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Polybius: Blockchain to Improve the Banking Experience

  • 19 March 2018
  • Expert Insights

Our new Disruption by Blockchain series aims to highlight companies that are leveraging the incredible potential of blockchain technology to disrupt and revolutionize their industry. Through one on one interviews, we'll speak directly with industry leaders to cut beyond the hype and get directly to the heart of practical use cases and examples of how it will change the world, one industry at a time.

The following is an interview we recently had with Anton Altement, CEO of Polybius.

1. What’s the history of Polybius? How and where did you begin?

AA: The project started back in 2016. Our sister business was entering a phase of rapid international expansion and we were opening bank accounts all across Europe. We were used to a very high standard of online services in Estonia. At the time it became obvious that the quality and sophistication of said service stands out strongly from other countries. We had further spotted two additional trends — strong variability in service delivered by banks and banking product becoming a commodity, volume-driven business. This was our “eureka” moment realizing the opportunity to improve banking, and more precisely,  personal finance management experience in Europe. Finally, just the right set of skills in the team and favorable regulatory landscape (e.g. PSD2 and eIDAS) served as a further catalyst to the project.

While we have strong blockchain skillset in the team, we are not “blockchain for the sake of blockchain” type of business. Instead, we are looking to implement it as appropriate in our processes, but we are also not shy of avoiding it where it does not fit.

2. Who are the founders and key team members?

Project was jump-started by Ivan Turygin and Sergei Potapenko, serial tech entrepreneurs from Estonia, and I joined later on. Broader team ranges across finance and tech professionals. Now that our project has funded, they will be joining full-time. However, for the time being they are exiting their current jobs. Thus we would prefer to avoid mentioning their names for the time being.

Aside from the core team, the ICO boasted a very strong advisory board. It ranged from seasoned banking professionals like Ugo Bechis (30+ years of experience) to founders of CryptoPay, one of the largest East European cryptocurrency fintechs. With the ICO behind us, part of the advisory board will be changing too as the team focuses away from ICO and goes full steam on the underlying project itself.

Sergei Potapenko, Polybius Co-founder, CEO of HashCoins

Sergei's interest had always lied within electronics, automation, cybersecurity and IT – he eventually found himself involved in a great variety of businesses, most of which had the trendy “online” feature. In late 00's Sergei was among the first Bitcoin adopters, quickly realising the huge potential of crypto. He eventually started to invest into the earlier crypto projects and soon joined forces with other Estonian cryptocurrency enthusiasts, creating HashCoins as a result. Among the first HashCoins projects was production of miners that used revolutionary FPGA and ASIC chip architectures. In the next 3 years, HashCoins grew from 3 people to over 50, tripling the number of projects and becoming one of the fastest growing companies in the industry. The business itself had also evolved and the company had become one of the largest cloud-miners of cryptocurrency globally.

Today Sergei is the CEO of HashCoins, overseeing the company. Focused on solving everyday challenges, he stays on the development frontline, bringing his strategic thinking to the HashCoins development roadmap.

Ivan Turygin, Polybius Co-founder, Chairman of Burfa Capital

Raised in a family of entrepreneurs, Ivan's first international business started in his early age. In 2009 he cut his teeth in wood trading business between Asian and UK markets. Several years later, Ivan got introduced to Bitcoin, which became one of his most significant investments in the long run. Later in early 10's he got involved in the remote computing business, establishing HashCoins and becoming one of the few hardware development players in the emerging market. As HashCoins gained lots of traction with the customers, Ivan continued expanding operations into other fields of the online market, like advertisement and finance.

Today Ivan is the Chairman of the Board of HashCoins and Burfa Media, being responsible for establishing new key partnerships and driving companies into new markets.

Anton Altement, Polybius Co-founder, CEO

I come from traditional finance, having spent close to ten years with Credit Suisse as an investment banker in London and Zurich. During this time, I acquired a  well-rounded financial skill set ranging from derivatives to leveraged finance but having made my feet wet in private banking as well. I remained a crypto skeptic for a long time, but at the end of 2016 came to realization of its potential and the convergence trends between fiat and crypto. I am convinced that the line between fiat and crypto will continue to blur.

My job is to drive the project day-to-day with a vision of it becoming a one-stop shop for all personal finance matters, regardless of currency, type and operation.

3. What problem are you solving? Who are you solving it for?

AA: As alluded in our answer to 1, we are determined to improve banking and personal finance experience of our users. We are currently focusing on B2C, creating a personal finance management environment which is currency and bank agnostic. The platform will be consolidating all of the users' financial data from across their various financial service providers into one ecosystem. We will focus on the value-added services such as budgeting, optimization, and management of finances amongst others. As a result, the banks will be able to focus on perfecting the operations while the customer will choose their financial services provider based on merits other than the quality of their front-end.

Our product is effectively “everyone’s very own private banker” helping take care of the finances regardless of your account balance. The old way is to click from app to app while reviewing your various banking relationships and interacting with financial products. Polybius way is to have all this information and functionality delivered to you in one interface. We are here to help people sleep better at night by demystifying and taking care of their finances.  

4. What is your solution to this problem?

AA: Our solution is a combination of financial instruments, eID services, electronic signatures and cutting-edge security to deliver you the ultimate digital wallet experience. This will be powered by a private blockchain, which makes the system very lean, adaptable and scalable. It further guarantees security and audit trail, possibly stronger than a lot of incumbents in the finance industry are able to deliver.

5. Why is banking ripe for disruption?

AA: Finance and payments markets faced their first major changes back in the 10's, when people realised that IT is able to completely overhaul common ways of spending and investing. With the likes of PayPal, paying online became unbelievably easy, while the introduction of SEPA increased money remittance time from days to hours.

But progress did not end there – today's trends are dictated not by service providers, but by the media and consumers. With around 60% of internet traffic now coming from mobile devices, many experts believe that we are in no way close to the end of the trend.

Furthermore, depending on where you look in Europe, people have 2.5 – 4 banking relationships. The number is likely even higher if you look at crypto. Online front-end experience is a mixed bag and consumer is often forced to pay premium for the product in exchange for a neat front end. Our goal is to provide the best of both worlds — top-notch front-end experience whose functionality includes the ability to pick the most suitable product.

Additionally, EY Global Banking Survey 2016 has concluded that only ¼ to ⅓ of customers in markets like Germany and France trust their banks to give them unbiased advice. We will be providing customers a consolidated view of their finances without being affiliated with a bank. As such, we consider it our duty and a key value-add to help them choose objectively the most fitting products.

Finally, recent years have seen the wave of single-product fintechs. At a recent fintech event in Zurich organized by Lend, Lykke, and Selma there was a lot of talk about the consumer having a choice of either going with a bank and having to live with its product suite or switching between “one trick pony” fintechs for each financial need. Latter often being more budget-friendly and fair, but inconvenient nonetheless. Again, this is an obvious opportunity for a service like ours — consolidate all finances in one interface and create a convenient single point of access.

6. What’s the future of blockchain in banking?

Prediction #1: Banking product, as such, will be further commoditized diluting bank brand loyalty.

Prediction #2: Competitive dynamics will be driven by add-on services, design, and simplicity of use.

Prediction #3: Customer will demand further freedom to operate across borders and currencies, including crypto.

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