Putting the ‘Fin’ Back in FinTech
“While still in its infancy, the emergence of distributed ledger technology comes at a time when the financial services industry is poised to further embrace technological change and efficiencies.”
C. Thomas Richardson, MD, Wells Fargo Securities
Financial technology, better known as fintech,2 has gained prominence in recent years with the rise of bitcoin and blockchain technology. After years of being a rebel, in May 2017 it gained mainstream acceptance with R3’s announcement that it had raised a record US$107 million. Over 40 investors including technology and finance heavyweights like Intel, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, UBS, HSBC, and the Singapore government joined forces with R3 to develop ‘block-chain- like’ technology to be used by major banks.
The investor consortium represented the largest group of global financial institutions working on commercial applications for the distributed ledger technology at the heart of blockchain. R3’s success in getting its existing members (clients) to invest in the company was unique – particularly in the finance industry. The fact that some of them were blue-chip technology firms positioned R3 firmly at the confluence of technology and finance. R3 took pains to emphasize that the underlying technology was ‘distributed ledger’ rather than blockchain. Tim Swanson, Director of Market Research, explained the difference: “In simplest terms, a blockchain involves stringing together a chain of containers called blocks, which bundle transactions together like batch processing, whereas a distributed ledger like Corda does not, and instead validates each transaction (or agreement) individually.”
2. Rise of Fintech
As the line between technology and finance became increasingly blurred, one area of fintech blockchain created a particular buzz, both for its scope and security. Martin Arnold wrote in the Financial Times: “Blockchains allow encrypted data on anything, from money to medical records, to be shared between many companies, people and institutions. This protects data from fraud while instantly updating all parties concerned.”
Whenever blockchain was mentioned, the much-hyped bitcoin sprung to mind. The surge in bitcoin prices and the astronomical rise (and subsequent fall) in its value dominated media headlines.
2 Fintech is broadly defined here as an industry composed of companies that use new technology and innovation to compete in the marketplace with traditional financial institutions and intermediaries in the delivery of financial services.
Bitcoin, first referred to in a white paper of 2008 by ‘Satoshi Nakamoto’ (a pseudonym), was the first application of blockchain technology. Although blockchain could be appli
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