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The Weekend Read: Mar 26

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by Todd McDonald

When they say ‘Blockchain’ just close your eyes and think ‘DLT DLT DLT’…

First up, some Corda love. This Australian Financial Review article (paywalled) highlights how our bank partner CBA used Corda in collaboration with their customer, Colonial First State, and a delivery partner, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, to show how it could help solve a key business problem of capital costs:

Colonial First State is re-engineering the process of buying units in the $2.2 trillion market for managed funds in a move it says will “dramatically” reduce the amount of capital banks will have to hold against wealth operations. A recent experiment with Commonwealth Bank of Australia’s emerging technology team and Hewlett Packard Enterprise using the R3 consortium’s Corda ‘distributed ledger’ allowed Colonial to eliminate arduous paper application process for managed funds and the three-day wait for the delivery of units.

Corda, which is being developed by a consortium of global banks, can remove counter-party risk for intermediaries like CFS by allowing assets to be exchanged and transactions settled instantaneously. It also provides transparency on what each counter-party holds across geographies. By removing the risk of the issuer defaulting or the investor failing to settle, banks will be able to reduce the amount of regulatory capital required to provide cover for those risks.

“If [a blockchain] was adopted locally, regionally or globally, the capital the industry would need to hold could reduce dramatically,” CBA’s group executive for wealth management, Annabel Spring, told the APAC blockchain conference in Sydney last week.

CBA is confident about Corda’s security protocols, which have been designed with input by dozens of banks around the globe. In the CFS trial, the units were transferred cryptographically with keys in the form of PIN numbers required to access the system through mobile apps.

We also got a nice shout out by our friend Michael Dowling of IBM with this in depth post on the evolution of Corda, along with some reference to the recent blockchain-not-blockchain kerfuffle. And since we have been, ahem, a few weeks between posts, here are some ‘catch up’ blockchain-y links:

And finally, a big congrats to ATB Financial as our newest Canadian member!

RegTech (cont.)

R3 was happy to announce another member recently, as we welcomed the State of Illinois to our growing list of Regulator Members. Read about this here and here, along with their overall plans to leverage DLT. Our CEO David Rutter and R3 world traveller Isabelle Corbett followed up with this conversation with CoinDesk that lays out some of the concepts behind the R3 ‘RegNet’.

The efforts and interest of regulators extends across the US, both at the State (see Delaware is Drafting Law That Would Recognize Blockchain Records) and Federal level; Acting (and now Nominated) Chairman of the CFTC J. Christopher Giancarlo recently gave a speech on his overall agenda. Of note was the section dedicated to FinTech, both due to its substance and to the fact that the Chairman gave the topic proper airtime even with his quite package agenda. Full text is here, quick pull quote below:

[M]arket regulation by the CFTC has not kept pace. In too many ways, it remains an analog regulator of an increasingly digital marketplace, curtailing its effectiveness in overseeing the safety and soundness of markets. But it doesn’t have to be this way, especially in an industry that is synonymous with innovation. The CFTC must be a leader in adopting the “do no harm” approach to financial technology similar to the US approach to the early Internet. We must cultivate a regulatory culture of forward thinking.

Couple the above with this post from ISDA on the ‘past and future’ of ISDA agreements, particularly on the role of Master Agreements in the world of smart contracts. As a reminder, our third Smart Contract Template Summit (suggestions for a new name welcome!) will be coming up this June.

MAS continues to push an aggressive fintech agenda of their own. A few weeks back, MAS announced the successful completion of the interbank payments projects that they executed with R3 and a collection of local banks. See here and here. And this past week they announced more details on their plan to roll out a national KYC utility.

Another organization at the intersection of regulation, infrastructure and fintech is CLS. This IBTimes article gives an interesting look at some of their thinking. The article also lays out the differences between ledger approaches, namely that of IBM’s Fabric vs R3’s Corda.

