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World’s Central Banks Are Dipping into Blockchain – What’s Ahead for Fintech?

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The term blockchain, or more conveniently known as distributed ledger technology (DLT) to traditional finance is increasingly becoming a popular household name in the banking sector. There may well be more than 200 investment, commercial, and Central Banks as well as other financial institutions including big names such as Bank of America, Bank of China, Bank of England, Bank of Canada, Deutsche Börse, Reserve Bank of India, HSBC (Hong Kong Shanghai Bank), JP Morgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, among others who are currently integrating or planning to incorporate a part of the technology with their business operations.

Heralded as one of the most transformative technologies for financial services, the blockchain could be the key to unlocking a new economic era. Here’s how Harvard Business Review puts it:

“The blockchain will do to the financial system what the internet did to media.”

Redefining the Narrative for Blockchain

The Bank of England may have been the first Central Bank to venture into the DLT space and in partnership with the Bank of Canada and Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) published a paper on Cross-border interbank payments and settlements.

With sixty-five percent of the world’s Central Banks reportedly exploring blockchain technology and DLT, what does this mean for the future of finance? Firstly, the true scope of blockchain exploration by these traditional financial institutions can only be truly appreciated when considering the combined weight of their valuation alongside the core value proposition of the technology. This supposedly gives the blockchain industry a stupendous valuation that dwarfs current estimates. Blockchain and finance are often considered to be two peas in a pod – giving this an alternate meaning, perhaps, in the future, anything related to finance will have a string of blockchain technology attached.

This possibly explains the stiff competition among tech giants like IBM, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook and others vying for a future stake in the blockchain industry – and not settling for small portions. R3 Corda apparently has a stake as a major player across most of these financial-enterprise deals, having well over 250 institutional partners across the world, the blockchain hype may indeed be off the charts.

But the story wasn’t always this glittery, as legacy financial institutions always slighted cryptocurrencies – the premier products of blockchain during its limelight; mostly due to Bitcoin – a decentralized entity, and largely considered to be a repulsive aberration of financial principles. However, over the years, most traditional financial institutions have warmed up to the idea of a distributed ledger technology and have found useful applications in operational efficiency. For them, it’s more about the blockchain and less of Bitcoin – still a wonder though how they justify that unholy separation.

The Potential for Banks

For Central Banks, the DTL has several use case parameters set to address numerous pain points. As detailed in a whitepaper published by World Economic Forum, there are about 10 use cases. However, major areas of interest seem to revolve around cross-border payments, securities settlement, fraud detection/security and trade finance. Banks tend to focus more on border payments – how to ease the transfer of cross-border payments, as DLT is known for speedy transactions that could cut down the time spent in processing transactions in incumbent systems.

The Bank of Canada is currently running several partnerships to exploit the most out of DLT. Its current flagship projects – to include project Jasper – looks to transform wholesale payment systems and possibly integrate their findings with “other assets such as foreign exchange and securities.” Other initiatives would include exploring the opportunities in “securities settlement system using central bank money, cross-border/cross-currency settlement system as well as Digital Fiat Currency projects.”

According to the Bank of Canada:

“One estimate suggests DLT could enable banks to save as much as USD 20 billion a year in global back-office costs if applied to cross-border payments, securities trading and regulatory compliance.”

For this reason, the development of Central Bank Digital Currencies (CBDC) became a subject of focus for most banks. A report by Bank for International Settlements (BIS) revealed 40 central banks around the world are supposedly researching CBDC. The central bank’s design of a digital currency typically involved the use permissioned blockchain
network, granting only participants with access to participate in consensus.

Last year, talks about CBDC perhaps made more news than other financial innovations these banks could have thought of. Though, the subject of CBDC still remains sketchy at best as a study between IBM Blockchain World Wire and the Official Monetary and Financial Institutions Forum (OMFIF) revealed mixed results on the subject of CBDC among 21 banks. However, there were growing sentiments towards using DLT and smart contracts.

Moreover, considering the size of the digital currency market, it still remains to be known how an actual retail cryptocurrency issued by the bank will impact economies. For now, the versions of bank-issued digital currencies such as JP Morgan Coin are intended for inter-bank settlements with only institutions in mind.

