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2016 Year in Review

2016 has been a tremendous year for our industry. To say there has been a whirlwind of achievement would be an understatement. As an organization we pride ourselves on what we have accomplished in such a short timeframe. We look towards 2017 with excitement to further deliver on the promise of this technology. Below we look back on the most memorable bits.


Awards

Institutional Investor places David Rutter in 2016 Tech 50

R3’s CEO debuts at No. 18 on Institutional Investor’s annual ranking of the most influential figures in financial technology

FI Future of Fintech 

The Financial Times names R3 as one of the top 10 financial technology companies to watch in 2017



R3: A Year in Review 


 

Industry Year in Review

 

New Members

  • First China-based company and first insurance company – Ping An
  • First Northern American Insurer - MetLife
  • First exchange - BM&FBOVESPA
  • First tech company – Thomson Reuter
  • First Automotive - Toyota
  • Primer Banco Hispano – Credicorp
  • First African Bank – Absa Bank
  • First Credit Card – Synchrony
  • First Payments Services – Qiwi
  • First Title Insurance – First American

 



Some 2016 Snaps


One of our NY employees was able to surprise his family abroad for the holidays!

Driving Distributed Ledger Innovation Through Collaboration

In the long history of humankind, those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.

Darwin’s point holds true. Critical mass, momentum and co-operation are absolutely essential if we are to transform financial services and the communications and transactional framework we rely on.

This was our rationale for bringing banks together to jointly develop distributed ledger technology for the financial services industry from day one.

In R3 we have created a fast moving financial technology product company with an ownership structure which provides a balanced governance, combined with the leadership and stewardship of the best technologists in their respective fields.

The spaghetti junction of shared legacy infrastructure as well as individual front, middle and back office systems is testament to the resulting mess when banks disappear into development silos.

The overall cost of maintaining this legacy infrastructure is incalculable and there is risk around every corner, embedded into the old Cobol and Fortran code under the layers of many of those systems.

That is why we came together with an initial group of nine banks in September 2015 to create R3. A highly experienced and effective technology team was assembled and ready for action two months later.

Fast forward a year and there are now over 75 members of the R3 group – with two additions in the last week alone – working together on a diverse array of projects and developing technology to address some of the most serious pain points affecting the industry. 

There is no secret. We hired the best, assembled and activated a powerful and engaged membership base and connected them together to leverage the network effect distributed ledger technology delivers.

Together, we have designed, built and launched Corda, the open-source release distributed ledger platform which will set the standard for this technology in global financial markets.

This is the only platform designed by and for its users and represents the world’s largest collaborative distributed ledger effort in financial services. It is unique and it is a landmark moment for the market.

Distributed ledger technology will have such phenomenally powerful network effects that it is hard to imagine serious institutions deploying base-layer ledger software that is anything other than fully and wholeheartedly open.

The response and engagement with Corda has been exceptional and only a few weeks after open sourcing the platform we have already had a vast number of contributions from the public developer community.

Amidst the excitement of the Corda roll-out, it’s hard to ignore the running commentary on the progress of our fundraising programme.

The motivation and accuracy behind some of the noise has sometimes been questionable, but such is the nature of working on such high-profile projects. It’s a complement to be discussed and we are very happy with constructive criticism, but better when the discussion is informed and accurate.

We have always expected the make-up of the consortium to change over time – our member base is so large and so diverse, it would be unrealistic not to expect some institutions’ priorities, resources and focus to travel in different directions.

We have new members joining the project all the time and some banks may choose to change the way in which they engage with us as we move forward, but the critical mass we have built over the last year means members can be confident they are investing in developing industry standard solutions that will be the building blocks of the new financial services infrastructure.

The financial institutions that have shown the vision to join R3 are by that very action ensuring the technology we adopt is built using common code and protocols, ensuring seamless interoperability and integration.

This is a direct hedge against the risk of replicating the disjointed infrastructure financial markets are forced to operate on today.

We remain focused on perfecting Corda and looking ahead to our objectives and deliverables for 2017 working together with our members.

We are on the cusp of a new era in financial technology, and over the next year banks will begin to reap the benefits that have been promised to them since the financial services industry recognized this technology’s potential to deliver efficiency, lower risk, security and cost reductions.

Let’s be clear: the power of distributed ledger technology lies in its network effect – and that goes for the build as much as the usage. The past few years were characterized by blockchain hype. Leveraging the combined power and expertise of our diverse and growing group of members, R3 will make 2017 the year of blockchain delivery.

 

 

 

The Weekend Read: Dec 11

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R3 at TechCrunch Disrupt

Our CEO David Rutter hit the stage during TechCrunch Disrupt in London earlier this week for an extended interview. Among the highlights was his call that we will see substantial activity on a distributed ledger in 3-5 years, and that R3 will have a DLT-based product in the market by the end of 2017, much the delight and cheer of our product department. (Side note: Dave called me and asked for any background on this event. I pointed him to this clip...not sure it was helpful). In a DLT world, he noted, the idea of hiding a ticket or manipulating a trade will be a thing of the past, which could bring much needed trust back to Wall Street. On trust, he also pointed out the irony of many libertarians and bank antagonists: We all trust our banks, though we like to say we don't. If we get a chunk of money, we put it in a bank. And for the quantitative participants in the audience, he noted R3 and others in the space addressing a $3.6tn opportunity to re-work the global payments infrastructure, cited from a recent McKinsey report.

