Bitcoin could become a market-leading technology that will change the way financial systems are engineered says BNP Paribas, in an analysis of the potential disruptive impact of the crypto-currency on banking and asset servicing.
In an article for the bank's inhouse magazine, Johann Palychata a research analyst at BNP Paribas Securities Services provides five examples of the way in which bitcoin and the blockchain backbone could turn the financial services sector on its head.
In its first incarnation as a means of payment for B2C and P2P transactions, Palychata anticipates "the slow emergence of an ecosystem to accommodate a broader use of crypto-currencies in the real economy".
In many ways this is already happening, as venture capitalists pour funds into startups with the aim of dispelling the mytique around the use of bitcoin and spread its uptake into the mainstream.
Palychata then takes the analysis one step further, imagining a time when large corporations might decide to use the Bitcoin network rather than existing settlement systems.
"Bitcoin has settlement batches roughly every ten minutes and operates continuously day and night," notes Palychata. "Transactions are irrevocable and cheap. Nonetheless, the unit of account is comparable to central bank money in its nature."
Elsewhere, the blockchain could provide a decentralised infrastructure for securities issuance and servicing.
"These initiatives might first appeal those who are already raising money through alternative channels such as crowdfunding," says Palychata. "However, we might not be far from the day when a quoted company says that coins (that we could call ‘Bitshares’ to distinguish them from the currency coins) represent shares of its capital."
As a worldwide network open to all-comers, the Bitcoin protocol could also be used to create the largest fund distribution platform any fund management company could dream of, he says.
The potential reduction of the platform costs and the increased speed of the investment process could further enhance the competitive advantage of funds using this technology, says Palychata. Investors, meanwhile, could safely set up their own peer-to-peer networks without any intermediary.
Says Palychata: "Investment funds have a good chance of becoming one of the first real banking users of crypto-currencies, providing a standardised platform for international fund distribution."
And finally, he says, Bitcoin technologies could radically alter international trade finance by creating transactions that are designed to mimic the characteristics of a letter of credit and bypass the banks that currently act as intermediaries.
The scripting capabilities of Bitcoin allow complex transactions to be set up between two commercial partners, notes Palychata. "In this specific situation, a buyer importing goods into a country can make a time-limited deposit to prove that he is solvent at the time of the order. Only the seller can unlock it - but this unlocking option is available to him only after the buyer acknowledges receipt of the goods. If the goods are not delivered in the defined timeframe, the buyer gets the deposit back."
In conclusion, BNP Paribas is of the view that banks need to invest time and energy now in understanding how best to use the technology behind bitcoin "before other players step in to make that decision for them".