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How Fintech changed the game for startups

Yehia El Amine

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Fintech

We can all agree that this year has witnessed unprecedented levels of disruption across all industries and human activity all around, and the financial sector was at the top of them. 

Banks all over the globe closed their doors, at least temporarily, experiencing slowdowns and hiccups due to the rapid spread of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

During this time, however, Fintech companies stepped into the limelight and filled the gap left by traditional banking due to their online-based solutions that demand as little human contact as possible.

With this, experts from across the board expect Fintech to grow even more, since many customers who leaned on their services during the worldwide lockdown for convenience, will continue to use their services in the foreseeable future.  

According to a study done by Netherlands-based accounting firm KPMG, global investment in fintech in the first half of 2018 amounted to a record US$57.9bn across 875 deals – a significant increase from the US$38.1bn invested throughout 2017.

What is Fintech?

Fintech, which is short for financial technology, is used to categorize and describe companies within the sector of mobile payments, money transfers, loans, fundraising, and asset management. 

“Global investment in Fintech has skyrocketed from $930 million back in 2008 to over $12 billion by the beginning of 2015. Europe experienced the highest growth rate, with an increase of 215 percent to $1.48 billion in 2014,” a recent report by Accenture highlighted. 

Fintech and the business world

Fintech’s rise and emergence within the entrepreneurial ecosystem has completely transformed the way organizations do businesses; by turning the traditional financial model on its head, fintech has stepped up to give customers an easier, faster, and more convenient option than before. 

Setting up a new business has become much cheaper and easier to do due the mass availability of online financial services, and this has reflected greatly on startups’ ability to grow much faster. 

Fintech companies are more agile than traditional banks, in the sense of not having huge overhead costs and payments to make, thus allowing them to narrow their focus and attention on innovation and disrupting the market with their solutions. 

Smartphones and Fintech 

One cannot argue with the fact that smartphones act as the primary backbone of the fintech ecosystem, greatly thanks to the “always online” culture that we reside in today. Through constant and direct access to the Internet, and the myriad of services and apps that feed it, people’s behavior has drastically changed in the last decade. 

In light of these developments, there is an expectation of being able to handle one’s financial affairs as seamlessly as checking email or posting on Facebook.

Rapidly growing sector

In the U.S. and Europe, Fintech “ecosystems” have stimulated technological innovation, made financial markets and systems more efficient, and improved the overall customer experience.

According to study by Strategy&, these ecosystems — composed of governments, financial institutions, and entrepreneurs— have also shown that they can energize the broader local economy by attracting talented, ambitious people and becoming a locus of creative thinking and business activity. 

However, Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries are lagging behind, but not for long, since they are attempting to establish a more robust fintech ecosystem to nurture locally-grown startups. 

“Moreover, a consensus is emerging among governments and financial institutions that nurturing these ecosystems is important and beneficial for the region. Indeed, there are already some success stories in the GCC, particularly in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) where incubators, enterprise development funds and programs, and innovation hubs are supporting the creation and growth of local entrepreneurs,” the report stated. 

The Strategy& report highlighted that these ecosystems are critical to nurturing the kind of technological innovation necessary to make financial markets and systems more efficient and improve the overall customer experience.

“A vibrant Fintech ecosystem can stimulate the broader local economy by attracting talented, ambitious people and becoming a locus of creative thinking and business activity, since they enable growth opportunities for many other sectors,” it highlighted. 

There are a plethora of ways Fintech can help boost the startup ecosystem, and push it toward becoming more financially stable and successful due to the ease and convenience of their solutions and services. 

Let’s jump right in. 

Lending platforms

A little over a decade ago, receiving a business loan meant a visit to the bank, a truck-load of paperwork, complex applications, a lot of forms to fill, and a long wait. A lot of these startups failed to meet the standards banks set, and attempted to look somewhere else. 

Fintech has stepped into this role, with some allowing businesses wide access to get their hands on funding. An example of this can be seen through solutions that allow some lenders to complete the loan process online. Business owners don’t need to gather documentation because they can simply link online accounts to their application.

This gives lenders more insight and information about the company beyond credit score and owner stakes. In addition, these solutions are much quicker than traditional means, by receiving approval in a matter of days or even hours. 

