This week’s tech news, filtered for financial services execs

February 7

Hello and welcome to Insights Distilled, a weekly email briefing that curates tactical technology news for financial services execs. Every Tuesday morning, we send you the top five stories you need to know – and explain why they matter. Our tech news roundup helps you stay on top of the innovations driving business agility in your industry. To get next week’s edition in your inbox, sign up here.


This week’s edition provides several perspectives on the power of combining tech innovation with human insights (rather than trying to replace people all together).  

In one feature, people provided a crucial backstop to prevent calamity after a trading software firm got hacked. In another, an exec explains how her org is trying to turn investors into “cyborgs” by equipping them with the latest AI technology to guide their decision-making.  

“We believe very strongly that it’s not that algorithms and machines will replace human beings: It’s just that human beings with algorithms, we think, will outcompete humans who don’t have them,” she said. 

  1. Threat factor: ION hack underscores the importance of backup plans
  2. AI-powered investing: A PE giant deployed ChatGPT on its “Motherbrain”
  3. Partnership power: US Bank rolls out DIY direct deposit switching
  4. One-stop shop: How Amex is trying to woo SMBs
  5. Quest for quantum: Credit Agricole completes “successful” experiments

After a cyberattack disrupted financial software firm ION, the importance of having a backup plan got thrust into the spotlight as banks and brokers were forced to resort to manual trades.  

Always prepare for the worst: An attack on technology-plumbing provider ION underscores how crucial it is to have systems in place to keep markets whirring regardless of partner issues. Make sure your firm has preparation, documentation, and a path forward from disruption.  

The derivatives trading market was teleported back to the 1980s in the past week as London-based ION Trading succumbed to a ransomware cyberattack from extortion group LockBit. With ION’s software locked up, traders and brokers around the world were forced to manually process deals using spreadsheets, telephone calls, and their own ad-hoc software

The interconnectedness of the markets and the many partnerships involved means that firms must have backup plans and fallbacks in case of outages like ION’s, to avoid dramatic ripple effects. While the incident has caused difficulties and delays, it has not turned into a major contagion or systemic risk for the entire financial system, thanks to people’s quick adjustments.  

The moral of the story? Companies need to take the position that they (or their partners) will inevitably be attacked and form a plan for continuity and recovery that avoids significant damage. 

“Cybersecurity is a means to an end, but really, what you need is your business to keep going following a cyber incident,” James Hadley, CEO of Insight Partners’ portfolio company Immersive Labs, previously told Insights Distilled. After all, financial services is the most targeted industry for cyberattacks, according to recent research

“Many large financial firms may think they are immune from ransomware because of all the resources they have invested in security. But, even if your organization is well-protected, your partners and vendors may not be,” intelligence analyst Allan Liska at Insight Partners’ portfolio company Recorded Future told Distilled.   

LockBit said over the weekend that it received a ransom and unlocked ION’s files, but ION is planning to rebuild new infrastructure for its derivatives platform instead of returning to the previous system, according to The Trade News

While it’s still unclear how LockBit first gained access to ION, the group has used attacks like “spear phishing” or other “malware-as-a-service” tools in the past, senior security expert for Kaspersky’s global research and analysis team, Marc Rivero, told Insights Distilled. Firms should “ensure employees are aware of phishing attacks, malware in general, and other basics of cybersecurity” to protect themselves.  


Swedish investment firm EQT is using ChatGPT to help dealmakers query its giant data platform, ushering in the “next frontier” of AI-powered investing.  

ChatGPT – the AI-powered tool that can respond to prompts and queries in a human-like way – can help make vast proprietary datasets more accessible: Non-techies can get quick answers without relying on data scientists.  

Sweden-based EQT, which invests in technology, healthcare, real estate, and infrastructure businesses, is using ChatGPT to streamline the use of its extensive data platform, dubbed Motherbrain.  

The platform launched in 2016 and contains hundreds of millions of data points on companies, people, and their connections. Deal makers previously relied on the ~30 engineers and data scientists managing Motherbrain to access it and identify potential opportunities, but ChatGPT streamlines the process. Now, investors (and EQT’s portfolio companies) can query the platform directly and ask more open-ended questions. 

“Founders, for example, could ask ChatGPT to create a list of chief revenue officers who scaled their company to $50 million in revenue in London,” reports Insider.  

By making it easy for investors to benefit from Motherbrain’s extraordinary amounts of data, EQT is “trying to make cyborgs,” executive Alexandra Lutz told Insider. Combining workers’ instincts and connections with data access makes them better at their jobs.    

ChatGPT will likely play a key role for financial firms in the future, whether through collecting and analyzing client data, super-charging existing customer service chatbots, generating personalized financial management features, or aiding cybersecurity and fraud prevention. For now, EQT’s application of the technology is a great example of how it can create an impact in the near-term. 


US Bank is the first large American bank to allow automatic direct deposit switching thanks to a partnership with payroll startup Atomic.  

US Bank wants to make it dead-simple for new customers to deposit their paychecks into its checking accounts, as FinServs vie for loyalty and people pick up new gigs.   

