Swiss Bank UBS CIO Oliver Bussmann settled a system of internal working groups devoted to working on innovative technology projects and puts the blockchain as top priority.
Oliver Bussman holds strong expertise in both finance and technology, notably due to his former position as CIO of German software firm SAP SE (System, Applications, Products in Data Processing). Although the executive admits "digitalization is one of the threats to the financial services industry," he also acknowledges and embraces the positive impact that technology could have on the financial sector, especially when it comes to automating, digitalizing, and therefore, leveraging financial institutions.
"We saw other industries where outsiders came in and used technology to come up with new business models and the rest of the industry fell. And it is possible, from my perspective, that somebody, a hi-tech firm like Facebook or Google, will go after the retail banking business to provide certain payment services or investment services. If you look at Alibaba and Tencent in China, they are going in that direction."
In order to stimulate innovation at UBS, Bussmann led the setup of a pole with several working groups assigned to study and develop innovative technology projects. The idea, he said, was imported from SAP SE.
These different 'innovation spaces' are said to have dedicated funds, and combine staff in both the IT and business departments, as well as external experts like VCs and professionals from the startup scene.
According to Bussmann, it is essential to establish a conducive environment, in order to keep on track with trends and innovations that could potentially impact the business. "In our business, these mega trends could be robot advisory, everything client facing, the use of big data, and the whole cryptocurrency topic," explained the executive.
Bussmann puts the blockchain at the top of his list, which he believes is "the biggest potential to bring change to the financial services sectors," reported the media outlet.
While many experts from the conventional banking industry have expressed fear rather than optimism towards digital currencies, Bussmann is confident the blockchain technology could allow "massive" simplification of banking processes and cost structures. He added:
"I believe – and this is my personal view – that blockchain technology will not only change the way we do payments but it will change the whole trading and settlement topic. [...] When somebody with a strong brand and security level establishes it as a reliable service, than the whole industry will follow."
UBS AG is a Swiss global financial services company with headquarters in Basel and Zurich. The firm provides services in investment banking, asset management and wealth management for private, corporate and institutional clients. UBS is also the biggest bank in Switzerland, and is considered as the world's largest manager of private wealth assets, with over CHF2.2 trillion (US$2.31 trillion) in invested assets.
UBS suffered among the largest losses in the European banking sector during the subprime mortgage crisis. The company is also infamously known for taking part in financial controversies, notably for illegally transferring funds from an account set up by the Federal Reserve to countries under US trade embargoes such as Iran and Cuba, in 2004.
In 1997, a night guard at UBS caught bank officials destroying documents about orphaned assets, believed to be the credit balances of deceased Jewish clients. The Jewish victims of the Holocaust filed a lawsuit amounting US$2.56 billion against UBS and other Swiss banks, which are said to have laundered US$1.25 billion worth of Nazi assets.
Last week, the European Commission fined four major financial institutions US$120 million, over activities deemed as cartel behavior. The European Commission said RBS, UBS, JP Morgan and Credit Suisse, operated a cartel on bid-ask spreads of Swiss franc interest-rate derivatives, reported the New York Times. UBS paid the largest fine of US$16.09 million, which was reduced by 30% after it cooperated in the case.
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