COVID-19 stress-tests banks’ tech infrastructure …BoG, lenders working to secure systems against cyber-attacks

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Left: John Mensah, ADB Boss, Right: Daniel Wilson Addo, CBG MD

Until the Coronavirus pandemic, banks in the country did not really know the extent to which their technology infrastructure, which they have been developing and deploying for more than a decade, could be strained and still deliver to customers’ satisfaction, bankers have noted.

Even as they bask in the success of their technology systems’ ability to serve customers without much hassle, they are not relenting in their ability to constantly protect those systems from cyber criminals who have also seen opportunities aplenty. Already, in 2019 banks witnessed more than GH¢115million in fraud incidents.

Daniel Addo, Managing Director of Consolidated Bank Ghana (CBG), told the B&FT in an exclusive interview that banks have all these technology facilities that serve customers via mobile applications, Internet and mobile banking services, and internal systems which allow staff of banks to work remotely – but the pandemic has really put these systems to the test, and most banks’ systems have passed the test.

“Even as individuals, we tap into our inner reserves to begin facing adversity or a challenge. So, the need was emphasised the more by COVID-19, and we had to find a way to make business go on as normal. Perhaps with time we would have gotten to that stage where we would be using that technology to the maximum, but COVID-19 really accelerated that.

“It is the same with digital uptake: the quantity of customers who were not on USSD, mobile app, among others was huge, but this has been there for a very long time. But when there is a disruption like this, then everybody modifies their behaviour and looks for a way to counter-attack that disruption; and that is what is happening in this case,” he said.

Asked why it has taken the pandemic for banks and their customers to see the essence of these channels, Mr. Addo noted that it is the nature of things – because when there is something out of the ordinary and one has to react very quickly, then that is when you begin to look deeply into what you have.

“What happened is that the majority of banks have installed capacity for remote working. For instance, with CBG, we had installed the infrastructure for remotely working as far back as 2019; but then those facilities were not being used to the extent that we thought was possible, until we were constrained and forced by COVID-19 to make use of them.

“So we saw that meetings we were having last year – whereby we had to fly in our staff to come to Accra from the other regions – have stopped. I just had a meeting with about 300 staff logged in from all across the country. In the past, if I wanted to have a town hall meeting, I would have to travel from region to region; but that has absolutely changed. And the interesting thing is that they can still hear me clearly, we can chat and ask questions. The only difference is that we cannot touch each other because they are not physically present here,” he said.

All banks in the country have applications, mobile and Internet banking systems that encourage customers to avoid the banking halls but still transact all kinds of businesses, including withdrawals, deposits and even to secure loans.

Most banks tended to see less than 50 percent of clients leveraging these facilities, but the virus has pushed the usage of these platforms – however, for the more than five months of the virus’ presence in the country, no bank has faced any catastrophic failure in the delivery of services via these channels to their clients.

Protecting the infrastructure

Dr. John Kofi Mensah, Managing Director of Agricultural Development Bank, concurring with his colleague at CBG added that as an entire banking industry they have been discussing issues during these critical times – and they all find the need to be alert on cybercrime.

“With COVID-19, cybercrime incidents are going up. Our cyber alertness has also increased and it is a positive indication for the industry. These sorts of crime are the most dangerous to the industry, because they can easily lead to liquidation of the bank. You can lose so much money within a few minutes,” he said.

The central bank, he noted, is monitoring the activities of all banks, with the implementation of cybercrime directives moving on time.

“We have our Security Operations Centre (SOC) room and everything is being monitored. For banks that may not have the capabilities to deploy these state-of-the-art SOC systems, there are collaboration opportunities to be explored. We at ADB invite other banks to come to us and we are ready to help collaborate in the provision of SOC businesses; and that is what the Bank of Ghana is looking out for.”

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