kinds of plans and services. Let us take an example of self-driving cars: In this case, the risk will pass on to the software partner from the manufacturer and data ownership could be debatable. Cyber insurance and security services are the trends to watch out for and with blockchain, there is no room for fraud.

Finally, here are some suggestions for risk writers: Risk management is key for organizations and you need to invest to mitigate risk, optimize tech deployment, deepen relationships, and nurture reputation within and outside the organization. The risk management approach has to be holistic and you need to take control of happenings like Brexit and US elections, and plan ahead. You have to grasp the profile, identify the sources of risk, run scenario analysis, simulate, and assess financial and reputation impact and find a solution to remediate. The risk strategy and business strategy are to be interlinked and cascaded to organization / risk manager.

On the other hand, here is an opportunity for an insurer:  You need to pay attention to risk, engage with customers, and find options to mitigate. Insurers need to on-board the risk and create a value proposition to mitigate  risk through knowledge and skill sharing. Biggest watch point this year is the geo-political risk and the insurance companies need to be prepared to assess the willingness and cooperation of countries and not disturb the economy of the world.

February 3, 2017

Open APIs in banking are here to stay!

By Souna Uthappa and Naveen PV

Open banking has been ground for some time now and is slowly getting adopted into mainstream banking. Digital disruption and the rise of fintechs have played a major role in propelling the momentum of open application programming interfaces (APIs) in the financial services industry. Financial institutions (FIs) have understood that collaborating with other players in the sector will strengthen the overall ecosystem and is in the best interest of customers. Open APIs are helping FIs to innovate and bring new products and services to market faster with the help of external developers. 

Many of the large US and European banks and FIs have actively started experimenting with open APIs by making parts of their proprietary software available to outside developers. Most of the banks, which have boarded the open API band wagon are seeing it as an opportunity to securely and rapidly enhance, broaden, and differentiate their service offerings. They typically deploy and operate the API stack behind its firewall ensuring a level of security, which is a key area of concern for all.

The benefits of open APIs in banking are manifold which include innovation, greater collaboration, efficiency, speed, cost reduction, wider reach, competition, value creation, compliance, better customer choices and services, and so on. All these are beneficial to the banks, customers, and the economy as a whole. Open APIs also act as a trigger for fintech innovation by giving the much needed opportunity for upcoming technology startups to work on proprietary software shared by leading banks and financial institutions. Open APIs are giving more choice and utility for banking customers via useful applications developed by the external developers, which is in turn creating new revenue streams for banks and FIs. Open API projects also work toward creating standardized APIs for the industry benefiting all the concerned parties, including financial institutions, application development community, and ultimately the banking customers.

Banks like BBVA Compass, Citi, Saxo Bank, Fidor Bank, and Starling have been embracing open APIs for the advantages it offers. For instance, Citi bank launched the global API developer hub, which helps it to connect with the developers enabling them to present new solutions for the customers at a faster pace. Saxo bank through its open API allows its customers, partners, and external developers to access its trading infrastructure that helps them with better trading experience for the customers and also helps in identifying new revenue generating areas. Starling bank is coming up with the marketplace platform, wherein the products and services offered by other providers can merge with the bank's interfaces, thereby providing an integrated user experience to its customers. Ulster Bank has been conducting hackathons, wherein anyone can create new apps and services and explore their test APIs.

Increasing competition and customer expectations are pushing banks to differentiate their products and services more than ever. Hence, open APIs are here to stay, and are bound to find more takers in the coming days as it is a win-win situation for all the parties involved.

