Fears over the IT security of new banks are overblown

Challenger banks such as PayPal are perceived to be less secure than traditional banks when protecting personal data. But is this the case?

Challenger banks such as PayPal, as well as internet giants such as Google, are perceived to be less secure than traditional banks when it comes to protecting personal data. But is this the case?

Traditional banks are seen as being better at protecting customer data than technology companies such as Google, Apple and Amazon – many of which are getting involved in financial services.

According to a study of more than 6,000 people, 72% said they trust their bank with card details. In contrast, three-quarters of online shoppers don’t trust even large retailers with their card information.

The study by Bizrate Insights said while PayPal – trusted by 48.9% of respondents – could form strong competition for banking services, tech giants such as Apple and Google were only trusted to protect personal details by 21.4% and 12.9% of people respectively.

In the face of competition from a new breed of finance firms that boast state-of-the-art technology, traditional banks' secure IT systems could be their biggest advantage.

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The combination of secure mainframe computing environments at banks and the perceived security weaknesses of large internet companies may prove to be the differentiator.

But one IT professional in banking said: “Give it maybe five years and the financial services landscape will be very different.”

Banks not necessarily most trusted

The source said it is natural for consumers to trust their banks more than IT suppliers with personal details, but this is not necessarily the case. 

“Of course people would trust their bank the most with card details as the banks issue those cards and have the details already whether customers like it or not," he said. "You can't avoid your card issuer holding your card details.”

But bank customer numbers are much lower than some of their challengers, which also deal with customer personal details.

A simple web search reveals the scale of customer bases of banks and their challengers. PayPal has 157 million active users, which is more than most banks, while Facebook has more than a billion users, and holds a lot of sensitive data. Meanwhile, Amazon boasts more than 244 million users.

In comparison, Lloyds Bank has 30 million customers, HSBC has 52 million customers and Barclays has 48 million customers.

In the light of this, the IT professional in banking said he is not sure how accurate the survey of 6,000 consumers is: “These are big numbers for the non-banks so I would question the validity of the survey.

"I agree the new, small financial services will take time to build trust, backed up by regulatory compensation of course, but the big websites dwarf most banks in terms of customer numbers. 

"A survey of 6,000 people is quite small compared with the almost two billion people who vote with their feet on PayPal, Facebook and Amazon.”

Mainframes vulnerable when connected to the internet

He added that although mainframes are inherently more secure than many other platforms, this can change if they are connected to the web.

“The mainframe environment is usually pretty well controlled and secure, but that can be compromised if you put a web app on the front of it. If somebody cracks through the web app they can get access to see or control things happening at the back end on a mainframe," he said.

“I believe the main advantages of mainframe are industrial-strength transaction volume processing speed and capability, as well as software that has been proven over decades and a better controlled environment. But security can be compromised if you put web access on the front of it.”

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