Brett King

Archive for January, 2012|Monthly archive page

Could SOPA kill a bank website?

In Internet Banking, Media, Strategy on January 17, 2012 at 21:50

The PROTECT IP Act (Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act of 2011), is a proposed law with the stated goal of giving the US government and copyright holders additional tools to curb access to “rogue websites dedicated to infringing or counterfeit goods”, especially those registered outside the U.S. Both of these “Acts” would have massive impact globally, and could create absolute chaos. The PROTECT IP Act is a re-write of the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act which failed to pass in 2010.

SOPA builds on PIPA. Known as the Stop Online Piracy Act or SOPA, is a bill that was introduced in the United States House of Representatives on October 26, 2011, by House Judiciary Committee Chair Representative Lamar S. Smith and a bipartisan group of 12 co-sponsors. The bill, if made law, would expand the ability of U.S. law enforcement and copyright holders to fight online trafficking in copyrighted intellectual property and counterfeit goods.

As proposed, SOPA would allow the U.S. Government the power to block any website from both a DNS Lookup, and eliminate it from search engine results – without needing any court order. Due to the vague nature of the bill being passed through, this could create significant chaos. So what about for banks? Would SOPA/PIPA impact banks at all? Is it in the interest of banks to support or push back against these bills?

Enforcement process

The key problem with SOPA is around enforcement actions available to copyright holders and the US Department of Justice (DoJ). The enforcement actions are unilateral, brutal and extreme. Violators face immediate action against their site and/or business, and up to 5 years in jail for infringement. The fact that you might be in another country and not subject to US law, doesn’t really factor in this process.

If a violation is lodged by a copyright holder, or as SOPA defines it “the owner or operator of such Internet site is facilitating the commission of [copyright infringement]”, the site in question can be blocked at the DNS (Domain Name Server) level and removed from all websites. Payment providers (section (b)(1)) and ad networks ((b)(2)) are required, upon receiving a claim against a site by a copyright holder (section (4)(A)(i)), to cut off all services to the accused site within five days, unless they receive a counter-notification from the operator of the accused site. Note that there is no requirement that the accused be actually notified of the accusation, and thus, they would have no opportunity to provide a counter-notice. Probably the first you’d know about it is when your email stops working, or customers start calling letting you know your site is down.

The only way to provide a counter-notice to a claim or breach is to agree to submit to U.S. jurisdiction (section (5)(A)(ii)) if you are a foreigner, and to state under penalty of perjury that your product does not fit the definition of an “Internet site…dedicated to theft of U.S. property.”

The definition of SOPA around offensive ‘copyright violation’ behavior is as follows:

An `Internet site is dedicated to theft of U.S. property’ if [a portion of the site is US-directed] and is used by users within the United States and is primarily designed or operated for the purpose of offering services in a manner that enables or facilitates [copyright violation or circumvention of copyright protection measures].

This means that YouTube, Facebook, Wikipedia, Gmail, Dropbox and millions of other sites would be “Internet sites…dedicated to theft of U.S. property,” under SOPA’s definition. As far as being ‘US-directed’, any contact form that enables a US consumer to enter their details, would be in violation from this perspective.

There’s an excellent review of much of these specifics around the law and how it ties in with enforcement action on Mashable.

Scenarios to think about?

So what does this mean? To illustrate simply, lets say you post a video of your baby dancing to Beyonce’s new song, filming your kids song and dance routine of their favorite bands song, you post a review of a restaurant or show a photo of a new gadget you’ve purchased. The site you hosted it on would be banned from search engines, advertising companies would not be able to do business with that company and internet providers will be forced to block their customers from accessing those sites and you the uploader would be fined and sentenced to jail for 5 years on a 1st offense.

What about in respect to banks, banking content and possible SOPA violations?

Here’s a few banking specific scenarios that I identified from SOPA that could be problematic for banks:

  • A bank promotes an iPad or iPhone giveaway as part of an offer – unless you had Apple’s permission, you’d be in violation
  • The use of an image of a car or car brand in a motor vehicle insurance advertisement
  • Credit Card Loyalty programs that promote rewards using products would be in direct violation of SOPA
  • A contact form that allows a US citizen to apply for a pre-paid Visa Debit Card on a foreign website before they travel overseas on a trip.