Get the Papers Get the Papers

Our Research team and amazing collaborators have been busy recently, with three new papers:

  1. R3’s Survey of Confidentiality and Privacy Techniques, with an accompanying piece in American Banker
  2. R3’s Report on Fedcoin with JP Koning
  3. R3’s Bridging the Gap Between Investment Banking Architecture and Distributed Ledgers by my good friend Martin Walker

Others have been busy as well. BIS recently release The Quest for Speed in Payments (summary article here), while G20 Insights released The G20 Countries Should Engage with Blockchain Technologies to Build an Inclusive, Transparent, and Accountable Digital Economy for All

The Weekend Read: Nov 20

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MAS MD Ravi Menon announces MAS-R3 Interbank Payments project at SGFintechFest

by Todd McDonald

Singapore Fintech Festival

MAS MD Ravi Menon announces MAS-R3 Interbank Payments project at SGFintechFest

I asked Antony Lewis for a field report on this week’s Singapore Fintech Festival:

11,000 sweaty people couldn’t be wrong…Singapore was the hottest place for FinTech this week, as the world’s first regulator-managed FinTech event kicked off for a week-long collab confab.  Ravi Menon, the MD of the Monetary Authority of Singapore, opened the festival by announcing R3’s collaborative efforts with 10 banks and partners to put the Singapore Dollar on a distributed ledger. (see BBG article here). This garnered quite a bit of inbound interest from other parts of the globe as the week wore on, and we look forward to pursuing this piece of collaborative work in a “jurisdiction near you” soon.

Tim Grant insists that he didn’t pay off the Audio/Visual crew during his panel on Wednesday when Blythe Masters’ microphone didn’t work. The whole panel, including Oliver Bussmann (independent) and Sandra Ro (CME), generally agreed that we need to see some traction next year.  Tim’s “5 Ps” of DLT (Proof-of-Concept–>Prototype–>Pilot–>Permission–>Production) crashed Instagram as the audience became bewitched by the power of alliteration. ABC (AI, Blockchain, Cloud) grew a little more mature and became ABCD (AI, Big Data, Cloud, DLT). Our CEO, David Rutter, was also featured at the ASIFMA Annual Conference (all pics above).

The above, and the MAS’ partnership with R3 announced last week, all paves the way nicely for our Lab of Excellence in Singapore. Lattice80, the world’s largest FinTech co-working space, will be the perfect location to light up those Bunsen burners. If you would like to join us, we are hiring in Singapore.

RegTech and CBDC (cont.)

Continuing the MAS RegTech focus elsewhere, there continues to be a steady drumbeat of news stories concerning the regulator’s role in fintech and DLT. First up is the U.S. SEC and CoinDesk’s profile of the SEC DLT lead Valerie Szczepanik. The article reviews the SEC working group’s focus to date, as well as raising the topic of regulation and ICOs:

Since an ethereum startup called The DAO raised over $100m by selling digital tokens without an exchange, a rush of companies have followed suit. So-called initial coin offerings can be launched from anywhere in the world and cross borders as easily as the Internet itself. With millions of dollars worth of capital raised so far and dozens of ICOs in the works, how the SEC will handle the technology is one of the biggest areas of regulatory uncertainty in the industry. Regardless of whether Gemini and SolidX ever win approval or if ICOs might displace traditional fundraising, the SEC will likely play a role.

Speaking of The DAO, the team behind the dream/nightmare, Slock.it, are back with another project, pushing the “fail fast, fail upwards” concept to its limits. I happened to see this being compared to the advent of flight and aviation inventors, yet the comparison falls flat (like many early aviators (groan)) as these innovators fail the “skin in the game” test popularized by Nassim Taleb. As far as I can tell, there was no repercussion from the absolute failure that was The DAO, whereas those early aviators had the ultimate skin in the game! (For more on that story, check out David McCullough’s excellent book on The Wright Brothers).

Sweden’s Riksbank made headlines this week with talk of issuing digital currency:

The so-called e-krona may be introduced within two years. “The less those of us living in Sweden use bank notes and coins, the clearer it becomes that the Riksbank needs to investigate whether we should issue electronic money as a complement to the money we have today,” Riksbank Deputy Governor Cecilia Skingsley told the Financial Times.

Sweden’s Riksbank is the world’s oldest central bank, and was the first to issue paper banknotes in the 1660s.

Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC) remains an area of focus for R3 and our Research team. For R3 members, please reach out to us if you have seen our recently published private reports on this topic.

