'Big four' professional services firm Deloitte made headlines earlier this year when it revealed it had become the latest in a long line of mainstream brands to take an interest in blockchain technology.
However, Deloitte is perhaps distinguished from its peers due to the fact that it is seeking to help clients, including mainstream financial institutions, launch pilots and proofs-of-concepts with the emerging technology.
To better understand Deloitte's path to this new market, CoinDesk spoke to Iliana Oris Valiente, business development manager and co-founder at Rubix – a service it calls a "one-stop blockchain software platform".
Launched after approximately a year of R&D, Oris Valiente said, Deloitte is now equipped to help business clients she argues are just starting to wake up to the future possibilities of what could be built with blockchain technology.
Oris Valiente told CoinDesk:
"Mostly clients will drive their agenda based on their industry and based on their goals and needs. We match that with our understanding of the technology and how we think it could impact their business, not necessarily their legacy business today but what their business could look like in the next two-to-three years."
Oris Valiente said that a key driver of interest in the service is the desire for financial services providers to determine how the technology could mature so they can best develop a forward-looking business strategy today.
However, Deloitte is not alone in the trying to serve this market and its competitors in the space include tech giants like Microsoft and rival PriceWaterhouseCoopers, both of whom have launched similar initiatives.
Given this climate, Oris Valiente was careful not to divulge specifics about current projects, though she did hint at some of the organization's work.
For example, Oris Valiente told CoinDesk her team is currently working with a client in the healthcare sector to build a prototype to enable payments.
"[The client's] expectation is that these POCs [proof-of-concepts], [will] serve as a reminder or a signal to the rest of the organisation, their respective organisation about what is to come ... and what the technology is capable of supporting today," she said.
Other areas of possible focus, she added, would be looking at applications in the loyalty space and supply chain sector, both areas she said where automation could change existing business practices.
"One aspect of the technology that I think is going to have a significant impact is the automation of certain procesess ... by providing the transparency and the open ledger, if you can drive efficiencies in existing processes that's a very clear value proposition of the technology," she said.
Perhaps most notable is the fact that Rubix is offering its clients access to multiple distributed consensus platforms.
According to Oris Valiente, Rubix has focused most of its work to date on the Ethereum protocol, which she argued offers functionality that is of particular interest to enterprise clients.
Launched in 2014, Ethereum is an open, public blockchain like bitcoin, only it aims to enable the rise of a new class of decentralised applications due to its inclusion of a Turing-complete scripting language.
The comments come as many financial incumbents are experimenting with both the bitcoin and Ethereum blockchain in an effort to understand the distributed financial technology stack.
"Often what people are describing when they talk about the power of blockchain technology, they are referring to what Ethereum has been able to build, without realising it's Ethereum," she said.
A key advantage of the Ethereum protocol, Oris Valiente said, is that its clients can use the protocol to ensure products being built are capable of intra-connectivity amongst various other platforms.
"At the end of the day our role as a team is to do what is best for the client and if the client comes to us and has a use case that makes perfect sense to be built on top of the bitcoin blockchain ... we are happy to do that," she said.
Oris Valiente also addressed the interest among mainstream financial providers in private or permissioned blockchains.
In doing so, she was quick to point out that the efforts are perhaps problematic in their approach. For example, many major financial institutions have expressed reservations about bitcoin as a digital currency, and their intent to pursue projects that don't use, or limit access to, similar digital tokens.
However, Oris Valiente noted that tokenisation is required in order to maintain decentralised ledger systems. "You can't have the blockchain without a token, of course," she explained.
Oris Valiente further voiced her belief that there is potential for digital currencies to succeed in the future:
"I do think that there is a future for digital currencies especially the notion of a state-sponsored currency or currency in emerging markets as an option for the unbanked to get access to participate in that world."
She added that she believes there are hurdles that need to be overcome if any digital currency is ever to reach mainstream adoption in developed markets.
"Is virtual currency going to become very dominant in an established markets where we already have options as consumers and various alternatives? Maybe not because of the lack of accessible tools and the various hurdles for people to apprehend the technology," she added.
In this light, Oris Valiente said clients are looking at blockchain technology as a way to build new products in emerging markets that would have been previously impossible to create or distribute.
A perfect example of this, she said, is in the insurance industry, where the technology could be used as a way to eliminate the need for consumers to have trusted relationships with insurers.
"All of a sudden if you think about blockchain technology, as an enabler of something like a peer-to-peer insurance platform in emerging markets ... well, you've just created a new product that brings value to an entire community and moves towards financial inclusion and poverty alleviation," she said.
But how far are we from such applications?
Oris Valiente said believes that this transition is likely going to take place once industry initiatives move past the exploratory phases and begin to consolidate.
"Once you start seeing all those little Lego pieces coming together into a comprehensive network, I think that is when you are going to start seeing a lot of very meaningful impacts," she said, concluding:
"But that's definitely a couple of years out."
Pete Rizzo contributed reporting.
Puzzle piece image via Shustterstock