Let me illustrate how ridiculous this is.

HSBC in Hong Kong offers a program of rewards for cardholders they call “RewardCash“. Their RewardCash e-Shop shows products like a Mophie Juice Pack, a Panasonic Rechargeable Shaver, Targus USB powered Travel Speakers, Victorinox 22″ Carry-on luggage, etc. Let’s say that one of those companies was trawling the web and found ‘image’ violations of their product, it could be interpreted that HSBC was using credit card ‘rewards’, miles or points as an alternative currency to sell those products and circumvent US distribution chains, and a complaint could be lodged with the Department of Justice. A similar complaint could be lodged if a brand owner feared fake products were being given away from this site. They wouldn’t need proof, just the ‘threat’ of potential impact to a US IP owner.

5 days later, HSBC.com (and other domains) would be removed from the DNS databases in the US and around the world, becoming totally inaccesible. While HSBC would have the right of recourse, the damage would be massive and very, very expensive. Internet banking would be down. The main website would be down. Staff email would be down.

Now, could this scenario really happen? It’s unlikely, but the point is that SOPA would allow such an action to be taken.

Imagine how much fun legal and compliance would have with this legislation?

A disaster

All in all, SOPA simply is a disaster for the future of business, free commerce and innovation. The Whitehouse Administration cautioned in a blog post last week that it would not support any bill that did not “guard against the risk of online censorship of lawful activity and must not inhibit innovation by our dynamic businesses large and small.” While this is not a direct condemnation of the proposed act, it seems probably that President Obama would veto this bill if it was passed into law – and he’d be right to do so.

The MPAA and RIAA lobby groups that have driven this law to Capitol Hill, should not be in a position where foreign banks could be brought to their knees by nonsensical legislation. This is very one-sided legislation.

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How many jobs will digital kill off in banking?

In Bank Innovation, Economics, Future of Banking, Social Networking, Strategy, Technology Innovation on January 16, 2012 at 08:35

I’m starting to hear of some very significant digital and multi-channel budgets being put in place by many of the leading retail banking brands in 2012. It’s about time!

While I won’t name names or budgets, I’ve heard of mid-sized banks dedicating more than $50m to Internet, mobile and social-media this year, and large banks in the range of many hundreds of millions. It’s obvious from some of the outcomes in 2012 that major brands like Citibank, BBVA, CommBank, and Amex, for example, are putting some major spend into various initiatives on the digital engagement side. Key to these activities is some groundwork around platform development, staying competitive on the customer interface side, exploring the mobile wallet and new forms of loyalty around payments, and of course, big social media plans.

2011 was a tough year for many bank brands

As earnings reports have been coming in this quarter, it’s no surprise that 2011 was a tough year for the big banks. Of course, I’ve also heard of major brands in the space whose budgets are woefully thin and spell major problems for them on a competitive front this year, some of these banks are already hurting. How can I argue that budgets for digital are too thin in the current environment? Well, when a major global brand in the space spends less on social media globally than the cost of deploying one branch in central London or New York, and they are yet to have any type of coherent social media strategy (no real Twitter presence as an example), that is a budget out of kilter with the reality of customer behavior and acquisition/retention mechanics.

The Intertia Problem

While I’m sure I’ll hear the justification that the economy and particularly the ongoing Euro crisis is the primary cause, there must be a recognition that banks are simply carrying a lot of redundant capacity, based on the old paradigms of the way banks should operate, and are under-invested in the new platforms and skills that will help them grow their business out of the current economic malaise. This appears to be forcing banks to try new fee structures to cover the costs of legacy business operations, rather than adapting the organization and thus cost structures. I could call out legacy branch infrastructure again, but I won’t beat a dead horse, as they say – the economics of that are becoming glaringly obvious to most. So let’s take two other simple examples where the organizational behavior is skewed by inertia:

Account Opening and Administration
With average account acquisition costs being in the range of $250-350, you would think that someone would have connected the dots between the need for a signature card (and related physical handling) at account opening, with the cost of acquisition. The easiest way to reduce acquisition costs is get rid of the paper. Which brings us to annual costs for checking accounts too. With an average checking account costing around $350 a year, sending paper statements, printing checkbooks that are never used, charging big fees for wire transfers so that you prop-up your dying legacy check business, all smacks of a business driven by inertia.

