Could You Boost Your Cybersecurity With Blockchain?

Posted on : 28-11-2017 | By : Tom Loxley | In : Blockchain, Cloud, compliance, Cyber Security, Data, data security, DLT, GDPR, Innovation

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Securing your data, the smart way

 

The implications of Blockchain technology are being felt across many industries, in fact, the disruptive effect it’s having on Financial Services is changing the fundamental ways we bank and trade. Its presence is also impacting Defense, Business Services, Logistics, Retail, you name it the applications are endless, although not all blockchain applications are practical or worth pursuing. Like all things which have genuine potential and value, they are accompanied by the buzz words, trends and fads that also undermine them as many try to jump on the bandwagon and cash in on the hype.

However, one area where tangible progress is being made and where blockchain technology can add real value is in the domain of cybersecurity and in particular data security.

Your personal information and data are valuable and therefore worth stealing and worth protecting and many criminals are working hard to exploit this. In the late 90’s the data collection began to ramp up with the popularity of the internet and now the hoarding of our personal, and professional data has reached fever pitch. We live in the age of information and information is power. It directly translates to value in the digital world.

However, some organisations both public sector and private sector alike have dealt with our information in such a flippant and negligent way that they don’t even know what they hold, how much they have, where or how they have it stored.

Lists of our information are emailed to multiple people on spreadsheets, downloaded and saved on to desktops, copied, chopped, pasted, formatted into different document types and then uploaded on to cloud storage systems then duplicated in CRM’s (customer relationship management systems) and so on…are you lost yet? Well so is your information.

This negligence doesn’t happen with any malice or negative intent but simply through a lack awareness and a lack process or procedure around data governance (or a failure to implement what process and procedure do exist).

Human nature dictates we take the easiest route, combine this with deadlines needing to be met and a reluctance to delete anything in case we may need it later at some point and we end up with information being continually copied and replicated and stored in every nook and cranny of hard drives, networks and clouds until we don’t know what is where anymore. As is this wasn’t bad enough this makes it nearly impossible to secure this information.

In fact, for most, it’s just easier to buy more space in your cloud or buy a bigger hard drive than it is to maintain a clean, data-efficient network.

Big budgets aren’t the key to securing data either. Equifax is still hurting from an immense cybersecurity breach earlier this year. During the breach, cybercriminals accessed the personal data of approximately 143 million U.S. Equifax consumers. Equifax isn’t the only one, if I were able to list all the serious data breaches over the last year or two you’d end up both scarred by and bored with the sheer amount. The sheer scale of numbers here makes this hard to comprehend, the amounts of money criminals have ransomed out of companies and individuals, the amount of data stolen, or even the numbers of companies who’ve been breached, the numbers are huge and growing.

So it’s no surprise that anything in the tech world that can vastly aid cybersecurity and in particular securing information is going to be in pretty high demand.

Enter blockchain technology

 

The beauty of a blockchain is that it kills two birds with one stone, controlled security and order.

Blockchains provide immense benefits when it comes to securing our data (the blockchain technology that underpins the cryptocurrency Bitcoin has never been breached since its inception over 8 years ago).

Blockchains store their data on an immutable record, that means once the data is stored where it’s not going anywhere. Each block (or piece of information) is cryptographically chained to the next block in a chronological order. Multiple copies of the blockchain are distributed across a number of computers (or nodes) if an attempted change is made anywhere on the blockchain all the nodes become are aware of it.

For a new block of data to be added, there must be a consensus amongst the other nodes (on a private blockchain the number of nodes is up to you). This means that once information is stored on the blockchain, in order to change or steel it you would have to reverse engineer near unbreakable cryptography (perhaps hundreds of times depending on how many other blocks of information were stored after it), then do that on every other node that holds a copy of the blockchain.

That means that when you store information on a blockchain it is all transparently monitored and recorded. Another benefit to using blockchains for data security is that because private blockchains are permissioned, therefore accountability and responsibly are enforced by definition and in my experience when people become accountable for what they do they tend to care a lot more about how they do it.

One company that has taken the initiative in this space is Gospel Technology. Gospel Technology has taken the security of data a step further than simply storing information on a blockchain, they have added another clever layer of security that further enables the safe transfer of information to those who do not have access to the blockchain. This makes it perfect for dealing with third parties or those within organisations who don’t hold permissioned access to the blockchain but need certain files.

