Blockchain in financial services

For cross-border payments, half the journey is getting there

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At some point during a recent 27-hour journey to Singapore I had a realization: Singapore is long way from home and not somewhere you get to by accident from Texas. That might sound rather obvious to anyone with a map, but sometimes experience is the best teacher. The experience of getting from Texas to Singapore taught me there is a lot preparation required to get from one side of the planet to the other: tickets to buy, passports to remember, security to navigate, planes to board, borders to cross and so much more. And for all the miles that must be traveled, there is a lot of sitting around that must be endured.

The reason for my trip to Singapore was to attend Money20/20 Asia, the banking and financial technology conference. As has been the case with its counterparts in Amsterdam and Las Vegas, Money20/20 Asia has become an important show for the blockchain and distributed ledger community. There were numerous vendors in the blockchain space exhibiting, and it was an appropriate venue for IBM to announce IBM Blockchain World Wire, its new cross-border payment network built on blockchain.

Let’s clear and settle cross-border payments in seconds — not days

Adoption is key to success

Currently, cross-border remittances require days to clear and settle and the participation of multiple partners all exacting a toll on the monies sent. It is a slow and costly system. Through World Wire, financial institutions now have an alternative that allows them to transmit money between 72 countries in 47 currencies, clearing and settling transactions in near real-time and eliminating many of the steps — and costs — in remittances as they are done today. It’s an application of blockchain to a problem that has long needed a better solution.

The big question I was asked at the show regarding World Wire — indeed, a question I get about many blockchain solutions — was “Is it real?” The short answer is “Yes,” but the longer answer may shed some light on the state of blockchain in general. The longer answer is that it is real — and includes some very clever thinking to address challenges inherent in money movement — but it is only the first step in a much longer process. That longer process will eventually need more retail banks, central banks and partners to spur adoption and increase volumes.

And that’s where we are with blockchain in general: we have now reached the point in the development of blockchain where we can see what we can do with the technology conceptually, and where it can be applied. Like World Wire, we are now building products on blockchain to address intractable problems that deserve better solutions. But no technology or solution — no matter how much potential it has — succeeds without being supported by vendors and buyers and partners. The hype that started a few years ago regarding blockchain disrupting everything — from identity to payments to intellectual property and more — has given way to the hard part: making it all work.

Disruption amidst disruptions

Worth mentioning, of course, is that while we are “making it all work,” the industries we hoped would be disrupted — financial services, government services, healthcare, manufacturing — are undergoing other disruptions at the same time. No industry is sitting still, and blockchain must justify itself as a competing approach along with all those other disruptions.

Like my trip to Singapore, the goal of adoption of blockchain solutions like World Wire will require significant preparation and effort. It may take some time, and the process will not always be easy. There may even be some “sitting around” while we wait for industries and partners to catch up. And like Singapore, we will not get there by accident. But that’s ok, because it will be worth it when we get there.

From time to time, we invite industry thought leaders, academic experts and partners, to share their opinions and insights on current trends in blockchain to the Blockchain Pulse blog. While the opinions in these blog posts are their own, and do not necessarily reflect the views of IBM, this blog strives to welcome all points of view to the conversation.

Learn more about IBM Blockchain World Wire

Research Director, Worldwide Blockchain Strategies, IDC

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