4 Challenges to Blockchain Adoption From Fidelity CEO

Blockchain is a technology that can cause a lot of frustration, but can also create a lot of joy.

That’s according to Abigail Johnson, CEO of financial services giant Fidelity Investments.

Fidelity is making strides in pioneering the adoption of blockchain technology and digital currencies; aside from a number of partnerships in the space (including startup Axoni, and Boost VC), Fidelity has enabled bitcoin payments in its employee cafeteria.

However, just like with every “breakthrough technology,” there are always a number of roadblocks and challenges impending its adoption.

So what are those challenges for decentralized ledger technology? Johnson highlighted the following four during the Consensus 2017 event this morning.

Technology Problem

There are still many questions to be answered about the core technology, but there is “good progress” being made in this area, she said.

“We [financial institutions] care about the trade off between scalability, privacy, and achieving P2P settlement,” Johnson said. “Today, it seems that you can’t have all three.” Privacy is a core customer need, she added, and is an investment focus for Fidelity.

Continually educating FIs and adding clarity to the processes will, in time, help resolve this challenge.

Policy Challenge

The innovation in blockchain tech is happening fast, and is outpacing regulators’ ability to keep up. Recently, Fidelity ran a study among its employees, giving them all access to a bitcoin wallet, and tracked their behavior.

With all the new technology, there is a temptation to look at the future, through the lens of the present,” which is exactly what the study participants did, Johnson said. “Most of the employees at first defaulted to a known mental model, trying to compare it with technologies that they are familiar with.”

In order to keep up with the pace of innovation, regulators will need to go through the same process, she added: “We need solutions that protect customer interest, so we continue to work with regulators to have an open dialogue, and we work closely with policy groups, including Coin Center.”

Control Challenge

Networks, like bitcoin and Ethereum, by design have no management structures. “And this is great,” Johnson said. “But companies like ours that build products on top of those networks don’t have clarity about the future track that this might take, and how can we control it.”

Financial services industry needs to understand the control risk that comes with blockchain tech, she added (the notorious DAO hack showed exactly why).

Human Problem

Too often, blockchain tech creates “solutions in search of a problem,” Johnson said.

“We are forgetting the humans, while, and I can’t emphasize this point enough, we need to come up with use cases that drive clear benefits for customers and institutions,” she said. “We don’t just need the technology to be better, we need it to be user-friendly.”

Recently, Fidelity asked one of its associates to make a purchase using bitcoin, and then return the product. “He [the associate] went to our cafeteria, bought a drink, and then went back to return it,” she said. “Coincidentally, the network was being spam attacked that day, so the return was taking hours, and he just gave up.”

There is a lot of opportunity to make this technology user-friendly, and create great customer experiences, Johnson added.

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