Section 4: Investment and use-case by industry
Here are the highlights of the latest applications of DLTs by sector. Insight: some elements relevant for this sector review can be found in the paragraph that reviews tokenized assets.
A large Japanese bank, Mizuho Bank, has partnered with over 60 other financial institutions to launch and use a “J-Coin” pegged to the Yen to serve as a means of payment for a base of 60 million customers. They claim significant ease of use, even compared with credit cards, and are expecting competition from other players trying to enter the sector, such as e-commerce platforms (Rakuten in the case of Japan). J-Coin launched on March 1st, but has nothing to do with DLT; it is a centraldatabase managed coin.
Chinese mobile payment operators, the first of which was Alipay’s Ant Finance, are reported to be investing heavily in the technology.
Visa is hiring a technical team for a cryptocurrency project. We are betting we will hear more about it at some point in time. One cannot help but notice these giants that were critical of DLTs, and now cannot get involved fast enough. As of early 2019, still rooted in the bear market, this is a clear indication that, if nothing else, DLTs are seen as being able to add value.
HK based Crypto.com, ex Mona.co, saw a massive increase in the price of its token when it listed, and demonstrated that it could be readily used to pay for almost anything.
One of the big headlines this quarter was JP Morgan Chase releasing a JPM dollar token, managed on Quorum, JP Morgan’s version of privacy enablement on Ethereum.
The bank made much noise around the launch and has a good chance of actually succeeding in imposing its use, as it clears 80% of the S&P500, in addition to being the first mover.
Be aware that this turnover (and Mizuho Banks’s yen, even more so) scripturally emitted by banks ultimately might not be all equal, depending on the trust in the various institutions as soon as (unavoidably) they may not all keep the same proportion of fiat (or gold, or any kind of valuable assets) in their vaults. That is precisely what banks do, and it appears that the 19th-century attempts are poised to be repeated.
Lots of criticism from the crypto-sphere has been leveled against JP Morgan, claiming that they are missing the point of blockchain altogether. Some criticism has come from Ripple, claiming that JP Morgan is effectively trying to compete with it.
The Italian Banking Association is testing a Cordabased tool to power settlement for the consortia members.
Streamlining internal processes
One estimate has quoted potential savings, for the financial sector, of up to 50 billion euros, thanks to improved operational efficiencies, reduced human error, and streamlined compliance.
Custody and management of crypto-assets
Interestingly, in addition to using the technology to streamline internal processes, traditional banks are speeding up moves to provide cryptocurrenciesrelated services. The case of Julius Baer in Switzerland is emblematic, while Liechtenstein’s banks (Bank Frick, especially) have already been serving the segment for some time.
Banking crypto-related businesses
For crypto-related businesses, it is not easy to find a safe harbor on the planet where banks are willing to open a bank account for you – let alone to manage the custody of your crypto-assets, typically those proceeding from your ICO. Switzerland’s banks are reportedly reluctant, even though it is theoretically possible, and Malta is experiencing the same problem. The most hardened stance has been taken by JP Morgan, who are explicitly refusing to service crypto-related businesses.
“It is, most of the time, not illegal for big banks to serve the crypto industry, but it’s a massive compliance headache for them that they don’t want to put the resources in to solve”, as says an analyst.
Somehow, there is no sign that the divide between the crypto financial world and the legacy one will be bridged. It is quite the opposite: the boundary is always bound to be quite clear.
Société Générale has proposed an actively-managed fund investing in companies exposed to DLTs. A clear example of old finance trying to get involved in new finance!
Northern Trust is implementing smart-contracted logic to automate yield management on the already-tokenized assets it deals with.
Bank of America has voiced its skepticism: despite a considerable number of patents obtained in the field of DLT, their message is that they do not see a use case where DLT can enhance existing processes, compared with what is already in place.
Generali has declared that they are pursuing many projects; they believe that they need to try many things and try them with end users. The view is that most will fail, but the few that succeed will be scaled as fast as possible.
The Swiss-based Blockchain Insurance Industry Initiative (B3i) is expanding its investor base, and it has raised money to pursue its objectives. The “first product” of the consortium is intended to mitigate risk associated with reinsurance.
We are curious and bemused that no insur’tech has yet emerged proposing smart-contracted insurance products for the public… Maybe it is awaiting scalable platforms? .
