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Mission Impossible


Something wasn’t quite right with the Barclays online banking site this week. As I write this column, I’ll ‘Ping’ it one more time to be sure and the result is a ‘No response from server’ message, so all is not well in the wonderful world of online finance.

Being curious as to the cause and wanting to know if a client payment had made its way by BACS into my business account, I decided to call the Barclays helpline. This was answered by a pleasant young woman with an Indian accent, who requested my online account information.

“Are you in Mumbai by any chance”, I asked. “Yes”, she answered.
“Do you know your website is only working intermittently, if at all,” I told her.
“I’ll have to report it”, she said “but let me help you log on to your account.”
“But I can’t”, I added, “The server is timing out.”

Rather than continue, I said I would try Barclays in the UK, easier for both us I though, but then discovered that the helpline number I was searching for, took me back to, guess where? Not quite “New customers only” but equally frustrating.

So now, if I can publish this column fast enough on Silicon, perhaps Barclays will notice there’s a problem with their website, Is it a server issue I wonder or something more dramatic; a denial of service attack perhaps?

But the experience and the conversation with the girl in Mumbai raised another question in my mind, one echoed by a recent Silicon story on how India is creating a new regulatory body, spearheaded by IT trade association Nasscom, to improve the level of security for the country's offshore IT services and business process outsourcing (BPO) companies in the wake of incidents of call centre data theft.

Many if not most of our financial services businesses, even government departments, are, in the interests of greater profits, ruthlessly outsourcing their customer service centres and support desks to the cheapest locations on earth. India, with its high standards of education and command of the English language is a natural choice for finance in much the same way that Slovakia is the preferred destination for car manufacturers.

The Nasscom story illustrates a fundamental weakness in our search for cheaper outsourcing, we’re sending the responsibility to countries where legislation and law-enforcement energy to deter the risk of fraud and identity theft is not in any way comparable with the UK. Would you feel comfortable with your personal and financial information being stored and routinely accessed in countries outside Europe? I certainly don’t and I have little enough confidence in our own Home Office, let alone some other government’s.

So when the nice girl at the other end of the phone in Mumbai starts asking me for my account information, I’m very reluctant to part with any details, simply based on my experience of Netcrime globally. I’m sure she’s locked in a sound-proof cubicle in a steel vaulted data centre, surrounded by hungry Bengal Tigers and gun-toting guards but that doesn’t make me feel any better, knowing that Tom Cruise and the Mission Impossible team are out there looking to discover how much money I don’t have in my Barclays online current account.

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