Upon hearing a declaration that a new technology will ultimately be as transformative as the internet, most of us would probably raise an eyebrow — maybe in interest, but mostly in skepticism.
With any emerging technology, it’s difficult to sort through the buzz to understand its actual potential. Blockchain (often referred to as a “distributed ledger” and best known as the technology behind the cryptocurrency Bitcoin) is hailed for its ability to make transactions efficient, transparent, and secure like never before. So how might we realistically see its adoption play out?
The Blockchain Opportunity Summit in New York City brought together experts from financial services, telecommunications, real estate, and more in an attempt to discern when and how much Blockchain is likely to disrupt their respective industries. They discuss future applications of the technology in the series of interviews below.
“The Excitement Is High Because We See the Potential”
Although Blockchain is usually discussed in the context of finance, the opportunities to exploit this emerging technology extend much further. Saikat Chaudhuri, Executive Director of the Mack Institute, discusses Blockchain’s potential to disrupt a wide variety of sectors – healthcare, automotive, music, real estate, even government.
Read a transcript of Saikat Chaudhuri's interview
Knowledge@Wharton: Joining us right now at the table is Saikat Chaudhuri, who is Executive Director at the Mack Institute. Great to have him here. He is one of the main people involved in this program, here today for the Blockchain Opportunity Summit. Great to see you again.
Saikat Chaudhuri: Good to be on here on your show again. Thanks.
K@W: Thank you. This type of event does what for the prospects of Blockchain going forward?
Chaudhuri: For Blockchain, it really allows people to understand it. People throw around this terminology without really understanding what it’s about. This event tells you what it’s about, what the potential is, gets people inspired, fired up, dreaming, thinking about potential applications.
K@W: The interesting thing, though, is that sometimes with new innovation, they are limited to the types of areas that that innovation may show up. It doesn’t seem like there are many limitations, at least we’re seeing from here today, on the potentials of where Blockchain may have a purpose in the business community, even with consumers later on.
Chaudhuri: I agree with you entirely. I think that’s what makes Blockchain so exciting and why there are so many people here from across different sectors. Blockchain is a bit more fundamental. All it is is a digital ledger. A distributed ledger.
If you can make any kind of interaction between two parties or transaction more efficient and take out an intermediary, the applications are humongous. We think of the financial industry, of course, where you’ve got these centralized institutions that may be taken out, or money can be moved in a matter of seconds or less than that. But more than that, think about the connected car, think about all these connected devices that are going to come up in the future. If they can self-regulate any piece of software that you subscribe to, a smart contract that can interact, any type of digital interaction, if that can really be put on a technology like Blockchain, then it’ll really automate so much of how this world works.
K@W: Saikat Chaudhuri joins us from the Wharton School, here at the Blockchain Opportunity Summit. I find it interesting that whether it is the financial sector or devices that we may have in our home through the Internet of Things or healthcare, that there are so many people and so many businesses that are thinking how this can work for them. This is truly almost a bit of a transformational moment, is it not?
Chaudhuri: It can be. Right now, the excitement is high because we see the potential. There will be different kinds of obstacles in the way, though – regulation being one of them – especially in areas like the financial sector. But I want to be optimistic as well and the enthusiasm is warranted but the way you actually view the world on Blockchain depends on whether you’re a new startup or a new entrant or whether you are an incumbent established player. The banks, for example, are thinking about this more as a threat because this could disrupt them and take the intermediary out of the equation whereas new players in the space of moving money around are very excited.
If you could, for example, exchange money or send money through WhatsApp or Facebook which we’ve started to do already without the intermediary, those guys are clearly excited.
K@W: I mentioned earlier in the show, Amazon – companies like that – could end up having an unbelievable vehicle to be able to move value in an even quicker fashion.
Chaudhuri: That’s a statement that I fully agree with and there are two aspects to it, though. I think one is just the sheer efficiency of getting things done and transactions done. That’ll save tons of money for huge organizations and corporations and even countries. And the second is just the stuff that you could automate and interact with just between points and devices and people. Fascinating.
K@W: You mentioned regulation. What other pitfalls are potentially there that still need to be crossed? And I say that because part of what Blockchain is came out of Bitcoin. Bitcoin hasn’t exactly lit the world on fire. It’s used to a degree but Blockchain seemingly has a little bit more steam pushing it downhill.
Chaudhuri: Yes. I think in addition to the regular challenges with any new technology, you’ve got the reputational concerns or the image. Bitcoin has a part positive but also part negative connotation to it just because much of the underworld uses that as transaction currency as well and so, we’ve got that challenge. On top of that, you’ve got to get people to accept and really be willing to say, “Alright, everything is decentralized now. I’m comfortable. I place trust in a new system that doesn’t go through central channels.” That’s not easy at least in large volumes or large amounts.
K@W: You mentioned the word, and it’s been mentioned by all of our guests so far, is the word “trust.” And that ends up being a very important word in the description of Blockchain, does it not?
Chaudhuri: It does, because anything which is democratized, which you really spread amongst people, where there is no reputable or legitimate institution in the middle of it, requires trust for people to do it, but it’s not impossible. If you look at eBay, who would’ve thought 15, 20 years ago that we would be transacting with people that we don’t even know? If you look at Uber, who would’ve thought we would be getting into cars with strangers? But if there’s a mechanism in place to really manage, create that trust, or at least be some kind of safeguard, then I think people are willing to try and they’re primed for it.
This is not the first time we’re experiencing that. Any form of e-commerce required a huge amount of trust to order something which you have not seen, touched, felt where the transactions occur.
K@W: I want to throw out a couple of examples and have you tell the listeners how Blockchain could be affecting that area in the future. First, the auto industry.
Chaudhuri: One immediate application there is we’re going to connected vehicles, which have really autonomous cars, which interact with the traffic infrastructure, other vehicles, pedestrians, your music. The list is endless. All of those transactions that take place between these different services and products and infrastructure could go on platforms like Blockchain.
Chaudhuri: Healthcare could have a variety of applications. I think the change that we’re experiencing in healthcare more broadly is the consumers coming into the focus and preventive medicine through apps can control a lot more. Imagine a world where you’ve got devices and gadgets that are constantly monitoring you. You could use a technology like Blockchain in order to transmit information, keep tabs on you, relay information in both directions, both with your doctor but also generally with systems to monitor your health, and then take action accordingly.
K@W: One that’s actually being discussed here at this conference is the music industry and the issue of payments to artists, to musicians. Obviously, that’s a topic that’s in the news quite often right now.
Chaudhuri: Absolutely right. This actually ties well with the healthcare example too, where privacy and confidentiality and security is paramount. You can use a third party which authenticates and is secure, and that’s not yet established with Blockchain. That’s one more challenge. But if you can do that and you take out the middleman, then what you’re able to do is ensure confidentiality, privacy, protection of intellectual property, all these things handled by a system.
K@W: Real estate as well.
Chaudhuri: Yes. Real estate is sort of an interesting one. Yes, on the transaction side. On the other hand, there is something physical about real estate as well. I think that when you’re dealing with commercial property or whether you’re dealing with just private property, if you go out, people want to see things. There is the potential of doing it that way but I think the human element and the physical element will still play a major role which is why today, we use Zillow for example, or Trulia to look up stuff but we still go visit these properties and these houses to conduct transactions.
K@W: You mentioned regulation and obviously the government piece to this becomes very interesting because of the fact that, and I think we mentioned this with you once or twice, is the fact that government at times does not stay up with the latest and greatest new things that happen. Is government already understanding that Blockchain is something that they need to consider going forward?
Chaudhuri: Yes. Governments around the world understand it. I want to draw a distinction though. I think first of all, the tension that governments have is they need to protect and not jump on to every new thing that comes. They need to really think about the implications. And for that, they almost by definition have to be a little slow because they need to see what’s happening. You can’t imagine the world of possibilities. At the same time, they have to try and promote not only consumer interest but advancement of society. There’s an interesting difference though.
If you look at emerging market governments right now such as China, or some of the African governments too, they’re embracing various kinds of new technologies in telecommunications. So whether it comes to any kind of peer-to-peer transactions technology, the Chinese government is actually supporting it because that’s their way to promote financial inclusion and that’s the way for them to get into the race and be ahead of the curve.
On the other hand, I can imagine the Western economies, particularly after the experience of the financial crisis, being concerned about the stability of the system. So the potential benefits may not outweigh the risks immediately whereas in the other case, I’ve got to get hundreds of millions of people into the banking system and can’t do it through traditional channels, so this is a way to do it. Let me go for it.
K@W: Then how do you tackle the other areas of the world like Africa and South America and not all the areas but some of them where the connectivity is not as good as it is here in the United States or Europe or Asia?
Chaudhuri: That’s where we come back to infrastructure being one of the challenges but also the fundamental enablers. Without that in place, you’re absolutely right. It’s challenging but it’s not impossible. In Africa, for example, mobile payments based on simple text messaging are commonplace nowadays. In fact, Africa, you could say, is a pioneer and a leader in that space. So I think we have to think about bottom-of-the-pyramid solutions as well. We can’t just go for the highest end solution for everything.
Even if you don’t have smartphones in the interim, we can come up with good technologies. In that sense, the concept of something like Blockchain is very simple and we need to find applications for it that will work at all levels of society.
K@W: Finally, I had somebody here earlier today talk about the fact that Blockchain could even influence education going forward.
