You’re the sunshine!

Seeing people suffer is tough and more so if you know them well and know how angelic they are.  We all get our fair share of trials in life – we sometimes blame it on fate and sometimes on our actions or karma; yet when those whose hearts are filled with love and kindness get to struggle day in and day out, you can’t help but think why do such nice people have to go through so many hardships?!  It can’t be karma but then why?

While talking to one such friend today who I know never thinks ill of anyone, helps everyone he could yet he keeps getting hit by hardships, I couldn’t help but think of this question again.  Why is God letting them suffer?  He (SWT) could never be unfair but why are so many genuinely good people around me struggling? Shouldn’t karma serve them with the best considering their good thoughts, good words and good deeds?  At times like these, I go speechless because I couldn’t figure what to say to such a person asking, “Why me?”.   While with all my heart, I wish I could do something to lessen the pain of my friend, how do I console him? I pray, I listen, I be there for him when I could but I fail to answer the “Whom did I harm to have deserved this?” question.  While I was thinking what more I could do for him, I thought how all our Prophets had to suffer as well.  Are we more pious than them?  If not, then clearly one shouldn’t think we get to suffer only because we wrong others, if that were the case, our Prophets would not have suffered.  I guess sometimes God just chooses you for a larger purpose in life and that is around giving others hope by showing them how to keep going despite the struggles. One thing I find common in my friend and so many other good people enduring life’s hardships, is Resilience. They keep marching forward no matter because that seems to be the only option. They have their low moments yet they largely stay hopeful and positive.  All this gives the rest of us courage to not give in, stay hopeful and have strength to keep going.  It is people like my friend who choose to practice kindness regardless of what they are going through, that our faith in humanity remains alive.  I feel they are the reason for the rest of us to stay positive.  They brighten up the day for so many of us with their kindness and that is where I think I have found my answers. So, if you ever find asking yourself “Why me”, the answer is, because, “You’re the Sunshine” for the rest of us!

Always choose to be kind!

For some of us, why does everything have to be a competition? It hurts the most when someone opens up to you about their suffering and you end up telling them how you are having it worse and they should be thankful because they don’t have it that bad. We never know what anyone is going through and how s/he is hurting. Is it too difficult to simply listen to anyone and say a prayer for him/her?  What may not seem “too bad” to you may be eating someone up from inside. We all have different levels of strength as well as different ways of responding to and coping with stress. Besides, even the stone gets damaged by persistent drops of water – we are mere humans and may tend to give up after dealing with life’s challenges for too long. If someone is revealing wounds of their soul to you, be grateful that they trust you enough and  consider you that close. Please do not disappoint them. That person could be on verge of a breakdown or may even be considering suicide. Choose kindness over anything else even if that person has a seemingly perfect life because you may not know his/her complete story.
Do not tell them that they are being ungrateful and that they will attract Allah’s wrath. We have been given emotions by Allah(SWT) so, why would He(SWT) who is the most merciful be angry with us if we are sad when we are hurting?!  Gratitude helps bring peace in life but you cannot tell a person mourning loss of a loved one or enduring an abusive relationship or battling a disease or surviving loneliness to be thankful irrespective and not feel sad just because s/he’s living in a mansion or drives a Mercedes. Have the courtesy to not start talking about your own problems to a person who is already down telling them how you would have been happier had you been in their place and with only “handful” of problems to deal. It is unkind, rude and hurtful. If you could do nothing else, listen quietly and say a prayer for them. Do not make them regret opening up and suffer for rest of their lives in silence.

Taste Bits: Iceberg Salad, Egg Fried Rice and Prawns with Chilli

Since I work full-time (in fact overtime) and have to take care of everything on my own from cleaning my sweet little home to laundry to getting the car serviced, I am usually left with little time to do anything else. While ordering in food does end up being my only option on some days, I usually try to avoid eating outside food and often cook at home instead. Given the time limitations though, I tailor the recipes so I don’t have to spend much time. One of my all-time favorites is this combination:

1. Iceberg Salad (is that even a name?)
2. (Somewhat Chinese) Egg Fried Rice
3. (Again Somewhat) Prawns with Chilli

The Iceberg Salad is inspired by Russian Salad and recipe is as following:

  1. One medium to large iceberg lettuce
  2. Mayonnaise (2 tbsp or as desired)
  3. Shredded Carrot (1 to 2 medium sized carrots depending on how much carrot you want)
  4. Black Pepper (to taste)
  5. Milk (1 tbsp)
  6. Artificial Sweetener or Powdered Sugar (I use Canderal 1tsp)
  7. One medium sized apple (cut into cubes)

Cut iceberg lettuce, add apple and shredded carrot to it, add milk, mayonnaise, black pepper and sweetener. Mix everything well and refrigerate for 15-20 minutes and voila, there you have your iceberg salad.

