11.15.2017
By Rob Daly

Blockchain Enters Its Awkward Stage

Blockchain optimists label 2017 as “The Year of the Pilot,” but many across financial services are finding the migration from lab test-beds and proofs-of-concept to production, to be a far more challenging transition than previously thought.

That firms are trying to do this in one of the most highly regulated markets adds to the difficulty, according to Peter Boroykh, blockchain-solution architect at BlockchainDriven, during a panel discussion at the Blockchain for Wall Street conference in lower Manhattan.

Boroykh was pessimistic that Wall Street would see blockchain “solutions” anytime soon due to the independent approach that many firms take and the absence of broad leadership across the industry.

“Everybody is playing with their own things,” he said. “The only way to create a solution is through collaboration and partnership.”

The consensus of the panel was that the industry would see would continue to see far more announcements regarding point solutions than consortia-related news.

Fellow panelist Tom Jessop, president at Chain, also cautioned the audience that many of those announcements likely would be nothing but fluff. “It is useful to call something a pilot,” he noted.

As the ease of moving blockchain projects forward has changed dramatically, so has the internal discussions surrounding them.

Having a business case remains a significant gating factor for having blockchain projects proceed, according to panelist Vijay Mayadas, president, global fixed income and analytics at Broadridge Financial Solutions.

Arguing that a project, which firms likely will need to run in parallel with their legacy systems, will reduce operational costs is no longer enough, added Benjamin Jessel,  managing director at Capco.

Instead of looking to squeeze more savings from operational budgets that organizations already have cut to the bone in most tier-1 firms, he suggested using the technology to help rescue stranded capital or cross-border floats.

“Any time you have stranded capital, such as the $1 trillion syndicated loan market, all you have to do is shave off 10% of that stranded capital, and you have a business case,” said Jessel.

Chain’s Jessop found, however, that it was far easier for projects to advance that found new business opportunities for their organizations than tweaking existing workflows.

He cited one un-named firm that has implemented a blockchain architecture within a new ledger-based application so that the company could roll out external signing capabilities at a later date.

Cybersecurity concerns also are playing another significant gating factor in further blockchain adoption, the panel agreed.

While most blockchain projects already began with a heightened security concern, the recent reportedly “accidental” deletion of a code library that left approximately $160 million in ether digital currency frozen in Parity multi-signature wallets and no immediate plans to release the funds has only raised the concerns of chief information security officers.

“Once CISOs get comfortable exposing their firm’s business logic, smart contracts, and systems to other parties after security audits, the floodgates should open,” said Jessel.

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