Big Banks’ ‘Blockchain’ Bet Bursts Bitcoin’s Buttons

When MPD CEO Karen Webster wrapped up the year in payments last year, she had one simple request about bitcoin: to stick a fork in it.

Simple, right? Perhaps someday.

But while she awaits in hiding as the bitcoin community roots against her with as much angst as a Yankees fan in Fenway Park, there’s a big group of backers in the financial, tech and business industries that have taken the next step to making blockchain move forward without ties to bitcoin.

But as Webster pointed out in her column, “if we kill bitcoin that means we will also kill and bury the blockchain since bitcoin is what keeps the blockchain alive.” Because bitcoin is the method of transport used by the blockchain to move data between the miners, there’s a case for why bitcoin’s blockchain has stuck around.

But big banks like JPMorgan, along with the support of IBM and Intel want to bury that vision and resurrect their own vision for what they envision to be a more productive use case for the concept of a distributed ledger. This is like a blockchain, but sans the bitcoin.

They are bank friendly, already leverage existing banking infrastructure, and their well-developed risk, compliance and regulatory expertise and APIs to innovate the movement of money between these distributed ledgers around the world.

“FIs don’t have to give up on innovating how money moves around the world, they should just give up on doing it via the blockchain,” Webster wrote.

Perhaps Webster’s wish will come quicker than she thought.

That’s the vision of the new Open Ledger Project that was announced yesterday (Dec. 17), which includes those major companies listed above — as well as other major banks — that are working in conjunction with the Linux Foundation, to step over bitcoin and find new ways of distributing data, transactions and other sensitive information via their own version of the blockchain.

The goal of the Open Ledger Project is not to work in the cryptocurrency space, but rather to leverage the technology behind the distributed ledger in order to streamline business tools that enable transactions and documents to move between parties faster. Another goal of the project would be to create open ledgers that can decide who can access that ledger.

Where IBM’s role comes into the mix is through the code that’s needed in the blockchain research. IBM has been enrolled in this mission for years and has most recently gotten other major companies, like JPMorgan, behind its plans to use the blockchain.

One use case for the distributed ledger is to enable business contracts to be sent electronically in a private, secure and fast manner. That’s one goal of the Open Ledger Project, according to Jerry Cuomo, an IBM Fellow on the project. But IBM has made it clear that the goal is to work with blockchain and not the bitcoin.

While businesses may be looking toward blockchain to transfer documents, banks are eyeing the option for tasks like transferring loans and moving money faster. This means the goals of business and banks could overlap, which shows why the companies across the industries have come together to embrace a next-generation vision for blockchain-like technology.

Moving the blockchain beyond bitcoin has been a conversation that’s been building up steam for the past few months. While it’s imperative to separate the bitcoin from the blockchain, it still needs to be determined just how to disentangle the technology of the blockchain away from bitcoin, too.

Because the blockchain is a technology that is used to continuously record every bitcoin transaction that takes place. It is the distributed database or public ledger that updates itself every 10 minutes and is the technology that underpins bitcoin. And that’s the very reason why the two haven’t been able to untangle themselves from the same conversation.

But those conversations have been shifting.

Speaking at a conference earlier this year, ex-JPMorgan exec Blythe Masters — who just this year traded in her Wall Street getup to join the digital currency world — said about the blockchain and distributed ledgers.

“Distributed ledger technology does have the potential to be disruptive of certain business models. But it has at least as much potential to be enormously empowering of existing business models in terms of making them lower cost, more efficient and less risky,” she said at a conference earlier this year.

Months after Masters made those comments, JPMorgan is at the heart of the distributed ledger conversation again. Now, however, it’s got the major companies across the business and Wall Street ecosystems working in tandem to determine how their own version of bitcoin’s blockchain can be used to innovate the future of financial and business services.

They plan to do so in a way that innovates the outdated financial system to match what those who are deeply embedded in the industry have called for: faster, more secure, electronic and government approved.

And without ties to bitcoin’s blockchain, that’s a concept that the mainstream financial industry can begin to back.

Perhaps even Webster, too.

Bitcoin On Wall Street?: What’s Happened In 2015?

As we wrap up the final month of 2015, we decided to a brief recap of some key moments for bitcoin and the blockchain during the year.

SEC Approves Overstock’s Blockchain Wall Street Plan

Just this week, Overstock’s blockchain vision just got big backing from the SEC.

