Bringing Financial Innovation to the South Pacific

Robert Bell, CEO KlickEx

Robert Bell, CEO KlickEx

Have you ever tried sending money to family and friends overseas? Despite our increasingly global society, cross-border payments can still be a time-consuming and costly process.

About half of the world’s international payments include major global currencies and flow through key banking corridors, where inter-bank processes are well-established and work reasonably efficiently. However, for the other half of global payments, this process can be disjointed, clumsy and inefficient. The beautiful but remote Polynesian islands in the South Pacific, where KlickEx works, are well outside our major global banking corridors.

New Zealand enjoys close ties with our South Pacific neighbours and plays an essential role in the Pacific economy, with many people choosing to live and work in New Zealand to financially support their families back home.   

In the 90’s I saw first-hand the need to to help Pacific Island nations including Fiji, Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu improve their financial infrastructure.  I established KlickEx to streamline and simplify international payments and money transfers - we have pioneered the use of mobile apps and other emerging technologies to provide convenient, low-cost and accessible solutions to help Pacific communities with banking transactions.

Our app users send money overseas instantly at the click of a button; what they don’t see is the web of communication that happens in the background across banks and other intermediaries to enable and secure that transaction. In some international markets, it can take days for cross-border payments to clear.

This week we’ve helped take cross-border payments technology to the next level. In Toronto at Sibos 2017, the premier global event for the financial services industry, IBM announced a universal blockchain payments solution in collaboration with technology partners KlickEx and Stellar.org. We’re working together on this new solution that allows payment instructions and settlement to happen in near real-time on the same network using IBM Blockchain.

Blockchain is a permanent digitised chain of transactions that are grouped in “blocks,” and cannot be altered once data is entered. With the potential to vastly reduce the cost and complexity of completing transactions, blockchain makes it easier to create efficient business networks where virtually anything of value can be tracked and traded, without requiring a central point of control. Each participant has an exact copy of the data, and updates to the blockchain are shared throughout the network based on each participant’s level of permission. This way, all participants in an interaction have a shared view of the truth governed by consensus that reflects the most recent transactions or changes.

The South Pacific Region was the perfect choice for IBM to launch the initiative – outside the major currency trading corridors, across a mix of both emerging and mature economies, and with relatively low transaction volumes – and of course, the ability to leverage KlickEx’s trusted system and infrastructure.

KlickEx is a pioneer in leading technological innovation and sees the potential for blockchain in emerging economies.  This is the first time it is working at scale to create seamless and borderless payments across the Pacific.

I’m delighted that KlickEx is working in collaboration with the IBM Blockchain payments solution and alongside Stellar on this exciting world first – and seeing New Zealand and the Pacific continue to lead the way in payments innovation.

Hopefully, the next time you need to transfer money to another country, whether it’s within the South Pacific or anywhere else, it’s a much quicker, faster and more efficient process.

IBM Announces Major Blockchain Solution with KlickEx

TORONTO – 16 Oct 2017: SIBOS: IBM (NYSE: IBM) today announced a new blockchain banking solution that will help financial institutions address the processes of universal cross-border payments, designed to reduce the settlement time and lower the cost of completing global payments for businesses and consumers. Using IBM Blockchain, and in collaboration with technology partners Stellar.org and KlickEx Group, the solution is intended to improve the speed in which banks both clear and settle payment transactions on a single network in near real time.

Today, making international payments can be costly, laborious and error-prone. Transactions in different currencies can require multiple intermediaries and take days or weeks to complete. According to the World Bank, initiatives to modernize payments and provide financial access could improve the flow of currency and commerce, and help achieve the goal of extending financial services to one billion people by 2020*.

The solution is already processing live transactions in 12 currency corridors across the Pacific Islands and Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. Using a blockchain distributed ledger, all appropriate parties have access and insight into the clearing and settlement of financial transactions. It is designed to augment financial flows worldwide, for all payment types and values, and allows financial institutions to choose the settlement network of their choice for the exchange of central bank-issued digital assets.

For example, in the future, the new IBM network could make it possible for a farmer in Samoa to enter into a trade contract with a buyer in Indonesia. The blockchain would be used to record the terms of the contract, manage trade documentation, allow the farmer to put up collateral, obtain letters of credit, and finalize transaction terms with immediate payment, conducting global trade with transparency and relative ease.  

IBM has convened an initial group of diverse banking leaders as part of the development and deployment process, including Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria, Bank Danamon Indonesia, Bank Mandiri, Bank Negara Indonesia, Bank Permata, Bank Rakyat Indonesia, Kasikornbank Thailand, Mizuho Financial Group, National Australia Bank, Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. (RCBC) Philippines, Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group, TD Bank, Wizdraw (HK) of WorldCom Finance, and other financial institutions.

“With the guidance of some of the world’s leading financial institutions, IBM is working to explore new ways to make payment networks more efficient and transparent so that banking can happen in real-time, even in the most remote parts of the world,” said Bridget van Kralingen, Senior Vice President of IBM Industry Platforms. “Making distributed ledger technologies more interoperable is the latest example of IBM’s leadership driving the rapid advancement of blockchain.”   