One of the issues with blockchains is the user interface. It’s not always pretty or intuitive but Gospel has also taken care of this with a simple and elegant platform that makes data security easy for the end user.  The company describes their product Gospel® as an enterprise-grade security platform, underpinned by blockchain, that enables data to be accessed and tracked with absolute trust and security.

The applications for Gospel are many and it seems that in the current environment this kind of solution is a growing requirement for organisations across many industries, especially with the new regulatory implications of GDPR coming to the fore and the financial penalties for breaching it.

From our point of view as a consultancy in the Cyber Security space, we see the genuine concern and need for clarity, understanding and assurance for our clients and the organisations that we speak to on a daily basis. The realisation that data and cyber security is now something that can’t be taken lighted has begun to hit home. The issue for most businesses is that there are so many solutions out there it’s hard to know what to choose and so many threats, that trying to stay on top of it without a dedicated staff is nearly impossible. However, the good news is that there are good quality solutions out there and with a little effort and guidance and a considered approach to your organisation’s security you can turn back the tide on data security and protect your organisation well.

Bitcoin – New Cash or New Crash?

Posted on : 28-09-2017 | By : Tom Loxley | In : Bitcoin, Blockchain, Finance, FinTech

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Much hype has plagued the media surrounding Bitcoin once again last week, this time concerning JPMorgan Chase chief Jamie Dimon. He made his comments whilst speaking at the banking conference in New York and his interview afterwards when he was asked his opinion on Bitcoin.

Having seen the actual interview during which his comments were made, it is my opinion that whilst there are some worthy and serious underlying issues which I believe he was justifiably correct in highlighting, the media has certainly sensationalised the content of what was said.

He has been famously quoted for making the analogy between Bitcoin and tulips. Referring to the mania that surrounded the perceived value of tulip bulbs in Holland in the 17 Century which caused the price rocket up well beyond their actual value. A Tulip was reported to be worth upwards of five times the cost of an average house, with obvious negative results. He capped off his ideas on the subject my making another reference to the famous Hans Christian Andersen short story The Emperor’s new clothes. Here (spoiler alert) mass hysteria surrounds the beauty of Emperors “new clothes” despite him being naked because no one has the courage or self-assuredness to argue against mass opinion for fear of being wrong or ridiculed.

It’s a clever and apt use of the metaphors. Even for someone who sees value in the disruptive effect of the cryptocurrency movement on the evolution of FinTech and the philosophy underlining (Bitcoins founder) Satoshi Nakamoto’s (Bitcoin’s founder) white paper, I can see the concern and won’t argue with the analogies.

However, if I was a sceptical man I wouldn’t be able to ignore that fact that, whilst Jamie Dimon’s credentials are fantastic and his opinion is highly regarded, the advent of Bitcoin (at its extreme) has the potential to shake his entire financial industry it to its knees. Therefore, it wasn’t surprising (even if well founded), when he stated, “If we have a trader that trades Bitcoin, I would fire them in a second, for two reasons: It is against our rules and they are stupid, and both are dangerous,”. Make of that what you will.

He may well be right, the general ignorance that still surrounds cryptocurrencies and blockchain (i.e. many people still see Bitcoin and blockchain technology as one and the same thing), coupled with a “jump on the bandwagon” mentality (and in some cases, a hint of greed) is seeking to over-inflate and undermine the intrinsic and true value of Bitcoin. Since its inception it has already undergone large dips in value, though it’s resilience to come back stronger is impressive.

Although it is not mentioned in many of the articles which cover the Jamie Dimon interview, he clearly states he does see a reason for Bitcoin, saying that “if you’re in Venezuela, Ecuador or North Korea you probably better off using bitcoin”.

He also states that he is not giving investment advice and that it may go much higher in value yet. His warning is that it will eventually burst because governments in first world countries like to regulate fiat currency and know who has it in their possession.

He stated that currently, governments consider Bitcoin a novelty, but eventually as it grows in popularity they will shut it down (however, how or whether that is even possible is a subject for another day).