Chaudhuri: Yeah. I think in a world where we look at online education, on the one hand, of course every sector is affected by the payment part of it but let’s take that out for a minute. If you look at education, keeping track of credits, things are moving towards MOOC systems, everything is going online. I mean from that point of view, if you think about how degrees might evolve over time or certificates may evolve over time in terms of a number of credits accumulated over a period of time, you engaging with the institution, we could automate a lot of that with technologies like this.
The one that I do want to say in closing: I think what’s exciting about Blockchain is not the technology itself per se, but really the product, process, and business model innovations that come with it. I think that’s where the opportunity lies, but also the challenges.
K@W: Great to see you again. Thank you very much for joining us.
Chaudhuri: It’s really good to be here. Thanks a lot.
K@W: Great job putting this together. Saikat Chaudhuri from the Wharton School and Executive Director of the Mack Institute joining us here in New York City.
“A New Way of Thinking About Security”
Could Blockchain technology become mainstream as soon as the next two or three years? Sarab Sokhey, Managing Director and Chief Technology Leader for Verizon Wireless, thinks so, citing the increasing standardization of the technology, its cost-effectiveness, and its wide range of benefits. Blockchain can not only secure devices in an increasingly connected world, but it can also strengthen accountability by creating detailed, traceable data trails.
Read a transcript of Sarab Sokhey's interview
Knowledge@Wharton: One of the areas to look at that is important involving Blockchain is mobile payment systems. It is the latest and greatest way that we’ll be able to pay for things, but security has never been more important than it is right now. Sarab Sokhey is the Managing Director and Chief Technology Leader for Verizon Wireless, and he joins us here at our table right now. Nice to meet you.
Sarab Sokhey: Nice to meet you. Thank you for having me here.
K@W: Thank you. For people that are just trying to get an understanding of what Blockchain is, when you give those conversations, what do you tell people?
Sokhey: It’s a very, very new concept. Intuitively, it’s very difficult to understand to begin with, but once one understands it, it is very, very useful. And people generally confuse it with bitcoin. But, really, Blockchain is much more beyond bitcoin. We found applications for Blockchain that span across the industry into many different industries. You have manufacturing. You have services. You have industries even as diverse as mobile network operators. We have use for Blockchain in our area, too.
When we talk about Blockchain, it’s a very sophisticated database. It’s a ledger, all right, in the form of a database that’s very secure, highly encrypted, and cannot be hacked into easily. In fact, it has not been hacked when it comes to a bitcoin world. The blockchain has not been hacked. That gives us a new way of thinking about security, a new way of thinking about sharing information, a new way of introducing process efficiency in our businesses, in our business processes, and in cutting down costs as well as creating new business models. That’s what Blockchain brings about.
K@W: With people’s concern about security, how is it that Blockchain is so secured?
Sokhey: Blockchain involves very high level of cryptography, and this cryptography has been worked on for about a decade. This is not something that’s new. But it has morphed itself, and in the metamorphosis and improvisation and continuous improvisation over the years, Blockchain has evolved itself to be a new database that is highly encrypted. And once it’s deployed properly, it cannot be hacked into. And that sense of security, when it’s added into a participant pool which is using the shared database, it adds a lot of trust, number one.
Number two, identity: your identity and the content of that participant is secure. This in itself, this reassurance that my identity as well as my content – be it movies or it could be information of my Internet of Things, devices, or it could be my device configurations – all this is very highly secure inside the blockchain, cannot be hacked, and it can be used only by the people that I choose to have access to this information. And so these three, four things, make Blockchain a very useful tool going forward in the IT world.
K@W: [Blockchain] is obviously, for lot of people, been kind of slow to a degree in getting going in terms of its use in a variety of different forms. It sounds like it’s your expectation that we will see this used not only in the corporate world but in the public in general on a more frequent basis over the next decade or so.
Sokhey: Oh, sooner than a decade. In fact, you start seeing this happening in the next three to four years. There are a couple of things that are added to his whole mix, and what is the fuel to this? Number one, hacking and fraud are the two malaises that need to be addressed and Blockchain addresses them. Number two is the cost and the efficiency aspect. Blockchain gives us a promise of process efficiency once deployed.
Number three is the hardware, the infrastructure. The infrastructure is there now to actually crunch and do the right kind of cryptography and decrypting as required, when required. We have the hardware and the resources now easily available at a cheap cost to actually perform. That performance aspect was not there earlier when you had so much encryption and so much decryption at different various areas. That efficiency was not there. But now, the new hardware allows you to do this. Memory is cheap. And now, these three, four things when put together will bring Blockchain of age in the next two to three years.
K@W: So then, we will see this even more so as you mentioned with the Internet of Things, with all the different connected home devices that we have now, and we’ll see some hacking, such as what happened recently when hackers broke through people’s DVRs, potentially go away in the next few years.
Sokhey: Absolutely. See, what happened in the Internet of Things world was that these devices were put together in a very short time. People put out their stacks, and IoT is very diversified at this time. The market segmentation is very high so standardization was not there. But now, we’re looking at standardization coming about. Once these things are standardized, then that information about that IoT device, who owns it, who’s responsible for it, the capability of the device, the stack that goes on that device, the version control on that device – all of that is going to be put inside a blockchain.
Blockchain essentially addresses the hacking aspect, as well as the manageability aspect, as well as the profitability aspect. And not only does it allow you to manage all your different pools of IoT, now, IoT devices could be your drones, your devices in the house, or your devices in the enterprise. All of these have come to a stage where you need a blockchain to go ahead and have a standard way of approaching, managing, as well as running an artificial intelligence on these blockchains to make cognitive sense out of the data that these IoT devices are getting back to you. What you seen is I’ve brought the three layers together: the IoT data, the big data, and the security for Blockchain, and then the cognitive intelligence coming out of this through artificial intelligence being run on that blockchain. This is the world that I’m looking at coming out in the next two to three years.
K@W: But this has to be a learning process not only for people like yourself, but if we’re going to to be using this more in the general public, this is a big learning step, I would think, for a lot of people that may not be adept or accustomed to using this type of a process, correct?
Sokhey: You’re absolutely right because complexity has its costs. But when they see the benefit of this, that option becomes very quick.
K@W: We are joined by Sarab Sokhey, who is the Managing Director and Chief Technology Leader for Verizon Wireless. You’re listening to Knowledge@Wharton here on Sirius XM 111 Business Radio, powered by the Wharton School.
I think for a lot of people, addressing the security issue, if it’s not point one, it may be 1A or 1B in the whole process because of what we see almost on a daily basis these days where various elements are being hacked. And obviously, every industry out there, healthcare, banking, whatever it is, is worried about hacking and losing data right now.
Sokhey: Absolutely. And Blockchain may perhaps be the answer to this and can done in a cheap, efficient, and very simple way going forward.
K@W: How so?
Sokhey: Here is the simplicity aspect. What is happening is, right now, you are seeing Blockchain of different kinds. What you will see is academia as well as enterprises all moving towards a standardized stack, and that standardization effort has just started. Just like the internet world of 1994 where it was at its early stages, you’re seeing Blockchain at that stage. That’s where we are right now. But this is going to go toward standardization. Once that stack gets standardized, you will see the complete evolution of Blockchain and hence, the new metamorphosis into Blockchain coming to a coming of age.
K@W: What role do governments potentially need to play in this process? You were talking about a standardization basically of something that could be used across so many different business sectors. What role does government need to take or is taking right now?
Sokhey: Right now, I think they’re in a very early stage. There’s a learning curve right now as it is with most of the enterprises. There is a learning curve. And then once the learning is complete, they need to encourage this. They need to bless us when we go forward and not impose penalties or not create impediments in promoting such new developments. And then the third stage is they should actually go ahead and use it themselves. And that’s the third stage where we would say we have reached utopia, where the government is also using Blockchain.
K@W: But the problem is the fact that the government, and I just go off of what we see on a daily basis coming out of Washington, usually is a couple of years behind. And I guess, to a degree, if you can have them as almost like a partner in this process, then you don’t lose that gap time and that they are part of this as this grows up.
Sokhey: Absolutely. You know, that gap, partly, the industry is responsible for it. It’s been on the innovators to actually go ahead and educate them in a timely way and be with them and handhold them through the process of investigation and to show them how much value this will in turn bring to them. It will actually simplify their lives, too.
K@W: You mentioned how this is going to be involved with a lot of things that people use on a day to day basis going forward. A part of this that is already kind of evolving right now is through the banking sector. Big banks are starting to use this more, but they’re using it more in their internal processes. We will start to see that be used more as outreach to the customers in the near future, as well.
Sokhey: Sure, sure, sure. What you’ll see is accountability go up. For example, there is new thinking around provenance. An aircraft is being manufactured. Every part that goes into that aircraft, all that machinery, for the sake of an example, any machine that’s being built, every part, the provenance of that part will be in a blockchain and could be in a blockchain. Where was it built? Who tested it? Who built it? In case of failure, there will be accountability. There will be recourse. There will be complete traceability. And all that, how do you do that? You do it through a blockchain, because that accountability and fairness to the process adds to the quality of our life.
K@W: Well, for people that don’t know the history behind this, how did Blockchain really get started?
Sokhey: It started through bitcoin. And in fact, let’s step back a little bit. You know, encryption of databases is not new and there are lots of different projects that happened in academia as well as in the enterprise world where databases were encrypted and protection against people with poor intent was always very, very high. Bitcoin actually brought it to life and it actually made it famous. It gave it the visibility that Blockchain deserved.