January 2, 2017

Lap 1: Fintechs in race with banks

The history of the existing modern banking dates back to the foundation of Taula de la Ciutat, Barcelona in 1401. Modern day banking has since then evolved so much that we now term it as traditional banking. The latest definition of modern day banking has changed its scope to mobility, analytics, open APIs, blockchains, IOTs, artificial intelligence, and many such technological advancements, which materialized only in the last two decades.
The banking industry has faced numerous disruptions and events, both macro and micro, in the industry environment and has matured to mitigate similar instances time and again. Presently, the industry is hit by another wave of technological advancement and customer demand for relevant technology solutions. Having technology at its core, fintechs have already made inroads into the banking industry, unsettled traditional players, and set new boundaries for the game. The impact is such that the recent world fintech report states that at least 60 percent of traditional banks are seeking partnership with fintechs to cater to customer expectations which are elevated by the predominant digital experience in their daily life.

Fintechs constitute a very small fraction of the financial industry, but they are growing at a much faster pace than their traditional peers. Recent surveys and reports indicate that at least 40 percent of global customers are already in business with at least one non-traditional firm, which has left the alarm bells ringing. Due to the lack of competitors, old and big players in the industry were used to playing their large customer base to their advantage. However, with the ever-increasing demand for open banking, the biggest competitor (in terms of customer base) will now have to compete with the smallest.

Over time, banks have been able to build trust with their customers using transparent operational structures and one-to-one interactions, and therefore, customers who are habituated with direct banking will be tough to separate. On the contrary, the Gen Y believes in banking on the go and prefers to evaluate and compare pricing and service offerings with other service providers, and therefore, fall in the target base for fintechs.

Fintechs use technology to their advantage for simplification, gamification, and automation of processes, resulting in an enhanced customer experience. Recent regional activities in the banking industry such as the revised directive on payment services (PSD2) from the European Commission, capital markets authority (CMA) directives on open banking in the UK, demonetization in India, Office of the Comptroller of the Currency's decision to offer a national bank specialty charter to fintech, and the formation of Office of Innovation in the US proves that the trend is not regional but global, and it is disrupting the industry in the most eventful way.

A careful comparison of market reports and surveys from 2015 and now suggest that banks have started taking fintechs much more seriously, and as a result, they have been able to marginalize the gap in areas such as service quality and customer experience, with still a lot to be done. In this race to capture greater market share, both banks and fintechs have their own set of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOTs). They can either choose to play around their competitor's weaknesses and capture a share of their customer base, or play to their strengths, leverage each other's expertise for providing the best customer experience, mutually benefit and co-exist.

Risk-as-a-service: A solution for managing the risk frauds

- By Kuljit Singh and Durga Prasad Balmuri

In today's globalized economy, business environment is changing rapidly due to technological, political, social, and other factors which is exposing companies to greater risks. Risk not only brings regulations, but also the opportunity to those affected by risks.

This pursuit of servicing has led to a field called risk-as-a-service (RaaS). When it comes to financial services, managing risk is of paramount importance. RaaS in financial services industry is a cloud-based risk management solution catering to banks, hedge funds, pension funds, and other financial companies. Many firms, unable to create and manage complete in-house solutions, are embracing RaaS offerings, be it cloud solutions or Business Process outsourcing. By paying a regular monthly / quarterly / annual fixed subscription fees, these firms are able to enjoy the benefits of using risk management solutions without the need to develop and maintain costly in-house facilities.

RaaS solutions tend to address due diligence obligations, risk management, internal audit, change management, risk reporting, and more through advanced analytics, risk modeling, and customer reporting through dashboards. These solutions try to help companies by identifying inherent risks before they become major problems.

RaaS solutions come with many advantages, such as better staff augmentation by freeing up in-house staff to focus on higher level risk management activities, access to advanced security tools and contextual expertise by subscribing to solutions that are very critical or not easy to maintain in-house.

Consulting firms, seeing vast opportunity in cloud based offerings in risk management, are investing huge amounts to meet the growing demand. FIS, a global leader in banking and payments technology, has invested more than US dollars 200 million over the last three years in its RaaS division, which is focusing on developing risk and information security products and services for the financial industry.

