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.

Finovate Alumni News

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  • TransferWise unveils new APAC hub in Singapore.
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  • Ten FIs join Ripple’s cross-border, blockchain network.
  • Prival Bank of Panama to deploy Temenos’ core banking solution, T24.
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  • Xero awarded the Best Overall Fintech Platform by the Fintech Breakthrough Awards.
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This post will be updated throughout the day as news and developments emerge. You can also follow all the alumni news headlines on the Finovate Twitter account.

Finovate Alumni News

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  • Coinbase Launches Open Source Ethereum Wallet to Promote Financial Inclusion.

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  • BBVA and Ripple complete blockchain cross-border money transfer pilot.
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This post will be updated throughout the day as news and developments emerge. You can also follow all the alumni news headlines on the Finovate Twitter account.

Finovate Alumni News

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  • Former Kabbage CTO Amala Duggirala joins Regions Bank as its new CIO.

This post will be updated throughout the day as news and developments emerge. You can also follow all the alumni news headlines on the Finovate Twitter account.

Finovate Alumni News

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  • The Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ to join Ripple’s Global Payments Steering Group.

This post will be updated throughout the day as news and developments emerge. You can also follow all the alumni news headlines on the Finovate Twitter account.

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  • Ripple joins Bank of England fintech accelerator program to demo blockchain solutions for cross-border payment and settlement.

This post will be updated throughout the day as news and developments emerge. You can also follow all the alumni news headlines on the Finovate Twitter account.

Finovate Alumni News

On FinDEVr.com

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This post will be updated throughout the day as news and developments emerge. You can also follow all the alumni news headlines on the Finovate Twitter account.

Ripple Releases XRP Metrics in New Report

Ripple_homepage_January2017

In the midst of all the attention over Ripple’s work helping banks make cross-border money transfers less expensive and more efficient, Ripple has released the first of its quarterly XRP Market Reports. The reports are designed to “improve the health of XRP markets globally” according to a statement and will feature “sales, commentary on price movement, and news of newly-available third party wallets, exchanges, validators, and liquidity providers.

“XRP is core to Ripple’s strategy,” the statement at the Ripple website read, “and the time is right for us to feature XRP more prominently.” The highlights include news that market participants bought $4.6 million of XRP directly from Ripple’s money service business, XRP II. And that XRP enjoyed a quarter-over-quarter average daily volume growth of 121%.

Ripple_XRP_homepage_January2017

With regard to price action in XRP, the report cited a number of factors including the uncertainty of the U.S. presidential election, India’s move to limit its cash economy, and growing demand from China as key drivers. And while XRP slightly underperformed other digital currencies toward the end of 2016, the report attributes this to both availability issues on digital exchanges and in China, as well as “XRP’s reputation as a more institutional asset” as opposed to a speculative trading instrument.

The report also noted that one of the biggest digital asset exchanges in the world, Bitstamp, has begun listing XRP/EUR and XRP/USD trading pairs, and that Ripple will launch a plan to enable “qualified market participants” to borrow XRP. This was described as “a crucial step” toward bringing XRP into the capital markets industry en route to becoming “the institutional standard bearer for international value transfer.”

Headquartered in San Francisco and founded in 2012 (as OpenCoin), Ripple demonstrated its distributed ledger technology at FinovateSpring 2013. Recent headlines for Ripple include the company’s work with India’s Axis Bank, which will use Ripple technology for cross-border payments, and the addition of a number of new members of its global network in September. The company appointed a new CEO, Brad Garlinghouse, in November, who had previous served Ripple as COO. Of the top 50 banks in the world, 15 work with Ripple, and there are nine countries with banks currently implementing Ripple technology. The company has raised more than $93 million in total funding, and includes SBI Investment, Santander InnoVentures, IDG Capital Partners, and Core Innovation Capital among its investors.

Finovate Alumni News

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  • Check out this week’s FinDEVr APIntelligence

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  • Kony powers KMC Connect Lite mobile app for KMC Controls.
  • Irish Tech News interviews BancVue’s John Waupsh on his book, Bankruption.

This post will be updated throughout the day as news and developments emerge. You can also follow all the alumni news headlines on the Finovate Twitter account.

Fintech Trending: Blockchain Building Blocks for 2017

Photo via Good Free Photos
Photo via Good Free Photos

What blockchain trends from 2016 are worth watching for follow-through in 2017? Here are five blockchain players to keep an eye on as the new year begins.

IBM: Something Old, Something New, Something Blue

It is remarkable that a company that is more than 100 years old (“International Business Machines”) is one of the leading innovators when it comes to the blockchain. But IBM (FD16) began 2016 by introducing its strategy to offer cloud-based products and services for business via blockchain technology. IBM’s “blockchain-as-a-service” strategy incorporates many of the company’s core technology projects including its Watson Internet of Things platform and its development lab, Bluemix Garage – as well as its core IT system for global banks, IBM z System. IBM’s blockchain strategy also includes its participation in the open source, Linux-driven Hyperledger Project (demonstrated at FinDEVr). Just this week, a commodity trading and agribusiness software provider, The Seam, that has “cleared or processed” $7 billion, announced it would be joining IBM’s blockchain consortium.

