Let’s take a look at the most interesting tech headlines from the past week. Microsoft will finally launch its Cloud for Financial Services. Monzo abandons its plan to get a US banking license as it continues to struggle on the regulatory and financial front. Bank of America launches a VR training program after a hugely successful trial. The Hong Kong Monetary Authority issues a white paper on CBDCs, Open Banking Expo focuses on accelerating the growth of Open Banking and Open Finance Solutions in Latin America. Mexican Spectrum Auction goes practically unnoticed among the companies eligible for biding. The largest biotech impact fund raises $650 million. The only malaria vaccine is one step closer to launch. White House considers a closer oversight of the crypto market. Bank of England issues a statement in which it stresses the need for more rules linked to Cloud computing as the operational risk grows. Take a look at the newest tech weekly.
Starting early next month, Microsoft will finally debut its Microsoft Cloud for Financial Services that has been announced in the first quarter of this year. The biggest selling points? Privacy, security, and full compliance with the regulations. In a recently published blog post, Bill Borden who currently holds the role of a corporate vice president, worldwide financial services highlighted that the new service will integrate the existing cloud offerings across Microsoft Azure, Microsoft 365, Microsoft Dynamics 365, and Microsoft Power Platform.
Fraser Ingram, chief digital and innovation officer at early adopter Virgin Money UK, says: “At Virgin Money UK we are always looking at ways to innovate and deliver a world-class, digital customer experience. We see Microsoft Cloud for Financial Services accelerating that journey of digitizing our customer experience while enabling us to scale and grow.” Additionally, Microsoft has confirmed the service partners such as Accenture or Zafin. Zafin CEO Al Karim Somji says: “Together, Zafin and Microsoft Cloud for Financial Services are empowering bank employees with actionable insights by enabling the unified customer profile to deliver product and package recommendations driven by the industry data model, helping ensure compliance with regulatory requirements, and accelerating their digital transformation strategies.”
In the past two years, Monzo has been engaged in discussions with the regulatory authorities, trying to move forward with acquiring a US banking license. Now, the bank said it will abandon that plan in an issued statement.
“Following recent engagement with the OCC (Office of the Comptroller of the Currency), we’ve decided to withdraw our banking license application for our US start-up. While this isn’t the outcome we initially set out to achieve, this allows us to build and scale our early-stage product offer in the US through existing partners and invest further in the UK.”
The analysts point out that an authorization would not be possible considering a massive loss that the company has reported for 2020/2021, as well as the recent investigation by the Financial Conduct Authority, connected to the money laundering rules and Monzo’s compliance. Regardless of the decision to pull out of the banking license plans, Monzo has stated it will continue to expand in the US, focusing on the existing strategic partnership with Ohio’s Sutton Bank.
“We have big ambitions for Monzo US,” a spokesperson says. “There are many routes to market we’re exploring that have been successful for other market entrants who are now major players.”
Bank of America is rolling out a massive virtual reality (VR) training program across thousands of its locations in the United States. Almost all of the 4300 financial centers of BofA will now be supplied with VR headsets, providing thousands of employees a chance to practice a variety of tasks and client interactions using VR.
According to the initial roll-out plan, by the end of 2022, more than 20 simulations will be ready, covering everything from client relationships to difficult conversations. The launch comes after a highly successful pilot that included 400 employees, 97% of whom stated they feel more confident in their tasks after the VR training program.
John Jordan, head, The Academy, BofA, says: “VR is highly effective at helping teammates build and retain new skills and it is one of many ways we are using technology to support internal mobility and provide best-in-class learning opportunities.”
The Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA) has recently published a technical whitepaper on CBDCs, “e-HKD: A technical perspective”. During the summer, HKMA stated one of their points of focus is research work on CBDCs, as well as a study on the possibility of retail CVDC in Hong Kong, the so-called e-HKD.
In the Whitepaper, technical design proposals for issuing and the distribution of a retail CBDC are discussed. Moreover, the paper is one of the first of its kind, i.e., published by a central bank and discussing the technical architecture of the CBDCs. The HKMA also includes a section of issues that must be furtherly researched and reviewed by academia and industry experts.
Eddie Yue, Chief Executive of the HKMA, said, “The Whitepaper marks the first step of our technical exploration for the e-HKD. The knowledge gained from this research, together with the experience we acquired from other CBDC projects, would help inform further consideration and deliberation on the technical design of the e-HKD. We also look forward to receiving feedback and suggestions from academia and industry to enrich our perspectives.”
The Open Banking Expo is coming up, with the focus on promoting and accelerating the growth of Open Banking and Open Finance in Latin America. Being the biggest global community of Open Banking executives, Open Banking Expo has partnered with Open Vector to work on the open banking ecosystem in the region. While the LatAm region currently has a dynamically growing fintech sector, there are big gaps between the development of specific countries, with several countries not moving quite up to speed on the Open Banking adoption.
