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How the finance sector can lead us out of crisis

02 June, 2020Rob Thompson

The Covid-19 pandemic has seen retail banks and financial services companies working closely with government and innovating to help customers through this difficult time. Are we moving to an era where banks have a greater role in addressing global societal issues?

Light bulbs hanging with one in frontWhen it comes to banking and Coronavirus, many of the talking points have focused on the accelerating need for digitalisation. After all, the lockdown – and the need for many vulnerable customers to shield – has proved there’s a need, not just a demand, for fintech.

But digital banking isn’t the only big story of this crisis. Over the last couple of months, retail banks have had to work hard to:

  • protect customers from an increased volume of phishing and scams
  • help customers adapt
  • protect the financially vulnerable.

The sector is pulling out all the stops and, in the process, coming up with some great ideas that in some cases may very well outlast the crisis.

Protecting customers

One example is the way individual banks and the wider industry stepped in to protect customers from ‘smishing’ attacks.

Smishing is when fraudsters send texts that appear to be from legitimate organisations to get personal and financial information or money. Within the first week of the lockdown, a rise in smishing attacks indicated criminals were trying to take advantage of heightened emotions and increased feelings of insecurity.

By the beginning of April – less than two weeks into the lockdown – over 500 coronavirus-related scams and more than 2,000 phishing attacks had been reported to UK investigators.

Banks were quick to contact customers, warn them of the danger and advise them on what to look out for. UK Finance joined forces with an ongoing initiative set up by the Mobile Ecosystem Forum (MEF), which is also backed by the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC).

Unsurprisingly, many consumers were alarmed when they read about the rise in phishing and scamming. But, at the same time, the lockdown meant that many of those customers had no choice but to carry out their banking digitally.

Banks have innovated with new products, such as the NatWest ‘Companion Card’. And many have supported digital learning within their communities.

And let’s not forget that banks were also asked to implement a series of measures by the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, as well as support small business customers.

Bankers’ responsibility

None of this will surprise anyone who’s had a career in banking.

Traditionally, the responsibility to support communities, society and local economies has always been a big part of a banker’s role.

But in the 21st century, that part of a banker’s role is becoming ever more complex. The banking and finance sector is increasingly at the forefront of the drive to tackle world problems, from fighting pandemics to addressing climate change.

In the post Covid-19 world, our industry will be tasked with helping society as a whole to move forward and rebuild after Covid-19. There will be a lot of tricky decisions and judgement calls.

Values are of course important, but so too is ethical thinking, theory and practice and the knowledge of how that applies to the financial services industry. In this ever-changing world with a much less predictable future, personal professionalism can only become more important.

Solid values in banking will help us to support our customers now and as the crisis continues.

The banking sector was in large part blamed for the 2008/09 global crisis. This time, banks and financial institutions can lead the way out of it.

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