SIBOS, the premier annual event for the biggest (and aspiring) financial institutions to hobnob and network, is traditionally focused on core product offerings and bank-to-bank partnerships. This year in Sydney was a marked difference to the past – blockchain and machine learning, contextual banking and Open APIs – filled a lot of mental space and discussions.
Looking at blockchain and distributed ledgers, a few key items stand out.
Two trade finance platforms, both on R3’s Corda, were Marco Polo and Voltron. Marco Polo is for open account trade finance, and is the more established of the two. Several banks were advertising their involvement in the platform. Voltron is much newer, having formed only within the last few weeks, focusing on documentary trade finance. Think letters of credit and all the paperwork that that entails.
I caught up with the NatWest trade finance team who explained their grand ambitions for blockchain – specifically R3 Corda – and their aspirations to build new products and services on the platform.
One start-up, Identitii, is building a platform for the sharing of rich data between organisations; one obvious use case are payments, where traditional payment rails may be limited in the data they can share. Their platform, called Overlay+, ‘overlays’ meta-data on a blockchain with a small ecosystem of integration components. For payments, this means a bank submits the usual details via traditional payment rails, and then creates a shared, secure document on the blockchain to send details to the correspondent or beneficiary banks. Everyone can see the rich data in real-time and take more informed action. This capability could be extended to other use cases in the future such as KYC.
Similar to Identitii, there are some big pushes for ‘sovereign digital identity’. This usually takes the form of attestations or endorsements of shared facts between a network of participants, both individuals and organisations. The key point here is that the individual – not an organisation – owns his or her own identity and can share parts of that identity in a secure and managed way. Consensus’ uPort and EY’s Passport were on demonstration. EY’s Passport demonstration was built specifically for product on-boarding. While there is definite interest in digital identities due to the potential KYC savings, this area is also considered very nascent.
And as appropriate for a conference hosted by SWIFT, SWIFT discussed future phases of their Global Payments Initiative (stylised as SWIFT gpi) which is expected to include some blockchain concepts. Of course, Ripple was out in force highlighting their growing network and recent Ripple xCurrent 4.0 release, which includes new capabilities to streamlining payments as well as improving liquidity.
Other Cases & Takeaways
Several other start-ups and established banks were demonstrating their explorations into blockchain, from more well known names such as Digital Asset, BlockApps, and ConsenSys, to smaller and more focused groups like Token and Bankex.
There is significant interest in blockchain for banking services, but it seems the established financial institutions are still grappling with just how to incorporate blockchain into their existing operations and services.