Barclays Joins CLS Blockchain Consortium in Search of Swift Alternative

Michael del Castillo
Sep 25, 2017 at 12:00 UTC
NEWS

Barclays has become the latest major financial institution to join the foreign exchange-focused blockchain consortium founded by cash settlement system provider CLS Group.

Revealed today, the London-based bank will now work alongside the group's other members, including JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs and Bank of China, in a bid to bring new levels of efficiency and security to the forex settlements industry. First revealed last year, the CLS consortium specifically aims to use the open-source Hyperledger Fabric blockchain to create new channels for foreign exchange.

Demoed at Swift's annual Sibos conference last autumn, the group's blockchain platform is designed to be a new way for buy-side and sell-side institutions to exchange 140 global currencies that are now settled outside of the existing CLS settlement service.

According to Lee Braine, from the Barclays Investment Bank's CTO office, his institution became interested in the project partly because the CLS platform will operate side-by-side with the existing Swift solution – at least for now – rather than being forced on customers.

Braine told CoinDesk:

"People can connect via Swift or via a new [distributed ledger technology] connection mechanism. So, you have a choice."

In its initial incarnation, the platform, called CLS Net, is expected to let participants trade global currencies using six different kinds of blockchain-based products.

The netting services amount to a new line of business for CLS, which traditionally uses its own payment-versus-payment settlement service linked to the real-time gross settlement systems of 18 currencies.

A representative of CLS confirmed that progress on the expanded blockchain functionality is "proceeding well."

Blockchain evolution

Providing more detail about what attracted Barclays to the CLS consortium, Braine pointed to the desire for "harmonious" functionality with Swift's foreign exchange service.

Instead of what he called a "Big Bang" implementation of blockchain (wherein entire consortia of institutions convert to blockchain-based systems), Braine described a tiered system of integration he imagines might be useful to the group.

He breaks down this "incremental roadmap" into 10 layers, with the lowest level of blockchain adoption requiring only existing technology plugged into a third-party blockchain provider. The highest level, by contrast, would see transactions being fully reliant on distributed ledgers without a centralized backup system.

Braine hopes the lessons Barclays learns about how this work might play out in the real world will inform other blockchain projects.

He told CoinDesk:

"We envisage banks could be at different levels of integration for particular use cases, and yet still being able to participate."

Barclays sign image via Shutterstock

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