Asset managers on alert after ‘WhatsApp’ crackdown on banks

Regulations governing financial institutions have progressively been tightened since the global financial crisis of 2007-9 and companies have long recorded staff communications to and from office phones. (Shutterstock/File)
Regulations governing financial institutions have progressively been tightened since the global financial crisis of 2007-9 and companies have long recorded staff communications to and from office phones. (Shutterstock/File)
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Updated 18 August 2022

Asset managers on alert after ‘WhatsApp’ crackdown on banks

Asset managers on alert after ‘WhatsApp’ crackdown on banks
  • Demand for software to record, archive messaging on the rise
  • Continued remote working underscores risk of compliance missteps with banks paying hundreds of millions of dollars in regulatory fines

LONDON: Asset managers are tightening controls on personal communication tools such as WhatsApp as they join banks in trying to ensure employees play by the rules when they do business with clients remotely.
Regulators had already begun to clamp down on the use of unauthorized messaging tools to discuss potentially market-moving matters, but the issue gathered urgency when the pandemic forced more finance staff to work from home in 2020.
Most of the companies caught in communications and record-keeping probes by the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) have been banks — which have collectively been fined or have set aside more than $1 billion to cover regulatory penalties.
But fund firms with billions of dollars in assets are also increasing their scrutiny of how staff and clients interact.
“It is the hottest topic in the industry right now,” said one deals banker, who declined to be named in keeping with his employer’s rules on speaking to the media.
Reuters reported last year the SEC was looking into whether Wall Street banks had adequately documented employees’ work-related communications, and JPMorgan was fined $200 million in December for “widespread” failures.
German asset manager DWS said last month it had set aside 12 million euros ($12 million) to cover potential US fines linked to investigations into its employees’ use of unapproved devices and record-keeping requirements, joining a host of banks making similar provisions, including Bank of America, Morgan Stanley and Credit Suisse.
Sources at several other investment firms — described in the financial community as the ‘buy-side’ — including Amundi, AXA Investment Management, BNP Paribas Asset Management and JPMorgan Asset Management, told Reuters they have deployed tools to keep all communications between staff and clients compliant.
Spokespeople for the SEC and CFTC declined to comment on whether their investigations could extend beyond the banks, but industry sources expect authorities to cast their nets wider across the finance industry and even into government.
Last month Britain’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), the country’s top data protection watchdog, called for a review of the use of WhatsApp, private emails and other messaging apps by government officials after an investigation found “inadequate data security” during the pandemic.
Regulations governing financial institutions have progressively been tightened since the global financial crisis of 2007-9 and companies have long recorded staff communications to and from office phones.
This practice is designed to deter and uncover infringements such as insider trading and “front-running,” or trading on information that is not yet public, as well as ensuring best practice in terms of treatment of customers.
But with thousands of finance workers and their clientele still working remotely after decamping from company offices at the start of the pandemic, some sensitive conversations that should be recorded remain at risk of being inadvertently held over informal or unauthorized channels.
Brad Levy, CEO of business messaging software firm Symphony, said concerns on managing that risk had driven a surge in interest for software upgrades that make conversations on popular messenging tools including Meta Platforms’ WhatsApp recordable.
“Most believe the breadth of these investigations will go wider as they go deeper,” Levy said.
“Many markets participants have retention and surveillance requirements so are likely to take a view, including being more proactive without being a direct target.”
He said Symphony’s user base has more than doubled since the pandemic to 600,000, spanning 1,000 financial institutions including JPMorgan and Goldman Sachs.
Symphony peer Movius also said its business lines specializing in making WhatsApp and other tools recordable have more than doubled in size in the space of a year, with sales to asset managers a growing component.
“Many on the buy-side have recognized that you can’t just rely on SMS and voice calls,” said Movius Chief Executive Ananth Siva, adding that the company was also seeking to work with other highly-regulated industries including health care.
Movius software integrates third-party communications tools such as email, Zoom, Microsoft Teams and WhatsApp into one system that can be recorded and archived as required, he said.
Amundi, AXA IM, BNPP AM and JPMorgan Asset Management all confirmed they had adopted Symphony software but declined to comment on the full breadth of services they used or when these had been rolled out.
Amundi and AXA IM both confirmed they used Symphony services for team communications, while AXA IM also said they used it for market information.
Amundi, BNPP AM and JP Morgan AM declined to comment on whether they thought regulators would seek to investigate record keeping at asset managers after enforcement actions against the banks were completed.
A spokesperson for BNPP AM said it had banned the use of WhatsApp for client communications due to compliance, legal and risk considerations including General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

Warner Bros. Discovery and SRMG partner to launch ‘Asharq Discovery’

Warner Bros. Discovery and SRMG partner to launch ‘Asharq Discovery’
Updated 1 min 6 sec ago

Warner Bros. Discovery and SRMG partner to launch ‘Asharq Discovery’

Warner Bros. Discovery and SRMG partner to launch ‘Asharq Discovery’

DUBAI: Warner Bros. Discovery, the global leader in media and entertainment and SRMG, the MENA region’s largest media group, announced today their long-term partnership to launch ‘Asharq Discovery’, a new free-to-air (FTA) Arabic language channel, exclusively for audiences in the Middle East North Africa (MENA) region. Asharq Discovery will be the newest addition to SRMG's fast-growing media and international offerings.

