Simplifying greatly, the job of a bank is to protect a token of value in digital form. To date, that value has been financial.
There are other forms of value that are now encoded digitally, however. According to Konstantin Peric, head of innovation at interbank transfer service SWIFT, one day banks might provide protection for those other ‘digital assets’ too.
"There are things that we own but are not necessarily expressed by money," explains Peric. These include contractual and commercial agreements, that could be represented in digital form. "We see that there is a role of the banks as the managers of our digital assets."
One of the ‘assets’ that banks might one day protect is reputation, Peric believes.
Personal reputations are already expressed digitally for some applications. On auction website eBay, for example, each seller has a four star rating based on their reliability.
Peric believes digital representations of reputation will become more widespread, and will be used across multiple services. And while individuals cannot dictate their online reputation, they will, he believes, seek to gain more control over how they are used and by whom. "More and more people will want to have control of these assets," he says.
But consumers are unlikely to want to manage access to their digital reputation credentials themselves. This is where banks could come in, Peric argues. "There is a role for a trusted entity who can manage those assets for you.
Peric acknowledges that trust in banks is not at its highest at the moment, but says that "normally, banks are entities that you should trust with these things".
Start-ups in the banking sector are already making use of online reputations, Peric says. Last month, US-based Movenbank launched Cred, an assessment of an individual’s elligibility for financial services based not only on their financial behaviour but also their social networking profile.
But can the established banks transition into such a role? In principal, yes, says Peric. In practice, there are many hurdles – not least of which are their legacy IT systems, their current reputational problems, and whether or not they will take non-traditional opportunities like this seriously.
Still, Peric’s vision points to a broader role for the banking sector that may offer a way out of its current existential crisis.
Tech Tour Solutions
Konstantin Peric will be speaking on the future of money at Tech Tour Solutions, an event for technology investors, enterpreneurs and advisors. The conference takes place on 27 September 2012 at the Park Plaza Riverbank Hotel, London. For further information please visit the website.