RaaS solutions are being used in various spheres within financial services industry. For instance, they can be very helpful to fund managers in meeting regulatory requirements, making better investment decisions, and avoiding unintended sector-industry concentration. In the case of banks, they can help in creating automated risk models and mapping the client's income with expenditure, thus saving time and effort in gathering proof of an individual's financial situation.

For IT vendors, the main aim should be to help clients compress data architectures, which would help all the departments in a company to have same knowledge about risk as is known by department which manage risks. Opportunities offered by RaaS have been seized by many vendors in the form of cloud solutions and other BPO services. As the world is getting more complicated with explosion in data, more globalized world, increased technological innovations, it would be imperative for companies to look at risk more seriously and RaaS could be the ideal way forward.

December 29, 2016

Challenger banks challenging the status quo!

- By Kiran Kalmadi and Durga Prasad Balmuri

Atom, B, Fidor, Tandem, Monzo, Masthaven, Soldo, Zopa - well, these aren't new elements added to the periodic table, but are new-age challenger banks, challenging the status quo of the banking industry. For those who were expecting us to tell the name of the new elements that have been added to the periodic table, we have a surprise in store for you towards the end of this blog. For now, we are focusing on the challenger banks. Most of the challenger banks came into existence post 2008 crisis, and they have surged with accelerated pace after 2013. While some challenger banks like Masthaven Bank, Starling Bank, and Monzo Bank have got their banking licenses, others like Redbook Bank, CivilisedBank, and Lintel Bank are still waiting for their turn.

Challenger banks have mushroomed, thanks to lack of customer confidence in traditional banks, increasing smartphone penetration, and high expectations from the millennial population. Adding to this, the regulatory impetus provided by regulators of many countries who have come out with policies that are positive for starting of challenger banks and other fintech companies with measures, such as:
a) Creation of a regulatory sandbox by Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) in UK. These sandboxes, set as part of project innovate by the FCA, allowed new offerings or services to be tested out in environments, which are immune from standard regulatory restrictions
b) Formation of innovation hubs, for example, Australian regulator Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) set up innovation hub to assist fintech companies
c) Issuance of a whitepaper on supporting reasonable financial innovation through fintech in the US by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC)
d) Starting of fintech accelerator programs

Before the emergence of challenger banks, there certainly was a vacuum between what customers really wanted and what was being offered in various areas of banking services. Millennials, who were comfortable with the Facebook, Google, and Amazon's of the world started expecting similar customer service, user-experience, and convenience in their day to day handling of finances. Challenger banks with their light-asset model, lack of legacy hang-over, and a focus on cutting-edge technology have emerged as a whiff of fresh air in the banking arena with this business model. These banks, being largely digital, are breathing down the necks of traditional financial service providers by providing innovative, efficient, and personalized range of banking services.

Features like mobile only, biometric logins, free checking account, opening accounts in few minutes, getting loans in minutes, spend analytics, 24x7 customer service, quick money transfer, peer-to-peer (P2P) lending, real-time balance checks, gamified experience, and few others are attracting customers to challenger banks. These banks with simple business models enjoy cost and operational advantages, which allow them to provide services at better rates compared to traditional banks.

Challenger banks too have their own challenges and the going will get tough in the years ahead. Challenges like stricter regulatory norms, acquiring new customers, and customer retention is bound to test out these new generation banks. However, a much bigger threat to encounter will be when the traditional banks with their financial clout revisit their business models and start focusing on niche banking areas.

With competition sure to race up among challenger banks and with more challenge from traditional banks, more activity is expected in 2017. Keep watching this space!!

For the chemistry enthusiasts out there, the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry officially approved the name and symbols for four elements: Nihonium, Moscovium, Tennessine, and Oganesson to the periodic table of elements.

December 27, 2016

Behavioral analytics: A logical perspective of customer behavior

My phone beeped and a personalized message from my bank appeared: "Dear XXXX, new investment option factoring your income, age, and investment preferences awaits you." Initially, I thought it was just a promotional message, but then I realized it was more than that. Living in an era of analytics where every bit of data can be analyzed, I sensed it could be the advent of the new phenomenon -- behavioral analytics!