K@W: Bitcoin is still such a small piece to this whole process. And I think, even to a degree, it feels like bitcoin is having a bit of a harder time getting going than blockchain is.
Sokhey: Absolutely. And with Blockchain, people identify value. And once they identify the value and they see that there’s a different way this could be exploited to my advantage, I’m going to do that. That’s human mentality, that’s biology, that’s how people think. They cherry-pick what was of use and then they’ll run with it, and that’s exactly what’s happening with Blockchain.
K@W: The fact that we are associated with the University of Pennsylvania, is this going to change education?
Sokhey: Absolutely. There is a big effort. MIT has actually gone ahead and put credentials on Blockchain.
K@W: So the people working there. Wow.
Sokhey: Not only that, the student credentials.
K@W: Oh, okay.
Sokhey: There is a lot of effort there that they have put in, a lot of good work done by very good people there. And you will see academia moving towards putting degrees, your credentials, and then opening it up to verification by the right authorities. If you are allowed to come into my blockchain and take a look at it, we will allow you to check on a student. For example, legal bodies who will have the authorization, they will be able to check on a person’s credentials and verify. For anybody applying for a job, when the recruiter needs to check on this person, they will be able to go to the blockchain and get verified, trusted information.
K@W: This is something that as kids are going through high school and into college, it almost becomes a necessary piece to education as they’re getting ready to head out into the real world so that they can, to a degree, hit the ground running and understand what it is. These are processes that are going to be in place and used by pretty much everybody in the next couple of years.
Sokhey: Absolutely. And one has to be very careful that any wrong doing will also go into the blockchain. Any malicious intent, malfunctioning, or anything abnormal will also go into the blockchain, and that brings a lot of credibility, trust, and accountability for your actions. You’re responsible for what you’re doing.
Sokhey: Anybody who is trying to do nefarious things will be discarded seriously.
K@W: Sarab, nice meeting you. Thank you very much for coming over today.
Sokhey: Pleasure was entirely mine, thank you.
K@W: Thank you, Sarab Sokhey, Managing Director and Chief Technology Leader for Verizon Wireless.
“The Internet of Value”
Banks have never been more open to new technologies and alternative models, asserts Brad Bailey, Research Director for Capital Markets at Celent. Blockchain technology could be the next big step, and it shows promise for its ability to streamline both business-related and regulatory processes. However, first it will have to be battle-tested before implementation in internal or external bank operations.
Read a transcript of Brad Bailey's interview
Knowledge@Wharton: Another area that will be affected by Blockchain is Wall Street and investing. It’s something the big banks are adopting now, but at a bit of a slower pace. But, now, many of the big banks are using it in some degree. Brad Bailey is Research Director for Capital Markets at Celent, and he joins us here at our table here at the Blockchain Opportunity Summit in New York City. Nice to meet you.
Brad Bailey: Good morning, Dan. How are you?
K@W: Thank you. Great to have you. Why is it you think that it has taken Wall Street and big banks to this point to start to consider Blockchain as something that is almost a necessity now?
Bailey: That’s a great question. I think there are a few factors. In some respect, in my area in the capital markets, since the great crisis of ‘08, ’09, we’re kind of, what Charles Dickens would say, in the best of times and the worst of times. And in the worst of times, it’s been a very difficult time for the banks from a regulatory perspective, from a capital perspective. And the best of times is that we are in a time where I’ve never before seen such openness to new digital models, of which Blockchain is part of that. It really comes in at a time where it’s solving core problems for a lot of the large banks, the investment banks and other types of banks as well.
K@W: As you mentioned, this is a time where the banks are under more regulatory scrutiny than ever before. It’s a time where they have to dot the Is and cross the Ts in a finer fashion than they ever had to do before.
Bailey: Absolutely. It’s always been a very heavily regulated industry. In fact, in Wall Street, generally, until some regulator changes something, things are slow to change. Now, one thing to keep in mind, is that regardless of what happens in the discussion with Trump, regulatory rollback and all that, it’s been a period of great regulations. Some of that is good regulation, and some of that is regulation that is just causing a lot of wasted effort. It’d be great to see the banks loaning more money, putting capital to work for growth equity. If Blockchain is the solution that can help with that, that’s fantastic.
K@W: From what I am reading, the banks are using it, at least right now, more so on an internal basis, within their processes that go on within each company. Maybe they’re starting to dip their toes in the water of using it between banks at this point. Correct?
Bailey: Absolutely. Let’s set the stage a little bit, Dan – we are very much in the beginning of this. I think the banks are seeing what this potentially could do. But we really need to test this for this to work. Banks take a long time to change. What’s interesting will be to see what will happen around the banks with innovators and FinTech companies and Blockchain. At the same time, the banks recognize that they can come up with much more efficient processes.
One more point that’s interesting to see, with the banks pre-crisis, a lot of times, new business would come up and they wouldn’t do it in the most efficient way. You have a legacy architecture that is 50 years old that’s still in place and still working.
K@W: If the banks are just using this now and they are at the beginning point of the process, then when do we see the connection to the consumer? As we mentioned earlier on the show, Bitcoin is something that just hasn’t really grabbed onto the attention of a lot of people right now. Where does that relationship go between the banks and their customers? When does that come about?
Bailey: That’s a great question. I think what we’ve seen in the capital markets is a reaction to what’s happening in retail banking. FinTech and new models, including alternative business models and digital models, have taken off in retail banking. Just think about your iPhone or your Android. I no longer go to the bank. I use my Bank of America app to do whatever I like with my checking. Of course, there’s other banks doing similar things. But I think the more touch points there are with the consumer, the B2C part of it has been much more rapid in taking in FinTech and new models. Now, to your question about Bitcoin, I don’t want to simplify it, but we are at a fork in a road. As I said, we’re at the beginning of this technology. There’s Bitcoin, the Bitcoin Blockchain, which is truly the one battle-tested Blockchain. It has worked. It has never been hacked. There have been failures around the Bitcoin Blockchain, but it has worked.
The other side of it are people seeing, “Wow, we could take this infrastructure of the Bitcoin and do something amazing with other assets on top.” And that’s what the banks are focusing on. For the consumer in the U.S., Bitcoin is like gold. Gold is, as many people say, the one true currency, and Bitcoin is more like gold here. Now, if you go to China and other nations, there’s a velocity to that money. However, for most people buying Bitcoin here, they’re looking at it as an investment. It peaked at $1,300. It went down after that to $200. And now, it’s back at around $750. People are looking at it as an investment.
K@W: What about Wall Street and trading and using Blockchain to streamline the processes that Wall Street uses every day?
Bailey: Absolutely. That’s where I’ve spent my focus. My entire career has been making front office trading, bonds and equities, and stocks more efficient. That’s where there’s excitement. There’s ways of saving on regulatory capital. There’s ways of saving on settlement charges. But, really, what gets everyone excited is how can you create a more capitally efficient business. So, Dan, I think that’s going to be, in the short term, how do we save money, and we’re going to move into how do we make a more effective product, a more effective business.
K@W: I mentioned with Sarab as we started this show off today, where does the government step into this process, because, as you mentioned, there have been lots of good regulations, and there have been many that have not done the job. You have to get past those hurdles as well.
Bailey: Yeah, I think that is spot on. As I reference my point, regulation is key in this industry as it is in other industries. Different things are happening. There are countries that are leading and saying, “We want to do this.” But what I would say uniformly is occurring across regulators globally is they see the transparency they could have into a Blockchain. If it’s a private Blockchain, they could be a node on that. And they could see exactly in real time these immutable data records being stored. Now, if you’re a bank and I’m a bank, we might only see what we need to see in that situation. But the regulator could have that auditability. There is an implied reconciliation, implied audit with the Blockchain that really has people excited.
K@W: I read a story that talked about how this is starting to play out even right now where there was a trade of an order of cotton between the United States and China involving a bank here in the U.S. and a bank in Australia that was handling things for China. What was interesting to me is that, basically, the transaction actually occurred when the cotton reached a certain destination or a certain point in the trip, which is another interesting piece. Obviously, that’s all through connectivity and having sensors on the delivery as it was going over to China.
Bailey: Absolutely. I mean, we live in an extremely connected world. Blockchain is a new way of connecting now. In that example you gave, you’re seeing that it’s tying in IoT in new ways. A sensor says, “I’m here. We pick up the GPS, and we go in.” Now, I think that Blockchain, in one way of thinking about it, is like how we think about the internet. It opened up a new way of connection. In many ways, the Blockchain has been called the internet of value. You could see that as you’re moving value in a way it where you’re solving fundamental problems. You send me an email, you still have a copy of that email. You send me a picture, you still have a copy of that picture. But if you use a Blockchain distributed approach, you send me a dollar, you can’t still have that dollar. I have that dollar. And that is what Bitcoin solved. That problem was fundamentally solved. And that’s where things are being driven by.
K@W: Will this then be adapted you think, as we get more consumer versions of this, with places like Amazon and eBay where you’re doing a lot of value shipping across the United States?
Bailey: Absolutely. I think Amazon has more flexibility. Amazon and other players like that are becoming centers of people’s world. You know, for Prime users of Amazon, their entire life is there. Their data is there. Let’s just for one moment imagine a world with no regulation. Amazon and Apple and Google and Facebook would be major competitive threats to banks. And I think Blockchain has been also a threat, because in some of the models, you have this trustless model.
What does that mean? The banks are the true trusted party. You can go back to banking over whatever period of time in human history. But the last 500 years, we’ve had a certain model of banking that is in play. Now, how you fit that into the system that’s been built will be probably the most fascinating thing to watch.
