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The Blockchain Could Change the Backbone of the Stock Market

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Modern technology enables stock markets to be faster and more complex than ever.

But while the speed of order executions are infinitely more impressive across the board, the conceptual backbone behind the stock market itself hasn’t changed much. In fact, the model we use today for settling trades and ensuring proper share ownership is still based on the one initially created in the 17th Century.

A Decentralization of Equities?

Today’s infographic comes to us from Equibit, and it envisions what a decentralized securities platform could look like.

In such a paradigm, the settlement of trades would not occur through centralized transfer agents, but instead through a blockchain with this feature “built in”.

Where the Blockchain Meets the Stock Market

The application of blockchain technology could take the modernization of the stock market one step further. Instead of technology being used simply to speed up more complex transactions, the blockchain could change how the plumbing behind the system works to mitigate current risks and problems.

But to understand how transformative this idea is, we need to look at the history behind the current model first.

The Roots of the Modern Market

The roots of the modern stock market can be traced back to Amsterdam in the year 1602, when the Dutch East India Company became the world’s first “publicly traded” company.

Trade missions to the West Indies were risky and expensive – so shares and bonds in the company were initially sold to a large pool of interested investors to spread the risk. In turn, backers of the company received a guarantee of some future share of profits.

As investors began speculating about the prospects of the Dutch East India Company, a secondary market quickly developed for these securities. People bought and sold stock in high volumes, and a central registrar tracked the transfer of shares between parties.

The Backbone of Today’s Market

Over 400 years later, the stock market is not that much different from the earliest exchange found in Amsterdam.

Modern computing and the internet have sped up transactions so they can be executed in milliseconds, but the conceptual backbone of the market hasn’t changed at all.

Stock Transfer Agents are the centralized registrars in the background that track share ownership for issuers and the stock market. They are a third party that will cancel the share certificate for the investor that sold the shares, and substitute the new owner’s name on the official master shareholder listing.

There are over 130 stock transfer agents in the USA and Canada, maintaining the records of more than 100 million shareholders on behalf of over 15,000 issuers.

New Technology, Old Model

While modern stock transfer agents use today’s technology, the same old model persists – and it creates multiple industry problems:

Centralized and expensive

  • Depositories and transfer agents are a single point of failure
  • Registration, transfer, distribution, scrutineering, courier fees
  • The more widely held, the higher the administration costs

Limited Transparency

  • Information asymmetry leads to market advantages
  • Forged securities still a concern
  • Counterparty risk is systemic

Furthermore, legal ownership rests with transfer agents in most jurisdictions. Investors actually do not have title.

At the same time, the industry is huge – just one company, The Depository Trust & Clearing Corporation (DTCC) is the highest financial value processor in the world with $1.6 quadrillion in transactions in 2016.

The Problem With Centralization

During the Financial Crisis, the problems of increased centralization and limited transparency reared their ugly head.

Companies like Lehman Brothers and MF Global self-destructed – and nobody knew what kind of assets they had off their balance sheets.

If an accurate [blockchain] record of all of Lehman’s transactions had been available in 2008, then Lehman’s prudential regulators could have used data mining tools, smart contracts and other analytical applications to recognize anomalies. Regulators could have reacted sooner to Lehman’s deteriorating creditworthiness.

– J. Christopher Giancarlo, Commodity Futures Trading Commission

This lack of clarity and risk helped drive hysteria, ultimately exacerbating the extent of the crisis. Because no one could quantify the risks, investors liquidated their assets. More selling meant even less liquidity.

Enter the Blockchain

Instead of putting all stock transactions through a centralized hub, the blockchain can be used to directly transfer share ownership between investors.

Here’s how a decentralized securities platform could work:

  1. Somebody decides to transfer a security.
  2. The transaction is broadcast to a P2P network consisting of computers known as nodes.
  3. The network of nodes validates the transaction and user’s status using known algorithms. A valid transaction will transfer the title of the security.
  4. Once verified, the transaction is combined with other transactions to create a new block of data for the ledger and thus completing the transaction.

In other words, stock exchanges could run using a blockchain under the hood, with no longer any need for a centralized settlement or transfer of share certificates.

This is cheaper, faster, reduces risks, and more secure. It also would be fully transparent.

Even better, such a platform could also serve as the base for other value adds – and fully transform the way we think about equity markets.

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Bitcoin

The Beginning of a Bitcoin Bull Run?

After 15 months of losses and stagnation, Bitcoin has made a miraculous recovery — going on a 150% bull run since its lows in December 2018.

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The Beginning of a Bitcoin Bull Run?

After 15 months of losses and stagnation, Bitcoin has made a miraculous recovery — rising more than 150% from its lowest point in December 2018.

In its heyday, Bitcoin had surpassed $10,000 in early December 2017, before briefly crossing the $20,000 mark for a single day on December 17th. A year later, the digital currency had fallen back to Earth, dropping below $3,200.

Now that the dust of that wild speculative frenzy has settled, Bitcoin is back on the upswing. What could be causing this most recent surge in growth?

We look at four possible explanations for the Bitcoin bull run, as originally outlined by Aaron Hankin at MarketWatch:

Technical Milestones

Bitcoin has seen several technical milestones this year, such as surpassing the psychological barrier of $5,000 in early 2019, breaking the 200-day moving average, and scoring the golden cross (when the 50-day moving average crosses above the 200-day moving average).

Widespread Adoption

Bitcoin is experiencing a steady increase in adoption across several markets. The term Bitcoin has become a household name — even if people don’t understand what it does, they know what it is.

