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FIVE REASONS VIRTUAL CURRENCIES MATTER

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FIVE REASONS VIRTUAL CURRENCIES MATTER

Co-founder Manuel Heilmann of Coinzone talks about the future of virtual currencies like Bitcoin

The payments landscape is changing.  New technologies such as mobile wallets, near field communication (NFC) or ‘tap technology’ and virtual currencies are in the headlines all the time.  However, whilst some of these, like Apple Pay, seem to be in the consciousness of consumers and businesses alike, others like virtual currencies, only just seem to be coming out of the domain of online gaming.

So, why do virtual currencies matter?  What impact will they have on payments in the years to come and what impact will they have on the financial services and retail sectors?  At what point will the future meet the present and what hurdles need to be jumped to do this?

When the founders of Coinzone decided to start a virtual currency business in December 2013, we were and still are intrigued by the opportunities that virtual currencies open up in the long-term. I was fascinated by the opportunity to be one of the first to contribute to the Eco-system of Bitcoin. I did not see the volatility being an obstacle although right at that time the Bitcoin price crashed. I rather had the long-term opportunities in mind and were thinking on what to focus first – vertically as well as geographically.

I can say 18 months later that I have learned an awful lot and stand by my decision to go where few have gone before.   Here are my top 5 reasons why I think that Bitcoin and more importantly its underlying technology has the potential to change the world as we know it.

  1. Virtual currencies will allow us to see things that we have never seen before

Just like the Internet did in the last 20 years, virtual currencies will allow us to solve problems that weren’t solvable before. It will make unthinkable things possible. Example: Approving a contract between multiple parties by using the Bitcoin Blockchain to validate and approve it. We will be able to process a contract in minutes. We will no longer have to compare documents to make sure that nobody sneaked a change in, print it, get a signature, scan, send an email with the attachment, save the contract in a repository, wait for all parties to sign it and save the final fully executed contract. Just think how much more productive companies will be. I go through this hell every week, and I am looking forward to the moment when I can process a contract through a service that sits on top of the Blockchain.

  1. Bitcoin is empowering the unbanked to participate in the global financial system

According to Accion’sCenter for Financial Inclusion (CFI), between 2010 and 2020, the world’s poorest 40 percent will nearly double their spending power to $5.8 trillion from $3 trillion.  However, more than 50% of world’s adults don’t have a formal bank account according to the World Bank.  The need for an efficient and direct transaction or exchange is present.

There are 2.5bn unbanked people in the world. For many of them, remittances from relatives working overseas is a major source of their income. Remittances of electronic transfers, such as Western Union or banks cost an average of 8% to 9% and can be as high as 25% to 30% from people who need it the most.  Remittances of electronic transfers are time-consuming.  They could take 3-4 days. There are 232 million and growing number of migrant workers transfer about $549bn (2013) back home every year (Source: World Bank).

Bitcoin allows them to receive the remittances paying 2-5% of the transaction amount assuming the payee can spend the Bitcoin at local merchants or convert them to their local currency. There are still hurdles to overcome. The Bitcoin community needs to develop products that enable them to receive and use Bitcoin taking the lack of infrastructure into account such as limited access to internet in certain regions.

  1. Virtual currencies will replace cash

I am a firm believer that virtual currencies will not replace Credit Cards. There are still many use cases where Credit Cards have advantages.

However, in today’s world, electronic payment methods are not universally accessible.  Currently, 85% of the world’s transactions are still done through cash and check, even though almost 66% of people are digitally connected.  Electronic transfer is still limited, inconvenient and costly. Travelers have to pay high fees for cash withdrawals, international credit card payments and have to deal with finding an access point.

In European markets, most e-commerce transactions are done through non-Credit card payment methods such as wire, direct debit or invoice. Only about 10% of all online transactions in Germany are processed through credit cards. As soon as I touch German soil, the first thing I do is find an ATM because I will need cash the moment I enter a cab (especially since Uber got banned in Germany). In emerging and developing economies, non-cash payment methods are even more difficult for merchants to establish.

This is where I believe Bitcoin’s real potential is. In the long-term, mobile payments with crypto-currencies will replace cash because it benefits the users and the businesses.