Smart Contract Debate

The Chamber of Digital Commerce put out a doc this week entitled Smart Contracts: 12 Use Cases for Business & Beyond that features a forward by Nick Szabo. Luckily for your lazy author, R3's Ian Grigg has written a very concise response to some of the points in the paper on his Financial Cryptography blog:

The finance end of town is only interested in smart contracts within the fully contractually-informed framework. That's because accidents happen and the go-to place to sort out disasters is the courts, with their facility for dealing with the unexpected or unusual. This notion goes back to the Magna Carta, which was ultimately a brawl over the right to a fair day in court.
If you want a pithy principled statement, it is like this: people who trade in large values want someone to mind their backs. These people believe that smart contracts will always break, and we need a way to get predictability back into the contract.
Which brings us to the DAO - that $150 million lesson in how not to build a smart contracts platform. [SNIP] To interpret a short, pithy principle, the investors in the DAO found that nobody's minding their backs. And when that happens, the brawl starts. Magna Chaina?

I know that some folks can't stomach it, but for the rest that have an interest in what legal and financial professionals have to say about smart contracts, please see this excellent summary of R3's recent Smart Contract Templates summit by Burges Salmon.

RegTech (cont.)

The Federal Reserve released a paper this week called Distributed ledger technology in payments, clearing, and settlement:

In the context of payments, DLT has the potential to provide new ways to transfer and record the ownership of digital assets; immutably and securely store information; provide for identity management; and other evolving operations through peer-to-peer networking, access to a distributed but common ledger among participants, and cryptography.

I asked Tim Swanson for his views on the paper: "The new paper provides a good objective overview on what distributed ledger technology is and what it is being used for., as well as a number of interesting data points. For instance, "In the aggregate, U.S. PCS systems process approximately 600 million transactions per day, valued at over $12.6 trillion."  I actually ended up citing this number several times this past week at an event in Korea. The paper also makes a distinction between the settlement finality that permissioned ledgers can provide versus the probabilistic finality that un-permissioned / public blockchains provide."

The Fed also provides a comment to add to the Smart Contract debate above:

DLT has also raised the possibility of writing terms and conditions between parties into computer code to be executed automatically. In order for these “smart contracts” to be enforceable, they must have a sound legal basis. Contract law is an established set of rules that govern the basic principles of contracting, including formation, amendment, termination, and dispute resolution.

Open Development and Other News Across the Industry

I had the pleasure of attending the Hyperledger Annual Member Summit this past week. It was a great opportunity to connect with folks from across the globe and to hear more about the projects underway underneath the Hyperledger umbrella. Chris Ferris, head of the Hyperledger Technical Steering Committee, put together his reflections in this blog post.

One highlight for me was to watch our CTO Richard Brown keep the audience in rapt attention with his overview of Corda and some of its unique design decisions. The R3 tech team has continued to post to the corda.net blog with more updates on their thinking behind the code. ICYMI, click here for James Carlyle on distributed ledgers as a 'truth layer' and click here for Mike Hearn on 'why UTXO?' We also had the chance to catch up with our friends at Digital Asset, who released their non-technical white paper earlier this week, which I believe Richard will share some thoughts on in the coming weeks.

The folks at Circle made a splash with their announcement this week of their open source platform Spark and their intention to focus exclusively on "global social payments" that happen to use blockchain(s) as rails. Or, if you are r/bitcoin, totally betraying the Bitcoin community...And for those with a penchant for oral histories of 'cryptographic ceremonies', be sure to check out this article on the launch of Zcash. Or if you like Bloomberg articles with all the snark of Matt Levine yet with none of his wit or deep understanding of financial markets, click here (but I wouldn't recommend it).

...and finally, many thanks to my colleague Tim Grant for letting me crash his set for the debut of Project dR3am, and to the thousands dozens of folks who turned out to support us. Rock on.

The Weekend Read: Dec 4

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Happy Corda Day!

First things first.

Besides the cake, we were also gratified to see so much interest on release day. We had our first pull request merged within a few hours of release, thousands of unique visits and over 40 forks of our Github repo. For more coverage, see Euromoney, American Banker, WSJ and Fortune articles. From the Fortune piece:

“Our intention is to encourage other people in the community to contribute to it, to build on top of it, to drive its design and adoption,” said Richard Brown, R3’s chief technology officer. “We want a large number of people people downloading and using it,” he said.
“People will be surprised when they dig into the code of the technical white paper,” [Mike] Hearn told Fortune on a call. For one thing, he said, Corda is designed to be compatible with tools that programmers within large organizations are likely already familiar, such as relational databases for storing digital information and Microsoft SQL, a tool for accessing data contained therein.

We also heard from the wider internets on their views of Corda. The feedback and constructive challenging of the Corda design and implementation decisions is exactly what our team is looking for from the wider community. And of course we also got other, less constructive feedback, which I can break down into two broad categories: 1. suggestions for us to kindly lodge certain appendages and objects into various openings big and small, or 2. the equally helpful jokes about SQL databases (this is perhaps the most tired of all the "burns" we hear, and as someone who grew up with the last name McDonald, I know a tired burn when I hear one...).

We know there is a lot to wade thru in exploring Corda (56 pages for the white paper Mike? Dang). As a starter, check out Richard's intro blog posts and Mike's review on what lies ahead, all on our Corda blog. Even better for the TL;DR crowd, Richard has a new Corda explainer video here that wraps up in a tidy 3 minutes. Enjoy!

