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Wells Fargo Piloting US Dollar Backed Stablecoin

Wells Fargo, a major United States bank with USD 1.9 trillion of assets, has announced that they will be piloting a US Dollar backed stablecoin on a distributed ledger technology (DLT) platform. Specifically, Wells Fargo is utilizing R3’s Corda Enterprise technology.

Lisa Frazier, the head of the Innovation Group at Wells Fargo, says:

“We believe DLT holds promise for a variety of use cases, and we’re energized to take this significant step in applying the technology to banking in a material and scalable way. Wells Fargo Digital Cash has the potential to enable Wells Fargo to remove barriers to real-time financial interactions across multiple accounts in multiple marketplaces around the world.”

The new stablecoin will facilitate rapid cross-border payments in the Wells Fargo global network, and then the stablecoin can be exchanged locally or internationally among users. If this pilot is successful, the bank plans on launching additional DLT-based applications.

Wells Fargo is not the only bank piloting stablecoin technology. JPMorgan has launched JPM Coin which can be sent to over 300 banks within their network.

It is expected that the Wells Fargo pilot will start in 2020, and initially only use US dollars, but will eventually expand to other major global fiat currencies.

The point of using a stablecoin within a DLT, which is a form of blockchain technology, is that it simultaneously provides cryptographic security and transparency. Also, stablecoins can be sent instantly, which is faster than international fiat payment options.

 

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Should Governments Back DLT Agricultural Initiatives?

Blockchain tech could be the way forward for agricultural revolution.

Blockchain technology has gone far beyond its application in the financial sector. The disruptive technology, of late, has been flooding the newspapers and mainstream media for all the right reasons.

We have already seen its substantial impact in food traceability and supply chain management. Currently, as many industries are experimenting the vast inherent capabilities of the technology, the agricultural domain is also eyeing the integration of innovative technologies in its intricate supply chain. The premise on which blockchain technology is based, that is, recording of transactions in a decentralized log which is transparent and accessible to the involved parties can prove to provide essential advantages in the agricultural sector.

Ensuring food safety

Food adulteration and quality manipulation have been a constant occurrence in the agricultural sector. This increases consumer demand to know the source of the foods they buy and blockchain technology can be used to align with these demands. Consumers can, with ease in accessibility, obtain information regarding the origin of their food. Food traceability, and establishing accountability becomes easier, and this simultaneously decreases occurrences of fraudulence.

There has been significant progress in this aspect, since it is in both farmer and producer interests. This is because of the instances along the way for farmers to get their profits eaten up by those higher up the supply chain or the retailer’s brand image being tarnished by counterfeits or duplicates. Hence, blockchain technology could be a win-win situation. In fact, the fast-moving consumer goods sector (FMCG) is already seeing many companies trying to get an edge over their peers.

Establishing source and transparency

Perhaps the most prominent use of blockchain technology in the agricultural sector lies in the fact that it could provide transparency in the supply chain. There exists a highly intricate flow of resources in the agricultural sector. With this, it becomes increasingly difficult to verify the accuracy and attest to the transfer of commodities or money from the farms to the fork.

What this essentially means is that the provision of information to the involved parties in the supply chain can be manipulated to align it with the interests of certain people. Farmers do not get access to basic information of things such as the volume of their products being sold and the amount they are sold at. This ambiguity could create a sense of vulnerability among them leaving them at the hands of parties involved higher in the supply chain.

Blockchain provides a solution to this problem. It can track the information relating to the supply chain with great accuracy, without it being prone to manipulation. This means that farmers and retailers will have access to data in relation to the products and can justify any excess charge levied on them. This ultimately leads to customer satisfaction as they gain information about the foods that they consume. In addition, this transparency facilitates the smooth conduction of transactions among farmer and buyers as it increases mutual confidence. All of this significantly removes the existence of unnecessary middlemen, food adulteration and manipulation.

