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How Traditional Finance Companies Can Safeguard Their Future in the Age of Blockchain

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How Traditional Finance Companies Can Safeguard Their Future in the Age of Blockchain 1

Author: Patrick Lastennet, Director of Marketing & Business Development – Financial Services at Interxion 

As enthusiasm towards blockchain builds, how can enterprises take advantage? In recent years a number of enterprise-facing solutions and consortia have been developed to promote adoption and aid integration. Some of the best-known private solutions gaining interest today include:

  • The Enterprise Ethereum Alliance (EEA); Many people know Ethereum as the public blockchain that has spawned a wave of ICOs through its smart contract capabilities. What’s perhaps less known is the network’s enterprise solution. The EEA customises the Ethereum blockchain for enterprise needs to ‘define enterprise-grade software capable of handling the most complex, highly demanding applications at the speed of business.’ Its membership covers a range of Fortune 500 companies, including Accenture, JP Morgan, Microsoft and Credit Suisse.
  • R3 Corda; Corda is a distributed ledger designed for financial services. Its environment does not seek to operate as a blockchain, but rather as a decentralised database that banks and other institutions can use for their processes. Its global network comprises more than 200 institutions, offering integration and interoperability through decentralised applications called CorDapps. It has a wide partner network that includes leading companies such as AWS, Microsoft, Oracle and HP Enterprise.
  • Hyperledger Fabric; Backed by the Linux Foundation, Hyperledger is an open-source, cross-industry blockchain collaboration network. Fabric is its blockchain framework integration giving businesses a ‘plug-and-play’ solution for developing applications through its ‘chaincode’ smart contract engine. Hyperledger’s membership includes IBM, Fujitsu, SAP and American Express.
Patrick Lastennet

Patrick Lastennet

These initiatives, along with other enterprise solutions and collaborations, provide the support that businesses need to bring blockchain technologies forward to mainstream commercial adoption.

There’s no shortage of technical whitepapers in existence propagating a range of potential blockchain use cases, from speeding up and simplifying cross-border payments through to bringing the power of banking to billions of people globally that lack access to basic financial services. However, industry acceptance of this new phenomenon needs solid examples of implementation with proven results. Encouragingly, we’re now seeing more evidence of blockchain in the real world of finance.

A few examples of current blockchain implementations include:

Identity management/KYC

Establishing your identity online in a trustless and seamless way is one of the greatest frictions in the current Internet. Online fraud costs nearly £11 billion each year in the UK alone, and consumers are growing frustrated with the layers of identification and security they must go through on multiple sites to prove their identity. Helix Blockchain is tackling this challenge by building its Trust Provider Network – an integrated and consistent identity solution that means identity can be established, verified and trusted, without the user needing to display personal or sensitive information. The system aims to attract business adoption by lowering the cost of data acquisition, validation, management and storage, all in compliance with European regulations.

Institutional payments and settlements

The current financial settlement procedures that exist are costly and cumbersome, requiring multiple layers of management to verify and execute payments between institutions. SETL has created a multi-asset, multi-currency institutional payment and settlements infrastructure that helps streamline post-trade administration activity, reduce costs per trade, simplify processes and reduce inefficiencies. Working with payments platforms such as Iznes, the use of SETL’s technology offers the potential to dramatically transform how billions of non-cash payments are made globally each year.

Equities clearing

Clearing refers to the process of reconciling purchases and sales of options, futures and securities between financial institutions. Easily overlooked in importance, it’s an area of banking that can cost investment houses billions of dollars to operate. Accenture has estimated that the biggest investment banks could save $10 billion by using blockchain technology to improve the efficiency of clearing and settlement. This is an area being pioneered by The Australian Stock Exchange (ASX), which aims to shift much of its post-trade clearing and settlement onto a blockchain system. Other examples of blockchain implementation in equities include the Nasdaq Linq system, which is used to complete and record private securities transactions, and the CME, which has patented the use of blockchain to store and execute financial transactions.

Seizing the opportunity

Blockchain is clearly becoming a more attractive solution for enterprises, but it requires a robust IT infrastructure if it is to function effectively. Industry technology leaders exploring the potential to implement a blockchain environment need to be thinking about two key areas if their blockchain initiatives are to succeed:

  1. Cloud connectivity

While blockchain promises a new form of protocol that allows decentralised applications to flourish, the systems on which blockchain environments live are centralised, and require a high degree of capacity to operate and scale. Cloud infrastructure is therefore vitally important to power blockchain projects. Interxion offers private, secure connections to hyperscale cloud platforms such as Microsoft Azure, AWS and IBM in order to support a high-performing blockchain environment. These cloud providers also offer ‘blockchain-as-a-service’ solutions to aid enterprise integration, such as Azure’s COCO framework, which can be accessed directly and securely via Interxion’s cloud gateways.

