A month or so ago I watched a documentary on Showmax titled ‘Our Towns’, the film version of a book, ‘Our Towns, A 100 000 Mile Journey in the Heart of America’, by James and Deborah Fallows. The documentary piqued my interest and I sourced a copy of the book which I’ve been reading the past couple of weeks.
The book is a fascinating and unexpected account of how certain small towns in America have transformed themselves into growth points providing opportunities to citizens and investors through various private and public initiatives.
A South Carolinian town described in the book, Greenville, has, over the past 150 years, continually reinvented itself. The town has successfully managed the transition from being the ‘textile capital of the world’ in the 19th century to being a modern engineering and manufacturing hub in the 21st.
Provision and access to world class education facilities has played no small part in this success. One school in particular, the AJ Whittenberg Elementary School of Engineering, is a case in point. The school (our version of a primary school) is completely digitized with all lessons taking place on tablets and laptops.
As a result of this digitization students are no longer taught to write longhand or in cursive. Now It’s either printing or keyboard and speech input – forget the traditional exercise book. Teaching staff have shown longhand writing is not a precursor to academic success both now and in the future and tailored their syllabi accordingly. Such a stance and direction raise interesting questions around the type of world, five to ten years from now, for which students are being prepared. Paper-based contracts and personalized ink signatures (the traditional wet signature if you will), are destined for the scrap heap.
What about the law?
This scenario raises interesting questions around law, contracting, the viability of signatures and future commercial norms. Not only does it mean that electronic signatures and their related platforms will play an increasingly important role in how we contract both in the short and medium term; It also provides an additional area to be exploited by cybercriminals.
In a broader context, increased digital adaption has seen a concurrent increase in cybercrime and cybersecurity incidents. A major contributor to these issues is the proliferation and availability of third-party applications and services – all designed to streamline our digital processes and interactions. In fact, dealing with financial crimes (FCRM) forms one of three critical areas for 2022 in the regulatory and compliance field. The other two are business resilience (your business’ ability to remain operational post an incident, cyber or other) and privacy and security, both of which have been regulated in South Africa via various Popia and FSCA Board Notices.
The weak links, unsurprisingly, are staff and staff training. The majority of cyberattacks and crimes are directed at a SMME’s people through email and apps. Depending on the source, malicious code can be inserted into a legitimate app with dire consequences. Email is still a standard gateway for ransomware and phishing even as our spam and junk folders continually fill up with unsolicited and unwanted messages. Remote working has bought about additional challenges – working at a coffee shop with a free wifi connection brings its own set of vulnerabilities which can be exploited as can legacy systems. Many firms have specific software such as an accounting package that only runs on an older OS which does not have the latest security functionality and patches – additional and unneeded risk.
There are multiple moving parts. As you start your planning for 2022 and evaluate your current processes, policies, ways of working, client engagement, and internal and external risks, its critical to balance the tension between the above and your and your staff’s ability to make sales and manage existing clients efficiently and effectively. It’s a fine line and now, more than ever, deserves serious thought and strategy.
Discuss options with your compliance and IT providers. Implement changes, support staff, and prepare for much of the same but, more likely, even more so.