Japanese e-commerce giant Rakuten is to open a blockchain development lab in Belfast to cater for its expanding portfolio of investments in the fintech arena.
Slated to open next week, the firm says the new Lab will be positioned as a dedicated research and development organisation within Rakuten, focused on blockchain technology and its potential applications in the fintech and e-commerce sectors.
The establishment of the facility follows the acquisition by Rakuten of IP assets from Bitnet Technologies , operators of a digital payments platform powered by blockchain. Day-to-day operations will be headed up by CTO Stephen McNamara and VP of engineering Fergal Downey, both of whom will join from Bitnet.
Yasufumi Hirai, group EVP, CIO, CISO and head of the Rakuten Technology Division, says: "Drawing on the significant IP assets and deep engineering expertise of the Bitnet team and combining that with Rakuten's leadership in fintech and support of innovative solutions, the new Rakuten Blockchain Lab will be our first step toward unlocking blockchain's potential to revolutionise the way that financial and e-commerce transactions are conducted."
In November last year, Rakuten established a $100 million fintech fund to invest in disruptive early to mid-stage startups in Europe and North America, with a view to building on previous investments in the space, including Currency Cloud, WePay and Bitnet.
With this news, Rakuten follows in the footsteps of PwC, which announced earlier this year that it was to establish a 40-strong team of blockchain and bitcoin experts at its offices in Belfast.