Major Banks Complete ‘Modest’ Blockchain Test

Jeff Henderson, chief information officer of TD Bank Group, one of 11 banks that conducted a test of a private blockchain built with Ethereum open-source tools and running on Microsoft Corp's MSFT -0.49% Azure cloud. - TD Bank

Eleven banks successfully tested a private blockchain, exchanging multiple tokens among offices in North America, Europe and Asia over five days, the R3CEV LLC consortium said Wednesday.

“I see it as a significant but simple first step in what, hopefully, is many more and larger steps to come,” said Jeff Henderson, CIO of TD Bank Group, one of the 11 participating banks.

The test, conducted Jan. 11 to Jan. 15, allowed the banks to connect to a private distributed ledger built on open-source blockchain technology from Ethereum and hosted on a Microsoft Corp.’s Azure cloud. The tokens, or software code representing a theoretical asset, passed between nodes set up by the banks and R3 with no problems, a spokesman for the consortium said in an email. The data about the tokens was intact and the validity of each transaction verified “instantaneously” by all nodes, he said.

R3 is a consortium of 42 banks working to design and apply distributed ledger technologies to global financial markets.

Part of the appeal of blockchain, the distributed ledger technology that underpins Bitcoin, is the ability to settle transactions in seconds or minutes automatically via computers. This is a faster, potentially more secure settlement process than is used today among financial institutions, where clearing houses and other third-parties validate accounts and identities over a few days.

“The test was relatively modest,” Mr. Henderson said. “But it did prove that in a private, controlled environment, the banks can collaborate.”

R3 expects to test the blockchain among all 42 member banks this year, the spokesman said. Others participating in the initial test were Barclays BCS -3.35% PLC, BMO Financial Group BMO.T -1.14%Credit Suisse Group AGCSGN.VX -3.95%,Commonwealth Bank of Australia Ltd.CBA.AU 0.00%HSBC Holdings HSBA.LN -4.04% PLC, Natixis KN.FR -6.03%Royal Bank of Scotland Group RBS.LN -3.20% PLC, UBS Group AG, UniCredit SpAUCG.MI -4.64% and Wells Fargo WFC -1.28% & Co.

Although the test used technology from blockchain nonprofit Ethereum, “R3 is not necessarily aligning itself with Ethereum,” the spokesman said. “It will be testing multiple technologies in its lab experiments.”

The potential for blockchain to make banking and other industries more efficient, and perhaps to upend existing business models, has triggered many partnerships between software vendors, banks and others. The LinuxFoundation announced in Decemberthat it is working with a number of technology and bank giants including International Business Machines Corp.IBM -5.90%Cisco Systems Inc.CSCO -4.40%, the London Stock Exchange and 17 others–plus R3–to develop an open-source blockchain framework. Visa Inc.V -1.25%Nasdaq Inc.NDAQ -2.61%Citi Ventures C -4.30%,Capital One Financial Corp.COF -2.85%, Fiserve Inc. and Orange SAORA.FR -2.93%have invested $30 million in startup Chain Inc.