Investec sees promise in blockchain

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Chris Becker, blockchain lead, Investec.
Chris Becker, blockchain lead, Investec.

Chris Becker, blockchain technologies lead at Investec, quotes a line from Machiavelli in a recent tweet: “Nothing is more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain of success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.”

It’s apposite in the context of traditional financial institutions, which can see the transformative power of blockchain technologies, but are shackled to their legacy systems and processes.

Becker will be presenting a keynote at this year’s Blockchain Africa Conference at Investec’s offices in Sandton on March 11 and 12.

He told ITWeb this week that he’ll be making an announcement at the conference, but was cagey about what it will entail. All he would say was that the team at Investec are trying to build ‘technology agnostic services and products’ that both its clients and staff can use.

He says many financial institutions are fearful of this technology, specifically, ‘this new asset class that has been born’. Investec, meanwhile, is investigating the technology.

“Our philosophy with innovation is that it must happen inside the business. We’re working with team leaders from various functions inside the bank to put together a product. It’s a large community of people.” 

The blockchain team also includes developers.

“We are spending time trying to understand this new asset class, to see what we can do with it. We’re doing a lot of research.”

He thinks the fear, or caution, that some financial institutions have around blockchain may be borne from a lack of understanding about how it works and is valued.

“It might be a threat to their existing businesses. I think each bank’s reasons are going to be different. We’ve tried to work our way through all those reasons, and tried to understand them.

“If you’re talking about a decentralised crypto-currency like Bitcoin, it’s the first scarce digital asset, ever. We’ve never had that before in history, and that’s interesting. Currently, electronic currencies rely on regulations and laws so that they can be made scarce, whereas Bitcoin has its own governance protocol.”

Here Becker is referring to Bitcoin’s anti-inflationary mechanism of a finite supply of 21 million.

“For the first time ever, you’ve got a self-regulating, scarce digital asset. There’s obviously going to be use cases around that in the future. It’s a form of electronic gold. I don’t think we can fathom the innovations that are going to take place.”

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