Future of Financial Services Workforce

UntitledFinTech disruptors have been finding a way in by focusing on a particular innovative technology or process in everything from mobile payments to insurance. A forte of technologies “AI-ML-DL-NLP-CV” is fueling the FinTech innovations. The large financial services companies can’t be complacent as FinTechs have been attacking some of the most profitable elements of the value chain and as well as areas which were historically subsidized.

Let us refresh our memory on these AI technologies and their relevance to the financial services industry.

  • AI makes machines to learn from experience and perform human-like tasks – AI offers robotic & intelligent process automation (RPA/IPA) of financial processes
  • ML is a specific subset of AI that trains a machine on how to learn – ML is enabling algorithmic trading lead to better predictability and decisions around credit and consumer lending, thereby lowering risk to the bank or financial institution
  • DL is s a type of ML that trains a computer to perform human-like tasks, such as identifying images – leverage big data (customer demographics, consumption records, etc.) to parameterize a DL model that can simulate the likely response to new product/service configurations (e.g. new credit card with cash rewards, moderate interest, zero interest on balance transfers, etc.)
  • NLP is a branch of AI that helps computers understand, interpret and manipulate human language – NLP is shaping the future of banking with voice assistants and ubiquitous computing.
  • CV s a field of AI that trains computers to interpret and better understand the visual world –  CV is transforming financial services by using appealing visuals and new solutions for a new world where seeing is believing

These new-age FinTech developments are leading to a continuous transformation of the financial services workforce. The changing landscape and evolving financial services resource pyramid is presented in the diagram above. I would like to highlight a few trends reshaping the talent of financial services on this blog post.

  • AI automating business-as-usual activities of financial services: Robots and AI already started addressing key pressure points, reduce costs and mitigate risks. Building capabilities to target a specific combination of capabilities such as social and emotional intelligence, natural language processing, logical reasoning, identification of patterns and self-supervised learning, physical sensors, mobility, navigation and more are in swing. The goal is to look far beyond replacing the bank teller. There are whole categories of work that had not been seen as cost effective to automate. However, with lightweight software ‘bots’, workers are freed up to focus on higher value activities.
  • Changing patterns with Human vs Machines foray: Are financial services firms moving to re-shoring of work with talented machines? The answer seems to be, Yes. In the last two decades, many financial firms have ‘offshored’ repetitive tasks to lower-cost locations such as India, China, and Poland. However, relative costs for labor in those regions have started to rise. Combine this with improvements in robotics and AI capabilities and machines are becoming credible substitutes for many human workers. As the capabilities continue to improve and technology continues to drive down the cost of machines, these forces will combine to spur re-shoring, as more tasks can now be performed at a competitive cost on-shore. Even functions that seem dependent on human input, such as product design, fraud prevention, and underwriting, will be affected. At the same time, the need for software engineering talent will continue to expand
  • It is not just automation, Technology is picking high-end work: ML is enabling next-generation algorithmic trading systems are moving from descriptive and predictive to prescriptive analysis, improving their ability to anticipate and respond to emerging trends. And while algorithm trading programs were once limited to hedge funds and institutional investors, private investors can now get access to them too. AI soon automate a considerable amount of underwriting, especially in mature markets where data is readily available. Even in situations where AI does not completely replace an underwriter, greater automation would allow humans to concentrate on assessing and pricing risks in the less data-rich emerging markets. It would also free up underwriters to provide more risk management, product development advice and other higher value support for clients.
  • While building machines, the real focus is on accessing the necessary talent and skills to execute strategies and win markets: Financial services firms lack the internal knowledge and expertise need to implement a customer-centric approach. For example, a mainframe programmer who maintains a core banking platform may not have the skills or interests to learn to code AI applications. Many senior IT executives, non-IT staff-members, and even technical personnel do not have the skills needed to build and operate an effective digital channel offering. Financial institutions are starting to realize they will need talent with very different skills. This might mean finding more industrial engineers for robotics work, or retraining underwriters to do higher value work once AI is used to automate certain existing functions. But the issue runs deeper than developing a different competency model. First, firms to understand what is already working and what needs to be done differently. This might involve changes across the human capital strategy through revitalized recruitment, learning and development, partnering and cultural initiatives.
  • The contingent workforce is creating the talent-exchange mindset: financial firms need to address is the growing preference for flexibility and entrepreneurship among many in the labor force. In the United States, the US Chamber of Commerce has found that 27% of the labor force is currently self-employed, and some believe that this ‘contingent workforce’ could rise to 40% or more within several years. Practically, for this reason alone, financial institutions will need to adopt a ‘talent exchange’ mindset, leveraging part-time and/or self-employed individuals in a creative manner. This may range from bidding out specific tasks or work to expanding the use of seasonal or temporary workers. Of course, this will introduce challenges around culture and quality, and this will introduce new opportunities as well. For example, we might see employers using online platforms to manage confidentiality and legal risks in creative ways.

