Insurance companies and their Cyber Insecurity

Posted on : 26-02-2016 | By : kerry.housley | In : Cyber Security, Finance

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In October 2015 all UK insurers were asked to provide details of their cyber resilience to the Prudential Regulation Authority. The Bank of England has been concerned about UK financial institutions’ cyber resilience for some time now and has extended their concern to the focus on the insurance sector.  The regulator is keen to understand the current policies and capabilities of the insurers and the steps they are taking to protect their information. Should they be found to have inadequate measures in place, strong action will be taken against them.

Information security is also a key focus for the FCA (Financial Conduct Authority). They are particularly worried about insurance companies due the nature of their business which involves large volumes of personal data. The biggest fines for data breaches so far imposed by the FCA are on insurance businesses, highlighting the reason for the regulator’s intense concern.

Insurance information is particularly attractive to hackers because of the number of highly personal individual details they hold. The Anthem healthcare insurer was breached last year and it is reported to have lost the personal information records of 80 million customers and employers.

Health care breaches are particularly on the rise as there is a lucrative resell market for these types of records. While credit card details typically trade at $10, insurance data typically trades at $100.  The US government is so concerned about its US insurance companies’ lack of preparedness that the National Association of Insurance Commissioners has set up a Cyber Security Taskforce to tackle the issue.

European policymakers are yet to agree the final provisions of the new General Data Protection Regulation. However, the new Regulation means that data privacy issues should now be a key concern for all insurers and they should be prepared to review and amend their data protection programmes. In general, regulation is likely to become increasingly formalised and more rigorous in its application.

The rise of big data presents opportunities to offer more creative, competitive pricing and, importantly, predict customers’ behavioural activity.  This is great news for insurers but a concern for the Information Comissioners Office (ICO). The ICO monitors how firms respond to subject access requests and complaints handling and firms will be invited to do an audit if the ICO has concerns. Compared with other EU Member States, such as France and Italy, the UK carries out relatively few audits.

However this too is changing. The FCA has announced that it is conducting a market study into how insurance firms use big data. Big data raises the possibility that an individual’s circumstances may not be factored in to an insurance risk assessment. As part of its market study, the FCA may examine whether such an approach is contrary to Principle 6 of its Principles for Businesses which requires that firms treat their customers fairly. Depending on the outcome of the review, the FCA may introduce specific consumer protection measures for the use of big data in underwriting.

Compliance measures will need to be reviewed and a risk assessment undertaken in order to implement appropriate security measures. These measures need to be documented and made available to regulators on request.

An insurance professional was recently reported as saying that most companies in the global market are not compliant with international standards. Many firms have no incident response plans in place to let their customers know that a breach has occurred. They are simply ill prepared for a data breach incident that is inevitable. A survey by technology company Xchanging in Nov 2015 reported that only one third of insurers in the London market believed that they could withstand a major cyber attack.  As in all areas of business, customers will be increasingly concerned about the cyber security of a company offering services.  Failure to demonstrate good cyber security will mean failure to win new customers.

2016 looks like this will be the year that insurance industry will be forced to take cyber security more seriously and make it a top priority for their board.

Featured Startup – 5 Minutes With Avtar Sehra, Crowdaura

Posted on : 26-02-2016 | By : Maria Motyka | In : 5 Minutes With, Featured Startup, Finance, Innovation

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In your view, which aspects of the financial services industry are the most likely to be revolutionised by the Blockchain?

Blockchain is being presented as a savior of the financial system, which a key focus point on clearing and settlement. However, there are many aspects of the trade-lifecyle process that are being either overlooked or ignored and some of those aspects are fundamentally much more of an overhead in terms of time and cost than some of the post trade activities. In addition, using current technology the post trade activity cannot be fully autonomised as smart contracts still need external scheduling services to trigger key Blockchain events, such as cashflows.

Blockchain capability and capacity will increase in terms of data security, storage and compute. As this takes place, the chain will become an increasingly fatter layer in the financial services trade life cycle technology stack. For example Crowdaura is already experimenting with instrument document structuring, pricing and execution on chain as well as looking at the obvious post trade activities. While we are focusing on simple debt, equity and swap instruments at the moment, we have our sights on much more complex products and deal structures.

We also believe that the current view of deploying a global Blockchain fabric for financial services is most likely an incorrect approach. We think a global finance Blockchain network will develop like how many other networks develop, such as the Internet. For example there are huge opportunities for driving greater efficiencies in the internal trade lifecycle from execution, trade capture to documentation, confirmation and other post trade administration and control activities. At the moment these internal trade lifecycle processes are stymied by inefficiencies related to transfer of data between systems and executing reconciliations and reporting, or trying to maintain unpractical or uneconomical golden data sources.

In Crowdaura we are already experimenting with deployment of internal operational chains, where our applications can plug into, and providing adapters to integrate in-house or third party applications into the chains. Eventually these local area chains will then be connected to wider areas chains through trusted internal “pegging” nodes, very much like how LANs connect to the Internet in a current enterprise environment. In this model certain internal functions such as confirmations, clearing and settlement, can then move from the internal to the external chain, whilst still maintaining data security and privacy.

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Crowdaura has recently been chosen for both the Fintech Innovation Lab (as the only Fintech startup in the lab utilising Blockchain) and the Microsoft Accelerator program – what made you stand out from competing startups?

Crowdaura beat over 300 start-ups to be accepted into the 6th Microsoft London Accelerator cohort, and over 600 start-ups to win a place in the Accenture FinTech Innovation Lab. We are one of the first Blockchain start-ups to be accepted into the Microsoft Accelerator, and this is because Crowdaura doesn’t position itself as a Blockchain company. We leverage a complex stack of technologies, with Blockchain being one of them, but our focus is to provide a best in class Financial Services offering.

