Finance and banking: how can the channel offer assistance?

The banking sector is facing challenges as a result of COVID-19 just like every other. In this feature Comms Business takes a look at how the industry stands up to the current conditions and how the Channel can offer assistance to a sector which is central to the UK economy.

As a sector which underpins the UK economy banking and finance is often an good indicator of the state of the nation. What challenges is it facing right now? James Taylor, Cyber Security Strategic Development Manager at Nuvias commented “Beyond the ever more sophisticated cyber-attacks organisations need to contend with the widening of the attack surface, thanks to multiple user devices and apps, not to mention the BYO trend. Some of the challenges the financial sector faces in the Digital Transformation will be in the release of applications, that beyond providing a competitive advantage, maintain the integrity of the service they offer.”

James Banks, Technical Director at Charterhouse Voice & Data.

James Banks, Technical Director – Charterhouse Voice & Data (pictured above) said, “In these challenging times, the Finance sector is proving to be somewhat more resilient than many other verticals – we’re seeing the biggest challenges to be around supporting more flexible working over the past few months.

“We have a significant number of clients in the Alternative Investment space, Hedge Funds, Private Equity, Asset Managers, etc, and for them ‘the lights remain on’. They continue to do business and their workload has probably grown rather than shrunk, but through the pandemic they have needed to get their staff working from home and out of the office.

“However, in this vertical and more so than any others, there are stringent requirements and regulations in terms of compliance – particularly MiFiD II – which in a simplified format effectively requires firms to take ‘reasonable steps’ to record ‘relevant communications’ and for the concept of home working this has seen many organisations realise that their existing approach for recording voice would be inadequate for these new ways of working.”

Jason Roos, CEO of Cirrus, said “Long before Covid, the Finance and Banking sector was facing signifi cant challenges. Disruptive market entrants were redefi ning customer service with an online ‘digital-centric’ approach, and at the same time, customers were becoming more demanding and less loyal, expecting nothing less than a highly responsive, personalised service available 24x7.

“The pandemic has only added to these challenges. The social changes that have taken place has driven more customers to online services, and the fi nancial impact has increased customer demand on services while the sector has had to cope with the vast majority of their workforce having to work from home.

“The major challenge for this sector is having the agility to adapt to a dynamic environment, both externally and internally. How do they embrace virtual working not just as a temporary quick fix, but as a longer-term practice and how do they, not only quickly respond to changing customer needs, but innovate to differentiate?”

Transforming a sector

The banking sector has become a hotbed of innovation over the last five years and we have seen a huge fintech scene emerge, with a strong foothold in London. For a sector which is fast moving is the Channel in a position to service these companies with the right type of technology?

Will Emm, CEO of Oak Innovation, commented “It’s one of the most demanding sectors to work in with global organisations often selecting their preferred vendors on another continent. The need for secure, reliable solutions can be at odds with innovation. It’s a fast-moving target for the channel, necessitating access to the best technology and resources to succeed.

“Once the domain of global vendors and large solution providers, financial organisations are open to best in class products and smaller, more agile partners, better able to provide innovative solutions.”

James Banks said, “Partners that are equipped with the right skills and market understanding are well positioned to deliver more relevant solutions for the finance sector – likely to the detriment of more traditional resellers with more limited offerings.

“We are seeing strong take-up for remote working capabilities, including stronger integration for mobile devices but also for more analytical services – like transcription for voice media and integration with line-of-business platforms.

“We absolutely see that customers are increasingly looking to consolidate their supply chain and see huge value in working more with capable partners that can handle more of their requirements directly. That can work as an integrated partner to deliver entire solutions rather than focussing on smaller pieces of work – to that end, led by our CEO Mark Brooks-Wadham we have embarked on a journey of strategic acquisition which ramped up earlier this year with the acquisitions of both Lloyds and NETConnection Systems to bolster our capabilities in the Microsoft and Networking Managed Service spaces respectively.

“We see that journey continuing strongly and off ers our clients in the financial sector a really strong partner to support their infrastructure from Connectivity through to Collaboration with a full Cybersecurity wrap alongside.”

James Taylor, Strategic Development Manager for the UK and Ireland, Nuvias.

James Taylor of Nuvias added, “Large financial organisations are probably the more Cyber Aware and Risk averse businesses out there, and they are defi ning their own protection. Smaller organisations that do not have a large security teams in place, can benefit from channel support and expertise in devising their security strategy, especially in view of the ever more sophisticated cyberattacks and the sensitive data assets at stake.

“A Zero Trust approach for both users and devices is necessary today, hand in hand with user sensitisation and education as, ultimately, the user is the last bastion of defence. Zero Trust and Identity Access Management (IAM) are the way forward when it comes to protecting sensitive assets in the fi nancial sector. Large organisations are deploying intelligent, AI-enabled cybersecurity solutions, based on behavioural science to spot indicators of unauthorised activities. This is a trend set to continue and gather momentum.

