IBM Blockchain: growing competition in payments

| 30-4-2019 | Carlo de Meijer | treasuryXL

Last year October I wrote a blog about IBM’s World Wire project. In that month they announced to come to the market with a global blockchain network for cross-border payments and foreign exchange for regulated financial firms using digital assets. But at that time it was not yet ready for production.

A month ago the firm has announced that World Wire has been sent into limited production. According to IBM “this is the first blockchain-based network that integrates payment messaging, clearing, and settlement on a single network”. The World Wire network will support instantaneous foreign exchange payment and settlement in locations in more than 70 countries, supporting close to 50 currencies and 45 banking endpoints.

This will definitely lead to growing competition in the payments industry. What could that mean for institutions like Ripple and SWIFT?

Why is World Wire needed?

But firstly, why is World Wire needed? And other blockchain solutions? International money transfers especially remittances make up an important part of the global economy. According to the World Bank, migrants across the world sent an estimated $574 billion to relatives in their home countries in 2016.

Current global payment systems however are not adequate enough for the high number of transactions that are happening across the world. Nowadays banks have to go through inefficient processes involving many intermediaries for both the clearing and settlement to conclude these transactions. Sending money across borders today is as a result a time-consuming and costly process.

What is World Wire?

On March 18, IBM announced the launch of IBM World Wire, a global network for regulated financial institutions to simultaneously clear and settle cross-border payments in real time. First unveiled last year October, World Wire now has entered the production stage.

“We’ve created a new type of payment network designed to accelerate remittances and transform cross-border payments to facilitate the movement of money in countries that need it most.” “By creating a network where financial institutions support multiple digital assets, we expect to spur innovation and improve financial inclusion worldwide.” Marie Wieck, General Manager, IBM Blockchain.

The platform is designed for fast and easy cross-border payments, foreign exchange, and remittances, thereby integrating payment messaging, clearing, and settlement on a single, unified network. The aim of the IBM Worldwide Wire payment system is to remove the function of banking intermediaries to international payment options, thereby lowering the cost and at the same time the transaction speed.

“World Wire’s novelty in the blockchain space regarding settlements is that payment messaging and instructions for settlements can happen in real-time. Hence driving all sorts of efficiencies into the process mainly because you’re doing things on one network, i.e. reconciling information and post fact isn’t necessary.” Jesse Lund, VP Blockchain and Digital Currencies IBM

The platform is developed on the open-source Stellar’s blockchain network. This operates as the backbone of their payment solution, allowing cross-border payment settlements in near real time using digital assets as a bridge currency. It is said that the settlements can be done in five to 10 seconds.

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Carlo de Meijer 

Economist and researcher