A lot has changed in the world of finance since Bank al Etihad’s founding in 1978. The bank has been servicing consumers and businesses in Jordan for more than 40 years, providing loans, credit and investment services, savings accounts and more. As with all financial institutions, traditionally these services have come with a mountain of paperwork and documentation.
Document authentication in an analog world has long been reliant on physical signatures, visual verification and rubber stamping, translating into potentially heavy workloads for bank employees, and long waits for bank customers. However, simply digitalizing documentation isn’t enough. While physical authentication is inefficient, digital authentication also has drawbacks.
“It involves its own set of security challenges: namely, that centralized data servers can be hacked, and customers’ information exposed,” explains Amer Abulaila, chief technology officer at Bank al Etihad. These potential security issues have resulted in a lack of adoption for many banks, he says. “Even as the digital landscape has ballooned, and we’ve become more reliant on digital services and the freeflow of data, many banks still rely on the tried-and-tested physical authentication methods.”
Seeing the need to modernize while keeping customer information safe, Bank al Etihad turned to Amazon Web Services to help implement Cronica.io, an application that is based on blockchain distributed ledger technology and designed to streamline document processing.
Blockchain, cloud use grows in Middle East
Though adoption of blockchain technology has lagged in the Middle East, more and more MENA governments are backing blockchain initiatives to address national issues. Middle East blockchain startups, often backed by government funding, are also testing the technology in a variety of industry vertical markets. There are a variety of approaches to deploying blockchain, and enterprises have a choice among major public cloud providers — vendors including Microsoft, AWS, IBM and Oracle now have data centres in the Middle East.
Bank al Etihad began to work with AWS in 2017, adopting a devops rapid development process in a bid to modernize their traditional banking systems and streamline processes like document authentication that had become time consuming and costly.
“We’re living in a digitally connected world. In this world, physical authentication methods — which include manual stamping of documents — no longer make sense. They’re antiquated, inefficient and, more importantly, a risk to data security,” Abulaila says.
Cronica.io secures documents by separating the document data from its readable format, such as a PDF and storing it on the blockchain. Those with the requisite document ID are able to access the document and verify its authenticity.
Blockchain streamlines document processing
“Blockchain technology allows us to do what other digital authentication methods have failed to do – provide a reliable way for banks and their customers to securely issue and verify critical documents from any location,” Abulaila says.
Legacy systems and processes can often become roadblocks when implementing new technology. With that in mind, Bank al Etihad decided to take a new approach to document authentication. The bank used Amazon Relational Database Service, and Amazon Elasticsearch Service to re-architect apps from scratch in the cloud. Using Amazon Redshift, bank employees can now analyze encrypted data to predict user behavior and banking trends without viewing the customers’ private information.
“When you’re building a brand new solution to a challenge as systemic as document authentication, you need to start afresh,” explains Abulaila. “We didn’t want to use outdated legacy systems. Instead, we rebuilt everything from the ground- p, so we’d have the flexibility and performance capability to address the challenges once and for all, as well as to adapt to new problems.”
Though building a new system from scratch may mitigate some issues, implementing new technology can present a different set of challenges, most notably ensuring that new processes are user-friendly for employees and customers alike. The most significant challenge faced when rolling out Cronica.io, says Abulaila, was making what could be seen as a complicated system simple to use.
Ease-of-use paves way for app adoption
“For Cronica.io, this meant ensuring neither bank employees or customers were required to perform an installation, or take additional steps that would represent a learning curve,” Abulaila says. “A lot of time was dedicated to designing a solution that is secure and reliable but, just as importantly, very easy to use by anyone.”
A typical workflow may start with the bank customer logging in to their mobile banking account. They can then generate a document containing sensitive information, for instance an account statement, and share a link that leads to the official document with the party looking to authenticate it — for example an employer or mortgage lender. The link can show the status of the document and the original document, revealing whether the document has been altered in any way. Because Cronica.io is a self-service platform, customers are no longer reliant on their branches to issue and verify their critical documents.
The implementation is already paying off for Bank al Etihad. Prior to deploying blockchain technology, 80 percent of documents required manual intervention and validation. Now, only 20 percent of documents require manual intervention, and the bank has seen a 10-fold reduction in the time required to issue an account statement in-branch.
Employees of Bank al Etihad have also seen changes since the Cronica.io adoption. Manual authentication can be time consuming for the employee and costly for the bank. With the twin resources of time and money freed up by blockchain-based authentication, employees are able to turn their attention to new services and challenges —and 2020 has brought its share of challenges.
Blockchain tech aids COVID response
When planning the roll out of Cronica.io, Bank al Etihad executives most certainly did not expect a pandemic. However, as COVID-19 began affecting lives across the globe, the bank saw where the blockchain technology could be of help. “Currently, Bank al Etihad is issuing instant international COVID-19 travel insurance policy documents through Cronica.io, and it only takes a few seconds to issue each new policy. This is an incredible achievement and result,” Abulaila says.
With blockchain on board, employees at Bank al Etihad have more time, are responsible for less, and have more secure and convenient access to the tools for document authentication, as well as the ability to flexibly issue and verify critical documents. With fewer manual authentication, employees are able to focus on improving the customer experience.