Iceberg Salad

Iceberg Salad

For (Somewhat Chinese) Egg Fried Rice, you need the following. I usually cook only for myself and don’t really measure the quantity of seasoning so you will have to adjust according to your taste.

  1. Basmati Rice (1 cup)
  2. Egg (1)
  3. Banana Pepper or German Green Pepper or Capsicum (as desired, julienne cut)
  4. Corn (i used the canned ones, remember I got to save time?!)
  5. Shredded Carrots (as desired)
  6. Ginger Garlic Paste (1/2 tsp)
  7. Oil (4 tbsp approx)
  8. Oregano (a little to sprinkle as it has a strong flavor and aroma)
  9. Salt (to taste)
  10. Black Pepper (to taste)
  11. Knorr Lemon and Pepper Seasoning (originally meant for chicken but do I care?)
  12. Chilli Sauce (to taste)

Boil rice. Put egg in a bowl, add some soya sauce, chilli sauce, salt and black pepper. Beat it until all are blended well and then fry it like an omelette. Cut the egg into pieces.  In a separate pan, add oil and then ginger garlic paste, shredded carrots, green pepper, corn and egg.  Add some oregano, salt and pepper. Saute these ingredients for a while and add some soya sauce. Then add boiled rice to these, add some chilli sauce followed by lemon and pepper seasoning that I usually add generously since I love it but you can add as per your taste. Mix all the ingredients well and if you like it more spicy, you can add some more black pepper. Similarly, if you feel the rice are too dry, you can add some olive oil and fry for a bit after which they should be ready to serve.

Egg Fried Rice

Egg Fried Rice

Now comes the turn of (Somewhat) Pawns with chilli that I usually always make in a hurry hence the trick of using breaded shrimps than actual prawns.

  1. Breaded shrimps (I used the frozen ones usually available)
  2. Julienne cut banana pepper or German green pepper
  3. Soya Souce (as desired depending on quantity of shrimps)
  4. Red chillis flakes (to taste)
  5. Onions (julienne cut)
  6. Oil
  7. Ginger Garlic Paste (0.25 tsp or more depending on quantity of shrimps)
  8. Knorr Chicken Stock Powder (no Knorr doesn’t sponsor my blog, just that I usually use a lot of Knorr stuff)
Prawns with Chilli

Prawns with Chilli

In a pan, put some oil and add onions to it.  Saute’ onions for a while and then add ginger garlic paste, salt, red chilli flakes, and one sachet of knorr chicken stock powder. Add breaded shrimps to this mixture as well, then cover the pan and let them cook for a 5-7 minutes on mild flame. Afterwards, you can add green peppers and soya sauce and fry the mixture for a while till shrimps are properly cooked. Serve it with rice and salad. Yum!

 

When life gives you lemons!

There were times when I used to live and breathe blogging. No matter how busy I used to be, I would still make sure to take time out to blog and through blogging I found so many amazing people who have become friends for life, some even across border. Those were the days when I would not even hesitate to pull an all-nighter to give my blog a face uplift just because of a fellow blogger’s friendly comment, “Oye, apnay blog k kapray change karo” (Hey, change your blog’s clothes) or to blog for causes that were close to my heart (remember TakeBackTheTech anyone?) or merely to write about day to day things going on in my life. I would then go on to read latest posts on several other blogs, commenting on them or checking response to comments left earlier. Comments were what connected us and brought us all together. Most of us would not even look forward to anything else but comments; yes, not even Ads! In fact a lot of us including me would find Ads UGLY and would try our best to keep our blogs ad-free.  Amidst, all this life continued to happen, I stepped up the corporate ladder or so I thought while frantically running around trying to find that piece of cheese in the rat race (confused? time for you to read “Who Moved My Cheese”), moved to another country, started living alone on my own for the first time in life, got a place that I could decorate my way, learnt to drive and felt on top of the world. I was happy, really happy till reality hit – something felt missing but I would not get time to even ponder on what is missing because well, got to focus on running fast in the rat race!