Of course, it is worth noting a few points here which I believe are relevant. Initially, in his interview, Jamie Dimon uses the term Bitcoin as the subject of his conversation but then corrects himself and uses the more general term cryptocurrency. I bring this up because, as stated before, there is a still much confusion surrounding cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology (I will include a small glossary at the end of this article for those who want to know the differences and definitions). Many people still don’t (or can’t) yet differentiate between Bitcoin and the hundreds of other cryptocurrencies. It seems to me that what Jamie Dimon he really talking about at the conference is not Bitcoin per say, but cryptocurrencies in general, something which the general media has not seemed to pick up on.

Bitcoin has got a lot of bad press simply because it is the most recognised cryptocurrency (don’t feel too bad for it though because it has also rocketed in value for the same reason).

It’s also worth noting that what he is talking about is unregulated cryptocurrencies. Jamie Dimon’s concerns here are well founded. The sad fact is, that whilst the cryptocurrency remains outside any regulation and the outside control of any government-backed organisation it is likely to be exploited by criminals and those with nefarious intentions no matter how many legitimate users it has.

The technology could (and in my opinion probably will) be used by first world governments to create their own version of cryptocurrencies that are regulated and therefore have many of the benefits of cryptocurrencies, without the worry of destabilising the economy or causing massive inflation, which has been highlighted by the Bank of England (BoE) as a concern.

It may not be too long before you find yourself using the BoE’s “Crypto-Pound” or US Treasuries “Crypto-Dollar” to buy your weekly shop at the supermarket. Doubtless, many will argue that this would go against the whole philosophy of “Be Your Own Bank” that underlies (what some consider to be) the greatest asset of the current cryptocurrencies. However, it would solve the regulation problem whilst at least keeping some of the technical assets intrinsic to the technology (speed, transparency, efficiency, accessibility etc…).

The value of Bitcoin dropped substantially after the comments by Jamie Dimon. However, it bounced right back proving that although it may burst one day it still has a lot of confidence among investors and the growing number who are determined to make it a mainstream currency and it seems to be working.

Last week a London based property developer, The Collective announced that prospective tenants can pay deposits in Bitcoin. By the end of this year, it will also accept rent payments in Bitcoin too. A spokesperson stated that the decision was made after increasing requests from foreign customers. Also last week Last week, Lady Mone (British entrepreneur, global speaker, designer, innovator and parliamentarian) launched a major property development in Dubai, priced in bitcoins. She stated that the digital currency was a growing market that could not be ignored.

The world of cryptocurrencies is still embryonic and remains unclear as to how it will unfold, but it is certainly interesting to watch as a spectator, if not a speculator.

Glossary

Below is an informal glossary of some of the more popular terms in the Blockchain and cryptocurrency world, because of the relative newness of the terms here there are differing and often conflicting definitions available, however, I find these give an accurate (if very basic) overview. (The content of the definitions has been largely although not entirely, adapted from the information available at www.coindesk.com):

Bitcoin: Bitcoin is the first decentralised, open source cryptocurrency that runs on a global peer to peer network, without the need for middlemen and a centralised issuer. It has the following characteristics:

  • Decentralised
  • Transparent
  • Largely anonymous (Users hold bitcoin addresses, but they aren’t linked to names, addresses, or other personally identifying information)
  • Transaction fees are relatively small (although they are increasing gradually)
  • Transaction speeds are relatively quick (although large traditional financial institutions are now begging to harness blockchain technology to reduce their own transaction times)
  • Secured through cryptography

Cryptocurrency or digital currency: Also known as tokens, cryptocurrencies are representations of digital assets. Cryptocurrencies are categories of digital currencies. They consist of a type of electronic token with a perceived value, that is managed through limited entries in a database that no one can change without fulfilling specific conditions. Digital currency can be transferred between entities or users with the help of technology like computers, smartphones and the internet.

Blockchain: A blockchain is a shared or distributed ledger where transactions/data are permanently recorded by appending blocks. The blockchain serves as a historical record of all transactions that ever occurred, from the genesis block to the latest block, hence the name blockchain. The “chain” which connects block is often highly encrypted which makes the data stored in the blockchain highly secure and permanent.

Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT): Distributed ledgers are ledgers in which data is stored across a network of decentralized nodes. A distributed ledger does not have to have its own currency and may be public or permissioned and private.

