CoinDesk's inaugural conference, Consensus 2015, took place at New York's TimesCenter yesterday with speakers including Blythe Masters, Kosta Peric and Wences Casares.
The afternoon sessions were kicked off by CoinDesk's Joon Ian Wong, who led a one-on-one session with Debra Brackeen, the global head at Citi's Innovation Center.
Brackeen explained how Citi became involved in the blockchain and cryptocurrency space and said, during her approximately four years at the company, digital money had been part of the conversation.
Citi funded its first crypto project in January 2014, which dealt with state-backed digital currencies. This led the bank to be much more proactive in developing a portfolio of activities in and around blockchain technology.
"We are looking at use cases including clearing and settlement and trade finance," she concluded.
Blockchain Tech, Civic Tech and Social Impact
Grace Caffyn of CoinDesk led the subsequent panel – featuring Chelsea Barabas of MIT Media Lab; John Edge of Redrose and Bill Tai of Mai Tai Global.
Edge kicked off by noting that bitcoin was a great example of what a consensus system could do.
Barabas, on the other hand, explained a lot of students at MIT were focused on the actual technology rather than potential problems or solutions and perceived the blockchain to be a "viable toolkit for solving problems".
Tai joined the debate, providing a commercial perspective and commented that bitcoin was not a problem looking for a solution. "What we want to do is to build an architecture that has an API that anything can run on it," he added.
Edge pointed out: "Ironically, the biggest inhibitor to the growth of consensus systems might be that humans can't reach consensus."
Blockchain Fundraising Ecosystem Trends
Moderated by Pete Rizzo and boasting Scott Robinson, of Plug and Play Tech Center; Vanessa Colella, of Citi Ventures; Anjney Midha, of KPCB Edge; and Jalak Jobanputra, of Future/Perfect Ventures, the next discussion gave an overview of fundraising trends in the blockchain ecosystem.
Robinson said there had been a learning curve in the past two years, which has resulted in the exploration of blockchain technology and its potential use cases.
According to Collela – who said that Citi Ventures was looking at blockchain technology with interest – the most exciting shift in funding from purely digital currency companies to those involved in distributed ledger technology resides in the diversity of ideas coming forward. She added:
Midha attempted to unite the digital currency and its underlying technology, saying: "If you believe in the blockchain, you believe in bitcoin."
All the panelists highlighted the blockchain's disruptive potential and Jobanputra said she was encouraged by what she had seen to date.
Digital currencies and global remittance
The panel about the potential impact of digital currencies on global remittance and financial inclusion was moderated by CoinDesk's Stan Higgins, who led the discussion with Anne Shere Wallwork, of the US Dept of the Treasury; Kosta Peric, of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; Steven Malby, of the Commonwealth Secretariat; and Maxine Ryan, of Bitspark.
During the discussion, the panelists touched upon the need to educate the unbanked or the financially excluded.
According to Peric, the vast majority of people currently excluded from the financial services are the very poor. "On average, we are talking about people who earn an average of $2 per day."
Despite this, Peric went on to note that more than 70% of that population is within reach of mobile phone signal and a mobile phone, something which could aid progress and stimulate financial inclusion.
Consumer protection on the blockchain
The remittances panel was closely followed by a discussion on consumer protection on the blockchain, also moderated by Stan Higgins.
During the session, Jim Newsome, of Delta Strategy Group; Martine Niejadlik, formerly chief compliance officer at Coinbase; Joe Colangelo, of Consumers' Research; and David Tait, of the Commonwealth Secretariat, focused on the topic of regulation.
Newsome commented that people took comfort in having some kind of regulatory oversight, whereas Niejadlik believed this was dependent on what consumers were actually using the technology for.
Colangelo weighed in noting the biggest risk facing consumers was the possibility of hosted services running away with their funds.
Tait pointed out that existing regulation afforded an unequal level of protection to consumers using fiat currencies as opposed to those using cryptocurrencies such as a bitcoin.
All panelists agreed that regulation and further education for law enforcement agencies was necessary.
Bitcoin micropayments and mainstream adoption
CoinDesk's managing editor Emily Spaven led a discussion which explored the possibility of bitcoin micropayments taking the digital currency mainstream.
During the session, Spaven questioned Dan Morehead, of Pantera Capital; Wences Casares, of Xapo; and Hernan Botbol, of Taringa on the topic, with panelists discussing the inner workings of micro-tipping platform ChangeTip and Taringa's partnership with Xapo to integrate a bitcoin ad revenue sharing model.
Touching on mainstream adoption and whether micropayments were key in driving this, Casares said: "It is very speculative. What makes bitcoin mainstream will be very different in emerging markets than in the developed world."
Bitcoin and its history
Garrick Hileman returned to the stage to give an overview of bitcoin's history alongside Nathaniel Popper, of the New York Times and Christopher Allen, an Internet security pioneer.
The panelists looked at the origins of cryptocurrencies, touching on the Cypherpunk movement and noting how the cryptocurrency was influenced by Sci-Fi novels of the '60s and '70s.
Blockchains on Wall Street
Jesse McWaters from the World Economic Forum was joined by Julio Faura, of Santander; Cheryl Gurz, of BNY Mellon; Morgan McKenney, of Citi Treasury and Trade Solutions; and Simon Taylor, of Barclays.
Panelists discussed the potential of blockchain technology, with Taylor describing both the digital currency and its underlying distributed ledger as the "new silver bullet" for financial institutions.
According to Faura, micropayments and the Internet of Things will be one of the game-changers. "The whole thing will change when Central Banks issue currency on distributed ledgers," he added.
The future of digital and mobile money
CoinDesk's inaugural conference came to a close following a panel moderated by Ben Parker of IRIN News and featuring Bill Barhydt of Abra, Olawale Ayeni of Orange Silicon Valley and Alan Grundy of International Rescue Committee.
The last discussion of the day sought to explore the issue of financial inclusion and the future of digital money.
Ayeni commented: "When people say financial inclusion, they think about providing a bank account, it's about providing credit and insurance and things you couldn't get access to before."
To follow the day's proceedings, check out our live blog of the event as well as tweets via the hashtag #Consensus2015.
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