Reality then hit a bit harder when I started having health problems that I never had. Migraine?! What? Me? Is the doctor really telling me that not having enough sleep triggers that? Like really? Who was that person who’d stay up for even 36 hours doing things that she was passionate about? Wasn’t it me? Perhaps, ’tis all part of growing old (well almost), I convinced myself and continued to run the rat race even faster but then life also continues to teach you the same lesson again and again until you learn it. I continued to feel some void, I was not doing things that I once loved doing, I was no longer social me whom people would call “the walking/talking Facebook” and worst of all, I felt I was losing purpose of life. From there, it just got worse and past few months have turned out to be pretty tumultuous but then I have been too busy to even sit back and figure out about how to take back control of my own life until one night recently when I had come back home really tired from work, had to see a friend but it was already quite late and well I had to sleep in time so as to take proper 7-8 hours sleep (got to avoid migraine triggers remember?) However, thought I would first give a quick call to family and then hit the sack. On calling my family, I figured from my mom’s feeble voice that she has been unwell. She was crying and missing me and all I could hear in the background was my brother trying to tell her not to bother me. I felt distant, I felt disconnected just as my family was seeing me at that time so, in a spur of moment, I decided to take the next available flight and get back home to be with my ailing mother, while a voice at the back of my head continued shouting, “Hey, are you crazy? Who is going to take care of those several important meetings tomorrow? You can’t go! You just can’t go like that!”  But I ignored it and went ahead.

While I have continued to wok still somewhat crazy hours remotely since I have been to my hometown to be with my mother, I at least feel at peace knowing that I was at least able to break free from the shackles of my corporate slavery influenced thoughts albeit briefly. While the trip back home has somewhat been stressful, still being at a place where I have spent most of my childhood and adult life has helped reflect on the priorities in life. I have been able to step back a little and realize that I need to slow down and resume doing things that I once loved doing and blogging is one of those things because well, it is therapeutic specially when life gives you lemons!

There is, however, something more you can do with the lemons that life throws your way – take them and apply them on a coal-roasted corn on the cob with a bit of masala and voila there you have a most delicious bhutta as we call it in Urdu! I did just that and yes it makes me feel better because this is one of those things that is tough to find outside of Pakistan.

Yet, anxiety still continues to get the best of me at times so now I am trying to tackle it with a glass of cold, sweet, creamy lassi – burp!  Next in line is a street bun-kabab which my brother has refused to get me but my protests continue and I think he will give in to my demands pretty soon.

 

Digital Payment Channels and Insuretech

Last year in November, I found myself standing at a 160m (over 500ft) ready to jump – one thought that crossed my mind quite a few times at that moment was that it would have been good had I got some insurance cover which unfortunately I didn’t have and it was too late to get one. For those curious to know if I was suicidal – no I was not, I was at a beautiful place in Nepal ready to bungee jump. I have been quite an adventurous traveler and having born and lived most of my life in a country where insurance mostly has been a luxury, I never paid much importance to having one during my travels until of course I had a look at the harness that my life pretty much depended on during bungee jumping and thoughts of having fractured skull or a dislocated spine felt quite real. While thankfully, I survived the bungee jump unhurt, it made me think if my smart payment channel ATM that I had used to purchase my flight ticket to Nepal could be smarter enough to suggest me a travel insurance at time of ticket purchase and I might actually have got one.

In this age, when all our systems are more integrated than ever and information could easily be shared across them, would it not be cool if we use this to our advantage and based on customer’s transactional data and trends could suggest him/her insurance covers? I would be a much happier person if my mobile banking app that I use to pay for my traffic fines in case of an accident or otherwise could suggest me of the vehicle insurance options available rather than me having to browse the web and get quotes to decide which vehicle insurance would suit me most. This is what I had to do to get my vehicle insurance renewed this year and at the end of the process, a call center agent from one of the insurance aggregation websites sent me a link via email asking me to enter my card details in order to purchase the insurance I had chosen. It took me a few close looks at the URL sent and a phone call to a friend who had used the same website to get his car insurance, to trust that payment gateway with my credit card details. It would have been much more convenient had I gotten a token number to pay against through any of my e-payment channels.