Broadgate at ISITC Europe General Meeting’s Security Panel

Posted on : 26-04-2016 | By : Maria Motyka | In : Cyber Security, Data, Finance, Innovation

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Last month, on Monday the 25th of April 2016, we had the pleasure to participate in the General Meeting of the International Securities Association for Institutional Trade Communication (ISITC Europe).

The voluntary organisation was founded in 1992 and “has lead operational and technical change over the past 25 years, contributing to the rise of efficiency in the securities markets to the mutual benefit of all participants”. ISITC’s members gather in work groups around innovative topics such as Blockchain, Standards, Regulation, Industry Engagement and – last but not least – Cybersecurity.

Nigel D Solkhon, CEO of ISITC Europe, whom we featured in our recent 5 Minutes With interview, initiated the event by highlighting the ISITC’s educational, innovative and operational role and was followed by a keynote speech from Edward Walace, MWR Infosecurity: Cybersecurity, what is there to fear?

The first panel discussion discussed the adoption of blockchain by the securities market. Anthony Culligan, co-founder of SETL, briefly explained the concept of blockchain to the audience by noting, that working in finance is very much different to how it is presented in the Wolf of Wall Street – “what we do is we keep very long lists of loans, assets, cash… and another thing that is exciting is that we change those lists. Blockchain technology is just a fantastic way to keep these lists. Maintain these lists, allowing each participant to make changes [to them].

As the three ‘pillars’ which pose a barrier to the adoption of blockchain, Justin Amos, Digital Asset Holdings, listed the lack of global standardisation, the network effect and regulation.

Mr. Vandenreydt also stressed the importance of the neutralisation of costs, which would potentially serve as an incentive for organisations to adopt blochchain; “now it is a global architecture and there is nothing more difficult to sell than an architecture”, he noted. Further challenges mentioned during the panel include identity management – there is a need to have an independent identity framework; standards (how can you smoothly operate if you work with a number of different countries of different jurisdictions?) and data privacy implications.

Once blockchain is adopted, who will be the winner who will be the loser? According to one view, the harsh reality is that the losers will be the employees, while the winners will be the shareholders. According to another, the winners will be those who are ‘close’ to their clients, those who understand them.

Richard Gale represented Broadgate during the event by joining the panel, which discussed: How can the Securities Market manage Cyber Security best?

The panel’s host, David Ewings, Threadneedle, opened the discussion by noting, that the cyber threat is ever-evolving, as well as stressing the need for us to recognise that it is impossible to ‘protect everything’ and the necessity to have ‘an approach and a desire’ to be cyber-secure.

Richard Gale highlighted the importance of ensuring that management understands the significance of building security into every project and everything you do within the organisation. An internal awareness of the consequences of a potential attack is key. Edward Wallace, Infosecurity, agreed by noting that companies should quantify the business risk (taking into consideration reputation risks/costs), stressed that security is not something that you can simply ‘stick on afterwards’, as well as noted that there is a mismatch between projects and work streams within organisations. The panelists shared the view, that organisations need to be aware of where exactly can external companies ‘plug into’ to get business assets from and where the most valuable data is held. While it is essential, that we realise that it is impossible to eliminate all the risks, companies need to “identify core assets, their crown jewels and keep them safe”. Clever security financing is also paramount – when setting budgets, organisations need to take into consideration the potential post-attack costs. As more data comes out, companies will likely increasingly benchmark themselves and make according security decisions – you’d rather not be as secure as you would wish than be out of business because of spending too much on security!

Yet another consideration for cybersecurity-aware organisations should be the risk they take on by taking on certain clients. Offsetting potential risk by working with contractors or maximising security measures in place at specific periods only are some of the solutions to dealing with client-deriving risks.

In regards to regulation in the area, it was noted, that regulators, while looking at technology, which will become available in the future, address risk in a retrospective manner. Organisations should be ahead of regulation. They need to do much more than simply comply with regulation – ensure that they protect their own assets, as a lot of regulation is about protecting others’ data.

5 Minutes With Nigel D. Solkhon, CEO of ISITC Europe

Posted on : 14-03-2016 | By : Maria Motyka | In : 5 Minutes With

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As one of the founding members of the organisation, you were invited to become CEO of ISITC Europe in Q4 2015. What is your vision for the organisation?