Online purchasing

Credit cards’ fall from grace can be mainly accredited to companies such as PayPal and Stripe, who have allowed entrepreneurs and SME owners to accept payments, send invoices, as well as pay creditors and employees using a computer. 

In parallel, this is a saving grace for many businesses, since this unlocks the ability for merchants and startup owners to make transactions using credit and/or credit cards without the need for a merchant banking account. 

Even now, the smallest of startups has the ability to transfer and receive payments using mobile phones just with the right app downloaded. 

Never-ending payment technology

Many large companies rely on larger partners or affiliates to remain afloat, fintech has allowed these companies to transfer money to each other in the simplest of ways while conforming to regional and international regulations, making this monumental task even simpler.

This not only gets the money where it needs to be and fast, but also keeps these transactions and finances in compliance with anti-terrorist, banking and other payment regulations set forth.   

Check payments

Check payments are considered an SME’s worst nightmare, since sometimes it takes excruciating amounts of time to cash them in and get cleared, especially when these companies need a rapid surge of cash flow. 

The beauty of Fintech is that it turns this process entirely online, while making it faster for an organization to access their funds. Some companies, for example, offer a service that processes the payments overnight, so the business has money in its accounts by the next day.

This is ideal for landlords and real estate companies that tend to receive monthly rental payments.  

Digitizing bills

This is especially useful for younger startups which experience trouble in managing their bill payments online. Small business owners and some startups may have trouble managing their own routine bills. 

Thus SMEs might hope to delay payment until the due date to help manage operating cash, but at the same time, these businesses don’t want to pay too late because they may incur late fees, damage their credit and get a bad reputation.

Some of these fintech solutions include the ability to gather all their bills in one place, which offers help in managing these payment to ensure that they are being paid on time, and sometimes being paid online. 

The rise of Fintech has opened Pandora’s Box of financial opportunities, allowing businesses to offer more services at the fraction of the price. 

In retrospect, entrepreneurs and SMEs need to keep their eyes wide open on the advancements the fintech sector is evolving into, since they have the full might to improve their services and business, as well as stay at the forefront of their respected markets. 

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Yehia is an investigative journalist and editor with extensive experience in the news industry as well as digital content creation across the board. He strives to bring the human element to his writing.

Cybersecurity

Ways for remote workers to stop cybercriminals

Yehia El Amine

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cybercriminals

The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically changed the way humans interact with each other across the board, handshakes have switched to fist bumps, massive conferences have gone digital in the form of webinars, and more importantly, employees have built makeshift offices within the comfort of their own homes.

According to Shefali Roy, former CCO & COO at TrueLayer, a UK-based FinTech firm, working from home has become the new norm.

“People are working longer and harder, which can be a big cause for concern with regards to employee burnout since they’re on high alert at all times due to the sudden merge of workstations and home comfort,” Roy said during a the MoneyFest 2020 webinar.

Thus, it isn’t strange for employees to start asking their employers about their work-from-home policy.

While remote working offers safety from a physical virus, it exposes employees to threatening digital viruses. Cybercriminals have taken advantage of this shift in the workplace and have targeted their sights around remote employees across the board.

According to a report published by Kaspersky there have been almost 726 million confirmed cyberattacks since the beginning of the year; “This has put 2020 on course to rack up somewhere in the region of 1.5 billion cyberattacks for the year,” the report stated.

While some companies have rejuvenated their IT security teams to deal with threats, many other companies haven’t and a big number of businesses are exposed to these breaches every day.

This leaves workers to fend for themselves against sophisticated cybercriminals’ intent on stealing their information and wreak havoc on businesses.

