Oliver Bussmann: «Why Blockchain Won't Disrupt Banks First»

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Oliver T. Bussmann

Banks and fintech companies are busy developing blockchain-based solutions. But we are likely to see blockchain «go live» in other industries first, Oliver Bussmann, advisor and former Group CIO of UBS, says.

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Like Nick Williamson, the founder of CREDITS and co-author of this essay, I also have no doubt about the technology’s potential to radically transform the financial industry. A far better way to build and maintain interconnected ledgers – the heart of the financial system – it seems predestined for the job. This is something of a paradox, and so I think worth a closer look.

As I can attest from my own experience, the main drag on implementing innovation in financial services is regulation.

«The financial industry is heavily invested in centralized models»

As part of one of the most highly regulated sectors in the world, banks will need to wait for regulatory certainty on any number of issues before they can release blockchain-based platforms. Stringent rules regarding collecting, storing and sharing customer data add layers of rigorous validation, verification and internal signoff on top of the regulatory approval.

Even though many regulators are actively supporting banks in exploring blockchain, this is simply not an environment geared to early adoption in the wild.

The fact that banks are coping with dwindling IT budgets, as well as heavy legacy IT investment, is an obstacle as well. As to an extent are legacy mindsets: The financial industry is heavily invested in centralized models; blockchain represents the opposite worldview.

«Areas poised for takeoff include e-government, supply chain management and finance»

I believe blockchain will be implemented first in more lightly regulated sectors, particularly those which face challenges in managing data access control and ensuring data integrity. This can be sensitive personally identifiable information (PII) such as health care records, competitive secrets or other internal corporate data. Or it could be intellectual property, as with managing copyright for music or art.

Areas poised for takeoff include e-government, supply chain management and finance, insurance, real estate and the Internet of Things. BHP Billiton’s announcement last week that it was using blockchain to improve its supply chain processes is a perfect example of how this is already happening.

At CREDITS, Nick has been observing this trend closely too. The company has been exploring a number of use cases outside of financial services, such as proof of identity, procurement processes, and interdepartmental payments. It recently worked with a client on a corporate identity blockchain solution.

«When it comes to blockchain and banks, there is no escaping destiny»

CREDITS has also been very active in e-government, where blockchain has the potential to inject trust and accountability into many processes. This includes providing means to share sensitive personal data between departments that prevents data leaks while still allowing for data integrity checks.

The good news for banks is that many of the non-financial use cases also provide compelling first customers for the eventual financial ones. If we can solve supply chain management, for example, then we are not far from solving supply chain finance.

So while we may not see distributed ledgers taking over in financial services right away, that shouldn’t be interpreted as meaning it will never happen. When it comes to blockchain and banks, there is no escaping destiny.

As Group Chief Information Officer (CIO) of UBS from June 2013 to March 2016 Oliver T. Bussmann successfully led a major IT transformation effort, instituted a new group-wide innovation framework and established UBS as a pioneer in the development of blockchain for use in financial services.

Prior to joining UBS Oliver was Global CIO at SAP for five years, and was CIO for North America & Mexico at Allianz for nine years. Previous roles included executive positions at Deutsche Bank and IBM. Oliver’s achievements have been widely recognized. In 2015 he was named COO/CTO of the year by «Financial News/The Wall Street Journal». At present he works as an independent advisor.

Previous contributions: Rudi Bogni, Adriano B. Lucatelli, Peter Kurer, Oliver Berger, Rolf Banz, Dieter Ruloff, Samuel Gerber, Werner Vogt, Walter Wittmann, Albert Steck, Alfred Mettler, Peter Hody, Robert Holzach, Thorsten Polleit, Craig Murray, David Zollinger, Arthur Bolliger, Beat Kappeler, Chris Rowe, Stefan Gerlach, Marc Lussy, Nuno Fernandes, Thomas Fedier, Claude Baumann, Beat Wittmann, Richard Egger, Maurice Pedergnana, Didier Saint-George, Marco Bargel, Steve Hanke, Andreas Britt, Urs Schoettli, Ursula Finsterwald, Stefan Kreuzkamp and Katharina Bart.


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