Blockchain in the financial services industry

Blockchain is the latest buzzword in the financial services industry

Attracting billions of dollars in venture capital investment from some of the world’s leading financial institutions, Blockchain is set to revolutionize the way that we work. But just how much of an impact can it have, and how can this digital, decentralized, distributed transaction ledger spin the industry on its head?

Capital markets and Blockchain

Blockchain technology can be utilized to streamline the trading process and to provide simplification in the automated trade life-cycle whilst providing access to all of the involved parties, simultaneously. In this case, Blockchain technology can vastly reduce costs relating to infrastructure as well as improving the efficiency of data management, processing cycles, and reconciliation. It is also expected that it will provide greater transparency and could even cut out the necessity for brokers.

The first financial services entity to create a product based on Blockchain technology was Nasdaq. By using Blockchain to power capitalization tables to manage shares in their companies, Nasdaq Linq is the first step towards fully embracing Blockchain technology in the capital markets industry, and it is expected that other leading entities will soon follow suit.

Cross-border payments and Blockchain

When it comes to cross-border payments, the implementation of Blockchain technology will significantly speed-up and simplify the process. Currently, when making cross-border payments, an individual or a company usually has to go through a complicated procedure, wait several days, and pay costly fees for the privilege. By using Blockchain, costs can be reduced and many of the middlemen can be cut of the process. At present, the cost of remittance is between 5%-20% of the sum being sent. By using Blockchain, one could reduce the costs to 2%-3% of the total amount, whilst providing secure, real-time transactions across any border.

The first financial services company to implement such a process was Santander, who used Blockchain to transfer international payments through a mobile application. The platform they developed uses technology from Ripple, who created and developed the Blockchain-based payment protocol and exchange called RippleNet.

Digital identity and Blockchain

Verification and protection of online identity is becoming an increasingly important task in today’s digital world. By moving online identity to a Blockchain infrastructure, users can decide how they choose to identify themselves, as well as who they share their identity with. Users of the applicable network or platform still need to register their identity on the Blockchain, but once this has been done they do not have to set up a new account for each and every service provider, as long as those service providers are operating on the Blockchain.

Blockchain can also be utilized and adapted to assist companies with their KYC and due diligence requirements by referring to a single source of identification information, such as that which is stored on the Blockchain. This will lead to a faster and more efficient account opening process, increased privacy, as well as reduced resource and personnel costs.

Loyalty, reward, and Blockchain

Some of the many benefits of Blockchain include transparency and traceability. This gives banks and insurers the ability to create more enticing and interesting loyalty and reward programs for their customers. By creating a more captivating rewards system, companies can truly realize the full value of such a program to both attracting and retaining their clientele.

Back in 2016, Deloitte announced a new partnership with Loyyal, a company which focuses on facilitating loyalty and reward applications using the Blockchain. They created a pilot program which used the fledgling Deloitte cryptocurrency to offer rewards and incentives to repeat and loyal customers.

Financial services, Blockchain and the future

There is no doubt that the power of Blockchain will continue to grow, and that the uses and benefits we have witnessed so far, are just the beginning. As more companies, firms, and entities begin to realize its power and uptake increases, Blockchain should cement its position as one of the most important developments in the digital world of the last 20+ years.

The connection between KYC & Blockchain

Blockchain is a revolutionary technology which can improve the Know Your Customer (KYC) process and standardize your due diligence procedures.

The Know Your Customer (KYC) process is integral, as it requires applicable companies to undertake numerous validation and verification protocols of key documents as part of their due diligence procedure. There is an element of information sharing within the KYC process, so it is natural that there are several KYC utilities available on the market. However, these tools can take a lot of time and money to implement and maintain, and the due diligence process can sometimes stall for up to a month or more, leading to increased costs and rather unsatisfied customers. Blockchain is a new revolutionary technology that can help with aiding and solving this KYC dilemma.

Due diligence cannot be avoided

KYC or due diligence procedures are also sometimes referred to as Anti-Money Laundering (AML) obligations. These include tax compliance assessments and making sure that an interested client is not a politically exposed person (PEP), which are generally considered to be manual procedures for applicable companies to undertake. However, as with any manual process, these are very time consuming, expensive, and prone to human error. In addition, mistakes in non-compliance can incur a significant amount of financial and reputation costs for both parties involved in the due diligence process.

There has been an ongoing effort to try and streamline the entire KYC process, and Blockchain   appears to be a suitable technology to apply in this regard. It should be noted that Blockchain applications are being used in many industries, such as within Banking which has a SWIFT Registry that consists of around 1,125 member banks who share KYC documentation. As such, the possible implications and impact of Blockchain on the entire KYC process could be very profound.

