By Carlo R.W. De Meijer, Independent, for Finextra
In the past three weeks we travelled throughout South Africa. Our main focus was on the country, the people, the safaris, the Big Five. But not on blockchain! Now being back home I am curious what happened in between in the blockchain area. So let’s have a look.
A number of interesting reports were launched, amongst others by Euroclear and Deloitte. And there has been growing blockchain and distributed ledger activity in the financial industry from start-ups, to banks, central banks, the market infrastructure and consortia. But also from advisory companies, central government bodies and others.
Euroclear report: Blockchain Settlement: Regulation, Innovation, and Application
A new report by Euroclear has looked at the regulatory and legal aspects of the use of blockchain technology in post-trade settlement in a European context. The report found that central securities depositories (CSDs) would play an important role in a blockchain-based settlement system. It also stated that regulators should not fear the use of smart contracts and distributed ledger technology any more than any other automated computer-based process prevalent throughout the settlement industry.
As ‘custodians of the code,’ CSDs could exercise oversight of, and take responsibility for, the operation of the relevant blockchain protocol and any associated smart contracts. CSDs may continue to perform an important role as trusted, centralised FMIs (financial market institutions), providing gatekeeping services and oversight of the relevant blockchain.
With the implementation of a DLT-based settlement process there is no need to change the existing regulatory architecture. The authors believe that a blockchain-based settlement system would not present a weaker cybersecurity proposition than any present system, which is not immune to cybersecurity. By allowing regulators to participate as a node in the blockchain system, they could have complete oversight of all the transactions occurring within the settlement system and receive transparent transaction data in real time.
Deloitte Survey: Corporate Executives Having Hard Time Wrapping Heads Around Blockchain
According to a recent Deloitte online survey of more than 300 senior executives at large US companies to find out about corporate sentiment towards blockchain technology, understanding of the technology is uneven and many senior executives (39 per cent) still know little or nothing about it, while others place it among their company’s highest priorities.
The survey revealed that blockchain investment and adoption patterns may be more complex than many observers believe. For instance, despite the relative immaturity of the technology, 21 percent of Blockchain-informed senior executives across a wide range of industries indicated that their firms have already brought blockchain into production, and 25 percent plan to do so within the next year. Key findings from the survey showed that 28 per cent of respondents had invested $5 million or more in blockchain technology, while 10 per cent had invested $10 million or more. Looking forward, 25 percent of respondents expect to invest more than $5 million in Blockchain technology during the next calendar year.
Many of these blockchain-informed executives (more than a quarter) see the technology as crucial for their company and their industry. Fifty-five percent of this group said their company would be at a competitive disadvantage if it failed to adopt the technology. Forty-two percent of those surveyed who claimed some knowledge of Blockchain believe it will disrupt their industry.
Goldman, JPMorgan take a stake in blockchain startup Axoni
Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase have announced finalizing an investment is said to be in a range of USD 15 million to USD 20 million) in blockchain startup Axoni. The Axoni deal represents the latest Wall Street effort to gain traction with blockchain technology. Axoni is a New York-based technology company that helps banks and other institutions develop blockchain software to run capital markets processes. Furthermore, other financial institutions including inter-dealer broker ICAP Plc’s venture arm are also interested in investing in the startup.
Over the past six months, Axoni has run a number of high-profile experiments with some of the financial industry’s largest players, in areas such as post-trade processing of credit default swaps and foreign exchange.
Digital Asset rolls out blockchain platform allowing confidential trades
Blockchain startup Digital Asset Holdings (DAH) has developed a platform to allow traders use blockchain technology without giving out confidential information on their trades. The new platform provides a solution to confidentiality issues holding back adoption of the blockchain technology in financial markets. They solve the privacy issue by dividing the distributed ledger of transactions into two components: one where participants can confidentially store their transactions data, and another that is shared by all participants without the confidential data.
Moreover, the new platform will form the basis of the technology that DAH is building for financial institutions including Australian stock exchange ASX and US post trade services provider the Depository Trust and Clearing Corporation (DTCC).
