March 27, 2018 / 4:59 PM / 8 months ago

Wall Street rethinks blockchain projects as euphoria meets reality

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Wall Street has been much more excited about the system underpinning bitcoin than the cryptocurrency itself, but the global financial industry has not yet been able to do much with the technology known as blockchain.

The Wall Street bull is seen in the financial district in New York, U.S., March 7, 2017. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Reuters has found several blockchain projects launched by major financial institutions that have been shelved, as development of the technology enters a hype-meets-reality phase.

The casualties include projects by the Depository Trust & Clearing Corporation (DTCC), BNP Paribas SA (BNPP.PA) and SIX Group, Reuters has found.

These were among the wave of blockchain tests touted by the financial industry over the past few years, as firms bet the new technology would displace much of the sector’s infrastructure, cutting out middlemen, speeding transactions and reducing costs for things like securities and payments processing.

Yet as some projects were developed, companies pulled back for various reasons - from costs to industry readiness, underscoring that, for all its potential, blockchain is still in its early days.

DTCC, known as Wall Street’s bookkeeper, recently put the brakes on a blockchain system for the clearing and settlement of repurchase, or repo, agreement transactions, said Murray Pozmanter, head of clearing agency services at the DTCC.

The project, which had successfully tested with startup Digital Asset Holdings (DA), was shelved because banks and other potential users believed the same results could be achieved more cheaply using current technology, he said.

“Basically, it became a solution in search of a problem,” he said.

Post-trade services provider, SIX Securities Services, a unit of the group that operates Switzerland’s stock exchange, has also decided not take into production a prototype built by DA for the processing of securities, SIX spokesman Jürg Schneider, told Reuters.

“We wanted to go into another direction,” Schneider said.

The partnership with DA, run by former JPMorgan Chase & Co (JPM.N) executive Blythe Masters, was announced in 2016.

French bank BNP Paribas in 2016 said its securities services division had partnered with startups including SmartAngels to build a platform for private small businesses to manage their securities.

The bank stopped work on the project, and will instead team up with other financial institutions on another blockchain initiative called LiquidShare, said a source familiar with the matter. “Creating an enterprise-wide robust blockchain platform requires the full cooperation of the whole post trade ecosystem,” the source said.

PROOFS OF CONCEPT

The DTCC, BNP Paribas and SIX tests were among a barrage of blockchain “proofs of concept” announced with great fanfare by financial institutions.

“A large part of the problem has been expectation management, or rather lack thereof by many vendors and large consultancies that made claims that could not be fulfilled in the time spans they had said on stage at fintech events,” said Tim Swanson, founder of technology advisory Post Oak Labs.

Reuters reported last week JPMorgan was considering spinning off its marquee blockchain project Quorum. In July a partnership between settlement provider Euroclear and startup Paxos to develop a blockchain service was dissolved.

Still, other projects are moving forward.

Pozmanter said the DTCC is still examining another project with DA and that it is close to testing a blockchain-based trade information warehouse set to launch next year.

“We’re still bullish on the technology,” Pozmanter said.

The repo test with DA “met all its stated goals” and led to a new project that DTCC is examining, said DA spokeswoman Vera Newhouse.

SIX is working on a blockchain project with Nasdaq (NDAQ.O) and Australia’s stock exchange ASX Ltd (ASX.AX) said in December that DA will help replace its registry, settlement and clearing system, in one of the most ambitious projects to receive a green light.

Reporting by John McCrank and Anna Irrera; Editing by Nick Zieminski

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