Blockchain technology and the digital assets it can create were once shunned and treated with suspicion but, then again, peopleare often reluctant to accept change. However, now we see highly respected multinational corporations and even governments beginning to figure out and start using blockchains (and digital assets) as they realise the transformational opportunities this technology offers.
Greg Medcraft, who was the chairman of the Australian Securities and Investments Commission and has been in Paris at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) for three years, is very candid about the outlook for banks and what regulators need to do in reference to Blockchain technology:
- “Regulators need to prepare fordisruption by blockchain”.
- Blockchain business models can reducecosts and make markets more transparent, but, as OECD's extensive policy workon blockchain shows, many new challenges will arise.
- Decentralised Finance" (DeFi)will emerge over the next decade, creating a parallel financial systemoperating on the internet. DeFi is revolutionary. It is the next frontier, definitely.
- The arrival of mainstream central financialinstitution digital currencies (CBDCs), which is able to allow DeFi, are maybe 5 years away.
- With DeFi, there isn’t a friction.
- You’re looking at replicating numerous currentelements of banking it is inevitable that governments will have digitalvariations of paper cash, which can sit alongside non-public “stablecoins” (digital foreign money whose worth is pinned to an underlying fiat foreign money), to allow funds to settle reliably in actual time on blockchains”.
This is not the first time that Medcraft has been outspoken and supportive ofBlockchain technology. When he joined the OECD in 2018, he stated in the podcast
The Blockchain revolution and power of positive distruption: “I see blockchain’s potential coming from its 3 key use cases:
- Secure transfer of value;
- Secure transfer of data;
- Cyber-security and privacy, provided by its distributed nature of nodes.
Blockchain’sbenefits for businesses include:
- Reducing the number of intermediaries needed for any type of transaction.
- Improving the transparency and traceability of goods in the supplychain.
- Speeding up payments and reducing costs.
- Increasing security and privacy of data and assets.
- Improving access to markets and financing, particularly for SMEs.
To this end, policymakers’ efforts should be guided by three objectives:i) To be pro-active and forward looking. This will help us avoid regulatoryknee-jerk reactions and resist the temptation to jump in before we properly understand developments.
ii) To ensure regulators and policymakers keep up to date with the rapid changesbrought about by new distributed ledger applications, and the need to build up their capacity to understand and deal with these innovations.
iii) To ensure a coordinated approach on two fronts: First, working collaborativelywith key stakeholders, including industry, academic and consumer groups. Second, internationally. The global nature and inter-connectedness of markets call for international co-operation to avoid regulatory fragmentation, curb incentives for regulatory arbitrage, and spread best practice.”
The importance and transformational impactthat Blockchain technology is likely to have, and the importance that the OECD attaches to it, can been seen with three out of the four topics for the
OECD 2021 Symposium on Digitalisation and Finance in Asia this autumn which are focused on the use of thetechnology:
24th September 2021
- SESSION 1: Central Bank Digital Currencies (CBDC): latest developments and design considerations.
- SESSION 2: Artificial Intelligence (AI) inFinance.
1st October 2021
- SESSION 3: Decentralised Finance.
- SESSION 4: Asset tokenisation: latest trends inpolicymaking.
Meanwhile in Australia, the government is clearly taking note of the potential disruptionthat Blockchain technology offers. TheDigital Finance Co-operative Research Centre (which is comprised of over 20 members from the finance industry in Australia) has been selected to receive
AU$60million from the Australian government inorder to examine the digitisation of real-world assets such as equities, bonds, commodities and real estate.
However, there are undoubtedly challenges thatneed to be addressed in order for DeFi to realise its real potential. Forexample, a means by which to identify who is trading - that is, digital identity is required to efficiently function in a truly digital environment. Having digitised assets and created digital transparent platforms, and having removed many of the current intermediaries, investors will be able to trade 24/7. Blockchain-powered platforms will also enable compliance officers andregulators to view transactions and the ownership of assets, such as equities and bonds, in real time. Payments, too, will need to be digitised, hence the necessity for digital currencies, which possibly explains why we are seeing payment platforms such as
Visa, Paypal and Mastercard embracing these new digital currencies.
Unfortunately, many of the banks continue to turntheir backs on the digital currencies as they cling onto their largely analogue, manual-based systems and procedures. It is therefore likely that the impetus for change and increased adoption of digital currencies, DeFi, tokenisation of real assets, etc, will now come, not from the cyberpunks who first advocated the use of Bitcoin et al nor the techies swooning over their latest ‘new new thing’, but from compliance departments and regulators. Indeed in Germany,
DZ Bank and Bayern LB have started to trade anover-the-counter (OTC) interest rate derivative using Blockchain technology and smart contracts. This increased automation ought to lead to a reduction in counterparty risk. Furthermore, the DTCC (which processes $10 trillion in derivatives in the US) is aiming to launch its Blockchain-powered settlements platform in 2022.
Real time transparency, reduced number of parties required in transactions (thus lower costs) coupled with the ability to use smart contracts and other technology to monitor and then report on an
exceptions basis, as opposed to manually checking all transactions, ishighly appealing. More importantly, regulators and compliance officers will be afforded more time on risk management, as opposed to ‘box ticking’, with the promise of lower costs but improved controls and stronger procedures.
This article first appeared in Digital Bytes (4th of August ), a weekly newsletter by Jonny Fry of Team Blockchain.