Optimizing payment options

It is not an unknown fact that one of the major concerns pertaining to the agricultural sector is the authenticity of the financial transactions. Farmers have to wait for long periods of time to receive money from buyers. In addition, farmers have to previously know their buyers to have the element of trust between them — a pre-requisite for them to enter into business. The transaction cost is also significantly high and can sometimes prove to be a hindrance due to their risky nature.

The adoption of blockchain technology can address the aforementioned problems. Firstly, it would facilitate faster movement of funds while being transparent. This means that the farmers would not be left wondering about due payments. In fact, Ethereum-based smart contracts could be used to immediately conduct the transaction as soon as the action is complete. This reduces the need to individually analyze and assess the trustworthiness of their buyers, which previously served as a hindrance. As a result, time and money of the farmers is protected and the chances of fraud decrease.

In addition, governmental subsidies, although meant for the benefit of the farmer, do not necessarily reach them. The transparent nature of blockchain can help in making sure that the correct allocated amount reaches the right hands at the right time.

An agricultural revolution?

The inclusion of blockchain technology in the agricultural sector gives rise to a new scenario. Previously, those who could not conduct business due to trust or accountability issues, can now do so without any concerns. This will lead to the formation of many more chains of business between the farmer and their buyers. The expansion and scope of this market is unprecedented, and could possibly revolutionize the agricultural sector.

There are many startups that have worked towards integrating blockchain technology in the agricultural sector. Agri-ledger, stores transaction data and helps in tracing back to the origin. Agri-chain helps in conducting peer to peer transactions. California-based Ripe helps in assessing quality of food which creates transparency right along the supply chain. Crop insurance is also facilitated by blockchain technology with Worldcover using satellites to constantly monitor factors such as rainfall which affect the growth of crops, and triggers instantaneous payment. Provenance has vested its funds into food safety by giving consumers access to product origin and history. In July, Aon plc unveiled a blockchain-based platform for the provision of agricultural insurance policies for smallholder paddy field farmers in Sri Lanka.

This clearly establishes the fact that blockchain technology has already started to find its way in the agricultural and food sector. In May 2019, research by Gartner, Inc indicated the major shift of global grocers towards blockchain. The research claimed that 10% of the top global food conglomerates would adopt blockchain for food traceability by 2025. As reported in March 2019, French president Emmanuel Macron urged the EU to embrace the use of blockchain technology to exploit its benefits and enhance the agricultural industry.

Agriculture, coupled with blockchain technology, has a lot of scope for expansion and adoption thanks to the plethora of functions it brings along.

 

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Emerging Tech’s Role in Insurance Industry Reform

Insurance industry could transform with the help of emerging technologies.

The insurance industry has seen a meteoric rise for quite some time now. The growth of the multi-trillion industry is expected to surpass the growth of the global economy in 2018-19. While Bruce Springsteen’s vocal chords hold an insurance of USD 6 million, Julia Roberts’ killer smile is insured for a whopping USD 30 million which just goes to show that pretty much anything can have an insurance.

Even as global premium volume is increasing by leaps and bounds, like most other industries, the insurance industry has continued to grapple with several challenges all these years. As an attempt to revolutionize the space, disruptive technologies such as blockchain, artificial intelligence (AI) and internet of things (IOT) are being implemented and studied by several industry giants and startups to offer faster payouts, gain trust, prevent frauds, minimize mismanagement and obtain a competitive edge in the market.

Why blockchain?

Insurance policies, as we know, are used to mitigate the repercussions of unforeseen tragedies. However, the traditional methods are prone to human errors and carry a risk of botching information. This instills a lack of trust in the clients which is so far the biggest challenge faced by the industry. Most individuals avoid purchasing insurance policies due to the risk factors.

The State Insurance Commissioner of Georgia was accused of a fraud of USD 2 million

In recent times, the underlying technology of cryptocurrencies has gone mainstream with its widespread applications in financial as well as non-financial ecosystems. Distributed ledger technology (DLT) is being advocated to reform supply chains by instituting transparency and precision.