The new FTA channel will be an authentic gateway connecting MENA-wide audiences to the world and global viewers to the region, offering compelling content, enriching experiences, and memorable stories that allow audiences a step outside their established media consumption habits.

The partnership upholds Warner Bros. Discovery's MENA expansion strategy and SRMG's growth strategy, brought together by a shared goal of diversifying content and improving its accessibility, and to help propel MENA's maturing entertainment industry to become one of the largest globally.

"The MENA's entertainment industry has been undergoing an incredible transformation and exponential growth, posing great potential and offering immense opportunities for content players and consumers. Having established our Discovery brand in linear channels and successfully launching our non-fictional streaming service discovery+ last year, we believe launching a new FTA channel in MENA with the homegrown powerhouse, SRMG is a solid step for us to build a 360 ecosystem of entertainment. This partnership will also support our MENA business development strategy to increase our presence in KSA," says Jamie Cooke, GM CEE, Middle East & Turkey.

“Our new strategic collaboration with Warner Bros Discovery will further bolster our ability to deliver dynamic, innovative, and exciting Arabic content, through new multiple formats and platforms. This partnership is a further demonstration of SRMG’s unrelenting focus and commitment to its consumer-centric approach; bringing our audiences engaging and premium content - when, where and how they want it. Discovery has an unrivaled legacy of producing cutting-edge, high-quality documentaries. We look forward to working together to deliver co-commissioned quality content, provide new job opportunities and best-in-class training, as well as tap into a new global network for our growing audiences,” says Jomana Al Rashid, SRMG CEO.

Asharq Discovery will offer audiences unparalleled real-life entertainment with thousands of hours' worth of premium content, including originals, premiers and exclusives, across a wide selection of genres spanning pop science and engineering, motoring and turbo, wildlife and nature, adventure and travel, reality and lifestyle, crime mystery documentaries.  In addition, Warner Bros. Discovery and SRMG have earmarked co-productions of high-quality local programming, to be distributed globally through the Discovery Global network – thus adding more cultural and market relevance to the mix.

‘Asharq Discovery’ launch-related forward planning and necessary steps are currently underway, with the aim for it to be available to end-users in MENA, during the course of 2023, through broadcast, streaming and third-party local apps, with a catch-up facility available on over-the-top (OTT) platforms.


Twitter to interview Elon Musk, known for combative testimony

Twitter to interview Elon Musk, known for combative testimony
Updated 27 September 2022

Twitter to interview Elon Musk, known for combative testimony

Twitter to interview Elon Musk, known for combative testimony
  • Musk’s lawyers will want to keep him focused on answering questions, but that can be a challenge with such a smart and opinionated witness, said James Morsch, a corporate litigator who is not involved in the court battle