What’s my account balance?
This is the number one requested piece of information from the bank today, and while we provide internet banking access to this piece of information, the dominant method of a customer getting this is still through an ATM or through the call centre. A far simpler mechanism would be sending the account balance via text message when a major transaction occurs, at set intervals (say weekly) or as defined by the customer. The cost of sending a text of your balance to a customer 10 times a month, is less than the cost of one call to the call centre for the same information, and less than two ATM balance enquiries (based on current channel cost estimates). The deployment of mobile wallets will massive reduce these ongoing costs as well.

Investment prioritization

In terms of size of budget, here is my rough take on where the investment prioritization is occurring across the board:

  1. Mobile
    Clearly, whether it is deploying new mobile apps, iPad apps, playing with mobile wallets, or geo-location features and offers, Mobile is the big play in 2012 and everyone wants a part of the action.
  2. Social Media
    From deploying monitoring stations, building service paths organization-wide to cope with social media requests and incidents, building new loyalty programs powered by social platforms, or trying to tap-in to friends, likes and advocacy, social media is a big play this year.
  3. Acquisition/JVs/New Appointments
    Acquisitions are a tough one because it is only the larger organizations who are looking at this, but there’s an effort to acquire key skills, technology and business practices emerging though acquisition, and significant dedicated funds for exploring new lines of business. With CapitalOne’s acquisition of INGDirect, and other moves, we’re going to start to see this being a sizeable component of global plays in the space as the bigger players try to acquire core capability. We’ve seen banks like Comm Bank in Australia start to make strategic investments in core skills at the top, such as the appointment of Andy Lark, along with major changes in their budgets internally around digital. While Andy is billed as the Chief Marketing Officer, he bares little resemblance to the marketing officers of most banks traditionally.
  4. Core Systems replacement to cope with channel mix
    I think this one is obvious
  5. PFM, Big Data and Analytics
    I’ve put all these in one bucket, which isn’t really fair, but for many organizations the start to collating their big data into useful information only occurs through the move to PFM (Personal Financial Management) tools behind the login. The need to connect people to their money, to target cross-sell and up-sell messages and otherwise monetize account activity and data, is a big priority.
  6. Engagement Marketing and Collaboration
    Increasingly we’re seeing dedicated efforts at partnerships, API layers, new marketing initiatives across broader platforms and other such mechanisms. We’re starting to see a new slew of ‘business development’ and ‘partnership’ resources emerge as banks look beyond their own walls for growth opportunities. Expect this to grow significantly over the next 3 years as we see more JV, incubation and acquisition budgets emerge as well.

The downside to the shift

Clearly these changes are all good for staying relevant to consumers, changing business practices to adapt to new behaviors, and better aligning costs with operations as they shift. However, the downside is that as you move away from legacy operations there’s a lot of dead wood.

AUSTRALIA is on the cusp of a white-collar recession with insiders warning that thousands of jobs are at risk in the finance sector, after it emerged yesterday that ANZ planned to cut 700 jobs.

While many banks used the global financial crisis to ‘downsize’, the reality is that there are going to continue to be significant job cuts in the sector as a result of re-tasking the organization for the new reality. In fact, my estimates are that we’ll lose many more jobs to the ‘shift’ than we did in the global financial crisis. Sure, there will be new hires as well, but the reality is as we downsize branch staff, manual operations and traditional marketers, we simply don’t need the volume of skills to replace them on the digital front. Even in-branch we’ll be using technology to avoid queues, speed up transactions, and hence reduce branch staff footprints.

Joshua Persky, an unemployed banker, on the job trail

It’s inevitable in the shift to digital within finance, that some humans will be replaced by technology efficiency gains. As we really start to see digital making progress, those legacy skills sets will become glaringly obvious on the balance sheet. Unfortunately, it’s either lose legacy operations staff or lose customers and profitability.