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IBM trials blockchain platform aimed at banks

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IBM launched a blockchain platform for financial services on Monday as it continued to bolster its offerings of the much-hyped technology.

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Blockchain is the technology that underpins the cryptocurrency bitcoin. It’s a public ledger of activity on the bitcoin network that is tamper-proof. But banks and other institutions are now looking to apply blockchain to many of their processes, from issuing loans to settling trades.

The blockchain, or distributed ledger technology (DLT), being employed by large companies, however, differs from the bitcoin network. Whereas the bitcoin blockchain is public, the DLT being applied at large organizations is private.

IBM teamed up with CLS, a foreign exchange market infrastructure firm, to create LedgerConnect, a proof of concept DLT platform designed for financial services companies. It’s aimed at applying blockchain technology to a number of areas, including know-your-customer processes, sanctions screening, collateral management, derivatives post-trade processing and reconciliation and market data.

There are a large number of companies offering different DLT products. For example, R3, which works with a consortium of banks has blockchain products aimed at the financial services industry.

And some banks are working on their own technology. This is a potential issue because there is a concern that all these different blockchains won’t work with each other. So, if one bank is using DLT created by one firm and another lender is using a different blockchain, the two institutions may not be able to transact with each other.

IBM’s LedgerConnect platform is hosted on a single network. It aims to be a one-stop shop for financial institutions to create blockhain applications.

So far, nine financial services companies, including banks Barclays and Citi, are involved in the proof of concept. The DLT platform is not widely available yet, but IBM said it could be following completion of a successful proof of concept, regulatory approvals and sufficient market demand.

Advocates of blockchain technology say that it can speed up processes within the financial industry, making them more efficient and cheaper. But wide-scale adoption of blockchain technology hasn’t happened yet. Instead, many financial institutions are experimenting with DLT and it’s unclear how it might be implemented across industries.

IBM has been focusing on newer technology like cloud and blockchain to help turn around the company. So far, the strategy appears to be working. The second quarter of 2018 marked IBM’s third consecutive quarter of revenue growth, following five years of year-on-year revenue declines.

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