Given the complexity surrounding insurances, DLT can be used to dumb down the procedure by instituting coordination between the issuers, brokers, re-insurers and consumers. The model ensures a streamlined information flow in the value chain. As transactions occur, the information can be updated on the ledger. The information recorded on the ledger is immutable which ensures authenticity of the records and mitigates fraud risks. Moreover, the security provided by the technology cuts down on the countless checks and data verification. Consequently, payouts are settled quickly and this improves the overall efficiency and enhances accountability and customer satisfaction.

Smart contracts give a real-time outlook of policy data like insurance coverage and payout details to the network participants post claims. Needless to say, this saves a lot of time for the company as well as the customers while procuring error-free data.

Real-life use cases in various insurance sectors

Several insurance giants are leveraging blockchain solutions due to the low operational costs and increased automation of processes. In Zimbabwe, officials from Insurance and Pensions Commission (IPEC) endorsed blockchain solutions to tackle the hurdles of the industry.

Earlier this month, as reported by BitcoinNews.com, a Sri Lankan firm embraced blockchain to provide agricultural insurance policies for smallholder paddy field farmers in Sri Lanka.

Last year, the effectiveness of blockchain technology was tested in the marine ecosystem for cargo insurances. With the goal of issuing faster payouts, the project was deemed successful by the two collaborating partners which extended the prospects of establishing a full-fledged version of the platform in the future.

Life insurance

Life insurance claims are perhaps the most difficult to file with the mundane task taking on the emotional toll. In such a scenario, a blockchain-based model certainly comes as a blessing with boosted efficiency and authentic insurance products.

In June 2019, leading global insurer, MetLife (Metropolitan Life Insurance Company), announced the adoption of Ethereum blockchain to revolutionize the life insurance industry. The smart contract platform dubbed “Lifechain” will serve the customers by providing the family with reliable data of the insurance along with automated claim procedure. Zia Zaman, CIO of MetLife Asia, said that the primary reason behind implementing the technology is to exploit the security benefits offered by it along with the freedom to incorporate multiparty participation. He also stated:

“If you try technology that has been around for twenty years you’re not going to learn as much as if you try it with a decentralized system like DLT, and that’s advantageous because we are realizing that there is a lower cost of implementation for this system versus the other way.”

On demise, Lifechain will encrypt the corresponding National Registration Identity Card (NRIC) number on the ledger following which a search will be initiated to determine if the deceased is insured. The platform will then notify the family promptly while initiating a claim.

The concept simplifies the excruciating process of filing a claim with an attempt to deliver quick services and foster better relationships with the customers.

Health insurance

Slowly but surely, the healthcare industry has recognized the unprecedented benefits of blockchain to provide a trusted infrastructure. Nevertheless, the paradigm shift from traditional methods to blockchain-based solutions requires ample time and groundwork, but the health insurance sector has left no stones unturned to experiment the technology.

In January 2019, health insurance giant Aetna collaborated with IBM to devise a network based on IBM’s blockchain platform. Per the release, the primary reason for introducing blockchain was to achieve a smooth and secure information exchange to reinforce efficient claims and payment processes.

Soroush Abbaspour, IBM’s program director of blockchain for HCLS, stated that smart contracts will be the driving force to garner efficiency as they will permit cheaper claims and payment processes along with transparency in the network. He stated:

“Smart contracts on blockchains can be used to implement contract terms and business rules in a trusted execution environment. The benefit of blockchain is to dramatically reduce administration costs by eliminating duplicate processing, reducing disputes, and allowing for more effective risk management through real-time visibility and provenance leading to broader adoption of value programs by providers.”

