What may we expect for blockchain and the crypto markets in 2020?

| 3-1-2020 | Carlo de Meijer | treasuryXL

2019 was a remarkable year for blockchain technology. A lot of things, some unexpected, happened. But now it is time to bring our attention to the New Year 2020. Just like last year, and the year before, we try to predict what awaits the blockchain industry. So, let’s look at what does 2020 have in store. What are the most expected events that will shape the blockchain ecosystem in 2020 and beyond?

The year 2019

By all measures 2019 was a transformative year for the blockchain and crypto space with a more realistic approach. Overall, our 2019 predictions worked out pretty much as expected. It was the year where the blockchain industry translated the hype of previous years into more practical use cases and further advancements in the field of blockchain and distributed ledgers.

Both corporates and customers were significantly increasing their understanding of where blockchain technology makes sense and where it doesn’t in terms of a solution for real business problems. The most memorable thing about 2019 for the blockchain space was the speed and sustainability with which it has regained recognition and legitimacy in the eyes of governments and institutional players. We saw the birth of new blockchain alliances, new next generation blockchain start-ups entering the market, the introduction of new infrastructure projects and a plethora of blockchain protocols matured and expanded in growth.

More spectacular was what happened in the cryptocurrency markets. New cryptocurrency trading products were launched and we saw the growth in the number of stable coins. We have seen an increase in governments, regulators and central banks engaging with crypto in general. Many central banks are paying close attention to the benefits of blockchain and the need for their own digital currency. This was mainly triggered by Facebook’s plans to launch its Libra crypto currency.

Gartner Hyper Cycle

But before going into my own predictions it is interesting to look at the Gartner Hype Cycle. According to Gartner during 2019 blockchain has passed the ‘trough of disillusionment’. The industry has learned some tough lessons regarding the difficulties surrounding widespread adoption of this technology. It showed that they were much ahead of its technical and operational maturity. During this stage most enterprise efforts remain stuck in experimentation mode, with very few meaningful applications for blockchain in the real world. As a result, interest has waned as most experiments and implementations failed to provide expected results. As a result earlier start-ups were forced to end their operations.

We are now on the peak of the slope of enlightenment, when corporates and customers really learn and begin to use the technology for practical, useful purposes that will change how companies, applications and users interact. According to Gartner, the 2020s will be the decade when blockchain technology will leave small-scale proof-of-concept projects behind, and makes its way into the operational structure of multinational corporations. Over the next couple of years it will expand into a number of pragmatic use cases in payment processing, data sharing, equity trading and contract/document keeping and tracking. Blockchain will be fully scalable by 2023, according to Gartner.

What to expect for 2020

Looking forward to the New Year 2020, there are several notable trends and movements in the blockchain and crypto currency area to watch. Some of the key trends we outlined this year will persist in 2020. Users of blockchain and distributed ledger technology will further focus on operational matters, deployment flexibility and, interconnectivity. They will look for enhanced services and tool offerings that meet their business needs.

Blockchain will enter the stage of more realism

1. Many blockchain start-ups will not succeed

A first prediction is that in 2020 many blockchain start-ups will not succeed in the market race for their blockchain production projects. An ordinary start-up with the use of the blockchain will not be able to get as high support as it happened before. The race will be difficult and only a few will survive the stiff competition, failing to provide expected results.

The problem does not lie with blockchain itself. There is the lack of uniqueness by these start-ups. Many repeat similar projects during the implementation of the blockchain. They create another alternative, rather than something conceptually new. Many start-ups will be just a simple waste of money since enterprises will not invest in a platform they are not confident about. Specialists and large companies are aimed precisely at finding new business opportunities for blockchain deployment. They will take a wait-and-see attitude. So it will last until the best use of this technology appears.

2. The token market will be cleaned up

Another expectation for 2020 is that the market for tokens will be cleaned up. As exchanges are forced to increasingly professionalise and investors gradually shift their focus to quality, so-called ‘zombie tokens’ for projects that are far from market-fit will be more aggressively delisted. New tokens coming to market will be few and will all be more mature. It is expected that the majority of publicly listed tokens will be delisted and/or cease trading. So from existing 2500 tokens actively traded today not more than 1000 tokens will be remain by the end of 2020.

3. Blockchain technology will become more mature

Blockchain itself, however, is far from a failure. What we have seen in 2019 is the increased maturity of the technology. And this trend will continue in an accelerated way in 2020 and beyond. Next year will mark the start of more mature and usable networks creating decentralised applications, building an increasingly competitive landscape for projects to “battle it out” in order to become mainstream.

Going forward, in order for blockchain platforms and the apps built on top of them to stand a chance of making their mark, the focus should be much more on improving usability and finding product-market fit. 2020 will see the launch of multiple ‘third generation’ blockchain projects, with a greater variety and reach of applications being built on top of the DLT ecosystem. Multiple large chains will be releasing significant technology upgrades such as Ethereum with ETH2.0 and NEM with Catapult, both in early 2020.

4. More realism will enter the blockchain market place

More realism is expected coming into the market towards blockchain and its implementation. Those responsible for blockchain projects will take a more informed and strategic approach. The effect will be that in 2020 there will be a more realistic and pragmatic approach to blockchain projects. Enterprise DLT teams will thereby focus on realistic use cases that might deliver a particular benefit and bring existing projects closer to, or into, production.

We will see a shift away from so-called R&D-type exploratory proof-of-concepts (PoCs) run in isolation to a focus much more on the end-to-end process to which blockchain/DLT will apply. This means more emphasis on how frameworks perform and how well they integrate with existing systems and, potentially, each other. As a result of this approach we will see more successful implementations of blockchain technology, whereby there will be improved ties between blockchain and business management solutions. .

Growing blockchain adoption by enterprises

Though scepticism will remains (for the time being), and many enterprises will take a wait-and-see attitude towards blockchain adoption, the increased maturity of the blockchain technology will certainly trigger adoption in the coming year(s). More and more enterprises will understand the added value of distributed ledger technologies (DLT), including transparency, immutability, and decentralization.

A Deloitte report revealed that 34% of companies have already initiated a blockchain deployment, while 86% of leaders are confident that its mainstream penetration is inevitable – results which are clearly indicative of the continued maturation of the market. But before seeing real widespread adoption blockchain technology will need to mature further, not only technically but also as a part of a more complete ecosystem.

1. Finance industry will continue to lead blockchain adoption

Once blockchain overcomes the initial hurdles, it will be a game changer for many industries with finance expected to be the “leading takers” of the blockchain technology. Unlike other traditional businesses, the banking and finance industry will not be extremely reluctant in adopting blockchain.

According to a recent PWC report, by 2020, 77 % of financial institutes are expected to adopt blockchain technology as part of an in-production process. Financial corporations are more likely to embrace blockchain for more traditional banking operations owing to the plethora of advantages it has to offer. Blockchain will more quickly take root in financial services for security and management of identities – first for businesses and later for consumers.

2. Enterprises outside the financial sector are more reluctant

Enterprises outside the financial sector however show a more reluctant attitude towards blockchain adoption. But moving into 2020, they may change their attitude towards a more positive but realistic one. Over the next 12 months, these companies will first need to analyse their business models, and ask how (as opposed to whether) blockchain is going to disrupt their industries.

With the growing maturity of this technology blockchain will become another piece of enterprise technology that helps an organization become more secure and efficient, even enabling new business models that grow the business or enable net-new businesses (some completely decentralized). Positive measurements of the value derived from blockchain in enterprise production environments will encourage a much broader uptake. With giant companies such as Amazon or Microsoft committing to building services around blockchain, we will begin to see accelerated adoption by enterprises and customers as they tackle the issues that have long time being hurdles for mainstream adoption – with real world solutions coming into play from 2020.

3. Further government integration of blockchain

Although governments around the world remain centralized, there are opportunities for them to incorporate decentralization into certain aspects of their activities. There are several countries, including the US, Japan, Denmark and even Estonia, that are already practising blockchain implementation in government agencies. Countries such as China and Estonia are utilizing blockchain to manage citizens’ healthcare data and create digital identity systems respectively.

In 2020 we may expect other governments actually accepting blockchain advantages and begin to use it to optimize financial and public services. We will certainly see further government integration of blockchain technology in order to process large quantities of data between agencies, services and administrative bodies each having their own database. Distributed ledgers will be crucial to streamlining interaction and information sharing between these entities. The adoption of blockchain technology for effective data management and the introduction of a distributed registry will greatly simplify this procedure and will improve the functions of government sectors.

4. Battle between private and public blockchains

In 2020, the battle between private and public blockchains will further heat up and the debate will reach corporate executive teams. Though enterprises often prefer to operate in their permissioned blockchain network and at first will be sceptical of public ledgers, this stance will change over time. The permissioned versus public network debate will see blockchain/DLT-based applications falling into two main categories: a. consumer-focused DApps, which will usually use public (permissionless) blockchains; b. enterprise applications, built almost exclusively on private (permissioned) networks using enterprise DLT frameworks.

While it’s not realistic today to support complex enterprise use cases at scale on a public blockchain, concerns about interoperability between multiple chain silos have already resulted in discussions about the role of public blockchains in enterprise processes. With multiple networks already existing for some of the most popular use cases (such as supply chain or trade finance), proliferation will continue.

5. Enterprises will utilize hybrid blockchains

As the hype around blockchain cooled, and corporates turned back to a more realistic approach, non-technical challenges and interoperability hurdles have emerged. Permissioned blockchains, while great for B2B uses, don’t connect with consumers who need an open ledger accessible by any mobile device via an API.

For this reason, many companies are looking for ways to close that gap and make the best of the decentralization of public blockchain networks on one side and the additional security of private networks on the other. Tech companies such as IBM and blockchain platforms like Corda and Ripple, are already responding with enhanced offerings and will continue to build these out to meet enterprise demand.

The International Data Corporation (IDC) reports that it is time for hybrid cloud initiatives to focus on IT goals, in addition to business objectives. 2020 is expected to be the year when we will start to see growing offerings of so-called hybrid blockchains. Hybrid blockchains, are a combination of a private or permissioned blockchain and public blockchain. According to surveys it is expected that more than 80% of future blockchain deployments will be hybrid or multi-cloud — or both. Especially networks with stringent data sovereignty and confidentiality requirements will clearly have chosen frameworks that support hybrid or multi-cloud models.

6. Interoperability will move center stage

In 2020, enterprises will increasingly focus on operational matters, demanding deployment flexibility and interconnectivity between networks. In 2020 the call for interoperability between the many blockchain networks and the various (and also distinct) protocols that have been launched will intensify. We still see a lot of private PoCs, often testing different blockchain technologies for the same purpose: to weigh the pros and cons. Each blockchain has varying levels of security, performance and privacy.

We have witnessed the emergence of multiple networks addressing the same use case. Already several networks cover identical or similar functionality, including: trade finance, invoice factoring, shipping documentation. Participants in these networks are keen to understand whether, and how, these various chains will be able to interact. These are all reasons we predict that the future will involve more focus on getting these to interoperate.

As networks expand, nodes will distribute across multiple cloud providers. This will apply even if a network leverages its managed blockchain offering from a service provider. Cross-blockchains pilots are expected to see live in 2020. The move of Hyperledger Besu to Linux Foundation Hyperledger, should be seen as a “definite” sign that permissioned Blockchains might start to cross. There is a thorough research conducted on how digital assets on various chains might co-exist.

7. Growing competition between blockchain platforms

Progressing to 2019, many enterprises joined existing consortiums around the most popular use cases. Most of these consortiums are now looking to go into production in 2020, thereby solving specific use cases including identity and document management, supply chain management, trade finance, IoT applications, etc.

