A List Of Fintech Firms Providing Free Technology During The Coronavirus Crisis

Coronavirus, or Covid-19, is preoccupying everyone at the moment, and in different ways. Businesses in almost every sector face a rough ride ahead, as they close offices in response to protecting employees health and responding to government instructions to stay at home and avoid contact with others.

Meanwhile, most of us still need money. We have to pay for food and online products, and for that we depend on bank services. And at this critical time, the more traditional banks have been receiving support from the fintechs, so that they can continue to support their customers.

According to Ron Shevlin writing for Forbes, the fintechs are “extending free, discounted, or accelerated deployment offers to financial institutions.”

So let’s see what some of them are doing.

Active.AI has a pre-built virtual assistant that can be quickly customized with answers specific to the institution. It is offering a 30-day free trial.

Agolo is providing customers with AI-generated summary feeds focusing on the impact of coronavirus on various sectors such asFinance, Energy, Media & Entertainment, Health Care, Info Technology, etc. It is offering these feeds for free on the web and via social media.

Agora Teen is an interesting fintech that specialises in offering white-label solutions for teenager bank accounts pre-opened by parents. It is offering free access to its products.

BillGO helps track, manage, and pay bills in one place and it is offering its Prism app free to help everyone stay on top of their money.

Brace is a borrower platform and it is helping borrowers to seamlessly apply for mortgage assistance in the event that the hardship is caused by COVID-19.

Digital Onboarding is a fintech offering its clients unlimited usage at no extra cost to help educate their customers/members on how to access money and utilise digital services without visiting a branch.

Similarly, Horizn works with financial institutions globally making sure both customers and employees understand and know how to bank digitally. It is providing a discounted short-term licence package of our cloud-based Customer Digital Platform and Digital Demos, and like other fintechs, it is accelerating deployment to get banks up and running within two weeks.

There are many other fintechs who are rallying around the financial sector and helping those institutions that need to react quickly to support customers. It’s a welcome move from fintechs and it can only help to boost confidence in digital banking once we come out the other side of this crisis.

Siri is witty, but knows her limits!

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Back in 1956, a man called John McCarthy coined the term AI for artificial intelligence. However it is only in recent years that we have personally witnessed the benefits of AI, and its mass scale adoption by larger enterprises. One of the things that has encouraged the use of AI is the need to understand data patterns, because companies want to know much more about their target audience and Ai allows them to gain useful insights into consumer behaviour.

There is much to be gained by understanding AI, including the fact that it is segmented into ‘weak’ and ‘strong’ sectors.

WEAK AI
Weak AI is also known as Narrow AI. This covers systems set up to accomplish simple tasks or solve specific problems. Weak AI works according to the rules that are set and is bound by it. However, just because it is labelled ‘weak’ doesn’t mean it is inferior: it is extremely good at the tasks it is made for. Siri is an example of ‘Weak AI. Siri is able t hold conversations, sometimes even quite witty ones, but essentially it operates in a predefined manner. And you can experience its ‘narrowness’ when you try to make it perform a task it is not programmed to do.

Company chatbots are similar. They respond appropriately when customers ask questions, and they are accurate. The AI is even capable of managing situations that are extremely complex, but the intelligence level is restricted to providing solutions to problems that are already programmed into the system.
STRONG AI
As you can imagine, ‘Strong AI’ has much more potential, because it is set up to try to mimic the human brain.  It is so powerful that the actions performed by the system are exactly similar to the actions and decisions of a human being. It also has the understanding power and consciousness.

However, the difficulty lies in defining intelligence accurately. It is almost impossible or highly difficult to determine success or set boundaries to intelligence as far as strong AI is concerned. And that is why people still prefer the ‘weak’ version, because it does not fully encompass intelligence, instead it focuses on completing a particular task it is assigned to complete. As a result it has become tremendously popular in the finance industry.
Finance and AI
The finance industry has benefited more than many by the introduction of AI. It is used in risk assessment, fraud detection, giving financial advice, investment trading, and finance management.

Artificial Intelligence can be used in processes that involve auditing financial transactions, and it can analyse complicated tax changes.

In the future, we may find companies basing business decisions on AI, as well as forecasting consumer behaviour and adapting a business to those changes at a much faster pace.

Artificial Intelligence is going to help people and businesses make smarter decisions, but as always we need to remain mindlful of finding the right balance between humans and machines.

