"This isn't about PR for Nasdaq."
So explains Adam Ludwin, founder and CEO of Chain, the blockchain technology startup that has been in dialogue with American stock exchange and trading technology specialist Nasdaq for the past year.
Yesterday's announcement that Nasdaq would be testing the blockchain for its pre-IPO exchange Nasdaq Private Market with Chain, Ludwin said, was simply the first joint announcement between two companies that have developed a close working relationship.
But, while other tech companies like Microsoft and Dell have made big entrances into the industry only to fade from the spotlight, Ludwin suggests that Nasdaq's interest is more assured, given that the exchange operator believes the technology can solve key business challenges.
Ludwin told CoinDesk:
"While the technology to exchange messages for trade is fast, the technology to actually move the asset and settle them is slow and very expensive. The opportunity here is to bring asset transfer into the 21st century and that's something we couldn't do easily before the blockchain."
Ludwin went on to suggest that Nasdaq Private Market, which enables private companies to track equity ownership and investor relationships, was the right first step for the company due to the limited number of third parties involved in its operation.
"They can demonstrate that it works and enlist private companies that want to experiment with this type of technology," he continued. "So that's the tactical decision."
The formal announcement follows a period of growing interest from mainstream financial institutions, including Nasdaq and the New York Stock Exchange, in blockchain technology, a sentiment evidenced by statements from Nasdaq CEO Greifeld.
“As blockchain technology continues to redefine not only how the exchange sector operates, but the global financial economy as a whole, Nasdaq aims to be at the center of this watershed development," he said.
Nasdaq had previously announced in May that it would trial blockchain technology in its equity marketplace, and that it would license its trading technology to exchange startup Noble Markets.
Improving private markets
Ludwin predicted that the pilot will be operational by the end of 2015, with Chain shares trading on the platform alongside an inaugural batch of other private companies.
The shares, he said, will move on the Open Assets protocol, a colored coins implementation that allows users to augment small amounts of bitcoin to represent shares. These shares can then be transfered and tracked across the bitcoin blockchain.
As a result, he suggested that the platform could remove traditional paper management systems and provide a better service than software management systems by eliminating "human errors" that could take place in such systems.
Ludwin said that Nasdaq would likely augment the Open Assets implementation to suit the company's needs.
"There are ways of implementing asset issuance and transfer that are more private than Open Assets," he said. "It will be more private than what people think of as a colored coin today."
Still, while Nasdaq has decided to build on top of the bitcoin blockchain, Ludwin suggested that Chain, and by extension, Nasdaq, are taking an agnostic approach to the technology.
"We believe that there will be an Internet of chains, there will be many, many interoperable blockchains," he continued. "As that innovation moves forward, one of the things that Nasdaq and First Data have selected us to do is make that transition very simple, starting with Open Assets but over time [maybe] moving that to a sidechain without interrupting the service."
Ludwin said that Chain is currently exploring all blockchain technologies and decentralized ledgers, but that it made the decision to build on top of bitcoin as he believes it was the "best tool for the job today".
The statement is notable given the increasing interest of Wall Street in more experimental permissioned ledgers, alternatives to the bitcoin blockchain that aim for greater levels of efficiency or attempt to create blockchains without tokens. This interest is perhaps best evidenced by Digital Asset Holdings' acquisition of decentralized ledger startup Hyperledger and its plans to release a range of blockchain-based financial products.
Ludwin went on to suggest that enterprise financial institutions are perhaps wary of the public nature of transactions on the bitcoin blockchain. Even though such transactions are pseudonymous, tracing the transactions of entities on the blockchain is possible, as new data tools have helped show.
In particular, he cited the privacy feature introduced by Blockstream in its latest Sidechains Elements release.
"We're very bullish on the pace of innovation happening at the protocol level and the privacy and security features that are continuing to be explored," he said.
Still, he suggested that both solutions will likely play a role in a blockchain-enabled future, speaking out about the "media circus" that pits these ideas as one-size-fits-all approaches.
"I think to build an interoperable Internet-based financial network, it's only going to happen if the industry and the open-source community collaborate, and I don't think that can happen if you're building a proprietary protocol," he said, adding:
"[But] I think for that those who have a serious interest and need, like Nasdaq and First Data, there's never just one answer."