KEY POINTS

  • Nearly every global bank is experimenting with blockchain — technology that can be used to create shared digital databases of entries that are immutable. That's because it promises a partial solution to two of the banking industry's most pressing concerns — high costs and inefficiencies. Blockchain-based solutions also help banks increase competitiveness and generate new revenue streams. 
  • These banks are exploring the technology in a number of ways. Banks are participating in global consortia, investing in blockchain fintechs, partnering with fintechs, and building blockchain-based solutions in-house. 
  • We interviewed executives from three global banks — Banco Santander, UBS, and Credit Suisse — to gather details on their blockchain projects. They provided insight into the biggest challenges they face in implementing blockchain-based systems — which largely reflect industrywide sentiment — and the steps they plan to take in the near term.
  • Banks will start to narrow their focus in the next few years, and tangible use cases will emerge. Firms are already honing in on blockchain projects more likely to meet their needs, and nixing those that are less relevant. This will likely lead to more tangible use cases for the technology, as proofs of concept (POCs) increasingly transition to pilots. In turn, this will probably result in a whittling down of consortia, as well as a change of direction for players — from technology providers to facilitators of industry discussion. 
  • Regulators will also start to take a serious interest in blockchain technology. Blockchain regulation has so far focused on cryptocurrencies, but this should start to shift as regulators take a greater interest in the underlying technology. Many large banks are already working alongside regulators as they build out their blockchain pilots, which likely means that regulation, when it arrives, will be proportionate and acceptable to most. 
  • Specific solutions will start to crop up. As banks narrow their focus and target tangible use cases, and regulators gain a greater understanding of blockchain technology, we will start to see a concentration of solutions in specific areas of financial services. The most successful solutions will solve specific problems for banks and attract a large enough network to create widespread benefits. 

Introduction

Blockchain technology, also known as distributed ledger technology (DLT), can be used to create shared digital databases of entries that are immutable. The technology was initially conceived as a way to centralize record-keeping — of financial transactions, in particular — without the need for authorization by an overarching party. Instead, records are confirmed by multiple users with access [...]