How retail banks can tackle a rising threat from big tech

When Google announced in November 2019 that it would start offering a current account, it was the latest shot across the bow of retail banks, coming soon after a series of similar moves into retail banking products by Uber, Apple, and Facebook.

Though banks and other credit card–issuing entities across North America, Europe, and Australia have been aware of the looming threat from big tech, in many instances their investments have been directed at digitizing existing products or processes rather than preparing for a fundamentally different future in which digital platforms permeate consumers’ lives.

But that future has already arrived in parts of Asia, where Alibaba, WeChat, and Grab, the Singapore-based riding and payments app, all cast large shadows over the banking landscape. Moreover, a narrow view of the competitive environment has caused banks and other credit card issuers to adopt a reactive approach, shadowing one another’s

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Six keys to unlocking upskilling at scale

In late 2018, a PwC senior manager named Patricia Miller, age 32, learned about a new opportunity in her Florida office called the Digital Accelerators program. Her local firm was recruiting a group of about 1,000 employees, drawn from a base of more than 45,000 nationally, to become pioneers in advanced technology. These early adopters would spend two months in intensive training and return ready to help their fellow employees succeed in a world of artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, and digitally enabled platforms.


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The algorithmic trade-off between accuracy and ethics

The Ethical Algorithm: The Science of Socially Aware Algorithm Design

by Michael Kearns and Aaron Roth, Oxford University Press, 2019

Strava, a San Francisco–based fitness website whose users upload data from their Fitbits and other devices to track their exercise routines and routes, didn’t set out to endanger U.S. military personnel. But in November 2017, when the company released a data visualization of the aggregate activity of its users, that’s what it did.

Strava’s idea was to provide its users with a map of the most popular running routes, wherever they happened to be located. As it turns out, the resulting visualization, which was composed from three trillion GPS coordinates, also showed routes in areas, such as Afghanistan’s Helmand Province, where the few Strava users were located almost exclusively on military bases. Their running routes inadvertently revealed the regular movements of soldiers in a hot zone of insurgency.


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Is your board risk-ready?

Your company’s board of directors is charged with reviewing all kinds of risks to the corporation. But how well prepared are its members to do so? How ready are directors to evaluate, communicate, and act on risks — and thus to better ensure that their companies are doing a good job?

A great deal rides on the answers to these questions. Risk oversight of the boards themselves is what the Conference Board, a business membership and research organization, recently called the next frontier (pdf) in corporate governance. “If boards really understand how to take risks well, their organizations will do better,” said David Koenig, founder of the Directors and Chief Risk Officers Group (DCRO), an industry organization that formed after the 2008 financial crisis.

Responding to an overwhelming sense that boards didn’t accurately monitor risk in the time preceding the financial crisis, investors and directors themselves called for boards to

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The long history of the con

Don’t Fall for It: A Short History of Financial Scams

by Ben Carlson, Wiley, 2020

In that great cinematic cultural touchstone of 1980s capitalism, Wall Street, Gordon Gekko famously proselytized that greed was good. Less well remembered is the remainder of the speech, when he adds: “Greed, in all of its forms, greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge, has marked the upward surge of mankind.” It is that final point — that greed pushes humans onward — that best summarizes Gekko’s argument. But what happens later, when greed becomes overwhelming, the surge peaks, and humankind begins to slide down the other side?

These inglorious descents are the subject of Ben Carlson’s Don’t Fall for It, a slim volume that describes the financial industry’s worst frauds and examines the psychology of the protagonists and their victims. Carlson uses a simple classification to divide the men (and seemingly,

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The long nose of augmented reality

Every five years or so, I contemplate cutting my hair into a fringe. Experience should have taught me by now that this is always a bad idea, but nevertheless, I live in hope that perhaps this time, I’ll really look like a French model.

The last time I wanted to make a bad decision about my hair, L’Oréal hadn’t yet put out its Web-based augmented reality (AR) app that would allow me, in theory, to try out “countless” hairstyles and colors, just by uploading a picture of myself and applying a filter-style overlay. L’Oréal’s app was released in 2018, and although “countless” was a bit of an overstatement — there are 56 — I now know approximately what I’d look like in a bad wig. I’m no closer to deciding about the fringe.

It’s perhaps not fair to complain about the failures of AR just because this one app can’t

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