Blockchain applications and their potential uses are driving greater efficiency, enhancing the traceability of data within transactions, and increasing the security of financial transactions and products. The technology paves the way for digital, near instantaneous trading and smart contracts that remove human intervention from the process, all with the possibility of a secure, fully traceable and indelible chain of control. Of course, this sets in motion a whole new set of challenges for the world's regulators and, in turn, opens up new paths for advisors.
Blockchain is a very young technology, currently with limited but growing real-life applications. Initially created as the enabler for cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, its utility has far outgrown such applications and it is now a technology which many herald as the next big thing to shake up the financial services sector more generally.
From an operational perspective, the most common applications being touted, tested and sand-boxed are focussed on clearing and settlement, loan syndication and finance transactional mechanics such as trade finance. In light of this, the FCA has taken a keen and proactive interest and published a discussion paper. This starts the process of examining the potential benefits, risks and uses of distributed ledger technology in a wider context and so it seems that real-world, wide scale deployment is merely a matter of time.
The potential for new thinking around regulation in some of the financial services' most specialised products and services raises the question of how the legal community will provide the support required by their own financial services clients and suppliers. Until now, much of the legal community's interest and resources have been focused on blockchain and distributed ledger technology from a technology angle, with the resident technology lawyers being put forward to lead this revolution, at least from an advisory perspective. We know this because this very article is written by technology lawyers (albeit ones who specialise in financial services products and services). The challenge is in recognising that the true disruption is not to technology, but to the very financial products and banking or insurance services that the technology will change.
The regulatory and financial products professionals, with the actual product, will become a vital component in addressing some of the most difficult issues which lurk behind the excitement of blockchain possibilities. These issues may only become truly apparent when fintech applications based solidly in blockchain, currently in their infancy, become integral to the way that certain financial services and products are delivered and sold.
It is the hybrid expertise of the deep-seated banking, insurance and regulatory knowledge coupled with the expertise of a technology professional that will become the in-demand skillset of the future. This diverse pool of knowledge may ultimately take root in a single expert, but for the foreseeable future, as the legal, financial and regulatory powers catch up with technological development, the skills of cross-functional teams will have the advantage of knowledge osmosis between previously disparate disciplines. As the hybrid fintech professional develops, the huge future appeal for and interest in fintech careers appears certain.
For our part, we address demands through a multi-disciplinary team approach, utilising our expertise across the legal, financial, technology and regulatory spheres. If, however, you accept that the future of financial service technology is a truly hybrid set of skills that will fuse together over time, there is real potential to give birth to a whole new set of disciplines in professional services firms of the future. Understanding and being able to deal with both the applications of the technology and the ramifications of the technology will be the fintech advisor's 'sweet spot'. Whether this is met by technology lawyers who become more embedded in the regulatory and financial products world or vice versa (or more likely, both), the knock-on impact of new technologies on how we deliver legal services is not limited solely to the technology that law firms bring in themselves.