Blockchain Use Cases for Corporate Banking

Blockchain Use Cases for Corporate Banking

Corporate banking has long been a relationship-based business, with large global banks having the distinct advantage of being able to provide clients with a comprehensive set of financial services delivered through integrated solutions. Distributed ledger technology, often referred to as blockchain, threatens to disrupt the sector with its potential to improve visibility, lessen friction, automate reconciliation, and shorten cycle times. In particular, corporate banking use cases focusing on traditional trade finance, supply chain finance, cross-border payments, and digital identify management have attracted significant attention and investment.

Traditional Trade Finance: Largely paper-based with extended cycle times, DLT could eliminate inefficiencies arising from connecting disparate stakeholders, risk of documentary fraud, limited transaction visibility, and extended reconciliation timeframes. DLT could finally provide the momentum needed to fully digitize trade documents and move toward an end-to-end digital process.

Supply Chain Finance: SCF is commonly applied to open account trade and is triggered by supply chain events. Similarly to traditional trade finance, the pain points in SCF arise from a lack of transparency across the entire supply chain, both physical and financial. DLT has the potential to be a key enabler for a transparent, global supply chain with stringent tracking of goods and documents throughout their lifecycle.

Cross Border Payments: The traditional cross-border payment process often involves a multi-hop, multi-day process with transaction fees charged at each stage. There are potentially several intermediaries involved in a cross-border payment, creating a lack of transparency, predictability and efficiency. DLT offers an opportunity to eliminate intermediaries, lowering transaction costs and improving liquidity.

Cross Border Payment Flows

KYC/Digital Identity Management: Managing and complying with Know Your Customer (KYC) regulations across disparate geographies remains a complex, inefficient process for both banks and their corporate banking customers. For corporate banking, the DLT opportunity is to centralize digital identity information in a standardized, accessible format including the ability to digitize, store and secure customer identity documentation for sharing across entities.

Both banks and Fintech firms alike are experimenting with DLT solutions for various corporate banking uses cases. In what seems like unprecedented collaboration between financial institutions and technology providers, consortias are working on accelerating the development and adoption of DLT by creating financial grade ledgers and exploring opportunities for commercial applications.

The maturity cycle for the various use cases depends on a number of factors, not the least of which are financial institution requirements for interoperability, confidentiality, a regulatory and legal framework, and optionality. We outline both capital markets and corporate banking uses in more detail in the Celent report, Beyond the Buzz: Exploring Distributed Ledger Technology Use Cases in Capital Markets and Corporate Banking. In addition to key use cases, the report discusses the key needs of financial institutions driving DLT architectural and organization choices, the current state of play, and the path forward for DLT in capital markets and corporate banking.

Building the Collaboration Muscle: Optimizing the Bank / Fintech Relationship

Building the Collaboration Muscle: Optimizing the Bank / Fintech Relationship

At Celent we’ve long said that banks must become better at partnering. And Fintechs have come around to the realization that it’s going to be the rare beast that can compete head-on with incumbent financial institutions – most will fare better by figuring a way to cooperate with them instead.

Eastern Bank, Celent’s 2016 Model Bank of the Year, took this idea one step farther by building Eastern Labs within the bank – an in-house Fintech. While most institutions won’t be able to replicate this (it’s really hard!), there are nevertheless some lessons for banks as they consider best how to engage with smaller, nimbler firms.  The diagram below shows the complementary strengths and weaknesses that banks and fintechs bring to a joint endeavor.

1603Master Slides for Eastern Model Bank Final_009

When they get together, some weaknesses of fintechs are mitigated (e.g., they now have access to data and a brand), while many of the disadvantages of a bank persist (e.g., slowness and risk aversion). Additionally, new complications arise: goals diverge, information may not be completely shared, the cultures are wildly different, and handoffs can be agonizingly slow.

So what are the lessons when a financial institution engages with a fintech? We’d suggest concentrating on four key challenges.

  • Focus on individual goals to ensure that they’re compatible, even though they’ll be different
  • Be as transparent as possible and build that transparency into processes from the beginning
  • Recognize cultural differences and address them at the outset; be realistic about the challenges
  • Set expectations about achievable timelines

Although other complications will undoubtedly arise, partnering is a muscle that banks haven’t exercised much. With practice and training, that muscle will get stronger, and with enough dedication, it will play a vital role in propelling the bank to the next level.