Artificial Intelligence capabilities impacting the financial industry and thereby attitudes toward work continue to change, some of the attributes that have benefitted institutions in the past such as big firm and stable employment are slowly losing their appeal. Refreshing financial firm’s approach to recruiting, learning and development, and culture may offer an effective way to address issues that FinTech has brought into the open market.

Welcome your ideas in further spotting future trends in financial services workforce.

 

The Changing Role of Retail Workforce

I was visiting Lush – a fresh handmade cosmetics store along with Lush_app.jpgmy daughter and felt that the shopping experience compared with the past is changing in a noticeable way, in particular when it comes to interactions with the store workforce. I came to know that Lush employees typically go through extensive training to ensure they have the tools and knowledge to deliver this kind of service. At Lush the digital technology offers a replacement to the information usually found on packaging – the Lush Lens app uses machine learning to recognize products, meaning customers can simply scan ‘naked’ products to discover key information about them. Hence the retail workforce is upskilling to add value beyond the digital offerings.

This blog post is a result of the experience above. Global Retail and e-commerce leaders reimagining their business models in digital evolution and which is further changing workplace practices. I can say from my vantage point that digital, social and environmental developments are shifting the needs of the retail workforce. It is evident that device and sensor proliferation is aiding retailers to experiment intelligent and connected methods to innovate new business models to try new markets, offer new services and create rich & compelling customer experiences. The new-age developments listed below reflects the continuous transformation of the retail workforce

  1. Knowledgeable workforce offering personalized shopping experience: In a world where just about any product or service is instantly available online, shoppers visit a physical location is driven by specific needs. It means recognizing that shoppers would make the trip because they need something more than what they find in the digital world: face-to-face contact, empathy, and deep expertise. Whether they want to figure out how to hook up a smart home, what dress to wear to a formal dinner, or what to pack for that dream wilderness vacation, they want to talk to someone who can offer them more knowledge and personal understanding that they can find with a quick online search.
  2. Fitment of the retail workforce in experience economy: Stores just can’t be product-fulfillment centers. In both the physical and virtual worlds, product fulfillment is fast becoming the domain of AI and robotics, with retailers, consumer products companies and e-commerce platforms racing to develop the best systems to anticipate consumer needs and deliver products to meet them. What technology cannot fulfill, however, are human needs that remain unmet today and will continue to evolve in the future. One thing I’ve learned through my work is that as technological connections grow, so does the human need for meaningful connections. This need is what’s driving the experience economy. Whether in restaurants, travel groups, shared workspaces, yoga studios or spin classes, people are actively seeking intimate connection with other people and finding it in spaces and communities like these.
  3. Uplifting workforce skills is the need of the day: Process improvement, speed, and efficiency are at the core of successful online businesses. With online infiltrating over to brick-and-mortar sales it’s a mismatch in areas such as supply chain, inventory management, trend identification, competitive pricing analysis, etc.; for example, the ability to automate 99% of pricing decisions, not only offers a real-time advantage, but it also eliminates hours and hours of manual work per week. Hence the use and mastery of algorithms is a key tool of the buyer in successful online companies, a skill that is not as prevalent in brick and mortar;

With the advent of modern technologies bringing e-commerce intelligent systems that make running a retail store more efficient, my experiences with retailers progressed on leveraging in-store data. Having the right retail workforce management solution can take care of tedious administrative tasks across the board, while simultaneously collecting data to instantly improve in-store operations. With this schedule, store managers can be confident knowing that the most knowledgeable and high performing sales assistants are on the shop floor during times of high customer traffic, enhancing the shopping experience and resulting in more sales.

As retailers continue to evolve in experience economy continuum, it’s the value that a capable retail associate can add – the expertise, social sensitivity, and problem-solving skills – that will differentiate the good stores from the bad, the stores that will endure from those destined to fade from the scene.

AI in Operations (“AIOps”)

AIOps

Recently I was searching for verbatim “AIOps” on Google and got 624K results. Without many surprises noticed that there have been over 100 times rise in search trends since July 2017. That signifies the momentum for AI led Operations.

As my curiosity on AIOps increased, I looked at market opportunity for AIOps. From MARKETSandMARKETS analyst data, the global AIOps platform market size is expected to grow from USD 2.55 billion in 2018 to USD 11.02 billion by 2023, at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 34.0% during the forecast period (2018–2023).

In this blog post, I am attempting to capture some highlights gathered from my learning curve over a past year or so. Refer to the schematic above that provides a high-level “AIOps Framework”. The following are key elements of the framework.

