Due to the nature of their position, financial executives are usually the first targets for cyberattacks in a company, also making them the first line of defense along with the IT department.
With more than 20 years of experience in the financial sector, Vice President of Financial Planning and Risk at mortgage firm Acercasa Juan Carlos Benavides also held top financial positions in Davivienda, Colombia’s third-largest bank. He shares his knowledge on the latest in cybercrime prevention for financial executives, the disruption fintechs are causing in Colombia, and the evolving role of the CFO.
AS/COA: What are the main changes in the role of the CFO in the past years?
Juan Carlos Benavides: The main difference is that now, CFOs must have a far more strategic and business-oriented vision, aside from their financial duties and technical knowledge. The CFO is increasingly more involved in the strategic area of the business. In many companies that I know, the CFOs have been tasked with two or three additional responsibilities on top of the everyday financial work.
This also means education centers and courses aimed at financial studies have a growing challenge. They now must focus not only on the technical aspects that all CFOs must have to start with, but emphasize topics such as fiscal and tax changes and [international financial reporting standards]. These topics have been key as Colombia has moved to adopt international standards over the past five years.
The modern CFO is completely involved in the business strategy of the company and is committed to helping achieve the company’s results, not only measuring them.
AS/COA: Financial executives are usually the first targets for cyberattacks. What is your experience with this, and how are companies in Colombia tackling this issue?
Benavides: Several colleagues and I attended the Colombian Risk Congress a few months ago. One of the topics we discussed the most is that companies are not only more exposed, but criminal organizations are evolving rapidly. They consider themselves “multinational companies” of fraud and crime.
One of the conclusions was that Colombia, given the fact that the country has been exposed to many types of fraud, is always trying to stay ahead of criminals. But we all agreed that cyberattacks can come at any time, and that this type of crime is only just beginning.
Attacks like the recent one in Mexico—where criminals siphoned hundreds of millions of pesos from the country’s banks in the first week of May—led to the creation of more firewalls and defense protocols because there are increasingly more vulnerable points open to attacks. Technological growth itself has opened windows that before were “ironclad,” and that creates more opportunities for attack.
In Colombia, the government has also stepped in to help by creating specialized investigation units. There were many cases where the criminals weren’t tried simply because the crime they committed didn’t exist in the laws. Now they are working to create more financial crime laws.
AS/COA: What is the current state of innovation in Colombia’s financial sector?
Benavides: Fintechs are growing and evolving. They are very innovative. Something I’ve talked about with colleagues in the sector is that there will come a moment when fintechs will become the Uber of the banks. [Traditional] banks are worried about this, so we’ve seen how they are investing and focusing heavily on improving their digital experience. The millennial market is now among the top users of financial services, since they make up an important part of the country’s workforce, and they have particular needs in terms of the services offered to them by banks. Fintechs are coming in to fill those gaps that traditional banking didn’t have before.
AS/COA: What do you look for in a new team member?
Benavides: Nowadays, I look for someone with good technical studies combined with a business-oriented vision, who can contribute to the growth of the business. In today’s world, technical knowledge is a must, but it has to be combined with business vision.