  1. Virtual currencies create a flourishing startup community in growth markets

It is refreshing to see how Bitcoin has unleashed the creativity of young entrepreneurs in Africa, Latin America and Asia. They see the potential of Bitcoin for their markets, but they also understand better than anybody else the hurdles to reach mass adoption. I believe that Bitcoin, amongst others, will continue to build a flourishing startup community in these markets and create new jobs and hopefully encourage others to follow suit.

  1. Virtual currencies will disrupt and force financial institutions to innovate

Banks, Credit Cards and other financial services have seen very little innovations in the last fifty years. Bitcoin and other FinTech innovations will force them to invest in innovation and adjust their business models. Some will succeed and others will not. We already see some banks opening up to Bitcoin and other technologies and starting to embrace instead of fighting them.

Manuel Heilmann

Manuel Heilmann

Some Bitcoin believers may choke when reading this, but I believe that Bitcoin will have a greater chance to succeed if the Bitcoin community collaborates with the existing financial institutions to develop services that benefit both. Banks and insurance companies can provide services that will facilitate mass adoption of crypto-currencies and give users the necessary confidence to store and use Bitcoin.

I understand that there are risks to be balanced.  It is up to each country and financial institution to assess the potential in each new payment technology that comes their way.  Those banks and payment service providers that tackle and overcome potential risks and harness blockchain technology will reap the rewards that first mover advantage can bring.

So far the large majority of banks have failed to do this with many choosing to exclude virtual currencies as a matter of policy.  However, I’d challenge whether the banking sector can really afford to do this in a world of social and digital change?  With so many other payment services providers and services, such as Apple Pay and Paypal, going from strength to strength, inertia can be as dangerous as risk avoidance for an institution.

Finance

Is MiFID II still fit for purpose in a post-COVID financial landscape?

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Is MiFID II still fit for purpose in a post-COVID financial landscape? 1

By Martin Taylor, Deputy CEO and co-founder at Content Guru

January 2nd, 2021 was the third anniversary of the implementation of MiFID II, a legislative framework instituted by the European Union (EU) to regulate financial markets in the bloc and improve protections for investors. This second iteration of the Markets in Financial Instruments Directive includes a range of binding obligations for financial traders, including the need to record and store any/all external communications that could result in a trade, for a minimum of five years.

MiFID II is a complex piece of legislation to put it mildly and compliance requires a great deal of time and effort. Despite this, its ‘real-world’ value currently remains subject to debate. While the EU Regulator recently stated that rules around investment research and analysis had been a success, it has previously conceded aspects of MiFID II targeting marketing data costs have been less so. In a wider sense, industry professionals affected by the new legislation have extremely mixed feelings about its benefits and detriments, both to their work as individuals and to the financial sector as a whole.

However, one thing that is clear is the imposition of financial penalties associated with non-compliance to MiFID II is likely to increase significantly in the near future. Under the original MiFID legislation, many high-profile organisations, including Goldman Sachs International, received fines running into tens of millions of pounds for failing to report transactions in an accurate and timely fashion. Conversely, less than €2 million in fines were handed out under MiFID II in the whole of 2019. Many industry commentators attribute this low figure to a grace period for the new legislation, with the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) giving firms some wiggle room as they acclimatise to it. But as this period ends, fines and penalties are expected to skyrocket.

Applying pre-COVID legislation in a post-COVID landscape

Of course, to say the financial landscape has changed somewhat in the last twelve months is a bit of an understatement, which makes adherence to MiFID II even harder than it was previously. In particular, the massive shift to home working has rapidly accelerated the adoption of new innovations and technologies aimed at making remote collaboration more effective, but not necessarily MiFID II compliant.

Martin Taylor

Martin Taylor

Organisations with well-established processes and methodologies have been forced to rapidly rethink their strategies. In many cases, the speed at which they’ve been able to achieve this has been extremely impressive, but it’s come at the expense of compliance. After all, MiFID II is applicable to any communication that may result in a trade. In a lockdown environment, where finance professionals are collaborating and screen sharing to make decisions, they are still operating under the compliance rules set out and their interactions should be recorded and stored. But how many organisations have actually put processes in place to meet these obligations as part of the ‘new normal’?

