By Kannan Subbiah
Image Attribute: IndraStra Creatives
Blockchain is the most talked about technology today that is likely to have a pervasive impact on all industry segments, more specifically in the Banking and Financial Services. Blockchain packs the principles of cryptography, game theory and peer-to-peer networking. Blockchain, once the formal name for the tracking database underlying the cypto-currency bitcoin, is now used broadly to refer to any distributed ledger that uses software algorithms to record transactions with reliability and anonymity. An increasingly interesting aspect of blockchain use is the concept of smart contracts – whereby business rules implied by a contract are embedded in the blockchain and executed with the transaction.
Built on the peer-to-peer technology, blockchain uses advanced encryption to guarantee the provenance of every transaction. The secure and resilient architecture that protects the distributed ledger is on of its key advantage. The other benefits of block chain include reduction in cost, complexity and time in addition to offering trusted record keeping and discoverability. Blockchain has the potential to make trading processes more efficient, improve regulatory control and could also displace traditional trusted third-party functions. Blockchain holds the potential for all participants in a business network to share a system of record. This distributed, shared ledger will provide consensus, provenance, immutability and finality around the transfer of assets within business networks.
The Banking and Financial Services Industries world over are seriously looking at this technology. The Central Banks in many countries including India have formed committees to evaluate the adoption of the blockchain technology, which is expected to address some of the problems that the industry is wanting to overcome over many years. For the financial services sector blockchain offers the opportunity to overhaul existing banking infrastructure, speed settlements and streamline stock exchanges. While many institutions understand its potential, they are still trying to work out whether blockchain technology offers a cost-cutting opportunity or represents a margin-eroding threat that could put them out of business.
Like the Cloud Computing, there three categories of blockchain, public, private, and hybrid. A public block chain is a fully decentralized “trustless” system open to everyone and where the ledger is updated by anonymous users. A private blockchain finds its use within a bank or an institution, where the organization controls the entire system. Hybrid is a combination of both public and private implementations, which is open to a controlled group of trusted and vetted users that update, preserve, and maintain the network collectively. Blockchain exploration has propelled banks in multiple directions, from examining fully decentralized systems that embed bitcoin or other virtual tokens to function, to ones where only authorized and vetted users are granted access to a network.
The technology is being commercialized by several industry groups and are coming out with the use cases that this technology will be suitable for across different industry vertical. With the surge in funding for the FinTech innovations, the block chain technology may find its retail and institutional adoption in about 3 to 5 years, while some expect that this will take even longer. Some have invested in in-house development, while others have partenered with others in their pursuit to adopt the blockchain as part of their main stream business technology.
Listed here are some of the key strengths that drives the adoption of the technology world over.
With the frequency at which data breaches are happening, users are seeking to have control over sensitive data. Blockchain by its nature puts users in total control. Applied to payments, blockchain allows users to retain control of their information and enable access to information about only one act of transaction. Participants are able to trust the authenticity of the data on the ledger without recourse to a central body. Transactions are digitally signed; the maintenance and validation of the distributed ledger is performed by a network of communicating nodes running dedicated software which replicate the ledger amongst the participants in a peer-to-peer network, guaranteeing the ledger’s integrity. They will also want the ability to roll back transactions in instances of fraud or error – which can be done on blockchain by adding a compensating record, as long as there are permission mechanisms to allow this – and a framework for dispute resolution.
The cryptographic connection between each block and the next forms one link of the chain. This link ensures the maintenance of trace for the information flow across the chain and thus enabling the articipants or regulators to trace information flows back through the entire chain. The distributed ledger is immutable as entries can be added to, but not deleted from. This information potentially includes, but is not limited to, ownership, transaction history, and data lineage of information stored on the shared ledger. If provenance is tracked on a blockchain belonging collectively to participants, no individual entity or small group of entities can corrupt the chain of custody, and end users can have more confidence in the answers they receive.
Operates seamlessly and removes dependency on a central infrastructure for service availability. Distributed processing allows participants to seamlessly operate in case of failure of any participants. Data on the ledger is pervasive and persistent, creating a reliable distributed storage so that transaction data can be recovered from the distributed ledger in case of local system failure, allowing the system to have very strong built-in data resiliency. Distributed ledger-based systems would be more resilient to systematic operational risk because the system as a whole is not dependent on a centralized third party. With many contributors, and thus back-ups, the ledger has multiple copies which should make it more resilient than a centralized database.
Use cases that center on increasing efficiency by removing the need for reconciliation between parties seem to be particularly attractive. Blockchain provides the benefits of ledgers without suffering from the problem of concentration. Instead, each entity runs a “node” holding a copy of the ledger and maintains full control over its own assets. Transactions propagate between nodes in a peer-to-peer fashion, with the blockchain ensuring that consensus is maintained. Reconciling or matching and verifying data points through manual or even electronic means would be eliminated, or at least reduced, because everyone in the network accessing the distributed ledger would be working off the exact same data on the ledger. In the case of syndicated loans, This is more so, since information is mutual and all participants are working from the same data set in real time or near-real time.
When a blockchain transaction takes place, a number of networked computers, process the algorithm and confirm one another’s calculation. The record of such transactions thus continually expands and is shared in real time by thousands of people. Billions of people around the world lack access to banks and currency exchange. Blockchain-based distributed ledgers could change this. Just as the smartphone gave people without telephone lines access to communication, information, and electronic commerce, these technologies can provide a person the legitimacy needed to open a bank account or borrow money — without having to prove ownership of real estate or meeting other qualifications that are challenging in many countries.
Removal of slow, manual and exception steps in existing end-to-end processes will lead to significant efficiency gains. Blockchain also removes the need for a clearing house or financial establishment to act as intermediary facilitating quick, secure, and inexpensive value exchanges. Blockchain ensures the most effective alignment between usage and cost due to its transparency, accuracy and the significantly lower cost of crypto-currency transaction. Distributed ledger technology has the potential to reduce duplication of record keeping, eliminate reconciliation, minimize error rates and facilitate faster settlement. In turn, faster settlement means less risk in the financial system and lower capital requirements.
About the Author:
Kannan Subbiah (TR RID: J-8107-2016), management professional with 27 years of overall experience in IT Project, Product and program Management, Enterprise & Solution Architecture and Design & Deployment. One can subscribe to his daily digest at Tech-Bytes by Kanna Subbiah and can follow him at twitter - @kannagoldsun