Living abroad, with tokens

digital wallet app on smartphone

Living abroad, with tokens.

I have just completed a three-month stint building our business in Australia, and expect to return for a similar period in the near future. How were payments, for me? The first thing to note (to coin a phrase) is that I used no cash whatsoever and don’t recall seeing anyone else either. All retail payments, including transport payments (don’t knock commuting if you’ve never travelled to work on the Manly ferry), were via my Apple Watch, so no PINs, either. (Australia is online PIN, so if you do use an old-fashioned card, you’re unlikely to ever have to insert it into a reader.)

Of course, virtual cards, as wielded by (for example) Apple Pay and Google Pay, present tokens (Device PANs) as an alias for the Primary Account Number (PAN). This ensures that the issuer is able to block fraudulent transactions that could present the Device PAN from somewhere other than the relevant wallet (for example, during a standard e-commerce checkout).

Living and working abroad for three months requires payments for things beyond the usual touristic or business travel items—for example, rent and utility bills. Credit cards are not particularly well suited to many of these payments, with the requirement for recurring (and, sometimes, variable) payments, returnable deposits and so forth. Further, in Australia, it is standard practice for credit card payments for these kind of transactions to attract hefty surcharges. And, of course, forex charges and spreads apply.

What would have been better, would have been to have an Australian bank account and use all the domestic money transfer facilities. The trouble was, I didn’t have much idea of eligibility criteria (such as long-term residency) or how long KYC checks would take (especially without an Australian Tax File Number or driving licence, etc). Fortunately, there is a partial solution.

A number of fintechs (I used Wise) enable you to set up an account in your home country and then create (or have created, automatically) linked accounts in many other countries. Thus, I acquired an Australian BSB (Bank-State-Branch, equivalent to UK Sort Code or US/CAN Routing Number) and Account Number, exactly as any long-term resident.

In essence, the BSB/Account Number combination is a token representing my (UK-based) relationship with Wise. Just like a Device PAN, it enables a class of transactions, using a convenient digital representation; and also limits the scope of transactions; e.g. preventing anyone misusing the token from raiding my Sterling or US dollar funds.

One current limitation is that I cannot use the Australian bank details to set up a further level of indirection, that is, to use an Australian PayID, which would enable me to use a convenient handle, such as my mobile number, in place of hard-to-remember bank details (and, in fact, enable account portability). As well as providing more convenience, like other forms of token, this improves security, by making it less likely that someone impersonating me, and requesting payment, can pass off bank details which they control.

It would be nice to go one further step, which would be to use PayTo, the service set up by Australian Payments Plus, using the New Payments Platform (NPP), to manage payment relationships via mobile apps provided by banks and fintechs. I hope Wise (and others) are working on that. Then, a digital nomad could truly fit in!

Finally, a related grouch: I was frustrated, on a number of occasions, by useful apps not being available to people, demonstrably present in the relevant country, with an Apple ID associated with a different country. One example was my mobile provider; the obvious way to top up an account would be via their app, on a phone carrying their SIM, one would have thought. It was not to be, unfortunately. The same issue occurred with a government app and a newspaper app. Conceivably, I could have created an additional Apple ID or temporarily changed my residence details on the existing Apple ID. You’ve got to me braver than me to do that!

CBDC’s – wallets, liability and acceptance

illuminated cityscape against blue sky at night

CBDCs are everywhere – and nowhere. Everyone is discussing them, but almost no one is actually deploying them. Sure, this is in part due to the early stage thinking that is going into working out what is actually required but it’s also due to the tricky business of actually working out how they would be implemented. Developing a retail payment solution is a lot harder than creating a Central Bank backed payment instrument.

New Features Greet Riders As They Return to Transit

people walking on train station

Everyone seems to think that MaaS (Mobility-as-a-Service) is a brand-new business model, when in fact, Transit Agencies have been providing mobility as a service for years, just without the hyphens. When I ride transit I just pay for the service when I need it or purchase a monthly pass if I expect to use it regularly. This is similar to the “as-a-Service” model that has been popularized by software companies who moved away from the license model where users pay a one-time fee to purchase the software. They now offer a subscription model where users pay a recurring fee to use the software. I’ve ridden transit for many years and have never had to buy a bus or train. Sounds like Mobility-as-a-Service to me.

Can Current Technology Deliver Secure Mobile Voting Solutions?

red check mark over black box

Insecure technology is regularly cited as barrier to the use of online voting systems, in particular when casting your vote through your mobile phone, rather than putting your cross on a piece of paper and putting in a box at the polling station or mail box. At the same time those detractors trust the same mobile technology to place stock trades, initiate high value payments and more recently accessing their health records.

Be on the smart side of the Great Reset

planet earth

The human society is now at crossroads – demanding changes in our lifestyle, health choices, economics, and civil liberties. These changes are accelerated by climate change, political response to the pandemic, the need for racial and gender equality, human migration, and of course, a few break-through technologies such as digital automation, data analytics, and machine-learning (AI). So where are we heading? The call for “Great Reset” has been reverberating since the past few years and is now getting louder and louder. This was the topic of the virtual fireside chat by two visionaries on our Tomorrow’s Transactions webinar, Brett King and Dave Birch, discussing the societal and technological changes that are foreseen in the next few decades. This conversation was centered around Brett King’s (Richard Petty, co-author) book, “The Rise of Technosocialism and aligns with Consult Hyperion’s engagement with think tanks on global issues.  Our aim to is separate foresight and facts from fiction in trying to understand the trends in the market that our clients should watch-out for especially in payments, banking, transit, digital identity, and information security.

