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Why education is the key to adopting tech in finance

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Red Hat’s Monica Sasso explains why adopting technology in financial services is easier said than done.

When it comes to financial services and regulation, it can seem like an industry that is particularly slow to change.

Consumers often feel that traditional banks are innovating too slowly, while challenger banks and fintech start-ups are the future.

But there’s much more nuance when it comes to adopting technology in the finance sector, and creating a culture that allows digital transformation to take place is often about playing the long game.

Monica Sasso is a chief technologist for financial services in EMEA at Red Hat, where she provides strategic support to customers as they look to open-source and adopt open hybrid cloud technologies to drive business transformation initiatives.

Before Red Hat, she worked at a variety of financial institutions, including Nationwide, Barclays and Deutsche Bank.

‘Consumers don’t always appreciate what it takes to run a secure, always-on, 100pc safe bank’
– MONICA SASSO

Speaking to Siliconreublic.com, she said that while conversations about change have been happening internally, she acknowledged that change in the financial industry can seem slower from a consumer point of view.

“As a consumer, if I’m honest, I’m not sure that it has changed that dramatically for me,” she said. “[But] it has evolved into being more digitally engaging and providing more real-time data.”

One of the biggest changes in finance over the last number of years is around the immediate updates we can now get when we spend money.

Sasso recalled an incident where she received an alert on her phone for a £493 expense at a French bail bonds company. Without this instant alert, she would not have been aware that any fraudulent spending had taken place until she next looked at her bank statements. “These micro alerts are a huge step forward and is part of the evolution I welcome.”

Other areas of her financial life, such as pensions, trading and credit, have evolved somewhat but have not dramatically changed yet. However, while she acknowledged the seemingly slow pace of change, she was also quick to defend the banking industry.

“The banks have been working incredibly hard and diligently, not only to support us through the pandemic, but to earn our collective trust back since the credit crunch.

“Part of this perceived lack of adoption of technology is consumers and technology providers don’t always appreciate what it takes to run a secure, always-on, 100pc safe bank.”

She added that when people say they think banks don’t want to change, she always counters it by asking them when the last time was that they weren’t able to buy something online. “I don’t think we appreciate what the banks have had to do to get us this far.”

The challenges around adopting tech

As with most industries, the adoption of technology can bring with it many benefits. From a regulatory point of view, it can bring greater transparency and the ability to democratise data to give regulatory firms better views of what’s happening. It can also allow innovations to flourish in the areas of fraud detection and anti-money laundering.

However, as Sasso has pointed out, adopting these technologies is not as simple as turning on a light switch.

Of course, there are legacy systems in place in traditional industries that can slow things down. But even that, according to Sasso, is not the main problem and many legacy systems are there for a reason. This means that adopting technology in the financial services sector is not as simple as out with the old and in with the new.

Instead, Sasso said the industry needs to focus more on the people and culture side of things in order to address the challenges of adopting new technology.

“Any time there’s a change, it’s always about trust and education and I think many folks in these firms have been bombarded with new regulations and rules and they may feel that how they’re doing it now… is OK,” she said.

“They don’t really want to change and they’ve been trained to be wary of anything new because new things bring in further threats that they then have to manage and comply with.”

She added that many people in these areas may not know how to automate a process or a series of controls.

“At the core, it’s finding ways to break down these cultural barriers and to create an atmosphere of trust, which would allow more collaboration and education,” she said. “I think those are really important topics that nobody really wants to address because they’re difficult.”

Another barrier at the heart of tech adoption is the perceived threat that technology can bring. “Cybersecurity is a huge, scary thing for all of us right now and it’s everywhere you look.”

Recent major attacks have highlighted how easily these breaches can happen by someone clicking on a link they shouldn’t have or through some other form of social engineering.

“That brings us back full circle to the concept that education and trust is really what some of these barriers are,” said Sasso.

“It’s not necessarily people not wanting to use technology or not being able to use it, but [it’s] not understanding how they can use it and not trusting it and not trusting each other.”

Major tech trends

While solving the challenges around education and trust are easier said than done, Sasso did speak about some of the biggest trends she’s excited to see evolve within the financial services sector.

For consumers, speed of transactions will be key, along with personalised financial products, more digital touchpoints, chatbots and greater choice.

“From a pure technology point of view, things like data, AI, blockchain, these are fairly universal tech trends but they’re really growing and maturing in the open-source community and could prove to provide interesting solutions to age-old challenges that banks have and even the regulators,” she said.

“Other technologies that are less sexy like hyper-automation, which is anything that can remove the drudgery of operations teams and free them up to innovate, is another big trend.”

She also said how we work with this technology is a key area for the future and one that should not be overlooked when discussing tech trends as a whole.

“I remember three years ago, people talking about agile in a conversation at a board level with the firm I was working at. And now they’re actually starting to think about the next iteration of it, which is DevSecOps, and how we can really start to properly work differently.”

When asked how long that will take, she said how long is a piece of string. “A lot of that goes back to tech and education and trust.”

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Chinese could hack data for future quantum decryption, report warns | Hacking

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Chinese hackers could target heavily encrypted datasets such as weapon designs or details of undercover intelligence officers with a view to unlocking them at a later date when quantum computing makes decryption possible, a report warns.

Analysts at Booz Allen Hamilton, a consulting firm, say Chinese hackers could also steal pharmaceutical, chemical and material science research that can be processed by quantum computers – machines capable of crunching through numbers at unprecedented speed.

In a report titled “Chinese threats in the quantum era”, the consultancy says encrypted data could be stolen by “Chinese threat groups”. It says quantum-assisted decryption will arrive faster than quantum-assisted encryption, giving hackers an edge.