How can KYC benefit from Blockchain?

Apart from standardizing the due diligence process, there are other benefits that the KYC process can stand to gain from Blockchain. Firstly, this technology is centered around the sharing of information contained in ‘blocks’ which are stored in a ‘chain’. So, if a given customer makes a valid transaction, a record of this can be stored in a block, which also contains a reference to the previous block.

The efficacy of this stems from the fact that if this same customer completes a KYC process with another company, that information will be stored in a block and inserted into the chain which can be accessed by other applicable companies. Blockchain is very transparent when compared to other information sharing systems, as no single entity has the right to modify or erase a block without this being recorded on the Blockchain. This is a huge benefit in terms of transparency, as it means that data cannot be lost of erased.

Using Blockchain to create a digital identity

Another key aspect which is related to the KYC process is that of digital identity. Such a requirement has become an intrinsic part of today’s standard operations across many industries. Generally, an individual only needs to have specific documents verified once, as the company can then create a digital identity for that customer. This allows for transactions to be ‘signed’ by this digital identity.

Such a digital identity can also be used to access certain important information about a client, such as addresses and account details, which can also be used during the KYC process. Furthermore, companies can use this method to identify irregular transactions and then share this information directly with all companies connected to the chain. The benefits of creating digital identities using Blockchain include a better overall customer experience, reduced operational costs, increased security, and better transparency for regulators.

Risk cannot be underestimated

Despite all the potential benefits of applying Blockchain technology to the KYC process, there are some risks as well. One of the first items to keep in mind is the fact that only relevant information is shared with the applicable companies, so questions of data protection may arise. This is essential as customers, companies, and regulators need certain assurances that customer data privacy is placed at the forefront.

Another key risk is that a decentralized and anonymous P2P network is still vulnerable to being somehow hacked. Albeit such attacks are extremely complex and rare, the possibility still exists, which is a source of concern to many customers that would have sensitive information potentially available to such third parties.

Blockchain is still in its early days, so an industry-wide acceptance of this new technology is still a distance away. As such, it could take some time before we see such applications becoming mainstream. However, the fact that certain individuals within reputable institutions are assessing the possibility of applying Blockchain to the KYC process is highly promising.

Blockchain in the government sector

Blockchain based solutions can be applied by government entities to make their operations more seamless, while also improving the delivery of public services.

As Blockchain continues to gain more global traction, different industries will also start seeing the potential and varied applications of this distributed ledger technology. The end result would be an increase in trust of the public sector, the saving of money, and the overall improvement of public services delivery.

The road to increased transparency and efficiency

In recent months, different government entities around the world have started to explore the possibility of using Blockchain technology to improve their performance. It empowers its users to record transactions on distributed ledgers, which has several potential applications for governments to increase transparency, prevent fraud, and improve efficiency.

Recent surveys undertaken by leading names such as IBM and the Economic Intelligence Unit have indicated that there is a relatively high overall government interest in Blockchain. However, whether it involves financial transactions or contract management, as little as 14% of government organisations expect to have Blockchain technology implemented by the end of 2017.

One of the main benefits of applying Blockchain technology to governmental operations is that it allows for increased traceability of how public money is spent. This would curb fraud and corruption to a degree, which instills more trust in government institutions. Let’s take a look at how different governments have been, or are planning to use Blockchain technology in their jurisdictions.

Secure welfare payments

In the United Kingdom, the government has implemented Blockchain-as-a-Service through its Digital Marketplace. This empowers government agencies to experiment, build, and provide services which tie in to Blockchain. One of the ways this was applied was for the distribution of welfare payments.

In 2016, the Department for Works and Pensions initiated a trial using Blockchain where claimants could make use of a mobile app to receive and spend benefit payments. Furthermore, if the claimants gave their consent, their transactions would be recorded on a distributed ledger. The advantages of such an application include the reduction of benefits fraud, which has been a long-standing issue in the UK, as well as protecting critical infrastructure, and registering of assets.

Issuing of educational certificates

Another European country that has started exploring the use of Blockchain technology is Malta. The Maltese government has recently announced that it will be launching a pilot project which will allow government agencies to issue educational certificates on Blockchain. All diplomas and training certifications issued by state institutions, as well as documentation from the national accreditation agency, would feature in this emerging technology.

This application of Blockchain has the benefit of introducing a system which is both transparent and secure. Learners will have joint ownership of their credentials, as once the educational institution issues the certification on the Blockchain, the document becomes jointly owned by the issuing entity and the receiver. This would give the learner the liberty to no longer require the permission of the issuing institution to share their credentials with third parties, which is an added bonus in an ever-increasing transient world.

