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WHY BANKS NEED TO EMBRACE OPEN SOURCE COMMUNITIES

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Nikolai Stankau, Director Business Development, EMEA Financial Services at Red Hat, the world’s largest enterprise open source solutions provider.

 

Banks and financial services have long been benefiting from using open source software, which is code that is developed in a decentralised and collaborative way. Open source software is cost-effective, flexible, is developed rapidly, and tends to have more longevity than its proprietary peers because it is developed by communities rather than a single author or company.  According to Red Hat’s own research, 93% of IT leaders in financial services state that enterprise open source is important to their organisation.

Alongside adopting open source products, which many banks already do, there’s opportunity for these organisations to have a greater influence in the development of industry software, by engaging in ‘upstream’ open source community projects.

 

The advantages of engaging in upstream communities

In open source projects, code is developed as a shared process by a community of thinkers and developers anywhere in the world. Collaborating directly with these communities – what’s known as ‘upstream’ participation – can give banks a major competitive advantage on their journey to innovate. From there, software can either be downloaded at no cost, or consumed via a trusted open source vendor that secures and stabilises the software to make it suitable for an enterprise to use. This is also known as the ‘downstream’.

A company that contributes its developers’ time and resources to an open source community gets rewarded with the output of hundreds of developers working on the same code. This leads to a magnification effect, by virtue of the fact you’re expanding your team many times over while also benefiting from a much more diverse pool of talent. The result is that organisations can be captains of the product development process and work together with the community to design features and functionalities that meet their needs and keep up with customer demands.

An added benefit for banks engaging in these communities is it provides a great access point for sourcing new talent, as well as helping to retain existing talent. Developers are attracted to organisations that engage in upstream development because it allows them to be at the forefront of open source innovation and new community-led initiatives.

It’s common for multiple organisations in the industry to come together and collaborate on a project, which can drive significant benefits for the community as a whole. A good example is Fintech Open Source Foundation (FINOS), which is a community set up by banks to promote industry collaboration, by delivering software that addresses common industry challenges and drives faster innovation. The concept had its origins in Symphony, a open sourced messaging and collaboration tool that was adapted and improved upon by developers from other banks, ultimately helping the company to become a major business valued at around $1.4bn.

 

Where to join forces versus compete

Although the benefits of engaging in upstream communities are manifold, some organisations have concerns around intellectual property as well as the productivity of developers contributing to open source projects rather than exclusively working on the bank’s own proprietary software. To this latter point – in reality, the development of new solutions and features built inhouse often requires many months, whereas product ideas shared in a community setting can be executed in much shorter time frames. As the saying goes, many hands make light work.

Regarding the essential consideration of IP and competitiveness: a lot of where banks can differentiate is at the application layer; in the services they develop and offer, rather than at the underlying operating system or middleware foundations – these tend to be common and standard, and are what empowers organizations to get to market as fast as possible. Thus the greatest opportunity for banks lies in platforms such as Linux-based Kubernetes, which is now the industry standard for container orchestration and one of the most important technologies used in the financial services industry. Kubernetes attracts many contributors from diverse organisations all over the world.

Some IT leaders also recognise structural roadblocks: transitioning an organisation to new ways of thinking and operating is a process that isn’t achieved overnight. Not all banks have the legal or tech mechanisms in place to be able to share their code externally, and company policies can prevent their employees from engaging in open source communities. In a heavily regulated industry, it takes time for some organisations to create the necessary changes before they can harness the potential of upstream communities.

 

The future is open

As the software ecosystem expands, and in the face of accelerated digital transformation driven by the ‘new normal’ of the COVID-19 pandemic, banks and financial services have the opportunity to evaluate how they can get involved in open source. There are many ways to do this: they can invest financially in communities, provide technical leadership and resources, or contribute code. With organisations under more pressure than ever to gain a competitive advantage, playing a role in open source communities will help them create better products, speed up time to market and position themselves at the forefront of financial innovation.

 

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Banking

Cryptoassets and the European Central Bank’s new “PISA” Framework

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Alpay Soytürk, Chief Regulatory Officer Spectrum Markets

 

The European Central Bank has published a new oversight framework for electronic payment instruments, schemes and arrangements: “PISA”. In doing so it is further expanding its supervisory portfolio and entering into an area of significant public interest as the framework includes crypto-assets.

