New Frontiers In 2019 …

2018 was a stimulating, demanding year for CBoxx bringing consultancy and research on new projects around blockchain technology, financial regulation, decentralised identity, data standards, integrations and legacy system migrations at scale. It’s hard to draw a common theme from all this but perhaps the general concept of exploring new frontiers comes closest. You can read about a few of these projects below:

The rush of excitement over the potential for blockchain technology seems to have gone past the hype cycle now, severely dampened by the “Crypto Winter” of 2018 and the growing attention of financial regulators. Much of the CBoxx work in Q2 2018 was centred around research into crypto-regulation and it’s clear that this is the right direction because it will bring trust, confidence and protection into this field.

CBoxx is a company that is driven by the desire to make things work, not wild speculation. As the sharks and chancers are driven out of this field, it leaves the serious practitioners to concentrate on solving the problems that sensibly must be addressed by the blockchain industry. For example, the January 2019 “Constantinople” hard fork upgrade for the Ethereum global decentralised network is fully focussed on improving the utility, cost and usability of the network that will keep Ethereum on the road to ‘proof of stake’ consensus that promises to bring true mass adoption.

This McKinsey article provides a realistic summing up of the blockchain field today (with thanks to David Taylor of OCP for sharing). CBoxx originally pinpointed Identity as an exciting use case for blockchain and McKinsey have the same view. So it’s very exciting to have been involved with the foundation of the Frontiers In Blockchain peer-reviewed journal that launched in Q3 2018. Our specific Research Topic within the journal will be focussed on how to make Self Sovereign Identity happen…

Frontiers In Blockchain | Blockchain for Good

Self-Sovereign Identity gives people control over their personal information, including the mechanisms to grant, revoke and apply constraints to their consent for others to use it. The open standards and technical infrastructure for these ecosystems are now materialising due to the pervasiveness of the internet, mobile devices, the emergence of viable decentralised networks and the intellectual capital of the identity community.

However, there remain serious challenges for generating the change needed for society to willingly trust and transition to this approach. Therefore, our Research Topic on Frontiers In will aim to generate a rich resource for identity practitioners, researchers, technologists, potential adopters and many more to explore, understand, advance and enrich this subject. Many leading lights in this community are already signed up to contribute to the journal and peer review the contributions of others.

At the beginning of 2019 it’s tough to predict where CBoxx  will end up, but Self Sovereign Identity feels like the right place to start …

Blockchain Primer Paper on Decentralised Identity

The rise of decentralisation ushered in by blockchain technology and the personal computing power of the smartphone has offered up a practical new way to manage Digital Identity that is appealing to nearly everyone and has enormous potential everywhere; from financial services to global supply chains to the humanitarian sector.

Self Sovereign Identity turns our ideas about how digital identity is managed on their head and perhaps promises to solve many of the problems we face today related to data security, data protection and the rapidly increasing burden of corporate risk.

This new primer paper from CBoxx draws together the main concepts, key players and initiatives, interesting use cases, progress on open standards and some of the latest thought leadership in the area, as of September 2017 …

CBoxx Identity Matters Primer Paper v04

Addressing Global Challenges with Blockchain Technologies

Al Sherriff, CBoxx MD

On a blazing hot day in May, blockchain experts and innovators came together with NGOs, charities and other third sector organisations in a conference room at techUK in London to discuss the role of blockchain related technologies in addressing global challenges. Collectively the group is known as “Blockchain for Good”. I was excited to be invited onto the discussion panel and I have to admit also slightly nervous of the ambitious scope of the subject in hand. My role was clearly to be the technical expert on the panel.

An inspirational opening keynote from Robert Kay, director of DISC Holdings paved the way to further sessions from pioneering companies presenting their businesses and real world use cases. The panel discussion concluded the event.

DISC Holdings were formerly GovCoin – relatively high profile in blockchain circles with a project focussed on working with the Department of Work & Pensions to trial the use distributed ledger technology in providing transparency and tracking in the payment and use of welfare benefits by claimants.

In common with several other first session speakers, DISC are members of the FCA Regulatory Sandbox and therefore thoroughly engaged in examining the role of regulation with their business. In April this year, the FCA launched DP17/3, an industry consultation on the need (or not) for the regulation of Distributed Ledger technology. There were other speakers from amongst the FCA Sandbox membership: Raphael Mazet of and Laura Bailey of Disberse. Both companies are aiming to provide a DLT platform for tracking charitable donations, though within broadly different sectors. The goal is to try and eliminate fraud and increase transparency and trust in the charity funding supply chain.

Another common theme of the day was the technical challenge of scaling with distributed ledger platforms, with several companies reporting they are gearing up to tackle that problem next, while one has been forced to maintain an off-ledger workaround for managing any surges in use. This provoked an audience question of “why are you using a DLT then?” The answer being that they definitely do see DLT as the long term solution and they are confident that the technology will work through and shrug off these early teething problems.

Karl Hoods (@karlhoods), CIO of Save The Children bravely presented off the cuff, without slides or notes and he had also just been struck on the head by a pigeon on his way to the conference. Save The Children have been exploring the potential for this technology for some time under Karl’s guidance and are also interested in funding transparency, along with child safeguarding and “on the ground identity” for aid workers.