Blockchain identity management

One of the European leaders in the application of Blockchain technology is Estonia. Citizens and e-residents of this country are provided with a cryptographically secure digital identity card which is powered by Blockchain technology, giving them access to several public services. Essentially, Estonian citizens can verify the integrity of the information that is stored in government databases, and control who has access to them.

In addition to identity management, Estonia has also recently completed a trial which will allow company shareholders to utilise a Blockchain voting system. Furthermore, Estonia wants to go a step further and try to implement Blockchain technology for the country’s one million health records. The main idea is that each time there is an update, the health records will be registered on the Blockchain.

Governmental smart contracts

Smart contracts that are created using Blockchain technologies can be converted to computer code, stored, and replicated on a system. While traditional contracts still rely on a middleman such as a lawyer or notary to get the necessary documents (incurring additional fees), with smart contracts you can avoid the middleman (and cost) altogether.

In 2016, the US State of Delaware was the first one to start implement smart contracts. They have been used to store contracts and sensitive corporate data on a distributed ledger, allowing companies and agencies to keep copies of their documents in multiple locations. One of the first entities to make use of this was the Delaware Public Archives, which applied the Blockchain technology to archive and encrypt government files.

When it comes to Blockchain technology, it can drastically reduce the lags in transactions between buyers and sellers in a commercial setting. Governments are still trailing behind the private sector, but Blockchain has a lot of potential for enabling the government sector to deliver citizen services in a more efficient, cost effective, and trusted manner.

Blockchain in the iGaming industry

Online casinos powered by crypto-technologies may be able to answer security fears and doubts about rigged games by using transparent Blockchain-based solutions.

It’s inadvisable (and a little trite) to hail particular technologies as “the future,” however tempting it may be. But with cryptocurrency now a global market worth around $30 billion in the gambling industry alone, and an annual growth rate of 10 percent, it’s probably safe to say that cryptocurrency gambling is certainly “the present.” The numbers certainly seem to say so. In 2016 alone, amounts wagered at cryptocurrency casinos were in excess of 1.5 million Bitcoin (BTC).

The evolution of gambling

The practice of gambling is almost as old as time itself, appearing to have sprung up in every ancient culture. The Native Americans, the ancient Egyptians, Chinese, and Europeans all gambled for thousands of years before mingling with each other. But as with every other aspect of human existence, gambling has evolved and refined itself, latching on to technological advances.

Online gambling began in 1994 when Antigua and Barbuda legalised gambling on the internet. By 1996, there were at least ten websites offering online roulette or poker. With the introduction of Bitcoin in 2010, it was inevitable that gambling would find a use for cryptocurrency. Sure enough, 2013 saw the first purchase of an an entire online casino by an anonymous customer at the price of 126,315 BTC.

Enter: the cryptos

For many years, the internet’s inherent lack of security has placed online casinos at a disadvantage when compared to their traditional siblings. For this reason, all online casinos, lotteries, and games of chance powered by crypto-technologies seek to adopt the transparency and accountability of Blockchain-based solutions to assure players the fairness of their games and the absence of any tampering or interference – and therefore obtain a competitive edge over their centralized rivals.

Real-world examples

Among the first online gaming projects to be based on Blockchain was vDice, a game of virtual dice based on the Ethereum Blockchain cryptocurrency architecture. vDice is worthy of discussion as it has no servers, accounts or deposits. Rather, the entire game takes place on the Blockchain, therefore making it impossible to be manipulated or controlled by anyone, including the developers. In essence, vDice is the first decentralized gambling app in operation and its developers go to great lengths to prove just how open and fair it is. vDice’s development team even commissioned an independent audit of the project’s source code and then published the results of that audit online. This openness has been well received by the public, and in a crowdsale in late 2016, the vDice team raised around $1.7 million.

Another Blockchain success story is Edgeless Casino, a notable gambling project that uses crypto-technologies to prove that it does not interfere with the games it offers. Launched shortly after vDice, Edgeless offered a slot machine game built around the Ethereum Blockchain. Its founders claim this makes Edgeless “the first completely transparent online casino.” Edgeless has plans to add other games of skill, which include poker and blackjack, as well as branching out into mobile gaming and sports betting. The project is attracting investor attention, raising over $2.5 million over the course of an ICO earlier in 2017.

A newcomer to the scene, TrueFlip is a lottery that uses Blockchain technology to ensure complete fairness and transparency. The TrueFlip game model is similar to the classic Powerball lottery – having bought as many tickets as they like, players then have to correctly guess the numbers drawn by a provably fair algorithm. Guessing all the numbers correctly wins a Jackpot. The game uses tokens which are essentially smart contracts using Ethereum Blockchain to ensure easy transfer of funds and tradability at online exchanges.