R3 Application Partners

There was another bit of news this week that perhaps got swept up with the Corda release. On Tuesday, we announced our partnership with Calypso Technologies to jointly develop the first post trade application on our smart contract network (a CorDapp in R3 lingo):

Calypso will be the first application partner to leverage the R3 platform, which will allow financial institutions and their technology partners to work more closely together in a safe and efficient distributed ecosystem. The platform records and manages financial agreements between counterparties, leveraging distributed ledger technology to guarantee a consistent, accurate, auditable, reportable record.
Pascal Xatart, CEO at Calypso said: "We are thrilled to be working with R3 and honored to be their first application partner. The alignment between the two firms is exceptional – our deep expertise in capital markets combined with their industry-leading distributed ledger technology will allow us to develop a range of innovative applications quickly and efficiently. Our current matching solution is only the beginning."

We have been hard at work over the past year building out the framework of our financial-grade network. This past week we have debuted two core pieces of that framework. One is obviously our distributed ledger platform, Corda. The other is captured in the above partnership announcement: our clear intention to build and support an ecosystem of partners to help drive value for all the participants in the emerging R3 network. Our friends at Calypso are a fantastic example of such a partner, one that brings deep domain expertise, understanding of their client's needs and shares the strategic view that the next generation of financial software and services will be driven via smart contract platforms. We could not be happier to have them as our first partner.

More Shout Outs

Congrats to the CME team on their collaboration with The Royal Mint on their tokenized gold trading platform dubbed Royal Mint Gold (RMG):

Vin Wijeratne, CFO of The Royal Mint said the addition of a blockchain-type system will mean tracking ownership in near real time and therefore some costly administration attached to this process can be dispensed with...Sandra Ro, digitisation lead at CME Group, said: "This is going to be a permissioned network. We will have all known actors and there will be a mechanism by which validators will validate the transactions...This is very much a digital gold offering as an investment product. And it happens to be that it is using a blockchain ledger to record transactions. This is a trading platform."

Another congrats to the Hyperledger team, which announced surpassing 100 participants in the open source effort this week. I will be at the annual Member Summit in Bklyn on Wednesday and Thursday and look forward to catching up with everyone in person. For those who can't make it, I would suggest the excellent webinar from Digital Asset's Dan O'Prey here. But if you do make it, I promise you a freshly printed business card with our cool new logo...

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The Weekend Read: Nov 27

How do you write a summary of the weekly news when you are the news? I have been thinking about that for the last few days. I have mentioned in the past that one of the lessons that I took from my trading days is that everyone is talking their book, always, even if they don't realize it (or won't admit it). I try to guard against that in this blog, but it is inevitable to some degree. I also don't want to pull a 'Zuckerberg in China' gambit and 'erase' the news. So, for a selection of articles on R3 this week, click a few of these links.

With the Thanksgiving holiday here in the US, I was in a reflective mood on all the things that I am thankful for this year. I am thankful to be part of a wider ecosystem that is trying hard, in many diverse ways, to find the next thing. I am thankful to work with a team that has the strongest collective resolve I have ever witnessed. I am thankful for creative Tim Swanson memes. I am thankful to work with folks like Richard, James, Mike and our whole tech/product team who are focused on building things (instead of with those focused on trying to tear things down from the sidelines of life). I am thankful to be working harder than I ever have in my life and enjoying (almost) every minute of it. On to the links.

Corda Open Source

This Wednesday, November 30 is the day for Corda open source. Richard Brown weighed in with another update/preview of what is to come:

Distributed ledger technologies will have such phenomenally powerful network effects that it is unthinkable that serious institutions would deploy base-layer ledger software that is anything other than fully and wholeheartedly open. And it’s why we’ve been committed all along to releasing Corda just as soon as we were sure it was heading in the right direction. It is and so we are.
We’re really proud of Corda and its progress to date. But, that said, Corda is far from finished. Mike Hearn will soon be publishing a “warts and all” description of quite how much work we still have to do. This is true for all other platforms in this space, of course, but I feel a particular responsibility to be transparent given the ambitions we have for Corda and the uses to which it will be put.
How to get Corda on November 30: Corda’s home will be corda.net. Head over...for links to the codebase, simple sample applications and a tutorial to get started writing your own CorDapps.

Corda is still young, but to echo what Hyperledger's Brian Behlendorf states below, we feel it is better to open up early rather than late. Now is the time to invite contributions from outside. As the code matures further in the coming months and reaches a stable enough point where detailed code review makes sense, we'll be looking forward to analysis and review from the industry's leading experts. And others.

American Banker has a fantastic review of open source in DLT, highlighting both the advantages and risks to this approach. It is worth a read in full:

"Let's say someone wishes to connect a Chain network that has digital assets running on it with a Corda contract," [Adam] Ludwin said. "If those projects are open source and well documented, and that documentation is public, then whoever might be building the interfaces or connectors for these networks and services will have a much easier time doing so. That's why open source is a boon for interoperability."
[SNIP] Moreover, it is a way for engineers to give back to the engineering community.
"When external engineers can review the architecture and code, they can assess the quality of the projects companies are working on. This serves as a great recruiting tool," said Max Levchin, CEO of the digital lending startup Affirm and a co-founder of PayPal. "When you open-source, it allows third parties to build applications on top of yours, [a process] which acts as a distribution channel for your own product."

