How working from home made banks bring surveillance to homes

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Preparing for the new norm

As working from home becomes the norm, many financial institutions are unprepared to adjust to the new reality. Since the global financial crisis, banks were geared up for enhancing productivity, but the pandemic brought in a new set of challenges for them.

Mathieu Auger-Perreault, director for fraud and security at Javelin Strategy and Research, cites protocol lapse, social engineering and malicious and negligent insider incursions as security threats that have been heightened after the sudden surge in working from home for employees in the financial institutions.

The new norm of working from home has the financial industry worrying not only about the logistics of the day-to-day banking business but also about the handling of information security across a distributed enterprise.

With working from home becoming popular among employees post Covid-19 pandemic, banks and other financial institutions are taking unprecedented steps to monitor employees and prevent misconducts and transgressions.

Barclays Plc has made it mandatory for its traders to certify that they are working from separate rooms to housemates. Every keystroke of Morgan Stanley bankers’ laptop is recorded. Financial institutions like NatWest Group are asking for daily location updates from traders and are recording video calls.

The unique challenge

With the second and third waves of Covid-19 hitting across various cities in the world and the subsequent lockdowns, such remote monitoring seems to be the way forward for most financial companies for the foreseeable future.

Compliance officials at financial firms had a tough time at the beginning of the lockdown as they had to relax some of their monitoring rules to enable their employees to get used to their working from home routine. But now that the dust has settled down, compliance departments of banks and other financial institutions will be expected to escalate their monitoring mechanisms to the pre-pandemic level.

The compliance officials have to make sure that fraudulent practices like insider trading, manipulation and improper use of own accounts are not being done when dealers and employees are working from home. Data from Greenwich Associates, New York, shows that there has been a sort of panic when unprecedented market volatility resulted in many warnings, which made enforcement of compliance impossible in the initial days of lockdown.

Remote compliance enforcement

Financial firms are logging in every business-related conversation and taking steps to monitor phone calls and record SMS messages. Remote compliance measures are taken to enforce strict compliance with rules and regulations for those who are working from home.

Financial firms that want to secure the working from home environment of their employees and traders must use either virtual desktop-server technology or virtual private networks for allowing access to internal networks. It is also prudent to make sure that the employees are using a bank-issued computer or mobile device. Historically frauds increase during times of crisis and a global pandemic is certainly a major crisis.

The new norm of working from home also brings to the fore unique issues for financial firms like young employees working from the same home where they have their friends working in other banks. Similarly, banks have to also find a solution to the issue of couples who can’t help but overhear their partner’s business communication. Some banks have turned to machine learning programs to detect misconduct and enforce compliance.

Working from home also has security risks from household technology like Amazon’s Alexa. Many financial firms have also prohibited the use of new communication channels like Zoom meetings, which was recently in news for its security flaws.

The way forward

There is no surety on when a vaccine for Covid-19 would emerge and we are also unsure about how easily a new vaccine would be made available to everyone. In such a circumstance of uncertainty, it is wise for banks and other financial firms to invest in surveillance technology including mobile archiver solutions.

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