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REGULATED LIABILITIES NETWORK: MAKING SPACE FOR DIGITAL CURRENCY WITHIN THE TWO-TIER MONETARY SYSTEM

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Marten Nelson, Co-Founder & CEO, M10 Networks

 

Here’s a good question: Can digital currency (DC) thrive within the two-tier monetary system that banks use the world over? After all, the current system has stood the test of time and is used by, well, everyone. Tearing it apart and trying to replace it with, say, a cryptocurrency makes little sense. How can we realize the promises of DC without throwing the baby out with the bathwater?

Earlier this year, Citi published a paper entitled “The Regulated Internet of Value” (the “Citi Paper”). In it, Tony McLaughlin, Head of Emerging Payments and Business Development at Citi’s Treasury and Trade Solutions, makes a case for settling the ongoing tug-of-war between proponents of stablecoins and those who favor central bank digital currency (CBDC) with a third option: the creation of a Regulated Liabilities Networks (RLN). As he explains: “Tomorrow’s money needs to be global, so we may envision a constellation of interoperable Regulated Liability Networks each founded on national currencies and supervised by local regulators.”[1]

Marten Nelson

McLaughlin is right on this account. If tokenization really is the best way to store and transfer digital value, as the Citi Paper suggests, it’s important that the regulated finance sector take a unified approach to avoid fragmentation and promote functionality. And perhaps, more importantly, to prevent transactions from migrating to the unregulated sector and putting our current system on the back burner.

According to the Citi Paper, pursuing tokenization in lockstep would allow central banks to expand beyond CBDC projects and include tokenization of all regulated liabilities. McLaughlin believes this would effectively “overcome a potential downside, which is the disintermediation of private regulated entities”. He suggests that this broader focus on regulated liabilities “brings the benefits of tokenization without the adverse consequences. It upgrades regulated money, which today only exists in account-based format.”[2]

What McLaughlin doesn’t appreciate, however, is that systems like this are already up and running in the pilot phase with banks around the world.

Several central banks (think: China and the Bahamas) have made great strides toward issuing digital currency on their own. Others have realized the value in embracing alternative ways to deliver the benefits of tokenization without actually issuing digital currency to residents. Afterall, if a central bank can avoid opening Pandora’s Box and still offer the benefits of CBDC, such as 24/7 access to banking services and fast, cheap, and easy cross-border payments, it will truly have located the Holy Grail. Emerging models for digital money make this possible – and are closer to bringing an RLN to life than McLaughlin might suspect.

The Citi paper rightly notes that maintaining a stable economic environment with sound monetary policies requires safe digital money that must be: “(a) regulated, (b) redeemable at par value on demand, (c) denominated in national currency units and, (d) an unambiguous legal claim on the regulated issuer.”[3]

Unlike cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, regulated liabilities include central bank money, commercial bank money, and electronic money since they all live on the balance sheet of the relevant regulated financial institution. An RLN would also allow stablecoins to be incorporated into the current financial system as regulated liabilities. By design, the transfer of money in a network of regulated liabilities will be in favor of verified legal persons, reducing the risk of financial crimes, and would be conducted through the transfer of tokens. These transfers are done through entries on a private ledger maintained by the bank, and not using bearer instruments. Consider the following definitions from the Citi Paper:

  • A token in a central bank wallet is a liability of the central bank
  • A token in a commercial bank wallet is a liability of the commercial bank
  • A token in an E-money wallet is a liability of the E-money issuer

“The legal meaning of the token is given by its location of the wallet in which it resides. When a token is at rest in a wallet controlled by an institution, then it is on the balance sheet of that institution as a liability in favour of the token holder.”[4]  By contrast, Bitcoin payments are conducted as a digital form of a bearer instrument.

Today, emerging models for digital money have harnessed the power of blockchain technology to express tokenized liabilities on the same shared ledger. This shared ledger represents the best of both worlds, creating digital money that is ‘always on’, instant and programmable, global in scope, but regulated by a sound banking system.