Will 2022 start to drive the future of Interoperability and Inclusion?

close up shot of a calendar

Our overriding theme of this year’s Live5 is interoperability which will lead to inclusion. Whether this is in payments or transit, identity or as a generalised trend what we’re seeing is a collapsing of the barriers between silos. In some areas this is happening more quickly than in others.

The Role of Technical Due Diligence in Investment Cycles

people discuss about graphs and rates

Have you noticed that some of the best attended events at conferences recently are the investment panels, populated by canny investors talking about where they are currently placing their funds? And so this was the case with Consult Hyperion’s recent webinar The Role of Due Diligence in Investment Cycles, featuring Jonathan Luff Co-Founder of CyLon, Europe’s leading investor in pre-seed and seed stage cyber and security technology startups. Howard Hall, Managing Director of Consult Hyperion North America, and Gary Munro, Technical Director Consult Hyperion and Dave Birch our Global Ambassador, who moderated the discussion.

Will the UK identity framework support decentralised identity?

question mark on paper crafts

In our Live 5 for 2021, we said that governance would be a major topic for digital identity this year. Nowhere has this been more true than in the UK, where the government has been diligently working with a wide set of stakeholders to develop its digital identity and attribute trust framework – the rules of road for digital identity in the UK. The work continues but with the publication of the second iteration of the framework I thought it would be helpful to focus on one particular aspect – how might the framework apply to decentralised identity, given that is the direction of travel in the industry.

The changing face of payments

person paying using a bank card

EMV is at the heart of global payment card processing. As a specification it governs the processing of billions of transactions globally, with the vast majority of those flowing through the international payment schemes. As a technology it has been incredibly successful, reducing fraud levels everywhere it’s been introduced and its extension into contactless payments is now the fastest growing area of face-to-face payments. The idea that EMV might soon be obsolescent seems far-fetched, to put it mildly, but there are reasons to believe that its hegemony is under threat.

Ambient accountability as a narrative for the blockchain

The fintech flavour of the month is the blockchain. This is an amazing new technology that will completely revolutionise our entire industry and make the world a better place.

“Blockchain, as the digital ledger, will heavily impact the way we do business in the financial services industry” [Oliver Bussmann, CIO of UBS]
[From CIO says blockchain ‘will heavily impact’ financial services | CIO]

The article is not specific as to how the blockchain will heavily impact financial services, but I’m sure Oliver is barking up the right tree and, while I haven’t spoken to him about this, I imagine that he means some form of shared private ledger rather than the Bitcoin blockchain. The super smart Vitalik Buterin, who some of you will have met at our annual Tomorrow’s Transactions Forum this year, wrote about this on the Ethereum blog a while ago.

…there is good reason for the focus on consortium over private: the fundamental value of blockchains in a fully private context, aside from the replicated state machine functionality, is cryptographic authentication, and there is no reason to believe that the optimal format of such authentication provision should consist of a series of hash-linked data packets containing Merkle tree roots

[From On Public and Private Blockchains – Ethereum Blog]

He must be correct. For most of the businesses that I am interested in (i.e., the ones who pay Consult Hyperion money for services rendered) the use of what Vitalik calls a “consortium” blockchain, or what I referred to as an open private replicated decentralised shared ledger at NextBank in Barcelona, is the way forward but it is far too early to say exactly how that ledger should work and anyone that says they know otherwise should be treated with some suspicion.

Note that by creating privately administered smart contracts on public blockchains, or cross-chain exchange layers between public and private blockchains, one can achieve many kinds of hybrid combinations of these properties. The solution that is optimal for a particular industry depends very heavily on what your exact industry is.

[From On Public and Private Blockchains – Ethereum Blog]

Indeed. And we don’t yet know what is optimal for our industry. We can all agree that the use of shared ledgers, of which the blockchain is an example, is going to transform financial services. But why? Well, in an absolutely brilliant King’s Review piece about the relationship between the use of ledgers, the law and enterprise, Quinn DuPoint and Bill Maurer make explicit the relationship between the technology, the private maintenance of the technology and the public use of the technology. They go on to say that:

Blockchain systems occasion a reconsideration of two of the central legal devices of modernity: the ledger and the contract.

[From Ledgers and Law in the Blockchain | King’s Review – Magazine]

This insight around private maintenance and public use is critical to the development of a narrative around the blockchain that can help engineers, investors, businesses and regulators to construct a paradigm for the use of the blockchain in financial services. This is what Richard Brown, Sally Parulava and I argue in a paper called “Toward Ambient Accountability: Shared ledgers, glass banks and the legacy of the great financial crisis” that is in draft at present but that we will be sharing soon.

More than the robustness of shared ledgers or their potential for innovation, for the financial services the ability of technology to deliver “translucency” through cryptography is (I am convinced) far more radical than it seems at first and there are plenty of reasons to believe that building glass institutions around replicated shared ledgers is the first step to a new kind of financial system. I’m spoke about this at NextBank Barcelona today (you can see my slides here at Slideshare), and was interested to see the feedback from the pretty well-informed folk there.


If my suspicion is correct, and transparency is more important than computational efficiency then we are at the dawn of a new era and ambient accountability might be the real technology legacy of the last financial crisis.


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