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All Posts (149)

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Bronze Level Contributor

British Airways trials in-house system for verifying passenger vaccine certificates and Covid-19 tests, with plans to add the features to its mobile app

British Airways has begun trialling an in-house online system aimed at making it easier for travellers to verify any Covid-19 documents they may need for their journey.

The system is designed to speed up the airline’s verification of documents such as vaccination certificates or negative test results, which some countries require upon arrival.

Under the new system, travellers to India are able to upload the needed documents via British Airways’ web portal.

The airline said it aims to certify the documents within six hours in order to give travellers peace of mind.

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App rollout

It said it plans to roll out the trial to more destinations and to add the service to its mobile app.

British Airways already allows passengers travelling to the US, Canada or the UK to certify their Covid-19 documents via the third-party VeriFLY app, and has said it will trial a similar app developed by the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

But the new system is its first in-house means of easing travel in the Covid-19 era, as the government prepares to ease restrictions around cross-border travel.

“The key benefit of customers being able to upload the correct travel documentation into their booking, is that it enables them to check-in online, speeding up the airport process,” said British Airways chief executive Sean Doyle.

Travel restrictions

Doyle cited the UK’s “great progress” in dealing with the pandemic and urged the country to take a “leadership position” in restoring travel.

“It’s fair to say that Britain has developed a really strong leadership position in coming out the other end of the pandemic,” Doyle said.

“What we want to make sure is that we also take that leadership position into restoring travel and restoring the economy.”

The government has said it plans to approve a return to international travel from 17 May at the earliest, and MPs on the Commons transport committee last week urged the government to stick to that deadline.

“The 17 May date for restarting international travel should be maintained provided that the four reopening tests that the government set out on 22 February are met,” the committee said in its report.

Originally published by
Matthew Broersma | March 17, 2021
Silicon

 

Read more…
Bronze Level Contributor

Battery powered sports models will be made at the Gaydon plant in Warwickshire

Luxury car giant Aston Martin has pledged to manufacture all of its electric cars in the UK from 2025.

As first reported in the Financial Times, owner Lawrence Stroll said all of its battery sports cars will be made at its plant in Gaydon, Warwickshire.

Its electric SUV models will be made at St Athan in Glamorgan, he confirmed.

The company is due to start making hybrid versions of its cars over the next four years, followed by battery-only models.

A growing number of car makers have said they are moving away from petrol and diesel engines, including Jaguar Land Rover, which announced last month its Jaguar brand will be all-electric by 2025.

It comes as the UK government plans to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars from 2030.

Aston Martin is not going quite as far and said it would continue to make traditional engines for car enthusiasts.

Luxury car brand Bentley Motors, owned by Germany's Volkswagen, said in November its range will be fully electric by 2030, and General Motors said in January it aimed to have a zero tailpipe emission line-up by 2035.

Earlier this week, Mr Stroll told the BBC electrification would not be a problem for the company as the technology could be brought in from Mercedes-Benz, which Aston Martin has a technical partnership with.

Mercedes also has a 20% stake in Aston Martin, and Mr Stroll told the Financial Times the partnership put the firm "way ahead of our rivals".

Aston Martin employs about 2,500 people in Gaydon and St Athan, although it is not clear whether the announcement would mean changes for workers.

It announced 500 redundancies last year as the impact of coronavirus hit car makers.

Originally published by
BBC News | March 7, 2021

 

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Gold Level Contributor

UK consumer group Which? is pushing for the government to take immediate action to protect the future of cash for those who need it, as its latest analysis shows a spike in the number of people forced to pay to withdraw their own money from cash machines.

The research shows that some towns and cities - among them some of England’s most deprived areas, where people are more likely to depend on cash - have seen a significant shift from free-to-use cashpoints to machines that generally charge up to £2 per withdrawal in recent years.

Which? says the findings highlight the need for urgent clarity and direction from the government on the role of cash in the future.

Gareth Shaw, Which? head of money, comments: “Legislation is a fundamental part of this, and there is an urgent need for a clear timeframe for when it will be in place, so that industry and regulators can work with the government to ensure that cash is protected as a payment method for those who have no other option.”
 
Originally published by
Finextra | March 2, 2021
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Gold Level Contributor

One of Oxford University's laboratories involved in Covid-19 research has fallen victim to a cyber attack.

A spokesperson confirmed the attack to Forbes, revealing that the Division of Structural Biology, known as 'Strubi', had been hit with a cyber attack impacting some systems used to prepare biochemical samples.

The spokesperson added that the problem had been contained and was being investigated by further by cyber security experts. They stressed that no clinical studies were compromised as a result of the breach.

The hack is thought to have occurred in the middle of the month, and the actors behind it are yet to be identified.

The University has informed the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) about the incident, and the Agency is investigating. The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) has also been notified.

The Strubi lab is a world-leading laboratory carrying out research on Covid-19 cells. However, it is not directly involved in the development of Oxford University's Covid-19 vaccine - created by the University's Jenner Institute in collaboration with pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca.

Scientists at Strubi have been studying the working mechanism and structures of coronavirus cells, trying to find ways to prevent them from causing harm to human body.

Forbes found that some hackers were showing off access to Oxford's computer systems. Screenshots reportedly showed interfaces, with the ability to control the pressure gauges on lab equipment.

Experts said there was possibility that hackers targeted the Oxford lab in an attempt to steal secrets, which they could sell later.

"As the attackers were selling access it suggests it was probably not a nation state but a group who thought nation states or those working on valuable intellectual property might pay for," Professor Alan Woodward, a cyber security expert at the University of Surrey, told Forbes.

The news of Oxford lab hack has come at the time when cyber attacks targeting the healthcare sector are on the rise.

Last year, the US, Canadian and British intelligence agencies warned that hackers had been targeting biomedical research organisations to steal sensitive vaccine information.

The UK government said last summer it was '95 per cent' certain that Russian state-sponsored groups had attempted to hack into the Jenner Institute to steal sensitive information about Covid-19 vaccine.

Commenting on the recent Oxford lab hack, Sam Curry, chief security officer at Cybereason, said: "The reported hacking of an Oxford University biolab by threat actors is another gutless and abhorrent act by cyber criminals.