India has also made headlines with their recent demonetization scheme. Once again, many armchair economists/sociologists on the Twitter have been giving their “two paise” on the subject, but since I at least admit total ignorance to all the nuance, here instead is what looks to be a great run down of the issue at hand by The Diplomat.

Bonus link: no idea where to put this but here is CoinDesk’s summary of their recently released State of Blockchain.

R3’s Second Smart Contract Templates Summit & RGB on Corda

We were very pleased to host the second summit dedicated to all things smart contract, with participants in person in Barclays London and New York, with many more across the globe dialed in (Ed. note: need to clarify how time is measured by organizers of upcoming event billing itself as “The Industry’s First Event Exclusively Dedicated to Smart Contracts”…). Dr. Lee Braine of Barclays once again set a high standard for the proposed agenda, and all the contributors managed to outdo themselves. IB Times has a great rundown of the event, and we have provided all of the presentation materials via this link. Allow myself to quote…myself:

The summit featured presentations by Barclays, CIBC, Nordea Markets, ISDA, FIA, Norton Rose Fulbright, Thomson Reuters, University College London, Cardozo Law School, and R3. Todd McDonald, co-founder of R3, said: “We wanted to hold this second summit to keep up the cadence and to continue what we at R3 and all the participants feel is important: progressing this in the open and it being industry led, rather than by just one organisation or one company.”

Our CTO Richard Gendal Brown was featured on two 11FS podcasts this week. First up, RGB was joined by Richard Crook (Head of Innovation Engineering, RBS) and Ajit Tripathy (Fintech and Digital Director, PWC) for a more wide ranging chat. The second is a video link to a 1-on-1 chat with Richard Brown. Both pieces were moderated by our old friend Simon Taylor, aka The Blockchain Beard (who evidently put his size smedium t shirts on a high-heat drying cycle in order to show of his Blockchain Biceps in the attached video…). Richard as always delivers an extremely lucid explanation of not only the functionality but more importantly the benefit of DLT, and specifically Corda, to financial institutions:

On why anyone should care about blockchain and DLT: It just becomes self-evident that there’s a massive opportunity in finance, wherever firms record the same data that their counterparts do, and then have to manage it, that this blockchain technology…can be used to massively simplify and reduce that cost and complexity by just doing it once and knowing for sure that what you see is what your counterpart sees.

On how is Corda different from traditional blockchains: The short answer to your question…it is designed by and for financial institutions, its focus is not on crypto-currency or virtual machines; its focus is managing legal agreements between regulated institutions, is designed to integrate and inter-operate with existing systems in banks, and is designed to integrate well with the legal system…. So this isn’t the idea of computers running amok and controlling the world. This is computer code. This is computer data that, in the event of dispute, is grounded firmly in legal reality.

The Weekend Read: Nov 13

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by Todd McDonald

An emotional week comes to an end in the US. This will be a thinkpiece-free zone save for one article written and posted by Ben Thompson back in March (but still very relevant today). I did a media detox (hence the late posting) and took a hike instead (literally).

On to this week’s links.

 

R3 Announcements

Another busy week here at R3. First up, we announced our partnership with the Monetary Authority of Singapore for the launch of R3’s first physical lab. We have been working with MAS on this concept for some time and they have already proven to be great partners. I am beyond excited for this collaboration, especially since it increases my chances of enjoying real nasi lemak again soon. This announcement comes on the eve of the Singapore Fintech Festival, which will feature both Tim Grant and David Rutter. David’s remarks at this week’s Risk USA event were featured in this article: “When I sit here today versus a year ago, this is no longer ‘if’ or ‘will’ this happen. I don’t think there any doubt that we’re going to see these distributed ledger technologies change how transactions are processed globally.”

Later in the week we announced the successful work to represent identity data on our shared ledger system Corda in collaboration with 13 member banks. This work showed how smart contracts could be used in the collection of relevant KYC data for both legal and natural persons, with the key twist being that the data remains in the control of the entity or person themselves. Another example of DLT helping to push power to the ‘edges’ of the system, with the various smart contract pieces then being able to represent a completely new (and potentially much less costly) way to conduct KYC and onboard clients. You can also reference this identity overview post for a different perspective, and R3’s Ian Grigg will be following up in the coming weeks with more on the R3 perspective to identity with (hopefully!) a series of posts.