Years ago one of the banks I was banking with in Pakistan had a similar mechanism in place to inform customers if they would like to insure the amount withdrawn from ATM as ATM snatchings were quite common. We need to just use and extend the same idea to make insurance offerings for health, education, travel and more as Insuretech and Fintech hand-in-hand could do wonders!

Is debit card still a primary instrument for e-payments?

Payments and FinTech industry has always proved to be an exciting arena of innovation which is continuously evolving. When I graduated from university almost a decade ago, I did not hold a bank account but I was required to open one as soon as I took my first job so my salary could be transferred to that account. Alongside the account, I got a debit card as well so I could easily withdraw money from my account using an ATM or make purchases through POS. For years I used the account for the same reasons only, however, later with the convenience that internet banking brought, I started using my account for funds transfer to others as well and even today, I mainly use my bank account to get my salary and then withdraw cash or to transfer funds to others including bill payments.

Like many others, I barely use my debit card unless it is for withdrawal from ATM and that is what makes me question if debit card is still a primary instrument for e-banking as it used to be till few years ago?   I believe with introduction of alternative payment mechanisms that allow one do cardless transactions and practically almost everything with your mobile, debit cards and bank accounts will soon become supplementary.

A kid fresh out of school may no longer need to have a bank account to receive his/her salary when taking up a job. All companies may have to do is to integrate their ERP system with a mobile wallet system to disburse salary of all employees to theirs m-wallets at the end of each month. Employees could use their mobile phones as a primary instrument to withdraw cash from an ATM, make purchases, fund transfers or bill payments. While the world is moving towards hands-free payments (see Google’s Hand-free), m-wallets or perhaps virtual cards linked to m-wallets can certainly make debit cards a thing of past.This could help banks and financial institutions save all the cost of issuing, maintaining and securing debit cards while giving the customers freedom to do all their transactions with their mobile phones instead of a piece of plastic.

 

 

 

Could Omnichannel Experience be used for Customer Assistance?

Since last year, banks and financial institutions have actively been trying to implement and materialize on the concept of omni-channel banking so much so that it is being referred to as the “new normal” for banking.  Customers now have access to multiple cross-channels features for instance, having the ability to withdraw cash from ATM even when you forget to bring your card with you, as your mobile can act as an alternative instrument to authenticate you over ATM and get you access to your account. This could be done through NFC enabled transactions or through initiating cardless withdrawal request through a mobile banking channel.

ATMs are still used by a large majority because of easy access and this usage is only expected to grow as banks continue to transform their branches into digital branches where self-serv ATMs will play an integral role. However, in order to achieve increased customer satisfaction, banks and financial institutions have to make the usage of ATMs as hassle free for customers as possible and one way to make this possible is to use omni-channel approach even for customer assistance.

Imagine a customer mistakenly entering wrong pin a few times till his/her card gets blocked and is captured by the ATM. The customer then has to go through a long process of visiting the branch to authentic himself/herself and re-claim access to the card. S/He is then usually required to call a call-center to get the card re-activated. All this if s/he is lucky to be a customer of a bank that has policy to return the captured cards after some verification. If s/he happens to be customer of a bank that by its own policies or by those regulated by the country’s central bank does not return captured card then s/he will have to go through an arduous process of getting a new card issued which may take days to weeks.

In such scenarios, omni-channel approach could possibly bring some relief by building intelligence around card capture event raised by an ATM. The system monitoring ATMs and their events or the ATM itself could be enhanced to notify a CRM or IVR system in event of a card capture along with customer and terminal information. Upon receipt of such information, an automated call could be placed to a customer through IVR or a call-center operator could manually place a call to customer immediately and guide him/her through the process of getting the card back from same terminal following some authentication.  This authentication could be done through a biometric device or a NFC or mobile banking based authentication. Alternatively, an assisted mode could be enabled on the terminal in which case, a remote agent could establish a session with the customer via the same terminal on the spot, do some manual verification just as it is done in a branch and return the customer’s card instantly.

