A recent study from Theta Lake, a pioneer in digital communications governance, found that 69% of IT and compliance professionals expect the use of unified communication and collaboration (UCC) tools to increase in 2024. With firms using an average of 4.6 communication and collaboration tools, it is evident that UCC tools have become an embedded and essential part of modern business, but firms must ensure they are compliantly getting the full value of these tools.
Theta Lake’s new report emphasises that UCC tools make up the fabric of the workplace and will play an increasingly prominent role within the business plan. These tools allow firms to leverage a wide variety of communication modes, whether it is voice calls, video, text chat, whiteboards or many other features. With such a diversity in communication modalities, it can be tough for compliance teams to effectively monitor communications in their entirety. Theta Lake’s takes an innovative approach to digital communications governance, enabling unified capture, search and proactive compliance processes to ensure compliance teams can meet regulatory requirements while using all capabilities offered via UCC tools.
There are a wide variety of communication and collaboration platforms available in the market, each with a plethora of features that provide users with a variety of methods to communicate. Firms need to ensure they can compliantly leverage the productivity, flexibility and efficiency that UCC tools offer. If they fail to do this, they risk staff moving to off-channel communication channels or sizable fines. Marc Gilman, General Counsel & VP of Compliance at Theta Lake, noted that it is easy for firms to be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of UCC platforms, and advised them to start with one relevant digital communication tool. Once they have picked the platform, they can build the in-depth recordkeeping practices around it and ensure staff stick to it and expand beyond there if desired.
He said, “Firms are challenged because they need to decide on which tools are the core tools for them, and then open those tools and make them as sticky with their employees as they can. In our view, opening the tools and making sure that employees have the kind of full scope of capabilities enabled means that they’ll keep using the tools and they’d be less likely to have off channel communications.”
There is often a natural reaction to restrict functionality in tools, Gilman stated, but firms should avoid this knee jerk reaction. To ensure staff use desired platforms, firms will need to enable all the features a platform offers, not block them off. This means letting staff leverage in-app functions like polls, text chat, emojis and more. Theta Lake’s survey found that 68% of firms are disabling features on their approved communication tools so they can manage challenges related to search visibility, compliance, privacy and security. However, removing these functions can mean staff move to unapproved, feature-rich alternatives. It also means companies are not taking advantage of the capabilities they are already paying for.
This is something that is happening. Despite the risk of fines or other ramifications, Theta Lake’s Report found that 74% of respondents believe their staff are using unmonitored communication platforms, a rise from 66% in 2022. The best way to fix this problem is for firms to approve the most popular platforms and ensure all features are available to them.
Don’t restrict features
The most common features that are disabled within communication platforms include app meshing, emojis, selective ability to archive content, comments and screen sharing. These functions might seem like unimportant additions to a service, but in reality, they are valuable parts of conversations.
Regulators are aware of this and are increasing pressure on firms to capture all parts of a conversation, not just the text or audio. However, capturing images or text displayed on a virtual whiteboard is not the same as just scraping text or audio and requires more sophisticated technology. Finding a capable RegTech platform can allow companies to meet compliance while using any features.
Theta Lake offers peace of mind with digital communication due to its tight integration with tools like Zoom, Cisco and RingCentral that ensures all features are monitored. “We can capture all that dynamic data, which is really important in these applications. Being able to see an emoji, reaction or gif, which we have full coverage for, gets you further in terms of being comfortable with enabling these features, because you can be confident that you actually are seeing all the data that’s coming through these conversations.”
While a simple emoji might seem like a harmless addition to a conversation, they can hold a lot of context and deeper meaning. For example, a simple rocket ship emoji could be interpreted in several ways, depending on the context of the chat. If a firm is going to enable them, they need a way to capture everything in a discussion so they can boost understanding of meanings and bring greater clarity through context. This is how Theta Lake’s unified search capabilities allow firms to stay compliant. Users can search through a chat to spot what is being said and implied.
“There is actually some litigation around the use of a thumbs up emoji, or some other type of emoji, as the kind of binding acceptance of a contract, or other things that have implicated the securities laws on Twitter, from an insider trading perspective. The use of those emojis and reactions has become part of the norm of business communication. I think enabling that is really table stakes across all these platforms, because there’s an expectation now from an employee and from a professional perspective, that these are the core features of the applications and let folks interact and be efficient as they’re conducting their business.”