The Future of Zapp and Other Musings on MasterCard and VocaLink

The Future of Zapp and Other Musings on MasterCard and VocaLink

Yesterday, my colleague Gareth shared on these pages his first thoughts after the announcement that MasterCard is buying VocaLink. I agree with his points, but also wanted to add some of my own observations.

As someone who closely follows the developments in digital payments, one of the questions following the acquisition to me is what happens with Zapp, a solution that VocaLink has been working on for the last few years to bring "mobile payments straight from your bank app." To me, it boils down to two considerations:

  1. Would MasterCard want to kill off Zapp?
  2. If not, can MasterCard help accelerate Zapp's launch?

My view on the first question is a resounding "no". Yet, the question is not as silly as it might seem. At Celent, we have been talking about the "battle of rails" in payments, i.e. between pull-based payments running on the cards infrastructure, and push-based payments, such as Zapp, built on top of new faster/ real-time payment networks. Given the cards' dominance in merchant payments today (at least in the UK, US and quite a few other markets), solutions such as Zapp may be seen as a threat to card-based transactions. Buying off a competitor only to shut it down may be an expensive strategy, but would not be unheard of.

And yet, I believe that such logic would be completely flawed. By buying VocaLink, MasterCard becomes a rail-agnostic payments company, and stands to benefit from cards and non-cards transactions. Furthermore, specifically in the UK, Zapp could be MasterCard's ticket to regaining ground in everyday consumer payments. As I discussed in another recent blog, Visa controls 97% of the debit card market in the UK. I would imagine that a Zapp-like solution would have more of an immediate impact on debit card transactions rather than credit card spend.

So, if that's the case, can MasterCard help accelerate Zapp's launch? Perhaps. We first heard of Zapp in 2013, and even included a case study in a Celent report published in September 2013. Yet, three years later, despite announcing a number of high-profile partners – from Barclays and HSBC, to Sainsbury's and Thomas Cook, to Elavon and Worldpay – Zapp is yet to go live. I don't claim to have any insight knowledge into the reasons for a delay, but I would imagine that changes in the competitive environment had something to do with it, particularly with Apple Pay showing how easy mobile payments can be when paying in-stores or in-apps. While I have no doubt that VocaLink and Zapp have great technologists and User Experience design specialists, I would expect that MasterCard's Digital Enablement Service (MDES) should bring helpful experience of integrating mobile payments into the banks' apps. And MasterCard's relationships with both acquirers and issuers should help convince the remaining skeptics and bring more partners on-board.

Zapp aside, I think the deal is good for both organisations for a number of other reasons, such as for example:

  • Not every payment is particularly suitable for cards (e.g. B2B, government) – now these payment flows become accessible for MasterCard.
  • Visibility to a much broader pool of transactions should be very helpful when developing risk management, loyalty and other value added services.
  • MasterCard's global reach should help bring VocaLink's experience in faster payments to markets which would have been harder for VocaLink to access by themselves.

In closing, I woudl like to go back to another announcement MasterCard made last week – the one about rebranding, the first in 20 years. MasterCard has changed its logo – it still has the interlocking circles in the colours which are widely recognised, but the company's name is spelled "mastercard" (although the company's legal name remains MasterCard):

MC_728x150

According to MasterCard, in addition to a more modern look, there was a conscious desire to reduce the emphasis on "card." That particular announcement was combined with the re-launch of Masterpass, and of course, digital payments will over time reduce the reliance on cards as a physical form factor. However, yesterday's announcement diversifies MasterCard away from card rails, and not just the plastic form factor, and is an important step in the company's journey from a cards network to a payments network.

 

What MasterCards’ Acquisition of VocaLink might mean

What MasterCards’ Acquisition of VocaLink might mean

Today, MasterCard announced the acquisition of VocaLink  in the UK.

Before I start I should say I have worked for both organisations, and any comments that I make are mine, and nor am I mentioning anything that isn’t in the public domain.

In some ways the acquisition is surprising, given all that is happening – PSD2, the PSR threatening to fundamentally change VocaLinks ownership and the PSF (it’s payments – never too far from an acronym!) talking about replacing the infrastructure altogether.