“Encrypted data with intelligence longevity, like biometric markers, covert intelligence officer and source identities, social security numbers, and weapons’ designs, may be increasingly stolen under the expectation that they can eventually be decrypted,” the report says. It says “state-aligned cyber threat actors” will start to steal or intercept previously unusable encrypted data.

However, it adds there is a “very small” likelihood that quantum computing could break the latest encryption methods before 2030. The analysts say quantum computing’s advantages over classical computing – the computing used in everything from laptops to mobile phones – are at least a decade away.

“Although quantum computers’ current abilities are more demonstrative than immediately useful, their trajectory suggests that in the coming decades quantum computers will likely revolutionize numerous industries – from pharmaceuticals to materials science – and eventually undermine all popular current public-key encryption methods,” the report says.

Quantum computing is viewed as an exciting development. For example, experts say it could predict accurately what a complex molecule might do and thus pave the way for new drugs and materials.

China is already a strong player in the field, and Booz Allen Hamilton says it expected the country to surpass Europe and the US – where IBM recently made the most powerful quantum processor – in quantum-related research and development.

“Chinese threat groups will likely soon collect encrypted data with long-term utility, expecting to eventually decrypt it with quantum computers,” the report says. “By the end of the 2020s, Chinese threat groups will likely collect data that enables quantum simulators to discover new economically valuable materials, pharmaceuticals and chemicals.”

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UK Space Agency asks kids to make a logo for first launches • The Register

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Good news for those in the UK with primary school-aged kids and wondering what to do when the next bout of home-schooling hits: design a logo for the first UK satellite launches.

2022 could be a big year for launching satellites from Blighty’s shores as the first launchers gear up for a historic blast-off. Assuming the facilities have been built and all the necessary consents given and boxes ticked.

There are currently seven possible spaceport sites across the UK, from Cornwall in England through Llanbedr in Wales and up to the Western Isles in Scotland. Cash has been lobbed Cornwall’s way to support a horizontal launch by Virgin Orbit from Spaceport Cornwall and more toward Scotland for Orbex’s ambitions to launch vertically from Sutherland.

Should all the approvals happen and construction be completed, there is every chance the UK might host its first launch at some point in 2022.

Hence the need for a logo and thus a competition aimed at inspiring kids to consider a career in the space industry. And, of course, it is all worthy stuff: “Logo designs,” intoned the UK Space Agency, “should reflect how data from small satellites can help inform solutions to climate change as well as generate a source of pride in the UK’s space ambitions.”

What, we wondered, could possibly go wrong?

We put this question to Rob Manuel, one of those behind web stalwart b3ta.com. B3ta has a long history of (among other things) image challenges, the results of which tend to pop up, often unattributed, in timelines around the world. Now heading into its third decade, the site continues to push out a weekly Friday newsletter to email subscribers.

In terms of how to engage participants, Manuel said: “If anyone asks me, and they rarely do, I encourage competitions to be as open as possible – publish the results as they’re coming in. Try and create a buzz that something is happening rather than everything going in the bin.”

“As for things going wrong,” he went on, “well, there’s always an element who’ll want to subvert it.”

The competition is open to children aged 4-11 and will run until 11 March 2022. There are two age categories (4-7 and 7-11) over 12 regions in the UK. Designs can be drawn, painted, or created on a computer and either submitted on the logoliftoff.org.uk site or via post. Some basic questions also need to be answered, and children can work on their own or in a team of up to four.

We asked the UK Space Agency if it would take Manuel’s advice and post entries ahead of the competition close. We will update should it respond. ®

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Video analytics platform RugbySmarts named ‘most investable’ at SportX

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The Galway tech start-up was one of two winners at the sport-focused pre-accelerator programme.

A start-up developing real-time video analytics for sports has been named ‘most investable’ at SportX, a new pre-accelerator in Ireland for founders with sports and wellness business ideas.

RugbySmarts took the title at the inaugural SportX showcase last week, securing a cash prize.

The Galway-based start-up aims to automate and simplify sports analytics using AI,  machine learning and computer vision, helping coaches to improve player and team performance with a platform that could also be transferred to other sports.

RugbySmarts was founded last year by CTO William Johnstone, who has previously worked with Connacht Rugby, and CEO Yvonne Comer, who is a former Ireland international rugby player.

Meanwhile, the award of ‘best impact on sport’ was given to TrojanTrack. This start-up, founded in 2021 by Dublin-based Stephen O’Dwyer, is looking to combine quantitative biomechanical analysis with deep neural network tech in the equine industry.

The aim is to gain feedback on a horse’s injury or gait imbalance without using invasive technology, such as motion-tracking software that requires markers to be attached to the animal’s skin.

‘Next-gen sports-tech entrepreneurs’

SportX was launched earlier this year by advisory firm Resolve Partners, Sport Ireland and ArcLabs – the research and innovation centre at Waterford Institute of Technology.

The aim of the pre-accelerator programme was to build on tech and business ideas for the sport and wellness industries, giving founders access to academic, clinical and commercial resources.

The six-week programme involved workshops and engagement with advisers, entrepreneurs, subject experts and investors. Participants also had the opportunity to pitch to the US-based Techstars Sports Accelerator.

At the SportX showcase last week, nine teams had five minutes each to pitch their business ideas to a panel of judges.

The two winners were selected by the panel, which featured Gary Leyden of the ArcLabs Fund 1 GP, Sport Ireland’s Benny Cullen and Niall McEvoy of Enterprise Ireland.

At the launch of SportX earlier this year, Leyden said the goal of the programme was to find “the next generation of sports-tech entrepreneurs who can leverage the amazing enterprise and sports-related supports within the south-east of Ireland”.

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