Blockchain in financial services

Passport to innovation: Paving the way to mainstream blockchain adoption

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buildingsGlobal payments giants, Visa, is actively ramping up its pursuit of embracing blockchain technology, but will this added brand power form a catalyst for more mainstream adoption?

Blockchain is the driving force behind the development of cryptocurrencies. Without a distributed digital ledger, digital coins would be incapable of being the decentralized entities that they are today.

Recently, Visa announced that it was partnering with Circle Internet Financial, the startup that raised $271 million dollars in developing the US Dollar Coin (USDC) digital currency on the Ethereum blockchain. The move will see Visa’s 60 million-strong merchant network connected to payments made in the digital currency USDC. The coin itself is now valued at around $2.9 billion.

Furthermore, Visa’s B2B Connect — a platform designed to offer financial institutions a secure, swift and predictable way to process corporate cross-border transactions — has been developed to leverage USDC within its final settlement function.

Bring new transparency, simplicity and efficiency to every financial transaction

As a stablecoin, USDC is second only to the market-leading Tether in terms of market capitalization and sits in 13th place among the largest cryptocurrencies in the world based on market cap.

Stablecoins behave differently to traditional cryptocurrencies in the sense that their values are pegged to real-world assets like gold, or, in the case of USDC, the US dollar. This means that their prices generally won’t be affected by market volatility — as we can see in the price chart above. This means that, for organizations like Visa, stablecoins like USDC are ideal for making everyday payments using blockchain technology.

Visa’s voyage into blockchain

Visa’s partnership with Circle Internet Financial is the latest in a long line of movements towards the accommodation of blockchain technology stemming from over five years ago when the payments company invested in Chain during its equity fundraising which raised over $30 million from industry leaders like Nasdaq, Citi Ventures and Capital One.

As Visa continued to experiment with blockchain solutions, the company partnered with blockchain specialists, BTL Group for a project to tap into BTL’s cross-border settlement platform Interbit as a means of exploring how blockchain-based settlements can reduce the friction of domestic and cross-border transfers between banks.

Later, Visa filed a patent for a blockchain-based transaction system in late 2016. The United States Patent and Trade Office later revealed the patent application was related to “methods and systems for using digital signatures to create trusted digital asset transfers.”

In October 2018, Visa collaborated with IBM to create an integrated open source Hyperledger Fabric framework from the Linux Foundation with Visa’s core assets providing improved processes for facilitating financial transactions on a scalable, permissioned network.

From Visa’s heavy dealings with blockchain over the past five years, it’s clear that the payments giants are exploring ways of moving into the realm of facilitating decentralized payments of digital currencies on a significant scale.

The efforts of the payments company and its apparent ramping up of movements to accommodate blockchain technology may be in response to the ever-maturing cryptocurrency market, with PayPal recently welcoming the buying and selling of Bitcoin and Ethereum on its payments network as well as other popular crypto exchanges.

However, just how close is a financial climate built on blockchain technology to mainstream adoption? Is Visa’s toil in exploring how to facilitate blockchain still pie-in-the-sky speculation, or is blockchain set to explode on the financial scene in the coming years?

Blockchain excitement in china

Visa’s most recent actions in embracing blockchain comes as China has also ramped up its efforts to encourage individuals and businesses alike to use the technology more often domestically.

As the recent positive performance of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies attract global attention, the Chinese government has moved quickly to discourage citizens from adoption crypto while being mindful to highlight the transformative and revolutionary power of blockchain technology — which is already being utilized across the country in both private and public sector use cases, according to CoinGeek.

With Chinese authorities dismissing Bitcoin as a dubious investment scheme that citizens should be mindful of avoiding, the country has been hard at work in producing its own central bank digital currency, known as the Digital Currency Electronic Payment System — or, more simply, as the digital Yuan.

As China moves quickly in facilitating blockchain to develop its own digital payments system, the rest of the world may soon have an insight into how blockchain projects can pave the way towards a future that’s much more financially agile and inclusive. With several city-wide trial schemes already passed for the digital Yuan, we may see the project going nationwide shortly.

Financial hurdles

Despite widespread interest, not everybody within the world of innovation and technology expects blockchain technology to take the world by storm in the coming years.

Although his business closely focuses on many of the features that blockchain looks to protect in terms of privacy and security, DocuSign CEO Daniel Springer believes that the technology is simply too expensive for widespread adoption any time soon.

Speaking to Quartz, Springer said, “We look at blockchain as an underlying technology that we think is actually quite intriguing. There are challenges with blockchain to date because it doesn’t have the scale to provide attractive economics.”

Springer’s comments come some years after DocuSign agreed a partnership with Ethereum — a blockchain infrastructure that’s capable of delivering programmable contracts. However, the costs associated with leveraging agreements on the system cost around $1 each, whereas DocuSign’s existing framework provided cloud technology, protective encryption, the facilitation of digital signatures and identity verification all for around 7 cents in comparison. “So to spend $1 just on the storage is a little bit crazy,” Springer concluded.

While there may still be financial hurdles that stand in the way of adoption, the benefits of blockchain are clear enough for major players to invest heavily in utilizing the technology in the future. With Visa continuing its research in how to facilitate borderless payments and JP Morgan recently developing its first commercial models for blockchain technology, we may be on the cusp of the biggest fundamental shift in finance for generations.

With the backing of the industry’s major players, it may only be a matter of time before the costs associated with the pioneering technology biome more achievable for other would-be adopters around the world.

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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.

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