Banks think it could be the future of financial transactions, while diamond miners hope it will help end the trade in conflict diamonds.
And this week the UK’s chief scientific adviser encouraged the British government to adopt the technology.
But what exactly is it and why is it causing such a stir? Technology of Business (tries) to explain.
Does it have anything to do with bicycles?
No. Blockchain is a method of recording data – a digital ledger of transactions, agreements, contracts – anything that needs to be independently recorded and verified as having happened.
The big difference is that this ledger isn’t stored in one place, it’s distributed across several, hundreds or even thousands of computers around the world.
But how does it work exactly?
Digital records are lumped together into “blocks” then bound together cryptographically and chronologically into a “chain” using complex mathematical algorithms.
This encryption process, known as “hashing” is carried out by lots of different computers. If they all agree on the answer, each block receives a unique digital signature.
“You don’t store details of the transaction, just the fact that it happened and the hash of the transaction,” explains Adrian Nish, head of threat intelligence at BAE Systems.
Once updated, the ledger cannot be altered or tampered with, only added to, and it is updated for everyone in the network at the same time.
What’s so clever about that?
Well, the distributed nature of a blockchain database means that it’s harder for hackers to attack it – they would have to get access to every copy of the database simultaneously to be successful.
It also keeps data secure and private because the hash cannot be converted back into the original data – it’s a one-way process.
So if the original document or transaction were subsequently altered, it would produce a different digital signature, alerting the network to the mismatch.
In theory then, the blockchain method makes fraud and error less likely and easier to spot.
Is this a new thing?
The idea has been around for a couple of decades, but came to prominence in 2008 with the invention of Bitcoin, the digital currency.
Bitcoins are created by computers solving complex mathematical puzzles and this requires lots of computing power and electricity. Blockchain is the technology underpinning it.
But there isn’t just one program – lots of companies, from Ethereum to Microsoft, are developing their own blockchain services. Some are open to all (“unpermissioned”, in the jargon), others restrict access to a select group (“permissioned”).
Why are the banks so excited?
“Banks do very similar things to each other, even though they compete,” says Simon Taylor, vice-president of blockchain research and development at Barclays.
“They basically keep our money safe and a big computer keeps track of who has what. But getting these computers to talk to each other is remarkably complex and expensive – the tech is getting a little old,” he says.
If banks started sharing data using a tailor-made version of blockchain it could remove the need for middlemen, a lot of manual processing, and speed up transactions, says Mr Taylor, thereby reducing costs.
That was the key message emerging last week from FinTech City London, a series of events for financial services technology professionals organised by the CEO Agenda and Icon Corporate Finance.
Fintech, as financial services technology is modishly called, is enabling nimbler, hi-tech companies to re-engineer most financial activities, from payments processing to personal loan applications, and cut out the middleman.
It’s what Clayton Christensen, professor of business administration at Harvard Business School, calls “disruptive innovation”.
While the things we do with money – save, borrow, invest, spend – have not changed much over the centuries, the way we interact with financial institutions is “drastically changing”, said Alex Scandurra, director of innovation strategy and business development at Barclays.
‘The micro multinational’
And that’s largely to do with mobile, open-source databases and cloud computing. About three-quarters of the UK population owns a smartphone, and there are more than five billion mobile phones globally.
“As a result of the proliferation of technology, digital, and now mobile with it, the barriers to entry have significantly decreased,” said Mr Scandurra. “Now we’re seeing that teams of 10 to 15 people can actually take on the large incumbents all around the world.”
Whereas big financial institutions have to cater for a mass market and try to please everybody, small fintech companies can focus on niche markets, globally spread. They can form what futurist and writer Alvin Toffler called “the micro multinational”.
One such company is Funding Circle, the peer-to-peer (P2P) lending service launched in 2010, which aims to provide businesses with access to loan funding while providing investors with a decent return on their money. Its 65,000-plus investors have lent over £208m to UK businesses so far.
In March 2013, the UK government began lending £20m to British businesses through Funding Circle as part of its Business Finance Partnership scheme.
Co-founder and chief executive Samir Desai said that while his company had certainly benefited from the 2008-13 banking crisis and the consequent collapse of trust in High Street banks, it is new open-source technologies and databases that have enabled P2P lending companies to grow.
“Every loan that goes through Funding Circle is funded on average by 700 different people,” he said “Those loans can then be bought and sold by other investors through a secondary market. So we have as many mini-loans going through our system as any bank, and thousands of secondary market transactions going through each day.
“We couldn’t have done that without these new open-source technologies.”
New credit scoring system?
Open-source databases that anyone can access and adapt, such as Hadoop and Cassandra, can process and structure vast amounts of data from a wide and growing range of sources, including social media, helping P2P lenders and other financial companies assess creditworthiness to much higher degrees of accuracy than before.
