Aligning Innovation and Regulation in a DeFi World

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It’s been a while since I lived in Zurich. It was about this time of year when I first visited the city that I instantly fell in love with. Beautiful blue skies and if you’re lucky enough, you can see the snow-capped mountains from Lake Zurich. It’s hard not to be instantly drawn to this small city of approximately 1.4 million people, which punches well above its weight class. One out of every eleven jobs in Switzerland is in Zurich. The financial sector generates around a quarter of the city’s economic output and provides approximately 59,000 full time equivalent jobs – accounting for 16% of all employment in the city.

Between 21-23 June, Zurich will also be home to the Point Zero Forum – an exclusive invite-only, in-person gathering of select global leaders, founders and investors with the purpose of developing new ideas on emerging concepts such as decentralised finance (DeFi), Web 3.0, embedded finance and sustainable finance; driving investment activity; and bringing together public and private sector leaders to brainstorm on regulatory requirements.

The Future of DeFi

Zug is a little canton outside of Zurich and is famously known as “Crypto Valley”. When I lived in Zurich, Zug was the home of many of the country’s leading hedge funds as Zug’s low tax, business friendly environment and fantastic quality of life attracted many of the world’s leading fund managers and companies. Today the same can be said about crypto companies setting up shop in Zug. And crypto ecosystems are expanding exponentially.

However, with the increase in the global adoption of cryptocurrency, what role will the regulators play in aligning regulation without stifling innovation? How can Crypto Valley and Singapore play a role in defining the role regulation will play in a DeFi world?

DeFi is moving fast and we are seeing an explosion of new ideas and positive outcomes. So, what can we expect from all of this? Well, that is what I will discuss with a group of regulators and industry players in a round table discussion on How an Adaptive and Centralised Regulatory Approach can Shape a Protected Future of Finance at the Point Zero Forum. We will explore the role of regulators in a fast-moving industry that has recently seen some horror stories and how industry participants are willing to work with regulators to meet in the middle to build an exciting and sometimes unpredictable future. How do we regulate something in the future? I am personally looking forward to the knowledge sharing.

For the industry to strive and innovate, we need both regulators and industry players to work together and agree to a working framework that helps deliver innovation and growth by creating new technology and jobs. But we also need to keep an eye out on the increasing number of scams in the industry. It is true to say that we have seen our fair share of them in recent months. The total collapse of TerraUSD and Luna and the collapse of the wider crypto market that saw an estimated loss of USD 500 billion has really spooked global markets.

So is cryptocurrency here for good and will it be widely adopted globally? How will regulators see the recent collapse of Luna and view regulations moving forward? We have reached an interesting point with cryptocurrencies and digital assets in general. Is it time to reflect on the current market or should we push forward and try to find a workable middle ground?

Let’s find out. Watch this space for my follow-up post after the Point Zero Forum event!

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Ecosystm Red: Global Digital Futures Awards for FinTech

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Recognising FinTechs that are changing lives, creating impact, demonstrating innovation, and building ecosystems to shape the Digital Future.

CATEGORIES:

Global Platform. Organisations that provide a platform to bring together industry stakeholders such as financial services institutions and FinTechs to drive ease of collaboration and innovation by accelerating proof of concept deployments

Financial Inclusion Impact. Organisations that promote financial inclusion in the unbanked and the underbanked with a focus on bridging the economic divide

Sustainable Finance Impact. Organisations that promote sustainable finance and have ESG values

Global Banking. Banks and financial services organisations that embrace digital technology for excellence in customer experience, process efficiency and/or compliance

Global Payments. Innovative use of technology and business models in payment areas

Global Lending. Innovation in alternative finance in areas such as microfinance for individuals and small & medium enterprises, P2P lending and crowdfunding

Customer Experience. Organisations that are driving an exceptional experience for their customers and setting new benchmarks within the industry

Global InsureTech. Excellence and innovation in InsureTech in areas such as micro-insurance, usage-based pricing, process optimisation and underwriting efficiency 

To find out about the winners, read on.

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To download Ecosystm Red: Global Digital Futures Awards for FinTech Awards Winners as a PDF, please click here.

