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HARNESSING CONNECTIVITY: THE KEY TO GLOBAL EXCHANGE OPERATORS FINDING NEW HORIZONS IN THE CLOUD

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Eric Troyer, Chief Marketing Officer, Megaport

 

Offering the massive amounts of storage and compute power that drives our digital lives, the cloud is an incredible innovation, one that has changed the way we communicate, the way we consume entertainment, the way we work – and, yes, the way we do business. But the cloud cannot work without the network infrastructure underneath.

Global financial exchange operators are harnessing cloud technology to make marketplaces more accessible, secure, and cost-efficient. And reliable network infrastructure is critical to enabling the robust and secure connectivity required by buyers and sellers, fund managers, and investment banks in a marketplace.

 

Scaling up with the cloud

It was the potential of the cloud that caught the attention of Intercontinental Exchange (ICE), a Fortune 500 firm that operates regulated marketplaces, including the New York Stock Exchange, and provides market data and technology solutions for the listing, trading, and clearing of derivatives contracts and financial securities across major asset classes.

ICE has long offered a significant portfolio of data services used to support the trading, investment, and risk management needs of financial institutions, corporations, and government entities around the world. But to scale up, the ICE Global Network team knew they had to extend these services beyond the company’s own network, allowing customers to utilise financial and data services wherever and whenever they were needed.

The answer, they realised, lay in the cloud.

It was a conclusion reached after observing customer behaviour. ICE Global Network noticed that not all of its clients required direct access to its global network via a physical point of presence in order to utilise important business content and services. Aware that many had also woven public cloud services into their in-house computing architecture, ICE knew that it was there, in the cloud, that it wanted to make strides forward.

The end result of this understanding was developing what it calls ‘IGN Cloud Connect’; a service      that provides customers secure access to ICE’s proprietary data content – including ICE Consolidated Feed, ETF Hub, Pricing, and Reference Data – directly from the cloud. An intuitive solution, IGN Cloud Connect is designed for easy customer adoption and integration on a rapid timeframe.

A key part to ensuring the success of this project was designing cloud-based access that was on par with on-premises solutions, including security and low latency. ICE Global Network also needed to make sure that customers could adopt and integrate this new solution quickly and easily to anything they already use. This was where a software-defined network (SDN) made all the difference.

 

Connecting it all together

With all the flexibility that the cloud provides, matching it with the connectivity element is key to fully utilising its potential – [potential that cannot be reached with the unreliable public internet]. With a software-defined approach, everything is mediated through a software layer that connects the full cloud infrastructure.

Using software-defined networking to build a purpose-built, private network-as-a-service (NaaS) greatly simplifies the process of creating and provisioning hybrid and multicloud networks – making it the ideal solution to match the flexibility that ICE Global Network required, while ensuring that it was compatible with customer needs too.

Utilising a NaaS solution to connect to the cloud also helped to reduce complexity of IT infrastructure and costs. More importantly, for financial services, it can reduce downtime as it helps to virtualise most of the physical networking devices thus reducing the network management and maintenance load.

Another major benefit for exchange operators is that they can quickly adapt to peaks and troughs in demand. Increasing bandwidth when needed can be critical to quickly adapting to changes in the stock market, for example. Ensuring that IGN Cloud Connect has connectivity to the cloud that is elastic — where bandwidth can be turned up or down in an instant – provides additional flexibility for customer needs. It also ensures that core business operations consistently perform if there are peaks in demand and that, equally as importantly, IT leaders are not paying for unused bandwidth that they don’t need.

 

Bringing the cloud off ICE

By utilising a NaaS solution, ICE Global Network’s new cloud offering doesn’t sacrifice any of the performance, security, or privacy that its customers have come to enjoy when connecting to data services locally. Better yet, the connectivity ensures that IGN Cloud Connect is ‘provider neutral’, meaning users can access ICE Global Network’s data via multiple public cloud environments – Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud – to name a few. Coupled with a high level of reliability and cost efficiency, it’s a compelling proposition.

With the launch of IGN Cloud Connect, ICE Global Network has successfully expanded its services to prominent cloud platforms in no fewer than twenty-four countries worldwide. With that sort of reach, the company’s customers have access to over 229 cloud on-ramps across North America, Europe, and Asia Pacific – each one performance-tuned and secured against cyber intrusion.

 

Industry-wide benefits of the cloud

ICE needn’t be the only one looking to the skies with hopes of expansion – cloud technology can be leveraged right across the exchange operator industry if it is coupled with the right connectivity.

Using software-defined networking that bypasses the public internet, exchange operators can offer their customers access to data and financial services with far greater flexibility than conventional means, without losing a shred of the security, privacy, or performance afforded by a local connection.

Add in the cost-saving potential of flexible bandwidth fees and a shorter time to market thanks to smarter connectivity, and it’s into the cloud that becomes an attractive proposition for the exchange operator sector.