Manifold Technology rolls out easy-to-use blockchain platform
Manifold Technology, a US-based fintech, has made its patented blockchain platform available allowing non-technical developers to build enterprise-ready, blockchain-enabled applications. The platform has already been used by the Royal Bank of Canada for a rewards program, and by R3CEV consortium member banks to demonstrate instant trading of fixed income assets. The fintech’s platform can handle more than 10,000 transactions per second in operational environments, surpassing the largest credit card companies that can handle between 2,000 and 8,000 transactions per second.
Stellar’s blockchain powers ICICI Bank’s money transfers in India
Stellar,the open blockchain platform and non-profit payment protocol has partnered with ICICI Bank to bring low-cost, near instantaneous remittance solutions in India, the Philippines, Africa and Europe. Besides the bank, other three new partners in some of the largest remittance markets in the world were revealed by Stellar including: Philippines-based financial inclusion-focused fintech startup Coins.ph, pan-African fintech company Flutterwave which is notably plugged into the popular M-Pesa network, and French remittance provider Tempo Money Transfer, a licensed money transfer operator in Europe. This will allow Stellar customers be able to move money from France to Nigeria to Kenya to India in real-time and securely.
Overstock Issues Shares Using the Bitcoin Blockchain
Overstock.com, the online retailer, has become the first publicly-traded company to issue stock over the Internet, distributing more than 126,000 company shares using the blockchain technology. The company announced in October that it would allow its stockholders to purchase shares of its preferred stock. The company is making the offering to demonstrate its tØ platform, while providing its stockholders the opportunity to participate and trade exclusively using the platform.
Fintech Firm Wyre Raises $5.8 Million for “Fastest Blockchain Cross-Border Payments Platform”
San Francisco-based Fintech startup Wyre has launched its blockchain remittance platform alongside a successful $5.8 million funding round. Wyre intends to add its blockchain solution as a layer on top of existing blockchain-based platforms adopted by payment giants around the world. Fundamentally, the Wyre platform works by taking deposits from large payment companies via an API. These transactions are sent over Wyre’s ledger. Wyre then delivers the funds as per the transaction’s instructions, “typically in less than six hours”. Wyre’s focus lays in the cross-border payments corridor between China and the United States.
BNP Paribas completed its first blockchain-based live cross border B2B payments
BNP Paribas has completed its first live cross-border B2B payments between corporate clients using blockchain technology. The transactions, conducted on behalf of packaging outfit Amcor and trading cards group Panini, were cleared in various currencies between BNP Paribas bank accounts located in Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. For the ‘cash-without borders’ project, the payments were fully processed and cleared in a few minutes. This highlights the potential of the technology to eliminate delays, unexpected fees and processing errors, and pave the way for real time cash management. The bank has strong commitment to follow closely and further accelerate their participation in a number of market initiatives aiming at improving the corporate payments experience using blockchain technology.
Citi backs blockchain startup
Citi has invested in blockchain venture Cobalt DLT, ahead of what the company expects will be a second round of funding in 2017. Cobalt DLT is a blockchain startup aiming to bring distributed ledger technology to the processing of foreign exchange trades. Transactions in the FX market are notoriously inefficient and costly. Currently, foreign exchange trades need multiple records for buyer, seller, broker, clearer and third parties and then reconciliation across multiple systems. Cobalt is now building a post-trade processing network based on distributed ledger technology. The Cobalt DL solution has the potential to significantly improve post-trade services by cutting costs and reducing risk for our industry. Cobalt DL’s FX solution is set to launch in 2017, with 15 institutional participants committed to using the service.
While the number of consortia in the blockchain arena are further growing, the bank-backed R3CEV sees some cracks in the consortium. Some of its biggest founding members parted ways. Big names like Goldman Sachs and Banco Santander are leaving the R3CEV consortium. And new reports are surfacing suggesting that others such as JP Morgan, Morgan Stanley, Macquiries, US Bancorp and National Australia Bank may follow soon.