For 2020 we expect more customizable permissioned networks forming as well as growing competition between blockchain platforms. Not only between the main existing blockchain platforms, Corda, Hyperledger, Ethereum and others, but also from new comers that could upset the existing balance. Who will become the market leader is still open. We also expect several integrations with other blockchain frameworks. Such as Digital Asset that is now firmly focused on its smart contract modelling language, DAML, integrating it with other frameworks. We will a number of interesting combinations emerge.

Blockchain communities will increasingly recognize the importance of good governance and will prioritize it in order to stay competitive and stand out from an increasingly crowded field of competing platforms.

8. Internet of Blockchains

Another development, may be not yet for 2020, but certainly for the coming years is the development of an Internet of Blockchains, just like the existing Internet. The next generation of blockchains will be a flexible system of a multitude of independent/sovereign yet cooperative entities with different applications, philosophies, and validator. The ecosystem will be an open, sovereign, secure network of interconnected blockchains, that will be able to interoperate made possible by interoperability protocols like Inter-Blockchain Communication.

Continued crypto currency confrontation

1. First national digital currencies will be launched

The Facebook Libra announcement has provoked a lot of debate at central banks throughout the word. From a recent survey 80% of countries are concerned about the popularity of uncontrolled financial assets. There is a consensus around the world among central bank governors and governments at large that they want to maintain control of money and money supply. A number of countries have already come with plans for launching their own national digital currency.

In 2020 we will see the launch of the first national digital currencies. It is thereby very likely central banks will focus on the wholesale market leaving the retail market for regulated institutions. China is pursuing its the Digital Currency/Electronic Payment (DC/EP) initiative and next year we will see the People’s Bank of China roll out its digital yuan. Russia’s Central Bank is also considering possibilities of issuing its own crypto Rouble in the near future, which would take the status of a national cryptocurrency. In addition, the World Bank, and the International Monetary fund have recently launched a private blockchain and quasi-cryptocurrency. The digitization of national currencies will continue its momentum in the coming years as more central banks and governments warm to the idea. Experts assumed that by 2022 at least five countries will issue a cryptocurrency.

2. Crypto currency market will be regulated

In 2019, there has already been a lot of talk about regulation in the blockchain industry and this will continue in 2020. The industry is evidently ripe for regulation granted the number of projects operating in the space. But the urgency for regulation has intensified. Government leaders and regulators worldwide are now wrestling with how they will handle blockchain technology and crypto currencies as we enter a new decade. The possible launch of Facebook’s Libra in 2020 forced regulators to take cryptocurrency seriously, and triggered many regulators to come up with more stringent regulation for crypto currencies, but without frustrating innovation. In order for blockchain and crypto to mature, enterprises and individuals need to feel completely comfortable leveraging this technology, secure in the knowledge that their government and legal systems support them.

3. Crypto currency market revised

In 2019 we saw many crypto projects failed and stopped their activities. As the crypto ecosystem matures, every project needs to have a viable use case, strong funding, strong community, and an experienced leadership team to succeed. It is expected that in 2020, this “weeding out” of poorly executed crypto projects will continue. Some even predict that “98% of crypto projects and their currencies will go to zero or have no viable exit for their holders”. In 2020, we may expect mergers and acquisitions to accelerate in the cryptocurrency sector across both exchanges and technology. In order to achieve full compliance and trust in the industry, exchanges have to work diligently to regulate themselves. In a similar way, we do believe exchanges will work more harmoniously toward regulation and pricing.

The trend we saw from the last few years that issuers are tokenizing fiat currencies and using them as easier exchange mechanisms on cryptocurrency exchanges will continue. There will be a clearer distinction between forms of currencies as payment tokens, utility tokens, asset tokens and security tokens. We will also see increased adoption of stablecoins, mostly fiat-backed, and driven from trading on exchanges. Another development will be the shift of major altcoins from being just a utility token towards more high-value transactions, even as a store of value. We see this shift will increasingly noticeable in 2020 as altcoins mature and demonstrate additional use cases to stakeholders and the investment community.

4. Banks will enter the crypto currency market

After the tumultuous 2019, the digital asset market will mature and crypto currency prices will continue to stabilize. As a result of this increased maturity it is expected to see more and more institutional investors enter the crypto markets in 2020 as education around digital assets improves. In 2020 we will also start to see other cryptocurrency payment systems gain momentum that do not come from legacy banking institutions. It is expected more banks to enter the crypto currency market in 2020, partly in a move to defend their positions. In this regard, we will see more big names in the financial industry coming into the blockchain and cryptocurrency sector.

Earlier this year, the US-based J.P. Morgan already announced the launch of a proprietary digital coin JPM Coin during 2020. Other examples are Fnality’s stablecoin, while the Japanese bank Mizuho announced its own crypto launch already in early 2019.

Integration Blockchain with other technologies

In 2020 we will also see the further integration of blockchain with other technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT) and Artificial Intelligence. According to the IDC, many IoT companies are already contemplating the implementation of blockchain technology. According to them more than 20 percent of IoT deployments enabled blockchain based services by 2019 and this process will continue in 2020 and beyond. The IDC suggests that global spending on AI will reach $57.6 billion by 2020 and 51% of businesses will be making the transition to AI with blockchain integration.

Firms will gain measurable benefits from blockchain in conjunction with IoT and AI. Blockchain technology provides a secure and scalable framework for communication between IoT devices. Blockchain conducts much faster transactions compared to other platforms owing to its distributed nature of work.

Forward looking

As we recap, 2020 is going to be a pretty exciting year for blockchain in enterprises. If all these predictions come through and will be realised it may become a historical year for both blockchain and the crypto currency market, improving the attitude to this technology by corporates and consumers alike.

The focus will shift to integration and interoperability, from irrational exuberance to realistic assessment. So it looks like it is about to be THE year for new opportunities and achieving goals in a decentralized manner.

Blockchain projects and digital assets are set to grow in adoption with the like hood of rising breakthroughs in mainstream use cases. Potentially we will start to see some new business models because of the technology.

The future of blockchain is thus promising but there will still be stumbling stones in the initial stages of its journey. But leaving behind the concerns related to this technology, it seems that this innovation will gain the community’s trust.

To ensure the longevity of the blockchain and crypto industry into the next decade and beyond, key players need to work together to prioritize education, ensuring adoption continues to occur on a wider scale.

By the way, I wish everybody a great 2020.

 

 

 

Carlo de Meijer

Economist and researcher

 

Recap of the SCF Forum and Awards event 2019

| 23-12-2019 | by treasuryXL |

On the 28th November 2019, treasuryXL attended the SCF forum Europe 2019 in Amsterdam – an annual event. Here is our review of the day.

So, what is Supply Chain Finance (SCF)?

It is a series of processes, both financial and technological, designed to improve business efficiency and reduce financing costs by providing bespoke short-term funding solutions for both buyers and sellers, with a view to improving and enhancing working capital and liquidity for both buyers and suppliers.

There are three parties involved – buyers, suppliers and financial providers. Traditionally, banks acted as the provider of funding but, with the advent of fintech other non-bank firms are also offering solutions.

The ultimate purpose of SCF is to improve the cashflows for both buyers and suppliers.

Participants included banks, fintech, academia, together with companies that use SCF solutions such as DFDS, Airbus and Jumbo supermarkets.

The forum started off outlining the major themes surrounding SCF that needed to be considered:

  • Data collection and analysis
  • Education
  • Financial Flows
  • Procurement
  • Logistics – the missing link
  • Inclusiveness
  • Sustainability

Time was given to highlighting the awareness needed to form a true collaboration with all participants – intra firm, inter firm as well as the supply chain itself. No one department can successfully implement SCF on their own – it requires the input from a wide range of departments.

Rabobank gave a talk about trade and its impact on poverty. Between 1900 and 1950 Europe and the USA moved ahead, economically, from the Far East and Africa. Since the financial crisis of 2008 the middle ground of Europe and the USA has been squeezed and whilst poverty has decreased worldwide, the levels of inequality between income and wealth had risen back to the levels of the 1920’s.

Whilst trade tariffs are on their way down, trade barriers have been rising.

Politically the near future is likely to bring about new confrontations on world trade:

  • USA – China
  • Brexit
  • Capital controls to counter tariffs
  • Restrictions on foreign ownership

DFDS – case study

DFDS are a Danish shipping and logistics company, focusing also on ferries and door-to-door solutions. From an environmental view they have big concerns about the impact of logistics on world climate. Their aim for the future is to be smarter, cheaper and to have less impact on the environment. On the logistics side they must be more cost efficient as they operate in a market with small margins and large competitors.

As data has grown exponentially, they have embarked on an extensive SCF programme that has seen their return on invested capital improve from 5% in 2012 to 19% in 2017.

Major challenges are still to be faced – especially because of Brexit as 45% of their business goes through the UK. Hauliers in the UK are especially worried. This sector of the industry is best suited to younger truck drivers (there is a 73% satisfaction rating amongst drivers between 18-24 year olds), but problems are evident in the lack of female drivers and an average age for drivers of 50 years old and rising all the time.

DFDS strives to help hauliers via SCF by paying early with discounts. This had led to both an improvement in working capital fo DFDS as well as hauliers – one was able to purchase 10 extra trucks by being paid early.

Jumbo – case study

Jumbo is the second largest supermarket chain in the Netherlands with a 21.6% market share. Their growth in turnover has been impressive – from EUR 120m in 1996 to EUR 8.5bn in 2019. There is a strong impetus to manage the needs of both the suppliers and the company. Whilst Jumbo has grown rapidly a lot of their small suppliers had trouble keeping pace especially with the terms and conditions that existed before the implementation of SCF solutions. As and when Jumbo grows, their suppliers need to follow and 80% of their suppliers are defined as SME (Small and Medium Enterprises).

Jumbo has implemented a variety of different solutions to meet the needs of their suppliers, such as reverse factoring, dynamic discounting etc. It was important for Jumbo that the suppliers got on board with the programme – they have more than 1000 small suppliers. There was a 63% pickup in the first few months.

Moodys – word of warning

One of the main instruments used in SCF is reverse factoring, which differs markedly from traditional factoring. Reverse factoring is initiated by the ordering party – the buyer. As they are normally the larger party to an agreement their credit standing is of a higher order than the supplier – hence their interest costs are lower than for the supplier. With reverse factoring suppliers get paid early and buyers can delay payment to the factor (financial counterparty). However, the liability rests with the buyer.

Whilst it is increasing in popularity as a source of financing it can lead to a weakening of liquidity. Rating agencies are grappling with the legal consequences and lack of disclosure of reverse factoring. Now there is no legal requirement to disclose how much reverse factoring is on the books. This can lead to an incorrect picture of the financial health of a company. Companies that embraced Reverse Factoring but eventually suffered as result include Carillion, Abengoa and Distribuidora International de Alimentacion.

Big Data and AI

With the advent of ever more computing power it has become possible to analyse increasing amounts of data. This will lead to big changes in SCF through the use of Artificial Intelligence such as:

  • Traditional SCF
  • Fintech solutions
  • AI powered SCF solutions
  • Blockchain and Internet of Things

However, whilst embracing technology solutions we must not lose sight of old axioms such as “garbage in is garbage out”. It will be necessary to truly understand the flow of data, the variables and the output. Modern history has plenty of examples of large sources of data and experts, leading to losses and mistakes as well as profits and rewards.

