Much has been written about blockchain, DLT (Distributed Ledger Technology), Virtual Currencies and all the potential they bring to the banking world. There is little doubt that the technology is revolutionary and shows a lot of promise. Then why hasn’t it taken off? Why are people still experimenting and doing PoCs (Proof of Concepts)? When is the first large-scale deployment of these technologies in banking going to show up?
This is not a situation that is happening for the first time. Take the internet. It existed for quite a while until the WWW was invented in the 1990s and the browser brought a killer app which made everyone use the internet. At last, that was an application that everyone wanted. The internet took off and it was the internet which spawned a lot of other applications besides the browser. It is not that the internet was lacking applications. There was FTP, email, gopher, chat etc. but none of them really attracted the widespread attention of the world. The Internet was mainly limited to academics and researchers in the past, but after the browser and the World Wide Web came on the scene everyone got to know the internet and discovered more uses for it.
It is the same for other technologies as well. VisiCalc (Spreadsheet) on the Apple II was a great application which has uses for business and gave rise to the Personal Computer as a personal tool for business users. Prior to those computers were huge machines which were shared and home PCS were curiosities for hobbyists and game players. The availability of VisiCalc opened the doors to personal productivity software such as databases and word processors on PCs and the both PC software and hardware grew by leaps and bounds.
The Mac and PageMaker (Desktop Publishing) with a Laser printer forever changed the publishing industry as well as the PC world. The PC world moved from a character mode to a GUI mode and the use of the mouse, laser, and inkjet printer together with the PC operating systems such as Windows forever changed computing to what it is today.
One can go on quoting instances of how one killer application of a technology forever changed the landscape e.g. the iPod changing the music industry. For a long time, Blackberry defined a smartphone but the iPhone forever changed it and has defined the smartphone of today, killing the iPod, the digital camera, the GPS and several other technologies of the past.
We have seen many applications of the blockchain. Payments, settlements, trade finance are touted as good for the technology. But then I saw a recent paper saying that domestic payments don’t make a compelling case for blockchain. Maybe cross-border payments do. Settlements look promising. But a large country decided to go ahead and not use blockchain for settlements citing various issues which the technology is not mature enough to address yet. There is a debate about the use of open vs. closed blockchain networks. In fact, today the best running application on blockchain still continues to be Bitcoin, but there are no takers for bitcoins in banking!
What we need today to make Blockchain successful is a killer app. Just one single application of blockchain which is so compelling that every banker or customer wants to lay their hands on it and start using it right away. Right now we still don’t see anything like that on the horizon, but with all the activity going on all over the world, there is hope that the killer app is just around the corner. Where art thou, O Blockchain Killer App?