App review: Toutiao

Fig. 1 – Screenshot of www.toutiao.com/ homepage 

When I first heard about Toutiaou I thought it might be just another news app, this coming one from China. I learned, however, very quickly that Toutiaou is much more than just a news app; at the time of writing, Toutiao has more than 700 million users in total, with ore than 78 million users reading over 1.3 billion articles on a daily basis.

Toutiao, known officially as Jinri Toutiao, which means “Today’s Headlines”, has a large part of its rapid rise to its ability to provide its users with a highly personalised news feed. Toutiao is a mobile platform that use machine learning algorithms to recommend content to its users, based on previous content accessed by users and their interaction with the content (see Fig. 2).

Fig. 2 – Screenshot of Toutiao iOS app

I identified a number of elements that contribute to Toutiao’s success:

  1. AI and machine learning – Toutiao’s flagship value proposition to its users, having its own dedicated AI Lab in order to constantly further the development of the AI technology that underpins its platform. Toutiao’s algorithms learn from the types of content its users interact with and the way(s) in which they interact with this content. Given that Toutiao users spend on average 76 minutes per day on the app, there’s a wealth of data for Toutiao’s algorithms to learn form and to base personalisations on.
  2. Variety of content types to choose from – Toutiao enables its users to upload short videos, and Toutiao’s algorithms of will recommend selected videos to appropriate users (see Fig. 3). Last year, Ivideos on Toutiao were played 1.5 billion times per day, making Toutiao China’s largest short video platform. Users can also upload pictures, similar to Instagram or Facebook, users can share their pictures, with other users being abel to like or comment on this content (see Fig. 4).
  3. Third party integrations – Toutiao has got strategic partnerships in place with the likes of WeChat, a highly popular messaging app (see Fig. 5), and jd.com, a local online marketplace. It’s easy to see how Toutiao is following an approach whereby they’re inserting their news feed into a user’s broader ecosystem.

Main learning point: I was amazed by the scale at which Toutiao operate and the levels at which its users interact with the app. We often talk about the likes of Netflix and Spotify when it comes to personalised recommendations, but with the amount of data that Toutiao gathers, I can they can create a highly tailored content experience for their users.

Fig. 3 – Screenshot of video section on Toutiao iOS app 

Fig. 4 – Screenshot of user generated content feed on Toutiao iOS app

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Fig. 5 – Screenshot of Toutiao and WeChat integration on Toutiao iOS app

Related links for further learning:

  1. https://www.toutiao.com/
  2. https://www.crunchbase.com/organization/toutiao#/entity
  3. http://technode.com/2017/06/05/podcast-analyse-asia-187-toutiao-with-matthew-brennan/
  4. https://www.technologyreview.com/s/603351/the-insanely-popular-chinese-news-app-that-youve-never-heard-of/
  5. https://www.forbes.com/sites/ywang/2017/05/26/jinri-toutiao-how-chinas-11-billion-news-aggregator-is-no-fake/#24d401d64d8a
  6. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toutiao
  7. http://lab.toutiao.com/
  8. https://www.liftigniter.com/toutiao-making-headlines-machine-learning/
  9. https://techcrunch.com/2017/02/01/chinese-news-reading-app-toutiao-acquires-flipagram/
  10. https://lotusruan.wordpress.com/2016/03/20/cant-beat-giant-companies-on-wechatweibo-try-toutiao/
  11. https://www.chinainternetwatch.com/tag/toutiao/

 

 

 

How PSD2 is set to change banking up as we know it …

Fig. 1 – A prophetic vision by Bill Gates!? – Taken from: https://www.slideshare.net/patrickpijl/how-square-is-disrupting-banks/6-Bill_GatesBANKING_ISNECESSARYBANKS_ARENOT

“Banking is necessary.  Banks are not.”  Yep. Bill Gates said it. Back in 1994. And 28 years later, it’s it’s set to become reality. From the 1st January 2018, banking will no longer be the exclusive domain of banking institutions because PSD2 is going to drastically alter the way in which we bank.