Conclusions

  • A truly collaborative arrangement both internally and externally
  • Greater understanding of the business drivers
  • Improved early payment for suppliers
  • Chance to delay payments for buyers
  • Mutual transfer of knowledge and requirements for both parties
  • Improved relationships
  • Need to onboard all relevant departments

The opening quote at the forum was “Bridging physical and financial supply chains”. The one area that I, personally, felt was missing was the impact on the circular economy. Whilst there was talk on sustainability and global climate, I wished to hear more about how to increase the effective use of assets – trucks going to clients full and then returning empty, etc.

Maybe that can be a “hot item” for next year’s forum.

 

 

 

Lionel Pavey

Cash Management and Treasury Specialist

 

Blockchain | what is it and what does it do for your supply chain?

| 09-12-2019 | by RBS |

Rotterdam Business School will host a blockchain information event on January 27th, 2020 at the Rotterdam Business School, Kralingse Zoom 91

Blockchain is a new disruptive technology that together with Artificial Intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT) and Big Data promises to change the way we do business today. It seems to have a major potential to make supply chains more efficient and transparent by cutting out middlemen and creating possibilities to do trusted peer-to-peer transactions on a global scale. However:

  • What is Blockchain exactly and how does it work?
  • What can Blockchain be used for?
  • Are there proven user cases?
  • How can blockchain be used to create value?

These and other questions related to Blockchain will be answered at the event.

January 27, 2020

16:00 – 20:00 

REGISTER HERE

 

Programme:

15:45 – 16:00    Welcome with coffee

16:00 – 17:00    Blockchain in the supply chain: financial and sustainable solutions

Victor van der Hulst, Blockchain expert Windesheim University of applied sciences

17:00 – 17:10     The logistics applications of Blockchain

Ron van Duin, professor of applied sciences, Rotterdam University of applied sciences

17:10-17:30        Best blockchain thesis award

17:30-17:45        A proven blockchain user case: Dutch & Belgian government: Waste transportation

Martijn Broersma LTO Network

17:45 – 18:00     Coffee break

18:00 – 19:00     Break out sessions

      1. Blockchain and the food chain
        Chair: Josanne Heeroma ten Katen (RUAS)
      2. Blockchain and supply chain finance
        Chair: Luca Gelsomino (UASW)
      3. Blockchain and fashion
        Chair: Chris van Veldhuizen (TMO)
      4. Blockchain and the off-shore industry
        Chair: Arthur Fellinger (RUAS)
      5. Blockchain and paperless document flows
        Chair: Martijn Broersma (LTO Network)

19:00-19:30        Wrap up

19:30-20:00       Social drinks

 

The event is a cooperation between the Masters of International Business the SIA-RAAk project Blockchain for SME’s and the National Blockchain Thesis Table. It’s aim is to disseminate knowledge acquired by applied research and stimulate the cooperation within the triple helix: business, research and education. For questions contact: [email protected]

 

Using Blockchain for Legal Entity Identifiers or LEIs

| 19-09-2019 | Carlo de Meijer | treasuryXL

In one of its reports, GLEIF, the Swiss-based organisation which coordinates the management of the global Legal Identity Identifier (LEI-) system, suggested to use blockchain technology for identifying financial legal entities, as that would not only improve transparency and security but may also lead to broader global acceptance of the LEI.

This however raises a number of questions such as: Why could blockchain be of use for LEI and its users? What role could smart contracts thereby play? What benefits could blockchain bring for the LEI? And what does the most recent blockchain-based projects for the LEI tell us?

What is the LEI?

But first, what is the LEI? According to their website definition, “the Legal Entity Identifier or LEI is a 20-digit, alpha numeric code based on the ISO 17442 standard. It connects to key reference information, allowing clear and unique identification of legal entities participating in financial transactions. Each LEI contains information about an entity’s ownership structure and thus answers the questions of ‘who is who’ and ‘who owns whom’”.

In other words a LEI is a uniform way of keeping track of financial legal entities. They are global and have no borders at all for accurate and trusted identification of companies around the world. Looking in that way, the publicly available LEI data pool can be regarded as a global directory, which may greatly enhance transparency in the global marketplace.

The management of the LEI system is coordinated and supported by the above mentioned Global Legal Entity Identifier Foundation (GLEIF), while registrations are performed by so-called LOUs or Local Operating Units.

GLEIF and Blockchain

In their report on the LEI to the Financial Stability Board (FSB) in 2012, the GLEIF stated that “the design of the global LEI system would be premised on a ‘logically’ centralized (meaning not physically centralized) database that will appear to users to be from a single seamless system”.

GLEIF however recently recognised that the organizationally federated operating model used for the LEI in 2012, could be upgraded to a technically federated operating model: the distributed ledger model (DLT). This upgrade could potentially provide the same DLT platform for both the LEI and the UPI (Unified Payments Interface), of which the GLEIF is supposed to be the natural repository. This distributed design has always been a longer term goal for the global LEI system.

Present challenges for LEI

The LEI provides a global standard for the representation of identity as well as a standard validation rule set. Both elements however are subject of a very detailed compliance program in order to ensure proper issuance and maintenance of LEI and data quality.

Nowadays collection and storage of data is conducted in multiple country or regionally located operating units (LOUs). Each has their own databases (there are more than 30 at present in the LEI system and a large number of separate ones for each trade repository), and send their data daily in batch overnight processes. LEI data is sent to the GLEIF. Trade repositories send their data to multiple regulators and to central collection facilities depending on the jurisdiction. All regulators and trade repositories maintain their own data copies of identifiers for products and counterparties, and for trades.

This method bears in it a number of challenges, in terms of non-optimal transparency, security and risk issues where blockchain could be of help.

Blockchain and Identity Management

When it comes to use cases for blockchain, security is one of the serious items that comes in many minds. Identity management is one sector of industry that is supposed to provide high-level security to those who rely upon it to keep their data safe. But in reality security is not always what they get. The digital age has introduced new challenges in terms of preventing identity fraud and other criminal abuses for private people but increasingly also for corporates.

Nowadays there is an increased need for strong, multi-step security that identity management services should bring. The widespread adoption of blockchain technology to ensure that any number of these centralised databases are ‘not compromised’, should give enough arguments for the identity management industry to embrace this technology.

Some use cases for identity management

There are a number of interesting blockchain use cases in the identity management field. These include issues like identity verification, non-custodial login solutions, self-sovereign identity, secure identities for the decentralised web etc. These use cases have all proved their usefulness in such an environment.

Identity verification

Blockchain’s multi-step, multi-factor identification processes have proven to work and are already implemented by a number of companies. Admittedly, it is hard to imagine why the blockchain authentication model has not (yet) gained more mainstream adoption, especially considering the stakes of stolen identities and credentials.

Non-custodial login solutions

With non-custodial logins based on the blockchain, there is no longer need of a central entity who holds the power over user names, pass words, and the database that controls them. By removing the custodian of these credentials and replacing them with public and private keychains for logins, the former centralised entity can still ensure that ‘those logging in are who they say they are’, without holding a central database that hackers can easily acquire and use as ransom money.

Reduce third parties’ involvement

Blockchains could also help reduce the number of third parties while still maintaining a user’s identity. One solution could be that a user would store their data and identifiers on a blockchain which they could use throughout the internet, instead of granting each site or service their personal data and credential time. A second proposal is built on a similar blockchain containing the user’s data but allow third parties to access the data with their consent.

Smart contracts for Identification services

Using blockchain for the identification services including the LEI would preferably be in the form of so-called smart contracts. These contracts are ‘included and coded’ applications and data representing the life-cycle processes of a trade. It is stored and activated across a networked database – the distributed ledger – which itself is networked across the Internet.

In other words, a smart contract is self-actuating, based on standardized contract terms that is translated into standard trade life-cycle processes imbedded in coded applications. The smart contract acts on standardized data sets, setting its outputs in conformity to each participant’s processing requirements.

A smart contract requires data standards, including the LEI and its reference data for each participant in the supply chain; the UPI (Unified Payments Interface) and its reference data; and the UTI (Unique Transaction Identifier). It also requires process standards for each event in the life-cycle of a trade.

How could smart contracts be used for the LEI?

But how can smart contracts be used for the LEI? The central point of using smart contracts for the LEI is to treat a single record for any entity to be identified by some key as ‘atomic’. This in the sense of being administered as a single unit of data, by the authority that assigns the keys. Then the representation of a single ‘atomic’ record can be considered as a state for a single smart contract.

Each such contract would offer a method for accessing the representation, and a dynamic data structure that holds ‘revisions’ of the representation. That is, when the record changes globally, its new representation would be added to the state of the contract. Such contract can hold many revisions of the representation, bound only by the capabilities of the network’s global storage, called ‘entity contract’. Together with entity contracts, someone can devise one or more ‘master contracts’, that keep track of individual entity contracts and make accessing an easier process.

What approach for the LEI?

The use of permissioned and private blockchains or distributed ledgers for identity management purposes such as the LEI will require mapping between real world entities. This is hosted via cryptographic algorithms creating public/private keys pairs linked to reference data. The owner of the private key can write into the chain.

This however raises a number of major issues: Firstly, are we going to see multiple digital IDs depending on the application or are we going to use one ID to access all applications. And second, what is the appropriate management for all these IDs.

There are a number of possible scenarios:

One could use identity labels i.e. unique keys in the blockchain/DLT application. That means using the LEI in a distributed ledger system for tracking financial instruments. This is de facto the standard approach due to legal and regulatory requirements.

Another scenario is using blockchain/DLT for managing the LEI creation and management itself. This however should be seen as a longer term project. There are still many open questions but this approach bears interesting aspects for the further evolution of the LEI system.

MakoLab LEI.INFO and Graphchain Proof of Concept

An interesting project that should be taken seriously for further development is the MakoLab LEI.INFO system. Polish-based MakoLab, a Digital Solution Agency for the industry, last June announced the deployment of their production grade Blockchain-based LEI system.

This was the result of two Proof of Concepts (PoCs) for a radically new blockchain LEI system, based on the private Hyperledger Indy blockchain, using the innovative GraphChain database that is much more flexible than any standard existing system available today. These PoCs allowed MakoLab to investigate deeply the possibility to construct a system which represents the ‘highest level of both technological and organisational security’ and is completely decentralised.

Hyperledger Indy Framework

Given the vulnerability of the data, the suggested architecture for LEI is that of a so-called consortium type of blockchain that works on Hyperledger Indy. This is a blockchain model where the consensus process is controlled by a pre-selected set of nodes. The network of Hyperledger Indy nodes thereby runs as a private, permissioned blockchain for the Global LEI System.

In this model different nodes are used. User nodes that participate in the global blockchain as passive users. They can see all the data stored in it, but cannot create or edit anything. Registration nodes having all the properties of the User nodes plus the ability to provisionally add new LEIs to the system. However, such newly added LEIs are not visible on the system until the LOU nodes confirm them through the ‘Proof of Authority’ mechanism. And LOU nodes that have all the properties of the Registration nodes plus the capacity to confirm the new or modified LEIs as valid. Application of the blockchain technology with LOUs running their own nodes, would make the LEI system much safer and more reliable.

GraphChain

End June MakoLab announced the full production version of the innovative GraphChain for the LEI.INFO infrastructure. They thereby created a conceptual proposal how the entire LEI system could run on GraphChain. GraphChain should be seen as a new innovation of creating a blockchain compliant distributed database. The main idea behind GraphChain is to use blockchain mechanisms on top of an abstract RDP (Resource Description Framework) graph data model, that is used for data publishing and interchange on the web.

