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Laurent Guyot, Qwil Messenger: “every company needs to ensure staff and client data is kept safe and private”

The recently widely adopted work-from-home policies have emphasized the importance of data privacy and secure communication channels for all types of businesses. Working outside the office environment often means using personal devices and even insecure messaging platforms. Unfortunately, such actions put sensitive information at great risk.

Now, cybercriminals are seeking ways to hack unprotected business accounts and either steal data right away or obtain credentials to compromise the entire network. Therefore, every company must be vigilant and ensure their staff and client data is protected when working from home, as well as in-office environments.

For this reason, Cybernews asked Laurent Guyot, the Director and the CFO at Qwil Messenger to introduce our readers to modern and secure business communication platforms and explain what are the best practices to avoid data breaches.

How did the idea of Qwil Messenger come about? What was your journey like throughout the years?

Although the company officially started in March 2017, the idea of secured chat began a few years prior. The CEO, Peter Reading, has over 20 years of experience in the Wealth Management industry, is a CRM expert by trade, implemented Salesforce.com in 2006 at Barclays, and has witnessed the challenge of communicating externally with clients with the increasing risk of email fraud, and the requirements from a compliance perspective.

He and I together with the CTO, Nicolas Georges, saw an opportunity to develop a unique chat app – with the look and feel of WhatsApp but meeting all data privacy and security requirements of the largest financial institutions. If it was good enough for banks, it would be good enough for all firms.

The vision was to have one app for multiple companies, so a user could be a client of one and a staff member of another. The key was to satisfy the requirements of multiple data locations and brands but built for scale, and all within one single easy-to-use platform for everyone! That's how Qwil Messenger was born.

We captured 15% of the UK wealth market with support from St. James’s Place and Fidelity International and also clients in the Bahamas, the US, and Asia. We are now developing our commercial channels and looking for partners to grow across markets and sectors as the data privacy problems are not only understood but also shared by all.

Can you introduce us to your chat platform? What are its key features?

Our platform is a true alternative to WhatsApp, just for professional firms. Qwil Messenger is the only banking-grade SaaS chat platform that allows staff to engage externally with clients whilst alleviating all the cyber risks of hacking and meeting data privacy policies globally. As opposed to Microsoft Teams or Slack, our solutions offer two user types (staff and clients) and are invitation-only, so everyone is really who they say they are.

Here's what Qwil Messenger offers:

  • Chat, send confidential documents/pictures, and meet with clients on video calls – all in the same conversation, knowing that everyone is who they say they are.
  • Coordinate client conversations by adding colleagues or delegating.
  • Invite prospects and facilitate the onboarding journey.
  • Know what has been discussed, read, and agreed upon. Everything is logged.

Our platform is not only encrypted but 100% secure as all users are authenticated. Qwil Messenger can be deployed to firms of 10 people or 10,000 within minutes. It has an easy-to-use interface with zero or very limited training required. Also, with over 45 APIs, and out-of-the-box connectors, such as Salesforce, firms can achieve high efficiencies.

What are the main security risks of using traditional business-to-client communication channels and messaging apps? What about the alternatives used to date?

Existing business-to-client communication channels, such as email, SMS, audio, and even postal, have all been under attack as they are unauthenticated. In simple terms, senders' and recipients' identities are not verified and thus, data is unprotected.

Cybercriminals are sending over 3 billion emails a day as part of phishing attacks designed to look like they come from trusted senders. It's concluded that 91% of cyberattacks start via email while SMS scams are also seeing a 328% increase in 2020. There also has been 2000% increase in WhatsApp scams in the last 12 months!

Even though firms are using workarounds to ensure the security of correspondence, it only adds layers of friction for the end-users. Encrypted email, portals, password-protected documents, and callbacks are all making it difficult to communicate. This has led to another risk – the use of unreliable third-party chat tools that are not approved by the company.

The use of insecure communication is quickly becoming a regulatory issue too. For example, JPMorgan was recently fined $200M for allowing staff to use personal devices to send work-related messages. WhatsApp, personal emails, and other systems were used by more than 100 staff members to send tens of thousands of messages. This has just stressed the need for firms to offer true alternatives.