The biggest consequence is that more than 4,000 European banks will need to open their legacy (mainframe) data stores to Third Party Players (‘TPPs’) and allow them to retrieve account information (‘AIS’) or initiate payments (‘PIS’). Both capabilities will be facilitated through APIs. I wrote about the scope and ramifications of PSD2 a few months ago, and I’ve been thinking ever since about the implications for existing banks and whether they’ve got reason to be scared.

It would be surprising if some of the traditional banks weren’t nervous about the extent to which they’ll have to open their kimonos under PSD2. And even if the Facebooks, Googles or Amazons of this world don’t become banks overnight, I expect the traditional, lifelong bank-customer relationship to slowly evaporate as a result of PSD2 (and subsequent versions of PSD).

Fig. 2 – PwC: PSD2 providing third party access to data and payments via APIs – Taken from: https://www.finextra.com/finextra-downloads/newsdocs/catalyst-or-threat.pdf

Facebook could easily decide to become an AISP (Account Information Service Provider – see Fig. 2 above), which would enable them to offer an aggregated view of a user’s bank accounts. As a result, they would be able to analyse spending behaviour, understand their users’ financial profiles and personalise a user’s banking experience. This isn’t that revolutionary, as virtual assistants like Cleo and Treefin have already starting offering this functionality, and I believe it’s highly likely that we’ll see it roll out across Facebook Messenger or WeChat in the near future. If you need more convincing, Facebook made their first move two years ago by appointing David Marcus, former CEO of PayPal, to head up Facebook Messenger, so watch this space. Similarly, US bank Capital One integrated with Amazon’s virtual assistant Alexa last year. This integration enables Capital One customers to pay their credit card bills and check their balances, by talking to their Alexa devices.

Fig. 3 – PwC: Six API-powered banking business models – Taken from: https://www.finextra.com/finextra-downloads/newsdocs/catalyst-or-threat.pdf

In addition, any remaining doubters about the power of APIs are likely to be converted as a result of PSD2. In the current Fintech landscape, there already are large number of banks that are either using APIs to hook into existing banking infrastructures (e.g. Varo Money) or offer additional services (e.g. N26). PwC recently conducted a study into the strategic implications of PSD2 for European banks and they listed no less than six API-powered banking business models (see Fig. 3 above).

Main learning point: It will be interesting to see what the actual impact of PSD2 will be, but if I were a traditional European bank, I’d be working as hard as I could to open up my APIs from today and start working on the creation of strong alliances with 3rd parties and their developers. As Nas once rapped on “N.Y. State Of Mind”, “I never sleep cause sleep is the cousin of the death.” If I were a traditional bank I’d follow Nas’ advice and give up on sleep completely …

Nas, lyric on “N.Y. State of Mind (Illmatic, 1994) – Taken from: https://uk.pinterest.com/MrConceptz/hiphop-101/

 

Related links for further learning:

  1. https://www.finextra.com/blogposting/14101/psd2-is-fast-approaching-dont-bury-your-head-in-the-sand
  2. https://www.finextra.com/videoarticle/1469/data-is-a-key-legal-issue-for-open-banking
  3. https://techcrunch.com/2017/01/12/what-facebooks-european-payment-license-could-mean-for-banks/
  4. http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/apple-facebook-amazon-primed-psd2-demolition-card-networks-1606188
  5. https://www.siliconrepublic.com/enterprise/fintech-banking-psd2
  6. http://www.bankingtech.com/675841/psd2-and-the-future-of-payments/
  7. https://www.evry.com/en/news/articles/psd2-the-directive-that-will-change-banking-as-we-know-it/
  8. http://www.sepaforcorporates.com/single-euro-payments-area/5-things-need-know-psd2-payment-services-directive/
  9. https://techcrunch.com/2015/07/12/the-future-of-finance-is-in-real-time/
  10. https://www.finextra.com/finextra-downloads/newsdocs/catalyst-or-threat.pdf
  11. http://www.pymnts.com/news/b2b-payments/2015/task-force-launches-eu-instant-payment-plan/.VYpo1rnhBTI
  12. https://venturebeat.com/2016/06/05/say-hello-to-messenger-banking/
  13. https://www.finextra.com/newsarticle/28602/capital-one-integrates-with-amazon-alexa-for-voice-powered-payments

 

App review: Grip

 

Grip is a London based startup that specialises in “smart event networking software”. That sounds like a relevant problem to solve, because don’t we all have a (secret) love-hate relationship with ‘networking’ at events!?