GraphChain is thereby defined as a linked chain of named graphs specified by the GraphChain ontology and an ontology for data graph part of the GraphChain; a set of general mechanism for calculating a digest of the named RDF graphs; and as a set of network mechanisms that are responsible for the distribution of the named RDF graphs among the distributed peers and for achieving the consensus.

The data graph model describes the semantics, or meaning of information and stores these data as a network of objects with materialised links between them, thereby managing highly interconnected data. It thereby uses graph structures with nodes, edges and properties to represent and store data.

LEI.INFO system

The new functionality allows cryptographic verification of the accuracy or usefulness of the underlying LEI data. The LEI.INFO system uses the RDF graph data model to express LEI reference data as semantic data, that can be verified against the network of Hyperledger Indy Blockchain. This LEI.INFO platform allows to get instant access to the database of entities holding LEI’s and as a result to find a reliable supplier, partner or customer.

LEI.INFO offers a wide range of LEI-related services including a new LEI registration process, resolution of the LEI codes for both humans and software agents, Data Analytics Solutions and integration services for KYC and financial information consolidation applications.

What may blockchain bring for the LEI?

From what is said before, it should not be difficult to see how blockchain and a single database that could be updated in real-time, securely maintained through encryption technology, distributed and shared by all of the participants could benefit those organisations who use the LEI. The reconciliation of the various copies of what is intended to be identical data sets could be done in real-time.

Managing LEI on blockchain delivers transparency and ensures the necessary trust and certainty optimal for combatting financial crimes, streamlining various administrative processes like onboarding, and truly knowing corporate customers, partners, and other businesses. This could ‘revolutionise’ the oversight of the financial industry. As a result of this all, it may lead to firmly reduced resources and costs of the validation process required for conducting due diligence about those entities.

McKinsey, the global consultancy estimates that the largest financial institutions alone can each save $1 billion in costs through a simplified portfolio of data repositories. ISDA members, many being the largest of financial institutions, are envisioned as direct beneficiaries of such savings.

Going forward

Blockchain technology could be of great help for the Global LEI system. The MakoLab project is thereby a very interesting one that deserves further investigation.

This LEI.INFO project however is just a first step in their research and development process with this technology. Taking into consideration the growing potential of the solution, MakoLab is “working on further-enhancing the LEI resolver with other top-class solutions – semantics particularly – as well as translating blockchain into other business areas” .

In the end such an architecture of the new LEI system will enable ‘thousands of registration authorities from multiple countries to participate in the new LEI creation’, thereby opening the path for the true global adoption of the system.

 

 

Carlo de Meijer

Economist and researcher

 

 

CSDs have a role to play in a blockchain environment

| 12-08-2019 | Carlo de Meijer | treasuryXL

There is a broad consensus amongst the post-trade industry that blockchain technology will revolutionise the securities post-trade world and could radically change how assets are maintained and stored by custodians and central securities depositories (CSDs).

Blockchain technology may enable real-time settlement finality in the securities world. This could mean the end of a number of players in the post-trade area, such as central counterparty clearing houses (CCPs), custodians and others. For a long time, also central securities depositories (CSDs), as intermediators in the post-trade processing chain, thought they also could become obsolete.



This idea however is changing. While CSDs are making up their mind on their future position in the blockchain world, they are increasingly considering blockchain as enabler of more efficient processing of existing and new services, instead of a threat to their existence. But what will be their future role?

Complex/fragmented post-trade infrastructure

As we all now, the current post-trade infrastructure is highly complex and fragmented. Much of this complexity and fragmentation is the result of the various intermediaries needed in the post-trade process. They include players like banks, brokers, stock exchanges, central counterparty clearing houses (CCPs), central securities depositories (CSDs), real-time gross settlement (RTGS) systems and custodian banks.

In the current set-up of the post-trade environment, important record-keeping functions, such as those relating to the issuance, settlement, registration and safekeeping of securities, are performed centrally by different specialist intermediaries. Intermediaries also perform the post-trade servicing of assets, such as crediting dividend payments or bonus issues to client accounts, or managing rights issues and takeovers.

They are thereby dealing with siloed outdated legacy systems and technologies each having their own ledger that are not good communicating with each other.  Consequently, they spend much time and resources on reconciliation and risk management. As a result settlement currently takes two or more days in many places, involving high risks and high costs for transacting parties.

The present role of CSDs

Situated at the end of the post-trading process, CSDs are systemically important intermediaries. They thereby form a critical part of the securities market’s post-trade infrastructure, as they are where changes of securities ownership are ultimately registered.

CSDs play a special role both as a depository, involving the legal safekeeping and maintenance of securities in a ‘central depository’ on behalf of custodians (both in materialised or dematerialised form); as well as for the issuer, involving the issuance of further securities by issuers, and their onboarding onto CSDs’ platforms.

CSDs are also keeping a number of other important functions, including: dividend, interest, and principal processing; corporate actions including proxy voting; payment to transfer agents, and issuers involved in these processes; securities lending and borrowing; and, provide pledging of share and securities.

Blockchain: disruption in securities post-trade

Prospects
DLT offers the prospect of rationalising and combining post-trade activities in one single action, offering safer and cheaper record-keeping, as well as more seamless securities issuance. They thereby may create significant cost savings and efficiency gains across the securities market’s post-trade infrastructure.

  • Blockchain is linking trading partners directly. That means everything will be in place in the ledger at the time of the transaction.
  • With DLT, all of the complex systems and processes to transfer cash and equities from one account to another are not required. Everything can be embedded into the blockchain.
  • Institutions will no longer have to maintain their own databases, as with DLT there will be only one database for all participants in the transaction (so no more fragmented islands of information).
  • This will heavily ease the reconciliation process, allowing increasing transparency and efficiency in a presently highly fragmented industry.
  • It could permit the direct or real-time settlement of transactions between accounts, the simultaneous verification of transactions and the registration of ownership, and the direct and automated payment of entitlements to accounts.
  • As a result, buyers and sellers can match transactions in seconds and all parties are aware a transaction has been done.

Disruption
On the other hand, DLT has the potential to heavily disrupt existing post-trade processes in financial services. Shared ledgers of ownership promise to revolutionise the post-trade infrastructure, Thereby impacting the business model of a number of intermediaries.

Use of a blockchain network would automate the process further, with completely integrated authentication and transparency of the transfers themselves. As a result, clearing and settlement can be transformed into a single process, in which digital and digitised assets are delivered against payments instantly, thereby removing the need for a market infrastructure provider to hold a security, or token in its own physical or electronic vault.

The extent to which blockchain will disrupt existing processes in financial services is still unsure. Some say a complete disintermediation of middle and back office processes is under way, removing most (or even all) intermediaries from the post-trade processes.

Others however say the impact of this emerging technology will be less forceful, with a (limited) number of existing intermediaries to play an important though somewhat different role.

CSDs changing attitude

What is sure is that for some actors in the securities post-trade world, DLT will completely replace their businesses or even make the work of some intermediaries such as CCPs and custodians redundant. Others will still be needed, but they should question what will be their added-value within future DLT services, such as CSDs.

CSDs are changing their viewpoint on DLT including blockchain. Instead of seeing blockchain as a threat to their existence, they are now also considering them as (potential) enabler of more efficient processing of existing and new services.

“CSDs could have an important role to play in a blockchain-based settlement system. 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.” Euroclear Report

CSDs are believed they will continue to perform an important role as trusted, centralised financial market infrastructures (FMIs), providing gatekeeping services and oversight of the relevant blockchain.

How are CSDs reacting?

Recognising the threat as well as the opportunities of blockchain to their current services, a group of CSDs across the world has been working together and with regulators to define their future role in the blockchain post-trade environment. By working together they will ensure that CSDs from each region are represented, potentially unleashing (unimagined) network effects.

Aim of this cooperation is to explore how blockchain could be used for post-trade processes, identify, define and develop use cases in the securities depositories’ industry (including smart contracts and digital assets), and identify how existing standards could support it.

Another  group of 30 central securities depositories (CSDs) in Europe and Asia are researching possible ways to “join hands” in developing a new infrastructure to custody digital assets. The CSDs will attempt to figure out how to apply their experience in guarding stock certificates to security solutions for crypto assets.

“A new world of tokenized assets and blockchain is coming. It will probably disrupt our role as CSDs. The whole group decided we will be focusing on tokenized assets, not just blockchain but on real digital assets.”

These CSDs clearly see an opportunity to apply their knowledge and skills to the crypto currency space, where “losing your private keys means losing your coins forever”. The group’s focus is looking at how to protect these keys for crypto investors, and how the tokenization of “everything stands to change everything”. The next phase of the research will also involve some large custodian banks.

CSDs future role in a blockchain environment

There are various reasons why CSDs may continue to play a role in the post-trade bklockchain environment. That is not that strange as the primary functions of CSD may run parallel to many of those that emerge from the blockchain technology. CSDs are aware that some of those roles will neatly fit into their natural infrastructure. But there will also be some activities that will become obsolete.

Looking at the roles that could be suited for CSDs, those would be anything around safety, notary and governance.

1. Notary function
Blockchain may enable tokenisation of assets and the use of smart contracts. All these are new components in the value chain. This may mean that a digital actor will be needed to manage this tokenisation, and creation and maintenance of smart contracts, overseeing the entire securities token ecosystem. CSDs could fulfil this notary function.

1a. Asset tokenization
Asset tokenization is the representation of assets on the blockchain in the form of tokens, which are designed to be unique, liquid secure, instantly transferable, and digitally scarce – and therefore impossible to counterfeit.

In a world where securities and other assets become tokenised, some have argued that an intermediary will still be needed to issue them and create rules. Tokenised assets exchanged on a distribute ledger may still require CSDs to hold the equities, which the token represent. They would thereby fulfil the crucial notary function, both as tokenising agent and as operator of the escrow accounts in which the real assets are hold.

1b. Custody of private keys
There may also be a need for secure maintenance of personal encrypted keys. Adopting blockchain technology would allow individuals and companies to have complete control over their assets and data, accessed through a set of private keys that must be kept secure.

Emerging technologies like decentralized key recovery will allow more and more individuals to secure custody of their own assets, thereby removing the artificial and expensive separation between legal and beneficial ownership in most asset markets.

Some will choose to take that responsibility themselves, but many investors may choose to outsource the custody of their private keys and token wallets to the companies and CSDs that can provide an independent and secure safekeeping service for these private keys.

2. Record of title for securities
CSDs could  also be of value to record of title for securities. In many cases, the law mandates how title to property transfers. EU regulations state that for “any financial instrument to be transferable and tradable”(i.e. takes place on a trading venue, exchange or multilateral trading facility), securities must be recorded (registered) in book entry form in a CSD.

Under the current law, to enable having a blockchain-based system of transfer of title to securities, the blockchain would need to be the system that the CSD operates, which is not truly distributed.

Or one would need to create a new legal regime that recognizes that the transfer of title on a blockchain is effectively a transfer of title to the relevant property, and allows that in the context of securities trading. But that would take a lot of time to realise.

As a solution, the blockchain technology can be implemented through a hybrid model in which the CSD can either operate a blockchain platform itself to perform the book entry role. Or it can continue to perform this role off-chain, with the third- party blockchain platform accessing those records held by the CSD via an API (application programme interface).

3. Governance
CSDs could also play the governance role in a DLT based system – to ensure that what happens within their systems is unchallengeable. The movement from a post-trade system based around the existing infrastructure to a DLT-based system, without updating the regulatory and legal regime, could introduce a new systemic risk into the financial system. Regulators and legislators are unlikely to be comfortable in allowing the wholesale replacement of the existing infrastructure with DLT-based solutions.