“Legislation is increasingly requiring that organisations off er more stringent security – for example through dual transaction authentication – so there is added pressure in terms of legal compliance for all.”

Another interesting aspect is the protection of vulnerable users, maybe those less cyberaware and more likely to click on malicious links. Currently, government legislation puts the burden on the banks to refund victims of these scams but perhaps an educational campaign or an active intervention to secure accounts could prevent a situation that implies losses for all.

Jason Roos from Cirrus said “The Channel has access to a range of innovative, cloudbased solutions that can deliver signifi cant value to this sector. Cirrus’ Contact Centre-as-aService (CCaaS) off ering is a perfect example of a solution that can address the immediate challenges while creating a new level of agility that better positions organisations in this sector for the future.

“For a CCaaS solution like Cirrus, it does not matter where contact centre agents reside; they could be grouped together in a centre, dispersed across regions or working from home. The ability to not only support but to manage virtual working will accelerate cloud adoption. Innovative platforms like Cirrus also enables banking and finance companies to make a step change in the way they interact with their customers. They can quickly expand the communication channels over which they operate, provide customers with the choice they are demanding, equip agents to operate across an omnichannel model and provide the valuable holistic insights into the customer experience across all touchpoints.

“What we are seeing at the moment and believe will be the new focus for the future, is organisations not looking for cost-driven infrastructure refresh, but value driven innovation that enables them to retain customers and be highly competitive in a dynamic market.”

Selling well?

We asked our vertical experts what is currently selling well in the sector? Will Emm from Oak commented, “With more employees working at home, call recording and reporting is key to managing resources, supporting compliance and upholding service levels. Increasingly, finance organisations are moving to extension side recording and need solutions that securely store calls for as long as they are needed.

Beyond that, the benefits of speech analytics are particularly attractive for fi nancial organisations looking to improve service and reduce risk. When combined with artificial intelligence, speech analytics can analyse a large volume of interactions to provide a deeper understanding of customer requirements, monitor agent performance and flag high risk conversations for further investigation.”

James Taylor said, “Products and services that support not just remote working but ‘compliant’ remote working are keeping us very busy – from solutions to integrate Microsoft Teams – to softphone and mobile app capabilities – through to compliance solutions that enable fi rms to have greater control and visibility for mobile devices that are fi rmly out of sight vs traditional office arrangements.

“We have also seen a real reaction from the market in terms of cyber-security – it is evident that in these challenging times there has been a real spike in Cyber-attacks during the pandemic – with a significant focus on the financial services sector in various ways. Financial organisations need to ensure that they are as secure as possible – and that generates work not just in terms of security products but substantially around services also – there is no magic bullet product for Cyber-security. Something is only as strong as its implementation and design.”

Roos said, “We are seeing an increased interest across our complete Contact Centre-as-aService portfolio. In particular organisations are looking at migrating to a CCaaS solution in order to better support and manage virtual working. We are seeing organisations looking to accelerate their adoption of new interaction channels, expanding from a traditional siloed approach to embracing true omni-channel to empower super agents to deal with customer enquiries over voice, email, messaging and social platforms. We are also seeing organisations looking for innovative ways to expand and enhance selfservice, in particular embracing Conversational AI, to personalise and expand the capabilities of this channel.

“Another area where we are seeing significant demand is around security and compliance. We have had urgent requests from our customers who needed to equip agents working remotely to make secure transactions. We are helping a number of organisations to do this securely using our Link Pay+ solution which sends customers a secure payment link, and allows the customer to enter their card details while speaking to an agent. These card details are completely masked from the agent to ensure a secure transaction and conformance to PCI DSS compliance.”

Looking ahead

Clearly this is a pandemic which is going to impact businesses first and the finance sector by proxy. The next 12 months are going to be crucial for the UK economy and what we manage to achieve collectively over this time will determine how long it takes us to pull ourselves back to where we were pre-COVID. So what can the Channel expect to see during this timeframe?

James Banks commented, “Over the last few months we have seen a real acceleration across this vertical with a lot of projects moving from ‘nice to have’ into ‘essential work’. Particularly with remote working being a real focus at board-level, we see the remainder of 2020 as an area for consolidation with many organisations keen to ensure that core platforms and services are fit-for-purpose. Also, they will be ensuring they are better prepared for future events that could disrupt working practices – flexibility being key.

“Many of our clients, and the wider world, simply don’t know what the ‘new normal’ will look like. Our role is to be a trusted partner and advisor and to work with them to identify the art of the possible alongside potential risks – enabling them to make informed decisions to allow their infrastructure to support the wider business on the next steps of their journey into 2021 and beyond.”

Jason Roos added, “Like many sectors, organisations in fi nance and banking will continue to support and embrace a virtualised workforce, capable of working from any location as the way forward. This means that contact centres will need to be virtualised by design and cloudbased contact centre solutions will be the preferred option.

“Agility, scalability and resilience will be key in the next 12 months as organisations will need to continually adapt to a highly dynamic market. Being flexible in working practices, while also driving productivity and operational efficiency will be essential.”