For most people the term ‘blockchain’ is synonymous to ‘cryptocurrency,’ largely due to media coverage of the wild value fluctuations of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and block.one’s recent Initial Coin Offering (ICO) of its token, EOS. But they are very distinct, and blockchain technology could be the far more important of the two.
Once you understand the difference, the real story is how various industries will adopt the fantastic potential of blockchain technology to bring flexibility and value to their customers.
What is blockchain?
Blockchain is a technology which had its first global introduction with Bitcoin. In simple terms, blockchain is a network of computers that carry the same record – or ledger – of transactions. There is no central database containing all of this information. This ‘distributed ledger’ is constantly growing and updating and uses cryptography to link the blocks of records together to keep the information in them secure.
Conceptually, all of these computer ledgers combine to make one huge ledger or accounting system which can be used to validate, time-stamp and track all sorts of transactions – from the exchange of virtual currency to enabling “smart contracts” where a payment automatically transfers when certain conditions are met and verified.
What are blockchain’s potential applications?
Today we use an intermediary or marketplace to perform a trade or to purchase something. We go to our bank (whether in person or online) to pay our electric bill, or we log into a digital marketplace like Amazon to purchase clothes or toys.
With blockchain technology, we can now trade one-to-one, or “peer-to-peer,” without a bank or a company in between. To put it another way, this technology can be used to trade any asset, not just cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, and enables transparent and tamperproof transactions.
Because of this opportunity, many businesses are now partnering with technology specialists to explore applying blockchain technology to modernize their industries.
In retail, the smart contract technology of blockchain has been developed to manage gift cards, mobile wallet payment systems, and rewards programs.
The global shipping industry is heavily reliant on processing paper documents and uses several intermediaries to transport goods around the world. Companies like IBM and Maersk are looking to blockchain technology for better supply chain management platforms which track the status, condition, location and final delivery of goods – across borders and in real time.
Insurance companies are exploring this technology to record proof-of-insurance information and enable smart contracts. Imagine a travel insurance policy that auto-pays when your flight is cancelled?
Technology providers are testing blockchain to support the healthcare industry too. The secure electronic storage of up-to-date individual health information, and the ability to provide this information to any healthcare provider globally, with verified patient consent, would significantly reduce record-keeping inefficiencies and administrative costs.
These examples are just a brief introduction to the exciting blockchain innovations that various industries are exploring. Over the next few years we will no doubt witness some remarkable transformations in our global business activities.
How Oyster Can Help
Oyster can help firms view the opportunities and risks associated with cryptocurrencies from a strategic, operational, and compliance standpoint for the emerging cryptocurrency industry and for exchanges, broker-dealers, FCMs and RIAs.