CSDs are best placed to retain a ‘policing’ or governance role in a blockchain framework. This role should be the management of an insolvency of a party, particularly if there is a position that is not settled and the relevant contract is not yet completed. The involvement of CSDs in a governance and operational role could help increase trust of investors, and raise the quality of the blockchain ecosystem infrastructure underpinning these new asset classes.

4. Trusted gatekeeper: Authorisation and administration
CSDs could also be of help as trusted gatekeeper to DLT networks. While regulators will set the standards for admission to the network, the admission tests are likely to be administered by other parties. The most likely candidate for that role of trusted gatekeeper to DLT networks are the CSDs.

They are already the “first home of financial assets issued, and guardians of the integrity of every issue they accept”.

“The regulators are unlikely to want to immerse themselves in the operational details of the authorisation process.” “They will sub-contract that work to a trusted intermediary (read CSD).”

5. Other roles

A. DLT proxy voting system
One role in the post-trade environment that is already intensively investigated by CSDs is the management of a DLT-based e-proxy voting system. This would include providing general meeting services and give shareholders an easy, user-friendly and secure tool for voting remotely.

There is potential for improvement for instance in respect to the depots of voting rights. The system would automatically allow (or disallow) voting privileges for members based on what voting rights they had within a particular organization.

By using open source blockchain technology the efficiency and integrity of the Annual General Meetings and shareholder voting processes can be increased. Given that it is an end-to-end solution – from the time a meeting is announced and all the way through the voting process to the publishing of results – it means that all stakeholders will truly benefit within the process.

“By leveraging blockchain, we are able to reduce friction in the voting and proxy assignment process and also ensure that all information is transparent to stakeholders when required and with the proper security, governance and risk procedures in place.

B. Elective corporate actions
CSDs could also have a role to play at elective corporate actions.  Corporate actions recorded by the ledger may include paying out dividends, splits, issue of rights, warrants, pay-ups etc.

The user group for a permissioned blockchain network can choose who should validate these actions. They could simply give validation rights to every node. Getting issuers to publish elective corporate actions, such as rights issues and proxy votes, directly onto a blockchain, however might be a difficult step to realise.

Alternatively, this could be the role of a trusted third party, or a combination of both a trusted party and the nodes. This would imply a logical role for CSDs, creating a common registry of ownership associated with an ID.

C. Reconciliation
CSDs could also be of help in the reconciliation process. Blockchain may certainly help automate other components of the settlement process, such as reconciliation. A DLT-based reconciliation tool, with multiple trading firms participating in a record-based system, however could still occur within the CSD, which may act as the single point of reference for reconciling the various records.

D. Cross-border collateral mobilization
A final area where CSDs could play a role is in cross-border collateral mobilisation. Leveraging blockchain technology could overcome existing hurdles when moving collateral across various jurisdictions, making the transfer faster and more efficient.

“Designed to simplify cross-border collateralisation away from using multiple complex and non-standardised links towards smooth movement across various jurisdictions.”

By using CSDs it could enable a centralised, faster and more efficient allocation of fragmented security positions to cover financial obligations of market participants in multiple jurisdictions.

Concluding remarks

CSDs are likely to play an integral role but important role in any blockchain environment. Their role however will look quite different from we know them today. They can be the logical center of the system, custodying the standards, processes and governance of the system.

CSDs will have the opportunity to be agents of change. CSDs however need to adapt to meet new demands asking for delivering added value services in the new blockchain environment.

But they are not there yet! There is clearly a gap between the long-term opportunities presented by blockchain and the challenges involved in making progress.

Several blockchain initiatives in this area have failed, or are just ended their pilot stage or are very limited in scope. CSDs are also not currently building a single solution. Rather, each group is building its own platform designed to interoperate with the others.

There is thus urgent need to leverage existing business standards for the distributed ledger technology application in order to realise a global infrastructure that can smoothly operate cross border.

 

Carlo de Meijer

Economist and researcher

Corda Settler, Ripple and SWIFT: mariage à trois?

| 07-05-2019 | Carlo de Meijer | treasuryXL

My last blog was about the IBM World Wire, a blockchain based platform for global payments. Another competitor in the blockchain payments world I have written about regularly is Ripple. Both are thereby targeting centralised payments messages network SWIFT.

IBM and Ripple however are not the only players in the blockchain payments world. Late last year R3 launched its new Corda Settler platform using Ripple’s XRP. But here it comes. In January SWIFT announced a partnership with R3 were they are collaborating to test Corda Settler, specifically to “integrate gpi with Corda Settler.” However, as Corda Settler depends on the XRP token, the partnership puts SWIFT and Ripple, the two rivals in an indirect connection. Will that result in a love triangle or even a “marriage a trois”? And could that work?

But first: What is Corda Settler?

In December last year, R3 announced the launch of Corda Settler. Corda Settler is designed in such a way to give companies a new fast, secure and reliable way to move crypto and traditional assets on a distributed ledger. The Corda Settler app is an open-source decentralized application (DApp), that runs on the Corda blockchain. It is aimed to facilitate global (crypto) payments across enterprise blockchain networks with Ripple’s XRP as its base currency. Corda Settler thereby focuses on the settlement of payments transactions between crypto and traditional assets within enterprise blockchains.

Corda Settler uses XRP

Both Corda and Ripple are open-source blockchain platforms with a focus on serving enterprise businesses. Therefore, it makes sense that Corda selected XRP, the globally recognized cryptocurrency, as the first and only supported cryptocurrency for settlement on the platform.

“The deployment of the Corda Settler and its support for XRP as the first settlement mechanism is an important step in showing how the powerful ecosystems cultivated by two of the world’s most influential crypto and blockchain communities can work together.” “While the Settler will be open to all forms of crypto and traditional assets, this demonstration with XRP is the next logical step in showing how widespread acceptance and use of digital assets to transfer value and make payments can be achieved.” Richard Gendal Brown, CTO at R3

While Ripple’s XRP is the first cryptocurrency supported by the Corda Settler, in the future it is very likely that R3 will make settlement in other cryptocurrencies possible.

“The Corda Settler is agnostic to which payment method is used. Whether it’s JP Morgan coin, or Wells Fargo coin, or BAML coin, or HSBC coin, it doesn’t matter to us. We have no horse in that race.” “We don’t have any financial incentives one way or another. We’re just trying to get as many people onto our platform as possible.”David Rutter, CEO of R3

How does Corda Settler work?

The platform is still in its first stages of development. Corda Settler supports payments of all sorts to be settled through “any parallel rail supporting cryptocurrencies or other crypto assets”. Also any traditional rail capable of providing cryptographic proof of settlement can settle payments obligations. In the next phase of development, the Settler will also support domestic deferred net settlement and real-time gross settlement payments.

In its current phase, when a payment obligation arises on the Corda blockchain during the course of business, any of the parties involved now have the option to request settlement using XRP. The other party can be notified that settlement in XRP has been requested and that they must instruct a payment to the required address before the specified deadline presented to them.

After they make the payment, an oracle service will ensure the validity of the payment and settle the obligation. Uniquely, the Corda Settler will verify that the beneficiary’s account was credited with the expected payment, automatically updating the Corda ledger.

What does Corda Settler mean for the parties involved?

It is clear that in the transaction initiated by Corda Settler, the receiving party doesn’t need to use Corda to receive the payment. At the same time, it is not mandatory for the sending party to use XRP or any other cryptocurrency.

This means that using the Corda Settler; one can send XRP or dollar and the receiver can accept the payment in an entirely different currency. “Settlement Oracle” will broadcast the actual settlement notification. It can be operated through different entities like exchanges, banks, and others.

It will thus allow banks and other financial institutions to build their blockchain networks with minimum overheads. They don’t need to integrate the R3 technology fully. All they need is to let their clients receive deposits via Corda-enabled services.

SWIFT partnership with Corda

End January SWIFT has announced its partnership with R3’s Corda Settler to launch a proof-of-concept (PoC). The trial would see the interaction of SWIFT’s payments standard framework GPI (Global Payments Innovation) with R3’s trade finance platform.

Following the recent launch of our Corda Settler, allowing for the payment of obligations raised on the Corda platform, it was a logical extension to plug into SWIFT gpi. SWIFT gpi has rapidly become the new standard to settle payments right across the world. All the blockchain applications running on Corda will thus benefit from the fast, secure and transparent settlement provided through the SWIFT gpi banks.” David E. Rutter, CEO of R3

Global Payments Innovation (GPI)

This trial will integrate SWIFT’s GPI Link cross border payments gateway with R3’s Corda Settler platform to enable the continuous monitoring and control of payment flows, settle GPI payments through their bank, and receive credit information.

SWIFT’s GPI is a messaging system based on existing messaging standards and bank payment processing systems. It has rapidly become the new standard to settle payments right across the world. The integration will also support application programming interfaces (APIs), as well as SWIFT and ISO standards to ensure global integration and interoperability.

It aims to provide quick and cost-effective transfers between SWIFT members. Through GPI “SWIFT hopes to assist banks enhance their relevance within the fast-evolving international payments ecosystem – by delivering immediate value to SWIFT’s members’ customers”.

Goal of the SWIFT-Corda Settler PoC

The objective of the PoC-trial is to try out interlinking of trade and e-commerce platforms with GPI – SWIFT’s new standard for cross-border payments and is an extension of other SWIFT trials with blockchaintechnology. These platforms need global, fast, secure and transparent settlement, preferably using fiat currencies.

With the gpi Link, banks will be able to provide rapid, transparent settlement services to e-commerce and trading platforms, opening up whole new ecosystems to the speed, security, ubiquity and transparency of gpi and enabling them to grow and prosper in the new digital economy. Given the adoption of the Corda platform by trade ecosystems, it was a natural choice to run this proof of concept with R3.” Luc Meurant, SWIFT’s Chief Marketing Officer

“SWIFT GPI will integrate directly to Corda Settler, the application that allows participants on the Corda blockchain to initiate and settle payment obligations via both traditional and blockchain-based rails. This will enable obligations created or represented on Corda to be settled via the large and growing SWIFT GPI network”.R3 co-founder Todd McDonald

While SWIFT is keen to experiment with the possibilities opened up by blockchain-based trades, they are much less enthusiastic about using cryptocurrencies such as XRP.

Objective

The SWIFT and R3 Corda Settler trial will enable corporates to authorise payments from their banks via a GPI link to their bank through the Corda Settler platform. GPI payments will be settled by the corporates’ banks, and the resulting credit confirmations will be reported back to the respective trade platforms via GPI Link on completion.

By enabling trade platform ecosystems using Corda to integrate ‘GPI Link’ into their trade environments, SWIFT hopes to extend its reach beyond member banks to include to a wider range of corporates and markets.

The first stage of the PoC will work with R3’s Corda blockchain platform, Corda. SWIFT says it will not limit ‘GPI Link’ to R3’s DLT-based trade environment. SWIFT has plans, if the Corda PoC is successful, to extend the trial to other DLT, non-DLT and e-commerce trade platforms. The results of the PoC will be demonstrated – as a prototype – at Sibos in London in September 2019.

Corda Settler: Fiat currencies versus XRP

Swift said it is not (yet) using XRP on Corda Settler!. And that for a number of reasons.

