SIBOS: it was all about simplicity with security

sibos_2013SIBOS was the usual big jamboree this year, and much better attended than last year.  That’s not surprising as Dubai provided a fantastic backdrop, as well as a great holiday destination.  One of the big features of Dubai’s holiday atmosphere is the Atlantis Hotel on the Palm, which features one of the tallest water slide drops in the world.  It’s a 90 metre long slide with a sheer 30 metre drop at the start that you cannot visualise or realise what will happen until you jump onto the slide and go, go, go.  The waterslide is called the Leap of Faith, and seemed very appropriate as a theme to consider this year’s SIBOS which had a huge focus upon faith in the banking system and faith in SWIFT.  There was a great deal of dialogue about exposures to money launderers and cybercrime, and using the banking system as a police force and governance service.  SWIFT introduced several themes around these areas, including sanctions testing and shared KYC (Know Your Customer) database capabilities.

Nevertheless, the exposure to cybercrime is rife, as is the exposure to political interference.  A good example is the fact that the US National Security Agency (NSA) has now been caught spying on SWIFT transactions being a case in point. This was also a critical area during the conference and the theme of SWIFT being used as a political football resonated amongst several conference sessions.

From a technology viewpoint, the discussion revolved around other matters however.  The usual suspects of mobile, social, cloud and Big Data filled many of the conference discussions, but the use of mobile, cloud and Big Data for secure banking was an additional theme that bubbled under the surface.  These dimensions formed the backdrop to most debates, but some areas went beyond the surface and looked at the two key parts of bank networking: making payments easy and keeping them secure.

These are the balancing scales of banking: simplicity with security; and can often revolve in conflict rather than being complimentary.  This has been demonstrated on regular occasion with remittances and money transfer network (MTN) services being a case in point.  Remittances fuel the migrant worker world and are being targeted by many to simplify through mobile and cloud services.  At the same time, after HSBC and Standard Charterer’s major fines for money laundering transactions that were subject to US laws, the banks are throwing the MTNs off the network.

The banks explain that they are the ones subject to risk and if a MTN is involved with money laundering, they can just close as small enough to fail.  The bank, on the other hand, gets the major fines and potential liabilities.

This epitomised this year’s SIBOS for me: simplicity and security. The more we use technologies to drive simplicity, the more we need to use the same technologies to drive security.  Mobile social may be simplifying cross-border remittances (a key theme of the SIBOS Innotribe stream) but, at the same time, cloud and Big Data need to ensure that those remittances are honest and decent and not fuelling terrorist cells, drug runners or money launderers.

Bottom line: banks are risk managers and using the latest technologies can not only manage the risk, but also simplify the process.  A win-win for all.

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