“AIOps” Verbatim Defined: Simply stating AIOps stands for Artificial Intelligence for IT Operations. Extending AIOps to business operations is inevitable in near future. Adding further, AIOps automates various aspects of IT and utilizes the power of artificial intelligence to create self-learning programs that help revolutionize IT services

AIOps Context: There is a significant opportunity to leverage AI for analyzing enormous data being created by IT and business operations tools, to increase the efficiency of operations, speed up services delivery and ultimately create superior user experiences. The resulting power of AIOps is enabling the progress from siloed to integrated operations backed by intelligent insights.

Signals: In today’s business and IT operations environment, the user is adapting multiple channels of communication for ease and enriched experience. So the backend operations teams as well should expand their ability to sense, analyze and respond to such structured, unstructured and semi-structured data signals. With this in mind, the AIOps platforms are being developed with built-in capabilities to receive and response signals that can encompass any events, alerts, service requests, IoT sensor data, Email, Video, Text, Voice support, UX, Social channels and many other forms.

Interfaces: The way enterprise operations backbone interfacing with signals and external queries also is shaping up in this transformation.

  • The first layer is Machine-First: Giving software/machine/bot the first act on sensing and responding to operations requisitions not only improves the automation of repetitive tasks but also augments cognitive intelligence in complementing human intelligence.
  • Human-Next Touchpoints: Human-next layers take up the operations requisitions that are not solvable by machines. These are the requests which involve human interventions.
  • Ensuring Reliability of Services: Alongside the above two layers, taking an engineering approach to services reliability for constant monitoring, triaging and incorporating insights from advanced analytics of enterprise data brings the culture of continuous improvements and stability to operations.

AIOps Platform: The entire AIOps ecosystem is based on the underlying Platform and Enterprise Core that ties all the components together. As Gartner defined, “Artificial Intelligence for IT operations (AIOps) platforms are software systems that combine big data and AI or machine learning  functionality to enhance and partially replace a broad range of IT operations processes and tasks, including availability and performance monitoring, event correlation and analysis, IT service management, and automation.”

As businesses are increasingly software-driven, operations downtime is becoming more costly and slow is the new down. This is leading businesses to proactively manage and improve experiences of services, applications, cloud, and networks. Along with this business 4.0 is digitally shifting the businesses offering the technologies that increase the volume, velocity, and variety of data. As traditional systems and manual efforts are facing challenges in correlating and analyzing the data or alerts, AIOps is stepping up to augment the enterprise intelligence in operations.

To conclude, the future is bright for IT and business operations with AIOps. The increasing shift of organizations core business toward the cloud, raising investments in the AIOps technology ecosystems, exponentially growing data volumes and increasing end-to-end business application assurance and uptime are driving the growth of AIOps market demand.

 

 

Marching Ahead to 2019

2019

Here is my take on the next 3 big trends to watch out as we march ahead into 2019.

1) Automation crossing over inflection point: Point I am making is progressing beyond task automation. For example, when we call a Bank, it really doesn’t matter whether a bot or a human reply from creating the net new value and better customer experience point of view. In fact, speaking to human can avoid following initial mundane activities alongside a BOT. Having a BOT may save cost and make operations efficient for a Bank, but what’s in it for the customer? Secondly, Automation has to elevate to be more intelligent and process-centric than taskmasters. That is what the inflection point for automation progressing to “creating value for consumers”.

2) “Shared to Distributed” economy/business models as a path forward: Over the past years Uber, Airbnb, Google and increasingly proliferated shared economy models are been successful use cases that rely on the contributions of users/external resources as a means to generate value within their own platforms. Unlike the Automation, here consumers get direct value from the shared economy models and better experience. But the shared economy model is still centralized and hence prevails risks limiting full potential. The shift is going to be towards a new model of decentralized organizations that are aggregating the resources of multiple people to provide a service to a very active group of consumers. This shift marks the advent of a new generation of “dematerialized” organizations that do not require physical offices, assets, or even employees.

3) The confluence of Digital technologies fuelling the next-level adaption/growth: We make a progress beyond adapting one or two digital forces towards the convergence of the ecosystem of digital technologies that drives the collective benefit of businesses, consumers and all stakeholders.

CPG Blockchains

scmCPG Supply Chains are undergoing an unprecedented change looking out for new ways of improvement. I am focusing on this blog on how net-new technologies including  Blockchain is transforming the CPG supply chains.  Evaluating few real-life examples in CPG space triggering a discussion on Blockchain relevance in CPGs.

CPG sectors that benefit from Blockchain are widespread. Fashion products, which is one of the prime CPG sectors ripe for Blockchain adaption where supply chain provenance plays a significant role. The other product classes include garment or makeup products, fine wine, art, luxury items or for that matter diamonds that can benefit from Blockchain adaption. I have been evaluating on how CPG companies can promote an “ethical fashion” or “ethical products” with Blockchain based applications. Let us dive into details.