Ethereum Forks

As the article points out above, open source is hard. This week saw Ethereum initiate a planned fork on Tuesday, which lead to an unplanned fork a few days later, which the Ethereum community rushed to fix. This seems to have led to a bit of schadenfreude twitter style from the Bitcoin community. as they reposted this article in quite a few threads. Meanwhile, earlier in the week the head of strategy for Ethereum-based Consensys penned this article entitled What Venture Capitalists Got Wrong About Bitcoin:

Instead, the infrastructure built for bitcoin can increasingly be co-opted for use by new tokens. These new tokens don’t necessarily add any value for the venture capitalists who originally invested in bitcoin. To illustrate what is happening: Imagine if a railroad company in the 1800’s spent millions laying tracks, only to see a second (and third, and fourth) railroad come along and use the finished tracks for free, to ship more cargo in faster and safer cars.

Interesting to see the perspectives of the two sides, with some viewing all this activity as zero-sum, winner (chain) takes all...while others share our view that success in one 'camp' can serve as a positive multiplier across the whole space.

RegTech (cont.) and LegalTech

This week saw the big finale of R3’s initial global regulatory tour, culminating in Eltville am Rhein, where our very own Charley Cooper spoke to the Deutsche Bundesbank’s Central Banking conference devoted exclusively to blockchain technology. For those curious about the participants, see this link. Here is Charley's report:

The conference lasted for four days and covered a wide range of topics, with my remarks focused on the importance of public/private collaboration as a driver of technology innovation in the highly regulated financial services industry. In the lead up to that event, Isabelle Corbett and I barnstormed through four other countries in seven days, meeting one-on-one with Swiss and Nordic regulators as part of our relentless efforts to involve government agencies and oversight bodies in our work from the outset. A huge thanks to Credit Suisse, UBS, Danske Bank, Nordea, and OP Financial for helping us navigate their home turf. R3 representatives have now met with regulators in almost all of our member jurisdictions, including central banks, securities and derivatives overseers, consumer protection agencies, law enforcement, tax authorities, NGOs, trade associations and legislators. It feels good to be home.

Risk Magazine posted a very thoughtful piece as a follow up to R3's Smart Contract Template Summit (it is even worth the pain of signing up for a free trial!). Our partners at Norton Rose Fulbright announced the publication of our joint white paper on the legality and enforcability of smart contracts. You can request a copy of the paper here or members can contact R3 directly.

Announcements

Swift announced this week that they would become more open and vocal about their exploration into DLT, which is very welcome news. They also announced some details on their latest POC.

Damien Vanderveken, head of R&D at Swift Labs, says: "Swift has been targeted in the press as a legacy incumbent that will be doomed by DLT. But we believe Swift can leverage its unique set of capabilities to deliver a distinctive DLT platform offer for the community."

Congrats to our friends at the JP Morgan Blockchain Center of Excellence for their open sourcing of Quorum, which you can access here. This is yet another example that the above American Banker article highlighted of the growing acceptance of open source within finance, and the advantages that even the world's biggest banks see in an open source approach. We look forward to exploring Quorum more during the upcoming Hyperledger events in December.

And finally, we are very happy to welcome China's Minsheng Bank to the R3 consortium, as another member in our growing network China and North East Asia.

COUNTDOWN TO CORDA OPEN SOURCE

R3 will soon be open-sourcing Corda. Here’s what to expect.

As I confirmed a few months back, R3’s Corda platform will be open-sourced, under the Apache 2 licence, on November 30.

Corda is a distributed ledger platform designed and built from the ground up for the recording and automation of legal agreements between identifiable parties. It is heavily influenced by the requirements of the financial industry but we believe the community will find the underlying architecture will lend itself to a broad range of applications.

We’ve built Corda because we see requirements – especially in finance – that need a distributed ledger but which cannot be met by existing platforms.

  • Corda is the only Distributed Ledger platform designed by the world’s largest financial institutions to manage legal agreements on an automatable and enforceable basis.
  • Corda only shares data with those with a need to view or validate it; there is no global broadcasting of data across the network.
  • Corda is the only Distributed Ledger platform to support multiple consensus providers employing different consensus algorithms on the same network, enabling compliance with local regulations.
  • Corda is designed to provide a great developer experience and to make integration and interoperability easy: query the ledger with SQL, join to external databases, perform bulk imports, and code contracts in a range of modern, standard languages.

We designed it with the members of R3, the world’s largest financial services DLT consortium, but we think its applicability is far broader.  You can find out more in our introductory whitepaper and my blog post on why we’re building Corda and what makes it different. If you prefer videos, here’s a short interview I did with Simon Taylor of 11:FS that explains the thought process behind Corda.

What we’ll release on November 30 is pretty much the full codebase as it exists today and we will be improving it actively and openly from then on. In fact, the only code we’ve held back pertains to laboratory projects we’re working on with our members and work on our own commercial business products that will run on top of Corda.

So do take a look around when the code is released: there’s a lot in there that is still work-in-progress and not yet integrated. For example, you’ll find a fascinating approach to writing financial contracts in the experimental branch and ongoing work on our deterministic sandbox for the JVM.   We will, of course, also be developing a commercial version of Corda for those who need specific enterprise features and support, but the open source codebase is the foundation of everything we do.

This is a really important point: distributed ledger technologies will have such phenomenally powerful network effects that it is unthinkable that serious institutions would deploy base-layer ledger software that is anything other than fully and wholeheartedly open. And it’s why we’ve been committed all along to releasing Corda just as soon as we were sure it was heading in the right direction.  It is and so we are.