It’s easy to think this is perhaps MasterCard re-inserting themselves back into the UK market as since their acquisition of the Switch brand, virtually all the cards have flipped to Visa. I think it’s actually more for three reasons.

Firstly, real-time payments. I’ve written about the charge towards real-time, and VocaLink are well positioned. They operate the UK Faster Payment Service in the UK, and the underlying technology is at the heart of the systems in Singapore, Thailand and The Clearing House in the US. In addition, the market is likely to explode. The ECB said at a recent conference that they expect 60-80% of all SEPA CT transactions to migrate to SEPA Inst. Even at today’s volumes, that’s 12 billion transactions in addition to the UK’s 1 billion. That's volume any processor would be eyeing. Coupled with PSD2, where card volumes may well fall, then is rationale alone for the acquisition.

Secondly, look at electronic payments more broadly. The VocaLink core payments engine is award winning. It was built to win business across Europe in the post-SEPA world, and is capable of handling multiple schemes on the same platform. Indeed, part of Sweden’s transactions run on it to today alongside a very different UK scheme. Imagine now the offering that MasterCard has in say emerging markets – the ability to deliver 100% of electronic payments.

The third is when you bang together some of the technologies of the two businesses. These are ideas, and of course they are far harder than they sound but just think about the possibilities:

– Real-time payments + MasterCard global network = true real-time global ACH;

– ACH/real-time + low value debit transactions = decoupled debit on your own transactions;

– ISO20222 remitance data + VocaLink B2B skills+ MasterCard global network + MasterCard analytics + MasterCard finances = Synegra meets Tungsten Network, but on steroids.

There is much still to find out, and yet more to mull over, but the signs suggest some exciting times ahead.

Setting Out a Vision for Customer Authentication

Setting Out a Vision for Customer Authentication

We all know that "passwords suck", as my colleague Bob Meara stated clearly and succinctly in his recent blog. But what's the alternative – is the answer biometrics or something else?

We do believe that biometrics is part of the answer. However, our vision for authentication – security measures banks take when providing customers access to their services – is broader than that. Mobile devices will play a key role, but for them to be effective tools for authentication, a strong binding between customer identity and the device is essential – unless this step is done correctly, all subsequent authentication efforts are pointless.

We also contend that authentication must be risk- and context-aware. It should take into account what the customer is trying to do, what device they are using, how they are behaving, etc. and assess the risk of fraudulent behaviour. Depending on that assessment, the customer could either gain access or be asked to further authenticate themselves. And while biometrics can and will play an important role, the banks' authentication platforms need to be flexible to support different authentication factors.

We outline this vision in more detail in the report published yesterday by Celent, Security, Convenience or Both? Setting Out a Vision for Authentication. In addition, the report discusses:

  • The upcoming PSD2 requirements for strong authentication.
  • The rise of biometrics, including different modalities and device-based vs. server-based implementations.
  • An overview of various standard-setting bodies, such as FIDO alliance and W3C Web Authentication Working Group.

Also, yesterday we launched a new Celent Digital Research Panel survey, this time focused on Authentication and Identity management. The objectives of this survey are to assess amongst the US financial institutions:

  1. Investment drivers for customer authentication and identity management.
  2. Current state and immediate plans around authentication and identity management.
  3. Perspectives on the future for authentication and identity management.

If you already received an email invite, we do hope that you will respond before our deadline of August 8th. If you represent an FI in the US, and would like to take part, but haven't received the invite, please contact us at info@celent.com. We will publish the results in a Celent report, and all respondents will receive a copy of the report, irrespective of whether they are Celent clients or not. We look forward to hearing from you!

EBAday 2016: A Brave New World for Payments

EBAday 2016: A Brave New World for Payments

EBAday 2016 LogoHosted by the European Banking Association and Finextra, EBAday attracts payments professionals from leading financial institutions and technology providers. This year’s event was held in Milan Italy with the theme, “A Brave New World for Payments.” Sessions focused on the dilemma facing the payments industry – enhancing existing payment models while preparing for alternative payments and technology.

I had the honor of moderating day two’s strategic roundtable discussing future challenges and opportunities for banks. The panelists were Paolo Cederle, CEO, UniCredit business integrated solutions; Christophe Chazot, group head of innovation, HSBC; and Damian Pettit, RBS head of payment operations.