US Bank is partnering with payroll startup Atomic to save time for new customers (or those with a fresh side hustle).   

Instead of manually filling out routing and account numbers to set up a direct deposit, US Bank clients will be able to automate the process from within the bank’s website and app by searching for and logging in with their payroll provider. This speeds up an otherwise tedious routine, according to the bank.  

“Our new DIY direct deposit feature is yet another way we are helping our clients save time and simplify banking,” said vice chair of consumer and business banking Tim Welsh. 

Beyond new US Bank clients, the tool is particularly useful for existing customers who are picking up gig work or have just landed a new job, and early data shows that it’s already a popular feature.  

The bank evaluated several options before deciding to collaborate with Atomic, according to SVP and head of digital sales Jonathan Burns.  

“We were confident from the beginning that our combined team talents, backgrounds, and agile culture would power us to jointly succeed in breaking down customer friction and barriers when it comes to payroll deposit switching,” he told Insights Distilled. The feature builds on US Bank’s larger account opening initiatives, which allow people to digitally apply for checking accounts in minutes.  

Atomic is “actively working” with other large financial institutions on similar offerings, Atomic CEO Jordan Wright told Distilled, adding that there are clear benefits for banks of making deposit switching easy.   

Lower friction can lead to “higher direct deposit conversion rates, cost savings from maintaining unfunded accounts, and increased active usage and product engagement across bill pay and auto-payment,” Wright said. “All leading to deeper customer relationships and higher life-time value.” 


Amex builds on its 2020 acquisition of Kabbage to launch a new cashflow-management hub for small business customers.  

Small businesses have historically felt underserved by their financial institutions, which has led to an increase in efforts to offer tools like personalized analytics and business projections.

American Express just launched a new digital cashflow-management hub for its small business customers – called Business Blueprint – that builds off its 2020 acquisition of SMB lender Kabbage.  

The tool includes cashflow analysis, two years of historical transaction data, expense alerts notifying customers of increased spend, 30-day cash-balance projections, and an easy way to apply for products like credit lines. 

The tools originated with Kabbage, but have received enhancements and additional features since the acquisition.  

“Many of the core Kabbage team members continue to build this within Amex,” a spokesperson told Insights Distilled

The new hub fits with Amex’s “vision of becoming a digital one-stop shop for small businesses’ financial needs,” according to exec Anna Marrs. Trying to win over the SMB market has become a priority for a host of other banks as of late, sparking an influx of innovative digital tools and partnerships.  

For example, Westpac is working with Rich Data Co on AI-powered business loans, Standard Chartered has partnered with upSWOT on personalized tools for SMBs, US Bank has worked with an unnamed fintech to help SMBs predict their future cashflow, and Barclays is partnering with UK fintech Liberis to make cash advances faster and easier. 


Credit Agricole’s investment bank just completed two real-world experiments with quantum computing – with “very successful” results.  

Although quantum computing is still in its early innings, canny financial institutions are finding low-intensity outlets for experimentation and skills-building.

Credit Agricole’s corporate and investment banking arm has successfully completed two experiments that found that it could achieve “faster valuations and more accurate risk assessments” using quantum computing techniques. Quantum is an emerging computing paradigm that promises to perform calculations at blistering speeds.  

The bank initiated the two experiments – around valuing derivatives and anticipating the downgrades of financial ratings – in June 2021 alongside partners Pasqal and Multiverse Computing. It just released the results that it found the experiments to be “very successful.”  

“These two proofs-of-concept demonstrated the potential and reality of quantum computing for finance, despite these technologies still being in their infancy,” Credit Agricole exec Ali El Hamidi said. “We took advantage of this initiative to start developing the internal skills to prepare for a technological breakthrough which, if it happens, will have a direct and decisive impact on competitiveness in our sector.” 

Meanwhile, the likes of HSBC, JPMorgan, and Ally are also experimenting with ways to use quantum computing technology for their benefit, like improving speed and precision of risk analysis, while Banque de France is preparing to protect itself against encryption-breaking quantum tactics.  

Learn more about Credit Agricole’s experiments. 

Quick Bits:

Personnel news: Barclays is bringing in new talent: It hired Doug Villone from Goldman Sachs Marcus to be its head of US cards and partnerships, as well as Vim Maru from Lloyds to be its global head of consumer banking and payments.  

Chris Tyrer, head of institutional crypto at Fidelity Digital Assets, has left his position (meanwhile, a whopping 72% of institutional e-traders have signaled “no plans to trade crypto/digital coins” in 2023, according to a new survey from JPMorgan).  

Also, cybercrime groups are offering six-figure salaries, bonuses, and vacation benefits to entice in-demand developers.  

Money moves: Visa participated in the $45 million Series B for banking-as-a-service fintech Moov, while Silicon Valley Bank provided 30 million in debt financing to embedded finance provider Liberis.  

Cloud choices: Spanish banking giant BBVA has tapped Amazon Web Services to allow its investment banking platform to perform financial calculations faster and more efficiently, while Japan’s Mizuho is modernizing its legacy banking system for international operations with Oracle. 


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