K@W: The word you used a second ago, and it’s one that I’ve heard throughout my time here today, is trust. And what this is doing is it’s building in a level of trust, which realistically can’t be hacked and can’t be tapped into, correct?
Bailey: I trust my bank not to do things. They’ve spent years building fortresses for cyber security, for other issues. In a private Blockchain model, banks who don’t trust each other because they have their own views on value and their own views on clients, it lets them work together in a way where the data is correct and immutable. And likewise, whether that’s on an institutional level or on a retail level, you have for people moving money around a secure method that they will want to use. I think you’ve gone through a cycle with that.
K@W: Brad Bailey joins us, Research Director for Capital Markets at Celent. You’re listening to Knowledge@Wharton here on Sirius XM 111 Business Radio, powered by the Wharton School. During the analysis that you do, what are the other areas that you see being just very simple adopters of Blockchain that maybe haven’t gotten to that point right now?
Bailey: My main focus is the financial services and capital markets. I’m looking at remapping how securities are issued and traded, how they’re sent to the public, new products, new ways of making payments, and new types of conception of money. We’ve seen businesses that are diamonds, and you want to avoid blood diamonds. People are having a deed of provenance. That’s a key point in this. Title of real estate, right behind me is a demo looking at the mortgage business. You’re seeing that there are many areas in which this will profoundly change people’s interaction with other players in the world. At the same time, I want to mitigate that and mollify that statement a little bit by saying that Blockchain is not going to solve everything. You’re probably going to still have to call your plumber to fix the sink.
K@W: The relationship though between the consumer and the banking sector has been frayed over the last few years, most recently by Wells Fargo. To be able to put a level of trust in there between the consumer and the bank, that’s a step in the right direction to rebuild that relationship for the banking sector.
Bailey: What you just said is fascinating. Clearly in the world wherein the banks have to rebuild trust, I think this is a way of whether the banks can work with their retail through a Blockchain approach that really works or if this intermediates them. I do think that when you see other models from what’s happening in banking and the delivery of banking services in other areas of FinTech, like alternative lending, you’ve already seen that. I think this is going to be crucial in 2017. I will say that many things probably got over their skis in certain respects, because we’re talking about remapping things that have been put in place over a long time.
K@W: Sarab from Verizon Wireless mentioned that he expects this to be more in use in the next three to four years. Is that your expectation, or is even that timeframe a little tight?
Bailey: If you’re talking about Bitcoin and models that evolve around that, that’s certainly moving rapidly. I think that for what’ll happen in the capital markets and the financial services, we are seeing POCs, which are proof of concepts, taking place. Some of them are going to production next year. But no one, a consumer or the banks, want something that is not battle-tested, truly secure and there’s no possibility of a hack. We live in a world of tremendous cleverness around cyber risk, and we have to be cognizant of that.
K@W: Great to meet you. Thank you, Brad.
Bailey: Thanks, Dan.
K@W: You got it. Brad Bailey, Research Director for Capital Markets at Celent. You’re listening to Knowledge@Wharton here on Sirius XM 111, Business Radio, powered by the Wharton School. We are at the Blockchain Opportunity Summit in New York City. We’ll take a break and come back with more of our show in just a minute.
“There’s No Better Use Case for Blockchain than Real Estate”
Buying a house could soon become much simpler thanks to Blockchain. Ragnar Lifthrasir, President and Founder of velox.RE and President of the International Blockchain Real Estate Association, discusses Blockchain’s potential to eliminate intermediaries such as title insurance companies thanks to its ability to democratize access to information. Compared to the financial sector, real estate is less hampered by government regulation, paving the way for a speedy Blockchain adoption process.
Read a transcript of Ragnar Lifthrasir's interview
Knowledge@Wharton: Welcome back to the Blockchain Opportunity Summit, our Knowledge@Wharton show on the road today in New York City. For those of you that don’t know what Blockchain is, we are trying to explain it in a variety of different fashions here today through experts that are using Blockchain in a variety of different fields. We have already talked about the financial sector, and a little bit later in the show, we’re going to talk about the music industry. Right now, we’re going to spend some time talking about real estate because Blockchain is a part of that sector, as well. Joining us here at the table is Ragnar Lifthrasir, President and Founder of velox.RE. He’s also President of the International Blockchain Real Estate Association. Ragnar, nice to meet you.
Ragnar Lifthrasir: Thanks.
K@W: How is Blockchain fitting into real estate? Both residential and commercial.
Lifthrasir: It’s fitting in perfectly. There’s no better use case for Blockchain than real estate, for this reason. What does Blockchain do very well? Payments, transferring assets and in publishing who owns those assets, those three things. And that’s exactly what real estate is. You buy an asset, you convey it, and you have to enter it into the public record. It is the perfect use case for Blockchain.
And number two, real estate is the biggest sector of our economy; it’s bigger than Wall Street. It’s bigger than all the equity and debt instruments, it’s bigger than remittances, it’s bigger than IoT, it’s bigger than supply chain. So, if there’s Blockchain entrepreneurs and investors out there, real estate is the juiciest opportunity.
K@W: How new is the concept of Blockchain to the real estate sector?
Lifthrasir: It’s very new. I founded the International Blockchain Real Estate Association in October 2013. It took us two years to get 200 members and we’re now at almost 1,400 members. We went from 200 members in two years to almost 1,400 members within 12 months. We’ve seen in the last 12 months an explosion of interest.
K@W: Obviously when you’re talking about real estate and the purchasing of real estate, whether that’s buying a home or a company buying a property, you’re talking about a lot of different processes that happen along the way. For the longest time, most of that has been through paperwork. The idea through Blockchain is, to a degree, to reduce a lot of that paperwork, still being able to have the transactions and the data, but in a more secure way. You don’t have to have the volumes of paper to a degree.
Lifthrasir: Exactly. Real estate is using 17th century technology with paper like you mentioned, and notaries, they use stamps. I mean, this is a 17th century technology. With Blockchain, we’re trying to bring real estate into the 21st century. We’re trying to cut out all the middlemen. That’s a big problem in real estate. We have brokers and title insurance and all these intermediaries that add cost and complexity. What Blockchain does is allow people to work on a peer to peer basis. Buyer–seller, tenant–landlord, that’s the whole thing.
K@W: This is our opportunity to have an amazing shift in how the real estate industry is going to look like in the next 10 to 20 years.
Lifthrasir: Exactly, and an easy way to understand it is buying a used car. When you buy a used car, do you need a broker? No. And why do you feel confident in buying directly from the seller of the car? There are a couple things, mostly data. You can get a CarFax, you can verify the car yourself. And that’s what Blockchain is going to allow people to do with property. They’re going to have the data that’s verifiable themselves. And the second reason why you can buy is that most people get title insurance. Do you get title insurance when you buy a used car? No. Why not? Well, there’s several reasons. But Blockchain will allow you to buy a property without needing title insurance. Eventually, that’s one of our goals.
K@W: This means that we’re going to have to have an unbelievable amount of data on properties collected and assimilated over the next few years to be able to do that. Obviously, a lot of this data, the inspection is done prior to the sale. These are all done over the last several decades, but they weren’t transferred down into a system that could be so easily available for a potential purchaser. There’s going to be a lot of investment it seems like, at least for real estate. That’s going to have to happen in the years to come.
Lifthrasir: Absolutely. You’ve hit the nail on the head, and it’s about data and information. The problem has been that data has existed, but it’s existed with someone else. Not the property owner, not with the property. It’s existed with either the government or commercial firm. All that data is locked up in silos. That’s the problem with real estate. You have this information that can’t be shared. People don’t want to share it because their jobs depend on hoarding that information. For example, brokers and title insurance. Title insurance companies hoard their information; they keep it. Brokers, that’s part of their value add, is having that data. Blockchain, we’re hoping, is an open platform that anyone can build on, interoperable and global. We’re trying to free that data because, like you said, until we have that data, good data, verifiable data, you can’t do it.
K@W: Is there a little bit of pushback from the traditional real estate sector? Because this is a shift and this is a shift that seemingly is going to change the mechanics of who is actually involved in it. You mentioned brokers – brokers are going to be probably not as important down the road if all of this data is actually put in places where people can get to it.
Lifthrasir: Yeah. I have seen a big shift because I’ve been doing this for over three years now. In the beginning people didn’t know what it was. Once they understood it, they fought it. But now, surprisingly, they are very open to it. Most of them see it as inevitable, and they’re just trying to figure out how it’s going affect their lives. I’ve talked to several large title insurance companies, some of the largest in the U.S. I’ve talked to all the big brokerage houses, and they all have been studying this for a long time. They’re just trying to figure it out for themselves. Most do see it as inevitable, they just don’t know how or when exactly.
K@W: You mentioned the numbers of people that you’ve added to the Blockchain real estate association in the last year. Obviously, the idea is growing on the minds of a lot of people that, as we’ve talked with our other guests here today, that this is the next step in the process. It’s not that you can slow this down, it’s going to happen. People are more accepting of the fact that we need to adjust and be ready and be able to capitalize on this for the next 40, 50 years.
Lifthrasir: Absolutely, and I think the change you’ve seen in real state over the last year is because of Wall Street. We saw Wall Street over the last 12 months or a little more trying to adopt Blockchain. And with real estate being a year or two behind usually with technology, they saw, “Okay, if Wall Street’s taking this seriously, we’re going to take it seriously.” I think that’s been one of the changes.
