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The Weekend Read: Feb 19

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by Todd McDonald

R3 in the News

Our CEO David E. Rutter sat down with Financial News for a very entertaining (and paywalled, sorry) interview that gives more than a few anecdotes on R3 and how we attempted to surf the blockchain hype cycle…all while trying to not get snared in the ‘reef of inflated expectations’ that hides just below the surface. But as Dave says, it is the hardest any of us have ever worked in our careers and yet the most fun any of us have ever had.

Credit Suisse Corda Hackathon in full flight
Credit Suisse Corda Hackathon in full flight

Over the last two weeks, we have talked about our recent work with Credit Suisse on their triple time zone Corda Hackathon, we were very pleased to announce our newest Regulatory Member: Hong Kong’s Securities and Futures Commission, and to read the lessons learned from Bank of Canada’s Carolyn Wilkins on the work dubbed “Project Jasper”, the collaboration w BOC, Payments Canada, R3 and R3 Member Banks to experiment w a DLT wholesale payments system. I wanted to highlight her take aways for the business case below:

We’ve also gained some other important insights that will be relevant to the business case for this type of DLT application:

1. Most cost savings appear unlikely to come in the core system itself, but rather more likely through reducing bank reconciliation efforts. The initial design is quite collateral intensive while the current system is already highly efficient.
2. There’s the potential for more savings if other applications could be built on top of a core cash payment distributed ledger system (eg financial asset clearing and settlement, trade finance).
3. In an actual production system, trade-offs will need to be resolved between how widely data and transactions are verified by members of the system, and how widely information is shared.
4. While DLT may aim to reduce concentration of risk, a substantial amount of centralization would still be required (eg permissioning of nodes and setting of operational standards) if applied to wholesale payments systems.

And a shout out to my colleague, and provider of Slack-Avatars-as-a-service, Gavin Thomas for his post on how he PM’ed the #### out of the Corda open source release: DON’T LOOK DOWN, A PROJECT MANAGER’S SHORT STORY OF OPEN-SOURCING

Industry News

CoinDesk has continued their reporting on the upcoming announcement of Enterprise Ethereum, with two articles this past week, as the group readies for an official announcement soon. We are glad to see that the enterprise blockchain space, both within Hyperledger and the new Enterprise Ethereum, has started to focus on the core requirements of scalability and confidentiality. To echo what our CEO said above, there will be no shortage of hard work involved as the new group “state channels” their inner cat herder.

In another CoinDesk article, Swift’s Global Payments Initiative (GPI) Program Director Wim Raymaekers describes how the project has aimed to improve the current Swift architecture and make payments more transparent by layering on new business rules and a GUI. Raymaekers provided both hope and shade to the blockchain crowd, saying:

[B]lockchain developers will be given access directly to the GPI as part of a hackathon. “We’re going to open those APIs for fintech and blockchain designers to come up with … new ideas,” Raymaekers said.

Overall, while Raymaekers is optimistic about the possibility that blockchain might improve some products, he ultimately sees the need for the tech as limited. He concluded: “We think blockchain today is not ready for wholesale cross-border payments. We are improving that with GPI, so it’s no longer a problem.”

Lots of Links

Here is a quick rundown of other stories from the last few weeks, which features such FoTWR celebs as The Blockchain Beard, lil’ Buterin, The Swanny, and my Snark Sensei

The Weekend Read: Feb 5

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by Todd McDonald

R3 in the News

The R3 team enjoyed a few days this week to ‘geek out’ at the Construct 2017 conference in SF. We were glad to share the insights of our very own Clemens Wan with the wider blockchain world:

In remarks yesterday at CoinDesk’s developer conference, Construct 2017, R3 associate director and former Credit Suisse blockchain architect, Clemens Wan, predicted that 2017 will be defined by DLT pilots, while 2018 will see the technology migrate to production.

The comments come just months after the open-source release of its custom distributed ledger technology (DLT), Corda, became a part of the Linux Foundation-led Hyperledger blockchain project’s collection of enterprise technologies.

