Blockchain in banking. Sounds like an oxymoron, right? A self-contradicting pair of words. On one hand, a disruptive trend and technology. On the other hand, an industry with legacy software and processes that limit the capacity to compete with agile newcomers. The market disagrees and shows us it can be done. Blockchain in the banking sector is a fact. What does it look like?

Blockchain technology in banking

Blockchain is a buzzword, there’s no escaping that. There are still many people that don’t know what it is, not to mention what benefits come with using this technology. It’s also true for use cases; even industry veterans can still be surprised with some of them. Especially with blockchain in banking – some use cases can be a little surprising. So, to provide a little context, we will start with basics and quickly advance to answers. 

But first, let’s point you to articles about how does blockchain work, and  FinTech blockchain market. You can also read a piece on the latest developments in the field. They will give you additional information and serve as a reference point before jumping in further.

Table of contents

What exactly is blockchain technology in banking?

Let’s start with the basics. Blockchain is an open and distributed ledger that holds transactions between two given parties. A blockchain is also a chain that consists of a series of blocks of data that stores information about specific transactions. They are linked with each other in a specific order. 

To make or check on a transaction, parties can share and access a ledger across the internet. There’s no need for an intermediary; a third party that can regulate the entire process. That’s the reason behind the efficiency of it all. Also, everything is transparent and secure; check previously linked articles for details.

If you’re looking for a short version of the story, then blockchain technology in banking is a recipe for smooth business processes, new revenue avenues, and a higher level of security. According to an article by Prove, we currently face 26 separate banks that are exploring the possibility of using blockchain in the banking sector. From Deutsche Bank to LHV Bank, NASDAQ, and US Federal Reserve. All seem to agree that the future is a ledger.

What are the benefits of blockchain in the banking sector?

First of all, blockchain can remove some bottlenecks. For example, the know your customer (KYC) process can be costly and lengthy. According to Reuters, KYC can delay transactions by 30 to even 50 days (!). On top of that, there is a risk of duplication of information and actions between various companies. 

That’s why companies, especially traditional banks, are taking notice. The process of improving the information flow has started back in 2014 when SWIFT established its KYC Registry. It contains information from 1,125 member banks. Back in the day, it was still only 16% of banks in the entire network. Now imagine what blockchain can do. With the support of transparency and secure flow of data…

The second benefit is trivial, but only at first glance. Banks let people and institutions save money and trade between them. Imagine exactly that but on a global scale. There’s no use of borders, since a Thailand national can sell something to an American, and he can sell his product or service to a Polish immigrant living in the U.K. In a traditional banking system, there’s a lot of legal red tape and long processes between it all. With the right implementation of blockchain technology in banking, these obstacles can become irrelevant. 

Another implication comes from relations that banks have with the booming e-commerce sector. Removing manual processes and replacing them with automated and streamlined actions, can generate additional free time for managers. More importantly, it can offload some unnecessary efforts from the shoulders of teams that can focus on business, rather than keeping up with the paper trail. The potential list of blockchain uses is interesting at the very least.

Can you give us some blockchain use cases in banking?

Let’s move to arguments – how banks using blockchain can compete with FinTechs? Here are some blockchain banking examples. Please keep in mind that the potential is vast, and the list below is only mirroring some of the most common and predicted uses.

1.         Authentication and authorization. Many traditional financial institutions consider using something called “permissioned blockchain technology”. It builds on authentication and authorization as a direct argument for issuing permission to enter. Login and password come to mind naturally, but multi-level authorization is also on the table.

The identification can be linked to a person that can confirm the ownership of a private key. Since the financial landscape becomes more complicated every year and both the financial and payment sectors use permissioned blockchain, banks are encouraged to use 2FA authentication method. They also are advised to link user accounts to the same private keys for even stronger security levels.

2.         Identity verification. Historically, the problem with verification originates in the number of steps. People don’t like complicated processes, especially simple things. That’s why verification during every logging process is painful to many. 

Blockchain enables an accelerated verification process. A big innovation here is called Zero Knowledge Proof (ZKP). With that, statements can’t be falsified, and parties have anonymity. 

3.         Smart contracts. Blockchain in banking can also apply to this area. Blockchain-based smart contracts allow real-time fund transfer with transparency in mind. They also speed up the process for transaction settlements through their nature of autonomous verification. 

Automating the execution of an agreement is a huge benefit.

4.         Peer-to-peer (P2P) transfers. Although it is a way for an interesting method of payment (and delivering money transfers to the unbanked), there are some problems with that. P2P transfer applications have some limitations.

For example, they allow the transfer of money only within a specific geographical region (it’s a very popular concept in Africa, for example). Also, these kinds of applications, or at least some of them, are known to charge large commissions. It is an example of blockchain banking but it comes with a price tag. 

5.         Infrastructure. Blockchain in the banking sector gives high-street institutions the to not only to revolutionize payments but also to optimize internal processes. Banks work hard to prepare their organizations for blockchain, while regulators introduce new regulations and laws. Since many banks still run on legacy systems, it’s a perfect opportunity to revamp old digital infrastructure and replace it with something more efficient.

Last year bank regulators went with a joint statement on guidance roadmap update around bank operations involving cryptocurrencies. Regulators want banks to protect consumer data and information about operations. It requires secrecy for security reasons but transparency for audits. That requires new and revamped infrastructure.

6.         Security. This one is simple. Through tokenization of traditional assets like stocks or bonds and putting them on publicly available blockchains, the tech can create more efficient and faster-running global markets. Interconnected, available 24/7, immediately verified, and secure.

7.         KYC and fraud prevention. Since banks store customer information on decentralized blocks, blockchain technology allows easy and safe information sharing. Financial institutions can rapidly check and verify the identity of a person and gain invaluable information for the future.

8.         Loans and credits. Just a few years ago, Equifax, an American consumer loan audit agency, got breached. The company was looking at the exposition of data involving 150 million Americans. This was possible because the data was centralized and not secured enough.

With blockchain banking, the same data can be more secured, structured, efficiently processed, and cheaper to store. And consumers can get automated replies on their loan or credit application.

9. Fundraising. The market is experimenting with Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs) that create a new model of financing for capital intensive projects. It unblocks the access for capital from other sources than traditionally understood banking institutions and financial services.

10. Actual banking. Companies like Chainalysis, Paxos, Republic or Nium show that unleashed from central authorities, they can work miracles. Manufacture easier access to currencies for trading. Processing loans, payments, and insurances at rapid rate. Sync with third-party entities to product even higher value for a client. The market is maturing and we seen clear evidence of that.

Revolution will be televised

Blockchain in the banking sector brings opportunities but it demands dedication and effort. To make it work, some executives may need incentives like this article, which is coming to an end. People will accept change if you bring them value, not only a market trend. 

That’s why it is so important to remember about digital transformation and what comes with it. It’s not only about new tech, or even about processes. It’s mainly about mindset.