The R3 consortium has its first Spanish-speaking Latam member
But there is also some good news. Creditcorp, a Spanish-speaking Latin American financial institution, has joined the R3 consortium to design and apply distributed and shared ledger-inspired technologies to global financial markets. The bank provides corporate and personal banking, brokerage services, and other financial services across its six principal subsidiaries in Peru, as well as other South American countries including Bolivia, Columbia and Chile, and is listed on the Lima and New York stock exchanges.
R3 and Calypso to develop blockchain trade confirmation system
Blockchain consortium R3 continues to press ahead with new initiatives, partnering with Calypso Technology to develop a multi-party trade confirmation system running on its Corda distributed ledger-based smart contract platform. Calypso will be the first application partner to adopt the R3 platform, utilising the technology to enable counterparties to see all trade tickets on the distributed ledger so they can be sure they are matching against the correct trade.
JPX to form Japanese blockchain consortium
Japan Exchange Group (JPX) is to form a consortium of financial institutions to run trials of the use of blockchain technology in capital markets infrastructures. The exchange will seek participation from a wide range of Japanese financial institutions in order to gather broad industrial expertise ahead of testing in spring 2017. They will consider a structure for efficient information sharing between the DLT engineer community and financial institutions through efforts such as training on DLT technology. The Tokyo Stock Exchange together with the Osaka Exchange and Japan Securities Clearing Corporation (JSCC) will lead the coalition which intends to create a test environment for Proof of Concept (PoC) using Hyperledger fabric, the open source DLT platform, in cooperation with IBM.
Blockchain applications, consortium for Malta Stock Exchange
Malta Stock Exchange (MSE) has announced plans to research and develop into the blockchain technology, and to establish its own consortium. MSE’s committee will be run by MSE board members, blockchain experts and its chairman. The consortium will be sharing knowledge and establishing connections or joint-ventures with each other to assist fintech companies based on the blockchain technology, to grow by supporting them in designing and implementing blockchain applications. Furthermore, with this consortium, the Malta Stock Exchange could be planning its first blockchain application. It is very likely their first application on blockchain will replace standard stock exchange platforms.
South Korea rolls out blockchain consortium
The Korea Financial Investment Association (FIA), along with 21 financial investments and five blockchain companies, have teamed up to form a blockchain consortium. The group has signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to collaborate on projects and share their expertise on blockchain technology. Moreover, the group aims to create business opportunities for the consortium as well as establishing a platform with the member companies. Its future research projects include the establishment of a common platform for personal authentication due in 2017, researching into clearing and settlement automation in 2018 and 2019, and a platform for over-the-counter trading for 2020.
Microsoft creates Asia’s first blockchain consortium on Azure
Microsoft has teamed up with AMIS and the Industrial Technology Research Institute of Taiwan (ITRI) to form Asia’s first and the most advanced consortium blockchain network on Azure. The consortium includes members such us: Ubon Financial, Cathay Financial Holdings, MegaBank, KGI, Taishin, and CTBC Bank. Aim is to further develop blockchain opportunities in the Taiwan financial market.
The pilot blockchain project is developed using ITRI’s technology (to create an internal application program interface (API)) and Microsoft Azure. AMIS chose Ethereum, to develop a permissioned blockchain, an infrastructure specific to the needs of Taiwan’s financial market. As part of the project, ITRI provided its advanced technology to create an internal application program interface (API), while Azure provided high-speed cloud computing to ensure high security and efficiency for the blockchain infrastructure.
XBRL and ConsenSys work on deploying blockchain tokenization standards
XBRL US, a US non-profit consortium for business reporting standard, has teamed up with Consensys, a blockchain technology company, to work on deploying blockchain tokenization standards. The working group aims to establish a standardized method to represent a token across all blockchain networks in order to eliminate transactional friction and reduce processing costs; enable automation and provenance tracking; and allow interoperability of transactions on a global scale.
The working group will establish goals and action steps by early 2017, and is requesting participation from individuals representing technology, finance, and accounting to provide their expertise in developing tokenization standards that can be used worldwide, for all asset classes.
Central banks in Japan, Sweden and Singapore, among others , have launched blockchain efforts, with the European Central Bank (ECB) announcing a new research undertaking in partnership with the Bank of Japan on 6th December. The US Federal Reserve recently launched its first major research paper on blockchain.