Blockchain relevance to CPGs:

Focus areas chosen are supply chain provenance, transparency, counterfeiting, and sustainability. The enterprise-wide Blockchain platform could help to increase business velocity, create new revenue streams, and reduce cost and risk by securely extending the supply chain to drive tamper-resistant transactions on a trusted business network.

Provenance & Transparency: Do you agree that the relationship between CPG supply chains Transparency (access to information) is not always linear & straightforward with Traceability (provenance)? Let us look into how to build a Blockchain based solution for CPG supply chain provenance.

Blockchain could help in improving the transparency of the fashion supply chains, promoting sustainability and addressing fashion companies’ lack of ethical supply chains that are contributing to >10% global emissions, and as well in combating to counterfeiting.

Blockchain can play a role in transparency in transforming fashion supply chains through technologies such as track and trace and inventory management. With Blockchain, it is possible to create physical – digital link between goods and their digital identifiers. Cryptographic seal or serial number can be used as a physical identifier linking back to the product’s digital-twin. An example to quote is “Better Kinds”, with a focus on decentralized manufacturing allowing everyone to know where your clothes come from.

Counterfeiting: Blockchain solution as well helps fashion CPGs in combating counterfeiting by recording on blockchain every time goods change-in hands. The chain of custody on blockchain provides a record of the last party to gain custody of the product, showing where the counterfeit product slipped in, or an authentic product got diverted. Read my blog post, Combating Counterfeiting With Blockchain Technology

Sustainability:  The promising outcomes of Blockchain in this space include, sustainability gains in the form of reduced environmental impact and better assurance of human rights and fair work practices. Having a clear record of product history helps product buyers to be confident that goods being purchased are coming only from sources that have been recognized as being ethically sound. More accurately tracking substandard products and identifying their occurrence further upstream in supply chains will help reduce the scope of rework and recalls, providing considerable greenhouse gas reductions and other resource savings. the ultimate goal of Blockchain will be improved supply chain optimization gaining access to a more complete longitudinal supply chain datasets eliminating redundancies and bottlenecks, and ultimately, decreases in resource consumption.

Blockchain implementation process for CPG Blockchains:

Blockchain solutions could help fashion CPGs in their brand positioning as environment-friendly and tech-savvy. Existing technologies like ERPs, Enterprise Data Warehouse, Integration Technologies, and existing e-commerce website can enable provenance, but with practical limitations.  That is where new technologies including Mobile App Development, Public/Private Blockchain Platform, Crypto-Fiat payment gateways & wallets, Digital-Twins, Artificial Intelligence and Advanced Analytics, IoT Sensors, Robots & New Handheld device Hardware etc.

Blockchain implementation for CPGs is an art. The new technology adaption process includes building a public or private blockchain network bringing connecting all key stakeholders using a DLT. Create a token that promotes the use of such application and potentially incentivize the users and suppliers. Create wallets to store tokens and collect incentives. Integrate with payment gateways and exchanges. This forms the Blockchain Core. Then build business and application logic with workflows that support the provenance functionality. Integrate the Blockchain core with back-end transaction systems and ensure seamless flow of information ensuring the data integrity and privacy. It may be a good idea to consider a second layer solution for improved transaction rates and at the same time confining certain confidential information, in this case, supplier data to open access to all competitors via a blockchain. Developing a mobile app and lastly, integrating UI, Application (Blockchain Core) and back-end systems. A brief description of 3 layers of foundational architecture is provided below.

  • User Interface: Customer experience plays a significant role in provenance applications. Should have access to a friendly UX that should support consumers to be able to walk into their favorite retailers, use phones and scan the tag on a garment or makeup product to be able to pull up full supply chain information.
  • Application Logic: Build business and application logic with workflows that support the provenance functionality. This is the core platforms that developed and rolls out provenance application.
  • Data and Back-end Transactions: Brands should get a better handle on what’s really happening in their production processes and chosen technology should relieve a logistical headache by streamlining the record-keeping and verification processes. Second, it requires brands to voluntarily invite their suppliers (who will need to in turn invite their own suppliers, and so on down the chain), to adopt the technology.

How to calculate ROI for CPGBlockchains?

Setting up a Blockchain based application for CPG supply chain provenance involve a capital investment for infrastructure and development costs and ongoing maintenance costs. ROI is a derivative of whether such application attracts more consumers demand and/or willingness of consumers pay additional fees for access to truth and sustainability and/or reduced costs of the current supply chain with streamlined operations. Hence ROI should be computed as “[ Increased revenues from consumer demands & adaption + Premium fees consumer willing to pay + Reduced costs of supply chain operations – Total Investments & Costs (CapEx+OpEx)]

The real ROI of Blockchains come from handling the volume of CPG products and transactions having a second layer solutions to offload/ off-chain transaction volumes from core Blockchain. Estimating components is a challenge in computing Blockchain ROI. But there exists an opportunity to estimate parameters with a degree of accuracy. Such parameters include,

  • Improving the efficiencies of running workloads. Smart contract automation can save significant time in real life transactions avoiding manual interventions
  • Cost reduction is a great value in horizontally integrated supply chains. Blockchain can easily create a global view without expensive third parties
  • Increased trust among key stakeholders that would improve supply chain performance
  • CPG/Retail plastic/waste management can be incentivized leading to a better sustainability

Let us examine use cases:

The following two case studies offer a great insight into how Blockchains can enable provenance. From these examples, taking a value chain based approach for identifying incremental benefits along various supply chains components could fairly offer potential ROI perspective from Blockchain adaption.