In fact, a shared ledger system enables both central bank money and commercial bank money to be tokenized. Furthermore, it allows transactions to settle instantly since banks on the system are transacting using tokenized central bank balances on shared ledgers. The platform would support multiple regulated liabilities. To address data sovereignty, there would be one ledger for each currency and it would host multiple types of liabilities for that currency. Banks can have positions on multiple ledgers. The ability for a bank to debit a position on one ledger and credit the balance on a different ledger enables cross-border payments.

And the best part? It all fits neatly within the two-tier monetary system.

The Citi Paper is an essential contribution to payments literature, providing the first public articulation of how an RLN can address the very real challenges of integrating digital money into our current financial framework. Yet, while McLaughlin states that creating such a network may seem like a “pipe dream,” at M10 Networks we’re already well on the way to bringing the vision to life for central banks and commercial banks around the world.

 

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Why Anti-Money Laundering is no longer just a tick box exercise

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Tremors following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have been felt around the world. At a time when customers are already demanding more from companies, the additional pressure being felt — especially by banks and financial services — to prioritize compliance and risk management is stronger than ever before. This has been further compounded by the realization across Western democracies of the extent of the Kremlin’s financial links within their jurisdictions, adding yet more pressure on governments to implement regulatory change. The need to investigate unexplained wealth orders and provide stronger reporting measures to tackle illicit transactions is more necessary now than ever before, while simultaneously ensuring sanctions do not impact the security of ordinary citizens’ bank accounts.

Anti-Money Laundering (AML) was once merely a tick box exercise. However, those in compliance now see financial crime and any link to bad actors as a legitimate risk to the reputation and the future success of financial organizations. As the industry moves in this direction, the entire ecosystem — law enforcement, regulators, and financial institutions — must move with it. Investment in banking technology is increasingly being focused on the development of more sophisticated solutions in the AML and anti-financial crime space. Clearly, there is more to be done in establishing the openness, reliability and safety needed to ensure customers’ assets remain secure. While some of the more traditional organizations still use fairly basic tools, there is a desire to innovate quickly and effectively, with a focus on implementing high-risk–reducing activities that can provide AML alerts in real-time across both traditional finance and the growing presence of digital assets.

However, the banking sector is also on the precipice of great change and dynamism, and AML has a fundamental role in achieving this success, especially for the emerging economies market. A report by PwC highlighted that Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, and Turkey will develop banking sectors of comparable scale to major European economies such as the UK, France, and Italy before 2040. Meanwhile, EY’s report in 2019 showed that financial inclusion can help boost GDP by up to 14% in large developing economies such as India, and up to 30% in frontier markets across Africa. These predictions are being aided by the continued rise of digital assets, growing exponentially, and projected to reach $4.94 billion by 2030, growing at a CAGR of 12.8% from 2021 to 2030, providing capital access to customers worldwide through instant decentralized transactions.

This makes the need for frictionless financial activity imperative, ensuring businesses have constant access to capital to invest alongside the security of working with banking providers with industry-leading AML services in place.

At Zenus Bank, we have approached this challenge by offering a US bank account that allows clients in over 150 countries to deposit, hold and make payments through US banking infrastructure. This form of international movement makes secure worldwide AML services an imperative.

As demand for our services has grown rapidly this year across Asia, Europe, and South America, we knew to scale at speed we needed to have a secure AML system that would allow us to grow our operations remotely without compromise. Adopting systems such as Identity Onboarding Authentication (IOA) has been key to achieving this. The technology streamlines the onboarding process for all our new customers using facial and voice recognition combined with artificial intelligence, all but eliminating the risk of individuals or businesses setting up fake accounts. IOA also validates thousands of identification documents in seconds, comparing the customer’s ID when submitting transactions to their facial recognition to provide financial security for us and our customers against money laundering. This type of full cycle integration of customer biometric validation and frictionless connectivity with multiple vendors is essential for financial irregularities and fraud prevention, eliminating old protection systems such as the need for passwords, personal questions, or other weak links in the security chain.