  1. Private key encryption

The usage of public and private keys is fundamental to blockchain-based identification and authorisation. Holding a private key gives the user unique access privileges within a private blockchain environment.  As enterprises define workflows and applications on blockchain, ensuring that private keys are maintained in a secure environment is critical. Interxion’s Key Guardian, a private key custody solution, enables enterprises to store and control access to encryption keys and other cryptographic materials to offer the highest level of security. The system also offers key segregation in order to protect against the risk of compromise.

Where do we go from here?

Hard-core proponents of Bitcoin and cryptocurrency may project a future where banks no longer exist. Where individuals are self-sovereign and free from the limitations of an antiquated financial infrastructure. Certain aspects of traditional banking, such as payments, will no doubt undergo massive change as we enter a new era of value exchange. However, much of the financial infrastructure that’s served us well for the past century will not be threatened, but instead enhanced by the trust, transparency and efficiency blockchains afford.

As with any new technology, the early adopters and fast movers stand to make the greatest gains. For businesses seeking to bring blockchain solutions to life, ensuring they have the cloud infrastructure and security solutions in place to meet the needs of an enterprise-scale DLT environment makes them well placed to reap the full benefits of the blockchain. Interxion’s colocation data centres provide the framework and tools enterprises need to launch blockchain projects, with the security, performance and choice of cloud platform required to support a thriving blockchain environment.

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U.S. inauguration turns poet Amanda Gorman into best seller

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U.S. inauguration turns poet Amanda Gorman into best seller 2

WASHINGTON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – The president’s poet woke up a superstar on Thursday, after a powerful reading at the U.S. inauguration catapulted 22-year-old Amanda Gorman to the top of Amazon’s best-seller list.

Hours after Gorman’s electric performance at the swearing-in of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, her two books – neither out yet – topped Amazon.com’s sales list.

“I AM ON THE FLOOR MY BOOKS ARE #1 & #2 ON AMAZON AFTER 1 DAY!” Gorman, a Los Angeles resident, wrote on Twitter.

Gorman’s debut poetry collection ‘The Hill We Climb’ won top spot in the online retail giant’s sale charts, closely followed by her upcoming ‘Change Sings: A Children’s Anthem’.

While poetry’s popularity is on the up, it remains a niche market and the overnight adulation clearly caught Gorman short.

“Thank you so much to everyone for supporting me and my words. As Yeats put it: ‘For words alone are certain good: Sing, then’.”

Gorman, the youngest poet in U.S. history to mark the transition of presidential power, offered a hopeful vision for a deeply divided country in Wednesday’s rendition.

“Being American is more than a pride we inherit. It’s the past we step into and how we repair it,” Gorman said on the steps of the U.S. Capitol two weeks after a mob laid siege and following a year of global protests for racial justice.

“We will not march back to what was. We move to what shall be, a country that is bruised, but whole. Benevolent, but bold. Fierce and free.”

The performance stirred instant acclaim, with praise from across the country and political spectrum, from the Republican-backing Lincoln Project to former President Barack Obama.

“Wasn’t @TheAmandaGorman’s poem just stunning? She’s promised to run for president in 2036 and I for one can’t wait,” tweeted former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

A graduate of Harvard University, Gorman says she overcame a speech impediment in her youth and became the first U.S. National Youth Poet Laureate in 2017.

She has now joined the ranks of august inaugural poets such as Robert Frost and Maya Angelou.

Her social media reach boomed, with her tens of thousands of followers ballooning into a Twitter fan base of a million-plus.

“I have never been prouder to see another young woman rise! Brava Brava, @TheAmandaGorman! Maya Angelou is cheering—and so am I,” tweeted TV host Oprah Winfrey.

Gorman’s books are both due out in September.

Third on Amazon’s best selling list was another picture book linked to politics and projecting hope: ‘Ambitious Girl’ by Vice-President Kamala Harris’ niece, Meena Harris.

(Reporting by Umberto Bacchi @UmbertoBacchi, Editing by Lyndsay Griffiths. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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Why brands harnessing the power of digital are winning in this evolving business landscape

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Why brands harnessing the power of digital are winning in this evolving business landscape 3

By Justin Pike, Founder and Chairman, MYPINPAD

Delivery of intuitive, secure, personalised, and frictionless user experiences has long been table stakes in digital commerce, well before the era of COVID-19. As businesses harness the revolutionary power of digital technologies, they have pursued large-scale change to adapt to evolving consumer preferences (some more successfully than others, but that’s a blog for another day). Digital transformation is a term we hear repeatedly, and it looks different for each organisation, but essentially, it’s about utilising technology and data to digitise, automate, innovate and improve processes and the customer experience across the entire business.

As I said, this was already well underway but then came 2020 and no industry escaped the disruption of the coronavirus outbreak, which has had an indelible impact on businesses performance, operations, and revenue. Regardless of whether the impact of COVID has been very positive or very challenging, it has forced organisations globally to re-evaluate and re-orient strategies to adapt.

