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Blockchain – a Revolution for the Patient

Written by Lisa Moyle, Director of Strategy, Finovate

The excitement surrounding blockchain or the somewhat less jazzy sounding Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT – in all its forms and incarnations) has been much discussed and taken up many column inches over the past few years. The conversations around the potential of the technology to upend entrenched processes has extended well beyond financial services and use cases have been explored across a broad range of industries – from music and entertainment copyrights to the provenance of organic coffee beans. And what has followed, more recently, is the almost inevitable questioning of whether it’s all been overly hyped. A recent estimate from Gartner indicates that 90% of enterprise blockchain projects launched in 2016 and the first half of 2017 will fail within two years.

“Most revolutions occur over time rather than in a high profile moment and whilst commentators may be impatient for results, there is a lot of activity going on,” Lisa Moyle, Director of Strategy, Finovate

Operating from the assumption that the broad range of stakeholders involved haven’t collectively lost the plot or the ability to apply an economic calculus to an assessment of technology, interest is clearly being propelled by some powerful drivers. The potential to make significant cost savings, streamline processes and create more secure and, indeed, tamper proof systems, are powerful incentives to explore and invest in use cases and proof of concepts. High levels of failure are not therefore a signal that the technology has a weak use case but rather that interest remains high and the potential rewards considerable.

Given JP Morgan’s recent exit from R3, following other large players like Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley last year, it is easy to yearn for the tangible and believe that the ‘trial’ stage will continue for the foreseeable future. Yet, we need to follow the practical implementations that are happening and there are a good many examples across financial services.

“Identity is an area where DLT is being explored by many financial institutions in partnership with start-ups,” Lisa Moyle, Director of Strategy, Finovate

Ripple [FS13] has recently added 11 new banking members to its network and now has 75 bank customers using its Interledger protocol. Whilst still far off from overtaking Swift’s 11,000 member banks, it is creating the standards for financial institutions to follow and use DLT. Creating a new process in a new institution is likely to be far easier than attempting to get agreement on changing incumbent processes from 11,000 members. Enabling financial institutions to connect to payment networks and distributed ledger technology to send and settle international payments among one another in almost real time presents a powerful alternative to the current model.

Identity is also an area where DLT is being explored by many financial institutions in partnership with start-ups. SecureKey [FF12], for example, is creating an identity and authentication network underpinned by DLT. It has signed up a number of financial services institutions to its network and received grant funding from the Department of Homeland Security in the US. There are many start-ups operating in the Identity space and beyond (think KYC/AML), harnessing blockchain technology to provide RegTech solutions to the financial services industry where the opportunity to cut costs and provide more robust regulatory compliance is enormous. Regulators at the national, supranational and international levels have taken notice and are compounding interest rapidly.

“Central to the potentially transformative potential of DLT technology is not simply to replace old tech with new but to fundamentally change processes in ways that have not yet even been formulated,” Lisa Moyle, Director of Strategy, Finovate

Looking at a newcomer, blockchain based start-up banki Humaniq, which is targeting the unbanked across emerging markets though a mobile app, recently received investment from Deloitte. It also raised funding through an Initial Coin Offering. Included in its ambitious objectives to harness the blockchain for good to meet the needs of unserved communities are to leverage biometric, voice and location technologies to overcome the hurdles of a customer base who often lack conventional identity proofs.

Big tech is also forging ahead with the creation of blockchain products and services and with both IBM and Microsoft creating blockchain-as-a-service applications for businesses, one can assume that DLT technologies are no flash in the pan. It takes time to work through both the use cases and practical implementation of new technologies; legacy technology cannot be simply replaced in short order. Central to the potentially transformative potential of DLT technology is not simply to replace old tech with new but to fundamentally change processes in ways that have not yet even been formulated. Most revolutions occur over time rather than in a high profile moment and whilst commentators may be impatient for results, there is a lot of activity going on.