There’s a lot of hype in the air about blockchain technology at the moment. A recent World Economic Forum report predicts that by 2025 10% of GDP will be stored on blockchains or blockchain related technology. This means it’s probably something which everyone involved in business should take notice of. However, there’s still a lack of understanding about what it is, and what it does.
This makes it difficult for the layman to assess whether it’s something worthy of their time and attention. And for a new technology to become mainstream, let alone change the world (as blockchain enthusiasts claim it will) it must find a fan base beyond the technically-minded.
One way people describe blockchain technology is the “internet of value”. I like this term but it deserves closer inspection.
We have become used to sharing information through a decentralized online platform (the internet). But when it comes to transferring value – for example money – we are usually forced to fall back on old fashioned, centralized financial establishments such as banks. Even online payment methods which have sprung into existence since the birth of the internet – Paypal being the most obvious example – generally require integration with a bank account or credit card to be useful.
Blockchain technology offers the intriguing possibility of eliminating this “middle man”. It does this by filling three important roles – recording transactions, establishing identity and establishing contracts – traditionally carried out by the financial services sector.
Worldwide, the financial services market is the largest sector of industry by market capitalization. If blockchain technology can replace just a fraction of that by enabling peer-to-peer transactions in other sectors then it clearly has the potential to create huge efficiencies.
The technology was initially pushed into the headlines several years ago thanks to the virtual currency Bitcoin. The value of one unit of the currency (which is underpinned by blockchain technology) rose from pennies to over £$1,000 between 2011 and 2013, making a handful of early adopter enthusiasts very wealthy. Of course, this generated press interest. Since then, while Bitcoin’s value may have fallen and the currency established a more stable rate of growth, the buzz around the blockchain concept has intensified.