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Innovation & Recruitment – the challenges facing Blockchain in financial services

10 Oct 2018

Stephen Waters

I recently attended the third annual Blockchain for Finance Conference in the Aviva Stadium. A three day event, it was a terrific opportunity to learn about the challenges that those working in financial services face trying to exploit the potential of disruptive technologies like Blockchain. There was a great line-up of speakers and panellists and each talk was incredibly interesting. As someone who works with clients beginning to request an increasing number of CVs with Blockchain experience, it was particularly fascinating to hear all the differing viewpoints. I took away two main points from the conference; (a) innovation in this space (b) challenges facing the industry including recruitment.

Innovation

As always with technology, Blockchain is moving incredibly fast. However it’s worth noting that it won’t be just Blockchain on its own that will cause the revolutionary changes in the financial services sector, rather a combination of Blockchain, AI and cloud technology that will drive the changes. Currently we are seeing a huge increase in what can be automated using distributed ledger technology in combination with other tech, and the future of what can be achieved with this technology is still largely unexplored.  Needless to say, Blockchain is here to stay in fintech.  Laurent Marochini, Head of Innovation & Quality with Société Générale, pointed out that while we have entered a dip in the terms of the hype about Blockchain, this doesn’t mean its utility has disappeared, or that no one is working on it. In the coming months and years, we will begin to see the real innovation and change in this space.

Blockchain is no longer a fringe technology. One of the big indicators of this is that both Barclays and Goldman Sachs have backed an ISAD’s (International Swaps and Derivatives Association) initiative to standardise derivatives trading across the industry with their common domain model (CDM). According to Clive Ansell, the Head of Market Infrastructure and Technology at ISAD, the lack of standardisation has been one of the major inhibitors of mass Blockchain adoption in this area. If they can succeed in their goal of a global, or even “mostly global”, standard, it will open the door to realising the true disruptive potential of blockchain in the fintech space. 

Another challenge facing the more traditional banks and financial services firms is that they are still wary of some aspects of technology innovation in this space. Many traditional firms are opting for permissioned / private Blockchains. This is the antithesis to the beliefs of many of the top engineers in this space. The principle tenet of Blockchain is that there is no central control, and therefore no trust needed, and that it’s safe and extremely difficult to hack. The most experienced blockchain engineers are nearly all early adopters and evangelists of some of the more idealistic potentials of this technology. If organisations opt to build private blockchains which they control, the most innovative people will never choose to work on these projects. This could well open the door for smaller, less traditional organisations to seriously disrupt the financial services sector, and even to threaten the long established position of some of the large and most well established financial services firms. As David Dalton, Consulting Partner with Deloitte, astutely observed, banks need to change their inherent culture to innovate in this space or they will lag behind both in technology advancement and in attracting staff to work in this area.

Recruitment

One of the recurring themes throughout the conference was the challenge of talent attraction that organisations across financial services will face, when trying to recruit in this space. There are many strategies firms can employ to overcome this and they don’t just apply to Blockchain recruitment. A good example is Future Finance. They have managed to find over 100 people for their Nenagh office by re-training / cross training and looking outside the box for staff to work in their new research and development centre. The main attraction for top talent will be interesting and innovative projects. If companies can offer this, talent will come.  Another solution we were aptly reminded of by the speakers at the “lunch and learn” on talent diversity was the area of diversity and gender balance. Europe’s leading country for gender balance in tech is Bulgaria at 26%. How can we fill the jobs if we’re not even accessing the whole of the talent pool? Ireland and the rest of the world needs to get their ratios up to 50%.  There are plenty of programmes in place to attract women into tech but more needs to be done in this space.

In summary, it was a great conference covering everything from innovation to legal issues.  Blockchain is certainly here to stay and I’m looking forward to the innovations that exploiting this technology will bring to the fintech space.  Thanks to the organisers, particularly Dean Murphy of the FinTech Network. We’re excited to see what’s to come in this space in 2019.

Stephen Waters is Senior Consultant with Brightwater’s IT division, specialising in data science / analytics and infrastructure. He can be contacted on s.waters@brightwater.ie or at (01) 6621000