ISITC Europe was formed in 1992,  6 months after the forum was established in North America. It is a voluntary organisation that has lead operational and technical change over the past 25 years, contributing to the rise of efficiency in the securities markets to the mutual benefit of all participants. The initiative has lost members and focus over the past 5 years, which I believe, left a gap in the industry for a vendor/participant neutral forum to educate, debate and advise on the industry needs.

The new agenda I established with the IELG (ISITC Europe Leadership Group) in December 2015, was targeted at 3 levels:

  1. Deliver value to ISITC Europe Members
  2. Re-establish ISITC Europe as a contributing forum for industry change
  3. Establish work groups around contemporary and innovative topics (Blockchain, Standards, Regulation, Industry Engagement and Cybersecurity)

The value will be derived from the right context of debate and education as well as the fee reduction we applied in 2016. The work groups have attracted more people/firms than the total membership in the past 2015, proving the demand is strong. Lastly, we are holding our first General Meeting on 25th April which will allow members and non-members access to the work group updates as well as discussions around the individual topics.

 

According to your view “technology has a huge role in translating the data into information and creating efficiency”. During a recent interview you also expressed your belief that the current interest and investment in blockchain technology among financial firms will reveal its impact as soon as in 1 – 1.5 years. In your opinion, how will the financial industry change as a result of the adoption of new tech including blockchain?

The most difficult challenge is to predict the future. Adoption of new technology happens every day, whether it be a database, network or application, it is the natural evolution of the industry. Blockchain is seen as disruptive technology, meaning that the adoption may change not only the process but the actors. This has resulted in the fear and greed emotional response. Whenever new technology hits the industry there is a period of chaos, as use cases are researched and new companies and consortia are formed. ISITC Europe is not about choosing a technology or consortia but about looking at the impact of the technology on the operation and technical use across the firms and providers. There already exists products and services based on this technology in operation today. However, most of the payers in the industry are at the stage of defining which processes (internally or externally) will benefit from moving to the new platform. Moving will incur costs, as migration from old to new is never an exact science, and is always dependent up the last adopter to close off old processes. Suffice to say, Blockchain has made the industry think about current processes and models, and ISITC Europe will be in the middle of validating any changes.

Mr Solkhon jp

You said “Blockchain is seen as a catalyst for change and ISITC Europe members need to be involved in setting the agenda for change”. Can you explain the ways ISITC can contribute to setting this ‘change agenda’?

As I mentioned previously, ISITC Europe is a neutral platform for participants to have open dialogue about common challenges to drive a common equitable solution. I could be sitting in my office with an issue that I believe is unique to me/my organisation and without a forum like ISITC Europe I would not know that everyone has the same issue. A problem shared is a problem halved could be a relevant adage, however sharing the problem allows for a wider community looking for a resolution. ISITC Europe educates its members by bringing people together from a range of firms and discussing common topics. Once the knowledge is shared, the debate begins, and once this is formed into an opinion, this can be shared with the entities canvassing the industry for input to regulation, technology and industry future models. By making the ISITC Europe agenda interesting and relevant, a common voice can be heard.

 

What are the potential security challenges of blockchain tech?

I am no expert on security, but I certainly see the concern from Governments, Banks, Asset Managers, Brokers et al. ISITC Europe will look at these concerns, work on a scope of activity to deliver in a set time and pass any relevant outputs to the other working groups to review (for example standards of regulation). This is an area where I personally will be interested in being educated by the experts.

 

What do you consider as the most common mistake financial organisations make in terms of cyber security?

This is a tough question. Any technology has an evolution path, and this appears to be accelerating in certain areas. The positive side of this is that we can see benefits to our everyday life such as contactless payments, social media etc. Unfortunately this is not the case for those looking to fraudulently use technology for gain or disruption. Mistakes will happen, and thankfully most are used to prevent recurrence in the future. As more and more of the services delivered by financial  services organisations are delivered through self-service electronic means, the attacks on these assets will inevitably increase. ISITC Europe can be a place to share these issues and raise awareness and share solutions.

 

As Citi’s Regional Head of E2C EMEA, can you briefly describe its Execution 2 Custody solution?

