The inaugural head of the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) Innovation Hub’s London office has presented details of the centre’s first two projects.
Francesca Hopwood Road, who previously led the regulation technology (RegTech) and advanced analytics department at the UK Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), sets out the objectives of the two initiatives – ‘Project Meridian’ and ‘Project Rosalind’ – in a short BIS-produced video interview.
The Innovation Hub was established by Switzerland-headquartered BIS in 2019 to identify and develop insights into fintech trends, explore the development of tools to improve the functioning of the global financial system and become a focal point for central bank experts – its activities across its growing number of offices worldwide are closely watched by authorities eyeing the cutting-edge of fintech innovation.
The BIS Innovation Hub’s 2022 global work programme was presented a couple of months ago, including some detail of where the Bank of England-hosted centre – which was officially launched last year – would focus. Hopwood Road and the BIS website have now provided further insight into the four-strong London team’s projects, which sit within the Innovation Hub’s global sweetspot of retail central bank digital currencies (CBDCs) and payments innovation. These are “high demand” areas of interest for central banks globally, Hopwood Road says in the video.
The first project being undertaken in London aims to reduce the “sometimes significant time and cost” involved in settling payments by building a prototype ‘synchronisation operator’; the second is to build a prototype of an open application programming interface (API) to explore how it could best enable a central bank ledger to interact with private-sector service providers to safely distribute and settle retail CBDC payments.
Project Meridian and Project Rosalind
‘Many high-value transactions by households and businesses settle in real-time settlement systems [RTGS] – such as an individual buying a house or an investment fund buying some securities on a stock exchange. These are complex transactions that require significant co-ordination between counterparties, which can be timely and costly,’ the BIS website states in a description of Project Meridian.
This project will ‘develop a prototype synchronisation operator, an intermediary platform that connects counterparties and co-ordinates the settlement process directly in central bank money’, so as to enable final settlement to happen sooner, and more cheaply and seamlessly, BIS’s website explains.
Named after DNA pioneer Rosalind Franklin, the London hub’s API-focused second project will ‘also explore some of the functionalities required to enable a diverse and innovative set of use cases to be developed by the private sector,’ BIS states. ‘By exploring these elements, the project will seek to contribute knowledge about how best to lay the foundation for building a robust and vibrant ecosystem,’ it explains.
The projects will, Hopwood Road says in the video, involve collaboration with the private sector, academia, other central banks and the BIS Innovation Hub’s other centres in Switzerland, Singapore, Stockholm, Hong Kong, as well as soon-to-open centres in Toronto (Canada), Frankfurt and Paris (the latter two are a jointly hosted Eurosystem centre). Further London projects are expected to take in other areas within the Innovation Hub’s global workplan such as SupTech and RegTech, green finance and open finance.
BoE’s ‘critical role as an innovator’
The BIS Innovation Hub’s London team, physically located at Threadneedle Street, currently also comprises Chris Hackworth, who had previously been with the BoE for more than 17 years; Eryk Walczak, who had been with the BoE more than five years; and Amy Jiang, who is also ex-BoE and has also worked in the private sector for State Street and HSBC. Hopwood Road plans to grow the team.
The Innovation Hub is currently being overseen on a global basis by an interim head, Ross Leckow. BIS is in the throes of appointing a successor for Benoît Cœuré, who left earlier this year to become president of the Autorité de la concurrence, France’s competition watchdog.
“The BIS, together with its partners, is taking a leading role in co-ordinating the work of central banks on technological innovation in the financial sector to pave the way for the future of central banking,” BIS general manager Agustín Carstens states on the BIS website. “This new centre in London reflects the Bank of England’s critical role as an innovator in responding to the challenges and opportunities of the digital world while safeguarding financial stability.”
BoE governor Andrew Bailey said: “As a central bank, we recognise the importance of innovation for the global financial system and look to support its safe deployment wherever possible. This requires collaboration between public authorities in all jurisdictions, and the BIS Innovation Hub is an important global initiative for achieving this.”
‘BIS Innovation Hub reveals 2022 workplan’ – our news story (25 January 2022) on the presentation of this year’s Innovation Hub programme, with CBDCs and payments systems the most frequently occurring topics
‘Auer appointed first head of BIS Innovation Hub Eurosystem centre’ – our news story (6 January 2022) on Raphael Auer, currently principal economist for innovation and digital economy in BIS’s monetary and economic department, being named inaugural head of the soon-to-open Eurosystem centre
‘BIS Innovation Hub Eurosystem centre focus to include cybersecurity and green finance’ – our news story (10 December 2021) on the ‘BIS Innovation Hub Eurosystem Centre: Setting the Stage’ event
‘BIS Innovation Hub centres open in Sweden and UK’ – our news story (16 June 2021) on the opening of the Nordic centre and Bank of England-hosted centre