BNP Paribas has opened new a FinTech laboratory at its New York City headquarters that will focus on building blockchain solutions to employee problems.

Revealed this morning at a blockchain-focused hackathon held by the French multi-national bank, the 5,000 square foot Innovation Zone is on the 30th floor of BNP’s offices, where 2,500 employees work. Eventually, the lab will house the work of six task forces, which will also announce work on AI and big data.

BNP’s chief operating officer of commercial investment banking, Bruno d-Illiers, explained the vision for the project and why the lab is open to all his employees, not just cryptographers and traditional leadership.

D-Illiers told CoinDesk:

“We don’t believe that innovation is just for the senior executives. We want to engage each and ever staff member.”

The inaugural hackathon

Today, the lab hosted its inaugural project, which saw five groups working to build blockchain proofs-of-concept over two days.

The winner, to be selected by a jury on Thursday, 8th September, will be granted additional support from BNP Paribas.

“The objective is to do more,” said d-Illier, who has worked with the bank for 15 years. “To disseminate the information about what blockchain is about.”

To help connect those dots for the audience of 200, several leaders in the industry gathered to discuss the impact of blockchain on the financial sector, and the role community learning spaces can play in giving banks an advantage.

He continued:

“Many people understand blockchain, but they don’t understand the impact it will have on our business model.”

Blockchain disconnection

After a brief introduction by d-Illier, the launch kicked off with a discussion with Microsoft’s blockchain business strategist, Yorke Rhodes III, centered on the weaknesses in how early-stage proofs of concept are being built, and how future builders can avoid them.

Namely, Rhodes told the hackers that user interfaces tend to have little connection with real-world spreadsheets and other data sources that could better show how a distributed ledger could lead to unanticipated efficiencies.

Rhodes works with Microsoft’s clients looking to build with their suite of tools hosted by its Project Bletchley.

Going forward, Rhodes said his clients and the technologists working at BNP Paribas will need to get over trying to prove that the technology works and build practical user interfaces.

“No end user should ever know they’re using the blockchain,” said Rhodes. “When you think about it, don’t think of the tech, thtink what am I doing that’s hard and how can I make it better using a distributed ledger?”

Hacker advice

Next, BNP’s head of commodities in the Americas, Catherine Flax, who also sits on the board of blockchain startup Digital Asset Holdings (DAH), moderated a panel with industry experts.

On the panel were DAH chief marketing officer Dan O’Prey, R3CEV’s co-founder, Todd McDonald and blockchain investor, Pascal Bouvier, who spoke about the business applications of blockchain, culminating in advise to the hackers.

Aligning with the rest of the tone of the event, the panelists all advised the developers not to get distracted by what the technology can do, but focus on the actual problems they confront in their day-to-day jobs.

“Bring your problems,” said McDonald, who is also R3CEV’s chief operating officer. “Don’t be tethered with the hype of what blockchains can or can’t do. Catalogue the different problems you face then go from there.”

While all the panelists had advice to the hackers investor Pascal Bouvier, who worked at BNP Paribas early in his career, spoke a bit more specifically about what exactly interested him as a potential investment:

“Find and develop a solution around the provisioning of an identification, whether that’s an individual ID or a corporate ID. I know of at least one investor who would be interested.”

BNP Paribas Innovation Zone image via Michael del Castillo

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