The growing list of applications and use cases of blockchain technology in business & life.
- By Andrew Meola, First published on Sep. 28, 2017, 9:46 PM, Business Insider
As Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies have been on fire for a large portion of 2017, focus has turned to blockchain, the underlying technology that powers these digital currencies. But blockchain technology has many more potential use cases and applications other than just serving as the fuel behind Bitcoin.
Below, BI Intelligence, Business Insider’s premium research service, has outlined those applications across finance, business, government, and other industries.
Blockchain Use Cases in Banking & Finance
Blockchain technology is simple to understand at its roots. Basically, the tech exists as a shared database filled with entries that must be confirmed and encrypted. It’s helpful to envision it as a strongly encrypted and verified shared Google Document, in which each entry in the sheet depends on a logical relationship to all its predecessors. Blockchain provides a way to securely and efficiently create a tamper-proof log of sensitive activity.
This makes it excellent for international payments and money transfers. Julio Faura, Banco Santander’s head of R&D and innovation, told BI Intelligence that the bank is particularly interested in the potential of the technology in the payments space.
That’s because as a large commercial bank, Santander has numerous retail clients who would benefit from more efficient and cheaper payments, particularly in the area of international transfers. Blockchain technology can be used to decrease the cost of these transfers by reducing the need for banks to manually settle transactions. And while that’s something Santander isn’t able to deliver using existing payment rails, it could potentially do so using a blockchain-based system, according to Faura.
Banco Santander also sees potential for blockchain-based systems to improve capital markets, but Faura pointed out these solutions would be far more complex than those in the payments space. Therefore, they would take much longer to develop.
Credit Suisse, too, is focused on use cases for blockchain in capital markets and corporate banking.
And money is already starting to flow into this space. Startup Axioni, which builds blockchain-based solutions for capital markets, won investment from JPMorgan in December 2016.
Barclays conducted one of the first blockchain-based trade finance deals with live customers in September 2016, using a system developed in partnership with Israeli fintech Wave. The transaction was a letter of credit — a document that guarantees that the seller will be paid, and that the buyer will not have to make a payment until the goods are received.
Executing a letter of credit is usually a slow, paper-based process, but Barclays’ system was able to execute a deal in four hours that would usually take a week to complete. The letter guaranteed the export of $100,000 worth of agricultural products from Irish cooperative Ornua to the Seychelles Trading Company.
This could prove very significant, as the global trade finance sector is worth an estimated $10 trillion per year. Historic methods of trade financing are a major pain point for businesses. That’s because the slow processes involved interrupt business and make liquidity hard to manage. Barclays’ successful transaction shows how blockchain could streamline trade finance deals, and highlights a concrete use case for the technology in financial services.
Regulatory Compliance and Audit
The extremely secure nature of blockchain makes it rather useful for accounting and audit because it significantly decreases the possibility of errors and ensures the integrity of the records. On top of this, no one can alter the account records once they are locked in using blockchain tech, not even the record owners. The trade off here is that blockchain tech could ultimately eliminate the need for auditors and erase jobs.
Money Laundering Protection
Once again, the encryption that is so integral to blockchain makes it exceedingly helpful in combating money laundering. The underlying technology empowers record keeping, which supports “Know Your Customer (KYC),” the process through which a business identifies and verifies the identity of its clients.
Arguably the greatest blockchain application for insurance is through smart contracts. Such contracts powered by blockchain could allow customers and insurers to manage claims in a truly transparent and secure manner, according to Deloitte. All contracts and claims could be recorded on the blockchain and validated by the network, which would eliminate invalid claims. For example, the blockchain would reject multiple claims on the same accident.
P2P payment services such as Venmo are terrific, but they have limits. Some services restrict transactions based on geography. Others charge a fee for their use. And many are vulnerable to hackers, which is not appealing for customers who are putting their personal financial information out there. Blockchain technology, with all its aforementioned benefits, could fix these problems.
Blockchain Applications in Business
Supply Chain Management
Blockchain’s immutable ledger makes it well suited to tasks such as tracking goods as they move and change hands in the supply chain. Using a blockchain opens up several options for companies transporting these goods. Entries on a blockchain can be used to queue up events with a supply chain (allocating goods newly arrived at a port to different shipping containers, for example). Blockchain provides a new and dynamic means of organizing tracking data and putting it to use. Companies like Skuchain and Factom offer solutions that utilize blockchain in supply chain management solutions.
Health data that’s suitable for blockchain would include general information like age, gender, and potentially basic medical history data like immunization history or vital signs. None of this should be able to identify any particular patient, which is what allows it to be stored on a shared blockchain that can be accessed by numerous individuals without undue privacy concerns.