As the terminology signifies, behavioral analytics is about analyzing the behavioral patterns of customers. To elaborate, it is to be aware of customers' expectations and their manners. With the right set of behavioral information, one can derive conclusions on their requirements and possible actions in certain scenarios. This branch of analytics is widely used across industries including retail, e-commerce, communication, and the list goes on. Of late, even the financial services such as banking sectors have started embracing the new analytical approach.

The banking arena is becoming competitive day by day and hence, it is very important for the banks to devise the best marketing strategies to win customers. Keeping that in mind, banks have started leveraging behavioral analytics to trace their customers' transactions, preferred banking channel, i.e., online or mobile, and analyze their interactions with processes and different banking channels. Additionally, with the help of behavioral analytics, banks can easily track whether customers are navigating the online site / mobile app, in the same way or whether each customer differs in usage patterns. It helps banks to create a solid database to analyze customer behavioral pattern. This detailed analysis helps banks to draw a clear picture of their customers' requirement. It indeed helps them to better engage with their customers and use the analysis for positioning the products well at the right time through a proper banking channel.
As the customer base grows, the banks will also get loads of data. If banks fail to manage the data efficiently and effectively, they become vulnerable to fraudsters. The banks across the globe are in news for the alarming rise of frauds and malpractices and the fines / penalties associated with it. If customers feel their data isn't secure with banks, they would prefer switching their banks. Hence, the banks are using the new concept of behavioral analytics as a significant detection tool to combat frauds. It tracks the behavior of every customer and if the bank finds any change in transaction pattern such as frequent entering of passwords, editing of profile details, and unexpected increase in transactions or high value based transactions. It signals to banks on the possible case of malicious or fraudulent transactions. Then the banks can proactively alert customers and also take extra efforts to ensure data security. As behavioral analytics dives deep into the account holder's information, it ensures better security of data than the traditional monitoring tools, which are more vulnerable to frauds.

In a nutshell, behavioral analytics seems to be a win-win case for both banks and their customers. From customers' perspective, getting personalized solutions that suit their needs strengthen their confidence in banks. On the other hand, for the banks along with the benefits of effective customer engagement, behavioral analytics helps them to combat fraud which will prevent paying penalties for malpractices and fraudulent activities.

Michael Voegele, Chief Information Officer (CIO) of Adidas said, "Data is the fuel and analytics is engine at Adidas." I too feel that data and analytics would decide the future of all industries, especially banking which is becoming increasingly digital. It's time for banks to jump into the soaring wave of analytics, especially behavioral analytics, which has immense potential to analyze data and deliver customized solutions that in turn would help banks fulfill their motto - anything and everything for customers!

December 26, 2016

Starting a new chapter with behavioral biometrics

It is natural to be worried when your competitor gets robbed of US$3 million dollars from nine thousand customers. This worry brings forth the need to prepare against such attacks. Of course, I am referring to the recent cyber theft at Tesco Bank in Scotland. Tesco Bank's competitor Natwest Bank is putting its faith in behavioral biometrics to deal with such attacks. NatWest is not alone in doing so. Many other banks have also been enamored with behavioral biometrics and are trying to make it a part of their digital defense mechanism.

Though both physical and behavioral biometrics are related to humans, there is a difference between the two. Physical biometrics involves innate human characteristics such as fingerprints, retina, etc.; whereas behavioral biometrics involves identifying, collecting, and analyzing the measurable pattern of human activities. In banking, it would translate into measuring and analyzing how one is holding one's mobile, the rhythm of one's keyboard strokes, typographical errors, etc. Through the analysis of such data, an outline and description of each customer is made and used each time the customer is using digital banking services. This helps in minimizing false positives and making authentication more effective.

The advantage that behavioral biometrics has over physical biometrics is that it needs just one-time verification, whereas physical biometrics needs continuous verification through ceaseless analysis of customer behavior.