Yes, I’d love to meet with interesting people at events but I hate approaching people randomly.

Let’s have a closer look at how Grip is looking to solve this problem:

My quick summary of Grip (before using it) – I expect an app that uses clever algorithms to suggest relevant people to meet during events.

How does Grip explain itself in the first minute? – The Grip homepage describes the tedium involved in networking at events, with attendees often failing to make the connections they’d hoped for. Grip’s value proposition is to remove this tedium by unlocking “valuable connections at your event, saving attendees time and hard work. We use advanced algorithms to recommend the right people and present them in an easy swiping interface that your attendees will love.”

Getting started, what’s the process like? – Grip uses natural language processing to connect event attendees based on interest, needs and other things they’ve got in common. I liked Grip’s ability to tell an attendee not just who, but also why they should meet someone, in the form of Reasons To Meet.

Grip users will be able to tailor the real-time recommendations they get by setting their own matchmaking rules. I like the element of Grip not totally relying on machine learning, but also giving users the opportunity to feed their preferences into category rules into the Grip dashboard. This will influence the matchmaking engine in real-time and improve the future recommendations for event exhibitors, delegates and sponsors.

I can imagine that the data around users’ acceptance or rejection of Grip’s suggested matches, will help in further refining the app’s recommendations. This reminded me about the review that I did of THEO recently. THEO acts a ‘robo-advisor’ and uses machine learning to provide its users tailored investment advice.

Integrating the Grip API – Apart from the app, Grip have also got their own API, which makes it easier for companies to incorporate event matchmaking capability into their website or apps.

Main learning point: Grip is taking a significant problem for event attendees and exhibitors, and is using machine learning to solve this problem in a real-time and personalised fashion.

Related links for further learning:

  1. https://grip.events/handsake-event-networking/
  2. https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/blog/event-tech-adoption-at-events-ds00/
  3. https://grip.events/ai-event-matchmaking/
  4. https://grip.events/7-secrets-game-changing-event-networking/
  5. http://event-profs.com/world-first-artificially-intelligent-event-technology/
  6. https://marcabraham.com/2017/04/19/app-review-theo/
  7. https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/blog/event-tech-startups-2017-ds00/

 

App review: Vipps

I’m always on the lookout for new payment apps and I recently came across Vipps. Vipps is a Norwegian peer to peer payments app, currently only available to Norwegian users.

Fig. 1 – Screenshot of Vipps – Taken from: https://www.vipps.no/

These are the main things I’ve learned about Vipps:

  1. Use the recipient’s mobile number – Similar to the way the likes of Monzo and Uber work, with the Vipps app all you need is the mobile number of the recipient. If you need to send money to someone else, your friend needs to download the Vipps app and the amount will be sent to his/her account registered with Vipps. Select the person you want to pay from your phone’s contact list or enter their mobile number.
  2. Use Vipps to split bills – For example, when you’re eating out with a group of friends, you can ask your friends for money when splitting the bill. Create a group name – e.g. Nando’s on Friday – and add the names of the group members. Now people in your group can enter all expenses that are to be shared between the group members. Once all the amounts have been entered and everyone has confirmed that there are no more outlays, it is easy to see who owes what.
  3. Personal account registered with Vipps – Vipps doesn’t have it’s own current account. Instead, users can send money through Vipps from any Norwegian bank, provided that they have a bank debit card and a bank account with the bank in question.
  4. Getting started with Vipps – To be able to use Vipps, users need to enter a Norwegian national identity number, a Norwegian mobile number, the details of their payment card (Visa or MasterCard), their Norwegian bank account number and an email address. Once you’ve created a four digit code, you can start paying or receiving money. When logging into Vipps, you can use your personal code or Touch ID.
  5. Vipps’ charges – Vipps doesn’t charge for amounts below NOK 5 000. For payments of NOK 5 000 or above, the charge is 1 per cent of the total amount. There is no charge for receiving money.