EBAday 2016 Day Two Panel

The panelists felt that there is a disconnect between the limitations of legacy bank infrastructure and the promise of new technologies. With the majority of bank IT budgets spent on maintenance, the challenge is for banks to keep existing systems running while investing in the future. For customers, there is too much complexity, especially in cross-border payments, and customers want an easy experience at minimal cost.

Discussing Faster Payments in the UK, the panelists said the introduction eight years ago has revolutionized payments, completely changing customer behavior and paving the way for new mobile-based services such as Paym, the UK’s mobile payments service offered by seventeen banks and building societies. For countries having implemented immediate payments, real-time is the new norm and with that comes expectation and demand from customers.

With the EU PSD2 payment services provisions looming on the horizon, the discussion turned to the prospect of disintermediation of banks by third-party providers. The panelists were optimistic about the future, and feel that the regulation is helping to steer the banks toward new initiatives and innovation in services, and is a great opportunity to better service customers and push banks up the value chain.

Regarding the question of whether emerging payment models and technology represent an escalating threat, the response was that instant payments brings security challenges. But the panelists overwhelmingly agreed that convenience and speed cannot come at the cost of security–safety and security is absolutely paramount.

The discussion then moved onto the theme of disruption — are payments in a revolutionary or evolutionary phase? The panelists felt it was a bit of both. Revolutionary technologies such mobile and artificial intelligence are pushing payments along an evolutionary path. And banks have an advantage. The Fintech startups entering the market don't have the direct customer interaction and track record that banks have in safety and security. The banks are running hackathons and open to working with startups while improving legacy systems and simplifying the customer proposition.

All of the panelists’ banks are members of the R3 blockchain consortium. Blockchain is bringing a new way of working together for banks and technology providers. Each of the panelists is watching the technology closely and one area of opportunity cited was the last mile of the payments chain and in the trade finance arena.

My take-away from the roundtable was that the global payments industry is transforming. The “brave new world” is one with an imperative to be nimble, keeping your eye on all of the opportunities both for existing payment models as well as alternative technologies. Collaboration is key whether through acquisitions, consortiums, partnerships or open source projects.

Blockchain: Beware the Hype

Blockchain: Beware the Hype

At Celent, we just published a new research report with the same title as this blog – Blockchain: Beware the Hype. Why such a title? Isn't blockchain the coolest technology out there at the moment?

It is. At Celent, we firmly believe that blockchains and other shared ledger platforms will be a powerful catalyst for change in financial services and other industries for many years to come. There are some very promising use cases, particularly in cross-border payments, corporate banking, and capital markets, and even outside of financial services, in identity management, trade logistics, healthcare, and many other sectors. Even if “blockchain” ends up being a small component of the ultimate solutions, it facilitates new thinking that forces organisations to reimagine how they work, both internally and externally. And that can only be a good thing.

However, we do caution against succumbing to the hype, which is inevitable for any new exciting technologies. Blockchain hype is particularly acute, given the complexities of the underlying technologies. Nobody wants to be left behind when proclaiming the benefits of blockchain, but not everybody truly understands how those benefits can be achieved.

Luckily, the investment going into shared ledger technologies is resulting in a growing number of individuals and organisations lending their collective resources to explore deeply how financial services can benefit from these technologies. Their efforts are directed at exploring practical use cases (e.g. Everledger, Ripple, Shocard), developing new technology and tools (e.g. Ethereum, Intel, Multichain) and building out infrastructure for blockchain initiatives (e.g. IBM, Microsoft), with a number of firms engaged across the board. And the collaborative efforts such as the Hyperledger project or R3 are also bearing fruit – for example, R3 recently announced Corda, a new distributed ledger platform specifically designed for financial services.

We do think that is the way forward: thinking carefully about suitability of technology for the business problem at hand, and deconstructing blockchain technology to its fundamental components only to assemble the most attractive features in a way that makes sense for financial services. That is what will ultimately help us all move beyond the hype.

Celent research clients can access the full report here.

The banking railroad of innovation: Follow the river

The banking railroad of innovation: Follow the river

I'm a big fan of the old movie classics. The TMC channel was a loyal companion during my graduate school days at the University of Illinois, offering a comforting black and white backdrop to frequent all-day programming sessions, and today I frequently call on TMC to get me through my daily hour-long treadmill sessions.

