Imagine you’ve just moved from Calgary to Edmonton and you’re looking to buy your first house. You walk into your neighbourhood ATB where you’re greeted by Pepper the robot. She scans your fingerprint and you tell her you’re ready to get your first mortgage. She directs you to a customer experience rep whose computer—based on your fingerprint and vocal recognition—has already pulled up your identity record, complete with a recent photo, address, credit history and biometric tokens.
Setting you up with your mortgage is quick and frictionless—there’s no need for long approval processes and credit checks. This identity record is stamped with the date it was created, and also contains a list of notes and additions you’ve made to it since birth. Everywhere you go, you’re able to securely update this identity record, and every time you do, your new information is instantly passed on to the organizations you’ve authorized to see it. Your identity, belongs to you, and only you.
This isn’t some lofty dream of the year 3000. It’s a dream we have of the not-so-distant future.
You’re probably familiar with blockchain as the technological backbone to Bitcoin. The name is self-explanatory once you understand how the technology works. Every 10 minutes, the Bitcoin blockchain groups all transactions that have taken place during that time frame, puts them through an algorithm, and adds that group—or block—to a chain of other transaction blocks. Each block in the chain refers to the previous block, which refers to the previous block, and so on.
What makes blockchain technology so appealing is its level of security. Blockchain’s algorithms are incredibly difficult to hack, and with Bitcoin you only have a 10-minute window in which to try. After that point, a new block of transactions is created and you can’t change a single block without the waterfall effect of the system being completely broken down. You would have to communicate your hacked block changes to every single computer in the Bitcoin network. With a distributed leger system in place (i.e., copies of transactions existing on thousands of computers), it would be essentially impossible to communicate that quickly.
Now, in many ways, blockchain systems like the one developed for Bitcoin may seem like the last place banks would want to get involved, because the system itself diminishes the need for an intermediary (i.e., a bank) to be present for security reasons. The trust required to complete a transaction securely is built into the system—the system is the trust provider.
What we’ve found in blockchain systems, however, is not a fear of our own demise, but significant opportunities to make our customers’ lives better in so many ways, starting with banking.
In June of last year, we sent money from Canada to Germany using a blockchain system called Ripple. Typically, a transaction like this would take a few hours to complete. This one took eight seconds.
So many Albertans have family around the world. And sending money home can be a huge risk. Cost and safety are major issues. Ripple—or a future system similar to it —could negate these issues by depositing funds directly into a bank or cell phone account in seconds. No need to coordinate time zones for phone calls and ID verification. No need for your loved ones to anxiously carry cash home. Just an easy few seconds and a definite boost of happiness.
We’re not stopping at international transactions. We want to explore the possibility of creating secure digital identities that individuals have complete control over in a highly secure system.
While we’re certainly not ready to set up your identity record tomorrow, we’re fully prepared to figure out how we can create this transformative experience for our customers and lead the way on what we consider one of the most exciting and impactful uses of the blockchain system.
Think of all the places your identity is currently stored. Rather than 10-20 different organizations having their own version of your identity, you could go through life with one consistent record, that you completely control, granting other parties access to it when necessary—to open a bank account, get a car loan or be approved for your first mortgage. This is the future ATB is exploring, with the help of blockchain technology. And our starting point is, of course, making banking work for you.
Want to be part of a team intentionally building for the future? Discover our open opportunities here.