Crypto payments

The PISA framework will cover crypto-asset-related services but only to the extent they are relevant to the task of promoting the smooth operation of payment systems, which is as central an element of the ECB’s mandate as the definition and implementation of monetary policy, foreign exchange operations or the management of the euro area’s foreign currency reserves.

As an example of the scope of crypto-payments subject to the PISA framework, the ECB has highlighted the acceptance of crypto-assets by merchants within a card payment scheme and the option to send, receive or pay with crypto-assets via an electronic wallet. There seems to be a clear focus on payment tokens that does not include utility tokens, security tokens, Initial Coin Offerings or Security Token Offerings.

 

Out of scope

PISA excludes services where the transfer of value has only an investment focus. It also excludes services for which the transfer of value is executed solely in banknotes and coins, paper cheques, paper-based bills of exchange, promissory notes or similar. Paper-based vouchers or cash card issuance are also not in scope. The latter refers to cards that are issued for the purpose of depositing funds on it at the disposal of the receiver of a payment.

In other words, PISA focuses on all mechanisms that are based on electronic payment instruments with a general purpose, i.e., whose value transfer function is not limited to a single type of payment recipient or specific use, including instant payments and payment mechanisms in the B2B-sector, plus the usage of electronic payment instruments to place or withdraw cash.

 

Regulatory context

The ECB defines electronic payment instruments as (sets of) personalised devices, software or procedures agreed between the end user and the payment service provider to request the execution of an electronic transfer. In practice, this covers payment cards, credit transfers, direct debits, e-money transfers and digital payment tokens.

Consequently, there are overlaps with the PSD2[1] rather than with the MiCA[2] or the DLT Pilot Regime[3] proposals. As such, the ECB is expanding the scope of definitions to take into consideration the technological progress of recent years.

For the ECB, all representations of value backed by claims or assets denominated or redeemable in euros are in scope as well as other digital assets that are accepted under the rules of a scheme for payment purposes or to discharge payment obligations in euros.

 

Oversight and enforcement

The ECB maintains a Crypto-Assets Task Force, and it was this body’s analysis that led to the conviction that there are potentially material financial stability risks, and risks to the safety and efficiency of the payment system as a whole, should payments via stablecoins remain unregulated.

Following a 2020 public consultation, this finally led to the establishment of the PISA framework. However the ECB lacks the infrastructure to perform all the relevant surveillance and enforcement tasks to ensure the very highest levels of governance.

Consequently, for oversight purposes, i.e. the collection and assessment of information and implementation measures, the ECB assigns primary oversight responsibility to the national central banks within the Eurosystem.

The ECB has explained that, in this assignment, it emphasises proximity to the entity subject to oversight (e.g., the country of incorporation, national laws attributing specific oversight responsibilities to central banks concerned, subject to any Treaty-based requirements).

“Schemes” and “Arrangements”

PISA aims at the governance bodies of so-called “schemes” and “arrangements”, ensuring they behave in compliance with the ECB’s oversight expectations.

A scheme is defined as “a set of formal, standardised and common rules enabling the transfer of value between end users by means of electronic payment instruments”, managed by a governance body – while in practice, the governance body and the payment services provider are identical. Examples of schemes are card payment schemes, e-money schemes, digital payment token schemes, credit transfer schemes and direct debit schemes.

The ECB defines an “arrangement” as “a set of operational functionalities which support the end users of multiple payment service providers in the use of electronic payment instruments”. An example of an arrangement is an electronic wallet. The definitions, which are cryptic in the most literal sense, are designed to cover the entirety of the relevant area which would be difficult with classic categorisations where a service is provided organisationally and physically decentralised.

Looking to 2022

PISA was approved by the ECB’s Governing Council on 15 November 2021 and becomes applicable as of 15 November 2022 for schemes that are already subject to oversight by a national central bank within the Eurosystem. New schemes and arrangements have to abide by the PISA rules within one year after being informed that they fall within its scope.

