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Security tokens: the third blockchain revolution

Away from the mania of last year’s ICO gold-rush, the appeal and benefits of raising capital by issuing debt and equity on a blockchain-enabled marketplace has struck a chord in the institutional financial services world. As momentum builds among some of the biggest names in finance, we will soon see properly regulated tokens, fit for real businesses and sovereign entities, writes R3’s Todd McDonald.

2017 saw a huge boom in companies raising money by issuing their own digital currencies, a process that has become known as an initial coin offering, or ICO. Holders of these coins or ‘tokens’ are then able to freely trade them on online crypto exchanges.

ICO activity skyrocketed almost overnight, and by the end of 2017 start-ups had managed to raise a total of more than $5.6 billion. Not bad for a market that barely existed a year earlier.

The potential for quick returns attracted a lot of investors, especially inexperienced retail investors spurred on by stories of crypto-millionaires. As might be expected, the risks associated with these investments were not always fully understood. There have been countless instances of scams, fraud or outright Ponzi schemes, which would be seen as comical except for the fact that it put ‘other people’s money’ clearly at risk.

Unsurprisingly, the amount of money pouring into the sector means regulators are appropriately increasing focus on token issuance projects, particularly in the United States. This, combined with a steep decline in deployable money from cryptocurrency speculation, has led to a clear cooling off period for ICOs.

However, the benefits of a decentralized issuance and transaction marketplace and smart securities contracts have clearly captured the attention of institutional players. 2018 has seen increased focus on security tokens, which offer the promise of spurring a new, lower friction method of asset and capital formation. These ‘enterprise-ready tokens,’ if developed appropriately, could automate or simplify much of the asset origination, issuance, execution, and secondary trading processes that makeup so much of investment banking fees today.  Issuers of securities everywhere see the value in a more efficient, effective connection to those looking to allocate capital, all in a safe, regulated and automated environment.

If bitcoin represented the first blockchain revolution and the emergence of enterprise blockchain platforms represented the second, the creation of a new global capital market powered by enterprise security tokens will usher in the third.

Putting assets on the chain

The first instances of these new enterprise token will likely focus on what is called asset-backed tokens. Put simply, the digital token represents an asset that is held ‘somewhere else,’ often at a regulated custodian. The token acts as a ‘digital twin’ and can be traded or exchanged freely on a blockchain with settlement finality, while the underlying asset remains blissfully in place at a custodian.

This interplay of a regulated custodian linked with an on-chain digital representation, while seemingly straightforward, unlocks new ways for markets to transact and expand. It offers a way for businesses to begin to iterate and implement enterprise-friendly yet novel digital assets, all from a strong foundation of an accepted regulatory base.

Building the token ‘buy-side community’

Both emerging and established financial infrastructure players are currently developing solutions to enable the issuance and secondary trading of these asset-backed tokens.

If tokens are to become credible and useful instruments in the institutional world, the quality and type of investor they are able to attract must also be considered. For example, when companies embark on a capital raise, whether it is a Reg D placement or full blown IPO, they (and their investment bank partners) seek ‘strong-hand’ investors – those that aren’t in it just for a quick profit.

The same will apply in the future for companies issuing their debt or equity as tokens, and as such, they will seek out platforms that give them access and distribution to a buy-side of proven investors.

Corda: the natural home of security tokens

R3 is uniquely positioned to facilitate the emerging ‘token economy’ in a secure and regulated manner. The same enterprise-ready focus that led to the design and capabilities of our Corda platform can be extended to bringing the best innovations of the ‘wild west’ of the token world to the enterprise.

Corda was designed from inception to solve the problem of how to represent real-world agreements on a blockchain in a canonical and enforceable way, and this approach can be directly applied to security token issuance. Financial agreements on Corda take the form of smart contracts, linking business logic and data to associated legal prose in order to ensure that trades executed on the platform are rooted firmly in law.

Other key considerations for security token issuance, such as identity, security, data privacy, and settlement finality, are already handled elegantly by Corda and have been key drivers in securing its position as the blockchain platform of choice in capital markets.

Corda-based token examples actually emerged back in 2016, when we began a collaboration with Bank of Canada, Payments Canada and others under the name Project Jasper, where a token called CAD-COIN represented collateral held by the central bank. Since then, we have seen pilot and production examples from our partners, in particular from HQLAxin securities lending and Tradewind Markets in gold trading.

Connectivity with the established financial services community also differentiates Corda from any other platform in the space. R3 is already in talks with a number of major market infrastructure providers about creating regulated environments for security tokens, underpinned by Corda, and the 200+ member ecosystem includes most of the biggest names in financial services, giving token issuers access to a vast network of high-quality investors.  Corporates, banks, asset managers, and market infrastructure providers are also crowding in to provide a stable, regulated settlement asset on Corda.  Corda’s unique design supports delivery of digital security tokens against payment in digital cash instruments in a single, atomic transaction.  This will reduce time, cost, and perhaps most importantly, risk in the emerging token-enabled credit market on Corda.