This weekend TMC offered up Jimmy Stewart as railroad detective Grant McLaine in 1957's Night Passage. A classic Western, McLaine was fired in disgrace over a railroad robbery carried out by his estranged brother, only to be offered a second chance to prove his loyalty to the railroad by being the courier for a large cash payroll being sent to the workers at the rail head.

Night Passage Poster

Grant's companion during the critical train ride to the rail head was young Joey.  Riding with Grant on a flatbed car as the train twisted and turned through the Rocky Mountains, Joey asked Grant how the railroad builders knew the best route through the harsh terrain.  This question gives Jimmy Stewart the rare opportunity to showcase his singing and accordion-playing skills as he responds by singing a song called "Follow The River".  The song ends with the chorus:

"Follow the river,
Wherever you may be,
Follow the river back to me."

Just as the railroad builders used the river to guide the design and layout of the early railroads, bankers have used technology to guide how banking services are designed and built.  In an interesting bit of historical irony, the first use of machine-based bank processing was being rolled out by the Bank of America just as Night Passage was hitting the movie theaters.

The system was called ERMA (Electronic Recording Method of Accounting), a machine-driven approach to electronically reading checks and processing the bank's accounts.  ERMA was co-developed by Bank of America and the Stanford Research Institute, launched in 1958, and was able to process 50,000 accounts per day.  While ERMA's initial capacity was small by today's standards, in those days, it represented an outlandish number in comparison with 10,000 accounts per month that BOA estimated it could process using existing paper-based manual methods.

ERMA ushered in the era of Big Iron in banking (a term also used to describe railroad locomotives), as improvements in the speed and capacity of what we today call the mainframe computer facilitated the rapid growth of the large banks during the 1960s and 70s.  Mainframe computers running programs powered by Rear Admiral Grace Hopper's newly developed Common Business Oriented Language (COBOL) became the river that banks followed when planning and building new banking systems like Electronic Payments (EFT), Electronic Tellers (ATM), and others to meet emerging customer demands.

Mainframe computers are interesting from operational processing perspective in that data (specifically customer accounts and daily transaction data) takes a while to load, but once loaded accounts can be processed at a lightning-fast rate.  While ERMA could process only 50,000 accounts in a day, modern mainframes can process millions of accounts in a matter of a few hours.  COBOL itself as a programming language was scorned nearly from Day One by the computer science cognoscenti as a crude and unstructured way to build an enterprise system. 

In 1975, a respected Dutch computer scientist named Edsger Dijkstra made the famous comment that: "With respect to COBOL you can really do only one of two things: fight the disease or pretend that it does not exist, " before concluding, "the use of COBOL cripples the mind; its teaching should therefore be regarded as a criminal offense."  Despite the withering criticism from academia, mainframe vendors and banks moved forward on the basis that the systems simply workedThroughput is the key to understanding how high-volume banking systems and today's railroad system works. 

A case in point is the Canadian National railroad's purchase in 2007 of the Elgin, Joliet & Eastern Line (EJE) to facilitate its rail connection of parts east and west through Chicago.  While the distrance from Gary, Indiana to Waukegan, Illinois is only 70 miles by car, CN now connects these points using EJE's 198 miles of track.  This makes no apparent sense until you consider that CN is now able to route cross-country trains around the busy hub of Chicago, where previously CN endured a variety of operational restrictions and traffic jams arising from the many at-grade crossings through the congested urban core.  To CN, routing traffic around Chicago rather than through Chicago resulted in more throughput and fewer train delays, more than compensating for the additional mileage.

And so it has gone for the banking processing. The use of oft-criticized COBOL and the unique operating characteristics of mainframe computers was tolerated as there were no other alternatives for banks requiring reliable processing at very high scale. That is, until recently.

Just as the river in Night Passage twisted and turned through the Rockies, the path of technological progress has twisted in an unexpected way to many bankers, as cloud services are now challenging the hegemony of mainframe-based banking systems. While a top of the line mainframe computer can be purchased with more than a 100 lightning fast processors, a bank can "rent" thousands, even tens of thousands, processors for 10 minutes, 10 days, or 10 years. Using software that is tuned to manage the distributed processing of bank accounts across thousands of virtual machines, banks can now meet and exceed the enormous throughput of their mainframe computers at a fraction of the cost.

