What is blockchain? It is a distributed database that contains information about transactions carried out by system participants. Its main feature is the exclusion of the human factor which ensures a high level of trust. Today retail and investment banks, brokerage firms, and payment networks actively use this technology. Payment transactions now can be automated, which means intermediaries can be excluded while any system participant verifies the authenticity of a transaction. Additionally, blockchain could help in securities management, and it could be used in the development of payment systems using digital currencies, which would greatly simplify the interaction between central banks.
The main opportunities blockchain opens up in the financial sector are reducing bureaucratic costs, minimizing corruption, increasing security of operations through complex mathematical algorithms and special cryptographic programs, and eliminating unnecessary or redundant operations.
Blockchain is based on the principle “promised — fulfilled” and a violation of this principle is impossible. Due to the fact that the entered data cannot be changed, blockchain becomes an effective financial tool. Additional benefit from implementing blockchain solutions is trust in the information and reliability of its storage, which is especially valuable in the financial sector. Blockchain for financial market participants is not only a path to new niches, but also a step towards new market relations based on the transparency and impossibility of cheating. Even if certain blockchain developments do not replace all their standard counterparts, they still provide an overall opportunity for improvement in this sector.
International payments are still the main and most widely recognized implementation of blockchain in the financial sector. Such technology allows payments to be made in seconds, with minimal costs. Unlike plastic debit cards and SWIFT transfers, blockchain services automate currency control procedures and search for the most profitable transaction route. Over 200 companies are already connected to the payment ecosystem Ripple, among them banks and even the international money transfer service Western Union. The speed of settlements in turn accelerates international trade and makes financial transactions available to ordinary citizens. And for a number of large companies and entire countries, blockchain payments allow the opening of additional business channels.
In fact, the reason why blockchain is still very popular, but not the most used technology, is quite simple. There is the possibility that it is a technology fad that will fade in fintech, similar to what happened with WiMax. The wireless data transmission technology did not become widespread, and LTE replaced it.
Blockchain also has a successor—Tangle, a faster technology that is designed based on the widespread use of the Internet of Things. It is possible that blockchain in its current technological form will not become widespread in the financial sector, and other solutions will be applied for safe data storage.
In the coming years, the spread of blockchain technology will most likely be relevant in the field of financial systems and insurance. Experts believe that the first thing to do is to implement blockchain in all publicly verifiable transactions, contracts, registries and decision-making systems, secondarily, in multilateral operations. At the same time, the introduction of blockchain in projects where control is required for unstructured, unparsed information is not justified.
For example, banks invest too many resources in support of processes that aren’t directly linked to profits, so fintech is focused on finding new tools to influence fundamental indicators. Blockchain could become a cheap solution for banks.
If we talk about the disadvantages associated with this technology, it is necessary to highlight the market demand for experts in this field as well as a small number of completed business cases. Financial institutions are very cautious about the introduction of blockchain projects. For fintech, the risks associated with deficiencies in consensus algorithms and incorrectly written code of smart contracts could be quite expensive. During a bank transfer it is possible to dispute the transaction, but for the time being, it is not clear how to implement such a process in blockchain.
It is worth mentioning the data protection issues as well. Blockchain has been around for about 10 years, and data protection is one of the most pressing issues in this area. Entrusting finance to algorithms, financial organizations want to make sure that they are reliably protected from various types of attacks such as capturing decentralized nodes or selecting a cryptographic key.
Security and standardization issues are other problems hindering the implementation of blockchain in finance. Today, many countries have almost no regulatory legislation that would allow blockchain to be widely used in banks, when dealing with securities or registering transactions. Therefore, the future of blockchain in finance largely depends on legislators and regulators.