“All trade platforms require tight linkages with trusted, fast and secure cross-border payments mechanisms such as GPI. While DLT-enabled trade is taking off, there is still little appetite for settlement in cryptocurrencies and a pressing need for fast and safe settlement in fiat currencies”. Luc Meurant, SWIFT’s chief marketing officer

According to SWIFT CEO Leibbrandt banks simply are not prepared to use a cryptocurrency as a clearing unit due to its price volatility. It appears that most banks prefer to use Corda’s technology for rapid and transparent settlement services in fiat currency rather than cryptocurrencies. Most enterprises prefer to settle via traditional payment mechanisms, albeit wishing for greater visibility into what is happening to payments and receipts. This leads to the need for trade platforms to have fast and safe settlement in fiat currencies.

“I think that the big part of Ripple’s value proposition is the cryptocurrency XRP. There we do find the banks are hesitant to convert things into a cryptocurrency right now because of the volatility in the currencies.” Leibbrandt, SWIFT CEO

Another reason why SWIFT is hesitant (not willing) to use crypto currencies is because the legal status of XRP and other cryptocurrencies remains unclear due to the current uncertain regulatory environment. Risk averse financial institutions are unlikely to adopt cryptocurrencies until regulations become clearer.

Ripple’s CEO Garlinghouse however argues back that “with SWIFT payments taking days and XRP payments clearing within seconds, SWIFT transfers are actually subject to much greater volatility due to fluctuating foreign currency rates”. At present, the banks take on that volatility risk by guaranteeing the amount sent will match the amount received. Because of XRP’s speed, which executes transactions in a matter of seconds, Ripple says it ‘eclipses’ volatility risk. With near-instant XRP-backed transfers, that volatility risk is actually completed eliminated.

“I hear people talk about volatility and I feel like they’re propagating this misinformation. Mathematically, there’s less volatility risk in an XRP transaction than there is in a fiat transaction.” Garlinghouse, Ripple CEO

Garlinghouse countered SWIFT’s legal arguments saying that every XRP transaction is vetted for Know Your Customer (KYC) and Anti-Money Laundering (AML) compliance. Finally, Garlinghouse added that XRP payments greatly reduce systemic risks to banks in smaller economies, which have to use large amounts of money to prefund international transfers.

Mariage à trois?

With the launch of a universal settler app for payments on the Corda blockchain platform, using XRP as its first crypto payment trail, this may bring the Corda and XRP ecosystems into closer alignment.

Now SWIFT has partnered with blockchain consortium R3, we are in the strange position wherein SWIFT will be possibly be trailing Ripple XRP-powered payments. Through its experimental integration with R3, SWIFT may be indirectly integrating with XRP, though Leibbrandt has no desire to work with XRP directly.

It is still to be seen whether SWIFT will move beyond the proof of concept stage. But that might change. The future of SWIFT and Ripple’s relationship will not lay in the hands of present CEO Leibbrandt, as he will be stepping down as SWIFT CEO in June. His successor may be more receptive for the new world.

It is still speculative  that the proof of concept — or a future trial — could see SWIFT being more interested in cryptocurrency settlement. On the other hand Ripple will do its utmost by leveraging its relationship with R3 to convince (SWIFT-related) banks to take the dive into cryptocurrency via the Corda Settler platform.

For now, the complex links between SWIFT, Ripple, and R3 are sure to trigger continued debate about the future of global finance.

Read the full article here

 

 

Carlo de Meijer

Economist and researcher

 

The impact of blockchain technology on central counterparty clearing houses

| 23-11-2017 | Treasurer Development | Minor Treasury @ Hogeschool Utrecht | Frans Boumans |

Today’s blog has been written by Youri Toepoel, Romy Steegwijk & Dirk Heesakkers , who are 3 students studying for the minor Treasury Management at the University of Applied Sciences in Utrecht. We welcome their contribution – it is good to see the youth engaging in Treasury matters! Here is their opinion on Blockchain technology and its impact on central counterparty clearing houses.

A central counterparty clearing house can reduce counterparty risks associated with doing business with unfamiliar counterparties in unfamiliar markets. When businesses lack the capabilities, resources and expertise required to reduce counterparty risks, a central counterparty clearing house might be the solution. In recent years new disruptive technologies have been developed. Cryptocurrencies are becoming more known worldwide and the underlying technology, the blockchain, might be able to decentralize current services offered by financial institutions like banks.

Counterparty risk

Counterparty risk is the possibility that someone you do business with is unable to meet his/her obligations with you. Events during the recent credit crunch, particularly with Lehman Brothers, showed that banks and businesses had put too much trust in the credit ratings formed by the credit agencies. Corporates based creditworthiness of counterparties mainly, or even only, on the credit ratings given by credit rating agencies, expecting those ratings to be accurate and trustworthy. This has proven to be wrong and since the credit crunch many businesses started to measure and control counterparty risk based on other factors beside the credit rating received from the credit rating agencies (Treasury Today, 2014).

The counterparties

For the treasury function the counterparty risk is mainly associated with the banks and other financial institutions since these are the parties the treasury function is mostly dealing with. Additionally, also governments are important given they supply the “risk free” government bonds, but as seen with the government of Greece even governments show the ability to get into financial problems. The treasury function will often deal with these parties to attract or repel liquidity, derivatives or long-term loans to support the business’s day-to-day operations. In the end, exposure to suppliers and customers are also important to the counterparty risk.

Central Counterparty Clearing House (CCP)

A central counterparty clearing house (CCP) is an organisation that exists in various European countries to help facilitate trading done in European derivatives and equities markets. These clearing houses are often operated by the major banks in the country to provide efficiency and stability to the financial markets in which they operate. CCPs bear most of the credit risk of buyers and sellers when clearing and settling market transactions (Investopedia).

Blockchain versus central counterparty clearing house

A CCP offers a good solution to the counterparty risk that most companies face when doing business with counterparties. But this service, as it basically provides a settlement between two parties, might be a prey for decentralization by technology based on the Blockchain.

The Blockchain is often simply described as a distributed ledger and has the capability to replace services being provided by central service providers like banks. The unique part is the absence of a trusted third party (a bank that we visit or to which we log in with a key, an Amazon.com, eBay or whoever you know and trust…) (Servat, 2015).

Currently, the only obstacle seems to be regulation since the blockchain already shows numerous application possibilities. Lots of banks and other financial institutions are currently investing big money in the blockchain technology to find out in which way they can use it (or save themselves with?) (Scuffham, 2017).

Whether the blockchain totally replaces or gets integrated by financial institutions like the CCP, these innovations are surely interesting to follow and keep track of (Treasury Today, 2014).

Sources/bronnen/aanvullend

https://medium.com/@colin_/central-counterparties-ccps-in-decentralised-blockchains-f2cf671f5787

http://www.investopedia.com/terms/c/ccph.asp

http://treasurytoday.com/2016/05/blockchain-technology-ttqa

https://www.treasury-management.com/article/1/354/2920/blockchain-%96-disruption-or-hype-.html

http://treasurytoday.com/2017/09/the-rise-and-rise-of-blockchain-tttech

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-rbc-blockchain/exclusive-royal-bank-of-canada-using-blockchain-for-u-s-canada-payments-executive-idUSKCN1C237N

https://fd.nl/beurs/1222842/nieuwkomer-ripple-provoceert-betaalbedrijf-swift-op-eigen-terrein

Minor Treasury Management

More information about the minor Treasury Management at the University of Applied Sciences?
Please contact Frans Boumans.

 

Frans Boumans

Manager Minor Treasury Management @ University of Applied Sciences in Utrecht

 

 

 

How can treasurers use cryptocurrencies?

| 7-9-2017 | Carlo de Meijer |

 

Recently I read a blog from Victoria Beckett published in GTNews, titled “How can treasurers use cryptocurrencies”.  Nowadays there are more than thousand different cryptocurrencies in circulation. The dollar value of the 20 biggest cryptocurrencies is around $ 150 billion. While cryptocurrencies soared to unknown levels, also the explosion in Initial Coin Offerings, or ICOs for funding purposes is evidence of their growing attraction. But are these cryptocurrencies suited for corporate treasuries.

Benefits

In her blog Victoria Beckett said that there are several benefits to treasurers using cryptocurrencies. These may bring various benefits including avoiding paying large transactions fees to banks, realising immediate payments and the ability for transactions to be kept open or private. According to her corporate treasury business no longer need to use mainstream financial regulatory frameworks. Cryptocurrencies could provide business with the ability to move assets outside of the normal banking regulatory framework.

She argued that one of the key benefits to making business payments using cryptocurrencies is that it cuts out banks in the transaction completely, avoiding large transaction fees, while “payments can also get transferred immediately anywhere in the world”.

Critics

But there were some critics as “banks have to trade off the operational benefits that the technology may provide against the added cost of needing to buy and sell a cryptocurrency to make a transaction.” “Therefore, the benefits are low when dealing with efficient ‘corridors’ such as US and Europe, but higher when transacting with Zimbabwe” David Putts.

Besides, there are a large number of different cryptocurrencies in circulation with different protocols etc. These are not interoperable/interchangeable.  So when using cryptocurrencies they at some point in time have to be transferred into fiat money. And that also costs money.

I also missed other use cases for corporate treasurers in the article. Just using cryptocurrencies payments would be a very limited use case, given the large number of other activities performed by corporate treasurers.

Risky business

When reading the article I got the impression that the risks of cryptocurrencies were rather  under estimated. Certain features of cryptocurrencies are not backed by any government, have no status as legal tender and rely on network protocols and cryptographic techniques to enable counterparties to transact. This may present various risks.
First of all cryptocurrency exchange platforms normally have no regulation. Thus there is no legal protection. And we have seen the various examples of hacking these exchanges with many people losing their money.
Second, virtual money is normally stored in a digital wallet on a computer. Though these wallets have passwords and key they are still valuable for hacking etc.
Third, there is no protection for funds under EU law when using cryptocurrencies as a means of payment. We still live in a largely fiat-money dominated world. So these cryptocurrencies had to be concerted one day into their own legal currency and that costs money.
Fourth, cryptocurrencies are very volatile. There is no guarantee that the cryptocurrencies will remain stable.  Cryptocurrencies currently lack a derivatives market, which makes them a risky medium for business contracts that last for any amount of timer, especially given their constant value fluctuations. This year for example the exchange rate of the bitcoin climbed from a low of 968 dollar to more than 3000, fell back to 1.800 six weeks ago and climbed to 5.000.
Fifth, due to the untraceable nature of cryptocurrencies, they provide a high degree of anonymity, making them vulnerable to misuse for criminal activities.

Action from regulators across the world

For some, it is a pro that cryptocurrencies in most countries are not regulated, such as for hackers and/or speculators.  That idea is however rapidly changing giving the risks associated. At a global level, there is an urgent need for regulatory clarity given the growth of the market.

All these risks mentioned above are prompting action from a growing number of jurisdictions.

Regulators in China have publicly announced that they will forbid the use of ICOs. And also regulators in other countries like Japan, Singapore, and the US are looking at ways to regulate. The SEC in the US has officially confirmed it was looking into regulation of cryptocurrency ICOs. The SEC is mainly concerned with the risks these ICOs pose. And Singapore will regulate ICO offerings that are deemed to be securities.

But also on a more broader scale Europa there is increased activity by regulators in Europe to reign in the use of crypto currencies. The EU Parliament is expected to pass measures soon to bring certain virtual currency service providers within their AML (anti money laundering) / CTF (counterfeiting) regulation. These measures do not seek to prevent the use of cryptocurrencies, but will require virtual currency service providers to implement customer due diligence measures.

Polish regulators are warning investors and banks to avoid dealing with digital currencies like bitcoin and ether. The regulators clarified that cryptocurrencies are not considered legal tender in Poland.