  1. Examining the Everledger based blockchain application for traceability of diamonds. The key challenge of the diamond industry is certification of the ethical origin of the diamond. Noticed that Everledger has been trying to create a database of diamonds registering on the blockchain to certify the final cut diamond was ethically-sourced from “conflict-free” regions. Such examples can be used to create an anti-counterfeit database for other valuable goods such as fine wine and art.
  2. Moving on to another example, Blockchain enabled traceability application for yellowfin and skipjack tuna fish. The Etherium based platform trying to track the entire supply chain from fishermen to distributors. End users could track the source of their tuna fish sandwiches via a smartphone. This platform would enable determination of information about the producers, suppliers, and procedures undergone by the end product. allow confirmation of a given fish’s origin tracking the supply chain. Such a solution would present a viable model for product certification to an end consumer.

In Summary…

The complex blockchain solutions will provide an unprecedented level of transparency and traceability, to build the highest level of trust in the sustainability of the CPG supply chains. The CPG products are able to be traced on the blockchain through their unique tracking code with the information collected from linking all information sources within the global supply chain covering from the source through the production process up to the final point of sale as described in the case examples above.

Working as a single source of truth, Blockchain can change the way business transactions take place. From a supply chain perspective, such visibility will help ensure efficient transactions, while promoting safety, efficient recalls, the elimination of counterfeits, and the assurance of ethical trading.

I continue to research further on Blockchain relevance to CPG supply chains. While the core principles of Blockchain are being established, the companies adopting the new technology progressively evolve alongside. ABC (AI+Blockchain+Crtptocurrencies) continues to significantly alter Retail / CPG business models.

Reach out to me for further discussions @ kishor.akshinthala@gmail.com.

Real Estate Blockchain Ecosystem “ReBe”

ReBe

I was contemplating to title this blog “Enriching real estate buying experience with Blockchain”, but finally chosen the title “Real Estate Blockchain Eco-system” to brand the collation of ideas as “ReBe”. As you got the crux of the topic and let us dive into details.

Investment Opportunity vis-à-vis Technology Advantage of Blockchain is an ongoing debate. My focus on this post is to underpin technology advantage of the blockchain. While in-numerous use cases are popping up on the blockchain, I have been thinking about enriching real estate customer experiences expanding real estate market opportunity with distributed, trustless, auditable, and immutable nature of blockchain technology.

From the latest MSCI report, the size of the professionally managed global real estate investment market grew marginally from $7.1 trillion in 2015 to $7.4 trillion in 2016. Currency movements distorted national changes. Currency movements effectively reduced the size of the global real estate investment market by approximately 2.3% in U.S. dollar (USD) terms. Let us break down real estate opportunities and analyze areas where blockchain can show higher impact. I will start by asking a question, what if blockchain could help taking out currency movements? That itself leads to a potential of addressing $170 Billion opportunity size. How about addressing the following plausible areas with blockchain technology?

Blockchain Relevance to Real Estate

The six core characteristics of blockchain namely “Immutable, Consensus, Encrypted, Transparent, Programmable, and Distributed” positions the technology to handle/transact almost every element of a real estate value chain on a blockchain. In buying a real estate, whether it is commercial or retail, the current inefficiencies along the value chain can be replaced with a blockchain platform that can make it better, faster and cheaper. Here is a peek into details.

1) Property Search and Records: Search can be enabled by peer-to-peer listing platforms that allow buyers and sellers to transact directly with one another and reduce or eliminate commissions. One property is found the property owner has to be confirmed. For any kind of a high-value property (real estate, cars, art) it is important to have accurate records which identify the current owner and provide a proof that he/she is indeed the owner. A blockchain based property ownership recording system described in this article eliminates most potential failures and attacks through transparency and use of cryptographic primitives for authentication. Thus it can be used to eliminate reliance on trusted third parties, reduce costs (through automatization) and avoid number fraud and errors. For example, REX MLS blockchain platform provides an open, decentralized and democratized environment for listing and transaction processes

2) Property financing and lending: Blockchain can facilitate financing, investment, and crowd-ownership in real estate dealings.