Fret not, according to the National Cyber Security Alliance, a U.S.-based cybersecurity non-profit, there are a number of ways that can help you protect your sensitive company information while venturing out of the digital safety of the office:

  • Think before you click. Cybercriminals are taking advantage of people seeking information on COVID-19. They are distributing malware campaigns that impersonate organizations like WHO, CDC, and other reputable sources by asking you to click on links or download outbreak maps. Slow down. Don’t click. Go directly to a reputable website to access the content.
  • Lock down your login. Create long and unique passphrases for all accounts and use multi-factor authentication (MFA) wherever possible. MFA will fortify your online accounts by enabling the strongest authentication tools available, such as biometrics or a unique one-time code sent to your phone or mobile device.
  • Connect to a secure network and use a company-issued Virtual Private Network (VPN) to access any work accounts. Home routers should be updated to the most current software and secured with a lengthy, unique passphrase. Employees should not be connecting to public Wi-Fi to access work accounts unless using a VPN.
  • Separate your network so your company devices are on their own Wi-Fi network, and your personal devices are on their own.
  • Always keep devices with you or stored in a secure location when not in use. Set auto log-out if you walk away from your computer and forget to log out.
  • Limit access to the device you use for work. Only the approved user should use the device (family and friends should not access a work-issued device).
  • Use company-approved/vetted devices and applications to collaborate and complete your tasks. Don’t substitute your preferred tools with ones that have been vetted by the company’s security team.
  • Update your software. Before connecting to your corporate network, be sure that all Internet-connected devices ‒including PCs, smartphones, and tablets ‒ are running the most current versions of software. Updates include important changes that improve the performance and security of your devices.

While employees can arm themselves with these helpful tips to fend off cyberattacks and breaches, remote workers can still educate themselves on how to spot phishing and ransomware attempts.

There are more than a handful of hints that could flag emails as suspicious or malicious, such as:

  1. Strange requests: these types of emails tend to give out information that’s out of the ordinary, maybe an unexpected request or one that isn’t directly relevant to you. The most likely case is that it’s a typical phishing email, even if the domain came from within your very own organization, call the sender and ask.
  2. Generic salutations: If someone is sending you an email and not addressing you personally, then chances are the sender doesn’t know who you are. Best-case scenario, it could be a marketing campaign, or the worst-case scenario is that you’re being targeted.
  3. Spelling errors: especially during emails, people will always double and triple check their emails for typos and spelling errors to remain professional. Thus, finding these errors are ‘phishy’ so beware!
  4. Be wary of attachments: this is exactly how cybercriminals worm their way into computers, which is why if the sender or email seems suspicious, chances are, the virus is laying in wait in the attachment.
  5. Shady URLs: hiding or spoofing links is the easiest thing to pull off, since the URL could take you to a different destination to where a link reads; although staying away from it is the best course of action, you could always hover over the link to check if the destination leads to where you expect it to.
  6. You’ve won our competition:while these traps can obviously be spotted, people are still falling for these schemes in 2020. Always remember, if it’s too good to be true, then it most likely is, so stay away.
  7. Scaremongering: A common approach used by cybercriminals is to claim something like “your account has been breached!”. This creates a sense of urgency and vulnerability and can prevent people from thinking clearly. If the claims in the email were true, would the sender really tell you in this way? Always check through a different means of communication.
  8. Change of behavior: Maybe you’ve received an email from somebody you trust such as your boss, or colleague, but the language used is different from normal. Maybe it’s too formal or informal. Maybe the email signature isn’t the normal one used. You’re probably used to the way these individuals talk to you, so if it’s not normal, something weird might be going on.

As time passes, and technologies get more and more advanced, so do cybercriminals, as they stay up to date with the technological winds of change to further find their weak points. Thus, employees who choose to stay remote have a responsibility toward their employers to remain safe online, as the damages are no longer measured on an individual level, but can take down entire organizations.

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Feature Articles

The importance of IoMT security across the healthcare system

Karim Hussami

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IoMT

In our hyper-connected world, advancing technology in IoT is bringing promise to many systems across industry sectors.

The Internet of Medical Things or IoMT which is a subset of the Internet of Things is one of the many emerging technologies that has impacted the healthcare system and our lives.

Hospitals and medical centers depend on smart devices for doctors to monitor their patients and their medical situations quickly and efficiently. In addition, these devices offer more precise analysis and earlier recognition of medical issues with the help of information flow.

According to a report published by Deloitte, “Hospitals in the U.S. have an average of 15 smart medical devices per bed, while the IoMT market is expected to reach $52 billion by 2022.”

Security risks for smart devices

IoMT, like any other technological device, is also subject to security risks such as cyberattacks. Malicious activities have increased in number in the last few years targeting medical institutions and being the cause of major disruption in the healthcare system, financial losses, which has lowered patient’s confidence in healthcare.

