How Blockchain Technology Will Disrupt Financial Services Firms

n the second article of the series, “The Network Revolution: Creating Value through Platforms, People and Technology,” authors Barry Libert, Megan Beck and Jerry (Yoram) Wind look at how blockchain technology will prove to be a major disruptor to the public and private sectors, starting with the financial services industry. Libert is CEO of OpenMatters and Beck is the chief insights officer. Wind is a Wharton marketing professor and director of Wharton’s SEI Center for Advanced Studies in Management. The authors would like to thank LiquidHub for sponsoring the research for this series.

“There are hundreds of startups with a lot of brains and money working on various alternatives to traditional banking.” — Jamie Dimon, JPMorgan Chase

The basic rules of the game for creating and capturing economic value were once fixed in place. For years, or even decades, companies pursued the same old business models (usually selling goods or services, building and renting assets and land, and offering people’s time as services) and tried to execute better than their competitors did. But now, business model disruption is changing the very nature of economic returns and industry definitions. All industries are seeing rapid displacement, disruption, and, in extreme cases, outright destruction. The financial services industry, with its large commercial and investment banks and money managers, is no exception.

“Silicon Valley is coming,” JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon warned in his annual letter to shareholders. He said startups are coming for Wall Street, innovating and creating efficiency in areas that are important to companies such as JPMorgan, particularly in the lending and payments space.

The payments startup Stripe has a multibillion-dollar valuation and a partnership with Apple Pay. Bitcoin companies and exchanges such as 21 and Coinbase are attracting tens of millions of dollars from venture capitalists. Peer-to-peer lending is booming in the small loan market with many players, including Upstart, Prosper, Funding Circle, and more. And the financial-planning startup LearnVest just got acquired for more than $250 million.

Many of these organizations are in the lending business, but are using big data and cloud technologies rather than tellers and branches to speed lending and customer acquisition. Others are leveraging network business models, such as peer-to-peer lending, to bring together would-be lenders and borrowers. According to Dimon, “We are going to work hard to make our services as seamless and competitive as theirs.” His underlying thought is this: If his company doesn’t keep pace with today’s well-capitalized upstarts, they will begin to lose relevance in a platform-centric world.

“In lots of areas, it looks like the blockchain will replace the current centralized business model of the financial services industry.”

There are many innovative, network business models that are coming after traditional financial services and banking organizations, and big banks are beginning to realize they must evolve in response if they want to remain viable in a digitally centric world — whether it comes by acquiring, partnering or developing leading-edge technologies. But what’s less clear is why, exactly, these new entrants are so disruptive and powerful. What enables them to skirt perceived constraints of these once ‘too large to fail’ incumbents and exploit unseen possibilities? In short, it is network-centered thinking with platform-based business models.

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