Financial transactions have been static in form for many years. A buyer wants an item from a vendor, the buyer pays the vendor and everybody goes their separate ways.
Since the great push for digitisation, things have taken a different turn. While the system has remained largely unchanged an additional factor has become necessary within transactions.
A buyer trusts that the vendor will only take as much as they’re owed. A financial institution trusts that the buyer has the funds necessary to complete the transaction and the seller trusts that both the bank and the buyer will honour the payment.
Simplification through disruption
When you stop to think about it, its a rather convoluted system that relies heavily on trusting others and if human history has taught us anything it’s that humans cannot always be trusted.
Speaking at the Blockchain Africa conference in Johannesburg this morning was security and distributed systems expert Andreas M. Antonopoulos. “Blockchain gives you the ability to verify every transaction yourself so that you don’t have to trust anything but your own verification,” says Antonopoulos.
“Blockchain is open, borderless, transnational, neutral, transactional, and resistant to censorship,” explains the expert.
What blockchain does is create a level playing field for transactions. The network relies on valid inputs. It cares not if you are rich, poor, famous or infamous. All that matters is that when you transact you put in the right information for the transaction to be processed.
What’s more is that because you aren’t paying Peter to watch over you while Paul and yourself transact, blockchain transactions should theoretically be more cost effective as there aren’t any fees to pay.
Trouble comes a knocking
The problem with blockchain however is that it’s still a very new technology. Antonopoulos likens where blockchain technology is to where the internet was in its infancy.
“Hype around blockchain is around the same levels that hype around the internet was in 1998, and we all know what happened after 1998,” says the expert.
As we all know now, in 1998 the internet bubble burst and millions of firms that thought they knew how to do an internet were sent into the red.
Truth be told the internet was still young and many folks didn’t have a grip on how things would work, how it would be regulated and indeed how many folks would plug their PCs into a phone line.
Blockchain exists in much the same space at the moment. The technology is unregulated and has not yet been fully explored by technologists.
So dark is the future of blockchain that not even Antonopoulos can predict where we go to next. “When you have new, disruptive technology it’s difficult to see the margins. Identifying a viable market at this stage is like stumbling in the dark looking for something,” he says.
To say whether or not blockchain will influence the future of banking is hard to say at this moment but that’s not to say that they aren’t trying.
Antonopoulos on the other hand is adamant that the banking sector should keep its nose out of blockchain and cryptocurrency. “Using blockchain to improve operating procedures so they can continue with business as usual is just boring, really really boring. What’s exciting is the possibility of changing the way we allocate trust on this planet to open up how we transact with everyone,” says the expert.
“It’s not about banking the unbanked, its about debanking all of us.”