The rising challenge of reconciliation
Theta Lake’s new report puts an emphasis on the reconciliation process. It states that reconciliation within recordkeeping has become a key priority. While reconciliation has always been a core function of compliance, the diversity of communication methods has made it a tougher task to complete.
A few years ago, the control infrastructure around recordkeeping was relatively straight forward. An email would be directed to the archive and audio would be recorded on phone calls and then sent to the voice archive. However, the proliferation of cloud-based and API driven communication tools have forced firms to have less direct control over communication and are reliant on communication providers’ ability to enable required tracking and reconciliation. A modern digital discussion can involve a variety of in-app functions and switch between different platforms. An archaic system will syphon related conversation aspects into various locations, making it challenging for compliance teams to get a comprehensive view of chats. Due to this, Theta Lake encourages firms to revisit their approach to holistic data management to ensure they capture everything from video and voice, to emojis and gifs.
Gilman expects the reconciliation process to become increasingly important as regulators increase their focus on information management. There have already been a couple of fines in the industry for data/information management issues, and the ability to know exactly what information has come in, what has been captured or where there might be gaps, is vital and allows them to become more proactive in the work.
“I think reconciliation is really key from that perspective. It provides that additional layer of oversight that gives firms comfort that they are seeing all of the traffic that’s coming through these platforms and can report on it as well. That’s another core area for compliance, detecting when something has been missed and being able to point back to when and how that was missed, and how it was remediated and resolved. Those things are super important.”
The report offered an insight into the challenges firms are facing with their existing archiving tools. The lack of reconciliation of messages captured and delivered was a problem faced by 26% of respondents. However, the biggest issues were incomplete/limited cloud options for migration, storage, security, data residency (34%), finding and extracting data (32%) and Administration complexity (30%). Shockingly, only 2% of respondents expressed happiness with their current tools.
The pains of searching
Issues surrounding the search and retrieval of communication content are paramount. Search functions within communication monitoring is not simply about helping a staff member locate a record. It is the ability to search through entire conversations as well as traverse a conversation that spans across platforms and modalities.
Theta Lake’s study found that 74% of firms reported challenges with their searching and retrieving communication records or lack faith in the tool to gather all relevant information. On top of this, 31% of respondents said manual resources are needed to search multiple systems and modes of communication. Gilman pins this on the fact legacy technologies were only designed to convert conversations into an email format. This makes it incredibly difficult to search for something like an image or more abstract.
These legacy systems were also based on email communications and will string multiple emails together in an effort to provide a totality of a conversation. However, apps like Teams or WhatsApp are continuous, include multiple participants and can last months. On top of this, a chat could start through an email, then move to a text-based channel like WhatsApp, and then finish on a Zoom call. Firms need a searching tool that can link all these together. Gilman added, “There’s a real challenge there in terms of being able to retrieve the entirety of a conversation, play it back really easily and understand what’s happening within those conversations.”
There are newer communication monitoring tools that have been designed to work with the modern format of conversations. For example, Theta Lake gives users the power to view the entire chat history, whether it has been going for days or years. It also fosters the ability to monitor conversations that switch between different platforms, without needing to switch into separate archives.
Theta Lake, which is backed by top tier VCs as well as Cisco, RingCentral, Zoom and Salesforce—the market leaders in collaboration space–boasts hundreds of partner integrations that make its communication monitoring products some of the most powerful in the industry. On top of its searching functionality, Theta Lake has innovative, patented AI and machine learning technology that can detect and enable responses through an AI assisted review workflow. One of the final standout features to note is its full audibility, allowing peace of mind when regulators or supervisors ask for it.
Advice for the future
Gilman concluded with a bit of advice for firms looking to revamp their communication monitoring processes. Putting it simply, firms should start simple and easy.
He added, “Pick a collaboration tool that’s providing you the most benefit. Choose the components of that collaboration tool that you may have disabled, but your employees are clamouring to use, and begin to ingest that content for kind of a quick win.
“I think that’s really the best and fastest approach; because, you’re giving the employees the capabilities that that they want and you’re enabling seamless compliance for those with unified capture. So, you’re really on the path to success there. After that, expand to other tools and to other capabilities of your tools. But it really becomes a stair step approach where incrementally you can improve compliance, improve employee satisfaction, and move from there.”
For more in-depth insights into the current state of communication monitoring, download the report for free here.
Keep up with all the latest FinTech news here.