This could save customers as well as banks from a lot of hassle. However, for it to become a reality banks, regulatory authorities and fintech organizations providing ATM and other channel-banking solutions will need to work together to put in place a robust framework built around intelligent machines and processes that are secure, reliable and do not have any loop holes that could potentially be exploited.

 

 

 

Travel Bits: Tech Forum Central Asia 3 and Trip to Beautiful Kazakhstan

In June last year, I had a privilege to conduct a Digital Security training at Tech Forum Central Asia 3 organized by US Consulate Almaty. The conference was fun and it was a great experience meeting trainers from different parts of the world and trainees mostly from different parts of Central Asia. I was impressed by the enthusiasm and passion that each one of the participants was filled with, passion to learn, to grow and to make a difference. Here’s the coverage of event in Cosmopolitan Kazakhstan.

Cosmo

I found Almaty – Kazakhstan to be one of the most beautiful places that I have ever been to and one of the things I absolutely loved about Almaty were the CHOCOLATES. You get some delicious chocolates in Almaty fresh from the chocolate factory. At one point in time, I felt like Charlie in the Chocolate Factory. Moreover, I love the scenic city, lovely people who despite not being able to understand English would be willing to help you and guide you and oh they love bollywood songs and movies! 😀

It was my first experience to travel to a country where English was almost not understood and I had to rely on communicating using Google Translate and using signs but despite this, I managed to shop in one of the really crowded markets of Almaty all on my own. I did lose my way but luckily found someone who spoke pretty good English and turned out to be a English teacher at one of the schools so, I  managed to get back to my hotel just in time to leave for airport and catch my flight back home.

Here are some of the pictures from beautiful Almaty – I wish I could go there again someday specially for skiing 🙂

Photos Courtesy:  Ollie (https://www.flickr.com/photos/14763412@N00/)

Tech Forum Central Asia 3

 

Tech Forum Central Asia 3 Tech Forum Central Asia 3

Tech Forum Central Asia 3 Tech Forum Central Asia 3

Tech Forum Central Asia 3

How to be vulnerable and immune at the same time?

Been so long since I last blogged and so much has changed (for good Alhamdulilah) since then, however, if anything that has not changed at all for as long as I remember is my habit of making myself vulnerable (or so all say and I think they are not really wrong). I like being honest and I genuinely care about people so I can sleep peacefully at night without having to worry if I have wronged anyone. So, if I like you, you will find me go out of the way to do things that I feel could make you happy, if I do not like you, I may still meet you nicely if we come across each other but you may find me keeping some distance. If you ever need help, I’ll at least try to do whatever I can in my limited capacity to help you whether or not I like you. I feel glad to be of help to others and also if anyone seeks my advice I give a sincere one. This is where the problem begins. I love, I care, I empathize, I go out of the way to make life at least a tad bit easier for you, I feel your pain and sometimes if I feel I have also been through same, I open my heart to share my experiences with you to make you feel you are not alone, I try to share your burden and all I expect in return from you is a kind acknowledgement of all the effort I make. While I have been lucky to have some acknowledging my genuine love, care and respect for them, unfortunately there are many who either exploit me or refuse to acknowledge whatever little I have done for them and even that might not really matter but what hurts is how they’d rather say I have not helped them at all or have made things worse for them which is what hurts, yes it really hurts!  Some even go on to labeling me as arrogant, selfish and unhelpful if at times I really can’t be of help and I excuse. I excuse because I do not wish to give anyone false hopes. However, the reaction I receive makes me think if I should just stop genuinely caring for others? Should I just fake a “Oh I so feel for you” look and do not do my bit to help them even when I know I can? Should I just stop being sincere and say what others wish to hear rather what I feel they need to hear to make better decisions? Would that end my vulnerability to be hurt or is there any other way to be vulnerable yet immune to the hurt that follows when you care about others?

Payments Industry Frauds – are you really prepared?

Note: My this article originally published in Business Recorder March 12, 2015.