Title insurance

Title insurance primarily insures an individual from the financial losses endured due to the defects in the title to a property. The title insurance industry is implementing blockchain for efficient title registries. Although refashioning the model will affect the process of title search requests, certifications and the issuance of  insurance policies, the industry is eyeing the transition to exploit the benefits that it brings along while continuing to perform other key functions in real estate.

UBITQUITY is one such platform with uses Blockchain-as-a-Service (BaaS) to provide title companies and municipalities benefit from a “clean record of ownership, thereby reducing future title search time, and increasing confidence/transparency”.

Even in the crypto insurance industry, leading insurers such as Marsh & McLennan and Aon are extending blockchain startup services to cater to the specific requirements of crypto protection. With the increase in demand for crypto premiums, insurers are being driven towards low-cost services.

In the coming years, the need to switch to better business models cannot be overlooked by the industry to achieve a robust and frictionless ecosystem. With real-time visibility and settlement of contracts, the program will attract more customers with effective risk management.

With endless possibilities, it is only up to the market players to explore the vast potential of the emerging technologies and incorporate what takes them to the forefront of the realm. The brisk DLT-based models already hold evidence to provide a sophisticated and advanced insurance program compared to the traditional counterparts.

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SEC More Informed Than Expected at DC Blockchain Forum

SEC More Informed Than Expected at DC Blockchain Forum

The week started with the much-awaited Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) first Fintech Forum, held on 31 June in Washington DC.

Issues on the agenda were expected to be related to cryptocurrency assets and DLT with key SEC officials being joined by various legal, financial and technical experts, but what surprised experts was the degree of knowledge SEC representatives already had on a range of crypto-related topics.

Cynics have always labeled the SEC with a lack of understanding on all things crypto, therefore, maintaining a wait n see stance, particularly on matters relating to Bitcoin ETFs. The SEC’s chops were reportedly highly visible at the meeting. Joshua Ashley Klayman, managing member of Klayman LLC, a boutique law firm was, like others, surprised at the SECs acquired crypto knowledge:

“Clearly they have been listening to what those in the community – and their counsel – have been saying to them and they’ve put a lot of effort into understanding this space… It was a much higher-level discussion than the basics of blockchain.”

On the SEC side, Valerie Szczepanik, the SEC’s senior advisor for digital assets through in Ethereum smart-contract programming language when explaining a point about the need for more dialogue between the agency and developers and explained that both the SEC and developers needed “to translate between each other”. She added that both sides need to fill the educational gap when it came to understanding bot regulation and development, pointing out:

“We also learned that the federal securities laws are just as complex to computer scientists as coding smart contracts in Solidity are to regulators.”

Another attendee at the forum went away with a somewhat renewed perceptions of the SEC, Attorney Stephen Rutenberg, a shareholder at Polsinelli and a member of the firm’s Fintech and Regulation Practice, agreed that the SEC’s understanding of DLTs was “beyond what most people think”.

 

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Malta Offers 19 DLT Scholarships in Bid to Push Blockchain Education

Malta Offers 19 DLT Scholarships in Bid to Push Blockchain Education

Blockchain-friendly Malta is never slow to come forward with new crypto innovations and is now launching further into the education sector to prepare for the future with 19 students recently being awarded DLT grants.

Dubbed “Blockchain Island” by both the prime minister Joseph Muscat and Silvio Schembri, the Parliamentary Secretary for Financial Services, Digital Economy and Innovation, the DLT Scholarship Grants to University of Malta students show the intent to keep blockchain expertise on the island and not lose innovation to overseas employers.

Both Schembri and University of Malta rector Alfred Vella are working in tandem to ensure the island nation continues on its current path to make Malta the place for blockchain companies to call home, with local expertise supporting the industry on the island. Schembri commented on the latest move:

“These 19 awardees are a symbol of courage to embrace change and we definitely need more like them. I thank the and MITA’s future-looking mind-set and for their commitment in preparing future generations for the necessities of future industries, as well as the building blocks of Malta The Blockchain Island require everyone’s involvement, from the ground up.”

