By Carrie Forbes, Chief Strategy Officer, League Data
Within the world of financial services, trust is core to the foundation of business and is assumed to be established in an exchange of these services. In modern times, this exchange is now invisible to us through the ether of digital banking. Yet, the problem of why we need trust in the first place has not evolved that much.
The evolution of the banking industry has been centred on this fundamental problem as old as the history of the rise of agriculture. Trust. It’s not just trust in the individual we make the transaction with, it’s also trust in process.
Picture yourself as a farmer at the dawn of agriculture, back in ancient Mesopotamia. You have agreed to exchange your grain for a pig at harvest. When the harvest arrives, your neighbour insists that the agreement was for you to give three bags of grain for the pig, but you understood it to be two. Do you trust that your neighbour is telling the truth? This issue created the need to establish a way to track a transaction, since simply agreeing to the deal was no longer enough. The next spring, we decide to imprint the exchange on a piece of clay, so we can avoid this embarrassing confusion next harvest. We have now just established one of the earliest forms of currency. From clay marks to coins to paper, civilizations established a physical token to ensure that the original value of that exchange held true. Currency became the means by which you could trust the transaction value.
Let’s move forward a few centuries. You are now a trader, sailing through Europe trading silk, spices and gold. Unfortunately, you have been attacked by pirates who took half of your goods before you could fight them off. By the time you arrive to your port, you have some explaining to do. The merchant you are doing business with believes you are hoarding some of the goods and gold, and doesn’t believe your story about the pirates. He has seen this all too often from so-called ‘honest-brokers’ like you, and wants his full compensation. How can you prove that you were the unfortunate victim of piracy? This very real need gave rise to the development of double-entry accounting – a method to prove that the value of goods and services exchanged were as promised. By keeping a ledger, the exchange could be effectively tracked from point of departure to destination, mitigating these interceptions. The evolution of the banking industry has been centred on this fundamental problem as old as the history of the rise of agriculture. Trust. It’s not just trust in the individual we make the transaction with, it’s also trust in process.
Fast forward to the 21st century, where the digital revolution is now entrenched in everyday life, including how we bank and conduct transactions. The speed and convenience of making a purchase happens as quickly as we can hit ‘like’ on a social media post. We have all the means to say yes with a swipe or tap, often faster than our brains can actually process the decision. Modern pirates are finding new ways to intercept our transactions, using the very tools that provide the convenience and speed we demand as part of our financial service experience. However, the gold they are most interested in raiding is our personal data, including our personal identity.
The recent buzz at financial technology conferences continues to remind us that “data is the new oil.” Financial data is highly sought after by hackers, as it can facilitate criminal activities like money laundering and terrorist financing, which are much bigger bounties than just cash alone. With legitimate identities, bad actors can also infiltrate communities, create fake identities and disrupt government activities. The overall impacts are more sophisticated, but the problem remains the same as it did in Mesopotamia; we need new ways to build digital trust.