Can Blockchain Save Banking?

Author

Jon Markman

October 21, 2016

Banking’s back end is a mess. It is antiquated, increasingly unprotected and costly to maintain. So global banks want to start fresh with Blockchain, the technology that underpins Bitcoin.

You can’t blame the pinstripe and wingtip set for being giddy about Blockchain. It has game-changing potential. Blockchain is the cryptographic, distributive ledger system that makes Bitcoin work. It sets up a series of permanent, transparent checks and balances that in theory eliminate the possibility of fraud and the need for pesky third parties that charge a fee to clear transactions. That is the best of both worlds for an industry besieged with cyber criminals and transaction costs that swell with every new financial regulation. Blockchain offers a way forward bankers are anxious to choose.

The testing has already started. Last week R3, a New York financial technology startup announced eight member banks successfully used a Blockchain prototype developed with Intel to exchange U.S. Treasury bonds. Ripple, a Silicon Valley Blockchain developer backed by Alphabet, revealed it raised $55 million to expand operations globally. New investors include Seagate Technology, CME Group  and Accenture. And Microsoft, with Bank of America  will use Blockchain technologies to restructure the way trade transactions are processed. Percy Batliwalla, the head of global trade and supply chain finance at Bank America Merrill Lynch told Reuters:

“The underlying nature of trade finance in its current form is highly manual, it’s highly time-consuming and it’s paper-based, so we thought this would be a good opportunity to streamline the way trade transactions are processed.”

Therein lies the opportunity. According to the American Banker, the global financial system completes transactions involving trillions of dollarsand serves billions of customers annually yet much of this is shuffled along on paper and a hodgepodge of technologies concocted in the 1970’s. It’s centralized, colossally inefficient and vulnerable.

Thieves have taken note. Earlier this year more than $81 million was stolen from a bank in Bangladesh when hackers penetrated the interbank messaging system, SWIFT. At a conference its chief executive, Gottfried Libbrandt, admitted that threats continue. He also laid the groundwork for a new hybrid system that involved a version of Blockchain called Global Payments Innovation. It’s everywhere.

Technology firms will benefit from the inevitable migration to Blockchain. Microsoft, Alphabet, Intel, IBM  and Amazon are all making a play to bring global financial services companies to their clouds. Accenture has even patented a Blockchain that can be edited. The eventual market for all of these technologies will be large.

However, a purer way to play the trend might be a basket of large financial services companies. Blockchain has the potential to wipe away billions in annual fixed costs in financial services as the need for third party clearing companies fades. It might even help with regulators given its transparency. I’ll talk about possible picks when appropriate.

 

This article was written by Jon Markman from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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