The Parliamentary Secretary went on to point out that the rate of change in the areas of ICT engineering and legal work needed blockchain to keep pace with technology, as it takes more of a central role across all of the professions.

The scholarships were given the green light back in 2018 which paved the way for a grant of EUR 300,000 (USD 330,000) which will allow for a three-year period enabling students to continue studies in blockchain and distributed ledger technology at both masters and doctorate levels.

The successful students will read for a Master’s degree in Blockchain, DLT as well as Law and DLT, Finance and Business, and ICT and DLT.

 

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Singapore, Canada Central Banks Conduct First Cross Border Blockchain Digital Currency Exchange

Singapore, Canada Central Banks Conduct First Cross Border Blockchain Digital Currency Exchange

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) and the Bank of Canada have set the trend becoming the first central banks to use DLT for a digital cross border payment.

MAS linked up with its Canadian counterpart Project Jasper via its own pilot payment network Project UBin in a cooperative attempt to lower the cost of cross-border payments via blockchain, and also speeding up the process of transmission and reception.

Sopnendu Mohanty, MAS chief fintech officer, said that the two projects were following on from an ongoing collaboration between the two country’s central banks and commented: “Together, these projects have addressed many technical questions and brought the technology to a higher level of maturity.”

Scott Hendry, the Bank of Canada’s senior special director of financial technology said that forward planning for more cooperation between the banks was an essential ingredient for future success in lowering costs and enhancing efficiency in cross border payments.

“Only through continued collaboration and fundamental research will it be possible for this technology to mature and for policymakers to fully understand its potential.”

A senior financial specialist at the World Bank has released a paper which agrees that distributed ledger technology could help bring down remittance costs and improve cross-border payments compliance. The World bank blog also states the “industry is ripe for disruption“, citing DLT as being well positioned to make its mark.

One major area of concern expressed by the World Bank which was seen as a hurdle to the take up of DLT in this sector was a general distrust of such solutions due to industry concerns and misunderstanding regarding the nature of cryptocurrency, borne from the same technology.

 

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Forbes “Blockchain’s Billion Dollar Babies” List Released

Forbes “Blockchain’s Billion Dollar Babies,” List Released

Forbes has released its high flyer list of blockchain users which indicates which of these companies has valuations or revenues of USD 1 billion.

The usual high flyers are as expected including Amazon, Walmart, Facebook, ING, Mastercard, Microsoft, and Nestle, with crypto-companies such as Coinbase, Ripple, and Bitfury putting in a show.

Interestingly Forbes goes a bit further on the blockchain front by flagging the use of blockchain in the non-crypto domain. The list points to where the action is and who the players are when it comes to blockchain protocols, with a nod to companies such as the Depository Trust & Clearing Corp (DTCC) which records a mammoth 90 million transactions daily.

Firms using R3’s Corda protocol and the Ethereum network are also listed on Forbes’ breakdown, and blockchain based solutions utilized across many different sectors including food companies, supply chain management firms and others including banking. R3 itself leads a consortium of more than 200 financial institutions in research and development of DLT usage in the financial system and other commercial sectors.

Corda was designed for dealing with complex transactions and security and is expected to have many of the benefits of the blockchain. A new version of Corda was released earlier this year aimed specifically at businesses, called Corda Enterprise, it includes a blockchain applications firewall.

It was unsurprising to see Walmart on the list. The US retail giant has applied for numerous blockchain patents and has become a leader in applying new technology to the supply chain sector. Both Walmart and IBM have been at the forefront of DLT supply chains since its conception and both companies are eager to promote the use of the new technology in sectors including business and commerce.

 

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World Bank Says DLT Can Drive Cross-Border Payments

World Bank Says DLT Can Drive Cross-Border Payments

A senior financial specialist at the World Bank has released a paper which claims that distributed ledger technology could help bring down remittance costs and improve cross-border payments compliance.