 

Finance

WHY THE NORDICS WILL CONTINUE TO LEAD THE WAY IN DIGITAL PAYMENTS

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By

Kriya Patel, CEO, Transact Payments

 

While the recent introduction of PSD2 — the second iteration of the EU’s Payment Services Directive — has undoubtedly had an effect on the entire continent of Europe, some regions have been in a better place to take advantage of it than others. Largely thanks to a historical willingness to foster and embrace innovation, the Nordic nations were already something of a global leader in the electronic payments space even before PSD2. Now, it looks as if the Nordics is on course to be the first region in the world to fully realise digital transformation in payments.

With a combined population of 21.39 million, the Nordic markets of Sweden, Denmark and Norway have the highest penetration of electronic transactions anywhere in the world. It’s estimated that cash is only used in 3% of transactions in Norway, with this number only slightly higher in Sweden. Given this context, it’s no surprise that there are nearly twice as many payment cards as there are people, at 41.86 million cards. These cards are used for around 7.8 billion transactions annually — worth more than £205 billion — made at just under 600,000 point of sale (POS) locations and online.

You could be forgiven for thinking that given the advanced state of play in the payments market that there would be few opportunities left for incumbents or new entrants to take advantage of. However, for those who are willing to innovate and diversify there could be market share up for grabs. And there are also plenty of things that payments players in other regions can learn from this market. In this article, we will examine what these opportunities and lessons are.

 

Highly developed market

E-commerce accounts for a very large proportion of overall electronic transactions in the Nordics at between 19 and 22%. It’s a segment that is continuing to grow rapidly, even though cards remain the preferred way to pay online and in person.

In fact, cards account for a huge 85% of all in-person transactions in the Nordics, with debit cards used for two-thirds of all purchases in Denmark, for example. In the background, this is enabled by a highly functional consumer-permissioned digital identification system known as BankID that makes Know Your Customer (KYC) compliance for e-commerce much more straightforward for vendors and customers. This scheme, which was first envisioned more than 20 years ago, is one of the key reasons why this region has made such strong advances in digital payments.

Since 2015, all three Nordic markets have embraced digital wallet solutions – Norway’s Vipps, Sweden’s Swish and Denmark’s Bankort. In the case of Denmark, their digital wallet grew from the Bankort debit card solution shared by major Danish banks. Across all three markets, these home-grown wallets have seen strong growth, with Swish reporting the fastest usage growth in the over-45 segment. These domestic wallets are currently looking to grow their functionality, with parking and bill payments being added on top of peer-to-peer (P2P) money transfers and a debit function.

 

Digital wallets to expand functionality

As digital wallets rise and cards continue to be used for a very wide range of purchases, the Nordic markets continue to seek opportunities to reduce cash use for everyday, low-value purchases such as parking and street vendors. This will create room for mPOS (mobile Point Of Sale) and soft POS systems providers, as well multi-function card products. Loyalty is also likely to be another area for growth, with players keen to ensure that they can retain existing customers and attract new ones from their competitors.

One of the most interesting areas in the Nordic region’s payments landscape is how these digital wallet solutions can expand internationally. While digital wallets are growing rapidly in the domestic space, the capacity of these wallets to be used outside the Nordic region is still very limited. Creating international links for Nordic-only solutions will certainly be an area of growth in the coming years, so providers looking to partner with banks or wallet providers should find a receptive audience in these markets.

As with other European markets such as Spain and Germany, we’re also seeing the rise of specialist banks built to meet the needs of smaller companies in the Nordics. Banks such as Norway’s Aprila are expanding rapidly by taking advantage of PSD2’s Open Banking mandate to access SME credit data and deliver innovative payment products and lending solutions. Corporate credit and debit card products will be a major growth area in the near future as SMEs will finally get the attention they deserve.

There’s a great deal that other regions can learn from the Nordics. While the combined population of the three countries adds up to only around one-quarter of Germany, for example, the relatively low population density has proved a fertile ground for digital payments. It will be interesting to see how some of the more innovative services we see in this region can make international links, or how players in other regions try to replicate them.

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Banking

THE GROWTH OF DIGITAL BANKING: WHY COLLABORATING WITH FINTECHS IS CRUCIAL TO ADAPT TO CUSTOMER DEMANDS IN LIGHT OF THE PANDEMIC

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The growing customer demand for a seamless digital banking experience looks set to transform how the entire banking industry operates. Traditional banks have been left playing catch up with the emergence of new fintech players and challenger banks. The demand for slick digitally finance solutions is led by the digital native generations, the millennials and Gen Z. However, the coronavirus pandemic accelerated the uptake of online shopping and remote working for whole swathes of the population. Even the older generations have been left wondering why accessing banking services online remains so cumbersome.