  • Blockchain can leverage crypto backed native currencies as a means of payment in real estate transactions, which can involve considerable regulatory issues (e.g. KYC, AML) minimizing transaction fees and potentially eliminating cross-border currency fluctuations in a global marketplace.
  • Blockchain technology can be used as a means of crowd investing/funding in real estate tapping into funds beyond banks and institutional money.
  • Other possibilities include the noteworthy business models that seek to issue a regulated, blockchain-based cryptocurrency secured by shares in Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs).
  • The current owners of real estate can monetize full or partial ownership of these assets creating liquidity with ease of technology. For example, the UK government’s “shared ownership” scheme helps first-time buyers get on the property ladder by purchasing part of a property and paying rent on the remaining value. Renters can buy additional equity in the property as and when they can afford it, a process known as “staircasing” Blockchain enables more efficient processing of financing and payments

3) Lease and Rental Management: Blockchain technology can automate most of rental and lease management processes leveraging “smart contracts” by shortening the cycle time of reconciling rental payment and property expenses cash flows by providing full transparency. This will finally lead to reduced accounting, property management, and compliance costs. Blockchain driven student accommodations is another evolving trend in this space.

4) Titles and closing: Blockchain enables transparent and relatively cheaper property title management. Distributed ledger technology combined with smart contracts can potentially eliminate escrows. This is possible by altering the real estate transactions by combining identity verification with escrow. In place of a title company, buyers could make a purchase in crypto backed native currencies by sending the funds to one party and title to another without the need of escrow. Another advantage is minimizing the wire fraud impacting the real estate industry. In the traditional real estate closing process, numerous intermediaries are utilized and get paid which increases the lead times and associated costs. By assigning each property to a digital address, blockchain can significantly reduce the number of intermediaries by reducing costs and lead times in multifold.

5) Add-on Services: Blockchain can potentially be extended to multiple add-on services enabling end-to-end real estate processes. These services include but not limited to expediting pre-lease due diligence, ease leasing and subsequent property and cash flow management, offering real-time rich data promoting smarter decision-making, blockchain based land ledger etc.

Real Estate Blockchain Ecosystem (ReBe)

Each of the above real estate services can be a blockchain offering in itself. But what I am trying to project in this post is a Real Estate Blockchain Ecosystem (ReBe), a portfolio of services to offer an enriched and optimal end-to-end real estate solutions. As depicted in the diagram above, ReBe ecosystem constitutes multiple layers.

  • First Layer – Blockchain Core: The center layer with a ReBe Token, crypto exchange, smart contracts, and a distributed ledger based financial system creating ReBe technology platform. ReBe token is envisioned as a hybrid token with a utility service to pay network fees and a security that backed by a real estate asset offering collateral and a possible monetization of assets.
  • Second Layer – Blockchain Services: A portfolio of services can be built around the core layer that forms the “Blockchain Services Layer”. Here a catalog of services either building a partner ecosystem of existing platform players or pay-per-use platform services for participating service providers.
  • Third Layer – Marketplace: The third layer is the marketplace of buyers, sellers, crowdfunding, banks, institutions and legal entities that leverage blockchain services. An example of a marketplace transaction could be Peer-to-peer property transfer or rent.

Blockchain technology is fast changing the property buying experiences and I foresee an existing opportunity in reshaping the real estate industry with ReBe. You can reach me @ kishor.akshinthala@gmail.com for a deeper mindshare on this topic.

Enhancing Gift Cards Value Proposition (Blockchain for Gift Cards – Part II)

Last week, I published a blog post titled “Blockchain Boosting Customer Loyalty Programmes”. In continuation of views on Blockchain relevance, highlighting the following 4 aspects of gift cards industry that encompasses open & closed loop cards, new age innovative cards such as gift cards for stock, lottery retail gift card, donation gift cards etc.

1) Transaction fees

2) Seamless redemption

3) Consumer wallet spends

4) Fraudulence

1) Transaction fees: Gift cards market in the USA alone is estimated >$170 billion and growing at ~20% CAGR internationally across channels of stores, web, mobile, incentives, employee engagement etc. As per GiftCardsdotcom, processing fees on various types of gift cards range from 1.4% to 3.94% and lower the value of card higher the fees even touching double digits. This as a result of cumulative effect of various stakeholders in the value chain including the issuer, distributor, reseller, buyer, & receiver. Can we bring them on DLT to checkout fees?

2) Seamless redemption: Gift card industry is set up to hide identities of unspent balances on gift cards called “breakage”, which accounts to ~20% total spend i.e. $34 billion. Combining gifts, rewards, loyalty and coupon credits in one place/platform, making them available for immediate use can be one solution to this. Such platform as well can enable auctioning, trading, regifting and donating to charity features creating value for unwanted cards that expire. Can blockchain technology be leveraged for generating net new revenues from seamless card redemption?