Many large companies (Accenture, Mastercard, Everledger and Amazon Web Services) are cooperating to serve the supply chain segment. The specific goal is to create a circular economy where consumers would be able to reward producers according to their choices of production mode directly.
Alibaba is making progress with a project that uses DLT to manage complex cross-border supply chains. Reportedly, one of the features is to be able to streamline the interactions with official administrations.
Carrefour is betting further on blockchain. It has stated that it intends to track 20% of all its in-house products using DLT by the end of 2019! However, interestingly, it is in China that the adoption of supply-chain traceability looks set to capture the interest of customers the most. An example is pomelos sold in China, where 50% of customers scan the product and make the selection based on where it comes from. In France and Belgium, only one out of 20 customers will examine their pomelos. Asian people are more likely to test new technology – but this should come as no surprise: consumers are concerned about the origin of their food. Another exmple of blockchain technology conveying trust.
INFORMATION AND TELECOMMUNICATIONS
Amazon is creating its own family of DLT solutions, removing the “distributed” part. Their “Quantum Leger Database” technology proposes the same functionality that Ethereum has, and they are packaging it cautiously, not calling it a blockchain (the reason for using the word Quantum is also unclear). Of course, it probably scales better in a private environment.
Baidu is closing the gap on its competitor. The Baidu Blockchain Engine (BBE) platform has been presented as a kind of operating system allowing developers to produce blockchain applications “just like mobile apps”, and get around the storage and computing “bottlenecks” that are holding up blockchain’s potential. The publication says that the system uses a modular blockchain framework to provide developers with a multi-chain system that includes smart contract templates, DApp templates and other services aimed at making development fast and straightforward.
Orange is implementing a system to “fight fake news”, by verifying on a blockchain that the press communication comes from the specified company — in effect, tracking the authenticity of press releases thanks to their notarization.
IBM: for a while, it has been fair to say that everything that IBM does uses Hyperledger, and almost every project that uses Hyperledger does so due to the influence of IBM. The most prominent projects they are involved in include:
TradeLens with Maersk, a follow-up for the container shipment business
TrustChain (ex Everledger), traceability of diamonds and other precious resources.
An advertising project with MediaOcean.
A Dubai blockchain platform, governmentendorsed.
Food Trust, for traceability along the food sector supply chain, involving Carrefour, Walmart, and many others.
IBM has recently ventured outside of Hyperledger by issuing a blockchain-based global payment network using the Stellar cryptocurrency. This is recognition of Stellar, and an interesting move, recognizing that they cannot bet only on Hyperledger.
Pundi X has released a phone that has a “blockchain mode”; when turned on (requires a data connection), all functions like call routing are performed in a decentralized manner, thanks to the usage of DApps.
A journalism platform is emerging, named Civil. Using tokens, participants will be able to challenge news items by betting tokens on what they consider to be fake or inappropriate information. The community will then vote, and winners will be rewarded.
MEDIA, INCLUDING SOCIAL NETWORKS
Rumors about a Facebook payment system have been incessant; it will be DLT-based and integrated into WhatsApp. Facebook is already well advanced with the roll-out and is negotiating a listing on the leading exchanges. India will be an ideal playground for this, as a large segment of the subcontinent’s population remains unbanked. Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg has made a few announcements and is looking for additional funding to roll it out.
Privacy-oriented discussion applications continue to work on their solutions, Telegram being #1.
The New York Times has recruited a head of DLT publications. An exciting move for such a leading media organization.
IBM hosted a colloquium in Shanghai to bring members of the Mobility Open Blockchain Initiative (MOBI ^^) together to discuss setting standards for the ecosystem. As with the energy sector, actors realize that if they act independently, chaos is likely to ensue, and there is a real need to define a commonly-endorsed protocol using DLT.
Porsche has been exploring blockchain for over a year and has been developing blockchain applications to park cars, lock and unlock vehicles, and simplify the process of loaning company cars to employees.
BMV and GM are developing a way for vehicle manufacturers to share self-driving car data using blockchain. They claim that “data marketplaces call technically for blockchain because you can create an environment when rules are clear in terms of who shares what data.” In other words, instead of having each actor jealously guard its data, storing it in distributed ledgers would allow it to be more widely accessible while rewarding the owners accordingly. A smart implementation of Zero-Knowledge Proof principles would, for research, also enable the exploitation of data even without knowing the data.