As the rollout of multiple COVID vaccines gets underway around the world, there’s growing hope of a return to more traditional working environments in the not-too-distant future. But with the popularity of home working leading to many organisations saying it’ll become a permanent fixture, where does that leave MiFID II compliance?

A complex compliance challenge

For compliance officers looking to shore up their organisation’s post-COVID remote work environment against MiFID II breaches, there are numerous concerns. For example, how can they ensure every pertinent conversation across numerous digital platforms, being used by hundreds of traders, is correctly managed and recorded? The issue can be broken down into two main categories. The first is the management of tools and services in question, and the second is management of the data being shared across them.

Technical complexity requires a proactive, technology-led response. Disjointed, reactive compliance is becoming increasingly unfeasible, given the depth and breadth of tools now being used. For instance, if trading professionals use Microsoft Teams, but their client prefers Skype, how can compliance officers ensure that each and every recording is properly maintained, regardless of which platform is used each time? The answer may lie in unified solutions, which provide a central platform to take advantage of these best-of-breed technologies and provides resources such as search-and-replay, e-discovery and end-to-end trade reconstruction across a diverse technical ecosystem. Unified solutions may allow firms to develop cost effective, enterprise-wide compliance and data management policies that are fit for purpose in the post-COVID landscape.

Effective data management and analytics will play pivotal role

One thing becoming increasingly clear is that the ability to manage and analyse datasets in their entirety, rather than relying on random manual sampling, will play a pivotal role in eliminating dangerous reporting gaps. Today’s analytics solutions and advanced speech-to-text technologies have already proven invaluable over the last ten months of restrictions and will continue to set the benchmark going forward. Tools such as universal search not only give compliance officers the visibility they need to do their jobs properly, they also help maintain effective standards across all relevant stakeholders.

However, such solutions have requirements of their own, particularly when it comes to robust data and storage. Firms must ensure that their systems utilise compliant data storage, that has sufficient capacity to retain all types of electronic communications data, including uncompressed stereo voice recordings, for at least five years after they are recorded, as stipulated by MiFID II.

The ability to comply with legislation such as MiFID II remains a key priority for every business within its scope. However, adhering to pre-COVID legislation in a post-COVID landscape is a lot easier said than done for many. Whether the creation of MiFID III will ultimately be required remains to be seen. Until then, it’s clear that successful compliance will rely on the effective implementation of technology-led solutions capable of overcoming the new barriers created by such a fundamental shift in work practices over the last 12 months.

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FSS and India Post Payments Bank AePS Partnership Advances Financial Inclusion in India

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FSS and India Post Payments Bank AePS Partnership Advances Financial Inclusion in India 2

New Delhi, January 12th,2020: FSS (Financial Software and Systems), a leading global payment processor and provider of integrated payment products, today announced partnering with India Post Payments Bank (IPPB) to promote financial inclusion among underserved and unbanked segments. As part of the collaboration, IPPB will use FSS’ Aadhaar Enabled Payment System (AePS) to deliver interoperable and affordable doorstep banking services to customers across India.

FSS’ AePS solution combines the low-cost structure of a branchless business model, digital distribution, and micro-targeting that lowers acquisition costs and improves reach. This strategic partnership offers significant opportunities to bring millions of unbanked customers into the  financial mainstream. Currently, there are nearly 410 million Jan Dhan accounts in India.  A primary reason for low usage of banking and payment services is the challenge of accessibility in rural areas and the cost of maintaining active accounts — including transaction and transport— outweigh the benefits. In rural and peri-urban areas, the average time to reach a banking access point potentially ranges between 1.5 and 5 hours, compared with the average of 30 minutes in urban areas.

Leveraging its vast network of over 136,000 post offices, and 300,000 postal workers, IPPB has been setup with the vision to build the most accessible, affordable, and trusted bank for the common man in India to deliver banking at the customer’s doorstep.  With the launch of AePS services, IPPB now has the ability to serve all customer segments, including nearly 410 million Jan Dhan account holders, giving a fresh impetus to the inclusion of customers facing accessibility challenges in the traditional banking ecosystem.

