Is The Future Of Barclays Africa In Bitcoin And Blockchain?

By Dana Sanchez AFKI Original Published: March 3, 2016, 2:41 pm
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Simon Taylor has a long title.

He’s a blockchain and distributed ledger subject matter expert and he works for U.K.-based lender Barclays.

London daily newspaper City AM named Taylor one of the most influential people in fintech. His work focuses on understanding the impact of blockchain on Barclays businesses and clients.

Following months of speculation, Barclays officially announced its intention Tuesday to sell down its 62.3 percent interest in Barclays Africa Group over the next two to three years.

Barclays plans to reduce its risk so it no longer has a controlling stake, but it says it still wants a stake in Africa, according to an AFKInsider report.

So what are Absa’s plans for Africa?

Taylor talked about the hype, clichés and misconceptions surrounding
the digital currency and its underlying technology in a report on BarclaysCorporate:

“It is becoming increasingly clear that Bitcoin is part of an even bigger story,” he said. “Financial institutions, including Barclays, are now considering how the technology underpinning digital currencies – the blockchain – could in itself revolutionize finance.”

Absa has expressed significant interest in the innovative blockchain technology. The company is co-hosting the Blockchain & Bitcoin Africa Conference 2016, underway in Johannesburg through March 4.

The conference will look at ways digital currencies such as bitcoin and blockchain technology can innovate financial organisations, among others. It will also focus on challenges that the technology poses to regulators, institutions, companies and individuals, the company said in a statement.

“We see huge potential for financial institutions in Africa to embrace disruptive technologies like blockchain, and use them to empower individuals and improve the lives of their customers,” said Ashley Veasey, spokeswoman for the Barclays Africa Group Limited, in a prepared statement. “We are already working to build capacity, expertise and solutions in this field.”

Barclays Africa is the first bank in Africa to become a member of the R3 blockchain technology company consortium. New York City-based R3 leads a consortium of 42 financial companies in research and development of blockchain for the financial system. It was founded by David Rutter and started on Sept. 15, 2015 with nine financial companies including Barclays, BBVA, Commonwealth Bank of Australia, Credit Suisse, Goldman Sachs, J.P. Morgan, Royal Bank of Scotland, State Street, and UBS.

Taylor talked about the hype, clichés and misconceptions surrounding
the digital currency and its underlying technology in a report on BarclaysCorporate:

“These misconceptions can hinder discussions. Its associations with the digital black market have left some people with the assumption that bitcoin is linked to money laundering and terrorists.

“Education is improving on this point, but misconceptions continue to affect the
way that many people think about bitcoin. Blockchain technology is likewise subject to certain clichés.

(Initially) attention focused closely on bitcoin itself and how the digital currency was going to change the world. In the last couple of years, this focus has shifted and many people are now repeating the assertion that blockchain technologies are more interesting than Bitcoin the currency.

This may prove to be the case – but rather than simply leaving it there, banks and companies could be delving into this topic to understand what makes this technology so attractive and what types of application could be created. It is only when the possibilities are explored in more detail that the true scale of possible change can be appreciated.

It’s also clear that the security and controls associated with blockchain technology will
need development before many of these applications can become mainstream.

That said, the opportunities are so significant that it’s a question of when, not if, these applications will emerge. In order to smooth the way for greater development and adoption, financial service providers and start-ups will need to collaborate closely.

Bitcoin was a significant breakthrough – but it’s not the whole story. The technologies
around bitcoin have the potential to transform many different processes and companies should be discussing these developments at the board level and asking how this technology could help them and whether they should be investing in it.

Recent developments include BitPesa, a Nairobi-based start-up focusing on Bitcoin remittances, which raised over $1 million earlier this year and Earthport, which agreed a partnership with Ripple Labs, allowing real-time cross-border bank payments.

While many of these potential applications are some way off, long development cycles in the industry mean that now is the time for companies to begin asking how this technology could benefit them.

Paul Nel, head of open innovation for the Barclays Africa Group, talked to AFKInsider about why the lender seeks to be a leader in bitcoin and blockchain collaboration.

Nel manages Barclays’ Rise Africa initiative, described by the lender as a physical and virtual global community for open innovation designed to help shape the future of financial services.

Why is Barclays interested in bitcoin and blockchain?

Paul Nel, Barclays Africa: Blockchain provides a fascinating link to building a global platform for delivering solutions that provide security, confidence and a trusted base for a range of customer and corporate issues. The technology needs to be fully understood and broad participation between industry players will provide clarity and seamless direction in the build. We believe the blockchain can and will provide a sound foundation to enhance customer value propositions and support the regulatory requirements with which financial services companies comply. At Rise Africa we want to bring the leaders, idea generators and developers together in one space and across the global community to design, co-create and scale.

Why is it important for Barclays to be the first?

Paul Nel, Barclays Africa: We don’t necessarily believe we are the first. There is so much research and development happening in this space, and it is a collective collaboration. We feel that bringing all those who are interested in the blockchain together through open innovation and co-creation with banks and entrepreneurs, we will collectively reach a level of development that will make the most of this technology and that adds real value to our customers’ lives.

How will Barclays take back the business from telecoms like Safaricom that are offering financial tech services?

Paul Nel, Barclays Africa: Barclays is already a market leader in fintech solutions. We believe our investment in technology development, which is being driven through partnerships will strengthen, widen and deepen our impact. Customers have choice – and we believe in being able to provide a comprehensive end-to-end solution for them. We will continue to improve and drive change alongside the needs of our customers.

Bitcoin transactions are still anonymous. How will blockchain create greater accountability in Africa?

Paul Nel, Barclays Africa: Technologies like this have the potential to add a great deal of transparency to value chains. In Africa in particular, we have only just begun to start exploring its potential. And that’s exactly why collaboration across the industry is so critical.


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