Banks, Telcos and other Financial Institutions in Pakistan and globally are innovating and launching new electronic payment services at a promising pace, however, fraudsters on the other hand are also coming up with inventive tactics at a steady pace, to compromise these digital payments. Be it J.P. Morgan Hack leading to information leak of close to 80 million accounts or Target’s security breach in United States that lead to theft of at least 40 million credit cards’ information, for past two years the payments industry world-wide has been witnessing some of the biggest third party frauds of history. Having no similar statistics available on security breaches from within Pakistan does not indicate that the local industry has managed to secure itself, rather it just indicates the lack of reporting from this aspect as well as the need of heightened security scrutiny.
The recent Carbanak attack that targeted ATMs world-wide including Pakistan and resulted in losses of millions of dollars should be enough to raise alarms for Pakistan being on the target list of international gangs. Compliance to international security standards hence becomes a necessity to avoid financial and reputational risks by enabling customers to carry out safe and secure payments.

While there is no single standard that could act as a silver bullet, following are some of the security practices that are essentially needed for a multi-layered security strategy to thwart attacks:

PCI-DSS Compliance PCI-DSS known as the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard is a widely used standard that applies to different entities involved in processing of card-based and cash-based transactions. It requires networks involved in exchange and processing of transaction information to be secure using Firewalls and other network level security measures. Similarly, all the servers, systems and applications involved in processing of financial transactions also need to be hardened with all necessary anti-malware installed. At the network and OS level, all latest security patches should be regularly installed. Stringent access control parameters also need to be in place to stop any un-authorised access to systems and/or applications.

All the software applications and solutions being used in payment processing play a critical role in enabling financial institutions to achieve PCI DSS Compliance as this standard has laid out specific rules for management of card, customer and transactional data. Any card holder information such as Track 2 or PIN data etc is to be transmitted in an encrypted format. Similarly, not all transactional data is not to be revealed completely for all application users and instead data masking technique is to be used. Several other rules respect to password policy and overall information security are also provided by PCI DSS.

In order to encourage development of applications that comply with these standards, the PCI Security Standards has also introduced a set of best practices for software application providers and vendors under the banner of PA-DSS compliance. For instance, TPS flagship product IRIS Enterprise Switch happens to be the only the Pakistani fintech product which has officially been awarded PA-DSS Compliance Certificate by the PCI Council.

EMV Compliance Pakistani card market is hugely dominated by Magstripe based cards whereas the increasing skimming and counterfeit based frauds highlight the need to switch to EMV complaint chip and pin based cards. While some of the local banks and financial institutions have started launching EMV based cased, there is need to migrate the existing card base to EMV complaint cards. For this issuer banks need card personalization systems that are capable of producing chip based cards according to EMV/Co standards. Additionally, the acquiring terminals be it ATMs or Point-of-Sale machines also need to be EMV compliant. This would help the local customers benefit from the cryptographic card authentication mechanisms.

Encryption and Tokenization Encryption enables merchants, acquirers and issuer banks to encrypt the tunnel carrying card holder/customer data or the data itself that is being transmitted. Encryption could be E2EE (End-to-End Encryption) or P2PE (Point-to-Point Encryption).

To further secure data, the technique of Tokenization is now being used to translate card holder data into randomly generated irreversible data after transaction is authorised and also codes against sensitive data in processing at the backend. In addition to these security techniques, Card-less transactions through bio-metric signature and other technologies such as NFC also seem to bring in secure payment mechanisms, however, it all largely depends on how long it takes for vulnerabilities in these systems to be exposed too. For any organisation, the key to prevent and mitigate frauds is to continuously invest in implementing latest security measures, create awareness in all stakeholders (merchants, customers and employees) about taking appropriate actions for secure transactions and complying with global security standards.

TPS Pakistan TPS was established in 1996 to provide bespoke payment systems and top notch customer services to banks. Focused since its inception to bring efficiency and convenience in banking and payments through use of right technology, TPS offers a combination of technical and business expertise in the area of card management, multi-channel issuing and acquiring, payment processing, alternate delivery channel management, bills payment, remittances, payment gateways and internet and mobile banking.

Today TPS serves over 120 customers across 32 countries in multiple industry verticals such as banks, telecoms, payment processors, central banks, exchange houses, issuers, acquirer and other financial institutions, across 32 countries in MEA, Europe, and Asia. Our prestigious clients for enterprise payment solution in the region include Central Bank of UAE, 1LINK (Pakistan), Network Int’l (UAE), EasyPaisa (Pakistan) and Omnibus (Bangladesh). Fariha Akhtar is currently serving as a technical solutions specialist in TPS. She is a technologist with strong passion for payments domain. She has been associated with TPS for over 7 years.