3) Consumer wallet spends: Lack of single source of truth and shopping data has been limiting the scope of consumer wallet spend expansion. Overspend dynamic is really an upside, and analysis shows that when consumers shop using gift cards they spend an average of 30% to 40% more than the face value of the card credit. How about combining AI+Blockchain+Cryptocurrency (ABC) to increase the effectiveness of advertising by retailers to increase consumer wallet spend?

4) Fraudulence: “Return fraud – thieves simply walk into Walmart, Target, Home Depot, Lowe’s or another big-name retailer, steal an item, return it at a different store without a receipt and receive a gift card in return, which they can then turn around and sell to a pawn shop or secondary store for a lower price” (dangerous than cyber fund) is a new form of fraud in Gift Cards environment. Retail return losses total of $9 to $15 billion per year, 2017 survey by the National Retail Federation. >50% of companies reported fraudulent gift cards or store credit in one or more locations. How about applying blockchain technology enabling people who don’t trust one another share valuable gift card data in a secure, tamperproof way making it extremely difficult for attackers to manipulate?

Blockchain technology precisely addresses these factors and fuels the growth of gift cards industry leapfrogging customer loyalty experience and enhancing gift cards value proposition.

Refer to Part I @

Boosting Customer Loyalty Programmes (Blockchain for Gift Cards – Part I)

 

Boosting Customer Loyalty Programmes (Blockchain for Gift Cards – Part I)

Untitled

Getting little bit into history, reward programs spans over a century (~120 years) with S&H Green Stamps in late 1800’s, the launch of modern programs by the airlines ~35 years ago, and to the recent coalition programs like Plenti’s initial marketing partners that include Macy’s, AT&T, Exxon Mobil and Rite Aid.

According to the 2017 Colloquy Loyalty Census, there are 3.8 billion individual loyalty memberships in the United States increasing from 2.6 billion in 2012. Every day we come across some sort of customer loyalty and reward programs in our daily lives while consuming products and services across industries that represent the spread of memberships in retail – 42%, travel & hospitality – 29%, financial – 17%, media & content, the cross-section of these industries and as well as others representing remaining 12%.

With that being said, loyalty and reward programs are facing the underpinning threats as well as bundled with few opportunities as described below. In view of this, Providers of loyalty programs should focus on their long-term sustenance and growth strategies. The following metrics are compiled from Kobie and Colloquy reports.

Threats:

  • Only 46% of loyalty memberships in the USA are active leaving behind more than half of all memberships inactive
  • Over 70% of consumers in the age group of 20 to 34 years old said they would change where they shopped to get more loyalty rewards

Opportunities:

  • 34% of USA consumer say they are loyal to a brand because of its loyalty program
  • Loyalty/reward programs with integrated sustainability, contribution to the environment and quality of life are scoring more than the rest

In the above context, Blockchain technology can play a significant role allowing the providers to integrate store locators, payment vehicles, loyalty programs, even games, in a platform that enables information always to be at the consumer’s fingertips. The blockchain based platform can offer convenience, rewards, ease of use and customer experience combine to build consumer loyalty, engagement, and advocacy.

Traditionally most rewards programs use a proprietary “points system”. Customers can accumulate points for purchases at a rate that was set by the issuer and finally uses the points to purchase merchandise at a redemption ratio set by the issuer which is somewhat regulated. 3rd party fulfillment usually handles the redemption hosting the user redemption via an online web framework, maintain and keep the catalog of rewards, administer point balances, manage promotions, ship rewards, and deduct the points in a systematic manner. As you can realize by now the multi-party loyalty systems are somewhat circumvented and that leads an opportunity for disintermediation. The recent developments with blockchain technology seemingly offers an effective alternative to run loyalty programs.

As depicted in the diagram above, the entire ecosystems of loyalty & rewards programs including providers, channel distributors, customers, incentives & payments firms can be seamlessly integrated onto a blockchain core to enhance the overall value proposition. Blockchain can enable a ledger of transactions to be shared across a network of participants. When a loyalty point is issued, redeemed, or exchanged, the blockchain’s AI algorithm-generated unique token could be created and assigned to that transaction and distributed across the loyalty network, updating every ledger simultaneously. Loyalty participants can validate the new transaction and link them to older transactions, creating a strong, secure, and verifiable record of all transactions, without the need for intermediaries or centralized databases. However, for security and privacy of loyalty programs, it may be logical to design a closed-loop rewards program, where only those parties involved in the loyalty program, issuers and merchants, would be allowed, which resembles a private or a permissioned blockchain.