Main learning point: Love how apps like Vipps are making it easier and easier for people to pay and receive money. The splitting bills functionality is very welcome!

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Fig. 2 – Vipps’ peer-to-peer payments – Taken from: http://anti.as/news/vipps-by-dnb

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Fig. 3 – Screenshot of Vipps’ Android app; making a payment – Taken from: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=no.dnb.vipps

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Fig. 4 – Screenshot of Vipps’ iOSapp; selecting a contact or a company that you want to pay – Taken from: https://www.appannie.com/en/apps/ios/app/vipps-by-dnb/

Related links for further learning:

  1. https://www.vipps.no/
  2. https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/vipps-by-dnb/id984380185?mt=8
  3. https://www.finextra.com/newsarticle/30131/dnb-spins-off-vipps-mobile-payment-service
  4. http://anti.as/projects/vipps-by-dnb
  5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vipps
  6. http://www.lifeinnorway.net/living/money/mobile-payments/
  7. https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=no.dnb.vipps&hl=en_GB
  8. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Mx5lsfs2d0
  9. https://www.vipps.no/vilkar.html
  10. https://www.microsoft.com/en-gb/store/p/vipps-by-dnb/9nblgggz9jv1

App review: THEO

Fig. 1 – Screenshot of THEO – Taken from: http://fintechnews.sg/3137/roboadvisor/robo-advisory-services-asia/

I recently came across THEO, a mobile, Japanese investment service offered by Money Design. THEO acts as a ‘robo-advisor’; enabling users to invest using their smartphone, and applying machine-based learning to offer users investment suggestions. The service allows users to start investment from 100,000 JPY. By answering nine questions (see Fig. 2 below), Money Design’s proprietary robo-advisor’s algorithm selects an optimum combination from about 6,000 Exchange-Traded Funds (‘ETFs’) in about two minutes and provides discretionary investment management to the user.

Fig. 2 – Screenshot of questions asked to THEO users to create their investment profile 

The user’s answers will trigger THEO’s underlying algorithms to deliver the most optimal money management plan for the user (see Fig. 3). At this point, we’ll need to consider the artificial intelligence aspect of THEO. This is where the accuracy of the proposed plan, as generated by THEO’s algorithms, comes into play (see Fig. 3 below). As one Japanese investor commented: “I am an aggressive investor with a long timescale so I was surprised to see how conservative the allocation ended up.”

 

Fig, 3 – Screenshot of sample diagnosis results based on answering THEO’s questions

Main learning point: The key point with apps like THEO is going to be the accuracy and personal fit of the investment plan its algorithms will suggest to investors. I wonder whether any manual ‘tweaking’ is involved in assessing investment profiles and subsequent recommendations.

Related links for further learning:

  1. http://jftoday.com/THEO,+the+robo-advisory+investment+app,+exceeds+5,000+users+for+100days/
  2. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-07-12/hedge-fund-founder-turns-robo-adviser-for-japan-s-cash-hoarders
  3. http://fintechnews.sg/3137/roboadvisor/robo-advisory-services-asia/
  4. http://www.retirejapan.info/blog/japan-robo-advisor-theo
  5. https://theo.blue/
  6. http://www.investopedia.com/terms/e/etf.asp
  7. http://fintechnews.sg/3137/roboadvisor/robo-advisory-services-asia/
  8. http://www.theasianbanker.com/updates-and-articles/robo-advisors-poised-to-take-off
  9. http://uk.reuters.com/article/us-china-wealth-roboadvisors-idUKKCN10S2GT
  10. http://finovate.com/drivewealth-brings-robo-advisory-china-new-partnership-creditease/
  11. https://medium.com/@Mosaic_VC/trust-in-a-robo-advisor-world-62397cbe75fe
  12. http://www.wired.co.uk/article/how-ai-is-transforming-the-future-of-fintech
  13. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Artificial_intelligence

App review: Tide

How did Tide come to my attention? – I vaguely recall receiving an email from Tide a while ago about signing up for Tide, and a chance to learn about this new service before launch.