Japan’s Central Bank Staff are Running Blockchain Trials
Japan’s central bank is researching and testing blockchain to study the possible use of distributed ledger technology for market infrastructure. They are “test-driving” blockchain technology to understand the innovation, according to its governor Haruhiko Kuroda. Speaking at a financial forum centred around digital innovation and Fintech, the Bank of Japan’s governor underlined blockchain as having the potential to “significantly affect” the basic pillars of financial activities – money and ledgers.
ECB and Bank of Japan research DLT for market infrastructure
The European Central Bank and Bank of Japan agreed to launch a joint research project to study potential use cases of blockchain technology for market infrastructure. This initiative comes after the ECB revealed that it is open to taking a closer look at exploring the potential for blockchain technology as a means to further innovation among central banks around Europe. The bank is toying with the idea of tapping DLT, among other options, for its revamp of the Target2 real-time gross settlement system and Target2-Securities platform. If this is to happen, more research into the technology is needed, prompting a collaboration with the Bank of Japan which will see findings released next year.
Bundesbank and Deutsche Börse test blockchain for securities settlement
Germany’s central bank has teamed up with Deutsche Börse to develop a functional prototype for blockchain technology-based settlement of securities. The prototype thereby enables the settlement of securities in delivery-versus-payment mode for centrally-issued digital coins, as well as the pure transfer of either digital coins or digital securities alone. In addition, this technology is capable of settling basic corporate actions such as coupon payments on securities and the redemption of maturing securities, using code from the Hyperledger Project as a basis. Both parties now plan to work on it over the next few months to test its technical performance and scalability. According to the Bundesbank, the project is aimed at providing a basis for further exploring the use of the tech in the securities trading space.
French Central Bank Pilots Blockchain
According to a report issued by the Banque de France it was announced that they tested blockchain technology for potential uses in managing SEPA Credit Identifiers, or identification markers used to establish the identity of creditors within the Single Euro Payments Area. This marks its first publicly acknowledged blockchain trial by the central bank. The trial was conducted with blockchain startup Labo Blockchain in collaboration with the Caisse des Depots et Consignations.
SWIFT unveils blockchain proof-of-concept (PoC) for bond trading
SWIFT recently unveiled its first proof-of-concept (POC) for managing the entire lifecycle of a bond trade based on blockchain technology. The internal POC demo tackles the issue of asset servicing across the full lifecycle of a bond trade, from issuance to payment of coupons and maturity. For the tests, Swift set up five separate nodes on a simulated network, stretching from Swift offices in California as the ID provider to an account servicer in Virginia and three investing banks in Sao Paolo, Frankfurt, and Sydney. SWIFT expects to see a number of other POCs come to fruition in Q1 2017.
SWIFT intends to sketching out a roadmap of key initiatives planned for 2017. These include working with vendors and member banks to deliver a blueprint for a SWIFT-run distributed ledger and the development of a DLT sandbox. For the latter, SWIFT intends to collaborate with member banks on a select number of use cases for the future application of distributed ledger technology as part of their Global Payments Innovation initiative.
ICAP to process foreign exchange trades on blockchain in 2017
ICAP, a UK-based operator and provider of post trade risk mitigation and information services, has announced plans to start processing foreign exchange trades on blockchain. For that, ICAP brings along its subsidiary Traiana and has teamed up with Axoni, a US-based technology company to supply the code to customers in March 2017. Traiana will thereby act as a messaging hub for forex, fixed income and swaps deals. They thereby provide services to monitor pre-trade risk and automate post-trade processing of financial transactions in listed and over-the-counter trading markets. Also, it will reconciles transaction, reference, market and portfolio data before it is transmitted to regulators, clearing houses or back to financial institutions.
Everex trials blockchain remittance in Thailand
Everex, a financial inclusion blockchain development company seeking to improve access to financial services and markets for un- and under-banked population across the world, has tested blockchain remittance. Over 100 migrant workers transferred money instantly over blockchain to their homes in Myanmar in the last months. Therefore, over 850,000 Thai baht (around USD 24,000) were transferred using the Everex wallet, a mobile and web based app that sends digitized national currencies using Ethereum blockchain. Overall, average transaction took less than a minute and recorded savings of over 7% in remittance cost and currency exchange rates.