"Due to the magnitude of the Covid-19 pandemic, and the fact that nearly 3 million people have died from the virus worldwide, I categorise this latest breach as an act of cyber terrorism. In the perfect world, loathsome groups like this would be brought to justice to face severe punishment.

"Unfortunately, we don't live in a perfect world, and cyber gangs will continue to carry out these attacks because time and time again they are successful. Oftentimes, these gangs are working as contractors for nation-states and by gaining access to the proprietary information Oxford's researchers have likely spent months working on, they will see a big payday.'

"The good news is that the security researcher stepped forward to disclose this latest intrusion and that Oxford can simultaneously assess the damage and stop further exfiltration. In the future, collaborative efforts like this will enable cyber defenders to be perched on higher ground than attackers making it much easier to stop future terrorist attempts."

Originally published by
Dev Kundaliya  |  February 26, 2021
computing

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Silver Level Contributor

UK plans fintech visa fast-track scheme

UK chancellor Rishi Sunak is preparing to inveil a fast-track fintech visa to attract top tech talent to post-Brexit Britain.

The Sunday Telegraph reports that Sunak is keen to ensure that the UK’s £7bn fintech sector maintains its global standing in years to come in his 3 March Budget.

The plan is said to be a recommendation from ex-Worldplay chief executive Ron Kalifa in his independent review on how to boost the fintech sector post-Brexit.

The move comes as PwC reports that more than half (52%) of financial institutions say they expect to have more gig-based employees over the next three to five years.

PwC believes that gig economy employees will likely perform 15% to 20% of the work of a typical institution within five years, driven by continuous cost pressure and the need to access digitally skilled talent.

John Garvey, PwC’s global financial services leader, PwC US, comments: “Leaders in the industry are looking seriously at their workforces to evaluate which roles need to be performed by permanent employees and which can be performed by gig-economy workers, contractors or even crowd-sourced on a case-by-case basis. Covid-19 and remote working have opened the door to accessing talent outside of a firm’s physical location, including outside of the country. What we are seeing now is a talent marketplace for gig workers in financial services, competing to take advantage of their specialist skill set and boost productivity within their businesses.”

Sunak's bid to lure tech talent back to the UK will be welcomed by the country's fintech sector, which has been alarmed by a mass-exodus of European workers in the wake of Brexit.

A recent Oxford University study reveals that about half a million EU citizens left the UK permanently in 2020, with the vast majority coming from London.
 
Originally published by
Finextra | February 22, 2021
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Gold Level Contributor

O2 fined £10.5m for overcharging departing customers

Around 140,000 customers overpaid, according to Ofcom.

Mobile network O2 has been fined £10.5 million by British telecommunications regulator Ofcom for overcharging more than 140,000 customers.

According to Ofcom, an investigation revealed issues with the way O2 billed customers who left the provider between 2011 and 2019.

The regulator found that over 250,000 subscribers were billed incorrectly (amounting to £40.7 million) by O2 for eight years. Of those customers about 140,000 actually paid the extra charge, totalling around £2.4 million, to O2, Ofcom said.

Mobile carriers are required to issue a final bill to customers leaving the provider, specifying all remaining charges and fees the customers have to pay before the company closes their accounts.

Ofcom says its investigation found an error in the way O2 calculated final bills for its pay monthly mobile customers, which led to nearly 140,000 individuals billed twice for some monthly charges.

O2 first identified issues with its billing processes in 2011, but continued to overcharge customers after efforts to fix the issue failed.

The Telefónica-owned mobile network says it has refunded many of the affected customers in full, plus an extra 4 per cent on top. The company has also promised to make a donation equivalent to the overcharged amount to a charity for all former customers whom it has been unable to contact.

Gaucho Rasmussen, Ofcom's enforcement director, described the O2 overcharging as "serious breach" of Ofcom's rules.

Rasmussen said the regulator "will step in if we see companies failing to protect their customers". He added that Ofcom is satisfied with O2 which has refunded affected customers and has taken steps to "prevent this happening again".

O2 has apologised to customers impacted, saying it was "disappointed by this technical error".

Ofcom said the size of the fine was reduced from a potential £15m due to O2's co-operation in the case.

The regulator's decision to fine O2 has come at the time when another British telecommunications firm - BT - has been facing a class action lawsuit at the Competition Appeal Tribunal (CAT) over claims that the company overcharged more than 2.3 million residential, landline-only customers for nearly eight years.

The case was filed in January by Justin Le Patourel, a representative of CALL (Collective Action on Landlines), seeking compensation for affected customers.

If successful, the claim could result in compensation of between £200 and £500 for each affected customer, up to a total of an estimated £500 million, according to CALL.

In 2017, BT was fined £42m by Ofcom and was told to pay £300m back to other telecommunications firms after the regulator found that the company had abused its market position.

Originally published by
Dev Kundaliya | February 15, 2021
computing

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Bronze Level Contributor

How to prevent and cure burnout in your team

Image: Unsplash - Priscilla Du Preez

Almost half of all sick days in the UK are down to burnout.  Calvin Benton, founder of Spill, explains how employers can help.

Startup life is a lot. We expect big things from small teams. We wear many hats. And we tackle new, difficult problems every day. 

For founders, protecting the mental health of your team in all of this is a very real responsibility. And with almost a fifth of the UK population expected to need mental health support as a result of Covid-19, it’s now more important than ever. 

More than half (53%) of those doing therapy on Spill — our mental health support Slack app — at the moment are accessing mental health services for the first time: the pandemic has brought mental health issues to the fore for a lot of us. Fortunately, more and more tech founders and people managers are turning towards this responsibility.

Burnout is rife in UK workplaces. 43% of all sick days in the UK are down to burnout. That’s a productivity loss of £5bn per year — not to mention the human cost.

As founders and managers, it can be hard to spot burnout affecting our own teams, especially whilst we’re out of the office. When we do identify it, how do we help people who are struggling? And how can we build a workplace where it’s less likely to happen? 

Identifying burnout

Burnout is the combination of three emotions: exhaustion, negativity and ineffectiveness. The feelings of negativity and ineffectiveness are what differentiate it from regular tiredness or exhaustion. And it’s different from depression in that it’s purely work-related — you don’t burn out from relationship issues or life stressors, for example.

