We are back with another tech weekly, featuring the most important tech stories from the past week. This week, we are talking about Revolut gaining the bank status in several European countries; UK’s regulator publishing a five-year plan for payment systems; Visa partnering with ConsensSys on improving CBDC experience; House of Lords speaking against the Digital Pound, US Banks partnering on stablecoin; Open Banking Exchange’s expansion in LatAm; Railsbank launching a new white-label BNPL solution; Ericsson and EE partnering on a 5G showcase; Vodafone and Proximie working together on IoT solutions for healthcare; EMA working on accelerating clinical trials, and Pacific Biosciences re-kindling its Google collaboration as it tries to improve its DNA sequencing.
Revolut has started its year on a high note, as it recently launched as a bank across 10 Western European countries. Because of this, the customers in those countries can benefit from deposit protection. The countries involved are Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Lichtenstein, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Spain, and Sweden. According to Revolut, the bank status can lead to big changes regarding customers’ interaction with the service. As a study from 2020 shows, roughly half of participants claimed they would deposit their salaries, with 54% claiming their app spending would increase if the deposit was insured.
“Launching the bank in ten new European markets will provide an even greater level of security and confidence for our customers, and will enable us to launch a host of new products and services in the near future,” says Joe Heneghan, CEO, Revolut Bank.
The UK’s Payment Systems Regulator (PSR) has last week published its five-year plan that details how the watchdog wants to protect users and encourage competition in the accelerating payment system market. The PSR has set out four key priorities to work towards during the next five years. They read,
- Ensure users have continued access to the payment services they rely on and support a choice of payment options.
- Ensure users are sufficiently protected when using the UK’s payment systems.
- Promote competition between UK payment systems and the markets supported by them; protecting users where that competition is not sufficient.
- Act to ensure the interbank systems provide the infrastructure, rules and incentives that foster innovation and competition in payments.
Visa announced it will be collaborating with the blockchain company ConsenSys as it aims at bridging the CBDC networks with the existing payment systems. At this point, the two companies are working on integration of the CBDC Payment Module of Visa with ConsenSys’s CBDC sandbox. Once their product is thoroughly tested and ready to launch, CBDC networks would have a much more seamless experience in connecting to financial service providers that work in a more traditional way.
Catherine Gu, Visa’s head of CBDC says: “We envision a user experience that looks very familiar to how you pay today. If CBDC networks are seamlessly integrated into your existing banking app, you’d be able to use your CBDC-linked Visa card at the checkout. Or tap your digital wallet – loaded with your CBDC funds and payment credential—to pay securely at any of the 80 million merchant locations worldwide that accept Visa and any of its connected networks, all through existing retailers’ existing payment terminals. It’s a familiar experience for people around the world.”
Gu added that Visa expects to pilot the project during the spring of 2022.
“At that point, our consultants and product experts in our Global Crypto Advisory Practice and Digital Currency Innovation Hub will be ready to work with central banks, financial institutions and fintechs to integrate and configure the CBDC Payments Module for their technology stacks,” she says. “It’s a natural extension of our commitment to support new forms of money movement and we’re eager to get this important work underway,” she said.
The Economic Affairs Committee in the UK’s House of Lords went out to say there is no convincing reason behind the CBDC in the UK. The Committee concluded that while some advantages are clearly there, they are outweighed by the possible turmoils and threats to financial stability and privacy protection.
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, Committee Chair, commented: “We took evidence from a variety of witnesses and none of them were able to give us a compelling reason for why the UK needed a central bank digital currency. The concept seems to present a lot of risk for very little reward. We concluded that the idea was a solution in search of a problem.”
“The introduction of a UK central bank digital currency would have far-reaching consequences for households, businesses, and the monetary system. We found the potential benefits of a digital pound, as set out by the Bank of England, to be overstated or achievable through less risky alternatives,” he added.
Five US banks joined together in order to complete a bank-minted version of a stablecoin. The Consortium has been organized by JAM Fintop and the Provenance Blockchain and gathered the following banks: New York Community Bank (NYCB), NBH Bank, FirstBank, Sterling National Bank, and Synovus Bank.
According to the plans, the coin (USDF) will be minted exclusively by US banks and will facilitate P2P transfers as well as B2B transfers. The clients will also be able to use the USDF for a range of services such as capital call financing, invoice, and supply chain finance.
“USDF opens up endless possibilities for the expanding world of DeFi transactions,” said Figure CEO Mike Cagney. “The ease and immediacy of using USDF for on-chain transactions was demonstrated this fall when NYCB minted USDF used to settle securities trades executed on Figure’s alternative trading systems. We are tremendously excited that NYCB expects to be minting USDF on demand and on a regular basis in the coming weeks.”
Valerie Kramer, NBH Bank’s chief digital officer added, “The USDF Consortium will allow banks of all sizes, and importantly, community banks, to provide the digital banking solutions that more and more of our clients expect,” she says. “This aligns with our focus on building out a comprehensive digital financial ecosystem to provide greater access to credit, FDIC-insured depository, and treasury management solutions, and integrated financial information, all while lowering transaction costs for small and medium-sized businesses.”
Open Banking Exchange (OBE) has just had its first 2022 expansion, entering to Chile, continuing its efforts to expand in Latin America. In 2021, the OBE moved into Colombia, Mexico, the Philippines, Southeast Asia, and Ukraine in 2021.