MasterCard files blockchain patents focused on payments and transacting
MasterCard has filed to the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) four applications related to its work (focused specifically on payments and transacting) with blockchain and distributed ledger technology. The applications focus on methods and systems for authorizing, processing and securing blockchain-based transactions. MasrterCard is arguing that a combination of blockchain and its existing payment technology could bring great benefits for those making digital payments. Publication of the applications comes weeks after the credit card company released a set of experimental blockchain APIs.
Lotte Card rolls out biometric authentication based on blockchain in Korea
Lotte Card, a large card issuer company in Korea, has adopted a biometric-based authentication system service in its payment app jointly with Blocko, a blockchain startup. Blocko is the provider of Coinstack, a blockchain-based development platform, and has a large number of references in providing blockchain technology in Korea. Financial organizations in Korea, including banks, card companies and Korea Exchange, are actively adopting blockchain technology, but this is the first case in Korea of commercialized blockchain technology combined with biometric-based authentication system.
EU Commission Launches Initiative to Boost FinTech and Blockchain Startups
The European Commission (EC) unveiled a new initiative aiming to support Europe’s FinTech and blockchain innovative entrepreneurs. The Start-up and Scale-up Initiative aims to combine all the possibilities that already exist in the EU, but plans on including a new focus on venture capital investment, insolvency law, and taxation.
With the unveiling of the Initiative, the Commission is hoping to bring together several factors to enable blockchain and FinTech startups to develop and grow their business across Europe. Aside from the proposed factors mentioned above other features that the Initiative is proposing include improved access to finance and simpler tax filings. Through the Initiative startups will also gain access to improved innovation support through reforms to Horizon 2020, which funds high-potential innovation through a dedicated SME instrument. The initiative will also connect startups with potential investors, business partners, universities, and research centres.
Deloitte invests in blockchain Startup SETL
Professional services firm Deloitte has made an investment in London-based financial services blockchain startup SETL. By harnessing the capabilities of SETL’s blockchain, Deloitte can provide their clients with even more practical and transformational solutions. News of the investment follows the announcement last month that Deloitte, SETL and Metro Bank had successfully trialed a contactless payment card using the firm’s distributed ledger technology. SETL is one of a number of startups worldwide looking to apply the technology to payment and settlement, and it recently became part of a regulatory sandbox initiative launched by the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority.
Deloitte has bet big on distributed ledger technology. To date, the firm has partnered with a range of startups in the space to develop blockchain prototypes. They have already been investing heavily in real-world applications, such as identity management, cross-border payments, loyalty, trade finance and a number of others. Deloitte is currently setting up an EMEA financial services blockchain centre in Dublin that will house a team of 50 developers and designers and is working with five prominent blockchain companies – BlockCypher, Bloq, ConsenSys, Loyyal and the Stellar Development Foundation – on a wide-range of proof-of-concept applications across the financial sphere.
PwC launched its Vulcan Blockchain Platform
Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PwC) recently launched its Vulcan Digital Asset Services based on blockchain technology. The Vulcan offering marks PwC’s continuing commitment to bringing blockchain technology to financial services and other industries. The Vulcan platform that connects identity, money and assets, allows users to spend, share, trade or track any physical or digital asset cheaply and quickly. It enables fintech start-ups and existing technology companies to gain access to PwC’s global client base and co-develop new product offerings. Vulcan’s digital currency services include digital asset wallets, blockchain-based payments (global payment processing), a digital asset exchange (investment and trading services), and rewards and loyalty programs. In addition, the platform provides governance and assurance services, including anti-money laundering, know your customer and reporting tools to ensure regulatory compliance.
PwC is already conducting several pilots in different industries that capture digitized assets and issue customer reward points as digital money. A global banking group and a central bank are piloting the system while an airline and three multi-national banks are also exploring it.
First appeared at Finextra