Identifying burnout as early as possible is important, not least because prolonged burnout can easily turn into depression. The order in which burnout symptoms — exhaustion, negativity, and ineffectiveness — manifest will differ from person to person. However, negativity can often be the easiest to identify at an early stage. 

The following exercise will help you identify warning signs in members of your team. Think of an employee you’re worried about, and ask yourself:

  • Do they seem more irritable, or regularly exhausted?
  • Do they tend to point out the worst in everything that happens or is suggested? 
  • Are they quicker to shoot down other people’s ideas?
  • Do they give off the idea that any work you’re giving them just feels like a burden?
  • Are they dropping the ball at work when they usually wouldn’t?
  • Are they producing less ideas, or being slower to respond?

If you’ve answered yes to any of the above, it’s worth doing a more thorough stock-take of the other symptoms of burnout. 

Burnout first aid: time off

If you’ve established that someone feels burned out, the first step is to give them time off work, straight away. Think of this as first aid for burnout — we’ll talk about the longer term recovery next. 

Sadly, taking time off is often easier said than done. As a manager, try to do what you can to dispel worries around taking time off. That probably includes setting a good example and taking your own allotted leave. 

Also, to ease potential FOMO, make sure that work progress is shared on Slack in their absence (so they can catch up on their return), and offer to check in on them on WhatsApp during their time off. 

Often, employees also fear the knock-on effects for their colleagues for their absence. Here, it’s important to review work sprints wherever possible, and to communicate a clear plan for how the work will get done without causing unnecessary stress for others. This could mean bringing in help from other teams or departments, or postponing non-critical work.

Identify the root causes

Once your team member is back at their desk (remote or not), it’s time to work out what caused them to burn out in the first place.

Below are some common psychological reasons:

  • Their goals and targets feel genuinely unachievable
  • Their goalposts for success keep moving
  • They don’t have enough autonomy
  • They don’t feel like they’re mastering new skills
  • Rewards, recognition and workload feel unevenly distributed
  • The work culture feels competitive or unsupportive
  • Their job requirements don’t fit with their personality and strengths
  • Their job requirements don’t fit with their values and dreams

Encourage your team member to go through each of these issues and mark whether they would disagree, agree or strongly agree. The good news is, you can make a number of small changes as a manager to help make these issues manageable. 

For example, if they don’t feel they have enough autonomy, why not explore cooperative goal setting? If they feel there’s a mismatch between the job requirements and their strengths, it might be time to find a new role that is better suited for them. Why not get them to chat to their coworkers in different roles to get an idea of what it is they are looking for and what role would be a good fit?

Burnout-proof your workplace

To prevent burnout, it’s important for employees to feel like they’re making meaningful progress towards valued goals. That’s no small task, and probably won’t be achieved with the odd training session or away day.

But it needn’t mean big budget interventions either. The key here is to adopt small, fixed habits. When consistently applied throughout the company, these habits will generate happier, more productive workplaces. 

Let’s say one or more of your team members have identified the problem of  ‘unachievable targets’ as a factor in their burnout. There are a number of small changes you can make to tackle this problem, both in policy and day-to-day interactions. For example:

  • Make it okay to flag when people feel overstretched
  • Praise under-promising and over-delivering
  • Encourage people to be clearer about their boundaries
  • Build holiday time into execution plans
  • Protect your team’s time — for example, let them periodically turn off Slack notifications or try ‘Deep Work Wednesdays’

These are small but meaningful changes your company can make today to prevent each and every cause of burnout, and create a highly engaged working culture. 

Originally written by
Calvin Benton | February 10, 2021
for sifted

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Silver Level Contributor

The British branch of Mensa, the society for people with high IQs, admitted last week that it has been hit by a cyber attack.

According to the FT, Mensa CEO John Stevenage informed the board that the society's website had become a victim of the cyber attack.

"There has been a series of events which appear to be designed to discredit Mensa's systems," a spokesperson told the FT.

"As a result, we have handed details of these events to the Information Commissioner's Office with a view to pursuing a criminal investigation."

The society stated that it was investigating the incident that "involved considerable resources".

The website of British Mensa is currently offline, and simply shows the message "site under maintenance" when a visitor tries to access the site.

Mensa is a club open only to those people who score in the 98th percentile or higher in a standardised IQ test. The non-profit organisation was founded nearly 75 years ago and boasts about 18,000 members from the UK alone.

According to the FT, Eugene Hopkinson, who until recently was the director and technology officer at British Mensa's board, resigned from his post last week, accusing the organisation of adopting substandard cyber security practices, potentially exposing the sensitive data of its 18,000 members.

In an open letter published last week, Hopkinson explained his reasons for quitting the board. He said that in the last two years, he has requested Mensa's senior executives many times to address security issues surrounding member passwords.

Hopkinson said that the Mensa members' passwords are not hashed or scrambled, potentially allowing attackers easy access to  user accounts. He also stated that Mensa holds lots of sensitive information on its website, including users' email IDs, passwords and home addresses, IQ scores of members/failed applicants, payment card details, and instant messaging conversations.

"At this point, I have no faith that the board will take adequate action to investigate this possible data security breach," Mr Hopkinson said in his letter.

He added that also doubts that the office and the board will report the breach (if confirmed) adequately or take proper measures to prevent further harm.

Following Hopkinson's resignation, Emily Shovlar, a member of British Mensa director's board, also announced on Thursday that she was quitting the board.

Shovlar said that she had "no confidence that the Mensa administration will investigate this breach thoroughly" or will learn any lessons from this experience.

Originally published by
Dev Kundaliya | February 1, 2021
computing

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Bronze Level Contributor

Image source: Expect Best/Pexels

Amid the ups and downs of the third Covid-19 lockdown, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has pleaded with banks to rethink their plans to shutter branches across the country.

The plea comes as several highstreet banks have announced the closure of hundreds of branches across the country. 

In an update posted yesterday by the regulator, it asked banks to “consider pausing or delaying new branch closures where possible, particularly where this could have [a] significant impact on vulnerable customers.”

Major banks like TSB, HSBC, Barclays and Lloyds are planning to close nearly 300 branches collectively in 2021.

In September 2020, the FCA introduced new requirements for banks considering closing branches, ensuring that customer needs and the ability to access their bank through alternative means, such as online banking, were taken into consideration.