Corda (and Intel's Sawtooth) via penchain
Corda (and Intel’s Sawtooth) via penchain

Since then, R3 said it has attracted more than 600 users to its slack channel, and more than 19,000 visitors to its website, Corda.net, as it seeks to reach its next milestone, the release of a test version of its DLT system in the first or second quarter.

In this light, Wan framed R3’s technology as one that requires broader buy-in from enterprises and corporates to achieve a strong network effect and top-level applications. Wan said: “Corda is the Xbox Live, it’s the ecosystem, it’s the connectivity. We want to focus on the platform and services.”

As Clemens points out, R3 will be very focused on building an ecosystem of partners in 2017 and beyond, which follows on from a few of our 2016 announcements of partnerships with the likes of Microsoft and Calypso Technologies. Our goal is to bring both the value of our network and our foundational technology to that partner application ecosystem, so that all participants benefit. If anyone has interest to learn more about our partnership approach, please contact partner@r3.com

We are very pleased to announce the addition of Africa’s largest bank to the R3 family: welcome aboard Standard Bank!

“Collaboration will be critical to unlocking value and we want to be actively involved in exploring and testing how technology like blockchain can be adopted by financial institutions. Being a partner member of the R3 network will provide us with an excellent opportunity to accelerate and enhance our adoption of this new technology,” says Peter Schlebusch, Standard Bank’s Chief Executive for Personal & Business Banking.

And if anyone happens to be attending the FIA-SIFMA Asset Management Derivatives Forum this week, please feel free to stop by and say hello.

Member Spotlight: ING

We are very fortunate to have the chance to work closely with ING across many of our DLT efforts. This article is a very nice overview of not only the hard work being done, but it also gives some well deserved attention to Mariana Gomes de la Villa and the Blockchain Innovation team:

“For us, 2016 was about experimentation and getting to know the technology: how it works, how we can use it and what the pitfalls and limitations are. This technology wasn’t built for the financial industry so there are constraints and it doesn’t always cover our requirements,” Gomes de la Villa explained.

In trade finance, too, where processes are largely paper-based, labour intensive and open to fraud, a proof-of-concept was completed in August. It demonstrated that shared ledger technology could reduce operational and compliance costs of trade financing by 10 to 15 percent and increase bank revenues by as much as 15 percent.

Mariana Gomes de la Villa and the Blockchain Innovation team
Mariana Gomes de la Villa and the Blockchain Innovation team

Blockchain has the potential to profoundly change the financial services structure”, said Ivar Wiersma, head of Innovation at Wholesale Banking. He compares blockchain to that other ‘foundational technology’ that changed the world; the internet. It all started with the birth of email in the 70s, but it took decades before the internet became the basis for many of today’s business models.

“Blockchain started eight years ago with bitcoin. Now we need new developments like smart contracts and digital identity so blockchain can become the technology standard for the next generation.” Wiersma added: “Collaboration is a given. It’s a network, so working on your own is useless. It’s like being the only one with a mobile phone.”

We look forward to highlighting more of our member stories throughout 2017

The Week (or two) in Links

…and completely unsolicited advice for the Big Game: guac over salsa, pilsner over IPA, and never bet against Brady and Belichick (unless the Giants are involved). Go Pats!

The Weekend Read: Dec 11

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by Todd McDonald
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R3 at TechCrunch Disrupt

Our CEO David Rutter hit the stage during TechCrunch Disrupt in London earlier this week for an extended interview. Among the highlights was his call that we will see substantial activity on a distributed ledger in 3-5 years, and that R3 will have a DLT-based product in the market by the end of 2017, much the delight and cheer of our product department. (Side note: Dave called me and asked for any background on this event. I pointed him to this clip…not sure it was helpful). In a DLT world, he noted, the idea of hiding a ticket or manipulating a trade will be a thing of the past, which could bring much needed trust back to Wall Street. On trust, he also pointed out the irony of many libertarians and bank antagonists: We all trust our banks, though we like to say we don’t. If we get a chunk of money, we put it in a bank. And for the quantitative participants in the audience, he noted R3 and others in the space addressing a $3.6tn opportunity to re-work the global payments infrastructure, cited from a recent McKinsey report.

