If we’re to “follow the money,” then we best see that connection to blockchain. Each week, a new bank seems to launch a new initiative infused with blockchain. This week, OCBC Bank announced that it is venturing a cross-border payments and fund transfers initiative by employing blockchain technology. Through its subsidiaries in Singapore and Malaysia, OCBC Bank claims this is a first for Southeast Asia, and it is able to circumvent payment intermediaries in order to efficiently speed up and secure the entire process.
Many experts say cross-border payments are a good use case for blockchain. Matt Shaw with Synechron Business Consulting said: “The real value-add with blockchain here is that the currency conversion could happen within minutes and settlement will be able to happen almost instantaneously without the need for correspondent banks. This increased transparency and efficiency will give all parties involved better information for liquidity, capital and risk management.”
That said, other experts say it does not come anywhere near solving the major issues with money transfers.
“The only potential con I can see of sending payment over peer-to-peer network is if privacy is desired and improperly masked for confidentiality purposes,” said Anthem Blanchard, founder and CEO of AnthemVault. “The limitation for cross-border blockchain/peer-to-peer payments between unrelated banks is settlement time, which is ultimately constrained by the sending bank’s outstanding obligations relative to its reserves. As a result, a bank may need to override and slow the speed of sending payment, negating the speed benefit of blockchain settlement over central bank clearing speeds.”
And other experts point to problematic examples that focus on the 2 billion people globally who are “unbanked” and have low access to funds in remote areas.
“In developing countries, investment in blockchain by local financial institutions is a long way off as most are still concerned about enabling their populations to have basic access to financial services,” said Brion Nazzaro, group compliance director at WorldRemit. “However, the OCBC news comes at a time when more and more banks are actively testing blockchain applications within their enterprise.”
According to World Bank and Pew Research, in 2015, more than $592 billion was sent by migrants to relatives in their home countries — namely, developing countries. Nazzaro said that, while OCBC’s use of blockchain technology provides high-value financial services to consumers, the bank may not be addressing a large percentage of the global population who are sending and receiving cross-border payments.
And, at the same time, he added that, “although OCBC’s pilot program does not address a key issue with money transfers, their blockchain initiative suggests that blockchain is a reality for financial services, not just a pipedream.”
And speaking of dreams — pipe or otherwise — the upcoming Blockchain for Wall Street Education Day at the end of the month may indeed be all about blockchain dreams — some that have yet to be explained. Considered on its event website as “a day of practical education and peer-to-peer engagement, providing an unparalleled opportunity to learn firsthand how to play a part in the rollout of blockchain, distributed ledger and smart contract approaches on Wall Street and in the financial markets.” The event encourages attendees to learn how to leverage and deploy the technology within previous and current trading enterprises.
“Generally speaking, attendees at these events are increasingly savvy about the technology,” said Preston Byrne, who is speaking at the event and holds the position of COO and general counsel at Monax Industries. “They’re pretty useful for networking and getting in touch with the folks who are doing the hard work to implement blockchain tech at their respective institutions. So, I very much enjoy attending them.”
Events like these do indeed seem to be popping up more often, especially in light of banks jumping into blockchain technology. Many experts see them as an important way to spread and explain blockchain quickly.
“Blockchain is a fundamental technology that is likely to disrupt stock and bond brokerage firms, insurance and other complex financial transactions, such as syndicated loans. Those industries need to understand the technology,” said Joe Pindar, CTO and director of product strategy at Gemalto. “However, blockchain must mature and meet minimal regulation requirements for financial markets. Those on the technology side need to understand the regulations and how meeting them will further blockchain’s market potential.”
But in the interim, or current state, there does seem to be a misconception prevailing in what blockchain is and if it’s different than bitcoin. And the question is when that misconception will finally disappear. Or will it? Will more events change this?
James Methe, principal of payments and transaction banking at Capgemini, said the general public can be forgiven, and by the time the clarity is reached, perhaps no one will care or see this as an issue any longer.
“There is some folklore around the rise of bitcoin starting as a result of the general loss of trust in the banking industry after the financial crisis,” said Methe. “This is probably not as true as it has more to do with the rise of FinTechs seeing the opportunity in the retail financial services markets.”
He said that, as FinTechs achieved in highly successful and trusted niches and with services and apps, such as Uber and Lyft, employed in the U.S., banks took notice of the potential of new technologies. “Trust is an evolution,” said Methe. “The early adopters of blockchain solutions are pursuing pilot solutions between already trusted parties. These will prove out successful or adapt to models that will.” Application of the technology will follow to critical mass.
Ultimately, it may be moot in the way that only true users are on a need-to-know basis.
“I think mainstream adoption will take some time,” said Byrne. “I don’t consider it likely that the typical end users of the tech will ever really know what is running under the hood, any more than your average user of Facebook knows or understands what’s happening on Facebook’s servers as they use that application.”
While bitcoin seems more tangible to an extent, blockchain may be the one that could deliver high user experience, whether it’s fully understood or not.
“Blockchain will probably never make it into the mainstream media, but I don’t necessarily see that as a bad thing,” said Pindar. “Blockchain will ultimately become a hidden part of great, new services that deliver great user experience at a fraction of the cost.”