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Banks join forces to test new payment technology

Pilot project by Ulster Bank, AIB, PTSB and Deloitte will use technology developed in UK

Project will use RBS’s Emerald platform, which can acknowledge payments in under 10 seconds while handling large volumes. Photograph: iStock

Ulster Bank, AIB, Permanent TSB and Deloitte have come together to establish a pilot project that will explore new blockchain technology designed to improve the speed, resilience and security of the domestic payment systems.

Known as Project GreenPay, it will use technology developed in the UK by Royal Bank of Scotland, Ulster Bank’s parent company.

It has already been tested in Dogpatch Labs in Dublin, with the banks passing dummy payments to each other to test it for performance, accuracy and stability.

Ciarán Coyle, chief administrative officer at Ulster Bank, said the project would use RBS’s Emerald platform, which can acknowledge payments in under 10 seconds while handling large volumes.

“When we saw that RBS had that capability, we decided to use the platform in the Republic. We looked at how we could prove it at an industry level and looked at doing collaboration at an industry level.”

Blockchain automates the recording of ownership and transfer of value on a single, shared distributed ledger, without the need for a central arbitrator.

Transactions only need to be recorded in one place and are agreed at the point of recording by consensus. While records are added to the ledger with each additional block, no existing transactions can be changed or removed. And each block on the chain is a permanent record that cannot be rewritten.

“It’s essentially a software that provides a way of recording transactions in a trustworthy way,” Mr Coyle said.

No time frame

He stressed that this was a research project and there was no guarantee of it going into production, and said no time frame had been placed on the pilot.

“Blockchain has the potential to disrupt multiple industries for the benefit of customers, and we’re determined to investigate how we can harness this for the financial sector,” Mr Coyle said. “We are focused on open collaboration . . . to help the industry make banking simpler and more secure for our customers.”

Richard Crook, RBS’s head of innovation engineering, said it “made sense” for Ulster Bank to use its technology as part of an industry-wide collaboration.

“We’re delighted to support that and further prove that blockchain can be used to better serve customers,” he said.

Toby Clements, group chief operating officer at PTSB, said collaboration between the banks was “vital to offering customers the very best banking experience” and to “exploring new technologies”.

David Dalton, Deloitte’s financial services leader, said the pilot would leverage the firm’s regional blockchain lab in Dublin. “We believe blockchain adoption will happen more quickly than anticipated and without a proactive and well-adopted strategy, banks and insurers risk being locked out of potential innovations enabled by this technology,” he said.

Some estimates place the benefit of blockchain in cross-border clearing and settlement at $50 billion-€60 billion on a cost base of $150 billion.