Welcome to the 'self driving car of finance'

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Everyone is talking about blockchain.

The nascent technology has the potential to allow a digital asset to be securely and seamlessly transferred from one party to another, eliminating the need for third-party intermediaries and shortening settlement time to seconds.

Based on recent data, the estimated annual budget for blockchain initiatives in 2016 is $1 billion.

Earlier this week, Business Insider interviewed chief technology officers, chief innovation officers, startup founders and venture capitalists to ask them the one thing that will change financial services as we know it in the next decade.

The immense potential for blockchain resonated from startup founders to incumbent industry giants.

Here’s a sampling:

  • Debra Walton, chief product and content officer at Thomson Reuters, “firmly believes that the blockchain will have as profound of an effect on the world of business and commerce as the internet …. The impact of blockchain will be most felt in how transactions are executed, cleared and settled.”
  • CommonBond cofounder and CEO David Klein said the technology “will be the most disruptive thing to happen in finance over the next decade. Possibly over the next century.”
  • He added: “It will affect all areas of finance: lending, asset management, payments and more. And its impact won’t be limited to just the finance industry; it will affect the finance functions inside every company around the world regardless of industry.”
  • Mike Bodson, president and CEO of DTCC, also believes blockchain has the potential to revolutionise the financial services industry. We’re still a long ways away, however. “We’re probably overestimating the impact blockchain will have on the industry in the next two years, and underestimating its impact in 10 years,” he said.
  • He sees the technology has having the potential to modernise the post-trade environment in areas like clearance, settlement and payments. While the scale of US equities makes it less likely to be impacted by blockchain, areas like repo can benefit from the “efficiencies and a single version of the truth it provides.”

While Wall Street and other industries are clearly excited about the technology, there are still significant challenges ahead, including uncertainty over regulation, the immense cost of overhauling legacy systems, and major security issues.

CommonBond CEO David KleinCommonBondDavid Klein, cofounder and CEO of CommonBond

Earlier this month, hackers stole $72 million worth of bitcoin from accounts at the Hong Kong cryptocurrency exchange Bitfinex. Back in June, hackers stole $55 million worth of ether, a rival to bitcoin.

A recent Greenwich Associates survey
of 119 bankers and financial technology executives on concerns over the blockchain found that they were worried first about other banks seeing their transactions and then about the security of the transactions themselves.

It’s clear that these security issues will need to be addressed before the widespread implementation of blockchain.

Suresh Kumar, the chief information officer at BNY Mellon, believes that a high potential emerging technology like blockchain will only be a game-changer “if they achieve a network effect, which means we need to work together to establish standards.”

That echoes another emerging industry, that of the self-driving car.

“Think of the impact that the computer had on industry,” said Klein at CommonBond. “That’s what we’re talking about with blockchain. It’s the self-driving car of finance.”

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