Between banks are rising opportunities to share resources to develop CBDC protocols that would enable inter-bank transactions. In May, the central banks of Thailand and Hong Kong signed an agreement to research CBDC in the hopes that their experience sharing will foster the development of quality financial services through the platform.

CBDCs could change the narrative for digital currencies as a whole. Should it be widely adopted, on one hand lies the possibility of the acknowledgement of cryptocurrencies and thereby create massive adoption and at that make the already volatile cryptocurrency market spike further in valuation. On the other hand, a CBDC coupled with strict digital currency regulations could oust non-regulated cryptocurrencies and create a huge problem for Bitcoin and a host of other altcoins; perhaps it won’t be extremely destructive considering the decentralized nature of Bitcoin.

Still Hesitant

Despite the potential DLT could serve the banking industry, possibly saving banks billions of dollars, developments and adoption seem rather slow considering the amount of investments sunken in the research and development of DLT-related products. Having come this far with several initiatives and collaborations, could banks begin to resent their initial thrust into DLT – after all they were only super enthused because such a system like Bitcoin going on a decade seemed efficient thus far. McKinsey describes the current stalemate as blockchain’s Occam problem;

“By late 2017, many people working at financial companies felt blockchain technology was either too immature, not ready for enterprise level application, or was unnecessary. Many POCs added little benefit, for example beyond cloud solutions, and in some cases led to more questions than answers. There were also doubts about commercial viability, with little sign of material cost savings or incremental revenues.”

As for retail banks, the hesitation may roost on Bitcoin’s extreme volatility, as with other wild roller-coaster-rides in the digital currency markets, largely due to the unregulated nature of these emerging assets. Besides, for some banks like the Bank of Korea, CBDC may appear to be a moonshot project at best, and do not consider it a matter of urgency; the Bank would rather gather more information on the benefits and costs of CBDC implementation first. With Italy, it clearly stated that it had no inclination to embark on a CBDC despite vouching for its qualities. A few others are well concerned about the overall impact of the CBDC on their fiat system.

Another huge deterrent stems from the uptick in competitive solutions being offered by legacy institutions, thereby making DLT traction a bit slow. One of such includes SWIFT’s global payments innovation initiative (GPI), which is reportedly tackling initial pain points with an attempt at providing higher transaction speeds and increased transparency between transaction parties.

One of the world’s top bank Citibank has dumped its Citicoin project which it had been developing for about 4 years. It announced earlier this year that it is now considering SWIFT on the premise that SWIFT already has a ready market with about 10,000 financial institutions already onboarded.

It’s Inevitable

It’s not all gloom for the banking industry, as the competition with emerging digital assets gets stiffer – and it will probably get worse for banks. Recently, Facebook’s cryptocurrency became an important subject as its founding infrastructure could threaten the future of legacy financial services.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has predicted that central bank digital currencies (CBDC), or state-backed crypto, would soon be a reality, with central banks already issuing them in the near future. This means the end to the struggles for an inclusion into the DLT market may not be too far off.

On the off chance that digital asset regulations kick off almost simultaneously around the globe, the developments of DLT-related banking products may surge, however, the industry has to fine tune its scaling strategies as the world gravitates from fiat currencies to emerging systems of value exchange.

There’s still so much more to be done by banks before incumbent systems can fully trust DLT. Therefore, more research and contingency methods would have to be in place before a complete shift occurs. However, the psychological shift is first, banks need to come to terms with the changing system as peer-to-peer systems are taking over, soon there would be lesser demand for banking services – which for the most parts lack the allure to keep customers.

Other emerging doubts could be stemmed through standardization of DLT objectives and strategies. Above all else, banks venturing into the blockchain space must do so for the long-haul, as the nascent technology still has room for growth, and perhaps evolve into a more suitable system for the banking industry.

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New Australian PM Wants to Use Blockchain to Take On Big Banks

The Prime Minister of Australia Scott Morrison plans to utilize blockchain technology to bring ‘much tougher competition’ to the country’s big banks and dominant industries.

Cryptocurrency is increasingly becoming an important topic for politicians to formulate their stance on. Several weeks after Morrison’s election, he was questioned by reporters on his views, to which he shared some exciting ideas for blockchain use cases in Australia.

In a recently surfaced video, a reporter asked the new Prime Minister: “Would you accept the innovation of cryptocurrencies to ease some of the inefficiencies in the banking sector?”

