Could you tell us a little about your background?
I originally come from the field of technology. I’m a physicist, and I’ve always marveled at engineering and technology – digital technology, specifically. Through the years, I shifted into products and then into fintech, which was very exciting to me, because fintech is about people and technology. It’s about good people that understand regulation, understand business and understand technology. I am now the CEO of ConnectPay.
Data shows that cyberattacks on financial institutions spiked enormously between February and April this year – why is that?
I think the main reason it happened is actually at the core of the pandemic; the pandemic means people are locked up at home, so you end up with many more users of digital financial services than there usually are. Cash is unusable at this time, when you’re locked up, so you have a lot of new customers in digital finance – some of them are tech savvy and others are not. There’s a lot of people that never used digital financial services, and now they must. So you have this influx of customers into the market, that’s number one. Number two, governments reacted and we had these stimulus programs released, which means there’s a lot of funds being distributed through different programs. And many of those funds are meant for relieving the consequences of joblessness.
So you have a lot of new funds moving around and, because all of it is happening in the digital finance area, I think that stirred up the whole fraudster community. Fraudsters are working hard, now, to try and use the situation to steal funds from people, which results in information security threats and cyber attacks. Cyber attacks are means of achieving the goals for fraudsters.
How has cyber security adapted to combat this issue?
It’s a very big challenge to tackle. Number one is, all of the financial services providers that already operate online, they have their assets online, they have the required technology and so on. Could that have been changed so fast? No. Information security requires a lot of work and insight, and it’s a lengthy process to deploy specific tools to combat that. So I don’t think much has changed, but I think a realisation came that fraud prevention is now a very important area.
As well as increased security, what have been some of the digital baking trends since the emergence of COVID-19? How have people changed the way they handle money?
The stride towards a cashless society has obviously been accelerated, forcefully. Some countries and some companies will do better than others, but I think majority of the change is yet to come, because the pandemic will result in economic hardship and economic hardship will result in changes, in innovation, just like we had in the 2008 crisis. That gave birth to Bitcoin crowdfunding, sharing economies – all of that was an outcome of financial crisis, and I think we will see something come up that we cannot even imagine right now. What is the driver for those changes? Previously in 2008, there was a huge loss in trust towards financial institutions. The financial sector was the reason behind the crash, and so trust was lost, and all of these instruments – crowdfunding, sharing economy, blockchain technology – were targeted specifically at, “Hey, we don’t trust financial institutions anymore; what can we do to exclude them from the economy altogether?”
So what will happen now, I think, will be the same, depending on the size of the downturn. I’ve been hearing that in the Western and European developed markets, countries have been hit very hard, financially, by the pandemic. This will continue; there will be financial problems. It’s different because, previously, everybody lost jobs and salaries went down. Now, there’s a different aspect to what the hardship will be like, and it will result in something new.
What are your thoughts on a cashless society? Do you think it’s inevitable or are there barriers? And if it does happen, how far away do you think it is?
I do think it’s inevitable. I think the entire world is going towards a cashless society at different speeds; for example, the Nordic countries are the biggest cashless societies in the world, whereas the UK is probably five years behind them. In the US, cash is still very important –people love cash in the States – so they’re about 10 years probably behind the Nordics. However, the direction is the same. It’s all going towards cashless. The reasons for it is obviously internet penetration and mobile phone penetration – those are the key factors towards how fast will we get to cashless society, country-by-country. But also, what we need to understand is that cashless society also sort of puts a strain on the society as a general, because elderly people might be excluded from this market or might have trouble or problems adapting to the cashless environment. However, sometime, we will all be there.
The push towards the cashless society is driven by two things: one is the new consumer. These are new people, the new generation, and exchanging funds should be as simple as messaging or using social media. So one driver is this new generation that drives the digital economy and the cashlessness, because they live in the digital world. The other part is the actual financial institutions that drive the cashless society, but their reasoning is different – it’s efficiency. They want to cut costs. They don’t want to have physical retail locations. Nobody wants to transport or count cash. There’s fraud issues related to cash, so the financial institutions are driving it from another perspective.
Do you think it’s safe to say that digital banking is no longer a luxury, but a necessity?
Absolutely. We see that the world is much more fragile than we thought. We are all forced to go online, work from home, access our financial instruments from home, shop online, get government funding and stimulus online without going anywhere, and so on. It is a necessity, it is definitely not a luxury and everybody will have to adapt to that. I just hope it becomes less painful for everybody to transition, and that people don’t lose out on their money through fraud.