Carlos Figueredo, founder, and CEO of Open Vector, said: “The LatAm region is continuing to show incredible potential and expansion in the use of open banking and open finance. But a key element that is required for this movement to succeed, is to provide education, discussion, and communication by and to everyone in the region through a credible channel. So, for Open Vector to have this partnership with Open Banking Expo to expand to LatAm is perfect and timely as they will bring to the region the structured and well-executed conferences, webinars, and news they are well known for today throughout Europe. Coupled with our well-known work and knowledge of the region, it will make this partnership and delivery relevant and credible.”
Adam Cox, the co-founder of Open Banking Expo, said: “Latin America is firmly on the open banking and open finance road map. We have always supported its community and believe bringing everyone’s knowledge and experience together is key for the growth of this industry. The region already has a thriving fintech ecosystem and we’re excited to play our part in providing an impartial media and intelligence platform that will further promote collaboration and harness innovation. Working with Carlos and the Open Vector team will ensure we capture the topics and themes that matter most to the industry and we feel the partnership couldn’t come at a better time.”
The recently closed spectrum auction in Mexico has sparked little to no interest among the companies eligible for participation. 41 blocks of the spectrum were up for sales, and…three of them have been sold to only two companies interested. AT&T submitted bids for two blocks of 800 MHz band with America Movil’s Telcel bidding for one block of 2.5 GHz, as officially confirmed by the regulatory body, the Instituto Federal de Telecomunicaciones (IFT). That means that the sale will amount to only 1.35 billion pesos (US$65.5 million).
The reason for the lack of interest? Most likely the high spectrum prices.
“The IFT has reiterated on various occasions and forums that the high amounts charged for the use of the radio spectrum inhibit participation in tenders, cause the return of spectrum and become an artificial barrier to the entry of new competitors,” the IFT said when presenting the auction result.
“The IFT will continue in search of better conditions so that a greater amount of radioelectric spectrum is assigned for the provision of telecommunications services that help to increase the connectivity of the inhabitants and so that the quality of services increases to the benefit of consumers,” the regulator said.
On Wednesday, the Swiss bank announced that UBS’s clients raised no less than $650 million for the biggest biotech impact fund up to date. “With this fund, I feel like we tried to reimagine the impact space. The vision here is still extremely bold, which is to say: What if every drug that was developed and sold had that 1% go back to make the world a better place?” Mark Haefele, chief investment officer for UBS Wealth Management, said.
“When we started on this journey, impact investing was about impact bonds and at the time they were being done in $5 million increments. To launch something that is 100 times the size of that was very ambitious and shows how this theme clearly resonates with our clients,” he added.
UBS is the largest wealth manager globally that aims at adding $70 billion of impact investment in the next 4 years.
The Only Malaria Vaccine By GSK One Step Closer To Its Launch
The WHO has recently approved the malaria vaccine by GSK which is currently the only approved malaria vaccine available on the market. Now, Bharat Biotech came with the announcement that they will be producing the vaccine. Bad news? It may still take years before the official launch of the vaccine for the broad public.
As a part of the partnership from the beginning of 2021, GSK agreed to transfer RTS manufacturing technology to Bharat Biotech. The latter will produce the S antigen component of the malaria vaccine.
“The agreement recognizes the track record and expertise of BBIL in developing and supplying vaccines against infectious diseases, including as an established supplier of global health vaccines to Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, and to UNICEF. BBIL was selected through a comprehensive, competitive process undertaken by GSK and PATH, working in consultation with the World Health Organization (WHO),” read a statement from January of this year.
“This agreement with BBIL is the result of efforts by GSK, PATH, and WHO to help ensure long-term sustainable vaccine supply, in the event of a WHO policy recommendation for broader use and a commitment of sustained funding,” the statement continued.
On Wednesday of this week, a long-awaited update came when WHO-recommended widespread use of the vaccine among children in regions affected by moderate to high malaria transmission rates. That brings the vaccine one step closer to the market.
The White House’s spokeswoman said on Friday that the government considers a broader oversight of the crypto market, as the ransomware and cybercrime rates are continuously growing, despite the wide-ranging actions to stop it.
“The NSC and NEC are coordinating across the interagency to look at ways we can ensure that cryptocurrency and other digital assets are not used to prop up bad actors, including ransomware criminals,” the White House National Security Council spokeswoman said.
According to the early reports by Bloomberg, the oversight could include an executive order. However, this has not been confirmed by the spokeswoman.
On Friday, the Bank of England issued a statement in which it stresses new rules will be needed to manage the risks linked to banks using outsourced cloud computing from the big techs.
“Regulated firms will continue to have primary responsibility for managing risks stemming from their outsourcing and third-party dependencies,” the BoE’s Financial Policy Committee said in a statement. “However, additional policy measures, some requiring legislative change, are likely to be needed to mitigate the financial stability risks stemming from concentration in the provision of some third-party services.”
The BoE and the Financial Conduct Authority are expected to publish a discussion paper on this very topic in 2022. “These tests and sector exercises of critical third parties could potentially be carried out in collaboration with overseas financial regulators and other relevant UK authorities,” the BoE said.