Two ideas aiming to disrupt the IPO and insurance markets came top at 'Hack The Block' this Sunday, bringing London FinTech Week to a close.
Four teams competed in the hope of scooping two £1,000 prizes – the first themed around trade authentication, the second around programmable assets – and the chance to work as a 'labs project' with the three event sponsors-come-judges.
The event, which saw the teams present for 12 minutes followed by a Q&A session, was marked by a diverse mix of development and business talent looking to tackle real-life use cases.
"We started from absolutely zero, we didn't even know if we were going to participate," Shanshan Fu, a member of winning team Issuefficient told CoinDesk.
Fu, alongside Nawaz Imam and developers Mihai Cimpoesu, Tim Nugent and Andrei Baloiu, created a solution aimed at streamlining the IPO process, which it described as "high cost, low efficiency". Using blockchain tech, Issuefficient would siphon control from the investment banks currently sitting between investors and issuers, and make auditing far easier.
"It's all very well jumping on a new paradigm, but you have to differentiate it from what already exists and highlight what the distinct advantages are. Otherwise it's jumping on a bandwagon."
Team Insureth also came away successful. Citing data from the UK Civil Aviation Authority that 558,000 airline passengers did not claim on their insurance for delays to their journey in the 12 months leading up to May, the team of three presented a smart contract system that would provide instant compensation for affected customers in a "provably honest" manner.
In their demo, developers Francesco Canessa and Kristina Butkute showed how Insureth connected Ethereum's smart contracts with the oracle service Oraclize, created by team member Thomas Bertani.
"Checking flight data is very easy, there are tons of data feeds – and other use cases we didn't even think about: oystercards [London's travel cards], stolen bikes," Bertani told CoinDesk, adding: "If you can trust the internet you can trust this system," he said.
Both teams told CoinDesk they had been up coding until 11pm kick out on Saturday evening, putting the final touches to their demos before judging took place on Sunday afternoon. Though programming on several blockchains was allowed, the majority of teams opted to use Ethereum, despite having little to no experience.
"You don't have time to read the [Ethereum] docs, so you have to think 'How can I leverage my existing IT skills to learn it without really learning'. That's a proper hack," Nugent said, adding:
"You have to get your hands dirty: look at the code, run it, break it. That's how you get on top of it."
The other entries were Blockathon Swaps, a smart contract platform aiming to increase swap liquidity, and SmartBond, a so-called 'transformation engine' aiming to split corporate bonds into smaller chunks – again, to increase liquidity.
The event comes as blockchain technology is gathering momentum in financial services, even at the top. While the subject featured heavily at London FinTech Week, this month has seen a flurry of announcements from the biggest names in finance.
Last week it was revealed that nine of the world's biggest investment banks have pledged to collaborate on a set of blockchain standards. JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon – once notoriously anti-bitcoin – also came forward to ring the praises of the technology last week.
Max Kalis from Lloyds Group tolds startups "the door is open" from the bank: "Exploring blockchain is just something we have to do because it looks like very fertile ground to make things better for [our] customers."
Speaking on behalf of IBM, Sean Barclays revealed the company – and its clients – had been researching and experimenting with blockchain technology "for a while".
Amanda West, senior vice president of innovation at Thomson Reuters, told the audience that the financial services firm was eager for startups to use its content, including its various APIs:
"We want to start collaborating more with what we would describe as the 'fringes' of innovation. There's only so much innovation that's ever going to happen within our company."