My day job is actually similar to ISITC Europe in that it supports efficient trading and settlement of assets across the Citi trading and Custody landscape in a very efficient model. The trades are executed and sent by Citi in a journey that can be as short as 1 second for the entire process. We use open architecture standards such as Fix and ISO 15022 enabling clients to integrate much quicker and gain benefits from the automated flows. We count Private Banks, Retail brokers, Bank retail flow, Institutions, Market infrastructures and stockbrokers as clients.

 

 

Featured Startup – 5 Minutes With Avtar Sehra, Crowdaura

Posted on : 26-02-2016 | By : Maria Motyka | In : 5 Minutes With, Featured Startup, Finance, Innovation

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In your view, which aspects of the financial services industry are the most likely to be revolutionised by the Blockchain?

Blockchain is being presented as a savior of the financial system, which a key focus point on clearing and settlement. However, there are many aspects of the trade-lifecyle process that are being either overlooked or ignored and some of those aspects are fundamentally much more of an overhead in terms of time and cost than some of the post trade activities. In addition, using current technology the post trade activity cannot be fully autonomised as smart contracts still need external scheduling services to trigger key Blockchain events, such as cashflows.

Blockchain capability and capacity will increase in terms of data security, storage and compute. As this takes place, the chain will become an increasingly fatter layer in the financial services trade life cycle technology stack. For example Crowdaura is already experimenting with instrument document structuring, pricing and execution on chain as well as looking at the obvious post trade activities. While we are focusing on simple debt, equity and swap instruments at the moment, we have our sights on much more complex products and deal structures.

We also believe that the current view of deploying a global Blockchain fabric for financial services is most likely an incorrect approach. We think a global finance Blockchain network will develop like how many other networks develop, such as the Internet. For example there are huge opportunities for driving greater efficiencies in the internal trade lifecycle from execution, trade capture to documentation, confirmation and other post trade administration and control activities. At the moment these internal trade lifecycle processes are stymied by inefficiencies related to transfer of data between systems and executing reconciliations and reporting, or trying to maintain unpractical or uneconomical golden data sources.

In Crowdaura we are already experimenting with deployment of internal operational chains, where our applications can plug into, and providing adapters to integrate in-house or third party applications into the chains. Eventually these local area chains will then be connected to wider areas chains through trusted internal “pegging” nodes, very much like how LANs connect to the Internet in a current enterprise environment. In this model certain internal functions such as confirmations, clearing and settlement, can then move from the internal to the external chain, whilst still maintaining data security and privacy.

avtar

Crowdaura has recently been chosen for both the Fintech Innovation Lab (as the only Fintech startup in the lab utilising Blockchain) and the Microsoft Accelerator program – what made you stand out from competing startups?

Crowdaura beat over 300 start-ups to be accepted into the 6th Microsoft London Accelerator cohort, and over 600 start-ups to win a place in the Accenture FinTech Innovation Lab. We are one of the first Blockchain start-ups to be accepted into the Microsoft Accelerator, and this is because Crowdaura doesn’t position itself as a Blockchain company. We leverage a complex stack of technologies, with Blockchain being one of them, but our focus is to provide a best in class Financial Services offering.

We feel that Crowdaura is a glimpse into the future of investment/wholesale banking, as we bring together digital platforms, machine learning and Blockchain to enable large financial services firms to provide automated self-service banking to clients for securities lifecycle management. We want to help financial services firms do what they do, but more easily, cheaply, quickly and safely. This is achieved through automation of activities such as legal/regulatory document structuring; intelligent marketing, distribution, execution; and a Blockchain based clearing, settlement and administration engine.

What made us stand out is that we focus on developing technology for real world financial application. We look at a specific market, the business and operating models being used in that market, and then we try and build a minimal viable end-to-end system that enables frictionless execution within that market. We have many key services that are pre-developed, and most of these are web based (SaaS solutions), which can all be provided as a centralised “investment bank engine-in-a-box”.

However, the true power is leveraged in networks where exchanges can connect up with brokers, or banks with buy-side clients. In such cases we have developed a Blockchain engine, chain agnostic – meaning we can utilise the Bitcoin Blockchain, Etherium Blockchain, or any other blockchain and that can be leveraged for clearing, settlement and depository services, and executing Delivery Versus Payment (DVP) using fiat currencies. We are also experimenting with more on-chain functionality; obviously administration of coupons, dividends and voting are the easy wins. But we have a longer term vision connected with chains that have greater compute capabilities as we feel this is where the future is for truly distributed markets.

