Over the past year, like many industries, the financial sector has faced a range of both challenges and opportunities, leading to a decade’s worth of digital transformation in 12 short months. From internal requirements that demanded secure yet efficient access for remote workforces, to external pressures such as the rise of cashless payments and other forms of frictionless financial processes, the pandemic required banks to examine and overhaul many of their processes.
Financial organisations have traditionally struggled in adopting innovations. They must abide by strict policies to meet the requirements of their regulators, which has often prevented them from gaining the benefits of new technologies. But as financial institutions have had to adapt to an increasingly digital world, it is imperative they have security solutions in place that not only provide security for users and data, but also ensure compliance with policies and regulations.
We have seen particular growth in interest from banks and financial services in deploying a cloud-based Zero Trust approach. While one might assume security to be the number one driver for banks, our discussions have highlighted somewhat surprisingly that user experience is more of a priority. Because Zero Trust provides granular access to applications without ever placing users on the network, they can take the direct route to their applications without latency-driving detours.
Addressing financial services’ key pain points
Banks have always been entrusted with the most valuable financial assets, and therefore, in the grand scheme of things, already have a formidable security posture. Traditionally, this has always come at a price, as complex infrastructure usually does not harmonise well with great user experience. Over the past few years, the cloud transformation journey of banks has accelerated dramatically, and the finance sector has invested heavily in cloud infrastructures like AWS, Azure, or Google Cloud and cloud-based office applications.
At the same time, many banks kept their legacy infrastructure in place, which holds them back from profiting from the full potential of the cloud. This traditional architecture serves as a barrier to experiencing the full flexibility and agility. It’s a bit like buying a shiny new sports car, then trying to drive it with the hand break on! As a result, banks are now looking for ways to help their employees become more productive on the cloud platforms they have developed, and to garner the return on investment of all the cloud infrastructure the industry had been so excited to embrace.
One of the key issues for financial services has been their recent accelerated deployment of Office 365. Migration promised improved efficiency and user productivity, among other benefits. However, it has also led to significant challenges for banks with maintaining user experience due to their legacy hub & spoke network infrastructure and distributed branch model. In order to benefit from cloud apps, financial organisations realised that they had to re-invent their infrastructure in line with their move to a cloud-based ecosystem to grant latency-free access as foundation for an optimal user experience.
A future vision of balancing user friendliness with security
In the wake of the pandemic, an additional challenge had to be overcome when staff was sent to their home offices nearly overnight. For an increasingly remote workforce, the balance between efficient and secure access on the one hand and maintaining superior user experience on the other hand became even more important. The existing legacy network infrastructure of financial organisations needed to be upgraded to meet the sudden demand for remote connectivity and modern secure access to all the multi-cloud environments that had been implemented. A future-proof infrastructure that can support flexible requirements during the pandemic and beyond, while delivering a great user experience, increasing productivity, and supporting business continuity long term needs to encompass Zero Trust Network Access.
A Zero Trust approach is built on individual security policies for each employee, that grants them granular access to their required business applications without opening up the whole network. With the help of a trusted broker in the cloud, in the form of the Zscaler Zero Trust Exchange, staff can quickly and reliably access only the internal applications they need via a direct internet path once they are authenticated. As users can take the direct route to their applications without the detour over the corporate network, they will profit from superior user experience.
Enabling the future of banking
In many ways, the flexibility enabled by a Zero Trust model is every financial service CTO’s dream. With traffic going securely through the internet instead of having to run through corporate IT, this enables banks to have maintenance-free branches, meaning individual branches are significantly easier to maintain and manage while costs are dramatically reduced. For banks with hundreds of branches in various locations, this almost sounds too good to be true. In fact, the future model of banking might include slimmed-down infrastructures or even a branchless model in the future. From this transition, we will begin to see digital transformation in financial services drive a model of convenience and simplicity—perhaps a kiosk that delivers all the key requirements for banking services—with the secure and frictionless experience consumers have come to expect.
The past year has made clear that if banks want to survive and thrive in a fast-moving landscape, they needed to innovate and transform internally. Only a change in their infrastructure allows them to keep pace with user experience expectations both from staff and external customers. In their search for partners to enable their digital transformation journeys, banks must assess whether the solutions they choose truly help release the brakes of legacy infrastructure and enable them to accelerate into the future.