We feel that Crowdaura is a glimpse into the future of investment/wholesale banking, as we bring together digital platforms, machine learning and Blockchain to enable large financial services firms to provide automated self-service banking to clients for securities lifecycle management. We want to help financial services firms do what they do, but more easily, cheaply, quickly and safely. This is achieved through automation of activities such as legal/regulatory document structuring; intelligent marketing, distribution, execution; and a Blockchain based clearing, settlement and administration engine.

What made us stand out is that we focus on developing technology for real world financial application. We look at a specific market, the business and operating models being used in that market, and then we try and build a minimal viable end-to-end system that enables frictionless execution within that market. We have many key services that are pre-developed, and most of these are web based (SaaS solutions), which can all be provided as a centralised “investment bank engine-in-a-box”.

However, the true power is leveraged in networks where exchanges can connect up with brokers, or banks with buy-side clients. In such cases we have developed a Blockchain engine, chain agnostic – meaning we can utilise the Bitcoin Blockchain, Etherium Blockchain, or any other blockchain and that can be leveraged for clearing, settlement and depository services, and executing Delivery Versus Payment (DVP) using fiat currencies. We are also experimenting with more on-chain functionality; obviously administration of coupons, dividends and voting are the easy wins. But we have a longer term vision connected with chains that have greater compute capabilities as we feel this is where the future is for truly distributed markets.

Could you share your experiences of working in an accelerator?

The London Microsoft Accelerator program itself has been steadily gaining momentum since launching three years ago, offering a select few start-ups mentoring, support and resources as they push their product through development and bring their offering to market. The accelerator culminates in a pitching event where VCs, Angels, and notables throughout industry assemble to view some of the finest start-ups in the UK and potentially offer investment.

Microsoft Accelerator (MSA) has been extremely supportive in helping us develop the technology side of our business whilst we were still in ‘stealth’ in the fourth quarter of 2015. With their help and support we were able to successfully win a place in the Accenture FinTech Innovation Lab as the only ‘blockchain’ startup in this year’s batch. Being part of the Accenture Fintech Innovation Lab is a great opportunity as it gives Crowdaura the opportunity to work with many of our potential clients in Investment Banking to refine our product and execute novel proof of concepts (PoC’s). So far it’s been exciting to network with different high-potential high-growth startups, share ideas, and discuss collaborative efforts in the future. There is also a lot we are learning from our start-up colleagues in the lab, they are all immensely intelligent and talented people running some incredibly innovative startups.

 

Is a robot also in line for your next interview?

Posted on : 26-02-2016 | By : Maria Motyka | In : Innovation, Uncategorized

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The consignment to history of what were key jobs at the time is, of course, a natural consequence of technological advancement (see our previous article on the future resource market). Replaced by ‘new’ tech of the time, everything from switchboard and elevator operators to “ice cutters” have their place in the list of professions which have long since left our daily job boards.

Nevertheless, over the past few years there has been an increased amount of coverage given to the consequences of new tech and the 4th Industrial Revolution (including by leaders at last month’s World Economic Forum), which is said to lead to jobs currently held by men and women becoming filled by machines in pretty much every sector and industry in the global economy.

Thomas Frey, Senior Futurist at the DaVinci Institute, and Google’s top rated Futurist Speaker, predicts that by 2030 a whopping 2 billion jobs will no longer exist (to put that in context… around half of all the jobs on the planet). Does this mean that we have a 50 per cent chance of becoming jobless within the next few decades, because of automation and other new technologies, such as robots being introduced?

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Worry not!…apparently the answer is no.

According to Frey, what it means is that our jobs are transitioning, and it is happening “at a higher pace than ever before in history”. The futurist stresses that due to their catalytic nature, several innovations, including driver-less cars, teacher-less education and 3D-printable houses, are actually going to create completely new industries. This view is supported by a recent report, Fast Forward 2030: The Future of Work and the Workplace, which states that;

“Losing occupations does not necessarily mean losing jobs – just changing what people do”, and by Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research, Jonathan Grudin, who said that “Technology will continue to disrupt jobs, but more jobs seem likely to be created”

As an example, let’s take 3D printing, which Chris Anderson, Managing Editor of Wired Magazine believes to be even bigger than the Internet. Frey predicts, that as 3D printing matures, professions such as clothing manufacturing and retailing, as well as lumber, rock, drywall, shingle and concrete industries are going to disappear. However, new jobs will become available in the areas of 3D printer design, engineering and manufacturing (although, in one scenario a 3D printer can print a baby 3D printer); there will be a demand for 3D printer repairmen, product designers, stylists, engineers and ‘ink’ sellers.

While predicting that even though robots will fill some jobs, others will benefit from this productivity growth and subsequently will have more income and more disposable income. This in turn will increase the need for other jobs. Heidi Shierholz, Chief Economist at the U.S. Labor Department, implies that the pace of change might at times be exaggerated. During the Will your Job Disappear by 2024? Bloomberg Benchmark podcast she stated that actually we are not seeing a massive acceleration in productivity, which would signal that robots and automation have some way to go in removing the levels of workforce that some are predicting. Indeed, while historically productivity has grown around 2 per cent a year, over the last 10 years it has actually been a little bit slower.

Are we being over dramatic about the speed of the changes leading to an increased man vs machine conflict in the workplace? All we can say for certain is that whilst the more extreme scenarios are increasingly likely to make headlines and reach your feeds, it is certain that sooner or later technology will change your job and those of the next generation.