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Increase in US concern over security focuses on banks

Unisys : 21 May, 2008  (Technical Article)
With financial problems continuing in America, the banking industry faces further challenges due to deteriorating trust in financial information security systems.
The latest US results of the Unisys Security Index reveal that Americans are more concerned than they were seven months ago about national security issues and health epidemics. Other key findings indicate an increase in consumer concern about financial security issues and worry over identity theft.

The Unisys Security Index presents a social indicator of how safe consumers feel in relation to four areas of security: national, financial, Internet and personal safety. Unisys conducted the first wave of the US research in August 2007, as part of a bi-annual global research effort that studies consumer sentiment of security issues in 14 countries. The second wave of US research was fielded among more than 1,000 Americans between March 5-10, 2008.

Compared to last year's baseline study, the overall measure of the Unisys Security Index remains at 151, representing a moderate level of concern about security issues among Americans (the index is measured from 0 to 300, with 300 representing the highest level of perceived anxiety). Within the four specific areas of security, the current Index found a considerable increase in concern among Americans about national and health security issues, offset by a slight decrease in concern about financial, Internet and personal safety.

Other key findings include:.

* The number of people extremely concerned about national security in relation to the war on terrorism increased nearly 15 percent since August 2007.
* While overall personal security concerns decreased slightly from last year, 70 percent of respondents still demonstrated a significant amount of concern about someone stealing their identity and misusing personal information.
* The number of people who are extremely concerned about a serious health epidemic rose more than 20 percent from last August, and just under half of all respondents are very or extremely concerned about this issue.
* Americans living outside cities are more concerned about terrorist attacks than those living in urban centres.

"The data show us that most Americans feel heightened concern when it comes to physical safety and personal health issues," said Tim Kelleher, Vice President - Enterprise Security, Unisys. "Even though concern across most indices declined slightly, it's interesting to note the increase in concern about terrorism and health comes even with a sustained absence of domestic terrorist activity and epidemics in the US. But with wall-to-wall news coverage of the presidential election, worsening economic conditions and a particularly harsh flu season, it's not unreasonable that alarm over macro-security issues is on the rise."

While the pundits debate the state of the US economy, and the presidential candidates assign blame, lower and middle income Americans, as well as minorities, are showing unease about their financial stability. In fact, concern among Hispanics jumped nine percent since last August, while concern among middle income households ($50,000 - $74,900) jumped 20 percent.

"As the economy worsens, the data is showing that minorities and middle income households are feeling the most pressure about paying bills such as mortgage and credit card payments," added Kelleher. "Further, economic pain has already taken center stage on the campaign trail and in the mainstream press - all of which can fan the flames of concern among consumers."

The research also shows that more than half of black (61 percent) and Hispanic (52 percent) people responding to the survey are extremely or very concerned about meeting financial obligations, while only 32 percent of white respondents expressed the same level of concern. Upper-income Americans are also not feeling the same level of anxiety. Less than one-quarter (24 percent) of respondents with household income levels greater than $75,000 expressed concern about meeting their financial obligations.

The Unisys Security Index shows that financial institutions are not doing enough to protect consumers' pertinent financial information online and combat debit and credit card fraud.

A majority of Americans are extremely or very concerned (64 percent) about other people illegally obtaining and using their credit or debit cards. Further, seven in 10 Americans expressed the same level of concern about access to or misuse of personal information, remaining steady from the baseline study conducted in August 2007. Unease about online shopping and banking is highest among the baby boomer generation, with nearly half of all respondents between the age of 45-64 expressing apprehension.

Consequently, banks still need to better understand how to manage consumer concern about identify theft and credit card fraud.

"Given the financial crisis that banks find themselves in as a result of the sub-prime mortgage debacle, their bottom lines would be well-served if they could boost customers' confidence in online banking and other e-payment services," added Kelleher. "The financial services industry has yet to tackle this issue effectively. And given that recent studies show a majority of consumers are willing to switch banks to get better security, financial institutions must find new ways to combat fraud, protect people's identities, and educate consumers so they can expand the use of highly profitable online services."
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