“Banks haven’t started to embrace these new types of technology,” said Mr Desai. “So we can lend to businesses they wouldn’t even consider.”
So now even your Twitter comments could affect whether or not you’re granted a loan, and companies like Facebook could end up displacing old-fashioned credit reference agencies.
Giles Andrews, chief executive and co-founder of Zopa, a more established P2P lender founded in 2005 that has lent more than £455m to individuals and sole traders, agrees that customer data – its efficient collection and analysis – is key to success these days.
“The business is not a bank and I’m not a banker,” he added. “We’re more of a data company.”
This is why Zopa has just hired its first ever chief data scientist, he said, who comes not from a bank, but from Amazon, the online retailer.
Newer fintech companies are not encumbered by old technology, the so-called legacy systems that traditional banks struggle to integrate with newer software and hardware.
The Lloyds Banking Group IT glitch, which affected debit card and cash machine transactions at the weekend, is the latest in a long line of big bank technology problems.
“It’s an opportunity for the new challengers who don’t have that legacy issue,” said Sue Langley, chief executive of UK Trade & Investment’s Financial Services Organisation, “because it’s much easier with a blank sheet of paper to…. come up with something new.”
“The banks have an increasing need for technology,” said Mark Boleat, chair of the City of London’s policy and resources committee. “Some of that comes from their huge IT departments, but an awful lot of it is coming from new and start-up businesses.”
Alex McCracken, director of ventures groups at Silicon Valley Bank’s UK arm, believes we will see a polarisation in financial services, with global all-you-can-eat banks serving multinationals at one end, and small, technology-driven niche players serving local needs at the other.
“Corporates and small businesses are going to be able to pick and choose their niche service providers,” he said.
The mouse that roared
Mobile payment companies like Square, simpler direct debit providers like GoCardless, and foreign currency specialists like The Currency Cloud, all are offering financial services at lower cost and greater convenience through clever use of the latest technologies.
Are the big banks running scared?
Last week, US banking giant Wells Fargo banned some of its staff from investing in for-profit P2P lending companies, such as Lending Club and Prosper, admitting that they were competitors.
That is the wrong approach, argues Barclays’ Alex Scandurra. His bank is collaborating more with tech entrepreneurs and start-ups, as well as offering non-banking products such as Cloud It, an online data storage service.
He calls the approach “amplification through collaboration”.
Labour leader Ed Miliband may want to increase competition by forcing big UK banks to offload High Street branches, but to many observers, this is a red herring.
The interconnectivity of social media means it is a perfect hunting ground for illegal activity, and increasingly people are realising that their “friend” many not actually be their friend.
Cybercrime on social networks can be broken down into three categories:
- the traditional broad-sweep scams, trying to lure you to click on something or visit pages that will push malware on to your computer
- searching for careless public exposure of personal data
- using social media as a platform to connect, exchange ideas and trade stolen information
Malware, scams and ransomware
The first category is the most widespread.
“The problem with social media is that people have an inherent trust,” explains Mark James, security specialist with IT security firm ESET. “And that is what is being tapped into by those cybercriminals.”
“People still believe that you have to click on something and download a file to be infected,” he says.
“This really isn’t the case anymore. There are things like drive-by-downloads, infected adverts and things like that. It’s very easy to be compromised on your machines.”
In many cases the initial malware is just a gateway into the system. It doesn’t do any real harm, yet. But once a back door is established to the infected computer, that access may then be put up for sale.
A package of data offering, of access to thousands of infected computers, will be snapped up by another criminal for use in a variety of ways.
With access to the computers received, criminals may then install software which, say, hijacks the victim’s online banking, or reads usernames and passwords.
One of the most profitable scams is installing ransomware, malicious software that encrypts the data on a victim’s computer and then asks for payment before restoring the system to its original state.
Social media is also an ideal hunting ground for anyone who has a clear target to attack, be it an individual or a company.
If you want to see who works in which company and in which position, or who they are friends with professionally and privately, this information can often be easily picked up on social media.
Any attack on a specific individual will be much easier if the target has made a lot of private information publicly available on their profiles.
If the target is a corporation, it is easy to single out an individual or a group of employees, and then target their machines in a focused attack. And once one machine in a network is affected, getting access to the entire structure is not difficult.
“There’s such a big crossover between your personal social media accounts and the impact you can cause within a corporate environment,” warns Michael Sentonas, vice president of technology strategy at cybersecurity firm Crowdstrike.
“Most organisations allow their users to connect to Facebook, to Instagram, to Twitter and other platforms and that’s where an attack – even if it was targeted at a home user – can have a significant impact on the workplace.”
Putting up defences
“Our only effective protection is a multilayered approach,” Mr James of ESET explains. “There’s no single protection anymore, there’s no magic bullet or single piece of software that’s going to protect us.”
