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Blockchain in Financial Markets: How to Gain an Edge

With all the noise surrounding distributed ledger technology (DLT), you’d expect participants in financial markets to be racing full-bore to get ready for it. But many are not. Part of the reason is concern about the scope and cost of the challenge. Presented almost daily with new claims about blockchain’s disruptive and revolutionary potential, many executives have begun to wonder how much benefit they’ll actually see from DLT in the near, or even medium, term. Business leaders now confront a seemingly impossible and contradictory situation. They’re dealing with a technology that has been simultaneously overhyped and underestimated. While DLT is making inroads into some areas of banking, such as cross-border remittances, the path to implementation across broad and diverse financial markets is less clear. Financial market participants know DLT is coming. About 80% of executives at financial institutions surveyed by Bain & Company believe DLT will be transformative and will significantly impact markets, and a similar percentage expect their organizations to begin using it before 2020 (see Figure 1). Nonetheless, it is hard to predict exactly when and where DLT applications will reach scale and what kind of impact they will have across markets. It’s unclear how the regulatory environment will evolve in different jurisdictions. Getting ready for DLT requires substantial investment at a time when many firms are facing financial constraints, and it can involve working through tricky and expensive issues with legacy IT systems and processes. Financial executives interviewed by Bain say they are under pressure to show near-term results, and they must gain the attention, understanding and commitment of top management. Some firms have embraced the technology, while others have opted to do nothing, or very little, given all the uncertainties about DLT. “Everyone is struggling with business cases and exactly where to apply their efforts,” said one executive Bain interviewed. Among the market participants Bain surveyed, 38% said they’ve adopted a wait-and-see approach to the technology.