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Opinion: Archaic Banking Systems Slowing Unemployment Checks

The outbreak of COVID-19 in the United States has triggered a historic $2 trillion bailout of both businesses and families facing economic uncertainty. According to the New York Times, unemployment has reached unprecedented levels in the recent weeks. Estimates state that as little as 10% and as high as 15% of the labour force is currently unemployed (between 16 and 24 million people). As a result, the computer systems that allow people to apply for, and receive unemployment checks have been overloaded. Let’s take a look at why this is happening, and how we can avoid computer problems, when facing pandemic problems.

Old-Mainframe

COBOL: THE LANGUAGE NO ONE KNOWS

Common Business Oriented Language or COBOL for short, is a programming language developed in the 1960’s by the US Department of Defence. Most banking systems, business systems, and government mainframes were built using COBOL between the years of 1960 and the year 2000. The obvious thing to point out here is that since the 1960’s computers have gone through several revolutions in speed, processing power, and architectural design. The world is slowly transitioning away from using COBOL for computer systems. However, the United States still holds the largest concentration of businesses that use COBOL. Of the businesses worldwide that use COBOL, 49% of them are in the United States. This includes many government branches and banking systems.

It is estimated that 220 Billion lines of code are written in COBOL. This amounts to 80% of the world’s running code. While the world is running the banking system on COBOL, there is a dwindling number of COBOL programmers. There are now less than one million COBOL developers worldwide.

A SCRAMBLE FOR HELP

According to Google Trends, searches for COBOL have risen to all time highs in the recent weeks. This is because states that are running their unemployment systems on decades old mainframes. New York State has requested the help of 6 COBOL developers to work on their system that is more than 40 years old. These systems now have problems because they were not built to handle the volume of requests. This, and any computer programmer will tell you that systems need maintenance. As the world around us gets upgraded, we must also upgrade and fix the systems we’ve already built. Even IBM, the common goto software provider is scrambling to find and train more COBOL developers to meet the demand.

BLOCKCHAIN TO THE RESCUE

We recommend you check out the What is Blockchain article before reading about the solution to the COBOL crisis. What you will find is that blockchain is a technology built for transferring value, or money around the world. It is a modern, globally scalable computer system specifically designed for moving money. Blockchain arose out of the previous financial crisis in 2008. The cryptocurrency Bitcoin was invented in 2009, and the underlying technology that makes this peer to peer electronic cash system viable, is blockchain.

When blockchain was invented, it started out like many other technologies. It was slightly clunky, and fairly inefficient. It was obvious that it had a long way to go, if it was going to ever be used as a platform for global payments.

In the past decade, many people have decided to take blockchain to the next level. They iterated on its design so it can scale, and be applied to a variety of different use cases. Blockchain is recognized by world governments and international corporations as a game changing technology. It turns out that blockchain can be extremely useful for tracking shipments as shown by FedEx and Walmart. Blockchain can be useful for settling land disputes, as shown by the Estonian government. Finally, it can be used to replace decade old architectures that drive our current financial systems, as shown by China.

China is set to launch a Blockchain-based Service Network (BSN) on April 25th, 2020. This is a remarkable fact when you stop to consider that the technology behind China’s future banking system was born out of a rogue cryptocurrency. Bitcoin has been a blot on China’s radar for a number of years. China has even taken steps to ban the use and trade of Bitcoin several times in the past 5 years.

A BLOCKCHAIN BASED BANKING WORLD

Let us now take a moment to hypothesise about what the current COVID-19 crisis may look like if we were operating on a blockchain based financial system. Many blockchain platforms are like operating systems, where independent developers can build apps that run on the system. Think about the variety of applications that exist on your iPhone or Android device. A wide variety of programming languages can be used to manifest the end application that you’re using. This is in stark contrast to the rigid requirements of the current banking infrastructure. In order to build on top of, or patch a problem in our banking system, it’s likely you will need to know COBOL.

Transaction load is not a problem for the latest blockchain technology on the market. The previous benchmarks are set by global payment providers such as VISA and Mastercard. These companies’ systems are able to scale to tens of thousands of transactions per second. A global load. We need systems that are built to handle this sort of transactional load. The more automation we can build into the systems the better. It is important that the uptime of these systems is as close to 100% as we can get it. Having our politicians searching for COBOL developers while people are waiting for their unemployment checks is not a constructive use of our time during this time of crisis.

BEING READY WITH BETTER FINANCIAL INFRASTRUCTURE

With the unemployment rate soaring, it is important that we have already built systems that can be relied upon. These systems underpin, and support our economy in its time of need. By focusing on fixing the systems, we are taking away from the focus that can be directed to helping citizens in need.

Instead, we are waiting for the unemployment checks to be printed, signed, mailed and delivered to our doors. Imagine a world where immediately after our politicians decide to bail out the public, we get an automatic deposit, straight into our bank accounts. It is possible for all of this to occur, within the span of a single day.