Smarsh on messaging compliance violations at banks

We speak to Smarsh GM and Head of Enterprise about the challenges and opportunities financial institutions face when responding to messaging violations

Following on from the latest rounds of fines for messaging violations at Wall Street banks, Fintech Magazine speaks to Tom Padgett, General Manager and Head of Enterprise at RegTech company Smarsh, about the challenges ahead and how financial institutions should respond. 

Why are we seeing more and more fines for messaging violations at banks?

These most recent fines are really just the latest chapter in a push by financial regulators that picked up speed in late 2021, holding Wall Street banks accountable over communications compliance and record-keeping violations. 

Last year saw some of the largest banks collectively fined close to US$2bn, the largest ever penalty amount for record-keeping violations.

This push by regulators is strongly linked to the working practices that emerged during the coronavirus pandemic. Banking, like other industries, implemented work-from-home policies, and this shift led to employees using unsanctioned communications platforms. 

This trend has persisted as flexible working arrangements have become formalised. Regulation is clear – if the bank uses it for business, the message needs to be captured, retained, and monitored for compliance, regardless of what messaging platform was used or what device it was sent on. 

However, it’s important to note that off-channel communication, when employees use unmonitored apps for work, is also part of a generational trend as Gen-Z and Millennial workers opt to text or chat rather than send emails. 

Furthermore, with the increasing availability of new communication platforms beyond the likes of WhatsApp and Signal, the challenge of overseeing employees is only likely to become more complex. 

What will be the impact of new communication platforms? 

This year, the proliferation of new messaging channels has been a major story within the communication compliance field. 

While the launch of Threads by Meta has understandably generated much of the media attention, 2023 has also seen a host of other platforms launched that look to cater to more niche markets, such as the US-based social networking platform Spoutible.  

For financial institutions concerned about monitoring and capturing their employees’ messages, this trend is important as it poses several new challenges for keeping digital communications compliant. 

Crucially, banks will be expected to ensure their compliance solutions remain up-to-date and that new messaging channels and forms of content can be monitored and stored. 

In addition to remaining current, these solutions will also need to address increasingly complex compliance challenges that come with the availability of new messaging platforms. 

For example, monitoring “Change-of -Venue” conversations, where employees continue the same conversation across different channels, is only likely to be made more difficult through the introduction of new communication platforms. 

What can banks do to stay ahead of these challenges?

Financial institutions need to ensure they have the capabilities to comprehensively monitor, capture and store their employees’ communications. 

The volume of this stored data is proliferating at a scale we’ve never seen before, and with every new channel added to the mix, the data grows more complex. 

It is not uncommon for our customers to maintain petabytes of data in their archive with more than 40 or 50 captured channels. 

Financial institutions need to make sure they have the appropriate infrastructure in place to maintain this communication data on a global scale, and tested and defensible AI to surface risk and insight from this massive corpus. 

Other than avoiding fines, what other incentives do banks have to take messaging monitoring seriously? 

Historically, financial institutions approached communications compliance narrowly, looking primarily to understand their regulatory obligations and how to meet them. 

Leading banks are approaching these responsibilities differently and recognizing that their communications data represents an incredibly strategic and valuable archive for the entire business. 

With AI, banks are expanding their risk perimeter across their communications data and deriving additional business insight and value from it. Beyond meeting regulatory requirements, their communication data is an untapped source of insights for their entire business. 

Years ago, firms would monitor a lexicon of keywords in employee communications to identify compliance violations, an oftentimes arduous process that has its limits in truly identifying and mitigating risk. 

With breakthroughs in AI and public cloud, the industry is now able to eliminate noise and surface trends and anomalies – and ultimately identify risk – across a much larger data set. 

By exploring themes within huge data sets of employee messages, financial institutions can surface insights related to a host of business-critical areas such as corporate culture, client engagement, and company ethics. 

For global banks which work across different geographies, taking advantage of this increased visibility should be an absolute priority. 

So, aside from the obvious incentive of avoiding fines, banks have several reasons to effectively monitor, capture and store their digital communications. 

From risk-mitigation and early detection of potential problems to getting a clearer understanding of how their business operates, the opportunities for banks to derive value from their communications are truly immense.  


For more insights from FinTech Magazine, you can see our latest edition of FinTech Magazine here, or you can follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter.

You may also be interested in our sister site, InsurTech Digital, which you can also follow on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Please also take a look at our upcoming virtual event, FinTech LIVE London, coming on 8-9 November 2023.


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