Blockchain: What It Is and How It Works

Quickly:

  • Many speculate that blockchain could turn out to be one of the most revolutionary technologies ever developed.

By Al Dominick, CEO of DirectorCorps — parent co. to Bank Director & FinXTech

WASHINGTON, DC — J.P. Morgan’s CEO, Jamie Dimon, recently threw some big time shade at bitcoin.  However, as the Wall Street Journal shared this morning, he’s “still enamored with the technology that underpins it and other virtual currencies.”  For those wondering about where and why blockchain might revolutionize the business of banking, take a look at our just-released Q4 issue of Bank Director Magazine.  We dedicated our cover story to “Understanding Blockchain,” and this post teases out some of the key concepts bank executives and board members might focus in on.  Authored by John Engen, the full piece can be found, for free, here.  As you’ll read, the article covers three major points:

What is Blockchain

If you’re on the board of a typical U.S. bank, odds are that you don’t know much about blockchain, or distributed ledgers, except that there’s a heavy buzz around the space—and a lot of big bets being made. As John Engen wrote, being a know-nothing might be fine for now, but going forward could be untenable.

At its most basic, blockchain is a digital-ledger technology that allows market participants, including banks, to transfer assets across the internet quickly and without a centralized third party.

Some describe it as the next, inevitable step in the evolution of the internet; a structure to help confront concerns about security, trust and complexity that have emerged from a technology that has opened the world to sharing information.  To others, it looks more like business-process improvement software—a way to improve transparency, speed up transaction times and eliminate billions of dollars in expenses that markets pay to reconcile things like credit default swaps, corporate syndicated debt and other high-volume assets.

Where are things heading

“Trying to guess how blockchain is going to affect us in the next 20 years is kind of like standing in 1995 and trying to imagine mobile-banking technology,” said Amber Baldet, New York-based JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s blockchain program leader, in an online interview. “I’m sure the ultimate applications are things we can’t even imagine right now.”

For now, the space certainly has the feel of the 1990s internet, with hundreds of startups and billions of investment dollars chasing distributed-ledger initiatives.  Armonk, New York-based IBM Corp., a big blockchain supporter, estimates that 90 percent of “major” banks in the world—mostly those with trading, securities, payments, correspondent banking and trade finance operations—are experimenting with blockchain in some way.

Collaboration is the current buzzword

Most large banks are involved in consortiums with names like Ripple, Hyperledger, R3 and Enterprise Ethereum Alliance.  Smaller banks are taking more of a wait-and-see approach.  For all the promise of speed and efficiency, blockchain’s real power lies in its transparency, which makes data both trackable and immutable.  Ultimately, blockchain could usher in new business models, which require different ways of thinking.

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For members of a bank’s board, we created this “Blockchain 101” video.  In it, I touch on the potential application of blockchain in terms of digital identities, digital banking and cross-border payments.  In addition, the ten minute video surfaces key concepts and business ideas that remain material to many today.

*This video is just one of the offerings found in our Bank Services program designed to help board members and senior executives develop strategies to help their bank grow, while demonstrating excellence in corporate governance that shareholders and customers deserve and today’s regulators demand.

3 Examples of Next’Gen Partnerships

News & Notes from February 13 – 17
By Al Dominick, CEO of DirectorCorps (parent co. to Bank Director & FinXTech) | @aldominick

A few weeks ago, I made note of an interesting new relationship between a bank and a technology firm.  Specifically, BBVA Compass’s announcement that it has been piloting Amazon Lockers in eleven of its Austin-area branches.  This is the first time Amazon Lockers are available with a bank in the United States — and may provide a creative spark to those thinking about how to increase traffic into an existing branch network.

Since sharing my observation on this partnership, I’ve made note of a number of new relationships that reflect the changing nature of the financial industry.  This week, three things caught my eye:

In addition, I took note of Wells Fargo forming a new innovation team (called Payments, Virtual Solutions, and Innovations) to better build out its digital banking experiences.  The three pillars of this effort revolve around payments, artificial intelligence and APIs. For Wells Fargo — and banks in general:

  • Payments are a critical driver of relationships for consumer, small business, and commercial and corporate banking customers.
  • In terms of artificial intelligence, the bank sees an increasing number of opportunities to better leverage data to provide personalized customer service through its bankers and digital channels.
  • Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) technology enables commercial and corporate banking customers to integrate products, services and information into their own digital environments.

So as financial institutions continue to search for new growth opportunities, I intend to share weekly recaps like this as a way to share what I find compelling.  Let me know what you think — and if there are other news & notes I might share.

Since You Can’t Own a Car Dealership

As my colleague Jack Milligan writes in our 2nd quarter issue of Bank Director magazine, just because a bank can’t own a car dealership doesn’t mean there isn’t “enormous flexibility in determining a bank’s strategy.” Curious what this means? Read on.

2Q14

A Sneak Peek at the Core Revenue Champs

Each year, Bank Director magazine looks at all U.S. banks and thrifts to identify the strongest growth banks. We rank the top performers across four separate categories: core deposits, core noninterest income, net loans and leases and the most important, core revenue. Since the magazine mails today, I thought to offer a sneak peek of the results:

Screen Shot 2014-04-24 at 6.06.07 AM

What I find interesting about the top two banks on this very strong list: both Customers Bank and EverBank Financial designed their business models around technology from their very beginnings.

Find Your Balance

As I read through an advance copy of the issue, it strikes me that many business areas that historically provided revenue growth are simply not growing fast enough to overcome new capital and regulatory requirements.  In this light, you can understand why many say times couldn’t be more challenging for growth in community or regional banking. The corollary to this? Balancing organic and external growth is a key focus area for bank management and boards.

Increasingly, I hear that growth-focused banks are considering (or implementing) strategies that create revenue growth from both net interest income and fee based revenue business lines — think government guaranteed lending, asset based lending, leasing, trust and wealth management services. Clearly, as interest margins and loan volumes remain subject to compression and intense competition, the “optimization” of fee-based revenue is becoming pivotal in enhancing shareholder value.

‘Sup Big Easy

True, a number of banks seek to extend their footprint and franchise value through acquisition. Yet, many more aspire to build the bank internally.  Some show organic growth as they build their base of core deposits and expand their customer relationships; others leverage product innovation or focus on their branch network. I bring these approaches up in advance of next week’s Growth Conference at the Ritz-Carlton, New Orleans. We designed this event to showcase strategies, structures, processes and technologies that a bank’s CEO and board might consider to fuel their own growth.

Unlike trade shows and other events, we limit participation to a financial institution’s key officers and directors to ensure those joining us are not just committed to distinguishing their performance and reputation, but also are appropriate peers to share time and ideas with. From companies like StrategyCorps, Ignite Sales and VerifyValid to PwC, Fiserv and IBM, we have a tremendous roster of companies joining us in Louisiana to share “what’s working” at the myriad banks they support. As I’ve done for our other events (e.g. the sister conference to Growth, Acquire or Be Acquired), I’ll be posting a number of pieces next week from the Crescent City and invite you to follow along on Twitter via @aldominick, @bankdirector and using #BDGrow14.

Aloha Friday!