Are banking APIs the real revolution?

Application programming interfaces (APIs) have been around for 20 years, but, as Ron Shevlin points out, just one in five community banks in the USA had deployed APIs before 2020, and they aren’t even on the radar of at least 20% of the banks.

Contrast this with Europe, where 97% of UK banks are already using them, and even the lowest uptake country, the Netherlands, has 83% of its banks deploying APIs. The reason for this huge gap between the USA and Europe is the latter’s Open Banking initiative, however Shevlin says that American banks cannot simply use this as an excuse for their low adoption of the technology.

As a result of the lack of API deployment, US banks are missing out on a number of opportunities, including the reduction of time and costs in several business processes, particularly product application-related processes.

The best known API providers include Stripe, Plaid and Yodlee. These three have furthered the connections between financial institutions and fintech companies. However, Shevlin says there are three fintech startups that are “poised to have a significant impact on the banking industry: Pinwheel, Sila, and Codat.”

Pinwheel

Pinwheel, which has just announced a $7 million funding raise, offers an API for payroll data, “that handles everything from income and employee verification to easily switching and managing direct deposit.”

How would this revolutionise banking? According to a Techcrunch article, “For consumers, the main draw is automated direct deposit control, which will allow consumers to control where their paychecks go. For instance, if they want to split a direct deposit into multiple accounts, or regularly move part of their paycheck into a savings app like Digit or Acorns, Pinwheel can help them do that easily.”

Sila

According to Coindesk, Sila, “is an API platform that issues an ERC-20 stablecoin called SilaToken (SILA). Every transaction on the platform is done using the token, which is pegged 100:1 to the U.S. dollar. Sila plans to install card payments, international payments, business ID verification and begin issuing tokens within one business day. Its partner bank, Evolve Bank & Trust, plans to connect to the Clearing House system, a network started by big banks that provides access to instant payments.”

Techcrunch comments that Sila’s API would: “Supplant ACH as the payments choice for companies who need to move money. Sila’s API for identity verification, which empowers developers to identify users and use that info in the company’s banking API, allows users to debit their accounts and move funds from one account to another. On top of that infrastructure, Sila allows for the creation of smart contracts, which should allow for more rapid deployment of financial apps.”

Codat

Codat, which is based in London, has an API focused on small businesses, and is signing up 10,000 new customers per month. According to TechCrunch:

“Codat is building an API that connects with all the systems that hold all the relevant financial data. That type of information is usually spread across multiple systems, and small businesses often use different systems. On the other side, banks, insurance companies and more can speed up their internal processes and give you an educated answer for your next loan or insurance product.”

Codat is especially on point right now as small businesses are struggling and need funds. However, the current lending processes are time-consuming and confusing. Its API simplifies and streamlines the flow of data between small businesses and financial institutions, and could potentially disrupt the way SME loans are handled today.

Blockchain

On the other hand, perhaps APIs aren’t the ultimate answer for a banking revolution. Brian Platz, co-CEO of Fluree, says, “The answer isn’t to build a better API; rather, it is to turn the database inside out and let data escape from the walls that confine it. Blockchain is how data frees itself. It’s time to end the era of data APIs and begin to look into the blockchain.”

Blockchain solutions to surge by 2023

According to a new study by CB Insights blockchain tech has gone far beyond its beginnings in banking and cryptocurrency, with annual global spending on blockchain applications having almost tripled since 2017. Furthermore, CB Insights’ Market Sizing Tool predicts this annual spend could shoot up to $16 billion by 2023.

As the report says, everything from insurance and gaming to cannabis and industries are seeing the potential power of blockchain. The big companies, such as Facebook, Amazon, Samsung and LG have already dipped their toes in the water, and LG has introduced it using a “Facial recognition service that combines AI and blockchain to make payments in digital currencies,” according to Luke Fitzpatrick in Forbes.

What does blockhain give to industries? According to Ilker Koksal it provides:

Greater transparency

Increased efficiency

Better security

Improved traceability

And which industries will benefit the most and see the biggest changes by using blockchain applications? Here are the four most likely to make the most of blockchain.

Digital banking

Digital banking has made great progress over the last decade and decentralized finance (DeFi) could be a catalyst for taking banking fully digital. Atul Khekade, cofounder of XinFin said, “The FinTech industry is growing at the rate of 23% year-on-year and blockchain is about to make finance more efficient.” He expects to see traditional finance firms and governments understanding the advantages in the near future, and it is almost certainly the case that countries with large numbers of unbanked people will take advantage of blockchain solutions. If they aren’t already, they should be.

Supply chains and logistics

While banking has been the most prominent user of blockchain, industries that rely on the supply chain sector are also embracing blockchain with good reason. As Fitzpatrick says, “The technology by its very design offers an unprecedented level of efficiency in the recording and tracking of goods,” and this didn’t go unnoticed by IBM for tracking goods. Carrefour, a French supermarket, has also used the technology for the tracking of food products from farms to stores.

