Blockchain and Crypto

5 charts that show that blockchains are too immature for finance

  • Blockchains may have come a long way but they still have a lot more growing up to do.
  • 77 percent of financial firms plan to employ blockchain tech by 2020 but only 19 percent of financial firms say they're investing in blockchain this year
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5 charts that show that blockchains are too immature for finance

Blockchain technology has come a long way in a short period of time, and in a lot of ways the financial services industry has moved “beyond the hype.”

Nevertheless, the technology and human expertise required to really make it part of the financial system just isn’t there yet. Many had called 2017 the year that the industry begins live implementation of blockchain solutions, if 2016 was the year of proofs of concept. But it looks like 2017 is going to be another year of exploration for banks – not that there’s anything wrong with that — and growing amount of research supports that.

According to a PwC published this month, only 24 percent of the global financial services sector say it’s familiar with the concept.

A February survey by IBM found there are still plenty of reasons banks have been hesitant to move quickly on their blockchain implementations. Regulation, which was cited most by participants, is always a factor, followed by “immature technology.” Also, while blockchains have a lot to offer financial services, they have aways been more about improving efficiency and cutting costs than solving real problems or creating revenue – evidenced by the 52 percent of respondents that said there’s a lack of clear return on investment and the 43 percent that said it makes an insufficient business case.

And despite the industry optimism that it’s moving closer to blockchain implementation, PwC found that only 19 percent of large financial firms are even prioritizing blockchain investment. Even though the technology is growing up, no one in banking really knew anything about it three years ago. By contrast, the industry has had years to prepare for the coming of artificial intelligence, which has become a staple to the financial world as it relies more and more on customer and client data. For example, chatbots like Bank of America’s erica employ AI to do things like make payments, check balances, save money and pay down debt. About 30 percent of large financial firms indicated they plan to invest in AI this year.

Payment companies are also heavily invested in blockchain technology, according to the PwC survey, with 90 percent planning to adopt it and have market ready products by 2020; 77 percent of financial services firm have the same aim for 2020.

Much of banks’ work in blockchains have relied on the technology providers and collaborative working groups, such as Hyperledger and R3 CEV — the latter took a minor PR hit at the end of last year when a few of its bank members dropped out for various reasons. A February Simmons & Simmons survey found while 72 percent see these groups as a vital part of their research and production, 60 percent subscribe to the belief that bigger isn’t better – it’s less productive.

A lot of comes down to infighting: “I think a practical point arises as to whether large consortia are the best vehicles for developing innovative technology,” Angus McLean, a Simmons & Simmons partner, wrote in the report. “You need agreement on everything from prioritization of projects for exploration to IP ownership, and the constitution of the consortium can become very unwieldy if there are more than four or five parties involved.”

Hyperledger and R3 have always had the largest member base, and it includes the biggest banks too. But Hyperledger’s fabric is a more general purpose-type technology, hence its larger member base in industries outside financial services where, blockchain probably has more exciting and more important use cases.

“The Hyperledger ecosystem is the most diverse by far, representing a great asset with manageable shortcomings,” analyst Javier Paz said in his Aite report, “Is Blockchain a Good Fit?”. “The Hyperledger Project’s strength comes from the mix of non-financial firms, chaintech firms and financial firms working together toward a common goal of technology agreement that could lower adoption costs for all.” 

R3, on the other side of the consortia spectrum, has been building for financial services from the start. Banks account for 76 percent of its members compared to just eight percent of Hyperledger’s.

“There is power in numbers for R3… This unity of financial institutions may translate down the road to collective power to push for common chaintech standards in which financial institutions are involved,” Paz said.

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