If you attended Swell in mid-October, one thing was clear: This was far from a typical banking event.
The inviting atmosphere put attendees at ease, prompting them to speak candidly about the pain points associated with cross-border payments, and the obligation they have to improve the payment experience for their clients.
After each conversation, three central themes emerged: Banks want and need to improve the retail and corporate customer experience, losing market share to other payment providers is a concern, and they need a line of sight into the future of blockchain.
Customers Say ‘Banks are Slightly Behind’
One of the main themes that came up repeatedly was the ability to track the status of a payment.
For some attendees and panelists, it was anathema to consider that it’s possible to track nearly every other aspect of our daily lives, but tracking a global payment is still hard to do for some financial institutions.
During the If Only My Bank Offered panel discussion, Kapil Mokhat, global director of payment programs at Airbnb, said that “the banks are slightly behind, but services like Paypal are preferred because they [Airbnb hosts] know they can log in and see the money the second we push it.”
Takeaway No.1: An enterprise blockchain network — such as RippleNet — that connects banks to payment providers provides the necessary transparency to track payments through its journey to the sender.
Through one simple API integration, Ripple offers businesses (corporates, money service businesses and banks) the ability to send money globally instantly, reliably, and with full end-to-end visibility into the status of the payment.
“Companies like Ripple are putting a great deal of effort in the technology that many of us will use. This [blockchain] will help us improve the cost of our internal administration,” said Paul Snaith, manager of treasury operations for capital markets and banking and payments at the World Bank.
To Improve the Customer Experience, You Have to Get Close to the Competition
Consumers have found alternative solutions to send and receive money quickly — mostly from smaller payment service providers — when their banks can’t deliver this service.
What’s more, the payment service provider space is growing. There are more than 65 providers in the space, and these companies continue to siphon off market share from the banks. As a result, many financial institutions have decided that if they can’t beat them, they’ll join them.
“Customers are in control, now more than ever before,” said Rahul Pai, COO of UAE Exchange during the Up Close and Personal panel. “And there will be businesses built where non-banks will own endpoints.”
The movement towards third-party providers may raise the hackles for some banks. But Pai had these words for the attendees: “Banks: We’re not here to compete. We need you; you need us.”
Takeaway No.2: Several panelists agreed that consumers will continue to drive demand for new financial services. Conversely, the list of global payment providers will continue to grow. Blockchain technology can give banks a connection to these payment providers, and help facilitate real-time, cross-border payments that were previously impossible to send. What’s more, the connection allows banks to stay competitive.
“We’re not disrupting banks,” said Sergio Fogel of dLocal. “We’re [executing] transactions that wouldn’t otherwise happen.”
The Appetite for Blockchain is Growing
Throughout Swell, many attendees wanted to discuss the consumerization of blockchain technology and its practical applications in the finance industry.
In the First Movers Tell All panel, Richard Bell, head of innovation, at Santander said that his institution “sees a benefit to implementing the technology.”
Paul Snaith, echoed that sentiment. “We’re very interested in blockchain because we see that there’s a broad effect, and we need to get ourselves into a place where we’ll be able to work with this new technology.”
“It’s the first time in my banking career where data is the focus of every meeting, and blockchain is talked about,” he added.
Takeaway No.3: The blockchain market is still in its nascent stage, but commercial applications of this technology with a clear use case for global payments is already happening today. In fact, RippleNet has grown to more than 100 members. Additionally, 89 of those members are banks and 78 of have deployed commercially.