While security software is important, it’s only a first step. It is a cat and mouse game where the bad guys produce the malware and the good guys try to produce the means to stop it.
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Making Communication Simpler Using a PBX System The PBX system has changed the way in which modern companies carry out their functions. To foster customer service, modern companies should adopt the PBX system. To improve customer loyalty, customer service has to be improved. The PBX system will go a long way in making companies more flexible. The PBX system facilitates video conferencing in the particular company. One of the best ways to integrate staff is different locations is by adopting video conferencing. To communicate with employees in the past, traveling was a necessity. The adopting of video conferencing has made it easier for consultation to happen in a company. For productivity to be improved, consultation is very essential. For interviews to be carried out in an easier method, video conferencing is necessary. Traveling for a long distance to conduct an interview will be a thing of the past. The PBX Company has made it easier for a company to entice potential clients. Negotiations with potential clients can happen for a long period of time considering that the PBX system is cheap. After adopting the PBX system, companies will find making presentations to clients much easier. The best way for employees to be given information around the clock is by adopting the PBX system. Even when an employee is at home, it will still be possible to receive valuable information touching on their place of work.
What I Can Teach You About Services
Once the PBX system has been adopted, the number of participants is going to increase tremendously. To participate in a discussion, an employee will not have to travel for long distances. The training of new employees will become much easier when the PBX system is adopted. After adopting the system, experts can be hired to train the employees of the company. The cost of hiring such experts will be much cheaper since they do not have to travel to the premises of the company.
3 Lessons Learned: Services
To improve the way in which a company sells their products, the PBX system should be adopted. Once a good means to communication is in existence, reaching out to customers will become much simpler. Once the PBX system is introduced in a company, closing business with clients can happen in a short period of time. A number of companies today have satellite offices. The satellite offices do not have to be found in one country. Once the PBX system has been introduced, companies will have an easy time communicating with the affiliates. In the past, phone calls were used to communicate with the satellite offices. Email was widely used by mother companies to reach the satellite offices. It is critical for companies to embrace face to face communication when dealing with their branches. By failing to use face to face communication, a number of misunderstandings are likely to arise in the operations of the company.
Pointers on How to Choose the Best Business Phone System
Business telephone units often range from the low end of the scale to the higher. Purchasing top quality phone equipment should rank as a number 1 concern no matter whether the machine eventually ends up a small or significant expenditure. The biggest controversy for this has regarding how quality gear that is poor areas the company at risk for disturbance at critical moments of operation. At achieving with your organization requirements, therefore, your budget shouldn’t rank as a top issue, but instead the gear quality and its sufficiency.
Below, are the things to you need to consider during your search.
Meeting the present and upcoming enterprise specifications and desires should relate to your main goal while selecting a phone system. To some extensions and wrinkles, it is important to have an awareness when it comes to your business needs. This would entail research of recent and anticipated consumer advancement, in addition to personnel. The people using the systems fully accommodating all are not noncritical.
In the case phone systems also tiny, you risk by having to turn them away, losing consumers. On the other hand, something too large for the needs of the organization wastes money. Regardless, your overall and estimated company development size should influence phone system’s type you select.
First, you need to have a budget for the purchase. Anytime you are currently choosing the phone system; it’s crucial that you consider your budget. In essence, once you understand how much it is possible to assist this is not something you should go over. Nevertheless, should you be currently finding that many of the phones techniques are lacking you might want to contemplate for before you have a little more to place towards the investment, waiting.
One of many main reasons for this has regarding the way in which poor-quality equipment may result in nothing more than problems ultimately. Additionally, looking at costs from different suppliers is essential as well. By doing this, you are less unaware of charges for different types of characteristics and deals.
You also need to know about the features your company needs. Mostly, many company workers make use of few features included in a system. In consideration, listing features important to the business avoids this sort of circumstance. Nonetheless, there are moments when you cannot avoid paying for a feature that will be redundant at your company.
However, working to avoid as much as feasible is among the finest ways to stop needless charges. Fundamentally, the worthiness brought through the capabilities to your organization must decide whether they are worth investing in.
Always consider picking a phone system based on your company’s needs. As with the capabilities, there is no purpose to pay for greater than you’ll need having a phone system. Consequently, you need to locate a telephone system that matches the requirements of one’s company.
Factors To Consider When Selecting A Cell Phone Plan For A Business
A mobile phone is crucial to business and it has been ranked as one of the top business tools for any business because they play a major role in the communications infrastructure of any business despite the industry that is in and it is known that a missed text, a missed call or the inability to access a site can cost a company millions. Many cellular providers will try to impress the market with funny and eye-catching advertisements and there are a lot of new handsets that have new features that the users cannot live without and the decision to equip the workforce and which of the services providers can partner with the business to make a huge difference on the bottom line.