Speaking on the tie-up, Mr.Krishnan Srinivasan, Global Chief Revenue Officer, FSS said, “We are proud to be IPPB’s technology partner in this monumental nation-building exercise. The collaboration is evidence of FSS’ deep payments technology expertise and commitment to bringing viable, market-leading innovations that promote financial deepening. FSS’ AePS solution combined with IPPB’s expansive last mile distribution reach empowers citizens of the country with a range of digital payment products and advance India’s vision towards less-cash economy.”

“Through the vast reach of Department of Posts network along with the advent of the interoperable payment systems to drive adoption, IPPB is uniquely positioned to offer a range of products and services to fulfil the financial needs of the unbanked and the underbanked at the last mile. Having launched AePS services, the Bank has become the single largest platform in the country for providing interoperable banking services to customers of any bank. The strategic partnership with FSS provides us with an opportunity to expand the portfolio of financial services and improve customer experience whilst maintaining operational efficiency, thus building a digitally inclusive society,” said Mr. J. Venkatramu, MD & CEO, India Post Payments Bank.

The infrastructure created by IPPB addresses the accessibility challenges faced by customers in the traditional banking ecosystem. It fulfils the Government’s objective of having an interoperable banking access point within 5 KM of any household and creating alternate accessibility for customers of any bank.

The operation of FSS’ AePS solution is based on agents performing transactions on behalf of customers using a tablet, micro-ATM or a POS device. The system is device agnostic and can accept transactions originating from any terminal. Customers of any bank can access their Aadhaar-linked bank account by simply using their fingerprint for cash withdrawal, balance enquiry and transfer of funds into an operating IPPB account, right at their doorstep. FSS’ AePS exposes APIs to third parties to develop an expansive services ecosystem and extend a broad suite of financial products and tools including micro-insurance, micro-savings, micro-finance, mutual fund investments, enabling the bank to further services adoption among low and moderate-income consumers.

About FSS

FSS (Financial Software and Systems) is a leader in payments technology and transaction processing. FSS offers an integrated portfolio of software products, hosted payment services and software solutions built over 29+ years of experience. FSS, end-to-end payments products suite, powers retail delivery channels including ATM, POS, Internet and Mobile as well as critical back-end functions including cards management, reconciliation, settlement, merchant management and device monitoring. Headquartered in India, FSS services leading global banks, financial institutions, processors, central regulators and governments across North America, UK/Europe, Middle East, Africa and APAC. For more information visit www.fsstech.com.

About India Post Payments Bank

India Post Payments Bank (IPPB) has been established under the Department of Posts, Ministry of Communication with 100% equity owned by Government of India. IPPB was launched by the Hon’ble Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi on September 1, 2018. The bank has been set up with the vision to build the most accessible, affordable and trusted bank for the common man in India. The fundamental mandate of IPPB is to remove barriers for the unbanked & underbanked and reach the last mile leveraging a network comprising 155,000 post offices (135,000 in rural areas) and 300,000 postal employees.

IPPB’s reach and its operating model is built on the key pillars of India Stack – enabling Paperless, Cashless and Presence-less banking in a simple and secure manner at the customers’ doorstep, through a CBS-integrated smartphone and biometric device. Leveraging frugal innovation and with a high focus on ease of banking for the masses, IPPB delivers simple and affordable banking solutions through intuitive interfaces available in 13 languages.

IPPB is committed to provide a fillip to a less cash economy and contribute to the vision of Digital India. India will prosper when every citizen will have equal opportunity to become financially secure and empowered. Our motto stands true – Every customer is important; every transaction is significant and every deposit is valuable.

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Be Future-Ready: The Case for Payments as a Service (Paas)

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Is COVID-19 an opportunity for banks to skyrocket their electronic payments

By Barry Tarrant, Director, Product Solutions, Fiserv

Over the years, financial institutions have faced a myriad of changes in regulations, technology and customer expectations. Banks are now having to deal with the competing demands of maintenance and compliance on the one hand, and the need to innovate and deliver value-added services on the other. The balance of effort is increasingly consumed by the former with the share of investment in innovation and value generation being squeezed.