As specialized connected medical devices become more common and increasingly linked to a person’s health record, blockchain can connect those devices with that record. Devices will be able to store the data that they generate on a health care blockchain that can append that data to a person’s medical record. A key issue facing connected medical devices is the siloing of the data they generate — blockchain can be the link that bridges those silos.
The average homeowner sells his or her home every five to seven years, and the average person will move nearly 12 times during his or her lifetime. With such movement, blockchain could certainly be of use in the real estate market. It would expedite home sales by quickly verifying finances, would reduce fraud thanks to its encryption, and would offer transparency throughout the entire selling and purchasing process.
Media companies have already started to adopt blockchain technology. In July, blockchain content distribution platform Decent announced the launch of Publiq, which allows writers and other content creators to spread their works via blockchain and receive immediate payment. And Comcast’s advanced advertising group developed a new technology that allows companies to make ad buys on both broadcast and over-the-top TV through blockchain technology.
Blockchain technology could be used to execute energy supply transactions, but it could further provide the basis for metering, billing, and clearing processes, according to PWC. Other potential applications include documenting ownership, asset management, origin guarantees, emission allowances, and renewable energy certificates.
Blockchain Applications in Government
National, state, and local governments are responsible for maintaining individuals’ records such as birth and death dates, marital status, or property transfers. Yet managing this data can be difficult, and to this day some of these records only exist in paper form. And sometimes, citizens have to physically go to their local government offices to make changes, which is time-consuming, unnecessary, and frustrating. Blockchain technology can simplify this record keeping and make them far more secure.
Proponents of using blockchain tech for identity management claim that with enough information on the blockchain, people would only need to provide the bare minimum (date of birth, for example) to prove their identities.
Pete Martin, the CEO of mobile voting platform Votem, said the following to Government Technologyabout blockchain’s application in voting:
“Blockchain technology provides all of the characteristics you would want in a platform that is arguably the most important part of a democratic society; it’s fault-tolerant, you cannot change the past, you cannot hack the present, you cannot alter the access to the system, every node with access can see the exact same results, and every vote can be irrefutably traced to its source without sacrificing a voter’s vote anonymity. End to end verifiable voting systems will give the voter the ability to verify if their vote is correctly recorded and correctly counted, for instance, if a ballot is missing, in transit or modified, it can even be detected by the voter and caught before the election is over.”
Blockchain tech could make the cumbersome process of filing taxes, which is prone to human error, much more efficient with enough information stored on the blockchain.
Recent polls indicated that public trust in charities is at a record low. But the blockchain could solve that problem through transparency by showing donors that NPOs are in fact using their money as intended. Furthermore, blockchain tech could help those NPOs distribute those funds more efficiently, manage their resources better, and enhance their tracking capabilities.
Earlier this year, Irish Funds, Deloitte, Northern Trust and State Street partnered on a project to determine how blockchain could enhance regulatory reporting through what they called “RegChain.” The proof of concept captured transactions, managed reporting with smart contracts capability, and enhanced compliance. According to the trial, the result was increased transparency and secure data storage.
Blockchain Applications in Other Industries
If the blockchain is truly as secure as it has shown itself to be in the last several years, then such impenetrable security would be tantalizing for customers.
Nasdaq conducted a trial in 2016 in which it partnered with blockchain startup Chain to develop a system in which digital assets indicated voting rights. Nasdaq, which considered the trial a success, described the system as follows:
“The system uses the blockchain in the traditional way to record the ownership of securities as reported by the CSD. Based on those holdings, the system also issues voting right assets and voting token assets for each shareholder. A user may spend voting tokens to cast their votes on each meeting agenda item if they also own the voting right asset.”
As stated earlier, the encryption that is central to blockchain makes it quite useful for record management because it prevents duplicates, fraudulent entries, and the like.
The biggest advantage for blockchain in cybersecurity is that removes the risk of a single point of failure. Blockchain tech also provides end-to-end encryption and privacy.
The immutable nature of blockchain, and the fact that every computer on the network is continually verifying the information stored on it, makes blockchain an excellent tool for storing big data.
The same principles for big data apply to data storage, as well.
Internet of Things (IoT)
Blockchain is poised to transform practices in a number of IoT sectors, including:
- The supply chain:Tracking the location of goods as they are shipped, and ensuring that they stay within specified conditions.
- Asset tracking:Monitoring assets and machinery to record activity and output as an alternative to cloud solutions.
- Health care:Enabling logging and sharing of medical data between numerous stakeholders with versatile permissioning, directly holding some data while offering encrypted links to other information.