Could you share your experiences of working in an accelerator?

The London Microsoft Accelerator program itself has been steadily gaining momentum since launching three years ago, offering a select few start-ups mentoring, support and resources as they push their product through development and bring their offering to market. The accelerator culminates in a pitching event where VCs, Angels, and notables throughout industry assemble to view some of the finest start-ups in the UK and potentially offer investment.

Microsoft Accelerator (MSA) has been extremely supportive in helping us develop the technology side of our business whilst we were still in ‘stealth’ in the fourth quarter of 2015. With their help and support we were able to successfully win a place in the Accenture FinTech Innovation Lab as the only ‘blockchain’ startup in this year’s batch. Being part of the Accenture Fintech Innovation Lab is a great opportunity as it gives Crowdaura the opportunity to work with many of our potential clients in Investment Banking to refine our product and execute novel proof of concepts (PoC’s). So far it’s been exciting to network with different high-potential high-growth startups, share ideas, and discuss collaborative efforts in the future. There is also a lot we are learning from our start-up colleagues in the lab, they are all immensely intelligent and talented people running some incredibly innovative startups.

 

The Blockchain Revolution

Posted on : 28-08-2015 | By : richard.gale | In : Cyber Security

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We’ve been excited by the potential of blockchain and in particular bitcoin technology and possibilities for a while now (Bitcoins: When will they crash?  More on Bitcoins..  Is someone mining on my machine? ). We even predicted that bitcoins would start to go mainstream in our 2015 predictions . We may be a little ahead of ourselves there but the possibilities of the blockchain, the underpinning technology of crypto currencies is starting to gather momentum in the financial services world.

Blockchain technology contains the following elements which are essential to any financial transaction

  1. Security – Blockchain data is secure as each part of the chain is linked with the other and many copies of that data are stored among the many thousands of ‘miners’ in an encrypted (currently unhackable) format. Even if a proportion of these miners were corrupt with criminal intent the voting of the majority will ensure integrity
  2. Full auditability – Every block in the chain has current and historic information relating to that transaction, the chain itself has everything that ever happened to it. The data is stored in multiple places and so there is a very high degree of assurance that the account is full and correct
  3. Transparency – All information is available in a consistent way to anyone with a valid interest in the data
  4. Portability – The information can be available anywhere in the world, apart from certain governments’ legislation there are few or no barriers to trade using blockchain technology
  5. Availability – There are  many copies of each blockchain available in virtually every part of the world blockchains should then always be available for use

The blockchain technology platform is flexible enough to incorporate additional functions and process without compromising it’s underlying strengths.

All major banks and a number of innovative startups are looking at ways blockchain can change the way transactions are executed. There are significant opportunities for both scale and efficiency using this technology. Areas being researched include;

  • Financial trading and settlement. Fully auditable, automated chain of events with automated payments, reporting and completion globally and instantly
  • Retail transactions. End to end transactions delivered automatically without the opportunity of loss or fraud
  • Logistics and distribution. Automatically attached to physical and virtual goods with certified load information enabling swift transit across nations
  • Personal data. Passports, medical records and government related information can be stored encrypted but available and trusted
There are still some significant challenges with blockchain technology;
  1. Transactional throughput – limited by banking standards (10’s of transactions per second at present rather than 10,000’s)
  2. Fear and lack of understanding of the technology – this is slowing down thinking and adoption
  3. Lack of skills to design and build – scarce resources in this space and most are snapped up by start-ups
  4. Complexity and lack of transparency – Even though the technology itself is transparent the leap from the decades old processes used in banks back offices for example to a blockchain programme can be a large one. In the case of time critical trading or personal information then security concerns on who can view data come to the fore.
  5. Will there be something else that replaces it – will the potentially large investment in the technology be wasted by the ‘next big thing’?

We think blockchain could have a big future. Some people are even saying it will revolutionize government, cutting spending by huge amounts. If blockchain transactions were used to buy things then sales tax and various amounts to retailers, wholesalers, manufacturers could be paid immediately and automatically. The sales person could have the blockchain credit straightaway too.