The panel discussion that followed comprised the always massively entertaining Dave Birch (@dgwbirch) of Hyperion, Mike Brookbanks of University of Surrey, Rhodri Davies of Charities Aid Foundation, Sue Lukes of MigrationWork CIC and myself. Following introductions I fielded a question voicing concerns about scaling and fees. The price of Ethereum has risen massively since the turn of the year and even further since the conference! There’s a fear that this could drive up the network fees that need to be paid to operate Ethereum based decentralised applications, making it unrealistic to work with. In practice this should not be the case because the Ethereum transaction fees (Gas) are priced separately from the network currency (Ether). Effectively, the more you pay, the quicker your transaction will be settled. Making all this work in real-world operations does depend on very careful design and thought from the outset though.

In general the panel urged optimism but extreme caution in the use of blockchain in this area – an area that is basically aiming to help very large numbers of vulnerable and/or unbanked people. Right now, there are few, if any, safeguards in the blockchain world and there are plenty of technical challenges to overcome before the tech can be confidently used at scale. Customer Service is usually very primitive or simply non-existent at the moment from blockchain based companies. That cannot be acceptable within the ‘for good’ sector. There simply cannot be a situation where losing a private key means a vulnerable person loses of all their funds, with absolutely no recourse and nowhere to turn.

Personally I expect to see the issues of scale being resolved within the next year on Ethereum, Bitcoin and accelerated by emerging blockchain network technologies such as IOTA and Tezos. The actions of the FCA need to be supported and followed closely, particularly by this sector where regulation is surely a must have.

Our thanks must go out to hosts and organisers Dr Richard Adams (@r_jadams) of the University of Surrey and Professor Glenn Parry (@drgeep) of UWE in taking the initiative to bring the group together. Overall it felt like the goal of bringing together two different communities that do share broadly similar values has worked, sparking a number of new conversations, connections and ideas between those present.  I do hope the good work continues …

Further links with insights from other speakers I’ve not mentioned above are here:

Building a Technology Consultancy Co-operative

Alongside our work in the fintech industry, since the end of 2016 CBoxx have also been working with like minded consultancies and domain experts to create a new co-operative technology consultancy business / network.

Team Blockchain (TB) is being established to help organisations identify and assess the impact that Blockchain and other associated technologies are likely to have on their day to day activities, by helping them identify ways to reduce costs, improve security, explore new products/services and improve their profit margins.

The members of TB will have a wide range of practical business experience in a number of different industries, with many having worked for leading global consulting partners, sharing a desire to offer independent advice and help solve real business challenges for the organisations they work with.

By working as a collaborative team, TB consultants will be able to offer domain expertise (industry specific), cross-industry expertise and expertise in other technologies – such as AI, Deep Learning, Robotics, Telematics, Analytics, etc.

Team Blockchain aims to set an entirely new standard. It is a company that is being setup to offer independent advice on Blockchain by a Team of global experts, who themselves will own the majority of the business.

Institute of Chartered Accountants explore the future with CBoxx and OCP

Having examined our paper on the future of financial planning the Financial Services division of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England & Wales (ICAEW) contacted CBoxx and OCP to author a special article for their members magazine FS Focus.

The theme of the original paper was extended to explore how the boundaries between certified financial planning, chartered accountancy, tax and legal practices will continue to dissolve as technical advances such as cloud services, data driven machine learning, and secure data collaboration through blockchain inspired technology mean that financial professionals will access increasingly joined up services.

We also look at ideas such as the emergence of the new ‘legal programmer’ profession and how firms will come to differentiate themselves in the market through the quality and depth of teaching invested in their own expert systems. The tone remains positive throughout because although we see the industry changing radically, essential new professions will emerge and the outcomes will ultimately make the financial services industry cheaper, safer and far more accessible and broadly appealing for customers.

The FS Focus article itself is only available to ICAEW members but that article was based on our original futurology whitepaper that you can read here: Financial Planning: An Optimistic View of the Future

Interactive Blockchain Lectures at Hult International Business School

In November the Hult International Business School in London  invited Al Sherriff of CBoxx and David Taylor from OCP  to deliver an interactive lecture on “The Strategic Implications of Blockchain” to undergraduate students on the four year Batchelor of Business Administration course, run by Jamie MacAlister. Together we prepared a lecture that aimed to be factual, engaging, cautionary and encouraging.

Al first covered “How does it work?” followed by a section on the volatile history and colourful characters of Bitcoin and blockchain technology. David then explored the strategic angles and industry use cases. Our first lecture had to compete with the news just an hour or so earlier that President Trump had been elected but despite that, the students were attentive and a pleasure to talk too. Several were already well versed in this area and asked searching questions, while others were clearly clicking through the possibilities for innovation in their mind.

Hult has a reputation for producing entrepreneurs and that was evident in some of the discussions both during and after the lecture sessions on the economics, research and opportunities in this field. Jamie astutely framed the day when he coined the question “What is the cost of trust?” – future research for the students perhaps?

CBoxx in Money Marketing magazine

CBoxx MD Alan Sherriff took time out from his projects to make an appearance in Money Marketing magazine in July, to write about our 2016 technology research theme: blockchain (distributed ledgers): “The revolutionary technology set to power the advice boom”

This article was based on our futurology whitepaper that you can read here: Financial Planning: An Optimistic View of the Future

Blockchain White Paper on the Future of Financial Planning

Based on our collaborative research in 2016, CBoxx and OCP have co-authored a new white paper that offers an optimistic glimpse of the future for financial planning with particular focus on the possible effects of blockchain technology on the underlying investments industry stack.

We begin with a “Day in the Life” of Fara, a young financial planner in the 2020’s, followed by a broad outline of how the industry could evolve to that point from today …

CBoxx OCP White Paper Financial Planning Optimistic Vision of Future v10