Last month, you succeeded Doug Marrs. What are your primary objectives in the role and what are the biggest challenges?
To continue the tradition here at Great Southern of fiscal responsibility and strategic banking. That’s one of the strengths of the organization. We’re always looking down the road. There’s a number of challenges short term that I’m sure all businesses are facing; it’s not isolated just to the financial industry. Primarily staffing. The combination of the economy and the prevalence of stimulus funding, it’s just a very challenging labor market right now.
You’ve spent part of your four-decade career in banking helping consumers and businesses protect themselves from fraud. What are the greatest threats you see today?
Right now, we’re seeing, and we have for some time, elevated levels of relationship scams targeting, lots of times, vulnerable individuals. They do their homework. They check obituaries and look for people who have recently been widowed and they’ll target them. They string them along for a long period of time building up trust until they then decide to go ahead and attempt to monetize the relationship. It’s not the typical run-of-the-mill, local fraudster. Many times, surprisingly, they are large criminal organizations and, in some cases, it’s used for a front for terrorist funding. We’ve been very aggressive from an education standpoint. Even though the individual scams can be different, there are a number of red flags that are associated with each event.
The U.S. Small Business Administration estimates as much as $84 billion was lost to fraud since last spring with government loan and grant programs related to the pandemic. Is there a heightened environment for fraud during this chaotic time?
The conditions are ripe for fraudulent activity. We had seen internally elevated levels of fraudulent activity associated with specifically the (Paycheck Protection Program). What we’re seeing typically are not PPP fraud involving business customers, but rather individuals who have again either fallen for a scam and are innocent victims being used to facilitate this or, in some cases, it’s malicious activity. Essentially what happens is the fraudsters will, for example, contact a regular consumer and offer them a fee if they will go ahead and allow their account to be used to receive disbursements from the PPP loan program. Since these programs started over a year ago, we developed a network internally of transaction monitoring, specialized queries and algorithms to identify activity that deviates from the norm. We have a fiscal and a moral responsibility to make sure that our institution and the American financial system is not being used to facilitate fraudulent activity. We have seen an ongoing and consistent elevated level of fraudulent activity.
You mentioned staffing as a challenge. How can automation help in areas that lend themselves to technology, like payment processing and data analytics?
We’re always looking for ways to become more efficient. The entire industry has used technology for decades to automate. On the back end with respect to transaction monitoring, for example, artificial intelligence holds a great deal of promise for just that scenario – to help identify activity and trends, whether that’s to head off fraud or to go ahead and comply with regulatory requirement.
What are some technologies that will continue to transform banking?
Anything from a delivery channel that will help us better mesh with our customers’ activity, their schedules. The old days of being open from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. over the week and some banks even closing over the lunch hour, those have long, long passed. The challenge for us is to continue to remain relevant and to have those delivery channels, whether those are automated or our (interactive teller machines), which offer expanded hours over the week and weekends and allow our customers to speak with a live teller at an ATM. We want to make sure we have all the traditional channels available; our branch network is very important to us and our customers, but we also want to make sure we’re able to offer those channels and remain relevant to meet the needs of our customer.
Mark Maples can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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