The Maltese regulatory watchdog (MFSA) also warned traders about the risks associated with the virtual currency. According to them a virtual currency is an unregulated digital instrument and is a form of money that is not equivalent to the national currencies. The MFSA however stressed that It does not (yet) regulate the acceptance of payment of service in regards to the virtual currencies.

Are central banks overcoming their reservations?

Central bankers, from Russia to China, Frankfurt and New York, are increasingly wary of the risks posed by these crypto currencies. I therefore question if central banks worldwide are overcoming their reservations versus cryptocurrencies and really come out in favour of the cryptocurrency.

The recent boom in cryptocurrencies and their underlying technology is becoming too big for central banks to ignore. The risk is that they are reacting too late to both the pitfalls and the opportunities presented by digital coinage.

Bitcoin and its peers pose a threat to the established money system by effectively circumventing it. CBs are well aware of losing control over the money supply, if they don’t react. A solution may be that CBs are issuing digital money themselves to maintain control. Various central banks worldwide are now experimenting with that idea.

Forward thinking

The attraction of virtual currencies is mainly for speculative reasons, rather than for corporates to facilitate treasury. Corporate treasuries are increasingly looking for centralisation of the treasury organisation away from decentralisation. They also are very much focused on reducing the various corporate risks including FX, short term interest rate, cross currency liquidity, etc.

And when it is regulated on a larger scale it is questionable if the described benefits of speed, efficiency or scalability attributed to the use of cryptocurrencies still will meet the costs associated .

The announcement by the Bank of China to put a halt on initial coin offerings or ICOs had a negative impact on the very volatile bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. In one day it lost almost 15% of its value. The corporate treasurer however does not like volatility!

 

Carlo de Meijer

Economist and researcher

 

Blockchain: Securities market infrastructure players in the contra-attack

| 7-4-2017 | Carlo de Meijer |

 

Blockchain technology has long been viewed as a threat to CSDs (Central Securities Depositories) and their role as intermediaries for securities transactions. Blockchain and distributed ledger technology may make the role of many intermediaries in the post trade market infrastructure obsolete. In one of my blogs (Blockchain and the securities industry: future eco-system) I was one of those who think that players such as custodians, CCPs, CSDs and others would disappear when blockchain would be used in a massive way.


“It however is not expected that there will be a complete disintermediation of service providers. While the role of custodians would greatly disappear and those of clearinghouses and CSDs will drastically change in a blockchain environment, the rest of the value chain in the securities industry may remain largely intact. The functions associated with tracking, reconciling, and auditing enormous amounts of data are not going to be disintermediated away. They have to continue to exist, but just need to be done more efficiently, at lower cost and with fewer errors”- Carlo R.W. de Meijer

But these players are going in the contra-attack. 15 CSDs from developing and emerging markets, including Strate and NSD, have agreed to form a consortium to explore blockchain and DLT technology in a post-trading environment. The partners say that“financial market infrastructures need to embrace the technology and identify opportunities that will add value to their current clients”.

Let’s look what they are all doing.

CSDs aim to build distributed ledger for mobilising scarce collateral (January 2017)

A coalition of four central securities depositories are collaborating with Deutsche Börse on an initiative to use blockchain technology to ease cross-border mobilisation of security collateral. The members of the so-called “Liquidity Alliance” include The Canadian Depository for Securities Limited (CDS), Clearstream (Luxembourg), Strate (South Africa) and VPS (Norway). Via this initiative they want to overcome existing hurdles when moving collateral across various jurisdictions, making the transfer faster and more efficient. The Alliance’s ‘LA Ledger’ will initially be implemented as a prototype based on the Hyperledger Fabric. Validation by regulatory authorities and market participants will start in the second quarter of 2017.

DTCC taps blockchain to rebuild its platform (January 2017)

The Depository Trust & Clearing Corporation (DTCC), a US post-trade provider, has announced plans to use blockchain technology in 2017 to rebuild its platform. It aims to create a credit derivatives post-trade lifecycle solution built using a distributed ledger platform. Blockchain can simplify the process by automatically maintaining a shared electronic record of the security which is visible to all relevant parties.  This new DTCC’s platform – Trade Information Ware house – will keep track of the security throughout the lifecycle of the associated bond.

IBM, Axoni, and R3 CEV, two technology startups have been selected to work on the project which is set to kick-off in January 2017. DTCC expects the new blockchain-enabled Trade Information Warehouse to go live in early 2018. Furthermore, the project has been developed with input from market participants and infrastructure providers including Barclays, Citigroup, Credit Suisse Group, Deutsche Bank, JPMorgan Chase, UBS Group, Wells Fargo, IHS Markit and Intercontinental Exchange, DTCC said.

SWIFT creates blockchain application to simplify cross-border payments (January 2017)

SWIFT has begun building a blockchain application to simplify cross-border payments. The global platform is integrating open-source blockchain technology with its own products to build a proof-of-concept that might “one day” replace the so-called “nostro” accounts its members keep filled with cash all over the world – just in case they need it. A successful test of distributed ledger technology (DLT) could enable banks to optimize their liquidity globally and SWIFT to reduce the costs of reconciliation between independent databases maintained by the inter-bank platform’s members, reduce operational costs and free up liquidity for other investments.

Euroclear pencils in 2017 for bullion on blockchain roll out (December 2016)

Euroclear, the securities market depository, is set for a 2017 go-live for the application of blockchain technology in the London bullion market after completing its first pilot trades. Over 600 OTC test bullion trades were settled on the Euroclear Bankchain platform over the course of a two-week pilot. A number of leading market participants in the London bullion market – all part of the Euroclear Market Advisory Group – were involved in the test run, including Scotiabank, Société Générale, Citi, MKS PAMP Group and INTL FCStone. The Euroclear Bankchain Market Advisory Group set up in June this year now includes 17 participants working with Euroclear and blockchain platform provider Paxos in the roll-out of the new service. Another market simulation will run early this year in preparation for a production launch later in 2017.

Euroclear report: “CSDs matter in blockchain settlement system” (December 2016)

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, Blockchain Settlement: Regulation, Innovation, and Application, with support from Slaughter and May, found that central securities depositories (CSDs) would play an important role in a blockchain-based settlement system. It added that 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 will continue to perform an important role as trusted, centralised FMIs, providing gatekeeping services and oversight of the relevant blockchain. While the Euroclear report states that CSDs are trusted central entities that facilitate the settlement process, it is believed that the distributed ledger technology system would be a natural evolution of this facilitation role.

SWIFT deploys PoC for bond trading based on blockchain (November 2016)

SWIFT has unveiled a proof-of-concept for managing the entire lifecycle of a bond trade based on blockchain technology. SWIFT, that has been targeted in the press as “a legacy incumbent that will be doomed by DLT”, is determined not to be left behind “in the wake of the revolution that is unfolding in the finance world” with the adoption of blockchain or Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT). SWIFT believes “it can leverage its unique set of capabilities to deliver a distinctive DLT platform offer for the community.”

At the beginning of 2016 SWIFT and Accenture released a paper investigating how blockchain technology could be used in financial services. As a technology assessment, SWIFT and Accenture identified gaps between existing DLT solutions and industry requirements.

SA Strate to launch block chain based e-proxy voting in 2017 (October 2016)

Strate, South Africa’s central securities depository (CSD), plans to launch an e-proxy voting system based on blockchain technology in 2017. The body, responsible for clearing and settling all transactions that take place on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE), has partnered with Russia’s National Settlement Depository (NSD) to develop and test systems aimed at simplifying shareholder voting. Both CSDs plan to launch the e-proxy voting system in 2017, as such they are looking to partner with an international service provider whose product is around 70% to 80% complete. In South Africa, the planned e-proxy voting system will be rolled out on a client-by-client basis, with an eventual goal to have the entire market take up the system.

The decision to partner with NSD, taken at the Sibos Conference in Geneva last year, is rooted in the fact that both CSDs have conducted independent proof of concept studies and are at a similar stage in understanding and developing an appropriate voting solution. The NSD was also one of the first financial organisations in the world to announce the development of a blockchain-based prototype for e-proxy voting. Strate and NSD will share information regarding standards, regulations and DLT technologies; explore mutually beneficial ideas; and look to make savings through the sharing of technology and development costs. They are claiming that several other CSDs have expressed interest in joining them.

Innovation in CSD space session at SIBOS: “ a slow burn for CSDs” (September2016)

During the “Innovation in CSD space: What about distributed ledger technology?” session at SIBOS, some panellists argued that the technology would “hail the end of CSDs” while others said there would be no revolution, just a “natural evolution” of what exists.

The message from the CSDs was that they are “open to innovation with blockchain, but will test it out in safe places first”.   

WFE Survey “Financial market infrastructures piling into blockchain” (August 2016)

More than 84% of trading venues and clearing counterparties (CCPs) surveyed by the World Federation of Exchanges (WFE) are either investigating or actively pursuing the applicability of distributed ledger technologies in financial markets.

WFE says that the poll of 24 members indicates that firms are at different stages of evolution in their DLT initiatives, with one having already deployed a DLT-based application, some at proof-of-concept, and others on the spectrum of evaluation, design, and proof-of-technology. Clearing and settlement provided the most obvious use case for respondents, but with regulatory, legal and technical risks an issue there was little consensus on a viable time frame for live production.

Strate, global CSDs to collaborate on blockchain use (August 2016)

Strate, the South African body responsible for settling transactions concluded on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, met with 20 other central securities depositories (CSDs) in Switzerland in September to discuss how blockchain technology can be used across global financial markets. Aim is to form a group of CSDs to share information and knowledge. The group of CSDs would try to determine an ideal model for putting clearing settlements and the transaction of shares on to a blockchain.   And as opposed to each going and developing their own technology, the group could potentially get a vendor to develop something for all of them or develop something their selves and share it and share in the costs.

Euroclear explores use of blockchain in London gold markets (June 2016)

Euroclear is exploring the potential of using blockchain technology to create a next generation settlement service for the London gold market. The clearing is working with blockchain infrastructure firm itBit and market participants to evaluate the use of distributed ledgers to remove the risks and reduce the capital charges related to the settlement of unallocated gold. Euroclear will thereby use ItBits’ Bankchain product, a private network of trusted participants that clears, tracks and settles trades in close to real-time, opening the prospects of providing true delivery-versus-payment in the bullion market.

Rise testing post-trade blockchain tech with banks, custodians and CSDs (May 2016)

RISE Financial Technologies (RISE), a provider of distributed ledger technology for both post-trade settlement and securities safekeeping, has become the first technology firm to launch the second generation of blockchain for the post-trade sector. RISE is testing its solutions with a number of leading financial institutions including banks, custodians, and CSDs.

The core attributes of RISE’s technology are de-centralised ledger qualities and permissioned transparency, which gives access to different types of information depending on who you are. These qualities are applied to ensure any ‘single point of failure’ inherent in many technology systems is removed and guarantees data integrity. So investors have sight and control over their assets but not those of other participants; issuers have a view but no control into final beneficiaries; financial institutions (ledger operators/validators) have access to client information; and regulators have a complete view of the information in their jurisdiction in real-time but no direct control over the assets.


Carlo de Meijer 

Economist en Researcher

 

 

 

 

More articles about blockchain from Carlo de Meijer:

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Blockchain: Accelerated activity in trade finance

| 24-2-2017 | Carlo de Meijer |


Last year August I wrote a LinkedIn blog on blockchain and trade finance. There I described the various pilots and plans for using this technology in the trade space. In that month, the bank-backed R3CEV blockchain consortium revealed that 15 of its member banks had participated in a trial involving trade finance. Since then activity in this area has accelerated. It signals that enterprise banks are increasingly interested in the application of the blockchain to trade finance. The idea is that a distributed database like a blockchain can form the basis for a wholly digitized supply chain.

