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Banks and Blockchain

Dheepak Rajoo, SVP, Head of IT, RBL Bank

Dheepak is a technology leader, passionate about improving existing business models and financial solutions using emerging technologies such as API, Blockchain, ML, Big Data, AR/VR/IoT and AI, having expertise across across banking, insurance, and financial services.

Bank:The concept of banking in India could be traced back to the Vedic period (700-100 BCE) and has evolved since. It continued to exist in the medieval period and Colonial era. And modern banking emerged in the 18th century that has withstood massive changes and advancements from time to time until today!

Blockchain:The buzzword heard and pronounced in the boardroom of every established organization, enterprise, or startup in recent times. As is popularly known, mainstream interest in blockchain began after 2008 when Satoshi Nakamoto developed the world's first electronic payments from one party to another without going through a financial institution.

So, understanding these two subjects (banks and blockchain)under the context of technology does need some logical dissection.
The Demographic & Cultural Gap: Banks & Blockchain
This topic (Banks and Blockchain) is a classic example of the clash between baby boomers and millennials who often have conflicting approaches in problem solving. Forbes reports that by 2025, 75 percent of the workforce will be represented by millennials outnumbering other generations. But since the C-suite roles are dominantly occupied by baby boomers, cultural and demographic differences set the perfect room for conflicting views and approaches. A 2020 study points out Gartner's report that 60 percent of big data analytics initiatives in banks fail due to lack of required skill, technical infrastructure, unsupportive senior executives, and inappropriate organizational culture.

Technology(blockchain)is eager to reinvent IT infrastructure, data, information, governance, and assets. But, banks are prudent about sharing their data as they do not want to compromise on the foundations of trust and confidentiality. The 2017 Global Blockchain Bench marking study and a 2020 study assert that nearly 30 percent of global market revenue for blockchain technology comes from the banking and finance industry. Although several Industries consider capitalizing on the potential of blockchain technology as an imperative move to stay ahead of the competition, banks do not seek this competitive advantage and are bound to regulatory barriers.

Known Knowns
Considering the volume of transactions that banks process every day, we are aware that blockchain technology provides a decentralized platform for conducting transactions, improves efficiency in processing cross-border payments, and minimizes cost. Besides, blockchain technology in banking helps eliminate intermediaries, reduces fraud, and increases financial inclusion. But, exploiting the fullest potential of a breakthrough technology (blockchain) to a tightly regulated traditional Institution (Banks) calls for insight before due diligence.

A blockchain is a new type of database that enables multiple parties to share the database and to be able to modify that in a safe and secure way even if they don't trust each other

Known Unknowns
Banks have not been very proactive in optimizing their IT in the past, hence their habit of data storage is rather inadequate. Particularly, old banks that have been in the industry for a long period, data is unintegrated, complex, and less reliable. This is a fundamental problem that IT has to address while building an IT architecture for banks. Additionally, banks are naturally conservative in data sharing or partnering with other intermediaries. But the wave of open banking is pressuring banks to operate with an open mindset or collaborate, while banks are still working on regulatory, legal, and security governance domains.

How much technology do banks want to adopt?
(i)To help make existing things better and more productive.
Banks are aware of the multitude of benefits that blockchain technology can deliver. The use cases and possibilities of digital transformation, technology implementation, and big data analytics offer banks a high degree of automation, efficiency in processes.

But the initial focus is to:
•Improve existing operations,
•Build and establish a quality technical infrastructure to handle the rapidly growing volume of data
•Systematize data management practices and quality governance.

(ii)Cater to customers from both worlds.
Banks seek blockchain crypto, bitcoin, and other digital technology as an enabler that could help them transform their business and improve profitability. This could provide them a middle point in catering to customers from both the worlds, viz a viz, to offer traditional products like securities, bonds, shares, BaaS, etc, as well as build a gateway to embark on new revenue opportunities, offer new asset classes, new trading services, cryptocurrency management, etc.

What does technology want to change in the Banking Industry?
Banks are the fundamental building blocks of an economy, as they perform the most important function of creating demand and supply of money in the economy.

If only banks could move fast and fully innovate with the help of advanced technology, they could play a pivotal role in transforming the financial system of an economy into an honest, secure, and trustworthy system while offering its tech-savvy customer's enhanced products and services.

•Resolving cultural and demographic conflicts between baby boomers and millennials can help better understand the needs of each other.
•The potential and scope of technology is over whelming for banks and banking professionals. Therefore, technology needs to perform the role of enabling the Industry to improve its banking landscape, focus on easing existing pain points in processes and data management practices to achieve efficiency and save cost.
•Technology is the cornerstone for banks to enable them preserve and upgrade their traditional business model as well as be future-ready.
•Innovation in the banking sector is key to building an honest society.

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