WILMINGTON, Delaware: Billionaire Elon Musk’s tendency to dish out insults while being questioned under oath will be tested anew this week, when lawyers for Twitter Inc. are expected to interview the Tesla Inc. CEO about his abrupt decision in July to ditch his $44 billion deal for the social media company.
Testifying in past legal battles, the world’s richest person has called opposing attorneys “reprehensible,” questioned their happiness and accused them of “extortion.” He asked one attorney if he was working on a contingency because the lawyer’s client was allegedly behind on child support payments.
“So probably you’re on a contingency or you’re taking that kid’s money. Which is it?” Musk asked a lawyer for a whistleblower in a case against Tesla, according to a transcript of the 2020 deposition.
The high-stakes Twitter interview is closed to the public. A court filing last week said the Musk deposition was scheduled to begin on Monday and run into Wednesday, if needed. Sources with knowledge of the deposition said Musk was not questioned on Monday and they did not know what day it would begin nor did they give a reason for the delay.
Musk’s lawyers will want to keep him focused on answering questions, but that can be a challenge with such a smart and opinionated witness, said James Morsch, a corporate litigator who is not involved in the court battle.
“I would compare it to trying to hold a tiger by his tail,” Morsch said.
In a 2019 deposition in litigation over Tesla’s takeover of solar-panel maker SolarCity, Musk refused five times to answer one of the initial questions because of the way it was worded, the transcript shows.
“We can stare at each other until you rephrase it,” Musk told opposing attorney Randall Baron, according to a transcript.
“I’ll guess we’ll just cancel this deposition,” Baron responded. Baron suggested that he would seek an order from the judge directing Musk to answer questions, which seemed to get things moving.
Twitter declined to comment and Musk’s legal team did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Twitter’s attorneys are expected to use the interview to try to show that Musk abandoned the deal due to falling financial markets and not because the company misled him about the real number of users or hid security flaws, as he alleged.
Musk wants a judge to allow him to walk away without penalty, while Twitter wants an order forcing him to buy the company for $54.20 per share. Twitter’s stock ended up 0.4 percent at $41.58 on Friday.
A five-day trial is scheduled to begin on Oct. 17 in Wilmington, Delaware.
Dozens of depositions are scheduled in the case, including of Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal, as each side questions witnesses and gathers evidence to make its case.
Agrawal was scheduled to answer questions from Musk’s lawyers at a law firm in San Francisco starting at 9 a.m. local time on Monday, according to a court filing, although sources said that deposition was also postponed and did not give a reason.
Twitter co-founder and former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey was scheduled to be deposed last week.
Musk at times has shown in his depositions the charm and wit he deploys on Twitter, where he has built a cult-like following.
The Twitter deposition atmosphere could be especially fraught. Its legal team includes the firm of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, and the main lawyer on the case, Bill Savitt, initially represented Musk and Tesla in the SolarCity deal, although not during discovery and depositions in the litigation.
Savitt did not respond to a request for comment.
Twitter is also represented by Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati.
A constant in the three depositions reviewed by Reuters is Musk’s dislike of attorneys representing the opposing side, who he accuses of “trickery” and pursuing him merely for money.
“I heard yesterday that 3 percent of the US economy is legal services. That’s one of the saddest facts I’ve heard in a long time,” Musk said to Baron, the lawyer in the SolarCity deposition.
The deposition in the litigation with the Tesla whistleblower, Martin Tripp, who accused the company of wasting raw materials, began with Musk being asked if he understood the oath he took to testify truthfully.
“This sounds like some sort of legalese, semantic argument. The — what is the whole truth of something?” asked Musk, according to the transcript. “You say, ‘Is that a tree? What kind of tree is it? Is it a tree with lots of leaves?’ Or is — if you’re saying something is a tree is the whole truth? No, of course not.”
Tripp’s attorney reminded Musk that the judge warned he would oversee the deposition in person if questions weren’t answered properly.
“Do you intend to comply with the judge’s admonition there?” asked attorney William Fishbach.
“Of course,” Musk said.


Saudi version of global ‘Idol’ talent show announced

Saudi version of global ‘Idol’ talent show announced
Updated 24 September 2022

Saudi version of global ‘Idol’ talent show announced

Saudi version of global ‘Idol’ talent show announced
  • Four famous Arab artists to judge contestants as filming starts in October
  • A joint venture between Saudi GEA and MBC Group, the program discovers local talent, mainly in Riyadh

RIYADH: A Saudi version of the international ‘Idol’ talent show franchise was unveiled on Saturday in a partnership between the Kingdom’s General Entertainment Authority (GEA) and MBC Group.
GEA’s chairman Turki Al-Sheikh tweeted that the Authority and MBC engaged in a partnership to launch the first season of “Saudi Idol,” which will kick off in December.
With filming scheduled to start in October, the Saudi Idol program will attempt to unearth local talent, mainly in Riyadh, with a four-member jury that constitutes of Saudi singer Aseel Abu Bakr, Emirati singer and actress Ahlam, popular Arab singer Asala (Syrian), and Iraqi-Saudi singer and composer Majed Al Mohandis.
“I’m happy to announce a new partnership between GEA and MBC Group to launch Saudi Idol… The program begins in December 2022” tweeted Al-Sheikh.
MBC’s program, “Trending,” a show that sheds light on news of artists, announced the start of preparations for the Saudi talent show with filming scheduled to start next month.
Announcing registration for the program, MBC tweeted: “You have a beautiful voice and would you like to sing? Do you like competition and enter the world of limelight and fame? Participate in the largest singing program. Don’t miss the chance, register now.”



MBC Group and Dubai Business Women Council host Women in Media forum

MBC Group and Dubai Business Women Council host Women in Media forum
Updated 24 September 2022

MBC Group and Dubai Business Women Council host Women in Media forum

MBC Group and Dubai Business Women Council host Women in Media forum
  • Two companies have signed a strategic partnership to coordinate their efforts to further women’s careers

DUBAI: The Dubai Business Women Council organized the “Women in Media” forum in collaboration with MBC Group, to discuss the role that media organizations can play in increasing the representation and accountability of women in media.

The event is part of the council’s #DBWCFORUMS initiative, which includes a series of talks that aim to raise awareness about the challenges and opportunities for women in different industries. 

