Ahmed Abdelaal, Group CEO of Mashreq Bank Image Credit: Supplied

How you see the cyber threat landscape evolve amid the current pandemic?

The adoption of online services has been on the rise for some time. However, the mass forced migration online resulting from the Covid-19 crisis is unlike anything we have seen before. The totality of this digital transformation has been such that we already think of it as the new normal.

Many companies have managed to switch their operations to the online world. In fact, today at Mashreq, 97 per cent our employees, with the exception of branch staff and a few functions, work from home and continue to service our customers’ needs. However, this new normal, of working from home, is providing cybercriminals with new ammunition to exploit businesses around the world, primarily those that offer digital services.

How do these frauds impact the banks and customers – what are the repercussions for the banking sector?

We are living in unprecedented times and hundreds of millions of people have been mandated to stay at home, which is a wise move given how insidious the virus is. However, we must bear in mind that as social distancing has become the new norm, online activity has predictably grown. This has also given rise to further frauds that scammers are committing, preying on the insecurities of people, or those with less experience on digital platforms.

With the increase in online activity, scammers and fraudsters are targeting victims via email, SMS, phone and social media. It is worth remembering that they usually pretend to be legitimate organizations, such as banks, hospitals or other government entities, with the sole aim of getting victims to divulge their personal financial information.

If you add the banking sector’s digital transformation to the equation, it is apparent that the complexity and magnitude of financial fraud and cybercrime across the globe has increased. I cannot stress enough that this is a serious threat to society that must be addressed, particularly in this situation. The fear and uncertainty created by the COVID-19 outbreak is understandable, but everyone needs to be vigilant about this other invisible enemy that we are fighting, as well, that are the fraudsters.

What are the challenges you face when it comes to financial crime compliance?

Financial crime is a serious problem that continues to grow globally. Criminals continue to devise innovative tactics to outpace detection by financial professionals. As the CEO of Mashreq, I have identified certain areas that we can address head-on; such as ensuring we use leading-edge technology and solutions to combat financial crime. Naturally, investment in compliance also becomes an essential part of today’s banking landscape and, I am proud to say, that Mashreq is and will always lead from the front. However, finding and retaining skilled personnel who are experts in dynamic financial crime risks and trends continues to be a challenge.

People and their behaviour represent a major risk to security. What can banks do to better prepare customers on security in these times?

Right now, customers need to be more vigilant than ever to protect themselves from various types of cyber theft activities. We continuously upgrade our online security on a regular basis to ensure that you are always protected. Mashreq's online banking system is fully secure and safe, and we regard the security of customers to be of paramount importance.

Customer education is also an extremely important aspect of having good security. We constantly advise customers through regular communication channels be it via SMS, email campaigns, website etc. not to divulge their personal information, including their online banking login details to any third party. Protecting information, however, is a shared responsibility and we request you to exercise caution at all times when using internet and mobile banking services.

How does Mashreq deal with security as technology ushers in a new way of banking?

Digitization has been at the heart of our customer centric strategy over several years. We provide multi-factor authentication systems to customers to safeguard them against any fraud. We also monitor customer behaviour to identify any anomalies in transactions. However, only systems and controls will not be able to help if customers share their vital credentials with fraudsters, therefore, we also focus on customer awareness and education through well-timed communications about prevalent frauds and tips to guard against these frauds.