$107 million…R3, which runs a FI consortium focused on blockchain technology, has completed the first two of three tranches in its Series A fundraising round. It has bagged $107 million in the world’s largest distributed ledger technology investment to date. Investors include SBI Group, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, HSBC, Intel and Temasek.

The first two tranches were made available only to R3 members, while the third and final tranche – which opens later this year – will be accessible to members and non-institutional investors. R3 will use the funds to accelerate technology development and expand strategic partnerships for product deployment. The company’s efforts will be focused on Corda, its DLT platform for regulated financial institutions, and its infrastructure network.

The aim is to raise $150 million from members and strategic investors and give them a 60% stake. R3 has declined to disclose the valuation. The move has been shrouded in controversy, with the completion of the first two tranches following the departure of several big hitters from R3 over the past few months, including Goldman Sachs, Banco Santander, Morgan Stanley and National Australian Bank. The banks have internal blockchain projects or investments in other startups.

David E. Rutter, CEO at R3, comments: “This investment is unprecedented. Many of the world’s largest financial firms have come together not just with capital support, but with a robust commitment to work with R3 in developing industry solutions that will be the building blocks of the new financial services infrastructure. We’ve got unparalleled momentum. R3 has proven the collaborative model can successfully drive innovation in financial services to a degree never before seen. In the space of less than two years, we have built a network of over 80 members, launched an open source distributed ledger platform specifically for wholesale financial markets, conducted over 60 detailed use cases across a variety of asset classes, led the way in regulatory engagement on behalf of the broader DLT community and are ahead of schedule for initial commercial deployments this year. We are on our way to becoming a new operating system for financial services.”

10…The Bank of England has been accused of choosing an airbrushed image of the novelist Jane Austen for the polymer £10 note, which will be unveiled in July.

Campaigners backed Austen to be the face of the new note, following the decision to remove Elizabeth Fry, the Quaker prison reformer, from the fiver and replace her with Winston Churchill. But they now say the Bank of England should have used used a more realistic sketch of the writer by her sister Cassandra, rather than a ‘retouched’ portrait.

The Austen biographer, Paula Byrne, told the Sunday Times: “They presumably said to the artist, make it look prettier…It is like doctoring a selfie by a celebrity. It is such a shame because that demure image is just not Austen.”

The historian and TV presenter, Lucy Worsley, who has recently published a book about the author, said: “Jane Austen fans are pleased, obviously, that she’s going to appear on the banknote, but it’s deeply ironic that the image chosen by the Bank of England isn’t really her. It’s an author publicity portrait painted after she died in which she’s been given the Georgian equivalent of an airbrushing; she’s been subtly ‘improved’. Jane had a much sharper face, some might call it sour. And she was a sharp person. I think of her as being like a bracing martini.”

70%…Major retail banks are struggling to create an in branch experience that complements their online and mobile offerings, according to research by Lightspeed on behalf of BookingBug. A survey of 2,000 consumers across the US and UK also found that 70% now swap between online and offline channels when carrying out a transaction.

On both sides of the Atlantic, the number of consumers using online banking grew over the past year by 25%, with improvements in technology and efforts to educate older generations paying off. It seems, however, that we’re reaching a tipping point, with 84% saying they would only use online banking a similar amount next year. Physical branches, meanwhile, remain key for certain interactions, especially when it comes higher value products such as mortgages or loans. But their full potential is yet to be harnessed. Only 21% of respondents rated the current in branch experience. 65% said a reduction in queues would influence the number of visits they make to a branch. 67% would be more attracted if staff had a better attitude and knowledge.

BookingBug’s CEO Glenn Shoosmith comments: “Bank branches, and the expertise of their staff, remain important to consumers. Especially when it comes to buying high-value products, or those which require more expert advice such as mortgages. Crucially, our research reveals how banks can enhance the in-branch experience to improve consumer perceptions. With the newest wave of online-only banks being awarded licences, the importance of providing the very best service is paramount: innovation in this area is a key differentiator in an increasingly crowded market.”

Three billion…Digital banking is set to envelop a greater proportion of the global population, with adoption approaching one in two adults by 2021, according to Juniper Research. Consumers are increasingly opting for banks offering the convenience of rapid, multi-channel digital services. This means that providers will need to focus on presenting ever more frictionless experiences, especially if they are to remain market leaders.