The SEC approved Overstock’s plans to issue out company stock using blockchain technology. This decision sets the tone for how the financial securities market will evolve as more and more companies look toward the potential of the blockchain to streamline financial deals.

The initial plans for Overstock’s blockchain Wall Street vision was revealed in August when CEO Patrick Byrne shared his ideas for how the technology that powers bitcoin could shake up Wall Street’s markets. Byrne’s big idea for tapping into blockchain technology is to use it to change the way the stock market operates. He told Wired at the time that he wants to “bust this market open” — and by that he means that instead of having the agent lenders and prime brokers control the market, he wants stockholders to have a better share of the market.

“We’re taking a market that’s in the dark,” Byrne said, “and we’re putting it on an exchange.”

Blockchain On The Stock Markets

In May, Nasdaq said it plans to leverage blockchain technology as part of an enterprise-wide initiative. Nasdaq isn’t necessarily after bitcoin, but it is looking to use the tech behind the digital currency. Also, the New York Stock Exchange said it’s planning to roll out multiple trials of how the blockchain could be used for trading purposes. It has also expressed interest in the technology by going as far as becoming an investor in bitcoin exchange Coinbase.

While there certainly seems to be a shift toward examining how the blockchain technology could play a role on Wall Street, there are still some who suggest that opening up the markets online wouldn’t necessarily be popular among those in power.

Another Bank Gets Serious About The Distributed Ledger

Following a slew of financial institutions to embrace bitcoin’s blockchain, SAN InnoVentures, the investment and venture arm of the Santander Group, is putting $4 million into a distributed ledger technology platform via Ripple in a Series A round.

That investment brings the open ledger company’s Series A to $32 million as it seeks to bring new investors to the digital assets tracking world and brings total funding to more than $38 million. Bank Innovation reported that Santander is not among the baker’s dozen of banks that last week linked up with a consortium of lenders to discuss the blockchain and its place within the financial world — an event that came as Australia shuttered some exchanges.

The debate over the virtual currency continues unabated. But the capital raised, as Bank Innovation reported, means that the lender is “doing something” rather than just studying the future.

Could Blockchain Capital Market Adoption Come Soon?

Blockchain’s ability to disrupt the financial world may be coming sooner rather than later.

At least that’s the case if a report from TABB Research comes to fruition. New research from the firm suggests that blockchain adoption by capital markets is no longer a hypothetical. Instead, it’s a matter of when it will happen. That’s the focus of its new research titled: “Blockchain Technology: Pushing the Envelope In FinTech.”

By adopting the blockchain’s distributed ledger technology, the capital market ecosystem has the potential to open new markets to generate revenue boosters, the research suggests. Shagun Bali, the TABB research analyst who wrote the report, said that the blockchain is a highly scalable, secure technology that can change how electronic transactions in capital markets are tracked, cleared and settled.

Bali calls for the adoption of the technology to occur over the next 12-24 months, and said that blockchain solutions should be seen coming into the market for syndicated loans as soon as Q2 of next year. For equity clearing, however, she projects that’s still a decade away.

Visa Backs The (Block)Chain

Wall Street seems to have a love-hate relationship with bitcoin.

One blockchain-based startup got some major support this year from Wall Street. A group of major financial companies have agreed to invest $30 million in Chain, a San Francisco-based provider of blockchain technology solutions to financial institutions.

As seems to be all the rage today in FinTech innovation, Chain works with banks and financial institutions to determine how the blockchain technology can be harnessed in a way that can make it faster and easier to trade and transfer financial assets. The investors of the latest round include Visa, Nasdaq, Citi Ventures, Capital One, Fiserv and Orange SA. Beyond major investors, Chain announced that RRE Ventures Founder Jim Robinson III, the former American Express CEO, has joined Chain’s board.

Is Bank Of America Serious About Bitcoin?

Bank of America made its move that shows it’s getting a bit more serious about the digital currency that’s got a long rap sheet for not always being on the right side of the law.

Bank of America, of course, is looking at how the technology — the blockchain aspect — could innovate the fund transfer process. A recently filed patent from Bank of America, described as being a “system and method for wire transfers using cryptocurrency,” gives a bit more insight as to why and how cryptocurrency could be a game changer for the industry.

According to the patent application filed Sept. 17: “A system includes a memory and a processor. The processor is coupled to the memory and causes the system to receive an electronic request for a fund transfer and initiate a debit of a first amount of a first currency from a customer account.”



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