We will also be publishing a draft of our technical whitepaper.  This whitepaper outlines our roadmap to version 1.0 of Corda and production-readiness.

What to expect on November 30

We’re really proud of Corda and its progress to date. But, that said, Corda is far from finished. Mike Hearn will soon be publishing a “warts and all” description of quite how much work we still have to do. This is true for all other platforms in this space, of course, but I feel a particular responsibility to be transparent given the ambitions we have for Corda and the uses to which it will be put.

By way of example, perhaps a good way to help you figure out what we still have to do is to look at some items on the list of work we’ve set for the months ahead of us:

  • Functional completeness: Corda still has gaps in its functional capabilities. The technical whitepaper outlines the full vision and you’ll see us working on and merging a lot of functional enhancements in the coming months to implement the full vision in the paper.
  • Non-functional characteristics: We focused first on design and then on implementation of Corda’s core functionality. The work to ensure we meet our non-functional requirements, such as performance, is still ahead of us but we have a clear roadmap and have designed the platform with these needs firmly in mind.
  • Security hardening: There are lots of areas where we need to tighten up security. Much of this we know about and we have called it out in the code or associated docs. But there will, of course, be others. So just as you shouldn’t be using other enterprise DLT platforms in production just yet, please don’t download Corda and put it straight into production just yet either!
  • API Stability: Corda’s development is iterative and organic – and it is heavily influenced by the range of projects and applications to which our members are choosing to put it. As we learn about common patterns and discover assumptions that prove to be wrong, we adapt. In particular, this means that we do not commit to API stability or backwards-compatibility until version 1.0.  Expect parts of the implementation to change in the coming months, perhaps quite significantly!

But these things are transient: we know how to fix them and we’ll knock the issues off one-by-one in the coming months as we head towards version 1.0.  But we want you to be fully aware of them.

Why are we open-sourcing Corda now?

We had a vigorous internal debate about when was the right time to release Corda: wait until it was more mature, when we were confident we’d ironed out the bugs and made it fly?  Or wait only until the design roadmap was clear and then share it immediately with the world for comment, criticism, contribution and collaboration?

We’ve wholeheartedly chosen the latter path: to release early and to work openly.

We’re serious about inviting the community to critique, collaborate and contribute. To take one example, our friends at Digital Asset recently published an excellent paper describing a set of requirements for what they call a “Global Synchronisation Log” (GSL), encouraging those in the community to incorporate these requirements into their platforms. We think that Corda’s vision is extremely well aligned to the GSL concept and by open-sourcing our work whilst there is still time to tweak our design it means we maximise the opportunities for firms such as ours to collaborate.

But open-sourcing Corda when it is still fairly young is not without its risks!  In fact, I’m a little apprehensive. I’m a completer-finisher and I obsess over every detail. So the idea of releasing something before it’s perfect makes me feel uncomfortable.  You will find gaps, issues, problems. But that’s fine: please do share what you find.  Even better, submit a fix…!

In fact, I also have a hope that some of those who come to critique will find that they nonetheless like much of what they see, and may even join the community.

What happens next?

I performed a thought experiment a while back… I asked: what will the enterprise distributed ledger world look like when everything settles down in a few years? How many independent enterprise DLT platforms will the world need and which ones will they be?

My conclusion was that there will probably be at most three such platforms, each carefully designed and adapted for a specific set of requirements. They will all be fully open source. And they will be surrounded by thriving, inclusive communities.

And we firmly intend to ensure Corda is one of them.

Our open-source release next week is a key step on that journey.

How to get Corda on November 30

Corda’s home will be corda.net.

Head over to corda.net on November 30 for links to the codebase, simple sample applications and a tutorial to get started writing your own CorDapps.

The Weekend Read: Nov 20

Singapore Fintech Festival

MAS MD Ravi Menon announces MAS-R3 Interbank Payments project at SGFintechFest

MAS MD Ravi Menon announces MAS-R3 Interbank Payments project at SGFintechFest

I asked Antony Lewis for a field report on this week's Singapore Fintech Festival:

11,000 sweaty people couldn’t be wrong…Singapore was the hottest place for FinTech this week, as the world’s first regulator-managed FinTech event kicked off for a week-long collab confab.  Ravi Menon, the MD of the Monetary Authority of Singapore, opened the festival by announcing R3’s collaborative efforts with 10 banks and partners to put the Singapore Dollar on a distributed ledger. (see BBG article here). This garnered quite a bit of inbound interest from other parts of the globe as the week wore on, and we look forward to pursuing this piece of collaborative work in a "jurisdiction near you" soon.

Tim Grant insists that he didn’t pay off the Audio/Visual crew during his panel on Wednesday when Blythe Masters’ microphone didn’t work. The whole panel, including Oliver Bussmann (independent) and Sandra Ro (CME), generally agreed that we need to see some traction next year.  Tim’s “5 Ps” of DLT (Proof-of-Concept-->Prototype-->Pilot-->Permission-->Production) crashed Instagram as the audience became bewitched by the power of alliteration. ABC (AI, Blockchain, Cloud) grew a little more mature and became ABCD (AI, Big Data, Cloud, DLT). Our CEO, David Rutter, was also featured at the ASIFMA Annual Conference (all pics above).

The above, and the MAS’ partnership with R3 announced last week, all paves the way nicely for our Lab of Excellence in Singapore. Lattice80, the world’s largest FinTech co-working space, will be the perfect location to light up those Bunsen burners. If you would like to join us, we are hiring in Singapore.