Free phones – but NO privacy!

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When I spotted an article in Forbes by Thomas Brewster, I was immediately intrigued. The headline is U.S. Funds Program With Free Android Phones For The Poor — But With Permanent Chinese Malware. It surely must strike anyone reading it as a giving with one hand and taking away with the other gesture. So, I had to check out what it was about.

As I live outside the USA, I was not aware that low income households in the States have been able to get cheap cell service and even free smartphones via the U.S. government-funded Lifeline Assistance program. And there is one provider of this service called Assurance Wireless that offers a free Android device along with free data, texts and minutes. It sounds good on the face of it.

But according to security researchers at Malware Bytes there is a significant drawback to the distribution of this largesse. The Android phones come with preinstalled Chinese malware, which effectively opens up a backdoor onto the device and endangers the users’ private data. And, the researchers say that one of the types of malware is impossible to remove.

Malware Bytes informed Assurance Wireless about the issue. Assurance is a Virgin Mobile company, just as a matter of interest. So far Malware Bytes have not received a response from the service provider. So, users should be aware that their devices are vulnerable. Interestingly, after Forbes published the article a spokesperson for Sprint, which owns Virgin Mobile and Assurance Wireless, said: “We are aware of this issue and are in touch with the device manufacturer Unimax to understand the root cause. However, after our initial testing we do not believe the applications described in the media are malware.”

The FCC, which runs Lifeline Assistance, confirmed to Forbes that the law requires “its fund not be used by partner carriers for spending on devices.”

As a result questions are being asked. Senator Ron Wyden asked the FCC why these phones are being distributed to low-income citizens: “It is outrageous that taxpayer money may be going to companies providing insecure, malware-ridden phones to low-income families. I’ll be asking the FCC to ensure Americans that depend on Lifeline Assistance aren’t paying the price with their privacy and security.”

According to the Forbes article, the affected device is a UMX phone shipped by Assurance Wireless, and one of the bits of malware is the creation of a Chinese entity known as Adups. It basically auto-installs apps and the user has no way of controlling that. Furthermore Adups tools have been caught siphoning off private data in the past. This included the full-body of text messages, contact lists and call histories with full telephone numbers.

All this begs the question that Thomas Brewster asks – is privacy only for the rich?

Tech companies lose their glamour

I have been reading with interest an article by Enrique Dans about ‘The Rise and Fall of Technology Companies’, and his analysis of the latest company rankings from Glassdoor, the site that allows employees of companies in the United States to anonymously provide information about their companies. It is the go-to place for job candidates, because they can discover a lot of good info here. From a company’s perspective, what Glassdoor has to say, can potentially attract or put off new talent.

Glassdoor’s 2020 league table is out, and while some people may complain about the way it collects data, one thing is clear this year, technology companies are losing their glamour. You might be surprised to find that both Apple and Google have dropped their positions: indeed, Google isn’t even in the Top 10 companies to work for. Facebook has dropped 16 places and Amazon isn’t even in the Top 100.

The popular perception is that these companies offer such amazing perks in-house that every young person would want to work there. Having said that, Amazon is fast becoming seen as something of a rogue employer that treats its staff, especially those who make sure we all get our orders, as slave labour.

The magic has gone

Dans says that the Glassdoor league table reflects what the media has been saying for some time. That the big tech companies are losing their mythical status. Indeed, when I use the word ‘glamour’ in this context, it is quite appropriate, as the word originally comes from the Scots in the 17th century and meant “a magic spell.” So, you can see why I say they are losing it, and with the consumer as well as the employee.

What happened?

In 2008 after the collapse of the banking sector, new graduates flocked to the tech guys instead of heading to Wall St. Dans, who teaches, states: “everybody wanted to work for the technology companies: I remember all too well the interest my students showed when I invited a senior figure from one of them to a class. Now, my students are often highly critical of the tech companies. Interestingly, it’s the younger students who are most concerned.”

And the concern is about regulating the big tech companies. Facebook has made this a concern, as we have seen over the last few years. But, who or what is replacing the tech companies as the place most people want to work?

According to the Glassdoor data, it’s a very mixed bag, ranging from software companies like Hubspot, to “consultancies, airlines or hamburger chains.” There is no real trend that is discernible as yet, and we may have to wait a couple of years for one to emerge. But right now the tech companies have lost their glamour — perhaps they should look for a fairy to cast a new spell.