He replied saying that he had spent a lot of time looking at cryptocurrencies during his time in the treasury, but no, he didn’t think the answer is as simple as that. Forwarding his elaboration with “let me be nerdy for a sec,” he swung into an appraisal of cryptocurrencies core technology, blockchain.

Morrison noted that the contributions of distributed ledger technology (DLT) and blockchain in the financial sector have, and will, open more ”massive opportunities.” He further shared with the reporters that the Australian banking system will be able to utilize these technologies to transform areas of consumer data rights, open banking reforms, and new legislation.

The primary benefit of blockchain as he sees it, however, is its ability to deliver a new level of tough competition with the big banks, forcing them into a more client-friendly practice. He said ”Business as usual’ for the big banks won’t be continuing… Smaller banks and new technologies can be used to give greater power to customers.”

With many people in the crypto community sharing similar sentiments and appreciating the personal banking empowerment cryptocurrency gives them, Morrison is sure to become a popular figure among them.

The politician would seem to be true to his word as he has recently spent a part of his career pushing for more favorable domestic policies regarding cryptocurrency. During his time as treasurer in 2016, he helped create legislation that would remove the unfair double taxation that the government collected on cryptocurrencies.

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UK Researches DLT Applications for Digital Evidence, Identity Security

The UK government has begun researching the applications of distributed ledger technology (DLT) in securing digital evidence as part of the nation’s court reform plans.

An HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS) blog post by Balaji Anbil details the service’s conjointly held meeting with the Open Innovation team in which they discussed the use cases for DLT in protecting digital evidence. Specifically, Anbil said that they were looking into ways of applying the new technology in traditional legal procedures, such as during evidence sharing and identity management.

Dr. Sadek Ferdous, Technology Policy Fellow and Research Associate at Imperial College shared his expertise on public and private DLT systems. Ferdous pointed out that one of the challenges currently experienced is the difficulty in verifying the original source and history of digital evidence, and that this audit trail is a key component for future systems.

By providing a chronological record of when evidence has been accessed or modified and from what location, DLT could be utilized to ensure the integrity of evidence remains, Anbil writes in the post. ”This is clearly a critical capability” it reads.

HMCTS is serious about embracing and utilizing innovative technologies when it comes to securing digital data and have plans to discuss artificial intelligence, cloud security, and next-generation design in the future.

Blockchain in the Legal System

Earlier this month, Bitcoin News reported on legal technology expert Paul Sachs’ advocation for the use of blockchain in the legal system and court proceedings. The most significant contribution blockchain could make in legal proceedings, as Sachs sees, is the potential it has in transforming security and protecting evidence during a trial, much like the DLT research conducted by the HMCTS.

Sachs referenced the UK courts’ GBP 1 billion modernization effort partially focused on digitizing processes to increase work efficiency that Anbil’s research applies to.

It would appear that the UK government is doing its due diligence and listening to the experts.

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Kenya Enlists Blockchain to Fight Allegations of Electoral Corruption

Kenya’s electoral agency plans to utilize a blockchain voting system in its reform efforts to promote transparency.

The blockchain system in the works would be used to offer real-time voting results to avoid any perceptions of misconduct including tampering with the results. A statement from the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission Chairman Wafula Chebukati detailed the potential blockchain solution as providing security for all presidential candidates and allowing them to access and verify the results themselves.

The northeast African nation of Kenya has suffered claims of election rigging in nearly every election since the institution of multi-party democracy in 1991. The leader of the opposition party Raila Odinga just last year rejected two of the presidential polls; the first was annulled by the Supreme Court on the grounds of substantial electoral irregularities.

In 2007, chaos ensued after the disputed election results, leaving approximately  1,100 people dead, as well as displacing around 600,000 before a coalition government was finally agreed upon.

A blockchain-backed voting system could be a valuable tool in promoting a peaceful democracy in Kenya, bringing an end to any lingering doubts about the legitimacy of results.

Blockchain solutions in elections

Ukraine has also been testing the benefits of utilizing blockchain in its voting procedure. The Central Election Commission of Ukraine has been experimenting with the NEM blockchain, with the commission commending the immutability of hosting elections on the blockchain, as well as the improved security benefits of the decentrally-hosted data.

While it remains in the trial stages, the head of the country’s voter registry at the commission Oleksandr Stelmakh has been providing much positive feedback on his social media pages.

