The Wall Street Journal reports that Wall Street is exploring innovative applications of digital currencies to mainstream banking and financial issues. The recent wave of Wall Street interest in Bitcoin technology is inspired by a growing appreciation of the inevitability of radical changes in the financial industry, which is long overdue for the kind of Internet-driven cost savings that have affected other industries.
The emphasis is on efficiency and cost-effectiveness: Bitcoin technology could slash costs, cut settlement times and reduce default risks. The Journal mentions several recent digital fintech news items, including investment opportunities, announcements, acquisitions and appointments of high-profile financial professionals, reported by Bitcoin Magazine in the last few weeks.
“It’s an opportunity for Wall Street to streamline some operations that are pretty antiquated,” says Duncan Niederauer, the former chief executive of NYSE Euronext. Niederauer is now an adviser to TeraExchange, the first Commodities Futures Trading Commission-regulated Bitcoin derivatives platform.
“Not only [is Bitcoin not] a threat, it’s potentially an opportunity,” Niederauer said. “If the train’s leaving the station, you’d rather be on it and be the conductor than a bystander on the platform.”
Other high-profile banking executives worldwide express similar views: The financial industry should jump on the digital fintech bandwagon and appropriate Bitcoin technology for increased efficiency at reduced cost.
Speaking at the Morgan Stanley European Financials Conference in London, Barclays’ CEO Antony Jenkins warned the “banking sector has not yet felt the ‘full disruptive force’ of technology – but it will.” He elaborated on the growing concern among financial institutions that faster, cheaper payment systems will start to seduce their consumer and business customers in the coming years.
“In a world where growth is harder to come by,” Jenkins said, citing the ongoing cost- and jobs-cutting measures in the banking sector, “I’m more convinced than ever that costs will remain the strategic battleground for our sector over the coming years.”
Jenkins’ remarks don’t mention Bitcoin explicitly, but it’s clear that the faster and cheaper transactions permanently recorded in a public tamper-proof ledger, permitted by Bitcoin, represent a growing threat to traditional, cost-inflated banking operations.
“Apple pay doesn’t change the way payments happen,” notes Mariano Belinky, who runs Banco Santander’s $100 million venture fund Innoventures. “But it’s the blockchain-like technologies and the decentralized ledger – that will be source of real innovation.”
Belinky, who before joining Santander was a strategy adviser at McKinsey & Co., is persuaded that mainstream adoption by the financial industry is the future of digital currencies.
“Bitcoin has the wrong set of advocates and affiliates. Evangelists highlighting the anonymous, untraceable nature of the technology have tarnished its reputation. A bank won’t get involved with bitcoin if there’s a perception it has links to money laundering or terrorism,” he says. “I’m excited about Stellar, Ethereum, Ripple – the same technology but coming from a completely different angle – making payments more efficient for the financial industry.”
A recent article from Credit Suisse also underlines the potential of digital currencies to cut costs and streamline financial operations.
“When combined with the traditional financial system, bitcoins could have cost advantages over credit cards or providers such as Western Union when used as a transaction system,” notes the report.