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Technology-led Transformation of the Banking Industry

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When the FinTech revolution started, traditional banking felt the heat of competition from the ‘new kid on the block’. FinTechs promised (and often delivered) fast turnarounds and personalised services. Banks were forced to look at their operations through the lens of customer experience, constantly re-evaluating risk exposures to compete with FinTechs.

But traditional banks are giving their ‘neo-competitors’ a run for their money. Many have transformed their core banking for operational efficiency. They have also taken lessons from FinTechs and are actively working on their customer engagements. This Ecosystm Snapshot looks at how banks (such as Standard Chartered Bank, ANZ Bank, Westpac, Commonwealth Bank of Australia, Timo, and Welcome Bank) are investing in tech-led transformation and the ways tech vendors (such as IBM, Temenos, Mambu, TCS and Wipro) are empowering them. 

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To download this Ecosystm Bytes as a pdf for easier sharing and to access the hyperlinks, please click here.

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Squashing the Greenwashing with Emerging Technology

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Our financial system plays a central role in crystallising priorities and incentives for businesses and other stakeholders across the globe. So, many of us breathed a sigh of relief as the financial community got behind the Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) movement in recent years, signalling a very visible acceleration in ESG as a hot button issue for investors and lenders.

Unfortunately, the growth of ESG as a priority for investors, lenders and consumers has driven many companies to oversell their green and/or social credentials in order to burnish their brands and attract investment. This is referred to as “greenwashing” and “social washing”.

As sustainability becomes a critical pillar for investors and consumers in their decision-making, data, analytics and technology play an increasingly critical role in enabling better decisions based on credible, accurate and more real-time information.

Read on to find out the three themes for technology enablement in sustainable finance, together with examples and potential use cases including companies such as IBM, Triodos Bank, Alipay, Floodmapp, and Data Gumbo.

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Cloudification of India’s Banking Industry

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In this Insight, guest author Anupam Verma talks about the technology-led evolution of the Banking industry in India and offers Cloud Service Providers guidance on how to partner with banks and financial institutions. “It is well understood that the banks that were early adopters of cloud have clearly gained market share during COVID-19. Banks are keen to adopt cloud but need a partnership approach balancing innovation with risk management so that it is ‘not one step forward and two steps back’ for them.”

India has been witnessing a digital revolution. Rapidly rising mobile and internet penetration has created an estimated 1 billion mobile users and more than 600 million internet users. It has been reported that 99% of India’s adult population now has a digital identity in the form of Aadhar and a large proportion of the adult Indians have a bank account.

Indians are adapting to consume multiple services on the smartphone and are demanding the same from their financial services providers. COVID-19 has accelerated this digital trend beyond imagination and is transforming India from a data-poor to a data-rich nation. This data from various alternate sources coupled with traditional sources is the inflection point to the road to financial inclusion. Strong digital infrastructure and digital footprints will create a world of opportunities for incumbent banks, non-banks as well as new-age fintechs.

The Cloud Imperative for Banks

Banks today have an urgent need to stay relevant in the era of digitally savvy customers and rising fintechs. This journey for banks to survive and thrive will put Data Analytics and Cloud at the front and centre of their digital transformation.

A couple of years ago, banks viewed cloud as an outsourcing infrastructure to improve the cost curve. Today, banks are convinced that cloud provides many more advantages (Figure 1).

Why banks adopt cloud

Banks are also increasingly partnering with fintechs for applications such as KYC, UI/UX and customer service. Fintechs are cloud-native and understand that cloud provides exponential innovation, speed to market, scalability, resilience, a better cost curve and security. They understand their business will not exist or reach scale if not for cloud. These bank-fintech partnerships are also making banks understand the cloud imperative.

Traditionally, banks in India have had concerns around data privacy and data sovereignty. There are also risks around migrating legacy systems, which are made of monolithic applications and do not have a service-oriented architecture. As a result, banks are now working on complete re-architecture of the core legacy systems. Banks are creating web services on top of legacy systems, which can talk to the new technologies. New applications being built are cloud ready. In fact, many applications may not connect to the core legacy systems. They are exploring moving customer interfaces, CRM applications and internal workflows to the cloud. Still early days, but banks are using cloud analytics for marketing campaigns, risk modelling and regulatory reporting.

