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Blockchain: What the Heck Does It Mean for You and Me?

Updated on June 26, 2017

Disruption ahead and early Blockchain success gives you a sneak preview

Feeling unsure about the economy and unsure where to invest? Digital currency might be for you. Bitcoin, like gold, is considered a safe-haven investment [1] during market crises, and blockchain, the underlying technology and “the rails” on which digital currencies such as bitcoin run, has the potential to disrupt the finance, banking, and payments industries.

The Emergence of Blockchain

Blockchain, which functions as a digital ledger of bitcoin transactions, emerged during the 2008 financial crisis. The technology was created after the publication of “Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System,” which was written by an unknown author under the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto. Although Nakamoto disappeared, bitcoin lived on, and the code was further developed by an excited and stimulated community of digital coders and busy bitcoinites.

By 2014, more websites were accepting blockchain currencies, and investors enthusiastically funded digital currency startups. Currently hovering around $2700 [2] at the time of writing, the price of bitcoin hit its record high of $1,108 [3] in November of 2013. But, Mt Gox, the main bitcoin exchange at the time, was shut down by the Department of Homeland Security and forced to declare bankruptcy after 744,000 bitcoins were stolen. [4]

Blockchain Naysayers

Security and hacks have long been a bane for digital currency transactions [5], and naysayers claim that bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies will not be a major competitor to the US dollar [6]. Cynics also argue that western societies are already well-served by existing financial systems, although the sudden boost in the value of bitcoin following the Brexit vote and the recent US election [7] suggest otherwise.

Blockchain Advocates

The activity by governments and leading technology players indicate that blockchain will play a significant role in the future. IBM is the most recent company to jump on the blockchain bandwagon announcing “IBM blockchain [8]” in July and quickly followed up by a blockchain ecosystem [9].

IBM’s ecosystem includes funding and partnering with fintech startups and staking a claim as the top blockchain app developer for companies interested in dangling a toe in the cryptocurrency current. Eager to follow suit, collaborators with IBM include J.P. Morgan, Hitachi, Cisco, VMware, and Fujitsu, and [10] Intel is another big player developing business blockchain solutions [11].

Blockchain for the Layman

So, what does blockchain’s role look like for 2017 and beyond [12]? Investment in blockchain startups is expected to boom as banks look to innovators to provide solutions for their adaptation to blockchain technology for international payments and securities trading. According to Fortune, banks involved in the blockchain fintech R3 CEV are ready to invest almost $60 million dollars in first round funding [13].

Regulation

Regulators are struggling to keep up and to ensure proper governance of cryptocurrencies and control related cybercrime. Recent news from the office of the US Treasury [14] in charge of currency policy shows that special-purpose bank charters may be granted to companies working in the fintech and digital currency space.

The charter would provide a federal license to fintechs to run banking functions, eliminating the high cost and lack of options associated with licensing that has been a major obstacle for digital currencies.

Blockchain in Society

But there will also be applications outside of the banking and finance industries. For example, blockchain can be applied to the medical industry with cloud services hosting patient records; blockchain can authenticate voting and facilitate cloud-based learning in the education sector.

Worldwide, digital currency has the potential to provide an open financing and banking system that can serve the 2 billion unbanked [15]. A project in Zimbabwe by Bitamri, a bitcoin startup, is empowering women farmers [16] and experimenting with bitcoin wallets for aid distribution. “None of the current methods of financial transactions that many of the unbanked farmers use have the power of bitcoin,” said the CEO of Bitamri.

Bottom Line; disruption ahead and early Blockchain success gives you a sneak preview

Investors may have little intention of allowing digital currency to dent their portfolios in the short term, but there seems little doubt that bitcoin and underlying blockchains will have a global impact in the long term.

From the Wall Street financier to the unbanked farmer in rural India, digital currencies are poised for action. And if the actions of regulators and business leaders such as IBM and Intel are anything to go by, blockchain technology may well disrupt the future of the finance, banking, and payments industries.

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