Blockchains could remove huge levels of inefficiency and potential for fraud. It could also put a significant number of jobs at risk reflected in John Vincent’s article on the future of employment.

Innovation and the impact on future jobs

Posted on : 28-08-2015 | By : john.vincent | In : Innovation

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For those of us who started our careers last century, the pace of change and innovation over the past decade is astounding. After life settled down somewhat following Y2K, the first internet bubble and a heightened period of world turmoil, we are “back to the future” full steam (click here for any film fans that missed the hoverboard release a while back).

Innovations in robotics, blockchain technology, the internet of things, automation and so on is transforming our world to a point that in 20-30 years the way we live and interact within it will be a step change away from today.

So, rather than opine about where these innovations may end up, let’s have a think about one of the side effects…most notably, on jobs.

Those of us that are lucky enough to enjoy our work (and are of a certain age) are probably doing something not that dissimilar to when we left education. Indeed, when I took my first role in technology at a bank it was still considered to be “a job for life”. I could happily start planning for a life on the greasy pole and a final salary pension in a max of around 4 decades of grafting.

Fast forward to today and for those entering the employment market things are very different. That concept now seems so old fashioned. The characteristics possessed by careers of being stable, linear and mainly singular are gone. So what can the next generation of workers expected? Renowned futurist Thomas Frey of the DaVinci Institute is quoted as saying;

60% of the best jobs in the next ten years haven’t been invented yet.

This naturally has a huge impact. Careers will become a polymorphic thing, increasing in complexity, reducing in predictability and will evolve for many into a “portfolio of micro-careers”. Innovation and commoditisation will mean that being able to move laterally between roles and industries will be the norm, with an entirely different mindset and skillset being required to maintain personal “career currency”.

We are already starting to live in the world of the freelancer. Shorter term, output based contracts are on the rise with estimates that by 2020 half of all workers in the US will be freelance and even now, some 20% of UK graduates are joining the labour market in the same capacity. Assuming this trend continues, the impact on traditional employee management, such as performance, reward, culture etc. is something that organisations will need to overcome. Indeed the word “employee” may be used sparingly in favour of “workforce”.

So what are the types of jobs that we might see in the future? Here are a few examples (that 10 years ago would have been considered daft);

  • Alternative Currency Speculator: With Bitcoin and other virtual currencies gaining ground, new more complex trading asset classes will also evolve
  • 3D Printing Manager: Expert roles in 3D printing to help consumers build new or repair current physical artefacts
  • Privacy Consultant: A role to reveal vulnerabilities in an individuals personal, physical, and online security presence
  • Drone Driver: As the deployment expands outside of the military to commercial and private drone use, experienced drone drivers (especially those with urban experience) will be sought after
  • Crowdfunding Manager: A expert on sites like Kickstarter and Crowdcube who provide clients services to promote and attain funds for a project
  • Digital Death Manager: Someone who manages or eliminates some digital footprint and creates a posthumous online presence
  • Meme Agent: We know all too well that we have agents for every kind of celebrity, so in the future, even stars on internet memes will be represented

(If you want to see a list of jobs that might disappear all together (and of course find yours…), click here for a list of 101 Endangered Jobs by 2030

And what about the impact of robotics? Whilst we are indeed moving faster than predicted, the iRobot world is still round a few more corners. Not surprisingly, the area that will succumb most heavily to the rise of the machines first is manufacturing. According to the Boston Consulting Group, they predict that robots will increase the proportion of factory tasks they perform from the current 10% to 25% by 2025.

That said, already a Chinese company Hon Hai (the world’s largest contract electronics manufacturer) is progressing with plans to replace 500,000 workers with robots in the next three years.

According to a number of studies, jobs that need human beings to perform them are rapidly diminishing. In its recent paper ‘Creativity vs Robots’, the innovation charity Nesta quotes research by academics Carl Frey and Michael Osborne, which suggests 47% of jobs are at risk of automation in just “a decade or two.”

The big question is how society will evolve and support a population which will gradually diminish in its importance to a self-sustaining eco system? Will we see queues of human beings alongside drones at the job centre? Or indeed, will unemployment figures actually become irrelevant with nation states measured positively by an upward trend alongside the usual economic parameters?

Who knows…but at least for the time being, I’ve still got a job to do.