As lockdowns and pandemic-related restrictions continue to change daily life, this raises the question of how we can balance a dramatic shift to digital and the benefits it brings, while ensuring business continuity and innovation both during and post-COVID, and protecting everyone against fraud?

Digital is an essential survival tool, and even more so in a COVID world

No one could have predicted the dramatic digital pivot that has taken place over this year. Indeed, within weeks of the COVID outbreak cash usage in the UK dropped by around 50%. Digital solutions including delivery applications, contactless payments, mobile commerce, online and mobile banking have become essential components of a touchless customer experience in the era of social distancing. It’s no longer just about an enhanced and superior customer experience, it’s also about health, safety and survival.

In store, businesses have benefited from contactless payments enabling faster throughput and reduced need for consumers to touch payment terminals (therefore requiring greater cleaning, which degrades the hardware much faster). Mastercard reported a 40% increase in contactless payments – including tap-to-pay and mobile pay – during the first quarter of the year as the global pandemic worsened. Digital has also become an essential sales channel for many B2C brands. Where brick and mortar stores have been required to close, digital commerce enables continuity of customer relationships and revenue. This channel also provides brands with rich customer data, which can be used to enhance and personalise the customer experience and typically results in greater levels of engagement and uplifts in revenue.

Industry forecasts estimate that worldwide spending on the technologies and services enabling digital transformation will reach GBP 1.8 trillion in 2023 – a clear indication that the process represents a long-term investment and a global commitment to digital-first strategy. The key point here is that digital brings significant benefits, and regardless of COVID, is here to stay.

The challenges that rapid digital transformation brings to businesses

Justin Pike

Justin Pike

Regardless of whether businesses are operating in developed or less-developed economies, these times of crisis have levelled the playing field in the sense that all businesses are facing similar issues. Access to products and supplies, maintaining customer relationships, accelerating sales for some and declining sales for others, health and hygiene are just a few of the unique challenges brought about by COVID.

Many businesses in physical environments have had to swiftly implement changes to significantly reduce safety risks for staff and customers, such as contactless payments, mobile ordering and delivery options. But with these changes come a host of other benefits of digitisation, such as faster transactions, and reduced human error at the point-of-sale.

The reliance on technology, however, can also expose organisations and consumers to certain vulnerabilities. In particular, the risks of fraud and cybercrime have dramatically increased since the onset of the pandemic as scammers have taken advantage of digital technologies to target both businesses and individuals.

As a McKinsey report illustrates, new levels of sophistication in the activities of fraudsters have placed more pressure on companies that have been previously slow to go digital, bringing “into sharp relief how vulnerable companies really are”, and damaging the financial health of small and large businesses. In fact, the Bottomline 2020 Business Payments Barometer reveals that only one in 10 small businesses across the UK report recovering more than 50% of losses due to fraud.

But take these stats with a grain of salt. While it is important to be aware of the risks and challenges this new business landscape brings, it’s equally as important to have a lens firmly across your own business, industry and audience, and to identify the changes you can make internally to mitigate risk as well as improve your customer experience. Where can you make some quick wins? Do you have the right skillsets internally to achieve what you need to achieve? What technology is out there that will enable your business goals? There are tech companies like MYPINPAD that are making huge strides in software development, which will transform businesses globally.

A digital world post-COVID

Almost a year in, the line between business success and failure remains fragile. However, an ongoing transition towards greater digitisation will be the difference between survival and the alternative.

There is a wide range of initiatives businesses can implement to weather this storm. If we look at the space MYPINPAD operates within, secure digital consumer authentication is crucial to the ongoing success and security of not only financial products but also identification and verification across a range of different industry verticals. Shifting the authentication of consumers securely onto mobile devices enables businesses to completely reshape their customer experiences. By bringing together a more seamless, frictionless customer experience, accessibility, privacy, security and access to consumer data, businesses are able to drive digital transformation across day-to-day activities.

Against this backdrop, software with stronger security standards continue to play an ever more vital role in supporting society, protecting consumers and businesses from the increase in risks that rapid digitisation brings. Already, merchants can deploy PIN on Mobile technology from companies like MYPINPAD, onto their smart devices to speed up the digitisation process many are now tackling.

Essentially, opening up universal payments and authentication methods that feel familiar, for both online and face-to-face transactions, will be key to opening up a world of possibilities when it comes to redefining how businesses engage with consumers.

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Brexit responsible for food supply problems in Northern Ireland, Ireland says

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Brexit responsible for food supply problems in Northern Ireland, Ireland says 4

LONDON (Reuters) – Food supply problems in Northern Ireland are due to Brexit because there are now a certain amount of checks on goods going between Britain and Northern Ireland, Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said.

British ministers have sought to play down the disruption of Brexit in recent days.

“The supermarket shelves were full before Christmas and there are some issues now in terms of supply chains and so that’s clearly a Brexit issue,” Coveney told ITV.

The Northern Irish protocol means there are “a certain amount of checks on goods coming from GB into Northern Ireland and that involves some disruption,” he said.

(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Tom Hogue)

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