And so, the future of AML is two-fold: helping to fight the rising risks of financial crime that come with the increase of embedded financial services, and to ensure the ever more complex forms of payment can be completed at speed while monitoring the legality of each transaction in real-time.  AML is no longer just a tick box exercise — it is key to the future success of the financial industry.

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Making better decisions with people data and analytics at Standard Bank

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By Ian McVey, SVP & GM EMEA at Visier

 

Talent attraction, development and retainment remains a key challenge facing the financial services sector, one which has intensified due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and how it has transformed working environments.

Even before the pandemic arrived, financial services was ranked the second most stressful industry to work in, second only to health and social care on a list of 12 of the UK’s most prominent sectors.

Today, financial services employers are having to keep pace with the growing need for new digital skills in the workforce, as well as placing a greater wellbeing focus on their most important asset – people.

Indeed, the landscape continues to shift at speed. According to a survey of financial services workers undertaken by UK Finance, three in 10 said they needed more digital and tech expertise, with 28% saying they needed a better understanding of the mental and physical health of their staff and customers.

Industry leaders are wary of the talent crunch as well. Around seven in 10 banking and capital markets CEOs and insurance bosses view the limited availability of key skills as a threat to growth.

This makes people-based decision-making paramount to achieving the best possible business outcomes. Reams of research support this, with several studies showing that more diverse workforces outperform others, and that happy workers are markedly more productive in their day-to-day roles. The upshot is that the firms which rank best to work at perform better on stock markets.

Ian McVey

Putting people first at Standard Bank

Standard Bank is a pioneering example of how financial services organisations can leverage workforce data and insights to make better employee and business decisions.

It is a huge business. As the largest African banking group by assets, the company has around 55,000 employees operating in 28 countries around the world.

Digitisation and modernisation have been central to the business’s strategy, both in how it provides services to customers and operates internally.

Prior to the pandemic, the company already had a solid reporting structure and process in place, but there was a crucial problem – access to reports was limited to a small number of people and they were often out of date by the time of use.

Standard Bank needed clear, real-time insight that connected their workforce decisions to business value. It was faced with two options – leaning on analytical tools already in the business which provided monthly reports, or deploy a pre-built people analytics solution that could provide instantaneous insights.

The company chose Visier to implement the latter. Here, the adoption of on demand people data analytics has been scaled across the business, empowering line managers who make important daily decisions that shape the employee experience. So far, more than 6,000 line managers are using these insights to make informed people and business decisions.

Indeed, through the pandemic, the outcome-focussed insights offered by Visier’s people analytics solution have shaped the work-life balance and hybrid working policies for the company. It underpinned a key support system for employees, from tracking sick leave to issuing gentle reminders to take all important annual leave.

Progress continues in 2022. Having a holistic view of the workforce has been influential in enabling Standard Bank to develop its digital landscape – it has highlighted where skills are needed and what processes need transforming to facilitate the journey to becoming a truly digital bank.

Proving the power of people analytics in financial services

What Standard Bank’s experience shows is that it is possible to create an agile banking investment workforce that can pivot on demand with accurate, real-time people analytics capabilities at your fingertips.

Developing an industry-leading financial services workforce is no easy undertaking. However, gaining insight into what employees are feeling and how to keep them engaged has never been easier.

By leveraging a pre-built people analytics platform, managers can create plans based on projected growth, skills, and expected turnover, and share them securely across the business with role-based permissions.

And with all employee data stored in a single system, managers can view the entire workforce picture without having to wade through spreadsheets, enabling them to make decisions with greater confidence using the information to back them up.

Across our customer base, we see a 50% greater return on equity in comparison to other solutions (23.6% compared to 15.4%), as well as a 17% lower manager turnover which collectively saves millions on recruitment processes.

That said, recruitment processes can be transformed by people analytics, too. It enables organisations to identify the traits driving turnover and discover where their best candidates are coming from – and, crucially, how to keep them engaged through the hiring process.

From obtaining talent to keeping staff engaged and on-board, a data-driven people strategy is central to all stages of building the best financial services team possible.

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