Accenture’s David Treat on why blockchain is like a team sport

30 May 2019

David Treat. Image: Accenture

As part of Fintech Week, Accenture’s David Treat spoke to us about blockchain, business ecosystems and building the best team possible.

David Treat is a managing director and co-lead of Accenture’s blockchain business, and Accenture’s lead of the New York FinTech Innovation Lab.

He has more than two decades of experience in financial services, with roles in capital markets, retail banking and cards. He also holds more than 26 blockchain patents and pending patents.

Treat serves on the board of directors for the Linux Hyperledger Project, the Enterprise Ethereum Alliance, the Global Blockchain Business Council and the ID2020 Alliance. He is also a member of the World Economic Forum (WEF) C4IR Blockchain Business Council, and is the project adviser for the WEF’s Digital Identity initiative and the Known Traveller Digital Identity project.

A frequent speaker and the author/contributor of multiple papers, he has been quoted on blockchain-related topics in The New York Times, Fortune, the Financial Times and The Wall Street Journal.

Describe your role and what you do.

I share the role of global blockchain lead with my colleague, Simon Whitehouse. As a services company, that means we have a dual focus to build our internal capabilities to serve our clients, and develop the strongest possible relationships with product and platform companies so we can offer the best combination of solutions.

Our client service focus spans the entire life cycle – from advisory needs to learn about this technology and explore what implications and opportunities it has for a company’s strategy and modernisation journey, to the implementation and integration of new capabilities.

Lastly, we support clients in operating their modernised businesses and ecosystems. We constantly work to build deeper and deeper capabilities across our strategy, consulting, digital, technology and operations businesses, covering all industries/sectors and geographies. To date, we’ve trained well over 1,500 of our resources and plan to train at least another 1,000 this year to meet our growing client demand.

How do you prioritise and organise your working life?

My work life is prioritised first and foremost by client opportunities and demand. At Accenture, we keep our clients and their needs at the centre of what we do. We prioritise the development of capabilities and investments that we make based on what will be most applicable to helping our clients advance their businesses.

Simon and I have a fantastic working group with representation from across each facet of our firm that drives their respective businesses based on their client focus. Our central team focuses on building core common capabilities and thought leadership that we then share and standardise across our businesses globally.

What are the biggest challenges facing your sector and how are you tackling them?

The biggest challenge is the ‘team sport’ nature of blockchain. The technology itself is less and less of the challenge as we continue to mature the tools and capabilities. The hard part is to get the necessary alignment of interests to build new business models working with a collection of clients. The game theory and scenarios analysis involve helping each individual company see the opportunity, value and fit with their own strategy, in combination with developing a business ecosystem model that will create the necessary network effect to be attractive to the others in the mix and the next participant to join.

Our depth of client relationships in each business ecosystem and our independence enable us to have the right level of strategic and technical discussions. This is something that we’ve always done with clients one to one, but not traditionally many to many. What we’ve focused on is expanding our structures and approach to engage multiple clients in a coordinated and cohesive fashion.

This has started with evolving our internal account team structures, methods and playbook to make sure that we take best advantage of our expertise and insights in ways that preserve individual client confidentiality, while encouraging collaboration on the opportunities to be able to be the expert independent adviser, implementer and operator for groups of clients who want to work together in a DLT/shared-data construct.

‘I first learned about blockchain in 2013 through engaging with some graduate students during a workshop. I spent the rest of that day and the following weeks self-immersing myself in everything I could find’

What are the key sector opportunities youre capitalising on?

We see the most opportunity, focus, and energy in the financial services infrastructure, supply chain (both physical and digital), and identity spaces. Our focus has been to prioritise key industry opportunities in each of these areas and direct the majority of our R&D, training and business development resources accordingly.

Financial services infrastructure:

  • Capital markets securities clearing/settlement and custody solutions, with an emphasis on tokenisation of new and existing asset classes
  • Central Bank digital currency
  • Payments infrastructure
  • Mortgage industry
  • Insurance industry

Supply chain:

  • Provenance, track-and-trace
  • Digital rights management
  • ‘Circular supply chain’, social impact


  • User-controlled identity
  • Government/national ID/border control
  • Humanitarian/social impact
What set you on the road to where you are now?

I first learned about blockchain in 2013 through engaging with some graduate students on the broad topic of innovation during a workshop. I spent the rest of that day and the following weeks self-immersing myself in everything I could find as I was immediately convinced by the value of being able to move beyond our ‘message-based business model’ and siloed/redundant data structures that have defined how business works.

What was your biggest mistake and what did you learn from it?

My biggest mistake was to not be more aggressive internally and with clients about moving past the proof-of-concept (POC)/experiment phase faster. We reached a point where we were all building the same POCs over and over again and missing the opportunity to more effectively build upon each effort, share insights and advance the capabilities faster. Our learnings from this have led us to a greater focus on the key open source aspects of how this technology has and will continue to develop, and a singular emphasis of path-to-production efforts, as there is no need to reprove the basic capabilities of the technology.

How do you get the best out of your team?

I’ve recognised that when I have been most engaged and productive has been when I was working with leaders who invested in me personally and for whom I felt a deep mutual loyalty and respect. As such, I’ve always tried to manage from a place of relationship instead of authority as the basis for building high-performing teams.

‘We see an exacerbated dynamic within the blockchain space and have made it a primary mission to build a diverse team’

In my experience, the best leaders that I have worked for have done so from a stance where they worked for their teams, not vice versa, as the organisation chart may reflect. I work hard to get to know my direct reports at a personal level, and focus on building trust and transparency with them. I do the same with the wider team as much as I can. Fostering a team that enjoys working together, has fun, and who can have disagreements, issues, and conflicts safely and with respect, is key to employee engagement.

STEM sectors receive a lot of criticism for a lack of diversity in terms of gender, ethnicity and other demographics. Have you noticed a diversity problem in your sector? What are your thoughts on this and whats needed to be more inclusive?

Achieving a diverse workforce is a top priority of Accenture, with a very public approach to measuring our own progress. We see an exacerbated dynamic within the blockchain space across the industry and have made it a primary mission of our blockchain team to build a diverse team and help with the industry issues. We have a dedicated diversity-in-blockchain initiative where we are conducting primary research, driving community dialogues, hosting diversity-focused events, and supporting appropriate standards of behaviour and hiring practices.

Who is your role model and why?

My wife, Lily, for her unwavering focus on what’s really important and her ability to balance work and personal life.

What books have you read that you would recommend?

Human + Machine: Reimagining Work in the Age of AI.

What are the essential tools and resources that get you through the working week?

First answer is coffee, second is humour and third are my mentors who I rely upon to stay sane. After that I try to apply a prioritisation of interaction channels of: first, face to face; second, voice; third, text; and fourth, email as a last resort. As such, my most-used tools are planes, videoconference, phone, WhatsApp, Messenger, Skype and Outlook.

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