K@W: We are joined by Ragnar Lifthrasir, who is President and Founder of velox.RE. You’re listening to Knowledge@Wharton here on Sirius XM 111 Business Radio powered by the Wharton School.
How big of a shift was this for you just in general, in adopting Blockchain and getting to understand it? As I’ve said with a few people today, this is still something that is so new to many people that they can’t wrap their heads around it, similar to Bitcoin. Bitcoin came to everybody’s attention a few years ago, but it’s still not really adopted. How were you able to get your mind around this?
Lifthrasir: I’m still getting my mind around it, but yeah, Bitcoin and Blockchain have absolutely changed my life. I discovered Bitcoin in 2011, and prior to that, I was in real estate. I was a real estate developer and flipped houses. I worked in title insurance, had my contractor’s license, my real estate license, and it has completely changed my career and my outlook on how real estate can be done. I’ve realized this can be a peer to peer thing and real estate has not been a peer to peer transaction. It’s changed my life in terms of how I view real estate, it’s changed my professional connections, everything. It’s been a wonderful couple of years.
K@W: You mentioned about how title insurance is probably going to be different. Then, if you look at the insurance industry as a whole, how much is the insurance industry going to be changing as well?
Lifthrasir: A lot. People think, “Oh, that can’t happen, insurance is so big, it’s such integral part of what we do.” But most countries don’t have title insurance. That should tell you something right there. What is title insurance? It’s just really information. If you have that information, you don’t need the insurance for the lack of information. And with title insurance, they actually don’t cover you very much. They basically say, here’s all the information we have, and will write a policy for any information that we missed. If you have that information, that’s done.
K@W: How much does Blockchain simplify not only the process of residential real estate, but commercial real estate, as well? I’m taking this from an outsider’s viewpoint. I’m sure for the most part, in years past, that the process of buying a house and a company buying a building or a property of some kind, there were many similarities to the general process. Does it bring together the process even more, having Blockchain for the future, for both types of real estate purchase?
Lifthrasir: Yeah, great question, because there has been a difference in how residential and commercial is handled for various reasons, and Blockchain is that opportunity to standardize that. It can not only standardize across residential and commercial, but also across different types of residential and commercial. Different counties, different states, different countries, so that it’s an international market. If you understand how to buy one property on the block, then you can buy that different property that’s commercial, residential, in Japan, in Florida. It standardizes everything on one open source platform.
K@W: Is there any concern on your part of this being used going forward? As we’ve mentioned the concerns of over regulation in various sectors, is that a concern in the real estate industry?
Lifthrasir: No, In fact, we’re really lucky in real estate. Even though we’re highly regulated, we’re also not regulated as highly compared to Wall Street. I feel sorry for my Wall Street friends because they do have so many things that they have to comply with. They make it so difficult for them to adopt Blockchain, which is why I’m not as optimistic about Wall Street adopting Blockchain because of their requirements. Real estate is actually pretty open, and so far, we haven’t had to have any law changes to adopt Blockchain. It’s actually really wide open, which is why it’s such a great opportunity.
K@W: One of the things we’ve also mentioned is the fact that for government, it takes a while for them to catch up with new processes that happen. It doesn’t seem like that would be an issue where the real estate sector would be concerned, with any relationship that’s already there with government entities.
Lifthrasir: Yes. Right now for example, we’re doing a pilot program with Cook County, which is where Chicago is located. They’re the second largest county recorder’s office in the U.S. We’re doing a pilot program with them where you can have a Blockchain title, and you can transfer your property on the Blockchain, and they will record that transfer into the public record. We didn’t need a legislative change for that, we didn’t need anything. Again, this is still just a pilot program, but it just shows how quickly it can be adopted.
K@W: Are more of these likely to get pushed forward from the local level at the city, to the state level, then making the jump right up to the federal level?
Lifthrasir: Well, I think what this Cook County pilot program is starting to show, and we’re still just a month or so into it. We really don’t need any changes. What we’re really doing is just taking in this existing system and putting it onto a new technology platform. Just like when e-mail came out, when you were doing real estate, everything was paper, and the fact that you can now e-mail your broker your information, you’re not breaking the law by e-mailing instead of mailing it. It’s just, “Hey, this is a new technology,” we’re doing the same things, just in a new digital format.
K@W: Great to meet you. Thank you very much for stopping by.
Lifthrasir: Thank you.
K@W: Thank you. Ragnar Lifthrasir, President and Founder of velox.RE and also President and Founder of the International Blockchain Real Estate Association.
“New Platforms that Lower the Cost of Trust”
Smart contracts are a potentially game-changing application of Blockchain, allowing for transactions to be more transparent and fraud-proof than ever before. Alex Batlin, global head of Blockchain for BNY Mellon, discusses how smart contracts can reduce risk and enhance trust during financial transactions.
Read a transcript of Alex Batlin's interview
Knowledge@Wharton: We are at the Blockchain Opportunity Summit in New York City. The banking sector is starting to use Blockchain more and more these days. Alex Batlin is the global head of Blockchain for BNY Mellon, and he joins us here at the table. Nice to meet you. Thank you for stopping by.
Alex Batlin: Thank you for inviting me.
K@W: Thank you. How much is the banking sector, or BNY Mellon in your case, how much is Blockchain becoming a part of the process? It’s still in a building process, I would think, to a degree.
Batlin: It’s still very much nascent, and I think most people are looking at an experimentation rather than an implementation phase. It’s important to understand the value drivers that Blockchain has and how that applies to regulated markets. Essentially Bitcoin was born in public non-regulated markets, and what works there doesn’t necessarily need to, or can, work in a regulated environment. We need to take the best of the characteristics that Bitcoin promoted and then transplant and adapt existing systems to take advantage of those.
K@W: It is still a test phase for companies like BNY Mellon right now?
Batlin: I think for majority of use cases it is very much still experimentation, but there are some use cases that are starting to emerge, especially around cross-border scenarios such as trade finance, such as cross border payments where we’re starting to see an acceleration. I call it incubation, followed by acceleration, towards more production-like systems.
K@W: Actually it’s funny you mention that, because we talked about this earlier, about a story recently where a bank in the United States and a bank in Australia were basically able to put together a Blockchain trade of cotton going between the United States and China. The payments weren’t made until the cotton actually arrived in China. This is a whole new element that so many people are trying to wrap their heads around.
Batlin: That’s right. I think the key really isn’t the technology as such, it is how you integrate it also into legal and regulatory frameworks, because there’s a lot of ambiguity. Can you, for instance, accept a virtual escrow agent, which is what smart contracts allow you to do? What constitutes settlement finality? If you settle on Blockchain, will the regulators recognize it as final settlement? There’s a lot of unanswered questions, and most of them are actually less about technology. Although technology still has known hurdles like privacy, performance, and scalability, much more importantly, it’s about integrating it into existing frameworks.
K@W: You mentioned smart contracts, and a lot of people listening to us don’t know what that is. First, explain it a little bit, and talk how this is a shift for a lot of sectors going forward.
Batlin: Yeah, I call it the control of proof pattern, but let me explain a little bit more. Imagine you’re buying and selling a house, and typically you might ask for a solicitor to perform the agency work, making sure that they take any deposits in case you get duped. They will pay out those deposits to the party that’s at loss if it happens, but also if everything does go wrong, they guarantee that the title and deeds are transferred, assuming the cash comes in and any Stamp Duty, or other taxes, are paid out to the state.
Today that’s usually the human being, or a human being on behalf of a legal entity like a corporation, that forms those duties because only human beings and legal entities can have accounts. Now imagine if we could create a new type of entity, which is code, but the code could have its own account number. I can then effectively codify all the functions of the agency business, the fiduciary and mechanical aspects of it. Then when both parties, the buyer and the seller, transfer cash and title deeds to the account held by the code, it is guaranteed that the code is going to perform the delivery versus payment, or the atomic swap, or the transfer of title deeds versus cash on behalf of those two agents.
Therefore you now have created a new type of agency business that’s virtualized, but cryptographically proven, and that’s the really exciting thing about smart contracts. They’re just like normal code, but they have the ability to hold a value under their own account and then perform the agency business.
K@W: What I think is interesting is the fact that the concept of Blockchain is one that obviously came in through Bitcoin, but it seems like so many different sectors have the ability to be able to use Blockchain in some form or fashion for their industry. That’s something that is going to be revolutionary for a lot of different business sectors out there.
Batlin: I would entirely agree. I think the interesting thing is that it solved the problem that Bitcoin did, which is to try and create a censorship free, new type of asset class. They also wanted to do that in a way that removed a lot of frictions, including creating your organizations. They created Bitcoin as a virtual organization, by simply people running code, which is very easy to operate for an end user, and creating an organization which is a connected set of computer nodes. That’s brilliant, we’re creating a new type of organization not based on humans collaborating, but on code collaborating with a bit of human help. In doing so, they ditched people process and technology debt, and showed you that you can absolutely 100% automate the entire front to back process, which now gives you a completely different cost space for trust. I think this is why it’s so exciting.
It’s a business model transformation where we’ve effectively got a completely different paradigm in terms of the cost base.
K@W: Alex Batlin is the global head of Blockchain for BNY Mellon. You’re listening to Knowledge@Wharton here on Sirius XM 111 at the Blockchain Opportunity Summit in New York City. You used a word that every one of our guests has used here today, and that’s trust. Seemingly the word trust becomes an unbelievably important one to what Blockchain can bring forward, correct?