COVID-19 has changed customer behaviour, which will accelerate the need for more digital innovation, adding further to the demand on technology resources that are already stretched to the limit. While future investment plans may remain uncertain, banks need to consider several factors for their technology strategy, such as efficiency, where to invest and how to reduce capital expenditure.

It is apparent that the traditional approach to implementing and updating technology is no longer sustainable in the long-term.

The true cost of outdated technology

Maintaining technology has always been a challenge. What makes it more important now than ever is that innovation expectations have become far greater and exist on multiple simultaneous fronts. Today, there is more demand for product innovation, alongside the need to deliver consistently across multiple channels. On top of this, banks are facing structural changes, such as the convergence of payments.

Faced with this combination of imperatives, many banks are finding that continuing to maintain their payments technology in-house is no longer the most viable option.

Banks that persist with existing in-house infrastructures are in many cases spending large sums just to keep up, with little left for innovation. This can put them at a distinct disadvantage in today’s digital environment, where challenger banks and fintechs are fully embracing tools like the cloud to optimise operations while delivering truly transformational customer experiences.

Maintaining technology can be quite costly, and leveraging shared payment innovation can result in notable cost savings. Additionally, there are savings to be had in the areas of capital costs, opportunity costs, regulatory or payment scheme compliance costs, and the inevitable one-off costs from technology or infrastructure upgrades.

Barry Tarrant

Barry Tarrant

And as the options available for customers to initiate payments across card and non-card payment rails increase, this will drive a convergence of the technology that supports the processing of those payments, further increasing the demand for change.

In this environment, migrating to an alternative technology strategy, such as PaaS, can be a strategic and cost-effective decision.

Why PaaS?

One solution to mitigate the risks and costs associated with maintaining technology is to outsource payments activity to a PaaS provider. The most obvious advantage here is cost reduction. However, there are many other positive and significant financial benefits that can be realised in terms of reduced capital expenses and the associated effects on balance sheet and free cash flow. This is particularly important in the current environment as capital investment comes under even more scrutiny.

Running a robust platform is a PaaS provider’s primary business, whereas for a bank it is just one of the many areas in which it has to invest. A PaaS provider is compelled to continually reinvest to ensure their technology never stands still long enough to become outdated, while also recruiting high-calibre personnel to support and advance it.

Geographical scale can also add value and increase opportunities for innovation. A PaaS provider with clients around the world sees and delivers innovation globally, which can be redeployed elsewhere rapidly and at a lower cost than custom development. Also, a global processing network can serve as a worldwide payments intelligence network, detecting trends, such as new payment types, consumer payment behaviour and cyberthreats.

One further consideration is how payments have become increasingly commoditised in recent years. As traditional revenue streams from payments have declined, it makes even less financial sense to retain payment processing in-house. By adopting PaaS and benefiting from the associated cost savings, retained payment margins can be maximised, simultaneously freeing up resources that can be diverted to innovation and value-added activities, such as enhancing customer experience and building the franchise.

Debunking the myths

Despite the compelling business case for banks to adopt PaaS, some remain reluctant to do so because of various myths. One example is the belief that outsourcing data is inherently risky. The reality is, in fact, the opposite. PaaS providers have the scale, resources and procedures to address and invest in key priorities – for example, cybersecurity. Keeping things in-house can actually create greater data security risk if resource constraints are an issue.

Budgetary considerations aside, experience and specialist tools are also major points of difference here. A typical bank IT manager might experience two or three major transition projects in their entire career. In contrast, teams at a PaaS provider collectively will have experience successfully delivering many major transformation projects, and will have also developed a whole range of specialised implementation adapters and toolkits that are continually enhanced and expanded.

Be more agile and tactical

When technology becomes outdated it can easily go from an asset to a liability. While COVID-19 has emphasised this reality for some, truly appreciating it requires a comprehensive assessment of existing technology and its long-term impact on business. Outsourcing through PaaS has a wealth of benefits that can radically transform this situation. Financial institutions can become more agile and tactical so they can continue to innovate and provide services that customers demand while differentiating themselves from the competition.

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