Fintech CEOs bullish on blockchain tech, give thumbs down on applications

Fintech executives sounded off on blockchain and its use cases in financial services at CB Insights’ Future of Fintech conference this week.

According to Henrique Dubugras, CEO and co-founder of Brex, blockchain is overhyped but cryptocurrencies are underrated. The corporate credit card startup is fresh off a $100 million funding round that has landed it a $2.6 billion valuation just one year after launching its first product.

“There are very few really good applications for blockchain,” Dubugras said. “I think people are skeptical about crypto because they live in a country with a very stable currency. I come from Brazil, so Bitcoin volatility is not that different than the real’s volatility today.”

Asked what he thought about Facebook‘s crypto aspirations during the conference on Wednesday, Doug Lebda, CEO and founder of Lending Tree, said crypto is “overblown” in general. “You don’t need 50,000 different coins,” he said. “It’s interesting that Facebook took that approach as opposed to doing payment facilitation… Still, I would never count Facebook out because they know everything about you.”

While cryptocurrency received something of a reprieve, financial services executives this week expressed doubts about the current applications for blockchain and other distributed ledger technology. “There’s too much hype around blockchain,” said Rishi Khosla, CEO and co-founder of U.K.-based challenger bank OakNorth. “For the practicality of what’s actually been delivered so far, it is way underrated. I do believe that blockchain has a place in lending, especially when you think about sort of the whole ‘perfecting security process’. It just requires so much changing of the plumbing.”

Still, some nodded favorably toward the technology’s potential impact on the industry. Securities and Exchange Commissioncommissioner Robert Jackson said blockchain technology can both shorten the time and lower the expense of clearing and settling trades. He also pointed to potential use cases for auditing, smart contracts and tracking and dealing with fraud.

“As an observer of technology, it wasn’t obvious to me the best application of this technology would be money,” Jackson said at the event. “I mean I’m cool with that, but it wasn’t obvious to me that that would be the most powerful application. I would think these other applications would be powerful.”

Jackson predicted that blockchain applications will zero-in on issues of settling and clearing over the next three to five years, bringing more liquidity to the markets and adding value for investors.

A study by McKinsey & Company released last week stated that blockchain-based products and services could help global retail banks save $2.5 billion to $4 billion annually in costs from customer onboarding and regulatory compliance, as well as reduce losses from fraud by $7 billion to $9 billion annually.