Blockchain_IBM

IBM is not the only major technology company to pursue the blockchain-as-a-service model. Microsoft, which launched a blockchain sandbox in October 2015, partnered with Ethereum collective, ConsenSys to give its enterprise clients access to an Ethereum blockchain-as-a-service network. This will enable business users of Microsoft’s Azure to easily build and deploy “private and semi-private or consortium blockchain networks.” Note also that Microsoft partnered with AMIS to launch Asia’s first blockchain consortium in December.

That said, IBM distinguishes itself from Microsoft’s efforts by being fairly IBM-centric in its offering. Jerry Cuomo, IBM VP of blockchain technology, told CoinDesk: “What we’re doing is we’re picking a specific fabric and a specific point of view. We’re not interested in any fabric,” Cuomo explained, “we’re interested in one that can support business applications. We’re a bit more opinionated on what fabric is needed.”

International Business Machines, indeed.

And when it comes to ascertaining the appetite for blockchain, IBM has done its homework. In a survey of 200 banks, IBM learned that 65% of respondents “plan to have projects in production” in the next three years. Areas of focus include clearing and settlement, wholesale payments, equity and debt issuance, and reference data. Respondents to a different survey of 200 global FIs revealed that 14% planned to deploy commercial blockchain products in 2017.

Ripple Rolls On with Big Investment, New CEO

Among blockchain startups, Ripple (FS13) has been a key player in helping FIs leverage its technology to build blockchain networks. The company announced a partnership with leading corporate Nordic bank SEB late in 2016 to build an “internal, closed blockchain” that will enable the bank to transfer money in real time between accounts in New York and Stockholm. Ripple is also involved in India’s Axis Bank and it plans to use Ripple’s network for real-time settlement of cross-border transactions.

Blockchain_Ripple

2016 was a major year for Ripple. The company announced a number of new additions – including Santander, UBS, CIBC, and Standard Chartered – to its global network. Ripple’s network now includes 15 of the top 50 global banks as well as “10 banks in commercial deal phases, and over 30 bank pilots completed.” Ripple’s digital currency, XRP, was part of blockchain consortium, R3’s 12-bank cross-border payments trial in October. The company picked up $55 million in Series B funding in September, taking Ripple’s total capital to more than $93 million. Ripple also appointed a new CEO, Brad Garlinghouse, who has previously served as the company’s president and COO.

“The continued growth of the Ripple network represents a major endorsement of our open approach to connecting the world’s bank and their customers,” Ripple co-founder and former CEO Chris Larsen said. Larsen, who will transition to the role of Ripple chairman of the board at the beginning of 2017, added: “Together we are building a modern payments system to enable new economic opportunities and the seamless flow of value around the world.”

R3: Are Blockchain-Curious Banks Stronger Together?

One way to measure the progress of blockchain technology is by keeping track of the comings (and goings) of members of R3, the world’s largest blockchain-based cooperative. Founded in 2014 and with more than 70 of the world’s largest FIs onboard, R3 is designed to conduct research on and promote the use of blockchain technology in financial services. R3’s biggest contribution to date is Corda, an open-source distributed ledger platform that, while maintaining many of the characteristics of blockchain technology, is not – technically speaking – a blockchain.

Blockchain_R3

Unfortunately, many of the headlines R3 made in 2016 involved a handful of founding members – including Morgan Stanley, Santander, and Goldman Sachs – leaving the cooperative. Specific reasons for leaving the group were typically not provided, though each bank made it clear that the decision was not a reflection on their interest in blockchain technology. Many observers have speculated that the timing of the departures was related to issues surrounding R3’s fundraising efforts, as well as concerns about the growth of the cooperative itself (currently at more than 70 members). Speaking to the departures at Disrupt London in December, R3 founder and CEO David Rutter pointed to the difficulty of “meet(ing) everyone’s criteria” in an organization the size of R3. To the fundraising concerns, Rutter affirmed R3’s “very good progress” toward completing a $150 million funding round.

Beyond the Banks: Card Companies, Payments and Blockchain

One interesting place to keep an eye on for blockchain-related developments in 2017 is among non-bank financial players like the card companies. Visa (FD14), for example, unveiled a blockchain based payments platform, Visa B2B Connect, in partnership with Chain (FD15) in 2016. The technology, designed to provide “near real-time transactions” for high value international payments, will undergo testing this year.

Meanwhile, Mastercard (F14; FD14) has responded to its rival’s challenge by adding blockchain-based APIs to its app developer’s platform, MasterCard Developers. The APIs include a Blockchain Core API, a Smart Contracts API, and a Fast Pay Network API. Mastercard says its APIs, among other things, will help developers build tools to take counterparty risk and costs from transaction flow, as well as improve processing audibility and client privacy.

Is a Bull Market in Bitcoin a Boon for the Blockchain?

With bitcoin closing 2016 with a return to its highest level in years, it is little surprise the cryptocurrency is finding its way into the hearts and minds of investors seeking uncorrelated assets to diversify their portfolios. In “Bitcoin Investing: Where Wall Street and Silicon Valley Meet,” Chris Burniske and Adam White make the case for bitcoin as an asset class for long-term investors based on the currency’s declining volatility, reward-vs-risk, and lack of correlation with most other markets including gold, U.S. real estate, and U.S. equities since 2011. Whether growing interest in bitcoin ends up contributing to (or at least correlating with) increased interest in the technology that makes the digital currency possible will be one of the big questions of 2017, as well.