 

[1] Directive (EU) 2015/2366, the “Payment Services Directive (PSD2)”
[2] Regulation on “Markets in Crypto-assets”
[3] Regulation on a “pilot regime for market infrastructures based on distributed ledger technology (DLT pilot regime”)

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Banking

Cloud technology in banking: Why adoption is on the rise

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Alpesh Tailor, Executive Director at digital transformation specialist GFT

 

The banking sector has never shied away from innovation, whether it is new products to improve customer savings habits or new ways of interacting with people and business, but embracing new technologies such as cloud has, until recently, been relatively slow. However, leading global financial institutions such as Goldman Sachs and Deutsche Bank have accelerated their adoption of cloud, which can provide insights for efficient technology transformation across the sector.

We conducted research to measure 21 medium-size and large banks’ sentiment and operations regarding cloud technology. Examining the relationship between cloud technology and banking professionals, our research provides an insight into the overall finance sector’s perception of cloud technology and how its application can improve banking procedures and efficiency.

 

Scale-up abilities

A significant trend showed that the way people use their finances and banking systems has changed, particularly when it comes to payments and transfers. Our research revealed that 86% of bankers have adopted cloud services to harness its virtually unlimited scalability, citing a definitive change in transaction behaviour as the main reason for moving to the cloud.

In the world of retail banking, buy-now-pay-later, open banking, and contactless payment systems have revolutionised the way people use their bank, making financial management easier and more efficient. However, despite these evolutions, high street banks are playing catch-up to the challenger banks who possess fewer legacy processes and, therefore, an easier migration to new technologies, such as the full utilisation of cloud and artificial intelligence.

The cloud provides a dependable, scalable, and flexible data system that allows traditional banks to modernise quickly and stay abreast of the innovations that ‘born-in-the-cloud’ challenger banks are bringing to the market. An increasingly popular way of doing this is by adopting a hybrid and multicloud approach.

Most organisations are considering diversifying their cloud technology, with 76% of bankers now agreeing with the importance of implementing multicloud systems in order to benefit from resilience and security improvements made by the main cloud providers. These cloud ‘hyperscalers’ also provide regular updates and continue to release exclusive new services and platforms as they continue to innovate.

 

Optimising costs

Our research indicates that cost optimisation is a primary reason that banks are looking toward the cloud for their future storage needs, with 81% of bankers confirming they have adopted cloud technology to save costs.

Installing and maintaining on-premise IT systems is lengthy and costly for financial institutions. When using the cloud, however, purchasing and installing hardware is no longer required as the cloud service provider hosts all the required infrastructure. The management of the hardware is included within this, reducing the overall cost of IT support further.

 

 Organisational inertia

Technological innovations are usually heralded for their ability to streamline operations, making them quicker and more secure. Our research illustrates that 62% of bankers believe organisational culture and inertia to be a key challenge within the sector. Besides being flexible for scalability and cost, adopting cloud technology can bolster organisational efficiency, since banks can spend fewer resources managing the relationship between trading volumes and payment infrastructure. Bankers acknowledge this opportunity, with 95% of organisations understanding that cloud technology can reduce time-to-market.

 

Overcoming misconceptions with cloud technology

Misconceptions usually exist around any emerging technology and our research found that this theme continues with cloud technology.

43% of the bankers we spoke to admitted that security concerns have impeded full cloud migration – a concern that has frequently been confirmed when speaking to financial services institutions. However, cloud providers invest heavily in the security of their cloud infrastructure which, as a result, makes it almost always safer than its on-premise, client-owned counterpart.

One aspect of adopting the cloud that continues to cause concern, is that which is commonly termed the ‘digital skills gap’. More than half of banks claim a lack of cloud-savvy employees internally has slowed down adoption. At GFT, we understand that this is a major issue for the adoption of cloud technology in all sectors, including banking, and have committed to training and encouraging young people to learn the required skills and enter the sector. We recently launched our Manchester Innovation Hub – a dedicated location to support the upskilling and growth of tech roles in the north.

Going forwards, cloud technology is the primary option for banks seeking to evolve and scale their business, whilst minimising risk, time and cost. Bankers recognise these benefits and the overall findings of our research suggest they will continue to grow their investment in cloud technology. Whilst evolving traditional legacy systems is very challenging, cloud technology continues to advance and we believe that over time it will become a powerful mainstay within the financial services industry.

 

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