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Financial Surveillance in 2020 and Looking Ahead to 2021

Erika Sperekas

Although surveillance teams everywhere have likely breathed a sigh of relief that 2020 is behind us, its events have left a lasting impact on the compliance landscape. We made it through, and a new year is ahead—but there is still much to be tackled for teams across the globe.

Still, despite the challenges of remote work and a volatile market last year, we’re seeing some groundwork for a lot of development in 2021. Before we dive into our predictions for this year, let’s reflect on how the events of 2020 reshaped the typical day for surveillance officers.

A Year of Continuous Change, Tackled By The Right Technology

With many companies forced to send their employees home to work remotely in April 2020, surveillance teams were faced with the challenge of staying ahead of misconduct and ensuring compliance with regulatory requirements from afar. For surveillance operations to effectively pivot, it became a requirement to add into scope all new communication channels that their firms chose to use—including collaboration tools like Slack and video conferencing tools like Zoom—to conduct business in a remote environment.

But implementing monitors for new communication channels didn’t mean it was all smooth sailing from there.

The abundance of alerts flowing in as a result of heightened market volatility meant that compliance teams were expected to conduct their normal review and identify risk quickly—on more flagged conversations at a time than ever. At the same time, to keep businesses running smoothly, it was critical to settle into a sense of normalcy and optimism during uncomfortable times.

Some teams have made headway on these myriad challenges by bringing the right tools in house to help tackle them. Having the best technology in place has emerged as one way to empower surveillance teams to feel more confident in this new way of working—and help companies feel more confident that their risk exposure was mitigated as much as possible.

But many others have yet to take the leap, and are looking for a better way in 2021.

Looking Ahead to 2021

Push for AI in surveillance

Artificial intelligence and machine learning take much of the manual effort off of surveillance teams by removing irrelevant content, reducing false positives, and only serving up what matters most to their organization. After a year of unprecedented flag volumes, rampant false positives, and increased volatility—as well as intense personal and economic pressure—these teams are ready to say goodbye to manual, time-consuming processes and usher in more efficient and accurate workflows.

We’ve already seen an uptick in use of best-in-class compliance solutions in the financial services industry, as well as evidence of how AI can mitigate market abuse and other types of misconduct. Now, it’s time for more teams to take action on these developments.

We expect to see more investment in AI as the year progresses, covering solutions like built-in policies, pre-trained models, behavioral analytics, and more.

Moving to the cloud

The cloud has risen to the top of the list of tech trends in the last decade, yet some organizations have managed to hold off on implementing a cloud strategy. Fear of the unknown has caused hesitation, but most won’t argue with the fact that the cloud is inevitable.

Put simply, many teams still don’t realize how fast the cloud is becoming the standard and why it’s important to prepare now. In an Oliver Wyman survey of 88 financial institutions of varying sizes, 8 percent reported using the public cloud for enterprise information archiving (EIA) in 2019. Meanwhile, 32 percent reported being in the process of “migrating” in the next 1-2 years and an additional 36 percent indicated they were “considering” the public cloud for EIA.

What more organizations are beginning to learn is that, with a SaaS solution, IT and security teams don’t have to spend time maintaining systems and can focus instead on reviewing alerts, conducting escalations and investigations, and actually detecting risk.

That’s because working in the cloud means your data is protected by the ongoing efforts of world-class cybersecurity experts: the developers of the software themselves. SaaS solutions are also easier to scale up as needed—say, while facing a global crisis—and back down as matters resolve, without huge wastes of financial resources or time spent spinning servers up and down.

Finally, cloud-based archiving offerings will continue to shape the software provider landscape for a myriad of interconnected surveillance, information governance, and compliance workflows. As cloud archiving tools are adopted, there is notable opportunity for suppliers who are able to effectively connect to and leverage cloud-based data sources with their product offerings.

Interested in getting answers around why a cloud solution is the best option for keeping your data safe? Listen in on a security webinar where Relativity's chief security officer Amanda Fennell and senior product manager Sarmad Qutub provide an overview of Relativity’s security posture and share the roadmap for security in 2021.

It’s not just email anymore

It’s no surprise that Slack, Teams, and other collaboration tools are quickly becoming the most frequently used communication platforms at work.

While emails are fairly straightforward to review, chat communications are much more complex. For short message communications, an individual record includes messages from multiple individuals and many more of the dynamic nuances that come with real-time conversations (as opposed to one-message-at-a-time email threads). As a result, compliance officers must be able to understand when people enter or leave the chat, have natural visibility into the use of emojis and reactions, keep tabs on file sharing, and more as they’re reviewing this data. In short, they need to have a holistic view of how a conversation evolved over time.

Relativity Trace is revolutionizing how the surveillance industry handles chat data by simplifying and accelerating their ability to ingest, analyze, and review it all. Short message review in Trace allows you to treat collaboration data like conversations for more sources. Rather than treating the data like an email, you can review, monitor, analyze, and produce these records in their native format. Users are able to see the full richness of these communications, enabling better use of artificial intelligence to get results quicker and reduce false positives.

Adding yet another complicating factor, employees now spend their days switching between communication channels based on what feels most convenient. This means conversations can happen across data types and platforms, and compliance teams need to track multiple sources for insight on potentially nefarious behavior.

On top of chat, in 2021, we’ll continue to see an uptick in audio communications such as phone calls, as well as video conferencing calls like Zoom and WebEx, as organizations continue to leverage newer platforms this year. Employees in every industry have quickly become familiar with these platforms and are using them more than ever in the natural course of collaboration.

As is the case in e-discovery and other review settings, audio data can be an entirely different animal than text when it comes to communication surveillance and compliance work. The content of this data can be exceedingly informative, but in order to get a holistic view of an audio conversation’s role in a bigger story, it needs to be transcribed. That way, an automated system can categorize it—and humans can review it—alongside written communications.

To do this effectively, an audio transcription tool must be trained to understand domain-specific conversations in many languages and dialects. This is imperative when monitoring trader conversations where slang and abbreviations are frequently used. Relativity Trace offers integrations with several audio transcription tools that allow for side-by-side audio listening capability and transcription tracking to enable an easier review.

Prepared to Face What Lies Ahead

Overall, we know that nothing is guaranteed when it comes to predicting what a new year might hold. However, compliance experts appear confident that wielding the right tools will help them course-correct after a very unexpected year—and be prepared to tackle what’s coming down the pipeline in 2021.

What do you anticipate on the horizon for your compliance team this year? Let us know in the comments—we’d love to hear your perspective.

Hear from Security Experts on the Safety of the Cloud in 2021


Erika Sperekas is a product marketing specialist for Trace at Relativity.