The new rules ensure that vulnerable and hard-to-reach customers are made aware of the potential closures to help them make other arrangements, such as helping them access online banking and make payments.

Just last week HSBC announced plans to shutter 82 branches up and down the country as the Covid-19 pandemic has driven more people to access their bank accounts and make payments using alternative methods, such as mobile or online banking.

In fact, recent data from App Annie showed that banking apps from incumbent banks were some of the most downloaded in 2020.

Across the board, Barclays, Lloyds and NatWest were in the top five most downloaded apps, while for Millennials, a traditionally fintech-friendly age group, banks such as Halifax and Barclays were two of the most downloaded banking apps. 

Earlier on this week the FCA also announced it was considering increasing the contactless limit to £100, following a surge in popularity. 

In April 2020, the regulator upped the contactless limit from £30 up to £45 in an attempt to slow the spread of the Covid-19 virus after World Health Organisation urged people to use the alternative payment method because it was found that banknotes could harbour the Covid-19 virus for several days.

Now, nearly 90 per cent of all transactions are made using the touch-free payment method and, following the limit increase, the average value of contactless payments jumped by nearly a third, from £9.60 in 2019 to £12.38 in 2020.

Originally published by
Aisling Finn | January 29, 2021
AltFi

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Bronze Level Contributor

The fake email looks like it has come from NHS Test and Trace

The NHS has warned people to be vigilant about fake invitations to have the coronavirus vaccination, sent by scammers.

The scam email includes a link to "register" for the vaccine, but no registration for the real vaccination is required.

The fake site also asks for bank details either to verify identification or to make a payment.

The NHS says it would never ask for bank details, and the vaccine is free.

Cyber-security consultant Daniel Card told BBC News that traffic data indicates thousands of people had clicked the link to the fake site - although it is unclear how many then filled in the form.

He urged people to remain vigilant: "These things spring up, we take them down and then they spring up again."

Both the National Cyber Security Centre and Action Fraud have asked anyone who receives a scam email or text to report it.

"Vaccines are our way out of this pandemic," said health secretary Matt Hancock.

"It is vital that we do not let a small number of unscrupulous fraudsters undermine the huge team effort under way across the country to protect millions of people from this terrible disease."

At the start of January, Derbyshire police issued a warning about a text message scam which offered Covid vaccinations.

"If you receive a text or email that asks you to click on a link or for you to provide information, such as your name, credit card or bank details, it's a scam," the force said.

Last year, tech firms warned that coronavirus was a popular hook for scammers. In April 2020 Google said it was blocking 18 million scam emails a day on the subject.

Originally published by
Zoe Kleinman | January 26, 2021
BBC

 

Read more…
Bronze Level Contributor

Image source: Étienne Godiard/Unsplash

A look at what we might see from regulators in the UK over the next 12 months. 

Despite a bumpy first few weeks of 2021, 2020 is behind us and, while it’s important to prophesize what the new year could hold, it’s also imperative to look back and reflect on the year that’s just ended—hindsight is 2020 after all.

One of the barriers a lot of fintechs face, either those just trying to get off the ground or much bigger, rapidly expanding, is regulation and staying on the right side of the regulators—granted, that’s why the FCA developed regulatory sandboxes to help smaller fintechs get off the ground.

But, what barriers do fintechs still face? And what regulation are we likely to see being rolled out over the next 12 months? 

In this article, we take a look. We’ve focused on the UK for now.

BNPL Regulation

The unprecedented rise of buy-now-pay-later (BNPL) has left many calling for tighter rules for the rapidly expanding sector.

At the beginning of December, Capital One became the first major US bank to block BNPL credit card transactions, describing such transactions as “risky for customers and the banks that serve them.”

In December 2020, the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) branded four Klarna ads as ‘irresponsible’ after several influencers posted ads for the fintech linking spending (and borrowing) money with happiness.

The sector came under fire once more as MPs gained traction for a cross-party campaign urging the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) to regulate BNPL firms, like Klarna, a bill that has since been rejected by Parliament.

Alex Marsh, head of Klarna UK, published a blog post just last week cementing Klarna’s position on tighter regulation here in the UK.

Marsh wrote: “We believe that proportionate regulation and consumer protections should be updated for the digital age rather than relying on rules conceived nearly 50 years ago.”

“This is why we believe it is right that the FCA should review how the sector is regulated—not only to support consumers now but also to protect them in the future as the sector continues to innovate.”

Other players in the BNPL space are also looking to tighten regulation here in the UK.

New Zealand firm Laybuy published a BNPL code of practice, which includes standards of advertising, assessing and supporting vulnerable customers, providing hardship assistance, and handling complaints, and is calling on other BNPL fintechs to sign it.

Despite the parliamentary setback, there is still a huge amount of scope (and desire) to regulate the BNPL sector.

Jonathon Segal, head of fintech and alternative finance at Fox Williams, told AltFi: “We think there is regulation coming down the line for buy-now-pay-later.”

“You can currently operate in the sector completely unregulated and Klarna, and other fintechs, have identified this and have said that actually, we want to be regulated. It can’t continue to be so unregulated, so we are expecting some form of regulation in this area.”

Hopefully, 2021 will be the year that regulators here in the UK will pounce on the opportunity to tighten rules for credit products given their surge in popularity as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and also given the fact that key players in the sector are also calling out for it too.

Passporting

Some of the biggest fintechs in the UK had been utilising the EU Passporting channels to continue to operate in Europe, with Revolut being one of the most notable to have used the scheme.

In light of Brexit, fintechs were able to shift regulatory responsibility to European countries—with Ireland and Lithuania being some of the most popular destinations—to still be able to trade freely within Europe.

However, as of 31 December 2020, with the UK officially leaving the European Union, the ability to use passporting as a means of operating here in the UK was ended.

When Brexit was first brought to the table, the FCA said that firms using passporting to operate here in the UK could do so until they received the proper FCA authorisation, but given the number of high-profile fintechs using the scheme, is it likely to have a comeback?

With some of the finer details of the Brexit deal (believe it or not) still being fine-tuned, and the UK fintech sector being one of the strongest, not just in Europe but in the world, what’s stopping it?