Victor Rivera, SVP Open Banking Exchange stated: “We are working with the regulators and open finance communities in Colombia and Mexico to help accelerate their open finance programs and look forward to working with the regulators and the community in Chile to drive innovation and enable the advancement of open finance.”
John Broxis, Managing Director, Open Banking Exchange added: “Promoting collaboration and best practice in open banking supports the work of the regulators. We believe Open Banking Exchange has an important role to play in Chile with the development of the open finance ecosystem.”
The embedded finance platform Railsabank has just launched a BNPL credit solution for retailers. In its new offering, Railsbank allows the retailers to offer their own fully-integrated BNPL payment experiences that are customizable and cost-efficient.
“Our solution means that the retailer’s customer does not see the BNPL provider’s brand, but the brand from which they are buying. We want to remove distractions and allow retailers to maximize engagement with their customers. We believe this is a unique offering in the UK and one that will be very popular to a number of different retail verticals including fashion, homeware, travel, and sports,” said Louisa Murray, COO of Railsbank, UK and Europe.
Murray added “Customers are increasingly reaping the benefit of checkout financing to help them repay over time. This is supported by digital BNPL providers. But, many of them are building consumer brands in their own right. They’re incentivized to draw customers away to their own platforms, diluting a retailer’s own purchase journeys and brand loyalty. Customers would rather deal directly with their preferred, trusted brands, rather than being routed to a third-party finance provider.”
Ericsson and EE have joined their forces to create The Green Planet AR Experience, developed to showcase computing 5G abilities. The experience is supposed to “take guests on an immersive journey into the secret kingdom of plants” and will open to visitors in London, February 2022, showcasing ‘the low latency, high reliability and high bandwidth capabilities of 5G Standalone in the UK.’
“I am thrilled to combine Ericsson’s technology leadership with EE’s drive for innovation to deliver The Green Planet AR Experience,” said Katherine Ainley, CEO, Ericsson UK, and Ireland. “It shows how 5G, and especially 5G Standalone, can be used to create new immersive experiences for consumers that can help to transform our society and build a better understanding of our planet. It is an excellent demonstration of how technology can be used as a platform for a more connected and sustainable future.”
Vodafone partnered with the health tech startup Proximie on the IoT-powered health care solutions. Proximie is known for its solutions developing a network of operating rooms that are interconnected with each other, with ‘as many incisions as possible informed by artificial intelligence, the professional being able to access real-time diagnostics, data, and analysis as an additional bonus. Proximie’s offering enables the hospital clinicians to effortlessly connect with any other operating room that is connected in order to ‘enable, accelerate and improve surgical mentoring, proctoring, and technical expertise.
“Proximie has started 2022 with huge momentum with this latest partnership announcement,” said Dr. Nadine Hachach-Haram, Founder and CEO of Proximie. “Having the best connectivity is imperative for delivering digital health services at scale, so we are thrilled to partner with Vodafone Business to leverage its 5G capabilities and cutting edge technologies such as edge computing.
Mark Allinson, Business Development Director, Vodafone Business added: “This partnership with Proximie cements our existing relationship and will be an enabler of their connected surgical care solution through increased access to Vodafone’s technologies and platforms.
“We understand the critical role technology will play in transforming healthcare and, by bringing together Proximie’s expertise and Vodafone’s capabilities, we can accelerate the innovation needed to drive efficiencies and improve patient care.”
One of the main 2022 goals of The European Medicines Agency (EMA) seems to be speeing up the clinical trials, as the Accelerating Clinical Trials in the EU (ACT EU) initiative launches. EMA published a plan including 10 priority actions for 2022 and 2023, aiming at improving the current way of initiating and running the clinical trials.
“The current environment for clinical trials is challenging,” the EU bodies wrote in their ACT EU proposal. “Disharmony of regulatory requirements between the Member States complicate the submission of multi-state trial applications. The resulting slower trial authorizations could negatively affect research responsiveness, which is particularly worrisome during a rapidly evolving public health crisis.”
EMA is working closely together with the European Commission as well as the national regulators to align the plans and priorities such as modernization of the clinical practices, developing guidelines on AI use in clinical practices, and the process of tracking the performance of the EU clinical trial sector. Over the next two years, EMA decided the specific objectives will include integrating ethics committees into the clinical trials, reducing the current administrative burden, and supporting the large clinical trials to a higher degree.
Pacific Biosciences will work with the ML experts at Google as it wants to increase the accuracy of its DNA sequencing software. The two companies have started their collaboration already in 2021 when they published a joint study showing how Google’s AI tools could improve PacBio’s sequencing.
“Traditionally, Google has been doing a lot of work on deep variants and looking at interpretation and back-end processing,” PacBio’s chief operating officer, Mark Van Oene, said during the company’s presentation at the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference. “This time, we’re having them focus on our raw base accuracy
“Something as small as a 2% increase in raw base accuracy with our traces could lead to a 20% increase in yield,” Van Oene said. “The goal here is to get them inside the system.”
During this stage of the partnership, Google’s technology will be integrated in PacBio’s products, to sharpen its abilities.
“The more we can improve that accuracy, the more we will be able to drive down costs, increase throughput and help our customers resolve important biology,” said PacBio President and CEO Christian Henry.