If you can visualize, in loyalty platform backed by blockchain, the points associated with the rewards systems can be deposited by the issuer in a customer crypto wallet that would be available to immediately spend at any of the merchants that accept that cryptocurrency and participate in that closed blockchain. The issuer would no longer need to carry the liability for all unused points on its books, which is estimated at ~10% leakage of rewards that expire and can be written off with no redemption costs. To compensate this blockchain based systems can deliver cost savings in redemption by eliminating the third-party fulfillment function, along with the associated fees for those services. The cardholder would no longer need to log in to the fulfillment website to redeem points for merchandise or travel. Instead, the rewards currency could be used to purchase from any merchant, e-tailer, travel site or brick and mortar that accepts that rewards currency. Presumably, this would be a closed loop of possibilities, to avoid the problems that merchant consortiums such as Plenti had to deal with. Each merchant would then need to balance their prices, in the rewards cryptocurrency, in order to increase the potential for the cardholder to spend with them, but still maximize profitability. The inefficiencies arising from the issuer paying fees to a third party could be put back towards the issuer’s reward program, the payback for giving up the “breakage”. This, in turn, would allow the issuer to increase its rewards.

One would think now about how to handle a sporadic crypto price fluctuations? One way to address this is by keeping the rewards currency, not as a tradeable token on exchanges making the blockchain a permissioned network allowing only issuers who participate in the program, and merchants who are willing to redeem could be nodes keeping the expense and time delay of each transaction to reasonable costs and near-real-time. The participating nodes can be designed to perform a proof-of-cooperation calculation to maintain the integrity of the transaction.

To sum it up, leveraging customer loyalty blockchain platform,  the issuer no longer sets redemption ratios in the future-generation model of card rewards & redemption, removing any ambiguity as to what each reward point is worth. This allows merchants to price their goods at market rate to encourage purchase, removing hidden markups and resulting in loyalty truly becoming a currency.

Refer to Part II @

Enhancing Gift Cards Value Proposition (Blockchain for Gift Cards – Part II)

 

Creating Business with New Reality (AR/VR) Value Chains

ar1One way to interpret AR/VR ecosystem is classifying it as a platform, what I am referring in this blog as “Platform 4.0”. Followed by personal computer, web, and mobile, AR/VR platforms fundamentally are transforming how present-day consumers interact in the physical world. One way to define AR/VR is as follows,

  • VR: Immerses users in an imagined or replicated world
  • AR: Goes closer to reality overlaying digital imagery onto the real world.

AR/VR offers significant business opportunities, but a holistically understanding on how to create a business from this very promising platforms is very critical. As per Statista, by 2021, the augmented and virtual reality market is expected to reach a size of $215 billion. For AR alone, ARtillry Intelligence projects consumer AR revenues to grow to $14 billion by 2021. The business models for capturing the market opportunity of AR/VR platforms preferably should encompass on upstream and downstream of “New Reality Value Chains”. The upstream part of value chains covers the core of AR/VR development needs and downstream part of value chains address the various channels to serving AR/VR demands.  The term ‘business model’ in this blog ties to either a segment of upstream or downstream of AR/VR value chain. While the detailed characteristics of each business model are slated for a separate blog, tried to summarize the various models with “AR/VR Business Opportunity Framework” as depicted above.

As mentioned above, while “New Reality Value Chains” offers significant business opportunity, the potential market opportunity sizes vary by business model and respective focus segment. With further market analysis, the indicative percentage market opportunity size by each of the business segment is shown in the chart “AR/VR Business Models and Market Size” below. Hardware, eCommerce, and Ads contribute to >2/3rd of market share. Another key observation is immediate whitespaces in Apps, Subscriptions etc. can be target areas to evolve innovative business models.

AR 2

The above-mentioned business models and their growth potential is estimated to be varying across verticals. The “AR/VR High Impact Sectors” with most promising opportunities are Games, Healthcare, Industrial, and Broadcasting Events. The relative opportunity size of AR/VR across various verticals and respective dominating use cases are summarized below.

  • 1/3rd of the VR/AR market opportunity comes from the Gaming industry. Leveraging VR to enrich the video gaming experience offering players with illusory environments by porting games onto playing fields offers a significant business opportunity. The recent success of “Pokemon Go” is a use case to showcase.
  • Next 1/3rd market opportunity prevails in Industrial, Healthcare, and Event Broadcasting verticals. For example, in the industrial sector, AR/VR can help engineers to test scenarios and designs allowing rapid prototyping and yield cost reductions fixing known errors before mass production.
  • Remaining 1/3rd market opportunity comes from other verticals including Retail, Real Estate, Entertainment, Education, and Military. For examples, Retailers can revolutionize the way consumers shop by elevating the shopping experience and promoting emotional connection to a brand or product

In summary, i) AR/VR Business Opportunity Framework, ii) AR/VR Business Models and Market Size, and iii) AR/VR High Impact Sectors presented above can be used as a starting point in carving out specific target business initiatives in much promising AR/VR space.

You can reach me @ kishor.akshinthala@gmail.com for a deeper mindshare on this topic.