IBM Develops a Cure for Banks With a Case of Digital-Market Blues

Finance companies concerned about losing their edge against fintech startups and well-heeled megabanks in an increasingly digital market can now get help developing state-of-the-art apps from IBM (IBM) .

"The big institutions are very aware that their industry is being disrupted," Tom Eck, chief technology officer for IBM's industry platforms, said in an interview at the FinDEVr 2017 conference, where the company showcased its IBM Cloud for Financial Services. "We are taking a vertical slice through the financial services industry and taking a very developer-centric approach."

The cloud service, currently available in a beta, or testing, mode provides tools that help developers write apps for investment portfolio maintenance, analysis of historical and potential performance of specific securities and blockchain, or distributed ledger, transactions.

Such products are particularly useful for smaller finance companies that lack the resources of global banks like JPMorgan Chase  (JPM) and Bank of America (BAC) to create digital apps that handle tasks from transferring money between accounts or accepting deposits via mobile devices.

In addition to their popularity with a growing audience of Millennial users, digital services typically cost banks a fraction of the money required for branch visits or ATM transactions.

As the pace of innovation accelerates, Eck says that IBM is focused on mixing its current financial services into application program interfaces, known as APIs.

"Innovating is nothing new, it's just you need to do it at a faster pace," he said.

The Armonk, N.Y.-based company said clients will be able to take advantage of Watson, its artificial intelligence program with cognitive capabilities, to help track customer behavior patterns and meet regulatory requirements.

"The approach is that it has to be incremental, especially in financial services," Eck said. "We have to incrementally change the paradigm of how application requirements are gathered, how application code is written, and even to an extent how applications are packaged and sold."

At the IBM InterConnect conference earlier this week, IBM CEO Ginni Rometty described the company's cloud service as "the platform for the next era of business," Forbes reported. "IBM Cloud is cognitive at the core. You're going to want a cloud that has a full range of cognitive capabilities."

Shares of IBM were little changed at $174.80 in New York trading on Friday. The stock has climbed 5.3% this year.

Editors' pick: Originally published March 24.

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