"TD Bank is pleased to participate along with fellow banking leaders to observe how IBM Blockchain can support more secure and effective payments solutions," said Rizwan Khalfan, EVP and Chief Digital and Payments Officer, TD Bank. "We're focused on innovation that adds value for our customers and our business, and blockchain presents a tremendous opportunity to transform and enhance payment systems, enabling us to continue to evolve the products and services we can offer."

In keeping with IBM's commitment to open source, the solution is run from the IBM Blockchain Platform on Hyperledger Fabric and was built in collaboration with Stellar.org, a non-profit organization and associate member of Hyperledger, and KlickEx Group, a regional financial services company in the Pacific region. Stellar is an open-source blockchain network that is purpose-built for the issuance and exchange of digital assets. Digital assets are issued on the Stellar network as a foreign exchange bridge to allow for near real time settlement. KlickEx Group serves as the founding financial institution for the region, servicing banks, retail clients and consumers using this new network.

IBM will continue to advance the solution with the goal of expanding capabilities in order to support central bank-issued digital currencies, securities, bonds and structured financial assets. IBM Blockchain provides high performance orchestration to move payments among parties. Each payment is immutable once recorded, and settlement instructions are provided via smart contracts on Hyperledger Fabric. Initially, Stellar will provide the network and digital asset to facilitate the settlement of transactions cleared on Hyperledger.

"This new innovation and collaboration represents a significant milestone for Stellar as well as the financial technology industry as a whole," said Jed McCaleb, co-founder of Stellar. "We are using blockchain technology in production to facilitate cross-border payments in multiple integrated currency corridors. Currently, cross-border payments tend to take up to several days to clear. This new implementation is poised to start a profound change in the South Pacific nations, and once fully scaled by IBM and its banking partners, it could potentially change the way money is moved around the world, helping to improve existing international transactions and advancing financial inclusion in developing nations."  


The network is currently in use by Advanced Pacific Financial Infrastructure for Inclusion (APFII) members, a public-private partnership initially funded by the United Nations and SWIFT. It is expected to process up to 60 percent of all cross-border payments in the South Pacific's retail foreign exchange corridors including Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Samoa and Tonga by early next year. Commercial banks such as Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria, Bank Danamon Indonesia, Bank Mandiri, Bank Negara Indonesia, Bank Permata, Bank Rakyat Indonesia, Kasikornbank Thailand, Mizuho Financial Group, National Australia Bank, Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. (RCBC) Philippines, Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group, TD Bank, and Wizdraw (HK) of WorldCom Finance will be invited to join the network and help it expand in different parts of the world beginning in 2018.

“This is the first time anyone has made blockchain work at an institutionally viable scale,” said Robert Bell, Chairman of APFII and founder of KlickEx Group. “Through KlickEx, the Pacific has had relatively low-cost, real-time, multi-currency payments for most of the past decade, and this project was a natural next step following our work to create seamless and borderless payments across the Pacific. We look forward to the results with using IBM Blockchain as we continue to push forward with our mission to remove payment friction across borders.”

This production blockchain network with KlickEx and Stellar is one of many blockchain projects underway by IBM in financial services including foreign exchange payments netting, private equity administration, securities lending and trade finance.


About IBM
IBM is the leader in open-source blockchain solutions built for the enterprise. As an early member of Hyperledger, an open source collaborative effort created to advance cross-industry blockchain technologies, IBM is dedicated to supporting the development of openly-governed blockchains. IBM has worked with more than 400 clients across financial services, supply chains, IoT, risk management, digital rights management and healthcare to implement blockchain applications. For more information about IBM Blockchain, visit https://www.ibm.com/blockchain/

About KlickEx
KlickEx.co is an award winning regional cross-border payments system delivering financial infrastructure for emerging markets. It has been responsible for dramatic uptake in digital financial services in unbanked regions of the world, and lowering costs for banks, central banks and consumers in low liquidity currencies. KlickEx is also a regional compliance system, active in reducing compliance costs for countries linked to the system. KlickEx owns many of the Pacific's largest Money Transfer Operations, and is the region's largest clearing hub, accounting for over 60% of annual retail foreign exchange transactions (by value and volume) in key corridors. Its key presence is in the Pacific and Europe, and it is a founding member of www.APFII.org processing more than 775,000 transactions per second, per billion of population. 

About Stellar.org
Stellar.org is a Silicon Valley based nonprofit organization that supports the Stellar network, a free, open-source network that connects diverse financial systems and lets anyone build low-cost financial services—payments, savings, loans, insurance—for their community. The Stellar network enables money to move directly between people, companies and financial institutions as easily as email. This interconnectivity means more access for individuals, lower costs for banks, and more revenue for businesses. For more on Stellar.org, visit http://www.stellar.org

*Source: World Bank UFA2020 Overview: Universal Financial Access by 2020. April 20, 2017. http://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/financialinclusion/brief/achieving-universal-financial-access-by-2020

 

Report Urges Solution to ‘De-Risking’

17155327_1357398160950112_98921159354303649_n.jpeg

MEDIA RELEASE

Monday 25th September 2017 - A new report published in The University of Queensland Law Journal suggests a lack of government engagement across some remittance communities affected by ‘de-risking’ deepens feelings of exclusion that may feed radicalism - and urges stakeholders to come together to reach a solution.

