Westpac develops blockchain procurement proof of concept

Posted: 18 September 2018 4:34 pm
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Learning about blockchain was "like being a caveman coming out into the light".

Plans for the Australian National Blockchain, a legal smart contract network, are well underway. Elsewhere the Australian Stock Exchange has taken a global lead on blockchain upgrades, and Commonwealth Bank has put 17 tonnes of almonds on the blockchain, while also being tapped by the World Bank to create the first blockchain bond.

Westpac doesn't want to fall behind. To the contrary, said Didier Van Not, Westpac's general manager of corporate and institutional banking to the Australian Financial Review, "I want Westpac to be seen as a thought leader in this space."

To that end it quickly cranked out a procurement blockchain proof of concept, built on R3's Corda platform, in partnership with tech consultancy Infosys.

A technology company with a banking licence

It only took three months to develop, but the project isn't necessarily intended to be commercialised, Van Not says. Rather, it's more of an exploration of blockchain and its potential ability to deliver data insights to Westpac and its clients.

"I'm looking to automate as much as I can at Westpac over time and utilise more data analytics and offer services like this to more of our institutional clients.... Corporate Australia is crying out for insights about their businesses, and the data we have about their sectors can have such a big impact and be packaged in such a way that we can provide more insights. It's not about selling the data, but generating insights," he said.

The system itself integrates Internet of things, big data, artificial intelligence and blockchain to create a system that achieves near-perfect buzzword saturation. It's also intended to predict demand and price rises for goods and automate currently manual procurement and payment processes.

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"I'm a traditional banker, so for me, this was like being a caveman coming out into the light," Van Not said. "I'd go to conferences and people were talking about a future where machines would help people make better decisions. This was a powerful glimpse of that future."

Ultimately, Van Not said, Westpac sees itself as more of a technology company.

"Looking at the bank nowadays, we're a technology company with a banking licence," he said. "That's why we're spending time with developers, doing this proof-of-concept and talking about these things at conferences."

This might be a necessary approach for financial institutions today, as more and more tech companies start using blockchain and cryptocurrency to make inroads into banking territory.

Disclosure: At the time of writing the author holds ETH, IOTA, ICX, VET, XLM, BTC, ADA

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