Smart Contract Debate

The Chamber of Digital Commerce put out a doc this week entitled Smart Contracts: 12 Use Cases for Business & Beyond that features a forward by Nick Szabo. Luckily for your lazy author, R3’s Ian Grigg has written a very concise response to some of the points in the paper on his Financial Cryptography blog:

The finance end of town is only interested in smart contracts within the fully contractually-informed framework. That’s because accidents happen and the go-to place to sort out disasters is the courts, with their facility for dealing with the unexpected or unusual. This notion goes back to the Magna Carta, which was ultimately a brawl over the right to a fair day in court.

If you want a pithy principled statement, it is like this: people who trade in large values want someone to mind their backs. These people believe that smart contracts will always break, and we need a way to get predictability back into the contract.

Which brings us to the DAO – that $150 million lesson in how not to build a smart contracts platform. [SNIP] To interpret a short, pithy principle, the investors in the DAO found that nobody’s minding their backs. And when that happens, the brawl starts. Magna Chaina?

I know that some folks can’t stomach it, but for the rest that have an interest in what legal and financial professionals have to say about smart contracts, please see this excellent summary of R3’s recent Smart Contract Templates summit by Burges Salmon.

RegTech (cont.)

The Federal Reserve released a paper this week called Distributed ledger technology in payments, clearing, and settlement:

In the context of payments, DLT has the potential to provide new ways to transfer and record the ownership of digital assets; immutably and securely store information; provide for identity management; and other evolving operations through peer-to-peer networking, access to a distributed but common ledger among participants, and cryptography.

I asked Tim Swanson for his views on the paper: “The new paper provides a good objective overview on what distributed ledger technology is and what it is being used for., as well as a number of interesting data points. For instance, “In the aggregate, U.S. PCS systems process approximately 600 million transactions per day, valued at over $12.6 trillion.”  I actually ended up citing this number several times this past week at an event in Korea. The paper also makes a distinction between the settlement finality that permissioned ledgers can provide versus the probabilistic finality that un-permissioned / public blockchains provide.”

The Fed also provides a comment to add to the Smart Contract debate above:

DLT has also raised the possibility of writing terms and conditions between parties into computer code to be executed automatically. In order for these “smart contracts” to be enforceable, they must have a sound legal basis. Contract law is an established set of rules that govern the basic principles of contracting, including formation, amendment, termination, and dispute resolution.

Open Development and Other News Across the Industry

I had the pleasure of attending the Hyperledger Annual Member Summit this past week. It was a great opportunity to connect with folks from across the globe and to hear more about the projects underway underneath the Hyperledger umbrella. Chris Ferris, head of the Hyperledger Technical Steering Committee, put together his reflections in this blog post.

One highlight for me was to watch our CTO Richard Brown keep the audience in rapt attention with his overview of Corda and some of its unique design decisions. The R3 tech team has continued to post to the corda.net blog with more updates on their thinking behind the code. ICYMI, click here for James Carlyle on distributed ledgers as a ‘truth layer’ and click here for Mike Hearn on ‘why UTXO?’ We also had the chance to catch up with our friends at Digital Asset, who released their non-technical white paper earlier this week, which I believe Richard will share some thoughts on in the coming weeks.

The folks at Circle made a splash with their announcement this week of their open source platform Spark and their intention to focus exclusively on “global social payments” that happen to use blockchain(s) as rails. Or, if you are r/bitcoin, totally betraying the Bitcoin community…And for those with a penchant for oral histories of ‘cryptographic ceremonies’, be sure to check out this article on the launch of Zcash. Or if you like Bloomberg articles with all the snark of Matt Levine yet with none of his wit or deep understanding of financial markets, click here (but I wouldn’t recommend it).

…and finally, many thanks to my colleague Tim Grant for letting me crash his set for the debut of Project dR3am, and to the thousands dozens of folks who turned out to support us. Rock on.

The Weekend Read: Dec 4

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by Todd McDonald
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Happy Corda Day!