The first decision in getting a cell phone plan for the firm is by determining if the company is right to go for business and the business owner needs to look at the business and decide how the cell phones are going to be used to address the communication needs of the firm and what the primary business drivers for the communication needs are. It is vital to state that cell phones are crucial when mobility is a major issue but there are some benefits for companies such as law firms that have people that spend a lot of time in the office on the phone with customers and for such people a cellphone would not be of much help.
The business owner needs to research the company calling habits by obtaining some copies of past phone bills to get an exact picture of the company’s calling patterns and assess some things such as if the business calls are local or are there some calls that have been made across the country and if they would need to have free or cheap international calls that have need to be added to the plan. The business owner has to determine if data and texting would be vital to the organization and once the previous questions have been answered they can start to see what type of cell phone plan will be right for the company.
It is a known fact that the business owner needs to outfit the key people because it is unlikely that members of the company will need a cell phone company for their day-to-day work and limiting the number of phones that the firm can assign to key personnel can save the business money on the plan that they eventually select. If a business owner has mapped out the group’s communication needs then that should direct who is going to be issued a phone and normally senior management must have phones so that they can reach each other in emergencies or crisis.
What Can You Benefit Through Business Phone Services and Systems?
The modern world of today is certainly very different from the world of the past in so many different ways and on so many varying levels. For example, the invention of modern technology has made it possible for so many things to be possible, so much convenience to be enjoyed by many people. For example, when it comes to business, a business owner can enjoy many benefits from modern technology, one of which is business phone services and systems. One will be happy to know, then, that when he or she finds business phone services and systems to use in his or her company, a lot of advantages can be enjoyed.
Getting business phones and service systems is definitely beneficial to you and your company in so many different and wonderful ways, one of which is the fact that when you do so, you can be sure that the communications in your company can improve wonderfully. Many times, because communications are faulty and not as efficient as they should be, company executives focus a lot of their time and energy not on business, but on the communications themselves. If you don’t want to lose your focus by getting distracted by other things, then, it is certainly a good idea for you to get a good business phone service and system.
When you enjoy the benefits that modern business phone services and systems can give you, you will also be able to reap the sought-after advantage of being able, in the long run, to save a great deal of money. Businesses which have dealings outside the city or country might regularly have representatives to travel to those places to have meetings and to communicate with business partners or suppliers, and it is a well-known fact that travel expenses are not at all cheap. The good news is that through a modern business phone service and system, people can eliminate a lot of travel expenses by being able to communicate more effectively.
Using a modern business phone system and service is also wonderfully beneficial to you because when you do so, you can be sure that you don’t need to spend a great deal of time and energy learning how to use it. The reason is because companies today make sure that the items they sell are user-friendly, which means that even if one is not an expert in modern technology, he or she can learn to use it with ease.
You will definitely be very pleased to know, then, that through modern business phone services and systems, you will be able to benefit a lot of wonderful things, as you can save time and money, communicate in a smoother and easier way, and use the systems with much ease even if you are a beginner.
Features of a Good Telephone Organization.
When you are looking for a telephone firm, it is important to understand that not all companies offer the same kind of service. In other words, there are some firms that offer better services than others. That means that it can be hard to find the right telephone service provider.
Therefore, when looking for a good telephone service provider, ensure that you find a company that will offer you good advice. Ensure that you inquire about the education level of the employees that will handle your project. Depending on the needs of your organization, the service provider that you pick should offer the most appropriate selection that will completely meet all your requirements.
It is important to guarantee that the firm that you pick will be available to solve your problems promptly. Ensure that you concentrate on the organizations that provide high quality services. You can search on the Internet for good companies that are likely to offer good services. That is because you are likely to need repairs for your systems in the future and hiring an additional firm for repairs might be costly. You can try sending an email to the organization and determine the amount of time that they take to reply. Also, it is best to go through the websites and determine if they appear professional as that will establish the kind of service that you will receive.
Additionally, make certain that you hire a firm that provides various types of service so that you can have a variety to select from. Also, look for a service provider that has been in this line of business for many years. Such an organization is likely to satisfy you unlike a firm that has only offered telephone services for a few years.
Furthermore, ensure that you search for a service provider that is reliable. Make an effort to read a minimum of ten customer reviews and also the negative and positive ones. Such reviews are essential since they are usually composed by individuals that have previously used the services. Therefore, if you realize that there are many negative responses then it means that you will also be disappointed. Ensure that you select an organization that has a good reputation for offering high quality services on time.
Also, it is best to ask for a consultation from the firm that you want to work with. Ensure that you ask as many questions as possible so that you can make an informed decision. It is essential to ask about the cost in the initial stages so as to avoid investigating companies that you cannot afford hence wasting time. Thus, you should consider all factors while looking for a telephone service provider.