It is still not a perfect solution. Issues such as lack of accuracy, which is said to be around 80 percent, is a problem along with the lack of analytical capabilities. There are also challenges in identifying the behavior of a person accurately when he/she is in distress due to a physical accident, or inebriated. Difficulties are huge, but so are the opportunities. That is why, US-based NOW Money, Israel-based Leumi Card, IT players like IBM, and many others are working on increasing the accuracy of this technology, which would make it more usable and secure to use.

In conclusion, behavior biometrics may not be a silver bullet, but it is still an important weapon to combat the incessant struggle for cyber security. Advancements in technology could make this the next big thing, not only for identification but also for understanding customers. 

December 16, 2016

Combatting Bank Frauds

- By Prasanna Sekar and Maruvarkuzhali Subramanian

It is almost the end of another eventful year. Banks are battling myriad regulatory uncertainties, technology twists, and unconventional competition, while fraudsters are raising their game relentlessly. By 2020, industry experts are pegging online banking fraud to grow by 27 percent approximately. Not surprisingly, major fraud detection and prevention (FDP) players are screaming from their rooftops warning about omnichannel vulnerabilities and the need to raise the bar.

Card-not-present fraud is almost like a new normal -- be it the bank heist at Bangladesh's central bank or 3.2 million debit cards getting compromised in the Indian subcontinent. In the west, Tesco Bank as well as banks across the Atlantic have been victims of cyber theft, too.
Reactive forensic audits by banks are inevitable, but few banks have taken cues from their peers' wounds. For instance, the US Bank offers Visa's geolocation service that matches card and mobile phone locations. The nascent behavioral biometric technology used by National Westminster Bank in London tracks every customer movement (website / mobile app) to spot anomalies. And NatWest (RBS), currently employing physical biometrics, has deployed BioCatch's behavioral biometric software to provide 'nonstop authentication.'

Thus, there are various technologies that banks can adopt to detect and prevent fraudulent transactions. There are technologies like the RSA security which can look for various threats like spoofed websites, phishing, and apply that in a database that the clients/customers use which is used as a basis for creating an authentication system. In tandem, the banks keep a check on false red flags.

The digital revolution is making lives easier for banks and customers, but as there are always two sides of a coin, it opens doors for cyber-attacks and fraudulent transactions (e-commerce payment, ATM fraud, etc.). Most banks continually research on possible foolproof systems, unafraid to invest in risk management. They are precautious while trying to safeguard the privacy of their customers and continuously come up with new technology like artificial intelligence, machine learning, multi-factor authentication, biometrics, popular Europay, MasterCard, and Visa chips, and more. Yet, there is a tremendous scope for improvement, as technology is evolving, after all.

Fraudulent transactions are getting innovative by the day, forcing banks to think beyond traditional security measures. The increase in successful adoption of mobile voice recognition technology in the financial services industry is proof enough for further uptake among banks. Various advanced identification systems analyze the way each individual sounds, verifies other markers like accent, pronunciation etc. and can even distinguish if the customer is suffering from a cold. It is very difficult to emulate / mimic and beat a human voice.

Apart from tech spend, banks need to educate their customers on aspects like debit / credit card theft, hotlisting, identity theft, and such. For instance, customers can minimize ATM fraud exposure simply by using own bank's ATM and avoiding ATM PIN disclosure. Similarly, in the absence of wireless point of sale (POS), customers ought to refrain from PIN disclosure to dodge a walk to the bill / cheque counter. Also, it is high time the single universal password or the PIN is forgone.

There is no safe place on earth. IT countermeasures cannot succeed on its own, as real change necessitates a drastic shift in the customer mindset too, making them equally liable. In the dynamic digital age, banks need to innovate to stay one step ahead of the fraudsters and provide a safe environment to transact. In the future, an impenetrable cyber banking infrastructure will be a key differentiator.