Batlin: Correct. It’s a new form of trust through digital proofs.
K@W: What do you expect the changes will be for a company like BNY Mellon going forward in the next 10 years or so? Some of our guests have talked about how a lot of these changes will happen in the next three to four years. What do you expect to see in the next decade?
Batlin: I think it’s a tremendous opportunity for pretty much most people, because essentially what we’re going to be looking at is new trust platforms that lower the cost of trust, reduce the risk, free up the capital that’s reserved against it, and offer new revenue opportunities. Right now we’re in an environment where we are stressed as an industry by regulation, quite rightly so, but it’s affecting our cost base. We need to show more transparency. We need to drive the inclusion agenda, and actually Blockchain starts to address most of the G20 and other requirements.
K@W: How does that process go so that transparency is there between the banking sector, the government, and the entities that really want to make sure that things are being done in a proper fashion?
Batlin: It is by effectively digitizing everything we do. Take a transaction today, when you send the transaction, even through an e-commerce website, how do you know which code is going to be run in order to validate that transaction, and which legal process or terms and conditions it’s addressing? None of it is linked today. With Blockchain, you link transactions to code and code to legal terms and conditions, which now means that for every single transaction, at any point in time, I can guarantee to you exactly which process was used. Together with new mathematical concepts called formal proofs, I can now even prove that my code for all possible domain ranges will do what the specification says it does. Therefore, all of the data is stored immutably, because it’s anchored across many different participants. Tamper detection is extremely simple and cheap, which is not the case with existing systems.
The level of proof and tamper detection that you have with this new system, it’s incredible compared to what we have today.
K@W: A lot of what I read in terms of big banks using Blockchain right now is that they’re using it more within their own companies. Maybe they’re just starting to test the waters a little bit about using it bank to bank. Is that a fair assessment, and how quickly could that process build out?
Batlin: I think you absolutely are right. There is internal and external collaboration. I think a lot of value comes from external collaboration, but before you go external, you need to figure it out for yourself and that’s why you’re seeing those dynamics play out. I think one of the things that I’m now starting to look at is do other certain use cases, which actually benefit from Blockchain characteristics, be operated by a more central platform? If you read a number of my blogs, I argued that there are a set of use cases that could gain the benefits of Blockchain without the necessary decentralization. Why would you want to do that? Because effectively distributed computation costs more than centralized computation.
There are certain parameters which we need to still explore to really understand how Blockchain can be adapted into existing regulated environments. It doesn’t mean that we give up on the distributed promise, because I think there are plenty of use cases like cross border ones where it’s essential. What we need to do is be intelligent and fit the solution to a specific environment.
K@W: Alex, nice meeting you. Thank you very much for coming by.
Batlin: You’re welcome.
K@W: Thank you. Alex Batlin, global head of Blockchain for BNY Mellon.
“Still in the Experimentation Phase”
Rajeev Sondhi, Senior Director for Software Engineering and Digital Technology at Capital One, is cautiously optimistic about Blockchain. As our homes, cars, and offices become increasingly digitized, Blockchain could add a much-needed layer of data security to the Internet of Things. However, he says, the technology is still in a sort of “pre-disruptive” phase, and requires a lot of evolution before its actual usefulness becomes clear.
Read a transcript of Rajeev Sondhi's interview
Knowledge@Wharton: As we continue from the Blockchain Opportunity Summit here in New York City, we’re going to spend a little time talking about the impact that Blockchain may very well have on you, the consumer, especially in the world of the Internet of Things, a topic that has been brought up quite often. The digitization of many things in our lives continues to grow. Rajeev Sondhi is the Senior Director for Software Engineering and Digital Technology for Capital One. And he joins us here at the table. Nice to meet you. Thank you for joining us.
Rajeev Sondhi: Thank you.
K@W: In terms of what you’re doing on a daily basis with Capital One, how is Blockchain impacting that company right now?
Sondhi: We’re doing a lot of things in the Blockchain. Right now what we’re doing is still from the experimentation point of view. We’re trying to explore how we can just work on the asset, how we can just work on the payments and everything which goes into the financial area and also a little bit beyond the financial areas to really get the feel of what this technology is. How does it hold to promise for the future? And how we can just contribute back to the open-source?
Capital One is an active player and contributor in an open source which is called Chaindot.com. And we work closely with other companies to publish what is the first operating system, first OS on the chain. It’s called Chain OS. That’s where we’re just trying to experiment. We’re trying to explore and we’re trying to prove out, one way or the other, what is the promise of Blockchain.
K@W: That’s interesting that you take that approach because a lot of people here are of the mindset that Blockchain will work. There’s no question about it. And you may be of that mindset too, but there’s still a process that you have to go through to see that it actually works for what Capital One wants to do with its clients.
Sondhi: That is true. That is absolutely true. There is a lot of promise, but it is still in the experimentation phase. Will it work? Yes, it will. But how it will work, where it will work the best and maximizing it. That is the key thing, because everything will work. But can you productionize it? Will it work only between you and me, is a different thing. Will it work in all the customers of Capital One? Will it work across the legal, will it work across the geographical boundaries, that is, still needs to be proved out at the scale.
K@W: We’re talking about the Internet of Things and the relationship with Blockchain. How is that going to play out in your mind?
Sondhi: I think that is the one area which has a lot of potential. And this is what I was talking about because the Internet of Things provides a unique challenge. When we’re talking about a particular enterprise, you’re talking about hundreds of thousands of customers. When you talk about the devices, you’re talking about billions of devices and those are hundred billions of devices by 2025. It is not possible for one centralized ecosystem. It doesn’t matter how large it is to handle such a large volume.
And it’s not only that. It’s more about how those devices are operating within the different name spaces. When you talk about the name spaces, basically there are certain devices which I want to share the information only about myself. When I’m doing a workout, my heart rate, my cardio, all those things, I don’t want to share it with anyone. That is within my personal name space. Then I just go larger, which is the home. I want to share certain things within my home: the gadgets which are within my home. It can be as simple as my coffee maker. It can be as simple as the lighting. Or anything with the fridge or with the toaster.
You have no interest what kind of coffee you want. So that is where the Blockchain will come into the picture, because of the very decentralized nature of it, because it is based on the different domains. I can build my own domains and that is where the gadgets, the devices can talk to each other. And it provides not only the decentralized model but also builds the trust within those devices. It builds the transparency and it provides the autonomy of the devices. The devices don’t need to take my permission. A device doesn’t need to talk to the other devices, they can talk autonomously with each other.
K@W: Not only have people talked about trust here as being a key component that will come from Blockchain, but also just the protection of data. And when you’re talking about, as you just said, with a variety of different data points that people now have in their home, on their smartphone, they’re working out. You can continue this list ad infinitum. You have to be very careful with the data going forward but it seems like Blockchain is built to maybe have one of the best sets of protection of the data that we have seen come down the pike in a while.
Sondhi: It is. And the reason it is, is because there’s no centralized storage of the data. It’s distributed across the network. And it is encrypted. So that is where you get the advantage of the additional security and the trust that people have in the data. Everything is encrypted.
K@W: Right. We’re joined by our Rajeev Sondhi who is with Capital One. You’re listening to Sirius XM 111 Business Radio powered by the Wharton School. Not only does this have to be a bit of a learning process for you in terms of how this will all play out, but the relationship you have with your clients as well and they have to have a bit of a learning curve on this as well. Correct?
Sondhi: Absolutely. It’s a learning curve for each and every one. And I was talking to my daughter who is nine years old. She was the other day looking at a video on cryptocurrencies. And I was like, “Where did you pick it up?” And she was like, “You know dad, I just saw you yesterday working on this presentation and I just wanted to see what is this cryptocurrency? What is this Bitcoin? Can I get those coins? Can I see them physically?” So look at the impact it is having on everyone. A nine year old is aware of cryptocurrency.
K@W: I was just going to say at least your daughter. My kids aren’t there yet but that’s very important.
Sondhi: That shows that how we are going to have everything around us which is dealing with the code.
K@W: Let me ask you this then. How important does it become in the years ahead of us that education takes a look at Blockchain and the importance that it will have to society in general so that your daughter, my kids, that that next generation is prepared. They already have that knowledge when they graduate college, when they head out for their first job.
Sondhi: I think it may become a part of life. They don’t even need to have the knowledge on this thing because if you really see the world of this new generation is revolved around the code. The other thing which she requested was on her Christmas gift is CogniToys. And I was like, “What is CogniToys?”
Sondhi: Yes. It’s basically a toy which will give you each appropriate answers. So think about the exposure that the kids in the elementary school are having around the technology.
K@W: Is it going to happen enough in schools or is this going to be something that’s going to happen more in the home between parents and their children?
Sondhi: I think it is happening in the school also, because whatever kids observe at home, they go and talk about at school. And that’s how the whole of the ecosystem works. And if you really see in the schools, they’re talking about introducing programming in the elementary schools. I did my first programming when I was in high school.
K@W: And now it’s middle school or grade school.
Sondhi: Yeah. It’s even in the elementary schools. So that is the impact of the technology and this is where the whole of the IoT, the Blockchain or any of another emerging technologies. Right now, we just see that the IoT and the Blockchain are the two key disruptive technologies. But just going to happen much more and at much faster rate.
K@W: You mentioned disruptors and it’s something that we’ve talked about quite often on a variety of different levels. How much of a disruptor is this right now? Because it feels like it’s obviously making its mark at this point but give it a couple years as many people say two, three, four years. It’s going to be much more of a disruptor.