RegTech and CBDC (cont.)

Continuing the MAS RegTech focus elsewhere, there continues to be a steady drumbeat of news stories concerning the regulator's role in fintech and DLT. First up is the U.S. SEC and CoinDesk's profile of the SEC DLT lead Valerie Szczepanik. The article reviews the SEC working group's focus to date, as well as raising the topic of regulation and ICOs:

Since an ethereum startup called The DAO raised over $100m by selling digital tokens without an exchange, a rush of companies have followed suit. So-called initial coin offerings can be launched from anywhere in the world and cross borders as easily as the Internet itself. With millions of dollars worth of capital raised so far and dozens of ICOs in the works, how the SEC will handle the technology is one of the biggest areas of regulatory uncertainty in the industry. Regardless of whether Gemini and SolidX ever win approval or if ICOs might displace traditional fundraising, the SEC will likely play a role.

Speaking of The DAO, the team behind the dream/nightmare, Slock.it, are back with another project, pushing the "fail fast, fail upwards" concept to its limits. I happened to see this being compared to the advent of flight and aviation inventors, yet the comparison falls flat (like many early aviators (groan)) as these innovators fail the "skin in the game" test popularized by Nassim Taleb. As far as I can tell, there was no repercussion from the absolute failure that was The DAO, whereas those early aviators had the ultimate skin in the game! (For more on that story, check out David McCullough's excellent book on The Wright Brothers).

Sweden's Riksbank made headlines this week with talk of issuing digital currency:

The so-called e-krona may be introduced within two years. “The less those of us living in Sweden use bank notes and coins, the clearer it becomes that the Riksbank needs to investigate whether we should issue electronic money as a complement to the money we have today,” Riksbank Deputy Governor Cecilia Skingsley told the Financial Times.
Sweden's Riksbank is the world’s oldest central bank, and was the first to issue paper banknotes in the 1660s.

Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC) remains an area of focus for R3 and our Research team. For R3 members, please reach out to us if you have seen our recently published private reports on this topic.

India has also made headlines with their recent demonetization scheme. Once again, many armchair economists/sociologists on the Twitter have been giving their "two paise" on the subject, but since I at least admit total ignorance to all the nuance, here instead is what looks to be a great run down of the issue at hand by The Diplomat.

Bonus link: no idea where to put this but here is CoinDesk's summary of their recently released State of Blockchain.

R3's Second Smart Contract Templates Summit & RGB on Corda

We were very pleased to host the second summit dedicated to all things smart contract, with participants in person in Barclays London and New York, with many more across the globe dialed in (Ed. note: need to clarify how time is measured by organizers of upcoming event billing itself as "The Industry's First Event Exclusively Dedicated to Smart Contracts"...). Dr. Lee Braine of Barclays once again set a high standard for the proposed agenda, and all the contributors managed to outdo themselves. IB Times has a great rundown of the event, and we have provided all of the presentation materials via this link. Allow myself to quote...myself:

The summit featured presentations by Barclays, CIBC, Nordea Markets, ISDA, FIA, Norton Rose Fulbright, Thomson Reuters, University College London, Cardozo Law School, and R3. Todd McDonald, co-founder of R3, said: "We wanted to hold this second summit to keep up the cadence and to continue what we at R3 and all the participants feel is important: progressing this in the open and it being industry led, rather than by just one organisation or one company."

Our CTO Richard Gendal Brown was featured on two 11FS podcasts this week. First up, RGB was joined by Richard Crook (Head of Innovation Engineering, RBS) and Ajit Tripathy (Fintech and Digital Director, PWC) for a more wide ranging chat. The second is a video link to a 1-on-1 chat with Richard Brown. Both pieces were moderated by our old friend Simon Taylor, aka The Blockchain Beard (who evidently put his size smedium t shirts on a high-heat drying cycle in order to show of his Blockchain Biceps in the attached video...). Richard as always delivers an extremely lucid explanation of not only the functionality but more importantly the benefit of DLT, and specifically Corda, to financial institutions:

On why anyone should care about blockchain and DLT: It just becomes self-evident that there’s a massive opportunity in finance, wherever firms record the same data that their counterparts do, and then have to manage it, that this blockchain technology…can be used to massively simplify and reduce that cost and complexity by just doing it once and knowing for sure that what you see is what your counterpart sees.
On how is Corda different from traditional blockchains: The short answer to your question…it is designed by and for financial institutions, its focus is not on crypto-currency or virtual machines; its focus is managing legal agreements between regulated institutions, is designed to integrate and inter-operate with existing systems in banks, and is designed to integrate well with the legal system…. So this isn’t the idea of computers running amok and controlling the world. This is computer code. This is computer data that, in the event of dispute, is grounded firmly in legal reality.

The Weekend Read: Nov 13

An emotional week comes to an end in the US. This will be a thinkpiece-free zone save for one article written and posted by Ben Thompson back in March (but still very relevant today). I did a media detox (hence the late posting) and took a hike instead (literally).

On to this week's links.

R3 Announcements

Another busy week here at R3. First up, we announced our partnership with the Monetary Authority of Singapore for the launch of R3's first physical lab. We have been working with MAS on this concept for some time and they have already proven to be great partners. I am beyond excited for this collaboration, especially since it increases my chances of enjoying real nasi lemak again soon. This announcement comes on the eve of the Singapore Fintech Festival, which will feature both Tim Grant and David Rutter. David's remarks at this week's Risk USA event were featured in this article: "When I sit here today versus a year ago, this is no longer ‘if' or ‘will' this happen. I don't think there any doubt that we're going to see these distributed ledger technologies change how transactions are processed globally."