An Australian start-up also has plans to institute blockchain voting technology in countries such as Indonesia that are struggling to preserve the sanctity of elections in their emerging democracies.

The platform designer Jamie Skella said: “If you utilize blockchain to submit a vote in the same way that a Bitcoin transaction can’t be reversed, it can’t be changed, it’s a trustworthy process based on a system, which is not owned by any one entity, not by an organization, or a government or an individual.”

 

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Law Expert Advocates for Blockchain Use in Legal System

In an article for Lawyer Monthly, legal technology expert Paul Sachs advocated for the use of blockchain in the legal system and court proceedings, focusing on the UK in his discussion.

Sachs preceded his in-depth analysis of how blockchain could be utilized by stating a necessity for substance to be included in the growing discussion around the technology’s potential use cases; his analysis does just this.

Increased security

The most significant contribution of blockchain in law, as Sachs sees, it is the potential it has in transforming security and protecting evidence during a trial. He notes that the UK courts are currently going through a GBP 1 billion modernization effort partially focused on digitizing processes to increase work efficiency.

For courts to move away from paper, instituting new technology poses a risk, especially in that digital evidence can be altered. Sachs writes that particularly when there is a long time between the original submission and the court date, data must be provably fully compliant with security and business processes.

The solution: an immutable network of evidence that can be presented in a courtroom with no questions as to the authenticity of the data. These are the strongest features of blockchain by design.

Blockchain may be a public artifact, Sachs discusses, but legal evidence would not be revealed to the public, merely IDs and hash codes. He writes: ”In this way, it becomes an incorruptible digital ledger.” Each transaction of the evidence would be recorded on the blockchain, while the evidence itself would remain completely private.

This removes the opportunity for any wrongdoers to forge documents or edit photographs once the evidence has been uploaded to the blockchain. It also could be just the beginning of further innovation in the legal sector with security now guaranteed, as Sachs outlines.

Blockchain in the UK

Sachs’ vision for blockchain in the legal system may well be established given the UK Financial Conduct Authority’s (FCA) blockchain bullishness. It recently announced the establishment of a collaborative entity, the Global Financial Innovation Network (GFIN), to pursue innovations.

The network’s purpose is founded on the concept of establishing a global blockchain knowledge-sharing “sandbox”.

The Bank of England has also nearly finalized its Proof of Concept (PoC) project that is looking to establish a Real Time Gross Settlement (RTGS) service to meet new financial challenges emerging from the changing landscape.

 

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World Bank Mandates First Ever Blockchain Bond

The World Bank has mandated the Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA) to authorize the world’s first blockchain bond. The foreign bond issued in Australian dollars has been dubbed bond-i, an acronym for Blockchain Offered New Debt Instrument, as well as a reference to Sydney’s Bondi Beach.

bond-i

A joint press release from the World Bank and the CBA describes bond-i as the first of its kind to be fully managed with blockchain technology. The bonds will be entirely created, allocated and transferred using distributed ledger technology to secure every transaction.

Noting the benefits of applying blockchain technology to bonds, the two organizations wrote in the press release that blockchain is capable of streamlining the processes of a number of debt capital market intermediaries and agents. Several benefits of this are listed, including simplifying raising capital and trading securities, improving the efficiency of operations and augmenting oversight of regulations.

Arunma Oteh, World Bank Treasurer, said: ”We believe that emerging technologies, equally offer transformative, yet prudent possibilities for us to continue to innovate, respond to investor needs and strengthen markets.”

The World Bank and CBA have built a private, Ethereum-based blockchain platform on which bonds will be issued and distributed. The CBA said that they were open to using alternative blockchain networks as the space continues to evolve.

Sophie Gilder, Head of Blockchain Innovation Labs at the CBA said that bond-i is a significant step in unlocking the revolutionary potential of blockchain in financial services and markets.

Investor interest in bond-i has already been strong, according to the World Bank, although it plans further consultations with investors prior to launching the transaction.

The World Bank will run its operations for the bond from Washington, DC, with the institution already responsible for issuing between USD 50-60 billion annually in bonds for sustainable development.

 

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Research Paper Advocates Use of Blockchain for Public Services in Scotland

The Scottish Government has released a five-point recommendation paper regarding a robust introduction of Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT), better known as blockchain, into public services.