Consumers’ growing desire to access financial services through digital channels has already led to a surge in various new banking technologies which are reconceptualising the banking industry. Consumers have rapidly moved to adopt payment solutions such as those offered by apps like Revolut.

Manoj Mistry

Retail banks continue to launch platforms in the Banking as a Service (BaaS) space, in an effort to remain competitive. An example of this in the UK is how NeoBank (Starling) used to only offer business to consumer (B2C) retail banking services. However, once it launched its BaaS platform, Starling was able to rapidly diversify to include consumer services.

New technologies like blockchain and artificial intelligence (AI) continue to evolve, and look set to have an enormous impact on banking over the next three to five years. The type of cryptocurrencies that we have seen to date look set to be far more tightly regulated, given significant governmental concerns about their potential for misuse in cybercrime and money laundering.

In the blockchain space, the transformative development which will accelerate the rise of digital finance is the advent of central bank-backed digital currencies. The US Treasury has described the creation of a digital dollar as a high priority project. China is already trialling its digital Yuan. Meanwhile, the ECB is actively pursuing its plans to launch a digital Euro. The launch of stable, highly secure digital currencies, underpinned by major central banks, looks set to ensure that digital finance will permeate every area of our lives in the not too distant future.

How we use digital finance is also set to change radically. We are used to seeing new technology emerge from Silicon Valley. However, an analysis by KPMG Australia suggests that a new breed of apps which prefigures the future of digital finance has already emerged in the East. The report notes that “super apps” are “already encroaching on traditional financial services territory”.

Super apps are defined as apps which “essentially serve as a single portal to a wide range of virtual products and services. The most sophisticated apps – like WeChat and Alipay in China – bundle together online messaging (similar to WhatsApp), social media (similar to Facebook), marketplaces (like eBay) and services (like Uber). One app, one sign-in, one user experience – for virtually any product or service a customer may want or need.

“Due in large part to their versatility, super apps have quickly become ingrained into users’ daily lives. It is not unusual for a WeChat user in China to set up a date with a friend via instant messaging, make dinner reservations, book movie tickets, order a taxi and pay for every transaction along the way, all using one single app.”

We are already beginning to see trends in this direction in the Western world, with Facebook launching a marketplace and even a dating service within its social network. Facebook also attempted to launch its own digital currency, Libra, but this move stalled when it ran into significant governmental opposition. However, Facebook hasn’t given up, and it is determinedly pursuing the launch of a revamped stablecoin, Diem, which has been redesigned to address regulatory concerns.

A group of Citi analysts recently wrote an interesting research paper, which predicts that “the story of digital money in the 2020s will be the growth of tokenised money”. Noting that both Big Tech and Central Banks “are building new payment formats and rails,” they say that “while stablecoins such as Diem await regulatory approval, they could benefit from the huge network effects of their Big Tech sponsors. In fact, Diem could be an effective tokenised payment format inside the Facebook universe.” The paper predicts that “Stablecoins, such as Diem, could benefit from the huge network effects of their Big Tech sponsors”. With 3.3 billion monthly users, Facebook certainly has remarkable global reach.

The idea of an integrated tech platform which enables people to interact and purchase goods and services – including financial services – is now being pursued by many major players.

Amazon has long been rumoured to be planning to launch its own bank. Yet, research by CB Insights concludes that, “from payments and lending to insurance and checking accounts, Amazon is attacking financial services from every angle without even applying to be a conventional bank.” This is perhaps not surprising. After all, tech companies rarely replicate existing models. They usually find disruptive new ways to achieve the outcomes that consumers want. Even the messaging service, WhatsApp, has recently moved into financial services with the launch of WhatsApp Pay.

As money becomes digitised and tokenised and ever more areas of our lives move online, the distinction between an online marketplace, a social network and a financial services provider will continue to blur. How traditional financial services companies react to these developments remains to be seen. Some may partner with tech companies in creating new services. For example, Visa and Mastercard were involved with Facebook’s Libra stablecoin project. Visa also responded to the popularity of peer to peer payment services such as Revolut by launching Visa Direct, which enables users to make payments directly to another account in 30 minutes. Most major banks now support Apple Pay, which enables users to authorise payment by scanning their face or thumb.

Banks can also collaborate with tech companies in terms of data sharing, in order to better understand what their customers want. A company like Amazon knows what books people like, what music they listen to and what they purchase. By combining such data with wider financial data, remarkably predictive Big Data models could be created. Some banks might increasingly pursue opportunities to monetise data, while others might make privacy their unique selling point.

The banking sector fundamentally deals with money. Yet, the very nature of money is set to change, as it becomes digitised. Banks are no longer merely competing with each other, but they are both competing and collaborating with tech companies and social networks. Looking ahead, the only certainty we have is that we are in for a period of remarkable change.

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