For example, hackers disabled computer systems at Düsseldorf University Hospital in Germany last September and led to the death of a patient while doctors attempted to transfer her to another hospital. The ransomware attack scrambles data, making computer systems inoperable.

The hospital’s President Arne Schönbohm said hackers took advantage of a well-known vulnerability in a piece of VPN (virtual private network) software developed by Citrix and warned other organizations to protect themselves from the flaw.

The need to implement robust IoMT security solutions in the medical industry has never been more important. Encryptions and conducting a secure boot – making sure that when a device is turned on, none of its configurations have been modified – are some of the basic yet fundamental security measures providers and manufacturers of IoT devices can take.

Other important security measures:

  • A defense strategy should be put in place and implemented with multiple layers of security available to protect against any risk. Make sure that authentication is properly followed, device access is limited, and device-to-device communication is monitored carefully.
  • The IoT device should be tested before it is put into production. Monitoring device security should be done throughout its life cycle to ensure fewer vulnerabilities. After the machine has been produced, security measures should be incorporated into its design such as conducting a risk assessment before the device is released for use in the market. Authentication measures should be built into the device.
  • Create an environment for teaching the culture of security, where the IT department can inform employees about issues and their dangers on the system or company they work for. In addition, conducting regular trainings to recognize vulnerabilities, cyber threats, risks and anomalies will speed up breach response.

Cyberattacks will never simply vanish. No matter the level of precautions we take, there will always be a degree of risk but making sure devices are secure and teams are vigilant and prepared, may help reduce overall disruption caused by cybercrime.

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Feature Articles

Taiwan: plans that will enable Fintech firms to access more customer data

Karim Hussami

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Taiwan: plans that will enable Fintech firms to access more customer data

An open database of information is highly relevant for enterprises to get an idea of people’s needs and preferences which will give companies a chance to improve the quality of their products and services and help cultivate new ones.

The Joint Credit Information Center (JCIC) in Taiwan is planning to establish a database for local financial technology firms to obtain information on consumers’ credit risk information, the Financial Supervisory Commission (FSC) reported.

One of the ways in which financial service providers tend to use or deliver innovative services, is by adopting new technology. This has led Taiwan financial industry to spend over $700 million in 2017, on FinTech R&D and solutions in the areas of AI, AML, biometrics, blockchain, cloud services, cybersecurity, data analytics, payment, among other tech initiatives.

More info, better service

Taiwan’s information technology infrastructure is well-developed, with 90% 4G penetration and 80% mobile penetration, according to the International Trade Administration. “Taiwan is a strong market for e-commerce, online entertainment, mobile payment, and other technology-driven services.”

According to FSC Banking Bureau, electronic payment users exceeded eight million people in April 2020.

Respectively, information about consumers is a crucial part in company’s businesses and continuity as well as its success, that is why sharing is essential to progress.

After Fintech companies held a meeting in June 2020 with Taiwan’s Financial Supervisory Commission (FSC) Chairman Thomas Huang, suggestions circulated during the discussion noting that the center should make its data accessible to the fintech firms for the fact that the type of information it provides could help with developing various financial products or services.

As plans go ahead, the database would be launched in October 2021, according to the Banking Bureau, adding that fintech companies could also use the National Development Council’s open data service.

According to the Taipei Times, up until this time, 426 financial sector companies including local banks, securities firms, credit cooperatives, insurance providers and credit card issuers are among the businesses that have benefitted from JCIC’s raw data – currently not including Fintech enterprises.

Consumer approval before gaining access

Accessing information related to consumers is not as simple as one might think because it depends on customer approval and whether they agree to share their personal preferences online for a specific service.

Banking Bureau Chief Secretary Phil Tong said, “With consumers’ approval, the agency (JCIC) would provide their lending and repayment data to the companies, including how much money they have borrowed, what kind of loans they have taken and whether they have repaid on time.”

According to sources, the new database will not include consumers’ raw data and will follow personal data protection rules. The JCIC doesn’t share customers actual financial records.

Obviously, the new normal in business practice is for companies to obtain information about their customers, whether by their own efforts or by the help of a third party. Today, data enables growth.

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