In fact, Segal told AltFi that he thinks there could be something around the corner: “With the equivalence decision coming in the next six months, it won’t benefit all sectors but there will be pockets of activity that I think will be able to continue.”

Banking licences

Banking licences are bemoaned by fintechs as one of the hardest things to secure, for obvious reasons understandably.

Here in the UK, we have just two different iterations of banking licences, the full bank licence that the likes of Monzo and Starling hold, and then the E-Money Institution licence that fintechs like Revolut (although it has now also applied for a full banking licence) and TransferWise hold.

For instance, in Brazil fintechs can apply for a special version of a banking licence that offers them the same flexibility as a full banking licence, including the ability to offer credit products, something that German digital bank N26 has just secured

Similarly, Australia offers a restricted banking licence, that fintechs like TransferWise have been awarded, making firms limited “authorised deposit-taking institution” and enables it to gain access to Australia’s faster payments network.

Now that the UK has left the UK there’s even more reason for the FCA to cast its net wider and capture fintechs that might be put off by the more attractive environment offered by the EU, but then again, the UK is still the most prominent fintech destination in the continent. 

Segal told AltFI: “The interesting thing is we're seeing lots of banking-as-a-service fintechs in the UK. They basically take all the pain out of being a bank. It’s painful being a bank and so they pass on that cost to their customers who continue to be nimble fintechs and not weighed down with all that regulation.”

Open Banking

Just last week we marked the third anniversary of open banking as we know it, the Payment Services Directive II (PSD2), but as open banking adoption grows- now hitting 2.5m users across the UK- regulation will likely grow with it.

Already in 2021, we’ve seen the massive $5.3bn Visa/Plaid deal fall apart after pushback from the Department of Justice in the US, which served the two firms with a lawsuit in November 2020 citing Visa’s potential monopoly in the sector.

The growing popularity of open banking, particularly in sectors such as payments, could signal the need for tighter regulation in order to protect the interests of the consumer largely due to the fact that one of the greatest barriers to the adoption of open banking is a lack of trust. 

Charlotte Crosswell, CEO of fintech industry body Innovate Finance, told AltFI:  “Regulators are going to want to protect the person on the street who perhaps isn't as aware or financially savvy on some of the risks involved of some of these products.”

“What we want to ensure is we don't pile on so much regulation that it means that we're stifling innovation and that's the balance we've got to find. It’s been done in other segments of financial services in the past, you just have to have the right balance is found to have the consumer protection there.”

Moreover, PSD2, the very piece of regulation that brought open banking to life, is a European Union directive and as the UK has now officially left the EU, what’s to say that the UK won’t introduce its own iteration of the regulation.

Maybe without the fragmented EU regulations, the UK can take a step closer to open finance? Back in 2019, the FCA issued a Call for Input to explore the opportunities and risks arising from open finance, and with the deadline for input long gone, perhaps new open banking regulation is just around the corner?

Originally published by
Aisling Finn | January 25, 2021
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Some of the laptops given out in England to support vulnerable children home-schooling during lockdown contain malware, BBC News has learned.

Teachers shared details on an online forum about suspicious files found on devices sent to a Bradford school.

The malware, which they said appeared to be contacting Russian servers, is believed to have been found on laptops given to a handful of schools.

The Department for Education said it was aware and urgently investigating.

A DfE official told BBC News: "We are aware of an issue with a small number of devices. And we are investigating as an urgent priority to resolve the matter as soon as possible.

"DfE IT teams are in touch with those who have reported this issue."

"We believe this is not widespread."

Geo, the firm which made the laptops, told the BBC: "We have been working closely with the Department for Education regarding a reported issue on a very small number of devices. We are providing our full support during their investigation.

"We take all matters of security extremely seriously. Any schools that have concerns should contact the Department for Education."

According to the forum, the Windows laptops contained Gamarue.I, a worm identified by Microsoft in 2012.

The government has so far sent schools more than 800,000 laptops, as it tries to distribute more than a million devices to disadvantaged pupils who may not have access at home.

"Upon unboxing and preparing them, it was discovered that a number of the laptops were infected with a self-propagating network worm," wrote Marium Haque, deputy director of Education and Learning at Bradford Council.

She recommended that schools also check their networks "as an added precaution".

Information security consultant Paul Moore told the BBC that the Gamarue worm "presents a very severe threat to any PC or network".

"Ideally users should reboot into safe mode and run a full scan with an anti-virus product," he said.

"However with this type of malware, it is advisable to seek professional assistance in order to ensure it has been correctly removed."

The malware in question installs spyware which can gather information about browsing habits, as well as harvest personal information such as banking details.

"The fact that these devices were not checked and scrubbed before being sent to vulnerable children is a concern," said George Glass, head of threat intelligence at security firm Redscan.

Originally published by
Jane Wakefield, Technology Reporter | January 22, 2021
BBC

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At-home blood pressure monitoring using a web-based system offering personalised support and linked to a remote healthcare professional can result in better hypertension management than face-to-face consultations, finds a study led by University of Oxford, Southampton and Bristol researchers.

In the United Kingdom, more than 30 percent of adults have raised blood pressure, also known as hypertension, which is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease internationally. With GP surgeries currently requesting that many patients opt for virtual consultations to avoid exposure to coronavirus infection, the clinical monitoring of hypertensive patients using face-to-face consultation is a challenge for primary care.

The Home and Online Management and Evaluation of Blood Pressure (HOME BP) randomised controlled trial evaluated the combination of regular self-monitoring at home with a web-based tool that offered reminders, predetermined drug changes, lifestyle advice and motivational support.

In their paper, published today in the BMJ, the researchers report that for participants managing their blood pressure at home, mean systolic blood pressure was significantly lower after 12 months compared with those managed exclusively in the clinic, giving a mean difference of -3.4mm Hg between groups. Those who were self-monitoring at home were also more likely to have their treatment adjusted by their healthcare professional. The approach was not expensive, at £11 per mm Hg reduction in blood pressure.

622 participants aged 18 or over with hypertension were recruited into the trial from 76 general practices across the UK, with half assigned to managing their blood pressure at home. The trial was funded by the National Institute for Health Research.