My quick summary of Tide (before using it)? – I expect a bank account exclusively geared towards to small to medium size businesses. A bit like Varo Money or Simple, but aimed at SMEs.

How does Tide explain itself in the first minute? – When I googled Tide, the top search result has “the Business Current Account that saves you time …” as its byline (see Fig. 1).

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Fig. 1 – Screenshot of top search result for Tide Banking

When I then go to Tide’s website, the homepage’s key messaging explains how Tide provide a small business current account (see Fig. 2). Speed and costs are the main things I take away from looking at Tide’s homepage at a first glance. I’m immediately intrigued to learn more about Tide’s “powerful tools that save you time and money.” This perception is reinforced by a “Sign up in 5 minutes” call to action button, just below the fold on Tide’s homepage.

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Fig. 2 – Screenshot of the homepage of https://www.tide.co/

Getting started, what’s the process like? – I click on the “Sign up in 5 minutes” button and a popup appears, telling me that Tide is available on Google and Android (see Fig. 3). I (wrongly) assumed that Tide’s services would also be available on my desktop, but I’m happy to go the App Store and download the Tide app.

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Fig. 3 – Screenshot of Tide’s popup message, directing me to Google Play and the App Store to start creating a Tide account

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Fig. 5 – Screenshot of the opening screen of the Tide iOS app

I click on the “Get started” button and land on a delightful screen that shows me upfront what I need to open a Tide account. I like how the app informs me upfront of the documents and information I need to open a Tide account (see Fig. 6). As a user, there’s nothing more infuriating than starting the account creation process and learning halfway through that I don’t have the right documents.

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Fig. 5 – Screenshot of the second screen of the Tide iOS app

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I use the camera to take a picture of my driving license. Doing this makes me realise again how my passport is still registered to my old address, and I wonder if and how that’s going to impact my application for a Tide account.
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Clearly, something isn’t right and I see a popup message which explains how Tide was unable to verify my details automatically. I now expect a phone call or an email from Tide about my identity verification. The good thing is that I can still continue with the account creation process, by simply clicking on the “Continue” button.

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The bit where Tide links to Companies House feels very seamless and it automatically picks up my company.

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This is the point where I hit a spanner in the works as the app doesn’t seem to accept the security photo that I’ve taken of myself. There’s a circular type button which enables me to take my picture again … and again … and again. Meanwhile, I’m unclear as to what I’m doing wrong and there’s no tooltip to explain what I need to ensure my picture meets Tide’s criteria. Clicking on the “next” button in the top right hand corner of the screen doesn’t help unfortunately, so I feel a bit stuck here.

After contacting Tide, the issue gets resolved and I continue the onboarding process. “Terms And Conditions” is the next step I’m presented with. The calls to action are clear and I like how I can easily read through Tide’s “Member Terms” and “Account Agreement” if I wish to.

 

After clicking both tick boxes, I receive a notification stating that my account has been opened, but that Tide needs to do some extra checks before creating a sort code and account number for me. I suspect this is due the fact that my driving license is still registered to my old address and doesn’t correspond with my company address.

The additional checks get carried out pretty swiftly and I can see a confirmation screen within the app, containing my account number, sort code and balance.

 

Did Tide deliver on my expectations? – Yes, apart from the issue with my security photo, onboarding with Tide felt intuitive for the most part. I believe that the app and the overall user experience would benefit from some simple tooltips (e.g. when submitting security details) to further simplify things.