First things first.

Corda cake   Corda cake 2

Besides the cake, we were also gratified to see so much interest on release day. We had our first pull request merged within a few hours of release, thousands of unique visits and over 40 forks of our Github repo. For more coverage, see Euromoney, American Banker, WSJ and Fortune articles. From the Fortune piece:

“Our intention is to encourage other people in the community to contribute to it, to build on top of it, to drive its design and adoption,” said Richard Brown, R3’s chief technology officer. “We want a large number of people people downloading and using it,” he said.

“People will be surprised when they dig into the code of the technical white paper,” [Mike] Hearn told Fortune on a call. For one thing, he said, Corda is designed to be compatible with tools that programmers within large organizations are likely already familiar, such as relational databases for storing digital information and Microsoft SQL, a tool for accessing data contained therein.

We also heard from the wider internets on their views of Corda. The feedback and constructive challenging of the Corda design and implementation decisions is exactly what our team is looking for from the wider community. And of course we also got other, less constructive feedback, which I can break down into two broad categories: 1. suggestions for us to kindly lodge certain appendages and objects into various openings big and small, or 2. the equally helpful jokes about SQL databases (this is perhaps the most tired of all the “burns” we hear, and as someone who grew up with the last name McDonald, I know a tired burn when I hear one…).

We know there is a lot to wade thru in exploring Corda (56 pages for the white paper Mike? Dang). As a starter, check out Richard’s intro blog posts and Mike’s review on what lies ahead, all on our Corda blog. Even better for the TL;DR crowd, Richard has a new Corda explainer video here that wraps up in a tidy 3 minutes. Enjoy!

R3 Application Partners

There was another bit of news this week that perhaps got swept up with the Corda release. On Tuesday, we announced our partnership with Calypso Technologies to jointly develop the first post trade application on our smart contract network (a CorDapp in R3 lingo):

Calypso will be the first application partner to leverage the R3 platform, which will allow financial institutions and their technology partners to work more closely together in a safe and efficient distributed ecosystem. The platform records and manages financial agreements between counterparties, leveraging distributed ledger technology to guarantee a consistent, accurate, auditable, reportable record.

Pascal Xatart, CEO at Calypso said: “We are thrilled to be working with R3 and honored to be their first application partner. The alignment between the two firms is exceptional – our deep expertise in capital markets combined with their industry-leading distributed ledger technology will allow us to develop a range of innovative applications quickly and efficiently. Our current matching solution is only the beginning.”

We have been hard at work over the past year building out the framework of our financial-grade network. This past week we have debuted two core pieces of that framework. One is obviously our distributed ledger platform, Corda. The other is captured in the above partnership announcement: our clear intention to build and support an ecosystem of partners to help drive value for all the participants in the emerging R3 network. Our friends at Calypso are a fantastic example of such a partner, one that brings deep domain expertise, understanding of their client’s needs and shares the strategic view that the next generation of financial software and services will be driven via smart contract platforms. We could not be happier to have them as our first partner.

More Shout Outs

Congrats to the CME team on their collaboration with The Royal Mint on their tokenized gold trading platform dubbed Royal Mint Gold (RMG):

Vin Wijeratne, CFO of The Royal Mint said the addition of a blockchain-type system will mean tracking ownership in near real time and therefore some costly administration attached to this process can be dispensed with…Sandra Ro, digitisation lead at CME Group, said: “This is going to be a permissioned network. We will have all known actors and there will be a mechanism by which validators will validate the transactions…This is very much a digital gold offering as an investment product. And it happens to be that it is using a blockchain ledger to record transactions. This is a trading platform.”

Another congrats to the Hyperledger team, which announced surpassing 100 participants in the open source effort this week. I will be at the annual Member Summit in Bklyn on Wednesday and Thursday and look forward to catching up with everyone in person. For those who can’t make it, I would suggest the excellent webinar from Digital Asset’s Dan O’Prey here. But if you do make it, I promise you a freshly printed business card with our cool new logo…

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The Weekend Read: Nov 6