Interbank Payments: where incumbents meet the Blockchain

Many people, mostly in the aftermath of the 2017-2018 hype, are questioning whether the blockchain technology has any actual use case. In this respect, some of the harsh critiques it received were constructive and honest whilst others were clear attempts to create FUD (Fear Uncertainty Doubt) in the market.

While this debate is still open and has yet to be resolved, some interesting signs may foreshadow which side will prevail.

In fact, several incumbents have started large scale projects that involve blockchain technologies. In this article, we will look at some of them.

Project Ubin

In November 2016 the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) announced it partnered with R3 to create a proof of concept project to conduct interbank payments through a DLT (Phase 1). Phase 1 was successfully completed in March 2017, Deloitte was commissioned a report documenting it.

In October 2017 the MAS and Association of Banks of Singapore (ABS) initiated Phase 2 of Project Ubin. This Phase explored specifically the use of DLTs for Real Time Gross Settlements (RTGS). Throughout Phase 2 MAS and ABS experimented with 3 different proof of concepts built on 3 enterprise-DLT platforms (Corda, Hyperledger and Quorum).

Ubin Phase 2 successfully demonstrated that RTGS functions could be decentralised without compromising privacy, furthermore it marked the significance of an industry-wide collaboration in laying the foundation for future innovation.

IBM BWW

IBM is transforming cross-border payments with IBM Blockchain World Wire (BWW), an integrated network for real-time clearing and settlement. This new global financial rail allows banks and financial institutions to send and settle payments around the globe with finality in a matter of seconds.

To build the platform IBM partnered with Stellar, BWW uses XLM as a settlement tool for “fiat-coins”. Recently six international banks have signed letters of intent to issue stablecoins (backed by fiat currencies). The BWW platform allows the creation of ad hoc tokens (e.g. for national currencies) but also opens up the possibility of banks using XLM (the native token of the Stellar blockchain) as a “bridge currency” when it is hard to trade a currency pair.

SWIFT R3

SWIFT, the largest global banking payments network that uses a financial messaging network to facilitate cross-border payments, has announced a collaboration with R3’s Corda Settler to begin testing GPI payments.

The Corda Settler platform focuses on the settlement of global cryptocurrency payments within enterprise blockchains.

The company also announced that this would be a trial to see how well the integrated system will perform. It will connect the SWIFT payment GPI gateway with R3’s Corda platform. The objective behind this is to create a transparent system where the company can easily monitor the flow of payment and also support application programming interfaces (APIs).

Conclusion

In this brief article, we only discussed a few examples of one very specific use case (interbank payments and settlements). Nonetheless, this brief extract already shows that the stakes are very high and sizeable incumbents players are working behind the scenes after acknowledging the potential of DLTs. There are many more projects being developed and even more to come, so while blockchain is definitely not the panacea people tried to sell during 2017-2018, it has the potential to shake the foundations of several industries and enhance them.