Public sector meets blockchain

The research report titled ‘Distributed Ledger Technology in Public Services’ published on 6 August was conducted by Wallet Services, a blockchain development specialist, which was commissioned by the Scottish Government’s Digital Directorate in 2017.

The report writes that the researchers discovered an “overwhelming international consensus that DLT will have a significant role in underpinning future digital government”.

It makes note of the “popular narrative” of DLT being a decentralizing technology, “disintermediating central institutions like governments and banks”. Despite this appeal, the study believes in the future benefits of the technology in the public sector such as streamlining of data governance, public service delivery mechanisms, economic models and economy ecosystems.

The report insists that “Scotland join the international ecosystem as an active participant”. To do so, it will need to utilize universities and businesses for small-scale projects in the Scottish public sector, with the goal of developing a Scottish vision for DLT and sharing these findings with the international community.

Five “broad” recommendations

The report offers a set of guidelines that together, will allow for this new effort to come to fruition. It covers areas such as, putting together a group of DLT representatives to drive projects under this new vision, improve knowledge and skills around disruptive technologies, engage proactively with other nations’ governments, educate leaders across multiple industries and designate leadership to a group of progressives who will work diligently to deploy DLT in the public sector

It takes note of several international countries that have completed public-sector Proof-of-Concept (PoC) projects and have integrated DLT into their systems. Estonia is the first mention in the report, which perhaps due to its relatively similar population size.

Success stories

Estonia, with just over a million inhabitants, has managed to implement e-governance to great success and according to the report, “e-Estonia” has allowed for a streamlined experience between citizens and the state. Despite its small size, the integration of blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies has revamped the country from digital identity and economy to sustaining home-grown tech startups.

Kersti Kaljulaid, President of Estonia said, “…we can make ten million payments, perform ten million requests and sign ten million contracts in just ten minutes. Even ten times larger states cannot beat us.”

It also makes note of the Netherlands, which has had eleven blockchain pilots underway since 2016, the give focus to processes and services that were in need of modernization across different governmental organizations.

This report arrives in timely fashion; Scotland finds itself in the fortunate position of being part of the United Kingdom, which is presently going strength to strength in the blockchain race. This is especially with the Bank of England completing a major DLT PoC, prestigious academic institutions offering blockchain-related courses, major cities such as Liverpool utilizing the technology to reduce carbon emissions, and other notable blockchain projects to name but a few.

 

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Gibraltar Stock Exchange Subsidiary Seeks Regulated Blockchain Exchange

A subsidiary of the Gibraltar Stock Exchange (GSX) is aiming to become one of the first licensed and regulated crypto exchanges operated by an EU stock exchange.

The company, the Gibraltar Blockchain Exchange (GBX), has reportedly introduced 300 retail account holders to its platform as part of its launch. The company has suggested that in order to monitor and develop how to present the best user experience for its future customers, the invited retailers will be asked to offer feedback after the launch.

It plans to serve institutional cryptocurrency investors at start up, with CEO Nick Cowan suggesting that the platform will be “fair, transparent, efficient, and safe”.

Gibraltar aims to lure new and existing fintech companies to its shores, following in the footsteps of other European countries such as Malta and Switzerland, both of which have seen the arrival of major cryptocurrency players like Binance and Bitmain in recent months.

The 2nd Gibraltar International FinTech Forum held earlier this year, with another ‘Gibfin’ forum to follow in September 2018, demonstrates the country’s serious intent when it comes to encouraging fintech companies to do business there.

According to GBX, it has already enacted distributed ledger technology (DLT) legislation to provide a worldwide jurisdiction for crypto companies, suggesting it wants to lead the world in technology regulation. The new legislation states that any firm in Gibraltar using DLT to store and transmit value is regulated in the country by default. Cowan adds:

“The soft launch of the platform will mean that we can continue as effectively as possible toward providing an institutional-grade token sales springboard for utility tokens and top-quality digital asset exchange for the global blockchain and trading communities.”

The company’s aim to become the first licensed and regulated EU stock exchange cryptocurrency platform is in part thanks to recent changes in Gibraltar law earlier this year, as providers of DLT now come under the jurisdiction of the Financial Services Act, implemented by the Financial Services Commission of the British overseas territory.

 

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