The World bank blog also states the “industry is ripe for disruption“, citing DLT as being well positioned to make its mark. The post was written by World Bank senior financial sector specialist Marco Nicoli along with Rodrigo Mejia-Ricart, research and public policy analyst at the United Nations and Camilo Tellez, head of research and innovation at the Better than Cash Alliance. The post criticizes current traditional B2B cross-border payments as being too slow and points out the faults quite succinctly:

“Moving funds through the current corridors requires transferal through the relevant domestic payment systems, which often have different operating hours and are located in different time zones… For certain corridors, the funds must be routed through several banks and intermediaries before they reach their destination, leading to higher fees and slower payment settlement.”

There is a multitude of options operating within the payment space, making it hard for DLT to find a position which users trust, tied for years to traditional systems, and dependent on them despite their pitfalls. The paper suggests that cost, one major burden for users of current payment systems, could be reduced if existing companies followed models such as Ripple, Circle, Swift, Visa, and JPMorgan, who are all active within the space, and currently bringing new innovations to the cross-border payment sector.

One major area of concern which was seen as a hurdle to the take up of DLT in this sector was a general distrust of such solutions due to industry concerns and misunderstanding regarding the nature of cryptocurrency, borne from the same technology.

Other concerns were raised on the subject of bringing DLT into direct competition with established CBP systems such as security, governance rules for protocols, recourse mechanisms for users, privacy, and scalability.

 

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Swiss Federal Council Begins National Blockchain Framework Changes

Swiss Federal Council Begin National Blockchain Framework Changes

The Swiss Federal Council has initiated a consultation period on the adaptation of federal law for blockchain developments.

According to the state-issued press release, the consultation will be an opportunity to improve the framework for blockchain and other decentralized technologies in Switzerland. Specifically, it will look to increase legal certainty, restrict risks associated with misuse of the technologies and remove obstacles for blockchain-backed applications, most predominantly looking at use-cases in the financial sector.

The council first published a blockchain report in December last year addressing the current circumstances, then making it clear they would be prepared to make changes to the existing framework to provide a ”leading, innovative and sustainable location for fintech and DLT companies.”

There will be a revision of the current anti-money laundering policies, with an amendment to theAnti-Money Laundering Ordinance scheduled.

Several policy adjustments have already been proposed also, including the separation of cryptocurrency assets in the event of bankruptcy, as well as establishing a digital registration of rights in the Swiss Code of Obligations.

The Federal Council’s consultation period is scheduled to last until late June 2019.

 

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Crypto Community Happy with Switzerland’s New Industry Friendly President

Switzerland has a new rotating president as its former finance minister Ueli Maurer takes over the helm after overseeing the country’s financial sector for 3 years.

The move is seen as a positive one in the eyes of Switzerland’s burgeoning cryptocurrency community, as Maurer had been at the helm of numerous positive developments in the crypto arena during his role as a finance minister.

As finance minister, Maurer has helped his country’s financial sector adapt to the changing face of the finance, particularly in its adoption of regulations overseeing the cryptocurrency sector; industry-friendly regulations which are much admired by many nations around the world who are also in the process of regulating new financial technologies.

The government’s liberal blockchain regulations are one of the reasons that Switzerland has become a world-class playground for start-ups and successful blockchain enterprises. The Alpine nation’s latest announcement regarding DLT and its increasingly prevalent place in the country’s financial sector is a new strategy for amending current outmoded laws. The strategy also calls for the integration of cryptocurrencies into the heart of Switzerland’s economic plan.

A blockchain task force of blockchain industry stakeholders was formed last year when it became clear that emerging technologies were gaining traction within the Swiss financial economy.

Switzerland’s biggest hurdle, a factor which President Maurer has acknowledged in the past, remains the reluctance of Swiss banks to service cryptocurrency businesses and exchanges, an issue which is still causing concerns in the industry and one that has recently prompted companies to consider moving to more favorable jurisdictions for banking.

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