Big Banks Are All Over Blockchain

To process derivatives, currency trades, transactions, etc. Just don’t call it cryptocurrency. It’s a “digital currency.”

As a general rule, most bankers disparage cryptocurrencies, like Bitcoin, as anything but purely speculative instruments. But they don’t disparage blockchain, the technology that underpins cryptocurrencies. On the contrary, they’re pouring money into developing their own “digital currencies,” as they call them. Just don’t call them “cryptocurrencies.”

UBS, BNY Mellon, Deutsche Bank, Santander, the market operator ICAP, and the startup Clearmatics formed an alliance in 2016 to explore the use of digital currency between financial institutions and central banks, using blockchain.

The ultimate goal of the project is to create a digital currency known as Utility Settlement Coin (USC), which will facilitate payment and settlement for institutional financial markets. As the FT reported in October, commercial banks are growing tired of waiting for central bankers to take the lead in fending off the challenge that standalone cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin could pose to their control of monetary policy, and are pressing on with their own pet projects.

According to Deutsche Bank’s website, USC is “an asset-backed digital cash instrument implemented on distributed ledger technology for use within global institutional financial markets.” It consists of a “series of cash assets, with a version for each of the major currencies (USD, EUR, GBP, CHF, etc.) and is convertible at parity with a bank deposit in the corresponding currency.”

It’s easy to see the attraction blockchain holds for big banks like Deutsche, UBS and Santander: Combining shared databases and cryptography, the technology offers multiple parties simultaneous access to a constantly updated digital ledger that cannot be altered. With it, banks could offer a safer, faster, cheaper, more transparent service to their customers, while doing away with the need for a central operator. The cost savings could be huge…

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