 

 

Cobalt uses Blockchain tech to process FX trades

It was around this time last year when I first started looking into blockchain technology and its capabilities. Even though blockchain technology was initially developed to accommodate Bitcoin transactions, my personal interest has been much more in its potential to act as “shared ledgers” for a wide variety of transactions or ‘contracts’ (see Fig. 1-2 below):

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Fig. 1 – High level outline of smart contracts via shared ledgers – Taken from: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/492972/gs-16-1-distributed-ledger-technology.pdf

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Fig. 2 – High level outline of distributed ledger technology – Taken from: http://www.thegeniusworks.com/2016/02/blockchain-from-geeky-bitcoin-technology-to-a-revolution-in-everyday-processes/

In the past year, I’ve seen a lot of initiatives and companies pop up in the shared ledger space. I’ve looked at the likes of Abra, Ripple and R3. London based Fintech startup Cobalt is another promising player in the shared ledger arena. Andy Coyne, Cobalt’s Co-Founder and CEO, explains the problems that Cobalt is looking to solve:

“The speed at which trades are executed between participants across every corner of the globe has altered on a scale that previously seemed unimaginable, while competitiveness has increased and costs related to market access and execution have shrunk.

In contrast with execution technology, associated post-trade infrastructure has failed to keep pace. Legacy systems and practises being used to support these processes have changed little since their inception; they are now so inefficient and unfit for purpose that they introduce risk and unnecessary cost, having a serious impact on trading institutions’ profitability. This comes at a time when there is a move away from revenue to a real focus on true profitability.

The root cause is a glaring mismatch, where back office processes that evolved to support profitable voice and proprietary trading of 25 years ago are failing to support high volume, low margin electronic trading.

This is exemplified by the huge degree of unnecessary replication. A single transaction executed in today’s trading environment creates multiple records for buyer, seller, broker, clearer and third parties, introducing inconsistencies throughout lifecycle events such as affirmation, netting, allocations and confirmation, through to trade finality and nostro reconciliation. This hugely increases the probability of creating discrepancies, caused by multiple system hand-offs, normalisation and reconciliations. High frequency trading firms are particularly vulnerable, incurring huge costs for high volumes of low value tickets.”

Fig. 3 – Andy Coyne, Co-Founder and CEO of Cobalt on his company’s mission – Taken from: http://www.cobaltdl.com/blockchain/

In short, Cobalt are trying to remove any inefficiencies and unnecessary (operational) costs or risks related to the processing of foreign exchange (‘FX’) trades. Using the blockchain and its shared ledger functionality, Cobalt aims to simplify the way in which foreign exchange transactions are being processed. Instead of creating multiple records for one and the same transaction, Colbalt creates a single view. It this thus looks to significantly reduce the number of system hand-offs and reconciliations for one transaction, typically inherent in current processing of FX trades by legacy systems.

Cobalt’s focus is predominantly on the “post-trade” phase, and the risks and costs currently associated with this phase (see Fig. 4 below):

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Fig. 4 – Potential benefits of Blockchain for capital markets – Taken from: http://www.oliverwyman.com/content/dam/oliver-wyman/global/en/2016/feb/BlockChain-In-Capital-Markets.pdf

Main learning point: By providing a single view of a transaction between multiple parties, Cobalt aims to significantly increase the transparency of FX trades and remove complex back-end systems and processes i.e. banking legacy systems.

 

Related links for further learning:

  1. http://www.reuters.com/article/us-banks-forex-blockchain-citigroup-idUSKBN14413A
  2. http://uk.businessinsider.com/citi-invests-in-foreign-exchange-blockchain-startup-cobalt-dl-2016-12
  3. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/492972/gs-16-1-distributed-ledger-technology.pdf
  4. http://www.chyp.com/sharing-ledgers/
  5. http://www.thegeniusworks.com/2016/02/blockchain-from-geeky-bitcoin-technology-to-a-revolution-in-everyday-processes/
  6. http://www.cobaltdl.com/blockchain/
  7. http://www.fxweek.com/fx-week/news/2475678/first-commercial-dl-solution-to-handle-14bn-daily-transactions
  8. http://financefeeds.com/this-is-not-a-noise-this-is-serious/
  9. http://cobaltdl.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/Blockchain.pdf
  10. http://www.oliverwyman.com/content/dam/oliver-wyman/global/en/2016/feb/BlockChain-In-Capital-Markets.pdf