The king of mainframe computing, IBM, clearly understands and has responded to the changing role of the mainframe in banking.  During the 50th Anniversary celebration of the mainframe in 2014, IBM rolled out its new vision of the mainframe as an uber-sized cloud server, allowing for the hosting of several thousand virtual machines at one time.  Last summer, IBM upped the ante with the annoucement of IBM LinuxONE Emperor, a z13-based server allowing for up to 8,000 virtual machines to be hosted on a single machine.

While banks have experimented with cloud services to varying degrees, most of the innovation has taken place at the channel services level, with new online and (particularly) mobile banking applications getting a technology refresh through the unique benefits of cloud services.  While each bank will need to build its own business case for the gradual porting of COBOL-based account processing systems to modern programming languges that are "cloud-ready", it is clear that cloud-based account processing will allow the level of agility in product development that is increasingly called for as channel and payment systems continue to evolve.

Cloud-backed innovation in back office systems has been slow to develop, with many banks citing security and the fear of regulatory issues as inhibitors to adoption.  As the recent two-part Celent report Banking in the Cloud:  Between Rogues and Regulators establishes, regulators in fact do not have any objections to banks hosting their banking services in the cloud, provided that banks follow the same standard of care (including encryption, access controls, data masking, etc.) that they manage for in their own data center.

In time, I expect that the banking railroad will continue to follow the river of innovation that is now leading us directly into the age of cloud services. The proven yet inflexible COBOL-based systems that have served the industry reliably for 50 years will be replaced with agile and cloud ready account processing platforms that will over time both reduce costs and the drive service quality improvements that banks will need to compete and survive in the increasingly competitive world of financial services.

Digital banking is ready to take off in Latin America

Digital banking is ready to take off in Latin America

Digital is the new reality in Latin America. In a recent Celent survey 100% of the participants recognized that a scenario where all financial products get digitized needs to be addressed sometime in the next 7 years and 59% of them believe it needs to be addressed immediately. There is also a general consensus that most banks are entering into Digital late, despite some are already moving in that direction. Threat of fintechs is also a reality. Over 80 fintechs in Brazil and 60 in Colombia are a good sense that the industry is already being challenged beyond incumbents.

In other geographies Banks have responded to this threat by becoming extremely digital and also neo-banks have been launched to attract those customers seeking for a more friendly and digital relationship with its financial institution. Atom Bank in the UK, Fidor Bank in Germany, and mBank in Poland are only a few to mention. In Latin America the major milestones in Digital development we had seen were Nubank (Brazil – Market Cap $500M) and Bankaool (Mexico – ~$142M in assets), until March of 2016 when Banco Original (~$1,67Bn in assets) launched in Brazil.

While Nubank is focused entirely in offering a credit card with a customer friendly personalized real-time view of expenses and modern contact channels (email, call or chat), Bankaool is mainly focused in a checking account with a debit card, SME loans and investment vehicles.

Banco Original is the 3rd step in this digital only bank strategy in the region, becoming the 1st universal digital only bank in Latin America.  As part of its strategy to position the bank as different and innovative they launched this advertising campaign featuring Usain Bolt. As part of a strategic definition in 2013 the bank started a ~$152M investment over the period of 3 years to become a digital bank. They launched in March of this year . The bank has no branches and the interaction is 100% through digital channels and a call center. This move was central to its strategy of becoming a universal bank moving away of being solely focused in agribusiness.

While most of neo-banks and fintechs looking to change the customer experience in financial services have adopted in-house development to support their digital strategy, this is not the case of Banco Original which relied in a 3rd party Open API solution. Commercially available solutions that can support a digital only bank means that as an industry we are ready to take off. There is no reason now why other banks should not follow, and software vendors will do their part pushing their offering into banks of all sizes.

I believe that we are in a tipping point were banks in Latin America will need to re-think their investments and strategies towards digital: the threat is now real.

Two upcoming reports will be covering Digital and a couple of disruptive scenarios in the banking industry in Latin America, so expect to have more information soon if you are a Celent customer. If you would like to become a Celent customer please contact Fabio Sarrico (fsarrico@celent.com).