Antony Lewis is one of the leading voices in blockchain innovation in Asia. He has been instrumental in helping a number of major Asian enterprises cut through the fintech hype to find the real business value in harnessing the power of blockchain and distributed ledger. We were very excited to grab a few moments of his time ahead of Cards & Payments Asia, where he is due to speak, to pick his brains on the near future developments around this exciting technological trend:
Can you share with us a little about your background?
In 2013 I became fascinated with bitcoin after reading a WIRED article which had been written in 2011. I played around with some bitcoins and in November I paid the entrance fee to attend a bitcoin conference in the Fullerton Hotel in Singapore. After meeting some of the characters I was hooked. That evening I accepted a role at a bitcoin exchange which had just raised venture capital. For nearly two years I was the Asia business development director at itBit, growing the business and attracting traders and merchants. In 2015 I became interested in blockchain technology, and without enough time in the day to study this, I left itBit to research blockchains independently, putting my thoughts on my blog www.bitsonblocks.net. Last year I was recognised as one of Asia’s top 100 FinTech influencers.
How are you advising banks and other FIs to think about blockchain technology application?
In 2013 the focus was “What is bitcoin?”. Last year the focus was on “Blockchains 101”, helping people understand what the technology is all about and how the technology of synchronised databases without single owners is different to bitcoins. There wasn’t a huge amount of well-written material in the public domain so I started a blog and got consulting contracts from inbound leads.
This year seems to be more about use cases and proof of concepts. Most of the business cases I have seen could work with older technology, but I understand the need to play with something and get hands dirty even if a blockchain isn’t the most appropriate solution.
I think later this year smart contracts will come to the fore: the ability to pre-agree a set of conditions, and then watch it run without any party being able to independently alter it.
Are banks right to be worried about the future viability of their role as custodians of wealth?
Irrespective of blockchains I think the answer is yes. Banks as we know them have not been able to keep up with the demands of consumers. Having said that, people need to store their wealth somewhere – somewhere that meets people’s expectations of security and convenience. Certainly the threat of FinTech entrants is forcing banks to up their game with the customer experience.
There is something disruptive going on too: cheaper access to financial markets in the form of robo-advisors, increasing the pool of potential customers at the low end of the market. Never before has someone with $100 to invest been able to participate in such a broad range of financial assets. This is a classic example of Clayton Christensen’s disruptive innovation and banks need to aggressively defend against this if they wish to maintain relevance over the next 25 years. I wrote a post about disruptive innovation here.
What are the most intriguing blockchain based business models that you have seen?
The really good ones are the hardest to execute. The more participants there are, the more valuable the blockchain is, but it’s extremely difficult to get multiple companies working to the same technology. Many of the business models that are being proposed can actually be solved with better interoperability ie APIs allowing companies to interact with each other via computers, however the current hype around blockchains is forcing the conversation, which I think is a good thing.
What is your opinion of bitcoin as the future of currency?
Science fiction has told us that there will be good internet-based non-governmental money. Bitcoin is the first decent attempt at a non-centralised form of digital value. Will it last until the end of humanity? Who knows. There are many problems with bitcoins – but there are many problems with government money. The really interesting thing for me is central banks getting in on the e-money game. We currently store our money with commercial banks because we have to. There is a clear trend towards choice: a few years ago, I had no choice but to store non-physical money in a commercial bank, today I can store it in “off-bank” digital money, eg bitcoins, and tomorrow perhaps with the central bank. The People’s Bank of China have announced their intention to explore issuing their own e-money. If people and businesses can keep accounts at the central bank, this will really force a re-think of the role of commercial banks.
To find out more and register for your spot at Cards & Payments Asia, download the event brochure here!