HOME BP trial lead, Professor Richard McManus, a GP and Professor of Primary Care at the University of Oxford’s Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences, said, ‘We already know from research that when patients self-monitor and manage their blood pressure they typically have better control of their hypertension. Yet these systems often rely on relatively expensive technology, complex instructions and/or time-consuming training. We combined self-monitoring with an easy-to-use and inexpensive digital tool that provides feedback to the patient and their clinician and aims to support healthy behaviours. Our trial found this can lead to lower blood pressure at low additional cost compared to usual, face-to-face care.

‘At a time when many people are unfortunately unable to visit their GP in person, this digital and remote approach could provide a simple way for GPs to effectively manage hypertension in many members of their community, reducing their need to visit the practice for regular check-ups.’

Professor Lucy Yardley, from the School of Psychological Science at the University of Bristol and the School of Psychology at the University of Southampton, said: ‘Our findings are especially important now that the coronavirus pandemic has made it urgent and vital to be able to offer remote, high-quality care to patients with high blood pressure. The HOME BP trial was developed with extensive feedback from people with high blood pressure and primary care staff to ensure that patients and clinicians found it helpful and trustworthy.’

Professor Paul Little, Professor of Primary Care Research within Medicine at the University of Southampton, said: ‘Given the trial results, if this approach was implemented at scale then we would expect it to result in a reduction of 10 to 15 per cent in patients having a stroke and a reduction of five to 10 per cent in patients experiencing coronary events. With a low marginal cost, this could make a major difference to the millions of people being treated for hypertension in the UK and worldwide.’

Cathy Rice, a stroke survivor who contributed to the development of the HOME BP trial, said: ‘I was amazed when I first heard how many people in the UK don’t have their blood pressure well controlled. It’s very satisfying that this project was so successful at working with patients to measure their own blood pressure and reduce it.’

As well as enabling a patient’s GP to adjust drug treatment based on regular blood pressure readings, the HOME BP system offered evidence-based tips on diet and weight-loss, exercise, salt and alcohol reduction. One-to-one behavioural support was also made available through practice nurses and healthcare assistants.

At least 30 to 40 percent of people with hypertension already check their own blood pressure but many do not mention this to their GP or nurse. Accurate monitors can be purchased for around £20 and have a useful life of around five years. This study suggests that current efforts to encourage people to self-monitor could reap real dividends for both the NHS and people with high blood pressure.

While the study found this digital approach to managing hypertension was beneficial overall, for participants aged 67 or over the reduction in blood pressure compared with usual care was found to be less pronounced than in those aged under 67. This was unexpected and at odds with similar research in this area, and the researchers say that further work is needed to understand whether this is a real effect.

Originally published by
University of Southampton | January 20, 2021

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Software errors wipes 'thousands' of arrest records from police databases

Home Secretary Priti Patel is under fire after a bug led to the loss of 150,000 records from the Police National Computer.

Some 150,000 arrest records, including fingerprints, DNA and arrest histories, were accidentally wiped from police databases last week, in a major technological glitch that could impact future investigations.

That's according to the Times, which says 'crucial intelligence' about suspects was lost because of the bug, which occurred during a weekly 'weeding' session held to delete unwanted records from the database.

The UK's visa system also went into disarray following the glitch, forcing authorities to suspend the processing of applications by two days.

The incident could allow lawbreakers to go free because biometric evidence from crime scenes will not be flagged on the Police National Computer (PNC), the Times stated.

The PNC database system maintains millions of offender records, allowing law-enforcement officials to receive information on suspects and vehicles in real time. The system removes records automatically after a certain period of time depending on the suspect's history, the nature of the offence, and other factors.

In a statement, the Home Office, which owns and operates the PNC, said the issue had been fully resolved, and the impact of the error is being assessed.

The Office revealed that the records that were accidentally wiped were of individuals who were earlier arrested and released by the police, with no further action taken. Records of criminals were safe, the Office claimed.

Policing minister Kit Malthouse said that efforts were ongoing to recover the lost records. He said the process has now been corrected to ensure that such indents are not repeated.

Labour is not satisfied with those statements, however, and has demanded home secretary Priti Patel take responsibility.

Labour's shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said that Ms Patel, an Essex MP, must make a statement on the extent of the issue, disclose what went wrong, and also explain the steps that are being taken to ensure that criminal records are not deleted accidentally in future.

"This is an extraordinarily serious security breach that presents huge dangers for public safety," Mr Thomas-Symonds said.

"The incompetence of this shambolic government cannot be allowed to put people at risk, let criminals go free and deny victims justice," he added.

"Answers must be given."

Originally published by
Dev Kundaliya | January 15, 2021
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MediaCityUK in Salford is hosting the UK smart city accelerator programme

They will be developing and prototyping solutions to discover how cities can use technology to adapt to a post-Covid world with the aim of securing investment at the end of the programme.

Six companies will be taking part in the UK Smart City Innovation Testbed programme, hosted at Salford’s MediaCityUK, to discover how cities can use technology to adapt to a post-Covid world.

Solutions developed by the cohort span those that monitor air quality for employees, detect falls by the elderly and enable residents to converse with street furniture to better inform planners about attitudes to the built environment.

Accelerating solutions

The programme is the first of its kind in the UK and sees MediaCityUK partner with Connected Places Catapult, an expert in emerging technologies that accelerate future cities and transport solutions. It will be led by innovation specialists UP Ventures, which is based in Edinburgh and Manchester, and aims to enable its partners to identify opportunities, solve real-world problems and accelerate business growth.

The start-ups will develop and prototype their products with the aim of securing investment at the end of the programme and be able to access MediaCityUK’s technology infrastructure to deploy and test their products in a living lab environment. One of the aims is to explore how cities can evolve by using the Internet of Things (IoT).

The six companies taking part in the testbed, which will also receive online coaching and masterclasses, are:

Atmo Technology: an air quality data company that uses IoT devices and advanced algorithms to help employers monitor the pollution levels to which their staff are exposed;

Cyber Defence Services: has developed an IoT security platform OvertAI which monitors devices connected to the network and detects threats;

Hello Lamp Post: has created a novel way for people to tell town planners how they think their built environment can be improved with the company allowing people to converse with street furniture in over 25 countries around the world;

Secure Sensor Innovative Design: has built an IoT system that allows organisations such as care homes and housing associations to monitor temperature and humidity levels and can also detect sudden falls from elderly residents;

R-Com: has developed a comprehensive smart city solution with a suite of sensors that can count passengers on public transport, measure air quality and monitor vehicles on roads with the firm also providing real time analysis and IT support;

Pulse Systems: has built an IoT platform on top of UK made and designed sensors that help businesses make a building smart allowing for better understanding of workspaces and how they affect people and the environment.