The report titled: “Closure of Bank Accounts of Remittance Service Providers: Global Challenges and Community Perspectives in Australia” explores the state of the remittance industry and the communities affected from large-scale bank account closures of remittance service providers (generally called de-risking) from 2014.

Industry Chairman of APFII in New Zealand (Advancement of Pacific Financial Infrastructure and Inclusion) Robert Bell says this report takes an in-depth and balanced look into the issues faced by remittance closures by banks, and makes sound recommendations in terms of next steps.

“Remittance payments are relied on for financial survival all over the world. There is no easy solution, but all parties from remittance operators, to banks, government, community spokespeople and regulators need to come together to find a solution.”

The report notes that “Legal rules allow banks to choose who may access their services, including accessing the national payment system via banks, and to terminate their contractual relationships with a customer, as long as they give proper notice.”

The New Zealand Pasifika economy has close ties to Pacific island economies. Samoan remittances, at NZ$220 million, accounted for almost one-third of Pacific Remittances, and one-quarter of Samoa’s GDP in 2012/13 (Aiavao, 2014). A survey on financial inclusion in Samoa showed that 49% of the population do not have access to basic financial services.

The Pacific has been hit hard by “de-risking” – with one Central Bank governor calling it “financial terrorism on small island states” at an international forum, in 2015. Remittance companies in New Zealand have also found the impact of regulations challenging – with 80% of the locally owned providers closing down between 2014-2017, with little or no ability to respond to Banks concerns, despite support from the NZ Government, and the Reserve Bank of New Zealand.

“The problem with small communities is that if you are sending $200 it might be a cash transaction, there might be no invoice for it and it might be going to someone who doesn't have a bank account. Consequently under the new tighter regulations, all those things look like crime, and has meant the unbanked people of the Pacific are unaffordable for banks to serve" says Robert Bell, APFII Chairman.

In 2015 a statement was released from the Reserve Bank of New Zealand that stated “The Reserve Bank considers that banks' obligations under the AML/CFT Act require measured risk management and do not justify blanket de-risking. With appropriate systems and controls in place, banks should be able to manage and mitigate the money laundering and terrorism financing risks posed by many money remitters. If banks are de-risking to avoid rather than manage and mitigate those risks, then that would be inconsistent with the intended effect of the AML/CFT Act.”

In 2016 Bill English released a statement admitting ‘there are no “radical solutions” to keeping money remitters in business while banks want nothing to do with them.’

KlickEx spokesperson, Gretel Toleafoa, says the financial cost on New Zealand’s taxpayers will increase, as the escalating cost of sending money takes vital money out of the pockets of Pacific families, making their countries even more dependent on foreign aid.

“It is estimated that the KlickEx users who are predominately low-income families would each have over $937 worth of fees added on each year if our services were not offered. We have just over 100,000 clients here in the Pacific, and for many, that’s simply impossible. That represents nearly 20% of GDP per capita in these countries, and over the long term this issue will have direct financial consequences for New Zealand, as these communities get further left behind. 59% of New Zealand’s foreign aid goes to the Pacific, supporting development and good governance, in addition to what families send for basic needs,” says Gretel Toleafoa, KlickEx’s Head of Pacific Markets and Compliance.

The new industry group APFII (www.APFII.org), and KlickEx (www.KlickEx.co) support the new report and its recommendations to find an urgent solution with increased community engagement, and seek to see that the report's full findings be considered for the New Zealand market. The report is due to be released to the public early next year.

ENDS. 

KlickEx Champions Pacific at FATF

Increased pressure from regulators on international banks for information on transactions in the effort to combat financial crime and terrorism has been having adverse effects on small communities, such as the Pacific. 

Chairman Robert Bell from KlickEx Pacific spoke at the Financial Action Task Force (FAFT) in Vienna, Austria in late March, attended by the UN and International Banks in an effort to solve the adverse effects. 

Robert Bell invited to speak on the success of KlickEx in the Pacific at 2017's Financial Action Task Force in Vienna Austria. Video produced by Wildside Productions UK.

"The problem with small communities is that if you are sending $200 it might be a cash transaction, there might be no invoice for it and it might be going to someone who doesn't have a bank account. Consequently under the new regulations, all those things look like crime," says Robert Bell, KlickEx Chairman. 

"KlickEx has successfully overcome these issues in the Pacific and has been able to both meet the complex regulatory requirements and ensure that communities still benefit.

This conference was about sitting with the banks and coming up with a solution that protected the small financial institutions that are serving the small communities."