Juniper also claims that users of digital commerce services will reach three billion by 2021, or 40% of the global population, up from 32% this year. Significant opportunity exists for retailers, with remote payments for digital and physical goods forecast to account for over 10% of the $20 trillion global retail market in 2017. Juniper’s study found that businesses will gain advantage through use of automated customer experiences. With product search and discovery a key stage in the shopper journey, merchants must adopt conversational interfaces to drive customer engagement and, ultimately, sales.

69%…Digital banking has made Brits more financially aware, yet one in ten still don’t bank online, according to Nationwide Building Society research. Its survey of 2,000 adults reveals that 69% believe using internet banking allows them to keep on top of their finances, with four in ten saying they are better at budgeting due to being able to bank at home or on the move. 22% are less in debt through constantly eyeing their finances online, and 37% have avoided dipping into their overdrafts as a result. 28%, meanwhile, save at least an hour a week versus queueing up at an ATM or visiting a branch to carry out straightforward services, such as making a payment or checking balances.

When it comes to the 10% who are digital laggards, perhaps unsurprisingly there is an age divide, with only one in 20 18-24 year olds saying they do not use internet banking compared to 17% of those aged 55-plus. There are some areas in which people still prefer to deal with humans. Home-movers (40%) would prefer to speak to someone when arranging a mortgage, while 37% would want to open their child’s first current account in person.

When asked what payment methods will exist in 2037, 58% Brits believe they will buy everything using their thumbprint, while 23% think they will pay via a chip implanted in their hand. At the same time, 55% don’t look too far ahead in terms of advancements, believing phones or watches will be used to pay for everything in 2037. Many believe that debit cards (56%), credit cards (53%) and cash (43%) will still be utilised in 2037. 9% think that traveller’s cheques will still exist. Four in ten believe cash will be redundant within the next 25 years.

80%…Millions of people do not trust fingerprint recognition, voice recognition and robo-advice, according to HSBC research. The bank commissioned a study of 12,019 people in Canada, China, France, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Mexico, Singapore, The United Arab Emirates, UK, and the US. It found that 80% believe technology makes their lives easier but only 46% trust fingerprint recognition to replace their password. 84% would, however, share their personal data with their bank if it meant getting a better service.

People rely on traditional passwords to confirm their identity (70%) with only a fifth using fingerprint recognition and just 6% voice recognition. They are twice as likely to trust a humanoid robot for heart surgery (14%) as they are to trust one to open a savings account (7%) and only 11% would back any type of robot, including chatbots, to open a savings account or provide mortgage advice. The least understood new technologies are blockchain, robo-advisers, automated investment advice (69%) and finance applications integrated into social media (60%).

24% have not heard of, or do not know what voice activation technology is, despite it being widely available in smartphones. There is a reliance on long established methods of money management with the most common traditional channels including: online banking via a bank website (67%); ATMs (55%); Branch visits (41%).

Eight…BBVA is making eight of its APIs commercially available for the first time. The launch of BBVA API Market will enable companies, startups and developers to build new products and services by accessing and integrating customers’ banking data – with their permission – into their applications.

“By opening commercially our data and services, BBVA is turning Open Banking – a model that is going to speed up the transformation of the financial industry – into a reality. Not only are we adapting to EU standard PSD2, which aims to boost competition in the industry, but are actually aiming to become the best platform on which to build new digital experiences. This is a customer-led business opportunity,” says Derek White, Global Head of Customer Solutions at BBVA.

This will initially only be available to the FI’s Spanish customers, but BBVA intends to roll the initiative out to its USA customers later this year, before expanding it to Turkey, Mexico, Latin America and beyond. The launch comes after it spent 2016 testing the waters. Over 1,500 businesses and developers registered with the portal to get a feel of the possibilities the APIs can bring to their businesses. The bank is already working with IBEX 35 companies in Spain, and also with geomarketing startups such as Geoblink, Carto or Bismart who are using the statistical data provided in Paystats, and with management software vendors, such as Anfix, Simplygest and Sage.

by Scott Thompson
Scott is Senior Editor at IBS Intelligence. You can follow him on Twitter and contact him at: Scott.Thompson@ibsintelligence.com
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