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Treasury Technology

Giancarlo: Blockchain Means a Safer Swap Market

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June 26, 2019

CFTC Chair says distributed ledger combined with other tech will help swap market.

BlockchainAlthough bitcoin has been newsy lately, the tech behind it has fallen out of the headlines this year. But since blockchain may end up making the swap market much safer for corporates hedging risk, not to mention benefiting corporates more directly, it could be news again soon.

In a recent speech in Rome, CFTC Chairman J. Christopher Giancarlo noted that the real-time, distributed-ledger technology (DLT) supporting blockchain coupled with modern cognitive computing capabilities could have enabled regulators to recognize anomalies and diverging counterparty exposures. In fact, they could have realized that the $400 million notional of outstanding credit default swaps written on Lehman Brothers represented under $8 billion in net market exposure” to the failed the firm.

“In short, what a difference it would have made a decade ago if blockchain technology on a private distributed ledger accessible to regulators had been the informational foundation of Wall Street’s derivatives exposures,” Gianfranco said. “At a minimum, it would certainly have allowed for far faster, better-informed, and more calibrated regulatory intervention instead of the disorganized response that unfortunately ensued.”

What that means to corporates. Corporates generally were not involved in the credit-default market, but it hobbled and even brought down the big Wall Street banks that were their counterparties for more conventional interest-rate and currency swaps.

Additionally, while initiatives to implement DLT in the financial markets remain in early stages, when the technology gains ground Wall Street bank customers, including corporates, should not only feel more secure but perhaps more justified in asking for swap-related fee cuts. Mr. Giancarlo noted estimates that by 2022 DLT could allow financial institutions to save as much as $20 billion in infrastructure and operational costs each year.

Another study, “Estimates that the technology could cut trading settlement costs by a third, or $16 billion a year, and cut capital requirements by $120 billion,” he said, adding, “Moving from systems­of­record at the level of a firm to an authoritative system­of­record at the level of a market is an enormous opportunity to improve existing market infrastructure.”

And the more direct benefits for corporates? Mr. Giancarlo noted DLT use cases in areas ranging from international trade to charitable endeavors to social services. He pointed to Louis Dreyfus, a global agricultural commodities merchant, which along with a group of financing banks last year completed the first DLT agricultural deal for the sale of 60,000 tons of US soybeans to China. He added that other potential corporate use cases include managing legal records, and inventory control and logistics.

Mr. Giancarlo cautioned that challenges remain around DLT scalability, governance, security and value, but added that in general advances often seem slow until they reach a tipping point. “Yet it is undeniable that DLT and interoperable database systems hold enormous commercial promise,” he said.

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