Sondhi: It will be. Right now I won’t call it a disruptor, but it is showing all the parameters, all the sign of being disruptive. It still has to go through a lot of evolution. It is still evolving and it has to prove out itself. And as we just keep on maturing on this thing, a lot of things are going to shake up and shake up.
K@W: Is it evolving within the companies themselves as you said? Being understanding how to use Blockchain, for their own particular purposes?
Sondhi: Not dissuasive as it is evolving right now. Everyone is trying to understand and decipher it. What does it mean? How can they use it? And how can they scale it? There are some constraints around the scalability. There are some constraints around the regulations. There’s a vacuum there. No one knows what the regulation is going to work on it, especially when it’s talking about the privacy, when you’re talking about the money. So it is going to evolve on all the grounds and once it has evolved over the next couple of years, I will say it will take up to a few years to become a mainstream.
K@W: One of the things that people have said here is the fact that that government may understand this more so than it has with a lot of other things, how important Blockchain may be for the future and where government is concerned, a lot of times, they will fall behind on something. They really can’t afford to fall behind. Can they?
Sondhi: You’re right and if I just really see all the funding, all the sponsorship and all the discussion which is happening among the government. If you go into DC areas, the government is sponsoring a lot of projects. They’re doing a lot of funding to understand it. They do want to take this opportunity not to miss to the bull. They want to be a part of the mainstream adoption of the technology and if not the adoption, at least the understanding of the technology. Because that’s how it’s going to work. They have a lot of stake in it. Think from the taxation point of view.
K@W: Sure. Absolutely.
Sondhi: If everyone starts talking about the cryptocurrencies, and if everyone starts talking about the whole of the way the things are working. They have not only to talk about the taxation, they have to think about the security. They have to think about the privacy. They are the one who has to build the regulations, and the regulations of today are not going to work with the millennials. And they are definitely not going to work with the generation of which my daughter or the kids who are in the elementary schools falls. So they’re trying to keep up with the speed.
K@W: Great to have you. Nice meeting you. Thank you.
Sondhi: Absolutely. Thanks a lot.
K@W: Rajeev Sondhi from Capital One joining us here at our table at the Blockchain Opportunity Summit. We’ll take a break and come back with more of our show in a minute. Sirius XM 111 Business Radio powered by the Wharton School.
“Anyone Can Own Their Identity and Take it Wherever They Want”
Blockchain has high potential for growth in numerous industries over the next few years, explains Angus de Crespigny of Ernst & Young. One key innovation: beyond a passport or driver’s license, Blockchain may one day offer a new form of digital identity, opening up the financial system to millions of currently underbanked people regardless of nationality.
Read a transcript of Angus de Crespigny's interview
Knowledge@Wharton: As we mentioned at the top, Blockchain is in a variety of areas, financial services being one of the more obvious ones. The hope by many in the sector is to see it grow in a faster manner over the next few years. Angus de Crespigny is a leader of the Financial Services, Blockchain, and Distributed Infrastructure Strategy sector at Ernst & Young, and he joins us here at our table. Nice to meet you. Thank you for joining us.
Angus de Crespigny: Great to be here.
K@W: Thank you. I’m asking this of everybody, and for you, the best way to kind of describe Blockchain to the public is how?
de Crespigny: Distributed ledger is a word that’s used a lot to describe it. Thinking of it as a trusted record of all activity amongst participants in a group is the best way to think about it. Distributed ledger is one expression that’s often used for it because it brings that understanding of an accounting ledger, which everyone can agree on. So when you have a system, or a technology, or something that’s recording all activity that has happened between participants, and everyone can trust in that record, then what you do with that going forward has a lot of potential.
K@W: Is the trust in the security maybe the biggest piece to this for a lot of companies out there today, just because of the nature of the internet right now?
de Crespigny: The Internet’s greatest strength is you can share and distribute information as many times as you want. Its greatest weakness if you’re talking about digital assets, such as back 20 years ago, or a little less than 20 years, is music sharing – you can share it multiple times. When you can put trust in a system that you don’t need any trusted party for, it allows a lot of things going on beyond that. Bitcoin was the first instance of this and that allowed people to move around value without needing any sort of financial infrastructure. That sounds great to have that trusted backbone that we can all base off, but now what do we do with that? How can we leverage that into our current businesses and business processes?
K@W: But is it still a system, or a philosophy, to a degree, new to the point where companies are maybe not 100% invested in it right now? I read an article where you were interviewed, it talked about the use of something that you had to learn about over the last several years as well, correct?
de Crespigny: We’re probably all learning about it. I’d like to think that I understand the area fairly well, and we’ve got a lot of access to all of our clients and helping them through all of this. I think the challenge that a lot of our clients, or a lot of people in industry, are facing is looking at this technology and trying to fit it into your old business in the same way that social media and early press on the internet has provided for free. These were services that were provided for free. We take that for granted now, but that was not how business operated 25 years ago. You charged for access.
And business models change, so we’re looking at using this technology and saying, “Hey, this is something we do now, we’re finding it inefficient. Maybe this new technology will help.” Simply changing, shifting in the new technology, you’re probably going to need to do more than that. What we’re probably going to see, like with the internet, is the opening up of many more businesses, and products, and markets which we didn’t have before. I think that’s the bigger area to grow, and that’s a bit harder for people to visualize because it’s creating something that wasn’t there, rather than just changing what we already have.
K@W: Angus de Crespigny from Ernst & Young joining us here at the table. We’re at the Blockchain Opportunity Summit in New York City, as you’re listening to Knowledge@Wharton on Sirius XM 111 Business Radio powered by the Wharton School. So, Blockchain helps Ernst & Young how on a day to day basis?
de Crespigny: We help our clients understand the space, and have a look at the right strategy to approach it. Often our clients will either say, “We see this as a strategic priority, understanding what we can do with this, or migrating into this sort of new infrastructure. We just don’t really know how to go about it.” Or they may say, “This supply chain part of our business is significant, we have these four or five directions that we could go with. We just kind of need to evaluate what’s the best way, or what our business process looks like in a new environment.” So we help them with that. We build pilots, and we build tools that they can leverage for that.
We’ve recently developed an identity platform that one of our clients can use, because they needed a particular way in which they could identify and risk assess their customers for this new product that they were developing. We helped build an identity system that’s now live that can be used not only for this particular client but can be expanded more broadly across the Australian market, where people can get what’s called self-sovereign identification. You have your passport, your driver’s license that identifies you. This is something that, rather than requiring your driver’s license, or passport, you can hang on to a particular digital identity that you can pass around, and you can own, and that you’re responsible for. And we’ve incorporated that into this system.
K@W: It’s going to be interesting to see how this all develops. Especially something like that, because as more and more people travel from country to country, being able to be there, and being able to cross borders and access in an easier fashion, is something that a lot of people would like to be able to do, so you don’t have to wait an hour or two going into a country.
de Crespigny: Absolutely, and it’s not only even just that. That is for those of us lucky enough to be able to get, or hang on to, a passport. You look at the current refugee crisis, many of them are leaving their country, and may have had to leave without their documents, or even if they had documents. How do countries accepting refugees validate if those documents are real? Let alone the billion or so that don’t have access to that documentation. This is one of the things where we would like to see this identity solution of ours get to, and I think there are a lot of people working on this. We’re working in the current environment where you require some customer documents to prove that identification.
We’ve bootstrapped that identity platform for that. Ultimately where we see the identity solution for Blockchain going is where it’s reputation based. You know I’m Angus because people told you that I’m Angus. You haven’t seen my passport, you haven’t seen my driver’s license, but there are enough people here telling you that I’m Angus. You can use that sort of reputation to build people’s identities, and on a Blockchain where there isn’t a central party that’s controlling this data, it’s in this independent ecosystem, there is the potential to establish that identity where anyone can own their identity and take it wherever they want. And the ability to bring in billions of people into the financial system, incorporate billions of people into the technology network has huge value.
K@W: Where does your concern over hacking come in with all of this? Because I think a lot of people when they’re talking about putting more data and information into an online, or a different type of process, they’re concerned about hacking.
de Crespigny: This will always be a problem. One thing to highlight as well is that Blockchain is one layer in their solution. If you try to stick all of this data onto a Blockchain, you could do it, but for technical reasons that I won’t get into, it’s not the most efficient way of doing it. So there are ways that that can be managed, but that’s why from the start any solution has got to be designed with that security in mind. And anything that in a Blockchain environment where things can run and people can prove that it can only run in this particular way is the strength of it. If you do it the wrong way, you can’t stop it.
K@W: So there are some limitations to Blockchain in terms of what you can do with it, at least for right now?
de Crespigny: I think there are tradeoffs with any technology. What you get from Blockchain with regards to the trust you lose in computational efficiency. Now with the Internet in the early days, or well not the early days of the Internet, but the early ages of the web, back in the late 90s, early 2000s, people were saying that TCP/IP is not an efficient way for sending around video, or sending around real-time communications. So, people looked at other protocols like ATM, Asynchronous Transfer Mode which they saw was a better way of prioritizing traffic. Over time bandwidth increased, and that was no longer really an issue. So ATM was not really needed.
