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Surveillance in the age of WhatsApp

LSEG’s latest webinar unpacks electronic communication surveillance in the age of WhatsApp. Learn about the importance of keeping pace with changing communication behaviours, and why financial services firms need to ensure compliance with evolving regulations in this dynamic space.

  1. LSEG’s latest webinar unpacks electronic communication surveillance in the age of WhatsApp.
  2. Learn about the importance of keeping pace with changing communication behaviours, and why financial services firms need to ensure compliance with evolving regulations in this dynamic space. 

Smarter communication, new risks 

As the ways in which we communicate change and evolve, new risks emerge. LSEG’s latest webinar unpacks this topic and explains why financial services organisations need to equip themselves with the right tools, procedures and governance solutions to proactively mitigate these emerging risks. 

Vincenzo Dimase, Global Director, Sales Strategy and Execution, FX and Post Trade at LSEG outlines the key variables that are shaping developments in this space. Firstly, he highlights that the ways in which we communicate – both in the workplace and in our private lives – are completely different to how we communicated just five or ten years ago. Added to this, there is the core technology element that is enabling this change – for example, WhatsApp and other applications continue to grow in popularity. Additionally, there is the challenge of surveillance in this new landscape, including the role played by compliance and how best to remain compliant with all relevant regulations across jurisdictions. He further stresses the importance of the human factor and the role of individual conduct in this evolving space. 

Unpacking the challenges

Against this backdrop, Rob Mason, Director of Regulatory Intelligence, Global Relay, a world leader in compliance messaging and message management, explains that communication has always been a challenge for financial services firms, but also points out that the move to hybrid working has added further layers of complexity.

He adds that “bring your own device” policies and the proliferation of available communication channels have brought the issue of communication surveillance to a pivotal moment.

Organisations need to be acutely aware of the landscape around compliant record-keeping, communication and surveillance, especially given the significant nature of recent regulatory fines. 

Moreover, they need to find technology-enabled solutions that allow compliant business communications, but don’t overly restrict staff or operations.

Carroll Barry-Walsh from Barry-Walsh Associates consultancy further warns that if there is communication misbehaviour and this becomes public knowledge, the organisation could still face reputational damage, commenting that even a hefty fine can quickly become the least of the problems that needs to be managed. 

Multicultural and multi-jurisdictional environments also affect communications, which can fairly easily be misinterpreted and lead to unintended fallout. Firms therefore need to understand how they will deal with such issues as they arise. Detailed examples as part of practical staff training can prove invaluable here.

A further challenge to consider is how compliance officers can enforce surveillance rules without breaching privacy rights, especially when faced with different privacy laws in different countries. Whilst such laws can present challenges, our panellists do point out that employees using work channels for private communications cannot expect such communications to remain completely private and furthermore, that compliance teams are generally only monitoring a sliver of total communications. They are not dipping into employees’ private lives but rather looking for specific issues, such as those relating to market conduct.

Types of risk

Our panellists go on to unpack some different types of risk that firms should look for. Such risks range from work-related misbehaviour – for example discussing prices with competitors – to personal misbehaviour that has nothing to do with work, but may still be recorded on work channels.

Personal misbehaviour could include financial misbehaviour, such as discussing tax misdemeanours or even drug use and can extend to sexual misbehaviour as well. 

When such misbehaviour is recorded on work channels, it can lead to a range of knock-on challenges for firms – and could even be used by bad actors to blackmail the employees responsible for the misbehaviour. 

Essentially the challenge facing compliance teams remains first and foremost to understand the full range of specific communications risks that apply to their own firm, and then to develop the right processes to address these risks. Furthermore, it is essential to communicate to staff that behaving professionally in the workplace is not just about ticking boxes. People need to think about what they are saying, who they are saying it to and how they are saying it. This gives the necessary substance to processes.

What steps can organisations take?

Our webinar moves on to outline exactly what it is that regulators are looking for in this rapidly changing landscape, with the speakers summing up two key requirements: firstly whether the firm in question assessed the risk correctly and secondly, whether the subsequent action taken was reasonable.

Surveillance solutions are already available to help firms establish the right processes and procedures to meet these expectations, but when choosing one, organisations should keep a few key factors in mind:

  • A core issue to consider is data – specifically that all of the content within each monitored channel is captured completely and accurately, and that records include relevant metadata. 
  • Once an optimal level of data has been achieved, organisations need to prioritise what they analyse, based on their risk assessments.
  • Above all, firms must act when necessary, since it is imperative to address risks once they become known. Compliance teams should be able to demonstrate intelligent thought and processes around such risks, even if they are still working on an ultimate solution.

Furthermore, it is important to check that any chosen solution is flexible enough to accommodate potential changes in the future, given a rapidly changing communications landscape.

A key takeaway from all our panellists is this: take steps now to know and manage your communications risk. If you are a regulated firm in financial services it doesn’t matter if you are big or small – this emerging risk affects all firms. It is simply a matter of time before surveillance solutions on all communications channels become standard practice.

Listen to the full webinar.

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