OPINION: Will blockchain become a blockbuster ?

Shanny Basar

In the summer the cinemas are full of films in which normal humans beings acquire new powers and are transformed into superheroes. This month we had a glimpse of the possible transformation of financial markets with the first securities issued on a distributed ledger using smart contracts.

Technology company Symbiont has developed a platform that allows financial firms to create programmable versions of traditional securities – that it calls Smart Securities – which are stored in the blockchain or a distributed ledger. This month Symbiont itself issued founders equity, convertible preferred stock, convertible notes and stock options as smart securities on the bitcoin blockchain.

Smart contracts are traditional securities converted into code. For example, the interest payments on a bond can be set in code to check a specified source for the rate and the digital currency distributions will be made automatically to all the holders of the bond recorded on the blockchain on set dates. Settlement takes place as soon as all the specified conditions in the code have been met without any manual intervention, saving a huge amount in time and costs.

Today the Financial Conduct Authority, the UK regulator, launched a consultation to canvass views on whether its rules and policies are restricting innovation and what it should do to facilitate changes in digital and mobile solutions.

The FCA said it had seen firms planning to use distributed ledgers and digital currencies, aggregator services, cloud-based services, big data analytics, biometric banking, and cognitive computing. For example biometric readers could be used for banking authentication, advice services could be automated and payment protocols could be based on decentralised ledgers.

Last month the European Securities and Markets Authority completed its consultation on virtual currencies and distributed ledgers. Exchange operator CME Group said in its response to Esma that mainstream adoption of digital currencies and ledger technology could happen within a short period of time.

Consumers want innovation to promote effective competition. However, as the conflicts over the introduction of services such as Uber have shown, the interests of consumers can come second to vested interests who have a monopoly – so the regulators should ensure this does not happen.

All the users of financial markets, including savers and retirees who depend on pension fund payments, will be hoping that the costs savings and increased efficiencies from the inevitable transformation of the securities markets trickle down to them. They will be keeping their fingers crossed that blockchain becomes a blockbuster like Jurassic World – rather than the flop that is Fantastic Four.

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