“Working towards a post-pandemic world we have an opportunity to create a profoundly positive impact on the way people adapt and thrive,” said Steve Thomas, managing partner, UP Ventures. “At the heart of our smart city innovation testbed is a passion for technology, the role of places and how they can adapt to support how people live, work, play and learn.

“This is a challenging time for business, however, it has never been more important to innovate and that is why we intend to press on with supporting this talented group of innovators.”

The programme follows the Future of Health accelerator programme, which also took place at MediaCityUK and has reportedly seen significant investment and growth for the cohort of businesses involved.

Originally published by
Smart Cities World News Team | January 14, 2021
Smart Cities World News

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UK government looks to 5G to boost industry

The UK government announced a £28 million joint investment scheme with businesses in the country to fund nine national projects covering use of 5G in AR, private networks and open RAN.

In a statement, the government explained the 5G Create programme is part of a wider £200 million investment in testbeds and trials to explore new ways the technology can boost productivity, grow existing businesses or spark new ones.

The government has provided £15 million of the funding to be shared across the nine projects, with the remaining £13 million coming from project partners.

These include operator EE, which worked with technology companies to create a new AR app set to be released alongside a new television series called the Green Planet, which enables users to stream holographic videos of parts of the show.

Fellow operator 3 UK is also involved, working with partners to improve operations at ports by deploying 5G-powered cranes and using the technology to enable real-time tracking of the movement of goods at two locations.

Other projects include work to improve fan experiences at two of the UK’s biggest venues, while the Eden Project in Cornwall will explore how 5G and 360-degree video can enhance visitor experiences, in a bid to boost tourism.

In Scotland, trials will explore how 5G can support the construction industry.

Through a dedicated private 5G network, the technology will be used to power cameras, drones and sensors at engineering company BAM Nuttall’s sites in three cities, including Glasgow.

Meanwhile, five of the projects will also test the technical possibilities of open RAN, as part of the government’s 5G diversification strategy.

Originally published by
Kavit Majithia | January 13, 2021
Mobile World Live

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Santander, Tesco Bank and TSB have "serious vulnerabilities" in security that could leave their customers exposed to fraud, according to an investigation by consumer watchdog Which?.

Which? conducted a probe with independent security experts 6point6, scrutinising the online banking safety measures in place across the largest current account providers.

In some instances, it uncovered the potential for scammers to access information which could be used as the building blocks of a sophisticated scam, says Which?, arming a fraudster with enough sensitive information to pull off convincing cons, such as posing as a bank employee to persuade a customer to transfer money from their bank account to a fraudulent one.

Tesco Bank received the poorest rating for online security in Which?’s testing, with an overall score of just 46 per cent.

Researchers found multiple security headers missing from its webpages. It also failed to block testers from logging in to the website from two computer networks at the same time.

In addition, it failed to log out testers when switching to a different website or using the forward/back button to leave the session and return to it.

TSB finished second from bottom with a score of 51 per cent. Among the issues identified in Which? testing, the most serious was the firm’s login process, which did not meet new regulations on ‘strong customer authentication’ (SCA), introduced in March.

TSB has completed the roll out of two-factor authentication for mobile banking users, but has yet to complete the upgrade for Internet banking.

Santander rounded off the bottom three, with a score of 62 per cent. Testing found that authentication checks when logging in can be bypassed if a user designates a device as ‘trusted’. While the firm said it does ask for reauthorisation if it detects unusual activity, there’s no option to view or ‘distrust’ these devices.

At the other end of the table, Starling came out on top, with a score of 85 per cent. Experts found nothing concerning with its recently launched online banking website. This is partly due to limited functionality, as users can only change sensitive data via the app.

Barclays, HSBC and First Direct tied for second spot, with a score of 78 per cent, but had areas for improvement, says Which?.

Although each had strong login measures, testers only needed basic details to recover a Barclays membership number, and could log in using two different computer networks without being ejected from one.

In First Direct’s case, the pre-set security questions for forgotten passwords were too basic, claims Which?, while there was no alert for password changes or new payees and special characters can not be used in passwords.

Which? also asked 6point6 to test each provider’s banking app to identify potential flaws. It checked to see if firms detected testers downloading its app in an emulated device or running it on a rooted device, recently identified as a key weakeness that is being exploited by sophisticated hacking gangs.

Monzo, Nationwide and TSB failed to perform both emulator and root detection, although Monzo disagrees that this exposes its app to security weaknesses and told Which? that root and emulator detection can be unreliable.

Another test was for ‘code obfuscation’, which hides data that could be used by hackers to identify weaknesses or steal sensitive information. Virgin Money was the only bank tested where many ‘function calls’ were clearly visible. Function calls are part of the code that makes an app work and should be hidden to make life harder for attackers who might use the information to hack into a system.

Harry Rose, editor of Which? Magazine, says: “Banks must lead the battle against fraud, yet our security tests have revealed a big gap between the best and worst providers when it comes to keeping people safe from the threat of having their account compromised.

“The serious failings we have exposed with some providers reinforce the need for banks to up their game on scam protections, and for greater transparency and stronger standards on fraud reimbursement to be made mandatory for all banks and payment providers.”
 
Originally published by
Finextra | January 7, 2021
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Image - Unsplash - Sinitta Leunen

LONDON (AP) — Britain’s advertising watchdog has launched an investigation into budget carrier Ryanair, after receiving 1,600 complaints about an ad that suggested consumers should “jab & go.”

The Advertising and Standards Authority said Monday that some consumers objected to the ad, which featured a syringe and a small bottle labeled “vaccine.”

Some argued it was misleading to suggest the vaccine will be rolled out across the population by the spring and that travel restrictions would be over. Others objected to what they saw as the trivialization of the impact of the pandemic on society.