Renault has sponsored a hackathon based on IOTA.
The Maersk alliance is attracting even more members, the most recent being Livingston, a large “customs brokerage service provider”, i.e., a business helping customers to go through customs.
China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation has announced it is planning to use blockchain to finance its upstream suppliers. It is partnering with a bank to do so, thereby building a dedicated ecosystem.
It is noteworthy that healthcare, especially the pharmaceutical industry, is extensively researching DLTs. This is a specific ecosystem coordinating various types of actors and a range of operational functions:
Traceability in the supply chain context, to ensure the authenticity of drugs and to fight counterfeiting, which is a considerable concern, costing the industry billions yearly. This is a classic and unique supply chain use case.
Management of patient data: this is an important issue, as accessing patient data for scientific and industrial research is crucial and has significant value. Large companies that conduct research and development have a considerable interest in this area, as can be seen by the use of DLT in healthcare. More specifically, ownership and usage of patient data is a sensitive issue in modern societies, with governments preventing companies from systematically gathering and exploiting this data. Most of the time, however, official bodies are involved, dealing with patient medical data (e.g., in France). Gaining direct access to the healthcare records of individuals is seen as a key to gathering the information necessary to mine and hopefully find patterns and correlations that, in turn, can open the path to new drug research and design.
A new app on the new blockchain-enabled HTC phone, Exodus 1, can record some of your data, most of it linked to your behavior and health, and sell this data for cryptocurrency to healthcare companies.
ADMINISTRATION AND POLITICS
A sustained trend is that some specialized cabinets open and propose their services. This is, of course, because the demand is there, with most of their clients proposing cryptocurrencies as a means of payment, which will increase its usage and adoption!
Of course, there is a wide range of legal expertise available to the various actors, from operational licensing to framing ICOs, to opening a bank account. However, the most common request appears to be from retailers worried about accepting cryptocurrencies as payment. You can probably see the connection: yes, another sign of broader adoption.
Consensys has chosen South Burlington in the USA to conduct the test of a polling system. “Residents will be able to use the app to opine on issues like growth, affordable housing, traffic, a proposed bicycle and pedestrian bridge, and airplane noise”. The city mayor may have a specific question to ask, for example: Would the population be in favor of or against raising taxes by 1% in return for having a given pathway paved? This approach opens possibilities for more “direct” democracy, which people in Europe, like the French "Gilets Jaunes" (yellow vest movement), are demanding.
GAMING AND ENTERTAINMENT
Many potentials are seen in decentralizing gambling. With “the house” having immense power, as it does today, it could easily cheat because it manages the outcome of every bet. In particular, smart contracting on a public ledger could move the probability of winning closer to zero (as opposed to being negative, as it is today, due to the “house margin”, which makes gambling intrinsically a losing activity).
Blockchain support of gaming has specific requirements in terms of low latency and a high throughput rate, which in turn could help put pressure on the infrastructure’s developers to provide a suitable solution. Some attempts have already received exposure, such as TomoChain.
Some ICOs have come to light these days as supporting gaming projects; NEO-based Nash (mentioned earlier for its DEX capabilities) is another ‘metaverse’ attempt, for instance. It is interesting to notice that these projects could have been launched based on centralized server technology, however, the concept of decentralized governance makes it viable for game enthusiast to invest their time to build virtual universes in the mode of the “Snow Crash” novel!
Ripple has invested close to 100 million euros, supporting game developers.
CONCLUSION ON INDUSTRIAL APPLICATIONS THROUGHOUT SECTORS
Many of the projects highlighted, across various industries, represent quite an impressive endorsement of the technology by many major and credible actors. This is a clear reply to those who continue saying that DLTs have not yet delivered a working solution for anything.
A striking aspect is the vast diversity of applications and the wide span of activities touched by the DLT revolution. Whether it directly serves the management of cryptocurrencies or the mere usage of the virtual machine tool to support an alternative implementation of otherwise continuous processes, virtually no area will remain untouched.
Some developers have an insistent view that the adoption of DLTs is primarily about making DLTs invisible; “We need to hide blockchain.” Talking about it creates more confusion in the minds of people, while what matters is service delivery. After all, how it works behind in the backend is not the user’s concern.