Banks Close In on Real-Life Blockchain Use Cases

Blockchain is at a bit of a critical point, because it’s running up against the one universal enemy all new technologies have to face eventually: reality.

In reality, how will banks use the blockchain?

“To do the real thing, it takes time, effort and expertise,” says Alex Wolff, head of product strategy for London-based Misys Financial Software, a firsm serving global banks. “There is [some] blockchain whitewashing going on; your chances of funding are actually greater if you call [your project] a blockchain.”

Wolff took part on a panel held during the recent Misys Connect Forum held in NYC, where the topic at hand wasn’t the potential of blockchain but rather looking past the hype described above.

This is not as much of an exaggeration as it was in previous years; an example that might more closely show the industry’s feeling on the technology might be Sibos, where one of the areas of competition this year in Geneva was blockchain.

Regarding when blockchain would really start to filter into what one might call the banking “mainstream,” Charles Cascarilla, CEO and co-founder of blockchain solutions firm Paxos told Bank Innovation:

If 2015 was the year of discovery, then the next two years will focus on banks and blockchain startups identifying specific asset classes as use cases and developing proofs of concepts…Looking 3 to 5 years into the future, we could see greater integration of blockchain technology into mainstream capital market infrastructures with new, exciting financial blockchain use cases certain to emerge over time.

More and more banks, payment processors, startups, and entrepreneurs have started fiddling with the technology and running proof-of-concepts and tests, and they’re starting to narrow down what problems in finance blockchain is best suited to solve, and maybe more interestingly, what problems it isn’t.

One of the best examples brought up by the Misys panel is money transfer. Blockchain could certainly be used to make those systems, especially here in the U.S., free and instantaneous.

However, countries like the U.K. already have free and instantaneous money transfer on systems which do not run on a blockchain.

“A lot of this has been driven by the technologists,” says Wolff. “People forget that the workflow actually consists of a lot of insider knowledge [of banking].”

Narrowing down the actual use cases for blockchain in finance could take years all on its own, and then financial services will have to figure out how to actually implement the technology by overcoming roadblocks in regulation, security, existing banking infrastructure, developing banking infrastructure—in other words, by overcoming the present landscape of the financial world.

So what needs to be done?

Some of the areas it might be best suited for, according to Cascarilla, are lowering the cost of compliance, operational processes, capital allocation, and risk management. In order to do that, firms need to start planning out their blockchain strategy now to be in a position to collaborate and test.

Says Cascarilla:

It would be a mistake for banks to wait to plan a blockchain strategy. Even if the strategy is to do nothing for now, major technology investments with a longer-term adoption timeline like blockchain technology need to be reviewed against potential market developments and company’s needs. Committing modest resources to understand the technological landscape, market conditions and your specific needs now is much more affordable than playing catch-up later.

We are talking about a lot of work—though of course that doesn’t mean it can’t be done.

“Innovation always has to fight against inertia,” says Wolff, adding that the emergence of blockchain technology will be slow and gradual; an “evolution” versus “revolution.”

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