Fitness and wearables

Wearable technology had already made big consumer inroads, and the Covid-19 pandemic has increased interest in wearables that monitor steps, heartbeat and calories consumed amongst other things. Herbert Sim, an advisor to BeFaster said, “The fitness is gaining momentum over the past 10 years. According to forecasts, in the US alone, the income of the fitness industry by 2023 will exceed 20 million.” The need for social distancing has also led to new app creations for tracking. Allan Zhang, the founder of DxChain said, “Post-lockdown, the technology could be fully embedded into the wearables industry and this will provide immense value to customers in the long run.”

Asset management

Fitzpatrick says, “According to a recent study, artificial intelligence, distributed ledger technology (DLT) and the blockchain technology will have the biggest impact on asset investments in the upcoming years.” The industry is already valued at $74 trillion. Ernst and Young (EY) said, “Asset managers need to proactively consider valuation challenges arising from the COVID-19 pandemic’s effect on financial markets.” Yubo Ruan, a 23-year-old venture capitalist, said, “Pragmatically, this means financial products like ETFs and mortgage-backed securities can be synthesized on blockchain platforms at significantly lower costs,” adding, “ blockchain-based asset management platforms tend to require lower minimum balances to invest, which is a major positive for adoption.”

AI and the Disruption of Big Pharma

Right now there is a lot of focus on Big Pharma for obvious reasons, so it was with interest that I read an article in Forbes by Alex Zhavoronkov about the pharmaceutical industry’s rather slow approach to using artificial intelligence (AI) when it is already very much a facet of less life-and-death services, such as Netflix movie suggestions.

Significantly, Zhavoronkov says, “Experts suggest that the pharmaceutical industry remains one of the most inefficient industries, a last holdout against technological disruption.” It’s curious is it not, that a sector that is all about scientific advancement should be so behind the times?

According to the article, “the efficiency of the industry has been on the decline since the 1950s. Just as an example, it now costs over $2.6 Billion to bring a drug — or a New Molecular Entity (NME) — to the market.” It’s a high cost, and then there are the costs related to the failed drug trials to factor in as well. Eventually, you and I pay for it all.

But AI has potential to perform a role in small molecule drug discovery, and we need to understand its potential and its limitations, especially in relation to the way that the pharma giants have traditionally gone about finding new drugs.

Zhavoronkov comments: “The process of small molecule drug discovery includes several steps: the scientists form a disease hypothesis, identify a target, design a molecule and then conduct pre-clinical studies takes on average five years and may cost hundreds of millions of dollars.” Then it takes another five years of clinical development and testing phases, which mean more expenditure.

AI might look like the perfect solution to reduce costs, and with all the Big Data available, surely it can help pinpoint marketable drugs. But, Zhavoronkov says:“Despite the many advances in technology that have led to major disruptions including mobile and personal computing, the Internet, and genome sequencing, the cost to develop a drug is steadily increasing.”

The pharma sector apparently remains sceptical about its uses: “they prefer to incrementally develop internal capabilities across the entire spectrum of the drug discovery process instead of making big bets on specific enabling technologies.”

Zhavoronkov remains optimistic about the future of AI in pharmaceuticals, and identifies the key to its success as “a massive integration of the systems used to identify biological targets, systems that help design novel molecules, and systems that personalize the treatments, and predict the clinical trials outcomes.” As he concluded that “The recent COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated the impotence of today’s traditional and AI-powered approaches, as seen when attempts to repurpose other drugs to treat Covid-19 did not really produce any promising candidates, and a “lot more work needs to be done in AI and laboratory automation to significantly accelerate drug discovery.”

7 Trends of the 4th Industrial Revolution?

Things are moving fast in our world, with technology leading the transformation of businesses, job and society generally. The next decade is going to define the latest Industrial Revolution and there are a number of technology trends that are playing a core role.

Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning refer to the ability of machines to learn and act intelligently. We are already using it at home as Amazon presents us with products we might be interested in based on previous purchases. But it is going to get even bigger, and we will see it carry out a wide range of human-like processes, such as seeing (facial recognition), writing (chatbots), and speaking (Alexa).

The Internet of Things

This refers to everyday devices and objects that are connected to the Internet and which gather and transmit data. We have smartphones already, but soon we will have smart fridges, and smart everything.

Big Data

This is all about the explosion in the amount of data that is being generated as more ‘thing’s and services are digital. By analysing masses of data with intelligent algorithms, companies can identify patterns and relationships that they couldn’t see before, allowing them to offer more personalised services.

Blockchain

Although blockchain has been around since 2009, it is still expanding and changing its uses beyond cryptocurrency. Expect to see blockchain being used for storing, authenticating, and protecting data, and transforming banking.

Robots

Robots are intelligent machines that can understand and respond to their environment and perform routine or complex tasks by themselves.

We will see more Cobots in the next few years. These enhance the work that humans do and interact safely and easily with the human workforce. They are your new work colleagues!

5G Networks

5G is the fifth generation of cellular network technology, and it will deliver much faster and more stable wireless networking. It is necessary for all the ‘smart’ things we’re going to have, as mentioned above.

Quantum Computing

Quantum computing will make our current systems look as though Fred Flintstone used them. It will completely redefine what a computer is, and is bound to be a game changer in the world of AI.