Making project funding painless

Finance for these projects tends to come from Blockchain crowdfunding, particularly crowd sales, or contribution campaigns which are known as ICO (Initial Coin Offerings). ICOs shot to popularity a few years ago after an ICO which led to Ethereum became the most successful crowdfunding campaign in history.

It is no coincidence that online gambling platforms prefer crowdfunding over more traditional capital solutions like venture investments. The reason for this is quite simple – people who have a stake in the project will want to help make it succeed. Crowdfunding campaigns build a community around the project, incentivizing players to participate and rewarding the most proactive ones.

With projects like TrueFlip, there are even more incentives. Participants, who are also shareholders, are offered the chance to play, thereby adding dividends to whatever their winnings are.

Blockchain: the future of gambling

Despite its evergreen popularity, the gambling industry has always been the subject of mistrust. This is basically down to human nature. Gamblers have good days and bad days. The instinctive reaction of most people to an unlucky run at the casino or lottery is one of suspicion. But now there is the hope that the transparency of Blockchain technology can break the cycle of mistrust surrounding gambling, and breathe new life into this ancient game.

Smart contracts are here to stay

Blockchain technology is a revolutionary way in which digital information can be distributed and not copied, essentially creating the foundations for a new type of internet.

Despite the fact that Blockchain technologies have issues – they are still faster, cheaper, and more secure when compared to traditional systems, making them a preferred option for both banks and governments. In fact, this technology can also be used for the creation of smart contracts, also referred to as self-executing contracts, digital contracts, or Blockchain contracts.

Understanding Smart Contracts

Contracts created using Blockchain technology can be converted to computer code, stored, and replicated on a system. In turn, these contracts can then be controlled by the network of computers that run the Blockchain. This makes it easier to exchange assets such as money, property, shares, and anything else that has value – all while avoiding the costly services of middlemen.

In traditional contracts, you would need to go through a middleman such as a lawyer or notary to get the necessary documents, incurring additional fees. With smart contracts, you can pay using cryptocurrencies and avoid this middleman altogether. In addition, smart contracts define the rules and penalties one would find in traditional contracts, but these digital contracts also automatically enforce these obligations.

Don’t let the name confuse you

One of the greatest misconceptions about smart contracts is in the name itself. The term ‘contract’ is a bit misleading, since it is not really a contract in the standard sense that it is anything to be complied with or upheld.

Traditional contracts are legally binding and have considerable repercussions if not adhered to. If one of the signatory parties does not keep to their end of the bargain, the other party can turn to the legal system to hold them accountable. On the other hand, smart contracts do not need to be upheld by anyone, as they are simply sets of instructions that self-execute. All that these smart contracts do is undertake transactions to other contracts connected in the Blockchain.

With smart contracts, the individual does not need to create a new Blockchain from scratch, as the rules that define the functionality of one Blockchain can be replicated to essentially create many Blockchains on the same Blockchain.

Follow the smart contract’s code

Everyone has signed some form of agreement or contract at some point in their lives. There are several factors that determine whether or not the contents of these documents is trustworthy, and it generally starts off with the structure of what is written. Contracts use legal jargon (legalese) to set out the terms and conditions of the agreement, which is what each signatory is binding themselves to. Furthermore, a contract needs to also make sense in the constraints of the national body of existing law in the country where the contract is being signed.

When analysing smart contracts to see how trustworthy they are, there are two main elements to take notice of – the code and its interpretation, and the immutability of the Blockchain. Smart contracts are generally written in computer code and therefore interpreted by computers, which are the terms and conditions. If you feel that you can trust the Blockchain to which the smart contract forms part of, then there is a high guarantee that the code will execute exactly as it is programmed, meaning that there will be no breach of the existing agreement written in the code.

Applications of Smart Contracts

As already indicated above, Blockchain technology was firstly intended for the use of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, but many people saw its potential for other applications that can also make use of the same underlying technology. As per the original Bitcoin documents, other agreements came to mind, which could specify the ownership of different types of assets and establish rules for how such agreements could be updated.

In fact, smart contracts have now been successfully applied in a multitude of industries, ranging from government, to automobile, real estate, and even healthcare. More practical applications include that of digital identities of companies, tangible assets such as property, precious metals and oil, and financial instruments such as bonds, shares, and loans.

Even though smart contracts are still in their early days, they are becoming increasingly popular across the globe. There is really no telling of what the future has in store – if smart contracts will replace traditional paper contracts altogether, or if they might become a tandem mixture of both. What is certain is that smart contracts are here to stay, so every company should at least familiarize itself with them in order to stay ahead of the competition.

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