Another week, another Gendal post (I told you he was back to the land of the blogging!). This is a short post titled On Distributed Databases and Distributed Ledgers:

In Corda, nodes are operated by different organisations and do NOT trust each other, but the outcome is still a consistent view of data.

Nodes of a distributed database trust each other and collaborate with each other to present a consistent, secure face to the rest of the world. By contrast, Corda nodes can not trust each other and so must independently verify data they receive from each other and only share data they are happy to be broadly shared.

And so we call Corda a distributed ledger, to distinguish it from distributed databases. A distributed ledger that is designed painstakingly for the needs of commercial entities.

 

The Week in Links

Digital Asset paper to the Hyperledger project on The Global Synchronization Log (with Corda shout out)

FCA announces participants in their regulatory sandbox: Meet the 18 companies joining the FCA’s regulatory sandbox

HKMA and ASTRI: Whitepaper On Distributed Ledger Technology. Summary article here.

The Weekend Read: August 7

I’m subbing in for Todd this week.

Bitfinex and Other Tragedies

Earlier this week, the Bitfinex exchange was hacked to the tune of ~$60 million in losses. For a quick explainer on the topic, I recommend this video from Bloomberg.  It’s still quite unclear who was involved, or exactly what happened, from reading public accounts. In the meantime, Bitfinex has proposed socializing losses among its customers. This will be awfully interesting to watch, particularly if some users have far more security on their accounts than others. 

Arguably the most painful part of witnessing episodes like this is that smart people have been trying to instantiate proposals that would make these attacks either impossible or orders of magnitude more difficult to pull off. In particular, Bitcoin Covenants would have almost certainly mitigated the attack on Bitfinex by making it harder for the attacker to abscond with the stolen funds. For an overview of this approach, see Emin Gün Sirer’s latest blog post. Covenants were proposed over a year ago and most people think it would be a net-good to the Bitcoin ecosystem. Yet, I couldn’t find any efforts to actually implement this technology. It’s almost as though Bitcoin has a governance problem. 

Growing Interest in Fintech

This week it was announced that the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) has set up an International Technology Advisory Panel to learn more about fintech solutions, including blockchain technology. The group includes some familiar names, including our own Tim Grant. We also announced a new type of member this week with Thomson Reuters

It’s enormously encouraging to see a variety of institutions take interest in new types of technology and approaches. It runs against the way we’ve been taught to think, but innovations in software and networking now allow for smaller companies to punch above their weight in terms of impact. An example I cite often is WhatsApp, which had only 35 engineers on staff when it was acquired. As of late last year, this number hovered around 50 engineers supporting ~900 million users. (Wired wrote an excellent piece on the company detailing their approach.) I think a lot of good can come from collaboration between large institutions and smaller shops because of these innovations, allowing all parties to excel at their strengths. 

Software isn’t Rocket Science

But rocket scientists use software. 

Where am I going with this? Well, in the wake of The DAO, many have been critical of smart contracts as a means to transfer value. The examples cited for their deficiency, however, come from practitioners who use methods, languages, and constructs which are known to be flawed for consistently well executed programs. We know better ways to deal with software, as noted in The American Banker this week:

Dealing with money, especially other people’s money, requires discipline, which does not occur automatically, but must be methodically implemented. Fortunately, the software industry is sufficiently mature to offer lots of best practices.

Given the importance of the smart contracts and the financial risks involved, we believe that the solution lies not in human oversight, but in objective testing and validation tools. Smart contracts are prime candidates for formal verification, one of the most advanced techniques in software quality assurance. Formal verification requires that the software be implemented in a language that has a strict specification of its semantics. Having this crystal-clear mathematical model allows to apply methods of logical proof to any piece of software written in this language to verify that it really does what it is supposed to do.

