This Changes The GameFinancial Genius Meets Blockchain
Via +David Kish
Blythe Masters is not only incredibly smart, highly driven--she's a legend on Wall Street. And she's now taken a very keen interest in blockchain. I'm not here to tell you to like or hate the implications, but rather to suggest that if anyone harboured the idea that blockchain, Bitcoin, cryptocurrencies, etcetera were going to combine to overthrow the banks, think again. Provide alternatives? Sure. But undermining their position in the financial world? Ain't. Going. To. Happen.
What are much more likely to see, is radical innovation come to an industry that has used innovative 'products' to increase its pie, and its pieces of the pie.
Will blockchain accelerate that? Or defuse that? The clues are intriguing:Through her research, Masters understood how you could input all that information into a digital “smart contract” on a distributed ledger. Conceptually, it’s similar to the way you can embed video in an e-mail. But the difference is that when you send that smart contract along, it doesn’t just contain data, it transfers ownership of the security. The value belongs to whoever possesses it. So a trade could be settled in minutes instead of days or weeks, Hirani says.Anyone with access to the ledger can read the contract with a click of a mouse. That means regulators, who depend primarily on self-regulatory organizations to police the markets, could easily verify that a securities transaction didn’t violate anti-money-laundering rules or other laws. The blockchain, in essence, automates trust, Hirani says.The clincher for Masters was how the technology can affect risk. Every hour that a trade hangs suspended between sale and purchase, the chances mount that it won’t be fulfilled, she says. Institutions have to set aside capital to protect themselves from such failures. Since the 2008 crash, regulators in the U.S. and the European Union have directed banks to allocate ever-larger sums to cover their exposures. If the blockchain could shorten the settlement time for, say, syndicated loans, from 20 days to 10 minutes, this risk would be reduced and capital would be freed up.“I spent my whole career thinking about risk, markets, infrastructure, and regulation,” Masters says. “I had seen the financial crisis unfold, and I had seen the credit derivatives market get operationally ahead of itself, which resulted in systemic risk counterparty exposures. I began to believe that distributed ledgers had the capability to tackle that problem.”
_In March, Masters joined Digital Asset as CEO. She, Hirani, and Wilson set to work developing blockchain-based software for three inefficient markets they deemed ripe for an overhaul: syndicated loans, U.S. Treasury repos, and equity shares in private companies. At the same time, Masters recognized that the open structure of the bitcoin process—
no one controls who does the mining
—would be anathema to an industry in which client confidentiality is sacrosanct. So in July, the company acquired Hyperledger, a San Francisco software firm that’s developing the technological equivalent of gated communities. Its system is designed so that users will be able to process transactions themselves rather than depend on the open bitcoin blockchain._“With private chains, you can have a completely known universe of transaction processors,” Masters says. “That appeals to financial institutions that are wary of the bitcoin blockchain.”While this vision of a superefficient financial world is enticing, let’s not forget that Masters and her rivals will have to persuade institutions and regulators to uproot decades of legacy IT systems and practices. And the introduction of the blockchain will make the markets’ infrastructure even more complex than it already is, at least in the short term.Skeptics question whether one piece of code could in a single stroke make finance faster, more transparent, and more efficient. “People are talking about how the blockchain is going to be some kind of Messianic savior for the database industry,” says Bradley Howard, the head of digital media at Endava, a London-based IT services provider. “It may be fantastic in some cases, but it could also just be the latest fad.”Yet Masters, who in July joined the board of Santander’s U.S. unit as nonexecutive chairman, is betting that the mindset at the highest levels of finance is changing. The advent of peer-to-peer lending, mobile banking, and other innovations is forcing Wall Street’s chieftains to rethink their businesses. She says the blockchain may be the biggest fintech play of them all.“Blythe sees that a new industry is being created,” says Hirani, who’s known Masters for 17 years. “There’s no infrastructure. There’s no companies that have any kind of scale. She’s done the bank thing. She did commodities. She did derivatives. She did loan portfolio management. This allows her to bring all of that experience to bear in creating an ecosystem—and a company around it.”Twenty-three years ago, Masters opened up fresh territory with credit derivatives. Now, she’s determined to do it again, although this time it’s with a technology that was initially designed to bypass the financial system. Masters, with a very British dose of understatement, puts it this way: “I’ve always been motivated to innovate where the implications are significant.”