Later in the week we announced the successful work to represent identity data on our shared ledger system Corda in collaboration with 13 member banks. This work showed how smart contracts could be used in the collection of relevant KYC data for both legal and natural persons, with the key twist being that the data remains in the control of the entity or person themselves. Another example of DLT helping to push power to the 'edges' of the system, with the various smart contract pieces then being able to represent a completely new (and potentially much less costly) way to conduct KYC and onboard clients. You can also reference this identity overview post for a different perspective, and R3's Ian Grigg will be following up in the coming weeks with more on the R3 perspective to identity with (hopefully!) a series of posts.

Another week, another Gendal post (I told you he was back to the land of the blogging!). This is a short post titled On Distributed Databases and Distributed Ledgers:

In Corda, nodes are operated by different organisations and do NOT trust each other, but the outcome is still a consistent view of data.

In Corda, nodes are operated by different organisations and do NOT trust each other, but the outcome is still a consistent view of data.

Nodes of a distributed database trust each other and collaborate with each other to present a consistent, secure face to the rest of the world. By contrast, Corda nodes can not trust each other and so must independently verify data they receive from each other and only share data they are happy to be broadly shared.
And so we call Corda a distributed ledger, to distinguish it from distributed databases. A distributed ledger that is designed painstakingly for the needs of commercial entities.

The Week in Links

Digital Asset paper to the Hyperledger project on The Global Synchronization Log (with Corda shout out)

FCA announces participants in their regulatory sandbox: Meet the 18 companies joining the FCA's regulatory sandbox

HKMA and ASTRI: Whitepaper On Distributed Ledger Technology. Summary article here.

The Weekend Read: Nov 6

A quieter week of news, as the cosmos digests the fact that the Chicago Cubs are World Series champs after a short 108 year drought. Looks like Marty McFly was only off by one year...

Industry Announcements

Congratulations to Brad Garlinghouse for his appointment as CEO of Ripple:

Chris Larsen is stepping in to become executive chairman of Ripple’s board of directors as of Jan. 1st of next year, the outgoing chief exec and co-founder told Fortune on a call. Larsen has named Brad Garlinghouse, who’s presently chief operating officer and president, as his successor.
“I could not be happier about how Brad and the company have performed this year,” Larsen said, ticking off a number of milestone achievements in recent months. He mentioned helping financial firms pull off a cross-border payment trial with the banking consortium R3, landing a $55 million Series B investment round, and forming up an interbank steering group to set standards for global blockchain-based transactions.

As per the above, Chris Larsen will be moving into the exec chairman role and will maintain a very active role within the company.

Dan Middleton of Intel provides a very nice overview of Intel's Sawtooth Lake, one of the two base fabrics in incubation at the Hyperledger Project (the other being IBM's Fabric with a capital F):

Finally there is a lot of energy surrounding private transactions. The Sawtooth-Core team is experimenting with private transactions using all the tools available including pure cryptographic techniques such as NIZK as well as trusted computing like Intel® SGX. This is an ill-defined space right now. It’s common to hear explicitly contradictory requirements like, the desire to discover assets on the ledger and settle the transfer of assets between parties while at the same time not listing the assets or parties on the ledger. Proposed solutions include recording only opaque identifiers for transactions but not the transactions or the assets themselves. A database that only has transaction IDs but no transactions or assets probably loses a lot of value. However, it’s possible that more interesting solutions exist using computationally expensive means like zero-knowledge relations or using trusted hardware with private enclaves.

R3 partner RBS provided details on their Emerald approach that gives an example of DLT as "distributed clearing house":

"So fundamentally what we have built is a distributed clearing house, if you were to operate it as a commercial entity. Or a distributed real time gross settlement system, if you were to operate it as a central bank's ledger," said Richard Crook, head of Innovation Engineering at RBS.

"Cash-on-ledger" or anything related to the representation of value and the execution of payment on ledger is a very large topic within the R3 book of work. Chris Larsen referenced the Ripple-R3 trial recently conducted, and there has been a lot of activity related to cross border and domestic payments, both via very radical approaches and by 'tinkering' within existing systems. One such example was our "Project Jasper" with Bank of Canada, Payments Canada and the largest Canadian commercial banks; Carolyn Wilkins of BOC commented this week that more details of that effort will be released soon.

R3 Announcements

My customer service skills are a bit rusty

My customer service skills are a bit rusty

I had the pleasure this week of participating in the first event of R3's inaugural philanthropy month, where about a dozen folks from our NY office volunteered for a day at Harvest Home Farmers Market in Harlem, which is "dedicated to increasing access to local, farm-fresh produce to residents of some of New York City’s most impoverished and underserved communities." Check out pics from the day at our Facebook page (wait, we have a Facebook page?)