Platforms like Corda provide the catalyst and foundation to enable security tokens to become a new and potentially invaluable tool in the capital markets toolbox. Unregulated ICOs provided the inspiration for this next wave, yet the shift is already underway to make tokens enterprise-grade. The third blockchain revolution of digital assets will arguably be the most important and impactful to date.

R3 Ledger

The Corda development community continues to build awesome new CorDapps harnessing the best of Corda. Do check out the latest addition, Parnika Sharma’s (BCS Tech) property listing CorDapp which showcases the power of an RDBMS running on a distributed ledger. We’ll be adding this to the growing list of Corda samples soon.

Meanwhile Corda 4 and Corda Enterprise 4 is taking shape, and a sneak peek at the content reveals a host of compelling new features and further improvements to the developer experience: contract constraints are a part of how Corda manages application upgrades and we’re adding the ability to constrain to any attachments signed by a specified set of cryptographic keys. 

This is an easier constraint method to use and requires less choreography between node administrators; support for multiple Corda nodes behind a single firewall, part of the strategy to reduce hosting costs; hardware security module support for safeguarding node cryptographic keys; a more consistent developer experience across the code (for example, error logging and the command line interface); improvements to the administration of a node’s membership to a Corda network, and – of course – we will be maintaining our high bar for the standard of documentation with further improvements to make it better than ever.


Bootcamp

Image result for corda bootcamp

R3’s Corda developer relations team is back on the road! Building on their massively successfully Bootcamp events held in major cities around the world earlier in the year, the team will be stopping off in more global locations in October to help you learn more about (and get the most out of) Corda.  Do take a look at the list of Bootcamps in the Upcoming Events section below to register for your nearest city and join our Corda experts for a no-cost evening of hands-on training, where any developer can arrive with their laptop and leave with a CordDapp.


Partner Spotlight

Corda

 Corda Enterprise Blockchain is now available on AWS! This Quick Start automatically deploys a Corda Enterprise node in a new or existing virtual private cloud (VPC) on the AWS Cloud in about 30 minutes. Corda Enterprise on AWS is a production-ready implementation of a Corda Enterprise node, which offers built-in resilience and high availability and which can scale as the needs of the node operator change. This partnership opens up CE availability to AWS’ 55,000+ partner network. Read all about it here.


R3search Rollout

Corda

In energy, R3 responded to the US Senate hearing regarding the energy efficiency of blockchain technology. The article in Brink, “Bitcoin is a Red Herring in the Discussion of Blockchain Energy Efficiency”, found that blockchain could aid the integration of smaller suppliers into the energy grid and enable provenance tracking of renewables.

We now have 18 public papers available for download, written by authors such as Vitalik Buterin, Ian Grigg, JP Koning, Rodney Garratt, Neepa Patel, and many other blockchain thought leaders! In capital markets, R3 Research has privately published “Building Blocks for Better Compliance: Can Blockchain Decrease the Burden of Financial Regulations?”, which focuses specifically on the recent MiFid II regulation in Europe. Members can access private papers here.


Life in the Fast Chain

Corda

Have you listened to our blockchain podcast yet? Check out our latest episode (online, iTunes, Spotify, Google Play, Overcast, etc) with Impact Chain Lab’s CEO and co-founder, Aishwarya Balaji. Aishwarya comes on to discuss how she got into the blockchain space, her company’s goals, their new project Bystander, and more.

If you haven’t listened to our last special, check it out! This special episode features R3’s Mike Hearn who talks about the Corda platform, the Corda network, his vision for the future of Corda and the potential future intersection of the blockchain, IoT, AI, and other emerging technologies.

To stay tuned, be sure to check out the podcast on your favorite app! 


Corda Certification

Corda

Certification can be obtained by passing the Corda Certification exam with a score of 75% or better. If you have attended a Corda developer training session or have equivalent experience, you should be well-equipped to take the exam with some additional independent study.

Developers who pass will receive an invitation to claim a digital badge that can be shared on social media and with the developer community at large.

Ready to take the exam?

R3 named Best Blockchain Initiative of the Year at Financial News Awards

R3 took home the ‘Best Blockchain Initiative of the Year‘ award at last night’s Financial News Trading & Technology Awards at the V&A in London.

The awards set out to celebrate the success stories of trading and technology firms operating in, and supporting, financial markets over the past year.

And it’s fair to say that the past twelve months have been very good indeed for R3. Its global network more than doubled in size, growing from 75 members in March 2017 to more than 200 today, the first CorDapp on Corda, R3’s blockchain platform has gone live and a successful Series A fundraising round in May 2017 raised $107m from more than 40 investors.

The next year is already shaping up to be another busy one for R3 with the commercial deployment of Corda Enterprise and more CorDapps due to be launched later in 2018 so watch this space.