The ad promoted flights to sunny European destinations and offered seats for 19.99 pounds ($27), telling customers to “jab & go.”

Britain ramped up its vaccination program Monday by becoming the first nation to start using the shot developed by Oxford University and drugmaker AstraZeneca. But it’s unclear how quickly the nation can be vaccinated, as it is a huge endeavor with little precedent.

The budget carrier said the ads were factually accurate, given that two vaccines have been approved for use in the U.K. It also confirmed that bookings could be changed without fees.

“Some critics wish to complain just for the sake of getting noticed when it is clear that vaccines will mean an end to Covid travel restrictions in mid-2021,” the carrier said in a statement.

Originally posted by
AP News | December 4, 2021

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Image: EPA

There will be "bumpy moments" for UK businesses and travellers as they get to grips with new EU rules, says government minister Michael Gove.

He said there would be "practical and procedural changes" when the Brexit transition period ends on 31 December.

Mr Gove also urged people going to the EU to make extra checks, including mobile phone roaming charges.

EU ambassadors have approved the post-Brexit trade deal, paving the way for it to take effect on 1 January.

Under EU rules it can take effect provisionally, though the European Parliament will vote on it in January.

In the UK, MPs will vote on the deal on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, UK International Trade Secretary Liz Truss said she expects to sign a continuity trade agreement with Turkey this week - a move that was not possible until the deal with the EU was struck.

Mr Gove told BBC Breakfast: "I'm sure there will be bumpy moments but we are there in order to try to do everything we can to smooth the path."

He warned businesses that time was "very short" to make the final preparations before the transition period ends.

"The nature of our new relationship with the EU - outside the Single Market and Customs Union - means that there are practical and procedural changes that businesses and citizens need to get ready for," he said.

"We know that there will be some disruption as we adjust to new ways of doing business with the EU, so it is vital that we all take the necessary action now."

Businesses have been urged to make sure they understand the new rules on importing and exporting goods, including the different rules that apply to trade with Northern Ireland, and to consider how they will make customs declarations on EU trade.

Mr Gove also encouraged travellers to EU destinations from 1 January to take out comprehensive travel insurance, check their mobile phone provider's roaming charges and make sure they have at least six months left on their passports.

8355520262?profile=RESIZE_710x

Measures are being put in place around the UK as it prepares to enter its new trading relationship with the EU.

The Scottish government has signed a lease to use a former military airfield in Dumfries and Galloway as an emergency lorry park for up to 240 vehicles if there is disruption at Cairnryan port near Stranraer.

Meanwhile, travellers from Great Britain will need to declare cash of €10,000 (£9,049) or more when entering Northern Ireland from 1 January.

The basics

  • A Brexit deal has been agreed, days before a deadline. It means that the UK and the EU can continue to trade without extra taxes being put on goods
  • What took so long? The UK voted to leave the EU in 2016 and actually left on 31 January 2020, but leaders had until the end of 2020 to work out a trade deal
  • There are big changes ahead. Although it's a trade deal that has been agreed, there will also be changes to how people travel between the EU and UK, and to the way they live and work

The trade deal was reached after months of fraught talks on issues including fishing rights and business rules.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said it would provide new legislative and regulatory freedoms to "deliver for people who felt left behind".

But fishermen's leaders have accused him of "caving in" and sacrificing their interests. Labour called it a "thin deal" that needed "more work" to protect UK jobs.

Shadow Cabinet Office minister Rachel Reeves said the "bumpy moments" Mr Gove warned about were of the government's own making because it waited to strike the deal "so close to the wire".

She said the government had refused to engage with business on preparations, while dodging questions for months about the recruitment of customs agents and the development of IT systems.

"The government is treating its own incompetence as inevitable," she said.

'Lasting damage'

The SNP said it was "the understatement of the century" that the UK would face disruption, adding that millions of businesses would now face "a mountain of extra costs, red tape, bureaucracy and barriers to trade in just four days' time".

Conservative grandee Lord Heseltine has urged MPs and peers to abstain when voting on the deal, warning it will inflict "lasting damage" on the UK.

The former deputy prime minister said he would "in no way share the endorsement of the legislation", but that he would not vote against it because the consequences of a no-deal would be even graver.

Political parties in Northern Ireland that take their seats in Westminster - the DUP, the Alliance and the SDLP - are set to vote against the deal.

The DUP, which supports Brexit, said its eight MPs would oppose the deal because it did not address "damaging" issues caused by introducing customs checks between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.

Over the weekend, Chancellor Rishi Sunak sought to reassure the City of London that it will not be damaged by the deal.

He said they would be "doing a few things a bit differently" and looking at "how we make the City of London the most attractive place to list new companies anywhere in the world".

The chancellor said the deal was "an enormously unifying moment for our country" and it brought reassurance to those who were concerned about the impact on businesses.

Originally published by
BBC News | December 28, 2020

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Bitcoin cash outs arrive at 16,000 ATMs in the UK

Cryptocurrency holders can now cash out their bitcoin at 16,000 ATMs across the UK thanks to a collaboration between East London-based Cryptocurrency company BitcoinPoint and independent cash machine opwerator Cashzone.

With interest in bitcoin surging, user-friendly processes to securely buy, sell and use cryptocurrency have long been a hurdle to widespread adoption.

BitcoinPoint has been working to break down these barriers with a mobile app that makes it possible to buy and sell bitcoin at a network of agents, from Bureaus de Change to newsagents, as well as online through an instant bank transfer solution via Open Banking.

“When we started the service early 2018, there was not enough emphasis on making it easier for people to simply buy £5 of bitcoin,” says BitcoinPoint CEO and former Credit Suisse VP Benoit Marzouk. “Since registering on a crypto exchange could be a complex process for non-tech savvy people, the scarce availability of bitcoin ATMs made accessibility of bitcoin problematic.“

The company, which has so far handled 20,000 transactions online and in store, believes the collaboration with Cashzone will finally deliver on the potential for mass adoption that will allow bitcoin to compete on a level playing field with fiat currencies.

To withdraw cash, bitcoin holders download the app, enter the amount desired to be withdrawn, scan a QR code, and receive an SMS message with a pin code to be entered at the ATM — no card or bank membership is required and the transaction is processed within seconds.
 
Originally posted by
Finextra | December 23, 2020

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