What the blockchain means for banks

What the blockchain means for banks

What is it like to see a painting? It's ok, from far away - on the front end - they're ok. But up close, they're a big old mess.

As banks have grown, they've developed into sprawling businesses serviced by isolated centralised databases that - to borrow another Clueless quote - don't mesh well. Data is stuck in silos, and that's a problem.

Data should be available to the organisation in the right form, with permissions in place, and in the right format. Machine learning and analytics tools promise new revenue streams, resulting in a particularly urgent moment for the sector.

But that is difficult, as data is effectively locked up in a centralised vault.

If you want to invest in enterprise data management systems, that's expensive and might just end up adding more complexity. Executives don't want to approve projects like this, because if they fail, whoever behind them is on the hook.

This was essentially just another kind of database, they believed, but without the limitations of relying on centralised architecture.

The consortiums spent billions on companies like R3 and Digital Asset.

In 2023, banks and financial services have struggled to make enterprise blockchains work. Blockchain doesn't scale well, it's costly to switch to a new technology, and the whole point of decentralization is defeated by the fact that no bank on earth wants to share competitive data with its peers.

It is instead 'permissioned digital ledger' - closed databases with access controls.

High-profile blockchain projects have stalled. The Australian Securities Exchange's much-vaunted replacement of its settlement platform with blockchain was cancelled late last year, despite its tech provider Digital Asset identifying scalability and resiliency issues.

The clearinghouse of the US, Depository Trust and Clearing Corporation, offered blockchain capabilities as part of its post-trade services. Nobody is using them.

In an interview with DL News' Eric Johansson, David Rutter, says it is a struggle to convince banks that distributed ledgers are the way to upgrade the creaking infrastructure of Wall Street.

If you are going to put in new plumbing, new streets, you have to rip everything up. It's just really, really hard, Rutter said.

There's a lot of momentum and investment behind blockchain, but there's still a lot of it in finance. The hype surrounding tokenisation has led to a surge in popularity, as it manages securities like stocks and bonds on the blockchain.

Rutter said that finance is pushing hard into tokenisation. Citigroup said last week that it plans to use tokens for cash management and trade finance.

Where do regulators come from? Is tokenization an over-hyped development in blockchain's slow failure to bring value to finance?

To test these concepts, banks and financial markets infrastructure firms need to test them out. The law enforcement agencies are getting on board.

The SEC and British and European authorities, as well as the SEC and British governments, have created sandboxes to test out how trading digital securities might work.

If blockchains can change the bank's creaking systems, regulators are crucial to the process, as they can transform the creaking systems of banks.

Inbar Preiss, a Brussels-based DL News correspondent, is a frequently asked question.

Inbar is having a fireside chat with Cardano Foundation CEO Frederik Gregaard on Tuesday and moderating a panel on blockchain sustainability on Wednesday.