The remote working world is irreversible, and banks also understand that cloud will form the backbone for internal communication, virtual desktops, and virtual collaboration.

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Strategy for Cloud Service Providers (CSPs)

It is estimated that India’s public cloud services market is likely to become the largest market in the Asia Pacific behind only China, Australia, and Japan. Ecosystm research shows that 70% of banking organisations in India are looking to increase their cloud spending. Whichever way one looks at it, cloud is likely to remain a large and growing market. The Financial Services industry will be one of the prominent segments and should remain a focus for cloud service providers (CSPs).  

I believe CSPs targeting India’s Banking industry should bucket their strategy under four key themes:

  1. Partnering to Innovate and co-create solutions. CSPs must work with each business within the bank and re-imagine customer journeys and process workflow. This would mean banking domain experts and engineering teams of CSPs working with relevant teams within the bank. For some customer journeys, the teams have to go back to first principles and start from scratch i.e the financial need of the customer and how it is being re-imagined and fulfilled in a digital world.
    CSPs should also continue to engage with all ecosystem partners of banks to co-create cloud-native solutions. These partners could range from fintechs to vendors for HR, Finance, business reporting, regulatory reporting, data providers (which feeds into analytics engine).
    CSPs should partner with banks for experimentation by providing test environments. Some of the themes that are critical for banks right now are CRM, workspace virtualisation and collaboration tools. CSPs could leverage these themes to open the doors. API banking is another area for co-creating solutions. Core systems cannot be ‘lifted & shifted’ to the cloud. That would be the last mile in the digital transformation journey.
  2. Partnering to mitigate ‘fear of the unknown’. As in the case of any key strategic shift, the tone of the executive management is important. A lot of engagement is required with the entire senior management team to build the ‘trust quotient’ of cloud. Understanding the benefits, risks, controls and the concept of ‘shared responsibility’ is important. I am an AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner and I realise how granular the security in the cloud can be (which is the responsibility of the bank and not of the CSP). This knowledge gap can be massive for smaller banks due to the non-availability of talent. If security in the cloud is not managed well, there is an immense risk to the banks.
  3. Partnering for Risk Mitigation. Regulators will expect banks to treat CSPs like any other outsourcing service providers. CSPs should work with banks to create robust cloud governance frameworks for mitigating cloud-related risks such as resiliency, cybersecurity etc. Adequate communication is required to showcase the controls around data privacy (data at rest and transit), data sovereignty, geographic diversity of Availability Zones (to mitigate risks around natural calamities like floods) and Disaster Recovery (DR) site.
  4. Partnering with Regulators. Building regulatory comfort is an equally important factor for the pace and extent of technology adoption in Financial Services. The regulators expect the banks to have a governance framework, detailed policies and operating guidelines covering assessment, contractual consideration, audit, inspection, change management, cybersecurity, exit plan etc. While partnering with regulators on creating the framework is important, it is equally important to demonstrate that banks have the skill sets to run the cloud and manage the risks. Engagement should also be linked to specific use cases which allow banks to effectively compete with fintech’s in the digital world (and expand financial access) and use cases for risk mitigation and fraud management. This would meet the regulator’s dual objective of market development as well as market stability.

Financial Services is a large and growing market for CSPs. Fintechs are cloud-native and certain sectors in the industry (like non-banks and insurance companies) have made progress in cloud adoption. It is well understood that the banks that were early adopters of cloud have clearly gained market share during COVID-19. Banks are keen to adopt cloud but need a partnership approach balancing innovation with risk management so that it is ‘not one step forward and two steps back’ for them.

The views and opinions mentioned in the article are personal.
Anupam Verma is part of the Leadership team at ICICI Bank and his responsibilities have included leading the Bank’s strategy in South East Asia to play a significant role in capturing Investment, NRI remittance, and trade flows between SEA and India.

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