$1.4bn investment in blockchain start-ups in last 9 months, says PwC expert

4 Nov 2016

Financial institutions have moved from discovery to experimentation with blockchain, said PwC director of fintech and digital EMEA, Seamus Cushley. Image source: Richard Trainor

While banks and other financial institutions have yet to deploy blockchain at scale, some $1.4bn has been invested globally in blockchain start-ups in the last nine months, observed PwC expert Seamus Cushley.

Cushley, who heads up PwC’s 25-strong blockchain research lab in Belfast, said that the blockchain concept is catching hold within financial institutions who see it as a means for achieving greater efficiency.

Blockchain technology – which underpins emerging digital, virtual, or cryptocurrencies – consists of blocks that hold timestamped batches of recent valid transactions, which form a chain with each block reinforcing those preceding it.

‘There has been $1.4bn in blockchain investments in the last nine months which will give you a sense of the investment by mainstay brands’

Cushley, as director of fintech and digital EMEA, will be speaking at PwC’s Business Forum in Dublin on Tuesday (8 November), where he will outline the blockchain revolution, opportunities and challenges.  This will include the ways that blockchain can be used to revolutionise how business will be transacted in the future, and where it can be the the ideal solution to a current business challenge.

According to Cushley, blockchain is being investigated not only as a way to enable the viable exchange of contracts for value in everything from FX trading to property acquisitions and more, it foretells the future structure of the internet as we know it.

Blockchain is about more than just money

“Right now, organisations are studying how blockchain ledgers can be used to securely manage exchanges in everything from medical records, land registry holdings, digital identity [and] government [to] even the sale of diamonds.

“But when it comes to actual production, nothing at scale has happened yet as the banks are still investigating how they can best employ the technology.”

Cushley said it is only a matter of time before blockchain will become de rigueur in banks around the world.

But a major amount of experimentation is already taking place, and he cited 10 different proofs of concept that PwC has constructed in the past year, including one for the Bank of England to understand how the technology can be used for digital asset assurance.

“There is fringe experimentation going on but people are on a journey. They will move from fear to understanding and a respect for its potential, and they are in the latter phase of that journey.

“There has been $1.4bn in blockchain investments in the last nine months which will give you a sense of the investment by mainstay brands.

“The challenge now is when, and not if, these technologies will start to take effect.

“But when blockchain comes to pass, the average man or woman on the street won’t know they are even using it.”

He cited Irish-based start-ups like Circle, which enables consumers to be part of the blockchain revolution without realising it, allowing them to easily send each other money over their smartphones. Circle was founded by Sean Neville and Jeremy Allaire, and has so far raised $136m in four funding rounds from 19 investors.

“Dublin is home to some really good fintech start-ups. But where it really gets interesting is in the discussion around talent. Entire regions of Asia, including the city state of Singapore, are struggling to decide where to bet their investment in their talent pool; should it be in artificial intelligence or in blockchain?”

An in-depth interview with Cushley will be featured during Siliconrepublic.com’s Fintech Week later this month.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years