PwC, McNamara

Talking boldly, and publicly, about a possible future enabled by bitcoin, ether and cryptocurrencies is suddenly very much in vogue.

After years of being taboo, the word is apparently one that senior executives and global financial institutions are no longer afraid to say – at least, that's if the conversation at a conference held today by New York-based news source American Banker was any indication.

To help kick off the publication's fourth annual 'Blockchains + Digital Currencies' event, a principal at PwC went so far as to give a detailed overview of the professional service's take on the future of blockchain, in the process adding to recent bullish statements from senior executives about public blockchain applications.

Addressing a group of about 300 bankers and technologists, Grainne McNamara said:

"A new decentralized system made possible with cryptocurrencies could be much simpler by removing layers of intermediation. It could help ensure less risks, and by moving in different ways, it will open up the possibility of new and different financial products."

Contrary to the current financial system that McNamara described as "very complex", she argued that an economy powered by cryptocurrencies would lower the barrier to entry for those who are currently excluded, and as a result, increase global competition for these customers.

Past precedent

In the case of PwC, however, that grand vision is more than just talk.

Indeed, divisions of the company have already been among the more active in embracing the possibilities of public blockchains, if not always as openly in the media.

Last year, for example, McNamara addressed a room of regulators in Washington, DC, about the potential merits of cryptocurrencies when her firm revealed revealed Project Vulcan, an effort to make it easier to leverage more open versions of the emerging technology.

In this way, McNamara used her spot onstage to argue that such blockchain applications could positively impact industries beyond finance, including entertainment — which could potentially lead to widespread payment of artists in cryptocurrencies the moment their art is downloaded.

PwC blockchain chart

In her conclusion, the PwC principal also revealed her firm's forecast for blockchain industry growth over the next few years.

This included issuing predications that traditional financial firms will take ideas to pilot in 2017 and 2018, while regulators prepare the foundation for their own industry controls.

Still, she painted developments in the world of cryptocurrencies as a complement to this future.

"I do believe that the continued development of cryptocurrencies will be a good thing for the economy," said McNamara.

Smart contracts for the people

Elsewhere, panels examined what it actually means for a blockchain solutions to be "production ready", and how smart contracts may someday impact the lives of actual consumers instead of just back-office employees.

During a concluding question-and-answer session with members of the audience, McNamara acknowledged that the impact of smart contracts on global finance was particularly personal, as they could have a potential impact on the role of auditors, including PwC.

As such, she said PwC is now looking more closely at using technology to analyze the impact of a shared, trusted record of transactions on its business.

McNamara concluded:

"I expect that that would drive down the cost of transactions for participants, because arguably, for the things that are standard and were uniformly enforceable, we should have a more distributed and arguably more accessible framework."

Image via Michael del Castillo

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