During the event, MBC Group and DBWC signed a memorandum of understanding, which aims to coordinate and align both companies’ efforts in providing their female employees and members with access to mentorship programs, workshops and speaker sessions.

“This collaboration is of special importance as it unites two partners who value women and recognize their critical contribution to the economy,” said Nadine Halabi, business development manager of the Dubai Business Women Council.

“The council will continue to be committed to harnessing all available resources to serve its members and the business community, by organizing specialized events and seminars that add value to their personal and professional lives,” she said.

The forum focused on the importance of maximizing women’s strengths and potential to advance media work, develop strong female media role models, increase gender diversity, and foster a culture of success in the media industry.

Participants discussed the mechanisms needed to ensure balanced female representation in media, the best practices adopted by media leaders and officials, and the value of diversity in the workplace.

Samar Akrouk, group director of production at MBC Group, who held a fireside chat at the event, said: “MBC Group is proud to be a progressive trailblazer — on and off screen — in promoting gender equality. Throughout our organization and across most departments we have women in top leadership positions, as well as women that are identified and set on leadership tracks.”

“However, we are progressive enough to look at ourselves and say we can do more — and we will do more,” she said.

Akrouk highlighted self-limiting beliefs and how they can affect women in the workplace. She also offered advice on how to overcome these beliefs and offered guidance to those seeking a career in media.

The forum also featured three panel discussions.

The first panel brought together Rana Alamuddin, founder of BAYNEH W BAYNEK; Sally Moussa Hajjar, managing partner, Humanagement and Mohammed Abdulhaq, executive producer at MBC Group, to discuss the role and responsibility of media outlets in creating positive role models for regional audiences.

The second panel saw Bedriya Al-Saeed, employee engagement manager at MBC Group; Tala Obeidat, client partner, Leading Retail & Restaurants, Meta and Sara Eltarzi, communications director at OSN, discuss the steps and policies that led to better inclusivity and gender parity in media organizations.

The third and final panel brought together Rola Ghotmeh, founder and chief creative officer, The Creative 9; Natasha Romariz Maasri, executive creative director, Leo Burnett MEA and Andrej Arsenijevic, executive creative director and sustainability lead at Commonwealth McCann Dubai, to talk about responsible and impactful advertising and how to push boundaries through strategic messaging in society.

“We are thrilled to collaborate with MBC Group and look forward to coordinating our future efforts to develop the abilities of women and female business owners while also assisting them in acquiring media and marketing skills that can advance their careers,” Halabi said.

STARZPLAY reveals Saudi viewership trends

STARZPLAY reveals Saudi viewership trends
Updated 23 September 2022

STARZPLAY reveals Saudi viewership trends

STARZPLAY reveals Saudi viewership trends
  • Comedy, anime and Arabic drama are most watched categories in Kingdom

DUBAI: Regional streaming platform STARZPLAY has released a study revealing the viewership trends of Saudi audiences in 2022.

Comedy, anime and Arabic drama were the most watched categories in the Kingdom, the study found.

“The Big Bang Theory,” “The Office and “Two and a Half Men” are among the top watched comedy shows, while “Naruto,” “Naruto: Shippuden” and “Attack on Titan” top the list of anime shows.

In line with the popularity of anime content, STARZPLAY is adding an anime movie, “One Piece: Stampede” by Takashi Otsuka, to its library.

This year, “Ertugrul” and “Al Mo’asses Osman” were the most watched Turkish titles among Saudi viewers, while the new seasons of “Bab Al-Hara” and “Al-Daheeh” topped the charts for premium Arabic content.

In addition to these categories, Saudi audiences also favored exclusive action movies like “Hummingbird,” “Wild Card,” “Gringo” and “Misfits,” as well as first-run movie releases such as “House of Gucci,” “Infinite,” “Last Seen Alive” and “Clean.”

The most binge-watched shows this year included “Dexter: New Blood,” “The Flash,” “Your Honor,” “Young Sheldon,” “The Good Doctor” and “Mr. Robot.”

Most STARZPLAY users in Saudi Arabia streamed content via their TVs, with 42 percent of all consumption occuring on smart TVs, followed by iOS and Android devices.

“While anime, comedy and Arabic drama remain favorite genres for our viewers, we also saw an increasing interest for live sporting events this year, which has immensely benefited our position as the ultimate platform for sports in the MENA region,” said Nadim Dada, vice-president of programming and content acquisition at STARZPLAY.

In celebration of Saudi National Day, all new users who sign up on the day can enjoy a discounted rate of SR9.2 ($2.4) per month with lifetime validity.

The Kingdom “continues to be one of our largest markets, with our platform witnessing stupendous growth this year,” said Dada, who added: “We look forward to strengthening our presence in the market.”