It is not a surprising announcement that American Express has filed a blockchain-based patent application for a payments related capability that can “receive a payment confirmation including a transaction amount and a merchant identifier”. Earlier this year American Express Travel Related Services Company also filed a blockchain system patent application that is more directed towards P2P faster payment transactions. As most readers know, there has been a bevy of activity in and around blockchain for the past several years, particularly in financial services, including investments, development partnerships and innovation labs. This referenced news release from HiBusiness provides a brief overview of the new patent filing.
“When no one was concentrating, American Express filed a patent application for a blockchain-based payment system. The filing covers a system which uses connected smart devices to perform tasks which service a paying customer. It cites the recording of transactions in a tamper-proof blockchain.”
In order to learn a bit more about where the company is heading with blockchain, we were able to get in touch with Aimee Cardwell, Vice President within the Technology organization at American Express. Ms. Cardwell manages delivery of technical solutions for Consumer Product Development and also leads the Enterprise Blockchain Lab, a center of excellence that provides engineering, consultation and educational support to product teams across the company, recommending and building blockchain-based proofs-of-concept and solutions for external and internal customers. By policy, Amex does not discuss patents in process, but we did gain some insight on the other various blockchain activities already undwerway.
The internal blockchain lab is an interesting initiative, since it provides a valuable multi-variate resource for both non-tech employees who wish to learn more about the technology, as well as tech development professionals to explore solutions that help existing clients along with bringing new capabilities to market. Ms Cardwell did indicate that this initiative has already produced several internal pilot deployments. One of the key criteria used to determine if the blockchain can add value is associated with the existing need for reconciliation. If a current operation generates significant activity around reconciliation then it is assumed that a shared perspective of transactions on the blockchain would eliminate that extra work.
As most readers who closely follow card payments already know, Amex has been the gold standard for rewards programs over the course of several decades. So we chatted about the recently announced blockchain rewards initiative in the U.S., which the company indicates is the first of its kind in the loyalty space for a large financial services organization. Amex is using the Hyperledger Fabric framework to create custom value experiences for both card members and merchants. An example provided is trying the new latte at a coffee shop on a whim because the merchant is offering an additional 100 rewards points for that particular drink. Ms. Cardwell did indicate that an initial pilot with their merchant partner ‘Boxed” has been successfully completed. Amex is exploring a new program with Boxed, as well as recruiting additional merchants, with an eventual result to be a scalable market release (although a timeframe is not established). The benefits explained include minimal merchant development resources, faster to-market offers, better security (no card member data stored), and customization private “channels” for each use case.
So as we have been saying for awhile, real blockchain solutions (and not related to cryptocurrencies) are starting to move from concepts to actual marketable capabilities. We will keep you posted.