How did the recent global events affect your field of work? Were there any new features added to your chat platform?

Recent global events have only proved once again that ensuring secure communication channels is critical. Firms from all sectors and of all sizes are being targeted by ransomware or phishing attacks daily and they definitely can't afford to just do nothing.

Most intrusions happen by email, social chat (WhatsApp), or text. These are the open doors to company networks or account details. It only takes one click and a single stolen credential to compromise the entire business network.

This is the reason why we've designed the Qwil Messenger as an invitation-only platform (each firm invites their users with 2FA) with centralized security controls to make sure everyone is who they say they are. One cannot impersonate a bank or an individual on Qwil – there are secure audio, video conference, and screen sharing features for staff to engage remotely with clients.

Additionally, every attachment uploaded to Qwil Messenger is scanned with the latest anti-malware software before it's sent to the recipient. The antivirus program prevents well-known malware from entering employees' devices and thus, the company's network.

What industry sectors in your opinion should put extra attention towards securing their communication channels with clients?

At Qwil Messenger, we started with the wealth management sector as there was an urgency to provide a communication channel that is secure, privacy-compliant, and most importantly, easy to use when engaging with clients.

The same needs apply to all relationship management businesses – it doesn't matter if the company has only 1 or 10,000 employees and whether it's regulated or not. It is the company's responsibility to offer professional tools to staff and ensure they are fit for the purpose.

Therefore, I would say that these are the top industry sectors that should invest heavily into securing their communication channels:

  • Legal teams
  • Accounting
  • Human resource managers
  • Mortgage brokers
  • Trading
  • Corporate banking
  • Healthcare

In your opinion, what are some of the worst habits people tend to have when it comes to sharing sensitive documents across the remote workforce and externally with partners and clients?

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the trend of remote working, as well as the cybersecurity risks and data breaches that were previously focused on the communications with external participants, outside of the security of the internal network.

One bad habit that I can mention is sharing sensitive information, client data, files, and passwords via unsecured channels, such as email. Another is the widespread use of communication tools, such as WhatsApp and other unofficial (unmonitored) channels, by staff members to communicate with the clients. This creates a compliance risk for the employer as professional conversations are not recorded. Also, it can lead to data breaches as users are not verified.

Furthermore, using personal devices for work is another bad habit and includes transferring files from work to personal computers outside of the control and network of the company. This is equally true on mobile devices.

Besides secure communication solutions, what other security measures do you think every modern company should implement?

Every company needs to ensure staff and client data is kept safe and private. Solutions that can be used on BYOD (Bring Your Own Devices) such as Qwil Messenger, or software to keep professional data fully controlled by a firm on a personal mobile device are key.

Securely archiving data to meet compliance needs is also important. Whether it is website activity, social media, and communications, this should all be easily accessible.

As for individual users, what tools would you recommend to ensure the security of their communications and data online?

For too long the responsibility has been put on the individuals to access services securely, and spot phishing attempts, which has been detrimental to the user experience. Users don’t want to login into a portal to retrieve a message, remember multiple passwords and apps for every company they deal with, or reply to inane questions on the phone with their relationship manager to confirm their identity! End users should demand communication channels with professional services to be as good as social chat apps with security and especially convenience in mind.

Can you give us a sneak peek into some of your future plans for Qwil Messenger?

Qwil Messenger is designed to become the “WhatsApp” for professional services. Social chat killed email in our personal lives. MS Teams/Slack have changed the way we collaborate internally. Qwil Messenger goes a few steps further extending to the outside world and is common for multiple firms in the same place.

Having proven our security with some of the largest firms, we are now offering Qwil Messenger for professional firms of all sizes directly from our website. We are also rapidly building a network of partners to tackle all the professional sectors that need to engage with clients.

From a technology perspective, we are fully integrated with Salesforce but more integrations are in the works. We will enable further workflows, automation and the use of bots as firms look to leverage our secure rails to increase efficiencies.

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