What's Encouraging Blockchain R&D? Barclays, Citi and More Weigh In

At large incumbents, there is a balance in encouraging employees to work on ambitious moonshots while also achieving wins.

AccessTimeIconMay 3, 2016 at 4:33 p.m. UTC
Updated Mar 6, 2023 at 3:28 p.m. UTC

Large financial institutions missed the boat with the Internet and don't intend on making that same mistake again with the blockchain, panelists at Consensus 2016's "Internal Approaches for Blockchain Strategies" panel agreed today.

Yet, while they are definitely thinking about long-term implementations within their organizations, their focus is, by and large, on short term victories. This point was echoed by panel representatives from participants as diverse as global banking giant Deutsche Bank and healthcare leader Philips.

Scott Manuel, vice president and head of product management at Thomson Reuters, told the audience:

"Don’t lose the vision, but you really have to understand the nuts and bolts to make this what it can be."

Echoing that point, Jeremy Wilson, vice chairman of Barclays Corporate Banking, added: "There is stuff going on in the short term across our business, which may make it into the real big time. I think the longer-term issue is something we’re going to have to grapple with."

This was discussed this morning with a full panel that included Deutsche Bank's Ed Budd; Ian Lee of VC firm Citi Ventures; Scott Manuel of media conglomerate Thomson Reuters; Philips' Bart Suichies; and Jeremy Wilson of UK powerhouse banking firm Barclays.

Encouraging internal work

While many in the C-Suite may only be learning about this technology now, Wilson explained that as you move down the funnel, more people understand it.

"The people at the top have to say we think something is going on here, we are probably the last people to really understand the detail of this; it’s much more likely that lower down in our organization, there are people who get it," he explained.

But more importantly, he wanted to stress the importance of encouragement:

"What we have to do as leaders is establish the latitude of our businesses and people. It’s a simple message, whatever you do, support your people when they move in that direction."

Because of how widespread Philips is, it works with a steering committee with people from a wide variety of departments within the firm. Suichies explained that the ultimate goal is to get buy in from the entire company at all levels.

"[Our legal department] immediately grasped the possibilities," he said.

Building momentum

Talking about ideas and actually getting things done, though, is proving different, however, because there are not enough people who understand the technology yet, the panelists agreed.

"There is a premium on any engineer that puts blockchain in their resume," said Manuel.

He explained:

"We found we could take great engineers we had internally. It takes about four to six weeks to get their head around it in real code and rolling up their sleeves, but before you know it, you’ve created a strong cadre of individuals who can execute."

The incumbents recognized that while there are plenty of use cases, it's about finding the balance and giving freedom to innovate while also achieving success.

Suichies explained:

"I think that translates into you have to create a roadmap that has this aspiration goal on one hand, but the steps you take, they are the biggest small steps you can as to not alienate the people you are working with."

Ian Lee explained that finding the right project to work on can be half the battle, summing up the state of internal R&D.

He added: "It can be hard to find where in the organization this technology applies with a 10x improvement."

Photograph by Michael del Castillo


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