K@W: Quickly, I’d be interested in getting your opinion on Bitcoin, just in general, because it’s obviously something that people know about. They’ve obviously heard about it. It hasn’t been as quick to be adapted, or accepted, by a lot of people, maybe more so in the corporate environment than it has in the general public. Where do you see that going in the future?
de Crespigny: People should be very careful to rule out Bitcoin. It is, in certain ways, the most powerful computing environment in the world. If we had a digital agreement that we wanted to prove, that was validated at a certain point, there is no more secure place than to put it on the BitCoin Blockchain. But there are a lot of other foundational measures that are needed to really bring that to everything that it can be, including, say, identity. You bring in an effective digital identity and combine that with Bitcoin, all of the compliance worries that restricted it from really taking off early, get resolved fairly quickly, and retail payments, in theory, could change overnight.
There’s a lot more to it than just the currency, and we feel that this coming year there’s going to be more interest gaining over the coming years in public Blockchains such as Bitcoin.
K@W: Great to have you here today. Thank you very much.
“A Technological Way of Proving and Providing Trust”
Pramod Achanta, a Wharton alumnus and the Blockchain practice leader for North America at IBM, believes Blockchain will transform business transactions as profoundly as the internet changed communication in the 1990s. Blockchain has tremendous potential, he asserts, to impact not only the financial services space, but also lower the cost of providing services among small businesses and facilitate communications between governments.
Read a transcript of Pramod Achanta's interview
Knowledge@Wharton: We are now joined here at our table by Pramod Achanta, who is with IBM, works with financial services and is the Blockchain practice leader for North America, who is also, by the way, a Wharton grad. Nice to have you here. Thank you very much for coming by.
Pramod Achanta: Thank you.
K@W: Thank you. Blockchain to you means what?
Achanta: Blockchain is all about trust. IBM believes that Blockchain is a transformative technology with potential to change business transactions the same way internet has changed communications and information-sharing in 1990s. We believe that Blockchain would be one of those fundamental technologies that would change the transaction landscape in years to come.
K@W: It is something that is still so new to a lot of people. That trust that you just spoke to, is it something that it’s so solid that this is a known quantity even now, even though that there is still so many people that are learning about it right now?
Achanta: Yes. So if you look at current world, the trust is really established with intermediaries who understand the transactions on both ends and facilitating the transaction between the ultimate consumers of that transaction. What Blockchain does is it provides another technological way of proving and providing that particular trust. And the trust is embedded in the distributed ledger aspect of Blockchain as well as the cryptography that now you will apply to the data to encrypt and provide the level of trust that all participants can be comfortable with.
K@W: You have clients that are in the financial service sector. And, obviously, for those entities, they have to deal with regulation to a certain degree. How are they balancing that action of using Blockchain as obviously the next level of transaction format compared to obviously having to deal with the regulations that they’ve had to deal with for decades and decades?
Achanta: Clearly, the regulatory community needs to understand this technology better. And it’s our experience that most of the regulators are actively looking at this particular technology to understand the benefits it provides. But on the flipside of it, we actually believe that this technology would make things easier for regulators because all the transactions would be recorded on Blockchain. Regulators can be provisioned to look at this particular information in a much more real-time fashion as opposed to what happens today in the real world. So we believe, once regulators understand this technology, they would actually embrace this particular technology.
K@W: But getting regulators to think in real time I think sometimes may be the biggest hurdle, correct?
Achanta: That’s true. It’s a journey. They’re just beginning to understand this particular technology. But we believe that there are several regulators who are actively looking at this technology. Just as an example, if you look at some of the work that government of Singapore is doing in Blockchain space, they are incubating projects to accelerate some of the business transformation under the agents of regulatory oversight. So we’re quite excited to work with the government of Singapore on various initiatives. And we do believe regulators have an important role to play in creating these Blockchain networks.
K@W: One of the interesting things which we discussed earlier in this show is the fact that not only will this have an impact on the corporate community, but this will have an impact just on society in general. Obviously, this will take some time. But because of the connectivity that we already have, more and more of these elements, Internet of Things, will be linked through Blockchain, will they not, going forward?
Achanta: Most of the work that we’re doing within IBM is in the enterprise space. But, clearly, there is a good mix of Blockchain with, say, IoT, Internet of Things, technologies. Take supply chain as an example. What we can track by combining Blockchain, which records the real-time status of that particular transaction, with IoT embedded to, say, track goods that are coming over from Asia to the U.S., now, you have much more clear visibility in terms of where the goods are, what the status is, what certifications have they gone through in order for you to feel comfortable in performing financial transactions on that information.
K@W: Will this also make it easier at a time of making transactions not only between companies on different parts of the world, but between countries in different parts of the world? Will governments look at Blockchain more as something that they need to incorporate into their operations on a daily basis?
Achanta: Potentially, the cryptographic concepts embedded into Blockchain will allow you to share information on a need-to-know basis. So some of the confidential information that one government needs to share with the other potentially could be done over Blockchain. Clearly the government and the regulators first need to understand this technology, which is what they’re doing now. But in a few years from now there could be many more such use cases.
K@W: People like yourself, are you still trying to figure out all that Blockchain can be at this point?
Achanta: We do understand Blockchain and what it means to our clients. We are creating within IBM an end-to-end capability to assist our clients to take advantage of this particular technology. Clearly there are some clients who understand this technology as well as we do. There are others who are catching up. We did a survey with “The Economist.” Based on the survey results, we understand that 14% of our clients are actually looking for a production scale application on Blockchain in the next one year. So a lot of people are already out there, and we are actively helping some of them.
K@W: That seems like a quicker process than a lot of people are expecting.
Achanta: Indeed. As you can see, the technology, maturity, and that option cycles are getting shorter and shorter. And given the potential that Blockchain offers in the transaction space, creating that trust element, I do expect Blockchain to take even more off that option cycle.
K@W: Pramod Achanta is with IBM, joins us here at our table at the Blockchain opportunity Summit. You’re listening to “Knowledge@Wharton” on SiriusXM 111, “Business Radio,” powered by the Wharton School. You mentioned earlier, and I think it’s interesting to bring it back, about the issue of trust. The issue of trust between companies I think is one thing. We’ve talked with people in the financial sector here at this conference. The building back of trust between the financial sector and the community, the public at large and, to a degree, this happens with other business as well, not just necessarily financial. Coming back from where we were eight years ago with the recession here in the United States, that’s an important piece to it, to rebuild trust on a lot of different levels. And, obviously, Blockchain can do that to a degree.
Achanta: It can. One: it provides that real-time visibility to some of the regulators to ensure that our financial markets are performing efficiently. And then that gets translated to the overall trust that the broader ecosystem would have in the healthy function of the financial markets. Clearly, we are in the early stages of this particular technology. There’s more to come on this. But we do believe that Blockchain would transform the landscape for facilitating transactions to take place in a trusted framework.
K@W: Will this be able to go farther down the business, the corporate chain all the way to the smaller business, the 50-employee business that may be doing this type of work, that would want to be able to have this capability? Is this something that you can see developing in the years to come?
Achanta: One of the key benefits out of Blockchain is it has the potential to lower the cost of service, which then naturally makes technology and products and services more affordable to the smaller business. There’s a lot of talk about applying Blockchain in the payment space and bringing unbanked population into the financial network. So the technology clearly has the potential to do that. Obviously, we need to ensure that right products and services are built on top of this technology to take advantage and then translate that into a broader option for smaller players.
K@W: So do you think this has the opportunity to change how mobile payments are viewed, going forward?
Achanta: Yes. There are a lot of firms already working on that today.
K@W: We are joined by Pramod Achanta of IBM, also a Wharton grad. You’re listening to “Knowledge@Wharton” here on Sirius XM 111 “Business Radio,” powered by the Wharton School. But being able to bring this forward, is the perception and what this could potentially be, is that still a hurdle in the minds of a lot of businesses and potentially regulators, the people out there? Or is the adoption happening a lot faster than even a lot of people would like to believe?
Achanta: The adoption is happening a lot faster within the community that actually understood the power of this particular technology. When we did the survey with “The Economist,” 14% of the clients identified themselves to be trailblazers, and they all expect a production application to be in place in 2017. But then there are another 56% of the clients who identified themselves as fast followers. And they also believe that they would have production scale applications by 2020. Come to think of it, 70% of the market that we have surveyed essentially believes that they will actively start using Blockchain in the next three years.
K@W: Blockchain was basically an offshoot of Bitcoin originally. And it feels like Blockchain is even growing at a faster pace now than Bitcoin. Is that correct? And where do you see the future potentially for Bitcoin now?
Achanta: Clearly Bitcoin is one specific use case of Blockchain. And when we looked at Blockchain as a foundational technology, we saw a much higher potential for Blockchain in different business contexts. Bitcoin is a specific implementation of Blockchain using digital currency as a business. IBM, being an enterprise-focused company, most of what we operate is the Blockchain space, and we’re already seeing applicability of Blockchain across a variety of industries, supply chain, financial services, healthcare, and so on and so forth. There is also a good blend of Blockcain technology with IoT and cognitive technologies to try for the value for our clients and businesses. Clearly, we’re already working on some of the use cases for Blockchain combined with IoT. Once you have established trust and validity of these transactions, applying cognitive to drive further insights is a natural extension. We clearly believe that these are the technologies that, combined, can provide in a much higher level to our clients.
K@W: Nice to meet you, Pramod. Thank you very much for stopping by.
Achanta: Thank you.
K@W: Thank you. Pramod Achanta from IBM, also a Wharton grad, joining us here at the table, here at the Blockchain Opportunity Summit. This is Knowledge@Wharton here on SiriusXM 111, Business Radio powered by the Wharton School.