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Value creation in an open and decentralised financial system

After the publication of “Transforming Financial Institutions: Value Creation through Technology Innovation and Operational Change” by Wiley and the first two blog series on the topic, our thought leadership briefs continue with this ongoing third blog series on transformative technologies and their value creation.

Its first blog is on value creation in an open and decentralised financial system. Parts of the blog have been published by Finance DIGEST in the article “How to create value in digital transformations”, and by the Irish Tech News in a guest post “The reasons why digital transformation projects fail to create value”. Further information to the book and all related thought leadership briefs can be found on Our insights page.

Digital innovation has accelerated since the second half of the 20th century and became transformative with the broader establishment of the internet in the mid 1990s. Over the last 25 years technology not only drove the way we communicate but shaped commercial models, operating platforms and the broader customer engagement. The pandemic triggered another leap forward in which social distancing created unexpectedly the requirement for a virtual world. Many believe that soon, within the next ten to 20 years, we reach the point of singularity, at which technological growth becomes exponential and irreversible, resulting in unforeseeable transformative impact. This leads to challenges but also immense opportunities for businesses and entrepreneurship. In the financial sector, this digital transformation has with open and decentralised finance been driven by two overarching trends. These trends are underpinned by three key technologies and building blocks. Each of these building blocks represents a value-creation pillar of the industry’s digital transformation agenda. They establish an analytical framework on how to commercialise and operationalise these technology innovations. It can be applied beyond the financial sector across industries.

Value creation

Value creation is a management philosophy with the goal to drive an institution's growth and performance agenda. Value creation but also protection are natural stages of corporate development during the life cycle of a business. As a methodology, it is defined by the concept of intrinsic value that measures the financial impact of specific strategic and operational initiatives. It can equally be applied to growth and transformational situations. Technology innovation adds a specific lens to value creation with core focus on the commercialisation and operationalisation of emerging technologies. This lens requires to understand the potential of a technology before specifying its use cases to solve a specific business problem.

In the financial industry, technology management has become a critical success factor. It had a shadow existence in many financial institutions for a long time. After the Global Financial Crisis, established commercial and operating models with their profitability thresholds were challenged by the incoming regulatory agenda. Previously profitable areas struggled to adapt with cost-income ratios increasing dramatically. At the same time, a dedicated start-up and growth community, often subsumed under the term “FinTech”, created unseen momentum in innovation. These developments have accelerated the digital change agenda, and put corporate organisations with their decision makers in continuous demand to identify these technologies, assess the impact on their business and adapt their operations accordingly. It requires decision makers to establish a structured response framework to protect the value of their businesses but also drive accelerate growth.

Open and decentralised finance

The financial industry’s digital transformation agenda has been driven by two overarching trends. They have the potential to re-innovate the industry and put it back on a growth path. Open finance with its collaborative architecture models allow incumbent financial institutions to specialise in their core competence and to integrate best-in-class services with the objective to provide customers a comprehensive experience through core platform offerings. Decentralised finance (DeFi) has become a broadly used term for experimental forms of finance that utilise smart contracts on distributed ledgers to perform financial services functions. The DeFi ecosystem revolves around decentralized blockchain applications that provide similar traditional financial services but do not rely on a traditional intermediary model. The commercial interactions and the customer experience with financial institutions have been fundamentally changing. A large part of today’s value chain will be replaced by efficient technology solutions.

Transformative technologies and their value creation

A number of key emerging technologies are the building blocks of the transformation agenda. They can be classified in three; each of them defines their own value-creation framework in the way the shape the future of the business.

Open architecture has substantially improved operational efficiency through automation and collaboration as the first value-creation pillar. Advanced software solutions such as application programme interfaces (API), cloud computing (CC) and smart desktops drive today’s open architecture models. Open collaborative architecture allows incumbent organisations to specialise in their core competence and to embed best-in-class services with the objective to provide customers a comprehensive experience through core platform offerings.

Artificial intelligence (AI) with its focus on big data and advanced analytics represents with augmented decision making the second pillar. There are many and varied definitions of AI and the term is often interchangeably used with machine learning (ML). ML is a key field of study of AI that uses mathematical procedures, algorithms, for the analysis, manipulation, pattern recognition and prediction of data. This allows to process large data with mathematical accuracy and objectivity which leads to unbiased results, substantial efficiency gains and new insights. It allows the optimisation of decision analytics and leads to a more comprehensive, objective and accurate decision making such as the prediction of specific political, macroeconomic and/or corporate events. With robotic process automation (RPA), AI further allows the autonomous replication of repetitive tasks through intelligent behaviour. It allows an organisation to keep the value chain with its processes unchanged while automating it.

The third emerging technology are decentralised technologies such as distributed ledger technology (DLT), the parent technology behind blockchain. It facilitates identity management, value storage, and back‐office operations such as settlement of payments and securities transactions. DLT and blockchain digitise and renovate todays financial and legal infrastructure. The technology has so far mainly be known for financial speculation through cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin and Ether, and experimental forms of finance under the broad term of DeFi. DeFi utilises smart contracts on blockchains to perform financial services functions but without the traditional intermediary model. With Web3, there is now even a more ambitious vision of digital decentralization and tokenisation emerging. It envisages a next iteration of the world wide web across a variety of use cases such as data ownership, scalability, security and privacy.

The financial industry's commercial and operational reorganisation

The integration of key technologies and the specialisation of the value propositions on large-scale operating platforms are the core driver of the industry’s reorganisation efforts. Digital business models with their technology-enabled services that apply the open design principles follow a model of collaboration and integration. An operating platform with an open-source architecture builds on a universal offering by integrating best-in class services. There is a role for specialised, i.e. the challengers but also for large-scale incumbent players, i.e. the established financial institutions. On the one hand, utility-like product and services can operationally only be delivered through scale and efficiency while making sure that the regulatory requirements are fulfilled. On the other hand, there is inherent value in specialised risk-transfer and distribution capabilities.

Specialty finance has become a widely used term. It has historically been defined as any financing activity that takes place outside the traditional financial system. Most specialty finance businesses have been established as alternative lending and investing platforms, targeting segments that find it difficult to obtain financing through traditional channels. We are using the term broadly for specialised risk-transfer businesses that target consumer and commercial segments with dedicated and tailored propositions. Their approach is in particular focused on the performance of the underlying asset, and funding often provided through innovative facilities and structures. Specialty finance players focus on assessing risk in a more tailored and effective manner, looking at a broader range of available data as opposed to the more ratio-driven, formulaic approach that traditional financial institutions have been following. A thorough level of underwriting allows them to provide debt financing in special situations, often declined by traditional lenders, while obtaining a premium price to cover the work and risk. This dedicated approach applies in a similar fashion to equity investments where big data and machine-learning algorithms are used to screen and assess the investment universe. This reorganisation requires substantial investments and the break-up of the industry’s existing organisational structures.


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