Bengaluru: Infosys Ltd has started work on improving the capabilities of its core banking software Finacle by hiring executives from rival firms and evaluating ways to incorporate applications based on the underlying technology of virtual currency Bitcoin.

Michael Reh, who has been tasked with reviving the fortunes of Finacle by Infosys’s chief executive officer (CEO) Vishal Sikka, is currently assessing the merits of Blockchain, an open-source financial database that records all Bitcoin transactions, even as the company’s top management wants Finacle to serve mobile banking needs better, two executives familiar with the matter said on condition of anonymity.

“I don’t think we can say it (Finacle) is being structurally reworked. It is a leading product recognized globally, but surely there are areas that need re-engineering. How do we make it more compatible in the age of mobile banking, and what other applications we need to build, develop on Blockchain so that we can offer benefits to our clients," said one of those executives.

Reh, who took over as the head of Finacle in October, has hired Sheenam Ohrie, formerly vice-president, strategy, at SAP Labs India, as the new head of delivery, testing and support of Finacle. Ohrie, who becomes the 11th SAP executive to have joined Infosys since Sikka joined Infosys from the German company, started in her new role last month.

Ohrie is joined by Fuat Bozkurt, who was hired by Reh from Sopra Banking Software, to help boost sales. Infosys also hired Manju H.C. as banking solution lead in November from Swiss firm Temenos.

Temenos, SAP and French firm Sopra compete with Infosys in providing software that banks use to run their operations.

“The thing with this (Blockchain) is that we still do not know the full technology impact it can have. More than just knowing the payments, we can get insights in legal documents, or use for even credit-worthiness of parties. All this obviously makes your (core banking) product stand out," said the second executive, who works at the Finacle unit.

Both the executives said that currently most of the work is being undertaken in the areas of mobile banking space and adding insurance domain technology in the core banking platform.

Finacle’s focus on these next-generation technologies started after Infosys co-founder N.R. Narayana Murthy named Sikka as the first non-founder CEO of the company in August. Under Sikka, Infosys has been trying to embrace artificial intelligence and automation in many of its projects to remain relevant in the wake of the changing technology landscape and the threat posed by some of the start-ups focused on these technologies.

Some experts view Infosys working on the technology behind Bitcoin as a positive development as it gives the company a “first-mover advantage".

“As soon as the client base of global banking platform vendors (mainly banks) consider Bitcoin and Blockchain as mainstream, it will be the time when banking platform vendors should incorporate Bitcoin/Blockchain capabilities into their solutions," said Jost Hoppermann, vice-president, banking applications and architecture, at Forrester Research. “Will they be open to embracing Bitcoin and Blockchain? Vendors with more advanced architectures will certainly find it easier to offer this kind of support."

Infosys is not the only information technology firm to note the changing needs of its banking clients.

“The banking sector is getting disrupted far more than any other industry globally," Rajan Kohli, the newly appointed head of Wipro Digital, said in an interview last month.

As people the world over look at more convenient ways to do banking, including making transactions using digital currencies such as Ripple and Bitcoin, and use their mobile phones more, banks are coming under pressure to upgrade their core technology platforms over which they have been running operations, Kohli said.

That is pushing Infosys and larger rival Tata Consultancy Services Ltd to offer components of new technology in their banking software.

Infosys does not disclose revenue generated from its core banking product. The 6,000-people-strong Finacle unit is estimated to be a $300 million business, according to one of the two company executives cited above. The unit has underperformed over the last few years with revenue declining from $314 million in 2012, according to estimates by advisory firm NelsonHall, primarily on account of poor demand from banks to invest in next-generation core banking solutions and Infosys’ inability to tap into the large US market.

For now, Infosys clubs revenue from Finacle along with its clients from the banking, financial services and insurance space, which accounts for a little over 33.5% of its $8.25 billion revenue. But as Mint reported last month, Finacle is in the midst of being clubbed with EdgeVerve, the products, platforms and solutions unit of Infosys.

An Infosys spokeswoman declined to comment, citing the company’s quiet period ahead of its quarterly earnings announcement on 24 April.

Some experts, however, remain sceptical on whether Finacle’s latest attempt to scale up business is enough as the company has not been able to increase its product offerings to banks in the US, the largest and most profitable market. Finacle has a less than 1% share in the US market.

“The company generates less than 10% of revenues (Finacle) from the US. Until it can build its market share (in the US), I don’t think we can say they have turned the corner. And in our interactions (with the management), we don’t really get a sense of what is the roadmap," said a Mumbai-based analyst working for a foreign brokerage.

Infosys’ Finacle generates 90% of its revenues from Asia Pacific, Europe and the Middle East.

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