“Blockchain lends itself easily to the trade finance industry, which heavily rely on the settlement of sensitive information. This technology could be used to digitise sales and other legal contracts (smart contracts), allow the location of goods to be monitored and facilitate payments in close to real time. Potentially, business transactions can be executed directly on the platform itself through the use of “smart contracts” embedded in the platform and the platform could be further connected to payment systems and distribution networks for smoother flow of payments, goods and services.” – I wrote in Blockchain and trade finance: projects and pilots

Moving from the proof-of-concept stage into production

It is also becoming all the more clear that blockchain technology is moving from the proof-of-concept stage into production, especially for cross-border payments and trade finance. Last week seven European banks announced their plans to develop a trade finance platform based on blockchain technology. Let’s have a look – there are more examples.

European banking consortium: cross-border trade platform

Seven of Europe’s biggest banks (Deutsche Bank, HSBC, KBC, Natixis, Rabobank, Société Générale and UniCredit) signed a Memorandum of Understanding in Brussels under which they intend to collaborate on the development and commercialisation of a new product called Digital Trade Chain (DTC). A shared cross-border trade finance platform for small and medium-sized using blockchain technology.

The product is based on a prototype trade finance and supply chain solution originated by KBC and tested to ‘Proof of Concept’ stage. The aim of the project is to simplify trade finance processes for SMEs by addressing the challenge of managing, tracking and securing domestic and international trade transactions by connecting all of the parties involved (i.e. buyer, buyer’s bank, seller, seller’s bank and transporter), online and via mobile devices. They thereby hope to accelerate the order-to-settlement process and decrease administrative paperwork significantly. The group plans to initially focus on building critical mass in seven European markets.

S7 Airlines and Alfa-Bank pilot the first Russian blockchain LoC transaction

Two Russian companies, S7 Airlines, and Alfa-Bank, have successfully closed a deal using a smart contract to settle and record a Letter of Credit (LoC) on a blockchain. Deloitte in Russia provided legal support to the project. Only the people with information about the original parameters of the deal can view the status of the letter of credit in the blockchain record. In this transaction, in addition to Alfa-Bank and S7 Airlines, the information is available to a service company that receives money under the letter of credit. Legally, this transaction meets all the requirements for a letter of credit as a form of bank settlement, and demonstrates the potential of smart contract application in the framework of Russian legislation.
“The transaction enabled us to test the capabilities of smart contracts and understand how the technology helps to improve business processes and document flow efficiency. We are planning to continue cooperating with Alfa-Bank in this area.” – Dmitry Kudelkin, Deputy General Director, S7 Group

Barclays enabled first global trade transaction trial

Barclays announced that it had successfully completed the first global trade finance transaction trial using blockchain technology. The test enabled two partners, Ornua, an Irish agriculture co-operative (formerly the Irish Dairy Board), and Seychelles Trading Company, a food product distributor, to successfully transfer trade documentation via a blockchain platform created by its accelerator program graduate, Wave. A blockchain-based letter of credit closed a transaction between Ornua and the Seychelles Trading Company, guaranteeing the export of almost US$100,000 worth of cheese and butter from Ireland to the Seychelles, facilitated by Barclays. Meanwhile, the funds for the transaction were transferred via Swift.
Wave has worked with Barclays in developing new solutions for trade finance. The start-up’s blockchain-based technology connects all members of a supply chain to a decentralised network, allowing them direct exchange of documents. Wave’s blockchain-based system allows all parties to see, transfer titles, and transmit shipping and other trade documentation through their decentralized network. The new platform helps optimise internal processes for banks and reduces the risk of documentary fraud, while speeding up the time it takes to complete a trade transaction – from as many as 20 days, to just a few hours.
“Blockchain is a very good solution to eliminate the pain in international trade, because you have an industry that combines all industries, because all industries are either importers or exporters at some level. You have the carrier, the bank and the customer and it’s hard to find one centralized entity everyone can work with.” – Wave founder Ruschin

IBM promotes Blockchain Trade Finance In India

In India, IBM is hoping to promote mainstream adoption of blockchain by collaborating with multinational company Mahindra, which operates Mahindra Finance. IBM and Mahindra are developing a blockchain-based trade finance solution to offer banks in the country. The cloud-based tool will look to facilitate trade finance transactions between buyers and suppliers, and could overhaul trade finance for SMEs in particular.
The companies have already completed a proof of concept that “represents a significant step forward in blockchain, a more compelling and efficient supply chain solution for Mahindra Finance’s small and mid-sized enterprise loan business”. IBM and Mahindra will explore other use cases for blockchain including applications for Mahindra’s car and tractor manufacturing operations.

Microsoft and BAML to Test Blockchain for Trade Finance

Microsoft and Bank of America Merrill Lynch (BOML) announced a collaboration on blockchain technology to fuel transformation of trade finance transacting. The companies have teamed up to implement blockchain technology in trade finance to facilitate faster, safer, cheaper and more transparent transactions. The main objective of the collaboration is to develop and test blockchain technology and establish best practices for blockchain-powered exchanges between businesses and their customers and banks, before commercializing it. Microsoft’s own cloud-based platform Azure will be utilized to test the project. Microsoft Treasury experts will serve as advisors and initial test clients. Development and testing of the initial application, built to optimize the standby letter of credit process, is currently in progress.

CBA, Wells Fargo and Brighann Cotton pioneered blockchain trade finance transaction

The Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA), Wells Fargo and trading firm Brighann Cotton have successfully completed the “first” global trade finance transaction experiment in October between two banks using blockchain, smart contracts and the Internet of Things (IoT).
“The interplay between blockchain, smart contracts and the Internet of Things is a significant development towards revolutionising trade transactions that could deliver considerable benefits throughout the global supply chain.” Michael Eidel, CBA. The trade involved the shipment of 88 bales of cotton worth approximately $35,000 from Texas US to Qingdao, China. The transaction mirrors a letter of credit, executed through a collaborative workflow on a private distributed ledger – Skuchain’s Brackets system – between the seller (Brighann Cotton in the US); the buyer (Brighann Cotton Marketing Australia); as well as their respective banks (Wells Fargo and CBA).
By connecting Brighann Cotton’s container to the internet of things (IoT), both CBA and Wells Fargo have been able to “track a shipment in real time”. It was the geographical location which triggered the smart contract to release the payment for the cotton (which happened via the traditional Swift system, allowing the banks to avoid having to win the approval of prudential regulators for the deal).

Major banks from India and Dubai complete blockchain trade finance transaction.

ICICI, India’s largest private bank, and Emirates NBD,  recently announced successful international transactions for both trade finance and remittance purposes using blockchain technology.
This pilot transaction was executed to showcase confirmation of import of “shredded steel melting scrap” by a Mumbai-based export/import firm from a Dubai-based supplier, and to exchange and authenticate original international trade documents. The blockchain trade application co-created by ICICI Bank “replicates the paper-intensive international trade finance process as an electronic decentralised ledger”.
The information contained in the blockchain transaction included a purchase order, an invoice, shipping and insurance papers. Each participant was able to access and view a single dataset, to authenticate ownership of goods digitally, transmit their trade documents, check the status of their applications, and transfer their titles, while maintaining confidentiality. Further, it allowed each participant to check online the status of the application, transfer of title and transmission of original trade documents through a secure network, while preserving client and commercial confidentiality. The application is designed to work with existing banking systems and processes, allowing banks to “plug in their systems and process.”
“I envision that the emerging technology of blockchain will play a significant role in banking in the coming years by making complex bilateral and multi-lateral banking transactions seamless, quick and more secure.” – Chanda Kochhar, ICICI MD & CEO

CGI rolls out blockchain lab for trade finance

CGI, a leading IT and business service provider, has launched a lab, a digital sandbox dedicated to helping its trade finance and supply chain clients harness the efficiencies of blockchain for new and existing products. The formal launch took place at Sibos, Geneva, and is part of the company’s rapidly increasing use of Ripple’s distributed ledger solutions. But, the lab itself will soon explore the benefits to trade finance more broadly.The Trade Innovation Lab is a three-tiered “sandbox” that begins with platforms that could include Ethereum, BigchainDB, Ripple, Corda and Eris Industries, then works with CGI’s blockchain developers to build messaging workflows via the Intelligent Gateway that can be integrated via APIs to new blockchain applications. As part of the digital sandbox offering, the company will let its clients experiment with how various blockchains interact with its new Digital Intelligent Gateway, which allows for the sending of a wide range of supply chain messages.

UBS and IBM test blockchain for trade finance

Swiss UBS and IBM have collaboratively designed a project that replicates the entire lifecycle of an international trade transaction on Hyperledger`s Fabric blockchain. Aim is to simulate a complete international trade transaction incorporating stages such as trade finance, cargo inspections, bills of lading, customs inspections, release and payment. The trade finance project is in its earliest stages and focuses on just a single aspect of the process, combining payment transactions, foreign exchange payments and more, into one single, elaborate smart contract.
By programming that process into a smart contract on Hyperledger, both parties expect to be able to cut the processing time down from seven days to one hour. Besides the letter of credit process, the project also aims to incorporate the account opening process, to build a user-friendly interface, “capable to operate on the go, from a transportation vehicle for example”. It remains unclear how long it will take to complete the international trade project.

Consortium rolls out blockchain trade finance app in Singapore

Bank of America Merrill Lynch, HSBC and the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA) have jointly developed a prototype solution built on blockchain technology that could change the way businesses around the world trade with each other. The consortium used the Linux Foundation open source Hyperledger Project blockchain fabric, which development was supported by IBM Research and IBM Global Business Services.
The application mirrors a paper-intensive letter of credit (LC) transaction by sharing information between exporters, importers and their respective banks on a private distributed ledger. This then enables them to execute a trade deal automatically through a series of digital smart contracts. Each action in the workflow is captured in a permissioned distributed ledger, giving transparency to authorised participants whilst encrypting confidential data. With this concept, each of the four parties involved in an LC transaction – the exporter, importer and both of their banks – can visualise data in real time on a tablet and see the next action to be performed.
“A letter of credit conducted on blockchain enables greater efficiencies and visibility in trade finance processes, benefitting multiple parties across its value chain,” – Khoong Hock Yun, assistant chief executive of the IDA’s Development Group. The consortium now plans to conduct further testing on the concept’s commercial application with selected partners such as corporates and shippers.

Remaining challenges

As evidenced by the recent announcements of successful international trade finance transactions via blockchain, promising to transform trade finance over the coming decade for business around the globe, streamlining the trade finance process, cutting time and expense from the process, the real-world use of the technology in trade finance will see a growing trend. It however could take a while before the technology will take off in a massive way and will fundamentally transform trade finance.
Going forward, the big challenge for banks wanting to employ blockchain at scale for trade finance will be the interoperability of different blockchain or distributed ledger systems. Another issue that needs to be addressed seriously is integration. How will buyers, sellers, and any required trusted third party/intermediary, interface to the network? Without having to implement an entirely new technology infrastructure, the parties involved in the trade finance process will need flexible tools to map and process documents and payments.

“The introduction of blockchain in your company will require the well needed time. You will have to address the enterprise issues around transaction audibility, visibility and integration into existing business functions. Without this, a profitable integration of the blockchain in the company will prove to be a difficult story” .

 

Carlo de Meijer

Economist and researcher




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