Distributed Ledgers Not Ready For Prime Time, SWIFT Says

“Blockchain.”

That’s an abbreviated summary of the conversation in fintech for approximately the last six months. Or, as Jack Gavigan put it, less succinctly, on Twitter:

We now say “distributed ledger,” which is a slightly broader term rather than a synonym (and which lacks the same ring) but if you’re not testing it out, building products with it, applying it to every process you have, you’re nowhere these days. Digital Asset Holdings inked a deal with the Australian exchange AXS, and R3CEV built Corda, but an April 20 study from SWIFT and Accenture says that distributed ledger technology is not ready to be applied at scale by the financial services industry. (Accenture formed a “blockchain practice” alliance with DAH in February.)

The study listed numerous requirements, noting distributed ledgers currently fall short in all of them:

  • Strong governance – Research at very early stage but to a large extent, not yet addressed
  • Data controls – Addressed very partially; no clear trend on best resolution strategy
  • Compliance – Research at very early stage but to a large extent, not yet addressed
  • Standardization – Research at very early stage but to a large extent, not yet addressed
  • Identity framework – Promising development, but significant R&D work still required
  • Security and cyber defense – Promising development, but significant R&D work still required
  • Reliability – Promising development, but significant R&D work still required
  • Scalability – Addressed very partially; no clear trend on best resolution strategy

From the study’s conclusion:

While there are promising developments in each of these requirements, significant extra R&D work is needed in all these domains before DLT can be applied at the scale required by the financial industry. Despite the emergence of new solution providers, and the natural maturation of existing software, there is no single mature DLT solution yet on the market that addresses all the requirements necessary for an enterprise grade implementation, with many questions remaining unanswered.

The study’s authors also noted that additional research needs to be conducted regarding interopability of distributed ledgers both with one and another and with legacy systems, and regulatory requirements around this.

SWIFT also detailed its own work with distributed ledgers in the study. It is a founding member of the open-source Hyperledger Project, and has three ongoing proof-of-concepts:

  • Identity and Access management
  • Standing Settlement Instructions (SSIs)
  • ISO 20022

More PoCs have been, or will be, launched in order to further develop SWIFT’s capabilities to support DLT-based solutions on its platform. The areas covered in the PoCs should be considered as illustrative to prove the capabilities of the technology and support SWIFT’s work to build a DLT platform which is standardised and use case agnostic.

The study’s authors also noted SWIFT’s Global Payments Innovation initiative, which involves more than 50 banks exploring new technologies in the global payments arena. Distributed ledgers can be expected to play a role.

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