Richard Brown and Mike Hearn were featured guests on the Epicenter podcast this past week. The interview gives a good introduction to the back story of both R3 and Corda. It also gave Richard and Mike the time to go more in depth on the "problem first" approach to the design and development of Corda. Couple this podcast with this article from Tabb Group on the data and reconciliation challenges that financial institutions continue to face...and the promise of DLT to rehabilitate these systems:

If inconsistent, unsynchronized data is such a big problem, though, why isn’t more being done to fix the issue? Why are firms so accepting of internal reconciliations as a normal part of the daily business process? Perhaps it is because the data inundation occurred organically, without an overall data strategy in place from the beginning. In some cases the powers-that-be may not even be aware that there is a problem. The armies of people performing the manual remediation of exception items are doing their jobs too well, catching and fixing errors before they cause trading or compliance nightmares. Often data reconciliations are occurring across business siloes. Each department puts out the fires for its internal and external customers separately, not at a corporate level.
By utilizing a single, immutable source of transactional data, as espoused by proponents of blockchain and distributed ledger technology, the need for multiple internal reconciliations and the risk of trade or reporting errors is vastly reduced. Elaborate enterprise data warehouses can be streamlined to capture single, immutable records. The reduction in the total cost of ownership for the reconciliations process, personnel and systems could be dramatic.

And finally, we are very pleased to announce two new members of the R3 consortium. First up, China Foreign Exchange Trade System (CFETS) becomes our latest member from China, and we are very excited to work with a leader of technology and standards within Chinese capital markets. Next, ABN Amro has joined our ranks to further add to our presence in northern Europe, and will bring with it an already strong body of work within blockchain-based innovation. Welcome to both!

The Weekend Read: Oct 30

Our regular posting schedule was slightly waylaid by sweat tea and a bit of SEC football, as your author was busy "Grovin'" this weekend.

ICYMI: Richard Gendal Brown on Corda: What Makes it Different

Our CTO has returned to the public blog domain with this post that goes into more detail on the origins and differences of Corda (speaking of blogging, rumor has it that Richard will be posting ~twice a month, so please watch this space for more updates):

Early results were promising: the reductive, bottom-up approach we took to architecture and design, which is explored in our introductory whitepaper and on which we’ll elaborate in the coming weeks, was solid: we could model a diverse range of instruments; the design would allow for significant parallel processing; we did not need to send all data to all participants in all scenarios; the use of a mainstream virtual machine and its libraries led to high developer productivity; we were able to support multiple consensus providers on a single network; the use of a flat, point-to-point queue-based, peer-to-peer network mapped well to real business scenarios; and more.
We worked with our members to test the maturing codebase in a variety of contexts: interfacing Ricardian Contracts and Smart Contracts in the context of an Interest Rate Swap with Barclays and others; managing trade finance flows; and more.
And this focus on validated client requirements and a willingness to question some hitherto sacred beliefs (we have no blocks! we have no miners! we don’t put ephemeral data in the consensus layer! we allow per-transaction specification of consensus providers!) led to a unique design.
Had Corda ended up being a minor variation on an existing platform or a me-too copy of something else, what would have been the point in pursuing the work? But that isn’t what happened: we ended up with something quite distinct, something we believe is singularly well-suited to a wider variety of financial-services use-cases and something adapted to the practical reality that the industry is regulated and some rules simply aren’t going to change overnight.

Straight Zcash Homie

I asked newest R3 Asia team member Antony Lewis for his perspective on the launch of Zcash this week. If you like the below, please check out his personal blog Bits on Blocks:

Zcash launched on October 28 with much fanfare and considerably more user-driven hype than other cryptocurrencies. While many cryptos are little changed from their parent (usually Bitcoin or Ethereum), Zcash promises to add an important privacy-preserving feature missing from bitcoin: the ability to hide transaction details on its blockchain and still have transaction validators validate transactions without knowing the financial details of the transaction in question!

Zcash is in implementation of the Zerocash protocol and uses “zk-SNARKS”, or zero knowledge proofs: Rather than submitting a transaction containing clear-text details of your account, the specific coins you’re sending, and the receivers account, you instead submit mathematical proofs that you have control of a certain number of funds. Unlike Bitcoin, where knowing someone’s address/account allows you to see all transactions in and out of that address, this data is obfuscated in Zcash, and can only be viewed with a viewing key.

BitMEX listed ZEC futures since September 16 - over a month before the cryptocurrency existed.  Since launch (and the necessary destruction of the cryptographic toxic waste), ZEC futures have traded as high as 10 BTC per ZEC before falling to 0.25 BTC per ZEC within a few hours.  The price action on Poloniex has been even more nuts printing a high of almost 3300 BTC per ZEC (yep, that’s $2.3m per ZEC).  Cryptos, eh?

Cottoning to the Blockchain

Excuse the dad-humor in the title, couldn't help myself. This week's announcement of CBA and Wells Fargo using blockchain tech to track the shipment of a specific bale of cotton got quite a few media hits (see here, here and here). The attention to this story shows how the concept of DLT-enabled trade finance has struck a chord with market participants, and more work continues at R3 and elsewhere to make this promise a reality.

Standard and Poor's talks our book by highlighting the impact that DLT can have on banking:

S&P Global Ratings says it believes the rising investment in this technology suggests that a transformation of the global financial industry could be underway. 
We believe that, at the very least, blockchain presents an opportunity for  financial institutions to cut costs by streamlining back-office operations; to shorten clearing and settlement times; facilitate payments; and even generate new revenue streams. As with any innovation, however, companies also need to be aware of the risks and implications for their operations. Over the next two years, we expect blockchain will gain momentum and that larger financial institutions may start using it, albeit in a narrow context.

...and finally, a big R3 welcome to Synchrony Financial, our first member from the credit card space. We are excited to have you on board!