There is little doubt that the world of financial planning and advice has becoming increasingly driven by technological advance. However, despite all the benefits this brings, Brian Tora reminds us of some of the deeper concerns around making sure that efficient and effective security is always at the forefront of decisions and processes
In May I was privileged to be invited to host the JM Finn Annual Investment Conference in London. Held in the remarkably well equipped (for conference purposes, even if the medical equipment on show was somewhat dated) Royal College of Physicians, the theme on this occasion was Security – not, you might think, directly allied to investment, though pertinent to us all.
In fact it had more relevance to the business of investment management than you might think. Aside from companies engaged in security (not that any were mentioned at the conference), how we as investment managers and portfolio constructors engage with our clients demands a high level of secure communication and for safeguards to be in place to ensure our clients’ investments and their personal data cannot be accessed or compromised in any way.
The conference kicked off with Frank Gardner, the BBC security correspondent, who is confined to a wheelchair following an ambush in Riyadh some 15 years ago when his camera-man colleague was killed. His view was that of the wider observer of global terrorism, but his message was surprisingly upbeat. It seems we are getting better at spotting where the real risks lie, so being caught in a terrorist atrocity is perhaps less likely these days.
This rather more optimistic approach was echoed by the retired senior police officer whose session followed. A former member of the counter terrorism branch of Scotland Yard, he had been an adviser to COBRA – the Cabinet committee that seeks to direct the governments approach to threats to national security. He was honest enough to point to the mistakes that had been made in the past, but again stated that we had learned from these and were in a better informed position today to deal with threats.
Cyber crime alert
And these threats could well manifest themselves in terms of cyber crime. Now this is where the conference became really interesting. We are, in the personal investment world, at the fore front of potential victims of financial cyber crime . Our clients will constantly be harassed by emails and unsolicited telephone calls urging them to invest in something apparently risk free or to connect to a service that will bring them benefits.
And it doesn’t stop there. Hackers will be seeking to invade our systems as providers of investment services in order to gain access to our clients or divert funds to their benefit. We need to ensure that our own security is above reproach and that our clients’ data is properly protected. Believe me, sufficient evidence was shared to demonstrate how sophisticated these operators on the dark side of the web could be. Scary? You bet.
Amongst the areas that certainly had me thinking was the growth of smart phone technology as a means of keeping oneself abreast of all manner of daily tasks. Who doesn’t keep the wifi option open on their phone these days? Yet in so doing you are making yourself vulnerable to undesirable garnering of personal information . I’m sure we are all only too aware of Google’s propensity to track our every move. But criminals are just as capable of using this technology to their advantage and can discover more about us by intercepting our phones than we might realise.
What about the impact on investment?
Is there an investment message in all this? Aside from trying to identify those companies that might prosper by creating the ever-more demanding security systems we will require, it is hard to see that cyber crime is going to change the way in which we invest money for our clients. It may well change how we engage with them, though. Technology has already altered the investment business out of all recognition. Change is likely to be an accelerating aspect of our daily lives.
Time for reflection
This conference gave me the opportunity to reflect on what I had written a quarter of a century ago on the topic of how technology was revolutionising the investment world. I had been proud at the time of recognising the speed at which technology would change how we operated, but I had failed to predict just how swift those changes would take place. A final chapter that sought to set out what investment might look like half a century hence made several assumptions that have already come to pass. And I failed to spot quite what an issue cyber crime might become.
Five years after the publication of my book, investing in technology took a prominent role in our world. Businesses were launched which were little more than a dream in the head of some Silicon Valley-based rocket scientist, but such was the investing public’s belief that true riches lay ahead, financing these operations became easy. It all ended in tears, of course, but the groundwork for businesses that have come to dominate our lives was laid. The likes of Google, Amazon and Apple are amongst the most powerful corporations in the world. Technology is a sector you ignore at your peril. But don’t ignore security in the tech sector either.
Brian Tora is a consultant to investment managers, JM Finn.