The Evolving ACH Landscape

The Evolving ACH Landscape

We’ve been tracking blockchain, distributed ledgers, etc for a number of years, and we’ve always been enthusiastic with the promise…but pointed out that it isn’t quite there yet, at least for payments. An announcement today caught our eyes:

"The Innovation Engineering team at Royal Bank of Scotland has built a Clearing and Settlement Mechanism (CSM) based on the Ethereum distributed ledger and smart contract platform."

In the Finextra article announcing it it says:

"The test results evidenced a throughput of 100 payments per second, with 6 simulated banks, and a single trip mean time of 3 seconds and maximum time of 8 seconds," states the bank. "This is the level appropriate for a national level domestic payments system."

So first the positives. That’s significantly higher throughput than any other test we’ve seen so far, by a fair margin. It’s also faster than many other systems.

But…

We’d perhaps take issue with “appropriate level” though. Not a criticism of the test or the technology, but more a reflection of the task.

100 payments per second sounds an awful lot to those not in payments. With 86,400 seconds in a day, that’s 8.4m transactions a day. UK Faster Payments in August was running at around 3.2m transactions a day. Yet of course payments don’t flow uniformly through out the day or even day by day. Anecdotally, we’ve been told that c.70% of Faster Payment transactions are sent between the last settlement of the day and the first one the next day, a window of c. 16 hours. But realistically few of those will be made at, say, 3am. The actual window is therefore closer to 8 hours or less for those 70%. That means, even if they are running evenly, it's approximately 110 transactions per second.

The system will be scalable, so it would seem feasible for Faster Payments to be replaced by what was tested. However, in fact it perhaps highlights the real issue. On an average day, it would cope. It’s planning for the unaverage day that’s the issue. The UK ACH system, BACS, highlights this well.

BACS processes on an average day roughly 15m transactions. Given the operating window for the actual processing (10pm to 4am), that’s actually c. 700 transactions a second, significantly higher that the test through-put. But systems have to be designed to cope with worst case scenarios, referred to as peak days. These occur when month ends meet quarter ends meet various other things such as Public Holidays. The BACS record peak day to date is 103.7m. That’s a staggering 4,800 transactions a second.

What do we learn from this?

The technology being tested has evolved rapidly, and is continuing to do so. The volumes now being processed are rising rapidly. Yet today the technology probably isn’t ready for a national payment system quite yet, with the exception of some smaller countries or for specific lower volume systems such as high value. Furthermore, it's important that the systems are tested from a peak day plus a comfortable amount of head room on top (nobody wants to operate at 99.99% capacity!)

But compared to as little as 18 months ago it, the conversation has shifted noticeably from could it replace to should it replace, signifying the very real possibility that it will happen in the near future. Coupled with APIs and PSD2, the payments industry could look radically different in less than a decade.

 

 

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.

Top trends in corporate banking webinar

Top trends in corporate banking webinar

Please join me on Thursday, April 21st at noon EST for an overview of the 2016 edition of our Top Trends in Corporate Banking report, which was published in March.

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Corporate banks continue to place an enormous focus on investing in digital channels to meet the ever-increasing demands of clients for enhanced tools while boosting security and fraud prevention. Despite this investment, corporate banking has lagged in terms of adoption of innovative technologies. To improve that performance, corporate banking lines of business are undertaking a broad set of initiatives to overcome the inertia that has left clients behind in terms of innovation. Among the top trends, we will examine the opportunities in trade finance and customer onboarding for improving efficiency and enhancing client satisfaction.  Other top trends include fintech partnerships, distributed ledger technology and open APIs and adapting liquidity management strategies.  I look forward to having you join us on Thursday! 

Click here to register