— http://www.americanbanker.com/bankthink/what-doesnt-kill-the-blockchain-will-make-it-stronger-1090554-1.html?CMP=OTC-RSS

I’ve been banging the drum of formal verification for years now. Appealing to authority, NASA agrees with me and NASA knows a thing or two about reliable programs. Good software isn’t impossible to build but it also isn’t obvious or easy to write. The fatalistic position that we can never trust these programs ignores decades of success in engineering and computer science to run some of the most sophisticated operations in the world. 

Other Links

The Weekend Read: May 15

1. “The DAO” Jonesing

[High five self for NY Post style headline pun]. The DAO public crowdsale that isn’s an equity raise continues to gobble up investors and Ether (already over 13% of the float!). CoinDesk did a great job this week of summarizing both the goals of The DAO and the inscrutable semi-organizational structure behind it. I also asked The Swanny to give me two paragraphs on the topic, which in his world means a whole blog post, which you can read in full here.

Overall this is a fascinating experiment, as a few have put it, but one that is being done WITH MONEY, particularly OPM. Is this a result of folks not knowing or more likely not caring about the time value of money, since real rates are so low? What would be an investor’s time horizon to realize returns, as the VC rule of thumb is ~7 year time frame? When you consider that Angellist put roughly $70m to work in public syndicates in 2015, The DAO would need quite a few years to put its money to work, and that would only start the clock on the investment…

Isn’t this like “Ether squared” from a risk perspective? Since you need to believe that Ether will be stable to higher AND that DAO tokens will be stable to higher AND that using a global censorship resistant computer to allocate investment capital will outpace the returns of other investments (opportunity costs). It most definitely could work and give great returns to those who have invested, but with a VERY unclear risk profile. There will be lots of good and bad (and definitely worthwhile) lessons that come out of this experiment, I am just happy that I don’t have to fund it.

2. A Warm Regulatory Embrace

CFTC Commissioner Giancarlo preceded our panel at Markit’s annual customer conference to give another pro-innovation speech Blockchain: A Regulatory Use Case

This speech reiterated the commissioner’s belief that “we need DLT to succeed” and highlights five steps for a “do no harm” approach. It also has a nice shout out to Corda. The speech also discussed “Regulatory Sandboxes” such as the UK FCA. Speaking of the FCA, they announced a “Fintech Bridge” with the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) earlier this week.

3. Even More Links

Vitalik Buterin’s recent post on settlement finality is a volley in a gentleman’s debate with our Tim Swanson. The Swanny’s article argued that public blockchains by design cannot definitively guarantee settlement finality. Vitalik breaks the argument down into three sections: 1. issues from probablistic finality (such as forks) 2. the interestingly named “law maximalist” position and 3. the economic argument (if value traded >> price of tokens, then attack). Dense stuff but very readable, as is usually the case with Vitlalik’s writing.

CoinDesk’s always interesting State of Blockchain: Q1

The SWIFT Institute (not to be confused with SWIFT itself) released a whitepaper entitled The Impact and Potential of Blockchain on the Securities Transaction Lifecycle. The authors interviewed 75 organizations in post-trade and tech, taking a similar cautious tone and “cold water” approach to other recent papers via market intermediaries.

Nice quick interview with Massimo Morini on his recent paper and the challenges/opportunities facing banks.

IB times profile of David Rutter.

Gideon Greenspan discusses four blockchain use cases: lightweight financial systems, provenance tracking, inter-organizational recordkeeping, multiparty aggregation.

And finally, Fran Strajnar has an interesting post on protocols and standards, a topic that we discuss quite a bit at R3 HQ:

We believe it is too early to tell exactly how things will pan out, but can reflect back to the Internet days and take away the following insights:

Standards/Protocols are inevitable and required.

Networks ALWAYS end up demanding inter-operability.

It took 15 years to shake out the ideas and protocols that solidify the Internet we use today. It will take at least 5-7 years for Distributed Ledger Technology to be implemented commercially on a global scale by enterprise – i.e., using some form of blockchain to replace the SWIFT network, or back-end infrastructure for inter-bank or even inter-branch settlements.

We expect to see proposals rise and fall and flip-flop as solutions and standards evolve, so don’t count on anything proposed today becoming the de facto operating standard. Whatever happens, we know one thing for sure: Millions will be spent, burned, made, and the world will only remember the victors.