Companies such as Starbucks, Microsoft, and Amazon, and Nordstrom are looking for ways to integrate cryptocurrencies into daily transactions for faster payment clearance, innovative rewards programs, and efficient customer service interactions.

bitcoin merchants

Shifting Sentiments

Bitcoin has possibly seen a shift in public perception. There have been fewer negative articles about Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies, and the news stories that are negative no longer have as big of an impact as they once did.

When Binance announced hackers stole $40 million in bitcoin and when accusations of an $850-million cover-up were leveled against Bitfinex and Tether, the Bitcoin bull run barely flinched and continued to climb.

Wavering Gold Investment

Investor confidence in gold has been more stagnant in recent times. To capitalize on this, Grayscale Investments (of Digital Currency Group) posted a campaign in May 2019 promoting Bitcoin as an ideal alternative to gold because it is borderless, secure, and more efficient for storing value.

Despite the World Gold Council’s response denying those claims, the Grayscale Bitcoin Trust saw OTC Markets Group’s highest trading volumes five days later.

Where to from here?

After a long skid, it appears Bitcoin is showing signs of life again. Bitcoin’s price can be highly volatile, so it remains to be seen whether this is the beginning of a bull run, or whether this is just another bump in the roller coaster ride.

Editor’s note: The price of Bitcoin has fallen to $7,100 at time of publishing and will likely continue to experience extreme volatility. However, even at a price of $7,100, this is still a 120% increase from lows in Dec 2018. As well, an earlier version of this graphic had incorrect dates on the timeline. That has now been corrected.

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Banks

The 7 Major Flaws of the Global Financial System

Since the invention of banking, the global financial system has increasingly become more centralized. Here are the big flaws it has, as a result.

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The 7 Major Flaws of the Global Financial System

Since the invention of banking, the global financial system has become increasingly centralized.

In the modern system, central banks now control everything from interest rates to the issuance of currency, while government regulators, corporations, and intergovernmental organizations wield unparalleled influence at the top of this crucial food chain.

There is no doubt that this centralization has led to the creation of massive amounts of wealth, especially to those properly connected to the financial system. However, the same centralization has also arguably contributed to many global challenges and risks we face today.

Flaws of the Global Financial System

Today’s infographic comes to us from investment app Abra, and it highlights the seven major flaws of the global financial system, ranging from the lack of basic access to financial services to growing inequality.

1. Billions of people globally remain unbanked
To participate in the global financial sector, whether it is to make a digital payment or manage one’s wealth, one must have access to a bank account. However, 1.7 billion adults worldwide remain unbanked, having zero access to an account with a financial institution or a mobile money provider.

2. Global financial literacy remains low
For people to successfully use financial services and markets, they must have some degree of financial literacy. According to a recent global survey, just 1-in-3 people show an understanding of basic financial concepts, with most of these people living in high income economies.

Without an understanding of key concepts in finance, it makes it difficult for the majority of the population to make the right decisions – and to build wealth.

3. High intermediary costs and slow transactions
Once a person has access to financial services, sending and storing money should be inexpensive and fast.

However, just the opposite is true. Around the globe, the average cost of a remittance is 7.01% in fees per transaction – and when using banks, that rises to 10.53%. Even worse, these transactions can take days at a time, which seems quite unnecessary in today’s digital era.

4. Low trust in financial institutions and governments
The financial sector is the least trusted business sector globally, with only a 57% level of trust according to Edelman. Meanwhile, trust in governments is even lower, with only 40% trusting the U.S. government, and the global country average sitting at 47%.

5. Rising global inequality
In a centralized system, financial markets tend to be dominated by those who are best connected to them.

These are people who have:

  • Access to many financial opportunities and asset classes
  • Capital to deploy
  • Informational advantages
  • Access to financial expertise

In fact, according to recent data on global wealth concentration, the top 1% own 47% of all household wealth, while the top 10% hold roughly 85%.

On the other end of the spectrum, the vast majority of people have little to no financial assets to even start building wealth. Not only are many people living paycheck to paycheck – but they also don’t have access to assets that can create wealth, like stocks, bonds, mutual funds, or ETFs.

6. Currency manipulation and censorship
In a centralized system, countries have the power to manipulate and devalue fiat currencies, and this can have a devastating effect on markets and the lives of citizens.

In Venezuela, for example, the government has continually devalued its currency, creating runaway hyperinflation as a result. The last major currency manipulation in 2018 increased the price of a cup of coffee by over 772,400% in six months.

Further, centralized power also gives governments and financial institutions the ability to financially censor citizens, by taking actions such as freezing accounts, denying access to payment systems, removing funds from accounts, and denying the retrieval of funds during bank runs.

7. The build-up of systemic risk
Finally, centralization creates one final and important drawback.

With financial power concentrated with just a select few institutions, such as central banks and “too big too fail” companies, it means that one abject failure can decimate an entire system.

This happened in 2008 as U.S. subprime mortgages turned out to be an Achilles Heel for bank balance sheets, creating a ripple effect throughout the globe. Centralization means all eggs in one basket – and if that basket breaks it can possibly lead to the destruction of wealth on a large scale.

The Future of the Global Financial System?

The risks and drawbacks of centralization to the global financial system are well known, however there has never been much of a real alternative – until now.

With the proliferation of mobile phones and internet access, as well as the development of decentralization technologies like the blockchain, it may be possible to build an entirely new financial system.

But is the world ready?

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